A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) Poster

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Emotionally honest
paulmartin-220 November 2006
What kind of writer reveals his troubled childhood, then directs a semi-autobiographical film about it, using a character with his own name? Bold, foolish or maybe both, that's exactly what Dito Montiel did.

Reminiscent of Larry Clark's Kids in Manhattan, it depicts adolescents growing up in a tough neighbourhood, in the borough of Queens. For some of these youth, the dangers lay not just on the streets, but also in their own homes. Dito only knew he had to get away.

At first the film is a little difficult to watch visually – the editing and hand-held camera are abrupt. As the film develops, and the story shifts into the present, it becomes evident that this was a deliberate device to depict the nature of recollection. As Dito makes the journey across the continent to visit the ill father he hasn't seen in 15 years, a montage of childhood memories flood his mind.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints at times is not an easy film to watch but is more accessible than Kids. Both films depict the dangers faced by adolescents. While Kids depicted the consequences of those dangers, this film portrays how one boy escapes from them, but ultimately needs to confront and reconcile his past.

The performances in the film are strong. The actors are all very credible. The dialogue is saturated with authenticity. Melonie Diaz, who previously appeared in Raising Victor Vargas, beautifully portrayed Dito's childhood girlfriend Laurie. Rosario Dawson plays the grown up Laurie, and incidentally made her film debut in Kids.

Producer Robert Downey Jr. who encouraged Montiel to make the film, was excellent in an understated role as the adult Dito. The transition of actors between 1986 and the present was depicted effectively. Special mention to Chazz Palminteri, who always has a strong but unforced screen presence.

A film made with a small budget, it pays off with a strong, emotionally powerful and worthwhile story. I was surprised how the emotional impact crept up towards the end, as Dito dealt with his past as best he could.

This film is highly recommended for those who enjoy human drama in shades of grey. There's no good guy/bad guy thing happening here. It's people dealing with the hand that destiny has given them, and trying to find their way. It is full of emotional honesty and plausibility that you can buy into. And don't leave until after the final credits.
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"My name is Dito and I'm going to leave everyone in this film"
Flagrant-Baronessa22 November 2006
In this autobiographical coming-of-age piece, director Dito Montiel confronts his gritty past in Astoria, Queens. He tells the doomed story of a teenage boy who spends his days in the seedy hot crime-infested backstreets of 1980's New York City to the day when he leaves for California and does not return until twenty years later, when his father (Chazz Palminteri) is sick. The retelling is impressive and absorbing.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is bursting with the flair of a debut director, who is eager to employ a wide variety of techniques – steadicams, punctured narrative, flashbacks, script interjections, dreamlike non-chronological editing and an uneven pace. The good news is that it channels Spike Lee's criminal Queens street style with fast-paced local jargon that recycles 'fuck' in every sentence and snaps and crackles like kindling in a fireplace between its many thug-like characters. Owing to its coming-of-age format, the story often stays wildly unfocused and you get the feeling many scenes do not serve a purpose other than to get us a feel for the venality with which things were run.

Nevertheless, the characters are all absorbing, especially the young versions of Robert Downey Jr, Eric Roberts and Rosario Dawson. One of these is Antonio – a childhood friend of Dito's and local bully – who does wonderful improvisation-like raw lines. The vast contingent of American preeteen fangirls who were lusting after Channing Tatum after his cheesy teen movies had put me off this actor at first, but it cannot be denied that he gives one of the most intense performances in the film as Antonio – he is hard-edged, testosterone-fuelled and doomed. Robert Downey Jr. is remarkably toned down as the grown-up Dito, delivering sparse lines and abandoning his usual colourful style of acting.

Together the four Queens teens harass girls, beat up rival gangs, shoplift and give attitude to on-lookers and this is undoubtedly when it feels the most like Spike Lee Lite. Saints patiently crafts tension at several points in the story, and it prefers climaxes to continuity as bad events snowball into criminal messes, deaths and the final abandonment by Dito. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is an interesting and compelling story, recreated with deft strokes by local Dito Montiel.

Sting and Trudi Styler loved the script so much they went to great lengths to support the production, and Chazz Palminteri delayed the shooting of another film of his with money out of his own pocket just to be able to play the bruised father in the film. These should serve as marks of its success and most of all the commitment with which its cast approached the film.

7.5 out of 10
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A Guide to Recognizing YOURSELF...
IRateFilms20 October 2006
An authentically heartfelt, and truly inspiring film, by a first-time filmmaker, Recognizing Your Saints, bellows deep in the heart and soul of everyone that is privileged to see it. Written and directed by Dito Montiel, from his autobiographical novel of the same title, Recognizing Your Saints is a sincerely brave effort, by a shy and yet outspoken filmmaker. Rehashing his hellish childhood in 1980's Astoria, Queens, Montiel brings a brilliant cast together to portray the misery of the youth growing up around him at the time.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. as the adult version of Montiel and Shia LaBeouf as the angst teenager, there is an almost perfect synergy between the two portrayals of Montiel at two different spectrum's of his life. Being called back to a Queens that Montiel left with his life and the clothes on his back, he is called back to take his dying father to the hospital.

Questions of fatherly love and compassion are brought out throughout the film, only to be answered by the gently grim, unyielding hand of Montiel's father played by native New Yorker, Chaz Palmintieri. Comparisons to Mean Streets, Kids and Raising Victor Vargas can be made to this New York drama on the whole. But, every scene, individually is so undeniably real that Montiel's film surpasses its comparisons and resonates as an entirely different type of film.

This film, about a group of kids can be told anywhere and that is what is unique about it, that it does not limit itself to the city it subsequently takes place on. It was a great surprise after the screening of the film, to have a nice personal Q & A, with the director himself. Being a very shy man, Montiel answered a few questions about the characters in the film, and where they are now. He also explained how much he loved working with the young cast, and breaking the rules of film making, he did not know existed. Overall this is a great film, filled with amazing performances, no one should miss.
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Powerful and heartfelt look at an often violent past
u2jubilee200029 August 2006
I recently saw a screening of "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" without any prior knowledge of the subject matter or cast, which I am beginning to believe might be the best idea before seeing many of the smaller films out there. Reminiscent of "Goodfellas" and "Kids," a gritty coming-of-age story that packs a powerful punch with star Shia LaBeouf delivering a heart- breaking performance. This film is not to be missed and should be a strong contender come awards season. Director and writer Dito Montiel obviously draws from the likes of Martin Scorsese as he paints Queens, New York in a light only familiar to those who grew up deep in the heart of it. "Saints" elicits both tears and laughter, often within moments of each other while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats the entire time. Topping off this walk down memory lane, Montiel incorporates a stellar soundtrack mostly from the 70's, which feels right even though most of the story takes place in the mid 80's.
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One of my favs of the year
Henryhill5127 October 2006
First time director Dito Montiel's "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" is a harsh autobiographical look back at his youth on the mean streets of Astoria, Queens in the mid 1980's. From the film's opening moments, Montiel introduces us to an intimate world of family and friendship that totally blindsided me by its greatness. There are moments in "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" that roll along with such force and emotion, that Montiel feels like a natural born filmmaker, infusing his personal heartache into strong characters breathing within a vivid time and place. Montiel's handling of edits, sound, and music are also powerful, such as a scene in Dito's kitchen between his father and group of friends that explodes into stark images and quick cuts to black. Montiel also handles the return home of Downey Jr. with care and vulnerability, searching for small answers that come in revelatory conversations with his mother (Dianne Weist) and grown up girlfriend Dianne (played by Rosario Dawson). And while such personal material can be hard to translate without lapsing into melancholy, Montiel finds a way to craft a clear eyed version of his life, allowing strong acting and electric film-making to take over the balance of the experience. I love finding unheralded gems such as this. The name of Robert Downey Jr. brought me to the theater and I discovered a true talent in Dito Montiel who has crafted one of the finest directing debuts in several years
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Powerful and affecting... amazing debut
cuchelo129 August 2006
I liked the direction and acting better than the screenplay, although Dito Montiel has written a very moving story. His use of different styles and techniques- most of which came from him just experimenting or not really knowing what "to do"- are at first somewhat jarring, but grow to fit the fractured lives of his characters perfectly. This movie is not for everybody, but should be seen by anyone who is despairing of the state of American Independent movies. And the cast- truly brilliant. Pros like Dianne Weist (she can truly do no wrong, and her character would be so weak in a lesser actor's hands) and Chazz Palminteri are mixed with relative newcomers and complete unknowns that Montiel picked up in casting sessions out in Queens. For me, the whole movie was worth seeing Channing Tatum, however. He is heartbreaking and scary and full of explosive energy. The screen can barely contain him. One of the best movies I've seen in quite awhile.
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Raw, Gritty, and Stunning.
surferchicky928 January 2007
I was lucky enough to catch the last showing of "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" at my local theater, and man, was I surprised. I haven't seen a film with such an accurate and heart wrenching portraits of troubled youths since "Kids".

"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" gives us a glimpse into the life of Dito Montiel (Shia Labouf, with Robert Downey Jr. as the older version) growing up on the streets of Astoria, Queens in 1986. When he leaves for California, he leaves behind his best friend and resident tough guy Antonio (Channing Tatum, with Eric Roberts playing the older version), his caring mother (Diane Wiest) and tough love father (Chazz Palminteri), his girlfriend Laurie (Melonie Diaz, with Rosario Dawson as the older version), and pretty much everyone else he knew.

First time director Dito Montiel does a stellar job of establishing characters and their relationships. He also does a great job directing scenes that seem so real (thnks to some superb acting by the cast), it almost seems like a documentary. A huge round of applause goes to the cast for their performances.

The ending wasn't really cohesive with the script. I didn't leave knowing what happened with Dito and his family and friends. Other than that, there's not a single bad moment.

"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" is raw, gritty, and stunning. There's not a single disappointing scene in the movie.

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Check out the Guide
ClaytonDavis18 September 2006
A Guide to Recognizing your Saints There comes a time when motion pictures take an extraordinary turn, when and where that happens is irrelevant, although recently I've experienced a breathtaking turn in film making. The name of the experience is "A Guide to Recognizing your Saints." First time director Dito Montiel created, based on own occurrences and adapted from his book, a personal picture engulfed in beautiful undertones of love, regret and forgiveness.

The film is sculpted by a powerful screenplay by Montiel and an incredible cast who captured the best ensemble award from the coveted Sundance Film Festival. The film stars Academy Award nominees Robert Downey, Jr. and Chazz Palminteri, Oscar winner, Dianne Weist and a slew of incredible and upcoming talent coming from Shia LeBeouf, Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum and Melonie Diaz. The movie parallels us through a downward spiral of daily entities and a burrow of absolution and adversity.

The movie cuts in and out of the years 2005 and 1986 and both center around Dito Montiel, a young Queens-born Italian trying to cope with the everyday hard streets of crime, prejudice and premature passion. In 2005 Dito lives away from his family and is contacted by his mother to return home to care for his ill and medically stubborn father. Robert Downey, Jr. plays the multi-layered character who carries the weight of the world on his heart. Dito's pain is so deep that he can't even believe or conceive a start to come to terms with it. Downey, Jr. has been making a strong comeback for his career and when he pulls in outstanding performances like this it reestablishes his talent. Shia LeBeouf portrays the young "Dito" in 1986 and pulls in one of the most riveting performances ever performed by a younger actor. LeBeouf shows you what it means not only to play a role but to inhabit it. "Dito" may seem flawless at times as he grows up and surrounds himself by his compatriots, but when he falls into temptation and wants the escape into an unrestrained humanity we see a true idol emerge.

Dito's humanity is threatened by local thugs such as the Puerto Rican, Reefer and his relationship with his adverse father played by Palminteri. Throughout the film you see Dito trying to self-improve his life by conversations about relocating, expanding his friends with the new foreign student Mike and learning more about himself than he intends at his age. His circle of friends include the three "free-spirited" teenage girls from the neighborhood, his abused and violent friend Antonio, (Channing Tatum) the little man, Nerf, and Antonio's dazed younger brother Giuseppe. Dito searches for it including love with one of the ladies (Melonie Diaz (young) Rosario Dawson (old)) who captures the essence of innocence lost in between adolescence and the alleyway.

Dito Montiel's life is the ultimate example of baggage accumulated over decades and inevitable recognition of it and eventual confrontation of it. The movie is "Kids" meets "The Basketball Diaries" told in a "Sleepers" like narrative. The "21 Grams" like cinematography is captivating and crisp editing makes a wonderful, enjoyable and imperative film to a generation lost in its own indulgence. Unfortunately, the film is far too "small" to be recognized by the Academy. If it were up to me this would be a definite contender in the Adapted Screenplay category and LeBeouf would be joining a very crowded Best Actor race. Downey, Jr. would also enhance his chances in the supporting category along with "Fur." This personal portrait of culture and life exists primarily in the mind and suffering of Dito Montiel who painted this amazing representation. All who see the film will be yearning to recognize their saints….and love.

Grade: ****/****
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One of the True Sleepers of the Year
gradyharp27 February 2007
A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS may not be on everyone's list of great films of 2006 but it most assuredly should be. In a time when the bulk of films that come across the marquis are empty headed fluff (with of course notable exceptions), little films like this autobiographical coming of age story in Queens in the 1980s by the accomplished yet very humble Dito Montiel make an initial impact on the viewer, then hang around the psyche with memories of cinematic moments as well as fresh looks at our own lives like few other films can achieve.

Dito Montiel wrote his memoir, adapted it for the screen and directed it, each step being a first one for this very talented young man. His story on the surface is simple: a childhood and coming of age of Dito and his friends as they face the crime and drugs and love affairs and deaths of living in the line of poverty. Dito (an astonishingly fine Shia LaBeouf) has a cadre of friends that include Scottish Mike (Martin Compston), crazy Nerf (Peter Anthony Tambakis), firebrand Antonio (Channing Tatum in yet another fiery and sensitive performance), Antonio's unfortunate brother Giuseppe (Adam Scarimbolo), and girls Laurie (Melonie Diaz) and Diane (Julia Garro). The boys face gang trouble with the Puerto Rican gang Reapers, parental abuse as in Antonio's father (Federico Castelluccio), parental love as with Dito's parents Monty (Chazz Palminteri) and Flori (Dianne Wiest).

As their world in Queens comes tumbling down with tragic consequences Dito decides to leave for California. And leave he does, not returning for twenty years to the place where he successfully survived a childhood due to the 'saints' he didn't recognize until the father with whom he has not communicated in the interim has reached his end. The past and the present are woven together throughout the film with the flash forward, flash back sequences: the older successful writer Dito is played by Robert Downey, Jr.; Antonio (imprisoned for his beating death of the head of the Reapers) is Eric Roberts; Laurie now married is Rosario Dawson; Nerf now is Scott Michael Campbell: and Dito's parents remain makeup-aged Palminteri and Wiest. It is this blend of the past as revealed by the present that makes Montiel's film work so well. They manner in which he creates the magic of near extemporaneous speech with this amazing cast creates a sense of grit, verismo, and profound love and loss. Conversations such as the ones between little Dito and Monty, between the mature Dito and Flori and Lauri and Antonio - all are minor miracles of writing and acting. Montiel may be a first time director but he has drawn some of the finest work ever from Palminteri, Wiest, Downey, Dawson, Tatum, Roberts and LaBoeuf.

For those who have read Montiel's book by the same name, the time Dito spent in East Village and his fame as a Calvin Klein underwear model will seem painfully missing. But Montiel has extracted the essence of a boy growing out of his environment with the help of his unknown saints, condensed the action, and told the story in a magical way - a way that is sure to drive into the gut and heart of every sensitive viewer. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
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Clemhop27 November 2006
My favorite movie of the year, thus far. While it might not leave any long-lasting impact on society or even win an Academy Award, it is one of the most impressive character-driven films that I have ever seen. Granted, there are a number of films in the same "coming of age" genre and some have done an even better job than this one, but such are rare and have probably come once in a generation. This one is ours.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, the story is about one man, Dito (Robert Downey Jr.), reflecting on his adolescence (Shia LeBouf) through a personal memoir. It continuously shifts between past and present as one moment we see an adult Dito paying a visit to his old neighborhood and the next we are in that very same place during his younger years with his friends, a group of rough teens with nothing better to do than cause trouble for everyone around them. It strikes at you emotionally, as you grow to like each of the characters only to see the majority of their lives worsen with every scene. It is a depressing movie.

It has the darker 80's feel to it. Like "The Warriors" kind of a backdrop. Grimy. I like those stupid old movies a lot, so this was just perfect.

I don't want to give anything away, because I don't want to ruin such a good movie for anyone that might want to see it. It originally came out for the Sundance Film Festival and was finally released in Washington nearly six months later. As far as I know, it's only playing at Lincoln Square, but without a doubt it's worth the trip and the extra dollar or so.
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New York Grooving
amateurreviews19 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Warning: Contains spoilers:

In The Who song, "My Generation", lead singer, Rodger Daltrey stammers in frustration as he struggles to describe his own youth. He stutters until he eventually blurts out the message he hopes to convey. In one of the early scenes in Dito Monteil's film, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints", we are introduced to the adult Dito, sitting in the shadows on a stool wearing combat boots while he prepares to give a reading from his book by the same name. He is uncomfortable, he is anxious, and he is hesitant because what he is about to read isn't merely ramblings from a fiction novel. What he is about to read is an excerpt, a real life essay torn from the pages of his own life. After a series of what feels to the audience like false starts, his words begin to formulate, staggered at first, not unlike Daltrey, until they finally come, thoughtful, yet jagged.

Montiel abruptly begins, "I want to remember these people and what they meant to me..." "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" is a brilliant montage of memories that might resemble broken glass if it could assume a tangible shape. It's not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who live in fear of one day confronting what we've tried to safely tuck away in the recesses of our repressed memories. It's a story about youth, and hurt, and anger, and jealousy and a longing for freedom. It's about love and it's about tribal warriors. It's about territory and family codes and it's about unwavering, undying friendship.

These young teenagers and the people of Queens in the 1980's inhabited a world that embodied the graffiti message, "Your live here. You die here." Their lives revolved around family and interpersonal relationships and rotated the inside pocket of their neighbourhood. Their's is a life where everyone knows your name and you are bound to a sense of duty to the place that has spawned you. But, sometimes the things that give us our identity and provide us with security can become stifling, and threatening and tough and frightening. And sometimes the pain of watching a friend die, or losing someone to an accident, or having to live with the knowledge that your best buddy is going to prison for manslaughter can be too much for a young person to bear.

There's a scene in the 1982 movie, "Rumble Fish", where Motorcycle Boy explains that two fighting fish cannot co-exist in the same bowl because when living things are in too close in proximity, they will kill one another. Shia LaBoeuf, as young Monteil doesn't wish to become a victim of his surroundings, that could end up suffocating and choking him. He wants to go to Coney Island and he needs to experience Manhattan, and the beaches of sunny California. LaBoeuf as Dito, holds the audience captive to every emotion he experiences as he moves in slow motion through the film like a detached observer to mayhem. That is, until he is finally constricted by the beat of the street and can no longer avoid his desires, or pretend things are right. The love Monty and Florrie have for their son, Dito, is never in question, but must parental love exist only under the condition that a child does what is expected of him? Should he stay behind and forfeit life experiences and liberation in order to uphold family traditions? Even when he's dying inside? There's a point in the film when Dito's childhood girlfriend Laurie tells him he left a trail of blood behind when he deserted his parents, but one might argue that the trail of blood left behind in Queens is what perhaps paved the way for Dito's final retribution.

When Monty becomes ill, Dito ( Downey) returns as the prodigal son to the nest he left behind. In Downey's supreme understated performance we are immediately treated to a Zen-like calm. But we quickly determine who this young man has become. The world he turned his back on is reflected in every single laugh line, and in the essence of his beautiful but tormented face, because those lines serve are a reminder of who he is. Dito's frail sense of security unravels shortly after he arrives home because he knows he will have to face all that he put behind him. When he reunites with Laurie, their conversation quickly evolves from sharing mutual memories to accusatory and angry words. Laurie, like Monty, cannot comprehend a world that doesn't include family and clusters and ties. Soon enough and surely enough, he and Monty are again embroiled in a confrontation, re-opening the wounds from their past. The climatic moment between father and son is realized when Dito learns that Monty truly did love him. He knows it because his father tells him so. Dito sensed it all along, but because of the fragmented events of his teen aged years, the daily battles, sometimes won and sometimes lost, he and his father lost sight of what their true feelings were for one another. Love had became a word employed to inflict hurt, rather than a source of comfort and sanctuary. As it turns out, love was not lost on Antonio either. Spending a life sentence at Riker's, we see the familiarity, the warmth and the connection between two friends exhibited with ease when the adult Antonio takes his place across the table from Dito. Not many words are spoken between these men, but like with any bond that is thicker than blood, words aren't always the most effective method of communication. In this case, their eyes say it all and Dito understands.

As writer and first time director, Dito Monteil convincingly brings us to the heart of the New York groove.
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Back in the New York Groove
rrogers2-13 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's funny, Dito Montiel wrote and directed a film that captures the mysticism and validity of New York City with unerring and deft precision, yet the movie is about leaving all of that behind.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the memoirs of the same name, again by Montiel. Montiel grew up in Astoria, Queens amongst violence, drug use, toil and hopelessness, but as happens in violence, drug use, toil and hopelessness movies, he manages to transcend and move to Los Angeles. Fifteen years later, Montiel has yet to return home. With his father ailing and refusing to go to a hospital, friends and family alike beckon Dito home.

Since we see Dito at two different stages of his life he is played by both Robert Downey Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Wonder Boys) and Shia LaBeouf (I. Robot, Even Stevens). Both do an extraordinary job, although I find it difficult to believe that the goofy, wise cracking LaBeouf grows into the brooding, Fonzie-esquire Downey Jr. Even so, the cast of this film is incredible.

Chazz Palminteri plays Dito's father, an enchanting man so in love with his ideals and his family that he is blind to what is actually happening. He looks after and counts on Dito's pal Antonio (Channing Tatum) so outwardly that we question whom he really wants as a son. Maybe because Palminteri is the only one who sees the truth of Antonio's troubled ways. Beaten by his father and so caught up in that mannish gray area between apathy and loyalty Antonio cannot seem to make the right decisions.

There are so many scenes that you will carry with you after the credits roll. Wrought with tragedy and unspoken codes this film truly succeeds as a tribute to a simpler time when the things that are truly important, friends and family, are the only things that matter. But it isn't done predictably nor is it filled with holiday cheer like Family Man or It's a Wonderful Life. Montiel has used old themes in a unique way.

This film bristles with energy, the sort of vibrancy synonymous with youth and the City. The kids are foul-mouthed and ill tempered and consequently full of the vinegar that makes you love your buddies much less a character in a film. Even though I was watching excerpts of Dito Montiel's life it was very nostalgic and it reminded me of all the stupid stuff that I used to do with my friends.

Montiel utilizes a few techniques that add a bit of stylistic flair but I feel that they are sort of unnecessary. The film achieves a feel of memories replaying as lines are repeated in an echo of reverie. The fourth wall is broken down as characters identify themselves to the audience in pseudo confessionals. While these techniques don't take away from the movie I don't think they add much either. Although, they do provide a sense of realism but it is nothing that was not achieved right off the bat.

On the surface it is very easy to dismiss this film as just another story about a kid overcoming the odds but it is so much more. As the title indicates this films is about being thankful for the people that care about you no matter how misguided, stubborn or controlling they may be.
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High on its own fumes, and full of nothing
MarleyMilk2 September 2007
Boring, contrived, messy. These are just some of the words that describe how awful this film is.

Dianne Wiest is too good for this rubbish. Robert Downy Jr, (as the adult Dito), is unconvincing - his presence is more of a distraction than anything else. Channing Tatum, (as the young bad boy Antonio), is over the top and ridiculous. Shia Labeouf, (as the young Dito), is completely wasted - the story should have stayed in the past and focused on him. The rest of the cast is forgettable.

The flashing forward and back, between the past and the present, is a distraction. This is down to the fact that the present day cast/story is weak and uninteresting.

This film is not "raw", it captures no great "mood", it doesn't say anything that hasn't already been said, (and better). It's just a disappointing mess.
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Don't be Fooled by the Flattering Reviews....
Most of the reviewers must be homesick New Yorkers, nostalgically longing for the "good ol' days." If you're looking for a fresh and original NY coming-of-age tale, you should avoid this film. You've seen it all before, done more effectively, with less gimmick, more focus and less heavy-handed attempts at coming off hip/stylish in its direction. It seems to have very little regard for its subjects; they're simply drawn as rejects from a Scorsese film. Clearly the writer has very little regard for the folks he left behind in his depressing little racist, heated, overly-sexed neighborhood. All the major talent is wasted (Palminteri, Dawson, Wiest, Downey), and the story is so predictable that, like me, you may be fooled into staying tuned in anticipation of a new twist that would justify the story being told, the film being made. Also, I ain't no prude, but I am insulted when a film attempts to supplement its many deficiencies with too many F-words, graphic and gratuitous sex references, and casual racial slurs. Overall, the film is loud, overbearing and offensive. An old story, told in an annoying way. Guaranteed to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Rent Mean Streets, A Bronx Tale, or even The Basketball Diaries instead.
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A Painfully Self-Conscious Movie/Montiel's Precious Reminisce of a Film
jzappa11 October 2007
Despite how emotionally charged and rawly personal the film feels, I could not help but think cynically almost the entire time. Becoming annoyed with myself, I began to wonder why, and I realized that it was because it is only one person's movie and nobody else's: the writer/ director Dito Montiel's. It is a self-congratulating piece of self-indulgent work from a self- obsessed filmmaker. The whole movie basks in Montiel's comfort with projecting his story like another angry, organic indie film about growing up in a quasi-criminal, wild, crowded environment in New York City, constant music, a subjective camera, as if it were this generation's Mean Streets. But it is a painfully self-conscious movie. It goes for accent on structure of story and style rather than the story itself, as we are made to pity and root for people not through the story's workings but the emotional door-banging of the film itself.

Montiel's precious reminisce of a film is one triumphant paradox. I felt aggravated by its preoccupation with itself, but those feelings were undercurrents as I was truly enthralled with the film. I did care about certain characters and I felt like jumping up and saying, "Bravo," for the performances given by Robert Downey, Jr. and Rosario Dawson, despite his spare screen time, as well as Shia LeBeouf, Chazz Palminteri, and Dianne Wiest. Montiel succeeds in ending the film in a way where we're shaking the residual effect for the rest of the day, and I'm not doubting that he has talent. If he'd realize that his compulsion with drawing attention to what kind of movie it is and how it is made is actually an obstruction in the way of his story, perhaps the way he wants his film to appear will happen more naturally.
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Welcome, Dito
EdgarST19 July 2008
Sometimes making a first film and delivering a moderately "decent" product, depends more on chance than on spending many years studying film-making. Under "chance" I include the raising of generous capital to contract the best possible crew (the flowing of cash has proved a key element in the career of someone like Mel Gibson...) It is a blessing to find producers who believe in you and offer their support. And if before taking the step you have shown skill in any other profession, considerable progress has been made. Such is the case of novelist Dito Montiel, who had Sting as executive producer for his first motion picture, and went to win the "best first feature" prize in the Venice film festival and was named best director at Sundance. Based on his autobiographical novel, Montiel illustrates life in the margins, roads without signs, the rejection of one's origins and its sister, geographical escape, in the 1980s, in Astoria, New York. It is a closed world, in which emigrant culture, mean politics and the economy of deprivation mingle with daily life, but they are not pointed at, they are not scraped nor blamed for the physical and spiritual misery of the leading characters. Robert Downey Jr. is Dito, the acclaimed novelist living in Los Angeles, who receives a phone call from his mother (exceptional Dianne Wiest) asking him to return to Astoria, to his sick father's side (Chazz Palminteri), whom Dito left behind 15 years ago, when violence, racism, territorial-ism and sexism in the streets —and a good dose of dreams, including the proverbial rock band to took him out of poverty— made him flee to California. But 15 years later Dito discovers that he took the s..t along with him and that he is covered from head to toes. Perhaps it is in us and not in the places, but in this case it is definite that Dito's mess is more in his head than in Astoria. To make it clear, Dito the filmmaker builds a parallel retrospective story, in which Shia LaBeouf plays Dito the adolescent, main character of juvenile mini-dramas that include a patriarchal figure, a streetwise girlfriend, and a gang of misfits who are still alive because there is no Vietnam or Iran, and because they are not old enough to fight somewhere in the name of "democracy". The times of both Ditos cross, create a complex fabric and make the viewing a rewarding experience, maybe with less visual orientation than in the first movie of another artist turned film director, painter Julian Schnabel, who painted New York as out of the head of plastic artist Jean Michel Basquiat. Montiel's world is more literary, but as effective as Schnabel's: the first-time filmmaker was fortunate to have the talents of cinematographer Eric Gautier and editors Jake Pushinksy and Christopher Tellefsen to help him create his cinematic world. The film has been compared to Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets", but I believe that the comparison misses the merits of Montiel's film, foremost the richness of its multiple levels, a few above and more innovative than the traditional style of Scorsese's film. Good work from the already mentioned cast, as well as from Channing Tatum (whose character is reminiscent of Robert De Niro's Johnny Boy in "Mean Streets"), Rosario Dawson and, in a brief and effective appearance, the unappreciated, very talented Eric Roberts.
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IT'S ALL TRUE!!! Giuseppe & Antonio (+all the newcomers)
movielovacutie13 September 2006
I had previously read a lot of the great reviews on the message board about the relationship between Giuseppe (Adam) and Antonio (Channing) . However, I withheld my opinion until I was able to attend a screening and form my own opinion.

And it was ALL TRUE. Channing Tatum plays Antonio (the older brother), Adam Scarimbolo plays Giuseppe. These two young actors are absolutely fantastic together. There are only a couple scenes with them both, but their volatile relationship is felt throughout the entire film.

Channing is terrific as the brooding, angry, dominant force of the film. While Adam is outstanding as the quiet, outcast Giuseppe. But although his character is understated, keep an eye on how much life he brings to Giuseppe.

I just wish we saw more of Adam & Channing together. Without giving away any of the plot details, one of the best scenes in the film takes place in a train station involving Giuseppe, Antonio, and Peter Tambakis (Nerf - who is also terrific).

The scene will give you chills. I can only imagine how intense it must have been to film. I get goosebumps thinking about it.

Bottom line, watch out for Giuseppe & Antonio. They're a dynamic duo!
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mocablakyle22 September 2006
The movie is of an Extraordinaire quality...Magnificent...Brilliant! Only in America would such a rich depiction of life and its extremities be so solemnly capture by a most talented cast ensemble of actors and a most beautiful display of direction. The movie captures you from its start and never lets you go as you recognize the younger Ditto (Shia LaBeouf) recognizing his saints only to allow the older Ditto (Robert Downey, Jr.) upon his return to bring completeness and fulfillment by allowing himself to bring guidance and structure to a life by those characters (Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson) who in a way had always enriched it. Beautiful display, wonderful cinema and a great depiction of human life and its trials! The father and son relationship is about two individuals who always loved one another but never managed for it to surface until it (was) could have been to late...A must see! Oscar!
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Does for NYC what Crash did for LA
jameswarrenp5 October 2006
A staggering achievement, a work of art (the N.Y. Times) -- the kudos continue for first-time director/writer Montiel. Hopefully, they are the kind of comments that will compel people to see this this film, which to me is the best picture I've seen this year. I just hope Academy members take note and give it serious and thoughtful consideration. It deserves nominations in at least 7 categories, including Best Supporting Actor (Mategna, Tatum, LeBouef), Best Supporting Actress (Dawson, Wiest) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound. The cast is uniformly excellent (it rec'd Sundance's ensemble award). But the breakout performance HAS to be that of Channing Tatum. As the Dupont Twins in Beverly Hills (213) warn Brad Pitt: Watch your back. JWP
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Difficult to get into but worth the effort
JoeytheBrit22 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Dito Monteil's film is filled with a whole host of dislikeable characters – mouthy street punks, mostly, familiar from the likes of Mean Streets, etc, with no respect for anyone and no sense (apart from young Dito) of the self-destructive inevitability of their behaviour. At first, these people are so alien and unpleasant, and the film's structure so deliberately disjointed, that it's really difficult to get into. But after a while you get drawn in almost despite yourself, and the film grows stronger as it approaches its conclusion, despite (again) the tendency of first-time director Monteil to employ every flashy technique he can think of. At times his efforts work well, but too often they draw attention to the director instead of the story. And, at the end of the day, no amount of camera/sound wizardry can compete with the power of a moment such as when Antonio's (Channing Tatum) face is seen through the windows of the passing train that has just pulped his brother.

There's no new territory covered here, but the edgy manner in which Monteil relates his (presumably) autobiographical tale is perfectly suited to the lives of random violence and general hopelessness portrayed on the screen. While Shia LeBeouf is only OK in the central role of the young Dito, Channing Tatum stands out as his doomed best friend Antonio and Anthony DeSando, in a small but eye-catching role, also delivers, especially in his chilling last scene.

This isn't an easy film to watch (especially the first half-hour), but if you stick with it you'll probably be glad that you did.
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Maybe it's art...
ken-58325 February 2007
This is a compelling film -- annoying, unnerving, confusing, enlightening, and exciting. It celebrates film for what film can BE, not for the whiz-bang bells and whistles that film can DO.

It is a beautifully written film performed flawlessly by an ensemble cast -- star-studded, to be sure, but not a "star-turn" in the lot. This is storytelling of great power and theatricality -- one senses connections to the roots of drama on a visceral level.

What could be directorial/editorial gimmicks are here applied as devices that enhance our experience of the story -- this isn't the work of a director whose knowledge goes no deeper than television or music video.

Although the performances are uniformly strong (and despite my comment about "stars") Dianne Wiest does some of the most amazing work I've ever seen her do.

"G-d," said architect Mies van der Rohe, "is in the details." It is in the attention to detail that this film shines. Because our society doesn't have a "definition" of art or of cinematic art I can't really be certain of my use of the term. But maybe having a little "G-d" in every frame is a step in the right direction. Maybe this film is more than the sum of its parts: Maybe it's art.
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One the better movies i have seen in my life time
brokentwice6 February 2007
This movie goes to show that you can keep everything inside and think that you will never have to think about it again.... but the truth of the matter is that no matter what ... Your past is something that you cant escape.

This movie is something that needs to be Seen In order to understand it.. You cant just tell someone the movie is good without having them veiw the movie for them selfs.

Once in a blue moon a movie like this comes along and shows that you don't need all the Hollywood glam to make a movie A good movie.

This movie is real and true to the tune of Many. I can only imagine that living at the times when this movie took place and coming to see what the times have become, Must mean a lot more to a viewer.

I think this movie hits good with anyone that has ever Looked back on there life and thought about how they even made it out alive.

we have all know people like in this movie... Everyone has that friend that is always getting into trouble... We have that friend that we lost and we all have the first true love that you just happened to Walk away from.

The acting Was excellent in many ways then just one. I cant believe this movie is a sundance movie and not something that should be on the big screens. With all the garbage that gets released each month... This is one of the gems that just needs to be seen in order to understand the power and the passion Behind this release.

You almost start to build a bound with the people in this movie.

Robert Downey Jr. performance is real and to the heart. You can feel the passion in this mans face when He Acts his part on this film .

The casting couldn't have been better.

At first i thought this was going to be another movie about drug use in the youth of the 80's. Instead I am glad that I gave this movie and chance and let it take me along for the ride.

Its something that I think could change the views that many people have about there past.

You cant put your arms around a memory you can only hold it in your Heart.

I highly Recommend this Film to anyone that knows what a good movie is.
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Tough going at times but ultimately satisfying
wintall7 October 2006
Beautifully acted by a superb cast of unknown and well known actors this gritty story of growing up in the wrong neighborhood and in the wrong family pays off handsomely. Young Dito, played by Shia LaBeouf feels trapped in a world of meaningless violence. We see young Dito and his older self, played by Robert Downey Jr., brilliant as usual, as both wrestle with the need to confront life and make choices.

The film is relentlessly autobiographical. Based on Dito Montiel's book of the same name, the film's camera-work and editiing both expertly reflect the written word.

Don't go expecting a fun evening. This is not a date flick although it might well bring you and your date closer together. I found the experience exhausting and satisfying.
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Quite Possibly the Worst Film I Have Ever Seen
sticky10022 October 2006
Reading most people's comments on here, I just don't get it. All these positive comments must come from the cast and crew and their family members. This move was god-awful and I would advise many not to spend their time watching it.

Having lived in Astoria for many years, I can say that this movie is completely bogus. They set up Astoria as some poor neighborhood, and all the characters wear the same ripped clothing in each scene. But the undisputed truth is that Astoria has been a middle-class (presently very expensive) neighborhood since the 70's at least. So the basis of the main characters being poor and unprivileged is completely incorrect.

The dialog is hard to sit through, and incredibly slow moving. the editing is erratic and dizzying. the wanna-be artsy camera techniques are nauseating. This is a horrible movie, point blank. I have NEVER walked out of a movie in my life .. and this was so close to becoming the first one.
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This movie will trap feelings in you
Gabrielth12 February 2007
Very little has a movie changed me. I think this movie was brilliantly made and the writer of this movie deserves some recognition. You can read the summary from this and other sites but I wanted to write about the feeling this movie traps in you. It's very hard to explain but days after watching the movie the characters were in my head and somehow the characters became me. At work and at home the movie plays in my head, Shia LaBeouf (Young Dito) does an excellent role and along with all his cast members. It's one of those movies that you can see yourself in every person and that is the true beauty of this movie. You are taken away to that place and at times it can hurt and at times it makes you love life. It's a movie that will have some emotional parts so just know that. I do recommend people to watch the movie and I am sure they will be very pleased. I enjoyed the acting, the plot, the sense/feeling the movie invoked in me. Great movie go and watch it!
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