Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Channing Tatum, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Courtesy Jump Street Films)

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 first-time director Dito Montiel did.

Reminiscent of Larry Clark’s Kids, which was set in Manhattan, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints depicts adolescents growing up in a tough neighbourhood, in the NY borough of Queens. For some of these youth, the dangers lay not just on the streets, but also in their own homes. Dito just 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 story develops and shifts into the present, this subsides and 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 is not a light film but is more accessible than Kids. While Kids depicted the consequences of dangers faced by adolescents, this film portrays how one boy escapes from the dangers, but ultimately needs to confront and reconcile his past.

The performances in the film are very strong – the actors are all very credible and 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 nearly twenty years ago 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 and a big heart, 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, 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.

Dir, Scr: Dito Montiel Rating: MA Duration: 99 min Genre: drama Language: English Country: USA Release: 16/11/06, limited Dist: Jump Street Films Prod Co: Xingu Films, Original Media Prod: Trudie Styler, Travis Swords, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowicz Sound: Paul Hsu Phot: Eric Gautier Ed: Christopher Tellefsen, Jake Pushinsky Prod Des: Jody Asnes Mus: Jonathan Elias Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Shia LaBeouf, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, Melonie Diaz, Martin Compston, Rosario Dawson, Adam Scarimbolo

Official website IMDB


Alison Croggon said...

Hi Paul - I feel unable to comment specifically, because I see so few films. But I must say I am enjoying your blog, and feel like it's telling me something about all this stuff that I'm not thanks for your work!

Delon Melville said...

"Rosario Dawson plays the grown up Laurie, and incidentally made her film debut nearly twenty years ago in Kids"


yeah, big casting anomaly, Rosario Dawson V Eric Roberts, what close to a 20 year age difference from he of the B movie to liss mittle Kids.

Paul Martin said...

Hi Alison. Thanks and ditto. Your writing about Em 4 Jay gave me some insights into your perspective, and now I'm reading about theatre!

How often do you see films, Alison? You must have some perspective and appreciation. What's a film you've seen and liked?

Delon, you've lost me. I don't get it.

delon melville said...

Paul, Kids was 1995,

Dawson was 15. Dawson is now 27.

Eric Roberts is 50, playing the older Antonio.

Ok, Roberts looks great for his age, and Dawson can look more mature with good wardrobe and makeup dep't.

But still...


Laura Gordon gave the best performance in an individual scene in '06 with the impression of a junkie coming down for a hit. With her sister, near the Yarra, looked like Kew Blv'd area. Brilliant, brilliant performance. I saw it a second time on account of that scene. Did not overplay it, di not underplay it, just enough physicality. Often one sees the actor/ress overplay that with contorted behaviour. But on the money. Much respect.

Paul Martin said...

Hi Delon, yes interesting observation re: Dawson and Roberts. I hadn't noted that. And by jove, you're right. I was thinking Kids was 1985. But hey, what's ten years? ;)

And I appreciate your comments about Em 4 Jay. I agree with you. I thought Laura Gordon was great in that scene and in the film in general. Kat Stewart, who played the sister, was terrific as well. I thought her performance in that single scene at Kew to be the high point and the soul of the whole film. I've learnt that these two actresses are members of the Red Stitch theatre company and am interested to see them perform, perhaps next year.

I also saw the film twice, the second time at the official opening when the director and two leads were present for Q&A.

For me, this film was my equal favourite Australian film (the other being The Boys), and I now consider Alkinos Tsilimidos my favourite Australian director. I'll get my review of the film up here when I get around to it.

delon melville said...

AGTRYS was probably my film of the year. Or 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Though I have not seen Almodovar's Volvor yet.

AGTRYS' US domestic distributor was First Look. I don't know anything about them, but it opened on 8 first week, then 16, then 60 for a fortnight before going back down 16, then 8. I know this is a common Us screening strategy, but 60 screens is nothing. It only did 500 thousand in US domestic receipts. Films should not be measured in box office unless you are a studio analyst or a merril Lynch researcher of media and 'tainment stocks, but this film deserved a wider auidence. I don't think First Look had the marketing budget to put behind it, and relied on the festival circuit to create buzz. Sundance was o'course a producer/investor in it, but the buzz did not work, and without some money for marketing it died a quick death in the cinemas.

50 states, I suppose Australia showed it on 5 screens, one per major state. Similar ratio. The Q&A @Nova was cancelled, I assume because the film was dying a slow death and the marketing budgets were slashed. That is, no money for a junket to Aus. I don't know the domestic distributor though.

Paul Martin said...

Delon, AGTRYS is only the second film distributed by Jump Street Films, a small distributor that I hope will thrive. Their first film was The King, which was one of my three favourite films for this year. The other two were Em 4 Jay and L'enfant (The Child).

I'm disappointed that each of these films (including AGTRYS) had such a limited distribution. They deserved to get as wide an audience as possible, and I find it hard to believe that there isn't more of a market for them. The demise of the Lumiere Cinema is a great loss for these types of films.

I think one of the problems with getting films like these distributed is the quality of film reviewing we have in Australian media. There's so little critical review of substance that films like these either fly under the radar or they get poorly assessed.

I saw Volver last week and will post my review shortly. It certainly wasn't one of my year's highlights, and I will explain how Almodóvar fails to impress me both with this film and his work in general. It involves an exploration of gender, which probably isn't surprising in relation to Almodóvar.

delon melville said...

yeah, I read about that (him), Australia's answer to the hollywood moguls.

Young 18 yo buck, Jewish guy, from Wesley, making his mark! Interned at Village HQ S Yarra.

I reckon he would have taken a hit on The King, actually I know. It did shitty bidness. Ordinary film too. I wonder if he cancelled Montiel or Montiel cancelled from his end.

I reckon Australia is too small for this tyro, he obviously has ambition and wants to be a player in all facets.

I saw his strategy for the King. Pitch to someone who was not going to get picked up, get it for bottom dollar, requirements: arthouse, matinee idol lead. He was getting good PR, free PR in Dolly/Cosmo with Bernal his Mexican lead. Did well, obviously canny, even if this is Distribution 101 out of the Village HQ.

I give him to 26, then he will be in a LA big studio, either production or corporate. Good Luck to him. But I dont think he can compete in this market, just too small.

Just read your post properly, I was not aware he distribute Tsilomidis Em4Jay nor L'Enfant.

L'Enfant, top 5 film of the year. Rivals the other two 3Burials and AGTRYS. I appreciate him picking up all of those. Em4Jay was VERY late in getting up on IMDB tho.

Good luck to him, I'll go and check his website now. Thansk for the heads up Paul.

Paul Martin said...

Sorry Delon, I was unintentionally ambiguous. Jump Street Films has distributed The King, AGTRYS and The Italian (not out yet, but screened at ACMI recently as part of the Russian Film Fest). Em 4 Jay was distributed by Palace, though they didn't seem to have much of a commitment to it. I can't remember who distributed L'enfant (may Dendy?).

I wanted to post a review for Em 4 Jay on IMDB, but there was no listing. I contacted the production team and informed them, and it still took a while.

Paul Martin said...

L'enfant (The Child) was distributed by Madman Films.

According to Inside Films

Rescued Films is excited to announce a new distribution partnership with Nigel Odell of Clock End Films as they take the world by storm with Australian indie film Em 4 Jay.

Rescued Films is, I believe, Alkinos Tsilimidos' production company. So it looks like the film was somewhat self-distributed.