Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Robert Downey Jr., Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, Shia LaBeouf, Martin Compston, Melonie Diaz, Anthony DeSando, Eric Roberts, Kyle Devon Benitez, Scott Michael Campbell
Written by: Dito Montiel, based on his own book
Directed by: Dito Montiel
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some violence, sexuality, and drug use
Running Time: 98
Date: 01/01/2006
IMDB

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Queens Drama

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Former hardcore musician and male model Dito Montiel published his memoirs in 2003, and has now adapted them into a screenplay and made his directorial debut. The result is surprisingly adept and thoughtful and avoids any major ego-trappings. Grown-up Dito (Robert Downey Jr.), a successful author, returns home to face his old demons. From there, we flash back to Dito's childhood. Young Dito (Shia LaBeouf) befriends the new Scottish kid (Martin Compston) and becomes fascinated by the idea of forming a band and maybe getting out of Queens. Meanwhile, Dito's lifelong pals get into increasingly bad trouble. His best friend and main protector, Antonio (Channing Tatum), wants to start a turf war with the graffiti taggers that have been coming around lately, and his relationship with beautiful Laurie (Melonie Diaz) teeters from good to bad. Dito's rapport with his parents isn't much better. His father (Chazz Palminteri) -- who seems to prefer Antonio's company -- won't allow Dito to leave town. His mother (Dianne Wiest) suffers through all the fights, but can't stop them. It's a complex web of characters, and there are plenty more (such as the hilarious gay dog walker, Frank, played by Anthony DeSando), but Montiel handles them all, flashbacks and flash-forwards included, like a pro. He even manages a few moody touches, a la Michel Gondry, such as dropping out the sound, or altering the sync, for a disturbing, dreamy effect. It probably helps that, like Montiel's book, the film unfolds in episodes rather than a standard arc. The performances are top-notch all the way around, including a surprise Eric Roberts as the grown-up Antonio and Rosario Dawson as the grown-up Laurie. Palminteri and Wiest are re-united onscreen for the first time since Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (1994).

DVD Details: First Look has released a 2009 limited edition "Steelbook" DVD. Extras include a commentary track by writer/director Montiel and editor Jake Pushinsky, several deleted and alternate scenes, a making-of featurette, interviews, trailers and other stuff. I never reviewed the 2007 DVD release, but at a glance it looks like this is basically the same disc in a new box.

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