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Review: The King

July 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

What if the rise and fall of Elvis Presley could be seen as a microcosm of America itself, symbolizing nothing less than the birth and death of the American Dream?

This is the basic concept behind The King, a damn near stunning new documentary from director Eugene Jarecki, that sees the filmmaker driving across America in a Rolls Royce that belonged to Elvis himself, and using this road trip to offer a moving study of the country from the post-war boom of the mid-20th Century to where it is now.

The road trip takes us from his birthplace of Tupelo, Mississippi where fans still take pilgrimages to the house where he was born; to the city of Memphis, Tennessee where he spent his formative years attending a black gospel church that left an indelible mark on his musical stylings; and finally Las Vegas, Nevada where he spent the final years of his life performing. As the Rolls Royce moves from once-prosperous factory towns to bigger cities, different actors and musicians take up residence in the backseat to share their thoughts on both Elvis and the current state of America.

For example, Ethan Hawke joins to talk passionately about Presley’s early work at Sun Records, while Alec Baldwin offers a more critical examination of how the country has become divided along political lines. The film balances out the many admirers of Elvis with insights from political commentator Van Jones and rapper Public Enemy, who talk about the history of racial segregation that was happening behind the meteoric rise of The King. They decry his “appropriation” of black music, as he got famous by taking songs that were initially recorded by African-American artists like Little Richard and Big Mama Thornton, and bringing them to white radio stations that wouldn’t otherwise play them.

The film covers a lot of ground, and goes far beyond just being a typical biography, as much exploring the idea of Elvis and what he came to represent at the time as it does his actual life and career. The film tries to present him as a sort of tragic figure, a young man from humble beginnings who gave up a normal life in exchange for fame and fortune and the chance to make it big, in an almost Faustian trade off. His success ultimately led to his downfall, with his popularity built around an image that masked the pain and suffering underneath.

While he started out as a revolutionary artist in the 1950s, Elvis ultimately came to be seen as somewhat of a gaudy parody of himself in the 1970s, spending the final years of his life wearing sparkly white suits and performing in Vegas, before succumbing to drug addictions that accelerated his very undignified demise. The film culminates by showing both the death of Elvis in 1977 and the presidential election of Donald Trump in 2016, whose promise to “Make America Great Again” ignited a sort of nostalgic hope for a return to the seeming prosperity of the past in the hearts and minds of many patriotic voters.

The idea, of course, is that America, like Elvis before her, runs the risk of overdosing on past successes that have now given way to excess. Whether or not you agree with this general sentiment that the rise of Trump has exacerbated the downfall of America, and I don’t really personally subscribe to that way of thinking, it’s hard to deny that the country is plagued with deep divisions that have always been there but have now only intensified. The film does a great job of presenting its general thesis, questioning if this grand idea of the American Dream has always been an illusion, like how Elvis represented an idealistic version of the country that maybe never really existed.

The overall arc of the narrative is best summed up by a heartbreaking story that Mike Myers recounts partway through the film. When Elvis used to drive into the Paramount lot where his movies were shot, his manager would put a towel over his head so that the screaming girls couldn’t see him. But after the Beatles burst onto the scene in the 1960s and the screaming girls stopped coming for Elvis, his manager would put a towel over his head so he couldn’t see that there were no more girls.

This is a very powerful example of the great American tragedy. The countercultural rebel had become mainstream, and then ran the risk of ending up obsolete. The American Dream has been all but reduced to a relic of the past, and America is at a turning point. The question now becomes whether the country is in the process of staging a comeback, or if it is doomed to the same fate as Elvis Presley, who is fondly remembered for his many great contributions to the world but died the most degrading death.

America might not be a monarchy, but for a little while they had The King, and maybe, just maybe, that’s enough reason for us to celebrate, regardless of what else happens.

The King is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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Review: Three Identical Strangers

July 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When the 19-year-old Bobby arrived at college in 1980, he was treated like a familiar face, despite the fact that he didn’t know anyone. As it turns out, they had mistaken him for Eddy, an identical twin that he never knew existed.

The story of these two long lost brothers being reunited by chance was so strange that it made the local papers, but it became even stranger – and even more of a media sensation – when they were contacted by a third guy named David, who also looked just like them.

They had all been adopted from the Louise Wise Agency in New York, shared the same birthday, and had many other things in common as well. They were identical triplets, who grew up within a hundred mile radius of each other, and never even knew of each other’s existence. The long lost brothers became fast friends and immediately shared a bond, but as they found out more about their past, their story started to take a darker turn.

Their story is recounted in Three Identical Strangers, a gripping new documentary that starts as a more lighthearted human interest piece before revealing itself to be something far more sinister. Exceptionally crafted by director Tim Wardle, who brings a strong narrative sense to the project and allows it to unfold with some truly shocking twists and turns, the film offers an incredible example of truth being stranger than fiction. The director utilizes a mix of interviews, archival footage, and reenactments with actors to tell the story in a very cinematic way. These choices are reminiscent of The Imposter, another stranger than fiction doc from several years back that the same production team had a part in.

The whole thing is masterfully edited together, with different clips and lines of dialogue repeating themselves at different points, allowing these little moments to take on deeper meaning the more that we find out about the story. The film ultimately ends up raising complex moral and ethical questions about how much information adoption agencies are required to divulge, and the effects that nature versus nurture can have upon somebody’s upbringing.

While it’s likely that some will already know the basics of this story, I would recommend seeing Three Identical Strangers knowing as little about it as possible. This is a riveting film, that just keeps getting more fascinating and disturbing with every new revelation.

Three Identical Strangers is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Review: Mary Shelley

July 13, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A biopic of the Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley takes the pretty extraordinary story behind one of the most beloved horror novels of all time, and turns it into a decently acted but otherwise fairly ordinary costume drama.

The film opens with Mary (Elle Fanning) as a free-spirited teenager living in London in 1814, reading a book at the gravesite of her mother and namesake Mary Wollstonecraft, an author and feminist scholar who died shortly after giving birth to her.

Mary is being raised by her political theorist father William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), who has instilled in her a love of books but doesn’t want her reading ghost stories, and she often clashes with her stepmother (Joanne Froggatt), who wants her to be more ladylike.

But a spark is lit in her life when she falls in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), a slightly older poet who becomes her father’s protégé, and she embarks on a passionate affair with him. When Mary’s father discovers that Percy has abandoned his own wife (Ciara Charteris) and daughter in order to be with her, he disavows their relationship, prompting them to move away to a house in France, along with Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley).

Much of the film focuses on the early stages of Mary’s relationship with Percy, which had its share of ups and downs. This leads to the famous summer that Mary, Percy and Claire spent with Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge, chewing up the scenery) and Dr. John Polidori (Ben Hardy) in Switzerland. It’s here that the inspiration for her novel and most famous creation is born, prompted by a challenge put forth by the grandiose Byron for each of them to write a fantasy novel.

While Mary Shelley is often entertaining, and Elle Fanning does fine work in the leading role, the biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t spend anywhere near enough time focusing on the actual writing and publication of Frankenstein. The conception of the novel only really comes into focus close to three quarters of the way through the two hour running time, relegating what is arguably the most interesting aspect of Mary Shelley’s life to the last act. This is ultimately the film’s greatest mistake.

The story of how Frankenstein came to be is fascinating enough on its own, and could have easily filled out more of the running time. The author started working on the story when she was just eighteen years old, and it was initially published anonymously with an introduction by Percy Shelley, which led many readers to assume he had written it. This was due to the fact that the publishers were apprehensive to release such a dark book under a woman’s name, and she only received credit for it later on.

The film does show some of the moments of heartbreak and longing in Shelley’s life that inspired her to write the story of a stitched together corpse reanimated through science, but it never goes particularly deep into her psyche, offering only a rudimentary study of her as a character. The actual pen-to-paper writing of the novel is reduced only to a short montage. There is a lot of nuance here that feels glossed over, and as a result the film never quite comes alive like it should.

The film is directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, who made her feature debut with the very fine Saudi Arabian female empowerment fable Wadjda several years back, and it has a few snags that a more experienced filmmaker might have done a better job of smoothing over. The period elements of the film are attractive to look at, but the production also feels somewhat stagey at times, and the dialogue in Emma Jensen’s screenplay can veer towards melodrama.

For a movie about a revolutionary story by an author who was ahead of her time, Mary Shelley is hardly groundbreaking stuff. While it’s alright as a period romance, and the performances are decent, the film would have been wise to focus more on the actual writing of Frankenstein, in which case it might have left more of an impact.

Mary Shelley is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

Review: Leave No Trace

July 6, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When we first meet Will (Ben Foster) and his adolescent daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in Leave No Trace, they are living a secluded life in the middle of a large urban forest in Portland, Oregon, sharing a small tent and foraging for food.

We don’t really know how long they have been living like this, but the father and daughter share a close bond and have settled into a routine between them. Will is a war veteran suffering from PTSD who can no longer handle the pressures placed on him by modern society, and Tom’s mother died when she was young, so we get the sense that she was raised this way and has been living in the woods most of her young life.

They have frequent drills to practise what they will do in the event that somebody finds their camp, and take infrequent trips into the city to stock up on basic groceries, and so that he can collect his welfare checks from the VA office. When the inevitable happens and they are discovered by police, Will and Tom are separated and put into social services, with Tom going under the watch of a social worker (Dana Millican). Arrangements are made for them to live together on a rural farm property, but Will finds himself struggling to readapt to civilization, as Tom starts to discover what she’s missed. But the question soon comes if they would actually be happier living like they used to.

The latest feature from director Debra Granik, who broke onto the scene with the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone in 2010, Leave No Trace is another stark and deeply empathetic character study of people living in the forgotten corners of America. Where as Winter’s Bone was a pitch black crime drama that had a sense of danger and despair running through it, Leave No Trace plays with a sense of serenity underlying its inherent drama that makes it transfixing and almost meditative to watch.

This isn’t a showy film, but instead one that is built around subtleties, and the entire film unfolds with a sense of realism. There are no real villains, and even the police officers and social workers who roust them from their peaceful inhabitance in nature, who could have been painted in an antagonistic light, are instead portrayed as sympathetic and well meaning. The drama feels very grounded, which isn’t surprising considering that the story is based on a novel by Peter Rock that was itself inspired by true events. The film’s suspense comes from a constant sense that the peaceful life Will is so desperately trying to establish for him and his daughter is constantly at risk of being intruded upon.

The film explores many of the same themes that were raised in Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist classic Walden, and in Michael Finkel’s more recent nonfiction bestseller The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the First True Hermit, providing a meditation on the healing benefits of solitude as well as the price that has to be paid in exchange for choosing to live away from society. Will’s PTSD becomes almost like a metaphorical way to explore feelings of restlessness and constantly wanting to get away from it all, but never really being able to, with forces outside your control always pulling you back towards what you are trying to escape.

The film works as both a coming of age story of a teen girl trying to figure out what sort of world she wants to live in, and of her father who can no longer handle the real world and needs to find a way to leave it behind in an attempt to find peace of mind. Will has already been broken by the world, a state that is contrasted by Tom, who is walking the fine line between being young enough to still have an idealistic view of the world, but also starting to discover the realities of it. Will lived amongst civilization once and is now making the choice to get away from it, where as Tom needs to decide what sort of life she wants to live.

Ben Foster does a compelling job of exploring his character’s anxieties about the world and his nascent paranoia, suffering from his own internal demons but also trying desperately to hold it together for the sake of his daughter. It’s a brilliantly minimalistic performance, with Foster playing these complex emotions in a subtle, low-key way that really resonates. The young New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie does beautifully naturalistic work as his daughter, and the two actors bring incredible depth and nuance to their characters and the bond between them.

Built around this pair of masterful performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace is a quietly moving and beautifully shot portrait of people wanting to just live their own lives, and the systems that keep intruding upon them.

Leave No Trace is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Review: Always at the Carlyle

July 6, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The Carlyle has seen its share of famous guests over the years, ranging from actors and rock stars to politicians and royalty, and now the famous New York City hotel is the centre of attention in Matthew Miele’s glossy new documentary Always at the Carlyle.

Situated in the Upper East Side, and harkening back to a different era with its elegant decor and glamorous rooms that cost upwards of thousands of dollars a night – and even come complete with monogramed pillowcases for regular visitors – the Carlyle is the hotel of choice for elites visiting the city.

Through interviews with a selection of dedicated staff members, some of whom have worked there for decades and have built up a rapport with the regular guests, we find out some of the history of the nearly a century old hotel, and hear anecdotes about some of the people who have stayed there over the years. There are also appearances from a whole slew of famous faces, including George Clooney, Wes Anderson, Bill Murray, Tommy Lee Jones, Jeff Goldblum, Angelica Huston and even the late Anthony Bourdain, who speak highly of their experiences at the hotel.

We hear stories about the Rolling Stones staying there, and how Jack Nicholson is known to send flowers to the staff. The employees also talk fondly about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first visit to New York in 2014, when they stayed at the Carlyle in honour of the late Princess Diana, who adored the hotel. We are even told of the time that Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs all ended up in one of the old elevators together. The hotel is also home to a classic bar where Woody Allen is known to hang out that has walls adorned with artwork by Ludwig Bemelmans, as well as an intimate lounge known as Cafe Carlyle, where Bobby Short performed for many years.

There are moments when a famous name is brought up but an anecdote about their time at the hotel is cut short because of the hotel’s strict policy not to talk about their guests. There is also an overall sense that the film is holding back on some of the more unsavoury stuff that has inevitably gone down at the Carlyle, which is said to become party central every year following the annual Met Gala, especially in light of the #MeToo movement. George Clooney somewhat jokingly says near the beginning of the film that many “dastardly” things have happened at the hotel, but if the filmmakers had chosen to explore this claim it likely would have turned into a much darker exposé.

The trouble is that the film doesn’t have much in the way of substance, and the experience of watching the rich guests fawn over the affluent experiences they’ve had there – and hearing how the staff have gone along with some of their ridiculous demands, including one unnamed woman who insisted they bring her a patch of grass for her dog to piss on in the room – can get somewhat tiring. After all, they are talking about experiences that the majority of us could never even dream of having, and I wish the film had pushed back further on some of the elitism on display.

As it stands, this is not a particularly deep film, and it sometimes feels stretched thin even though it only runs for an hour and a half. The film largely functions as a celebration of the rich and famous, made for those who want to fantasize about their lifestyles. But this lightness of touch is not necessarily a bad thing, and Always at the Carlyle is a breezy and enjoyable enough film that offers enough small pleasures to make it mildly worth seeing.  Just don’t expect much more than a fluff piece.

Always at The Carlyle is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Review: 22 Chaser

July 6, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Set in the seedy underground world of Toronto tow-truck drivers, 22 Chaser follows Ben (Brian J. Smith), a driver for the Jackrabbit towing company who is trying to make an honest living, but is stuck doing by-law duty and finds himself struggling to support his wife (Tiio Horn) and their young son (Jack Fulton).

The real money is in being a “chaser,” the sleazy drivers who operate on the edges of the law, listening to police scanners and racing each other to traffic accidents, trying to be the first truck on the scene to bring the damaged vehicles to body shops that give them kickbacks in cash.

When Ben promises to buy his son a several hundred dollar bike for his birthday, and gets money from a crooked cop (Aidan Devine) who moonlights as a loan shark but isn’t happy waiting to be paid back, his only hope is to become a chaser. But this puts him in direct competition with the other chasers who patrol the streets, including his ethically shaky co-worker Sean (Aaron Ashmore), who is trying to weasel his way into Ben’s family life, as well as the independent driver Wayne (Raoul Trujillo), a lone wolf whose loyalties lie with no one.

Made with the help of the Canadian Film Centre, 22 Chaser is the promising feature debut of filmmaker Rafal Sokolowski, following several short films. While the story is admittedly clichéd at times, and the overall outcome is fairly predictable, this is a thoroughly watchable and decently entertaining Toronto thriller that has enough going for it to make it worth a look.

The film moves at a good pace, and largely eschews filler at a tightly packed 85 minutes. With much of the action unfolding at night, Cabot McNenly’s attractive cinematography gives an almost noirish vibe to the film, highlighted by the steely grey skylines of The Six. Furthermore, the performances are solid across the board, and do a good job of keeping us engaged in the story.

22 Chaser is now playing in limited release at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto, and will be getting a VOD release on July 17th.

Blu-ray Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

July 3, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest in a long line of faith-based movies from Affirm Films, Paul, Apostle of Christ depicts the last days of Paul the Apostle (James Faulkner).  The film begins with him imprisoned in Rome in 67 AD, and sentenced to death by Emperor Nero, who accused Christians of burning down the city.

The story focuses on the visits that Luke the Evangelist (Jim Caviezel) paid to Paul in prison, at a time when followers of Christ were being violently persecuted.  Acting as his physician and caretaker, Luke risked his own life to write down the accounts of Paul’s life and document his time spent spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in the early days of the Christian faith, in what would become the Acts of the Apostles.

One of the most interesting aspects of Paul, Apostle of Christ is that the film often strikes a more introspective tone than the usual biblical epic, focusing on the intimate conversations between these early adopters of the faith.  The film does a good job of exploring Paul’s journey from persecutor of Christians to loyal follower of Christ, showing what led to his powerful Road to Damascus moment in flashbacks.  This is mirrored in the story of prison guard Mauritius (Oliver Martinez), who starts to question his own opposition to Christianity in his time spent upholding Paul’s sentence.

The script can be a bit heavy-handed at times, including a couple of oddly self-referential moments that don’t quite work in which Paul and Luke literally quote what would become scripture to each other, but for the most part, Paul, Apostle of Christ is an engaging biblical drama.  Andrew Hyatt does a solid job of directing the film, showing both reverence and respect for the material, as well as a good eye for crafting an authentic period piece.

The film is further elevated by the excellent performances of its leads.  James Faulkner brings a world-weariness to his role that is compelling to watch, and Jim Caviezel delivers another respectful portrayal of one of the bible’s foremost figures, following his career-defining performance in The Passion of the Christ.  This is a well acted film that uses its biblical story to provide a thoughtful and at times moving exploration of religious belief and how Christianity was able to spread, despite the violent persecution faced by its followers in the early days of the religion.

The Blu-ray also includes a pair of deleted scenes, two illustrated bible readings entitled The Living Scriptures, as well as the three featurettes The Path of the Apostle: Adapting Paul, Recreating First Century Rome, and An Extraordinary Friendship: Luke & Paul.

Paul, Apostle of Christ is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 108 minutes and rated PG.

4K UHD Review: Jack Reacher

June 26, 2018

By John Corrado

Paramount is continuing their recent trend of rereleasing their old catalogue titles on 4K Ultra HD this week, and the latest film to get an upgrade is writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s 2012 crime thriller Jack Reacher.

Based on Lee Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, the film opens with a chilling, wordless sequence in which a sniper takes out five civilians in Pittsburgh, in a seemingly random mass shooting.  When former soldier James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is arrested for the crime, he scrawls a note requesting Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), an ex-military officer who is brought in to investigate.

Working with Barr’s lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), whose father (Richard Jenkins) happens to be the district attorney, Reacher starts to reveal a much larger coverup that is increasingly at odds with the official investigation being led by Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), putting his military training to good use and risking his own life in the process.

While the film is often more legal procedural than action movie, and it runs a little long at over two hours, Jack Reacher boasts a sharp screenplay and solid performances.  Tom Cruise delivers a typically charismatic performance in the leading role, showing off both his acting chops and his action movie credentials, and the film is further elevated by Caleb Deschanel’s excellent cinematography, giving it the look and feel of a ’70s crime thriller.  This is a decent film overall that is worth revisiting if you have a 4K system, and it’s also far superior to the mediocre and forgettable 2016 sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which had the law of diminishing returns firmly in place.

The 4K disc includes a pair of commentary tracks, the first one featuring Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, and the second with composer Joe Kramer.  The set also comes with a regular Blu-ray disc that also includes the two commentary tracks, along with three featurette.

Jack Reacher is a Paramunt Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 130 minutes and rated 14A.

4K UHD Review: Forrest Gump

June 26, 2018

By John Corrado

Released in 1994, Forrest Gump is one of those classic movies that has garnered a lot of adoration since it first came out, but has also attracted a very sizeable backlash over the years.  I have personally always had a soft spot for the film, and now Paramount has given it a 4K Ultra HD upgrade with this new release.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film follows Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), a simple man from Alabama who has an IQ of 75 and finds himself living his life against the backdrop of the major events of the mid-20th century, including the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and several different presidencies.

Right from the opening sequence – a buoyant single take that gracefully follows a feather floating through the air, a motif that Zemeckis revisited a decade later with the lost ticket sequence in The Polar ExpressForrest Gump has an almost fantastical quality to it.  Yes, the film is unabashedly sentimental at times and parts of it are admittedly a little hokey, but I also get why it has connected with so many audiences over the years.  It’s a sweeping film that is expansive in scope, spanning several decades and taking us through multiple different storylines and tones.

I have always chosen to view the film uncynically, and find it to be a touching and engaging journey through several decades of American history, as seen through the eyes of a character who finds himself unwittingly at the forefront of the country as it goes through radical changes, yet blissfully unaware of the importance of his place in it.  Tom Hanks delivers a charming portrayal of the titular character, and the film also showcases memorable performances from Sally Field as his mama Mrs. Gump, Robin Wright as his childhood friend Jenny, and especially Gary Sinise as the grizzled Lieutenant Dan.  It’s all set to an excellent soundtrack that showcases several decades worth of classic rock music.

The film was nominated for a total of thirteen Academy Awards, and took home six of them, including the second of back-to-back Best Actor trophies for Tom Hanks, who also won for Philadelphia the year earlier.  The film famously beat out both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction for Best Picture, in what remains one of the most argued about Oscar races in history.  It’s clear that at least some of the animosity towards Forrest Gump comes from the fact that it triumphed over these other cinematic favourites, causing many to reevalute their thoughts on the film and deem it overrated.

There is a magical quality to the fable-like story in how it shows the impact that one life can have on so many others, and the aspects of Forrest Gump that some choose to mock are the same things that make it endearing to so many others, myself included.  It’s a true piece of Americana, and love it or hate it, the film has left an indelible mark on popular culture that shows no signs of fading, despite the best efforts of internet haters.  While it’s doubtful this new edition will change anyone’s mind on the film, dedicated fans of Forrest Gump who are looking to upgrade are sure to be quite pleased with it.

The 4K disc includes a pair of commentary tracks to accompany the film, both of which have been imported over from the 2009 Blu-ray release.  The set also comes with a regular Blu-ray of the film that features these same commentary tracks along with the previously released featurette Musical Signposts to History, as well as a secondary Blu-ray disc devoted entirely to supplemental material, which appears identical to the bonus disc that was included with the 2009 edition.

Forrest Gump is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 141 minutes and rated PG.

4K UHD Review: Saving Private Ryan: Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition

June 26, 2018

By John Corrado

Last month, Steven Spielberg’s classic 1998 World War II epic Saving Private Ryan got a brand new 4K Ultra HD release from Paramount, in honour of the film’s 20th anniversary.

The film saw Steven Spielberg returning to the war five years after his Oscar-winning masterpiece Schindler’s List, this time putting us right on the front lines of battle and focusing on the camaraderie that forms amongst soldiers.

It begins with the now famous opening sequence on Omaha Beach, a harrowing section of of filmmaking that remains one of the most visceral and disorienting depictions of active combat ever put on screen, introducing us to Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks).

When the army gets word that three brothers have been separately killed in action, Miller is tasked with leading a team of seven soldiers behind German enemy lines to track down the fourth brother, Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), and bring him safely home to his mother.  Through this, the film becomes like an encapsulation of the war as a whole, exploring the sacrifices made by multiple men who are risking and even giving their lives in order to save one man, so that his family doesn’t have to deal with any more loss.

The graphically realistic battle sequences thrust us right into the terror and panic of war, as Janusz Kaminski’s riveting cinematography puts us up close and personal with the soldiers on the ground, but Saving Private Ryan is equally compelling in the quiet moments between the characters, when the extent of the sacrifices that they are making really hits home, and we see the bonds that have formed between these soldiers.

The film became a huge hit with both critics and audiences when it was released in the summer of 1998, ranking as the highest grossing movie of the year in the United States, and going on to win a total of five Academy Awards out of its eleven nominations.  While Steven Spielberg very deservingly took home his second Best Director trophy, the film itself lost Best Picture to the highly overrated Shakespeare in Love, a choice that looks even more embarrassing two decades later.

Bolstered by thrilling action, involving performances, and a powerfully absorbing story, Saving Private Ryan remains both an exceptional blockbuster and one of the finest war movies ever made.  It’s a film that still holds up in every single way, feeling like it could have been made yesterday despite coming out twenty years ago, and this spectacular new edition absolutely does justice to it.

The 4K disc includes no additional content, but the set also comes with a regular Blu-ray of the film, as well as a secondary Blu-ray disc devoted entirely to bonus features, including an excellent selection of featurettes ported over from the 2010 release that offer a deep dive into the making of the film.

Saving Private Ryan: Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 169 minutes and rated 14A.

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