Top Gun: Maverick

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/1/22;
Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $716.58 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of intense action, and some strong language.
Stars Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, Bashir Salahuddin, Charles Parnell, Jon Hamm, Val Kilmer.

Among the many considerable plaudits earned by Top Gun: Maverick during a historic box office run, one of the most remarkable might be the degree to which it retroactively makes its predecessor a better film.

The long-awaited (and pandemic-delayed) sequel to 1986’s Top Gun finds Pete Mitchell, callsign Maverick, the hotshot fighter pilot played by Tom Cruise, older but not much wiser — still flaunting the rules and refusing to evolve beyond his core identity as a naval aviator.

Tucked away from official duty while serving as a test pilot for a new stealth fighter called the Darkstar, Maverick is summoned back to Top Gun with orders to train a group of elite graduates from the famed dogfighting school for a mission to bomb an illegal nuclear facility in an unnamed rogue nation (which is definitely not Iran, wink wink). The mission is said to be nearly impossible to pull off, with the pilots forced to contend not only with GPS jamming and anti-aircraft missiles, but also the threat of new technologically superior fifth-generation enemy fighters. The key to survival will be how could the pilot in the cockpit truly is.

The film is essentially what it would feel like if the entirety of the first “Star Wars” movie were focused just on the pilots training for and carrying out the attack on the Death Star.

As to Maverick’s own personal growth, one stumbling block may be that he still blames himself for the death of his best friend, Goose, in the original film. The sequel, thus, provides some measure of a pathway to atonement in the form of Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller), who is among the new generation of pilots vying for a spot in the mission, and who resents Maverick for trying to impede his own career.

In his return to San Diego (even though in real life that’s not where Top Gun is located anymore), Maverick even gets a chance to catch up with old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly), whose character is mentioned in the original film as a prior dalliance for the young pilot.

Thus, the two films, when taken together, tell the grand arc of Maverick learning where he fits in the world — and either adjusting to the new reality or testing its limits until it kills him.

While it also succeeds on its own merits, the sequel is evocative of the original but not a straight retread. There are scenes and characters that echo what came before, but the screenplay uses such nostalgia to enhance the story, rather than rely on it. In turn, circumstances of the original film take on greater meaning now that we know how they pay off.

That’s because Top Gun: Maverick works on so many levels, from an emotionally exhilarating story of an ersatz family coming together, to an eminently watchable, fist-pumping patriotic thrill ride.

Joseph Kosinski proves to be a deft choice for the director’s chair, bringing his reputation for strong visual dynamics to bear in making the film seem like a tribute to the late Tony Scott, whose work helming the original helped redefine the action genre. Fittingly, Top Gun: Maverick is a throwback to the heyday of action films that didn’t try to be more than they needed to be — entertaining crowds with charismatic movie stars, exciting combat, a love story to raise the stakes, and some chart-topping pop tunes (which in the case of this film should give Lady Gaga a chance at another Oscar).

The aerial photography is breathtaking, with the only potential drawback from a visual standpoint being the use of the F-18 Superhornet as the primary hero fighter. The F-18 has been featured in a lot of movies before, but it looks like a generic assembly line fighter jet and just doesn’t have the sexy big-screen presence of the F-14 Tomcat, which was featured in the original film.

Of course, switching from the F-14 to the F-18 was pretty much mandated by the constraints of reality, as the Tomcat was retired from active service in 2006, replaced by the F-18 as the primary naval fighter (with the F-35 set to take on more prominence going forward). The only country today still flying the F-14 in their fleets is Iran (just like the “fictional” enemy in the film, wink wink).

Cinematically, the film takes the original’s catchphrase of “the need for speed” to the next level, putting the actors in real F-18s to pull legit G-forces that you can see on their faces and practically feel through the screen. With the F-18 coming in both single and dual-pilot configurations, the production could stick the actors in the backseat and film them as if they were flying the single-seat version.

The earnestness of the filmmaking and cinematography gives the film an unmatched level of verisimilitude that makes it effortless to enjoy — despite what seems to be a cottage industry of former fighter pilots popping up on YouTube to analyze the technical inaccuracies of the film.

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The key question of the film is, as an aging pilot, where does Maverick belong? To many film fans, the answer to that question isn’t just that he belongs in the air, but in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat, which is perhaps the most iconic fighter plane of all time thanks in no small part to being featured in 1980s films such as Top Gun.

Being well aware of this, it’s a good bet the filmmakers will find a way for Maverick to find his way back to the F-14. And when they do, it’s a pure hit of that sweet sugar we all crave.

The filmmakers know exactly what they’re doing, taking full advantage of basic screenwriting lessons of setup and payoff. This is a screenplay that tells you exactly where it’s going, and it’s a ride you want to take.

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The 4K presentation of Top Gun: Maverick is simply stunning, with reference-quality visuals and sound that should really push the boundaries of what home theaters can do. The HD presentation features a shifting aspect ratio, expanding to fill the screen during the aerial scenes to take advantage of the Imax photography used during production.

The film is offered in standalone 4K, Blu-ray and DVD editions — frustratingly, none of the wide releases are combo packs, aside from a code to access a digital copy being included with the 4K and Blu-ray sets. There is a limited-edition Steelbook with both 4K and Blu-ray included. A gift set of both films on both 4K and Blu-ray is due Dec. 6.

Only the Blu-ray editions include bonus materials, which are also accessible through the digital copy at some retailers.

These include several insightful behind-the-scenes featurettes. The eight-minute “Breaking New Ground” delves into the challenges of finding the techniques to make the film as realistic as possible, including creating new cameras for the cockpits; the nine-minute “Cleared for Take Off” invites viewers into the training the actors received to film the aerial sequences; the five-minute “A Love Letter to Aviation” deals with Cruise’s passion for flying and how he piloted his own World War II-era P-51 Mustang plane in the film; and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Forging the Darkstar” looks at the filming of the fictional plane prototype in the opening sequence, for which the the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works development team was brought in to lend an air of authenticity.

Also included are music videos for the songs “Hold My Hand” by Lady Gaga (the new love theme that in tandem with the original film’s theme serves as the basis for the new film’s musical score), and “I Ain’t Worried” by Onerepublic (the song that accompanies the beach football scene that is this film’s version of the original’s volleyball scene).

Exclusive to the 4K disc (and digitally) is “Masterclass With Tom Cruise,” a terrific 50-minute discussion with Cruise at the Cannes Film Festival about his career.

Among the extras available digitally are a 26-minute promotional video of comedian James Corden going through pilot training with Cruise. There’s also a short video from CinemaCon of Cruise introducing a screening of Top Gun: Maverick while filming an aerial stunt for the upcoming Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, a trailer for which also is included.

Labyrinth: 35th Anniversary Edition

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Fantasy;
$40.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Brian Henson, Ron Mueck.

Master puppeteer Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy Labyrinth is a bit of an odd duck — a bizarre adventure with a chilly reception upon its release that has since become a cult classic. Labyrinth sits alongside similar films such as 1984’s The NeverEnding Story and 1985’s Return to Oz in providing fantastical escapism with slightly darker overtones for a kids movie.

The reason the film’s reputation has grown such as it has is undoubtedly due to David Bowie in the key role of Jareth the goblin king, whose look has become iconic. Casting Bowie afforded Henson the luxury of injecting more songs into the narrative, giving it the feeling of a musical that doesn’t always mesh with the darker elements of the story.

The film was also one of the first roles for Jennifer Connelly, who stars as Sarah, the teenage girl who, annoyed with the constant crying of her baby brother, wishes Jareth would take him away to the land of the goblins — an action she immediately regrets when he indeed shows up to do so. He gives her 13 hours to traverse the maze surrounding his castle and defeat his minions so that she may rescue the baby.

Much of the publicity promoting nostalgia for the film over the years has been to prominently feature Connelly in an elaborate ball gown, playing up the otherworldly high fantasy elements of the story. In fact, this comprises just one short sequence in the film, with Connelly, who was 14 during filming, spending most of the movie in blue jeans like a typical ’80s kid.

The film’s contemporary setting — Sarah is rehearsing for a play based on the goblin lore, hence her familiarity with it — on its own begs the question of how much of Sarah’s adventures are just a dream, though the movie doesn’t offer many clues to suggest it’s anything other than really happening to her. However, like The Wizard of Oz, Sarah’s “real world” offers a number of clues that would seem to influence the goblin world, and it’s fun on subsequent viewings to spot these details in her bedroom.

One of them pointed out by Henson’s son Brian on the new 4K disc is that Sarah has a newspaper clipping of a photo of her mother with Bowie (a photo of Connelly’s actual mother with Bowie) — the implication being that her mother left the family and ran off with Bowie, causing Sarah to subconsciously cast him as the villain in her adventure.

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The story bears more than a passing resemblance to Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There, which led to some legal controversy before an acknowledgement to Sendak’s work was added to the credits. (Outside Over There, along with The Wizard of Oz and other similar works, are among the books in Sarah’s room).

In addition to Henson and his usual team, Labyrinth also boasts some impressive filmmaking pedigree, with “Monty Python” star Terry Jones getting screenplay credit, and George Lucas assisting with both the script and the editing.

Labyrinth ended up being the final film directed by Henson, who was dismayed by its negative reception. After returning to his forte of children’s television, Henson died in 1990, four years after Labyrinth’s release.

The new 35th anniversary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition comes in a digibook designed to resemble Sarah’s “Labyrinth” book in the movie. The two-disc set includes the movie on both a 4K disc and a standard Blu-ray Disc.

The regular Blu-ray is the same disc that was released as the 30th anniversary edition in 2016, and includes a commentary track, a picture-in-picture mode and several retrospective featurettes.

The 4K disc includes the film with Dolby Vision, and it looks great despite some dodgy composite shots. The puppetry is expectedly top notch, the key contributor to the film’s sense of fun.

The previously unreleased extras on this set both come on the 4K disc, and include 25 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, plus 55 minutes of footage from the original auditions for the role of Sarah.

The deleted scenes are presented in rough video form, and mostly expand on ideas already in the movie. The scenes are offered with optional commentary by Brian Henson (one of which being a longer scene focused more on the previously mentioned picture of Sarah’s mother).

The audition tapes include actresses such as Molly Ringwald, Tracey Gold of “Growing Pains,” and Back to the Future’s Claudia Wells, among others.

Both the deleted scenes and auditions have an oversight common to such extras on many discs, in that they have a “play all” option but no title cards for each segment, so the only way to identify the segment is to go back to the original menu.

Season Two of ‘Snowpiercer’ Traveling to Disc Nov. 9

Snowpiercer: The Complete Second Season will travel to Blu-ray and DVD Nov. 9 from Warner Bros Home Entertainment.

At the end of season one, the survivors of the revolution are trying to pick up the pieces and maintain a fragile peace amongst the now merged classes with Layton (Daveed Diggs) emerging as the train’s leader. Discovering Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean) is alive and headed their way on a rival train, Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) risks going outside to prevent him from invading Snowpiercer. While she’s out there, it’s revealed that Alexandra (Rowan Blanchard), Melanie’s daughter, who she thought had died, is alive and has become Wilford’s dedicated protegee. In season two, an entirely new power struggle emerges, causing a dangerous rift as people are divided between their loyalty to Layton and to Mr. Wilford, who has a new train, new technology and a game plan that keeps everyone guessing. While Layton battles Wilford for the soul of Snowpiercer, Melanie leads the charge on a shocking new discovery that could change the fate of humanity.

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Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel series and the film from Academy Award winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), “Snowpiercer” season two stars Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Grammy and Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, “Black-ish”) Sean Bean, Rowan Blanchard, Emmy nominee Alison Wright (“The Americans”), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha, “Battle of the Sexes”), Iddo Goldberg (“Peaky Blinders,” The Zookeeper’s Wife), Katie McGuinness (Dirty Filthy Love), Tony Award winner and Grammy nominee Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories), Sam Otto (Jellyfish), Roberto Urbina (“Narcos”), Sheila Vand (Argo), and Steven Ogg (“The Walking Dead”).

“Snowpiercer” has been picked up for a fourth season, with season three set to premiere on TNT early next year.

The release includes 21 minutes of extra features, including “The Great Engineer: Bringing the Mysterious Mr. Wilford Aboard,” a behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast exploring the god-like Mr. Wilford; “Season 2 Overview,” an exclusive look at the second season with the cast; “Behind the Character: Mr. Wilford,” in which the cast discusses the mythical character of Mr. Wilford; “Season 2 Roundtable,” featuring the cast and crew; “Daveed Diggs Season 1 Recap,” in which the first season  is recapped through the POV of its main character Layton (Diggs).

Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth’ Coming to 4K Ultra HD Aug. 17 for 35th Anniversary

The Jim Henson fantasy Labyrinth will debut on 4K Ultra HD Aug. 17 for its 35th anniversary from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The 1986 film follows a 16-year-old girl (Jennifer Connelly) who is given 13 hours to solve a dangerous and wonderful labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King (the late David Bowie).

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The release will feature Dolby Vision and an hour of new and archival special features. The limited-edition collectible set also includes a 28-page Digibook — featuring artwork, photography and early script pages — styled to resemble Sarah’s book of The Labyrinth from the film.

‘Snowpiercer’ Season One on Disc Jan. 26

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Snowpiercer: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Jan. 26 (order date Dec. 22). Episodes are available now through digital sellthrough.

Set more than seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, “Snowpiercer” centers on the remnants of humanity who inhabit a perpetually moving train that circles the globe with 1001 cars, setting up a society punctuated by class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival play out in this riveting television adaptation.

Based on the graphic novel and the 2013 film from Academy Award-winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), the series stars Academy Award-winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind),  Grammy and Tony Award-winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), Alison Wright, Mickey Sumner, Susan Park, Iddo Goldberg, Katie McGuinness, Lena Hall, Annalise Basso, Sam Otto, Roberto Urbina, Sheila Vand and Jaylin Fletcher.

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The Blu-ray and DVD editions include all 10 episodes, plus several extras, including an overview, interviews with Connelly and Diggs, and the featurettes “Class Warfare,” “The Train” and “Behind the Curtain: Art of the Frozen World.”

The second season of “Snowpiercer” debuts Jan. 25 on TNT.

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‘Requiem for a Dream’ Director’s Cut on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 13

Lionsgate will release Requiem for a Dream on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for its 20th anniversary Oct. 13.

The combo pack will include the director’s cut of Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel about four people pursuing their visions of happiness through drugs, plummeting with their dreams into a nightmarish, gut-wrenching freefall.

The cast includes Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans.

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The 4K disc includes Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound with a transfer supervised by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, plus four new featurettes: “On Set: 1999,” “Transcendent Moments: The Score of Requiem for a Dream,” “Ellen Burstyn on Requiem for a Dream” and “Through Their Eyes: Revisiting Requiem for a Dream.”

The standard Blu-ray included in the combo pack includes legacy extras such as “The Making of Requiem for a Dream” featurette, the “Memories, Dreams, & Addictions: Ellen Burstyn Interviews Hubert Selby Jr.” featurette, deleted scenes with optional commentary by Aronofsky, and a marketing gallery

Both the 4K and regular Blu-ray discs include separate audio commentaries by Aronofsky and Libatique.

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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Heading Home in July

The sci-fi actioner Alita: Battle Angel will be released July 9 digitally, and July 23 on Blu-ray, DVD and as a combo pack containing 4K Ultra HD and 3D Blu-rays of the film.

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and based on a 1990s Japanese manga series, the film stars Rosa Salazar as Alita, a discarded cyborg in a futuristic city searching for clues to remember her past. The cast also includes Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley and Keenan Johnson.

The film has earned $85.7 million at the domestic box office and $405 million worldwide.

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The DVD, Blu-ray and digital versions, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, now part of the Walt Disney Co., will include four “Alita’s World” motion comics and the featurette “From Manga to Screen.”

The Blu-ray and digital versions will also include four scene deconstructions; a compilation of Cameron’s 2005 concept art; a Q&A with Cameron, Rodriguez and cast moderated by Landau; an “Evolition of Alita” featurette; a “Motorball” featurette; and “Robert Rodriguez’s 10-Minute Cooking School: Chocolate.”

The digital version will also include a “Musical Themes” featurette; a “Streets of Iron City” set tour with Rodriguez; “Allies and Adversaries” vignettes; a reel of 2016 concept art; and theatrical trailers.

The 4K presentation will include high dynamic range in Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10+ formats.

Netflix Picks Up International Rights to ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Dirty John’

Netflix has picked up international rights to the futuristic series “Snowpiercer,” which will debut on TNT in the United States, and “Dirty John,” premiering on Bravo domestically.

“Snowpiercer” comes to Netflix through a deal with ITV Studios Global Entertainment. The series, co-produced by Tomorrow Studios and Studio T, will be available to Netflix members globally outside of the U.S. and China in 2019. The series, based on the movie of the same name, stars Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs. Seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, the remnants of humanity, who inhabit a gigantic, perpetually-moving train that circles the globe, face class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival.

“Dirty John” is based on the articles and true crime podcast of the same name from Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard. It follows Debra Newell (Connie Britton) and her romance with John Meehan (Eric Bana), a charmer who sweeps her off her feet and pulls her into his web of lies.