The Offer

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$25.99 DVD, $33.49 Blu-ray;
Not rated;
Stars Miles Teller, Matthew Goode, Dan Fogler, Burn Gorman, Colin Hanks, Giovanni Ribisi, Juno Temple, Patrick Gallo.

There are a few ways to interpret “The Offer.” On the surface, it’s the story of the quest to achieve a creative vision no matter what it takes. From another perspective, it’s a studio, Paramount, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of its greatest achievements, The Godfather, by sensationalizing a unique period of Hollywood history.

The details as presented in the 10-part limited series series made for Paramount+ likely lean more on the side of embellishment than fact, punching up the outlandishness beyond the point of believability in some cases. But that hardly matters when the end result is as entertaining a guilty pleasure as it turned out to be.

The particulars of the making of the “Godfather” films are easy enough to come by, given the plethora of bonus materials on DVD and Blu-ray releases of the trilogy over the years, not to mention countless books on the subject. The primary inspiration for “The Offer” is credited to the experiences of producer Albert S. Ruddy, thus making him the central figure for the series.

Ruddy (Miles Teller) is introduced as a bored programmer at the Rand Corporation who, thanks to a chance encounter, ends up creating “Hogan’s Heroes” for CBS (in truth, Ruddy’s Hollywood experience stretches back before his time at Rand).

Wanting to break into film, Ruddy convinces Paramount boss Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) to give him a shot with a low-budget film starring Robert Redford.

Meanwhile, Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) writes The Godfather, which turns out to be one of the best-selling novels of all time. Paramount owns the rights to make a movie version, but parent company Gulf + Western doesn’t want to risk too much money on yet another “gangster picture,” so they stick Ruddy on it.

Ruddy immediately breaks convention by hiring Puzo to write the screenplay (Hollywood for the longest time had taboos about creatives crossing mediums — TV to movies, novels to screenplays, etc.). When Puzo’s efforts stall, Ruddy brings in Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) to direct — another controversial move given Coppola’s disastrous track record as a director despite an Oscar win for writing Patton. Coppola is reluctant at first, but agrees to the project on the basis of bringing authenticity to an epic story about an Italian family.

Sticking Puzo and Coppola in a house together to hash out the screenplay (even though in real life they supposedly worked on it separately), Ruddy must then deal with a bigger obstacle to the film — opposition from the mafia itself, who see the book as a slur. Frank Sinatra is particularly offended by a crooner character in the novel, and vows to shut down the production.

Now supposedly thrust into the middle of a mob war against Hollywood, Ruddy makes pals with mob boss Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), which gets some heat off the film but doesn’t please the corporate brass at Gulf + Western or Paramount. Meanwhile, Colombo’s support of the film draws out some of his enemies within the mob who seek to replace him.

And so the series continues as a tug-of-war between artistic integrity, mafia greed and the corporate bottom line. The mob influence on the production was probably played up to draw parallels to the movie’s storyline, while the show contains no shortage of references to nostalgia touchpoints from the era audiences will recognize, from other movies to some of the actors up for roles in the film.

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As with most docudramas, certain events and characters are condensed and conflated for the sake of the narrative. For instance, Colombo rival Joe Gallo is shown being taken out because his attempts to extort the production threaten the budget to film in Sicily, when in reality he wasn’t killed until after the movie was released.

The cast is mostly solid, and Teller does a great job carrying the load as Ruddy, though his portrayal as a miracle worker and solver of all problems seems to be a bit overblown. Ribisi, on the other hand, is so over-the-top as Colombo he seems like he’s on a different show. But the standout is Goode as Robert Evans, so completely transforming into the iconic Hollywood executive that it might as well be Evans playing himself. If Paramount+ doesn’t greenlight a docudrama of Evans’ autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture starring Goode, it will be missing out.

Through Evans, “The Offer” gets to indulge a bit in telling the story of Paramount in general in the early 1970s, when he was brought in by Gulf + Western boss Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman) to turn the studio’s fortunes around. As such, the show delves a bit into the success of Love Story, starring Evans’ wife Ali MacGraw, and how their marriage disintegrated when he started to focus on The Godfather, and she ended up in the arms of Steven McQueen on the set of The Getaway. Evans also keeps an eye on his next project, Chinatown, despite his corporate overlords wanting to dump it as something they “don’t understand.” (Corporate stooges being idiots when it comes to art is a big theme of the show.)

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Those familiar with The Kid Stays in the Picture (the book or the 2002 documentary adaptation of it narrated by Evans) might note a number of discrepancies between Evans’ own accounts of these events and how “The Offer” portrays them. For instance, in the show, Coppola and Ruddy are fighting with Gulf + Western over how long The Godfather is, preferring the nearly three-hour version we all know and love today, while the bean-counters want to maximize screenings with a two-hour version (a classic debate in Hollywood — the best-known recent example involving the 2017 Justice League movie). Evans has to swoop in from a drunken stupor over his failed marriage to save the longer cut, thus sending the film on a path toward Oscar glory.

In Evans’ own account, Coppola turned in a two-hour version, and Evans ordered him to recut it to make it longer, thus delaying the film from a Christmas 1971 release to March 1972 (a delay mentioned in the show that doesn’t make much sense if the longer cut already existed). Conjecture over the editing of The Godfather has occupied much discussion over the years, and Coppola’s own accounts would likely fill further volumes.

For however inaccurate it may be, “The Offer” is still first and foremost a love letter to The Godfather, and should only serve to build on fans’ appreciation of that classic film, and a love of cinema in general.

The Blu-ray includes more than two hours of behind-the-scenes featurettes, most of which are on the fourth and final disc. Five are offered under the “Crafting ‘The Offer'” banner, and are short promotional videos, about four-and-a-half minutes each, about a different aspect of the production — wardrobe and costumes, music composition, production design, props, and hair and makeup.

There is an hour-long making-of documentary called “No One Can Refuse: Making ‘The Offer’ that is presented in four parts.

Rounding out this list are four standalone featurettes: the four-minute “Meet Al Ruddy,” which focuses on the main man himself; the five-minute “Directing ‘The Offer'”; The nine-minute “Parallels: Art Imitates Art,” about some of the references to the original “Godfather” movie layered into the production; and the seven-minute “The Offer: Sending a Message,” in which the cast members discuss the legacy of The Godfather.

Since there’s some overlap on the topics being covered, there’s a fair bit of reuse of a few of the interviews, but there are a lot of good insights into the making of the miniseries.

Sprinkled throughout the discs and available with each episode is a short “Backstories” featurette that originally accompanied the episode when it debuted on Paramount+. Several of the episodes also include deleted scenes.

Originally published as a streaming review June 18, 2022.

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.