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Bob Hoskins

Film Review: ‘The Long Good Friday’

Harold Shand is a man with a plan. Although many call him a gangster, he prefers to think of himself as “a businessman with a sense of history.” As such, he wants to buy up a vast, mostly disused section of the London docks and erect a superstadium to house the 1988 Olympics. A major challenge, that; but he has some key city officials in his pocket, and he’s coaxed the US Mafia to send over a representative to pass final approval on his scheme. As Good Friday dawns, everything’s moving smoothly. Then somebody starts blowing Harold’s friends and holdings off the map.

Harold’s enraged. He’s also perplexed. Among the local mobs, things have been pretty peaceful for a decade; besides, none of them is big enough to take Harold on. The Americans? No, they’re too practical: why wreck his “corporation” when it’s so much more logical to do business with a well-set-up organization? So who’s left? Or, as Harold himself rasps, “‘O’s ‘avin’ a go at me?”

The answer does not become clear for an hour-and-a-half ‘s worth of screen time. Without divulging it here, we can say that it provides a contemporary and revivifying twist on the generic gang-war formula, as ritualized over the sixty years between D.W Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley and F.F Coppola’s The Godfather. More importantly, within The Long Good Friday itself, the assault on Harold Shand’s empire proves to have nothing to do with the many theories and motives Harold considers. It’s a mistake. And that qualifies Harold Shand as the English-language cinema’s first absurdist gangster hero.

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Blu-ray: The Definitive ‘Brazil’

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (Criterion), a dark, dense science fiction fantasy, is like “1984” rewritten by Monty Python, an absurdist nightmare of Kafka-esque dimensions.

Jonathan Pryce is the dreamer trapped as a worker bee in the bureaucratic maze as deadly as it is indifferent, until he falls in love with a woman (Kim Greist) he thinks may belong to the terrorist underground. The road to true love involves lunches with his plastic surgery-addicted mother (Katherine Helmond), bureaucratic dueling with an air condition repairman (Bob Hoskins), and cozy relations with the friendly neighborhood interrogator (Michael Palin). Fittingly the film took its own circuitous route to release. Universal stalled the release and even reedited the film, until Gilliam screened the film himself for the Los Angeles film critics, who championed the film and lavished it with end of the year awards.

Universal released the 132 minute theatrical cut of the film, the same one that played theaters in the U.S., on Blu-ray last year in a bare-bones edition. But well over a decade ago, Criterion released Gilliam’s definitive version of the film, culled from materials in numerous different release cuts, in a deluxe three-disc DVD set packed with supplements. That edition now debuts in a newly-mastered, Director Approved Blu-ray set.

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The Cotton Club

How did I get here? By what pixilated logic do find myself in the position of defending Francis Coppola’s The Cotton Club?

Richard Gere and Diane Lane in the titular Cotton Club one very busy evening. All the shots Google-able just now are disappointingly fadey; Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography was pretty gorgeous.

For years I’ve been pointing derisively at F.F. Crapola as a totem of pseudo-style who plunders the inspiration of better artists, and confuses art with state-of-the-art—seeking to make depth and resonance a function of how many layers he can mix on a soundtrack, how seamlessly he can bleed images together by adapting video technology to the cinema. I inveighed against reviewers who hailed the phantasmagorical bombast of Apocalypse Now as “visual power,” the chi-chi poster art of the Coppola-produced The Black Stallion as “visual poetry.” I complained that even in The Conversation (surely one of Coppola’s most respectable efforts), the central ambiguity was not only, in the last analysis, a cheat, but ambiguity by the numbers (“I could have shot this scene all these different ways” instead of “I shot it right the first time and locked everything in”). I likened the director to his sound-surveillance protagonist in that movie, who was capable of emotional involvement only with the phantoms evoked through his ultra-sophisticated sound system. And about the time One from the Heart emerged ice-cold from the dead air of Zoetrope Studios, most of the press had come to feel the same way.

It’s hard not to see the Zoetrope years as so much wandering in the wilderness of Coppola’s own studio “vineyard.” The best films to wear the Zoetrope logo have borne it as a letter of transit rather than a stamp of manufacture: Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve qui peut/La Vie, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, Phillip Borsos’ The Grey Fox, the Kevin Brownlow reconstruction of Napoleon.

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