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A HandMade Tale: Four new titles on Blu-ray

This week we are celebrating the Blu-ray debuts of four terrific features from HandMade Films. The fact that this company even exists is a story in itself, and many beloved films owe their existence to the independent spirit that HandMade brought to the world of cinema. To make a long story short, in 1979, Monty Python was a few days away from starting to shoot Life Of Brian when the original producers (EMI) got scared of pissing off the religious establishment and pulled the plug on funding. Eric Idle was friends with George Harrison and asked him to help. Harrison said yes, and he & his business manager founded HandMade films, initially for that reason alone. But then, another charity case came along. John Mackenzie's electrifying gangster saga The Long Good Friday had completed production when the backers of that film got cold feet for all kinds of reasons (violence, the IRA, Bob Hoskins' awesome Cockney accent) and decided they didn't want to release the film. Harrison and HandMade bought the rights and released the film to critical acclaim. It also put Hoskins on the map, and if you've ever seen the film you'll understand why immediately. The Long Good Friday, in my mind, exists in the same universe as Dreyer's Passion Of Joan Of Arc. A stretch? Maybe, but honestly, the thing I remember about this movie more than anything else is Bob Hoskins' face (Joan is composed in large part in close-ups of faces, primarily Renee Falconetti's). Just watch Bob's for 114 minutes and you will experience giddiness and amazement at the myriad of expressions one face can make.
And that's not to take one iota away from the intensely plotted and paced narrative. It's just that you experience it all through the actions and reactions of Bob Hoskins, whose star rose greatly after his bravura performance. One would be greatly remiss to not mention the lovely Helen Mirren, who, as Hoskins' wife, shines as the voice of reason and sensibility in an otherwise chaotic world.
For HandMade's next venture, Harrison not only produced, but contributed songs to Terry Gilliam's first original screenplay and third as a director: Time Bandits. It was the first in a long line of Gilliam films that would explore the need to escape authoritarian society into a world of fantasy, which is never as pretty as one hopes. It also features terrific performances by Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, and Kenny Baker (whose birthday shared the Blu-ray release date!) as well as standout bit parts by Ralph Richardson, Sean Connery, John Cleese, and Ian Holm.
Five years later in 1986, HandMade again collaborated with Bob Hoskins and gave him a role that made the rest of the world take note of this fine British actor's amazing energy and range. Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa gave Hoskins arguably his finest role as a tough-as-nails underworld chauffeur who, just out of prison, is handed the task of caring for an enigmatic call girl by former boss Michael Caine. Caine is absolutely chilling, Cathy Tyson's great too, but Hoskins owns this film. Wire fans take note: Clarke Peters (The Wire's Lester Freamon) plays a very nasty pimp here. Also, cinematographically, this is the star of the bunch. Roger Pratt, fresh off of shooting Gilliam's Brazil (which wasn't a HandMade film but probably should have been) films the seedy underworld and high-toned hotels of call girls and power-mongers with exquisite detail.
A year later, HandMade produced what for many is one of the most beloved films in contemporary British cinema: Withnail & I. Based on an unfinished autobiographical novel by writer/director Bruce Robinson, it chronicles the friendship and odyssey of two friends & out of work actors in the London of 1969 and their attempt to escape their shabby surroundings by venturing to an uncle's house in the country. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann are the respective title characters, and Grant's portrayal of the insufferable, liquor-swilling, anxiety-ridden Withnail put him on the map with film audiences everywhere. With the help of friend Danny The Drug Dealer (memorably portrayed by Ralph Brown,) the two main characters spend much of the film drunk, stoned, and generally fumbling through life. While a good deal of the film's appeal and renown seems to give great credence to that aspect, I find it a more melancholy venture of self-discovery.
HandMade is still around, albeit several iterations removed from George Harrison, and through Image Entertainment they have released budget-priced Blu-rays of these four films. And while there's very little in the way of extra features, they've never looked or sounded better. Plus, when was the last time you could buy a bitchin' Blu-ray for the same price as its DVD counterpart? The aforementioned Roger Pratt's work on Mona Lisa is something to behold in hi-def, as are the lush countrysides that Withnail and I escape to. The creepy synth score of Long Good Friday blasts your senses and appropriately frays your nerves in glorious 5.1 uncompressed audio, and Time Bandits is a treat all around, aurally and visually, just as a Terry Gilliam movie in hi-def should be. When I first got my Blu-ray player last year, I found it real easy to rediscover things I hadn't seen in over a decade. In essence, I felt that I was seeing each film again for the first time since my initial theatrical experience. This, I told myself, is the reason for Blu-ray's existence. I hope that this quartet of HandMade releases on Blu-ray encourages you to do the same and rediscover these masterpieces one more time. We have the new HandMade Films Blu-rays from Image Entertainment for rent in the store and on sale for $14.95 each. They are available in our store or online by clicking the images below.

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