"Coffee and Cigarettes" DVD Movie Review

9/09/2010 Posted by Admin

"Coffee and Cigarettes"

DVD Movie Review

Directed by Jim Jarmusch, Written by Jarmusch, 95 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"Coffee and Cigarettes" is an oddity even by Jim Jarmusch's standards. The indie film auteur responsible for such varied work as neo-Western "Dead Man," deadpan comedy "Broken Flowers" and samurai action film "Ghost Dog" began work on "Coffee and Cigarettes" in the late '80s. The film, similar in general idea to Richard Linklater's "Slacker" and "Waking Life," is a series of vignettes in which various celebs of disparate levels of fame wax philosophical on the eponymous addictive substances, Nikola Tesla, fame, family, industrial rock and countless other crazy subjects, every one of them more fascinating and bizarre (and, of course, hysterical) than the last.

The film starts off a bit slow, with the first three vignettes made up of short films Jarmusch made in the '80s and early' 90s under the "Coffee and Cigarettes" title. The first stars comedian Steven Wright and Italian writer/director Robert Benigni, and their general lack of understanding of each other's language makes for some amusing banter. Still, it's a cold start to what becomes an extremely entertaining film. It's followed by the second short film, starring twins Joie and Cinque Lee as well as Steve Buscemi as a southern waiter debating with the duo over the merit of Elvis Presley's music and whether he was a racist. This skit is primarily so fascinating just to see Buscemi so early in his career (this was filmed in 1989).

The film starts coming to life with the third short, starring Iggy Pop and Tom Waits. The duo have ventured into more interesting acting territory since, but even here they pull off something quite interesting and funny. Pop plays a more passive, anxious version of himself, while Waits lords over the whole conversation and tells Iggy that he's a doctor as well as a musician. This is the start to the general motif of the film, where relatively recognizable celebrities are twisted, almost always disturbed versions of themselves. Just seeing these two music legends speak in such odd context is glorious, and Jarmusch's dialogue really starts to pick up here.

The three that follow are generally hit or miss--one stars veteran actors Joseph Rigano and Vinny Vella arguing over the health dilemmas caused by smoking, the next stars relatively unknown actress Renee French, reading a gun catalogue and getting in conflicts with her timid waiter, and another stars French actors Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankole, who awkwardly attempt to start a conversation but ultimately fail and depart. The latter is probably the best of the bunch, though the two have given more interesting performances elsewhere.

It's here that the film hits its stride, though. Cate Blanchett stars as herself and as her fictional cousin in the next vignette, where Jarmusch examines the effect of fame on familial relations and the general attitudes of people. Blanchett is absolutely perfect in her dual role here.

It's followed by a skit starring Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes, who discuss Nikola Tesla, and throughout the skit Jarmusch makes reference to the band's odd fictional history and the motifs present in their act. This is probably the most overtly bizarre sketch of the film, as Jack has built a Tesla coil and is showing it to Meg in the middle of a coffee shop and he turns it on to rather underwhelming results. It's one of the most interesting vignettes of the film, despite the duo's general lack of charisma and delivery (though that may be intentional on Jarmusch's part).

The two very best vignettes come near the end. The first stars Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, at this point the latter far more widely renowned than the former (who hadn't yet starred in "Spider-Man 2"), and Molina confronts Coogan with his discovery that they're cousins and that they should work together. Coogan, unaware of Molina's talent and expecting that he's only looking for a way into the Hollywood elite, turns him down every step of the way, and the overall rapport between the two is just amazing. It's followed by a skit starring Jarmusch regular Bill Murray as well as GZA and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. Murray is in hiding as a waiter at the restaurant GZA and RZA are visiting, and the trio (with the two rappers hilariously always referring to Bill by his full name) discuss alternatives to smoking and caffeine and throughout make references to topics covered earlier in the film. This and Molina/Coogan skit are the highlights of the film.

Jarmusch finishes the film with the most oblique of the vignettes, one starring Bill Rice and Taylor Mead, which is more a surreal experiment in sound than a discussion like those that precede it. It's the perfect ending, really, and it pretty clearly puts across Jarmusch's goal--basically, to embrace simplicity, communication and personal connection. Every character in the film struggles to connect with those they converse with, whether due to fame or frustration, and Jarmusch ends the series on a quiet but generally upbeat note, with is odd for the film and for the director in general.

It's not perfect, and it could have done with some editing early on, but it's probably the funniest of any of Jarmusch's films and it's so varied and full of interesting performers that even if one skit doesn't work for you, it's very likely the next one will. That is, if you think watching celebrities sit and talk for 90 minutes sounds like a good time. If not, well, Jarmusch probably isn't for you anyway.

Grade: A-

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