Saturday, August 14, 2004

Thanks to a friend with a spare preview ticket, I got to watch Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes. The movie's a collection of black and white clips, with a fairly star-studded cast that includes Bill Murray, RZA (wearing a Ghost Dog hat I wish I had), GZA, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Cate Blanchett, and for the indy music fans -- Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Jack and Meg White (a.k.a. The White Stripes). Even Roberto Benigni makes an appearance.

As you might expect, not all the clips are equally interesting or funny. The only things that tie all of them together are coffee (well, tea in one case), cigarettes, and the idea that speech is the worst form of communication between two people.

The dialogue is often funny and quirky but the things left unsaid are more crucial and this is where it falls to the actors to really differentiate the scenes from one another. For instance, put character actor Alfred Molina and established British comedian Steve Coogan together and you have a segment that shines with the contrast between Molina's effusive enthusiasm and Coogan's dry, understated wit. This makes the reversal at the segment's end much more satisfying. Also kudos to Cate Blanchett for talking on double roles in her episode and filling both -- a rich, well-heeled celebrity and her poor punk-rocker cousin -- admirably. In contrast, the musicians' episodes fall flat when there's no obvious visual quirk, like Jack White's Tesla coil.

I admit I'm not familiar with Jarmusch's work. I've only watched Ghost Dog and that was more accessible than Coffee and Cigarettes. So arm yourself with more patience if you're going to see the latter. Caffeine may help.

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