Sunday, June 13, 2004

Coffee and Cigarettes

[But first: Japan Times writes about MoB today and interviews Roger Miller:

"[Prescott's] contribution to the band was more the raw energy, the punk energy. Mine was about complex structures and avant-garde technique," says Miller. "Clint's stuff is more pop structured and melodic."]

I saw Coffee and Cigarettes tonight. This is Jarmusch's latest flick apparently made over the span of several years. It consists of several small films all of which revolve over the imbibing of hot beverages (often caffeinated) and cigarettes. It explores such themes as iconclastic thought, great music (Mahler, Iggy, Waits, etc), petty celebrity oneupmanship and the importance and lack of importance of conversation and human interaction which I think is the overall point of the movie.

There's allot of absurdity here - most of the well-known actors appear as themselves but Steve Buscemi shows up as a waiter in one scene and isn't acknowledged as Steve Buscemi but just some "hick". Bill Murray shows up as a waiter in another similar scene and we find he is in fact Bill Murray serving coffee to two members of the Wu Tang Clan (including RZA who did the soundtrack for Kill Bill) who don't drink coffee. One scene goes on for ten minutes as two people who are meeting find they really don't have any reason to meet. The final scene which reminds one of Waiting For Godot is between one character who hears Mahler playing and wants to fantasize about being a famous person and another who knows they in fact just aged Armory janitors on a break in the basement. Yes, there's much to be compared with Samuel Beckett and J.P. Sartre's plays here.

If you like action, plot and compelling visuals, well, this isn't for you. If you instead, like interesting conversations, some good (but not all good) acting and ad-libbing and can stand the black and white graininess, then by all means, go see this.

Here's some of the highlights:

- Iggy "Um, call me Jim" Pop and Tom Waits share a tense scene (playing themselves). Apparently the set-up is that they have never met before and are meeting at a bar where Waits says he hangs out. Waits, who is played as a bit of an arsehole, takes an immediate dislike to Iggy when Iggy asks him why there aren't any of his tunes on the jukebox. From there its all downhill as the two spar over their relative fame and the lives they lead.

- Elements of this scene are repeated when Alfred Molina meets Steve Coogan for the first time. In this case, Coogan is the arse and Molina is a bit silly, having called the meeting because he found out through genealogical research that Coogan is his cousin several times removed and he's asking Coogan to "just love me." Coogan treats him like a nut until the end when Molina gets a phone call from a hot director and all of sudden the roles are reversed. Molina, in case you don't' remember, played the whacked out drug dealer in "Boogie Nites" and the evil pimp/barowner in HBO's Deadwood [WHOOPS, that's Ian MacShane -- Molina was in Jarmusch's Dead Man - ed.].

- Cate Blanchett does a great job of playing herself and her not-so-famous cousin, Michelle, meeting at a swank coffee bar in the hotel where Cate is doing a junket for her latest film. The cousin, so obviously jealous but underwhelmed by her cousin, does her best to get under Cate's skin (ironic). Lots of funny bits about the irony and hypocrisy of celebrity -- such as all the stuff you can't afford when you are poor is given to you free as "swag" (Cate regifts some swag for her cousin in a Seinfeld moment). And after they share a cigarette in the bar with nobody complaining and Cate leaves, Michelle is admonished by the waiter for lighting up. She slumps down in her chair.

- What's not to like: The opening scene between Roberto Benigni and Steve Wright. It's poorly acted and seems to be in a different style than the rest of the film. The appearance of Spike Lee's siblings (Joie Lee and her twin) and their lack of any ability to relate to Steve Buscemi or ad lib. The afore-mentioned scene between the two guys who have nothing to say to each other could have been maybe two minutes shorter. I dozed off -- and perhaps that was the intended effect.

- There's an interesting scene between a lone drinker who repeatedly turns down coffee from the waiter and rebuffs his attempts to draw her into conversation. Interestingly, she would rather read gun magazines. Is Jarmusch trying to say something about the other movies he's sharing the cineplex with?

- Jack and Meg's piece allows Jack White to rant about his obsession with Tesla (not the band, the inventor!). White Strike's LP Elephant refers in part to an experiment Thomas Edison did to disprove Tesla by electrocuting an elephant. Jack then demonstrates the Tesla coil "he built" (I think that's fiction) and it fails. I think this is an important scene though as a phrase is introduced by Jack and then later repeated by Meg after Jack leaves: "The Earth is a conductor of acoustical resonance." The phrase is then repeated by the two absurd janitors at the end and they immediately profess they have no idea what it means or why they said it. While Tesla was probably talking about something else, it seems to perfectly describe this little movie.

Where Coffee and Cigarettes promises some great ideas in lieu of the regular popcorn escapism that is the norm, it ultimately and, in full self-awareness, doesn't deliver. This is not a "Conversations with Andre" like movie (and I'm not saying that's a BAD thing). Still, while we can ask for more, some times the best we can get is sharing a drink (and, if you imbibe) a smoke with a friend.

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