Friday, December 9, 2016

COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (2003) (Blu-ray Review)

COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (2003) 

Label: Olive Films

Region Code: A
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Bill Murray, Roberto Benigni, Isaach De Bankolé, Jack White, Meg White, Taylor Mead, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits,  Joie Lee

Synopsis: Comprised of eleven vignettes whose topics range from the theories of Nikola Tesla and caffeine popsicles to the possibility that Elvis had an evil twin, Coffee and Cigarettes is a cinematic celebration of life and its addictions featuring an eclectic cast of performers including Bill Murray (Broken Flowers), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), Iggy Pop (Cry-Baby), Tom Waits (Ironweed), Joie Lee (Do The Right Thing), Steve Buscemi (Fargo), Alfred Molina (Prick up Your Ears) and Steve Coogan (Philomena).

Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes is an anthology that is thematically a series of eleven black and white vignettes of various people partaking in coffee and cigarettes at various locations, engaging in small talk and conversational chit chat, it's just that simple. The addictive titular substances seems to be the only cohesive elements binding the stories, that and the black and white cinematography.

We begin with Strange to Meet You which was shot back in 1986, this is the first in the series, starring comedians Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni, playing themselves, slurping coffee with Benigni offering to attend Wright's dental appointment at the end. The two contrast each other nicely, Wright is his usual low-energy self and Benigni is a jittery caffeine-nut, good stuff. 

Twins stars Spike Lee siblings Joie and Cinqué Lee at a diner in memphis, arguing the way twins can do, while being waited on by Steve Buscemi, who proves to be the most interesting part of the short with a tale of Elvis Presley's evil twin. 


Somewhere in California, shot in 1993, is a meet-up with rocker Iggy Pop and singer/songwriter Tom Waits in a dive bar under a disco ball light, somewhere in California, obviously. These two have the perfect craggy faces for black and white, Waits speaks about delivering a baby on the side of the road earlier in the day while the two discuss having given up smoking years earlier, only to light 'em up just two prove they don't need to. This one is weird, the two are awkward together, as if they are only just then meeting for the first time, which it could have been for all I know. 

Those Things'll Kill Ya features actors Joseph Rigano and Vinny Vella meeting for breakfast, with one berating the other for not eating, warning him about the dangers of cigarettes. One of their sons arrives, in a wordless role, asking for money from his pops, promising a hug which never comes.  

Renée stars the hauntingly attractive actress Renée French having coffee alone at a diner, reading a book and enjoying a smoke, when the smitten waiter comes by hoping to make small talk, only to end up spoiling her perfect cup of coffee which she had at just the right color and temperature when he carelessly tops off her cup without asking. I do not know French from anything, but she has a face that looks just about perfect in black and white, eschewing cool without trying, this one stuck with me just because of the haunting noir-ish beauty of the star. 

No Problem is a low point for me, Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankolé meet for coffee, one asks the other if he has any problem he would like to talk about, to which he replies again and again and again that he does not. There's a punchline of sorts at the end, but this is still a low point for me, though I will say that I have been part of similar conversations where someone pestered me about "what;s wrong", so annoying, maybe that's why I didn't like it. 

Cousins starring actress Cate Blanchett in a dual role is one of my favorites here, playing a version of herself as well as a distant cousin who has a lot of resentment for her famous relative.  The two meet up in the lobby of a hotel while Blanchett is doing a press junket, it's a weird, that is quietly catty encounter which I enjoyed quite a bit, Blanchett herself seems to feign interest in her cousin, while her cousin cannot help but throw out a few small digs whenever she can.

Rockers Jack and Meg white of the now defunct rock duo The white Stripes appear in Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil, which is just that, the two having coffee and cigs, while off to the side of Jack is a homemade Tesla Coil sitting in a kids wagon, which he offers to demonstrate for her, which he does to a degree of success before it goes kaput, all the while espousing the genius of Nikola Tesla. Worth noting, while I haven't made any mention of the music of the movie yet, each segment features a backing music track, this one features proto-punkers The Stooges burning through "Down on the Street" from the seminal Funhouse album. 

Cousins? stars alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, and features the stars meeting-up for a proper cup of tea and biscuits, Molina is at first rather excited and curious to meet Coogan, but it ends with a mutual disappointment. At one point Molina reveals that through an Italian-connection they are somehow related. The appreciation doesn't' seem to go both ways, it speaks to the nature of being let down when meeting someone, and to the duplicitous nature of people. My favorite part is a brief mention of how seeing palm trees in L.A. annoys Coogan, not sure why  that appealed to me. 

Delirium stars comedy legend and all around cool guy Bill Murray at a diner along with GZA and RZA of rappers the Wu-Tang Clan, and Murray is as expected steals the show as himself in "disguise" as a waiter at the diner, Talking to the rappers about caffeine derived delirium while sipping straight from the coffee pot while the rappers offer a cure for his smoker's cough, the ill-advised gargling n the throat with oven-cleaner. 

The last one is a weird melancholy bit with William Rice and Taylor Mead enjoying coffee in a warehouse while discussing "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" from Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, also featuring a call back to Jack White's discussion of tesla and "acoustical resonance". 

Audio/Video: Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films framed in 1.78:1 widescreen, the image is appropriately grainy and textured - this shot on both 16mm and 35mm - and the Blu-ray does a much nicer job of resolving grain and fine detail than mu old 2005 DVD, as you'd expect. The only audio option on the disc is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix, its very front centric, the dialogue is crisp and clean, and the score includes music from The Stooges, Richard Berry & The Pharaohs and Tom Waits among others, though it is background music and not the focus of the track. The biggest compliment I can give the mix is that you get a feel for the distinct spaces for each segment. 

Extras come by way of a 2-min trailer and an 4-min interview with Taylor Mead who discusses his appreciation for the movie. 

Special Features: 
- Interview with Taylor Mead (4 Min) 
- Trailer (2 Min) HD 

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) is a wildly uneven watch, the mix of intriguing, deadpan and innocuous chit chat doesn't make for the most cohesive viewing experience, but it certainly is an interesting watch. It has been and probably will be for a long time be considered one of Jarmusch's lesser entries, but it has a charm about it that I enjoyed. 3/5  

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