Friday, June 04, 2004

Damn, Bill Murray!

Coffee & Cigarettes is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. I saw it tonight at the Music Box in Chicago.

I will say this--there are some very good bits in it. The flick is made up of a series of vignettes, and everyone knows the gimmick by now. They all involve smoking cigarettes, they all involve drinking coffee. They were filmed over the course of 17 years, and I'd be curious to know which were filmed when. In some of the pieces, there seems to be a greater awareness of the piece as a whole. I particular enjoyed the three pieces that closed the film, "Cousins?" with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, "delirium" with RZA, GZA, and Bill Murray, and "Champagne" with Taylor Mead and Bill Rice.

The film wins the most when it repeats itself--Tom Waits and RZA are both doctors, for example, and they're both late for the meetings (with Iggy Pop and GZA, respectively) because they've been caught up in minor medical emergencies. Tesla pops up a few times, as does the fact that those things will kill you. The same cell phone (all Star Trek flip-open style) pops up a few times, and dreams as fast as the Indy 500.

When the vignettes work, they work very well. But when they don't, they derail pretty badly. The pauses are long and awkward, and not in a real life kind of way--more like in a forced acting kind of way. I really wanted to like the pieces with Steven Wright & Roberto Benigni and Steve Buscemi, Cinque Lee, and Joie Lee, but they didn't come together. The actors seemed to be on different pages. While Bill Murray as a busboy worked quite well, Steve Buscemi as a busboy was more distracting than anything else.

"No Problem," about two friends reuniting with one insisting that all is well in his life and the other not quite believing, brought the movie to a halt. Many of the problems I have with the movie are when nothing happens in the vignettes but banal back and forth conversations. Truth can be found in everyday conversations, to be sure, but it's obvious that this film is going about it the wrong way when a piece like "Champagne," with two old men on a coffee break, flows so well and "No Problem" simply looks like it tries too hard.

Having said that, there were things that worked really, really well in Coffee & Cigarettes, things that needed work, and things that went the wrong way entirely. But it's certainly worth seeing for the former.

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