Director Jim Jarmusch started his career with 1984's "Stranger Than Paradise". I've enjoyed his recent "Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai" as well as his "Night On Earth", but I didn't find myself entertained by much of "Stranger Than Paradise". Much of the movie is certainly a low-budget effort, but I didn't find the director doing anything terribly interesting with the few actors and sets the film was shot in.
The film stars John Lurie(who many may remember from the incredibly fun and entertaining "Fishing With John" series) as unemployed Willie. He recieves a call that his 16-year-old cousin Eva is coming to stay with him for a little under two weeks; he hates the idea and, at least for a little while, he definitely doesn't make her feel welcome. After the period's up, she leaves for Cleveland; he finds himself missing her and decides to visit. The two of them and his friend then end up taking a journey to Florida.
The film is incredibly low-budget ("no-budget", is more like it). Certainly, filmmakers like Kevin Smith ("Clerks") show that fast and smart dialogue can make 90 minutes of two people in one place funny and entertaining. There are pauses during "Stranger Than Paradise" though, where the two of them are silent - and the silence goes on too long. Although Lurie is right for the role, we aren't given enough details about his life to care about him at all, which makes the slow points even slower.
The film has a few moments as it goes onwards, but the opening half is definitely slow going. Lurie is a good actor, but this isn't that great a film. After watching half of the film, I felt as if I had already watched one whole movie. If you want to see Lurie at his best, Criterion Collection has released a collection of the "Fishing With John" episodes on DVD, the show where Lurie takes celebs (including "Stranger Than Paradise" director Jarmusch) fishing in various interesting locations. That DVD is definitely worth at least a rent (it also contains commentary from Lurie).
VIDEO: MGM offers "Stranger Than Paradise" in a new anamorphic transfer, but it still shows its no-budget roots. The 1984 film was made on an extremely low budget, and the black and white image is frequently very grainy. If you can look past the grain (which does let up slightly at times), the rest of the presentation isn't that terrible, considering budget and age. Sharpness actually is pretty decent in a few scenes, but most of the film looks soft and detail is fair at best.
There are print flaws in the way of some marks and scratches, but they are fewer in number than I'd expected from a film this small that's now 16 years old. The best way to summarize the image quality is: it's probably the best that this film has ever looked, but go in prepared for a definite "low-budget" look, with many scenes looking grainy.
SOUND: The mono audio sounds about as no-budget as the film looks. Although I didn't hear anything in the way of distortion or other problems, the audio remains thin and flat. Dialogue is also a little muddy once or twice, but the majority of it was easily understood. There is some minor music in the background, but it certainly doesn't make much of an impression and sounds about the same as the rest of the audio in terms of quality.
MENUS:: Menus are pretty basic, with no music or animation and only a few minor options.
EXTRAS: There is a fairly weird and fairly lengthly featurette of the production behind-the-scenes in "Cleveland". The only problem is that this documentary was recorded without sound, so you just get to watch the footage, which is in color, but fairly worn looking.
Final Thoughts: Fans of the movie (and there certainly seems to be many) will be pleased to have the film available for $19.99 (and less at most online stores), but those who haven't seen the film might want to pass, or rent it first.