Interesting and occasionally funny, "Coffee and Cigarettes" is the latest directorial effort from Jim Jarmusch. The film is comprised of a series of short features with a couple of actors paired up, drinking coffee and smoking and talking. These pairings are often inspired, such as the hyperactive Roberto Begnini with the famously subdued comic Steven Wright. Bill Murray walks in on a conversation between the RZA and the GZA of the Wu Tang Clan. Despite the fact that Jarmusch has a writing credit on the picture, I'd be surprised if the actors weren't just allowed to roll with it and make things up as they went along.
My favorite of the shorts was between Iggy Pop and Tom Waits. The two musicians sit across from one another in a local restaurant and, despite a friendly overcast, there's a little undercurrent of sparring between the two. Pop notes that the local IHOP may have been a better choice for coffee ("classy brew", he says of their blend). The two continue their unspoken match of words until Pop departs. The Bill Murray skit with RZA/GZA also manages some fun moments, as Murray is naturally amusing.
Other moments simply go nowhere. People talk and talk and never really reach a point, which becomes frustrating. While real conversations often circle without landing, to sit and watch actors do it isn't terribly involving. Some moments aren't quite what we'd expect. The opening bit between Begnini and Wright should have been a hilarious oil/water match, but it ends quickly and never really gets much humor going. A weird, yet compelling sequence has Cate Blanchett playing against...Cate Blanchett, as the actress plays both a clam and collected side and her struggling musician cousin. A rude Steve Coogan becomes further uninterested in discussing projects with Alfred Molina, despite the fact that they've just discussed the newfound fact that they're related.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed a good handful of these skits, even the compelling ones never really offered that much of a payoff. Some (the Bill Murray bit) should have gone longer. Some themes come up throughout the skits, but there's really not much of a push to develop them or tie things together smoothly. There are times when "Coffee and Cigarettes" works well, but with some additional fine-tuning, this could have been more of a successful feature than a good, but uneven little project.
VIDEO: "Coffee and Cigarettes" is presented by MGM in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The black and white feature is beautifully photographed by a series of highly regarded cinematographers, including Frederick Elmes. MGM's presentation appeared to offer the film with the intended image quality; sharpness and detail remained fine, but not noteworthy and a little inconsistent at times.
The presentation didn't show any instances of edge enhancement or pixelation, but some stretches showed a minor-to-mild amount of intentional grain in the image. The print appeared in fine condition, aside from a couple of light specks.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, although it could certainly have been mono or stereo, given the material. The soundtrack does offer an enjoyable score in the background. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood.
EXTRAS: The theatrical trailer, a short (and not funny) Bill Murray outtake, a short featurette and a Taylor Mead interview.
Final Thoughts: "Coffee and Cigarettes" hits pay dirt in a few scenes, has a few moderately entertaining ones and a few that just don't work. I liked the movie and recommend it, but it's not something I imagine most will watch too often, so I'd call it more of a rental. MGM's DVD edition offers fine audio/video quality, along with a couple of minor supplements.