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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Coffee and Cigarettes
Coffee and Cigarettes
MGM // R // September 21, 2004
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Robert Spuhler | posted October 10, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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There's no point in trying to review Coffee and Cigarettes as if it was a cohesive 90-minute film. Over the course of two decades, director/writer Jim Jarmusch has assembled 11 short films, all with the running thread of the characters drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. It is, essentially, a compilation.

So instead, let's break down the film to its individual elements:

1. Strange to Meet You: Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni spend about five minutes talking about nothing. The dialogue starts a little clumsily, with Wright getting the titular line only about 30 seconds into the film. But the comic interplay between the two is fantastic, and the energy is enough to keep propelling the scene forward. Wright also has one of the best lines in the movie: "I drink a lot of coffee before I go to sleep, because then I can dream faster."

2. Twins: Joie and Cinque Lee are drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in Memphis. Steve Buscemi waits on their table and explains about the power of Elvis Presley. Neither Lee is impressed with stories about the man who took rock and roll away from African-Americans. Very funny, with Buscemi stealing the show per usual.

3. Somewhere in California: Iggy Pop and Tom Waits get together and talk in the film's most transparent grasp at being "hip." Both spend the entire conversation "acting," which in the case of Iggy Pop amounts to making funny faces. He's annoying enough to sink a very funny script and premise (the two lock horns in a passive-aggressive duel).

4. Those Things'll Kill Ya: Joe Rigano and Vinny Vella debate the health risks and rewards of smoking cigarettes, while Vinny Vella, Jr. trying to get money from his father.

5. Renee: Renee French reads a magazine. E. J. Rodriguez waits on her, while clumsily hitting on her. The most formulaic of the 11 shorts.

6. No Problem: Alex Descas and Isaach de Bankole talk about something, but it's hard to tell because of both actors' extremely heavy accents. Very stilted, as if neither actor knew their cue lines.

7. Cousins: For my money, the showcase scene of the film. Cate Blanchett plays both herself and her bitter cousin, Shelly, who feels that Cate has distanced herself from her family. Funny and extremely well acted.

8. Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil: The title says it all, really. Jack and Meg White (the rock band the White Stripes) smoke, drink and talk science. A very fun scene.

9. Cousins?: Alfred Molina and Steven Coogan get all wild and crazy, breaking the formula and drinking tea instead of coffee. Take that! The best written of the shorts, "Cousins?" sets up believable stakes, a tension and has a beginning, middle and an end.

10. Delirium: What do you get when you put RZA and GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan in the same room as Bill Murray? I don't know. My head exploded.

While the acting chops aren't up to speed for the Clan members, all is redeemed for two of GZA's lines: "Aren't you Bill Murray, man?" and "And you're Bill Murray. Bill 'Groundhog Day, Ghostbusting-ass' Murray". Very funny stuff.

11. Champagne: A surprisingly down ending, centering on a conversation in a basement between Bill Rice and Taylor Mead.

The DVD

Video:

Coffee and Cigarettes is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The film is black and white. The scenes are of varying quality, especially early on where a good deal of film grain is visible. But in some ways, small flaws like those help the look of the movie.

Sound:

The film is 96 minutes of people drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. The soundtrack is all that it needs to be, which certainly isn't much. The fact that it is in Dolby 5.1 is nice, but completely unnecessary.

Extras:

There is a music video presentation called "Tabletops," which is just a montage of shots of the tops of tables from the film, an interview with Taylor Mead which amounts to very little, a Bill Murray outtake that belonged on the cutting room floor, and a batch of trailers.

Final Thoughts:

With such a disjointed feature, it is difficult to recommend it outright because of some of the dead spots. But out of 11 essentially separate short films, eight are worth seeing once and five are worth multiple viewings, so for those scenes it is an absolute must-rent.

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