Friday, March 24, 2006

From the Treadmill: ???

In honor of Nick Roger’s extremely difficult movie quiz in the SJ-R (I got a measly five correct* and decided it futile to Google for the rest of the answers), I’m offering a free BlogFreeSpringfield T-shirt to the first reader who can correctly identify the movie that contains these lines:

“You can trust us, Bill Murray.”

“Do you know my mother?”

“He perceived the earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance.”

Think you know?

Time's up. The answer is Coffee and Cigarettes (C&C), the subject of today’s movie review From the Treadmill.

C&C is a compilation of eleven short films shot over several years by director Jim Jarmusch, the same auteur who gave us the minimalist classic, Stranger Than Paradise. The first was filmed in 1986 and was featured as a short on Saturday Night Live.

This must be said upfront and there is simply no other way to say it: Coffee and Cigarettes is not everyone’s cup of tea.

The premise for each short is the same: a single scene of conversation between characters who are hopped-up to various degrees on caffeine and nicotine. The action never moves from the table and chairs that serve as each set’s anchor. There is an obvious improvisational tone to the film, although I understand that the scenes were at least somewhat scripted.

The movie’s hook is the eclectic cast of characters who seem to be playing themselves, although several reveal a fictional double life.

Tom Waits and the rapper RZA both practice medicine in addition to their gigs as musicians. Waits is a general practitioner in the superhero mold, telling tales of delivering babies on freeways and performing tracheotomies with an ink pen. RZA is a holistic healer who eschews demon coffee for natural herbal refreshment. Bill Murray is on the down low, working as a waiter in a café where he drinks coffee from the pot while fretting over the onset of delirium.

In addition to RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Jarmusch calls on other musicians to lend hipness to his downtown-cool vision.

Punk icon Iggy Pop redeems himself after his unbelievable turn as a non-android in the Color of Money, although his aw-shucks personae seems a far cry from the guy who wailed “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Taking his place as “worst musician in an acting role” goes to Meg White of the White Stripes whose performance is reminiscent of Paul Reubens as the bellhop in the movie within the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Tom Waits continues to show that he is a natural in front of the camera, although those unfamiliar with the curious troubadour may find him a bit off-putting.

As for actual working actors, Kate Blanchette, a classy broad if ever there was one, stands out in her dual roles as a demure and kind-hearted celebrity and her less refined cousin who espouses a punk rock ethos. Roberto Benigni, wired to the gills on java and blurting out non sequiturs such as the aforementioned “Do you know my mother?”, is the perfect foil for his laconic scene mate, the comedian Steven Wright.

But stealing the show are two Brits, who, true to form, turn their noses up at coffee and insist on a proper spot of tea. Steve Coogan is an arrogant ass and Alfred Molina, a fawning admirer who has discovered that the two actors (remember, they are ostensibly playing themselves) are distant cousins. They both demonstrate considerable comedic chops in what is the most fleshed-out piece in terms of plot.

As I said at the onset, C&C will not appeal everyone. Many critics who like Jarmusch’s past work panned the film and it will almost certainly not play well with the You’ve Got Mail crowd. Not every act is a winner, but overall, I enjoyed it.

Similar to Slacker, the appeal in this movie is the idiosyncratic performances, the offbeat delivery of lines, and the pleasure of hearing people talk about things that seldom get talked about in movies. In a lot of films, the dialogue’s sole purpose is to keep the action moving. In C&C, there is no action. With no particular place to go, you can sit back and enjoy each subtle sip and drag.

*My correct responses: True Stories (one of my favorite lines from the movie); the Princess Bride (one of my favorite movies); Planes, Trains and Automobiles (of which I’ve blogged); Animal House (a classic of its genre); and Flirting with Disaster (an under appreciated comedy, although some will argue that it is impossible to underestimate anything featuring Ben Stiller.) There’s no excuse for my having missed the Raising Arizona line, had
Rogers chosen instead “her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase”, I would have nailed it. I also thought I would have gotten anything he could throw out from Sideways, but that line about the abdomen left me clueless.


Mikey57 said...

Unbielvable well certainly have a nack for the sarcastic comment and silently deliver of a line

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Thanks. Are you the same Mikey who most experts say was the best 5’5” offensive lineman in IHSA Class 3A history?

Mikey 57 said...

5'5...speak for yourself shorty.....5'7" and 3/ far as best in history...that is such an objective statement.....Easily in the Top five ever...yes!!