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"Coffee and Cigarettes" Review


Title: Coffee and Cigarettes

Starring: Roberto Benigni, Cate Blanchett, Steve Buscemi, Steve Coogan, Alfred Molina

Written by: Jim Jarmusch

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R for language.

Review by Stephen Silver

"Coffee and Cigarettes," a comedy/drama anthology that marks director Jim Jarmusch's first new film in four years, is an enjoyable but uneven set of vignettes which feature a dozen or so recognizable actors and musicians conversing over the titular substances.

Jarmusch, director of "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Down By Law," filmed the vignettes over a 17-year period and have nothing much to do with one another, except that all are shot in black and white, and feature characters drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and talking about both. In addition, a couple of common topics are raised in multiple scenes.

The best of the eleven vignettes is a Cannes-winning short that features musical legends Iggy Pop and Tom Waits sitting down for coffee and alternately making jokes and passive-agressive insults about whether or not their music is on the diner's jukebox. A similarly-themed, and just as smart, bit includes actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan discovering that they're related to one another, and also engaging in clever, actorly one-upsmanship.

Another bit involving cousins stars Cate Blanchett in a dual role as herself and her less-famous cousin, meeting in a hotel coffeeshop and ruminating on fame. Continuing the "relatives" theme, Jack and Meg of The White Stripes show that the '80s hair band aren't the only rockers who appreciate the Russian scientist Nikola Tesla. And emblamatic of Jarmusch's trademark love for culture-mixing- as evidenced by his previous film, "Ghost Dog"- is a scene involving Bill Murray serving coffee to Wu Tang Clan members RZA and GZA. In the segment, RZA even wears a "Ghost Dog" hat.

The film, however, isn't without its pointless parts. The opening bit, filmed in 1986, takes the comical talents of two very funny men- Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright- and does next to nothing with either of them. Steve Buscemi does nothing of note in a scene with Spike Lee's two siblings, Joie and Cinque, except recite some unoriginal Elvis-related conspiracy theories. And several of the lesser segments consist of nothing more than characters warning others than "coffee and cigarettes are bad for you," or something of that sort.

However, the film ends on a perfect note, with two older men discussing Mahler, and one taking a nap which may be his death. This may not count as a "real" Jarmusch film for fans wishing for more of a pure narrative, but "Coffee and Cigarettes" is still more enjoyable than not.

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