(On Cable TV, July 2016) This is not a conventional movie, being composed of several black-and-white vignettes in which two (occasionally three) characters argue over caffeine and smokes. The first two segments were shot as short films years before the others, and it shows as latter instalments become more textured and creative. Director Jim Jarmusch is obviously going for something experimental here, and the result will be far more interesting to those with a fondness for art-house cinema. Coffee and Cigarettes features an impressive group of thespians, with particular acknowledgements for Cate Blanchett’s double performance, Alfred Molina trying to get through to Steve Cooghan and Bill Murray for his innate Bill Murrayness. (Strangely enough, two of the film’s most striking actresses, Joie Lee and Renée French, haven’t done many other roles.) As intriguing as the central concept may sound, Coffee and Cigarettes doesn’t quite achieve its potential. The low-grade hostility between its characters is wearying, everything stays too mild-mannered and the philosophical tangents are profoundly uninteresting. (Although I’ll make an exception for “I know how a Tesla coil works!”) Fortunately, the film doesn’t have to be watched straight through: it’s easy (and even fun) to take it in a piece per day every day for a bit more than a week. There isn’t much to link the segments together, and this way you avoid the “that again!” feeling from watching too many similar short films.
(Netflix Streaming, November 2015) Mill Murray’s career took a very stranger turn after Lost in Translation, fulling embracing a sad-clown phase that probably reached its epitome in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Here, Murray plays eccentricity on an almost entirely melancholic register as a rich but sad computer businessman who learns from an unknown source that he’s got a son. Driving around to see his exes in an effort to find out who sent the letter and what happened, Murray’s hangdog charm is just about what saves Broken Flowers from overpowering sadness. Shot blandly and featuring a deliberately maddening ending that doesn’t solve anything, this is the kind of film that either works as a succession of moments between actors, or simply infuriates. (The road-movie structure of the film, in which the narrator travels, meets an ex, escapes and repeats, doesn’t help.) It’s the kind of stuff that some people like a lot. On the other hand, it’s about as dull as Murray has been on-screen, and it may help explain why ten years would go until (in St-Vincent), he’s take another lead role: the sad-clown phase of his career being fully realised, what else was there for him to do? Certainly not go back to the earlier anarchic brat phase of his career; onward, then, to respected elder statesman of comedy, best used in small roles by quirky directors such as Wes Anderson.