For Reel


Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
December 11, 2016, 8:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jim Jarmusch
5 Stars
stranger-than-paradiseJim Jarmusch’s second film lays the groundwork for much of his career to come. Three characters try to keep themselves from boredom, traveling the country only to discover that just about anywhere they go looks the same as anywhere else. The new lives are the same as the old ones. But to call Jarmusch a cynic is a misunderstanding—there is a sweetness to his friendships, typified most beautifully by the persistently optimistic, cheery Eddie (Richard Edson). Although he seems a strange match for Hungarian emigrant Willie (John Lurie) due to the latter’s depressed, cheerless demeanor, Edson’s performance suggests a hopeful resilience in the face of monotony. Or, at the very least, he handles his boredom well. In Stranger Than Paradise, much like all of Jarmusch’s films, the characters take reprieve from their isolation through art—here, 16-year-old Eva (Eszter Balint) idolizes Screamin’ Jay Hawkins while the two men park themselves in front of the television and discuss what movie they will see next. When they discuss the merits of Tokyo Story, a film which is similarly uneventful on the surface, Jarmusch seems to be arguing that cinema is not necessarily only means for escape, but rather a way of capturing and rendering poetic a sense of listlessness.

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Paterson (2016)
October 23, 2016, 11:22 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jim Jarmusch
5 Stars
patersonTo most filmmakers, patterns and routines are the stuff of nightmares—the signs that one’s life has been wasted, signifying a never-ending daily grind defined by repetition and drudgery. In Paterson, though, patterns are key to the film’s beauty. The eponymous bus driver (Adam Driver) is essentially destined to relive the same day over and over (not unlike Groundhog Day‘s Phil), but he seems okay with that. He’s content and pleasant, turning to poetry not as an escape from his daily life but as a compliment to it. In fact, his job seems to only fuel his art—the small bits of conversation he hears on the bus routinely pique his curiosity, meeting them with an inquisitive smile. Paterson plays unlike any of Jim Jarmusch’s other films if only because of Paterson’s contentment, but it nonetheless foregrounds the director’s maintained focus on authenticity. Despite the colorful cast of characters Jarmusch has brought to the screen so far, Paterson might be his most profound glimpse into what it means to be an artist, and more specifically how to bring that art into harmony with the everyday grind.



Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
June 8, 2011, 8:19 pm
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Director: Jim Jarmusch

Just when you think that you’ve had enough of Coffee and Cigarettes, a single vignette momentarily turns things around. The best example is the sequence involving Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, which is undoubtedly the most fully realized and humorous short of the bunch. Though the film involves some inspired pairings – Bill Murray, RZA, and GZA stand out – rarely do the actors have a whole lot to do, and one has to think most of the sequences would have been significantly more interesting had they been unscripted. In pairing together iconic figures like Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, Jarmusch constrains their personalities by forcing them to engage in banal small talk. Perhaps this is precisely what his ambition is, but, in failing to consciously utilize the personas of the stars (despite the fact that the audience never separates the figures from their celebrity), it further establishes that the entire conceit is little more than stunt casting.



Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
June 8, 2011, 8:14 pm
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Director: Jim Jarmusch

An anomaly in Jim Jarmush’s oeuvre, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a clearly defined genre picture with a singular narrative. Additionally, although much of his work is funny, this effort utilizes some relatively broad comedy with the characters of the aged gangsters. Still, though, this is far from what you’d expect from a Hollywood picture, involving recitations of eastern philosophy throughout, double exposure sequences involving pigeons, and Whitaker practicing swordplay on a roof top. It is precisely these eccentricities that make the film as pleasurable as it is. Whitaker’s ability to evoke vulnerability in even the most violent of characters – consider his Oscar-winning turn as Idi Amin, for instance – sets him apart from many of today’s leading men, and his scenes with Isaach De Bankolé, in particular, add a refreshing human element to what is often an emotionally distancing genre.



Night on Earth (1991)
June 8, 2011, 8:05 pm
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Director: Jim Jarmusch

Five self-contained cab rides comprise the pleasurable, if inconsistent Night on Earth, Jim Jarmusch’s follow up to Mystery Train. It is slow to start – Winona Ryder is miscast as a chain-smoking taxi driver – however Armin Müller-Stahl redeems the film in its second short as the incompetent driver working his first night on the job. While none of the shorts are ambitious enough to live up to the lofty premise, the series of oddities – including a crude blind passenger and motormouth Roberto Benigni using his cab as a confessional booth – provide for entertaining, unusually specific parables about human interaction. Everything culminates with the ironic pathos of a Helsinki cab wherein two men berate their depressed, drunken friend for not being quite as sympathetic as their driver. Although the overarching meaning that unites these segments continues to be evasive, one is glad to have spent the time investing in Jarmusch’s outlandish vision.