House Logo
Explore categories +

Jim Jarmusch (#110 of 15)

Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell Lives Again

Comments Comments (...)

Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell Lives Again

Kino Lorber

Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell Lives Again

Alex Cox’s punk western Straight to Hell, long out of print on home video, has been dug up from the dregs of oblivion by Kino Lorber and handsomely given a long-overdue director’s cut Blu-ray treatment. This is less the preservation of a cult classic than of a significant artifact of 1980s indie cinema. The film, which suggests an obscure B-side from a fascinating filmmaker who was probably a recalcitrant iconoclast to his detriment. Cox’s Repo Man and Sid & Nancy are now recognized by many as classics of the period—as punk in their approach as in their subject matter. Yet Straight to Hell replies to the raves of those films in the same way Sid Vicious did to dignified applause in Julian Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, taking out a revolver and firing into a bourgeois audience.

Cross-Cultural Communion Night on Earth at 25

Comments Comments (...)

Cross-Cultural Communion: Night on Earth at 25

Fine Line Features

Cross-Cultural Communion: Night on Earth at 25

Whether due to cultural, linguistic, generational, or racial barriers, Jim Jarmusch’s characters often find themselves talking around rather than to each other. It’s no wonder that in Night on Earth, the director’s 1992 omnibus film consisting of five stories set in different international cities on the same night, the taxi cab provides the perfect visual framework, placing a spatial barrier between characters that makes communication even more challenging. Characters banter, bicker, ramble, and philosophize as they shuttle through various cityscapes like ghosts in the night, catching only fleeting glimpses of the other as reflections in a rear-view mirror. There is a natural yin/yang dynamic to each vignette that uses the dialectics of argumentation as well as visual rhymes, word play, starkly contrasting character types, and class conflict to deepen the audience’s understanding and empathy for the characters and the environment in which they live.

New York Film Festival 2016 Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, I Called Him Morgan, & Uncle Howard

Comments Comments (...)

New York Film Festival 2016: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, I Called Him Morgan, & Uncle Howard

Kartemquin Films

New York Film Festival 2016: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, I Called Him Morgan, & Uncle Howard

Steve James displays his usual savvy for picking culturally resonant topics in his latest documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. This time it’s the oddly underreported story of Abacus, the eponymous family-owned Chinatown business, which is the only U.S. bank ever indicted for fraud in connection with the subprime mortgage scandal of the late 2000s. The rest of the film’s title comes from journalist Matt Taibbi, who explains that the banks actually responsible for the crisis were all deemed “too big to fail,” so none were prosecuted for their crimes. “Too big to fail translates to small enough to jail, and Abacus is small enough to jail,” he says.

Cannes Film Review: Paterson

Comments Comments (...)

Cannes Film Review: Paterson

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: Paterson

Jim Jarmusch’s zen cool has rarely been deployed as effortlessly, or as confidently, as it is in Paterson. Set in the titular New Jersey town, and developing into a kind of city symphony for the modest locale, the film is almost devoid of conflict. A part-time poet and full-time bus driver (Adam Driver) wakes up every morning next to his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). He goes to work, he comes home for dinner, and he usually goes out for a beer at his favorite bar. This is the quotidian as contented domesticity: Driver’s character, who’s also called Paterson, likes his job, loves Laura (as well as her scoundrel of a pet pug), and values what time he can find to pen poetry in a little pocket-sized pad he calls his “Secret Book.”

The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked

Comments Comments (...)

The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked
The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked

From Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, from Nosferatu to Buffy, it’s safe to say our cultural fascination with the blood-sucking undead isn’t going away anytime soon. Not unlike zombies, those other revivified metaphors that feast on the living, the template afforded by these folkloric beings allows for no shortage of insights into the human condition, with the topics of sexuality, addiction, and mortality chief among them. By far the most famous of these, Dracula, is often cited as the most popular fictional character in all of cinema, with nearly 200 separate film appearances according to IMDb. Of course, the legend of these creatures extends far beyond just this particular icon, and those who are quick to mock the Twilight franchise for allowing its fanged characters to appear in full sunlight, unperturbed, are clearly unaware of the elasticity they’ve exhibited throughout both print and film history. Here, a fairly strict definition of the corporeal undead has been employed (apologies to Louis Feuillade and Claire Denis). These 10 films highlight not just great vampire films, but great films, period, and for each that made the cut, there was at least one more vying for inclusion.

BAFICI 2014 Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

Comments Comments (...)

BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History
BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film seems to channel the sheer variety of the Internet, where it seems all movies from all eras are available. During 10 days, all sorts of films are made available at several venues within the Argentine capital, from horror flicks to forgotten commercial failures, classic studio productions, modern art-house fare, and experimental cinema. BAFICI seems to pride itself on its eclectic selection, and its broad pickings allow audience members to trace surprising connections between movies that might appear to have nothing else in common outside their shared inclusion in a festival. A sort of creative viewership is encouraged, as one comes to realize that an American rock fable, a miserablist Taiwanese drama, a visual poem with vampires, and an epic about social and political traumas in the Philippines have plenty in common.

Walter Hill’s unsung Streets of Fire and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence. Seen back to back, they reveal strikingly similar qualities, as both might or might not be science-fiction films. Streets of Fire is set in a fantasy land, which mixes costumes and vehicles from the 1950s with the urban squalor of the 1980s. When a motorcycle gang, led by fresh-faced Willem Dafoe, kidnaps a local pop singer (Diane Lane), it’s up to the gruff masculine hero played by Michael Paré to save the day. There are references to an unnamed war and the city appears to be in a state of crisis (its police force is sorely understaffed and justice is meted out by civilians). The characters are so conventional that they recede into the background as they follow archetypal signposts, and because their exploits are so predictable, the environment absorbs our attention instead. Diners and theaters from the American Graffiti years have decayed underneath rubble and trash. In an abandoned factory, the motorcycle gang has established a decadent bar where naked dancers strike aggressive poses, using their sexuality as a weapon. Having been recently and luminously restored, Streets of Fire plays differently today than it did back in 1984. What was originally a blend between the present and the past is now the combination of two different pasts, which together suggest a kind of future.

Cannes Film Festival 2013 Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive

Comments Comments (...)

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Only Lovers Left Alive Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: Only Lovers Left Alive Review

Considering the genre’s proliferation across various mediums over the last few years, it’s perhaps appropriate that Jim Jarmusch would now indulge the impulse to direct a vampire movie. After all, vampires have traditionally been regarded as the most suave, most elegantly withdrawn of all horror myths, and for over 30 years now, Jarmusch has been the most naturally cool, unconsciously influential of American filmmakers. Many of his characters proceed stoically, silently, and aloofly; this is their lot, however natural. Only Lovers Left Alive, then, seems like an inevitability for the independent iconoclast as much as it does an odd genre diversion.

The Merchant of Menace Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank

Comments Comments (...)

The Merchant of Menace: Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank
The Merchant of Menace: Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank

Shortly after seeing The Big Heat (1953), in which noir baddie Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) famously throws a hot pot of coffee in the face of Debby (Gloria Grahame), New York Times film critic Vincent Canby deemed Marvin “The Merchant of Menace,” given the actor’s stone-faced charm and propensity for playing characters that revel in more sadistic pleasures. As argued by biographer Dwayne Epstein, the description fits Marvin more than accurately, since his career, taken as a whole, helped to establish a new kind of post-WWII masculinity, particularly as it relates to a grittier depiction of violence and physicality. At least, such is Epstein’s claim. While his new biography goes into intricate details of Marvin’s childhood, career, and last days, his overall thesis—while likely true—is given short shrift by too workmanlike of an approach. Rather than produce a provocative work on a provocative man, Epstein manages to write a clearly admirable biography, though without the blood-pumping tenacity that gives Marvin’s filmic legacy such enduring cultural purchase.

The previous critique could be modified to give praise for Epstein’s dedication to intimately examining the familial factors that shaped Marvin’s values and personality. Growing up in a blue-collar family during the Great Depression, with Marvin and his family “wondering where their next meal would come from,” Marvin eventually decided to join the Marines. Speaking later about both his military service and relationship with directors, Marvin admits that he has “never been able to accept any kind of discipline.” With that in mind, Epstein states an inextricable link in Marvin’s filmography and persona between violence and the cultures that create it. Nevertheless, the book’s duration is more outwardly concerned with heavily biographical information and cult-of-personality emphases, such as an entire chapter devoted to the letters Marvin wrote to his parents while at war. Although the letters help to explain the developing psychology that would lead to Marvin’s film career, Epstein provides only a cursory understanding of Marvin as cultural icon throughout. What’s lacking in the predominately biographical segments is a strong narrative sense; Epstein’s prose reads more like a string of Wikipedia entries than a fully functional take on Marvin’s relevance. Such banality is an ironic sin for a work that wants to engage a divisive personality.

Berlinale 2013 The Grandmaster, Gold, & A Single Shot

Comments Comments (...)

Berlinale 2013: The Grandmaster, Gold, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, & A Single Shot
Berlinale 2013: The Grandmaster, Gold, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, & A Single Shot

Since coming home from the sumptuous, if lopsided, American road trip of My Blueberry Nights, Wong Kar-wai has been hard at work on his martial-arts epic The Grandmaster. Perhaps the most explicitly in dialogue with film history of all his works thus far, the film will read as a much-needed strike of lightning to wu xia for connoisseurs of the genre and a feature-length TV spot for others. Which is to say that its visual design is (surprise, surprise) magnificently original, but it lacks Wong’s characteristic elliptical approach to storytelling that has won him so many admirers. Pierre Rissient allegedly dismissed Wong as “postcard cinema”—and it hurts to say it, but The Grandmaster might be more impactful as a series of stills than a motion picture.

Set mainly over the course of the 1930s in Foshan, a city in southern China, the film narrates the Ip Man’s (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) rise to prominence as a Wing Chun grandmaster, focusing especially on his brushes with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of one of the grandmasters from the north. Although they cross paths across many years, Wong forgoes the melancholic romanticization of time we’ve come to expect from him and opts to tell their story in a disappointingly linear fashion, Hollywoodian flashback included. Essentially a biopic wrapped in a kung-fu art film, The Grandmaster’s ambition but feeling of incompletion brings to mind Sam Peckinpah’s analogous probing of national history, mythology, and masculinity.