Another Jarmusch flick from Madman's Director's Suite Label
Publisher: Director's Suite, presented by Madman Entertainment
Mon, 16 January 2006
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I saw Jim Jarmusch's latest film, Broken Flowers (starring Bill Murray, in superb form) a few weeks ago and I absolutely loved it. The timing of that tied in well too, because Madman recently sent me this DVD of one of Jim's earliest features- Stranger Than Paradise.
As per usual from me, here's the plot synopsis from the back of the DVD case:
Strange Than Paradise follows the adventures of Willie (John Lurie) and his best friend Eddie (Richard Edson) - a couple of small time gamblers disenchanted with their lives. After a visit from his pretty Hungarian cousin, Eva (Eszter Balint), Willie at first rejects this unwanted intrusion into his life. However, after an unexpectedly large poker win, the trio sets off on an unforgettable road trip through the wastelands of Cleveland to the sunshine and blue skies of Florida and from misfortune, to fortune and back.
I described Jarmusch's Dead Man as an acquired taste that wouldn't suit everyone. Well, Stranger Than Paradise is an even more appropriate candidate to be placed in that category (another thing the two films have in common is that they are both filmed in black & white).
|Hats are cool |
The characters are developed more in the way they speak and act with each other, rather than what happens to them (at least up until about three quarters of the way towards the end). Stranger Than Paradise's 3 acts feel a bit like distinct "episodes"- which might partially be explained by the fact that this was originally intended as a 30 minute short film. All of Stranger's scenes are done in a one shot take and the whole thing moves much slower than a typical flick. It was all filmed sequentially (with live sound) too, which is a pretty rare way of going about things.
Willie has long since decided to be a "real" American and he prefers to ignore his Hungarian heritage. At first he considers Eva to be a burden and does not like having her around. Eventually though, she seems to awaken his softer side and remembering his roots helps him realise that he's leading a very shallow existence. His easy going mate Eddie, on the other hand, takes an instant liking to Eva- you can see his eyes light up every time he speaks to, or about, her. Eva herself is quite a charming young lady; she has a subtle wit and a curiously unorthodox nature about her. All three of the principal actors do a very convincing job with their roles.
Stranger Than Paradise is essentially a comedy with some minor dramatic aspects. This is yet another of the movies I've reviewed where I would have to say that its style of humour, and the film as a whole, is not of the mainstream variety, therefore not everyone is going to find it amusing. It might be hard going for those with short attention spans. There's no falling over, explosions, catch phrases, titties, dick or fart jokes, or big shiny things (not that I have anything against any of that stuff).
I'm not setting out to be some kind of ambassador of the alternative, or anything like that; it is really just the luck of the draw. In other words, I just review what they send me. But, since I generally do prefer my comedy to presented in a less obvious fashion (basically, about the opposite of what Jay Leno or Rove McManus do), that works out pretty well, from my perspective. The comedy here is understated and it stems from the words the characters say and how they re-act to things.
Not a whole lot really happens in this story either. I suppose that makes it a bit closer to real life, only these people are a bit odder than your average folks. It largely just focuses on the three main characters talking to each other (or occasionally to someone else), with nothing in particular going on. For that reason some viewers will undoubtedly find it boring and I wouldn't begrudge them that- Stranger Than Paradise's appeal relies heavily on how engaging you find the characters and dialogue. You ought to stick it out until the finish though, as the ending is very clever and sort of brings it all together in a surprising and entertaining way. Also, once you know the outcome, you should revisit the movie and see if all starts to click more with you than it did on first viewing.
The picture is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and it looks fine, though since it was a low budget movie to begin with, the quality is not particularly outstanding. It is very visually interesting though, with some artistic use of shadows and angles- none of that has been lost on DVD. The same could be said of the sound quality, it is about as good as you could expect from a mono mix. There's no real soundtrack though, save for Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You"- a song Eva is obsessed with (and Willie hates), that fittingly serves as the movie's "theme song".
The DVD extras aren't worth mentioning, this is a "bare bones" job all the way.
While not my personal favourite Jim Jarmusch film (that'd still be Dead Man, though I suspect Broken Flowers is going to become a big contender after a few more viewings), I do like Stranger Than Paradise a great deal. I had the possible advantage of approaching the movie with a keen desire to get the most out of it- because I was already a fan of some of Jarmusch's other work.
|U2 were much more sombre during the "Joshua Tree" era |
And also, I remember Roger Ebert giving it a good review (in fact, the four star rating and quote "A treasure from one end to the other" from Ebert's review is printed on the front of the Stranger Than Paradise DVD case). Ebert is one of the few film critics I pay much attention to and I'll usually check out anything he recommends. Otherwise, I can't honestly say whether or not I'd have come to enjoy this movie as much as I do. I guess all I'm trying to say is- give it a real chance and see how you go.
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If you have the patience to allow it to do its thing, Stranger Than Paradise is a great movie. If you're new to Jarmusch's work, I'd suggest checking out Broken Flowers and Dead Man first- if you like those, you'll probably like this too.