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Still good after all these years
romper-23 December 2005
I just finished watching Stranger Than Paradise on DVD - the first time I'd seen it since its year of release. I'd always recalled the film with fondness, although I could never remember why I liked it. Several years after seeing the movie I came across the John Lurie soundtrack and bought it without stopping to listen, and been slightly taken aback by it. The haunting pieces were more emotionally esoteric than I expected, and it took some time for the album to grow on me.

Seeing the movie again, I understand why. The only piece of popular music in the film is Screamin' Jay Hawkin's "I Put a Spell on You" and, although I had forgotten that it was there, I guess that I had expected the soundtrack to be more like those of mainstream movies and have songs and such-like. I think that Lurie's music is perfect in situ and, as I've said, the soundtrack has also grown on me as standalone pieces.

The movie itself is a masterpiece. The black and white images present a starkness and a clarity that heightens the alienation of self in a land that was supposed to be the new hope for immigrants from a decaying old world. Instead we see Eva walking through a deserted ghost world of New York where the graffiti says "Yankee go home". America is only a dream, a collective vision of a better world; paradise somewhere on earth.

As Willie and Eddie journey west after winning some money, we see that the supposedly beautiful city of Cleveland is cold and desolate with a frozen lake. The further trip to Florida ends in the middle of nowhere next to a bleak and windswept ocean. Paradise is still somewhere out of reach. I think that's why the movie appeals to me. It shows that the America of popular mythology - the home of the brave, land of the free, protector of the downtrodden, guardian of democracy in the free world - is merely a construct. Too many people these days believe in the child's fantasy of America being some paradise that Iraq and Afghanistan should emulate. Jarmusch reminds us that it is people who give meaning to a symbol, not the other way around. He allows for the ability of people to make their own meanings and evolve beyond the stagnation of popular culture.

At a time I originally saw this movie I had recently left home and got my first job, moving from the country to the city, and maybe to some extent I identified with Eva - moving from Budapest to America. It was also my first taste of grownup film, if I recall correctly, and confirmed me with a lifelong fascination with the cinema. I have a lot to thank Jim Jarmusch for.
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I'm choking the alligator.
redherring9 February 1999
Odd and inspiring. This film rings true with rich detail in its depictions of utter loneliness. Smoking many Chesterfields, watching television, playing solitaire, visiting Aunt Lottie, sightseeing at Lake Erie (for God's sake). It alters from tragic to comic from almost moment to moment, and often has a foot in both pools.

Jarmusch is minimalist to the core with this one, and yet manages to pull off a solid story. A small black and white gem that deserves a larger audience.
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"I put a spell on you..."
Quinoa19843 August 2005
Stranger Than Paradise, which put filmmaker Jim Jarmusch on 'the map' in the small but superlative crop of independent filmmakers of the eighties (he was the first, then came the Coen Brothers, then Spike Lee, and then culminating in the 90's with the 'new wave' of independent filmmakers). What he presents here is a unique little treatise on youth, on the subtle and disconnected qualities that go in life when you don't have much to do. In a way it's an existentialist film without many very serious questions to deal with story or even character-wise (except until maybe the last fifteen minutes in the "Paradise" segment). Like a French New-Wave film, to which Jarmusch was heavily influenced by (i.e. the gorgeous, grainy black and white photography by Tom DiCillo), he leaves more for the audience to ponder, as they go along on their journey.

One of the things that Stranger Than Paradise has going for it is a sort of realism that, like and not-like a Wes Anderson film for example, is off-beat. Only here it is more of an urban sort of landscape and interiors that Jarmusch gives us with, along with its three principles. John Lurie as Willie is very good at having attitude when he needs it, but in reality is rather low-key in his 'hip-ness'. His cousin from Hungary pays him a visit (Eszter Balint as Eva, maybe too low-key at times, though appropriately observant of foreign territory). There is also his faithful companion Eddie, played in a great supporting tone and style by Richard Edson. The first segment of the film deals with her in New York. The second one has Eddie and Willie go to Cleveland to pay Eva a visit. Then in the third segment they go down to Florida to have some fun, only to have anything but.

In other words, those looking for a film where a lot of things 'happen' may be disappointed, or just bored. I've seen the film twice now, and on the first viewing I was a little detached from what was going on on screen, which is just little things going on with the characters, like one would see in everyday life. But on the second viewing I somehow connected more with these characters, the youth that seem to drift needlessly along. The editing of the film is also the most simplistic, though highly effective, in adding to the disconnected quality of Jarmusch's direction- no cuts during dialog, just fading to black, fading up, fading to black, fading up (Jarmusch would continue this with Down by Law and Dead Man, though not as frequent or strategic).

In fact, the whole film is rather deliberate in its style, but as the song that plays several times in the film "I Put a Spell On You" from Screamin' Jay Hawkins plays, it does work to bring a viewer in...or not. Like many in the "art-film" world, almost all of Jarmusch's films are either liked or not, and I think that's appropriate for his stories, which often deal with low-key characters dealing with unusual but either realistic or metaphorical situations. One thing I can say for certain, much like the French new-wave films inspired by it, it's imitated, but not equaled in its form.
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Absorbing Film By Jarmusch
jhclues16 November 2000
An excellent example of why independent films are so invaluable, `Stranger Than Paradise,' written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, is a bare-bones production that never would have found the light of day in the mainstream. Essentially a character study, the story is a glimpse into the lives of three people: Willie (John Lurie); his cousin, Eva (Eszter Balint), recently arrived in New York from Hungary; and Willie's friend, Eddie (Richard Edson). After a couple of weeks in the Big Apple with Willie, Eva moves to Cleveland to live with their Aunt; a year later, Willie and Eddie are off to visit her. One thing leads to another, and the trio wind up in Florida (the designated paradise of the title). Watching this film is like spending time with some people you know; the characters are real people, so much so that watching them becomes almost voyeuristic, the camera somehow intrusive, exposing as it does the private lives of these individuals. It succinctly captures their lack of ambition, the ambiguity with which they approach life, and the fact that they seemingly have no prospects for the future beyond whatever a lucky day at the track affords them. The action, such as it is, is no more than what you would find in the average day of someone's life. The dialogue is what drives the film, though frankly, nothing they have to say is very interesting. And yet, this is an absolutely engrossing film; sometimes amusing, at times hilarious, but mesmerizing throughout. The performances are entirely credible, and again, you never have the sense that these are actors, but rather real people who happen to have had some moments from their lives filmed and presented to the audience for perusal. Jarmusch has an innate sense of capturing the essence of the everyday and transforming the most simplistic and mundane events into refreshingly documented, worthwhile viewing. It's an inspired piece of film making, helped to some extent by the stark black&white photography that adds to the realism of the overall proceedings. The use of brief blackouts during transitions works effectively, as well as providing the film with a unique signature. Original music is by Lurie, but the highlight is the use of the song `I Put A Spell On You,' by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, used recurringly throughout the movie, and which exemplifies that special touch Jarmusch brings to his projects. And there's a superb bit of irony at the end that really makes this gem sparkle. The supporting cast includes Cecillia Stark (Aunt Lotte), Danny Rosen (Billy), Tom DiCillo (Airline Agent), Richard Boes (Factory Worker) and Rockets Redglare, Harvey Perr and Brian J. Burchill (as the Poker players). `Stranger Than Paradise' may not be to everyone's liking, but to those seeking an alternative to the typical Hollywood big-budget fare available, it just may fit the bill and provide a satisfying, entertaining experience. I rate this one 8/10.
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A seductive character and mileu study
thephaseshift25 September 2000
Reading over the comments so far, it seems that most people think this film is great, with a rare few criticizing it for being a boring 'student-film'.

People, this is for sure not a film for those who've been brutalized by too much Hollywood cinema - it's a quiet movie that you absorb slowly. It's very well done and quite absorbing. Sure it makes me think of so-called student-films (my brother is in film school), but that's not to say it's not a damn good one. There's something to be said for beautiful photography (the black and white images go so well with the feelings of emptiness and coldness) and the search for a meaning in life. These people are desperately in need of meaning and affection, none of which they seem to be able to find - or give. This is a movie about that desperate search.

And it's well worth seeing - for those with a bit of patience and artistic sensibility. It's a movie about emptiness for sure, but is by no means 'boring'. I'd give it 4/5 stars.
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A Change of Scenery Doesn't Guarantee Happiness
geber118 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is all about boredom and disappointment, following the lives of three characters as they try to make life more interesting by moving to a different location. Willie is in the center of it, and he owns a small apartment in one of New York's lower-class neighborhoods. He is actually from Hungary, but he completely despises his heritage, and hates when his relatives speak to him in his native tongue. His cousin, Eva Mona, comes in from Hungary and he's forced to let her stay in his apartment. They both share a similar disdain for Eastern European culture, but Willie seems to be trying to delude himself that he enjoys his new American life. He tries to be complacent with eating TV dinners, playing card games, and watching TV for hours on end. Eva finds this completely boring and can't wait to go to Cleveland to stay with her Aunt Lotte. Although Willie and her begin on shaky grounds, by the time she leaves, a kind of bond grows between them.

Willie has a good friend, Eddie, and they're both unemployed, getting their money through horse races and fixed poker games. They sense the boredom, the monotony setting in, and they're trying to avoid it. In fact, at one of their fixed poker games, they play with a few men who are in a similar situation: victims of repeated defeat and disappointment. One of them is at the breaking point and displays aggression while the others are cowardly, weak, resigned. They meet another man, a factory worker, and it's obvious that he doesn't enjoy being a working stiff. In an effort to try to avoid turning into these men, Willie and Eddie decide to take a trip to Cleveland and visit Eva.

Cleveland isn't exactly as exciting as they had hoped, and Eddie, bored out of his mind, remarks that "Everything's the same". Eva is working at a hot dog stand and is involved with a man she's only half-interested in. n a matter of days, Eddie and Willie are reduced to sitting around playing card games again. The three decide to escape the monotony by going down to Florida and taking advantage of the wonderful weather. However, the weather is the only thing changes; the men go to the track to try and augment their funds while Eva spends most of her time inside. Once again, this paradise yields no heightened degree of happiness.

The problem the three characters face is that they too often look for external factors to make them happy. Moving to somewhere nicer or making more money cannot change the numbing repetition; to do that, they must look on themselves and appreciate their company more. Unfortunately, by the end, the two men have become more like the people they were trying to avoid becoming: Willie is more aggressive, Eddie is more resigned.

The film really isn't as depressing as this review may make it seem. It has some very funny moments and is generally entertaining. Even the boredom is fun to watch, and this is achieved because of the very realistic dialogue. I found myself often relating to conversations they hold, being all too familiar with the awkward pauses. The characterization is impressive as well; Willie, Eddie, and Eva are all believable and we can understand their problems. If anyone has ever been bored to tears, they'll know exactly what the three are feeling.
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Neat little formal exercise
Pete-2304 March 2002
Watched for the second time the other night, and was struck how formal this really is. Every scene is a single take, some static, some with very stylized camera movement (static shot up the street to an approaching car; pick up car and track it as it passes, static again as it drives off). Occasionally an actor wanders off screen to the right, despite the camera trying to keep up; just this slight effect, surrounded as it is by so much silence and stillness, is enough to produce a slight frisson of tension. Blackouts separate the scenes, but either ambient sound or music cues continue as transitions during the cuts.

The main characters' costumes underline their alienation from the world around them. Judging from the props & surroundings, film seems to be set in contemporary (early-1980s) time. Willie and Eddie dress and act like late-Fifties/early-Sixties racetrack touts, and they seem most at ease in the retro living room of Aunt Lotte, who presumably left Hungary during that period. Eva's costumes likewise proclaim 'outsider,' though the dreary black she wears can signify either a refugee from East Europe or a jaded bohemian poseur.

First viewing a number of years back, I thought the film was offhanded and casual, with not much going on. A second viewing changed my mind - the absolute minimalism of the plot and dialogue leave plenty of space to explore Jarmusch's technique, composition, etc. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times, too.
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A small, sweet masterpiece
TheHumbleCritic4 February 2005
Jarmusch was never much of a guy to dip in the mainstream; "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai" is about as Hollywood as you're going to get from him. His recent "Coffee and Cigarettes" might have alluded to his roots as an indie filmmaker, but its stories are monochromatic and offer little emotional variety save for the Albert Molina vignette. His best film might be this one, a miniature masterpiece that is underrated when compared to his other stuff. The basic premise of the film revolves around a New York immigrant from Eastern Europe, his goofy buddy, and his female cousin who comes to visit him and America as they jump from state to state.

There isn't much of a plot for sure, but Jarmusch more than compensates for this fact by creating three distinct characters that manage to be sweet without resorting to cheap sentiment. These guys might be rude and frivolous at times, but they never lose their sense of embarrassed compassion, nor as a direct result their humanity as complete characters as well. There's a morose wit to all of these proceedings. All three actors truly seem to have a playful camaraderie, working the motions of a natural friendship with Jarmusch's direction that shows them at their happiest only to be disappointed again and again, like a kid getting clothes instead of video games at Christmas once more. This honest and easygoing subtext doesn't include undemanding Hollywood moments of syrupy tenderness or mawkish emotion. For once, the clichéd adage of characters writing themselves is probably true here, as the film has an almost improvised quality to it. Jarmusch gets the careful balance between static ugliness and a subtext of natural warmth just right.

While the great heart of this film lies in its characterization, it's catapulted into greatness because of Jarmusch's quiet touch. In nearly every one of his films the director is obsessed with the awkward silences that make up nearly every relationship. He's much more revealing with the silences here, fleshing out character development in a car ride or while staring out at the blankness of snowy Cleveland. This brings me to my final point that Jarmusch again does with intelligence. When the characters move from city to city, they have a passionate belief that what they will find is something unbelievable. But the New York we see is a bunch of back alleys and graffiti. Cleveland is a blank white expanse, strangely vapid as opposed to pictorial. And Florida has to be the ugliest Florida ever depicted on screen, consisting mainly of a "Welcome to Florida" sign and a decrepit motel. While the main message is that life is often full of disappointments, that life is rarely full of transcendent moments, people can still connect with each other regardless of their surrounding environments. It's Jarmusch's best statement yet, and it's for these reasons this one must be seen even before even his fine "Mystery Train." The film, essentially a three-character comedy, is also thankfully kept brief, becoming genuinely meaningful and moving as a result.
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Beautiful uncomfortableness
futures-15 June 2006
"Stranger than Paradise" (1984): Jim Jarmusch's first film. Often listed as a "comedy" – and yes, I suppose there ARE a few oddly funny moments – for the most part I find it an intensely bleak film, empty of almost all life but for a few lone cruiser characters who are detached from everyone else. The photography is astoundingly beautiful black & white. They are almost shot as individual stills with minor movements in them, and divided by blatant black divisions, which one can think of as the black pages of an old photo album. The velvety rich blacks, grays, and whites, plus the composed "still" scenes, cause me to think Jarmusch was trained as a static, 2-D artist first. Just a guess. This film is NOT about acting, which is limited at best, but doesn't really need much. We observe an alienated set of scenarios which are only enhanced by the stiff, awkward exchanges and pauses of the characters, and the lack of movement in the camera work. Ambient sound adds to the gritty reality of emptiness. Funny or not, this is a low-key, lost-souls story of detachment and aimlessness.
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The Mundanities of Life
jzappa11 September 2009
Life is strikingly uneventful for Willie, played by renaissance man John Lurie, who refers to himself as a hipster and lives in New York City, and his interactions with his Hungarian cousin Eva, played by avant-garde actress-musician Eszter Balint, and his best friend Eddie, played by yet another actor-musician Richard Edson, who dresses exactly like Willie. Indeed, both males are swarthy with hook noses and fedoras. They have such little interest in or knowledge of anything that their eventual vacation is no different from home.

The quirky way to three-act story format is a succession of single-shot scenes punctuated by black leader, and the clear-cut partition of the story into three straightforward, facetiously named episodes. Yet there are other ceremonial characteristics of substance: Tom DiCillo's black-and-white camera work, which provides Jarmusch's acute impression for the American panorama; and the arresting appliance of music, which favorably apposes Screamin' Jay Hawkins's I Put a Spell on You with the folksy tinges of John Lurie's score for string quartet. This is definitely a road movie, but one with a distinction: Different from most instances of the then still immensely fashionable genre, Stranger Than Paradise appeared simultaneously comprehensively American and strangely European.

The oddly enlightening aggregate of involvement and reserve may be found in the film's lovingly absurd view of Willie's chic affectations, its quaint posture toward some of the inanities of American culture and in the way it harmonizes a decidedly American genre and decidedly American plot---if a narrative as gravely sparse and as concentrated on dead moments may be dubbed a plot---with all form of un-Hollywood expression. The look, rhythm, cast and mainly dismal feel bring to mind not The Blues Brothers, or even the rather subdued Last Detail, but the beginnings of the degree of minimalism to which Jarmusch would take his later work.

However he also loves various attributes of popular culture. See how Willie and Eva watch Forbidden Planet on TV or go with Eddie and Eva's discouraged fancier to see a bone-crunching Hong Kong martial-arts flick at a Cleveland grindhouse, and lets them neighbor more virtuous aspects of his films, in such a way that there is no discrepancy between high and low. And it's for that scarce but wholly judicious mindset that Jarmusch is to be particularly noted. It's doable to distinguish his connection with a gamut of later American indie directors, specifically in his desert drollery, his passionately entertained captivation with slackers of sundry kinds, his concern with sequential framework, his affinity for severely subdued stories, and his clever, antiquated references to popular culture. All these, at a time scarce in American cinema, are now pretty ubiquitous. But the rhyme, the unabashed regard for cinema as a quality, production, expression, a realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance, even the mundanities of life and the most everyday scenery possible, that can confront crucial, important matters is far more difficult to come across.

Considering, in the end, no matter how amusing, stylized, minute or insignificant his films may strike one at first, they are always about something. For all his cinephilia, they're inspired not, like Tarantino and Rodriguez, by other movies, but by life: by real people, encountering real feelings. And while this black-and-white deadpan pop culture satire may be a comedy, an dissection of cinematic storytelling, and a thoroughly cynical yarn, it's also a film about America and the people who live there. It's about those people's connections to each other, and their connections to the rooms they populate, the city streets, the suburbs, diners and highways. And it's made by someone who knows there may be reality in abstraction, who finds a visceral alliteration separating a snow-coated Lake Erie and a barren Florida beach, and who fashions an implausibly true character like Aunt Lotte, always jabbering to her tender company in Hungarian, whether they're listening or not.
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Ironic and Weird Tale of Emptiness and Boredom
claudio_carvalho28 April 2013
The New World: The teenager Eva Molnar (Eszter Balint) arrives from Budapest, Hungary, and goes to the house of his cousin Willie, a.k.a. Bela Molnar (John Lurie) in a dangerous neighborhood in New York. Eva intends to travel to Cleveland to stay with her Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark), but the old woman is in the hospital and Eva has to stay with the idle Wille, who is absolutely indifferent to her. They spend their empty days smoking Chesterfield, watching television and playing solitaire and Eva befriends Willie's friend Eddie (Richard Edson). Then Willie and Eddie are connected to Eva and they miss her when she travels to Cleveland.

One Year Later: Willie and Eddie win a large amount in the poker game and they borrow a car and travel to Cleveland to visit Eva. They spend a couple of boring days in the house of Aunt Lotte.

Paradise: Willie and Eddie invite Eva to go on vacation in Florida. However they lose their money in the dog racing. Willie decides to bet their last money in the horse racing and they win money. Meanwhile Eva is wrongly taken by another woman and receives a large amount from a stranger. She leaves money for Willie and Eddie and goes to the airport expecting to travel to Europe, but there is only one flight to Budapest. Meanwhile Willie and Eddie seek her out in the airport. Will Willie find Eva?

"Stranger than Paradise" is an ironic and weird tale of emptiness and boredom by Jim Jarmusch, filmed in black and white and divided in three segments (acts). There are funny moments, like for example, when Willie has a phone conversation with his Aunt Lotte and tells that Eva will put his life on hold since the guy spends the days smoking, watching television, playing solitaire and gambling in the horse racing. Then he misses Eva, probably the only different thing that had happened in his boring and empty life. In the end, it is hilarious when Eddie asks to himself: What will Willie do in Budapest? "Stranger than Paradise" is not for every audience but those viewers that also enjoy cinema as art. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Estranhos no Paraíso" ("Stranger in the Paradise")
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Stark in America
bdpennington28 December 2000
"Stranger than Paradise" is a stark and beautiful film. It could almost pass for Kerouac on film: the loneliness of America and the quiet desperation that is so brutally obvious and ever-present in its silence. And there are very few filmmakers who would have the daring or the insight to include long moments of silence such as "Stranger" has. Leave it to the existentialists to break a film-school taboo.

This is obviously not a film to show your college drinking buddies. That's a good thing, though. It's a film that meditates, for lack of a better term. And it demands that the viewers meditate, contemplate the grey, endless skies and the endless layer of white that makes most life dormant or sluggish during winter.

And when the characters arrived in Florida, it almost took me back to my childhood days when my family and I would arrive, by car, to some small town somewhere in America during summer; it brought to me that same sort of mild despair and disorientation that returning home from the family roadtrip always inspired.

And, I dont know, there's something then altogether tragic about Florida in winter anyway. There's an eternal longing in these characters and I think we can feel it even more because of the landscapes Jarmusch used in this film. A Florida motel in winter, with the sun beating down; and Cleveland, during the same winter, soulless and icy.

Beautiful, beautiful film and it's hard to stop commenting on the feelings it brings out. Shame though that Jarmusch hasnt really made a film that is as daring or expressive as "Stranger."
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Beautiful simplicity
oconnor09305 May 2010
'Stranger than Paradise' is a minimalist treasure. Though quiet and lacking action (so to say), the film still proves to be oddly deep in its depiction of loneliness.

The characters all deal with the emptiness of life. They look for a greater meaning and affection from others. It is certainly a relatable pursuit and search for something you never seem to find. The beautiful cinematography and black and white images contribute to the stark emptiness and void in the characters' lives. The directing is made up of many scenes consisting of a single long take—unique to only a select group of movies.

This independent film touched me, but it could easily not hit the mark with the masses. Its minimalism won't appeal to everyone. Nonetheless, 'Stranger than Paradise' proves itself to be a notable independent film.
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darienwerfhorst29 November 2004
Yes, it's slow...yes, it's in black and white with minimal sets...and yes the acting is somewhat flat, but I still like this movie a lot!

Perhaps it's Eva's dryness and her deadpan quality as she comes to the fabulous USA for the first time. Maybe it's the mid-80's Reagan era hopelessness that I can still remember...Eva ends up taking her cousin on an adventure he didn't expect and pulling him out of his dull life (to an even duller Cleveland!).

It doesn't move fast, and it's not as witty as some films...but if you remember that this movie was made 10 years before the mega-indie rebirth.......Pulp Fiction, etc, it may give you some 1983, amidst ET, the Star Wars Sequels, etc. etc. this film is a charming, if spare, breath of fresh air!
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timnil22 May 2003
A slow black and white film full of long pauses and minimal dialogue, Stranger Than Paradise can be a tough movie to watch for someone who is weaned on American pop cinema. It's constructed out of a series of shorts, stitched together to create a (somewhat) coherent whole. Two small time hustlers take their poker winnings and travel on a series of misadventures around America joined by the cousin of one of the con-men, an immigrant from Hungary. As with some of Jim Jarmusch's films, the focus is on the mundane in everyday life and how the characters approach it. The characters are looking for meaning in their empty and repetitious lives. Sort of an anti-road movie, there is some dry humor to break up the tedium. (6 out of 10)
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Joel2511 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Like Permanent Vacation, this film establishes Jarmusch as standing for something alternative to the conventions of mainstream American cinema. It is altogether a more mature collaboration than Permanent Vacation, a stronger indication of important artistic sensibilities, and perhaps exhibits a more solid bond between aim and execution. It is where the boat moored after Permanent Vacation, so it is out of the same universe, the same general headspace, but in a different country, a new world.

I'll recount a part of the story, because I liked it.

Willie lives in Purgatory, somewhere in New York. He comes from Hungary, but suppresses his European heritage under a facade of hip film-noir Americanism. His cousin, Eva (the femme fatale if we see it as noir), who has just arrived in America from Budapest, blows into his life like bad news from an Aunt Lotte in Cleveland. Willie is forced to 'babysit' Eva while his aunt stays in hospital for 10 days. He is aggrieved by this disruption to his life, even though TV dinners, games of solitaire, and long sleeps are about the only things to disrupt.

Willie's small, dour apartment holes them up for the duration like the prison in Down By Law. Their time together is uneventful in the large, but very frank in revealing the slow time ordinariness and emotional seclusion of Willie's life. He bans Eva from speaking in Hungarian even though he knows the language, he forbids her from answering his phone, prohibits her from going anywhere with him, presumably because it would contradict the barricade of his cool, noirish, self-image, and impatiently attempts to educate her in Americanisms he barely understands himself. Their only interruption from themselves or each other is a visit from Willie's gambling buddy, Eddie, whose warm and polite attempts to include Eva in their adventures outside are upset by his deference to Willie's personality. When it comes time for Eva to leave for Cleveland, Willie has acted upon a bud of affection but can only express it in jaded terms. He insists Eva wear a dress he bought for her, even though she doesn't like it, because she should dress like an American when she is in America.

This is where the first part ends, or nearly. On the street, after Eva and Willie have exchanged goodbyes, Eddie finds Eva abandoning the dress that Willie bought as a gift. Eddie does not mention this to Willie, presumably because he does not want to hurt his feelings. It is all unspoken. Willie and Eddie sit and drink beer, both reflect on Eva's visit without speaking.

Originally, the film ends here. It was shot using leftover film from Wim Wenders' The State of Things. A year or two later, the group decided to extend the film or finish it. I won't go into the next 2/3. Suffice to say, after hustling some money in a poker game a year later, Willie and Eddie decide to visit Eva in Cleveland. Perhaps Willie realised he was missing something and Eddie did hide a profound sense of loneliness.

Stranger Than Paradise is shot in a way that subverts mainstream notions of entertainment and engagement. It is an action film, but its definition of action is subtle and internal, left to the sensitivities of the watcher to engage with. The weather is a strong and active force, negotiating the lives of the characters like another character. This, I guess, has something to do with Ozu, mentioned by Eddie in his reference to Tokyo Story as the horse to back while he reads Willie the odds.

Jarmusch has been strongly influenced by and is educated in World cinema, establishing him as a kind of outsider at home, just like the characters. The film with its surface deadpan, hangs back from the perspectives of its characters in a kind of suspended relativism, which is throughout all of Jarmusch's work. The emotional depth is neither affirmed or denied. There is no absolute position.

John Lurie (he played Willie and composed the music) composed sparse and sensitive strings to comment on his character, which serves to further the gap between the film's stance and its subject. This general stance does not endorse Willie's peevish superficiality nor does it extrapolate it into misfortune. It suggests a more natural, but didactic approach. A film noir protagonist's end always reflects on their preceding actions.

Watch it if you haven't, watch it again if you have, or don't watch it. But it would surely fit any worthwhile definition of a 'good' film.
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Stranger than Paradise
jboothmillard23 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
From writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers), I had no clue what this film featuring the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book was about, and to be honest, that didn't change much when I watched it. Basically Willie (John Lurie) is a self confessed hipster and slacker living in New York City, and his Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) has arrived unexpectedly for a surprise visit lasting for ten days, while Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark) is in hospital. For a while he makes it clear he is not happy with her being around, but over time he enjoys her company, one instance where he really likes her is after she steals groceries and makes a TV dinner for him. The ten days pass and Eva is ready to leave, but is obvious Willie is upset after she has gone, Eddie (Richard Edson) made sure to help her out before she left, but Willie really wants her back. It is after winning a large amount of money cheating in a game of poker that the two friends start a journey to Cleveland, but even when they do find her, and spend some time with her friend Billy (Danny Rosen) they find they are just as bored as when they were in New York. Willie and Eddie decide rather than go back home to travel to Florida, and obviously they take Eva with them, but after settling a bit they lose all the money they have betting on dog races, and they try to win it back in horse races. After a trip to the beach Eva is mistaken for a drug dealer and gets a large amount of money, which she leaves some of for Willie, along with a note that she is going to the airport, and she sees the only European place to go is Budapest, her original home country. She decides to wait until the next day, and Willie and Eddie return having won all the money back on the horse races, but they find Eva has gone, and after seeing the note Willie rushes to get on the plane she should be travelling. The final shot though sees Willie getting on the plane to Budapest and it taking off, Eddie watches it take off and leave, but Eva has in fact gone back to the hotel they were staying, to an empty room. I can't really say anything much about the stars as I know none of them, only that they do a good job to not express many expressions and emotions at all, the same can be said for director Jarmusch, who creates a rather quiet film with not much going on, it is honestly a little dull, but that actually adds to the odd atmosphere and overall unpredictable feel of this strangely fascinating road movie drama. Good!
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Jim Jarmusch's highly comedic ode to boredom
Magenta_Bob11 January 2011
Rarely have I seen a film with so little action been executed to such great effects. Jim Jarmusch's ode to life in general and boredom in particular is both subtly hilarious and superbly stylish.

Most films that deal with people being bored tend to become a bit boring themselves, but Stranger Than Paradise had me sitting with a smile on my face for the entire duration. Its biggest accomplishment is that it seems so true to life – the characters mostly just sit around talking, and the dialogue is remarkably realistic and seemingly improvised. And just like in real life, sometimes they haven't even got anything to talk about, like when Eddie (a wonderfully relaxed Richard Edson) goes to Willie's (John Lurie) apartment, after which they sit quietly staring down into the floor. Even when the two of them go on vacation to Cleveland, they spend most of the time in a house watching television, and Eddie remarks that all places look the same. That being said, the film does have a plot of sorts, even if it is a rather loose one, about Eddie, Willie and Willie's cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) going on a road trip together. Along the way, there are some more directly comedic scenes, such as when Eddie and Willie follow Eva and her date to the movies, or when Willie's aunt beats them all at a card game.

The sparse narrative structure is perfectly matched by Jarmusch's simple direction. It makes great use of a static camera, and the black and white visuals are slightly grainy and in a sense quite unremarkable but at the same time strikingly beautiful. The imprecise editing, where most scenes are followed by a second or two of darkness that lets them sink in, along with the recurring use of I Put a Spell on You by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, also adds to the independent, bohemian vibe of the film.

Apart from a few subtle cultural references, such as the fact that a race horse is named Tokyo Story, there doesn't seem to be much more to Stranger Than Paradise than what meets the eye. Luckily, there is often not a whole lot more to life either, making this the perfect film to watch whenever you have nothing better to do.
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Existential quandary
timmy_50128 July 2010
Stranger Than Paradise begins with Hungarian Eva immigrating to America where she stays with her cousin Willie for ten days in New York City before heading to an older relative's place in Cleveland, Ohio. Willie is ashamed of his Hungarian heritage and is resentful of Eva's stay which was intended to be much shorter. Eva ignores his rude behavior and the two eventually begin to bond. A year later Willie and his goofy friend Eddie borrow a car to visit Eva in Cleveland in spite of their lack of interest in the area. From there the trio sets off on vacation to a Florida paradise that never quite materializes.

Although transients and others who are uncomfortable with their environments appear frequently in the films of Jim Jarmusch to this day, the theme of impermanence is particularly evident in his early work. His student film Permanent Vacation is about a man who slowly says goodbye to his home city before fulfilling the promise of the title, Mystery Train is a film set in Memphis with hardly any characters who have spent much time there, and Night on Earth takes place almost entirely in moving motor vehicles.

Thus it's no surprise that none of the three main characters in Stranger Than Paradise shows any intention to acquire a steady job (or any job at all in the case of the male characters) or any reluctance to take an extended leave of absence from his or her normal life. These characters have a price to pay for their freedom, however: although they aren't tied down in any one place everywhere they go seems to be the same as the last place they were in. The areas they inhabit in New York, Ohio, and Florida are progressively less urban but they all look equally drab and uninviting; even the beach they visit looks utterly cheerless. These are characters whose hang-ups have nothing to do with their surroundings; they're going to find the same experiences no matter where they go because they have walled themselves into a perfectly insular world where they're free to behave the same way all the time and enjoy the same limited pleasures and discomforts. This is why Willie is just as unwilling to take Eva out with his friend in Florida as he is in New York. This isn't lost on the characters, however, as Willie responds to Eddie's complaint that even in a new place "everything looks the same" with three words: "No kidding, Eddie." While Eddie is barely bright enough to recognize their situation, Willie is too apathetic and arrogant to attempt to change it. The only character who ever seems to make a conscious effort to break free from the Sartrean purgatory they have slipped into is Eva, whose motivations tend to be hidden behind her inability to communicate with her self absorbed companions. She's as ineffectual as she is enigmatic, however, as ultimately even her most impulsive actions fail to bring about any meaningful change.

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch does an excellent job of capturing the existential quandary of his characters through careful choice of locations and aesthetics. His camera tends to be still and his shots tend to be long; in fact the characters almost seemed to be trapped within the camera frame in many shots. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment in Stranger Than Paradise is his ability to capture locations that give a sense of disparate geography but still maintain a coldly similar atmosphere consistently. With only his second feature film Jarmusch was already beginning to find his own cinematic voice.
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Independent genius
Polaris_DiB7 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Throughout cinema history there have been hundreds of examples of how someone has taken an extremely limited budget and made a magnificent thing out of it. Jarmusch's second feature and his first real introduction to the world is one of the best examples of that in terms of both aesthetics and entertainment value. The movie itself is a series of single takes divided by black leader, and never deviates from that form even in places where continuity editing could have been implemented. Indeed, every single shot is a vignette complete with its own beginning, middle, and end, and profoundly understated in simple ways. The seemingly flat black and white cinematography meshes with the wide-angle depth and creates a dynamic frame even though it's typically crowded with objects and characters (even though there are few set-pieces or characters). It looks like point-and-shoot but is so much more crafty than that.

Jarmusch quite clearly wears his inspiration from Ozu on his sleeve and even references Tokyo Story in the dialog. But that said, Stranger than Paradise for me also mixed an acknowledgement of underground cinema such as Andy Warhol's Vinyl for simplicity's sake. In the same way that Vinyl is A Clockwork Orange in two crowded, dimensionless long takes, Stranger than Paradise is its own collection of self-evident virtuosity without the need for glamorous standards, making stars simply because it throws them up on screen, not because they are technically attractive people. In fact, the two main characters Eddie and Willie are kinda goofy looking, and all three main characters could be considered unattractive in their passivity and malaise. On the other hand, this movie, as noted often, is quite hip and certainly holds some Indie credentials (not that this is a bad thing, as it is definitely sincere).

But it's just so smart in its approach. With limited celluloid and limited space, Jarmusch created an amazingly dynamic world. Without continuity editing, he created a very rhythmic and involved series of shots. Without relying on too much movement or action, he created characters of great depth and familiarity. And with low-grade black and white cinematography, he created a world to fit it all into.

There are required viewing movies for classics and required viewing for film history. There are thousands upon thousands of movies that film buffs and film makers should watch or at least keep in mind about getting around to seeing. Stranger than Paradise is one of those I'd eagerly recommend to anyone who likes the thought of making movies but gets overwhelmed by the prospect of getting involved in what seems like such a complicated process. It just goes to prove that something amazing can be made out of something simple with a little forethought and a lot of care.

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The Emperor's New Clothes
crichton22 April 2000
I honestly think this is a film that people are afraid to admit they don't find funny or like. I read reviews from critics blasting films for not having enough plot, for being boring, for being poorly written, poorly acted, etc. And here is a film with all these negative attributes, and it's considered a classic.

I went to film school with Ms. Balint and wanted desperately to like this film, watching it as much as four times -- twice on tape and twice on A&E. I did not find all those attributes others had christened it with because frankly, they do not exist. Then I remember The Elephant Man, and the early critics using the title to savage it; "It moves at an elephant's pace", read one. Then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and never a bad word about the film again. I think this is the case for Stranger Than Paradise. The film presents the boredom and monotony of three lost people's lives, and it succeeds by itself being boring and monotonous.

I also think viewers have to put more into this film to seek enjoyment, just as an art critic will look at a solid black canvas and see the life cycle of man's humanity and mortality. And the fact is, it's just a black canvas. That is what I think this movie is. I just happen to think that it caught the people at Cannes during an odd time where they found it amusing, and then from that time out, everyone was afraid to say anything negative about it for fear of being ridiculed for "not getting it." In my opinion -- and acknowledging everything regarding the arts is subjective -- this is an average, gimmicky (mastershots and blackouts) student film.

I would rate this film 1/2 star, if that at all. Sorry to disagree with all you intellectuals out there. I enjoy a good classic film, domestic or foreign, but I do not like films that sportnon-existent writing, acting, or direction. To be snide, I've seen the Emperor, and that b*****d is buck-naked.
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Too Cult For Its Own Good
pritch15 October 2000
Even fans of quirky, off-beat cult movies will find this one hard to swallow for the entire 90 minutes. It has a few moments scattered throughout the picture, but mostly plays like someone's senior film project trying to graduate from film school. Even after you realize the look and feel he is trying to capture, the film's narrative structure is too sparse to create any intensity of effect or adequate unity. Obviously an early effort by Jarmusch with much better films of his to view in recent years.
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Jarmusch's first success
Egwin22 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film was outstanding. It is Jarmusch's second feature and it stars John Lurie, Richard Edson, and Eszter Balint. This has outstandingly beautiful cinematography and some great set pieces. My favorite was the finale. It was very ironic and interesting. The constant blackouts and long takes may annoy some viewers. You should definitely use this for your introduction to Jarmusch. If you have seen other works of his, but have not seen this, see it. It is a masterpiece of film on all accounts and should be seen by everyone who likes Jarmusch and loves indie films. It is a haunting (and very hard to forget) film that is very well written and well acted. I like this film a lot and I hope you do too.

**** out of ****
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Boring drivel
preppy-36 November 2009
Inexplicably popular indie film about a NYC guy who is paid a surprise visit by his Hungarian cousin. They talk endlessly, travel to Florida for no good reason, get involved with a robbery...There's really no point in summarizing what little plot there is. Basically nothing changes or happens that is remotely interesting. The film just sort of hangs there. I caught this in 1984 at an art house. The critics were falling all over themselves praising it. I was in college at that time and this (supposedly) was a big hit with college kids. At first I paid attention to the characters and dialogue...but it (slowly) dawned on me that this was about nothing with totally dull characters and bad acting. The 89 minutes dragged and I was bored silly by the end. I wasn't alone. When the lights came up in the theatre people were looking at each other with this puzzled look on their faces. Walking out I heard people say things like, "What was THAT all about" and "That was the stupidest movie I ever saw". Because of this tripe I refuse to see anything Jim Jarmusch did since then. I just see his name or hear it and I flash back to this utterly dull and pointless excuse for a movie. It might be worth catching just to figure out WHY critics loved this thing back in 1984. Avoid.
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Total emptiness
aldo-976-2009115 December 2014
As usual, Jim Jarmush does not communicate anything. Nothing at all. Not a laugh, not a smile, not an emotion, not an impression, not a feeling. Nothing. I can't even say it is boring: something is boring, this is nothing. I can't say I did not like it: I can not like something, I can't say I did not like nothing. And this is nothing. If I were sleeping during the movie, nothing changed in my life, my thoughts, emotions. Nothing. Absolutely, definitely nothing. It is not the worst movie I have ever seen, because Coffe & Cigarettes and Down by Law are even worse. Difficult to believe, but they are. Who is the director of these other two? The same for this? Strange coincidence ...
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