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Blue in the face is a follow up to 'Smoke' a film which I saw recently and
very much enjoyed. I thought I'd give this one a try as well.
Like the first film (even more so) this is a collection of beautifully acted, largely improvised vignettes, involving the customers and general passers-by of the Brooklyn based cigar shop run by Auggie (Harvey Keitel). There is a lose storyline involving the relationship between Auggie and his girlfriend Violetta (brilliantly played by Mel Gorham) and the troubled marriage of Vinnie the storeowner and his wife. The store has been a part of the local community for years and when Vinnie gets a very good offer to sell up, it's bound to badly affect a lot of people.
The best moments of the film lie in the documentary style rambling of Brooklyn residents (including Lou Reed) as they describe what it means to them being part of the city, and also the brilliant monologues that some of the characters perform. There are moments of genius in this film. It is very funny in a very understated way, the assembled characters are all eccentric in their own way but totally believable. The dialogue is natural and you get to know and feel for the characters very quickly in to the movie.
I loved this film; I thought it was better than 'Smoke' a film I also liked. 'Blue in the Face' might be harder to get in to for some people, it's improvisational style and lack of structured story might put people off or make them think it's hard to follow, but it isn't. Don't try to make too much sense of what's going on you don't need to. Treat it as a series of snapshots in to the lives of a collection of colourful New Yorkers. Just sit back and watch the characters play out their lives, you'll very soon be engrossed by it.
It was an absolute delight to watch. Not for everyone maybe but definitely for me!
This is a light and fun - although intelligent - movie, worth seeing, if not
for the whole marvellous opus of pop culture, for his cast alone: Harvey
Keitel, Roseanne, Victor Argo and precious appearances of Lou Reed, Jim
Jarmusch (as Bob, in my favorite sequence of the movie), John Lurie and
Madonna, to name a few. Soundtrack by David Byrne only adds to the mix.
´Blue in the Face´ cynically, cleverly and ironically chronicles the life and the history of Brooklyn, NY. Watch it, it´s independent cinema at its best.
Wang's followup to Smoke is a series of improvised scenes put together to
represent the diveristy of Brooklyn's culture. Meanwhile Auggie is
struggling with Vinnie's decision to sell the cigar store.
The "plot" to this film doesn't really matter. This was shot in the time that was left over when Smoke wrapped earlier than scheduled. In many ways this is a much better film. It's a huge amount of fun to watch and it all ends in a street party - it all makes you want to live in Brooklyn and meet all these weird and wonderful people that live there. It's sketchy nature can mean that it feels a little piecey but most of it is funny or interesting and you may not notice it's lack of structure. The actual story is actually quite good - Vinnie's decision to shut the store is handled as a threat to the friendships that exist around the story and also the importance of such places in holding the community together. It makes a good point and, mixed with the humour, isn't hard to swallow at all.
The cast are good - many of Smoke's faces are still there and are complimented by famous faces. Stars such as Fon, Roseanne, Madonna, Lou Reed, Jim Jarmusch, Lily Tomlin, Ru Paul etc all make cameos - Madonna isn't great but MJ Fox is really funny. The remainder of the cast are made up of real quality actors such as Victor Argo, Harvey Keitel and Giancarlo Esposito to name a few.
Overall this is a light reward for watching the slighly heavier Smoke. Both films are good in their own way but this is the most fun to watch.
I wish I could make a movie this funny and so easily. Five days, improvisations, not a definite storyline and a great and funny movie is born. I loved it, it still makes me laugh and will keep on making me laugh. All the actors are great, but if I had to give an award to one of them it would be Jim Jarmusch, with his "last cigarette" speech. Fantastic also is Lou Reed, and his conclusions about life. The movie really benefits from its addition of well-known stars, including a much-in-the-gutter character Michael J. Fox, which is really funny. The film also includes some curiosities about Brooklyn, and works not only as a set of vignettes but also as an account of what's typical and traditional in that neighbourhood. It has some cool moments and some touching moments, but overall it's a movie to see and not to analyse.
"Blue in the Face" was a fastly produced follow-up of director Wayne Wang's
and writer Paul Auster's 1994 art house hit "Smoke". While "Smoke" was
produced in the usual way with script, casts, etc., this movie was a quickly
shot within less than a month, just containing vague ideas, interviews and
improvisations with the same production unit and main actor Harvey Keitel,
but without a script and with lots of popular supporting actors who were
improvising their performance straight in front of the camera. And it
Focused on Keitel's smoke shop in Brooklyn, his customers and visitors are telling stories about their lives, views, ideas, dream, relationships and carreers, all focused around the topic of smoking. Lou Reed can't remember his first cigarette, but presents his self-constructed glasses, Jim Jarmusch celebrates his last cigarette, Harvey Keitel reminds which war movie made him a cigarette smoker, and there are several more famous guests in the shop. Michael J. Fox plays a weird insurance guy, Madonna appears as a singing telegram girl, and John Lurie, Mia Sorvino, Paul Keith and the whole NYC artist's scene appear on the screen.
Although the pointless composition of independent scenes and interviews might become a bit out of tune or boring sometimes, the movie works really well. There are lots of interesting (real life?) stories told by the actors, a great rare groove soundtrack that could fit into every Tarantino production, and some really good jokes too. "Blue in the Face" become a minor art house classic in Europe in the nineties, and one could wonder if this movie would have been the same ten years later in the times of anti-smoking laws and campaigns. Nice independent movie.
Blue in the face might be boring to many because it doesn't follow a standard hollywood paradigm of rising action, climax, resolve. It is more documentary style, although fictitious, and quickly jumps from story to story and character to character. The editing is an interesting component because it successfully brings together disparate themes and characters (who are improvising their lines and stories to some degree). This and some fantastical elements provide a very romanticized view of Brooklyn. Altogether a cohesive piece with some nice performances and some insight into what it is to growup and live in a special loved place.
Most disappointing detail about "Blue in the face" is the regretful fact that it's a sequel to "Smoke" - one of the greatest movies of the mid 90's. I would instantly rate terrific "Smoke" 10 out of 10. I've seen it a million times and I never get tired of enjoying it again. I know "Blue in the face" is supposed to be a bunch of spontaneous conversations but most of the stuff (Lou Reed parts, for example) are just plain boring. Scenes with Jim Jarmusch and Michael J. Fox are totally worth watching. I loved Malik Yoba's wristwatch selling rapper too. If you liked "Smoke" you might want to check this out as well but be careful and don't expect anything special.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have founded this semidocumentary about the Brooklynian way of life
from an ordinary man's POV rather amusing and compellingand very
sarcastic and mordant; it's studded with vaguely familiar faces (whose
identities are mostly unknown to me, as I am not a frequenter of the
culture in causethe Jarmusch/ Madonna brands
). The movie is, as I
suggested, ironicyet _unconclusively so. It is unassuming, sometimes
funny, and Mel Gorham is very sexy. On the other hand, it's not too
intense or particularly successful at seizing the hidden life of
Brooklyn. It has the intelligent, not really intellectual or
particularly inspired look of other similar attemptslike some Mamet
. It's not insightful or meaningfulbut funny, light,
enjoyable. It is also cruel and merciless in exposing empty
livespeople to whom the Dodgers' leaving was the most important thing
in their lives, etc., insipid, lifeless existences, withered humanity,
banal destines soaked in ugliness. This world is wholly alien to me.
This Auster intellectuality, like some Mamet mean intellectuality,
seems not very far from the W. Allen intellectuality.
I guess the film is for the most part ironic; yet if it was meant to convey a certain savor of Brooklyn life, it did not succeedat least with those ignorant of Brooklyn things. The Dodgers and the Belgian waffles are part of that Americana (what Amis once stated as 'too much trolley-car nostalgia and baseball-mitt Americana, too much ancestor worship, too much piety ') that is particularly unattractive to me. In this sociological sense ,the movie describes an utterly uninteresting world and humanity. These things do not seem to me childishbut, on the contrary, senile and boring. These ingredients are particularly repulsive to me. What strikes is the artificiality and shallowness and inner poverty of these clichés. Some 60 years ago, some Europeans, many French Europeans hinted this might denote a styleand even be a stylish thing. Maybe they meant different realities, or maybe things changed too much.
And then to wonder that this movie was never meant to be made!!Thank god for
Wayne Wang that after shooting Smoke(which does not even come close to this
little gem)he had some more footage to show to us.The leading performance by
Harvey Keitel is outstanding,this man can really act!
I already was convinced though after seeing Mean Streets,Taxi
Driver,Reservoir Dogs,Pulp Fiction,Bad Lieutenant etc.
The other performances aren't bad either.And then the (guest)actors.Names
like Madonna,Roseanne,Michael J. Fox,Mira Sorvino and Lou Reed have small
parts in this movie.Especially Madonna and Michael J. Fox are very
funny.Another great part of the movie are the statistics of Brooklyn(Belgian
Although this movie is always seen as an add-on for Smoke I think that Blue in the Face is far superior to it's older brother and that movie should be more in the spotlights. 10/10
Brooklyn, New York has changed over the last 18 years since this film first premiered. The location near Prospect Park is now one of the most desirable locales to live and reside in the borough and even in New York City. Brooklyn's transformation from a working class borough has changed in some parts. Brooklyn has become hip for the trend setters. It also gentrified in areas especially near the Prospect Park, Brooklyn's Central Park. Still, the film reminds me of another time when Brooklyn wasn't so hip or trendy but real. The people of Brooklyn and New York City like Harvey Keitel, Lou Reed, and others recall their likes and dislikes as well. They spend their time smoking at the Brooklyn Cigar Shop where Augie played by Keitel is the manager but not the owner. The cast includes top notch performers like Lily Tomlin, Lou Reed, Roseanne, Mira Sorvino, etc. A lot of the film's script seems improvised but it makes the film more authentic to documenting the life in a day.
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