Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Before checking into Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, check out these other films set entirely or predominately at hotels.
Mystery Train (1989)
Three different tales converge at Memphis, Tennessee’s rundown Arcade Hotel in Mystery Train, a deft triptych of dislocation. Morose and wryly funny in about equal measure, Jim Jarmusch’s first film in color segues from one chapter to the next, each set on the same night and overseen by the hotel’s red-suited night clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) and bellboy (Cinqué Lee). In the first, “Far From Yokohama,” a teenage Japanese couple—the girl a cheery motormouth in love with Elvis, the boy an expressionless wannabe-greaser who prefers the music of Carl Perkins—arrive in town and visit Sun Studio before heading to their room for the night. In the second, “A Ghost,” an Italian woman (Nicoletta Braschi) stuck in Memphis by an emergency plane landing encounters a menacing stranger (Tom Noonan) who tells her an anecdote about picking up the hitchhiking ghost of Elvis; she then shacks up at the Arcade with Dee-Dee (Elizabeth Bracco), who’s leaving town and her boyfriend. That man, nicknamed Elvis and played by The Clash’s Joe Strummer, is the focal point of “Lost In Space,” in which he and his friends (Steve Buscemi, Rick Aviles) wind up at the hotel after the murder of a liquor store clerk.
While these characters’ paths barely cross, their stories—rife with communication barriers and breakdowns—intertwine to form a larger portrait of cultural, racial, and romantic detachment. Every one of Jarmusch’s characters is adrift in a land that isn’t, or can no longer be, their own, and there’s an overarching melancholy to their adventures. What’s amazing about Mystery Train, however, is that despite that atmosphere of alienation and sorrow, Jarmusch’s laid-back script is consistently amusing: The filmmaker scores laughs from the Italian woman’s eye-rolling reaction to the stranger’s yarn, and from the night clerk telling the bellhop that, in his uniform and matching hat, he looks like “a damn mosquito-legged chimpanzee.” Moreover, by creating narrative echoes among his three vignettes—all haunted by the ghost of Elvis—Jarmusch achieves a sense of comforting harmony to offset his characters’ lonely conditions.
Availability: Mystery Train is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD (which can be obtained through Netflix), for rental or purchase through Amazon Instant Video or iTunes, or to stream on Hulu Plus.
In 2011, The A.V. Club visited a location from Mystery Train: