Atomic Tabasco a film by James Cox. 1999, USA, 12 min. Cultures clash in an Alphabet City bodega in this late-’90s film-school relic of old New York.


The Safdie Brothers’ takeover of Le Cinéma Club continues with a short film where cultures collide in a New York bodega. Josh Safdie takes on this week’s pick:


“The 90s were jagged and boxy. The 90s in NYC saw the last days of what a lot of people call “old New York” now, when Guiliani came in and “cleaned it up.” I remember going to Legs Diamond as a 16-year old who looked like a 12-year old and I remember the bouncer not giving a shit. Atomic Tabasco is a late ’90s display of old New York, written and directed by James Cox who has gone on to have a long career in Hollywood. The nineties loved a non-linear film, thanks in part to the pop-changer Tarantino. You can clearly see his influence on this film school short. The film stars a great and electric teenage Eleonore Hendricks (who we’ve worked with as an actress and as a casting director) and a young Josh Ralph (who’s been nominated for an Oscar three times for best original song) who with the director and another friend play proto-post-Y2K hipster nihilist music enthusiasts. Ralph is hilarious and this ethnic potboiler, which takes place in a bodega, is a fun reminder of what independent movies were doing then.” JOSH SAFDIE



James Cox directed Atomic Tabasco at the end of his studies at New York University, and the short film propelled his career to Hollywood. The filmmaker wrote the script in an East Village McDonald’s: “By seeing groups of people interacting in different languages, I had this idea of a set of characters, where no one would understand each other, even if everyone would basically say the same thing, as if time was going backwards and on and on again.” Cox dropped out of school for a year and went to Korea to write and work as cinematographer. What he missed most about New York was “how vibrant and lively the city was, even in a grocery store on Avenue C and 10th Street at 2:00 a.m.” He made the decision to go live with this short while listening to Japanese hip-hop in a Seoul CD store: “”Volcanic Beats” by Denki Groove started to play and a Japanese guy came into the store with a flawless Versace jacket and an amazing girlfriend under his arm… and that struck me down!”


The film won awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Student Academy Awards, and led to Cox receiving a $14 million budget from New Line Cinema for his first feature, Highway (2002). That’s why he often says, “Never underestimate the power of an awesome short film.” 

Credits for
Sameer Butt, James Cox, Eleonore Hendricks & J. Ralph
written by
James Cox
produced by
Bill Bymel, James Cox & J. Ralph
Michael Grady
costume design
Mila Radulovic