Fast & Furious & Elegant: Justin Lin and the Vulgar Auteurs

Justin Lin may strike some as out of place in the pantheon of contemporary auteurs. The Taiwanese-born American filmmaker, best known for having directed Fast Five and its sequel, Fast & Furious 6, makes unabashedly populist blockbusters for mainstream audiences—hardly the purview of a “serious” artist.

His films, wafer thin in narrative and thematic conception, concern themselves principally with street racing and bank heists. His camera, more functional than expressive, remains trained on glistening bodies and the expensive cars they drive, his highest aspirations clarity and expediency. And the dialogue, scripted now three times by Cellular‘s Chris Morgan, is delivered in short expository bursts and winking one-liners, an action movie’s bread-and-butter. In an exchange typical of Fast Five, U.S. Marshall Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) tells a local police chief that he needs two things to get the job done: “One: I need a translator.” And what, the chief responds on cue, is the second thing? “Stay the fuck out of my way.”

For all their narrative clunkiness, Justin Lin’s films have a striking formal elegance. His four Fast films, in particular, forgo the frenetic rhythms and incomprehensible editing that have come to define the last decade-plus of action cinema, opting instead for clean lines, simple compositions, and a deftly conveyed sense of visual space. In set pieces he values lucidity over noise and disorder, presenting even the wildest spectacles—including hauling a four-ton vault through the streets of Rio or swiping luxury cars from the side of a moving train—as refreshingly legible. The refinement with which he presents his films about professionals and platonic relationships is veritably Hawksian. Lin approaches filmmaking like street racing: Efficiency and control are not substitutes for style—they are it.

If Justin Lin fails to qualify as classical auteur—a designation still typically reserved for revered foreign and arthouse filmmakers, from Olivier Assayas to Jia Zhangke—he certainly qualifies, instead, as a vulgar auteur. “Vulgar auteurism” is an increasingly popular concept in contemporary criticism, particularly among young critics. Though it’s emerged online and in print over the past several years and has yet to be granted an official definition, the term generally refers to unfairly maligned or under-discussed filmmakers working exclusively in a popular mode—filmmakers like Lin, who, despite an obvious formal command and distinctive directorial voice, are rarely discussed in a serious way.

Vulgar Auteurism proposes that despite their commercial intentions and frequent lowbrow sensibility, such filmmakers deserve to be regarded as artists producing coherent bodies of work. It calls for critics to evaluate a film like Fast Five with the same care and attention to style or motifs as one would with a film like Holy Motors. Much as we are willing now to treat the films of commercial craftsmen like John Ford and Howard Hawks as works of bona fide art, perhaps we ought to embrace the best contemporary mainstream craftsmen and to recognize the personal value in art made for a mass audience.

Vulgar Auteurism values work traditionally neglected by critics and academics, championing multiplex hits like Lin’s and also low-budget genre fare, B-movies, action blockbusters, slashers. Instead of Michael Haneke, Wong Kar-wai, or Terrence Malick, it hails Tony Scott, Michael Mann, and John McTiernan. Last September, when most critics were busy unpacking Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, vulgar auteur Paul W.S. Anderson gave us Resident Evil: Retribution, an intriguing film about identity and representation (and zombies).

Though it can sometimes seem unduly contrarian, vulgar auteurism is not about rejecting the old guard in favor of some frivolous new; this is not a project founded on nonconformity for its own sake. It isn’t about reevaluating work that’s underrated so much as finally thinking seriously about work that isn’t thought about much at all. The problem it aims to correct isn’t that good movies have been called bad, but that interesting movies have been ignored. At its heart, the intentions of vulgar auteurism are pure: to treat “unserious” cinema seriously. That is a noble pursuit.

Like many loose-knit movements, few within it would describe themselves as adherents. But it only requires thinking critically about films that might not lend themselves so readily to the effort. Vulgar auteurism recognizes Miami Vice and Predator as potential masterpieces. In Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s piece on the late Tony Scott for the MUBI Notebook, Déjà Vu is explored in terms of impressionism and abstraction; he calls Scott “a painterly filmmaker: at first an expressionist—prone to outsize lighting schemes and camera movements—with Pop Art tendencies, and later an impressionist whose style was more abstract than figurative.”

As part of Cinema Scope‘s special issue celebrating the Top 50 filmmakers under 50, Adam Nayman praises the “satirical sharpness and Rabelaisian extremity” of Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the Jason Statham action vehicle Crank, declaring them “tacky masters of the juvenile and the Juvenalian.” A filmmaker like Michael Bay may not be great or even under-appreciated, but his body of work is singular and distinctive enough to be worth thinking about as a whole. If the purpose of auteurism is to study artists whose films display consistent stylistic and thematic qualities—filmmakers with a clear sensibility, in other words—then the purpose of vulgar auteurism is to apply this same approach to artists making less obviously personal or “pure” work.

Justin Lin may be a Hollywood director working in a popular mold, but close readings of his films makes it clear that he is imparting a personal imprint. His Tokyo Drift configures Japan as a fully realized, lived-in space visited by an outsider, the film’s sense of dislocation not unlike Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Fast Five, likewise, imagines Brazil as a multicultural mecca, and it remains one of the precious few Hollywood blockbusters to wholly embrace the racial diversity of its cast. These are valuable elements of films that have been widely dismissed as vacuous and trashy. Vulgar auteurism means respecting such films enough to give them the careful evaluation they deserve.

It’s important to recall that the “vulgar” part of vulgar auteurism doesn’t refer to crudeness, but to commonality; it argues against the notion that the only films worth talking about are those designed for an arthouse audience. Much like the Young Turks of the French New Wave, who aimed in their Cahiers du cinéma writing to bring critical appreciation to Hollywood filmmakers widely considered unworthy—and from Alfred Hitchcock to Samuel Fuller, their efforts have since been vindicated by history—it is the task of the vulgar auteurists to find the value buried in films we otherwise think of as trashy, unsophisticated, or obscene.


Lens Flares and the End of Film

Daniel Mindel, A.S.C., is part of an ever-shrinking population: cinematographers who have yet to shoot a feature digitally. He acknowledges that he “will be forced” to do it eventually by “the corporate entities that drive our industry,” but he believes “there is no need to use an inferior technology at this time.”

Hollywood hardly debated that “inferior technology” before studios, filmmakers, and exhibitors began adopting it over a decade ago. The digital transition is now nearly complete, with 35mm screenings already special occasions trumpeted by fans and preservationists. Proponents routinely cite the benefits of digital photography: the freedom to shoot in low light; smaller, more mobile cameras; the elimination of the laboratory process. But what is being lost, and how do those most directly affected by the change—cinematographers—feel about it?

Mindel is best known for his feature collaborations with Tony Scott and more recently with J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, this decade’s Star Treks). In a phone interview, Mindel told me how he developed the most distinctive feature of Abrams’s visual signature: the analog-specific phenomenon known as lens flare, in which a too-bright light source creates a visible halo on the lens.

“The training that I had as a camera technician was such that we were taught to stop any flares to protect the integrity of the photography,” Mindel explains, echoing wisdom that dates to the silent era. “It always occurred to me that halation is something that we live with on a daily basis. Things halate—car windshields, light bulbs, everything. I wanted to allow that to happen in a way that brought more realism to what I was photographing. J.J. and I were looking at dailies on Mission: Impossible III, where we were getting incredible lens flares. He really loved what was happening, and it was sort of an open invitation to let it happen more.”

The flares became a hallmark in Abrams movies. “With Star Trek,” Mindel says, “it [became] a tool for me to allow the sterility of the sets to be amplified by distorting the light on the lens.”

Lens flare is nothing new; although traditionally considered an error, it can be seen in mainstream Hollywood films from the 1960s onward, particularly those shot by Conrad Hall and Haskell Wexler. As Mindel points out, it is an attempt to lend verisimilitude—to enhance the illusion of reality by allowing a naturalistic visual “flaw” to occur as it would when the right kind of light meets a curved glass surface.

As digital takes prominence, film-like visuals are disappearing, kept alive by filmmakers who insist upon shooting in the medium in which they were trained—the medium upon which the art of cinema was founded. Cinematographers—including those who have shot digitally and like it—are wary of new dangers.

“One of the greatest people I ever worked with, Tony Scott, taught me that magic comes out of the accidents—to never be fearful to try anything,” Mindel says. “The beauty of cinematography was that it was an amalgamation of art and science: the science of photography, or the science of postproduction, or the science of photochemical reaction with light.”

Each year’s new digital cameras are often promoted for their ability to create film-like images, which raises the question: Why switch if only to pursue the look of the original technology? A Photoshop filter allows users to place flare effects in a reasonably accurate way, and CG effects shots in feature films often incorporate digitally created “flare” to mesh with the rest of a film’s look (see Star Trek, for example).

Roger Deakins, A.S.C./B.S.C., has shot three films digitally, including last year’s James Bond spectacular, Skyfall, for which he received his 10th Oscar nomination. He’s best known for his collaborations with the Coen brothers and with Sam Mendes, who directed Skyfall.

“I stayed away from digital for a long time because I’d been in love with film,” Deakins tells the Voice. “It was only when digital had something more to offer—not only in terms of the quality of the image, but in terms of what you could do with a digital camera that you couldn’t do with film. Now I find myself shooting in lower light conditions than I could shoot film emulsion in.”

The celebrated Gordon Willis, who shot the Godfather trilogy, Annie Hall, Manhattan, All the President’s Men, and Zelig, sees digital as having a potentially corrosive effect. “In today’s moviemaking, you have lost the integrity of the original image. You’ve lost the integrity of the person who’s thought things out and wants a certain thing to be achieved on the screen. Because if you don’t have a contract that says no one can change anything, everyone who loves a dial—and they all seem to love dials—gets a hold of it and things turn into magenta, they turn into yellow, they turn into some of the most insane applications of ‘creative thinking.’ There are people who should know better, who have been making movies for a while, who get into this damn room with those dials and they start doing things they never would have thought of doing. They go, ‘Well, we’re here. Let’s blow up seven bridges.'”

Mindel shares these concerns.

“Until very recently, most cinematographers were left alone to shoot and manipulate because people were afraid to engage in any technical conversations—because they really didn’t understand the process,” he says. “What has happened with the advent of Photoshop and iPads is that a lot of people know a little. Therefore they feel, especially directors, that they can manipulate the film in any direction.”

He pauses, the language of this new world having not caught up with the reality. “Should I rephrase that? Not ‘film’—’images.’ So, the relationship between the director of photography and the director has to be built on trust.”

With digital, he says, that amalgamation of art and science doesn’t exist.

“[Digital] is something else, and that’s fine,” Mindel says. “But personally, I love the aberrations that film gives me—the grain exploding under stress from light sources that one doesn’t want to control. It enables me to add texture and sympathy, empathy, something that’s indefinable.”

Digital photography continues to replace film. Physical prints of feature films will no longer be distributed by studios to theaters by the end of this year. So even if directors and cinematographers continue to shoot on film, the result will still end up being projected and seen in a digital format. The larger issue here, as Mindel points out, is not new technology and equipment, but the loss of an art form that took a century to develop on the basis of a particular (analog) medium, and its usurpation by an imitative one that is unresponsive—and, ironically, too responsive—to tactile craftsmanship.


Getting America Back on Track in Unstoppable

Though based on actual 2001 events in Ohio that caused an unmanned freight train, laden with toxic waste, to go haywire, Unstoppable could just as well be set in the shining sun of Reagan’s 1980s. As the driverless locomotive begins gathering speed across rural Pennsylvania, bedecked with autumn leaves, it crosses through blue-collar hamlets full of hard-working men and women, loyal dogs, and fresh-cut grass. And it is from those plain-spoken, beer-drinking, family-loving folk that two heroic railway workers shall break the rules and pursue that runaway train with their own locomotive, while the FOX News TV choppers whirl admiringly overhead.

Two heroes: one young and white (Chris Pine), the other mature and black (Denzel Washington). Two heroes: Will, unhappily separated from his wife and son; and Frank, a widower forced into early retirement by his employer of 28 years. But still they go after the errant train because it’s the right thing to do. They don’t need elitists or big government or special interests to provide orders or advice. Enough with this talk of physics and math and timetables—let’s go get that train!

Oh, do you need to be told this is a Tony Scott film? Last year, the hectic action auteur did subways, in his The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake; this year, he’s aboveground. Train movies are as old as the movies themselves, and it’s almost impossible to make a boring railroad flick. We expect—and Scott duly delivers—scenes of trains smashing through cars, trains smacking into other trains, and people trying to jump aboard moving trains from helicopters, trucks, and other moving trains. When, stalled on the tracks, a trailer full of thoroughbreds has to be pulled whinnying out of harm’s way, only then does the otherwise obvious Unstoppable miss an obvious rail/pursuit combination: Denzel Washington on a horse!

Sadly, this is not to be, though Frank eventually ends up on top of the train, leaping manfully from one boxcar to the next, just as we expect. And the rest of the story (written by Mark Bomback) proceeds just as we expect, too. It’s like a mashup of classic commercials for Ford pickup trucks, Bud Lite, and Hooters (where, God help us, Frank’s daughters are working their way through college). Frank’s credo is, “If ya gonna do something, do it right.” Will’s motivation is to keep the train from derailing in his hometown, where his estranged wife and child lie innocently sleeping next to a fuel depot. And, yes, since you ask: There is a train full of schoolchildren on the same track headed right toward the runaway train! (Still, I was disappointed that Scott didn’t also add a caboose full of adorable puppies. Michael Bay would’ve added puppies.)

Pine, away from the helm of the USS Enterprise, adequately conveys a sense of tetchy insecurity as the junior partner in the chase. (Will’s union connections got him the initial railroad job, and he isn’t sure he deserved it.) Oscar on the mantel, Washington coasts comfortably in his role. His attitude of “You damn runaway trains get offa my law” is a lot less grouchy than, say, Harrison Ford at the same point in his career. Frank just smiles at his inept railroad bosses and gets the job done.

And apart from one sympathetic manager (Rosario Dawson), the suits are corporate weasels who—no surprise—value profits over people. Still, Scott doesn’t exactly take them to task: A CEO is briefly glimpsed on a golf course, muttering into a cell phone about a potential $100 million loss and diminished share prices, but he’s never seen again, never held accountable.

In Unstoppable, cheerful, can-do populists save the day, but it’s also the little guy whom the movie ultimately blames for the mishap. A preview audience hoorayed at the postscript stating how the dumb, doughy culprit was fired and today works in fast food. Never mind how that’s the only alternative to a blue-collar job in some parts of the country. Never mind how a culture of cost-cutting has contributed to several rail-freight accidents in the last two decades—including the actual CSX near-disaster that inspired this movie. A Pennsylvania toxic-waste derailment occurred six months before that event, then again six months later in New York, during which time CSX reported record profits and its CEO went to work in the regulation-averse Bush administration. But that’s a different movie.


The Hunger

Dir. Tony Scott (1983).
Ridiculously mannered when it premiered at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, Tony Scott’s exercise in vampire omni-sexuality may have aged by now into decent camp. The cast, at any rate is a hoot: Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie.

Wed., Sept. 15, 4:30, 6:50 & 9:15 p.m., 2010


Blood on Tracks in Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Want to know how a city works? Start by watching 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a primer in which subway hijackers test how long it’ll take a million bucks to pass through Gotham’s plumbing. Turns out an hour is just enough time to roust the hated mayor out of bed; convince him that $1 million is cheap for the hostages’ sure votes; get the treasury on the horn; and gridlock traffic by wrecking the drop-off car. And yet, in the end, a web of interlocked dysfunction from Gracie Mansion to the Transit Authority defeats the crooks’ well-oiled machine.

At the time, the movie didn’t connect with audiences except, as legend has it, in cities with subways. Those without may have been less sympathetic—especially at the nadir of Fun City’s crime-ridden mid-’70s image crisis, just a year before Ford told NY to drop dead. But in the years after 9/11, helped no doubt by shout-outs in Reservoir Dogs and the Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot,” The Taking of Pelham One Two Three took on new life—a parable of punch-clock New Yorkers’ surly resilience in the face of aggression.

With this second remake of Pelham (the first was a late-’90s TV rehash starring Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio), director Tony Scott turns a presciently post–9/11 movie into an explicitly post–9/11 movie. Make that post–post–9/11: The chief bad guy only looks like a terrorist, when in fact he’s an even scarier, more au courant foe—a commodities trader! (Hey, some ticket buyers might actually have sympathy for a terrorist.) But if self-conscious stabs at significance don’t sound like as much fun as the original’s unpretentious caper thrills, that’s because they’re not.

That’s not to say this Pelham never makes it out of the station, even if its near-constant pummeling-by-montage is a losing swap for the ’74 Pelham‘s urbane black humor. If not for that dull TV version a decade ago, which packed all the excitement of buying tokens, it would be tempting to call the basic outline of John Godey’s novel indestructible: Four gunmen seize a subway car and its passengers and demand a fortune in one hour, while a transit official, stalling for time, plays head games with the gang’s mastermind.

In the original, the transit rep was grouchy Walter Matthau, embodying a spirit of sourpuss resistance. His part has been reconceived for Denzel Washington as more of a turning worm, a disgraced official, Garber, who has been busted back down to the rank and file. He’s the poor bastard who picks up a call from the crime’s ringleader, Ryder—John Travolta subbing for Robert Shaw’s icy Mr. Blue—and becomes his negotiator and eventual cash mule into the tunnels of subterranean Manhattan.

The crackling give-and-take between Travolta, a hair-triggered, showboating Joker whose crimes evidently include swiping the mustache off the Village People’s biker, and the smartly low-key Washington gives the new Pelham most of its juice. No other actor makes such an art of modulating his performances from situation to situation than Washington. You can read his character’s standing in any situation by Washington’s gradations of subservience—whether in the presence of Garber’s immediate supervisor or Hizzoner himself (James Gandolfini, a spiky cocktail of Bloomberg’s financial savvy and Giuliani’s libido)—with his few moments of equal footing reserved for an interrogating officer (a quietly insinuating John Turturro).

On paper, Pelham would appear a good fit for the erratic Scott, whose style has morphed with time and technology into a kind of cubist barrage of image fragments. Synch him up with a techno thriller like Enemy of the State or the recent Déjà Vu, and his ADD direction seems apt, exciting: a manifestation of electronic surveillance culture gone viral, infecting even the movie’s editing scheme. In Déjà Vu, he pulled off a car chase—occurring simultaneously in two different time periods—that maybe five other directors in the history of movies could have pulled off with such panache and lucidity, let alone helped conceive.

But Scott applies that technique indiscriminately, feeding projects as diverse (in everything but lousiness) as Domino and Man on Fire into the same woodchipper. Here, Scott’s camera acrobatics have so little to do with the events they’re recording that they leave hiccups in the movie’s momentum. Swoosh! The camera goes flying this way past Denzel! Swoosh! The camera goes sailing the other way. Wheee! It orbits Gandolfini so vertiginously he might as well lean over and smooch Kim Novak. At his most frenetic and least disciplined, Scott doesn’t tell the story: He advertises it from shot to shot.

In the original Pelham, director Joseph Sargent’s uncluttered direction played up the sweaty-collared confinement of the subway car and the transit office, locking the cops and crooks each in their own pressure cooker. Which marks, oh, the 50th time I’ve unfavorably compared the remake to the original—the lazy reviewer’s default setting, to be sure. But Scott’s redo comes up short in almost every regard against the ’74 model—against David Shire’s knuckled-brass score, against its mugs’ gallery of ’70s New York character actors, against Peter Stone’s serrated script, and certainly against its wordless punchline, beside which the new version’s gloppy coda looks sappy indeed. If it’s somehow unfair to compare the two, why was The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 even remade?


Tony Scott, Trailblazer

OK, so Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott were asking for it by naming their latest mega-production Déjà Vu. These dudes aren’t exactly paragons of innovation, unless taking rhetorical hysteria to awesome new heights counts. As the opening credits roll—by which of course I mean roll, zip, flicker, fade, zoom, and swerve—you get a good solid smack of the Tony Scott touch. The man never met a strobe cut, filter effect, or inexplicable helicopter shot he didn’t love, and love to inflict on the humblest scene. In this case, it’s the boarding of passengers on the Alvin Stumpf Ferry, sailors and kiddies and cute ol’ grandpa heading across the Mississippi River for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Given the way they’ve been sliced and diced in editing, you’d think they must have plunged into some gnarly vortex of the space-time continuum. We’ll be getting to that.

So yeah, Déjà Vu: You’ve seen it all before. Take that, billionaire
losers! Except you haven’t quite. Déjà Vu isn’t as sleek a genre pleasure as Enemy of the State, but it does have a freaky little trick up its sleeve. The story goes like this: The ferry blows up (seen it), Denzel Washington struts on the scene to investigate (seen it), clues are discovered (seen it), a dead girl is found under mysterious circumstances (seen it), Val Kilmer arrives looking kind of pudgy ( . . . ), everyone heads off to a top-secret government base and climbs into a gigantic spark plug. There, joined by the usual group of wiseass technicians, they begin to retrace events with the help of Snow White, a next-level surveillance system linked up, naturally, to seven satellites. The console renders real-time composite images of anything that happened four days ago, from any angle, through all obstacles, and in the visual vocabulary of the 21st-century blockbuster. Except that actually it’s a time machine. (Now here is something new.)

It’s at this point in an otherwise routine techno-thriller that Déjà Vu takes a delirious turn into what might generously be called preposterous sci-fi gobbledygook, but just as accurately described as the most unexpected essay on movie metaphysics ever plunked down in the middle of a Hollywood blockbuster. Hunched over Snow White, ATF stud Doug Carlin (Washington) and FBI agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Kilmer) cyber-stalk the exceedingly lovely Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), their only lead in the case. As they snoop around her apartment, jiggling controllers like God on an Xbox, the tech heads discourse on the nature of their toy. Space, you see, can be folded in half, like a sheet of paper. With the proper optics and enough electricity to power the Eastern Seaboard you can create a wormhole, a sort of bridge, and on the other side of the bridge is the past. Or whatever. Point is, during all this pseudo-scientific yip yap, we’ve been watching characters in a movie watch characters in a movie of their own direction. It doesn’t take a double major in quantum physics and cinema studies to realize that time travel in Déjà Vu is precisely the concept of movies themselves. Space folded in half: the space of the screen and the space of the things dancing upon it. Snow White is a screen into the past, and what film isn’t?

Of course Scott and his screenwriters (Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio) are less interested in concepts to explore than high-concept gimmickry. But why complain when it results in a car chase that simultaneously blows shit up on two different time planes? Bruckheimer’s more-is-more ethos may well have reached a theoretical limit. As for Scott, he heads into the third act with relative restraint, sending Carlin to hunt down a disgruntled patriot (Jim Caviezel) who killed 500 sailors because, you know, the government sucks and stuff. Scott wouldn’t know subtext if it rose out of the bayou and ripped off his arm, but that doesn’t stop him from sprinkling on references to Katrina (Déjà Vu, the first film shot in post-Katrina New Orleans, makes an emphatic if unnecessary point of staging a big scene in the ruins of the Ninth Ward), domestic terrorism, and Iraq. So Déjà Vu reinvents itself once more as a time-travel romance meets anti-terrorist action flick. Had Scott kept going with this batty project—there’s a musical and a dinosaur picture in here somewhere—I’d have followed him all the way.


He Got God: Denzel Gets Even in a Blitz of Christian Retribution

“Do you ever see the hand of God in what you do?” a nun asks Denzel Washington in Man on Fire, the latest pyrotechnic blitz from Tony Scott. We get our answer soon enough as Washington’s ex-Marine embarks on a biblical rampage to avenge the kidnapping of the girl he was assigned to protect. This Scripture-quoting bodyguard represents the latest in a recent line of Bushian vigilantes, but this time, the hero’s similarities to our divine-right commander in chief are elevated to near-parodic levels: a monosyllabic, gun-toting loner who, in a scene of miraculous conversion, gives up the drink after an all-night rap session with the Lord.

Intentional or not, Man on Fire‘s over-the-top evocation of Christian retribution goes a long way to making this otherwise standard revenge fantasy watchable. Writer Brian Helgeland relocates A.J. Quinnell’s source novel from Naples to Mexico City, though he keeps at the center a lily-white American tot (Dakota Fanning), whose wealthy parents hire Washington’s jarhead as her guardian. Always a pro, Denzel endures the film’s curmudgeon-moppet bonding scenes with good cheer. Only after the precocious one goes missing does he initiate a nonstop bloodbath that (spoiler alert!) culminates in his own calvary-style martyrdom.

Replete with high-grade weaponry and the bodies of dirty foreigners, Man on Fire qualifies as a right-wing fever dream, or perhaps just another day at the office for our country’s leaders. As usual, Tony Scott doesn’t know a scene that couldn’t benefit from seizure-inducing jump cuts or neck-spraining aerial pans, though by far his worst stylistic offense is the movie’s wipe ‘n’ fade subtitles, which suggest a high-protein PowerPoint presentation. More is more, and it’s in this belief that Man on Fire ultimately deserves to be called by its primary inspiration: Operation Shock and Awe.


2003 JVC Jazz Festival

Sunday, June 15

“A Father’s Day Gift”: Featuring the Cedar Walton Quartet with Vincent Herring, Kenny Washington, and David Williams. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 3 p.m.

Tuesday, June 17

“Wild, Wilder Wess”: The music of Frank Wess and Joe Wilder, for which they are joined by Phil Woods, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Heath, Bill Charlap, Roy Hargrove, Winard Harper, Antonio Hart, Russell Malone, Rufus Reid, Rene Rosnes, Warren Vache, Peter Washington, Kenny Washington, and others. Kaye Playhouse, 8 p.m.

“Legends of the Clarinet”: Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco with guest clarinetist Perry Robinson and the Bill Mays Trio. Iridium, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Wednesday, June 18

Cesaria Evora, Lila Downs. Beacon Theatre, 8 p.m.

“Piano Starts Here” featuring Kenny Barron, Cedar Walton, Bill Charlap, Kenny Werner, Ted Rosenthal, Joey Calderazzo, Elaine Elias, and Eldar Djangirov, with Ray Drummond, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash, and Willie Jones III. Kaye Playhouse, 8 p.m.

“Legends of the Clarinet”: Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco with guest clarinetist Don Byron and the Bill Mays Trio. Iridium, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Thursday, June 19

Carl Allen and New Spirit featuring Mulgrew Miller, Terell Stafford, Donald Harrison, and Ben Wolfe. Studio Museum in Harlem, 7 p.m.

“Bix Lives On: A Beiderbecke Centennial Celebration” featuring Howard Alden, Joe Ascione, Dan Barrett, Greg Cohen, Jerry Dodgion, Wycliffe Gordon, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Ken Peplowski, Randy Reinhart, Scott Robinson, Randy Sandke, Mark Shane, and Dick Sudhalter. Kaye Playhouse, 8 p.m. (Pre-concert panel discussion at 6:30 p.m.)

“Legends of the Clarinet”: Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco with guest clarinetist Kenny Davern and the Bill Mays Trio. Iridium, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Friday, June 20

“Movie Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard” featuring Terence Blanchard Band and Orchestra, plus Cassandra Wilson, Bruce Hornsby, Raul Midon, and Angie Stone. Carnegie Hall, 8 p.m.

“Legends of the Clarinet”: Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco with guest clarinetist Kenny Davern and the Bill Mays Trio. Iridium, 8 p.m., 10 p.m., and 11:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 21

“Havana-NY Jam” with Los Van Van, and “Latin Jazz and Salsa” with the Two Worlds of Ray Barretto featuring Adalberto Santiago. Carnegie Hall, 8 p.m.

“Legends of the Clarinet”: Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco with guest clarinetist Marty Ehrlich and the Bill Mays Trio. Iridium, 8 p.m., 10 p.m., and 11:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 22

Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Big Band. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

“Legends of the Clarinet”: Tony Scott and Buddy DeFranco with guest clarinetist Ronnie Odritch and the Bill Mays Trio. Iridium, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Monday, June 23

“There’ll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Peggy Lee” featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, Shirley Horn, Chris Connor, Freddy Cole, Cy Coleman, Petula Clark, Deborah Harry, Bea Arthur, Ronnie Milsap, Eric Comstock, Jane Monheit, Peter Cincotti, and Maria Muldaur, with Mike Renzi, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jay Leonhart, and Grady Tate. Carnegie Hall, 8 p.m.

Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin and Jon Faddis. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Vanguard Jazz Orchestra featuring guest Jimmy Heath. Village Vanguard, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Tuesday, June 24

Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Maceo Parker. Apollo Theater, 8 p.m.

“Inside Out: Mainstream Meets the New Music” featuring Randy Sandke and the Inside-out Jazz Collective with Marty Ehrlich, Wycliffe Gordon, Ray Anderson, Uri Caine, Greg Cohen, Dennis MacKrel, Ken Peplowski, and Scott Robinson; Daniel Schnyder and Worlds Beyond featuring Kenny Drew Jr. and Dave Taylor; and Ben Allison’s Medicine Wheel with Ted Nash, Michael Blake, Rufus Cappadocia, and Michael Sarin. Kaye Playhouse, 8 p.m.

“6 Strings + 88 Keys X 2” featuring duets by Pat Martino and Jim Ridl, and Russell Malone and Benny Green. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Tethered Moon featuring Masabumi Kikuchi, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian. Village Vanguard, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Wednesday, June 25

Milwaukee School of the Arts, Northern Illinois University, and East Carolina University. Bryant Park, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Free

Joe Cocker, Los Hombres Calientes featuring Bill Summers and Irvin Mayfield. Avery Fisher Hall, 8 p.m.

Ornette Coleman Trio with Charnett Moffett and Denardo Coleman, and Charlie Haden’s “American Dreams” featuring Michael Brecker. Carnegie Hall, 8 p.m.

Machito and the Afro Cubans featuring guest Larry Harlow. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Marilyn Crispell Trio with Mark Helias and Paul Motian. Village Vanguard, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Thursday, June 26

Hiromi, Rodriguez Brothers. Bryant Park, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Free

Chick Corea and Friends featuring Chick Corea/Gary Burton Duets, Three Quartets Band featuring Michael Brecker, Elektric Band. Avery Fisher Hall, 8 p.m.

Steve Tyrell and Janis Siegel. Kaye Playhouse, 8 p.m.

George Wein and the Newport All-Stars featuring Regina Carter and Lew Tabackin, with Rodney Jones, Mark Taylor, and Peter Washington. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Bill McHenry Group with Ethan Iverson, Duane Eubanks, Reid Anderson, Ben Monder, and Paul Motian. Village Vanguard, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Friday, June 27

Christian McBride Band, the Bad Plus, Belmondo Quintet. Bryant Park, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Free

India.Arie, Me’shell Ndegéocello. Avery Fisher Hall, 8 p.m.

Dave Brubeck Quartet and Shirley Horn Trio. Carnegie Hall, 8 p.m.

Illinois Jacquet Big Band. Kaye Playhouse, 8 p.m.

“Birdland Salutes the Royal Roost” featuring the Tadd Dameron Memorial Sextet with Jimmy Heath, Don Sickler, Jimmy Greene, Michael Weiss, Peter Washington, and Kenny Washington. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band with Tony Malaby, Chris Cheek, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, and Jerome Harris. Village Vanguard, 9 p.m., 11 p.m., and 12:30 a.m.

Saturday, June 28

The Crusaders with guest vocalist Randy Crawford; Lizz Wright. Avery Fisher Hall, 8 p.m.

“Life and Music of Wayne Shorter” with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade; Herbie Hancock; Savion Glover; and the Festival Chamber Orchestra. Carnegie Hall, 8 p.m.

Music of J.J. Johnson featuring the Steve Turre Quintet with George Cables and guest Robin Eubanks. Birdland, 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Trio 2000 plus 1 with Tony Malaby, Drew Gress, Masabumi Kikuchi, and Paul Motian. Village Vanguard, 9 p.m., 11 p.m., and 12:30 a.m.


New York Jazz Clubs and Concerts

June 4-15

Algonquin Hotel Oak Room Mary Cleere Haran in a Bing Crosby Centennial Salute, through June 28. 59 West 54th Street, 212-840-6800

American Museum of Natural History David Sanchez Quintet, June 6. 79th Street and Central Park West, 212-769-5200

BAMcafé Greg Osby, June 6 and 7. 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4139

Birdland Barbara Carroll, June 4; Regina Carter, June 5-7; Lew Anderson’s All-American Big Band, June 6; Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Big Band, June 8; Joe Piscopo, June 9; David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band and Duke Ellington Orchestra, June 10. 315 West 44th Street, 212-581-3080

Blue Note Larry Carlton, through June 8; “East Meets West Jazz Brunch” featuring the Haru Takamichi Quartet, June 8; Deborah Davis, June 9; “Four Generations of Miles” with Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, George Coleman, and Mike Stern, June 10-15. 131 West 3rd Street, 212-475-8592

Cornelia Street Café Brain Particle Accelerator featuring Joel Newton, Adam Klipple, and JT Lewis, June 4; Michael Kanan Quintet, June 5; Ben Waltzer, June 6; David Bixler Quintet, June 7; Steve Giraldi Trio, June 8; Chris Jentsch Group, June 9; Alexis Cuadrado, June 10. 29 Cornelia Street, 212-989-9319

Feinstein’s at the Regency “First Family of Cool” featuring John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli, Jessica Molasky, and Ray Kennedy, through June 21. 540 Park Avenue, 212-307-4100

55 Bar Mike Stern, June 4; Wayne Krantz, June 5; Brian Charette, Bullet Proof Monk, June 6; George Papageorge, KJ Denhert, June 7; Jim Campilongo, June 8; Mike Stern, June 9; Leni Stern, June 10. 55 Christopher Street, 212-929-9883

Iridium Martial Solal Trio with guest Lee Konitz, through June 8; Les Paul, June 9; Al DiMeola, June 10-15. 1650 Broadway, 212-582-2121

Jazz Gallery Khan Jamal Quintet, June 5; Alberto Sanz Quartet, June 6; J.D. Allen Quartet, June 7. 290 Hudson, 212-242-1063.

Jazz Standard Houston Person Quartet, through June 8; Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, June 9; Luciana Souza Quartet, June 10-15. 116 East 27th Street, 212-576-2232

Knitting Factory The Clean, June 4; Tim Berne’s Big Satan, “Gary Lucas 15 Year Anniversary Show” featuring Gary Lucas with Peter Stampel and Gods & Monsters, June 6; Scissor Sisters, June 7; Big Apple Playback Theatre, the Autumn Rhythm, Currituck County, Landing, June 8; the Haunted Shai Hulud, Bleeding Through, Kataklysm, June 9; Rx Bandits, No Motiv, Fairweather, Steel Train, June 10. 74 Leonard Street, 212-219-3006

Lenox Lounge Max and Nathan Lewis, June 4; “Jazz Vocalists Jam Session” with the Lafayette Harris Trio, June 8; “Jam Session” with Roy Campbell, June 9. 288 Lenox Avenue, 212-427-0253

Makor J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band, June 7. 35 West 67th Street, 212-601-1000

New Jersey Performing Arts Center Tony Bennett, June 7. 1 Centre Street, New Jersey, 888-466-5722.

Smoke Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio with Peter Bernstein and Jeff “Tain” Watts, June 4-7; Latin Jazz with Chris Washbourne, June 8; “Jam Session” with John Farnsworth Quintet, June 9; Hammond Organ Groove with Eric Alexander, Mike LeDonne, and Joe Farnsworth, June 10. 2751 Broadway, 212-864-6662

Sweet Rhythm Lake Effect, June 5; Oliver Lake Big Band featuring guest Malachi Thompson, June 6-7; Frank Vignola and Joe Ascione, June 8; Will Calhoun, June 10. 88 Seventh Avenue, 212-255-3626

Tonic New Circle Quintet with Pauline Oliveros, phOnOmena, June 5; the Bunker, June 6; David Gilmore, cupcake, June 7; Karla Schickele, the Naysayer, Mascott, June 8; Chris Lee, June 10. 107 Norfolk Street, 212-358-7501

Up Over Jazz Café Kenyatta Beasley Septet, June 4; Marcus Strickland Quartet, June 6-7. 351 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-398-5413.

Village Vanguard Jim Hall Trio with Scott Colley and Lewis Nash, through June 8; Chucho Valdes Quartet with Wycliffe Gordon, June 10-15. 178 Seventh Avenue South, 212-255-4037

Walker’s Peter Leitch, June 8. 16 North Moore Street, 212-941-0142




MetroTech Commons at MetroTech Center, corner of Flatbush and Myrtle avenues, 718-636-4111,

July 10 Dirty Dozen Brass Band


Prospect Park Bandshell, 9th Street and Prospect Park West, 718-855-7882, ext. 45,

July 3 Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis

July 12 Eve’s Women

July 19 Derek Trucks Band


Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, at 72nd Street, 212-360-2777,

August 17 Bembeya Jazz


Various venues in Battery Park City, 212-528-2733,

June 25 Peter Cincotti (Rockefeller Park)

June 30 Paula Atheron & Interplay (Wagner Park)

July 14 Annette Aguilar and String Beans (Wagner Park)

July 29 Don Byron (World Financial Center Plaza): Byron forged a new personality for the clarinet in the 1990s, while suggesting multiple personalities for himself—he has played everything from Schumann to klezmer to Ellington to originals that comment sardonically on historical and current events. His sound can be as sweet as dew and as grating as the subway screeching to a stop, and to fulfill his quotient of unpredictability, he will share the stage this time with the Symphony Space Orchestra.

August 5 Sonny Bravo’s Charanga Jazz Experience (Wagner Park)

August 7 Joshua Redman Elastic Band (Castle Clinton National Monument)


92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, 212-415-5500,

July 22-31: Dick Hyman’s festival of mainstream jazz returns for its 19th year, with such gifted players as Joe Wilder, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Wycliffe Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Kenny Davern, Derek Smith, Dan Levinson, and Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, among many others, in programs that celebrate the centenaries of Beiderbecke, Venuti, and Lang; pre-swing Benny Goodman; and stride pianists, as well as presenting new music by Hyman, Sandke, James Chirillo, and Jay Leonhart, and nights devoted to piano and clarinet.

July 22 “Venuti, Bix, and Lang at 100”

July 23 “Dick & Derek’s Annual Piano Party”

July 24 “New Stuff: Original Jazz Concert Music”

July 29 “Early Benny: Pre-Swing, Pre-Big-Band Benny Goodman”

July 30 “Licorice Schticks”

July 31 “The Lion, the Lamb, and Luckey”


Various venues, 212-501-1390,

June 15-28: It amounts to a historical imperative—whenever JVC touches bottom, as it practically did last summer, it bounces back like spring has sprung. One could have predicted the Bix tribute at the Kaye Playhouse, but not the return of Tony Scott in tandem with Buddy De Franco, or Randy Sandke making common cause with Marty Ehrlich and Uri Caine, or the tribute to Frank Wess and Joe Wilder, or the piano evening with Barron, Walton, Charlap, and five more. Lots of good stuff continues to take place at the clubs JVC assimilates during the week (memorial bands consecrated to Tadd Dameron and Charlie Parker play Birdland on June 27), but the big news is that jazz qua jazz returns to Carnegie and Avery Fisher, as Spike Lee emcees Terence Blanchard’s movie music, Chick Corea and Gary Burton duet again, Brubeck and Shirley Horn demonstrate fire and ice, Keith Jarrett returns, and jazz and pop make a go in tribute to Peggy Lee with a dozen singers—from Bridgewater to Petula. Best of all: Ornette Coleman reconvenes his trio with Charnett Moffett and Denardo Coleman, on a bill with Charlie Haden, at Carnegie on June 25; and Wayne Shorter shares the stage with his quartet, Herbie Hancock, and dancer Savion Glover at Carnegie on June 28.

June 15 Cedar Walton Quartet (Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture)

June 17 “Wild, Wilder Wess: A Celebration of the Music and Lives of Frank Wess and Joe Wilder” (Kaye Playhouse); “Legends of the Clarinet: Tony Scott & Buddy Defranco”: Bill Mays Trio (Iridium Jazz Club)

June 18 Cesaria Evora+Lila Downs (Beacon Theatre); “Legends of the Clarinet: Tony Scott & Buddy Defranco”: Bill Mays Trio (Iridium Jazz Club); “Piano Starts Here” (Kaye Playhouse)

June 19 “Happy Birthday Bix: A Centennial Celebration” (Kaye Playhouse); “Legends of the Clarinet: Tony Scott & Buddy Defranco”: Bill Mays Trio (Iridium Jazz Club); Carl Allen & New Spirit (Studio Museum in Harlem)

June 20 “The Movie Music of Spike Lee & Terence Blanchard” (Carnegie Hall); “Legends of the Clarinet: Tony Scott & Buddy Defranco”: Bill Mays Trio (Iridium Jazz Club)

June 21 “Havana-New York” (Carnegie Hall); “Legends of the Clarinet: Tony Scott & Buddy Defranco”: Bill Mays Trio (Iridium Jazz Club)

June 22 Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band+Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra (Kaye Playhouse); Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (Village Vanguard); Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band (Birdland); “Legends of the Clarinet: Tony Scott & Buddy Defranco”: Bill Mays Trio (Iridium Jazz Club)

June 23 “There’ll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Peggy Lee” (Carnegie Hall); Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra (Birdland); Village Vanguard Orchestra (Village Vanguard)

June 24 Maceo Parker+Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor (Apollo Theater); “Inside Out: Mainstream Meets the New Music” (Kaye Playhouse); “6 Strings +88 Keys x 2” (Birdland); Tethered Moon (Village Vanguard)

June 25 Ornette Coleman+Charnett Moffett+Denardo Coleman+Charlie Haden+Michael Brecker (Carnegie Hall); Joe Cocker (Avery Fisher Hall); Machito & the Afro-Cubans (Birdland); Student Bands of Milwaukee School of Arts, Northern Illinois University & East Carolina University (Bryant Park, lunchtime); Marilyn Crispell+Mark Helias+Paul Motian (Village Vanguard)

June 26 “An Evening With Chick Corea & Friends” (Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall); “Beautiful Songs—Then and Now” (Kaye Playhouse); George Wein & the Newport All-Stars+Rodney Jones+Mark Taylor+Peter Washington (Birdland); Bill McHenry Group (Village Vanguard)

June 27 Dave Brubeck+Shirley Horn (Carnegie Hall); India.Arie+Me’shell Ndégeocello (Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall); Christian McBride+the Bad Plus+Belmondo Quintet (Bryant Park, lunchtime); “Birdland Salutes the Royal Roost”: Tadd Dameron Memorial Sextet+the Charlie Parker Memorial Quintet (Birdland); Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band (Village Vanguard)

June 28 Wayne Shorter+Herbie Hancock & Savion Glover (Carnegie Hall); the Crusaders+Lizz Wright (Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall); “One4J: The Music of J.J. Johnson” (Birdland); Trio 2000 Plus 1 (Village Vanguard)


Various venues at Lincoln Center, Broadway and 65th Street, 212-875-5766,

August 2 McCoy Tyner & Dave Valentin (Damrosch Park Bandshell)

August 6 “Jazz on the Plaza”: Jazzmobile (North Plaza)

August 15 “Jazz on the Plaza”: Villicana, Bernal, Kautz Trio (North Plaza)

August 22 “Jazz on the Plaza”: Beale Street Caravan (North Plaza)


Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center, Columbus Avenue and 63rd Street, 212-875-5766,

June 25 Buster Poindexter

June 28 Harlem Renaissance Orchestra

July 2 Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

July 9 Vaseline Intensive Care “Smooth Moves” Dance Competition+Ron Sunshine & Full Swing

July 10 “10th Annual Evening of Dancing and Desserts”: the Cab Calloway Orchestra

July 12 Hank Thompson & the Brazos Valley Boys

July 16 David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band

July 17 Café Accordion Orchestra With Charlie Giordano & Will Holshouser

July 19 Sugar Ray & the Bluetones With Monster Mike Welch

July 25 Cliff Korman’s Gafieira Dance Club

July 26 Illinois Jacquet & His Big Band


Pier 25, North Moore Street and West Side Highway, 212-533-PARK,

July 6 David Berger and the Sultans of Swing

July 20 Ron Sunshine Band

August 10 George Gee’s Jump Jive and Wailers


Rose Center for Earth and Space, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th Street, 212-769-5100,

June 6 David Sánchez Quintet

July 4 Norman Hedman’s Tropique


The Center, 268 Mulberry Street, 212-946-2110,

May 21 Patty Waters+Burton Greene +Mark Dresser+ Billy Bang Sextet +Carl Hancock Rux+DJ Spooky+Joe Maneri Trio+ Joseph Jarman Opening Invocation

May 22 The Jemeel Moondoc+Connie Crothers Quintet+Nathan Breedlove+Adam Lane+John McCutcheon+Fred Anderson +Harrison Bankhead Duo+David S. Ware Quartet+Bill Cole Project +Warren Smith

May 23 Raphe Malik Quartet+Andrew Cyrille+Kidd Jordan+William Parker+Roy Campbell+Joe McPhee+Warren Smith+Kali Fasteau+Mixashawn+Maria Mitchell+Newman Taylor-Baker

May 24 Louis Belogenis+Roy Campbell+Hill Green+Michael Wimberly+Jin Hi Kim Trio+Billy Bang +William Parker+Milford Graves+Peter Brotzmann+Rob Brown+Rahman Herbie Morgan+Andy McCloud+Vijay Iyer+Rudy Walker+Amina & Amiri Baraka with Blue Ark

May 25 John Zorn Masada String Trio +Whit Dickey with Rob Brown+Roy Campbell & Joe Morris+Matthew Shipp Quartet +Patricia Nicholson & Joseph Jarman+Cooper Moore+Thomas Buckner+Roscoe Mitchell+Jerome Cooper+Harrison Bankhead

May 26 “Jeanne Lee Memorial”: “William Parker Leads Jeanne Lee Project”+Amina Claudine Myers +Gunter Hampel Galaxy Dream Band+Lou Grassi+Mark Whitecage +Ruomi Lee Hampel+Herscel Silverman+Prince Alegs+Steve Dalachinsky


Mope Operas

After years of strip-mining headlines, the Hollywood action movie appears to be running red-alert low on raw materials. In Christian Duguay’s anonymous, muddled pileup The Art of War, a U.S.-China trade agreement is the macguffin of choice, a matter so crucial (“1.5 billion new customers!” the characters proclaim) that bodies on all sides drop like autumn apples. Neither cash nor power is at stake, precisely, just market share, and if this is the management-meeting-dull tenor of the new World Economy, I’ll take Dr. Evil’s “One Million Dollars!” straight up, to go. Wesley Snipes is a virtually indestructible covert agent (Energizer-bunny-like, he jumps from third-story windows onto concrete and keeps going, many times) working for the United Nations (!), a job that has Snipes first blackmailing Korean officials into returning to the treaty table by secretly videotaping their New Year’s blow jobs and then instantly plastering them across a Jumbotron before thousands of revelers.

If only it were amusing: Duguay’s grotesque excess of visual and aural noise squelches thought as it’s designed to; the movie’s sub-Tony Scott distraction strategy is even complemented by a Chomsky-esque political scenario that’s climactically conjured from nothing to assuage our notice of all those cold-blooded Asian killers. That is, if we’re not already razzled by the predictable arsenal of techno-gadgets, which leaves us with the impression that if Snipes wanted to jack into a top-secret mainframe by way of satellite-dialing your colon on his Devil Dog-sized cell phone, he could. On the run as an identity-free spy who can’t come in from the corpse-stacked cold, Snipes does a lot of bolting across rooftops and moping in parked cars when he isn’t snapping the necks of thugs he knows nothing about. After a while he picks up a petulant Chinese operative (Marie Matiko) for a requisite testy-respectful fugitive relationship as he evades the cops who want him for the few killings in the movie he didn’t commit. Far more preposterous in its details than the average blam-quip-kerplow, The Art of War isn’t helped by the performances; watching Anne Archer, as covert ops leader, read expository dialogue is like watching milk curdle in time-lapse.

Curdling also pegs Daryl Hannah’s self-mythologizing-or-bust turn as a mysterious, moody, “wild” painter of pretentious manure in Wildflowers, a movie ostensibly about the San Francisco ’60s and its various pond ripples as felt by a shy-but-“wild” teenage girl (Clea Duvall) searching for connection, closure, and—guess what?—her long-lost wayward mother. Look what aging, surly, marble-mouthed sprite comes to town. Robbed of its rightful Lifetime premiere on its supersonic trajectory to video, Melissa Painter’s movie is picturesque to the point of aneurysm: REM-inducing shots of the Pacific and song interludes (oh boy, Blues Traveler!) break up the vast awkward pauses between inarticulate characters. Duvall, one of the best things in every movie she’s in, is set adrift without a rudder. (She suffers the ultimate indignity for a young actress: a sex scene with Eric Roberts.) The sort of movie in which somebody can exclaim, “I want a funeral pyre!”, Wildflowers is the only brand of requiem the ’60s get anymore—worshipful and ass-backward.