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A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

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Meet the Spartans

By BrianOrndorf

January 25th, 2008

OK, I get it now: Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg are agents of Satan himself, and their recruitment video is "Meet the Spartans," the latest in their own private franchise of head-slappingly awful parody product.

Meet the Spartans

You’d think after “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie” I would’ve flown to Los Angeles and violently snatched the camera away from these guys myself, but hey, I got busy. I’m sorry. In my vigilante absence, these amateur filmmakers somehow conned a profit-hungry 20th Century Fox (a studio this close to greenlighting “Ass: the Movie”) into bankrolling another satiric jaunt; this time an elongated riff on last year’s blockbuster, “300.”

As if “300” wasn’t already a parody of itself.

As witnessed in the prior efforts from goofballs Seltzer and Friedberg, the “jokes” tend to punch out in a thousand different directions; most of the targets being the latest, fattest big screen hits, but also whatever happens to be cooking in the immediate pop culture stew. “Spartans” is no different, lampooning “Casino Royale,” “Happy Feet,” “Transformers,” “Ghost Rider,” and “Spider-Man 3,” while making room for Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan gags (absent panties, of course). There’s also considerable television game show ribbing with “Deal or No Deal,” “Dancing with the Stars,” and several “American Idol” stings.

It’s worth mentioning for the third year in a row that Friedberg and Seltzer are nitwits with no discernable filmmaking aptitude to speak of. Their movies are grotesque menageries of monotonous moronic mumbling; it’s cinema for the pea-brained who find Larry the Cable Guy too “challenging.” The filmmakers obviously know this, but they insist on aiming as low as they can: pointing out every single reference like total clods and dodging genuine wit as though they owed it money. “Spartans” is a new low even for these diseased buffoons, piling on the excrement and genital humor while turning sections of the picture into literal commercials for the likes of Subway, Dentyne, Budweiser and Gatorade. They’re not even trying to hide it, folks: this feature film has commercials in it.

The main thrust of “Spartans” is the “300” parody, and the depth of cleverness can be summed up easily: gay, gay, and more gay. While the visual extremity is another facet of “300” that “Spartans” likes to poke with a stick, the feature is made up almost entirely of variations on the homosexual subtext of Zack Snyder’s original film. Here, the Spartans prance around, greet each other with kisses, and boogie to “I Will Survive.” “Spartans” really clings tight to the gay panic material, to a point where franchise regular Carmen Electra (as the Spartan queen) has found herself with a major role in this picture, perhaps as a way to offer comfort to the pre-teens who can’t stomach the trite homophobic humor.

It’s a sad day when Carmen Electra, slithering around the movie with next to nothing on, can’t even brighten up a solitary moment of this repugnant film.

“Spartans” looks awfully cut-rate too. Not that “Epic Movie” and “Date Movie” were sprawling Dino De Laurentiis productions, but at least they had locations and outdoors to play with. “Spartans” is almost completely contained on one claustrophobic set, and the special effects aren’t even rendered properly. So not only is this film is monumentally unfunny nightmare, it’s a half-finished, unsightly nightmare as well. Way to go, Friedberg and Seltzer.

It’s telling that the directors are possibly running dry of ideas by the shocking 68-minute run time of “Spartans” (without the purposefully bloated end credits). Perhaps that’s why the film makes fun of such prehistoric topics such as “American Idol,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and Paris Hilton. I’m sure in the next movie the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Benjamin Franklin, and the Dave Clark Five will receive quite the big screen roasting.

It has been proven that nonsensical references to popular entertainment and poop jokes can bring in the big bucks on opening weekend, and heaven help me, I’m sure “Meet the Spartans” will follow suit. Teenagers and single men are funny like that. For the rest of you with a soul and a brain to boot (unlike Friedberg and Seltzer), don’t you dare go near this insulting parade of rubbish. Send your ticket money to a charity; they could probably scrounge up a more pleasurable 68 minutes of entertainment.

My rating: F