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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.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht


XXX: State of the Union

By BrianOrndorf

April 29th, 2005

“XXX: State of the Union” is a film of obscenely low quality, exploiting Ice Cube’s weak spot: that he can’t act. This noisy, unpleasant sequel is as needless as it gets, yet it still tops the original film, since no Vin Diesel is a wonderful thing.

After assassins infiltrate his secret government agency, Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) seeks out a new XXX agent to help him investigate a growing conspiracy plot. Gibbons turns to Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a falsely imprisoned soldier who is looking to exact a little revenge on the general (Willem Dafoe, cashing a check) that put him behind bars. Armed with weapons, sassmouth, and (I guess) unlimited resources, Darius infiltrates government levels his own way in an effort to find out who is planning to take over the presidency in the name of homeland security.

Well, if you can get past the endless racket, thunderous balls of fire, frightful acting, lousy special effects, monotone rap soundtrack, Dafoe on auto-pilot, wacky plot, a Casio-meets-Steve Vai score, some shameless pandering to the urban audience, the glorification of illegal lifestyles, and the fact that every female character has stilettos and Himalayan-like cleavage, you might enjoy one of the most needless sequels around, “State of the Union.” Of course, even at its lowest point, “Union” is still resoundingly better than 2002’s original, and appalling, “XXX.”

Ice Cube takes over the crispy action reigns for this new outing, and while Cube possesses no known acting skills, he does have a very specific charm that some other directors have figured out how to use properly. Cube is miles more entertaining than the last XXX, Vin Diesel, and in terms of small victories, that is a big one for the production. “Union” imagines Cube as a thugged-out Arnold Schwarzenegger: always quick with his fists, weapons, and a quip, and rarely breaking a smile. Cube is suited for the microscopic delights to be found in the film, and he looks like he’s having fun trying to imagine himself an African-American version of James Bond. Too bad that fun doesn’t extend to his performance, which is wooden and charmless when he’s clearly demonstrated before that he can be quite the opposite. In an effort to butch up for the role, Cube clams up, and is eventually swallowed by the nonstop fireworks bonanza Sony is trying to trick people into calling a “movie.”

Written by Simon Kinberg (the upcoming “Fantastic Four”), it’s almost impossible to blame the cast for their performances when Kinberg has written nothing but hammy, clichéd dialog for everyone, along with dreadful one-liners to punctuate the action sequences. Director Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day”) appears to be at a loss with the written word, so his job is to blow everything in the frame up every 10 minutes. Tamahori does this job well, but the effect grows wearisome right after the snazzy opening infiltration sequence. “Union” eventually settles on a deafening, shapeless roar for the rest of the picture, paying only casual attention to character, logic, style, and universal appeal (watch with head-slapping attention as the Caucasian weapons expert character urges everyone to “crunk” with him). By the end of the film, when Darius hilariously hops in a car to catch the President’s supertrain, “Union” becomes a flat-out cartoon, with Tamahori feverishly editing the action in a way that can only suggest that he’s embarrassed by his own movie. Heavens, he should be.

“Union” stays far away from the silly “extreme” sports angle of the original film, along with ditching director Rob Cohen’s obsession with pointing out how “uncool” James Bond is. Unfortunately, Tamahori doesn’t want to get rid of the other nagging, hostile problems that plague this rancid franchise, and while “State of the Union” aggressively goes after a new audience and star, it pathetically shares the same monster-truck-show level of grandstanding and lack of production subtlety. The ending promises a third installment, but I have a perfect way to recreate the “XXX” experience at home for cheap: simply run headfirst at top speed into a brick wall. Popcorn optional.

My rating: D