Hidden Blade (2023)

I don’t think I have ever had such mixed feelings about how to rate a movie. If I were grading it on a rubric, it would have either a perfect score or a zero in every category. Hidden Blade is a very mixed bag.

A little historical background is needed to understand this movie. Hidden Blade is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s in Shanghai under occupation by a declining Empire of Japan and kept in check by a puppet government led by Wang Jingwei. Shanghai is rife with tension between the occupying Japanese forces, the puppet government’s terrifying secret police, an underground resistance movement, and the civilians caught in the crossfire. One real historical figure referenced in the film is Ding Mocun, the brutal head of the secret police who was notorious for using torture as his preferred method of keeping the populace in line.

At least it looks good!

First, the good. Hidden Blade looks gorgeous and has an oustanding cast. Tony Leung Chiue Wai and Wang Yibo are the leads and carry their scenes effortlessly. Tony plays a charming but ruthless head of the secret police (sound familiar?) while Wang Yibo plays a low-level goon and interrogator who ingratiates himself with the Japanese officer overseeing the occupation. Both are charming and their performances reveal the characters’ inner turmoil. But the best performances might actually be a pair of minor female characters – one a Communist resistance fighter who lures Japanese soldiers to their deaths and the other a Nationalist spy who is caught and interrogated by Tony.

Hidden Blade is also gorgeous. It embraces a washed-out neo noir look, and there are plenty of moody shots in dimly-lit rooms or rainy streets. Most of the film feels bleak and claustrophobic. Occasionally, the story switches over to a war drama in the vein of Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan and those scenes, while horrifying in content, are beautifully-executed. The score seems to crib from the Denis Villenueve/Hans Zimmer playbook (Dune/Blade Runner 2049) of throwing a beautiful image on screen, waiting half a beat, then blasting the audience with a huge full-orchestra chord. It’s not the most original take on movie-making, but it is very well-executed.

Tony is awesome, but not awesome enough to save this movie.

If I loved the acting and visuals, surely Hidden Blade must get high marks, right? Well, this is where things fall apart: The writing and editing are a disorienting mess. As a piece of storytelling, Hidden Blade fails to be entertaining, emotionally moving, or to make any kind of sense. I throw editing in there because I can’t help but shake the feeling that with some judicious cuts and a little reorganization, there might be a great movie hidden somewhere in this mess. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a better version out there. But as-released, there is no way to tell what any character is trying to accomplish or what they care about. And because the characters seem to change their personalities between scenes and have no consistent motivations, there is no drama or tension. So many great scenes roll by, but they are disconnected vignettes that fail to coalesce into a story.

To illustrate the problem, I have to use some big spoilers. Consider this your warning.

Hidden Blade is obviously propaganda-laden, but I actually don’t hold that against it. Clearly their intent was to write some historical fiction where the heroes were brave Communists fighting off the evil occupiers and treacherous collaborators. That’s fine. It might be ahistorical, but a movie like that could still be good art and entertaining. But Hidden Blade isn’t even good propaganda. Let me explain…

So suppose Hidden Blade was intended to paint Communists in a good light. That should be easy to pull off. Have some brave Communist resistance fighters battle the evil occupiers. Make them go undercover, build some tension, put them in a few morally difficult situations, and ultimately have our heroes take down the occupation from the inside. We even have Ding Mocun as the real-life inspiration for a truly horrifying villain. Easy peasy.

But that’s not what Hidden Blade does. Wang Yibo is a low-level enforcer for the secret police, but also a secret Communist freedom fighter. He does horrible things for the occupation – capturing, torturing, and killing resistance fighters and innocent people. Sure, he gets in one brawl with some Japanese soldiers, but that’s more about a personal grievance than any desire to end the occupation. Does our secret freedom fighter ever really do anything to take down the occupiers to justify all his evil deeds? Nope. (More on this later.)

The best character in the movie is also barely in the movie.

Part of the problem is that the secret police, which Wang Yibo’s character has infiltrated, was run by Tony Leung’s character, ANOTHER secret Communist freedom-fighter. He interrogates prisoners. He signs death warrants. He sends Wang Yibo off to torture and kill people. It’s basically Ding Mocun, but sexier because he’s played by Tony Leung. His most significant acts of rebellion are silencing a defector and letting a Nationalist spy go free. But for the most part, he does an excellent job of terrorizing the local populace. He does more to help the Japanese occupation than he does to hinder it. Not exactly heroic behavior.

Our heroes aren’t revealed as secret Communist freedom-fighters until the very end. It’s a bewildering decision. If their identities had been revealed earlier, it would have added dramatic tension. Will their secret be found out? Do they have inner turmoil about the things they must do to maintain their cover? Never mind that – it would be too interesting. Instead we watch awful collaborators commit war crimes for two hours. The big reveal is practically hidden in a post-credits scene.

There is an 11th-hour plot point where the Japanese commander shows Wang Yibo’s character intelligence on Japanese defenses in Manchuria, but it’s far too late in the film to mean anything to the story. Plus, it’s total nonsense. Why would the local garrison officer have secret battle plans for a region hundreds of miles to the north? There’s no reason he would have those plans, no reason anyone else would try to get them from him, and it’s not clear why the plans would make any difference in defeating the Empire. It makes zero sense. Think about it for one moment and you realized that Wang Yibo’s character was a loyal enforcer who got lucky after the occupation ended – no thanks to him. The movie comes across as the story of two secret Communist spies collaborating with the Japanese occupation instead of the story of two brave freedom fighters.

I still wonder if Hidden Blade could be re-edited into a good movie. Unless a director’s cut comes out, I can’t recommend it. Hidden Blade feels like an attempt to make a pro-Communist remake of Lust, Caution, but somehow it fails to be a movie and even fails to be effective propaganda.

Second Opinion: My partner says “When propaganda goes too hard, it makes everything stupid. I’m not surprised, but still disappointed. I have such a beef with this movie that I think I’ll just stick to Taiwanese movies from now on.” Harsh criticism from a diehard fan of both Tony Leung and Wang Yibo!

Instead, just watch Lust, Caution – which is an absolute masterpiece with the same historical setting. It has a tight focus on a sympathetic central character, the story builds layers upon layers of suspense, and director Ang Lee is at the top of his game. And, in contrast to the chaste but extremely violent Hidden Blade, Lust, Caution is absolutely saturated in sex.

See Tony Leung in a movie that is good enough to deserve him!

Game of the Rings of Time: Fantasy Streaming Series Showdown

One series to rule them all? Time for a showdown between The Wheel of Time (Amazon) vs. House of the Dragon (HBO) vs. The Rings of Power (Amazon) vs. Willow (Disney).

One would think that fans of the fantasy genre would be in nirvana with every streaming service cranking out a bonanza of big-budget fantasy series. I have been negligent not writing reviews lately, so I will play catch-up and write one giant review for four of the latest, greatest series!

House of The Dragon

King Viserys affectionately grasps his brother Daemon's arm. Still image from House of the Dragon (HBO).
It’s a family show! It is a show about a big mess of a family, and most of them want to kill each other. (HBO)

Game of Thrones kicked off the current wave of fantasy shows – and rightfully so. Inspired casting and excellent character-driven writing helped GoT expand its reach outside of typical fantasy fandom, though things fell apart once the show ran beyond the bounds of the source books. (Hardly an original take from me, there.) Fortunately, House of the Dragon brought back the strong character-centric storytelling, assembled an excellent cast, and generally looks and feels like the better seasons of GoT.

In some ways, HoTD surpasses GoT. It is easy to forget how dry season 1 of GoT could be. That is not to say that it was elevated by compelling storytelling and an incredible cast. But introducing such a massive number of characters with long histories, and doing in on a tight budget, made the first season of GoT move along pretty slowly. The writers of HoTD came up with a clever way to streamline the world-building. Instead of alluding to the backstory of the principle characters and conflicts, we get to see them develop over decades. The early episodes leap forward years at a time, showing us huge shifts in character development and changing allegiances.

All in all, I think HoTD is an impressive return to what made GoT great, with some added flourishes. The leaps forward in time are executed beautifully, and it is much more exciting to see things happen then to hear about them in expositional dialogue. Watching players maneuver for advantage in anticipation of a coming conflict makes for a tense, exciting story even without any open fighting. The characters are all centered in one place, rather than sprawled across continents. Some writer also seems to have fixated on the idea that childbirth is absolutely terrifying, and the combination of pregnancy and medieval medicine ends up being scarier than either dragons or torture chambers.

At its best, HoTD explores difficult family relationships. My favorite scenes are between the kind-hearted King Viserys (Paddy Constantine), his mercurial brother Daemon (Matt Smith), and Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy/Milly Alcock). Their struggles as they attempt to balance self-interest and their responsibility to their family and the realm gives the series a strong central conflict. HoTD is off to a strong start, and seems to understand that a core of well-developed characters was the key to GoT’s success. Season 1 did a great job setting the stage, and hopefully we are in for an exciting ride for the rest of the series.

Second Opinion: My partner would cut straight to the chase and declare House of the Dragon the winner of this 4-way showdown. “It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale transplanted into a medieval fantasy.”

The Rings of Power

Elven ranger Arondir and human healer Bronwyn sit under a tree on a sunny day. Still image from The Rings of Power (Amazon).
Pretty people and pretty scenery. Middle-Earth is looking good. (Amazon)

Like House of the Dragon, The Rings of Power is a show continuing a legacy. As far as I am concerned, The Lord of the Rings movies are still the pinnacle of fantasy filmmaking. The LoTR movies adapted J.R.R. Tolkein’s vast fantasy world with unreserved sincerity. The makers of the LoTR movie gave it everything they had, and everything from the acting to the costumes to the music reflected a level of care and craftmanship rarely seen in any film or show. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch them again. The Hobbit movies did not live up to the LoTR standard, but I was still perfectly happy revisiting Middle-Earth again – even if a heavier reliance on computer effects felt a little more artificial.

If The Rings of Power series has one thing going for it, it is absolutely beautiful visuals. Where HoTD felt a little more drab and lived-in, RoP seems determined to throw the prettiest image possible on the screen whenever possible. The show has also returned to relying more on makeup and costuming for its fantasy creatures, which only adds to the great look and feel of the show. Itmakes me want to watch it on the biggest screen possible so I can take it all in.

As a long-time Tolkein reader, I also could not help but love getting to see more of that world. Númenor! Khazad-dûm! Valinor! Lindon! Yes, this show is so pretty that I got excited about fantasy geography. It was awesome to see such a beautifully-realized world.

I feel the biggest weakness of RoP is that the performances, while sincere and still well-done, felt just a little one-note. Galadriel is always really intense, so it is a little hard to tell when she’s at an emotional high or low. Elrond never deviates far from placid and calm, so any inner conflict he feels does not resonate as strongly as it should. The performances were not bad by any means, but perhaps choosing to make the elven characters always feel dignified and serene created a problem with making them feel relatable. But I feel the actors are good enough that they can strike the right tone in later seasons.

To me, the little people were the highlight of the series. The dwarf prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and the hobbit-like harfoot Nori (Markella Kavenagh) felt like more relatable, emotional characters. When the show hit a strong emotional note, it was usually those two characters who pulled it off. I never felt bored with The Rings of Power, but I the gorgeous images on screen definitely helped paper over some occasional lulls in the drama.

Second Opinion: We are a house divided – my partner downright disliked The Rings of Power. “It’s like someone wanted to write original fiction, and the Lord of the Rings characters and settings were just a veneer.”

Preliminary Verdict: It’s a tough call in the Battle of the Prequels. House of the Dragon was more coherent, better-written, better-acted, and more consistently excellent episode-to-episode. But with The Rings of Power I felt more immersed in the world, excited by the beauty on screen, and occasionally crying along with Durin or Nori. It is the more flawed of the two, and I cannot pretend not to have a long-standing bias in favor of The Lord of the Rings, but I would give the crown to The Rings of Power. It’s a close call, but I am more excited about spending future seasons in Middle Earth.

The Wheel of Time

What a beautiful, fully-realized fantasy world. Surely nothing bad will ever happen here. (Amazon)

The Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan are one of the most well-regarded American-written high fantasy series. The series is also infamously long, consisting of 15 books and more than 4.4 million words and out-living its original author (Brandon Sanderson finished the last 3 novels). Given all of this, I was surprised that Amazon’s Wheel of Time series didn’t make a bigger splash.

The show is a fairly faithful adaptation, and has a lot of the elements I liked most from the novels. It deftly juggles a large cast of characters as they navigate a complex world of clashing cultures, political intrigue, religious fanaticism, and a struggle to unite squabbling factions in the face of looming danger. I was particularly pleased with how they cast and presented my favorite characters from the books: Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford). More than that, the show lets character-driven events introduce us to the world without letting the world-building kill the pace of the storytelling.

The Wheel of Time doesn’t commit quite as hard to slick political drama as House of the Dragon and is not quite so pretty as The Rings of Power, but it still has some tight writing and excellent visuals. More importantly, The Wheel of Time seems to be playing with a broader palette than its peers. The characters are more likeable, the show has a better sense of humor, and some scenes are genuinely frightening.

The horror elements, in particular, stand out. The trollocs, WoT’s analog of an orc, never stop feeling threatening. When other fantasy series tend to have hordes of faceless baddies just for our heroes to mow down, even a lone trolloc feels like a serious threat. In the show, when a village is assaulted by trollocs, it results in some of the most harrowing moments I can recall seeing in any fantasy series. Adapting the novels’ description of trollocs to the screen resulted in some truly bizarre, janky-looking monsters, and the show uses that to its advantage.

The Wheel of Time may be based on a book series, but unlike HotD and RoP, there was no prior movie or show adaptation it could lean on to help draw the audience in. In spite of this, The Wheel of Time does a huge amount of world-building without letting it bog down the narrative. It also moves between different characters’ storylines without giving any of them short shrift. It is an impressive feat of adaptation, and I am excited that Amazon has renewed the series for at least two more seasons. Given the books it is based on, the show could go on for who knows how long without running out of source material.

Second Opinion: I was unable to pry my partner away from the Taiwanese drama Light the Night to watch this one. I think they missed out, even if Light the Night is also awesome.


Heroic questing! Magic! Hijinks! More Hijinks. Possibly too many Hijinks. (Disney)

Unlike the other shows, which were based on book series, Willow 2023 is the sequel to a movie. The movie, which had a story by George Lucas, is a little hard to quantify. It follows some familiar fantasy tropes: an evil sorceress queen seeks to kill the baby prophesied to destroy her. Willow (the movie) subverted conventions by having Warwick Davis play the lead and setting up Val Kilmer as a sort of sidekick and comedic foil.

But Willow 1988 was also a hot mess. The accents were all over the place, the tone swing from dramatic to ridiculous at the drop of a hat, and new characters and creatures popped out of nowhere without reason or warning. It might have had the veneer of a high fantasy series, but the characters embodied the humor and sensibility of late 1980’s America to a distracting degree. But, it is still an endearingly original watch if you are willing to ignore whatever expectations you might normally have for a high fantasy movie.

Willow the series is very much in tune with Willow the movie: It’s another hot mess. The pace is all over the place. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up, and at other times it seemed to languish for a whole episode. The accents are still all over the place. The production value and writing varied wildly in quality from episode to episode. In spite of all of that, maybe because it was such a hot mess, Willow is still really fun.

The best thing Willow has going for it is its cast. There’s a lot of personality on display, and I was particularly surprised by how charmed I was by the obvious comedic relief character, Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel). Warwick Davis is still great, and the rest of the cast have lots of neat little moments. For better or for worse, I have a suspicion that a lot of improv was involved. The quality of the show was all over the place, but I watched it through because I wanted to see where the characters wound up.

Unfortunately, I think Willow is the only one of the four series that I can only give a conditional recommendation. It might wink at the camera too much for some viewers, and you definitely have to ride out some rough patches to get to the good stuff. I found it refreshingly different and original, but the ups and downs might try your patience.

Second Opinion: My partner praised Willow for having a lesbian relationship as the main romance like it was no big deal. But they also bailed out when the show started meandering a couple episodes in, and did not finish the series.

And the Winner Is…

Conan! What [fantasy series] is best in life [on streaming]? I think every show here has something to offer, depending on what you like.

  • House of the Dragon has outstanding casting, tight writing, and is perfect if you want a dark, serious fantasy drama that hearkens back to the better episodes of Game of Thrones. The downside is that it is a little drab and colorless by comparison to its peers, and Season 1 feels like stage-setting for future seasons (albeit extremely well-executed stage-setting).
  • The Rings of Power is visually vibrant and perfect if all you want is to bask in the beauty of Middle Earth. Not every storyline was compelling enough to keep me engaged on their own, but the visuals were so pretty that I didn’t really care.
  • The Wheel of Time is a well-balanced blend of storytelling and world-building, supported by an outstanding ensemble cast and beautiful visuals. It’s the first adaptation of a truly great novel series, and the quality of the first season has me excited for future installments. This could become something beautiful.
  • Willow is a charming, disjointed, strangely-paced mess. It’s a lot of fun, and some parts are excellent. Other times, it really loses its way. I thought it was a nice change of pace. Willow took some chances. Some paid off, some did not.

For me, The Wheel of Time was the best-in-show. The ensemble cast was awesome, the pacing was fast without being disorienting, the visuals were striking – there was no aspect of the show that didn’t feel like it was crafted with care. But more than anything, I loved getting a look into a world that really felt vast, deep, and lived-in. Maybe it’s because the other shows have baggage that The Wheel of Time does not. Maybe it’s because The Wheel of Time has the advantage of adapting one of the most well-regarded novel series in the fantasy genre. Whatever it is, I am excited for what comes next.

I’m not sure I want it to be as long as the book series, but more Wheel of Time, please!

The Return of the Western!

Westerns might be the first genre of movie that I came to love growing up. Though, by the time I was watching movies, Westerns had largely died out and were rarely made any more. In 2021, it seems like the Western came back in a big way!

I have had this website for a while now, and I kept changing my ideas about what to do with it. I’ve used it to share tutoring materials, old lab projects, photos… But if anyone is familiar with my Facebook page, the only thing I seem to be able to do consistently is watch and talk about movies. So I thought I might as well do that here too.

Clint Eastwood was my favorite movie star growing up.

2021 was, somehow, a big year for Westerns. The Power of the Dog, Old Henry, and The Harder They Fall were all released towards the end of 2021. Even though, due to ongoing pandemic, 2021 was not a great year for theatrical releases, all three films receive a warm critical reception. Is the Western back? Is it here to stay? While I think all three of these films are worth seeing, only one makes me want to put it into the rotation of movies that I re-watch periodically.

Old Henry

Old Henry feels like a familiar movie. An old homesteader is doing his best to move on from his mysterious past and live a peaceful life, but trouble still finds him, and he is forced to take up his gun once again…

Old Henry (2021) - IMDb
Tim Blake Nelson is not your typical leading man, but he delivers in Old Henry.

The biggest thing that sets Old Henry apart is its star. Tim Blake Nelson is a long-time character actor who you will usually find in supporting roles. He has occasionally functioned as a co-lead in ensemble pieces like the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Though and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. But here Tim Blake Nelson is the titular Old Henry, and he seems perfectly at home in the spotlight. Nelson and fellow underappreciated actor Stephen Dorff carry us through a fairly simple and predictable but satisfying little flick.

Old Henry is a fun, simple movie that does everything it needs to do in its brisk 99 minute runtime. It’s not especially pretty, nor is the score particularly exciting, but it is still a well-crafted little movie. It has well-choreographed shootouts and just enough twists and turns to stay interesting. Plus, young Gavin Lewis turns in a surprisingly compelling performance as Henry’s frustrated teenage son. I will have to keep an eye out for his future performances.

Amazon.com: Unforgiven Movie Poster 1 Sided Original Final 27x40 Clint  Eastwood: Posters & Prints
Old Henry is reminiscent of Unforgiven, but with a tighter focus and less commitment to its anti-violent message.

Some credit Unforgiven with ushering in the brutal, realistic age of the revisionist Western – killing the classic Western adventure in the process. Old Henry feels like an attempt to turn back the clock. Old Henry is gritty and visceral – just like Unforgiven. But unlike Unforgiven where every character feels like a real, living person, the bad guys in Old Henry are just that – bad guys. Even though the movie gives some lip service to an anti-violence message, it still feels like a return to the halcyon days when Clint Eastwood or John Wayne mowed down waves of nameless goons without challenging the audience to really think about the cost of the violence he was inflicting. Old Henry is a fun watch, and I would definitely recommend seeing it once. However, I do not foresee myself returning to watch it again. I’d probably just re-watch Unforgiven.

The Power of the Dog

Speaking of revisionist westerns… The Power of the Dog is a slow-burning psychological drama. The gentle pacing and emotional focus of this film remind me more of a dramatic Western miniseries like Lonesome Dove or abstract period piece Oscar-bait like There Will Be Blood. However, the setting in early 20th century Montana, themes of isolation and independence, and the use of natural environments are enough for me to count it as a Western. Not every Western has to have a shootout.

The Power of the Dog (2021) - IMDb
The Power of the Dog is all about sexuality, but struggles to get to the point.

The story centers around recently remarried widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and her hostile brother-in-law Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch). The film is an exploration of masculinity, and centers on a conflict between Phil’s rough outdoorsy machismo and Peter’s soft-spoken femininity. Phil is something of a master of passive-aggressive emotional torture, which he uses to great effect on Rose. It’s Old-West Gaslight.

The Power of the Dog is beautiful to look at and has a minimalist score that eases us into the film before settling into subtly menacing us the rest of the movie. The cast is top-notch, and on some level, I can understand why it is raking in nominations and awards left and right. But the film didn’t quite come together for me. Kirsten Dunst’s performance is great, but she gets sidelined mid-movie and has very little to do in the third act. The emotion of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance comes through, but his American accent occasionally falters, and the film never really lets him show the full ugliness of his conflicted and self-hating character. And while the film explores some interesting themes – masculinity, self-reliance, sexuality, social roles… it also never really feels like it comes to a conclusion or makes any strong statements. It explores without really finding anything.

I still recommend The Power of the Dog, and I want to see it again. Perhaps I will appreciate it more on a second viewing. At minimum, it is a beautifully-shot film with some excellent performances. Still, I feel that it has some structural and tonal issues that make it less powerful than it ought to have been.

If you want to get your Kirsten Dunst fix from a period drama that explores the tension between individual sexuality and social norms, I would recommend Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled instead. It, too, is beautiful to look at, full of incredible performances, and digs deep into human nature. However, it is much more tightly structured, and I think it has more to say and does a better job getting the message across.

I liked The Power of the Dog just fine, but I loved The Beguiled.

The Harder They Fall

I told you that there was one Western in 2021 that deserved a place in the pantheon, and this was it. Guys – this movie rocks.

The Harder They Fall (2021) - IMDb
The Harder They Fall. See it ASAP with a big screen, a loud sound system, and lots of popcorn.

There is a format to a typical Clint Eastwood Western. He’s a peaceful man, minding his own business. The Bad Guy wrongs him. Our hero spends the rest of the movie shooting people. It’s a simple formula and it works.

The Harder They Fall does follow the Eastwood formula, but it builds a lot on top of the familiar format. First and foremost, the entire principal cast is Black – a rarity in the Western genre, and a reality in actual Western history. To drive that point home, the movie opens with “These. People. Existed.” The characters in the film are based, albeit very loosely, on real historical figures. Add to that a perfectly calibrated soundtrack and some cinematography that rivals The Power of the Dog, and you have a movie that is both exciting entertainment and compelling art.

The cast is loaded – Idris Elba, Zazi Beets, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield… Elba AND Stanfield! The main person I was not familiar with was the lead, Jonathan Majors, but he had no trouble convincing me he was a bona-fide move star.

How And Why The Harder They Fall All-White Town Was Created - Netflix Tudum
Did I mention that this movie is pretty yet?

Somehow, even though Old Henry was a continuation of the revisionist Western style and The Power of the Dog was a somewhat unstructured drama that didn’t fit well into any particular category, it was The Harder they Fall‘s rehashing of a well-worn formula that still felt the most fresh and exciting. This movie is fun, but also has some real character-driven drama that gives the movie real stakes. Even the antagonist, who at first seems like a typical vicious Western baddie, has a surprising amount of depth. And the final showdown is… I won’t spoil it.

There have been some pretty good Westerns in recent memory. The remake of The Magnificent Seven wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. Django Unchained was good, but dipped its toe too deep into real human suffering to be much fun and had too many wild gunfights and too much wacky humor to actually say anything about that suffering. The Hateful Eight was loaded with on-screen talent, made good use of a beautiful setting, and had an incredible score. But it was also a bit of a slow, bloated, and boring mess that badly needed an editor. The Harder They Fall feels like everything that the Tarantino Westerns wanted to be and more, but in a much sleeker, more coherent package.

I definitely recommend The Harder They Fall. It is the most fun I have had watching a Western made this millennium, and one of the only ones (along with The Proposition and True Grit) that I am likely to re-watch regularly.