Blog Directory CineVerse: May 2020

"No one's paying attention." Until they did--far too late.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Want to better understand what caused The Great Recession and the burst of the housing bubble 12 years ago? Check out The Big Short (2015), director Adam McKay's riveting treatise on Wall Street greed unchecked. With its fascinating characters and narrative techniques, it makes a convoluted topic comprehensible and unnervingly entertaining. Upon our exploration of this film last week, our CineVerse club reached several conclusions, including:

How did this film surprise you or defy your expectations in any way?

  • It uses a variety of clever and entertaining techniques to educate viewers on the issue, including:
    • Breaking the fourth wall by having characters, especially the main narrator played by Ryan Gosling, look at and talk to the audience.
    • Employing visual metaphors, including the Jenga tower, the vision-impaired credit rating expert, the fish stew story, and the blackjack table sequence, to explain complicated financial terms and concepts in easy-to-comprehend ways.
    • Using brief cameos by celebrities, such as late chef Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and Margo Robbie, to explain complicated financial terms and concepts in easy-to-understand language.
  • The film adopts a variety of styles to impart its message, including:
    • Rapid-fire and edgy music video-like editing
    • Handheld documentary-like camera work (where we’ll often see shaky shots or rough-panning shots that go in and out of focus, for example)
    • Freeze frames
    • Random quotes and unrelated footage of everyday Americans to separate the film into different chapters or sections
    • Definitions of complex terms superimposed as text on the screen
    • Pop and rock music, the lyrics and rhythm of which underscore what’s happening, including Metallica’s Master of Puppets, That’s Life by Nick D’Edigio, When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin, and Money Maker by Ludacris.
  • The Big Short blends a variety of genres and subgenres to tell its story and captivate us, including comedy, thriller, documentary, true crime story, heist film, and character study.
  • It’s easy to root for the three groups who dominate the narrative—Dr. Burry, Mark Baum, and Jamie and Charlie—as they are anti-establishment underdogs whom we want to see vindicated. Yet if they are successful, that means untold misery and ruin for millions of Americans. So by the end of the picture, when they are proved to be correct and profit from their prescience, it’s easy to feel uneasy—as if we’ve been emotionally manipulated by the filmmakers similar to how the stockholders and homeowners were financially manipulated by the puppetmasters who caused the Great Recession.
  • Ultimately, the film proves that, with some ingenuity and creative approaches, even the most complicated and boring subjects can be demystified and accessible to everyday people. Director McKay said in an interview: “The premise was that we were going to take this 24-hour pop-culture machine that tells us what Kim Kardashian is up to, and then say, ‘What if that machine told us real information?’.”
  • As New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott wrote: “It offers no solutions, and no comfort.” The film allows us to draw our own conclusions about its characters, who was responsible, and if our country has learned enough to prevent history from repeating itself.

Themes found in The Big Short

  • The uneasy triumph of the underdog: Dr. Burry, Mark Baum, and Charlie and Jamie, the latter two merely bit players in the investing game, bet their fortunes that Wall Street and the housing market are wrong and are proved correct. Yet their victories, especially to Charlie and Jamie, don’t feel satisfying or celebratory, as they know that it signifies a corrupt and broken system that has failed and will cause pain and suffering to millions of Americans.
  • Gambling on a longshot. Here, the players who buck the system and bet on a long odds prospect are ultimately rewarded; interestingly, we root for Jamie and Charlie, Baum, and Burry because others consider them crazy, misguided, or beneath them—making them more endearing to the viewer. Yet, this is an awkward and conflicting rooting interest, as their success means negative outcomes for countless Americans.
  • The rippling consequences of greed and arrogance. We see how good people, many who aren’t connected to Wall Street, suffer while the rich either get richer or go unpunished for their misdeeds.
  • This film begs the question: Can you be a good person in a bad system and a corrupt world?

Other movies that come to mind after viewing The Big Short

  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Wall Street
  • Moneyball
  • Inside Job
  • Too Big to Fail
  • Margin Call
  • 99 Homes

Other films directed by Adam McKay

  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
  • Step Brothers (2008)
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues


Gourmet chop socky

Monday, May 25, 2020

Technically, American audiences didn't first experience Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon until late 2000. But 20 years ago this month the martial arts movie masterpiece debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Two decades later, there are still plenty of deep truths and poetic virtues to uncover, as demonstrated by the following analysis:

Why is this picture is worth celebrating 20 years later? How has it stood the test of time, and why does it still matter?

  • The ethereal, graceful and masterful quality of the martial arts choreography and fight sequences are breathtakingly executed; instead of employing hard, aggressive fighting styles, it uses catlike, soft, almost balletic movements and depicts superman powers that stretch the laws of physics.
  • While the action and fighting are thrilling and important, it’s not the main focus of the movie: The action serves to advance the story and enhance the characters, rather than the other way around. Director Ang Lee said in an interview that “the choreography expressed the character development.”
  • For a martial arts movie, it’s quite richly textured with a plot structure that features romance, revenge, tragedy, and unrequited love.
  • It’s also a film with five particularly intriguing characters who each possess absorbing backstories and motivations: Li Mu Bai, Jen, Yu Shu Lien, Lo, and Jade Fox.
  • The cinematography, natural location shooting, and extreme widescreen vista result in a sweeping, epic, colorful, and awe-inspiring picture that serves as a feast for the eyes.
  • The score, featuring a mournful cello by Yo-Yo Ma and exciting drums, is beautifully moving and well syncopated to the rhythm of the fighting, movement, and editing.
  • While it has eastern philosophical sensibilities and character motivations that may be difficult for westerners to grasp, it’s an emotionally accessible film for audiences of any country and features exhilarating cinematic moments that can be appreciated by someone of any language or cultural background. Producer and screenwriter James Schamus said: “We wanted a film that would have accessibility to audiences around the world.”
  • Additionally, consider that Americans love musicals, and this film has been compared to a movie musical that substitutes fight sequences and acrobatic action for song and dance numbers.
  • Lee said: “Martial arts films are musicals at heart,” and “Crouching Tiger was a musical for me.”

In what ways do you think Crouching Tiger set trends or was influential popular culture and cinema?

  • While it may not necessarily be the greatest wuxia or martial arts film ever made, it’s pretty close in many viewers’ eyes. A big reason is that, unlike many chop-socky predecessors, often inexpensive quickies low on production value, this movie had a rich sheen to it, thanks to a relatively large budget, impressive cast, and assemblage of talented filmmakers involved.
    • Its success ushered in a new wave of wuxia films that delighted western audiences, including, The House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Seven Swords, Curse of the Golden Flower, Reign of Assassins, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Brotherhood of Blades, Sword Master, and even the animated Kung Fu Panda.
  • Crouching Tiger went on to become the highest-grossing foreign-language film in history up to that time, which speaks to its immediate popularity.
    • Arguably, a foreign film had never received, collectively, so much media attention, public adoration, Oscar recognition, and critical acclaim before Crouching Tiger. It was nominated for 10 Academy Award nominations—a record that still holds today—and won for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Music Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Production Design. At the time, this was only the third movie nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film.
    • That impact paved the way for other foreign films to get imported and noticed in America.
  • With its focus on strong women characters and the female-centric narrative with Jen at its center, this film was ahead of its time. Today, many superhero films and action movies spotlight powerful and interesting female characters who defy gender conventions and expectations. Without Crouching Tiger, perhaps Quintin Tarantino doesn’t make his Kill Bill films, for example, and possibly superhero films with female leads don’t get greenlit. You could make a case that this is the most feminist action movie ever created.

What messages or themes are explored in Crouching Tiger? What’s the moral to the story here? 

  • Revenge, betrayal, suppressed and repressed love, and the pursuit of liberty are the obvious ideas at work.
  • Don’t underestimate women or their agency. The three primary female characters each try to push beyond the boundaries of what culture, tradition, and society expect of women.
    • Jen struggles between her wish to be respected by her family and accepted by society and her yearning to be free of patriarchal rules.
    • Jade Fox is bitter because her mentor wouldn’t teach her the master martial arts methods because she is a woman, and she resents that he was willing to have sex with her but not engage her fully as a partner.
    • By contrast, Yu Shu Lien abides by the moral codes and patriarchal society mores imposed on her, respects the privileges of males, and ignores her desire for Li Mu Bai because it would be dishonorable to wed him after being engaged to his late brother. Yet she demonstrates an awesome repertoire of martial arts skills that is equal to Jen’s and superior to all males in this story except Li Mu Bai.
    • Screenwriter James Schamus said: “The film is a constant dialogue about authority and teaching and mastery and masculinity versus femininity…and how these two things end up not being in opposition.”
    • One interpretation suggests that the Green Destiny sword is a phallic symbol of power that Jen and Jade Fox aspire to.
  • The conflicting relationship between student and teacher (Jen and Jade Fox, Jen and Li Mu Bai), especially when the pupil surpasses the master.
  • Duality, duplicity, and concealment. Ponder the film’s title: The name “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” concerns the hidden or undiscovered talents and mysteries that exist below the surface of a person who otherwise appears normal.
    • Lo’s name means “Little Tiger,” which refers to the “Crouching Tiger of the title.
    • Jen’s real name means “Jade’s Dragon,” which refers to the “Hidden Dragon” of the title.
  • No person is an island. During an interview, Ang Lee said the film suggests that “you can’t live by yourself alone—nobody has total freedom.”
  • Freeing your mind from boundaries and adult rules. Lee was also quoted as saying: “Sometimes you have to go far away to find your long-lost innocence.” He suggested that Crouching Tiger “takes you back to childhood,” a time when you could imagine yourself flying and performing superhuman acts. I think what he’s getting at here is how the film makes you want to believe that people can fly and engage in superman stunts. But to suspend your disbelief, you have to be receptive to the joy of discovery and have a curious and open mind about the wondrous nature of the world.

How are we to interpret the ending, when Jen leaps from Wudan mountain? Is this a suicide, and if so, why does she do it?

  • Jen realizes that marriage would keep her confined and repressed.
  • Perhaps she experiences guilt, as the freedom she sought resulted, inadvertently, in the death of Li Mu Bai.
  • Maybe she believes that suicide is an honorable and heroic action under the circumstances.
  • More likely is that Jen yearns for the total freedom that death would bring, which she can accomplish in a way that harkens back to the story her lover Lo describes earlier in the movie—the tale of a boy who jumps off the mountain. film scholar Tasha Robinson posits that Jen throws herself from the mountain “in hopes that the purity of her sacrifice will please the gods, who will grant her a wish.” We hear Jen tell Lo to make a wish; in response, Lo says he desires to return to the desert with Jen and be like they were before. Perhaps visualizing that image before plummeting to her demise, Jen achieves that wish, at least in her mind.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The five major fight sequences staged remain fantastically rewarding, each unique and memorable and all the more impressive because each duel refreshingly involves women kicking ass and outshining male combatants or—in the case of the final contest between Jen and Li Mu Bai, females proving to be powerful adversaries.
  • Crouching Tiger is endlessly rewatchable, not just for the dazzling martial arts sequences and combat choreography but for the breathtaking cinematography, nuanced performances, and philosophical truths and questions it conjures.
  • It has a haunting and melancholic resonance, driven home by the often dirge-like cello music played by Yo-Yo Ma and the fact that all the major characters either die or endure with unfulfilled wishes of love. This kind of gift is like dark chocolate—a richer and less sweet confection that is better for your body.
  • It serves as yet another example of the diverse talents of a master filmmaker, Ang Lee, who has distinguished himself in so many different genres, including the romance genre with Sense and Sensibility, the social commentary period drama with The Ice Storm, the western with Brokeback Mountain, the adventure thriller with Life of Pi, and even the comic book movie with Hulk.


We are not alone in our admiration of Spielberg's Close Encounters

Thursday, May 21, 2020

When you recall the early part of Steven Spielberg's directorial career, it's easy to immediately think of the blockbuster masterworks like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. But often overlooked among this period is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, his standout treatise on science-fiction and the possibility of contact between man and alien life forms. Our CineVerse group looked upon this 1977 classic with fresh eyes this week (click here to listen to our recorded discussion) and came away with these observations:

Why was this film important and groundbreaking in 1977, and how did it prove to be influential?

  • This movie benefitted from excellent timing, being released right on the heels of Star Wars, and further proving that science-fiction could be an extremely popular and important genre.
  • Like Star Wars in the same year, the special effects in this movie significantly advance the genre and our expectations for how a sci-fi film can and should look. The mothership, in particular, was and is breathtaking.
  • The film no doubt inspired many first-contact sci-fi films that came later, including E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Abyss, Fire in the Sky, Contact, and Arrival.
  • This was a refreshing return to the concept of benevolent aliens and the potential for friendly contact between humans and extra-terrestrials. Consider that so many science-fiction movies, from the 1950s up through the present day have often depicted threatening, monstrous, and evil alien creatures bent on conquering or destroying the earth.
  • While this film is often tonally consistent with conspiracy thrillers of the pre- and post-Watergate era, which milked the mistrust Americans had in their government and reflected a cynical and pessimistic worldview, we end up seeing the authorities doing the right thing here, including preparing for and communicating with the aliens in a non-defensive and amiable way; although they frighten away the public from the Devils Tower location with deceptive tactics, these tactics are relatively harmless.
  • It’s a rare example of a film that works equally well for kids and adults without having to dumb down the material or aim for a G rating.
    • Reviewer James Berardinelli wrote: “Close Encounters is one of those rare films that works equally as well for children and for adults. Kids see this film as a promise of what might be out there and an unthreatening look at the possibilities that the universe holds. How many UFO believers today began their fascination with alien life after seeing this movie as a child? Adults, even skeptics, see Close Encounters as an accomplished fairy tale. Whether UFOs are real or not, this movie beautifully postulates the best of all alternatives - that the government cares about first contact and about the welfare of its citizens, that the aliens are benevolent, and that we can take comfort from the fact that "we are not alone". Remarkably, a film like Close Encounters speaks to the adult in the child and the child in the adult.”
  • This movie undoubtedly encouraged many people to watch the skies, learn more about science and astronomy, believe in UFOs and alien life, and take a closer look at Francois Truffaut, the brilliant French director who Spielberg cast in a key role here.

What is impressive or interesting about Steven Spielberg’s approach to the material and directing choices?

  • He captures the middle-class American family perfectly. The scenes between Roy and his family are impeccably crafted, with realistic dialogue and believable emotions. The dinner table scene with the mashed potatoes is a master class in cinematically depicting a typical dysfunctional nuclear family.
  • He doesn’t attempt to answer every question. We don’t learn why the aliens choose who they do, why they are returned, how they or their vessels work, or why they’re coming to earth at all. We are meant to maintain a sense of wonder and indescribable awe about what we and the characters experience.
  • The picture smartly weaves scary and pessimistic elements with upbeat, optimistic, and emotionally moving elements to take our feelings on a roller coaster ride.
    • Kieran Fisher of Film School Rejects wrote: “The brilliance of Close Encounters is the way it subverts the scary tropes of alien invasion movies to tell a story about overcoming fear and achieving great things. The only way to find progress is to make compromises, and we can’t co-exist with others if we don’t learn about them. The movie contains some great values about acceptance, but it doesn’t shy away from giving us terrifying thrills and some complex food for thought to chew on, either. In the end, the blind optimism of Roy and the kid paid off, but the movie is an emotional roller coaster all the same.”

Themes at work in this picture

  • The importance of maintaining a childlike innocence and sense of wonder. Consider that the only two characters we see who are taken away by the aliens are a very young child and a grown man who still loves cartoons, exudes a youthful mindset, and maintains a strong sense of curiosity about the world. It’s no mistake that there are several references to Disney’s Pinnochio here, including a Jiminy Cricket toy and strains of “When You Wish Upon a Star” heard in the musical score.
  • "We are not alone" (the film's tagline) in the universe. There is higher life that exists outside our planet, and we can find common ground and communicate with these life forms if we choose to.
  • The search for truth, life, and connection beyond our planet can be a spiritual or religious experience. Think about how Roy seems to have been “enlightened” in his first and last close encounters with aliens, and recall the awe and wonder on the faces of the authorities who make musical contact with the aliens at the conclusion. And recall how we are briefly shown a scene from The Ten Commandments movie on Roy’s television: the sequence where Moses splits the Red Sea. The filmmakers continually remind us that Roy is undergoing a religious experience.
  • Music is a universal language that bridges cultures and, in this case, worlds.

Other movies we think of after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind

  • Sci-fi films of the 1950s, particularly the rare ones with benevolent aliens including The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came From Outer Space
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Cocoon
  • The Abyss
  • Fire in the Sky
  • Contact
  • Arrival

Other films directed by Steven Spielberg

  • Jaws
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark and its 3 sequels
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Jurassic Park
  • Schindler’s List
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • A.I: Artificial Intelligence
  • Minority Report
  • Munich
  • War of the Worlds
  • Lincoln
  • Bridge of Spies


Talking tigers, dishing dragons

Monday, May 18, 2020

For Cineversary podcast episode #23, host Erik Martin treks to China with Kenneth Chan, professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado and a scholar of Asian cinema, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," directed by Ang Lee. Erik and Kenneth explore why this standout film is worth honoring all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has stood the test of time, and more.
Kenneth Chan
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Playing the fame game

Thursday, May 14, 2020

There's a reason why A Star is Born keeps getting reinvented every few decades: It speaks a timeless truth about the pitfalls of being a celebrity and the sacrifices required in a relationship. Our CineVerse group discussed the 1937 edition of this film last night (click here to listen to our recorded group discussion) and drew the following conclusions:

What did you find interesting, unexpected, or desirably different about this movie, especially compared to other versions of A Star is Born?

  • It’s the only non-musical version of the story, unlike the 1954, 1976, and 2018 adaptations.
  • It’s rare to see such an old film graced with Technicolor; this was one of the first movies ever the be filmed in the then-new three-strip Technicolor process. Unfortunately, it looks quite faded and dated visually because the film stock has not been well preserved due to the picture falling into the public domain.
  • There’s a lot more cynicism, tragedy, and dark subject matter here than you’d expect for a 1937 classic Hollywood film. This movie shows the dark side of Hollywood star-making—how the press can lionize or bury you, how your identity is quickly replaced with a fabricated one, how the capricious public can turn on you, and the pressures that come with celebrity status and partnering with someone who eventually outshines you.
    • Hollywood rarely depicted social problems like alcoholism and suicide at this time; to pack both in your movie may have surprised moviegoers in the late 1930s.
    • Yet, while the movie attempts a warts-and-all portrayal of Hollywood and the price it exacts on its players, this film also whitewashes other elements that we know better about today. For example, many producers and studio heads at that time were lewd, vindictive, sexually manipulative, and incorrigibly tyrannical.
  • Curiously, we never witness Esther actually act in front of a camera.
  • There are also some trivial things in this film that stand out today: Like the fact that Esther’s aunt (played by Clara Blandick, Auntie Em from the Wizard of Oz) arguably looks older than Esther’s grandmother (played by Mary Robson); Norman’s not-so-funny alcoholism (including driving drunk) is often treated as a source of comedy; and Esther calls herself “Mrs. Norman Maine” at the end of the film, which may not jive with the gender politics of today.

Why does A Star is Born keep getting remade? What themes stand out that resonate with viewers?

  • The fickle, random, and happenchance nature of fame and failure, of triumph and tragedy. We see how quickly Esther’s star can rise at a proportionate velocity to Norman’s plummeting fortunes.
  • Can love withstand the cruelties of fate and relationship disparities? We see how patience and unconditional love is demanded of Esther, and we observe how Norman is willing to kill himself to prevent his wife from sinking with him.
  • The sacrifices required to achieve or support stardom. Norman and Esther each pay a terrible price for their fame.

Other movies that we think of after watching A Star is Born

  • Show People
  • What Price Hollywood?
  • Nothing Sacred
  • The Star
  • The three remakes (1954, 1976, and 2018)
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • The Bad and the Beautiful
  • All About Eve
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Inside Daisy Clover

Other films directed by William Wellman

  • Wings
  • The Public Enemy
  • Nothing Sacred
  • Beau Geste
  • The Ox-Bow Incident
  • Yellow Sky
  • Battleground


"People scare better when they're dyin'"

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Parsing meaning and merit from a masterwork as densely layered and important as Once Upon a Time in the West isn't easy to do within an hour. Nevertheless, Our CineVerse group tried its best to tap the key themes and points of resonance from this milestone western last night (click here to listen to a recording of that discussion). Here's a recap:

How did this film defy your expectations or differ from classic or conventional westerns you’ve seen?

  • It’s arguably more of an exercise in pure style than a western that traditionally satisfies with narrative, subplots, romance, or action. Consider that the main story could have been condensed to less than an hour, but the film’s runtime is closer to three hours. Director Sergio Leone and his team prolong sequences, milking them for every drop of emotional resonance by relying on close-ups and extreme close-ups of weathered, dirtied, and cruel faces and drawing out otherwise simple exchanges and character meetups.
  • The sound design of this film is exceptional. Consider the opening 12-minute wordless sequence, in which we have no music but hear the unnerving sounds of this barren western environment, like a rusty windmill, dripping water, and the rat-a-tat of a ticker tape machine. Leone uses silence punctuated by sudden noises and foreboding sounds to get under our skin.
  • Both Henry Fonda and Jason Robards are cast against type; the former plays one of the most despicable and memorable villains in movie history, deliberately cast by Leone to thwart our expectations of Fonda as a traditional hero type or righteous man from John Ford films; the latter portrays a grungy but likable antihero criminal.
  • Despite its length, the movie has some plot holes and jumps around, forcing you to wait for later explanations or deduce what happened (such as how Cheyenne escaped his recapture, or who gunned down Morton and the goons around him). Several key sequences that factor into the plot occur off-screen.
  • Interestingly, the film’s “most flawlessly executed moments involve acts of exposure or revelation. Each character’s face is initially revealed to the audience either through measured zooms or graceful, swirling pans around the character’s body, and Leone uses his elegantly dreamy pace to consistently tantalize us with hints of things to come,” wrote Slant Magazine reviewer Nick Schager. For example, consider how we don’t see the blurry identity of the man in Harmonica’s flashback vision revealed until the end of the movie.

Themes found within Once Upon a Time in the West

  • The death of the old west, which cannot survive the onward progress of manifest destiny. Leone crafted this film as an elegy of sorts for the classic western film, and it’s fitting that its archetypal characters, especially Harmonica, Frank, and Cheyenne, will either not survive by the end or not stick around to see civilization advance westward.
    • Schager wrote: “…with progress, the coal-devouring locomotives also bring death—death for the American West’s unspoiled beauty, death for an uncomplicated rugged individualism, and death to the cowboy, who has no place in the newfangled modern world of corporate villainy and commerce.”
    • Think about how Harmonica says to Frank: “You’ve learned some new ways, even if you haven’t given up the old ones.” The new ways don’t involve a gun; they require being a shrewd businessman. But because Frank relies on the way of the gun, he—and Harmonica—is doomed to the dust heap of history.
    • Consider what Frank tells Harmonica: “The future don't matter to us. Nothing matters now - not the land, not the money, not the woman.” He and Harmonica are remnants of a dying way of life.
    • And ponder how Cheyenne refers to Harmonica as having “something to do with death.”
  • Water as a source of life. Jill is associated with water (the well on her property, the water she shares with the workers, the bath she takes, etc.), and we often see many crucial scenes play out near or involving water, including Morton remembering the sound of the Atlantic ocean he left and dying near a shallow pool of water.
  • You have to be willing to play dirty to survive and thrive in this environment. Recall how Cheyenne tells one man reaching for his gun: “You don’t know how to play.” He also remarks, about Harmonica: “He not only plays. He can shoot too.” The main characters each have to be willing to kill (Harmonica, Frank, Cheyenne, Morton), betray (Morton), pretend (Jill), and/or risk their best interests (Cheyenne, Harmonica, Jill) to outlast their enemies. Only the two who “play” the best survive: Jill and Harmonica.
  • Revenge. As in many Leone films and revisionist adult westerns, reprisal for a past crime survived is often the driving force of a character, including Harmonica.

Other movies that spring to mind after viewing this film

  • High Noon, which also features a showdown shootout at a train station
  • Johnny Guitar, another movie that spotlights a tough-skinned female protagonist
  • The Searchers, which also depicts the slaughter of a family on a remote home site
  • The many westerns of John Ford, including those starring a heroic Henry Fonda and those shot in Monument Valley
  • Vigilante and revenge films like Death Wish starring Charles Bronson
  • The Sword of Vengeance and other Japanese samurai features
  • Chinatown
  • Kill Bill I and II, two pictures that also rely strongly on style and exaggerated characters and archetypes

Other films directed by Sergio Leone

  • The “Man With No Name” trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Once Upon a Time in America


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