Inglorious Bastards

Format: DVD

Release date: 18 February 2008

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Enzo G Castellari

Writers: Sandro Continenza, Sergio Grieco, Franco Marotta, Romano Migliorini, Laura Toscano

Original title: Quel maledetto treno blindato

Cast: Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson, Michael Pergolani

Italy 1978

95 mins

The recent DVD release of Inglorious Bastards is not exclusively due to its artistic merits but also to the publicity given to the film by that cinema archaeologist, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is currently working on a remake, and announced he had finished the script at the P-Town film festival. Brad Pitt has now been confirmed in the lead, and the cast also includes Mike Myers and Eli Roth.

‘Castellari made various films that I could define as ‘fast and easy’, not too demanding, like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, which was exploiting the success of films such as Mad Max. As far as I’m concerned, he (Castellari) will remain the director who best knew how to direct Franco Nero. The Castellari film that I prefer though – and that I think is one of the best examples of Italian exploitation – is Inglorious Bastards.’ (Nocturno Dossier N. 66: ‘Il Punto G: Guida al cinema di Enzo G. Castellari’, March 2008). When Tarantino opened the retrospective ‘The Italian King of B’s’ at the 2004 Venice Biennale with Joe Dante, he publicly declared his love for Italian B-cinema of the 60s and 70s. He has shined a spotlight on many forgotten gems of Italian genre/exploitation cinema, among which Milan Calibre 9, a classy thriller that rivals the finest Melville and which Tarantino considers to be the best Italian noir of all time. Inglorious Bastards is no such masterpiece (and Castellari himself does not understand what Tarantino sees in it), but it is not difficult to see what attracted the director to this entertaining, action-packed war movie, which takes the stylistic elements of the genre to an extreme.

The chief reference is Robert Aldrich’s 1967 seminal war movie The Dirty Dozen (in Italian the two titles are a near match), and the film follows a similar plot. In Aldrich’s film, a group of prisoners are submitted to a harsh drill after which they attack a German compound in a suicidal mission. In Castellari’s rustic and surreal version, a group of deserters mistakenly kill a bunch of fellow soldiers dressed as Nazis and replace them to carry out a risky assault on a German train carrying a bomb.

Even though the characterisation of the roguish characters, the situations and the narrative development derive from Aldrich’s work, the film distinguishes itself by its sloven style, its gross humour and heavy-handed approach (perhaps that’s what Tarantino considers as the finest Italian exploitation). However, it is also worth noting that the film achieves remarkable technical results on a very limited budget. And unlike American war movies where everybody inexplicably speak American English, it has Nazi soldiers and French partisans respectively speak their own language, an interesting feature that Tarantino is set to replicate in his remake.

There are many set pieces that make the film worth watching, from the beautiful sequence of slow-motion deaths – Castellari must have seen Sam Pekinpah’s Cross of Iron – to the terrific final explosion at the train station. A little miracle of mise en scí­Â¨ne, this sequence is characterised by a savvy use of models and matte that creates an astonishing visual detonation which, I am sure, many modern special effects experts would admire for its hand-crafted mastery. There is also an unexpected and surreal scene where some German women, presumably reserve soldiers, are bathing naked in a river… an enjoyably nonsensical sequence of a kind that has all but disappeared from today’s ultra-efficient, plot-driven, creatively limited cinema. The film is well served by its cast and Fred Williamson’s impressive performance is considered by Tarantino to be the actor’s best. His angry face is featured on the American poster (under the alternative title GI Bro) with the slogan: ‘If you’re a Kraut, he’ll take you out’.

All in all, Inglorious Bastards remains solidly entertaining after 30 years, and the fitting mise en scí­Â¨ne, the credible narrative and the calibrated editing of the action scenes reveal the incredible craftsmanship of a director whose skills have been unjustly underestimated. We’ll have to wait until June 2009, when the remake is set to come out in the USA, to see if the same can be said about Tarantino’s version.

Celluloid Liberation Front



Format: Cinema

Release date: 29 August 2008

Venue: ICA, London

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Directors: Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To

Writers: Sharon Chung, Kenny Kan, Yau Nai Hoi, Au Kin Yee, Yip Tin Shing

Original title: Tie saam gok

Cast: Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Sun Hong Lei, Lam Ka Tung, Kelly Lin

China/Hong Kong 2007

93 mins

When Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To – three heavy-weights of the Hong Kong film industry, who respectively gave us Once Upon a Time in China, City on Fire and Exiled – got together to make a film, it unsurprisingly became one of the most hotly anticipated titles. Triangle was possibly the film that could resurrect Hong Kong’s waning dynamism (output is at a near all-time low, with fewer than 50 films made last year, in comparison to 200 films a year in the 1990s).

Each director made a segment of roughly 30 minutes, and the succession between them is fairly seamless, although the different directing styles will be recognisable to Asian film fans. Tsui Hark sets the stage, Ringo Lam develops the characters further and Johnnie To wraps everything up with his trademark black humour.

The film starts with an atmospheric scene set in a bar, with dim lighting, dark background and bright spotlights on the subjects, as if they were on a stage. Lee Bo Sam (Simon Yam) discusses a bank robbery with Fai (Louis Koo), in a bid to get out of their financial difficulties. The triangle is made complete by their friend Mok (the ever-unassuming Sun Hong Lei), who tries to talk them out of the heist when a mysterious stranger suddenly offers them a chance to get rich quick, dropping an ancient gold coin and a card on the table before leaving. Following the clues left by the stranger, our hapless heroes manage to retrieve a chest buried under the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (pretty much the equivalent of Parliament), in which they find a phenomenally valuable garment made of gold coins.

However, matters are complicated by another triangle, the one formed by Bo Sam, his wife Ling (Kelly Lin) and a cop she is having an affair with, Wen (Lam Ka Tong). Seemingly delusional, Ling claims that she is pregnant and that Bo Sam is trying to kill her. Add to this a further triangle, and you have a fairly convoluted, and at times confusing, plot: Fai is actually an informer for Wen, and he is also trying to run away from the Triads who want to force him to rob a bank (which explains the opening scene, where Fai tries to convince Bo Sam, ex-champion race driver, to be his getaway driver).

The three heroes, the wife, the cop and the Triads, chased by a rookie police officer on a bicycle, all converge in a middle-of-nowhere tin-roofed restaurant, where the final act unfolds under Johnnie To’s light, comedic direction: as the fuse box is repeatedly tripped by various people for various reasons, all the protagonists scrabble in the dark for what they each came for, re-appearing in different gun-pointing configurations when the lights come back on.

Although Triangle is not the film to save the Hong Kong film industry, it is entertaining and in places exhilarating. The seasoned cast is mostly convincing and it is an interesting experiment in collective work. However, it is nothing more than adequate entertainment and will only be important to Asian film connoisseurs as ‘the film directed by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To’.

Joey Leung

Double Take: Dark City

Illustration by Tom Humberstone

Illustration by Tom Humberstone

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Distributor: Entertainment in Video

Release date: 4 August 2008

Director: Alex Proyas

Writers: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S Goyer

Cast: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly

Australia/USA 1988

111 minutes (director’s cut)

In the last print issue, we experimented with a different kind of review done in the form of a dialogue between two film connoisseurs, and it pleased us so much that we’ve decided to make it a permanent feature. Here, ALEX FITCH and illustrator TOM HUMBERSTONE discuss Alex Proyas’s sci-fi film noir Dark City, which, just like last issue’s Paranoia Agent, is a story about unreliable narrators and shifting ‘truths’, making it perfectly suited to the dialogue treatment. Rarely seen but surprisingly influential, Dark City is a 1940s-style murder mystery set in an eerie futuristic city where it is perennially night and mysterious black-clad Strangers control the lives of the inhabitants. In this world, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens one day to find himself on the run, accused of a murder he doesn’t remember committing, forced to roam the perilous streets of the city trying to find a way of distinguishing reality from dreams. Dark City has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the form of a new ‘director’s cut’.

Alex Fitch: You told me recently that Dark City was one of your favourite films.

Tom Humberstone: Well, it’s science fiction, speculative fiction at its purest… When speculative fiction is done right, you can really relate to it.

AF: I think Dark City is a complete masterpiece, and yet somehow it’s this undiscovered gem. At the time Leonard Maltin, who’s one of America’s most respected film critics, chose it as his film of the year, and yet here we are, 10 years on, and hardly anyone’s heard of it. I wonder why The Matrix is so much more successful? Is it just that you can explain it in a sentence? ‘The reason Keanu Reeves can manipulate reality in The Matrix is because it’s a computer simulation and he’s a hacker’, while if you try to explain why Rufus Sewell can manipulate reality in Dark City, it takes a paragraph rather than a sentence! Do you think it’s as simple as that? Because in every other aspect, Dark City‘s better.

TH: The Matrix wears its ‘Philosophy for Dummies’ badge on its sleeve, but with Dark City you have to read between the lines and work a bit harder to see what it’s saying about the human condition. It also says a lot more about cities; I’ve lived in London all my life, I think that’s part of the reason Dark City appeals to me – its inescapable cityscape that you can never truly get out of.

AF: Dark City also has similar scenes to The Truman Show. When Murdoch travels geographically to the end of his journey, to find ‘Shell Beach’, it’s just a painting on a wall, it’s not really there. In The Truman Show, when Truman gets in a boat and travels across the ‘ocean’ to escape, he comes across a painting on a wall; and the only way to escape is to go to the reality on the other side of that wall. It’s interesting that the two characters find themselves in similar traps, which are controlled by deities that have a very profound and obvious effect on their lives.

TH: Also, when they break out, the audience is left with a sense of unease as to whether they should have escaped. In The Truman Show, you’re very aware of him going off to live his life independently with no outside controlling forces, but you know he’s going to suffer; you’re happy for him to have discovered what he is and what was controlling him but then…

AF: It’s like another film we’re discussing in this issue – Cube – in that the hero of the film has his doubts when he nears the exit and he doesn’t want to leave because outside is ‘boundless human stupidity’, as if being in this death-trap is somehow better, because at least you know the world you’re in…

TH: That’s the trick of The Truman Show because we know what reality’s like and actually ‘The Truman Show’ seems happier and much safer…

AF: …the same way some of the characters in The Matrix choose to stay in that fiction…

TH: Right, and in Dark City, when Murdoch finds out the truth and gains the ultimate power, he effectively takes the place of the alien overlords; so you wonder whether he can deal with that, considering he doesn’t know who he really is. You’re left kind of uneasy about it.

AF: I’ve just watched the director’s cut and they let that moment play a bit longer so it’s more ambiguous – you think for a moment, maybe he is going to destroy the world, maybe the process has made him as evil as the alien rulers are. There are all these hints in the director’s cut that he’s becoming more like the Strangers.

TH: I’d be fascinated to see the director’s cut because another flaw of the theatrical version is that it stinks of studio involvement and focus groups – you know, appealing to the lowest common denominator… The opening scene in the theatrical version when you have Kiefer Sutherland doing the voice-over…

AF: …it’s such sabotage! It’s like if you opened The Matrix with someone saying: ‘It’s the far future, humanity has been placed into booths where they’ve been hooked up to a virtual reality which makes them believe they’re in 1990s Sydney’. It would destroy the movie!

TH: I know! I have no idea why they thought that would make Dark City a better film. To an extent, that might be a reason why it didn’t get a huge critical response. It’s so much more fun to discover you’re watching sci-fi accidentally…

AF: Another theme of the movie is the nature of memory – the way you have these little artefacts of what actually happened in the past, your memory not being as clear as your photos of it.

TH: Films are structured like dreams – time doesn’t pass in the same way for example. In real life we don’t ever have a chance to cut time, to cut from one scene to another other than in dreams.

AF: In Dark City, it’s like Murdoch becomes aware that he’s in a film that’s like a dream. There’s one line that he has: ‘Do you remember it being daytime? How can it be night again? How can it be midnight again?’ And logically, if a character in a film asks that, it’s like he’s become aware that he’s in a film!

TH: Yeah, I really love that line as well because you’re watching this city surrounded by complete blackness and you don’t ever really question it. You think it’s just part of the style, the director has just chosen to skip scenes set in daylight; but as soon as it’s pointed out, the fact that there’s no sun becomes a plot point… It’s fairly meta-textual!

Alex Fitch and Tom Humberstone