Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Cruisin’

Of all the movies that were somehow delayed by the pandemic, Disney’s Jungle Cruise was one of those I had been expecting with the highest anticipation. Possibly only Villeneuve’s Dune sits higher in my can’t-wait-to-see-it list for 2021.
On the downside, yes, it’s a Disney movie, and yes, it is based on a Disneyland ride. But I mean, the first Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a ride, too, right? And this one it features Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, and it’ s a big pulp-style adventure with exotic locales, a treasure, wild animals, the jungle, Conquistadores, headhunters… I mean, where do I sign?

So I went and watched it.

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The man who sculpted Cthulhu: Stephen Hickman (1949-2021)

I first became aware of Stephen Hickman’s work when I saw the Cthulhu idol the artist sculpted, and that has become to many the definitive look of Big C. In fact, Hickman’s work had been under my eyes for ages, starting with the Dragaera covers he did for Steven Brust, to illustrations for Tolkien and Conan comics and an iconic Harlan Ellison cover.

As a person severely impaired from a graphical point of view, I am forever fascinated by the ability some people have to express themselves through shapes and colors.
Stephen Hickman, who passed away this week, was a great artist and a visual storyteller.
Here is a small gallery of his works (click on the images to enlarge).


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Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

I come back for a moment from my long vacation to share the link of the Sheffield Adventure Film festival 2021, that is screening online a wide and wonderful selection of adventure documentaries.
You can get single tickets or a festival pass relatively cheap, and half the money goes to the filmmakers.

If, like me, you’d love to travel the world but are stuck in the middle of nowhere, this might bring some relief.


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Weird in Manila: Trese (2021)

I went into Trese, the new animated series from Nettflix, practically blind. OK, a paranormal detective story set in contemporary Manila and based on the folklore of the Philippines. But that was all.
I had seen the trailer, and I was intrigued.

I was a bit dubious because it is presented as an “anime”, but it is not a Japanese product, it was made in the Philippines. You don’t call it New Orleans Jazz if they make in in Sweden, don’t you?
Wikipedia adjusts this by describing the series as “anime-inspired”. OK.
But apart from that, I was curious.

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The rule of cool is not enough

I did not want to write this post.
No, really!
I have better things to do and barely the energy to do them, why then…?
Ah!
Let me get this from the start…

I have watched Army of the Dead.
It’s currently on Netflix, and the whole world and their sister watched it – Zack Snyder’s own take on the zombie apocalypse, featuring David Bautista, and poised to become the start of a new cinematic universe.
An action-adventure movie, more than a horror – that’s what I was expecting, and I was cool with that.
I like action-adventure movies.
And believe me, my expectations were really low.

It was a joyless experience, as somebody already said.
One that made me re-evaluate a lot of other movies – compared to this, the silly fluff of Monster Hunter feels like John Milius working on a script from Karl Edward Wagner.

And I am sure you’ve read the reviews – both those that praise Snyder as god’s gift to the filmic arts, and those that say this is a load of rubbish wrapped in an out-of-focus aesthetic and spiked with dubious morality.
And I stand firmly in the second camp, and yet…

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Mind over matter: Detective L (2019)

A very Holmes-esque mystery series set in 1930s Shanghai?
You know I’ve got to see it.
And I did.

Detective L is a 24-episodes Chinese drama series set in 1932 Shanghai, and distributed on the streaming platform Tencent Video. Newcomer Qin Xiao Man, a woman graduate from a provincial police academy, comes to the big city to serve in the local constabulary, only to be swiftly paired off with Luo Fei, a detective that sometimes acts as consultant for the police.
A Watson-Holmes dynamic ensues, with an extra of romantic tension, as mysteries are solved and a shadowy character, the Moriarty-like “Captain” emerges to provide an overarching metaplot.

The series is a rather classic Chinese serial product, with good actors, great costumes and a somewhat limited budget locations-wise. The 1930s Shanghai is brought to screen via a mix of back lot sets, actual Shanghai villas and mansions and a lot of CGI.
But it’s OK.
Granted, this Shanghai is strangely devoid of Westerners of any kind, and a few glaring errors, prop-wise, caused a laugh-out-loud moment or two (one word: the gramophone turntable), but really, this is light entertainment, not a documentary. So it’s OK.
Even the quirky anachronistic soundtrack really works.

The leads are charming, and the idea of developing a mystery over an arc of three episodes allows a modicum of welcome development. These are classic locked room mysteries, more puzzles than in-depth investigations of the human soul, and it’s fine like that.
Even the comedy manages to be classy – not a given, with Chinese series and Western tastes.

If you are interested, you can find the whole series on Youtube, in mandarin but with English subtitles.
It’s a nice way to spend half an hour before dinner.