Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Dinosaurs of Summer: Unknown Island, 1948

This could be dismissed as a cut-rate King Kong rip-off – but it’s the last weekend of August, I am done writing for this week, and so, why not have some cheap fun with an old movie?

Unknown Island is a 1948 movie featuring, among others, Virginia Grey – a B-movie actress who appeared in dozens of movies in the 40s – Troy Denning, that some might remember as one of the guy in Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Ray Crash Corrigan, a famous stuntman and ape-suited actor, here portraying a giant Ground sloth.
This is quality entertainment.

The plot is pretty straightforward – US pilot Ted Osborne flew over an island in the South Pacific and spotted some dinosaurs; now, after the end of the war, he gets his rich fiancee Carol Lane to bankroll an expeditions to the island. They hire a very unsavory captain Tarnowski (you know he’s a scumbag because he’s got an Eastern European name) and take along a former USMC captain, John Fairbanks, that was stranded on the island and came back to civilization with a strong case of PTSD he’s been keeping at bay with alcohol.
They get to the island, and then everything goes pear-shaped.

And we’re here for it.

As it usually happens in these films, we get a wild mix of prehistoric fauna – a brontosauros, a dimetrodon, a ceratosaurus, plus the aforementioned giant sloth.
Not scientifically plausible, but we’re here for adventure, not for a lecture in paleontology.
And a modicum of adventure we get – featuring mutinous crews, the sleazy captain, and the confrontation between the USAF and the USMC for the heart of Carol Lane.
And really, Virginia Grey is beautiful.

So, yes, it’s cheap, it’s silly, the special effects are dubious, the characterization is superficial.
But there’s dinosaurs in it, and that’s good enough.

Unknown Island fell into the public domain for a bureaucratic twitch, and can be found in a variety of venues, including Youtube.

While the badge on the video says this is a colorized version, the movie was actually shot in color.


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Dark Schneider is back: Netflix’s Bastard!!

I admit I was worried.
Bastard!! was one of the anime/manga series that I remembered from the ’90s – over the top, seriously silly, filled with bouncing breasts and juvenile humor, together with a setting straight out of AD&D and a plot that was basically an excuse to show more violence and, yes, more toned thighs and bouncy breasts. The brainchild of a guy that was a self-admitted fan of heavy metal music and roleplaying games, it was the quintessential late ’80s/early ’90s … thing.
And it was all right.

But now?
We are in 2022, and Bastard!! is back, and on Netflix.
And I heard a few people worrying about the dread effects of political correctness and “wokeness” (I heard grown men cry because in one snippet of preview they caught sight of two women kissing), but I was much more worried about the fad for “grimdark” – after all, with a main character that’s called Dark Schneider, and a tagline that reads “Heavy Metal Dark Fantasy”, Bastard!! is the sort of anime that could easily get the grimdark treatment, for the viewing pleasure of all the sociopaths out there.

So yes, I was worried.
And I was not happy at all with the Italian dubbing, so I dropped the series after about 5 minutes.

But I was able to finally get an English dub (not my first choice, I prefer subs myself), and while Dark Schneider still sounds too damn youthful for my tastes – and the dub fails to capture the surprisingly and hilarious vulgar Japanese of the original – I finally sat down and watched the series.

For the uninitiated, Bastard!! (the two exclamation points are required) is a sword & sorcery series set in a post-apocalyptic world that’s regressed to medieval level. The four kingdoms are being menaced by a dark army hell bent on resurrecting an ancient goddess, and the only hope for humanity is Dark Schneider, a centuries old evil wizard that was once the leader of the dark army – but has been trapped inside a kid’s body these last 15 years.

The series follows Dark Schneider’s exploits after he’s been brought back – and he has to face his former allies to protect the few people he’s come to care for.

And I am happy to report that the new incarnation of Bastard!! is still a lot of fun, it is still incredibly silly, and nicely padded with bouncy breasts and juvenile humor. It is violent, stupid and inappropriate, but it is happily free of angsty grimdark trappings. Bastard!! winks and laughs out loud too much to be grimdark. It does indeed look like something that reached us from, say 1991 via some rip in space-time.
It is also pretty close to the original comics as I remember them from thirty years ago.
The character design is very ’90s, but the animation’s better – and we get new music on the soundtrack.

All in all, silly entertainment – not the sort that shakes the pillars of civilization or changes the life of the viewer, but in this time, in which TV is trying to feed us fake memories of how it was to play AD&D in the ’80s, it is good to find a show that actually captures with surprising accuracy the mix of cliché, silliness, wanton destruction, inappropriate jokes and loud music that characterized those saturday afternoons, so many years ago.


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The Spine of Night (2021)

Maybe not the ideal Easter movie, but The Spine of Night popped up on my radar (it is currently running on Shudder), and being in a dark fantasy/sword & sorcery mood (big news), I decided to take a look. I was duly impressed and highly entertained, and that’s all I was asking for.

On the technical side, The Spine of Night is a rotoscope animated feature, in the style of Ralph Bakshi’s Fire & Ice or Heavy Metal. With Fire & Ice shares a certain old school fantasy feeling, and like Fire & Ice it is an anthology movie, the single episodes tying in together into a larger overarching narrative.

In the movie, we witness the rise of a god-emperor thanks to the powers of a mysterious blue flower that is somehow connected with the deeper fabric of the universe. As the god-emperor extends his dominion over the world, we catch snippets of other stories, and get a good look at the underlying mythology of this world.

A good solid movie with a somewhat Lovecraftian twist, The Spine of Night is a very dark fantasy, with a nihilistic edge, and does not shy away from violence, gore and nudity – so if anyone tells you “animation is for children”, here you have your counter-argument.

The movie backgrounds are completely stunning, and while it takes a moment to get used to the style in which the characters are drawn and animated, once we get past that uncanny valley thing that rotoscoping causes, it’s all fine.

The voice cast includes Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, and Joe Manganiello, and they all do an excellent job. The music is fine, and the direction – by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King (who also wrote the script) is quite interesting.

Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s good to see that this sort of movies still get made.


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The Red & the Black – a movie night

Two nights ago I was feeling like some light entertainment, and so I scanned the list of the available movie on my streaming platforms. Because when you live in the sticks, streaming platforms are a life-saver.

And of course I set my sights on Netflix’s feature film, Red Notice – an action comedy caper featuring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds? That’s just what the doctor ordered after a long day writing and trying to put some order in my affairs.
So I got me a full teapot and my cat (yes, babies, this is as middle-aged as the Magna Charta) and I started the film.

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Steampunk shenanigans: Arcane (2021)

I have never played League of Legends, and I have no idea what it’s all about. I have seen a lot of game artwork around, and I have been duly impressed by the look of the thing, but I am not that much of a gamer anymore – if I ever was. On the other hand, I am a sucker for good animation, and for steampunk, so when the trailer of Arcane, the new Netflix series, was posted, it got my attention.

Now the first three episodes are here – and clocking at 40 minutes each, they are just what the doctor ordered for a break and a cup of tea between writing sessions.
And I am duly impressed.

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