East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Tits & Sand: The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954)

It’s been a while since I last reviewed a Tits & Sand movie – to use the label coined by Maureen O’Hara. These 1001 Nights-style movies were a staple of my childhood, and I thought I had seen them all, repeatedly. And yet, I’ve just found a movie I had missed – which is quite strange.

The film is called The Adventures of Hajji Baba, and it was directed in 1954 by Don Weiss, a director with a long TV experience, whose best known films are probably The Affairs of Dobie Gills and the beach party classic The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, with Boris Karlof.
The Adventures of Hajji Baba features John Derek, an actor I always found insufferable, and this might explain why I never watched this specific film. Opposite Derek – who portrays the titular Persian barber – is Elaine Stewart, in the role of bratty, spoiled princess Fawzia of Ispharan.

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Pizza & Spice: the obligatory Dune post

And so last night, limping and short of breath, I joined my brother and our friends for a night out at the movies. We opened with an excellent (as usual) pizza at Casablanca’s, and then went to the Sociale, Nizza Monferrato’s oldest cinema, to watch Villeneuve’s Dune.

This was our first movie outing in over 18 months and there were seven people in the cinema last night – five of us, plus two other punters.

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Violent Femmes, part deux

What is with top-tier criminals and antique bookshops?
It’s a sort of cliché, the international man (or woman) of mystery that in their everyday life manage an antique book shop somewhere cool and elegant.
In the case of Anna, the character portrayed by Meggie Q in The Protégé, the antique book shop is in London. And as it usually happens in this sort of movies, it will be thoroughly thrashed sometime around the end of the first reel.

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Violent Femmes (not the band)

I was 23 when Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita hit the screens, and it was wild.
There had been action thrillers before, of course, but none like this – Anne Perillaud was absolutely stunning, and she was a killer.
In the true sense of the word.
La Femme Nikita was tough, dark in an almost neo-noir way, elegantly shot, and it featured a woman that did what usually was done by a guy, in this kind of movies.

Fast forward thirty years, and the kick-ass dame has become a common trope of modern action cinema, to the point it is now almost its own genre – the crime/espionage action thriller with the lone woman fighting her way from the first act to the third. You know, stuff like Atomic Blonde.

Today being Sunday, and this being August, I decided to take one day off. I spent the morning (re)reading the dark, disquieting The Devil in Nanking, by the late lamented Mo Hayder, and in the afternoon, it being too hot for anything else, I started the fan and then went to see what Prime Video had to offer.
I watched three movies. First, I watched Kate Beckinsale kick ass in New York in Jolt, then I watched Sasha Luss kick ass in Paris in Luc Besson’s Anna, and finally I watched Karen Gillan kick ass in Berlin in Gunpowder Milkshake.
Let’s talk about it.

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The Good, the Bad and the Starfish

I am not a big fan of superhero movies.
Granted, I liked Donner’s Superman, and I can enjoy a good superhero flick once in a while, but I am not a fan, I don’t have high expectations and I don’t wait holding my breath the next Marvel or DC film.
I enjoyed the Green Arrow TV adaptation, for a while, and I like Doom Patrol. A lot of the rest I missed simply because I was not interested.
And I enjoyed the Birds of Prey film for what it was. But to me The Avengers are still John Steed and Emma Peel.

It was mostly because of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport that I watched The Suicide Squad.
And James Gunn. I liked his old horror, Slither. I trust the guy.
Cast and director convinced me, despite the fact that I was never able to go deeper than fifteen minutes in the first film of the series, Suicide Squad, the one without a “The”.

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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).