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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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.

Continue reading


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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.


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The Day of Memory

January the 27th is the Day of Memory in Italy and everywhere else, in which we remember the millions that were murdered in the Nazi concentration camps – many of which were Italians, sent to the camps by our own government. As those that witnessed the horror are passing away, it becomes particularly important for us to keep the memory alive, so that nothing like this can happen, ever again.

And because I believe, like Leonard Cohen did, that the Nazis were also defeated by songs and stories, here is some music…