Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


2 Comments

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.

Continue reading


2 Comments

Ghosts and Vampires (with the occasional Mummy)

Everybody’s having a party for Halloween, that is still twenty days away. And it’s fine, because we all love a spooky story, and it’s mighty fine.

I was thinking the other day that in the end I seem to like both kinds of horror – both ghost stories and vampire stories.
And what I mean is, doing a quick inventory of the horror books and the horror movies on my shelves, it looks like ghosts and vampires are the main form of spooks I like to read about and watch on the screen.

I was never big on slashers, zombies and the like.
I love a good mummy story or movie, and I still like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, that’s criminally under-represented in literature.
But the modern horrors leave me cold.

The reason, I believe, is that ghost stories (in print) and the Hammer vampire movies (on the screen) were the first form of horror stories I enjoyed.
I guess I should throw in the original run of Scooby Doo in there, too.

And so, while my friends cheer the new gorefests available on paper and on film, I think I will spend the days that precede Halloween reading old ghost stories, after diner, in my darkened room.
There’s a lot of them available out there – there’s some fine new collections and there’s the old classics on Project Gutenberg. And on Youtube we can find a lot of Ghost Stories for Christmas, and spooky Old Time Radio shows. It’s a good world.

Maybe I am not avant gard, but really, who cares?
In the next few days I’ll publish a reading, watching and listening list for anyone who’s interested.


Leave a comment

November after-dinner project: worldbuilding and roleplaying

Breaking a finger was not a good idea.
Right now the finger’s doing well (thanks for asking), the doctor likes what he sees in the X-ray shots, and I’ve made froends with the X-ray technician, so everything’s for the best.
BUT, writing is a drag.

Right now I have a full right hand and two fingers and a thumb on the left – but I must go carefully, because i don’t want to hit or press the broken finger. So, I’m writing slow – or at least slower than my standard.

This would not a problem were it not that I am to deliver a full RPG campaign by the end of December, a full fantasy novel by the end of January, and more or less between those two, a 20-pages piece of geographical/historical worldbuilding for another RPG.

Three very exciting projects – I’m having a blast, writing them… well, sort of a slow-mo blast.

And because I am doing all of these things… why not get something else on the cooker, just to make sure I won’t have a moment for myself?

Continue reading


4 Comments

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.

Continue reading


3 Comments

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”.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

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.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

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.