East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


High Weirdness: Valerie and her Week of Wonders

It is always good to look at something different within the genres we like.
And different is the word for Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, a 1970 Czech fantasy film by Jaromil Jireš, which is sort of a cult and had been on my “to watch” list for a while now.


Surreal, macabre, sexy and very weird, Valerie is the sort of movie that reconciles me with fantasy – a million light years from muscular barbarians and spitfire dragons, it’s sort of a journey into a dream landscape that baffles and fascinates.
Great film. Continue reading


Swashbuckler is not dead: On Guard, 1997

ThreeMusketeers_w302_5077Two days ago I had to suffer through some pretty asinine observation about swashbuckler fiction, by a lady that claimed that swashbucklers, being sad violent misogynistic poorly written drivel without a decent female character, had fizzed out and died, and good riddance.
The Three Musketteers? Gone and forgotten, with all the rest of the rubbish that poor hapless hack Dumas published.

To which I begged to differ, of course, but my opinions did not carry – apparently – enough weight in that refined circle.

For sure, I find it hard to believe that someone would pronounce the swashbuckler genre dead while at the same time enthusing about the Pirates of the Carribean franchise.

But that’s fantasy

… was the dismissive remark.

In a desperate attempt at defending the genre – which I happen to love – I finally summoned a movie, one of my all-time faves, based on a swashbuckler novel that represents the perfect defensive argument. It’s a story set in Paris and in France at large, and it’s about a hunchback… Continue reading


The Dark Alleys of Historical Novels

Historical novels.
I like them – back home my mother was the historical novel fan, and somehow passed the habit to me, if in a less virulent way.

Now, being a reader of fantasy, and sometimes a perpetrator of historical fantasy, I somehow have this sort of inferiority complex towards historical fiction writers (my friend Claire being a case in point).
They are the square ones, the serious ones, the ones that have both literary and historical dignity, that quote primary sources and are asked to give learned lectures and all that.
Me, I’m a hack, one that mixes mummies and Roman legions and tentacled monsters.


But, on the other hand, historical fiction does have a less reputable side – one that goes back to Gold Medal, Fawcett, Paperback Library, NEL and Lancer paperbacks, and continued well into the 1980s, and is just as lurid, preposterous and risqué as the things we hack do write.

So I decided to do a gallery with a few specimens – it made me feel better.

Enjoy! Continue reading

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La Bandera, March or Die

A friend mentioned March or Die yesterday – the movie, not the Motorhead LP – and we got talking about Foreign Legion stories – being both well convinced that neither of us would survive one hour in the Legion, and yet both victims to the Legion’s mistique.

(alas, the trailer is not up to the quality of the movie itself – pity)

And so I went and watched March or Die, also known as La Bandera, a movie I had not seen in quite a while, and that surprised me for a number of reasons.

The plot in a word: the survivors of a French Foreign Legion unit, fresh from the trenches of the Great War are sent back into the Moroccan desert, to escort a team of French archaeologists looking for a lost city.
The local tribes consider the area of excavation sacred.
A violent confrontation ensues. Continue reading

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Other People’s Pulps: Lassiter (1984)

51QCMFGb+bLThere’s a movie I’ve been planning to cover on this blog for a while now, and finally two days back I mentioned it on Derrick Ferguson’s blog post I shared.
The movie is called Lassiter, and it’s from 1984, a time when Hollywood (or thereabouts) rediscovered the old pulp genre. Blame it on Indiana Jones.


A straightforward caper movie with an espionage twist, Lassiter is set in London, 1939.
American cat burglar/cracksman Nick Lassiter (Tom Selleck) is blackmailed by the Yard and the FBI into burglarizing the German embassy, in order to retrieve 10 millions in uncut diamonds.
Add t the mix Lassiter’s ballerina girlfriend (Jane Seymour), a seductive and debauched Nazi femme fatale (Lauren Hutton), and a Scotland Yard inspector (Bob Hoskins) hell bent on seeing Lassiter in the can no matter what, and the whole set-up suddenly gets very complicated. Continue reading


Other people’s pulps: Roco Vargas

I mentioned The Adventures of Roco Vargas as one of my influences in a post back in 2013, a post I closed saying I’d have to write something about the series.
Well, better late than never, right?

Spanish comic book artist Daniel Torres started writing Roco Vargas in 1983. A specialist in “retrofuturist” settings and stories, Torres referenced streamlined design, Bell Geddes architecture and 1940s-1950s style in his stories.


Roco Vargas, the star of the eponymous series, is a science fiction writer, night-club owner, former space pilot and ladies’ man based in the city of Puerto Bahia. Modeled on classic pulp adventurers, Vargas has a mysterious past, snippets of which we discover throughout the series: he was part of a team of science adventurers, together with Saxxon and Panama Kid, working for professor Kowalski, and they were known as the Space Kids. Continue reading

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More Mummy

Something has been nagging at the back of my mind since I posted my non-review of The Mummy, and finally this afternoon – possibly inspired by the Egyptian-desert-grade heat here where I live – I finally got it.
Because there was something –  the new mummy movie featuring Tom Cruise is actually closer to a “reboot” of the 1971 Hammer classic Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb than than any Universal Mummy film.

We get the lot: the cursed, evil Egyptian queen, the resurrection/reincarnation bit, and the world shattering plot.
Nice and smooth. Continue reading