Welcome to the first Roundup of Hazal’s Camera. I’ll try to keep this as a monthly ritual. Let’s dive in.
The month of May can only be described as a blessing and a curse. I finalized an intense period of summer courses, followed by an intense period of free time. The North American culture subtly rewrites your DNA and convinces you that you need to be busy all the damn time. So, my free time called for a lot of binge-watching, and it was beautiful.
Let’s start the roundup with books, shall we? I promised myself that I would be reading one book a month. The apple era took this pleasant activity away, and my thesis research gave it back to me. I started with Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type (2017). It was my every bus read from school or internship. It became my companion when I laid down on the grass. It had many stories that literally pulled you in, and some that didn’t but nonetheless, it is was a nice companion for May.
In the TV zone— I started with Defenders (2017) hoping that I could revisit my love for the series Jessica Jones but definitely loved the plot despite the fact that it mainly revolved around the Iron Fist. Next, I went through a series of emotions watching Jane the Virgin (2014-). It is definitely a cheesy romance show or “telenovela”. I regretted wasting the vast of the plot away all so quickly once I found out that the series was set to finish this year. I honestly loved this show. I guess I am a hopeless romantic, after all.
None of the film productions really wowed me this month. I watched the live action Aladdin (2019), it had a couple problematic representation patterns. In fact, they weren’t problematic, but rather, clearly wrong. I won’t get into it again in this post, but you can see my full review here. Next, much anticipated (and advertised) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019). I watched the film on the first day of release. I am one of those young adults who watched Zac Efron in chick flick blockbusters in the past, but his portrayal of Ted Bundy really wowed me. The film did not though, and I will explain why. Finally, I watched what seems to be Jon Favreau’s passion project Chef (2014). Sadly predictable, and an okay movie.
Uncommon Type: Some Stories (2017) By Tom Hanks
A while back, I have seen this book on the recommended pieces table in a local bookstore. I never judge a book by its cover, but I do judge it on its author (e.g. I know that someone will inevitably die in Nicolas Sparks novels, and I know that celebrity-authors make me cringe). So, I read numerous “meh” reviews about Hanks’ first debut and I read the book wearing an extra set of judgemental glasses. The bottom line: Hanks’ writing does not have twists and turns that will shock you. But, it’s more like a sweet push and pull combination. The stories grab on to you and they won’t let you go until you see the very end… but you never really see the end. Without giving too much of it away, I think that’s what makes Hanks’ writing so real. You know that the characters are somewhere out of this book, and they continue to live.
All of Hanks’ stories house a cameo of his typewriters and actually teach you a little about them too (specifically in These Are the Meditations of My Heart). Right in between the stories, we, readers, are introduced to Hanks’ alter ego, the very-opinionated journalist Hank Fiset. I will say he reminded me of your grumpy old bookstore owner who hates technology. And, the 20-some-odd-me could easily relate. I should be careful when I say this—While there were some stories that echoed Hollywood romance plots, Hanks versions were distinguishable. Sadly, I did not like Christmas Eve 1953, as many did. I liked Three Exhausting Weeks but thought it was just an ordinary flick until I read the later stories that built on to what was only a start.
Some of my favorite stories were A Junket in the City of Light, Welcome to Mars, and The Past is Important to Us. Hanks was giving us all an insider’s look to the demanding press tours with A Junket in the City of Light. And, interestingly, from a male actor’s perspective, who is just getting into the industry and has to work in a powerful female figure’s shadow. It really was a fun piece to read, that I am sure, was also charged with reality. Welcome to Mars is one of those “is he going to die?” stories. I might be a little dramatic… but it did remind me of the movie 127 Hours (Oh boy, it was so good and stressful. I loved that movie). I felt the pull that I was talking about in this story the most. Finally, The Past is Important to Us is a literal product of Hanks’ imagination, which we might get to experience in the future someday. A rich businessman who has everything travels to the past, falls in love with one thing he cannot have, and he cannot stay. This was by far the most compelling story, my heart ached.
If you are not a reader, I still recommend this book. Putting aside the couple stories that were just okay, I think it is a great companion on the bus, the beach, or whenever you can set 10 minutes aside.
The Small Screen
The Defenders (Season 1)
Defenders was a highly anticipated series for me as the rest of the streaming heroes Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage individually built up to this master story. It felt like a reward getting to watch the series once I finished individual backstories. *
The transition from the individual series to this assemble didn’t feel as organic as I would have liked. Perhaps, it was because these independent and strong-willed heroes never really wanted to work with one another. Once we see them all sitting together on a round table (King Arthur, anyone?), the series start feeling right and drive the viewers in. Arguably, the plot spends a long time trying to figure out what is going on and the last few episodes finally give you a still-not-so-deliberate answer.
While Marvel productions often charge the plot with action scenes, Defenders puts a higher emphasis on real-life problems, relationship conflicts, and the ego. Luke Cage’s presence in the series speaks for the troubled Harlem youth and represents their reality, rather than the socially-constructed one that we choose to believe. Matt Murdock is faced with his supposedly dead lover Elektra and he is trying to bring her memories to save her from the evil that she turned into. Elektra directs the plot throughout the series and arguably, she is the one giving us all the twists. Jessica Jones and Danny Rand are the two that channel their egos but in different ways. Jessica is insecure, and in a way, the Defenders get her back in the game. (While I want to make a non-biased comment about Danny Rand and Iron Fist, I’ll stop here until I get myself to watch the series).
While I expected my favorite vigilante Jessica Jones to have much more input in the Defenders, I still loved this assemble and the unusual team dynamic they have shown. As for now, we do know that the Defenders season two is not happening (I know. I am sad, too.). I highly recommend this show, but, only after you complete the individual backstories. It is definitely a rewarding screen time.
*Note that I have not watched Iron Fist as I was highly prejudiced about the plot, “rich-guy gaining mastery over Asian/Eastern traditions”. I will not make any other comments about it, but if you have any valid arguments as for why I should watch Iron Fist, leave it down below.
Jane the Virgin (Season 1-4)
Jane the Virgin begins telling the story of Catholic-raised Jane and her artificial insemination that results in a miracle pregnancy. As the story unravels, the viewers find out why her so-called flower is so important to Jane, how she is raised by a life of the party young-mother and a rather conservative grandma, or “abuela” (yes, the show made me practice Spanish). In the surface, it looks like the plot arches around the decision that Jane has to make between her first love and the baby daddy. But that is not all there is.
The series allows us to get in the head of an organized, list-maker, and over-thinker Jane Villanueva, who is a woman of color that deeply wants recognition as a writer. There are many more complex characters: Her long-lost father Rogelio de la Vega with his ambition the bring telenovelas to the U.S., the evil Petra Solano who, we later find out, can be good, and the baby daddy Rafael who is the guy full of emotions and he inevitably drowns in them. These people do not vaguely change with a plot twist, they are just very-well knitted, complex characters.
While Jane the Virgin is your typical telenovela, it is not your typical tv series. It is the fresh outlook to the same old themes, the breath in the midst of chaos, the cry for a voice of the colored people in the industry tied by a crime narrative that tangles and untangles them all together.
The Big Screen
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
First of all—thank you, Netflix, for not taking in Ted Bundy as a vague horror-genre movie. It seems to me that the film is more reliant on his girlfriend Liz Kendall, which makes it more compelling. Throughout the movie, I kept anticipating blood, but there was none of it. The plot gives you enough room to wiggle in your brain until the hearing scenes. From then on, you have factual information and your own imagination to feel disgusted as you would like. I really appreciated how they chose to tell this story, and I hope this, in some way, honors the victims.
Bundy’s appearance and charm are what seems to make people second guess themselves and is also a slap in the face. A recent review of the film mentions, “Beautiful people cannot be murderers”. We certainly think that, and it is easy to assume, isn’t it? Zac Efron’s portrayal creates the perfect Bundy. John Malkovich gives an amazing performance as always. Lilly Collins’ acting is very dull (but, I am sure accurate to what a real-life victim would feel) up until the very end of the movie. The movie never really feels like it’s building up to something until Kendall visits Bundy years later. To me, the climax was right in the end and it fit well.
While the movie could have gone in many different directions, it is somewhere in between a blockbuster and a festival movie. There are facts, never an opinion. An audience compelled by Bundy, but never really a voice that can push us to really hate him. While Efron’s portrayal was fit, with such great acting there could have been more to this movie. I did not love it, but I could have easily loved it.
The Chef (2004)
When I heard that Favreau was coming to Netflix with his own cooking show (no intention to sound reductant), I knew I had to watch this. It obviously is a passion-project, supported by Favreau’s Avenger-friends Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. who make appearances here and there. Carl (Favreau) is a chef who has to work under the restaurant owner and does not have creative freedom in the kitchen. Carl quits his job right around the same time that he also needs to bond with his son. You probably can guess the rest, very predictable.
The movie goes on while Favreau and his son take a family trip together and reframe Hollywood’s over-cooked kitchen stories that often revolve around love. There was great footage of food, Spanish music, road trip sceneries. My movie rating rubric often depends on one question: Would I want to watch it again? The answer is no. Predictable.