[Review] The Lion King: How Simba Changed the Fate of Disney’s Live-Action Remakes 

In case you live in a cave and did not notice—Disney is on a roll with the live-action remakes of our favorite stories. It all started with Alice in Wonderland (2010) which had its strong cast bring over a billion to Disney’s thick wallet, entered a decline phase with The Jungle Book (2016) due to its odd tone and mixed reviews, and in my personal opinion, Disney hit rock bottom with poor casting and several other issues by releasing Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Aladdin (2019)The Lion King (2019) directed and produced by Jon Favreau, however, helped Disney’s magic to reach our hearts, again, just like the 90s. Here, I will explain how Disney finally stopped failing the audiences.

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Realism. Once I wiped off my tears coming out of the theatre, I decided to pay my respects to The Lion King (1994) at home and figure out why this animated documentary-like feature film worked so well. The first thing I noticed was Favreau’s attention to detail, and I assure you, he made sure we, as the audience knew about this. Favreau spent valuable effort to walk us through our surroundings, identify the appearance of species of all kinds, and appreciate one of the best (and likely leading) Virtual Reality production techniques within the film industry. Compared to the 1994 version, I could easily appreciate the 2019 feature for its identical yet heightened visuals. As Favreau explains, realism is what makes the film so unique. Ironically, it also produces the magic the previous films missed.

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Music. Better yet, the voice actors have done exceptional work: Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino) gave us the hurt and careless Simba at the same time. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s vocals (as Scar) were the closest thing to a brilliant Broadway performance. But, the real star in the voice work was Seth Rogen who made us all adore a warthog. Despite the never-ending coverage about Beyoncé’s casting on top of her new album inspired by The Lion King, her voice did not shine in the production. I think we are so used to hearing Beyoncé’s strong vocals that Disney music seemed a bit toned down for her vocals. Nonetheless, Favreau managed to awkwardly insert a short section of Beyoncé’s new original, “Spirit” in the film. If you catch the scene, I am sure you will agree that it just seems like a poor editing job rather than an integral part of the movie. Read more

July 2019 Book, TV and Film Roundup

Happy August 1st, AKA Spider-Man Day!

Now that July is gone with the wind, here is what went down: My screen exposure was higher than ever, hat tip to the Apple screen time(r) (I love to hate you). Unexpectedly though, this did not result in an increased number of reviews for this roundup. I spent most of my time watching Jessica Jones (2019), Season 3. I waited about two weeks to start the series… with hopes to delay the binge-watching, and the sadness caused by my favorite show wrapping up. Krysten Ritter nailed this season in so many levels, which I will expand on below. I saw Spider-Man Far From Home (2019) as soon as it came out. It put mind to rest after the destruction that the Endgame (2019) left and it reaffirmed Marvel’s well-thought creative decision about the rise of Spider-Man on our screens. I apologize for not having a review for The Lion King (2019). I promise it is in the works, and I will publish it separately. As I mentioned in my June roundup, I read Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting (2005). An excellent book by a sweet-talking author, screenwriter, and teacher.

The Shelf

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The Foundations of Screenwriting (2005) By Syd Field

As I have been trying to find where I would fit in the film industry upon graduation, I decided to explore whether I can do what I love the most: writing. A five to eight-minute google research led me to read Quora Digest and Reddit, where internet people strictly suggest not spending money on a “how-to” book for screenwriting. They suggest scripts will give you more freedom than the twenty bucks you spend. I didn’t listen to them and bought a cheap copy of Field’s book—I did not regret it, you won’t either.

Field did not write a how-to book. His book put a combination of his memories working in the industry and his lectures in words. In fact, as you read the book, you realize Field is repeating the pivotal sentences in your head over and over again. He really is lecturing you through this book. He wants you to know the right thing, fail a couple times, and return to what he told you again (because the guy really knows what he is doing).

So, what is it that you learned, you say? To recap: Stories can be found everywhere: In a magazine, newspaper, in the people you watch. Before you write the story—know the beginning and the end. Have a clear map, and you can play with the path. You capture the story by capturing your main characters. Write a biography for them, know what they would do in certain situations. Let them drive the story forward, otherwise, they are insignificant. Have plot points that change your direction along the way but keep your map in mind. Finally, take the hard responsibility of writing despite its challenges – These important points are only to name a few.

The 300 pages or so taught me more than its worth. So, believe me, when I say it is important for you to read this book if you don’t want to lose your way. Field also talks more about self-doubt, the real deal about creativity and licensing and selling your screenplay. But, he does so in a way that feeds you information while still making you feel like you are listening to one of his greatest stories. A fast read. A must-have. A Bible.

 

The Small Screen

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Jessica Jones– Season 3 (2019)

 What a journey it has been for Jessica. In a way, it has come a full circle. During the first season, he fought a mind-controlling, rapist and psychopath, Killgrave. In my opinion, this is still the best season to date. In season two, she fought her own mother, then, came in terms with her. She saw her own mother die with a bullet in the head, shot by Trish who is also family. In particular, I did not enjoy season two a lot. I am not necessarily sure why—But a guess might be because the mother-daughter duo did not feel as organic as it maybe should have. However, now I realize that season two planted the seeds of Trish, showed us her previous battles with addiction and harassment, and her desperate need to feel empowered. In a way, season three had both Krysten Ritter (Jessica) and Rachael Taylor (Trish) share the spotlight. We didn’t see much more about Malcolm’s character development or at least it wasn’t a driver of the story for this season. We started understanding, even emphasizing with Hogarth and the loneliness that is killing her.

Read more

[Short Story] Placed Upon the Horizon

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Photo Credits: beenhereseenthat.wordpress.com

She took the same pathway she always did that day while many preferred the library on West Georgia St. She couldn’t take the lung sucking, dark walls anymore. At the end of the pathway, right there, she saw the man-made waterfall that sprinkled a few drips on the marble steps she intended to quickly climb. She felt… refreshed and said to herself, “The best in town. It doesn’t get better than this”. She was right, it was right in the middle of the tall piles of bricks.

She found her spot on the stairs at the very top. Carelessly slamming her messenger bag on the ground, she took out a crammed stack of papers, some discolored, a couple perfectly white, and placed them on her lap to grab a bite of the crab apple she brought for lunch. Before getting her pencil to do its magic, she took a look towards the Art Gallery standing across the marble stairs, with stairs of its own, so gracefully. Her eyes followed the engraved phrase below the roof of the building: Placed upon the horizon (Casting Shadows). “Sounds Biblical”, unimpressed, she said it out loud this time. On her right, there was a woman worshipping her coffee, trying to place her phone at the right spot to update her social media feed. “Similar things”, she thought. Read more

June 2019 Book, TV & Film Roundup

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June was a quiet month for screen exposure. Well, at least the second half of it. I have a special someone visiting me so, I assure you that there will not be any complaining. This also makes up my much-needed excuse for posting a June roundup on the second day of June, rather than the first of it. While I thought these roundups would keep the blog alive when I did not know what to write about, I also realize now that they also keep me somewhat accountable. I love deadlines. I am past my deadline. Well, let’s talk about all the great things in life. Books, TV, and film. Here we go.

The Shelf

I have been mainly busy with reading research articles, extending my own research article, and editing my thesis. I managed to get my hands on a second-hand copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (2005). It is an excellent read that is beyond a “how-to” book so far. I never got to finish it so, I’ll postpone the review to the next round up. What I did finish though, is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take on Black Panther, A Nation Under Our Feet (2016).

 

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All images belong to the rightful owners.

 

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (2016) By Ta-Nehisi Coates

I remember reading an article by the ex-Atlantic journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates prior to making the decision of picking up this comic book (Note that I have not read his take on Captain America, yet). The article talks about the mixed-feelings of producing a story that has been created by a predominantly White team of comic producers, Coates finding his purpose through taking the challenge, playing with a new voice and potentially making that voice sound better for many. I was curious to see how Coates re-introduced the previously primitive Black Panther (see, Fantastic Four #52) and whether the same criticisms made for the movie (2018) could also be traced back to this comic. Coates’ Black Panther actually received all of those criticisms in the comic itself: T’Challa was selfish, he was not heard by his nation, and he, perhaps, hurt his nation because he saw them as a burden rather than an honor.

The main plot revolves around the people of Wakanda attacking their own King. On the surface, they are controlled by a woman with supernatural abilities, however, Coates’ sets up the greater problem underneath, that is caused by the heaviness of T’Challa’s crown. While the enemies plot against overthrowing T’Challa, he fears his greatest challenge of failing Wakanda. Coates’ way of telling this story is beautifully poetic, complex, and one that houses an interplay of many messages. His take of the Black Panther is not actually a book of physical war but the fearful war within the King. It is nowhere close to a primitive representation, but psychological warfare that pushes T’Challa for reconsidering his ideology. It is Black Panther refreshed, yet not one that forgets history. I suggest you get your hands on it and read it. Then, read it again to truly appreciate the story behind every word.

The Small Screen

 

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All images belong to the rightful owners.

 

How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) (2019)

I don’t know why I will stamp this show as mediocre yet but… I will anyway. Netflix caught me on its main page trap when the show was first released, I did not have anything to watch at some stressed point in my life and pressed play. I did not binge watch this show, rather, went back to it whenever I was desperate. Don’t get me wrong, it is wasn’t a bad show per se. It was just a real-life, coming of age story that had minimal sickening events (see, episode 8… I think), and not so sickening references to the dark web (I was forced to watch a YouTube video talking about the dark web so, I hate talking about the dark web).

The plot is about Moritz, whose girlfriend just got back from an exchange program from the US and questions the meaning of life (thanks to the drugs, hence the title of the show). So, Moritz decides to sell drugs to win her back and surprisingly makes a lot of money to fuel his greed. I don’t think the growth of Moritz’ online drug business is so typical, but the show accurately represents the German young-adult culture and the effects of the wide use of drugs. The show also deserves an A+ for its use of simplistic cinematography and tech-inspired graphic components. Overall, is it a waste of time? No. Is it an amazing show? No. Read more

Playing God: Marvel’s The Punisher (2017)

Author: Muammer Tuncer
Editor: Hazal Senkoyuncu

 

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Visual Credit: Karina Rehrbehn (on halfnakedbanana.tumblr.com)

 

The Punisher (season 1) opens with Frank Castle’s troubled past that haunts him in his every waking moment and quickly establishes the overarching narrative of the show: Revenge. And, of course, it comes with pain.

To recap the series: Frank Castle’s family is murdered. He seeks revenge for those who are responsible for killing his family. His mission also reveals bits of his past throughout the series. While Frank is thought to be dead, Agent Madani follows Frank after spotting him on the news, spending her screen time to find the man of mystery. It is revealed later, that the murder of Frank’s family was part of a larger conspiracy, which then changes the direction of the series. This is exactly when the unstoppable action of The Punisher begins to unravel.

There are several flashbacks that play in Frank’s head: His wife and kids’ murder in front of his eyes, excerpts of Frank and his friends inside a military plane to Afghanistan, his friend Jigsaw’s betrayal. These moments build up the alter ego of a vengeful vigilante, or in Bernthal’s (who plays Castle) words, “He ain’t got a fucking cape. He ain’t got any superpowers. He [just lives in] an unbelievable world of darkness and loss and torment”. The Punisher certainly is a band-aid story. Frank cannot cure his own pain, so he numbs it. And, his substance is the vigilante work that pulls him out of the deep sadness.

Karen (Daredevil’s strong-willed blondie journalist) fights for Frank’s good intentions and truly believes in him. Her character is already established in Daredevil and the Defenders, and she continues to be the Marvel TV’s moral compass in the Punisher. Her role as the love interest and damsel in distress reprises as Jigsaw uses her in a trap to reach Frank. The scene reveals what Karen and Frank have been on the contrary: They have an unspoken, skinny love for each another.

The series revolve around the judgment of Frank the Punisher. Perhaps, he is playing God. In a world where the bad guys walk around the block swinging their arms, Frank is the justice. It would also be fair to say; Frank portrays a superhero misunderstood. He isn’t really a superhero; he is one of us. What makes him so different is his big heart, unbelievable courage, powerful character, and endurance.

Note from the Editor: This is the first collaboration featured on Hazal’s Camera. I would like to thank Muammer for jumping into writing his first review without a doubt and letting me help him in the process. While I love talking about media, I also want this website to be a platform that can house different opinions. I am looking forward to future collaborations. You can email me at hazalscamera@gmail.com with all of your ideas (travel, news, film-tv, books, personal reflections, etc.).

May 2019 Book, TV & Film Roundup

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. Read more

Disney’s Live-Action Aladdin: If it wasn’t for the Genie…

Copyrights: Disney Studios.

With its agenda focused on the live-action reenactments of its all-time classic films, Disney’s Aladdin followed the recent Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo films to find its spot in the local theatres. Anyone who watched the animated Aladdin would agree that it is a risky choice for a live action adaptation. The 1992 Alaaddin was the greatest dance of colors a screen could ever house in itself. During the Disney renaissance, Aladdin was the film that made the second highest profits for Disney.

There are some things that need to stay in their initial artforms to meet up and play with our imaginations. 1992 Aladdin will always be one of those films for me. For this very reason, I had low expectations from this remake. I have more than a few comments to make. So, let’s start, shall we?

The Good
The scene in the cave that built up to Aladdin‘s iconic encounter with the Genie was spectacular. Yes, we have the green-screen technology here in 2019, but not one ever granted me a time travel with the green screen before. The particular scene was a favorite of mine. It also marked the point in which Will Smith (or “the genie”) took the reins of the film and started dominating the screen, leading us through the mystical possibilities with a sense of humor.

I have to admit, I never really liked Will Smith’s acting choices. The guy is talented, but his films never really spoke to me. Alaaddin, though, is the proof that you can put Will Smith, an animated monkey, and a carpet together, and keep a crowd entertained. He often outplayed the rest of the actors (not— Menna Massoud*) and erased them off of the screen for me. Production-wise, this is bad, but Smith surely deserves praise. It is not his fault that the casting didn’t work out the best, right?

*I have never watched Menna Massoud in any other productions. To me, he did not lead the film, but he seems to be a promising actor. While I could see many of the characters easily replaced by someone new, Massoud’s energy and visuals brought the animated Aladdin to life. If there is ever a sequel, Massoud’s portrayal holds a promise to be iconic.

The Bad
Both the accents and non-accents made me cringe. Why is it that the two lead characters have smooth accents? Why is it that the rest of the cast is speaking with unnoticeably noticeable accents that just hang in the air? I am confused. I am also not sure if this is a move by the production team to make the exotic film somewhat politically correct, or they were simply scared of criticism. What do I think? Time for a reality check. This is obviously an ethnic story re-made for profits. You can’t walk away from criticism and you obviously will offend people. So, make a choice and stand with it.

I adore the original Aladdin soundtrack. My long-time musical theatre experience often makes me give mediocre reviews for the on-screen musical adaptations. I can’t say I adore the re-make soundtrack, I can’t say I hate it. It is okay, which sounds like an insult to such great music. This is mainly because of Naomi Scott and the ensemble, that really failed to thrill me as I had hoped. Disney films, to me, are made complete by the ensemble in every way. Sadly, I did not see or hear it in Aladdin.

Let’s get to Jasmine’s solo. It finally revealed the complexity of Jasmine’s powerful character. The song was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether Celine Dion was singing it. Seriously, close your eyes and tell me I am wrong. It did not nor will it ever fit into the classic soundtrack. It is a great attempt at girl empowerment but absolutely fails to represent the Middle Eastern roots of Aladdin.

The Ugly
There are different opinions about the origin of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’s story, but the common knowledge is that it is from the Arabian Nights. It was painful for me to see this identity crisis throughout the film. The ruler is the sultan, there are notions to the Arabic serai (or palace) regime, and it greatly reminds me of the prime time Middle Eastern tv shows about the Ottoman Empire. And on the other hand, I could swear the costumes and cinematic angle of the happy dancing is out of Bollywood. The intention seems to be directed towards inclusivity. Sadly, my eyes I couldn’t see that. I saw a mish-mash of different cultural figures put together, and it was chaotic.

Should you see Aladdin? Absolutely. Set your expectations low, but as Aladdin says, trust him—and the genie, of course.

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