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

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. Continue reading “June 2019 Book, TV & Film Roundup”

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. Continue reading “May 2019 Book, TV & Film Roundup”

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.

[A Review] How to Recover After Avengers: Endgame

The following review is spoiler-free, but my comments may get you thinking about possibilities, I suppose. Read at your own risk.

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Patiently sitting through the end credits, being handed over tissues, sobbing a little more, waiting for the post-credit scene that I know is, definitely, not happening.  I wish I hadn’t seen the movie for a while longer.

Avengers: Endgame is Russo Brothers’ best work yet. A majority of the viewers would agree that we were heartbroken, but not disappointed. Marvel Studios have given us what we asked for: The end of a hero’s journey. So gracefully representing what it means to be a hero: Selfless and brave, as mythic as it can be, but also vulnerable and honest about their fears.  There is also a touch of Disney’s magic as the movie drove the overall notion, “I will die trying if it means I am serving the ones I love”.

Endgame completes the Infinity War, yet, is a distinct, special, emotionally-charged experience. In a way, it puts more sense into the rollercoaster ride of the Infinity War. The three hours are absolutely made use of, well-transitioned, and necessary to unravel the narrative.

The film does a good job of digging deeper into character development which is so different from what we are used to within the origin stories and follow-ups. Our superheroes change, they are broken, and finding their way back doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll showcase their punches and kicks, but rather it is a journey that almost fixes their brokenness, and gives us, the viewers, some relief at the same time.

There’s so much more I would like to address in terms of cinematography and representation, however, I’ll let this experience sink in a little more until I get to it. And the question of how to recover after the Endgame? –I suggest appreciating what the franchise had given us for the past 10 years and the Endgame experience as a whole. Keep in mind, the MCU has a history of great resurrection and we could only hope for one last one.

This may be my love letter (back) to Lee, Feige, The Russo’s, Favreau and Downey. Thank you for gracefully fixing our broken parts. I cannot see the Endgame projected onto the screens any other way.

Lee’s Legacy and Feige’s Vision Hits the Box Offices: Captain Marvel

The following article was first published on Mars’ Hill Newspaper (Vol. 23, Issue 10) under the title of “Captain Marvel”.

Captain Marvel just dropped into the theatres of the earth from the Kree Empire. Mind you, she is from the 90s—so get ready for the nostalgia-packed soundtrack while you watch Brie Larson kick ass!

Since its opening night March 7th, Marvel’s newest release, Captain Marvel, has received a variety of criticism. Some say she is the embodiment of a male prototype in a desirable female body, others claim Carol is the superhero they never knew they needed more of on the silver screen, especially after the debut of Wonder Woman.

The mastermind Kevin Feige, whose vision built the Marvel Studios from ground up (thanks to Iron Man!), spent a budget of $152 million on Captain Marvel’s production and doubled the studio’s profit with a record-breaking $455 million worldwide in its first weekend. This is a grossing more than the totals of any three-day opening of a motion picture this year.

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There is a question worth answering: To what does Captain Marvel owe its success?

Unlike Stan Lee’s legacy of comic book inspired continuity, Captain Marvel welcomes newcomers with Carol’s origin story and doubles that with cues about Fury’s past as well. On top of the complexity of his character, the young Samuel L. Jackson is a delight to watch on screen (thanks to the blockbuster’s make-up artists!). Even though Fury is not the tough authority figure we are used to seeing as the leader of the S.H.I.E.L.D., he still plays a crucial role in stirring the storyline, and he is a living reminder that the actor has a huge role in creating a legendary character.

A common criticism and a generalization was that Carol Danvers, and the rest of the female superheroes, were created on the basis of “girl power” and while doing so, the character was still masculinized. Masculinization might be a way to empower female superheroes, but it is definitely not the only way. I see Marvel’s Carol Danvers as a success because as powerful as she is, she is also emotional. She is a woman who is confused about her past, where she stands in a fight, and what she believes is right. Through her journey of self-connection, she navigates her confusion about what she stands for, and she regains her faith in her own strength. She is a powerful embodiment of what women go through today. Brie Larson’s character certainly does not deserve the harsh criticism she received upon the opening weekend.

Captain Marvel is also the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s response to the demands of the public. We are more concerned about diversity than ever in an era that grounds itself on acceptance. Whatever the reason may be, be it for publicity or expanding their audience, the women in Captain Marvel are fully-clothed, colorful, and beautiful yet vulnerable. These are the stepping stones for a long-awaited perception change for Marvel’s cinematic audience, and we are excited and in it for the long haul.

 

Captain Marvel Doodle: Thanks to Sierra Ellis.