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.

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.

Spiders on the Silver Screen: Venom and Into the Spider-Verse

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Venom

Rating: 8/10

Tom Hardy’s performance is so powerful in Sony’s Venom that it almost makes you overlook the other half of Eddie Brock (Hardy), the much anticipated, and animated Venom. Hardy’s performance is almost too good! At times it is tough for his character to blend in with the storyline that is running ahead of him.

Moreover, you can tell that Director Ruben Fleischer is meant to work on the film if we reference his previous work with Zombieland (1 and 2), the Gangster Squad. Fleischer takes the film to a different level which I am still uncertain if I really like. Venom is one of the tougher Marvel comics to present on the big screen—Portraying the corky/laid-back (Wait. Deadpool, is that you?) journalist and an alien that acts like He’s from a horror movie housed on the same body –in somewhat of harmony— is tough business. 

Venom is definitely different (and better) than your typical superhero action movie. The movie could pass as an intense thriller with numerous slapstick scenes here and there, which resembles Fleischer’s work as a director. Overall, it is a uniquely (take the word as you wish) directed film with an excellent performance from Hardy. I would not have given Venom such a high rating if it wasn’t for the actor’s performance.

 

 

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Rating: 7/10

The production quality of the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse screams so much more than the movie itself. The visuals are vibrant, captivating, and different in such a good way. Hats off to the animators for showing us guys the comic world through a new set of lenses—What an experience!

The representation of Miles Morales’ ethnicity is genuine and real—The choices of the soundtrack, the family dynamic and the conversations in between the characters deeply represents the world of this new teenager we are all meeting for the first time on screen. There are so many ‘yes!’ moments in the movie: Clever monologues, the representation of Peter Parker as a role model (anyone else notice the difference to the Comic Code?), an appearance of Stan Lee, and the overall message: “Anyone can be Spider-Man”. Beautiful… groundbreaking. I love it.

Why didn’t it get a 10/10 rating from me? I think featuring all the other Spider Marvel characters took the spotlight away from Miles Morales. Yes, MCU—Now that you introduced them, you have material to produce. But, could I have had some more quality screen time with Miles? Yes.