August 2019 Book, TV, and Film Roundup

If I didn’t mind everything to appear as orderly as they really aren’t—I would call this roundup, August: The month of half doing everything. I did not particularly go crazy about anything I watched, read, or listened this month. It was deeply saddening because it seemed like I was wasting my time while running away from wasting my time, especially in terms of my book choice, Caramelo. Next, I began watching The Protector(or ‘Hakan Muhafız’, 2018) a superhero series, but with a Turkish twist. The big screen was rather safe with a late catching up with The Lion King (2019) and a re-watch of an all-time favorite, Coco (2017), at home. I cannot recommend Coco enough; I cry every time I watch it. Lastly, The Red Sea Diving Resort(2019) was a painfully lifeless movie to watch; the plot wasn’t tragic but the movie itself was.

The Shelf

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Caramelo, Or, Puro Cuento (2002) by Sandra Cisneros

The Vancouver Public Library has an amazing system that asks about your intermedia favorites and comes up with an extensive list of books just for your taste. I was recommended this sweet book about a Mexican family that lives in Chicago. They take one of their famous trips to the awful grandmother’s house in Mexico, where the literal definition of a whole family meets every summer. The book is written from the views of Lala, the young girl who watches her mother and grandmother’s power struggle, her quiet father, funny uncles and tormentor cousins. She seems lonely and out of solutions in the middle of it all. She becomes our eyes in the family and navigates through what seems to be a map of family history and shows us why things are the way they are.

Now that you have an idea about the plot, let me tell you about all the reviews I read prior to picking up this book. The readers preach the award-winning author’s poetic way of storytelling and especially Mexican readers, state that they have found a piece of home in it. I am writing this review because I could not get past the first 150 pages of Caramelo. Cisneros is, indeed, a master of words, and you can tell that it comes easy to her. She is extremely descriptive, but it becomes overbearing and unnecessary at times; it even spoils the story. The point she is so eager to make so beautifully  becomes lost as she runs on different tangents. The chapters are very short, they can be called short stories which have a hard time to intertwine. With all due respect, I am a stranger to such a different literary approach to storytelling. I tried to love Carameloand really wanted to relate to the enthusiasm of the other readers—It did not work. Hence, I do not recommend it. If you read the book, let me know what you think below.

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Stan Lee’s Alliances: A Trick of Light (2019)by Stan Lee and Kat Rosenfield

A Trick of Light was the very first audiobook I ever listened; as you might know, I am more of a paper person. Hence, it caught me by surprise to hear Yara Shahidi’s excellent narration. Her voice is very neutral and timeless yet keeps the story exciting. It is also the door to Stan Lee’s world. In A Trick of Light, we follow the origin story of Cameron who accidentally gains super-techno-powers. He, then, meets Nia, a hacker who is overly protected by her father. They take on a journey to find what happened to Cameron’s lost father. On a side note, while the plot builds up toward a love story, we never really get one.

While Stan Lee’s brand is within this book, I have a bit of a hard time believing he has more than a small touch on the details. I believe the story is very timeless because it embodies the long for human connection in an internet-connected world. However, it does not go very far from Ernest Cline’s book that inspired Spielberg’s Ready Player One(2018) in terms of setting up the story and its characters. It is very far from the Marvel plots we are used to in terms of its softer tone and action scenes. Overall, a good little book to listen to when you cannot read a better one. It is a mediocre story though, which makes me refuse to believe that Lee had much of an influence in A Trick of Light.

The Small Screen

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The Protector (2018)

Review based on the episodes 1-3

Before I dive into this review, I want to remind you, the new readers, that I grew up watching Turkish tv series. If you are one of the viewers who watched The Protector  with a dub, now you know that it is produced and filmed in Turkey. I find this bit of information very important because while there is an Oriental feel to The Protector, the Netflix team was able to add a global touch to it. Or, was it Joseph Campbell? (I’ll link an article here about The Hero’s Journey if you haven’t heard about it yet. In essence, it is a global approach to myth-building). Continue reading “August 2019 Book, TV, and Film Roundup”

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.

Continue reading “July 2019 Book, TV and Film Roundup”

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”

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.

December 2017 on the Silver Screen

Without further adieu, let’s dig down to the productions of December.

Thor: Ragnarok

Score: 3/5

I’ll be completely honest, I walked into the theatre with very low expectations for this movie, but it surprised me. I have had the same behavior for every Marvel production since the remake of Spider Man (Homecoming), which was a huge disappointment for me by the way. I do not know what is it that keeps us coming with the Marvel movies. Although I have borderline hated the last few, and they failed to keep me engaged through the whole thing, I keep supporting these productions by simply purchasing tickets to see them (e.g. Wonder Woman, I actually felt bored by the end of it).

Thor had been in my top three for the Marvel superheroes, so I did not dare ignore Ragnarok. The storyline somewhat made me wonder why the developers could not come up with something better than an evil sister, however, the way they placed it into context was clever (Spoiler: Odin has many successes with the evil sister but decides killing is not the right way to achieve power. As a result, Odin erases the past. Crucial Scene: The ceiling breaks apart, revealing the history of these events).

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I did not necessarily follow the change in development and production of Marvel series, however, I assume some significant changes of the stories are influenced by the Disney take over of the studios. The first Thor movie was much heavier on drama, religious references, and especially romance. Referencing Thor: Ragnarok, there are no aspects of romance (Jane is completely out of the storyline nonetheless they only mention her name once), much more inclusive racial characters as implanted in every Disney production, and most importantly, humor. There is much more humor than the amount needed in an action movie. Yes, all Marvel heroes are charismatic and at times too confident or cocky, but their humorous character is not their ‘most important’ trait. Iron Man was known with his sarcasm through the movies, thank you Robert Downey Jr. Deadpool’s previous lifetime experiences simply reflect on his personality as a hero, and we are used to him being the way he is. In my opinion, simply implementing more humour into Thor or any other character all of a sudden, sheds light on their powerfulness. The viewer needs just the right amount. In my opinion, it has been overdone in the last few movies.

As a side note, the soundtrack was delightful and produced a different reality for the action scenes. It almost felt like the power to demolish the enemy came from the song, and it was much like playing the last round of a strategy video game. I have been jamming to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song after seeing the movie.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok had a lot less emphasis on the drama aspect that may not be compelling to all audience members, and put forth the humor aspect to reach more. That does not bother me if the storyline meets my expectations of quality and I do not expect that from the latest Marvel productions. Marvel needs to do a lot more than ‘the appearance of evil sister’ to get there, however, Thor: Ragnarok kept me engaged the whole time compared to the numerous poorly constructed scenes of Spider Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman and sequal to the Avengers. Disney needs to forget about the mere goal of producing as many movies as possible in a year, and aim for better storyline production. Well, I say let’s give Disney a couple more years to familiarize themselves with the super hero world.

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Coco

Score: 5/5

Although Disney fails in the super hero world, I need to give the team their credit on how successful they have been with producing diversity in animation and cartoon. The Princess and the frog, Moana and Elena, all introduced the children of all ages about the skin colors and somewhat took a step beyond breaking the image of white superiority. In essence, this approach seems to work for Disney’s profit, however, it is fairly risky too. It might offend cultures if representation has twitches, and mostly, all are westernized. In Coco, too, the western idea of ‘being yourself’ is highly emphasized, and this may not dare be presented in a collectivist culture like those who are Mexicans.

I loved everything about this production, so first of all, hats off! The main theme was being yourself with sprinkles of appreciating roots, importance of family, and remembering loved ones as the theme song “Remember Me” suggests. The storyline is excellent, and the plot twist at the end shakes the audience all over. I bet all the children in the theatre were as compelled as I was, and I was hysterically sobbing before I left the theatre. Coco gives the audience the hope that we all will meet those whom we lost one day, it reminds us the idea of ‘the waiting room’ that many religions adopt, and the waiting room provides space to watch the loved ones from above as dead relatives wait to get to heaven or hell.

As the story highlights, it is very easy to resonate with ‘the day of the dead’ celebrated yearly. It is based on the same idea that if one’s on earth forget the one’s whom are gone, they fade away. Prayers or the day of the dead are important to implement in our lives, reminiscing memories are equivalent to keeping these people alive in memories. Finally, although it may not always be true, family are bound to support each other.

There was so much to love about Coco. Extraordinary visuals. I will say this that Coco is by far the best visual work that Pixar produced. As I watched Miguel enter the world of the dead, I was astonished by millions of lights that are on literally every single inch-pixel of the screen. Amazing. You can just go and watch this movie for its visuals, but the story line is a bonus! Sit back and enjoy as the beautiful Mexican music sings to your heart.

 

Daddy’s Home 2

Score: 1/5

Will Ferrell in a Christmas movie sounds like a good idea at first but all of us that went to the movie, we, have all been fooled. Newer Christmas movies barely make it in the film market and that is because they focus on the slapstick comedy of it where we watch the main person get his ass kicked or hurt himself. There are some slapstick comedies with clever jokes however, here’s the truth: Dear Mr. Ferrell, Elf was your climax, why not end it there gracefully?

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I do understand this movie is a sequal to the story of two-daddies trying to balance the family relationship out. Four-daddies with no stories, was pushing it. Although I appreciated Mel Gibson’s appearance as a tough-guy who dominates the screen through the movie, it is a mystery why he would even consider playing in Daddy’s Home 2.

I am not sorry for being harsh; This movie deserves way worse. It was a waste of my time, and there are far better comedies on Netflix to get a good laugh.

The Greatest Showman

Score 4/5

Compelling. Musical production on the silver screen is hard work. It is much harder than a production on stage. Stage allows the artists to establish extraordinary connection. The trembling in the artists voice, every breath they take, the dream of the ovation that helps them hit the highest notes. Despite everything that could make me hate this movie, I adored it. There was a standing ovation in my local theatre, as it ended with the graceful quote of P.T. Barnum:

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”.

DF-07341_R.JPGLet me set out my criteria: I am not a huge fan of circus-themed musicals. I expect some dialogue to understand each character, and I do not like it when the producers force a boring musical on my face. The Greatest Showman was both dark and bright, and one reason it is not getting a full point from me is because I could not get enough of it.

There is not a movie that I did not appreciate when Hugh Jackman is in it. He might not have an astonishing musical career; however, he sure does an amazing job delivering the character’s voice. Michelle Williams gracefully accompanies him where the audience witnesses their love story from day one. Again, romance was not overdone. Conflict was not overdone. I could say everything was right about this musical for me. However, it is important to note that many critiques claim the storyline lacked accuracy when portraying Barnum’s life. This will happen either way they portray Barnum because there is much conflict in his own autobiography.

The visuals, performers and the script didn’t have much to complain about for me. I would’ve liked songs that appealed more to the style of 1870s. The attempt to modernize the theme, and musical choices only worked for the sake of Hugh Jackman, and his compelling performance. Give the developers one more year of research and song-writing, this movie would have gotten a 5/5.

I’ll say this; It was an original production and it did a hell of a good job delivering as if I were in Broadway. The Greatest Showman is a must-see.