Tag Archives: orientalism

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 diminishes 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

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.