Tag Archives: tv shows

[Series] Strong Female Leads to Follow on Streaming Giants: Self Made, Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker

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IMBD Score: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Self Made (2020) is a limited web series that recently premiered on Netflix in March 2020. It is made of 4 episodes that overpass the life of Madam C.J. Walker. The premise of the series is very straight forward: search of identity. Before she is Madam Walker, our protagonist is an abandoned widow who washes laundry to keep the stove running in the house. The hardships of life return her… hair loss. Shortly after, a mulatto saleswoman shows her a product that makes her hair grow. It works magic because then Madam “C.J. Walker” has a boost of self-confidence and she meets her second husband (C.J. Walker) that gives her the iconic name. The rest of the story illustrates her struggle to start her own hair business and exist with this new independent identity between the 1880s and 1890s. Spoiler alert—Madam becomes America’s first Black, self made female millionaire; she also has had a mansion next to John D. Rockefeller’s! (Thank you OprahMag.)

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While a limited web series makes an extraordinary story like Madam Walker’s accessible globally, there are surely stylistic comments to be made. Self Made aims to be a genre binding series between a historical drama, and documentary series. However, the combination is not smooth, and it makes awkward storytelling at times. The audience wants to feel for the characters and the series does not let such a connection happen. This may also be due to the great impression of x (as Madam C.J. Walker), as the character increasingly distances herself as the story progresses. I would have preferred to observe the darker side of it all from episode 3 and onwards; Instead, episodes 3-4 show the audience truly begins to see Madam shine. The storytelling is so focused on the greatness of her success (as Madam also was at the time), that the audience cannot take a step back and feel for her.

While there is more than one production company involved, the show definitely carries the heaviness of Warner Bros Television most. If you watch a number of WB films, you’ll know what I mean. The set décor and gloomy cinematography beg to differ but sadly gives a fictional Harry Potter World vibe upon the opening of episode 1.

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Self Made has many contemporary details—from the soundtrack (great selection), to inner circle struggles (as illustrated between the Madam and the mulatto saleswoman Addie), as well as a topic I want to focus on specifically, the queer identity in the late 1800s. Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter, A’Lelia Walker,  was shown to be queer in the series. While diversity in TV is happening more today, as it should be, I have a hard time believing A’Lelia’s portrayal to be true. According to Harlem renaissance dancer Mabel Hampton, “There was men and women, women and women, and men and men, and everyone did whatever they wanted to do” when A’Lelia took over her mother’s business in Harlem. In the series, A’lelia’s coming out is so smooth that it seems to undermine her experience not to take the attention away from the line of action that the show requires. However, I must note that Tiffany Haddish (A’lelia) steals the show in the last two episodes, and she makes a great figure alongside the ever strong Octavia Spencer (Madam C.J. Walker).

Self Made is a mini informative series that has many problems to undermines the true power of its story. It is inspiring yet disappointing as it fails to meet expectations.

January 2020 Book, TV, and Film Roundup

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It’s been a minute since the last time I did one of these roundups. So, I decided to welcome February with one! Now that I am a person who has the occasional free time, I get to write a little more. I still have an academic project I am aiming to finish within the next month so, I will juggle between that and the blog.

The Shelf

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The Disney Fetish (2014) by Seán Harrington

How do I dare critique this book when there’s such deep research put into the psyche of Walt Disney the man, Disney the company, and conclusively, the influence on the society he (or it) aimed to effect? Let me first give you a back story. I ordered this book online in August for the sake of exploring a study similar to my scholarly project (analysis of several films made by a franchise in a way that challenges the hegemonic view). The premise of the book is interesting however, shortly after I started reading it, I pushed it as far away as possible.

I came back to this book in January, hoping that I can observe how the author structured the selected topics and introduced them in his book. This may be personal—I felt that the author, Seán Harrington, solely based his arguments on the Oedipus complex, aka the psychoanalysis that I think, has no connection to the feminist theory whatsoever. According to Freud’s Oedipal view, the mother does not have a phallus which denies her the adoration of self-image. I do not understand the logic, nor do I think arguing solely through this one deficient theory is enough for this book. I like the never heard of insights about the formation of the Disney company as well as Walt Disney’s potential psychologically damaging family experiences (which mostly entails Chapter 2 to 3). However, I think the author could have made his point in 40 pages easily.

Putting aside my disagreement with the author’s findings here is what I think: Overall, there is some good research and interesting facts about Walt Disney himself. However, the book is repetitive and seems to go back and forth between targeting academics versus average pop-culture geeks; there is some confusion about the audience. Sadly, I pushed through The Disney Fetish but, I do not recommend this book.

The Small Screen

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The Goop Lab (2020)

Dear women everywhere, watch The Goop Lab! Rumor (or the paparazzi) has it, Gwyneth Paltrow ended her acting career recently, and is focusing her energy on her lifestyle brand “Goop”. Paltrow started the brand back in 2008, which connected with women through weekly email newsletters. I say women because I do think it initially started with the idea of targeting and helping women about their psychical and mental wellness. However, Goop also has a small men’s section on their website that talks about stress-release, helpful recipes and much more. Alright, now that I am done with what seems like brand promotion, I’ll get to the gist of it (I promise I recently discovered about this lifestyle brand just like many of you and I do not have enough readers to promote a brand).

In The Goop Lab series, Paltrow and a powerful set of women try mushrooms, different and potentially risky diets as well as cosmetic applications. They also talk about the uncomfortable like female pleasure. There have been several criticisms about the show– specifically ones claiming it gives “bad health advice”. As the beginning of the show indicates, there is information that needs to be taken with caution in The Goop Lab. The way I viewed the show was similar to the way I watch vloggers. I watched women trying things and sharing their experience with us ladies who are curious. The content is a little different than your typical YouTube video though. The Goop team stayed vulnerable and shared relatable experience. Not every episode was great, but I found the series worthwhile for us ladies who may not spend much-needed time on their wellness. The Goop Lab is a great treadmill companion or a sleepover watch with good friends.

The Big Screen

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Jojo Rabbit (2019)

The very first time I watched Jojo Rabbit I thought it is an excellent film because it shows Nazi Germany from a satiric point of view. Taika Waititi most definitely tackles a topic that has been done many times before and considering the fact that Hitler ruled 70 years ago or so makes the film a risky choice. While the racist practices are engraved within the minds of many, identifying with the struggles that had happened during the Third Reich’s rule could still have been problematic for younger viewers. Taken these into consideration, Waititi accomplishes a hard task making Jojo Rabbit a hit.

I hardly have negative things to say for this production, but I also struggle to praise it too much. I think the brutal realities that the Jews had to go through are not reflected enough in this film. However, at the same time, this is okay because the premise of the movie is about the Nazi Germans, how the youth idolize and even adore Hitler and the adults who fight for peace while existing inside the system. To recap Jojo Rabbit quickly, Jojo is a Nazi German boy who is a member of Hitler’s young army. Quite frankly the story isn’t limited to that; Hitler is Jojo’s best friend (or imaginary friend). All Jojo wants is to work for Hitler until he finds out his beautiful mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Jojo Rabbit is truly about the power of propaganda. The film provides an insider’s view about how the redneck, uneducated, or naïve youth view the war, which is something we are not necessarily used to seeing on screen besides the heart-wrenching dramas.

In terms of the acting, there isn’t much to say—Jojo Rabbit has a talented cast. However, Scarlett Johansson truly shines and even steals the show during her limited appearances in the movie. If I say so myself, 2019 was the year of Johansson (See my review for Marriage Story (2019) which Johansson shares the spotlight with a thought-provoking performance alongside Adam Driver). Since Johansson ditched the pretty girl stereotype, her acting skills are at the forefronts. Rosie (Johansson) is a beautiful woman whom the men watch out for on the streets. However, her portrayal is complex—she is a mother who wants her son Jojo to turn around with his own will as she tries to support his young army involvement while showing him that peace is the solution.

You might like Jojo Rabbit because it has a different angle, or you might hate it for the same reason. I’d suggest you see the film and decide for yourself. While my criticism is limited and I cannot find much fault in Jojo Rabbit, it may not be one of those compelling films simply because it trades the dramatic effect with satire.

Comment below what you think or suggest a movie, tv-show, or a book you’d like for me to review! If you like reading posts like this one, consider getting me a Ko-Fi here. Thank you for reading and see you next time.

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

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. Continue reading

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.