I know you’re broken, but can you hurry up and fix yourself?

I know you’re broken, but can you hurry up and fix yourself?

Addressing issues of mental wellness cannot follow a timetable. Each person’s process is different for a reason. Addressing your problems is a huge win, but healing is not a sprint. Instead, it is a marathon covering an undetermined amount of distance. The closer you get to no longer fearing your issues, a finish line can appear on the horizon. But I don’t see the finish line yet, which doesn’t worry me. I see a lot of fog ahead as I wind through this unpredictable terrain.

What I don’t need to hear now is that I need to get to that point of healing faster to appease someone else’s timetable. You can’t will people into loving you, so why would you demand anything different when they’re working hard at addressing years of shitty motivations and behaviors?

I don’t know how I feel about making “getting your shit together” a group activity, especially in an office environment. I’m not sabotaging my health now with poor dietary choices. My new meds are working, despite issues of “waning” in diabetes. Not having access to Ozempic right now pisses me off since it was working, but some asshole is promoting its weight-loss capabilities, and now there’s a run on these injectable pens! But I digress. My A1C number is down from the awful high of 11.1 and into single digits again. To give you an idea as to why this number matters: An A1C above 9% increases the risk of long-term diabetes complications like blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure. Under 7% is considered reasonable diabetes control. I’m currently at 6.8%

Chasing the food dragon is my biggest addiction worry, but I feel good about this progress. The last time I hit that single-digit A1C level, I acted like, “The war is over! Back to Casa Garcia for some ultimate nachos! Extra cheese and sour cream!” Or, “Let’s hit the pasta bar again!” Yeah, that won’t be happening for a long while, if at all. This struggle during the time of COVID nearly wiped out my resolve entirely. My goal is to be under 5.6% when I retest in three months, which is considered normal. (Provided the other tests involving my liver, kidneys, and pancreas do not reveal some hidden complication, of course.)

Yet, the rubble representing my past excesses remains quite a disaster zone. That’s causing me additional worries, which I won’t divulge since it is none of your business. If I seem like a ghost of late, it is because I see the damage in a new light, and it fucking haunts me. I hate what I see lurking, and my self-control still abandons me when I’m emotional or frustrated.

Someone asked me where my imagination lies these days. I didn’t have an answer. I can’t see what I want for my life once I clear this health hurdle. I know what I have now isn’t enough to piece back together this unmoored sense of body and mind. It is why I’ve traded comfort media to replace my using comfort food as a soul-soothing remedy. I bristle at the command, “To get my shit together already.” I am, dammit. But I am digging my way out on my schedule. Why can’t some people understand? Why does it also have to be about them? Is it selfish to expect patience and care, not receive tough love and a “hurry up already?” It makes me want. to scream, “I’m sorry if my effort to heal is proving a drag and inconvenience to you!”

Treading water at the shoals is not fun. I’d rather be on solid ground, and sooner or later, I will be standing on terra firma. I’m tired of endlessly finding soft places to land because it is easier. I acknowledge that self-destruction is not a solo reality because it does create collateral damage. That well of care and support does run dry with some people, and I’m sorry for pushing the limits of their concern to such unnecessary extremes. It ruined one of my closest friendships, which I miss every day. And I’m sorry to make people worry, but I am not doing this without professional help. I am listening.

I knew this process would be complex once I took it seriously. Change is not for the weak, but it can lead to incredible new freedoms and modes of creative expression if you hold on to your well-being with a firm grasp. I’m not alone in living in a mixed-up world. But as Sophie Ellis-Bextor sings in Mixed Up World:

So when you’re feeling kind of mixed up
Just remember, it’s a mixed-up world
And when you’re feeling life is just too tough
Just remember you’re a real tough girl

Trust you’re tougher than you know when you feel your weakest. It will pull you through.

Then again, maybe I will.

Then again, maybe I will.

Think about who you were before you discovered socialization. That steady beat of your self-appointed drummer defined you once. I never needed my parents’ validation, as I had three other siblings vying for their attention. I found a willing audience of one, amassing a tribe of books from the library, magazines spinning tales of the city of New York. Between memorizing the lyrics to Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” listening to rhapsodies colored blue, and mimicking the moves of girl groups supreme, who cared about the outside world of an aspirational bedroom community that was Pico Rivera.

Once you enter the Thunderdome of public school life, you learn quickly what the kids will or won’t accept in the schoolyard. Waxing lyrical over drum solos on rock stations KMET or KLOS was okay, but telling your Little League teammates that the drum hit in “Perón’s Latest Flame” from Evita was not okay.

I chose to hide, seeking approval by adopting their likes. It wasn’t me, choosing instead to encase myself in an armored suit of fat and fur to shield myself from standing out from the crowd too much. Amazing what the portly and jovial trope can do for you once you know the right words for people to hear. You become huggable, adorable, non-threatening, always brandishing a quip, and never the one who gets kissed in the rain. I would stay in that lane for a long fucking time, too long.

As I make my way over the hill of my mid-50s, I am revisiting the books that marked my pre-teen and early teen life, books written by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume. Their combined insights into what it was like being an adolescent in the 1970s and 1980s spoke to me quite loudly. Danziger’s “The Cat Ate My Gym Shorts” and, especially, Blume’s “Blubber” and “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” helped me feel understood by someone close to me. It bugged me that most of the books of this genre focused on the social and gender problems endured by girls. What about the boys? (While Blume did pen “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” as an answer to the success of “Are You There God…,” it didn’t quite fit the bill enough.)

The lead characters of the Blume and Danziger canons found their strength in family and friends by the final pages, reaching a plane of understanding, evolving just enough to support the life lessons of these often compelling and universal narratives. (Even being a first-generation-born Latino in the suburbs east of Los Angeles did not exclude me from these books. Oh, the feelings I found validated by Blume and Danziger’s prose still give me goosebumps today.)

Much has changed in how we deal with social Thunderdomes today, and much remains woefully the same. We still bully, a phenomenon that hangs just as poorly on adults as it does on kids. (Maybe it feels even more savage today, given the speed of how quickly we post our negative comments against one another.) As I stumble through my ennui with the world, I feel perhaps it is time to revisit that younger me and give him a different context.

Perhaps the full circle moment I’ve been looking for is to start at the beginning of a creative life shaped by the books and stories that ultimately helped refine my voice. When in doubt about yourself and the world, perhaps that is when you must create something and express yourself.

I’ve been listening to this one track from Sara Bareilles quite a bit. It’s called “Little Voice,” and its chorus felt like lightning bolts of truth to me:

It’s just a little voice
And if you’re listening
Sometimes a little voice
Can say the biggest things
It’s just my little voice that I’ve been missing

Big or small, I can’t wait to start this journey.

What if…?

What if…?

I have to write this down, or else I will embark on a downward spiral of epic freaking out. I was working, sitting at my desk while minding my business when what appeared to be a spam call logged into my phone. Nothing unusual there, not even seeing that a message was left. I was about to delete it when I read the text, and it seemed to be about a medical referral. Not Spectrum, not an unauthorized Amazon purchase needing approval, which is usually the case these days. No, the folks at City of Hope needed me to schedule an MRI and a consultation with a gastrointestinologist to review the results. I called back without a moment’s haste.


Mind you, I had an ultrasound earlier this week to check the elasticity of my liver. The tech, who seemed to spend a long time on one section of my abdomen during the examination, asked if it hurt when she pressed into said area, and I said, “No.” I didn’t register any cause for alarm, but after speaking with the hospital this AM, I feel a bit freaked. I returned the call to schedule the appointments. Neither order was listed as “urgent,” so a mid-December date was decided and locked in. “Merry fucking Christmas,” I thought to myself.

Did the ultrasound trigger this need for an MRI? Maybe, but I haven’t heard from my endocrinologist yet. I entered the lightning round of the “What If?” game when every fear about medical procedures became a question.

“What if it’s a tumor?”

“What if it’s cancer?”

“What if it is something horrible?”

Sigh.

Seriously, how many more of Mom/Dad’s health gifts am I going to get?! Hahaha. Can I still return them without a receipt? Since my infamous blood panel in July, I’ve minded my diet and health choices with extra care. No, what’s happening is the collateral damage of years gone by catching up with me.

I have a new blood panel scheduled this week, as it is time for a new A1c. I think it is going to be a lot better than July. The next Lipid panel isn’t happening until late December. I see this entire situation as a reality check, by being inconsistent with my diet/health choices, I merely slowed down the damage, not stopped it.


Cue Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiimmmeeee.”

Remarking “aging sucks” isn’t going to cut it now. What sucks is being so willfully ignorant about what my body can and cannot is gnawing at my brain now. I’ve known since 2010 that I developed type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol issues, the Latino Medical Trifecta. At least I’m not dealing with being 274lbs, which remains the heaviest I’ve ever been. I can’t imagine dealing with that on top of everything else. I’m exhausted by feeling nervous and unsettled. I finally reached a point of acceptance that these health issues are a part of my daily life. I opted for making room for better choices as a daily routine. I acknowledged their presence as being here to stay. I decided not to give them too much attention, to not dominate me or become an obsession. It isn’t just about losing weight and looking amazing. It is about longevity and being responsible for a better, healthier self. Now I’m nervous and unsettled again.

I told a friend I had no choice over the next steps. But, in reality, I do. I can remain willfully ignorant and enjoy the fuck out of my life as so many men have done in my family. Several are no longer with us, taken from us early by the conditions I am fighting now. This war for my health and sanity will not claim me, dammit. I’m the progeny of survivors. Let that show me the way to whatever is next.

Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing.

Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing.

It was a humbling moment, but in the cold light of the pandemic, I realized my reasons for wanting big social media visibility were unfocused and half-hearted at best.

Enough already.

Writing and interviewing remain my best strengths, the outcome of attending journalism school. Structure matters in all storytelling; everything must possess a beginning, middle, and end. Context matters, but we prefer to focus on capturing isolated moments, each carefully curated and filtered but often devoid of profundity or purpose. It exists merely to engage the eye, maybe titillate a few people and little else until the next image makes its way onto a profile.

In the mad dash to amass followers, we became lemmings, often regurgitating or repurposing the same videos other people did, usually worse in the process. Yet, we view them, tag them, share them, and keep the cycle going until the next trend takes over. Or, we keep repeating the same clips or mime the same dialogue from popular films, TV shows, dances from music videos, and other art made by other people to show what? How spectacularly good are we at being copycats, devoid of any real discernable talent? (If I see one more person wearing a white wig to become Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada one more time…!?)

Oh, and the punditry of it all. Those people who need to constantly weigh in by commenting on the news, pop culture, whathaveyou. Pundits ruined mainstream journalism. Now the water cooler or barstool is a global comment box with effects, music, and often scabrous banter that offers little in terms of analysis or depth. Scott Z. Burns’s script for Contagion (2011) featured a statement I’ve never forgotten.

Jude Law as blogger Alan Krumwiede in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film “Contagion.”  Photo: (Claudette Barius / Warner Bros.)

Elliott Gould’s character, Dr. Sussmann, admonishes Jude Law’s character, conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede, with this blunt fact: “You are not a writer; a blog isn’t writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.” We’ve endured countless real Alan Krumwiede’s since then, like such wicked performers as Alex Jones and Candace Owens, people who will say and do everything for attention, deliberately misinforming others to stir the pot, even if it poisons people. All to live, earn money, and have the power to do it again!

No, I won’t be returning to the socials any time soon, nor will I promote this page in any fashion. The noise I found on social media created such anxiety I became angry at myself for letting it affect me so profoundly. It exists for me to unload what is taking up space in my mind. And it is helping me cope with the unease I feel with our world by having a creative space to deconstruct my feelings, strengthening my ability to communicate as a writer again in an honest manner.

I still value the importance of conversation and sharing, but I want to control the message better by not using external approval or validation as a catalyst to write. So much insight and inspiration can be found in education, understanding the rules and mechanics of writing and communication. Investigating and digesting the works of fabled writers from the past can impact the present and future!

In this era of “The Follower,” we affirm the truth that “We are What We Consume.” Eat empty calories; you will fatten up and atrophy. Consistently wallow in the bile and snark, our souls will darken as the algorithms spew out more and more of the same on your feeds. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but what about creating something new and unexpected? What about crafting narratives that enlighten and inspire, not perpetuate hateful Reddit myths and conspiracies to justify an evil agenda?

I accepted seeing myself more as possessing a big personality than a performer when I first walked onto a stage to act in a school play. That wasn’t the attention I craved; I wanted to be heard and visible. To a certain degree, that remains true today, but how big or small an audience is doesn’t matter to me. If only I read this blather, that’s fine with me, too. Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing. Not everything needs to be said or visualized just because you can’t handle the silence or void. But if you’re going to do it, make it something more than just a pale imitation of what’s been done before.

God, imagine what we all will look and sound like in 10 years? My mind reels, but I remain hopeful.

I can’t go back to before.

I can’t go back to before.

I am doing my damnest to maintain my health and mental wellness. I don’t have a timetable, just an urgent need to not fail this time. I need to see proof that all is moving in the right direction. Appointments, ultrasounds, blood panels, and follow-up appointments, it’s all part of a team effort, one that I respect and understand a bit better this time around. My body can’t withstand my fucking around with it anymore. The effects of diabetes and high cholesterol will be savage. Plus, I don’t want to shorten what can still be a fulfilling life. My brain, however, is not limitless in its capacity to be creative at the moment.

I know I can’t shirk certain realities as a producer/interviewer in my other life. But I understand the importance of boundaries, of not continually accepting projects to further someone else’s agenda.
The need to evolve in this pandemic reality continues to weigh heavily on my mind. I am stumbling through so many emotions as I sort out what path I want to follow with the clarity struggling to make its way forward. It needn’t be something dramatic; that’s not real life. No, a simple lane change would do me good. I don’t think I have the resources for a total reset. But, a subtle shift away from what the status quo could mean, preserving the wellness balance that many of us deserve to pursue today.

Watching people who stand by you as your inspiration to move forward is curious. They can also be the most terrified once they see you want to move forward. It’s even harder when they fear you want to move away from them. But it is a necessary choice when rebuilding yourself to become the person you were meant to be.

Now I sit with different faces
In rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
Some are here and some are missing
In the nineteen-nineties

I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be

From “Being Boring,” written by Chrstopher Lowe & Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys

I’d rather you ignore me than dismiss me.

I’d rather you ignore me than dismiss me.

Self-isolation does and doesn’t seem like a bad place to me of late. Sure, I miss the social gadfly fun of days gone by, when I was scheduled within an inch of my life. I was desperately trying to outrun the flaws I hoped people wouldn’t have time to recognize. But, that false self merely entrenched himself so deep nothing short of a nuclear missile could blast him out.

My false self is more like a six-year-old with a loose tooth. I just need a thread of floss and a door handle to tie it to, then slam the door super hard. Cue the Tooth Fairy (False Self Fairy?) to give me that quarter for getting rid of him once and for all. Flush that tooth down the toilet and move on, son.

Perhaps the harsher reality is knowing people don’t want to hear what I have to say. That Collective of Strangers known as social media doesn’t matter to me as I’ve cut those ties. The best part is knowing my anxiety level is dipping below red for the first time in a long while. Yet, when I dare to engage in conversation with people closest to me in person, I find their attention span taxed before I can even finish a thought. They dismiss me with a curt, “I have to make a call,” or worse, cut me off with nary a thought as they mock what I had to offer.

My younger brother is an expert in making people feel small or intellectually inferior, something I think he enjoys when I’m the chosen target. That’s when I lapse into total silence. Another key figure in my life waves away my cultural references or favored topics of conversation with such ease it is no longer a wonder why my often-Herculean efforts at sustaining mental stability are so challenging. It is also better to remain silent with him, but then I’m subjected to statements like, “What’s wrong?” This constantly checking of the baby’s temperature only sets me off. The vicious cycle of being told, “I’m selfish, self-destructive, a narcissistic sociopath that’s hurting them,” then rotates with enough energy to power a Texas suburb. Even with a busted ass grid!

This weekend hurt a little, particularly after being a witness to two inspiring works of art, a double feature of a play and a documentary, both dealing with the search for signs of intelligent life on Earth. I think it is better to bask in the glow of how good it felt to be challenged by the things that bring me joy, like theater and film, fueling my desire to express myself, even if I’m reaching an audience of one: me.

Sooner or later, that spiritual door, the one with the bloody string of floss, will slam shut again, keeping the negative forces around me at bay as I walk towards a different path of fulfillment and enlightenment. As for those who choose to dismiss me? Better to ignore me. That silence you fear, of being unheard or adored, will be a telling reminder of what, no, who you let slip away.

“At the moment you are most in awe of all you don’t understand,
you’re closer to understanding it all.”

From “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” by Jane Wagner

Cecily Strong in “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” by Jane Wagner @ Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles

And Just Like That… I Am 55

And Just Like That… I Am 55

Today, I am officially 55 years old. That’s (still) the legal speed limit in some areas, but I’ve never been interested in sticking to it in terms of living my life. I had to get THERE, wherever THERE was at that moment. Now is an excellent time to think about HERE or where I am today.

I did attempt to stop and look around from time to time, but that just meant having to allow specific thoughts and realities to make themselves known in my head. Demons remain my chosen go-to passengers on this ride and for as long as I can remember. Food. Spending. Status. Validation. Funny, I rarely viewed love and companionship as priorities at the beginning for being too dangerous. Neither stayed very long on the passenger side when it did happen. The demons made sure of that, like damn sure.

Friendship and family remain my favored angels, and thank heavens for them. Otherwise, I would have intentionally hit the cosmic center divider a long time ago. It always seemed like a surefire way to shut those demons down for good. But they’re resilient little fuckers.

Emma Caulfield as vengeance demon Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Demons sound cute to me in a post-Buffy world, all latex, make-up, and effects. Fear is something, well, scarier. Fear exists as my twin because I LET that happen. I’ve known Fear as long as I’ve known myself. Every fall on the sidewalk, every perceived failure, the bullies I let get in my head and under my skin. These exterior forces which tormented me as a kid were NOTHING compared to what I’ve done to myself over the years as an adult.

But I’m still here and for good reasons.

Not to let the demons share my airtime but to shift focus away from them. Maybe even speed up the breaking up process already. Every minute I refuse to succumb to fear is a significant victory. Choosing not to sleep away the day is a cause for celebration. Cooking a healthy meal on my own and not consuming one designed to keep me sick is a source of jubilation. Trying to find ways to spend ALL of my hard-earned coin to make myself sound or look attractive is a thrill on par with a musical’s overture when the curtain rises.

These are not gifts but the tools to find a sense of balance, contentment, and especially hope. I possess them and more because I’ve learned to understand the importance of such devices. Yet, Fear still distracts me or, more often than not, kills the desire.

Not today.

From Stories of Cinema at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

As I look around and take in the view of 55, I see all that the demons, Fear, and that annoying cousin Depression seek to absorb and destroy. That cannot be without my help, at least. Do you know those first sparks cast to start a campfire? Writing this feels like that, trying not to let moisture or wind snuff out what can lead to something bright and warm. You fan the embers too much; you smother the flame.

From Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse at LACMA

Words, music, films, art, design, and photography are all selfless acts of courage. It still takes courage to be queer, to not be part of the mainstream, to be one’s true self today. To exist as a gay Latino remains an act of defiance, no longer allowing oneself to hide or blend in with the herd of scared masses. We know what Fear can do to an individual in their quest for betterment. We see the power of Fear in a group. Start one lie, and create a mob of terrified people to disavow truth, science, and logic.

Someone sent me a meme with the legend, “I picked a stupid time to be alive.” I laughed at loud. Then again, this is also a time NOT to be stupid. I’m not alone in recognizing how emotional paralysis stems from what we consume in terms of information, social media especially.

It would be easy to live out one’s life like a 21st-century Miss Havisham, hiding amongst souvenirs of a perceived better past. That’s not an option in a world determined to live on the defensive about everything. Why beat yourself up about where you’re supposed to be in this life?

At this moment, I am encouraged by being 55, albeit cautiously. I’m not sure what tomorrow will be like or the day after that. Will I have personal stumbles and moments of shrill assholeness? Probably. Whatever happens next is always up to us. Forward motion isn’t always about avoiding the past. We have to avoid being defined by it. When I find the courage and clarity to stop and admire the view again, I have the hope and excitement that what I see will be different, empowering, and still delightfully the same.

Now, about that one-man show I keep threatening to stage…

xJc

Carreón Cinema Club: “Lightyear”

Carreón Cinema Club: “Lightyear”

How much did I love “Lightyear?” Quite a bit.

In this era of instant, gleeful takedowns, social and mainstream media punishing this “Toy Story” spin-off for not reaching Pixar’s usual box office heights is the more significant disappointment in this narrative. “Lightyear” gifts viewers, especially adults, a chance to breathe and appreciate a thoughtful story. Armed with Chris Evans’s rich vocal performance, “Lightyear” deserves a look for its poignant story, beautiful visuals, and the element of surprise in terms of its characterizations.

Now that the film is being re-launched on Disney+ starting August 3, “Lightyear” may finally break through the pop culture barrier. Criticisms that the film is not linked strongly enough to the “Toy Story” universe are unfounded. The device that “Lightyear” is the film that ignited the toy line character is all you need to know, and it is enough. The rest is a loving tribute to space film odysseys, big and small. (Even James Cameron’s “Aliens” earns some prime real estate!) 

Photo: Pixar/Disney

However, one of the things I appreciated most about “Lightyear” is the humanity of its characters. Buzz’s rigidity, determination to right a terrible wrong, and stalwart loyalty to those around him make for such rich storytelling moments. Evans commands the screen, creating a Buzz that stands on his own. (And yes, he still hits a few notes that recall Tim Allen in the “Toy Story” franchise for purists.)

As for the unnecessary fury over the same-sex kiss involving his best friend and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) and the character’s wife? Relax. It is part of something organic and integral to Buzz’s emotional journey. That people turned this thread into a “pearl-clutching” moment sanctimonious “outrage” is not only offensive but ignorant.

No, the true power of “Lightyear” is its view of a world its creators attempted to realize beyond the toy. That they chose to reflect today’s multi-culturalism, not a homogenized future, gave me a reason to smile. Imagine having films like “Lightyear” when many of us were growing up? Seeing ourselves in the entertainment we favor does speak and inspires volumes to a generation that champions this art form. 

Last thing: If you do not connect with Peter Sohn’s vivid performance as Sox, the robotic cat that functions as Buzz’s Watson to his Sherlock, you’re made of stone. 

Directed by Angus MacLane, and written by MacLane and Jason Headley, “Lightyear” stars Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Bill Hader, Uzo Aduba, Efren Ramirez, and James Brolin.

“Lightyear” is now showing in cinemas, premiering on Disney+ on August 3. 

Carreón Cinema Club: “It Could Be Worse” Edition

Carreón Cinema Club: “It Could Be Worse” Edition

At last, the Carreón Cinema Club returns, and it only took being placed in quarantine before a shoot in CDMX to make it happen. Sitting in my hotel room these last few days, the theme of “It Could Be Worse” began its slow development in my brain.

El Ángel de la Independencia in CDMX as shot by J. Carreon, 2022.

Viewing a large amount of negative content on TikTok and other social media platforms could only add fuel to this fire. The Troll Patrol turned yet another harmless place into a burn book about anything and anyone. Screaming heads dominate social media narratives, another variation of the pundits who ruined mainstream news with their constant diatribes of hate, anger, and “this is why it sucks” vitriol.

If TikTok stood as our only source of information, the unpleasantness and unhappiness of Generation Whine would manifest itself with an algorithm of “content” that wilts one’s ability to believe in hope if you look at it long enough. Couple it with the “woke” and “cancel” threads, and you’re soon freebasing kitten videos to preserve your humanity. Anyone with a phone could use this power for good, not let the alt-right scream at the world with their often libelous and ludicrous dis-content.

Yes, it can be worse unless we stop the flow of misinformation and the endless lunacy of Kamp Karen videos to find reasons to create and not hate. (And, for the record, having a smartphone makes you as much a journalist as a pundit makes you an “expert” on any topic if you’re snarky or loud enough.)

Thus, as I sat in wonderment in my aerie above Paseo de la Reforma in CDMX, I pushed aside thinking over how fucked up we’ve become as a society. Instead, I began to mull over the films that could illustrate just how bad things can get unless we all pull our asses out of our heads long enough to deal with the weapons of mass distraction threatening our ability to evolve positively. Ergo, behold the “It Can Be Worse” edition of the Carreón Cinema Club, starting with the end of the world as depicted by Peter Watkins’s seminal film, The War Game.

THE WAR GAME (1961)

Produced, Written, and Directed by Peter Watkins

Narrated by Michael Aspel and Peter Graham

Paul Freeman as Dr. René Belloq in the 1981 classic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Once Kate Bush started “trending” thanks to the thieving Cultural Belloqs at Netflix ruining a good thing in the name of marketing, the 1970s and 80s never felt so omnipresent as they do now. Wars, nuclear threats, insane dictators, inflation, the gas crisis, and other nightmares threatened lives on Elm Street, alright. We were ready for the unforgettable fire to descend upon us, a fear ignited and realized with intent by the Mad Max films, “The Day After” and “Threads.”

But then again, it wasn’t the first time art harnessed the abject horror of humanity, letting stupidity get its way with nuclear bombs. In 1964, the BBC engaged award-winning filmmaker Peter Watkins of “Culloden” fame, a documentary covering the 1746 Jacobite uprising, a narrative presented as a parallel to the ongoing Vietnam conflict. Based on its success, the network turned to Watkins anew to craft an episode for its “The Wednesday Play” series. The innovative filmmaker delivered The War Game, a withering pseudo-documentary film chronicling the effects of nuclear war on Great Britain. Watkins, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, presented his work to a gallery of executives reacting with apprehension and panic, which government leaders also felt. The War Game wasn’t just shelved but censored by today’s standards. It did earn a token theatrical release instead of airing on the network. The BBC stated publicly, “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting. It will, however, be shown to invited audiences…”

A scene from Mick Jackson’s seminal 1984 nuclear war drama, “Threads.”

Following its presentation at the National Film Theatre in London and several leading international film festivals, The War Game would earn the 1967 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Curiously, the film remained an elusive relic until 1985, when it was televised by the BBC to a mass audience, honoring the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. This time, it would air before an encore presentation of another iconic and harrowing nuclear drama, Mick Jackson’s equally devastating and award-winning telefilm, “Threads,” first broadcast in 1984.

Viewing The War Game today, you will see what unsettled the BBC executives and politicians at that time. Unrelenting due to its brevity, the hour-long documentary spares no one’s feelings or sensibilities in its raw and accurate depiction of the human and environmental costs of a nuclear exchange. Shot with live news precision by Peter Bartlett and an uncredited Peter Suschitzky, viewing the catastrophic effects of detonating missiles in real-time in such a visceral manner gives you pause. People asphyxiate in the heat, their eyes melting, or their homes lit on fire by the proximity of the blasts. Watkins left much of the horror to the viewer’s imagination, using graphic descriptions in the voiceover versus graphic visual effects.

Shot on location in and around the towns of Kent, Watkins chose an ensemble cast of non-actors, adding a sobering layer of emotional power to the verité style of the film. What will make you want to shout are narration scenes recorded by Peter Graham, coupled with Michael Aspel reading the quotations from source materials from actual and fact-based government and religious sources. At times conflicting and surreal, the visual parallels further illustrate how unprepared Great Britain, politically and socially, will only make you wonder if we’ve progressed at all.

As the war in Ukraine rages on with surprising support for the MAGA-inflamed populace, The War Game takes on stronger resonance today, if that’s even possible. Yes, friends, it can be worse if we allow such hateful rhetoric to excuse away the evils that are not ready to leave us alone.

I purchased a VHS copy of The War Game years ago off Amazon to complete my legendary collection of nuclear war-themed movies. You can now buy the Blu-Ray version (coupled with “Culloden”). Also, check your local library or indie video store for the DVD of The War Game, and search YouTube and Vimeo for the full-length presentation.

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)

Directed by Val Guest

Written by Wolf Mankowitz and Val Guest

Cast: Janet Munro, Leo McKern, and Edward Judd

1961 Theatrical Release Poster

Chances are you’ve already experienced the century-mark temperatures baking the nation. Still, think climate change is bullshit? Remember that when cities burn, infrastructures fail, and people die from the heat that’s not showing signs of abating. Yet, the topic of a burning planet is not a new one, either. I distinctly remember watching a telefilm called “Heatwave!” on ABC, chronicling a young couple’s desperate escape to the mountains from the growing heat of a big city. First broadcast in 1974, it was TV’s answer to the disaster movie trend. So, where is this leading? The award-winning 1961 sci-fi classic known as The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

While it’s more a cautionary tale about the perils of nuclear proliferation, it lists why we still argue about what we’ve done to overheat this planet. What happens in Guest’s film is tragic and mindblowing in science and fiction. Yet, hearing people bitching about the heat and the state/energy companies’ inability to keep the power grids from shutting down makes me want to make them force watch what could be worse.

True, the conceit of The Day the Earth Caught Fire is the result of what happens to the planet’s orbit thanks to the US and USSR detonating giant bombs on the same day in both the North and South Poles. But when it starts to get hot, the planet reacts unexpectedly, leaving its citizens scrambling for any relief or survival.

What I love about the film is that it centers around how a group of Fleet Street reporters at the Daily Express break the story in the first place, as well as other believable human drama involving the principals, Edward Judd, Leo McKern, and Janet Munro. More, real news editor Arthur Robin Christiansen is prominently featured in the film, adding a nice layer of honesty to the film. The urgency of visuals illustrating water rationing, the burning of London landmarks, and other tragedies make the film a sobering viewing experience.

Edward Judd in “The Day the Earth Caught Fire.”

Far from being a quaint black and white film of the 1960s, Guest deploys an arsenal of effects and human emotion to give the film its resonance. Even the ending is unexpected by leaving the planet’s fate unresolved. Although, it is humorous that the original US release featured an augmented ending of the sound of ringing bells, indicating that science might have spared humankind from being BBQ’d. By the end, however, you’ll respect the sun’s power.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire is available for rent and purchase on most major streaming platforms.

NUEVO ORDEN (“New Order”/2020)

Directed and Written by Michel Franco

Cast: Diego Boneta, Mónica Del Carmen, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Fernando Cuautle, Darío Yazbek, Eligio Meléndez

2020 Theatrical Release Poster

Much of the industrialized world faces a widening gap between its socio-economic classes, leading to erratic and alarming shifts in political ideologies with high consequences with each election. Mexico’s economic chasm is no different and gaining further volatility with the rise of American gentrification in its capital city and other parts of the country. The Mexican-French production Nuevo Orden sought to unleash an uncompromising “what if” scenario with wildly uneven but impactful results.

Following its award-winning premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, earning the Grand Jury Prize, the arrival of Nuevo Orden during a pandemic seemed like outrageous misfortune. The appearance of its trailer, featuring images of POC taking over the white elite enclaves, earned a harsh backlash of racial stereotyping in its home country. Despite its acclaim from critics worldwide, citing the film as being powerful and timely, the film continues to earn negative colorism commentary in its post-release life.

Directed and written by Michel Franco, Nuevo Orden chronicles the lives of an upwardly mobile family impacted by the rise of the underprivileged in Mexico City. The effects of class warfare go from the micro to the macro as the invasion of the family’s wedding event is projected upon a canvas of a violent coup. What seemed to be an explosion of one’s group’s frustration with the status quo is painfully revealed to be the machinations of a government seeking to establish a military rule.

Designed to provoke and challenge the safe and paranoid sensibilities of viewers not paying attention to the current news cycle. Franco’s narrative hits individual buttons by focusing on the destruction of the privileged and entitled classes, leading to why hailed as necessary by many of its champions. Unfortunately, Franco loses control of his narrative with the revelation that the military is behind the coup, undermining the more important message of social divides. Unlike Bong Joon-ho’s groundbreaking “Parasite,” Franco cannot sustain the foreboding tension in this clash of economic classes to a gut-punching finish, despite its many bold attempts otherwise. Regardless, as speculative fiction, however, Nuevo Orden does successfully visualize a world of devastating change that could be possible given our current state of affairs in the US and worldwide. Yes, folks, it CAN get worse if we ignore the signs.

Nuevo Orden is now streaming on Kanopy.