The Carreón Cinema Club: Election Day Edition

The Carreón Cinema Club: Election Day Edition

If you’re like me, this Election Day is all about comfort food and comfort movies. If you need to break away from the pundits & prognosticators, here are the Carreón Cinema Club’s Top Five Election Day Movies to help steady, or jangle, your nerves as we await the results of a lifetime.

  • TED (2012) – Feeling the need to bust a gut, look no further than Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar-nominated hit, TED. One of my favorite R comedies ever, the image of a trash-mouthed, alcoholic teddy bear is perfect for tonight. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, prepare for a case of the moist fuzzies thanks to MacFarlane’s pitch-perfect voice performance as Ted. It’s for anyone who needs a thunder buddy tonight.
  • THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) – One of my favorite films ever, George Cukor’s 1940 classic THE PHILADELPHIA, is as perfect a comedy as you’ll ever see. Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart in his only Oscar-winning performance, this is a film to treasure thanks to a screenplay that is practically music to your ears. Classy, legendary, and funny in its depiction of class, media, and marriage, you will swoon away the anxiety in no time.
  • WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988) –Tap into the pop kitsch of Spanish iconoclast Pedro Almódovar’s first mainstream hit, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. This Spanish-language comedy from 1988 reveals how far an anxious woman will go to get a call back from a straying lover. A hilarious look at relationships and gender, you’ll be ignoring your telephone as election updates start coming in.
  • NETWORK (1976) – If you need something a little more substantive, why not Paddy Chayefsky’s brutally funny but accurate look at media with NETWORK. Directed by Sidney Lumet, this prophetic movie details how a last-place network taps into the era’s popular rage with outrageous and tragic results. Featuring William Holden and Robert Duvall, it is the Oscar-winning trio of Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch, along with Chayefsky’s script that makes this film a classic for any media age.
  • Z (1969) – For the nihilists just looking for a cathartic release, may I suggest Costa-Gavras’ Z, a dark and chilling account of Greek politics following the assassination of a Greek political leader. Inspired by real events, Z’s representation of the event’s aftermath, including a mass cover-up and a coup d’etat, is sobering and all-too timely. One of the first films to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Foreign Film Oscars, winning for the latter. Unforgettable.

Hang in there, mi gente. We have each other for whatever happens next. See you on the other side of history.

The Carreón Cinema Club: “Ninotchka” (1939)

It was essential to start the broadcast reviews from the Carreón Cinema Club with a comedy because we need a laugh.

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in a scene from the 1939 MGM comedy, “Ninotchka.”

I also wanted to showcase a film from the past that continues to inspire and engage audiences today. I ran through my favorite film eras, and the minute I thought, “1939,” I knew what I had to do.

What was so special about 1939, you ask? Not much, just that it was the year audiences witnessed future classics galore, including one of my favorite films ever, George Cukor’s “The Women.” And how about “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and, of course, the legendary and still controversial “Gone with the Wind?” Yes, it was a monumental year.  

I knew a museum piece would make your eyes glaze over. Nor did I want to pick a title that would encourage “cancel culture” discourse. The chosen film was one I saw, finally, for the first time thanks to Turner Classic Movies. Ergo, 1939’s leading romantic comedy, NINOTCHKA, kicks off the Carreón Cinema Club.

Starring the legendary Greta Garbo in her first real American comedy, NINOTCHKA remains a classic film thanks to its famed star, a winning ensemble cast, its peerless writing, and the deft directorial “touch” of Ernst Lubitsch.

Let’s take a look.

Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and the soon to be legend himself Billy Wilder, NINOTCHKA is an elegantly rendered satire of clashing ideologies, including gender, sex, capitalism, and communism.

Garbo stars as Nina Ivanovna “Ninotchka” Yakushov, an incredibly severe Russian envoy, itself a send-up of her previous dramatic personas on screen. Sent to Paris to retrieve the jewels of a deposed countess in exile, Ninotchka instead finds herself questioning her commitment to the Soviet cause thanks to the city’s charms and, mostly, the persuasive romantic attentions of the playboy Count Léon, portrayed by Melvyn Douglas.

I’d wanted to see this film for years but never got around to it until this summer. The lively banter between Garbo and Douglas, the absurd situations experienced with glee by a trio of other failed agents, and the biting visual commentary of life in the Soviet Union in that era is all spun into this delicious confection with substance.

What truly made me fall in love with this film was its famed scene between Ninotchka and the count in a Parisian blue-collar diner. Determined to make her crack a smile, Count Léon tells Ninotchka a slew of jokes, all of which land with a resounding thud. Her analytical mind keeps taking the piss out of his stories, frustrating him to the point of giving up. Then, it happens.

As the count beats a hasty retreat to his table, he trips on a chair and goes crashing down. The whole place erupts in laughter, including his steely Russian paramour. To witness the stunning Garbo bust a gut with delight is a huge turning point for the character. More, her glee is infectious for the viewer, too. I couldn’t stop laughing, rewinding the scene several times because it made me laugh out loud. To be frank, it just felt good. It’s ridiculous and human, all at the same time.

NINOTCHKA goes beyond the time capsule because it’s a perfect mix of all that we want in romance and comedy, with something for the brain, too. The film’s commentary on the Soviet Union takes up much of the final act, which speaks volumes for what Americans thought of the “Red Menace” before entering World War II. It’s not a pretty picture of communist life, dry and drab, but strangely warm at the same time. It is striking when watched through the prism of 2020, given how much anger American society felt for years. While Russia is still a hot button today, it has evolved into something more dangerous and polarizing. Nevertheless, you will gain an appreciation for how the film juggles spoof with sophisticated humor. Lubitsch was a master for a reason and worth investigating further once you’ve enjoyed NINOTCHKA.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Garbo’s 4th bid), Best Original Story (Melchior Lengyel), and Best Screenplay, NINOTCHKA would be shut out by the “Gone with the Wind” juggernaut. (Believe it or not, director Ernst Lubitsch didn’t warrant a nomination at all. And for all her cinematic might and acclaim, Garbo never won an Oscar ever.)

The glamourous fizz of NINOTCHKA reached further potency thanks to MGM’s legendary promotions and publicity team. Best slogan? “Garbo Laughs!” spotlighting her switch from drama to comedy. Runner up? “Don’t Pronounce It – See It!”

In the end, it was a bittersweet achievement for Garbo as the film was her penultimate effort. While she had worked with Douglas before in 1932, MGM was quick to pair them up again for another comedy, George Cukor’s 1941 effort “Two-Faced Woman.” Unfairly roasted by critics, Garbo found herself labeled “box office poison.” She would not return to the screen again. Instead, one of the cinema’s most enduring faces chose to stop acting at the age of 36, hiding from public view for the rest of her life.

The legacy of NINOTCHKA endures, however. Famed composer Cole Porter would set the story to music with the 1955 Broadway musical “Silk Stockings,” itself made into a film in 1957 by MGM with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse playing the leads. Still, the original remains the finest interpretation, one meant to be rediscovered and appreciated.

While the film is not streaming for free now, keep an eye out for it on TCM as it frequently appears on the channel. You can also rent the movie on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu for a nominal price. Better yet, check out the DVD collections at your local public library or visit the wonderfully eclectic collections at Vidiots in Los Angeles or Vidéothèque in South Pasadena.

Thanks for watching this first edition of the Carreón Cinema Club! Subscribe! Follow me on Instagram (@CarreonCinemaClub) and Twitter (@CarreonClub) for more content!

Keep on watching, mi gente!

“What a week in Spain can do…”

“What a week in Spain can do…”

It was supposed to be a system reboot, a push of the reset button. However, I think my trip to Spain last month may have left me even more unsettled now that I am back home in Los Angeles. It is scary how quickly I fell back into what’s been ailing me this last year and a half. The jet lag may be gone, but that sluggish feeling persists. Don’t EVEN get me started on the election bullshit. I will probably bite your head off. Best to focus on why the journey back to my LA life that is renewing this spiritual “agita.”

I haven’t said much about the Brit (name withheld out of respect), but he’s someone that’s been the most welcome surprise of this challenging year. Our chance online meeting in August flowered into a real friendship, which is why I’ve been purposefully vague about him given the context of how we started out. I might reveal this some day, but not now. It isn’t shame that precludes me, rather, having to explain it to folks who aren’t savvy as to the Gay Way of Meeting and Greeting in 2016. Rest assured, it isn’t some Dateline episode waiting to happen. It’s legit and that’s all that matters.

The Brit is London-based and we’ve spent months doing the whole digital pen pal thing. In some ways, it felt like the plot to “The Shop Around the Corner.” We hadn’t met, but we shared a real kinship with each text that zapped across the globe. Scratch that, it felt like a real life version of “Gavin & Stacey.” (I am sure his eyes would roll with balletic precision over THAT one.)

When we hatched the plan of heading to Spain together, he had just experienced someone breaking his heart in Oslo. It was around the same time I was planning to hit Spain that summer. I surprised even myself when I said, “Join me! Forget about that fool and let’s just have some fun, tapas and whatever else tickles our fancy!” Well, Spain had other plans, interrupting my impending estancia with a rule of having at least 90 validity to my passport. I wasn’t able to board that night and I found myself on the Lyft back to my parents’ house to retrieve my trusty Element and then home with a scowl on my face.

The Brit and I kept talking and we looked for new dates for our Spanish affair, which would now happen in mid-October. As we counted down the days, it was hard not to build any expectations. At least for me. It was such a welcome relief, corresponding with someone who actually COULD communicate with color and guts. What a concept! When the fated day finally did arrive, I wasn’t in the least disappointed.

Having the Brit with me for those nine days in Valencia, Salamanca and Madrid was like a downpour of what I miss about being part of a couple. That constant attention. The great rapport. The banter. The laughter. The warmth that emanates from people who actually care about each other. The looks that say, “I see you, man.” I wasn’t lonely and all that’s troubled me for so many months was falling off in the background. It’s how we compose shots for the interviews I conduct on camera. The subject is sharp and clear while the background is a bit hazy and blurry. All that matters is what is in focus. And focus existed in Spain. Make that focus and inspiration. So, why do I feel so fucking lousy?

Mind you, the Brit and I started this entire venture with a much different agenda in August. When he admitted that he’d started casually dating someone in early October, the trip’s dynamic shifted without warning into the dreaded Friend Zone. He tried to give me an out, saying he’d understand if that changed things for me given the spicier early stages of our interactions. His very British self wasn’t going to allow for any extracurricular activities, even though he’d only been dating said bloke a few weeks. But, as I would discover, the Brit was an “All In” sort of gent. Meaning, his focus and heart were set. I said, “So what? We’ll manage!” I firmly believed the point of the trip was to get away from what ails us. Nothing more.

In a lot of ways, that was indeed the case. But, it was tough to reconcile a clear trajectory of intent. As much as I tried to keep certain feelings at bay, which was quite an effort, imagine my consternation in having the Brit join me in a round of “Why Can’t We Find Someone Who Will Love Us for Us” during one heart to heart we had one late night. That’s why by the end of that week together, I felt nothing but confusion. It stepped up when, by the end of the week, he was texting his new paramour with a fervor that made me feel like an intruder. And when you have had such a stellar time venturing throughout a foreign country without a single fight, imagine how that can complicate more than just your brain.

The rational me knows that my creating anything but a friendship with the Brit would be difficult since he’s in England and I’m in southern California. The whole “Amor de Lejos, Amor de Pendejos” truth of our situation has never been far away from the fantasy of it all. But fuck me. We sparked. At times, it felt so real, this connection. At one point in Valencia, he even said he needed to put blinders on. Why couldn’t this be something more than just two friends having a good time in Spain? I have not wanted to be close to someone like this is such a long time! Six years after I selfishly kicked my bespectacled Ex to the curb, it’s been a mixed bag of really poor choices, cheap sex and a lot of wondering when in the hell the universe is going to take some pity on me! Being with the Brit was so bloody effortless. Was I just being clueless or just deluding myself because of an ideal that has yet to be acheived?

Trust me. I’ve done some work in processing all of this. It was big relief knowing I can be myself with the right sort of gent. He’s a fantastic person with whom to spar, a real intellectual with that classic British wit. Dry as a sherry, but fierce as Thatcher at her peak. More, I felt this incredible calm around him. It remains the one thing I will cherish most about my life with my Ex and it’s the one thing that’s been missing ever since.

As we got closer to the end of the trip, I felt unsteady and possessed by a grim outlook. He’d go home to someone who’d hold him tight. I’d go home to face a new round of the Dating Game. And that just pissed me off. I’d like to squeeze out as much of the Brit’s sincere and warm sentiment into a place that can validate why I am certain I wasn’t misreading the cues. The cold light of a warm LA day suggests otherwise. He was being kind and he needed something different from me. The Brit had been searching for a real friend, someone that understands him and doesn’t possess an ulterior motive that involved hurting him, his one biggest fear. Wouldn’t you know, it’s also a fear that share that with him, among other things.

Ironically, in the weeks since our return, the Brit has reached out in moments of real emotional turmoil as the paramour seems to be on a different page. I understand that very much, the overanalyzing of situations that are never as bad as you think. But it happens and I offer my own support while keeping my true feelings at bay.

I am aware that I keep setting myself up for this these types of situations, though. Prior to the trip, an endless drought of solitude had left me wondering whether I have much to offer anyone anymore. A week in Spain was living proof I did. I wish it was more of a consolation, knowing that I’m not entirely without the means of being with someone on “that” level. Perhaps it was just a practice run? Was it a reminder of what I’ve gained in terms of being an adult when it comes to establishing a healthy relationship? Maybe. But, caught between the lines of lucidity and maturity are slivers of jagged insecurity. I feel the presence of my old nemesis, the one that loves to reiterate: “You lack the total package for him, that’s why it didn’t catch fire.”

Bitch.

I should be content with being the friend, but when that single look caught my eye during our second night in Valencia, I couldn’t help but feel all buzzy inside. A dear friend even noticed it on that following rainy Saturday in Madrid. Her first words were, “How light you look! So handsome! And the beard!” She witnessed the version of me that I’d kept under wraps for the better part of a year. I did feel good as the rain fell over the Plaza del Callao. I felt better than good. I felt not sad.

My powers of imagination are truly reckless at times. In my mind, his time is going to be spent building up a life around his new job and new boundaries with his beau. I’ll be that crazy American who will help lighten the day when things get challenging, like all good friends do. But we’ll always have Spain, and possibly, a chance to storm another group of cities, too.

This is probably a good moment to insert a chorus of: “He lives in another country, dude! What the hell did you expect? Are you loco, ese? He ain’t into you because you live in ANOTHER country and doesn’t want to run the risk of being hurt or worse. It’s easier and safer to stay local for him. Wake the fuck up! Chingao, already.

I know!  I know! It isn’t going to do me any good to act like a Charlie Puth song. My reserve of “Better Luck Next Time” is just a wee bit low right now. Trust me, I am focusing on: “Does this mean that someone remains behind Door No. 1504?” It is saner to keep an open mind. But hells bells, I don’t relish the task of having to meet new gents and going through this process. Again. Me da hueva, caray! 

I do know that my friendship with the Brit is one I intend to nurture for as long as we both want to share in its possibilities. Truth be told, people like him are rare to find in a world determined to keep us everybody apart from each other. These feelings will abate with time. Of course, this makes it all so damn annoying!  To be so close to the prize. Yeah, I feel like I’m about to hold a torch again. At least I can see the upside to that, too. After six years, it is a relief to know that I can finally shift it to the other arm.

So, want to know what a week in Spain can do for anyone? I’ll tell you. It will make you feel so much alive and very much a part the world. Now, the task remains the same as it was during that summer in 2014 when I took that first huge step toward defining my true self in Salamanca. I still have to learn to make Spain happen wherever I go, especially at home. As for the rest? Universe, don’t let me down…but can he wear glasses and make me laugh while watching YouTube clips all night long?