I live and write about life like I host a morning show. Founder of the Carreón Cinema Club.
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!)
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.
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.
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
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…”
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
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.
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
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.
If you’re scanning the trades, reading an article in The Hollywood Reporter and, woefully, even Variety carries the distinct whiff of “burn book.” For example, what does the following paragraph have to do with actor Ezra Miller’s recent troubles with the law in Hawaii?
“The second arrest comes less than a week after the U.S. release of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” in which Miller plays a supporting role in the “Harry Potter” spinoff franchise. The latest “Fantastic Beasts” opened to a franchise-low after it’s been beleaguered by a number of controversies. In addition to Miller’s arrests, actor Johnny Depp was fired from the franchise in the midst of his own legal battles, and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling has been under fire for anti-trans comments she’s made on social media.”
It would appear that darker themes exist in the Miller saga, but way to fan the flames of… what? It almost seems as if THR thinks by linking Miller’s brushes with the law, we have an answer to the continuing box office woes of the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise. THR writer Jordan Moreau penned this breathless recap on Miller’s current narrative of lawbreaking and physical attacks, but that paragraph may not have been his choice, rather, an editor pulling at threads for reader interest.
We can surmise that two sides to the story exist, and as long as Miller continues to remain silent, editors, writers, and readers alike remain in the dark. As they all should, to be frank. Miller’s journey of late is a cry for help, so who are we to judge or snark about it in print?
This era of yellow-adjacent journalism continues to bring down a craft that is in sore need of a cultural, spiritual, and moral enema.
A dizzying and disturbing return of a cinematic icon, Matt Reeves’s THE BATMAN gives Marvel a run for its money. His take on the famed DC Comics hero is nothing like the versions crafted by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. What Reeves has done is proven just how malleable a character Bruce Wayne/Batman remains.
A sprawling crime opera that is relevant and unsettling, its noir coated heart beats with visceral emotion thanks to its ensemble led by Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Andy Sirkis, Jeffrey Wright, and a terrifying Paul Dano as the sadistic Riddler.
If you haven’t laid eyes on THE BATMAN, believe the hype. To sweeten the pot more, watch this deleted scene featuring the Joker, a version you’ve never seen before. It telegraphs just how much Reeves had up his sleeve when taking on the oft-filmed property.
I don’t know what is worse in this appalling situation involving “Turning Red” and the review submitted by Sean O’Connell. He is CinemaBlend’s MANAGING EDITOR! And that generic mea culpa from the website and O’Connell? Just more of that “Oops, my bad” copy that is such a weak bandaid. I’ve been a film reviewer in my career. It is never about YOU in most cases, but this era of writing for site traffic is so demoralizing. This feels like Pixar is now a target for alt-right bullshit. We need to do and be better already if we want to survive this endless barrage of hate.
Read more about the CinemaBlend controversy below.
Reading some of the reviews on Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s DEATH ON THE NILE faulted the current Oscar nominee (“Belfast”) for not crafting an edgier take on the genre like “Knives Out.” I beg to differ.
Branagh, whose “Dead Again” remains one of my favorite modern mystery thrillers, conjures the sexier and edgier side of Christie’s famed novel into the 21st century in a surprising way. Remixing the narrative by bookending the film with the cause and effect of tragedy in the renowned detective Hercule Poirot’s life, the wicked mystery of a recently married heiress’s murder on the Nile takes on a fascinating rhythm and purpose.
The film’s winning ensemble cast featuring such standouts as Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Leticia Wright, and a dashing Armie Hammer is more cohesive than in Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Experience.” The journey finds its spark with teasing sexuality, comic energy, glamour, and thrills set against breathtaking locations and exquisite design. DEATH ON THE NILE is no stuffy museum piece for the older set.
Like Branagh’s take on “Murder on the Orient Express,” it is a visceral and engaging film experience in the style that embraces what Hollywood still can do best on the silver screen.
Nothing says “Love” more than a Douglas Sirk melodrama. The Criterion Channel has pulled together four of his finest efforts. The titles say it all: Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and my all-time fave, his remake of Imitation of Life. Lauren, Lana, Rock, and Jane Wyman, too. Share it with the ones you love.
Icon. Pioneer. Betty White remains a golden beacon of life, love, and laughter for the world. I’ll never forget escorting her down the international press line for “Lake Placid” in 1999 while working as a publicist for 20th Century Fox.
Playing raucously against type in the David E. Kelley-penned comedy/horror film proved revealing in many ways. Ms. White was no Rose Nylund or thirsty mantrap Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She was ALL those people and more in her inimitable way.
After speaking for a few minutes upon our introduction, Ms. White took my arm as if we were good friends as we made our way to the gathered media. Watching and listening to her is a memory I will cherish forever.
Her legacy of work on streaming now is why many of us got through these pandemic times. What an actor of power and humanity. What a life well-lived of philanthropy and goodness. I firmly believe her life lesson is to thank our friends more and offer fewer “F-You’s” to the world. RIP Ms. White, forever our golden soul.
You hear things. You see things. You ignore them all and abuse is normalized because so many victims fear reprisals. And the others who stay silent can only wag their fingers and say, “I told you so.”
In this era of self-confession, when do we see real compassion and progress in an industry that promotes itself as a Dream Factory? Especially when we know it is a nightmare of false promises, mixed messages, and half truths crafted by too many power players without a moral compass.
I’ve been stalling in writing a post-mortem on Steven Spielberg’s emotionally resonant and superbly crafted adaptation of West Side Story. Not only is it Spielberg’s best film in years, but it is also exactly the kind of moviegoing experience that deserves to be championed. Yes, it is THAT good.
It seems trite in the face of the pandemic news cycle and the growing storm clouds of war in Ukraine to offer any analysis. Yet, I’m oddly compelled to weigh in anyway because it is hard not to feel that audiences and studio culture let this movie down.
Revivals on Broadway remain part of its lifeblood in art and commerce. When they connect, they can usher in new generations of theater fans. Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s 1993 production of Cabaret remains a marvel of reinterpretation. Susan Stroman’s take on The Music Man in 2000 and Jerry Zaks’s 2017 production of Hello, Dolly! brought out new colors and injected vivid spirit with its star power and inventive theatricality blend. This year, Marianne Elliott’s gender-switched production of Stephen Sondheim’s seminal Company earned love letters from a theatrical community eager to return to the business of entertaining audiences. So why can’t this phenomenon happen for film versions? More, why didn’t it happen for West Side Story?
Were adults afraid to return to cinemas in a pandemic? Sure. But that didn’t stop the recent spate of Marvel films, Dune,No Time to Die, and House of Gucci, from filling seats, which included many adults in the demo mix. Did the post-Glee generation lose interest in musical film? Maybe. Despite its being explicitly marketed to them, audiences avoided Dear Evan Hansen, but that didn’t dissuade releasing studio Universal from greenlighting the international juggernaut Wicked for the screen. Is it a dying or dead genre? Explain that to Bill Condon’s sparkling take on Dreamgirls, or Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, the Mamma Mia! franchise, and The Greatest Showman, all of which were fueled by big names and turned out to be major box office in a world before the lockdowns shuttered cinemas brought the moviegoing cultural experience into an uncertain future.
Looking at the recent soft openings of Jon Chu’s stellar adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda & Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Tony-winning hit In the Heights and Spielberg’s West Side Story is perplexing as both films earned some of the year’s best reviews. Neither lived on as museum exhibits, something that plagued Clint Eastwood’s disappointing treatment of Jersey Boys in 2014. Heights and WSS both possess a vitality and freshness that makes going to the movies an absolute joy again, transcending their theatrical roots but not abandoning them. More, seeing real people express themselves beyond the blasts of special effects and neo-classic heroism is true magic. The expert craftsmanship fills every inch of the big screen along with casts, dance teams, design aesthetics, and musical scores overflowing with enthusiasm and possessing an even greater cultural purpose. However, here’s where things get a little complicated, though. Is spotlighting the effort to embrace cultural authenticity and diversity in the filmed arts turning off audiences on both sides?
As a Latino, it did my heart good to see the talent, sounds, and complex cultural realities of what it is to be from all parts of Latin America. We cannot always see such shows on the stage thanks to economics and the appearance of these works being solely made by and for “gringos” and “wannabe white” gente. That is not a gross generalization, either. While Fiddler on the Roof can pack them in regardless of the year of the production, Latinos are hard-pressed to partake in the Broadway or touring productions of shows that focus on their narratives. The reality is shows like West Side Story and In the Heights will endure in schools, colleges, and amateur productions for a very long time. Yet, you can’t deny that they still feel like niche audience caviar when blown up for the silver screen. Worse, they are now targets for the woke political machine seeking to eradicate the “whitewash” in terms of representation.
The colorism debate that side-swiped In the Heights was devastating and demoralizing to watch happen in the weeks leading to its release last June, a situation made worse by apologies from its creators and supporters for not trying hard enough. They had no reason to apologize. The works speak positive volumes that cannot and should not be ignored or diminished.
Months later, notice the campaign mounted for West Side Story, which opted to render the entire cast with the same beige skin tone with an artfully placed red, white, blue, and star flag. Subtle politicking from the liberal elite? Perhaps. But telegraphing “We are making a HUGE effort to tell ALL stories” is not the same as just letting the stories speak for themselves or weaving their cinematic spells without seeking approval or validation for promoting positive cultural representation.
Watching the studios patting their backs for their efforts is insulting enough. Knowing the executive suites do not include our voices in their mix is worse. How can they even begin to gauge how Latino audiences will react without someone from the community in their team to highlight the sensitivity minefields? More, what happens when you take the time to cull materials in Spanish, only to see the footage languish in the can, utterly ignored? This is something that I’ve experienced as a content producer several times, a symptom of tone-deafness that still permeates the marketing offices in Hollywood.
Heights and WSS feature extraordinary Latino talent in front of and behind the cameras. The sights and sounds ring true because we see and hear them from the people who look like and sound like us. Is it a perfect rendering? No. Is it a crime they should exist? Hell no. It is easier for some to process a Coco, for example. Yet, why did Encanto have a more challenging time reaching the same heights, despite its reviews and being a beautiful film for all audiences? Did it play its cultural card too hard? Or maybe its message was too foreign compared to the celebratory nature of Coco? The grey areas are endless here.
What saddens me most about the problems faced at the box office by In the Heights and West Side Story is that the appearance of failure of these high-profile titles will make it harder for other Latino-focused stories to be made or given the big-screen treatment. Director Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot, due in 2022, will be yet another litmus test to raise these issues all over again, adding further pressure to la causa.
It is a curious thing. Thanks to streaming, Latin America is exploding with talent and fresh inspiration, with such boundary-smashing series and films as La Casa de la Flores, El Baile de Los 41, El Juego de las Llaves, Luis Miguel: La Serie, Acapulco, and the upcoming Señorita 89. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s company Fabula and Pantaya, Apple, and Amazon Prime Video are crafting slates of original films and series that rival the best of what the American studios and streamers are offering. Why can’t some of these stories make their way up to el norte, too? We have the talent and the narratives that go way beyond dead rock stars and cholos. We need more faith in their realization and trust from the community beyond The Fast and the Furious-type IP.
Perhaps the disconnect between audiences and critics is the real culprit, a chasm that is as wide as it’s ever been and growing. Maybe the marketing efforts of leaning into diversity and inclusivity feel too much like moralizing, prompting audiences to ignore the “message” titles to just be “entertained.”
Reasons exist why the Marvel tent poles play to all demos. We know what they are before we take our seats in the cinema. Maybe it is time to stop leading the audience with the obvious or safe messages and let the intrinsic quality of a good story and singular artistry lead the way again. One way or another, audiences will find a reason to watch again in a way that makes them comfortable, secure, and inspired by what remains the greatest of art forms.
Writer’s Note: It is important to disclose that as a content producer, I am part of the team involved with the campaign for “In the Heights” and the upcoming “Flamin’ Hot.”