For a specific generation, the sight of Sandy’s evolution as the quintessential “good girl” gone “bad” in the camptastic 1970s movie musical Grease, you’d think an opera diva hit a high note.
It rocked many of us to the core, seeing Olivia Newton-John wearing those skin-tight pants and the red Candie’s high-heeled mules, that ciggie forever burning her amazing self into our minds. Coupled with an equally sexy John Travolta as Danny Zuko, we all wished we could be one or the other — and in most cases — both.
Yet, when I think of Olivia Newton-John, my mind returns to my family’s legendary drives through the American southwest as we vacationed by car to visit Dad’s family in Mexico City. Dad most trusted co-pilots remained me and the car radio during those long-haul night drives through the lonely desert as the family slept. (I had to stay awake as I didn’t want to miss anything!)
Dad and I didn’t talk much as he didn’t want distractions as he drove fearlessly across some mind-numbing landscapes that I imagined contained all sorts of nefarious creatures. But we forged and shared an appreciation for the sounds of ONJ, an earnest voice keeping us company as AM stations played many of her iconic hits of that time. The warmth in her voice proved as seductive as a siren song as we made our way across the US southwest during those memorable trips. My love of ONJ began and grew with every new pop hit, her starring roles in Grease and, especially, Xanadu.
News of her passing at 73 makes for a bittersweet trip to a time I keep compartmentalized as an adult. I’m suddenly seven years old, 10, 13, and 14 at the same time, all ages marked by her music and movies, moments that resonate just as strongly today. I never was able to see her perform live. Yet, I join her legion of fans that will honestly and hopelessly proclaim their love and devotion for ONJ today and onwards because she will forever be true magic as an artist and human being.
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.
We will miss you, Fred Ward. You marked the lives of several generations of film and television fans, and we’re all the more grateful for your lighting up the screen. Rest in power, sir.
Ward, who starred in films including “Henry and June,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Player,” has died. He was 79.
Film fans of the era were quick to champion Ward in “Tremors,” playing affable smalltown repairman Earl Bassett in a performance that was one for the Blockbuster video store ages. Released in 1990, director Ron Underwood’s clever and earnest take on the American western genre as a monster-based comedy wasn’t exactly a box office hit. Rather, it developed a wider audience as they discovered the film during its home entertainment release, ultimately launching a franchise.
Co-starring Kevin Bacon and Finn Carter, “Tremors” fans also could not get enough of the vivid turns from iconic TV dad Michael Gross (“Family Ties”) and country music legend Reba McEntire as a survivalist couple, chewing up the screen as much as the carnivorous worm-like creatures dispatched by Ward, Bacon, and the townsfolk. Still, at its center stood Ward and Bacon, essaying one of the first post-modern “bro-mances” on screen in that era, a friendship that felt genuine and sincere despite the monster movie chaos fueling the narrative.
“Ward has played many heroes, each with a subtlety that removed them from the cardboard cutout figures that they could have been,” the Chicago Tribune’s Julia Cameron write of the actor in 1985. “In many ways, his work…can be viewed as a meditation on America’s notions of masculinity.”
Ward was married to Marie-France Ward, with whom he had a son, Django. TMZ reports via Ward’s rep that his cause of death is currently unknown. Ward, whose death was reported on May 8, wanted memorial tributes to be given to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.
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.
Self-aggrandizing media whore Piers Morgan is getting some mileage by his none-too-surprising revelation that First Grifter Daughter Ivanka Trump reached out with a nice text. Mind you, Morgan has a new talk show surfacing soon, so consider that little news drop a call to arms for his rabid fanbase of MAGA and other malcontents with no soul.
Deadline reported that Morgan “received a text of congratulations from the former president’s daughter when he got his new job with TalkTV, the brand new television channel of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK.”
Morgan’s response to La Ivanka? “Best to all the family.”
Yuk yuk. Morgan and Trump famously fell out in 2020 when the headline-chasing “journalist” declared that “Trump’s policies were ‘stupid, reckless and dangerous’ with the disgraced and impeached 45 unfollowing Morgan on Twitter.
Oh, the horror.
La Trump fille added to her text, “Actually, I’m with Dad and Jared now.” To which Morgan offered, “Well, tell your dad’ – I thought I’ll be careful about how I phrase this – ‘tell your dad I almost miss him.” These paragons of entitled white rage then shared a laugh.
This is from the man who recently compared himself to Nelson Mandela. Hit the link below, if you dare.
At one point to we stop this side-show of soulless, manipulative rabble-rousers hellbent on destroying what little integrity is left in the great craft of journalism? This whorehouse of narcissists putting their hatred on blast is shredding whatever dignity we have as a society.
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.
Stephen Sondheim transformed our cultural landscape as a composer and lyricist. For many devout followers of musical theater, he remains an icon, a true master of this powerful art form. News of his passing is heartbreaking and devastating, knowing we will never hear a new work of his. Yet, we are empowered and consoled by his legacy, one that will resonate for generations to come. I am not alone in feeling strong emotions today. Mr. Sondheim, thank you, for everything you left us in your work. Rest in power, our forever hero.
To serve and protect HIS own interests makes Alex Villanueva more dangerous than COVID. If these officers refuse to work, that’s on them. The public’s health is being threatened, which is an even bigger safety issue.
Villanueva is crafting a political future on the backs of his officers. Los Angeles doesn’t need a machista blowhard who dares to MAGA his way to the job of mayor and beyond.
How is it people who are fired in Hollywood for potentially or absolutely harmful acts still make their way forward onto other jobs? This goes way beyond “accident.” It reveals the inherent problem in many industries that refuse to follow checks and balances, as well as take in the accountability in the protection of their teams.