Monday, August 03, 2015

Movie Review: John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985)

Musician biopics run the gamut from the very good (Ray) to the very awful (Daydream Believers: The Monkees Story). Most of them follow a formula...a rags to riches story with the usual early childhoods struggles and setbacks achieving fame, then a period of addiction to (insert your choice of drugs, alcohol, porn, or any combination of these) followed by a career fall and finally, redemption...or sometimes death. 

But when I came across a 1985 television movie on YouTube called John and Yoko: A Love Story, strangely enough, I was not skeptical. I'd never heard of the film and don't remember it airing on American television (despite uncovering a New York Times review of it) and I have to surmise that it was a British production. It also has an off-kilter running time for American TV screens: without commercials, it's almost two and a half hours. 

Obviously, John and Yoko: A Love Story chronicles the relationship of Lennon and of rock and roll's most notorious couples and soulmate pairings. The film also shows quite a bit of the breakdown of the Beatles, as Lennon met Yoko in the mid-60s and the group officially disbanded in 1970. It even includes a young, pre-Doctor Who Peter Capaldi as George Harrison declaring his famous line to Paul during the recording of Let It Be, "I'll play whatever you want me to play, or I won't play at all." And keep your eyes peeled for an uncredited cameo by Austin Powers himself, Mike Myers. 

The main reason this movie worked for me is the marvelous casting: Mark McGann as John Lennon and Kim Miyori as Yoko Ono are probably two of the closest actors chosen to play the Beatle and his wife. McGann in particular hails from Liverpool and has portrayed Lennon on stage for decades. Not only does he look like Lennon, and speak like Lennon, but he sings very much like Lennon. It took me a few seconds to figure out that it's McGann singing "Imagine" over the opening credits. He also has that same sense of humor brimming beneath the surface as evident by the wiggle in his eyebrows and glint in his eyes. No, it's not a perfect match, but it's close--thwarting a problem that is common to celebrity movie biographies. 

Not that it matters, but much less effort was put into casting the other members of the Beatles. The actor playing Paul McCartney--Kenneth Price--looks like your everyday cute soap opera actor of the era without sharing a single facial feature with the musician he's portraying. Phillip Walsh doesn't resemble Ringo and the wide eyed Capaldi, even with being slapped with an oversized mustache, doesn't look much like Harrison, although he does give the best side eyes and snarky remarks when John begins bringing Yoko into the studio. 

The scene in the art gallery where he first meets Yoko as she's preparing her exhibit the day before it opens plays out exactly the way I've always pictured it. Lennon is bemused and fascinated by Yoko's avant-garde art pieces and impressed by her positivity (viewing the simple word "yes" on the ceiling through a magnifying glass.) He wants to hammer a nail into one of her interactive pieces, but she balks because it will ruin it before it's open to the public, so she asks him to pay money first at which he replies he'll hammer an imaginary nail into the piece. Yoko was impressed with his sense of humor, despite having no clue who he was. (Hint, ladies: if you want to land a date with a rock star, just pretend you haven't the slightest idea who he is. This cluelessness card was also played by Pattie Boyd when she first met George Harrison.)

Yoko sends letters to John while he's off on the Beatles' Indian retreat ("Look up in the sky. When you see a cloud, think of me," writes Yoko.) Their affair begins after a few more meetings when he returns to England. A post-coital Lennon declares, "There's no looking back, you know. This is it." Both divorce their spouses, Yoko fights her first husband for custody of her daughter Kyoto, and the press gets worked into a frenzy. From there, they get married and Lennon sheds his "Beatle John" persona for that of husband and eventually, father. 

My fellow Beatles fans won't learn anything new from watching this movie; most of us know about John and Yoko's relationship and marriage ups and downs. One thing I didn't know is that Ono suffered from two miscarriages before becoming a mother to Sean in the mid-70s. A major criticism of the film is that it was made with Ono's close cooperation. That means, of course, that some details were changed or omitted to present her in a more favorable light. I noticed a portrayal of a strong relationship between Lennon, Ono, and his first son, Julian, in the late '70s when in reality, Julian Lennon says he didn't get along with his stepmom at all. But Ono did allow Lennon's songs to be used throughout the production, which isn't a bad thing, and it's awfully nice to hear a good portion of so many Lennon compositions being sung by someone with close vocals. 

Lennon's "lost weekend" period is highlighted in the movie, preceded by his blatant infidelity in front of Ono which is what prompted the separation in the first place. It concludes with the 1974 Madison Square Garden concert he performed with Elton John where he reunited with Yoko backstage. 

A lot of people forget that celebrities are ordinary people like all of us, so it was kind of nice that the filmmakers threw in some scenes between John and his aunt Mimi, who chides his long hair and bearded appearance, and his introduction to Yoko's parents (turns out they liked him.) 

I was dreading the end of the movie for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the filmmakers handle it the softest way they could, with a freeze-frame shot of Lennon being confronted by his murderer before the credits roll. For a made-for-television movie, this one was well done, well acted, and a lot more satisfying than the usual fairy tale puffery presented on Lifetime and Hallmark. 

You can view the movie here on YouTube. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

My Joan Moment

Those who have been reading Go Retro for a while know that I usually keep personal issues off the site unless something is affecting me deeply. I had every intention of getting a new retro-related post up this weekend--because writing for me is therapy--however, I really couldn't focus on the topic and decided that getting a few things off my chest may clear the air for me, help me feel better, and move on. 

First of all, was there something in the air last month (July)? Was it the full blue moon last night? This was a horrible month, not only for me but for many people I know. In the past week, I've heard nothing about really bad news. The sudden death of someone's parent. A relative's health problems. A friend finding out she is being forced to retire. And that story about Cecil the Lion's death that keeps revolving online and in the media. 

My mother had triple bypass surgery this past Monday. The good news is, she's now doing extremely well and may be coming home from the hospital tomorrow (I live with my mother, for those who do not know. While it is not an arrangement I'd ever thought I'd still be in at my age, she's 85 and I provide her with financial support and a lot of help around the house.)

It's been a rough couple of weeks for her and my siblings. She had to have several tests and a few issues cleared up first before they could perform the surgery, and she pretty much went through hell on a few days. It's been very stressful learning her diagnosis day by day, running back and forth to the hospital, dealing with a never ending parade of phone calls, and trying to keep the household humming nicely. But fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and she sounded like her old self on the phone with me earlier today. 

The other disheartening situation for me is that a new friendship died abruptly on me the other night. While I understand this person's situation and reason for having to end all contact with me, I'm still not quite over the loss yet. It was a punch in the gut, to be honest. This person was special to me. We emailed each other on a daily basis and had an amazing connection and mutual chemistry--the first I've experienced with someone in years--and it's still painful for me to come to terms with the fact that I'm probably never going to hear from this person ever again, even though I mentioned to them that my door will always be open and available to them if their life changes. I do feel there was a reason we were in each other's lives and the outcome will ultimately benefit both of us; I just never anticipated that it would end so quickly. My appetite has taken a dive and I'm struggling to get enough sleep. In fact, while lying down just now trying to take a nap, my heart area felt heavy--like something was on it. There's no denying it: right now, my heart is broken, only surgery can't repair it like my mother's. The only thing that can is a little time. 

So where am I going with all this? A sympathetic friend told me to remember Joan Holloway in the finale of Mad Men (and no, I'm still not over the series going off the air.) Her lover broke up with her, after he initially said he was going to try to make things work despite finding out she had a little boy. She was also dealing with the loss of her job after a sexual harassment filled tug-and-war. Joan picked herself up and sauntered on, launching her own business from her dining room. I guess it's what I have to do, too. I've mentioned before about having bigger plans for Go Retro. Maybe now's the time to start thinking about a layout refresh and changes to the site. 

This friend reminded me how Joan has style, didn't compromise herself with Richard, and is a strong lady and inspirational. Honestly, it's the best compliment/comparison I could receive right now. 

It's still a little hard to feel the positive vibes right now and focus on what is working in my life, but I really have no choice. So stay tuned, Go Retro readers. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Day Agent Dale Cooper Walked Into My Gift Shop

Fans of Twin Peaks know that the chewing gum they like is coming back into style -- the quirky David Lynch mystery series is being resurrected on Showtime next year, which will mark a quarter century since the show aired on ABC; Laura Palmer herself called it when she said, "I'll see you again in 25 years." 

I was a fan of the show until about halfway through the second season; I think after a while I got fed up with the bizarreness (a creepy woman who converses with a log; a dancing midget who sounds like he's speaking backwards; a girl being absorbed by a piece of furniture; cryptic messages about owls, etc.) Yes, all of that curious strangeness is exactly what gave the series its huge cult following that exists today, but I guess you could say that after a while, Twin Peaks really wasn't my cup of tea. Or rather, my cup of coffee. Damn fine coffee.

You see, I did have one reason to keep watching the show week after week, secretly hoping it would eventually make sense, and that was Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Agent Dale Cooper. He was cute. He was quirky. He was cool...and he sure loved his coffee, cherry pie, or doughnuts. Yes, you could say I had a crush on both the character and the actor. 

Then came the moment one day which was so surreal, it seems it was lifted straight from the show for me: a real-life Dale Cooper walked into the gift shop once of the hotel I worked at to put myself through college. The guy looked so much like him--right down to the white shirt, tie, trench coat, and dark, combed back hair. He was probably in his early 30s. But more than that, he acted like him.

He quickly nodded at me, and smiled and said hello when he came into the gift shop. Then he looked at the collection of Hanes men's undershirts we sold, for guests who forgot to bring them, and after making a comment about them, added in a sort of rapid fire tone, "Very good idea. Very smart." 

I half-expected him to whip out his handheld mini tape recorder at that point and say into it, "Diane, I'm at the Andover Marriott. Make a note of this...the gift shop sells underwear! Oh, and the lobby coffee is damn fine coffee. And the gift shop girl is cute. I think I'd like to stay here again the next time I'm investigating up this long as the room service menu includes cherry pie." 

And...that was it. We may have exchanged another word or two before he existed the gift shop and become just a blip of my memory. To this day I don't know why I didn't try to engage him in more conversation...such as asking where he was from, why he was in the area, and if he was a Twin Peaks fan. Actually, I do know why...I was 19 years old and still shy and unsure of myself around guys. The 43 year-old me wants to go back to that moment, enter my 19 year-old self (after smacking her on the head), and chat with him. 

Was it the law of attraction that manifested this mysterious dude right in front of me? I have wondered about it. Or it may have just been an eerie coincidence. 

And something tells me David Lynch would love this story. 

Have you ever encountered someone who appeared to embody a fictional character or celebrity?

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