Saturday, August 29, 2015

Movie Review: I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

I was not prepared to find I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! as funny as I did. For starters, despite it starring Peter Sellers, I had never heard of it until coming across a clip on YouTube several months ago while searching for something else. Second, it has a rating of only 17% on the Rotten Tomatoes site. Obviously the haters weren't indulging in the same cannabis-laced brownie recipe that plays a pivotal role in the film when they left their reviews, because I think the movie is an underrated delight. Maybe not hysterical, but it definitely had its moments that made me laugh out loud. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

10 Underrated Billy Joel Songs

I worked with a guy who hated Billy Joel, all because of the song "Piano Man." While I can't say I blame him for loathing one of the most overplayed songs heard on mainstream oldies radio stations and in dive bars, I think it would be unfair to dislike every song in an artist's musical catalog because of one unwanted tune. I'm not exactly the biggest Billy Joel fan either, but there's no denying that the guy is a prolific songwriter. With Joel's U.S. tour still going strong through the end of the year, I felt like listing ten of his more underrated (in my opinion) songs. I have no idea how many of these are among his stage playlist, but they definitely don't seem to get played enough on radio stations. Have no fear: there's no "Uptown Girl" or "Just the Way You Are" listed here. Go Retro knows better than that!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Jack LaLanne's Words of Wisdom on Being Happy

I posted this video clip of Jack LaLanne a few years ago when the fitness pioneer passed away at the age of 96, but I have never forgotten it. His untimely message bears repeating today. Have a listen...

His clip was surprising to me the first time I watched it because I actually thought that people in general WERE happier and smiled more during the '50s and '60s vs. today...who knew?

LaLanne hosted his own daytime exercise show for 34 years, The Jack LaLanne Show, of which my mother was a fan. I've lamented on this blog before about the loss of fitness shows on network television and how bringing them back could potentially help with the nation's obesity epidemic, but that's a topic for another time. What I wanted to talk about here is the observation LaLanne made on his show one day about how unhappy in general people seem to be. (LaLanne's program wasn't solely focused on fitness; he would also take breaks to talk to his audience about eating and nutrition tips, and the importance of mental health.)

In the clip, LaLanne talks about Americans losing the ability to smile, and that there's no point in having it all if someone can't enjoy life and is miserable all of the time. He then relates a story about traveling to South American and riding a bus that was full of poor people, but how all of the travelers starting singing when one woman burst into a song, and how everyone seemed to be more content then their American counterparts who have way more. 

I realize, of course -- and would hope that LaLanne did, too -- that it's not easy for a lot of people to be happy, especially today. Many people are dealing with personal problems and chronically stressful situations that make it difficult to feel up on a daily basis. But I have also learned, from reading and following many law of attraction and positive thinking books and video clips, that happiness is an inside job. Only you can truly make yourself happy, because it's one of the few things that you have control over. A job can be eliminated, a relationship or friendship can end, and a loved one can pass away on you. But, if you can ultimately take responsibility for your personal happiness, then you can overcome a lot of life's difficulties.

At the risk of going all New Age-y here on Go Retro, I have also confirmed -- oddly enough -- that when you make the effort to be happy first, get into a good feeling place, and then affirm to the universe that you want something, that things seem to flow more effortlessly to you. You find a good parking space, unexpected money shows up, and you receive an invite from a friend to get together. 

LaLanne also talks in the clip about people getting too far away from their natural way of living -- I immediately thought of people who walk around glued to their mobile devices. I plan on writing soon about my hiatus from my personal feed on Facebook recently, and how it's helped me feel more positive on a daily basis (hint: ignorance is bliss!)

The clip made me think about some of the things I do on a daily basis that make me happy:

*I make a mental list of everything that I have in my life that going's right, vs. anything missing or what seems to be going wrong. Being grateful for what you already have definitely  helps flip a switch from dwelling on the negative to dwelling on what's possible.

*Interacting with my cats. I have four of them...probably one too many, but two were feral kittens and my mother and I couldn't bring them to a shelter where they would have faced certain death. The female of the two kittens (now three years old) follows me without fail into the bathroom every morning, making it impossible to be in a bad mood. The bond and commitment of being a pet owner and lover definitely makes me happy.

*Exercising, and going for a bike ride or walk/run. Being outside on a nice day makes working out even more pleasurable.

*Of course, watching anything retro that is funny...clips from Laugh-In, The Andy Griffith Show, variety shows, etc. as well as funny scenes from movies. 

*Listening to favorite retro music and watching music clips.

*Writing always puts me in a fulfilling mood, whether it's posting to this blog, writing articles for my freelance gig, or writing the blog for the company I manage social media for.

*Going out and laughing with a good friend or my Meetup group. 

*Taking a nap or mediating. 

*I stay away from too much bad news on the TV stations. Today had yet another sad and tragic national shooting story in the headlines. Sometimes it's best not to turn the news on at all and just take a break from it for a day, when it's nothing but violent and depressing stories. 

LaLanne's advice is pretty poignant today. I'm using it as motivation to keep the endorphins going as well as a reminder to smile more. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why Harry Styles Is Not Mick Jagger

It may be a little unfair picking on the lead singer of the Simon Cowell-produced, teen boy band phenomenon One Direction now that the members recently announced that they'll be going on hiatus starting next year to pursue solo careers. On the other hand, the announced split gives added ammo to my rant, which is that I'm tired of seeing comparisons between Harry Styles, One Direction's lead, and Mick Jagger...both regarding their physical appearances and their talent. 

Yes, in case you weren't aware, there's an awful lot of sites out there that have posted side-by-side shots of Styles and Jagger proclaiming them lookalikes. The comparisons accelerated after Jagger actually hung out with Styles earlier this year, supposedly after a lot of people told Mick that the kid looked like him when he was younger. Even Boy George declared that Styles is "sexually ambiguous"and "clearly wants to be Jagger."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Anti-Smoking Ads in the 1960s?

I found these great ads on Flickr (all except for the color one, which was on Pinterest) credited to a user named smashingbird. This is the first time I've ever seen anti-smoking advertisements from the '60s, although I'm sure others probably exist out there if I looked hard enough. It's interesting to notice that they were produced in the UK -- the money saved by not smoking cigarettes is listed in pounds. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Five Reasons to Watch Inspector George Gently on PBS

If you like the '60s, and you like British detective series, then you definitely want to give Inspector George Gently on PBS a try. My local PBS station has recently started airing older episodes of this fine show again, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the latest season that was shown in the UK earlier this year will finally see the light of day here in the States by the time the leaves are falling off the trees. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sake To Me: Western Celebs in Bizarre Vintage Japanese Commercials

It's no secret that the Japanese are big fans of Western celebrities, which means their commercials that feature them are often unapologetically starstruck, melodramatic, and sometimes a little weird -- and that makes them more entertaining than the usual bland American commercial spots. Here's a smattering of commercials that hail from the land of the rising sun featuring American and British stars. Some may make you wonder how desperate these famous folks were for the cash, but I give a huge pass to one, because his commercial is too awesome to be true (hint: it's at the end.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Special Thank You to My Readers (and Happy Birthday to REBEAT Magazine!)

I'm a little late in mentioning this but last month, REBEAT Magazine celebrated its first birthday! Over the past 12 months I've written 13 pieces for the site and I've been extremely grateful for the opportunity to contribute to such a fine publication and be among a fantastic roster of talented writers. 

However, I was floored when I read the Staff Picks column several of us contributed to, mentioning our favorite REBEAT features from the past year. There's an expectation when you're a writer that you're not going to receive feedback on your content and indeed, there are many times where it feels like no one is reading your site.

Well, I was surprised in a pleasant way to see my name come up several times by other members of the REBEAT staff in the column. One gentleman in particular (and a contributing REBEAT writer thanks to my mention of it on this blog) had this say which nearly brought tears to my eyes: 

'I want to refer to Pam Sosnowski’s work. I’ve never met, talked to, or even emailed Pam, but I have been a great admirer of her exceptional work on Go Retro for years. Last summer, she mentioned there that she had done a piece called “Paul is Alive… Kiss Him, Kiss Him,” for a new magazine named REBEAT. That brought me here, and what a wonderful world I discovered! I contacted Allison a few weeks later and asked if she’d be interested in any contributions I could make, and by early August I’d signed on and my first piece came out in early September.

Along the way, I’ve read a lot of articles that made me think, “I wish I’d written that.” The disco demolition piece by Pam was another great one, and I also loved her “Why David Bowie didn’t Want to Sing with Bing Crosby.”' 

I didn't realize that there was a president of my personal fan club out there, but I'd like to thank this person from the bottom of my heart. He knows who he is. Thank you!

While REBEAT was celebrating its first birthday last month, Go Retro was celebrating its 8th, believe it or not. July 8, 2007 was my first post and nearly 1,000 posts later, I'm still at it. (It frightens me to look at the craptacular early posts of those first few years, as I was still finding my voice on this site.)

Why do I post here on Go Retro and on its Facebook page? Because it's fun. It isn't that I'm trying to be a show-off or a know-it-all with my posts (I swear, it's not.) It's because I like entertaining people and sharing amusing/interesting content that hopefully brings back warm and fuzzy memories for most people. 

So I would to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has ever posted a comment, whether here or on the Facebook page, and/or dropped me an email to let me know how much they enjoy the site, or how much a particular post resonated with them, or just to compliment my writing. Several fans I've even become Facebook friends with. You know who you all are--and I want to let you all know how grateful I am for that contact, because it has helped keep me going here for 8 years and has inspired me to step it up a notch. 

A blog doesn't exist without its readers. I'm thankful that I have some great ones. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Ten Favorite James Bond Theme Songs

Although the release of the new James Bond flick Spectre is only three months away, we still don't know yet who will be recording the title song; however, rumors indicate that it's probably Ellie Goulding or Radiohead. In the meantime, however, because I'm getting so psyched about this movie, I've been listening to a lot of previous Bond title songs that have played out over the opening graphics through the decades. And you know what? There's something special about James Bond theme songs!

Bond may be the only movie franchise that puts considerate care into its title song compositions. Each one alludes to the man himself and is often sweeping and memorable. Like the cars he drives and the villains he must outwit, the Bond film title songs are always different yet connect a theme of mystery, sexiness, and excitement. So, with that description in mind, here are my top ten Bond theme songs. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

What'cha Talkin' 'Bout, Child Molester? The Diff'rent Strokes "Bicycle Man" Episode

Much has been written online about the creepy Diff'rent Strokes "Bicycle Man" episode -- like the episode of Too Close for Comfort where Monroe was kidnapped and raped by a woman and a transvestite, "The Bicycle Man" seems to have taken on a life of its own. I'll try, however, to maybe add my own thoughts about this "very special episode" which I watched for the first time on Video Dailymotion last night (some parts of it were removed from YouTube for copyright violation.)

I've mentioned on Go Retro before how fascinating it is to me that many situation "comedies" of the 1980s would occasionally cover a controversial topic to try to teach the viewer some moral lessons all within 23 minutes -- such as Punky Brewster being bullied into trying drugs or Carol Seever's boyfriend dying after a drunk driving accident in Growing Pains. These "very special episodes" as they would come to be labeled, are part of the reason my TV generation fondly remembers these shows decades after they originally aired. Can the same be said for many current sitcoms such as Modern Family or Two Broke Girls? Today's cowardly television writers would never take a chance on such heavy stuff. 

However, of all of the 1980s sitcoms, it seems those pesky Drummond kids managed to get themselves into trouble the most! Let me just copy and paste a key sentence on Wikipedia about the icky topics that Diff'rent Strokes addressed during its 8-season run: "Diff'rent Strokes featured some very special episodes that involved child molestation, child pornography, pedophilia, hitchhiking, kidnapping, epileptic seizure, bullies, racism, bulimia, drunk driving and drug abuse."

Holy &*%$.

I have quite a bit of catching up to do on these very special episodes but as I mentioned, last night I delved into the "Bicycle Man" episode, co-starring Gordon Jump of of WKRP in Cincinnati and Maytag Man fame. He plays the owner of a bicycle shop who gets close -- too close -- to Arnold and his friend Dudley by luring them with ice cream, pizza, He also has Dudley remove his shirt before conducting a photo shoot (commenting on his physique and patting his back), introduces the boys to porn via a girlie magazine and a cartoon, then tells Dudley (after Arnold wisely takes off) about a game he has planned for him that involves the shower called Neptune, King of the Sea. 

Diff'rent strokes, indeed. 

In the two part episode Jump plays Mr. Horton, the owner of a bicycle shop that the Drummonds regularly rent bikes from. After Mr. Horton advises Mr. Drummond that he could save money by just buying bikes, Arnold begs for a bicycle of his own. Mr. Drummond gives in, saying that he'll get it for Arnold's birthday. Mr. Horton tells Arnold that if he can help get the word out about a sale the shop is running, he'll throw in a free radio for his new set of wheels. 

Arnold recruits the help of his friend, Dudley, and eventually the two of them discover Mr. Horton's apartment at the back of his bicycle shop, filled with video games, toys, and treats. (Arnold discovers it first. "You know something Arnold, I like you. I really like you. You and I are going to have a lot of good times together," says Mr. Horton to the boy after making him a banana split.) Events escalate with the boys being introduced to alcohol, porn, and pictures of Mr. Horton skinny dipping with other kids. (He tells the kids his nickname is Curly; maybe it should be Horny Horton.) He has a secret hole in the wall where he can view who's in the shop--I found this detail to be the scariest, for some reason, especially the scene where he spies Arnold and Dudley waiting in the shop wearing yellow slickers. 

Eventually, Arnold confessed to Mr. Drummond what's been going on, who contacts the police and discovers a dazed and drugged Dudley in Mr. Horton's apartment, just moments away from being diddled. The episode concludes with Mr. Drummond and one of the detectives explaining to Arnold that kids often get blamed for these situations, and that no one is allowed to touch someone where they don't want to be touched. 

One of the first things I noticed about this episode were the colorful lines which may or may not have been intended as double entendres: 

"What's that old saying? You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."
"This sounds like a job for Captain banana split." (pointing at himself)
"You like bananas, don't you?"
"We'll make this a three dipper job here."
"Chocolate sauce, huh?"
"I'll bet you're a whipped cream man."
Arnold: "My tongue is faster than a hummingbird's wings"
Arnold: "I'm back for another load."

The second uneasy detail I noticed was the audience's reactions to inappropriate moments in both parts, such as when we see a close up of the girlie mag in Mr. Horton's hand before he sneaks it into a pile of comic books on his coffee table. More laughter ensues at the boys' reactions and quips made about seeing pictures of naked ladies for the first time and the cartoon involving a frisky mouse. I will admit that as uncomfortable as the topic presented is, even I felt amusement by Arnold's and Dudley's reactions to experiencing porn for the first time. What is unsettling, however, is that you can hear what sounds like children's giggles mixed in with the adults. 

To be fair, the laughter was probably from a laugh track and not a live audience--the episode aired in February 1983 during the show's fifth season; I could only find info online that confirmed season 7 was filmed in front of a live studio audience. But given the seriousness of the topic at hand (as indicated by Conrad Bain introducing each part with a "heads up - this is a heavy episode!") speech, perhaps it would have been best to leave out the laughter all together. 

I will say that Jump's portrayal of a disgusting kiddie rapist here is a standout performance; you can totally picture him delivering all of his lines in a scary clown costume, especially when juggling, singing, and hamming it up in front of the boys. 

I've probably said on here before that for me personally, the '80s were the era that ended childhood innocence. For several years my friends and I always felt comfortable going someplace in the neighborhood by ourselves without phones and any way for our parents to contact us. I'd ride my bicycle to a friend's house and we'd walk down a few streets to get ice cream and were never scared. After Adam Walsh was kidnapped and his body discovered without his head, however, our world changed a little bit for the worse. I'd have to surmise that that incident rubbed off on TV producers and writers as well which spawned so many worst-case scenarios for viewers. 

Would this episode hold up today? Well, it would never be aired on television today and it if were, would most likely involve Mr. Horton conversing with Arnold and Dudley online and via social media. I wonder if it was ever shown in classrooms in the '80s. 

As for that pervert Mr. Horton, we can probably assume he ended up in the same prison as "Bill", a creepy character from another Diff'rent Strokes very special episode, "The Hitchhikers." Stay tuned for an assessment of that two-parter!

Watch part 1 and part 2 of "The Bicycle Man."

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. 

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