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Preserving the people, places, and things from the pop culture past...because some of us still believe in yesterday.

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    A lot of people think that A Charlie Brown Christmas, which originally aired in 1965, was the first time that Charles Schulz's beloved Peanuts characters appeared in animated form on the small screen. But it was actually in the late '50s and early '60s that the American public got to see Charlie Brown and the gang brought to life for the first time, when they were commissioned to promote the new Ford Falcon. 

    I'm currently half-way through reading the David Michaelis biography of Schulz, called Schulz and Peanuts, that was published in 2007--a couple of years after Schulz's death--and this advertising campaign was a revelation to even me, a lifelong Peanuts fan since I was about three years old. So let's take a look back at this cute and charming campaign that was released during the Mad Men golden age of advertising.

    The comic strip had been around for a decade by this time--first as Li'l Folks in 1947, which evolved into Peanuts by 1950. By the late '50s, the income that Schulz was making from the success of his strip was booming--not just from drawing it, but because he was now getting licensing deals from companies. A manufacturing company called Hungerford Plastics Corporation had started producing the very first figures of Peanuts characters--made of polyvinyl--in 1958 (needless to say, an unopened figure in mint condition is worth a small fortune today.) Hallmark began their relationship with Schulz in 1960, introducing Peanuts greeting cards and paper goods. 

    But the biggest deal offered to Schulz at this time was when the Ford Division of Ford Motor Company approached the cartoonist for the exclusive rights to have the Peanuts characters promote their new compact car, the Falcon, across all advertising channels including television, print ads, and billboards. Schulz worked closely with Ford's advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, even consulting on the script, and had the final approval on the children selected to voice the on-screen characters.

    The partnership also introduced Schulz to former Disney animator Bill Melendez, who would go on to produce all of the Peanuts animated television specials (and also provided the voices for Snoopy and Woodstock.)

    The Falcon, which was touted as a compact car with a lot of space and great gas mileage, was a huge success for Ford, no doubt due to the Peanuts partnering. And no matter how many other deals Schulz was offered through the years, he regarded the Ford licensing as a huge milestone.

    Here's all of the Ford Falcon/Peanuts commercials that I could locate on YouTube, including a few clips where characters introduced The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show in the early '60s. The one huge difference I notice between these commercials and the Peanuts TV specials is how Linus is portrayed; instead of the mature and worldly-wise philosopher we came to know and love, he actually comes across in the Ford commercials as very innocent and child-like. Lucy isn't quite the crabby boss lady yet, either. And Charlie Brown isn't being called a blockhead or having footballs yanked away from him!

    Also, if they wanted to go for true Peanuts authenticity, the announcer would be speaking in that infamous "wah wah" sound.

    Charlie Brown channels Bob Dylan here...

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    The last time I went to a movie theater was in January to see the Ben Affleck film Live By Night. Before that, it was a good year earlier, to see The Peanuts Movie in December 2015 and Spectre the previous month.

    And the last before that was Big Eyes, in December 2014.

    As you can see, there's a pattern here. I'm only going to the movies, on average, once or twice a year. And as it turns out, I'm in good company. Recently I came across the following chart showing the results of a survey taken just last month polling Americans about their moviegoing habits. (You have to subscribe to the site to get access to all of the source details, but you get the idea....however, I would be curious to know how many people they actually polled.)

    Source: Statista
    Hollywood should be alarmed by these stats; according to this, a combined 45% of those surveyed--nearly half!--stated that they never or almost never go to the movies. Of course, I believe there's a few obvious reasons for this: it's cheaper to rent and watch a flick on on-demand or from your local library  or stream it vs. paying a high ticket fee to see it on the big screen.

    But for me personally, the reasons go a little deeper. Going to the movies isn't quite the joyful experience anymore that it was for me in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Here are five ways how moviegoing has changed from earlier decades--and hence, three reasons why I'm hardly going to a movie theater anymore (hopefully these won't make me sound too curmudgeonly.)

    1. Less Movies Being Made That I Actually Want To See

    I didn't watch any of the award shows this year, or last year for that matter. Part of the disinterest is because I've grown tired of listening to actors use the awards stage as a soapbox for their political beliefs. But mainly, most of the movies being nominated lately just don't appeal to me and even just the films being made in general feel very underwhelming.

    When my friend and I went to see Live By Night, we had to sit through about eight previews and I can honestly say not a single one appealed to either one of us. It was one dark looking, shoot 'em down, action-oriented, CGI riddled hot mess after another...the new Vin Diesel movie, another with Keanu Reeves (John Wick: Chapter 2...was there even a chapter 1?), Kong: Skull Island, a dumb-looking comedy, and some horror flick that takes place in a Swiss mental asylum.

    Where were the previews for the intelligently written dramas; something that looked like it might have a compelling story behind it and is capable of pulling some heartstrings? It doesn't seem like there's much that fits that definition in the pipeline for 2017.

    Speaking of which, it seems lately that when Hollywood does produce a drama, it's a depressing one with no point or redemption to the story. For example, one of the winners at the Academy Awards the other night was Manchester by the Sea. I had no interest in seeing it and since recently learning the entire plot, will definitely pass. This movie (warning: spoilers ahead) is about a young man who lost his three children in a fire (that he set while drunk) and spends much of the film depressed and wallowing in his self misery. Although it was deemed an accident, his wife blames him for the fire, divorced him, gets remarried and has a kid which makes him even more depressed. He gets a chance to better himself when he is named the guardian of his teenage nephew after his brother passes away, but apparently botches that up too, and at the end of the movie he's no more happier than he was at the beginning of the film. The end.

    I know someone out there right now is saying, "But Pam, that was a movie about what life is really like; sometimes there's no happy ending."

    To which I say as an optimist, I would rather my money be awarded with knowing that the possibility for a happy ending can still exist in this world.

    I'm not saying that Tinseltown should be giving us nothing but technicolor lollipops and sunshine, but if you're going to make a sad fictional film, at least give moviegoers a silver lining to it.

    At least Manchester by the Sea isn't a remake, or the latest of a long list of sequels (do we REALLY need another Pirates of the Caribbean installment?)

    I could dwell on this all day, but bottom line -- there just hasn't been much coming out lately that I want to see, and that includes renting it on on-demand.

    There's been very few films during the past decade that have dazzled me with a combination of a compelling plot, juicy dialogue, authentic looking costumes, sets, cinematography, etc. and that includes Best Picture Oscar winners in recent years, like Spotlight and Birdman. Snooze. Lately I find myself skipping over the latest releases for on-demand, and curling up with a book instead.

    2. The Rising Cost of Going to the Movies

    I know that nothing is really exempt from inflation, but it's crazy to fantom that a family of four can easily drop around $75 or more on an afternoon at the movies today if they get regular priced tickets plus some snacks. It seems every time I've gone to the movie theater, the price of popcorn has gone up yet again; you'd be better off saving the money for an actual meal before or after the show (except the smell of that popcorn is so damn addicting.) I realize that theaters have added a lot of perks such as reclining seats, bars, and reserved seating to the modern moviegoing experience, but personally I'd rather have the "luxury" of paying only $8 a ticket, be allowed to bring in my own food and drink from home if I wish, and watch the film in a standard stadium seating theater.

    Some movie chains do offer memberships where you can see a movie for free or receive money off the cost of a ticket after you've seen so many films, but I can't help but feel this is a marketing ploy to help offset the cost of lost business in recent years.

    3. Putting Up With Other People

    Thankfully this really hasn't happened all that often, but right in the middle of Live By Night, a couple came in with a young child--perhaps no more than 5 years old--who then proceeded to talk and make a fuss until one of the parents took him to the concession stand to get a snack. But...WTF? The movie was rated R. I realize the kid was with his parents, and believe it or not, he did quiet down once he had food, but I do have to question why anyone would bring a child that young into a movie that contained violence and profanity. It seems that a lot of parents these days do not want to be bothered with hiring a babysitter, so their solution is to push the limits and take their kid anywhere, even if it's typically a venue for adults only.

    As my friend and I were leaving the theater, a couple behind us was actually complaining about what happened as well, and we ended up chatting with them a bit about how one parent should have taken the boy to see a kid's movie while the other parent watched the Ben Affleck film.

    Then there's the whole mobile phone's sad that movie theater chains must remind us before the coming attractions that mobile devices should be turned off, and ringtones set to vibrate. However, as we all know, it doesn't always happen.

    OK, I've griped enough. If you're not really going to the movies all that much, either, let me know your reasons why in the comments!

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    Side note: here we go again; the blog template put the entire post on the homepage (grrrrr.) To leave a comment, here's the actual link to the post to do so (which also includes the title):

    When I was younger, I went through a brief period where I wanted to look like Elle Macpherson. And if I couldn't have Elle's face and body, I would have at least settled for her impossibly long legs. Eventually I decided that I was beautiful in my own unique way, but when Elle released a workout VHS in 1994 -- called Elle Macpherson: Your Personal Best -- I jumped at the chance to emulate The Body's body through exercise.

    It quickly became my favorite workout tape -- much more so than Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body (which came under criticism because some of the warm-up moves could injure your neck and back.) But when DVDs came on the scene and my VCR eventually died, I had to give the workout up other than the moves that had been committed to memory.

    Flash forward to 2017 and I discover, with delight, that some incredibly awesome person actually uploaded Your Personal Best to YouTube! Earlier today I finally pulled on my Athleta workout gear, ignoring the fact that the 12-14 pounds I have gained during the past year are making me look like I'm in the first trimester of pregnancy. This is going to be a piece of cake and a blast, I'm thinking to myself; after all, I did this workout 2-3 times a week back in the day.

    I couldn't do even half of the last aerobics section. Sigh...I really am getting (ahem) older (and getting sidelined with a nasty virus for a while after Christmas didn't exactly help me stay in shape.) I was sweaty, hot, and tired -- not unlike having the flu (and I'm sure the achy part will come tomorrow.) Elle Macpherson -- and her trainer on this video, Karen Voight -- kicked my butt. But of course after hopping in the shower I felt great, and I'll be making this workout a regular part of my exercise routine a few times a week.

    There's a few reasons why I love Your Personal Best. For starters, even though it was released over 20 years ago it has aged tremendously well, with just some opening graphics and the soundtrack (INXS, Power Station, Sting, etc.) giving the era away. It was also filmed in Hawaii, including one location that was featured in the first Jurassic Park movie. But most importantly, it delivers a really awesome workout in an hour that incorporates sculpting and lifting weights with burning some calories via low impact moves. And of course, Macpherson is her beautiful, personable self in it. I remember a few months after I first started doing it in the '90s, a fitness instructor complimented me on my toned upper body when I took a class with a couple of friends at their gym. So I know it works!

    Elle Macpherson made an earlier workout video, in 1989, called Elle Macpherson Stretch and Strengthen, but Your Personal Best definitely beats that one. Karen Voight, by the way, has trained Hollywood stars and has produced over 25 workout videos.

    YouTube is now teeming with a lot of uploaded "vintage" workouts (even though Your Personal Best doesn't feel so vintage.) Sometimes it's fun to try these out, if even for the nostalgic value of watching women hop around in colorful spandex. If you're curious to try it out for yourself, here's the entire Your Personal Best workout:

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    "It'll never happen to me," I used to say when I was younger. "I'll never let myself go."

    But then I was laid off in August last year and guess what? I did kind of start to let myself go, at least on some days. And let me tell you, it can be a dangerous slippery slope.

    Getting up later then usual and lounging in my PJs on my laptop until 10:30 AM on most mornings became the norm.

    I went quite a few days without wearing makeup, especially if I wasn't planning on leaving the house that day (who was going to see me? Before you answer "the UPS man" I can assure you we don't order much online and there really have not been many through the years that I would consider attractive.)

    I normally wash my hair every other day, but sometimes I let that go an extra day because I was simply too lazy to deal with detangling and drying it. I took to throwing on an old rag of a top and jeans. With no employer to go to and nowhere I needed to be, there seemed no point in making myself look presentable.

    Worst of all, I slacked off with my exercising routine...and ended up gaining 12 pounds.

    And the saddest part is, I had no real excuse for it. I'm not a mom and I'm not holding down a job outside of the house. I'm also not depressed, so I have no explanation for it other than sheer laziness.

    Why bother getting all dolled up if no one's going to see me? Well, the thing is...I see me. Every day.  And after too many days of doing this, I realized that Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas was right: "Darling, it's more important to look good than to feel good." Or as I like to say, when you look good, the feeling good part follows.

    When I look at candid photos of folks over 40 that were taken back in the day, or even family snapshots of grandparents and other older relatives, it seems that in general most people from earlier generations did a better job at not letting themselves go compared to today. Some of them even looked downright glamorous right into their septuagenarian years. That doesn't necessarily mean that they aged better, but they definitely made a greater effort to look presentable, especially when going out in public: neat clothes, groomed hair, and a little bit of makeup were the norm.

    I realize this isn't exactly a "retro" post but something I've thinking about lately, especially as I'm now in my 40s -- the decade when a lot of folks seem to let themselves go, due to changing metabolism, hormones, age, etc. (Although, to be fair, there are people in their thirties and younger that let themselves go, too.) Now that I'm back on track and have broken some habits, here's what I would advise to help prevent others from sliding down that slippery mid-life slope into Slobville...

    Keep Your Weight Down

    Easier said than done, especially during the winter months, and I've learned the hard way that my metabolism isn't the super fast one I had in my twenties. There's no way for me to put this delicately, so I'll just say it: I think people in general look AWFUL once they start gaining weight, and when you're older and you gain weight, it really makes you look like crap.

    Something I always did no matter where I worked was I would take a walk during my lunch break if the weather was good, so when my part of the country went through a warm snap recently I laced up my Reeboks and did an hour-long walk around the neighborhood. (I also started to get back into running before our region turned sharply colder.) After the blizzard hits that they're predicting for Tuesday, I plan on going cross country skiing again. Lastly I've been making the effort to do a regular workout (mix of aerobics and weights) a few times a week.

    Do physical activities that you enjoy doing, such as bicycling, swimming, dancing, hiking, or rollerblading/rollerskating. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of rediscovering or keeping up with activities I loved doing as a kid. For me, it's a lot of bicycle riding and I'm also planning on taking a paddle boarding lesson this summer.

    I've also blogged about this before, but I've really cut my sugar consumption in recent years. I'm convinced more than ever that sugar is as addictive as drugs; it lights up our brains in the same way and once people get used to gulping down extra large sugary drinks all day long or putting away a box of cookies in a day it gets more difficult to stop. I put a teaspoon in my morning coffee and drink mostly water at every meal (except for a half glass of soda or bottled iced tea a couple of times a week) and I save a small dessert for after dinner. (I recently got hooked on Yasso frozen yogurt bars; those things taste like dense ice cream and average between 90-100 calories a pop!) Occasionally I'll have a piece of dark chocolate in the afternoon as a pick-me-up, or some gummy bears. And that's it. I never eat anything sweet for breakfast, unless it's a small spoonful of maple syrup on pancakes or French toast.

    Keep in mind that the American food industry has packed a ton of its products with hidden sugar, like most yogurt brands (as in regular flavored yogurt.) I tend to buy the plain unsweetened yogurt and then mix in a little honey and whatever I like so I don't end up eating something with 18 grams of sugar in it.

    Keep To A Regular Morning Schedule If You Can, Even On the Weekends

    Instead of schlepping around in a bathrobe until it's nearly lunchtime, I've made the effort to wash up and get dressed by 9 AM most mornings. I try not to do too much on the laptop until I'm "ready to work" so to speak because I know I'll just sit there and answer emails and start doing work.

    Keep Up the Grooming Habits

    I put makeup on most days, even if it's not my usual "full face" because it makes me feel good. Sometimes a little foundation, mascara and nude colored lipstick or gloss is all you need to feel pulled together. I also keep my fingernails trimmed and filed, and massage hand cream into them every day.

    Wash and style your hair (and get it trimmed or try out a new hairstyle.) I also think it's a good idea to upkeep the grooming of areas most people won't see during the winter (get your mind out of the gutter! I'm talking about shaving your legs and pits, if you're a woman, and making sure your feet and toenails look presentable. But hey, it doesn't hurt to upkeep the private areas that get grooming, wink wink.) Sure, if you're single, no one will know but you -- but it will make you feel great.

    Another thing -- I make sure the roots of my hair don't grow in too much before I color them.

    Save The Old and Baggy Clothing for Dirty Household Jobs

    Personally, I don't feel like myself if I'm wearing clothes that aren't flattering on me. So last year I splurged on a few pairs of dark new jeans that fit me well, and several stretchy and form fitting long tees from Eddie Bauer that are great for layering, and I've pretty much stuck with these staples throughout the winter.

    Also, don't underestimate the power of simple jewelry or a nice scarf to pull an outfit together.

    Ultimately, I think keeping yourself pulled together is a choice. You can either choose to let yourself go, or you can choose to make a little time to keep up the self care and keep yourself looking fabulous into your forties and beyond.

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    If you were a kid growing up in New Jersey in the '70s, '80s, or '90s, there's a good chance you visited Action Park in Vernon, just over the New York line. In fact, many former patrons claim it was a right of passage to survive a visit to "Class Action Park"--a fitting nickname given its notorious reputation.

    Just how dangerous was this place? It was so treacherous that while researching it I came across commenters on various sites that sustained broken noses, broken bones, skin burns, concussions, near drownings, and more. One said his mother worked at a nearby hospital, where she helped tend to a never-ending stream of kids coming into the ER with injuries from the amusement park. And they were the lucky ones. The place eventually became responsible for six deaths including an electrocution.

    It all started with a man named Gene Mulvihill, a New Jersey developer who was compared to P.T. Barnum by a former employee in a 2013 documentary about Action Park. The concept behind the park's creation was well-intended: Action Park was designed and marketed as appealing to thrill-seekers where they got to control how fast they went on a ride, so naturally it was a preadolescent and teenage boy's dream. It opened in 1978 as part of the Mountain Creek ski resort and a way for the property to bring in money during the off-season months, and to also compete with Six Flags. It initially featured an alpine slide, a water park, and a race car track and in many ways, was innovative and ahead of its time. But as it grew, it added more new rides with poor designs completely devoid of safety standards. It's been said that its designers would just throw together rides without fully testing them to make sure they were safe to use.

    One of the park's worst offenders was its alpine slide, a fiberglass sled that would carry riders down the mountain on a concrete track which were speed-controled via a throttle stick. As an aside, I rode a few alpine slides as a kid -- including one that used to operate in the next town over from my hometown, and others in the White Mountains -- and never experienced any problems. Then again, I always knew to slow my sled down while approaching curves and had the luxury of a fully-functioning speed control stick. Action Park's sleds, on the other hand, were poorly maintained and described as having only two speeds: extremely slow, and "death awaits" (the words of one employee.) Thus, it was very easy for someone to whip around a curve so fast that centrifugal force would flip them off the track, and riders that went too slow would often get slammed by behind by someone approaching them at a very high speed.

    The slide was also responsible for the park's first fatality in 1980 when an employee went down so fast his sled flew off the track, causing him to fall down an embankment and hit his head on a rock. Kids that rode the chairlift up the mountain to get to the slide would sometimes spit on and verbally harass the passengers gliding down the hill below them. By the mid-80s the slide had caused 14 fractures and 26 head injuries not to mention numerous abrasions. Many riders would also take a turn in their bathing suits, which didn't help protect their vulnerable skin from severe scrapes.

    Another hazard was the park's infamous Cannonball Loop, an insane looking water slide with an upside down loop at the bottom of it. Legend has it when a test dummy was sent down it, it came out the other end missing its head and limbs. The Cannonball caused people to lose their front teeth, bang their heads, bloody their noses and wreck their backs. It also trapped one rider inside the loop which led to an emergency hatch being added to the bottom to retrieve stuck passengers. Through the years it was shut down for periods due to numerous injuries.

    Then there was the Tidal Wave Pool, which eventually became known as the "Grave Pool." The waves generated by the pool were higher and lasted longer than at other water parks, overwhelming even good swimmers who would then crowd the side ladders. Three patrons drowned in the tidal wave pool: one in 1982 (the park's first customer death), 1984, and 1987. A dozen lifeguards had to man this attraction and pulled out on average at least 30 people daily, particularly on high-traffic weekends.

    Another hotbed for disaster was the Tarzan Swing, which was exactly what the name implied: patrons swung out over a pool of water and dropped themselves in. With so many people waiting their turn in line, wise guy kids would flash the crowd by pulling down their swimming trunks as they swung out over the water. If swimmers didn't scrape their feet on the concrete on the other side for failing to let go at the right time, the shock of the very cold water would get them. One man actually took a heart attack and died in 1984 after jumping into the pool.

    And that electrocution? It happened in 1982 on The Kayak Experience. This was a whitewater course which frequently caused riders' kayaks to flip over. When one patron had to retrieve his, he stepped on a grate that was in contact with a live wire powering the underwater fans. The ride closed and was never reopened.

    Even seemingly tame-looking rides had their risks. The Super Speedboats, for example, were on a small pond known to be infested with snakes. And the Battle Action Tanks, which often appeared in television commercials for Action Park, used tennis balls as "ammo" for riders to shoot at one another. When a tank got stuck, which happened often, any employee that entered the lot to assist the rider would then get pelted with tennis balls by the other tanks. It was the only ride that was more dangerous to employees than customers.

    Speaking of employees, Action Park regularly hired underage teens to man the rides. This compounded with easy access to beer and other alcohol kiosks made the park all the more risky. Despite its problems, Action Park remained so popular that it welcomed over a million guests per year. By the 1990s, however, Grand American Recreation--Mulvihill's company--was having so many financial problems and not just due to the numerous injuries. It went out of business in 1997. Action Park then operated as Mountain Creek Park from 1998 until 2013.

    Today, the water park portion is all that remains of Action Park and it's still part of the Mountain Creek ski resort. There are still plenty of thrills in addition to child-friendly options, but the remaining and new rides are way up to safety standards (on the Tide Slide, which mimics whitewater rafting, participants must wear safety helmets.)

    Still...can anything compare to coming home in a cast?

    Here's a few vintage commercials for Action Park, footage from its heyday, and both parts of a 2013 documentary made for Mashable. By the way, it was also announced just last month that Johnny Knoxville (known for Bad Grandpa and Jackass) will be making and starring in a movie about Action Park. If you visited and have lived to tell the tale, please drop a comment!

    The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever - Part 1 of 2by insane-amusement-park

    The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever - Part 2 of 2by insane-amusement-park

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    The template I use screwed up this post again, posting the entire thing on the home page. Here's the link to leave a comment:

    Sharing Some Much Overdue Love for the Bobby Darin Biopic "Beyond the Sea"

    Recently I was visiting the Facebook page of a Bobby Darin fan group I follow and was surprised to see some negative comments being tossed around about the only movie made about Darin's life, Beyond the Sea. The guy that started the thread asked if Kevin Spacey (who starred in, directed, and produced the film) was drunk when he wrote the script (his fury was aimed at a scene where Darin is giving a radio interview about his support for Bobby Kennedy and drops the f-bomb, which he claimed never would have happened on AM radio in the 1960s.) Others chimed in by saying they knew other Darin fans that were infuriated by the film and were personally glad they never saw it.

    To all of these Debbie downers, I have one thing to say: please remove the stick out of your anus.

    I've been wanting to post a review of sorts of Beyond the Sea here on Go Retro for years now but other topics always got in the way. But now seems as good a time as ever to share a little love for the movie and explain why I personally feel it deserves a little more respect, particularly from my fellow Darin fans.

    Biopics are a tricky thing to pull off. There have been some that are good, some that are bad (read the review I did last year about the time Don Johnson played Elvis), and some that are just plain ugly. I'd put Beyond the Sea in the good category and I'll even go a step further: it should be in the feel good category as well, because that's exactly how I felt by the time the end credits rolled. Reading the unfair barbs thrown at it on the Facebook group also made me nostalgic for clips of the movie, and now I feel like dusting off my DVD copy and watching it in its entirety again. When compared to the gloomy story lines and never-ending superhero action flicks Hollywood has been giving us in recent years, Beyond the Sea is a breath of fresh air, even if you're not a Darin fan.

    Let me also say first and foremost that if it hadn't been for Kevin Spacey and this movie, I'm not sure I would have become the huge Bobby Darin fan that I am. I had a crush on Spacey back in day and followed his career news pretty faithfully for a while. When I learned about the Darin movie project, my knowledge of the "Mack the Knife" singer was very limited. I knew, of course, most of his hits -- "Splish Splash", "Dream Lover" and "Beyond the Sea" to name a few, but I had no inkling of the depth of his career and all that he accomplished. Something that I made a point of doing (other than researching Darin and his life online) was to read the biography that Dodd Darin -- Bobby's son with Sandra Dee -- co-wrote about his parents, "Dream Lovers: the Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee" (an excellent read, by the way, particularly for anyone enamored with the music, movies, and social changes of the mid-century period.)

    That way, I wanted to be prepared when Beyond the Sea hit theaters in 2004; I'd know what was truth, what was made up, and what got overlooked in Spacey's film.

    I'm the first to admit that it's not a perfect movie. It did gloss over or omit entirely some parts of Darin's life (which I'll get to in a moment.) Ideally, I've always felt that the only way a movie could accurately capture everything about Darin would be in a two-part miniseries format. Also, one of the biggest criticisms about Beyond the Sea was Spacey's age at the time he made the movie, considering that Darin was in his early 20s when his career took off (there's a scene early on that addresses this somewhat awkward detail.) But for the most part, it seemed nothing but sincere to me. Critics panned his efforts as a vanity project, but I can tell you from watching numerous interviews as the movie was about to be released that Spacey is a huge Darin fan and had nothing but the upmost respect for the entertainer's legacy and his family. Besides, Dodd Darin was very pleased with the end result. Here's what he said to the press after the movie was released:

    "I'm very happy with the way the film turned out. Kevin loves my dad, and he wanted to do a tribute. My mother [who never remarried after her split from Darin] was speechless for a while after she saw it. It was emotional for her. There was a lot of truth and grit. But she couldn't be happier."

    Maybe this is why some Darin fans are infuriated, because his son gave it his blessings? Who knows. Or maybe it's because Spacey took a little more creative approach to telling the entertainer's life story.

    The movie begins with Darin, as an adult, actually filming a scene for a movie about his life (a biopic within a biopic) where he's singing "Mack the Knife" but then gets annoyed with his band's playing (which Darin, a perfectionist, was known to do in real life.) He then encounters the kid that will be portraying him as a child and (while having conversations with his "younger self") starts to tell his life story. Oddly enough, the kid was my major complaint about this movie; while I understand Spacey was looking for a little dynamo that could dance, it's pretty obvious that his choice for young Bobby doesn't have a drop of Italian blood in his body...not that it really matters.

    The plot then focuses on Darin's childhood (and the pivotal moment where, while suffering from rheumatic fever, he overhears the doctor telling his grandmother Polly that even with the best of care he won't live past teen hood), his drive and ambition, his rise to fame, his "hippie" period where he chucked it all and found his bearings while camping out in Big Sur, and his relationship with Sandra Dee. In fact, the movie has him with Dee up until the end, ignoring the fact that they divorced in 1967 (after Darin became convinced that Dee was having an affair with her co-star, Bill Bixby, from a movie they were making together at the time) and that Darin got remarried in the early '70s to Andrea Yeager. But in all fairness--and how Spacey defends his script--the two never fell out of love with each other, which Dodd Darin talks about in his book. Darin would continue to spend nights over Sandy's house after they divorced, and Dee never even dated anyone else after their marriage ended.

    What was missing, and what I wished had been included, is the following:

    *His relationship with Connie Francis, his first true love before he met Sandra Dee. Francis's father didn't approve of Darin for some reason and wanted his daughter to focus on her career. He chased after Darin with a gun after he found out the couple had made plans to elope. Francis's autobiography is due to be released later this year, and she recently told People magazine that none of her husbands ever measured up to Darin; he was the love of her life.

    *The fact that Darin hosted his own variety show on NBC in the early '70s, called The Bobby Darin Amusement Company.

    *The factoids that Darin was a chess whiz and a member of Mensa.

    *His last real hit "If I Were a Carpenter" isn't performed in the movie.

    But, when the running time is only two hours there's only so much you can include, and these are minor grievances. I heard there were some scenes showing Darin's natural prowess for playing various music instruments that ended up on the cutting room floor (and sadly, were not included an extras on the DVD release.)

    Now, for some of the details I was happy to see included...

    *The yellow suit that Darin wears when he romances Sandra Dee on the set of Come September. Some say the suit was more of a faded yellow, but I believe Dee herself said it was "canary."

    *Dee's mother's disdain at her daughter choosing Darin for a husband (the movie includes the factual line that she should have chosen Rock Hudson instead.)

    *Dee's alcoholism leading to rifts in the marriage, although her anorexia and molestation at the hands of her stepfather isn't addressed. The scene where the newlyweds are preparing to sleep together for the first time sort of hints at this, as Dee panics at the prospect of actually having to have sex with her new husband. This leads to a slightly ridiculous scene where Darin appears with a sword and lays it on the bed in between them, assuring her that he won't cross the sword unless she gives him permission to do so.

    *Darin's affinity for social justice and civil rights; there's a scene where he insists a nightclub owner treat a black employee with greater respect or he'll start a sit-in.

    *Darin's nomination for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Captain Newman, MD (although I doubt he threw a temper tantrum at home after losing, as depicted in the film.)

    The odd scene in question. But isn't the Darins' mid-century home fantastic?
    The supporting cast that Spacey chose for this movie were stellar picks. You have the angelic Kate Bosworth playing Sandra Dee (even though her voice isn't as distinctive as Dee's was), John Goodman playing Darin's manager Steve Blauner, Brenda Blethyn as Polly Cassotto (Darin's grandmother, originally thought to be his mother), Bob Hoskins as Charlie Cassotto Maffia (uncle Charlie as he was known, who turned out to be Darin's stepfather) and Caroline Aaron as Nina Cassotto Maffia...the woman that Darin grew up believing was his sister, but actually turned out to be his mother. (Nina got pregnant with Darin while a teenager and she and Polly agreed to raise him as Polly's child during a time when unwed mothers and their kids were looked down upon.)

    Nina is my favorite supporting character in this movie. As Darin's mother-in-secret, she tries to hide her heartache about the family scandal, particularly as she witnesses her son's rise to fame, unable to say anything. When Darin introduces his Copacabana audience to his wife instead of Nina, it breaks her heart.

    I am glad that the movie did not omit the pivotal life event when Darin finally learned the truth about his parents. This shock was captured beautifully in this scene and I admit it make me choke up a bit the first time I saw the movie.  And the snippet of Rolling Stones playing in the background at one point is no accident; Darin was a huge Stones fan.

    As to be expected, the movie is chockfull of musical performances and a bit of dancing--Spacey intended it to be reminiscent of a colorful MGM musical. A lot of people had no inkling of Spacey's singing chops until this movie hit the screens. I can't quite say that his voice is exactly the same as Darin's, but he's very smooth on screen and in the accompanying soundtrack, and as both he and Darin are master impersonators, he shows hints of this skill in the movie as well. Also, you have to give props to any actor that can actually sing his character's music pretty well and not resort to lip-synching, which is so common in so many other biographical films about music legends.

    I also don't think Spacey looks like Darin (even with a prosthetic on his nose)...except for the part where he goes to the Big Sur and grows a mustache and sideburns. By that point, Spacey BECAME Darin for me, especially in this scene below where he changed his image to that of a denim-wearing folk singer in the late '60s. Spacey warming up his voice with a falsetto kind of gave me chills; he really embodied Darin at this point in his career (and I dig his shirt):

    Darin's comeback is portrayed in the movie as well, where he wins an audience over with his peace anthem "Simple Song of Freedom." At the end of the film--well, let's just say Bobby Darin doesn't actually die. And while that may seem like a huge faux pas for some purists and another strike against the flick, I'm glad that Spacey didn't opt for that finale, especially considering Darin's actually death was totally grim, abrupt, and depressing. Spacey's version leaves you smiling. And ultimately, that is why Beyond the Sea didn't--and doesn't--deserve the venom that continues to be spewed at it.

    Here's a couple of musical sequences from the movie to give you a taste...

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    You've probably noticed (or at least I've noticed) that I haven't been posting on here as much...not as much as ideally I'd like to, anyway. To be honest, I've kind of just not felt like writing about retro topics as much these days. Traffic has taken a dip (and not surprising, ad revenue has, too.) As you know I haven't done much with the YouTube channel lately, either. Just haven't had the motivation nor the time (for my other blog, the subject matter is completely different, and making a video post for that site is just a lot easier; I just speak about whatever's on my maybe I should just do the same for GR.)

    But the other reason is, I've just been busy with other forms of writing. I got laid off in August and I recently decided (after much soul searching, meditation, and letting go of fear) that I really want to make a career out of it. (It only took the universe five times to get the message through to me that marketing is not where my heart truly belongs.) I still don't know where this will ultimately lead me...perhaps working for a local magazine. I do know one thing: I am so happy right now.

    I realized that last year at this time, I was working in that new marketing job...and I was not happy. I was reporting to the CEO, who turned out to be the biggest a-hole and egomaniac I've ever worked for in my entire career. I was also still getting over a broken heart, and there were many afternoons I cried while driving home. I remember thinking that profound saying, "is this all there is?" more than once. After saying to myself so many times during last summer, "this isn't the job I had in mind" the universe did me another favor, and booted it from my existence. I actually think now it was one of the best things to happen to me.

    These days I'm still working the freelance gig I had before getting the full-time job, but I've also been doing work for a woman that I actually met through that last company (she got shafted by them, too.) She runs her own business and gave me a nice chunk of online content to work on, and recently reached out to me again for some additional work. A reader that reads both my blogs also told me about a travel website that needed new writers; I'm still waiting to hear back to find out if the test assignment I submitted has been accepted (if it is, they'll pay me for it and will give me more)...more good fodder for a portfolio.

    I'm in the middle of an online course I bought after being laid off, on how to break into freelance writing. I have so many topic ideas for magazines and content websites and really need to get my rear into gear in that area.

    Long story short, I'm back in the same "happy place" that I was two years ago. Yes, it took me two years to get through some personal setbacks and find my center again, but I'm back, baby! And I'm grateful.

    Back to Go's not going away. I'd never do that, to my readers or to myself! But it IS going to have to get a new layout soon and I really think I need to take a brief break from posting just to recharge the inspiration in this area. The current template is a big improvement over the last one, but it's getting stale now and the bug that keeps posting an entire post on the home page is getting on my nerves. The site needs a new logo, too. Ideally I want to see it look like a real site with a nice image slider up top to highlight the most recent posts.

    So if you come on here and some things look jumbled/out of place, I'll be tweaking and moving things around, I'm sure.

    Stay tuned...thank you as always for reading....and I hope everyone enjoys their Easter or Passover!

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  • 05/14/17--14:03: Why I Love Bobby Darin

  • Happy Mother's Day to all of the retro lovin' moms out there! Not only is it Mother's Day, but it also would have been Bobby Darin's 81st birthday today. Rather then share the love for my favorite retro idol of all time in a written blog post, I thought I'd make a video for the seemingly abandoned Go Retro YouTube channel instead. Honestly, I could take all day about why I idolize this man and I even forgot to mention a few other points in the video, but you'll get my drift. (Keep in mind if you're reading this post on your email because you subscribed to receive updates that the video will not be embedded below; you'll have to visit the blog or the YouTube channel directly.)

    And yes, I have some new posts coming your way soon!

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    With Alien: Covenant ready to hit American theaters tomorrow I've been having a flashback of sorts to the first or second grade, which was shortly after the 1979 movie Alien was released. One of the class bullies had brought his 18" Kenner Alien action figure to school (I don't remember if it was for show-and-tell or just to show off) and he proceeded to give away the movie's plot, in graphic detail, pumping his arm to emulate the baby xenomorph bursting from John Hurt's chest. I remember some of my female classmates actually gasping and shrieking and as terrified as I was myself to finally learn what this movie was about, I knew that I would HAVE to watch it eventually, which I did a few years later (on ABC as a matter of fact, gory chest bursting scene remarkably intact and unedited.)

    Our bully didn't know it at the time, but his Kenner figure -- if he does indeed still own it and if it's still in good working condition, which is doubtful -- is now worth a small fortune. In fact, Kenner released a few toys in 1979 in conjunction with 20th Century Fox to promote the sci-fi horror thriller. The problem was obvious, however: Alien was a R rated film and most kids weren't going to see it (that, and the alien itself has a pretty phallic-shaped head.) The xenomorph figure was yanked from store shelves, making it a now rare collectible...and it wasn't the only one. So let's take a look at four Alien themed toys that could make you a pretty penny, provided you still have one in good condition in the original packaging. Keep in mind I'm only mentioning a few items released in conjunction with the first movie; the sequel, Aliens, spawned (no pun intended) several more toys.

    1. The Aforementioned Xenomorph Action Figure

    If you happen to have one of these awe-inspiring bad boys at your disposal and he's still intact, he could fetch you between $750 and $1,000 on eBay. The 18" xenomorph featured a trigger at the back of his head that opened his mouth and shot out the teeth-lined tongue and there was another mechanism that made his arms clench around unsuspecting victims. His skull's features also glowed in the dark, which was probably the only real distinction between him and his "life sized" movie version. Other than that, this figure was pretty detailed. I watched a video the other day that said he seemed too delicate for rough play and to be considered an "action" figure--more like a collector's model -- which unfortunately is a reason why some dolls that are still around today are broken or missing parts altogether (obviously decreasing its value.)

    Kenner at the time wanted to release a whole series of action figures from the movie but after Big Chap (Ridley Scott's nickname for the space monster) was yanked from shelves so was the entire project. But a few years ago a company called Super7 released the lost figures -- which included Ripley, Ash, Kane, and Dallas and a proportionally-sized xenomorph (but sadly, no facehugger.)

    2. Alien Board Game

    Also rare and released by Kenner was the Alien board game for 2 to 4 players in which the object is to make it safely to the escape shuttle while using the alien to eliminate your opponents. Online reviews say the game basically sucked, but there's currently a used one on eBay listed for over $3,000, which seems insane.

    3. Alien Giant Blaster Target Set

    Then there was the giant target set by HG Toys that came with a "laser" weapon and three safety balls. The 30" xenomorph would get affixed to a wall, and you'd try to hit the targets in his head and hands that would flip down when hit, but your ultimate goal was to hit the hole that looks like his belly button. That would cause a bell to go off in an "eerie ringing sound" indicating that you killed the xenomorph. Gotta love that they have a little girl playing this game in the toy's packaging. This one goes for about $850 intact.

    4. Kenner Alien Movie Viewer

    But here's perhaps the creepiest toy of the list. It's a hand-cranked movie viewer that basically condenses scenes from the entire movie into the span of a minute or so (no batteries needed!) I was wondering how much was included when I discovered that someone filmed it with their phone and uploaded it to YouTube. Even though the goriest parts were excluded, I still find it kind of unsettling.

    There's one listed on eBay for $425.

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    Every once in a while a movie will impress me with all of the ingredients of a perfect storm: a stellar storyline, superb acting, impressive sets and special effects, and a memorable soundtrack. But it's the rare film that has all this plus the ability to hit me hard emotionally in some way. As I've gotten older, such works of art have become all the more rarer, given the way Hollywood is going these days, with its banal, never ending parade of remakes chockfull of sterile characters and overblown CGI.

    I knew I was long overdue, then, for a dive into the retro movie vault to remedy this. So when my mother and I saw that our local This TV channel was airing the director's cut version of Das Boot on Memorial Day, we got excited and set the DVR. The movie was a cherished favorite of my late father, a WWII vet that ate up anything on film that had to do with the war. It had been many years since I watched it with him on VHS, and I must confess that I simply could not appreciate it at the time, which must have been when I was in my 20s.

    I'm now 45 and despite seeing it before, I was not prepared for how much this movie would affect me. I truly wept at the ending. Then I rewatched the final five minutes the morning after (as if I were in disbelief about the conclusion) and bawled like a baby.

    Yes, a German war movie about a submarine caused me to increase Kleenex's profits. And if this film doesn't affect you on some level like it did to me, I may have to question if you're human. Das Boot is a painfully poignant reminder that in war, nobody truly wins. But more importantly than that, it proves that even the people we perceive to be our foes are no different than us, and war affects all sides in similar ways.

    Das Boot, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and released in versions of various running times in the '80s, is based on a German novel by the same name. It tells the story of the crew of a German U boat (U-96) sent into battle in the Atlantic in late 1941, when Germany was beginning to lose its grip on control of the sea due to British advancements in naval technology. The start of the film tells us that of the 40,000 U boats deployed, only one-quarter -- 10,000 -- safely returned. Virtually all of the characters including their captain (played by the intense looking Jürgen Prochnow) are based on the crew of the actual U-96 and some of the events in the film are based on that boat's exploits.

    And if it makes a difference, the characters in this film are not what you can consider villains nor Nazis in the true sense of the word. In fact, just about all of them hold contempt for Hitler and the war but are fulfilling their duty to serve their country. When the crew stops in Spain to pick up supplies and are greeted with the Nazi salute by higher officers, the captain refuses to return the gesture. At one point when patriotic German music is being played in the submarine, another character yells at him to shut it off. Since viewing the film I've learned that the U boat crews were less than enamored with the Nazi regime and many U boat historians maintain that the U-boat navy was the least pro-Nazi branch of Germany's WWII armed forces.

    Maybe that's because, as the film shows us, the powers at be just didn't show these men the sincerity, direction, and respect that they deserved. Their mission is sometimes wrought with frustration and boredom as they wait for someone in charge to point them in the right direction so they can do their job. During the Spanish dinner scene it's pretty obvious that none of the senior officers have the slightest inkling what it's like to be stuck in one of these narrow, claustrophobic underwater vessels for weeks on end with 40+ other men without access to a shower. The captain seeks permission to return his crew home and is told no at this point.

    They -- their bosses -- don't really care about them. Most of us that have worked in the corporate world can relate. Thus, we as the audience cares. I cared. (I also fell in love with Jurgen Prochnow, but that's another story for another time.)

    Oh mein Gott...this man's eyes!
    That's what makes Das Boot so darn compelling; you're going to grow to love these guys, even after the beginning where they're stinking drunk and behaving like a bunch of horny buffoons in a French bordello (except for our smooth captain, who explains to correspondent Werner that these kids are really scared, and comforting themselves with "women and schnapps.") As we get to know a bit here and there about each young man we realize that they are no different than most of our American boys serving overseas at the time. One of the crew members, who looks like he's about 15 years old, has a pregnant French girlfriend back home. ("You've got problems," a sympathetic Werner says to him.)

    Some of the men cry, too, during an intense moment encountering a British sub they've successfully defeated.

    Speaking of Werner, he's the character that most of us landlubbers can relate to the most. We see and experience everything through his eyes. As a journalist sent to capture photos for use in Nazi propaganda, he's experiencing a submarine journey for the first time and takes us along for the ride. And what a ride it is. We feel like we're actually in the U boat watching this movie. We can start to feel the claustrophobia and smell the sweat after a while. We jump when we hear bolts popping from the crushing pressure of a dive that goes wrong. We hold our breaths as they navigate one scrape after another, and cheer with them when they triumph.

    It is a truly immersive experience. One of the most intense moments is when the sub, unable to pull itself out of an emergency dive, crashes onto a sandbank and all hell breaks loose: fires, water spurting, numerous leaks, and chaos. Precious oxygen is being depleted and the sub's engine manager cracks from the stress and suffers a nervous breakdown; will the men be able to rescue themselves from this inevitable metal coffin? You'll just have to watch.

    I honestly don't want to give away too many details about the storyline, so let me instead rave a bit about how well this movie was made without CGI. No attention to detail was spared; Wolfgang Petersen insisted that even the screws be perfect copies of the actual ones used in U boats. The amazing set was mounted off the floor and operated by a hydraulic press to give the movement of the sub's interior being shaken, tilted, or rocked. The entire crew were also trained in the proper procedure during emergency dive alarms, where everyone had to move as quickly as possible to the forward torpedo room so the added weight would help the boat dive easier. (I'd love to show you an alarm scene from the movie, but it includes a humorous flash of nudity that goes against Google's policies. You can search for it on YouTube. :)

    Several detailed models were used to show the exterior of the boat as it moved through water. Don't snicker; these old school special effects work just fine.

    As far as the performances go in this movie, there isn't a single bad one. Even if none of the crew members had been based on a real person, they would all still feel extremely real to me. I have a newfound respect for anyone that served on a submarine as a result of watching this film.

    Then there's the majestic soundtrack, as composed by Klaus Doldinger. The soundtrack even has a techno cover which went to the top of Germany's dance charts in 1991. (I just had to look it up, but prefer the original version.)

    Das Boot has been released in various running times so let me just recommend the ones you want to watch: either the Director's Cut version that I viewed (208 minutes) or, if you can find it, the "miniseries" version that aired on the BBC in 1984 (300 minutes.) You don't want to bother with the original theatrical version of 1981 (150 minutes) as the other ones contain more character development and info about the crew's backgrounds. Don't let the long running times put you off; Das Boot totally engulfs you and just like savoring a great book, the time flies. This movie should be required viewing by every film school all over the world.

    Also, I have read that the best way to view this movie is in its original German language, with English subtitles, as hearing the lines in the native tongue packs an even more serious punch. On that note, I've also read that the movie included various authentic German accents to make the final product all the more realistic.

    This is filmmaking at its finest, folks. I cannot recommend this movie enough. It's not to be overlooked.

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    In my last blog post I raved to you about a movie that totally won my heart, Das Boot. In today's blog post, I'm going to gripe, vent, grovel about and generally rip apart a film that lost it: The English Patient.

    No one would be more surprised to hear this than my high school friends, who went with me to see the movie when it opened in theaters in 1996. Back then I thought it was romantic, sexy, and tragic. I suppose the crush I had on Ralph Fiennes at the time had something to do with it...this was way before he started losing his hair and turned into Lord Voldemort.

    But time and life has a way of educating one's self. While watching clips of the movie online the other night, a profound realization swept over me: this is a pretty stupid movie.
    Remember the episode of Seinfeld where Elaine's boyfriend, friends, and even her boss, J. Peterman, raved about The English Patient? Elaine couldn't stomach it. Then she makes the mistake of telling her boss she hasn't seen it yet, so he insists on dragging her to the theater in the middle of the workday. She starts yelling, "Just die already! Die!" in the theater.

    Well, Elaine had the right idea.

    This is a movie about two cheating douchebags that get their just desserts. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Now granted, it is a well made movie. No argument there. I'm talking about the exotic settings, cinematography, costume design, and all that jazz. I remember critics at the time of its release comparing it to Lawrence of Arabia on just those points alone. Kudos must go to director Anthony Minghella for getting al of that right. It did win nine Academy Awards, after all (and was nominated for 12.)

    No, the problem I have with the film is its central maudlin love story between Count László de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas.)

    For starters, there's zero motive -- none whatsoever -- for Katharine to cheat on her husband. I could understand this affair somewhat if her husband, Geoffrey, was controlling, abusive to her in some way, or if they just didn't love each other any more (not that it would make the affair "right" if any of those were the case.) But Geoffrey, who seems kind, friendly, and good natured openly adores her and Katharine loves him back. She even lists him among things that she loves once she's in bed with Almásy and insists that the marriage isn't a farce. (Plus, he's portrayed by Colin Firth. Hello! Are we really to believe any woman would ditch him for a sulky, arrogant Hungarian count?)

    As just noted, Almásy is sulky and arrogant. He's also jealous of her marriage with Geoffrey and comes across as spoiled and wanting to have his way. All the while looking like he stepped out of a Banana Republic store. To be honest, he needs to be punched in the mouth at several moments throughout this film.

    Then there's the awful lines in this movie once the couple is under the heat of passion. I consider myself as big a romantic as anybody and I've been known to say some sexy things, but c'mon, some of these seem a little over the top...

    Almásy: "I can still taste you. I try to write with your taste in my mouth."
    "Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again."
    "What is this?" (pointing at the hollow at the bottom of Katharine's neck.) "It's mine."

    We later learn that the part of Katharine's neck that Almásy wanted to perversely possess is called the supersternal notch (well, at least we took away some anatomy terminology from this three hour film.)

    I know the movie is based on a novel by Michael Ondaatje. I've never read it, or any of Ondaatje's work, but if these lines were lifted from the book then it sounds like Michael Ondaatje is really a synonym for your pick of any cheesy romance novelist. Male writers in general don't write this kind of pap when describing love and sex scenes.

    Did you know that Count Almásy was a real person? He died in 1951. Good thing that was before he could find out a twisted author and then a moviemaker romanticized him as a bald, disfigured burn victim that eventually dies from his injuries.

    The sex scenes are over the top, too. A dress gets ripped (and then sewn by Almásy...really?)...he puts his hand up her skirt during a Christmas party and puts his thumb in her mouth.

    Then there's the really cornball moment where the music suddenly swells and Fiennes bursts into tears after a badly injured Katharine tells Almásy, "I've always loved you" as he carries her to the Cave of Swimmers.

    The thing is, there's nothing romantic or grand about people cheating on their partners. Anyone that thinks it's going to be sexy and somehow worth it in the end is delusional. And I felt sorry for Geoffrey as the cheating unfolded behind his back.

    I'll tell you what I do like about The English Patient: the more realistic partnering of Almásy's nurse Hana and Kip, the Sikh bomb diffuser. The part where Kip gives Hana a flare and hoists her into the air so that she can view paintings in a cathedral is definitely one of the highlight moments of the film:

    That, and my beloved Jürgen Prochnow shows up as a badass German major that cuts off Willem Dafoe's thumbs...ha ha ha. Too bad he didn't encounter Almásy and cut off his, too, for violating Katharine's mouth with one of them.

    I know this movie is beloved by a lot of diehard romantics and has a ton of fans; mostly of the young female variety. Like I said, I love a good love story, but I cannot count myself among its legions of viewers that have actually memorized every line. I simply cannot feel sorry for either lead character by the end of the movie.

    Sorry, Ralphie.

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    Hey Germany, let's make a deal. I'll trade you George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, James Franco, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, and Justin Timberlake for your Jürgen Prochnow.

    In fact, I'll trade anyone that's ever been featured in the pages of People magazine's annual Sexiest Men issue and anyone else that the Hollywood media deems that us warm blooded American females should be drooling over...because they say so...for your Jürgen Prochnow.

    All of these pathetic American "actors", you can have them all. Just give me Jürgen. Please?

    OK, if the answer is nein, I don't blame you. I wouldn't trade him, either.

    But he should have been a huge star here. I'm talking bigly. (I just noticed that Blogger didn't autocorrect bigly. So it's a word after all.)

    And before we go any further, and just so you know, the j in Jürgen is pronounced like a y. Just like Johann. Please don't pronounce his name Jer-gen, because that might sound too much like jerking off. :)

    Now that that's out of the way, today is Jürgen Prochnow's 76th birthday. After becoming fascinated with him while watching Das Boot shortly after Memorial Day, naturally my womanly research instincts kicked in and I decided to see what I could find out about the new man in my life. Of course there were the usual array of interviews, and the standard IMDB and Wikipedia bios. But something surprised me.

    Prochnow does not have an official website, even one run by a fan. He has no social media presence (that is actually not surprising; many smart celebrities don't touch Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and there's only one "fan club" devoted to him on Facebook, the Jürgen Prochnow Appreciation Society (which I joined...of course.)

    Part of this is due, I'm sure, to attributing himself as a working actor and not a movie star. But I can't help but think that his name should have been bigger in the States. That's not to say he hasn't been successful. After Das Boot caused a sensation worldwide, he was next exposed to American audiences when he starred in a Michael Mann cult horror film called The Keep (in an interview I recently watched, Prochnow was very proud to be a part of this film and considers it his big Hollywood role after Das Boot.) He then played the dashing, bearded Duke Leto I Atreides in David Lynch's movie adaptation of the sci-fi epic Dune (Lynch would later cast Prochnow in a small, strange role of the Woodsman in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.) Beverly Hills Cop 2 followed a few years later. But while Prochnow has had a lucrative career, most of his international film roles have been supplemented with German films and television (not that there's anything wrong with that.) He's also had his fair share of bombs.

    It probably isn't hard to figure out why. Hollywood is notorious for pigeonholing Teutonic actors into two categories: Nazis and villains. Just look what's become of Christoph Waltz since winning the Oscar for Inglorious Basterds. With the exception of playing a good natured dentist turned bounty hunter in Django Unchained, he's portrayed a con artist in Big Eyes, an abusive circus ringleader in Water for Elephants, and James Bond's nemesis Blofeld in Spectre.

    In the interview I mentioned, Prochnow said that he tried hard not to take too many bad guy roles after the success of Das Boot, but admitted that sometimes those dark parts are more complex and interesting to play then the hero. When he tried to get director Tony Scott to develop more of his character's story for Beverly Hills Cop 2, however, it backfired and several scenes of his Maxwell Dent character got cut. It was Eddie Murphy's movie, he said, and he realized then that Hollywood is very much a business.

    Then I think there's the fact that Prochnow's looks may have worked against him in an industry that places a high priority on a standard of what they and American audiences think is perfect and beautiful.

    Now, I happen to think that Jürgen Prochnow is VERY handsome and sexy, and beautiful inside and out. I've never seen a man with such intense looking blue eyes in my life. He also just has that very European look. But I'm guessing that, sadly, American filmmakers just didn't view him as leading romantic man material. Fools.

    There was one exception: he plays a Jewish man that falls in love with a German countess during WWII in the 1984 television drama Forbidden, costarring Jacqueline Bisset. He is very believable in the role; enough to me at least that he should have been offered similar parts.

    Prochnow also has visible scarring on his face which probably worked against him, a result of bad acne in his teens which he says cleared up during a trip to southern France (and exposure to sea water), only to return when he came back home to Germany. Wikipedia also reports that during the filming of Dune, a stunt went wrong and he ended up with second degree burns on his cheek. Maybe that's also why he looks pretty darn nice with a beard.

    And if Prochnow hadn't been cast in Das Boot, who knows how many of these roles would have come his way. He nearly didn't get the part of the strong yet sympathetic U boat captain. In 1977, he played a gay man in a German television movie called The Consequence at a time when homosexual relationships were still banned in Germany. Wolfgang Petersen originally chose him, then later told him to forget about it because the financial backers for Das Boot actually said that Prochnow couldn't possibly play a U boat captain because of his role in The Consequence. But a year later, Petersen hadn't found anyone else appropriate for the role and entrusted it to Prochnow after all.

    Plus, how can we forget him ridding Willem Dafoe of his thumbs in The English Patient? Prochnow says that the part, which wasn't in the book, was scripted especially for him. He originally wanted Dafoe's role of the thief Caravaggio, but the budget called for an American actor to play it. Nonetheless, Prochnow made a memorable impression in a movie with a terrible romantic story.

    One bit of interesting trivia is that Prochnow was considered for the lead in The Terminator. That would have been satisfying to see, but ultimately I think Arnold Schwarzenegger was the right choice for that iconic part. (Ironically, Prochnow did portray Schwarzenegger about ten years ago in a movie about his political career, See Arnold Run.)

    Something else about Prochnow's career that surprises me is that he's never been nominated for any Oscars. In fact, he's only won one award -- a 1985 Best Actor award for the Bavarian Film Awards.

    Born in Berlin in 1941, Prochnow later grew up in Dusseldorf and studied acting at the Folkwang University of the Arts while working in banking. He has an older brother, Dieter, who also acts and the two brothers appeared on screen in a film called The Man Inside.

    In interviews, Prochnow comes across as relaxed, happy, and genuinely grateful for all of the work that has come his way -- a really nice guy, and another reason why I'm enamored with him. (By contrast, Waltz comes across as arrogant and is a nightmare subject for many interviewers.)

    And, he's not immune to taking comedic parts. In 2006 he starred as Baron Wolfgang Von Wolfhausen in a silly movie about a German beer drinking contest called...what else? Beerfest. He's a clip from the film...there's also another funny scene where he references Das Boot.

    Well, I adore this attractive, talented man and I look forward to continuing to catch up with all of his work as well as seeing his new films. Happy birthday, Jürgen!

    By the way, here's that interview I mentioned throughout this post. Lots of entertaining anecdotes here about Prochnow's career and various roles.

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    The 1980s decade was not the best time for McDonald's, branding-wise. Late in the '70s they were sued by Sid and Marty Krofft over their McDonaldland characters, which the brothers claimed were a copyright infringement of H.R. Pufnstuf and related characters. The Krofft brothers won, and McDonald's was ordered to stop using several of the McDonaldland characters in advertising and commercials. In 1987, they introduced a new character -- Mac Tonight -- who had a giant crescent moon for a head and wore a tux and shades. He sang a reworked version of Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" and landed McDonald's in hot water again when they were sued by Darin's estate for infringing upon his trademark song without permission.

    Then there was the time McDonald's got involved with the movie business. The result was Mac & Me, released in 1988 and widely considered one of the worst movies ever made. I can now say that I'm one of the few that has watched Mac & Me (it's been uploaded to YouTube) and it was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life (but alas, a retro blogger's got to do what a retro blogger has to do.) I don't think there's a word or phrase in the dictionary that can adequately convey how bad this movie is, but sh*t show comes close.

    Mac & Me is an atrocious E.T. ripoff (even its title copies the working title of Steven Spielberg's smash hit, which was E.T. & Me) with none of the charm or originality. If you're a Paul Rudd fan, then you may have seen a clip of the film without realizing it; in a long running gag while promoting his films on Conan O'Brien's late night talk show, he instead introduces the scene where the main character loses control of his wheelchair and careens down a hill near his backyard and into a pool of water. It's actually one of the best moments in the film, unfortunately.

    Mac & Me was literally written over the course of a weekend, and it shows. It basically came about because some film producer guy with zero taste and a connection to McDonald's wanted to make a movie and donate proceeds from it to the Ronald McDonald House.

    Here's what Stewart Raffill, the director and screenwriter of Mac & Me, had to say years later about the mess he made:

    Mac and Me? That was another movie where somebody called me up and he was a producer who had worked on quite a few films. He’d made a lot of big movies, but he decided he want to make his own movie. And he raised the money from one of the main partners at McDonalds—I think, like, the produce provider for McDonalds—and he put up the money to do that movie with the understanding that the proceeds from that movie would go to the Ronald McDonald Foundation.

    So I was hired out of the blue. And the producer asked me to come down to the office. So I did and he had a whole crew there, a whole crew on the payroll. It was amazing. He had the transportation captain. The camera department head. The AD. The Production Manager. He had everybody already hired and I said, “Well, what’s the script?” And he said, “We don’t have a script. I don’t like the script. You have to write the script. You’re gonna have to write it quick so prep the movie and write the script on the weekends.”

    Yeah, so I’d go and lock myself in a hotel on Friday night, write ’til Monday, anticipate what the locations were going to be, go out and find the locations, design the aliens and all that stuff. It was kind of a messy way to make a movie.

    The movie is about a boy in a wheelchair, Eric Cruise (played by Jade Calegory) who encounters a young alien creature that's been separated from his family. The neighborhood that Eric and his own family live in is very close to the one in E.T., and even his family unit is very similar: he has an older teenage brother and a widowed mom, played by Christine Ebersole. The Cruises' precocious next door neighbor, Courtney, pretty much fills in for Drew Barrymore's part.

    The "Mac" in the title is short for Mysterious Alien Creature but really, it alludes to McDonald's name and Big Macs. And that is one of the biggest issues critics had with this movie, other than the fact that everything else about it is poorly put together. It almost plays like a 90 minute promo for McDonald's and Coca-Cola as both brands feature prominently in the movie. The aliens themselves subside on Coca-Cola (it even brings back Mac's family from near death at one point) and Courtney's older sister works at McDonald's and is usually seen wearing the uniform. There's even a long sequence that takes place at a McDonald's featuring kids break dancing in the parking lot and a ridiculous array of kids and teens participating in a dance number. Mac, disguised in a creepy teddy bear costume, even gets in on the act to thwart the FBI guys chasing his tail. You can see this awfulness for yourself in the clip below.

    The bear costume is actually a huge improvement for the alien; Mac and his family are the dopiest, sorriest looking extraterrestrials we've ever seen this side of the Milky Way. You seriously mean to tell me that no one could come up with something better than these wobbly, big-eared, genital-less awkward beings with their mouths fixed permanently in the "O" position? This is the also the dumbest group of aliens you'll ever see on the screen; after all, they allow themselves to get sucked up into a NASA rock collecting ship on their home planet which is how they get to earth in the first place. Their only power is causing anything electrical to short circuit. They can't even communicate; they call to each other by making whistling sounds and even the father alien, who resembles William H. Macy (sorry, I like Macy, too - but that's who he reminded me of!) acts like a clueless toddler, even during the movie's climatic supermarket scene where a cop practically hands over his gun to the creature.

    The supermarket blows up, but the alien family walks out of the fireball unscathed. Where's a xenomorph when you need him? I would have loved to have seen Mac and his family get mouth murdered; they drove me nuts.

    Here's the craziest part about this movie, as if the rest of it wasn't already completely insane...its production budget was actually higher than E.T.'s. It cost $13 million to make while E.T. came in at $10.5 million. (It made just half of that back, with box office sales totaling $6.4 million. By contrast, E.T. had pulled in close to $800 million.)

    There actually is one good thing to say about Mac & Me, and that was the hiring of Jade Calegory, the boy that played Eric, and the handling of his character. Calegory really is handicapped -- he has spina bifida and scoliosis -- and was hired to play a role that very easily could have been handed, given the decade this film was made in, to someone that was not disabled. In fact, that was Calegory's own personal experience when he showed up for auditions for previous handicapped parts. Nor is his disability referenced at all in the movie aside from his mother mentioning the wheelchair accessible features in their new home. No one asks why he's in a wheelchair, nor do they tease him; they treat him like any other 12 year-old kid. For this, I do have to applaud the producers and McDonald's for showing Eric for who he is and not his disability.

    Calegory only made a couple of other acting appearances after Mac & Me, and today works as a photographer and even has his own Etsy shop. The following quote has been attributed to him: "You shouldn’t dwell on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do. And the more you see what you can do, the more you come to realize there are no limitations in life."

    Believe it or not, Mac & Me's producers were hoping to make a sequel. The movie ends with the words "We'll be back!" Obviously, things didn't work out as planned, but you have to wonder if there's someone somewhere still waiting nearly 30 years later for a Mac & Me sequel.

    Now that I've watched and reviewed Mac & Me so you don't have to, here's a hysterical parody promo for the film that is 100 times more watchable then the movie itself. Ronald's laugh at the end sure seems to seal the deal that the joke was on movie audiences with this bomb.

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    A (very purple!) 1980s hair salon. Image via Scanagogo
    A few months ago I made the difficult decision of emailing my hairdresser to let her know I was breaking up with her. It wasn't because I was unhappy with her work -- quite the opposite -- but she had moved twice within the past year, eventually opening up her own salon in a town that simply felt too far away for me to drive to for a haircut. I wished her good luck with the new business venture and thanked her for all of the awesome styles she gave me through the years not to mention all of the times she patiently listened while I cried in her chair over a dope that broke my heart.

    What I didn't mention in the message is that I had recently trimmed my own hair and was pleased enough with the results that I had no intentions of seeing her, or any other stylist, again any time soon. I had perused a ton of DIY haircut tutorials on YouTube and finally one afternoon took the plunge myself (I actually did more then trim; I cut off about an inch and a half, which is what I wanted.)

    I just couldn't justify paying $57 (before tip) for a haircut that I could do it myself. I realize that's a bargain compared to what salons in the city charge, but now that my former stylist is the owner of her own business, I'm sure that rate has gone up. My hair is pretty uncomplicated; I have a shorter version of Mary Travers' trademark 'do...slick straight, one length hair except for some face framing layers with bangs. Even when I was working, it kind of pained me to fork over a chunk of cash every six-eight weeks when I was just getting a trim off the bottom of a very simple hairstyle. Granted, if I ever decide to change it significantly I won't attempt it myself; I'll find a salon. But for now, I'm happy with saving a few extra buckaroos every other month.

    Not only that, but I no longer have to take an appointment time that's inconvenient to me (during May and June she was always booked solid for proms and weddings) nor do I have someone trying to talk me into purchasing expensive hair products (she didn't do this to me, but I've been to many salons that did.)

    Image via Scanagogo
    And is it just me, or does it seem that hair salons in general have gotten way too expensive and pretentious compared to back in the day?

    There's about 82,000 beauty salons in the U.S. today and when combined with 4,000 barber shops (only 4,000?) they pull in an annual revenue of over $20 billion. These stats are from 2014. I do not know how much this industry has grown since, say the 1970s, but I'm sure the answer would be "quite a lot." It's a saturated market. In my town alone, doing a quick search, I counted at least a dozen.

    Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against hair stylists and salons; I respect the amount of training and skill development that goes into becoming a licensed hairdresser (that is the retro word I grew up hearing and still use to this day.) I have a family member in the business that's done quite well for herself; she now owns her own salon and is renting chairs to other stylists.

    But it's the salons that charge a fortune for a snip and put on airs that just make me scratch my head. While doing a search for salons that earned the "Best of Boston" award, I came across one that actually charges up to $250 for a cut. This same business also offers male clients an annual membership for $1,000 where they can receive unlimited haircuts. Since most people get their hair cut every six weeks, that amounts to about eight times a year. $1,000 divided by eight is $125 per haircut. I don't see how that's a bargain. And like I said, that was for the male clients. Gentlemen, do yourselves a favor and just find a really good barbershop. You'll save yourself a small fortune. Barbers don't buy into such foolishness.

    And here's the images that one salon -- which I assume wants its clientele to think of them as trendy and artsy -- uses on their homepage, with NO other info whaosever. A little help, here? I don't understand what I'm looking at or what is so remarkable about these cuts. The fact that they posted them in black and white just makes this place seem all the more cold and aloof. This is supposedly one of the most expensive places in Boston to get a haircut.

    And why is it that these male salon owners and top stylists today usually don't have a haircut themselves, but just wear their hair long? Maybe it all started with celebrity stylist Jose Eber in the '80s...remember him with his long, straight hair and cowboy hat?

    Like so many of you out there, I've had my share of bad haircuts as well, and not necessarily from budget haircutting franchises like Supercuts (although Supercuts once botched my hair so badly by literally cutting a hole into one side of the front layering I have...I had to see another place to get it chopped into a short bob, after I'd spent months growing it past my shoulders.) It was another incentive to learn how to trim my own hair.

    After the Supercuts fiasco, I continued to see the new stylist -- a woman that had been featured in a Boston magazine for her skills -- until the day I showed up to find what I assume was her very immature boyfriend sitting and spinning around in the chair next to mine and goofing off. She barely acknowledged me at all during the appointment. She was so focused on him that she actually missed some spots at the bottom of my hair. This was the second time I noticed uneven ends; at home after the last cut, I had to fix them myself. When I pointed out the very obvious longer pieces hanging down, she got huffy and evened them out without a saying a word or apologizing. Needless to say, I never showed up for my next appointment.

    Another top salon in my town once gave out gift cards at a local event I attended, so I tried them out. The stylist I got turned my chair at a 90 degree angle so instead of looking into the mirror and seeing what she was doing, I was forced to view a male client in the chair next to mine. She had the personality of a styrofoam plate and the only times she spoke was when she attempted to talk me into trying whispy ends and other techniques that I had already tried years ago that I know my fine, straight hair doesn't really cooperate with.

    I also color my roots myself every six weeks or so with Schwarzkopf Keratin Color; my local paper usually provides regular coupons, whereas L'Oreal stopped giving them for Feria (my previous preferred brand) and also discontinued their online rewards program. Again, the cost of going to a salon to have your hair colored seems astronomical, and I can't imagine repeating the price several times a year as the roots grow in.

    As it turns out, however, charging a fortune for a haircut is nothing new. In 1968, Roman Polanski paid Vidal Sassoon $5,000 for him to fly to the set of Rosemary's Baby and give star Mia Farrow a pixie cut (husband Frank Sinatra supposedly was not a fan of her boyish new hairdo.) But he was Vidal Sassoon...a man that started a hair revolution in the 1960s by rejuvenating the flapper bob with angular and asymmetrical shapes, but somehow still creating styles that women actually wanted to wear.

    And at the end of the day, I think most women today want low maintenance hair and something that just looks natural and compliments their face. So in the meantime I'll take my chances trimming my own hair.

    And my old hairdresser? She never responded to my message. Shrug.

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    I'll admit it...I may have a thing for submarines.

    After I watched Das Boot a few months ago, I had a thought: it would be fun to actually visit a submarine on display. I didn't even bother to look up if there were any near me, but it turns out I didn't have to. A couple of weeks later, on the day before Father's Day, my friend Patti and I were driving to Portsmouth, NH when she makes one wrong turn, then another. Then as she's turning around I tell her about the dream I had about my late father a few nights earlier: my dad was alive, and in the dream I kept telling myself I had to tell him I watched Das Boot again. Only I never did, and woke up a little bummed out.

    No less than a minute after telling her this story, she points to her left and says, "Oh. My. God. Look!"

    And there on our left is a huge honking submarine, the USS Albacore. And you can visit it! (Thanks, daddy!)

    Last weekend we finally went back and toured the sub. The USS Albacore didn't see any warfare (although it was named for an earlier American WWII sub that sadly, sunk off the coast of Japan during the war) but that doesn't make it any less cool. This vessel was a Navy research sub, mainly used to test emerging submarine technology. (One of these was as improved ballast tank blow system, used during emergencies to help subs resurface.) Her official motto was"Praenuntius Futuri" or "Forerunner of the Future." She was commissioned in 1953 and known for her speed (27 knots for short distances) and agility. Decommissioned in 1972 (the year I was born), she sat at the Inactive Ship Facility at Philadelphia until 1984, when she was towed to Portsmouth. A year later, Albacore Park started to take shape and eventually opened to the public in 1989.

    Tickets are only $7 for adult admission (not bad to enter a piece of naval history) and the tour itself is self guided; audio recordings along stops outside and inside the sub give an idea of its features and what daily life was like for the crew. At any given time there were about 45-50 men that served on the sub. The one bit of information I couldn't find on the site (or missed during the tour) was how long a mission typically lasted.

    Here's a few photos from the tour; the one thing that struck me was just how tight and claustrophobic the interior actually was compared to photos I'd seen beforehand. It takes a certain type of man to serve on a submarine. It was too close for comfort enough moving from one section to another with a handful of other tourists, but I cannot even imagine living in such an environment with dozens of other people. The watertight doors used to separate each section of the sub seemed to only be four feet tall and maybe no more than three feet wide. I instantly thought of the emergency dive scenes in Das Boot where the men had to scoot through such doors in a matter of seconds.

    Dreaming of Jürgen Prochnow.
    The bunk areas were insane. Two men would often sleep in each bunk. 
    The anecdote drawer in case of poisoning. Yep.

    Emergency hatch.

    "Hi, Dominos? I'd like to order 20 pizzas, please. Where am I located? About 150 miles off the coast of France. How long do you think delivery will take?"

    One of the two galleys. Believe it or not, they baked bread, cakes, and made lobster newburgh on this sub -- using a bit of sherry the executive officer kept discretely tucked away in his safe.

    The captain's dining quarters. Luxury living at its finest.
    Captain's private bunk area.

    Old school typewriter.
    Morse code room.
    Luxury bathroom compared to what WWII submariners had. There was also a sink, and a separate shower. Each men would get a gallon of water to wash with daily and if they were lucky, got to take a hot shower once a week.

    Just a snippet of the gauges in the navigation room.
    The periscope still worked. No enemy battle ships on the horizon; just a couple of Portsmouth houses with families who have no idea the sub is spying on them.

    The crew's mess hall back in its heyday. Note the mini jukebox!
    Part of the sonar room.
    The other galley.
    The crew's mess hall area.

    Part of the massive engine room.

    There's additional sub memorabilia inside the visitor's center, including a bit about the German WWII U-boats, and behind the building is a nice little memorial park area dedicated to American sailors that lost their lives aboard submarines, accompanied by a dolphin statue (the Navy's warfare insignia for submariners.)

    Also, what did my friend see for sale in the gift shop? The complete UNCUT miniseries version of Das Boot on DVD. Of course, I had to have it, and will save it for viewing at a later date. :)

    P.S. The museum is a family friendly attraction and since you're allowed to touch pretty much everything in the sub, it's a fun place to take kids that are old enough to get a kick out of it.

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    In recent years we've lost an awful lot of notable musicians and actors -- particularly those that were at the top of their game in the '80s and '90s, my growing years -- at an alarming rate, but to be honest very few of those deaths had little effect on me. The sudden passing of Tom Petty last week, however, felt like a sucker punch.

    He was only 66. Maybe to some that doesn't sound exactly young but it isn't exactly old, either. I was signing out of one of my hotmail accounts and signing onto another one Monday evening when I caught the news on MSN (my browser's homepage; don't ask me why) that he had been taken off of life support after going into cardiac arrest at his Malibu home. Then came the premature announcement from CBS that he was dead, which they later retracted. When I woke up Tuesday morning, the first thing I did was check the Internet about Petty's condition, and that's when the sad news was confirmed.

    Maybe it hit me a little hard because I always considered Petty to be one of the good guys. He wasn't a sellout and turned down sponsorships and licensing his music to advertisers. He genuinely cared about his fans, famously refusing to allow his record label to raise the price of his band's 1981 album Hard Promises from $8.98 to a dollar more (the record was almost renamed Eight Ninety-Eight in retaliation.) His group also resisted raising ticket prices during their Echo tour. And in 2002, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thumbed their noses at the increasingly vapid music industry when they released The Last DJ, which contained tracks like the title song, "Joe", and "When Money Became King", all with acerbic lyrics aimed at egotistical head honchos that valued style over substance.

    He also seemed a lot like one of us. Didn't we all know some mild mannered, long haired kid in high school with an artistic streak? He wasn't wildly considered a good looking guy and yet there was something about Petty I always found sexy and attractive, if not a little bit mysterious. (His creepy Alice in Wonderland-inspired video for "Don't Come Around Here No More" is the stuff of nightmares, but it's one of the best ever made during MTV's heyday.)

    He also had a wry sense of humor that seemed very similar to that of his good buddy and fellow Wilbury, George Harrison. It's no surprise to me that they became fast friends when The Traveling Wilburys was formed.

    "The soundtrack of my childhood" is a rather overused cliche, but in the case of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, well, it's true. Their success took off in the late 70s and the hits kept coming throughout the '80s and '90s. I can remember driving to my hotel job for a late shift in the '90s when "Learning To Fly" came on the radio and suddenly I didn't want to go into work. In fact, a lot of Petty's songs made good driving music: "Runnin' Down A Dream", "American Girl", and "Free Falling" just to name a few immediately come to mind.

    Throughout the years, in my head, I often adopted one of Petty's hits as my own personal theme song: "I Won't Back Down" while job hunting and "Refugee" and "The Waiting" when nursing a broken heart.

    In the week since his passing I've read some remarks online saying that he was overrated, that his songs were overplayed, and that he didn't deserve superstar status. I couldn't disagree more. The band had just wrapped up their 40th anniversary tour shortly before his death, and I don't think you stay together and keep recording that long if you're making bad music. Petty also had an arsenal of underrated tracks that never really hit the airwaves; "Jammin' Me", "Letting You Go", "A Woman In Love (And It's Not Me)", and the Wilbury's "Last Night" are standouts. His solo album Wildflowers is also quite good. (At some point I'll compile a blog post of ten underrated tracks.)

    Making the news even sadder for me is that I never got to see Petty in concert. This past summer I caught the double billed tour of Hall and Oates and Tears for Fears. Great show, but I now regret not making the effort to see the Heartbreakers. Like Paul McCartney, I just assumed Petty would be around for a good deal yet. His trademark slightly nasal/slightly southern drawl voice was still strong and on point during this last tour from what I've seen on performances posted to YouTube.

    The day after he died I took my mother grocery shopping and was ordering a sub from the prepared foods counter while my mother gathered cat food. One of the women behind the counter brought up Petty and we all started talking about sad this was, how the music brings back memories, etc. Somehow sharing that bit of fan camaraderie with others that felt the same way helped me feel a little better.

    Petty almost seemed to sense that the end was near; he had recently told an interviewer the 40th anniversary tour was probably going to be the last one, as he wanted to spend more time with his family and watch his granddaughter grow up instead of being on the road.

    I guess fate had other plans. To quote the lyrics from one of his tracks on the Wildflowers album, "It's time to move on. It's time to get going. What lies ahead I have no way of knowing. But under my feet, baby, grass is growing. Yeah, it's time to move on. It's time to get going."

    RIP Tom Petty.

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  • 11/21/17--19:55: The Spacey Between Us

  • Kevin Spacey was the celebrity that I least expected to ever see associated with a scandal.

    I've been a fan of his for nearly 20 years, ever since I watched American Beauty in a hotel room while on a business trip. To say that the past few weeks have not been an easy time for Kevin Spacey fans is an understatement. At many times it has felt like a nightmare that I cannot wake up from.

    I'm sad, and confused. I don't know what to believe. I'm at a loss as to what to do with the DVDs of his movies I own. I can't bear to toss them and yet at the same time it's going to be a while before I can bear to watch any of them again.

    I don't know how much I'm allowed to say about the allegations against him here on this blog only because the AdSense police have already flagged my site a few times for content that violates their terms and conditions. There's no need for me to rehash it all here anyway; everyone knows why Kevin Spacey could be in serious trouble.

    The conflict for me is that the allegations are just that: allegations. There's no concrete evidence as of this writing that anything Spacey has been accused of has actually taken place. Some of the incidents also supposedly occurred over 30 years ago. And yet there's so many of them, too many to not believe that at least some of them are true. Not to mention he checked himself into rehab, which seems to indicate guilt and acknowledgment that he has a real problem.

    In a matter of days, an entire career that was built up over decades was demolished. He was even removed from his next film to be released, All the Money In the World, replaced by Christopher Plummer. It's one of the biggest Hollywood scandals to date and we're all witnessing it.

    I'm shocked because as a fan who followed Spacey's career during the past several years, I can tell you of the numerous humanitarian work the man has done when not performing. He has always cited his mentor, Jack Lemmon, with "sending the elevator back down" or helping others with their careers once you've done well for yourself. His foundation did just that, by giving grants to promising new talent in the entertainment industry.

    Spacey has also participated in the Best Buddies Challenge, which teams participants with individuals with developmental disabilities on a bike ride; there's several photos online of Spacey charming kids and babies during this event. He also visited the Atlanta Children's Hospital in 2016 to entertain the kids while making the movie Baby Driver there (the film where another actor recently said he treated everyone like a bully on the set), even introducing the patients to a young singer whose singing wowed him while he was in Nashville.

    He's visited a nursing home dedicated to retirees from the world of showbiz, participated and emceed at numerous charitable events, and pretty much every dog he's adopted during the past several years came from a shelter.

    This is the Kevin Spacey that his dedicated fans believe him to be, which is why the stories about his behavior that have been coming in droves since October 30 are so disturbing. How could this be the same man so many people are claiming violated and used his power to intimate others?

    And if it weren't for him, I never would have discovered Bobby Darin or at least, it would have taken me much longer to do so.

    Although it is not an excuse for his behavior, if it is indeed true, but the stories about his childhood and upbringing that his brother Randy Fowler was telling the press may explain a lot. I remember Fowler tried exposing his family's secrets a good decade ago but it didn't get picked up by the press and I dismissed them, thinking he was simply a jealous older brother trying to make a buck off of his famous younger one.

    But maybe we have reason to believe Fowler, despite his eccentric appearance (he's a limo driver who also may be a Rod Stewart impersonator. And he looks nothing like his younger brother Kevin.)

    If Fowler's story about he and Kevin's father is true, then it's tragic and soul shattering. Fowler claims the patriarch was emotionally, sexually, and physically abusive and while he isn't sure if Kevin ever got attacked, he was on the receiving end many times. Mother Kathleen knew but didn't do anything to try and stop it, or protect her kids. Fowler also says their dear old dad worshipped Adolph Hitler and once made him quit the boy scouts when he learned the scoutmaster was Jewish. In pictures that have surfaced over the past few weeks, Thomas Fowler -- Randy and Kevin's dad -- is even shown sporting a Hitler mustache and similar hairstyle.

    Thomas Fowler was a struggling writer who was often unemployed. The one family vacation Randy Fowler remembers was to visit a nudist colony. He said they were short on money so often that he and his siblings didn't visit a dentist for several years.

    Randy believes that his father's genes, unfortunately, may have been passed onto his brother Kevin, which explains the numerous allegations stacking up against him. He says many stories Kevin has told to the press throughout the years, such as being kicked out of military school, were really Randy's experiences. He says Kevin retreated into acting and disappeared into becoming someone else as a way of dealing with a miserable home life.

    (Spacey, by the way, was the mother's maiden name and he adopted it before embarking on an acting career, as Randy said Fowler didn't sound Hollywood enough.)

    If these stories are true then I admit I feel sorry for Kevin Spacey. It's not an excuse for behavior that he should have known was harmful, but it may help explain a knee-jerk reaction of coming onto and groping unsuspecting victims.

    And yet, does...should...all of this erase an entire career? In the past couple of weeks I've noticed that YouTube videos of Spacey have not been removed. Twitter accounts dedicated to his fans have not been deleted. Pinterest boards dedicated to him are still intact. I admit, I watched clips from American Beauty the other night and still find his performance every bit as entertaining as the first time I saw it 18 years ago. I still like the guy. It may not be the popular opinion, but it's true.

    Maybe we're all waiting for the latest plot twist in this saga, and that we find out it was all just a big joke. Some are saying his career is over and that he's going to jail.

    Me, I'd like to think that a year from now Kevin Spacey will give a sit-down, tell-all interview and explain himself. Hollywood often has a short memory.

    I guess the next act remains to be seen.

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  • 01/01/18--11:30: Happy 2018...I'm Still Here!

  • Happy New Year, retro fans! Yep, I'm still here.

    In case you've been wondering if I've abandoned this blog, I sure haven't. I just haven't been motivated enough to post to it as frequently as I used to. I honestly don't know where the past year has gone; I just know Go Retro got put on the back burner because of other responsibilities. But now that one of my freelance jobs recently ended, I'll probably have more time to get some regular content posted again. In fact, I recently discovered a German singer who is keeping the vintage music sound alive in his country (I'm calling him the Michael Buble of Germany) who I plan on telling you all about this week.

    I hope everyone had a wonderful 2017 and enjoyed their holiday season. Even though Go Retro isn't updated daily, the Facebook page is, so feel free to follow the site there for some continuous groovy goodness.

    As The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson would tell us just before commercial breaks, more to come!

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    Although they're far and few in between these days, it's always admirable to come across a younger singer that is keeping the vintage sound of decades past alive. Recently I discovered German singer Tom Gaebel when his music video for his cover of "Music To Watch Girls By" was recommended to me in the sidebar on YouTube. I was immediately wowed by his voice, charisma, and -- let's face it -- the fact that he's also easy on the eyes.

    Since then I've been referring to Gaebel as "the German Michael Buble" but I like him much more than Buble. (His fans also refer to him as "Dr. Swing.") Unfortunately, he's mostly known in Europe which is why I wanted to introduce him to my American readers. Gaebel leads a big band that is named after himself. Born in January 1975, he hails from a musical family and learned several instruments as a kid (including the glockenspiel) before finding his true calling as a singer. He worked with a few bands and singers in the early 2000s before releasing his solo debut album, Introducing: Myself (a nod to Austin Powers, perhaps?) in 2005.

    He's also released a couple of Christmas albums (Easy Christmas, 2010 and A Swinging Christmas, 2015) and several albums that include a mix of classic covers from the '50s through the '70s, along with a few original songs of his own that hit the retro sweet spot in my opinion. His current album is So Good To Be Me, released in 2014, which features mostly original songs. He is especially adept at covering Sinatra.

    Gaebel dropped the umlaut from his surname to give his brand some more international appeal. But despite that, he's relatively unknown in the States. Here's hoping that changes soon, and that he gains enough American fans to add some U.S. concert stops eventually! Enough babbling from me; let's hear some of Gaebel's music. Let me know what you think.

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    I think it's time to talk about the Tide Pod, epidemic...that is sweeping the country.

    I was going to let this one slide because I've come down on millennials enough in previous posts; mainly, their choice of pop music and the fact that some of them are offended by the perennial holiday classic "Baby It's Cold Outside."

    But they consistently give me too much comedic material to work with. (The latest is that young people find James Bond movies deeply offensive (gasp)! Hopefully I'll get to that one in another post.)

    And in recent years, it's become painfully obvious that something disturbing is taking place among the teen and young adult generations. First, it was the Cinnamon Challenge, where kids would shovel a tablespoon of cinnamon in their mouths which would then cause them to suffocate on the spice. (Remember, kids, he who controls the spice controls the universe...but clearly, that's not you.)

    Next, it was the Hot/Boiling Water Challenge where people actually pour scalding water on themselves or dip a hand into a bubbling pot on the stove. This is usually followed by the experimenter screaming, "OWWW!!! OWWWWW!! OWWWWWWW!!! THAT'S HOT!!!" in a surprised voice, as if they were expecting to actually enjoy having their skin blistered off by water registering 212 degrees or higher.

    But these ventures into Duncedom are mere child's play compared to the Tide Pod Challenge. As I'm sure everyone knows by now, the Tide Pod Challenge involves biting into a Tide Pod capsule. Swallowing, optional? Who knows, but those who did manage to get that far (and even some who didn't) have ended up in the hospital. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), there were 39 reports of teens intentionally consuming Tide Pod in the first two weeks of 2018 alone. In 2017, there were 53 and in 2016, there were 39 -- which indicates this is a trend that has been on the rise for some time now.

    Recently, a Utah State University student was rushed to the ER after swallowing a Tide Pod. Way to go, Tide Pod Eater's parents. Let's hope the tuition you're paying to educate him actually makes him smarter.

    Then there was the genius who tried to vape a Tide Pod, just after flipping the bird to the camera. Needless to say, the Tide Pod flipped him the bird right back.

    It's gotten so bad that Proctor & Gamble had Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski record a PSA where he literally says, "No no no no no no no!" and "Do not eat!" while shaking his finger at the camera to teens thinking of doing the Tide Pod Challenge, as if they were toddlers. That seems to be the mentality we're dealing with here.

    Teen challenges sure have changed in recent decades. Whatever happened to phone booth, or car stuffing, or clogging up a toilet in the boys room? There's always been the occasional teen who did something stupid on a dare, but back in the day I'm pretty sure no one from my high school would have attempted to eat poison (we were the generation who grew up on Mr. Yuk, after all.)

    To be fair, I don't think that the average American teen is getting dumber. And of course, it's not fair to lump all teens in with these poison eating dumb apples. Even SAT scores from 1972 to the present have remained fairly consistent, and have been slightly on the uptick. But I do think there's something sinister going on with this latest challenge, and there's definitely a disconnect when it comes to common sense.

    I tried to find out where it the challenge originated from, with little luck, but one mom on Facebook said her teen daughter claimed it started out as a suicide challenge; can one cheat death by eating a Tide Pod and surviving?

    The rise of social media and specifically, visual-based channels such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, have no doubt inspired these crazy ass challenges. It's easy to film a video doing something outrageous, upload it to YouTube, and get dozens of views within minutes. No doubt some of these kids are seeing that with the right content they, too, can be YouTube stars and make money from advertising revenue. They can also get famous in the process. What better way to get notoriety then to show that it's perfectly safe to eat a Tide Pod?

    Or maybe it's just Darwinism doing its job. Maybe someone ought to tell these kids that the sour cherry flavored Tide Pods taste the best.

    "What's the matter with kids today?"

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