Yoko Ono, age 77, assembled the new Plastic Ono Band (composed of Cornelius, Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, and son Sean Lennon) for a psychedelic jam fest and trip down nostalgia lane at the historic Fox Theatre in downtown Oakland, California. The band was headlining Noise Pop, the independent music festival which invaded Bay Area venues with hoards of lesser-known indie rock troupes and experimental electro pop bands for a little over a week. Following a projection of crows flying out of Ono’s mouth (accompanied by a chorus of chirping sounds fluttering throughout the theatre), a video reel highlighted Ono’s lifetime of successes—including footage from earlier video works and the dedication of Strawberry Fields in New York’s Central Park. Dressed in a white cap, customary dark shades, and a black track suit Ono launched into an amped up version of “Waiting for the D Train” from 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky. What followed was as much a showcase of the new super group’s collective talents as a tour of past Ono musical highlights. The crowd of almost 3,000 sang along to an encore performance of “Give Peace a Chance” while flashing the message “I Love You” using free onochords (tiny flashlights) to close out the night.
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He is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney, and with good reason. Over the course of nearly four decades in animation, writer/director/auteur Hayao Miyazaki has carved out a niche in foreign cartooning that few in his artform can claim. Indeed, name another international animator whose work is as widely known and warmly received as Miyazaki and you’ll quickly understand the comparison. Such a challenge ultimately requires you to look back toward the warm Uncle Walt and his House of Mouse as a possible frame of reference. Working outside the hometown industry standard of anime, this master of color and shape celebrates the best of both tradition and technology. His movies typically employ limited or no CG, while his stories often center on folklore, fantasy, and the fire burning inside the young at heart.
In fact, it’s safe to say that Miyazaki is the modern day equivalent of those old fairy tale founders from the past. His movies are as magical and timeless as those beloved tales involving Snow White, the Three Bears, and little wooden puppets who long to be boys. One need look no further than Disney’s recent two-disc rerelease of three of Miyzaki’s most important, foundational films (Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service) to see why. The Mansion that Mickey Built has been championing the filmmaker ever since Pixar guide John Lasseter first fell in love with his work. While these discs also offer the unnecessarily “Americanized” version of the titles, including A through D list stunt voice casting work, the original Japanese has been preserved - and in their true form, Miyazaki’s mastery shines through it all.
Sometimes, a film borders on the brilliant. There are reasons its genius cannot be easily grasped or readily appreciated - and usually, those excuses lie directly within the celluloid itself. Such is the case with Tim Burton’s trek down Lewis Carroll’s famous rabbit hole. His Alice in Wonderland isn’t so much an adaptation as one of those often confounding “reimaginings” where classic characters and the standard storyline is mutated to fit a new vision or modern mindset. Here, our heroine is no longer a bored little sprite eager to visit a place filled with magic and mystery. Instead, she’s a disgruntled Victorian teen desperate to break free of the strict societal mandates being placed on her.
This updated Alice (played with requisite passivity by Mia Wasikowska) is being set up to marry the morbidly dull nobleman Hamish. During the garden party proposal, our heroine balks, uneasy about such strict gender standards. Catching a glimpse of a rabbit in a waistcoat (similar to one in her recurring dreams), she strays from the gathering and soon falls down a dark and endless hole. When she awakens, she discovers that she is locked in a tiny room, a bottle labeled “Drink Me” sitting on a nearby table…
Abandon hope all ye who enter here for you will not be seeing an unheralded masterpiece by one of film’s final auteurs. While his name has been bandied about more for his recent return run-in with the law, Roman Polanski remains a brilliant filmmaker with a considered oeuvre. Sure, he sullied it along the way, be it with admissions of statutory rape, or movies like Pirates, but when you carry a canon that contains the likes of Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Tenant, we can forgive a few Bitter Moons along the way. His latest, an adaptation of Robert Harris’ political thriller The Ghost, may seem like a natural for the aging artist. But in a world where the genre has been overdone to death, nothing Polanski brings to the mix is new, novel…or entertaining.
After the mysterious death of a previous scribe, a professional ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is brought in to oversee the quick turnaround of a disgraced ex-British Prime Minster’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs. Within minutes of taking the job, the politico is up on charges of war crimes. Soon, stories and historic facts aren’t adding up and our hero believes that there is something suspicious between his subject, his spurned wife (Olivia Williams) and a Harvard Professor (Tom Wilkinson) who knew them both when they were in college. With the help of a highly placed aide (Kim Cattrall) and his own natural curiosity, our guide will unravel the various mysteries and links between the parties, as well as connect them all to the initial “accident” which brought him to the sinister situation in the first place.
I just flew in from there to here, a long trans-Pacific flight on Singapore Air. Making the time most passable was the favorable jet stream which reduced travel time by 2 hours; but so, too, did the individualized entertainment units on the back of the seat in front, which helped make life stream by quicker than usual. Rather than being at the mercy of a “one-message-fits-all” main screen offering, it was a treat to be able to select a movie to match my mood and interests. Thus, on Singapore I had a chance to sample Precious (too grim), 2012 (preposterous), Twilight New Moon (as if I’d really watch that twaddle), Fantastic Mr. Fox (animation not quite my thing), Whip It (not quite “Juno”, but surprisingly good), and Up in the Air (oddly riveting—even on a second viewing).
And the greater sense of control made me feel less subject—less an imprisoned body strapped into a chair, unable to regulate the conditionals surrounding my being. With choice came a greater sense of empowerment, a lessening of the normal sense of pain and suffering associated with air travel.
The overly attentive crew also helped make the time pass (although I won’t dwell on the subject status of the stews—the fact that SA management has made a concerted effort to present its female staff as in-flight models; their form-fitting costumes showing enough cleavage and leg, and topped with ample make-up, to prompt travelers to wonder whether they haven’t accidentally stumbled into a Victoria’s Secret photo shoot).
Leaving the T&A aside, though, effort is what I want to remark upon here. Having made this Trans-Pacific run for over two decades now, and having sampled Northwest, Delta, United, American, Air France, Korean, JAL, Continental, Thai, and Garuda, among others, it is notable to note the ascendancy of Singapore Air, as measured in the effort department. From attentiveness, to food quality, to (copious!) availability of spirits, to professionalism, this is an airline that has become the new Korean Air. If the latter was once the Avis of airlines—trying harder to reach number one—then Singapore is the new Korean, the next Avis. They are doing it better, at about the same price, as their bigger, more established sister.
Which brings us to a couple of questions, if you’d care to weigh in . . .