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Updated:  March 30, 2006

Spring is in the air!  This week's scoop is on
Richard Leacock, one of our own Canadian actors.  Also, I need your help in finding an apartment - see the details below.  And don't forget to pick up your own adult products at The Exchange Suite!

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Richard Leacock – Life After Doc

 Canada’s own Richard Leacock
, who played the popular Nate Jackson on the hit television series “Doc”, is currently working on a CBC project called North/South for six episodes.  North/South follows the colliding lives of four families struggling for position within the Nova Scotia construction industry. The stories focus on four core families – the Kilcoynes, Singhs, Colleys and Toulanys, whose diversity represents the changing face of Halifax. Keying in on the forbidden romances, class warfare and corporate power plays of these families, North/South is a provocative and stirring drama steeped in the clashes between the “haves”, the “have nots” and everyone in between.  Richard’s character is Eddie Colley who works with his older brother at a construction company and is the first in the family to go to law school.
 Local Halifax lawyer Floyd Kane’s “North/South” is a semi-finalist in the running with another contender out of Vancouver, as part of a competition put forth by CBC for new day-time drama ideas which are reflective of Canada’s diversity. 
 Richard is also working on a CBS series called Ultra. Ultra revolves around a female superhero who must contend with saving the world while pursuing a life as a single girl in the city. In the comic book series, which parodies the trappings of 'celebrity', Ultra's alter ego, 'Pearl Penalosa', is a semi-icon model who graces billboards and tabloid magazines, promoting the popular brands of the day.  Canadian actress Helen Shaver, also noted as a television director for her work on numerous episodes of "Judging Amy", helms a cast headed by sexy Lena Headey as 'Ultra' and Peter Dinklage as the 'Scientist'.  Richard plays Ultra’s agent, Buddy Masterson and if the show is picked up, he will have a recurring role on the show. 
 And just to top this busy actor’s life up, the successful film “
Fronterz”, produced by Leacock hit Blockbuster and other retailers earlier this month.
 For more information on Richard, visit


Rock: Our A Team
 Excerpt from The Toronto Star

 (Mar. 26, 2006) Don't take our word for Canadian rock's quality. rates CDs by calculating a numerical average based on reviews from various published sources. Here are the Canuck CDs released since 2004 that scored 80 (out of 100) or higher. If the CD made that year's top 30, its standing is shown parenthetically.
 Arcade Fire, Funeral, 2004, 89 (7): "Their masterstroke has been to invest this ironic, cool music with raw emotion ... One of the year's best already, by a mile." — The Guardian
 Junior Boys, Last Exit, 2004, 88 (9): "Supple, stylish electro-pop so cool it makes glaciers jealous." — Entertainment Weekly
 Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies, 2006, 87 (2, so far): "It feels like an event: grand, sumptuous, sometimes seductive." — The New York Times
 Jim Guthrie, Now More than Ever, 2004, 86 (17): "The end result is an album that has all of the elements necessary to be a pop classic." — All Music Guide
 The Sadies, Favourite Colours, 2004, 86 (19): "Autumnal, Byrdsian, psychedelic-tinged country-rock ... the Sadies' best album yet." — PopMatters
 New Pornographers, Twin Cinema, 2005, 84 (19): "It's going to take some pretty strong efforts by America's best and brightest to match the New Pornographers' achievements here." — Splendid
 Buck 65, This Right Here is Buck 65, 2005 (24): "He's a major rhymer, performer, storyteller, humanist visionary, and student of the DJ arts." — Village Voice
 Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene, 2005, 82: "An effervescent rush of melody, invention and magic." — MOJO
 Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary, 2005, 82: "Wolf Parade's full-length debut fully lives up to the potential bred by their early EPs ... They'll change your life." — All Music Guide
 Stars, Set Yourself on Fire, 2005, 80: "Witty, pretty, indie rock for the sentimental gig inside all of us ... Stars sound confident enough to set anything on fire." — Rolling Stone
 Caribou, The Milk of Human Kindness, 2005, 80: "A perfect slice of bedroom psychedelia." — New Musical Express
 Jason Collett, Idols of Exile, 2006 (U.S. release), 80 (10, so far): "The songs are fully realized and, ultimately, memorable." —

Brando, Pacino, De Niro, and... Pifko?

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Scott Colbourne

 (Mar. 25, 2006) Hold on, back up two --
Andrew Pifko? Yes, the Canadian actor has joined illustrious company, if you grant a video-game entry into The Godfather canon so revered for its films and books. The Electronic Arts (EA) epic was released Tuesday, and Pifko plays a central part -- the central part, in fact, the playable character around whom the Mafia stories and recreated New York settings revolve. If you picture the graphic symbol of The Godfather -- a hand manipulating puppet strings -- then he's the puppet and the player is the puppeteer. The 36-year-old actor, who can currently be seen on CBC television in Ken Finkleman's miniseries At the Hotel as Pete the pot-smoking dishwasher, had his voice, body and face recorded digitally at a Vancouver studio in a gruelling process that stretched over a nine-month period. There are almost 15,000 lines of dialogue uttered by his character alone. Gamers and film fans may be drawn by Brando's image and the other big names -- many of whom granted EA the right to use their voices and images -- but it is Pifko that players will spend 30 to 50 hours with as the game unravels. This interactive union of player and protagonist remains the link to every game that has come before it, right back to Pac-Man and Mario, even as graphics and storylines evolve and grow more cinematic. When it comes right down to it, the participation of the audience is what defines a game, and it completely alters how a story is presented. Involving the player forces game creators to drastically rework their source material -- even material beloved by millions -- into intricate branching stories. And it tests the poor actors with the task of bringing those stories to life. Long before Pifko arrived, EA bought the rights to the original Godfather novel by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 film, hoping to create a new interactive franchise -- a Grand Theft Auto with fedoras.
 A team of 100-plus developers, working under the supervision of industry veteran David DeMartini, the game's executive producer, has spent almost three years creating a 3-D world modelled on 1940s New York. Within that environment, players will be able to play missions -- either following a story in chronological order or, like the open-ended GTA series, simply roaming around and interacting with the digitized locals. The game keeps score by tallying respect points, a system that is basically the Mafia code of honour in binary form: As an example, DeMartini says executing an enemy from a distance will earn you fewer points than doing it up close and personal, a sign of respect in the world of the Corleone clan. For the story missions, the emphasis on involving the player in the sprawling Corleone narrative meant DeMartini and his team had to turn the whole story on its head. "Instead of looking at The Godfather from the perspective of Don Vito [Corleone], which is the perspective the films took and the perspective that the book was written from, we wanted to take it from the perspective of someone who is working their way up the family ranks," DeMartini says. The game therefore makes the player a gang grunt at first and, as the missions are completed, fills in The Godfather narrative with before-and-after stories for many of the main plot points. "We're not constrained by two hours and 40 minutes of a cinema showing, so when we're going to show 30, 40, 50 hours of game play, what is the rest of the story that we can show our character being involved in?" DeMartini said. "We looked at every significant scene from the film and then, in a Where's Waldo kind of way, tried to find a reasonable and believable way to get our character involved in that scene." It's storytelling for everyone who has ever asked, 'Who brings the horse's head from the barn to the producer's bed? Who hides the gun in the restaurant washroom, the one Michael used to shoot Captain McCluskey and Sollozzo?' And the answer is, you do, with a little help from Andrew Pifko.
 Video games, in the 30 years they have existed, have not told human stories all that well. In the early years, it was difficult for tiny, pixelated blobs to express emotion. As animation techniques and processing power improved, many developers still focused on the play elements -- that was, financially, how their bread was buttered. But the dream for many gamers is a work that mixes interactive fun with emotional resonance, with characters you can care about even as they do things you never would -- characters like the ones in The Godfather films. The meeting point may be in a motion-capture studio, where actors like Pifko and Andy Serkis, the human model for King Kong and Gollum in two recent movie blockbusters, have their characters translated into digital form. Players of The Godfather game will be able to design their own hero, taking a page out of EA's sports titles by putting themselves in the game if they choose, but the protagonist's voice and movements will be Pifko's. He spent hundreds of hours in a skin-tight Velcro capture suit, surrounded by 20 cameras recording his every move, at the Vancouver studio where EA digitizes athletes for those sports games. "You feel like you're on a heat rack at a fast-food restaurant," is the way he described the experience when we met in a Toronto coffee house earlier this week. He wore a shiny purple shirt under a black suit jacket, looking very much the part of a Mafioso middleman. And as befits an actor whose every facial twitch was captured by computers for months, he's an animated fellow. To answer a question about how many sensors were attached during the motion-capture process, he touches each point of contact on his face and head. "From the sternum up, about 35 sensors," he finally answers. "They are giving you direction like, 'Okay, can you give us 5-per-cent more angst in your voice and 10-per-cent less eyebrow?' You know what they are going for, you understand that they are working within the confines of their game, but after five, six hours of absolute concentration -- well, I have never felt my eyebrows tired before. Minimalism can be exhausting over that period of time.
 "I don't know how many people have gotten a charley lip before, but it is not something easily stretched out by a physiotherapist." The branching nature of the game's story and its scoring system means players have a choice as to how to go about their business in each new situation. Pifko therefore had to record the same scene in a variety of different ways. Each line had to be delivered in four different tones, from seduction to negotiation to "pummel, or whatever the highest level of force is," he says. Recording his facial movements as he spoke those thousands of lines of dialogue would take place first thing each day, then full-body actions would be captured as the speeches were played back over speakers. Stand-ins for some of the stars would act out the situations with him. Around 20 of the actors from the original films can be seen and heard in the game, and Brando [before he died in 2004], Caan, Duvall, Abe Vigoda and a few others recorded new dialogue. "I was acting opposite James Caan, but I'm not acting with him -- he did the voice and they captured his face -- because they need a younger body," Pifko says. "They go to such lengths to make it true to real-life situations and the danger to doing the body movements to your own voice, and hearing other people's voices, is that you get into this 1920s dumb-show act. You're acting in a vacuum and you feel like you need to overcompensate from a movement perspective. And the beauty of the original Godfather film was that it was so understated." The man behind that film, Coppola, saw an early version of the game last year and then vocally declined to get involved, and an open question in the wake of its release is whether fans of the films will buy the performances. For their part, experienced gamers may not care about raised eyebrows or perfectly delivered lines if The Godfather turns out be to missing another central ingredient -- fun. But it is an ambitious attempt to marry three forms -- book, film, game -- into one, and Pifko says he is happy to have played his part "in some new way" in The Godfather fictions. "I'm humbled that I'm part of it, and certainly there is connective tissue, having heard James Caan's voice and Robert Duvall's voice, and they went to great lengths to recapture the essence of The Godfather," Pifko says. "But can Ernest Hemingway's great-great-granddaughter consider herself to be a part of the Hemingway legacy, or is she just her own person?"
 Occupational hazards of digital fame
Having your acting performance digitally recorded can be an ordeal, and some of the daily happenings in motion-capture studios border on the surreal. Lanky actor Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame recently broke his ankle while doing "mocap" work for Monster House, a film that will attempt to walk in the footsteps of Polar Express when it's released later this year. "It's hard to break a bone while making an animated movie," Heder told The New York Times this week, "but I was in a suit running around, and tripped over some cable." Anyone who has watched Napoleon can easily picture that particular scene. Canadian actor Andrew Pifko also had his share of suit-related mishaps while working on The Godfather video game for Electronic Arts -- particularly a romantic scene with his character's girlfriend that went comically awry. "I'm with my girlfriend and we're having a beautiful scene and then, cut. But we're wearing Velcro suits and we're like" -- Pifko makes three loud ripping sounds -- "and the programmers say, 'We're getting a mess-up of the program.' Some of her markers had become attached to me. 'Oh baby, some of your Velcro markers are on me. I don't know what that means, but it must mean we're close.' " If that production process seems surreal, consider this: Pifko's sibling Cara, star of the recently cancelled CBC series This is Wonderland, plans to interact with the digital fruits of her brother's labour as only a younger sister could. "Cara is a massive gamer," Pifko says. "She's already threatened, 'I'm going to play you and I'm going to make you die. I'm going to make you run into walls and hold grenades and do nothing with them.' "As her older brother, I've got it coming to me. I engaged in acts of brotherly torture, as one is wont to do in a family." Don Vito did stress the importance of spending time with family, but could he have meant that?

With Vocal Power Compared To Edith Piaf, Throat Singer Making A Global Impact

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Susan Walker, Entertainment Reporter

 (Mar. 29, 2006) It's a long way from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to Carnegie Hall in New York City, but not if you're Tanya Tagaq Gillis, a throat singer who has married traditional northern vocal practice to contemporary musical forms.  Carnegie is where Gillis, performing with new music string ensemble Kronos Quartet, earned a standing ovation from the sell-out crowd last Saturday evening.  In only six years, this astounding singer, whose vocal power has been compared to that of Edith Piaf, has given new meaning to the term "world music." And she won't turn 29 until later this year.  She has toured with Icelandic star Bjork and sings with her on the 2006 CD Gillis recorded, Sinaa. She also sings on the soundtrack of a film made by Bjork's partner, artist Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 9. Last year Gillis was part of a U.K. tour, Shaman Voices, along with singers from Mongolia and Finland. She's also a sought-after performer wherever avant-garde meets world music. At home, she received three prizes at the 2005 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, including Best Female Artist.  Toronto gets a taste of her tonight at the Gladstone Hotel. In Songs From Above the Tree Line, she shares the bill with four other aboriginal women artists: rock singer Lucie Idlout; Yellowknife singer Leela Gilday; and Nukariik, the Inuit throat-singing sisters Karin and Kathy Kettler. On Thursday, Gillis performs in the Global Divas concert at Kool Haus. And before she leaves Toronto, she'll work with the producers of a documentary film involving her and her cousin, throat singer Celina Kalluk.  Then Gillis will return to Cambridge Bay, a community of 1,500 people on the south coast of Victoria Island, where she'll join her partner, the Basque musician Felipe Ugarte, and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter Naia.  Gillis (Tagaq is her Inuit name) spends half the year in Ugarte's home city, San Sebastian, Spain, and the other half in Cambridge Bay, where she has been known to join the caribou hunt.  "We met on stage at the Vancouver folk festival," she says, speaking on a cellphone between appointments. "When I got pregnant, he couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Spanish."  Listen to a track from her CD on her website and you'll immediately recognize a voice that expresses primal urges and emotions, and speaks to all forms of human existence. Gillis, who left home at 15 to attend high school in Yellowknife, was studying art at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax when she began listening to tapes of Inuit throat singing that her mother sent her as a cure for homesickness.
 Traditional throat singing is done between two people, usually women, who stand face to face, vocalizing with deep, breathy sounds in an exchange of rhythmic motifs. Originally throat singing was done as a game, to see who could last the longest.  Gillis had no partner to sing with, so she began exploring throat singing as a solo activity. She gave her first public performance at a talent contest in Cambridge Bay and in 1999 attended her first folk festival. "My music is contemporary," she says. "It's just me and it's improvised every time."  Her music derives from a centuries-old tradition, but this singer is on the cutting edge of world music. She says it was a "beautiful stroke of luck" that David Harrington of Kronos Quartet heard her singing on a compilation CD and asked her to perform with the group. Just as it was a "cosmic coincidence" that Iceland friends of Bjork heard her when she was a last-minute replacement for a missing singer at a Great Northern Arts Festival in 2000.  Arguably the music world would have inevitably embraced an extraordinary performer whose vocal range, from deep grunts and growls, to high-pitched wails, seems to speak a universal language. Her calendar is fully booked for the spring and summer (she'll be back in Ontario for the Guelph Jazz Festival in September), but right now Gillis is looking forward to Cambridge Bay. "I'm excited to go home and paint and rejoin my family. It is still my favourite place in the world."


A Golden Age for Pop

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Vit Wagner

(Mar. 26, 2006) It's probably pointless to keep tagging one burg or another as the next Seattle — the next nexus for a shape-shifting explosion in popular music.  But as long as the contest is still on — Montreal, Portland, Ore., and Edmonton come readily to mind as cities that have been thusly heralded in recent memory — maybe it's time to start thinking outside of the box. Or imagining a bigger box.  As the Canadian music industry prepares to converge in Halifax for the
Juno Awards, here's a question that ought to galvanize all those insiders: What if the next Seattle is 5,514 kilometres wide and encompasses a total land mass of nearly 10 million square kilometres? What if that locale doesn't so much have an identifiable "sound" as it does an emerging consciousness of its place in the musical scheme of things?  What, in other words, if the next Seattle is Canada?  Absurd, to be sure. And possibly even heretical, given the historical reluctance of people here to toot our own horns.  But we are tooting our own horns — and strumming our own guitars, beating our own drums and plugging in our own amps and laptops — with a greater sense of urgency than at any moment in our history.  And we're not just doing it in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — or even Edmonton, Winnipeg and Halifax. We're rocking, rapping and sampling from countless jurisdictions in between.  "For about a year now, whenever we've interviewed an international act, particularly people who haven't been here, at the end of they interview they regularly ask, `What's going on with Canada? All my favourite bands are from Canada now,'" says James Keast, 35, editor-in-chief of Exclaim!, an authoritative music monthly distributed freely from coast to coast.

A short list of favourite artists might include Vancouver's New Pornographers, Black Mountain/Pink Mountaintops and Destroyer, Edmonton's Corb Lund and Cadence Weapon, Winnipeg's the Weakerthans, Toronto's Broken Social Scene, Constantines, the Sadies,
k-os and Dan Snaith (Manitoba/Caribou, actually of Dundas), Montreal's Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Kid Koala and the Dears, Halifax's Joel Plaskett and Buck 65 and a handful of Canadian names, including Stars, Feist and Metric, who seem to have no fixed address.  That's not just a deep talent pool, but one with impressive variety, with every style from loud indie rock to cerebral rap to tasteful coffeehouse pop.  "We're trained to think about what a Detroit sound is, what a Seattle sound is or whatever. We're trained to the idea that a scene will spawn a sound," Keast continues. "Because of the unique amalgam of musical and ethnic cultures that make up Canada, we can't have a sound. Nothing is dominant enough to be a sound. You go three doors down and somebody will be doing something radically different.  "I think that's one of the things that's truly compelling for music fans who don't really know anything about the country. To them, it's just, `Everything sounds great. And really weird and different. And what's that all about?' It spawns curiosity."  Critic Michael Barclay agrees that it's the rise of different sorts of talent that marks this Canadian surge. "One of the biggest clichés in music writing when you're talking about this kind of stuff is Seattle in the '90s," says Barclay, 34, who recently moved back to Toronto after working in Montreal for CBC Radio Two's alternative music program, Brave New Waves.  "You can argue that those (Seattle grunge) bands were different from each other, but there was very much an aesthetic at work there. For most people not familiar with the inner politics of that scene, it would all sound the same.  "I don't think any lay person would make that mistake with stuff coming out of Canada now. Buck 65 does not sound like the New Pornographers. The Arcade Fire does not sound like Broken Social Scene. There are very distinct things going on. Which speaks to the health of it. It also means that someone might be completely satiated listening only to Canadian music.

"Last year I was reading an interview with (Canadian actress) Sandra Oh on the cover of Bust magazine. They were asking her what she was listening to. And she said, `This might sound weird but I only listen to Canadian music. All my favourite music is Canadian.'"  This only partly has to do with why you can't make a trip to the dentist without hearing the Arcade Fire, the idiosyncratic, relatively obscure Montreal club band whose 2004 debut, Funeral, has gone on to sell roughly half a million copies. (This doesn't compare to the Seattle sound's titanic sales, but then no one sells albums like they used to.) Canada already had a solid record of producing commercial juggernauts — from Celine and Shania to Alanis and Avril to Nickelback — whose efforts, at least in this country, have been fostered by Canadian content regulations enforced by the CRTC.  Domestic pop's popularity has even less to do with the officially sanctioned CanCon that will be on display at next Sunday's Junos, where the abiding focus is on former Canadian Idol winners and also-rans.  It's mostly about how the paradigm has shifted in a way that makes future Arcade Fires — as well as lesser-selling but commercially viable acts like the New Pornographers on down — more likely.  Once, the potential fortunes of Canadian musicians rested almost entirely with branch offices of multi-national labels, a system designed to cultivate large-scale success to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. Good for Shania. Not so good for artists struggling to stay afloat with a fraction of her sales. Beset by downloading and shrinking profits, the majors became even more fixated on hitting the jackpot, as opposed to nurturing careers for the long term.  A couple of things have changed. First, the audience for music has become less homogenous, creating more niche markets for artists. This, in turn, has caused a proliferation of independent music labels, whose small scale enables them to make money on CDs that sell a few thousand.  Membership in the Canadian Independent Record Production Association (CIRPA) runs to nearly 100 labels. Many, including Toronto's Arts & Crafts, whose stable includes Broken Social Scene, Stars and Feist, have been around for less than a decade.  "The majors have learned to let the indie labels do what they do best," says Keast. "Let the indies do the A&R (talent scouting). Let them run a really small, low-overhead office. But give them access to the things that a major label has to offer, like resources, distribution and worldwide connections.  "Look at Arts & Crafts. Yes, it's operating completely independently from a major. But when it comes to getting in stores and having tour support or getting opening gigs for worldwide, international acts, then EMI helps with all of that."

Throw in digital technology — the ability to make and disseminate music from your own bedroom — and you preclude the necessity of being on a label. And there is no limit to who your audience might be.  In that sense, this is a much more genuine DIY moment than was the original do-it-yourself era of the mid-'70s, when almost all of the celebrated punk bands were signed to major labels.  "It's not about waiting for some A&R guy to come to your Canadian Music Week gig and hopefully paying attention and not schmoozing at the back of the room," says Keast. "The idea that you need someone with a lot of power to come along and dub you the next big thing with their magic wand is gone.  "Musicians can make their own opportunities. No matter how odd or obscure or geographically out-of-place the music might be, there's an opportunity to be heard and find a like-minded community of people. Those people might be in Belgium, but you have an opportunity to find them.  "Burlington has a scene that is known within a certain community, worldwide. There's a Burlington sound, according to zine publishers in England. It's sort of a scream-o thing, like Grade and Alexisonfire."  English zine publishers can be excused for not knowing that Alexisonfire actually hails from St. Catharines. But St. Catharines is as good a testament as any to what's happened.  As a budding music enthusiast growing up in that city in the 1960s and '70s, I can tell you, life was elsewhere. The bohemia of Toronto's Yorkville, where Neil Young and Joni Mitchell launched a previous renaissance in Canadian music making, might as well have been Liverpool or Greenwich Village.  In St. Catharines, there were no clubs. Concerts were rare. On the occasion when a hot act like A Foot in Coldwater or April Wine played a show, the gig was promoted by high school friends. You had to drive to Niagara Falls just to hear Max Webster.  Today, the city has an active club scene, indigenous bands and its own, annual, bar-hopping music festival. Sure, it remains largely a hard rock town, but it has also given birth to more adventurous outfits like Raising the Fawn, fronted by sometime Broken Social Scenester John Crossingham.  "People in those smaller communities are discovering music beyond the regular channels a lot easier," says Barclay. "It's not as if they grew up listening to classic rock and that's the kind of music they make when they turn 15. It's possible for kids outside of the major media centres to discover things .... Creativity is born out of necessity and boredom. If there's nothing going on in your town, you can make it happen."

The growth of Exclaim! has paralleled that development. When Keast joined the publication 11 years ago, the average edition ran 20 pages and reached about 15,000 readers, most of them in southern Ontario. Today, the average page count is 88. Roughly 100,000 copies are distributed in 2,700 locations nationwide, including the far north. The coverage is provided by a pool of nearly 100 writers, photographers and illustrators, connected to local scenes across the country.  "A lot of people look at Exclaim! and say that it's too Toronto-centric," Keast says. "That's an impression that we fight. But Toronto bands bitch about the fact that we never support Toronto. It's like, `You've always got some weirdo band from Edmonton on the cover.'"  In the past year, the magazine has had three covers touting Edmonton acts — a country singer (Corb Lund), a rapper (Cadence Weapon) and a punk band (Choke).  Moreover, the magazine's reader poll to determine 2005's best albums included discs by Broken Social Scene, the Constantines and Metric — although those albums didn't make a similar ranking by staff critics that ran in the previous issue.  "There's no longer a sense that Canadian music is good for you, like a spoonful of medicine," Keast says. "No longer do you support it out of any sense of patriotism. It's because Canadian bands will stand up against bands anywhere else in the world."  Quantity, of course, is no guarantee of quality. But there appears to be plenty of both.  "A lot of the work being produced today is particularly strong," says Barclay, who co-authored Have not been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-95, a 2001 book that charted the rise of a previous generation of artists that included The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies, Art Bergmann and The Pursuit of Happiness.  "A lot of (Canadian music today) doesn't sound exclusively of the moment, but it certainly sounds current and modern and forward-thinking. So I have faith a lot of this music will hold up in 10 years.  "When I was growing up during the period my book is about," he continues, "I would read all the international press. You would almost never see a review of a Canadian band in Spin or Magnet. Now, any band that anyone is talking about in Canada is automatically reviewed in those magazines, in (hip online source) Pitchfork and everywhere else. For a long time, no one wanted to think of Canada as being anything other than Bryan Adams and Celine Dion. That stereotype is gone."  Evidence of exportability is abundant, whether it's the preliminary roster for this August's Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, which already includes Broken Social Scene, the New Pornographers, Stars and Feist — or the fact that Feist was the first thing I heard when I walked into a Prague coffee shop last summer. Then there's the recent South by Southwest music festival in Austin. Canada was represented by 78 bands at the influential event, the second largest foreign contingent after the U.K.

"Early on, Canadian acts were seen as knockoffs of American talent," says Brent Grulke, 46, creative director of SXSW for the past 12 years.  "That's changed over the past few years, where people have become more cognizant of the fact that, say, Broken Social Scene and a lot of other groups could only be Canadian in a lot of ways."  Whether all this adds up to nominating this as the greatest moment so far in Canadian popular music is open to debate. The case is strong, but only time will tell.  "Something very special is going on right now but I would stop a little bit short of saying it's a Golden Age," says Bernie Finkelstein, 61, who founded Canada's first indie label, True North, 36 years ago.  "I'm a great admirer of Leslie Feist, the Arcade Fire and the Broken Social Scene, but you have to take one second to compare what's happening now with what was going on in Yorkville in the 1960s. Let's start talking about what Steppenwolf or Neil Young or Leonard Cohen or Gordon Lightfoot has left behind.  "But it's really exciting right now. And I think it has every opportunity to expand into something bigger."  On second thought, forget Seattle. Seattle is too small.

Halifax Buzzing For Junos Show

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Angela Pacienza, The Canadian Press

(Mar. 28, 2006) The streets are lined with banners. Fans have been dishing out upwards of $500 (U.S.) on eBay for a pair of tickets to the main event. Downtown retailers have turned window fronts into shrines. And hotels are booked solid.  "Everybody's scurrying around like laboratory mice," said Victor Syperek, who owns several restaurants in Halifax, the site of this weekend's
Juno Awards.  Added concert organizer and former MuchMusic personality Mike Campbell: "You can't really have a conversation with anybody (in Halifax) about anything without it eventually getting back to the Junos."  It's a scene that's been played out in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa and St. John's, Nfld.  Previously, the Junos were almost exclusively held in Toronto, except for a handful of forays to Hamilton and Vancouver. The first official Juno Awards were held in 1971.  The 2002 Juno festivities held in Newfoundland and Labrador generated some $29 million in revenue.  But perhaps the greater impact of the travelling show is the effect on fans, who have a chance to celeb-spot on home turf and check out bands that seldom visit their neck of the woods.  In Edmonton, for instance, more than 12,000 people turned out to an autograph-signing session at the West Edmonton Mall featuring stars such as Nelly Furtado, Nickelback and Sam Roberts. In Ottawa, fans camped out in front of hotels hoping to catch a glimpse of Shania Twain, who hosted the awards that year.  "Having this kind of concentration of musical talent in the city over one weekend is completely unheard of," said Campbell, who organized this weekend's JunoFest concert series, which will have 116 music acts performing over two nights in 15 venues.  It's a real coup since superstar acts rarely include Halifax on tour routes, he added.  One local newspaper is hoping to take advantage of the Junos by launching an online petition — called More Peas Please — to get the Black Eyed Peas to do a full-on concert in the city.  The travelling show has also translated into a TV ratings windfall with more people than ever tuning into the show.  But bringing the show to a new city each year isn't exactly easy.  Older hockey arenas, like Halifax's, don't have much loading space for the oodles of band and TV equipment required. Worse yet for the St. John's show, the equipment — including more than 600 kilometres of cable and a broadcast truck — had to come over on the ferry, say producers.  Next year's Junos are to be held in Saskatoon. Harvests Abundance Of Peas

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Associated Press

 (Mar. 25, 2006) LOS ANGELES—It took two multi-platinum albums, several hits and a few Grammy nominations for people to realize that the Black Eyed Peas weren't just a silly, poppy, hip-hop gimmick. (Some still aren't convinced.) So, the group's dread-locked lead lyricist and creative director, isn't surprised that it's taken awhile to be recognized as a producer and songwriter for others. What surprises him is the song that did it.  "The thing that made people realize me as a producer was `My Humps,' ironically," he shrugs about last year's wacky smash about the lure of the female form.  "People were like `Yo, you do that beat?' It's like, `Boom, boom, boom,' " he says, laughing at the simplistic beat. "That's the nutty part! I've worked with Earth Wind & Fire — crazy horn production, all this stuff, miking kalimbas, miking drums — like production! ... But I got people coming crazy for me because of `My Humps.' ''  Will (whose given name is William Adams) was nominated for Song of the Year Grammy for co-writing John Legend's breakout acoustic piano ballad, "Ordinary People." He recently produced Sergio Mendes' all-star comeback album, as well as a song for Mary J. Blige on her comeback smash album The Breakthrough. Some of his upcoming projects include Diddy, Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake.  "He's brilliant — he's one of my favourite people to work with,'' says Legend. "He's bouncing off the wall in the studio, and he's so positive. It's just fun to work with people like that.''  Meanwhile, the Peas have just kicked off their first headline tour in the U.S. since their 1998 debut. With the 2003 addition of lead singer Fergie, the group has sold nearly 3 million copies of their third album, Elephunk. Last year's Monkey Business, with hits "My Humps," "Pump it" and "Don't Phunk with My Heart," has also been a multiplatinum success.  Will not only produced those albums but also was a writer and engineer on many of those hits. The 31-year-old was tapped to work on tribute discs for the Isley Brothers and Earth Wind & Fire. "Those are, like, projects that you don't say no to. Earth Wind & Fire? You've gotta do those things," he says.
 Younger act Legend and his "Ordinary People" — a sparse ballad featuring only Legend's voice and a piano, which was originally written for the Peas — broadened will's appeal.  Legend wanted will to produce the record. "I was like, `John — it's a piano ballad! Put some mikes on the piano ... and press record!''  Will's laid-back approach is in demand. "He was easy to work with," says Blige of his work on the song ``About You" on her new album. "We finished that song in one night — a couple of hours. He's a lot of fun.''  Recently, will inked a deal with the Peas' label, A&M/Interscope, establishing the music group. Mendes' Timeless album was his label's first project; a solo debut from Fergie and an album with Macy Gray is next on the list, and maybe even a solo project.  "I think the Black Eyed Peas have done all they could possibly do," he says. "I want to lend that to other people that I like, that I'm inspired by, that I've always dreamed of working with — share the wealth, so to speak.''

Country Legend Buck Owens, 76, Dies

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star

 (Mar. 25, 2006) LOS ANGELES (AP) — Singer
Buck Owens, the flashy rhinestone cowboy who shaped the sound of country music with hits like "Act Naturally" and brought the genre to TV on the long-running "Hee Haw," died Saturday. He was 76.  Owens died at his home, said family spokesman Jim Shaw. The cause of death was not immediately known. Owens had undergone throat cancer surgery in 1993 and was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1997.  His career was one of the most phenomenal in country music, with a string of more than 20 No. 1 records, most released from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.  They were recorded with a honky-tonk twang that came to be known throughout California as the "Bakersfield Sound," named for the town 100 miles north of Los Angeles that Owens called home.  "I think the reason he was so well known and respected by a younger generation of country musicians was because he was an innovator and rebel," said Shaw, who played keyboards in Owens' band, the Buckaroos. "He did it out of the Nashville establishment. He had a raw edge.''  Owens was modest when describing his aspirations.  "I'd like to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs and had a hell of a time," he said in 1992.  An indefatigable performer, Owens played a red, white and blue guitar with fireball fervour. He and the Buckaroos wore flashy rhinestone suits in an era when flash was as important to country music as fiddles.  Among his biggest hits were "Together Again" (also recorded by Emmylous Harris), "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail,'' "Love's Gonna Live Here,'' "My Heart Skips a Beat" and "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line.''  And he was the answer to this music trivia question: What country star had a hit record that was later done by the Beatles?  "Those guys were phenomenal," Owens once said.
 Ringo Starr recorded "Act Naturally" twice, singing lead on the Beatles' 1965 version and recording it as a duet with Owens in 1989.  In addition to music, Owens had a highly visible TV career as co-host of "Hee Haw" from 1969 to 1986. With guitarist Roy Clark, he led viewers through a potpourri of country music and hayseed humour.  "It's an honest show," Owens told The Associated Press in 1995. "There's no social message — no crusade. It's fun and simple.''  Owens himself could be rebellious, choosing among other things to label what he did "American music" rather than country.  "I took a little heat," he once said. "People asked me, `Isn't country music good enough for you?' "  He also criticized the syrupy arrangements of some country singers, saying "assembly-line, robot music turns me off.''  After his string of hits, Owens stayed away from the recording scene for a decade, returning in 1988 to record another No. 1 record, "Streets of Bakersfield," with Dwight Yoakam.  He spent much of his time away concentrating on his business interests, which included a Bakersfield TV station and radio stations in Bakersfield and Phoenix.  "I never wanted to hang around like the punch-drunk fighter,'' he told The Associated Press in 1992.  He had moved to Bakersfield in 1951, hoping to find work in the thriving juke joints of what in the years before suburban sprawl was a truck-stop town on Highway 99, between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.  "We played rhumbas and tangos and sambas, and we played Bob Wills music, lots of Bob Wills music," he said, referring to the bandleader who was the king of Western swing.  "And lots of rock 'n' roll," he added.
 Owens started recording in the mid-1950s, but gained little success until 1963 with "Act Naturally," his first No. 1 single.  Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born in 1929 outside Sherman, Texas, the son of a sharecropper. With opportunities scarce during the Depression, the family moved to Arizona when he was 8.  He dropped out of school at age 13 to haul produce and harvest crops, and by 16 he was playing music in taverns.  He once told an audience, "When I was a little bitty kid, I used to dream about playing the guitar and singing like some of those great people that we had the old, thick records of.''  Owens' first wife, Bonnie Owens, sometimes performed with him and went on to become a leading backup singer after their divorce in 1955. She had occasional solo hits in the '60s, as well as successful duets with her second husband, Merle Haggard.  One of her two sons with Owens also became a singer, using the name Buddy Alan. He had a Top 10 hit in 1968, "Let the World Keep on a-Turnin'," and recorded a number of duets with his father.  In addition to Buddy, he is survived by two other sons, Michael and John.

Essence of Kristofferson

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist
 (Mar. 28, 2006) "At this rate, he'll have gone through 50 songs in less than two hours," a young fan confided to his friends during a 15-minute break in veteran American country-folk songwriter
Kris Kristofferson's epic solo performance Sunday night.  The observation was on the money. Kristofferson, before a sellout crowd of 1,700 at Convocation Hall, the University of Toronto's intimate theatre-in-the-round, was so eager to touch on every important piece of his enormous repertoire that he barely acknowledged the audience during the first half of the show. He shifted at a relentless pace from one song to the next, rarely even bothering with minimal instrumental segues.  In his 70th year, and the same lanky Texas troubadour he always was, a craggier, still handsome Kristofferson seemed compelled to sum up his spectacularly long run as one of Nashville's most revered — and most highly compensated — composers, but without pomp and circumstance, and with nothing but the simplest possessions: an acoustic guitar, a gift for gentle and wise verse, three chords, and a voice now so frail and windless that it can barely carry a tune.  That was a brave and dangerous thing to do. Having stripped his songs down to the essentials — just the words and a semblance of the rustic melodies that accompanied them at their conception — Kristofferson made himself acutely vulnerable, unashamedly naked.  Never a great musician — his level of proficiency on his chosen instrument after 50 years in the business is jaw-droppingly poor — and handicapped by a persistent tuning problem in the first hour that he seemed loath to correct, he nevertheless managed to pull off a performance that was a victory for substance over style, and a warm and affirming tribute to the pure power of song.  All his classics bobbed up, some for an obligatory nod, others for more hearty exposition. Any fan would have been exceptionally mean to feel cheated by a concert that included the likes of "Darby's Castle," "Me And Bobby McGee," The Best Of All Possible Worlds" and "Help Me Make It Through The Night," even if the songs were denied the benefits of instrumental embellishment or any attempt at arrangement, save some pathetic wailing on brace harmonica that the singer himself finally abandoned as unworthy.
 And where his voice faltered, the audience — an exceptionally diverse bunch, ranging from teenagers to grandparents — was quick to add folksy texture, singing quietly along or humming melodies to reinforce Kristofferson's gallant effort, and howling their approval at the start and end of every piece.  Much more comfortable in the second half, thanks no doubt to a guitar that had been tuned at intermission, the singer responded more expansively to the warmth of his welcome, urging Canadians not to "worry about your crazy neighbours to the south" or about their president, "a hood ornament on a machine run by ideologues."  Cutting short a haphazard attempt at evoking a rock groove in "The Show Goes On," from his latest, critically acclaimed CD, Kristofferson dedicated the song to his old friend, rocker Ronnie Hawkins, who was in the audience with his family.  Most of the new stuff — also the most perceptive, confessional and acidic material he has ever written — was left till last, and it served as a reminder that age is no impediment to great art, intelligence or rebellion. "Chase The Feeling," "This Old Road," "The Last Thing To Go" and "Final Attraction" burn with wit, imagination, hope and humanity, even as they convey discomforting sensations of rage, anger and regret.  Denied the artifice that made them enduring favourites in countless recordings by others over the decades, Kristofferson's stark, inclusive songs revealed their remarkably strong bones on Sunday night. Long may they be sung.

Mary J. Talks To Self

Source: Amina Elshahawi, ThinkTank Marketing,

 (Mar. 27, 2006) Her new album, The Breakthrough, has been at the top of the charts, and her sexy, fit shape earned her the title of Best Arms on SELF's Most Wanted Bodies list. For a preview, read the following excerpts. Also, below are links to Mary J,'s latest single "Enough Cryin'." To learn more about
Mary J. Blige, visit her website.
 SELF: You look amazing and your arms are incredible. What's your favourite workout?
 Mary J. Blige: I love weights—they're my favourite. [Lifting] hurts, but I love it because you can see results. You look at your arms and you're like, "Whoa!" I've seen my arms change drastically. I also like to focus on my legs and glutes, so I do a lot of squats and bench presses.
 Sounds like some serious sweat sessions—is there a part of your workout that you find especially challenging?
 Cardio is the hardest but it's also the most important. [My trainer, Gunnar Peterson, has me] run a 10-minute mile; if I'm doing 4 miles I'll get about 10 1/2 minutes for each. Sometimes we have a cardio-only day and sometimes we do cardio and weights all at once.
 Did you always work out?
 I was unhealthy but in shape around the Mary album. I was thin but I wasn't eating right, I wasn't resting right—my arms didn't look healthy. During the No More Drama album I let it all go. This is the most focused I've ever been in terms of how the whole thing works together.
 It can be tough to drag yourself to the gym day after day. What motivates you to stay disciplined with your workouts?
 When you look at the results you want to do it. No pain, no gain is the real deal. It's mind over matter and you just have to get through it.
 Clichés are true! What's the best thing about having such a strong body?
 The best thing is that your confidence goes up; when you look good, you feel good. You also have a lot of energy, which stimulates your brain. It makes you feel smarter!
 Performing on stage in front of thousands of people must be a very powerful experience.
 I get nervous right before I go onstage. My stomach starts hurting—it gets irritated. But once I hit the stage, it's gone. I don't drink energy drinks because they make you want to finish your song before you finish it. I make sure to get enough rest because I don't want to get too anxious. I also drink lots of water and do breathing exercises, which aren't a lot of work but it's how you do them. Right before I go onstage I pray, spend time with God and get in my center. I take a deep breath and thank God for teaching me how to get through it.

Prince Nets First No. 1 Album Debut With '3121'

 Excerpt from - Katie Hasty, N.Y.

 (Mar. 29, 2006) Prince achieves his first career No. 1 debut on The Billboard 200 this week with his new NPG Music/Universal album, "3121." The set sold 183,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, to open at No. 1 on the big list, as well as on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally.  Prince last topped the R&B/Hip-Hop chart with 1991's "Diamonds & Pearls." On The Billboard 200, he now has four No. 1s, including 1989's "Batman," 1985's "Around the World in a Day" and 1984's "Purple Rain."  The Prince set leads a charge of debuts this week as new titles from B.G., Ben Harper and Teddy Geiger all bow inside the top 10.   The soundtrack to Disney's "High School Musical" continued with strong sales, although its 7% increase to 152,000 was not enough to stay in front of Prince, so the set falls 1-2 on The Billboard 200. James Blunt's Atlantic release "Back to Bedlam" drops 2-3 with 111,000 (-12%), but crowns the Top Rock Albums chart for a fourth, non-consecutive week.  Barry Manilow's "The Greatest Songs of the Fifties" rebounds 24-4 with sales of 78,000 copies, a whopping 140% increase. The Arista effort, which debuted at the top of the chart in February, got new legs after Manilow coached "American Idol" contestants and performed "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" last week on the show. Right behind him is Ne-Yo with "In My Own Words" (Def Jam), which slips one to No. 5 with 72,000 (-7%).  
Rapper B.G.'s "The Heart of Tha Streetz, Vol. 2: I Am What I Am," bows at No. 6, his best start in six years. The Koch release sold 62,000 copies and features the guest talents of former Cash Money labelmate Mannie Fresh. His 2000 album, "Checkmate," set his high-water sales mark with 128,000 units, although at that time it was only good enough for a No. 21 debut.   Ben Harper garners his first top 10 placement with the double album "Both Sides of the Gun" (Virgin) which debuts at No. 7. Sales of 59,000 copies gave him the best single-week sales tally of his career. Harper's last appearance on the chart was with his Blind Boys Of Alabama collaboration, "There Will Be a Light," which opened at No. 81 in November 2004. Harper also appears on Jack Johnson's recent No. 1 album, a companion to the film "Curious George," which drops 10-16 this week.  Seventeen-year-old Geiger's first full-length, "Underage Thinking" (Cred./Columbia) debuts at No. 8 on sales of 56,000. Alan Jackson's "Precious Memories" climbs 14-9 on The Billboard 200 on a 31% jump to 56,000 copies, likely prompted by a sale at Wal-Mart this past week. The ACR/Arista Nashville release also moves up three slots to take over at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart.   Rounding out the top 10 is "The Legend of Johnny Cash" (Legacy/Columbia Nashville/American/Island), which falls 8-10 on sales of 53,000 units (-5%).  Kenny Rogers' "Water & Bridges" (Capitol) bows at No. 14 with 44,000 copies, which is also good enough for a No. 5 debut on Top Country Albums. Other big debuts include From First To Last's "Heroine" (Epitaph) at No. 25 (33,000) and My Chemical Romance's "Life on the Murder Scene" (Reprise) at No. 30 (31,000).   At 10.6 million units, overall CD sales were up 2% from the previous week and down 13% compared to the same week a year ago. Sales for 2006 are down 4% compared to 2005 at 129.6 million units.

Rodney Jerkins: Darkchild Sees The Light

 Excerpt from - By Kenya Yarbrough

 (Mar. 29, 2006) *The famed producer known as
DarkChild, Rodney Jerkins, started off 2006 with a Grammy nomination, a new executive gig, a charity track, and a new lease on life. Jerkins signed on to Def Jam in late December as the Sr. VP of A&R, but is still creating hits. One of his latest is the hot Ray-J song “One Wish.”  The new gig is certainly a wish come true for Jerkins. In fact, the post is just what he was looking for: “I wanted to get the executive experience that L.A. (Reid) was offering me. He was a perfect person for me to sit under and learn from because he came from the production side. And L.A. was pretty much on my same page. I kept telling my staff that R&B music really had to come back. And when I sat down with him he said he wanted help to ‘bring R&B music back.’ So I could see we were on the same page.” As a VP at the label, Jerkins still spins lots of time in the studio – though now that he is a company-man, he can’t work with outside artists that aren’t platinum. As a matter of fact, when he chatted with EUR’s Lee Bailey, Jerkins claimed he’d been steady in the studio since the first day of the year.  “There’s something new every year, but this year’s it’s taking off fast,” he said, and explained that he and Reid starting talking about the opportunity after he worked on a song for the label head.  “We found each other. I did a record for him that he loved and he called me a couple of months later and said let’s sit down and talk. And now we’re making some history together. It was exactly what I wanted to do. It just clicked. A lot of people play the game of oh-let-me-see-who-else-can-offer-more, but I didn’t even need to do that,” he said. Shortly after taking the job, Jerkins was nominated for a Grammy for the song “Cater 2 U” by Destiny’s Child. It was a bit of déjà vu as Jerkins' only Grammy to date was in 2000 for his work on the DC hit “Say My Name.” Though he didn’t win this year, Jerkins says that with the year 2000 win, he can at least always carry the title he set his heart on.
 “What the Grammy defines for me is it puts an extra stamp on my legacy as a producer. I didn’t just want to be a producer of #1 hits, I wanted to be a Grammy Award-winning producer. It’s something I can actually show my kids,” he said. A suit-post at Def Jam and hours in the studio haven’t disrupted Jerkins' philanthropy, though. In November of last year, the producer started work on a Hurricane Katrina charity record. The song is a cover of Sister Sledge's 1979 disco smash "We Are Family."  “When you’re putting a lot of artists on an album, it really takes time,” Jerkins said of the record’s delay. We started work on it in November, but everyone was doing tours at that time.” Jerkins recruited Ciara, Bebe Winans, Lyfe Jennings, Ray J, Chris Brown, George Clinton, and Mary Mary for the benefit disc.  “It’s not your normal record,” Jerkins explained. “We partnered up with the Points of Light Foundation and communities and schools. The funds from this are going to benefit 500,000 volunteers providing social services to over 200,000 displaced families. It’s not like we’re saying, here’s a million dollars’ and we don’t know where the money’s going. This is something that will always raise money for these people.” He continued that donating money to the cause is certainly a very good thing, but Jerkins thought that creating a benefit song spoke more to the occasion.  “Entertainers getting together and giving money, I think that’s awesome. But I think because music is what we do, we should take it further,” he said. “It’s a gift that will keep on giving. Music inspires people. Music can make you dance, make you cry, make you feel good. That was the reason we chose ‘We Are Family.’ We felt like, a lot of time when situations like this come about, people go out and do ballads – and ballads sometimes put you in a sad mood. But I wanted to do something up-tempo and to have mood. Family is what it’s about; connecting these people. It’s about volunteering and people involved in the communities.”
 Along with the tribute single, this year has kept Jerkins quite busy as usual. He’s working his magic on music for Kelly Rowland, gospel singer (and his wife) Joy Enriquez and Mary J. Blige. (He produced her new single "Enough Cryin'.") Jerkins also says he'll also re-team with Beyoncé when she starts work on her second solo album some time next year. But aside from time in music executive meetings, recruiting top-tier artists for a tribute record, and producing hot tracks for Brandy’s brother. Jerkins is also spending a lot of time on himself. After a bit of a health scare, he’s started to focus on his health.  “My father, my mother, my brother had diabetes and I said this wasn’t going to happen to me. So I took the responsibility, not to go on a diet, but to change my lifestyle. I got a trainer and I just feel good. I’ve never felt this good in my life,” he said. Jerkins relayed that he believes the biggest struggle for those wanting to lose weight is the struggle of getting started.  “Once I got started, I realized it’s not that hard to start,” he said, though he took starting to an extreme degree. Jerkins fasted for 14 days even before starting his new eating and training regimen. “I’ve lost 70 lbs., but I’ve got a long way to go. I’ve got another 110lbs to lose. I’m guaranteeing that by next year, I’ll be a new person. I’ve cut sugar completely out of my diet. I do a lot of cardio everyday; a lot of walking. I’m eating vegetables. I’m real careful, even to the point where I read everything. Everything I buy, I’m reading, with before it didn’t matter to me. I’m reading what the carbohydrate is, what the fat is, what the saturated fat is. Now, health is a part of my life. I was totally motivated by fear.” There’s no doubt that whether in the boardroom, the studio, or the gym, Jerkins will continue to remain very active. For more on this super producer, visit his website at

'King' T.I. Holds Court

Excerpt from - Gail Mitchell

 (Mar. 27, 2006)
Rapper T.I. is too busy getting his career hustle on to ponder where he expects to be in five years.  "I couldn't have predicted five years ago that I'd be where I am now," the Bankhead, Ga., native says. "So it's hard for me to judge. I'm just going to keep grinding like I've been doing."  That grinding is paying off. At the end of 2005, T.I. (born Clifford Harris) became a first-time best rap solo performance Grammy Award nominee for "U Don't Know Me." He also co-executive-produced the "Hustle & Flow" soundtrack, which yielded the newly minted Academy Award-winning best song, "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp." The soundtrack was released last year through T.I.'s Grand Hustle joint venture with Atlantic Records.  But there is no time right now for glory-basking. T.I. is in the midst of a promotional tour for his third Grand Hustle/Atlantic album, "King" (March 28), as well as his feature-film acting debut in "ATL." In theatres March 31, the Warner Bros. Pictures film was co-written by Antwone Fisher and directed by noted video lensman Chris Robinson. Robinson is also a producer of the film together with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment, music producer Dallas Austin and TLC's Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins.  In "ATL" T.I. plays lead character Rashad, one of four friends dealing with life's challenges after high school. Much of the comedy/drama's action takes place at the local roller-skating rink, Jellybeans. OutKast's Big Boi portrays a drug dealer in the film.  T.I. says he tried out for the part after "pretty much bugging people until they gave me a shot."
 Ask him how well he thinks the movie will do in the wake of recent artist film ventures like 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" or Usher's less successful "In the Mix," and he says simply, "I'm not them. Usher's movie was definitely in its own lane. So was 50 Cent's. This is a different kind of movie. It has more of a sense of timelessness to it. But I'll let the people decide."  There is no official "ATL" soundtrack; however, several tracks from "King" are heard in the film including first single "What You Know" (which is No. 10 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart), "Front Back" and "Ride Wit Me," which is featured in the film's trailer.  For the new album, T.I. says, "what I set out to do was keep everything that people appreciated from my other projects. Then I just added whatever I thought was missing."  "King," whose title is derived from T.I.'s self-anointed sobriquet "king of the South," is primed to deliver on the promise of his first two Atlantic albums, 2003's "Trap Muzik" (featuring "Rubber Band Man"), which peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and 2004's "Urban Legend" ("Bring 'Em Out" and "U Don't Know Me"), which reached No. 1.   Offering up a mix of street anthems and club jams, the album includes cameos by Jamie Foxx ("Live in the Sky"), UGK ("Front Back"), BG and Young Jeezy (both on "I'm Straight") and Pharrell and Common ("Goodlife") plus Grand Hustle artists Young Dro, Governor and PSC (Pimp Squad Click). Producers include longtime cohorts the Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kevin "Khao" Cates, Swizz Beatz and Mannie Fresh.  The album will come packaged with a bonus DVD featuring footage from T.I.'s concert last fall with Young Jeezy, new video footage shot with UGK and a "Ride Wit Me" video.   "King" will receive a lot of exposure via the "T.I. Sprint Takeover" campaign. Sprint cell-phone customers will be able to download "What You Know" and "Ride Wit Me" from the new album before its release and also have access to exclusive ringers, call tones and images. Patrons will also have exclusive access to a video shot by T.I.'s crew during the album's launch week and be able to view full T.I. music videos and "ATL" clips. The rapper will be Sprint's April artist of the month.
  T.I. has been steadily building his star quotient since 2001. That is when Arista Records released his album debut "I'm Serious." After the title track featuring Beenie Man managed to reach only No. 72 on the R&B chart, T.I. left the label. Before signing with Atlantic in 2003, he self-issued several releases and mix tapes. He also recorded a guest appearance with Killer Mike on Bone Crusher's top 10 R&B hit "Never Scared." Then he hit with the R&B top 15 single "Rubber Band Man."  A side trip into a work release program soon after to satisfy a probation violation for a 1998 conviction on a controlled substance charge did not impede T.I.'s drive. "Urban Legend" followed. T.I. also made the rounds on a number of projects by a variety of artists including Cee-Lo, Slim Thug, Mario and Destiny's Child, whose "Soldier," also featuring Lil Wayne, nabbed a 2005 Grammy nod for best rap/sung collaboration.  As CEO of Grand Hustle, T.I. is also responsible for upcoming albums by such label acts as R&B singer Governor, R&B newcomer Rashad and rapper Big Kuntry King. This summer, T.I. is sponsoring two teen girls through the "It's Cool to Be Smart" program. This inaugural T.I. music sponsorship project helps support the local Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta.  Future business plans include a clothing and shoe line, in addition to such ongoing enterprises as a construction company, a nightclub and a car concierge company. T.I. says it all boils down to one thing: vision. "I've just always had a vision," he says. "I think things and try to make them happen."


Labelle: 'Worst Show I've Ever Done'

Source: Associated Press

(Mar. 27, 2006) Riviera Beach, Fla. — Patti LaBelle struggled through a weekend show after taking the stage at midnight, at one point sitting down and crying. "I've never been this embarrassed in my life," LaBelle told the crowd Saturday at the Riviera Beach Jazz & Blues Festival. "It's the worst show I've ever done in my life." As temperatures dipped into the low 50s, LaBelle explained that she's nearly 62, has diabetes and a heart murmur — and the cold weather wasn't agreeing with her. The R&B singer tried to belt out a few notes, then told fans huddled under blankets that she understood if they walked out on her. A steady stream of people left the show during her 45 minutes onstage after having waited hours through opening acts. "I've never ever given you less than I can give. I'm gonna give you everything you deserve," she said. LaBelle struggled through Lady Marmalade with assistance from a few in the crowd, sang some gospel songs and On My Own before retreating.

Barenaked Ladies Set Sail With Guster

Excerpt from – Katie Hasty, N.Y.

(Mar. 27, 2006)
The Barenaked Ladies will team with Guster for the Ships and Dip Cruise early next year. The four-day trip, which will tour through the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, promises group and solo performances from those bands and others to be announced, as well as karaoke and jam sessions. The cruise will leave from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on January 15, 2007.  Ticketing info for the 1000-cabin cruise is available via the Ships and Dip Web site and BNL's Web site.  BNL and Guster have also aligned with Reverb, an eco-friendly organization founded by Guster's Adam Gardner, to offset the ship's carbon emissions with the use wind power.   As previously reported, Guster will kick off its Campus Consciousness tour on Wednesday (March 29) in Tacoma, Wash. with similarly-minded environmental initiatives.  Barenaked Ladies are back in the studio today finishing work on the follow-up to 2003's "Everything to Everyone," which was their final album for Reprise.

Smokey Robinson Pledges 'Timeless Love'

Excerpt from – Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

(Mar. 24, 2006)
Motown legend Smokey Robinson delves into the Great American Songbook on "Timeless Love," an album of standards due June 13 via Universal's New Door imprint. It is Robinson's first non-gospel or holiday album since 1999's "Intimate," which debuted at No. 28 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.  The new set features renditions of such favourites as "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Tea for Two," "Love Is Here To Stay," "Speak Low," "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)," "Moody's Mood for Love" and a blend of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "Time After Time" with Cyndi Lauper's pop hit of the same name.  Robinson has a handful of dates on his schedule for this summer, beginning April 20 in Rama, Ontario.

Here are Smokey Robinson's tour dates:

April 20: Rama, Ontario (Casino Rama)
April 21: Flint, Mich. (Whiting Auditorium)
April 22: Marion, Ohio (Palace Theatre)
June 17: Red Bank, N.J. (Count Basie Theatre)
June 20: Uncasville, Conn. (Mohegan Sun)
June 22: New York (Carnegie Hall)
June 24: Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (Saratoga PAC)
Aug. 26: Los Angeles (Greek Theatre)

Music Toronto Bows Out On High Note

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic

(Mar. 29, 2006) There were no maudlin goodbyes as the Music Toronto Chamber Society played its last program last night at the Jane Mallett Theatre.  Instead, the musicians poured out a torrent of dramatic music spanning slightly more than a century, giving themselves and the audience a rousing, memorable adieu.  Violinists Scott St. John and Annalee Patipatanakoon, violist David Harding, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Jamie Parker have been serving as Music Toronto's resident chamber ensemble since 2002. These talented, youthful musicians arrived as champions of compositions that aren't heard often on our concert stages, and consistently delivered interesting, beautifully performed programs twice a season.  But success begets more work, thank goodness, which meant that it was more and more difficult for the gang to get together to rehearse new programs for Music Toronto. With the exception of Harding, who teaches at the University of British Columbia, the players teach at the University of Toronto. St. John leaves this city soon to become the second violinist with the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which is resident at California's Stanford University (and makes regular visits to Toronto).  Patipatanakoon, Borys and Parker also make up the Gryphon Trio, another chamber group with a great reputation. Borys promised the audience last night that the Gryphons would augment their numbers occasionally so that they can explore larger chamber works in the future.  More pieces like the ones heard last night are welcome anytime.  The evening opened with a stolid rendition of one Franz Josef Haydn's later works, the String Quartet in F-sharp Minor, Op. 50, No. 4. It is a typically intricately written piece from 1787, serving as a warm-up for the 19th-century works to come.  Along with guest bass player James VanDemark, the players tackled the gorgeous Sextet in D Major, Op. 110, written by a 15-year-old Felix Mendelssohn in 1824. As the composer was a keyboard star, he wrote himself a killer piano part — more concerto than chamber. But Parker never let his playing cast the string players into shadow.  The evening closed with César Franck's fiery, dramatic Piano Quintet in F Minor, which dates from 1879. This is a compelling piece of music full of unresolved tensions. Like some people you might work with, it thrives on stress and anxiety. The string players gave it their all, while Parker kept a more polite distance on the piano.  On the whole, it was an epic evening. The Music Toronto Chamber Society will be missed.

Destiny's Child Gets Star

Excerpt from

(Mar. 29, 2006) *As reported in Monday's EUR, the members of
Destiny's Child were back together again to take part in their star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday.  Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams took time out from their solo schedules on a rainy Tuesday to be at the installation of the walk's 2,035th star.  "We started when we were 9 years old, and here we are getting a Hollywood star," said Knowles. "Dreams come true. So thank you all so much for supporting us." "I want to thank ya'll for coming out here in this rain. We are humbled to be here," Rowland said to their fans and onlookers.

Jennifer Lopez To Tour India

Excerpt from

(Mar. 29, 2006) *
Jennifer Lopez will reportedly travel to India next month for a performance and to look into potential creative and economic opportunities within the country.  “She is very curious and is looking at connecting with Indian singers, exploring Bollywood,” event manager Sabbas Joseph tells Times of India newspaper, adding that he has booked the singer for one performance in the country. Will Smith recently wrapped up a six-day jaunt to the country. He was invited to launch Sony Entertainment’s brand new English movie channel PIX, dedicated to quality Hollywood and foreign films. President Bush also visited the country recently to discuss the growing strategic partnership between India and the United States. According to Times of India, J. Lo is scheduled to spend three days in Mumbai, the country’s largest city, beginning April 22. The visit will follow her scheduled mini-tour of the Middle East, which will include stops in Dubai and Jordan. "Because of her Latin American heritage, there is more of an interest in understanding everything Indian,” Joseph explained. "We are constantly exchanging notes, she has a lot of questions." Meanwhile, is reporting that J. Lo is scarfing down spinach as much as possible to boost her intake of folic acid in attempts to become pregnant.  "Since my doctor recommended it, I've been on spinach omelettes for breakfast, spinach salad for lunch and sautéed spinach with every dinner,” the singer/actress told the Web site. "I guess if the spinach doesn't help me conceive I'll still end up with Popeye-sized muscles."

The Game Files Suit Against Koch Entertainment

Excerpt from - Susan Butler and Hillary Crosley, N.Y.

(Mar. 29, 2006)
Rapper Jayceon "The Game" Taylor has filed a lawsuit against Koch Entertainment and related companies. He claims 81 copyright infringements for releasing five CDs and a DVD without securing licenses for his compositions.  The complaint alleges that before release of his 2005 multi-platinum debut album for Aftermath/G-Unit/Interscope, "The Documentary," he recorded "several dozen" songs with Joseph Tom, a.k.a. JT the Bigga Figga and his Get Low Recordz in 2001.   A written agreement purported to give Tom and his company the right to release the recordings, provided the Game was paid 50% of all gross profits, the complaint alleges. The deal did not assign the Game's 50% copyright interest in the sound recordings for his performances as the lead singer -- or any copyright interest in the compositions for his words or lyrics, the suit claims.   The Game alleges that Koch, which released the CDs and DVDs through its Fastlife Records, did not secure rights or licenses from him; he has not received any compensation for those releases. The suit asks the federal District Court in Los Angeles for an injunction against Koch and damages for release of "The Game: Untold Story," "The Game: Untold Story Vol. II," "The Game: Untold Story Chopped and Screwed," "The Game: Untold Story Chopped and Screwed Vol. II" and "The Game: Untold Story Special Addition" (CD and DVD).   "It is unfortunate that Koch has single-handedly ignored our request to halt distribution of the Game's early demos," says the artist's lawyer, Los Angeles-based Alan Gutman. "Koch has just released another illegal Game album, [and] this is a mere attempt to confuse Game's fans as he is preparing to release his sophomore album in June with Aftermath."   A spokesperson for Koch says, "The rights were legally obtained and purchased by Fastlife Records. We look forward to proving this in the court of law."


Queen Latifah Makes Animated Film Debut

 Source: Roz Stevenson, Roz Stevenson Public Relations/RSPR,  323-296-6612 /

 (Mar. 29, 2006) Academy Award® nominee
Queen Latifah (“Chicago”) continues to expand and amaze us with her boundless creative talents.  Now she is making her animated feature film debut as the voice Ellie a confused mammoth in Ice Age: The Meltdown, scheduled for release this Friday, March 31 from 20th Century Fox Pictures.   Latifah joins returning sub-zero heroes from the worldwide blockbuster CGI film “Ice Age” – Manny the woolly mammoth, Sid the sloth, Diego the sabre-toothed tiger, and the hapless prehistoric squirrel/rat known as Scrat.  In the new film, from director Carlos Saldanha and the Academy Award® winning creators of “Ice Age” and “Robots,” the Ice Age is coming to an end, and the animals are delighting in the melting paradise that is their new world. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary return to voice our three heroes: Manny, Sid, and Diego.  In addition to Latifah, other new voices include Seann William Scott (the “American Pie” trilogy), late night talk show king Jay Leno, Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) and Josh Peck (“Drake and Josh”). In Ice Age: The Meltdown, our trio is still together and enjoying the perks of their now melting world.  Manny may be ready to start a family, but nobody has seen another mammoth for a long time; Manny thinks he may be the last one.  That is, until he miraculously finds Ellie, the only female mammoth left in the world.  Their only problems: They can't stand each other – and Ellie somehow thinks she’s a possum! Ellie comes with some excess baggage in the form of her two possum “brothers”...Crash and Eddie (voiced by Scott and Peck), a couple of daredevil pranksters and cocky, loud-mouthed troublemakers. 
 In casting Ellie, the filmmakers searched for a voice that was rich with personality – not just an actress with a big personality.  “We had to consider how she would sound opposite Ray Romano,” says Saldanha.  “In addition, we wanted someone with a voice that had strength, independence, empathy and humour.  Queen Latifah embodied all these qualities.”  “Ellie is just the sweetest, lovable lump that you've ever seen.  But she’s…well…she’s a little strange. A little aloof.  And a little confused about her identity.  You see, Ellie thinks she's a possum.  But she’s really a woolly mammoth.  That’s real confusion!” The actress/musician has had several on-screen romances, but none compare to the stakes in Ellie’s relationship with Manny.  “Manny  thinks he's the last woolly mammoth on earth, until he meets Ellie,” she explains.  “There's a potential to save the species, if only Ellie would realize who she is: a mammoth, and not a possum.” At Latifah’s request, the producers developed background on her character to explain why she thought she was a possum.  A flashback scene was added, “When Ellie ends up in the location where she was abandoned as a baby mammoth, she suddenly remembers her lonely tears turning to joy when she is befriended by the possums.  They accept her as part of their family and they develop a loving, non-traditional family relationship.  I think that is a cool message, because there are a lot of people who can relate that kind of situation,” she says.    Latifah says her background as a hip hop artist was a big factor in helping her create a voice performance for Ellie.  “I think one of the reasons I enjoyed working on this film was because of the innate vocal rhythm I have as a musician.  You catch things off that rhythm and you hear things a bit differently.  So it was interesting for me to get Ellie’s vocal inflections and make sure they worked for the character.” She also loves the way Ellie looks.  “She has a Tina Turner-looking coiffeur with big, pretty eyes and makes cute expressions.  She is so adorable,” she says.
 Latifah is a musician, television and film actress, a label president, an author and an entrepreneur.  Blessed with style and substance, Queen Latifah has blossomed into a one-woman entertainment conglomerate.  Heralded by the press and the industry as a force to be reckoned with, Latifah has quite simply done it all and shows no sign of slowing down. Latifah has had amazing success in Hollywood.  She received rave reviews, an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actress, a Golden Globe nomination, and a SAG Award nomination for her portrayal as Mama Morton in Miramax’s “Chicago.”  Next, Latifah starred in Disney’s box office hit “Bringing Down the House,” on which she also acted as executive producer. Last year, she appeared opposite Jimmy Fallon in Fox’s Taxi and then starred in MGM’s “Beauty Shop” (a spin-off of the hit Barbershop), which she also produced. Earlier this year, Latifah starred in director Wayne Wang’s The Last Holiday, opposite LL Cool J.  She also starred in director Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction playing opposite Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman.  Up next is Paramount’s action film Bad Girls with Jada Pinkett Smith, which Latifah will also produce.   To most people releasing multiple movies would be enough, but Latifah wasn’t satisfied.  Last September, Latifah returned to the music scene with a brand new album, demonstrating her singing talent.  Latifah teamed up with Grammy® Award-winning producer Arif Mardin as well as Ron Fair to release her first vocal album, “Queen Latifah – The Dana Owens Album,” which earned her a Grammy nomination this year.  The album was a collection of timeless classics chosen and covered by the Latifah herself.  As Latifah demonstrated both in Living Out Loud (1998) and her Oscar-nominated performance in Chicago (2002), her vocal talent is as impressive as her acting.  Latifah is also one of music’s most well respected rappers.  From her ground breaking 1989 debut “All Hail the Queen,” which set the visual and contextual standard for female rappers, to her bold foray into R&B, Latifah continues to define what a woman in the music industry should be.  She has earned four Grammy nominations as well as a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance in 1994.  Latifah is touring the U.S. as part of The Sugar Water Festival with fellow soul sisters, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.  
 And then there’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, a production company owned and operated by Queen Latifah and her partner, Sha-kim Compere.  The company, based in New Jersey, is quickly establishing itself as one of the most important production companies in the film industry. They began by executive producing the box office hit Bringing Down the House.  After that, Latifah starred in, and Flavor Unit produced Beauty Shop for MGM.  They are also co-producing Bad Girls at Paramount with Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Overbrook.  Then, there are a number of projects that Flavor Unit is producing or has produced in which Latifah does not star including The Cookout with Lionsgate, My People My People with Hyde Park, and Just Right with Disney. Latifah is also not a stranger to the small screen. Her first television series, “Living Single,” was a huge success and is currently in syndication.  From the small screen, Latifah made a leap to film and her acting skills have earned her the status of leading lady. Since her screen debut in Spike Lee’s 1992 film Jungle Fever, her film career has taken off.  She starred in Set it Off, which earned her a nomination for a Spirit Award in the Best Actress category and co-starred with Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito in the critically acclaimed Living Out Loud.  In 1999, she was seen in The Bone Collector directed by Philip Noyce starring Denzel Washington.  In 2002, she co-starred with Taye Diggs and Sanaa Latham in Fox Searchlight’s Brown Sugar. In addition to music, film and television, Queen Latifah has also written a book on self-esteem entitled Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman. Latifah is diligent in her pursuit of excellence, as is evident by the awards she has received for her work in film and music.  Her sincere concern for others is revealed by the generous amount of time and money that she donates to worthwhile charitable organizations.   Every year, Latifah serves as co-chairman for the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation, Inc.  Established by her mother, Rita Owens, to perpetuate the memory of a loving son and brother, the foundations provides scholarships to students who excel scholastically, but are limited in financial resources.

Ludacris Swaps Rhymes For Lines

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Vinay Menon,
 (Mar. 28, 2006) The entertainment industry is one big identity crisis.  Models want to be actors. Actors want to be singers. Singers want to be producers. Producers want to be directors. Directors want to be moguls.  And moguls want to be — scratch that; moguls are too busy shattering the dreams of all of the above to worry about reinvention.  Tonight's episode of Law&Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 10 p.m.; CTV, 9 p.m.) features a popular species within Hollywood's crossover genus: the rapper-turned-actor. 
Ludacris, born Christopher Brian Bridges, gained bling-encrusted fame with the parental-advisory rhymes contained on CDs such as Word of Moufh, Chicken and Beer and The Red Light District.  But over the past year, the controversial rapper — is there another kind? — has been keepin' it real in front of a camera, earning positive reviews for roles in Crash and Hustle&Flow.  On tonight's Law&Order, Luda, as he's known to his peeps, guest stars as the nephew of the raspy-voiced Ice-T, another rapper-turned-actor who, as cultural ironies go, left behind the cop-killing lyrics of yesteryear to become a prime-time detective.  "When I was approached to work on SVU and read the script, there was no way that I could turn down this amazing opportunity," said Ludacris in a statement. "The character was so rich and the storyline so complex, that I knew it was something I had to do."  The episode, titled "Venom," finds Det. Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) at an emotional crossroads after his estranged son Ken (Ernest Wadell) is arrested by officers who find the lad digging suspiciously in the night.  This leads to a familial revelation involving Ken's cousin, Darius Parker (Ludacris), as a double homicide is investigated. Tonight's story was ripped from the headlines; in 1993, a burglar killed a Texas woman and her baby.  "The way I fit in, you get to understand this man's life, what he's been through and why he's made the decisions that he's made," said Ludacris, explaining his character to MTV. "It's really interesting, the motive behind the actions he takes."  The same could be said of any rapper-turned-actor.
 Ludacris probably doesn't want a film or TV crew member humming "Move Bitch" or "Pimpin' All Over The World" when he's delivering lines.  Because moving from recording studio to film set can be complicated by the scorched mythologies entrenched by hip-hop stardom.  This is something Tupac understood. And something Flavor Flav does not.  Performers like Ludacris want to be seen as sincere actors making the most of a creative opportunity, not playing some cartoonish version of themselves with creative insincerity.  If you were to compile a list of Rappers Who Get The Acting Game, you would start with Will Smith and descend through Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Eminem, LL Cool J, Method Man, Snoop Dogg, Ja Rule, DMX, Tone Loc, 50 Cent and several others, ending with Vanilla Ice.  Of course, the downside to a thug's life is the inevitable stereotyping that infiltrates casting, which is why so many rapper-turned-actors find themselves playing gangsters, dealers, murderers and pimps.  In other words, roles that can be easily marketed to a mainstream audience. (I challenge you to imagine a Hollywood movie in which the Wu-Tang Clan star as a team of effete butterfly catchers.)  And Ludacris, the rapper, has already angered the self-appointed culture warriors. In 2002, Bill O'Reilly took umbrage with Pepsi's decision to use Luda in an ad campaign.  On his Fox News scornfest, O'Reilly read some of Luda's rhymes — "I been thinkin' of bustin' you upside your f--in' forehead" — presumably to support his observation the rapper spouted "antisocial nonsense."  More recently, Ludacris earned the No. 60 spot in conservative author Bernard Goldberg's unintentionally hilarious screed, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.  But Ludacris has vanquished his rivals, time and again, and even subverted unfavourable industry expectations of the moonlighting rapper.  "There's a stereotype that rappers don't know how to operate (on set)," Ludacris told the New York Daily News last year.  "People automatically think that I am going to come around with a large entourage, smoking weed, coming to the set late. I'm trying to kill the stereotype."  Which may explain why Chris Bridges is suddenly a hot property in Hollywood.

‘Inside’ The Mind Of Spike Lee

Excerpt from

(March 24, 2006) *
Spike Lee’s eyes light up at the prospect of himself and Denzel Washington emerging as this generation’s Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro.   “We got a couple more films [than Scorsese/DeNiro],” Lee says, before quickly rethinking his response. “Wait, how many did they do together? Let’s count them: ‘Mean Streets,’ ‘Raging Bull,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘Casino’ – five right? [They have] one more! One more, and we there!” Lee says a fifth film with Denzel will definitely happen down the line, and sooner rather than later. The two New Yorkers began their working relationship in 1990 with Lee’s fourth feature film, “Mo’ Better Blues,” and was followed by 1992’s “Malcolm X” and 1998’s “He Got Game.” The eight years between “Game” and today’s opening of “Inside Man,” marks the longest time they’ve spent apart.   “If you look at the time table, it’s been a minute since ‘He Got Game,’” he says. “We both said look, the next film can’t [take] as long. We don’t know what it’s gonna be, but we know we wanna work together soon for number five.” It was a miracle that their number four even took place. According to Spike, Denzel was supposed to do another film for Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer, but it fell through at the last minute. “When you’re Denzel, he’s getting $20 million a film, so he’s like, ‘Alright, I’m doing this film behind this film, and this film.’ So when his film [with Grazer] fell apart, he’s like, ‘I got this block here [open].’ That’s when he played Brutus in [the Broadway play] ‘Julius Caesar.’ But the run of the play wasn’t the run of the [vacated] window. So he still had time after the play ended. So I gave the script to Denzel. He said, ‘Spike, I wanna do this, but you got X amount of time.’”

Once Washington was confirmed to play the lead role of a New York cop going toe-to-toe with a clever bank robber, Lee reached out to Clive Owen about portraying Washington’s nemesis.  “Simultaneously, I’d been speaking to Clive about another film,” he said. “He came on board on a whim. On a humble, we sent it to Jodie Foster and she liked it. And we were on our way.”  Foster rounds out the cast as a power broker who inserts herself into the face off between Washington and Owen, making an already tenuous situation even worse.  All three leads have admitted that a desire to work under Spike Lee drove their decisions to join the project.  “But also, let’s not negate the fact that it’s the script,” Lee deflects. “I might’ve been a factor, but it’s the material. These guys didn’t have to do it, especially Jodie. She just finished ‘Flight Plan’ and, you know, she might do a film every four or five years.” Lee, who turned 49 on Monday, is currently celebrating his 20th year making feature films. With several dozen movies, documentaries, television projects and music videos on his resume, the Brooklynite has certainly been a source of inspiration to his peers – both aspiring directors and veteran filmmakers. It’s something Lee views only as part of a cycle that began with the influence of his heroes.  

“Gordon Parks, who just passed, Ossie Davis, those are individuals that made it possible for myself,” he says. “The granddaddy of them all, Oscar Micheaux, Melvin Van Peebles, those men enabled me to tell stories.”  “‘She’s Gotta Have It’ came out 20 years ago,” he continues. “When it opened in LA, I was in front of the theatre and after the movie let out, this skinny kid with glasses this thick said, ‘Hello, my name is John Singleton. I’m in high school. I wanna make movies like you.’ True story. So it’s an evolution, you know. People are making films now that were inspired by John Singleton’s film ‘Boyz n the Hood.’ So you just gotta keep it going.” Lee has passed one of his Hollywood torches to playwright-turned-filmmaker Tyler Perry, whose Hollywood cache went from zero to 60 on February 25, 2005 – the day his “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” entered theatres en route to a box-office shocker. “I’ve got mad love for Tyler,” Lee says. “He’s someone who’s become a force. When he was trying to get that film made, people were telling him, ‘Black people who go to church don’t go to movies,’ and that type of stuff. He didn’t take that or let it stop him, and he’s been a box office king. So hopefully people will use him as an example, if you have a vision and you’re driven, no matter who you are, black, white, Latino, Asian, you get your stuff done.” Lee has had to remind himself of that can-do stamina lately as he continues work on his next project, “When the Levees Broke,” an HBO documentary due Aug. 29 about the issues of class and race uprooted by Hurricane Katrina.   “My first documentary, ‘4 Little Girls,’ was about the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church, which took place in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963,” he says. “We did that film 20 years later. For the most part, that story would’ve been told. But for this documentary, everyday there’s something new. This story is constantly shifting and changing, so it is a challenge.”

Heist Film Hijacks Box Office

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - David Germain, Associated Press

(Mar. 27, 2006) LOS ANGELES -
Denzel Washington's reunion with Spike Lee put them on the inside track at the box office.  Their bank-hostage thriller Inside Man, an unusually commercial project for director Lee, debuted as the No. 1 weekend film with $29 million (all figures U.S.) - the best opening ever for both the filmmaker and his star, according to studio estimates Sunday.  Universal's Inside Man knocked off the previous weekend's top movie, the Warner Bros. action tale V for Vendetta, which slipped to second with $12.3 million. V for Vendetta raised its 10-day total to $46.2 million.  Disney's fright flick Stay Alive, featuring Frankie Muniz in a tale about a video game that brings death to its players, premiered in third place with $11.2 million.  The weekend's other new wide release, Lionsgate's Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, a gross-out romp starring comic Dan Whitney investigating a food-poisoning outbreak, opened at No. 7 with $7.05 million.  Stung by declining revenues over the last year, Hollywood broke out of its latest slump, with the top-12 movies grossing $98.9 million, up 10.6 per cent from the same weekend a year ago. The upswing followed a month of declines.  The solid weekend was a prelude to this Friday's debut of the animated sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown, considered an early lead-in to a summer season that launches with Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible 3 on May 5.  "This was a good kickoff to what I think will be a pretty good run leading up to summer," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.  Inside Man, starring Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen in a story of cops against robbers during a Manhattan bank heist, exceeded box-office expectations for distributor Universal, which had figured on a $20 million weekend at best.  Lee and Washington's earlier collaborations include Malcolm X and He Got Game.

At $29 million, Inside Man topped Washington's previous best opening weekend of $22.8 million for Man on Fire and Lee's previous best of $11.1 million for The Original Kings of Comedy.  Two-thirds of viewers for Inside Man were older than 30, a promising sign for Hollywood, whose key audience of young males has been less inclined to go to the movies with so many other entertainment distractions such as video games and DVDs.  "They were motivated to go. They love the material, they love the actor," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution. ``It's the motivation to get them to go to the movies, and I hope that we as an industry keep that up. If we want the business to survive, we have to continue to find ways to motivate them."  Inside Man also took in $9.6 million over its opening weekend in 18 other countries.  Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. Inside Man, $29 million.

2. V for Vendetta, $12.3 million.

3. Stay Alive, $11.2 million.

4. Failure to Launch, $10.8 million.

5. The Shaggy Dog, $9.1 million.

6. She's the Man, $7.4 million.

7. Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, $7.05 million.

8. The Hills Have Eyes, $4.25 million.

9. Eight Below, $2.7 million.

10. 16 Blocks, $2.2 million.



NFB and Brazil Sign Pact On Joint Initiatives

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Mar. 25, 2006) Brasilia -- Canada's National Film Board is working with the government and private sector in Brazil on a series of initiatives, including the advancement of digital cinema, documentary co-productions and training young filmmakers. In an agreement signed Thursday in the Brazilian capital, NFB chairman Jacques Bensimon said the board and Brazil's culture ministry would collaborate on several fronts. They involve exploring co-distribution and co-production opportunities, including sharing $50,000 in funding on a series of documentary and animation projects, and allowing emerging Brazilian animators to train at the NFB's Montreal animation studio. Bensimon says the agreement is an evolution of a project initiated 25 years ago when the board helped the Brazilian film community develop both animation and mixing facilities. In addition, simultaneous theatrical screenings via satellite of an NFB film retrospective -- to include Oscar-winning animation short Ryan and Claude Jutra's classic Mon Oncle Antoine -- will take place across Brazil. CP

Could Oscar Be A Four-Letter Word?

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Mar. 26, 2006) With its latest acquisition, Toronto-based THINKFilm appears to be going after the Oscar for Worst Potty Mouth. The independent distribution company has picked up worldwide rights to Steve Anderson's film Fuck, a documentary exploring the uses and abuses of the infamous expletive, according to Hollywood Reporter. The film, directed by Steve Anderson, premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Tex., earlier this month. It features thoughts on the F-word by everyone from Canada's Alanis Morrisette to crooner Pat Boone, rapper Ice-T, Drew Carey, Kevin Smith and the late Hunter S. Thompson. THINKFilm made waves last year with the successful release of The Aristocrats, a profanity-laced documentary featuring stars and comedians retelling "the world's filthiest joke." AMC, a chain that has over 300 theatres in the U.S. and Canada, ultimately refused to screen it. At the time, Jeff Sackman, the 45-year-old Montreal native who is president and CEO of THINKfilm, responded to the ban by saying: "I'd like to express our gratitude to them for that wise decision." The film went on to gross over $6-million (U.S.).  And next month, the company will release Awesome: I Fuckin' Shot That, a Beastie Boys documentary made up largely of shots from hand-held cameras provided to fans at a 2004 Madison Square Garden concert. Anderson said he has expected his latest film, and its obscene title, to cause a stir. "In the end, I felt the only honest thing to do was to call the film Fuck and roll with the punches," he told "It's what the film is really about, anyway: how this one simple word can affect society.  "Anyways, we have a built-in two-word response to all bad reviews. One of the words is 'off.' " THINKFilm plans to release the film in limited engagements in the fall, according to the report.

Herzog Does Hot Docs

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Geoff Pevere, Movie Critic

(Mar. 29, 2006) Anchored by an appearance and retrospective of the work of Werner (Grizzly Man) Herzog, one of the more legendary iconoclasts of independent non-fiction moviemaking, the 13th Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival unveiled its program yesterday.  The first of these annual spring events to be guided by new director of programming Sean Farnel (formerly the Toronto International Film Festival's non-fiction movie programmer), Hot Docs will present 99 documentaries from 22 countries between April 28 and May 7.  The opening night selection is Chema Rodriguez's The Railroad All Stars, an inspirational sports documentary with a difference: it's about Guatemalan prostitutes who form a soccer team.  Opening the Canadian Spectrum, Hot Docs's annual survey of new Canadian documentaries, is Mozartballs, award-winning filmmaker Larry Weinstein's portrait of more intemperate enthusiasts of the late Wolfgang Amadeus.  A combination of categorically programmed screenings (both retrospective and contemporary), industry events, special presentations and public question-and-answer sessions, Hot Docs takes place in several downtown venues: The Bloor Cinema, the Isabel Bader Theatre, Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto, the Al Green Theatre and the NFB cinema.  Besides the tribute to Herzog for outstanding achievement and the Canadian Spectrum program, Hot Docs will also feature a "Spotlight on France," and "Made in Japan." There will be a retrospective of the world of the Quebec documentarian Serge Giguère, and two new programs: "RealTeen," which features seven new works focusing on adolescent experience, and "Join Me! How to Start a Revolution," a program of works of political activism and dissent.  Features in this year's event include:

·  Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque's Shadow Warriors, about the rise of private military contractors.
·  Atom Egoyan's DV-made autobiographical documentary Citadel.
·  Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer's Darkon, about a long running role-playing game and its intense devotees.
·  The African music documentary Refugee All-Stars.
·  F—K, a movie about the history and cultural significance of the English language's favourite naughty word.

Ocean's 13 An All-Boys Club

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic

(Mar. 28, 2006) LOS ANGELES (AP) — Now that George Clooney's an Academy Award winner, he and his crew are returning to their thieving ways.  Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon will star in Ocean's 13, the third flick in their franchise about a gang of lovable crooks, distributor Warner Bros. announced Monday.  A supporting-actor Oscar winner for the oil-industry thriller Syriana, Clooney will reprise his role as leader of the pack Danny Ocean, with the group pulling off a new heist in Las Vegas.  Clooney's producing partner Steven Soderbergh, who made the 2001 hit Ocean's Eleven and its 2004 sequel Ocean's Twelve, will direct again.  Julia Roberts, Clooney's love interest in the first two movies, and Ocean's Twelve co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones will not be back for the third movie, according to Warner Bros.  "It was a script issue. We didn't have a place to really use talent like theirs, two big stars like that," said Jerry Weintraub, the franchise's producer. "They're very good friends of ours, and neither Soderbergh nor I would prevail on them to come back and do nothing just to do it."  Weintraub said if the filmmakers hit on a good idea to include the actresses, there was a chance Roberts and Zeta-Jones could return.  The studio expects the rest of the cast, including Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould, will return. Joining the cast will be Ellen Barkin.  Production is scheduled to start in July, with Ocean's 13 due in theatres in summer 2007.


Into The West For Gemini Awards

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Alexandra Gill

(Mar. 28, 2006) VANCOUVER -- Head west, young television producers. The Gemini Awards national broadcast gala is moving to Vancouver in November. This marks the first time in 21 years that the awards celebrating excellence in Canadian television will be held outside Toronto. "The very least it can do is invigorate them," says Terry McEvoy, chair of the Western division of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, which initiated the bid to hold the event elsewhere. McEvoy points to the Juno Awards as an example of a "moribund" show that was injected with renewed enthusiasm when it branched out across the country. The Gemini gala, to be broadcast live by Global Television, will be held on Nov. 4 at the River Rock Resort and Casino. The non-broadcast elements, two nights of technical, sports and documentary awards, will still be held in Toronto a week earlier. McEvoy says the idea of holding the awards on the west coast, a bid several years in the making, was a no-brainer. "We have a mature, extraordinary industry here that is doing some of the best stuff in Canada," he says, pointing to Corner Gas as an example of acclaimed TV produced in Western Canada. The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television -- which organizes the Gemini Awards, the Genie Awards and the Prix Gémeaux for French-language TV -- is a national non-profit professional association of 4,000 members. The Western Division represents approximately 650 members; more than 500 are based in Vancouver.

Western filmmakers have always felt stung by "the famous $1,000 cup of coffee," McEvoy explains. "That's what it costs for a flight in order for us to have a meeting with a broadcaster in Toronto." Having the Gemini Awards in Vancouver will provide the local industry an opportunity to meet the Eastern-based movers and shakers. And because the Canadian Association of Broadcasters will be meeting in Vancouver the subsequent week "a lot of the powers that be will be in town," McEvoy notes. Although the Geminis are Canada's version of the Emmys, its glamour quotient pales in comparison. "There's always a peculiar stillness that comes with the Gemini Award nominations," Globe and Mail critic Andrew Ryan wrote last year. "Each fall, it's the sort of non-breaking story that arrives in Canadian newsrooms with minimal fanfare and to muted response." McEvoy admits that the event does have its problems -- shows that are nominated will often have been cancelled -- but he says those are problems born of the industry. "People in Canada have funny expectations. They expect the Geminis to be like the Emmys, but we don't have the media coverage or budgets to match American programs. That said, we are doing some great and innovative stuff, especially in the west."

Gordon Pinsent's Heyday!

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Andrew Ryan

 (Mar. 25, 2006)  The endearing CBC movie
Heyday! demonstrates that the ability to depart reality and escape into a fantasy world is very often a creative blessing. The original movie is an autobiographical setpiece taken from the real-life experiences of venerable Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, who wrote and directed the movie. Set during the final days of the Second World War, the film is a coming-of-age story that revolves around a 16-year-old Newfoundlander named Terry Fleming (Adam Butcher). He's a sharp and industrious lad, though a bit of a daydreamer, particularly in regard to the airport hotel in Gander, Newfoundland. During the war, the hotel was very often the unlikely host for Hollywood stars including Bob Hope, Gene Tierney and others who would often make a stopover in Gander while on their way to USO tours overseas. Fantasizing about working at the hotel becomes an all-consuming activity for young Terry, who envisions a Cole Porter-esque tableau, complete with a big-band orchestra and flowing champagne. It is a world where dashing men in tuxedoes trip the light fantastic with beautiful women in shimmering gowns. The rich fantasies provide a romantic escape from reality for Terry. At home, his mother is very ill and the family house has been quarantined. At the same time, Terry holds onto a longstanding infatuation with an attractive neighbour (Joanne Kelly), even though she's ten years older.
 It's a very personal project for Pinsent who began writing the film script more than two decades ago and the story is derived directly from his own adolescence. Pinsent was born and raised in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, located near Gander. As a youth, Pinsent would watch the planes touch down and take off on their way to support the war effort. While there are some obvious alterations for dramatic purpose, Terry's fantasies are likely similar to those shared by many young men during the war years. Looking back, Pinsent says it was the first time that he dared to dream about such things. "Uncorking the dusty, bottled powers of my imagination, I became one with the world at large," says the 75-year-old actor. "My short-lived adventure ignited friendships, loves, influences and creative juices which have stayed with me until this day. If it were not for this page in my own life, I can surely say that my creative life since would not have taken the course it has."

Lester Speight: The Man of Many Characters

 Excerpt from - By Deardra Shuler

 (Mar. 28, 2006)
Lester “Rasta” Speight was navigating through LA traffic when we first spoke.   The actor is also known for his personas and characters: “Mighty Rasta,” “Terry Tate,” the Office Linebacker and the character “Calvin Scott” on Damon Wayans’ hit show “My Wife and Kids” which is presently in syndication.  “Some people see me as Terry Tate, the officer linebacker, because I may appear on a particular show in wardrobe.  But Terry Tate is a character.  The show host may introduce me as the Terry Tate character, so occasionally people are unaware that I am an actor playing a role.” Speight explained.  “Unlike the character Calvin, I am often hired to play Terry Tate at shows or by people who want Terry to give a motivational speech or come out and tackle somebody, remarked Speight who is about to play the role of a  Reverend.”  Terry Tate, Office linebacker, came to prominence through a series of Reebok commercials aired during the Super Bowl. The commercials were so popular they won a Golden Lion at the Cannes Film Festival and people were asked to vote for their favourite commercial.  Lester Speight grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.  He was highly motivated and hyperactive.  “During high school, I played basketball, football, and ran track.  I made all honours in those sports and was All American and in my High School Hall of Fame.  I got scholarships and nice offers and went on to Morgan State University as a Division 1 All American linebacker,” said the 6’6 ex-jock.  Speight played with the Bears from 1982 to 1985 as offensive, defensive and wide receiver.  He later signed with the Baltimore Stars of the USFL but the USFL League folded before he had a chance to play one season.  “I went to Green Bay and tried out with them. I went to Philly, the Giants, and played semi-pro ball. I thought I was born to play football but my dream got deferred.  I wanted to stay in sports so I turned to wrestling.  I had to go to wrestling school to learn how to wrestle.  The ring is a very dangerous environment.  When I was wrestling, I weighed about 250-265 lbs.  I called myself Rasta the VooDoo Man, Reek Havoc, Fabulous Flex, and also Rasta Warrior.  I wrestled out of Atlanta and then went to New York for one week and trained with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).  The Rock was wrestling with the company then.  It was much harder on Blacks because WWE is a good ole boys network.  They only allow a few Blacks to come through there,” recalled Speight.
 Speight’s sports career wasn’t going as expected so in 1991 he played an extra in Robert Townsend’s movie “The Meteor Man.”  “I took a few theatre classes while at Morgan State and appeared in some talent shows so I was always in the performing arts. I studied Shakespeare in acting workshops in Washington, D.C. in 1997 and 1998.  I wanted to do everything in Baltimore and Washington before going to L.A.  I did dinner theatre, “I did Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” in D.C., and I was in a film with Al Pacino and LL Cool J.”   Speight eventually met his manager Greg in Baltimore who got him more bookings.  He was booked on the show “Live In LA.”  Lester stayed out in LA and eventually found an agent.  “I auditioned for the character Terry Tate, a character created by Rawson Thurber (the director of Dodge Ball) who after working in an office and seeing all the chaos, thought of the idea to bring in an office linebacker to straighten out the office BS.  We did a 4 minute Terry Tate short. Later we did 5, 4-minute shorts for Reebok. The commercials became very popular.  Terry tackles everyone and anyone that doesn’t do their job well,” chuckled the affable actor. “When Terry goes to work and tackles somebody, no one reacts because that is what Terry does.  It’s his job to tackle folks that don’t do their job.  What can be done with the Terry Tate character is endless.  He has a life of his own. We even have a cameo of Terry Tate in an upcoming movie.  We have a video game.  There is a lot of marketing opportunities for Terry Tate,” remarked Speight who has spent the last 6 years in California working.  He appeared in several movies “Thirteen Moons,” “Any Given Sunday,” and “Cradle 2 the Grave,” etc.  For TV, he appeared in Malcolm in the Middle, NYPD Blue, Arli$$, Cuts and A Superstar is Born.      Dating, single, and living with his bull dog Lady Belle, Speight, is a romantic by heart.  He is open to meeting the right lady but presently he is seeking to upsize Terry Tate to the muscle weight of 335 or 334 lbs. “Ladies love big men.  I think they like the idea of being protected and wrapped in big arms.  However, I don’t want to be so big, I can’t run.” claimed Lester.  “Right now, I am working on my pilot which so far is called Southern Fabulous.  I have a production company entitled Sweathead.  I’ve developed a webisode character called Mama Rasta which streams on my website.”  
 Speight’s motto is: Put action where you want your money to be, in the bank and lots of it.  “I want to be a positive black image for kids.  There has never been a Black Arnold Schwarzenegger type of Black hero,” stated Lester. “I am hoping to achieve that end through Terry Tate.  Tate is a crossover figure.  He’s the huge guy that comes along and tackles the annoying person others don’t dare to. Everyone loves Terry. He’s everyone’s hero.  Eventually, I hope Terry gets me to a place where I can do roles like “The Reggie White Story” for Movie of the Week.  I would love to play a modern day Jack Johnson.  I want to be the ultimate triple threat.” Interested parties can learn more about Lester Speight at  

Braugher, Yoba Steal The Show In FX’s ‘Thief’

 Excerpt from

 (Mar. 28, 2006) *With two current prime time dramas focusing entire seasons on thievery, it appears that criminals and the drama surrounding their big scores are suddenly TV’s next big thing.  One week following the debut of NBC’s “Heist” comes FX’s Tuesday premiere of “
Thief,” starring veteran actor Andre Braugher in the title role of Nick Atwater, the leader of a crew of high-end thieves planning a big job.  But according to FX, “Thief,” which follows the same central plot as “Heist,” is not your average “Oceans 11” – which, ironically, had its plot lifted by both dramas.  “This series tracks a group of desperate men at the moral crossroads of their lives and follows an unlikely father and daughter [Braugher (African American) and Mae Whitman (white)] deep into a meditation on love and lies, grief and redemption,” said FX President and GM, John Landgraf, introducing the show to critics in January.  “My first initial struggle was what kind of fellow is Nick Atwater,” Braugher said, explaining his approach to playing a criminal. “He’s a thief. And I have to find a way to understand, to rationalize and justify my involvement in a criminal enterprise, you know, this dangerous enterprise.” Nick and his crew, including “New York Undercover’s” Malik Yoba as Elmo, are plotting to grab $40 million from the U.S. government earmarked for the war on drugs in South America. Complicating things are the guilt they experience at the murder of one of their own; a dirty cop trying to redeem himself by scoring a big takedown and a terminally ill killer sent by the Chinese Mafia looking to settle a score of their own. In humanizing Nick’s illegal outfit, Yoba explains, “these characters weren’t born criminals.  Some of them chose a criminal life based on circumstances.  My character is the married guy with four children and one on the way and is an ex-military guy who grew up in the military family, who has a particular point of view that maybe this is what he needs to do based on his own personal politics.
 “I think as an actor, that’s the part that’s really interesting, is to play in that gray area,” he continues. “So often things are so black and white, but the world we live in is not black and white.  And I think that’s where the heart and the drama comes from – the conflict, the comedy.”  Another aspect threatening the efficiency of the group, and perhaps the elephant in the room, is Nick’s 14-year-old white step-daughter Tammi, played by Whitman. The pilot episode given to reporters in January had no hint of race ever becoming an issue between the two, but executive producer Norman Morrill says don’t sleep.  “Like in real families, things that bubble below the surface, if they bubble long enough, they have to come to the surface,” Morrill hints. “And they’ll come to the surface in this.” Whitman adds: “It is kind of like an underlying issue.  You’re always kind of wondering whether or not it’s going to play into the relationship and at what point and how is it going to come in. It adds an interesting level of just kind of always wondering what her feelings on it are and what his feelings are.”  In the meantime, the biggest threat Tammi poses to her father is forcing him to confront the lies which he has strategically placed to protect his micro-managed life. To prepare for the underlying layers of his character, Braugher says he studied the emotional life of the character from the book “Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief.”    “I read ‘Men Who Lie and the Women Who Love Them,’ and I watched a lot of heist movies,” Braugher added. “I’ve seen a whole bunch of them.  I mean, ‘Heat’ and ‘Score’ and ‘Ronin’ and you name it.”  After a pause, he added: “I knocked over a couple of 7-Elevens, too.”

TV Producers Clash With The FCC

 Source: Lynn Elber, Associated Press

 (Mar. 25, 2006) LOS ANGELES -- Barry Levinson said he doesn't blame the WB network for airing a censored debut episode of his drama revolving around a college class on sexuality. He holds the U.S. Federal Communications Commission responsible. "We don't believe that the show should have been edited, but the network is very fearful of what the FCC has been doing recently," Levinson said. "They're intimidating the networks and levying these fines, so the networks are not sure of what they can or can't do." The Bedford Diaries, set to premiere in the United States on Wednesday, will air minus scenes of two girls kissing and a girl opening her jeans, said Levinson, a prominent producer-director whose film credits include Rain Man, The Natural and Diner.  The network, which has used the Internet before to promote new series, is streaming a full, uncut version of the pilot on its website. The cast includes Matthew Modine, Milo Ventimiglia and Audra McDonald. The show is carried in Canada on CITY-TV stations. Last week, the U.S. government renewed its crackdown on what it considers indecency in television by proposing a total of $3.9-million (U.S.) in new fines, including a record $3.6-million fine involving the depiction of a teenage sexual orgy on CBS's Without a Trace.
 The FCC also upheld its $550,000 fine against CBS stations for Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl flash of nudity. Levinson said he and fellow executive producers Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz) and Julie Martin had already delivered what they and WB agreed was the final cut of The Bedford Diaries when the FCC fines prompted WB's second thoughts. The producers refused to make further edits because they were "out of the bounds of logic we could understand," Levinson said. "You can't even argue it," he said. "In its context, the show doesn't advocate any behaviour. In fact, in many ways it talks about the responsibility of the individual. But the FCC doesn't look at anything in context. So, therefore, they're upset that two girls kissed, period." Other episodes may be at risk, including one in which a teacher discusses sexual abstinence, Levinson said: The network is concerned that the FCC will consider only the sexual phrases and deem them indecent.

On TV, There's Nothing Like Old Friends

 Source: David Bauder, Associated Press

 (Mar. 27, 2006) NEW YORK -- Fans of television comedy are stuck in a time warp. TV viewers are watching more sitcoms each week than they
did a decade ago, a new study concluded. Unfortunately for broadcast networks, they're tuning in to Friends, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond reruns more than anything new on the air. As U.S. network executives spend spring behind closed doors plotting their fall schedules, the statistics starkly illustrate how these programmers are forced to compete against the best of the last 30 years when developing new comedies. "The viewers say we're not going to tolerate mediocrity anymore because we've got the classics and there's a lot of competition out there," said NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly last week. There have been a handful of new American sitcom successes this season, most recently the promising start of Julia Louis-Dreyfus's The New Adventures of Old Christine on CBS. NBC's My Name Is Earl and CBS's How I Met Your Mother have shown promise creatively and in the ratings. Still, only two sitcoms rank among Nielsen Media Research's top 20 programs this season: CBS's Two and a Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine, the latter with only three episodes aired. The ratings might suggest that people just aren't interested in watching sitcoms any more. Not so. The average household is tuning in to 4.84 hours worth of sitcoms each week this season, according to a report by ad buyers Magna Global. During the 1993-94 season, it was 3.78 hours.
 Twelve seasons ago, more than half of that comedy viewing (56 per cent) came in prime time on the big U.S. broadcast networks. This year, only 13 per cent of this season's sitcom-watching fits that category. Where are they going? The U.S. cable channel Nick at Nite delivers a prime-time line-up with Roseanne and The Cosby Show. TBS is all comedy, with Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends and Sex and the City. Many of those same comedies are sold in syndication, often competing strongly with Jay Leno and David Letterman late at night. An average of 171 hours of comedy were aired each week during the 1993-94 season on U.S. broadcast networks, cable and in syndication, the report said. This season, there are 568 hours of comedy on each week.  Those statistics don't even count shows like Desperate Housewives, Comedy Central's The Daily Show or any reality-TV shows that people often turn to for laughs -- like the hours of cluelessly bad singers on American Idol. It's enough to make a network programmer scream in frustration. Executives like Reilly constantly see research showing young people consider sitcoms a tired genre; yet the viewership figures indicate they're more than willing to watch the good ones. "When you put on a new one that's shy of the mark, it's considered another knock on the genre," he said. People are much more willing to watch comedies they've seen before than dramas, Reilly said. Dramas also tend to date themselves more quickly than a sitcom like Everybody Loves Raymond, which would have felt plausible in almost any decade. "You don't think twice about watching I Love Lucy," Reilly said. "It would certainly throw you for a loop to watch Jack Webb [in Dragnet]." Dramas have also evolved in both their look and themes over the years, he said, while in some ways sitcom creators have "perfected it to death over the last couple of decades," he said. That means it's harder to come up with something the viewers don't expect.
 The heightened competition puts more pressure on show producers to come up with compelling concepts with sharp writing, said Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. CBS pays particular attention to casting, "to make sure that there is a cohesion and a chemistry with each one of them," she said. Considering that roughly four in five homes have only one TV set turned on each night in prime time, it's evident that families are looking for something they can watch together, said Steve Sternberg, the Magna Global report's author. Broadcasters would do well to court that audience, yet they seem to be leaning toward edgier fare, he said. Viewers are more interested in the next Everybody Loves Raymond than Arrested Development, he said. The executives are certainly continuing to try, judging by the comedy projects in development this spring (ABC executives declined to speak for this article). Among the more likely to hit the air in the next year: Community Service, starring Jay Mohr as a real estate agent who travels to the Midwest to win a woman's affection and ends up afoul of the law, on NBC. The Winner, with Rob Corddry of The Daily Show as a successful man looking back on when he was a 32-year-old slacker living with his parents, on Fox. The Class, helmed by a co-creator of Friends, reunites a group of Grade 3 classmates when they reach their 20s, on CBS. Angriest Man in Suburbia, in which a big-city accountant becomes a stay-at-home dad and it pushes him over the edge, on CBS. Worst Week of My Life, a limited-run series on Fox. Each episode focuses on one day in the week leading up to a marriage. Alpha Mom, a comedic look at a frenetic working mom, by the creator of Scrubs, on NBC.

Be Careful Where You Put That Converter

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Andrew Ryan

 (Mar. 27, 2006) There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of this nation, but there is ample room for television. Be careful where you put tha
t converter. It's the latest revelation about Canadian baby-boomers. The results of an odd study were released two weeks ago. The survey, conducted by the esteemed pollsters Ipsos Reid, stated that Canadians between the ages of 40 and 64 spent an average of 15 minutes a day on sex and romance (which presumably means kissing and nuzzling), but they were regularly spending up to five hours daily watching TV or playing on their computers. Wow. The story wound up in newspapers around the country, and in each case the headline played up the old-people-prefer-TV-to-sex angle. Mind you, this particular survey was commissioned by a big pharmaceutical company that shall remain unnamed. Let's just say it's the company that makes the world's best-selling drug for erectile dysfunction. And there were other angles to the customized survey, which talked to 2500 Canadians. Such as: More than half the respondents in the same age group admitted they were often too tired to have sex. Another 42 percent said they were too stressed out, while 40 percent claimed they simply didn't have the time. Most of those results make sense, in a rather depressing way. I don't believe it's any big secret that people have less sex as they grow older. But the real irritant was the statistic about replacing human intimacy with TV and the Internet.
 The survey didn't come right out and say it, but the presumption was that younger people are having plenty of wild sex around the clock and double-time on weekends while most boomers are on the physical downslide. The story itself seemed unfair to anyone over 40, but even less fair to the TV medium. It's a safe bet some folks read books, or collect stamps, instead of having sex as they enter their twilight years, but those results weren't measured, or mentioned. This time, TV was the obvious villain. For me, the story conjured up the mental image of two sad old people sitting in front of the set, watching Coronation Street and eating dinner off TV trays. Is that all there is?

Television To Talk About

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic
(Mar. 29, 2006) No fracture: Bones starring Emily Deschanel was about to become old bones before FOX suddenly renewed for a second season. A new Wednesday berth has helped build an audience. A new episode tonight concerns the pursuit of a counterfeit ring (FOX, Global at 8).
 Milestone: Happy 100th episode to George Lopez, whose sitcom hits that big number tonight. And they said it would never last. George takes over planning a wedding for a high-priced client of Angie (Constance Marie) (ABC at 8).
 Smooch City: During an informal moment on America's Next Top Model a contestant kisses a male model amid cries of unprofessionalism. The very idea! There'll be none of that stuff on this show, young lady! (Citytv, UPN at 8).
 Last Chance: If the wobbly new sitcom Out of Practice doesn't percolate in its new time slot, look for CBS to pull the plug. Any sitcom with Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler should be a winner, right? No! Bad writing is the problem (CBS at 8).
 Shocking! Bedford Diaries has been in waiting. ABC has toned down some of the sexual content. Milo Ventimiglia (Gilmore Girls) is the recovering alcoholic editor of a college student paper, Matthew Modine a professor of sexual anthropology. Tom Fontana (Oz) created it, so sparks should fly (WB, WGN at 9).
 Ratings: The numbers tell all. Monday night, CBC's Coronation Street at 7:30 attracted 649,000 viewers. But the Gordon Pinsent TV movie Heyday at 8 only averaged 240,000 over two hours, dragging down CBC's National at 10. By contrast Global's Prison Break at 8 had 1.4 million viewers.
 Water Cooler: Newsday is reporting a possible Friends reunion. Are you interested in seeing the sextet back? Only one is holding out and it's supposed to be Matt LeBlanc, whose spinoff Joey is tottering into cancellation mode.


Focus On U.S. Enrages ACTRA

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Antonia Zerbisias, Media Columnist

(Mar. 29, 2006) Canada's private TV stations are increasing their spending on U.S. programming, while domestic drama continues to capture a shrinking share of production dollars.  According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which yesterday released its annual report on the financial state of the TV industry, spending on Canadian drama came in at $86.6 million in 2005, while spending on foreign drama hit $401.5 million.  That multiple outraged ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) which represents 21,000 performers across the country.  Said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's national executive director, in a statement: "Last year we were shocked that so-called Canadian private broadcasters spent four times more on U.S. programming than they did on original Canadian drama. Now we're appalled to learn that in 2005, they spent almost five times more. The system is clearly broken."  Total spending on programming hit $1.3 billion, of which $587 million went to Canadian production.  ACTRA has been lobbying the CRTC to overturn its controversial 1999 Television Policy, which ushered in new Canadian content rules allowing broadcasters to substitute low-cost reality programs for drama.  Which explains all those clones of Entertainment Tonight, which ostensibly promote Canadian fare.  "Instead of investing in our own industry, Canada's private broadcasters are sending their money to Los Angeles," Waddell added. "The CRTC has to fix its 1999 mistake and implement strong content and spending requirements."  Another factor affecting U.S. spending is the increased competition for foreign fare. Canadian broadcasters get into bidding wars over hot properties.  The CRTC figures also reveal that, last year, total revenues and profits before interest and taxes rose by about 4 per cent, hitting $2.2 billion and $242.2 million respectively.


Baring It All In The Name Of Art

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Naomi Carniol, Staff Reporter

 (Mar. 25, 2006) Breast. Nipple. Bum. Spotting all three has become commonplace in movies and on the stage. When the musical
Hair opened in 1968, many were shocked by its nudity. Now that the show is returning to the Toronto stage, it's an added bonus.  But baring all can still be a risky career move. And it's riskiest on the big screen, where one's privates can be exposed to a potential audience of millions.  For men, considering going nude is not a huge issue, whereas for women, it's "a minefield," says Wyndham Wise, former editor of Take One magazine.  "If a man has a really good-looking body ... then he can get away with it," says Wise. Famous examples include Ewan McGregor's full frontal in The Pillow Book and George Clooney's full moon in Solaris.  Men often take their shirts off. But dropping their boxers is a rare sighting.  Partly it's because the association that rates films "tends to frown on penises," says David Poland, editor of  An R-rated film can show a penis but the shot has to be brief and the penis limp. "Certainly nobody can get anywhere near touching it," Poland says.  There's a double standard, says Richard Crouse, co-host of the local Rogers TV program Reel to Real. "When men appear nude it's almost like it's a brave move — he was willing to bare himself for the role — whereas when women do it, it's either almost expected or just used completely for titillation."  It comes with the territory in a sexist society, Wise says. "We're much more prepared to have a woman go naked than a guy go naked."
 Above all, movies are about money. Some men will be more likely to see a mediocre film if a certain actress appears in it naked, says Jeffrey Wells, columnist for  But does it help an actress's career? Film critics have mixed opinions.  "If you want to be a movie star, keep your clothes on," Poland says, arguing the illusion of nakedness is more appealing than the real thing. Raquel Welch never showed her breasts, but "she was sex personified."  Heather Graham was first known as a serious indie actress. But then she played the porn star Rollergirl in Boogie Nights. The 1997 film turned her into a sex icon and her roles have reflected that ever since, Poland says.  Her recent sitcom failed partly because "all they were selling was `come look at Heather Graham' and people have all seen Heather Graham ... having sex in every possible position on screen."  But staying clothed isn't always the best move either, Wise says. Nude scenes can sometimes help the careers of young actresses even if "they don't like to admit it."  Brigitte Bardot appeared nude in And God Created Woman in 1956. "She was able to build a career on that," Wise says.  Drew Barrymore appeared nude in several films including 1994's Bad Girls. She hasn't been pigeonholed because she's got more going for her than her body, Wise says.  A good nude scene should fit the role and be "organic to the film," Crouse says.  Wells points to the sex scene in Monster's Ball between Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. "It certainly involves nudity, but when it's driven in a really compelling moving way ... it doesn't feel like a nude scene."  That's not how many saw the nude scene in Swordfish (2001), when, for no apparent reason, a sunbathing Berry lowers a book and reveals her breasts.
 "It was demeaning," Crouse says. "It didn't belong in the story."  Berry herself later called the scene "gratuitous," but noted that it gave her the courage to tackle the love scene in Monster's Ball.  Once some actresses achieve a measure of success, they aren't as willing to show their birthday suits again. Rachel Weisz appeared topless in The Constant Gardener. Now that she's won an Oscar, "I doubt very much she'd ever go naked anywhere again," Wise says.  Older women who do nude scenes can make themselves stand out because it's so rare, Wells says. He praises the moment in Something's Gotta Give when Jack Nicholson walks in on a nude Diane Keaton. Keaton was "being honest about sexuality among people in their 40s and 50s," he says.  Sharon Stone, 48, has confirmed she'll be naked in the soon-to-be released Basic Instinct sequel. What will hurt Stone's career most is if the movie is bad.  However, actresses need to know if they go nude in a film, those images will be around for a long time.  For instance, for a fee you can join and view thousands of movie stills featuring nude Hollywood actresses. Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz and Reese Witherspoon are all on the site. You would have a hard time finding nude shots of your favourite male stars on the site — but it's not difficult to find those elsewhere.

Wozzeck Last Show At Hummingbird

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - john Terauds, Classical Music Writer

 (Mar. 26, 2006) Some people are better acquainted with irony than others.  The potential for either laughter or tears is not lost on
Lotfi Mansouri, who is back in Toronto after an 18-year absence to direct Alban Berg's Wozzeck, the last production the Canadian Opera Company will mount at the Hummingbird Centre.  As general director of the company from 1976 to 1988, Mansouri was responsible for 12 Canadian premieres. The first was Wozzeck, in 1977.  He also brought big stars such as soprano Joan Sutherland and her conductor husband Richard Bonynge to Toronto, helping put our opera company on the world map.  Mansouri also did everything in his power to get a new home for the organization.  After much cajoling and fundraising, plans were announced in the mid-1980s for a new opera and ballet house to be built at the corner of Bay and Wellesley Sts.  A change of government in 1988 led to the new opera house being cancelled. Mansouri packed up for San Francisco, where he was general director of that city's opera company until his retirement in 2001.  The consummate optimist, a man with the boundless energy of someone half his age (now 76), Mansouri is not likely to cry over the twists of fate.  But, yet, he can't ignore them.  "We were so close, it was heartbreaking," says Mansouri of the stillborn 1980s opera house.  During a break in Wozzeck rehearsals, Mansouri relates how he went to see then-Liberal premier David Peterson after San Francisco Opera asked him to become its new general director. If he could get a verbal commitment, he would stay in Toronto.  "All I wanted to hear was that the opera house would be built in my lifetime. He spoke for an hour and, like any good politician, he said absolutely nothing." (Peterson's successor, Bob Rae, would dismiss the project as too lavish and expensive for hard economic times.)  Mansouri quickly made up his mind. "I decided that I want to spend my twilight years in a real opera house."
 So, for the next dozen years, Mansouri worked out of San Francisco, capping his tenure with premieres of new works such as André Previn's Streetcar Named Desire, with soprano Renée Fleming in the role of Blanche DuBois.  (Ironically, that opera house was closed for two seasons for earthquake-proofing, forcing Mansouri to work out of temporary quarters.)  Meanwhile back here, the current Canadian Opera Company general director, Richard Bradshaw, succeeded in securing a new home. The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is set to open in June.  Bradshaw asked Mansouri to return to Toronto and direct a work this season.  "When I realized that Wozzeck was to be the last opera to be produced at the Hummingbird, I asked myself, is this meant to be ironic?" says Mansouri, smiling. "I also asked, am I going to lead the torch parade?"  He laughs heartily at the thought of working again in "this place which I disliked so intensely."  Perhaps Wozzeck is, in a twisted way, the right work with which to close the opera company's long association with the Hummingbird Centre.  In 1837, a young would-be German playwright called Georg Büchner wrote a manuscript called Woyzeck, about a psychotically depressed soldier who murders his wife. Berg saw a performance of the play in 1914 and was transfixed.  Berg spent years marrying the text with a score written in the new, dissonant and modern 12-tone style of composition. The opera, Wozzeck, was premiered in Berlin in 1925.  Mansouri has tremendous admiration for this work, which he has directed numerous times. "It is a perfect example of opera as music theatre because you cannot separate the words from the music," says Mansouri. Berg's use of regular speech, sung-speech (sprechgesang), recitative and sung arias is "so seamless, you're never aware of it because every line is at the service of the drama.  "Büchner wrote this when he was 19 years old," says Mansouri. "At the height of Romanticism in Europe, here's this Expressionistic thing. It's like a screenplay .... It's all independent scenes, and yet this is this emotional and psychological line going through the whole work," he says.
 The first time he directed it, it was for the Zurich Opera in the 1960s. "I was in the hometown of Jung, so I took it to a psychiatrist. I wanted him to analyze the mental breakdown of Wozzeck," Mansouri recalls. "After doing all that, I shoved it all aside and went for the text and the music."  Just as Mansouri, so many years later, has shoved aside the perils of opera dreams past, to tackle text and music again.
 Alban Berg's Wozzeck opens on March 31 at the Hummingbird Centre, with Pavlo Hunka in the title role and Giselle Allen as Marie. More info at

Jill Clayburgh - An Original Back On Broadway

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian

(Mar. 28, 2006) Shakespeare may have written "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/ Her infinite variety" about Cleopatra, but it's only because he didn't meet
Jill Clayburgh first.  Sure, it's been nearly 30 years since she served as an icon of female independence with her Oscar-nominated performance in An Unmarried Woman, but the 61-year-old woman who sits in a cramped dressing room backstage at the Cort Theater doesn't look all that different.  "There's a whole generation of young men who sat in the movies with their mommies looking up at the big screen and falling in love with me," she sighs. "It's really very sweet."  The up-tilted nose, arching cheekbones and melting eyes that Alan Bates once gazed at fondly are the same. So is that husky voice — a saxophone with a head cold — that's charmed every leading man from Burt Reynolds to Gene Wilder.  Right now, she's starring in the revival of Barefoot in the Park, playing Ethel Banks, the well-meaning but stuffy mother of newlywed daughter Carrie (Amanda Peet). The curtain's going up before too long and she's carefully applying a remedial coat of nail polish.  "I have to be perfectly manicured very soon, so excuse me if try to do two things at once."  Actually, that's something Clayburgh has always had trouble with. She walked away from her film career at its height, after landing two back-to-back Oscar nominations for Best Actress, so she could settle down with playwright David Rabe and have children.  Right after one of her greatest successes, as the valium-addicted TV producer in I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can, her daughter Lily was born and that was it.  "The really big shock," she recalls, "is how it took over my life. Sort of pleasurable, but still an oh-shit-what-now kind of shock. I had to reorganize my life, but once I did, that was it. I was focused on my family."  Up until then, she had enjoyed the kind of idiosyncratic career you would expect from a true original like Clayburgh.  Born in New York on April 30, 1944, she came from a privileged background, her father a manufacturing executive. She attended the posh Brearley School where, as she puts it, "I usually played the boy in everything and then I'd go over to the boys' school to play the girl."

But theatre wasn't on her radar when she started Sarah Lawrence College. "You have to understand," she explains, "being an actress wasn't in the Zeitgeist the way it is now. Most of my classmates wanted to be lawyers or psychiatrists." But she spent a summer doing stock at the Williamstown Playhouse, "and it was then I thought `Oh, this is something I could do with my life that I could enjoy. This could be my profession.'"  She went to the Charles Playhouse in Boston and became involved for about five years with another young actor named Al Pacino. They both moved to New York and began working off-Broadway.  The relationship broke up in the early '70s and Clayburgh starred in a couple of big Broadway musicals, The Rothschilds and Pippin.  But it was a part she didn't get that changed her life in many ways. "Ironically," she laughs, "I auditioned four times for a play called In The Boom Boom Room. They gave it to Madeline Kahn and deservedly, but I felt I lost the job because I didn't have a name and so I thought `I'll go out to Hollywood to get one.'"  She did and she also got the show's playwright, Rabe.  At first, she careened through a variety of roles, including an Emmy-nominated appearance as a prostitute in Hustling and an ill-fated turn as Carole Lombard in Gable and Lombard, opposite James Brolin.  "I wanted to work," is how she describes those years. "I was just a working actress."  But the movies and parts started getting better: Silver Streak, Semi-Tough and then the matched set of An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over, which landed her the pair of Oscar nominations.  By then, she had married Rabe (in 1979) "and I was already heartily sick of California," so when their daughter Lily was born she virtually left the scene.  "I really didn't want to act any more," she shrugs. "All my imagination went into being a mother. I guess you like what you're good at."  Years later, once her children Lily (now a successful actress) and Michael grew older, Clayburgh began dipping her toes back into the show business water with more regularity.  "There's a whole new generation out there who only know me from playing Ally McBeal's mother or that lady on Nip/Tuck," she shrugs.  This year, she boldly returned to Broadway with two projects in the same season: Richard Greenberg's A Naked Girl on the Appian Way and the revival of Neil Simon's Barefoot.  "I'm enjoying being in the theatre more now than I did when I was younger," she confesses. "I have a sense of freedom and pleasure I didn't have back then."  When asked if she ever thinks twice about her past choices in life, she replies evenly, "I don't know too many people who, if they're honest, don't have regrets. They're part of life."  She's quiet for a minute as she closes the bottle of nail polish.  "But I'll tell you this," she says, with the same level glance she aimed at her philandering husband in An Unmarried Woman, "regret is not a very useful tool. It's not worth investing too much thought in it. So I don't. And nobody else should either."

Rainbow Stage Struggles To Dig Itself Out Of Debt

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Paul Waldie

(Mar. 27, 2006) WINNIPEG -- For 52 years, Rainbow Stage has been a Winnipeg institution, entertaining summertime crowds with popular musicals like Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly! and Mame.  But these days, the open-air theatre -- the largest in Western Canada -- is fighting for its survival. A couple of failed shows last year have left Rainbow Stage (1993) Inc. deep in debt. Last fall, the company suspended operations, laid off its five full-time employees and cancelled a winter show. Now the organization is in the midst of a fundraising drive, and its board of directors will meet next Monday to decide the theatre's future.  "We're not trying to blame anybody," said general manager Ken Peter, who is working for a per diem rate based on half his normal salary. "When you have an outdoor theatre, there are a million things that can go in your favour, but there's probably five million things that can go against you." Peter is optimistic that Rainbow Stage will survive. A benefit concert earlier this month raised about $50,000 and the company is holding a lottery that it hopes will pull in at least $60,000. It's also banking on strong ticket sales for The Wizard of Oz, which it had booked for this August before the financial crisis hit.  But Peter and others concede that resolving the immediate financial issues won't be enough. The company, which relies on ticket sales for 95 per cent of its income, needs to find other sources of revenue.

And it has to cope with increased competition, rising costs and the fading appeal of old-time musicals. When asked if he still believes there is enough of an audience for musicals like 42nd Street, Peter said: "I hope so. And this is kind of what we are testing right now." Financial and box-office troubles are nothing new to Rainbow Stage. The 2,300-seat theatre was built by the city in 1954 in Kildonan Park, in north Winnipeg. The first musical, Brigadoon, was put on a year later. The company was initially run by Canadian theatre legends John Hirsch and Tom Hendry, who, drawing largely on local talent, began staging three or four musicals each summer.  In the 1960s, the theatre became more professional, but it ran into financial trouble and folded in 1965 with $95,000 in debt. It was rescued a year later by local businessman -- and one-time performer -- Jack Shapira. Serving a steady diet of crowd favourites such as The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady, Rainbow Stage thrived. Money poured in and Shapira added a dome-shaped roof in 1970. To critics who said Rainbow Stage offered only commercial pap, Shapira pointed to the long line of stars such as Gordon Pinsent, Len Cariou and Fred Penner whose careers began at the theatre.  Shapira's reign ended abruptly in 1988 when he pleaded guilty to stealing almost $400,000 from the company. He repaid the money and received an 18-month jail sentence. Shortly after his parole a year later, Shapira was charged with conspiring to break the legs of the man who blew the whistle on him at Rainbow Stage. He pleaded guilty and received another 16 months in jail (he died in 2003).  The company couldn't recover from Shapira's mismanagement and collapsed in 1992 under $200,000 in debt. It managed to relaunch a year later with a new board of directors and an old formula -- Broadway musicals -- that, over the next decade, enabled the company to flourish again.

In recent years, Rainbow Stage tried to attract a younger audience by staging winter productions such as Fame, Chicago and Footloose, at a local indoor theatre. But rising costs, including roughly $300,000 to revamp the sound system, and competition from rival shows such as Mamma Mia! have eaten into cash reserves and ticket sales. The problems became critical last summer after the production of Good News, a football comedy set in the 1920s, sold less than half the expected tickets. The company ended its fiscal year last October with a $400,000 loss, its largest ever, and its fiscal problems got worse in November when the production of Smokey Joe's Cafe flopped. With its reserves wiped out and facing a $150,000 debt, Rainbow Stage shut down and cancelled a winter production of Urinetown.  Now, its fate is in the hands of people like Campbell McIntyre, president of a local steel company, Empire Ironworks Ltd., and a long-time backer of the theatre.  McIntyre is leading the fundraising effort, and he's convinced Rainbow Stage will be saved. He cites new sponsorship arrangements, tighter cost controls and Winnipeggers' residual love affair with Rainbow Stage as reasons to hope.  "There's a mood and a flavour for musical theatre, for sure," said McIntyre, 58, who grew up listening to show tunes and first attended Rainbow Stage in 1966. His son Kevin performed in several productions there before launching a theatre career in Toronto and New York.  "I can't even envision not being able to go out there in the summer and sit in the park and watch a show," McIntyre added. "We've got to keep her going."


Bombay The Hard Way

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Keith Garebian

 The Song of Kahunsha
 By Anosh Irani
 Doubleday Canada, 307 pages, $29.95

(Mar. 27, 2006)
Anosh Irani's writing shows that, although India has a well-established social and cultural life, the subcontinent breeds storiesthat are turbulent with extraordinary anomalies. Irani's recent play Bombay Black (which had its debut in Toronto in January) confounds many critics by its seemingly intemperate indulgence in shock elements and melodrama. The plot concerns a beautiful dancer and her mother (a woman of blood-curdling, murderous hate for her estranged husband), who forces her to dance for a blind man and who threatens to feed her to hungry eagles. Sensuous, lyrical, mysterious, sordid, grotesque, romantic and highly emblematic, it is a melodramatic parable in the best and worst senses of the word. Irani's acclaimed first novel, The Cripple and His Talismans (2004), creates a strange, often disturbing world of violent lepers, battling cockroaches, an eccentric coffin-maker, a lady who sells rainbows and a narrator who goes in search of his missing arm. It also displays a mordant humour and, though embellished by poetic legend, it is a frequently bizarre mixture of surrealist fantasy, Indian melodrama and existential absurdity. Irani dares to write of the freakish, the ugly and the bizarre, but without being empty of significance. However, the play and his first novel do seem smartly contrived as extreme examples of aspects of the human condition within a specific society. The Song of Kahunsha, set in Bombay in 1932, delineates the geography of an Indian hell with fleeting relief through fantasy, but the idyllic fantasy is that of a 10-year-old boy who runs away from his Bombay orphanage in search of his long-lost father. Chamdi's only solace is kind Mrs. Sadiq, who runs the orphanage and cares for him as the child she has never had. It is she who presents him with the single link to his absent father — a blood-stained white cloth that he wears like a scarf around his neck.
 The orphanage and its courtyard are the first extent of the boy's known geography, along with his fellow orphans — especially asthmatic Pushpa and Dhondu, the boy who sleeps with one eye open because he is terrified of ghosts. However, once Chamdi flees his refuge, he experiences a Bombay that is a seedy, squalid, vicious underworld of beggary, thievery, prostitution, exploitation and religious violence. Trouble brews almost at the very beginning of the novel, following a Hindu assault on a Muslim mosque in a faraway city, and there is an expectation of reprisals. Narrated in the present tense and from young Chamdi's oppressed point of view, the story moves quickly through suspenseful complications. Irani's Bombay is a whore, a scarred monster of legend. It is also Dickensian (though without Dickens's art) in its array of beggars, prostitutes, thieves, gangs and child victims, who are often orphaned and old beyond their years. Chamdi quickly meets streetwise Sumdi, a boy with a lame leg, and his sister Guddi, recruits in the gang of beggars run by vicious Anand Bhai, an Indian Fagin of more than malevolent nature, who is quick to mutilate or kill whoever dares defy him. Sumdi (who has had his right ear sliced by Bhai) and Guddi introduce the boy to further indignities. Their grief-stricken, widowed mother, burdened by a starving baby, tears out the hair of her head. The retinue of beggars includes a blind boy and a grotesquely dismembered cripple. Chamdi, who sees no evidence of love or tenderness in Bombay, wants to invent a language with only positive words. His spirit is sustained by his dream of a paradise he calls Kahunsha, "the city of no sadness."
 Chamdi's dream is bolstered by a second fantasy: He wishes for "police-tigers" to burst out of police stations, and he romances the ribs that almost protrude from his emaciated body into powerful tusks that could kill his enemies. Neither fantasy is realized in the play of calamitous and cruel incidents, which includes a badly foiled attempt by Chamdi and his two friends to rob a Hindu temple, various acts of terror initiated by Anand Bhai, blackmail against Chamdi and an awful mob attack on an innocent Muslim family trapped in their room. Direct and simple rather than elliptical, literal more than metaphorical, The Song of Kahunsha addresses the awful savageries and indignities of India within the focus of Bombay, but it escapes being overwhelmed by what it depicts because of its moral impulse. The end of the tale is accompanied by small acts of forgiveness, love and celebration that don't seem false or unlikely. Rather than being bound by the prescriptions of traditional Indian philosophy — that becalming creed of karma — Irani's novel remains true to its own psychology of childhood innocence. Chamdi, who has always felt that thinking makes things possible, is given his epiphany in a beautiful final scene by the sea, and the novel, while far from technically sophisticated, vindicates the fragile but triumphant scope of childhood imagination with touching grace. Keith Garebian posts reviews at

Condo Developers Try New Palette

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Christopher Hutsul, Staff Reporter

(Mar. 26, 2006) In an arts community facing the complexities of gentrification, a cash infusion from a condo developer has stirred optimism. And resentment.  Landmark, the developer of the
WESTside Lofts project, located at 150 Sudbury Street — across the street from the Drake Hotel — is in the process of buying $700,000 worth of art from local galleries. Condo buyers will be invited to select their piece from the collection when the as-yet-undeveloped units hit the market in April.  The idea, according to Marc Julien, WESTside Lofts' project manager, was to offer an incentive that reflected the spirit of the art-rich neighbourhood.  "We thought that because this is an artist's district, instead of offering an incentive or an upgrade, we could initiate (buyers) to the art world by providing them with an original work of art," says Julien. "A dishwasher might not work in 10 years, but this is the beginning of an art collection."  To the galleries that fall within Landmark's shopping-spree radius, the initiative is a windfall.  "Running a gallery is a lifestyle, not a living," says Stewart Pollock, director of Spin Gallery. "This is a substantial amount of money that came out of nowhere."  The question is, will this investment help ease the pang of gentrification for long-time residents? News of Landmark's initiative has provoked pessimism from those who feel the spirit of the neighbourhood is threatened by unbridled development.  Formerly, this area was a low-rent haven for artists and independent galleries. With the advent of the Drake Hotel, the revamped Gladstone Hotel, a Starbucks, and now a handful of proposed condo mega-projects, the chemistry is changing.

While no one is condemning Landmark's investment outright, some argue that the money could have been spent on a project that sustains and protects the art community. The worry is that long after rents have skyrocketed and studio space has been converted to high-end loft space, this money will be long forgotten. The art community — the very group that gave the district its appeal — will have fled.  "Is this just a marketing gesture?" asks local artist Michael Maranda. "If so, art becomes the culture lure to get people to buy into a neighbourhood, then the neighbourhood becomes unliveable to the artists because it's been overdeveloped.  "Six months from now, is anybody going to remember this? I'd rather they take that money and do a real consultation with the neighbourhood and come up with a sustainable approach to the arts infrastructure."  The contrast between Landmark's enthusiasm for the initiative and the resentment it has elicited illustrates the duality of Queen St. W. While no one is expecting handouts from the developers, some believe this project could have reduced local malaise had it been handled differently. With $700,000, as local writer Brad Doner pointed out, a sizable studio facility could have been built. Gallery owners who fall outside the Gladstone-to-Dovercourt strip, where the purchases are being made, resent being shut out. So, too, do artists who don't create "over the sofa" art.  Spin Gallery's Pollock doesn't see the point in all that grousing. He believes the initiative will help engage newcomers in the art community and foster a long-term relationship with the galleries. What's more, he's impressed with the daring choices the art buyers have made.  Landmark has enlisted two young associates, one from its advertising team, to buy close to 400 pieces (one for each condo) from six major Queen St. W. galleries including DeLeon White Gallery, Spin Gallery, Loop Gallery, 64 Steps Contemporary Art, In Abstracto and Engine Gallery. The purchased art will be unveiled in an exhibition at DeLeon White on April 20.  Although official plans for the development have yet to be approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, Landmark is unveiling its Will Alsop-designed complex on Thursday. A memo from Landmark revealed that the plan will connect their Sudbury Street and King Street complexes with a pedestrian walkway. Landmark also recently announced its presentation centre, at Queen St. W. and Beaconsfield Ave., will become an art gallery when the sales of the condos come to an end. The plan also promises to introduce a much-needed element of green space to the area.  Sculptor Scott Eunson, who sold one of his pieces to Landmark through Spin Gallery, has heard the dissenting rumblings, but says he's "cautiously approving" of the program.  "I think it's it going to give the people moving in a connection to the street ..." he says. "It's a great PR idea."

Coady Channels Unruly '70s Campus-Lit Scene

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Susan Walker, Entertainment Reporter

(Mar. 28, 2006) It's no accident that
Lynn Coady's fictional territory is so male-dominated. She grew up the only daughter with three brothers and "my dad was this real guy's guy. He set a very male agenda in our house: hockey and sports and hunting and fishing. I grew up thinking guys were where it's at."  The wider culture, too, provided that message. Coady grew up on Cape Breton Island in Port Hawkesbury, then a thriving industrial town where the biggest employer was a pulp mill and work was a man's world.  Until Coady's generation arrived, writing in the Atlantic region was a male preserve as well — absent Nova Scotia-born Joan Clark and the Acadian writer Antonine Maillet.  So it wasn't a stretch for Coady to create some distinctly masculine Maritimers in her 2002 novel Saints of Big Harbour or to make the narrator of her latest, also acclaimed, comic novel, Mean Boy, a young man from Prince Edward Island attending creative writing classes at a New Brunswick college.  There is a bit of her young self in 19-year-old poet Larry Campbell, admits Coady, a quiet woman of evident female charms. "I was kind of like Larry in my sensibilities. I thought I had to write about London and Paris, had to go off and have affairs and this kind of Byronic thing."  Coady always knew she wanted to be a writer, she simply lacked models for it. Until she discovered the fiction of David Adams Richards, she hadn't seen a reflection of her own experience growing up in a blue-collar setting. Then, she says, she got into the "whole authentic working-class thing."  After trying journalism at Carlton, where she earned a BA, Coady found that her writing abilities lay elsewhere. But she was quite a bit older than Larry when she entered the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia, eventually obtaining a master of fine arts degree. She began to write for the theatre. She dismisses her first play, written in her 20s, as "a testimony to how deeply influenced I was by Canadian social realism. It was this kind of cheap David French knock-off about a bunch of Maritimers sitting around a table in the kitchen yelling at each other and getting drunk."  But the academic setting for Mean Boy dates back to an earlier period in Coady's life, after she'd met her partner, Charles Barbour, and moved with him to Sackville, N.S., where he was studying at Mount Allison University.  The small, conservative, liberal arts school provided her with a model in Mean Boy for Westcock University, where Larry becomes enthralled with his creative writing prof, a charismatic, hard-drinking poet whose relationships with his students spill far beyond the classroom. The character of Jim Arsenault, Coady readily concedes, was inspired by the real-life poet John Thompson.

Coady never knew Thompson. She was only 6 years old when he died at the age of 38 beset by alcohol and emotional problems. But she has a fascination with the Canadian literary world of the 1970s, and the landscape of Mean Boy began to develop after she read Peter Sanger's John Thompson: Collected Poems & Translations, published by Goose Lane Editions in 1995. 
"I got hold of this book and became really enamoured," she says. "But really the only thing I ended up taking from (Thompson's) life was that particular situation when he was denied tenure at Mount A."  English-born and the bearer of postgraduate degrees from University of Michigan, Thompson was hired at Mount Allison in the late '60s. Much beloved by his students, he was told in 1969 that he was being denied tenure because of, among other reasons, his neglect of his first-year English courses. Students and faculty joined forces to defend him and, in 1971, Thompson was granted tenure. He wrote two books of poetry, At The Edge of the Chopping and Stilt Jack, the second of which was published posthumously. His literary life was destroyed in a fire that consumed his New Brunswick farmhouse, and his personal life was often troubled.  From Thompson's biography, Coady borrowed the image of "this brilliant poet at a very staunch, conservative, Methodist university English department."  In Mean Boy, Arsenault feeds on his students' admiration and Larry cherishes his professor's every attention. It was an era when it was not unusual for underage students to go drinking with their professors or even sleep with them.  "I love the '70s era. I love the nationalistic fervour that was influencing so many writers. When you look back at that today, it seems so hard to believe in some ways."  Her research consisted of reading literary memoirs and biographies. Milton Acorn's life and poetry inform the novel — the book's title comes from a line of his — and Alden Nowlan gets an homage in the character of a visiting poet, a big, shambling man with a kindly nature.  Critics noted the humorous elements in Coady's two earlier novels, including the Governor General's Award-nominated Strange Heaven, published when she was just 28.  But Mean Boy was her first try at an outright comedy. "I didn't think it would be hard to write a comic novel and I discovered that was not the case," she says.  A few hundred pages into the novel, she realized the theme of betrayal had entered her story line. It is part of Larry's coming of age to realize that in order to grow up, he must somehow be disloyal to his small-town past.  "In a lot of ways it's appropriate that Mean Boy has the theme of betrayal because I feel like it's sort of my last book dealing with those kinds of issues, with my Canadian preoccupations."  While the Maritimes has been "the default setting of my creative consciousness," Coady has been living elsewhere for quite a while. She currently resides in Edmonton, where her partner teaches sociology.  "The book I'm writing now," she says, "is the first novel that isn't going to be set in the Maritimes." It's quite a departure for a writer known for creating such distinctly flavoured regional stories.

Critic Reminds Us Of Poetry's Power

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Judy Stoffman, Entertainment Reporter

 (Mar. 25, 2006) The last time celebrity academic and agent provocateur
Camille Paglia was in Toronto, 12 years ago, she was asked by a customs officer for the purpose of her visit.  "I am here to give a lecture," replied the author of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson.  "About what?"  "Sex." She had to step aside for a thorough search of her suitcase.  Though she's still adept at pushing people's hot buttons, her visit here earlier this week to promote her latest book was a literary love-in. When she spoke Tuesday evening, as part of the Harbourfront Reading Series, about Break Blow Burn (her close reading of 43 poems, just out in paperback), a sold-out crowd laughed and cheered and applauded her passionate defence of poetry, as well as her swipes at the Ivy League, the feminist establishment and literary theory.  "Post-structuralism works on narrative, but not on poetry, which is one reason that poetry was pushed aside in teaching literature, okay?" she said in her challenging style. "All important art has elements of mystery, cult, ritual, an aura of the pre-rational. That's what's missing from post-structuralism, an acknowledgment of the magic, okay? It's so dead."  (Post-structuralism is a critical approach marked by the rejection of essentialism. Beauty, truth and human nature, for instance, have no fixed meaning. Works of the imagination are "texts" whose meaning is always tentative, slippery and ambiguous.)  Now nearing 60, Paglia still wears stiletto heels and talks at breakneck speed, gesticulating freely as befits her Italian heritage. She was born in Endicott, N.Y., but her mother and all four grandparents were born in Italy.  Since 1984, she has taught at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where her students are artists, dancers, potters and musicians. She shares her life with the artist Alison Maddox and Maddox's 3-year-old son Lucien.  Break Blow Burn — the title comes from John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV — is a series of short essays on poetic masterworks, from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, through Donne, George Herbert, Blake, Yeats, Langston Hughes, Theodore Roethke, Sylvia Plath, concluding with Joni Mitchell's Woodstock. (Mitchell is the only Canadian.)  Oddly enough, Paglia seems unfamiliar with the poems and lyrics of Leonard Cohen. "American radio stations have these prix fixe playlists and he's not on them," she says when we meet for lunch downtown (she orders striped bass). "In college towns, you might hear some more eclectic music but Leonard Cohen, I'd say, is not known in the U.S."  Mitchell, she tells me, was delighted to be included: "I spoke to her on the phone and she said, `You got it.'"
 The lyrics to Woodstock, which is rarely heard, she claims, on U.S. radio in Mitchell's own version, have all the hallmarks of great poetry: "It's utterly visionary, an epic of her generation, a beautiful shapely creation."  Her choices have been controversial. Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott (two Nobel Prize winners), Allen Ginsberg, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan all failed to make the cut.  "I did not find a single poem by Pound except adolescent clips from other poets that required dozens of footnotes to understand; he seemed to be saying to the reader, `You don't know as much as I know.' And I've been waging war on Eliot. He is responsible for all that post-modern pessimism."  She was planning to include the famous Auden poem that begins, "Lay your sleeping head my love/ Human, on my faithless arm" until she read all the way through: "Those are the only good lines in it; then it goes hither and thither. It's underdeveloped. The poet has an obligation to work on a poem until it's fully realized."  Although she loves the Beat poets of the '50s, she says she couldn't find a stand-alone poem by Ginsberg that was strong enough. "Howl, when I reread it, came across as so garish, stagey, hammy. It didn't work for this book."  And Heaney? "I don't care how many poetry prizes he gets, his work won't last. When I looked closely at his poems, all I found was derivative Yeats."  Paglia spent five years writing the book because she was "determined to remedy the cultural crisis of the young. I am worried that they have nothing but popular culture to fall back on and that's not enough. I want to put into their hands something of value, that will last."  When Paglia and I talked 12 years ago on her last visit here she was a big pop-culture enthusiast, believing that it was a way of reconnecting with the ecstatic Dionysian forces that had been suppressed by civilization. But now she says pop culture is in crisis. She used to watch soap operas but finds they have "plummeted in quality" along with Hollywood movies.  For her book, she looked at contemporary rap and hip hop lyrics for possible inclusion but rejected all. "Rap is a tremendous style but it has yet to produce one great song, one lyric that will live beyond its niche audience," she says.  "I play Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues to my class, which is so tight and inventive, about the suppression of dissent in the U.S. I'd like to hold rap to that standard. But rap does not pay attention to words — it's only about their rhythmic use. Words have a history, an etymology, and poetry respects that."  Based on her PhD thesis at Yale which she finished in 1981, Sexual Personae was the book that made her a star when it was finally published by Yale University Press in 1990. The 700-page tome was to have had a second volume, already written, bringing her stimulating analysis of high and low culture up to the present, from Emily Dickinson to Mick Jagger.
 But that second volume would require massive revision and is unlikely ever to appear. "From the mid '90s on I got very disillusioned with pop culture. It's too powerful, all enveloping. Video game culture is a world of fantasy and violence all its own.  "Popular culture is like any other tradition — you can assert standards within it."  Her next book will instead be short takes on the masterworks of the visual arts, similar to her poetry book. She has previously written two other books of vigorous essays (Vamps & Tramps and Sex, Art and American Culture) and a study of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.  Break Blow Burn spent six weeks on the New York Times best-seller lists when it appeared last year and five weeks on the Maclean's list, unheard of for a book of serious literary criticism. "I do feel it's really nice that people come up to me at readings and say, `I haven't looked at a poem since college, until this.'"


Bosh Likely Out For Season

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Doug Smith, Sports Reporter

(Mar. 29, 2006)
Chris Bosh won't even consider playing a basketball game for more than a week and there is every reason to think the Raptor all-star's season is over.  Bosh's sprained left thumb is more seriously injured than originally thought and the chance exists that the team will have to go through the final 12 games of the regular season without its leading scorer and top rebounder rather than risk more damage in meaningless games.  "It's tough but safety's the main concern," the 22-year-old power forward said yesterday. "I talked to the doctors (Monday) and they're telling me if the same thing happens again if I play, it could be very severe."  It was originally suggested Bosh had mildly sprained his thumb after a freak collision with teammate Pape Sow during the first quarter of Sunday's game in Milwaukee.  But after seeing a Toronto hand specialist Monday, the risk of further damage is too great to ignore.  "Rather 10 days than 10 weeks or something like that," said Bosh.  In 10 days, Toronto will have played five of its remaining 12 games and will play three in four days if Bosh comes back exactly on that day, a heavy load for a player just returning from injury.  With the season so close to over, and with nothing to play for except personal pride and more chances for the team's younger players to gain experience, there are likely to be those in the organization who think shutting Bosh down for the remainder of the season makes entire sense.  Before last night's games, the 26-44 Raptors had the fifth-worst record in the NBA, far ahead of fourth-worst Atlanta, which is 21-47, but within striking distance of Orlando, which had 27 wins, Seattle, which had 28 and Boston and Minnesota, which each have 29.  Even if Toronto was in the thick of a playoff race, the risk of further injury is too great.  "If we were in the race, it's pretty much the same thing," said Bosh. "The doctors say give it 10 days because if you play now, it could get worse. Regardless of the situation I'd have to."

No one would suggest the Raptors would make any decision based on their place in the standings and draft lottery possibilities and Bosh said he'd like to get back for a couple of games if it's at all possible.  "I'm going to re-evaluate" next week," said Bosh. "I love playing, I just want to compete. I'm going to give it some time and see what happens after 10 days."  Whatever happens, this is likely to be the longest Bosh has sat out in his three years in the NBA. He missed only one game with a bad back last season, had appeared in 70 straight games this season and missed four games with a sore knee and three with a bad ankle in his rookie campaign.  "Last year it was just a freak accident, same thing this year," he said. "My body's in good physical condition, I'm not going to get any strains or anything like that, it's just been an unfortunate circumstance."  Coach Sam Mitchell isn't sure who'll start in Bosh's place —the options would seem to be Eric Williams or Matt Bonner. Moving someone like Joey Graham into the small forward position and starting him alongside Charlie Villanueva would mean robbing Villanueva of some games to get more comfortable at the forward spot.  "I have no idea, I haven't even thought about who's going to start (tonight)," Mitchell said of an impending game against the surging Miami Heat.  "It's an opportunity for someone else to play and get a chance to show they can play in the NBA. We just have to go out and play hard, play together and play hard."  Toronto did sign 6-10 centre James Lang to a 10-day contract on Monday and he could conceivably get some minutes in Bosh's absence.

Quinn, Mats Quell Rumours About Future

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Mark Zwolinski, Sports Reporter

(Mar. 29, 2006) PHILADELPHIA—The future looked the same as the present here yesterday for
Pat Quinn and Mats Sundin — uncertain.  The veteran coach and the team captain reflected on the sombre reality that a failure to earn a post-season berth brings their respective futures with the Leafs into question.  "I'm 35 and I realize I'm not at the start of my career anymore," Sundin said before scoring a goal and an assist in the Leafs' 3-2 win over the Flyers last night. "It's frustrating to see us out of a playoff spot. I think we're all frustrated, we're all used to seeing us do better. But we still have a chance and we still have to battle."  Quinn's future, much more than Sundin's, could be in peril. His club would need to win eight of its last 10 games just to reach the 90-point plateau generally considered to be the minimum for playoff contention.  "No, actually," said Quinn, when asked if he's thinking about his job security.  "You try to focus on things you have some control over. The job for me is to come to work every day and help these players become better players. The focus is on today. Sure, we're struggling, our record shows that ... and what happens down the road is going to happen. But I can't lose my sense of priority — and that is for the present."  Quinn has a year remaining on his contract, but the speculation is that he won't be behind the Toronto bench next year.

However, it is believed that Quinn still has considerable support within the board of governors at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, so the chances of him being firing can't be considered a slam-dunk.  And there is speculation that the 63-year-old coach could end up with a job in the front office of MLSE.  To his credit, Quinn remains candid and cordial despite this frustrating time for his team, and repeated questioning about his job security.  "When we started the season, a lot of people were predicting we wouldn't be that good," Quinn said.  "We thought we'd be good, but when the results don't go that way, it's frustrating for sure. We're not out here for a lark."  Meanwhile, Sundin is signed through next year and carries a no-trade clause in his contract.  Sundin said yesterday he is not thinking about his future, which would likely see him as the centrepiece of a rebuilding team next season — and little hope of finishing his career on a championship team.  Having the classy Sundin finish his career in Toronto — or trading him either this summer or at the trade deadline next year — will become the topic of debate over the next month.  "There's bigger issues right now," Sundin said, referring to the team's playoff hopes. "That other stuff hasn't crossed my mind."