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August 21, 2008

Now THIS is the weather that we've been hungry for - enjoy it while you can! 

I've got a CD giveaway for you this week again - you've heard the name before ... New Kids on the Block!  Now you may think that you know them but you don't know the NEW them ... A copy of the CD is yours if you can answer what is the date that the CD is available - enter HERE and don't forget your full name and mailing address. 

Canada had a hot week in the
Olympics this week so I've made a special Olympics section just to celebrate our athletes - who never seem to get the attention they deserve. 

And more losses in the music scene .. please see below.
Scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!



New Kids on “The Block”

Source: Universal Music Canada

New Kids on the Block are back after 15 years with their long awaited new CD – ‘THE BLOCK’. Included are the hot new tracks ‘Summertime’ & ‘Single’ featuring Ne-Yo, but also more sizzling new tracks with the Pussycat Dolls, Timbaland, Lady Gaga & Akon! NKOTB’s ‘THE BLOCK’ is available in stores and online on September 2nd, but if you pre-order now on iTunes, you can get a track right now!
Don't forget to get your tickets to see them live on tour!

9/18 - Toronto @ ACC
9/19 - Toronto @ ACC
9/20 - Montreal @ Bell Centre
9/21 - Toronto @ ACC
11/18 - Edmonton @ Rexall
11/19 - Calgary @ Saddledome
11/21 - Vancouver - GM Place


Divine Brown Went By Feel When Recording Her Latest, Which Touches On 50 Years Of Music

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry.
Pop & Jazz Critic

(August 17, 2008) To hear the retro bent of Divine Brown's new album, is to imagine the Toronto singer steeped in vintage Motown and Stax during it's making.

"I was listening to Kanye on my way home from the studio," Brown reveals in an interview. "I did the songs by feel.

"If I wanted to write something that had, say, a '50s style to it – my dad used to listen to a lot of Skeeter Davis – I remember the feeling that I got when I listened to that stuff, so I'd try to write based on the emotion of what I'd felt.

"I didn't have the Skeeter Davis records on hand to work from, so it was feeling and then writing based on the feeling, not referencing something."

Add power of recall then to her other strengths – five-octave pipes, songwriter, bass player, actor – since The Love Chronicles, out on Tuesday, cuts a swath through the last 50 years of popular music.

And lest one think Brown is following the throwback footsteps of Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Jully Black, she's quick to point out that her 2005 Juno-nominated self-titled debut was steeped in classic soul and R&B, and sold 70,000 copies on the strength of lead single "Old Skool Love."

"It's paying homage, but it happens naturally, because I have always been an artist who writes from where my roots lie," she said, running down a list of mentors that begins with Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Chaka Khan.

From the nasal bobby-soxer kiss-off "Bebe" to Donny Hathawayesque "Sweet Surrender," Gap Band style '70's jam "Jump Start" and Mariah-worthy power ballad "One More Chance," Brown meets her goal of capturing "the essence of the era that each song was a part of."

The Love Chronicles didn't begin as a concept album when she penned the doo-wop tinged lead single "Lay It On The Line" in 2006. Brown explained between post-workout bites at a Little Italy restaurant.

"I go on inspiration, it can hit at any moment, like when I'm driving, or walking down the street and see a fine dude, and a melody just comes to me. It was a theme I saw happening once I started. It came to me write an album called Love Chronicles that would be a journey through different periods of music."

But the disc took a back seat while Brown changed management and record labels.

"If forward movement is not happening I'm very impatient," said the single parent of a 9-year-old girl. "In this business you really have to be aware and have the strength to tell people what you want; and if you're not getting it, move the hell on."

Brown landed at Warner Music, which gave the project a hands-off green light – mostly.

"I wanted "Meet Me At The Roxy" to be the first single, because it has a very happy, uptempo, `Let's get up and dance' kind of vibe," she said. "But the label wanted "Lay It On the Line." They said it would sound like nothing else on radio and stick out like sore thumb. But I thought there was nothing like "Meet Me At the Roxy" on radio either.

Warner had its way and "Lay It On the Line" currently sits in the Top 3 at Adult Contemporary radio with "Meet Me At The Roxy" slated to drop next.

Brown, who cut her teeth in Toronto R&B and jazz fusion bands and musical theatre hits such as Ain't Misbehavin' and Rent, and admits to having Madonna's latest disc in heavy rotation, said selling records and maintaining artistic integrity is fine balance.

"As a singer, artist, businesswoman, I know there are certain songs you have to write that cater to the way radio programmers think in Canada, but I still have to be true to myself. It's all soul at the end of the day, because it's all coming from the soul."

Canada Adds Four More To Medals Haul

Source: www.thestar.com -
Jim Byers

(August 19, 2008) BEIJING–Canadian athletes might have trouble finding a container big enough for all their medals at the Beijing Olympics. 

It’s not yet like the heyday of Atlanta’s 22 medals or the 18 brought home from Barcelona in 1992, but Canadian athletes suddenly are on fire at the Summer Olympic Games. 

Topped by a bronze medal in the 100-metre hurdles by Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Canadians on Tuesday picked up four more podium finishes to bring the nation’s total to a nearly dizzying 13. That’s one more than Athens four years ago and only one less than Sydney four years before that, with more medals likely coming. 

The sudden onslaught of medals gives Canada two gold, six silver and four bronze, and there’s likely a fair number still to come. Adam van Koeverden of Oakville today set a new world record in the K1-500 kayaking event and is expected to earn more than one trip to the podium this weekend. 

After a nasty start to the Games, the Canadian contingent in Beijing picked up three medals on Saturday, four on Sunday, two on Monday and four again today. The official tally is two golds, six silvers and five bronze medals. 

The biggest surprise to most was probably Lopes-Schliep. She was the ninth-ranked hurdler coming into a race where many Canadians had hoped to see Pickering’s Perdita Felicien, or perhaps expected to see Angela Whyte. But Felicien is injured and Whyte didn’t make the finals, which left Canada’s hopes with Lopes-Schliep. 

She came out slow but used her muscular frame to kick into an extra gear and thundered down the track at the Bird’s Nest stadium. She leaned just in time to capture a bronze medal. 

It was a photo finish and it took a while for the results to be posted and it first appeared she got a share of silver. 

But Australia’s Sally McLennan got the silver medal in a photo finish; both she and Lopes-Schliep crossed in 12.64, but when the time was extended to thousandths of a second, it showed McLennan was faster. 

It was Canada’s first athletics medal in Beijing and first since Atlanta in 1996. 

"I feel like I've jumped out of my body, gone to heaven and back," she said. "I was very anxious, very excited to go and just to be here and medal for Canada, our first Olympic medal in athletics, it's such a huge accomplishment to go home with a bronze medal." 

Alexandre Despatie of Montreal gave Canada its third silver medallion of the day when he came second in men’s three-metre springboard diving; his second straight Olympic silver in the event. 

"My silver medal is gold to me because of all the bad things that happened to me this year," he said. "I was able to get it together." 

Despatie fractured his right foot kicking a soccer ball around during warm-ups in mid April. That caused him to miss seven weeks of training and prevented him from attending the Olympic diving trials. 

To be named to the Olympic team, Despatie had to attend the Canadian junior nationals in Thunder Bay, Ont., in early July and dive before a panel of judges to prove his fitness. 

Reuben Ross, Canada’s other diver in the event, finished 18th. 

A few minutes earlier, 21-year-old Jason Burnett of Toronto won a surprising silver in trampoline. It was the second trampoline silver in two days for a GTA jumper, the other going on Monday night to three-time Olympic medallist Karen Cockburn of Toronto. 

Earlier in the day, Kingston-born Simon Whitfield won a silver medal in triathlon thanks to a late-race kick. Whitfield won gold in triathlon at the 2000 Games in Sydney. 

Burnett, 21, appeared quite pleased with his show, clapping his hands together as he finally came back to earth following a very difficult routine. He had to wait nervously, however, as the next six jumpers followed. 

None were able to match his 40.70 score and you could see the anticipation and excitement building on Burnett’s face. Gold was within his grasp until the final athlete of the night, China’s Lu Chunlong, came up with a closing 41.00 score and another Chinese gold medal for a wildly appreciative Beijing crowd. 

Still, Burnett didn’t come to Beijing as a medal favourite, at least not in some eyes. And he seemed more than thrilled at the idea of carting a silver home in his suitcase; or more likely closely held to his body. 

Dong Dong of China came third and got the bronze medal with a score of 40.60. Dong appeared stunned by his bronze finish, but Burnett was beaming during the medal ceremony. As he walked towards the dressing area following the ceremony, Burnett looked over towards one of his friends or trainers and raised his arms up as if to say, "How about that?" 

Suddenly, Canada is right within the Canadian Olympic Committee’s prediction of 13 to 19 medals.

Sam Jackson On Deaths Of Co-Stars

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(August 19, 2008) *EUR's Lee Bailey caught up with Samuel L. Jackson on Sunday to discuss the recent passing of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, both of whom co-starred with Jackson in the upcoming film "Soul Men."

The movie stars Mac and Jackson as estranged members of a legendary soul group who reluctantly reunite to attend the funeral of another member of the group. Hayes plays himself in the film. 

Jackson said he and Mac had to sing the Hayes song "Do Your Thing," from the 1971 soundtrack to "Shaft," as part of the film, which was a bit intimidating when the man who sang it originally was standing a few feet away. 

"A little pressure in that," laughs Jackson. "When you're standing there singing and dancing, and you're singing the guy's song and he's watching you do it, it's a little pressure."

"But he gave us all these props because we do what we do," Jackson added. 

The Kangol-wearing film star said he was still in bed when news of Mac's death broke in the morning hours of Aug. 9.

"Somebody woke me up and told me. I got up to make sure, because there had already been a false alarm earlier that week, so I wanted to make sure it was true, first of all, before I reacted in any way," Jackson said. "And then to find out that he was dead, it was sad because I had just seen the film earlier that week. I immediately wondered had he seen it, would he have realized we had done something really great together. I found out from his manager that he hadn't [seen it]. That's a shame, but hopefully, the legacy of it all, everybody who sees the film they'll know we did something worthwhile."  

"Life is short, so, we have to enjoy it and do as much as we can," he continued. "I'm really glad that I had the opportunity to work with Bernie, because he was a friend and colleague, somebody that I loved a lot, and it was a joy to finally be able to do a film with him. It's a great film, great performance by him. I hope that when the film comes out, people will go and see it and enjoy it and remember him as the wonderful, jovial, full-of-life person that he was."

Shenae Grimes Moves From The 905 To 90210

www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, TV Columnist

(August 16, 2008)  BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.–It's a long way from the 905 to 90210, a world of difference between Degrassi and West Beverly High.

And erstwhile exchange student Shenae Grimes still isn't quite sure what to expect ... except that it's going to be big. Really big. Majorly, life-changingly, not-being-able-to-go-out-shopping-any-more big.

"I don't know what's about to come and smack me in the face," the 18-year-old Toronto actor allowed, taking a break in the lobby bar of the venerable Beverly Hilton hotel, just moments after her official introduction as star of the new sequel series, 90210, at last month's TV critics tour.

Not that she needed much introduction – the Gemini-winning actor was already a familiar face from the past several seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation, one of the first Canadian-grown series to have a major impact in the U.S.

But this is fame on a whole other level. If this new 90210 hits like there is every reason to expect it will, Grimes is now looking at life in a fishbowl, illuminated by klieg lights and the constant presence of paparazzi.

Her every move will be painstakingly chronicled, her every outfit analyzed, her every waking moment disseminated, dissected and discussed.

Grimes tries to remain philosophical. "I can't live my life to please other people just because a camera is constantly going to be on me," she says. "Obviously, I think the best way to deal with it is to just be you, and take it for what it is.

"It's kind of funny ... the whole idea to me is really hilarious, because in Canada we see it all so objectively. You know what I mean, we see it all for the stupid s--- that it really can be sometimes.

"So it really doesn't matter. It all seems like a crazy, silly little world to me. All I know is that I am me, and this is all I've got, and if you don't like it, you don't like it, and if you do, you do, and that's it."

Clearly, the resuscitators of the golden 90210 franchise liked her very much, indeed – she was the first of the Class of '08 to be signed and announced, to be immediately followed by Dustin Milligan, a young actor from the Northwest Territories, most recently part of the fugitive family in the short-lived series Runaway.

"Oh yeah, we're taking over," Grimes giggles. "It's comforting to have some (Canadian) company. You just feel immediately bonded, knowing that you are coming from the same place ... ketchup and chips and all, baby."

Her impending "it" girlhood aside, it is hard not to be impressed by Grimes – in between the two high school dramas, she was back at school herself, studying for her SATs, while at the same time interning at Fashion Television.

"I want to grow and learn and be challenged in whatever I am doing," she insists. "So I took a break (from acting) to do the internship, and I was growing and learning there instead.

"But then this came up, and it was like ... uh, wow."

She has been acting professionally since she was 16, when she portrayed the teenaged version of the similarly sounding Shania Twain in a 2005 episode of Biography. Though her own given name Shenae is intentionally misspelled Gaelic, "people," she says, "have been calling me Shania for my entire life."

Now, of course, they'll be calling her Annie, as in Annie Wilson, her 90210 alter ego.

"I've never related so much to a character before," Grimes gushes.

"She's the good Kansas girl thrown into this world that she doesn't want to be a part of; the nice girl coming to L.A. with a lot better values than most of the kids there, because of the way they've been raised and the mentality there in Beverly Hills.

"She wants to fit in, but she's still got a strong head. She knows, `This is who I am, and I don't care who you are, I am not going to let you walk right over me. I've got to stand up for myself and teach you a lesson' ... in a calm and, you know, very centred fashion."

Sounds a bit like the original show's Brenda Walsh – at least, before she reverted to type to become indistinguishable from Shannen Doherty, the bad-girl actor who portrayed her.

Not that you'd expect Grimes to know anything about that, since she was still in diapers when the first series debuted.

In which case, you would be wrong. "Are you kidding?" Grimes squeals. "I was literally raised on it! In reruns, of course. It's bizarre, because I'm most familiar with the first few seasons more than anything else. Which is hilarious, since I was 4 at the time."

Still, old enough to now be somewhat awestruck over becoming an actual part of this iconic overhaul.

"It's a crazy experience, being thrown into the middle of all this. I don't even know what to do. It's wild, meeting Nat, Joey Tata, and seeing Jenny (Garth, who, along with a guesting Doherty, reprises her original role in the remake).

"I mean, (Garth's character) Kelly Taylor ... I totally identified with Kelly Taylor. And here's Kelly Taylor, like, right beside me. What the hell is going on?

"It's insane. I'm here, and I still can't believe it."


A Spa Town Reborn In French Lick

Source:  www.thestar.com - Barbara Turnbull,
Toronto Star

(August 16, 2008) FRENCH LICK, Indiana – Move over, Larry Bird, there's a new star in town. The place best known as home to one of the greatest basketball players in U.S. history is reinventing itself.

Welcome to French Lick, originally a French trading post in southern Indiana, named for the salt residue on rocks surrounding the mineral springs that attracted deer and buffalo.

It's been nationally known as a spa town since the end of the 19th century, its abundant sulphur springs exploited commercially for medicinal benefits. When the 20th century dawned, the French Lick Springs Hotel and nearby West Baden Springs Hotel – with its spectacular circular building topped by what's said to be the world's largest dome – had seven rail lines bringing guests from all over the country.

For the next few decades it was also known as a gaming town, with lots of legal – and illegal – gambling and speakeasies. It boasted perennial guests like Al Capone and "Diamond Jim" Brady.

These days, it's trying to be that and much more. With unprecedented support and more than $450 million from Bloomington billionaire Bill Cook, the resorts have been amalgamated and restored to dazzling glory. There's a (legal) casino, and a $20-million golf course slated to open next spring has already snagged future PGA tournaments.

The Springs Valley location, although surrounded by the spectacular Hoosier National Forest, hasn't had much to draw non-gamblers. But a large waterpark is in the works. Hotels and tourist draws are under construction and "Coming Soon" signs abound.

Larry Bird is even looking to be a partner in a restaurant, although he no longer lives here.

Driving through, it feels as though the town of about 1,800 hasn't evolved in decades. People are astoundingly friendly. Yet there is unmistakable optimism and inspired passion among locals, who see the casino and resort – and most offshoots – as a brass ring for everyone.

"We needed something to pick up the town," says lifelong resident Aaliyah Harford, 32, who lives in one of the town's most unique homes, airbrushed with her own artwork.

"Most people say `French Lick? What kind of name is that?'" Harford says. "Now we are getting known and that's what French Lick needed. The more positive feedback we get, the more business the small businesses get and that to me is more than a positive."

"If there is a downside, we haven't heard it," says Mark Bommarito, vice-president of sales and marketing for the French Lick Resort and Casino. That's not to say there's been no criticism – especially of the casino, whose architecture that can only be described as trailer-park period. Locals have dubbed it "the biggest double-wide in southern Indiana."

That's because state law allows riverboat gambling only. It took years to get a license, and only on condition it look like a riverboat and be surrounded by water. Even Donald Trump walked away from the project, which has its own moat.

Since then, the law has "evolved" and, in three months, the casino's exterior will match the yellow brick of the resort next door.

The first French Lick Springs Hotel was built in 1845. In the early 20th century, two golf courses were added and trains started daily runs from Chicago, bringing guests right to the front door.

Today the hotel sits on just over 1,000 hectares of land. Not far down the road, the resort includes the 246-room West Baden Springs Hotel, which last functioned as a hotel in 1932.

Area businessman Lee W. Sinclair transformed the West Baden into the hotel of his dreams – a circular building, topped by a breathtaking glass dome, which opened in 1902 and was billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It had birds flying from palm to palm in the 60-metre- diameter atrium and an enormous fireplace that burned 5-metre logs.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the hotel emptied almost overnight, then closed in 1932. It was later turned into a Jesuit seminary and then used as a college until 1983.

Despite being listed as a National Historic Landmark, it was closed for safety reasons and a portion of the exterior wall collapsed. For years, rain fell on the Italian mosaic floors.

"Growing up in the area, I had a passion for this place," says local Sean Collier. "Throughout the years I'd drive by and see it in its ruined state."

He was just 18 when the refurbishment of the West Baden dome began and signed on to do odd jobs, just to be part of the project. Now he's a bellman at the dome and loves pointing out details of the refurbishment, such as the 24-karat gold leaf used liberally throughout both hotels.

The challenge now is to provide fitting big-city service while retaining the small-town charm.

"We are trying hard to understand how we want to present our area," town councillor Don Renner says. "We want to provide a very quality resort experience, but also be the flavour of who southern Indiana folks are."

Barbara Turnbull is a reporter with the Star.


 Millar Finally Gets Olympic Medal In Show Jumping At 61


(August 18, 2008) BEIJING – The one void in a stellar career of legendary Canadian equestrian Ian Millar has been filled.

The iconic rider, along with Eric Lamaze and Jill Henselwood, won a silver medal in the Olympic team equestrian event in Hong Kong on Monday, losing a gold-medal jump-off with the United States.

Norway finished with the bronze.

The 61-year-old Millar, aboard In Style, is competing in his ninth Olympics and now has his first medal. Lamaze was riding Hickstead and Henselwood was on Special Ed for the competition.

“We are a small country in terms of the sport, this is an incredible achievement,” said Millar.

The Americans went clean in the gold medal jump off while Henselwood had one fault in her ride.

“This is incredible, but I wish we had a gold,” said Henselwood.

For Millar, the silver adds to an astonishing list of accomplishments over a career that’s spanned more than three decades.

“Age does not matter unless it matters to you,” he said in Hong Kong.

The native of Perth, Ont., first competed in the Olympics in 1972 in Munich and has been at every Games since except 1980 when Canada boycotted the Moscow Games.

He competed as an individual in Athens four years ago but was back on the Canadian team roster for last year’s Pan-Am Games, when Canada qualified the team for these Games.

“It’s the same rush and excitement,” he told The Canadian Press after competing in the individual jumping event in Hong Kong last week.

Millar plans to try to make the Canadian team for the 2012 London Olympics, which would give him 10 Games appearances and tie him with Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl.

"I have the horse picked out," Millar told Canadian Press. "His name is Redefin. You have to plan that far ahead."

The fourth Canadian team member, Mac Cone of King City had to withdraw earlier Monday when his mount, Ole, suffered a minor injury. In the four-person equestrian event, only the top three scores count so Canada wasn’t at a huge disadvantage in the final.

“We were in a difficult situation,” said Lamaze. “We only have three riders for the team. What we did was already amazing.”

Said Miller before the jump off: “It sure does put you at a disadvantage. But it is not uncommon in this sport to compete with three members. We've lost a strong one, but one of our closest opponents are in the same position."

Millar is perhaps best known for teaming up with Big Ben during the 1980s, including back-to-back World Cup wins in 1988 and 1989.

“The support we have all year motivates us,” he said.

Gold, Silver, Bronze Medals For Canada

www.thestar.com - Jim Byers

(August 16, 2008)  BEIJING–After a week-long drought, Canada won three Olympic medals within an hour, picking up a gold, silver and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Tonya Verbeek of Grimsby, Ont., is the latest in a string of Canadians to win a medal, grabbing a bronze in the 55 kg women’s wrestling event shortly before 5:30 a.m. local time.

Verbeek, who won a silver medal in wrestling in Athens, defeated Sweden’s Ida-Theres Nerell 1-0, 1-0 for the medal.

A few minutes before 5 p.m. local time, 27-year-old wrestler Carol Huynh won Canada’s first gold medal with a crushing win in the 48 kg category.

About 20 minutes before that, the men’s rowing pair of Dave Calder and Scott Frandsen grabbed a silver medal at the Olympic rowing course.

Huynh, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, came out strong against her Japanese opponent and started scoring right away. When it was over, she bent over in tears of disbelief.

In the stands, Canadian fans who were no doubt relieved waved Canada’s flag back and forth and shouted in support.

Huynh, who trains in Calgary, earned a spot in the women’s 48 kg wrestling final with a couple wins Saturday morning. She came out strong against Japan’s Chiharu Icho and the match was almost never in doubt as she posted a 4-0, 2-0 win.

Huynh won a gold medal at the Pan American Games last year and a bronze at the world championships in 2005.

After winning her first career Olympic medal, Hunyh ran over to hug coach Leigh Vierling. He put the 27-year-old on his shoulders to carry her around the China Agricultural University Gymnasium as Huynh proudly held up a Canadian flag.

She wiped away tears as O Canada was played after the medal presentation.

“I was just thinking how proud I am to be Canadian,” Huynh said. “And I was just thinking about the road to how I got here. It’s been a long one but a good one.”

Calder and Frandsen were ahead at the halfway point of the men’s pairs event but the renowned Australian team of Drew Ginn and Duncan Free pulled ahead and took the gold.

The bronze went to New Zealand’s team of Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater.

Calder, who’s from Victoria, and Frandsen, who hails from Kelowna, were considered medal possibilities but not huge favourites.

It wasn’t really part of our thought process going in because that’s just unneeded pressure,” Frandsen said of breaking the country’s losing streak. “It’s great to get Canada on the board.”

"I’m really proud of it and Scott is really proud of it,” said Calder. “The Australians had a great push through the middle. We pushed back a little bit but congratulations to them."

Calder was more than happy with his silver medal.

"I have been at this game since I was 12, and now the long, hard training in the winter has paid off."

They gave the Australians a run for their money and finished with a time of 6:39.55. The Aussies were just a bit ahead at 6:37.44.

The New Zealand squad came in at 6:44.19 for third place.

Calder rowed in the men’s pair four years ago in Athens when the crew was disqualified for leaving their lane in the semi-final. Frandsen was a member of the men’s eight squad that finished a disappointing fifth at the Athens Games.

Staff Reporter

4 More Medals For Canada

Source: www.thestar.com -
Jim Byers

(August 17, 2008) BEIJING- Canada’s men’s eights rowing squad today captured Canada’s second gold of the Beijing Olympics and the fourth medal of the day.

Canada led from the start and although Great Britain picked up the pace late in the race but it wasn’t enough.

Coxswain Brian Price raised both arms in the air as Canada crossed the finish line ahead of Britain. The U.S. came third for the bronze medal.

The win is a huge turn around for the men’s eights who came a disappointing fifth in Athens four years ago. But they entered the Games as world champions and broke a jinx with their gold. No world championship squad has managed an Olympic gold since 1973.

The team is consists of Kevin Light, Ben Rutledge, Andrew Byrnes, Jake Wetzel, Malcolm Howard, Dominic Seiterle, Adam Kreek, Kyle Hamilton and Price. Earlier Canadians won three bronze medals in rowing events.

In lightweight men’s fours, Iain Brambell, Jon Beare, Mike Lewis and Liam Parsons were in second place at the halfway point, slipped into fourth and rallied down the stretch to come third.

"In the last 500 (metres) we seemed to get our rhythm together,” parson said. “And when Iain said 'Go for it' we all committed everything we had."

The Canadians were the fastest boat over the final 500 metres.

It was an emotional week for the team. Their coach, Bent Jensen, is suffering from cancer and has been getting chemotherapy in his Beijing hotel room.

Denmark came first by a large margin and finished with a time of 5:47.76, while Poland got the silver medal at 5:49.39. Canada was clocked at 5:50.09, almost a full second ahead of fourth-place France.

Earlier, the lightweight double sculls team of Melanie Kok and Tracy Cameron just beat Germany to capture a bronze medal of their own.

Kok and Cameron just held off the Germans to finish on the podium in a race won by the Netherlands. Finland won silver.

Kok and Cameron were in second place halfway through the race, right behind the Germans. It was all Canada could do to keep Germany from the podium, as Canada won by a mere four one-hundredths of a second.

The Canadians were timed in 6:56.68, with Germany at 6:56.72.

Kok is from St. Catharines, while Cameron is from Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia but lives in Calgary.

"We had to find a little something extra to get beyond them," Kok told the CBC. "Just close your eyes and go."

The Netherlands won gold in 6:54.74 while Finland took silver in 6:56.03.

"We were just hoping the scales would tip in our favour" said Kok.

Ryan Cochrane of Victoria won Canada's first bronze in the 1500 freestyle swim event; Canada's first medal of the Games in the swimming pool.

Victoria’s Ryan Cochrane won a bronze medal in the men’s 1,500 freestyle for Canada’s first Olympic swimming medal in eight years.

“I'm so happy with it,” said the 6-4 Cochrane. “It was a hard race, and I think the first half took a lot out of me for the second half, but I just couldn't be happier.”

Last year, Cochrane came 15th in the 1,500-meter swim at the world championships. On Aug. 15 at Beijing's Water Cube stadium, he set the third-fastest time in history. Yesterday, he hung on for a medal that puts a shiny finish on what had been a solid but medal-free performance for Canada’s swim team.

Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli pulled ahead about two-thirds of the way through to take the gold, depriving Australia’s Grant Hackett of his third straight gold in the gruelling, freestyle race. Hackett came second, while Cochrane managed to hold off Russia’s Yuriy Prilukov.

Cochrane was first at the 1000-meter mark, and then watched Mellouli kick in. That left the Canadian and Australian battling it out for second for a while. The veteran Hackett slowly pulled ahead, and it looked like Cochrane might have used up too much gas in his heat and would lose the bronze to Prilukov. But he managed to find another gear and hold off the Russian.

“Yeah, I could see Prilukov coming, and I knew he was going to have a good back end, and I just did whatever I could to hold him off,” Cochrane said. Canada made ten swim finals in Beijing, compared to only three in Athens. There were a couple of close calls, most notably a narrow fourth-place finish by Mike Brown of Perth. Canadian swimmers have set 22 national records this week. But it wasn’t until Cochrane touched the wall that a Canadian finally grabbed a swimming medal.

“It was really hard to compete on the last day, and the team's been so supportive,” he said. “And I think we really showed what we can do, and set so many Canadian records this week, and I think we're all really ecstatic to be Canadians right now.”

Canada fired coach Dave Johnson after the dismal Athens Games. Engaging Pierre Lafontaine came in, and the Canadians have slowly begun to get back to where they once belonged.

Canada Wins Bronze In Men's 1,500-Metre Freestyle

Source: www.thestar.com -
Jim Byers

(August 16, 2008) BEIJING–Canadian swimming may be on the road to redemption.

Ryan Cochrane of Victoria, B.C. won a bronze medal in the men’s 1,500 freestyle in Beijing Sunday morning for Canada’s first Olympic swimming medal in eight years.

It was the fourth podium finish of the Beijing Olympics for Canada, which was shut out of the medal hunt for the first seven days of action.

“I'm so happy with it,” said the 6'4 Cochrane. “It was a hard race, and I think the first half took a lot out of me for the second half, but I just couldn't be happier.”

Last year, Cochrane came 15th in the 1,500-metre swim at the world championships. On Aug. 15 at Beijing's Water Cube stadium, he set the third-fastest time in history. Yesterday, he hung on for a medal that puts a shiny finish on what had been a solid but medal-free performance for Canada’s swim team.

Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli pulled ahead about two-thirds of the way through to take the gold, depriving Australia’s Grant Hackett of his third straight gold in the gruelling, freestyle race. Hackett came second, while Cochrane managed to hold off Russia’s Yuriy Prilukov.

Cochrane was first at the 1,000-metre mark, then watched Mellouli kick in. That left the Canadian and Australian battling it out for second for a while. The veteran Hackett slowly pulled ahead, and it looked like Cochrane might have used up too much gas in his heat and would lose the bronze to Prilukov. But he managed to find another gear and hold off the Russian.

“Yeah, I could see Prilukov coming, and I knew he was going to have a good back end, and I just did whatever I could to hold him off,” Cochrane said.

Canada made 10 swim finals in Beijing, compared to only three in Athens. There were a couple of close calls, most notably a narrow fourth-place finish by Mike Brown of Perth, Ont. Canadian swimmers here set 22 national records this week. But it wasn’t until Cochrane touched the wall that a Canadian finally grabbed a swimming medal.

“It was really hard to compete on the last day, and the team's been so supportive,” he said. “And I think we really showed what we can do, and set so many Canadian records this week, and I think we're all really ecstatic to be Canadians right now.”

Canada fired coach Dave Johnson after the dismal Athens Games. Engaging Pierre Lafontaine came in, and the Canadians have slowly begun to get back to where they once belonged.

Toronto's Cockburn Wins Silver In Trampoline


(August 18, 2008) BEIJING–Karen Cockburn has another Olympic medal to add to her collection.

The 27-year-old Toronto native won a silver in the women's trampoline event here Monday night, giving her three Olympic medals in her illustrious career.

The 5-foot-3 Cockburn won a silver in Athens four years ago and a bronze in Sydney in 2000 and has now won a medal every Olympics in which trampoline has been contested.

Cockburn finished behind gold medallist Wenna He of China and ahead of Ekaterina Khilko of Uzbekistan.

"I'm just still in shock," she said. "It's really stressful with the crowds, but coming out with an Olympic medal is a great result."

The medal-winning performance caps a stunning comeback for Cockburn, who wasn't even certain she'd be healthy enough to compete here.

She had reconstructive surgery on her right knee after tearing cartilage in it last October and wasn't certain she'd be fully recovered in time for the Beijing Games. She also has surgery on the same knee more than a decade ago.

"To go 12 years without re-injuring her knee was a pretty good run for it," said Cockburn's coach, Dave Ross. "When somebody has an injury like that, you don't expect them to have as long of a career but she's been working very hard."

Cockburn came to the Olympics in good form, winning her last World Cup event before getting here.

She received a score of 37.00 for her performance, well behind winner He, who had a 37.80 score and just ahead of Khilko's 36.90.

"I knew my score wasn't the greatest," she said. "I didn't think it would hold up in the end (for gold) and it didn't."

The other Canadians who won medals at three straight games were Phil Edwards in track and field in 1928, 1932 and 1936 (three bronze); rower Leslie Thompson-Willie in 1992, 1996 and 2000 (gold, silver, bronze); and kayaker Caroline Brunet in 1996, 2000 and 2004 (two silver and a bronze).

With files from The Canadian Press

Fraser Leads Jamaican 100-Metre Sweep

Source: CBC Sports

(August 17, 2008) It was all green and gold as Jamaica swept the 100-metre medals at the Beijing Olympics on Day 9, with Shelly-Ann Fraser getting the win in a time of 10.78 seconds.

Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson will each receive a silver medal after tying at 10.98 seconds.

"It's wonderful. Top 3 for Jamaica [and] history," Simpson said. "This says a lot for our country."

The result also clinches a Jamaican sweep of the fastest track races. Usain Bolt ran a world record 9.69 to take the men's event on Saturday.

Like Bolt, Fraser is just 21. She finished second at the Jamaican trials, helping put favoured Veronica Campbell-Brown in fourth.

Women from the United States and Jamaica occupied six of the eight lanes in the Olympic final.

Americans Lauryn Williams and Muna Lee were fourth and fifth, respectively. Jeanette Kwakye of Great Britain was sixth, followed by Bahamian veteran Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie and Torri Edwards of the U.S.

The United States afterwards protested the result and asked for a review due to a possible false start by Edwards.

"We have filed a protest looking at whether Torri Edwards false-started and whether the race should have been called back," USA Track & Field director of communications Jill Geer said.

The protest was rejected.

Lee, who won at the U.S. Olympic trials, admitted she made a mistake at the blocks.

"I didn't know if they were going to call it," Lee said. "I should have just ran. That's my fault."

Williams, who won silver at the Athens Games, gave credit to the Jamaican rivals.

"We've dominated for years, and now it's their time," said Williams.

Defending Olympic champion Yuliya Nestsiarenka of Belarus did not advance out of the semi-finals.

Fraser posted the fastest time in the semi-finals, finishing in exactly 11 seconds.

The world and Olympic record of 10.49, set by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Games, has not been approached since.

Fraser's win was in the widest margin since that victory nearly 20 years ago in Seoul.

"When I was thinking about it, I was getting ahead of myself," Fraser said about a gold medal. "I was like, 'Calm down. First you need to
go out there and do it."'

Bolt Wins 200-Metres In World Record Time

Source: www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(August 20, 2008) BEIJING–Arms churning high, face twisted in pain as he sprinted toward the finish line, Usain Bolt kept glancing at the clock.

The win in the Olympic 200 metres was a given, his second gold medal of the Beijing Games assured.

This was now about a world record. About racing against history.

Showing just what he can do when he goes all out start to finish, Bolt forged the greatest race ever run Wednesday night under the hazy lights at the Bird's Nest, heaving his chest toward the finish line – not simply to beat someone for the gold, but to become a part of track's glorious, and sometimes troubled, lore.

He finished in 19.30 seconds to break Michael Johnson's 12-year-old world record, one of the most venerable in the books.

"I blew my mind and I blew the world's mind," Bolt said.

Insane, Usain.

Officially, he won by an astounding 0.66 second over American Shawn Crawford, the defending Olympic champion. Crawford won the silver medal when Churandy Martina of Netherlands Antilles, who had finished 0.52 behind Bolt, was disqualified after a U.S. protest for running out of his lane. "It feels like a charity case,'' Crawford said.

Either way, it was about four body lengths, the biggest margin in an Olympic 200.

American Walter Dix was awarded the bronze medal when the third man across the line, teammate Wallace Spearmon, also was DQ'd for leaving his lane.

Footnotes to history.

Bolt added the 19.30 to the 9.69 he ran the 100 four nights before when he hot-dogged the final 20 meters to set the world record.

Everyone thought he could've done better in the 100 had he run hard the whole way, but the 200 has always been Bolt's favourite, the one he spent his life on, and this time he saved the showboating for after the race.

"I've been dreaming of this since I was yea high," Bolt said. ``So it means a lot more to me actually than the 100 means.''

After the unrelenting effort with a slight headwind in his face, Bolt sprawled out on the ground, arms and legs outstretched, basking in the roar of the Bird's Nest crowd and the glow of becoming, quite possibly, the greatest sprinter ever.

Bolt's name now goes above, or at least beside, every great sprinter to ever put on spikes.

He became the first man to win the 100-200 double at the Olympics since Carl Lewis in 1984, and the first man to hold both records simultaneously since Donald Quarrie – the 1970s Jamaican star whom Bolt said he always wanted to pattern his running after.

He gets mentioned in the same breath with Johnson, as well as Jesse Owens and any of the other six men to complete the Olympic 100-200 double. Nobody other than Johnson had ever run a 200 in under 19.6 and nobody had broken 9.7 in the 100 before Beijing.

Bolt has done both, the only man ever to break the world record in both sprints in the same Olympics.

Bolt is simply a different kind of runner – coiled power in his 6-foot-5 frame, supposedly too big for success in the 100, but certainly built to run the 200.

"It's his anatomy," said Renaldo Nehemiah, the former world record-holder in the 110-metre hurdles. "He's just blessed with an uncanny frame, an uncanny quickness, a huge competitive heart. And he is having a good time, which I think our sport sorely needs to see.''

Indeed, track and field could use a breath of fresh air after years of bad news, bad characters and failed drug tests that have come close to turning the sport into second-tier Olympic viewing.

There are cynics who believe Bolt might be too good to be true himself. But the Jamaican insists he is clean, that he plays by the rules, that any improvement he's enjoyed over the last few months has come courtesy of rededicating himself to his training and staying off the dance floor he loves so much.

Before the race, track officials said he had been subjected to 11 doping tests since the beginning of 2008, including four since July 27. None so far has come back positive.

The man whose record fell was talking about Bolt's dominance, not his drug tests, when it was over.

"Incredible," Johnson said. "He got an incredible start. Guys of 6-5 should not be able to start like that. It's that long, massive stride. He's eating up so much more track than others. He came in focused, knowing he would likely win the gold and he's got the record.''

Bolt's move out of the starting block isn't nearly as important in the 200 as the 100, which makes the longer race more about raw speed. But a good start certainly doesn't hurt. He got one this time, even if it was fifth out of the eight runners. He burst out of the blocks from Lane 5 and overcame the lag about a quarter of the way through.

He averaged 9.65 per 100 metres – faster than his 4-day-old record in the 100.

Bolt won the race on the eve of his 22nd birthday and a version of "Happy Birthday" played over the public-address system as he took off his gold shoes and wrapped the Jamaican flag around his shoulders like a scarf.

He did another hip-swivelling dance, then raised his hands and pointed toward the scoreboard. A little later, he posed near the trackside clock – the traditional picture that all world record-setters take. Bolt now has three of them – this, the 100 from Saturday and the picture he took in New York in May when he broke the 100 record the first time.

"You're back there giving it everything you've got – it's brutal," said Kim Collins, the 2003 world champ who finished seventh. "He's doing it and making it look so simple. Michael Johnson did it, and it didn't look that easy.''

It sparked a tremendous celebration in Jamaica, which improved to 3-for-3 in Olympic sprints.

There was more for the island country to be happy about Wednesday night.

Shortly after Bolt finished, Jamaican Melaine Walker won the women's 400-metre hurdles in an Olympic-record 52.64, finishing ahead of American Sheena Tosta.

More than an hour later, in a nearly empty Bird's Nest, the struggling American team – the team with only three gold medals so far – took another blow when Brad Walker, the reigning pole vault world champion, didn't reach the final.

All of that was mere filler on this night, though.

And while Michael Phelps and his record eight swimming golds may be The Story of these Olympics, Bolt and his double world record sprints are a chapter unto themselves.

Bolt's sheer dominance in the most basic tests of speed will not soon be surpassed.

Unless, of course, he does it himself.

"As he gets older, physically more mature, he can only get faster," Nehemiah said.

Not that anyone would be surprised.


Jamaica's Walker Wins Gold In Women's 400M Hurdles

: www.thestar.com

(August 20, 2008) BEIJING–Melaine Walker of Jamaica has won the gold medal in the women's 400-metre hurdles in an Olympic record time. Walker won in 52.64 seconds in Wednesday's final, with Sheena Tosta of the United States taking silver in 53.70 and Tasha Danvers of Britain third in 53.84. Walker's win came minutes after Usain Bolt completed a sprint double by winning the men's 200 in world-record time. The hurdles final was wide open with world record-holder Yulia Pechonkina skipping the Olympics because of a heart problem, two-time world champion Jana Rawlinson out injured and reigning Olympic champion Fani Halkia expelled after testing positive for a steroid.


 Hangin' with Kreesha

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Lenny Stoute

(Summer 2008)
Kreesha Turner is relaxing in her hotel room after a hectic week of making the industry rounds of meet and greets, interviews and gigs as part of the North by Northeast music and film festival. The Canadian songstress is in high demand as she generates buzz for her upcoming debut album Passion, due to drop in early August.

The multicultural beauty brims with confidence as she fields the usual questions about comparisons to Rihanna, Aaliyah and Amy Winehouse.

"Hey, Rihanna is definitely a pop princess, so I don't mind being compared at all," she says, laughing. "When I made my album, I wanted it to be rooted in my mix of jazz and R&B backgrounds. But I also knew that I'm in the same pop market as Rihanna, so I wanted it to be pop accessible. If I can get anywhere near her success, I'll have done well." It doesn't hurt Turner's chances now that she's as hot as Rihanna, more stable than Winehouse and has been working long and hard at becoming a star.  

Raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Turner didn't wait for a break to find her. Instead she honed her musical skills and took acting and musical theatre lessons, in addition to piano and guitar.  

"I was around four or five when I got the bug to be a singer. In high school, I was that girl who sang at all the school events and festivals," she admits. "I entered every contest and event, joined gospel and jazz choirs, studied dancing and vocals, made demos, played every little gig I could find, in any style. There's not a lot of R&B in Edmonton, but I got into the active hip-hop scene. I was busy being a presence and learning about the business, keeping it out there." Her big break came through Edmonton radio station The Bounce 91.7 FM, a major force in urban music out west. Turner won their talent contest and, at the resulting show, where she performed "Bounce With Me," was a deejay friend who had the ear of Canadian urban music mogul Chris Smith.

"The room was full of the VPs, the A&R and marketing guys (all the Capitol heavies), but when Chris walked into the room, they knew who he was and that he didn't fool around," she says. "Chris is the guy that developed Nelly Furtado and Fefe Dobson. So down there, I don't think they even care he's Canadian. If anything, it probably helped that Chris is a black Jamaican-Canadian, like myself."

It also didn't hurt that the single "Bounce With Me" made appearances on U.S. television shows like Gossip Girl, Entourage and Lipstick Jungle.  

Her debut album Passion followed, which included collaborations with songwriter Harold Lilly (Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson), producer Devo Springsteen (John Legend, Aretha Franklin) and songwriter/producer Jon Levine (Philosopher Kings, Nelly Furtado).  

Her newest song "Don't Call Me Baby" is set to be released in North America, and she recently finished shooting the video which will premiere in the United States.

Her commercial for the single is simple yet profound. Standing still, Turner simply says, "I'm black. I'm white. I'm Asian. I'm a lady. But please, don't call me baby anymore."

Can you blame her? There is a lot to take seriously about Turner nowadays.

Listing people she would like to work with, Turner can't say enough about Passion's producer Levine, Grammy-winning songwriter Lilly and another artist who has turned confidence into superstardom.

"I'd love to get the chance to do something with Kanye," she says excitedly. "Especially the opportunity to write with him."

With all those heavyweights behind her, a great sound and a career destined for success, one thing is certain – you certainly can't call Turner "baby" anymore.

Bill Passes In Response To Death Of Dr. Donda West

Source:  www.allhiphop.com -
By Chris Richburg

(August 14, 2008) The death of rap superstar
Kanye West’s mother has prompted the approval of a new bill requiring hospital patients to take a physical exam, before having elective cosmetic surgery.

The LA Times reports the California Senate passed the requirement on Wednesday (August 13) with a vote of 37 to 1.

According to Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), the measure, known as AB 2968, was in response to Donda West’s passing.

The former educator/author died last year from complications related to cosmetic surgery.

Earlier this year, Donda West’s niece, Yolanda Anderson, and California state Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto) introduced AB 2968 into the state’s legislature.

For Ridley-Thomas, the tragedy comes as a wake-up call for patients and their families to take steps to ensure a safe medical experience.

"Many of us are concerned about the quality of care extended to those who receive elective surgery," the senator told the Times.

Donda West’s family believes that coronary artery disease would have been discovered with a physical exam.

A coroners report found that heart disease and clogged arteries also played a role in the scholar’s death.

Since West’s death, lawmakers and physicians around the country have lobbied for more restrictions for patients undergoing cosmetic surgery.

R&B Music Producer Jerry Wexler dies at 91

www.thestar.com - Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

(August 15, 2008) NEW YORK – Legendary record producer Jerry Wexler, who helped shape R&B music with influential recordings of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and other greats, and later made key recordings with the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, has died, says his co-author, David Ritz. He was 91.

Ritz, co-author of Wexler's 1993 memoir, Rhythm and the Blues, said he died at his Sarasota, Fla., home at about 3:45 a.m. Friday. He had been ill for a couple of years with congenital heart disease.

Wexler earned his reputation as a music industry giant while a partner at Atlantic Records with another legendary music figure, the late Ahmet Ertegun. Atlantic provided an outlet for the groundbreaking work of African-American performers in the 1950s and 1960s. Later, it was a home to rock icons like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. He later helped Dylan win his first Grammy by producing his 1979 Slow Train Coming album.

Wexler helped boost the careers of both the "King of Soul,'' Charles, and the "Queen of Soul," Franklin. Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge were among the other R&B greats who benefited from Wexler's deft recording touch. He also produced Dusty Springfield's classic Dusty in Memphis, considered a masterpiece of "blue-eyed" soul.

Among the standards produced by Wexler: Franklin's "Respect," a dazzling, feminist reworking of an Otis Redding song; Sledge's deep ballad "When A Man Loves A Woman" and Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour," with a horn vamp inspired by Wexler's admittedly rhythmless dancing.

Wexler was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

"No one really knew how to make a record when I started," he said in a profile on the rock hall's website. "You simply went into the studio, turned on the mike and said, 'Play.'"

In the studio, Wexler was a hands-on producer. Once, during a session with Charles, the tambourine player was off the beat. Wexler, in his award-winning autobiography, recalled grabbing the instrument and playing it himself.

"Who's that?" asked Charles.

"Me," Wexler told the blind singer.

"You got it, baby!" Charles said.

The son of Polish immigrants and a music buff since his teens, Wexler landed a job writing for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s after serving in World War II and studying journalism in college. There he coined the term "rhythm and blues" for the magazine's black music charts; previously, they were listed under "race records."

While working at Billboard, Wexler befriended Ertegun – a life-altering friendship for both. Ertegun and a partner had started Atlantic, then a small R&B label in New York. In 1953, when Ertegun's partner left for a two-year military hitch, Wexler stepped in as the label's co-director.

He never left.

"In the early sessions, I just sat there watching (Ertegun) while I was cowering in fright," Wexler told The Associated Press in 2001. "But as time went on, we proved to be a very successful team. ... We went on the road together, we hung out together."

He recalled that Ertegun "wrote many of the songs in the early days, and he drew upon his knowledge of jazz and the blues, because songs always have to have a source. ... This is not to say that there is not great originality."

While Ertegun enjoyed the more bohemian aspects of the music business, Wexler was a working partner. At Atlantic, he collaborated with a virtual who's who of soul: Charles, Pickett, Sledge, Redding, Franklin, Sam and Dave.

Wexler produced 16 albums and numerous hit singles for Franklin, who switched to Atlantic in the mid-1960s and rediscovered her gospel roots after several unhappy years singing show tunes for Columbia. "When it came to the studio, you could say the two of us were joined at the hip," he once said.

Franklin, in a 1980 interview with Rolling Stone, said their collaborations were "among my favourite sessions. I feel the things we did together were dynamite.''

In 1967, Wexler and Ertegun sold Atlantic to Warner Bros. for $17.5 million. Although they stayed on to run the company, the pair began moving in different directions.

Wexler began working with a collection of Southern musicians in the 1970s, including guitar genius Duane Allman, Dr. John, and Delaney & Bonnie. He also produced albums for Willie Nelson.

In the 1980s, Wexler worked with Dire Straits, Carlos Santana and George Michael. In April 1988, Atlantic marked its 40th anniversary with an 11-hour concert at Madison Square Garden, with the stage shared by performers from Crosby, Stills & Nash to the Bee Gees to Ben E. King.

Wexler was the quintessential Jewish street kid who found a home in black music. He was born in 1917 in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, just north of Harlem. He didn't take to school, preferring to hang out at places like Artie's Pool Room on 181st Street.

In his teens, he began haunting Harlem's jazz clubs and record stores, developing a life-long passion for jazz and blues.

When his mother tried to refocus his energies by sending him to Kansas State University in 1936, Wexler instead began taking the 100-mile drive to Kansas City, Mo., to see performers like Count Basie and Joe Turner. His poor grades put him back in New York within two years.

Days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wexler was drafted into the Army. He spent the war stationed in Texas and Florida, then returned to college to earn a degree in journalism in 1947.

Pervis Jackson, 70: Spinners Band Member

www.thestar.com - Corey Williams, The Associated Press

(August 18, 2008) DETROIT – Pervis Jackson, the man behind the deep, rolling bass voice in a string of 1970s R&B hits by The Spinners, has died after being diagnosed with brain and liver cancer. He was 70.

Jackson died about 2 a.m. Monday at Detroit Sinai-Grace Hospital, his wife Claudreen told The Associated Press.

Doctors found tumours late last month, but had been awaiting tests to determine if they were malignant. He was diagnosed with cancer two days ago, she said.

"I was watching him waste away the past month," Claudreen Jackson said. "He wasn't eating. He was losing weight, coughing. At the end of July, we took him to the doctor. His words were 'I'll be all right. I'll be all right'."

The native of the New Orleans area was one of the original five members of the group which started out in the late 1950s singing doo-wop in Detroit. They worked under the Motown label in the 1960s but shot to stardom after moving on to Atlantic Records in the 1970s.

Jackson last performed July 19 in California with the remaining original members of the group, Bobbie Smith and Henry Fambrough, and two new members, his wife said.

With song's like "Mighty Love,'' "I'll Be Around,'' "One Of A Kind (Love Affair)" and "Then Came You," The Spinners were a constant on the R&B and pop charts during the 1970s.

The Spinners compiled 12 gold records, according to the group's official website. Jackson had been planning to perform with the group later this month in South Africa and in Wales in September, his wife said.

"I am extremely proud of the example he set in his music. The Spinners' music was clean," said Claudreen Jackson, 69. "What comforts me is he is one person who lived his life exactly the way he wanted to.''

She met Pervis Jackson in 1964. They married in 1968.

He also is survived by four adult children.

DMB Sax Player Dies After ATV Wreck

www.thestar.com - Raquel Maria Dillon, The Associated Press

(August 20, 2008) LOS ANGELES – LeRoi Moore, the versatile saxophonist whose signature staccato fused jazz and funk overtones onto the eclectic sound of the Dave Matthews Band, died Tuesday of complications from injuries he suffered in an all-terrain vehicle accident, the band said. He was 46.

Moore died at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where he was admitted with complications that arose weeks after the June 30 wreck, according to a statement on the band's website. It did not specify what led to his death, and nursing supervisor Galina Shinder said the hospital could not release details.

On June 30, Moore crashed his ATV on his farm outside Charlottesville, Va., but was discharged and returned to his Los Angeles home to begin physical therapy. Complications forced him back to the hospital on July 17, the band said.

The band went on with its show Tuesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where lead singer Dave Matthews dedicated the entire show to Moore.

"It's always easier to leave than be left," Matthews told the crowd, according to Ambrosia Healy, the band's publicist. "We appreciate you all being here.''

Saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who played with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, had been sitting in for Moore during the band's summer tour.

Moore, who wore dark sunglasses at the bands' many live concerts, had classical training but said jazz was his main musical influence, according to a biography on the band's website.

"But at this stage I don't really consider myself a jazz musician," Moore said in the biography. Playing with the Dave Matthews Band was "almost better than a jazz gig," he said. "I have plenty of space to improvise, to try new ideas.''

Lead singer Dave Matthews credited Moore with arranging many of his songs, which combine Cajun fiddle-playing, African-influenced rhythms and Matthews' playful but haunting voice.

The band formed in 1991 in Charlottesville, Va., when Matthews was working as a bartender. He gave a demo tape of his songs to Moore, who liked what he heard and recruited his friend and fellow jazzman Carter Beauford to play drums, and other musicians.

The group broke out of the local music scene with the album ``Under the Table and Dreaming." The band won a Grammy Award in 1997 for its hit song "So Much to Say" off its second album ``Crash." Other hits include "What Would You Say,'' "Crash Into Me" and "Satellite.''

Fans who attended Tuesday's concert expressed sadness over Moore's death and concern about the band's future without him. "LeRoi was just super important to the band," Shawn Harrington said before the concert. "That's how the band came to be.''

Emma-Lee A Gold-Sprinkled Dream

www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

Secret Agent Records

(August 19, 2008) It would have to be startling ordeal, if you were a singer, to have surgery on your instrument. You would seek assurances, or some fake placating at least, prior to going under. "Doc, will I be able to sing again?" would be a valid question. But was it the chloroform or a trick of the light, or was that a twinkle in the sawbones's eye you noticed just before drifting off?

Never Just a Dream, is the wondrous full-length debut from
Emma-Lee, a sensuous singer-songwriter from Toronto who underwent not one, but two, career-imperilling operations - one for a growth on her thyroid gland, the other for an unrelated vocal chord polyp - before recording a 10-song collection that remembers seventies AM radio as jazzier and plusher than it actually was. 

Now, I'm no doctor and I don't play one on TV. But, as far as her voice is concerned, it appears everything turned out fine. Only fine? Okay, spectacular. Spectacular, that's it? All right, they sprinkled gold dust inside her throat, implanted strands of silk and coated it all with gleaming honey. The medical team, with the input of chanteuses k.d. lang and Jolie Holland, worked on Emma-Lee like she was Pavarotti, Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner combined. The surgeries, suffice to say, were a success.

But then there is the matter of using the voice in a sublime manner, on material worthy of such a tool. Here Emma-Lee thrives. The title track has a hazy, waltzing warmth, with heavenly background vocals - imagine the Chordettes nodding on heroin. The singing is stately.

That Sinking Feeling adds strings, lithe guitars, a bossa-nova beat and clapping. The album addresses heartbreak, but not necessarily Emma-Lee's own. Here she offers a shoulder and something more: "That sinking feeling doesn't mean you to have swim alone." 

Things are more playful on Jealousy, a jaunty piano-tinkler that advises to "stop treating lovers like goddamn possessions." 

The aching vocal jazz of Flow begins a three-part suite that follows a romantic breakup's phases. Isn't it Obvious, with a Hawaiian lilt and k.d.-style phrasing, has the former lovers realizing that friendship is out of the question. Mr. Buttonlip is a big-band swinging kiss-off, where a strong silent type is told to hit the road.

I'm a fan of Emma-Lee's lyrical work. The dramatic country soul of An Older Man, which emboldens better than Viagra, says a man who's been around has "lips like clockwork, because he's kissed a lot of flowers." 

Clearly, Never Just a Dream, is an auspicious beginning. The languid Where You Want to Be promises more to come from a singer who is also a professional photographer (specializing in self-portraits). "I won't settle, no not a little bit," Emma-Lee sings, "you don't get me, I'm not the type to quit." Evidently so. 

Emma-Lee plays Toronto's Supermarket on Thursday, and plans an Eastern Canadian tour in the fall.

Best Damn Bassists? If You Say So

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(August 19, 2008) There's only one place for every self-respecting bass player and bass lover with $30 to spare tomorrow night: the S.M.V. Thunder Tour's only Canadian stop, at Sound Academy on Polson St., comprised of arguably the most influential contemporary electric bass guitarists, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. Accompanied by a drummer and keyboardist, the trio will deliver tunes from their new recording Thunder, as well as one or two tracks from their individual jazz-funk catalogues. The Star spoke with each of them on separate occasions this summer.

Stanley Clarke

Age: 57

Hometown: Philadelphia

Cred: Acclaimed on both acoustic and electric bass, made his name in the '70s with jazz-rock fusion group Return to Forever. Also scored films, such as Boyz n the Hood and What's Love Got To Do With It?

Notable in 2008: Return to Forever reunion and anti-war fusion disc The Toys of Men.

"Who gave us that name? I don't know anything about that. It never came from us," said Clarke about the subhead of S.M.V.'s Toronto show. Though the billing "best damn bassists period" turned out to be a creation of the local promoter, Clarke doesn't shy from the accolade. 

"Fine. Whatever people say. But it's a good band. Both of these guys I've known since they were very young and they're very good bass players, and they can back up whatever reputations they have.

"There's a certain bit of magic that's attached to this project. I've never been out on tour with two other bass players." The genesis of the tour was Clarke being honoured by Miller and Wooten at a bass players convention in 2006.

"At the end of it, the editor of Bass Player magazine said `Why don't you guys play a song together?' There were some musicians up on the stage and we all grabbed some basses and played a song that I wrote. And for some reason, we just sounded like we should've been playing together; everybody was playing in the right register on the instrument; nobody was stepping on anyone else. Someone took a video of it that went on YouTube and it got over a million hits. It's kind of fascinating to see three bass players; it just sounds better than it should. It's a testament to great musicianship and just being smart as players."

Clarke is circumspect about the adulation heaped on him by fans and colleagues.

"I live by a certain code in the music universe, the three Ps: practice, practice and practice. Usually musicians that are respected heavily by other musicians have that kind of code; someone that's really gotten their stuff together and other people see it. It's very difficult to just wake up, or come out of your mother's womb and just play great."

Marcus Miller

Age: 49

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Cred: Ace multi-instrumentalist and producer, noted for work with the likes of Miles Davis and Luther Vandross.

Notable in 2008: Marcus blends pop, soul, R&B and jazz, and features vocalists Corinne Bailey Rae and Lala Hathaway.

Miller will ply his intensely lyrical in-your-face sound on the treasured $255 Fender his mother bought him in 1977. 

He discussed the challenges of establishing a coherent dialogue in S.M.V.

"When you play with three guys you have to figure out `What's really you?''Cause there's a lot of things that I do that Stanley Clarke does, or that Victor does,'' he said. 

"So you try to find the thing that really sets you apart; it really makes you take a good hard look at yourself. 

"I like to be down in the basement, holding things down and being kind of nasty funky. That's the space that I've been finding myself filling with this group. Stanley likes to play high these days. He plays tenor bass, which is pitched a little higher. So, I try to stay out of his way; and Victor, his sound is really nice in that mid-range. We default into that. Of course, we switch roles, because we don't want to lock each other in all the time." 

Victor Wooten

Age: 43

Hometown: Hampton, Va.

Cred: An exciting performer and revered technician

Notable in 2008: Released the R&B-gospel-tinged Palmystery and spiritual novel The Music Lesson. Also a member of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Probably the least known on this super bass line-up, the Nashville-based Wooten is the youngest of five musical brothers. He's noted for novel techniques, such as double thumbing and open hammer plucking.

"I hate to say that I created it, because I'm sure there was someone somewhere doing it," he said of the latter, "but it wasn't something that was taught to me. It was born out of sounds I heard in my head. Even though I was a bass player, I listened a lot to drummers and I wanted my bass to sound like a drummer, to be able to play those fast runs and have the power. Because I heard the sound, the technique showed up on its own. Over the years I became more popular, and people started asking me to write articles and to teach workshops and I named some of the techniques."

This led to his writing debut, The Music Lesson, a fictional tale about a bass player in search of guidance. Each chapter begins with a handwritten measure of music that collectively yields a song, "The Lesson" from Palmystery. 

"I didn't want to write a manual; a lot of times they're kind of sterile and more than that, it becomes the author's definitive view," Wooten explained. "I don't want to tell anyone how to play the music, I want to show them. It dawned on me that I could write it as a story. That's how our ancestors used to teach: tell you a story, and there's a moral or a lesson that you can retell in your own words.'' 

And the moral to his story: "Everyone wants to be up front, but for bass players I suggest that we learn to be the foundation first. I see a lot of younger players now that are learning the flashy stuff without a foundation. That will grab people's attention, but it won't keep it."

New Brandy Album Due In November


(August 18, 2008) *Brandy's upcoming album "Human," due Nov. 11 via Epic Records, is her first since 2004's Grammy-nominated "Afrodisiac" and is said to reflect her evolution as both a musician and an individual.

"'Human' is my most personal album to date," said Brandy. "I have grown so much since my last album. Being able to express myself and my journey through my music is a feeling I can't describe. With this new chapter of my life it feels good to have Rodney ["Darkchild" Jerkins], a familiar face, by my side again. He brings out emotions in me like nobody else."

 Jerkins, who first collaborated with Brandy on her 1998 multi-platinum-selling collection "Never Say Never," says "Human" is the most emotionally resonant album of Brandy's career with songs and performances reflecting the truth and complexity of her experiences.

 "It feels good to be back in the lab with Brandy again," said Jerkins. "We've always made great records and I'm humbled and honoured to be continuing our legacy. The sound might be new, bigger, and more uplifting but we've kept our musical promise by making great songs and great music once again. There is no musical combination like ours.

 "The album's title is a real life mirror of Brandy as a woman, an artist, a musician and a performer, communicating what it means to be fully 'Human': strong yet vulnerable, candid and triumphant, in love with life and in touch with the things of the spirit."

 "Right Here (Departed)," the first single from "Human," leaked online last week and will impact pop radio on Sept. 16. The single and ringtone are scheduled to be released on Aug. 26, with a digital pre-order for the album slated the same day.

 Other key tracks on "Human" include "Fall," which Brandy co-wrote with the chart-topping British dance/pop singer/songwriter Natasha Bedingfield, as well as the new songs "Long Distance," "Piano Man," and "Torn Down."

 Brandy's other musical collaborators on Human include Brian Kennedy (Rihanna/"Disturbia"), emerging production whiz RedOne (Kat DeLuna, 2006 World Cup Official Single "Hips Don't Lie" with Shakira & Wyclef Jean), and James Fauntleroy (Jordin Sparks/"No Air").

From Brokeback Mountain And The Rio De La Plata To A Dance Floor Near You

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Entertainment Reporter

(August 17, 2008) The man who helped Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal get in the mood wants to shake your booty.

Argentine-American whirlwind
Gustavo Santaolalla blows into the Mod Club on College St. tonight with his band Bajofondo, which is earning a global reputation for dance-floor-friendly grooves from the southern hemisphere.

The band's Toronto debut is part of a world tour that is taking the gang as far afield as South Korea.

Santaolalla, whose soundtracks for Brokeback Mountain and Babel each won an Oscar, and who has a pile of Latin Grammys sitting on his shelves in Los Angeles, has another life as part of an imaginative group of musicians from Rio de la Plata.

This is the estuary that separates Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Or, more pertinently, this is the water that brings together the unique sounds of a particularly sophisticated corner of Latin America.

Santaolalla and Bajofondo co-founder Juan Campodónico have, for the past six years, been corralling their favourite local artists into a mix of rock, pop, jazz, hip hop and various permutations of electronica. They insist that they are well beyond tango, but listen to just about any of the 17 tracks on their latest album, Mar Dulce, and there's no mistaking where this band's inspiration comes from.

But this is tango well disguised. It mines the pop spectrum, from electrifying beats that will have you moving on the Mod Club's dance floor, to more introverted noodlings that might be more at home in an indie movie.

Not all the artists on this album are unknown to Torontonians. Mar Dulce's musical guests include Nelly Furtado as well as Elvis Costello.

The man Entertainment Weekly pegged as one of Hollywood's 50 smartest people last year knows how to work his connections.

Santaolalla, who turns 57 on Tuesday, may have been playing the guitar for more than half a century, but he has the creative spirit and energy of a 19-year-old.

In an interview from his home in Los Angeles, where he has lived off and on for 30 years, Santaolalla talks about touring, his book publishing company, his Argentinean vineyard and a project to bring together all of Argentina's remaining big-name tango masters.

He doesn't know where he finds the time. "But it's all there," he says. "The wine is there. The books are there. My life is chaos, but somehow things fall into place."

Unlike just about any other composer, Santaolalla has never learned to read or write music. Yet that has never stopped him from impressing people.

Ang Lee trusted Santaolalla's talents so much that the director asked for the Brokeback Mountain music to come first. Much of the filming was done to the music being played on set.

Santaolalla says that being a musical illiterate means he has to create "by instinct." That may be why he can make powerful emotional connections through music.

His band Bajofondo is all about engaging the listener physically. His movie music is about the subtle manipulation and facilitation of emotion. These two very different talents stem from the same mind.

"It's something I've done all my life," says Santaolalla. "I'm a big fan of eclecticism and diversity."

Sounds like something that should suit tonight's gig perfectly.

For more info: smallworldmusic.com

Jackson, Madonna Hit 50

www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic

(August 16, 2008)  Pop stars aren't meant to turn 50.

The concept of "pop" implies a sort of built-in obsolescence. In and out quickly is the rule, and most pop-star life spans are measurable in a couple of years, if not mere months.

In that context, then, the 50th birthdays of
Madonna and Michael Jackson – today and Aug. 29, respectively – are momentous occasions.

Against all reason, we still know who this ambitious dancer-turned-'80s-pop nymphette and this former child star are. We're still curious. We still wonder what they're up to.

Prying eyes and prurient curiosity are the price that Madge and Michael must now pay in mid-life for devoting decades to tirelessly making sure we were all paying attention to them.

Long before the current tabloid boom, Madonna and Jackson were living their videogenic lives as pop art, expertly promoting their music – remember their music? – by finding titillating new ways to stir up water-cooler chitchat.

Strange pursuits such as purchasing the Elephant Man's bones, sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and palling around with a chimpanzee on a ranch called Neverland, for instance, earned Jackson constant media attention and the weirdo mystique that would eventually consume him.

Likewise, Madonna has made a healthy second career out of courting controversy, whether she's tweaking society's sexual hang-ups or plucking an adopted child from Malawi. Daniel Paquette, a publicist and music columnist for Fab magazine, calls her "the queen of manipulating media."

"With the release of each new album she begins with a controversial act – Like A Prayer's religious exploitation, the Sex book, Bush-bashing with American Life – then she debuts an entirely new look with expensive videos and exclusive magazine covers," he says. "By the time she's done her tour she goes into hiding (at the gym) for two years. It's this high level of strategic PR planning – creating a new, reinvented Madge followed by a two-year media blackout – that has sustained her career."

To a point.

The wheels came off spectacularly for Michael Jackson years ago, as child-abuse allegations and general ghoulishness rendered the failure of his last new album, 2001's ridiculously expensive Invincible, almost a foregone conclusion. Once vital to sustaining his musical career, Jackson's bizarre (and possibly criminal) extra-musical exploits have now overshadowed and eroded his original raison d'être.

Madonna is suffering now, too, as her attempts to balance two contradictory images, ageless sexpot and responsible British mommy, are beginning to look a little ridiculous. Trying to run with youngsters like Timbaland, the Neptunes and Justin Timberlake on this year's poorly received Hard Candy album also, for the first time, made Madonna look a little desperate.

As industry watcher Bob Lefsetz, author of The Lefsetz Letter newsletter, puts it: "There's nothing wrong with being a musician at 50. But you've got to act 50. Madonna's plastic surgery and working with the youngsters of the moment is just creepy. And not so successful. Age gracefully."

How, though, can pop age gracefully when it's not supposed to age at all?

At 65, a rocker like Mick Jagger has it easy. Rock audiences tend to be a loyal lot, content to let their favourite acts live out their days catering to nostalgia. Rock lets an artist carry on indefinitely in the mould that first made his or her name.

Pop, however, is by nature fleeting. The pop audience is fickle, youthful, constantly in flux. A Madonna or a Michael Jackson is therefore duty bound to constantly come up with new ways to refresh and rejuvenate that audience, and they've both done a masterful job of just that in the past – so masterful that the music long ago became secondary to their celebrity auras.

Still, pop life is finite. They had to start looking ridiculous someday. But at least they can celebrate their 50th birthdays content in the knowledge that people will probably still be talking about them in another 50 years.

Radiohead And Free-Falling Ecstasy

www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic

(August 16, 2008)  Radiohead is such a fantastic live band – it's no exaggeration to call it (again) one of the finest rock acts ever to grace a concert stage – that, after having your mind blown out the back of your head at a few shows, you can become almost desensitized to the singular standard of musicianship it displays on each successive tour.

Every group eventually hits its past-due date, that moment when things just don't transmit the electricity they used to anymore, but 17 years and seven albums into its feverishly celebrated existence the Oxford quintet betrayed no diminishment in its power to mesmerize last night at the Molson Amphitheatre.

Entirely on its own terms, too, of course. If we're to believe the unofficial statistics in circulation, a sizeable number of the 16,000 disciples cramming the lakeshore venue last night likely helped themselves to last year's "pay what you want" experiment in downloading, In Rainbows, for nothing or next to nothing. So Radiohead, in fair turnabout, offered its paying audience the new record from the stage with only passing acknowledgement of its back catalogue.

No problems there, and we got an actual rainbow over the soggy venue, to boot. With nary a stitch of banter from frontman Thom Yorke, the band – once the toast of anthemic U.K. guitar bands, now far more elusive in its unerring ability to connect – had the crowd in a state of perpetual, free-falling ecstasy with newer material like "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place," glissando melancholy that washes over you rather than rouses, and even quieter, more cloistered numbers like the burbling "Nude" and "Faust Arp," the latter performed acoustically by Yorke and guitar hero Johnny Greenwood.

In Rainbows' snarling "Bodysnatchers" provided a taste of the old fire, as did a choice encore run at OK Computer's ageless "Airbag." Still, most of the "vintage" Radiohead offered last night was of the vaguer variety: "Morning Bell," "Climbing Up the Walls," "Street Spirit" and a shattering piano-led take on Amnesiac's "Like Spinning Plates."

Radiohead doesn't need big riffs and obvious "hits" to connect at this point because, well, Radiohead is Radiohead.

Dedication Drives Pianist Ricker Choi

www.thestar.com - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic

(August 16, 2008)  There is nothing unusual about a summer music festival highlighting its students.

But there is something unusual about one of the students who will be on stage at Walter Hall this afternoon.

The tall, thin 33-year-old, who is about to play Franz Liszt's daunting Mephisto Waltz on the concert Steinway at the Toronto Summer Music festival is not a full-time student or a full-time musician.

He is a project manager for a software company who decided, only three years ago, that he needed more music in his life.

There are thousands of amateur pianists in Toronto but few would have the pluck to place themselves in front of the master-class instructors and university-level piano-performance students from Canada, the United States and farther afield.

Ricker Choi straddles experienced amateur and emerging artist," wrote festival administrative director Cecelia Paolucci in an email.

"It is his second year at Toronto Summer Music and, when his application was evaluated, he was accepted in the general pool of Academy applicants."

Choi's visit with the three-year-old Toronto Summer Music Academy & Festival winds up with this afternoon's "Emerging Artists in Concert."

(The festival itself closes with tomorrow's final performance of the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne auf Naxos.)

Earlier this week, after his first two sessions with instructor Marietta Orlov, he felt like he was making major progress.

"Every time I come for a master class, it pushes me to a new level," says Choi, buzzing with post-session energy on the steps of the Edward Johnson Building at University of Toronto.

He says that last year, André LaPlante taught him the art of making "a big sound."

This year, Orlov is "all about pianissimo," or the art of speaking softly at the keyboard.

During each master class, Choi plays while Orlov follows along with a score.

She then makes suggestions, measure by measure and page by page, on how to make the piece sound better, more polished.

As Orlov coaxes her attentive, responsive pupil, the improvements in sound and effect become immediately clear.

The player says that one of the more significant things he has learned concerns the amount of thought and imagination that needs to underpin every note a pianist plays.

"I've also learned to appreciate what's between the notes," he says, elaborating on the need to maintain an inner pulse when a finger is holding down just one note.

He adds that this is something that his regular teacher, Boris Zarankin, has been trying to instill.

Both Zarankin and Orlov, in separate conversations, shake their heads in appreciation at Choi's determination and application.

"If only professional artists had that kind of dedication," says Orlov with a wry smile.

Before he could reach this advanced stage of finessing individual concert pieces, Choi had to get his fingers to move properly.

This meant hours of straight-up practice time at the keyboard.

The neighbours of his downtown condo objected to the sound of his upright piano, so he bought an electronic keyboard, which he plays with headphones.

"Unfortunately that is no way to practise," says Zarankin.

The electronic instrument can't reproduce the fine touch and response of a real piano. So Choi also takes lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music, which gives him access to the facility's piano practice rooms.

Unlike most pianists, who start to play at kindergarten age, Choi didn't have his first piano lesson until he was 13.

The next five years were arduous: "I practised for hours every day after school and, in the summers, I would go to the Conservatory for music theory and history and spend the rest of the day practising."

He quit piano after graduating from high school. He wanted to focus on university studies (business at York University) and getting his career established, and there was no room for distractions.

But once he had dealt with the practicalities of his adult life, "I felt there was something missing," he recalls.

Re-enter the piano.

Choi's all-or-nothing approach is paying off now. He felt brave enough earlier this summer to enter the 2008 Washington International Piano Artists Competition.

Conquering stage fright, he walked away with a third-place finish out of a pool of about 30 competitors.

Interestingly, Choi says that his musical obsession has spilled into the rest of his life in unexpected ways.

"I was thinking too rationally," he says after Orlov's lessons in finding and expressing emotion on the keyboard.

"Now I can use the other side of my brain and be more intuitive. It also helps me relate better to other people in my professional life."

Two years ago, Choi and a group of like-minded part-time musicians joined together to form Music Heals!, which organizes concerts to benefit good causes.

Their next event is Oct. 18 at Eastminster United Church on the Danforth. That program will raise funds for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in China.

In the meantime, the young amateur is ready to learn some new pieces.

"I have accumulated this library of imagery and emotions," he says of the last three years.

And he can't wait to apply them.

You can find out more about Ricker Choi on his blog, at

He Was Meant For One Big Hit

Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill,
Entertainment Columnist

(August 14, 2008) You'd think the guy who co-wrote Jewel's mega-hit "You Were Meant For Me" – the longest-running single in Billboard's Top 100 of 1997 – and appeared with her in the much-loved video would be enjoying a life of relative luxury in the protected enclaves of the American music establishment, churning out songs for mass consumption and massaging his career.

You'd be wrong.

When we spoke by phone a few days ago,
Steve Poltz was sitting in a roadside diner waiting for a mechanic to change a wheel on his vintage Volkswagen Eurovan, probably the peripatetic surfing songwriter's most valued possession, and frequently his home on wheels.

"I just like VW engineering," he said. "It's got everything I need – a couple of beds, a mini-fridge, room for my guitar, my clothes, my computer."

Poltz – who was born in Halifax and moved to California with his family when he was very young, but retains his Canadian passport – believes he's genetically ill-equipped for a settled life.

"No family, no wife or kids," he explained.

"Besides, I'm insane – I wouldn't go out with me. I don't own much. I used to collect old Martin and Gibson guitars, but I ended up giving them away. When I have a lot of things, it's too much to worry about. The less I have, the better I feel. It feels really good to give things away – my CDs, even my clothes if I have too many."

That was pretty well how he was living a decade ago, when he met Alaska-born Jewel Kilcher in a San Diego coffee house. He was slinging his songs and she was slinging comestibles to the locals.

"She told me she wrote songs and I came back to watch her perform at an open mike night. She had an untamed, crazy energy, and these poems she used to sing – no structure to them at all. She was into pottery and stained glass – didn't know the Beatles from the Stones."

Soon they were lovers and found themselves, more by accident than design, on a beach in Mexico where they started composing together. Their first effort, "You Were Meant For Me," was a fluke, said Poltz, whose songs have also been recorded by Mojo Nixon and Squeeze's Glen Tillbrook.

He is performing material from his just-released solo CD, Traveling, at Hugh's Room Tuesday night in a round-robin with fellow songwriters Bob Wiseman, Melissa Bel, Carly Jo Fielding and Valdy.

"I don't know much about what makes a hit song. Timing has a lot to do with it, I think.

"I wasn't tempted to do it again. I'm not organized enough, I don't care enough. She was my girlfriend, and that song was special. You can't force magic to happen."

Having earned his chops in the frenetic California punk-folk band the Rugburns in the early 1980s and early 1990s – "we were together so long that I actually remember having a cassette release party, pre-CD, and opening for the Ramones in Cleveland in front of 10,000 people who were throwing stuff at us," he said – Poltz embarked on a solo recording career in 1998.

Poltz's composition "You Remind Me (Who I Am)" was the soundtrack to a popular Jeep commercial on TV, and others have been picked up for TV and movie soundtracks, including the smash Notting Hill. He's a regular on the Canadian roots music circuit, and performed this summer at the NXNE new music conference in Toronto and at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso, N.S.

Traveling and its companion, Unraveling, were recorded in Austin, Tex., with producer Billy Harvey, whom Poltz credits with the application of "weird psychology" to keep his charge mentally alert.

"Working in a studio is so boring for me ... I need an audience," said Poltz, who counts among his primary influences the Webber-Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, Randy Newman's Sail Away, Tom Waits's Rain Dogs and the Small Faces song "Itchycoo Park."

"Especially the part about skipping out school and getting high ... back in the 1960s that gave me goose bumps."

Just the facts
WHO: Steve Poltz, Valdy, Bob Wiseman, Melissa Bel, Carly Jo Fielding
WHEN: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 8.30 p.m.
WHERE: Hugh's Room,
2261 Dundas St. W.
TICKETS: $12 at 416 531-6604,
$15 at the door

Media Gets Taste Of CBC 2's New Sound

: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill

(August 20, 2008) Note: This article has been edited to correct a previously published version.

A reconstituted
CBC Radio 2 got a head start on its scheduled Sept. 2 launch yesterday with a lavish media preview at CBC's Toronto headquarters.

The new schedule, boasting 80 per cent Canadian music content, was formally unveiled by the network's recently appointed key program hosts, Toronto jazz and blues singer Molly Johnson, Juno-winning songwriter and hip-hop artist Rich Terfry, a.k.a. Buck 65, and Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah. All three plan to continue their professional recording and performing careers on modified schedules. 

The presentation was punctuated with performances by artists whose music, said CBC Radio program director Chris Boyce, is representative of the network's new direction: Toronto soul/R&B star Divine Brown, London, Ont., songwriter Basia Bulat, Vancouver-based Alex Cuba and Toronto's The Gryphon Trio.

CBC Radio 2's reinvention, after decades as the beloved home of classical music in the Canadian broadcasting system, is the result of "three or four years of development and a lot of research into what it means to be a music service for Canadians today, and what it means to be a responsible public broadcaster," Boyce said.

"Between 30,000 and 40,000 pieces of Canadian music are released every year, and only 300 or 400 get airplay on commercial radio. Till now, there has been nowhere on radio for the rest of it."

Of the furore that erupted from classical music fans earlier this year when the network announced its intention to reduce classical music content to five hours on weekdays, Boyce said: "We expected it. This audience cares passionately about music, and we can't write them off.

"We hope to build the same kind of audience commitment to other forms of Canadian music (in the new schedule)."


Full Force Still Gettin' Busy


(August 14, 2008) *A collection of greatest hits from Brooklyn-based producers and performers Full Force is included on the CD "Legendary," currently available via Sony.   Among such classics as "Ain’t My Type of Hype" and "All Cried Out" are several brand new tracks, including "Water from Stone and You" (featuring the debut of  Bowlegged Lou’s rap artist son LOU$TAR), "Everyday is Mother’s Day" and "We’re Feelin U Oprah" feat. Big Shawn, a track dedicated to Oprah Winfrey and inspired by the group's mother, to whom Oprah is a hero. The video can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvJhWPL-8kE  In addition to "Legendary," a new online album titled "Full Force of Course" will be available on iTunes in the upcoming weeks.  This online version will feature the tracks listed above, as well as other new songs: "Makin Love on the Dance Floor" (with Najee), "We Love the Girls" and a "Full Force Greatest Hits Medley" performed live at the Apollo Theater. 

Kronik Earns American Black Music Awards Nom

www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(August 14, 2008) *Las Vegas based reggae artiste Kronik has picked up his second consecutive nomination for an American Black Music Award. He is nominated in the category for Best Reggae Performer. The awards will be handed out on August 16 at the Cashman theatre in Las Vegas.   Kronik’s nomination comes on the heels of the release of his most recent album Breaking Loose. Kronik says he is humbled by the nomination and he thanks all the persons who have contributed to making the nomination possible. ‘I feel great about the nomination. This is the second year that I have been nominated and I feel really good about it’, Kronik said in a telephone interview earlier this week.  Kronik whose songwriting reflects upon the struggles and the rewards that can be gained spiritually, says his aim is to bring the message across in his music, in a meaningful way. This cultural artiste who is originally from Clarendon, released his debut single Gold is my Treasure in 1998. The song which reached the top 20 on the RJR Top 40 chart led to the recording of several other songs by various producers.  He lists Buju Banton, the late Garnet Silk and Lucky Dube and Maxi Priest among his musical influences. To date he has performed in countries including the British Virgin Islands, and several states in the US. He has also performed in Jamaica.   Equipped with a professional management team, Kronik who is the president of Love Bird Productions Inc (a publishing and recording company), is hoping to make a big impact on the international scene. 

Hip-Hop `Bible' Stages A Comeback


(August 15, 2008) NEW YORK–The Source, which was in bankruptcy last year, is relaunching with a 20th-anniversary issue and a new focus – a direction that its co-publisher says will restore the magazine, once known as hip-hop's bible, to prominence. "It's a very seminal period, an opportunity to both celebrate 20 years of content and the fact that The Source was a leader in chronicling the culture of hip-hop," said L. Londell McMillan, a media and entertainment lawyer who, along with investment banker Jeffery Scott, purchased The Source earlier this year. The new issue, which hits newsstands next week, features four separate covers of hip-hop pioneers LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah and Nas, photographed by movie director Spike Lee. At its prime, The Source was the pre-eminent magazine for rap, and helped fuel the rise of urban magazines such as XXL and Vibe, which had its 15th anniversary this week. But in the last few years, The Source ran through a series of editors, had financial problems and suffered a decline under its previous owners. Associated Press

Irma Thomas: Simply Grand

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic


(August 19, 2008)  In the vein of Mavis Staples's brilliant last disc, this Crescent City stalwart with a five-decade career under her belt serves up an album of reflection and triumph. Known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans,
Thomas, 67, a mother of four who received a college degree at 61, lost her home and nightclub to Hurricane Katrina. But the post-tragedy attention is credited with her Grammy-winning resurgence. Simply Grand finds her in small combos or duet with a different pianist on each of 14 tracks. The accompanists include Randy Newman ("I Think It's Going to Rain Today"), Norah Jones ("Thinking About You"), Dr. John ("Be You") and Ellis Marsalis ("This Bitter Earth"). Truth be told, her rich, evocative pipes could stand alone.

Kreesha Turner: Passion

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic


(August 19, 2008)  You may already be familiar with Kreesha Turner's sound as the Edmonton native scored catchy lead singles "Don't Call Me Baby" and "Bounce With Me" on hit shows such as Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl and Entourage in advance of her debut disc. Hers is a pleasant though not particularly distinctive voice, delivering strident R&B/pop reminiscent of Amerie and Keshia Chanté. But the 23-year-old singer, who co-wrote several tracks along with Jon Levine and Estelle, shows promise of depth (and reflects her gospel roots) on closing acoustic ballad "If You See Him."

Mariah, Beyonce, Blige Record Charity Song

Source: www.eurweb.com

(August 20, 2008) *A who's who of female singers from every music genre are included in the upcoming single "Just Stand Up," a charity song done in tandem with the forthcoming multi-network television special "Stand Up to Cancer."  The tune features Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus, Melissa Etheridge, Ashanti, Natasha Bedingfield, Keyshia Cole, Ciara, Leona Lewis, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood. Record exec Antonio "L.A." Reid joined former creative partner Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds to produce the track, which hits radio and iTunes on Sept. 2.  All 15 singers will share the stage to perform the song live on Sept. 5 during the "Stand Up to Cancer" television special, set to air simultaneously on ABC, NBC and CBS. Other stars expected to turn out for the hourlong fund- and awareness-raising program include Jennifer Aniston, Lance Armstrong, Katie Couric, Sally Field, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Forest Whitaker and Reese Witherspoon.

LL Cool J Gear Ready For Sears Debut

Source: www.eurweb.com

(August 20, 2008) *A date has been set for the official launch of LL Cool J's new line of children's apparel for fall.  According to VMSD.com, the collection – called LL Cool J for Sears – will debut in 450 Sears stores nationwide on Sunday, Sept. 7. That coincides with the Sept. 9 release of his latest album, "Exit 13," also available at select Sears stores.  The ad campaign will feature black-and-white images of the rapper and his family by photographer Mark Seliger. The photos will appear in the October 2008 issues of Cosmopolitan, CosmoGIRL!, Seventeen, Spin and Vibe. The photography will also feature prominently in Sears' in-store signage.    "Mark Seliger and I have been collaborating on various projects for years,” said LL Cool J. “He photographed me for his first Rolling Stone cover. . . . Mark's photography is able to convey the heritage of the LL Cool J brand and expertly captures the collection."  The images feature LL Cool J (born as James Todd Smith), his wife Simone Smith, and their four children photographed with a group of models gathered around a DJ turntable. The models and Smith family wear embroidered denim, cotton hooded sweatshirts and fleur-de-lis bejewelled t-shirts from the collection. A full body portrait of the singer will also appear in the LL Cool J section of Sears stores.


'Soul Men' Director Devastated Over Mac, Hayes


(August 14, 2008) *Malcolm D. Lee, director of the upcoming film "Soul Men," had an unspeakably horrible weekend dealing with the deaths of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, both of whom starred in his upcoming film, "Soul Men."

"It was surreal," Lee told ABC News. "It had to be some sort of bad dream that these two giants would die on the same weekend, and both would be in my movie."

"Soul Men", also starring Samuel L. Jackson, tells the story of two estranged soul singers (Mac and Jackson) who reunite to honour their deceased band leader.

Mac, 50, died Saturday from complications relating to pneumonia; Hayes, 65, died Sunday after collapsing at his home near Memphis. Citing paperwork from the singer's family doctor, the local sheriff's department said Hayes may have died from a stroke.

Though Lee and distributor The Weinstein Co. have announced no changes to the movie or its Nov. 14 release date, the director says he feels the pressure of creating a fitting farewell to both actors.

"This isn't like "Dark Knight," where Heath Ledger died while editing was in its infancy," Lee says. "Most of our editing is done. We'll go back and see if there is anything we can do better. But (Mac) left us with an indelible performance. I think I got him at the top of his game."

Mac plays a wisecracking counterpart to Jackson's dour character, while Hayes plays himself in "Soul Men." Lee says both roles "are emblematic, I think, of the men they were."

Lee, who first met Mac on the set of "The Original Kings of Comedy" (directed by Lee's cousin Spike), says Mac's character in "Soul Men" "is eternally positive, and that's the way he was in real life. (The movie) gave him an opportunity to be extremely raw and showcase his singing and dancing talent."

Hayes, meanwhile, "had to be in the movie," Lee says. "His impact on music is immeasurable. I've listened to his music my whole life; he changed what soul music could be. He's the man. They both were. I want my movie to be a tribute to both of them." 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: A Good Comedy

www.thestar.com - Peter Howell, Movie Critic

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Starring Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall. Written and directed by Woody Allen. 96 minutes. At major theatres. 14A

(August 15, 2008)   How ironic that one of most brazenly sexual movie scenes this year should come from Woody Allen, who is as squeamish about carnal pleasure as he is aroused by it.

The moment arrives early in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen's first Spanish stop in his ongoing cinematic tour of Europe, when Javier Bardem hustles the Vicky and Cristina of the title, played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson.

Bardem's Juan Antonio, an artist by profession and a satyr by instinct, approaches the restaurant table of vacationing Vicky and Cristina and offers them a weekend of great food and wild sex in a postcard-ready town called Oviedo that he will fly them to.

"Life is short, dull and full of pain," he reasons, promising temporary appeasement of the dullness and pain.

Sensible scholar Vicky is shocked and ready to reject Juan Antonio outright; besides, her equally sensible fiancé Doug is at home in New York, not so patiently waiting for her return from her summer sojourn.

Reckless hedonist Cristina, unfettered by man or morality, is intrigued by Juan Antonio ("You've got to admire his no-BS approach") and willing to put the smooth Spaniard to the test. She persuades Vicky to accompany her, knowing full well what Juan Antonio wants and what Vicky is not prepared to give.

Allen has always viewed sex as vaguely embarrassing sport – recall his undercover escapade with Louise Lasser in Bananas, with Howard Cosell calling the play-by-play – but his visit to sensual Barcelona has emboldened him.

There's a sense of real danger in the casting of Bardem, since his sexual proposition is delivered with the same nonchalance as the deadly coin tosses of Anton Chigurh, his serial killer character in No Country for Old Men.

Fear not about any foreboding. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a comedy, a good one, and also one of Allen's best-ever meditations on the many entanglements of love.

What Juan Antonio and his erstwhile conquests are about to discover is that el amor hits you harder than a slam to the head with a cattle gun.

None of them bargains that ardour can cool, that righteous resolve can turn to swooning or that other players can change the sexual geometry.

There's the matter of Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), a firecracker of a fellow artist whom Juan Antonio casually introduces as his former wife. That seems to be news to her, since she acts very much like his current wife, judging by the suspicious eye she turns toward Vicky and Cristina. Maria Elena once stabbed Juan Antonio in a fit of rage, so her jealousies need to be taken seriously.

Allen so often chooses cerebral and cold-blooded women for his movies, it's a welcome jolt to feel the heat of una mujer caliente who isn't afraid to give free reign to her emotions. Cruz's arguments with Bardem – with him amusingly demanding she yell in English so American ears will understand her – almost melts the emulsion off the celluloid.

We already know from her work with Pedro Almodóvar that Cruz can be sexy and passionate, as occasion requires, but who'd have figured the timid Woodman as the catalyst to really let her freak flag fly?

The movie also proves a tonic for Johansson, who at the tender age of 23 has gone from fresh face to the most over-exposed of actors. This is her third film with Allen – she was in two of his three recent British productions – and for once she's not just posing behind those pouty lips.

But the movie's greatest find is Hall, 26, a British actor last seen in The Prestige and soon to be viewed in Frost/Nixon. She has the most difficult character arc in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, especially when fiancé Doug gets tired of waiting, but she manages it as nimbly as she does an American accent.

Everyone, the Spaniards included, is caught up in the romance of Barcelona, which cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe lenses with a lover's eye and a poet's soul.

The only thing seriously wrong about the movie, and here's where Allen lost his nerve, is the overuse of the narrator, annoyingly voiced by American actor Christopher Evan Welch. It is possible that Woody still feels he needs someone to call the bedroom play-by-play?

He needs to trust that in all grand matters of the heart, the head can never hope to provide adequate guidance or restraint.

How We Forgot Here Production Chronicles Tales Of Migration And Settlement In Toronto

Source: www.thestar.com - Nicholas Keung,
Immigration/Diversity Reporter

(August 14, 2008) The word "movement" can mean so many things: travel, migration, social mobility, physical motion or people coming together to make changes.

These different meanings fill the inaugural multimedia production,
How We Forgot Here, by The Movement Project, premiering today at Toronto's Walnut Studio Loft.

Using visual projections, film, theatre, live electronic music, spoken word poetry, audience participation and taiko drumming, the show is a collage of Toronto's "forgotten and lost" stories of people's migration to and settlement in the city.

The bits and pieces of it came from interviews the year-old collective's artists did with more than 100 immigrants and/or their descendants who discussed their journeys and conceptions of "home."

The collection of the stories preceded the formation of the art group, when writer and music composer Gein Wong, one of its founders, left a dinner party in 2002 with a striking tale ringing in her head.

"My friend's mother just jumped to the ocean (in China) and swam to another country. She just told us the story casually, without realizing how brave she was to have done it," recalled Wong, who later went back to the friend's house with a tape recorder to document this story.

"I started collecting others' stories and I realized how (many) have been forgotten because we don't make an effort to document them," said Wong, whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong. "These stories are important and have value. Yet, they don't get a chance to be heard in the mainstream."

It wasn't until a year ago that actor and dancer Marika Schwandt, also a collective member, uncovered stories of her maternal family's "three generations of migration."

Born to a Trinidadian mother and Polish/German father, Schwandt, 26, learned her great-grandfather made a failed attempt to settle in Canada at the turn of the century. He was cheated out of money hard-earned with indentured labour on plantations on the islands.

"He got here but was scammed with this phony business deal ... and had to go back," she said. "Then my grandfather came and worked on the railroads. He was active in union organizing and was forced to go back. And my mom came after meeting my father, when both were teaching in Papua (New) Guinea."

Schwandt said she can relate to the migration experience on a smaller scale – the Calgary native has moved no less than 26 times.

The show is set on the prop of an aboriginal airline, to highlight the sometimes overlooked movement of our Indian people.

It is where Anishinabe actor Eva Rose Tabobondung shares her experience of leaving the Wasauksing First Nation reserve to study at Niagara College and later at Toronto's Centre for Indigenous Theatre.

"It is challenging to try to keep up with your culture and traditions in an urban setting, not being recognized and accepted," she said. "But this has been a great learning experience. ... And by hearing others' stories, I understand where others are coming from."

Just the facts
WHAT: How We Forgot Here

WHERE: Walnut Studio Loft, 83 Walnut St.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today to Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $10-$20@416-922-8744

Filmmakers Pushing Boundaries

www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard, Movies Editor

(August 15, 2008) A film about universal stories of love set to a soundtrack by Austrian indie band Naked Lunch, a coming-of-age story set in '70s Long Island starring Rory Culkin and Alec Baldwin, and a movie about two down-and-outs in South Boston with Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo have been added to this year's TIFF.

The film fest, which runs Sept. 4-13, yesterday announced its Discovery, Visions and Vanguard line-ups, programs known for films that challenge and entertain.

The films range from stop-motion animation to features with star-studded casts.

"Discovery is the place at TIFF to find this year's most exciting debuts in cinema," TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey said in a statement announcing the 19 films from 18 countries on this year's Discovery slate. "This is your one-stop shop for new filmmaking talent."

They join seven previously announced movies. All are eligible for the Diesel Discovery Award, chosen by the more than 1,000 members of the festival press corps made up of media from around the world.

"Visions and Vanguard films both push boundaries – Visions for form, Vanguard for content," added Bailey of the dozen new titles announced for these two programs. "We find TIFF audiences love a new challenge; this is where to find it."

The fest also announced a new free program, Future Projections, seven installation-based works that use the history and culture of cinema as jumping-off points. The programs will be presented at a variety of venues, from the ROM to the Drake Hotel.

Among the titles announced:

$9.99 World Premiere

Unemployed and still living at home, 28-year-old Dave discovers a booklet claiming to answer the meaning of life for the low price of only $9.99 in this stop-motion animated film, which features the voices of Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia.

Gigantic World Premiere

Mattress salesman Brian (Paul Dano) is on the waiting list to adopt a Chinese baby. But when he meets Happy (Zooey Deschanel), questions about dating a guy about to be a dad start to cloud their fledgling romance.

Lovely World Premiere

Stars Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn who find an odd encounter leads to a puzzling late-in-life love.

Lymelife World Premiere

First love, family dynamics and the American Dream in late 1970s Long Island are tested as Lyme disease hits a comfy suburban enclave. Stars Rory Culkin, Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Kieran Culkin, Emma Roberts and Cynthia Nixon. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese.

Daytime Drinking North American Premiere

In a drunken attempt to mend his broken heart, Hyuk-jin and his friends decide to take a trip to a small town that finds him in the middle of a snowy highway without his mobile phone, wallet or pants in this South Korean film.

Tears for Sale World Premiere

With all the men in a Serbian village wiped out by war, two sisters inadvertently kill the sole surviving male in a futile attempt to lose their virginity. Seems the only thing that can save the village is their finding a willing and virile man.

Tickets are onsale now. Go to tiff08.ca, or call 416-968-FILM. For a complete list of films and programs announced yesterday, go to thestar.com/tiff.

Stars Will Shine At Toronto Film Festival

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell, Movie Critic

(August 20, 2008) More laughs, more countries, more screens – and enough stars to fill every stretch limo within driving distance of Toronto.

That's the size of the 33rd edition of the
Toronto International Film Festival, which announced yesterday its final programming details for the Sept. 4-13 event.

More than 500 movie celebrities from A to Z – everyone from Alan Alda to Steve Zahn – are expected at TIFF '08, lending their glitter to 312 films, many of them comedies, that will screen over 10 days from 64 countries.

The assembled talent and movie lovers will find a festival that is bigger in its global reach and also more "fun," but smaller in the number of films screened.

The 64 countries to be represented at TIFF '08, including first-time participant the Bahamas, are up from 55 nations at last year's fest. That's despite the fact the festival has shrunk by 40 films (12 of them features) from TIFF '07.

The number of countries is more accident than design, said TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey, since quality takes precedence over location. But the fest does strive to cover the world.

"Whenever anyone asks us what kind of festival we are, we say, `We're a global film festival,'" Bailey said in an interview. 

"It's a good and healthy sign that shows our depth of reach and diversity."

Bailey and Piers Handling, the other TIFF co-director, agreed the reduction of the festival's size is a deliberate move. 

"It was maybe getting to the point where some of the smaller films were getting ignored," Handling said. "We were beginning to hear that from the filmmakers."

Paradoxically, those fewer films will be flickering on more screens, up to 36 from last year's 29. That's because TIFF is taking over an entire floor of the new AMC multiplex at Yonge and Dundas, as the fest begins its drift south from Yorkville toward its Bell Lightbox facility, now under construction at King St. W. and John St. and expected to open within two years.

And what people will see this year may change the conventional wisdom that film festivals are all about gloomy dramas. More comedies than usual are expected for TIFF '08, including five of the 11 gala selections announced yesterday: Burn After Reading (the new Coen Bros. film), The Lucky Ones, Dean Spanley, La Fille de Monaco and Singh is Kinng. 

The laughers are coming mainly from the U.S., Handling said, a marked change from the Iraq war dramas that dominated last year. 

He sees it as a response to Juno, the teen pregnancy comedy that came out of nowhere at TIFF '07 to become a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars. "It's always good to have balance. People tend to think that festivals are very heavy and serious. I know people are going to have a lot of fun at these films."

Bailey said Torontonians will be encouraged to party more than ever by making Yonge-Dundas Square the festival's new hub. TIFF has programmed free movies and concerts in the square themed to its selections; the latter includes a show by Youssou N'Dour, the superstar Senegalese singer and percussionist who is the subject of the documentary Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love.

"What I hope for is that this whole city will plug into the festival in a much stronger way this year," Bailey said. 

"Whether or not you have time to take 10 days or two weeks off to attend the festival, you should feel there's a party you can taste."

The only group that may feel a little unloved this year is Canadian filmmakers, who have just 29 features and co-productions in the fest, compared with 41 last year.

That's not deliberate and it's more of a statistical anomaly, Handling said, since there were so many co-productions last year. The festival typically runs "25 to 30 Canadian features per year." 

A Canuck feature announced yesterday, Lyne Charlebois's explicit life drama Borderline, is billed as having its "international premiere" at TIFF, even though it has already opened commercially in its home province of Quebec.

Also announced yesterday were two additions to the special presentations lineup: Daniel Burman's Latin comedy Empty Nest and an omnibus work-in-progress called New York, I Love You, a series of 12 short valentines to Manhattan from such diverse filmmakers as Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur, Brett Ratner, Fatih Akin, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.

More information and box office details are available by clicking tiff08.ca or calling 416-968-FILM.


Ganis Re-Elected As Film Academy President

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(August 13, 2008) LOS ANGELES – Sid Ganis has been elected to a fourth consecutive one-year term as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The academy announced the re-election of the 68-year-old Ganis on Wednesday. Ganis has been a member of the film academy since 1968 and has served as its president since 2005, calling the job "a privilege." He has produced films such as Akeelah and the Bee, Big Daddy and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. He has also worked for Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm.

First 'Baby,' Then 'Love' For Tyrese, Singleton


(August 14, 2008) *Moviehole.com is reporting that director John Singleton is in pre-production on an unofficial sequel to "Baby Boy," the 2001 film starring Tyrese Gibson as a young man transitioning to adult hood amid the pulls of L.A. street life.  "Fight for Love," scheduled to shoot in the fall, will include original cast members Tyrese Gibson and Taraji P. Henson, but in different roles. In 2001, they played Jody and Yvette, a struggling couple with a baby. According to Moviehole, "Fight for Love" has Gibson and Henson playing Sir and Cookie, another struggling couple – this time dealing with two kids, disapproving parents and a number of external forces working against them. "Baby Boy" was once described by Singleton as part three of his "Hood Trilogy," following "Boyz N the Hood" and "Poetic Justice."


Actor Arlene Duncan Lights Up The Small Screen

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Kristine Maitland

(Summer 2008) Actor
Arlene Duncan is best known for her role as Fatima on the hit CBC series Little Mosque on the Prairie.  

The popular show debuted to both critical acclaim and controversy, but it's been the character of Fatima, the lively black immigrant mother, that has added an extra dimension into a Muslim demographic rarely seen onscreen.

Ask her about the critics who have described Fatima as "eccentric," and her answer is swift and insightful. "Fatima is an immigrant woman with a child and runs her own business out in the Prairies," she says.  

"She handles her business, while wearing her native garb, and she speaks English eloquently. She suffers no fools. How much more liberated can you get? How much more of a role model can you be?"  

Duncan's career first began in high school while in Oakville (playwright Djanet Sears was her schoolmate), where she made her mark playing the lead role of Sarah Brown in the musical Guys and Dolls. After her secondary school success, she attended Sheridan College, which she says gave her the tools to become a truly multi-faceted performer. "You find if you are a creative person, you are creative. That's just the way I was raised."

Her college experience opened the door to the world of theatre, including a role in the Dora Award-winning production of Ain't Misbehavin'. Duncan also won the Du Maurier Search for Stars contest and represented Canada at the Pacific Song Festival, held in New Zealand, winning the Artistic Merit Award.  

Duncan considers performing for Canadian troops in Bosnia as one of her professional highlights. While in the troubled region, Duncan witnessed first-hand the trials of war.  

"I could not get my head around it," she recalls, speaking of the open devastation and destruction.

Like many black-Canadian performers, Duncan could easily be annoyed that most Canadians are likely unaware of the little-known domestic performers who are garnering international acclaim. However, she takes this in stride.  

"If you haven't followed my career, you think that I popped out of nowhere, or as 'the girl who does commercials,' but we all have a history. There are no overnight successes."

A first in terms of comedic roles, Duncan is happy to have this unique opportunity.  

"People consider me 'silly' funny because of my history as a musical theatre performer. And I consider myself lucky to have had those roles."

Today, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Fatima are putting Duncan on the world stage in a new way. And she couldn't be more proud.

"I am so honoured to be representing the fact that there are black Muslims, not only members of the Nation of Islam, but also black Muslims from Africa," she says. "I think this needs to be seen. When I walk down the streets [of Toronto], that's what I see - women who look like Fatima."

Yes, Black People Do Live In Beverly Hills

www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, TV Columnist

(August 16, 2008)  Same area code, different era.

Put 'em both together, the nostalgia and the newness, and you have the closest thing to a guaranteed out-of-the-box TV hit – even closer, when you consider the after-the-fact success of almost every show devised from the same essential formula.

Still, the struggling CW is taking no chances, having already replaced original 90210 showrunner Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) with two of the wonder boys of the Judd Apatow era, Freaks & Geeks co-producers Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah.

"It is a complete original invention," ingenuously insists Judah of the sequel series. "There will be, though, somewhat of an homage to the original show."

His plot description would seem to lean toward the latter. "To set it up a little bit for everybody," he begins, "it's about a family moving from Kansas back to Beverly Hills.

"Rob Estes' character actually grew up in Beverly Hills – he was the next-door neighbour to one of our previous characters. They've moved back (now), and it's (about) how they handle this new world.

"We'll be using people from the previous show in the new one, and they will organically work with our characters."

One thing is definitely new – the long overdue acknowledgement that there are indeed black people in Beverly Hills. Imported from the wrong side of Rodeo Drive, perhaps, but still ...

It is certainly a long way from the mean streets of Baltimore, where the young actor Tristan Wilds so admirably and harrowingly acquitted himself in the recently wrapped cable crime drama, The Wire.

"I can say it's been a transition," acknowledges Wilds.

"But it's been an easier transition than what I thought it would be. The characters of Dixon (in 90210) and Michael (in The Wire) are actually somewhat alike. They both grew up in bad environments, and they both had to grow up by themselves very quickly – for Dixon, moving from group home to group home, and for Michael, living with a drug-addict mother and having to raise his little brother.

"It's similar to the extent that, you know, they both had to teach themselves how to grow, how to live by themselves. So it's been a transition, but it's been quite easy."

Another innovation promised by Sachs and Judah is, oddly enough, more focus on the 90210 parents.

"One of the differences from the original show is really having a strong adult storyline," Judah explains. "Gabe and I (share) a strong point of view on parenting. We're both fathers. We've seen this generation of baby-boom parents, who just think they're parenting by giving their kids money and excess and clothing and no rules.

"We have a strong point of view that kids need boundaries and rules, and that's one of the things that's going to influence the show.

"This generation of parenting is different than the one we grew up with. We, as parents, did almost everything that our kids are doing. Our parents didn't do that. It's a lot harder to lie to us. We know what they're doing, and they can't get away with stuff that they think they are because we did it 20 years ago.

"Nice try."

Office Nerd Transforms Into Rocker Superstar

www.thestar.com - Philip Marchand, Movie Critic

(August 16, 2008)  There's only one moment when Rainn Wilson, an otherwise amiable presence, betrays a hint of irritation during an interview in a Toronto hotel room.

It's when I ask him if there's a little bit of Dwight Schrute in him.

Schrute, as fans of the American version of the British sitcom
The Office well know, is a sycophantic, socially inept character. Wilson, in town to promote his new movie The Rocker, which opens Wednesday, replies to the question by referring to a technique known as acting, whereby the nicest person in the world can convincingly pretend to be Joseph Stalin.

"I may be a little dorky, but I'm not officious, I'm not an ass-kisser, I'm not hierarchical and I'm not as socially autistic as Dwight," he says.

"Everything has to do with specifics. If something's specific, then it becomes universal. We see a lot of nerds on television shows, and they're very generic. They all just have glasses and a pen protector and they talk in a nasal, high-pitched voice and people don't respond to it. But you take an Amish beet farmer who wears a calculator wristwatch, who keeps a pager even though the pager has been obsolete for years, and has specific ways of kissing (his superior's) ass – all these details make him human.

"People come up to me and say, `I know a Dwight.' Really? Do you? You know somebody with a bad haircut and a polyester suit, fresh off the beet farm? I don't think you do, exactly. But the character is so specific they say, `I know a Dwight,' when they really don't."

This mini-lecture on Characterization 101 over, the interview reverts to Wilson's life, beginning with his odd first name. It turns out that his mother wanted to name him after Thucydides – "the famous Greek historian," Wilson helpfully adds – while his father wanted to name him after Rainer Maria Rilke, "the German poet."

The presence of Mount Rainier, looming over the city of Seattle, where Wilson grew up, tipped the scales. "Rain" it would be, but with a unique spelling.

"My parents thought `Rain' was a bit too hippie-ish, like naming their son `Moonbeam,' so they added an extra `n,'" Wilson explains. "I always say the extra `n' stands for nookie."

As a child watching television, he loved the wacky second-banana comic characters in series like The Bob Newhart Show. This predilection put him in good stead when he studied in the graduate acting program of New York University.

"When I graduated, my teacher told me, `You know, Rainn, this is how it's going to work for you – you're going to play a lot of supporting comic roles and that's how you're going to be known,'" Wilson, 42, recalls. "It's been a long, long road toward that. I started acting in 1990, so it's been 18 years now. Hopefully in the future there will be opportunities to show another side of me as an actor than being an annoying, creepy nerd."

His new movie, The Rocker, in which he stars as rock 'n` roller Robert "Fish" Fishman who misses out on stardom when his band mates abandon him, could be his breakthrough, his passport out of the permanent supporting role in the creepy nerd category.

For one thing, his drumming chops are impressive. "We needed to make sure the drumming was convincing," Wilson says. "You can fake the guitar, but you can't fake drums. They set up a drumming coach for me and I spent a couple of weeks in my garage practising. During the filming, when I had some time away from shooting, I'd be playing the drums. We worked on the songs all through the movie."

Wilson, who lives with his wife and son in Los Angeles, is a member of the Bahá'í faith. "One thing that the Bahá'í faith gives you is a sense of higher purpose," Wilson says.

"I think that whatever profession we're in – and Bahá'ís are encouraged to have a profession and encouraged to explore the arts – Bahá'ís see that as an instance of worship. There's no difference between prayer and making art and everything should be done as a service to humanity. If I can make people laugh, that's a great thing."

Aaron Brown A Normal Guy In A Blow-Dried Medium

www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

(August 15, 2008) The broadcast news world receives a reality check with the return of Aaron Brown. The average man's newsman is back.

Missing in action since his unceremonious dismissal from CNN in 2005, Brown rejoined the TV wars as the anchor and lead reporter of Wide Angle (Tuesday, PBS at 10 p.m.), the revered PBS newsmagazine covering international affairs. The post already agrees with the news veteran, who doesn't appear to have aged a day during his three-year hiatus.

“It feels good to be a reporter again,” Brown, 59, said at last month's TV critics tour. “I never realized how much I missed getting out there and talking to people and covering a story. And let's face it, PBS is probably a better fit for someone like me anyway.”

Brown's easygoing way has always made him unique in the TV news game. After a decade of correspondent work for ABC News, he was the founding host of World News Now in 1992 and later anchored the network's post- Nightline news block, World News Tonight.

Never your typical anchorman, Brown was a normal guy in a blow-dried medium. His plain-talk patter and wry asides had people watching television at 3 a.m.: Ratings for World News Tonight increased significantly during his stint on the anchor desk.

He was scouted and signed by CNN to be their primary news anchor, and his first day at work was Sept. 11, 2001, this generation's day of infamy. For nearly 12 straight hours, Brown took viewers through the crisis, much of it broadcasting from a rooftop in lower Manhattan. “It was an enormous tragedy and a defining moment in modern history,” he says now. “I was trying to tell the stories that mattered.”

His reputation as a solid news fixture established, Brown spent the next 31/2 years helming NewsNight with Aaron Brown, CNN's nightly news package; on some nights, when the coverage dwelled overwhelmingly on such lurid topics as the sex lives of U.S. politicians and the murder trial of Robert Blake, Brown could barely conceal his distaste for the tacky tabloid fodder. “I didn't like doing it, and I don't think people bought it from me,” he said in an interview last year.

CNN obviously took note of Brown's waning interest and by November, 2005, his anchor chair was filled by fast-talking Anderson Cooper.

“The truth is, I liked anchoring shows, but I also got tired of anchoring shows,” he says pragmatically. “Perhaps they got tired of me anchoring before I did.”

The terms of Brown's abrupt CNN departure forbade him from working in TV news until late 2007, when his contract finally ran out. In the interim years, he hosted his own talk show on National Public Radio and taught broadcast journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He raised a golden retriever.

Now, he's back, and on the road. Instead of sitting in a stuffy studio, Brown has returned to his early days as a foreign correspondent: In the past few months, he has covered stories in Darfur, Japan, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. “Four of my last five meals have been on airplanes, so you can imagine the perfect joy that is my life,” he said.

This week's season-ending episode of Wide Angle, titled Iraqi Exodus, focuses on the alarming refugee crisis currently unfolding in the Middle East. The documentary reveals that 50,000 Iraqi citizens are fleeing the war-torn country every month. So far, more than four million have left, about half are in rough settlements within the Iraqi border; the other half are exiles in neighbouring countries. The sluggish U.S. response to the situation figures prominently in Brown's report.

“Without moralizing about this,” he said, “the United States took in fewer than 1,000 Iraqi refugees. Sweden took in 40,000 and, you know, they didn't start the war. So the question for an American viewing audience to consider is whether or not we have a special responsibility to deal with people who cannot and, believe me, are not going home.”

Brown and a Wide Angle crew travelled to Syria and Jordan, the two cities harbouring the greatest volume of uprooted Iraqis. He also visited the makeshift camps at the Al Tanf border crossing. “A lot of them are people who went to work for American contractors for the military; now, they can't go home because they're dead if they go home. It's pretty simple,” he said.

Previous subjects covered in Brown's rookie season of Wide Angle include detailed reports on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the rebirth of Japan's military and the socialist implications of Venezuela's ongoing oil boom – all stories that rarely surface on CNN or Fox News.

“When you do television, you have this kind of mythical belief that the people sitting at home are fully dressed, sober and paying attention and taking notes,” he said. “I finally found a place where they are, so that's pretty damn cool.”

Actors On The Acclaimed Television Series Mad Men Discuss Their Sordid, Entwined Roles

www.thestar.com - Frazier Moore, Associated Press

(August 15, 2008) NEW YORK–On the Mad Men premiere last summer, a boozy Pete Campbell hauled himself from his bachelor party to the door of Peggy Olson's modest Brooklyn apartment.

"I wanted to see you tonight," implored Pete, an overzealous ad account executive who, at that late hour, was gripped by panic over his looming marriage. Peggy, the winsome new hire in the Sterling Cooper secretarial pool, surprised herself by letting him in.

Airing on AMC Sundays at 10 p.m., the Peabody Award-winning Mad Men is now in its second season. And it has kept Pete and Peggy entangled in multiple ways, none of them romantic and most of them hush-hush (including the child that Pete still doesn't know about).

Fortunately, things are much lighter between Vincent Kartheiser and Elisabeth Moss, who play that pair on the splendid '60s-era drama. In a joint interview, they tease each other, laugh a lot and seem like pals.

Turns out Kartheiser (at 29, a former regular on Angel, the spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Moss (who is 26 and played presidential daughter Zoey on The West Wing) had met before they got Mad Men. A few years back, both took part in a filmmaking workshop.

"You had a prima donna actor," says Kartheiser in self-appraisal, then nods toward Moss magisterially, "and Miss Perfect.''

"Two sides of the coin," chuckles Moss.

Kartheiser recalls a scene: "I had a disease called congenital analgesia, which means I couldn't feel anything. My character was always burning himself with cigarettes and saying, `Whatever.'"

"And I was supposed to be in love with you," says Moss with a grin.

On Mad Men, they enjoy far more, um, dramatic leeway.

"At the beginning Peggy was definitely naive," muses Moss, appraising the distance she's come, "and I wouldn't say she's toughened up, but, instead, the problems hitting her now have become bigger. At first, it was learning to use a typewriter and now it's a baby – with the father of the baby someone she works with."

But she's moving up in the agency. A quick learner, she's now helping create ad campaigns. And she's gingerly overcoming anti-female bias in the workplace – even from Pete Campbell.

Meanwhile, Campbell continues trying to win approval from Don Draper, the magnetic though tormented agency exec at the show's core. But Draper (played by Jon Hamm) hates him. Campbell, for all his skill in the advertising game, lacks people skills. He's sort of a jerk – isn't he?

"Well, it's unfortunate that you see it that way," Kartheiser tells the interviewer with mock indignation. "Some people just aren't as likeable as others, no matter what they do. "

Of course, no sweeping term such as "likeability" does justice to the series' world of characters, who, even as they all share screen time, emerge as complex individuals.

"Jon is the lead, and he always has something going on," says Moss. "But I don't think the rest of us feel left out or that we don't get our moments."

"We trust Matt," says Kartheiser, meaning Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner. "I don't think anyone in our cast has any doubt that he always has the best storyline in mind, and that's what we're there to serve."

Moss even feels lucky to have "carried" Peggy's "child." It was a shrewdly gradual plumping-up process that went unrecognized as anything other than weight gain, even by the unwitting mother-to-be, until, much to Peggy's shock on the season finale, she went into labour.

"Over seven episodes, I had four stages of padding and three stages of makeup," says Moss. Friends she hadn't seen in years watched the show and – shades of Kirstie Alley! – worried that she had an eating disorder. "But they didn't want to ask."

But that was last season (and 1960). Now Mad Men has progressed to spring 1962.

For Moss, who (like Kartheiser and most of the cast) wasn't born yet, it's a history lesson she is moving through.

"But I've learned more about the similarities than the differences between then and now," she says. "Usually, you look back on another era in terms of the milestones. But at the same time, people were just living their lives."

She might have added: that's where the unexpected drama unfolds, where Mad Men lives its life.

Laurence Fishburne Joins CSI Cast

www.thestar.com - Lynn Elber, The Associated Press

(August 18, 2008) LOS ANGELES – CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has solved the mystery of who will replace departing CBS series star William Petersen: It's Laurence Fishburne.

Fishburne, an Emmy and Tony winner, will be introduced in the ninth episode of the upcoming tenth season, the network told The Associated Press on Monday. He'll play a forensics scientist with a secret.

"I am elated and delighted to be joining the cast of CSI,'' Fishburne said in a statement, adding that he looked forward to a "wonderful collaboration" with those involved in the series.

Fishburne plays a college lecturer and former pathologist who is focused on why people commit acts of violence.

The airdate for Petersen's final episode has yet to be determined but will be early next year. Petersen has been with the series since it debuted in fall 2000 and will remain a CSI executive producer, the network said.

Fishburne's character has a deep connection to his work: His genetic profile has been identified in serial killers, CBS programming chief Nina Tassler said before Fishburne's casting was announced but as rumours swirled.

"This gentleman knows this about himself and is ... in this journey to discover who his true character will ultimately become," Tassler said last month – but he's keeping the crucial information to himself.

The character meets members of the CSI team during a murder investigation and ends up joining them.

Fishburne, 47, received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ike Turner in 1993's What's Love Got to Do With It and a Tony in 1992 for Two Trains Running. He was a Tony nominee this year for the one-man show, Thurgood, about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

His film credits include the Matrix sci-fi films, in which he played Morpheus; Apocalypse Now; The Color Purple; Mystic River; 21; Akeelah and the Bee; and Biker Boyz. He also is a writer and director.

"CBS asked us, 'Who's at the top of your dream list?''' CSI executive producers Carol Mendelsohn and Naren Shankar said in a joint statement. "Without hesitation, we said Laurence Fishburne. He is a powerful and intense actor, with an incredible range.''

Fishburne earned an Emmy for the 1993 premiere episode of Fox's Tribeca and another for the movie Miss Evers' Boys, which marked rare TV projects for the actor. Early in his career, he appeared in shows including Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues.

The long-running CSI remains key for CBS: It finished last season as the network's top-rated series, ranking No. 9 among all shows with an average weekly audience of 17 million. Spinoffs CSI: Miami and CSI: New York ranked 16th and 28th, respectively.

Producers have been mum about upcoming plot points. But they said Petersen's character, Gil Grissom, will be reappraising his life after years of high-tech forensics investigations with the Las Vegas Police Department and after facing personal turmoil.

CSI, which begins its new season Oct. 9, is ready to deal with Petersen's loss, said Shankar.

"What makes shows go off the rails is they forget who they are. We're a crime-mystery-forensics drama" and that won't change, Shankar said in July.

Ellen And Portia Tie The Knot, And Hollywood Cheers

www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(August 18, 2008) There was much dancing: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi are married, according to reports.

In the biggest celebrity union since California legalized same-sex marriage, DeGeneres, 50, and de Rossi, 35, wed Saturday night in an intimate ceremony at their Beverly Hills home, People and Us Magazine reported.

A publicist for DeGeneres didn't respond to messages left by the Associated Press.

After the California Supreme Court's ruling in May, the talk-show host announced that she and de Rossi would wed after four years together.

The ceremony was attended by 19 guests, including DeGeneres's mom, Betty, and de Rossi's mother, Margaret Rogers, who had flown in from Australia, People.com reported Saturday night.

DeGeneres said after winning her fourth consecutive Daytime Emmy for talk show host in June that a date had not been set, and that she would show "a tiny bit" of the nuptials on her show.

While opponents in California have gathered signatures to put a measure on the November ballot for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Hollywood was throwing its support behind the newlyweds.

"One of my favourite people of all time is Ms. Ellen DeGeneres," Katherine Heigl, star of Grey's Anatomy, told Associated Press Television News at a Hollywood charity event on Saturday night. "So I wish all the best, all the happiness, all the joy that comes with that certificate ... just the joy of being able to stand up and say that."


Bernie Mac Remembered In Chicago

Source: www.thestar.com

(August 15, 2008) *As Cedric the Entertainer scanned the crowd of more than 6,000 gathered on Chicago's South Side to remember Bernie Mac on Saturday, he cracked that the comedy king was "still the hottest ticket in town."  Fans, friends and fellow celebrities descended on the House of Hope megachurch to bid their farewells to a man who never forgot his humble Chicago roots, reports the Associated Press.  Hundreds of mourners had never even met Mac — or had met him only long enough to shake his hand, get an autograph or thank him for representing his neighbourhood. Mayor Richard Daley recalled that Mac was in his office recently, asking how he could help fight violent crime in the city. "He wanted to help get children away from a life of crime and violence," Daley said during the service. "That's why he's the king of comedy. He never lost his soul in Chicago." Mac died Aug. 9 at age 50 of what his publicist said were complications from pneumonia. He had been at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital since the middle of July. Get more of this story from The AP, including photos, here.

America Ferrera, 'Ugly Betty' win ALMA Awards

www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(August 18, 2008) PASADENA, Calif. – "Ugly Betty" and its star, America Ferrera, took top honours Sunday at the 2008 ALMA Awards, which recognize achievements by Hispanic artists.  The ABC comedy series won awards for directing and best performance by a Latino-led ensemble cast. Ferrera, 24, was named Chevy Entertainer of the Year for her onscreen work as Betty Suarez in "Ugly Betty" and her off-screen efforts to encourage young people to get involved in the political process.  Shakira was also recognized for her offstage efforts, receiving the Humanitarian Award for her work in early childhood education.  A host of artists, including BeBe Winans, Wynonna Judd and Lucero, performed a tribute to Linda Ronstadt, who received the Trailblazer Award for her contributions to American music.  The Black Eyed Peas, the Cheetah Girls, Sergio Mendes and Cheech and Chong also performed at the ceremony, hosted by Eva Longoria Parker at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.  Other acting-award winners included Charlie Sheen, Edward James Olmos, Roselyn Sanchez and Judy Reyes. Designer Narciso Rodriguez was honoured for special achievement in fashion.  The National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the United States, created the ALMA Awards in 1995 to honour Hispanic performers and promote positive images of Hispanics in entertainment. ALMA stands for American Latino Media Arts and also means "soul" in Spanish.  The ceremony will be televised Sept. 12 on ABC.

Courtney B. Vance Joins Wife On E.R.

: www.eurweb.com

(August 20, 2008)
*Courtney B. Vance will join NBC's "ER" this season in a recurring role as the husband of a new attending physician at Chicago's County General Hospital – a character played by his real wife, Angela Bassett. "We are excited to see the on-screen chemistry and emotion this incredibly talented husband and wife team will bring to our show," executive producer David Zabel says. "Fans are in for a treat, and we couldn't be more thrilled that they chose 'ER' to make their first [TV] appearance together." Vance returns to NBC after starring for five seasons as Assistant District Attorney Ron Carver on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." His TV credits also include Lifetime's "State of Mind," the original "Law & Order" and the 1995 HBO movie "The Tuskegee Airmen." "ER" is preparing for its 15th and final season on the Peacock network.


 Cirque Du Soleil's Saltimbanco Is Still Compelling

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Dance Writer

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Cirque du Soleil. Until Aug. 24 at the Air Canada Centre, 40 Bay St.

(August 14, 2008) After the thrills and chills of last year's Cirque du Soleil show, Kooza, and this week's spectacular Olympic gymnasts,
Saltimbanco has some tough acts to follow.

But the 16-year-old show, reconfigured for arenas as opposed to the customized Cirque big top, has its charms, chiefly its endearing characters, who look as if they walked out of an Italo Calvino fantasy.

Without the intimacy afforded by the tent, Saltimbanco (the title derives from an Italian word meaning acrobat) feels a bit underlit and low-key compared to the original, but the feats on display are no less spine-tingling and engaging.

Three acrobats – mama, papa and little one – open the show with "Adagio," a fluid, balletic act involving unbelievable flexibility and balance. Next come the Chinese poles, with incredibly agile creatures slithering up and down the 7 1/2-metre posts, dangling off each other in upside-down poses.

A big yellow-clad Ringmaster and his sidekick, the long-tailed Dreamer, provide continuity and become straight men to a terrifically talented clown, Amo Gulinello, who mimes his way through two numbers. Dragging unpractised audience members into his imaginary world, he provides the sound effects for scenes such as a near-drowning in a lavatory and a shootout with invisible six-guns.

Saltimbanco is surely the only circus show to boast a boleadora act. Luis Lopez and Adriana Pegueroles look like a couple of flamenco performers, first pounding on their big conga-like drums and then exchanging them for spinning cords with weights on the ends to make amazing percussive patterns.

Juggler Terry Velasquez manages up to six white balls in rapid formations atop a tiny Plexiglas platform that he descends, step by step, while still juggling.

Enthralling in quite a different way are the duo trapeze team of Ruslana and Taisiia Bazalii, bound to each other only by a foot and an ankle as they swing high above the stage.

A fall might be less dangerous for the hand-to-hand, impossibly strong duo of Gabor Czivisz and Andrey Zhadan, but even so, one holds one's breath as they balance each other. One does a one-handed stand balancing on the other's head, while the sitting man rises to his feet.

Bungee-dancing trapeze performers Dennis Nathan, Malia Jones, Richelle Simpson and Emerson Souza Neves make a human aviary, soaring through air like cockatoos.

Beautifully orchestrated to the music of René Dupéré, with costumes that capture the spirit of a medieval fair, Saltimbanco draws us in with its unexpected pleasures.

Stratford Announces 2009 Line-up

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(August 18, 2008) STRATFORD — In his first solo season as Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Des McAnuff is keeping all the promises he made when he was appointed last March.

The 2009 season, announced Monday, reveals a varied choice of plays from the classic repertoire, a strong devotion to Canadian authors and the hiring of first-rate creative talent from around the world.

"Everyone has worked at full capacity to get this season out," an excited McAnuff told the Star "and we're all very proud of it."

As previously revealed in the Star, Shakespeare's Macbeth and Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac will be sharing the Festival Theatre stage with West Side Story.

McAnuff will be directing Macbeth, Donna Feore Cyrano and Gary Griffin and Sergio Trujillo will be staging the musical.

Newly announced is acclaimed British director David Grindley, who will be mounting A Midsummer Night's Dream.

At the Avon Theatre, McAnuff will direct A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Brian Bedford will both helm and star in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Also at the Avon will be Julius Caesar, under the baton of Edmonton's James MacDonald, most recently seen here as the director of Canadian Stage's multiple Dora Award-winning Fire.

The Tom Patterson Theatre will be home to a rare production of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, staged by the Festival's General Director, Antoni Cimolino.

"I'm very excited about returning to directing," Cimolino told the Star "and this brilliant but little-known play is a delight as well as a challenge."

Martha Henry, head of the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory, will be directing Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters and Carey Perloff, the esteemed head of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, takes on the staging duties for a new adaptation of Racine's Phedre.

The Patterson will also be the home to Ever Yours, Oscar, a piece by Peter Wylde based on Oscar Wilde's letters, which will be directed by Bedford and star him as well.

The Studio Theatre is featuring 100 per cent Canadian content, including the world premiere of Morris Panych's newest play, The Trespassers, directed by the author.

A long-overdue revival of George F. Walker's 1977 hit, Zastrozzi is in the hands of Jennifer Tarver and Sunil Kuruvilla's Rice Boy, first seen at Canadian Stage, completes the bill.

McAnuff also announced that new plays have been commissioned from John Mighton, Judith Thompson, George F. Walker and Aaron Sorkin.

The 2009 season will begin previews in mid-April.

Judge Okays Mirvish Purchase Of Canon, Panasonic Theatres

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(August 19, 2008) David Mirvish's Ed Mirvish Enterprises can go ahead with the purchase of two downtown Toronto theatres, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Rival theatre impresario Aubrey Dan's Dancap Productions had sought an injunction to block the sale of the Canon and Panasonic theatres to Mirvish.

Dan claimed the sale would violate his prior agreements with John Gore's New York-based Key Brand Entertainment, which bought the two theatres from Live Nation in January.

Dan claimed the sale constituted conspiracy, fraud, a breach of the Competition Act and would do irreparable harm.

"Dancap has failed to meet the test for an interlocutory injunction," Justice Geoff Morawetz write in a decision released Tuesday.

Dancap's statement of claim said the sale violated a "binding term sheet agreement" signed last November.

"It seems to me that Dancap seeks to obtain the rights to control the sale of the theatres through this motion," Morawetz wrote. "It did not negotiate for this right in the term sheet."

Mirvish said the decision was what he had been hoping for.

"Our position was validated by the judge and he seems to have accepted all of our arguments," Mirvish said. "He says that Key Brand has the right to sell and that we have a binding agreement to purchase."

Mirvish said he hopes Tuesday's decision is the end of the issue.

"I'd like to spend my time in the theatres, not in the courts," he said.

In an email, Dan expressed disappointment at the ruling and said he will be reviewing legal options.

"Dancap remains confident that it has a strong position on the merits of its legal claims," he said.


Braid Weaves A Magical Gaming Experience

www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko, Special To The Star

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Platform: Xbox 360 (Arcade)
Price: about $15
Rating: E

(August 16, 2008)
 With prophetic frequency – that is, rarely, but when needed – games come along that remind us of what games are about, what they ought to be. Today's prophet? Jonathan Blow's Braid.

Winner of the Innovation in Game Design award in the Independent Games Festival at the 2006 Game Developers Conference, Braid last week dropped onto Xbox Live Arcade, to a cascade of accolades that ...

... Okay. New rule. Once the word "accolades" makes its way into a piece, we've got to take a deep breath and see if we can't keep it real. There are two dangers in talking about Braid; one is going overboard, hyperbolizing its excellence, and the other is chickening out, taking a step back, and hyping the hyperbole of others. The simple fact is, Braid – a puzzle game powered by basic run-and-jump platforming and a time-rewind gimmick – succeeds because it explores its core ideas thoughtfully, thoroughly and meaningfully and never resorts to repetition to pad itself out.

Players take the part of Tim, a sharp-dressed fella on a metaphorical journey of love, obsession, destiny and forgiveness. Each of the worlds he travels through expresses and develops some aspect of his story, not just through the interstitial narrative elements, but through the game mechanics themselves.

Each world has its own laws of time and space, and the player must discover and understand these laws and use them to overcome each level's challenges.

Reading that back now, I guess that sentence technically describes almost any videogame.

The thoroughness of Braid though, takes it to a whole new level, forcing you to get elbows-deep into the meta-game, to think about time, space, rules and the conventions of game design in new ways.

As you can imagine, it's tough – the toughest game I've played in a long time. But it's tough in a joyful way, tough without being cheap. Braid hides nothing; all the elements are just as you see them, each element part of a system, each system a little machine for you to learn to operate.

Puzzling out one of Braid's levels is one of the more satisfying game experiences you'll have. And it's not only the ordinary little rush you get when you overcome a game obstacle; every time you make one of Braid's little machines work, there's a thrill of insight and understanding, of grasping an artist's accomplishment, of receiving and decoding a message.

Basically, the joy of Braid is the joy of art appreciation.

Braid's accomplishment in game artistry is accompanied well by excellent work in the more traditional arts: The visuals are wonderfully lush, brilliant dreamscapes brought to life with lovely animation; the music is so pleasant it's almost a little too "nice"; the textual content, though it sometimes overworks itself, packs a lot of power into a few paragraphs.

The bottom line on Braid is that it's one of the most beautiful, intelligent, challenging, thought-provoking, fat-free games out there, a little masterpiece of game-design artistry ... and it's only 15 bucks, give or take. You'd do yourself a favour to check it out.

Classics Like Pac Man, Space Invaders, Win Acclaim For Core Values

Source: www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko,
Special To The Star

(August 17, 2008) The most panted-over video game release of the past week – aside from the annual advent of the latest Madden football game – was Bionic Commando Rearmed, a remake of Capcom's legendary (and legendarily merciless) NES robot-arm-swingin' classic from 1988.

Unlike standard remakes (Ninja Gaiden, etc.) that take beloved old brands and revision them as modern 3D games, Rearmed drapes a candy-coating of today's graphics, sounds and features over a crunchy centre of gameplay and structure essentially identical to that which wowed the rumpus-room set in the heart of the Mulroney years.

BC Rearmed isn't an isolated experiment either. "Updated classics" – prettied-up but otherwise unchanged – dropped on an audience whose consoles possess more computing power than existed in the entire world at the time the games were originally developed, are regularly gathering constellations of starry ratings from dazzled critics and racking up top-notch sales figures decades after their original sell-by dates. What's the deal?

Well, first, the fundamentals of fun don't change. Take the example of Space Invaders Extreme, which hit North America two months ago, a full 30 years after its namesake debuted amid disco beats. Review aggregator Metacritic's score is 85 per cent, putting it well in the top tier of this year's games. But underneath that layer of the shiniest "retro" graphics this generation's handheld systems can pump out it's still the same game that captured a planet and drew so much change from the pockets and purses of Japan that it triggered a coinage crisis.

Adjust for technological inflation, and there's nothing to Space Invaders that a kid in a Coney Island shooting gallery – or a bored Mongol archer, or a caveman with some spare rocks – couldn't understand and enjoy.

"Adjusting for technological inflation" is the second thing these remakes do really well. There's a set of basic skills, a vocabulary of interactions, that modern games rely on; hand one of today's 20-button controllers to someone who's never played before, and they're not exactly going to light up the Halo 3 leader boards.

You need to be able to ask the location of la salle de bain before you can read Proust in the original French. Example: In 1980, people who had never even heard the word "joystick," let alone handled one (a pause, here, for schoolyard giggles) took to Pac-Man – a game with four player inputs, delivered through a single control surface – by the millions.

Last year's remake, Pac-Man Championship Edition, was one of the best-reviewed games of 2007, and sold (via download) like hotcakes with a wedge sliced out of them.

As simple as it is, Pac-Man is Boot Camp, basic training for all the space wars, fantasy battles and kung-fu campaigns that followed ... and it's fun, and it's deep. At a basic level, Pac-Man is an adrenaline-pumping reflex game of avoidance, pathfinding, staying one step ahead of those damned ghosts, and making intuitive (or accidental) use of your pizza-pie hero's ability to change the rules and turn hunter to hunted. At a higher level, it's a game of pure pattern memorization, of training twitching muscles to do the right thing without slowpoke consciousness getting in the way. Only with the pathways of Pac-Man or something elemental like it engraved in your grey matter are you able to actually play video games.

Space Invaders ... Pac-Man ... whether remade or simply replayed, these medium-defining masterpieces retain their power because they got it right the first time.

Now, Bionic Commando isn't nearly so pure as these elementals, but it tells us the same thing: game design transcends technology. In gel-tinted monochrome or in 1080p hi-def, in the corner of a stanky roller-rink or in the comfort of your own home, a good game won't – can't! – lose its captivating power.

Darren Zenko has been writing about video games for nine years.


First Fridays Founder Warren Salmon Takes Networking To New Heights

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: J.R. Dash

(Summer 2008) Entrepreneurship is something
Warren Salmon takes very seriously.

In 1994, Salmon founded the Canadian version of a popular professional networking event known as First Fridays, which takes place in more than 30 cities in North America. First Fridays aims to give individuals an opportunity to share their ideas and network while developing relationships with potential clients and partners.

Over the years, its sessions have grown to include a March event, featuring aspiring and established members of media, an annual career fair in April and a September film festival highlight gala. First Fridays is now celebrating its 14th anniversary as a power network for the Black community.

"First Fridays is an important avenue for people to connect," says Salmon. "It gives people the opportunity to shape and grow their business, as well as grow our community."

In May, First Fridays co-hosted the first annual Get Your Big Idea Funded Venture Forum with Gillian Moody PR Consultants. Inspired by television shows like Dragon's Den, the evening featured independently wealthy investors who determined whether innovative entrepreneurs had viable ideas worthy of funding. With nine pitches received, four ideas interested the investors.

"Having an audience with successful representatives who are interested in helping your business grow is invaluable," says Abdul Egal, president of Linguistix, a Toronto-based language translation company. The company is now negotiating with investors from First Fridays to expand its marketing and advertising reach.  

While Salmon's First Fridays gatherings provide local monthly motivation sessions, his networking savvy has made his Ashaware line of educational Afrocentric Software produced by his company, Black Board International, available locally and internationally, with 80 per cent of clients in the United States.  

For his efforts, Salmon has been recognized with many awards, most recently the 2008 Harry Jerome Award for Technology & Innovation, which he noted has a special significance since both his parents have won Harry Jerome Awards.

"The need to have material that is more culturally inclusive continues to exist," says Salmon. "With publications like Sway and other initiatives that focus on telling our positive stories, I think institutionalizing programs like Ashaware is necessary to realize a long-term wider impact."

In 2005, when Canada's fourth largest auto insurer State Farm wanted to better understand the African-Canadian market, it sought Salmon's expertise as a consultant. His services helped define who the insurer could best partner with in the community, and First Fridays was one of the initial tools used to connect with the Black community.  

"From a multicultural perspective, State Farm looks for ways to market our brand and give back to the community," says Sharleen Mascoll, State Farm's head of philanthropy and multicultural markets. "We've been able to do that holistically through Warren by initially funding First Fridays and then [youth community program] S.O.M.A. [Stimulating Our Minds Always]."  

Established in 2006, the S.O.M.A. Community Initiative promotes Ashaware through 23 United WayÐsupported agencies located throughout Toronto.  

"Through our partnership with Warren, we've identified like-minded African-Canadians who share our entrepreneurial spirit and interest in potential State Farm agency opportunities," says Mascoll.  

For Salmon, the work of connecting Canada's Black professionals continues to be a fulfilling endeavour. "I'm very proud of the work First Fridays is doing," he says. "If you have a dream for your business, become a part of this process, and together we can help make the dream come true."

First Fridays takes place on the first Friday of each month. To find out more about Warren Salmon and this initiative, visit firstfridays.ca.

Tories Cut Five More Arts Programs

www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist/ Richard Brennan, Ottawa Bureau

(August 16, 2008)  The Canadian arts community is reeling again after learning yesterday that the Harper government is cutting another five cultural funding programs – in addition to two dumped last week, and totalling as much $20 million – that will make it even more difficult for Canadian musicians, composers, artists and filmmakers to compete in the international marketplace.

"The government has departed from its usual consultative process and cut these programs without warning," said Stephen Ellis, a board member and former chair of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association and president of Toronto-based Ellis Entertainment Group, an independent TV production company.

While Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner was unavailable to comment, the Prime Minister's Office said the cuts are part of a government-wide program review.

"The opposition seems to be accusing us of having an agenda to see the arts is funded to a lesser extent on an ideological basis, and I can say that's not the case (because) we are spending more on the arts than the Liberal government," said Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications.

The latest cuts include federal contributions of $300,000 to the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, which archives and makes available for distribution film, television and musical recordings; $1.5 million to the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, which helps top up the budgets of independent films and triggers private investment; and $2.5 million to the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector.

The Stabilization Project and Capacity Building program, which provides financial and administrative support to art groups, and a new media research program are also victims of funding cuts.

These cuts, like those made last week – the $4.7 million ProMart program, an artists' travel support fund, and the $9 million Trade Routes program that supports film and music exports – were not formally announced, but posted on government websites.

The cancellations will have a "devastating effect" on the Canadian arts community, said Antoni Cimolino, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's general director, in a statement condemning the action.

The Toronto International Film Festival benefits annually to the tune of $157,000 from the programs to be cancelled in April. It uses the funds to assist in the marketing of Canadian films overseas.

"The ProMart and Trade Routes funding we received allowed us to host 400 international buyers and programmers at the Festival, to produce a book promoting the films we screen, to take 40 Canadian filmmakers to 32 countries for 400 screenings of Canadian films for overseas buyers, and to promote Sprockets, our children's film festival, to potential foreign programmers," public affairs director Maxine Bailey said.

Canadian musicians, deprived of future promotional funding in major markets in Europe and Asia as a result of the ProMart and Trade Routes cuts, will also suffer from the withdrawal of funding to the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust, said its director, David Novek.

Teneycke said more than $4 billion a year is spent on arts and culture. But critics charged yesterday the cuts reflect a deep-seated desire by the Conservative government to change the face of Canada.

"They (the Conservatives) don't believe in culture, but the worst part of it is that they want to change the kind of society you want to live in ... and I don't like what I am seeing," Liberal Heritage Critic MP Denis Coderre (Bourassa) said.

The government earlier sparked outraged with Bill C-10, which gives the Heritage Department power to deny funding for films and TV shows it considers offensive.

A Messiah For The Cultural Community

www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(August 18, 2008) During the current furor over federal government cuts to several arts funding programs, one major development has slipped by, almost unnoticed. Earlier this month, Toronto entrepreneur Joseph L. Rotman was named the new chair of the Canada Council.

This is an intriguing appointment, because Rotman could turn out to be exactly the messiah our battered and confused cultural community urgently needs.

Unlike Karen Kain, his predecessor in this job, Rotman is not a celebrated artist, and unlike Kain (artistic director of the National Ballet), he will not have the delicate problem of sitting at the helm of the arts council while also leading one of its largest clients.

Some in the creative world may wonder whether it's a bad sign that this job is being filled by a player from the business world rather than an artist or cultural bureaucrat. But that is because they have never seen Rotman in action and aren't prepared for what is bound to happen next.

As a businessman, the 73-year-old Rotman has been spectacularly successful with ventures in gas, gold mining, real estate and merchant banking. He has spent much of his life leading huge companies and making a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

As Gerald Schwartz, CEO of Onex, once explained to me, "The score sheet for entrepreneurs is making a profit, but the score sheet for great entrepreneurs is what they do with their profits. That's where Joe Rotman has scored big-time."

Rotman has been on the cutting edge of philanthropy for years, partly because he's a curious fellow who uses the money he has acquired to explore his wide-ranging interests. He doesn't merely give money but becomes extremely involved in establishing agendas and formulating strategies for institutions supported by his donations, including the U of T's Rotman School of Business and the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care.

The most memorable achievement of Rotman's career may well have been the coup he scored by securing the fabled Barnes Collection exhibit for the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1994, when he was president of the AGO board.

With the gallery facing a massive deficit and stuck in a rut, Rotman decided something sensational was needed to turn things around and create exciting momentum. He not only pursued the Barnes exhibit but refused to take no for an answer when the AGO lost out while museums in Los Angeles and Ft. Worth were chosen as venues.

At that point, I would have given up. You would have given up. Almost anyone would have given up. Joe Rotman did not give up. It was around this time that "relentless" seemed to become his middle name.

Almost unbelievably, Rotman put together such a powerful group of allies and came up with so compelling an argument for bringing the exhibit here that the Barnes brass gave in and sent the Impressionist masterpieces of the late Albert Barnes to Toronto instead of L.A. – giving this town one its few cultural triumphs in a grim decade.

Joe Rotman does not take "No" for an answer. He never quits. He pushes others to the edge. As a volunteer, he gives philanthropic enterprises the same obsessive, energetic attention made him a legend in business, where to be successful you must have a talent for creating winning strategies.

Rotman's strategic instinct is exactly what is needed to make the case that nothing is more important for Canada than supporting the arts. He is sure to frame the argument in a global context. And if he can persuade politicians that what their speechwriters have them say about the importance of the arts is actually true, there will be no funding problem.

My guess is that a business-oriented government will be more likely to take advice from a wildly successful entrepreneur than from any artist.

When he accepted his new job, Rotman said: "Few Canadians fully appreciate what the arts contribute to our society, and how much could be accomplished with additional investment."

When I talked to him the other day, he added: "I can't wait to get started."

Play it again, Joe.

Martin Knelman's column on the arts appears every other week on this page.

A New Home For Sketch Comedy In An Unlikely Neighbourhood

Source: www.thestar.com -
Sarah Barmak

(August 14, 2008) The paint on the walls is still proverbially wet. Officially, it hasn't even opened for business. But Comedy Bar, the spare, unassuming joint in sleepy Bloor-Dovercourt village, is already poised to become an unlikely hotspot for sketch comedy in the city.

Headquarters of the Canadian Comedy Award-winning troupe The Sketchersons, Comedy Bar is the result of troupe member Gary Rideout Jr.'s dream to "create a place of my own at massive cost to my livelihood and health."

The bar is in the midst of a "cold open" before its official launch next month. One recent Saturday gig drew a small crowd, who seemed to enjoy hanging out in the intimate, stripped-down theatre.

Rideout Jr. is blunt about why he's testing the waters early. "I have bills to pay," he says.

The Sketchersons have been looking for a new home for Sunday Night Live, their sketch comedy showcase, since their old haunt, the Poor Alex Theatre, shut in 2005. Rideout Jr. says he has always wanted the troupe to have its own lounge-style club, envisioned as a low-risk space for new talent.

"There are a lot of venues where it's music first, comedy second," he says. "When you go to L.A. or New York, there are all kinds of small theatres for independent sketch troupes. This is just my own take on that."

The muted strip of Bloor St. W. east of Dovercourt Rd. seems to have anything but nightlife. But Rideout Jr. was confident enough in the location to take out a 17-year lease on the space – a former African restaurant and pool hall.

"There are a lot of artists in the neighbourhood now because the Annex got too expensive,'' he says. ``People are moving up Ossington and across Bloor, and converging on the Dovercourt neighbourhood. It's really these couple of blocks that I think are going to be cool between Concord and Dovercourt.

"Every time something closes, something a little cooler moves in. I'm here before it gets expensive."

Comedy Bar, 945 Bloor St. W., comedybar.ca

Chong Gives Us The Dope On His Deal With Cheech

Source: www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner,
Publishing Reporter

(August 17, 2008) Tommy Chong is standing outside the CBC building in Toronto waiting to have his photograph taken for this article.

Every minute or so, a passerby stops, does a double take, pulls out a cellphone/digital camera and asks to have a photo taken with the older, bearded half of the legendary stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong. On each occasion, Chong graciously submits, throwing an arm around the fan's shoulder while gazing placidly into the camera, his eyelids at an eternally baked half-mast.

Unremarkably, the star-struck fans are mostly male. More surprisingly, perhaps, many look to be about a half-century younger than Chong's 70 years.

"They know me from That '70s Show," Chong says. "And they've watched the movies and listened to the records. Not only here, but all over the world. People come up to me in Japan."

If nothing else, the man's demographic reach would seem to bode well for the upcoming Cheech and Chong reunion tour that starts out in Ottawa on Sept. 5 and stops at Massey Hall for two shows the next night. Maybe the audience won't be a houseful for of aging boomer potheads after all.

The tour coincides neatly with the reason for Chong's current visit, the promotion of a new book,
Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Biography unauthorized, presumably, by Richard (Cheech) Marin. The duo's long-standing estrangement wasn't bridged until after the book was written, which Chong freely admits tells his side of the story. Any postscript will have to wait until a later edition.

"The publishers gave me a chance to rewrite the ending but I like the ending the way it is," Chong says.

"Neither one of us knew if the reunion was going to take hold. Our handlers – his camp and my camp – were just walking on eggshells. They kept us apart so we wouldn't blow the whole deal."

Marin and the Calgary-bred Chong joined forces after meeting in Vancouver in 1969. They eventually became one of the most successful duos in comedy history, parlaying their drug-addled personae into a string of megaselling albums and movies. The two have maintained a public feud since breaking up in the mid-'80s, even cancelling a planned return to the screen in 2005.

"Success drives people apart," Chong says. "It's the lack of success that keeps you together. When you're struggling and trying to make it, you stay together because you've got nothing else. Now the reunion comes really because Cheech played his string of straight acting gigs out. So it was now or never."

For his part, Chong has remained on the road, performing stand-up routines introduced by his wife, Shelby, who will also open for the reunited Cheech and Chong.

More publicly, Chong re-emerged into the media spotlight in 2003 when he was sentenced to nine months in a minimum-security prison after his family's California glass business was busted for transporting bongs to Pennsylvania, where the sale of drug paraphernalia is prohibited. The celebrated prosecution of Chong, publicly ridiculed by comedian Bill Maher and others, is documented in the movie a/k/a Tommy Chong, recently released on DVD.

Now that he has a criminal record, Chong admits to exercising greater caution. This was particularly true during his probationary period, when merely being in the same room as someone smoking a joint – say an audience member during one of his nightclub shows – could have been construed as cause for further prosecution. Beyond that, he expresses few regrets of the time served.

"It was all positive," he says. "It was like a religious retreat. It gave me enough material to work with for the rest of my life. It also gave me an iconic, martyr status."


Ballet B.C.'s New Seoul

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Marsha Lederman

(August 14, 2008) VANCOUVER — Think of it as a coming-out party: Ballet British Columbia leaves today for South Korea to perform at the first ever Ballet Expo Seoul. It is the company's first international tour in six years, its first time in Asia in almost 18 years and the beginning, artistic director John Alleyne hopes, of a new, higher-profile chapter in the company's history.

"In the last eight years, there's been a lot of really wonderful planning and building of work and repertoire, so the company is now poised," Alleyne said last week before rehearsals in Vancouver. "It's time for us to go out and once again start touring internationally and nationally ... after we've been sort of hibernating."

Ballet B.C., the only Canadian company performing at the Expo, is ready to show its face again internationally after emerging from what Alleyne calls "a really tough period."

That might be putting it mildly. When Alleyne took over as artistic director in 1992, the company was on the verge of financial collapse after having undergone frequent, often turbulent, changes in key staff. In the six years since its creation, the company had been through five artistic directors (one of them an acting artistic director), including Barry Ingham, who died in 1992, and before him Patricia Neary, who was fired in 1990 after less than a year on the job. The rocky internal times made fundraising a challenge at a crucial time for the young company, and its finances were a mess.

Early in this decade, a turnaround: Alleyne's full-length ballet The Faerie Queen premiered in November, 2000, and became the ballet's most successful production to date. The company had erased its deficit. At the end of that season, Alleyne replaced six of his dancers - almost half the small company (then 14 dancers; now 18).

It was the beginning of a rebuilding process for Ballet B.C., both artistically and financially. When Seoul came knocking last fall, the company jumped at the chance to hit the international road again - despite the tight timing and the significant cost.

"Of course we recognized the opportunity," says Ballet B.C.'s executive director, Susan Howard. Her list of reasons for going included getting Alleyne's work out on the international stage and the opportunity to see several Asia-Pacific dance companies at one time for possible presentation in Vancouver (Universal Ballet Korea will perform Swan Lake in Vancouver as part of Ballet B.C.'s danceAlive! season in January).

Ballet B.C. will perform two works in Seoul: Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs and Alleyne's Schubert. Nine Sinatra Songs, which was first performed in Vancouver in 1982, features seven couples - in tuxedos and Oscar de la Renta gowns - performing ballroom-style to Sinatra tunes, including Strangers in the Night, That's Life and My Way.

Schubert is an abstract ballet with a loose narrative. A commentary on ballerinas, it follows the life of a dancer in three scenes: youth, beauty and wisdom. "There is a strong classical core to it, but it is really sort of pushed along with a contemporary energy and a very powerful spirit," Alleyne says of his creation.

"It is undoubtedly a joy to see that a work of yours has a life."

As the company works toward increasing its profile and creating new international touring opportunities - in particular, an Asia-Pacific tour planned for 2010 or 2011 - the Expo in Seoul is a good chance to foster relationships.

It's not a cheap venture: With 24 people travelling to Seoul, including 16 dancers, and the production costs associated with mounting the two shows, the cost is about $115,000. (Both the Canada Council and the British Columbia Arts Council provided funding.)

"Ballet may be an art form that truly touches the heart, but it also touches the wallet," says Alleyne, who quickly adds that it's worth it.

"One of the wonderful things about travelling to Asia is this is an art form that can cross borders. We're definitely dealing with the poetic nature of dance that can have a transformative effect on individuals living anywhere in the world."

Ballet Expo Seoul runs Aug. 15-23.


It's Different Strokes For Football Folks

www.thestar.com - Richard Griffin

(August 15, 2008) It was a late-arriving crowd for the Bills-Steelers game last night at the Rogers Centre. By kickoff it was obvious organizers had done a good job rounding up bodies to fill most of the unsold seats. While the visual of a stadium jammed with 48,434 people was a good one for the NFL, revenues were likely not what had been hoped for.

Wandering outside the Rogers Centre in the late afternoon soaking in festivities at the various tailgate parties north and south of the stadium, it hit home that perhaps the difference between the two pro football leagues was similar to the differences between these tailgate events. The NFL is a gala. The CFL is a party. Take your choice and enjoy.

There was the smaller Steam Whistle tailgate party going on side-by-side with the humongous Budweiser ultra-tailgate complete with live music and food tents as far as the eye could see. Each was well attended and provided basically the same product, given the respective space. Fans at both seemed to be having a good time.

It was at the more official Bud function (NFL) that we spoke to Phil Lind, vice-chair of Rogers Communications and front man for the eight-game agreement with the Bills. He spoke after taking time to have his picture taken with the U.S. ambassador.

"Each game is another step in the production," Lind said. "We're trying to prove to ourselves and the league and everybody else that Toronto is an NFL town as well as a CFL town. There's room for both, but there's certainly room for NFL games in Toronto."

Rogers continues to maintain its party line about these eight Bills games in five years not being any sort of threat to the future of the CFL even though some close to the Argos and to the Canadian game have their own serious doubts and fears.

"I don't know why they are (wary)," Lind said. "The fact that this game will be a great success leads to the fact that (tonight) there'll be more people in the stands (for the Argos) than there would have been otherwise. We think that a rising tide raises all boats."

That's a nice sentiment for the Boatmen, who play the Alouettes tonight, but it's a theory unproven in a market that has always had only a certain amount of corporate money to direct towards leisure and sports. There's no doubt, for example, that the Raptors coming to town affected the Jays' bottom line in terms of corporate sales and advertising.

"Toronto is the fifth-largest population centre in North America. It stands to reason that they're looking this way," Lind said of the NFL's attempt at regionalization. "If we can prove this experiment, I think the contract of some games in Buffalo and some games in Toronto makes a lot of sense."

One thing that's been quite obvious in this whole thing is that the issue of financial gain seems more important than the best interests of fans or Toronto tourism. Patrolling outside in the pre-game it was difficult to find anyone who had actually come up from Buffalo. But organizers don't seem to care.

"There'll always be fans in Buffalo who say, `Not Toronto,'" Lind said.

One executive who does business with the Bills and had purchased a private box with 50 seats last night said wisely of Toronto's efforts to impress the NFL: "If Ralph Wilson passes away, none of this will make any difference anyway."

In the meantime, let it be known that, down to the third string for both teams, these NFL guys can really play. It may or may not be a more entertaining product than the CFL. That is always up to individual taste.

But the NFL clearly has the better players.

Dan Aykroyd To Serve As Grand Marshall At Mosport

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(August 14, 2008) This should be one set of lines Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd has no trouble memorizing.

He's been named the grand marshall of next weekend's
American Le Mans Series race at Mosport International and will be in charge of uttering the words that get things going – "Drivers, start your engines."

"I'm so nervous I can't even believe it," Aykroyd said Thursday with tongue firmly in cheek. "Now you've given me stage fright. I'm sure I'll stutter my way through it."

Aykroyd will also spend time in the Patron tequila tent while visiting the racetrack in Bowmanville, Ont., on Aug. 24. He's the Canadian co-distributor and importer of that liquor – one of several entrepreneurial enterprises Aykroyd has dabbled in outside of acting.

The 56-year-old has a deep affection for automobiles and is looking forward to checking out some of the cars while at Mosport. He remembers being taken to Lansdowne Park in Ottawa to watch stock cars as a kid and has even attended a driving course in West Virginia.

"They let you sling these old police cars around a track and show you things you didn't know you could do with a car," said Aykroyd. "I learned a lot in Hollywood – the J-turns, bootleg turns, flipping the car off the highway from behind.

"It was great to brush up on those skills."

If it was up to Aykroyd, he would one day take a drive around a NASCAR track.

However, there's just one problem.

"I can't even get into a stock car," he said.

Instead, Aykroyd is left to ride around on one of his Harley Davidson motorcycles or in one of his Ford automobiles. He gave a lengthy answer when asked about his current stable of vehicles and clearly takes pride in his choices.

Lately, he's been driving a Ford Super Duty F-350 pickup truck.

"It runs like a Mercedes," said Aykroyd. "It is a phenomenal automobile. It's one of the best cars ever made."

The American Le Mans Series race he'll attend next weekend is one of the largest held in this country each year. It features many of the drivers that participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race each year in France.

When he's not marshalling the race, you can expect to find Aykroyd milling around the garage.

"It's really very exciting," he said. "I was very honoured to be asked."