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LE NEWSLETTER

December 11, 2008

Are the holidays really just two weeks away?  Well we certainly have been having 'festive' weather in Toronto. 

And what would make a perfect holiday gift?  Tickets to the Soweto Gospel Choir on December 17 and 18 at Massey Hall!  Check them out - you won't be sorry!

Tons of entertainment news again so take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

 

::HOT EVENTS::

Soweto Gospel Choir Returns to Toronto For Two Performances Only! - December 17 & 18

Source:  Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

The exciting and dynamic Soweto Gospel Choir will return to Toronto for two performances only on December 17 and 18, 2008 at Massey Hall. The performances are presented by The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

Two-time Grammy® Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir thrilled capacity audiences on each of their previous visits in 2005 and 2007. These return performances will include their newest holiday offerings as well as traditional favourites.

Expect earthy rhythms, rich harmonies, a cappella numbers as well as accompaniment by an exciting four-piece band and percussion section. Add energetic dancing and vibrant, colourful costumes, and the mix is awesome. The Choir performs in six of South Africa’s 11 official languages.

The popular Choir has made its mark on the international stage performing with such luminaries as Bono, The Eurythmics, Jimmy Cliff and many others. They have also performed for Nelson Mandela. Often referred to as the “Voices from Heaven”, the Choir reaches across cultural boundaries and each performance is uplifting, exhilarating and thrilling.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17 AND THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2008
SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR
Massey Hall, South side of Shuter Street, between Yonge & Victoria Streets
8:00 pm
Tickets: $18-$78 plus applicable service charges
Tickets can be purchased through the Roy Thomson Hall Box Office (60 Simcoe St., Toronto), by telephone 416-872-4255, online at masseyhall.com or ticketmaster.ca.
GROUPS of 10 or more call Roy Thomson Hall 416-593-4822 ext. 225

Visit www.masseyhall.com for more details.

::TOP STORIES::

Humble Nico Archambault Is Canada's Dance King

Source: 
www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, TV Columnist

(December 08, 2008) It was an emotional end to an exhausting and exhilarating nine weeks as 24-year-old Nico Archambault was named "Canada's Favourite Dancer" on last night's much-anticipated season finale of So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

The announcement was accompanied by an ear-splitting standing ovation and the boom of confetti cannons, with Archambault's returning Top 20 competitors hoisting him high above their heads – just the sort of thing you would expect dancers to do.

Audience favourite Archambault, a contemporary dancer from Quebec, is just the sort of guy you would expect to win – voted into the top spot by more than three million calls from an audience of roughly half that number – followed in more or less logical sequence by the other Final Four contenders:

Allie Bertram, the cute-as-a-button 19-year-old Calgary ballerina who embraced everything that was thrown at her and in the process blossomed into confident young womanhood before our very eyes.

Her fellow Calgarian, 21-year-old Miles Faber, a "B Boy" popper who similarly embraced and excelled at every new and unfamiliar style and technique, with an eagerness and enthusiasm – not to mention washboard abs and a winning smile – that endeared him to all.

And finally, the 29-year-old Torontonian, the equally ab-fabulous Natalli Reznik (see sidebar), whose fiery versatility simply scorched the dance floor every time she stepped onto the stage.

But for weeks now it's been increasingly clear that heartthrob Archambault was going to take home the grand prize Mercedes-Benz and $100,000 cheque.

Clear to everyone, that is, but Archambault himself.

"I honestly never thought about it," the somewhat numb Montrealer allowed backstage right after the broadcast.

"You can never take (these things) for granted. You are in danger every week. Every week you have to start from scratch with new styles, new moves."

But surely the screaming teenagers were a giveaway, at least a clue.

It got to the point last night that every time his name was mentioned it was like the second coming of Beatlemania.

"I was sort of aware of it," he bashfully allows. "But not really. I'm half deaf; I can only hear out of one ear. I didn't really know about it until the other guys told me."

His plans post-win are to keep learning and dancing, but nothing much more specific.

"I'm not one for making plans," he says. "I kind of fell into this. I tend to be directionless, just to see where life takes me."

Of course, now it will take him there in style, in a shiny new Mercedes-Benz.

And where is the first place he's going to drive it?

"To a driving school, I guess," he laughs. "I need to get my licence. I never learned to drive."

Bills Game Was Much Hype, Little Excitement

Source: 
www.thestar.com - Dave Perkins

(December 08, 2008) There you have it: The greatest regular-season NFL game in Canadian history. That's at least until they play the second one, which surely can't be as lacking in entertainment value as this field goal-fest.

The
Miami Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills 16-3 before 52,134 fans witnessing one of those magnificent kneel-down finishes at the Rogers Centre. The good news is that not all the customers paid the $575 top price for this dog. Plenty of people likely didn't pay anything, although let's not rush into calling them the lucky ones. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Undoubtedly, some customers were delighted to witness this kind of overhyped NFL greatness. Why, these two teams yesterday once went six or seven plays in a row without a false-start penalty.

As they say about another product that can induce stupor, those who like this stuff, like it a lot. Those who bet the Dolphins didn't mind, either. Many will be back, because there are six more of these games – four regular-season and two exhibition – scheduled to be played here in coming seasons as part of the so-called "Bills in Toronto" series. The Bills surely will return, though, without coach Dick Jauron, who might not have made it back over the Peace Bridge with his job intact.

The Bills, missing No. 1 QB Trent Edwards, once again were so woeful on offence that people named William should sue.

The crowd, which contained several thousand unoccupied seats at the beginning, provided one magical moment when a singer named Kreesha Turner, doing a weak and terribly slow version of the Canadian anthem, was loudly overtaken by the entire stadium singing Calixa Lavallée's biggest hit at the proper tempo and thankfully drowning her out.

It was easily one of Toronto's greatest unscripted sporting moments. Ever.

They defended our anthem very well, which is kind of ironic because there has been about 10 months of hand-wringing about this series being the beginning of the end of the Canadian Football League and so on. The easy answer is not this particular game. If more are going to be like this, the two-word answer shouts itself out: Keep it.

The U.S. anthem was sung, incident free, by one Divine Brown, who, upon closer research, turns out to be a Toronto-based singer and therefore obviously not the Divine Brown who was the, uh, automobile companion of actor Hugh Grant that night he got busted in Los Angeles.

A guy had to ask because, you know, organizers were offering all kinds of "special attractions" for the $575 ticket price, without being specific.

The fans greeted a four-yard run by Ricky Williams early in the proceedings with gusto and why not? It was probably the one-time Argonaut's longest run in the building. Actually, Ricky later puffed his way to about a 20-yard TD run, but – you'll never guess – it was called back for a holding penalty.

The game was called a sellout by promoters representing the late Ted Rogers, who bankrolled this series to the tune of $78 million (U.S.), but it wasn't, obviously, sold out in any real definition.

Tickets were available at both the box office and online. (You could buy up to 10 together Saturday, according to a couple of online investigators.)

This kind of blatant dishonesty – otherwise known as peeing in our ears and telling us it is raining – is a long-term problem.

If they make it up so obviously about something insignificant, how can we trust anything they say on any subject?

The NFL, likewise, can't be impressed by people, no matter how rich, who show they didn't do their homework on the business of what a handful of games is worth.

Molly Johnson's Roots Are Showing

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - J.D. Considine

(December 09, 2008) Making an album of standards always involves a certain amount of looking back. First, there are the songs themselves, which mostly date from the 1930s and 40s; then, there's the inevitable acknowledgment of landmark performances by great artists of the past.

But for jazz singer
Molly Johnson, there's a third element: personal history. While the dozen pop chestnuts packed into her new album, Lucky, range from the venerable ( Lush Life, Solitude) to the relatively recent ( What Lola Wants, Ode to Billie Joe), it would be hard to imagine another jazz singer matching the emotional investment Johnson has placed in each. These aren't performances so much as they are statements about who she is as an artist and person.

Her choice of I Loves You Porgy and It Ain't Necessarily So, two well-worn favourites from the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess, aren't merely nods to a pivotal moment in American popular music but a direct statement about Johnson's artistic roots.

“I dedicated the record to Ed [Mirvish],” says Johnson, sitting in a noisy College Street coffee house a few blocks from her home in Toronto. “You know, Ed started this thing by putting me in Porgy and Bess when I was five years old.” Johnson and her siblings were cast as extras in the show after Mirvish and Johnson's mother got into an argument one day on Markham Street.

 “Ed was buying up Markham Street to make an artists' colony for his wife, Ann, and the lady who babysat me when my mom was going back to school was a painter on that street,” Johnson says. “My mom is blond and blue-eyed, and out we come skipping, me and my brother. Ed took one look at us brown-skinned kids and said, ‘Where did they come from?' And my mother said what she loved to say: ‘Well, I birthed each and every one of them.' ”

Johnson wasn't the only Toronto kid who wound up in showbiz because of a chance encounter with Mirvish; Johnson mentions knowing actress Cynthia Dale since she was 5 because the Dales were “the other family that Ed cast from a lot.” Nor was there any sense of careerism in Johnson's early exposure. It was more like a holiday for the family. “If my brother or sister's homework wasn't done, they didn't get sent to the theatre that night. It was that simple.”

Johnson is full of such stories, so much so that trying to interview her is less a matter of question and answer than an exercise in herding shaggy-dog stories. “I'm a bit of a rambler,” she admits with a laugh.

Yet, for all the digression, her conversation doesn't often stray from the Toronto she grew up in, be it the production of Hair, where she first encountered the late Doug Riley, one of her musical mentors (“He was playing piano in the pit band,” she recalls), to the years she spent working through the Great American Songbook in the back room at the Cameron Public House.

“People back then said I should make [an album of standards], and I said, ‘You know what? I'm still working on this thing,' ” Johnson says. “This is something you grow into anyhow. This is a life thing – I recognized that singing in the back room of the Cameron.”

Still, there were songs she loves and has sung that she felt wouldn't be right for such an album. “I love Strange Fruit,” she says of the legendary anti-lynching song. “But Strange Fruit is not something you pull out of the bag and do at parties. I did it for Nelson Mandela – that's about it.'”

Even the inclusion of Solitude, a Duke Ellington song inextricably linked to Billie Holiday, gave her pause, in part because of the “You're just like Billie” reaction her standards performances would invariably spark.

“It was annoying to me, to the point where I just stopped singing it,” she says, clearly riled.

“’You're just like Billie.' You know what, people? You need to get past the colour and the fact that my hair is slicked back, and just say that I am because of Billie. And it used to really annoy me – I mean, that whole generation, they fought, they lost lives so I could not be like Billie.”

Chantal Petitclerc Named Lou Marsh Trophy Winner

Source: www.thestar.com - Cathal Kelly,
Sports Reporter, with files from Star archives

(December 09, 2008)  Two months after blazing through Beijing, wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc is still stuck in an Olympic fog.

“It’s been so crazy since I got home,” she said. “My life has changed. I can’t go out and have a normal day. I feel I’m still on this adrenaline rush. I know at some point it will wear off and I’ll be able to take a step back.”

Maybe. But probably not now.

Petitclerc capped a year of outsized achievement today by winning the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete. Named for a former Toronto Star sports editor, the award is voted on by sports journalists from across the country. Petitclerc is the award’s 71st recipient since 1936.

Speaking from her home in Montreal, Petitclerc, who turns 39 next week, seemed alight with glee after her win.

“It makes the magic of Beijing live a little longer for me,” she said of the award. “It’s a great recognition for Paralympic sport … it gives us great respect.”

In what was seen as an open field, Petitclerc beat out several high-profile pro athletes (basketball’s Steve Nash, baseball’s Justin Morneau) and several Olympic colleagues (equestrian rider Eric Lamaze, triathlete Simon Whitfield and figure skater Jeffrey Buttle).

She did it by entirely dominating her sport. In Beijing, Petitclerc won five gold medals. She set three world records, two of them coming in races held only 90 minutes apart. Her wins in the T54 category of spinal injury ranged from the 100-metre sprint to the 1,500-metre test of wills. She retired from track racing after the games, bringing her consecutive gold medal streak to an end at 10.

It’s hardly turned her head. She found out she’d won the Lou Marsh by email, just as she was headed out the door to reward herself with a post-Olympic present.

“I was on my way out to buy a new car. This was a very exciting day, altogether,” Petitclerc laughed.

Petitclerc grew up in the Quebec village of Saint-Marc-des-Carrieres, about 75 km south of Quebec City. She was paralyzed from the hips down in a childhood accident – a barn door she and a friend were trying to prop up for use as a bike ramp fell and crushed her.

Unable to participate in gym class, Petitclerc took up swimming. At 18, she was introduced to wheelchair racing. A distant last-place finish in her first race has become a cornerstone in the Petitclerc legend.

In four years, an uncommonly strong will and a Herculean training regime had transformed Petitclerc into an elite racer. In her first Olympics – the Barcelona Games in 1992 – the 22-year-old Petitclerc won two bronze medals.

Maybe something of what drove her is explained by the five “heroes” she lists on her personal website. They include Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves and Australian runner Peter Norman, the third man on the podium during the famed black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. What links those two men?

“Passion and conviction,” Petitclerc said. “That’s what inspires me, no matter how they express that passion.”

Since Barcelona, both Petitclerc and the Paralympic movement have taken strides in depth of quality and level of performance.

“I don’t mind people analyzing Paralympic performances versus Olympic performances. I encourage it,” Petitclerc said. “A gold medal in Paralympics is worth the same as a gold at the Olympics, because it took the same amount of work and it was at the same level of competition to get it. I don’t think I could have said that in ’92.”

Over a career that spanned five Olympic Games, Petitclerc won 21 medals in all, 14 of them gold.

Her athletic success, pin-up smile and ease in front of the camera made her a celebrity in Quebec. She’s going to transition slowly into her post-athletic life by moving to road and marathon racing for a few years.

“That’s going to allow me to see what I want to do now that (pause and a giggle) it’s time to grow up.”

She will continue public speaking. A TV career is a possibility. She’s never used her degree in history. Right now, she’s in no rush to decide.

After nearly two decades spent doggedly pursuing athletic success, she’s going to take a moment to enjoy it.

Petitclerc will now add the Lou Marsh to her many other honours, including Maclean’s magazine’s Canadian of the Year in 2004.

She joins Rick Hansen as one of two wheelchair athletes to win the Lou Marsh Trophy. She is the 72nd recipient overall.

Rap Ode To The TTC Draws Online Fans

Source:  www.thestar.com - Tess Kalinowski, Transportation Reporter

(December 10, 2008) It's been 22 years since the Shuffle Demons released their classic, "Spadina Bus," and more than half a century since "The Subway Song" celebrated the construction of the Yonge line in the 1950s.

Now there's a new ode to Toronto transit, a rap song and video called
"I Get On (The TTC)," that has attracted thousands of hits on YouTube and social networking sites since it was posted last week by a couple of 21-year-old performers from Scarborough.

The affectionate, lighthearted look at the city's quintessential ride on the Rocket was written, performed and shot by Humber College student
Syrus, whose real name is Rudolph Anthony Watson.

His friend,
Randal Paul Medford, a former MuchMusic intern and graduate of Centennial College, assisted with the video shoot, backup vocals and 10 hours of editing on the project.

Shot in late November, the video is a playful parody of American rapper Young Jeezy's, "Put On," a song Syrus loved.

Instead of convertibles and scantily clad women, the Toronto duo's version features scenes from Keele and Kipling stations, the 43 Kennedy bus and the TTC stop near Syrus's home.

In one scene, Syrus spills a deck of Metropasses from his pocket. In another, Medford is shown chasing a bus down the road after it fails to stop for him.

"I take the subway from Kennedy to Kipling on a daily basis. I've got nothing to do basically and I'm in comedy writing so I figure I might as well take the hour and a half and write some stuff," said Syrus, an aspiring actor who is studying comedic performance at Humber College.

The video, which pokes fun at the TTC's downside and praises its convenience and affordability, has caught on because so many people can relate to the content, he said.

"Everybody has their individual experiences on (the TTC) but you've got to love it because it's convenient and you see funny stuff all the time, which is why I wrote about it," said Syrus, who has seen it all, from fighting couples to people sitting and standing too close and digging in their ears.

Medford, who wants to direct, act and produce films, says he can't sit down on the bus or subway without falling asleep. But once, standing on a packed Dufferin bus from the Caribana parade for more than an hour, he and a friend engaged fellow passengers in a loud debate on the difference between the sexes.

"The whole bus got into it. It was the most entertaining bus ride I've been on in my life," he said.

The proud pair of Metropass owners knew they were onto something last Friday, a day after Medford posted the video on his YouTube page.

That morning Syrus noted 726 hits. By the time he went to bed, "I Get On," had attracted 4,262 viewers.

A new version of the video was posted yesterday, deleting a brief homophobic slur that appeared in the original and was causing controversy online.

Syrus and Medford say it was meant as a joke but when they realized it was offensive they dropped the word from the video.

TTC chair Adam Giambrone, who happened to ride the Dufferin bus with Medford on Sunday following an awards reception, is supportive of their effort.

"This song, along with a lot of the other pop presentations of the TTC, all confirm the fact that the TTC is important to the day-to-day lives of people. That comes through not only in pop culture references but in ideas and positions people articulate," he said.

::SCOOP::

Got stuff?

Source:  The Urban Organizer

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Marie’s goal is to make your living environment work better for you by using creative solutions that suit your lifestyle and budget.  The result is a home that is functional and stylish.

With a little help from The Urban Organizer, you too can live large in a small space.

For more information about our services or to book a free ½ hour assessment:

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Please visit us at www.theurbanorganizer.ca.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

Unspoiled Splendour

Source:  www.canadiantraveller.net  - By Melanie Reffes

Strung like a necklace in the southeastern Caribbean – 30 minutes as the gull flies from Barbados – St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a strand of 32 islands stretching across the sapphire sea. Named for the Spanish deacon Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of sailors, the islands have been perennial favourites for sailors and yachties; however, savvy travellers are catching on to the unspoiled splendour that is St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

St. Vincent

The heart of the archipelago is St. Vincent with its lush mountains, flowered hillsides, black sandy shorelines created from volcanic ash and underwater life with healthy reefs and a riotous array of marine species. With a movie-perfect landscape, it’s no wonder Hollywood filmed the swashbuckler trilogy Pirates of the Caribbean in Wallilabou Anchorage on the west. The cobblestone capital of Kingstown is easy to navigate on foot although there are plenty of taxis for hire. With cannons pointed inland, Fort Charlotte is a must-see while centuries-old churches beckon history buffs. The Methodist Church was built by freed slaves and the nearby St. George’s Cathedral salutes the Georgian period with a galleried interior dating to 1880. Close to the ferry pier, the Market hustles and bustles with tropical treasures and is busiest on Friday and Saturday when fish, fruit and crafts are sold from stalls that spill onto the sidewalk. Nearby, Heritage Square comes alive when the sun sets with musicians providing a soundtrack of get-up-and-dance rhythms into the wee hours.

Without all-inclusive resorts and swimup bars, St. Vincent is all about Mother Nature at her finest. The best black sand beaches are on the west coast at Wallilabou, Cumberland Bay and Richmond Beach. Brighton Salt Pond is a favourite of locals who come to take a dip and knock back a few at the beach bars.

Founded in 1765 and the oldest in the western hemisphere, Botanical Gardens is a green wonderland with stately teak, mahogany and breadfruit trees that were brought from Tahiti by Captain Bligh after his mutiny on the Bounty failed. With gentle currents and an unruffled surface, diving is best on the west and south coasts where impressive walls give way to a luminous kaleidoscope seen no where else on the planet. A drive up the Leeward Highway and you’ll find cascading waterfalls, sleepy fishing hamlets and greener than green rainforests stocked with wildlife and rare bird species. La Soufriere Volcano, at more than 1,200 metres high, is still active and popular with the hikers in the crowd while the photographers stick close to Crater Lake. On the leeward coast, Bat Cave is a crowd-pleasing adventure above and below the waves. For divers, the adventure begins in a darkened cave first crossing a long tunnel and then navigating a deep fissure in the rocks. Explorers swim down to two enormous boulders where sponges and corals and multihued marine life await. A one-hour hike from Richmond Beach, Trinity Falls is smack in the middle of the rainforest with some of the best photo opportunities on the island. The three falls – hence the name Trinity – are warmed by hot springs with strong currents and the occasional loose boulder.

Accommodations include the Cobblestone Inn overlooking the harbour and Beachcombers Hotel, with a seaside eatery specializing in delectable Vincy salt cod. Perched on a hill with glorious views of the bay, Grenadine House gets rave reviews from foodies who swoon over local-born Chef Ruben Stephens’ cuisine. At the water’s edge, Mariner Hotel’s gourmet French Verandah Restaurant bustles until the last person leaves. A two-minute ferry ride away, Young Island is a chic retreat with sparkling beaches, hummingbirds flitting about the nutmeg trees, guava seed foot scrubs at the Spa Kalina and swishy cottages including #6 where Johnny Depp stayed while filming the Pirates movies. Scrumptious fruity bread is the star attraction and according to Chef Christopher John, his loaves leave a lasting impression. “When our guests get home,” he smiles, “they tell me they miss my warm slices of cinnamon toast.” Note to bread fans: A take-home loaf is US $4.50.

The Grenadines

Measuring 18 square kilometres, Bequia is the largest atoll in the chain. Ferries pull into Port Elizabeth with its funky bars, restaurants and the market the Canadian government helped to build in 1991. Gingerbread houses shaded by almond trees and draped in bougainvillea are scattered about while golden sandy beaches disappear into coves. Steeped in maritime history, model boat builders like Corsini Pollard are delighted to offer tours of their studios. “It takes me three weeks to fashion a boat from the wood of a gum tree,” he says showing off one his delicate creations. Accommodations include Firefly, a plantation house amid coconut and banana groves and Frangipani Hotel, overlooking the yachts in Admiralty Bay. Not yet a year old, Bequia Beach Hotel & Villas is adding 11 swanky suites to open in December with an additional 35 suites to open next year. Sitting pretty on one of the island’s best beaches in Friendship Bay, the cozy hotel is surrounded by tropical gardens in a mélange of rainbow colours. The on property Blue Tropic Café dishes up a cornucopia of Caribbean specialties peppered with Mediterranean charm. Breakfast on the terrace jumpstarts another day in Paradise but for those enjoying the privacy of their suites, room service is available until 10 a.m. and included in the rate. A unique and very private development, Moonhole is a community of 20 free-form homes that cling to the natural curves of the hillside. Without windows or doors, the imaginative structures have no straight lines – some even have trees growing right in the living room.

As famous for its celebrity beachcombers as it is for its sultry sunsets, Mustique is coveted for its lack of crowds and no traffic lights. Mick Jagger owns a villa, so does Tommy Hilfiger and Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. Herons and sandpipers strut in the sun and frigate birds glide overhead while the rest of us wile the day away in a swaying hammock strung between two coconut palms or on one of the nine white coral beaches. Cotton House impresses with a pillow menu, sorbet on the beach and vistas of the sea from the spa. Sitting on stilts over Brittania Bay, Basil’s Bar is lorded over by Basil Charles and his partner, Dianne Wilson who moved from Ottawa in 2002. “Wednesday night is our “jump-up” and if Mick is in the mood, you may hear the concert of a lifetime,” she says. A 15-minute flight from St. Vincent, Canouan is home to the uber-luxe Trump International Golf Club and Raffles Resort with the Amrita Spa that welcomes travellers with a lemon and ginger salt glow and a sea crystal body polish. The Resort is amphitheatre-style around the bay with ocean views from each of the 156 luxury villas. Perched high on a hill overlooking the northern Grenadines is the exclusive Villa Monte Carlo with the Trump Club Privee that includes a European-style casino, fine dining at La Varenne and an elegant ballroom for weddings and corporate meetings.

No airport and a tiny unnamed village, Mayreau sits on a half-moon shaped beach and is one of the smallest inhabited Grenadine Islands. Accessible only by boat, this tiny sliver of tranquility received electricity only a year ago. Chocked full of Marley memorabilia, Robert Righteous’ & de Youths Seafood Restaurant is legendary for both the sumptuous fish menu and the chilled-out vibe.

Petit St. Vincent is a sliver of Shangri-la with 22 cottages and one restaurant serving seafood so fresh it’s still angry. With a bamboo flag pole as the main means of communication (yellow flag brings cocktails to the beach and a red flag signals Do Not Disturb); the biggest decision will be a lobster picnic on the beach or an apple-rubbed turkey dinner under the stars. Pam Duffield markets the island to those hatching winter escape plans and says seclusion is the big allure. “Guests immediately disconnect from the worries of everyday, beginning from the moment they arrive when they are whisked away to their private cottage which has no TV, phone or Internet.” Although such a sunny paradise doesn’t come cheap with nightly rates from US $675 to US $1,020, it’s well worth the splurge.

Union Island is a Mecca for scuba excursions; Palm Island suits seclusion seekers, and the five islets protected by a rainbow-coloured reef are the Tobago Cays, one of the finest snorkelling spots in the world. From traversing nature trails and sailing the high seas to fine dining and a massage on the beach, there is something for every vacationer in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

More St. Vincent &The Grenadines

For more information on St. Vincent and the Grenadies, visit the St. Vincent Tourist Office at www.svgtourism.com.

::MUSIC NEWS::

And The Grammy Nominations Go To ...

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

(December 04, 2008) Rap and pop-rock lead the field of contenders for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, which will held Feb. 8.

Southern hip-hop star Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, which lived up to the single "A Milli" by selling a million copies its first week, received eight nominations including best rap song for "Lollipop" and Album of the Year.

That was followed by seven nods for Coldplay's Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, which is also vying for Album of the Year, along with Radiohead's In Rainbows, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss's Raising Sand and surprise entry Ne-Yo's Year of the Gentleman.

The contest for the next most coveted prize – Record of the Year – is a diverse field with Coldplay ("Viva La Vida") and Plant/Krauss ("Please Read the Letter") again, along with Brit vocalists Adele ("Chasing Pavements") and Leona Lewis ("Bleeding Love") and an out-of-the-box entry by rapper MIA ("Paper Planes"), who recently said she was giving up music.

Rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West and Ne-Yo rounded out the top-tier with six nominations apiece.

The nominations were revealed last night in a televised prime-time concert, a first for the Recording Academy, which usually announces nominees at a morning press conference. The telecast is seen as a way to boost interest in the awards show whose last offering ranked as one of the least watched Grammys with 17.2 million viewers.

Mariah Carey opened The Grammy Nominations Concert Live! – Countdown to Music's Biggest Night singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and looking like a retro snow bunny in a red minidress and white knee-high leather boots.

The event, hosted by two-time Grammy winner LL Cool J, 40, and country newcomer Taylor Swift, 18, featured A-List singers performing Grammy Hall of Fame Classics before an audience of 6,000 at the Nokia Theatre in L.A.

The highlights included a seated, subdued Celine Dion singing Janis Ian's 1975 Grammy winner "At Seventeen," the Foo Fighters rocking out on Carly Simon's 1973 No. 1 hit "You're So Vain," Christina Aguilera showing off jazz chops with George Gershwin's gem "I Loves You Porgy" in tribute to Nina Simone and a sizzling "Let the Good Times Roll" by axemen B.B. King and John Mayer.

Just six of the event's 110 categories were announced during last night's concert; not unlike how only top-tier prizes are given out on camera during the awards show.

The full list of nominees was rolled out online afterwards and includes Canadians Neil Young for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, Rufus Wainwright for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, Northern Cree for Best Native American Music Album and Walter Ostanek for Best Polka Album.

The Jonas Brothers and Duffy lead the Best New Artist field against Adele, Lady Antebellum and Jazmine Sullivan. Shockingly shut out were Lewis and Katy Perry, who was considered a shoe-in on the basis of her big hit "I Kissed a Girl."

Best Rap Performance By A Duo or Group will be a tough call between Big Boi, T.I., Lil Wayne, Ludacris and Young Jeezy.

Nominated for Best Country Performance, Duo or Group With Vocals are Brooks & Dunn's "God Must Be Busy," Lady Antebellum's "Love Don't Live Here," Rascal Flatts "Every Day," Sugarland's "Stay" and the SteelDrivers's "Blue Side of the Mountain."

The hour-long show also celebrated the launch of the new $34 million Grammy Museum next door.

With files from the Canadian Press

Lil Wayne Cops Seven Grammy Noms

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(December 04, 2008)  *To say Lil Wayne is having a big year is an understatement. And to underscore how big a year he's having, Wednesday evening the diminutive rapper from New Orleans was nominated for a whopping 8 Grammys, including album of he year for "Tha Carter III." Rock band Cold Play was close behind, scoring seven nods.

This year the announcements of the 51st Grammy nominations were made public within a new format. They were part of an hour-long live prime-time CBS concert special hosted by LL Cool J and Taylor Swift.

While Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" was not regarded by critics as his greatest CD, it was the album that made him a pop superstar, thanks to massive hits like "Lollipop" and "A Milli," noted AP writer Sandy Cohen. it also got a lot of attention because it was the only record this year to sell 1 million copies in its first week.

Meanwhile, artist and songwriter/producer Ne-Yo didn't do too badly either. When all was said and done, he wound up with six nominations for his "Year of the Gentleman."

"When I was putting it together, I was trying to do something that everybody could get into, as opposed to just my pop and R&B core group," Ne-Yo said after the ceremony. "I was trying to do something that the world could enjoy and I think that the Grammy people paid attention to that."

Also nominated was new singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan, who has drawn comparisons to Lauryn Hill with her hit "I Need You Bad." She scored an impressive five nominations.

Other multiple nominees included Jay-Z and Kanye West, who had six each.

For a complete list of nominees, visit the Grammy Awards website: www.grammy.com.

Normally the nominations are announced during a morning news conference. But because award shows in general are losing their edge, NARAS, the organization behind the Grammys and CBS decided to put on the prime-time event.

The show kicked off with past Grammy winner Mariah Carey singing a song from her classic Christmas album, decked out in a short red minidress to give some holiday cheer. Held at the Nokia Theatre, the show also celebrated the Saturday opening of the new Grammy Museum next door.

The Grammy Awards telecast itself will be held on CBS on Feb 8 from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles next door to the Nokia Theater.

Rap Beats, Profanity And A Scratch DJ As An Integral Part Of The Orchestration

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(December 04, 2008)   It's Pandora myth meets Degrassi High on an operatic stage, complete with swearing, sex, violence and a didactic twist.

Toronto composer Dean Burry's newest creation,
Pandora's Locker, is a provocative one-act opera aimed at teenage audiences and commissioned by the Royal Conservatory of Music's Glenn Gould School.

The goal is to create great art that will resonate with young adults and a production that advances the conservatory's educational mandate by taking on topical social issues.

Tomorrow night's world premiere in the conservatory's Mazzoleni Hall will be lavish. Conductor and composer Brian Current will lead a 13-member orchestra through Burry's work, which is scored for piano, a string quartet and two turntables. The production, directed by Jennifer Parr, features elements of Greek drama and mythology such as a chorus and masques and has been cast with conservatory students of all ages. The story's characters contain elements of archetypal Greek figures from Zeus to Prometheus.

Burry, 36, has wanted to work with the Pandora myth for many years, but had to wrench it into the present. He disposed of what he saw as misogynistic elements in the story, replacing them with a tale of a woman's struggle to find her voice against the social backdrop of her high school. Conscious of the fact that it had to resonate with a teenage audience, Burry frankly addresses issues of gun violence, broken families, peer alienation and anger.

His libretto contains liberal use of expletives and he consulted a younger crowd to get a handle on slang. But he tried not to go overboard, hoping to avoid using language that would sound dated in a matter of years.

"I want it to get down, I want it to be gritty, I want it to really speak with an authentic voice. This is the way kids talk to each other in the hallways," said David Visentin, associate dean of the Glenn Gould School, who had been discussing the commission with Burry since 2006.

To get the point across to potential audiences, the conservatory enlisted the University of Toronto's department of social work to help write a suitable disclaimer to attach to the piece. "It's about finding solutions to contemporary problems using art," Visentin said. "Pandora is about dealing with that which blocks potential: anger, violence, this type of thing."

Burry, who teaches at the conservatory and has carved out a niche composing for younger audiences, said the educational element is crucial but secondary. "The ultimate goal here is to create a viable, integral, exciting work of art that appeals to younger audiences," he said.

That also meant exploring the musical tastes of a new generation. "A lot of the rhythm and cadence that you find in rap is used directly in the opera," Burry said, admitting he was no expert in the genre.

To enhance the rhythmic feel, he incorporated a turntable scratch artist, a delicate task which Burry has managed brilliantly, according to Visentin.

"I didn't want it to be, 'Let's tack on the scratch guy so it looks hip.' He's become an integral part of the orchestration," Visentin said.

As Burry points out, some phrases were directly inspired by the sounds and rhythms of the DJ scratch: "Pandora-dora-dora, whatcha gonna say, whatcha gonne be, whatcha gonna do?"

Visentin worked hard to fund the new opera, especially when original cost estimates ballooned to between $25,000 and $30,000. He had to "beat bushes" to find new sources of funding, no small task given that the conservatory was in the midst of a major renovation of its Bloor Street home in Toronto, driven by a $110-million fundraising campaign.

But Visentin found the funds and hopes to commission more projects in the future. It is the conservatory's first operatic commission on this scale, but a model exists in a similarly themed touring production of The Brothers Grimm Burry composed for the Canadian Opera Company from 1998 to 2001.

About 50,000 schoolchildren have seen that production, which is believed to be the most viewed Canadian opera in history. Pandora's Locker could have a similar run, having been designed to pack easily into the back of a van and mount virtually anywhere there is a piano.

Q-Tip Still A One-Man Tribe

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

(December 04, 2008) It's taken nine years for Q-Tip to produce a follow-up to his solo debut Amplified, which yielded hits "Breathe and Stop" and "Vivrant Thing," but the Brooklyn native hasn't lost form: with his abstract rhymes and hypnotic pinched flow, The Renaissance, released last month, is winning acclaim as one of the year's top hip-hop albums.

The disc, which features jazz musicians like pianist Marc Cary and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, alongside R&B singers Raphael Saadiq and D'Angelo, as well as beats from deceased hip-hop producer J. Dilla, builds on the MC's reputation for creating a unique style out of a fusion of the traditional and contemporary.

He came to the fore with Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad in the trio A Tribe Called Quest, which disbanded in 1998 after a decade of notable tunes such as "Bonita Applebum," "Can I Kick It?" and "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo."

These days Q-Tip, 38, a self-taught musician who plays drums, bass and keyboards on his new record, is touring with a five-piece band that includes DJ Scratch from EMPD.

The Star spoke with the rapper by phone in advance of tomorrow's show at the Phoenix, which he said will showcase solo material and A Tribe Called Quest gems.

Q: Why did you choose this name for the album?

A: I wanted to indicate a re-energizing feeling, of harmony, of melody, of earnestness, or just goodness. I felt like there was a void, so the title spoke to having a hopeful renaissance.

Q: Record label politics have been cited for the long stretch between your solo albums. Was there any interference from your label about the direction of your music this time around?

A: No. They tried and they kind of held me up for a little bit, because (Universal Motown boss) Sylvia Rhone was trying to give me advice on something, but not really knowing much about it.

Q: Why did you ask Norah Jones to provide vocals for hip-hop ode "Life is Better?"

A: I just love her tone. I love her instrument. She has an amazing voice. She's one of the most popular artists in the world, but in the hip-hop setting certainly not as much. People would probably think it better served to get someone like a Mary J. Blige, or Alicia Keys, or Rihanna, or someone like that, but I just thought Norah was uniquely herself.

Q: What determined which songs you played on the album?

A: Sometimes the feeling was there, sometimes certain people can better get certain things out of an instrument, which makes the idiom of music so vast. You can get Herbie Hancock to sit at a piano and you get Paul McCartney to sit at a piano and they can play the same song, and you'll get two totally different things. The same thing holds true for me. It's about the colour you're trying to access.

Q: Do you think there will ever be another Tribe album?

A: No.

Q: Why so definitive?

A: Because Tribe is done. The last album we did was 10 years ago.

Q: But you guys still tour occasionally.

A: Because we enjoy that aspect of it. But to go in and try to create something ... I think we're pretty far gone from that.

Q: Why does the album version of "Shaka" not include excerpts of Barack Obama speaking as I understand earlier versions did?

A: Because Universal Motown is scared and they think that the president of the United States is gonna sue them. That's record company people for you. Go figure.

Just the facts
WHO: Q-Tip, with Cool Kids and The Knux

 

WHERE: Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St.

WHEN: Friday, 10 p.m.

TICKETS: $24.50 at Ticketmaster

Kradjian Shines From The Shadows

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

(December 06, 2008) Some people prefer working alone in the spotlight. Others draw strength and inspiration from collaborations.

Toronto pianist
Serouj Kradjian belongs in the second category, which may be why not many of us are yet aware of the substantial talent living and working in our midst.

His biggest claim-to-fame right now is accompanying and arranging music for his wife, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Their latest collaboration, a disc of songs by Armenian composer Gomidas, which Kradjian arranged for chamber orchestra, earned Bayrakdarian a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Performance on Wednesday night.

As of this season, the pianist has also become a member of the Amici Chamber Ensemble, as well as writing new music for them. This high-powered chamber group includes Toronto Symphony principal clarinet Joaquin Valdepeñas and assistant principal cello David Hetherington.

What you won't find Kradjian doing, at least in this part of the world, is playing solo piano.

The roots of his unprepossessing need to share comes from an early childhood in civil war-ravaged Beirut. Kradjian, now in his mid-30s, is the oldest of four boys, born of Armenian ex-pats living in Lebanon – by many accounts, an idyllic place to live before it was torn apart by civil war starting in the mid-1970s.

Kradjian's parents weren't going to let anything get in the way of their son's musical education. "When my father decided to bring in a piano in the middle of the war, everybody thought he's crazy, because that was the last thing people were thinking about," Kradjian relates of a fateful day when he was 5 years old.

The piano was carried up to the family's fourth-floor apartment in downtown Beirut, "where it became a source of love, if I can describe it in one word," Kradjian continues.

The building's residents would cower in basement bunkers during periods of heavy shelling. "When there was a break in the bombardments, my father would take me up to the fourth floor so that I could practise a bit," the pianist recalls.

"My parents used to sit beside me when I practised – they were vocal critics sometimes, appreciative sometimes – but it really became something which made us forget for a while the situation outside.

"That's my memory of what this instrument could do."

Even though a piano is not portable, Kradjian's father had chosen it because there were a lot of piano teachers around, he says.

By the 1980s, the Kradjians, like so many other Lebanese, had given up on peace returning to their ruined country. They were also afraid that their sons would eventually be called for military service, so they emigrated to Toronto.

Kradjian graduated with a degree in piano performance from the University of Toronto in 1994, then went to the world-renowned Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover, Germany, to study with a favourite pianist, Einar Steen-Nokleberg. "His claim to fame is the complete Grieg works for piano for the Naxos label," Kradjian says. "It's wonderful. For me, it's the recording of those pieces."

Kradjian hadn't made a final commitment to a piano career until he went to Germany. There, the school emphasized practical work over theory. It is also where he discovered the joys of collaborating with other musicians instead of spending solitary hours every day practising solo material. "Looking around, all I saw was participating in competitions. For most of my friends, not only pianists, it was the thing to do," says Kradjian.

"So I made a conscious decision. It was not that I didn't like competitions, but I found them too limiting and too lonely, both on the stage and off the stage. I wanted to explore every type of music making."

After graduating from Hanover, Kradjian took a teaching post at the conservatory in Madrid, and made his first solo recordings with Warner Music Spain. He is still officially on the faculty, but only goes for master classes.

"Toronto is my main home base now," says Kradjian. He and Bayrakdarian have a son, Ari, who turned 1 yesterday. Home is an important place to be right now.

Kradjian says the first chamber music concert he ever attended was given by Amici. Patricia Parr, the ensemble's pianist for two decades, was his chamber-music teacher at U of T. So he feels honoured to be able to pick up where Parr left off after retiring at the end of the 2005-06 season.

Kradjian's professional ideal is French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, known worldwide as a superb accompanist and chamber-music collaborator – as well as a top solo performer.

Tomorrow afternoon, Amici is getting together at the Glenn Gould Studio to will play a new composition by Kradjian, as well as Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, in honour of what would have been the French composer's 100th birthday on Dec. 10. (For ticket info, go to glenngouldstudio.cbc.ca/concerts/current/dec.html)

That masterpiece was written and first performed in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.

It's fair to say that Kradjian may have been better prepared than most to tackle the intense emotions and spiritual reflections behind this music born in conflict.

Arranging his way toward Grammy glory

Late last summer, Isabel Bayrakdarian, left, released an album of songs by Armenian composer Gomidas, recorded by the Armenian Chamber Orchestra (a program the couple presented live in October at Roy Thomson Hall with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra).

Bayrakdarian earned a Grammy nomination on Wednesday for her vocal performance on that album.

All of the orchestral arrangements were by Serouj Kradjian, who came up with the light-as-air textures through trial and error: "Doing it, listening to it, learning from my mistakes – learning what I don't like, what I like," he says.

Kradjian calls Gomidas's piano originals "almost minimalist. There are few notes on the page." So he wanted to be careful not to change the music's character. The pianist says it's important to capture the "meaning of the music, to give a why you're orchestrating it.

"There was a temptation to go bigger – symphony orchestra," instead of chamber, he admits. "I started out, for some songs, to do a bigger orchestra, but it did not convince me at all because it completely changed the character."

Gomidas has been rearranged "many times," for string quartet for example, but Kradjian says these versions are not true to Gomidas's compositional spirit.

Kradjian says he works away from the piano most of the time when arranging or composing, because he can hear the orchestra in his head. It gives pianists more depth at the keyboard. "I believe it really contributes to their imagination of sound and what they want to bring out from a particular piano piece."

Joyous Homecoming For Singer In Ethiopia

Source:  www.thestar.com - John Goddard, Staff Reporter

(December 9, 2008) ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA–Toronto singer Kemer Yousef pranced and swirled through a sensational first homecoming performance at the capital city's Millennium Hall last night before upward of 20,000 celebrating a national unity holiday.

"Hello, hello, hello, hello," he growled mischievously to begin his hit song "Hello."

Some fans sat on other's shoulders and waved banners boasting "Oromiya," the pop star's birth region, while others sported colours and flags representing the country's more than 70 ethnic groups. They were celebrating Nations and Nationalities Day, an event that spills over today into a parade of tribal peoples through the city centre.

The concert also coincided with Eid-al-Adeha, marking the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, an important holiday for the large Muslim population in this otherwise Christian Orthodox country.

"I'm overwhelmed," the star said earlier in the day, his eyes tearing slightly, after a man rushed to his car window and offered him his white prayer cap.

"I have nothing to give you but this hat," the man said as others quickly gathered around. "I am your biggest fan. I don't even understand your language, but I am learning it to know your lyrics."

As concert headliner, Kemer (Yousef is his father's name) solidified his status as a symbol of unity and reconciliation for this East African country.

Now 45, he fled Ethiopia on foot to Somalia 24 years ago to escape the murderous Derg, the communist military dictatorship of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Three years later in Toronto he began a singing career, eventually establishing himself in expatriate communities throughout North America, Europe and Australia as one of the top singers among his ethnic Oromo people.

Then came his astonishing breakthrough. His seven-track music DVD Nabek, released in Ethiopia last year and featuring Toronto as a luxury backdrop, seemed to cross all ethnic lines.

Former persecutors of the long-exploited Oromo embraced such pop hits as "Hello," "Oromia" and especially "Nunawe." Whatever the explanation, Kemer rose to No. 1 pop star in almost every region and his arrival here two weeks ago only increased the frenzy.

Smiling police officers yesterday ushered him through otherwise closed downtown thoroughfares. Passersby bowed and reached to shake his hand.

"Kemer is more than a singer," Oromia state President Abbaaduulaa said in an interview. "He is part of our history, part of our struggle.... He is one of Ethiopia's most unifying musicians."

Paradoxically, such popularity poses career risks for the star.

Until last year, Kemer's fan base had been Oromo exiles, including members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front. While many Oromo people have turned toward federalism in recent years, a separatist movement continues and many exiles hang on to old resentments.

"I want to concentrate on cultural things," Kemer said in an interview. "Once you get into politics some people love you and some people hate you. Now, even if people don't love me they don't hate me."

Kemer's homecoming, which continues with concerts in other parts of the country in coming weeks, also coincides with the criminal conviction last week of long-time pop star Teddy Afro, a U.S. resident known for politically controversial double entendres.

The court handed him a six-year sentence for killing a homeless person in a car accident and leaving the scene, although the charge was brought two years after the alleged incident and the death certificate was found to be falsified.

"All of his supporters, and there are a lot, believe that the government wants to shut his mouth," French musicologist Francis Falceto, producer of the popular Ethiopiques CD series, said in an interview Friday.

Keyshia Cole Set To Release 3rd CD

Source: Elkin Hoyos, ThinkTank Marketing, elkin@thinktankmktg.com; Tresa Sanders, Interscope Geffen A&M, tresa.sanders@umusic.com

(December 10, 2008) *Hugely successful Grammy nominated R&B singer and songwriter KEYSHIA COLE is set to close out 2008 with a bang. 

Three (3) songs from her second album reached number one (#1) status -- "Let It Go" (w/Missy Elliott and Lil Kim), "I Remember" and "Heaven Sent." 

Her reality show "The Way It Is" became the most-watched program in BET's history, and with season three having started yesterday, November 11th, Keyshia Cole is sure to make history again. 

Keyshia's third album, A Different Me - Executive Produced by Keyshia, Manager Manny Halley and Geffen Records Chairman Ron Fair is set for release on Tuesday, December 16, 2008.

Click
HERE to instantly HEAR Keyshia Cole's new single, "You Complete Me."

Keyshia Cole is the definitive soul singer to emerge in this decade, and she is in good company.  Over the past seven decades, precious few R & B females have touched the hearts of America.  From Billie Holiday to Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, and Mary J. Blige - Keyshia possesses the same innate quality of telling the truth through song like her predecessors.  Her pain becomes your pain, her joy, your joy.

All of the songs for A Different Me were written or co-written by Keyshia with production from award-winning producers such as Ron Fair, Polow Da Don, the Trackmasters, The Runners, Kwame and Neffu.  Guest appearances include Kanye West, Nas, a duet with Monica, and a posthumous appearance from Tupac.

Keyshia was nominated for two Grammy awards in 2007 for "Best Contemporary R&B Album" for "Just Like You" and "Best Rap-Sung Collaboration" for "Let it Go" (w/Missy Elliott and Lil' Kim). She has also received awards and or nominations from the American Music Awards, Music Choice Awards, NAACP Awards, BET Awards, Vibe Awards, and ASCAP Awards.

Born in 1981 in Oakland, California, Keyshia didn't have it easy.  The Cole's adopted her after her mother Frankie, an addict at the time, could no longer take care of her.  Twenty plus years later, she is still trying to put all of the pieces of the puzzle we call life together - discovering long lost siblings, mending the relationship with her mother who was recently released from jail and supporting her sister, Neffe, and her four children.

The road to riches wasn't easy for Keyshia and still isn't. Besides the release of a new album, new season of her BET reality show, touring and personal appearances, Keyshia is gearing up for the production of a movie based on her life.  Be sure to catch her on BET every Tuesday night at 10PM.

Jamie Foxx Prepares To Drop 'Intuition'

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(December 10, 2008) *Jamie Foxx says his upcoming album "Intuition," due Dec. 16 via J, was crafted as a departure from his chart-topping, double-platinum 2005 release "Unpredictable." "'Unpredictable' was more, like, slow, bedroom things, which was great but when I went on the road we had all these ballads, so sometimes I had to work a little harder to keep people's attention," the singer tells Billboard.com. "With ('Intuition'), we've got all these legitimate club, international hits and the tempo is up. People hear this record and go absolutely nuts for it."

Guests and producers on the project include T.I. (on the first single, "Just Like Me"), Kanye West, the-Dream and Tricky Stewart, Ne-Yo, Fabolous, Timbaland and Floetry's Marsha Ambrosius.

"Number One," with Lil Wayne, is currently being "floated" into the clubs, while "Blame It," with T-Pain, is slated to be worked in mid-January.

"I think people are slowly wanting to work with me more as far as music is concerned," notes Foxx, who studied piano on a scholarship to United States International University. "I do run into a lot of roadblocks. I've been trying to break down those sort of preconceived thoughts that this is just a hobby to me or ... 'He's already got enough.' People want to work with you, but sometimes they don't take it seriously until they hear the records and see the direction I'm going with. I think it'll be even easier to get people to feature with me for the next record."

Foxx says he will promote "Intuition" with a spring tour, after he finishes a 10-week shoot for "Law Abiding Citizen," a drama with Jerry Butler. His next film, "The Soloist" -- the true-life story of homeless cello virtuoso Nathaniel Ayers -- is due in theaters this March.

"I just see something really high-energy," Foxx says of the shows. "I see myself probably with Ne-Yo, out on the road, a little different demographic than what 'Unpredictable' was. A high-energy, great show -- just hit 'em and quit 'em."

Metric On The Road Again

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(December 10, 2008) A few steps up from Queen West on Ossington Avenue sits a tiny vintage clothing shop, ground zero for alt-altitude in Toronto. It's also near the studio where indie champions Metric have been finishing their much-anticipated, long-awaited new album. But the exact location of the studio is well concealed.

Inquire inside the shop and you're directed, with barely a flick of a finger, to an adjacent doorway, as in “God, you must be soooo out of it not to know where to go.”

As it turns out, the sequestered backroom studio, built by Metric guitarist James Shaw and Sebastien Grainger, formerly of the band Death From Above 1979, could well become a must-know spot for indie musicians. With its stacks of old equalizers and pre-amps, dusty organs lining the wall and an utterly giant mid-eighties mixing board, it's where Shaw and Metric's singer-songwriter-keyboardist, Emily Haines, have been completing the new album, finally due to be released in late winter-early spring.

Currently the band, perpetually on tour, is heading out again across Canada, beginning tomorrow in Toronto, with the Dears and other acts, in support of Covenant House and other charities aiding children. But earlier, while still completing the album, Shaw and Haines could be found on the studio couch, talking about the very long recording process.

 “I always used to romanticize walking in, and it'd be like ‘Oh, it's so brilliant,' and then you'd walk away,” Haines said. What she means is the exact opposite: It's rarely so easy.

The band's last studio album, Live It Out, in 2005, tried for that sense of upfront immediacy. Compared with the layered sound of Broken Social Scene – the sprawling Toronto rock collective that Haines and Shaw have also worked with – Metric gravitates toward a stripped-down garage sound.

But after only a few minutes with Shaw and Haines behind the stacks of pre-amps, it's clear that the two, particularly Shaw, enjoy the endless studio tinkering, the creative grind over stardom for stardom's sake.

For Haines, recording this album and feeling secure about the band is “total redemption for all the years of wondering why we weren't in a conventional [record] deal,” she said.

Added Shaw, “In retrospect, when I look back at people who did take those [deals], I'm not like that. I prefer to do things our own interesting way.”

This has meant a circuitous path. They have had to move their base of operations over the past decade from Toronto to Montreal, New York, London, Los Angeles and back to Toronto, if not entirely by choice. The new album is self-financed, but will be released in Canada through Last Gang Records.

“In this band, there has always been the question, should we have gotten a big, major-label record deal in the nineties when we were in New York? Or people say to us, ‘You guys should be bigger and it all should have happened faster,' ” Haines said. But, she added, this is “who we are and that's the life I want. You're constantly revising. In our case, it's always been steady, small steps.”

For the new album, the sessions were sporadic. An early session took place at Bear Creek Studios, a recording space in a converted farmhouse north of Seattle, where the band captured the first batch of songs with a woodsier, more mellow feel than Metric's usual sound.

Then last summer, Metric continued with a writing session in Toronto incorporating electronic, dancier elements. Recently, Haines, a compulsive traveller, went to Argentina in a kind of self-imposed alienation to write. Adding to this peripatetic method is the fact that bassist Josh Winstead lives in New York and drummer Joules Scott-Key lives in Oakland.

The album isn't trying for reinvention, but refinement. “It has more depth. But in terms of the material, we've experimented with losing a little bit of the trickiness. I think the last record was more prog than this one. This is more pop. We just went for the idea that simple is good,” Shaw said.

Asked whether Metric inevitably has a discernible Toronto sound, Haines immediately sat up and challenged the idea. For her, Metric's music is simply autobiographical. She has a hard time hearing similarities with other bands.

“When you write a record, you're writing a script for your life, particularly for a band like Metric which tours so much,” she said. “Any band can tell you that if you've toured for three years straight, certain aspects of your ability and part of what brought you into music to begin with starts to recede behind the repetition and boredom of touring.

“I know, at least for me, I was not interested in taking a photograph of myself in that place. It was really about using this record as a way to go further … and basically to make sure I'm totally uncomfortable,” she added with a laugh.

Metric plays Toronto on Dec. 12 and 13; Winnipeg, Dec. 15; Saskatoon, Dec. 16; Edmonton, Dec. 17; Calgary, Dec. 18 and 19; and Vancouver, Dec. 21, 22 and 23.

Math Teacher Keeping His Country In The City

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

(December 04, 2008)  Like most of his songwriter heroes, Cape Breton-raised troubadour Michael Brennan doesn't have much to say about himself. Humble and self-effacing, perhaps to a fault, he's happy to let his rugged, bighearted songs do his talking. He figures if people listen, the songs will take him where he needs to go.

That's one reason he has been able to hold down Sunday afternoons at Graffiti's, the honky-tonk boite in Kensington Market that is home to Toronto's most earnest and least affected country, folk and blues artists, for nine solid years.

"The audience there waxes and wanes," Brennan said earlier this week, "but it's casual and cozy, and they let me do what I want to do."

But partly as the result of critical praise for his just-released second solo album, Anywhere But Here, Brennan, a part-time math teacher and full-time dad, is starting to make a name for himself outside his traditional home turf ... as far north as College St. He's the featured artist tomorrow night at Free Times Café's recently inaugurated Blue Fridays showcase of "big names in a small room, offering an intimate personal experience," in the words of curator and booker Brian Gladstone.

"Blue Fridays is for artists who need no introduction ... mostly blues acts, because sadly there are fewer and fewer places to hear the blues in Toronto," Gladstone said. "On Wednesday nights we bring in folk artists and songwriters of all kinds.

"The idea was to create a place for roots musicians and songwriters to hang out with friends, the way I used to hang out at Norm's Living Room (hosted by Toronto songwriter, the late Norm Hacking) at the Tranzac Club.

"Norm's gone and I miss him, and there are no rooms I know that provide that kind of informal pass-the-guitar environment."

For Brennan, who'll be accompanied tomorrow night by Steve Briggs, primo guitar slinger and co-founder of the country swing band The Bebop Cowboys, the gig is a chance to get in front of a crowd that's not so familiar with his muscular performing style, deep and intense baritone, and the raw-edged songs of displacement, misplaced hope and heartbreak that are the core of Anywhere But Here.

"I'd like to be playing more often," Brennan said. "Because of my job and family, I can't really get out and tour, though I'm hoping to get some festival bookings in the summer."

Brennan's new songs retell the quintessential Canadian story – about the journey from the desperate edges of the landscape to the gleaming urban heart, and the dreams and spirits that are broken there – with all the passion and power that his true Maritimer's heart can muster. These are pure country songs, delivered with an emotional candour that makes the detached irony of many contemporary composers sound phoney and contrived.

"I don't have an agenda," Brennan said. "I write when the urge strikes me. I write about the dichotomy of life in Cape Breton, where I tour every summer, and Toronto. This past year death touched my family in the East, so that got me thinking about mortality and distance. If people are looking for a theme, that just about sums it up."

Just the facts
WHO: Michael Brennan with Steve Briggs

WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Free Times Café, 320 College St.

TICKETS: $10 at the door

M.I.A. Finds Herself A Star

Source: www.thestar.com - Nekesa Mumbi Moody,
Associated Press

(December 07, 2008) NEW YORK–Though M.I.A. has been hailed by critics since she made her debut in 2005, her fiery lyrics, which speak against corrupt political systems and talk of revolution and violence, have always ensured her a place far outside of music's mainstream – until recently.

Her song "Paper Planes," an incendiary song about the frustrations of immigrants, became a hit after its use in the summer stoner comedy Pineapple Express, and now, M.I.A. has gone from underground artist to commercial success. Her ranking on music's ``It" list shot up last week when the Recording Academy nominated "Paper Planes" for record of the year.

But in a recent interview, the British-born, Sri Lankan-reared rapper conceded that it has taken time to get used to her new position in pop.

"I came out on some sort of political edge, and I was inspired by the politics that were going on at the time," says M.I.A., who's expecting her first child in February.

"I never thought it would get accepted and I was gonna be like, commercially accepted, or accepted by the masses, because that was the point – people who thought like me were outsiders."

M.I.A., whose music is an eclectic mix of raps, world beats and whirring sonics, first arrived on the scene with Arular. The CD was as much a political statement as a musical one, as she referenced Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, separatists who have been battling the Sinhalese-controlled governments to create a homeland for ethnic minority Tamils. M.I.A.'s father was part of the group.

Partly because of those ties, she was denied a long-term work visa to enter the United States for a time, receiving one in 2007, when she also released Kala.

That CD was even more influenced by world affairs after she travelled to places like India and Africa to record it. "Paper Planes," which is featured in the acclaimed movie Slumdog Millionaire, has a dreamy world beat but its lyrics have a darker tone.

"People could say, 'Oh my God, this song is so violent,' but at the same time, there was a war in Iraq. I felt like certain people made so much money from selling ammunition and military weapons and stuff, and killed a million people, and it wasn't even an issue that was raised," says M.I.A., who splits her time between her New York apartment and Los Angeles.

"For a song like that be listed in the top 10, it made me really happy," she adds.

Although she gained worldwide attention for her song, she says she doesn't consider herself a commercial artist. She credits her success to people becoming more open and accepting to alternative views – and music: "The world is becoming more conscious."

And she says fans don't have to worry about her softening her style. But she allows impending motherhood may provide her with new material, and perhaps a new outlook on life.

"I always kind of made music from quite an angry place and I always thought it was more macho," she says. "(But) I don't want to be (tough) like a dude. I wanna be a good woman."

MUSIC TIDBITS

Economic Crisis No Excuse To Cut Foreign Aid: Geldof

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(December 03, 2008)   WINNIPEG – Musician and activist Bob Geldof says the current economic crisis is no excuse to cut foreign aid. Geldof, who is visiting Winnipeg, says there is no reason to turn the global financial crisis into a "human crisis." He says governments around the world are always looking for an opportunity to cut what little they give to African countries. But Geldof says that's short-sighted. He says international aid is a tiny part of any national budget and most countries have plenty of money to weather the economic storm. Geldof is in Winnipeg to accept an international humanitarian award from a hospital.

A Composer With His Finger On The Pulse

Source: www.thestar.com -
John Terauds

(December 05, 2008) Whatever you do, don't call this a hip-hop opera. Composer Dean Burry was adamant that the role of a scratch DJ would become an integral part of Pandora's Locker, not the dominant force or a gimmicky add-on. "I wanted the sound to reflect the reality of today's teens," he says during an early rehearsal. He points to the libretto, which uses certain forms of rhyme and repetition that could have come from rap lyrics. But the music is very much from Burry's own imagination, not a pastiche of current urban clichés. We have just witnessed how, listening to the singers and the orchestra, DJ Fields has seamlessly matched the beats coming from one of his two turntables to the pulse of the other musicians. In essence, Burry is using scratch techniques to give the tiny orchestra the punch of a percussion section, while adding rhythms and pulses that teens in the audience will recognize from their own everyday lives. It's part of a creative process that Burry describes as being "honest" with your audience.

Kanye's 'Heartbreak' Debuts On Top

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(December 05, 2008)  *Kanye West scored his third straight No. 1 album on The Billboard 200 as "808s & Heartbreak" debuts in the top slot above contenders "Chinese Democracy," the long-awaited return of Guns N' Roses, and a surge from Taylor Swift's "Fearless."      West's Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam set moved 450,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. It's the artist's lowest debut sales frame since his first album, "The College Dropout," bowed with 441,000 in 2004.     His last release, "Graduation," began with 957,000 at No. 1 last year, while sophomore set "Late Registration" checked in with 860,000 at No. 1 in 2005.   Swift's "Fearless" and GNR's "Chinese Democracy" are No. 2 and 3 respectively, followed by Beyonce's "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" (Music World/Columbia), which drops 1-4 in its second week with 257,000.      Ludacris debuts at No. 5 with "Theater of the Mind" (DTP/Def Jam) at 213,000. It's the first time one of the rapper's albums debuted anywhere but No. 1 since 2001's "Word of Mouf" bowed and peaked at No. 3.     Meanwhile, Beyonce's track "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" has become the singer's fifth solo No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart – one more than she scored as a member of Destiny's Child.     The single climbs one notch to the top, swapping places with T.I.'s "Live Your Life." Another Beyonce song, "If I Were a Boy," held at No. 3, and another former T.I. chart-topper, "Whatever You Like," held at No. 4. Newcomer Lady GaGa's "Just Dance" featuring Colby O'Donis rose two places to No. 5.   Top debut honours went to Kanye West's "See You in My Nightmares" featuring Lil Wayne, which started at No. 21.

It's 'The End' For Black Eyed Peas

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(December 08, 2008) *The
Black Eyed Peas are referring to their upcoming CD "The END" as more of a "music diary" than a conventional album.  Group leader will.i.am tells Billboard.com that "The END" stands for "The Energy Never Dies," which describes his vision for a project that will be frequently updated throughout its designated cycle. "It's a diary ... of music that at any given time, depending on the inspiration, you can add to it," the artist/producer/songwriter explains. "When it comes out, there'll be 12 songs on it, but the next day there could be 100 songs, 50 sketches, 1,000 blogs all (online) around 'The END,' so the energy really, truly never dies. "I'm trying to break away from the concept of an album. What is an album when you put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs? That's not an album. There is no album anymore." Will.i.am says he and the other Peas have been working on "The END" throughout the year and that the follow-up to 2005's "Monkey Business" is "almost" done. He describes the music as "a lot of dance stuff, real melodic, electronic, soulful. We call it, like, electric static funk, something like that."  The group is plotting a tour for May or June, and will.i.am says group member Fergie has told him that "our show needs to be f*ckin' ridiculous this time. We need to. put together a monster show.' So I'm gonna hold her to that and we're gonna follow her lead and really knock 'em out."

J-Hud Releases Statement On Grammy Nods

Source:
  www.eurweb.com

(December 08, 2008) *Amid the pain of losing her mother, brother and nephew in a triple homicide,
Jennifer Hudson reacted to news of her four Grammy nominations for her self-titled debut album in a statement released Thursday. "It's been a childhood dream of mine to release an album," she said, "so to receive four Grammy nominations is truly a blessing. I'm extremely honoured and humbled by the nominations."  Hudson, 27, was nominated for best R&B album for her self-titled disc, best female R&B vocal performance, best R&B song for "Spotlight" and best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals for her duet with Fantasia, "I'm His Only Woman."  The nominations were announced on the same day her estranged brother-in-law, William Balfour, was ordered held without bail in the Chicago shooting deaths of her mother Darnell Donerson, 57, brother Jason Hudson, 29, and nephew, Julian King, 7. 

Ashford & Simpson On CD, DVD And Blu Ray

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(December 10, 2008) *Ashford & Simpson will release a definitive collection of their Greatest Hits, "Ashford & Simpson: The Real Thing" on CD, DVD and DVD Blu Ray on Jan. 27.  The first-ever live in-concert audio and video recordings are performances by the duo of the hit songs they have written for themselves as well as those made popular by other major music artists.  The package contains over 90 minutes of concert performances with 18 of the Greatest Hits filmed in HD video and surround sound digital audio.  Music artists that have recorded their songs include Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson The Supremes, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston and Mary J Blige.  Most recently they were given credit for their writing talents on Amy Winehouse's Grammy Award winning CD "Back to Black" for the single "Tears Dry On Their Own." The track is based on Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's 1967 Motown classic hit 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough.' Included are 30 minutes of bonus content which includes a retrospective feature from "CBS Sunday Morning," an intimate at-home interview and two tracks from a never-before-seen concert of Dr. Maya Angelou and Ashford & Simpson performing together on stage. The DVD features an exclusive premiere of four songs from Ashford & Simpson's upcoming Broadway musical, "Invisible Life." The live CD features 14 Greatest Hits with over 65 minutes of live performance as well as a link giving the consumer access to ringtones, audio & video streams, links to purchase recordings of Ashford & Simpson songs that have been recorded by other artists and never-before seen interviews.

::FILM NEWS::

When Deepa Met Salman

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Gayle Macdonald

(December 05, 2008) Deepa Mehta first met Salman Rushdie three years ago when friends of hers invited the author to an advance screening in New York of her film Water, the film that went on to an Oscar nomination.

The avid reader (Mehta) and the exuberant cinephile (Rushdie) immediately hit it off, and over subsequent months, the two became fast friends – e-mailing often, and grabbing meals or drinks together whenever they were in the same city.

Earlier this year over yet another (this time, home-cooked) meal at Mehta's Toronto home, the friendship blossomed into a professional collaboration, with the director and her producing (and life) partner David Hamilton acquiring the film rights to Rushdie's 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel,
Midnight's Children.

And so, starting in mid-March, the pair plan to hole up in Rushdie's current hometown of New York for a month, where they'll hammer out a screenplay of the multilayered novel. Given that the book has often been called “unfilmable” – its 650 pages are a fantastical allegory that span three decades, innumerable voices and historic events – Mehta readily admits the big screen adaptation will have its challenges.

But , reached by phone at her mother's home in Delhi, Mehta says she believes they can pull it off. “Both Salman and myself feel one of the reasons that makes Midnight's Children ‘filmable' is because the book is multilayered! Think Tristram Shandy!” (The 2006 Michael Winterbottom film-within-a-film – adapted from the classic 18th-century novel – that went on to be nominated for numerous British film prizes.)

“We speak the same language. … We understand each other,” adds Mehta, who was originally booked to fly to India on the same day terrorists attacked multiple locations in Mumbai, but postponed the trip for three days after her mother pleaded with her to stay put.

“He grew up in Bombay. I grew up in Toronto. He's in New York and I'm in Toronto. Our sensibilities are very similar. We can talk in shorthand and we know the language of India.”

Midnight's Children, a historical novel of modern India, is one of Mehta's favourite novels. It is a complex allegory combining three main tales: the turbulent history of 20th-century India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; the saga of a Muslim family; and the story of one man, Saleem Sinai, (pronounced SEE-nigh) whose telepathic powers allow him to communicate with other children born at the stroke of midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, the date of India's independence from Britain.

It is a highly imaginative, sweeping tale in which Rushdie places Saleem at the site of every significant event that occurred on the Indian subcontinent in the three decades after independence.

In recent weeks, Mehta has already begun plotting the structure of the screenplay in her head. After they hammer out the draft in April, she will then shift her focus to her next $20-million-plus film, Exclusion – about the Komagata Maru incident in which more than 300 Indian nationals were refused entry into Canada – which is slated to begin shooting in Vancouver this September. And she is still involved with her last film, Heaven on Earth: This week, she will be heading to the Dubai Film Festival where the movie is in competition with her brother Dilip's documentary, The Forgotten Woman.

Midnight's Children will get under way in 2010, mostly likely filming in Sri Lanka or India, or both.

“Salman is very easy to work with,” says Mehta, of the man whose fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988) earned him death threats from Muslims in countless countries as well as a fatwa (religious edict) issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran. As a result of the latter, Rushdie spent nearly a decade underground, appearing in public only sporadically to criticize the fatwa as a threat to freedom of expression.

“He is somebody who is so brilliant and decorated, and he has a wonderful sense of humour. He's not at all precious, and he's a very hard-working and generous man. Both of us feel it's so much easier to be good friends working together as opposed to two people who don't know each other.

“What Salman wants from me is to actually do a treatment,” further explains Mehta. “What I want from him are the details and his sense of dialogue. He is an amazing writer and talker. I will provide the structure, the skeleton [of the screenplay], and he will provide the meat – or the skin and bones.

“I've started a skeleton thing as images come to my mind, and I feel I know how to start the film, and how to condense the characters.” The first week of co-writing, Mehta adds, she and Rushdie will walk through the treatment. Then they will each go away and communicate by e-mail. The fourth week, they will do the draft together.

Like Mehta, Hamilton readily concedes the interwoven material in the book will “stretch our ability to create … in a way that visually expresses the richness that is in Salman's voice, a lot of it which is almost his stream of consciousness.

“But they're confident they can do this together. Salman says it won't take too long because he's written it three times now,” says Hamilton with a chuckle.

The triple effort that he's referring to? Rushdie wrote a BBC television adaptation of his own novel in five episodes, which was about to begin filming in Sri Lanka when the government abruptly withdrew its permission. The project was abandoned. He then took that pared-down television script and co-wrote a theatrical version which appeared – to mixed reviews – in January, 2003, at London's Barbican Theatre, where it had a five-week season. It has since toured.

Mehta believes this is a book that was meant to be filmed. “I've always loved this book – on one hand it's very particular. On the other, it's extremely universal at the same time. It never talks down to anybody. It just holds you and takes you on a journey with this young man who has the conceit to think he's linked to the history of India – with humour and such an incredible sense of imagination. It's historical as well as personal, and I love that combination. One informs the other.

“With dark humour, Salman challenges many things that we take for granted politically. I see this as a political book. But then I think everything is political these days.”

When Mehta arrived in Delhi late Saturday night, the airport was still on high alert and grenades were being lobbed at the Taj in Mumbai. She says she watched the news until 5 in the morning, trying to make sense of the violence that killed 195.

“There has been lots of bomb blasts and terrorist attacks in India in the last few years, but they've been nothing like this,” she says. “This was so blatant. So co-ordinated. It's a very particular kind of terrorism that makes everyone feel vulnerable. But the people's feelings of vulnerability turned to anger very fast.

“The public was very voluble about the politicians letting them down. The accountability factor has become huge. And as an Indian and a Canadian I'm really proud [of this reaction],” adds Mehta, referring specifically to the resignation last Sunday of India home minister Shivraj Patil, the first high-profile casualty of the terrorist attacks. “It's people saying, hold on, we don't have to take this.

“Wanting – and demanding – answers is a very good thing,” the auteur filmmaker says. “Politicians – everywhere in the world, including at home in Canada – are feeling vulnerable right now, which is great. As they should.”

Christmas DVD Shopping Guide

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Warren Clements

(December 04, 2008)  Must be a holiday coming. The DVD shelves are full of outlandish boxes packed with all manner of gewgaws, all the better to make you buy a favourite film for the second or third time.

If the romantic on your list has a soft spot for Casablanca, for example — and who doesn't? — Casablanca Ultimate Collector's Edition supplements a previous special edition of the 1942 classic with a passport holder, a 48-page photo book and a documentary about studio boss Jack Warner. If the conspiracy theorist on your list loves Oliver Stone's JFK, JFK: Ultimate Collector's Edition yokes a recent special edition to a new documentary on the Kennedy dynasty and facsimiles of John F. Kennedy's letters and inauguration address.

Of course, the biggest question this season is whether to give regular DVDs or Blu-ray discs, now that Blu-ray has defeated HD-DVD as the reigning high-definition format. Blu-ray players will play regular DVDs as well as Blu-ray discs, but regular DVD players won't play Blu-ray discs. So there will be tough choices. The regular-DVD "ultimate collector's edition" of A Christmas Story comes in a metal box with an apron, a recipe book and five cookie cutters, one in the shape of the lamp resembling a shapely female leg. The Blu-ray edition comes in a metal box with Christmas-tree lights shaped like, yes, leg lamps. Nobody said giving presents was easy.

Here are 10 tips, divided by category.

Beyond their sharper picture and sound, Blu-ray discs hold a great deal more information, so optional picture-in-picture commentaries are increasingly common. With Pan's Labyrinth, director Guillermo del Toro appears in a corner of the screen to show off his sketches and discuss the film. The Blu-ray disc of del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army is even more adventurous, with three picture-in-picture options: a director's notebook, a tour of the set and a "Schufften Goggle View," which shows scenes at various stage of development. With the soldiers-versus-giant-bugs film Starship Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven and others discuss whether the movie is fascistic or an ironic deconstruction of fascism. Actor Neil Patrick Harris says Verhoeven filmed one scene so many times that co-star Denise Richards cried.

Chase films, for the action-lover interested less in plausibility than in thrills

In Timur ( Night Watch) Bekmambetov's Wanted, Angelina Jolie introduces James McAvoy to the wild world of the hitman while dangling from the front of a speeding car. Harrison Ford belies his age as the returning adventurer in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And villain Paul Giamatti makes a great foil for Clive Owen in Shoot 'em Up, which doesn't have a plausible bone in its body and doesn't stop for breath as awesome stunt follows stunt.

Animated films

Top of the list is WALL-E, the gorgeous tale of a lonely trash compactor in search of a companion. The Blu-ray version has a pic-in-pic commentary by the director and another by four colleagues, who say the film was originally called WAL-E until someone realized it would be pronounced "whale." Also worthy is Watership Down: Deluxe Edition, a 1978 film of the Richard Adams novel about dislocated bunnies.

Silent films

Buster Keaton's extraordinary 1927 comedy-drama The General has a would-be Confederate soldier scrambling to retrieve a locomotive stolen by Union soldiers in the U.S. Civil War, but it's really a vehicle for Keaton's timing, athleticism and power of invention. Kino's The General: Ultimate 2-Disc Edition offers three separate musical scores. Next week brings the Murnau, Borzage and Fox Collection, with 12 silent films made by F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage at what was then Fox Studios. Titles include a remastered version of Murnau's unmissable Sunrise (1927).

Documentaries

Out next Tuesday, Man on Wire revisits a death-defying 1974 stunt by Philippe Petit, who spent an hour illegally performing on a tightrope stretched between the towers of the World Trade Center. For Animals in Love, Jean-Pierre Bailly and his team spent 500 days shooting 170 species of animals in 16 countries. They condensed the results into an 85-minute French documentary showing animals wooing and mating to the music of Philip Glass; the making-of extra is in French only. Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens follows the celebrity photographer from childhood through her long stint at Rolling Stone to her work with Vanity Fair (until then, "I didn't realize that people had a good side and a bad side") and the death of her partner, Susan Sontag.

Short films

The series Cinema16 has previously focused on European films, British films and American films. Cinema16 World Short Films (www.cinema16.org) devotes two discs to early short works by the likes of Senegal's Ousmane Sembene, New Zealand's Jane Campion and South Korea's Park Chan-Wook, whose tale of a morgue attendant and a husband and wife disputing the identity of a woman killed in a shopping-mall collapse has a warped touch of CSI to it. Canada gets three look-ins: Guy Maddin's My Dad Is 100 Years Old, written by Isabella Rossellini about her filmmaker father Roberto; Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski's Madame Tutli-Putli, a fever dream with stop-motion puppets; and Sylvain ( The Triplets of Belleville) Chomet's delightful animated film The Old Lady and the Pigeons, a co-production between Canada and France.

Television

Here the boxes grow huge. The complete series of The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood and Get Smart are out, and hooray for all of them, but for supplementary toys it's hard to beat The Lone Ranger: 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition, distributed by Alliance Films. The 78 black-and-white episodes from 1949 through 1951 look fine, with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the masked man and Tonto, and there's even an episode of Lassie in which the Lone Ranger appeared. But spare a moment for the enclosed comic book, trading cards and 84-page booklet of photos and text. Hi-yo, Silver! Away!

More television

If you're buying for the lover of TV comfort food, Perry Mason Season 3 Volume 2 offers 14 episodes from 1960 of the great courtroom drama with Raymond Burr. The writing wasn't as sharp in another 1960s series, Burke's Law, but Gene Barry did a nice job as a millionaire chief of detectives in Los Angeles who interviewed a raft of celebrity suspects each week before nailing the culprit. Among the guest stars in Burke's Law: Season 1 Volume 2 are Buster Keaton, John Cassavetes, William Shatner and Jayne Mansfield.

James Bond

The three-disc "collector's edition" of Casino Royale (2006) is stuffed with bonus features about the film, Bond and creator Ian Fleming, and transports us to those halcyon days before Quantum of Solace, back when Bond (Daniel Craig) still took a modicum of enjoyment from what he did for a living.

Science fiction

One good thing about remakes is that it gives studios an excuse to rerelease the originals. The Day the Earth Stood Still: Special Edition (1951) is the classic tale of an alien visitor (Michael Rennie) prepared to use violence to secure peace. Copious extras include two commentaries, an isolated musical score (by the great Bernard Herrmann, employing the otherworldly sound of the theremin) and, inevitably, a preview of the forthcoming remake with Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly. Consider as well Dark City: Director's Cut, a spooky sci-fi film noir with Connelly, Rufus Sewell and William Hurt.

Also of note: The Dark Knight, the latest Batman film, is out next week. And if the recipient of your gifts will accept a rain check, the marvellous 1946 British fantasy A Matter of Life and Death (a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven) is slated for a DVD release on Jan. 6.

Frost/Nixon: You, me and the TV

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

Frost/Nixon
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_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell. Directed by Ron Howard. 122 minutes. At the Varsity. PG

 Note: This article has been edited to correct a previously published version.

(December 05, 2008)
Frost/Nixon is a championship bout between anxious egotists, a journalist and a politician who seek to buff their images as much as to make history.

And because of this there's a third antagonist in the picture, symbolic yet no less real. It's television, which, through its seduction of the masses, created indelible images of British interviewer David Frost as a show-biz lightweight and disgraced former U.S. president Richard Nixon as a sweating reprobate and fugitive.

The TV-induced insecurities of the two men are tipped early in Ron Howard's persuasive new film about their totemic 1977 encounters, as both Frost and Nixon (with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella faithfully reprising their original stage roles) grapple with broadcast misconceptions.

Frost bristles as people mimic his oily trademark greeting ("Hello, good evening, and welcome"), insisting that he doesn't really say that. He's mocked even by his girlfriend, comely socialite Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall), whom Frost perhaps unwisely begins dating just as his preliminary negotiations with Nixon are heating up.

Nixon, preparing for his first of four taped interviews with Frost, asks that he be allowed to daub his upper lip with a handkerchief after each question, to remove the flop sweat that made him seem so shifty in his 1960 televised presidential campaign debates with John F. Kennedy.

"They say that moisture on my upper lip cost me the presidency," he ruefully tells Frost.

Both men hope their televised encounters will restore lost glories.

Frost wants to be seen as a serious journalist in America, erasing memories of a failed interview series there that sent him packing to the hinterland of Australian TV and the ignominy of celebrity puff pieces.

"Success in America is unlike success anywhere else," Frost tells his friend and producer John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen).

Nixon hopes to elicit public sympathy and historical redress for the crimes of Watergate, the break-in and cover-up scandal that forced him to resign in 1974.

The somewhat naïve Frost is convinced he can persuade the unrepentant ex-president to confess his sins on camera, giving him "the trial he never had."

The wily Nixon is convinced he can spin the Watergate questions to his advantage, while pocketing the controversial $600,000 (U.S.) fee, arranged by L.A über-agent Swifty Lazar (amusingly rendered by Toby Jones), that Frost has agreed to pay him.

Each man believes he has the upper hand. But take a closer look at the deliberate title symmetry of Frost/Nixon, which points to the film's deeper meaning: two names of five letters each, joined with a symbol that implies connection rather than contention.

Writer Peter Morgan (The Queen) might well have made it Frost vs. Nixon. It would have suited the gladiatorial overtones of his creation.

But the "versus" wouldn't have nailed the raw emotional needs that link the two men, both of whom were seeking salve for wounded egos.

That this much drama can be wrung out of the Frost/Nixon conversations is no small achievement.

Anyone old enough to remember them knows that Frost struggled mightily to control Nixon's verbosity, only managing to wring gripping testimony out of him in the final interview segment, the one devoted entirely to Watergate.

The difficulty of prying succinct answers out of Nixon consumes the middle part of the film, as Frost, Birt and researchers Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and James Reston (Sam Rockwell) confront the reality that a big name doesn't always make for great TV.

Zelnick and Reston also secretly grapple with the thought that Frost is really in it for the fame, not the delayed justice of bringing Nixon to the ground. Zelnick dismisses Frost as "a man of no political convictions whatsoever."

Meanwhile, Nixon's point man Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), an ex-Marine unaccountably dedicated to the racist, sexist and paranoid former commander-in-chief, vows to bury anyone who tries to bully his boss.

It all comes together in the third act, when Frost finally gains his footing just as Nixon starts to lose his. It's here where the brilliance of casting original players Sheen and Langella really comes to the fore.

The two men exude confidence born of lived-in roles. As the camera moves closer, and Hans Zimmer's emphatic score heightens the drama, there's a feeling of the hunter and the hunted achieving symmetry.

But who exactly was the hunter, and who the hunted? Both men claimed to get what they wanted from the Frost/Nixon encounters. Both felt they had "won" the interviews.

It probably didn't matter, since victory in circumstances such as these is all in the eye of the beholder, and the television "eye" never blinks.

AMC To Air Samuel L. Jackson Tribute

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(December 04, 2008)  *For the seventh time, AMC will broadcast the 23rd annual American Cinematheque Awards, which this year honoured the film career of Samuel L. Jackson.

 The special will premiere Tuesday (Dec. 9) at 10 p.m. ET as " Hollywood Celebrates Samuel L. Jackson: An American Cinematheque Tribute."

Many of Jackson's colleagues and past co-stars were in attendance to help celebrate his cinematic accomplishments, including Denzel Washington, Justin Timberlake, George Lopez, Andy Garcia and Sharon Stone. 

One running theme of the evening was guessing what the "L" in "Samuel L. Jackson" stands for. Timberlake, who acted in "Black Snake Moan" with Jackson and who started off the evening, said it stood for "Love. Man love." Lopez said it was definitely not for "Latino."

Stone put her hands on her hips and purred words such as "Luscious," "L'amour," "Ladies love Samuel L. Jackson" -- and told a story about seeing Jackson "nekkid" in a movie and then trying to talk to him at a premiere. She eventually got serious, talking about the moral compass he brings to his characters, and saying that the "L" stood for "Legend."

Denzel Washington said Jackson plays men who can be considered "the righteous who believe they are sinners and the sinners who believe they are righteous." Vin Diesel called Jackson "a poor man's acting coach," and Kerry Washington noted that the actor brings truth to his roles, making his "heroes so imperfect and (his) villains so lovable."

Also making speeches were Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who used basketball terms to describe Jackson as being as unstoppable as Kobe Bryant, as versatile as Larry Bird and as smooth as Michael Jordan; John Singleton, who told anecdotes from the set of "Shaft"; and Jackson's wife, LaTanya, who talked of the movies Jackson made with Spike Lee.  

After finally accepting the award from his "Star Wars" director George Lucas, Jackson talked about how much the experience of going to the movies meant to him, when he would catch Saturday double features in a segregated theatre in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and how important he thinks the Cinematheque's work is in promoting the social side of filmmaking. 

"I felt a bond with everyone in that theatre," Jackson said, according to the AP. "(It was) a kinship that opened up a whole new world."

Sundance Premiere Film Line-up 'Best In Years'

Source:  www.thestar.com - David Germain,
The Associated Press

(December 04, 2008) LOS ANGELES – Top Hollywood stars are going the indie route at next month's Sundance Film Festival, where the line-up features Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Winona Ryder, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Ashton Kutcher.

Carrey and McGregor star in the con-artist tale I Love You Phillip Morris, one of the star-studded premieres announced Thursday for the independent-film showcase that runs Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Utah.

Also on the schedule: Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton in the drama The Informers; Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle in the cop saga Brooklyn's Finest; Thurman and Minnie Driver in the family tale Motherhood; and Kutcher and Anne Heche in the gigolo story Spread.

"I think it's the best premiere section we've had in the festival in years," said festival director Geoffrey Gilmore.

The general quality is higher this time partly because Sundance organizers pared back on the number of films in the premiere section to open up more screening time for movies competing in the festival's competitions, Gilmore said. Premiere films do not compete for prizes.

Other premieres include Adventureland, a 1980s tale set at an amusement park and featuring Ryan Reynolds and Twilight star Kristen Stewart; Shrink, with Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams in the story of a celebrity psychiatrist in crisis; the South African apartheid thriller Endgame, with William Hurt and Chiwetel Ejiofor; and the time-shifting romance 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The festival's opening-night film is the clay-animation feature Mary and Max, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette providing lead voices in the story of two pen pals, a lonesome eight-year-old Australian girl and a 40-something obese man in New York City.

Sundance's closing film is the documentary Earth Days, a portrait of nine people at the heart of the environmental movement's origins.

Along with the high-profile premieres, Sundance announced films in several other categories Thursday, including Helen, with Ashley Judd as a psychiatrist battling depression; World's Greatest Dad, a comedy with Robin Williams; and Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy, a documentary featuring Chris Rock, Bill Cosby and Keenen Ivory Wayans.

The 64 films in Sundance's four feature-film competitions for U.S. and world drama and documentary were announced Wednesday.

Carrey And Mcgregor To Headline Sundance

Source: www.thestar.com - David Germain,
Associated Press

(December 06, 2008) LOS ANGELES–Top Hollywood stars are going the indie route at next month's Sundance Film Festival, where the lineup features Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Winona Ryder, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Ashton Kutcher.

Carrey and McGregor star in the con-artist tale I Love You Phillip Morris, one of the star-studded premieres announced Thursday for the independent film showcase set to run Jan. 15—25 in Park City, Utah.

Also on the schedule: Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton in the drama The Informers; Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle in the cop saga Brooklyn's Finest; Thurman and Minnie Driver in the family tale Motherhood; and Kutcher and Anne Heche in the gigolo story Spread.

"I think it's the best premiere section we've had in the festival in years," said festival director Geoffrey Gilmore.

The general quality is higher this time partly because Sundance organizers pared back the number of premieres to open up more screening time for movies in the festival's competition sections, Gilmore said. Premiere films do not compete for prizes.

Other premieres include Adventureland, a 1980s tale set in an amusement park, featuring Ryan Reynolds and Twilight star Kristen Stewart; Shrink, with Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams, the story of a celebrity psychiatrist in crisis; the South African apartheid thriller Endgame, with William Hurt and Chiwetel Ejiofor; and the time-shifting romance 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The festival's opening-night film will be the clay-animation feature Mary and Max, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette providing lead voices in the story of two pen pals – a lonesome 8-year-old Australian girl and a 40-something obese man in New York City.

Sundance's closing film is the documentary Earth Days, a portrait of nine people at the heart of the origins of the environmental movement.

The 64 films in Sundance's four feature-film competitions for U.S. and world drama and documentary were announced Wednesday.

Columbus Short: The 'Cadillac Records' Interview

Source:
www.eurweb.com - Kam Williams

(December 09, 2008) *Columbus Keith Short Jr. was born on September 19, 1982 in Kansas City, Missouri, although his family moved to L.A when he was just 5. Soon thereafter, he started studying acting at a youth theatre and began performing before he was a teenager.

     After graduating from Orange County High School of the Arts, he joined the traveling Broadway production of Stomp. He also appeared on stage in Grease, Bus Stop, Once upon A Mattress, Guys and Dolls and The Wizard of Oz.

During a lull when he couldn’t find any theatrical work, he decided to try his hand at dancing and fairly quickly met with success. However, he became the subject of speculation in the tabloids when he was rumoured to be conducting a clandestine affair with Britney Spears while choreographing her In the Zone concert tour.

Last year, he landed a lead role in Stomp the Yard, a hit flick which was #1 at the box office. Since he’s appeared in This Christmas and Quarantine, and is set to star in 2009 opposite Kate Beckinsale in Whiteout, and with Laurence Fishburne and Matt Dillon in Armored.

Here, Columbus talks about his new movie, Cadillac Records, a musical with an ensemble cast which includes Beyonce’, Cedric the Entertainer, Mos Def, Gabrielle Union, Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright.

Kam Williams: Hey, Columbus, thanks for another interview. Of course I have to start you off with the Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

Columbus Short: Yeah. What I did in this film and what I’m doing in my career are bringing me immense joy now. I’m getting to do things that make me happy.  

KW: What interested you in Cadillac Records?

CS: Getting the opportunity to challenge Hollywood’s perception of me.

KW: Did you enjoy working with such a talented ensemble?

CS: Yeah, we had an amazing cast.

KW: How did you prepare for your role as Little Walter? Was there any video of him available?

CS: No, there was no footage. I relied on pictures, biographical information, and the music. The music was huge. I also tried to learn the harmonica and to understand where he came from, and to find the Cajun dialect he spoke in, in order to embody him. I did all of that, so it was a lot of work.

KW: And how about the womanizing aspect of his personality?

CS: That was fun to delve into, but that was nothing special, since it wasn’t a trait unique to Little Walter. That’s what a lot of bluesmen were doing at that time. They really lived by the music, and with the music they created sex, and with the sex they created babies. And drugs were added to the mix as another element of this lifestyle. 

KW: In making this movie, did you reflect upon the exploitation of black artists, historically?

CS: Yeah, it was amazing to see, especially when you think that black people at that time were basically about 30 seconds past slavery. Certainly Muddy [Waters] was. And then they became gods in their world because of the music they created. Yet, you see the limitations placed upon them by racism. Not only that, it’s shocking to see how these white promoters were taking the music that these talented African-Americans had created and simply giving it to their own people, and letting their own be the beacons of light. That was just unbelievable to see. That’s why I’m glad this story is being told. It’s telling the truth about where Rock & Roll originated, on the front porches of Mississippi. Raw music with guitars, folks singing about what they were living, and living what they were singing. These guys weren’t putting on airs. They were sweating in the fields living the blues. That makes them very interesting. 

KW: Music maven Heather Covington asks: What’s music are you listening to nowadays? 

CS: A lot of blues, actually. I think popular music is in a horrible state. So, I find it inspiring to go back. I’ve always been kind of a jazz head, but the blues really speaks to me right now. Little Walter and Muddy Waters were incredible. And Bo Diddley was doing some great stuff, too. 

KW: I know you have Whiteout coming out in 2009, which is set in Antarctica during the short days with very long nights of winter. Was it cold and dark on location?

CS: Oh yeah, it was. We shot it in Winnipeg, Canada, but it still felt like we were in the Antarctic. Man, it was crazy.

KW: Your other film coming out next year is Armored. What can you tell me about that?

CS: I’m excited about Armored, because it’s the first movie where I’ve been able to be the lead, and I’m in good company with Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon and Jean Reno. It’s an action thriller, which puts me in that hero light and gives me a chance to show that I can not only do a Cadillac Records, but a big commercial movie as well. That’s how I’ve been trying to shape my career.

KW: Earlier this year you were in Quarantine, a horror film. I didn’t see it. In most horror films, the black guy dies first. Were you the first character to go?

CS: No way. Times are changing. Look at Obama.

KW: How did you feel about Obama winning the election?

CS: It was emotional to see what the picture of the President-elect, the First Lady, and the First Family look like. The man who’s running our nation looks like me. It’s incredible. I never thought I’d see it, nor did my grandmother or great-grandmother. So, it was a very emotional moment, because even though we’re not in the Civil Rights era, it’s still not easy being a black man. And I hope that times will change in this business to the point where Don Cheadle can play a lead in movies without all the preconceived notions about Middle America not being ready for that. There are as many quality African-American actors and actresses as Caucasians, but it seems that they get a lot more opportunities. For instance, we supposedly can’t do period pieces, because we were slaves back in the day. Well, Obama’s win is changing the game, and Denzel or Laurence Fishburne ought to be able to play the president authentically.

KW: I heard that you’re now romantically-linked to Cherish Chiurme. Is that true?

CS: Who’s that?

KW: Apparently, she’s a writer from London. I guess you can’t always go by Wikipedia. On your page there it says the two of you are dating.

CS: Never heard of her.

For the full interview with Kam Williams, go
HERE.

Tom Cruises Through Toronto On A Ride Of Valkyrie

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(December 09, 2008)  There were no bombshells, no bizarre meltdowns and no berating of interviewers yesterday as Tom Cruise did a series of TV appearances in Toronto to promote Valkyrie, which opens on Christmas Day in the heart of Oscar-contention season.

Cruise's star power began fizzling after his infamous couch jumping on the The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005 and a combative interview with The Today Show host Matt Lauer that touched on the legitimacy of antidepressants and psychiatry.

But Cruise is attempting to get back atop Hollywood's A-list with his new movie, and scheduled a two-day gauntlet of media interviews in an attempt to build buzz and charm back his old fans.

It was a very cool and collected Cruise who appeared on the set of CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos.

Hinting at the interviews with Winfrey and Lauer, the star told Strombo he's learned from past mistakes. "You just go, `Okay, (I) could have handled things better' and you just learn from it and move on," he said in the interview, which will air tonight at 11.

"I think that that's all you can do. And just focus and take care of the family and take care of my work."

Cruise told Stroumboulopoulos he no longer answers queries about his Scientology background: "I just said, `That's it, no more, go to the (Scientology) website.'"

He's scheduled to visit CTV's eTalk studios at 299 Queen St. W. today at 1 p.m. for a half-hour interview in front of a live audience. The special, Tom Cruise: Live at eTalk, is to air at 7 tonight (repeated at 8:30 p.m. on Star!).

The interviews come at a time when bad press is dogging Valkyrie, in which Cruise plays Cpl. Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who led a plot during World War II to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Valkyrie is being seen by many industry observers as a litmus test of Cruise's future viability as a star.

Meanwhile, several Internet gossip sites are reporting that Cruise's wife, actor Katie Holmes, is pregnant with their second child.

Holmes has reportedly been seen looking "glowing and happy and ... placing a protective hand" over the beginnings of a baby bump, according to website Stuff.co.nz.

Wendy And Lucy Allowed Michelle Williams To Work In A Way She Has Always Wanted

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Michelle Nichols, Reuters

(December 10, 2008) NEW YORK — Director Kelly Reichardt admits Wendy and Lucy is depressing, but actress Michelle Williams says making the low-budget movie – one of the U.S. National Board of Review's top 10 independent movies of 2008 – was a gift.

Williams has earned rave reviews for her performance as Wendy, a drifter chasing a better life who suffers a series of setbacks that culminates in her losing her dog, Lucy. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles theatres this week.

“It's a gift to be able to work in the exact way that you have always wanted to. I feel really lucky,” Williams said as she sat beside Reichardt on a couch at the film's distributor, Oscilloscope Laboratories, in New York's TriBeCa neighbourhood.

“The performances aren't performances, they're just like a documentary; you feel like you are spying on people, and that has always been the kind of filmmaking that I like.”

Made for less than $500,000 (U.S.), Wendy and Lucy premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival where Lucy, Reichardt's own pet, won the unofficial Palm Dog prize for her role.

“She was a big upstager, always finding the lens,” Williams joked of her canine co-star in the movie that was filmed in 18 days in August, 2007, in and around Portland, Ore.

Reichardt wrote the screenplay with Jon Raymond, with whom she had worked on her 2006 film Old Joy.

“He writes in the way that I make films,” Reichardt said, “both somewhat minimalist and character-driven, and I like having some space to fill up. It gives actors room to be able to take their time and bring things to a scene, and it leaves you room to work in the environment where you are shooting.

“The story is depressing, but you get a charge out of working with people you like working with.”

With a simple story and little dialogue, Wendy and Lucy reflects the minimalist goal, which has been well received by critics.

“Strong reviews and the superb central performance of Michelle Williams should help the film reach Reichardt's largest audience to date,” Variety critic Scott Foundas wrote.

Reelviews' James Berardinelli said Williams' acting holds the film together. “She's in every scene and often she's not playing off another actor. She radiates the despair, loneliness and fear of a woman in her position, and we never doubt her,” he wrote.

Reichardt said she wanted to make a film about people who fall through the cracks, and at the same time play with a couple of myths like the idea that you can “go west and improve your situation.

“Or the conversation that's very much in the air during [U.S. President George W. Bush's] administration that if you have spunk and ideas and initiative, that's all you need to improve your lot in life, and if you aren't able to pull yourself out of poverty, it's clearly because you are lazy,” she said.

Williams said she did not find the story of Wendy and Lucy depressing. “Personally I like seeing those kinds of movies,” she said. “I find them comforting because they make me feel less alone.”

After a tough year coping with the death of actor Heath Ledger – her former partner and father of her young daughter, Matilda – Williams is taking time off “to get rested.”

Ledger, 28, died from an accidental overdose of painkillers and other medicines in his New York apartment in January.

Asked how she is feeling, Williams just shook her head.

“She's great,” Reichardt jumped in as she gave her friend a hug.

Screen Actors Guild Sets January Strike Vote

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ryan Nakashima, The Associated Press

(December 10, 2008) LOS ANGELES – The Screen Actors Guild plans to send strike authorization ballots to more than 100,000 union members on Jan. 2, a date that leaves the Golden Globes safe but puts Oscar night within reach of a potential boycott.

Votes will be counted on Jan. 23, nearly two weeks after the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, but ahead of the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, the most important date on the Hollywood calendar.

Approval by 75 per cent of voting members is required to pass the measure. If it is approved, the SAG national board can call a strike.

Guild President Alan Rosenberg has said a strike is the last resort to force a resolution in stalled contract talks with major movie studios, but that if it is necessary, it would be timed to have the most impact.

"SAG members understand that their futures as professional actors are at stake," Rosenberg said in a statement Wednesday.

The guild is at odds with the studios over the treatment of Internet productions and the benefits that actors can get when earthquakes or other unforeseen events, such as a strike by another union, shut down productions.

For instance, actors have an outstanding claim for payments they say they are due for work lost during the 100-day strike by writers last season. The strike reduced the Golden Globes this past January to a glorified press conference.

Major studios called the strike vote poorly timed.

"It's now official: SAG members are going to be asked to bail out a failed negotiating strategy by going on strike during one of the worst economic crises in history," said a statement by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

That group represents studios such as Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. The alliance has stuck to what it called its final offer made when the previous contract expired June 30.

Similar deals have already been accepted by other unions, including those representing directors, writers, stagehands and a smaller actors union. On its Web site, the movie and TV producers' group says the Screen Actors Guild has so far foregone more than $37 million in pay increases by continuing to work under the terms of the old deal.

On Monday, the guild held a closed-door town hall-style meeting at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood, and Rosenberg said he was ``encouraged by the response" by the 500 members in attendance.

But the guild, which had expected to send out ballots this month, pushed back the strike vote date after the producers' alliance accused it of using the holidays to ensure a low turnout and leave more working actors out of the process.

"We want SAG members to have time to focus on this critical referendum," Rosenberg said.

The guild plans another town hall meeting in New York on Monday and one in Hollywood on Dec. 17. As well, the guild is sending out e-mails and fact sheets to members, and will put up testimonials from prominent actors such as Hal Holbrook and Ed Asner on its Web site to urge actors to vote yes.

But actors are divided. In guild elections in September, an upstart group called Unite For Strength broke up the majority control of the national board that had been held by a faction that supports Rosenberg.

However, the Unite group has not clarified its position on the strike vote.

Last week, at a benefit performance at the University of California, Los Angeles, "Mad Men" actor Jon Hamm told The Associated Press that he hoped the labour strife would not affect next year's TV season.

"I wish it was not happening. I wish there were sound heads on both sides who were able to discuss this like adults," he said. "If history is any judge, it's not looking good, but we'll see, especially given the financial climate."

FILM TIDBITS

Carrey's Cure For Recession Blues

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell

(December 04, 2008)  Got the economic recession blues? Jim Carrey says you should just laugh them off. "This is what comedy is about," the Canadian actor said yesterday in Beverly Hills. "To laugh at the pain, laugh at the confusion, whatever. You need it. Comedy is always welcome, but especially in times like these ... you want to have something positive happen in your life, you know?" Carrey was at a news conference to promote his new comedy, Yes Man, which opens Dec. 19. He was responding to a question about whether it's wise or appropriate to make merry in turbulent economic times. Carrey's character in Yes Man is a doom-and-gloom "no" guy who begins saying "yes" all the time with zany consequences. Carrey said he hopes people will see Yes Man as an escape from life's worries.  Carrey's co-star, Zooey Deschanel, said this isn't the first time people have used movies to escape tough times. "I think the best comedies came out during the Depression."  Carrey had tongue firmly in cheek when he talked about how he's coping with the recession. "I'm not in a recession. I'm doing incredibly well.... I really am kicking ass."

Is That A Hamster In Your Pocket?

Source: www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell

(December 05, 2008) Dustin Hoffman really "hammed" it up yesterday for his new role as an animated rodent. He showed up with a hamster hiding in his business suit pocket at a Santa Monica, Calif. junket promoting The Tale of Despereaux, a new movie in which he supplies the voice for a cartoon rat. The hamster jumped out in the middle of a press conference, startling co-star Sigourney Weaver. "Oh! I hope there are no cats here!" she said. Hoffman's other co-star Matthew Broderick was even more surprised.  Hoffman showed up at Broderick's hotel room prior to the presser, hoping to get him involved in the gag. Broderick plays a mouse in the movie, the title character Despereaux. "Man, he's hilarious," Broderick told the Star later. "I hadn't seen him in years and he knocked on the door and he had a box of two hamsters. He had one his pocket and he wanted me to put one in my pocket. But I'm wearing a sweater, so I couldn't." Prankster Hoffman got lots of laughs for his stunt, but he seemed to want more. "I was hoping for a better take ...you're a tough house!"

::TV NEWS::

Nobody Does It Better Than Barbara Walters

Source:  www.thestar.com - Joel Rubinoff,
Torstar News Service

(December 04, 2008)  The most common reaction to Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008 (10 p.m. tonight on ABC, Global) is that – given the glut of overexposed celebrities and People magazine cover stars on her annual list – she must be easily fascinated.

I mean, it's not as if Miley Cyrus and Tina Fey haven't received enough media attention this year. So have Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, right-wing pitbull Rush Limbaugh, movie star Will Smith and the perpetually spin-doctoring Tom Cruise – enough about the couch, already – who has already appeared on Walters' list, back in '05.

I suppose you can make a case for transgendered parent Thomas Beatie and veteran actor Frank Langella – both of whom have flown, comparatively, under the radar.

But does failed vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin really need another televised forum to display her folksy intolerance and inability to find Afghanistan on a map?

Probably not, but this doesn't negate the buzz around Walters' annual schmoozefest, which allows coddled athletes, movie stars and politicians to refute unsavoury allegations, kick-start stalled careers and flog upcoming projects under the guise of a celebrity tell-all.

With the No. 1 position blank, as always, until the special airs – though everyone knows it will be President-elect Barack Obama (unless I'm wrong and it's Joe the Plumber) – this year's line-up will provide plenty of opportunities for the queen of compassion to furrow her brow with understanding as her ingratiating subjects fight back tears of relief for, I'm guessing, not being asked any really hard questions.

"Tell me, Miley, what's it like to be a 16-year-old uber-celebrity?"

"Will, you're the biggest movie star of the year and everyone loves you. How does it feel?"

"Sarah, you've been so misunderstood by the liberal elite media. Care to set the record straight?"

"Tina, you're so funny. Why are you so funny?"

"Tom, what are you doing here? I told my producers to escort you off the premises. Just kidding – tell me about your lovely wife and latest attempt at a comeback."

"Barack, omigawd – I love you, man, I love you. What's happening with the new puppy?"

I jest, of course. The truth is, Walters – a journalism pioneer who was the first female network news anchor back in the neanderthal '70s, and who remains one of the most powerful women in TV today – gets a bad rap. As someone who has interviewed celebrities in far less intimate surroundings – such as the annual TV press tour in Los Angeles, where I'm proud to say I once cornered Calista Flockhart in a parking lot – I can attest that getting them to say anything unscripted or in any way revelatory is like trying to teach a frog how to tap dance.

Sure, you might get James Woods to rant about network lackeys who bug him about off-duty insurance protocols, or the actors on Criminal Minds to badmouth a co-star who quit without warning – Mandy Patinkin, you have broken our hearts! – but most of the time what you'll come away with are the flatulent, media-coached ravings of TV Stepford wives: "I love my job! I love my life! I love my co-stars! Now, which way to the VIP tent?"

There's no way Walters or anyone else is going to get Tom Cruise to admit he's a brainwashed Scientology drone, or Sarah Palin to agree she's the most unlikely candidate for political office since the guy who played Gopher on The Love Boat (with Sonny Bono a close second).

But her deferential attitude and motherly – actually, in the case of Cyrus, great-grandmotherly – concern for her subjects is no less effective than, say, David Letterman belligerently grilling presidential nominee John McCain about dirty campaign tactics on The Late Show. (Guess what? McCain didn't flinch).

It's all a dance. When you get right down to it, Walters – who has pirouetted her way through almost 50 years of interviews – knows the moves better than anyone.

Joel Rubinoff is the TV columnist at The Record of Waterloo Region. Send email to jrubinoff@therecord.com

Where Business Is Still Booming

Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux,
The Canadian Press

(December 05, 2008) Have the worldwide recession, panic in the stock markets and daily reports of job losses turned us all into freelancers and entrepreneurs – or just TV watchers?

Perhaps both, judging by the one place where everything is heading in the right direction – ratings for the CBC venture-capitalist series,
Dragons' Den.

This past Monday the series hit a new high with just over a million viewers. The week before, 971,000 tuned in across Canada. That's a big jump from the 600,000 or so who were watching earlier in the season.

Host Dianne Buckner initially dismisses the notion that the ratings spike has anything to do with the faltering economy.

"It's entertaining, that's why it's so popular," says Buckner. She admits, however, there have been an unusually high percentage of people pitching business ideas this season from the hard hit auto town of Windsor, Ont.

"It is true that if ever you had a dream to get away from a corporate job, start your own venture and make your own way in the world, now may be the time to do it."

Originally scheduled to wrap up its third season on Monday (Dec. 8), soaring ratings have led to an order for a 12th episode, which will extend Dragons' Den to Jan. 11.

Even the CBC, it seems, has caught the business opportunity bug. Dragons' Den is its own success story. After launching in Japan (where the format is owned by Sony), the series has been franchised internationally, with versions produced in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Israel, the Netherlands, Finland and Nigeria.

The format is the same in every country: fledgling entrepreneurs walk into the "den" and pitch their big business ideas to proven capitalists in an attempt to secure real investment in their companies. It's the money version of American Idol, with dreams shattered or fulfilled and judges even richer, and sometimes nastier, than Simon Cowell.

This season, the five fiery Canadian "dragons" have been Arlene Dickinson, the impressive redhead with the supervillain shock of white hair who owns media company Venture Communications; Robert Herjavec, who made a fortune selling his IT security firm at the height of the dot-com boom; Kevin O'Leary, the bullet-headed host of Business News Network's Squeeze Play, who sold his educational venture the Learning Company to Mattel in 1999 for $3.7 billion; Mountie-turned-multimillionaire Jim Treliving, who owns the Boston Pizza chain; and W. Brett Wilson, founder of Calgary's big oil bank, FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

None suffers fools for a living, and all are quite capable of telling some of these dreamers to wake up.

"They're all trying to give the person in front of them a reality check," Buckner says.

Some people need it, she says.

"Their focus group has been their friends and family who love them and want to tell them what a great job they're doing. What they really need is somebody who is brutally honest to say, `You're wasting your time and energy and money, and you need to stop that.' "

Then again, there are presenters who get turned down or who even turn down the dragon offers and go on to do quite well. One such woman will be featured on Monday's show.

"People have this perception that the dragons have all the power and all the money," says Buckner, but just getting on the show gives these budding entrepreneurs national exposure and sometimes results in a better offer from other potential investors.

Then there are the offers even the dragons can't refuse. All five pledged on air to invest $1.25 million in the Uno, a Segway hybrid pitched by Ben Gulak, an MIT student from Milton. The prototype even drew interest from The Tonight Show.

Buckner adds that while the dragons are not exactly pussycats off camera, they're "all very likeable and personable. Then again, I'm not asking them for anything."

She admires anyone who can come into a cold studio and take their shot with the dragons, although some could stand a few lessons on making their pitches more palatable. One guy recently wheeled out trays full of meals for the judges to snack on and sample before hitting them with his pitch – for gourmet dog food.

Others have impressed the judges into investing real money in their ideas, including a married couple who appear on this Monday's show with an idea for marketing their new mosquito repellent. "The way they interacted with the dragons is so savvy," says Buckner.

Buckner herself is a survivor in the tough business of television. Breaking out two decades ago as the looker on the breezy CTV lifestyles magazine Live It Up, she has carved out a career as a reporter and news anchor at CBC News, hosting the business series Venture and Newsworld's Fortune Hunters as well as wading into the Dragons' Den.

The series is not about "villains and victims by any stretch of the imagination," she says. "Everyone on this show is an opportunist."

Including the host?

"Absolutely!" says Buckner. "It's an opportunity to have a fabulous suit!"

King Of The Awkward Pause

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
R.M. Vaughan

(December 05, 2008) In the opening moments of Ricky Gervais's new HBO show Out of England - The Stand-Up Special (airing tomorrow night at 10 on HBO Canada), the beloved comedian/actor/writer struts onto the stage sporting a brilliant gold crown and red velvet cape. How fitting, as Gervais is without question the King Midas of television - everything he touches turns into award-winning gold.

Gervais, best known for co-creating and starring in the original British version of The Office and for doing the same with the HBO-BBC cult hit Extras, is an unusual sort of comedian in that he appears to be completely without ego (at least by comedian standards). All of his best jokes are on him or one of his self-absorbed characters, and he relishes being the target of his own merciless wit.

Part of the long tradition of self-lampooning British comedy, Gervais has more in common with Dame Edna than Eddie Murphy.

In Out of England, Gervais wanders back and forth across the stage like an agitated but adorable hedgehog, musing hilariously on tricky, out-of-bounds topics such as Nelson Mandela, Nazis, obesity and autism. But what could be a night of one-note cruel comedy is transformed by the comic's presentation of himself as a character, as "Ricky Gervais," a pompous, selfish celebrity bored by his own status and the need to appear constantly caring, constantly concerned. Here, he shows us, is what really goes on in the heads of cynical "charity stars."

Speaking with Gervais is subsequently rather nerve-racking. Which one is he - the actual Ricky Gervais or the Gervais persona? Or, a bit of both?

That's quite the Judas Priest pyrotechnics entrance.

Obviously, because the show's about fame, it ties in. I sort of play a brash, arrogant celebrity - well, you've seen it - and of course I deconstruct it by saying I spent the entire budget on it. It's also having a go at those comedians who would rather be rock stars.

 Names?

No, no, of course not! Ha! I just think there's no place for trying to be cool in comedy, so I'm spoofing comedians who care more about what they look like than writing jokes. I can't stand that sort of comedy that's above the audience. Then it's down to me in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt looking fat, drinking beer. When a comedian starts getting vain, then what's remotely funny about that? Why would people want to see someone who thinks they're better than them. Comedy is about empathy. All the people I love are precarious, and they fall over, but they get up and dust themselves off.

At times, the audience appeared to have difficulty processing all the layers of irony.

A sharp intake of breath? Yeah, but that's because I deal with taboo subjects. Firstly, I can justify the jokes. I'm not one of these comedians who tries to shock, who thinks that comedy is their conscience taking a day off. My conscience never takes a day off, I can justify every single joke, both comedicly and politically. I'm playing, obviously, with prejudice, middle-class angst, my own stupidity.

Now I understand there is a chance people would take it on face value, but if I did too many nods and winks, it would ruin the satire. And, of course, my targets are purposefully wrong - I don't have a go at George W. Bush or cigarette companies, because there's enough comedians to do that. Going to the wrong target well is just as effective a satire as going to the right target. I'm clearly the fall.

Why do some British comedies instantly translate outside of Britain while others do not?

Well, actually, they [British comedies] don't really. The Office was the first remake since All In The Family. I don't know why that worked and others didn't. They don't really work outside, because, I guess, most people like homegrown stuff. Honestly, I think it's luck - it's a thousand-to-one shot. The reason a lot of British things don't really work in America is that Americans don't really need it. They've got enough.

I know for a fact that since The Office, everyone is trying in Britain. Every week, I see a thing saying "so-and-so is being made for America, following the success of The Office!" Two weeks later, the pilot wasn't picked up. Every week, every time. And they always blame America - "They ruined it!" It's like a comedian blaming the audience! Ha!

A third of your show is a reading from an eighties gay safe-sex guide, of all things. Is it just me, or is contemporary British comedy obsessed with gay men?

I think it's because Britain likes smut. And also, because, obviously, you scratch a Brit and he's still really stuck in the 1950s. It's weird, actually, because in Britain you've got that idea, bordering on homophobia, that "everything gay is funny," but then camp is one of the biggest British things.

But, I mean, I've never found drag funny. I've never understood it. Just a bloke putting on a dress - why is that funny?

 Have you tried it?

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! I did, years ago. I dressed up like Marilyn Monroe for Comic Relief, but someone said I looked more like Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged! Ha! So I didn't do it again!

*****

Particulars

Born: June 25, 1961, Reading, England

The Charo of his generation: Judging from his IMDb.com profile, Gervais has a healthy sideline as a talk-show guest and awards-show presenter.

What's next? Gervais has two projects in the works for next year: Flanimals, a TV series based on his popular children's books, which feature imaginary creatures such as the octopus-like Frappled Humpdumbler; and This Side of the Truth, a film starring Tina Fey and Christopher Guest, about an overwhelmingly tedious society where no one ever tells a lie.

Massimo Commanducci

Co-Productions Make A Comeback

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Kate Taylor

(December 05, 2008) Cops will be chasing robbers and medics will be saving lives across North American television screens in 2009. What's new is that these dramas will unfold not only in New York and Los Angeles but also on the mean streets of Toronto.

Canadian TV drama has taken a beating in the past decade as broadcasters turned toward reality shows, which are cheaper to make, popular with audiences and – since a change in government regulations in 1999 – count toward Canadian-content credits. These days, however, there are signs the one-hour drama may be poised for a comeback, thanks in part to co-productions with American networks showing a willingness to air programs not set in the United States.

CTV picked up a second new drama for 2009 last month: the police show The Bridge. Previously, it had announced The Listener, a drama about a telepathic paramedic emphatically set in Toronto – which will also be seen on NBC. Meanwhile, CanWest has announced it is commissioning pilots for five potential series to run on Global and Showcase, a slate that includes two crime shows as well as dramas about a used-car dealer, a troubled addiction counsellor, and an alien. Also, industry sources say the network is set to announce a new police drama for 2009 entitled Copper.

“There's a definite move,” says Christina Jennings, chairman of Shaftesbury Films. “Three years ago, CTV, CBC and Global were nowhere compared to pay television.” Previously, Shaftesbury has produced dramas such as ReGenesis for specialty channels like Showcase. Today, it is shooting The Listener for CTV and NBC.

In part, the flurry of press releases has to do with politics. Both private broadcasters will appear before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in April to get their licences renewed; both CTV and CanWest must spend on Canadian content some of the millions in “tangible benefits” they promised the CRTC last year, when CTV was allowed to acquire CHUM, and CanWest was allowed to acquire Alliance-Atlantis (which also owned Showcase.) While the networks are expected to look for concessions on Cancon requirements because ad revenues are now down, they cannot be seen to be flouting those previous agreements.

“Without getting too cynical about it, you are getting into licence-renewal time. They want to look as good as they can in front of the commission,” says Guy Mayson, president of the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association.

Although they continue to spend hundreds of millions on U.S. shows, the broadcasters were already bemoaning fragmented audiences and competition from the Internet last spring. That's when they asked the CRTC to order cable providers to start paying them for their signals, a quest they lost. Now they are facing a recession. However, since U.S. networks face similar problems, the Canadian networks have also seen opportunities emerge for co-productions, opportunities hastened by last year's strike by U.S. TV writers.

“It's one of those situations where necessity is the mother of invention,” says Bill Mustos, producer of Flashpoint, the Toronto SWAT-team show that aired on CTV and CBS last summer, and which will return to both networks in January. “We came along with Flashpoint just when the big networks concluded they needed a new model.”

He says CBS executives had been “kicking the tires” on various SWAT concepts for several years but, because Mustos had just signed on with CTV for a show based on the tactics of Toronto's actual emergency-response unit, they were now forced to decide if they wanted a show not set in the U.S. “There was this moment's hesitation in the room,” he says, “and then a decision that it would probably be interesting.”

Mustos and Jennings agree the writers' strike opened a door, but they think these recent co-production deals, led off by the CBC when it signed with Irish, British and U.S. partners to create the steamy historic drama The Tudors, were on the way anyway.

Such deals are not without their critics, who worry Canadians will begin to surrender creative control on putative Canadian content. “The Tudors is a Canadian/Irish co-pro, but it is purely a British story with very little Canadian talent,” notes Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada. “...The American studios will want to control the creative process and content: Flashpoint has been an exception, but let's see if it holds.”

In that series, where the Eaton Centre and Toronto's ravines played starring roles, and in The Listener, the shows are clearly set in contemporary Toronto. “I promised them: You will never see Toronto looking as beautiful as it will in our pilot, because you have only seen Toronto sitting in for some generic U.S. city,” Jennings says of her negotiations with NBC over The Listener.

Still, both Mustos and Jennings are cautious about declaring the new co-production model a slam dunk before it has been tested by U.S. audiences. “These are still very early days … to get excited about the dawning of a new era,” says Mustos. Flashpoint did well with American audiences in the summertime. However, Mustos sees a much more serious test of their willingness to embrace Toronto coming in January, when Flashpoint has been given a less-than-prime spot – Friday night – at a time of year when there is a lot more competition for eyeballs from top U.S. shows.

While the U.S. belatedly turns to the co-production model with which Canadians and Europeans have always been familiar, Canadian broadcasters are belatedly borrowing the practice of shooting pilots before they give series the go-ahead, and this also explains some of the new activity. Previously, Canadian broadcasters had argued that pilots were too expensive, and simply green-lit shows based on scripts, but changes at the Canadian Television Fund, which helps underwrite most productions, have made pilots more common. The Listener and Flashpoint were two of four pilots that CTV shot last year, and Mustos reports Flashpoint's narrative structure was significantly reworked after the two networks saw the pilot.

CanWest has just started the process, testing content for its newly enlarged stable with its five pilots. “Come February, we have incredibly tough choices to make,” says Christine Shipton, a senior vice-president at CanWest: She expects to take only three shows, one on Global and two on Showcase.

Piloting also has its critics, however: Producers who have assembled a creative team are left waiting on a decision about whether they need to keep it together, a decision that may come very slowly in a time of economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, because public money has been spent, the broadcasters cannot simply throw the pilots away: Unsuccessful pilots appear on air as one-offs that may mystify the viewer.

That said, producers and broadcasters do think Canadian audiences are warming to Canadian drama. “We are showing Canadian dramas to their best, and they are gaining some ground,” says Kirstine Layfield, executive director of network programming at the CBC, where the police show The Border, for example, has increased its audience by 7 per cent this season, its second.

“Ten years ago, Canadians would turn their noses up at Canadian wine,” Jennings agrees hopefully. “They don't do that any more.”

Why According To Jim Is Indestructible

Source: www.thestar.com - Joel Rubinoff,
Torstar News Service

(December 09, 2008) As According to Jim (9 p.m. on ABC, City) kicked off its eighth season last week while disbelieving critics gnawed their fingernails and banged their heads in frustration, the indestructible Jim Belushi was engaged in a violent struggle with his T-shirt.

"Cheryl! Cheryl!" he shouted as his arms became enmeshed in the shirt's neck hole and his bulbous head got stuck in a sleeve.

"I just got the babies to sleep," hushed his wife (Courtney Thorne-Smith), exasperated with this beer-bellied bumbler. "What did you do?"

Belushi, whose fabric-flattened features made him look like a guy about to rob a 7/11, answered with outraged defiance: "My shirt got me!"

My own reaction is that the mere fact he's still alive indicated the shirt didn't go far enough but, alas, I'm in a minority.

The great American unwashed – hard-working Joe Sixpacks and Sally Housecoats who make hits of under-the-radar shows like NCIS and Two and a Half Men – have been enamoured with the younger brother of comedy legend John Belushi since he helped pioneer the tubby schlubster/supermodel wife sitcom back in October 2001.

George W. Bush had been in power just nine months at that point, the 9/11 tragedy was barely three weeks old and lumbering Belushi – hot off a B-level movie career with non-hits like K-9 and Curly Sue – was just what middle America was pining for: a cranky, lumbering dinosaur whose wrinkled forehead, broad slab of a face and unquenchable thirst for validation (and beer) harked back to an earlier, simpler era (no, not the Paleolithic).

"Jim, help me be more interesting!" begged his improbably vixenish wife last week, informed by her belligerent hubby she'd become mind-numbingly boring since giving birth to twins. "I used to be interesting, right?"

"Probably," he replies unconvincingly. "To be honest with you, I was just staring at your chest most of the time!"

Ba-da-boom. You don't hear jokes like this on The Office or 30 Rock, defiantly modern comedies that treat guys like Jim as objects of satirical derision (witness The Office's Dwight Schrute and 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan).

But there's no irony in Jim itself, which harks back to '50s series like The Honeymooners and Flintstones for its bleating-Neanderthal-trapped-in-marital-bondage premise and seems more dated than an "I Like Ike" election button.

But there's the titular everyman – strutting around with his expanding waistline, making objectionable comments about women and stuffing five bottles of beer in his pants like the Creature from the Black Lagoon – a toxic sludge by-product that, like a persistent rash or Duckie in Pretty in Pink, refuses to go away.

The question, of course, is why?

I mean, it's not as if the show's ratings are anything to brag about.

Peaking in Season 4 at an embarrassing No. 46 with no awards or hint of critical praise, it hit a series low last year at No. 123, well below cancelled series like Carpoolers, K-Ville, Cashmere Mafia and Cavemen (though it did rank higher than Secret Talents of the Stars and Beauty and the Geek 4).

And yet, pundits agree, because the show is cheap to produce, does well in syndication and provides a handy fallback in the chaotic aftermath of the Hollywood writers' strike, it's perceived as a winner by network suits and will likely continue until 54-year-old Belushi is hobbling around on a walker.

At which point I humbly submit that instead of ranting about Belushi's furrowed brow and leathery skin – which give him the look of a constipated lizard – we instead follow the lead of Joseph Conrad's fictional Lord Jim and "embrace the destructive element."

Jim, you obnoxious pot-bellied boozer, you may have set TV comedy back 50 years, but your continued prime-time presence indicates showbiz connections and an ability to pinch pennies will overrule hard work and raw talent every time.

I'm not sure that's something to cheer about, but it sure sounds impressive.

Joel Rubinoff is the TV columnist at The Record of Waterloo Region. Email: Jrubinoff@therecord.com

::THEATRE NEWS::

Priscilla Set To Ride Into Toronto In 2009

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(December 10, 2008) The original Dancing Queen is coming to Toronto.

Mirvish Productions announced yesterday that it would mount an all-Canadian version of the stage musical
Priscilla Queen of the Desert, based on the iconic 1994 Australian movie about two drag queens and a transsexual who wind up lip-synching their way to dusty fame in a windswept cabaret.

The film's triumphant final sequence, set to the music of ABBA's "Mamma Mia!" is generally credited with starting the revival of interest in the Swedish supergroup. But, ironically, since that song lent its title to the worldwide hit ABBA musical, it is no longer allowed to appear in the Priscilla stage show.

Although no specific venue or date was mentioned in the Mirvish announcement, informed sources indicate that the Canon Theatre is the likely location, with previews probably beginning sometime in November 2009.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, as the show proudly calls itself, sans punctuation, first opened in Sydney in October 2006 and has played to more one million theatregoers, grossing more than $90 million in Australian dollars ($75 million Canadian), making it the most successful Australian stage show of all time.

The plot of the musical sticks fairly closely to that of the film (which starred Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving), following the odyssey of Tick, Bernadette and Adam, a trio of high-camp, super-glam performers who decide to take their baubles, bangles and beady eyes to the Australian outback.

They hit the road in a battered old bus named Priscilla, and wind up learning more about friendship and love than they had bargained for.

There are some similarities as well as some differences between this show and Dirty Dancing: The Classic Musical on Stage, which is currently playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

Both are based on favourite cult movies (although the crowd that hoots at Priscilla is considerably different than the one that swoons at Dancing), both began in Australia and went on to London before opening in Toronto.

The differences occur in the timetable. The Mirvish organization waited until Dirty Dancing was an established hit in Australia, Germany and London before bringing it to Toronto, whereas with Priscilla, the Canadian version has been made official months before the London one has even opened. (March 24, 2009 is the date now set for the West End premiere.)

That would seem to indicate a high level of confidence in the future of Priscilla, especially because it's such an expensive show to stage.

The central scenic element, the giant bus, which gives the show its title, weighs six tonnes, has three internal lifts built into it, is covered in 840 LED lights and cost $1.2 million to construct.

Because of the flashy, trashy wardrobe tendencies of its leading characters, the show features more than 500 costumes, 200 hats, 160 masks, 150 pairs of custom-made shoes and 100 wigs.

There are 20 giant production numbers in the show, and the original cast recording of the Sydney production indicates there are 18 additional songs on top of that.

But the movie and stage version differ musically in several important ways.

While both incarnations lean on such camp disco favourites as "I Will Survive" and "Shake Your Groove Thing," the theatre incarnation has much more music, and considerably more ballads, like "MacArthur Park" and "The Morning After."

The major change between the two Priscillas lies in the way the songs are sung. In the movie, they were all lip-synched by the three leads to the original recordings.

But onstage, there is a trio of surrealistic super-charged ladies called The Divas, who fly in from all over the stage to provide the live singing that our three women wannabes mime their performances to.

John Karastamatis, director of communications for Mirvish Productions, who saw the stage version in Australia, calls it "a fantastic show that I know Toronto is going to love."

Some insiders suggest that the timing of the show has been engineered so that Mirvish can convince Stratford and Shaw stalwarts to move directly from the classical stage to this ultra-camp musical.

Let's see, Colm Feore in the Terence Stamp role, Evan Buliung as Hugo Weaving and Jonathan Goad as Guy Pearce.

Works for me, mate.

Peanuts-Inspired Play Stars Degrassi Leads

Source: 
www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(December 08, 2008) Did you know that Charlie Brown went to Degrassi High when he grew up?

That's the impression you may get when a show called
Dog Sees God opens in March.

Producer Michael Rubinoff is really playing the Degrassi card by casting four of the leads in his production with alumni from the wildly popular show Degrassi: The Next Generation: Jake Epstein, Adamo Ruggiero, Mike Lobel and Paula Brancati.

Loosely inspired by the iconic comic strip Peanuts, the free-wheeling satire was a big hit with New York audiences from the moment it premiered at the New York Fringe in 2004 through its opening off-Broadway the following year.

A guy known as "C.B." has to cope with issues of mortality once his beloved dog is put down after killing his pet bird. (Snoopy fans, you're out of luck.) In his search for answers, he exchanges comic insights with carefully disguised figures like "Beethoven," the classical-music freak facing recently discovered issues of childhood sexual abuse; "Van," the kid who once clutched a blanket and now tokes a constant doobie, and Van's sister, now a pyromaniac placed in a padded cell after she set The Little Red-Haired Girl's hair on fire.

Get the picture? It's way past meta and all the way out the other side into surreal. The gang from Peanuts have had their identities shaken up in the name of good dirty fun and their names changed in the interests of avoiding a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Who else surfaces from the past? C.B.'s super cute sister is now a hateful Goth; Peppermint Patty now parties so hard she could give lessons to the Lohan girl and the Artist Formerly Known as Pig-Pen is now a homophobic clean freak named Matt who puts Purell everywhere (and I mean everywhere!).

The original New York production got a jolt of welcome media hype from the presence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer regular Eliza Dushku in the cast, but that's nothing compared with the Degrassi tsunami that Rubinoff is bringing to the Toronto production.

The show is set to open for a strictly limited four-week run on March 13 at Six Degrees, 2335 Yonge St.

The female audience members at Ross Petty's Cinderella who have been swooning over Epstein as Prince Charming will probably be the first in line to buy tickets.

Maybe they should change the name to "You're a Hot Dude, Charlie Brown."

Young Centre Launches Resident Program

Source: 
www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(December 08, 2008) Albert Schultz, General Director of the Young Centre, announced a far-reaching series of initiatives today that will see the multi-venue performance space in the Distillery District stay busy most of the time and serve as a breeding ground for some of the most creative artistic work happening in Toronto.

At the heart of these plans is the appointment of 12 Resident Artists, who will not only to create events on their own, but will mentor developing talents, helping them see their work realized.

All of it will be made possible by a $1 million grant from Donna and Gary Sleight, which will guarantee the support of the program through 2012.

The 12 artists are:

Waleed Abdulhamid: A multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and producer. Founding member of the bands Tikisa, Radio Nomad, Kings of Kush and Balimbo.

David Buchbinder: Leader of The Flying Bulgars and the David Buchbinder Jazz Ensemble. Creator of the Shurum Burum Jazz Circus and the Ashkenaz Festival of New Yiddish Culture.

Roberto Campanella: Founder, choreographer and Artistic Director of ProArteDanza, the contemporary dance company he has run since 2004.

Andrew Craig: A singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, producer, director, broadcaster and impresario. Best known for his work as radio host and producer on CBC.

Weyni Mengesha: Award winning director and composer best known for her work on Trey Anthony's 'Da Kink in My Hair. Associate artist at Theatre Passe Muraille and graduate on the inaugural Soulpepper Academy.

John Millard: Singer, composer and songwriter. Well-remembered for his work with The Polka Dogs as well as John Millard and Happy Day.

Claudia Moore: Artistic Director of MOonhORsE dance theatre, award-winning performer and choreographer whose work has been seen from Vancouver to New York.

Andrea Nann: Contemporary dance choreographer, performer, teacher and artistic director of Andrea Nann Dreamwalker Theatre Company. Former member of the Danny Grossman Dance Theatre.

Patricia O'Callaghan: Actor, singer, cabaret artist, creator of theatre works and frequent performer on radio and television. Has appeared with Soulpepper Theatre and released four CDs.

Soheil Parsa: The founder and Artistic Director of Modern Times Theatre Company, winner of ten Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Director, actor, writer, dramaturge, choreographer and teacher.

Noah Richler: Award-winning author, columnist, broadcaster and commentator, best know for his work with the National Post and for CBC Radio.

Suba Sankaran: This award-winning artist is a multi-instrumentalist musician, using voice, piano and percussion. Has appeared with world music groups like autorickshaw and Trichy's Trio.

::OTHER NEWS::

OJ Squeezed To The Max: Simpson Sentenced To 33 Years!

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(December 05, 2008) Simpson was immediately led away to prison after the judge refused to permit him to go free on bail while he appeals.

*We knew he was gonna get slammed, but we didn't think it would be to this degree. The verdict is in and O.J. Simpson is going to do some major time. Read on for the details:

A broken O.J. Simpson was sentenced Friday to as much as 33 years in prison for a hotel armed robbery after a judge rejected his apology and said, "It was much more than stupidity."

The 61-year-old football Hall of Famer stood shackled and stone-faced when Judge Jackie Glass quickly rattled off his punishment soon after he made a rambling, five-minute plea for leniency, choking back tears as he told her: "I didn't want to steal anything from anyone. ... I'm sorry, sorry."

Simpson said he was simply trying to retrieve sports memorabilia and other mementos, including his first wife's wedding ring, from two dealers when he stormed a Las Vegas hotel room on Sept. 13, 2007.

But the judge emphasized that it was a violent confrontation in which at least one gun was drawn, and she said someone could have been killed. She said the evidence was overwhelming, with the planning, the confrontation itself and the aftermath all recorded on audio or videotape.

Glass, a no-nonsense judge known for her tough sentences, imposed such a complex series of consecutive and concurrent sentences that even many attorneys watching the case were confused as to how much time Simpson got.

Simpson could serve up to 33 years but could be eligible for parole after nine years, according to Elana Roberto, the judge's clerk.

The judge said several times that her sentence in the Las Vegas case had nothing to do with Simpson's 1994 acquittal in the slaying of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

"I'm not here to try and cause any retribution or any payback for anything else," Glass said.

Simpson was immediately led away to prison after the judge refused to permit him to go free on bail while he appeals.

For MORE, go HERE

OTHER TIDBITS

Rowling Works Her Magic Again

Source: www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(December 05, 2008) The latest magical tome by J.K. Rowling has started to fly off bookstore shelves. Rowling launched The Tales of Beedle the Bard yesterday with a tea party for 200 schoolchildren at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where she lives. The author is donating royalties from the book to a charity, which hopes it will raise millions to help vulnerable children. Recession-hit booksellers hope the book – five fables mentioned in Rowling's saga about boy wizard Harry Potter – will give them a festive boost. "We expect it to come straight in at No. 1 and it is very likely to be our No. 1 book this Christmas," said Jon Howells of Britain's Waterstone's bookstore chain. "It's in with a fighting chance of being the bestselling book of the year, even though there are only a few weeks to go. "This is J.K. Rowling. None of the usual rules apply," he said. Beedle the Bard was being published yesterday in more than 20 countries, with a global print run of almost eight million. But it is generating only a fraction of the fanfare that greeted the Potter novels. Rowling has described Beedle the Bard as a distillation of the themes found in the Harry Potter books, calling it her goodbye to a world she lived in for 17 years.

::DANCE NEWS::

National's Nutcracker Never Fails To Captivate

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

(December 07, 2008) Every Christmas, British dance critic Richard Buckle once wrote, "we are one more Nutcracker closer to death." A less jaded viewer might view this December ritual another way. Every Christmas, The Nutcracker, especially James Kudelka's production for the National Ballet of Canada, gives us a chance to recover the wonder of childhood and the dream of contentment.

Even after as many as 15 experiences of this very child-centric Nutcracker, the magic – forever recoverable through Tchaikovsky's enchanting score – persists. And still there are new details, fresh delights to discover.

Piotr Stanczyk makes a light-footed, carefree Peter, poised between child and adult life. Once transformed in Marie and Misha's dream world into the Nutcracker prince, he falls convincingly in love with his Sugar Plum Fairy, Sonia Rodriguez. The two dancers are well matched, airily romantic, as if caught in a vision recovered after waking up. (Stanczyk and Rodriguez will be the two leads performing in the simulcast of the National Ballet's Nutcracker on HD movie screens across Canada this Saturday.)

National Ballet School students Alyson McKenzie and Tyler Robinson reprise their roles as the squabbling sister and brother Marie and Misha, both very capable of holding our attention even amid the melee of dancing, playing and fighting. The 40 students and children in this production never look like lesser players alongside the adult performers, one of its signal choreographic achievements.

Avinoam Silverman's Uncle Nikolai is the magician who ushers us into a fantasy world with every quicksilver pirouette on his purple boots. He conjures up the dancing bears and leads the horse in a four-legged jig. With the fight scene in Misha and Marie's bedroom toys come to life, wolfhounds, cats and an evil brigade of mice on horseback. The earthy, material world of Baba (Lorna Geddes), the barn, the peasants and landed gentry has been left far behind. The beds carry the children off into a snowy dreamland.

Heather Ogden is a flawless Snow Queen, smoothly manipulated around the Land of Snow by her two Icicles, Noah Long and Aarik Wells. The Snow Maidens make a stunning display, reminiscent of a scene from a Balanchine ballet with precise and ethereal movement, as evanescent as, well, snowflakes.

The Sugar Plum Fairy's Fabergé seems to materialize out of a mirage in Act II, as Marie and Misha come to a golden palace. Those comfortable family fixtures Uncle Nikolai and Baba are now the Empress Dowager and the Grand Duke. Where the scenes in Act I were a constant whirl of activity and dancing, the child courtiers in Act II remain still, transfixed by the sight of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the procession of dances: Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee with its hieroglyphic gestures, Andreea Olteanu is a flirtatious sheep with her flock of lambs, pursued by Robert Stephen as a lascivious fox. Jordana Daumec makes a captivating bee, to usher in the dance of the flowers.

The National Ballet's expenditure of $2.7 million to bring this Nutcracker to the stage in 1995 was surely the best investment the company has ever made, returned not just at the box office, but in the passion for ballet it inspires in all who come to see it.

The Nutcracker continues at the Four Seasons Centre until Dec. 28.

Natalli Reznik: We Know She Can Dance

Source: 
www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, TV Columnist

(December 08, 2008) I must admit, the prospect of meeting Natalli Reznik, Toronto's best and only chance to win last night's So You Think You Can Dance Canada final, was a bit intimidating.

The fact that she ultimately didn't win changes nothing. I mean, anyone talented enough to make what she does look so effortless, and disciplined enough to mould the body she does it with, and to be doing it at the ripe old (dancer's) age of 29 ... even in the unlikely event that I did establish eye contact, what was I going to find on the other side?

And who? In last Wednesday's final performance show alone, Reznik went from poised, immaculately gowned and coiffed ballroom diva to thuggishly ambisexual hip-hop delinquent to kitten-with-a-whip go-go dancing Ann-Margret.

In fact, the real Reznik is an odd combination of the lithe, leaping free spirit you see in her solo routines, the giggly girlie-girl of the pretaped rehearsal segments and the shyly self-aware flower child of the offstage interviews.

"There's lots of layers to me that people don't expect," she concedes.

Fortunately, for the moment, those celebrated "six-pack" abs are safely hidden away beneath loose-fitting sweats. But I still know they're there. If this woman had an ounce of body fat it would be lonely. When she's dolled up in one of those midriff-baring costumes, you can almost see her intestines.

Every woman and several of the men I know all want me to ask how she does it, how anyone could possibly chisel themselves into this kind of shape.

It is clearly a question she gets asked a lot. "Dancing and genetics," she shrugs, curled up in a chair in a CTV boardroom, tousled mane of blond hair cascading down from beneath a pork-pie hat.

"I have my dad's body. I have hips like my mom, but this whole area ..." she indicates those famous abs, "this is all my dad. So it is genetics. And I eat really healthy, like, a lot of organic food. I don't mix certain food types."

It can't be that simple. "Well, yeah," she concedes, "it is a lot of hard work. When I was 25, I used to dance for Cirque (du Soleil) and the trainer there used to do crazy abs with us. Then I taught here in Toronto at different gyms, and did a lot of abs and stuff.

"I don't any more. Last year I kind of stopped and, you know, kind of relaxed a bit, because I was getting really muscular. And the last two or three months, I think I've lost a little more weight, with all the stress."

From the first auditions to the Final Four, Reznik's Dance journey has been arduous, but uniquely rewarding.

"I'm not a competitive person," she insists. "I came here for the show because I knew what I am lacking, and I wanted to get that experience so I would get better.

"Honestly, I'm not even thinking about anything but just hitting that choreography straight and doing a good job, and that's it.

"I think that I am learning a lot from everybody, and I am just enjoying the experience."

And sharing her experience – particularly with the young ballerina, Allie Bertram, who she has clearly taken under her wing.

Reznik too started out in ballet, when her family moved here from Israel. "Allie reminds me so much of me when I was 19," she smiles.

"What I've realized in the last few years is whatever is meant to happen will happen. Just being in the moment, that's kind of my secret."

::SPORTS NEWS::

New Raptors Coach Gets Thumbs Up

Source: www.thestar.com - Doug Smith,
Sports Reporter

(December 05, 2008) DENVER–Over five years and countless hours of practice sessions, games and the downtime that mark an NBA season, Chris Bosh has reached a nice comfort level with Jay Triano. Nothing should change now that there's been an alteration in Triano's job description.

"I'm comfortable with Jay, he's been in a head coaching position before with the Canadian national team, he's just not in unknown waters right now," Bosh said after a two-hour workout here yesterday morning.

"He has a system that he wants to run. We're not changing a whole bunch, we're going to keep doing what we're doing and he's making some minor adjustments.

"Only change that was needed was that we needed to play harder and execute better and come with a better mentality in each and every game."

There was no large measure of remorse among the Raptors a day after Sam Mitchell was fired.

The NBA can be a tough business, everyone knows, and while players and Mitchell's co-workers are far from blameless on his demise, there was far more looking forward than back.

"Me and Sam were very close but that's a decision that the front office made and we have to move with it," said Bosh. "We all accept it and I'm sure that Sam is moving on just like we are.

Triano, 50, takes over an 8-9 team that some – primarily general manager Bryan Colangelo – think should have a better record. The native of Niagara Falls gets the job after spending seven seasons on the Raptors bench working for Lenny Wilkens, Kevin O'Neill and Mitchell.

"I think he's the best guy for the job," said Bosh. "I think everybody knows what they're doing up top. (That's) the reason why they put Jay as the interim head coach. We all have a comfort level with him, he wants to work hard and he wants to win basketball games just like we do.''

To Jermaine O'Neal, whose relationship with Mitchell never had a chance to grow, it doesn't really matter who's calling the shots, it's on the players to make things work.

"The coaching change, it sparks guys because there are going to be some guys who haven't played as many minutes as they want to play who feel like they've got a new chance," said O'Neal. "It's a new flow. The offence we went over (yesterday) had a little bit different feel than Sam's offensive system but, again, I think it's unfair to put all the blame on Sam.

"You have to put the blame on the players also. Players play the game and we have to do a better job of taking it personally and stopping our guys and not expecting someone to help us as much.

"We've been absolutely horrendous on defence this year so until we personally take that personally, we're going to struggle no matter who we have at coach."

Triano said he expects to start the usual suspects tonight in Utah but he also hopes to limit the minutes of players like Bosh, who's logging about 42 minutes a game right now.

"Obviously, I'm going to go in having a plan as to how I can maximize having our best players on the floor for the most amount of time but things change."

Morten Anderson, NFL's All-Time Leading Scorer, Retires

Source: 
www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(December 08, 2008) COPENHAGEN, Denmark–Kicker Morten Andersen, the NFL's career-leading scorer, is retiring because of knee problems.

The 48-year-old Dane, who scored 2,437 points during his 25-year career, played for the Atlanta Falcons the past two seasons but wasn't able to get a contract this year. Andersen said Monday he has given up his search and his NFL career.

"I realized I no longer can train in an optimal way because of my knees," Andersen told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "So I am retiring."

Andersen said that his knees were worn out after so many years as a professional player.

"It's not that I cannot kick, play golf or go bicycling, but it's not the same anymore," he said.

Andersen said that being a member of the Falcons when the team reached the Super Bowl in 1999 "was the culmination. It was the pinnacle of my career."

The Falcons advanced to their only Super Bowl after the 1998 season when Andersen's 38-yard field goal beat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. Atlanta lost the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos.

Andersen became the leading scorer in NFL history on Dec. 17, 2006 with a field goal during the Falcons' 38-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

He kicked for five NFL teams in 25 years, including 13 seasons for the New Orleans Saints, eight for the Falcons, two for the Kansas City Chiefs and one season each with the New York Giants and the Vikings.

A Copenhagen native, Andersen went to the United States in 1977 as an exchange student and played at Michigan State.

He said he decided to announce his retirement in Denmark because of the support he has received at home. Although the NFL gets modest coverage in the Scandinavian country, Andersen's record-breaking career has been a top sports story in Danish media.

After 355 Wins, Maddux Ends Hall Of Fame Baseball Career

Source: 
www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(December 08, 2008) LAS VEGAS – Greg Maddux grew up with the same weekend ritual as so many other American kids.

Tagging along with his big brother, he would run down to the park to play ball against the older guys from the neighbourhood in regular Sunday scrimmages.

He met a pitching coach who preached movement over velocity, and pretty soon Maddux was striking out those stronger teenagers. Nearly three decades later, he walked away from baseball Monday as one of the greatest pitchers to put on a uniform.

After 355 wins and 23 major-league seasons, Maddux held a 30-minute news conference to announce his retirement on the opening day of the winter meetings – just minutes from his Las Vegas home.

"I really just came out here today to say thank you," he said in a ballroom at the swanky Bellagio hotel. "I appreciate everything this game has given me. It's going to be hard to walk away obviously, but it's time. I have a family now that I need to spend some more time with. I still think I can play the game, but not as well as I would like to, so it's time to say goodbye."

Next stop, the Hall of Fame.

Wearing a casual shirt and slacks, Maddux spoke softly on stage and never appeared to get choked up. His parents and family – including brother Mike Maddux, the Texas' Rangers pitching coach and a former big leaguer himself – sat in the front row.

A large poster with photos of Maddux hung behind the podium. He was introduced by agent Scott Boras, who said "Mad Dog" had a ``model" career.

Maddux leaves with four consecutive NL Cy Young Awards (1992-95) and a 3.16 ERA, especially impressive in the steroid era. He ranks eighth on the career wins list, with one more victory than Roger Clemens.

"I never changed," said Maddux, who turns 43 in April. "I think, hey, you locate your fastball and you change speeds no matter who is hitting."

Maddux spent his final season with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers, finishing 355-227. His remarkable resume includes a record 18 Gold Gloves, including one this year.

::FITNESS NEWS::

The 20-Minute Home Workout

By Raphael Calzadilla, BA, CPT, ACE, RTS1, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro

The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.
--Oprah Winfrey

I once wrote an article called "Are You Ready for a Quickie?" It's a workout designed for those who need to perform brief exercise sessions in the privacy of their home with absolutely no equipment.

If you've suddenly been hit with a busy schedule or just need something quick, I have the workout for you.

No long sessions in the gym or hours of cardio: Just a realistic alternative to all the noise in the world of fitness that makes us hate exercising. No anatomy lessons today -- simply something you can do in your living room or office. The only weight you'll need is your own body.

This series of movements will take about 20 minutes or fewer. Yep, you're reading correctly -- just 20 minutes. You can do them three to four times per week. Your entire body will be stimulated and you'll feel rejuvenated -- without all the added stress of having to go to the gym.

I've designed this routine so that one exercise stimulates multiple muscle groups. This way you'll get the best bang for your buck in the least amount of time. Perform each exercise in succession. After completing one movement, immediately continue to the next one. After you've completed all the movements, perform them one more time. Attempt 15 repetitions of each movement. Don't worry if you can't perform all the reps, it will come. If you're a beginner, take your time and go at your own pace.

1. BENT KNEE PUSH UPS -- Start with your hands and knees on a mat. Your hands should be shoulders-width apart and your head, neck, hips and legs should be in a straight line. Do not let your back arch and cave in. Maintain a slight bend in the elbows. Lower your upper body by bending your elbows outward, stopping before your chest touches the floor. Contracting the chest muscles, slowly return to the starting position. Inhale while lowering your body. Exhale while returning to the starting position. After mastering this exercise, you may wish to try the full push-up.

2. LUNGE (with household cans)-- Stand straight with your feet together. Hold a can in each hand with your arms down at your sides. Step forward with the right leg and lower the left leg until the knee almost touches the floor. Contracting the quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh), push off your right foot, slowly returning to the starting position. Alternate the motion with the left leg to complete the set. Inhale while stepping forward. Exhale while returning to the starting position. The step should be long enough that your left leg is nearly straight. Do not let your knee touch the floor. Make sure your head is up and your back is straight. Your chest should be lifted and your front leg should form a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the movement. Your right knee should not pass your right foot, and you should be able to see your toes at all times. If you have one leg that is more dominant than the other, start out with the less dominant leg first. Discontinue this exercise if you feel any discomfort in your knees.

3. ABDOMINAL BICYCLE MANEUVER -- Lie on a mat with your lower back in a comfortable position. Put your hands on either side of your head by your ears. Bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle. Slowly go through a bicycle pedaling motion alternating your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. This is a more advanced exercise, so don't worry if you can't perform a lot of them. Do not perform this activity if it puts any strain on your lower back. Also, don't pull on your head and neck during this exercise. The lower to the ground your legs bicycle, the harder your abs have to work.

4. BENCH DIPS --- Using two benches or chairs, sit on one. Place palms on the bench with fingers wrapped around the edge. Place both feet on the other chair. Slide your upper body off the chair with your elbows nearly but not completely locked. Lower your upper body slowly toward the floor until your elbows are bent slightly more than 90 degrees. Contracting your triceps (back of the arm), extend your elbows, returning to the starting position, stopping just short of the elbows fully extending. Inhale while lowering your body and exhale while returning to the starting position. Beginners should start with their feet on the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle. As you progress, move your feet out farther until your legs are straight with a slight bend in the knees.

5. ABDOMINAL DOUBLE CRUNCH -- Lie on the floor face up. Bend your knees until your legs are at a 45-degree angle with both feet on the floor. Your back should be comfortably relaxed on the floor. Place both hands crossed on your chest. Contracting your abdominals, raise your head and legs off the floor toward one another. Slowly return to the starting position, stopping just short of your shoulders and feet touching the floor. Exhale while rising up and inhale while returning to the starting position. Keep your eyes on the ceiling to avoid pulling with your neck. Your hands should not be used to lift the head or assist in the movement.

Five exercises performed for two cycles in just 20 minutes! You'll begin to notice a tighter feeling in a few weeks, and you will naturally perform more reps as time progresses -- all in 20 minutes or fewer.

::MOTIVATION::

Motivational Note

Source: www.eurweb.com
 — Dale Carnegie

"Many people think that if they were only in some other place, or had some other job, they would be happy. Well, that is doubtful. So get as much happiness out of what you are doing as you can and don't put off being happy until some future date."