20 Carlton Street, Suite 1032, Toronto, ON  M5B 2H5
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February 28, 2008


The end of February (finally!) and I've got a special CD giveaway for you to celebrate amazing Canadian talent and the upcoming Juno Awards.  It's the Juno 2008 CD - and it's yours if you can tell me what year the Junos first starting putting out the CD - look under SCOOP below.  Enter HERE and don't forget your full name and mailing address or you don't qualify! 

TONIGHT!  It may not be too late to sign on to the memorial art auction and dinner commemorating the great Chef Keith White at Harlem where friends of Carl Cassell (also of Irie Food Joint) invite you to enjoy this special celebration (and Carl's birthday!). 

I'll be sending next week's newsletter from the
2008 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, as I've been invited back to cover the exciting regatta!

So much news this week yet again so scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!



An Art Retrospective Honouring Late Chef Keith White - Thursday, February 28

Harlem Restaurant creates a chef's bursary through the George Brown Chef School in Keith's name.

On Thursday, February 28th join
Carl Cassell and friends in a memorial art auction and dinner commemorating the great Chef Keith White who died on January 28th this year. Many food lovers will remember Keith, who in his later years, helped sparked the culinary path that led the Irie Food Joint to its success on Queen Street West.

The night of fundraising will feature a savoury three-course dinner presented by
Master Chef Anthony Mair. DJ Carl Allen, the city's award-winning turntablist, will lay down the evening's sound work, and Carl Cassell's art auction will set the creative backdrop of a 10-year retrospective showcasing his one-of-a-kind pieces in Hair, including portraits of the Urban Vanguard Series I & II.

Come join us in raising our glasses to Keith White and to the young chefs following him in their love of culinary art.

YOU MUST RSVP TO ATTEND or call 416-368-1920.

67 Richmond Street E. (at Church St.)
6 pm; Canapés at 7 pm
Three-course dinner served at 8 pm, followed by an evening of music

RSVP TO ATTEND DINNER at carl@iriefoodjoint.com or call 416-368-1920


Universal Music Canada To Release Juno Awards 2008 Compilation Album

Source:  Universal Music Canada

(February 5, 2008) (Toronto, ON) – Universal Music Canada (UMC), the country's leading music company, is set to release JUNO Awards 2008, a compilation album featuring some of the most celebrated Canadian artists of the year, on February 26, 2008. The project is a joint venture between Canada's four major labels (EMI Music Canada, SonyBMG Music Canada Inc., UMC and Warner Music Canada) along with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS). Since it's inception in 2003, each JUNO Awards CD has achieved GOLD status, selling more than 50,000 copies.

The JUNO Awards 2008 compilation album is a not for profit venture with all proceeds going towards MusiCan, CARAS' national music education charity. MusiCan's mission is to ensure that every child in Canada has access to a comprehensive music program through their schools. MusiCan includes Band Aid musical instrument grants, the MusiCan Teacher of the Year Award, Scholarships and other music education initiatives. Since the Program's establishment in 1997, over 2.3 million has been donated impacting more than 120,000 students, their schools and communities, from coast to coast.

Track Listing in alphabetical order:

Bedouin Soundclash

"Walls Fall Down"

Belly feat. Ginuwine


Jully Black

"Seven Day Fool"

Blue Rodeo

"This Town"

Paul Brandt

"Didn't Even See The Dust"

Michael Bublé



"I Get Around"

Faber Drive

"Tongue Tied"


"My Moon My Man"

Finger Eleven


Matthew Good

"Born Losers"


"For The Nights I Can't Remember"


"Nothing Special"


"Le Bonheur Au Large"

Avril Lavigne


Anne Murray & Nelly Furtado

"Day Dream Believer"

Justin Nozuka

"After Tonight"

Pascale Picard

"Gate 22"        

Serena Ryder

"Weak In The Knees"


"Weighty Ghost"

Neil Young

"Dirty Old Man"

About Universal Music Canada:
Universal Music Canada, a unit of Universal Music Group, is Canada's leading music organization maintaining an overall 38 % year-to-date market share. For further information on Universal Music Canada please visit www.umusic.ca .



Paul Anka: The Granddaddy Of Swoon

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Michael Posner

(February 22, 2008) NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. — Do you remember that wonderful scene in When Harry Met Sally? An older woman (Estelle Reiner) who's sitting in a diner watches Meg Ryan simulate a two-minute orgasm, then turns to the waitress and says, deadpan, "I'll have what she's having."

Change the pronoun, and that's more or less what I wanted to say the other night after watching
Paul Anka perform at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls.

There he was, sleek and tanned, a bright-toothed puma bounding down the aisles, jumping up on chairs to sing, grabbing women for a brief two-step, and generally expending the kind of energy he did when teenage girls in Paris, Tokyo and New York swooned at his feet five decades ago. The largely middle-aged audience seemed ready to swoon as well, constrained only by a sense of mature decorum.

He's 66, a father and a grandfather several times. And a new father again, with two-year-old Ethan, his first son, with his new partner Anna Yeager, a Swedish-born blonde, his former personal trainer. So his personal life has been a little complicated, and he's known in the biz as a complete perfectionist, hard on himself and very hard on others.

It doesn't matter.

A few evocative bars of You Are My Destiny, Diana, Lonely Boy, Put Your Head on My Shoulder or any of those lush romantic ballads Anka penned while still learning to shave, and it's as if the entire 1,500-seat theatre has been transported back in time, to the bare basements and living rooms of our not-so-innocent youth, where we turned off the lights and danced close, Anka's voice magically emanating through a tiny needle on a vinyl album.

Anka doesn't much love those teenage songs any more — can you blame him? — but he'll be damned if he's going to turn off the nostalgia taps and disappoint his fans. "And here's another one," he says, ripping off his tie and launching into Puppy Love.

Later, he sits down at the piano to reconstruct Diana as a contemporary tune, changing the last line of the lyric to "Oh, please, Viagra." The audience roars and then, sotto voce, Anka whispers, "But not yet."

Thank you. I'll have what he's having.

By this point in their careers, Frank Sinatra's voice was thin and shaky, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin had turned into self-caricatures, and Bobby Darin was dead, much too young. Anka — in Toronto next week to be inducted into yet another Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters (he has, after all, 900 songs to his credit, many of them recorded by other top artists) — is as robust as ever.

His voice is huskier than it was when, just out of high school, he left his Lebanese family in Ottawa and plunged into show business, a handsome, cocky, effervescent kid. "My parents knew I had this thing in my gut," he says. "It's all about that." But he's lost nothing at the margins of his range and, when he wants to rev the engine, he can still sustain notes that last.

The mystery, perhaps, is not how well he's managed to maintain himself, carefully avoiding the myriad recreational and pharmaceutical snares that claimed the careers if not the lives of so many performers he knew. Anka himself, relaxing a few hours before the show in an upstairs suite, dressed in a black sweater and slacks, attributes it to his parents, and to simple, level-headed Canadian values.

But it wasn't just the miasma of drugs and alcohol he dodged. He had his own bathrobe (labelled "The Kid") in the steam room at the Sands, hanging beside Sammy Davis Jr.'s (his was labelled "Smokey the Bear"). But Anka never surrendered himself to that artificial universe constructed by Sinatra and the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, when they'd smoke and drink and gamble until dawn, and Peter Lawford would line up eight showgirls at a time to service the voracious appetite of his brother-in-law, Jack Kennedy, a rising politician visiting for the day. "I kept my nose clean," Anka says.

Anka was always more grounded. He got married at 23, at Paris's Orly Airport, to fashion model Anne de Zogheb, daughter of a Lebanese diplomat, and quite soon became father to the first of five daughters — Amelia, Anthea, Alicia, Amanda (now the wife of actor Jason Bateman) and Alexandra. The marriage lasted 37 years.

Though younger than some of his entertainment industry pals, Anka was, in a way, more sophisticated. He had lived in Rome and in France. He read books. He collected art. And he knew how easily it could all unravel. He'd seen ill-fated star Frankie Lymon shoot himself up before concerts, sensed the demons in Elvis, watched a lung operation in New York just to see the damage two packs a day inflicted. He wasn't going there.

He did not indulge, but he was in that crowd. He was there the night in 1967 when Sinatra, as he had routinely done, asked for credit at the Sands Casino and was denied. The hotel had just been taken over by Howard Hughes, whose lawyers and accountants changed the house rules virtually overnight. Incensed, a drunken Sinatra stood on the craps table swearing, until they finally called the casino manager, a soft-spoken gentleman named Carl Cohen.

"They woke him up," Anka says of the manager. "It was four a.m. He drove over to the back door of the coffee shop, the Garden Room, in his bathrobe, in a golf cart. He sits down. He calmly explains why he can't extend credit to Frank. 'We don't own the place any more, Frank. I can't give you the money.'

"Sinatra starts swearing, 'You fat, fucking little Jew,' etc. Carl — I'd never heard him raise his voice, ever — gets up and punches Frank right in the mouth. He goes down. His teeth are now on the coffee shop floor. I'm sitting there in disbelief. They take him to a Lear jet and fly him out for dental surgery."

Sinatra signed at Caesars Palace soon after.

Anka promises that all of those recollections and more will be part of his ghost-written autobiography, to be published by St. Martin's Press, "now that enough people have died." He's hired researchers to gather material and plans to start working on it this year. "But it won't be called My Way," he insists with a laugh, referencing the classic ballad he wrote for Sinatra. "I'll leave some stuff out, out of respect for friends, but it's not going to be pap. No one is left who saw what I saw. But I never had a problem with them, never was leaned on."

The real mystery with Anka is why, after five remarkable decades, 130 albums, more than 40 million records sold, the only artist on Billboard's Top 50 charts for five consecutive decades, why he still feels the need every three days to spend an hour and 45 minutes on stage swinging to an 18-piece orchestra.

The answer is that, in many ways, nothing in him has changed. The same impetus that made him get up on stage at 13 to sing in Gatineau talent contests also made him, at 15, approach producer Irvin Feld at a Fats Domino concert in Ottawa and tell him, "You're going to hear about me, Mr. Feld." A year later Feld signed him.

It's the same ambition that took him in 1957 with his unfinished song Diana (about his unrequited love of high school friend Diana Ayoub) to meet legendary producer Don Costa in New York, where Anka slept on a mattress in a bathtub in a friends' room at the President Hotel. It's why, three years ago, he released Rock Swings, an album of covers of more contemporary pop songs, and devoted half of Classic Songs, My Way, his last album, to the same kind of tunes.

"Paul is a perfectionist," says music journalist Larry LeBlanc, who wrote the biographical notes for Anka's last album. "He can be charming. He can be difficult. Certainly his intensity can be unsettling. He expects a person to be as professional as he is. In this world, that doesn't happen much."

And there's another dimension to Anka that's often overlooked: his business acumen. He was only 21 when, in 1962, he parted company with ABC-Paramount and committed his entire savings — $250,000, a fortune in those days — to buy back the masters of his own songs. He started his own publishing company, Spanka Music, and began licensing the it songs of artists from France, Italy and elsewhere, as well as the rights to the James Brown catalogue in Europe.

He was an astute judge of talent as well. He nurtured the early careers of singer/songwriters John Prine and Steve Goodman, as well as Canadians Corey Hart and David Clayton-Thomas. And it was only after Anka lined up $500,000 with a single phone call to finance crooner Michael Buble's first album with David Foster that Warner Bros. decided it might be willing to bankroll the CD. (In the end, Foster used his own money.)

It was also Paul Albert Anka who, in 1963, told his managers, the Feld brothers, about a long-haired British group called the Beatles that he'd seen perform in Paris. He suggested they bring the band to America, and they did.

In April, he's off to Europe for a six-city tour. He watches what he eats, lifts weights — he has a set of barbells in the hotel suite's living room, and does short sessions of intense aerobic activity. Last year, Anka sold his 5,700-square-foot mansion above Beverly Hills for $5.8-million (U.S.), and then bought a similar sized home a little farther north of Los Angeles, in Thousand Oaks' Lake Sherwood district, to house Anna, Ethan and Emily, Anna's daughter from her previous marriage. He and Anna aren't married yet, Anka says, "but we're talking about it."

How long will he keep going as a performer? "Until I can't continue any more. There's something about performing, I can't give it up. I'm at the top of my game. There's a large black hole," he says, "between the creative process of writing a song and performing it."

Anka could easily live on the royalties of a few songs alone. It isn't enough. "When you get out there and you see the tears, that's the payoff," he says. "Why would you give it up when it's easier to travel?"

"And there are things I still haven't accomplished," he continues. "What am I going to do? Retire at 50 and sit home and do what — become angry? No. I haven't put my flag in the ground yet."

Golden Night For Coens

Excerpt from
www.thestar.com - Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press

(February 24, 2008) LOS ANGELES–Joel and Ethan Coen took home Oscar gold on Sunday night, winning best picture, best director, adapted screenplay and best supporting actor Academy Awards for their blood-soaked "No Country For Old Men."

"There are too many people to thank for this ... we're very thankful to all of you out there who allow us to continue to play in our corner of the sandbox," said Joel Coen, referring to the siblings' lifelong filmmaking efforts that included a childhood movie called "Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go," as he picked up the best director prize.

Javier Bardem won best supporting actor for his role as a ruthless serial killer in "No Country."

"This is pretty amazing and I want to thank the Coens for being crazy enough to think that I could do that and put one of the most horrible haircuts in history on my head," Bardem told the cheering crowd, referring to the Coens' decision to fashion his character with an incongruous page boy.

Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for his role as a histrionic oil baron in "There Will Be Blood," an expected victory in stark contrast to what was arguably the biggest upset of Oscar night – French actress Marion Cotillard's best actress win for her turn as Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose."

"That's the closest I'll ever come to getting a knighthood, so thank you," the soft-spoken Day-Lewis said to presenter Helen Mirren, who played Queen Elizabeth in "The Queen" last year.

"This sprang like a golden sapling out of mad beautiful head of Paul Thomas Anderson," Day-Lewis said as he paid tribute to the film's director.

Cotillard's win was something of a stunner. She beat Christie, whose performance as a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease in Canadian Sarah Polley's powerful "Away From Her," garnered her a Golden Globe and BAFTA award in the best actress category.

"It's true there are some angels in this city," the visibly overwhelmed Cotillard told the crowd.

Her win came on a night of relatively few surprises. Tilda Swinton took best supporting actress for her role as a pathologically ambitious attorney in the legal thriller "Michael Clayton," a category some speculated might go to Cate Blanchett for her Bob Dylan imitation in "I'm Not There."

The Scottish Swinton paid tribute to a close colleague as she fondly took in her Oscar statuette.

"I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this," she said. "Really, truly, the same shape head, and it has to be said, the buttocks. And I'm giving this to him, because there's no way I'd be in America at all, ever, on a plane if it wasn't for him."

"Juno," the beloved teen pregnancy comedy from Montreal-born Jason Reitman, took home just one Oscar, but it was a prestigious one – Diablo Cody, the onetime stripper turned screenwriter, took home the prize for best original screenplay.

"I want to thank Jason Reitman, whom I consider a member of my family and whom I'm in awe of as a filmmaker," an emotional Cody told the crowd.

Reitman has said he fell in love with Cody's script the first time he read it and felt compelled to make the movie soon after. It was the first script she'd ever written.

Page, from Halifax, got the most cheers when her name was announced in the best actress category for her role as a pregnant teen in "Juno."

"There Will Be Blood" won the prize for best cinematography, ``Ratatouille," the blockbuster animated flick about a rat, won best animated feature, "The Golden Compass" won for best visual effects. "Taxi to the Dark Side" won best documentary, beating out the high-profile "Sicko" from Michael Moore.

"Sweeney Todd" took home the prize for art direction, Austria's ``The Counterfeiters" won best foreign-language film and "Falling Slowly," a moving love song from the Irish film, "Once," won best song. "Atonement" won for best score.

One of the most sober moments of the night came during the annual tribute to actors and filmmakers who have died over the past year. When the tribute ended with a focus on Australian actor Heath Ledger, who died last month in a drug-related death, the broadcast cut immediately to commercial.

Critics were almost unanimous in predicting "No Country" would take home the best picture Oscar and that the Coens would nab the directing prize.

The brothers took the stage early in the night to accept the statue for best adapted screenplay, a category in which they beat out Toronto's Polley, who was nominated for "Away From Her."

Sunday's televised show, watched by an estimated billion people worldwide, got underway with a special effects extravaganza showing film characters lining Hollywood Boulevard before host Jon Stewart got down to his opening monologue.

A chilly drizzle fell throughout much of the day, and celebs showed off their award-show finery on a red carpet draped by a tarp. Despite the showers, shrieking fans packed the streets around the Kodak Theatre.

The nominated Canadians were out in full force, taking in the sights and sounds.

Reitman – accompanied on the red carpet by his parents, longtime Hollywood filmmaker Ivan Reitman and his wife, Genevieve – has been on the party circuit for days assuring anyone who's asked that he didn't have a chance to win the best director Oscar. "Juno" was also nominated for a best picture Oscar.

The film won best picture at the Spirit Awards honouring independent film on Saturday night, while Page won the best actress Spirit Award and Cody took home the prize for best first screenplay.

"Juno" has wowed Hollywood since its release in mid-December, becoming not only a critical but commercial smash – easily the most successful film among the five best picture nominees.

Even Stewart made reference to the film's popularity in his opening remarks Sunday night.

After joking that Hollywood needed a hug for turning out so many dark and bloody films in 2007, he added: "All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy. I think the country agrees."

"Juno" was the lone comedy in a best picture field that was rounded out by the wartime romance "Atonement," the oil-boom epic ``There Will Be Blood" and "Michael Clayton."

Canadians were nominated in the animated short category but lost out to "Peter and the Wolf," and three Canadian sound mixers also lost out to the crew from "The Bourne Ultimatum."

Perennial Oscar bridesmaid Kevin O'Connell, another sound-mixing nominee for "Transformers," lost again, his 20th time striking out at the Academy Awards.

The winners at the 80th annual Academy Awards.

Best film: “No Country for Old Men”
Best actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”
Best actress: Marion Cotillard, “La Vie en Rose”
Best supporting actor: Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”
Best supporting actress: Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”
Best direction: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men”
Foreign language film: “The Counterfeiters,” Austria
Cinematography: “There Will Be Blood”
Costume design: “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Animated feature film: “Ratatouille”
Documentary feature: “Taxi to the Dark Side”
Documentary short subject: “Freeheld”
Makeup: “La Vie en rose”
Visual effects: “The Golden Compass”
Art direction: “Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Live action short film: “Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)”
Animated short film: “Peter & the Wolf”
Original screenplay: “Juno”
Adapted screenplay: “No Country for Old Men”
Original song: “Falling Slowly” from “Once”
Original score: “Atonement”
Sound editing: “The Bourne Ultimatum”
Sound mixing: “The Bourne Ultimatum”
Film editing: “The Bourne Ultimatum”

Jack Johnson Saving The Earth, One Tune At A Time

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Simon Houpt

(February 23, 2008) NEW YORK — For a laid-back Hawaiian guy who ambled his way from making surf movies to a spot as a leading purveyor of easygoing acoustic pop, Jack Johnson speaks with a surprising sense of urgency. Last October, when he lit out from his Oahu home for a one-week publicity tour that brought him to New York, he dragged himself down to the lobby bar of the Bowery Hotel early one morning, where out tumbled a stream of feelings and thoughts about the state of the world. This, without benefit of coffee.

Johnson, 32, evidently has a lot on his mind; his new album,
Sleep Through the Static, which has sat atop the Canadian album charts for the two weeks since its release, is run through with anxiety. Not that you'd know it from the music itself, a slightly more produced, fatter and occasionally electric version of the stripped-down sing-along campfire style he's been offering since his 2001 debut, Brushfire Fairytales.

But Johnson is a committed environmentalist and the lyrics for the opening number, All at Once, are braided with hints of a planet on the verge of collapse. That tune segues into the title cut, a hip-hop-influenced number that is as clear an attack on the United States' recent military misadventures as you're ever likely to get from a surfer dude: "Who needs please when we've got guns? / Who needs peace when we've gone above," Johnson sings in the chorus.

Sitting here now, sporting three days of stubble and bloodshot eyes from jet lag and last night's late drinks, Johnson explains that songwriting is for him normally a laborious process. "I usually write one verse and it sits around for a year sometimes, or months, and then I'll write another verse to a whole different melody, and then I'll realize they're talking about the same thing and I'll put 'em together."

The song Sleep Through the Static, however, was written in about 10 minutes. "I just sat there and wrote two pages or so," explains Johnson.

"When I write a song like that, it's just goin' off a feel. I'm not the type of person who could explain to you the politics of this war and exactly why it's the way it is, but I get a certain feeling just from the bit of newspaper articles I read about it, or the conversations I have with friends, that we've gone too far in this particular war, just to even enter that war was to go too far."

At the same time, the song is an indictment of those citizens who would choose, as Johnson says, to sleep through the static.

"We're in a culture where we don't really need to see what we do - whether it's bombing another country or it's simple things like using plastic bags at the store and you use it for three minutes and then all of a sudden it's sitting in a landfill for 2,000 years, or whatever it is. You don't have to see those repercussions."

The environmental issue is the one closest to Johnson's heart. The studios where he recorded the album, both at home and in Los Angeles, are fuelled by solar power, and when he goes out on tour this year he will seek to make it as green an endeavour as possible. (Promoters buying carbon offsets, merchandise made from organic materials etc.) He and his wife administer the Kokua Hawai'i Foundation, which supports environmental education in his home state through funds raised at an annual Earth Day concert. Lately, Johnson has taken to visiting schools to sing to kids about the merits of "the other three R's" - reduce, reuse and recycle.

Johnson's career didn't begin with aspirations to spread any message beyond the need for good times. At first, his musical tastes were rougher: In his teens and early 20s, he listened to a lot of Nine Inch Nails and Fugazi, and played in a punk band. But in time, he found himself returning to the style of music he played when he first learned guitar, at age 14.

After graduating with a degree in film, he spent some time making surf movies and travelling through the Pacific and Indian oceans. When he wasn't filming, he would kick back on the boat and compose wordless songs that would serve as a soundtrack. After a while he and his friends decided to release the music itself on CD. "When we got into it, we had a real goal, and it was to sell maybe 20,000 to 30,0000 [albums]. The surf movies we'd made had sold about that many, so we kind of figured there was that built-in audience.

"When it went beyond that, it was bizarre, and it kept growing and growing and growing, and it really seems unrealistic and a huge surprise to all of us."

Even as it has gone way beyond that - Johnson's total album sales now reach over 15 million - he has apparently stayed humble. As he is speaking, a waiter wanders over and asks if he needs something. "I'd like a mochachino, maybe?" Johnson says politely. Informed there is no chocolate syrup in the house, he shrugs and opts for coffee. When the waiter delivers the bill to Johnson rather than his manager or publicist over in the corner, Johnson pauses to take care of the matter, ensure there is enough of a tip, and thank the waiter.

It is a manner that plays well with families: Two years ago, Johnson gained a whole new audience when he wrote the soundtrack for the animated film Curious George. He tested the songs with his own focus group, playing every number for his then two-year-old son. "He'd either want to dance, really get into it, or just be like - a blank stare, and walk out of the room," Johnson chuckles. "And I'd have to get back to the drawing board."

Johnson and his wife, whom he met at college when he was 18, now have another son, and when he sets out on tour later this year - he is headlining both the Coachella festival and the new All Points West fest - the family will be coming along. Family is very much on his mind right now. On the second day of this week-long publicity burst last fall, he is already missing his wife and children, and thinking about his 19-year-old cousin, Danny Riley, who is dying of a brain tumour back in California. Riley sang backup on one of the new songs, and Johnson says another tune, While We Wait, is obliquely about him.

"A lot of the record's about letting go," he explains, citing a couple of the more apolitical tunes. "Whether it's letting go of somebody you've been with for years and you're just trying to walk different ways, or just letting go of somebody you love that has to pass away. Or even just letting go of my kid, letting him swim, and how much to let go. I think we can't hold on to time, it keeps moving."

Two weeks later, Riley died. Johnson dedicated the album to his memory.


Heaven, Short Term

Source:  Melanie Reffes for

(March 2008) The getaway of choice for Canadians escaping winter’s icy sidewalks,
Jamaica is also a tropical treasure trove of Hollywood history and a magnet for A-listers who pay top dollar for the sun, surf and privacy. Four hours from Toronto via Air Jamaica or Air Canada, Jamaica is a short commute to a world away. Its two big cities — Kingston and Montego Bay — are an hour’s flight from each other or a leisurely three-hour drive along the coast. Hotels run the gamut from ultra-luxe to no-frills-on-the beach. The Rooms brand is the best bet for a bargain stay in Ocho Rios, with high-season rates as low as $100 U.S. a night.

The Pegasus in Kingston suits the business traveller. The Ralph Lauren-designed Round Hill Resort in Montego Bay, the film set for How Stella Got Her Groove Back and where Taye Diggs returned to marry his bride, is $590 a night for an oceanfront suite. As close to heaven as you can get without the long-term commitment, a stretch of beach on the northwest coast lays claim to a curious nugget of cinematic history. Laughing Waters on St. Ann’s Bay is where Ursula Andress emerged from the sea in an oyster-coloured bikini in the first Bond flick, Dr. No. During the Second World War, Commander Ian Fleming arrived in Jamaica to attend a naval conference. “When we have won this blasted war,” his biographer reports him as saying, “I am going to live in Jamaica, swim in the sea and write books.”

Fleming wrote 14 Bond novels in his bungalow overlooking a cove on an abandoned donkey racetrack in Oracabessa, a stone’s throw from Ocho Rios. Fleming’s friend Noel Coward, who rented the house before building his own nearby, dubbed it “Golden eye, nose and throat.” Acknowledging the shortcomings of the modest home without hot water, Fleming observed it has “shower baths and lavatories that hiss like vipers and ululate like stricken bloodhounds.” In 1977, after a deal with Bob Marley fell through when the singer decided the villa wasn’t to his liking, Goldeneye was bought by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who had worked on the Dr. No. set. Today, with Fleming’s red-bullet wood desk still in Room 007, Goldeneye is the haute hideaway for glitterati like Pierce Brosnan, U2 and Naomi Campbell, who come to frolic under the giant banyan trees.

Blackwell, who owns other swank resorts in Jamaica, has expanded Goldeneye to include a three-bedroom villa with a private pool and price tag of $3.3 million U.S. With no buildings taller than a palm tree, Port Antonio was the original playground for glamour girls like Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers, who partied with swashbuckler Errol Flynn. His third wife still lives there, breeding cattle and growing coconuts. Heard to observe the lush land in the mountains “is more beautiful than any woman I’ve ever seen,” Flynn made quite a splash by hiring banana-ferrying bamboo rafts to pole his famous pals up the jungle fringed river.

The Molsons, Tiffanys and Woolworths built mansions there, and Canadian biscuit billionaire Garfield Weston once owned Frenchman’s Cove. It was said to have been the most expensive hotel in the world at the time and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, who wintered at the grand resort.

Although less glamorous these days, Port Antonio still attracts big names like Tom Cruise, who juggled martini shakers in Cocktail. Robin Moore penned The French Connection near the Blue Lagoon, where Brooke Shields famously bared it all in the film of the same name. Recent Jamaican royalty includes Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte and even Johnny Cash, who had a house in Montego Bay. When rocker Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale named their firstborn Kingston, they didn’t consult baby name books for inspiration. No strangers to Jamaica, No Doubt hired the prolific team of Sly and Robbie to produce their hit CD Rock Steady in the same Kingston studio where Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker and Mick Jagger also get irie with the vibe.

If You Go: Jamaica tourist information:

Air Canada: www.aircanada.ca
Air Jamaica: www.airjamaica.com
Rooms by the Beach: www.superclubs.com
Pegasus: www.jamaicapegasus.com
Round Hill Resort: www.roundhilljamaica.com
Port Antonio tourist information: www.portantoniojamaica.com
Goldeneye Resort: www.islandoutposts.com
Imperial War Museum: www.iwm.org.uk

Melanie Reffes
is a Montreal-based travel writer and broadcaster.


k.d. lang - ‘It's Great Coming Home'

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist

(February 22, 2008) You don't have to be a disciple to appreciate how completely k.d. lang inhabits a song.

More than that luscious and assured voice, with its strident, almost operatic baritone lows and silvery, ethereal highs, it's her obsessive devotion to the song she's singing at any given time that makes lang one of the most engaging performers on the planet.

At last night's sold-out show at the Courthouse – it was one of several small, intimate-venue events booked prior to the release of her latest album, Watershed, in cautious expectation of less extravagant reviews than it has received – the 46-year-old Consort, Alta., native, now a Los Angeles resident, proved again that she needs very little in the way of showbiz trickery to sell a song and bring an audience to its knees.

With a kind of cabaret folk band comprising two guitarists, a pianist/organist/accordionist, a drummer and a stand-up bass player, lang served up a seductive, languorous, almost unplugged set comprising mostly new songs – standouts were "Once In A While," "Thread" and "Sunday" – as well as a couple of obscure early pieces and a few favourites from her Canadiana grab bag, Hymns of the 49th Parallel (Neil Young's "Helpless," Jane Siberry's "The Valley," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah").

The sound was both lush and organic, a live version of the subtle acoustic exotica that characterizes the sonic architecture of Watershed, and while lang, dressed in a baggy, three-piece charcoal suit, a black silk shirt and white tie, swayed and sashayed like an old-world cabaret star to the gentle rhythms of the music, it was clear she was entranced by the intent and purpose of every lyrical nuance, every double entendre, every shifting shade of meaning.

In fact, she seemed reluctant to break the spell, to step outside the songs longer than it took to acknowledge the crowd's devotional whoops and hollers with a couple of brief asides.

Seeming to offer a comment on the cold weather in one pause, she remarked, "My Canadian blood is thin ... but my Canadian heart beats strong. It's great coming home."

And before the patriotic applause died down, she had already stepped back into the domestic romance of the song "Coming Home."

That kind of Zen-like attentiveness is what holds together lang's new songs – mostly confessional declarations and aching romances. They are not conventional structures bound by predictable chord progressions and pretty melodies. While the compositions are remarkable for their avoidance of cliché, what makes them so effective is the lack of apparent structure; the mood and spirit of her delivery give them all the substance they need. It's one thing to reach that rarefied elevation in an insulated recording studio, and quite another to do it onstage in front of 400 or 500 enthusiastic fans.

Yet that's exactly what lang and her new assembly of empathetic band mates did last night. That this astoundingly original singer and songwriter can still reach levels of such luminous musical grace in a room with a 10-metre ceiling, overwhelming natural resonance and a chattering cluster at the bar speaks volumes for her dedication to the art of song.

It also bodes well for a warm welcome when she returns for much larger gathering at Massey Hall May 31.

Buck 65 Announces Canadian Tour

Source: Warner Music Canada

(February 27, 2008) Warner Music Canada recording artist Buck 65, aka Richard Terfry, returns home to Canada for his first national tour in support of his ninth full length album, Situation.  Since being released on October 30, 2007, Buck 65 has already toured the United States, Australia and Europe, and will stop in 18 Canadian cities including a special appearance with Symphony Nova Scotia on April 18th in Halifax.  Cadence Weapon and Skratch Bastid will be on the road as guests, except for the symphony performance mentioned above.  Tickets for the Canadian tour will go on sale this Friday.  Dates listed below.
Situation has garnered two nominations at this year’s Juno Awards.  Skratch Bastid is up for the Jack Richardson Producer of the Year award and Felix Wittholz is nominated for the CD/DVD Artwork Design of the Year award for their work with Buck 65.
Buck 65’s new single ‘Dang’ has been launched via a remix contest through Dose.ca in conjunction with Exclaim! Magazine.  Entrants have the opportunity to remix the track and the winning submission will be released on a limited-edition 7” vinyl single.  The video for ‘Dang’ has just been shot by director Christopher Mills with inspiration from Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling, a television staple from Terfry’s childhood.
Hailing from Mount Uniake, Nova Scotia, Buck 65 has proven time and again that his brand of hip hop is not only unique, but creative and innovative at the same time.  So much in fact, he has won two Juno Awards (2004 – Alternative Album of the Year / 2006 – Video of the Year) and has been nominated two other times (2003 – Alternative Album of the Year / 2005 – Songwriter of the Year).
For more information, please visit www.buck65.com.

Jim Cuddy On The Road Again

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist

(February 23, 2008) Rock stars with Jim Cuddy's mileage usually remember the high times first: those moments of extravagance or transcendence; meeting the rich, the famous and powerful; and the unexpected privileges accorded a consistently productive and enduringly popular band with a history going back 20-odd years.

But topping his memory, as he eases back into a severely abused sofa in Blue Rodeo's well-camouflaged office/studio bunker just off the Danforth pub strip, is the low-grade busking stunt the band pulled one sunny day last fall, when its thrice Juno-nominated 11th album, Small Miracles, was released.

"It was just us on acoustic instruments and singing without amplification," he explains. "I've never felt so naked. I remember looking at (co-front man) Greg (Keelor) and the other guys on the street outside Union Station and we all just swallowed and shrugged and started playing, fearing the worst. It wasn't announced, no one knew we were going to be there. But in a few moments we had a crowd of 60 to 100 people standing around ... they'd recognized us and were on their cellphones calling friends and taking pictures."

The busking tour, which took Blue Rodeo to street corners all over the downtown core that day, from the Royal Ontario Museum to the TD Centre and ending at Princess Margaret Hospital, brought the band back to the ground, returning them to origins humbler than those they experienced during their early years in Toronto's clubs and small concert spaces. And it brought them face to face once more with the reality of what their music – music in general – means to the people whose faces are usually invisible in the darkness beyond the footlights, lost in a sea of distant noise and colour and movement.

"It's the smiles I remember," Cuddy explains. "The music made them happy ... it took them out of themselves, even for a moment. At the hospital, people were so grateful. I guess they don't get much entertainment there. One man told me it was the first time in years that he'd felt like putting on his shoes and dancing."

In the dead of winter, Blue Rodeo's traditional touring season, the memory seems to warm him. On this rare day at home during a gruelling cross-country schedule that will bring them to Toronto for three nights at Massey Hall Thursday through Saturday, then off to the western and southern U.S., Cuddy is happy not to be on the move.

"I was backstage at one of Rush's shows – and they do really big shows that are physically so much more demanding than ours – I remember (guitarist) Alex (Lifeson) saying, `I love it, but I'm so tired.' And I knew exactly what he meant. After so long and at a certain age, the constant grind can wear you down."

Especially since Blue Rodeo are touring on the heels of Cuddy's own solo tour fronting his eponymous band following the release of his second solo album, The Light That Guides You Home, in late 2006.

Blue Rodeo also has so much more concert competition in a season that they once had to themselves for so long. They tour in winter in order to spend summers with their families and children, an important part of the band's modus operandi, Cuddy explains.

"And now everyone's out there – Michael Bublé, John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, Rascal Flatts."

Adapting is something Blue Rodeo does well. It's built into a long-term survival strategy that has provided principal songwriters Cuddy and Keelor, and their sidekicks, bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, lap-steel specialist Bob Egan and keyboardist Bob Packwood, with a comfortable existence, a relatively novel concept in the music game.

"We have a small, specialized market, and we come to it frequently, like regular visitors," Cuddy says. "They can count on us, and that keeps them coming back."

That audience is also broad enough – from diehard alt.country fans to suburban moms and dads, and now their children – to allow the band to indulge in a rich and adventurous musical palette.

"We're even doing a bossa nova on this tour, one of Greg's songs from the new album ... most country bands can't go there," Cuddy chuckles. "And within the band there has always been a pretty strong will to change our recording methods each time out. We have very different, very strong personalities in Blue Rodeo, and nothing is done the same way twice."

And contrary to rumours, a recent flood of solo recordings by Blue Rodeo band members Cuddy, Keelor, Egan – and Donovan's various off-site gigs with other artists – aren't signs that the core band's spirit is on the wane.

"Just the opposite," Cuddy says. "As well as we do with our solo stuff, it's always Blue Rodeo people want to see. Ninety per cent of the audiences at my solo shows would rather see me with the band. They accept our solo efforts as a diversion, not a threat to Blue Rodeo. While the band is and always will be a collection of strong individuals, it's really about the collective.

"When I bring in songs for consideration, the other guys are my judges and jury. It's like playing for six different producers, each working on ideas for the arrangement. Sometimes I've abandoned songs completely after they've been rejected two or three times by the band.

"They're bruised ... they go away, sometimes never to be heard again."

Getting personal with Jim Cuddy

1. What was your first job?

A paper route in Montreal during the summer of Expo 67. Everyday I would go to Expo during the day, come home and do my route and then head back to Expo.

2. What's on your iPod?

The Weakerthans' latest, Iron and Wine's The Shepherds Dog and a lot of the (XM Satellite Radio) Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour.

3. What's the last good movie you saw?

Away From Her.

4. If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing?

I had law school deferred three times before I decided to be a musician, so I'd probably be a very unhappy lawyer.

5. What TV show do you always have to catch?

Nothing I have to catch on a weekly basis. Really, I only watch the Leafs.

Jim Cuddy miscellanea

"Countrywide Soul," one of the key songs on Cuddy's 2006 solo CD The Light That Guides You Home, was rejected three times by the other members of Blue Rodeo and languished for a couple of years till Cuddy revived it with his side outfit The Jim Cuddy Band.

Blue Rodeo's "Till I Am Myself Again," one of the band's most popular and empowering songs, was written from the perspective of a close friend who was battling alcohol addiction and needed time, spiritual strength and the patience of his loved ones to recover. Happily, he did.

Blue Rodeo will perform for Canadian troops in Afghanistan next month.

Cuddy, 52, has been married for more than 20 years to actress Rena Polley. They have three children and are actively involved in the east-end Toronto neighbourhood where they live.

Jim's brother, Loftus Cuddy, was a Conservative candidate for the riding of Toronto-Danforth in the 2004 federal election. Jim did not vote for him.

Blue Rodeo was well into recording Small Miracles when Cuddy observed that most of the songs he and bandmate Greg Keelor brought to the sessions had the same theme: "We are who we are, and we're never going to change – let's deal with that."

Pete Rock Premiered New Album On Myspace

Source: kimberly@theorchard.com

(February 27, 2008) New York's finest producer,
Pete Rock, premiered his latest and long anticipated album, NY's Finest, on Myspace.com, nearly a week before the album becomes available in stores.

NY's Finest is Pete's first album in four years and is produced almost entirely by Pete himself, with one track contributed by DJ Green Lantern.

Guests include Jim Jones, Styles P and Sheek Louch, Redman, Little Brother, Raekwon, Masta Killa, Papoose, and more. The album hit stores yesterday, February 26 via Nature Sounds records.

Verizon subscribers can download the album using their VCast music store, and ringtones are available by texting the SMS codes below on most mobile carriers.

     Pete discussed the inspiration and motivation behind NY's Finest in recent interviews.

"To me real music is the key because what's done from the heart and soul is so important," Pete explained to All Hip Hop, a theme he touched on again with SixShot.com. "There's a lot of the music today that sounds just effortless.  It doesn't stick to you and ten years from now it's not even a classic."

NY's Finest draws its inspiration as much from Pete's status as one of New York's finest producers, a title he's earned as the producer behind several of hip hop's classic tracks, as it does from the city of New York itself.

"It's an inspirational town, so you can't help but to catch the feeling and do what you gotta do," Pete commented in Bump Hip Hop.

     Pete Rock will be making a string of promotional appearances including NY's Power 105 morning show, and performances at FYE Jersey City and New York's Highline Ballroom.

Pete Rock appearances:
Wednesday, Feb 27 - New York's Power 105 Morning Show (9:00 AM EST)
Wednesday, Feb 27 - All the Right, Queens, NY (4:00 PM)
Wednesday, Feb 27 - Pete Rock on Sirius Satellite Radio (9:00 PM EST) Thursday, Feb 28 - Highline Ballroom - New York, NY (8:00 PM)
Friday, Feb 29 - Pete Rock on Sirius Satellite Radio (11:00 PM)
Saturday, March 1 - Cop Shop Records - Smithtown, NY (8:00 PM)
Friday, March 7 - The Turntable Club - Baltimore, MD (8:00 PM)

Listen to NY's Finest:


MP3s available for posting:

Listen to Pete Rock's "We Roll" from NY's Finest (Nature Sounds)

Listen to Pete Rock's "Till I Retire" from NY's Finest (Nature Sounds)

Listen to Pete Rock's "914" featuring Sheek Louch (Nature Sounds)

Josh Groban Reveals A Kindred Spirit With Celine Dion

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(February 27, 2008) Canadian acts Bryan Adams, Jann Arden and Sarah McLachlan rarely take back seats to other performers, but at Thursday night's One Night Live benefit concert in Toronto they'll be smaller big deals. The headliner is assuredly Josh Groban, an adorable young pop-ballad baritone who pays no attention to record-selling recessions.

As your new digital single is a live duet of The Prayer with Celine Dion, you must know her a bit. So, be honest, is Celine nutty or what?

She is, 100 per cent. That's one of the things I love about her. When you see her perform, what you see is what you get. She is really that enthusiastic about her crowd and about her music. There's no phoniness to the fact that she just is that exuberant and that wacky. I think of myself as the same way, so it's nice to meet someone who has that sense of humour.

If I were to call you the American male equivalent of Celine, would you take offence?

Of course not. She's certainly had a career that if I can equal half of, I would be thrilled. We're in the business where comparisons are made all the time, and obviously they're a lot of differences between Celine and I in what we do. But she's one of the great voices of all time, and of course I'll take that as a compliment.

What do you think of the criticism she gets from snobby music critics?

It's like spaghetti sauce – everybody likes different things. Sometimes critics view a pure sound or something that's lush or something that's beautiful but with not enough grit on it, as being somewhat insincere or not worked for.

Which isn't necessarily fair…

It's a total discrimination against the sound. She's working just as hard as any rock singer or rapper, certainly any manufactured pop artist out there. And it's not as though she can't sing, right? Of the pop ballad world, she's what Placido Domingo is to classical. She has that incredible of an instrument.

You've faced a similar backlash. Can you figure out why?

Maybe those critics don't like the songs or maybe they don't have love in their life, so they don't want to listen to songs about happiness and love. I don't know. You can never understand where a critic is coming from when they wake up in the morning. I put it into two categories: people who get it and get what I'm doing, and people who just don't get it. And that's fine.

Your last album, Noel, was the top selling album of 2007. Can 3.7 million fans be wrong?

[Laughs] Well, you know, it was complete surprise to be honest. However you feel about Christmas music, the songs are timeless and the melodies are gorgeous. It was not an over-thinky kind of album. We just went in and sang these beautiful songs and gave it to fans as a way of to say thank you at the end of the year.

You recorded it at Abbey Road Studios. Did you do anything crazy, like pop up to the roof and smoke a joint, like the Beatles did?

No, I wasn't able to get high during my recording session with the London Symphony this time. In all seriousness, it was really, really fun just scoping out all the little rooms and checking out things like the stand-up piano they have in a closet that the Beatles played on.

How much is your voice insured for?

I don't think it is, actually. I've got life insurance, if I die. My insurance for my voice is that I'm going to be very careful about taking care of it. I think of it as an instrument, that I have to put it away and rest and keep healthy.

So, no shot-gunning of beers for you?

No. Not on weekdays, anyway.

Your fans call themselves Grobanites. That sounds like something you need to get exterminated.

Or get a vaccination for. I remember being on the Internet, early when there were only 50 fans, when they were starting to talk about what they wanted to call themselves. I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my god, this group of fans is going to choose, right now, a word that's going to haunt me for the rest of my career.' It could've been worse, though. Grobanite is cute.

Who's your favourite singer?

I don't look at myself as doing anything involving opera, but I would have to say Pavarotti. I think he was the greatest voice of our generation, no matter what you sing. Listening to him is a complete master class in control and beauty of voice.

Your style borders pops and classical. What about doing opera?

Coming from a pop, theatrical style of training, contemporary material is easier for me. The stuff I don't necessarily feel is right or natural for my voice, at this moment in time, are the grand classical composers.

The Christmas album was your most classically styled work yet, though. Can you develop that?

The range is there. I just don't put it out there onstage. But if I were to go into the grand operatic thing and really do the classical thing 100 per cent, I would have to shift my voice a little and manage it in a different way. I'd have to really lock into it, and I'm not sure it would be reversible.

Puccini in the shower maybe?

I'll sing everything from Nessun Dorma to Pearl Jam. But I've always said, in the shower, you can't do anything halfway. You're either a rock god or an opera diva.

Josh Groban, with Jann Arden, Bryan Adams, RyanDan and Sarah McLachlan, headline Thursday's One Night Live benefit for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. For details, visit onenightlive.ca.

Bassist Colin Greenwood Talks About The Evolution Of Radiohead's Newest Album

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Robert Everett-Green

(February 21, 2008) Colin Greenwood is talking about the weather, but not like people usually do, English people above all. The Radiohead bassist isn't thinking about the inconveniences of winter, but about what weather tells us about the lives we're living.

Speaking on the phone, he recalls going to hear Portishead play in Somerset in December, as the rains lashed down on the naked trees, with rainbows appearing whenever the sun came out.

You needed the rainbows, he says, to really grasp the starkness of the rest.

"They both need each other to exist, these transitory moments of beauty and this bleakness," he said.

So it is in life, and so also on Radiohead's latest disc, an album of beautiful, intermittently hopeful, but mostly despairing songs called In Rainbows.

The disc has been one of the most talked-out in recent months, partly because of the way it came into the world. Radiohead released the disc online last fall on a pay-what-you-will basis, then as a conventional CD last month. Even after two months of downloading, the CD held the No. 1 spot on the Canadian charts for three weeks, and has sold more than 50,000 copies in this country. All 100,000 copies of a special "discbox" set (launched last fall at $80 each) have been purchased. No figures have been released for the online revenues, but some estimate that the band's per-copy share is no less than it would have been through a conventional release with its old label, Parlophone/EMI.

In Rainbows was a long time coming, and seemed a distant prospect when the band reassembled in 2005 after a period of domesticity. They worked briefly with producer Mike (Spike) Stent, whose major contribution, Greenwood says, was to hold a mirror up to a band that needed a fresh way of working. In 2006, they went on the road, tried out new material and reunited with Nigel Godrich, who produced most of their previous records.

"Through working with Spike, we realized we were perpetually wedded to Nigel," Greenwood says. By the time Godrich returned, something had shaken loose within the group, and a new way of being uncomfortable presented itself to a band that often seems to thrive on unease.

"On previous records, Thom [Yorke] had a very strong idea of what he didn't want the music to sound like and of the sounds he was interested in," Greenwood says of the band's most demanding member. "On this one, he was more uncertain as to how it should be, with all the stresses and uncertainty that that implies."

You seldom, if ever, hear that in the music, whose lustrous beauty continually runs up against Yorke's anguished lyrics. In Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, for instance, guitar arpeggios roll serenely as Yorke sings about being held captive (by love or some other power), falling to the sea bottom and being eaten there by worms and fish.

"That's one of my favourite songs that we've ever done," Greenwood says, "because the chord sequence is so emotional and melodic, and epic and expansive. It reminded me of Isaac Hayes, and of another song of ours called Let Down, from OK Computer. ... I love the way the words thrash around, and the immolation in the middle, and being buried at the end. It's like emotional scales, with weights being laid out. There you are in your life. Should you carry on? Should you tell the truth, or lie to yourself?"

The other songs approach the same crossroads from different directions, each with a different measure of consolation and desolation. Maybe it's fitting that In Rainbows has been seen as a crossroads disc for the music industry.

EMI took its revenge, and its final opportunity, with a recent seven-disc box set of previous Radiohead albums. Radiohead was not pleased.

"They decided to capitalize on the release of In Rainbows," Greenwood says. "I think everyone understands it wasn't about Radiohead selling out, but about EMI cashing in."

Bands Find Gold Mine In Concerts

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

(February 21, 2008) The recording industry might appear a place of never-ending woes these days, but one shouldn't confuse sagging CD sales with the looming death of music altogether.

While a sizable segment of the public apparently no longer wants to pay for its recorded music, the age of downloading could be turning into a golden one for the concert business. Concert-ticket revenues are up, younger acts are touring earlier than they would have a few years ago – often without albums to flog – thanks to the magic of online networking, and live-music venues are so jammed in some cities that artists are finding it tough to weasel a little onstage space for themselves.

"For me and for most musicians these days, we pretty much have one option left to put a career together, which is to tour. And to really make a living, you've got to tour all the time. But if that's becoming the case for everybody, you're going to have every band on the road all the time," Halifax-bred hip-hop MC/producer Rich "Buck 65" Terfry, who handles most of his own touring affairs, recently remarked to me.

"When I was booking the tour I'm currently starting in the U.S., we were having some real problems. We wanted to go into, you know, Albuquerque, New Mexico, during this particular week, but even way in advance there were so many other bands and only so many rooms. And we came to find out that we're in a time right now that's kind of unprecedented in the amount of bands that are out there on the road. So that's going to spread things a little thin."

With rare exceptions, musicians have always made most of their money on the road, anyway – major artists earn 75 per cent of their income from touring, according to Fortune magazine – while usurious record-label contracts and the numerous other professional interests leeching off them kept the dollars earned from album sales to a minimum.

Now, however, there's a growing trend among labels to sign performers to what are known as "360 deals," where they share a stake in management, tour promotion and even merchandising, in addition to recording.

And then there are artists going the other way. Madonna, clearly mindful of where her future lies, left her label of 25 years, Warner Brothers, last October to sign a $120-million (U.S.) contract with concert-promotion company Live Nation (a spin-off of the Clear Channel entertainment conglomerate) covering every aspect of her affairs except publishing for the next 10 years.

Live Nation has no experience releasing records, mind you, but that doesn't seem to matter any more.

On the smaller scale, online word-of-mouth has made it easier for untested, up-and-coming acts to arrive in strange cities to packed houses or, at least, to route their tours around those cities where they're reasonably assured of an audience. The Arctic Monkeys, for instance, were able to largely sell out a tour of North America in 2005, months before their first album was released, simply by circulating their music free for months online.

As a result of factors like these, then, it's starting to feel a little crowded out there.

"In the last two years of touring, I've picked up the rags in every town and counted the number of great bands you can see on any night, and there are at least four or five – in small cities," observes Toronto singer/songwriter Jason Collett.

"Often, you're doing the same route, so you're plagued by the same goddamn band every night. And it's not just the night – if there are four great bands in one night to see, there are 12 great bands in one week to see. And people only have so much money to go out...

"It makes it difficult. But it's got to be a healthy sign."

The "trade-off" that labels have been slow to perceive, says Collett, is that "the more people download, the more people wind up coming to your show," often paying more for concert tickets than they would have for a CD. A lot of those fans, too, will also leave the venue with CDs, vinyl, T-shirts and other tour merchandise purchased directly from the artist.

It does seem foolish to complain of a developing "touring glut" when so much has apparently gone wrong for the music industry since the turn of the millennium.

The concert industry has never been healthier – primary-market ticket sales in Canada and the States went up for the ninth straight year in 2007, according to Pollstar magazine, hitting a record $3.9 billion, surpassing the previous year's tally of $3.6 billion – so musicians and the promoters, venue owners and booking agents who handle their road work are still making a living.

Increased competition for venues during certain times of the year just means a need for more diligent planning on the performers' parts, opines Paul Gourlie, a booking agent with Toronto's Agency Group who handles Bedouin Soundclash, the Trews and the Cancer Bats, among others.

"We have to plan way ahead to do this properly, and you also have to be paying attention to what everybody else is doing out there," he says.

"It's more of a process than just going after certain dates when you're a higher-end artist – you're trying to place holds on certain dates and route things and juggle things.... If you expect to pick up the phone and have a tour a month after you start, you're crazy. You're gonna run into all those holds and bookings and you're not going to get those dates.

"A lot of bands don't really know what they're doing."

In Toronto, at least, we should harbour no fears of any touring glut eating into our concert diet.

With new live venues, such as the recently minted Parkdale haunt Wrongbar, opening up all the time, local promoter and Horseshoe Tavern co-owner Jeff Cohen suspects there's no such thing as "a local limit on venues."

"There's more opening every day. I've never seen so many here," he says. "The competition for acts is fierce.... If the other, traditional areas of the music biz are in decline, live music, here in Toronto, has held firm. If anything, it's on an upswing.

"The only `glut' I notice is that because the live music scene is so healthy here – probably Top 5 in North America – artists often come back too soon, most likely because there's dollars to make here and great audiences, in terms of numbers."

This is good news for fans: Forced to choose between two or three choice gigs on one particularly crowded night, they can at least rest assured that most of the acts will be back within the next six months. (Maybe twice.)

And if touring traffic ever gets too heavy on these shores, enterprising bands and singers could always follow Buck 65's wisdom into uncharted, or at least under-charted, territories.

"I just got back from Iceland. I've been making plans to go into, like, Bulgaria and Slovenia," he says. "I think that's the key for me – I've got to dare to go where no one else dares to go, make a few bucks and a few new friends."

Is It Goodbye To Girl Power In Spice City?

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

(February 23, 2008) Will the Spice Girls' swan song be sung in Toronto?

It seems increasingly certain that Monday and Tuesday night's performances by the reunited British girl group at the Air Canada Centre will indeed be the last time fans get to see Ginger, Sporty, Baby, Scary and Posh onstage together again.

Last week, Geri "Ginger" Halliwell added her suspicions the reunion "probably won't happen ever again" to assurances earlier by Victoria "Posh" Beckham that the tour – which ends its three-month run after Tuesday's show – represents "the last opportunity there will be to see the Spice Girls together."

The Toronto fans who mounted a massive online campaign against towns as far-flung as Chicago and Baghdad to have this burg voted "Spice City" last summer score extra dates on the tour must feel rather proud, then. The Spices played capacity gigs at the ACC on Feb. 3 and 4, so Toronto has been accorded a particularly long goodbye.

Perhaps the Girls are making up for outraging former mayor Mel Lastman. His evident devotion to his granddaughters led him to chastise the group for backing out of appearances here 10 years ago.

"No, I'm not coming back to see them," laughed Mel yesterday from Florida, where he's retired. He's still bitter, he conceded, that a free Spice Girls concert he'd hoped to mount that summer fell through.

Lastman's plan arose because the Girls were trying to make good for cancelling an appearance in February 1998 – where his granddaughters Samantha and Brie were supposed to meet the group.

Samantha Lastman, now 18, took in the Feb. 4 show and enjoyed it almost as much as she did 10 years ago. "I was definitely a huge Spice Girls fan. Huge. I still am, actually. I'm a secret 8-year-old," she says.

It appears Beckham will provide Toronto its last, lingering taste of the Spice Girls.

The tired starlet hit "bottom," as Reuters put it, during the last Canadian leg of the tour – prompting husband David Beckham to fly in – and was reportedly the force behind the Girls ending their tour in Toronto. She's not above using "Girl Power" gleaned from the tour, though, as she'll be sticking around to host an event for her dVb fashion line at Holt Renfrew Tuesday.

One Piano, Two Hands: A Dramatic Rite Of Spring

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

(February 27, 2008) If there was one force capable of pushing the seasons along last night, it would have been Vancouver pianist Jon Kimura Parker. He single-handedly advanced global warming with a solo-piano rendition of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring for Music Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre.

The now-iconic Modernist Russian ballet score caused a riot at its 1913 premiere in Paris. Reduced in size to one instrument, two hands, 10 fingers and one very determined pianist, the music lost none of its visceral appeal.

Piano reductions of orchestral scores are notoriously mangy, minimized for practical reasons and not meant for public performance. Parker could have saved himself hours of practice time and fingering grief if he had taken the simple way through. Instead, he gave us a highly complex assemblage of notes and textures that would have challenged two pianos and four hands.

At age 48, Parker's physical powers of lending each finger's touch a different sound are breathtaking. It was dizzying to watch his hands dance and careen across the full length of the keyboard – at times it was as if Sergei Diaghilev's ballet were there in spirit, as well.

The 40 minutes of driven drama we received by the sweat of Parker's brow was, unfortunately not equalled by the other music on last night's program. Parker had opted for three broad sweeps, but only the Stravinsky was memorable.

The evening opened with Scenes From a Jade Terrace, a work Toronto composer Alexina Louie wrote for Parker 20 years ago.

The pianist gave the austerely exotic music wide dynamic scope – but Louie's musical themes never grew from mere episodes into a compelling narrative.

Also on the program was Robert Schumann's grand Carnaval. It's meant to be a playful affair, like a Romantic-era version of a trip to Disney World. But Parker's tense, tightly wound interpretation was too much like a family outing where Mom, Dad and the kids are all nursing various grudges.

Thank goodness that Stravinsky's Spring was on its way.


TSO Program Aims To Ensure Youth Gets Served

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press

(February 22, 2008) He's no Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, but you wouldn't know it from the rock star reception Peter Oundjian receives following a recent Saturday night performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. As audience members mix and mingle in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall, nibbling on oversized cookies while a live band jams in the background, teens and young adults clamour to meet, greet and snap photos with the symphony's music director. While Oundjian may be a high-wattage attraction at the festivities, it's the youth themselves who are the reason for all the fuss. The gathering marks the first party of the year for members of the symphony's tsoundcheck program, which offers young people the chance to buy tickets to take in live performances without having to break the bank. Those between 15 and 29 can sign up for the free program to purchase single tickets a week in advance of selected shows for $12. The tsoundcheck plus program expands the age range up to 34 years old and gives individuals the chance to purchase tickets for any four concerts in advance. Since 2001, more than 44,000 people have signed up for the tsoundcheck program and about 17,000 remain active members, said TSO sales manager Jennifer Bryan. She said they're hoping to bring enrolment for tsoundcheck plus to 1,000 during this season. "I'm in that age range and I know cost is a big issue," said Bryan. "Even if you're out of school and working, it makes a big difference." Kylie Howsam, 27, a member of the program for just under a year, brought three of her friends to check out the night's performance and tsoundcheck party. While she admits she doesn't know a lot about classical music, she has an appreciation for it, particularly stringed instruments, and said that interest coupled with the affordability factor were big draws to take in the performance. "I've always wanted to see a ballet, but I haven't gone because I don't have $50 to spend on a ballet," she said. "I definitely believe that if it was more affordable, if there were more programs like this at other various things, I'd be there all the time." Oundjian said the presence of the future generation of symphony-goers is not escaping other patrons.

Andre Harrell, Eddie F. Launch Online Music Group

Excerpt from www.allhiphop.com - By Chris Richburg

(February 22, 2008) Music industry veteran Edward "Eddie F" Ferrell has joined forces with fellow
music mogul Andre Harrell to launch MusicWerks.com, a new online music group.  The site will be available as a vehicle to align artists, song writers, producers, bands and independent labels with resources and interactive services needed to achieve success in the music business.    For MusicWerks founder Ferrell, the venture will be used to expose users to a variety of options that "range from obtaining digital distribution deals with major online retail outlets like iTunes to receiving professional one-on-one feed back from top A&R's and execs."    "MusicWerks.com offers a compelling and affordable solution to bridge the gap between the traditional music business and the new technological era of music," said Ferrell, who also serves as president of the company.    Services offered on MusicWerks include digital distribution, A&R review services, artist bootcamp, marketing/promotion, online branding, video production/promotion, publicity, CD manufacturing and studio recording services.    Harrell and Ferrell, along with partners Dorsey M. James and Lionel Ridenour, bring more than 20 years of experience to MusicWerks that includes working with and advising music industry fixtures such as Mary J. Blige, Usher, Robin Thicke, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jermaine Dupri, Avril Lavigne, Russell Simmons and Swizz Beatz.    For more details, visit MusicWerks.com.

Ellis, Branford Marsalis To Honour Oscar Peterson

Excerpt from
www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(February 24, 2008) Jazz legends Ellis Marsalis and his son Branford are set to play this weekend in honour of late piano legend Oscar Peterson. The performance will be part of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala on March 1. Branford, a Grammy-winning saxophonist, will play Peterson's ``Wheatland" alongside his pianist father, Ellis. Organizers say it's the first time the pair have played ``Wheatland" in public. Highlights of the gala at the Toronto Centre for the Arts will be broadcast on CBC Radio on March 2 and 3. CBC-TV will air the gala on March 3. Crooner Paul Anka and Quebec artist Claude Dubois will also be honoured at the gala.

Janet Jackson: Discipline

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(Island Def Jam)
http://ca.f881.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download/ca/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=1636_44690406_674262_1352_167151_0_229226_279275_1670090319&bodyPart=1.3&YY=26779&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&Idx=4http://ca.f881.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download/ca/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=1636_44690406_674262_1352_167151_0_229226_279275_1670090319&bodyPart=1.3&YY=26779&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&Idx=4http://ca.f881.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download/ca/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=1636_44690406_674262_1352_167151_0_229226_279275_1670090319&bodyPart=1.4&YY=26779&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&Idx=4(out of 4)

(February 26, 2008) Janet Jackson was never noted for her vocal strength, but at least her thin coo was immediately identifiable. That's why the modulated delivery – in keeping with a space age theme (robot storyline, digital bass) – all over her latest album is a drag.
 Any random singer could substitute for the 41-year-old Jackson on the dance-oriented tracks that comprise the bulk of the disc. In fact, the nearest comparison is Britney Spears' recent production-heavy Blackout. Consequently, it's unbelievably refreshing to hear Jackson's familiar breathless patter setting up a trio of bedroom grooves in the middle of the record, starting with the Ne-Yo-penned "Can't B Good" (imbued with a Michaelesque melody). That said, some of those uptempo cuts – "Luv," "Rollercoaster" – are definite club jams. Lyrically, she's selling herself as a masochistic sex vixen – Blindfold me daddy/It's better when I don't know what to expect ("Discipline") – with an icky kind of confidence – My swag is heavy/Something like a first-day period ("Feedback"). This Island Def Jam debut, bereft of longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, includes production by Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins and boyfriend Jermaine Dupri (the label's urban music boss). It's unlikely to restore Jackson to her millions-selling glory years, but should get her back on the road for a long overdue tour.

UBC Music Student Among Met Competition Winners

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(February 26, 2008) Vancouver — A Vancouver music student is among the top winners at the Grand Finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York. Simone Osborne was one of five singers, and the only soprano, selected as winners during a concert at the Met on Sunday. Each receives a $15,000 (U.S.) award. Osborne, 21, is a third-year student in the Voice and Opera Division at the University of British Columbia. The Vancouver native was one of almost 1,500 singers participating in the Met auditions. The program is designed to discover promising young opera singers in North America and help them with career development. Past winners include fellow Canadian Ben Heppner as well as Renée Fleming and Susan Graham. Osborne is featured in the upcoming UBC production of the opera The Dream Healer, which has its world premiere at Vancouver's Chan Centre on March 2.

Madonna's Album Title, Release Date Confirmed

Source:  Warner Music Canada

(Feb. 27, 2008) The title of Madonna's forthcoming album will be Hard Candy.   The record, her last studio effort for Warner Bros., includes a track called "Candy Store."   Madonna chose to stick with the sweet theme because "she loves candy," says her longtime rep Liz Rosenberg. "It's about the juxtaposition of tough and sweetness, or as Madonna so eloquently expressed 'I'm gonna kick your ass, but it's going to make you feel good.'"   The album, which features Justin Timberlake on multiple tracks and production by Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Nate "Danja" Hills, will see a North American release on Tuesday, April 29.  The first single, "Four Minutes," will be out at the end of March.

Lou Reed To Induct Leonard Cohen Into Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Associated Press

(February 26, 2008) NEW YORK — Singer-songwriter Lou Reed will induct Canadian folk legend Leonard Cohen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cohen will be among those honoured March 10 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. Other inductees include Madonna, John Mellencamp, the Dave Clark Five, the Ventures and Little Walter. Cohen's first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, released in 1967 and reissued last year, included such memorable tracks as So Long, Marianne and Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye, as well as Suzanne, which became a hit for singer Judy Collins. Justin Timberlake will induct Madonna, while Tom Hanks will induct the Dave Clark Five, the '60s British pop band behind the hit Glad All Over. Billy Joel will pay tribute to Mellencamp. Ben Harper will induct Little Walter, who produced 14 Top 10 hits on the R&B charts before his death in 1968 at 37. John Fogerty will induct the Ventures, whose hits include Walk Don't Run and Hawaii Five-O. Singer-songwriter Jerry Butler will induct Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of the Philadelphia International record label that collaborated with R&B artists such as Butler, the O'Jays, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls.

Andre Harrell Teams With Eddie F

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(February 26, 2008) *Veteran music execs Andre Harrell and Edward "Eddie F" Ferrell have launched MusicWerks.com, a new online music group that links artists, song writers, producers, bands and independent labels with resources and interactive services needed to succeed in the music industry.  Ferrell, the founder and president of MusicWerks, hopes users will take advantage of services that "range from obtaining digital distribution deals with major online retail outlets like iTunes to receiving professional one-on-one feed back from top A&R's and execs." "MusicWerks.com offers a compelling and affordable solution to bridge the gap between the traditional music business and the new technological era of music," Ferrell added.  Services offered on MusicWerks include digital distribution, A&R review services, artist bootcamp, marketing/promotion, online branding, video production/promotion, publicity, CD manufacturing and studio recording services.


A Tete-a-Tete with the Talented Tasha

Source:  Kam Williams

Tasha Smith is a larger than life actress who brings an endearing combination
of chemistry, raw intensity, vulnerability and sheer sensuality to every character she portrays on the big screen. In other words, she’s a consummate thespian who is just loved by the camera. And her memorable performances in two Tyler Perry pictures last year, “Why Did I Get Married” and “Daddy’s Little Girls,” led this critic to name her the best African-American actress of 2007 in my annual film Blacktrospective.

Previously, the beguiling beauty has played a wide range of roles in such feature films as “ATL,” “The Good Mother” and “The Whole Ten Yards.” Tasha is also well-known for her critically-acclaimed portrayal of the drug-addicted Ronnie Boyce in HBO’s Emmy Award-winning mini-series, “The Corner,” directed by Charles S. Dutton.

She has guest starred on such popular television shows as “Nip/Tuck,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Girlfriends,” “Without a Trace,” and “Strong Medicine,” among others. Plus, she’s served as the executive producer and host of her own talk show for the Oxygen Network, “Tasha Vision,” guest hosted, “Later with Greg Kinnear,” and recently appeared as a field correspondent on “The Tyra Banks Show.”

Away from the set, she divides her time between sharing her inspirational life story as a motivational speaker and mentoring aspiring actors at the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop in Los Angeles.  See: http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=10332595

Here, Tasha talks from the heart about both her career and her fears.

KW: Hey, Tasha, thanks for the time.

TS: Kam, are you kidding me? I am so honoured and excited to talk to you. How are you doing?

KW: No, I’m honoured to be speaking with you. In my opinion, you were the best actress last year, hands down. I’m just surprised your work wasn’t widely acknowledged during awards season. But I guess, like the way it was for Philip Seymour Hoffman and some other great actors and actresses, it takes awhile to get recognized. Afterall, Christian Bale still has never been nominated for an Oscar.

TS: Yeah, I understand that. I really do. I just thank you for all your wonderful comments.

KW: Those were simply my honest appraisal of your performances. What did you rely upon to create the characters, Angela and Jennifer, that you played in those Tyler Perry movies?

TS: Well, sometimes other actors do or don’t agree with my process in terms of the approach that I use and teach to my students. [Chuckles] But I feel that once you look at and discover what a character’s need is within a script, every character is already in us based on their need, whether that need be for power, love, acceptance, forgiveness or something else. You follow me? So, after I discover that for the character within the script, then I find things within myself that I can activate that could help me to tell the story of the character.

KW: Do you research a character, too, or is it all an internal process?

TS: I did do research for Daddy’s Little Girls, because of Jennifer’s belief system in terms of selling drugs. So, I spoke to a bunch of different drug dealers who really didn’t want to reform. They didn’t want to change. I was just trying to understand the mentality. We all have a psychological reason why we have adopted the belief systems which determine our perspectives and directions in life, and our actions. I try to understand that mental part of the character in order to figure out how I might relate it to myself and to similar people I’ve seen and experienced. I end up with layers of things, but overall, and I don’t know how people will feel about this statement, overall, I think that there is a part of us in every character we play, a desperate part of all of us that we could utilize. Not that, if someone plays a murderer, there’s a murderer within that person, but there’s a seed to get power back within that person.

KW: That makes me think of Javier Bardem’s frightening portrayal of the killer in No Country for Old Men. That was quite a despicable character.

TS: Yes, but, as an actor, you have to stay true to the character. We can never judge our characters. All we can discover is why they so badly need to do what they’re doing. And everyone has a reason why, even a murderer. For example, when I did The Corner, everyone may not necessarily be a drug addict, but everyone has a vice that’s in the life of a drug. You follow me?

KW: Yep.

TS: Everyone has something that they desperately need that makes them feel good, that they don’t want anything to get in the way of. Whether it’s a man’s golf game… whether it’s a woman’s cooking… I have a friend who has to clean. She’s addicted to cleaning. That’s her drug. When she becomes upset and frustrated that she’s not getting enough sex from her husband, she has to clean. So, everyone has their addiction. 

KW: I think you also did an excellent job as Angela in Why Did I Get Married.

TS: Thank you. I tell you that role was interesting for me in that it helped me get freedom, because I was going through my own divorce at the time, and I think that we can live vicariously through our characters. So, the stuff that I might not have been able to say or do in real life, I could live all that as Angela. And I joke with women a lot, because they come up to me and say, “I love the way you spoke up and got him. My intention was for her to be every black woman’s hero. I wanted her to be that woman who would put every ho in check. You know how we’ve all had that kind of woman come into our lives? Well, we needed a spokesperson, and I wanted Angela to be that for us.       

KW: What I liked about your treatment of Angela was the richness you brought to the character. She wasn’t merely the stereotypical, sassy, superficial, one-dimensional sister we usually see on the screen.  

TS: You know what was the best thing to me about Angela? That she got a chance to say everything she needed to say, because sometimes, as women, we don’t get a chance to do that. She got a chance to say everything she needed to say, and to allow herself to be frustrated, angry and hurt, but she still was able to get her man back. That was a blessing. I love that I was able to do that, because personally, for myself, divorce was really sad. I felt bad to have to get divorced. I wasn’t proud of that. But, in that role, I got a chance to see what it feels like to win. It was great to see that these two could have all their differences, and all the drama… Hello! Yet, then they had the restoration. It was wonderful! I was so happy about that, I couldn’t tell you.  

W: I see that you’re playing another character named Angela in Something Like a Business, an ensemble comedy with Keith David, Kym Whitley, David Alan Grier, Clifton Powell, Kevin Hart and a bunch of other folks.

TS: You know what? Something Like a Business, I’m going to tell you Kam, was my “fun” movie. That was kind of like me going to the amusement park with a bunch of my friends. It is a funny, silly comedy. I play a completely different character. She’s a broke escort who moves from New Orleans to Washington, DC. Her escort company doesn’t have any money, so they’re trying to figure out ways to make some money. It’s a little spoofy and very different, but I think it’s entertaining and people will get a good laugh.

KW: What are you filming now?

TS: Comeback, with Ice Cube. It’s a wonderful movie. Keke Palmer plays my daughter. This film is absolutely fantastic. It’s such an uplifting story. And I’m enjoying it so much because I don’t have any children, and everything is about my daughter. I just love it because I want to have children one day. So, I enjoy playing this woman Claire who’s trying to help make her daughter’s dream come true. It’s beautiful. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.  

KW: You’re originally from Camden, right?

TS: Born and raised.

KW: When did you leave New Jersey?

TS: I moved out of Camden when I was 18, turning 19.

KW: Do you still go back?

TS: We went back and got the key to the city. I did a little tour there and spoke at the high schools and at the performing arts schools, and took a bunch of friends from the ‘hood to the opening day of Why Did I Get Married. 

KW: I know you have an identical twin, Sidra. Usually, one twin has a more dominant personality. Let me guess, it’s you in this case. 

TS: Yeah, probably me. [Laughs] But she’s strong, too. I’m probably more vocal.

KW: Is she an actress, too?

TS: No, she works behind the scenes. She’s a terrific producer/director/writer. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with acting.

KW: Is she producing anything with you in mind?

TS: Yeah, we have a few projects we’re working on right now. She’s actually producing one of E. Lynn Harris’ books, Not a Day Goes By. We’re also working on an amazing film of hers called A Luv Tale, based on a short that she wrote and directed about a lesbian relationship between an older woman and a younger woman, and how it affects everyone around them. And we got another fun script called Who’s Got C-Dog’s Money.

KW: Jimmy Bayan, “Realtor to the Stars,” wants to know where in L.A. you live?

TS: I live in Sherman Oaks.

KW: The Columbus Short question, would you describe yourself as happy?

TS: Wow, well how about this: Not only am I happy, but I’m excited. I’m so excited Kam, I can’t even tell you.

KW: Is there a question that interviewers never ask that you wish one would ask?

TS: Yes, “Are you ever afraid?”

KW: Okay, are you ever afraid?

TS: Yeah. I talk about this a lot to my students. I remember how I had to confront the fact that I had fears in my life. There was a time when I just felt like a superwoman. I was like, “I got Jesus! I ain’t afraid!” But, the truth is, I want to do things right, and sometimes I am afraid that I’m not good enough, or that I’m not going to handle something right. And sometimes I’m afraid and asking, “Am I going to get married again? Am I going to have children?” You follow what I’m saying?  

KW: Yep.

TS: It’s not that I walk around with gripped by fear, but when you sit with yourself and look in your heart, you sometimes ask yourself, “Wow, what were you worried about?” The root of worry is fear. If I’m ever stressed out, what’s the root of stress? Fear! Do you follow what I’m saying? If I ever have a little anxiety, what’s the root of that? Fear! You feel me?

KW: Yep.

TS: So, I think sometimes we’re not transparent enough. We in this entertainment industry try to act like we’re so super powerful. We’re not being honest, because we’re human, and in our humanity there’s a little fear.

KW: I recently reviewed a new book by Terrie Williams called Black Pain which says that in African-American culture there’s pressure on the brothers to adopt a macho swagger and on the sisters to be supportive superwomen who often deny their own needs. She says black people need to let down their defences and to show some vulnerability. 

TS: I agree with that.

KW: Speaking of books, bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know what was the last book you read?

TS: Well, actually, one that I’m still reading is called Developing the Leader within You by John C. Maxwell. I love a lot of self-help books, and this one has been wonderful. The one I read before this was Becoming a Person of Influence, also by John C. Maxwell. I feel that with these opportunities I have, I want to not just be a celebrity, but to be an influence. I’d like to help empower and encourage other people to pursue their purpose, whether it’s through me telling the truth of my life, like what I just shared with you about fears, or just being open and transparent and encouraging and compassionate towards humanity in general. 

KW: Just the other day, I asked Sean Combs what book he read last, and he impressed me when he said it was Good to Great by Jim Collins. That’s a powerful self-help book that I’ve read and reviewed and highly recommend.

TS: Well, I’ll have to pick that book up.

KW: And I’ll check out yours. Now, I see that you were Gayle in ATL. Remind me which character was that? 

TS: Gayle was the mother to the twins, like my own mother in real-life.

KW: I remember now, the girls who were always on skates. Yeah, that’s funny, since you’re a twin.

TS: They were always in trouble, and I had to snatch them out of the club.  

KW: I didn’t really know you when I saw ATL. I’m going to go back and check it out again and focus on your performance. I bet you stole all your scenes.   

TS: [Giggles] It was fun. I tell you, afterwards, everybody kept yelling at me, “Hey, Mama, where’s the twins at?” [Laughs]

KW: Tell me a little about your school. How can aspiring actors enroll to take a class with you?

TS: It’s called Tasha Smith Actors Workshop. They can check out the website at http://www.tsaw.com/. It’s been going on for almost six years now. It’s been a blessing for our community, that’s all I have to say, because I’ve seen so many actors with the dream, young people who haven’t had a chance to cultivate their gift. And now I see them on TV shows, and with agents, and really moving in their dream. And that’s awesome.  

KW: Where’s it located?

TS: In Los Angeles. We have about ninety people taking three classes a week. It’s wonderful. You’ll have to visit one day when you come out.

KW: Absolutely. And do you actually teach there?

TS: We have three teachers. If I’m not working on a set, I’m there every Monday and Tuesday. I’m very dedicated to that school. You’ll never catch me at home on a Monday night. I will be at that class.

KW: Tasha, thanks so much for the time and for being so forthcoming. And obviously, I’m anticipating even bigger things from you in the coming years.

TS: Well, I thank you. My prayer is that more opportunities will come and that I will continue to make people like you proud. You enjoy your day.

Juno Writer Feeling Hollywood Backlash

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Erin Carlson, The Associated Press

(February 27, 2008) NEW YORK–Being the most famous stripper-turned-screenwriter in the world isn't always as pleasant as it may sound.

Diablo Cody, whose blog-to-riches fairy tale culminated in an Academy Award win for Juno, has spent the past few months dominating a tiny little niche of Hollywood stardom: the celebrity writer. Not even wordsmith heavies Paul Haggis, Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman have stood in a spotlight so bright – but then, none of them had the allure of a pole-dancing past, punkish attitude or surprising smash-hit, Oscar-worthy pregnancy comedy.

And in Cody's case, there's a downside: The very things that make her star unique are suddenly being panned and scrutinized. From tabloid newspapers to well-trafficked celeb- and media-sniping blogs, Cody's meteoric rise has made her something of a target.

The first-time scriptwriter from Lemont, Ill., demonstrated her no-nonsense, rebellious personality last week when she took to her MySpace blog to vent about the $1 million diamond-laced shoes designed for her by Stuart Weitzman to wear on Oscar's red carpet.

"They're using me to publicize their stupid shoes and NOBODY ASKED ME," wrote Cody, who ultimately wore gold flats. "I would never consent to a lame publicity stunt at a time when I already want to hide.''

Cody, who has been unapologetic and candid about her colourful life, drew praise in the blogosphere for her remarks at the time. But in the days that followed, Weitzman told the celebrity Web site TMZ that Cody actually selected the shoes herself, and bloggers (and subsequent commenters) had their fun calling her out for what they saw as diva behaviour.

The New York Post chose a picture of Cody for its after-Oscars cover that prominently featured her bikini-clad stripper tattoo. The headline: Who's Tat Girl! And on Tuesday, Photos of a scantily clad Cody surfaced on the website Egotastic – nothing new, considering she's posted scantily clad photos of herself before.

With her Oscar firmly in hand, Diablo is laying low for now. She is "out of town," spending her time writing – and won't be available for media interviews "for the foreseeable future," her representative, Craig Bankey, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the website Something Awful posted three pages of a fake Cody screenplay called "Quotey" that mocked the hipster wordplay she showcased in Juno, which had the oft-mocked line: "Honest to blog?''

And right before the Oscars, New York comedian Jackie Clarke released a video impersonation of Cody, complete with the writer's trademark black bob. In it, Clarke-as-Cody quipped: "Hey, did I ever tell you I used to be a stripper?''

"Everybody was ... rallying behind her before Juno hit $125 million at the box office, and now comes the inevitable backlash where they see her selling out to Hollywood," observed Tom O'Neil, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times' The Envelope website.

"She always seemed like a rebel, a social rebel who now seems to have cashed in and joined the club. And I think what we're witnessing is resentment to that," said O'Neil, who noted that Cody's raunchy backstory likely proved irresistible to Hollywood types who don't get a chance to show their bohemian, darker sides in public.

O'Neil called Cody's rise a "naughty Cinderella" story. Cody, whose real name is Brook Busey, caught the eye of manager Mason Novick after he found her sexy blog while surfing for porn online several years ago. She wrote a memoir about her year as a stripper in Minneapolis – and whipped up Juno on a laptop at a Starbucks in a Target store.

Cody's new projects include the Steven Spielberg-produced The United States of Tara for Showtime, featuring Toni Collette as a mom with split personalities, and the horror film Jennifer's Body, which counts Juno director Jason Reitman among the producers. She's also taking a turn as a backpage pop-culture columnist for the magazine Entertainment Weekly.

"She was wooed by Hollywood from the start to join them,'' O'Neil said. "And once she did, then they exalted her. She became the ultimate epitome of Hollywood's free spirit.''

Movie critic Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer thinks potshots against Cody are rooted in jealousy.

"She deserves what she has coming to her," Wilonsky said. ``This is not accidental and it's not undeserved. Anyone who says otherwise is just a would-be screenwriter with a movie script sitting in their desk that nobody has any interest in.''

New York magazine recently published a chart showing Juno as experiencing "backlash to the backlash'': "Almost everyone we know hates it," the magazine said. "So much so that others are now hating on the haters.''

One of those haters is the mag's film critic, David Edelstein, who has professed to be "almost alone" – among critics, anyway – ``in disliking" the dramedy.

"A lot of people I know have problems with the film because they think it's not the way a 16-year-old girl talks," Wilonsky said. "That's probably right to some extent. It's not meant to be a documentary.''

O'Neil said the trick for Cody now is to deal with the pressure to match the success of Juno.

"She's got to deliver," he said. "She's got to prove that all of this adulation is not just about her, but was really about her work.''

The self-deprecating, yet self-promoting It Screenwriter seems as awed by her good fortune as her fans and detractors.

"I've always been a writer, I've always been a storyteller, but I never thought about screenwriting," Cody said after her Oscar victory. "I grew up in the Midwest, you don't know any screenwriters. It didn't seem like a realistic career possibility.''

And until now, neither did the fame – and all of its pitfalls – that came along with it.

'Magical Moments' In A Beirut Salon

Excerpt from
www.globeandmail.com - Jennie Punter

(February 23, 2008) From The Women to Steel Magnolias to Beauty Shop, the beauty salon has long been cinema's dependable setting for modern female characters to indulge in dreaming, bonding and frank talk with no men in earshot. The sassy new Lebanese feature Caramel, which made a splash at the Cannes and Toronto festivals last year and was Lebanon's official film submission to the Oscars, shares this intimate appeal, while its backdrop of Beirut (specifically, the culturally rich Gemmayze district) gives an exotic twist to a familiar scenario.

Filming wrapped just days before Israel began bombing Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, but the bombast of war and political strife never enters the salon. Instead, as director Nadine Labaki explained during an interview at last September's Toronto International Film Festival, Caramel explores Lebanese society by focusing on the predicament of its women.

"I've always noticed women around me are not at ease with their bodies," says Labaki, who also stars as the salon's proprietress Layale. "Like them, I am torn between the image of the Western woman who is very free with her body, and traditions in Lebanese society that are sometimes more conservative and rigid.

"We are one of the rare countries in the Middle East that is open to the West - we all speak French and English fluently," she continues. "So we are blessed to have these two cultures but we don't have the right balance yet. Instead of being one or the other, we should be aware that we are a blend and we should develop this."

Labaki worked for several years as a commercial and music-video director ("It was my lab where I could experiment") before deciding to make a feature. Caramel, as it turns out, is rooted in a strong childhood memory. "My sister and I would go up to the kitchen where my mother and her friends would be preparing this caramel paste," she recalls, referring to the gooey sweet stuff used for millennia in a depilation method commonly called "sugaring." "We would sit and listen to them talk as we were waiting for them to give us this paste to taste before they started waxing."

Labaki was luckier than most first-time filmmakers: A friend introduced her to veteran French producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint, who believed in her talent, loved her film idea and encouraged her to write.

Labaki wrote the first draft of Caramel at the Cannes Film Festival's residence program, then worked with two co-writers to develop the film's five refreshingly real female characters: They include a salon assistant who is secretly lesbian; an aging actress losing the battle to maintain a youthful look; and a beautiful, elderly seamstress sacrificing her own needs to care for her older sister.

"The stories you see in the film are stories we heard or saw around us, a neighbour or cousin or friend, and it's inspired by true things," Labaki says. "Sometimes it's surprising for people to know these things happen in a country that by all appearances seems so modern." For example, the character of Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), a gorgeous, vibrant young woman, needs help seeking out a medical procedure that will "restore" her virginity before she marries her conservative Muslim fiancé.

Labaki cast non-actors, a gamble that pays off big time in her desire to make viewers feel like they're spying on real people's lives. "These people fascinated me, the way they walk, the way they react. I got to know them all really well," the director explains. "I learned how to talk to each person to get the best out of them. And I decided not to stay too close to the script. The fact I was in the scenes made it even easier to improvise, and I could steer the scene in the direction I wanted. It was a game we were playing and magical moments happened."

Although the salon in Caramel is not an actual beauty parlour (the set was built in an old shop), Labaki says places like that still exist in Lebanon. "You have the feeling they are still stuck in the seventies. The walls tell you stories," she laughs, adding, "I wanted the film to happen in a beauty parlour because this is a place that is all about hope."

Caramel is playing in Toronto at the Cumberland Cinemas and will open in other Canadian cities throughout March.

Vivica A. Fox And Director Bill Duke Take 'Cover'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(February 22, 2008) *This weekend, actor/director
Bill Duke presents a provocative and controversial film about the African American community that tells a tale of murder and betrayal on a whole other level, where a church-going homemaker is suspected of murder after she discovers the infidelity of her husband. But that’s just the beginning.

The film’s cast features a number of stars including Leon, Louis Gossett, Jr, Paula Jai Parker, and
Vivica A. Fox who plays Zahara Milton – the no-nonsense best friend who breaks the scandal wide open.

“We all hope that we can have good friends like that,” Fox said of her role. “Sometimes we turn a blind eye when we’re in love. Sometimes it takes a friend to bring you the proof ... and the 38,”

But the actress told reporters she might hold her tongue about a couple’s indiscretions if it’s not someone close to her.

“If it’s someone who is close to me, I will. If it’s someone I should mind my business about then that’s when I say, ‘Ok, I’m gonna mind my business.’ But if it’s my girl, I think I [should], but I’ll tell her, ‘Whatever you decide to do with this information, it’s on you.’”

Information is one thing this film hopes to provide. The film’s director hopes 'Cover' will do more than just entertain.

 “Originally a young writer name Leo Jackson came to me with this project, but not in this form, so I collaborated with other writers and came up with this script. But what attracted me to it was a couple of things,” Duke said.

In doing the research for his documentary on HIV, Duke said he found out some alarming statistics. One out of every seven men in DC is HIV positive, and 70% of all new reported cases are black women, and the majority of those women are infected by men who know they have the disease.

“You put all together, and that’s an alarming reality,” he said. “I’m not a politician or an activist, I’m a filmmaker. I just wanted to make a statement about it and to bring to people’s attention that we need to start having discussions about this.”

Fox agreed, and added that Duke put his own creative and dramatic spin on handling the issue.

“I think Bill made a wonderful statement when he said, ‘There’s a wonderful message and a little medicine here. And we can get you to swallow it with a little bit of sugar with a little bit of comedy and a little bit of church to soften the blow on this very important issue,” she said.

“As seen in popular media, black culture is a hip-hop community. But we’re really not,” Duke added. “We are very conservative, we go to church every Sunday, most of us; we have kids and families. It’s something that I really wanted to address as to where we are as a people and also address this issue which is very, very dangerous.”

In addition to learning a thing or two about the AIDS epidemic in the African American community, moviegoers can look forward to an unexpected twist, what Duke himself calls “the surprise factor.”

“That’s the great thing about Bill Duke’ directing is that he took you through flashbacks; he did the whole Hitchcock, took you one direction and it’s another thing. We love that it affects you and shocks you, but we love to make you think.”

“Cover” opens today, Friday February 22 in limited release. The film also features Patti LaBelle and Mya. For more, visit the movie’s website at www.coverthemovie.com.

The Movie Industry's Changing Picture

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Ian Harvey

(February 21, 2008) Audiences may not have noticed, what with all the glitz and glamour of this weekend's Oscars, but the movie industry is transforming before their eyes.

Film has relied on
digital post-production to add those must-have spectacular effects. But even car chases and space battles fade with time – or at least they used to on standard 35 mm film, which can get scratched, torn or melted.

While your neighbourhood theatre – or the behemoth complex next to a highway – may not seem much different, things are changing from film to digital in the projection room. Instead of multiple projectors with racks of film reels, you'll increasingly find souped-up digital light projectors thousands of times more powerful than those at your local Future Shop. It's a movement well under way.

At last year's Toronto International Film Festival, nearly half of the 30 screens were equipped with digital projectors made by Kitchener, Ont.-based Christie, the dominant player in the digital projector market.


With more than 4,400 of their top-of-the-line CP2000 series projectors installed in theatres around the world, Christie controls more than 80 per cent of the market. Their machines have launched major digital movie premieres, including Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Pirates of the Caribbean and Beowulf.

The shift to digital projection is mostly driven by cost: Theatres and movie producers save money, and the machines are flexible enough to allow theatre owners to rapidly accommodate an influx or decrease in demand.

There is some irony in Hollywood's digital renaissance, considering digital technology has caused such consternation in the industry. Theatres have suffered in the 21st century as more consumers opt to watch movies (sometimes pirated) on their own high-tech home theatres. The early part of the decade saw a drop in box office receipts and, despite a recent increase, more theatre tickets were sold in 1998 than in 2007, though the number of films screened has risen, according to boxofficemojo.com.

Studios and theatre chains are banking on digital projectors to entice moviegoers. “The quality is better with digital,” says Gerry Remers, chief operating officer of Christie. “The prints don't get scratched, the reels aren't shown out of order and don't break, there's no dirt on the gate and the colours are locked in to the original and don't vary from print to print.”

The deal clincher for the industry, though, is the savings in operating costs. While film prints cost up to $1,500 (U.S.) each, digital files are stored on 250 GB reusable hard drives that cost a few hundred dollars. However, a multi-screen cinema needs only one copy of the digital film. The projectors, each of which incorporate a server, can be linked together as a network so a film on a single hard drive can be shown on multiple screens. With as many as 4,000 prints of a film required for an average North American release, the savings in digital are substantial.

Still, there are some issues to be worked out by movie theatres and Hollywood. The first is the cost of the projectors themselves. Because of high intensity light sources and sophisticated electronics and computer components, the machines cost about $100,000 each and don't last as long as old-style film projectors.

To offset that, Christie has brought in a financing partner – much like car manufacturers have financing units – to offer leases and loans to customers.

The plan is for studios to levy a virtual print fee, which theatre owners will pay each time a movie is shown. That charge replaces current film rental fees.

Also, since digital data are eminently more vulnerable to unauthorized copying, according to Christie's Mr. Remers, the machines must be equipped with multiple layers of control.

“The prints are digitally watermarked and uniquely identified,” he says. “Also, the projectors are sealed. To operate them you need an authorization code. If they're tampered with they will not work until a technician resets it.”

Despite the costs, theatre owners are clearly focused on the advantages as they strive to again become an entertainment destination.

Indeed, Cineplex, which has 1,329 screens in 132 locations from B.C. to Quebec, is showing New York Metropolitan Opera season live along with NHL games and other special events.

“It (digital projectors) gives us a lot of flexibility,” said Cineplex Entertainment vice president of communications and investor relations Pat Marshall. “If we see people lined up for a movie we can add it to screens, which we can't do now if we don't have a print.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Where Artist Meets Movie Star

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Peter Goddard, Visual Arts Critic

(February 21, 2008) In the greater Hollywood scheme of things, movies about artists probably rank in the popular imagination not much ahead of salmon-fishing documentaries.

If the fifth annual
Reel Artists Film Festival proves nothing else as it gets underway tonight, variety can be found even within this relatively narrow range of subject matter. Audiences just need a brief guide to know what they're getting into before it starts getting into their heads.

An art movie for those looking for a real movie: Black White + Gray, 2007, James Crump's gossipy documentary about photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and his mentor / sugar daddy, Sam Wagstaff, comes close. Add a couple of star names and this could be an HBO miniseries.

Screening twice tonight at the Royal Ontario Museum to kick off the festival organized by Canadian Art magazine, Black White + Gray follows the trajectory of two players in and victims of the coke-whacked New York art scene in the 1970s and early '80s.

Mapplethorpe is a bigger art star today than when he and Patti Smith lived together – Wagstaff moved in with them – and the photographer's classically informed portraits of male nudes, often well-endowed black men, polarized the art world.

Wagstaff, who died in 1987 at age 65, is mostly forgotten. Yet Black White + Gray is his story and not that of the 25-years-younger Mapplethorpe. Crump's film forcefully suggests that the photographer – who died in 1989, age 43 – owed his career to Wagstaff, a prodigious collector of photography. Wagstaff knew how to make an art star happen because he was also an art star.

Coming from the archetypal American East Coast WASP background – the best private schools, a stint in the Navy followed by years in a Madison Avenue ad agency – Wagstaff had the classic good looks, voice and manner of an old-time Hollywood star. (Gary Cooper comes to mind.) Finding little satisfaction in a series of lovers, he spent his final days cooped up in a penthouse at One Fifth Ave., his influence on the art scene deteriorating as rapidly as his health.

An art movie for art insiders only: Jeff Wall: Retrospective, 2007 (tomorrow, 8:30 p.m., Al Green Theatre). Retrospective consists entirely of two neatly dressed white guys – Wall, the celebrated Vancouver photographer, and Peter Galassi of the Museum of Modern Art in New York – meandering through MoMA's achingly empty white-wall rooms musing about Wall's large-scale, back-lit photographic tableaux.

The few insights that come out of this – I do like Wall's assertion that "photography somehow always involves the street" – might be of some benefit to the art academics. Otherwise, the best thing to do with this hugely banal film would be to screen it for film classes as an example of what not to do in making a documentary.

An art movie that's a lot more too: Here is Always Somewhere Else: The Life of Bas Jan Ader, 2006 (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.).

Having moved to California in the 1960s, Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader vanished in 1975 while attempting to cross the Atlantic alone.

Was the prescient conceptual artist motivated by nostalgia, suicide or some mystical search? In pondering these possibilities, Dutch filmmaker Rene Daalder also meditates on the soul of Holland, the lure of the sea and conceptual art.

An art movie for Canadiana buffs: Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture, 2006 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.). Director Teri Wehn-Damish likely intended to portray Montreal philanthropist Phyllis Lambert – founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture – as a free-spirited visionary. Instead, Lambert – alive, funny and hugely honest – comes off as a bit of an eccentric in this loopy documentary that for no apparent reason outlines her history in the form of an old NFB wartime documentary.


Just the facts
WHAT: Reel Artists Film Festival
WHERE: Tonight 6.30 p.m. at the Royal Ontario Museum's Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre. Tomorrow to Sunday at the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal JCC, 750 Spadina Ave.
DETAILS: Visit canadianart.ca/reel-artists/tickets

Seth Green, The Geeky Golden Boy

Excerpt from
www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar, Entertainment Reporter

(February 24, 2008) As the action figure version of M. Night Shyamalan on Robot Chicken likes to exclaim: "What a twist!" The recurring joke on the immensely popular stop-motion series could also describe the onward and upward arc of its producer and co-creator, Seth Green.

In many of his Hollywood roles, he has become the go-to guy for the quip-filled geeky sidekick (Scott Evil of Austin Powers fame, Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and that obviously isn't much of a stretch for a guy who'll name check G-Force and Gizmo from Gremlins in the same sentence. But Green's continually branching out into more projects of his own creation, more out of necessity than anything else.

"Acting remains my first love, but I'm really picky about projects. I need to find stuff that really speaks to me, that I really want to be a part of," he says on the line from Los Angeles. "All the behind-the-scenes stuff just kind of happened. When we created Robot Chicken, there really wasn't anybody to do it the way we wanted to, so we just ended up doing everything ... all of a sudden we're producers and directors."

The show specializes in mining pop culture artefacts and mashing them up to comic effect; to take an example, imagine Chucky from the Child's Play movies being torn apart by vengeful Cabbage Patch dolls, who attack humankind before the events are all revealed by Sarah Michelle Gellar as the proposed start of Buffy's eighth season. The product of jokes between friends, although, the voice-work is also who's who of Hollywood, and many industry folks take the skewering in stride.

Next Friday, Teletoon airs the Robot Chicken: Star Wars Special – which not only has George Lucas's blessing but his voice. The special features old Star Wars-related bits and new material. New episodes from Season 3 – featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dora the Explorer dealing with immigration, and Pac-Man realizing he's in the Matrix – air Friday nights at 9 p.m.

It prompts the question: Is there anything too obscure for RC's pop culture meltdown?

"Our main edict is with obscure humour is that if a reference is so obscure that it's going to prevent someone from getting a joke, than it can't be more than 10 seconds long. Our show is just an economy of time, so we're really attentive to people being able to get it, even if they don't know who Cheetara is."

In terms of other projects, Green, 34, is working on an animated movie, as well as live-action comedy from Tom Root, one of RC's head writers, that they're planning on pitching to studios. He's also appearing in Old Dogs, in which John Travolta and Robin Williams run a corporation and he plays a protégé.

"What I'm really excited about is this comic that I co-created called Freshmen (an amusing take on college-age superheroes). Me and (co-creator) Hugh Sterbakov want to make a movie out of that. That's what's we're working on right now. We've got a lot of stuff we're working on in-house (at his production company), but that's what I'd really like to do. I love those characters and story and I'd like to see where it could go."

In these days of geek chic, it seems pretty easy being Green.

Will Arnett's Life In The Cinematic Fast Lane

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Bob Strauss

(February 27, 2008) LOS ANGELES — Life's moving fast for Will Arnett these days.

That makes the Toronto-born actor's role in Will Ferrell's 1970s basketball comedy Semi-Pro a bit ironic. Arnett plays Lou Redwood, colour commentator for the woebegone Flint Tropics of the goofy, long-extinct American Basketball Association league. So while other cast members ran up and down the court for hours a day, Arnett just sat there and improvised witty, often snide patter. Which was kind of nice for the actor - he does enough running around in his own life. Besides Semi-Pro, which opens Friday, he is heard in the next month's animated version of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, and has a role in yet another comedy, The Rocker, set for April release. Arnett, who played the consummate creepo Gob Bluth on TV's acclaimed Arrested Development, has also made a couple of appearances as Alec Baldwin's underhanded rival on 30 Rock.

Despite his breakneck schedule, Arnett has been able to spend more time with his wife recently, thanks to the just-ended writers strike. Amy Poehler was sidelined from Saturday Night Live for nearly four months, and things around the couple's home got ... well, a little surreal.

"This was the first time in as long as we've been together that she's had some time off from the show," Arnett notes. "It's such an all-encompassing job and the hours can be pretty gruelling. I think she had moments of, 'Where am I going today? What am I doing?' But we definitely had moments where I'd say, 'Let's try to enjoy this day, having a little time off and spend it together.'

"But certainly, I was anxious to get her out of the house," he adds, joshing. Spending Saturday nights home alone isn't exactly a tragic thought in the displaced Torontonian's book.

"The one thing I'm glad that I can still get down here is Coach's Corner with Don Cherry," Arnett explains, noticeably perking up. "I watch Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night, and that's about the highlight of my week."

While basketball-distracted Americans may never get into hockey quite the way Canucks do, they have long been fans of Canadian humour and seem now to be more than ever. Take, for example, Arnett's young Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera, who, with roles in Superbad and Juno, could arguably be called the hottest comic talent in films today (well, maybe after Vancouver's Seth Rogen).

"I'm not surprised at all," Arnett says of Cera's success. "I mean, from moment one that we started working the show, I always thought that he had a little bit of genius in him. I'm proud; I just think that he's the best.

"It seems like a lot of funny people come out of Canada for whatever reason," Arnett muses, "but I've always attributed it to Canada being, like, one degree off from the United States. We're very close culturally and, of course, geographically, so it's kind of like we have a bird's-eye view of what's going on down here. And we don't have the same pressures that are inherent to carrying the torch for the rest of the world and all that kind of thing. Canadians are just kind of free to be who they are."

But not entirely free to do what they want, it seems. Arnett was all set to provide the voice of KITT the talking car in the revival of the TV series Knight Rider - but just a few weeks before the new version's debut, it became apparent that playing a sentient Ford Mustang might conflict with Arnett's long-standing gig as a commercials announcer for General Motors.

"It was something that the guys over at NBC wanted me to do and I wanted to be a part of," Arnett says of the Knight Rider job, which was eventually taken by Val Kilmer. "Reports that GMC forbade me from doing it weren't necessarily. ... They didn't call me and say, 'You can't do this.' It was an ethical question for me, more than anything. Because I have an almost 10-year relationship with them, it wasn't the right thing to do. No offence to Ford or anything. ... It's an odd thing that's never cropped up before and probably never will again."

One thing Arnett would like to do again is get back to his dramatic roots. "I've done a lot of stuff in the comedy world since Arrested, and for a while it seemed like I could just sort of play this villainous jerk," he acknowledges. "But I don't want to be pigeonholed into playing this one thing. The prospect of doing something that would take me out of that is very exciting."

For now, he has applied his serious Strasberg Institute dramatic training to yet another wacky role (there were three last year alone in the films Blades of Glory, Hot Rod and The Brothers Solomon).

"Lou Redwood's one of those guys who, in his mind, is a little bit better player than he probably was," Arnett says.

"He's bitter that his career was cut short because of a knee injury. So now when he watches a game, he's one of those former player commentators who calls out other players. But you're thinking, 'You weren't that great yourself, so maybe you should take it easy on the guys who are actually doing it.' "

As for his own hoops prowess, Arnett happily admits that he hasn't any.

"When I was a kid in Toronto, there wasn't a lot of basketball around, and it was all hockey, all leagues all the time," says the bicoastal, 37-year-old actor, who still skates in Central Park pickup games when he's in New York. "And when I found out that the guys who were playing athletes in Semi-Pro went into training for several weeks, I thought, 'Wow, I really got off easy on this one.' They got in pretty good shape, I've got to say. But I'm happy I did not do that because I'm lazy, inherently."

Special to The Globe and Mail


will.i.am Joins Cast Of 'Wol.Ver.Ine'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(February 21, 2008) *Black Eyed Peas singer
will.i.am will make his big screen debut in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the "X-Men" spinoff starring Hugh Jackman in the title role.    Set 17 years before the "X-Men" movies, "Wolverine," traces the origins of the mutant superhero.  Will.i.am, whose real name is William Adams, has been cast as Wraith, a mutant with the power to turn himself translucent.   Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi") is directing the Fox project, which began production this month in New Zealand before moving to Australia. A New Orleans shoot is also on tap. The film is due in theatres May 1, 2009.   Also joining the cast is Danny Huston as Stryker, the military general who subjected Wolverine to the experiment that laced his bones with an unbreakable metal called adamantium. (Brian Cox played the character in "X2: X-Men United.")     Taylor Kitsch, a star on NBC's "Friday Night Lights," signs on in the role of Gambit, a Cajun thief whose powers include the manipulation of kinetic energy, which allows him to use card-throwing to deadly effect.   Lynn Collins will play Kayla Silverfox, Wolverine's lover and a member of Team X, a superpowered covert ops team.    Ryan Reynolds, currently starring in "Definitely, Maybe," will appear in a cameo role as Deadpool, a wisecracking mercenary. Liev Schreiber already has been cast as Victor Creed, a mutant with bestial superpowers who also is known as Sabretooth.

Sandra Oh To Host Genie Awards

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(February 25, 2008) Grey's Anatomy star Sandra Oh will host the Genie Awards honouring the best in Canadian film. Oh, who was raised in Ottawa, is a previous Genie winner herself for her roles in Don McKellar's Last Night and Mina Shum's Double Happiness. More recently, she starred in the wine-tasting comedy Sideways, and has received a Golden Globe Award for her role as the tough-as-nails Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's. A strong slate of Canadian movies is vying for Genie glory this year, including David Cronenberg's bloody Russian mob thriller Eastern Promises and Sarah Polley's poignant Alzheimer's drama Away From Her. The awards will be handed out March 3.



Tories To Decide Fate Of Television Fund

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Julian Beltrame, Canadian Press

(February 20, 2008) OTTAWA — Heritage Minister Josée Verner has told the CRTC that the Conservative government will decide the fate of the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) that has been under attack by two of Canada's large cable operators.

The fund was the subject of heated week-long hearings earlier this month in which Shaw Communications Inc. and Quebecor Inc. told the CRTC they wanted out of the program, saying few people watch the Canadian shows the fund backs.

One major complaint is that the CBC has access to shows produced from the fund even though cable and satellite operators pay about $160-million in annual fees. The federal government contributes the rest, about $120-million a year.

With the CRTC set to issue a ruling in the next two months, Ms. Verner said Wednesday she wanted the recommendations sent to her department and that the government would make any final decisions.

“Our government takes the need for change at the CTF seriously and values the CRTC's input,” Ms. Verner said in a statement, a message she also delivered to the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, a supporter of the fund, in a Wednesday evening speech.

The statement came as a surprise because the key issue to be decided — whether the $280-million fund will be split into separate streams for commercial TV and cultural-public policy programs — is already in the government's realm.

“This is not a purely regulatory issue,” said CRTC spokesman Denis Carmel. “We're mostly a vehicle by which the cable operators contribute to the fund.”

He said the CRTC would decide technical issues such as whether the cable operators would pay into the fund on an annual or monthly basis.

But a government official said the government was making an intervention to notify the CRTC that it would make all decisions relating to the fund.

While unusual, the Conservative government has intervened on CRTC matters before. Last April, the government demanded changes be made on the issue of deregulating local telephone service against the CRTC wishes.

The heritage minister has given few indications of her position on the television fund, which is seen by many in the production end of Canadian shows as pivotal to maintaining a vibrant domestic television industry. The CTF has financed such popular shows as Little Mosque on the Prairie and the Border.

“My guess is that we're unlikely to stick with the status quo,” said Ian Morrison of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. “But I think the government knows this is a political hot potato, and I doubt the CBC will be cut off.”

Quick, What Would You Do?

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Vinay Menon

(February 26, 2008) An obviously drunk man is fumbling with his car keys. A caregiver berates an elderly patient in public. Teens vandalize property in daylight.

How would you react to these situations? Would you stop the inebriated man from stumbling into his front seat? Would you intervene and question the abusive caregiver? Would you take a brave stand against the rampaging teens?

Using actors and hidden cameras, Primetime: What Would You Do? (ABC, A-Channel, 10 tonight) returns with a new slate of social experiments, each manufactured to gauge the response of passersby.

In other words: "When people see a situation that cries out for action, do they step in, back away or just walk on by?"

The dilemmas include: a Muslim woman wearing a veil is denied service in a bakery; a young girl is verbally attacked by peers in a park; friends of a man are in a restaurant when they notice he's dining and flirting with a woman who isn't his wife; an incompetent driver damages parked cars while trying to navigate her vehicle into a tight spot.

Will it be civic courage or bystander apathy?

I was recently in a convenience store when the customer in front of me, in the midst of a lottery ticket transaction, suddenly morphed into a noxious and belligerent crackpot.

He started swearing and demanding a free ticket or some such. As he carried on, his voice rising, his arms flailing, this is what I did: cradled my carton of half-and-half while staring silently at my shoes.

The situation defused as quickly as it ignited. But thinking about it now, what would I have done if the crackpot became physically violent toward the clerk? Would I have continued to stand there like a jittery coward in my fancy scarf, ignoring the conflict just in case the crackpot was concealing a weapon? Would I have told myself, as I did, that there was probably a history between these two men, that the shrill exchange was likely predicated upon a prior event, one I was not privy to and, thus, the only prudent reaction entailed wobbling mutely under the fluorescent bulbs until the crackpot vamoosed and I was able to pay for my dairy?

Primetime: What Would You Do? is hosted by John Quiñones. The question is this: why do some of us avoid sticky situations? Why are we reluctant to help when strangers face potential harm? Is it basic fear? Are we afraid of looking foolish? Do we assume somebody else will intercede?

And if you've ever been on the other side – that is, the victim – watching others do nothing in your time of need is profoundly unnerving.

Again, this is not a great example, but one evening, during my misspent youth, I found myself exiting a banking vestibule in Brindisi, Italy. Almost immediately, I was set upon by a gaggle of female beggars.

It sounds comical now. But, honestly, as they surrounded me, pulling at my T-shirt, talking manically in a language I couldn't understand, several locals just ambled past. More than one glanced at me like I was somehow the root cause of this disturbance.

Finally, one elder gentleman walked toward the commotion, pulled me away and loudly rebuked the panhandlers, who stared at him with mild contempt.

"Grazie," I said sheepishly, vowing to always be like this man. But after the incident in the convenience store, well, now I'm not so sure.

That's what makes these Primetime episodes so intriguing: is there a fundamental gap between what we think we would do and what we will do when others are suffering?

Paris Returns To Reality TV

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Vinay Menon

(February 27, 2008) Are you a good listener? Are you loyal? Are you caring, thoughtful, reliable and capable of smuggling a teacup Chihuahua into a Hollywood nightclub?

Do you overuse the words "like," "hot," "totally" and "whatever"? Are you comfortable lounging poolside at a trendy Vegas hotel or jetting to Monaco for breakfast or shopping for new shoes on Rodeo Drive?

Great news: you could be
Paris Hilton's new pal!

According to a story this week, the vacant celebrity is returning to "reality" television (date unknown) with a new project (title unknown) in which she selects a new best friend (species unknown).

"Paris is tired of the haters and she's looking for someone new," a source tells Usmagazine.com. "She's looking for someone new and cool who she can trust."

Interested but intimidated by the prospect of infiltrating her inner sanctum? Don't be. Here now, a simple 10-point guide to succeeding as Paris Hilton's BFF:


Parties, club openings, photo-ops ... Paris is a busy gal. So electronic communication will be vital. When chatting on the cell, keep sentences short and on-point. When texting or emailing, don't scrimp on exclamation points, cattiness or emoticons. Example: "U won't believe!!! Saw Nicole @ Madeo!!! Still eatin' for 2 ;)"



Friendship is co-equal and steeped in mutual respect. Whatever! You are a sidekick. So if Paris decides it's time to dance on tables and you don't feel like dancing on tables, too bad, you're dancing on tables. (See also: "I don't feel like ... making special brownies/getting a Brazilian/partying at Villa/telling whatshisface it's over/holding the video camera while you two do it/posting bail/accessorizing Tinkerbell.")


Wake up. Brush veneers. Straighten dyed hair. Apply multiple coats of makeup. Squeeze into revealing outfit. Affix oversized sunglasses to skull. Light cigarette. Exit house.


To comfort Paris, simply ridicule her enemies: "Honey, who cares if you own 17 dogs and the Humane Society is pissed? Those people are fat slobs!" "Sweetie, did you see what Perez wrote about Lindsay this morning? What a skanky bitch!" "That exec said what about your new album? Please, he's a disgusting pig!"


Cristal. Kobe beef. Hennessy. Oysters. Grey Goose. Sushi. Jell-O shooters. Animal crackers. (Repeat daily.)


So there you are inside a thumping L.A. hotspot when Paris suddenly decides she loves your skirt. Your response? Take it off and give it to her. After this happens two or three times, you'll hardly remember what it was like to party fully dressed. Other items that are no longer really yours: jewellery, old love letters, purses, drug test results, ex-boyfriends, cars, throw pillows and, should she ever need a transplant, internal organs.


Everybody wants to know what Paris is really like. Your answer: "Paris is really cool. She's just Paris." (There will be time for lucrative tell-alls when you're no longer best friends. See No. 10.)


When out in public, pretend you're in a movie and the director has asked you to ambulate in slow motion with excessive side-to-side head movements that suggest you're watching a tennis match in zero gravity.


Phoniness is the key. Air kisses are mandatory. When listening to conversations, smile or snicker where appropriate.

Should you be asked a direct question, always answer with: "Let's go to Fred Segal!"



Here's the last thing to remember: this new friendship will probably only last until the season finale (or six months, whichever comes first). Enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Then go find an agent.


Just For Laughs Making Move South Of The Border

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Ian Harvey

(February 21, 2008) Toronto — Just for Laughs, the hugely successful 25-year-old Montreal-based comedy festival, is taking the plunge into the United States. In an announcement yesterday, JFL said it will launch Just for Laughs: A Very Funny Festival in Chicago, in the summer of 2009. Partnering with Time Warner-owned Turner Entertainment Networks, JFL will mount a five-day festival featuring a TBS TV special hosted by Ellen DeGeneres; a series of stand-up shows by top-name comedians, improv and sketch including a collaboration with the Second City comedy troupe, Latino and urban comedy extravaganzas, as well as a film component. Three Chicago promoters will help produce the fest - Jam Productions, LTD and Outback Concerts.

Burke Speaks Candidly About Depression

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(February 22, 2008) For the first time since entering a psychiatric hospital in January, Delta Burke is speaking out about her depression, saying she remembered having anxiety as early as kindergarten. In a two-part Entertainment Tonight interview airing last night and Friday, Burke said she needed "an adjustment under a physician's care" after the five medications she was taking no longer worked. Now she's on two. By coming forward, Burke hopes to help remove the stigma surrounding depression. Burke said she would like people to pursue mental help the same way they might with another illness. One of her lowest moments came while she was starring in the long-running series Designing Women. "I was parked in the car in the hills with a gun and a bottle of Xanax beside me, trying to recover from harsh words said in the tabloids," she said. "I just wanted the pain to go away.'' But she insisted: "I didn't want to die. If I ever really wanted to be dead, I'd be dead.''

Andre 3000 Returns To 'The Shield'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(February 27, 2008) *
Andre "3000" Benjamin will reprise his guest role on the FX drama "The Shield" when the show airs its seventh and final season this summer, reports Blackfilm.com. "I'm actually playing a guy running for mayor in the show finale," he told the Web site. "My character was first introduced years ago in a small role." In 2004, the rapper made a guest appearance as the owner of a comic book store who tried desperately to keep the area outside of his shop free of hookers and drug dealers.  Benjamin's appearance this summer will take place in episode 13. In the meantime, his next film, "Semi Pro," is due in theatres Friday.



Playwright Honours Nanjing Holocaust

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Michael Posner

(February 22, 2008) The tears start to flow the moment Marjorie Chan begins talking about the suicide of Iris Chang.

The late Chinese-American historian's 1997 book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II is the inspiration for Chan's new play,
Nanking Winter, which opens on Feb. 28 at Factory Theatre's Mainspace. A co-production of Nightwood Theatre and Cahoots Theatre Projects, it's directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones.

Chang's book documents the killing of 300,000 Chinese over a six-week period in Nanjing – then known as Nanking – in 1937-38, when the city was China's capital. It had been among the first books to expose Japanese wartime atrocities. Seven years later, while researching a documentary on U.S. military veterans who had suffered as prisoners of war under the Japanese, Chang, just 37, pulled her car off the road and shot herself – overwhelmed, it seems, by various emotional trauma.

“I can't even talk about it,” Chan says, wiping away the tears during a recent coffee chat in Starbucks. She had read Chang's book in 1998 and seen her interviewed on television, but then more or less forgot about it, until she heard about the suicide. That 2004 tragedy rekindled her interest in the subject and she started work on the play. “I don't know her, never met her, except through her books, but her loss was enormous for everyone,” Chan says. “I was quite moved by her.”

Nanking Winter is actually two one-act plays linked by a common horror – the wholesale rapes and killings committed by Japanese soldiers on the eve of the Second World War. Unconventionally, the two acts move backward in time. In the first, set in the present day, a character modelled on Chang tries to come to terms with changes demanded by publishers of her book about the event. In the second, we are transported back to the actual events in Nanjing circa 1937.

“This structure was an issue for a lot of people,” Chan concedes with a laugh. “But that's what felt right to me … that we should discover these events as I discovered them, in the present day. The questions the Chang character has are my questions, my issues – how we view and treat history.”

Madoc-Jones, who is also Chan's dramaturge, has been involved virtually from the beginning. “I trust her judgment, her humanity, her theatrical skills, but I don't always agree.”

Chan, 33 – her name in Chinese is Chan Yee-Kwok – says she has used the rehearsal process to hone the script. “I'm protective of it. I'm true to my instincts, but I'm not precious,” she says. “And when I see an actor act things instead of having to say it, I prefer that. They do it much more eloquently. I'm happy to lose something when the actor is more articulate in ways that words can't describe.”

In preparation, Chan read widely, not only about Nanjing, but about the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War, which claimed six million lives, and the Rwandan holocaust of 1994, which claimed about 800,000.

“You can't begin to rank atrocities,” Chan says. “We can only try to remember them all.”

The daughter of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong who became provincial civil servants, Chan was raised in Scarborough and was drawn to the theatre world early. As teenagers, she and her older sister, Jennifer, dressed up in costume to greet the opening night of Les Misérables. Later, Chan studied acting at George Brown College and for years made her living as an itinerant performer.

But after four to five years “of only expressing someone else's artistic vision, taking that on my body eight shows a week for weeks at a time,” she wanted to express her own. And she felt like she was getting too many ingénue-type parts when, in fact, “I'm really more of a [trouble-maker] at heart.”

She wrote her first play, China Doll, about the culture of foot-binding of girls. It was nominated for two Dora Awards, as well as for a Governor-General's Literary Award. Since then, she has produced librettos for the company Tapestry: among them a new family opera called Sanctuary Song, about an elephant in captivity, that is being mounted in June, with music by Abigail Richardson. Chan has also scripted an adaptation of a play about Hiroshima with actor Damien Atkins.

Now, in addition to writing, she is associate artistic director of Cahoots Theatre Projects, working principally in outreach programs for immigrant youth. Such workshop activities, she believes, are not only critical to bringing new arrivals into the broader context of urban and national culture, but can help to develop a younger, more multicultural audience for theatre – a subject of concern to many established companies. “We try to give them a sense of community, not necessarily train them as stage artists. Because once they feel welcome, then they can experience art. It's very difficult to experience art from a defensive place.”

Chan says she wants to continue to work in various theatrical media; she argues that if an artist's work is inspired only by that of her friends and close colleagues, “it becomes a photocopy of a photocopy and you get theatre that's not interesting any more.”

Given the demographic realities of contemporary Canada, the multiracial mix of populations, “it's important for us to find inspiration elsewhere, and find fresh approaches, ideas and stories,” Chan says. “Or else our stories – and our audience – will run out.”

Nanking Winter runs from Feb. 28 to March 16 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. 416-504-9971.


While 'Cat's' Howard Is Away, Kodjoe Will Play

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(February 22, 2008)  *
Boris Kodjoe will join the cast of Broadway's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to replace Terrence Howard while he takes a previously-arranged leave of absence to film a movie, reports Playbill News.  Kodjoe, best known for his stint on TV's "Soul Food," will play the role of Brick from April 15 through May 22. Howard will return to the production on May 23.    The revival of the 1955 Tennessee Williams classic at the Broadhurst Theatre marks the first time the play has been seen on Broadway with an African-American cast.     Debbie Allen is directing the production, which is currently in previews toward an official opening on March 6.   The cast includes James Earl Jones, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Giancarlo Esposito and Lisa Arrindell-Anderson.



Mario, Nariko top Toronto Star's 'Oscars' For Video Games

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bret Dawson, Special To The Star

(February 23, 2008) Video games have their own Oscars. They are called the Interactive Achievement Awards and they are boring. They go to boring World War II simulations and to boring shooters and especially they go to boring multiplayer games about magic and swords and gold. The IAAs go to games that sell well. They ignore the little indie gems that advance the art.

Many of the games on this list did not earn IAAs. That is a shame. Instead, they get Toronto Star Oscars, which are vastly more prestigious, or will be shortly:

Best Screenplay

Space Giraffe (Xbox 360)

Space Giraffe is not a game about narrative. It is not a game about dialogue. It is not even a game about sentences. It is a game about a little space thingy riding around the edge of a bigger space thingy, shooting at evil space thingies, which are crawling up the walls of the bigger space thingy. It is a shooting game, and sometimes it is also sort of a bumper cars game. Judged purely on its strengths as a plaything, Space Giraffe is a delight. It is fun and surprising and rich with challenge. It is a good video game. But its real strength as a cultural artefact is in its writing. At every turn, the game erupts with blasts of hot nutty weirdness. It cheers the end of a level by offering "Congratulations." It warns that the giraffe is in another castle, which is a reference to an old Mario game and also mildly alarming. Every time it offers any text at all, it offers a surprise or a laugh or a golden phrase. It is about words, this silly little game of explosions.

Best Actor


Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

Mario has never been much for words, and that was as true in 2007 as ever. In Galaxy, he faced a familiar challenge (rescuing poor Princess Peach) and an unfamiliar one (coping with the fickleness of gravity). Like all the previous Mario games, Galaxy is about running and jumping and about bumping into crates full of coins and power-up treats. But the hero is a constant, and his constancy is so constant that simply noticing it can be a challenge. Still, Mario is fleeter of foot here than he has ever been, and he copes more gracefully than ever with the indignities of small planets and changeable gravity. First and last and always he is a hero.

Best Actress


Heavenly Sword (PlayStation 3)

Nariko is new to video games, and chances are good that Heavenly Sword will be her first and last appearance. That is too bad. Gaming is worse than Hollywood for treating young women as disposable commodities. But however brief Nariko's stardom turns out to be, it deserves attention. The woman kicks ass. Further to that, she cuts ass. She carries a knife longer than she is tall, and she flings it around as if it were made of light. She is the dispassionately tough heroine in the middle of a thicket of dumbass thugs. She kills the thugs. She moves on to the next thicket. She is tougher than steel and colder than space.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Everyday Shooter

(PlayStation 3)

Everyday Shooter is video gaming reduced to its kernel: a little burst of light trying to kill other little bursts of light. The surprising thing is that it is complex and difficult and thoughtful.

The further surprise is that with each new level, the one burst of light must learn an entirely new method for killing the others. Every level is a soup of brand new colours and brand new sounds, and especially it is a soup of brand new controls. Somehow the colours and the shapes hint at what the player needs to do with the controller, and somehow the answer feels familiar when trial and error tease it out of hiding. The trick is in the way the pictures and the music and the thumbings melt together, enemy by enemy and level by level.

Best Original Song

"Still Alive" by Portal, from The Orange Box (Xbox 360 and PS3)

Actually this is a pretty bad song. It is maudlin and overly theatrical. With different lyrics it would have vanished into obscurity moments after its release. But oh, what lyrics. Here are some of them:

"Anyway this cake is great, it's so delicious and moist/Look at me still talking when there's science to do/When I look out there it makes me glad I'm not you/I've experiments to run, there is research to be done/On the people who are still alive."

The singer is an evil artificial intelligence with a fussy streak. She wants the hero dead, but first she wants the hero inconvenienced. When she sings, she has lost the battle but has not yet surrendered.

Haunting how haunting it sounds.

Move Your Body To Wii Fit

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman, Special To The Star

(February 23, 2008) If you've been procrastinating on your New Year's resolution to exercise more, the Nintendo Wii console might hold the incentive you need to get moving.

Announced on Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Nintendo's unique
Wii Fit product will be available on May 19.

When used with the bundled Wii Balance Board peripheral, which looks like a regular bathroom scale, Nintendo Wii owners can exercise, stretch and do yoga with on-screen avatars – all designed to help keep you fit and lose weight.

For example, you may be asked to step on and off the wireless board in time with music or keep one foot on the board while lifting another up towards your waist.

Fun mini-games will also be included, such as using your body to ski downhill, leaning left or right to head-butt soccer balls out of a net or rolling marbles around so that they fall into a hole in the floor – without falling off the edge.

Wii Fit will also include access to the Wii Fit Channel, an interactive online channel that lets users check in daily to track fitness progress through weight and body mass index (BMI).

Nintendo has not yet confirmed the price for the Wii Fit and Balance Board bundle.

At GDC, Nintendo also announced WiiWare, a new digital distribution game service set to launch May 12, which allows consumers to download new games directly to the console, including episodic content, while also giving game developers a platform to test out new ideas with lower financial risk.

Xbox opens its doors to developers

Speaking of digitally distributing video games, Microsoft announced on Wednesday at GDC it would soon allow its 10 million Xbox Live members to download, play and rate community-created games.

While Microsoft already offers downloadable Xbox Live Arcade titles over the Internet, opening up the platform to developers will make it the largest library of video games, with more than 1,000 titles available by year's end.

As a taste of what's to come, seven new independent games are now available to download from the Xbox Live Marketplace, including the arcade racer JellyCar, action side-scroller Little Gamers and the TriLinea puzzle game.



Almost Nothing Offered For Arts And Culture

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - James Adams

(February 27, 2008) OTTAWA — Arts and culture have never been a priority for the Harper government but with yesterday's federal budget the sector seems to have achieved a new level of non-recognition.

There is only one direct allocation to an arts and culture initiative, and it targets the country's extant national museums - that is, the four Ottawa-area institutions that already receive hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the federal government.

Over the next two years, the government says it will spend $9.4-million - $2.7-million in this fiscal year, $6.7-million in 2009-2010 - to address what it calls "operating and infrastructure pressures" on the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization (which includes the Canadian War Museum.)

No mention was made of a restoration of the $4.6-million Museums Assistance Program that the Conservatives killed in 2006, or of a continuation of the $60-million-per-year Tomorrow Starts Today scheme that expires in 2009-2010.

There were no specific commitments to the Portrait Gallery of Canada or to a new copyright regime or to the Harper government's much-promised, long-anticipated museums policy or to tax relief specifically for artists.

There was nothing about the Canadian Television Fund or Telefilm Canada or enhancing Canada's cultural presence abroad or "topping up" capital investments to organizations such as the Canadian Opera Company and the Royal Conservatory of Music.

In short, yesterday's budget, in the name of maintaining what Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called "strong fiscal management," seemed to duck virtually every concern that the Canadian cultural community has been voicing in the past five years.

Even the $9.4-million allocation seems less than it first appears.

Last year the four national museums were among 17 organizations that Mr. Flaherty ordered to find millions of dollars in "improvements and efficiencies" to be redirected to other federal programs. Yesterday's budget shows that the $9.4-million being targeted to the four is coming largely from the museums themselves: For the next two fiscal years, they are scheduled to give the federal government a total of $8.5-million in "strategic review savings" to "reinvest" in their own infrastructure and related operating costs.

Even Canadian Heritage, the department that is the nominal overseer of the national museums, not to mention the Canada Council for the Arts, the CBC and Telefilm, has been compelled to provide strategic review savings.

Except in its case the $32.8-million it's providing for reinvestment over two years isn't going to arts and culture, but to train Canadian athletes for the 2008 Beijing and 2010 London summer Olympics and to finance the cross-country torch relays for B.C.'s 2010 Games.

For Alain Pineau, national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, the country's largest arts lobby, the budget held "no surprises," including the lack of the word "arts" anywhere in the budget text. (The words "culture" and "cultural" each appear twice.)

While weak on offering new resources or articulating a long-range vision for arts and culture, the one piece of "good news," Mr. Pineau said, "is ... there doesn't appear to have been any major cuts in the reallocation action" that six culture-related organizations, including Library and Archives Canada, were asked to undertake last year.

Mr. Pineau had been predicting the budget would provide "pretty much nothing" for arts and culture, and his prediction proved correct.

As ever, managers and boards of Canadian arts organizations will be poring over the budget book in the days ahead to find possibilities and portents. Some might find hope in the planned creation of a new Crown corporation, PPP Canada Inc., which is supposed to facilitate more public-private partnerships.

Others might see potential funding, at least for bricks and mortar, in the continuation of the $8.8-billion Building Canada Fund.

Still, the budget has to be a disappointment to artists, cultural organizations and art lovers.


Sanati Takes Helm At Chatelaine

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - James Adams

(February 27, 2008) Veteran Toronto journalist Maryam Sanati has been named editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, Canada's largest circulation magazine for women, effective immediately, it was announced Wednesday by Rogers Consumer Publishing.  Sanati, 38, has been at Chatelaine for 18 months, coming to the monthly magazine as deputy editor after working more than five years in various editorial jobs at The Globe and Mail. Chatelaine's editorship has been vacant since July 2007 when then editor-in-chief Sara Angel resigned after holding that title for about 16 months.  Sanati began her career in journalism in the early 1990s with Toronto Life magazine. She's currently helping to oversee a redesign of Chatelaine, the results of which are to be made public this spring with the May issue marking Chatelaine's 80th birthday.  The magazine has had a tumultuous history in the last four years, with two editors-in-chief leaving under strained circumstances as well as dozens of staffers and contributors. Sanati, who's going on maternity leave in June for what's expected to be eight or nine months, said yesterday she likes both Chatelaine publisher Kerry Mitchell and acting editorial director Lise Ravary “very much as people but I also have the utmost respect [for them] as having been my mentors” at the magazine. Sanati was considered one of the favourite candidates for Chatelaine's top editorial job and she indicated that discussions about her assuming the mantle began late last fall.

Writers Vote 93.6% In Favour Of New Contract

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Associated Press

(February 26, 2008) LOS ANGELES–Members of the writers guild have overwhelmingly approved a new contract with Hollywood studios that increases payment for shows offered on the Internet, the union said Tuesday. The deal was endorsed by 93.6 per cent of the 4,060 votes cast in Los Angeles and New York. "This contract is a new beginning for writers in the digital age," said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America's western branch. "It ensures that guild members will be fairly compensated for the content they create for the Internet, and it also covers the reuse on new media platforms of the work they have done in film since 1971 and in TV since 1977.'' The three-year deal runs from Feb. 13 to May 1, 2011. The contract was approved through a mail-in ballot that came after members were briefed two weeks ago and agreed to end the 100-day strike. Under the contract, writers will get a maximum flat fee of about $1,200 for programs streamed on the Internet during the deal's first two years and then get 2 per cent of a distributor's gross in year three. The deal also establishes guild jurisdiction for shows made for the Internet and other new media. The writers strike halted most TV production and took an estimated $2.5 billion toll on the Los Angeles area economy. The guild has about 10,500 members who were affected by the walkout. Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer and a former associate counsel for the writers guild, said he was surprised by the relatively low number of guild members who voted. "I think a lot of people are not happy with the deal but realized it's the best they could get," he said. Still, he said, it "ties a bow on a difficult period for Hollywood labour.''


Family, Friends Remember Renaud

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Gregory Bonnell
, The Canadian Press

(February 23, 2008) TECUMSEH–The sudden nature of NHL prospect
Mickey Renaud's death hung heavy over his funeral day as 1,200 mourners said goodbye to the 19-year-old without knowing precisely what claimed the life of a young hockey sensation with his sights set squarely on the big leagues.

Men who exchanged firm handshakes outside St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church were reduced to tears inside as both Renaud's uncle and then his coach remembered a kid with a goofy grin who never let his considerable athletic gifts go to his head.

His mother, Jane Renaud, took comfort in laying her head on her husband Mark's shoulder. Renaud's brother and sister sat beside their parents, facing the high school graduation portrait of their late sibling.

With Renaud's No.18 Windsor Spitfires jersey draped over the casket, Father Robert Couture acknowledged that the mystery of the Ontario Hockey League player's death was an all-consuming one.

"It is legitimate for us to ask that question, how a young man, a 19-year old full of life, full of goodness, an athlete, one who has so much to live for, has been taken away from us so quickly, so unfairly," Couture said. "I don't know why. I wish I could give you that answer that's on your minds and on your hearts."

Renaud, drafted last year by the Calgary Flames, collapsed Monday at his home in Tecumseh, a bedroom community east of Windsor.

Preliminary autopsy results have only been released to the family and the coroner said it could be months before the cause of death is determined.

"Our family is devastated," Renaud's uncle, Chris Renaud, told the assembled mourners.

Renaud never let his good looks or prowess on the ice inflate his ego, and took great pleasure in lending a helping hand to people with special needs, his uncle said.

"He would ask them if they had to go to the bathroom. He would carry their things in school. He would push them around the track in their wheelchair because he wanted them to see how fun it was to go around fast," he said. "For Mick, there was satisfaction in that."

Spitfires president and coach Bob Boughner said Renaud's considerable hockey skills didn't translate when the 19-year-old took on the job of power washing and staining the coach's backyard deck – a job that turned out "horrible," Boughner said to laughter.

Outside the church, Renaud's teammates donned their team sweaters and lined the walkway as his casket passed.

As the funeral procession moved down the street, kids in Spitfire jerseys tapped their sticks on the pavement in salute.

The funeral coincided with a community gathering at Windsor Arena, which included a video tribute and a book of condolences.

"I can't say enough good about Mickey," said Lorne Mercer, an avid Spitfires fan. "He'll be sadly missed and it's just not going to be the same without him here."