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LE NEWSLETTER

January 10, 2008


Can you feel the momentum for 2008 picking up?  Yeah, me too.

I have yet another special CD giveaway for you to help kick off the year - it's Universal's
The Dream.  If you can tell me the name of his debut CD, then you could be a winner.  Don't forget to include your full name and mailing address or you can't qualify.  Look for the answer under SCOOP.

OK, so the information is all here for your reading pleasure.  Have a look and a scroll - and all feedback is welcome. 

 

 

::TOP STORIES::

Milt Dunnell, 102: Sports Journalist

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Dave Perkins, Sports Reporter

(January 04, 2008) Three weeks ago, a few days shy of his 102nd birthday, Milt Dunnell was playing blackjack at one of his favourite casinos. This, by the way, is not saying much because when it came to casinos, they were almost all his favourites.

But turning cards – doing what he loved – at that age? Who among us would not sign that scorecard? The question arises today because the scorecard is finally filled in for one of Canada's – make that the world's – great sports journalists. The Toronto Star legend passed away peacefully at 11:30 last night, aged 102 years and just over a week. It was a phone call his many friends and admirers had been expecting sooner or later, but with Milt it was always later.

He'd be rolling his eyes, at least, about now. The last thing he cared for was any kind of attention. He had a pact with the late Jim Coleman, another standout sports writer of a far greater time in (and for) this business: If either heard of a testimonial dinner or similar kind of social ambush being warmed up, they would quietly warn the intended victim to make travel plans. It's no wonder Milt's services will be small and private; he'd have voted for no services. The best way to remember Milt here will be to go stand at a craps table and parlay the hard eight in his honour.

He didn't smoke, hardly ever cursed and, somewhat amazingly from an era in a business that produced far too many stories whose punch line involved extreme on-the-job drunkenness, he didn't drink. Recreational gambling was his only vice and, like many of the great writers from those days – including his contemporary Coleman and his disciple Jim Proudfoot – he knew his way around the racetrack and knew the characters (and those larcenous of heart) both on the backstretch and in the directors' lounge. His horse racing stuff reads like literature and it's no surprise that after several decades of writing sports, including regular columns for the Star almost into his 90s, Dunnell always said watching and writing about Northern Dancer was his No. 1 thrill.

That would be professional. Personally, he loved to spot a sucker coming toward his desk. There was never a shortage.

The late Star publisher Beland Honderich, whom Dunnell caused to be hired at the Star in 1942, was a favourite wagering partner. He showed up every Monday morning to pay off, too, or occasionally collect.

"He was always generous giving you your choice of bet," Honderich once said. "But when it got to the odds, he was sharper.

"But I can tell you one thing," Honderich said of attempts to get even. "He was a bum on the golf course."

Not always, though, said his great pal George Gamester, retired Star columnist. "One day Milt and I were hacking it around Buttonville, his course. He would have been 80-ish. We're just scraping it around and after about 12 holes I said, `Milt, why don't we have a little wager? Maybe it will give us some incentive.'

"Well, I should have known by the glint in his eye when he said, `That's okay by me.' From then on, he never missed a fairway or a putt. I'll never forget him waving the $6, or whatever he won," Gamester said.

Was Dunnell beloved? Now and then, possibly more now than then.

He sometimes played the mean tough guy, jabbing fingers and asking hard questions from under a stylish fedora on the old Sports Hot Seat, a 1960s television staple. Once, he took on Gene Kiniski – this was verbal, mind you; Milt was the kind of guy who had to run around in the shower to get wet – and the champion wrestler's fans took offence at some nugget of information or phraseology. A brick presently was hurled through Dunnell's front window, at the North York home he lived in for several decades.

He responded by blowing the dust off an old rifle – it might have been a muzzle-loader – and keeping it handy until wife Dorothy (herself gone some 15 years) asked him what he was thinking about. "You shoot that thing and it might kill both of us," she said.

Dunnell never suffered fools too gladly, but most of his hard edges were only on the business side. He was both approachable and helpful to fresh faces in the press box and as kind a guy, even to competitors, as came along. If you wanted to know something from Dunnell, all you needed to do was ask him.

Elsewhere in this paper today and in others where the written word still is appreciated, they'll be telling Dunnell stories, usually with an appreciative shake of the head and small smile.

Dunnell, born Dec. 24, 1905 – the same day as Howard Hughes, if you're counting legends – didn't dwell on the fact that he had pretty much seen it all before, whatever it is. He prided himself on his work being, and staying, fresh. He could hang black crepe when necessary, but he spent much of his work time looking forward.

There was a time, though, in the auxiliary press box in the upper deck at the Metrodome in Minnesota, maybe 90 minutes before the World Series began in 1987. A handful of baseball writers had finished their plugger columns and were killing time with a little game: What was your favourite memory from the first World Series you covered?

It went around the circle and the younger guys talked about We-Are-Family in 1979, or Carlton Fisk's home run in '75. The older guys mentioned Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich from 20 years before. Somebody saw Bill Mazeroski in 1960 and another old-timer spoke of the Brooklyn Dodgers and '55. Dunnell said nothing until prodded, knowing he would win this one by a landslide. He recounted how "Oom Paul" Derringer, a big righthander for the Cincinnati Reds, pitched two complete games, including Game 7. The year had been 1940.

The other writers politely deferred. But what else was new? When it came to Dunnell, we always did. We always will.

Album Sales Plunge

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Alex Veiga, The Associated Press

(January 03, 2008) LOS ANGELES–U.S. album sales plunged 9.5 per cent last year from 2006, continuing a downward trend for the recording industry, despite a 45 per cent surge in the sale of digital tracks, according to figures released Thursday.

A total of 500.5 million albums sold as CDs, cassettes, LPs and other formats were purchased last year, down 15 per cent from 2006's unit total, said Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks point-of-purchase sales.

The shortfall in album sales drops to 9.5 per cent when sales of digital singles are counted as 10-track equivalent albums. About 844.2 million digital tracks sold in 2007, compared to 588.2 million in 2006, and digital album sales accounting for 10 per cent of total album purchases.

Last year, Apple Inc.'s iTunes Music Store became the third-largest music retailer in the U.S.

Nielsen does not provide revenue figures.

Overall music purchases, including albums, singles, digital tracks and music videos, rose to 1.35 billion units, up 14 per cent from 2006.

The recording industry has seen CD album sales decline for years, in part due to the rise of online file-sharing, but also as consumers have spent more of their leisure dollars on other entertainment purchases, such as DVDs and video games.

Warner Music Group Corp. artist Josh Groban had the best-selling album with Noel. The album, a collection of Christmas songs, sold around 3.7 million copies.

A soundtrack for The Walt Disney Co.'s popular High School Musical franchise was second with around 2.9 million units sold.

The Eagles' comeback album, Long Road Out of Eden, scored the third spot, selling around 2.6 million copies, despite being independently released and available for purchase only at Wal-Mart stores.

Three out of the five top-selling albums for the year were released late in the fourth quarter.

Among last year's other top selling albums were a Hannah Montana soundtrack and offerings from Alicia Keys, Fergie and American Idol alum Doughtry.

The major recording companies' album market share remained ostensibly the same from 2006, with Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group holding a 31.9 per cent share, up slightly from the previous year.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG, continued to rank second with 24.97 per cent, though it dropped 2.4 per cent from 2006.

Warner Music remained third-largest, with a 20.2 per cent share, an increase of 2.1 per cent.

Britain's EMI Group PLC ranked fourth among the majors, with a 9.3 per cent share, down nearly 1 per cent.

The decision by some major recording artists to push back album releases initially anticipated for the fourth quarter last year may have contributed to the decline in album sales.

One trend that should prove encouraging to record labels: 50 million albums were downloaded last year, a 53 per cent uptick.

"That says consumers are embracing both the track format and the digital album format," said Rob Sisco, president of Nielsen Music.

In all, 23 per cent of music sales were derived from digital purchases, Sisco said.

A report released in November by Jupiter Research LLC forecast digital music sales will continue to grow to $2.8 billion (U.S.), comprising 34 per cent of U.S. consumer spending on music in 2012.

The recording industry continued to benefit from mobile music, with mobile phone owners buying 220 million ringtones, the firm said.

The holiday season brought an upswell of music purchases, with music sales in the last week of the year totalling 58.4 million units, the biggest sales week ever recorded by Nielsen SoundScan.

David Pakman, chief executive of eMusic.com Inc., attributed strong holiday sales at the online music retailer in part to an apparent pick up in sales of low-cost digital music players.

"That's showing us that digital music adoption is reaching into some price-sensitive areas," Pakman said.

EMusic subscribers downloaded nearly 500,000 tracks and audio books on Christmas Day alone. The company's paid subscriber base exceeded 400,000 at the close of the year.

2008 Arts Preview

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com

FILM

Scorsese, Mendes, Harold and Kumar

RICK GROEN

This, you may have noticed, is the time of year when rear-view mirrors compete with crystal balls, when journos proudly drape themselves in pundits' garb, looking back to assess the past and peering ahead to predict the future. Happily, in an industry so rooted in tradition (read: sequels, remakes and rusty formulas) as the movie biz, predicting is a much easier game. There, the rear-view mirror is the crystal ball, and what was is always a pretty good indicator of what will be. So, a squinting Nostradamus, I am prepared to eyeball the coming months and offer these modest but bet-the-house-on-it musings.

There will be, in 2008, movies with numbers after their titles, and most will prove yet again that the bigger the number, the paler the imitation. The exception? Bond 22, of course, only because Daniel Craig is an actor with serious resurrecting powers, blessed with the brains and the brawn to put the "Oh!" back in 007. Elsewhere on the franchise front, Harry Potter will continue to potter away in the late fall, Narnia will chronicle anew in the early spring, and neither will disappoint too much or amaze in the slightest. Dearly hoping to amaze after his recent spate of relative clunkers, Steven Spielberg will be remining that old motherlode, the Indiana Jones saga, with Harrison Ford out to show that age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his finite variety. We'll see about that.

There will be continued advances in the kind of CGI technology that allows intrepid directors to make the puerile action of comic books look really, really realistic. This will remind me of the continued advances in technology that allow John to text-message Mary instantly from across vast distances, an innovation that neatly sidesteps the niggling question: "Yeah, but does John have anything to say to Mary?" Speaking of comic books and their cinematic adornment, Hollywood talent scouts will do what they have long done best: Spot a smart and visually gifted foreign director — in this case, Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth fame — and offer him big bucks to fritter away his skills on the likes of the Hellboy series. Yep, watch for Hellboy II on July 11 — that would be summer blockbuster season.

What else? There will be another Michael Moore doc, complete with more accusatory wagging of his chubby middle finger. And there will be our very own Mike Myers, attempting in The Love Guru to combine in a single movie his twin passions in life: the sensible one for humour and that twisted, risible, tragic one for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I'm guessing, too, there will be plenty of romance comedies dotted with that ubiquitous love-in-bloom montage, followed by the breaking-up-is-hard-to-do montage, each scored with some sappy tune telling us what we already know. More predictable still, there will be lots of celebrated thespians giving lots of brief interviews to lots of attentive media, all confirming something else we already know — that the famous have precious little to say, and the fawning abundant time to listen.

Yet this also will come to pass: The movies, as they always do, will offer pleasant, even joyous surprises. The surprise could be delightfully small — just a fancy-tickling line of dialogue, or a lovely shot bursting out of an otherwise mundane palette. Or it could be major, like the emergence of a talent as vibrantly unique as Ellen Page, or of a film so gripping, and so rich in emotional fallout, that you leave the theatre with your world view momentarily changed — the same streets look different, the same heart beats faster. Here, then, are five upcoming pictures that could alter your landscape and quicken your pulse. No guarantees, but maybe, just maybe.

Shine a Light: Martin Scorsese, who has borrowed so liberally from the Rolling Stones to score his own movies, now goes directly to the source. This is a concert film, and, since the Stones can still put on a credible concert, and Scorsese knows a thing or two about capturing rock on film, here's hoping. (April 4)

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay: They were a hoot in White Castle and, if terrorists and torture and wrongful detention can be made the stuff of politically incorrect yuks, these two are just the boys for the job. (April 25)

Revolutionary Road: Based on the once-neglected and now-revered Richard Yates novel, this tale of suburban angst is directed by a veteran of the genre — Sam Mendes, brandishing his American Beauty credentials. With Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the warring leads, Yates's dispatches from domestic hell threaten to be searingly raw. (Slated for release on Dec. 19)

Where the Wild Things Are: Take Maurice Sendak's groundbreaking children's book, then add to the mix director Spike Jonze who, in Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, has been known to break a little ground himself. It might be a sublime match. (No release date yet.)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Curious, indeed, given the mix of talents here: Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt and Tilda Swinton starring in a David Fincher adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, the one about a man who's born old and ages backwards. Sounds like a fine idea in this youth-worshipping culture, and, perhaps, if we just began the calendar in December and reversed to January, we could all trick ourselves into doing the same. In which case, Happy Old Year. (Nov. 26, on the current calendar)


THEATRE

The first look at Stratford's new gang of four

MICHAEL POSNER

If buzz is any criterion, it promises to be an exciting year for theatre in Canada.

At Stratford, there's eager anticipation about what the new creative team of four will achieve. Antony Cimolino, Marti Maraden, Des McAnuff and Don Shipley — have replaced Richard Monette, festival artistic director for 14 years.

Befitting the recently renamed Stratford Shakespeare Festival, this season is rich in the Bard — Romeo and Juliet (directed by McAnuff), Hamlet (Adrian Noble), The Taming of the Shrew (Peter Hinton), All's Well That Ends Well (Maraden) and Love's Labour's Lost (Michael Langham).

But there are several novel productions as well, including Fuente Ovejuna, by Shakespeare's Spanish contemporary Lope de Vega, The Trojan Women by Euripides, Caesar and Cleopatra, by George Bernard Shaw and the Canadian premiere of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Emilia Galotti, directed by Germany's Michael Thalheimer.

A few hundred kilometres southeast, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Shaw Festival artistic director Jackie Maxwell has assembled an appealing playbill that features two Bernard Shaws ( Mrs. Warren's Profession and Getting Married) and two musicals ( Wonderful Town and A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim's musical adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night, directed by Morris Panych).

Black Watch, an acclaimed production of the National Theatre of Scotland arrives in Toronto as part of the city's Luminato festival in early June. Based on interviews conducted by playwright Gregory Burke, the drama deals with the lives of British soldiers who served in Iraq, focusing on the Scottish regiment.

Jointly with the CBC, the Mirvish organization is staging The Sound of Music — the lead part of Maria to be cast during a six-week reality TV series called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria.

Next month, the Mirvish organization is importing a much-celebrated production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Part I and II, adapted from the Dickens novel in a new version by David Edgar.

Meanwhile, impresario Aubrey Dan unveils the crown jewel in his inaugural subscription season, Des McAnuff's Tony Award-winning production of Jersey Boys, at Toronto's Centre for the Performing Arts Aug 21.

The smaller Toronto companies have yet to announce their 2008-09 programs, but there are intriguing possibilities in what remains of the current seasons. Factory Theatre has two short works by a much-talked-about young playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, Russian Play and Essay, opening Jan. 19. The Canadian Stage Company has assembled a formidable cast — Fiona Reid, Seana McKenna and Joseph Ziegler — to mount Sarah Ruhl's comedy, The Clean House, starting Feb. 11. And the Tarragon is offering Michael Frayn's acclaimed Democracy, directed by Richard Rose, starting Feb. 26.

While Olympic hoopla is some way off, Vancouver's theatre community has claimed 2008 as its year for athletic achievement — and border crossings.

Clark and I somewhere in Connecticut is shaping up to be the didja-see-it star of the always-stellar PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (Jan. 16 to Feb. 3). When actor/writer James Long discovered a suitcase full of photo albums, he and his buddies from the theatre underground embarked on a quest to reconstruct the archivist's life — and turn her into a play.

The Playhouse also has at least one new trick up its sleeve: Morris Panych will direct his adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's The Amorous Adventures of Anatol, a story, laced with that classic Panych snarl (Feb. 16 to Mar. 8).

And Canada truly comes to town when The Magnetic North Theatre Festival (June 4 to 14) corrals the finest English theatre in the country on Vancouver stages. At the centre of the action is Hive 2, a bento box of small, interactive dramas presented by 11 British Columbia companies.

With files from Michael Harris in Vancouver


MUSIC

The buzz is that The Fly is coming to the opera house

ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN

Given what we're doing to the planet these days, 2008 may find no better musical outlet for the state of things we're in than the forthcoming opera version of The Fly, David Cronenberg's 1983 film about a guy whose DNA gets scrambled with that of a housefly when his teleporter device acquires one bug too many. Howard Shore is writing the music, Dante Ferretti (who won an Oscar for art direction on the film The Aviator) is doing the sets, and the show will open at the Paris Opera on July 1 and at Los Angeles Opera on Sept. 7. The L.A. premiere comes one day after former stand-up comedian Woody Allen's debut as an opera director (talk about a freaky transformation) with the same company in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

Also in 2008, Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music will open its much-anticipated expansion of its Victorian headquarters, including a new recital hall. What I saw of the project during a hard-hat tour was very impressive. Maybe we'll also hear some positive news of l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal's continuing efforts to build a concert hall, which has attracted hefty government support but no private development partner as of yet.

Perhaps this year we'll move closer to some more rational, comprehensive model for the distribution of digital music. Radiohead's experiment with a hybrid system (pay-what-you-will for an MP3-quality download album and pay regular price for a later hard-copy issue) may, when all the numbers are in, turn out to be viable for many other musicians.

Maybe people will start to get fed up with the often tinny sound of ear-buds attached to miniature music players, and we'll have a rebirth of interest in what used to be called hi-fi. In my utopian 2008, Neil Young's three concerts at Massey Hall in November could launch a related movement among performers to rethink the merits of the one-night stadium show. A big-box experience may be okay when you're buying a table-saw, but so many musicians end up subverting their own music in these cavernous hockey barns. Recent experiments in high-definition movie-house broadcasts by high-brow organizations like the Metropolitan Opera may spark some similar activity among popular musicians. A lot of people might actually prefer a broadcast of Led Zeppelin from a historic London theatre to an evening spent squinting at them from the upper reaches of Montreal's Bell Centre, assuming the band would even tour.

And I'm hoping for exciting if not life-changing recordings from quite a few musicians next year, including kd lang, Hot Chip, Hayden, Cat Power, Magnetic Fields, Kronos Quartet, Beck, Laurie Anderson, Goldfrapp, Erykah Badu, Sam Phillips, Luke Doucet and Shelby Lynne. And that's just in the first quarter.

Events high on my radar for the coming year include the Canadian Opera Company's production of Janacek's final opera From the House of the Dead, apparently the first full production in Canada (opening Feb. 2); Ben Heppner's Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Tristan und Isolde (March 22); New Music Concerts' Toronto celebration of the music of 20th-century pioneer Edgard Varese (next Saturday and Sunday); new-music festival s from orchestras in Winnipeg (Feb. 2-7), Toronto (April 9-17), Ottawa (March 26-29) and Windsor (Jan 28-Feb. 3). I'm also looking forward to the next editions of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, the Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont., the Osheaga Festival in Montreal, the Halifax Pop Explosion and the Dawson City Music Festival.


PUBLISHING

Trade hopes buyers' focus turns to content, not price

JAMES ADAMS

After all of last year's fuss and fury, huffery and puffery, have Canadians had enough of Conrad Black and Brian Mulroney?

Toronto-based McClelland & Stewart is betting the answer is no. The long-established publishing house, which marks its 102nd birthday this year, is planning to publish an exposition on corporate governance and legal persecution by the convicted former media baron. Black reportedly began writing it early last year after completing his 1,152-page Richard Nixon biography, The Invincible Quest, which M & S published as a $45 hardcover last May.

Meanwhile, Mulroney is on tap to add an afterword to his 1,152-page tome, Memoirs 1939-1993, which M & S is issuing as a trade paperback in early September. The former prime minister is expected to expound on the Karlheinz Schreiber affair, which he only flicks at in the acknowledgments in the current hardcover. It won't, however, be an exhaustive treatment; that's for another, bigger book that M & S hopes will surface by the end of the decade.

More immediately, the Canadian publishing industry is going to be occupied for the next several weeks with fallout from the 2007 autumn/Christmas season. How many unsold copies of, say, Jean Chrétien's autobiography will be flooding back to Knopf Canada from the Indigo chain, which, depending on whom you talk to, accounts for 65 to 80 per cent of Canada's retail market? And what impact did the various discounts that multinational publishers, distributors and booksellers offered on U.S.-originated titles have on their bottom lines as the industry tried to adjust to the rise of the Canadian dollar?

Just how volatile the swings in the exchange rate will be in 2008 is, of course, anybody's guess right now. That said, expect to see fewer dual prices on U.S.-originated titles for sale here — and if a book does carry both a U.S. and Canadian suggested list price on its cover, there's probably going to be no more than a 10 or 12 per cent discrepancy between the two. Simon & Schuster Canada, for one, has indicated it's adopting a blend of the two regimes: It plans to have a Canada-only price on about 150 U.S.-originated titles for sale this spring, but that price will be slightly higher than the American price.

The hope here, of course, is that the price issue that dominated discussion and generated so many headlines in the last four months of 2007 will recede, and consumers will concentrate on content more than cost. Certainly the Canadian lists for this year appear to offer an eclectic feast for the eye and mind.

Among the highlights: new fiction from A Complicated Kindness author Miriam Toews (a novel called Who Do You Have?), Rawi Hage (a novel, C ockroach), David Bergen (a novel, The Retreat), poet Patrick Lane (a debut novel called Red Dog, Red Dog), Bill Gaston (a Champlain-themed work of historical fiction called The Order of Good Cheer), Mavis Gallant (a collection of little-known short fiction), Joseph Boyden (a novel following on the success of Three Day Road), 1997 Giller Prize nominee Shani Mootoo (a novel). Also on tap: an anthology of excerpts from the winners of the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Non-fiction authors with new titles that should spark interest include Gabor Maté ( In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Encounters with Addiction), former Globe and Mail science writer Alanna Mitchell ( The Deeps), Taras Grescoe ( Bottomfeeder: A Seafood Lover's Journey to the End of the Food Chain), John Ralston Saul ( A Fair Country) and Stewart Berman, who's edited an oral biography of Broken Social Scene called This Book is Broken.

Other things to keep an eye on:

Canada Reads: The contest begins its seventh annual instalment in February on CBC Radio One. Along with the Scotiabank Giller Prize — which marks its 15th anniversary in November — it's become the only guarantor of bestsellerdom for a Canadian novel or collection of short stories in this country. Look for a repeat of the phenomenon once the winner from this year's short list of five is announced Feb. 29.

Indigo Books and Music: The retailer will continue as the dominant player in the sector but you're going to see more indies and mini-chains opening stores in niche locales in our larger cities carrying a carefully edited selection of titles. TYPE Books in Toronto's Forest Hill Village, which opened barely a month before Christmas last year, and Ben McNally Books in Toronto's Bay Street hub — it opened last summer — are two examples of the trend.

Canadian history: The genre has had a tough go sales-wise in the last five years. But Penguin Group (Canada) is hoping it can buck the trend with its Extraordinary Canadians series, which makes its debut in March. With John Ralston Saul as general editor, the series pairs a well-known writer (and not necessarily one associated with non-fiction) with a well-known deceased subject. Among the combos: David Adams Richards and Lord Beaverbrook, M.G. Vassanji and Mordecai Richler, Charlotte Gray and Nellie McClung, Wayne Johnston and Joey Smallwood, Joseph Boyden and Louis Riel/Gabriel Dumont.


TV

Writers' strike may have a silver lining for Canadian TV

JOHN DOYLE

So, what next in the season of the Hollywood writers' strike?

As everyone involved in the TV industry steps into 2008, the atmosphere is twitchy, the mood is acrimonious. Here in Canada, nervousness is pervasive.

The writers' strike in the United States has made the year 2008 the great unknown. When will the strike end? Nobody knows. The pilot season — that time when studios and broadcasters order scripts for upcoming shows to air in the 2008/09 season — would normally already be under way. Now, it's kaput.

This means that come fall, 2008, we might see a new TV season like none before it — one that's hastily done, half-arranged and still very much in development when it starts.

In Canada, January is the real start to the TV season, and CBC plans to launch several major dramatic series in the next few weeks as well as a high-profile reality series. The writers' strike may have a silver lining in Canada — the lack of new episodes of hit series might draw bereft viewers to Canadian content they wouldn't normally choose. On the other hand, all these new Canadian series may fail to have an impact, and the U.S. channels might ignore the Canadian content that's for sale. Hence, the nervousness.

The good news for viewers is that there will be some excellent TV in the first few months of 2008. There are great cable shows coming. And some of those CBC series are definitely worth your time.

First, the U.S. networks: They've got reality shows ready to roll, and the great juggernaut of network TV, Fox's American Idol, returns on Jan. 15, unaffected by the strike. And they've still got scripted series held in reserve for the mid-season.

NBC's Law & Order has already returned (here on CTV) with new cast members. Law & Order: Criminal Intent also comes back to NBC on Wednesday. Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — airing here on CTV — starts on Sunday, Jan. 13, then moves into its regular Monday slot the next day for the second part of a two-night premiere. A follow-up to the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it chronicles what happens when Sarah (Lena Headey) goes on the offensive against that pesky technological enemy bent on destroying her life and perhaps the world. Her son, 15-year-old John Connor (Thomas Dekker), knows that he may be the future saviour of mankind. Fox also has New Amsterdam, a moody thriller about an immortal detective (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in New York.

ABC has the Sex and the City-inspired Cashmere Mafia, starting tomorrow, with Lucy Liu and Bonnie Somerville, about four women pals in New York. In direct competition is NBC's Lipstick Jungle, starting Feb. 7. Written by Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell, it stars Brooke Shields and Kim Raver ( 24) as successful women seeking love in New York. Meanwhile, ABC also has Eli Stone, starting Jan. 31 (in Canada on CTV), a drama starring Jonny Lee Miller as a hallucinating lawyer. The eight completed episodes of Lost are expected to air on ABC and CTV at the end of the month.

Whatever happens in the coming months, the key issue behind the strike by U.S. TV writers — the streaming of TV shows on the Internet — is likely to dominate the TV landscape for the year and beyond. The manner in which TV is delivered to viewers is changing constantly. Fortunately, there is still a lot of quality TV to be delivered and enjoyed.

Here are five to watch:

The Wire (HBO/TMN, Movie Central): The show, returning for its final season tomorrow about cops and drug dealers in Baltimore is easily the most ambitious, intricate and powerful U.S. TV drama ever made. And the new season doesn't disappoint. Creator David Simon, an ex-newspaper man, uses The Baltimore Sun paper as a backdrop to the continuing battle between forces that are equally flawed and compelling.

In Treatment (HBO/TMN, Movie Central, starts Jan. 28): This production stars Gabriel Byrne as Paul, a psychotherapist who seeks therapy for himself because, under his calm demeanour, he's a total mess. A half-hour drama-comedy, it will air Monday to Friday, with four episodes devoted to Paul seeing his patients and the fifth episode covering Paul's session with his own shrink.

Would Be Kings (CTV, date to be announced): This two-part miniseries loosely based on Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, is about two cousins, both police officers, dealing with corruption on the force. Starring Ben Bass and Natasha Henstridge, it's written by Esta Spalding and Tassie Cameron, two of our best TV writers, and directed by David Wellington.

The Border (CBC, starts Monday): Worth your attention not because it's brilliant — it isn't — but because it is anchored in highly charged, headline-grabbing Canadian issues. Outrageously melodramatic at times, it deals with big, big political and social matters in a big, broad manner.

MVP (CBC, starts Jan. 11)

CBC's new soap isn't so much about professional hockey as it is about the bedrooms of the players and the boardrooms of the teams. Sexy, funny and fresh, it's a gloriously entertaining series.


VISUAL ARTS

Toronto awaits the AGO reopening; Cuban art comes to Montreal

SARAH MILROY

In the visual arts, there will be three big stories unfolding in 2008: the opening of the Art Gallery in Ontario in Toronto in the late fall, the future direction of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and the yea or nay on the Vancouver Art Gallery's bid to move to a city-owned site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The closing of the Art Gallery of Ontario for the completion of renovations back in the fall has deepened the stillness of the art scene in Toronto.

But preliminary omens (glimpses from advance tours of the building itself, plus the news of acquisitions and commissions) are encouraging that the project will be worth the wait. The recent appointment of Catherine de Zegher (formerly of The Drawing Centre in New York) to head up programming also augurs well.

At the National Gallery of Canada, director Pierre Théberge, at the helm since 1998, will likely turn over the reins toward the end of next year, allowing for the most significant viz-arts head-hunting expedition on Canadian soil. My wish list for consideration includes Douglas Druick, chief curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, Louis Grachos, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, and Willard Holmes, who recently resigned as director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn. (all three of them high-achieving expat Canadians), as well as Marc Mayer, currently director of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, and possible dark-horse candidate Louise Déry at Montreal's Galerie l'UQAM.

Lastly, the Vancouver Art Gallery is still in a holding pattern on its building project, but it will be presenting to city council in the early spring and hopes are high for a swift resolution. Meanwhile, the volume of visitors at the VAG this year (more than 400,000) and the difficulty of installing contemporary art in the converted-courthouse spaces has made clearer than ever the need for action.

Canadians looking for a major international contemporary-art hit will have two must-do trips this year south of the border: the Whitney Biennial in New York (March 6 to June 1), and the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh (May 3 to Jan. 11, 2009).

At home in Canada, a number of shows are also worth cashing in the air miles for:

Simon Starling (at Toronto's The Power Plant, March 1 to May 11): Winner of the Turner Prize in 2005, Starling is one of Britain's most interesting emerging artists, making installation and sculptural works that take artistic process as their implicit subject. For the Toronto show, Starling is making a work that responds to the legacy of his historic fellow countryman Henry Moore. Starling has suspended a replica of Moore's sculpture Warrior with Shield in Lake Ontario, where it has served as host to a colony of zebra mussels. This paradoxical object, which will be displayed in this exhibition, comments on the issue of national autonomy and the colonizing force of invading cultural norms.

Joe Fafard (at Ottawa's National Gallery Feb. 1 to May 4): The travelling survey exhibition of quintessential Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard includes his bronzed miscellany of cows, horses and prominent Canadians from Margaret Atwood to John Diefenbaker. The show is followed by the gallery's summer blockbuster, The 1930s: The Making of the New Man (June 5 to Sept. 7). Under the artistic direction of Parisian curator Jean Clair, this compendious show will describe the way in which new concepts of man altered by advances in science find expression in art. It will include work by Giacometti, Arp, Kandinsky, Ernst, Picasso and Dali.

KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art (at the Vancouver Art Gallery, May 17 to Sept. 7)

This exhibition will explore the interface between the world of fine art and the burgeoning field of animation, and includes Art Spiegelman's graphic novels animated cartoons by Tim Johnson and anime/manga images by Toshiya Ueno and Kiyoshi Kusumi. Krazy! is followed on Oct. 4 at VAG by WACK! Art and Feminist Revolution, the landmark touring show from the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that aims to chart comprehensively the rise of the women's movement in art from 1965 to 1980.

Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today (at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Jan. 31 to June 8): A massive exhibition will take us through Cuba's history as a Spanish colony, a playground for U.S. capital and, most recently, a communist state, all the more timely now with the recent mention of a formal withdrawal from political life by the ailing Fidel Castro.

Geoffrey Farmer (at Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Feb. 8 to April 20): A career retrospective of this Vancouver artist, who has developed a strong following over the past 10 years for his photographs, videos, drawings, sculptures and installations.


DANCE: An embarrassment of riches on the horizon

PAULA CITRON

Looking ahead to dance in 2008, it is a very rich landscape indeed in terms of international companies.

Ottawa dance fans continue to be the luckiest in the country, with the motherlode presented by the National Arts Centre. Between January and June, a starry array of eight big names from abroad will appear at the NAC (www.nac-cna.ca). To a lesser extent, Montreal is also blessed as several companies going to Ottawa pass by that city as well. Perhaps the most notable ensemble appearing in both is Belgium's Rosas (Montreal/Usine C/Jan. 29-Feb. 1; Ottawa/NAC/Feb. 5). Revered artistic director Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, herself a genius of contemporary dance, has taken on as her muse another genius, minimalist American composer Steve Reich, with Fase. Montreal does have a plum of its own with Danse Danse presenting Nacho Duato's always exciting Compania Nacional de Danza from Spain (Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier/March 6-8).

Thanks to both World Stage and Luminato Festival, Toronto is also picking up big names. The former is presenting Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company from the United States (Enwave Theatre/April 16-19), a company that has transformed socio-political statements into high art. Also of interest is New Zealand's all-male, testosterone-driven Black Grace (Premiere Dance Theatre/April 30-May 3) that is also appearing in Ottawa (NAC/April 15).

Luminato (June 6-15) is bringing in the iconoclast American Mark Morris Dance Group and Frankfurt, Germany-based ballet bad boy William Forsythe and his The Forsythe Company (dates/venues to be announced/www.luminato.com). On the Luminato national front, Alberta Ballet is sharing the stage with the National Ballet of Canada (Four Seasons Centre/June 13- 22). AB is remounting its huge hit The Fiddle and The Drum choreographed by Jean Grand-Maître to the songs of Joni Mitchell. The National performs Harald Lander's ultra-classical Etudes and Forsythe's cheeky The Second Detail.

Vancouver will be getting its own big-ticket series next season, but until then, the city is being well-served in a more modest way by Kokoro Dance and its Vancouver International Dance Festival. During the month of March, the festival is featuring an impressive list of 14 companies from Spain, France, Japan, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver (www.vidf.ca).

Home seasons by Canadian companies are also noteworthy. Brett Lott, artistic director of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, is creating his much-anticipated first full-length work (WCD Studio/March 6-8), while Halifax's Mocean Dance has had a great idea for The Reaction Project (Sir James Dunn Theatre/May 22-24). In the latter, four choreographers (Carolle Crooks, Sara Harrigan, Lesandra Dodson and Lisa Phinney) have created works from the same seed of inspiration.

Veteran choreographer/dancers are touring the country. Margie Gillis is celebrating her 35th anniversary as a performer with M.Body.7, a lavish premiere featuring nine female dancers ranging in age from 10 to 72. Gillis appears in Montreal (Théâtre Maisonneuve/Feb. 29 and March 1) and Vancouver (Centennial Theatre/March 14 and 15). Peggy Baker is taking her own choreography and a new duet by James Kudelka to Calgary (University Theatre/Jan. 23 and 24), Montreal (Cinquième Salle/Feb. 20-23) and Toronto (Betty Oliphant Theatre/March 6-9). Gioconda Barbuto and Emily Molnar have created a multimedia show with photographer/video artist Michael Slobodian that opens in Montreal (L'Agora de la danse/Jan. 16-19) before touring to Vancouver (Scotiabank Dance Centre/Feb. 7-9).

The 2008 season is also seeing new work from ballet artistic directors.

Ballet British Columbia's John Alleyne is creating his rite of passage The Four Seasons (Queen Elizabeth Theatre/Feb. 14-16), his first new work in two years. There are a lot of very good extant ballets to Vivaldi's popular score so the benchmark for Alleyne is high. Alberta Ballet's Jean Grand-Maître is taking on a massive project in Mozart's Requiem (Calgary/South Jubilee Auditorium/March 27-29; Edmonton/North Jubilee Auditorium/April 4-5). This homage to lost soldiers features an 100-voice choir in both cities. On a smaller scale, Ballet Victoria's new chief Paul Destrooper is creating Amsterdam to the songs of Jacques Brel (McPherson Theatre/Feb. 8).

It is a very difficult to list the top five upcoming dance events of 2008. The following choices, in alphabetical order, reflect my personal taste.

[bjm_danse]/Aszure Barton (Ottawa/Canada Dance Festival/June 7-14/Date TBA): The NAC and CDF have commissioned a new work from Alberta-born Barton for the company formerly known as Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. The brilliant New York-based Barton produces delectable works that are quirky, deep, cheeky and poignant. Her quicksilver, unpredictable movement always astonishes the eye.

The Chimera Project/Malgorzata Nowacka (Toronto/Harbourfront Next Steps/Enwave Theatre/April 3-5): From the very blast of her very first piece, Nowacka shook the audience with her ability to capture the disaffected Queen Street East, mean streets punk culture. Muscular and fierce, her movement is an avalanche of energy. Her new work, The Hidden Spot, is her spin on faith and secularism.

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens/Ohad Naharin (Montreal/Théâtre Maisonneuve/April 3-5, 10 and 12; Ottawa/NAC/April 8): The Montreal troupe is a master at executing the highly charged, spirited and provocatively hip dances of the acclaimed, avant-garde Israeli choreographer. The program Ode to Ohad features his first original work for Les Grands and his first ever ballet-sur-pointes.

Mark Morris Dance Group (Toronto/Luminato Festival/MacMillan Theatre /June 6-15/Date to be announced): This is Morris's first visit to Canada in 10 years and he's coming in a big way with three different programs. For someone who broke all the rules of contemporary dance when he formed his company in 1980, the always passionate and droll choreographer is still reinventing himself with each new innovative work.

Martin Bélanger (Toronto/Dancemakers Presents/Dancemakers Centre for Creation/Feb. 14-16; Vancouver International Dance Festival/Roundhouse Theatre/March 21-22): The dance essay Spoken word/body by the sensational Montreal choreographer/writer is a cunning fusion of language and physicality — or what he calls a "body-consciousness relationship." His personal concerns range from science fiction to the influence of fear, and everything in between. This clever 2003 work made Bélanger's formidable reputation overnight.

Barack Obama Wins In Iowa

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 04, 2008) Could Barack Obama actually become the first black president? If what happened Thursday night in Iowa is any indication, he could very well be on his way to fulfilling that goal.

The Illinois senator captured the first Democratic prize on the road to the White House with a comeback win over former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who edged out one-time front-runner Clinton for second.

"We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America," Obama, 46, told thousands of cheering, chanting and foot-stamping supporters.

 The third-place finish was a huge blow for Clinton, 60, the former first lady who a few months ago was considered in some quarters the almost certain Democratic nominee. She now faces immense pressure to turn around her campaign in New Hampshire over the next five days.

 "Today we are sending a clear message that we are going to have change, and that change will be a Democratic president in the White House," Clinton, with husband and former President Bill Clinton at her shoulder, said in Des Moines.

 Obama's win effectively makes him the candidate to beat among Democrats, and a win next week in New Hampshire could put him in prime position to capture the nomination. After Nevada on January 19, the next big contest would be in South Carolina, where more than half of the voters in the Democratic primary are likely to be black.

 Obama finished with 38 percent of the vote, easily beating Edwards at 30 percent and Clinton at 29 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson finished fourth at 2 percent.

 Huckabee finished with 34 percent of the vote, ahead of Romney's 26 percent. Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson were tied at 13 percent, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 10 percent.

 Entrance polls showed Obama won big among young voters and even beat Clinton among women voters as his message of change resonated with voters.

Meanwhile on the Republican side ...

 Mike Huckabee capped a stunning political rise to beat rival Mitt Romney in Iowa, despite being dramatically outspent by the wealthy former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist.

 Both Obama and Huckabee, 52, a former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister, once trailed better-known rivals Clinton and Romney in their race to be on the November election ballot.

 But they rode a wave of grass-roots enthusiasm to victories by touting an outsider's message of change in Washington.

 "Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics," Huckabee, with actor and supporter Chuck Norris nearby, told cheering backers in Des Moines. "Tonight we proved that American politics is still in the hands of people like you."

 The 2008 campaign is the most open presidential race in more than 50 years, with no sitting president or vice president seeking their party's nomination, and the Iowa contest was the most hotly contested in the state's history.

 Turnout among Democrats topped 220,000, smashing the previous record of 124,000 in 2004 -- testament to the high enthusiasm among Democrats heading into November's election.

 For the winner in Iowa, the prize is valuable momentum and at least a temporary claim to the front-runner's slot in the battle to win the party's presidential nomination in the November election.

 All eyes now turn to New Hampshire, which holds the next contest on Tuesday and where Romney and Clinton will face high-pressure bids to revive their candidacies.

::SCOOP::

The-Dream

Source:  Universal Music

The only positive by-product of an industry asleep at the wheel is a dream. With over a decade of hit-making experience and a certified smash in Rihanna's #1 single, "Umbrella"
Terius "The-Dream" Nash is stepping from behind the scenes with a wake-up call.

"Music is uninspiring right now" says the confident Atlanta native. "The bar needs to be raised; a creative standard should be set in music. I'm hoping that the real quality in these songs shines through, and leaves a sounding impact on the listeners."

His debut CD,
Love Hate, is a sonic gauntlet thrown down against complacent, cookie cutter music. Propelled by the first single "Shawty is a Ten," the mastermind behind the explosive J. Holiday single "Bed" will do nothing short of redefine R&B for 2007 and beyond.

Born in North Carolina, Terius Nash was raised in the Bankhead section of Atlanta, Georgia. Before he found his calling in music, the industrious young man made ends meet doing everything from working at Checkers to becoming a collections agent.

After graduating from H.S., Dream joined a singing group, Guess Who, signed by local rapper Raheem. They sang the hook to "Most Beautiful Girl," which became moderately “It did pretty good, got a lot of spins," says Nash.

A few years later, The-Dream began writings songs for up-and-coming rappers and hooks for his peers. He got his first publishing deal in 2003, when he signed to Peer Music after writing B2K's single, "Everything." The song, off B2K's platinum sophomore album, Pandemonium, truly put The-Dream on the map.

"My grand daddy told me I would never make any money in this business. Music just wasn't a reality for him. I never knew until I was 21 or 22 that I could actually be successful in the music business."

With one success under his belt, Terius began to build momentum and soon found himself associating with the upper echelons of pop stardom.

"A year after B2K I did the Britney Spears and Madonna record," he begins. "I recorded vocals and wrote to that record after Tricky, the guy I did 'Umbrella' with, decided he didn't want the track anymore. I was the new guy in the building so I stayed overnight running in and out the booth recording myself in Pro Tools. Tricky and a writer before me, Penelope, went up to N.Y. [to meet] Britney. They played a lot of songs and Britney was like, I dunno. Then they got to "Me Against the Music" and she was like, "Oh, I'm digging that. I love that hook!"

Unfortunately, that song didn't push The-Dream to the level he wanted to reach. He spent two years working on other projects including Nivea's second album, which he executive produced. "Trick and I just started making records. By the time we got to Umbrella we were like 'ok, we got it.'" Dream insisted that L.A Reid hear the song and the rest is history.

Now The-Dream is finally in the building, combining all of his hit-making talents for his debut, Love Me All Summer, Hate Me All Winter. Throughout his career, Dream has seen people change like the weather, but in the coming months he is forecasting a 100% chance of reign.

"It's more of what I'm giving other people. It's like the 80s; it's musical. I'm doing the 'Umbrella' routine to this whole album. All of my records are singles. The album is really visual as well. It appeals to all your senses, similar to 'Thriller'."

Songs like the soulful "She Needs My Love" and "Falsetto" solidify Terius' status as a triple threat, singer, writer and producer.

"Artists are gonna have to do some homework to find out who they are."

::MUSIC NEWS::

A Giant Milestone For A Big-Band Man

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(December 31, 2007) VANCOUVER — In Vancouver, a city so young that people often lament its lack of history, an exception comes in the form of a swinging old world bandleader.
Dal Richards is a Vancouver institution: about to host his 73rd straight New Year's Eve concert tonight, followed days later by a pair of shows to mark his 90th birthday.

He has been playing music in Vancouver, where he grew up, since the 1930s – most notably at the swanky Panorama Roof atop the Hotel Vancouver, where he and his orchestra performed for 25 years. At the other end of the venue spectrum, Richards has played for 68 straight years at the Pacific National Exhibition, running a talent show that helped discover one of the biggest names in music today, fellow British Columbian Michael Bublé. (Boogie-woogie and jazz pianist Michael Kaeshammer was also a PNE talent-show discovery.)

Richards has hosted national and local radio shows, he has been named to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, he holds the Queen's Jubilee Medal, and the City of Vancouver once declared a Dal Richards Day. In Vancouver, he is a household name synonymous with big band, New Year's Eve, and good guys making it big.

Like many storied careers, it might not have happened, save for a fateful event which at the time seemed like a disaster. At the age of 9, while running with a slingshot, Richards tripped, fell and gouged out his left eye. The doctor instructed Richards's mother to keep him in a darkened room for two to three months, to adjust to life with only one eye. “I grew very despondent,” Richards said earlier this month, sitting by the fireplace in his downtown Vancouver loft. “The doctor finally said, ‘We've got to find a solution for this.' ”

He suggested music might cheer the boy up, noting that Richards's mother played the piano. “ ‘Your son might have some musical ability,' ” he told her. As it turns out, he did.

Richards joined the Kitsilano Boys Band, learning clarinet and the saxophone. When he graduated from high school at 17, he was offered a job with the band at the Palomar Ballroom. After two years as a sideman, there was a falling out between the Palomar's manager and the bandleader. Richards was asked to take over and lead the orchestra.

“I didn't know what I was doing,” he says, “but that was good.”

There was a lot of that in Richards's early career. Around the same time, he proposed a two-show Sunday afternoon concert series at Stanley Park's Malkin Bowl. To his surprise, the park's board accepted his proposal.

That meant on two occasions Richards had to conduct a 30-piece orchestra – something he had almost no idea how to do. For advice, Richards sought out the conductor Gregori Garbovitzky. “I went to him, I explained my predicament, and he laughed. He said ‘How long do we have?' I said ‘Three weeks.' He threw up his hands [and said] ‘no, no, no.' ”

But they mapped out a plan. For three weeks, Garbovitzky, cigarette hanging from his mouth, ash dropping down to the floor, sat in front of Richards and played his violin, while Richards conducted him through selections.

In the end, the concerts went smoothly. “It came out fine,” Richards says.

“That's been my life story – came out fine.”

In 1940, when Richards was 22, he was asked to fill in as bandleader at the Hotel Vancouver. It was to be a six-week stint that wound up lasting 25 years. “I just stayed on and on and on,” Richards says. There was a weekly live, national CBC Radio broadcast from The Roof, and an annual New Year's Eve broadcast.

But by the mid-sixties, big band music had fallen out of fashion, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were at the top of the charts, and the Hotel Vancouver decided it was time to move on.

For a year after losing that job, Richards tried to remain a full-time musician. But he only managed to pick up the odd gig here and there. The breaking point came the night he was playing the Boilermakers Union Hall. “I was climbing up the back stairs – I couldn't even afford a band boy – carrying … my P.A., my music, my horns, and sat down halfway and thought this is not the answer.”

Having spent so many years in a hotel, Richards figured he might try working in the hospitality industry. He enrolled in a course at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He was 48. “I hadn't been to school for 30 years,” he says. “[I felt] a great deal of trepidation.”

Math, in particular, was a problem. As his Christmas midterms approached, he worried he might fail. “I'd never written an exam; I didn't know how to go about it, even.”

Richards had also found a gig playing the Holiday Inn six nights a week. A BCIT math teacher named Frank Greuen, sensing Richards's panic, travelled to the hotel each night, and tutored him during intermission.

“At one point I said ‘Frank, what are you doing this for? You've got a family.' It was the week before Christmas. I remember to this day, he took my tuxedo lapels and said ‘Richards, you're the oldest guy on the campus. If I have to drag you by the ass, I'm going to get you through those Christmas exams.' ”

He passed his exams, ultimately graduating with honours and an award for high marks. “Probably the proudest award I'd ever received,” he says, holding up the statuette that still lives in his living room.

Richards worked as a manager in the hospitality industry for a few years, but when swing music came back into style, he jumped at the chance to work as a full-time musician again, which he has now been doing since the early 1980s.

Today, approaching 90, Richards has a twice-weekly radio show called Dal's Place, and he played more than 200 dates last year.

How does he manage it? “I like what I do,” he says, adding “I've got a young wife; that helps.” Richards's wife, Muriel, is 59. They've been together 10 years. His first wife, Lorraine, to whom he was married 35 years, died in 1984. They had a daughter, Dallas, who is a real estate agent in Victoria.

He keeps in shape with weekly visits from a personal trainer, and daily sessions on the stationary bike and with an exercise ball. He quit drinking and smoking 35 years ago. “I'm probably in better shape than I ever was at 60, 50,” he says. Richards had both knees replaced this year and in January, he'll have cataract surgery. “It's supposed to be a simple thing, I'm sure it is, but you're kind of nervous when you only have one [eye].”

Richards turns 90 on Jan. 5, but there are no plans to stop working. He says he has no idea what he would do if he retired. He also hopes to play at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He'll be 92.

“When I was 50 years old, I thought my next gig would be my last. Really. I started thinking that in a few years, I'd be 60 [and I thought] ‘I can't be doing this at 60.'”

Now at 90, he says he's busier than he's ever been. “It's incredible. It's just been a bunch of horseshoes all my life … I've been one lucky cat. No question.”

Dal Richards Orchestra plays River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C., on New Year's Eve; Dal's 90th Birthday Celebration on Jan. 5 at the Hotel Vancouver at 6 p.m. (fundraiser); and Dal's 90th Birthday Concert, Jan. 6 at the Orpheum at 2 p.m.

Tweet Sends Her 'Love'

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

(January 04, 2008) "I didn’t want anything to do with music. I would rarely put on the radio. I was totally hurt. It was like a bad relationship gone wrong. You go through that where [you're] hurt and shut off all the lights and sit in the dark."

 *R&B songstress Tweet came on the music scene almost five years ago; introduced to the masses thanks to superstar Missy Elliott.

 Tweet’s first album, “Southern Hummingbird” went gold thanks to her oft-described “risqué” single about self-love, “Oops (Oh My).”

 The singer followed her big bang in 2005 with her sophomore offering, “It’s Me Again,” but took a hiatus from recording soon after, trading in studio time for mommy-and-me time.

 “The last album came out in 2005, so it’s not too long, but long enough,” Tweet said of the time away and explained why she had taken the time off.

 “The second album, we only released the first single and after that, it was nothing,” she continued. “It wasn’t the original album. I had to redo and put more hip-hop sounding records [on it]. I guess because they really didn’t know what to do with me. So they tried to put me into hip-hop.”

 Not even her good friend Missy Elliott could help the situation, Tweet said. So she decided that it was just something she had to go through alone.

 “Because of the merge from the last album – I was on Elektra and I went to Atlantic – I didn’t get the backing that I wanted. So we decided we would not go further with the contract, and I decided I wasn’t going to do music anymore. It was so much strain after I had compromised redoing my second album to satisfy and compromise for Atlantic. I was worn out and kind of hurt and sad that I didn’t get the opportunity and backing. I was pouring my heart out through my songs and then not having anything happen – that takes a toll on you. It was like I was alone, so I felt I was better off alone, by myself at home with my daughter, so I became a full-time mom.”

 Tweet admitted that she began to actually hate music.

 “I wouldn’t even pick up a pen. I said, let me just chill out. I didn’t want anything to do with music. I would rarely put on the radio. I was totally hurt. It was like a bad relationship gone wrong. You go through that where [you're] hurt and shut off all the lights and sit in the dark. You go through the different emotions.

 Fortunately for fans, legendary music man Jeryhl Busby offered up a deal with his label, Umbrella Recordings, so coming this April, the singer returns with the disc, “Love, Tweet” ... a new label and renewed attitude.

 “I started writing at home and getting back into the swing of things. It was a great opportunity; able to own my own masters, and be a businesswoman at this time, and do it on my own. This time it won’t be anybody’s fault but mine. I’ll have the full responsibility of what goes on.”

 Tweet told EUR’s Lee Bailey that most of the disc is about love, so it was appropriate to title the disc, “Love, Tweet.”

 “It was definitely going to be about love, because the majority of the records are about love. I wanted it to be about me giving my fans and people that love my music a gift. So it’s like a signed autograph from Tweet,” she said.

     The new disc is expected to hit stores on April 8. The first single, "Good Bye My Dear," is produced by and features rapper T.I. Tweet will head out on a radio tour at the end of this month. Listen to the track here:

 “I don’t care for the lights,” she said of having celebrity status – and not missing it. “I like just to be in the studio and on stage. What comes after that, I’ll deal with it, but that’s the type of person I am. I’m over that.”

 “I plan to be out the whole year. I plan to tour forever. That’s what I love – to be on stage,” she said, and added, “I thank God for this second chance. He didn’t allow me to give up, even though I felt a little hurt. The fire was just too strong to let it go.”

Jazzman Trumpets Funky Brazilian Sound

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic

(January 09, 2008) Although he'll be in town this week to perform at the International Association for Jazz Education conference, on today through Saturday at the Metro Convention Centre, fans will have plenty of opportunity to check out
Randy Brecker as he sits in with local collaborators. The noted Philly-born, New York-based trumpeter performs at Lula Lounge Friday with former student Nick "Brownman" Ali's Electryc Trio, and Saturday at the Rex with Pat and Joe LaBarbera.

The Star caught up with the 62-year-old musician who tours about eight months a year with acoustic and electric bands; is adept in jazz, R&B and rock; and is best known for roles with Blood Sweat and Tears, Horace Silver, Charles Mingus and the Brecker Brothers with late sibling Michael.

Q: Tell us about your upcoming CD.

A: It's a Brazilian record I did in Sao Paulo about 2 1/2 years ago with all Brazilian musicians and music of some of my favourite Brazilian composers. It's fusion, definitely more Brazilian and bossa nova, but with some modern influences. I think its pretty radio-friendly; my stuff usually doesn't get that much airplay.

Q: I'm surprised to hear a jazz musician weighing commercial viability with artistic merit.

A: These days you have to find a common ground, because music's no good if no one hears it. That was okay maybe when I was 20. These days you have to play your cards a little tighter.

Q: Why are you talking about cutting back on touring?

A: I enjoy it, but I want to stay home and write music. That's kind of fallen by the wayside. In the old days, I could take a keyboard and computer and set it up in my hotel room, so I used to write a lot on the road. But with travel restrictions, weight restrictions, if I'm going to put anything in my suitcase, its going to be CDs to sell, not my keyboards. Times have changed, so I have to restructure everything so I have more time to write.

Q: What have you left to explore musically?

A: Music is such an all-encompassing endeavour, it's just a challenge to play everyday. I think my next record will be more acoustic than a lot of my projects have been. I want to concentrate on that a bit. I would love to play with Sonny Rollins some time. And I never did a record with strings. I did a couple of concerts with orchestras and great string sections, and I just love the sound of it.

Q: Do you think there'll be more posthumous releases from your brother Michael (who died last January)?

A: His wife Susan and long-time manager are actively searching through his computer. He was writing quite a bit, particularly the last two or three years when he was quite ill. He was working on fusing Bulgarian folk music and jazz. There are a lot of compositions in his computer that I hope will see the light of day.

Q: Do you plan to record a musical tribute to him?

A: It might be too soon for me to do something along those lines. We are doing some concerts in his memory. There's going to be a night dedicated to Mike at the JVC festival. I'm helping to put that together.

Q: Is there a second generation of musical Breckers on the horizon.

A: Mike's two children (ages 13, 17) are both interested in music. My sister's four kids all play and are quite good, but they are all doctors and lawyers. My daughter Amanda (age 23) is writing songs and singing. She just signed a deal with a new Japanese label ... (Randy's ex-wife, singer/pianist Elaine Elias) tried to give her lessons early on, but that didn't work, so she studied with other people. And she found her own way. She's more pop oriented. She has a knowledge of jazz, but doesn't have a predilection for it. I just literally stay out of the way.

Foursome Sounded Like Magic

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

(January 08, 2008) Most classical music in Toronto is about grand gestures – symphonies and operas and visiting international stars. But some of the most beautiful and memorable moments can be much more intimate and purely home-grown.

A case in point came last night as big and small musical worlds collided in a chamber concert by four young members of the Toronto Symphony and Canadian Opera Company orchestras: violinists
Jin-Shan Dai and Peter Seminovs, violist Joshua Greenlaw and cellist Elspeth Poole.

These are not people who play together often. Yet despite not being equally familiar with each other and having little rehearsal time, the result was magic. This quartet achieved a balance and finesse that bested some groups that have been together for years.

They had sat down on the stage at Trinity-St. Paul's Church to play two early-19th century chestnuts – the Op. 44, No. 2 work in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and the Op. 59, No. 1 piece in F Major by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) – for the first of five seasonal concerts organized by the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a volunteer organization that has been connecting TSO musicians with the opportunity to present chamber music since 1973.

During the final curtain call, former TSO principal viola Stanley Solomon got up onstage to present each player with a rose. He stopped the applause to ask the musicians what the name of their group was. Solomon was joking, but he needn't have been.

We should encourage Dai, Seminovs, Greenlaw and Poole to make return concert dates as soon as possible, and as often as possible.

The centrepiece of the evening was the Beethoven Quartet, the first of three to be dedicated in 1806 to Russia's ambassador to Vienna, Count Rasumovsky. It is considered to be one of the pinnacle pieces in the repertoire, something that last night's foursome proved to us all over again.

The four players highlighted the carefully drawn architecture, shaped aching melodic lines, textured the varied counterpoints and dazzled us with virtuosic fingers and bowings. Best of all, the playing was honest and unaffected, putting the spotlight on the music, not the performers, in both the Beethoven and the much more straightforwardly emotional Mendelssohn.

The concert may have only represented a thin slice of Western music, but the performances left us wanting nothing more.

Singer Bif Naked Battles Cancer

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(January 07, 2008) Canadian rocker Bif Naked says she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The 36-year-old, who lives in Vancouver, made the announcement on Sunday on George Stroumboulopoulos’s syndicated radio program “The Strombo Show.”

The Juno award-winning singer, whose real name is Beth Torbert, says she plans on taking things “one day at a time.”

“I have never been one to give up when an obstacle is placed in front of me,” she told Stroumboulopoulos.

“I am in the fight of my life and I’m lucky to have the support of my husband, Ian, and many friends and family members,” she said.

Naked said she found a lump two weeks ago during a breast self-exam.

“I went into my doctor for a check-up and he immediately sent me for tests, including a mammogram, which indicated a high possibility of cancer. From there things have gone at what seems like light speed: biopsy, blood tests, cancer clinic. It’s been two weeks from being completely healthy to cancer patient with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy scheduled.”

Officials with her record company say she will undergo surgery this week in British Columbia.

Some might say that her lifestyle isn’t reflective of your typical rock star. She is a live food vegan — basically eating only whole foods and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables — who keeps a stringent work-out ethic that includes yoga.

In her interview, she made a point of warning other women that cancer is “non discriminatory.”

“Even those in great health can be subject to cancer as a diagnosis,” she said.

“I urge all women at every age to self examine and go for scheduled mammograms. Early detection is the best tool in the fight against cancer.”

Naked was married three months ago to Vancouver sports columnist Ian Walker.

Welcome To Jazz 101: Improvisation Optional

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - J.D. Considine

(January 08, 2008) TORONTO — When the late Oscar Peterson was a piano-crazed youth in the 1930s, learning to play jazz was pretty much a do-it-yourself job. It wasn't as if he could sign up for a course in improvisation or jazz harmony at Montreal High School; he had to find teachers on his own and hope that what they taught would provide the tools he needed.

Peterson was lucky enough to have found an ideal instructor in Paul de Marky, a Hungarian who taught at Montreal's McGill Conservatory. On a pianistic level, the aspiring jazz musician was in awe of de Marky's playing. "He'd be sitting there playing and playing, with this beautiful sound that he'd get out of the instrument," Peterson says in Gene Lees's biography, Oscar Peterson: The Will to Swing.

But he was also lucky, because de Marky was also sympathetic to Peterson's desire to play jazz. "After the lesson, he'd say, 'What are you doing now, in your field, in the jazz field ... ' " Peterson says in the book. "I remember playing The Man I Love for him. He'd say, 'I don't hear the melody singing. ... Make it sing.' "

Aspiring jazz pianists these days don't need quite so much luck to master both their instrument and their field.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of the
International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE), a coalition of musician-educators who will be holding their annual convention in Toronto this week, jazz education has become a standard part of the music curriculum in high schools and universities around the world.

It has been a revolution in music education, and a fairly recent one at that. "The number of schools that offer degrees - not just undergraduate, but graduate degrees and doctoral degrees - has increased enormously," says Paul Read, director of graduate jazz studies at the University of Toronto and the Canada representative on the IAJE executive board.

"We're offering a doctoral degree in jazz performance at the University of Toronto now," he adds. "In 1991, when I first was hired, I don't know if there was a doctoral degree in jazz performance in North America, period."

Obviously, mastering the art of improvisation is a part of such an education, but it's not as if jazz studies consist entirely of Jamming 101. At the university level, it's not unusual for an aspiring jazz musician to put in as much time studying Bach as bebop, along with intensive classes in harmony, theory and composition.

Jazz is incredibly demanding music, points out Bill McFarlin, IAJE executive director. "It requires very strong musicianship," he says.

"You have to have a command of the mechanics, but you also have to have a command of being a whole musician. You have to be able to cover the whole portfolio if you're going to be a performer.

"That's one of the reasons that most jazz musicians who are professionals in today's world are equally comfortable in a Broadway setting, in a classical setting, in a jazz setting. And being a comprehensive musician only strengthens their jazz playing."

Not that everyone in a jazz studies program ends up playing jazz. A lot of pop musicians, from guitarist Bruce Cockburn to singer Tracy Bonham to members of the progressive metal band Dream Theatre, are products of jazz programs, as are a huge number of studio musicians. In a sense, jazz programs have become, for popular music, what the conservatory system has been for classical.

"There has been a bit of a revolution, but I think of it more as an expansion," Read says. "Occasionally, you still hear the argument that you must play classical before you play jazz, but that notion is really an anachronism. You do have to learn the discipline of playing an instrument and often classical music offers that to a student."

Jazz also draws on many of the creative devices and analytical tools used by classical composers. "I remember when I was in school, we analyzed a Charlie Parker solo for species counterpoint," McFarlin says. (Parker's counterpoint, he adds, "was perfect.")

Knowing how to create music as well as play it is, perhaps, the greatest difference between the jazz curriculum and its classical counterpart. After all, in order to get a job with a symphony orchestra, a violinist need only play - albeit incredibly well. But, as McFarlin points out, "jazz musicians have to be spontaneous composers, and it's that spontaneous composition - a.k.a. improvisation - that certainly strengthens our musicianship as players."

Thanks to the phenomenal growth of jazz programs since the IAJE began its advocacy for jazz education in 1968, some have joked that jazz education has become more popular than jazz itself - a notion that took on the weight of actual news after a New York Times article last year suggested that jazz education was growing even as the music itself was dying.

Although flattered by the argument, neither Read nor McFarlin believes that jazz is anywhere near death's door. "The music has never been a pop music, except maybe in the thirties, when it found its way into the dance halls," Read says. "So I would say that it's not as popular as it once was, but it's as strong as it's ever been.

"The reason I say that is that recording the music has just exploded. There are so many people who are putting recordings out and just distributing them worldwide - that just never would have been imagined in the days of Charlie Parker."

True, that hasn't translated into the sort of sales figures that would make a record executive drool, but that doesn't mean the audience isn't there. "I truly believe more people are listening to jazz today than 10 years ago, because of satellite radio and iPods and these other things," McFarlin says. "I just don't think it's being properly measured."

*****

IAJE shows

The IAJE will bring thousands of jazz musicians and educators to Toronto for its annual convention, which runs from tomorrow through Saturday. Naturally, there will be panel discussions and workshops, on topics ranging from The Jazz Trio to Reducing Unnecessary Tension in Performance. But there will also be performances. Some highlights open to the public:

Jazz Masters Gala

Originally, the biggest and most prestigious event - Friday's concert and awards ceremony that will honour the late Oscar Peterson - was to be open to the public. But the IAJE decided late last week that the event will be open to conference attendees only. Still, those who will attend will see pianist Oliver Jones paying tribute to Peterson as a soloist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Weekday highlights

Things start tomorrow with an 8 p.m. performance at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's Constitution Hall featuring New York Voices with saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, as well as guitarist (and Herbie Hancock sideman) Lionel Loueke. At 11 p.m., the Scandinavian-inspired combo Nordic Connect plays the Convention Centre's John Bassett Theatre.

On Thursday, saxophonist Courtney Pine hosts an evening of English jazz, with Martin Taylor, Dennis Rollins and others, starting at 8 p.m. in Constitution Hall.

At 11, pianist Kenny Werner will lead the Delirium Blues Project at John Bassett Theatre.

Weekend highlights

Saturday sees Constitution Hall filling with the sound of Canadian jazz, thanks to a showcase featuring clarinettist François Houle, Barry Romberg's Random Access Large Ensemble, plus an all-star quintet with saxophonist Rich Wilkins, trumpeter Guido Basso, pianist Don Thompson, bassist Dave Young and drummer Terry Clarke. It starts at 8 p.m.; tickets are available through Ticketmaster, 416-870-8000 or http://www.ticketmaster.ca.

Finally, although Darcy James Argue's experimental big band Secret Society North, featuring such stalwarts as Christine Jensen, Kevin Turcotte, Tim Hagans and Linda Allemano, is playing at IAJE, the public won't have access to the show. Fortunately, the group is also playing at the Tranzac (292 Brunswick, Ave.) at 8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15, and available at the door.

Kate Nash Simply Herself

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

(January 08, 2008) The music industry often manufactures bright young things who thus come with a readymade "overnight" success story to trumpet, but Kate Nash has, refreshingly, turned the tables and lured the biz into her own Cinderella narrative.

Scarcely 18 months ago, the tart-tongued Londoner decided she wasn't going to let rejection from university and drama school dissuade her from pursuing a career that excluded "working in fast-food restaurants and crap shops." She started logging home demos of the songs she'd been writing on and off since the age of 14 and aggressively booking gigs about town.

In a fit of bravado, she shot a note one day last winter to upstart British pop starlet Lily Allen via MySpace and linked to a few tunes she'd recorded in her family's suburban front room whilst hobbled with a broken leg. To Nash's amazement, Allen – whose rapid rise to infamy can be credited almost entirely to outta-nowhere Internet buzz – pronounced the songs "well good, I promise" on her own MySpace page and suddenly, a far-flung network of virtual "friends" was registering agreement.

By May, Nash had a record deal and a U.K. hit single in "Foundations," a barbed farewell to an unappreciative boyfriend who reaches the limits of her patience when he drunkenly pukes on her trainers.

"It did go quickly for me, that can't ever be lied about," says Nash, 20, minutes before heading to a sound check for a gig at the Mod Club Theatre last night. "It went massively quickly, which is a shock to the system, for sure. But I'm a quick learner, thank God."

One definitely gets the impression that this headstrong redhead is enjoying the "honeymoon" phase of sudden pop notoriety.

Nash is endlessly upbeat about starting her first, largely sold-out North American tour and still somewhat awed that her first road swing through the European continent had forced upgrades to larger venues on most stops.

This is someone, after all, who composed many of the witty electro-pop songs on her debut album, Made of Bricks, on the basic music-making software program GarageBand late at night while whispering into a microphone so as not to wake her family.

"I was sick of waiting for someone to give me a chance to do something fun. I'm young, I'm inspired, I've got stories to tell," she says. "I've always been really scared, but I'm at this point now where it's like, reassess the situation and do something scary – it's always gonna be worthwhile."

Nash is determined to keep a foot in her grassroots beginnings despite her rapid elevation to the musical jet set and claim to a No. 1 album in the U.K.

She's recently started her own cut-and-paste fanzine to maintain a tether to her DIY beginnings, and worries that interview after interview is turning her into a caricature of the Kate Nash who so honestly and openly inhabits the plainspoken, sometimes self-critical songs on Made of Bricks. She's scored a hit record by simply being herself.

"I think if you didn't like my album, you probably wouldn't like me," she says. "I've said this to people before, but I am genuinely as annoying in person as I am on record, so if you don't like the album, let's not hang out."

Red-Letter Day For Blu-Ray

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Peter Svensson, The Associated Press

(January 08, 2008) LAS VEGAS–The International Consumer Electronics Show is turning out to be a celebration party for Blu-ray, the high-definition format that Sony Corp. backed, and a wake for a rival movie-disc technology pushed by Toshiba Corp.

Just two months ago, Sony CEO Howard Stringer said the fight between Blu-ray and Toshiba's HD DVD was at a "stalemate," and expressed a wish to travel back in time to avert it.

The impasse was broken Friday by Warner Bros. Entertainment, the last major studio to put out movies in both formats.

It announced it was ditching HD DVD and from May on, would only publish on Blu-ray and traditional DVD.

The decision puts a strong majority of the major studios, five versus two, in the Blu-ray camp.

Asked yesterday at the show if the Warner announcement decides the format war, Stringer said: "I never put up banners that say `Mission Accomplished.'" But his cheerful delivery belied his words.

By contrast, the main media event scheduled for the show by the North American HD DVD Promotional Group, which includes Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., was cancelled after Warner's defection.

"We are currently discussing the potential impact of this announcement with the other HD DVD partner companies and evaluating next steps," the group said in a statement.

But the shift in the format struggle isn't a reason to run out and buy Blu-ray players. Today's players can't take advantage of features planned for future Blu-ray discs.

Yesterday, Panasonic parent Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. demonstrated prototypes that can handle the new interactive features coming to Blu-ray. A prototype Panasonic player was showing an Alien vs. Predator movie in which the viewer can get involved by bringing up an on-screen gun, controlled by the remote, and shooting at monsters to score points.

This spring, Panasonic plans to introduce a player for the so-called BD-Live standard for Blu-ray technology. It will be able to connect to the Internet to download movie trailers and will be able to play simple games.

Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, acknowledged in an interview that the HD DVD format had some advantages.

"The interactivity is more advanced on the HD DVD side, but I'm confident that we're going to get there" with Blu-ray, he said.

HD DVD discs were almost cheaper to produce, being more similar to traditional DVDs than Blu-ray discs.

But Warner's Blu-ray discs outsold their HD DVD rivals by three to two in the holiday season, not counting Planet Earth titles, which had an unusual following among owners of HD DVD players, Tsujihara said.

The fight between Blu-ray and HD DVD is reminiscent of the struggle between Betamax and VHS to dominate video tapes. In that case, the results were the opposite: Sony's more costly higher-quality Betamax lost out to the cheap and convenient VHS.

Rob Bohl of Highland Park, N.J., bought an HD DVD player in December for $179.98 (U.S.), without considering a Blu-ray instead. He had forgotten about the other format.

"I wish I had been more careful and waited," he said.

He feels a bit "burned" by the experience, but it's likely not enough to keep him out of the market.

"The fact is: when I get my tax refund, they'll probably have a cheap player, and I'll probably wind up getting one," Bohl said.

MUSIC TIDBITS

 

Oscar Peterson Tribute Grows

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(
January 09, 2008) Nancy Wilson, one of the world's great song stylists and jazz vocalists, is coming to Toronto to honour Oscar Peterson (pictured). So is composer and band leader Quincy Jones, who holds the record for Grammy nominations with 76. Wilson has been added to the line-up of performers at Saturday's free tribute concert (4 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall). Jones will speak, sharing memories of Peterson. So will clarinettist Phil Nimmons. Quebec musician/entertainer Gregory Charles has also been added to the list of performers. There will be no tickets. Doors open at 3 p.m. with admission on a first-come, first-served basis.
 

Mary J. Blige Has Billboard In 'Pain'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 04, 2008) *Mary J. Blige has just scored the fourth No. 1 album of her career with 204,000 sold copies of "Growing Pains," according to Nielsen Soundscan.    The album sends Josh Groban's "Noel" to No. 3 after five weeks at the top position. Alicia Keys' former No. 1, "As I Am," rose one to No. 2 this week with sales of 193,000 units. Elsewhere in the top 10, Chris Brown's "Exclusive" was up five to No. 5.   On the Hot 100 singles chart, Flo Rida's "Low" remains No. 1 this week, and the track's 470,000 digital sales has set a single-week sales record, easily trumping the former title-holder, Fergie's "Fergalicious" at 294,000.      Keys' "No One" holds tight at No. 2 on the Hot 100 while Timbaland's "Apologize" featuring OneRepublic also stays put at No. 3. Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss" featuring T-Pain remains at No. 4 while Soulja Boy's "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" surges back into the top tier, sliding up 11-5.  Janet Jackson's "Feedback" debuts this week at No. 84, and Keys' other single, "Like You'll Never See Me Again," stays at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

 

Janet's A Baby Maker

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 04, 2008)  *With her new album due shortly, Janet Jackson is in a talking mood. The singer says she gets a lot of fans approaching her saying that they've “made babies” to some of her songs.   “You don’t know how many people come up to me and say, ‘This child was conceived listening to you’,” she told the TV show Extra.  The 41-year-old singer, whose album comes out in February - revealed that the new CD contains plenty of romantic tunes, as well as other genres.  “I love the dance. I love the mid tempo stuff. I love the slow songs and the baby making songs. It still has that element to it,” she said talking about the project.

 

Wayne Marshall Plots New Album For 2008

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(January 03, 2008)  Dancehall artiste Wayne Marshall is plotting a major comeback to the dancehall fold in 2008.  Marshall whose real name is Wayne Mitchell, says his forthcoming album will be produced mostly by Big Ship’s Stephen McGregor. ‘For the next album I am trying to think outside of the box, because I am putting all of my experiences on record’, Marshall told this column recently.   Marshall’s debut album Marshall Law was released in 2003 via VP Records. He has since parted ways with the New York based independent reggae outfit.  ‘The album is coming out the second quarter of 2008 and it is being produced in conjunction with Big Ship. There will be other producers contributing to the album, but for the most part, Big Ship will take care of the production’, Marshall added.  Marshall currently has a slew of singles that are impacting at radio. These include Smoking on Some, Who and Dem, Keeping it Gangster with the Alliance, Pot Hole on the bad wire rhythm; and Me By Myself.  Marshall currently has the number three song on the charts in the British Virgin Islands with the Guardian Angel rhythm influenced Give Me Strength.  He recently recorded All For One with the Alliance and Scare Dem Crew. That song was produced by Christopher Birch. ‘We are also working on the Alliance album so that is something that the fans can look forward to early next year’, said Marshall.  Higher Degree featuring Sean Paul, Wings of An Angel featuring Tessanne Chin, and a collaboration with Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley are among Marshall recently recorded singles.

 

Canadian Idol Audition Dates Announced

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Star wire services

(January 07, 2008) Toronto auditions for Canadian Idol are scheduled for April 19-20 at a location to be announced later. Hamilton auditions will be March 1-2.

 

Nate Dogg Suffers Stroke

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 7, 2008) *Before there was a T-Pain, there was
Nate Dogg – the hip-hop-flavoured singer who at one time seemed to appear in every other hip hop record on radio. MTV News is confirming that the popular singer and childhood friend of Snoop Dogg suffered a stroke on Dec. 19 and was hospitalized for seven days before being released the day after Christmas. Rumours had circulated that the artist had a heart attack, but a coordinator for Nate's recently-formed gospel choir, Innate Praise, told MTV that he was hospitalized with symptoms of a stroke.  He is currently in a medical-rehab facility to assist him in his recovery.   

 

Ray J Inks Koch Deal For New Album

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 8, 2008) *
Ray J's Knockout Entertainment has partnered with entertainment company DEJA34, founded by Shaquille O'Neal and Money Mark, and KOCH Records to release his upcoming album, "All I Feel." Ray J says of the new venture, "I feel great about bringing Knockout Entertainment to KOCH. I enjoy making great music and I believe in working very hard. I'm excited to be with a team who believes in me and my ideas."  "All I Feel" is due sometime in April, however, the set's first single, "Sexy Can I" has already shipped to radio for a mid-January radio push. Featuring artist Yung Berg (fresh off his hit "Sexy Lady"), the single features a video shot last month by R. Malcolm Jones (Lil' Mama, DJ Khaled, Clipse). Producers on the album include Rodney Jerkins and up and coming producer Detail. Snoop Dogg, The Game and Lil Wayne are among the featured guest artists.

 

::FILM NEWS::

Danny Glover: The Honeydripper Interview With Kam Williams

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - By Kam Williams

(January 04, 2008)  *Born on July 22, 1946, Danny Lebern Glover was the eldest of five children raised inSan Francisco by James and Carrie Glover, both of whom were postal workers.

 After graduating from George Washington High School, he attended San Francisco State University where his progressive political perspective was forged as a member of the Black Student Union.

 He developed an interest in acting in his late twenties, which is when he started studying at the Black Actors’ Workshop in San Francisco. Danny’s screen debut came in Escape from Alcatraz in 1979, though he found his breakout role as Moze opposite Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance in Places in the Heart.

 His most notorious outing arrived in 1985 as Albert in Steven Spielberg’s screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple. However, he is likely to be best remembered for the four buddy flicks he made with Mel Gibson during the run of the Lethal Weapon franchise. Plus, he has handled title roles as Nelson Mandela in Mandela, as Boesman in Boesman and Lena, and appeared in everything from Witness to Predator 2 to The Rainmaker to Beloved to The Royal Tenebaums to Manderlay to Shooter to Dreamgirls.

 Danny enjoys his best role in years in his latest film, Honeydripper, a historical drama set in the Jim Crow South. The movie has him re-teamed with iconoclastic director John Sayles and complemented in this endeavour  by a very talented ensemble cast which included Charles S. Dutton, Mary Steenburgen, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Stacy Keach, Keb’ Mo’, Sean Patrick Thomas and Yaya DaCosta. 
 
 Here, Mr. Glover talks not only about Honeydripper but about his ongoing commitment to the downtrodden and the disenfranchised.


Danny Glover: Hey, Kam, how’re you doing?

Kam Williams: Okay, and you?

DG: Good! Good!

KW: Thanks so much for the time. I really appreciate it.

DG: Oh, you’re welcome.

KW: So, what interested you in the script of Honeydripper?

DG: Oh, man, it always starts with the story. This story was just so compelling, plus the period was fascinating, and I liked the way in which John Sayles, the director, was able to integrate the music with all the changes that were happening during that period. So, there’s not only the musical dynamics of it, and using music as a metaphor in some way to talk about change, the piano being superseded by the electric guitar and rock music etcetera, but also the way in which John has layered the story, and layered the characters. They have their own histories which reflect a much broader history of the changes which were about to occur. 

KW: What I appreciate about this film is how it recaptures a slice of African-Americana from a period during which black people’s existence was denied by the mainstream culture. As a child of the Fifties, I remember how people would yell for everybody to come when you just saw any black face on television.

DG: Absolutely! And the images then on TV were stereotypes and buffoons. And the images of Africa were of Tarzan. So, I just think that there’s a way in which this film, in some sense, takes another step in terms of presenting people in real time in real life. And as we reflect upon that, we see the embodiment of not only the musical dynamic and changes that occurred within that period of time, but also we see the emergence of the social changes and the political changes that were happening as well.
   
KW: The musical aspects of Honeydripper resonated with me because I grew up in a black community with a lot of jazz greats: Count Basie, Ella, Lena Horne, Lester Young, Fats Waller, Oliver Nelson, Billie Holiday and others, during a time when their music was being eclipsed in popularity by newcomers to the neighbourhood like James Brown. It was an interesting dynamic to observe.


DG: Where’d you grow up?

KW: In St. Albans, New York in the late Fifties.

DG: Then you saw it happen during a different period but, yeah, you hit on the way all forms of music indigenous to black people have resonated, whether it’s blues, or jazz, or gospel music, how that forms a foundation and resonates in our lives. My dad was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1919, at this moment in time when all this stuff was happening around music. And his life reflected that movement of music. So, music becomes something of a barometer for looking at the world and for looking at our situation through the music itself.

KW: I spoke to John Sayles the other day, and find it interesting that this is his third film with an African-American ensemble, along with Brother from Another Planet and Sunshine State.

DG: What I think is so wonderful about John is his historical relevance and reverence. You see, John really feels that, yeah, individuals may mark a moment, but things really happen with the collective movement of people. So, he’s able to identify, in his movies, this unique transition from the individual, as an individual lives his life, to what his life manifests in terms of the collective movement among a people as well. That’s unique, because he achieves this without being didactic, expository or rhetorical.

KW: So, tell me a little about your character in Honeydripper, Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis.

For full interview by Kam Williams, go HERE.

U.S. DVD sales Dropped In 2007

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Sue Zeidler, Reuters News Agency

(January 03, 2008) LOS ANGELES–U.S. DVD unit sales fell 4.5 per cent in 2007, marking the first big year-over-year decline for the category since the disc format debuted in 1997, according to preliminary estimates released Thursday.

After essentially flat trends for 2005 and 2006, sales of films and TV shows on DVDs fell from 1.144 billion units in 2006, to 1.092 billion units in 2007, said Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research, a California-based entertainment data firm. The figures include next-generation DVD sales.

Unit sales in 2005 were down 0.3 per cent from 2004, and inched up 0.2 per cent in 2006 from 2005, Adams said.

According to Adams Media tallies, consumer spending on DVDs fell 4.8 per cent to $15.7 billion (U.S.) in 2007 from $16.5 billion in 2006.

Adams noted that while unit sales were flat in 2005, spending also declined that year by about 1.5 per cent.

Major studios had hoped for substantial sales gains in the fourth quarter of 2007 with the release of such hits as Fantastic Four, Ratatouille, and Transformers.

But Adams said fourth quarter DVD sales essentially matched the fourth quarter of 2006.

"The main culprit has been the decaying sales of new releases," Adams said. "The average performance on new releases per box office dollar has been declining since 2003. And this year, sales of TV shows on DVD fell for the first time ever. Catalogue sales also declined," he said.

Catalogue sales are the sales of films that have been out on the market previously.

The DVD format was launched in 1997, when sales totalled about $6.2 billion.

The industry registered double-digit sales growth each year for much of this decade, until sales hit about $16.6 billion in 2004.

Adams believes a combination of factors have contributed to the slowdown, including the fact that most households have slowed building their DVD collections after extremely aggressive pricing on catalogue products drove huge gains over the past few years.

Adams believes the industry will likely suffer continued slowness in 2008 and 2009 as a format war for next-generation DVDs plays out and before next-generation DVD players become widespread. The industry will be back on a healthy growth track in 2010, as high-definition DVDs take off, according to Adams.

"High-definition is the ray of hope for the industry," he said.

U.S. Strike May Deliver Canadian TV Homeruns

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

(January 05, 2008) The bill for the U.S.
TV writers' strike finally arrived. In this country, we'll barely feel the pinch. Viewers will experience some changes in the weeks ahead, but any reduction in service will seem less pronounced on Canadian screens, where the winter forecast includes both frantic U.S.-network strike programming and worthy homegrown programs. Think of it as having the best of both worlds.

As predicted, it took a little more than two months for the standoff between networks and TV writers – which began two months ago today – to grind production south of the border to a halt. American broadcasters have already run out of fresh product, or are about to. From the TV season launched last fall, Fox has held back a few episodes of House, but otherwise, that's it.

After this weekend, no more Desperate Housewives; and already gone are Heroes, CSI: Miami and pretty much every other prime-time show. In a select few cases, the time slots will be filled with mid-season replacements written before the strike. In most cases, however, viewers can expect a solid wall of repeats.

Canadian television, on the other hand, appears to be rebooting itself. Much like the wise ant, broadcasters here have planned for the long, cold winter. “It's important to stay nimble in these situations,” says Susanne Boyce, president of programming for CTV. “The strike has forced broadcasters to become more innovative. The key for us is to keep a balanced schedule, and give viewers new reasons to hang out with us.”

There's scarce indication of the strike on CTV's midwinter schedule, which kicks off with roughly 200 hours of new programming this month. The CTV line-up includes the comeback of three TV heavyweights already in the can – Medium (Jan. 7), American Idol (Jan. 15) and Lost (Jan. 31) – and new episodes of the popular Canadian series Corner Gas and Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Also in the near future, CTV will debut three of the most closely watched launches from U.S. networks in this strike-ravaged campaign: ABC's Dancing with the Stars spinoff, Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann (Jan. 7); the reality-show lie-detector entry The Moment of Truth (Jan. 23); and the drama Eli Stone (Jan. 31).

As with Nip/Tuck and The Sopranos, CTV will again reach into the vault of U.S. cable television in the months ahead, too: The network has procured broadcast rights to the red-hot series Mad Men, which aired last fall on AMC. “Here in Canada, we have the advantage of being able to look at cable or other networks,” says Boyce. “We can cherry-pick programming.”

Similarly, the writer's strike doesn't seem to have dimmed the broadcast picture over at Global. “It hasn't affected us yet,” says Barb Williams, senior vice-president of programming and production. “The fall season played out pretty much how we expected. Of course, the line-up looks a little different heading into this next phase, but we have a strong schedule, and some of our biggest shows are back. We knew what was coming.”

Besides the launch of the new ABC prime-time soap Cashmere Mafia (Jan. 6) and the Canadian-made drama The Guard (about the Canadian Coast Guard's search-and-rescue team), Global's January roster is highlighted by the return of proven U.S. network performers that were waiting to see the light of day – most notably, Survivor (Jan. 16), still the mother ship of all reality shows, and a regular Top 5 show in Canada.

Also back on Global: NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice (Jan. 3) and a moved-up edition of CBS's Big Brother, airing some time next month. “ Big Brother has always been a summer show, so we're hoping it will find a new audience this winter,” says Williams.

Even with such new arrivals south of the border, the American networks will have a lot of hours to fill every day. So expect scores of rebroadcasts of U.S. series in the months to come; the CSI library alone could sustain a channel.

That prime-time sameness could nudge many rerun-weary viewers toward the CBC, the Canadian network likely to reap the most benefits from the writers' strike.

“We're hoping to take advantage of it, to be frank,” says Kirstine Layfield, executive director of network programming for CBC Television. “It gives our shows a better chance because we're not launching in such a competitive marketplace. We were always planning to launch things fresh in January anyway, which we did last year.”

Last year at this time, CBC had very good fortune with the launch of Little Mosque on the Prairie.

This January, the network is rolling out no fewer than four ambitious new contenders: The Border (Jan. 7); jPod, based on the Douglas Coupland novel (Jan. 8); the sitcom Sophie (Jan. 9); and the hockey soap MVP (Jan. 11).

So far, any panicky reaction to the writer's strike by U.S. networks has been limited to the fourth-place NBC making a great public deal of giving rebates – rumoured to be in the ballpark of a half-million dollars for some advertisers – as compensation for low-rated programming in the early days of the strike. The fledgling CW network followed suit soon after, but the other networks have yet to do so.

On this side of the border, meanwhile, the potential for advertising revenue remains quite healthy. “There's been a strong interest in our new shows,” says CBC's Layfield. At CTV, says Boyce, “The ad community is still talking positively. We're Canadian, so if the weather doesn't get us down, we can survive a writer's strike.”

Unless, of course, the strike stretches into the warmer months.

The only recent glimmer of hope for avoiding that was this week's return of the late-night talk-show hosts. But beyond that, both sides remains entrenched — and two deadline dates loom large.

The first comes next month. In any normal TV year, February would bring the coming-out party of announcements of next fall's pilot season. And May would usually bring the up-fronts in New York, when the networks announce their actual fall schedules.

But if the dispute isn't settled in the next few weeks, there may not be a next TV season. Even in Canada, that's causing concern. “It's ruining my sleep,” admits an exasperated Williams.

“This strike has been so unpredictable. You can try to plan ahead, but you're not really certain what you're planning for. We're taking things one week at a time.”

Striking Writers Reach Deal With United Artists

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - David Germain, The Associated Press

(January 07, 2008) LOS ANGELES – Striking Hollywood writers have reached a deal with Tom Cruise's production outfit United Artists Films to resume working while the strike continues against other studios.

The deal announced Monday was the first reached with big-screen producers by the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since Nov. 5. Terms were not disclosed.

"United Artists has lived up to its name. UA and the Writers Guild came together and negotiated seriously. The end result is that we have a deal that will put people back to work," said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West.

The guild said the agreement addresses key issues of writers, who walked off the job over their cut of potential profits from programming on the Internet and other new media.

The deal does not include MGM, the main parent company of United Artists.

In a statement, MGM said it "understands the desire of United Artists to resume its business activities but respectfully disagrees with its decision to sign an interim agreement.''

United Artists is not a member of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents MGM, Sony, Disney and other major studios in negotiations with the guild. Contract talks with the writers broke off Dec. 7, with no new negotiations in sight.

Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner took over the venerable United Artists banner in 2006 after they severed long-term ties with Paramount, where their production company had been based.

Founded in silent-movie days by Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith, United Artists had been largely mothballed in recent years.

The guild "agreement is important, unique and makes good business sense for United Artists," Wagner said. "In keeping with the philosophy of its original founders, artists who sought to create a studio in which artists and their creative visions could flourish, we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the WGA.''

The first United Artists release under Cruise and Wagner's stewardship, the war-on-terror drama Lions for Lambs, was a flop despite a top-name cast that included Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, who also directed.

Show Will Go On, Oscar Organizers Vow

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - David Germain, The Associated Press

(January 08, 2008) LOS ANGELES–Academy Awards organizers insisted Tuesday their show will go on, though some say the Oscar broadcast could evaporate after the writers strike shut down the Golden Globes ceremony.

Without special agreements with the Writers Guild of America, awards planners cannot hire union members to work on their shows, and such major telecasts would be the target of pickets.

With the Screen Actors Guild in lockstep with writers, nominees and other celebrities would have stayed away from Sunday's Globes. The same prospect now hangs over the Oscars.

"No matter what anybody says, if the WGA goes on strike and SAG is in support, then there's no Oscar show. It's as simple as that," said Harvey Weinstein, whose former company Miramax was a frequent Oscar winner and who now runs the Weinstein Co.

He said it's more likely the guild ultimately would agree to let its writers work on the Oscars.

But Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, said the union would turn down any request from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its members to work on the Oscars.

Gil Cates, producer of the Oscar broadcast, said the academy will put on its Oscar show Feb. 24 as planned – with or without the writers.

"We are going to do it," Cates said. "I can't elaborate on how we're going to do it, because I don't want anybody to deal with the elaboration in a way that might impact its success.''

The guild went on strike Nov. 5 over writers' shares of potential profits from programming on the Internet and other new media.

While the union has reached independent deals with David Letterman's production company and Tom Cruise's United Artists Films for writers to go back to work, negotiations with the bulk of Hollywood management have been frozen for a month.

Talks between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke off Dec. 7.

The strike has idled some TV programs and delayed a handful of big-screen films. Forcing high-profile awards shows off the air provides added leverage for the guild, depriving fans who like to watch the fashion and celebrity gloss of Hollywood's big parties.

Among annual telecasts, the Oscars run second only to the Super Bowl in viewership.

"The message we want to send is to bring the conglomerates back to the table to negotiate a deal, and then not only the awards season but the television season and the great film slate all comes back," guild leader Verrone said.

The producers alliance declined to comment Tuesday, said spokesman Jesse Hiestand.

Unable to reach a side deal with writers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on Monday cancelled the televised Globes dinner, typically a loose and rowdier night out for the stars than the Oscars.

An hour-long news conference on NBC, the host network to the Globes ceremony, will be substituted.

Calls and e-mails to a Globes spokesman were not immediately returned Tuesday seeking details on the precise format.

The news conference will consist of film clips, with awards probably announced by on-air talent from television news and entertainment shows, said Globes spokesman Stephen LoCascio. No nominees or other stars are expected to show up, he said.

The Globes' Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement to Steven Spielberg has been postponed until next year.

Parties by NBC Universal, the Weinstein Co., E! Entertainment and other outfits after the Globes also have been cancelled.

Oscar nominations come out Jan. 22, nine days after the Globes.

But Sid Ganis, academy president, said: "We're not panicking. We're preparing our show, and we're moving forward.''

Cates, the telecast's producer, thinks the Oscar show is "the most unique show on American television.''

"It has been on through wars and through presidential assassination attempts," he said. "It would be shameful if the Oscars were in any way impacted.''

Oscar planners have held out hope that the strike might be settled in time to let the show go on as planned. Writing on the ceremony typically would not begin until after the nominations, since "so much of the show is predicated on what those nominees are," academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger said.

The strike has cost the Los Angeles area $1.4 billion in lost wages, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

Cancellation of the Globes means an additional $80 million hit for local caterers, party planners, limousine companies, stylists and other support workers, Kyser said. If the Oscar ceremony fell through, it would add $130 million more in losses for the local economy, he said.

Golden Globe-winning films typically get a publicity boost that can mean millions more at the box office during the run-up to the Oscars. Studios still will be trumpeting their Globe wins, but without the televised ceremony, they lose what amounts to a three-hour infomercial advertising the movies.

Scrapping the Oscar telecast would be a huge loss for the academy and ABC given the millions of dollars in advertising income it generates.

If they dropped the telecast and held a private ceremony, Oscar organizers probably could avoid pickets by writers and ensure that celebrities would turn up.

Yet forging ahead with a ceremony that stars might boycott could backfire on the academy, said Tom O'Neil, a columnist for awards Web site theenvelope.com.

"The Oscars are more than just an awards show. It's Hollywood's family reunion," O'Neil said. "If they have to choose between the honourees in person or the TV show, and they choose the TV show, the message they send is it's not about us getting together and hugging and celebrating our greatest work together. It's really about the TV show and the revenue it brings in.''

For all the economic impact the strike is having on awards season, there's also a personal side. Weinstein had been excited about the company he would have been keeping at the Globes.

"Here is my dream table. I dreamed about this table, like since I was a kid. The greatest table of all time," said Weinstein, whose Golden Globe dinner companions would have included new wife Georgina Chapman, Denzel Washington, Cate Blanchett, Oprah Winfrey and Clint Eastwood.

"So Clint, Denzel, Oprah and Cate at my table. My nominees. I'll be at McDonald's instead with my kids.''

Weinstein's "The Great Debaters," directed by Washington and on which Winfrey was a producer, is nominated for best drama at the Globes. The Weinstein Co. contenders also include the Bob Dylan tale "I'm Not There," which earned Blanchett a supporting-actress nomination, and the Iraq War drama "Grace Is Gone," for which Eastwood received two nominations for musical score and song.

Along with such veterans of Hollywood's awards season, there are newcomers such as "Hairspray" star Nikki Blonsky and "Juno" star Ellen Page, both with Globe nominations, who will miss out on their first major awards party.

"I'm upset for Ellen and for all the first-time nominees to not get to experience what that's like," said "Juno" co-star Allison Janney. "I'm sad for them, but I think we all support the writers and stand behind them. I hope they get it settled before the Oscars, because we want Ellen to get her Oscar."

Golden Globes Will Air As Series Of News Programs

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

(January 08, 2008) LOS ANGELES–The Hollywood Foreign Press Association said yesterday the traditional Golden Globe Awards ceremony has been cancelled and will be replaced with a news conference format.

"We are all very disappointed that our traditional awards ceremony will not take place this year and that millions of viewers worldwide will be deprived of seeing many of their favourite stars celebrating 2007's outstanding achievements in motion pictures and television," said Jorge Camara, president of the association.

"We take some comfort, however, in knowing that this year's Golden Globe Award recipients will be announced on the date originally scheduled."

The show had been set to air Sunday.

Faced with a threat by actors to boycott the ceremony rather than cross picket lines, organizers were forced to look at other approaches that would preserve the star power of the unofficial kickoff to the Hollywood awards season.

Instead of the traditional show featuring a boozy, glitzy dinner party and awards presentation, the awards will be covered as a news event in a series of NBC specials, according to a Los Angeles Times report that cited an NBC memo emailed to movie studios.

Proposed coverage would include a Dateline NBC program with clips and interviews with nominees, a news conference announcing the award winners, followed by a show covering Globe parties, the memo said.

NBC was also in talks with Dick Clark Productions, which produces the ceremony, for an hour-long Globes retrospective.

The Screen Actors Guild had said it appeared that all the nominated actors would refuse to cross picket lines, a stance reinforced by publicists representing the stars.

With the show stripped of the star power of nominees such as Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington, it was unclear how big an audience it would attract for NBC and its advertisers.

Meanwhile the writers' union has reached a deal with Tom Cruise's production outfit United Artists Films to resume working while the strike continues against other studios.

The deal announced yesterday was the first reached with big-screen producers by the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since Nov. 5. Terms were not disclosed.

Elsewhere, Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America East, was among about 15 picketers gathered outside the Manhattan studio of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, which, along with Stephen Colbert's The Colbert Report was taped to air last night without writers' scripts.

Winship said the union's complaint wasn't with Stewart or Colbert, but "that Viacom and Comedy Central will not yet make a fair and responsible contract" allowing the hosts "to get back their writers.''

FILM TIDBITS

Penn To Head Cannes Award Jury

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(January 04, 2008) American actor and director Sean Penn will head the awards jury at the Cannes Film Festival this year, organizers announced yesterday. The festival's 61st edition is scheduled for May 14-25. Penn said in a statement that "a new generation of filmmaking may have begun," citing "increasingly thoughtful, provocative, moving, and imaginative films by talented filmmakers" in what appeared to be "a rejuvenation of cinema building worldwide.... "I very much look forward to participating in this year's festival."

Directors Guild Names 5 Top 2007 Filmmakers

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bob Tourtellotte, Reuters

(January 08, 2008) LOS ANGELES – The Directors Guild of America Tuesday nominated makers of five films for best director of 2007 in a key stop on the road to the Oscars during one of the wildest awards seasons in recent Hollywood memory. The guild nominated Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood, about the rise to wealth of an oil prospector, and Sean Penn with his wilderness adventure Into the Wild. Also making the DGA's list were brothers Joel and Ethan Coen for their gritty crime drama No Country for Old Men, Tony Gilroy for his directorial debut with legal thriller Michael Clayton and, finally, painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. "What makes this award truly meaningful to directors is the knowledge that only this one is decided by their peers," Directors Guild President Michael Apted said in a statement. The DGA represents the directors of movies and television programs, and annually its awards are a key indicator of which films may compete for the Oscars. Since the DGA began giving awards for film directing in 1949, only six winners have failed to claim the Oscar as best director in the same year, and the Oscars have a history of giving their top honour, best picture, to the winner of the best director Oscar. Last year, however, that general link between the DGA and Oscars proved true with Martin Scorsese winning best director at both the DGA and Oscars, and his movie, The Departed also winning the best film Oscar. The 2007 movie year has seen one of the wildest and most unpredictable Hollywood awards seasons in recent years with a host of critically acclaimed films in the running, such as the latest DGA nominees and others including the musical Sweeney Todd, wartime drama Atonement and teen-pregnancy comedy Juno.

Haggis To Ink Deal With Tom Cruise's Company

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(January 08, 2008) Canada's Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis is teaming up with his 29-year-old daughter Alissa to write the screenplay for United Artists' upcoming feature film based on the children's fantasy book series Ranger's Apprentice. Haggis said yesterday he was thrilled to get back to work, after news broke that United Artists was close to striking a special deal with the Writers Guild of America that will allow the studio to sidestep the screenwriters' strike. It follows a similar agreement struck by World Wide Pants, David Letterman's production house. Reached by phone as he left the writers' guild picket line at Twentieth Century Fox in Los Angeles, Haggis said he got interested in the book by Australian author John Flanagan after picking it up while visiting his elderly father in his hometown of London, Ont., last spring. "I read the story to my nine-year-old son over the summer and thought, This is a good book, I wonder if anyone owns the film rights, knowing someone would," said Haggis, whose film Crash won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006.  "I talked to my partner and said why don't we do this as a movie? We gave the book to [United Artists' CEO] Paula Wagner, who talked to [UA producing partner] Tom Cruise, and they decided let's do it. "I'm heading over there right now to figure out [our writing] deal with them," added the director, whose most recent movie was the Iraq war film, In the Valley of Elah. "I still haven't decided if I'm going to direct it yet." Haggis, who has been walking the picket line with his colleagues the past few months of the WGA strike, said he is relieved at the prospect of writing again. He expects to finalize the agreement with UA this week. Haggis applauded United Artist's stance. "Paula [Wagner] read [the writers' guild] agreement ... . She called me up and said what's the trick? What's the catch? This is a very reasonable agreement. Why aren't people signing it? "I told her I don't know. What the writers want is a ridiculously fair and reasonable deal, with very little money at stake. The multinational corporations [the studios] want to do what Wal-Mart has done in little towns. Eat everything up and own everything. The writers, directors and actors simply think they should have a small piece of their work." The Hollywood Reporter said United Artists paid seven figures for the film rights to Flanagan's series, about an orphan named Will who becomes an apprentice ranger and fights to keep the mythical kingdom of Araluen safe from invaders.  Haggis added that many of the studio chief executives are "privately very shaken" by United Artists' move. "A studio has never broken ranks. So they're worried others are going to do it and gain an advantage on them. And they will." That said, he does not see an end to the writers' strike any time soon. "I think their side is pretty entrenched. But I'm no longer interested in waiting for folks to come back to the negotiating table. They weren't negotiating before, and they aren't now. All I'm interested in, is breaking them up."

'Time' Is Near For Dutton's Lifetime Film

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(
January 9, 2008) *Lifetime has announced that its original movie "Racing for Time," directed by Emmy-winning director and actor Charles S. Dutton, will make its premiere on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.  The former star of "Roc" plays prison guard Cleveland "Stack" Stackhouse, who creates an unconventional sports program for some of the toughest and most violent female offenders at a juvenile correctional facility in an attempt to teach them teamwork, discipline and self-esteem.  Dutton's Stackhouse works at the Texas Correctional Youth Authority, where he witnesses the cycle of destructive choices and racial tensions among female teen offenders and decides to do something about it. He gathers African-American, Latina and Caucasian teens, and organizes a multi-racial track team behind the bars of the prison.  Participation in Stack's track team not only breaks down the racial divides between the girls, but puts them on a path to turn their lives around.

EUR Film Review: The Bucket List

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - By Kam Williams

(January 9, 2008) *The paths of terminally-ill Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan
Freeman) probably never would have crossed, if they hadn't ended-up on a cancer ward with a strictly-enforced, two patients per room policy.  For the former, as the billionaire businessman who owns the hospital, could easily have afforded a private suite. But cancer has proven to be a great equalizer, and he finds himself stuck in a bed next to a relatively-lowly auto mechanic. In truth, their difference in social status doesn't mean much anymore, given that they're both sickly and grouchy and have been dealt the same dire prognosis of less than a year.  The commiserating curmudgeons soon discover that they also share an aversion to the idea of just resigning themselves to their fates and slowly wasting away attached to tubes, monitors and hi-tech machines. Determined to go out on their own terms rather than capitulate to cancer, they start compiling a "Bucket List" of things they want to do before "Kicking the Bucket." Giving full vent to their imaginations, they come up with everything from getting tattoos to visiting the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and the Taj Majal to race car driving and skydiving to scaling the Himalayan Mountains to finding the perfect woman to joining the proverbial Mile High Club while cruising at 30,000 feet in the air aboard Edward's private jet.

For full review by Kam Williams – go HERE.

Toronto's E1 to Acquire RCV Entertainment

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(January 09, 2008)
Entertainment One has agreed to acquire RCV Entertainment, an independent European film distributor and owner of 1,900 movie titles, for an undisclosed price. RCV will be part of Toronto-based E1's filmed entertainment division headed by president Patrice Theroux. Key executives Jan Kouwenhoven, CEO, and Joke Wartenbergh, chief operating officer, have signed long-term employment agreements to remain with RCV and run the business. RCV released 37 new theatrical features in 2007, including ``Premonition," "Miss Potter," "Resident Evil: Extinction," ``Run Fat Boy Run," "Hairspray" and "The Golden Compass." Its films for 2008 include "Bangkok Dangerous" with Nicolas Cage; "The Eye," starring Jessica Alba; "Sleuth," starring Michael Caine and Jude Law; and director Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah," starring Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron. "This deal represents another significant step in our strategy, further enhancing our position as a leading international film and entertainment content owner and distributor," CEO Darren Throop said in a release. "Following our acquisitions earlier in the year of Contender in the U.K. and Seville in Canada, and our multi-territory distribution agreement with Summit Entertainment, we have now established ourselves as a multi-territory distributor of significant scale in the international market place. RCV is a clear market leader in the Benelux and we at E1 are thrilled to have them on the team" E1 is acquiring the distribution rights to RCV's all-rights library of more than 1,900 independent features, which accounted for more than 40 per cent of the company's 2006 revenue. They include ``What Women Want," "Sin City," "Perfume," "La Vie en Rose," ``The Notebook" and "Blade."

::TV NEWS::

This Is Not Your Mother's CBC

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(January 05, 2008) Three years ago, Richard Stursberg, then the new head of English television at the
CBC,made a promise to a roomful of sceptical broadcast executives that he would increase Canadian drama on his network by 50 per cent, pad his schedule with 10 per cent more comedy, and launch a prime-time soap.

This week, the public broadcaster unveils a slew of new shows – including the prime-time soap opera MVP, which focuses on the off-ice antics of hunky hockey players and their bored, bodacious wives, who flash more boob and bottom than ever before seen on our once-staid public broadcaster. With such bold dramas as The Border and jPod, and the single-mom sitcom Sophie rounding out the list of new CBC offerings, it would seem Stursberg has made good on his word. In fact, the executive has not only met his targets, but surpassed them, with total hours of dramatic programming up 68 per cent from 2005, and comedy up 41 per cent.

Mary Young Leckie, creator and executive producer of MVP, says the “sexy, not sleazy” show is a departure for CBC Television, which is clearly hoping to score with a younger crowd and more female viewers – both key demographics for advertisers.

“Mothers need not fear for the morals of their young watching the show … at least not too much,” promises Leckie, who pitched the series four years ago to Slawko Klymkiw, who was then CBC-TV's executive director of network programming (a title now held by Kirstine Layfield).

 “We're bold about showing a little bit of skin because we have some beautiful people in it, but there are great storylines here, and we've got a kick-ass soundtrack,” adds Leckie, who produced 2006's Shades of Black: The Conrad Black Story for CTV. “We think MVP is to the world of hockey what Entourage is to the cult of Hollywood celebrity.”

Certainly Cancon supporters are encouraged that the CBC, which for years has been criticized for not sufficiently hyping and financially backing its new shows, is finally making a concerted effort to promote its new series – an undertaking that just might result in Canadians tuning into Canadian-made programs instead of feeding on a steady diet of American shows simulcast on CTV and Global. And in a year that the CBC was poised to fight hard for prime-time viewers, the U.S. writers' strike has given it an even better shot of succeeding, with so little American fare hitting the small screen in the months ahead.

Production costs for MVP's 10 episodes rang in at a $14-million – and the end result is a slick, sex-charged program that Leckie is hoping will resonate with a culture obsessed with hockey and fascinated by the private lives of those who play our national game. Even though a cross-promotion with the National Hockey League was arranged, the show's reputation as a sultry soap raised eyebrows early on. The league asked for copies of the MVP pilot when details of the show initially appeared in the media. But it subsequently gave the series its quasi-blessing, adding in a statement: “Obviously it is not a fair or accurate depiction of the people who make a living in our game and in our league. But we also understand that it is created as a fictional account and that it's not intended to be ‘real.' We trust our fans will know the difference.”

Perhaps because she had a role in smoothing ruffled feathers at the NHL, Layfield prefers to play down the sexy, soapy elements of MVP, which has its premiere at 9 p.m. Friday. “We prefer to think of it as a one-hour drama,” she insists, “because it's not a telenovella. And it's not a soap in the afternoon. This is a high-end drama, with a lot of intrigue and twists.”

For simplicity's sake, let's say MVP is a drama/soap starring Lucas Bryant as Gabe McCall, the nice-guy captain – à la Mats Sundin of the Toronto Maple Leafs – of a team called the Mustangs. Gabe is falling for virginal daycare owner Connie Lewis (Kristin Booth), who prefers cute summer frocks to bustiers and tight jeans, and is drawn to, but terrified of, the hockey player.

The cast is filled out with bad-boy enforcer Damon (think NHL player Todd Bertuzzi), played by Peter Miller, who had five seasons in the Canadian Football League before turning to acting. Dillon Casey plays the new rookie superstar Trevor (think Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins), from the fictional Ontario town of Loon Lake, and is the first-round draft pick.

Deborah Odell is a desperately scheming hockey widow, Natalie Krill plays a promiscuous daughter of a former hockey legend, and Anastasia Phillips is the rookie's small-town girlfriend.

Booth, who hails from just outside Stratford, Ont., and Bryant, who grew up in nearby Elmira, are the two morally upright, if flawed, characters in the series. When they first read the script, both were shocked it was being made for the traditionally buttoned-down CBC.

“It has a more steamy, sultry, sexy feel to it than anything I've ever seen on the CBC,” says Booth, a recently married 33-year-old who chuckles at the fact that she's been cast as a 25-year-old virgin. “I remember my jaw dropping when the script for the pilot had a sex scene that involved double-teaming. It never shows that happening, but I remember going, ‘What? For the CBC, a threesome is pretty risqué!'”

Bryant, who now lives in Los Angeles and has appeared in such shows as Queer as Folk and Crazy Canucks, says he was intrigued by what he calls the “racy” nature of the script, which was toned down once production got rolling. “Everything got shuffled around a bit, as it always does,” says Bryant. “But for the most part, they kept all the juice, which isn't very common for the CBC,” adds the 29-year-old, who grew up playing right wing for teams like the Woolwich Minor Hockey Mothers. (You read that right.)

Leckie got the idea to do the show on a flight from Britain, where she was leafing through Hello! magazine and came across an article on Footballers Wive$, a British television drama about a fictional premiership football club. “I was like, ‘Why aren't we doing something about hockey?' ” recalls Leckie, who grew up in Omemee, Ont., west of Peterborough.

“Hockey was part of my childhood mythology. It's almost our national religion, for God's sake.” So with help from head writer and co-creator Kent Staines (along with writers Sherry White and Tim Kilby), Leckie started formulating the scripts, with characters like the rookie Trevor, who was based on boys she knew growing up.

“I remember an American TV buyer looking at the pilot, and saying, ‘Would anyone care if a kid from the middle of nowhere is the first-round draft pick?'” recalls Leckie. “And I said, ‘Are you crazy? This is every kid's dream!'”

Leckie has a difficult time describing the show using pre-existing templates. “It's a very different beast. You can compare it to Footballers Wives$, but it's not that. It's not campy. You can call it Desperate Hockey Wives. But it's not that either. Desperate Housewives is a black comedy. We're not. There's a real, true centre to this story. We care about the characters from the beginning. We want to take our characters seriously, so our audience will take us seriously. In MVP, outrageous things happen. But it's all very believable in the context of where these characters live and breathe.”

As for Booth and Bryant, both say MVP was one of the most fun, stress-free, flesh-flashing sets they've ever worked on.

“Poor Dillon, the rookie, is naked half the time,” says Booth with a laugh. “I know the trailer for MVP is the secret lives of hockey wives, and there are a lot of breasts and legs, but honestly, there are more naked men in the series than women.”

In the past, a debate over how many naked men versus naked women appear in a new CBC show would have been unthinkable. But the CBC has seen the future, and is ready to test the ice.

CBC TV Stickhandles Sales Deal

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(January 09, 2008) This happens to be the week when
CBC Television is heavily promoting two new action-packed series, including MVP, which promises to let the public in on the unseemly squabbles and dirty dealing that go on behind the scenes of that beloved national craze – professional hockey.

But an off-air debate going on within the broadcaster's own walls – about the propriety, or lack of it, of selling off its foreign sales division to a non-Canadian firm – could turn out to be more intriguing and titillating.

The issue that has CBC employees and other showbiz insiders abuzz concerns the sale of the network's international sales division to Fireworks, a division of the British company ContentFilm – without giving competitors a chance to bid.

Before nationalists could raise their voices in outrage, Peace Arch, a Toronto-based company, was making a deal to acquire ContentFilm. (The deal has not closed yet.)

"We have signed a memorandum of understanding to sell our international sales business to Fireworks," said a Dec. 18 internal memo from Steve Billinger, executive director of business development.

"They form a large, well-established international distribution company currently based in the U.K.," he added.

Translation: Fireworks will be hawking 135 made-in-Canada shows to potential buyers in countries around the world.

That news was not well received by Canadian players in the international film sales business, including veteran producer Robert Lantos, who is a partner in Oasis, a TV sales company that might have wanted the chance to make a rival bid.

But as Lantos explained in a phone interview yesterday, he's dismayed not just as an Oasis shareholder but as a Canadian citizen and long-time friend of the CBC.

"These programs are a major asset that belongs not to CBC management but to you and me and every other taxpayer," says Lantos. "What I find really unpalatable is that this deal was made under the radar, in secret, without any kind of auction, bidding or transparency. And to put it mildly, I don't think that puts the CBC in the best possible light."

Of course another reason for people within the CBC to be upset is that an entire department, including 13 jobs, will likely be eliminated – which makes it a cost-cutting measure. Or as Billinger put it: "We lacked both the scale and resources required to be competitive in a market dominated by large, specialized companies."

But there are a lot of other intriguing questions. Wouldn't it have been in the CBC's best interest to invite competing bids?

Terms of the deal – including whether the CBC is getting any fast cash when it closes – have not been revealed. The 135 shows have not been named.

Common assumption: the player behind the deal is really Richard Stursberg, chief of the English network.

A titillating footnote: Just two months ago Gary Howsam, the CEO of Peace Arch, had to take an extended leave of absence because he's facing fraud charges in the United States.

A lingering question: If the CBC knew that Peace Arch was going to be taking over ContentFilm, why negotiate a sale to the British instead of waiting to deal directly with a Canadian company?

Stay tuned for the answers.

If the network does manage to score a winner with MVP in the game of TV ratings, maybe the CBC could concoct an equally steamy, provocative series about the twists and turns in the executive suite of a public broadcaster.

Great Show Down To The Wire

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, Television Critic

(January 05, 2008) It may be television's best-kept secret ... and yet also, at the same time, one of its best-loved shows.

At least, it is to those in the know, for whom exclusivity only enhances their enduring and unbridled enthusiasm.

And tomorrow night may be your last chance to join them – getting in, so to speak, just under
The Wire.

Though the complex cops 'n' crooks cable drama is exactly the kind of show DVD collector sets were made for, nothing beats catching each astounding episode as it happens, fresh off the air.

And this is definitely your last chance to do that. This fifth season of HBO's The Wire, kicking off tomorrow night at 9 on The Movie Network, is absolutely, irrevocably, the series' last.

Sets dismantled, props sold off, offices closed, actors released – that kind of last.

As indeed was essentially intended from the beginning. And, just as it has from the beginning – and perhaps the primary reason it has never attracted the wide audience it deserves – this fifth and final season has a feel and a focus that is uniquely and resolutely its own.

"We always conceived the show this way," explained The Wire's writer/creator, David Simon, at last season's press launch in Pasadena, Calif.

"Rather than do the same thing over and sort of add incremental characters to a continuing theme, we really wanted to reinvent the theme of the show every season.

"We really wanted to depict an American city at the millennium, all of its attendant problems, all of its promise, and really examine not just sort of what is, but why it is that we've built what we've built. And why it is that the richest, most powerful country in the world can't solve its fundamental problems when it comes to places like Baltimore.

"And there are a lot of places like Baltimore. It's not a unique place."

Though several of its unusually large cast of characters carry through, each season to season tackles an entirely new set of urban issues. Season One, Simon says, set up the central conflict between law enforcement and the local drug trade. Season Two was the fall of the working class. Season Three, the political arena. Season Four, schools, the impact on education. This final year, it's the role of the media.

There are significant elements of closure in this – notably its secondary setting, the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun, where Simon spent 12 years as a crime reporter.

Disillusioned with journalism after weathering a strike, he took a leave of absence to write the non-fiction book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, chronicling the day-to-day workings of a Baltimore homicide unit. The book became the series Homicide: Life on the Street, with Simon writing several episodes and finally leaving the Sun in 1995 to work full-time on the show's fourth season.

But not before cranking out another Baltimore-set true crime book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, which in turn became the Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries The Corner.

Disillusioned again, this time by network interference – NBC execs' repeated objections to the bleakness of Homicide's tone and subject matter – Simon returned to the more supportive and open-minded HBO for The Wire, also based on the real-life characters and situations he had witnessed and experienced first-hand, and first wrote about in the Homicide book.

Indeed, where Homicide focused on the police side of the equation, and Corner's on the drug-dealing criminal element, The Wire encompasses both perspectives, bouncing back and forth between the two worlds without ever feeling compelled to solve or resolve any of it by the end of the episode ... or the season ... or even the series.

Kind of like real life.

"It's incredible how real and accurate it is," marvels Clark Johnson, the Philadelphia-born, Toronto-raised brother of singers Molly and Tabby Johnson, and that rarest of all showbiz hyphenates, the actor-director.

It is in these dual capacities he now bookends The Wire, having directed the first few episodes back in 2002, and a couple more since.

He similarly helmed The Shield's first few episodes before moving on to major studio features like The Sentinel and the big-screen remake of S.W.A.T.

And now he's back to help shut down The Wire, this time as a featured actor, in the pivotal role of beleaguered Baltimore Sun city editor Gus Haynes.

"It never ceases to amaze me," he says of Simon's characteristically painstaking verisimilitude. "I mean, you're on the set one day, doing a scene, and then you look around and you see that it's all actually happening, in exactly the same way, time and time again."

Johnson is in a unique position to know. His association with Simon goes back to Homicide, in which he memorably portrayed Det. Meldrick Lewis, and which by the fourth season had started to direct, a total of five episodes.

Given the cumulative time he has spent working in Baltimore, Johnson could almost qualify for honorary citizenship.

There are, however, residents of the much-maligned city who have been somewhat less enthusiastic (and remember, these are people who have learned to take pride in the work of the native eccentric auteur John Waters).

Last weekend, my counterpart at the Baltimore Sun, TV critic David Zurawik, had several admittedly subjective objections to the journalistic credibility of the fifth-season storyline, noting in his review that Simon had been out of the business for years, and that much had changed since then.

Although, frankly, I've been slaving away at this longer than either one of them, and still am, and I found it absolutely uncanny how accurately several scenes reflected exactly what is going in newsrooms today – this one included.

Zurawik, on the other hand, dismissed the newsroom scenes as "the Achilles heel of Season Five – with mainstream entertainment sacrificed to journalistic shop talk, while fact and fiction are mashed up in the confusing manner of docudrama."

Again, I have to side with Johnson here. For a guy who's been out of the business for years, Simon's perspective on contemporary print journalism is quite unsettlingly accurate.

But then Zurawik undermines his argument by going on to devote several paragraphs to the less-than-stellar acting of his former Sun colleagues, who, like several real-life cops and criminals over the years – including actual former Baltimore police commissioner Ed Norris – have been seeded by Simon throughout the series for an added layer of reality.

Zurawik, to be fair, is not the sole voice of Baltimorean dissent (and to be fair, his full review was more positive than picky). Although the regular guy in the street apparently welcomes the attention, the local government's initial enthusiasm has considerably waned.

"The truth is," Simon says, "that before I turned in the pilot, I went to the mayor and said, `Look, you've had a bite of the apple with Homicide, with The Corner. Do you want us to do this somewhere else? Because it could be Philly or St. Louis or Cleveland or Chicago. It could be any number of places.'

"I guess it sort of was unfair, (because) he hadn't seen anything. I did tell him it was really dark, really depressing, you know, as an examination of why institutions fail to serve people, or service the people who serve them ...

"And he says to me, `Nah. Shoot it here.' And I said, `Are you sure?' And he said, `Yeah,' and he finished his coffee and we shook hands.

"And then, a year later, he came to me and said, `We want to be out of The Wire business.'

"So I said, `I can film somewhere else if you'd like.' And he said, `Well, will you make it their police department?'

"And I said, `No. It's already been on the air for a season with the Baltimore police.'

"And he said, `All right. We'll consider your permits.' And he slammed down the phone."

For the record, the general tenor of municipal co-operation has remained quite admirably consistent.

"He's been very professional with us ever since," Simon happily acknowledges. "The city has been totally professional. They don't love the show, for obvious reasons. I mean, the money is welcome ... they just wish that I'd write some happier stuff.

"And I kind of can't blame them."

Steph Song: Give Her A Role She Can Really Sink Her Background Into

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(January 07, 2008) The most attractive woman in the world, officially, is Canadian and lives in Vancouver's upscale South Granville neighbourhood. Better still, she's circumspect about her title. She disparages it a little, but also considers it a lark.

Steph Song was once voted the world's sexiest woman of 2006 by the readers of the Asian edition of the lad magazine FHM, for which she posed for a few cover shots in bikinis or wisps of camisoles. It was an image detour from her workaday acting background in Asia and the smart, if sexy image she's now cultivating in Canada – most recently as a playfully edgy digital-effects artist burdened by the expectations of her Chinese parents in the CBC Television series jPod, premiering Tuesday.

Song puts it all into perspective. While working in Singapore television, she knew a senior writer for FHM, who asked her if she was interested in being profiled. She was, sort of. Her agents less so. But then the one article led to a cover story, and then another cover.

“I thought at the end of it that I could get some pretty pictures. And when I'm a grandma and my tits are down to my knees, I can show the grandkids that I could have, kind of, passed for a hottie. It started off as that,” Song says over the phone while on holiday in Australia.

Still, the kittenish FHM shots and other glamour pictures can seem a world away from her recent breakthrough roles in Canada: as a self-assured set designer in the 2007 indie film Everything's Gone Green and now her role in jPod, a comedy about video-game creators coping in the post-Generation X, post-hipster, post-consumer world. Both are creations of novelist Douglas Coupland.

With her star turn in Asia and the kind of untypical parts she's seeking in Canada, Song has avoided being pegged. Like Ottawa native Sandra Oh, whom she strongly admires, Song is changing the North American media's image of Asian women – if not women of any background in their early 30s or older. (She's been instructed not to divulge more about her age, she jokes.)

Song considers herself a born traveller after a peripatetic childhood that took her from cities such as Edmonton (where she was born), Guelph, Ont., and Vancouver to such far-flung spots as Colombia and Australia as she followed her father's career in plant genetics. Song then spent some time in Los Angeles trying to break into acting and also appeared on Australian television. But her major break came in Singapore, where an agent convinced her to stay.

Under contract to a network, in much the same way as actors were tied to studios under the old Hollywood system, Song was required to fulfill 30 to 40 hours of television a year, appearing in everything from starring roles in sitcoms and dramatic series to guest spots and specials. As she says simply, the opportunities for an Asian actress are obviously far greater in Singapore than in L.A. or Australia.

Then came the sexiest woman crowning. “At first I was, like, wait a second! I've worked really hard for where I wanted to be. How can they just objectify me like that?” Song says. “And then after a while, I thought, I've got to get off that pedestal.

“It's a double-edged thing. On the one hand, if you're crowned with that, or labelled with that, you might not get the substantial, really meaty, crying roles. But on the other hand, if you're not considered sexy, you might not get considered for a lot of things either,” she adds.

In the film Everything's Gone Green, Song played Ming, a motorcycle-riding, self-assured foil for all manner of Coupland-esque postmodernisms, with Vancouver looming as a subtly surreal backdrop. Song was the ultimate exotic, intelligent love interest for the film's geeky leading man.

“I'm just such a huge fan of [Coupland's] work that I was almost in tears when I met him. I told him, I will play the dust on the window sill in anything you write,” she says.

Her role in Everything's Gone Green was also utterly the opposite of last year's performance in the CBC crime series Dragon Boys as a Cambodian refugee forced into prostitution. “That was a pretty stereotypically Asian role, where an Asian girl doesn't speak any English and becomes a prostitute, and has to fight to survive in this world where she's being taken advantage of,” Song says.

But while the roles remain varied, those that explore a dual Canadian and Asian identity are what she's after. “The work that I wanted to do in Singapore and the work that I want to do in Canada is fundamentally different, because my roots are Asian-Canadian. Most of the time in Singapore I was playing a Singaporean girl, or I was playing a girl from Singapore who studied abroad and came back with an accent. So I wanted to address the fact that I am Asian-Canadian, and honestly, there aren't that many roles out there that have Asian-Canadians, Asian-Americans,” she says.

For now, she's remains happily Vancouver-based after arriving for Everything's Gone Green and Dragon Boys. “I wouldn't say no to L.A., but I'm not going to go calling on L.A. unless L.A. comes calling on me. Not meaning that in any kind of conceited way at all. I experienced the L.A. thing and it is brutal down there.” She also still has a Singapore manager, but rarely works there.

On Tuesday, her role in jPod, while still situated in Vancouver, marks her return to Couplandville as the cutting, if slightly homely Bree. Even when not the centre of attention in a particular scene, Song's character is often the most enticing character on the screen; she's got that allure which – even after trying to get to the bottom of it by speaking to Song – is still so hard to peg.

“I think that Bree is a smart, sassy, spicy girl.… She adds the zing in there. You'll notice that she says all the mean, sarcastic one-liners which I just loved, loved delivering,” Song says. “She's about as far away as you can get from that stereotype – that all Asian women are submissive. She is such a balls out girl. Love her!”

CBC-TV's jPod launches Tuesday at 9 p.m.

CBC Has A Winner In jPod

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Vinay Menon

(January 08, 2008) As I've said before, the litmus test for any television pilot is simple: will it leave viewers wanting more?

Well, as the closing credits rolled on my review DVD for
jPod (CBC, 9 tonight), I sat in the widescreen glow and found myself craving – craving! – a second episode.

Based on the bestselling novel by Douglas Coupland, the drama flits around five co-workers stationed inside the subterranean colony (the eponymous jPod) of Neotronic Arts, a Vancouver-based video game company.

The five – Ethan Jarlewski (David W. Kopp), Bree (Steph Song), Cowboy (Ben Ayres), Kaitlin Joyce (Emilie Ullerup) and John Doe (Torrance Coombs) – are working on a new surfboard game.

They also spend a considerable amount of company time playing with remote-controlled cars, solving crossword puzzles, shopping online and, generally speaking, waxing ironically in the angst-coated, culturally savvy, vaguely nihilistic lingua franca popularized by previous Coupland characters.

The Podsters live at a time when work is a lifestyle, when cynicism trumps idealism and your darkest secret is only a Google search away.

In the opening scene, Cowboy films Ethan for a video diary that each Podster is shooting for their new boss, Steve Lefkowitz (Colin Cunningham).

Steve speaks in the hyperbolic but disingenuous sound bites of a manager saddled with the Orwellian title "vice-president in charge of vision."

This vision includes a dim idea for BoardX, the gore-filled game the Podsters are developing: he wants to introduce a cuddly turtle character.

The Podsters furrow their brows and exchange bemused smirks. But this is the workforce circa 2006, or 11 years after Coupland's Microserfs was published. The egalitarian promise of creative fulfilment burst with the dot-com bubble. And now detached resignation has become a coping mechanism to the idiocy and folly that abounds within corporations.

Besides, Ethan has more to worry about than turtle buddies. His heart has been broken twice and he's routinely conscripted into the most unpleasant of familial roles: parenting his parents.

Carol Jarlewski (Sherry Miller) looks and sounds like any suburban mom with adult children and a predilection for gourmet cooking. But she also runs a grow-op from the basement, selling pot to bikers, a hobby that leads to tonight's first taste of black comedy.

"Your father and I spent our whole lives trying to be appropriate," Carol tells Ethan during a drive. "And all it got us was broke and left behind by society."

Jim Jarlewski (Alan Thicke), meanwhile, worked in construction until he decided to act. Excited about possibly landing a part with actual lines – the veterinarian in Hitler's Kitten – Jim has also commenced an affair with a loopy gal who, as it turns out, went to high school with Ethan.

"I'm telling you she's a mechanical bull in the sack," Jim tells his exasperated son during a telephone chat. "My thighs are bruised like a crate of plums."

The casting of Alan Thicke? Sheer genius.

If you're familiar with the book, you already know future storylines. The book's visual miscellany – mock ads, random lists, pages of numbers – is even represented here as ephemeral animations. (Though, mercifully, it's doubtful we'll be subjected to 100,000 scrolling digits of pi.)

So, yes, the television adaptation is remarkably loyal to its source material, possibly because Coupland co-created the show with the immensely talented Michael MacLennan.

But even if you're unfamiliar with the book or – blasphemy! – not a Coupland fan, you should give this TV show a watch.

Long story short: with jPod, the CBC has nurtured and enabled a first-rate series. It has a generational vibe, to be sure, but one that ultimately transcends demographics with its wit, style, humour and originality.

TV TIDBITS

Christopher 'Play' Martin Injured In Car Accident

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 04, 2008)  Christopher "Play" Martin and a female companion were seriously injured when the SUV they were riding in was hit by a driver trying to escape the cops.   Saturday's accident in Raleigh, NC jumped off after three men robbed a house in Durham. Two of the men were caught by cops, but the driver of the getaway car, 34-year-old Raul Aldamo, attempted to run over the police to escape.      The cops shot and killed Aldamo, but the car kept going and eventually smashed into the SUV driven by Martin, a.k.a. Play of the 80s rap duo Kid-N-Play.  The former rapper and the woman were treated at a nearby hospital and released on Wednesday (Jan. 2). Two other suspects, Alonzo Castillo, 39 and Luis Campo, 26 were arrested and charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, kidnapping and burglary. Play, a born-again Christian, founded HP4 Digital Works & Solutions and is currently a teacher at North Carolina Central University in North Carolina. Fans may send him get well e-mails at: hp4digitalworks@yahoo.com.

'Oprah's Big Give' Chooses Host And Judges

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 7, 2008) *Designer Nate Berkus has been tapped to host Oprah Winfrey's philanthropy-themed reality show "
Oprah's Big Give," while Chris Rock's wife Malaak Compton-Rock, NFL star Tony Gonzalez and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver will serve on the show's judging panel, ABC has announced. The prime time series, set to premiere Sunday, March 2, will feature 10 contestants competing in charitable projects to become the "Biggest Giver."  "Who wouldn't want to be a part of a show whose entire premise is what you can do for other people?" said Berkus, who is also a regular on Winfrey's daytime talk show. "I think it's fantastic."   Each challenge will take place in a different city, and contestants will be judged on creativity and effectiveness of their respective projects.    Executive Producer Winfrey will make appearances from time to time and also recruit some of her celebrity friends to visit the show. The winner will receive an undisclosed "major prize" for his or her efforts.

::THEATRE NEWS::

 The Soulpepper Theatre 10 Years On

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(January 06, 2008) How is Albert Schultz feeling as his phenomenonally successful
Soulpepper Theatre Company prepares to open its 10th season on Thursday with a production of David French's Salt Water Moon?

Well, to quote Stephen Sondheim, he's "sorry-grateful."

The thanksgiving is easy to comprehend, because as Schultz himself eagerly admits, "I couldn't be more grateful to the people of Toronto for the support they've given us and the media have been extremely good to us as well."

And not just the local media. "Great cities are known for the theatre companies they keep," wrote the Chicago Tribune in 2001. "In Toronto, the one that has attracted critical attention and audience enthusiasm is Soulpepper."

But the sorrow has to do with the way his company is treated by those who give out money from the public purse.

"The biggest frustration we have had and continue to have is in the area of public funding," he sighs. "We are not really supported adequately at any level."

The sorrow quickly turns to anger. His eyes glint dangerously, his brow is furrowed and his voice has that metallic edge that anyone who's seen him onstage will recognize.

"Eight per cent of our budget from all three levels of government combined!"

Schultz spits the figure out with the same contempt his Hamlet used to describe his stepfather, Claudius. "That's what we get for creating a company out of nothing but our dreams and making it one of the most successful theatres in the country.

"That's what we get for adding $15 million to the arts infrastructure of Toronto by building this theatre primarily through gifts from the private sector."

Schultz is sitting in the largest of the four performance spaces in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, radiating a pride of ownership that he's well entitled to.

It was his mad visionary scheme to build a series of theatres in the old tank houses built in 1832 by Gooderham and Warts.

Long before "the Distillery District" was even a gleam in the eye of local developers, Schultz would drag colleagues down here late at night to speak of his dream,

Since he had already been the driving force behind the company that burst on the local scene in 1998 with an electric production of Schiller's Don Carlos, people listened to Schultz and his plans.

He forged a partnership with the George Brown Theatre School, attracted millions of dollars from private donors and opened this superb multi-purpose facility on time and on budget early in 2006.

Anyone in the audience the night of Feb. 1, 2006, will remember the standing ovation that greeted Schultz when he walked onto the stage to begin the performance of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

It's something Schultz will never forget either.

"I stood there on opening night," he recalls, "with three generations of my family in the audience. I was struggling to hold on to myself, to keep distance, to just begin the play.

"To help steady myself, I walked upstage and put my hands on the brick wall. I didn't know it, but all the other cast members could see me on the TV monitor and so they ran to the other side of the wall and put their hands on it as well."

Schultz wipes away tears. "It's a good thing I didn't know that, or I would have literally lost it. But from then on, we did it every night. It became a ritual. Another thing I love about the theatre."

So that was the highlight of the first 10 years, but what was the lowpoint? Would it be perhaps the season of 2000, when a combination of overly ambitious programming and artistic miscalculation put the theatre into a deficit for the first and only time in its existence?

"Absolutely not," insists Schultz, "because out of that disaster, I met Roger Garland (former vice-chair of Four Seasons Hotels) who came onto the board, helped save the theatre and has been its biggest supporter ever since."

No, Schultz claims the darkest moment was more recent, but while telling the story, he reveals the combination of optimism and opportunism that makes him such a successful artistic director.

When fate serves up lemons to Schultz, he doesn't just turn them into lemonade, he adds a splash of champagne and then raises it in a toast to the theatre gods.

"I had a great deal of difficulty getting this 10th season together, " he admits, as he begins the saga.

"One of the shows we had built the whole thing around was (David Mamet's) Glengarry Glen Ross. We had been promised the rights. We were going to press with our announcement the next day and then I got a call telling me they had pulled the play from us."

The pain behind his eyes is palpable. "I had a furious three-hour session of calling anyone who might have been able to help us get through to Mamet, but nothing worked. It was an American tour that might possibly want to play here so we were just shit out of luck.

"I went outside and screamed to the heavens." Schultz smiles, mocking his own well-known penchant for self-dramatization.

"Then I sat in the office. Here's my dilemma: I have six middle-aged men on contract. What play can I do with them?"

The answer was waiting on his bookshelf. It was a show he'd wanted to do for a long time, but never dared, thinking people might mock him: Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.

"I think it's an amazing script," he says, "a truly classic comedy and that's being proven to us every day in rehearsal."

Stuart Hughes will be directing, Schultz stars as messy Oscar and his fellow founding member Diego Matamoros is fastidious Felix.

The rest of the poker table will include Oliver Denis ("who's done 28 performances for Soulpepper") and Kevin Bundy ("who I've known since 1983.").

Soulpepper's past is rich and its present seems solid, but what about the future?

Schultz doesn't plan to stay forever. As he admits, "I can keep it together, but I've only got so much energy left to do it. But when I think about succession planning, I realize it's going to be hard to find someone else who will raise 92 per cent of the budget from the private sector and the box office."

For a minute, the hyper-energetic dynamo droops and a look of fatigue crosses his face.

"It's astonishing to me that we've been doing it for 10 years."

Then the memory of all he has accomplished kicks in and his smile regenerates itself.

"But you know what? It doesn't seem all that long."

The Trials Of Richard Thomas

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(January 05, 2008) Did you ever think you'd see the day when John-Boy would be a grandfather who's pushing
60?

Yes, the young 'un from The Waltons turns 57 this year and has two grandkids. But don't worry if that seems strange to you, because
Richard Thomas shares your feelings.

"It sort of feels like it's someone else when I hear myself being called a grandfather," he admits, "but it's also a wonderful feeling because I love (my grandkids) so much."

Thomas is on the phone from the Michigan hotel room where he's staying while starring in a production of Twelve Angry Men.

The award-winning courtroom drama is now in the second year of a successful North American tour and starts performances here on Tuesday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre as part of the Mirvish subscription season.

"It's been an amazing experience," he admits. "I knew the show was great because I'd seen it on Broadway, but I never thought we'd be reaching as many people with it as we are. We're actually touring to cities where people tell us, `There hasn't been a play here in 25 years.'"

Reginald Rose's story of a murder case in which an 18-year-old is on trial for killing his father and how the jury reaches its final verdict was first seen on TV in 1954, then brought to the screen in 1957 in a famous version that launched director Sidney Lumet's career.

"It's a wonderful piece of theatrical writing," Thomas enthuses. "It's fast-moving and very compelling because the jury system is at the heart of our society. Because of all the court shows on TV, we've become a nation of jurors, pronouncing guilty or not guilty on people every day."

But to Thomas, the work's attraction is far deeper than the thrill of wondering which way the verdict will go. "The play also deals with issues of prejudice, justice and law. It gets to the heart of some crucial moral points that we often turn away from dealing with."

Thomas plays the pivotal character, Juror #8, an architect who is the only one unsure of the defendant's guilt when the deliberations begin. "I love playing him because he has the courage to say, `I don't know.' He doesn't go into the room because he wants to get the kid acquitted. He goes into the room wanting to talk about things because he's just not sure. I think that makes him an everyday hero."

It's the role Henry Fonda played so memorably in the 1957 film and Thomas is the first person to admit, "I have to come at it from a different angle because I'm a different actor. I'm not the tallest mast on the ship. If people want the reassurance of the heroic, they won't find it with me."

But Thomas is also enough of a realist to know that "although Fonda played Abraham Lincoln, I carry my own iconic qualities into the role as well."

He's talking, of course, about his stint as the clear-eyed John-Boy in the television series The Waltons that attracted an almost ritualistic devotion from North American audiences in the 1970s. "It's a role I loved playing," he says simply. "It was wonderful to be part of something that so many people embraced so strongly."

All well and good, but does it bother him now, decades later, when people still shout out, "Hey John-Boy!" to him on the street?

"There's a funny disconnect when that happens," he admits after a pause. "You're still thrilled they remember and it's flattering, but it's really not a part of the life you're living now."

For Thomas, that life has increasingly been on the stage in recent years. It's where he began his career, going from his first summer stock gig to his Broadway debut all in the course of a few months when he was 7.

And although TV and movies occupied his time for most of the next 30 years, he always found time for the stage, even appearing as the Dauphin in a Los Angeles production of Saint Joan at the height of his John-Boy fame.

He's been critically acclaimed for his work as Shakespearean leads like Hamlet and Richard II, as well as in works by Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson.

"It's the kinetic energy of acting with a live ensemble that I enjoy," he says. "That and the joy of bringing great texts to the stage."

But, for a while, there was doubt whether that career would even continue.

When Thomas was in his early 30s, he was made aware that he had lost half of his hearing to a disease called cochlear otosclerosis, or nerve deafness.

"It's insidious and gradual. You find yourself in a restaurant nodding and smiling in agreement with someone and you haven't really heard a word," he says.

Thomas became a spokesperson and the national chair for the Better Hearing Institute and still campaigns for awareness of issues related to hearing loss.

"If it wasn't for the fact that I took action in time," he says gratefully, "I wouldn't be able to tour Twelve Angry Men through 19 different cities."

And that's an experience he would have hated to miss.

"I love feeling that you can just raise your hand and speak up for what you believe in. That's a very brave thing. Maybe the bravest thing of all."

Wicked Returning To Toronto

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(January 07, 2008) The most successful musical in the world is coming back to Toronto.

Producer David Stone told the Star that his smash hit
Wicked will return to the Canon Theatre in June 2010, presented by Mirvish Productions.

"Toronto was the first city that we ever toured to," said Stone from his New York office last Friday, "and we can't wait to get back there."

As for that "most successful musical in the world" statement, it's no idle boast that this prequel to The Wizard of Oz makes.

Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, it tells the early histories of the leading characters from the iconic tale and helps us understand how one witch got to be good, while the other turned out, well, wicked.

During the final week of 2007, there were seven companies of Wicked playing across North America, Europe and Asia.

Their cumulative gross for those seven days was $11.2 million (U.S.), which is a figure believed to be unmatched in modern theatre records.

To add to that, the individual grosses of the productions in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis were the highest in each of their theatre's histories, with the St. Louis figure ($2.29 million U.S.) also making it the highest-grossing show in North American touring history.

Wicked has played Toronto twice already – in 2005 and 2006 – selling out both engagements and having to turn away thousands of disappointed theatregoers who didn't purchase tickets in time.

During the last weeks of the 2006 run, Wicked also established a weekly record for top-grossing show in Toronto history, reaching $1,821,359.

The recently announced top gross for Dirty Dancing (another popular show presented by Mirvish) of $1,347,525 was a record for the Royal Alexandra Theatre's 100-year history, but not the entire city.

After opening on Broadway to mixed reviews in October 2003, Wicked has gone on to be one of the amazing success stories of recent times.

Although the original supposition was that the teenage girls with whom the show is nearly an obsession were driving its sales, Stone said that audience studies have proved "that Wicked has a broad and universal appeal, regardless of sex or age. In fact, it scores equally well with almost every single demographic in the market," which is a fact that became evident very early on.

Within a few months of its opening, it was selling out regularly on Broadway, which it continues to do in the fifth year of its run.

The national tour, which began in Toronto in March 2005, has broken records everywhere it's played, while the sit-down Chicago production is still going strong after 1,000 performances and the Los Angeles version is rapidly closing in on its first anniversary.

There are also companies playing in London, Stuttgart, Germany and Tokyo, with one due in Melbourne, Australia, this July and another opening in the Netherlands in 2009.

Elphaba, the girl who grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West, sings at the first act curtain about how "nobody ... is ever gonna bring me down" and the sentiment clearly holds true not just for her, but for the show she happily inhabits.

::SPORTS NEWS::

OT Goal Nets Juniors Gold

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(January 05, 2008) PARDUBICE, Czech Republic — Make it four straight gold medals for Canada at the
world junior hockey championship.

Matt Halischuk scored the overtime winner to give Canada a 3-2 win over Sweden.

“I just wanted to go to the net and whack it home,” Halischuk told TSN. “Thank God it went in. That’s all I can . . . I’m speechless.”

Brad Marchand of the Halifax Mooseheads and Claude Giroux of the Gatineau Olympiques scored for Canada on regulation.

Jonathan Carlsson got Sweden on the board early in the third period and Tomas Larsson tied it in the final minute of regulation.

Earlier, Russia defeated the United States 4-2 in the bronze-medal game.

Sweden’s lone title in this tournament came in 1981.

Sweden had come from behind to beat Canada 4-3 in a preliminary Pool A game a week earlier. The Swedes went undefeated in the pool to earn a bye to the semi-final and beat Russia 2-1 in overtime.

Canada’s road to the final required a 4-2 quarter-final win over Finland before beating the U.S. 4-1 in a semi-final.

Russia defeated the U.S. 4-2 for bronze earlier today.

This was Canada’s seventh straight trip to the world junior final, but the first for Sweden since 1996.

It felt like a home game for the Canada, which enjoyed vocal support from about 2,000 fans — by far the loudest contingent at Pardubice Arena.

But the Swedes fought back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period, as they had their preliminary-round game against Canada, to send the final into overtime for the first time since 2000.

Assistant captain Stefan Legein of the Niagara IceDogs left the game after his first shift with an apparent shoulder injury and did not return, so Wayne Simmonds, Matt Halischuk and Shawn Matthias all took turns filling in on the wing of Brandon Sutter’s checking line.

Down two goals to start the third, the Swedes used their size and speed to push for a goal and had Mason under pressure as they outshot Canada 14-3.

With Enroth pulled for an extra attacker, Sweden tied the game 2-2 at 19:22 of the third period with Larsson scoring on a goal-mouth scramble.

Carlsson halved the deficit with a power-play goal at 5:13 of the third with Shawn Matthias in the penalty box for hooking. Johan Alcen sent a backhand pass out to him from behind the net and Carlsson beat Mason on his stick side.

Sweden’s top centre Patrik Berglund missed a backhand chance on Mason in the first three minutes of the second period. Canadian defenceman Luke Schenn prevented another Swedish chance later in the period by tying up Johan Alcen about to take off on a breakaway off a stretch pass.

The Swedes ran into penalty trouble in the second period. Canada outshot them 10-6, but was held scoreless on four power-play chances.

Marchand’s hard work produced Canada’s second goal of the first period as he missed a scoring chance, but gathered he puck behind the net and fed it to Giroux, whose sharp-angled shot beat Enroth for a power-play goal at 17:02.

Mason made a tough glove save on a laser from the slot by Mikael Backlund, a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames, just over four minutes into the game period.

Marchand was on the spot when a shot from the faceoff circle by Giroux bounced above Enroth’s head. The puck appeared to either go off a part of Marchand’s anatomy or a Swedish defender, but it rolled off Enroth and over the goal-line to give Canada a 1-0 lead at 1:27.

Mason and Canadian defenceman Drew Doughty were named to the tournament all-star team along with Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman and Berglund, Russian forward Viktor Tikhonov and American forward James vanRiemsdyk.

This tournament now heads to North America for a four-year run. The 2009 world junior hockey championship will be held in Ottawa.

Canada will host it again in 2010 and 2012 and the U.S. gets it in 2011.

Toronto Billionaire Eyes Leafs Empire

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Rick Westhead, Sports Business Columnist

(January 05, 2008) Toronto billionaire
Alex Shnaider, a one-time team owner in the prestigious Formula One auto racing circuit, has his sights set on another blue-chip sports investment: the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Shnaider has been consulting in recent weeks with investment bank and industry contacts about how much money it would take to pry the Leafs' parent company – Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – away from its owners, say two sources familiar with the matter.

A spokesperson for the Russian-born Shnaider confirmed to the Toronto Star that he has "initial interest" in the juggernaut sports holding company.

Shnaider has not yet formally contacted MLSE but has participated in meetings with investment banking officials with former Maple Leafs forward Tie Domi, sources say. Domi and Shnaider have been friends for years and Domi may have insights into MLSE's hockey operations, the firm's backbone.

Domi declined to comment.

The 39-year-old Shnaider is contemplating an offer at an interesting time. Under terms of its shareholders' agreement, MLSE, whose owners include the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, TD Bank, CTV Globemedia, and real-estate tycoon Larry Tanenbaum, is required to periodically commission an independent valuation of MLSE.

A recent report prepared for the company concluded MLSE is worth a staggering $1.5 billion thanks to a roster of assets which includes the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, the Air Canada Centre and digital channel Leafs TV.

There'd be a sense of irony to a Leafs team owned by a Russian – even one who grew up in Canada from the age of 13. The Leafs' former owner Harold Ballard had such contempt for the Soviet Union that he wouldn't let its teams play in Maple Leaf Gardens.

And when the Soviets shot down a South Korean airliner in 1983 because it entered Soviet airspace without permission, Ballard – who referred to Russians as "parasites and barnacles who steal our money" – cancelled performances of the Moscow Circus at the Gardens.

Shnaider faces long odds in a bid to buy Canada's largest sports concern. "Management has done an outstanding job with that company," said Brian Cooper, a Toronto-based sports marketer. "They've gone from a company with one team in a decrepit building and become a multi-brand giant with four teams, expertise in arena management, two TV networks and, now, a pair of condominium towers that they've already sold out."

Since MLSE is a private company, Shnaider would surely need to offer a premium. One investment banker who specializes in sports said Shnaider might have to offer as much as $1.75 billion to seriously attract the interest of Teachers, which has been MLSE's majority owner since 2003 with a 58 per cent stake. Rob Tilliss, a former senior banker with J.P. Morgan, said Shnaider might be able to borrow as much as $900 million toward a purchase, depending on his cash flow.

Several sports industry officials said MLSE's investors would probably consider a prospective offer.

"Teachers is going to look at every serious deal because they have a fiduciary responsibility to their constituents," Cooper said.

Moreover, the former Toronto Argonauts president said, Teachers might be enticed to cash in on its 13-year hockey investment.

"MLSE must be getting close to optimal value," Cooper says. "I don't see them making a lot more off sponsorships or ticketing. So the question is, do you hold onto the asset believing that down the road their two TV channels will significantly increase in value?"

Teachers' spokesperson Deborah Allan says the pension plan is unaware of Shnaider's interest. While Allan declined to discuss the MLSE investment in detail, she said when Teachers considers severing ties to any of its investments, "we look at things like re-investment risk. If we sell, we have cash that has to be re-invested somewhere else. And that opens us up to risk."

According to internal company documents recently reviewed by the Star, MLSE forecasts a profit in 2007 of $83 million on revenue of $383 million. By 2011, thanks in part to a new local broadcast contract that pays the team as much as $700,000 a game, the company expects to widen its profits to $105 million on revenue of $477 million.

Tanenbaum, meantime, owns 13 per cent of MLSE and has a right of first refusal on any shares sold.

That could block any outside bidder, Shnaider included, from pursuing a purchase no matter how much is offered. Tanenbaum is out of the country and couldn't be reached for comment.

A self-professed sports junkie, Shnaider would seem to have the money needed to make a serious bid for MLSE. In October, Forbes magazine estimated the York University graduate had a net worth of $1.8 billion (U.S.). That placed him 14th – tied with Quebec cheese magnate Lino Saputo and ahead of Research in Motion co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie – on a list of 23 Canadian billionaires profiled by the magazine.

If Shnaider was able to gain control of MLSE, it could reinvigorate the Maple Leafs' fortunes. Teachers assumed majority ownership of MLSE in 2003 when supermarket tycoon Steve Stavro sold his interest in the company. But since then, it's been widely speculated that while Teachers is committed to winning, it's more beholden to the company's bottom line.

 

Canada Expects Question Marks To Start Foray Into U-18 Tourney

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

(January 07, 2008) Women's hockey moves into new territory this week with its first world under-18 championship in Calgary.

So much so the host team knows almost nothing about the strengths and weaknesses of any of their potential opponents, except the United States.

"I have no idea," said coach Melody Davidson. "We played a three-game series with the U.S. in August, but they've adapted their line-up."

"I'm sure the Swedes and Finns will throw traps at us and try to capitalize on mistakes. I expect most teams will mirror their national senior teams."

The eight-country event begins with four games today, with Canada facing the Czech Republic at Father David Bauer Arena. Canadian women have never faced a Czech team at any level of international competition.

"We'll go in blind the first game, but after that, we'll be pre-scouted," added Davidson, the GM of the national women's program and former head coach of the senior team.

For the round robin, Canada is in Group A with the Czechs, Finland and Germany. Group B consists of the United States, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland.

All eight teams play on the first three days of the tournament. The semi-finals are Friday and the gold and bronze medal games are on Saturday.

Ten games, including the gold medal contest Saturday night, will be webcast on telus.com and hockeycanada.ca.

If form holds, the under-18s will be much like the senior levels, where Canada and the U.S. dominate, although the Canadians swept their American neighbours in their August series.

"I hope it isn't, but I won't know until we start playing," added Davidson. "But whether it is or not, it's a positive step in the growth of our game."

It moves the women's game a step closer to matching the various levels of world champions found in the men's game.

And putting a Canadian team together became an extension of the same scouting process that produces the senior and national under-22 teams.

Players were spotted on their provincial under-18 teams, especially at the Canada Winter Games, and invited to an off-ice camp in May and an on-ice camp in July.

The star attraction should be forward Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., the 16-year-old who leads the Canadian Women's Hockey League in scoring.

The Americans kept 11 players from the August series against Canada, including U.S. senior national team members Anne Schleper and Kelly Wild. The Americans also have forward Elizabeth Turgeon, the daughter of former NHL star Pierre Turgeon, and Amanda Kessel, the sister of Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel.

SPORTS TIDBITS

Venus And Serena Tune Up For First Grand Slam

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 04, 2008) *Venus Williams beat up on her Chinese opponent Peng Shuai in straight sets Thursday at Hong Kong's JB Group Classic tournament, while Serena nursed herself back to health and beat Alicia Molik at the Hopman Cup finals, allowing the United States to advance within a 3-0 clean sweep of Australia.  V. Williams, ranked 8th in the world, said she was delighted with her 6-1, 6-2 victory over Peng, considering she took some time off to graduate from design college.   "I haven't been out there in a long time, and I had to fight for every point," she told reporters after the match. "But I felt like all the things I have practiced really paid off," she added.  Meanwhile, S. Williams' 6-2, 7-6 (9-7) win over Molik on Thursday meant the U.S. could not be dislodged from the top of Group B, regardless of other results.    After a delayed arrival due to illness, Williams opened her Hopman Cup in Australia with a narrow victory over Lucie Safarova on Monday, but felt her form improved against Molik.     "I felt that I returned well and I've been practicing my return," she said. "It's all coming together and as long as I keep playing like this I'll be solid."

Venus Beats Sharapova To Win In Hong Kong

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 7, 2008) *
Venus Williams crushed Maria Sharapova Saturday in the finals of the JB Group Classic tennis tournament in Hong Kong, which serves as a warm-up for the year's first Grand Slam event in Australia later this month. "Obviously, she is a very good opponent, so I definitely had to bring my best game," Williams told reporters of the Russian world number four. "So it is very exciting, especially going into the Australian, playing so well against someone of her calibre."   Williams, 27, is ranked number eight in the world despite not having played a competitive game since October and focusing most of her spare time pursuing a degree in fashion design. She took just 80 minutes to beat Sharapova 6-4, 6-3.    "Venus must be one of the few who can arrive the day before the tournament and end up winning," said Sharapova after the game. "When your opponent is serving big and consistently well, you need to take the opportunities on second serve and I think I did a poor job of that."

Scottie Pippen Wants To Coach

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 8, 2008) *
Scottie Pippen, who played alongside Michael Jordan during multiple championship runs with the Chicago Bulls, says he'd like to give the NBA another shot – as a coach. "My playing days are pretty much over, I've put my time in," Pippen, 42, told a news conference. "I've walked away from a few assistant jobs, but they just haven't been the right situation for me. I hope to some day get back in the game." When asked about head coaching, Pippen said: "That would always be nice. It would be nice to start at the top...I am willing to do whatever it takes, but some day, yes, I would like to be a head coach." Pippen added of his long-time team, the Chicago Bulls, who fired their coach Scott Skiles last month: "I've shown some interest. I just have to wait and see."  The former athlete says he would also consider a head position at the collegiate level. "It all depends where, but, yeah, I would be. I am pretty much open to whatever, preferably head coach," the six-time NBA champion said. Pippen, who retired from the NBA more than three years ago, spoke to the press while in Finland to play two games for Helsinki club Torpan Pojat and a third one in Sweden. He scored 12 points and had seven rebounds in 23 minutes, as his team beat Porvoo 93-81.

::OTHER NEWS::

Circus School Seeks Students

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara, Entertainment Reporter

(January 04, 2008) Juggling, clowning, acrobatics, dance and gymnastics.

If you think you've got what it takes to join the National Circus School, you'll have to do all that and more – and in French.

The renowned Montreal school – the only one of its kind in North America – is holding auditions in its hometown and in Toronto and Vancouver next month.

The deadline to apply to audition is Jan. 18.

But be prepared to stretch your physical and artistic limits to the breaking point and beyond, say students past and present.

"I've done trapeze and I've never done that before. I've learned a lot. It's fun," says Emma Stones, 14, of Toronto, who is partway through her first year.

Anna Kitchenko, 16, a long-time Toronto resident originally from Russia, is in her third year of the high school program and is waiting to audition for the next phase – a three-year university-level diploma program.

"It has changed my life completely. I've become more responsible. You set your own goals ... and you organize your life and you find out where you want to be later. You sort of grow up in this school as an individual," said Kitchenko, who plans to use her skills to travel the world as a circus performer.

The program also includes a full-time academic component.

For Stones, the smallish classes of 24 also help fend off the homesickness.

"When you're spending more than half your day at the school, it does become your second family," she said.

Graduates Kevin O'Connor and Chelsea O'Brian are parlaying their experience into creating a circus company of their own, based in Toronto, called Tipping Point Productions. Their first performances as a company are scheduled to take place in April at the Bathurst Street Theatre.

"It definitely takes someone who's well-rounded, someone who has an athletic ability as well as performance capacities. It's combining artistic with the physical," said O'Brian, a Vancouver native.

"It's a lot of training. You're there sometimes eight or 10 hours a day training with people from around the world," said O'Connor, a London, Ont. native, noting classmates come from across Europe and as far away as Peru and Australia.

As for becoming proficient in Canada's other official language, O'Connor said: "When I was up on the ropes and my teacher only spoke French, I learned pretty quick."

The school also boasts a 95 per cent employment rate for graduates, who work in the entertainment field.

"It's an incredible experience. You get tons of one-on-one coaching and the best coaches from around the world, from Russia, from Europe," O'Connor said.

"You get to perform a lot. You get tons of exposure to people from all over the world, agencies and companies. You get connected to circuses all around the world."

But with the pleasure comes the pain, O'Connor and O'Brian agree ruefully.

"There's always something. As soon as one part of your body gets healed, there's another problem in another part of your body," O'Brian said.

"It's a lot of fun, it's gruelling and eye-opening. It's a tough three years," O'Connor added.

Norman Mailer Archive Opened For Public

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press

(January 03, 2008) AUSTIN, TEXAS–Norman Mailer was a literary pugilist, attacking his subjects and opponents as writer, debater and cultural provocateur.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, fighter, feuder, journalist and poet, Mailer was a key figure as postwar America roiled through the era of civil rights, Vietnam and women's liberation.

On Thursday, his personal archive – more than 1,000 boxes of manuscripts, letters, magazines, drawings, photographs and more – opened to the public at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

Mailer sold the archive to the Ransom Center for $2.5 million in 2005. He died Nov. 10. It has taken archivists two years to catalogue the collection for viewing by scholars, researchers and the public.

Mailer became famous with his debut novel, 1948's The Naked and the Dead, which drew on his experiences as a soldier in World War II. Other best-known works include The Armies of the Night and The Executioner's Song.

"Norman Mailer's ambition was to write the great American novel. Perhaps he didn't," said Ransom Center Director Thomas Staley. "His engagement with culture, sometimes combative and bombastic, but always interesting, made him a dominant literary and cultural figure.''

The archive includes materials from the 1930s to 2005. It has several unpublished materials, ranging from screenplays and short stories to No Percentage, a novel written while Mailer was a student at Harvard.

There are about 40,000 letters to and from family, other writers and notable personalities, including Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, Muhammad Ali and John Lennon.

It includes two stories written when he was 8 and 11 years old: Adventures of Bob and Paul and The Martian Invasion. It also has files from his accountants and lawyers, report cards, tax returns and car repair bills.

"His mother kept everything. She was convinced of his genius,'' Staley said.

There are likely to be few real surprises, said Steve Mielke, the Ransom Center's lead archivist on the project. Mailer's life was so public – "very much like and open book," Mielke said – that it's unlikely the collection holds any skeletons. But there are a few nuggets to be found.

A personal phone list includes numbers for Playboy's Hugh Hefner, women's rights activist Gloria Steinem, actor Montgomery Clift and writer Truman Capote, to name a few.

The collection of letters includes one from Capote in 1960 when Capote was living in Spain and writing In Cold Blood.

"Hope other aspects of your summer are equally triumphant,'' Capote wrote in tiny script in blue ink. "My own is – quiet. Am working steadily on my book about the murder case in Kansas – but it is very difficult, especially since I have to keep battling my own emotional involvement.''

The Mailer archive is the largest collection of a single writer at the Ransom Center, which boasts holdings that are said to be worth $1 billion, including the papers of a number of prominent writers.

"I think it's going to give a generation of students subjects for their dissertations," Staley said.

'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Grey's Anatomy' win People's Choice Awards

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(January 09, 2008)  LOS ANGELES – The stars of Grey's Anatomy and Pirates of the Caribbean were among the fan favourites at the 34th annual
People's Choice Awards on Tuesday, as CBS scrapped its usual live broadcast of the show in favour of a strike-friendly, pre-taped program.

The two-month-old Writers Guild of America strike has taken a toll on Hollywood's awards season, leading to the cancellation of the Golden Globes and the scaling-down of People's Choice. The fate of other shows, including the Oscars, remains in question.

The People's Choice Awards announced last month that it would replace its traditional live show with "a new format" that had its crews deliver trophies to music, film and television stars on location.

Robin Williams accepted his award for favourite funny male while on tour with the United Service Organizations in Kabul, Afghanistan. Members of Rascal Flatts picked up their prize for favourite group at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and Patrick Dempsey found out he was the favourite male TV star while at the Daytona International Speedway in Orlando.

The show couldn't be cancelled entirely, host Queen Latifah said Monday.

"The thing about the People's Choice Awards that's different from everybody else is it's the people's choice," she said. "So as much as we actors and writers and everyone are dealing with the writers strike and supporting the Writers Guild, you can't disrespect the people who keep us working, and that's the people. Ten million people logged on and voted for everyone, so out of respect for them, we have to" present the awards.

Other winners in categories that spanned from television to movies to music included Katherine Heigl of Grey's as favourite female TV star, Dancing With the Stars as favourite reality show, Ellen DeGeneres as favourite talk show host and Justin Timberlake as favourite male singer.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

St. Maarten: Sliver of Sunny Shangri-la

Source: Melanie Reffes

With only a ‘welcome’ sign separating the French side from the Dutch side, the smallest territory in the world shared by two nations is a cosmopolitan slice of Caribbean life. Measuring just 37 square miles and 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico, St. Maarten/St. Martin bustles from dawn to dusk with gourmet eateries, endless shopping and an impressive array of accommodations from luxurious villas on the French side to world-class resorts on the Dutch side

 A short drive from the Princess Juliana International Airport, the
Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino sits on ten acres facing the southwest shore. Aviation fans like to stand on the beach during peak travel times to watch the jets land and take-off later telling stories about being so close they can see the pilots waving from the cockpit.  Snapping photos of the giant jets is a rite of passage for resort guests although it can get noisy as the planes touchdown on the tarmac or soar into the open sky.

 The all-inclusive-o resort with the picture-perfect beach  is self-contained with a theatre,  nightclub,  two pools , three restaurants; a  promenade of forty  boutiques and more restaurants; four tennis courts, spa and  25,000 square feet of  meeting space. 

Rooms are in two buildings -Sky Tower and the Ocean Terrace- and include Premiere units created from a 2.5 million dollar renovation completed last year. The Sky Tower is above the Promenade with extremely high room ceilings giving the illusion the room is bigger than it is while the Ocean Terrace is steps from the main restaurant with a bird’s eye view of the airport.  “All rooms are virtually the same except the best views are on the higher floors “says Bernard Hunt, Director of Sales surveying the awesome panorama from room #879.  Penthouses on the 10th floor ooze style and charm and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Anguilla.

Dining options include the Ocean Terrace buffet and the beach-side Palms Grill with a noteworthy St. Maarten Burger’ piled high with mango and papaya that’s a hit with hungry guests. More upscale, the Point is renowned for its sumptuous wine pairing menus and in the Promenade, Bajatzu stands out with low lighting, leather banquettes and rum-doused plantains not to be missed.  The exhibition kitchen means you can watch your steak as it’s perfectly cooked to your specifications.

A Caribbean chill-out at the Good Life Spa aims to balance the mind and body according to the ‘5 energies of material existence’. This holistic haven for rejuvenation may seem hippy-dippy until you’re under a Steam Dome as honey is rubbed all over the body until your skin feels like hand-spun silk.  And even if you can’t tell your chakras from your kishkas, you’ll feel relaxed after a soak in a seaweed bath. New on the massage menu, Royale Relief - $49.50 - 25 minutes- readies gamblers for extended play at the Vegas-style Casino Royale, the largest in St. Maarten.

It’s never too early to book a Valentines Day vacation.  The Sonesta Romance  Rendezvous  Package is a three-night getaway that includes upscale accommodations, bottle of bubbly, box of divinely decadent chocolate, dinner for two, breakfast in bed and discounts at the Good Life Spa.  Package rates start at US$349 per night through March 28, 2008 with additional nights at $299 per room, per night based on double occupancy.  
Reservations: 1-800-SONESTA (1-800-223-0757.)  

 www.sonesta.com/MahoBeach


Get off the Beach Chair: Exploring the Island

Take a leisurely stroll through the capital of Philipsburg and you’ll pass   the Court House built in 1793; the St. Maarten Museum and on a peninsula between Great Bay and Little Bay, Fort Amsterdam was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean. The island is the only completely duty-free port in the Caribbean where visitors shop till they drop with prices the lowest in the region. Fifteen minutes on foot from Great Bay Resort or a bus ride from the Sonesta Maho, Front Street and the parallel boulevard frequented by locals called Back Street is a shoppers Mecca. .  The cafes beckon with cappuccinos; the Crafts Market is a spirited cornucopia of tropical souvenirs and the Boardwalk is ideal for people-watching and a cold beer.

Nearly lost in the Front St. shuttle, the island’s oldest hotel is a throwback to a more gracious era with peacock chairs in the lobby and a portrait of Dutch Queen Wilhelmina on the wall.  With ceiling-fanned rooms and a beach bistro, The Pasanggrahan blithely ignores the hustle beyond its walls.  A few steps away, the Delft Blue Gallery is the only store in the Caribbean selling the authentic white and blue ceramics. “The most valuable piece we have is a 1923 plate that was made in honour of the Queen “, smiles Falo Oosdburg, owner, “it’s not for sale, but if you really like it, I might consider an offer.”

Art aficionados will not want to miss the treasures   in the Ikemba African Gallery where Nigerian owner Michael Maghiro stocks masks, ebony sculptures and hand-woven clothing.  Nearby, Deny Ramsami loves to chat to tourists browsing his Le Saint-Geren gallery that showcases the work of fifty local artists.

Started by Nick Maley, the special effects wizard who created the little green Yoda with the big eyes and pointed ears, the Planet Paradise store is near the cruise ship pier and now has an   adjacent museum with authentic Star Wars movie memorabilia.  “The movie changed my life forever, “smiles the cherubic creature-builder, “but I still prefer simple living in St. Maarten.”

On the French side in the Marina Royale, the Gingerbread Galerie is a candy store of Creole color carrying the largest collection of Haitian art in the world. Next to the Pier, the crafts market is busiest on Wednesdays and Saturdays where vendors like Wilma Sharday sells her handcrafted beads and Lilia Miguel stocks fresh spices and home-made pepper sauce.  Note to shoppers – best deals are in the early morning as the first sale of the day means good luck for vendors.  Also in the market, Felix Artsen has been chopping coconuts for thirty years at his Coconut Juice Bar.    “This brew cools you off so you can shop for another few hours,” he says as he pours a tall glass of coconut water for $5.00.  

 And if it’s Tuesday, it must be Harmony Nights from January to May when a spirited street party stretches from Il Nettuno to the Rainbow Café with drummers, dancers and street vendors galore.

Getting There:

On January 17, 2008, Jet Blue will add non-stop flights from JFK to Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM).   Other carriers include Spirit Airlines, Air Canada, American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Northwest, US Airways, KLM, Air France, United and Windward Islands Airways (WINAIR)

::FITNESS NEWS::

Ab & Butt Toners: 10 Best Exercises

By Raphael Calzadilla, B.A., CPT, ACE, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro


I hate to see anyone feeling awful about their body, but at the same time that's what it sometimes takes for people to make changes. Looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself, becoming annoyed with how tight your clothes fit, going to the doctors and hearing about your health issues… Most times a wake-up call is exactly what we need.

So what areas of the body stand out so much that they practically initiate this wake-up call? We are obsessed with these two areas of the body -- glutes and abs. If an alien landed on earth and knew little of our culture, it would quickly assume that a firm butt and tight abs were reserved for those with royalty and prestige. It may sound crazy but just think of the way you look at someone with a tight butt or flat stomach.

A calorie-reduced nutrition program combined with exercise will do wonders to create a tight booty and firm abs. The formula that works for a healthy body is the same one that works for a great looking butt and abs -- nutrition, exercise and loads of consistency.

As far as nutrition, the biggest mistake people make is reducing calories as low as possible. After a few days of this insane approach they're back to eating more junk then ever because the approach isn't realistic. The key is to reduce calories low enough to lose fat but still keep calories high enough to sustain your energy. Food, when used properly, can actually stimulate the metabolism to lose body fat. This is where eDiets can help! Our staff of qualified dieticians have not only created great meal plans, but they're also accessible to you as an eDiets member whenever you have a question.

Your glutes and abs won't get tighter and smaller unless your overall body fat is reduced. You can perform all the butt movements on the planet for hours a day, but it won't make one bit of difference unless you lose body fat. Spot reduction is simply not possible.

To help accelerate your progress, I've constructed five great abdominal exercises and five great butt exercises. Take two exercises (one butt and one abs) and include them in your current workout (no matter what the workout is). Perform three sets of 15 reps of each on alternate days of the week. After three weeks, choose two other movements from the list. This alternating schedule will allow you to keep changing abdominal and butt exercises without adapting to the same movement. And it will also prevent boredom.

ABDOMINALS

Vertical Scissors


Starting Position:

  Sit on a chair or bench with your
· legs straight out in front of you.

  Your hands should be under your
· butt for balance.

Movement:

  Contracting your abdominals, lift
· your right leg as you lower your left leg.

  Reverse the positions of
· your legs by lowering your right leg and raising your left leg, mimicking a scissor.

Key Points:

  Breathe rhythmically throughout the
· exercise.

  Squeeze your butt and hip muscles as you switch legs.
·

Cable Kneeling Rope Crunch

Starting Position:

  Kneel in front of
· the cable machine with your body facing the machine. Hold a rope attached to the upper cable attachment. Keep your elbows in.

Movement:

 
· Contracting the abdominals, curl your body downward toward your legs stopping when you have reached a full contraction of your abdominals.

  Slowly
· return to the starting position stopping just short of the weight stack touching.

Key Points:

  Exhale while lifting the weight and
· curling down.

  Inhale while returning to the starting position.
·

Incline Bench Leg Raises

Starting Position:

  Lie on an
· incline bench and stabilize your body by gripping the bench above your head with your legs extended out.

Movement:

  Contracting the lower ab
· area, raise your legs up until your hips form a 90-degree angle.

 
· Slowly return to the starting position stopping just short of your legs touching the bench.

Key Points:

  Exhale while lifting your legs.
·

  Inhale while returning to the starting position.
·

  Point
· your chin toward the ceiling to avoid using your upper body.

Reverse Ab Curl

Starting Position:

  Lie on the floor with your
· back relaxed and your hands on the floor by your hips.

  Keep the upper
· back pressed into the floor throughout the exercise.

Movement:

 
· Contracting your abs, raise your butt and gently roll your hips off the floor stopping when you feel a full contraction of the abdominals and can no longer lift your hips.

  Slowly return to the starting position.
·

Key Points:

  Exhale while lifting your hips.
·

  Inhale while
· returning to the starting position.

Reverse Trunk Twist

Starting Position:

  Lie on the floor with your back
· relaxed and your arms out to the sides forming a "T" with your body.

 
· Extend your legs straight up in the air so that your hips form a 90-degree angle with a slight bend in your knees.

Movement:

  Contracting the
· abdominal and oblique muscles, lower your legs toward one side keeping your feet together and your back on the floor. Stop at the limits of the strength of your abdominal and oblique muscles.

  This may start out as a very small
· range of motion and gradually increase as you get stronger.

  Slowly
· return to the starting position.

  After completing the set on the one
· side, repeat on the other side.

Key Points:

  Exhale while
· lowering your legs.

  Inhale while returning to the starting position.
·

BUTT

Smith Machine Forward Lunge

Starting Position:

  Place the bar across
· the back of your shoulders. Be sure it is not resting on your neck.

 
· Place one foot forward and one foot back. Both feet are flat on the floor and facing forward with a slight bend in the knees.

Movement:

 
· Lower the weight until the front leg is at a 90-degree angle. The rear heel will come off the floor slightly but should remain straight with a slight bend in the knee.

  Contracting the quadriceps muscles, slowly return to the
· starting position stopping just short of the legs fully extending.

Key Points:

  Inhale while lowering the weight.
·

  Exhale while
· returning to the starting position.

  Do not let the front knee ride
· over your toes (you should be able to see your foot at all times).

  Do
· not let the back arch.

  Never let the knee of the back leg come in
· contact with the floor.

Barbell Wide Stance Squat

Starting Position:

  Begin by standing tall
· with feet shoulder-width apart. Although the animation shows the feet wider than shoulder width, I've found that the glutes receive better stimulation when the feet are shoulder width.

  Place a barbell across your shoulders. Be
· sure it is not resting on your neck.

  Maintain a neutral spine and a
· slight bend in the knees.

Movement:

  Concentrating on the
· quadriceps muscles, begin to lower your body by bending from your hips and knees.

  Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
·

 
· Slowly return to the starting position stopping just short of your knees fully extending.

Key Points:

  Exhale while returning to the starting
· position.

  Inhale as you lower down.
·

  Do not let your knees
· ride over your toes (you should be able to see your feet at all times).

  It helps to find a marker on the wall to keep your eye on as you lift
· and lower, otherwise your head may tend to fall forward and your body will follow.

  Think about sitting back in a chair as you are lowering down.
·

  Push off with your heels as you return to the starting position.
·

  Perform this movement in a slow and controlled fashion without using
· momentum.

  You may want to try this exercise without weights until you
· master the movement. It is a very effective exercise that involves most of the muscle groups of the lower body, but if done improperly can lead to injuries.

Straight Leg Reverse Lift

Starting Position:

  Start this
· exercise on your hands and knees.

  Straighten your left leg as if you
· were going to do a push-up.

  Keep the right leg bent, supporting your
· weight along with your arms.

Movement:

  Contracting the
· buttocks muscles, lift your left leg up toward the ceiling stopping when you feel a full contraction of the buttocks.

  Slowly return to the
· starting position.

  After completing the set on the left side, repeat
· on the right side.

Key Points:

  Exhale while lifting the leg.
·

  Inhale while returning to the starting position.
·

  Do not
· let the back arch.

  If you are an intermediate or advanced exerciser,
· you can add an ankle weight to the working leg to make it more challenging.

Dumbbell Lunges

Starting Position:

  Stand straight with your feet
· together.

  Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down at your
· sides.

Movement:

  Step forward with the right leg and lower
· the left leg until the knee almost touches the floor.

  Contracting the
· quadriceps muscles, push off your right foot slowly returning to the starting position.

  Alternate the motion with the left leg to complete the set.
·

Key Points:

  Inhale while stepping forward.
·

  Exhale
· while returning to the starting position.

  The step should be big
· enough that your left leg is nearly straight. Do not let your knee touch the floor.

  Make sure your head is up and your back is straight.
·

  Your chest should be lifted and your front leg should form a
· 90-degree angle at the bottom of the movement.

  Your right knee should
· not pass your right foot. You should be able to see your toes at all times.

  If you have one leg that is more dominant than the other, start out
· with the less dominant leg first.

  Discontinue this exercise if you
· feel any discomfort in your knees.

Treadmill Incline Power Walk

Starting Position:

  Stand tall with your legs straddling the
· belt.

  Choose the manual program.
·

  Step carefully on the
· belt.

Movement:

  Perform a 5 minute warm-up and then adjust the
· incline setting to 12.0. Increase your speed to 3.0 mph to 3.5 mph based on your fitness level. Make sure to use your glutes and hips with each step Walk at this level for 15 to 20 minutes.

As always, please check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

::MOTIVATION::

Motivational Note

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - Ram Dass: Spiritual teacher, author, and professor.

"The most exquisite paradox ... as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. As long as you want power, you can't have it. The minute you don't want power, you'll have more than you ever dreamed possible."