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January 17, 2008

The year is just rolling along and the entertainment news is just pouring in!  There is just tons of news, deaths, drama, strikes, etc.  So please take your time and have a look. 

And check out my friend,
Marshall Tully of Full Blast Studio, in the FITNESS section!  Talk about cut! 



Dusty Cohl, 78: Toronto Film Festival Co-Founder

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman, Entertainment Columnist

(January 12, 2008) The Toronto International Film Festival will never be the same, because Dusty Cohl won't be there holding court non-stop for 10 days with his trademark black cowboy hat, premium cigars, salt-and-pepper beard and Cheshire-cat grin.

Murray Cohl, 78, died yesterday at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre after cancer got a grip on him around the time of the 2007 festival.

"The festival was Dusty's gift to the city," Bill Marshall, one of the festival's founders, said yesterday. "There would be no festival without Dusty."

In the words of Wayne Clarkson, a former TIFF director and currently CEO of Telefilm Canada, "Quite simply, Dusty put Toronto on the showbiz map."

It's a cherished part of TIFF lore that the idea of creating a major international film festival in Toronto began in 1964 when Cohl and his wife Joan, driving through France, arrived in Cannes without realizing there was a film festival going on.

He soon landed on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel, where he presided year after year holding court and schmoozing – and trying to persuade people that this was the sort of event that could kick-start a film industry in Toronto.

Dusty Cohl was above all a charming salesman, shrewd deal maker and cultural ambassador who had a gift for forging bonds of friendship with lots of people, including rich, famous and talented people all over the world, many of whom he persuaded to boost the Toronto film festival in its early years.

He was an only child, born on Feb. 21, 1929. His father was a house painter, his mother a salesperson at Eaton's.

Ted Kotcheff, the future movie director, met him at Camp Naivelt, a mostly Jewish Communist summer camp from which Cohl was expelled for allegedly being a Trotskyite.

"He was amusing and totally adorable, the most lovable man I ever met," says Kotcheff. "And he was exactly like that decades later when we reconnected."

After attending Harbord Collegiate, Cohl went to Osgoode Law School. In 1951, he married his high school sweetheart, Joan Carin, and they had three children, Robert, Karen and Steven.

As a young lawyer, Cohl made a fortune in real estate law and development. But he found his true calling when he drifted away from law and into show business.

"Life was a continuing party that Dusty never wanted to leave," said his close friend Barry Avrich, the advertising executive, filmmaker and TIFF board member who took over the Floating Film Festival, which Cohl started in 1992.

"He was always there behind the scenes, putting people together and offering advice. I was blessed to be in his galaxy."

According to Helga Stephenson, former director of TIFF, "Dusty took the boring out of being Canadian. And he took care of a lot of people."

Piers Handling, the festival's CEO, says: "The key point about Dusty was that he set a tone for this festival that set it apart from all the others. If European festivals were stuffy black-tie affairs, Toronto was going to be the opposite – irreverent. With his cowboy hat and T-shirts, he made a fashion statement, announcing who and what we were – rebels."

Cohl liked to be billed as accomplice on the various projects he worked on, including Marshall's 1977 movie Outrageous.

"Going to Cannes with Dusty was like going with Princess Diana," says Marshall, who ran the festival with his partner Henk van der Kolk in its first years. That's because Cohl had such a wide circle of friends and fans from the international movie world.

At Cannes, recalls former Star movie critic Ron Base, "Dusty would plunk himself down and before you knew it the most amazing assortment of people joined him – movie stars, directors, journalists, starlets, a movable feast."

Long-time friend Edward Greenspan says: "He was an original – unorthodox, free thinking, genuine, creative, eccentric."

Cohl became a member of the Order of Canada in 2003. His funeral will be a private family affair, with a public memorial later.

In September, the Toronto film festival will reveal its plans to honour Cohl.

Musical Stars Come Out To Sing Oscar's Praises

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(January 13, 2008) Oscar Peterson was recognized all over the world as one of the giants of jazz, but from time to time he let it be known that he felt somewhat neglected at home, possibly even taken for granted.

Yesterday, that stigma was gloriously removed once and for all with a classy, highly emotional, star-studded tribute at Roy Thomson Hall to the swinging genius of the keyboard who died on Dec. 23 at age 82.

Admission was free but the opportunity to attend this event (organized by the National Arts Centre's ceo, Peter Herrndorf) seemed priceless to 2500 people who packed the hall for what had the mark of an unforgettable historic occasion. Contributing to the magic was the feeling that virtually everyone who appeared on stage for two and a half hours had a strong personal connection with Peterson.

As Valerie Pringle, the perfect host, reminded us, Peterson will be forever known as the man who redefined swing, mastering the balance between technique and tenderness.

The tone for the day was set by Governor General Michaëlle Jean, for whom this clearly represented just another ceremonial duty. She told about living in the same working-class neighbourhood of Montreal where Peterson grew up and about the hopes of immigrant parents from the Caribbean whose aspiration for their children was they could grow up to be, like Oscar, simply the best.

Veteran producer Brian Robertson achieved pacing and momentum by mingling spoken tributes by special guests with short and effective musical interludes featuring a star-studded line-up.

The Oscar Peterson Quartet assembled for this occasion included jazz musicians from Sweden, the U.S. and Canada. Monty Alexander, the pianist in the band, put us in an upbeat mood by almost out-Oscaring Oscar. But the pianist who brought the crowd to its feet was Herbie Hancock, who decided only a few days ago that he just had to be at this event and took a red-eye flight to overcome the obstacle of an impossible schedule.

Hancock recalled that when he was a teenager planning to become an electrical engineer, hearing a Jazz at the Philharmonic record changed his life. "Who is that piano player?" he asked. The answer, of course, was Oscar Peterson. If it hadn't been for that, Hancock confided, the world would have had one more electrical engineer.

Quincy Jones, the great jazz composer and conductor, drew a standing ovation as soon as he walked onto the stage. Recalling a half-century of collaborating with Peterson, Jones noted that jazz was never a macho form. "Musicians don't think twice about letting our feminine side come out."

Alluding to a memorable concert tour that featured Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, with Peterson and bassist Ray Brown as the opening act, Jones quipped: "I wouldn't dare repeat the dialogue I heard between Oscar and Ray."

Several speakers referred to Peterson's courage in continuing to perform after suffering permanent damage in a 1993 stroke. But in the words of Bob Rae – accomplished pianist, former Ontario premier and friend of the Peterson family – the world discovered that a one-handed Peterson was better than almost anyone else with two hands.

To my ears the musical highpoint – and the emotional one as well – was provided by the sublime Nancy Wilson, who quietly and plaintively sang a little-known song about the pain of saying goodbye, filled with expressive pauses. And she added: "In my heart, no one I have ever loved has left. They're always here."

The program included four female vocalists, but there was one glaring omission. Molly Johnson, Toronto's own marvellous jazz singer, was seated in the guest section but was left out of the performing line-up.

The proceedings came to an epic close as the stunning Measha Brueggergosman joined forces with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, the University of Toronto Gospel Choir and the Sharon Riley and Faith Chorale for the finale: "To Freedom," a kind of inspirational anthem written by Peterson in 1962 in the era of anti-racism marches.

It got a rousing standing ovation from the audience. But to me, that is not the legacy of Oscar Peterson that will be joyously remembered decades from now.

It's the swinging Oscar I will always cherish – the one who could create mood-elevating miracles with Harold Arlen tunes like "As Long As I Live," "It's Only a Paper Moon" or "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive."

That's his true exit music. It doesn't get any better than that.

Major Studios Cancel TV Writers' Contracts

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(January 15, 2008) LOS ANGELES — Four major studios have cancelled dozens of
contracts with writers in a possible indication that the current television season cannot be saved, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. The move means the two-month old writers strike may also endanger next season's new shows, the Times said. January is usually the beginning of pilot season, when networks order new scripted shows. But the strike leaves networks without a pool of comedy and drama scripts from which to choose. 20th Century Fox Television, CBS Paramount Network Television, NBC Universal and Warner Bros. Television told the Times they have terminated development and production agreements. Studios typically pay $500,000 to $2 million a year per writer for them and their staffs to develop new show concepts. “I didn't see it coming,” Barbara Hall, a writer and producer whose credits include former CBS series Joan of Arcadia and Judging Amy, told the Times, which said ABC executives gave her the news Friday. “I am not entirely sure what their strategy is, all I know was that I was a casualty of it.” The newspaper said more than 65 deals with writers have been eliminated since Friday.

EMI To Slash Workforce Amid Restructuring

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

(January 15, 2008) LONDON – The new owners of music label
EMI Group – home of the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and the Spice Girls – said Tuesday they plan to cut up to 2,000 jobs, or just over a third of the firm's workforce, in a restructuring aimed at offsetting the impact of falling revenue from CD sales and the departure of several of its major artists.

EMI said it hopes the restructuring of its recorded music division, to be completed in six months, will save up to 200 million pounds ($400 million — dollar figures U.S.) a year.

The company said sales, marketing, manufacturing and distribution would be combined in a single, global division. The changes will entail the loss of 1,500 to 2,000 jobs from the current workforce of 5,500.

The company did not provide details but said it intended to help its artists to make more money through sponsorship and other deals.

EMI's label's artists also include the Beastie Boys, Norah Jones and Kylie Minogue.

Private equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners bought the company for 2.4 billion pounds ($4.9 billion) in August.

EMI has struggled more than the other major labels – Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group – amid the decline of CD sales and the rise of digital music downloading. The company blamed disappointing North American results for a series of damaging profit warnings, but industry experts also pointed to EMI's lack of new music and internal control problems.

Last year's takeover by Terra Firma, a private equity firm led by financier Guy Hands, sparked speculation there would be a cull of less-profitable acts from the EMI roster. In a November memo to staff, Hands said in future EMI would be "more selective in whom we choose to work with."

Several of EMI's biggest acts have left the label since the Terra Firma takeover, including Paul McCartney and Radiohead.

In a move to allay discontent, EMI promised to focus more resources on A&R – artists and repertoire – and "developing a new partnership with artists, based on transparency and trust."

In a statement, EMI said it would help artists "monetize the value of their work by opening new income streams such as enhanced digital services and corporate sponsorship arrangements."

"We have spent a long time looking intensely at EMI and the problems faced by its Recorded Music division which, like the rest of the music industry, has been struggling to respond to the challenges posed by a digital environment," said Hands, Terra Firma's chief executive.

"We believe we have devised a new revolutionary structure for the group that will improve every area of the business. In short it will make EMI's music more valuable for the company and its artists alike."

New Diva On The Block - Sassy Soprano Measha Brueggergosman

Excerpt from www.swaymag.ca - By Simona Siad

(January 16, 2008) IT’S NOT EVERYDAY you meet anillustrious soprano who loves singing Justin Timberlake songs in her bathroom. But, hey, that’s just

“It’s music that makes you want to shake your money- maker,” she says, laughing. “I’m sorry, but it’s true. There’s nothing that will get your engine running and rally the troops like ‘Sexy Back.’”

But it’s exactly that juxtaposition –– her cool and sassy demeanour with classical vocal skills to match –– that has continued to make
Measha Brueggergosman, the New Brunswick-bred soprano, so appealing to her fans.

To merely call her repertoire distinguished would be a gross understatement. From performing with numerous prestigious symphony orchestras around the world, to singing for the Prince of Wales and Nelson Mandela, she’s done more than prove she’s made it as a star soprano.

But this is no overnight success story. It’s been a long time coming for the 30-year-old, who spent her childhood listening to classical music on CBC and singing at the United Baptist Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Brueggergosman, speaking on the phone from her hotel room in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Spain recalls those moments clearly: “I’ve always felt very supported and edified. Whether it’s by my parents, my hometown or the teachers I have studied with.” She can even remember how members from her hometown held fundraisers to help send her to university, and how that support ultimately gave her a sense of purpose and responsibility.

“I could never consider not doing well in school, because I knew what people had sacrificed to get me there,” she says.

After studying music at the University of Toronto, Brueggergosman went on to complete a master’s degree in music at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dusseldorf, Germany.

But Brueggergosman stands out for more than just her obvious talent. She’s unapologetically herself: from how she wears her hair (big, big, big!) and her eclectic musical preferences (she admits she could be Jann Arden’s stalker) to her international work abroad (she recently premiered Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the La Scala Orchestra in Accra, Ghana marking the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence). Even her last name is a crazy amalgam of her husband’s last name and her own.

If you happened to catch her performance as a guest judge on Project Runway Canada, (she sent a designer home because she wouldn’t listen to directions), it gave great insight into how this star soprano has gotten so far. Measha clearly knows what she wants, how she wants it and when she wants it.

 “You truly are a diva,” said supermodel Iman admiringly during the show.

But don’t mistake her take-charge attitude for anything but ambition, because although it’s generally accepted that opera fans can be a tad bit elitist, this vivacious vocalist is quickly eroding opera’s snob appeal and making the genre seem more hip and accessible. She mingles with fans of all musical backgrounds, ages and ethnicities, even on MySpace, where she hosts her own page and chats with her fans.

Not to mention the fact that she’s a black opera singer in a genre of music that, with the exception of legendary Jessye Norman and Wilhelmina Wiggins Fernandez, has been reserved for mostly white sopranos. But according to Brueggergosman, race was never an issue growing up. In fact, it was her parents who instilled in her the confidence to dream beyond racial boundaries.

“I was raised to do no less than my full potential,” she says. “In addition to wanting to break many cycles (poverty, alcoholism) of his childhood, my father wanted to make sure we never felt limited, hindered or weighed down by race. My parents instead focused on education as power.”

And unless you’re one of this diva’s devotees, you may also not have noticed that there’s been a lot less of her to love lately. Recently, she made headlines by losing nearly 175 pounds through a mixture of diet and exercise –– she swears by Bikram heat yoga.

Despite the weight loss, like all women, she admits she still has moments when she does not feel comfortable in her own skin.

“Listen, girl,” she says laughing, “it’s an ongoing journey. I think a lot about wanting to like myself more. Wanting to be honest about the things I like about myself and acknowledge when I’m just feeding myself a load of crap.”

After Spain, her hectic schedule has her off to England and then Cannes, France, where she’ll launch a new line of M.A.C cosmetics for the European market. Then it’s off on the North American leg of her tour to promote Surprise, her latest release with the highly respected Deutsche Grammophon label.

The recording is slightly more eclectic and contemporary than typical classical fare, and includes Schoenberg’s Cabaret Songs, five songs by Erik Satie and the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs.

In the end, regardless of the music she makes or the places she’ll go, Brueggergosman will undoubtedly continue to make her fans and family proud. But don’t think for a minute that with all this fame she has lost touch with her roots.

“When I’m out there, I’m representing Christ, I’m representing my parents, New Brunswick and Canada,” she says. “I know it’s bigger than me.”

Brad Renfro, 25: Former Child Actor

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Jacob Adelman, The Associated Press

(January 16, 2008) LOS ANGELES — 
Brad Renfro was a street-smart Tennessee schoolboy plucked from obscurity in 1993 to play the title role in The Client.

The film’s success brought him instant stardom, but struggles with drugs and alcohol dogged his career. On Tuesday, he was found dead in his home. He was 25.

The cause of death was not immediately determined, said Craig Harvey, chief investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. An autopsy was planned.

In The Client, based on a John Grisham best-seller, he played a youngster who witnesses a suicide and gets caught up in a mob investigation. Susan Sarandon was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the lawyer the boy hires to help protect him.

Director Joel Schumacher wanted an unknown for the role.

“I didn’t want to use one of those pretty kid faces the audience would be instantly familiar with,” the director said when the film came out. “I want a real wise-ass, a kid who nobody would know.”

A Knoxville police officer who worked to educate children about drugs told a casting director about Renfro, whom he had seen in an anti-drug skit. That led to an audition and Renfro was chosen for the part.

“I’m definitely going to film school,” the boy said when The Client came out. “I want to be like Joel.”

Renfro followed up with major parts in the 1995 AIDS drama The Cure, Sleepers (1997) and Telling Lies in America (1997). More recent credits included Ghost World (2001), Deuces Wild (2002), and The Jacket (2005).

But he was arrested numerous times over the past decade.

The actor served 10 days in jail in 2006 after pleading no contest to driving while intoxicated and guilty to attempted possession of heroin. The latter charge stemmed from his arrest in Los Angeles’ Skid Row area, when he attempted to buy the drug from an undercover officer.

Other run-ins with the law included a 1998 charge of cocaine and marijuana possession, for which he avoided jail time in a plea deal. He was also placed on probation and ordered to pay $4,000 for repairs to a 45-foot yacht he and a friend tried to steal in Florida in 2000.

The following year, he was charged with underage drinking and violating the terms of his probation, and was ordered into alcohol rehabilitation.

After one court appearance, Renfro talked to reporters about rehabilitation, saying it had “definitely been an eye-opener” and he was eager to get clean.

Renfro’s lawyer, Richard Kaplan, said he did not know whether the death was connected to addiction.

“He was working hard on his sobriety,” Kaplan said. “He was doing well. He was a nice person.’’

Renfro recently completed a role in The Informers, a film adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel that stars Winona Ryder, Brandon Routh and Billy Bob Thornton.

“Brad was an exceptionally talented young actor and our time spent with him was thoroughly enjoyable,” Marco Weber, president of the film’s production house, Senator Entertainment, said in a statement.

Dennis Bowman, the retired police officer who had launched his career, told The Knoxville News Sentinel on Tuesday he had followed Renfro’s ups and downs over the years.

“With all the other problems he had, I can’t say I was dumbfounded (at his death),” he said. “I told everybody in 1993, `This will either be the best thing or the worst thing for Brad. Time will tell.’ I guess it told today.”


Celine's New Day

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Chrissy Iley

(January 12, 2008) LONDON — Celine Dion has sold 200 million records worldwide, making her the best-selling female singer ever. The mystery is, who exactly buys her music? She doesn't have quite the right shoes to be a fully fledged gay icon, and she certainly doesn't have a teen market. She has an amazing outstretching voice that reaches far into the vast expanses of the world's middle brow.

Recently though, she has been reappraised. Who would have thought Celine Dion could ever be cool? It's a bit like a chenille sweater the colour of an eggplant I got from H&M in 1992. It was never cool. It was ubiquitous, bland and not particularly fetching until it grew old. Now it's vintage, quirky, one-off.

Dion herself said a few years ago, “I don't try to be cool. That's not me.” Yet weirdly maybe she's so uncool she is now cool. She had a five-year residency at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, which is just coming to an end. It gave her more than the $250-million (U.S.) she supposedly made from it. It seemed such a strange thing to do at first, yet it brought her respect. Prince, Justin Timberlake, Ice-T and Britney Spears have all been to see her show. Superstar music producer Timbaland has said he'd consider teaming up with her.

When you call Caesar's Palace they answer with the name of her show. “It's a New Day at Caesar's Palace.” And so it became a new day for Celine. We meet under surreal circumstances. She's been mentoring the finalists at X Factor, an American Idol-like British television talent show. It's Saturday night. She's in a big trailer in the studio parking lot, in a state of high excitement. She has long tousled hair, which I suspect is real, and the face that launched a thousand why-the-long-face jokes isn't even that long. Big eyes, sensuous mouth, in the flesh, she's even sexy.

You might have imagined Celine Dion to be this ethereal, whimsical thing, but she's surprisingly savvy. Her new album Taking Chances (the single has the same name) is unexpectedly edgy and rockier. It has producers like Linda Perry, best known for her work with Pink, Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani.

Twenty years ago, she was this child-puppet-songbird thing. Now she's 39, one year older than Stefani, and weirdly emotional and available. The girl from Charlemagne, Que., still speaks with a French-Canadian accent. Sometimes what she says doesn't make sense, but it sounds very poetic and deep, not bland.

“It's me, who I am today,” she says about the departure represented by Taking Chances. “I grew. I didn't change. I evolved, which is different.”

Of course some people really don't like who she is. She has always been hugely criticized about her clothes, her taste, her marriage (anti-Celine feeling even erupted in hospitable Halifax before Christmas, leading to her manager-husband, René Angélil, cancelling a planned concert of hers there next summer after negative press and Internet comment). But she said recently, “For the first time I feel beautiful.” I wondered if this was because it was the first time she'd been settled in one place for several years. Or because she was insecure.

“Well, actually it was because my life went very fast. You are very busy, you sing in French, you sing in English. … You don't have time to think who you are. Now I prepare myself more.” In a way this doesn't answer the question at all. But I think she means she found time to be who she was and that made her beautiful.

“I was holding on too long to my career, to my song, to my vocal, to a note,” she says, sending herself up. “That's all they would send me, those songs with eight minutes on one note.”

She laughs. She has a huge laugh. “In the beginning I needed to prove myself to the industry. Not any more. How many million albums had she sold before she realized she didn't have to prove herself? “This is the first album. Since my son was born I know my job as a mother is much more important. The other stuff is not important at all, it's fun.”

On the TV we get a close-up of Beverly, one of the X Factor contestants Dion has been coaching. She's crying.

“This is great,” Dion says. “I told her not to hold her tears.” Dion doesn't hold on to her tears at all. “I was criticized many times for that in my career, but people who cry are blessed, so I do not hold on to them. I was crying all the time when I was young.”

She's proud of her ability to weep. “I cry at everything. When I see passion, like with some of these performers. I love fighters. I cry at everything my son does.

“I am much happier though now because I have meaning in my life. Before I was fighting for my place, holding on to my dream. Now I have a son and I am in love with my husband and I am singing because I love my passion of expressing myself through music.”

You wonder how stressed she must have been before with all that fighting for her place. She did look a lot different then. Her face used to look so strained and tight. She wore trouser suits a lot, dressed much older. Now she's always in lacy things and she likes a bit of corseting. Does she feel more sexy? “Absolutely. More sexy and more grounded.”

She used to say, “I don't try to be sexy, that's not for me.”

“But I am not trying,” she quips coquettishly. For me, being cool is to feel happy and stable and sure of myself. In the beginning, I think I wasn't involved in my career, I was just trying to do the job.”

Part of the Vegas residency was about stability for her son René-Charles. “When we moved to Las Vegas my heart of a mother was very fragile. I didn't want to tour the world and bring him backstage one night here, one night there. Now he's 7, I am ready to see the world with him.

“We would love another baby but we're not planning anything right now because I am touring for a year, but after that we'd love to try.”

Before Angélil's treatment for skin cancer [he's been in remission for several years], she had in-vitro fertilization, and frozen embryos await her. So trying may not be as easy-breezy as she puts it.

There is no doubt that Angélil's cancer was part of her evolution. Twenty-six years her senior and her manager since she was 12 years old, Angélil may have started off as the Svengali in the relationship, but the dynamic shifted after his cancer, discovered nine years ago. “Yes, I felt I was in charge as well,” Dion admits.

“You know, we have an extravagant life but we are normal people. Cancer happens to people.

“Once it touches you, it's in your life forever and it makes you realize how precious life is and how you have to live every day at its fullest.”

I tell here that there are things that I read about her that I'm wondering about. One, she is anorexic. Two, she tried to commit suicide.

And three, she doesn't dare have a glass of wine in case you become an alcoholic. She is outraged. “Okay. First, I'm not anorexic. It pisses people off that I am thin and I don't make any effort. Second, it was written that I had committed suicide, that I was dead. I had to ring my mother to say I am not dead.

“I was freaking out. Imagine, my whole family were freaking out. I don't even know where that came from.

“And as for the third thing, it's also not true. I love champagne. Cristal is my favourite. A glass of wine doesn't destroy the voice. Four bottles will.

“I have an extraordinary life and people are trying to find something wrong with my life.” She's angry now, especially about the anorexia bit.

She's in pretty good shape. She has elegant thin arms but no bones sticking out. “I have been thin all my life. Nobody in my family is overweight.”

She says that now she's ending Vegas she will have more time to relax, but she's a non-stop doer. Thinking is not a natural state for her, although she's recently discovered she likes to read. “I was concerned because I didn't go to school a lot and I was never interested in reading. My mum said, ‘Don't worry, you are so busy. You've just had a baby, don't add reading to your list.' Now I read a lot.”

Recently she's been reading in English too, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra.

“I had an image once about what is a man and what is a woman. The man is a tree. He's big, he's beautiful, moves the leaves, makes the shadow. … The roots of the tree is the woman. Without the roots, he won't survive. … But it takes two together to make the tree healthy. The man can take the spotlight, but only with the woman behind him. For me, it's the tree of life.”

I'm not sure if this is pure Deepak or pure Dion. I suspect the latter. Eccentric? Yes. Strangely submissive for one of the most powerful women in the music industry? Yes. But somehow, endearing.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Jazz World Salutes Its Masters

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - John Terauds, Toronto Star

(January 12, 2008) It may have been the most important night of the year in the world of jazz, but glitz, glamour and general hoopla took a backseat to a love of music last night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

A couple of thousand delegates to the 35th annual
International Association for Jazz Education conference – the first to be held in Toronto – were among the audience gathered in Constitution Hall to applaud seven new Jazz Masters anointed by the National Endowment of the Arts, the American arts granting agency. They were also there to pay tribute to the legendary pianist and composer Oscar Peterson, who died on Dec. 23.

Whereas most tribute and awards shows are long on speech and spectacle, the audience here was largely made up of musicians. So they heard plenty of music in Constitution Hall as well as at a number of other venues. Nearly 200 artists will have performed by the time the conference wraps up tomorrow.

On stage yesterday were the 16 members of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks orchestra, led by David N. Baker. There were also special musical guests, including long-time Peterson acolyte, friend and collaborator, Oliver Jones, bass player Dave Young, and American singer Kurt Elling.

National Ballet of Canada head and Canada Council of the Arts chair Karen Kain was on hand to introduce the Oscar Peterson tribute.

It was a low-key, heartfelt presentation, anchored by a stirring performance by Jones, Young and the Smithsonian band.

Peterson's widow Kelly and daughter Celine received a standing ovation as they stood on stage.

Kelly Peterson spoke of the pianist's "Childlike delight" in receiving awards, and how much he had been looking forward to joining the ranks of the Jazz Masters.

Last night's tribute was a warm-up for today's free public concert in honour of Peterson at Roy Thomson Hall. Doors open at 3 p.m.

In his opening remarks last night, National Endowment of the Arts chair Dana Gioia said that, since 1982, 100 artists have been named Jazz Masters in recognition of a lifetime devoted to the art of jazz.

Of last night's inductees – Peterson, conga virtuoso Candido Camero, trumpeter Joe Wilder, pianist Andrew Hill (who died last April), composer/arranger Tom McIntosh, bandleader/arranger Quincy Jones and composer/author/horn player Gunther Schuller – five were born in the 1920s.

Although people in the jazz field are working hard to promote new talents and expose young people to the art form, last night's awards and music served to highlight the indisputable fact that so much of what we think of as jazz today is still deeply rooted in the idioms of the 1940s and '50s.

Fortunately, the actual musical energy coming from the stage repeatedly recharged an audience that contained many young faces.

Kurt Elling was especially dynamic in a five-song set that started off with the old Guys & Dolls standby "Luck be a Lady" and ended with "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Steroid Accusations Inevitable?

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - New York Times News Service

(January 16, 2008)  When news surfaced over the weekend that
50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, Timbaland and other rap stars had been implicated in a steroids investigation, some hip-hop fans were shocked, but to many in the industry the accusations seemed inevitable.

Although public accusations of steroid and human-growth-hormone use by rappers and R&B stars are all but unheard of, the latest news struck a chord about the increasing pressure on these performers to maintain perfect, even superhuman physiques as a part of their image and brand.

The investigation, by the district attorney's office, in Albany, N.Y., has focused on doctors who illegally prescribe drugs for nonmedical purposes. None of the celebrities have been accused of breaking the law, though Albany's The Times Union, citing anonymous sources, reported that the stars have received packages of prescribed steroids and human-growth hormone at their homes, at hotels around the country and at the offices of a Long Island, N.Y., chiropractor.

But the news highlights an issue that's long been whispered about in hip hop as some performers have leaned more heavily on a Schwarzeneggerian body as part of their public image.

Representatives for Timbaland and 50 Cent did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. A spokesperson for Mary J. Blige said that the singer had never taken steroids, and a spokesperson for Columbia Records had no comment about Wyclef Jean. Talk has swirled about many rappers who have maintained suspiciously Olympian musculatures.

"The marketing of the images is so key now to so many different bottom lines," said Jeff Chang, the author of the hip-hop history Can't Stop Won't Stop. "Not just the music industry, but a whole range of consumer products.''

How the allegations will be received by fans, however, is far from clear. Illegal or unsavoury behaviour carries little stigma in some corners of the hip-hop world. And troubles with the law can even help.

Meet Uné, R& B Soul Artist: He's Got The Gift Of 'It.'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - By Chris Bythewood

(January 14, 2008) "IT," the commonly overused word in the entertainment industry, which we have all heard hundreds of, times typically referring to an entertainer is an intangible gift which was intended to be reserved for the few who's talents will transcend and stand the test of time.

Unlike the majority of examples the label has been attached to
UNÉ (pronounced you-nay). He has been properly labelled and blessed with the gift of "IT." 

As I sipped hot chocolate with his publicist Eugenia Wright, I noticed the jovial Detroit native walk into the restaurant and meet me with a huge smile and appreciation for the interview. 

Accompanied by his Manager, Ernest Thomas of "What's Happening" fame, I was quickly drawn into UNÉ's story.  UNÉ was more than I expected.  The steel city didn't create another tin man; this one had a heart and warmth with a great sense of humour.

His move to Los Angeles has been marred by unfortunate sacrifices which had to be made in order to pursue his dream.  From local stardom and frequent airplay in Detroit to his marriage and hometown, UNÉ has lost it all sacrificing more than most to reach his goal of entertaining the world with his music. 

Through every step, UNÉ has remained resilient and focused and credits his close-knit team for making him an up and coming artist people are beginning to notice.  In addition to his Publicist Eugenia Wright and Manager Ernest Thomas, UNÉ also singles out Producer Sterling G. and Co-Producer Carmela C. Martin as a driving force behind him. 

The self-titled album "UNÉ" is a soulful semi-stripped album, produced without the flash, smoke and mirrors typical of many artists we hear today.  The throwback voice of this Motown singer serenades its listeners through eleven solid tracks, solidifying UNÉ as a new artist the general public needs to know about.  The tracks "I Can Remember", "I Really Love You" and "Hit Da Shaw" are songs, which are likely to be on continuous repeat on any CD/ MP3 player.  UNÉ has been compared to great vocalists such as Luther Vandross, Carl Anderson and John Legend.

UNÉ is currently the featured artist on the popular UK website "Soulchoonz," and his my space web page www.myspace.com/unesongs which has brought him attention from a large number of domestic and international listeners.

UNÉ is a fan of music.  When asked what type of music inspires him, he responded "All."  He continued to explain how all music is to be appreciated and by finding the beauty in all genres, his music can only become more versatile and powerful.  With that answer, it all makes sense as to why UNÉ will become a successful artist.  He understands music not only as a musician, but also as a producer and consumer.  UNÉ was raised on legendary artists such as Tony Bennett, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Smokey Robinson and through his music; you can hear their influences.  In addition, UNÉ has kept his music fresh and new age by injecting his old school flavour with updated flare.  Jay-Z, Beyoncé, 50 Cent and Common all hold an inspirational chamber in his heart.  

As I spent a portion of my afternoon laughing and enjoying the company I shared a small table with, I realized my time was coming to a close.  My interview with UNÉ, Ernest and Eugenia was one of the most enjoyable interviews I had ever done.  In closing, Ernest added, "If UNÉ does everything I tell him to do, he will be a success." The statement was soon met with laughter from Ernest himself and the three of us followed suit.  The tandem is like a comedy act, but all business when need be.  Ernest is extremely proud to be associated with UNÉ and mentions that not only is UNÉ focused on his singing, but also in his community and gives back every chance he gets.  There isn't a hometown in America that wouldn't want to claim UNÉ as its own.  Detroit has once again produced an amazing vocalist, this time "It" by the name of UNÉ.

Janet Jackson Hopes 'Discipline' Will Turn Tide

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 14, 2008) *
Janet Jackson spoke at length to Billboard recently about her forthcoming album "Discipline," which marks her 10th disc overall and her first for Island Def Jam following more than a decade at Virgin Records.

First and foremost, she's hesitant to use the word "comeback" to describe the effort, which is due in stores on Feb. 26.

 "I think a comeback is when you leave and then you ... come back," Jackson said with a laugh. "People are always quick to use that word 'comeback,' but I never went anywhere, really."

 The first single from "Discipline," a bass-heavy club banger titled "Feedback," has been gaining traction at urban and pop radio – jumping 32 places to No. 52 on the latest Billboard Hot 100. It's a welcome change from the reception that met singles from her previous albums, 2006's "20 Y.O." (which stalled at 648,000 units in the U.S.) and 2004's "Damita Jo" (which moved 999,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan).  

 Should "Feedback" crack the top 10, it will be Jackson's first appearance there since her 2001 single "Someone to Call My Lover," which peaked at No. 3.

"Discipline," according to Billboard, "is heavier on dance tracks than seductive jams (Jackson's other forte). … There is an air of newness to the album that is partly the result of Jackson creatively straying from her longtime go-to production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis."

 "I was hoping we could do something together, but sometimes you have to explore and kind of kick yourself out of the nest," Jackson said of her decision to escape her production comfort zone. "It was something that I needed to do for myself, but I think (Jam and Lewis) felt it coming, too, 'cause I kept working with a different producer here or there."

 In addition to production by Jackson's longtime boyfriend Jermaine Dupri, Island's head of urban music, "Discipline" also features beats by newcomers the-Dream and Tricky Stewart ("Umbrella," "Bed"), Lil Jon, Stargate and songwriters Ne-Yo and Johnta Austin. Rodney Jerkins produced and wrote "Feedback" with Dernst Emile.

"Discipline" seeks to reverse a downward slide for Jackson that began with her breast being exposed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Despite "Damita Jo" bowing at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, the wardrobe malfunction began to eclipse the music. According to Jackson, the project was poorly handled.

 "Not to badmouth Virgin, 'cause it was my family for a very long time, but they kind of just lost touch," she said. "To only have support of the urban department and for (those two albums) to sell what they did, there's a lot to say for that. (At Island) they all come together, and one department knows what the other department is doing. You need that to really move forward. It's teamwork, and that's what Virgin lost." 

 Dupri expressed the same frustration during the latter part of his tenure as president of urban music at Virgin. The label's lack of support, he says, contributed to his departure following the release of "20 Y.O."

 "It was described to me that the music wasn't appropriate and that's what was making these outlets or certain places that usually would support her not willing to play the record," Dupri said. "I know better than that. In the music business, you at least get a shot." 

 But Billboard also says that sources close to "20 Y.O." claimed that Dupri controlled virtually every aspect of the marketing and promotion of the project as the president of Virgin's urban department at the time. Regardless, in February 2007, when Dupri was appointed to head Island's urban music department, Jackson soon followed.

 But while Dupri and Island's L.A. Reid worked together on "Discipline," Dupri, who executive-produced "Damita Jo" and "20 Y.O.," decided to step back and allow outside producers to help shape the sound, although he ended up producing all the vocals for the album. 

 "It's a crazy role for me, because I want the right things for her as my girl. I also want the right things for her as a label, but I also am the label president," said Dupri, who two years ago masterminded the comeback of another Virgin refugee, Mariah Carey. 

 As with "20 Y.O.," where fans got to design their own album covers, Jackson is offering another DIY promotional campaign for "Discipline." In January, her official Web site (http://www.janetjackson.com) launched a contest for fans to create their own homemade videos for "Feedback" and post them on her YouTube channel, Destination Discipline.

A Dream Come True For Buble

Excerpt from www.globenandmail.com - Jennifer Van Evra

Michael Buble At GM Place In Vancouver on Saturday

(January 14, 2008) VANCOUVER — It's barely been a decade since
Michael Buble was working as a lounge singer at Babalu - a tiny downtown Vancouver bar that was destroyed by fire in 2001 and is now an Irish pub. And, like so many aspiring crooners, the Burnaby, B.C. native and son of a fisherman played weddings and corporate events to pay the bills, and appeared in musicals such as the campy 1950s revue, Red Rock Diner.

Now the stuff of legend for millions of fans around the globe - some of whom travel all the way to Vancouver to see the spot where Babalu once stood - those formative days are long behind Buble, who has sold well over 11 million albums worldwide, is up for two Grammys and fills stadiums wherever he goes.

So when he took the stage for his sold-out show at GM Place - Vancouver's largest concert venue - on Saturday night, he seemed like a guy who had left town in a Pinto and returned in a Ferrari.

"So, how much does this remind you of Babalu?" he quipped, kicking off the evening with a fiery rendition of I'm Your Man and It Had Better Be Tonight (Meglio Stasera).

"But I'm so happy to be here. I had to drive, like, two blocks."

Dressed in a black suit, a white shirt, and a black tie that was pulled jauntily loose around his neck, Buble then launched into a cover-heavy set that ranged from a faithful rendition of Sinatra's I've Got The World On A String to a decidedly un-country take on Willie Nelson's You Were Always On My Mind as the audience - mostly middle-aged couples and bevies of young women - cheered and sang along.

Backed by a full horn section, percussion, guitars, piano and bass, the crooner seemed most at home belting out jazz classics such as the horn-heavy Feeling Good, made famous by the inimitable Nina Simone, the Drifters' Save The Last Dance For Me and the sultry Peggy Lee hit, Fever.

But while the estrogen levels in the stadium rose to precipitous highs as Buble performed several of his soft favourites radio hits, including Lost, which he co-penned with Jann Arden, and the toothache-sweet love song Everything, the material was by far the evening's least compelling.

Still, even Buble poked fun at the tunes, saying "I very badly wanted to be a hockey player. And now I'm singing these wimpy love songs."

And although there was no hiding the fact that his music is geared toward love-minded ladies - at one point, he even jumped into the crowd and gave hugs and kisses to several of his admirers - the heartthrob also made peace with the thousands of boyfriends and husbands in the crowd, acknowledging that many of them probably weren't too thrilled about going to the show. "I'm making my music," he reminded them jokingly before a cover of the sexy hit, Me And Mrs. Jones, "and getting you laid when you get home."

Later, he extended another olive branch to the men, comparing the Vancouver Canucks' season record with that of the Toronto Maple Leafs on a giant screen, then dedicating his monster hit Home to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Markus Naslund and Roberto Luongo of his hometown team.

After saying his thank yous and goodbyes ("This was a dream come true,"), Buble rounded off the evening with a swinging cover of the Queen hit Crazy Little Thing Called Love and the quiet ballad A Song For You.

As he neared the end of the last tune, he put down his mike and, under his own power, filled the stadium with the lines "I love you for my life, because you're all friends of mine/And when my life is over, I'll remember when we were together/Because we were alone and I was singing my song for you." Then he blew kisses to his fans, bowed, mouthed the words "You rock," and walked offstage, ready to take on the world.

Michael Buble plays Calgary tomorrow, Edmonton on Thursday, Saskatoon on Friday, Winnipeg on Saturday and other cities the following week.

Radiohead Heading To Toronto

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner, Staff Reporter

(January 10, 2008) Maybe the boys were just waiting to see which cities actually bought hard copies of In Rainbows, but
Radiohead has announced the towns that it will visit on its forthcoming North American tour and, yes, Toronto is on the list.

Actual dates and venues for the 22-city tour have yet to be revealed, but music sites such as Billboard.com and PitchforkMedia.com were reporting yesterday that the first leg will take place before an already scheduled sweep across Europe set to begin on June 6 with the second leg soon after that roadwork wraps up on July 8. Where Toronto or fellow Canadian tour stops Montreal and Vancouver fall on that vague timeline is anybody's guess.

Radiohead had an excuse to be vague yesterday, anyway, since the band was celebrating a No. 1 chart debut in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. for its much discussed seventh album, In Rainbows. Although the band made the entire record available online in October at whatever price individual downloaders were willing to pay – or for free – In Rainbows moved nearly 19,200 copies in Canada and 122,000 in the States during its first week of sales to land simultaneous top spots on the SoundScan charts this week. The record had appeared on the low end of the charts (at No. 156 in Canada) the previous week, but that's only because 10,000 or so copies had trickled out through North American retailers who violated the Jan. 1 street date.

In Rainbows is not just Radiohead's first No. 1 album since 2000's Kid A, incidentally, it's also the first No. 1 album ever for MapleMusic Recordings, the Toronto independent label that landed the Canadian rights to In Rainbows despite much competition from larger imprints.

Tierney Sutton Stumbles On Happiness

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

(January 11, 2008) She doesn't get to Toronto very often, but
Tierney Sutton's making the most of this visit.

The Wisconsin-born, California-based vocalist, whose band is nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards, performed at the Old Mill Inn last night and has a closed-to-the-public gig tonight at the International Association for Jazz Education conference.

The one-time Russian literature student is the married mother of an 11-year-old son and a singer noted for elegant vocals and witty arrangements of standards with pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker.

Q: What was the genesis for toying with the theme of happiness on On the Other Side?

A: We sometimes do arrangements that are so far from the original vibe of the song; and I wanted to do a record where we had the same song done twice ... at least twice on this record (there are two contrasting arrangements of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again," one upbeat, one more sombre). Then the idea of the happy/not so happy thing became a real natural, partly because there's so much optimism in the Great American Songbook and I only halfway buy it. It's such a basic theme to take on a little adventure.

Q: Given how well you work together, why hasn't the band penned any originals?

A: It's time. We've even scored a film together where we've collaboratively composed for the movie, so I know we can do it. I think the sticky part is lyrics, to sit down and write lyrics when (songwriting team) Alan and Marilyn Bergman are friends of ours. It's really hard for me to sit down and pop out a lyric when I've been able to know some of the great lyric writers – they're not kidding around.

Q: How did music manifest for you as a child?

A: I always sang in musicals and I sang whatever dopey white girls in Wisconsin sing. And then when I got into college I was first exposed to jazz. I remember taking a jazz appreciation course at Wesleyan University and hearing Sarah Vaughan and just weeping. Wow! Who knew this was out there? It turns out AM radio wasn't playing a lot of Sarah Vaughan in 1972.

Q: You hadn't considered a career in singing?

A: No, not until I found jazz. I knew I could sing in tune and I knew that I might have a reasonable voice, but I wasn't inspired to do it. I didn't feel like I had anything that could add anything to do covers of somebody else's pop songs. I wasn't a huge fan of musical theatre and I wasn't inspired to sing opera. When I discovered jazz it was pretty much an immediate passion. I realized there was this whole great American Songbook and the songs were actually better than most of the songs that I knew from pop radio. It turned out that even the stuff from pop radio that I liked had all these jazz influences.

Q: How has your voice changed over the last decade?

A: It's definitely gotten deeper and I'm definitely more comfortable in it. I'm pretty monk-like in my behaviour: I don't drink or smoke, and I sleep a lot and drink a lot of water, and try to keep as much wear and tear off of it that I can. My sound is a kind of fairly clean sound and it took me a long time to accept that. As much as I wanted to, I didn't have Sarah Vaughan's instrument. I remember what Ray Brown said about me: "You sing great, but we need to roll you around in the dirt a little bit." As I got older, my keys went down and I think it naturally burnished the tone a little bit more.... A lot of the craft of it is being absolutely sincere as you can be and not trying to show off, or be anything that you're not.

Taylor Swift: Country Music's Rising Star: Country Music's Rising Star

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

(January 12, 2008) At the tender age of 14, Taylor Swift's first after-school job was writing songs for Sony Publishing in downtown Nashville.

Last year, Swift had not yet achieved the age of majority when she won the Horizon Award from the Country Music Association – an honour for up-and-coming artists previously given to stars like Carrie Underwood, LeAnne Rimes and the Dixie Chicks – and was also named Songwriter/Artist of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International.

On Feb. 10, Swift will find out if her young talent has mainstream appeal as she competes for the Grammy in the New Artist category against other breakout artists like Feist and Amy Winehouse.

Not bad for a willowy, blue-eyed blond just turned 18 who grew up on a Christmas tree farm.

"It's just such an honour to be representing country music in that category," Swift says with small-town-girl self-deprecation.

And not bad for a young woman who didn't pick up a guitar until she was 12.

These days, Swift finds herself on the road pretty much full-time while finishing up high school through home-schooling.

"All my friends here in Tennessee are getting ready to go off to college next year. And I feel like I've already gone to college ... as far as being away from home, having to learn how to survive, having to learn so many different things about the (music) industry and meeting different people you've never met before," Swift says.

"It definitely rounds you out as a human being," Swift adds, noting she has travelled to every state in the continental U.S. and most parts of Canada.

While the stories of young country music stars making it to the big time are legion, what sets Swift apart is her ability to write her own songs.

Her self-titled debut CD, released in 2006, marks her as the only artist in country music history to have written or co-written every song on a first album that went gold in Canada and double-platinum in the U.S.

For Swift, it started when she won a national poetry writing contest in the fourth grade, giving her the confidence to pursue writing.

At the age of 10, while living in her hometown of Wyomissing, Penn., Swift took the stage for the first time. Two years later, she picked up the guitar and starting songwriting in earnest. "As soon as I picked up a guitar and learned three chords, I started writing songs. Songwriting just came as another form of expression. I was always into writing poetry when I was younger. It's what I loved to do," Swift says.

"For me, I was facing a lot of things at school where I found myself on the outside looking in. I was not included. I would go to school some days, a lot of days, and not know who I was going to talk to. And that's a really terrifying thing for somebody who's 12."

And while her peers were already starting to use weekend drinking parties to numb the pain of adolescent angst, Swift says flatly that she "never fit into that mould."

She adds, "So the thing that I found to escape from any pain ... was writing songs."

Swift says she draws on her own experiences to give her songs emotional authenticity.

"I think I've been inspired by things that have actually happened. I can't sit down and write about something I've never felt before," she says. "The songs I write in 15 minutes – because they're just so fast, they just come to me – are about things I've gone through.

"Like with my song, `Teardrops on my Guitar,' that's about an actual guy named Drew. I don't like to edit personal details out of my songs."

Swift credits a very supportive set of parents for her career and their crucial decision to move the family to Hendersonville, Tenn., near Nashville, to get closer to the country music epicentre.

Her mom – who joins her on the road when she tours – was a successful career woman who understood how to climb the corporate ladder before she met Swift's father and settled down to have a family.

"She is very business-oriented and very confident and I really love that about her. She named me Taylor so that if anybody saw on a business card the name, Taylor, they wouldn't know if it was a girl or a guy if they were thinking of hiring me," Swift says.

And while there's "definitely a feeling of it all being a blur every once in a while," Swift says she enjoys the gypsy existence of life on the road.

"It's good to have been places ... to see Montana, to see Alabama ... to see Nova Scotia," she says.

Swift will certainly be well-travelled the next few months – she tours with Alan Jackson beginning tonight in Nashville, and opens for Rascal Flatts on a five-city Western Canada swing in March.

Swift will also have a chance to get some big time media exposure, with upcoming appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno – slated for Tuesday – followed by an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show the next day.

Swift, for one, has no doubt her music will take her outside of the narrow genre of country music and appeal to a much broader spectrum of musical tastes.

"In this day of iPods and digital and Internet and the fact people can go get any music they want with the click of a button, I really think there are less boundaries and the lines are more blurred between genres.

"And I think that's a beautiful thing."

Getting personal with Taylor Swift

1. What's on your iPod?

Omigosh! I have a million songs on my iPod. My iPod is full of everything: Ingrid Nicholson, Matt Carney, the Dixie Chicks, Rascal Flatts ... and then I have Kanye West and Eminem. My musical taste is all over the place.

2. What was your first job?

I was a signed Sony songwriter, for Sony ATV Publishing, when I was 14. I was one of their house songwriters.

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

I Am Legend. I was really impressed with how Will Smith could carry the whole movie by himself. It was basically a one-person movie.

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

I would be in some sort of criminal investigation process, Homeland Security or something like that.

5. What TV show must you always watch?

I don't have a regular schedule so I never have a regular TV show. But I'll be obsessed with certain DVD's at certain times. The last one I was just obsessed with was Grey's Anatomy.

Hayden The Master Of His Music-Making House

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

(January 14, 2008) It seems like a lot of extra work for a solitary studio dweller like Hayden to labour for months chasing an elusive full-band sound when he could have easily dialled up an actual band at any point, but that's where the guy's heart is: in the work.

The observation has been made that the Toronto singer/songwriter's brief, mid-1990s wrestle with the international major-label machine could have been salvaged with less of an impact on his growing profile had he been willing to tour a bit more.

But, as
Paul Hayden Desser sees it now, he came out of the whole, maddening affair with exactly what he needed to sustain a pretty comfortable career ever since. On his own terms.

If the man wants to hole up for two, three years at a time writing, recording, re-recording and re-re-recording his downcast (albeit often quite droll) folk-rock tunes, he can. And that's the way Hayden likes it.

"Because of a few freak, little things that happened at that time, it changed the course of what I was doing," he says over a pint not far from his Parkdale home.

"But also, it set the course for everything that happened after because I made money, and I made enough money to be able to control how I make all my records and take my time the way I like to make my records, and make decisions that were purely music-based over the last few years.

"So in the end, it was a great thing. I took money from someone I've never met and I can't be sore about it; I'm actually an example of one of very few people who got away with something from the music industry. And it was one of the last opportunities to do so, I think."

Hayden has never really lost his grip on the loyal following of Canadian fans and music writers he gathered when Everything I Long For blew up 12 years ago, even if his days of round-the-clock airplay on MuchMusic are long past.

His affable new record, In Field & Town – out tomorrow on his own Hardwood Records label – represents enough of a subtle evolution in a sound even Hayden felt was maybe getting a bit too typical, that it might be the first since that period of hype to draw large numbers of new admirers.

Songs groove in ways Hayden songs haven't grooved before. Tinny toy pianos, xylophones, New Wave keyboards and trumpets colour some arrangements in uncharacteristically bright fashion. Australian songbird Holly Throsby turns up for a quick duet entitled "Weight of the World," which is officially now the first song of 2008 guaranteed to melt the heart of every girl who hears it.

It's one of the best albums the 36-year-old Hayden has made, if not the best.

He worked at it, too, after deciding that his last record, 2004's Elk-Lake Serenade, was "a bit too singer/songwriter" for his tastes.

"I liked my last record and it worked for me at the time, but I wanted to do something a bit different from that," he says.

"And what I really wanted to do was get the instrumental element that I get when I play improvised music late at night with friends, when we're playing off each other and getting interesting arrangements and long sections where you don't know what's gonna happen next.

``I've always wanted that ingredient in my own recorded music."

As a committed one-man operation, Hayden set about finding the missing magic almost entirely on his own, even playing a lot of his own drum parts on the record for the first time.

Guests such as right-hand man Howie Beck, Mike O'Neill and Cuff the Duke's Dale Murray visited the studio, but mostly this is Hayden striving to find fresh results in the tried-and-true methods he's always employed – and succeeding.

Touring begins in typically low-key fashion in Hamilton Wednesday, with "an on-and-off month" of Canadian dates that will conclude with an already sold-out date at the Danforth Music Hall on Feb. 19. For now, it's just Hayden solo onstage.

"It would have been fun coming out and playing all these arrangements and hearing all the guitar parts and little extras on the record that I want to hear, but I think it makes sense to start off with me getting comfortable playing them by myself and really feeling them out and then, in time, getting together a good band."

Classical Music Mixes Well With The Cool Club Crowd

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

(January 16, 2008) I keep hoping the current trend in Europe to present classical music in pubs, lounges and clubs is going to catch on here.

Perhaps the full house at
Monday's Network Winds concert at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom was a promising sign.

There were new, young faces alongside veteran classical concertgoers at the informal affair.

A hip tango-trance hybrid played on the sound system before the concert, as people bought drinks at the bar next door.

There was a fashion show at intermission – featuring the feminine creations of Magpie Designs, who outfitted the female members of Network Winds with their unorthodox fusions of fabric, colour and texture.

The program was also an unorthodox fusion of modernism, melody and Latin American rhythms, which flutist Leslie Newman, oboist Kathy Halvorson, Micah Heilbrunn on clarinet, bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson and Wendie Limbertie on French horn carried off with verve to spare.

The pieces – by Heitor Villa-Lobos as well as living composers Jean-Michel Damase, Bill Douglas and Paquito D'Rivera – demanded tremendous tonal and rhythmic skill.

Although Libertie scattered about some wrong notes here and there, the combined effect was always beautifully shaped.

We don't hear music for winds often in Toronto, so it's easy to forget that, along with learning the notes, the players also have to find places to breathe in the music.

In the Bachiana Brasileira No. 6, by Villa-Lobos, Newman and Jackson somehow managed to find time to gasp the right amount of breath to take them through the seemingly endless cascades of notes.

The mood onstage was as enthusiastic as the crowd.

Even occasional noise from other parts of the building couldn't quell high spirits.

It shows that classical music and cool venues should – and can – get along.

Canadian Opera Company Unveils Line-up

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

(January 16, 2008) Although
Canadian Opera Company general director Richard Bradshaw died in August, most of the 2009-10 season unveiled yesterday clearly bears his imprint.

He fixed another mark on posterity when board chair David Ferguson announced that the COC has commissioned a new Canadian opera for the 2011-12 season from Toronto composer James Rolfe and writer Anna Chatterton.

If everything goes according to plan, this will be the first all-Canadian effort to grace the big stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

This will also be the first new homegrown work since a 1999 production of The Golden Ass, which had a libretto by Robertson Davies (who had died four years earlier) and composer Randolph Peters.

In response to a reporter's question last year about the lack of Canadian works on the company's marquee, Bradshaw declared that he had not yet found a Canadian composer he thought capable of producing a good full-length work.

This makes yesterday's announcement a particularly ringing endorsement of Rolfe, who has written numerous short operas.

He and Chatterton landed the commission largely on the strength of their one-act work, Swoon, which was presented by members of the Ensemble Studio last year.

Chatterton, whose final libretto is due by next January, said the first draft is almost complete. Titled Donna, this is a 21st-century, urban retelling of Don Giovanni.

Having a draft libretto "means I can start working on Act One soon," said Rolfe. "There is a lot of music to keep track of."

Both are excited at the prospect of creating something "for real grown-ups," Rolfe said, smiling.

Board chair Ferguson added that a much-delayed new opera by Margaret Atwood and composer Peters remains "in development."

As was announced in the Star on Monday, two other Bradshaw dreams come to fruition next season: Canadian premieres of Sergei Prokofiev's monumental War and Peace in October and Antonin Dvorak's lovely Rusalka (with its famous "Song to the Moon") early in 2009.

Following 97 per cent capacity attendance last season, Ferguson pointed out that the company enjoyed 100 per cent sold-out houses for its two fall productions in 2007: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Don Carlos by Verdi.

To keep ticket sales strong, next season includes the two most popular operas in the repertoire. Mozart's Don Giovanni opens the season, with Canadian baritone Brett Polegato in the title role; and Puccini's La Bohème, in a new production starring Canadian soprano Frédérique Vézina as Mimi, will lower the curtain in May 2009.

Soprano Michelle Delorme sang Donna Anna's aria "Non mi dir" from Don Giovanni with pianist Michael Spassov yesterday as a preview.

Rounding out the 2008-09 mainstage line-up are Beethoven's lone opera, Fidelio, with star soprano Adrianne Pieczonka as Leonora, and Verdi's weighty Simon Boccanegra, which has only been mounted once before by the COC.

Principal coach Liz Upchurch introduced members of the Ensemble Studio, made up of promising younger singers who will perform a chamber adaptation of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in June 2009.


Berry Gordy To Receive Recording Academy Honour

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 11, 2008) *Motown Records founder
Berry Gordy will be honoured by The Recording Academy at its annual Grammy Salute To Industry Icons event on Sunday, Feb. 10, immediately following the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.  This exclusive reception, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, features a presentation of the President's Merit Award to Industry Icons in recognition of Gordy's significant contributions to the music industry and the impact his efforts have made on music and the business of music. "Berry Gordy embodies that rare combination of creative genius, entrepreneurial excellence and fearless proponent of social change," said President/CEO of The Recording Academy Neil Portnow. "By bringing the heart and soul of Motown to the world, he opened the ears of music fans and opened doors for music makers who have become the most revered and beloved artists of all time. We are honoured to pay tribute to an icon who has shaped popular music with his artistry, drive, and unparalleled ability to identify and develop young talent." Past recipients of the Grammy Salute To Industry Icons President's Merit Award include Ahmet Ertegun, Mo Ostin, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. The invitation-only VIP event will be attended by prominent artists and industry leaders.

Dupri: Usher 'Itching' To Release New CD

Excerpt from www.billboard.com  - Clover Hope, N.Y.

(January 11, 2008) 
Usher's 2004 Jive album, "Confessions," has shifted 9.4 million copies in the United States,usher_02l_small according to Nielsen SoundScan, but tentative release dates keep coming and going for its follow-up, which is now nebulously slated for sometime this year.  So what's the holdup? "He has been taking a pretty long time to put it out, but I think he's ready now," says Jermaine Dupri, who has worked closely with Usher for years but scaled back his contributions to the new album after taking the reins of Island's urban music department.  "The last couple times I've been around [him], you could tell he's got the bug to hurry up and put this record out. He wants to get back out here and give the people that. He's got that itch."  Dupri is known to have produced the track "The Realest," which was at one time mentioned as a possible first single. T-Pain produced "All the Time," while Ludacris guests on "Dat Girl Right There," which leaked last month. Dre & Vidal and Cool and Dre are also said to have contributed to the album.  Dupri declined to reveal other specifics to Track, but conceded with a laugh, "I know that I've done my songs and I know that my songs on his record are crazy."

Cassie Grows Up On Sophomore Album

Excerpt from www.billboard.com  - Mariel Concepcion, N.Y.

(January 11, 2008)  Bad Boy R&B singer
Cassie will release her as-yet-untitled sophomore album on May 20, and she says although "I hate to use the words grown-up, I really, really did since the last time around."  "I guess I grew up a lot but I'm still in essence the same person," says the 21-year-old singer. "Lots has changed in my life, stuff that has made me think about things differently. I'm more vulnerable and you can hear my vocals better this time around. There's real emotion and a much realer connection with my fans."  The album features production from Seven, Mario Winans, Bryan Michael Cox, Eric Hudson, Sean C and LV and mentor Ryan Leslie, who discovered the Connecticut native. There are no guest features recorded as of yet.  And although a first single hasn't been released, Cassie assures it will be "a club record -- something fun and danceable." Possible contenders include the Seven-produced "My House," the flirty "Thirsty" and the concept track "Push It," on which Cassie sings, "Want you to light me up / keep me on my toes / gotta hold it steady." Cassie released her self-titled debut in 2006, which went on to sell 319,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Single "Me & U" peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 3 on the Hot 100. It has also sold 989,000 digital downloads.

Canucks Up For Brit Awards

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Star wire services

(January 15, 2008) Montreal band Arcade Fire, Toronto singer Leslie Feist and Vancouver crooner Michael Bublé have all earned nominations for Britain's prestigious music industry awards, the
Brits. British acts in the running include Leona Lewis, Mika and Take That, with four nominations each; Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Mark Ronson and Kate Nash with three each. Winners will be announced Feb. 20 Ottawa writer John Kupferschmidt has won the International Three-Day Novel Contest for his book In the Garden of Men, written over three days in September as part of the Vancouver-based contest. Muhammad Ali and Spike Lee may be among the celebrities called as character witnesses in actor Wesley Snipes' tax fraud and conspiracy trial. During jury selection yesterday, Snipes' lawyers listed more than 70 potential witnesses, including journalist Tom Brokaw and actors Woody Harrelson and Sylvester Stallone. Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction screenwriter Roger Avary was arrested on Sunday after a fatal car crash northwest of Los Angeles. Avary, 42, was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence.  A photographer says he is seeking legal advice after a weekend incident in which he claims the Icelandic singer and songwriter Björk attacked him shortly after she arrived at New Zealand's Auckland International Airport.

Rev Run Signs Record Deal With U.K. Indie Label

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 15, 2008) *With a new adopted baby comes a fresh start for Run DMC vet
Rev. Run. The star of MTV's reality series "Run's House" has signed a worldwide recording deal with U.K. independent label Craze Productions, reports Billboard.   The rapper is currently recording tracks in New York for a new CD due in the first quarter. So far, Kid Rock has been tapped to make a guest appearance on the album. The two will also tour together this spring.   Craze Productions has an extensive digital catalogue of hip hop tracks and has previously focused on Web and mobile downloads as well as ringtones. The new signing marks a move into physical releases for the London-based label, which will release Run's album in stores worldwide.    Meanwhile, Run is tapped to film a fifth season of "Run's House" later this year. The season will include the family's newest addition, an adopted baby girl named Miley Justine.   


Away From Her Win Improves Chances For Oscar Nom

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(January 15, 2008)
Sarah Polley says she finds the whole experience of racking up successive awards for her film Away From Her "strange" and more than a little surreal.

"It's kind of an out-of-body thing to see clips of your movie on CNN, knowing the scale of the film," says the 29-year-old Toronto native, who was watching news footage after the movie's star, Julie Christie, won the Golden Globe for best actress on Sunday night. "The fact it's had this kind of life has been kind of shocking. It's taken me a long time to process it.

"On some level, I'm really happy about it, but I'm more shocked than anything."

It's not lost on Polley, either, that a Golden Globe win adds more heft to Away From Her's chances of being nominated for the upcoming Academy Awards.

Shot for a scant $4.5-million over five weeks in Northern Ontario, Away From Her has won countless awards since it premiered in 2006. The film, which also stars Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis and Michael Murphy, has grossed $7.6-million (U.S.) worldwide.

"Julie's not the kind of person who is going to scream with glee when she wins an award," notes Polley, who adapted the screenplay about an elderly couple whose life is turned upside down by Alzheimer's disease. The script was based on one of Polley's favourite short stories, Alice Munro's The Bear Came Over the Mountain.

"But [the win] is great for the film, and I was really happy to see her work recognized. I thought her performance was incredible. She worked extremely hard and brought a lot of herself to the role," she says, adding that she always had Christie in mind for the role of Alzheimer's-afflicted Fiona Andersson.

"I knew from the outset I wanted Gordon. And I knew I wanted Julie. That we ended up with both of them was amazing," says Polley, who has acted since she was 6. "It wouldn't have been the film I wanted to make without them.

"If there's any note of reluctance on my part - of not enjoying all of this fully - is that Gordon's performance is also stunning ... and I just don't want his work in the film to be undervalued."

Polley was reached yesterday on a break during shooting of her next film, Vincenzo Natali's science fiction/horror film Splice, in which she co-stars with Adrien Brody. After directing her first feature, the actress admits that it's a relief to be wearing an actor's hat again.

"This is the most fun I've ever had acting in a movie. It's one of the happiest sets I've ever been on, and the character is unlike anyone I've ever played. After the overwhelming responsibility of directing, I can't think of anything more fun to do than acting in a film."

Without the support of Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Media Development Corp., she says that Away From Her, which is roughly 80 per cent publicly funded, would never have been made.

"It was very hard for me to make a first feature," adds Polley, who has directed two short films, including Don't Think Twice and The Best Day of My Life. "No private entity was willing to make a film about Alzheimer's."

Jurnee Smollet & Denzel Whitaker: The Great Debaters Interview With Kam Williams

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com
- by Kam Williams

(January 11, 2008) *In The Great Debaters,
Jurnee Smollett and Denzel Whitaker more than hold their own opposite a couple of Academy Award-winners in Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker.

These accomplished young stars deliver powerful performances portraying members of all-black Wiley College's 1935 debate team which won the national championship.

Born into a family filled with talented thespians, Jurnee's siblings, Jazz, Jake, Jocqui, Jussie and Jojo, are also professional actors. Only 21, she already has won a couple of NAACP Image Awards, both for her work on the TV series Cosby.

Jurnee got her start at the age of five on TV, enjoying recurring roles, in turn, on such shows as Hanging with Mr. Cooper, Full House and On Our Own. By the age of 10, she had landed her first title role on the big screen, as Eve in the critically-acclaimed Eve's Bayou.

17 year-old Denzel's resume' is practically as impressive, as he made his auspicious acting debut at 11 opposite Denzel Washington in Training Day. Since then, he's appeared on numerous television programs, including One on One, ER, All That, The War at Home, Teachers, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Here, the gifted pair share their thoughts about their latest outing as James Farmer, Jr. and Samantha Booke.   

Denzel Whitaker: Hey, Kam!

Kam Williams: Thanks for the time.

DW: Not a problem. How're you doing?

KW: Great. How intimidating was it for you working with Oscar-winners Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker?

Jurnee Smollet: It wasn't intimidating.

DW: Because right when you step into the audition room, Denzel demands a certain level of professionalism. Also, he sets a professional tone, and a collaborative tone among everybody. Nobody's bigger than the rest. It's one of those situations where you can't be intimidated otherwise we wouldn't have made it past the first audition. It's all about being a professional and performing, although at the end of the day you might sit back and realize, "Wow, I just did a scene with Denzel Washington." I'd be standing at the snack line saying, "Did I really just do that?" But, at the same time, when you step back onto the set, and hop back into character, you're ready to shine a light onto a story that not many people have heard of. And so many little things are playing in your mind that you don't even think about the fact that you're doing so-called acting in front of Denzel and Forest.

KW: Did you have a sense, as you were making the movie, of the significance of the story, historically?

DW: No, I only really got a sense of its importance after the film. But I have to say that during the lynching scene you could feel the importance of the film, of what it meant to grow up during that era. And to feel what our ancestors felt. 

JS: Yeah, once I saw the film, I was really blown away by how impactful it was even on me, and I'd been there for the entire process. But while you're doing it, you're so focused on being present that you have to forget all the external stuff in order to make it honest, to make it natural. 

KW: Denzel, given your name, did you feel predestined to act as a child?

DW: No, not at all. Acting didn't occur to me till about seven years ago. I knew who Denzel Washington was, but never did it occur to me that I had the same name as an Academy Award-winner. It didn't drive me to acting, but it's definitely a compliment when someone says something like, "Hey, you're little Denzel."
KW: What do you hope this picture will impress upon young kids?

JS: The film has so many messages. One is the power of the spoken word. We see it today in poets and hip-hop artists. The power of our tongues. The power of having an opinion and using your mind as a weapon versus using something like a gun or a knife. Using the tools that God has given you as your biggest strength. That was the ticket out. That was how we got to where we are now, because there were so many people who decided to pick up a book, and fed their minds with that kind of fuel. 

For full interview by Kam Williams, go HERE.

Stardom Fades, But Cement Lives On

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(January 11, 2008) HOLLYWOOD–Charlie Chaplin was a travesty. Audrey Hepburn was a mystery.

And Donald Duck simply drove me quackers.

I normally wouldn't bend any brain cells pondering something as inconsequential and vaguely tacky as the placement of celebrity hands and footprints in the cement slabs fronting
Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.

I've visited the "Forecourt of the Stars" many times before, and also the adjacent Hollywood Walk of Fame with its brass stars and celebrity names, but rarely spent more than a few minutes at either pursuit.

Self-preservation and snobbery were the reasons. You have to be careful not to be trampled by hordes of sweaty tourists struggling to match their body parts to the imprints of star body parts, or kneeling to snap a photo of a sidewalk star.

And it all just seemed like an appalling jumble of celebrity worship. The 80-year-old Grauman's, with its incongruous pagoda design, is like a church where real worth isn't considered because fame is the only ticket needed to get to heaven.

It's maddeningly illogical. How else could you explain that Charlie Chaplin doesn't have a cement impression but Adam Sandler does? Where is Audrey Hepburn, a true Hollywood immortal? And why does Donald Duck have his webbed feet in Grauman's promiscuous cement, yet Mickey Mouse is MIA?

The cement footprints and brass stars may make it seem that fame is forever, but it ain't necessarily so.

In fact, it suddenly seems quite fragile in Hollywood, with the growing turmoil caused by the nine-week strike by 12,000 members of the Writers' Guild of America.

With Sunday's Golden Globes cancelled by strike-related celebrity boycotts and next month's Oscars ceremony now in doubt, stardom seems all the more ephemeral and arbitrary. So I looked at the Grauman's slabs and the brass stars with fresh eyes and gained a few insights.

You can judge popularity by wear and tear. Buxom Jane Russell was a bigger star than Marilyn Monroe when their handprints and stiletto heels were conjoined in a publicity stunt for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953, but Monroe is by far the shinier celestial object now. Her tiny shoeprints have been darkened by decades of tourist traffic, while Russell's are still relatively light.

Ditto for Frank Sinatra a few slabs up. What player of any age could resist placing his pegs into the size 11 loafers of the Chairman of the Board? He really has had the weight of the world upon him.

Different generations approached their cement duties with varying degrees of devotion and seriousness.

From the start of the tradition in the 1920s and for years after, inductees scrawled personal greetings to impresario Sid Grauman, who built the theatre and its far more impressive cousin The Egyptian just down the street.

By the '60s and '70s Grauman was gone, and the messages and slogans became less personal and more political and commercial. Steve McQueen broke with tradition and placed his prints upside down in 1967 (his later wife Ali MacGraw did the same five years later).

McQueen wrote "Thanks!" MacGraw wrote "Peace & Love."

Sylvester Stallone was working his Rocky mojo when he wrote "Keep Punchin', America" alongside his paw and boot prints in 1983. A year later, Clint Eastwood scrawled "You made my day," even though he professes to hate his most famous tough-guy movie line. Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the Governor of California, was still the Terminator in 1994 when he wrote, "I'll be back."

Most recently, the Grauman's ritual seems to honour movie franchises more than talent, which makes personal stardom seem all the more blurred.

George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and producer Jerry Weintraub all shared a big slab last year when they did their duties to promote Ocean's 13, and so did Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint when they trod the wet cement for the most recent Harry Potter episode.

That last one really got me thinking. Will anyone remember who Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are 50 years from now, the way they do John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, the Marx Brothers and other Grauman's notables? Does anyone consider these things when they offer up ego-stroking real estate?

But the real celebrity shocker came when I visited the Hollywood Wax Museum, just up the road. It has a new exhibit honouring the cast of the bloody Spartan warrior movie 300.

It's bizarrely placed across from a waxed re-enactment of "The Last Supper," which seems in need of a bit of public relations aimed at younger audiences.

"Which one's Jesus?" a teenaged girl asked her astonished father.

Perhaps Christ needs a new blockbuster movie franchise.

Hollywood's 'Mayor' Johnny Grant Dead At 84

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Jeff Wilson, The Associated Press

(January 10, 2008) LOS ANGELES–
Johnny Grant, the avuncular honorary mayor of Hollywood who travelled the world as Tinseltown's No. 1 cheerleader for more than a half-century, has died. He was 84.

Grant died just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, apparently of natural causes, said Officer Jason Lee. Grant was found dead on a bed in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Lee said.

Grant was perhaps best known as the jolly host alongside more than 500 celebrities he inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The lifelong bachelor lived in a 14th-floor suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Grant's mission in life was bringing the Tinseltown story to everyone. He hosted red carpet Oscar arrivals and Walk of Fame festivities, appeared in bit parts in movies, and produced Hollywood's annual Christmas Parade.

"I feel I have been the luckiest guy in the world," he often said. "It's been a pretty good ride.''

Grant also joined globe-trotting Bob Hope as a USO ambassador, bringing entertainers to war zones to perform for U.S. military personnel during the Korean and Vietnam wars and battles in the Middle East.

He helped introduce homesick soldiers to Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Jane Russell, Terry Moore, Penny Singleton and Angie Dickinson, among others, leading Hope to once quip that he himself was "the rich man's Johnny Grant.''

"You'll never find a more generous soul in your life,'' Dickinson told The Associated Press in 2006. "He was a ladies man. He's a Taurus. He's a doll.''

Another close friend, actress Mamie Van Doren, described Grant simply as "Mr. Hollywood.''

"I dated him in my teens," she recalled. "He's one of the greatest people I've ever known, so kind.''

Over the years, Grant chatted with Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra and Dolly Parton, and was a friend to several presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He counted President Reagan as one of his closest friends.

Born in Goldsboro, N.C., Grant was a cub reporter for radio station WGBR when he hitchhiked to Washington to cover President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third inauguration. The diminutive reporter sat in a tree to write down what he saw for his report.

He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, then came to Hollywood after his discharge, where he landed a small role playing a reporter in "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948), which starred William Bendix.

He was lured to Hollywood, he once recalled, after seeing Mickey Rooney in the 1938 film "Boys Town.''

"If that little guy can do it, so can I," he remembered telling himself.

Grant also had a part in Irving Berlin's "White Christmas'' (1954) with Bing Crosby and played himself in 1966's "The Oscar.''

He did Lucky Strike cigarette commercials on radio's "The Jack Benny Show" and radio celebrity interviews at the Ham & Egger restaurant on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

He also did radio interviews in the lobby of Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard, now the Comedy Store, which was the personification of glamour and glitz in the 1940s and 1950s. His guests included Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Grable, Mel Torme and Joe DiMaggio.

"This really was Hollywood," Grant said of those days.

In 1951, he made his first overseas trip to entertain the troops.

Beginning in 1946, he was host of the game show "Stop the Clock," which aired alternately on Dumont Television in New York City, WBGR-TV in Schenectady, N.Y. and WPTZ-TV in Philadelphia.

He also worked for Gene Autry at radio station KMPC as host of the "Freeway Club" from 1951 to 1959, becoming one of the nation's first disc jockeys to mix regular traffic reports between playing records and interviewing celebrities.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce named Grant Hollywood's honorary mayor in 1980, a position he held for the rest of his life.

During the dozen or so Walk of Fame ceremonies the job called for him to preside over each year, he would gin up the crowd with laughter, jokes, handshakes and an occasional embarrassing moment.

His biggest flub, according to Grant, was when he introduced inductee Joan Rivers to the cheering crowd by shouting, "Here she is, Miss Joan Collins.''

Rivers shook it off, telling the host she had been called much worse.

Grant also liked to recall a flub he had no control over. It happened one year during Hollywood's annual Christmas parade.

The televised event concludes each year with Santa in the final float, waving to the crowd. But on that year, Grant said, a woman just ahead of the float gave birth, bringing the proceedings to a standstill.

Alliance Films Gets New Canadian Partner

Excerpt from www.globenandmail.com - Grant Robertson And Gayle Macdonald

(January 13, 2008) The Canadian partner who stepped in last summer to help Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
[GS-N] meet foreign ownership requirements on its purchase of Canada's largest film distributor, Alliance Films Inc., has pulled out of the investment.

EdgeStone Capital Partners Inc. has sold its 49-per-cent stake in Alliance Films, the former movie distribution arm of Alliance Atlantis Communications, to an undisclosed buyer.

However, in a deal that could be announced as early as this week, the investment arm of the Quebec government, the Société générale de financement du Québec, is expected to be unveiled as the new owner. Industry sources indicate SGF is spending between $70-million and $100-million to buy a stake in Alliance Films. Reached in Montreal, SGF officials would not comment.

Gil Palter, chief investment officer and managing partner at EdgeStone, confirmed the Toronto-based private equity firm has divested its stake in Alliance Films.

The deal would mark the latest investment in the entertainment industry for SGF. In August, it announced a $400-million agreement with Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. to help fund production costs on films shot in Quebec over the next four years. The holding company invests in projects that further economic development in Quebec. The Alliance Films deal would see SGF take an ownership stake in an extensive library of Canadian movies, including one of the country's largest collections of French titles.

Goldman bought 51 per cent of Alliance Films in last year's $2.3-billion takeover of Alliance Atlantis with CanWest Global Communications Corp. [CGS-T] But it needed a Canadian partner to come into the deal on the film assets, since foreign ownership rules say movie distributors operating here must have domestic ownership and management.

The deal was controversial since critics within the film industry, including several producers, raised alarms that New York-based Goldman would dictate how the Canadian assets are administered, fearing that any domestic partner was merely there to satisfy government ownership policies.

This sale will give Goldman a long-term partner in the business, after EdgeStone decided to move on.

The relationship between EdgeStone and Goldman Sachs, announced in June, is believed to have soured early on, according to people close to the distributor. “This marriage failed before they even went to bed the first time,” said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced.

EdgeStone has a track record of turning unwanted assets into profitable ventures, from waste management to cheque printing businesses and hair replacement companies.

Alliance Films, which has roughly one-fifth of the Canadian film distribution market, has been slumping this year after some of its highly touted titles failed to meet box office expectations.

The new owners of Alliance Films are contributing an extra $20-million to the company because it has been losing cash, a source close to the company said.

Once among Alliance Atlantis's most profitable divisions, the movie distributor's operations in Spain and Britain are slumping, while new titles from some of its biggest studios – including New Line Cinema, Focus, the Weinstein Co. and Miramax – have struggled in theatres over the past year.

New Line's big-budget film The Golden Compass has disappointed at the box office, resulting in at least a $6-million loss for Alliance Films. Meanwhile, Miramax is releasing fewer titles now.

The Quebec operation at Alliance Films is the more profitable side of the company. SGF's involvement is likely to see the distributor do more business in Quebec.

Complete List Of Announced Golden Globe Winners

Excerpt from www.thestar.com  

(January 13, 2008) Complete list of winners of the 65th annual Golden Globes announced Sunday at a news conference held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in Beverly Hills, Calif.:
– Drama: Atonement
– Musical or comedy: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
– Actor, drama: Daniel-Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
– Actress, drama: Julie Christie, Away From Her
– Actor, Musical or Comedy: Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
– Actress, Musical or Comedy: Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
– Director: Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
– Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
– Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
– Screenplay: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
– Foreign Language: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, France and U.S.
– Animated Film: Ratatouille
– Original Score: Dario Marianelli, Atonement
– Original Song: "Guaranteed" from Into the Wild

– Actress, Drama: Glenn Close, Damages
– Actor, Drama: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
– Series, Musical or Comedy: Extras, HBO
– Actress, Musical or Comedy: Tina Fey, 30 Rock
– Actor, Musical or Comedy: David Duchovny, Californication
– Miniseries or Movie: Longford, HBO
– Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Queen Latifah, Life Support
– Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Jim Broadbent, Longford
– Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Samantha Morton, Longford
– Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Jeremy Piven, Entourage

Golden Globe Winners Celebrate – In Jeans

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(January 13, 2008) BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Nothing fancy or frilly for the winners and losers of this year's dressed-down
Golden Globes – some celebrated Sunday night barefoot and by cooking their own food.

The writers strike forced cancellation of the usual fashion-drenched soiree in favour of a news conference that winners watched from televisions in living rooms and hotel suites.

Tom Hooper, director of the night's top award winner, the TV movie Longford, popped open a small bottle of bubbly from his Santa Monica hotel room's mini-bar.

"We managed to rustle up two champagne glasses ... That's as glamorous as it gets," said Hooper, who wore jeans, no shoes and what he called a "scruffy shirt.''

Still, Hooper planned to celebrate in a bit of style by heading out with Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy to the Hotel Chateau Marmont.

That's where Focus Features co-president James Schamus had encamped earlier for a Globes-viewing dinner party for the producers of Atonement. He said he'd cooked pasta all day to prepare.

"This is a picture we love. It's finding its place in the U.S. and in movie history. We're thrilled," Schamus said of the Globe winner in the drama category.

Not everybody wanted to watch the Globes broadcast, though.

David Duchovny, winner for best actor in a TV comedic or musical series (Californication), went out to see a The Bucket List in Vancouver, where he's filming the X-Files film sequel.

"I kinda didn't want to watch. It would just make me tense or nervous," he said. "I knew if my phone was ringing when I walked into my hotel room that I would have won, and it was. Nobody calls a loser.''

Hooper said he found out about the three wins for Longford from the screenwriter Peter Morgan, who was viewing a broadcast of the news conference in London. Morgan sent a text message with the news about 10 seconds before NBC broadcast it.

"This is the new-style Globes," Hooper said. "Finding out when you won at the time when everyone else does is a thing of the past.''

Because the traditional swirl of parties had been cancelled, winners found innovative ways to celebrate.

"Atonement" producer Tim Bevard said he planned to jump in the pool at the Chateau Marmont. "I guess that's what you do, isn't it, after you win a Golden Globe. You go for a swim," Bevard said.

Jon Hamm, winner for best actor in a dramatic TV series, said he was disappointed to not be able to use his acceptance speech to thank those who worked on the series Mad Men.

"I wish I could have thanked everyone publicly," said Hamm, who celebrated on the roof of the Chateau Marmont. "But it was still a great experience. I wouldn't trade it. I will remember this always.''

Globe nominee Ernest Borgnine didn't win, but made sure he brought the festivities to his home in Beverly Hills. He allowed reporters and camera crews inside his living room for a TV viewing party featuring balloons, flowers, sandwiches and pizza.

He said wife Tova had picked out a dress in hopes of attending the ceremony, but that he was happy for the low-key atmosphere. Wearing a black sweater and pants, the winner of the best-actor Academy Award for 1955's Marty sipped cider as his wife opened bottles of champagne.

Sweeney Todd producer Richard Zanuck, an Oscar winner for Driving Miss Daisy, said he watched the Globes at his son's house in "Levis and tennis shoes instead of the tuxedo, which had been all pressed and ready to go.''

Duchovny joked that he took a really dressed-down approach.

Asked what he was wearing as he soaked in the news that he was a winner, he quipped: "I was naked in my hotel room. It was my way of protesting any number of issues.''

Khanjian Really Wants To Do Comedy

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(January 11, 2008) Film and theatre actress
Arsinéekhanjian_as_sabah_250_small Khanjian is married to Atom Egoyan, an acclaimed director who has cast her in every feature film he has ever made, stretching back to 1984's Next of Kin. And although the alliance has resulted in her winning Gemini and Genie Awards, there's the perception that the multilingual Khanjian (of Armenian descent, born and raised in Lebanon, before moving to Montreal as a 17-year-old) is fit only for the type of sober roles we often see her in - not only in her husband's films, but others as well.

But it isn't true, she will have you know. "People like to find categories," she says over the phone, "and somehow and sometimes I've been imprisoned in that perception."

As for the idea that she is just her husband's muse, Khanjian rejects that typecasting too. "I don't think our collaboration has been necessarily about that, or just about that."

So, even as she prepared for her role as an insurgent in Judith Thompson's Iraqi war drama Palace of the End, the 50-year-old actress expressed her desire to break out of her serious-character mould. Speaking during a break in rehearsals for the play, Khanjian was in a relaxed, contemplative mood as she mused on everything from cellphones - observational comedy! - to her longing for lightheartedness, to her secret talents. She wants to open up? Let's see what she's got.

Here you are, in the dead of winter, playing a character inspired by Nehrjas al-Saffarh, who was tortured by Saddam Hussein's secret police in the 1970s and later died when her home was bombed during Desert Storm. How are you holding up?

Wonderful. It's a dream cast and company, and we're having a lot of fun, actually. We laugh a lot, given the material. It's a good way of balancing out the actual play. It's very serious, but it does have the humour that is required in these times. The pain has to be balanced out with a certain wisdom, which is a sense of humour we have about our fate as human beings.

The play is a trio of monologues. Is there much creative interaction with the other two actors, offstage?

It's true, there isn't the traditional dialogue situation, where we can have fun because we're feeding off each other in that sense. It's still theatre - you spend a lot of time with your colleagues. It does feed the energy and the dynamic of the play, even if it's a monologue. It's not as separated as you would think.

This is your first time working with director David Storch, right?

Yes, it is, and it's wonderful to have a director who's also an actor. So, that's a particular experience.

Oh, my. Is that a slam at your husband?

Not at all! [Laughs]. Not at all. It's just the variety. It's my privilege to be working with different temperaments, with different ways.

Does the relationship change much, when you're working with a director who's not your husband?

I'm one of those actors committing myself in the hands of the director. I trust that I do have the experience to explore the darker areas myself, but I also love being surprised by what they want to find in me.

It's like having a drawer full of things: You know it's your things, and you're familiar with them. But if someone else opens it and starts saying "Oh, so you have this as well, and this...," the colours suddenly become brighter.

And your husband is okay

with other men going through your drawers?

[Laughs]. Well, it depends on what drawers we're talking about here.

By the way, what's with your husband always wearing black?

You're quite right, he does like black. I think it works on him, with his colour and his hair colour. Once in a while, I push him to wear more something more colourful.

Navy blue is nice.

He does have navy blue, but the problem with navy is that it comes out as black in pictures.

Cellphones: Curse or blessing?

They are ugly things, I think. It's the closest thing that would give a normal person the [appearance of having] dementia. I still haven't acclimatized to see people talk, and I wonder, "My god, what's wrong?" Then I realize they're on their cellphones. On the other hand, I think people have become more of public performers. They're doing this kind of dialogue, and you have to imagine the other side of the conversation.

They're actors, in a sense.

People are so incredible about their private space, but when they're on their cellphones, they have no sense of privacy. The people around them know what's going on their emotions, in their lives and their feelings. I feel it's funny, but sometimes I get very annoyed by it as well.

What's the importance of Palace of the End?

The beauty of the play, its writing. There's the perception that it's Judith's first political work. But working on it, and getting more acquainted with it, I'm realizing that it's not that different from the characters that she has introduced to us over the years. If they don't come from small-town Ontario, they do come from small private places, and they come from around the world. The subject is Iraq, as a war situation, but the play speaks to our notion of power, our notion of compassion - our notion of engagement.

Are we are disengaged?

These are very troubling times. Somehow, maybe because of the amount of information that exists and the technical help to transport this knowledge from one continent to another, we still do not know what real engagement means. What Judith does is create a proximity of these worlds, to talk about the human soul and the effect of each tragedy as a sense of responsibility on the other. It makes it a very intimate piece.

Has any good come out of the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

I never believed in the invasion. I don't believe that a liberation of people should or could come from the outside. I think if there were a time, if it was a sincere effort of bringing a change to a society and to help them recover from this oppressive regime, it should have been done in the sixties and seventies when Saddam Hussein was starting to build his empire. I don't think Saddam being there or not is making any difference to the people in Iraq today.

You have a pretty heavy movie coming out, The Lark Farm, about the Armenian genocide, and you're also co-directing a documentary, Stone Time Touch, about your return to Armenia. Maybe a comedy is in order?

If you put it in a bold, underlined sort of quotation: My dream is to be in an absolute comedy! If someone has that sort of imagination to ask me to do a part like that, it would be one of the most desired things as a performer I could do.

Canadian Stage's Palace of the End runs Jan. 17 to Feb. 23, with previews beginning Monday. $20 to $58, Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St., 416-368-3110.

The Naked Truth About Frank Langella

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Susan Walker, Entertainment Reporter

(January 15, 2008) There's an old-world, old-school quality
Frank%20Langella_small to Frank Langella that he shares with his character Leonard Schiller in the movie Starting Out in the Evening, which opens Friday.

Langella is extremely courteous and quite obliging, but he is reserved. It appears he'd just as soon not be questioned about his personal life. One wouldn't get far, for instance, asking him about the time he spent as Whoopi Goldberg's boyfriend.

So it is quite an irony that this very distinguished and proper New Yorker should have shot two nude film scenes in the course of a decade.

The first time was when he played the villainous child pornographer Clare Quilty in director Adrian Lyne's adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The second time was in Starting Out in The Evening, based on Brian Morton's 1998 novel of the same name.

A three-time Tony Award winner who has managed a major stage career while also performing in more than 70 movies and television episodes, the 70-year-old actor seems to regard his appearances in the buff as just another job requirement and not worth dwelling on.

He still relishes the thought of being Quilty: "God, I loved playing that part so much," he says.

Langella, born into an Italian-American family from New Jersey is tall – 6-foot-4 – speaks with a resonant baritone and projects more vitality than Schiller, a former literary lion who has been very much neglected, nearly forgotten.

Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under plays Heather, an eager, audacious and flirtatious grad student who shows up at Schiller's apartment, begging him for his co-operation with the thesis she is writing about him. Some weeks after he reluctantly agrees to help her, Leonard suffers a stroke.

"With Schiller, I had to lose all the natural vanity of an Italian man," Langella jokes, "all my narcissism." The challenge of the role, he says, "was in the requirement to do nothing, to try not to impose anything on him. To find the right way he dressed, the right way he moved, and just be that."

Director Andrew Wagner earns points from Langella for his deft interpretation of Schiller. He told the actor not to read Morton's book, "because he wanted me to achieve a different kind of man and he didn't want me to be in any way affected by the Leonard created in the novel. So I stayed away from it."

He didn't have to go far to find examples of the kind of man Leonard Schiller is.

"You know, he's Jewish and he has a Jewish point of view, in terms of the kind of imploded guilt he has. Italians don't quite have that same thing.

"But it was wonderful to explore a man of very old-world behaviour. All I had to do was go outside my house because I live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and there are dozens and dozens of Leonard Schillers walking up and down in their ties, and their slightly ill-fitting shirts and their hats."

Langella's latest stage accomplishment, for which he won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play was in the part of former U.S. president Richard Nixon in Nixon/Frost.

For his afternoon of interviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, Langella flew up from Los Angeles, where Ron Howard was filming the movie of the play in which he reprises his stage role. No release date is set.

It is not the first time that Langella has done a lead character in a film after acting the part in a play; his Broadway turn as Count Dracula provided another occasion. He switches quite happily from stage to screen and back again.

With filmmaking, he says, "the moments dictate your performance more than the scene, because when you're onstage and you're aware that there are a thousand people (in the audience) and other actors with you onstage creating a full and complete scene, you have to keep that in mind.

"But in a film, it's just you and me now. It's actually liberating. You don't have to overemphasize anything for the camera, but there's a line you walk between being so laid back as to be laid out and also keeping the energy and the intention."

Once Nixon/Frost wrapped, Langella was going to work on another movie, The Box, also due out this year.

Asked if he enjoyed the variety of roles he gets to play, Langella gave a gracious answer.

"I have not a single complaint."

But there is one kind of part he won't do: Mafia.

"I'm actually one of the few Italian American (actors) who has never played a mobster. And never will."

Academy Insists Oscars Will Proceed

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Simon Houpt

(January 16, 2008)  NEW YORK — If a tree falls during this year's
Oscar ceremony, will anybody outside Hollywood hear it? Even though this year's Golden Globes ceremony was cancelled after the writers strike prompted members of the Screen Actors Guild to skip the proceedings, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said yesterday that the Oscars will go forward next month as planned.

"We will have a show on Feb. 24 with 3,300 people in the Kodak Theatre," insisted Leslie Unger, an academy spokeswoman.

However, those in the theatre may be the only ones who see that show. While the academy has not yet asked the Writers Guild of America for a waiver to permit writers to work on the show, the union has indicated that it will not provide one and has already refused a waiver to permit the show to use film clips without compensating writers.

The WGA also announced this week that it will not grant CBS a waiver if it requests one for next month's Grammy Awards.

Some now fear the writers' strike could put Hollywood's big night at risk

If ABC does follow through on a television or Internet broadcast of the Oscars, picketing writers in Week 11 of their strike may cause a mass red-carpet absence similar to the one that prompted the cancellation of the Golden Globes.

The Screen Actors Guild has not yet announced whether it will boycott a struck Oscars.

Though the academy says preparations for the show are going forward as usual and continues to make regular announcements about such matters as the caterers for the post-show Governors Ball (Wolfgang Puck), there are hints that it recognizes things are different this year.

It is refusing to announce in advance the name of the celebrity who will accompany academy president Sid Ganis in making the nominations announcement next Tuesday morning. Yesterday, Unger acknowledged that the writers specially hired by the show's host would have normally begun crafting material by early January.

On Monday night's edition of The Daily Show, during a report about the lacklustre Golden Globes press conference, a pair of correspondents mocked their boss, this year's Oscar host Jon Stewart, about how his big show will turn out. "Good luck at the Oscars press conference!" cackled Jason Jones, while his colleague Samantha Bee waved a hand in front of her nose and added with a laugh, "P.U.! Stinky!"

The studios, which normally might be expected to apply pressure to help resolve the strike in time for the Oscars, may not care much about the show's fate. With a field of hopefuls dominated by small films produced by their specialty divisions, such as There Will Be Blood, Juno, No Country For Old Men and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the financial upside of this year's Oscars seems to be significantly lower than usual. Even the big-budget Sweeney Todd and Atonement, which each won two Golden Globes on Sunday night, look unlikely to be major box-office hits, with or without help from the Oscars.

Yesterday, a WGA East spokeswoman played down the talk of a cancelled Oscars. "There's plenty of time left to negotiate a settlement and they shouldn't be worried about what's going to happen to the Oscars," Sherry Goldman said. "We can't negotiate a settlement if the companies won't come back to the table, which they left on Dec. 7. Right now, they're not even trying to get a contract with us."


Arcand on short list

Québécois director Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness has made the short list of nine foreign-language films in the running for the Academy Awards.

The list was whittled down from 64 films that originally qualified in the category. The nine that advance to the next round of voting also include Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Counterfeiters; Cao Hamburger's The Year My Parents Went on Vacation; Joseph Cedar's Beaufort; Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown; Sergei Bodrov's Mongol; Andrzej Wajda's Katyn; Nikita Mikhalkov's 12; and Srdan Golubovic's The Trap.

Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions won in 2003. Staff

Rock Garden: A Love Story Screens At Slamdance 2008 
Rock Garden is absolutely beautiful! What an amazing visual sensibility... 
-Atom Egoyan

(Toronto – January 14, 2008) ROCK GARDEN: A LOVE STORY directed by award-winning filmmaker Gloria U.Y. Kim will screen during the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival, January 17-25 in Park City, Utah. 

Described as “absolutely beautiful” and “perverse” by Oscar nominated director, Atom Egoyan, ROCK GARDEN: A LOVE STORY is seemingly a tale about two warring neighbours, but reveals itself as a social commentary on sexual and gender identity. Its unexpected plot twist illustrates how in the most unlikely of ways, we can be freed from our selves. With no dialogue, the film features deeply textured music and layered visuals.  Gloria Kim uses magical realism to give a unique spin on the human experience.

ROCK GARDEN: A LOVE STORY  is produced by Sandra Paolucci, with financial assistance from the Canada Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, NFB Filmmaker's Assistance Program, the CBC/WIFT Canadian Reflections Award program and Bravo!FACT.

Sandra and Gloria are currently working on their next short project, THE AUCTION, a heartwarming tale of immigration and hope for which they have raised funding from NFB FAP and the Toronto Arts Council.



Awards Could Get Strike Perks

Excerpt from www.thestar.com

(January 11, 2008) The
Golden Globes' loss could be the gain of the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Both have been granted waivers by the striking Writers Guild of America, a privilege denied the Globes, and could find themselves reaping media attention, TV ratings and advertising revenue. Both the awards ceremonies are televised – SAG on TNT and the Spirits on IFC. And with waivers in hand, both expect the full complement of celebrities that Sunday's Globes news conference – and potentially the Academy Awards – will lack.  That could keep SAG and Spirits ratings high, as movie fan viewers go where the celebs are. The star-free Globes are also expected to drive such programs as Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight to beef up their presence at the alternate shows. IFC wouldn't provide details of the Spirit Awards show. Organizers of the SAG Awards are expecting their usual attendance rate of 92 to 95 per cent of nominees for the show on Jan. 27.

ACTRA Toronto Unveils Slate Of Awards Nominees

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(January 11, 2008) Toronto —
ACTRA Toronto has announced the nominees for its annual awards (to be held Feb. 29) for outstanding performances. Stacey Depress, Peter Keleghan and Adrian Truss, all from the animated series Ruby Gloom, are nominated for best voice performance, along with Julie Lemieux of the animated show Magi-Nation and Matt Watts for the radio series Canada 2056. Nominees for best female performance are Kristin Booth in the film Young People Fucking, Caroline Cave in the film This Beautiful City, Allegra Fulton in the short film Loonie, Mayko Nguyen for the TV series Regenesis and Kate Trotter in TV's The Jane Show. Nominees for best male performance are David Fox in the TV series Across the River to Motor City, Jack Knight in Loonie, Joe Pingue in the short film The Answer Key, Aaron Poole in This Beautiful City and Michael Riley in the miniseries St. Urbain's Horseman.

Gary Dourdan Stars In Biopic Of 'Soledad Brother'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 11, 2008) *Actor
Gary Dourdan spent time away from his hit CBS series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" to star in the Warner Home Video "Black August," which tells the life story of prison activist and "Soledad Brother" author, George L. Jackson. "Black August" chronicles the last event-filled months of Jackson’s journey from street tough to political martyr. After moving with his family from Chicago to Los Angeles, Jackson was arrested for a $70 gas station robbery and received a sentence of one year to life. During his eleven years in prison, Jackson studied Marx, Mao and other revolutionary thinkers. He channelled the explosive rage of an oppressed and exploited community into a powerful indictment of the racial status quo in a series of passionate and poetic letters that were collected and published in the volume "Soledad Brother." Co-directed by TCinque Sampson and Samm Styles, "Black August" arrives on DVD Feb. 19.

Gosling To Play Cobain In Biopic, Says Newspaper

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com

(January 15, 2008) Toronto — Courtney Love has asked London, Ont., native
Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) to play her late husband, Kurt Cobain, in a $60-million movie about the life of the Nirvana front man. Love, who is executive producer of the film, also asked Scarlett Johansson to play her, The Daily Mirror reported yesterday. The movie has the working title Heavier Than Heaven.

Michael Clarke Duncan Catches 'Salmon'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 15, 2008) *Burly actor
Michael Clarke Duncan is set to topline comedy troupe Broken Lizard's fifth film, "The Slammin' Salmon," reports Variety.  Duncan will play the title role of Cleon "Slammin'" Salmon, a Miami restaurant owner who was once a brutal former heavyweight boxing champion.   In attempt to motivate his staff, Salmon creates a competition to see which waiter can earn the most money in one night. The winner will pocket $10,000, while the loser will receive a vicious beatdown at the hands of the champ.   Kevin Heffernan makes his directorial debut on the feature, which began shooting this week in Los Angeles.    Comedic group Broken Lizard raised financing, wrote the screenplay and will co-star in the movie.



Introducing The Oprah Winfrey Network

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 16, 2008) *She can not be stopped.
Oprah Winfrey has announced that she will launch her own television network through a 50-50 partnership with Discovery Communications to be titled the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN.

The channel, to be programmed entirely by Winfrey, will debut next year in place of the old Discovery Health channel and reach 70 million homes in the U.S. The network will also be simulcast in HD.

"Fifteen years ago, I wrote in my journal that one day I would create a television network, as I always felt my show was just the beginning of what the future could hold," said Winfrey. "For me, the launch of The Oprah Winfrey Network is the evolution of the work I've been doing on television all these years and a natural extension of my show."

 While details of programs have yet to be decided, a mission statement for OWN expresses a desire to "create multiple platforms for women, men and their families with a purpose and a passion: to celebrate life, to inspire and entertain, empowering viewers around the world to live their best lives, and by doing so, lift the lives of those around them in ever-widening circles."

Discovery Communications chief David Zaslav said programming will be in Winfrey's "own voice," and some of Winfrey's stable of regular contributors could be expected to be part of the programming.

"There is no stronger voice than Oprah Winfrey in engaging, motivating and connecting people to live healthier lives," said Zaslav. "Oprah has inspired me personally, and through this new venture, Oprah's talent and drive will have a dedicated multimedia platform to empower, engage and connect with people on-air and on-line.

"At Discovery, our goals are to improve the quality of the networks while expanding the reach and success of our web presence. This venture does both, and having Oprah as Chairman and creative leader makes OWN a very unique property in a crowded media landscape."

 The venture's cash-free transaction also involved Winfrey turning over her Web site Oprah.com to Discovery, while the communications company makes her chairman of the network.

Meanwhile, Oprah may have gained a network, but she lost her No. 1 position in Harris Poll's annual tally of favourite television personalities to Ellen DeGeneres, who jumped from No. 8 last year to knock Winfrey into second place.  

Jay Leno, "House" star Hugh Laurie and comedian Jon Stewart rounded out the top five.

Reality TV: When The Tube Talks Back

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Matt Hartley

(January 10, 2008) LAS VEGAS — “TV, I want to watch that Tom Cruise movie from the 1980s, you know, the one with all the fighter jets?”

One day that will be all a television needs to know to understand that a viewer wants to watch Top Gun.

Electronics companies are changing the way people interact with technology, creating new interfaces ranging from speech and visual recognition devices to touch screens and motion sensors that are taking human-computer relations to new realms.

This week in Las Vegas at the International Consumer Electronics show, the future was on display as everyone from Panasonic to Microsoft Corp. teased those in attendance with sneak peeks at the latest prototypes from their research labs.

These included wall-sized TVs that recognize who is standing in front of them, car stereo systems that can be operated by voice commands and visual recognition mobile devices that tell the user what movies are playing at a theatre simply by pointing it at the marquee. “We'll see things that are different, and novel interfaces that use computer vision to basically allow computers to see the environment like we humans can,” said Parham Aarabi, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto.

But don't toss out the television remote just yet – most of these technologies are still in the developmental phase and are years away from making it to the mass market.

However, the success of game-changing products like Apple Inc.'s touch-screen iPhone and Nintendo's motion-sensing Wii controllers are proof that the face of technology is changing.

The most prevalent of these technologies – speech recognition – isn't really all that new. Anyone who has ever reached an automated customer service agent on the other end of the phone knows this.

“People have built little applications to do that sort of thing for quite some time,” said Nelson Morgan, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.

According to Mr. Morgan, who is also the director of the International Computer Science Institute, there are three levels of speech recognition technology. The first recognizes simple commands; for instance, when a user says “five” to a television using this technology it would flip to channel five, a process akin to the one employed by telephone operator systems.

“Nobody wanted the first one,” he said. “Where speech recognition is useful is when it can do something that is not easily obtained with some other input mechanism.”

The second level of applications recognizes what the user wants by drawing meaning from continuous speech, for example when a user says “give me channel five,” which is significantly more complicated. Microsoft's in-car Sync software allows users to control the radio and their phones by using their voice and is one application of this technology. The third level is what researchers are aiming to perfect and involves the aforementioned Top Gun example.

However, unless users see an advantage to speech recognition technology over simply pressing a button, demand and adoption rates will be low, Mr. Morgan said.

“If you're replacing a bunch of menus … if you can have something that is flat, that you can say what you want and get it, then it's useful,” he said.

At this year's CES, in-car GPS systems from companies such as Garmin Ltd. were the most common new adopter of this kind of technology. However, initial reviews of some of these products was average at best.

Speech recognition systems still have many bugs to be worked out before all a user needs to say is “Top Gun” to bring up the movie, Mr. Aarabi said.

“We can get speech recognition systems that are very accurate – when you talk they understand the words very accurately,” he said. “The problem is that as soon as the noise environment changes – for example if you're in an office or a living room where there are kids or in a car – the recognition accuracy rates become very small, they drop.”

Currently, most speech recognition software would cause the television to change the channel by itself, if a user was watching Top Gun and Tom Cruise yelled out a number.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the problems with visual recognition technology are actually easier to navigate, Mr. Aarabi said.

“We're not too far away from that right now, there are a variety of technologies where cameras on the street can recognize people,” he said. “The technology is there now; for better or worse that's something we might see within one or two decades.”

During his keynote address at CES, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates demonstrated software that can recognize people or places, and he predicted it will eventually be available on Windows Mobile devices. By pointing the device at a movie theatre for example, it would enable the user to buy tickets to the show and offer directions to nearby restaurants.

Technologies that can recognize people from afar and recognize and identify speech patterns come with heavy ethical implications. It isn't hard to imagine how that kind of scanning technology could be used for surveillance and security purposes.

Swimming Biopic On Victor Davis Has Golden Touch

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

(January 12, 2008) Alex Baumann and Victor Davis were fast friends and the greatest one-two swimming combo Canada's ever had. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Baumann won two gold medals in world record time, while Davis broke a world record while capturing gold and silver. Baumann, who returned to Canada from Australia last year to head up this country's Summer Olympic program, wrote this guest column for the Star on the CBC-TV movie Victor: The Victor Davis Story, a biopic on his late friend, which airs tomorrow at 8 p.m.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised seeing this film. I had seen clips and I read the script, but I never saw the finished product until this week. I guess it's always difficult to put all of Victor's life in an hour-and-a-half segment. But it did bring back a lot of memories.

I think Mark Lutz, a former swimmer who wrote the screenplay and stars as Victor, captured Victor's essence and intensity. That's the key with Victor: He was an intense person, knew what he wanted to do, knew how he wanted to achieve it and wore his heart on his sleeve a lot. There were times when he showed his emotions when he probably shouldn't have. But that was part of Victor.

I thought Victor started effectively by showing the organ recipient by the lake and having a heartbeat sound throughout the movie, which I guess symbolized Victor's passion. It was quite positive the way the flashbacks were used to go back and forth. The biopic was tied together fairly well the way it went from the two days Victor was in the hospital after getting fatally run down by a hit-and-run driver in Montreal in 1989 and then going through the events of his life.

There's a bit of artistic licence with some of the lines and scenes. But it didn't gloss over the key challenges or issues in Victor's life. It showed the good and the bad, so to speak.

Yes, Victor had a bad-boy image, although I think part of that was overblown and part of it was reality. The overblown part was the 1982 Commonwealth Games, when he kicked a chair in front of the Queen. (More about that later.) That incident probably started it all, and helped him earn his nickname as "enfant terrible" of the team. But he had character. You want athletes who strive to achieve excellence and will sacrifice things to try and be the best in the world.

There are some key messages here, too, such as conquering adversity. The fact that Victor had mono just a year before the L.A. Olympics, as well as a back problem, but overcame both to win gold, is inspirational not just to athletes but to people in general. You're always going to have adversity in life and if you can overcome these hurdles, you'll be a stronger person.

Victor was the most intense and passionate athlete I knew. He was more driven overtly, whereas I kept it inside. He knew what he wanted from a relatively early age and would work hard. The movie shows how, as an 8-year-old kid, he put the names of the swimmers he wanted to surpass on his wall – including the world-record holder at the time, David Wilkie.

Victor was an atypical Canadian. He wasn't happy with second place because he knew he could beat the other competitors.

But back to the incident with the chair. The movie, of course, has the infamous scene of Victor kicking the chair on the deck after we got disqualified in the medley relay at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia. That incident took on a life of its own in the media and really was overblown. I remember coming back after the Games and someone saying to me, "Did you hear about Victor? He threw a sink at the Queen." I've looked back on it a number of times and it was such a minor thing. It just skidded across about five, 10 feet. The whole furor came about only because the Queen was in attendance.

It's probably true Victor never really got his due in Canada. He achieved a great deal – three medals at the Olympics, world records, etc., and he likely didn't get the profile some other athletes achieved. But I think sometimes Victor put this on himself as well. I do think there are a lot of components that come into play in having the profile, having the right agent to help you out and having a positive relationship with the media. He deserved a higher profile but he was partly responsible for the lack of it as well.

It's hard to say what Victor would have thought about this movie. After Victor died of his injuries, his heart, liver, kidneys and cornea were donated to others. I think there's an important message here about organ donation, which I think he would have liked.

The film brought out Victor's intensity, although he might not have wanted to see some of the negative elements. But this being a realistic version of his life, I think he would have seen it in a positive light.

Take Cover! American Idol Season 7 Starts Tonight

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Vinay Menon

(January 15, 2008) It is the television equivalent of an invading army.

Eager to once again occupy the popular culture in this, a winter of Hollywood discontent,
American Idol (Fox, CTV, 8 tonight) returns for its seventh season with a revamped battle plan, a new brigade of fame-seeking soldiers, a mixed arsenal of aural bunker busters and the familiar faces we’ve come to know and mock in central command.

Capt. Ryan Seacrest will be back, grinning like Lou Dobbs at an anti-immigration rally. Seacrest serves as the gel-coiffed, snug-shirted buffer between the naïve warblers and Gen. Simon Cowell, the British-born churl who has turned personal ridicule into a millennial spectator sport.

If Cowell lived in ancient Egypt, he would undoubtedly be sunning his androgynous chest in Giza while heckling stone-carrying workers: “Khufu thinks this is going to be a Great Pyramid? I don’t mean to be rude, but I wouldn’t entomb my rat in that mastaba!”

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the army you have, not the one you necessarily want. Meaning? Corp. Paula Abdul is back! With her unwavering devotion to incoherence, who knows what lunacy will escape the quivering lips of Paula this year. But bettors are encouraged to place big money on “cornflakes,” “butterflies,” “unicorns” and “moon,” though that last one may be slurred as “schmoon.”

Also returning to the rectangular table of judgment is Maj. Randy Jackson, an octagon-shaped fellow who manages to begin each sentence with a booming “Yo!” and/or “So check it out!”

Yo, so check it out, Jackson recently endorsed a new line of eyewear, ideal for the discriminating consumer who sees the world not as an oyster, but as a dawg pound where guys and gals are “dudes” and things are, more often than not, just a’ight.

Since its 2002 premiere, American Idol has dominated television the way Paris Hilton might dominate a stupidity contest. After settling into a January-to-May combat season, the Idol war machine has captured millions of weekly viewers, especially within a coveted demographic: those between the ages of 18 to 49 who tend to enjoy a refreshing Coke after tooling x around in their new Fords The show has also poured hundreds of millions dollars in advertising revenue into the war chests — yes, even I’m amazed by today’s extended and hackneyed military metaphor! — belonging to producers and broadcasters.

According to a recent Bloomberg story, Fox is now getting about $900,000 (U.S.) for a 30-second spot. (Somewhere, Rupert Murdoch is laughing hysterically while snacking on $100 bills.) In Canada, meanwhile, the singing contest is one of CTV’s top five money-makers. (Somewhere, Ivan Fecan is grooming his rock star hair with a comb made from gold bullion.)

Of course, all of this means rivals and several third-party observers are waiting with sharpened knives for the inevitable fall of the Idol empire.

In 2007, they note, the show experienced a drop in viewership, the first time this has happened year over year. The show also lost its creative way last season, they argue, focusing on celebrity mentors — Gwen Stefani! Jennifer Lopez! Diana Ross! — instead of the Idols.

Who wants to hear Martina McBride drone on about 4/4 time signature when little Susie travelled from Harrisburg to Philadelphia (tonight’s first audition city) with a dream in her heart and a hard-luck story in her backpack?

And, the doubters add, what about the former winners and runners-up (including Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee) who’ve been quietly dropped by record labels due to disappointing album sales? Does this not prove American Idol is about to enter television heaven, à la The Original Amateur Hour?

The short answer: no, not in the short term.

If anything, American Idol could have its biggest season yet. The writers’ strike and a relative lack of must-see TV in recent weeks have created a humming void, one that’s perfectly suited for Idol’s water-cooler conquests.

Still, to guard against complacency and guarantee victory to shareholders, the show is retooling with some proactive tinkering, even though last year’s average weekly audience of 30 million was nearly 50 per cent larger than second-place Dancing With the Stars.

The show will have a new set and graphics. Contestants lucky enough to hear the magic words — “You’re going to Hollywood!” — will also be a given a chance to sing while playing an instrument, something Canadian Idol already did last season.

As for the celebrity mentoring, well, producers are snubbing the musicians who arrived last year to help the kids (read: plug new projects).

Instead, it’s a return to the original formula: singing + possible humiliation/triumph + backstory x democratic voting divided by relative competition = ratings glory.

So dust off the earplugs, stock up on the hard liquor and prepare to throw down the remote in surrender. American Idol marches forth this evening and resistance is futile.

Martin Clunes Hits It Big With Doc Martin

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

(January 12, 2008) Vision-TV viewers were witness Wednesday night to the sight of a man aging almost 25 years in the space of one hour.

As unsettling as that might have been to us, imagine the effect on the man in question, British actor
Martin Clunes.

As the 8:30 lead-in to the third season of Clunes' current hit series,
Doc Martin, Wednesday nights at 9, the station has scheduled reruns of his first series, the early '80s Britcom No Place like Home.

"My God!" the actor exclaims, calling in from his farm in West Dorset. "No Place like Home?! I can't even remember what happened in those!

"That was my first series. My first-ever telly was four episodes of Doctor Who, playing a sort of a bad guy in a skirt."

Three years into the five-year run of No Place like Home, Clunes left to pursue a somewhat more dramatic career, also encompassing film and stage.

He quickly proved quite successful, despite a somewhat doughy, fish-faced, elephant-eared appearance.

"I don't think my features have changed much," Clunes allows.

If anything, I suggest, he's now grown into them.

"I'm not sure whether or not that's a kindness," he laughs.

Clunes returned to TV comedy when Harry Enfield caught him on stage at Hampstead Theatre, and hired him for his TV sketch ensemble. In 1992, Enfield wrote for him his breakthrough role as a scheming, sexist lout in the original British version of Men Behaving Badly (Enfield himself left after the first season, to be replaced by Neil Morrissey).

And that in turn led Clunes back to features, notably a showy turn as Richard Burbage in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love.

And now he's a bigger hit than ever in Doc Martin, playing a once-successful big-city doctor who develops a phobic fear of blood and is thus forced to move to the country to treat the eccentric citizens of the small Cornish village of Portwenn.

"I think we've really got it right in this third (season)," he says. "Not that we ever had it wrong. But there's a love story now that people seem to have really, really tuned into. They really wanted us to get together. "A man came up to me in a supermarket recently, asking for an autograph. And then he said, `Just marry that girl before I die.' So there you have it."

Not only does Clunes play a doctor on TV, but just last November he received an honorary doctorate of arts from nearby Bournemouth University.

The (fake) doctor's crusty, crabby demeanour and characteristically dismissive bedside manner brings to mind another British-born TV doc, Hugh Laurie's House. As it happens, Clunes had a recurring role as Cyril "Barmy" Fotheringay Phipps opposite Laurie's lead in the Jeeves and Wooster miniseries.

This is far from the first time he's heard the comparison.

"I don't get it, really, apart from (them both being) grumpy doctors. That show's pretty much 100 per cent medical, isn't it? We're sort of more a detective show, problem-solving ... we try and find funny medical stories."

Also, unlike Laurie, Clunes is quite happy to stay where he is. The lure of American fame does not interest him. "I think Hugh really wanted it. I don't. I did have an offer, asking if I would relocate. They don't tell you the project, just `Will you relocate?'And I said, `Under no circumstances.'

"I love living here. We just bought a farm, 135 acres. I'm a family man. I have an 8-year-old daughter. I work with my wife (Doc Martin producer Phillipa Braithwaite) – it's our company.

"I don't want to go live in America, though I do come out there now and then. We'll be there next month – Canada too, actually – making a documentary about dogs. I'm a passionate dog lover.

"I mean that in a nice way."


Mario Van Peebles Heads To Pine Valley

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(January 15, 2008) *
Mario Van Peebles will join the cast of ABC soap "All My Children" later this month as a prosecutor running for Senate, the network has announced. famed director of "New Jack City" will play Samuel Woods, who becomes the obsession of Susan Lucci's character, Erica Kane, when he appears on her talk show.  The meeting leads to "a lot more than a spike in ratings: Samuel will soon become a nightmare, though one that could turn into a romance," ABC says in a press release. Peebles' arrival in the soap's fictional Pine Valley, PA will take place Tuesday, Jan. 29. The appearance will mark his second foray into soaps following an early 80s stint on ABC's "One Life to Live."


Canadian Playwright Anita Majumdar Takes On Honour Killings

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(January 16, 2008) VANCOUVER — If artists must suffer for their art, playwright/actor/dancer Anita Majumdar did her suffering at school, growing up in Port Moody, B.C., east of Vancouver. One of very few non-white children in the small city in the 1980s, she was teased relentlessly - and shocked by it. Before starting kindergarten, she had no idea that she was "different."

As she moved through the grades and into high school, the troubles continued and she did what she could to keep her love for Indian culture to herself. Call it self-preservation.

So the attention
The Misfit, a one-woman play written and performed by her, is getting in Vancouver, in advance of its world premiere at the city's cutting-edge PuSh performing-arts festival tomorrow, has been particularly gratifying.

"I think I probably became an actor partly to prove a point," Majumdar said last week in between rehearsals in Toronto, where she now lives. "There was the sense of needing to prove myself."

Majumdar, now in her late 20s, is all about proving points.

These days, the girl who was once so secretive about where she came from gets onstage and shines a spotlight on her Indian heritage and culture - exposing the good and the bad.

The Misfit vilifies traditional attitudes still held by some in the South Asian community surrounding women and marriage, in particular the concept of honour and honour killings.

The play tells the story of Naz, an Indo-Canadian woman working as a dancer in India, where she choreographs classical Indian dance moves to English-language pop songs for weddings. Majumdar plays six roles - four women and two men. All of the women, for one reason or another, are ineligible for marriage by local community standards.

One of the women is a shunned divorcee. Another is forced to marry a tree, because of an intimate accident that occurred when she was climbing it at the age of 8. The villagers say the tree raped her, so she should marry it.

And one of the women has been victimized by a much more serious example of the community's hunger for so-called honour: Her lover was murdered by a village mob. She managed to escape.

Now comes the tricky part: The Misfit, which deals with the oppression, marginalization and murder of young South Asian women, is billed as a dark comedy.

"In a play about this issue/topic, I think it's actually more necessary than in most cases to have comedy present," Majumdar says. "It really allows [the audience] to be endeared to these people in a way that I don't think tragedy or the serious moments can. 'Cause I think the serious moments will only have an impact if we've had a chance to laugh at these people."

Majumdar was inspired to write the play after starring in the 2006 CBC movie Murder Unveiled, which was based on the 2000 murder of 25-year-old Jaswinder (Jassi) Sidhu - a Maple Ridge, B.C., woman who fell in love with a rickshaw driver during a visit to India, and married him in secret, knowing that her family would disapprove. A few months after their marriage, the young couple were ambushed in India. The groom was beaten and left for dead (he survived) and Sidhu's body was found in an irrigation canal. There are allegations that members of Sidhu's family in Canada ordered the attack.

In Murder Unveiled, Majumdar played the Jassi-inspired role of Davinder.

When she wrapped up the press tour for the film, she felt that there was so much more to say about the issue, and she wanted to contribute to the conversation.

Some recent examples of killings of Canadian women, believed to be honour-related, also inspired Majumdar. "It was happening so consistently," she says. "The story seemed to occur over and over again, just in different forms with different names.

"We're treating it as a South Asian problem and it isn't. It's something that we as Canadians need to deal with. ... There are Canadian citizens in this country who fear for their life because they were seen talking to a boy at a bus stop."

The Misfit takes on much more serious issues than Fish Eyes, Majumdar's previous one-woman play. The latter coming-of-age story was about a South Asian girl whose parents force her to take classical Indian dancing - which she happens to excel at, but blames for her lack of popularity at school and lack of romantic success with her crush, a popular white boy.

The theme that ties Fish Eyes and The Misfit together is the search for empowerment. "I have no interest in trying to build stories or tell stories about disempowered young women," Majumdar says. "I've seen that story. I don't think there's anything else I can add."

Majumdar, herself now empowered after those difficult school years, feels good about where she has ended up following her between-two-worlds struggle common to first-generation Canadians. "In high school, I remember feeling a really deep anger [toward] Canada, to Canadians, and sort of globalizing what I saw, the high-school mentality extending to the rest of the country."

She dreamed of moving to India when she was old enough. "For a long time, I thought I would eventually move back to be with my own people. It wasn't until I got older that I realized that I am with my own people. I am Canadian. It's just that everyone else has taken a while to realize it."

Vancouver's PuSh International Performing Arts Festival starts today and continues through Feb. 3. The Misfit runs Thursday through Saturday at Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright St., Granville Island, Vancouver, and at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto March 31-April 6 (http://www.pushfestival.ca).


Shows with buzz at PuSh

Most festivals are a theatrical crapshoot, but the precisely curated PuSh Festival delivers just the gems. That said, some gems shine brighter than others -- these three have excited an inordinate amount of buzz.

Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut

When theatre artist James Long salvaged a pile of water-damaged family photo albums from an alley in East Vancouver, he and his theatre cronies began to piece the lives of strangers together and launched themselves on a two-year process that culminated in this highly anticipated (and contested) work. Even as rehearsals finished up, one woman connected to the albums has threatened legal action. Jan. 30 to Feb. 2. $22 to $28. Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright St., 604-231-7535.

Palace Grand

Jonathon Young is arguably the strongest young actor working in Vancouver. In this PuSh-commissioned reworking of his award-winning 2004 production, three remote souls in Canada's frigid North are tenuously connected by their shared quest for self. Young performs the show solo from a miniature vaudeville stage that floats in space. Jan. 30 to Feb. 2. $22 to $28. Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St., 604-231-7535.

Haircuts by Children

PuSh is nothing if not an exercise in genre-cracking. What's performance art? What's just little kids running with scissors? You decide at Haircuts by Children; students from Bridgeview Elementary School will be trucked in from Surrey to an East Van salon. Adults offer their heads up to the aesthetic whims of tiny hands in this participatory bit of theatre that will test your faith in the next generation. Schedule your own haircut by e-mailing hazel@pushfestival.ca. Jan. 26 & 27. NuNu's Salon and Spa, 1855 Commercial Dr.

Michael Harris, Vancouver

Theatre Of War Coming To Toronto

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

(January 12, 2008) It may have taken five years, but the war in Iraq has finally reached the stages of Toronto.

When the Canadian Stage production of Judith Thompson's opens
Palace of the End next Thursday, it will usher in an exciting six-month period during which three plays dealing with political conflict in the Middle East will be on view in our local theatres.

In addition to Thompson's triptych of monologues, Joel Greenberg's Theatre 180 will be presenting Stuff Happens, David Hare's saga of George W. Bush and his cabinet, for performances beginning Feb. 29.

And, completing the trifecta will be the long-delayed, much-awaited Toronto premiere of the controversial play My Name is Rachel Corrie. This examination of the death of an American activist working in Palestine under the wheels of an Israeli bulldozer will first be seen on May 29.

Obviously, the climate is right for a look at the far-from-tranquil situation in the land of jihads and oil wells, but what has brought our artists to the tipping point?

"There comes a point in a society," Thompson observes sadly, "when you can't not write politically."

The well-known, much-honoured Canadian playwright is the first one on the firing line and the highly charged material in her latest work is a definite departure for her.

Thompson has picked three people whose lives were destroyed by the war in Iraq and given them a chance to speak their minds.

Lynndie England is the U.S. soldier who was convicted of abusing detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, David Kelly was the British weapons expert who allegedly committed suicide after being involved in a government scandal, and Nehrjas Al Saffarh was a member of the Communist party of Iraq who suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime and died when Americans bombed her home during the initial Gulf War.

Although Thompson's work has always been concerned with social issues, these three monologues are the first overtly political works she has created in her 30-year career.

She credits Volcano Theatre's Ross Manson and his "Wrecking Ball" political cabaret with having jump-started the process when she created an early version of the England monologue for a one-night event they held in 2004.

"I found it very liberating," she says on a recent break from rehearsal, "very freeing. I started writing (England) and suddenly I wanted to channel her."

Thompson smiles. "It's funny, because I always tell my playwriting students to `write what they know,' but this time around it was different for me. I just let it go and her voice seemed to come."

But underneath all of this is something more important: "My plays always start with a large question that I can't answer which I feel obliged to wrestle with."

And Thompson soon realized the point that would cause her to create the other two monologues and unite them into an evening of theatre. "I wanted to find out how we are complicit and what we can do about it. I came to realize all theatre is innately political because you are penetrating the conscience of the audience and you are making them think about what you're saying."

Although Thompson hadn't planned it that way, once she had told the stories of her three subjects, she discovered a common thread: "They were all ready-made pawns of the governments who wanted these wars to happen for their own personal agendas."

She shakes her head. "There was a time when I still had some naïve belief that governments couldn't be quite that ruthless, that they were different.

"Not anymore."

That revelation came earlier to British playwright David Hare, whose Stuff Happens, a scathing look at the Bush Administration during the period immediately surrounding the decision to invade Iraq, hit the stage in London in 2004, slightly more than a year after the events themselves.

To Joel Greenberg, whose Theatre 180 is producing it here, the immediate appeal of the work is its even-handedness rather than its righteous anger.

"David Hare offers no solutions to a crisis that seems to have none," says Greenberg. "People we have known only as headline news names emerge as three-dimensional and fallible without sentiment.

"Hare allows a variety of voices from a variety of political positions to speak without getting in their way. The right-wing journalist is permitted free and complete access to the stage, as is the Palestinian academic."

And even though the events portrayed are five years old, Greenberg feels the passing of time has rendered the script more powerful, not less.

"The play changes as new information is revealed. With some degree of distance from the initial events that led to the invasion, we listen more easily because we've had some breathing space to think for ourselves."

And the 2008 American presidential election also provides a nice frame of reference that allows us to look at Bush's government with a sense of detachment.

It's hard to be detached about the third play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, which has caused controversy since its premiere in London in 2005.

Based on the diaries and emails of the young activist who died in 2003, a London production went on in 2005 and a New York one was scheduled for later the same year at the New York Theatre Workshop, only to be withdrawn in the face of complaints from board members that it was anti-Semitic.

The same scenario played out in Toronto, where Martin Bragg, artistic producer of the Canadian Stage company, proudly announced to the Star in November 2006 that he was doing the play the following season, only to withdraw it in the face of similar pressure from his board of directors.

Enter Niki Landau, whose Theatre Panik has also been devoted to exploring political issues, most notably in her moving 2005 play, Territories.

For her, getting the rights to do My Name is Rachel Corrie almost became an issue of moral imperative.

"I heard about Rachel long before I heard about the play," says Landau. "I went to the occupied territories and did some peace work there. She had crossed paths with some of the same people I did.

"Everything she said about being in Palestine I recognized as true from my experience there."

Landau also feels the tide may have turned in terms of opposition to this play's message – as well as those of the other two being presented this year in Toronto.

"People are feeling a new freedom in portraying the Middle East. The war in Iraq has become such an unpopular war that portraying things from the Iraqi or Palestinian point of view is no longer impossible."

But Thompson returns to the obligation that presenting such plays carries with it as well.

"It's not enough to tell harrowing stories. We have to give the audiences a way to wrap their minds around the issues at stake. And those audiences must realize that they have an obligation to decide who they are politically. Because your politics are who you are."

Soulpepper Basks In Moonlight

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Robert Crew, Toronto Star

Salt-Water Moon
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
By David French. Directed by Ted Dykstra. Until Jan. 31 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St.

(January 11, 2008) Two young lovers beneath a Newfoundland moon. David French's lyrical Salt-Water Moon has been weaving its gentle magic somewhere in the world almost constantly since its debut in 1985.

And the enchantment proved as strong as ever in the Soulpepper production that opened last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

This is the 10th-anniversary season of this remarkable theatre company – a decade of setting standards and blazing trails – and it speaks volumes that it chose to launch the celebrations with a true Canadian classic.

French's canvas may be small – this is a two-hander that lasts a mere 80 minutes or so – but the emotions run both deep and wide. The third in a series of five plays about the Mercer family, Salt-Water Moon is a prequel, charting the turbulent courtship between Jacob Mercer and the young woman he is to marry, Mary Snow.

Although they seemed to have had "an understanding" following a night spent together on Jenny's Hill, Jacob has suddenly taken off to Toronto but returns on hearing that Mary is engaged to marry a schoolteacher named Jerome.

Mary is understandably brimful of anger at being abandoned, but the silver-tongued Jacob attempts to weave his way back into her affections with a heady mix of lies, truths and silk sockings. Mary (as we eventually realize) has never wavered in her love for Jacob. She has cogent reasons for wanting to set up home with Jerome.

Jeff Lillico is all roguish charm as Jacob, a mercurial character who is wonderful with words and quick on his feet (both figuratively and literally). Lillico deftly radiates strength and confidence but manages to hint at vulnerability at the same time.

Krystin Pellerin's 17-year-old Mary swings between sullen silence and outbursts of anger against the charmer who left her without even saying goodbye.

It's a performance that never leaves a scrap of doubt that Mary truly is "as cross as a hornet" most of the time. The steel is certainly there but Pellerin has yet to deliver something else – a sense of the deep affection and large heart that lie underneath.

Director Ted Dykstra does the right thing; he trusts the text and lets the play breathe and move naturally. The movement is fluid throughout, the tone sensitive without being in any way mawkish.

We're lucky to have Salt-Water Moon in the tapestry of Canadian culture. We are also supremely fortunate to have Soulpepper around.

'Rent' Reportedly Closing After 12-Year Broadway Run

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(January 16, 2008) NEW YORK –
Rent, the acclaimed musical chronicle of counterculture life and death in Manhattan's East Village, will close in June after more than a dozen years on Broadway, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The rock-inflected reinterpretation of the Puccini opera La Boheme will be the seventh-longest-running Broadway show in history when it closes after its evening performance June 1, The New York Times reported.

The musical reeled in four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, grossed more than $280 million (dollar figures U.S.) on Broadway and $330 million more in productions elsewhere, spun off a 2005 movie and fostered the careers of actors including Taye Diggs and Jesse L. Martin.

Co-producer Jeffrey Seller told the newspaper that ticket sales slowed noticeably in the fall. He did not immediately return a telephone call early Wednesday from The Associated Press.

Seller told the Times the show faced competition from such newer musicals as Legally Blonde: The Musical, which opened in April 2007, and Spring Awakening, which opened in December 2006.

Still, when Rent opened, "I couldn't have foreseen that we'd get to five years," he said.

Rent examines the struggles of a group of artists and outcasts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, celebrating their pluck, camaraderie and commitment to self-expression while also dealing frankly with drug addiction, AIDS, and loss. The show's own story was nearly as heart-rending and dramatic as its characters': Its 35-year-old creator, Jonathan Larson, died of a heart condition three weeks before Rent opened off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in February 1996. It moved to Broadway that April.

Larson's father, Al, told the Times in a telephone interview that he was glad the show could live on in schools and small theatres after its Broadway run ends. But he added: "For essentially 12 years I've been saying I'd trade the whole business in if Jonny could still be alive. I still feel that way."

Othello A Stunner Of A Show

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

(January 16, 2008) LONDON–Have you ever heard an entire audience hold its breath?

It's an amazing thing. No papers rustle, nobody coughs, you can hear the proverbial pin drop. Everyone is totally focused towards what happening onstage.

That takes place twice during the stunning production of
Othello now playing at the Donmar Warehouse.

The first time is when
Ewan McGregor's quietly malevolent Iago is convincing Chiwetel Ejiofor's tragically malleable Othello that his wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful.

McGregor spins his web of deceit – believing his lies as deeply as only the true psychotic can – and we watch in horror as Ejiofor falls right into his demonic trap.

There's no over-the-top villainy happening here, just one quietly demented madman turning the screws on his susceptible victim.

The scene in question takes over 10 minutes and while it's happening, it truly seems like no one in the theatre dares to even take a single breath. McGregor is so quietly convincing and Ejiofor so blindly trusting that you study their interaction like the proverbial car crash: too horrible to look at closely, but too fascinating to turn away from.

The same things happens at the end of the play when Othello finally confronts, corners and strangles his innocent wife, Desdemona, who he is convinced has betrayed him.

Ejiofor spins himself into a whirlpool of violence, while Kelly Reilly's classically cool Desdemona suddenly throws all control away and begs desperately for her life.

Once again, the powerful emotions onstage command our attention at a level far beyond the ordinary. We know Desdemona is going to die, but we don't want it to happen and the resulting tension again fills the theatre with tense silence.

The bottom line is that this is an extraordinary production of Othello on every level and not just the star vehicle for McGregor that cynics feared it would be.

How is McGregor? He's damn good and he takes risks that many other actors would never dare. His villainy is never obvious or theatrical; it's of the far more dangerous quietly controlled variety.

Like everyone else in Michael Grandage's splendid production, he speaks the verse with a clarity that makes it a pleasure to hear. Not empty "word music," but actors using the rhythms of Shakespeare's text to achieve their emotional goals.

Christopher Oram's design is dangerously simple: a giant textured wall that look like a terra cotta fantasy or a nightmarish prison, depending on what light the brilliant Paule Constable shines on it.

And Adam Cork's sound design is also a major asset, alerting us to the subtext in every scene, rather than merely underlining the obvious.

Grandage stages the whole thing with a clarity and briskness that make for magic. The evening is over three hours long, yet it never drags for a single second.

The actors bring the whole thing home. As mentioned, McGregor delivers far more than a star turn, playing the motiveless malignancy in Iago with maximum subtlety and only showing his desperation once, near the end, when his wife Emilia blows his cover. Ejiofor is also a superb Othello. The Nigerian actor builds his performance slowly, allowing the rage and terror inside the character to emerge bit by bit. The pathos he summons when he feels he must kill his beloved wife is exquisitely painful.

There's also fine work from Reilly, a thoroughbred of a Desdemona who falls into desperation before our eyes, as well as Tom Hiddleston, who captures the callow charm and accidental tragedy of Cassio better than I have ever seen it done.

The Donmar Warehouse continues to be the go-to place in London for edgy, arresting productions of classic plays as well as forgotten modern ones.

This production of Othello may have been one that people went to see because of McGregor, but they got smashing work from him as well as everybody down the line.


Actor Founded Theatre School

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(January 11, 2008) STRATFORD, Ont.–Actor and director
Joseph Shaw, who was associated with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for 24 seasons, has died, the festival said yesterday. Shaw, who had suffered from emphysema, was 87. Shaw joined the festival in 1962. His final roles were Vintner and Archbishop Scroop in the 2006 production of Henry IV, Part 1. Shaw was the founder of the George Brown Theatre School in Toronto and served as its artistic director for the first 10 years. As well as being an accomplished actor, Shaw was "a mentor and teacher for the young and a true friend to the Canadian theatre community," said festival general director Antoni Cimolino. Shaw died Wednesday in hospital in Stratford.

Dame Edna Cancels Tour After Surgery

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Reuters

(January 14, 2008) London — Australian comic Barry Humphries has been ordered to rest for six months because of complications over appendix surgery, a spokesman for the Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival said yesterday. Humphries, the creator of Australian characters Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, had his appendix removed at the end of December. The enforced rest means Humphries, 73, has been forced to cancel a North American tour. "He's going in for surgery this week as there have been complications," a spokesman for the Glasgow International Comedy Festival told Reuters. "He has been told by his doctors to take a six-month rest." Humphries, who was born in Melbourne, created the character of housewife Edna Everage in 1955, teasing the suburbs for their morning teas and social graces in caustic commentaries that left people unsure whether to be embarrassed or to laugh.


 A Pinch Of Politics In Parties' Programs

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Susan Walker, Dance Writer

(January 11, 2008) For those with an awareness of the Chinese government hostility to the Falun Gong movement, the
Chinese New Year Spectacular is not just a pretty pageant.

Coming to the Sony Centre next Friday for five performances over the weekend, the music and dance show is billed by the presenter as a showcase of "the true traditional Chinese culture devoid of any elements of the (culture of) Chinese communism."

The show contains references to Dafa, a concept associated with the meditative practices of Falun Gong adherents. One scene reportedly depicts the oppression of Falun Gong members in China by prison guards wielding clubs and wearing uniforms emblazoned with hammers and sickles.

Joe Wang, president of New Tang Dynasty Television Canada, presenter of the show in Toronto, says the production "depicts the values of traditional Chinese society (with) stories from history and from today's China. In today's China, the Falun Gong issue is very significant." But, says marketing co-ordinator Carolyn Jin, "the show has nothing to do with teaching Falun Gong."

The Chinese government regards the Falun Gong movement as a cult. But before it was condemned in China, says Wang, Falun Gong spiritual exercises were "practised by one-tenth of the population.... Many people one way or the other are connected to the persecution."

The New Year Spectacular has been in Toronto four times before, but in the smaller Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York. This year's event engages more than 50 performers – including a live orchestra in some venues (not Toronto) – from the New York-based Divine Performing Arts company, most of them born and trained outside mainland China.

But the Spectacular will not be the only Chinese New Year game in town. On Feb. 5, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York's Mel Lastman Square, 85 artists from China will be involved in a one-time performance of Dream of Red Chamber, a dance production based on a famous novel regarded as a work of classical Chinese literature.

The show, performed two days before the start of the Chinese New Year proper on Feb. 7, is touted as the product of historical research into Chinese philosophy, culture and social customs. Dream of Red Chamber is coming to Canada with the full support of the Chinese government.

In the Spectacular, much of the production is dedicated to depicting Chinese legends, through dance, music, singing and martial arts. Dancing and dramatic scenes are played out against a sophisticated, video-enhanced backdrop, says Wang.

The celebration of "human dignity and time-honoured traditions" is what makes the show so popular, says Ying Chen, a production manager speaking on the phone from Boston. That's one of more than 50 cities on this year's tour for Spectacular, which has been growing in size and popularity ever since it began in 2004. The Toronto Star is one of the sponsors of this year's Toronto production.

The marketing of the New Year production takes a grassroots approach. Volunteers recruited by New Tang from Toronto's Chinese community have been pamphleting people attending big stage shows in Toronto since early November. The presenters have also promoted the show with a video excerpt screening in shopping malls, downtown business buildings and the St. Lawrence Market.

New Tang Dynasty Television is an independent Chinese-language network based in New York, and its president, Zhong Lee, has denied any links to Falun Gong. But some of the network's reporters, he told the Boston Globe, "like millions of Chinese, practise Falun Gong's meditation and exercises."

So, too, do a number of performers in the Spectacular, according to Ying Chen. But "it's not something we necessarily keep track of or discuss too much."

New Tang representatives charge that the Chinese government, through its consulates in various cities, has put pressure on local officials to dissociate themselves from the New Year show by withholding notices of welcome or recognition. A letter from the consulate in Los Angeles, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, was sent to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The letter maintained that behind the Spectacular was intent to "defame China's image in the international community and undermine the development of U.S.-China relations."

No such efforts have been reported in Toronto.


Marjane Satrapi - The Voice Of An Iranian Generation

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(January 11, 2008)
Marjane Satrapi needed a cigarette.

Everything else she had to lug with her to the interview – all the praise for her graphic novel-style memoirs and film, Persepolis, the acclaim she has received as being the voice of ordinary Iranians, of Iran's exiled and suppressed – she didn't need at that moment. What she needed was a cigarette, that ever-present extension she wields in the air to punctuate her thoughts, but which the hotel bar and Toronto's smoking laws denied her.

All the other baggage she never really asked for.

The Iranian writer-illustrator never set out to represent anything other than her own experiences in the book (translated into English in 2003) and in the film version of Persepolis, her story about growing up during the Islamic revolution. Not Iranians as a nation, just herself.

 “I'm not a historian, I'm not a politician, I'm not a sociologist. I'm a person who was born in a certain place at a certain time, and who is completely unsure about everything except what she has seen herself with her own eyes,” she said.

Like her memoirs, the animated film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes last year, is sparsely drawn in stark blacks and whites, leaving viewers a great deal of room to fill in extra detail and superimpose grander generalizations. So it's easy to view Satrapi's story as that of countless Iranians, about being an outspoken kid in the early 1980s with her Michael Jackson button and poster of pop star Kim Wilde (“We're the kids in America, whoa!”), skirting the strictures of the fundamentalists and the roaming Guardians of the Revolution who could detain her at any time. Satrapi's confusion and anxieties as a maturing girl in a progressive, politically minded family at odds with both the Shah and the fundamentalists, may indeed represent a generation of Iranians. But Satrapi doesn't frame it that way.

“You have this whole thing about the voice of a generation, the voice of the nation and all of that. It's too much responsibility. I'm an artist, completely an individualist. If I become a symbol of something – because you cannot control everything in life – then of course you try to do the best you can.” As she said this, her heavily accented English accelerated two or three gears.

Satrapi, 38, isn't the dark, brooding type you might imagine given the way she tends to draw her adult self, with an existentialist's cigarette in hand and spellbound gaze. She is instead more extroverted and earthy, and she's out to undermine any pretensions people might attach to her story. To Satrapi, the books and film are works of expression, not documentary.

“No matter what story you have and how personal the story is, from the moment you write it into a story or script, a part that is fictional is added. Because it is not a documentary about my life. Far from that. I mean, I have never met God in person,” she said. In Persepolis, the young Marjane has a running bedtime dialogue with a rather cloudy, ineffectual god.

However, since it is her personal story, Satrapi has to deal with fans who now think they are intimately familiar with her. “This is the price to pay for making it an individual point of view. Because if I don't make it individual, if I talk about something else, then I become this creature saying it was like this [in Iran during the Islamic revolution] or it was like that. I don't want to preach. I hate preachers, actually. The only thing I can say is that this is my point of view, this is what I feel.”

In past interviews, Satrapi has described her approach as pedagogical, putting more of a human face on the West's image of Iran. With me, she suggested that this has been a tricky balance. She emphasized more her belief in the importance of presenting people as individuals, rather than trying to educate audiences on larger issues.

“Neither in the books, nor in the movie am I giving lessons in what is good, what is bad. I'm just describing a situation, trying just to show that situations are always much more complex than what we think that they are.”

Case in point is the way the young Marjane vacillates between one political side or another, first by revolutionary play-acting with family and friends and later by rebelling and wearing her decadently Western, circa 1983, Nike sneakers and jean jacket. Worse is the moment later on when she points out a man who had been coming on to her to Muslim revolutionaries, thereby putting the man in harm's way.

“The complexities [in the story] start with myself, you know, and that's probably why people relate. There is nothing heroic about me. I have never done anything heroic. I'm just a human being … but so what!” she added with an effusive shrug.

Meanwhile, her books are not officially available in Iran, but can be easily found: “They are not sold in real book stores. But everything in Iran is banned, and everything in Iran exists,” she said.

Her caustic criticism is saved for Western media's depiction of Iranians as “other than us.” The more that view is perpetuated, she said, the more the media can sell the story.

“Never will they talk about human beings. They will reduce a whole part of the world to abstract notions. Now we are terrorists, fanatics, that's all that we are [seen as]. People forget that we are human beings just like themselves. In my whole work, the one message is that it's about time that human beings become the centre of interest, because we talk about everything but the human being.”

She added, “It's the capacity of loving somebody outside of ourselves. And when I say that, I realize I've become a hippie myself, which I'm not! I'm not a peace-and-love person. [But] we are in a world where I have to talk about peace and love. That is when I have to ask myself the question, ‘What's wrong here?'”


 It's Bolts, Not Colts In AFC Final

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Garth Woolsey

(January 14, 2008)
Super Bowl LXII is back on schedule. Okay, it always was on the calendar for Feb.3. But everyone and his brother understood that the "real" championship would be decided in the American Conference title game, when the New England Patriots met the Indianapolis Colts.

Until yesterday, that is, when the defending Roman-numeralled champion Colts fell victim to Billy Volek and the can-do
San Diego Chargers, 28-24, at Indianapolis.

So, it will be the Bolts rather than Colts who assume the potential roles of giant-killers and spoilers of dreams. What are their chances? Think hell. Think snowballs. But stranger things have happened.

The Chargers were bet down to 11-point underdogs for their game against the Colts and, following their victory, the bookmakers' opening line on the AFC title game made the Patriots, not surprisingly, 14-point favourites. Back on Sept.16, during the Chargers' shaky start to their season (they have now won eight in a row and the ghost of Marty Schottenheimer has, officially, been exorcised), New England won easily, 38-14.

The oddsmakers also made the AFC representatives, whoever they will be (but, odds are, the Pats), whopping 16-point picks over whoever emerges from the NFC. That role will be determined between the Green Bay Packers, Saturday's runaway snowstorm victors over the Seattle Seahawks, and the New York Giants, who knocked off the conference's top-seeded Cowboys 21-17 in Dallas last night. These killer Giants have now won nine consecutive road games, but lost at home to the Packers 35-13 in mid-September.

One Manning is still standing, but who would have guessed it would be Eli and not his big brother? Blame the 'Boys loss to Eli and Co. on the Jinx of Jessica Simpson, if you will. But her boyfriend, Tony Romo, could have used better protection against the ferocious Giants pass rush.

Brett Favre is 0-for-9 in Dallas for his career, but all-world at Lambeau Field, where he will be conspiring with Mother Nature to concoct a blizzard of biblical proportions, no doubt. The bookies have the Pack, the league's youngest team, as 7-point picks.

Anyway, you know about Mr. Favre and Mr. Brady (now 13-2 in playoffs) and the Mssrs. Manning, but Mr. Volek? John William Volek, 31 and a nine-year veteran of the NFL, mostly as a backup. He stepped into the breach for injured starter Philip Rivers late in the proceedings and wound up scoring the game's winning touchdown on a one-yard plunge. Rivers might be well enough to start Sunday. Likewise, league regular-season rushing champion LaDainian Tomlinson, like Rivers sidelined yesterday with knee troubles, may be able to start. For the sake of the competition, let us sincerely hope so. There's a reason Volek has been living in the shadows.

In Boston, as in the hinterlands, they're running out of hyperbole to attach to Tom Brady and crew, the 17-0 perfectionists. They're calling them "Camelot's team," which is apparently one giant step up from America's team. That appellation has long been associated with the Cowboys, even if they haven't deserved it so much in recent seasons. An editorial in a Wisconsin newspaper on the weekend claimed the name for the Packers: "America's football team."

The TV networks had been hoping for a Patriots-Colts rematch of last year's AFC final, which drew the highest ratings for any football game other than a Super Bowl. What they will get, though, is not that bad: the Patriots intent on making genuinely unique history and, chances are, headed for a showdown with Favre, the 38-year-old who is two decades of football history.

Argonauts Sign Their Top Draft Pick Maranda To Multi-Year Contract

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Rick Matsumoto, Sports Reporter

(January 15, 2008) The Argonauts still haven't heard from Mike O'Shea as to whether he is ready to call it a career.

But even if the 37-year-old, 15-year hall-of-fame bound veteran opts to return for another season, the Argos know he'll have to be replaced sooner rather than later. So for the past couple of years, they have been hunting for potential replacements.

Eric Maranda can now be formally added to that list of candidates.

The 25-year-old Laval University product, who was the Argos' top pick in last spring's CFL draft, has signed a multi-year contract with the Boatmen.

Maranda ends his college career on Saturday in the 83rd East-West Shrine game in Houston. He is one of four Canadians invited to play in the historic bowl game.

Greg Mohns, Argos' director of player personnel, who is scouting the Shrine game, sees the 6-foot-1, 235-pound linebacker as a middle linebacker.

"He is a very talented athlete who can play inside and outside, but his pro position will be (middle) linebacker," said Mohns. "He is a good student who has a great run-and-hit factor."

Maranda's coach for the past five years at Laval, Glen Constantin, likens him to O'Shea.

"He's a solid blue-collar player," said Constantin. "He's tough against the run, but he's also good on pass coverage. He's something like O'Shea. He's hard-nosed and pursues the ball.

"In a perfect world, O'Shea could be his mentor for a couple of years and help groom him. He could use a couple of years behind a guy like O'Shea. Meantime, he'd be outstanding on special teams."

Maranda will be joined on the East team by fellow Quebecker Samuel Giguere, a wide receiver who plays for his hometown University of Sherbrooke Vert et Or. The Canadians on the West team are defensive back Dylan Barker of the University of Saskatchewan and offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte of the University of Regina.

Ferguson's Days Numbered

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Paul Hunter, Sports Reporter

(January 15, 2008) The
Maple Leafs, adopting a bunker mentality in the corporate office and in the dressing room, are quietly working on a succession plan to replace general manager John Ferguson.

That might mean the return of former, popular GM Cliff Fletcher in a caretaker role until a full-time GM is hired from a larger pool of available executives this summer.

Fletcher headed up the Leafs from 1991 until he was fired in 1997, restoring some glory to a team that wallowed through much of the '80s. Among his acquisitions were Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin and Dave Andreychuk and his teams twice, in 1993 and '94, went to the conference final.

TSN reported last night that the Leafs have asked Fletcher, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, if he'd be interested in taking over the team on an interim basis. Last summer, when the Leafs toyed with hiring a mentor for Ferguson, Fletcher went public with his willingness to take on the job. The Leafs eventually scrapped that plan.

Messages left for Fletcher last night went unreturned. The 72-year-old was the Coyotes' director of hockey operations but was fired along with GM Mike Barnett at the end of last season. He still makes his winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Fletcher did, however, talk to The Canadian Press earlier in the day about what it is like in Toronto when the situation sours.

"I just feel badly for the manager and the coach, having experienced it, it's tough, it's really tough," he said. "But the one thing about Toronto, there's nothing three consecutive wins wouldn't cure."

While the directors of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment have no plans to meet this week – board chairman Larry Tanenbaum is out of town on business – in these days of easy wireless communication, they all wouldn't have to gather in the same room to reach consensus on a significant hire.

If and when that change comes, it won't be at the behest of Sundin.

The Toronto captain built his potential influence through 13 years of loyalty to the franchise, but he takes the I'm-just-a-hockey-player approach when asked if he should flex that muscle off-ice in pushing for improvements to the team.

"I think the chain of command is very simple on a hockey team, like any other company. If I was the GM, I wouldn't want any of my employees to go behind my back to tell the owner of the company to do whatever. I wouldn't respect that," Sundin said.

The Leafs have lost five in a row and won only two of their last 13 to tumble to 28th in the 30-team league, but there are some who wonder if there is a sense of urgency to change how the team's management is structured.

Scott Bowman, who interviewed to be Ferguson's mentor last summer, doesn't foresee change in the Toronto front office. "I don't think they're going to do anything at all," Bowman told the Detroit Free Press. "There's nothing anybody can do there now, anyways. The season is past the halfway point."

If a change is to made before the summer, the Leafs understand the need to hire someone well in advance of the Feb.26 trade deadline.

A decision an interim GM would have to make is whether to ask Sundin to waive his no-trade deal. It would be an interesting twist if Fletcher, who brought Sundin to Toronto in 1994 in a controversial trade for Wendel Clark, ended up being the man to deal him away.

Not that Sundin wants to leave.

"I signed here a year ago not so I could put myself in a position where I could be traded at the deadline if the team was not where we wanted to be this year," he said.

"I signed because I wanted to finish my career as a Toronto Maple Leaf and I want to play here the rest of my career. That hasn't changed."

Sundin said he has not been approached by Toronto management about potentially waiving the no-trade clause in his one-year, $5.5 million (U.S.) contract.

He said it's up to the players to turn Toronto's season around. "I understand that the fans are sick of us saying a lot of things and nothing happens," he said.

"(But) the fact is, if you start winning hockey games, you give yourself a chance to get back in the race."


Raptors' Bosh named NBA Eastern Conference Player Of The Week

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(January 14, 2008)
Chris Bosh's solid play has earned the Toronto Raptors forward NBA Eastern Conference player of the week honours. Bosh led the Raptors to a 3-0 week, averaging 33.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a night. Bosh shot 55 per cent from the field and 80.6 per cent from the foul line. After division wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, Bosh capped his week with 38 points and 14 rebounds in Sunday's double-overtime victory over the streaking Portland Trail Blazers. This is the fourth Eastern Conference award for Bosh, who leads the team in scoring (21.6), rebounding (9.3) and minutes (35.4). Sunday's win boosted the Raptors (20-17) to fourth in the Eastern Conference. Lakers star Kobe Bryant earned Western Conference honours after leading Los Angeles to a 4-0 week, with wins over New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Memphis, twice. Bryant averaged 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.5 steals, and closed out the week with back-to-back 37-point performances.


 Grenada: A  Blue Sky Holiday

Source: Melanie Reffes

It can be tricky getting there but ask anyone who has been, and you’ll hear Grenada is well worth the effort.  Dubbed the Spice Island, twice the size of Washington D.C. and one-hour south of Barbados, the rolling mountainous land perfumed by fragrant spice trees is a model of recovery following the swift and efficient rebuilding after Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

According to the Grenada Board of Tourism, fourteen new tourism products are in the works and with increased visitor arrivals in 2007, enthusiasm is high for a busy year ahead. “Our upgraded roads and improved infrastructure is very attractive to top-line investors, “said Edwin Frank, Public Relations officer for the GBT, “We expect 3,000 new rooms bringing our room stock to 4500 within five years.”   

The most anticipated opening is that of LaSource set to resume business on February 1st. The all-inclusive 100-room property on Gin Beach will add to the luxury landscape which already includes the   award-winning Spice Island Beach Resort.  After three years of extensive renovations following Hurricane Ivan, LaSource is still in arbitration with the insurance company, however, the current owners secured financing through local banks in order to re-open. “We didn’t want to miss another high season, “noted Denis Thomas, Guest Services coordinator who has been with the property for ten years and whose sister is the Spa Director at Spice Island Beach resort.

Surrounded by 40 acres of gardens and five minutes from the airport, LaSource has been a perennial favourite for its range of activities including hydro-boarding, scuba diving, yoga classes and a nine-hole golf course.  Guests receive one dive daily and one spa treatment in the 17-treatment room Oasis Spa which is the largest on the Island.   “We paid attention to what our guests wanted, “added Thomas, “During renovations,  we moved the treatment rooms to where our old administrative offices were and added new bars and restaurants.”   Couples who book a seven-night stay before the end of January will receive a $300 credit for travel through December 18. Rack rates start at $414.00 for a luxury room through January 20th and $460.00 through the end of March.  www.theamazingholiday.com

Perhaps the best kept secret for those who prefer less luxury and more authentic Grenada, Morne Fendue Plantation House in the northern parish of St. Patrick, about ninety minutes from the airport,   is a tribute to the Victorian age with furnishings dating to the 17th century and the brass bed slept in by Princess Margaret in 1953. Retired doctor Jean Thompson owns the charming eight-room B & B and lords over it as if royalty were arriving for a weekend stay. Rates start at $65.00 (per room, not per person) including breakfast. “Our views of the mountains are breathtaking and made for special occasions,” said Dr. Thompson. Discounts are offered to wedding parties who book the entire house. www.mornefendueplantation.com

Opening on March 1st, Mount Cinnamon is one several projects funded by Peter de Savary, a moneyed entrepreneur who built the Abaco Club in the Bahamas and the St. James Club in Antigua. On Grand Anse Beach, the 21 spacious ocean view villas and apartments start at $400.00 per night including breakfast through March 18. www.mountcinnamongrenada.com
Port Louis, another de Savary project, is a   marine village on the lagoon in St. George's.  The marina with customs and immigration personnel is partially open with berthing for 75 boats. Space for an additional 300 is expected by September.  The Victory Bar & Grill and the Creole Village duty-free shopping center   is already open. Work is currently underway on a five-star hotel and eco-spa.

Other new projects include the 250-room Levera Hotel, Bacolet Bay Resort on Grand Harbour, Prickly Bay waterside condos and the Four Seasons on Hog Island which will include the building of a bridge connecting it to the mainland.
The attraction sector has also been spruced up with the completion of the Underwater Sculpture Gallery in Moliniere Bay.  A sight to behold – if you are either underwater or looking below from the comfort of a glass bottom boat , the project started two years ago by British dive instructor Jason de Caires Taylor with the support of the Grenadian Ministry of Tourism.  The extraordinary display creates an artificial reef which is rejuvenating the coral decimated by the recent tropical storms. Sixty-five sculptures depicting characters from Grenadian folklore are made of cement and bolted to the sea floor twenty two feet under the surface.  " I get hundreds of requests weekly requesting information on how to get there, “  Taylor says, “  Some local operators have seen their profits rise by 200% over the six month period since it opened.”  www.underwatersculpture.com/

Known as the 'Wreck Diving Capital of the Caribbean, St. George's has the regions deepest bay at a depth of 200 feet with fifteen wrecks laying at the bottom including the  MV Hildur which sunk this past July. Dive Grenada Scuba Centre (www.divegrenada.com) and ScubaTech Dive Center (www.scubatech-grenada.com) arrange tours.

Grenada has several distilleries from the colonial era that are still in working condition. The most popular called the River Antoine Rum Distillery, is the oldest water-propelled distillery producing a 152-proof blend that is considered too flammable to export. Imbibe at your own risk. ( Tours $2.00 per person.)

The horseshoe-shaped bay or Carenage in St George’s is one of the most picturesque in the Caribbean surrounded by a pastel rainbow of dockside warehouses .The bustling streets lead to the busy spice market chocked full of vendors selling nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and cocoa. At the corner of Young and Monkton, the National Museum ($5.00 admission) salutes the Islands history and across the street at Art Fabrik, artistes like Amanda Felix offer a colourful selection of handmade batik items. “We appreciate tourists buying our locally-made products, “she said wearing a floral print dress made in the store. www.artfabrikgrenada.com

When the sun sets, the party moves to Karma in St. Georges. At a cost of $2.5 million, the brand new club is being compared to Zen in Trinidad and Xtreme in Barbados.    “Not only are we offering the latest technology in lighting, video and sound, we also have priceless view of the Carenage”, said co-owner Steve Duncan at the grand opening.   Congratulating the club for bringing new energy to the area, Brenda Hood, Minister of Works added “Our government will continue to assist Grenadian business persons with incentives to promote more local businesses.”

Travel Planning:  
January 25 to January 29: The Grenada Sailing Festival

February 7:  
Grenada celebrates its 34th Anniversary of Independence this year.
February 21- Grenada Classic Yacht Regatta- three days of racing and four days of festivities organized by the same boaters who put on the famed St Martin Yacht Regatta.

Tourist information: www.grenadagrenadines.com/


Get on Your Bikes and Ride

Source:  Marshall Tully, www.fullblast.ca

I came into this iron thing rather late in life. I'd never enjoyed sports, always ate like crap, and thought that people who hung out in gyms were generally idiots.

Towards the tail end of my twenties, and through a long and very surreal sequence of events which shall be shared at a later date, I ended up getting into weight training.

I was skinny and laughably weak, but I fell in love with it immediately. Unlike other pursuits I'd tackled, there was nothing subjective about this stuff. It didn't depend on the weather, traffic, or your girlfriend's mood. Either you could lift the weight or you couldn't. I thought that was profound.

I stuck with it, and soon the weights got heavier. The training became smarter, the nutrition got better, and the body began to grow. My bodyweight of 160 pounds eventually became 180. 180 became 200.

200 freakin' pounds? No kidding. Why stop here?

The meals became bigger- way bigger. Soon I was eating literally every few minutes, in an attempt to see just how large and imposing I could get, knowing that a certain degree of fat gain would be inevitable in the process.

Fast-forward a few years to one day last summer, when I found myself tipping the scales at a rather, uh, well-padded 230. Which is by no means big by powerlifter standards, but on my dainty little bone structure, it definitely felt like something was a bit amiss.

When you've spent the first three-quarters of your life on the British end of the Ronnie Wood/Ronnie Coleman continuum, becoming a very large person is a bit of a novelty, and somewhat addictive.

The world suddenly becomes very polite when you take up that much space. At that size, my strength in the gym was at an all-time high. I felt like I could bench press a house. When I climbed a flight of stairs however, I felt like I was pulling a trailer. I didn't particularly like what I saw in the mirror either. I wasn't exactly what you'd consider ripped. I kind of looked like a tall version of Barney Rubble. Sure, my former scrawny body was long gone, but I'd unwittingly replaced it with something just as visually unappealing.

Up until that point, dieting to get all lean and pretty-like was something that had never even remotely entered my mind. Having had the metabolism of a shrew for most of my life, I usually had to fight to keep the weight on. Besides, I'd always thought that training and eating strictly for aesthetics, with strength and health as an after-thought, was a sign of abject insecurity.

I had, however, helped an ample amount of clients safely get down to phenomenally low body fat percentages, so I guess in the back of my mind, part of me always felt like a bit of a charlatan, having never attempted it myself.

So this past fall, I decided to set aside about twelve weeks and finally delve into the bizarre world of hardcore dieting, with the intention of achieving mid single-digit body fat. The result was the above pic. Certainly nothing that's gonna put me on the Mr. Olympia stage anytime soon, but a respectable outcome for a guy pushing forty who was always the last kid picked in gym class.

For Marshall’s full blog, go HERE.


 Motivational Note

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - — Henry David Thoreau: 19th century American essayist, poet, and philosopher

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness."