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October 16, 2008

Welcome to ... Autumn?  This past Canadian Thanksgiving weekend sure didn't feel like it! SmileyCentral.com Well, as we come into welcoming the brisk and colder weather, I hope that some of the news below warms your soul.

Can't say that the federal election turned out the way I wanted, especially with votership being the lowest in years, but I guess the votes swung with a marginal victory for the Tories.

Tons of entertainment news week so scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!



Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion

Book Review by: Kam Williams

by Clay Moyle
Bennett & Hastings Publishing
Hardcover, $29.95
436 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-934733-02-8

“In January of 1944, the New York Herald Tribune published ‘The Forgotten Man’… a story about
Sam Langford, aka ‘The Boston Tar Baby,’ one of boxing’s greatest fighters… It related how only 18 years after his remarkable career Sam had completely disappeared from mainstream society and ended up blind and penniless.

Over 60 years later, Langford is once again relatively unknown among the general population… Why is that the case? How could a man, who was arguably one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time and feared by men such as Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey, be overlooked?

To answer that question one must consider how difficult it was for a black-skinned man to make his way in American society during the early 20th Century.

Sam Langford (1886-1956) was born in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, a descendant of escaped slaves who had won their freedom in the 18th Century by taking up arms against their former masters during the American Revolution. One of six children in a family from a humble background, Sam ran away home in 1898, not long after the death of his mother. Eventually, he ended up in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he developed an interest in boxing.

Though only 5’ 7” tall, Langford proved to be an agile, clever and powerful puncher who pulverized his opponents, often taking on foes weighing more than his 170-180 pounds. He turned pro at 16, and soon found himself saddled with an array of colourful nicknames, including ‘The Boston Tar Baby,’ ‘The Boston Bone Crusher,’ “the Weymouth Wizard,’ ‘Old Ho Ho’  and ‘The Boston Terror’.

He went on to win 200 fights, 130 by knockout, over the course of an illustrious, 20 year career marred only by the fact that he was never able to land a title fight. This was due to a combination of racism and the reluctance of champions and top contenders to take him on.

Remember, this was the first quarter of the 20th Century, a time when many states still had laws on the books against staging bouts between blacks and whites. This was because American society had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and notions of white supremacy which would be threatened by the rise of the black athlete.

Consequently, Caucasians colleagues avoided him out of a fear of humiliation, while Jack Johnson did so because he could make more money fighting the latest “Great White Hope.” Sadly, despite being invariably respected by his contemporaries, Sam was denied a shot at a belt, and ultimately ended up blind and broke in Harlem, and a mere footnote in the annals of pugilism.

Now, thanks to Clay Moyle, the entire life of “The Forgotten Man” is entertainingly recounted in Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion, a riveting, bittersweet biography which endeavours to afford this forgotten ring great his rightful place in history. A must read for any devoted fight fan.  

Voters Keep Tories On Short Leash

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Carol Goar

(October 15, 2008) Canada has the dubious distinction of being the first country to hold a national vote since the global economy broke loose from its moorings.

Electors made a sober choice: They stuck with what they knew.

It was not an unequivocal vote confidence in Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For the third time in four years, Canadians elected a minority government.

It was a carefully reasoned decision. Voters picked the Conservatives as the safest alternative and kept them on a short leash by sending a sizeable opposition force to Parliament.

But there is no certainty in these times. For all their prudence, voters are likely to face a quite different future than the one Harper laid out on the campaign trail.

First of all, the Prime Minister's brave talk about protecting Canada from a recession will soon give way to a candid acknowledgement that all he – or any other national leader – can do is react nimbly to the upheavals as they come.

He'll get a few months' grace. According to Statistics Canada, the country is not yet technically in a recession. But barring a spectacular economic resurgence, Harper's second mandate will be characterized by business failures, job losses and a long plunge in home prices.

When they come, what he said on the hustings will be irrelevant. Canadians will want a Prime Minister who can make the best of adverse circumstances and use the power of the state to cushion Canadians from as much hardship as possible.

Next to go will be the fiction that Canada can remain deficit-free.

When revenues decrease – as they inevitably do when businesses falter and taxpayers lose their jobs; and costs rise – as they invariably do when employment insurance claims increase and welfare rolls swell – no government can balance its budget without slashing public expenditures brutally.

The Conservatives may be able to avoid a deficit this year, thanks to the residual strength of the economy. But next year and beyond, they'll be budgeting amid such uncertainty that a no-deficit guarantee would amount to a vow to sacrifice anything to avoid red ink. If Harper sticks to his doctrinaire stance as Canadians appeal for help, he can wave goodbye to his chances of re-election.

The Prime Minister's vision of Canada as an "energy superpower" already looks out of-date.

The world's appetite for oil has shrunk dramatically in the past three months. Since mid-July, the price of a barrel of crude has dropped by 46 per cent. At $79 (U.S.) a barrel, where it closed yesterday, oil-sands producers were barely recovering their costs. In these conditions, it makes little sense to go ahead with expansion plans.

Weak demand isn't the only threat. Next month's presidential election in the United States could propel Harper into the climate-change era much faster than he expects.

Democratic contender Barack Obama has made it clear that curbing greenhouse gas emissions is one of his top priorities. He has also served notice that America will not buy "dirty oil" (which includes the tar-like bitumen from the Athabaska oil sands) if he becomes president.

Relying on fossil fuels to power the Canadian economy through the recession is not going to work.

Finally, the composition of Canada's 40th Parliament could compel the Prime Minister to adjust his agenda.

All three opposition parties, who collectively hold more seats than the Conservatives, want Ottawa to tackle poverty, penalize polluters, invest in green technologies, build affordable housing and support the arts. None of those is a Tory priority.

Harper will have to accommodate some of their proposals to keep his minority government alive.

There is also a possibility that the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Québécois could join forces to defeat the government, then attempt to govern as a coalition. But they'd have to overcome tradition and partisanship.

Canadians who voted for Harper because he is shrewd and competent will probably be satisfied.

Those who picked him because they believed what he said are in for a few surprises.

Carol Goar's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Neo Soul Artist Maxwell Returns With A New Look

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

(October 14, 2008) After an inexplicable seven-year sabbatical from the music scene, the premium-priced tickets for
Maxwell's comeback gigs may have seemed a tad audacious, but the near capacity crowd he drew to Massey Hall Sunday night (top tier: $150) got their money's worth from the neo soul flag bearer's smooth 90-minute set.

Four dates into the two-month North American tour, he was a lean, playful machine with a voice like butter. And he was quick to acknowledge his absence: "I know I took too much time. I know I took too long. Thank you for being patient with me."

In recent interviews, the 35-year-old Brooklyn native has said he took a voluntary break after his third disc, 2001's 1.7 million-selling Now, to spend time being "a regular person."

Sporting a ring on his wedding finger, Maxwell looks like he spent his downtime doing Pilates, rehearsing with his band and studying Michael Jackson's choreography.

Gone is the billowing Afro and knit caps that led some to dismiss him as a contrived bohemian. Maxwell is now Rat Pack debonair; he was clad in a dark grey suit, bowtie undone, fronting a funky 10-piece ensemble with gents in tuxes, and female backup vocalists in gowns and elbow-length black gloves.

He served up his best-known tunes, such as "Lifetime," "Fortunate" and "This Woman's Work," as well as "Pretty Wings," which has been previewed on his MySpace page and is part of a forthcoming trilogy, Black Summer's Night, set for a February release.

The audience of predominantly black 30- and 40somethings spent much of the night on their feet. "Don't act like I'm not setting you up," Maxwell smirked to the barking men, referencing the effect of his sensual falsetto and below-the-belt gyrations on their dates.

Shod in black sneakers, the singer prowled the stage like a panther, alternating between jerky dance moves and interpretive yoga-style poses. At one point, he was flat on his back humping the microphone stand (more tastefully executed than it sounds).

He seemed thrilled to be back at centre stage, constantly smiling and winking at the crowd, and remarking on their adulation with "I can't believe this!"

And when a pair of white plus-sized panties landed onstage – as they also did at last week's New York show – he initially tied them around his neck like a cape, before tucking them into his back pocket.

With his 1996 debut, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, he became a critically acclaimed member of R&B's neo soul movement. If this show is any indication, he's going to have an incredible second act.

Brampton Actor's Plate Is Full, Playing The Sister In Raisin In The Sun Before Going To Stratford

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

(October 13, 2008) Cara Ricketts is normally one of the busiest young actors in the country, but considering today is Thanksgiving, she's going to be working overtime.

"I am so grateful for all I've been given this past year!" she says, before starting a final rehearsal for Soulpepper Theatre's A Raisin in the Sun, which opens at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts Thursday night after concluding a successful run at Theatre Calgary.

And Ricketts is right; it's been a pretty amazing run of luck for Ricketts, although – having seen many of her performances – it's a safe bet that talent plays as much of a part as luck in the equation.

She started this year with the controversial production of Born Ready by Joseph Jomo Pierre, which caused a flurry of school cancellations because of its graphic depiction of ghetto life.

Then she joined the company of the Dream in High Park for the second season of its hit Caribbean-styled production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Then it was straight into A Raisin in the Sun, which will occupy her for most of the rest of this year.

After that, a short break and she joins the Stratford Shakespeare Festival company for a season in some very substantial roles.

Not bad for a young woman who started out thinking she really wanted to be an Egyptologist.

"No, really!" she laughs. "Okay, I admit it was after I saw one of the Indiana Jones movies, but I was really serious about it for a while. I even had an ankh tattooed on my neck."

Luckily for us, the theatre had a stronger pull, although it took a while to make itself felt.

Ricketts was born in North York on April 22, 1983, in a distressingly familiar scenario: "I had two younger sisters, my mom worked hard at a hospital ... my dad wasn't around."

During her early years, she was raised at Jane and Finch, which meant that "mom kept us in the house a lot."

But after a while, they moved to Brampton, which was "a whole different world," she recalls. "Everybody knew everybody and got along."

Around that time, her aunt used to take her to see community theatre shows, but things didn't really click until she reached St. Margaret d'Youville high school.

"A wonderful teacher named Mr. Simon kept pushing me into plays like Marvin's Room, with totally non-traditional casting. The same thing happened with all the roles I played in Brampton, the Peel Pantos, everything.

"Being black was never an issue, never brought up."

The success Ricketts has known ever since, in parts written for almost every possible race, suggests the validity of the old phrase "a child learns what he lives."

In 2002, Ricketts went on to the Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts, where fate was on her side again when she came under the wing of Diana Belshaw, head of acting at the school.

"I still call her Mama Belshaw," she giggles. "She taught all of us that there wasn't a thing we couldn't do if we really put our minds to it."

Ricketts learned Belshaw's lessons well; before she even graduated in 2005, "I had an agent and my first job," which was playing Luce in The Comedy of Errors for the late, lamented Festival of the Arts in Oakville.

After that, the hits, as they say, kept on a-comin', with acclaimed performances in Born Ready, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Now she's in the world of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play about a black family struggling to find its way from the mean streets of Chicago to a home in an all-white suburb.

Hailed as revolutionary at the time of its creation, it went through a period of disfavour, during which its Bible-quoting matriarch inspired the mockery of George C. Wolfe in The Colored Museum.

But a 2004 revival starring Sean Combs proved Broadway dynamite and transferred to the small screen, earning three Emmy nominations.

"I love the play and still find it empowering," declares Ricketts, who plays the sister, Beneatha Younger. "Here's this young chick and she's calling her own shots, way ahead of her time.

"I think it's really wonderful that Soulpepper is doing a play like this and I'm proud to be in it."

After that, the Stratford festival. Is she ready for it?

"Whenever I start to think about that," Ricketts gasps, "my head feels likes it's about to burst right open. Let me open this play first, then worry about the next."

With any luck, she'll have even more to be grateful for next Thanksgiving.

Disney; Come Sail Away With Him

www.globeandmail.com - R.M. Vaughan

(October 10, 2008) At 78, Roy E. Disney doesn't have to do anything but put his feet up and take in the view. The legendary producer/director/writer - and, of course, nephew of Walt and third-largest shareholder in the Disney empire - has spent his life crafting everything from the television animal documentaries many of us grew up on to animated features and award-winning short films. For a number of years, he also ran Disney's animation studio (during the so-called Second Golden Age, when The Little Mermaid and The Lion King were created) and kept a watchful eye over the company's ever-expanding specialty television and theme park concerns.

Retirement, however, appears to be the last thing on his mind. What is less well known about Disney is his lifelong devotion to the sport of sailing. As a supporter (and sailor) of a number of world-class racing boats, Disney is to sailing what Howard Hughes once was to aviation (minus the tissue box footwear). It's hardly surprising, then, that when a handful of nautical enthusiasts cooked up Morning Light, a kind of experiment-in-film that follows a group of young people as they attempt to win a gruelling cross-Pacific sailing race, they came to Disney for expert navigation.

The resulting film is an intriguing blend of underdog sports documentary and inspirational tract; one built on the simple premise that, when given the right training and tools, a disparate group of people can achieve the near-impossible. It doesn't hurt that the young bucks in the film look like corn-fed extras from the small-town TV drama Friday Night Lights.

Morning Light in a theatre packed with boaters and yachtspersons, I realized the film is to them what Microcosmos is to entomologists. For us land-locked types, it's a fascinating peek into the adrenaline-fuelled, at times terrifying world of speed sailing. If you're prone to hydrophobia, consider yourself warned.

This is an interesting time to be opening a film about an elite sport, given the political discussion in your country about elitism and leadership.

I try not to think about things like that! What you do in the film business is try to make something that is entertaining to audiences. You try to find subject matter that, in some way, might tickle them. And sailing is something people may know a little about but many people don't know a lot about, or they think that it will make them seasick. We wanted to give them a vicarious experience, let them see something they've never seen before.

But there is a perception that sailing is a hobby of the very wealthy.

Yeah, and it's really tiresome. Of course, there's an owner, who has to pay a few bucks for a boat, but if you start with young people and classes that cost around $300, well, it's not just a rich man's sport at all. And most of the rich guys who have the big boats need workers. There's one chief but an awful lot of Indians needed to make it go. These are working-class people. It is by no means, you know, everybody sitting at the back of the boat with a Mai Tai. I would love for that image to go away.

This film is about young people attempting to establish themselves, and many of them come from sailing families. Did you see parallels in your own life, having literally been born into a family business and having to make your own mark?

A little bit, maybe, although not on a conscious level. You could say that to me and I could say yes, but I don't think I was thinking about that at the time. But in the sense that I'd love to be young again myself - yeah right!

You're doing just fine. Morning Light is packed with classic Disney values, such as self reliance, belief in one's self ...

I've been saying that, and I've begun to say it more then I did in the beginning - although I did take it right away to the studio and they liked it because they say those values are inherent in the project. Watching the kids come together, forming a team, that's a pretty Disney thing.

The competitive format of the film reminds me of a reality television show. Why did you choose to make a movie and not a limited-run TV special?

We always thought of it as a feature. I wanted to see this stuff on the big screen. Sailing is an enormously visual thing - the boat going through the water, the big skies, clouds, sunsets and sunrises. But the only time you see that on television is when someone's trying to sell you a new TV set with a picture of a sailboat on it. I wish we could do it in Imax.

Can you see this becoming a reality series?

Ha! No. No!

Psychologists warn that today's children are over-parented, bubble-wrapped and therefore don't learn how to fail. How did you prepare the kids for the probability that they might not finish the race?

I've been saying that myself for a long time, about kids, and it's part of a speech I've made many times - c'mon, I flunked out of college. It's okay. It's not gonna ruin you. Even if the kids had botched it up, we still had a movie. Quite a different one, but still a movie. And they royally screwed things up a few times. That's how you learn.

When are you opening the Morning Light theme ride?

We've joked about sailing rides where you have to steer the boat, then you get water thrown in your face, then the boat tips over, and the worse you do at it the longer you have to stay and the more money it costs.


Born: Jan. 10, 1930, Los Angeles

He's available: He divorced his wife, Patricia, last year - after more than 51 years of marriage.

He's a quitter: He quit his job at Disney in 1977 over creative differences, but kept his spot on the board. In the first of his Save Disney campaigns, he resigned from the board in 1984 during a corporate coup that saw chief executive officer Ronald Miller ousted. After returning to the company, he did it again in 2005 to get rid of Miller's replacement, Michael Eisner, whom Roy Disney accused of doing things "on the cheap."

He's a booster: He has publicly supported the idea of a DVD release of Song of the South (1946), the Oscar-winning animated film that Disney "retired" because of its controversial depictions of African-American plantation workers.


Looking For Luxe

Source: www.thestar.com - Jim Byers,
Toronto Star

(September 22, 2008) Ellis Perez, all five-foot-nothing of him, is standing in front of a group of travel writers in the large screening room at the posh Hazelton hotel in Yorkville.

It's a cold winter's day outside, but Perez has come to chat about his baby;
Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic. Many of the writers have heard the pitch. The beach as pure white as a new moon. The lobby bar with the most divine pomegranate martinis. The place where Brangelina stayed last month (but please don't tell anyone).

So when Perez puts on a video that shows the 30-something couple strolling the beach in their all-white Tommy Hilfiger togs with their adorable children, it's easy to think, "Here we go again."

But then, a few months later, you're sitting in a Caleton Beach Club villa at Cap Cana, a warm breeze wafting through a room that's open to the air on all sides, with only some translucent screens to keep out any rain that slips down the thatched roof above you.

It's like something out of Swiss Family Robinson – but with a flat screen TV and a décor of exotic wood furniture and sumptuous sofas and chairs that strikes just the right balance between elegance and beachside casual.

The view of the pool and hot tub and palm trees and orange hibiscus that sit between your unit and the lush Punta Espada Golf Course doesn't hurt, either.

It may not be "the next great resort in the world," as the brochures state. But you'd have to think it's in the same area code. And it's particularly surprising to see this kind of property in a country known for all-you-can-drink university retreats.

"Going from the all-inclusive type place that's fairly cheap to a high-style, luxury product isn't easy," concedes Perez, vice-president of commercial and institutional relations for Cap Cana.

"It's possible, but it's still hard to convince some people that the Dominican has this kind of luxury."

It may be hyperbole, but Cap Cana officials say it didn't take high-rollers very long to see the potential in a project that's as much about real estate development as it is hotels and holidays.

"When Bill Marriott (of hotel chain fame) came here a few years ago and we took him to Juanillo Beach, he said `I've never seen a beach as beautiful as this in the Caribbean,'" Perez says.

"Then he looked around and said, `I'd like to see my name on a resort right about there.'"

Construction on the Ritz-Carlton at Cap Cana should start this year and be finished in a couple years.

The Sotogrande, a Spanish hotel group, also is adding a property on the five-kilometre-long beach, which doesn't have many waves but is shallow and calm and perfect for small kids or for long walks on soft, white sand.

Things could get crowded up at Juanillo once all the hotels open up. So if you can't afford $1,700 (U.S.) a night for the three-bedroom villa at Caleton, you can probably find a suite at the Sanctuary Cap Cana Golf and Spa at the south end of Juanillo Beach for less than $400.

The Sanctuary is a lovely property, an architectural mish-mash of southern Spain and Caribbean fortress with gurgling fountains and a lobby bar designed to look like the inside of a church.

The grounds are a sun-splashed garden and there are enough swimming pools to keep you busy for a week.

It's huge, but still intimate thanks to a series of courtyards.

"We want it to feel like a small city," said Linka Biaggi, public relations director for the property.

The casino is already up and running as are the chi-chi shops; the spa is supposed to be operational early in 2009.

There are 11 bars and eight restaurants, including a David Crockett steak house and Italian and Asian places. But most Canadians who venture south want to taste a little seafood, and for that there's the open-air Blue Marlin.

Executive chef Wilfred Dass, who used to cook for the sultan of Brunei, has help from all over the world.

"We have a chef from Paris," he said. "You can't teach French food from a cook book."

The seafood at Blue Marlin is out of this world, and so are the views of the Caribbean.

There's equally sumptuous food at La Palapa, overlooking Caleton Beach, and at the Trump Farallon.

Mitre, a restaurant up at the giant marina, had excellent crabmeat ravioli and appetizers, but the fish on a recent visit was rubbery and the risotto nearly inedible.

They've built a marina that ultimately will be the largest in the Caribbean, with space for huge yachts and some 1,000 slips in all.

It's surrounded by more condos and tons of high-end shops and restaurants, and it's a great place to listen to live music or just people-watch.

The golf is exceptionally good. The Punta Espada course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, has eight holes on the ocean and offers excellent resort-style golf.

Nicklaus is also overseeing the Las Iguanas course at Cap Cana, which will open with nine holes this fall and have all 18 holes open early next year.

Donald Trump is building several courses on the bluffs high above Cap Cana, complete with a stretch of luxury homes that have sold with astonishing speed.

Planned for later is an entire village based on racquet sports, plus polo fields and riding facilities.

Perez says his neck of the woods isn't used to luxury service facilities. But he promises those days are disappearing.

"We are number one in the Dominican, number one in the Caribbean and probably in all of North America, with a desire to be in competition with the best anywhere in the world."

Take A Seat In Washington D.C.

Source: Melanie Reffes

(August 2008) As the U.S. presidential election looms,
Washington D.C. is in high gear, with restaurants dishing up campaign-inspired menus, bars stirring and shaking political martinis, and senators’ wives not the only ones going under the knife.

Built in 1926, the St. Regis is showing off results of a multimillion-dollar facelift that was a year in the making. Staying true to its Italian design, with a hand-painted lobby ceiling and swank Pratesi linens, the stately hotel has entered the 21st century by equipping its butlers with BlackBerries so guests can reach them day and night. The District's only Mobil five-star property is also going under the knife. The Four Seasons has announced a $34-million renovation that will add a humongous presidential suite with three bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen and a fireplace.

Although the story may be all “sordid out,” the Mayflower is now more famous for its tabloid past than its ornate design. When disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer got caught with his pants down in Suite 871, it earned him 15 minutes of shame, made an instant star out of his suite-mate and awarded the hotel a place on the Scandal Map of D.C.

Named for Wild Bill Donovan, the general whose covert operations gave birth to the CIA, Donovan House has just been transformed from a Holiday Inn into a sophisticated, fashion-forward hotel. Each of the 193 rooms is styled with floor-to-ceiling windows and pricey Dean and DeLuca gourmet snacks. Owned by the group that built the trendy 60 Thompson in New York and the celebrity-studded Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, Donovan House sports a rooftop terrace with sweeping views of the cityscape.

A stone’s throw from the White House and a short hop from the Justice Department, lobbyists and lawyers mingle with politicos and pundits at the 1331 Lounge in the JW Marriott. Every week at Super Tuesday Central, bipartisan munchies like spicy left wings, down-home right wings and undecider sliders go well with the Grand Old Potable (Republican red with pomegranates and vodka), Left of the Isle (Democrat blue with Curaçao liqueur) and On the Fence (undecided white with crème-de-cacao).

Chris Stockman, director of restaurants for the hotel, says the election drinks are a big hit with the power players who stop by for Happy Hour. “They started out ordering along party lines. But after a few sips, those lines become blurry and die-hard Democrats don’t mind ordering a red drink, and GOP voters are fine with a blue one.”

Sam & Harry’s on 19th Street has also jumped into the political arena with campaign cocktails, or "politinis." Election watchers stump for their favourite candidate by ordering a red GOP Cosmo or a blue Dem Margarita-tini as the cash register keeps tally.

“I’m pouring more Republican drinks these days”, says bartender Catherine Cruz with a smile as she blends a fruity GOP cocktail. “Just like the election, it’s all about surprises.”

Get off the bar stool

The National Museum of Crime & Punishment — 575 7th St. NWhttp://crimemuseum.org/ – is a new interactive museum that explores the history of crime-fighting. Owned by the host of America’s Most Wanted TV series, John Walsh, the museum comprises three floors of forensic labs, FBI shooting ranges, high-speed police chase equipment, an electric chair and a lie-detector test. The Cop Shop is worth exploring for souvenirs beyond an Obama ’08 T-shirt.

Newseum — 6th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue, www.newseum.org/ – is a high-tech razzle-dazzle museum that celebrates the news business, from smoke signals to blogs. Reporter wannabes try their hand at Be A Reporter stations, photographers snap photos of news scenes and the rest of us can see a real news helicopter, the remains of a broadcast antenna from the World Trade Center, the largest section of the Berlin Wall outside Germany and an entire exhibit devoted to journalists who plagiarize.

Baseball fans and foodies are digging into home plates at the new Nationals Park — http://nationals.mlb.com. Munchies are served Ben’s Chili Bowl, Bill Cosby’s top pick, and the patriotic Red, Hot & Blue Barbeque.


www.thompsonhotels.com (Donovan House)
www.marriott.com (Mayflower Hotel)


Morissette Belts Out Big Tunes To Small Crowd At Cozy Show

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

(October 09, 2008) She may not be playing arenas anymore, but Alanis Morissette certainly isn't slacking off. The singer/songwriter kicked off the Canadian leg of her North American tour at Massey Hall last night with enough clamour to leave ears ringing.

Thundering drums, frantic lighting, a techno undercurrent and the 34-year-old performer wailing and whipping her straight raven hair around like a banshee typified the first half of the two-hour concert.

Which was fine if you already knew all of the lyrics, because it was impossible to discern anything she was singing given the muddy vocal mix and overpowering blend of five hard-driving musicians.

And that was unfortunate since Morissette's ability to replicate our diaries while sharing hers is the thrill of past hits, as well as current disc, Flavours of Entanglement, which is rife with woman-scorned tunes apparently inspired by her break-up last year with Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds.

It was a relief when the band dialled it down to an acoustic level towards the end, giving the intimate hall a chance to showcase her mellifluous voice and an opportunity for us to revel in her/our regrets and insecurities.

Clad in a brilliant purple blouse with grey boots, vest and pants, Morissette, occasionally playing guitar or harmonica, performed in front of a painted backdrop that had flashing words such as "freedom" and "source and a sketch of her in a contemplative pose sitting by a lake like an Indian maiden.

A downside of the night was the continuous distraction of venue staff hopping around trying to enforce her no photography, no flash, no video rule. You'd think Morissette, who has worked her way down market from the 30-million selling Jagged Little Pill heydays at the Air Canada Centre to the then-Hummingbird Centre to now land at Massey Hall (and not even sell it out), would be happy to still engender that kind of adoration.

Underwood's Voice, Humility And Sass Keep Her An Idol

www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist

(October 09, 2008) Country music is the perfect place for Carrie Underwood, the only American Idol winner – she took the prize in 2005 – to have turned her good fortune and considerable talent into a formidable career.

In country music, street cred isn't an issue, although Underwood does come from Checotah, Okla., and wears her small-town badge with enormous pride.

And no one actually expects country artists these days to have lived the experiences of which they sing. All you need is the voice to carry it off, and an appealing blend of self-confidence, humility and sass.

As she proved on Tuesday night for about 10,000 true believers – most of them young women – the multi-award-winning Underwood has all that in bundles.

An infectiously personable performer who, like most of her female country music peers, sings constantly at the very top end of her register and makes it look effortless, Underwood peppered her 90-minute set – high points were the hits "Jesus, Take The Wheel," "I Ain't In Checotah Anymore" and "Wasted" – with chatty girl talk and folksy reminiscences. And despite several complete costume changes, ranging from tight denim jeans and the ever-so necessary Cuban heels to a flowing blue ball gown, she managed to come across as a next-door princess whose dreams have all come true.

And though her show comes equipped with a 10-minute video montage of clips recounting her numerous awards and public expressions of gratitude, Underwood seemed humble and sweet enough when she reached into the crowd for a youngster who called herself Cassidy, to help her sing the final verse and chorus of "All-American Girl," one of the hits from her second CD, Carnival Ride.

But when her crack young band turned up the heat for the rowdy rocker "Last Name," you could almost believe she was the bad girl in the song. Good stuff.

John Legend And Raphael Saadiq To Tour


(October 09, 2008)
*John Legend will hit the road this fall on a tour supported by opening act Raphael Saadiq. The 13-date trek begins Nov. 19 in Minneapolis and hits such cities as Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C. before wrapping Dec. 13 in Durham, N.C., reports Billboard.

Legend will support his upcoming album, "Evolver," due Oct. 28. His current single, "Green Light" featuring Andre 3000, is No. 32 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart this week. "Evolver" also features appearances from Kanye West, Estelle and Brandy.

Here are John Legend's tour dates:

Nov. 19: Minneapolis (Northrop Auditorium)
Nov. 20: Chicago (Chicago Theatre)
Nov. 24: E. Lansing, Mich. (Wharton Center For Performing Arts)
Nov. 26: Detroit (Masonic Temple Theatre)
Nov. 28: Toronto (Roy Thompson Hall)
Nov. 29, Dec. 1: Montclair, N.J. (Wellmont Theatre)
Dec. 2: Boston (Orpheum Theatre)
Dec. 5: Philadelphia (Tower Theater)
Dec. 8: Baltimore (Lyric Theatre)
Dec. 9: Washington, D.C. (Constitution Hall)
Dec. 10: Greenville, S.C. (Peace Center)
Dec. 12: Charlotte, N.C. (Ovens Auditorium)
Dec. 13: Durham, N.C. (Durham Performing Arts Center)

THE UK Music Corner: Joe's 'New Man' CD reviewed

www.eurweb.com - By Fiona McKinson

(October 10, 2008) *Joe Thomas has been on the scene since 1993 so his fans have come to rely on his brand of quality R&B. Seven albums later and hit after hit has followed on the underground or mainstream, be it fast or slow!

With his new album New Man, surprisingly he has not written most of the songs. But then, when you have music stalwarts such as Bryan Michael Cox penning your tracks, success is somewhat guaranteed. The opening track E.R. has clever lyrics likening a relationship to drama in a hospital.

Joe’s career has been revived by his move to an independent label partnering with the Kedar Entertainment Group and 563 Entertainment. Away from the shadow of Jive label mates such as R.Kelly, whom Joe has alleged tried to sabotage his career; with this offering, Joe may start to get more of the recognition he deserves.

Grammy nominee Joe, who has sold over 10 million CDs worldwide, is one of America’s R&B stars who perform in the UK regularly. UK fans sometimes assume that this means we get the stars that are received less favourably at home. Perhaps this is true in Joe’s case, if his claims of sabotage are accurate. But his achievement of topping Billboard’s Top Independent albums chart and reaching number 8 in Billboard’s 200 chart tells a different story.

At least Joe is one of the few American R&B musicians who actually deliver a decent show when he does visit UK shores. A live version of the second single Why Just be friends would be worth the ticket. The up-tempo title track and Chameleon are other highlights.

The album doesn’t appear to be a departure from the norm for Joe neither in form nor content – be assured that it is full of slow tempo numbers – the perfect backdrop for chilling.

The new man is about to drop the follow up Signature in February 2009, with all songs self-written, self-produced and self-arranged. Snippets from the forthcoming set are included on the current CD, they appear to promise a more classic and timeless feel that you can indulge in.

R&B connoisseurs may be divided over this album as good music is as subjective as wine tasting, and the word is not out yet on the new line of Kedar’s K’orus French wine Joe has branched out into distributing across the U.S.

Perhaps Joe should get drunk on power, judging from the snippets, he is best when he is in full control of his set, but New Man demonstrates that 15 years later Joe is still in love with music.

The UK Corner covers the UK/British soul/urban music scene and is written by Fiona McKinson. She is a freelance journalist and creative writer based in London. Contact her at info@thetalentshow.co.uk.  

The Toast Of European Opera, Rooted Here

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

(October 09, 2008) When the Canadian Opera Company needed a lead for its most ambitious production since Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs, they called one of the best – and he just happens to be a local boy.

Tomorrow night, the curtain rises on the vast, four-hour sweep of
War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev. It fuses an intensely personal tale of doomed love between the widowed Prince Andrei and Natasha with a nationalistic celebration of Russia's eventual victory over Napoleon's armies in 1812.

The role of Prince Andrei is intense, as the character is one of a handful among the huge cast to appear throughout the opera.

It is vocally as well as dramatically demanding – the sort of role tailor-made for baritone
Russell Braun.

The soft-spoken, thoughtful 43-year-old is physically, emotionally and vocally in his prime. He has sung with the world's great opera companies in repertoire that spans the full 400 years of opera.

And, as in last year's COC production of Pélléas et Mélisande, he is ready to give his all to the place that kick-started career.

Braun gives a lot of credit to late general director Richard Bradshaw for encouragement and even for finding a generous patron who has paid all of Braun's COC fees since 1995. "Every time I come back and I still see her name attached to mine in the bio, I think about how extraordinary it is," he says

Last fall, Braun and his pianist wife, Carolyn Maule, returned the generosity with a benefit concert for the patron's charity, House of Compassion.

Braun may be the toast of Salzburg and Paris, but he remains rooted in the GTA.

This is his third year of teaching a course at his alma mater, the University of Toronto. He has also been known to visit the schools of his two young sons for vocal show-and-tell.

He tells of being approached by a Grade 6 friend of his son Benjamin. "Do you still play for Glen Williams?" The boy asked.

"He made it sound like I'm on a hockey team," says Braun. "But he wanted to know if I still sang at my son's school" in the Credit Valley village the family calls home.

The way Braun speaks of the family's home, the backyard, Maule's job as an organist at a local church, and of his own desire to perform less and teach more in coming years, the singer might trick you into thinking he is slowing down.

In fact, he is about to have one of his busiest years yet. Among this season's projects, he will premiere a new work by Peter Lieberson with the New York Philharmonic. He will sing with the Paris Opera. And he is learning the role of the Wanderer in Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd for a production next spring in Florence, Italy.

"Luckily, as baritones, your repertoire grows old with you. There are so many interesting avenues to explore, regardless of what happens to your voice," says Braun. "It's a gift. I'm excited about the repertoire that is coming and the doors that are being opened."

Braun, whose parents were classical singers and whose sister Adi is a jazz performer, started his musical education on the piano, which gives him a professional edge.

"I'm lucky that I have a strong piano background. I learn all my repertoire myself," he says. When he has learned a vocal part, he focuses on the accompaniment so that he can feel comfortable inside the music.

The piano also helps him unwind. For fun, he and Maule enjoy piano music for four hands.

His favourites? Mozart symphonies, inherited from Greta Kraus ("She was my Lieder coach at university"), rearrangements of Haydn piano trios – and "my favourite piece in the world is Schubert's F-minor Fantasy."

Braun winds up on the world's opera stages and winds down on the piano bench at home. A passion for music is what joins the two together.

Just the facts:

WHO: Russell Braun in War and Peace

WHERE: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W.

WHEN: Opens tomorrow at 7 p.m.; runs in rep to Nov. 1

TICKETS: $30-$290 at 416-363-8231 or www.coc.ca

Tony Bennett Finally Does Christmas Follow-Up

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

(October 09, 2008) Christmas can't come early enough for the brass at Tony Bennett's record label, now that the indefatigable crooner has finally heeded their requests for another holiday album.

It's not that he isn't the sentimental sort. On the contrary, sentiment was the New York native's rationale for allowing 1968's Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album to stand alone in his 100-disc catalogue.

"It was so wonderful that I said I'd never do another Christmas album," said Bennett of the seminal recording with Canadian-born arranger/conductor Robert Farnon.

"This went on for many years to the dismay of Columbia/Sony. Every year they said, `That's our biggest season, we want you to do a Christmas album.' I said `No, no, no.'"

What ultimately made him say yes? Manager-son Danny Bennett's suggestion to record "a swinging album where it's not based on the religious aspect of Christmas, but just for the holiday parties."

The result: Tony Bennett: A Swingin' Christmas featuring the Count Basie Orchestra hits stores Tuesday, includes chestnuts such as "Silver Bells," "My Favourite Things" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

"I always loved the Count Basie philosophy of a very warm, human, soulful kind of music," said Bennett who could have been describing his own demeanour as he sat for an interview at a Toronto hotel yesterday.

The record, arranged by long-time Basie affiliate Frank Foster, includes a duet with the singer's daughter Antonia Bennett and features harmonica giant Toots Thielemans and crack pianist Monty Alexander.

"In doing the album I said I needed a pianist that would play in the Basie style, the simplicity of it; and Monty knew how to do that and he was nice enough to sit in."

Bennett has been known to echo the adage of drummer Louis Bellson that "Duke Ellington was the sky and Count Basie was the Earth."

"You think of the universe when you think of Duke, because he was always completely original," said the singer, also a respected artist who was savouring news that one of his paintings of Duke Ellington, titled God is Love, had just been accepted into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian portrait gallery.

"He was an elegant, very beautiful man. Whenever I would get flowers (backstage) I'd say, `Oh, Duke wrote another song,' because whenever he wrote a new song he would send me a dozen flowers hoping that I would sing that song.

"It really defines the artistry of these two great men that every great jazz artist – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis – had gone through either one of their orchestras through the years."

Bennett, who performs at Niagara Fallsview Casino with a quartet tonight and tomorrow, decried the economic impossibilities of travelling with large ensembles these days.

"What trials and tribulations they had to keep those bands going, especially Duke during the '20s and '30s when bigotry prevailed and they weren't allowed in hotels," he exclaimed.

As his career nears its sixth decade, Bennett has cut back to a paltry four or five shows a month. It's a far cry from his seven-shows-a-day marathons at the Paramount Theatre on Broadway in the 1950s.

Keeping his golden pipes pliant is a matter of routine.

"It's all about repetition, just like I paint every day. You think of music every day, exercise, eat good foods ... It's so funny; everybody's saying I'm singing better than I ever have and here I am at 82 and everybody's enjoying it. I'm very blessed with that."

Just the facts:

WHO: Tony Bennett

WHEN: Tonight at 8:30 p.m. Tomorrow at 9

WHERE: Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls

TICKETS: From $70 at Ticketmaster

Guest Violinist Dazzles With Bow Work

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

Toronto Symphony Orchestra
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
With violinist James Ehnes. Sir Andrew Davis, conductor. Repeats tomorrow. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St. ,416-593-4828.

(October 10, 2008) Fresh from a triumph at New York City's Carnegie Hall last Saturday, the
Toronto Symphony is back on home turf in fabulous form.

Led by former music director Andrew Davis, the orchestra turned a fascinating evening's programme into 90 minutes of riveting music last night at Roy Thomson Hall.

The players have to share credit with guest violin soloist,
James Ehnes. The 32-year-old Manitoba native, bedecked with a spate of recent international critical citations and music awards, is here to present one of those beautiful pieces that is so over-played and —recorded that you wonder what more anyone could possibly have to say through this music.

But Ehnes, with almost supernatural control over his bow, made Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto sound brand new, with dazzling technique as well as flawless musicality. Davis took his cue, gently guiding the orchestra around and under Ehnes's subtle phrasings, helping the piece blossom afresh.

As if that wasn't enough, we also got a bracing reading of Igor Stravinsky's Second World War-vintage Symphony in Three Movements, its myriad tonal and rhythmic spikes sharpened into a bloody thrust. Although the whole orchestra was in top shape in this difficult, repetitive music, pianist Patricia Krueger deserves special mention for her colourful keyboard skills.

Davis introduced us to his own orchestrations of three Bach chorale preludes, which became the evening's sole disappointment. After giving us gossamer-light orchestrations of the first two, the score veered into tacky Christmas-pops territory with a raucous version of "In dulci jubilo." The stylistic switch was bizarre, to say the least.

Too bad that tomorrow night's audience won't hear Abigail Richardson's short but intense The Sleeping Giant, a fairly conservative but atmospheric musical retelling of an old Ojibwe tale.

Wynton Marsalis; Too Busy To Brag

www.globeandmail.com - J.D. Considine

(October 10, 2008) Wynton Marsalis is a busy fellow. Given the range of roles he has assumed - trumpeter, band leader, composer, author, educator - that shouldn't seem surprising. But it's not until the 46-year old starts to talk about Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New York music and education program he co-founded in 1987, that one truly gets a sense of how much he has been up to.

"This year, we have over 3,000 events," he says over the phone from his office in New York. "If you think of 20 years of programming, all the things that we've done. ... Sometimes, when I'm listing all the things that we do, I have to stop, because it will sound like I'm bragging. But it's not even to brag. It's just, we're so busy doing it all the time, we don't realize how much it is."

So far this year, he has released an unexpected hit album - Two Men with the Blues, a collaboration with Willie Nelson that went to No. 20 on the Billboard 200 chart - and a new book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. And, of course, he continues to tour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (the ensemble plays Massey Hall tonight), doing a program that ranges from Duke Ellington classics to treatments of such tunes as Bud Powell's Un Poco Loco and Jackie McLean's Appointment in Ghana.

Yet Marsalis refuses to reduce what he does to the usual marketing terms of "new album," "book project" or "concert program."

"I don't do projects," he says. "Everything is one thing to me."

From the outside, Marsalis's statement doubtless seems odd, since writing a book is a very different enterprise from organizing a tour or recording an album. But for him, it's all part of his life in music, a life he shares with his band.

"When we started the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, it was most of the surviving members of Duke Ellington's band and the members of my septet. So it was people in their late 20s with people in their late 70s.

"Now, all of those [older] guys have passed away. But the feeling that they had ... the feeling that they gave the music, and how to play it, that's what we strive to maintain."

Some of that Southern feeling is musical. Marsalis recalls how trumpeter Harry (Sweets) Edison used to like to visit the band's rehearsals. "He said, 'Man, I just want to sit up in rehearsal and get the feeling of a group of cats trying to swing again.' That's where we're coming from. That's what we like, and what we believe in."

There's more to it than that, because underpinning the band's sense of swing is the musicians' sense of community. "We try to create a family environment, where people feel comfortable bringing their kids to rehearsals," Marsalis says. "Most of the people in the band have parents that were musicians, so we know what it was like, as kids, to be at rehearsals and to sit around."

Having spent his own childhood tagging along to gigs with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, Wynton admits that being the child of a jazz musician may seem a big break now, but it didn't back then. "What kid wants to sit through two or three hours of people rehearsing, then stand outside of a club?" he asks. "Nobody 9 or 10 wants to be doing that.

"In retrospect, yeah, I feel like I was lucky. But if you would have been standing there when you were 9, you didn't feel lucky then."

But having grown up so connected to a life of making music, Marsalis finds a continuity in American music that others miss. Take, for example, his album with Nelson. Some folks might think that it would take quite a bridge builder to connect jazz and country music, but Marsalis - who points out that Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong recorded together in 1930, on Standing on the Corner (Blue Yodel No. 9) - believes the two styles have a lot in common.

"The underlying reality of the music is that all that music is based in the shuffle rhythm and in the blues," he says. "So they're not far apart at all. It's actually basically the same music. If you look at Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, they're playing swing music, like 1930s big band music, with violins."

So why don't more people realize that jazz and country are kissing cousins? "A lot of it is marketing and race," he replies. "It's not music."

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform at Massey Hall in Toronto tonight at 8 (416-872-4255).

Soul/Jazz Powerhouse Maysa Is Back

Source Wanda G - wandagpr@nyc.rr.com

(October 14, 2008) *It is a rare pleasure these days to hear a singer with a completely original sound, an immediately recognizable voice and style that mesmerizes with sheer tonal beauty.

Such an artist is Maysa, who, like Anita Baker (to whom she is sometimes compared) occupies a completely unique niche in the musical cosmos, at the intersection of jazz and soul.

But Maysa has ranged far more widely, into the realms of Acid Jazz, as a featured vocalist with Incognito, and dance music. Her multi-faceted artistry is part of what makes her special but it may also be a reason why she has not been more widely known, despite the fervour of her fans, in a world that depends far too much on easy categorization.

The October 14th release of her seventh album, METAMORPHOSIS, an impressive set of all-original material that follows up on her two acclaimed albums of classic soul, may well be the album that takes her to the next level of appreciation as one of the foremost contemporary vocalists on the scene today.

"My vision for this album," Maysa notes, "was to change the music a little bit to be in line with the way I feel spiritually and emotionally. On a couple of my previous albums I was playing it a little too safe. I'm not afraid to express myself now!"

METAMORPHOSIS is the result of a creative process that involved Maysa's collaborations with a number of producers and writers, among them producers/songwriters/ Rex Rideout (Ledisi, Will Downing), Chris "Big Dog" Davis (George Clinton, Phil Perry) and underground soul fave Angela Johnson. Sometimes Maysa was inspired to write by a rhythm track that was developed for her and at other times the inspiration came more or less out of the blue.

"I like being an A & R person, calling people and finding songs," Maysa confides. "Sometimes Rex or Chris gave me tracks to listen to and I picked ones out that I liked and wrote with them.

But on "Grateful," I was late to Rex's studio one day and when I came in I heard the idea they were working on and the song just came out of me....it was kind of magical! As for "Happy Feelings," Angela Johnson had this song that she said she had given to me before and she thought that I hadn't liked it so she re-worked it. When I heard it, I said, 'I didn't hear that before...it's great!'"

Sometimes life itself provided inspiration as on the Ronnie Garrett/Herman Johnson production "Walk Away," which was written by producer Lorenzo Johnson and Ledisi. "Ledisi came to one of my concerts," Maysa relates, "and I had just broken up with my boyfriend at the time. I was telling the story and she thought a song he was writing would be perfect for me.

"I Need A Man", may be one of her most controversial songs to date, but Maysa wants to assure her audience that it is not a song about being desperate for a man, but about rebuilding the family structure, much like the message that Presidential Candidate Barack Obama spoke of in one of his most eloquent speeches he has made during his campaign. "I grew up with a strong father and I want and pray for and am waiting for a man who will be that kind of man for me.

"I believe that if we rebuild the family structure, we can raise children with high self-steem which will in turn bless the world with stronger, more thoughtful human beings which will definitely change the world."

METAMORPHOSIS offers many high points that underscore Maysa's impressive ability to project her soul into different musical contexts. Songs such as "Simpatico" deliver the kind funky Brazilian-inflected jazz that Maysa has been noted for with Incognito, as well as on own her albums. "Never Really Ever" is slinky neo-soul while "I Need A Man" is a straightforward R & B ballad wherein Maysa delivers a "let's get real" message for her sisters. "Let's Figure It Out (A Song for Bluey)" offers a twist as it begins with a long contemporary jazz jam that suddenly morphs into a flat-out dance track. And "Conversation With The Universe" finds Maysa scatting over an edgy track created for her by Global Noize (Jason Miles & DJ Logic). "I wasn't sure if that one was going to be too 'out' for my listeners," Maysa laughs, "but I played it for some friends and they loved it!"

METAMORPHOSIS also features some impressive guest performers; saxophonist/flautist Najee and guitarist Nick Colionne and drummer/producer Michael White.

Maysa Leak was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and knew by the time she was six that she would be a musician.

"It was when my parents took me to see the musical Purlie," she recalls. "The moment Melba Moore took the stage and opened her mouth, I made my decision that music would be my fate."

She graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in classical performance, meeting Stevie Wonder while a student. Upon graduating, she moved to North Hollywood to join Stevie Wonder's "Wonderlove", with whom she performed for a year, performing on the Jungle Fever soundtrack and such television shows as Oprah and The Tonight Show. During this time she also met one of her main influences, Chaka Khan.

"Stevie took us out to see one of Chaka's shows," she remembers," and during her concert she invited fans to come onstage and sing with her. Most of these singers were trying to out-sing Chaka. So she would heckle them. Stevie asked me to go on stage and sing with her. At first I said 'no' but once I decided to get up I knew I had to do something different. So I scatted. When I did that, Chaka said 'Go 'head girl! The whole audience went crazy. Chaka Khan will forever be an influence. Her power and tone have inspired me to develop my own voice and be unique, sweet and powerful, all at the same time."

In the early Nineties, Maysa auditioned over the phone to become the new lead singer of the acclaimed British jazz/funk/R & B band Incognito, moving to London for four and a half years. She has appeared on over nine Incognito recordings and continues to appear as a featured vocalist with them from time to time.

Maysa then recorded her self-titled debut album for GRP in 1995, following it up with ALL MY LIFE in 1999, and OUT OF THE BLUE in 2002, SMOOTH SAILING in 2004. She then made an impact with her interpretations of classic soul music on two acclaimed albums for Shanachie, SWEET CLASSIC SOUL (2005) and FEEL THE FIRE (2007), on which she showed her ability to put her own unique stamp on familiar songs from the 1970's era.

While some may advise Maysa to concentrate on one musical direction, she refuses to limit herself because the many directions she explores are all a part of her soul.

"Being a female Will Downing, or Luther Vandross, a balladeer, is part of my niche," she says, "but a lot of jazz and funk will always be in me too. My hero is Sarah Vaughn, so I have always said I'm on the road to Straight Ahead (Jazz)! I just had that conversation with Bluey (of Incognito). It's all in me!"

METAMORPHOSIS in stores October 14, 2008 - www.maysa.com

Alicia Keys Leads American Music Award Noms

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(October 15, 2008) *Alicia Keys leads the pack this year in American Music Award nominations with four – including Artist of the Year and Favorite Soul/R&B Album for her latest CD "As I Am."  Lil Wayne's successful 2008 run – fuelled by his hit album "Tha Carter III" – culminated in three nods, including Artist of the Year and Favorite Male Artist-Rap/Hip-Hop.   Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, Flo Rida and Usher each picked up two nominations apiece, while Mariah Carey's "E=MC2" earned a nod for Favorite Soul/R&B Album.   The American Music Awards will present 20 trophies in pop/rock, country, soul/rhythm & blues and rap/hip-hop, Latin, alternative, contemporary inspirational and adult contemporary. The awards will be presented in Los Angeles on Nov. 23.

Other nominees from the various Hip Hop, Rap and R&B categories are listed below:
Artist of the Year:
Coldplay, Eagles, Alicia Keys, Lil Wayne
Favorite Male Artist-Rap/Hip-Hop:
Flo Rida, Lil Wayne, Kanye West
Favorite Album-Rap/Hip-Hop:
Jay-Z: American Gangster, Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III, Kanye West: Graduation
Favorite Band, Duo or Group-Rap/Hip-Hop:
G-Unit, Three 6 Mafia, Wu-Tang Clan
T-Mobile Breakthrough Artist:
Colbie Caillat, The Dream, Flo Rida, Jonas Brothers, Paramore,
Favorite Female Artist-Pop/Rock:
Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Rihanna
Favorite Female Artist-Soul/R&B:
Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Rihanna
Favorite Album-Soul/R&B:
Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains, Mariah Carey: E=MC2, Alicia Keys: As I Am
Favorite Male Artist-Pop/Rock:
Chris Brown, Kid Rock, Usher
Favorite Male Artist-Soul/R&B:
Chris Brown, J. Holiday, Usher


Britney: "What the hell was I thinking?"

Source: www.thestar.com

(October 10, 2008) NEW YORK–If you're wondering what was going through Britney Spears' head during her erratic era, you are not alone – so does she. "I sit there and I look back and I'm like, 'I'm a smart person. What the hell was I thinking?'" Spears said in an interview to air on MTV on Nov. 30, two days before the release of her new album. "I've been through a lot in the past two or three years, and there's a lot that people don't know.'' The 90-minute special, "Britney: For The Record," was executive-produced by Spears' manager Larry Rudolph. It features behind-the-scenes footage of the singer and her talking about her life over the past two years. She's got a lot to talk about: In that time span, she has gotten divorced, been through a custody battle, gone to rehab, had very public meltdowns and had one memorably bad performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Now on the comeback trail, Spears is releasing her sixth album, "Circus," on Dec. 2, her 27th birthday. Spears says she's hoping this TV special will "set the record straight" about her life.

Gospel Sensation Damita Performs On WGN


(October 10, 2008) Damita has come all the way back with her sophomore release “No Looking Back” on Tyscot Records. She will perform a couple of songs from the album Sunday, October 12th on the national television show “Singsation.” The show airs on Superstation WGN-TV at 7:30 a.m. EST and 6:30 a.m. CST.  The show will re-air on Sunday, November 9th.  Check local listings for the channel in your area. WGN may be found nationwide on DirecTV, Comcast Cable and many other cable outlets and locally in the Chicago area. The kickoff video and single “No Looking Back” is Damita’s return as a solo artist after an eight-year hiatus. But she was not totally away from the music scene. She fronted the group Voices of Unity heard on a couple of albums on Tyscot Records. Damita can still be seen on various video programs leading the hit single “Watch Me Praise Him.”   The new project has taken her all the way to a top ten debut on Billboard’s Top Gospel Album Chart. She has several national television appearances to air this fall including, “The Gospel With Jeff Majors” on TV One; “Lift Every Voice” on BET; “Kitchen Sink” on Gospel Music Channel, and  “Bobby Jones Gospel” on BET. More information on Damita may be found at www.myspace.com/Damita_music.

We Remember Reggae Star Alton Ellis

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(October 13, 2008) *Jamaican reggae star Alton Ellis, known as the "Godfather of Rocksteady," died of cancer over the weekend in London, a hospital spokeswoman told the AFP Saturday. He was 70. The singer-songwriter was diagnosed with multiple myeloma last year. He endured a round of chemotherapy and resumed his career before he collapsed during his final performance in central London in August. He passed away peacefully at Hammersmith Hospital, the spokeswoman said.  Ellis moved to Britain in the 1970s and went on to record a string of hits spanning more than 40 years, including "I'm Still In Love," "Dance Crasher" and "I'm Just A Guy."  The rocksteady style of reggae comes from a dance that was mentioned in the 60s Ellis song "Rock Steady." A successor to Jamaican ska, the rhythm is slower and more relaxed.   Jamaican reggae singer Delroy Williams, a friend and colleague of Ellis' since the 1960s, described his voice as "the sweetest in the reggae world." "He was very humble," Williams said. "His music is the reason for a lot of babies -- that's how sweet and warm and loving it is. It's just a shame that he didn't get the big world hit that he deserved."  Ellis, who lived in the northwest London suburb of Northolt, is survived by his wife and more than 20 children. He was awarded the Order of Distinction medal by Jamaica in 1994. Jamaican authorities were considering the possibility of giving Ellis a state funeral.  

Turn Down Your iPods, EU Warns

Source: www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(October 14, 2008) BRUSSELS, Belgium–The European Union told music lovers yesterday to turn down the volume of
MP3 players, saying users risk permanent hearing loss from listening too long at maximum levels. Scientists reported that between 2.5 million and 10 million Europeans could suffer hearing loss from listening to MP3 players at unsafe volumes – over 89 decibels – for more than an hour daily for at least five years. Spokesperson Helen Kearns said the EU executive was asking people, especially children and young people, "to turn it down" now because they may be damaging their hearing without noticing it. "It's damage that may come back and haunt you later in life," she said at a news conference. Kearns said regulators would look next year at lowering the EU legal limit of 100 decibels for MP3 players. Apple was forced to pull its iPod player from store shelves in France and upgrade software on the device to limit sound to 100 decibels. The company ships a warning with each iPod that cautions "permanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume."

Yes We Can: Voices of Grassroots Movement: Various Artists

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(Hidden Beach)
http://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)

(October 14, 2008) It makes sense that the Democrats' so-called celebrity candidate would have the first-ever presidential campaign compilation. A diverse cast of pop, rock, country and soul A-listers, including Sheryl Crowe and Jill Scott contribute new and classic material to the 18-track album, available until election day on Barack Obama's website. After that it will be sold in stores with plans for a portion of the proceeds going to charities.  The album, which takes its name from Obama's guiding theme, is cut with excerpts from his speeches. The record includes Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" – the official campaign song – as well as John Mayer's "Waiting on the World To Change" and Los Lonely Boys' "Make It Better."  Among the new tracks are Lionel Richie's choir-bolstered "Eternity," which asks Why can't we just all get along?; John Legend's searing cover of U2's "Pride, in the Name of Love"; and the hard-hitting imagery of spoken word artist Malik Yusef on "Promised Land," which features Kanye West and Maroon 5's Adam Levine. Sure, there are three songs with America in the title – by the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, Keb' Mo' and Ken Stacey – but it's an overall uplifting soundtrack to an exciting political year.

Day After Tomorrow: Joan Baez

Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill

(Razor & Tie)
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)

(October 14, 2008) As the primo 1960s folk-boomer pinup,
Baez was revered for her ability to wring great messages of social consequence from the material she interpreted, and for her unwavering, pitch-perfect soprano voice, remarkable for the sense of prophetic melancholy it conveyed. For the past 20 years the world hasn't had much use for her, but it's interesting to note – with some irony – that as we approach hell in a handbasket, Baez's latest effort, a collaboration with equally committed musical activist Steve Earle, is suddenly getting lots of attention. Earle's production smarts offset what might have been a sombre set – including Earle's "Jericho Road," "God is God" and "I Am A Wanderer," and the title cut, Tom Waits' and Kathleen Brennan's ineffably sad take on the Iraq war – by surrounding that otherwise ethereal voice with lightly applied acoustic country-rock instrumentation. The effect is quite mesmerizing, and for once Baez is able to convey worldly sorrow with a kind of existential ease. Top Track: "Day After Tomorrow," for the sympathy Baez shows for the protagonist in this poignant anti-war masterpiece.

Neil Young To Release Album From '68

Source: www.thestar.com – Billboard.com

(October 14, 2008) There's good news and bad news for long-suffering
Neil Young fans. The good: highlights from a sought-after Nov. 9-10, 1968, run at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Mich., will be released as Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968 on Nov. 25. The bad: Young's endlessly delayed Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972) is officially pushed back to some point in 2009. Young has waffled about whether the project will only be available on Blu-ray and DVD or whether there will be CDs sold; the latest word is that Archives Vol. 1 will be DVD only. Sugar Mountain, which will not be included in Archives Vol. 1, was taped a few days shy of Young's 23rd birthday. Young had split from Buffalo Springfield six months earlier, and was testing out his solo material in front of audiences more accustomed to seeing him perform with a band. The album features future Young staples such as "Mr. Soul,'' ``Expecting to Fly," and "Broken Arrow," along with snippets of between-song banter where Young discusses the menial jobs he held in Toronto.

Heavy D Gets Irie On New CD

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(October 15, 2008) *Rapper/actor Heavy D, (Dwight Myers) has switched from hip hop to reggae with his new album "Vibes," released on his own Stride Ent. Label and distributed by UMG brainchild, Federal Distribution and UMG subsidiary Fontana Distribution.    "Vibes" currently owns the No. 2 spot on the iTunes Reggae chart, propelled by the top-requested single and digital favourite, “Long Distance Girlfriend.”    The album is currently available in digital-only format. The physical album will be released on Dec. 16.    Born in Jamaica, Heav's family moved to Mount Vernon, NY when he was 8, but the artist never lost his love for the music of his childhood.    “Reggae’s the first music I ever experienced,” he says. “I’ve always mixed reggae and hip hop. But I came to a point where I felt I had put the exclamation mark on my hip hop career. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to transfer the love, respect and passion I have for hip hop and reggae into my latest musical endeavour.”


All Together Now!: All You Need Is Cirque

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Entertainment Reporter

All Together Now!
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Directed by Adrian Wills. 90 minutes. At the Royal. PG

(October 10, 2008) Behind-the-scenes "documentaries" about the making of a spectacular show are usually little more than electronic press kits, videos put together to sell at the merchandise counter outside the theatre doors.

All Together Now!, Adrian Wills's 90-minute film about the Cirque du Soleil/Beatles Las Vegas production LOVE, earns its stripes as a feature documentary, yielding drama, history, sensational visual effects and a lush musical soundtrack.

It all began with the friendship that grew between George Harrison and Cirque founder Guy Laliberté after they kept encountering one another at Grand Prix car races. They used to talk about a dream collaboration between the Beatles and their music and the creative team at Cirque du Soleil.

Harrison, who died in 2001, did not live to see the development of a show. It was a huge undertaking, involving more partners and consultants – including Yoko Ono and his widow Olivia Harrison – than any creative enterprise could easily handle, and a financial investment for the Mirage hotel corporation of $180 million.

George Harrison's hopes for the project were key to bringing in legendary Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles on to create a brilliant, digitized soundtrack of songs fit to knock the socks off even the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Wills charts the creation of the show, which proved challenging to all, from its beginnings in the Montreal Cirque headquarters in deep winter. Everyone, including the Martins, approached the project with the trepidation of a trapeze artist flying without a net for the first time.

If they were to do anything to damage the music of the Beatles, Giles Martin says, exaggerating to make the point, "I might come home to find my house burned down." Nevertheless, his father, who is a font of Beatles anecdotes, goes into the studio with some classical musicians to conduct additions to the score of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

LOVE director Dominique Champagne talks of his ideas for a show that would develop the characters from the song, touch emotions and become "a rock `n' roll poem," and not another predictable tribute show.

He had a lot to contend with – meeting the interests of the Beatles and the Beatle widows while trying to build a show to entertain audiences over a very long haul.

We see him getting a tongue-lashing from Ono for an interpretation of "Come Together" that she says is "sleazy." Champagne appears to have the patience of a saint, only mildly remarking to someone that you can't make art by committee.

Inserts of clips of the Beatles in performance, especially the iconic scene on a London rooftop, set the context for the music.

Songs such as "Octopus's Garden," "Strawberry Fields" and "Drive My Car" fuel Cirque fantasy routines, including a giant Beetle Volkswagen that explodes into parts that scamper about, carried by black-legged performers. Champagne was aiming for "a psychedelic journey" and he seems to have achieved that.

McCartney shows up for some early run-throughs of the show and gives his approval. He also offers some intriguing memories about his Beatles days, recalling how they would throw together totally mixed songs in less than three hours. Ringo Starr makes some wise observations. The legacy, he says, "is not our personalities; it's the music."

There are many poignant moments in the film, including silent views of Dhani Harrison watching an enlarged image of his father; Rodrigue Proteau talking about how his Sgt. Pepper character is an homage to his ailing father, a former policeman; and Ono admitting that, "I feel sad that he (John Lennon) is just a voice now."

Edited for maximum emotional impact, with the Beatles music foregrounded throughout, All Together Now enthrals. It also makes you want to fly to Las Vegas immediately and buy a ticket to LOVE.

DiCaprio Reins In Politics To Tackle A Titanic Issue

www.globeandmail.com - Bob Strauss

(October 10, 2008) LOS ANGELES — Leonardo DiCaprio has come a long way from his teeny-bopper heartthrob days. Nearly 11 years after starring in Titanic - not just the biggest movie of all time, but the dreamiest date movie as well - he has earned respect in a string of ultra-challenging, primarily guy films such as Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Departed and the new Body of Lies, which opens today. DiCaprio's Roger Ferris in Body of Lies is the (marginally) most ethical undercover agent in an utterly amoral cat-and-mouse game with Middle East terrorists.

Word got out that he got sick while filming Body of Lies's harrowing climactic scene in Morocco. The lanky, 33-year-old actor, creases definitely starting to form at the corners of his eyes, would like to tell you that it was because he once again gave all he had for his art and not for the wimpy sounding reason that was reported in the press.

"I know that the headline is that I got sick from dust or whatever - doesn't sound too heroic!" DiCaprio says. "We did it in a tomb and it was very intensely emotional. It was a pivotal scene, when my character is kind of captured by the enemy. There was a lot of thought and preparation and anxiety about how this scene was going to turn out because we knew this was kind of a make-or-break scene for the movie. If it wasn't as realistic and as hardcore as it needed to be, I don't think the movie would quite work.

"So, it's one of those scenes that you kind of just get sick doing, that's all," he concludes with a smile.

If intensity is what got to him, it looks like he should have dropped dead in just about every scene of Body of Lies, which was directed at a lightning pace by Ridley Scott and co-stars Russell Crowe, who worked with DiCaprio in the wacky western The Quick and the Dead before they both became superstars. Crowe plays Ferris's constantly undermining, Washington-based CIA handler while the field agent's life and honour constantly get put on the line in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and other places where friends are hard to come by.

And since Ferris sometimes disguises himself as a local, DiCaprio not only had to study Arabic for the job, but correctly pronounce different regional dialects.

"It's one thing to do an accent, but to speak an entirely different language that comes from a different centre in the throat, it was really difficult," he confirms. "But I had this great coach named Sam Sako who guided me through all the different dialects of Arabic. And, of course, there would be extras on set who were from Iraq or Jordan and said, 'No no no, you sound like you're from a different region.' The film had its own intense pace, but everything kind of needed to slow down when it was time to speak Arabic, because I needed as much prep as I could get."

Hopefully, all of that work and worry weren't for naught. As noted, Body of Lies is no date movie (though there is a chaste romance between Ferris and a woman played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani). And while it unfolds like a slam-bang espionage thriller, it's still about the war on terror, a subject that's been toxic at the box-office for more than a year.

DiCaprio says they tried to avoid mistakes made in Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, the just-released flop The Lucky Ones and numerous other films.

"What interested me about this the second I read it was that it didn't take a political road," DiCaprio says about the script, which was adapted from David Ignatius's novel by screenwriter William Monahan. "It didn't tell the audience what to think, or have an agenda. And we tried to check our agendas and attitudes about this war at the door while making this movie. We didn't just try to make an entertaining movie, though, but one with themes that are very prevalent on people's minds."

That required some discipline from DiCaprio, who has lots of political views. Though he's not overtly backing a candidate in the current U.S. presidential election, as he did John Kerry in 2004, he's often involved in progressive politics. And he's one of Hollywood's biggest green activists, having produced, written and narrated last year's environmental documentary The 11th Hour. He also makes a point to drive hybrid cars and fly on commercial airlines (hey, not every pro-Earth celebrity walks the walk).

So we asked DiCaprio how he thought the current economic crisis might affect the environment, what with the U.S. Congress permitting offshore oil drilling to start again and all. "To me, if we would have been investing in alternative energy resources like solar or wind power eight years ago, during this administration, then we would have the significant advantage of not being as reliant as we are on foreign oil and not be this deep in debt," he says. "It's an unfortunate occurrence, but hopefully the next administration will not just think in short-term solutions but long-term solutions for the country."

Next up: He reteams with Titanic co-star Kate Winslet at year's end in Revolutionary Road. But don't expect teenage girls to be swooning over this one. Directed by Winslet's husband Sam Mendes and adapted from the 1950s-set novel by Richard Yates, it sounds a lot more like Mendes's American Beauty than that other nineties Oscar-winner with the big boat.

"It's about the disintegration of a relationship," DiCaprio explains. "It's about the meltdown of two people who are trying desperately to stay in love and stay together but felt like they have lived their lives as clichés."

Something the actor, obviously, never wants to happen to him.

Aboriginal Viewing Experience

Source: www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

(October 10, 2008) "Indian Jane," a fedora-wearing adventurer with a striking resemblance to a certain well-known action hero is a tongue-in-cheek way of highlighting the contribution of aboriginal women to this year's ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts festival.

Two documentaries directed by women filmmakers will open the ninth-annual festival, which runs from Oct. 15 to 19.

Older Than America, a feature film starring Adam Beach, Tantoo Cardinal and Wes Studi, deals with the horrors of native residential schools and marking the directorial debut of filmmaker Georgia Lightning, will close it.

"This year ... we're celebrating the voices of indigenous women and the open and closing nights both reflect that," said festival artistic director Danis Goulet.

As for the obvious homage to the Indiana Jones franchise on the festival's website, Goulet explained: "Since 2004, we have always taken some sort of cinematic reference and something that has to do with an indigenous stereotype and then skewed that in some way. We always ... try and do something that's warm and funny."

The festival, Goulet noted, is the largest of its kind in North America featuring work by indigenous artists and possibly the world.

"We're not only a celebration and a forum for indigenous people to find their voice and share that with an audience, but we also have proven to our audiences over the years that we show the best that's out there and that we have something at the festival that's going to appeal to everyone, no matter what your background is," Goulet said.

"So we transcend the idea of just simply being a niche festival, something that just exists for philanthropic endeavour," she added.

The festival has taken on the role of reflecting the experience of other indigenous cultures around the world, those like Maori of New Zealand or the Sami of Europe.

River of No Return by filmmaker Darlene Johnson will have its North American premiere, the story of an Australian aboriginal native, played by Frances Daingangan, who struggles to become an actor in a white-dominated world while trying to preserve and pass on the traditions of her culture.

Mémère Métisse by filmmaker Janelle Wookey, a host on native programming network APTN, takes a much lighter tone in its exploration of Wookey's gentle efforts to persuade her grandmother of the need to acknowledge her Métis heritage.

Among the other offerings:

The Last Explorer: Stars Nathaniel Arcand in the story of a 19th-century Cree explorer whose liaison with a recently-widowed white woman scandalizes mainstream society.

Aboriginal filmmaker Richard Story's newest short film, Palace, starring Corner Gas actor Lorne Cardinal, is another festival closer.

"I'm interested in making films that are open to everybody, that have an accessible quality to them. But I'm also interested in taking some of (my) aboriginal experience and putting into the film, maybe not in an overt way, but in a subtle way," said Story, who has produced more than 70 short films and is working on a TV pilot called The Time Traveller for APTN.

Story, whose films have screened around the world, said he is always delighted to bring his work into a festival setting.

"A festival's the very best to screen your film because it's on the big screen ... and the audience is there with the idea that they're open to anything," Story said.

He also lauded the local film scene for encouraging filmmakers of all stripes.

"Toronto is a really creative city and it changed my life moving from Vancouver to Toronto. People (here) are just more into projects and they support each other's projects. There's a really healthy critical mass," he said.

Interview: Josh Brolin Seizes Role Of President Bush

Source: www.thestar.com - John Hiscock,
Special To The Star

(October 10, 2008) BEVERLY HILLS–When director Oliver Stone asked him to take on the role of George W. Bush in his controversial film W, opening Oct. 17, Josh Brolin had no hesitation – he turned the offer down immediately.

"I asked myself, `Why do a movie about a guy who is still in office and, more importantly, a guy we see on CNN every day?'" he said. "I had no interest in going there."

There was also the Oliver Stone factor.

"He has a very controversial reputation and I had heard rumours about him and his temper and I read the script in order to give him more reasons why I didn't want to do it," Brolin said. "But when I read it I was completely blown away and I went into a deep fear wondering how I could possibly do it and how I could live up to it."

Stone told him he saw many parallels between Brolin and Bush: both had grown up with a strong father in the limelight (his father is actor James Brolin), both came from ranch country and had volatile lives.

Persuaded, Brolin took up the challenge, immersed himself in research and joined Stone and the rest of the cast in Shreveport, La. where W was filmed in a rapid-fire 48 days. Stone wanted it ready for release before the Nov. 4 presidential election.

"I had tunnel vision," Brolin recalled. "I spent a lot of time alone and I read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos – more than you can ever imagine: over and over and over. I really focused on this role and it was hard to let it go. It all happened very, very fast and I only finished eight weeks ago. The leftover is that every time I tell a joke now I sound like W and I hate it. My kids go `Stop doing the voice thing.'"

Brolin, still occasionally sounding like the U.S. president, was talking in a Beverly Hills hotel suite about what is likely to be his most controversial and talked-about role.

He and Stone tried using prosthetic devices to make him look more like George W. Bush, but then rejected them.

"I felt we had to get away from me but not do a carbon copy of George Bush," he said. "My intention was to act like him as opposed to looking like him. I felt if I was to use prosthetics and look exactly like him, it would have been distracting. I think there was enough of a difference and to me it worked."

Ironically Brolin's father played another U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, in a television movie and his stepmother, Barbra Streisand, is a committed Democrat who has frequently spoken out against Bush and his policies.

"She saw W last night and she was a bit confused," he said. "She has very strong feelings about the incumbent president but she liked how the movie humanizes him.

"It doesn't let him off the hook but it makes him human, which was the most important thing to me. He's an extreme personality and fundamentally we laugh at the character but we leave feeling sad because it's almost a tragedy. I like that dichotomy."

Two years ago, 40-year-old Brolin was a struggling character actor, although he's always picked projects carefully, turning down roles other actors would gratefully accept.

He even sold his beloved ranch in Northern California to allow him to continue to "be able to say no to certain projects and wait for the ones that resonated within me."

Those came along two years ago with critically acclaimed roles in American Gangster, Grindhouse and No Country For Old Men, all of which finally had people talking about him as a serious actor. He will next be seen with Sean Penn in the true-life drama Milk as San Francisco killer Dan White, the man who assassinated the city's gay supervisor Harvey Milk and the mayor, George Moscone, in 1978.

Like George W. Bush, Brolin has occasionally been in trouble. He crashed his motorcycle, was arrested for a domestic dispute with his wife, actor Diane Lane, and, on the last day of shooting W was involved with some of the crew in a fracas in a Shreveport bar, although he denies any culpability.

"We'd finished filming and went out to celebrate but the Shreveport police just like arresting people," he said.

"There was no fight or anything like that. Somebody was arrested or asking too many questions, and that's all."

And Oliver Stone's famous temper?

"I didn't see any sign of it," Brolin said. "He's a very sensitive guy and it was the most fun I have ever had with a director. I had a great time with the Coen Bros. on No Country For Old Men but they knew exactly what they were going to do. Oliver and I went in as two Neanderthals with a lot of bones in our hands and tried to create art from it.

"Ultimately it was the most fulfilling role I have ever done because it was absolutely the biggest challenge."

Michigan's Bid For Film Productions Is Paying Off

www.thestar.com - David Eggert, The Associated Press

(October 09, 2008) LANSING, MICH. – Six months after Michigan began handing out the nation's most generous moviemaking incentives, results are surpassing lofty expectations.

Studios that had planned to shoot elsewhere turned on a dime and flocked here, bringing stars such as Val Kilmer and Drew Barrymore with them. The number of scripts approved by the state film office is up 20-fold over last year. Hotels, caterers and other businesses are cashing in on new economic activity.

Somerset Inn in Troy hired 15 to 20 extra full-time workers to handle film crews after Clint Eastwood's Malpaso Productions booked office space and close to 90 rooms a night for most of the summer while filming Gran Torino across the Detroit area.

The hotel has welcomed smaller crews, too, and has solid leads on more movie industry clients for next year at a time conference hotels are losing dollars because of cutbacks in automotive sales seminars and the poor economy.

"It's incremental business we certainly wouldn't have had if they didn't sign this legislation," said Duane Swanson, Somerset Inn's operations director. "You couldn't ask for a better hotel guest to come in. They're not afraid to spend a buck."

Neither is state government – to the chagrin of Republican lawmakers who are having second thoughts about the measure signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in April.

To entice filmmakers to choose Michigan over other competing states, the Legislature passed bills creating refundable tax credits of up to 42 per cent for in-state movie production expenses.

Giving businesses tax credits is nothing new, and such credits can reduce a company's tax bill to little or nothing.

But refundable credits go further. They're more like a rebate for production expenses and can require the state to cut the moviemaker a check.

The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates the state has approved $394 million (dollar figures U.S.) in production expenses that will cost the government $122 million after accounting for the sales and income tax revenue generated by film crews.

That's six times the increases of up to 2 per cent the state gave public universities and community colleges this budget year.

Sen. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, said traditional Michigan businesses are paying higher taxes while "we turn around and send a check to somebody from Hollywood, some Pee-wee Herman type. I think that's very hard to justify."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Jim Holcomb said lawmakers should reduce the Michigan Business Tax – to which a 22 per cent surcharge was added to fill a budget deficit – and "stop handing out unaffordable tax breaks to out-of-state Hollywood filmmakers who are unlikely to make Michigan their permanent business location."

But not every filmmaker is from Hollywood, and there's no doubt the incentives are bringing movie companies and jobs to the economically sluggish state.

Cinepro Pictures Studios was set to film The Steam Experiment in Florida because that's where the company is located. But it shot the independently produced thriller in Grand Rapids after hearing about the incentives.

"The decision was purely financial," said Karinne Behr, an executive producer of the movie starring Kilmer and Armand Assante. "Michigan's incentives are definitely the strongest. Hopefully that will be a great success story for the state. It's better to spend the money here than overseas."

Behr said $3 million of the movie's $7 million budget was spent in Michigan.

The Michigan Film Office has approved tax breaks for more than 60 movies this year and next. Just two or three films were made in 2007.

The question, it seems, is whether a truly lasting industry is being hatched in Michigan.

Critics depict the business as fleeting because other states may increase their incentives to keep pace. They say moviemakers like to bring in people from California and elsewhere to make the movies, and add that filmmaking accounts for a minuscule portion of Michigan's overall economy.

But in a state that has shed 479,000 payroll jobs – 10 per cent of its work force – since state employment peaked in June 2000, anything that brings in jobs and new businesses is seen as a plus by many.

And while the state has nowhere near enough infrastructure to support all the new films, it's further along than Louisiana, New Mexico and Massachusetts were at this point when they began luring the industry, said Anthony Wenson, chief operating officer of the Michigan Film Office.

He pointed out that Michigan once made more commercials and industrial training films than anywhere in the world, and said existing studios are being transformed to welcome the motion picture business.

"Not only are we finding many people getting into the business for the first time but we're also seeing people who left the state to get into the industry moving back into Michigan," he said.

So far, the GOP-controlled Senate has been unable to get enough votes for a bill that would cap film credits at no more than $50 million a year. Granholm, Democrats and some Republicans fiercely oppose the measure and say the bipartisan law approved by all but one of 148 legislators needs time to work, even if it could cost the state.

Job training classes are being held for people interested in the business, and producers qualify for more tax breaks if they hire in-state grips, camera operators and other "below the line" crew.

The film office expects to talk with Michigan State University about potentially developing a film program. Anticipating more work, some smaller sound studios have announced plans to expand.

The state still is awaiting the arrival of big new soundstages that provide more efficient one-stop shopping for the production of movies and TV shows and could allow Michigan moviemaking year-round rather than seasonally.

But Wenson said the state is talking frequently with interested investors.

"The true measure will be two years into this," he said. ``It's taken Louisiana almost four years to really pull together ... and be able to say, `This is a true, viable industry in our state.' Michigan is in this for the long haul."

MLK Film Among 8 On Oscar Shortlist


(October 10, 2008) *The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Wednesday announced that a film about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is among eight that made a shortlist of titles up for a documentary short Oscar.

"The Witness From the Balcony of Room 306," by Adam Pertofsky, is an account of the King assassination as witnessed by Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles.

The film was among 31 overall submissions for the best documentary short subject category. Documentaries about Cesar Chavez's grape boycott, gay men in China and historian David McCullough also made the shortlist of eight, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

 Three to five of them will be named when nominees in all the categories are announced on Jan. 22.

 In other MLK news, the civil rights icon's youngest daughter, Rev. Bernice King, has been ordered by an Atlanta judge to bring intimate correspondence between her father and late mother, Coretta Scott King, to a Fulton County courtroom Tuesday for a hearing to determine the letters’ fate, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 At stake, among other things, is a $1.4 million publishing contract for the autobiography of Mrs. King. 

 Bernice King, also the administrator of her mother’s estate, has refused to hand over letters and photos for an autobiography she says her mother didn’t want. That pits her against brother Dexter King, who is head of the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. Inc., or King Inc., the corporation that handles the rights to their father’s works. In May, he signed the contract with Penguin Group, clearing the way for the autobiography of Mrs. King.

 Attorneys for King Inc. have asked a Fulton County Superior Court judge for a temporary restraining order forcing Bernice King to relinquish control of her mother’s papers. They cite a 1995 contract signed by Mrs. King and all the King children giving the corporation the rights to any work that exploits relationships with Martin Luther King Jr., including “autobiographies relating to the life of any of the heirs.”

Michael Moore Turns Camera On The Soo

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(October 10, 2008) SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont.–Michael Moore took a break from the long, loud spectacle of the United States presidential race to take in the notably shorter, quieter campaign taking place north of the border.

In the local bar of Sault Ste. Marie's community college, no less.

"Sault Ste. Marie is a great place. I love the time I've spent here and we thought, `Why not do it here?'" said the Oscar-winning documentary-maker (Bowling for Columbine) after taking in an all-candidates debate and then interviewing them for an as-yet-untitled project.

Moore, who was last here in 2005 to watch a Stanley Kubrick documentary at the Shadows of the Mind film festival, refused to discuss the nature of his current movie. But based on his 45-minute group interview with four of the five candidates – only Conservative hopeful Cameron Ross did not participate – it was obvious Moore was keen to contrast the two countries.

In particular, he marvelled at the forum afforded four decidedly left-of-centre parties, including a Marxist-Leninist and the governing party he maintains is Conservative in name only.

"In some ways, all five parties here are to the left of the (U.S.) Democrats because ... no (Canadian) Conservative would still never utter the words, `I'm against universal health care,'" he said.

"That's not a knock against Obama. But we sit here watching, as Americans, through a different lens."

Most of the candidates also good-naturedly participated in an arranged photo-op, presumably to underscore those differences: sharing a bottle of Molson Canadian. The candidates were told in advance of the plans, as were some students, who quickly ensured the rest of the school knew, so it wasn't a surprise that it was standing-room-only Wednesday.

Moore was mobbed by people for hours afterward as he tried to film. He conceded the celebrity he has cultivated – some would say courted – since his controversial debut 20 years ago with Roger & Me "can sometimes make it difficult" to do his job these days.

Omar Benson Miller The Express & Miracle at St. Anna Interview

Source: Kam Williams

Born on October 7, 1978, Los Angeles native
Omar Benson Miller started acting professionally while attending San Jose State University, where he majored in Radio, Television Film and Theater Arts with a minor in African-American Studies. The 6’ 6” gentle giant made his screen debut in the Walt Disney drag comedy Sorority Boys.

                Upon completing work on his bachelor’s degree, he landed a lead role in Eminem’s semi-autobiographical bio-pic 8 Mile. He has since appeared in over a dozen movies, most notably opposite 50-Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire, Richard Gere and J-Lo in Shall We Dance, and Drew Barrymore and Robert Duvall in Lucky You. 

He’s even tried his hand at writing, directing and producing, making Gordon Glass, a low-budget family comedy in which he handled the title role.   On television, Omar has been on such shows as The West Wing, Law & Order and Sex Love & Secrets.

Here, the versatile young talent talks about his two pictures currently in theatres, The Express & Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna.

KW: Hey Omar, thanks for the time.

OM: Yeah. No doubt! How’re you doing?

KW: Fine, and you?

OM: I’m good.

KW: What interested you in playing Sam Train in Miracle at St. Anna?

OM: What didn’t interest me in playing Sam Train? He’s like a superhero, except in real life. I had read the book when it initially came out, and I felt, “Wow! This is exactly something I’d like to do.” And then the opportunity came up while we were shooting The Express. I got this text message saying Spike Lee was doing a World War II drama and, yeah man, I did everything I could to get in front of that guy. And he picked me. He said, “I want you to do it.” Then he put me on this tight regimen where I had to lose about 50 pounds in 9 weeks.     

KW: Whoa!

OM: If you see both movies, you’ll see I’m a blubberous lineman in The Express, and a much less blubbery soldier in Miracle at St. Anna. What’s interesting is that both these films tell stories that needed to be told, in my opinion, because you never learn anything in school or during Black History month about the Buffalo Soldiers or the African-American military campaign during World War II.

KW: I agree. And what attracted you to the role of Rob Brown’s buddy Jack in The Express?

OM: When I read that book, I was embarrassed that I had never heard of Ernie Davis, although I knew about Jim Brown, Floyd Little and the Syracuse University legacy. And the more research that I did, watching film and reading about him, the more intrigued I became. I realized he was a humanitarian and an American hero whose story deserved to be told. And I think it’s going to inspire millions, because people are going to see this film and love it. I’ve seen it with audiences four or five times and not once has it gotten a bad response. People love this movie.

KW: Did you have an interest in acting as a child?

OM: No, none whatsoever. I played sports. The acting thing was just a direct blessing from the Lord, because I lost my discipline to play sports, and I had this really cool professor grab me and kind of take me under his wing, and the ball just started rolling. Another professor introduced me to my first agent, and the next thing you know, I got to start doing films. It was great!

KW: What would you say was your big break, 8 Mile?

OM: Without question. After 8 Mile came out and blew up, the ball has been rolling ever since.

KW: At 6’ 6” tall, what types of roles are you looking for?

OM: The type that aren’t specifically written for guys who are 6’ 6”. Normally, I try to stay away from playing security guard type characters, the stereotypical, big man fare. And I’ve been pretty blessed, man, and successful at getting out of the box.

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know, what was the last book you read?

OM: The most memorable book I read recently was Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. It was a departure for her from her normal evil vampire type fare. This book delved into the possibilities of what it might have been like to watch Jesus as a child. It was very interesting.

KW: What did you think of the job James McBride did in adapting Miracle at St. Anna, having read the book?

OM: Spike’s vision for the film definitely burst out of the beauty of the book. But I think it’s a different animal. It’s tricky, because it’s very difficult to jam a novel like that into two and a half hours.

KW: Do you think it helped in this case that the author also wrote the screenplay.

OM: Without question. From what I understand, he and Spike would go through it together ten pages at a time.

KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan asks: Where in L.A. do you live?

OM: I live in Glendale now. It’s actually a really nice community. I hadn’t been hip to it. I just stumbled upon it by accident because a buddy of mine needed me to pick him up out there. And I was like, “Gee, this is nice.” Around the same time, I was blessed enough to be able to buy a house, so I moved over there.

KW: Where in L.A. did you grow up? 

OM: Before I left to go to college, I was living in Orange County, Anaheim Hills. And prior to that I was in Long Beach. That’s where I spent most of my childhood and where my mother and brothers are now.

KW: Music maven Heather Covington is curious about what music you’re listening to nowadays? 

OM: I’m listening to the new Beck, Modern Guilt, and to a buddy of mine named Johnny Fair who sings soul, R&B. And I’ve been listening to that Citizen Cope album. I can’t wait for his new one to come out. He’s more of an independent, undergroundy kind of guy.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

OM: Of course.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

OM: I’m joyous! And that’s more important, because happiness is fleeting.

KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

OM: [Laughs] No, you guys are pretty thorough.

KW: What message do you hope people will take away from The Express?

OM: I hope they come away with the inspiration that you can overcome any obstacles in your path. Ernie Davis had the cards stacked against him completely, yet he was able to accomplish great things through perseverance, courage, diligence and his own grounding though his family and his faith. I sincerely hope the film challenges people to take an introspective look at their lives and see how they fit into the world at large, and see what kinds of positive changes they can make, because in researching for this film we didn’t find one person who had met Ernie who hadn’t been positively influenced by him. Not one. And I think this comes out on the screen. So, even in death, he was still triumphant. That’s admirable. 

KW: How do you want to be remembered.

OM: As a righteous dude!

KW: Thanks again for the interview, Omar. I appreciate the time and I’m expecting bigger things from you in the future.

OM: Hey, I appreciate that.

To see a trailer for The Express, visit: http://www.theexpressmovie.com/site.html#/videos/1/1/

To see a trailer for Miracle at St. Anna, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXMVLN5rqpA

Rob Brown The Express Interview

Source: Kam Williams

Born in Harlem on March 1, 1984, but raised in Brooklyn,
Rob Brown got his start in showbiz when he answered a casting call for extras in Finding Forrester. Although he had no prior acting experience, at the age of 16 this natural talent landed the co-starring role of Jamal Wallace opposite Oscar-winner Sean Connery. Since then, he’s appeared opposite Samuel L. Jackson in Coach Carter, Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead and Robert Redford in Stop-Loss.

A gifted student-athlete, Rob attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he majored in psychology while playing on the varsity football team. This year, Rob graduated and moved back to New York City, and he was named the national spokesman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk, an annual event designed to raise funds for a cure and to bring hope to patients and their families.

Here, he shares his thoughts about handling his first title role in
The Express, a bio-pic about the late Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Although the young gridiron great succumbed to leukemia before he had a chance to turn pro, his heroic efforts both on and off the field are nonetheless destined to continue to serve as an inspiration for generations to come.   

KW: Hi, Rob, thanks for the time.

RB: No problem. What’s going on?

KW: Last time we spoke, you had just done Take the Lead, and I interviewed you in while you were driving back to Amherst.

RB: Yeah, I remember that.

KW: Since then, you’ve graduated from college. Congratulations!

RB: Thank you, I graduated in May.

KW: How does that feel?

RB: It feels like a weight was taken off my back. Finally, I’m done and enjoying being a graduate.

KW: Have you relocated to Los Angeles?

RB: No, I moved back to Brooklyn.

KW: Did you move back home, or did you get your own place?

RB: Both. I’m trying to take advantage of this market. I just bought a two-bedroom apartment, and I’m making offers on some others.

KW: You went from playing football in college to playing football in The Express. How did you enjoy making the movie?

RB: It was like a dream come true. It was such an honour to get to play the character. And I basically got to play football everyday when I showed up for work.

KW: You must have been tough during the filming on your fellow actors who weren’t used to that physical contact.

RB: No, we had doubles for guys who didn’t know what they were doing. So, we figured it out.

KW: How was it working with director Gary Fleder and the cast of The Express?

RB: Gary was definitely hard on me, but I think that was necessary to get to the bottom of Ernie. Gary ran a tight ship, and I think it shows. He made a great film. And the cast was great. We had a real tenured group of guys in Dennis [Quaid], Clancy [Brown], and even Charles [S. Dutton]. Then we had a bunch of young actors including Nicole Behaire who’s playing my love interest in her first film. She’s excellent. And of course Omar [Benson Miller], he’s great, too. Nelsan Ellis is incredibly talented, and Darrin Dewitt Henson who plays Jim Brown does a fabulous job.  

KW: Did you read Robert Gallagher’s book, “Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express” that the movie is based on? 

RB: Yes.

KW: How did you feel about the adaptation?

RB: I’m just glad that we had the flexibility to tell the story in our own way. Part of our challenge was in figuring out how to get to the essence of Ernie Davis while maintaining that respect for his legacy. We didn’t want to take too many liberties. I think we did a good job, and I have the support of Mr. Jim Brown and also Ernie’s family who I met recently, so I can’t really ask for much more.

KW: What do you expect audiences to get from this film?

RB: Well, I think they’ll walk away with a lot more than what they expect to see from a quote-unquote football film. But what I want to get across to them is the essence of Ernie. I just want them to learn about him in general. It’s surprising that no one knows about him. So, it’s about time that his story be told.

KW: Yeah, I remember hearing his story back in the early Sixties when I was growing up, but it sort of faded away over the years. 

RB: It somehow got lost unfortunately. It seems like it got lost in that era.

KW: Do you expect The Express to be compared to pictures which explored similar themes, movies like Glory Road, We Are Marshall and Brian’s Song?

RB: Oh yeah definitely, that’s just natural. But while people might go in expecting those films, but by the time they walk out of the theatre they’ll realize it was a different picture which offered a lot more.  

KW: Ernie Davis’ nickname was “The Express.” Do you feel any extra burden playing your first title character?

RB: That’s not where the extra burden came. The burden came with playing Ernie, not with playing a title character. It’s more about just making sure we respected him, his family, and the organization that he was a part of. That’s where the responsibility lay. Sure, I guess a title role’s more responsibility, but I figured I’ve been doing this long enough that that wouldn’t be the issue. The real responsibility lay with playing Ernie.

KW: How does it feel to be playing college-aged characters here and in Stop-Loss after playing a high school kid in Finding Forrester, Coach Carter and Take the Lead?

RB: That’s just a natural function of my getting older. So, I think at this time we’re through with high school.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

RB: Yeah.

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson’s question: What was the last book you read?

RB: Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream by Carl Elliott?

KW: Actress Tasha Smith’s question: Are you ever afraid?

RB: Just in general? Yeah.

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

RB: Hip-hop and R&B, although I have been on this weird little kick where I’ve been downloading some Eighties music, like Michael McDonald.

KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

RB: That’s a tough question to answer.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

RB: I would like to be remembered as a responsible human being who handled business while also taking care of his family.

KW: Sounds great. Best of luck with both, Rob. You’re the man now, dog!

RB: Thank you very much.

KW: And may I say as Sean Connery told you in Finding Forrester: “You’re the man now, dog.”

To see a trailer for The Express, go HERE .

Larkin's Animated Legacy

www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(October 08, 2008)
Ryan Larkin, prodigious artist, possibly the best animator of his generation, became a panhandler after years of substance abuse, a fixture outside Schwartz's deli in Montreal asking for spare change.

It's a story that in another time could have become folk legend. Canadian children singing The Ballad of Ryan Larkin in school assemblies. But as his new posthumous animated short
Spare Change, which is playing tonight at Montreal's Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, hints, the drawings and highly revered films Larkin made as a young man aren't what hold the secret of his personal lore. It was what he said in person that made him so unusually appealing – or, for some, a nuisance.

“I wasn't there to nurse this poor soul that needed saving. Not at all,” said Laurie Gordon, his working partner and caregiver in his last years. “Ryan and I were really good friends. What you found enjoyable about him was that he was just a really cool guy.”

That's an intentional understatement. Hunched over and dishevelled, with the face of an aged cherub (if such a thing exists), Larkin, who died last year of cancer at the age of 63, spoke with a kind of ironic befuddlement. Those who didn't bother to understand him could easily wave him off, dismissing him as confused and not totally there.

But those who listened were treated to something subtle and profound, true oratory art.

Meeting him shortly before he died, I remember placing a small digital voice recorder on the table in front of him. The device was about the size of an old pack of Wrigley's gum. “What is that?” he asked ironically, as if the recorder was some kind of threatening instrument. The stresses and rhythm of the words were so offbeat and so quick, they immediately give the impression of utter hipness, in the same vein as Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer speaking.

Spare Change captures a little of that. The short film, completed after his death, is a mishmash of Larkin-like styles about his observations panhandling. It is being shown tonight in Montreal in a double bill with the Beatles/Cirque du Soleil documentary All Together Now. ( Spare Change will also appear with All Together Now in theatres across Canada this month.) The film was rushed, relatively speaking, in its last stages, compared with its slow early gestation, in order to capitalize on interest in Larkin after his death. Had he lived, Gordon speculated that they might still be working on the film.

Those new to Larkin should understand that the short isn't his best work. In fact, much of the film's animation, such as an animated series of charcoal sketches depicting Larkin, isn't even his own work. Instead, they are renditions by another animator of Larkin giving a speaking performance. But the film is an important addition to Larkin's creations, bringing his story full circle after years of not making any films. And importantly, they are his own thoughts.

“Every single word in there is Ryan Larkin. The whole script was Ryan's idea. Probably for several years, it was in the works in his mind. He used to say he was studying human behaviour [while panhandling]. He wasn't kidding at all,” Gordon said.

Larkin had been rediscovered by a new generation of filmmakers and became the subject or side story of others' films, notably Ryan, the Academy Award-winning, National Film Board of Canada co-produced animated short, which features an extended interview with Larkin as his computer-animated body literally falls apart. He found himself gaining unusual fame for someone who supposedly lived in obscurity.

But the story of Larkin as the fallen artist tended to supersede his work and his unique personae. A protégé of Norman McLaren and the National Film Board in the 1960s, Larkin, equally soft-spoken and mercurial, fell into substance abuse and tumultuous, murky relationships.

“I didn't have a big problem with cocaine,” he once told me. “But what I had was a problem with cocaine people. Once a month I would have a little cocaine party for myself. But it was all the other people knocking on my door, demanding to come in. Larkin would leave, only to return and find his apartment ransacked, his possessions sold for drugs, “which is why eventually I gave up having an apartment altogether.”

He worked for 10 more years in the commercial animation industry after leaving the NFB, but “I was becoming deadwood, losing my creative flow.”

Ultimately, he drifted away from paying jobs. It had become futile for him. It was a conscious decision to stop and to stay at the Old Brewery Mission homeless shelter in Montreal. He continued to draw and sculpt. “Powerful people taking advantage of me, I suppose that's why I quit functioning in the film business. I wanted just to deal with an empty canvas, stone to carve,” he once said.

And that's when he met Laurie Gordon, a Montreal musician.

She had learned about Larkin from a segment on CBC's Disclosure eight years or so ago. At the time, she lived only a few blocks away from Schwartz's. So she took her dogs for a walk to introduce herself, with the idea of having him draw some pictures to include in a video for her rock band. Over time, this turned into an extended working relationship and Spare Change. Larkin used to describe Gordon as his producer and manager. By 2005, he had moved into her house in Saint-Hyacinthe to complete the film.

“There was a goal here,” Gordon said. “Get him to work, get him closer to me [in order to keep working] as I live out of town, and maybe who knows? Maybe he would like it there. And at that point, weekends became weeks, and months. It was pretty good for him.

“And even though I applied for grants, money did not come in for a long time. But he was here. He was secure. He was allowed to drink beer in the house. Contrary to some of his public appearances, he wasn't always a bad drunk. He was a really a comfortable roommate [with] me and my husband and a lot of animals.”

In the end, she also became his caregiver. “He was a true artist to the end. The day before he went to palliative care, we were still working,” she said. “He didn't want to be remembered as a bum on the street.”

Spare Change is being shown tonight, Oct. 11 and 19 at Montreal's Festival du Nouveau Cinéma

Dakota Fanning Takes Grown Up Role

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Susan Walker, Entertainment Reporter

(October 15, 2008) She's no longer the precocious little girl whose feet don't touch the floor when she's in the guest chair beside Jay Leno.

Dakota Fanning is a poised 14-year-old, a Hollywood pro who has safely negotiated the transition from child actor to young adulthood.

Speaking to journalists at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, the actor was only slightly made up, with her blond hair naturally framing her engaging face and startling blue eyes.

Fanning plays Lily, a wounded teenager in 1964 South Carolina in The Secret Life of Bees, alongside Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys. The film, opening Friday, was adapted from Sue Monk Kidd's bestselling novel. Appearing in almost every scene, Fanning brings weight to a character that could easily have turned melodramatic or pure victim.

Fanning loved the book and built her character from a close reading of the novel and the script, written by director Gina Prince-Bythewood. The moment when Lily confesses to August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) that she feels she has brought tragedy into their home and that she is unlovable was a challenging scene for her.

"But it was one I was looking forward to," says Fanning, who signed on to the movie four years before it was completed, "because I knew it was such an important scene for my character."

The movie handed Fanning an opportunity for her first serious onscreen kiss with Zach, played by Tristan Wilds, who stars as Dixon Wilson on 90210.

"Tristan is the nicest guy you could ever have a scene like that with," says Fanning. "We knew each other pretty well by the time we did that. Something that drew me to the story was that relationship."

Born Hannah Dakota Fanning in Conyers, Ga., the actor has a grandmother who told her about the Civil Rights-era in the old South, which helped in her research for the part. Among the materials Prince- Bythewood passed on to help the cast understand the background was Spike Lee's documentary 4 Little Girls, about the 1963 Birmingham bombing of an African American church that took the lives of four innocents. "That really impacted me," Fanning says.

An avid reader, Fanning felt a big responsibility to faithfully portray the central character in the novel. It has been gratifying to her, she says, to see how the key moments in the story have been captured onscreen.

Just as well, because there's no anonymity when this young actor is seen in public. The celebrity treatment still comes as a shock.

"You can't even believe that people know your name. I don't think I'll ever get used to that. It's so special that people enjoy the work that you've done or identify with your character, but it will never be normal to have people recognize me."

Q & A with Paul Gross: Making Art From War

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

(October 15, 2008) Unlike most people of his generation, Toronto actor/director Paul Gross finds World War I fascinating.

"The First World War always just seems so mythically awful," Gross, 49, said in an interview during the Toronto International Film Festival. He spoke before the world premiere of
Passchendaele, his romantic tribute to Canadian heroism during a signature battle of "the Great War." (The movie opens Friday in Toronto theatres.)

Gross's interest in the topic was bred in the bone. His grandfather fought in WWI, seeing enough action to have been wounded three times. "I'd pester him endlessly about it when I was a child," Gross said.

"And he started talking one day. The story that he told me forms the (horrific) opening scene of Passchendaele, but it also just absolutely rattled me to the bone.... How do men survive this?"

That curiosity prompted Gross's ambitious leap from the relatively simple comedy of Men With Brooms, his 2002 directing debut, to the physically and emotionally draining production that was Passchendaele. The shoot took 45 days, a $20 million budget (high for Canada) and upwards of 200 actors, on a muddy Alberta set designed to be as hellish as the desolate Belgium plains where the film's title battle occurred in the fall of 1917.

There were more than 16,000 Canadian casualties – including 5,000 dead – during the two-week Allied assault against the Germans.

Q. It looks like you spent a lot more than $20 million on this movie. A Hollywood studio would have spent $100 million.

A. It took a lot of planning.... People would start to show up in gear, and there's a ton of stuff out there you can use, speed rails and special helicopter hotheads and cable cams ...

But then I did manage to look back and think what my grandpa would say: `My war was 30 feet either side of me and the men stood in those 30 feet. I didn't know much else, and I kept my head down.' I tried to restrict it to human geography. What could a soldier see in a battlefield? That simplified things.

Q. You combine a history lesson with a love story between your military character and the nurse played by Caroline Dhavernas. Do you feel you struck the right balance between drama and romance?

A. I have no opinion on the film. It gets so bizarre. I was looking at a print the other day just to see what the actual print looks like. And all I can hear is, `Ooh, I gotta move that explosion,' or stuff like that. I completely lost the plot. I had no idea what was going on in the story.

Q. Passchendaele has a tone similar to Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, which respects the sacrifice of war while questioning the need for it.

A. War is a very complicated thing. The First World War is such a strange phenomenon. It was really the first total war the world had ever seen, and that level of carnage and mechanized death and of really implacable impersonal brutality to it. I think it marks the big division between the world of Rudyard Kipling and the world of today.

Q. The First World War has been called the first modern war. Is that what fascinated you about it? Most people alive today know little about it, and few Canadians know anything at all about the battle of Passchendaele.

A. The First World War is so amorphous. At the end of it, it wasn't really over.... It wiped out five empires and gave birth to two new ones. It changed art, science, medicine, everything.

Gina Bythewood & Sophie Okonedo Share 'Secret'

Source:  www.eurweb.com -
By Kenya M Yarbrough

(October 15, 2008) *Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood began her big screen career with the hit film “Love & Basketball.”

The accomplished director is now taking her career from her ‘A’ game to ‘Bee’ in the new movie “
The Secret Life of Bees,’ opening this weekend.

The film follows a young white teenager who is haunted by the memory of her mother’s death and escapes her abusive father to a small South Carolina town where she and her caregiver befriend three sisters on a honey farm.

While many of us seem to have some aversion to bees, Bythewood’s biggest fear for this film was that her actors – acclaimed stars Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, and Dakota Fanning – wouldn’t click. In particular, Latifah, Keys, and Okonedo, who star as the Boatwright sisters.

“Because of these actors’ schedules, there was no time for rehearsal. I had one opportunity and it took a good three weeks to wrangle it,” Bythewood said. She only got three hours of one day to get Okonedo, Latifah, and Keys together, in one place.

“They had never met each other before and we didn’t know what was going to happen and we didn’t know if they were going to look like sisters – that was a big thing for me, too, because I hate watching movies and [siblings] don’t look like they're from the same family,” Bythewood recalled. “At first it was awkward small talk and then we just kind of cut through it and started talking about the characters and their relationships with each other. It came clear really early on. We just saw them feeding off of each other it was like watching them building this sisterhood right there. They just clicked instantly. To build that sibling thing is tough, but because they like each other so much, it just helped tremendously.”

Bythewood raved to reporters that the cast was certainly an element that made the script move and the direction concise.

“There was a phenomenal cast. And my directing style, I kind of weigh more toward subtlety. That combination together helped a lot,” she said, “but, again, it starts with great actors.”

One cast member, Okonedo, definitely agreed.

“We were all very excited, she said of the cast. “I just thought, ‘This is an amazing cast.’ We were all friends and just had a ball. It’s been a pleasure.”

Okonedo also told reporters about how organic the script and direction made making the film.

“I didn’t really think about it,” she said about playing the strange acting May Boatwright. “I just like playing the character. I just never think about how it’s going to come across to the audience. That’s not my job. My job is to get right inside and tell the truth and leave the outcome to [someone] else. The director can sort that out.”

Like Bythewood, Okonedo had read the book and began researching the time period and the culture of the South upon joining the cast.

“I worked on the scripts and made sure I understood the context of Mae,” she explained. “I read about the civil rights movement. Read about what it was like to grow up in the South at that time. And then I just used my imagination.”

Though she doesn’t consider herself a technical actor, Okonedo’s portrayal of May is another plume in the actress’ cap as she takes on the peculiar character.

“I didn’t really plan it,” she said of honing in on the essence of her role. “I’m not that technical I just absorb all the information, absorb the kind of feelings and just see what happens.”

Just reading the book, given to her by a film company, Okonedo was already attached to her character. She said the she immediately thought, “I would like to play May. I think that’s the one that suits me best. Just before we started filming, I’d keep my script in a folder. I went to the book and everything that she wrote about May, every single line I transcribed and stuck them all over the front of the folder. So wherever I looked there was a little [note].”

The book also drew Bythewood to the project because of the writing. She told reporters that she was impressed with the book and characters, written and created by Sue Monk Kidd.

“I loved every single character,” she said. “I never wanted to short-change any character; I wanted to make sure everyone had a voice. And then, again, you have actors that aren’t trying to be the one that shines in the scene – which is rare when working with actors of this character.”

Furthermore, Bythewood’s development of the characters ensured that they weren’t one-dimensional or perfect.

“It’s more interesting to write characters that have flaws. It’s more interesting to watch as well.”

 And although Bythewood was attracted to the book and characters, she shared that there was another script, before she signed on, that was eventually dumped.

“I was told that this was at another studio before and I was told that the writer/director strayed from the book,” she said. “I love the book, people love the book. There was no reason to stray from it. The story is right there; the characters are right there. So it was about, ‘How do I bring that story to the screen?’ I think that was probably the biggest thing.”

Bythewood said that the story and her script create a perfect blend for the movie.

“Sue Monk Kidd (the book's author), she has a white perspective of growing up at that time, and then [there’s] my black perspective on the world. Just marrying the two gave [the movie] a great balance.”

The story is set in the 1960s, a time that 39 year-old Bythewood was barely a twinkle in her father’s eye.

“It starts with research,” Bythewood said of capturing the civil rights era in the film “That is a biggest part of my directing process.”

Plus, she turned to her husband’s southern family to get some insight into life in the South.

“It was a time of great hope,” she said. “There was so much violence going on, but there was also this time of hope. I don’t think that other side is shown a lot. That was my focus. In a grander sense,” she continued, “one of the great things of the film – there are obvious differences between black and white – [but] those differences in no way diminish our ability to love each other and work together.”

“The Secret Life of Bees” opens in theatres nationwide this Friday. For more on the film, go to www.foxsearchlight.com and click on “The Secret Life of Bees.”


Forest Whitaker Takes On Louis Armstrong

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(October 09, 2008) *Variety is reporting that Forest Whitaker is on board to direct and star in a biopic of jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong that is named after his signature tune, "What a Wonderful World." The first big screen project to be authorized by the Armstrong estate, "World" will follow the musician’s impoverished early years in New Orleans and primarily chronicle his career as a trumpet virtuoso and improvisational singer.  "Armstrong left a monumental mark on our lives and our culture," said Whitaker, who portrayed jazz great Charlie Parker in "Bird." "He lived an amazing life and, through his art, shifted the way music was played and would be heard after him, not just here in the U.S. but all over the world."  Oscar Cohen, executive of the Armstrong estate and the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, began working for the musician in the late ’40s as his road manager. He'll serve as an executive producer on the project and has granted the filmmakers exclusive access to his personal accounts as well as to letters and other material in the Armstrong archives.  "What a Wonderful World" will begin shooting in the summer in Louisiana. Whitaker's directing credits include "Waiting to Exhale," "Hope Floats" and "First Daughter." He won an Oscar in 2006 for his role as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."

Djimon Hounsou Storms Into 'Tempest'

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(October 09, 2008) *Djimon Hounsou is among the ensemble cast gathered by director Julie Taymor for her upcoming film adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." According to the Hollywood Reporter, Taymor's gender-bending twist on the story has Helen Mirren starring as the male character Prospera. Shakespeare's play mixes romance with fraternal politics and the supernatural. Taymor's revision will center on Prospera, her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) and a shipwrecked crew full of Prospera's enemies. Hounsou will play the deformed slave Caliban, while Ben Wishaw stars as the airy spirit Ariel. Recent MTV Video Music Awards host Russell Brand will suit up as jester Trinculo, Jeremy Irons takes on Alonso, the King of Naples; and Alfred Molina has been cast as the drunken butler Stephano. Geoffrey Rush is in talks to play Gonzalo, a royal adviser and old ally of Prospera's.  The film is eyeing a November start date in Hawaii.  Hounsou won best supporting actor nominations for "Blood Diamond" and "In America."

DreamWorks Joins Universal To Distribute Movies

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(October 13, 2008) LOS ANGELES – A person close to the deal says Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio has signed on with Universal Pictures to distribute its films. Universal will distribute up to six DreamWorks movies a year domestically and overseas, except for India, said the person, who was not authorized to speak on the record and requested anonymity. The deal has been anticipated as DreamWorks prepares to break off from Paramount, which has owned the studio since 2006. There has been ongoing friction over the costs of keeping Spielberg and his outfit there. DreamWorks has lined up $1.5 billion through Reliance Entertainment of India to finance its future film slate.

Actor Guillaume Depardieu Dead At 37

Source: www.thestar.com – Associated Press

(October 13, 2008) PARIS–
Guillaume Depardieu, the often-troubled son of renowned French film star Gerard Depardieu who gained praise for his own career as an actor, died Monday, hospital officials said. He was 37. Guillaume Depardieu died at Raymond-Poincare hospital in Garches, west of Paris, from complications related to a sudden case of pneumonia, the Paris area hospitals authority said. He had been rushed to the hospital late Sunday. Family lawyer Jean-Yves Lienard said the actor flew to France on Sunday from Romania, where he contracted a pulmonary illness while filming. Guillaume Depardieu won the prize in 1996 as the most promising young actor at the Cesar awards – France's equivalent of the Academy Awards – for his role in the film "Les Apprentis" (The Apprentices). "I loved him infinitely. He was a wonderful guy, an immense actor," said Alain Corneau, who directed both father and son in the 1991 movie "Tous les Matins du Monde" (All the Mornings of the World), on French radio RTL. The film marked the start of the younger Depardieu's professional acting career. As a teenager and young adult, Guillaume Depardieu faced problems with drugs, alcohol and violence that led to convictions for traffic violations, insults and narcotics. He had a public falling-out with his father in 2003. That year, Guillaume Depardieu had his right leg amputated to end years of pain from a bacterial infection that followed a motorcycle accident in 1996. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

Cheadle Replaces Howard In 'Iron Man 2'

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(October 15, 2008) *As previously reported, Don Cheadle will take over the role of Jim Rhodes in "Iron Man 2" after negotiations with original actor, Terrence Howard, stalled over financial differences and other reasons, claimed the Hollywood Reporter. In the first film, Howard played the role of Iron Man's best friend, who in the future goes on to become armor-clad hero War Machine.   Marvel is expected to expand the Rhodes role in the May 7, 2010 sequel, which will feature Robert Downey Jr. returning in the title role of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man and Jon Favreau back in the director's chair.  Gwyneth Paltrow also is expected to return as Stark's assistant, Pepper Potts.  Meanwhile, Cheadle is shooting Antoine Fuqua's "Brooklyn's Finest" with Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke. He most recently starred in "Traitor," a thriller on which he was also a producer. He will next be seen in DreamWorks' "Hotel for Dogs."


Wonky Domestic Sitcom TV At Its Best

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

(October 13, 2008) It is some small comfort, as we begin the big adieu tonight for the final season of the much-admired Corner Gas (CTV at 9:30), that just one hour later on Citytv, we are introduced to another mid-country comedy that could well be its successor, Less Than Kind.

And, in a further vote of confidence, the show has already been picked up for a second season even before the first of these initial 13 hits the air.

Another innately homegrown sitcom with a similarly dry, if considerably darker, sardonic sensibility, Less Than Kind is as much rooted in suburban Winnipeg as Corner Gas was in rural Dog River.

Again, the comedy is character-driven, in this case by the only somewhat less overtly eccentric members of the Blecher family, focusing on the younger son, Sheldon, embodied – and then some – by plus-sized 17-year-old Jesse Camacho, who often almost eerily evokes a young John Candy.

Except in his scenes with Blecher patriarch Maury Chaykin, an endearingly shady driving instructor. Together onscreen, they could not be any closer than acorn to tree.

The family is filled out by manic mom Wendel Meldrum – whom Seinfeld completists will remember fondly as the soft-talking puffy shirt lady – and demonic older brother Benjamin Arthur, a ringer for comic Dane Cook – that is, if Dane Cook were even remotely funny.

But it is Camacho and Chaykin, together, separately and in combination with the others, who make this wonky domestic sitcom work.

It is up to producer/executive story editor Mark McKinney to ensure it stays that way.

From the Kids in the Hall to Saturday Night Live to Slings & Arrows to Studio 60, McKinney has become a power to be reckoned with both in front of and behind the camera.

Now Less Than Kind's show runner, he reveals that rotund young Montrealer Camacho nailed the role as soon as he walked in the door.

"He's good," raves McKinney. "He's really, really good. The casting gods really smiled down on us with this one.

"We knew that casting a kid who could do comedy and play the drama was going to be a needle-in-the-haystack proposition. We were prepared to go cross-country, you know, coast to coast and turn over everything. He was virtually the first one we saw. We kept looking because we couldn't believe we had lucked out like that, right from the jump. It was his from the get-go."

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS: Hmmm. I know I've forgotten something. I'm sure I had another item to run here ...

Oh, right. Now I remember. An entire 90-minute chunk of Monday's prime-time schedule is about to become "The Night That TV Forgot."

It's all amnesia, all the time, with the triumphant (in more ways than one) second-season return of the Christina Applegate sitcom Samantha Who?, on ABC and A, followed at 10 by the series debut of the Christian Slater spy thriller, My Own Worst Enemy, on NBC and Global.

Two series about very nice, normal people who have completely forgotten they're really callous, cold-hearted jerks. Well, not completely – indeed, one of the central plotlines both series share is the lead characters' growing horror as they start to remember how unapologetically and unforgivably horrible they used to be.

Only 15 episodes in, thanks to the strike-shortened season, Applegate's amnesiac Samantha has at least had some time to settle into the notion that before her car-accident coma, her previously spoiled and selfish self made Paris Hilton look like Mother Teresa.

As a constant reminder, however, she has the formidable Jean Smart as her boozy socialite mom – and her dance partner in tonight's return episode, facing off against archrival Cybill Shepherd.

Between Married ... With Children and her own show, Jesse, Applegate has logged almost as much sitcom airtime as these two veterans combined. Her comic chops make even the flashbacks to her old party-girl persona somehow sympathetic. Fans old and new will be delighted to see her back, particularly after her interim diagnosis and recovery from breast cancer.

Where it is Applegate who sells the unlikely premise on Samantha Who?, movie actor Slater comes very close to sabotaging his in his first series lead – he's his own worst enemy, as it were, in My Own Worst Enemy.

Don't get me wrong. Christian Slater has always been extremely good at playing Christian Slater, much as others have accused him of going for Junior Jack Nicholson, he has managed over the years to make that familiar nasal, sing-song snarl just as much his own.

Where he runs into trouble here is playing two Slaters: the average-guy suburban dad and the secret subliminal super spy he has been altered to unknowingly internalize until his services are once again required to save civilization.

It's the kind of duality Michael C. Hall could play in his sleep on Dexter. Here, it's hard enough to tell who is who before, halfway into tonight's premiere, the suburban Slater starts to remember enough about the spy-guy Slater to attempt to be him ... that is, the other him ... or ... I forget. Where was I?

The series otherwise careens – not un-entertainingly – between the updated British thriller Jekyll and a mash-up of two classic Arnold Schwarzenegger flicks, Total Recall and True Lies.

You couldn't tell the difference between Arnolds either.


Dennehy Defends Director Tarver

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

(October 10, 2008) If you're looking for someone to keep the barbarians from the gates on the Canadian cultural scene, then you couldn't find anyone better than Brian Dennehy.

The award-winning American actor, who dazzled Stratford with his amazing performances, has risen up like an outraged lion to defend the reputation of the Canadian director, Jennifer Tarver, who guided him through the hit production of Krapp's Last Tape last summer.

"Let's make one thing clear," Dennehy said on the phone from Connecticut and clearly loaded for bear, "Jennifer made that production as good as it was. She made me tell the truth, which was why it was so tiring. You know how hard it is to tell the truth for 50 minutes?"

This tempest in an existential teapot all came to light after an online article on playbill.com yesterday said that Dennehy, currently in previews for Hughie (which played in tandem with the Beckett play at Stratford last summer) at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, had decided against including Krapp's Last Tape, on the same bill because "he did not feel the production would be ready for public presentation."

Actually, Dennehy said no such thing – Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf's artistic director, said it and he did so long before Dennehy and Tarver had ever started working together.

Tarver was named as replacement stager for Krapp's Last Tape by Des McAnuff after Don Shipley stepped down from the job – but from the start, the relationship between Tarver and Dennehy was charmed.

"She's a fantastic director and I won't do this show anywhere without her," Dennehy insisted.

"And make it clear, I intend to do this show in New York, in London and around the world.

"Even after I die, you can dig me up and send me on the road. That's how much I believe in this production and Jennifer Tarver."

Memories Of Music

Source: www.thestar.comRichard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(October 11, 2008) NEW YORK–Yes, the hills are alive with the sound of music, but everybody has a slightly different memory of just how that glorious melody came to fill the air.

This Wednesday night, at the Princess of Wales Theatre, the North American premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian's new production of
The Sound of Music will be presented by David Mirvish, and it promises to be one of the major theatre events of the year.

The London version of this same production, which opened in 2007, has been a giant hit, which is not surprising for a show that has proved to be internationally the biggest title for Rodgers and Hammerstein productions.

The 1965 film version is also one of the most popular movies of all time and ever since the stage version made its debut in 1959, it's been playing every night somewhere in the world.

But how did it all start? And what made this particular show so durable and endearing?

The original four creators – Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse – are long since gone, but three bright and opinionated women who were there at the time of the show's creation still carry the flame – each in her own particular way.

Two of them – Mary Rodgers Guettel and Alice Hammerstein Mathias, daughters of the songwriters – have gathered for lunch with Bert Fink, the executive vice-president of R&H productions, at the elegant Guettel home overlooking Manhattan's Central Park. Anna Crouse – the widow of one of the librettists – checks in by phone (she's temporarily sidelined by a hip injury).

Mary brings a unique perspective to her examination of the period, because in 1959, for the only time in history, a father and daughter were competing for the Best Musical Tony Award, with her Once Upon a Mattress ultimately losing out to her father's The Sound of Music.

"You know," she says, surprised at the memory, "I don't think we ever discussed the competition. I guess we were too busy at the time to worry about that."

Then she casts a sympathetic look across the table at Alice. "And by then, Ockie was very sick."

Ockie – Oscar Hammerstein II's nickname – had not been feeling well during 1959. Surgery that summer for stomach ulcers was actually for a cancerous tumour, which proved to be inoperable.

"Though they hid the truth from Oscar," wrote Rodgers in his 1975 biography, Musical Stages, "the doctors told his family – and Dorothy and me – that he had cancer."

Actually, the cone of silence was smaller than that, and the truth finally surfaces nearly 50 years later over a polite, sunlit lunch.

"Your mother and father heard about his being ill before we did," says Alice pointedly to Mary.

"Really?" replies Mary, in genuine surprise.

"And it made us angry," says Alice, laying her cards on the table.

There's a long, uncomfortable pause.

Mary tries to redeem the moment with her unique mixture of empathy and wit.

"`I honestly didn't know that,' said Mary with her mouth open.

And in that instant of reconciliation, the difference between the two women becomes clear. To Mary, the period of The Sound of Music is associated with her own greatest hit, Once Upon a Mattress.

Yet to Alice, it represented the loss of a father she loved dearly, but one who she didn't know was leaving until it was almost too late.

"I remember going to a preview performance in New York," says Alice softly, "and he couldn't be there because he was too sick.

"When they sang that song `An Ordinary Couple,' I couldn't stop the tears from flowing down my face. I had friends with me and I couldn't tell them why."

How did the show ever come to happen? That's where Anna Crouse is so useful, not only for her own razor-sharp memory, but also because her husband, Russel, kept impeccable diaries.

"Producer Leland Hayward approached Russel and Howard with three ideas: a musical of Gone With the Wind, a musical based on Gypsy Lee's autobiography and a musical based on the Trapp Family Singers.

"To this day, I think they chose the right one."

At first, the show was going to be a straight play with authentic Austrian folk songs worked in, but Anna recalls Russel feeling "that we needed something a little more Broadway to spice it up."

So they took their idea to Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were so taken with it that Rodgers insisted, "We won't write one song, we'll write them all."

Lindsay and Crouse agreed, the only problem being that R&H were involved with their current show, Flower Drum Song. Everyone, including Broadway supernova Mary Martin, who was committed to playing Maria von Trapp, agreed to wait.

Flower Drum Song opened Dec. 1, 1958, and The Sound of Music followed on Broadway Nov. 19, 1959. That's an amazingly short period of time in which to create one of the major hits of the musical theatre, and even the daughters of the men who wrote the score marvel at it.

"I don't know if father was aware he was racing against time," wonders Alice, "or if this was just something he felt he had to say." Hammerstein passed away Aug. 23, 1960.

"The songs were so good," recalls Mary.

"When I heard them, coming after those shows of theirs that didn't make it, like Me and Juliet and Pipe Dream," says Alice, "I remember thinking `Oh, thank God, they've got a hit!'"

But why does this sentimental show, never a favourite of critics, hit the right chords with audiences every time? Mary shakes her head sagely. "That was what our fathers did so well. To take romances and make them into something that you so desperately wanted to have come true."

"We were watching a run-through in Toronto the other week," volunteers Fink, "and we got to the scene where the Baron finally reconnects with his children. I heard this loud sniffling sound, and I turned around to realize it was David Mirvish, weeping openly."

"A lot of people are just touched by it," says Alice simply. "The fact that it was set during the Anschluss (the Nazi annexation of Austria) adds another even more powerful dimension to it."

Her eyes seem very far away. "My father sent me to Austria in the 1930s to go to boarding school. And everyone gave us these little spidery pins to wear. We did. They were swastikas. At the time, we had no idea what they meant.

"And they would tell us all to say `Heil, Hitler!' when we met each other on the street. And we did it, but we never knew why. Oh God, we never knew."

"When the Nazis took over," explains Fink, "the von Trapps took a while to reach the breaking point. One of their sons declined the opportunity to be a Nazi doctor, Baron von Trapp turned down a military commission.

"But when they refused to sing at Hitler's 50th birthday celebration, their friends suggested they leave the country as soon as possible."

And that was the true beginning of a show that still has power over us nearly 50 years after its creation.

Cirque Director Going Big In Japan

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

(October 15, 2008) TOKYO–"It would take a lifetime to understand Japan," says François Girard, "but I certainly have a love and fascination for Japanese culture and great respect for the Japanese people."

The renowned Quebec director of movies like The Red Violin and Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould is sitting in the lounge of his hotel earlier this month, a few hours before the opening of his current venture, the latest show from
Cirque du Soleil, called Zed.

Too wound up with excitement to eat, he smokes incessantly, sips at some mineral water and thinks about the all-important premiere a few hours ahead.

Three years of work and millions of dollars have gone into the creation of this piece, but besides the normal risks that go along with any production, this one has to be special.

"It's the first show Cirque has ever created in Japan, for Japan," explains Girard, "and as a mutual point of honour, both the management of Cirque and the people of Tokyo want it to be extraordinary."

Girard smiles nervously. "Wait until you see the show tonight with the Japanese public. They are such a brilliant audience. They are attentive, generous, focused, very sophisticated.

"You know, I feel that the director always has to sit in the theatre and pretend that he is the audience. Trying to look at my own work through Japanese eyes was a privilege and a pleasure."

Zed would prove to be a triumph, but how did this complex, multinational, multicultural project begin? Like most things do, with a phone call.

"Gilles St-Croix (Cirque's vice-president of creation) called me," recalls Girard, "and said `Would you like to direct one of our shows?' I was instantly excited because I love theatre and this would be a great opportunity to play on a big scale with such a prestigious company.

"Then I became doubly excited, because they told me the show was going to be in Tokyo."

It was a total coincidence, because the Cirque management didn't know at the time that Girard was deeply immersed in the study of Japan preparing for his movie Silk, which starred Keira Knightley and opened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

"I was filled with Japan, its sights, its sounds, its culture, its people, and when this offer came it seemed so right, so destined to be that I did not hesitate a moment before accepting it."

Once Girard was signed to do the show, "I went to see all the Cirque shows that I could around the world. It is such a brilliant world that they have created and I wanted to remind myself of what they had done and think about what I could bring to the equation."

But when it came time to put together what they call "the acrobatic skeleton" of the show, Girard discovered that he had to make major changes to his own style of creation.

"I am a storyteller," he shrugs. "That's what I normally do in all my work. I had to pull away from that here because Cirque is not a narrative medium. I had to learn to be fluid, to turn more towards the world of characters."

And in searching for that world, Girard came upon the Tarot, using the figures from its deck of cards to people his imaginary world.

"Of course, we picked the Fool as the lead character," he smiles. "He is either the first or the last card, so we went with the last and called him Zed.

"We all liked that so much we made it a working title and it just grew on us, so we never changed it."

Despite the tremendous amount of time involved and the pressure of a multi-million-dollar budget, Girard praises the Cirque management "for the gift of freedom they gave me."

"The only condition I was given from the start was that it should be primarily an acrobatic show, so I have been working on making those magical artists shine."

When asked how one moved from film to opera to the world of Cirque, Girard shook his head.

"In many ways it is all the same. I have to make possible the dialogue between the audience and the performers and I am at the service of both.

``It doesn't matter if it's an actor, an acrobat or a heldentenor.

"This is not about François Girard here. This is about making theatre come to life. I'm interested in creating possibilities. I go from piece to piece, happy to discover, happy to learn."


Q: Which Game Is Fun, But Also Annoying?

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

Buzz! Quiz TV

Platform: Playstation 3
Price: $59.99
Rated T

(October 11, 2008) It might seem strange, as the season of much-awaited mega-titles comes upon us, for me to get so excited about – and devote precious column space to – a trivia game. But a decent, or even half-decent, trivia game is a rarer bird than any shooter or role-playing game, and the arrival of
Buzz! Quiz TV in my household was a happy day.

See, I'm in what you might call a "mixed marriage" – my wife's basically a non-gamer. This is kind of a lonely situation for both of us, so any games we can enjoy together are welcome.

The biggest hit so far has been Big Brain Academy on Wii (something about the "you can do better!" exhortations of that little professor mascot really get under her skin). Rapid-fire brain teasers are one thing, but a real test of knowledge is another.

Our appetites whetted, we were seriously in the market for a quiz game.

Buzz! has a toylike appeal before you even put the disc in, coming bundled with four quiz controllers that take you back to the heyday of the '80s electronic games fad: wireless black handsets with a big, friendly red "Push Me" button mounted above four color-coded answer buttons. Not the slickest of designs, but they enhance the game-show experience and make four-player games possible right out of the box – because, really, who has four Sixaxis controllers lying around?

The quiz questions themselves range through the usual categories, with the pop-culture prejudice that is the spirit of our times: anything that's not sports, movies, music or lifestyle gets lumped into the "Brainiac" category. (The questions there will be blindingly easy for anyone with a basic knowledge of the world and how it works.) Still, shuffled together and player-selected by subcategory, the 5,000 or so built-in questions make for interesting, eclectic quizzes.

One of the most interesting features of Buzz! is the ability to go online and create and share your own quizzes. This quickly becomes an addiction, playing random sets of user-generated quizzes just to see what kind of crazy stuff comes up next.

Sure, you can search for specifics, but for pure fun randomness rules: A typical category-choice menu might offer "Classic Cartoon Themes — Hard," "The Undertaker," "Old Hippies" and "ASDFSDF." The quality of the user-created content is remarkably good – even "ASDFSDF" had its weird charm – and quizzes are rated by player feedback.

The major downside to Buzz! Quiz TV is its aesthetics. The game-show metaphor is kind of fun at first, at least while the Australian-accented patter of digital hostmuppet Buzz is still fresh.

But after the hundredth repetition – Buzz says the exact same things at the exact same times on every playthrough – it goes beyond stale and into some kind of strange ritual territory, a Rocky Horror sort of thing where you're all speaking robotically along with his lines.

Add to that the grotesque and frankly insulting avatar choices – ladies, enjoy choosing between Airhead Cheerleader, Fur-bikini Cavewoman, Slutty Assassin, Slutty Popstar, Another Slutty Popstar and Vampirella – and you've got an ugly, grating audiovisual package.

But once we got past the ugliness and the yammering – trust me, it fades out of consciousness like traffic noise – we were hooked, spending hours switching back and forth between grudge matches with the standard library and strange tours into the minds of quiz creators worldwide. Now, if only we could download some new material for the host.

Star Wars Rumours Have The Ring Of Truth

Source:  www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman,
Special To The Star

(October 11, 2008) A new Star Wars online-only role-playing game (RPG), by LucasArts and BioWare, an Edmonton-based studio responsible for hit games such as 2003's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, has been rumoured for as long as Darth Vader has needed Ventolin.

Well, the Star has received a cryptic invitation via FedEx to an Oct. 21 event in San Francisco. The four large words on the front of the invite read: "The wait is over," with an illustration that appears to be the inside of a spaceship, with an ominous-looking robed character standing in the doorway. On the back it says, "LucasArts and BioWare invite you to attend the official unveiling of the game that's been rumoured about for years."

For nearly a year, gamers have been buzzing online about a massive-multiplayer, role-playing sequel to Knights of the Old Republic. When the Star asked the founders of BioWare, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, about the project, they'd just smile or say something vague like, "maybe one day."

Last fall, gaming giants Electronic Arts acquired BioWare, and this past July, EA's CEO John Riccitiello casually revealed that, yes, such a game was in the works (though other executives and designers still refuse to confirm to this day).

Not sure I'll make the event, but I'll provide you with all the juicy details nonetheless.

Rock Band 2 cheat codes

Xbox 360 owners jamming to MTV Games' Rock Band 2 need not struggle through the lengthy career mode to unlock all the goodies the game has to offer – including the 80-odd songs.

At the main menu, select the "Extras" option, choose "Modify Game" and then input the following codes. Note: enabling a code will prevent the game from being saved.

Unlock all songs: Red, Yellow, Blue, Red (2), Blue (2), Red, Yellow, Blue.

Unlock all venues: Blue, Orange (2), Blue, Yellow, Blue, Orange (2), Blue, Yellow.

New venues: Red, Red, Red, Red, Yellow, Yellow, Yellow, Yellow.

Awesome Detection: Yellow, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Orange.

Stage mode: Blue, Yellow, Red, Blue, Yellow, Red, Blue, Yellow, Red.

Play game with no track: Blue, Blue, Red, Red, Yellow, Yellow, Blue, Blue.

Free monkeys available

Thanks to our growing reliance on disposable products – we have single-use barbeques for heaven's sakes – landfills are overflowing across the globe, so one day humans decide to hurl it all into space.

Seemed like a good idea at the time, but we soon realized the error of our ways and did the next logical thing: send a monkey into orbit to clean it all up.

You with me so far?

This is the silly premise behind Glu Mobile's Space Monkey, a cute iPhone/iPod touch game in which you control a brave chimp by using your fingertip and built-in accelerometre to spin the primate around and grab floating space junk with his hands or feet, while also dealing with celestial obstacles and enemies.

Previously, the game was $10 at the iTunes App Store (itunes.ca), but it is free to download and play for a limited time.


Christopher Plummer: Scenes From A Life

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Marc Saltzman,
Special To The Star

(October 10, 2008) Christopher Plummer's Quebec boyhood included genteel family get-togethers, pretty debutantes and repeat appearances by at least one inebriated visitor.

Teatime, daily at 5, was a splendid affair – the women bustling, the food plentiful. Hot buttered crumpets by the fire, scones, tomato and cucumber sandwiches, two cakes, one with icing, one without, and always gingerbread.

… There was always a scattering of flappers about and numerous lounge lizards doing very little of anything and, of course the usual “piranha fish” and attendant eccentrics. One such was a very posh-looking colonel, who paid the occasional abortive visit to my grandmother's house – I don't know quite why as he never uttered. One day, he arrived in immaculate blazer and white flannels; he was only in his late 40s but already boasted a “companion,” who took him by the hand and literally pulled him toward the house where we were all waiting to greet him. It took almost five minutes to get him from the car to the front door (a distance of several feet only) as my grandmother advanced and held out her hand for him to shake. The colonel extended his very slowly and then suddenly with a great deal of warmth and vigour shook the doorknob instead! An explosion erupted inside me and got strangled somewhere in my throat as my grandmother wheeled on me and hissed – “Behave yourself at once! Don't you realize that Uncle Fred is blind?!”

“Blind? Blind drunk, you mean!” I thought as a waft of dragon breath from Uncle Fred hit my mother and me at one and the same time, which sent us reeling into the next room, where, collapsing on separate sofas, we buried our faces in the cushions to silence our uncontrollable hysteria!

Several years later I had a mad crush on Uncle Fred's 18-year-old daughter. It happened at her “coming out” dance. The average age that evening was from 16 to 19. Suddenly the doors were flung open and Uncle Fred, this time in white tie and tails, was being pulled in by yet another “companion” who led him to the centre of the dance floor, where she promptly deserted him. Very red in the face, he rocked back and forth on his pins and gazed lustfully at the fair young maidens around him with a leer that would have made Humbert Humbert look like a choirboy, and then, without warning, plunged forward onto the dance floor flat on his face! That was the last I ever saw of Uncle Fred. To this day, I don't believe he ever got up! A t a run-through of Tennessee Williams's Sweet Bird of Youth , Geraldine Page wows Helen Hayes, Lillian Hellman and Ruth Gordon – but not the playwright himself.

After we had opened [Archibald MacLeish's play] J.B., [Elia] Kazan began rehearsals for Tennessee Williams's new play Sweet Bird of Youth. Just before their out-of-town opening they held their last full run-through without costumes at the New Amsterdam Roof. Gadge [Kazan's nickname] invited our entire cast. Also in attendance that afternoon were most of theatre's top brass – the usual suspects – Josh Logan, Helen Hayes, the Lunts, Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Lillian Hellman, Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin, etc., etc. Not a large group but mighty potent. Gadge got up and announced that they would have to wait to begin because Tennessee had not yet arrived. “Tennessee, as you know, has his own rhythm,” he quipped, not without edge.

Finally it began. The exceptional cast included Paul Newman, Rip Torn, Sidney Blackmer, my Montreal friend Madeleine Sherwood and, of course, Geraldine Page in the leading role of Princess. They were each in his or her own right first class, but that afternoon belonged to Geraldine, for before our lucky eyes we were watching her, for the first time, discover her own performance. Gerry was flying! God knows Tennessee was a marvellous writer and there was fine writing in this, but Gerry lifted the whole thing to another level – she was transcendent! When it was over you could hear a pin drop – we were not just transfixed; we had been seduced.

Gradually we pulled ourselves together and began to shuffle out. No one spoke. Just then from the balcony in that rasping voice of his, Tennessee started shouting. I couldn't quite make out his gist but it seemed to convey that we had all just witnessed the total destruction of Sweet Bird of Youth, and it was all Gerry's fault. Gerry was the sole culprit. “She's ruined mah play! She's ruined mah play,” he kept yelling. He must be drunk, I thought, or ill. No one seemed to take much notice, or pretended not to, and as Gadge passed me in the aisle I tugged at his sleeve.

“What's the matter with Tennessee?” I asked. “My God! It's been such a glorious afternoon.”

“Oh, don't worry,” Gadge replied, “she's just taken his play away from him. It's hers now – it doesn't belong to him any more and he knows it.”

In the early 1960s, Plummer finesses his own British invasion, thanks to Peter O'Toole's Saharan immersion.

I shall always be grateful to Peter O'Toole for ditching the Royal Shakespeare Company in favour of a camel on the Sahara Desert. He was to have played King Henry that year, but now, bless his heart, he was playing Lawrence [of Arabia] and so Henry was mine! The London premiere of Becket at the Aldwych in the Strand proved the success of the season and my Henry is probably one of the best things I've ever done. With the help of Eric Porter, who splendidly partnered me as Becket, Peter Hall's free and sweeping production and a cast that represented the very finest in British acting, my modest invasion of the Sceptred Isle was at last justified. I won London's Evening Standard Award for Best Actor of the Year. (“Big Van” [Vanessa Redgrave] won best actress.) I was in damn good company!

… I loved Becket. It is still one of my favourite plays. Fictitious in most respects, it remains, however, a witty and passionate story of an extraordinary relationship between two demigods who, in their separate ways, ruled a great part of the medieval world. As many scenes take place on horseback, the use of hobbyhorses fully caparisoned, controlled by ourselves the actors wearing built-up boot-like hooves hidden under our robes, was an inspired piece of imagination and served to give the evening much added theatricality and panache. In the film, made some years later in which O'Toole marvellously reclaimed his role of Henry, it was, of course, necessary to use real horses so that much of the story's originality and style went by the wayside.

… All sorts of celebrated people came backstage to compliment me: the Oliviers, the Nivens, Ralph Richardson, even Donald Wolfit, who had finally got himself a ticket. I now felt most welcome in England. One night a rather posh group had assembled in my dressing room when suddenly O'Toole himself burst in. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “I thought you were in the desert.”

“I have a week off from the bloody camels. They made me ride the buggers bareback.” As he said this, he proceeded in front of the speechless, po-faced group, to pull down his pants and show us his ass. It was absolutely raw and riddled with welts. “Look at this,” he screamed. “It's all your fault, you colonial prick. You're playing my part and this is the thanks I get!” The horrified little posse quickly dispersed and Peter and I went to the nearest pub and got pie-eyed.

In the late 1950s, Plummer enjoyed hanging out – and rearranging furniture – with buddies Jason Robards, Jason Robards Sr. (“an old naval salt,” as Plummer remembers him, who got dubbed “the Admiral”) and Max Helpmann.

Running out of things to do in the brief spare time there was, our dreaded little quartet (the Admiral, the Commander, the Captain and me – the ship's doctor) had arrived at a dead impasse. We needed new inspiration; we craved new blood. We found both in a young man called Peter Hale who was playing small parts that season and doubling as an assistant stage manager. We at once detected great promise in the youth. He had a completely natural and unaffected penchant for deviltry, a real down 'n' dirty glint in his eye and a talent for improvising wickedness that was prodigious in the extreme. Because he was ASM on The Winter's Tale we christened him “Winters Hale.” Winters boasted a large two-wheel motorbike which could fit three, so two of the “fraternity” would take turns and jump on behind Winters as he madly drove that devil bike through the black night in search of trouble.

The latest sport we had invented was to visit our actor friends in their rental houses or flats, complain bitterly about the quality of their furniture (“How can you expect decent men to drink amongst all this Swedish G Plan?”) and proceed to throw every chair and table out the window. This would occasion a kind of desperate and hysterical laughter from our hosts, especially when after the last piece had disappeared we followed suit and threw ourselves out. Needless to say, the Admiral did not participate in the acrobatics, he just observed, drink in hand, an expression of total satisfaction painted all over his face.

As we got more confident, these feats became all the more daring, especially when the windows were four storeys high. One of us always had to gather up the poor unfortunate who had landed on his back in a small tree or bush. We got to be quite expert, however, and Winters was clearly the most nimble for he executed it all with the dexterity of a stuntman and his timing was superb. After a while, he didn't even bother with the furniture gag any more. The moment he entered a room he simply threw himself out the window. We gave him a new nickname, “Windows Hale.”

Excerpted from In Spite of Myself: A Memoir , © 2008 by Christopher Plummer. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved. The book will be in stores Tuesday.

Savannah Knoop Fooled The World Into Thinking She Was A Man

Source:  www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner,
Publishing Reporter

(October 13, 2008) Savannah Knoop wasn't an author prior to publishing Girl Boy Girl, but she often played one in media interviews.

If Knoop's name doesn't ring a bell, the subtitle of her memoir,
How I Became JT Leroy, might help.

JT Leroy was the pen name for Laura Albert, Knoop's then sister-in-law. Albert authored a handful of books under the pseudonym, beginning in 1999 with Sarah, the supposedly autobiographical story of a 12-year-old boy and his prostitute mother, and a 2001 follow-up, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, a collection of stories describing the narrator's abusive past.

Whenever JT Leroy was required to appear in public, Knoop would disguise herself to play the part. Sometimes this went beyond interviews to include encounters with JT Leroy's celebrity fans, including Gus Van Sant, Winona Ryder and Carrie Fisher.

The ruse, which began in 1999 when Knoop was 18, ended in 2006, when the hoax was exposed in the New York Times. Before then, Knoop had made numerous public appearances as JT Leroy, including at the 2004 Cannes and Toronto film festivals for screenings of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, a film adaptation directed by and starring Asia Argento.

Knoop, a San Francisco fashion designer with her own brand, Tinc, returns to Toronto as herself to promote Girl Boy Girl Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, in conjunction with This is Not a Reading Series. She called in from a tour stop in New York.

Q: Do you regret being persuaded by Laura to become JT?

A: I don't think that I regret that it happened. But if I had the chance to do it again, I definitely wouldn't do it again in the same terms. It would be with full disclosure, which wouldn't be the same thing at all.

Q: You've said it wasn't intended as a hoax. It's hard, even from your book, to know what the intention was.

A: It's really convoluted. There wasn't one intention. Maybe that's the frustration in trying to put a cap in on it. Laura had a whole run of reasons. And I did too.

Q: Would you have stopped it sooner if you were the only person involved?

A: That's hard to say. There are times, as I say in the book, when I wished I could tell Asia or somebody I had come close to as a friend. To just drop the pretence. But I was attracted to the part about gender exploration. I might have come to that on my own, but it wouldn't have been in the same way.

Q: What was the motivation for writing the book?

A: If I hadn't written it, it would still be this thing that happened. It was actually really important to come to closure with it.

Q: What is your relationship today with Laura?

A: We haven't spoken for a few months, but I know she did read the book.

Q: She was quoted as saying, ``Just because you play a writer doesn't mean you are one.''

A: Well, I had never written a book, so you have to start somewhere. Even as a child, I wanted to be a writer. I've been thinking about doing short stories. I don't want to rehash the JT thing any more than this.


Adiga Wins Man Booker Prize For 'The White Tiger'

www.globeandmail.com - The Associated Press

(October 15, 2008) LONDON — Aravind Adiga won the prestigious Man Booker prize Tuesday for his first novel, The White Tiger. Adiga won the £50,000 pound ($100,000 Canadian) prize for a novel about a protagonist who will use any means necessary to fulfill his dream of escaping impoverished village life for success in the big city. At 34, Adiga was the youngest of the finalists for the literary prize. The chairman of the judges, Michael Portillo, said the book was an impressive work.  “The novel is in many ways perfect. It is quite difficult to find any structural flaws with it,” he said. Some have accused Adiga, who lives in Mumbai, of painting a negative picture of modern India and its huge underclass but Adiga said he wanted to write about all aspects of Indian society. “In India, if you really want to get out and do a book you have to make a conscious effort to connect to people in every conceivable way, “ he told the British Broadcasting Corp. after winning the prize. Adiga, the fourth Indian-born author to win the prize, joins compatriots Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai. A fifth winner, VS Naipaul is of Indian ancestry. The other authors short-listed for the prize were Steve Toltz, Sebastian Barry, Amitav Ghosh, Linda Grant, and Philip Hensher. Online booksellers Amazon.co.uk said the six book titles enjoyed average sales increases of 700 per cent after the short list for the annual prize was announced last month.


Guest Choreographer Makes Canada's Dancers Dazzle

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

(October 12, 2008) "Nico, we won't be using the real machetes on this take, okay?"

The boyish but commanding voice of choreographer Paul Becker rings out in the cavernous Showline Studios where the company of
So You Think You Can Dance Canada is rehearsing the number that opened the show on Thursday night.

Machetes? What's going on? Hey, Dorothy, aren't we in the land of hip hop and pop here?

So You Think You Can Dance, the flavour du jour in the world of competition reality shows, began on Fox TV in 2005 and has proved incredibly successful, holding on to its crown in the dog-eat-singing-and-dancing-dog universe of programs like this.

And just like American Idol begat Canadian Idol, we now have So You Think You Can Dance Canada, which has been grabbing an incredible amount of focus since it started auditions last spring and went on the air in September.

The show's executive producer, Sandra Faire, told Canada NewsWire earlier this month that she predicted that the show would really take off once "some of the best dancers I have ever seen" came into contact with her hand-picked bunch of Canadian musical stagers whom she called "some of the best choreographers in the world" and that "viewers will be blown away by their performances."

That's why Becker and his unique vision are a vital part of the mix that Faire hopes will take her latest hit higher and higher.

The giant set for the show – a mixture of sharply angled shiny surfaces and glittering lights that seems like the Starship Enterprise has collided with the Odyssey 2001 disco from Saturday Night Fever – is filled with a hard-working bunch of Canadian dancers who are attacking each other with the fervour of Brazilian martial arts experts.

As they sweat, slip, slide and fall in their sweatpants and tights, bashing at each other with pieces of bamboo, it's hard to imagine the final result. To be honest, it still looks like moderately organized chaos and the clock says there's only 40 minutes more to rehearse.

But look down on the studio floor and there's Becker, cooler than any cucumber. He's got an inner clock ticking that keeps him always moving forward, but the voice never gets tense, the tone never takes on that bitchy air so many choreographers adopt in stressful moments.

"Don't be late on that dive, guys," he warns one group, while gently chastising another bunch with the sad news that "your jump over is really kind of wimpy."

In his habitual outfit of floppy shirt worn with a T-shirt underneath, the Victoria-born 29-year-old, who could pass for Zac Efron's older brother, radiates calm and precision.

"Give me a four-count scream, then left, right, left and jump ... go!" The dancers give it their best and each time it gets tighter and tighter.

The clock hits the hour and the dancers are off for a meal break, followed by hair and makeup. When they return, the full picture will start to come together.

And, if you saw the number that made it on to air Thursday, you know that – with Becker in charge of the moves – this ain't your daddy's dance show any more.

The 20 dancers, boldly costumed and face-painted in a savage style that made them look like the cast of The Lion King doing a slasher movie, leaped over trampolines and onto mats, flashing in and out of camera range with a breathtaking boldness. And although most of the contestants fought with bamboo sticks, there were indeed two dangerous looking machetes.

"We wanted something that none of the audience would expect," says Becker on a break from rehearsals. "Sandra Faire told me she wanted an opening number that would knock the audience's socks off, blow them away."

He grins. "I think I gave it to her."

All that and more, in fact. After Thursday night's broadcast, Susanne Boyce (CTV's president of creative, content and channels) was overheard to say: "I've never seen anything like this on TV before."

She was probably right. Faced with the challenge of providing a high-octane number to drive the most high-profile Canadian show of the fall season, Becker didn't just reach into his normal bag of tricks.

"It all came to me on a 25-minute helicopter ride from Vancouver to Victoria, right after Sandra called me," he recalls. "I suddenly found myself imagining 20 competitors, united in some ways, but fighting to the death in others.

"And I thought of capoeira," the Brazilian martial art form. He explains that the dance version of capoeira, called Maculelê, takes its name from a young man who defended his village using only two machetes ... the reason those lethal instruments must feature in the dance in at least one point.

This kind of movement was alien to all of the show's contestants and that was one of the reasons behind Becker's thinking.

"I picked something that no one would be safe with," he says. "It's funny but the ones I thought might be excellent aren't, and some of the others who I feared would crash and burn are doing brilliantly."

The strong response to Becker's work has led to more offers from SYTYCDC and he admits that he's "going to be judging more and choreographing lots of episodes."

But he'll have to make room for it in an increasingly busy schedule. This is the guy, after all, who staged the Jonas Brothers on their record-breaking tour, had his photo in the tabloid press with Miley Cyrus, even though he's happily married to Vicky Lambert, who's about to start work on Nine with Rob Marshall.

Becker's most recent job was the new Muppet Christmas special, which gave him a chance to prove to his daughter, 5, that "I was really was one of the Muppets' friends.

"I mean she sees picture of me with the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus but the Muppets are something else. When eTalk did a feature on me and broadcast shots from the film, she finally believed.

"And believing in what you do, that's what I'm all about."

Harnessing The Spirit Of Dance

www.thestar.com - Susan Walker, Dance Writer

(October 09, 2008) She was only an apprentice with the National Ballet of Canada, a young 1990 graduate of the National Ballet School, when William Forsythe picked Emily Molnar to perform in a new work of his the second detail.

At five feet, 11 inches, Molnar would stand out in any company, but Forsythe must have seen in her a dancer with a creative mind of her own. Three-and-a-half years later, when Forsythe came back to stage his Herman Schmerman at the National Ballet, he invited Molnar to join his company in Frankfurt. Thus began a period of dancing that was an important education for a budding choreographer.

Born in Regina and now a resident (when she's not in demand elsewhere) of Vancouver, Molnar is still keeping the best company, making a name for herself among the leading lights of contemporary ballet.

Fresh from the New York performances of her work Six Fold Illuminate, commissioned by luminary Christopher Wheeldon for his company Morphoses, Molnar is featured on the ProArteDanza program at the Fleck Dance Theatre as performer and choreographer.

As bold and expressive a conversant as she is a mover, Molnar is voluble about how she sees choreography, views developed during her years with Forsythe and Ballet British Columbia's John Alleyne and in a valued mentorship from Montreal soloist supreme Margie Gillis.

With Forsythe, working on a new piece meant going through his "improvisational modalities." What that taught her was that "it's not about what it's going to look like; it's about the ideas that are going through your head to create your vocabulary."

Forsythe, she says, "trains independents," and gives his dancers every opportunity to be "in the moment." He is known for keeping his dances very immediate by asking a performer to change something, reverse a turn or eliminate a phrase, right before she goes on stage.

"You always walk away from that company with a sense of self, because he puts so much responsibility on the performer," says Molnar.

In the late '90s at a Toronto gala, Molnar met Gillis and subsequently got to dance with her and learn from her creative process. Forsythe had taught Molnar about conceptualizing and working from an intellectual vantage point; Gillis worked from feelings and sensations. But both were striving for the same goal.

"They're both so intensely aware of theatrical presence," says Molnar, speaking in a rapid stream-of-consciousness. "They want you to be living and making decisions in a different world."

A key step in her artistic development came when Molnar, having left Ballet B.C., got a job as a teacher and artist in residence at Vancouver's Arts Umbrella. There she had a studio where she could start creating solo works for herself and more clearly define what she calls her "movement voice."

Jean Grand-Maître gave Molnar her first group commission, a dance for seven male dancers at Alberta Ballet. This was an important opportunity. "With the men (in ballet) there's a certain kind of rawness that I love."

A residency with the New York Choreographic Institute in 2005 got Molnar further notice and more commissions. She has created pieces for Ballet Augsburg, Cedar Lake Dance, Ballet Mannheim and now Wheeldon's Morphoses.

Writing in The Guardian, critic Judith Mackrell praised Six Fold Illuminate for its "starkly cantilevered angles and dynamic contrast" and spoke of Molnar's "intriguing gift for shifting the quality of her movement from states of high tension to shivering, sensuous release" and her "architectural instinct for structure."

With ProArteDanza, Molnar is doing a duet with Robert Glumbek, created for them by Mannheim Ballet's Kevin O'Day. Nine dancers perform Molnar's As It Is For Now, to music created for the piece by the Montreal duo Larsen Lupin.

Molnar's method is to hand the dancers her ideas and see how they will interpret them through their own movement styles. They worked with notions of impermanence and even played a game of Exquisite Corpse in working out the piece.

This choreographer doesn't have any illusions about what touches an audience in any given dance work. "If you strip the lights, the choreography, the costumes – all of that – what is the most essential part on stage? It's the spirit of the dancer."

Just the facts:

What: ProArteDanza

Where: Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W.

When: Tonight through Sat. at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $22 to $38 @ 416-973-4000


How TSN Put A New Twist On The Hockey Theme

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

(October 14, 2008) The instructions from the head of CTV couldn't have been clearer: "I want old Coke," said Ivan Fecan.

Fecan didn't want to mess with "
The Hockey Theme," which introduced Hockey Night in Canada on CBC Television for 40 years. CTV bought the rights to what is often thought of as our second national anthem earlier this year, following a lengthy dispute between the CBC and Dolores Claman, who composed "The Hockey Theme."

The music gets its English-language debut on TSN tonight, as the Calgary Flames take on the Colorado Avalanche (9:30). It was first broadcast in French on RDS on Friday.

To help create a fresh, HD-friendly recording, CTV hired 27-year-old Montreal composer Darren Fung, who had impressed execs with a previous hockey broadcast theme.

"When the producer called, he said he had good news, bad news and terrifying news," Fung recalled.

The terrifying part was reorchestrating and conducting the recording of "The Hockey Theme."

After submitting a demo early in the summer, which was immediately approved by CTV brass, Fung spent two days in a recording studio with 54 members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

It was a coincidence that Fung had rekindled his love of hockey just months before. "Until Grade 6, I was the big hockey fan," he said. "Then the interest died out. But, a friend called last year and invited me to a game, and I got hooked on the playoffs."

The sound of skates and sticks on the ice was in Fung's ears as he freshened the original "brass band" arrangement, and created a handful of new variations that the network can use after commercials.

Claman, the original composer, occasionally watched hockey on TV, but "I never went to a game until 10 years ago." The octogenarian now lives in London, England.

Claman claims she is still baffled by the popularity of the music she created in 1968. It was a replacement for the first Hockey Night in Canada theme, a march called "Saturday's Game," written by her friend Howard Cable.

"When you first write something, you don't know what's going to happen to it," said Claman, who wrote "a couple of thousand" advertising jingles during her career, including Ontario's 1967 provincial anthem, "A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow (Ontari-ari-ari-o)."

"Perhaps it was the time," she said of her music's impact. "Canadians were feeling so proud about their culture back then."

Claman can't remember how long it took her to write the music, "but I know I was able to get to it quickly."

She recalled her first meeting at the CBC: "I got on the piano and played for one or two people. Then we went to a demo and not a thing was changed."

Fung said he also had an easy time. He described his "new Coke" variations as "apocalyptic," "rock," "James Bond" and "swing."

"The rock version is close to Dolores's version," Fung said. "It is what we pitched to CTV."

While the CBC had its own orchestra back in the day, Fung found himself arranging parts for the TSO. The first day in the studio was devoted to the brassy original music. Day 2 went to the variations.

"It was funny. I found myself walking into this room and I'm the youngest guy there," Fung recalled of the recording process. "But we had a lot of fun and they're such pros."

Just like the guys on the ice.

According to a CTV press release, each of the 71 games to be broadcast on TSN will feature a Canadian team, as well as "The Hockey Theme." The network is also looking for more musical variations.

The first in that series, a "punk-pop" version by Simple Plan recorded Friday, will air Wednesday night on TSN, as the Boston Bruins play the Montreal Canadiens (7:30). TV viewers first heard that arrangement on this year's Much Music Video Awards.

Meanwhile, the CBC announced the winner of its Hockey Night in Canada Anthem Challenge on Saturday. Colin Oberst, an elementary schoolteacher from Beaumont, Alta., took home the $100,000 prize for "Canadian Gold."

Bosh-Led Raptors Pull Away To Defeat Team From Moscow

Source: www.thestar.comDoug Smith, Sports Reporter

(October 11, 2008) Anthony Parker and Jason Kapono will never be confused with the great athletic basketball players of this era – or any other, in fact – but their contribution to the
Raptors goes beyond running quickly and jumping higher than the next guy.

And for coach Sam Mitchell, whose team beat CSKA Moscow 86-78 at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night, the mental acuity Parker and Kapono show and their willingness to accept their roles is more than good enough.

“The coaches and I were talking about that (yesterday) morning. We’ve been very pleased with the way AP and Jason have played and how they’ve gone about their business, the condition they’re in, mentally and physically,” Mitchell said. “They’re in a good place.”

While the two swingmen weren’t instrumental in Tuesday night’s pre-season win, they were on the floor down the stretch as Mitchell rode four starters and Kapono in the final few minutes of a tight game.

The coach was rewarded with Chris Bosh’s best game of the pre-season, 24 points and 10 rebounds as Toronto pulled away in the final two quarters to go to 3-1 on the pre-season.

Parker, who seems to have secured his spot as the starting shooting guard for another season, and Kapono, who was going to get the chance to earn that job when camp began, have been solid, yet typically unspectacular, through half the pre-season.

They make the shots they have to, do a steady job defensively and know where their spots are in the Raptor scheme of things.

“It’s still pre-season but I feel like I’m playing well,” Parker said before last night’s game. “There’s certainly lots of things I can improve on but I think each year, I’m trying to get better, trying to different things and trying to feel more comfortable in different situations. It’s a process but I still feel like I can do it and I am doing it.”

Parker struggled at times lat night, missing four of his first six shots, but it’s the stuff he does away from the ball and on the defensive end that has his coach taking notice. Mitchell has been preaching a new, more aggressive defensive style and with a big man like Jermaine O’Neal behind him, Parker can meet that request.

“I think it’s a comfort level, it’s a feeling,” Parker said. “I know I have help back there if I get beat but you don’t want to risk putting guys in situations where they have to foul or things like that. The goal is still to keep your guy in front of you, to execute the game plan but know that inevitably you’re going to get beat and when you do, you have help.”

Mitchell’s plan remains to have Parker and Kapono split the minutes at the two-guard most of the season, with whoever’s playing better on any particular night getting the larger role that evening.

That might not play to Kapono’s defensive abilities, but Mitchell is willing to take that risk.

“He’s been working on that, he’s improving on that,” the coach said of Kapono. “This is the NBA, no one guy is going to stop guys. Our schemes defensively? He’s done really well. He’s come back in great shape, mentally he’s focused. He’s just a joy to be around.”

Mitchell did have Kapono and Parker on the court together at times against Moscow Tuesday night but there were all kinds of different combinations on display as Toronto rallied in the second half to win.

The coach used a huge front line of O’Neal, Bosh and Andrea Bargnani to start the fourth quarter, the first time that line-up’s been together all pre-season. The coach is still concerned about Bargnani’s defence against small forwards – the seven-footer picked up two personals in the first three minutes of the quarter trying to guard Moscow’s Terence Morris – but Bargnani did score inside on the smaller defender.

The experiment with that threesome lasted about six minutes but Bargnani did get a run at small forward alongside Bosh and Kris Humphries for a couple of minutes.

Bargnani finished with 11 points and six rebounds – getting to the free-throw line eight times (all the first half) while O'Neal had 11 points.

Golf Great Ballesteros Stable After Brain Surgery

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(October 15, 2008) MADRID–Seve Ballesteros was in stable condition Wednesday after the 51-year-old golf great had surgery on a brain tumour a day earlier.

La Paz hospital said were no complications from the surgery. Spanish state news agency Efe reported the operation lasted 12 hours.

The hospital said a sizable part of the Spaniard's tumour was removed. It was not immediately known if it was malignant and it would be several days before the results were announced.

"At the moment he is conscious and stable, although he will not be able to receive any visitors in the coming days until he has recovered from the surgical process," the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital said Ballesteros was in the intensive care unit. It said there would be no further statements about him until he is moved from the unit, most likely next week.

Ballesteros, winner of three British Opens and two Masters, briefly lost consciousness and was admitted Oct. 6 to the hospital, where the tumour was discovered. On Monday, he acknowledged having a tumour and said he faced the "hardest challenge of my life.''

Ballesteros, who won a record 50 tournament on the European tour, retired last year because of a long history of back pain and has since concentrated on golf course design.

Ballesteros transformed European golf. When the Ryder Cup was expanded to include continental Europe in 1979, Ballesteros helped beat the United States in 1985 to begin two decades of dominance. He also captained Europe to victory in 1997 at Valderrama, Spain.

Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain are the most formidable partnership in Ryder Cup history, with 11 wins, two losses and two halves.


Hottest Boot Camp Workout!

By Raphael Calzadilla, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro

(September 25, 2008) If you’ve never tried a
boot camp workout you’re in for a treat. Boot camp workouts are efficient and burn a load of calories. It works your entire body by going from one exercise to another in circuit fashion with no rest. Here are some of the other benefits of boot camp workouts:

1. The workout is relatively brief.
2. Each exercise is different and helps to avoid boredom
3. No equipment necessary
4. You can fit it into a busy schedule

Get ready because you’re going to sweat and you’re going to have to do some work, but I guarantee that you’ll find this enjoyable, brisk and result-producing.

I’ve been training clients for over 14 years and have experimented with hundreds of conceivable workout routines based on a variety of goals. The routine I’m outlining in this article works -- period.

Perform all of the exercises in succession with no rest between exercises. After you complete the circuit, rest 30 seconds and repeat one more time. Beginners should only perform one circuit. The routine can be performed three to four days per week.


Hop and Pops -- Perform five jumping jacks and then drop to the floor and immediately do five pushups. Right back up to your feet for five jumping jacks, down for five pushups. There is no rest between jumping jacks and pushups. Perform a total of 20 repetitions for each. It’s OK if you need to perform a modified pushup (knees on floor). This exercise is not as easy as it sounds so if you need to do fewer reps to start that’s OK. You’ll curse me after 20 reps and it’s only the first exercise.

Running in Place -- 2 brisk minutes

Wide hand position push ups with feet on chair -- Position yourself on the floor to perform push-ups but place your feet on a chair directly behind you. Place your hands approximately 2 inches wider than shoulder width and perform 12 push ups. If you can’t do these then perform modified push ups with your knees on the floor.

High March
-- March in place but raise your legs as high as you can. Perform 15 reps each side.

Ski Jumps - Stand with your feet together and keep your knees slightly bent. Jump to the right several feet and then jump a few feet to the left. Make sure to keep the knees and legs together and knees slightly bent. Perform 20 total reps

Alternate Toe Touch
-- Stand with hands extended out to the sides. Then bring your right hand down in the direction of your let foot. Return to the starting position and perform the same movement on the other side (left hand towards right foot). Perform 20 repetitions on each side.

Lunges -- Stand straight with your feet together. Place your hands on your hips. Step forward with the right leg and lower the left leg until the knee almost touches the floor. Contracting the quadriceps muscles, push off your right foot slowly returning to the starting position. Alternate the motion with the left leg to complete the set. The step should be long enough so that your left leg is nearly straight. Do not let your knee touch the floor and make sure your head is up and your back is straight. Your right knee should not pass your right foot. You should be able to see your toes at all times. Perform 15 reps on each side.

Double Crunch
-- Lie on your back on a mat. Bend your knees until your legs are at a 45 degree angle with both feet on the floor. Your back should be comfortably relaxed on the floor. Place both hands crossed over your chest. Contracting your abdominals, raise your head and legs off the floor toward one another. Return to the starting position stopping just short of your shoulders and feet touching the floor. Perform as many reps as possible until you can’t perform another.

Flutter Kicks -- Lie on your back with your hands under your hips and chin tucked down on your chest. Raise your legs 6 inches off the floor and then alternately move them up and down in short flutter motions (make sure your legs are fully extended). Perform the exercise for 45 seconds.

Watching TV -- Don’t get too cozy, it’s not what you think. To perform the Watching TV exercise lie face down on the floor. Make sure your body is fully extended. Bring your arms to the sides of your body and rise up on the elbows (arms bent and fists clenched). At the same time make sure you’re supporting your lower body by resting on your toes. This is a static exercise. Hold the position for 45 to 60 seconds. This is an excellent exercise for upper and lower body strength, and it’s great for the abs. Just make sure your body remains rigid in the air while supporting yourself on your elbows and toes.

Double Time -- Lie on your back and cycle both legs as fast as possible as if riding a bike. Perform the movement for 60 seconds. Believe me it will feel like an eternity.

Running in Place -- 3 brisk minutes

Combined with sensible eating habits, this routine will make you look lean and mean. It’s designed for the person who has very little time, but still wants to look great!

Remember to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.


Motivational Note

Source: www.eurweb.com
— Ben Stein

"The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want."