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September 4, 2008

Welcome to full throttle September!  So much going on that there's hardly time to catch your breath!  And of course, NOW the weather decides to cooperate!

Lots of TIFF activities and movies to check out so ensure that you get the chance to peruse the schedule. And back to school for so many - continued success in your studies.

For those that are curious, my recovery is going well and I'm walking on a cane now and I'll be returning to work at the end of this month.  Thanks for your prayers, concerns and wishes.

MAN!  Tons of entertainment news on all fronts this week!  Scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!



Michael J. Fox a Canadian Returns For Walk Of Fame

Source:  www.thestar.com - Andrea Baillie,
The Canadian Press

(September 02, 2008) Michael J. Fox may have become a U.S. citizen a few years back, but when it came to the recent Beijing Olympics, the Edmonton-born actor was cheering for the Canucks all the way.

"In my heart, I'm a Canadian, I'll always be a Canadian," he said in a recent telephone interview from Long Island, N.Y.

"That was really evident the last couple of weeks watching the Olympics. Someone diving off a platform, if they had a Maple Leaf on them, I was all for them."

Fox's Canadian ties will be on full display this weekend when he is officially inducted into
Canada's Walk of Fame. The honour was first announced in 2000, but Fox was not on hand for the ceremony.

"I'm most blown away by the company I'm in. It's really cool. Steve Nash, k.d. lang, Bryan Adams," he said, referring to fellow honourees. "It's just really exciting to kind of know that even though I don't live in Canada any more that it's still my home and people still think of me as one of them."

People also still think of him, of course, as young Republican Alex P. Keaton from the '80s TV smash Family Ties, and as Marty McFly, the time-travelling teen from the Back to the Future movies.

Although Fox also appeared on the popular TV comedy Spin City, and in films including Doc Hollywood, The Secret of My Success and Casualties of War, he says people most remember him for his iconic teen roles.

"I am amazed when people with teenaged kids come up and tell you that they grew up watching you. You kind of check your watch and go, `Oh yeah, I'm old,'" said Fox, 47.

"(Family Ties) was so `of its time,' that when people think of it, they don't just think of the show or the actors, they think of the time, they think of where they were, they think of what that period of their lives was. There's a lot of emotion and memory mixed together with it."

Family Ties also became the place where Fox met his wife of 20 years, Tracy Pollan, who played Alex's girlfriend Ellen. The characters' theme song was "At This Moment," which became a hit for Billy Vera and the Beaters, a band Fox knew from the L.A. club scene.

The actor was glad the tune found an audience, but says it followed he and Pollan around for years. "People would always play it, whenever we came into a room or something," he said. "When you'd go to a wedding or something, people would throw it on and we'd kind of go `Oh, god, here's the song again.'"

In recent years, Fox has taken on a very different role. He's become a high-profile advocate for stem cell research and a spokesperson for Parkinson's disease.

He was diagnosed with the condition in 1991 but did not make his illness public until seven years later. In 2000, he set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has funded $126 million in research.

Despite the tremors that accompany Parkinson's, Fox says he's feeling "great" and has been playing tennis and golf this summer. In October, he's set to guest star on Rescue Me, the firehouse drama that stars his hockey buddy Denis Leary. "Denis is a good friend of mine," said Fox. "I love the show, I love Denis and I love his edge, and he had a great idea for a character and ran it by me, and I thought: `Cool, that would be a fun thing to do.'"

Fox will play the boyfriend of the ex-wife of Leary's character, Tommy Gavin.

For now, however, the actor is focused on the Walk of Fame – and on back-to-school activities.

He and Pollan have four children; Fox proudly mentions that his son is entering college, while his daughter is going into first grade and his twin girls are headed to junior high.

He says they get up to Canada at least once a year and cherish the visits to their father's homeland.

"My kids love Canada," said Fox. "They always talk about the Canadian relatives as the funny relatives, the laughing relatives."

Other stars to be honoured at the Walk of Fame ceremonies this Saturday include comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, model Daria Werbowy, filmmaker James Cameron and actor Frances Bay.

The gala will be televised Sunday at 7 p.m. on CTV.

Usain Bolt Eases To 100 Win

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

August 29, 2008) ZURICH, Switzerland – Usain Bolt returned to the track after the Olympics to win the 100 metres in 9.83 seconds at the Weltklasse meet on Friday.

The superstar of the Beijing Games was merely excellent on a night when his performance was upstaged by 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo of Kenya, who clocked 1:54.01 in the women's 800, the fastest time in more than two decades to become the third fastest in history at the distance.

Jelimo and Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic stayed in contention for the US$1 million Golden League jackpot after both extended their unbeaten run to five at Europe's elite summer meetings.

American sprinters Jeremy Wariner and Lolo Jones got a measure of compensation for their Olympic defeats by winning the men's 400 and women's 100 hurdles, respectively. Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia followed up his 5,000-10,000 gold medal double by running the fastest 5,000 in the world this year.

Bolt was the undoubted main attraction for a sold-out crowd of 26,000 at a meet that likes to call itself "the Olympics in one night."

Yet the 22-year-old Jamaican was never likely to threaten the world record time of 9.69 seconds he set in his astonishing run to Olympic gold.

Bolt was slowest of the nine starters to react to the gun, and it was fully 20 metres before he pulled his six-foot-five frame into the lead.

He drew clear of Walter Dix of the United States by the 60-metre mark but there was no trademark showboating as he eased smoothly to the line in 9.83. Beijing bronze medallist Dix was second in 9.99 and silver medallist Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago third in 10.09.

"You can't really compare it to the Olympics," Bolt said. "The Olympics bring so much pressure. It was easy here.

"As I'm starting to get a cold I was not able to think about any faster time. My coach told me that I should make sure to end the season healthy."

Bolt and his Jamaica team pulled out of a commitment to run the meet-closing 4x100 relay.

Running minutes before Bolt, Jelimo stepped up from her gold medal effort in Beijing by almost a second to run away from the field in the women's 800.

Her time of 1:54.01 was a new African and world junior record and left her 0.73 seconds outside the world record set by Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova in 1983.

"I can tell you I am so tired," Jelimo said. "But this was my best race with the best pacemakers.

"The world record is now closer, but I'm not sure I can do it this year, maybe next."

Jelimo can challenge it again in Brussels, Belgium next Friday at the sixth and final meeting of the Golden League series. Another victory will guarantee the teenager at least $500,000.

LeBron James Heads To Toronto For Big Screen Debut

Source: www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(September 03, 2008) CLEVELAND–LeBron James has gone from the gold-medal stand to the silver screen.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' megastar, fresh off helping the U.S. basketball team win gold at the Beijing Olympics, will be at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend for the debut of
More Than A Game, a documentary chronicling his rise to stardom and how he and four childhood friends overcame long odds to win a national championship in high school.

Combining footage taken during James' career at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in nearby Akron, along with one-on-one interviews by writer/director Kris Belman, home videos, and personal family photographs, the film is about much more than basketball. At its core is a story of friendship, loyalty and love.

"We set out with a goal as kids and we wanted to accomplish that someway, somehow by using basketball as a tool, not knowing that it was going to create other opportunities for us," James said. "We didn't know it was going to create a brotherhood and trust.

"We grew from kids into young men."

James is expected to be joined by friends and former teammates Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis for the premiere.

Like the much-acclaimed 1994 film Hoop Dreams, which followed two Chicago high school students chasing their dream of becoming pro basketball players, More Than A Game focuses on how James and his friends' lives are shaped by basketball.

Their journey began together as 8-year-old boys, winds through years criss-crossing the U.S. playing in AAU tournaments and finishes in their senior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary, a year when James came under scrutiny for accepting a $50,000 sports-utility vehicle as a gift from his mother and his eligibility was briefly stripped by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

At the time, Belman was a film student at Loyola Marymount. He set out to chronicle James and his friends' season as his final school project, a 10-minute documentary. But after gaining the trust of the players and coach Dru Joyce, Belman spent two months filming and eventually teamed with producer Harvey Mason Jr. to the full-length feature.

James hopes the film will inspire youngsters.

"We set out with a goal when we were eight and we accomplished it when we were 18," he said. "It's a great story and I wanted to get it out to kids that have a dream, that they should continue to go after it, believe in it and live it if they want to accomplish something."

Historic First: Obama Nominated By Democrats

www.eurweb.com - Steve Holland, Reuters US Online Report Politics News

(August 27, 2008) DENVER (Reuters) - To shouts of "Yes we can," Democrats nominated Barack Obama on Wednesday as their presidential candidate in a historic first for a black American, sending him into battle against Republican John McCain.

In an emotional moment of unity, Obama's one-time opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, strode onto the floor of the party's national convention during a roll call of the states and formally asked Democratic delegates to suspend their count and approve his nomination by acclamation.

"With eyes firmly fixed on the future, in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory, with faith in our party and our country, let's declare together in one voice right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president," she said to roars of approval inside the packed convention hall.

"I move Senator Barack Obama of Illinois be selected by the convention by acclamation as the nominee of the Democratic Party," she said, a request quickly accepted by the convention's presiding official, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

When Pelosi pounded a gavel to declare Obama the nominee, delegates held hands together up high, danced and swayed back and forth to the song "Love Train" in celebration of the moment.

"Yes we can," the crowd chanted. "Obama!"

Pelosi announced a short time later that Obama had accepted the nomination and would tell the convention that himself in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

In honour of Clinton's tenacity in her bruising primary battle with Obama and in an effort to encourage party unity, delegates had earlier granted the symbolic gesture of nominating Clinton herself for the candidacy.


The nomination formally set Obama, 47, on track to face McCain in the November 4 election in a race that has been neck-and-neck for weeks, with McCain's Republican nominating convention to take place next week in the Minnesota city of St. Paul.

"No matter where we stood at the beginning of this campaign, Democrats stand together today," said Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a nominating speech on behalf of Obama. She had backed Clinton's candidacy.

It was a remarkable moment for Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas who was raised in humble beginnings and began his relatively short political career as a community organizer in Chicago.

Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, arrived in Denver to prepare for his acceptance speech on Thursday to a crowd of about 80,000 people at the Denver Broncos' pro football stadium.

Speaking at a veterans' round-table in Billings, Montana, Obama said, "We've had a great convention so far."

"We've had two powerful women speak back-to-back on each night, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton," he said. Obama's wife Michelle had addressed the convention on Monday.

Clinton, who stressed her support for Obama on Tuesday night in a stirring address to the convention, released her delegates on Wednesday, freeing them to back Obama.

Before the nomination vote, Clinton spoke to a crowd of about 3,000 people, including the nearly 2,000 delegates she won.

"This has been a joy. We didn't make it, but boy did we have a good time trying," she said.

The crowd roared "No" when she told them that she was releasing them as her delegates.

"We will leave Denver united. My goal is that we win in November," she said, noting that she had cast her own vote on behalf of Obama.

Top Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters on Obama's flight to Denver that Obama's big speech was essentially written.

"He's going to lay out a case for change. He's going to set the stakes of this election, the risks of continuing down the road we're on which is plainly what Sen. McCain is offering," Axelrod said.

(Additional reporting by John Whitesides, Caren Bohan, Thomas Ferraro, Rob Doherty and Howard Goller; editing by David Wiessler)

Source: Reuters US Online Report Politics News

Grandfather Of Paparazzi Reflects On Storied Career

Source:  www.thestar.com - Malene Arpe, Pop Culture Writer

August 31, 2008) Marlon Brando knocked out his teeth. Jackie Onassis took him to court. You know his photos even if you don't know his name. He has photographed Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Redford, Frank Sinatra and Dustin Hoffman and countless other stars in unguarded moments.

He is
Ron Galella, the grandfather of paparazzi, a self-described "artist with a camera" and his work is the subject of an exhibit at the Roots flagship store.

I asked him to pick one image that, to him, represents his remarkable career.

"Windblown Jackie is the one image that sums up my career, because she considered herself private, and did not seek publicity," Galella, 77, said via email from his home in New Jersey.

"She generally ignored me and my camera, and rarely went to public events. This left me no choice but to photograph her on the run – she made me a paparazzo. On my letterhead it says `Photography with the Paparazzi Approach,' which refers to the qualities I look for, ideally: exclusive, off-guard, spontaneous, unrehearsed ... Windblown Jackie possesses these qualities with natural, soft light, over-the-shoulder composition, no make-up or hairdo, and a Mona Lisa smile reflecting beauty from within."

It comes as no surprise that Galella isn't too enamoured with today's celebrity crop.

"The new generation of celebrities – I call them `featherweights' – are celebrity trash. They have been overexposed by the media and we know too much, leaving little to our imaginations and thereby losing the mystery that creates glamour. Jackie whispered and was never obvious. Today, they rely on sex and vulgarity to gain the attention of the media."

There are other old-school celebs Galella thinks of with fondness.

"Liz Taylor – she has always been nice to me, even after I sued her. She had been trained by the studios to be nice to the press, and most of all, she was beautiful. Lauren Hutton, who said more than once, `I like your work more than Dick Avedon's.' I think it's because I shoot fast as stars are being themselves whereas studio photographers fuss around posing them. Sophia Loren; again, she's beautiful, and had said that she didn't believe I was a paparazzo. I believe she is right. Robert Redford, who allowed me to shoot him and his family in his lobby and elevator. Warren Beatty, who would talk to me when I called him at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel."

And was there one who got away?

"Marilyn Monroe is the one celebrity I wish I had photographed. I had one opportunity in 1957, when she was filming Bus Stop at 20th Century Fox's lot, but I was preoccupied with shooting a no-name actor and did not wait for Marilyn at her trailer. I was not a paparazzo at the time."

The Ron Galella exhibit runs until Sept. 30 at Roots, 100 Bloor St. W.


Bliss in Bermuda

By Melanie Reffes

Steeped in British tradition and oozing its own unique charm, Bermuda is a serene sliver of sunny Shangri-la and a short commute to a world away. With azure water, rolling hilltops, architecture swathed in tropical hues and glorious stretches of sandy beach, it is, indeed, the Caribbean’s hip haven for rejuvenation.

Derived from the Latin salus per aqua, the word spa literally means ‘good health through water’ and from the Greek ‘masso’, massage means ‘to touch’.  Although many treatments incorporate water in their wellness rituals and most treatments involve touching to some degree, the art and science of the Bermudian massage is unique with an abundance of highly trained therapists and a bevy of indigenous products.

Whether it’s a mirror to your soul or a massage for your soles, a day at the spa is a must-have guilty pleasure. From grapefruit extracts to rose petals, welcome to the world of unbridled luxury where the wise and the weary soak, scour and soothe their way to feeling good.

The Willow Stream Spa is a tranquil sanctuary inside the Fairmont Southampton resort. Celebrating the seascape and scents of the Island, the eco-chic spa beckons with a medley of massages that will remind you why you booked a vacation in the first place. “The spa has a commanding location on the highest point on the south shore and offers guests an outdoor roof top terrace with stunning views, as well as an indoor pool with waterfalls,” notes Paul Hawco, Spa Director, “The pink sand of Bermuda and our picturesque scenery create a spa experience like no other.”

Fifteen treatment rooms, two Jacuzzis and a sundeck overlooking the lapping waves is truly a tropical oasis. Using natural elements from the sea and the earth, treatments heal and hydrate as they synchronize the energies of the mind, body and spirit.

In order to encourage total relaxation, the spa is a no-gadget zone with blackberries and cell phones not permitted and to ensure you are relaxed even before your massage begins, spa goers are encouraged to arrive thirty minutes prior to an appointment to make full use of the spa’s facilities. 

Drawing from the traditions of Eastern Ayurveda or the science of a long life, treatments build the immune system in the winter, renew in the spring, soothe in the summer and balance in the fall.  Customized to individual needs, the trained therapists work their nimble fingers as they maximize the healing powers of hot stones, erase all symptoms of jet lag and perform miracles with an array of anti-ageing treatments. For the outdoorsy set, a sixty-minute golf  performance massage that is endorsed by pro- instructor David Leadbetter and world class player Charles Howell III is designed to get you in shape for another round on the greens.

Signature treatments include a Bermuda Aromatherapy Facial using sea algae that balances the skin and chamomile to restore elasticity after the heat of the sun.  An herbal massage for the feet rounds out the ninety minute package and is guaranteed to put a spring back in your gait.

Indian Bindi oil and stones warmed in water creates a deep heat massage in
The East Meets West Bermuda Stone treatment as it melts stress into oblivion. In the privacy of your own suite, the aptly named Bliss in Bermuda treatment kick starts with an aromatherapy session followed by a dip in a hydrotherapy tub with more than a hundred rotating jets that feel like an underwater massage.

Guys need maintenance too and with the Power Pedicure, manly men can turn their tender tootsies into sandal-ready feet that will look snazzy with a pair of Bermuda shorts. “We have seen an increase in men taking advantage of the spa, “observes Paul Hawco, “We appreciate the subtle differences in male and female preferences and seek to create experiences that are geared to each individual.”

Love blooms at the Willow Stream with side-by-side couple’s treatment rooms and treatments that create memories that last a lifetime.  “Spas can be incredibly romantic “ Spa Director Hawco adds, “We provide a unique couples experience - a little time spent apart in the female and gentleman lounges as well as time together in the romantic couples lounge . “

Guests at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess may use the Spa facilities at a reduced rate.

Total relaxation now has an address on the south shore. The Spa at the Elbow Beach Resort is the zenith of excellence with views of the azure Atlantic Ocean that put postcards to shame. Managed by the prestigious Mandarin Oriental Group, the Spa boasts six private suites  decorated in soothing colors, couples suites, hand-crafted granite soaking tub, bamboo flooring and a pebble-lined steam shower.  Holistic treatments rooted in Asian customs and blended with Bermudian finesse create an unforgettable experience.

Bermuda’s national treasure, the Rum Swizzle, is a mouth-watering treatment that combines the antioxidant benefits of fruit essences like grapefruit and orange with the potency of rum. A gentle foot ritual is followed by a pineapple body scrub that cleans and renews tired skin. A delightful bath in zesty lemon and lime juice smoothes rough skin and with a ‘real’ Rum Swizzle cocktail in hand, the body and scalp massage will lure you into pure nirvana. Bermuda pink sand is used to exfoliate in the three-hour Ocean Wave Ritual leaving skin as supple as the sand on the beach. The trained hands of the therapist work magic in a massage that ripples tenderly over the body like waves in the sea.  (These signature spa experiences are priced at $480 for three hours of treatment time, plus half an hour of relaxation time.)

“Everyday we are blessed with the natural beauty, resources and rich culture of Bermuda,” says Spa Director Debbie Baxter with infectious zeal, “In keeping with the Mandarin Oriental tradition, we wanted to translate this into authentic spa experiences where guests can revel in things truly Bermudian.”  With a dollop of Bermuda honey, calendula oil for sensitive skin , sugar and lemon, the Full Body Sugar and Honey Scrub is eighty minutes of pleasure with an all-over body massage leaving skin bright and full of life.

For those who aim to minimize the harsh the effects of the sun, the Cooling Sun Savior Ritual cools after a day on the beach.  A gift of the natural gel derived from the aloe plant is yours to use while back on the beach chair.

And yes, you can try the massages at home.  The aromatic line of scrubs and bath oils with the uplifting essence of jasmine, invigorating scent of frangipani and sweet almond are available for sale in the Spa Boutique.

Brand new on the spa scene, the Samadhi Spa is a private health retreat for savvy spa goers seeking a journey back to balance or a calming spot to unwind during a weekend getaway.  Located at the Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort on Harbour Road overlooking the Hamilton Harbour, Samadhi is the only spa on the Island with water views from the treatment rooms. A trio of single rooms, two double treatment suites, a hydrotherapy suite, two relaxation areas, locker rooms with wet steam , tennis courts and a fully equipped gym add up to one-stop shopping for rest and relaxation.

“We are about gearing the spa towards a holistic retreat where people are able to not only receive body treatments but also able to participate in educational workshops like nutrition, Ayurvedic medicine, exercise, and weight loss as well as practice yoga and tai chi.” says Sanali Senanayake Spa Director who has lived in Australia, Oman and Dubai before moving to Bermuda.

The signature treatment called the Samadhi massage which is a true fusion of East meets West uses a cornucopia of Caribbean curatives and organic products. “Nothing we use comes out of a jar, “notes Spa Director Sanali Senanayake, “We use only natural organic products made daily without preservatives.”
Two unique product lines are stocked in the Spa and used in the various treatments.  The Eastern Ayurvedic ingredients include oil from the therapeutic Neem leaf said to improve memory and the rejuvenating GotuKola herb that fortifies the immune system as well as delicious ingredients from the West like grapes, cocoa and truffles.  A spa menu is available for those who choose to linger over lunch and tempts with nutritional dishes including low calorie choices designed by an Island chef.
As the only spa on the island with a formal affiliation with the esteemed Atlanta School of Massage, therapists are up-to-date with the cutting edge developments in the world of spa therapy and have access to current research on the healing benefits of spa treatments.

Catering to a knowledgeable crowd, the demographic is diverse with spa goers coming from all sectors. “Although women make up the majority of guests, “Senanayake adds, “the clientele is changing and we now have athletes as we cater to their needs.  We also cater to babies and children with our trained therapists who understand their specific issues.”

Willow Stream Spa   www.willowstream.com
The Spa at Elbow Beach   www.mandarinoriental.com
Samadhi Spa  www.newsteadbelmonthills.com
1-800-Bermuda   www.Bermudatourism.com


A Veteran Of Funk And Soul Turns To Klezmer

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

(August 28, 2008) Fred Wesley has had a varied career.

The 65-year-old Alabama native played piano and trumpet before making his professional debut on trombone with a local big band at age 12. He cut his teeth with Ike and Tina Turner, Hank Ballard and U.S. army bands before launching his own R&B/ hard bop band, the Mastersound, in 1967.

Then he got the name-making gig with James Brown and for nearly a decade was an integral part of his backing band, the J.B.'s, playing alongside Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker and contributing to seminal tunes, such as "The Payback" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess" as the legendary bandleader transitioned from soul to funk.

After leaving the group permanently in 1975, Wesley played in George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic and the Count Basie Orchestra, and with the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Curtis Mayfield, all the while releasing solo albums that fused funk and jazz. In 1998, Wesley, who usually tours with his septet The Fred Wesley Group, released Full Circle: From Bebop to Hip Hop.

But the respected performer, arranger and producer finds himself in new territory with the ensemble that performs at Harbourfront Centre tonight; Abraham Inc. is a 10-piece group, led by Wesley, American clarinettist David Krakauer and Canadian rapper/accordionist SoCalled, which fuses klezmer with hardcore funk.

"I didn't know what it was," said Wesley of the initial entreaty from Krakauer and Socalled to participate in the Yiddish music-based project. He spoke to the Star by phone recently on the way from Philadelphia to New York for a James Brown tribute.

"But once I heard (klezmer), I realized that I'd heard it before – maybe at a wedding – but I didn't know what it was called. I agreed to do it. I'll try anything.

"They sent me a CD and I listened to it and I said `Whoa! What can we do with this?'

"SoCalled and David explained to me how to make it work. I had trouble finding the one," he said, referring to that signature emphasis on the first measure of music initiated by James Brown. "But after I found it and put some funk with it, it worked out. It's hard to explain, you have to really hear it to understand it."

With a debut album in the works, Abraham Inc. makes its Canadian debut at the Ashkenaz Festival.

"We do some klezmer and some funk, and some klezmer and funk together.

"For instance, we do `Moskowitz and Loops of It'; that's the signature song and it was a klezmer song that I put funk horn parts to. It came out real good. We do one called `Push': it's my tune, but it has a klezmer influence to it. Also `Tweet Tweet'; it's familiar klezmer rhythms with funk overtones. And we do my tune `House Party' pretty much as is, but with a clarinet solo in it that makes it real interesting."

Wesley has noted a good response from audiences, including a concert last spring at New York's historic Apollo Theatre.

"The marriage of the two musics together is just a natural thing," he said. "You put the two together you get some crazy dancing."

Just the facts
WHO: Abraham Inc.

WHEN: Tonight, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Sirius Stage, Harbourfront Centre

TICKETS: $18 in advance, $25 at door

More Than Coffee At This Canadian Music Café

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

(August 30, 2008) To compensate for revenue shortfalls resulting from ever-diminishing sales of recorded music, musicians and songwriters everywhere are seeking alternate ways to get their music heard, sold and distributed.

Every download of an MP3 or a ringtone, every track played on an Internet radio station, every Memory Stick sold as concert memorabilia, even a few seconds of sample play on an Internet retail site counts. But outside commercial radio, the best way for a songwriter to make a mark, find a new audience and maybe to make some reasonable money these days is to get a song on the soundtrack of a movie or TV show. Or better yet, on a commercial or as the theme of a blockbuster movie or long-running series.

So it was no big surprise to Toronto-based film and TV music supervisor Michael Perlmutter – he built the soundtracks for the TV series Queer As Folk and DeGrassi: The Next Generation, and helped put the music together for the Gemini-nominated Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala – that more than 200 Canadian songwriters and artists responded to the industry-wide call for submissions to participate in the fourth-annual
Canadian Music Café, now a permanent musical showcase at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"We cast a wide net because we wanted to represent the best of the country's music – from bands as well as singer-songwriters – to the music supervisors, directors and producers attending the festival," said Perlmutter, who's co-ordinating the music at this year's Café, a joint venture developed by the Canadian Recording Industry Association, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, the Canadian Independent Record Production Association, and the Canadian Music Publishers Association. "Age, size of the band, gender doesn't matter – only how well the music might play in movies, television and advertisements."

The submissions were eventually whittled down to 15 acts who'll perform for a closed audience – festival delegates and media – at the
Hard Rock Café on Yonge St., Sept. 9 and 10 from 1 to 5 p.m., and on Sept. 11 from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. They are Vancouver jazz/roots songwriter Ali Milner; Ottawa alt-pop/folk artist Kyrie Kristmanson; Martha Wainwright; Toronto songwriter Royal Wood; Toronto electro-rap duo Thunderheist; Toronto pop songwriter Gentleman Reg; City and Colour (Alexisonfire's Dallas Green); Montreal folk-rock outfit Final Flash; Charlottetown power pop band Two Hours Traffic; Halifax-based songwriter Jill Barber; Vancouver's Shuyler Jansen; Winnipeg funk-rap band Grand Analog; Toronto's Lindi Ortega; Edmonton R&B singer/songwriter Kreesha Turner; and indie Toronto rock band The Midway State."The obvious benefit is money, but mixing music and movie images is artistically very satisfying," said Gentleman Reg. No stranger to the business, he has had several songs placed on movie and TV soundtracks (Queer As Folk, Wilby Wonderful, Shortbus) and is more than happy with the result. "The songs have been put in a good context. I try to take care that my music isn't associated with negative or violent images."

For 18-year-old Milner, a huge movie fan, the prospect of playing for Hollywood music supervisors and buyers is a big thrill, a step up from after-party gigs she has played during two previous TIFFs. She recently performed, during a B.C. cultural trade mission to China, for a live audience of 60,000 and a TV audience of 90 million.

"I haven't had any songs on movie or TV soundtracks yet, and maybe it won't happen this time, either," Milner said. "I don't write songs with movies in mind. I'm hoping just to make some good music contacts and to meet other musicians I can work with in the future."

A seasoned movie-music writer, with credits on several TV series and films, including specially commissioned work, Royal Wood has the uncanny ability to capture the mood or theme of the films for which his work has been chosen. "This has become a very competitive business," he said. "Movie soundtracks have actually launched careers. The Garden State (featuring songs from The Shins) soundtrack did huge business because the music was so well blended with the movie's key moments.

"This is my first time at the Canadian Music Café, and I get just 15 or 30 minutes – four songs – to make an impression. But it's a huge opportunity to place songs with big-budget films, and to make more connections."

Grammy Award Winning Soweto Gospel Choir's New Project


(August 25, 2008) On Sept 16 the Soweto Gospel Choir will simultaneously release their new CD/DVD 'Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre.'

It comes just in time for their Oct. 3rd 48-city North American tour kick-off, which will run through the holiday season - a first for the Choir in America.

In the five short years of their existence the Soweto Gospel Choir has achieved an almost unbelievable array of accomplishments: two Grammy Awards, two number one Billboard World Music Chart albums and collaborations either in concert or in the studio with Bono, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel, and Celine Dion.

They were one of the featured performers at Oprah Winfrey’s New Year’s Eve party in South Africa where they wowed such invited guests as Quincy Jones, Mariah Carey, Patti La Belle and Sidney Poitier.

Not many artists can count as their supporters the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (an official patron of the Choir) and Nelson Mandela, for whom the choir performed at his original star-studded AIDS awareness 46664 concert and most recently his 90th Birthday concert along with Leona Lewis, Annie Lennox, Will Smith, Joan Baez and others in London. Yet the choir’s greatest achievement of all may be the fact that they have raised over $1,000,000 for their charity, Nkosi’s Haven, which provides care for families victimized by AIDS.

One of the highlights on their crowd-pleasing CD/DVD is the township jive number “Avulekile Amasango” and  Bob Marley’s “One Love.”

As Soweto Gospel Choir executive producer/show director, Beverly Bryer notes, “'One Love' has been sung and popularized by several African groups. The song is a perfect match for the choir as it contains a special spiritual message that is relevant to the choir and the music we enjoy singing.” 

Another highlight is the choir’s interpretation of the spiritual standard “River Jordan,” which they recorded for the first time. Listening to the CD or viewing the DVD offers an experience that is indeed the next best thing to being there.

Soweto Gospel Choir began in late 2002 when South African executive producer Beverly Bryer and noted musical director David Mulovhedzi held auditions in Soweto to form an all-star “super-choir” and was able to create a powerful aggregation made of the best singers from Mulovhedzi’s own Holy Jerusalem Choir, as well as various Soweto churches and even the public. Ultimately a 26-member aggregation of mainly singers in their twenties and teens were formed.

Africa in general (and South Africa in particular) has a long diverse history with Gospel music. When Africans encountered European missionaries and churches, they quickly absorbed their religious music and blended it with local traditional music to come up with unique styles and repertoires of spiritual songs. South Africa has long been noted for powerful singers and a capella vocal traditions of great beauty. In addition, dancing is an integral part of African church worship and so the dancing seen onstage is an authentic representation of African religious experience and not, as some would assume a “show-biz” device.

In The End, Her Voice Will Go On

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Alan Neister

Celine Dion
At the Air Canada Centre In Toronto on Wednesday

(August 29, 2008) One of the most obvious trends in the music scene over the past couple of years has been the aggrandizement of the live concert experience.

Certainly, live pop and rock concerts have always aimed for a visual enhancement. I remember ELO in the eighties “arriving” onstage from the depths of a plywood UFO; and one of Spinal Tap's most memorable scenes was its mocking, with a Stonehenge set, the then-standard papier-mâché-and-paint stage props.

But these days, everyone seems to be trying to out-awe each other with their big-buck, high-tech visual extravaganzas – the very concept of a “Vegas-style” stage show seems a tad redundant. So it should come as no surprise that the woman who has spent the past four years perfecting her own extravaganza in Las Vegas (her well-documented A New Day revue at Caesars Palace) arrived in Toronto with a massive spectacular that challenges every other road show out there.

This performance is so bedazzling that it makes the Spice Girls farewell tour seem like porridge by comparison. It's a theatre-in-the-round (well, square, actually) presentation, with a stage festooned with more video screens than NASA headquarters. There is a tight seven-piece band that bounces up and down on a quartet of risers, giving them the appearance of a giant whack-a-mole gam. There are moving sidewalks (ZZ Top did it better 20 years ago), an accomplished and acrobatic dance troupe, and banks of dazzling lights.

And somewhere in the middle of this visual cacophony is Celine herself, moving energetically from side to side (to side to side) of the stage, and down the runways to the smaller stages, until keeping up with her movements becomes a sort of Where's Waldo? exercise (if Waldo had a five-octave vocal range, that is).

And when you did find Celine, well, at 40, she looks better than ever. Long, flowing, golden tresses; alabaster, blemish-free skin from head to toe (thank the giant video screens for this observation); facial features that seem more fleshed out and soft than in her rather angular past, all showcased in a half-dozen flashy but tasteful stage outfits.

All of which seems a tad ironic really, given that it is always completely about the voice, and the songs she performs with it. Strip away the extraneous packaging, ignore the occasional head-scratching song selection (James Brown's It's a Man's Man's Man's World, for example), and it's still possible to luxuriate in wonder at the incredible gift that is Dion's voice.

Her first performance here since 1999 (after which she took her well-publicized three-year break) kicked off with a pure rock song: I Drove All Night, best-known as a Top 10 hit for Cyndi Lauper, was useful to get things off to an energetic start.

But after that, it was directly into the power-ballad mode for which Dion is best known, as she emoted heavily on fan favourites The Power of Love, Taking Chances and Jim Steinman's It's All Coming Back To Me Now.

Mid-set brought more variety. Eyes On Me, which featured a kind of gypsy dance routine, tiptoed into Christina Aguilera territory. Eric Carmen's All By Myself was an exercise in vocal gymnastics. Shadow of Love (from the 2007 Taking Chances release) featured a nice, understated, rolling rhythm and counter-melody from the collection of backing singers.

Later on, Dion performed a powerful video duet with a filmed Andrea Bocelli on The Prayer, and tossed in a token French-language number (the response it received indicated a strong contingent of Francophones in the near-capacity audience), the international hit Pour que tu m'aimes. Her biggest and best, My Heart Will Go On from the film Titanic, was saved for the second encore.

As the show wrapped up, things got a little weird. A vocal and visual tribute to Freddy Mercury and Queen was odd, and the soul medley that followed seemed a bit clichéd. But we'll allow Celine her little hobby horses. If the best-selling female artist of all time feels the need for a little Respect, who are we to quibble?

The Taking Chances World Tour plays Toronto Saturday night, and Montreal Sunday and Monday, before heading to Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg in October.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Michael Jackson Turns 50, Shadow Of Superstar Self

Source:  www.thestar.com - Jill Serjeant, Reuters

August 29, 2008)  LOS ANGELES– Singer Michael Jackson turned 50 Friday, a shadow of the superstar once known as the "King of Pop" whose records thrilled millions before his bizarre personal life eclipsed his musical brilliance.

Unlike Madonna's 50th birthday bash and launch of another world tour earlier this month, the singer who wishes he was Peter Pan appears to have no special celebrations planned and a much-touted musical comeback has so far come to nothing.

A semi-recluse since his harrowing 2005 trial and acquittal on child sex abuse, Jackson has been living out of the spotlight for the past few months.

In a telephone interview with ABC television program "Good Morning America," Jackson said he will "just have a little cake with my children and watch some cartoons," and he added that he feels "very wise and sage, but at the same time very young.

Recent pictures of Jackson in Las Vegas showed him dressed in pyjamas and slippers, and one had him sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a surgical mask.

Long-time Jackson family friend and lawyer Brian Oxman told Reuters the singer sometimes used the wheelchair to get around unobserved. "It is not an indication of any health problems. It is an effort to be unseen," he said.

Oxman added that for the 50th birthday, "no-one is planning anything special. He is just being quiet these days."

Billboard senior music analyst Geoff Mayfield saw nothing unusual in Jackson's low-key birthday. "I don't think our celebrities are real hot on how old they are getting. Why would a pop singer draw attention to the fact they are getting older?," Mayfield told Reuters.

Jackson's record label Sony BMG launched a big overseas promotion to mark his half-century and a career that started with his brothers in The Jackson Five, when Michael was 11, and which produced the 1982 album "Thriller" – still the world's biggest selling album and one of the most influential.

Fans in 11 countries, including Japan, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia where Jackson has his biggest following have voted on Web sites for their favourite songs that have been compiled on a "King of Pop" hits album being released Friday.

Yet, a poll on AOL's pop culture news Web site PopEater.com suggested that Jackson's surgically-altered face, his financial problems, the shuttering of his "Neverland" fantasy ranch, and the fallout of the 2005 trial, risked overshadowing his musical achievements.

Some 49 percent said Jackson's bizarre behaviour changed the way they viewed his classic hits of the 1980s, and 71 percent agreed there was "not a chance" of him making a comeback.

Jackson's last major public performance, in London in November 2006, fizzled out in disappointment when he sang only a few lines of an old song.

His last album of new music was "Invincible" in 2001, but the 25th anniversary reissue of "Thriller" this year has sold 635,000 copies in the U.S. alone and is one of the 30 best-selling albums of 2008.

Mayfield said that whatever the future holds for Jackson, he has made an indelible mark on pop music.

"To really still be in the conversation in terms of music sales decades after your career started is the exception not the norm," Mayfield said. "It is hard to imagine any album ever dominating the conversation as much as 'Thriller' did."

Oxman said that all stars go through difficult stages and he was hopeful that Jackson would yet resurrect his career. "We are anxious and waiting for him to do something," Oxman said.

Latest Pop Sensations Are Anything But Stationary

Source:  www.thestar.com - Garnet Fraser, Toronto Star

August 29, 2008) Mason Musso has only been a pop star for a couple of months, but that doesn't mean the 19-year-old isn't capable of nostalgia.

"It was different when we were just making music in my basement ... I kinda miss it," says
Metro Station's Musso from the road, en route to Toronto. "There's (people) in my family who are getting older and I'm kinda missing out on that."

The touring life has been so busy, in fact, that Musso and the rest of his fast-rising synth-rock foursome have already played here once this month, and return tonight. They might've had more time on their hands if "Shake It," their third stab at a hit single off their self-titled debut album, hadn't charmed the ears of radio programmers.

Musso knows why this one caught on, noting it's "a very catchy song; it's fun, but it's serious at the same time. It's about something that (all) people do ... I'm talking about sex."

Understood. The randy suggestion of the lyrics ("don't leave me at the front door ... I was thinking of ways that I could get inside") barely qualifies as innuendo sometimes, but the infectious tune is now the band's first to hit gold in Canada. Whether it's that or the band's tween-pop connection (see below), don't be surprised if a lot of the screams from the crowd at the Molson Amphitheatre are for the sleek, tattooed Trace Cyrus and the unflashy, slightly rumpled Musso, though they're just one of three bands opening for Simple Plan.

Finding the right breakthrough single from Metro Station represents the only real pause in the band's rise.

It was only in 2006 that the band's front men Musso and Cyrus were introduced by their mothers on the set of Hannah Montana. Both had relatives in the cast – Cyrus's, of course, being his teen megastar half-sister Miley – and Musso had a modest acting career under his own belt, including commercials and a single line on Arrested Development ("Somebody give her a cupcake!" if you're curious).

Their introduction was a creative blind date of sorts, but a successful one; Musso and Cyrus were soon holed up together, writing songs (and getting attention on MySpace) bearing the strong influence of the Killers and synth-heavy '80s pop like New Order and Depeche Mode.

"I like a pop song with a dark, dark undertone," says Musso. Asked if the Cure are what he has in mind, he erupts: "I love them. They definitely are an influence. `Just Like Heaven' – that's the way love should be."

Songs like that make a band new friends, as Musso is finding out. He remembers when he first figured out that "Shake It" was taking off:

"It was our first time out of the van and into the tour bus, and it was pretty crazy. It was packed every night."

New Courses Help Kids Tune In To Language

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Classical Music Critic

(August 30, 2008) Like the arresting mix of music, movement and imagery during the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, the Royal Conservatory of Music is trying to help us tell our stories in new ways.

As you read this, administrators, teachers, and whoever else can help, are spending their long weekend moving the school to its shiny new home on Bloor St. W., beside the ROM crystal.

Along with the crates and boxes, the organization is also unpacking a new roster of courses that take the 122-year-old organization well beyond its roots in music lessons.

The package is based on the Royal Conservatory's 14-year-old program called Learning Through the Arts. This is backed by the latest scientific research on how music and other arts-related activities help children not only learn, but also lead emotionally and intellectually healthier lives.

On the afternoon of Sept. 14, the Conservatory is throwing open the doors to the Telus Centre to give the general public a taste of its classes, which begin officially on Sept. 20.

For the first time, the Royal Conservatory's course calendar is not printed, but available online, at
rcmusic.ca. The website lays out three streams of instruction: for children, adults and the professional development of artists and teachers.

Prominent is Learning Through the Arts, which has gone from being a program the Conservatory runs with individual schools and school boards to an after-school extra.

Angela Elster, the Conservatory's vice-president, academic, explains how some of the classes are bundled into two categories: Smart Start, geared toward toddlers and preschoolers; and Head Start, which delivers arts-based math and language classes to children of primary-school age.

Elster, with the help of Queen's University-based chief researcher Ann Patteson, has fashioned a curriculum that uses arts techniques such as movement and music to reinforce basic language and math skills. "We now have the scientific research to prove what we've always known intuitively as educators, and that is a real win-win," Elster says.

Besides using choreography to teach addition or geometry, Patteson says teachers are "noticing things about students that they didn't know before," such as a previously reticent student suddenly beginning to articulate a lesson.

There are benefits in classrooms where children from many ethnic backgrounds come together.

"We're finding that, when we use the arts in multicultural classrooms, there is a greater degree of collegiality among the students because there is another way of understanding one another," says Patteson. "In England, where our program works in inner-city London, we're finding what teachers really value is how the students are learning to communicate with each other and really value one another."

Patteson relates how one student-teacher remarked to her that "I love to work this way because I get to work with people I would never otherwise work with, and I've begun to understand them better."

Elster and Patteson relate how they've adapted Learning Through the Arts to courses in English as a second language. Their approach, they say, "helps mix kids in and enlivens language" with music and arts. It allows a broader mix of children, who would otherwise often find themselves among a particular ethnic group in their ESL work. "The pride they feel in their artwork somehow spills over in taking risks in talking about it," Patteson says.

Elster describes a chamber ensemble's visit to a Grade 2 class in the Jane and Finch area, where most of the kids "spoke very little English." They then encouraged the children to express what they heard with colour, then with drawing and, finally, with words. One little girl piped up with "I hear longing."

"The teacher and I both looked at each other and thought, 'Wow, where did that come from?'

"When we learn that way, it is embedded deeply, not only in our brain, but in our heart and soul."

Tunes For The Head And The Hips

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Joshua Ostroff

August 29, 2008) The rise of digital technology has impacted musical genres across the spectrum, but none more so than hip hop, R&B and electronic music, styles that were born and bred in urban centres. With that in mind, Toronto's Urban Music Week has booked the subject's pre-eminent scholar - and noted party-rocker - DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid.

"Hip hop, drum 'n' bass, techno, dubstep - all these styles that come out of the urban landscape are really just part of the global conversation of how technology is changing the way we think about culture," says Spooky, a.k.a. Paul D. Miller, an acclaimed music producer, remixer, writer, conceptual artist and academic.

Though Spooky broke into the pop consciousness in the late nineties with his experimental hip-hop album Riddim Warfare, he has always been an intellectual. "I never really thought I'd be a DJ," he readily admits. "I was planning to be a diplomat." That would explain why this expert beatsmith, who borrowed part of his moniker from a William S. Burroughs novel, is as likely to namedrop Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan as turntablist Rob Swift.

Exhausted from a red-eye flight on his return to New York from Denver, Urban Music Week's keynote speaker was there entertaining Democratic conventioneers with Terra Nova: The Antarctica Suite, a climate-change-inspired multimedia performance involving audio samples he recorded on the ice floes down south. On Sept. 3, Spooky will be performing at the Guelph Jazz Festival with New York pianist Vijay Iyer.

But here in Toronto on Sept. 5, he'll deliver a lecture based on his "literary mixtape" Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. The book includes essays by Public Enemy's Chuck D, techno-pop star Moby, minimalist composer Steve Reich and U2 collaborator Brian Eno and is already being taught at Harvard and Yale.

"I'll be riffing on music as information. To me it's all about patterns and beats. It's all code at the end of the day," he explains. "I'm going to focus on the arc of recording, how the idea of recording itself has changed creativity."

"When you look at Spooky's career, it really is about someone who is unafraid to explore sound in all its forms and use technology to reconstruct things," says festival organizer, and Word Magazine founder Phil Vassell. "Music fans from the Toronto hip-hop scene can be highly critical. They're not easy to please. So for this to have some kind of cachet, it had to be somebody who could not only reach out to the urban world but also cross some bridges. [Spooky] captures a lot of the elements that make the culture interesting from an innovation standpoint."

Other panels will focus on touring, funding for music publishing, prospering as an independent artist and what Vassell refers to as "hustle 2.0," using the Internet to get your music out.

The centrepiece of
Urban Music Week - which runs to Sept. 6 - is a performance at the Canadian National Exhibition bandshell, which usually attracts upward of 10,000 fans and this year will be highlighted by L.A. rappers Dilated Peoples, and a raft of local street dance crews such as Rukus, Nu Limit and 2Badd.

"One of the big things we're doing this year is a special dance component. Dance has become the staple of television these days. Now that we've seen the best that America has on those dance shows, I think people realize how much talent we have here locally," Vassell says, noting Toronto boasts a hybrid style thanks to Jamaican and Caribbean influences.

Running for the past 11 years under the moniker Toronto Urban Music Fest, the expanded event now includes the conference, a film series and an "urban arts showcase," which will happen in various clubs about town and include spoken-word, reggae and turntablism alongside rapping and singing.

"We wanted to take a broader look," he says. "The main concert takes place at the CNE so there might be some artists whose material might not be as family friendly as one would want it to be. This allows us to deal with a wider swath of artistic talent."

Between Spooky's speech and the various live performances, this year's Urban Music Week will be as dedicated to working your head as moving your hips.

Special to The Globe and Mail


Don't miss


Aug. 30, CNE Bandshell Park

While Spooky focuses on the future, L.A. underground heroes Dilated Peoples offers a throwback rap sound inspired by hip hop's late-eighties/early-nineties golden age. Their old-school conscious party music is replete with tag-team rapping, socially aware rhymes and turntable scratching courtesy of Beat Junkies' DJ Babu. Though it hasn't dropped an album since 2006, Dilated is an ace live act with a handful of classic tracks such as Worst Comes to Worst and their Kanye West-produced hit This Way.


Columbia Announces New Mary Mary

Source: Columbia Records via PRNewswswire

(September 03, 2008) *NEW YORK -- Columbia Records is proud to announce the upcoming release of The Sound, the avidly awaited new studio album from the platinum-selling chart-topping award-winning R&B/gospel duo Mary Mary. The Sound will be available online and in stores on Tuesday, October 14.

The Sound is Mary Mary's first new album since the release of A Mary Mary Christmas in October 2006 and is the duo's first new full-length non-seasonal album since release of the RIAA gold-certified Top 10 collection Mary Mary in July 2005.

The Sound premieres 11 new Mary Mary performances including the album's recently released lead single, "Get Up," a pop-infused anthem of praise and empowerment. "That song embodies what the whole album is about," says Mary Mary's Erica Campbell. "It asks people, 'Why are you waiting? Why do you care what other people think?' It reminds us that your beginning can be whenever you want it to be."

Other tracks on The Sound include the R&B-flavoured title track "The Sound," "Superfriend," "God In Me," "Boom," "I'm Running," "Forgiven Me," "Dirt," "Seattle," "I Worship You," and "It Will All Be Worth It."

With able assistance from longtime producer and collaborator Warryn Campbell, Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell, the real life sisters a/k/a Mary Mary, weave their love of truth-grounded gospel music into a tuneful blend of R&B, pop, soul, jazz, electronic music, and more. (Erica's husband, Warryn Campbell has produced all of Mary Mary's albums including the RIAA platinum-certified Thankful as well as the RIAA gold-certified Incredible and RIAA gold-certified Mary Mary.)

As Mary Mary, Erica and Tina Campbell bring a revolutionary combination of R&B, urban, hip-hop and electronica to the world of contemporary gospel music.

Growing up in Inglewood, California, Erica and Tina first sang publicly in the local church choir and received their first break in 1998 with a song on the "Prince of Egypt" soundtrack.

In 2000, Mary Mary's platinum debut album, Thankful -- featuring the hit "Shackles (Praise You)" -- earned numerous awards including a Grammy for Best Contemporary Gospel Album and three Dove Awards, six Stellar Awards, a Lady of Soul Award, a Soul Train Award. Incredible, their second album, became the nation's #1 Top Christian Album in 2002 and featured the Dove Award-winning hits "In The Morning" and "Thank You," featuring Kirk Franklin.

While Erica and Tina took a break after recording their second album to start -- and spend time with -- their respective families, the platinum-selling duo found the time to bring their exuberant gospel soul sounds down new avenues, including an appearance in the 2003 musical comedy, "The Fighting Temptations," and concert performances around the world.

In November 2005, Mary Mary took home the coveted American Music Awards trophy in the Contemporary Inspirational Music category, adding to a growing collection of critical and popular kudos that includes a Grammy and numerous other awards.

The Grammy-winning R&B/gospel duo Mary Mary crossed over into Top 10 pop territory when the group's self-titled new album, released in July 2005, debuted at #8 on the Billboard Top 200 best-selling album chart, the highest Top 200 chart position in the group's career. (Mary Mary's previous albums -- 2000's Thankful and 2002's Incredible -- peaked at #59 and #20, respectively.)

When Mary Mary subsequently debuted at #1 on the Billboard Gospel album sales chart, it became the best-selling Gospel debut of 2005.

"Heaven," the first single from Mary Mary, made chart history during its unprecedented 9 week run as the #1 record on Billboard's Gospel Radio chart. "Heaven" was also a #1 R&R Gospel Radio Single which hit the #3 slot on the Billboard Bubbling Under -- Hot R&B Singles chart."

For more information:

Students Sing Her Praises

Source: www.thestar.com -
Joanna Smith

(September 03, 2008) She will always picture her sitting at the piano.

"Her bifocals are halfway down her nose and she has this way of cocking her head just so," soprano Adrianne Pieczonka says of her celebrated vocal coach,
Mary Morrison. "After I sing a passage she says, 'Now, there's a sound!' "

What a compliment from an 81-year-old who has not only heard but produced some of the greatest vocal sounds in the history of Canadian music.

Sitting in her tiny basement studio in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto – where the walls are covered with photographs of Pieczonka and other famous students from decades past who still come to her to learn new pieces – Morrison starts at the very beginning.

"Oh, I've been singing since ..." she begins. Since she could speak.

Born to a Scottish family in Winnipeg on Nov. 9, 1926, Morrison began singing at Gaelic competitions, winning her first award at age 8. She moved on to her own radio show and the Manitoba Music Festival and when she ran out of awards and scholarships to win after graduating from high school, she hopped on the train to an exciting new life at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

"I came all by myself, which was very daring in those days," she chuckles.

That sense of daring never left her as she became one of the foremost advocates of 20th-century music, bringing its avant-garde silences and dissonant notes to audiences not always ready to hear it.

"I just thought it was so challenging and it was musically something that I wanted to try. ... There were some works that I did that composers had approached other singers (about) and they said, `No way!' I'm not going to mention any names," she says coyly.

She has performed lead roles in Canadian Opera Company productions such as Marguerite in Faust and the Countess in the Marriage of Figaro, but her talent also allowed her to communicate lesser-known music.

"You have to be convinced yourself about that work before you can convince somebody else. You do it through your voice and your use of the text, but also in the shape of the piece, how the phrases are going, the pacing. Your eyes, your presence, whatever will draw your audience to that music."

Canadian composers of contemporary music found a stable outlet for their expression when in 1964 Morrison formed the Lyric Arts Trio with her then-neighbours, the flutist Robert Aitken and his wife, the pianist Marion Ross.

Aitken, 69, a well-known composer in his own right and artistic director of New Music Concerts, recalls fondly the years he spent bringing contemporary music to audiences around the world; travels often filled with hilarious adventures thanks to the high-spirited Morrison.

There was the time when the wrong backup tape started playing during a performance in Japan and the uptight concert host nearly threw a fit.

Once they were locked out of the hall until someone finally realized that banging on the door wasn't part of the act.

"What if a bus got caught in a fishnet?" Morrison would say while laughing, because one time it did.

"The warmth of her personality was known and felt by all who knew her," Aitken says. "It was amazing to see her find the time to play and still maintain a loving family."

Morrison met her late husband, composer Harry Freedman, at the conservatory, where she says "he was kind of the matinee idol" of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the time.

"At that time, he didn't think too highly of singers," she says. "I think he thought that we weren't really good musicians – certainly not on par with some of the instrumentalists, which was all the more amusing for his friends when we got engaged and then got married."

Their youngest daughter, Lori Freedman, a clarinettist based in Montreal, says music was a natural part of life at home with her parents.

"Even into my teens, coming home from high school parties and things, I would be the first home then Mum would pop in at some point, or maybe she was already in, and she was practising all this weird music," she says. "I was going to bed and she was up practising with the metronome and this huge score in the bed and that was sort of normal, but I realized somewhere along the line that it wasn't normal. Nobody else's parents were doing these kinds of things."

The transition from performing around the world to teaching the next generation of singing stars was a slow one. Morrison has been at the University of Toronto since 1978 but began teaching elsewhere several years earlier. Her last public performance was in 1985 and she says she eased into offstage life with little fanfare.

"It was nothing sort of dramatic. Some people do farewell tours and that kind of thing," she says, bursting into laughter. "That was not my style! Oh, what's the big deal? You just get on with your life."

Soprano Measha Brueggergosman is grateful that getting on with life meant Morrison has been able to devote her time to sharing her talents with vocalists like her.

"I knew I was going to be just one in a long line of people who had benefited generously from her work," she says of Morrison, who she calls an "intuitive" teacher with "an encyclopedic knowledge of vocal repertoire."

She also pictures her sitting at the piano, although the image makes her laugh.

"She's the first to admit she's a horrible piano player," Brueggergosman says.

"I can still hear you singing the wrong note!" she says Morrison will call out while clanging away. "She's got ears in the back of her head and you're not getting any help from the piano!"

Staff Reporter


Caribbean Entertainment News

www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(August 28, 2008) Luni Sparks and Electrify retained the title of 2008 Soca Monarch champ of Grenada. The Grenada Soca Monarch finals took place two weekends ago. The main prize was EC$30,000.  The winners have now qualified for the 2009 International Soca Monarch Finals which will be held in Trinidad and Tobago next February. His name is Skinny Fabulous and he’s from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He currently has the number one song on the charts in Trinidad and Tobago with the song Head Bad On the Spot. But just who exactly is Skinny Fabulous? His real name is Omar Doyle and he recently completed a diploma in Media and communications at the UWI Mona Campus. He is currently pursuing his Bachelors Degree. Over in Antigua, the top 10 finalists for the Antiguan Digicel Rising Stars competition have been selected.  Among the finalists are two duets as well as previous top 10 finalists from 2006 and 2007. The series began on August 11 with a recap show broadcast on ABS television. Antigua’s audition show is due to air on September 14. Voters from Antigua and across the Caribbean will have a week to select their top two for the regional series. 

Shine Through It: Terrence Howard

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

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)

(September 02, 2008) Anyone who picks up actor
Terrence Howard's debut disc on the basis of his smouldering Oscar-nominated onscreen presence will be pleasantly rewarded with the sensitivity and sophistication of the singer/songwriter/guitarist's muse.  His distinct, but limited husky vocals (a scratchier Seal) are nothing special; but Howard, 39, succeeds by varying their delivery – from halting whisper to swaggering rap to urgent cry – of the highly confessional, self-penned poetry set to jazzy arrangements he had a hand in.  Despite a stellar complement of musicians on the rich blend of Latin, folk and soul, the Cleveland native tosses in a few unnecessary gimmicks – phone interludes, whistling, a ticking clock. Otherwise, he's an effective storyteller, serving up autobiographical dissections of love – an off-limits neighbourhood girl ("Mr. Johnson's Lawn"), the ex-wife he divorced twice ("No. 1 Fan") – as well as the spirituality resonating in the title track and the political closer ("War"). Top Tracks: I'm partial to the ones with the fewest words: flamenco instrumental "Spanish Romance" and "It's All Game," in which Howard introduces a relationship theory called "Least Interest Involved" then gives the listener four minutes of music to ponder it.

Join the Band: Little Feat

Source:  www.thestar.com - Greg Quill

(429 Records)

(September 02, 2008)
That Little Feat still works the club and concert trail after 40 years is a credit to the resilience of band members Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett (guitars), Bill Payne (piano), drummer Richie Heyward, percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney. With soul/gospel singer Shaun Murphy they've managed to keep alive and in reasonably good condition the fusion of New Orleans funk, blues and country that was the singular contribution of the late Lowell George, the band's founder/guitarist/composer, to American rock. Brilliant musicians all, even if they've never really been able to surpass the benchmarks they set in the 1970s with the likes of "Dixie Chicken," "Willin'" and "Let It Roll." Those classics are revisited (yet again) on this collaborative effort, which brings in peers, long-time admirers and old friends, including guitarists Dave Matthews, Sonny Landreth and Brad Paisley, banjo master Bela Fleck, singers Bob Seger, Chris Robinson, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Dunn and Vince Gill, and they're given some unusual contextualization with the inclusion of a few unexpected items – Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," Robbie Robertson's "The Weight" and the primordial rock `n' roll relic "See You Later, Alligator." It's all a bit of a dog's breakfast, though well intentioned and refreshingly organic. If the result is less than stunning, the material is well served and the performances earnest and musically unimpeachable.

The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali: Various Artists

Source:  www.thestar.com - John Goddard

(World Music Network)

(September 02, 2008) A track from the most recent world-music album-of-the-year, as chosen by BBC Radio 3, kicks off this rich collection from the West African country of Mali. The winning album was Segu Blue. The song here is "Bala." The group is Ngoni Ba and the front man is Bassekou Kouyate, a long-time side man to several top Malian artists until he decided to take the limelight with his three-stringed acoustic instrument, the ngoni. Elsewhere in the collection, such big names as Oumou Sangare and Rokia Traoré appear alongside such lesser known ones as Babani Kone, a praise singer from the Niger River town of Segu. New songs mix with back-catalogue gems, such as a laid-back jazz number from top 1970s band Les Ambassadeurs Internationales. Late guitarist Ali Farka Touré collaborates with his son Vieux and kora master Toumani Diabaté. In a delightful conclusion, one of the country's best-loved musicians, Keletigui Diabate, performs a Mande balafon (wooden xylophone) version of George Gershwin's "Summertime."


Brothers At The Box Office - And Sisters Too!

Source:  www.eurweb.com - By Marie Moore

August 28, 2008) *The summer big box office season was jumpstarted with “Iron Man,” co-starring Terrence Howard. Record breaking “The Dark Knight” was an even bigger success with Morgan Freeman. It took “Tropic Thunder” starring the real brother Brandon T. Jackson to knock “The Dark Knight” off its high perch. Now on the big screen and coming to you this week are films with Blacks in major roles—Don Cheadle, Ice Cube, Tiki Palmer, Tyrese, Vin Diesel and Paula Patton.

Then there was the record breaking “Dark Knight” with Morgan Freeman and now the only film that could knock “The Dark Knight” off its perch was “Tropic Thunder” with Black actor Brandon T. Jackson. This week added to the line-up of Blacks onscreen will be Don Cheadle, Ice Cube, Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson. And least we not forget the women Kiki Palmer and Paula Patton. The New American spoke to them all.

 Don Cheadle is an undercover agent in “Traitor” - torn between his religion and his job. Cheadle, who once considered being a stunt man, wears many hats now. As entertainer, actor and filmmaker the decision arises sometimes as to what degree should entertainment play when there is a message yearning to get out. Although important, the decision to deliver a message does not bear that much weight when Cheadle decides on a project.

“One of the things that drew me to this script were these ideas floating around that were focused on in the news like terror and the Patriot Act,” Cheadle says. “The question for me in this film was how far would you go against what maybe you personally believe in to protect or have a feeling of safety. I still think the idea of security is mostly a concept. I don’t know how we’re ever really secure even if you put borders around this whole place. It just makes it a bigger challenge. I don’t think that really exists, some perfect place of safety.”

On the issue of diversity, Cheadle talked about traveling to different parts of the world and how people of different nationalities and religions felt.

“What I’ve learned traveling around the world and speaking to a lot of different people is that most people really just kind of want to just get through the day. Most people really just wanna like make some money, protect their family and be happy and be safe. 

 “For whatever particular reasons that leaders want to push and pull us in different directions, they use faith and they use politics. They use whatever for their own ends, their own agendas. But for the most part, we kind of all want the same things. With this film the people I met once they knew the story and we told them what we were doing they were like, ‘Wow, thankfully we have a Muslim character who you will show wrestling with those things we’re trying to come to grips with for a positive result.”

Since this is another Oscar worthy film of his, The Film Strip asked Cheadle, who lost out on a well-deserved Oscar for “Hotel Rwanda,” if it would upset him if his film didn’t get the Academy nod? 

“No, I don’t really care about that. I mean I really don’t. It’s a bit of a grind and it’s not like the Oscars necessarily do anything for your movie anyway nowadays. It used to mean something else, very prestigious. It just kind of doesn’t any more.”

Referring to an interview I had with Brandon T. Jackson I chided Cheadle about Robert Downey Jr. being mistaken for him. “Really!” was Cheadle’s startled reaction.

“You know, I do remember seeing that written and I did write him [Downey] and said,  ‘Oh, so you’re the White Don, huh?’ (laughs) and he said, ‘No, you’re the Black me’.”  Milking the absurd a little more, a battle royal was suggested and Don was all for it, “Yeah, for supreme Whiteness and Blackness. I’ll play the White him I guess.”

Dynamic duo Ice Cube and Keke Palmer share the screen again in “The Longshots.” They took time out of their busy schedules to talk to The Film Strip about life’s long shots.

“Oh yeah, I’ve had mine,” Cube admitted. “Definitely. It was a long shot to make it in the rap game. Comin’ from the west coast you can count most of the big west coast artists on one hand. So to me that was a long shot. Going from doing that to making a movie like this and being accepted, you know, and kind of being now normal and not such a novelty kind of thing, that’s a long shot to me.”

Palmer chimed in with, “It definitely was long shot for me. I’m originally from Chicago and with my whole family we drove four days and three nights to California to help me with acting. I definitely think that was a long shot.”

Keke will take a shot at playing rapper Roxanne Shante if the money is ever right.

“I hope to get to do that. They don’t necessarily have the funding yet for the movie but to play a rapper would be cool. Her story was actually amazing to me because after she had gotten pregnant and she couldn’t rap any more she really wasn’t in the music too much. But she made sure in her contract that they would pay for all of her education. I thought that was really cool because after everything happened she was still able to get her education and she’s like a professor. I thought that was really awesome.”

Vin Diesel is back in the reel game after sometime away from the screen starring in “Babylon A.D.” The Film Strip asks him about his trust issues in the film and does he trust people in real life?

“I’m a New Yorker [laughs]. I always have those issues and you adopt that from being a New Yorker.”  He then concedes and confesses, “Yes, I do trust people but that was a good question. I like to keep it honest.

“I mean, the logical answer is time and experience but really I think that trust is something that comes from the gut and I think you have to get to that. That’s me and it’s probably the worse advice to give people, but I think you have to trust people from your gut. I don't think it's anything specific. I don't think it's anything tangible. I think it's a feeling you get. I think you're forced when deciding whether to trust someone to rely on your intuition in ways that we probably don't do enough.”

There are definitely no trust issues when it comes to his next project. He says he hasn’t seen the final cut for “Babylon A.D.” because he’s been at work on the next “Fast and Furious” film and “Hannibal.”

“I had this wonderful opportunity,” he exclaimed. “Universal Studios has been so damn good to me because in 'The Chronicles of Riddick' they gave me this character, and although I started as you know in the independent film world, they allowed me to write a draft."

“In ‘The Fast and Furious,’ they asked me to go direct a prequel to the prequel which is actually really, really cool. People don't talk enough about their relationships with studios. It's usually studio bashing, but it was pretty cool of them. They said, 'Here, take some money. Go down and direct a twenty minute short.' And maybe it's because they have their eyes on Hannibal or something.

“So it was a wonderful experience shooting the movie. My point, getting back to the question if I’ve seen the final cut of ‘Babylon,’ literally I’ve spent all night in the editing room haven't seen a cut of 'Babylon' in six months, seven or eight months. So I don't know what the hell has happened. If you've seen the movie, give me some feedback.” 

No comment.

Having starred in “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Transformers” it’s no surprise that Tyrese Gibson has an affinity for fast cars.

“Listen,” he beams, “when I was a kid, you know,  I always wanted something fast to drive. I never thought I could ever afford anything fast to drive so when they give ‘em to me and tell me I can go and beat them up and have some fun in doing it, bring it on!” 

He a white Bentley with over 400 horse power but don’t expect to see him racing it to any finish line

Besides the fast cars, one of the perks for Tyrese in starring in “Death Race” is the fact he gets to go dark playing Machine Gun Joe. 

“Machine Gun Joe is crazy, he’s wild,” Tyrese takes pleasure in telling. “He’s unpredictable and it’s a lot of self-sabotage going on with that guy like he’s really beats himself up a lot. And every time he kills somebody, he slices his face. You see the bruises right there. I mean this dude is pretty crazy. I’m just really glad that Paul Anderson allowed me to go dark and have some real fun with this character."

With so many films under his belt, is it safe to say Tyrese Gibson has put his music career on hold?

“Yeah,” he confirms. “I was going to touch on that. I wanna send all the love possible to my man Will Smith who played a huge role in me making some big, big changes in my life. I’m no longer doing music but will get back to it eventually. I’ve done 14 years of music, five albums and you know, I really feel that at this point every blessing taken for granted becomes a curse. Everywhere I go I get a lot of feedback from the performances that I’ve been doing in these films whether they be big or small budget ones. I’ve always pretty much been accepting the love but not wholeheartedly. I’ll be on a film looking forward to doing another album or dong another show and it’s just too much going on spiritually. So I’ve never taken the movie thing as seriously as I have the music. With Will Smith taking me under his wing and telling me that, ‘You’re that guy. You have what it takes to be the next guy.’ [It’s a sign.]”

Considering the hype and big budget spending to promote blockbuster duds, many critics wondered why “Mirrors’ parent company tried to sabotage the film by not letting reviewers see it. For a horror film it’s not that bad. Paula Patton, who is the love interest of Andre Benjamin in “Idlewild” and has a pivotal role in “Swing Vote,” is Kiefer Sutherland’s estranged wife in the “Mirrors.” She says:

“Some people don’t take the horror genre very seriously. It’s [“Mirrors”]intense. It’s dealing with everyday emotions. I was emotionally and physically exhausted from all the cuts and bruises I got filming it. You’re afraid for your husband. I’m trying to save my children and at times save my own life.”

Patton happens to be afraid of scary movies.

“I have to watch them with my husband or someone else,” she chuckles. She does, however, like vampire movies. “I must’ve have seen ‘The Lost Boys’ a hundred times. Needless to say, having seen “The Lost Boys” that many times she is a fan of Sutherland. She also watches “24.” “Any guy who puts a Black guy as a president gets my vote. You know what I’m sayin’? He’s ahead of the times.”

Patton doesn’t think it odd that her husband is White in “Mirrors.”

“I think the film is a step in the right direction,” she states. We all know that we got a ways to go for everything to get equal and right but I do think we’re making a good headway.” A firm supporter of Barack Obama, she is ready for change and believes Obama will be the next president.

Charting Our Cultural Collisions

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Liam Lacey

August 29, 2008) Atom Egoyan's latest film, Adoration, explores post-9/11 cultural fault lines and the world of the Internet. A teenaged boy, Simon (Devon Bostick), tells his class a shocking story about his Arab father and Canadian mother. The story becomes an Internet sensation and the aftermath exposes unexpected connections between the boy, his mysterious French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian) and his guardian and uncle (Scott Speedman).

“There's a lot going on. It needs attention,” warns Toronto-based Egoyan, but for many viewers, the film is a welcome return to a kind of highly personal complexity on culture, technology and the spaces between people.

The movie opened in competition at Cannes earlier this year and has its North American premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. The following interview took place at Cannes, where the film was honoured with a prize from the Ecumenical Jury for promoting spiritual values.

One of the things that's intriguing about this film is its sheer eccentricity. Not only does it keep you guessing in the usual ways, but it has a streak of strange comedy.

I like this terrain. My last couple of films had agendas. In the case of Ararat it was political and with Where the Truth Lies, it had a very commercial agenda. Whether you get it, or whether you like it or not, it's the kind of film I've been working on and the product of my imagination and also the people I've been working with for the past 20 years and this is the kind of film we like to make. It veers between lunacy and despair and there's also a lightness and major cultural collisions.

I also love working with a smaller budget. The script doesn't have to be this blueprint that everyone understands and can attract stars. The story can redefine itself as you're making it. I think that's probably how I work best.

I also think it's very much about Toronto, which all my films, up to and including Exotica, were. Our version of multiculturalism is different than in other places.

Multiculturalism is touted as a success in Toronto, but it's very explosive in your film.

Yes. There's a lot of detonating – personal, literal and cultural. …

And after a rather static, philosophical beginning, things break loose, starting with an unlikely action sequence involving a car being towed.…

Yes. There's a huge shift at that point. There's this piece of equipment called the Russian Arm, which is remotely controlled from a car and goes on top of it to hold the camera. We had this huge piece of metal on top of a car swinging out over the traffic and it was very exciting. I'm not sure how much longer they're going to allow it but we were very lucky. I showed the film to David [Cronenberg] and I knew he would have drooled to have used that in Crash. He had to have the streets shut down for that film.

You also have to give a lot of credit to [composer] Mychael Danna for that sequence as well. He wrote this beautiful musical theme which modulates in a way that becomes exciting.

That physical journey is important for people to say things they never would have been able to say to each other. Simon also needs to take his physical journey. Of course, it's also a movement toward something more conventional.

What excites me is to throw all the balls into the air but then they have to come down and the story has to resolve. Order has to be restored and there has to be someone in the story with a will to impose that order.

When you were writing the story, you put Simon's story before real high-school classes and shot the students' responses, some of which made their way into the film. What did you learn from that?

I'm fascinated by how we encounter other people in a physical space that you just can't read on the screen. There's a performative aspect of personality that's inevitably part of people's behaviour on the Internet. They create a composed narrative. There's a kind of black comic sequence in the film where a group of people on the Internet become obsessed with being recognized for a trauma they escaped. Do you think, in some sense, the Internet accelerates the cult of victimhood?

I'm sure it does. The Internet is this sea of relativism. In order for people to stake claims, ideas will be embellished. People can concentrate their grievances and form communities that have not otherwise been available. Somehow it becomes more immediate to them because someone else is asking them to confess or address something that may not actually exist. Water finds the path of least resistance and, probably, so does sorrow. You show a world where people get boxed into their private and cultural histories, particularly their religious systems. How do they break out of that?

Any myth is a way of organizing the real and the imaginary to a version of an idea people want to believe, whether it's a cultural system or a family code. These myths can sustain us or be very destructive. The characters in the film have fixed on versions of their own truths, which you can't necessarily trust and which don't work for them. But through their love of this boy, their adoration of him, they can make this great leap of generosity and form a new peculiar kind of family. That's why, ultimately, I think there's a lightness and hopefulness to the film.

Because that adoration inspires them to tear off their cultural packages?

Yes. And once they've learned how, they'll continue to keep doing that.

Coens Coast Into Festival Spotlight

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Johanna Schneller

August 29, 2008) That rumble you hear is the approach of one of the hippest dog-and-pony shows at this year's Toronto International Film Festival: the Coen brothers' new film, Burn After Reading, and its ne plus ultra cast: Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand. This past week, they yukked it up at the Venice Film Festival; on Sept. 5 and 6, Pitt, Malkovich, Swinton and the Coens are swooping into Toronto for select (read: scant) appearances, just in time to milk as much free publicity as possible before the film opens Sept. 12.

Pitt, of course, sets the press aflutter every time he crosses the street. But this year much of the excitement is beamed at brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, who co-write, co-produce, co-direct, and often (under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes) co-edit their films.

Their last effort, 2007's brilliant No Country for Old Men, pulled off the rare feat of winning Academy Awards for best picture, director and screenplay. (Only five other people have done that, and one of them was Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather: Part II.) It also nabbed a supporting-actor Oscar for Javier Bardem, and a slew of other American and international awards.

Joel, 53, is the taller one who's married to McDormand; Ethan, 50, is the ginger-haired, usually more bearded one. But they function as one, speaking a shared secret language of mumbled brilliance, like Asperger twins who were accidentally born three years apart. And they are riding into TIFF, a festival always friendly to artful directors, trailing their No Country glory in a year when their creative peers aren't faring quite as well.

For every critic who's anticipating Steven Soderbergh's Che, a two-part biopic of Che Guevara starring Benicio Del Toro, there are several more intimidated by its 262-minute running time. Neither The Wrestler, from director Darren Aronofsky ( Requiem for a Dream), nor Me and Orson Welles, from director Richard Linklater ( Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise), has yet to secure U.S. distribution. Blindness, from Fernando Meirelles ( City of God, The Constant Gardener), about a mysterious epidemic, was slammed in Cannes. And the reaction to Synecdoche, New York, the reality-bending directorial debut of renowned screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ( Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a depressed playwright, has been nothing short of horrified.

The Coens, on the other hand, have managed to hang onto, and even improve upon, their early genius.

Cinephiles still remember the moment in their first film, Blood Simple (1984), when their camera, skimming the surface of a long bar, skipped up and over a drunk slumped in its way. In that film, and in many that followed, including Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996), they helped create a new, hybrid genre of deadpan yet slapstick humour punctuated by sudden, gruesome violence, finished off with genuine emotion. (I'll never forget the pained, puzzled look on McDormand's face near the end of Fargo, as she contemplates the horrible violence she's witnessed, and quietly adds, “And it's a beautiful day.”)

The brothers' mash-up style has since been copied by everyone from Quentin Tarantino (whose Reservoir Dogs didn't arrive until 1992) to Judd Apatow.

Always gorgeously shot by the world's foremost cinematographers, the Coens' movies live in the odd corners where bland meets inexplicable, and are peopled by eccentrics with odd enthusiasms: the stormily sobbing policewoman (Holly Hunter) who pines for a baby in Raising Arizona; the mild-mannered businessman (Tim Robbins) who dreams up an idea “for kids!” in 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy; the wildlife painter whose fondest dream is for his work to be on a postage stamp in Fargo. The Big Lebowski is a free-for-all of wacko characters and lines that have entered the lexicon (especially Jeff Bridges's immortal “The Dude abides,” though I prefer, “Hey, careful, man, there's a beverage here!”). Throughout this year – Lebowski's 10th anniversary – bowling alleys were filled with Valkyries drinking White Russians in its honour.

The Coens are beloved by the suits and the talent alike. “Joel and Ethan Coen rank among the greatest writers and directors of all time,” says uber-producer Harvey Weinstein, who worked with the brothers on several movies. “I always highly anticipate seeing their films, as I know I will be in for something exceptional.”

When I interviewed George Clooney in 2000, he had just finished shooting his first Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? – for which, he said, he willingly sacrificed his three-year relationship with the model Celine Balitran. “Celine said, ‘How about a vacation?'” Clooney remembered. “But the Coen brothers had sent me a script which I knew would probably be the best movie I'll ever be in, in my life. A script based on Homer's Odyssey, and I'd get to play Ulysses. I looked at that and went, ‘I have to do it. I have to. I don't know how to turn that down.'”

And film critics dote on the Coens, too – we're suckers for verbal dexterity, and who among us can't identify with the terrifying writer's block suffered by John Turturro in 1991's Barton Fink? As well, the brothers provided my favourite moment in the last Oscar telecast, though if you blinked you probably missed it: Nominees for best adapted screenplay were announced accompanied by a little video of each writer tip-tapping earnestly on his or her laptop – except for the Coens, who were filmed lying on twin couches, asleep or in despair, with their scripts over their faces.

But that show also highlighted what a lot of people don't like about the Coens: Their affectless, barely articulate acceptance speeches and scruffy hairdos struck many viewers as snobbish or ungrateful. And their inside humour can leave some people feeling out in the cold. Consider this entry for “Roderick Jaynes” in the press notes for Burn After Reading: “Jaynes began his film career minding the tea cart at Shepperton Studios in the 1930s. … He remains widely admired in the film industry for his impeccable grooming and is the world's foremost collector of Margaret Thatcher nudes, many of them drawn from life.”

No Country is by far the Coens' sparest, saddest and most serious film (and it must be pointed out, their only one adapted from a great novel, by Cormac McCarthy). It deserved it rapturous reception. But it was a gargantuan leap from the slight, jokey fare upon which they squandered the early 2000s: forgettable films such as The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and The Ladykillers (2004). In Burn After Reading, they return to broad farce – put it this way: The sanest people in the film work for the CIA – and it's a safe bet they won't be sweeping the Oscars this year.

But based on the eagerness with which fans are buying tickets, and on the stack of films listed as “in pre-production” on the brothers' Internet Movie Database pages, and on their past triumphs and all their A-list BFFs, the Coens can coast for a while longer – through this year's TIFF, at least.

Canadian Films At TIFF Heavy On Fractured Families

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

August 29, 2008)  A small boy lifts a sledgehammer to a family portrait, smashing the glass and frame.

He's 10-year-old Quebec hellraiser Léon, played by Antoine L'Écuyer, and he's more bored than angry. The portrait isn't even his own family; it's of the neighbours whose house he has invaded. But Lord knows, Léon has his own domestic issues, with his parents in the midst of a nasty divorce.

The scene from Philippe Falardeau's
C'est pas moi, je le jure! (It's Not Me, I Swear!) makes cogent commentary on the state of Canadian home life. The theme of family fracture runs through many of the 29 Canuck features and co-productions at the Toronto International Film Festival, which begins Thursday and continues through Sept. 13.

A parental rift has driven Léon's mom away and sent the youngster on a spree of vandalism and attempted suicide. Léon's frustrated brother (Gabriel Maillé) begs him to calm down: "You have to be happy! I just want you to be happy!"

Easier said than done, as new mother Elisabeth (Suzie LeBlanc) discovers in Rodrique Jean's Lost Song, another strong Quebec offering at TIFF '08. As a professional Montreal singer and pianist, Elisabeth strives for perfect harmony, something a squalling newborn rarely provides. When her equally demanding husband moves the family to the untamed country, Elisabeth's struggle with postpartum depression becomes a family crisis.

Divorce and the pressures of parenthood are also the catalyst for drama in Carl Bessai's Mothers&Daughters, Léa Pool's Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur (Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's) and Charles Officer's Nurse.Fighter.Boy.

Trouble starts at the beginning of relationships, too, even in situations that are supposed to be of the greatest happiness.

In Deepa Mehta's ironically titled Heaven on Earth, a young woman travels from India to her new home in Brampton, Ont., for an arranged marriage. Chand (Bollywood star Preity Zinta) wants to make a go of it with her new husband Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj), even though they've only just met. Rocky has serious anger issues, which he takes out on Chand, using his fists.

Rocky's mother tells Chand she has to learn to take it: "Don't cry, child. This is normal in married life." Is it really?

What is troubling our home and native land? And why do so many Canadian movies revolve around fractured families?

The questions are put to Toronto's Paul Gross, the Toronto actor, writer and director whose romantically charged World War I drama Passchendaele is the gala opener for TIFF '08.

His new movie also has serious home strife: two siblings can't get along due to starkly different views regarding their late father, a row that leads to life-altering events.

"I think it happens more organically simply because our movies tend to be smaller for reason of budget, so they kind of force you into a domestic setting," Gross said.

"We're also very interested in the metaphorical sense of family with our multiculturalism. What can we tolerate? Should someone wear a burqa? Is it okay to carry a kirpan? We're constantly talking about our national family, so maybe that's a piece of it, too."

Sometimes it seems Canada's sheer vastness and the hardships caused by isolation and loneliness conspires against family togetherness.

This is most dramatically expressed in Before Tomorrow, an Inuit tale co-directed by Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu. Grandmother Ningiuq (played by Ivalu) and her teenaged grandson Maniq (Paul-Dylan Ivalu) are stranded on a remote northern island in winter, after something terrible happens to the rest of their family back on the mainland. They must use their wits, but survival is far from guaranteed.

Physical and mental isolation are equally present in ONLY, co-directed by Ingrid Veninger and Simon Reynolds. Bored pre-teens Daniel (Jacob Switzer) and Vera (Elena Hudgins Lyle) are living in a northern Ontario town where the parents are too distracted to parent: Daniel's folks are struggling to run a small motel; Vera's are in the midst of a messy divorce. The kids are essentially raising themselves. Vera says her mother may move her to Brampton to start over, but "I just know my mom will screw it up."

Over on the east coast, in the small Newfoundland town seen in Justin Simms' Down to the Dirt, rebel poet and substance abuser Keith Kavanagh (Joel Thomas Hynes, who also wrote the source novel), can't get out of town or leave his family fast enough. As he departs for the big city, he tells his drunkard father, "Look, next time we lay eyes on each other, one of us will be dead. And that will be that, all right."

Being single doesn't disqualify you from the pressures of family life in Canadian movies. On the contrary, it just makes the loneliness all the more acute.

In Cameron Labine's highly transgressive romantic comedy Control Alt Delete, a Vancouver computer geek (Tyler Labine) starts having sex with his computer after his girlfriend moves out. At least the computer never argues with him.

Equally disturbing, and downright heartbreaking, is the sexual exploitation of Derrière moi (Behind Me), Rafaël Ouellet's visually outré drama of bonding and betrayal. Fourteen-year-old Léa (Charlotte Legault), another teen without adult love or supervision, believes she's found a sister surrogate and mentor in Betty (Carina Caputo), a young woman who arrives suddenly in her small town. But as Betty initiates Léa to a world of sex and drugs, it slowly dawns that an awful agenda is being pursued.

It's partly because of all these sad and terrible Canadian family issues that Luc Bourdon's La Mémoire des angels (The Memory of Angels) comes across such a welcome balm.

The Montreal filmmaker has assembled clips from more than 120 films from the NFB vaults, offering a riot of images of Canada and Quebec from the 1950s through the 1960s.

It's almost startling to see all those well-dressed Canucks going about their day with order and purpose, even though we know those decades had their own domestic turbulence: C'est pas moi, je le jure! (It's Not Me, I Swear!) is set in 1968.

La Mémoire des angels ends with a tour of a pristine Expo 67, the fair that symbolized Canada's hope and optimism in its Centennial year of 1967. Whatever happened to that?

A Natural And Daring Choice To Open Festival

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Rick Groen

August 29, 2008) Quick now, in this summer of extravagant viewing, what bright thread runs through each of the Olympics, the U.S. Democratic Convention and the Toronto International Film Festival? Easy: All are rituals packaged as spectacle, all are slick with a commercial design, and all, to varying degrees, have movie directors pushing the product.

At the Olympics, Zhang Yimou “directed” the opening and closing ceremonies, selling the idea of China as a seething mass of happy humanity, literally “wired” for fun. (The subtext was a bit more ominous: Don't mess with these millions, or that fun will turn to fury.) And, at this week's political convention, Ken Burns assembled a video tribute to the party's ailing old lion, showing Ted at the helm of the good ship Kennedy, and selling by extension the notion of Barack Obama as Camelot's new king.

TIFF, of course is a packaged ritual too, an annual fest that likes to sell itself simultaneously as a generous guardian of worthy cinema and a gleeful pimp for the red-carpet stars. And if it sometimes seems like a big, slick machine, everyone knows who to blame for that – the far slicker and bigger machine called Hollywood. Because, up here in the true north, left to our own devices, we don't do slick. We don't do commercial. Or do we?

Maybe that's changing. Next Thursday evening, TIFF will open with
Passchendaele, the first film in the festival line-up and, save for those National Film Board propaganda docs in the forties, the first Canadian war movie made when Canadian troops are actually at war. Focused on the entrenched slaughter of that 1917 battle, the picture is expensive by our standards (a reputed $20-million, all of them homegrown), and, since the same name attaches to the director, the writer, the star and the co-producer, it's pretty much a one-man conceit. That man is Paul Gross, who had a creative hand in TV's Due South, a popular comedy; and who, in his only previous feature outing, directed Men with Brooms, an attempt at a popular comedy. On that evidence, at least, Gross is a popularizer – he definitely does commercial.

For the festival, the choice to open with Passchendaele was an obviously sound political decision. After all, here's a well-known Canadian telling a significant Canadian story with good old Canadian money. But the well-known guy in question doesn't exactly inhabit the Cancon pantheon of high art – he's not Denys Arcand or Atom Egoyan, who have several openers between them. So is Passchendaele a good aesthetic choice?

Yes, but not because it's a great film – far from it. Nor is it an innovative war film, a genre that, starting with All Quiet on the Western Front, has a proud history of risky truth-telling. Neither will it advance the equally proud history that connects war films to film festivals – Cannes brought out MASH, with its satiric bite, and Apocalypse Now, with its operatic fervour, in a period when both movies generated considerable controversy. No one will confuse Passchendaele with these giants.

Why, then, is it a valid selection? Because this is an occasionally good movie with commercial ambitions, yet crafted in a way that perfectly embodies (this is where my interest flares) a hugely important choice that contemporary Canadian culture is facing, and making.

First, the commercial stuff, principally the plot. It starts with an action scene in the fields of France, 1915, then follows a standard shell-shocked soldier home to Calgary, introduces a romance with a beautiful nurse played out in pretty vistas (passion-dale), then packs him (and her) back to Europe for the muddy, bloody climax of the title battle. It's your basic narrative arc, long on coincidence.

However, a commercial yarn demands slick execution, and Gross's work is fitful. The war footage lacks the kinetic charge of, say, Spielberg; the Alberta sequences tend to give off that burnished-bran-muffin glow of glossy period pieces; and some of the acting runs the Dorothy Parker gamut from A to B. Blink, and you might think you're watching a TV movie, the kind where your trigger finger gets itchy on the remote. The manner, at times, is pedestrian.

What isn't is the message, especially at a moment when the current Afghan war has sparked so much pro patria mori bluster. To his immense credit, Gross never stoops to that. Quite the opposite. He rises to challenge the too-easy sentimentalizing of the fallen soldier, filling a commercial package with non-commercial content that refuses to pander. In the extended Alberta sequences, the script is critical of recruitment procedures that use patriotism as a cudgel, and of the prevailing persecution of German-Canadians. What's more, Gross has his soldier divest killing of its heroism and the enemy of its evil: “I killed a kid and I didn't have to kill him. I wasn't scared. I just killed him.” Amid the horrors of the actual battle, the same soldier declares: “We're all in the slaughter and there's not a single guy here who knows why.” Clearly, this view of war owes a lot less to Remembrance Day piety than to Wilfred Owen poetry.

Consequently, Passchendaele is commercial in its design and aspirations, but not so much in its substance, which is relatively smart, relatively sensitive, and relatively in line with our traditional reluctance, in Canadian film at least, to engage in gung-ho flag waving. In short, it wants to be popular without being stupid. Now, I'm not suggesting that art can't also attract a large receptive audience, but here's the crucial difference: Art doesn't set out to be popular; Passchendaele does.

As such, this picture is exactly what so much of our contemporary culture, including CBC culture, now aspires to be: Neither too smart nor too stupid, something less than real art, something more than dumb pop, and marketable, always marketable. In this sort of culture, a critic's judgments are more irrelevant than ever. When popularity is your main goal, then the box office is your ultimate judge. The verdict on Passchendaele awaits the accountant's assessment of the return on that $20-million.

That's partly what TIFF's head, Piers Handling, meant when he recently remarked: “The marketplace has turned very, very conservative, so there's a lot of deserving films here, Scandinavian, Asian and others, that probably won't find distribution.” However, in a sense, TIFF is forged from the same compromise as Passchendaele. On one hand, it could be a much more qualitative festival – simply by cutting down the sheer volume of films, and by turning down mediocre Hollywood product with its red-carpet “talent.” On the other hand, TIFF could be a much less qualitative festival – by ignoring those “deserving films that probably won't find distribution,” and by abandoning the fledgling yet crucial efforts of Canadian directors.

The festival has successfully come of age by balancing these two poles, by (in that Canadian way) forging a compromise. Yet, the balancing act that makes for a great film festival doesn't make for a great filmmaker. For movies, no less than other aesthetic pursuits, the good – the relatively smart, the relatively sensitive – is the enemy of the great. If you want to make Passchendaele, you'll never make Apocalypse Now.

So there's the important choice that confronts us, both the consumers and the creators of culture. In great art, compromise is lethal; in good entertainment, it's essential. That's why one is rare and the other is, well, less rare; why one is absorbing and the other is, well, entertaining. It's not a simple question of right or wrong – significant choices never are. Yet it is a defining question, and how you answer will determine how you view Passchendaele and whether you will shell out. That's to be determined, but this much is clear: In a “very, very conservative marketplace,” hard choices are getting made and – best to pay attention – our culture is getting defined.

Cheadle In The Driver's Seat With New Film

www.globeandmail.com - Michael Posner

(August 28, 2008) HAMILTON — At what point in his career does a talented African-American actor become leading-man material, considered capable of carrying a picture on his shoulders?

For decades, the answer used to be "at no point," but Will Smith, Denzel Washington and a few others have since deservedly reached that lofty plateau.

Still, several others, arguably within reach of the top, have not yet been admitted. Who makes these decisions and on what grounds?

Those are questions that have surely crossed the minds of more than a few actors. Terrence Howard, anyone? Or Don Cheadle?

Cheadle, for example, has distinguished himself over a two-decade career, appearing in more than two dozens films, including Boogie Nights and Crash, as well as Hotel Rwanda, for which he won an Oscar nomination.

Perhaps tired of waiting for the elusive blessing, Cheadle - a few years ago - established his own company, Crescendo Productions. Its mandate, among other things, is to develop projects in which he will play the leading role.

The first of these is Traitor, a new spy thriller opening tomorrow, with Guy Pearce and Jeff Daniels. He now has a slate of four or five other films in development, including a biopic of jazz man Miles Davis.

"I was trying to take more control of my career," Cheadle says of his motivation for setting up Crescendo.

"You get some nice projects over the transom, but it's ultimately at somebody's whim."

In Traitor, Cheadle, now 43, plays Samir Horn, a former U.S. Special Operations agent of Muslim descent. In the post-9/11 climate of paranoia that has managed to infect large parts of the Western world, Horn's true allegiances become suspect.

The film's questions, in the wake of events at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, are certainly topical. How much evil can one permissibly do in the name of stopping other evil?

The film has a first-time director, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who also wrote the script, and a young Hollywood studio behind it, one-year-old Overture Pictures.

I spent a day on the Traitor set - on that occasion, a large freighter was docked in Hamilton Harbour (posing in the film as Halifax). It was also shot in a couple of slightly more exotic locales - Marrakesh, Morocco, and Marseilles, France. That day, Cheadle said he didn't think his first foray into the realm of production constituted much of a career risk.

"I don't really look at it as a gamble," he said during a short shooting break. "I don't think people outside the movie industry pay much attention to who produces. The liability is still much more on the acting side."

But if Cheadle wasn't particularly feeling the heat, director Nachmanoff was. "I don't want to let anybody down," he said. "Every time you get a chance to make a major movie, a lot of people are taking a big gamble on you."

The idea for the film originated with Steve Martin - yes, that Steve Martin, who has kept an executive producer credit. Nachmanoff, who had previously written the action-thriller The Day After Tomorrow, was asked to take a pass at turning the premise into a screenplay.

"It was 2003 and no one had made a post-9/11 movie yet," recalls Nachmanoff, who is 40, "and I was naturally trepidatious about turning news events into art or entertainment or whatever label you want to put on it." He spent about six or eight months reading and researching before he began to write.

"You never know what people will respond to," says Nachmanoff, a thoughtful man who studied film at the University of Southern California. "But philosophically, what I was trying to do was take on the subject of suicide bombers from a fresh angle and look at moral dilemmas not simply filtered through a black or white lens."

His first draft proved more likely to be suitable as a smaller independent film than for a studio, which ended up being an advantage. The studios didn't want it and the project languished. "That was frustrating," he says. "It's like having drawn the blueprints for a building that you can't get built."

But Cheadle read it and liked it and suddenly the project was lifted from limbo. Cheadle even agreed to let Nachmanoff direct. Many new drafts were required, but Nachmanoff did not mind. "I believe in writing and rewriting, even while shooting. I don't want to be one of those directors so married to the script that you miss the opportunity to do something better."

Although he hopes the finished project has an original look and style, Nachmanoff says he has been influenced on the commercial side by Paul Greengrass's Bourne series of movies and on the more artistic side by Fernando Meirelles's City of God and The Constant Gardener.

Among the film's co-stars is French actor and screenwriter Said Taghmaoui, 34. One of six children raised by poor Moroccan Berbers in the tough northern suburbs of Paris, he quit school at 14 to start boxing, eventually competing for the French championship in the super lightweight category. "When you come from what I come from, my friend, it's a drug. I'd get up at 4 a.m. to start training."

In his trailer on the set, Taghmaoui asks me to punch him in the chest, even though he says he's not nearly as fit as he once was.

"C'mon, hit me."

I throw a tentative punch. It was like hitting a wall of stone.

"Pretty good, eh?"

Later, after a period as break-dancing rapper, he co-wrote the script for La haine (Hatred) with Mathieu Kassovitz, and was nominated for a French César Award. More recently, he's been seen in Three Kings, The Kite Runner, Vantage Point and, for television, O Jerusalem.

Of Traitor, Taghmaoui says he tried to make the script more authentic, more human. "You can't play with this subject. You have a responsibility. You have to be honest. My character is not the bad guy. He's religious and his faith is being exploited."

Producer Jeffrey Silver said he came to the project because of the script's sensitivity. "Terrorism is an abomination against humanity, and people do commit terrible acts in the name of Islam, but I don't believe for a moment that that's the true face of Islam. What the film tries to show is that a man of Islamic faith can make the right choice."

Silver, 52, originally pursued marine biology, but studied film at Brandeis University and became "completely enamoured" of the films of the seventies. He immediately went to work for Otto Preminger.

"I was dropping off my résumé at his office in New York when I bumped into him in the stairwell. He offered me a job on the spot as his assistant and story editor and I helped him sell his art collection, which was magnificent. My parents had given me a ticket for Europe and he said, 'Well, Brandeis boy, you must make a choice.' So I dropped the Europe plan and started work the next Monday."

Later, Silver worked for Rocky director John Avildsen and then climbed the Hollywood ladder in what he calls "the stupid way," production assisting and location managing. He worked on Training Day with Denzel Washington, the Santa Claus series with Tim Allen, and has made nine films in Canada, seven in the Toronto area. It was Silver who made the decision to shoot Traitor's North American scenes in Canada, citing "good crews, aggressive tax rebates and favourable exchange rates."

Silver acknowledges the risk of entrusting a $20-million picture to a first-time director, but says it has its benefits. "You really find someone at their most open and it becomes a collaboration."

Hollywood Reels In A Record Summer Haul

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - David Germain

September 01, 2008) LOS ANGELES — Times may be tough in the real world. Not in Hollywood.

As it usually does during economic downturns, the movie business has come on strong, expected to set a summer revenue record of about $4.2-billion (U.S.) from the first weekend in May through Labour Day, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

That would put Hollywood a fraction ahead of the previous record of $4.18-billion in summer 2007, though accounting for inflation, the actual number of tickets sold — about 587 million — is down 3.5 per cent.

Still, given the sluggish economy, studio executives are happy their business held up so well. It's almost a tradition dating back to the Depression: When the economy goes sour, the escapism and relative cheapness of a night at the movies is an attractive prospect for audiences.

 “Let's face it. It is truly one of the least-expensive ways to entertain yourself for a few hours,” said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony, whose summer releases included Will Smith's latest $200-million hit, Hancock.

The behemoth of summer was the Warner Bros. Batman sequel The Dark Knight, whose haul — $500-million and counting — amounted to nearly one-eighth of overall Hollywood revenues.

The Dark Knight passed Star Wars to rank No. 2 on the all-time domestic revenue chart, behind only Titanic at $600.8-million.

Batman mania already was high as production wrapped last fall, but it grew to a fever after Heath Ledger, who co-stars as the Joker, died in January.

“We would not be looking at a $4-billion summer if not for The Dark Knight,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Media By Numbers president. “In this case, one film made a huge difference.”

The Dark Knight and four other superhero tales — Hancock, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy II: The Golden Army — rang up $1.25-billion, 30 per cent of the summer box office.

Add in the $315-million take for Paramount's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and it's clear that audiences were looking for pure adventure this summer.

On the family front, the animated tales WALL-E from Disney and Kung Fu Panda from DreamWorks both topped $200-million. There was a healthy dose of chick flicks during the male-dominated summer with Warner's Sex and the City and Universal's Mamma Mia! — both $100-million hits.

Raunchy comedy also packed in crowds with the R-rated hits Tropic Thunder from Paramount and Step Brothers and Pineapple Express, both from Sony.

Some major flops accompanied the successes. Eddie Murphy bombed with his sci-fi comedy Meet Dave from 20th Century Fox, as did Mike Myers with Paramount's comedy The Love Guru.

Warner's family-action tale Speed Racer and 20th Century Fox's sci-fi sequel The X-Files: I Want to Believe also crashed and burned.

Yet most big studio films delivered, finding both commercial success and better-than-usual reaction from critics, who typically tear many summer blockbusters to shreds. The Dark Knight and Iron Man earned some of the best reviews ever for summer popcorn flicks, the acclaim helping to keep the theatres packed.

“It's the old story,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros. “Give the people what they want and they'll come out in big numbers.”

Music Docs Rock Festival Lineup

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Guy Dixon

(September 02, 2008) For a certain in-crowd, from high-art denizens to cool party hounds, the lineup of documentaries and the filmmakers and subjects of those docs could well eclipse most everything else happening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Films with the highest intellectual quotient (Examined Life), the most poetic take on ordinary life (The Memories of Angels), the most glamour (Valentino: The Last Emperor, about the private life of the fashion designer) and definitely the most legendary stars (of the rock variety, that is, in It Might Get Loud) are to be found on the doc program. Already, the after-party for It Might Get Loud, with Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White of the White Stripes set to attend, looks to be the festival's hottest invitation.

It Might Get Loud is a guitar lover's wet dream. It eschews the usual rockumentary pattern detailing career ups and downs, and instead has Page, the Edge and White talking about their influences, technique and equipment. Ultimately, it's about the evolution of the amplified instrument itself.

In fact, music factors loudly among this year's docs. These include Soul Power, about the 1974 music festival headlined by a top-form James Brown to coincide with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's famous "rumble in the jungle" heavyweight bout. Also featured is Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, about the African musician, and Every Little Step, which looks backstage at the casting of the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line.

It should be no surprise that music docs are prominent. Aside from being obvious fodder for documentarians, the industry is keen on fact-based films at the moment.

Martin Scorsese's 2008 Rolling Stones film Shine a Light has earned more than $13-million (U.S.) internationally, while the U2 3D Imax movie reportedly made $17-million at the box office. The figures are notable but not enormous compared to the studios, which operate on a scale of hundreds of millions. But as Thom Powers, documentary programmer for TIFF, noted at a recent reception, enough docs are showing the kind of solid, if unspectacular returns that film accountants like.

At the same time, this year's documentaries prove just how far afield filmmakers are going aesthetically from old narrative conventions - that's enticing to an industry forever trying to figure out new formulas to appeal to the art-house crowd and other fickle filmgoers.

Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke, for example, is a master at eliminating the boundary between fact and fiction, and his TIFF entry is 24City, a half-doc, half-drama that uses scripted interviews with actors, along with real interviews, to tell the story of a factory closing in Chengdu. It captures the move among dramatic filmmakers toward neo-realism, even as documentaries themselves are spiralling out into new territory.

The National Film Board of Canada's The Memories of Angels is a prime example. Its concept is simple. Director Luc Bourdon pieced together a feature-length montage of old NFB clips from the 1950s and 1960s. The reassembled scenes depict the general evolution of Montreal - the city and its culture. The working-class existence of immigrants leads to the stirring Quiet Revolution, and the juxtaposition of footage from these different films creates layers of beauty, abstraction and new realities. It is similar to the 1929 Russian experimental classic The Man With a Movie Camera. This film, more apt to our current age, could be called The Man With Editing Software.

The Memories of Angels is already attracting early buzz. Yet the short clip of the film that played at a pre-festival reception a few weeks ago does little to convey the ethereal quality of the whole film. Reviews will inevitably call The Memories of Angels an homage to past filmmakers. Don't believe them. It is much more.

Other notable docs likely to draw attention at TIFF include Food, Inc., an investigation into the health risks and environmental destruction of corporate-run farming; 7915 KM, which follows the path of the Dakar Rally and explores European prejudices about Africans; and The Dungeon Masters, about Dungeons & Dragons players in lower middle-class America. The image of Elizabeth, who plays D&D dressed as a dark elf, with jet black body makeup, a white wig and fake pointy ears, is easily the alt-face of this year's festival.

Another film defying convention also happens to be NFB co-produced: Astra Taylor's Examined Life. In the opening scene, prominent academic Cornel West is sitting in the back seat of a car, being driven around Manhattan by a documentary filmmaker. West leans forward and begins riffing. With the kind of rapid-fire wordiness only a grand orator can carry off, he opens by philosophizing on our "finite situation" and how we are "beings toward death ... conscious creatures born between the urn and feces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That's us!"

Imagine a screenwriter trying to write that dialogue. Turns out West is only warming up. What follows are detailed examinations into the essence of life's meaning, consumerism, ecology, cosmopolitanism and revolution by leading philosophers.

But what is most revolutionary about the film itself is its visual simplicity. Taylor merely shot these philosophers thinking and talking aloud in urban settings: Avital Ronell walking around New York's Tompkins Square Park, Slavoj Zizek rummaging around a garbage-collection site in London, Judith Butler strolling through San Francisco. It's the kind of intellectual fix only a documentary can deliver.

For Film Paradise, Put Up A Parking Lot

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Marsha Lederman

(September 02, 2008) VANCOUVER — In the hours before the curtain rises on this year's Toronto International Film Festival, a new Canadian film festival of sorts will launch on the West Coast, minus the movie stars, the red carpets and even the theatres. The Gastown Drive In will screen made-in-Vancouver films about Vancouver - in a parking lot.

It's the first official venture for the newly formed Urban Republic, a non-profit organization that plans to present projects where art, architecture and urbanism intersect.

The venue is an EasyPark parkade in touristy Gastown, across the street from where Urban Republic's co-CEO and co-founder Peeroj Thakre has recently moved her architecture firm. With its large rooftop and panoramic view of Vancouver, and its less-than-busy status after dark, the Water Street parkade felt like a good choice.

"We love the idea of transforming a parking garage, because they're spaces that are vital when you need a parking spot. But when it's not peak time, they're just empty flatlands of asphalt," Thakre said at her office recently. "We wanted to look at how you transform the sort of banal generic spaces into something that can serve the city as a cultural and social resource."

The organizers are also playing off the nostalgia surrounding the drive-in movie. The concept, Thakre notes, is such a romanticized part of popular culture that one can feel intimately familiar with the drive-in without actually ever having been to one. (In fact, the fantasy of the drive-in may surpass the reality of it, with its so-so sound, dependent-on-weather visibility, and somewhat detached viewing experience.)

Setting played a key role in choosing the films as well. Three features and three shorts were selected with the parameter that they were shot and set in Metro Vancouver - a city that is often disguised by foreign filmmakers to look like different places.

"Because Vancouver's always [posing as] someplace else, we thought, 'Let's make Vancouver star as itself,' " Thakre says.

Cheyanne Turions with Cineworks Independent Filmmakers Society, a filmmakers co-operative, came up with a list of 25 possible features for the project. From those, Thakre and her co-founder and co-CEO (and husband) Henning Knoetzele chose three: Hard Core Logo, Fetching Cody and Eve and the Fire Horse.

"They're not documentary movies, but they do say something about the culture of Vancouver, the way we see ourselves," Thakre says.

Hard Core Logo, Bruce McDonald's mockumentary about a Vancouver-based punk group on a reunion tour, will open the series tomorrow night. The choice is well timed, given word last week that McDonald will produce as many as five sequels to the 1996 film.

Fetching Cody, David Ray's time-travel romantic comedy about drug addicts on the Downtown Eastside, stars current Canadian It Guy Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder, Knocked Up). It received its world premiere at TIFF in 2005.

Eve and the Fire Horse, about a precocious nine-year-old girl growing up in a traditional Chinese family in Vancouver, was director Julia Kwan's first feature. It was a huge hit on the festival circuit, winning a special jury prize at Sundance in 2006 and most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival the year before that.

Among the films Turions recommended that did not make the cut was Robert Altman's 1969 feature, That Cold Day in the Park. Although the film is based on a book set in Paris, Altman set his film in Vancouver, identifying the city by name.

But like many other films on the list, That Cold Day didn't feel like it had the right vibe for the drive-in venue. "Because it's happening in a parkade, we can't be showing really racy or extreme things," Turions says. "So the films are generally PG-ish."

Cineworks programmed the shorts to go with the features. They include Alice and Martha (about two bored delivery workers), Two Impossible Films (featuring opening and closing credits for two unmade films) and The Reincarnation of W (a work-in-progress centred around the reconstruction of the old Woodward's building into a sleek condominium development, which is visible from the parkade rooftop).

For the series, a screen measuring nine metres high by 12 metres wide will be erected on top of a building at the western edge of the parking lot. The scaffolding and screen fabric will have to be brought in and assembled on-site, because the parkade's height restrictions don't allow tall trucks to enter.

The screenings will take place on three consecutive Wednesdays (weather permitting: Wind blowing faster than 60 kilometres an hour will force a cancellation). There will be discussions with some of the filmmakers at local restaurants following each screening.

The movies are free to pedestrians and cyclists (100 chairs will be set up outside and there will be room for 200 more viewers to bring their own), although cars will have to pay the $6 flat fee to park.

"I'm stoked," Turions says. "I don't drive in Vancouver, I'm a cyclist, so I love the idea of offering that experience to people who don't have a car."

If things work out, Thakre would like to make the Drive In an annual event - possibly in the same spot, or perhaps in another "provocative location." In her ideal scenario, the event should be more than just a fun night out.

"I think if it sparks people's imaginations about how we can use the generic spaces in the city and reclaim them, that would be great. And if we brought in audiences for B.C. films and brought an appreciation of who those people are out there making those films, I'd be really happy with those outcomes."

The Gastown Drive In runs tomorrow and Sept. 10 and 17 at 8:30 p.m. at EasyPark, 150 Water St., Vancouver (http://www.urbanrepublic.ca).

Shirley MacLaine Tough As Nails, But Sweet Inside

www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(September 03, 2008) Shirley MacLaine has a well-earned reputation as one tough broad.

And in an interview from her home in New Mexico, prior to a visit to Toronto next week to collect a humanitarian award from Best Buddies Canada, the sharp-tongued, bird-like creature more than lived up to her image as a woman who has seen it all, done it all and never - absolutely never - hesitates to speak her mind about things that irk her spiritual sensibilities.

On this day, it's my typing while she talks on the phone that has got her dander up. So the 74-year-old Oscar and Golden Globe winner, who has amassed more than 60 film credits over a 50-year career, abruptly stops talking mid-sentence and won't resume until my incessant tapping on the keyboard stops to allow her to collect her thoughts.

"Tell me when I can talk," orders MacLaine, who then asks why I'm not using a tape recorder. The verbatim typing, I feebly explain, is a time-saver that sidesteps transcription - an explanation that propels her to address another pet peeve.

"Look, I don't like to blank out people," says the sister of Warren Beatty, and a firm believer in reincarnation, angels, UFOs and New Age ideas, as well as a diehard advocate of civil rights and liberties. "I like to be sensitive to what people are trying to get done. But this is the story of the world. Everyone's working too hard. They don't have enough time to think. To dream. To change their minds. Everything now has to be there in black and white, in those little letters."

Her point made, the actress - who has worked alongside the likes of Jack Nicholson, Audrey Hepburn and Jack Lemmon - says she is thrilled to be honoured with the 2008 Best Buddies Leadership Award at its 14th annual charitable gala and concert in Toronto on Sept. 10.

And she figures that the national charity - which is dedicated to fostering friendships between students and individuals with intellectual disabilities - chose her because "I'm out in the open about some of my spiritual investigations. And I think they think that's helped a lot of people."

She also loves the charity's name. " 'Best buddies' is what I am with a lot of people. It's part of how one would describe me," says MacLaine, who has lived for 15 years in New Mexico, where she has written numerous books, including the bestsellers Out On A Limb and Dancing in the Light. MacLaine, whose mother, Kathlyn, was born in Wolfville, N.S., says she chooses charitable causes "that help people better understand themselves.

"It's my passion. I'm all about understanding what it is to be human. I'm still overwhelmed at how inhuman human beings can be with one another," says the actress.

Over the years, she has supported countless charities, including the Thalians (created in 1955 by young Hollywood types to aid those with mental and psychological illness and disease) and Project Angel Food (which provides daily meals for homebound people disabled by HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses).

While many other actresses have seen their workload decline in their later years, she is still one of Hollywood's busiest women, in recent times completing Bewitched with Nicole Kidman, In Her Shoes with Cameron Diaz and Rumor Has It with Jennifer Aniston.

She doesn't mince words about her enduring popularity. "I'm in demand because I can act. ...And I've never been afraid of getting old. In fact, I've embraced it," says MacLaineHer first film was Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, a role that won her a Golden Globe. Her other feature films have included The Apartment, Some Came Running (made with pals from the Rat Pack), Postcards From the Edge and Steel Magnolias.

The indefatigable MacLaine, who recently launched a jewellery line "designed to enhance your consciousness," will also soon be seen in Lifetime's three-hour TV movie Coco Chanel, premiering Sept. 13. On hold is a project with Garry Marshall's son, Scott, and Christopher Walken called Poor Things, a drama, inspired by true events, that revolves around two con-artist women who befriend and "whack" homeless men to collect their insurance policies; and another - again with the younger Marshall - about extraterrestrials. "I'm one of those people who firmly believe they're around," she adds.

MacLaine says she has also got another book in her. "When you live long enough, you experience enough things. You become wiser. I have this need to express myself. Some people don't. I'm not surprised my books have been international bestsellers. People are receptive because everyone has a journey they'd like to go through. Everyone is interested in the investigation of self.

"I'm proud of my longevity. I'm proud that I can still climb mountains, both figuratively and literally," says the actress, who walks Santa Fe with her dog, refuses to employ a personal assistant and buys her own groceries. "And I'm proud that I'm half-Canadian and half-American."

On a lighter note, MacLaine quips that the secret to a long, fulfilled life lies in two things. "A big hat and good shoes. It's as simple as that."

The 2008 Best Buddies Leadership Award gala and concert will take place at MUZIK at Toronto's Exhibition Place on Sept. 10, and feature performances from Chantal Kreviazuk and Leroy Emmanuel.


Dustin Milligan Livin' The Dream

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

September 01, 2008) VANCOUVER — It's an awfully long way from Yellowknife to the posh postal code made famous by the 1990s teenage TV soap that's about to make its return to the small screen. But Dustin Milligan somehow makes the trip from Canada's north to Beverly Hills - or at least to90210 - seem like the natural next step in his so-far storied acting career.

Milligan plays Ethan Ward, West Beverly's top jock in the Beverly Hills 90210 spinoff (simply called 90210), which debuts tomorrow night. He has also just landed a lead role in the upcoming feature Extract, directed by Mike Judge (Office Space) and starring Jason Bateman and Ben Affleck. And while Milligan may have been loathe growing up to let his geographic location limit his dreams for stardom, he's still pretty thrilled about how it's all turning out.

"Coming from Yellowknife - that's over 2,500 miles away - it's one of those things where it just blows my mind," Milligan said recently from Venice Beach, where he is now living the dream: starring in a high-profile television series, posing for photo shoots in Malibu, skateboarding in the California sunshine. "It's awesome."

The new series, like the original, is set at West Beverly Hills High School and focuses on the various problems experienced by the school's exceptionally good-looking students, along with some parents, grandparents and teaching staff. Original cast members returning to the program - at least for the first episode - include Shannen Doherty, back as Brenda Walsh, and Jennie Garth, who returns as Kelly Taylor (now a guidance counsellor at West Beverly).

At 23, Milligan is a little too young to have experienced the original 90210 blockbuster years firsthand ("I was outside flirting with the ladies in the sandbox" at the time, he explains) and found the show fairly dated the odd time he caught it in reruns. But he started paying close attention last spring.

"It was certainly surreal once I booked the job to actually watch [the show]; to watch all the old - sorry, original - characters sort of go through the now almost-cliché story lines, but at the time they were, like, groundbreaking."

Milligan's interest in television started with Canadian sketch comedy. His father was a big fan of The Kids in the Hall ("those are my heroes, man," Milligan says) and SCTV, and would often get young Dustin and his older sister Molly out of bed to watch.

Those shows, coupled with the success of Canadian-born comedians Mike Myers and Jim Carrey, gave Milligan confidence that a guy like him could succeed in comedy, even if his heroes hailed primarily from Ontario, and not the Northwest Territories.

He also - and this is key - had the support of his parents and stepparents in following an unconventional path. "We were encouraged to dream big and to actually go after those dreams and not settle for life by default."

In fact, it was his stepfather who gave Milligan the push he needed to pursue an acting career. They were at a movie - Milligan thinks it was Die Another Day - during his final year of high school, and Milligan was stressed out over choosing a postsecondary institution. "He said to me, 'You know Dustin, you don't have to go to school. You can do whatever you want.' And it was the first time that I'd believed it." Instead of going to college or university, Milligan decided to move to Vancouver and pursue an acting career.

Milligan assured everyone that if things didn't work out after five years, he would return to school and become a teacher. "But I was just lying," he admits now. "I had no intention of ever having a Plan B, because in my mind, if you have a Plan B, you're already planning to not make it."

In September, 2003, armed only with his good looks and scant experience (starring roles in high-school productions of Grease and Saturday Night Fever), Milligan drove down to Vancouver in his mother's station wagon (she accompanied him and returned home a week later).

By January, he had his first audition - and got the role: a non-speaking part in the film The Long Weekend, playing a younger version of star Brendan Fehr's character. (Milligan figures he got the role because both he and Fehr had a gap in their teeth at the time.)

For his first day of shooting, Milligan, who did not have a car, woke up very early in the morning, took the Skytrain to the set, and had, as he recalls, an emotional, life-changing experience.

"It was the first time that I'd ever seen a real movie camera. Here's this thing pointed directly at my face and that was what really clinched it for me; when I really realized that it was worth it to leave home, it was worth it not to go to school, it was all worth it, because here you are. This is the beginning for you. This is the beginning of your dream come true."

Later, Milligan landed a recurring role on the CW series Runaway, which he believes helped lead to the 90210 gig (also a CW program). Milligan, in fact, didn't even have a live audition for 90210. A few mornings after sending in his tape, he was woken up by a telephone call from his Vancouver and L.A. agents, telling him he had gotten the part.

"That was really exciting, especially to be the first one cast. I didn't even want to talk about it, out of fear of being fired later on."

That didn't happen, and this past June, Milligan gave up his Kitsilano apartment, put his stuff in storage, and made his way from Hollywood North to the actual Hollywood, where he has been shooting and promoting the series, and hanging out with his cast-mates - including fellow Canadian and DeGrassi alum Shenae Grimes.

The two actors have bonded over their Canadian roots. Sometimes Milligan refers to Grimes by a nickname: "Canada." When Grimes's mother sent her a photo of the 90210 billboard that went up outside the Eaton Centre in Toronto, Milligan was the only other person in the cast who understood what a big deal that was. Together, they take ribbing over the use of the word "eh" and their love for ketchup chips (a Canadian delicacy not available in the United States).

Not long ago, the two were shooting a scene on location: Milligan emerging from the ocean with a surf board, Grimes meeting him on the beach; the neon lights of the Santa Monica pier Ferris wheel behind them. Milligan says standing there, the enormity of the situation really hit him.

"I just looked at her and I was like, 'Hey, Canada, can you ... believe this?' And we both had a moment where we both just shook our heads.

"It is just a dream come true."

90210 premieres tomorrow on Global with a two-hour show, airing from 8 to 10 p.m. ET. For other time zones, check local listings.

A shout out to Yellowknife

Dustin Milligan may be living the Hollywood high life playing a West Beverly Hills jock, but he hasn't forgotten his real alma mater. He has set up a scholarship for students of École Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife who have an interest in pursuing a career in the arts.

The Enough Talk, Hurry Up and Do It Already Arts Scholarship Fund was established two years ago with money Milligan made from his series Runaway - money he says he knew he wouldn't miss. $1,000 a year is awarded to a student who has been accepted into a postsecondary program of drama, film or writing.

Yes, Milligan - who did not attend college or university - recognizes the irony in the postsecondary requirement, but he says there had to be some boundaries. "Otherwise, I'd just be throwing money at kids.

"Kids," he adds, "who are just like me." M.L.

Back To School, Back To Beverly Hills And Back To Teen Angst

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

August 29, 2008) In retrospect, life was blissfully simple for privileged teens back in the days of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Running 10 seasons (1990-2000), the seminal teen soap touched on social issues and serious high-school problems - remember when Donna got tipsy at the prom? - but creators Aaron Spelling and Darren Star always brought the story back to affairs of the heart, whether it was bad-boy Dylan wavering between Brenda and Kelly, or dreamy Brandon finding a brainy new girlfriend each week, or the endless stream of boyfriends/girlfriends assigned the lesser support characters of Andrea and Steve. Just restless rich kids looking for love, and nobody owned a cellphone.

Fast-forward to the text-message era, and the teen-soap concept has undergone a sharp makeover in 90210 (Tuesday, The CW and Global at 8 p.m.), or so claim the makers of the remake. The first arrival of the fall season is awash in buzz and pre-launch hype, but nobody has seen the new 90210. The CW won't send out the pilot.

In a rare and unpopular move, The CW has declined to send out the pilot episode of a new series for critics to screen. Instead, The CW publicity department e-mailed North American TV writers a prepared statement, part of which actually said, "We're not hiding anything ... simply keeping a lid on 90210 until 9.02, riding the curiosity and anticipation into premiere night."

In the movie world, not screening a new release usually means the movie has already been deemed a bomb. The studio hopes to wring at least one good weekend's box-office out of it before reviewers attack. In film or TV, the press blackout rarely impedes the requisite publicity campaign, which, in the case of 90210, has been ramped up to the level of a new High School Musical movie. No pilot, but plenty of volume.

The CW wheeled out the good-looking kids of the new 90210 on the recent TV critics tour. Executive producers Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah were also there, and while both men are in their 30s, they looked like old codgers sitting next to the fresh-faced young cast members. Their group mission statement: It's a spinoff, not a sequel.

"This is more of a homage to the original series," said Sachs. "We're taking some inspiration from the first show, and of course the setting, but everything else is changed."

But not too much. As before, the basic framework of the 90210 update revolves around a family newly arrived to the world's most famous zip code.

What was once The Walshes is now The Wilsons. Handsome patriarch Harry (Rob Estes) is a former Beverly Hills native returned home to take care of his alcoholic TV-star mother Tabitha, played by Arrested Development's Jessica Walter; Harry's also the new principal of West Beverly Hills High School. His trophy wife Debbie (Lori Loughlin) is a former Olympian who wants to be a photographer.

But the new 90210 is for and about the kids. As before, the Wilsons land with two teenagers, but this time they are not twins.

The focal teen role in the series is assumed by former Degrassi: The Next Generation regular Shenae Grimes as Annie Wilson, a high-school senior and theatre student who at first bridles at being relocated from her Kansas hometown to the wilds of Beverly Hills. The role is a career-maker for the 18-year-old Toronto native, who seems as grounded as her character, if no less dazzled.

"I'm riding the wave right along with Annie Wilson," said Grimes, soon to be the cover girl on teen mags everywhere. "I'm doing the prep for it right now. I didn't get recognized in Canada very often; if I did, nobody would approach me or take a picture. Down here there are Range Rovers and paparazzi everywhere. It's a culture shock, but I'm rolling with it."

The other teen lead of 90210 is Annie's adoptive brother Dixon, who is African-American and played by Tristan Wilds. Dixon is a gifted lacrosse player and a brooding type adopted by the Wilson clan following years of bouncing around group homes.

His character gets good grades but feels uneasy amid the students with BlackBerries and $5,000 laptops.

From the fleeting clips of 90210 made available, it appears the series will closely follow Annie and Dixon's entree into their new high school, whereupon all the usual teen stereotype characters (see sidebar) rotate around them like atoms.

From the scant press material and character bios, it can be gleaned that the usual teen-issue storylines prevail - sex, drinking, drugs, that sort of thing - with the occasional shopping trip to Rodeo Drive. Will the show explore gay and lesbian themes? "Yes to both," said Sachs.

In a stunt-casting trick, the show brings back some 90210 originals: Jennie Garth, who played winsome Kelly Taylor, has a continuing role as West Beverly's guidance counsellor, and onetime enfant terrible Shannen Doherty - who left the show after four seasons and fabled on-set squabbles - returns as Brenda Walsh, now the director of the high school's musical production.

The new 90210 is being held back from critics, but will the kids watch? The CW has seen some success mining teen-viewer territory - with America's Next Top Model and last season's buzzed-over, if low-rated, soap Gossip Girl - but the two-year-old network could be in over its head trying to remake a classic.

The first Beverly Hills, 90210 got off to a slow-ratings start in 1990, but Fox stayed the course; by the end of its second season, the show had doubled its audience. Networks aren't nearly as patient these days, and neither are teen viewers. It's probable some people will watch the first episode of 90210, for curiosity's sake, but TV longevity comes only from pulling in viewers for the long haul.

"We really believe people will connect to these teens, the same way they connected to characters on the original series," said Sachs. "Kids grow up a lot faster these days, and that will be reflected in the storylines. We're keeping it as real as we can."



Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes)

The newest student at West Beverly Hills High is a theatre student and a wide-eyed innocent. While homesick for friends and family back in Kansas, she's gradually learning the perks of her new life - like a classmate with his own private jet. Annie misses the audition for the school musical, but strikes up an immediate friendship with the show's handsome young male lead. And Annie can be bad, too: She "forgets" to tell her parents about her little jet jaunt.


Dixon Wilson (Tristan Wilds)

A top-of-the-class scholar and gifted athlete, he's the most complex character in the cast. Dixon grew up in group homes and occasionally expresses himself with his fists. He seemingly has no relationship with his birth parents. At school, he's naturally protective of his sister, Annie.


Erin Silver (Jessica Stroup)

Annie's immediate BFF, she's the offbeat teen who might have been a hippie in another lifetime. Erin is smart and tech-savvy and has her own YouTube series, The Vicious Circle, which covers and critiques the social scene at West Beverly. Erin also has a wicked crush on Dixon.

THE mean girl

Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord)

Hailing from original Beverly Hills lineage, Naomi is rich, young and hot, and she knows it. Most of her female classmates hate her, while the more naive Annie gives her a chance, which she later regrets dearly. Naomi also holds a rather unnatural attraction to her English teacher, Mr. Matthews.


Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan)

He's the star player of the lacrosse team, which has some clout at West Beverly High. Ethan met Annie a few years before at a school event and has harboured a crush ever since. His decision to join her newly-formed clique causes great chagrin among his jock buddies.


Navid Shirazi (Michael Steger)

A student of Persian descent, Navid is politically minded and has a strong social conscience. Ergo, he's the editor of West Beverly's daily newscast. On the personal side, Navid is a practising Scientologist and possibly a closeted gay. A.R.

Glynn Turman: Illustrious Actor Snags Emmy Nod

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(August 29, 2008) *Actor Glynn Turman is known to a multigenerational legion of fans. He started out on Broadway originating the role of Travis Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun,” he played Leroy "Preach" Jackson in the film 1975 classic “Cooley High”, starred as the Col. Bradford Taylor on very popular 80s TV show “A Different World,” and played Mayor Clarence V. Royce on the award-riddled cable hit “The Wire.”

Finally, Turman is getting his due from the primetime Emmy Awards, nominated for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama for his role on “In Treatment”

RadioScope/EUR’s Larita Shelby, who co-stars with Turman in the upcoming film “Kings of the Evening” talked with the actor – now Emmy-nominated actor – about his award nod, his illustrious career, and his new project.

LaRita: I’ve watched you and enjoyed you and had the opportunity to be on the set with you in two productions and feel very special to know you.

Q: You were a young man starting out on Broadway and now 50 years later to finally get one of these coveted nominations. What does it mean now?

“I’m enjoying it for what it is. I’m absolutely honoured. And for it to come this late in my career – it really gives me a special appreciation for it. You know that old saying ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ And though I’ve been working hard, but not towards that particular goal, this I something to show that my work ethics have been acknowledge and I’m very humbled by it.”

Q: When it comes to these awards, for many of our greatest performers it hasn’t been there thing to get that trophy as any form of validation, but getting it does feel good.

“It’s an acknowledgement that I don’t take lightly. The fine actors in the same category that I’m in are actors whose work I’ve respected over the years. So I’m proud to be amongst my peers; ones that I respect as well.”

Q: Not many people get the opportunity to transcend one phase or facet of Hollywood to the next. Can you demystify the process of having staying power?

“I don’t know if there is any mysticism or mystery to it. It’s a combination of a couple of things: desire – loving what I do, and then just outright stubbornness. I have a strong desire to be in this business. I love the fans and the work and the opportunity to express myself. When you come across those obstacles that any person in their right mind would say, ‘Hey, who needs this?’, I guess I just have a stubborn streak that says, ‘I’m going to buck this’ and I look up and 50 years later, here I am. I’ve been blessed to be able to feed my family and raise my kids and do the best I could by them doing something that I love to do.”

Q: You’ve strategically been a part of many quality productions. Many of the projects you’ve been involved in have become classics. Was this all by design?

“I wish I could say it was by some inner strength that I was able to say no [to mediocre jobs], but that is in fact not the case. In many instances I would have sold my soul for a job. These were the cards that were dealt me and after a while it seemed as though the parts that came to me were parts that had that kind of integrity to them. I don’t know if my reputation over the years garnered that or if that’s just the way the cards played out. Sometimes the price for the great roles in between is very severe in terms of trying to put food on the table. At the same time, when you look over the long stretch, it does make me feel good that I’ve been a part of so many projects that people really respect and really feel strongly toward. That my name can be associated with them – I don’t’ know how that happened.”

Q: This could make a greater impact on you career in your future. Can you expound on the win?

“I do want to win the award. I’m not one of those actors that say, ‘Oh that doesn’t mean anything.’ I’m competitive by nature. I rodeo and compete in the rodeo circuit so you must know that I have a competitive nature somewhere in there, so of course I want to win. But at the same time, I’ve been in the business a long time and I know that that’s not always the case. I know what has happened and I take that with me. The fact that I will now be always known as an Emmy nominee; to have that on my resume and to be introduced in the future as ‘Emmy-nominated actor Glenn Turman,’ is something that cannot be taken away from me. That attached to my signature is a win. That has put me in a category of those who have that honour attached to their name and I’m very, very pleased to have that. Now, if I should win, I certainly hope that my managers and my team are able to turn that into both financial and further work. But that’s a part of the business. It’s show business.”

Q: Your new film “Kings of the Evening” will be to the industry and the world, what “The Color Purple” was to it 20 years ago. I predict that what “In Treatment” is for your Emmy nomination, that “Kings of the Evening” is that for your Academy Award nomination. You transcended that role and just became an all-encompassing entity that embodied the character of Clarence Brown. Can you tell why you think this is an important movie, why you took the role, and what your hope is in terms of that movie having mass appeal?

“You’re talking about a movie that I’m really proud to have my name attached to it; to have my name a part of this movie that has classic written all over it. ‘Kings of the Evening,’ written by Robert and Andrew Jones. I’m honoured that this film has been made about the human spirit told through four characters in a boarding house, led by a wonderful cast including Tyson Beckford, Lynn Whitfield, Reginald T. Dorsey, who also produces the film, and James Russo. It’s a film set during the depression, but managing to capture that time the triumph of what the human spirit can overcome. The character of Clarence symbolizes the spirit of the time in terms of what it is to hit up against a wall that will not crumble, a wall designed to defeat you, a system designed to make you feel less than what you’re worth, a world that gives you glimpse of what hope is and then holds it out as a carrot that dangle in front of you. He’s, as they all are, are trying to reach that carrot. He’s come to the end of his rope. It seems unattainable. It was his ever trying to get to that carrot that drew me to his character. You see the dimmer of light slowly fading from his eyes. Those elements are always challenging to play for an actor, and if you’re able to achieve that it’s very artistically rewarding feeling and that’s what I was growing for. People seem to think I’ve achieved some measure of success in doing it.”

Wentworth Miller Returns Tonight With The Two-Hour Season Premiere Of Prison Break

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

September 01, 2008)  The Fox River fugitives are back tonight with the two-hour return of Prison Break (Fox and Global at 8 p.m.).

Only this time they're breaking in.

"They can no longer flee," allows star
Wentworth Miller, making a pretty valid point – there are, after all, only so many ways to escape incarceration, even for his resourcefully Machiavellian Michael.

Instead, the boys (treacherous T-Bag included) have been reunited in L.A. to pick up a plot thread from the very first season.

"It's time to take a stand and fight," says the actor. "It's time to take on the puppet master."

It was also supposed to be time for revenge, with Michael seeking to punish those who decapitated his true love, Dr. Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies).

Except that tonight Sara will turn out to be not quite so headlessly dead.

And Miller couldn't be more pleased. "The fans demanded it," he says. "And I really missed her presence, both working with her and also in terms of what she means in Michael's life."

As to how the character returns from the dead, well ...

"I think we've pulled it off in a fairly plausible way.

"Of course, it helps that the show has always been pretty `fantastic' – we've gotten away with worse."

Joining the cast this season is Michael Rapaport, playing, as Miller puts it, "the Charlie to our angels."

CLASH ACTION: The Prison gang has a lot more at stake than they think. Monday nights overflow with heroics this season, in the same time slot or the one immediately thereafter, when those other shows will eventually face the big comeback season of Prison's network follow-up, 24, when it returns in January (preceded by a November TV movie).

The literally titled Heroes has perhaps the most to prove when it returns with its two-hour season premiere (NBC and Global, 9 p.m., 9/22).

While the last season was generally a muddled mess, this third one, themed "Villains," shows considerable promise. The premiere screened to ecstatic fans at the recent Comic-Con, bookended by a shocking beginning and end, both involving Claire's hair: the invulnerable ex-cheerleader (to be oblique as possible) starts out newly brunette and ends up with a radical new "cut."

Also returning with a new lease on life is the series spinoff Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox and A-Channel, 8 p.m., 9/8), upping the effects ante with an apparent infusion of production cash, the addition of a familiar former model, and a more mature and pro-active young hero-in-training.

Those who like their heroics a bit less intense will want to stick with slacker spy Chuck (NBC and City, 8 p.m., 9/29), or the even more imaginative adventures of sheriff in a strange town Colin Ferguson in the third season of Eureka (Space, 10 p.m., 9/8).

They've all got competition coming with the debut of The Mentalist (A-Channel, 10 p.m., 9/22, a night before it runs in the same slot on originating CBS), with Simon Baker as a former stage psychic driven by personal tragedy to consult for the cops.

And then, the following month, double trouble with movie actor Christian Slater in an intriguing dual role as a super-spy and his unwitting civilian self – sort of a Bourne Split Identity – in the new My Own Worst Enemy (NBC and Global, 9 p.m., 10/13).

"It is a dream job," Slater says. "I was a little nervous about it.... I didn't know how I was going to make these transitions. It made it very challenging, very fun, very exciting and kept my energy up. It was just a continual perpetual motion."

SITCOMBAT: First things first: It's time to bid a fond farewell to the eccentric denizens of Dog River, Sask., as Corner Gas voluntarily closes up shop (CTV, 9:30 p.m., 10/6) after five stellar years of dryly dependable, consistently hilarious sitcom service.

If anything is likely to fill in the resulting Canadian comedy gap, it could well be Less Than Kind (Citytv, 10:30 p.m., 10/13), Mark McKinney's new dysfunctional domestic sitcom, a kind of Winnipeg-set Malcolm in the Middle, with veterans Maury Chaykin and Wendel Meldrum as the parents of the bickering Blecher clan.

Back in the States, CBS has a new addition to its already solid Monday-night sitcom block, Worst Week (CBS and Global, 9:30 p.m., 9/22), a somewhat "out there" single-camera comedy, based on a 2004 Britcom, about a ridiculously accident-prone schmo (Kyle Bornheimer). For example, in the premiere episode, he accidentally urinates on the family dinner.

Fitfully funny, if occasionally crass. But how long can they keep this up? And, more to the point, should they?

Fox has a new one too, Do Not Disturb, which runs two nights early here (E!, 9 p.m., 9/8; Wednesdays at 9:30 on Fox), starring Jerry O'Connell as the fussy manager of an upscale New York hotel, owned by mercurial millionaire Robert Wagner. Again, another hit-and-miss pilot, so a big "wait and see" on this one, too.

Among the night's returning sitcoms are two terrific sophomore series well worth your tune-in time: The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 8 p.m., 9/22), a consistently clever geekfest featuring break-out comic character actor Jim Parsons; and Samantha Who? (ABC and A-Channel, 9:30 p.m., 10/6), starring the endlessly endearing and razor-sharp sitcom veteran (and recent cancer survivor) Christina Applegate.

On Big Bang's popular 8:30 follow-up, How I Met Your Mother (CBS and E!, 8:30 p.m., 9/22), there are rumours the "mother" may at last be revealed ... and judging from the end of last season, the front-runner is visiting Scrubs star Sarah Chalke (that show moves to its new ABC home mid-season).


Dragons' Den (CBC, 8 p.m., 9/29)

Dancing With the Stars (ABC and CTV, 8 p.m., 9/22)

The Border (CBC, 9 p.m., 9/29)

One Tree Hill (CW and SUNTV, 9 p.m., 9/1)

Two and a Half Men (CBS, 9 p.m., 9/22)

Boston Legal (ABC and E!, 10 p.m., 9/22)

CSI: Miami (CBS and CTV, 10 p.m., 9/22)

The Hour (CBC, 11 p.m., 9/15)

The Star's Rob Salem even spends his long weekends watching TV.

Shannen Doherty's Girlie Wreck Image Resurrected

Source: www.thestar.com - Kate Aurthur,
Special To The Star

(September 03, 2008) Time determines who our cultural touchstones are, and right now, time would like you to welcome back Shannen Doherty.

That she never really went away is beside the point. Because last night, on the series premiere of 90210 on CW and Global, viewers were to see Doherty, 37, as Brenda Walsh for the first time since the actor's acrimonious departure from the original show in 1994. And this resurrection of Shannen/Brenda – within the second coming of 90210 as a whole – has brought about an almost profound catharsis among television fans that has overshadowed the rest of the fall season.

"Finally, My Side" reads the headline of the Doherty interview on the most recent US Weekly cover. "Jennie & Shannen: Reunited at Last!" is atop the Entertainment Weekly cover this week, above a photograph of Doherty and Jennie Garth, her once and again Beverly Hills 90210 co-star. And Perez Hilton, the influential gossip blogger, who has been obsessed with Doherty's return to Brenda-ness before it even seemed possible, enthusiastically posted both magazine covers on his site.

In other words: in our fickle, you-want-a-piece-of-me, celebrity-fixated world, which is more interested in destruction than renewal, Doherty is riding high on a wave of sudden – and unexpected – goodwill.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel it," she said last week in her trailer on the 90210 set. "It definitely feels good. It also feels scary."

Why scary?

"Because of interviews like this."

Really. Why?

"Because who wants to talk about stuff they did 15 years ago?"

The Shannen Doherty of the early '90s was the hot mess of Generation X, the archetype of famous girlie wreck. Hellraising at clubs despite being underage; marrying the wrong guy after a five-minute courtship; fighting with her 90210 colleagues and strangers, too.

Janice Min, the editor of US Weekly, said: "Any of us who were condemning Shannen Doherty in the early '90s were probably conducting ourselves in similar ways oftentimes."

And Henry Goldblatt, the deputy managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, said in a telephone interview, "In this world, Paris Hilton is a character, and Britney Spears is a character, and Lauren Conrad is a character. Shannen Doherty was the forerunner of that."

By agreeing to such a high-profile gig, with such high expectations, Doherty has opened a door that she has assiduously tried to shut in recent years. But she's confident that the structure of her life has made her safe, she said. "What are they going to gossip about? I mean, honestly. I don't leave my house."

Los Angeles Times

Letterman Looks Beyond 2010 For Late-Night Gig

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(September 03, 2008) LOS ANGELES–David Letterman wants to stick with CBS' Late Show through his contract – and maybe longer – as rival Jay Leno prepares to surrender the Tonight reins next year.

"The way I feel now, I would like to go beyond 2010, not much beyond, but you know, enough to go beyond. You always like to be able to excuse yourself on your own terms," Letterman said in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine.

"If the network is happy with that, great. If they wanna make a change in 2010, you know, I'm fine with that, too," Letterman said.

Letterman, along with Chris Rock and Tina Fey, is featured on the comedy-focused cover of the Rolling Stone issue out Friday.

Letterman, 61, questioned why NBC is proceeding with its plan to remove Leno, who consistently tops the late-night ratings. Conan O'Brien will take over Tonight in June 2009, with Jimmy Fallon moving into O'Brien's Late Night chair.

"Unless I'm misunderstanding something, I don't know why, after the job Jay has done for them, why they would relinquish that," Letterman said, adding, "I have to believe he was not happy about it."

Letterman speculated whether "that's actually what's going to happen," while acknowledging NBC might be too far down the road to retreat.

NBC is angling to keep Leno, 58, with NBC Universal but the late-night king has indicated he's ready to jump ship. Eager NBC competitors, including other networks and syndicators, are prepared to help him make the leap.

Letterman, who called O'Brien "a very funny guy," was asked about facing him as the new Tonight host. A cautious Letterman said he couldn't predict the outcome.

"It will be weird to see Conan at 11:30, don't you think? Which is not to say he can't succeed, but, no, I don't know what the competition will be like. I hope we're able to do OK."

In the Rolling Stone article, Letterman discusses guests including Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern, with the most moving remarks about musician Warren Zevon, who appeared on Late Show shortly before his 2003 death from cancer.

Letterman recalled his "heartbreaking" meeting with Zevon in a dressing room after the show.

"Here's a guy who had months to live and we're making small talk. And as we're talking, he's taking his guitar strap and hooking it, wrapping it around, then he puts the guitar into the case and he flips the snaps on the case and says, `Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.' And I just started sobbing.

"He was giving me the guitar that he always used on the show. I felt like, `I can't be in this movie, I didn't get my lines.' That was very tough," Letterman said.


Jennifer Aniston To Appear On `30 Rock'

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(August 29, 2008) NEW YORK– Jennifer Aniston will return home to NBC, the TV network where she became a breakout star on the hit sitcom ``Friends." She's currently filming a guest appearance on the network's "30 Rock," Aniston publicist Stephen Huvane confirmed Friday. There were no immediate details on the role Aniston will play – as herself or a fictitious character – or the episode's planned air date. The New York-based series, which begins its third season in October, stars Tiny Fey and Alec Baldwin in a behind-the-scenes, sometimes self-directed spoof of a television network and the huge corporation that owns it. The show has won a modest but devoted following and critical raves. Awards include Golden Globes, a Peabody and last year's Emmy for outstanding comedy series. With its show-biz slant, it has become a haven for guest appearances by big names from entertainment – even politics, including Al Gore. Another of the six-member "Friends" troupe, David Schwimmer, had a "30 Rock" guest shot last season. Since "Friends" concluded its highly successful 10-year run in 2004, Aniston has concentrated on films, including "Friends with Money," "The Break-Up."

Oprah Winfrey To Open Season With Michael Phelps

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(August 29, 2008) CHICAGO– Gold medalists Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin and Kobe Bryant, along with 150 other U.S. Olympic team members, will be on the season premiere of "The Oprah Winfrey Show.'' Winfrey plans to tape the show at Chicago's Millennium Park on Wednesday. Harpo Productions says Winfrey intends the show as a "welcome home celebration" and a chance to showcase Chicago as the city bids for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Phelps trained for several years in Ann Arbor, Mich. Other athletes expected to attend include the beach volleyball gold medal team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, gold medal basketball players Carmelo Anthony, Lisa Leslie and Dwyane Wade, and silver medal swimmer Dara Torres. The 23rd season premiere of Winfrey's talk show will air September 8th.

Oprah, Leezzy Among Forbes' 'Powerful Women'

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(August 29, 2008) *Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and talk show maven Oprah Winfrey made Forbes magazine's annual list of the 100 Most Powerful Women, ranking No. 7 and No. 35, respectively. "Shoring up her legacy before the Bush administration leaves office, Rice continues to try for peace in the Middle East; the U.S. is cautiously engaging North Korea and trying to contain Iran," notes Forbes of Rice's past year. "But her efforts are coming to naught around the world: In Pakistan, U.S. support for anti-al-Qaida ally Pervez Musharraf, who resigned, may have jeopardized ties with his successor; Russia is growing more autocratic; and her State Department has come under fire for its lax oversight of contractor Blackwater. Successes: ties with Japan, China and India have solidified."  Of Winfrey, the magazine states: "Self-made billionaire from rural Mississippi now has the nation's No. 1 talk show, with 48 million viewers a week. Will debut the Oprah Winfrey Network with Discovery Communications next year; has a three-year, $55 million deal with XM Satellite Radio. Helped create "Dr. Phil" and "The Rachael Ray Show." Major philanthropist in U.S. and abroad; built $40 million girls' school in South Africa."  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi came in right under Winfrey at No. 34, and for the third consecutive year, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled the list.  A string of news women clog spots 61-65. "Today" co-anchor Meredith Viera is No. 61; "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric is No. 62; ABC News correspondent Barbara Walters is No. 63 and "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer is No. 65.  View the entire 100 Most Powerful Women list here.


Barney Miller Star Gets Lead Role In Toronto Play

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

(September 03, 2008) It's going to be Miller time next year at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company ... Barney Miller, that is.

The Toronto Star has learned that
Hal Linden, star of stage, screen and the beloved sitcom that aired from 1975-1982, will star in the production of Tuesdays With Morrie that highlights the first full subscription offering of the theatre company that came to vibrant life last season with its productions of Rose and The Sisters Rosensweig.

"How did it happen?" said Linden yesterday from California when asked how he hooked up with the Toronto theatre. "The usual way. Their people called my people."

But although he's never played the role before, Linden was supposed to have starred in the 2005 national tour of the play based on Mitch Albom's bestselling book about how Albom reunited with his beloved professor, Morrie Schwartz, just before the older man died.

"I read about it, I thought about it, but I never got to do it," Linden sighed. "Dramaticus interruptus."

But now he's back and happy to be working on "a script that's so joyous and witty and funny."

Linden is no stranger to Toronto. In the years before Barney Miller brought him to Los Angeles, the native New Yorker fondly remembers working "at the O'Keefe, the Royal Alex, even the Imperial Room at the Royal York.''

"They told me if I played one more gig up here, I'd get a cottage at the lake."

Tuesdays with Morrie is one of three productions on the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company's season.

It begins Nov. 4 to 23 at the Al Green Theatre of the Miles Nadal JCC, with Kindertransport by Diane Samuels. This moving play tells the story of 10,000 children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who were sent by their parents to England for safety during the year before the outbreak of World War II.

Christopher Newton will direct a cast starring Corrine Koslo, Patricia Hamilton and Brenda Robins.

Tuesdays with Morrie follows at the Winter Garden Theatre from May 7-30, 2009, and the season will conclude with the Beit Lessin Theatre of Tel Aviv presenting Zisele, its touching but comic look at the world of mothers and daughters.

Presented as part of Luminato, Zisele will be on view at the Jane Mallett Theatre from June 5-13, 2009.

Tickets for the subscription season are available on the Internet at hgjewishtheatre.com or by calling 416-366-7723.


Fantasia Says Surgery Ended 'Purple' Run


(September 03, 2008) *Fantasia Barrino has come clean about why she left The Color Purple before its official end on Broadway.  The actress said she developed a tumour on her throat that left her feeling drained and too exhausted to keep up her nightly schedule.  "I couldn't get enough sleep and sometimes onstage, I could taste blood ... every now and then," she tells Sister 2 Sister magazine. "They (producers) would send me to the hospitals and they would say, 'Well, she's dehydrated; that's what's making her tired.' They would put IVs in me. But it just wasn't enough." Eventually, Barrino sensed that something was seriously wrong and visited a top throat doctor in Los Angeles. With the use of a small camera, the physician discovered what he thought was a cyst. The singer recalls, "I went into surgery and he came out and told my mother it was a tumour." Barrino is now healthy following surgery, but the entertainer says she is still "hurt" by some of the negative publicity that surrounded her missed shows. At the time, there were rumours that she had gotten pregnant.  "It really hurt my feelings. ... I told my manager, 'Please, somebody protect me,' because I've never missed a show. ... I like to perform," said Barrino. "I felt like, after I had my surgery, nobody knew about it. 'The Color Purple' didn't know about it, my record company didn't know about it, and I was very hurt by that. ... I wasn't receiving any flowers, any balloons."


PlayStation Ratchets Up The Action

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

Ratchet & Clank Future:
Quest for Booty
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 four)
Platform: PS3
Price: $15, downloadable from the PlayStation Store
Rated T

(August 30, 2008) If you've been a nerd long enough, you're by now pretty jaded toward the comedy technique of jumbling together nerd-keywords – ninja, pirate, monkey, etc. – and letting the laughs fall where they may. So you'll know what I mean when I say it's a good measure of the overall success of
Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty that it manages to take a geeky chimera like "zombie robot pirates" and make it fun, funny and interesting.

Downloadable from the PlayStation Store for a measly $15, Booty is a bite-sized serving of Ratchet and Clank goodness, the action-comedy-adventure game play refined over the course of the long-lived series. This time out, humanoid mechanic animal-thing Ratchet is on the hunt for his backpack-robot buddy, Clank, and his search just happens to require a swashbuckling search for robo-pirate treasure. Good times!

The compact nature of this R&C episode – you'll finish in five hours if you dawdle – really lets you enjoy the series' fundamental flavour. The platform elements – running, jumping, ledge-crawling, rail-sliding and moving stuff around with Ratchet's new telekinesis wrench – feel focused and purposeful, more like discreet challenges than pervasive environmental hassles, while the combat, featuring the series' trademark arsenal, is directed and dramatic.

Playing through Booty's battles wakes you up to just how flabby action games can be – the bulk of any game is made up of miles and miles of mowing through identical henchthings. Here, in a game distilled to downloadable length, every battle is an event – and you can really feel the care and attention the designers put into them. The variety of enemies keeps things interesting, forcing you to switch up tactics moment to moment rather than hammering away, and even the standard-issue undead robot pirate troopers never get that tedious sea-of-clones feeling.

The good writing and direction we've come to expect from Ratchet and Clank is well showcased here – and, again, the brevity/density of the package only makes it shine brighter. Maybe it's not laugh-out-loud funny all the time – what is? – but it's got a style that's warm and good-natured, with enough attitude to be satisfactorily sassy without devolving into crassness.

I guess digital distribution is the future, though I'm wary of what that future might hold. The opportunities for the nickel-and-diming and outright bilking of gamers will be many and tempting – but if it leads to more games like Quest for Booty, then I'm all for it.

Ubisoft Flies Us Down To Rio

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

(August 30, 2008) Video game reviewers will often write about "photorealistic graphics," but an upcoming Ubisoft game will take this to a new level. The French game company announced this week that its Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X will incorporate real satellite imagery provided by GeoEye's commercial Earth-imaging Ikonos satellite.

Therefore, when you're dogfighting above locations such as the Middle East, Cape Canaveral and Rio de Janeiro (and more than a dozen other international hot spots), you'll do so over authentic high-resolution 3-D satellite imagery.

The aerial combat game, which takes place in the year 2014, will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC early in 2009. LCD size matters: Sony let gamers in last week on a little-known detail surrounding its Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters PSP Entertainment Pack, due out Oct. 14: The PlayStation Portable included in this bundle will be an updated model, dubbed the PSP-3000, offering a new LCD screen with a wider colour gamut and anti-reflection technology, as well as a built-in microphone for multi-player chats and Skype voice-over-IP calls.

This $199 entertainment pack includes the new silver PSP; the best-selling Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters game on Universal Media Disc; Disney's National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets flick on UMD; a one-gigabyte Memory Stick Pro Duo card to store music, photos, videos and downloadable games; and a PlayStation Network voucher to download the game echochrome.

Due out a month later is the PSP 4 GB Memory Entertainment Pack ($199), which also includes the updated PSP system (but in piano black), a four-gigabyte Memory Stick Pro Duo card and PlayStation Network voucher to download the game Everyday Shooter.

Game Over for Tris: You might have seen or played a clever Tetris clone on a friend's iPhone called Tris – after all, it was the No. 1 free download from Apple's App Store out of 100 applications – but the game was yanked on Wednesday due to a threatening letter from Tetris Co. to Apple over copyright infringement.

A disappointed Tris developer and college student, Noah Witherspoon, writes on his blog at twofingerplay.blogspot.com: "Do they have a case? No. Not really. I am convinced that if it went to court, the `copyright' claim would get thrown out completely. The trademark, perhaps not – but if I changed the name, to e.g. `Trys,' that would be much harder for them to argue."

Witherspoon says he doesn't have "the time, energy or resources to fight this battle right now." While the student concedes Tetris Co. is protecting its interests, the approach it is taking "seems to me little more than petty bullying."

Wii Can Be Creative

Source:  www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar,
Entertainment Reporter

[Note from Dawn: I tried Wii Fit on the weekend with my gimp leg (!) but it is a truly engaging game and pretty accurately assess your fitness level, your BMI and your balance skills.  Highly recommended but not for fitness fanatics that are looking for the new and hot workout.  It's more for those trying to integrate exercise into their life with cool sports you might otherwise not try.]

(August 30, 2008) The second week of Toronto's unofficial gaming preview season saw
Nintendo execs take over a downtown hotel suite and invite journalists to try out Wii games like Star Wars: The Clone Wars (which has long promised light sabre duels), Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party and Wii Music, among others.

Personally, I was there for
Star Wars. Playing as Mace Windu, I successfully sliced and diced my way through a dark droid Jedi that another journalist was playing.

It was only a demo version of the game but it played like a kid-friendly Mortal Kombat (with light sabres). The game didn't have as smooth a control system as I would have hoped, but it's good fun. And if you start shaking the Wii remote in aggravation, the game scolds you. Fair enough.

There were two new games based on the Wii Balance Board, the on-the-floor peripheral that comes with Wii Fit.
Shaun White Snowboarding is a natural for the game, and looks impressive. The game lets you do rail slides, tricks and flips as you go barrelling down a course.

The other was Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party, which is a collection of minigames. The one we tried had us sit on the board and then slide through a wild track, often performing tricks with the hand controls according to onscreen indicators. Rabbids is a silly franchise, but this looks like it will succeed as a fun party game.

Next up was Wii Music.

"When you think about Wii Music, you have to forget everything you know about music games," said Devin Glaser, a Nintendo rep.

The game looks incredibly robust with more than 50 instruments and 60 songs, but unlike other rhythm games, there is no point system. The goal is to hit the tempo of a song – which I think I sort of did on the beginner-level "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

I only played for a short while, but it seemed to lack the instant gratification of Guitar Hero. But it looks like it could be something altogether different, allowing users to really create music.

There were also DS games on display, but the most interesting thing I saw was Personal Trainer: Get Cooking, which is basically a cookbook with more than 240 recipes, step-by-step cooking instructions, and even sound effects like frying. Like Wii Music, this game shows how the company continues to look outside the traditional gamer market.

It's partly that mentality that has drawn other kinds of creative people to the Wii console.

Coming up next Saturday, a local group of artists is launching a show that puts the static art show literally on the firing line. Pixel Gallery (156 Kensington Ave., 416-889-6439, pixelgallery.org) is putting on The Artellerist, which uses Wii remotes embedded into plastic gun holders. The remotes contain images users can then "paint" with by projecting them on empty framed canvases hanging in the gallery.

"The whole premise is a bit of a play on `make guns, not war.' It's also to show the lighter side of hacking and the hacktivist mentality," says David Girolami, Pixel's managing director. "It's also about the juxtaposition of the classic art gallery setting – that's why there are ornate frames –and to allow individuals to basically come together and interact with the piece itself and be a part of this new digital composition creation."

The guns will shoot characters designed by 13 local artists – including Derrick Hodgson, Nike Stumpo and Neil Collyer – that will then be projected onto the screen. There will be controls to cycle through the different characters, print or upload the work to flickr.com, a photo-sharing site, or to reset the canvas for the next users.

Next Saturday, the gallery hosts the opening show party ($5 cover) with deejays, and it promises to be a kind of first-person shooter no one has seen before.


Ottawa Slashes Grants For New Media

www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(August 29, 2008) The Conservative government has axed a $14.5-million-a-year program designed to create and distribute Canadian interactive new media both domestically and internationally, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The elimination of the Canada New Media Fund, the central support mechanism for an industry many call the future of communication, comes shortly after Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner told The Globe that some previously cut programs needed updating to keep pace with emerging technologies.

The CNMF, a decade-old grant and advance program administered by Telefilm but funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage, has historically lacked stability, operating under one- and two-year sunset clauses. Until now, it has been renewed each time.

But stakeholders recently received phone calls from Telefilm urging them to submit final reports because the program will not be extended when its current two-year mandate expires on March 31. Rumours have circulated that a replacement project could be in the works, but new media industry leaders are facing financial uncertainty and find themselves in the dark about future plans.

“You couldn't have hit a harder blow to this sector. This is the definitive fund,” said Raja Khanna, co-CEO of GlassBOX Television, which doubles as a broadband video company. “We have no idea what's going on. They might be working on a replacement project, but we're in the dark. So the message we're trying to get out is to talk to us.”

When asked about the program's status and the possibility of a replacement initiative, spokeswomen for the Department of Canadian Heritage and Ms. Verner's office offered little to enlighten the baffled industry.

“In June, 2007, the Government of Canada announced a $29-million renewal of the Canada New Media Fund until the end of fiscal year 2008-09. The Government of Canada will be announcing its intentions for this program in the future,” said Ms. Verner's press secretary, Kassandra Albert.

For weeks, the Tories have been under fire from opposition politicians and the arts community over $44.8-million in prior cuts to arts and culture, which the government has repeatedly defended as part of an essential review to purge inefficient programs. But the public outcry has steadily intensified, and with an election looming, Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion has said he plans to make culture a key campaign issue.

Ms. Verner recently told The Globe that PromArt and Trade Routes, two of the programs eliminated, needed to be replaced because they were in danger of becoming outdated in the face of the very same innovation New Media is driving.

“We have to look [and see] if there's some other ways, just to make sure that we take into account those new changes in the way to do things. I'm thinking about all the new technologies,” she said.

Calls to Telefilm executive director Wayne Clarkson were not returned.

Mr. Khanna said new media are changing the face of cultural consumption with the creation of innovative games, television websites, social networking tools, mobile applications and films.

GlassBOX won a Gemini Award and several international honours for Degrassi.tv, an online community-style website that drew “hundreds and hundreds of thousands” of members and has been called a precursor of social networking giant MySpace. Last week, GlassBOX received another Gemini nomination for collaborating with Discovery Channel to create the Race to Mars interactive website.

Mark Bishop, co-founder of Marble Media, cited similar successes such as Deafplanet.com, the first TV show and website in American Sign Language for deaf children, which has won numerous international awards.

“The younger generation are now consuming so much of their media online, and so much of that is being consumed at U.S. websites,” Mr. Khanna said. “If Canadians want their kids to be consuming Canadian content online, this is the fund to spark innovation, to create jobs and to create a viable industry. Without this fund, it's not going to exist, so this is huge.”

Marc Séguin, vice-president of feature film and new technology at the Canadian Film & Television Production Association, said he's hopeful a replacement program is in the works and that the shuffle is simply an attempt by the Conservative government to “brand programs as their own.” The New Media Fund figured prominently in the Liberal government's Tomorrow Starts Today program.

“The government has not reached out to stakeholders in what the specific needs are, and what the priorities should be. Personally, I think they should do that, sooner rather than later, considering that March 31 is coming like a freight train,” Mr. Séguin said.

Harper Defends Cuts To Arts Programs

www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(August 26, 2008) Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended $44.8-million in planned cuts to arts-and-culture programs for the first time yesterday. At the same time, the Conference Board of Canada released a report attesting to the economic benefits of investing in Canadian culture.

Harper said the government's “changes” to more than a dozen programs is the only responsible path, and echoed recent assertions by his communications director, Kory Teneycke, and Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner that the government has managed to walk a tightrope, trimming the fat from its culture portfolio while simultaneously increasing overall spending.

“What this government has also done in that area, as it's done across the government, is we've instituted an expenditure-management system, where over a period of five years we comprehensively review every program and we make sure that we're spending on priorities and spending on those programs that are most effective,” said Harper. “Some programs in arts and culture have increased in funding, others have gone down – in total it's gone up.” Federal investment in culture for the 2007-08 fiscal year was $3.4-billion, up from $3.2-billion in 2006-07.

Harper also painted promises from Liberal Heritage critic Denis Coderre to reinstate the eliminated programs, should the Liberals be elected, as irresponsible. “The opposition has a view that you can never cut any single program, ever. If that's how they want to run the country, you'll have two consequences. You'll either have out-of-control spending or you will have a flat amount of program funding that is increasingly less effective over time,” he said.

Tom McSorley, executive director of the Canadian Film Institute, is frustrated with the Conservatives' stance. He believes the driving force behind the cuts is the “ideological adamant rock” that funding the arts is not the federal government's domain, something the Conservatives have repeatedly denied.

“I don't think they listen with any degree of interest to the fact that the economic impact of the arts is demonstrably positive,” says McSorley. “To fall into the fallacy that it's really about moving money around – well it isn't.”

The Prime Minister's comments come in the wake of a recently released report from the Conference Board of Canada, in collaboration with the federal government that confirms high economic returns on cultural investment. The report, entitled Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada's Creative Economy, calls the cultural sector's role “as a magnet for talent, an enhancer of economic performance, and a catalyst for prosperity” a universal phenomenon.

The Conference Board estimates Canada's cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada's GDP, in 2007. The sector's total impact including “indirect and induced effects” on other sectors leaves an economic footprint of $84.6-billion, or 7.4 per cent of GDP, the report states. Those revelations paint a picture of industry stability: Statistics Canada reported culture accounting for an identical 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2006.

The report put 2003 employment in the cultural sector at 616,000 jobs.

Including direct and indirect contributions to employment, the report estimates that culture accounted for 1.1 million jobs in 2007.

Canada's culture sector is being driven by growth in digital technology and expanding Internet use, the report states.

Where Locals Fear To Tread

Source: www.thestar.com - Ariel Teplitsky,
What's On Editor

(August 28, 2008) There's a disconnect between the city we live in and the city that visitors tend to see.

Those of us who live here have our favourite haunts, the places and experiences we feel make Toronto worth living in. An east-end cupcake shop. That west-end bar. Your neighbourhood park. The view from my balcony...

Chances are, the average short-term visitor will end up sharing few of those experiences. With some exceptions – for instance, Harbourfront and the Science Centre – Torontonians avoid the tourist traps. Most of us would exclude, say, Captain John's floating seafood restaurant from our personal equations of what makes this city great.

Are tourists missing out on the real Toronto – or are we? Allow us to plan for you a typical day:

You wake up to a giant buffet breakfast with a sampling of oily comestibles from around the world. Then you take a ride in a foot-powered rickshaw whose panting chauffeur takes you to an ornate, non-wartime fortress that's almost 100 years old!

Next you'll hop on a large, smiling hippo, and stop to shop at a dingy, fluorescent-lit labyrinth of discount goods, before you dine at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. In the aft, you'll ride atop a double-decker bus to the observation deck of the world's second-highest free-standing structure, take a party boat on the harbour and cool off with a refreshing dip in the crisp, clean waters of Lake Ontario.

What could be more Toronto than that? Don't ask us. We don't do those things.

Until now. In an effort to bridge the unsettling gap between tourist and local, an army of us descended upon the city to experience the side of Toronto we've neglected for far too long. Some of those experiences were pleasant surprises, some forgettable, and others ... well, let's just say each of us is morally obligated to steer our esteemed visitors away from them at all costs.


Getting a caricature
Tourist: 2 (out of 4)
Local: 1

Like a hot dog, caricatures are quick, dirty and sold on the street.

They can be had for about $10 a pop, around tourist meccas like the Rogers Centre and Yonge-Dundas Square. Caricaturists chat you up as they draw – "Whattaya do? You like sports?" – then voilà, a portrait of you is produced with a laptop and a fishing pole.

To get the full tourist experience, I get my caricature done while idling in a rickshaw (see page E3).

The artist is not your average scribbler – he's Mike Parsons, a Queen West artist known for his apocalyptic urban drawings. But he says he often draws passersby, especially kids, gratis, as he sells his prints. He kindly draws me free of charge, too. I sort of feel like Stephen Harper.

All the same, there is precious little reason to do this unless you're trying to entertain friends from out of town. Even then, they'll probably think you're an idiot.

Sarah Barmak

Wayne Gretzky's restaurant
99 Blue Jays Way
Tourist: 3 out of 4
Local: 1 (goes to 2 if you head straight to the patio)

With menu items like "Grandma Gretzky's perogies" and the "Great One Burger," and with walls covered in memorabilia from a hockey career that has nothing to do with this city, Gretzky's is one of the city's best-known sports bars. It has a large dining room, somewhat cramped front bar, and a decent rooftop patio, but there's one top trophy this destination lacks: soul.

That said, I have twice been to Gretzky's and spotted a rare species that every tourist who comes here dreams of seeing: a living, breathing NHL player. Of course, both of them were paid to be here as part of orchestrated press events.

The first time was about five years ago, and the player was the guy whose name is above the door. Wayne Gretzky was in the house, and it was obvious from the way he was having a look around at the memorabilia – just like a tourist – he hadn't stepped foot in the place in years. When asked, he admitted as much.

If that's the way the restaurant's namesake behaves, it's more than fine for schlubs like you and me.

Raju Mudhar

Toronto Hippo Tours
Tourist: 4 out of 4
Local: 3

Normally water rushing over the windshield of your vehicle might be cause for concern, but when Harry the Hippo plunged into Lake Ontario, the 40 passengers aboard the amphibious bus politely cheered. The chug through the waters of Ontario Place is the highlight of the 90-minute downtown tour, which departs eight times a day from Front St. just west of Union Station.

Our affable, if occasionally robotic, young guide pointed out dozens of attractions along the route, making it easy for tourists to plan the rest of their visit.

Beyond the obligatory movie mentions and Guinness achievements, Torontonians might learn a few conversation starters: the windows on the RBC building across from Union each include $70 worth of gold, which has more than been recouped in energy savings; the Hospital for Sick Children was built on the site of the childhood home of Mary Pickford; the Princes' Gates include nine pillars, one for each province (Newfoundland had yet to join Confederation). But Gould Street named after Glenn Gould? Nice try.

Janice Biehn

Town & Country Buffet
190 Queens Quay E.
Tourist: 2 (out of 4)
Local: 1.5

It's only fitting that in one of the world's most multicultural cities you can stop for lunch at a single restaurant and fill your plate with yorkshire pudding, bean burrito, shrimp samosa, egg roll, pizza and nanaimo bar. What could be more T.O. than that?

Alas, while Toronto is indeed a blend of dozens of global cultures, the food on offer at Town & Country Buffet is an accurate sampling of none of them.

It is, however, filling, convenient, plentiful and cheap ($10.99 for lunch). This is surely what drew three busloads of tourists to the gigantic railway-themed spot on a recent weekday. And I didn't see anyone complaining as they returned for second and third helpings at the American-style buffet.

Should I have steered them to my favourite Vietnamese or Italian haunts? Might I have recommended the more authentic global fare on offer at Kensington or St. Lawrence markets?

At the very least, I should have urged them to go easy on dessert before ascending the high-speed elevators at the CN Tower.

Ariel Teplitsky

The Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor St. W.
Tourist: 3 out of 4
Local: 2.5

It lives up to its name: the museum founded by family-owned shoe company Bata is indeed all about shoes – and boots, slippers, sandals, sneakers ... you get the idea.

Wandering the museum is like going on an extended shopping trip. Depending on your opinion, this could be shoe heaven or shoe hell, as evidenced by one museum-goer who grumbled "Have you found a pair you like yet?" as his blissed-out wife inspected a pair of beaded moccasins.

The museum aims to show the way footwear has reflected cultural norms and curiosities throughout history. Particularly fascinating are the tiny three-inch jin lian or "golden lotus" shoes worn by Chinese women who were subjected to the painful practice of foot-binding.

The exhibit Star Turns tells the stories behind such famous footwear as Terry Fox's sneakers and Marilyn Monroe's red stilettos.

My favourite shoes, however, are a pair of suede ankle boots with peekaboo toes covered in small hammered silver squares, made by the Peruvian Chimu people in the mid-15th century, which wouldn't look out of place on Toronto streets.

The museum's adult $12 admission feels a bit steep, but there are reasonable family packages and Thursday evenings are pay-what-you-can.

Shauna Rempel

Captain John's restaurant
1 Queens Quay W.
Tourist: 3 out of 4
Local: 2

Captain John's big boat has been at the pier at the bottom of Yonge St. as long as I can remember. The lustre has dimmed on its renown in this town, so I figured it was now or never to give it a visit.

While I think it's a shadow of what it once was, the entrance is littered with Consumers' Choice Awards for every year in the past decade (including this year). So it's got a following.

Truly, it's got a charm all its own. We stopped in for a coffee and a piece of pie – the coffee was fine and the lemon meringue was tart and fluffy, as it should be. The dining room on this Monday night was scattered with diners; a woman stopped to talk to two young couples out for dinner and give her recommendation: "I'm not much of a fish person but this was lovely."

The fixtures are faded, the carpet needs changing, and it desperately needs to be aired out. But I'd be curious enough to go back and taste the chowder. If the smiles on the other diners are anything to go by, its old-fashioned charm still pleases.

It's such a familiar landmark I'd miss it if it were gone. Please, though, Captain, would you update this boat?

Deborah Dundas

Medieval Times

Whatever happened to the bad old days?

You know the ones I mean: When there were schlocky shows like His Majesty's Feast, A Little Night Magic, Nunsense, Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding and No Sex Please, We're British that Torontonians could blithely ignore, knowing that they'd be kept alive by the tourists.

Well, things have changed. Audience tastes, to begin with, whether local or imported, no longer crave the kind of bosom-baring-door-slamming British farces that I once gave the generic name of Titty Titty Bang Bang. It's been years since even Stage West has mounted one of those.

The big transition occurred when The Phantom of the Opera proved you could sell out locally, bring in captive busloads of people from Rochester and keep a musical running for 10 years.

Shows like The Lion King and Mamma Mia! also were excellent tourist fodder (as well as drawing loyal hometown audiences) and now, Dirty Dancing and We Will Rock You are providing the same double purpose.

Same goes for homegrown entries from Second City and Mysteriously Yours. You can take out-of-towners to them, because there's probably nothing like it where they live, but they're both actually quite good, so you'll feel no pain in doing so.

But are there any tourist-only shows left? Well, there is one that comes to mind...

Medieval Times
10 Dufferin St., Exhibition Place 1-888-WE-JOUST
Tourist: 2 (out of 4)
Local: 1

Think of it as a G-rated His Majesty's Feast.

Wenches still serve you greasy chicken and wine of dubious provenance, but their cleavage is much more in control.

Then you watch a lot of jousting and combat done at roughly half speed. The major energy is spent in trying to get you to buy as many extras as possible before and after the show.

I haven't been since a birthday party for my son several years ago, but it seems things haven't changed. Why would you take anyone over 12 here anyway?

I guess to prove that Toronto has the same cultural advantages as places like Kissimmee, Fla., and Lyndhurst, N.J. – other sites where the heraldic pennants of Medieval Times fly proudly in the breeze.

Richard Ouzounian

Honest Ed's
581 Bloor St. W.
Tourist: 2 out of 4
Local: 1.5

The bright, flashing lights and colourful slogans – "Don't just stand there, buy something!" – were once a clever way of disguising a ragtag assortment of shopworn buildings stitched together in the name of discount retailing by the late, lamented Ed Mirvish. Inside, clusters of fluorescent lights and acres of mirror emphasize the warren-like layout. Now, the old theatre posters and autographed pictures of long-gone stars (Robert Cummings or Bernard Behrens, anyone?) compete with cracked linoleum and terrazzo flooring to teach us how some of the city's cherished institutions are not aging gracefully.

The area around the Bathurst subway – including Mirvish Village – is looking scruffy these days. With Wal-Mart in the burbs and a dollar store on every other corner, not even Ed's prices are a draw any more.

John Terauds

CN Tower
301 Front St. W.
Tourist: 4 out of 4)
Local: 3

Why did it take 22 years of living in Toronto for me to finally venture up the CN Tower? Fear of heights? More like dread of line-ups. Plus an instinctive distrust of human engineering.

I survived the crowds. And went some distance toward making peace with the idea of entrusting my safety to a vertical kabob.

Of the available pricing options, I went for the Observation Skypod Experience ($27.81), which gave me access to the main lookout, the famed glass floor and the Skypod, which at 447 metres is touted as the world's highest public observation deck.

It was a relatively clear day. Not clear enough to get a glimpse of Niagara Falls – a possibility, apparently, in more favourable circumstances. A fine view, in any case. Too bad you have to take an elevator to get there.

Vit Wagner

Swimming in Lake Ontario
Tourist: 3 (out of 4)
Local: 4

One place even tourists, by and large, fear to tread around these parts is Lake Ontario. Probably with good reason.

Still, for 10 years, I've dreamed (literally, several times) of taking a sunset swim off the neglected Gibraltar Point beach at the southwest tip of the Toronto Islands. The much, er, sexier Hanlan's Point beach is mere steps away, so this thin strip of hardwood-shrouded sand is generally half-deserted on a busy day but, like the neighbouring island beaches, has been given the blue-flagged "all clear" for swimming all summer long.

There were, thus, only two horrified pairs of eyes staring from the shore as I strode confidently into the water last Sunday night and swam out to meet a couple of swans by the end of the breakwater. The water was brisk but quite bearable, the sand underwater encouragingly free of ooze and refuse and, while floating on my back beneath a dramatic pink sky a mere ferry ride away from the downtown horror, even the fuming smokestacks of Hamilton to the distant west were almost Wizard of Oz-like.

If we'd put some real effort into cleaning up our beaches, this city would be a lot more liveable for our visitors and ourselves.

Ben Rayner

Nicholby's Sports & Souvenirs
123 Front St. W.
Tourist: 3.5 (out of 4)
Local: 2

As far as keepsakes go, this giant souvenir shop has a variety of reasonably priced, good-quality products for kids and adults. It also stocks regional maps, bottled water and ice-cream bars, and had soulful music playing in the background, making it a sort of respite.

Where it appeals to locals is with items I've never seen anywhere else: ice-wine tea ($6.99), kids' travel pillows ($14.99) and Sesame Street-branded Canada magnets, luggage tags and stationery sets. There's also a wide selection of Maple Leafs and Blue Jays merchandise.

The more discerning visitor, or Torontonian in search of a special gift, would score better at the Bay of Spirits Gallery across the street, where friendly, knowledgeable staff walk you through the selection of First Nations art and jewellery, ranging from $10 (deerhide wristband) to $16,000 (original Norval Morrisseau acrylic).

Ashante Infantry

Allan Gardens
19 Horticultural Ave.
Tourist: 2 out of 4
Local: 3

You can literally breathe easier upon entering the Allan Gardens Conservatory.

Thanks to a vast array of flora pumping out oxygen while it gobbles up CO2, the air is warm and liquid as one enters the near century-old conservatory at the heart of Allan Gardens, a heady experience with a hint of fragrance.

The handsome building is a tourist draw largely due to its proximity to lower-priced hotels; locals don't give it the respect it deserves since it lays in the middle of one of downtown's most destitute neighbourhoods.

The central domed area houses soaring examples of banana and bamboo while side annexes feature bubbling watercourses, statuary and even an area devoted to prickly cacti. (The new Children's Conservatory, closed to the public, looks vastly underused.)

There is a sense of faded gentility and dilapidation from years of tight budgeting (though the public washrooms are clean and newish), but that doesn't seem to deter snap-happy tourists.

Bruce DeMara

A rickshaw ride
Tourist: 3 out of 4
Local: 4

Just about anytime you like, you can feel like medieval royalty for $30/half hour.

Mike Langille, the talkative, 38-year-old owner of Rickshaw Runners, pulls the ad-festooned contraption I'm sitting in with just one finger to demonstrate how easy it is. "It's all Physics 101," he explains.

"We take the rickshaw anywhere it fits," he says, tugging me expertly through busy traffic, up onto a curb and through Nathan Phillips Square. Next, we trot past some bovine metal sculptures in a financial district parkette. "Cows lying down in a pasture is a symbol of prosperity," he intones helpfully, ever the trivia trove.

So do Torontonians ever ride, or is it just out-of-towners?

"Usually when locals do jump in, they spend half the time on their cell phones telling people where they are," he laughs.

One thing a rickshaw will get you is attention – lots of it. At Queen and Peter Sts., six off-duty paramedics call out for a ride. Later, at University Ave., two young girls' eyes widen as we pass – jealously, I imagine. I blush a little, then straighten my posture so I seem more queenly. I could get used to this.

Sarah Barmak

A `Haunted' tour of Toronto
Muddy York Walking Tours; muddyyorktours.com
Tourist: 4 out of 4
Local: 3

Nothing to fear here, even if it is a "ghost" tour.

A two-hour walk through the city on a pleasant summer evening connected the spooky corners of old York with the modern city that's built up around it.

That was the joy of this walking tour: Being taken into corners I'd never been, and hearing stories I'd never heard before, despite having lived here all my life. Richard Fiennes-Clinton, the company founder and our guide, is self-taught. His knowledge is formidable, and his chatty, personable style is great. The more questions you ask, the more you'll learn.

I didn't know the historic importance of the St. Patrick's diocese, or the oldest churches in Toronto. I also didn't know there was a house tucked behind the AGO (haunted, of course), and I certainly didn't know about the ghost in the old McLaughlin planetarium.

Richard piques your curiosity so you want to go and find out more. Best of all, he customized the tour just for us – holding it later in the evening and changing course according to our interests.

Deborah Dundas

Casa Loma
1 Austin Terr.
Tourist: 2.5 out of 4
Local: 2

It seems there's still an appetite for looking at old stuff once owned by rich people, judging by the weekday-morning crowd on a recent visit to Casa Loma.

The attraction gets points for its beautiful setting and the worthiness of putting a slice of Toronto history on display.

But visible wear and tear (dirty walls, gouged wood and graffiti) and sloppy anachronisms (a metal coat rack in the library and a ladder and mop handle in the conservatory) mar the experience.

Too bad there are no staff to aid visitors anywhere but the entrance and Great Hall, and no guided tours (always a nice touch at historic buildings elsewhere). One hopes the tourists listen to the bonus tracks on the audio guides, which contain interesting little nuggets (for instance, the carved panels in the Napoleon Drawing Room were exhibited at Montreal's Musée des beaux-arts en route to the castle).

Debra Yeo

Kurt Browning To Host Walk Of Fame Gala

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

August 28, 2008) Figure skating champion Kurt Browning will host Canada's Walk of Fame gala next month while stars including Sigourney Weaver and Andrea Martin will present inductees, organizers announced Thursday.

Browning, of Caroline, Alta., said in a release that he's "blown away" by the chance to host the event, now into its 10th year.

Eight Canadians are receiving stars on Canada's Walk of Fame at the Sept. 6 gala at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The show, which will feature video and musical performances, will air on CTV on Sept. 7.

Weaver will be there to present inductee/filmmaker James Cameron, who directed her in the feature "Aliens" and is doing so again in ``Avatar." Martin is introducing the comedy troupe Kids in the Hall.

Other celebrities presenting inductees include supermodel Linda Evangelista, who will speak a few words about pop star Bryan Adams.

Jeanne Beker, host of "The FashionTelevision," will introduce supermodel Daria Werbowy.

Actress Julie Bowen is presenting Michael J. Fox, with whom she's worked on "Boston Legal."

Gabrielle Miller of "Corner Gas" will present actress Frances Bay.

NBA star Steve Nash will be feted by Toronto Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo and actor Colm Feore will present late Oscar winners Norma and Douglas Shearer.


Argos Hang On To Beat Ticats

Source:  www.thestar.com - Chris Zelkovich,
Sports Reporter

(September 02, 2008) HAMILTON–The Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats put the classic back in the Labour Day Classic last night.

A raucous crowd of 25,911 at Ivor Wynne Stadium witnessed a see-saw game that ended with a 34-31 Argo victory, the team's first against the Ticats this season after two regular-season losses.

With Argo head coach Rich Stubler's job rumoured to be on the line, the 4-5 Argos responded with a renewed offence led by quarterback Kerry Joseph, Arland Bruce III and Dominique Dorsey. And while a remodelled defence struggled in the first half, it effectively shut down the Ticats in the second.

Stubler said a week that included the trading of one veteran (quarterback Michael Bishop), the release of another (safety Orlondo Steinauer) and talk of his possible dismissal made things difficult.

"We had a big distraction with me but I just told them, 'Hey, if it happens, it happens,' " said Stubler, who was wearing a "Life is Good" T-shirt. "We eliminated all our distractions and just let our players play."

And that they did.

Joseph passed for 399 yards and ran for 49 in what Stubler said was his best game of the season. Bruce caught a season-high 10 passes for 149 yards, while Dorsey piled up 265 all-purpose yards.

The redesigned defence, which operated with veteran stalwarts Mike O'Shea and Michael Fletcher on the sidelines much of the night, gave up 420 yards but held the 2-7 Ticats to five points in the second half.

Most important, the defence responded when the game was on the line. With fullback Bryan Crawford's one-yard run having given the Argos a 34-26 lead at 6:57 of the fourth quarter, the Argos appeared to be in control.

But with five minutes to play, the Argos faced a third down at their own 11 and decided to concede a safety that brought the Ticats within six.

A 42-yard Nick Setta field goal cut the margin to three with 2:31 left.

But with the Ticats driving, the Argo defence stopped fullback Jeff Piercy on a third-and-one try at their own 44 with 28 seconds left to preserve the victory as overtime loomed.

Stubler was pleased with the defence's play, but said he challenged them after Hamilton quarterback Casey Printers ran 26 yards for a touchdown that gave the Ticats a 26-21 lead at 7:36 of the third quarter.

"I told our guys, 'My heart can't take this ... anymore,' " he said.

Stubler said the team's recent moves produced results, adding that the trading of Bishop had helped Joseph by eliminating distractions.

The release of Steinauer, which resulted in moving defensive back Kenny Wheaton into his spot, also produced results, he said.

While the Ticats did rack up 259 yards in rushing, Printers was held to 161 in the air.

"We didn't have balls going over people's heads," Stubler said.

Joseph's favourite target was Bruce, who has been limited this season by double coverage but benefited from the return of Bethel Johnson. He even found time for a little theatrics, celebrating an 11-yard TD catch by donning a Spiderman mask produced from his pants.

"It was just a little fun," said Bruce, who said the mask was his son's.

Tim Robbins To Play In Toronto Charity Hockey Game

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(August 28, 2008) Tim Robbins loves the New York Rangers but has recently been given one less thing to love about the team – they weren't able to re-sign Sean Avery this summer.

Fortunately, the actor and hockey fanatic will have a chance to say his goodbyes when both he and Avery take part in the Festival Cup charity hockey game at Air Canada Centre on Sept. 5. They're among a group of celebrities and NHLers that will be on the ice in support of Right To Play.

Robbins is looking forward to it.

"I did request to be on a line with Sean Avery, who I am very sorry that the Rangers lost," he said Thursday.

The final roster of participants won't be released until next week but the list of those already committed is pretty impressive – NHLers Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Curtis Joseph, Matt Stajan, Robyn Regehr, Mike Cammalleri, Andrew Ference and Avery.

The celebrities include Robbins, Alan Thicke, "Juno" director Jason Reitman, D.B. Sweeney and Cameron Bancroft.

Robbins has played in several charity games over the years but still gets a little nervous when he steps on the ice with NHLers.

"Those guys are fast," he said. "I seem to be slowing down a little bit. We'll see what happens.

"It's always fun though. I don't think there's anyone going to try laying anyone out."

Robbins first started playing hockey as a kid while growing up in New York. He gave up the game for a time before finding his way back in 1993 and has been participating regularly since then.

There are several websites that feature photos of the six-foot-five Robbins playing roller hockey on the streets of Manhattan. As a tall defenceman, he's comfortable being called the Chris Pronger of celebrity hockey.

"I'm about his same height," said Robbins. "I'll take that."

When he appears in the celebrity game on the opening weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival, he'll have more to speak with Avery about than that player's new contract with the Dallas Stars.

Robbins says one of his favourite hockey movies is "The Rocket" – the 2005 film about Maurice Richard in which Avery played a small part.

Tickets for the celebrity game cost $25 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or the Air Canada Centre box office.

Shed A Tear For Demise Of A Baseball Cathedral

Source:  www.thestar.com - Garth Woolsey

September 01, 2008) Walk into Yankee Stadium over the years and it was hard not to feel like you were stepping into one of sports' great cathedrals. Now that it is fading away it is hard not to feel the loss, even if from afar.

A good ballpark is like a good golf course or a good book. It should have a personality, facial features, a plot-line, if you will.

A great stadium has a history, it has ghosts in its shadows. Fathers should sit with sons, mothers with daughters, and point into the distance and tell stories from their own youth.

Yankee Stadium was new once. The patch of land in the Bronx was purchased for $675,000 (U.S.) from the estate of mogul William Waldorf Astor and the budget for construction was $2.5 million. The project was completed in 284 days – and how about that, for 1923?

"Some ball yard!" is what Babe Ruth is said to have observed on his first visit. He let his bat elaborate, hitting a three-run homer in the first game ever played in what would come to be known as The House That Ruth Built.

"That Babe was some architect," said Chipper Jones, suitably impressed when he paid a visit to the Stadium (extensively rebuilt in 1974 and '75) in the mid '90s.

Your correspondent thought so, too, the first time he poked around there a quarter century ago when the Jays were getting good. To stand around the batting cage, sit in the dugouts, explore Monument Park, watch fights in the stands from the press box, gaze upon that famous white frieze, ponder Death Valley in left-centre, the menacing neighbourhood after dark ... all of it was special.

"I imagine rooting for the Yankees is like owning a yacht," Jimmy Cannon once wrote of the team that has won 26 World Series titles, clinching nine of them on the Yankee Stadium grass. But Yankee fans haven't been pushovers either – they know a rowboat when they see one. When the last pitch is thrown in a month or so, they will have packed the place with attendance of more than 4 million a season for the past four years, but back in 1984 their average home crowd was merely 22,492, compared to last year's 52,739.

But, as Derek Jeter said earlier this season, "this is a stadium that's been important to society, not only to baseball." Popes have offered Mass there and for two decades Jehovah's Witnesses gathered there annually. Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling there and it was the site of a rally for Nelson Mandela. Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne delivered his famous "win one for The Gipper" speech there, as did, of course, Lou Gehrig intone his "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

Hall of famer in the building field Frank Gehry has said: "Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness." The 21st century requires of its sporting palaces that they deliver all the contemporary luxuries and revenue streams – only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park continue to resist the replacement trend, even if modernized as much as possible.

Few around here mourn old Exhibition Stadium, but still the years have mellowed the memories more than darkened them. Maple Leaf Gardens? Drive by and it triggers flashbacks more to the misty legends than the lack of legroom and the line-ups in the men's room.

Stadiums are purpose built. Without players they're like music without instruments.

Yankee tradition, one of the most valuable and treasured commodities in sport, will be transferred a few hundred metres to a new stadium. Winning, as ever, will be the key factor in filling the place.

Another Reunion For Williams Sisters

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(September 02, 2008) NEW YORK–Now comes a challenge for Venus Williams and Serena Williams at the U.S. Open: a match against each other.

Except unlike so many of their all-in-the-family faceoffs at Grand Slam tournaments, including at Wimbledon in July, this Williams vs. Williams showdown will not decide the championship.

Instead, this one will come in the quarter-finals.

Both advanced through the fourth round easily yesterday.

The No. 7-seeded Venus dismissed No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-1, 6-3, before No. 4 Serena dispatched wild-card entrant Severine Bremond of France 6-2, 6-2 at night.

"Even the semis would have been better than the quarter-finals, but at least one of us will make it to the semis," Serena said. "I've got probably the toughest match of the tournament coming up next, so I have to be ready."

Some sisters make plans to go shopping together or to catch a movie. These siblings keep meeting up on tennis courts at the sport's highest levels.

"The best part is we're still here," Venus said. "Going stronger than ever, in my opinion."

Their matchup tomorrow will be a tiebreaker of sorts.

They've played 16 times as professionals, with each winning eight. That includes 10 meetings at major tournaments, with each winning five. The most recent was when Venus beat Serena for the title at the All England Club, the seventh all-Williams Grand Slam final.

Because of the luck of the pre-tournament draw, they were placed in the same portion of the bracket in New York – much to the disappointment of them, U.S. Open organizers and TV types.

Even other players.

"For sure, it would have been better for the crowd if it was a final," Bremond said. "It would have been a very good final.''

Also advancing to the women's quarter-finals were No. 6 Dinara Safina, who defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld 7-5, 6-0, and No. 16 Flavia Pennetta, who beat No. 32 Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 6-0.

In men's action, No. 1 Rafael Nadal faced a tough challenge from 55th-ranked Sam Querrey, a 20-year-old Californian who never before had been to the fourth round at a major tournament.

Querrey hung in during extended baseline rallies, and even briefly led in the third set, before losing 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

Nadal owns four titles from the French Open and one from Wimbledon, but he never has been as far as the U.S. Open semifinals. He'll try to take care of that gap on his résumé when he meets another unseeded American, Mardy Fish, in the quarter-finals.

Also advancing was No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who ended the run of Kei Nishikori, the first Japanese man to reach the U.S. Open's fourth round in the 40-year Open era.

Del Potro won the contest between teenagers 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 for his 23rd consecutive victory.

Del Potro will face No. 6 Andy Murray, who defeated 10th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

Fish beat a seeded player for the third consecutive match, serve-and-volleying his way past No. 32 Gael Monfils in straight sets.

As for facing Nadal?

"I feel like a guy with my style of play is someone he doesn't want to see," said Fish, who kept charging forward against Monfils and won the point on 45 of 69 trips to the net.

"You've got to be able to finish points quickly. He's going to last longer than anybody. He wants to keep the points as long as possible and run the guys down."