20 Carlton Street, Suite 1032, Toronto, ON  M5B 2H5
                                                                                                                                                                                                                             (416) 677-5883


February 12, 2009

Valentine's Day.  Hmm.  Well, it's always been my belief that it is our responsibility
SmileyCentral.com to show those in our lives on a regular basis how much they mean to us.  I know that this is a quest that is harder for some than others, so for those that require this particular date to help them mark and celebrate their loved ones, that's cool too.  Truly worth the effort.

I know that so many of us are hit by hard times financially and have suffered losses - it's easy to get depressed and panicked.  Try to concentrate on the positive (sometimes harder said than done) or even donate some of those hard-earned dollars to your favourite charity.  Sometimes giving when we don't think we've got it to give comes back to us tenfold in filling our spirits.

And no, you won't see anything in this newsletter about the current Rihanna/Chris Brown situation - there are just not enough details yet to get the full picture. I pray that both kids are coping and that there is a swift resolution.

Little update on me: I'm getting stronger every day ... again, thanks for your prayers of support.

Lots of exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!


Juno Soundtrack Wins 1st Grammy Of Day

www.thestar.com - Nick Patch, The Canadian Press

(February 08, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Montreal-born film director Jason Reitman picked up a Grammy Award on Sunday for the soundtrack to his teenage pregnancy movie, "Juno," but other Canadian nominees had a disappointing showing. Reitman called the Grammy – the first to be handed out at the afternoon ceremony before the televised gala – an "enormous surprise," adding that he came to the show to watch Paul McCartney and Justin Timberlake.

Two Canadian actors – Halifax's Ellen Page and Michael Cera of Brampton, Ont. – performed on the "Juno" soundtrack, and Reitman has frequently boasted about the movie's Canuck pedigree.

Offstage, he said: "I forgot to thank Canada. I say to you now: this award is dedicated to the people of Canada."

Other than the "Juno" win, Canadians were coming up empty-handed as the show progressed.

Joel Zimmerman, a Niagara Falls, Ont., DJ who performs as Deadmau5, Alberta band Northern Cree, polka king Walter Ostanek of St. Catharines, Ont., and pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin of Montreal all failed to win in their categories.

Going into the Grammy Awards, New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne had a leading eight nominations. Brit-poppers Coldplay were next with seven and Kanye West, Jay-Z and Ne-Yo had six apiece.

Radiohead, nominated for five awards, was a standout in rehearsals Saturday, performing a stirring version of "15 Step" with the backing of the University of Southern California marching band. It will be the British art-rockers' first appearance on U.S. television since 2000.

The televised show was also set to feature McCartney, Timberlake and U2, as well as some unique collaborative performances.

McCartney will have Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl drumming behind him while they perform the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There," soul legend Stevie Wonder and teen-pop act the Jonas Brothers will unite for a medley of "Burnin' Up" and ``Superstition," and New York rapper Jay-Z will drop a verse as Coldplay's Chris Martin plays the piano.

The show is set to air on CBS and Global at 8 p.m. ET.

Charles Officer : Dreamer, Director, Acting Coach

www.globeandmail.com - Jennie Punter

(February 08, 2009) Toronto filmmaker
Charles Officer initially imagined his first feature as a black-and-white silent film with a cast of hundreds and loaded with big themes. Circumstances, limited funding and the passage of time may have conspired against Officer doing his D.W. Griffith epic, but the more modest film he has created is nevertheless tinged with magic both on and off screen.

Produced through the Canadian Film Centre's Feature Film Project,
Nurse.Fighter.Boy tells the story of a nurse with sickle-cell anemia (Karen LeBlanc) and a melancholy boxer named Silence (Clark Johnson), who find each other with the help of spells cast by her precociously wise 12-year-old son (Daniel H. Gordon). Colour is integral to the film's emotional power, as is the fantastic reggae and soul-driven soundtrack. But Officer, who studied design at the Ontario College of Art and Design, preserves his original notion of a silent picture with the laconic character of Johnson, as well as in the sparse dialogue of the screenplay, co-written with fellow CFC alumna (short-film program) Ingrid Veninger, who also produced the film.

Nurse.Fighter.Boy was warmly received by audiences and critics when it premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Its journey has included acting awards for Johnson (Whistler Film Festival) and LeBlanc (Atlantic Film Festival) and recently announced ACTRA Award nominations for the three titular performances.

Officer – who also acts, and recently appeared in a Soulpepper/Theatre Calgary production of A Raisin in the Sun in Toronto and Calgary – delights in the kudos for his cast. “From the time I first put words on a page I knew I wanted the actors to get recognized, regardless of the film getting into any festivals,” he said last week. He was particularly pleased for Johnson, who has mostly worked as a director ( The Sentinel, HBO's The Wire) since playing Detective Meldrick Lewis on the long-running series Homicide: Life On The Street (1993-1999). “He's been nominated before but never won for acting,” Officer adds, “So the award, which came with a $500 cheque, was really special to him.”

Johnson, who was born in the United States but moved with his family (including jazz-singing sisters Taborah and Molly Johnson) to Canada as a teenager, played football and worked as a stunt man for a while – but that was moons ago. Immediately after directing the series finale of The Wire, Johnson (who also played newspaperman Gus Haynes in the show's final season) hopped on a plane for Toronto to begin the gruelling 23-day shoot for Nurse.Fighter.Boy. “I was suddenly getting my ass kicked by [boxing consultant] Chris Johnson,” a laughing Johnson says in an interview during TIFF. “I chipped a tooth.”

Despite his well-honed directing chops, Johnson never felt the need to suggest a thing. “Directing and acting are oil and water to me, so when I put on the actor hat I'm worried about hitting my mark,” he says. “I've been a driver, worked in effects, then stunts – I know about the division of labour. Plus Charles has a very strong voice.

“Me, Charles and Ingrid have [worked on] movies together for a while,” he adds. “ We have this allegiance. I was going to do the movie regardless of reading the script first.”

Nurse.Fighter.Boy draws on people, events and places in Officer's own life growing up near Toronto's Don Valley. He originally wrote the character of Silence as a 30-year-old, intending to give Johnson the part of the fighter's mentor, a boxing-gym owner who dies in the film's first act. But that part (now played by Walter Borden) and the three title roles were all “aged” – an artistic shift that, in retrospect, is magical inspiration.

The idea to “recast” Johnson came while Officer and Veninger were attending an industry event in New York and spotted actor-director Forrest Whittaker. “Ingrid said, doesn't he remind you of Clark, with those sleepy eyes?” Officer recalls. “So Silence became an older washed-up boxer. Clark loved the idea of a silent character and we worked together on taking dialogue out.”

“In the first acting class I stumbled into, the teacher said an ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words, and that has stayed with me,” adds Officer, currently developing a documentary about sprinter Harry Jerome for the NFB. “I want to make films that transcend cultural and language barriers – I hope all my films can be understood without sound.” He may yet end up making that silent movie.

Nurse.Fighter.Boy opened Friday in Toronto and Vancouver.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Starving Artists? That's Not Far From The Mark

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
James Adams

(February 04, 2009) Earnings by most Canadian artists are hovering at poverty levels and the situation is likely to worsen as the worldwide recession deepens, according to a statistical profile of the country's artists released yesterday.

The findings of the 43-page study, prepared by Hill Strategies Research of Hamilton for Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, are derived from the 2006 census. It identified 140,000 Canadians as artists – defined as those who spent most of their working time in nine occupational categories, including actors, dancers, authors/writers, visual artists and producers/directors/choreographers.

The study reports that artists over all are working for near-poverty-level wages, with an average annual earnings in calendar year 2005 of just $22,731, compared with $36,301 for all Canadian workers – a 37-per-cent wage chasm.

In fact, of the 140,000 artists analyzed, 43 per cent earned less than $10,000, whereas in the overall labour force that percentage was 25 per cent. The study notes that the $22,700 average is only 9 per cent higher than the $20,800 that Statistics Canada has identified as the “low-income cut-off” for a single person living in a city with 500,000 people or more.

What makes the situation even more distressing is that artist earnings have been decreasing since 1990 – a decline likely to intensify over the next two years. While average earnings for the overall labour force rose by almost 10 per cent from 1990 to 2005, artists experienced a slide of 11 per cent – to $22,731 from $25,433 – at the same time as the cultural-sector work force tripled in size. Actors experienced the sharpest decline in average earnings among artists, dropping 34 per cent to about $18,000 in 2005.

According to the Hill study, the poorest-paid Canadian artist category is that of female visual artist, with average earnings in 2005 of $11,421, closely followed by female artisan/craftsperson ($12,307), female musician/singer ($12,449), and female dancer ($12,502).

Indeed, while there are more female artists than males (74,000 versus 66,000) in the country, female artists over all earn much less than their male counterparts: In 2005, a female artist earned on average $19,175, a male $26,714 – a span of close to 30 per cent.

If there is a “labour aristocracy” among artists, it's those 22,370 individuals who identified themselves as “producers/directors/choreographers” in the 2006 census. Males in that category averaged earnings of just under $45,000 while females received $42,000. Francophone artists in Quebec over all are better remunerated than their anglophone equivalents, but not significantly better: According to the survey, they earned an average of $24,520 in 2005, a gap of about 7 per cent.

Other highlights:

Artists are aging along with the rest of the labour force: In 2006, 61,000 artists – 43 per cent of the total analyzed – were 45 years of age and older. This was a 121-per-cent increase in that category from the early 1990s.

Aboriginal artists are especially poor earners – just $15,900 on average, 30-per-cent lower than the average for all artists.

Forty-two per cent of the artists analyzed described themselves as self-employed, compared with 7 per cent for the economy as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, given the low earnings from their art, Canadian artists rely on part-time work to get by: In 2005, 42 per cent of artists said they took part-time jobs, compared with 22 per cent for the overall labour force.

While artists earn much less than the overall labour force and outnumber the workers directly employed by the Canadian automotive sector (140,000 versus 135,000), they're better educated than most Canadians. The Hill study reports that 39 per cent of all Canadian artists have at least a university degree at the bachelor's level, whereas for the overall labour force the percentage is 21.

The full report can be found at www.HillStrategies.com.

'Starving' Artists Getting Poorer

www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara, Entertainment Reporter

(February 09, 2009) It's already hard enough for artists in Canada to make a decent living and it's not getting any better. In fact, the latest statistical analysis shows artists are getting poorer.

Kelly Hill of Hill Strategies Research, a company that analyzes artist earnings and trends, said real income declined from 2001 to 2006, the latest data period provided by Census Canada.

The 2001 census showed artists earned an average of $26,300, but that figure dropped to $22,700 by 2006, a 14 per cent decrease in earnings when adjusted for inflation. By contrast, the overall labour force saw a modest 2 per cent increase in the same period.

"That was a surprising and fairly depressing statistic. We knew from the 2001 census work that we did that artists' earnings were low but ... seeing them go down from even that low level is quite disappointing," Hill said.

Hill said that figure becomes even more alarming when one realizes that in 2006, working artists – 140,000 across Canada – outnumbered the 135,000 Canadians directly employed in the auto sector.

Overall, the latest research shows there are 609,000 cultural workers in Canada: about 3.3 per cent of the total workforce; double the level of workers in the forestry sector at 300,000 and more than double the banking sector at 257,000.

"That's substantial and it'll surprise a lot of people," Hill said.

At the same time, Hill said – and as a recent Star series on the lives of Canadian artists demonstrated – those who choose to follow their artistic muse face significant hurdles compared to others in the labour force.

For example, artists, many of whom are self-employed, rarely qualify for employment insurance, and their ability to contribute to pension plans for a secure retirement is also limited, Hill said.

Hill said it's time for governments to wake up to the significant role artists and culture play in Canada's economy and to provide incentives for them to survive.

"I do believe that (artists) are a dynamic and growing component of the labour force and it does need to be nurtured," he said.

Chanté Lives Her Life Over On Vision's Drama Soul

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

(February 11, 2009) The way Juno award-winner Keshia Chanté tells it, she didn't feel secure as a singer until she played one for TV.

The Ottawa native stars as vocally blessed preacher's daughter Mahalia Brown in Vision TV's first hour-long drama Soul, which premieres tonight. She portrays a teen conflicted about leaving the church to pursue pop stardom.

Though she has been "singing ever since I could talk," Chanté didn't take the stereotypical gospel path to R&B. But she did have relevant experiences at Catholic school.

"I was in the choir and ended up leaving, because I couldn't be a soloist," she explained in a recent interview. "We weren't allowed soloists, because it was a fair group thing, and I hated it. We had to sing very plain and simple, and I wanted to do all these runs and things. And Mahalia does the exact same thing: she gets creative and starts changing things."

Though she has released two albums, including a 2004 self-titled debut that spawned three Top 10 songs, the 20-year-old said not until this role, which involved recording contemporized Mahalia Jackson tunes, did she feel she'd reached her vocal apex.

"I had to take the technical aspect of singing down a notch," the perky songstress explained, tucked into the back of an idling Town Car parked on Queen St. W. to accommodate back-to-back interviews.

"If Mahalia had pitch problems I couldn't go in and go `Oh, it's a little bit pitchy, let me recut that.' It was `No, you go in the studio, don't worry about the music, just sing and do it in one take.'

"They made the music to suit my voice, whereas usually I have to make my voice fit the beat. I've never been so free in the studio. This time it was all from the heart. I really feel like I found my soul. I always thought I was singer, but now feel like I'm a sing-er.

"There's so much soul now in my pop records," said Chanté, who is at work on her third disc.

With her first small-screen starring role in hand, the petite performer, who has had little acting training and never had a vocal lesson, is reportedly being considered to play late American R&B singer Aaliyah in a biopic.

"I can't speak on that officially," Chanté demurred. "She inspired me and a role like that ... it's a lot of pressure, but I know I would nail it. Mahalia is someone who was a lot like me, young and spunky. She wasn't that complicated a character, but I really want to get into some serious acting, even though I know it's going to take a lot of work and challenging and fine grooming."

Signed to her first record contract at 14, Chanté said record industry shenanigans around her disappointing 2006 sophomore release 2U squashed her naiveté.

"Because I was so young, my (managers/guardians) always protected me and would never tell me what was going on, but once I started to figure it out ... there was a lot of dirty politics. It wasn't about fun any more."

She recalled, as an example, the debate over her choice of footwear at the Miami video shoot for the album's title track.

"It got back to the (record company) president that I was going to be wearing heels instead of runners, and it turned into such a big spectacle that the people from the label flew to Miami from Toronto and New York. I mean heated arguments and debates and full out fights: `And you're not wearing that dress!'

"If you look at Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, they all slowly started to wear heels. But it became `Oh, no, Keshia is losing sight of what her brand is,' but it is my brand, because I'm growing up, my fans are growing up and they're coming to my concerts in heels, too."

So she did what grown-ups do and took a more active role in the direction of her career.

"Before, I had to ask the boss and they were telling me what to do. I had to turn it around and be my own boss. The only limitation now is, if I'm uncomfortable, I'm not doing it."


Bon Bini – Welcome To Aruba

By Melanie Reffes, Canadian Traveller

Twenty kilometres north of Venezuela, Aruba is a pure beach vacation destination with a dizzying array of accommodations, restaurants, swishy spas, snazzy casinos, championship golf courses and shopping galore. Without the standard-issue amenities of other tropical islands like volcanoes and mountains, Aruba is flat and dry with cool trade winds, temperatures that rarely exceed 28 degrees Celsius and beaches that welcome sun-worshippers year round. The destination expects its 2008 visitor total to be five per cent ahead of last year, when the island drew 772,000 stay-over visitors.

Popular with Canadian pleasure-seekers, the Caribbean’s Dutch darling appeals to first-timers and loyal visitors who come back at a 60-per cent repeat rate, higher than any other Caribbean destination. “Even in tight economic times, people are travelling to Aruba,” said Myrna Jansen- Feliciano, managing director for the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA). “Over the past year, Aruba has not only seen new restaurants, spas, hotels and attractions, but also increased air service.”

Five hours flying time from Toronto, Air Canada has weekend nonstop service through March. Air Transat offers Sunday departures from Toronto through April 26. Delta Airlines has added a second daily flight from Atlanta, Jet Blue flies from New York and Boston and American Airlines has service from Miami.

With a US $500 million investment from the ATA, upgrades will continue through 2011 including new tourism products in response to high demand. A marketing campaign focusing on the friendliness of the Aruban people kicks off this year with an additional US $10 million earmarked for promotion. Like the snappy slogan on their car licence plates, Aruba is, indeed One Happy Island.


Heading into the peak winter season, Aruba has an inventory of 7,400 rooms in 28 resorts with a recent investment of US $500 million in renovations. The AAA Four Diamond Radisson Aruba Resort Casino & Spa is the Grande Dame of Palm Beach with 353 rooms, waterfalls, casino, chic martini bar, gourmet Sunset Grille and the Larimar Spa, with its signature aloe and rum massage.

A new website for trade only – www.radissoncaribbean.com/traveltrade – enables travel agents to contact the sales team, order brochures and view agent rates. “This is our newest tool to enhance the relationship between travel agents and Radisson’s resorts in the Caribbean,” said general manager Gary Jutz. For travel through April, White Hot Winter Sale offers 25-per cent reduction on five-night stays and US $150 credit for the spa and the restaurant. Packages include Scuba in Aruba (US $1,670) and Romantic Escape (US $3,000) for stays up to seven nights. Also on Palm Beach, size matters at the Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, where 140 rooms have been added in four beachside towers and the new Pure Beach restaurant opens to the sea for memorable views. Rates for a one-bedroom suite start at US $456 per night through April 17.

Also new in the Divi portfolio, all-inclusive Village Golf & Beach Resort has added 52 suites bringing the total to 240 including villas around the golf course. Rates through April dip as low as US $261 per person per night. “The changes at Phoenix Beach and expansion at Divi Village are helping position the Divi brand as the true aficionado of Caribbean vacations,” said E.J. Schanfarber, CEO of Divi Hotels Marketing.

Following a US $50 million facelift, Aruba Marriott Resort has redesigned all rooms with the top floor Tradewinds Club reserved for red-carpet services like a pillow menu. At the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino a US $20 million renovation bought upgrades to the 360 rooms and four regal suites, canopied day-beds in the Alfresco Lobby Bar and Latin kitchen in the Palms Restaurant. Rooms start at $525 in high season, based on double occupancy.

At the Westin Aruba Resort, the pool has been upgraded and the conference facilities expanded to accommodate 1,000 people. And at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, a revamped Okeanos Spa is open on the adults-only side of the resort’s two properties.

Fronting palm-studded Eagle Beach, Bucuti Beach Resort and the Tara Beach Suites has completed a transformation of the outdoor areas creating a lounge like ambience where guests can enjoy the serenity of the tropics. The 104-room boutique property is also at the forefront of eco-sustainability.

“We encourage participation in our turtle protection program because our guests prefer helping the environment to sleeping in a beach chair,” says owner Ewald Biemans who is spearheading a bevy of eco-initiatives. For clients booking a Valentines Day getaway, Swept Away Romance Package includes a bottle of bubbly, candlelit dinner on the beach and a sunset cruise – US $2,200 – per couple for five nights in a Superior Garden View room.

For adults-only, Cunucu Arubiano on the Santa Lucia hill are individual casitas reflecting Aruban and Dutch architecture of the 19th century. Amenities include a complimentary bottle of wine for every two nights booked.

For families, the Holiday Inn has expanded its KidSpree Vacation Club with the addition of Kids Disco Night and a variety of supervised activities for kids and teens.

Good Grazing

Aruba’s cuisine is a flavourful fusion of Dutch, South American, Spanish, Portuguese, and African flavours. Not for the faint of appetite, the national dish called Keshi Yena is a hearty meal of meat baked in the shell of the red-waxed Edam cheese. Seafood is popular with the addition of the sharp tasting ‘yerbe hole’ basil. Dessert is not to be missed with snacks made from coconut called ‘cocada’ and Dutch chocolate sold on every street corner.

New on the restaurant horizon, Old Man and The Sea is toes-in-the-sand dining par excellence. In the quaint village of Savaneta, a seashell away from the popular Flying Fishbone, the beach surrounding the restaurant is a dance floor where owner Jonathan Vieira entertains with his piano playing.

Following an expansion, Havana Beach Restaurant has reopened for casual dining or intimate dinners. Specializing in stir-fry, diners choose their main ingredients which are delivered piping hot to cozy tables. Chez Matilde is now simply Matilde retaining its fine French menu and adding a shiny white piano. In Papiamento – the island’s official Creole language – the word sushi means ‘garbage’ but that doesn’t stop Japanese food aficionados from devouring sushi at Nobushi in the Paseo Herencia Mall. Also in the Mall, Mr. Jazz beckons with a cigar lounge, spicy Cuban kitchen and US $30 shots of tequila.

In the southeast town of San Nicolas, Charlie’s Bar has been in business since 1941 when scuba divers started to hang their underwater treasures on the walls. Nowadays, honky tonk heroes stop by for a platter of squid and frosty Balashi beer.

Day Tripping

On the southern coast, Oranjestad is the cosmopolitan Dutch capital city where the tall multi-hued houses are easy to spot with carved wooden doors and traditional Dutch tiles. Along the wharf, merchants sell fish every morning while the Renaissance Mall does a brisk business in duty-free Gucci, Bulgari and Vuitton. And at the swanky Paseo Herencia mall in Palm Beach, a cornucopia of boutiques and cafes awaits.

Noteworthy souvenirs include jewellery made from polished djuco nuts and pottery decorated with scenes of divi-divi trees. On the last Sunday of the month, locals sell their goods at a flea market in the Rococo Plaza with free pick-up from the major hotels.

For clients who want to top off their tan with a dollop of island history, the Archaeological Museum spotlights Amerindian heritage while the Numismatic Museum next to the bus station in Oranjestad displays 30,000 historic coins from around the world. The Aloe Museum and Factory is a worthwhile stop for both the tour and the gift store that sells aloe-based fragrances and lotions at bargain prices.

The calm waters and steady trade winds on the leeward coast are popular with sailors and divers while non-swimmers can enjoy glass bottom boat rides and sea trek adventures in submarines. SNUBA tours (snorkel and scuba) take swimmers to the azure wonderland of the sea for up-close views of damselfish and iridescent blue parrotfish. The largest water sports operator, Red Sail Sports sells a cornucopia of tours to suit every level of skill. Aboard catamarans, the snorkel tours are crowded but can be booked in advance at the concierge desks at the Marriott, Hyatt or Renaissance Island.

Palm Beach and Eagle Beach are the most popular for swimming while windsurfing is the best on Malmok Beach, between Palm and Arashi beaches. On the eastern tip, the shallow waters of Baby Beach makes it a favourite for families and on the north coast, Boca Prins is a small sliver of sand perfect for taking five in the shade.

Dressed like an Aruban version of Indiana Jones, Eddy Croes is the most knowledgeable eco-tour operator on the island and the owner of Sensitive Hikers. Offered in five languages, his tours entice tourists away from the beach and casinos to explore the dry riverbanks, Parke Nacional Arikok, sand dunes, gold mines and secret caves. “It is up to us to make sure Aruba’s environment exists for future generations,” he says slowing down his jeep to hear the chirping of a hummingbird. Once a month, nature lovers join the Moonlight Walk Tour to see night shadows shining on the cactus plants as the hoot of the Shoco owl provides the musical accompaniment.

Thrill seekers are signing up for the new Tomcar tours through the National Park and on the cactus-strewn landscape. Aruba is the only Caribbean island to offer excursions on these Jeep-ATV hybrid vehicles which were originally designed for the Israeli army.

Get Your Groove On

Red hot from dusk till dawn, nightlife reigns supreme from cocktails under the stars to a wild night of dancing on the beach. In the Radisson, Mira Solo mixes a mélange of martinis – each with three shots of vodka – like the refreshing Iceberg with white crème de menthe and mint leaves. There’s plenty of stirring and shaking at the Bar Blue in the Renaissance Resort where fruity cocktails make a potent splash during happy hour.

Snuggled between the high-rise hotels in Palm Beach and Arawak Gardens, Sopranos Piano Bar spotlights talented musicians happy to take requests. For something completely different, Black Hog Saloon has the world’s largest mini-golf course, museum of Harley biker memorabilia and bar stool racing.

Shake your maracas aboard the Kukoo Kunuku. This dinner and bar-hopping adventure on a colourful hand-painted parranda bus winds its way through the countryside and down city alleys for an authentic slice of island life. (Worth noting: organizers transport and return guests to the hotels.) When the sun goes down, tempt Lady Luck in one of the many casinos. As the originator of Caribbean stud poker, casinos are popular with veteran gamblers and casual players.

Mark Your Calendar

February 8 to 25: Carnival fills the air day and night with steel pan concerts, Jump-Up parties and lavish parades May: Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival is a big hit with fans of R & B and Jazz. October: Aruba Music Festival attracts local and international superstars.

More Aruba

For more information visit the Aruba Tourism Authority at www.aruba.com.


Grammy Wrap Up: Robert Plant, The Night's Big Winner, Followed By Lil Wayne


(February 09, 2009) *The 51st annual Grammys was an all-ages affair ultimately dominated by a rock legend who took up with a younger bluegrass singer on a whim.

The unlikely pairing of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss that produced the hit album "Raising Sand," on Sunday won five Grammys including album of the year.

The former Led Zeppelin frontman, previously best known for his high-decibel shrieking and rock star theatrics, found more docile Nashville melodies with Krauss.

"Raising Sand," produced by T Bone Burnett, bested fellow nominees Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo, Coldplay and Radiohead. Their "Please Read the Letter" also won record of the year.

"I'm bewildered," said Plant. "In the old days we would have called this selling out, but I think it's a good way to spend a Sunday."

In a performance-stuffed live broadcast on CBS, the subject of age — and intertwining musical realms — was always close at hand.

Taylor Swift, 19, and Miley Cyrus, 16, sang a duet of Swift's "Fifteen." The 66-year-old Paul McCartney, with 40-year-old Dave Grohl on drums, sang the Beatles classic about a girl who "was just 17."

Stevie Wonder performed with the Jonas Brothers and even a nine-months pregnant woman — the rapper M.I.A. — hobbled out on the stage to join the dapperly dressed Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and T.I. in a "rap summit" performance of T.I.'s "Swagger Like Us."

Before the night's end, Plant and Krauss seemed to be in a three-horse race with Lil Wayne and Coldplay — a trio of acts of wildly different sounds.

Lil Wayne — who led the field with eight nominations — won three awards, including best rap album for "Tha Carter III," for which he literally hopped on stage to receive. (His tally came to four Grammys if you count his inclusion on "Swagger Like Us," which won best rap performance by a duo or group.)

Coldplay also took home three awards, including best rock album for "Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends."

"We've never had so many Grammys in our life," said lead singer Chris Martin, perhaps so excited he got confused (they had already won four over the years). "We feel so grateful to be here. I'm going to tear up."

The Grammys this year offered a CBS telecast without a host and — unexpectedly — without several performers.

Rihanna and Chris Brown, both nominated for awards and scheduled to perform, were absent after the Los Angeles Police Department announced that Brown — who is dating Rihanna — was the subject of an investigation into a felony domestic violence battery from Saturday night.

Brown turned himself into police late Sunday and was released after posting bail. Police booked the 19-year-old R&B singer on suspicion of making a criminal threat.

To fill in for Rihanna's scheduled performance, the Recording Academy hastily put together an ensemble of Al Green, Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men and Keith Urban performing Green's "Let's Stay Together."

Complete List Of 51st Grammy Award Winners

www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(February 08, 2009) A complete list of winners at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards.

Album of the Year: "Raising Sand," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; T Bone Burnett, producer; Mike Piersante, engineer/mixer; Gavin Lurssen, mastering engineer (Rounder)

Rap Album: "Tha Carter III," Lil Wayne (Cash Money/Universal Motown)

Male Pop Vocal Performance: "Say," John Mayer; track from "Continuum" (Columbia)

Record of the Year: "Please Read The Letter," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; T Bone Burnett, producer; Mike Piersante, engineer/mixer; track from "Raising Sand" (Rounder)

New Artist: Adele

Rock Album: "Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends," Coldplay (Capitol)

Pop Collaboration With Vocals: "Rich Woman," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, track from "Raising Sand" (Rounder)

Song of the Year: "Viva La Vida," Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Chris Martin, songwriters (Coldplay), track from "Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends" (Capitol Records; Publishers: Universal Music-MGB Songs)

Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: "Stay," Sugarland, track from "Enjoy the Ride" (Mercury)

R&B Album: "Jennifer Hudson," Jennifer Hudson (Arista)

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical: Rick Rubin

Producer of the Year, Classical: David Frost

Female Pop Vocal Performance: "Chasing Pavements," Adele, track from "19" (Columbia/XL)

Traditional Pop Vocal Album: "Still Unforgettable," Natalie Cole (DMI)

Pop Vocal Album: "Rockferry," Duffy (Mercury)

Pop Instrumental Performance: "I Dreamed There Was No War," Eagles, track from "Long Road Out of Eden" (Eagles Recording Company)

Pop Instrumental Album: "Jingle All the Way," Bela Fleck & The Flecktones (Rounder)

Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: "Viva La Vida,'' Coldplay, track from "Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends" (Capitol)

Alternative Music Album: "In Rainbows," Radiohead (TBD)

Solo Rock Vocal Performance: "Gravity," John Mayer, track from "Where The Light Is: Live in Los Angeles" (Columbia)

Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: "Sex on Fire," Kings of Leon (RCA)

Hard Rock Performance: "Wax Simulacra," The Mars Volta (Universal Motown)

Metal Performance: "My Apocalypse," Metallica, track from ``Death Magnetic" (Warner Bros.)

Rock Instrumental Performance: "Peaches En Regalia," Zappa Plays Zappa featuring Steve Vai and Napoleon Murphy Brock (Strobosonic/Razor & Tie Entertainment)

Rock Song: "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," Bruce Springsteen, songwriter (Bruce Springsteen), track from "Magic" (Columbia; Publisher: Bruce Springsteen)

Rap Solo Performance: "A Milli," Lil Wayne, track from "Tha Carter III" (Cash Money/Universal Motown)

Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: "Swagga Like Us," Jay-Z and T.I. featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne (Roc-A-Fella/Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

Rap/Sung Collaboration: "American Boy," Estelle featuring Kanye West, track from "Shine" (Homeschool/Atlantic)

Rap Song: "Lollipop," Dwayne Carter, Darius Harrison, James Scheffer, Stephen Garrett and Rex Zamor, songwriters (Lil Wayne featuring Static Major), track from "Tha Carter III" (Cash Money/Universal Motown; Publishers: Young Money Publishing/Warner-Chappell Music, Herbalicious Music/Blackfountain Music/EMI-April Music, JimiPub Music/EMI Blackwood, Three Nails and A Crown Publishing/Roynet Music)

Country Song: "Stay," Jennifer Nettles, songwriter (Sugarland), track from "Enjoy the Ride" (Mercury Records; Publisher: Jennifer Nettles Publishing)

Country Album: "Troubadour," George Strait (MCA Nashville)

Female Country Vocal Performance: "Last Name," Carrie Underwood, track from "Carnival Ride" (19/Arista/Arista Nashville)

Male Country Vocal Performance: "Letter to Me," Brad Paisley, track from "5th Gear" (Arista Nashville)

Country Collaboration with Vocals: "Killing the Blues," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, track from "Raising Sand" (Rounder)

Country Instrumental Performance: "Cluster Pluck," Brad Paisley, James Burton, Vince Gill, John Jorgenson, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner (Arista Nashville)

R&B Song: "Miss Independent," Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen and Shaffer Smith, songwriters (Ne-Yo), track from "Year of the Gentleman" (Def Jam/Compound; Publishers: Pen in the Ground Publishing, Universal Music-Z Tunes)

Contemporary R&B Album: "Growing Pains," Mary J. Blige (Geffen)

Female R&B Vocal Solo: "Superwoman," Alicia Keys, track from "As I Am" (J)

Male R&B Vocal Solo: "Miss Independent," Ne-Yo, track from "Year of the Gentleman" (Def Jam/Compound)

R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: "Stay With Me (By the Sea)," Al Green featuring John Legend, track from "Lay It Down" (Blue Note)

Traditional R&B Vocal Performance: "You've Got the Love I Need," Al Green featuring Anthony Hamilton, track from "Lay It Down" (Blue Note)

Urban/Alternative Performance: "Be OK," Chrisette Michele featuring will.i.am, track from "I Am" (Def Jam)

Dance Recording: "Harder Better Faster Stronger," Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo, producers; Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo, mixers; track from "Alive 2007" (Virgin)

Electronic Dance Album: "Alive 2007," Daft Punk (Virgin)

Bluegrass Album: "Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947," Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder (Skaggs Family)

Traditional Blues Album: "One Kind Favor," B.B. King (Geffen)

Contemporary Blues Album: "City That Care Forgot," Dr. John and The Lower 911 (429)

New Age Album: "Peace Time," Jack DeJohnette (Golden Beams/Kindred Rhythm)

Contemporary Jazz Album: "Randy in Brasil," Randy Brecker (MAMA)

Jazz Vocal Album: "Loverly," Cassandra Wilson (Blue Note)

Jazz Instrumental Solo: "BE-BOP," Terence Blanchard, soloist; track from "Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival" (Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars) (Monterey Jazz Festival)

Jazz Instrumental Album Individual or Group: "The New Crystal Silence," Chick Corea and Gary Burton (Concord)

Large Jazz Ensemble Album: "Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard," The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (Planet Arts Recordings)

Latin Jazz Album: "Song for Chico," Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (Zoho)

Latin Pop Album: "La Vida ... Es Un Ratico," Juanes (Universal Music Latino)

Latin Rock or Alternative Album: "45," Jaguares (EMI Music)

Latin Urban Album: "Los Extraterrestres," Wisin y Yandel (Machete Music)

Tropical Latin Album: "Senor Bachata," Jose Feliciano (Universal Music Latino)

Regional Mexican Album: "Amor, Dolor y Lagrimas: Musica Ranchera," Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) in a tie with "Canciones de Amor," Mariachi Divas (Shea/East Side)

Tejano Album: "Viva La Revolucion," Ruben Ramos and The Mexican Revolution (Revolution)

Norteno Album: "Raices," Los Tigres Del Norte (Fonovisa)

Banda Album: "No Es De Madera" Joan Sebastian (Musart/Balboa)

Traditional Folk Album: "At 89," Pete Seeger (Appleseed Recordings)

Contemporary Folk/Americana Album: "Raising Sand," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (Rounder)

Native American Music Album: "Come to Me Great Mystery: Native American Healing Songs," (Various Artists) Tom Wasinger, producer (Silver Wave)

Hawaiian Music Album: "Ikena," Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho (Daniel Ho Creations)

Zydeco or Cajun Music Album: "Live at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival," BeauSoleil and Michael Doucet (MunckMix)

Engineering Album, Classical: "Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago," David Frost, Tom Lazarus and Christopher Willis, engineers (Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Alan Gilbert, Silk Road Ensemble, Wu Man, Yo-Yo Ma and Chicago Symphony Orchestra) (CSO Resound)

Reggae Album: "Jah Is Real," Burning Spear (Burning Music Production)

Traditional World Music Album: "Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu," Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Heads Up International)

Contemporary World Music Album: "Global Drum Project," Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju and Giovanni Hidalgo (Shout! Factory)

Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media: "Juno," (Various Artists) Peter Afterman, Jason Reitman and Margaret Yen, producers (Fox Music/Rhino)

Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Television or Other Visual Media: "The Dark Knight," James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, composers (Warner Sunset/Warner Bros.)

Polka Album: "Let the Whole World Sing," Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra (Rounder)

Gospel Performance: "Get Up," Mary Mary; track from "The Sound" (Columbia)

Gospel Song: "Help Me Believe," Kirk Franklin, songwriter (Kirk Franklin); track from "The Fight of My Life" (Fo Yo Soul Ent./Zomba Gospel; Publishers: Universal Music-Z Songs/Kerrion Publishing)

Rock or Rap Gospel Album: "Alive and Transported," TobyMac (ForeFront Records EMI CMG)

Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album: "Thy Kingdom Come," CeCe Winans (PureSprings Gospel/EMI Gospel)

Southern, Country, Bluegrass Gospel: "Lovin' Life," Gaither Vocal Band (Gaither Music Group)

Traditional Gospel Album: "Down in New Orleans," The Blind Boys of Alabama (Time Life)

Contemporary R&B Gospel Album: "The Fight of My Life," Kirk Franklin (Fo Yo Soul Entertainment/Zomba Gospel)

Classical Album: "Weill: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," James Conlon, conductor; Anthony Dean Griffey, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald; Fred Vogler, producer (Donnie Ray Albert, John Easterlin, Steven Humes, Mel Ulrich and Robert Worle; Los Angeles Opera Chorus; Los Angeles Opera Orchestra) (EuroArts)

Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media: "Down to Earth," ("WALL-E") Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, songwriters (Peter Gabriel) (Walt Disney/Pixar; Publishers: Walt Disney Music, Wonderland Music/Pixar Talking Pictures/Pixar Music)

Musical Show Album: "In the Heights," Kurt Deutsch, Alex Lacamoire, Andres Levin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joel Moss and Bill Sherman, producers; Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer/lyricist (Original Broadway Cast with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Others) (Razor & Tie Entertainment/Ghostlight)

Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Story Telling): "An Inconvenient Truth (Al Gore)," Beau Bridges, Cynthia Nixon and Blair Underwood (Simon & Schuster Audio)

Musical Album for Children: "Here Come the 123s," They Might Be Giants (Disney Sound)

Spoken Word Album Children: "Yes to Running! Bill Harley Live," Bill Harley (Round River)

Comedy Album: "It's Bad for Ya," George Carlin (Eardrum)

Instrumental Composition: "The Adventures of Mutt," (from "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," John Williams, composer (John Williams), track from "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" soundtrack (Concord)

Instrumental Arrangement: "Define Dancing," (from "WALL-E") Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, arrangers (Thomas Newman), track from "WALL-E" soundtrack (Walt Disney)

Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s): "Here's That Rainy Day," Nan Schwartz, arranger (Natalie Cole), track from "Still Unforgettable" (DMI)

Engineered Album, Non-Classical: "Consolers of the Lonely," Joe Chiccarelli, Vance Powell and Jack White III, engineers (The Raconteurs) (Third Man/Warner Bros.)

Remixed Recording: "Electric Feel (Justice Remix)," Justice, remixers (MGMT), Track from: "Oracular Spectacular" (Columbia)

Surround Sound Album: "Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on Bald Mountain; Prelude to Khovanshchina," Michael Bishop, surround mix engineer; Michael Bishop, surround mastering engineer; Robert Woods, surround producer (Paavo Jarvi and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra) (Telarc)

Opera Recording: "Weill: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," James Conlon, conductor; Anthony Dean Griffey, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald; Fred Vogler, producer (Donnie Ray Albert, John Easterlin, Steven Humes, Mel Ulrich and Robert Worle; Los Angeles Opera Orchestra; Los Angeles Opera Chorus) (EuroArts)

Orchestral Performance: "Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4," Bernard Haitink, conductor (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) (CSO Resound)

Choral Performance: "Symphony of Psalms," Sir Simon Rattle, conductor; Simon Halsey, chorus master (Berliner Philharmoniker; Rundfunkchor Berlin) track from "Stravinsky: Symphonies" (EMI Classics)

Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (With Orchestra): "Schoenberg/Sibelius: Violin Concertos," Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Hilary Hahn (Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Deutsche Grammophon)

Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra): "Piano Music of Salonen, Stucky, and Lutoslawski," Gloria Cheng (Telarc)

Chamber Music Performance: "Carter, Elliott: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 5," Pacifica Quartet (Naxos)

Small Ensemble Performance: "Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary," Charles Bruffy, conductor; Phoenix Chorale (Chandos)

Classical Vocal Performance: "Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan," Hila Plitmann (JoAnn Falletta; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos)

Classical Contemporary Composition: "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan," John Corigliano (JoAnn Falletta); track from: "Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan'' (Naxos)

Classical Crossover Album: "Simple Gifts," The King's Singers (Signum)

Short Form Music Video: "Pork and Beans," Weezer, Mathew Cullen, video director; Bernard Rahill, video producder (DGC/Interscope)

Long Form Music Video: "Runnin' Down a Dream," Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Peter Bogdanovich, video director; Skot Bright, video producer (Warner Bros.)

Recording Package: "Death Magnetic," Bruce Duckworth, Sarah Moffat and David Turner, art directors (Metallica) (Warner Bros.)

Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package: "In Rainbows," Stanley Donwood, Mel Maxwell and Christiaan Munro, art directors (Radiohead)

Album Notes: "Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition," Francis Davis, album notes writer (Miles Davis) (Columbia/Legacy Recordings)

Historical Album: "Art of Field Recording Volume I: Fifty Years of Traditional American Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum," Steven Lance Ledbetter and Art Rosenbaum, compilation producers; Michael Graves, mastering engineering (Various Artists) (Dust-to-Digital)

Some Things Old And New At Grammy Awards

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

(February 09, 2009) They may have played to the kids, but in the end the Grammys rewarded the adults, bestowing their highest honour, Album of the Year, on the classy, conservative pairing of former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and bluegrass star Alison Krauss.

Their folk-rock disc Raising Sand garnered five awards, including Record of the Year for "Please Read the Letter" and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal for "Rich Woman."

Front-runner Lil Wayne took just three of the eight awards his top-selling but explicit Tha Carter III was up for, including Rap Album of the Year.

He turned his performance on the show into a New Orleans tribute featuring acclaimed Crescent City jazzers Allan Toussaint and Terence Blanchard showed the thoughtful heart beneath his tattooed outlaw posturing.

Brits did well in the marquee categories: Adele as Best New Artist, rockers Coldplay taking the Rock Album category and Song of the Year for Viva la Vida and its title track. The band mocked their colourful Sgt. Pepper-style braided jackets with an apology to Paul McCartney, who registered the most shout-outs by various artists from the stage.

The 51st Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles showcased diverse matchups of vets and youthful tastemakers in an effort to boost interest in the awards show, whose last offering ranked as one of the least watched with 17.2 million viewers compared to 26 million in the early 2000s.

Organizers stacked the deck with must-sees: the "utterly brilliant" (so announced Gwyneth Paltrow) Radiohead's first ever Grammy performance of "15 Steps" accompanied by the University of Southern California Trojan marching band; and nine-months-pregnant Sri Lankan-British rapper M.I.A. on her due date in a hip-hop summit with Kanye West, T.I., Lil Wayne and Jay-Z on "Swagga Like Us," which sampled her "Paper Planes."

Dressed in a sort of polka-dot maternity bikini with black shorts and tights, she sang the hook, while the rap pack, in tuxes and bowties, spit their verses. Though "Paper Planes"(also featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire) didn't win Record of the Year, the incendiary immigrant lament, which samples gunshots, was considered an inspired choice by the academy, along with the Lil Wayne nods.

However, the association, comprised of musicians, producers, engineers and other recording professionals, has only tapped relatively tame, pop-leaning hip-hop efforts by Outkast and Lauryn Hill for Album of the Year in the past decade.

Sentiment got the best of the Best R&B Album category with singer Jennifer Hudson nabbing the first award of the telecast for her mediocre self-titled solo debut over more deserving contenders Rafael Saadiq, Al Green and Eric Benet.

Voters clearly had an understandable soft spot for the Oscar-winning Chicago native whose mother, brother and nephew were murdered last year. Just a week after her first public performance since the tragedy, at the Super Bowl, the singer was forced to the Grammy podium to make her first tearful public comments, which saw her thank "my family, in heaven and those who are here today."

The show kicked off with mainstays U2, not up for any awards, performing new song "Get on Your Boots" from their forthcoming album, and a well-coiffed but unsteady Whitney Houston who, on the comeback trail once again, presented Hudson's category.

Earlier, Justin Timberlake joined Green for a stirring rendition of the soul legend's classic "Let's Stay Together." The Memphis natives harmonized their crack falsettos with a killing band that included Keith Urban on guitar and backup vocals by Boys II Men.

The joyful pairing was all the more impressive since it was a last-minute replacement for singer Rihanna. Neither she nor boyfriend Chris Brown attended the ceremony, in which they were nominated for different songs in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal category.

Other performance highlights included the Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder segueing from "Burnin' Up" into "Superstition"; Carrie Underwood's hard-edged delivery of "Last Name" and Jay-Z's freestyle intro to Coldplay's "If I Ruled the World."

Not nominated for any of the prestigious awards, Canadians were shut out of all but one of their B-list nods: Michael Cera and Ellen Page were among the various artists who contributed to the winning Juno soundtrack.

With files from Associated Press

Four Tops To Get Award At Grammys

Source: www.thestar.com - Jeff Karoub,
The Associated Press

(February 06, 2009) DETROIT – Abdul "Duke" Fakir cried joyful tears when he learned that the Four Tops will receive a lifetime achievement award Sunday at the 51st annual Grammy Awards.

He's also been on an emotional high as Motown Records, the label that recorded and released his group's biggest hits, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

But the banner year is bittersweet, as the 73-year-old entertainer marks the occasions and accolades without his longtime bandmates of more than four decades.

He became the Four Tops' lone surviving original member in October, when frontman Levi Stubbs died, following the death of Renaldo "Obie" Benson in 2005 and Lawrence Payton in 1997.

"I just wish my partners were here to see the acclaim the world has given us," he said recently from the room at the Motown Historical Museum that served as the label's studio from 1959 until 1972, when the company moved to Los Angeles.

Fakir was at the Detroit museum last month to help kick off a year of festivities for the label that also spun out chart-topping hits by the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and many others.

The Four Tops, whose hits included "Reach Out (I'll Be There),'' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and ``Baby I Need Your Loving," held a distinction unmatched by most of their peers – the original line-up lasted well into the 1990s. The group signed with Motown Records in 1963 after nine years together and produced 20 top-40 hits during the next decade.

Fakir said the quartet shared many honours over the years, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and securing a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But the group never won a Grammy and was nominated only once, for "It's All in the Game" in 1970.

"I was talking to my son just before Christmas," said Fakir, who learned about the award by phone from Recording Academy President Neil Portnow. "I was saying ... 'We've done everything possible you can do in this business. But one thing slipped away from us, and that's a Grammy.'

"About a week later, I got that call. I broke out in tears. To me, there was a little hole that was missing. Not that I wasn't grateful for what we have. But from the recording industry, we really didn't get the award that's the highest acclaim.''

Fakir will be performing Sunday as part of a Four Tops tribute with Robinson, Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx. He arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday and was scheduled to rehearse every day before the show.

Working with Robinson, whom he described as a longtime competitor and a close friend, was a thrill.

"It kind of takes you back quite a few years," he said by phone yesterday morning, after the first run-through the day before. ``All we did was laugh and joke. We talked about golf the whole time.''

Fakir hasn't let up despite the loss of his mates or the lure of the links. He plays about 100 shows a year with the reconstituted Tops, which includes Payton's son Lawrence Payton Jr., Ronnie McNeir, a former Motown singer and Benson's co-writer, and Theo Peoples, a one-time member of the Temptations in the 1990s.

"It's almost like an extension of the Four Tops," Fakir said.

Some artists scoff at lifetime awards, considering them consolation prizes for days gone by. Not Fakir, who sees it as a way to celebrate an enduring career forged by four high-school friends in Detroit during the 1950s.

"To me, (it's) greater than one Grammy, two or three," he said. "It says for your life ... you've done well. I just wish again, the guys were here to accept that.''

The Grammy Awards will be presented live from the Staples Center on CBS.

Train Wreck Keeps Rollin' Along

Source: www.thestar.com - Joel Rubinoff,
Torstar News Service

(February 10, 2009) It was a night of ambitious leaps, exaggerated flops and startling revelations, all piled on top of each other.

R&B diva Jennifer Hudson – still reeling from the recent murder of her mother, brother and nephew – surpassed expectations at the 51st Grammy Awards with a blistering rendition of "You Pulled Me Through" that may just remould her as the new Aretha Franklin, or at least the new Whitney Houston.

The original Houston, meanwhile – presenting Hudson with the Best R&B Album award – did little to enhance her own reputation, looking uncomfortably stoned and fuelling rumours of yet another setback during what was supposed to be a grand comeback attempt.

Cut to pop giants U2, who vainly opened the show with what is, arguably, their worst song ever – the ear-splittingly tuneless "Get On Your Boots" – while former Led Zep front man Robert Plant continued his transformation from heavy metal "golden god" to aging folk-rock hipster with help from bluegrass belter Alison Krauss.

Then there was M.I.A., the pregnant British rapper who bounced around the stage with a who's who of rap royalty on what was reportedly her due date – yeah, she'll make a great mom – while the union between alt-rock gurus Radiohead and the USC marching band proved predictably impenetrable.

And where would the Grammys be without Motown maverick Stevie Wonder, continuing his slide into musical irrelevance with a mind-boggling collaboration with, ulp, teen idols the Jonas Brothers, who massacred their own "Burnin' Up" and Stevie's "Superstition" with boyish aplomb.

"Come on, Stevie!" yelped one of the wholesome moppets, bouncing alongside the keyboard-tinkling soul legend like a persistent mosquito. "Stevie, what you got!"

It was one of many surreal moments during an old-school awards show that likes to give the appearance of relevance while bestowing top honours on acts who either stem from pop's paleolithic era (the Plant/Krauss collaboration, which nabbed five awards) or boast a retro sound clearly influenced by it (Best New Artist: Adele).

"Isn't it great to see the Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder back together again!" cracked Blink 182's Mark Hoppus after the mind-boggling mash-up.

Still, you have to give the Grammys credit: with the show's insistence on bizarre inter-generational, cross-genre matchups and non-lip-synched live performances, it serves as a great pop equalizer, separating artists with true talent from flavour-of-the-month automatons usually given a free pass where issues of integrity are concerned.

Hence, Katy Perry – whose "bi-curious" hit "I Kissed a Girl" became a swirling pop sensation last year – proved she's nothing more than a New Age Cyndi Lauper as she flounced across the stage with a vaguely panicked expression, warbling lyrics with breathless ineptitude.

"I kissed a girl ... huff, huff ... and I liked it,'' she croaked, unable to catch her breath. "I hope ... huff, huff ... my boyfriend don't mind it."

Ouch. Others, like country siren Taylor Swift, teamed with tween queen Miley Cyrus, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, paired with neo-soul diva Adele, proved they have voices for the ages, no matter how hokey the permutation.

And leave it to ex-Beatle Paul McCartney – the William Shatner of pop for his larger-than-life stature, ubiquitous presence and affinity for schlock – to keep things honest with a kinetic, bare-bones rendition of a 45-year-old Beatles song, "I Saw Her Standing There," with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl.

In the end, there was no denying Grammy's preference for the past – with Neil Diamond's gravelly "Sweet Caroline" the undeniable sweet spot.

But the musical contortions it goes through to simulate street-smart "edginess" make it not only a vastly entertaining train wreck, but a Darwinian killing field where the strong may not thrive, awards-wise, but always survive.


J Dilla Remembered 3 Years Later

Source: www.allhiphop.com - By Ismael AbduSalaam

(February 10, 2009) Three years ago today (February 10), Hip-Hop culture lost one of its most innovative and influential producers in Detroit's James Dewitt Yancey, AKA
J Dilla.
Blessed with strong musical genes from an opera singer mother and jazz bassist father, Dilla started collecting vinyl at the tender age of 2.
The aspiring producer made a strong name for himself in Detroit early 90s Hip-Hop scene.
He formed fledgling groups with Phat Kat (1st Down) and the late Proof (5 Elementz) before settling with classmates T3 and Baatin in Slum Village.
With SV, Dilla would make his biggest musical impact courtesy of the critically acclaimed albums Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) and Fantastic, Vol. 2.
Dilla's work attracted the attention of A Tribe Called Quest, who recruited the talented broadsmith to be a member of their Ummah (Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Dilla) production team.
With the legendary group, Dilla crafted several gems off Tribe's platinum fourth album Beats, Rhymes, and Life: "Get a Hold," "1nce Again," "Keep It Movin'," "Word Play," and "Stressed Out."
In addition, Dilla created numerous classic singles for other artists, such as De La Soul ("Stakes Is High"), The Pharcyde ("Drop," "Runnin'"), Q-Tip ("Vivrant Thing," "Breathe and Stop"), Janet Jackson ("Got 'Til It's Gone"), Common ("The Light"), and Erykah Badu ("Didn't Cha Know," "Cleva").
Towards the end of his career, Dilla began to focus more on developing his emcee skills along with forming partnerships with up and coming artists and producers.
In 2003, he collaborated with Madlib for the well received Champion Sound project.
Starting in 2004, Dilla was officially diagnosed with lupus and TTP, a rare and incurable blood disorder.
The disease greatly restricted Dilla's ability to tour and also resulted in a marked weight loss.
Sensing the end was near; Dilla immersed himself in his work, and successfully completed his celebrated final project, Donuts in 2006.
The album was released on February 7, just 3 days before Dilla's death at the age of 32 from cardiac arrest.
Due to the outpouring of anguish from respected members of the Hip-Hop community, many curious fans sought out Dilla's discography for the first time.
In the 3 years since his passing, Dilla's legacy has grown exponentially, with many artists still referencing him in lyrics or outright using his prodigious back catalogue of beats for their work.
Dilla's memory also stays alive with the J Dilla Foundation, which aims to find a cure for lupus.
J Dilla leaves behind two daughters, and younger brother Illa J, who just released his debut album Yancey Boys last November.

Guido Basso Sings It Like He Means It

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

(February 05, 2009) He's a twice-married opera lover and master of the flugelhorn –the most romantic of instruments – so it's not surprising that Guido Basso is well versed in amour, enough apparently to headline a pre-Valentine's Day concert called "The Greatest Love Songs."

"It's going to be a romantic evening, all about loooove, which is a difficult topic to discuss," said Basso, 71, who will share the Old Mill Inn stage with a quintet and guest vocalist Marc Jordan.

"Love is a bit like jazz that way. There's the difference between lust and love. The love for children. The love for people. The love for foods. But it all boils down to the same thing: something that you always want to share with a partner. Love is togetherness, on the bandstand, or in bed."

The Montreal native, who backed greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and was a key member of the Boss Brass, is working on the set list for Monday's show. Of course, there will be "My Funny Valentine" and "Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye." He explains why some other songs made the cut.

My Foolish Heart: "It's a gorgeous tune. All musicians like it. (Pianist) Bill Evans chewed that song so many times, so many different ways. I'm not going to do it too fast, but there'll be a bossa nova treatment to that one. Two hours of ballads can get tiresome."

To You: "All the songs have lyrics except this one. If I know them, I do think of the lyrics when I'm playing. If I don't know them, I can usually conceptualize what the lyrics might be by the title. I've been told that when I play a ballad I'm phrasing like a singer. I used to listen to singers a lot in my formative years. I had a lot of Frank Sinatra records and as a teenager I was falling in love every day. I guess I enjoyed the pain of (falling out of love) too and I'd go to my room and play those records and listen to my heart break."

You Go to My Head: "So many different artists have done this one. Billy Eckstine's version was beautiful. That voice. You're too young for Billy Eckstine, but boy oh boy, did he capture the hearts of the ladies when he sang a ballad."

Never Let Me Go: "Nancy Wilson sings it likes she means it. It's difficult sometimes to believe some vocalists who don't feel a particular song but sing it because they think it's hip. To convey romance, I play as quietly as possible to get the mellowness out of the flugelhorn that disappears if you over-blow it. Singers' voices are like that. When they sing quietly it gets to me a hell of a lot more than when they start belting and it sounds like they're screaming."

Secret Love: "We'll do an uptempo jazz version to liven things up. It was a big hit in the '50s with Doris Day. Then the jazzers started grabbing it and made it a jazz standard. Some pop songs do not adapt themselves well; they're not conducive for blowing, because the chords are dumb. If you've got dumb chords it's going to be hard to create something pretty."

Just the facts
WHAT: Guido Basso's The Greatest Love Songs

WHEN: Monday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: The Old Mill Inn, 21 Old Mill Rd.

TICKETS: $30 at jazz.fm

Northern Cree Summons Spirit Of Rock 'N' Roll

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

(February 07, 2009) With their fourth Grammy nomination, Alberta's Northern Cree is well versed in the fanfare surrounding the prestigious awards.

"The very first year we went, we didn't know anything about it, just what we see on TV, so we all bought tuxedos; those are uncomfortable things and we were dressed like that all day," said the group's leader, Steve Wood. "Needless to say, we were invisible because there were 50,000 other tuxedos. The next year that we went, we went as us, with beaded vests and whatnot."

That garnered plenty of attention and encounters with high-profile attendees such as rapper Eve ("very pretty and very polite"), the White Stripes ("nice people; I didn't really understand their music, but it sounded okay") and Sean "Diddy" Combs ("a nice, nice man").

This year, then, six band members in Los Angeles – representing the 15-person ensemble for the Best Native American Music Album nomination for Red Rock – will wear the folky handiwork of a B.C. designer.

Northern Cree, which has recorded 37 albums, began as a trio in the early 1980s with Wood and brothers Earl and Randy.

"My father was involved with organizing powwows in the community. Visitors from all over would come to our house," said Wood of the troupe's genesis. "They would eat and talk for a bit, then the magic would start, because my father would pull out the drum and he and the men would sing and we would dance. This would go on all night and that was true magic."

With a 1,000-song repertoire, Northern Cree now spreads its magic at powwows, gatherings where North American aboriginals dance, sing, socialize and honour ancestors. "The audience primarily is First Nations, but it's expanded to other ethnicities. A while back we were down in Twentynine Palms (California) and we had 200 (CDs). We sold every one and most of the buyers were Spanish.

"We have people email us from the other side of the world and sometimes we can't even read it, because it's in a different language. We get emails from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan saying stuff like, `Your music helps me through the day.'"

Sung entirely in Cree, the songs on Red Rock were captured at a live event (as all their albums are) and have an aggressive bent, with high-pitched screams and unremitting drumming. "A lot of the songs are talking about dancing, having fun, getting down, not unlike mainstream music. It's quite intense – that's why I equate it with mainstream rock 'n' roll. It can be spiritual, but it's not religious."

The recording won Best Pow Wow Contemporary Album at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards last November at the Rogers Centre, an event that marked a rare eastern performance by the group.

"Our music is not meant for a barroom scene. One time, we went to Montreal, where we were booked in this nightclub and the people loved it, but for us it's not meant for that. Indoors is okay, but our music is not meant to be mixing with alcohol. At all of the events that we have, there's no alcohol and anyone who shows up under the influence is not allowed in."

That's because the gatherings were traditionally ceremonial events. "They've become like social events now, but we still try to keep some of the traditional values. We want to draw all of the young First Nations people into these types of functions where they can come and have a great time and mix with their peers and be safe. Non-native people who live nearby sometimes have a negative image about First Nations communities, but once they come out to (our events), it sort of dispels all that."

Wood isn't concerned that, despite ranking among the top sellers of North America's estimated 5,000 powwow groups, they've never won a Grammy. "We try to keep it in perspective," said the 48-year-old, who teaches drama and computer technology at Nipisihkopahk Secondary School in Hobbema, Alta., an hour south of Edmonton. "Just think of all the people in our community that will never get the opportunity to be a part of something like this; or all the great musicians in mainstream music who have never been nominated.

"We'd love to win. I always say the first place I would bring (the trophy) is to the school, because I want the kids to see what's possible."

That's why they never thought of not flying to L.A. for the ceremony.

"We don't want somebody to get up and say, `Well, on behalf of'... How many times do you get this opportunity? You never know. We don't take anything for granted even though we have a new album coming out. This is the moment."

Sterling Simms: Get 'Yours'

www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(February 5, 2009) *R&B singer Sterling Simms is finding a home in the industry. The Atlantadelphian who has made a move to digs in Los Angeles may be working on creating a name for himself outside of Atlanta and Philly, but he is quite at home at R&B radio.

His new disc “Yours, Mine, and The Truth” has delivered the single “All I Need,” featuring Jadakiss, with hits lined up to follow.

“The title of the album is ‘Yours, Mine and the Truth.’ It was originally titled ‘Worth Your While’ I’ve been signed with Def Jam for two years now and basically I just wanted to give the public my best effort.  I felt like the ‘Worth Your While’ project was a little bit rushed. So I just went back to the drawing board. I like albums that are conceptual and this album is conceptual. It’s based on a relationship that I’m not in anymore. It’s basically my version, her version, and then there’s the truth.”

Simms explained that the songs on the new album are autobiographical, and that connected him more to the revised disc.

“I’m proud of it. It’s something that I think showcases my talent best.”

Simms continued that the first single, “All I Need,” is about his aftermath of the break up; about looking for new love and being back out in the dating game. The precursor of that song, Simms explained, tells his side of the final blow to the relationship.

“There’s a [song] called ‘Best Friend.’ It basically tells the story a man that was in a relationship with a woman, but they separated. And then he finds out that the girl was pregnant. I initially thought the child was mine, but it ended up being my best friend’s.”

The young singer has a few names guesting on the album, including Jadakiss and Sean Paul, but he said that he didn’t put too many names on the disc to make sure the album remained a Sterling Simms affair.

“I didn’t want my album to become a mix tape, so I kept my features to a minimum. But I am going to reach out to some of my favourites for the remixes I’m gonna need for this album,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent on this project. I wrote 70% of it so it’s all true to heart. I’m excited about it.”

 Simms has been often compared to R&B/Pop crooner Usher, and he calls Teddy Riley and the team of LaFace (Babyface and LA Reid) his sound inspiration, but Simms still considers his work something new.

“The sound has an Atlanta sound, but it has a Philadelphia swagger, so that’s something new. I’m and Atlantadelphian, true to heart. It shows on the album. Philly made me the man that I am. And in Atlanta, I was able to come out here on the creative side and molded the artist that I am today. I love both cities.”

And as for the Usher comparison, well, he takes it as a compliment.

“I'll take it,” he said. “It’s not like they’re comparing me to something that’s slum. When you compare me to greatness, it means I’m doing something right.  I take it as a compliment.”

Simms began writing songs at the ripe old age of 13, but admitted that he didn’t begin to hone his skills until he was about 18 years old. That’s when his signed his first production deal with Moonlight Marauders under the Sony umbrella.

“I dropped everything here and moved to Maryland,” he reminisced. “We were doing our thing, but unfortunately the tragedy of 9/11 started cutting off loose ties. It was a real humbling experience and I had to basically start from ground zero. When the financial backing fell out I had never been that low in my life. I slept in the studio, I had to go back to Philly, and I had to answer all the ‘What happened?’ questions.”

Simms explained that though he was able to bounce back, now riding on the Def Jam label, he learned a lot from the experience.

“Knowing that it can happen, makes you work twice as hard,” he said. “I don’t ever want to be in that position again. Now I keep multiple opportunities lined up so if something falls to wayside, I’ve got something else. That’s the most that I’ve learned from it. I’m keeping every door and every window open.”  

The singer is definitely creating opportunities. He’s writing, doing a little producing, and working on his piano skills so he can do a more impressive stage show.

“You can’t just do one thing,” he advised. “You have to do a little bit of everything. I pride myself in the fact that I can write. I have some producing skill as well. I feel like I can give the public more of me by that.”

He gives his all for “Yours, Mine, and the Truth,” which is in stores now.

“I’m happy about this project, I’m happy about this single, I’m happy about my career.”

For more, hit up his MySpace site at www.myspace.com/sterlingsimms.

J-Hud Prepares For April Tour


(February 10, 2009) *Following an emotional night at the Grammys, Jennifer Hudson has announced plans to launch a solo tour in April featuring co-headliner Robin Thicke.

 The 27-year-old, who capped off a week of rousing performances with a Grammy win for best R&B album, will promote her self-titled debut in a five-week tour to begin April 2 in Philadelphia.

 Other stops include Baltimore, Washington, D.C, New York City, Detroit, Atlanta, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Dallas before wrapping may 8 in Houston.

  "I am so grateful – my first Grammy and my first tour. It doesn't get better than that," Hudson told People.com in an exclusive statement.  

  When the tour starts, it will have been six months since the murders of her mother, brother and nephew in October. Her first public performance following the tragedy was delivering the National Anthem at the Super Bowl Feb. 1. It was followed by gigs at two pre-Grammy events before Sunday's slot at the main ceremony singing "You Pulled Me Through." 

 “It’s definitely a very emotional and close-to-home song, but I like to connect to my music,” Hudson told "Access Hollywood’s" Shaun Robinson on the Grammy red carpet. “That’s what it’s about — you connecting and giving it away at the same time.”

   As for the outpouring of love, well wishes and condolences from fans, Hudson said, “Everyone has been so supportive and it’s overwhelming. I’m clearly blessed and highly favoured, so I’m just glad to be here. This is what I’ve always dreamt of you know, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, and now this time has come and I’m here. I'm excited.”

Hello, America? It's London Calling

www.globeandmail.com - Robert Everett-Green

It's Not Me, It's You
Lily Allen
Capitol / EMI

(February 10, 2009) The title could go either way. Yes, I want to think about someone other than myself; or no, the problem's not me, it's you.

Lily Allen's new album encompasses both, though usually not in a single song. The exception is Not Fair, wherein she outlines the virtues of an attentive beau, before giving a pithy assessment of his failings in bed.

That's the Allen we know from Alright, Still, her debut album of 2007. She made her reputation as the girl who just wants to have fun and who will sweetly rip your throat out when she doesn't. She maintains that role in Never Gonna Happen, a full-frontal rejection of a guy who won't take a hint, and in Fuck You, a jaunty screed against homophobes and others of inflexible mind.

But other numbers make peace with a scorned former girl-pal (in Back to the Start), a neglectful father (in He Wasn't There) and maybe even God (in Him). Who'd Have Known and Chinese both find Allen curling up with boyfriend in front of telly.

There are also songs about the wider world, where too many people take drugs (in Everyone's At It), where the mills of celebrity grind young bones to gold dust (in the first-person portrait, The Fear), and where a supposedly feminist society still coaches young women to put all their faith in a man (in 22). The Fear's shiny fabulous sound modulates smoothly between the confident tone of the verses and the confessional desperation of the chorus.

The big change on this record is geographical. Alright, Still was mostly a Londoner's record, laced with ska beats, dubbish rhymes and echoes of the disco-fied punk ethos of Ian Dury. This is a much more American project, entirely produced and co-written by Californian Greg Kurstin.

Who would have thought we'd hear Allen sing over a boom-chicka-boom rockabilly beat, and make way in the bridge for a banjo solo (in Not Fair)? Fuck You opens like a Carpenters song, before morphing into a high-kicking Broadway style. He Wasn't There is clothed in an old-school piano and bass arrangement that sounds like it wants to be in a New York jazz club in the forties, and the piano break in 22 is straight from New Orleans. Kurstin uses a Hungarian-café accordion riff for the verses of Never Gonna Happen, then veers into a chorus worthy of ABBA — a neat stylistic joke.

It's still Allen's record, still fuelled by her music-hall cheek and her flair for singing nasty in a girlish voice. But she's clearly looking for a better visa with which to enter the American market.

Lily Allen plays Toronto's Sound Academy on April 22.

The UK Corner Album Review: Ashford & Simpson 'The Real Thing'

Source: www.eurweb.com - By Fiona McKinson

(February 11, 2009) *Nickolas Ashford once looked out from the radio City Music Hall stage and said to the audience "this is like being in our living room."

The 14 track CD with 65 minutes of live footage is a ticket to experience the musical magic that singer-songwriters
Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson are so at home with.

This release is the first-ever live in-concert audio and video recordings of performances by the duo. It features the hit songs they have written for themselves as well as those they produced for stars of Motown such as Ray Charles.

The album was recorded during their three-week stint at Feinsteins, the Loews Regency, the intimate 140-seat Park Avenue New York nightclub in 2007. Two years later and the Jam session sounds as lively and vibrant as ever.

The guitar riffs and strokes of the piano keys are as alive as the vocal range of this iconic couple. The performances are tinged with the gospel hues of the church they met in, as well as sprinkles of the funk and soul scenes they rose through.

As the audience at the Feinstein were treated to rare live performances in Gimme Something Real and It's Much Deeper, you can also now indulge in their classic yet fresh hits. Ashford and Simpson bring the old into a new era for example by rearranging Stay Free, introducing a hint of its 2008 remix. The live show features surprises including a special impromptu performance by Freddie Jackson during the stirring rendition of Nothing Like The Real Thing.

You would be mistaken for thinking Ashford and Simpson belong to previous decades. But they are stamped all over modern times being sampled on Mary J Blige and Method Man's You're All I Need To Get By, and with credits on Amy Winehouse's Grammy Award winning CD "Back to Black" for the single Tears Dry On Their Own. The track is based on Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's 1967 Motown classic hit Ain't No Mountain High Enough.

Harmonising as only they can, Ashford and Simpson ask if we're still dreaming on Still Such a Thing. Realising that a proportion of the dream has been fulfilled, the revised version of Solid (As Barack), released in time for Obama's inauguration, and parodied on Saturday Night Live, is a hidden bonus, the original of their stomping 1984 # 1 anthem Solid (As A Rock), also surfaces.

Ashford & Simpson: The Real Thing DVD & Blu Ray contains over 65 minutes of exciting concert performances with 18 of the Greatest Hits filmed in HD video and surround sound digital audio. There is thirty minutes of exclusive bonus content including a retrospective feature from CBS Sunday Morning, an intimate at-home interview and two tracks from a never-before-seen concert of Dr. Maya Angelou and Ashford & Simpson performing together on stage.
The DVD also features an exclusive premiere of four songs from Ashford & Simpson's upcoming Broadway musical, "Invisible Life." Go online and access to ringtones, audio & video streams, plus links to purchase recordings of Ashford & Simpson songs that have been recorded by other artists will become visible. All content to inspire the next generation of songwriters.

You are guaranteed quality lessons from the renowned duo - the recipients of a number of awards including ASCAP's highest honour, The Founder's Award, which they received in 1999. In 2002 they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. As the years go by it seems Ashford and Simpson's music is epitomised as being the fine wine of the industry - only sounding better with age. Young and old can indulge in this refreshing bridge from old school to new school.

Track Listing:
1. It's Much Deeper
2. Your Precious Love
3. Stay Free
4. Found a Cure
5. Still Such a Thing
6. Solid
7. Gimme Something Real
8. I'm Every Woman
9. I'm Not That Tough
10. Let's Go Get Stoned
11. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing
12. You're All I Need To Get By
13. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)
14. Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Ashford & Simpson: The Real Thing on CD, DVD and DVD Blu Ray - is out now

Burgundy Records / Sony Music
Purchase your own copy from Amazon.com or iTunes!

Charles Spearin : Talk Into Tune

www.globeandmail.com - Carl Wilson

(February 10, 2009) As a piano-trumpet duo skitters around her, a person with a pleasant professional accent talks about her work with “challenged young women” who tell her “all the time” that they're happy. “Some of their expectations are so simplistic – not to say simplicity because they're challenged … ”

Then the thought strikes: “It's like they don't ask beyond of what's present.” Immediately the voice repeats: “It's like they don't ask beyond of what's present.” And again: “It's like they don't ask beyond of what's present.”

At which point the music makes its own breakthrough. Keyboard and horn link arms with bass and drums and kick out a chorus to the precise tune and tempo of the woman's words. You can almost see her with brass band and challenged charges on parade through New Orleans, fanfaring their be-here-now anthem – sing it, sister! – It's Like They Don't Ask Beyond of What's Present!

This is Anna, Track 2 of The Happiness Project, the first solo album by Toronto musician Charles Spearin, which was released yesterday.

Actually, solo is a misnomer. A multi-instrumentalist with tight-knit space-rock ensemble Do Make Say Think as well as that legions-strong study in socio-rockology, the popular band Broken Social Scene, Spearin prefers company – in this case, his whole neighbourhood. For this album, he started by asking over acquaintances he'd made playing in the yard with his kids for taped conversations about happiness.

“In a way, happiness is an easy thing to invite your neighbours to talk about – better than politics or religion,” says Spearin, 35, over tea in the well-appointed house he shares with his wife and two young daughters near Dupont and Bathurst. “I thought it would bring out interesting stories.”

He and his musical friends pored over the interviews – with a sagely cheery Caribbean-Canadian lady, a deaf person whose hearing was restored, a reflective East Asian man, petulant children – for the underlying cadences, tracking them note for note.

“My neighbours did the hard work of coming up with the melodies,” Spearin says (maybe it's the earnestly blond western moustache or yogically upright posture, but his tongue does not seem in cheek). “I just listened for them, then did the arrangements.”

He joins a fast-growing field. Probing the space between talk and tune goes back to the ancient Hindu Vedas, African “talking drums,” operatic recitative and Dada sound poetry. But lately digital sampling and looping have made it much simpler. New York composer Scott Johnson was probably the first (with John Somebody, 1982) to fully harmonize taped speech with instruments.

Minimalist Steve Reich matched Holocaust testimony to string quartet on Different Trains (1988). And guitarist René Lussier paid homage to Quebec culture with his stereo-francophonic tour de force, Le Trésor de la langue (1990).

In this decade, jazz artists such as pianist Jason Moran and sax player Rudresh Mahanthappa have drawn on linguistics to limn the multicultural bop of globalization. And in 2008, with his Yes We Can video of celebrities singing along to the crests and dips of a Barack Obama speech, will.i.am of the Black-Eyed Peas brought it to YouTube, electoral politics and mainstream pop. (You might argue it was already there, given hip hop's stylized speech and samples.)

California psychologist Diana Deutsch has researched the “speech-to-song illusion,” in which any fragment of dialogue played back repeatedly comes to sound like song. Think of the Beatles' musique-concrete experiment on the White Album, where the recurring words “number 9, number 9” turn into a chant. She speculates that it's only because the brain needs to prioritize intelligible content that we don't constantly hear speech as music. Imagine coping with that vast human chorale of mini-cantatas, arias and blues.

Spearin, however, had more personal motivations. Growing up, he witnessed his civil-servant father slip into blindness and became highly conscious of what it would be like to navigate mainly by sound. (The Braille on his CD cover is a reminder.) Another paternal inheritance is Buddhism, and Spearin used to go on an annual month-long meditation retreat. “There's something about coming back to the regular world after not speaking for long periods of time,” he says. “You pay attention to people's voices in a different way.”

He began to be struck by the city's soundscapes, from a tree of starlings to a café crowd. And while this record is many things – including testimony to the health of a diverse urban community, in defiance of outside stereotypes – it's particularly an extension of the Buddhist concern with suffering and happiness. Indeed, he found that heeding sound can be a meditative practice.

“You're not listening to your thoughts so much if you hear your footsteps as you walk down the street,” he says. “The obsession with your life, what you did yesterday, what you're doing tomorrow, the running commentary and discursive thoughts – you can kind of let that go. … It's allowing your mind to, I don't know, vent a little bit.”

In that sense, while many of his neighbours' responses to the question of happiness resonate – like the proclamation by “Mrs. Morris” (all the pieces are named after their subjects) that “happiness is love” – Spearin's own answer is the project itself. “If you're listening to the world with fresh ears, looking with fresh eyes and looking for those moments that kind of wake you up – that's what gives you happiness.”

Once again, science is with him: The booming field of positive psychology (“happiness studies”) is finding that contentment depends less on wealth and achieved goals than on attention to and gratitude for the day-to-day – what Anna on his album calls “what's present,” which one might call a gift.

In his neighbours' gift of time and talk, Spearin has rediscovered a formula from an old Irish parable: Which music, it asks, is the best in the world? “The music of what happens.”

Charles Spearin and friends perform The Happiness Project on March 11 and 12 at the Music Gallery in Toronto and on March 13 at Il Motore in Montreal.


Canadian-Born Drummer Of Buffalo Springfield Dies

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(February 06, 2009) NEW YORK–Dewey Martin, the Canadian-born drummer for '60s rock band Buffalo Springfield, has died. Rolling Stone reports that Martin died Jan. 31 of unknown causes in Van Nuys, Calif. He was 68. According to the report, Martin not only sang backup on the Buffalo Springfield hit "For What It's Worth," he also provided the LSD to Stephen Stills that inspired him to write the song. After the band fell apart in 1968, Martin tried to carry on by forming the New Buffalo Springfield, which led to legal battles. He later became a car mechanic. Martin, who grew up in the Ottawa area, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of Buffalo Springfield in 1997. He was born Walter Milton Dwayne Midkiff and began playing drums at age 13, according to the online music encyclopedia Allmusic.com. After moving to the U.S. he worked as a touring drummer with performers including Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and Patsy Cline.

Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records: The Blue Note 7

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(Blue Note)
 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)

(February 10, 2009) This 70th anniversary tribute to the world's longest running and most revered jazz label features a polished septet comprised of headliners – pianist Bill Charlap, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, tenor saxist Ravi Coltrane – and in-demand sidemen alto saxist Steve Wilson, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. Everyone shines on these faithful, melody-driven reinterpretations of hard-bop favourites from the label's songbook, composed mainly by pianists, such as Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner. The highlights include, drum showcase "Mosaic," a mellifluous "Little B's Poem" (with the flute and guitar doing justice to originator Bobby Hutcherson's vibes) and the dreamy "Search For Peace." A fine homage to a glorious period in jazz. Too bad there aren't any Canadian dates on the Blue Note 7 tour which stops in Detroit March 13. Top Track: "Idle Moments" is lazy, guitar-led blues with well-placed horn riffs.

Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics: India.Arie

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(Universal Republic)
 http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)

(February 10, 2009) You don't have to read the four-page liner notes to know that singer/songwriter India.Arie's been through some kind of storm since her last album in 2006. Song titles like "Therapy" and "He Heals Me" pretty much spell out the bent of the Atlantan's fourth disc: it's all about finding solace through a higher power, be that intuition, common sense or Him. "Psalms 23" deals in specifics about "litigations," "character assassinations" and sundry betrayals that tempted her to leave the music biz. Glad she didn't. Arie's warm voice caresses against a backdrop of soul and world beat, and the songs aren't all inward looking – "Ghetto" and "Better Way" champion more sensitive social policy. The grooving R&B backbeat and looseness that marked her 2001 debut Acoustic Soul is long gone, though. You really have to be in a serious, contemplative mood to relish this disc.

D'Angelo Gives Details About New Album


(February 10, 2009) *D'Angelo is setting the record straight regarding various reports about his highly-anticipated new album.  His manager, Lindsay Guion of GMUSIC, says the project remains untitled and is due sometime this summer, reports Billboard.com.    Guion also notes that despite an earlier press release, producer Mark Ronson and Prince have not yet been confirmed as collaborators.  "We have spoken to Prince, Mark Ronson and John Mayer's camps," says Guion. "But nothing has been confirmed at this time."   Artists who have been confirmed for the J Records effort include Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo Green, Raphael Saadiq, Q-Tip and Roy Hargrove. Overseeing the project is J Records president of A&R Peter Edge.  Guion adds that plans are still being negotiated for D'Angelo to go on tour this summer, starting in Europe and then heading to the United States. Guion isn't ruling out the possibility of a surprise performance in the U.S. prior to the summer tour's launch.   Meanwhile, D'Angelo has signed with CAA's Rob Light for worldwide representation in regards to touring, branding, merchandising, TV and film, among other areas.

Big Pun Documentary In The Works


(February 10, 2009) *A documentary about the life and death of Latino rapper Big Pun is scheduled to be released later this year, according to AllHipHop.com.  Titled "Big Pun: The Legacy," the film is said to include never-before-seen interviews and performances from Pun, as well as reflections from fellow hip hop artists inspired by the late rapper, including the Wu-Tang Clan, DMX, Snoop Dogg, Chuck D, Rosie Perez, Mobb Deep, and Cypress Hill.    The project was originally announced last summer, but was delayed over post-production and distribution issues, the Web site reported. At press time, a release date had not been set.   Pun, born Christopher Carlos Rios Jr., died of a heart attack on Feb. 7, 2000 at the age of 28.  The death was caused in part by his weight, which at one point had ballooned to over 500 pounds.    Since his death, two posthumous albums ("Yeeeah Baby," "Endangered Species") and a controversial documentary ("Still Not a Player") from his widow Liza Rios have been released.


Little-Known Amal Snags Six Genie Nominations

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

(February 11, 2009) Toronto has its own Slumdog Millionaire sleeper success story in Amal, a story of love and wisdom set in India that's a surprise big nominee at this year's Genie Awards.

Amal, directed by Toronto filmmaker Richie Mehta and co-written by him with his brother Shaun, received six nods in yesterday's announcement in Ottawa. The film is competing for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Rupinder Nagra), Sound and Original Song ("Dr. Shiva").

It's right behind the two leading nominees for the April 4 awards at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

Ce qu'il faut pour vivre (The Necessities of Life), Benoît Pilon's drama of a relationship forged between an Inuit hunter and an orphaned boy, received eight nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Actor (Natar Ungalaaq). The movie was a semi-finalist for Best Foreign-Language Film at this year's Oscars.

Another French-language film, Yves-Christian Fournier's Tout est parfait (Everything is Fine), a drama about teen suicide, received seven nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Normand D'Amour) and Supporting Actress (Anie Pascale).

Like Slumdog Millionaire, which has become the odds-on favourite to win Best Picture at the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, Amal has risen from obscurity to greatness, beginning with its modest debut at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

Set in New Delhi, where most of it was filmed on a $1.5 million budget, the film tells the story of an auto-rickshaw driver, played by Nagra, who doesn't allow poverty or adversity to stop him from caring for a gravely wounded little girl.

The film has been jokingly called Slumdog Billionaire because of its surface similarities with Slumdog Millionaire. Both films involve large windfalls waiting to be claimed.

Mehta is delighted with his six Genie noms, especially since they've been spread around to so many members of his tightly knit team. Calling themselves Poor Man's Productions Ltd., they laboured for four years on a film that had its spark in a 2004 short, also called Amal and directed by Mehta.

He has no problem with the Slumdog comparisons. They certainly can't hurt Amal, which was released on DVD two weeks ago.

"The comparisons to me include contrasts," Mehta told the Toronto Star yesterday.

"Slumdog is a film that empowers faith and destiny, about a person plucked out of obscurity. Amal represents the complete polar opposite, about a person taking his own life into his hands and figuring out what to do with it."

Steven Bray, the film's producer, said he hopes the attention to Amal will prompt a theatrical re-release. The movie went to theatres last August and did steady business across Canada for 2 1/2 months, but has had to work for every ticket sold.

Another sign of how well Amal is doing at the Genies is that it's tied for six nominations with Passchendaele, the big-budget drama that Paul Gross wrote, directed and starred in, and that had been expected to dominate the awards. Passchendaele nominations include Best Picture and Actor (Gross), but the film was passed over for Director and Original Screenplay.

Two other films received six nominations apiece but no picture nod: Jeremy Podeswa's Fugitive Pieces and Léa Pool's Maman est chez le coiffeur (Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's).

As is often the case with the Genies, nominations went to Quebec films that have yet to open in the rest of Canada.

These include this year's nominations leaders, Ce qu'il faut pour vivre (The Necessities of Life) and Tout est parfait (Everything Is Fine), neither of which even made it to TIFF.

But the Genies seem to have gone deeper this year in seeking out quality work, even if it didn't add up to an abundance of nominations.

The critically lauded immigrant drama Heaven on Earth by Toronto's Deepa Mehta (no relation to Richie Mehta) received nods for Best Original Screenplay and Actress (Preity Zinta).

Kristin Booth, the standout member of the ensemble cast in the kinky comedy Young People F---ing, earned a Supporting Actress nom.

Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, meanwhile, earned a Best Documentary nomination for a film that is anything but a straight doc.

In an alternate universe, Heaven on Earth, Young People F---ing and My Winnipeg might have been sharing Best Picture nomination laurels with Amal. But at least they were noticed.

EUR Film Review: Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Kam Williams

(February 6, 2009) *World-renowned
Dr. Ben Carson has long been considered by his colleagues as the best pediatric neurosurgeon around, so it's no surprise that he remains in such great demand.

Besides being stationed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where he performs over 300 operations on children each year, the peripatetic physician also crisscrosses the entire planet to share his miraculous talents with less fortunate folks in developing countries who might not otherwise be able to afford his services.

Dr. Carson is particularly famous for his seminal work separating Siamese twins joined at the head, such as the 50-member medical team he led during a 28-hour operation on a couple of nine month-old Zambian babies in 1997.

Despite being the recipient of countless accolades including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honour, the humble doctor has never let his success go to his head. Instead, this devoted family man and devout Christian is quick to credit the Lord for his bounty of blessings.

Unless you've read his autobiography, Gifted Hands, you probably have no idea how many hardships Dr. Carson encountered en route to reaching the pinnacle of his profession. For he and his brother, Curtis (Tajh Bellow) were raised in the slums of Detroit by an overwhelmed, divorced single-mom (Kimberly Elise) who juggled numerous jobs as a housekeeper and babysitter just to keep a roof over their heads. 

Furthermore, because she couldn't read, Sonya Carson wasn't able to help her sons with their homework. Still, she emphasized both religion and education, sensing that that combination offered their best chance of avoiding the pitfalls of the ghetto.

Yet, Bennie fell far behind in grammar school where he was being mercilessly teased and regarded as bordering on mentally-retarded. His fortunes began to change soon after his mother recognized that he needed eyeglasses. Then, relying on a combination of faith in God and a dedication to hard work, the youngster rededicated himself to academics, determined to show those who had labelled him dumb that he could set his sights high and become a doctor.

Now, thanks to corporate sponsor Johnson & Johnson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story has been adapted into a movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. in his best role in years. This inspirational bio-pic recounts all of the above and much more and is set to premiere on TNT on Saturday, February 7th at 8 PM (ET/PT).

A moving tribute to a real African-American role model with a powerful message for impressionable young minds that they can overcome any obstacles standing in the way of their dreams. 

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated: TV-PG  
Running time: 90 minutes
Studi Sony Pictures

To see a trailer for Gifted Hands, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jehtJPhmaKo

Coraline: Out Of This World

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

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Animation featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David, John Hodgman and Robert Bailey Jr. Directed by Henry Selick. 101 minutes. At major theatres. Check listings for 3-D screenings. PG

(February 06, 2009) The highest praise that can be bestowed upon the richly deserving
Coraline is that it doesn't require the dubious adornment of 3-D.

This animated screen rendering of Neil Gaiman's masterful children's horror fantasy is so full of life and texture, it's almost gilding the lily to add the third dimension to it.

You don't need things popping out of the screen to appreciate what director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and his stop-motion boffins have wrought, especially since you might well be looking through your fingers at times while watching it.

Coraline (pronounced Cora-LINE) presents a fully realized alternate world, just outside our own, that simultaneously enchants, terrifies and instructs – the lesson being contained in the tagline adage, "Be careful what you wish for."


In fairness, this is quality 3-D, and Selick doesn't rely on the old trick of making you jump by hurling things at you. But neither should you feel you're missing something if you catch a screening in good ol' 2-D, as many people will.

Coraline is the dark side of the Alice in Wonderland legend, the saga of a young girl who enters a cosmic portal to find a world both thrilling and challenging. Unlike the Lewis Carroll story, Gaiman's midnight vision has evil spiders and rats, rather that benevolent rabbits and caterpillars.

The movie also owes a debt to Tim Burton, the visual whiz who produced The Nightmare Before Christmas, and whose earlier Beetlejuice is fondly recalled in the design of Coraline's funky home, where most of the action takes place.

Known as the Pink Palace, the house perches atop a hill as the new, rural Oregon abode of sullen preteen Coraline (Dakota Fanning), whose granola-loving parents are attempting to live their own back-to-the-earth fantasy.

Mom (Teri Hatcher) and Dad (John Hodgman) are too preoccupied with their writing, gardening and cooking chores to assist Coraline in adapting to her new environment. They've chosen such a remote locale that the only neighbouring kid is the strangely intense Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), a character created for the movie, who at first meeting terrifies Coraline with his skeleton mask and Ghost Rider impression.

Blue-haired Coraline is quick to adjust, and as curious as all get-out when she discovers a door in her new home that opens to a bricked-up portal. When she awakens one night to find the bricks gone and an undulating tunnel beckoning, she enters to find herself in a world at once familiar and strange.

Cheerful people calling themselves Other Mother and Other Father (also voiced by Hatcher and Hodgman) appear to be perfect copies of Coraline's parents, with one disturbing, obvious difference: they have black buttons on their faces in place of eyes.

Even as she shivers at this, Coraline delights in the treats offered by Other Mother and Other Father: all of her favourite dishes, cooked so much better than her real parents could manage. Out back of this alternate Pink Palace there's not a mess of weeds and mud, but rather a garden of unearthly delights, shaped to resemble her now-smiling face.

Coraline also meets her exceedingly odd neighbours, whom she'd never really noticed before: aging burlesque actresses Miss Forcible (Dawn French) and Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders), and a former Russian acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (Ian MacShane), whose hobby is training mice to do circus tricks.

As bizarre as it all is, it's also highly appealing to Coraline, who thinks she'd rather live with happy freaks than stay with her dull and pestering parents – and what kid wouldn't?

Other Mother smiles knowingly and says a permanent transition can be arranged, as long as Coraline agrees to sew up a couple of minor details ...

The shocking request prompts Coraline to do some sleuthing, aided by a mysterious black cat (Keith David), who also has the ability to traverse between the two worlds, and who isn't at all fond of Other Mother – for good reason, as it turns out.

The film's third act becomes a real horror thriller, intense enough that parents with very young children should think twice about attending. A good test for your tot would be a reading of Gaiman's original book and judging reactions accordingly – if the book keeps them awake for one night, the movie will do it for a week.

The score by French composer Bruno Coulais adds to the creeping dread, bringing to mind the malevolent nursery vibe of Rosemary's Baby.

English lit scholars and other pipe-smoking types will spot an intriguing reference in the odd other name given to Other Mother: "The Beldam."

It cannily connects to John Keats's haunting La belle dame sans merci (The Beautiful Lady without Pity), a haunting romantic poem in which a hapless knight is disastrously enchanted by a dangerously enigmatic woman.

"La Belle Dame sans Merci hath thee in thrall!" goes the rhyme's frightful summation, and that ably describes how Coraline will grab you, too.

Read Richard Ouzounian's interview with author Neil Gaiman in tomorrow's A&E

Canada On World Film Stage

Source:  www.thestar.com - Michael Levitin,
Special To The Star

(February 05, 2009) BERLIN–In John Greyson's rules-bending film, Fig Trees, an actor playing Nelson Mandela visits the home of HIV-positive South African Zackie Achmat to convince him that he must keep taking his antiretroviral drugs. Achmat refuses, saying he will not take the pills until they are made freely available to all South Africans suffering with the disease.

After embarking on this premise – that governments and pharmaceutical companies are morally obliged to make AIDS drugs accessible to all – Greyson mixes archival footage with actors singing an adapted Gertrude Stein opera to tell the true stories of two AIDS activists, Achmat and Torontonian Tim McCaskell, and their ongoing battles to rescue their communities from illness.

"Pills are always about dollars and politics," says Greyson, whose opera documentary is one of six feature-length Canadian films showing at the Berlin International Film Festival, which starts today and runs through Feb. 15.

The film "is an attempt to try and contribute to an existing debate about social change, and the role of song within that change."

Greyson isn't the only Canadian bringing an untraditional film with a political message to the Berlin line-up.

Philip Hoffman's All Fall Down is an experimental doc that weaves through the lives of two figures from Southern Ontario – a 19th-century female land-rights activist and a contemporary expat drifter – capturing the region's spectacular landscape as it explores 200 years of history and land politics.

More explicitly political in nature, From Arusha to Arusha, a French, Canadian and Rwandan co-produced documentary directed by Christophe Gargot, takes a critical look at the international justice system as enacted in Arusha, Tanzania, where tribunals tried more than 130,000 prisoners connected to the 1994 genocide and civil war in Rwanda.

Meanwhile, Petr Lom's Letters to the President (Iran/Canada) turns the lens on everyday Iranians who voice beliefs – sometimes hesitant with fear, sometimes loud and contradictory – about their polarizing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reflecting the religious, economic and security concerns in the complex Sunni Arab nation.

"This is a great year for Canadian film on the world stage," Wayne Clarkson, Telefilm Canada's executive director, told the Toronto Star. "I am delighted to see the work that comes out of this country."

Among feature films, Philippe Falardeau's It's Not Me, I Swear!, which got attention during its premiere in TIFF, will screen in the youth competition at the Berlinale. It opens in Toronto Feb. 27.

High Life, Gary Yates's flick about a 1980s group of drug-addicted petty criminals, starring Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Joe Anderson and Rossif Sutherland, will screen in the festival's prestigious Panorama section. And Richard Brouillette's Encirclement, a 160-minute-long documentary that took 12 years to produce, debunks the myths and explores the failings of today's ultra-privatized, deregulated marketplace.

Brouillette is one of several directors here, in fact, whose prescient work precipitates the finance crisis.

American director Matthew Hysell's Marin Blue takes place in the post-real estate meltdown of suburban Los Angeles, while British directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross – who won the 2006 Silver Bear for best direction for The Road to Guantanamo – focus on the global costs of free-market capitalism in The Shock Doctrine, based on Naomi Klein's recent book of the same name.

Perhaps the most muckraking film of all comes from the heart of the meltdown, New York City, where directors and eco-stuntsmen Mike Bonnano and Andy Bichlbaum impersonate oil executives and pose as chemical industry representatives, raising environmental and social awareness in The Yes Men Fix the World.

"If we use this as a learning moment in history and change the way we do business, we can actually prevent the end of the world as we know it," Bonnano says. "Everybody who elected Obama I think is going to want to watch this film."

He's Just Not That Into You : Sex And The Cyber City

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

He's Just Not That Into You
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4) Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Scarlett Johansson, Ginnifer Goodwin, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Connolly, Justin Long, Bradley Cooper and Ben Affleck. Directed by Ken Kwapis. 129 minutes. At major theatres. 14A

(February 06, 2009) From amidst the dialled-up din of
He's Just Not That Into You, a tiny voice laments 21st-century romance: "People don't meet each other organically anymore."

It's a home truth from Drew Barrymore's pigtailed protagonist, Mary, who doubles as the narrator in a movie that is fitfully funny and occasionally wise.

She's the only person within this circus of love seekers and booty callers who sees the big picture: hook-ups of all kinds have never been easier, thanks to cellphones, text messaging and shifting mores, yet people today miss connections more than ever.

Directed by Ken Kwapis (License to Wed) from a screenplay by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, He's Just Not That Into You is the screen adaptation of the cynical relationship rule book by Sex and the City writer Greg Behrendt and editor Liz Tuccillo that was popular 15 minutes ago. (The catchphrase title comes from a line in a long-ago SATC episode.)

The tome's archly instructional tone is maintained, right down to faux chapter headings, with Justin Long's bar manager character, Alex, assuming the task of bluntly explaining guy code to blown-off and befuddled women. Sample wisdom: "If a guy doesn't call you, he doesn't want to call you."

Alex's most eager pupil is Baltimore singleton Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), the type of woman you only see in the movies. She's gorgeous, yet every guy she dates acts as if as she's wearing man repellent. Every male loses interest in her faster than you can flip open a cellphone, which most of these cads do en route to their next conquest.

This includes realtor Conor (Kevin Connolly), who can't wait to end his first date with Gigi so he can call his gal-pal Anna (Scarlett Johansson), whom he's carrying a torch for.

But Anna is busy flirting with the muscular Ben (Bradley Cooper), who would love to get to know her better, were it not for the inconvenient truth about his wife, Janine (Jennifer Connelly).

Then there's Beth (Jennifer Aniston), co-worker to Gigi and Janine, who would like to be married to her long-time boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck), but Neil is too busy contemplating his navel.

Whew! That's a lot of actors and angst to pack into one movie, even for one that risks rom-com fatigue with a bloated 2:10 running time.

The focus shifts abruptly through the picture, wheeling from Mary's narration, to Alex's instructions, to straight-to-camera testimonials by players major and minor.

This would be irredeemably distracting in most circumstances, but the scattershot technique suits the disjointed minds of He's Just Not That Into You. Nobody really knows what they want; why should the directors or writers?

And a few truly profound statements emerge from the swirling hormones. The vapidity of the digital world where everybody is online but nobody is in touch gets a big diss-connect from Mary, who observes that her seven messaging gadgets are just "seven different ways to be rejected." (Mary's frustration may have something do with the fact that she's apparently the only straight employee at a gay magazine.)

Another character, sizing up the selfish man who is callously rejecting her affections, says she knows she wears her heart on her sleeve, "but I'd rather be like that than be like you."

He's Just Not That Into You bears comparison to ensemble rom-coms past, most recently Young People F---ing and Love, Actually, the major difference being the greater emphasis here on digital vs. personal hook-ups.

And there's one smaller difference that's worth a note. It may just be my imagination, but all of the gay characters in He's Just Not That Into You seem to be happier and better adjusted than the straight ones.

Is there another book or movie in this revelation? Feel free to discuss, online or off.

Making Movies May Be The Least Interesting Thing Steve Martin Does

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(February 04, 2009) NEW YORK — If it were up to Steve Martin, he wouldn't bother talking about his new movie.

“I've always been short of those anecdotes,” he shrugged the other day. “You know, people say, ‘Tell us something really funny that happened.' Well nothing, you know?” He chuckled. “There's not much to say, you know? Except to say that it's fun – which is the most boring thing.”

Martin was sitting on a couch the other day in a Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite that offered a rich man's view of Central Park. A sheaf of posters for the movie in question lay at his feet, awaiting his autograph. He was dressed stylishly for a man of 63, though not aggressively so, in a beige checked sport coat, dark blue pants, and – a Los Angeles touch amid a dreary New York winter – a pair of eye-catching fuchsia socks. He sported new glasses whose hip tortoiseshell frames almost masked their bifocal purpose.

He continued. “I've grown to believe in the Jack Nicholson approach to promotion. When he promotes a film, he goes to a basketball game, and [photographers] take shots of him. Really, I really believe that it's boring for everybody to talk about a film. ‘And then what did you do? And how did you get the accent? And then this? And then this?' I don't even think the audience even cares. It's really about being visible for a while, and the studio promotion takes care of why you're visible, and all you have to do is be kind of interesting, you know?”

Which is just as well, because making movies may be the least interesting thing Steve Martin does, even if it has the highest profile. (Oh, sorry: His latest is The Pink Panther 2, which opens Friday.) There's the prose work: humorous essays for The New Yorker, the well-received 2007 autobiography Born Standing Up, the novellas The Pleasure of My Company and Shopgirl; the playwriting, including Picasso at the Lapin Agile and a more recent adaptation of Carl Sternheim's farce The Underpants; the art collecting: He is a seasoned collector of modern works including those of Willem de Kooning; and the banjo playing, 45 years of which has now culminated in his first full-length music album, The Crow, from which he has been playing selections while promoting his movie, including recent appearances on Saturday Night Live and Live with Regis and Kelly.

All of which occasionally leads to people calling Martin a renaissance man, a tag he smoothly mocked. “If I were a renaissance man, I'd be wearing puffy clothing,” he chortled. “No. I think a renaissance man is science-based, art-based. I mean, that's what I think they were, they were motivated by the developments in science, turning away from the church, you know. I feel like a sophisticated dilettante.”

Nice turn, that: fusing the low-grade boast of “sophisticated” to the humility of “dilettante.” It's the same careful balancing act Martin has trod for years in cultivating his public persona. But his desire to do a suave send-up of superciliousness can sometimes feel at odds with reality. You can hear the gears of abasement grinding.

An hour before this interview, as a press conference with his Pink Panther 2 co-star Jean Reno and director Harald Zwart kicked off, Martin made a couple of self-effacing quips that served to focus the energy in the room on him. When an entertainment reporter asked if he held the record for the most hosting appearances on SNL, Martin affected the petulant tones of a peevish prince and snapped, “Yes!” The faux hauteur was a joke, of course. But while, on a young comedian, the pose used to read as mockery of a Hollywood star's self-love, on a celebrated actor and writer whose moustachioed mug is on a thousand movie posters around town, and who possesses such literary bona fides that he snagged a thirtysomething editor at The New Yorker for his second wife, it walks dangerously close to seeming like actual self-love.

Though, it is true, when you get him alone, and he no longer feels the need to fill the room, he relaxes into reflection and flints off sparks of modesty. He admits that, while he loves working on dramas such as David Mamet's 1997 Kafkaesque thriller Spanish Prisoner, in which he played a menacing con man, the switch is sometimes hard for the public to make. Now, he has come to accept, “there's some really great dramatic actors who could do just as well as me.” He restricts himself to comedies, “because I think it's what I do best.”

Besides, even a bit of fluff like his latest movie has its challenges. In Pink Panther 2, Martin returns to the role of the bumbling French detective made famous by Peter Sellers. Though The Pink Panther – the 2006 version with Martin in it – didn't get much love from critics, families embraced it enough to make it a modest box-office success and spurn a green light for its sequel. The new film teams up Martin with a quartet of investigators (including Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to solve a series of high-profile heists that include the inevitable theft of the Pink Panther diamond.

“You know, you look at a film like Pink Panther 2 – and anything with a 2 after it is automatically dismissed, although I do think this film's better than the first,” he said. “But you know, people don't realize that we actually do care. We care a lot about it. And trying to make those scenes work, not only in the writing, in the performance, in the editing, it is serious. I mean, we're seriously earnest and nobody's going ‘Ah, let's knock this off so we can go do some serious thing somewhere else.' ”

He will, however, be getting back to “some serious thing” after he wraps up the movie publicity tour. (After this week in New York, he's headed out to Moscow, Berlin, Madrid and Paris.) Some time ago, he began sketching out a novel set in the art and auction world between the years 1994 – when the market began taking off – and 2008, when it hit a wall.

“I want to challenge myself, but also I think I now have more skills,” he explained. “Before, I was just a little nervous about writing something too long.”

He will not, however, be challenging himself to go back to the stage any time soon. In the late eighties, he and Robin Williams played Vladimir and Estragon, respectively, in a production of Waiting for Godot at Lincoln Center directed by Mike Nichols. Frankly, the hours were too long.

“I don't go for the eight shows a week,” he said. “I feel like, when I did Waiting for Godot, I thought, this would be great if it was one show a night. But those two-show days, they exhaust my performing steam. You start having to conserve, conserve. And, you know, I used to say that Actors Equity is the worst union in the world, because, ‘Here's the deal: You're gonna get Christmas off, but next week you have to make it up and you'll do nine shows.' It's like, that's not a day off!”

DVD Release : Miracle at St. Anna

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

 http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)

(February 10, 2009) There is rarely redemption in one of Spike Lee's films, but there is always instruction. Lessons must be taught and Lee is the self-appointed teacher – and never mind if his grasp of the truth is sometimes as dodgy as those he damns.

Such is the case with the plodding Miracle at St. Anna, Lee's avowed setting to rights of his long-voiced grievance that war films, especially those concerning World War II, either ignore African-Americans or treat them as cannon fodder.

There is some truth to Lee's assertions; Hollywood's favourite flavour has always been vanilla. But given the chance to depict the black experience during the war, specifically the battlefield valour of the African-American 92 Division recruits known as the Buffalo Soldiers, he resorts to many of the same hoary clichés and fantasy situations he condemns.

The band of brothers he strands behind enemy lines during the Italian campaign of 1944 are as stereotypical as they come: dim behemoth Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller), who is nicknamed "The Chocolate Giant"; horny hothead Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), who is most interested in bedroom action; righteous college-grad commander Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke); and token Puerto Rican Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), who miraculously speaks Italian and does other useful chores.

It's not that these characters are so terrible, though they are awfully familiar from war movies good and bad: it's that they're poorly sketched. The actors invest all the gravity they can muster, especially young Matteo Sciabordi, whose portrayal of Angelo, an Italian boy, could melt the heart of an iron statue. But just imagine Lee's reaction if he were to confront so many factory-issue figures in a movie made by a director he doesn't approve of. He'd either snort with derision or explode with denunciations.

Extras include deleted scenes and a round-table discussion between Lee, cast members and history experts talking about the Buffalo Soldiers and Hollywood's treatment of them.


Wanda Sykes Talks About Coming Out

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 09, 2009) *The March issue of The Advocate features an interview with actress and comedienne Wanda Sykes, who came out publicly last November during the furor following the passage of Prop 8.  Sykes is still reluctant to share some details about her personal life—"This is for The Advocate, right?" she asks. "Isn't it just preaching to the choir?"—but stressed the importance of coming out for black gay men and lesbians. Sykes says homophobia in the black community is leading to fear and HIV.  "There’s such a stigma about being gay that a lot of the men don’t want to be labelled as gay so they live straight lives and then, behind closed doors, they’re fooling around with men, bringing HIV home to their wives," she says. "We’re literally killing ourselves over this fear of homosexuality." The article is accompanied by a photo shoot of Sykes by fashion and celebrity photographer Roger Erickson. The March issue of The Advocate will be available February 20. Read a preview here (http://www.advocate.com/issue_story_ektid71760.asp).  

Will Smith Is Hollywood's 'Most Bankable'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 11, 2009) *
Will Smith has topped a list of Hollywood's most bankable stars according to a survey of movie industry professionals by Forbes magazine. The actor, who received a perfect 10 on the survey, was followed on the Forbes list by Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Hollywood super couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who were all tied with a score of 9.89, reports the Associated Press. John Burman, special projects director for Forbes Media, said Smith, who won fame on 1990s television sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," can star in any movie genre. "He can move from doing the pop film to an 'Ali' to a 'Seven Pounds' to 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' so he's able to play in all worlds and I think people just like watching him on screen," Burman said. For its first-ever "Star Currency" list, measuring the financial clout of Hollywood stars to get movie projects going, Forbes surveyed more than 150 entertainment industry professionals, including producers and directors. The stars were ranked on ability to attract financing for a project, box office success, appeal to different audience demographics and other factors. The Forbes list is online at www.Forbes.com/starcurrency.  


I'm In The Mood For Love ...

Source: www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(February 07, 2009) Only seven more shopping days till Valentine's Day, folks. A time to show your significant other just how much you care – a gesture that by definition requires great nuance and careful consideration, fraught with subtle significance and unspoken emotion.

How far do you push a budding relationship? Too much or too little could end it just as it starts. The same is essentially true of long-term couplehood, where the slightest wrong move can result in hurt feelings, sullen silence and even several nights on the couch (yours and/or a therapist's).

Establishing a romantic mood is essential, and it's never too early to start. And, as is often the case, television can provide an easy, inexpensive, low-maintenance alternative as a lead-up to the main event:


Who can resist the siren song of that most romantic of instruments, the violin? Now multiply that by 10.

That's Bowfire, 10 violin virtuosos, accompanied by dancers, singers and a concert ensemble of five, stopping off on their ongoing tour to tape the live show last May at Kitchener's Centre in the Square. It airs tonight on Bravo! at 9.

This'll put you in the mood and then some, regardless of your musical tastes, with a repertoire ranging from classical to jazz, bluegrass to rock, Celtic, Gypsy, Texas swing and Ottawa Valley and Cape Breton styles.

And if once is not enough, or you want the full, live-in-person experience, the tour (bowfire.com) hits Mississauga's Living Arts Centre March 20, two days after their return to the Square in a tour that covers most of the province.

For the "sex" part of the equation, nothing makes you feel better about your own relationship than seeing how badly the rich and famous routinely manage to screw theirs up. Tomorrow night there's a rundown of the best (worst) of them on Top 25 Sex Scandals of the Stars, at 8 p.m. on Star.


Was there ever a more classic tale of unrequited love than the saga of Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl?

Their star-crossed affair plays out yet again Tuesday night at 8 on ABC, in A Charlie Brown Valentine, a 2002 special produced (apparently against his will) two years after the death of Peanuts papa Charles Schulz.

Filling out the hour is the gang's original 1975 Valentine 'toon, Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, something no one seems particularly interested in being, much to bald boy's consternation. Drats!


Toss a bag of popcorn in the microwave, crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy some of the most romantic movies ever to hit the big screen. All without having to leave the house.

Most of them, oddly enough, are airing in the morning, so technically the intro above should read "Date Day at the Movies."

Romeo & Juliet: It all starts here, first with Shakespeare, and then the 1936 movie version with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard as the titular doomed lovers, with John Barrymore along to lend gravitas. TCM Canada, Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.

Love Story: Love means never having to say you're sorry. An often useful, if unrealistic sentiment, first coined by Ali MacGraw in the 1970 romance classic, also starring Ryan O'Neal before he got all wrinkled and scary. It's on Friday at 7:40 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. on The Movie Network's MRPIX.

Gone with the Wind: He says he doesn't give a damn, but you know damned well he really does. One of the most romantic movies of all time, the southern-fried 1939 perennial stars Clark Gable and Vivienne Leigh, airing on MRPIX Wednesday at an appropriately cuddly 11:50 p.m., basking in the warm afterglow of Atlanta on fire.

Working Girl: Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith, lots of bad '80s fashion – what more could you want? Throw in Sigourney Weaver as the evil nemesis, Joan Cusack as comic relief and the estimable Mike Nichols as director, and you just can't beat the 1988 across-the-bridge love story, on tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. on AMC Canada, and again Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Bridges of Madison County: Craggy Clint Eastwood woos a married Meryl Streep, and the screen ain't big enough for both of them. But if you've got a big-screen TV – and even if you don't – you will get completely sucked in to this compelling tale of middle-aged attraction. SUNTV has it Tuesday at 8 p.m., with CTV re-running it late on the night of V-Day, at 12:05 a.m., actually five minutes into the morning after.

Out of Africa: Even more lovestruck Meryl – that girl gets around – a world away in Kenya, in the biographical romance airing Monday at 3:10 p.m. on MRPIX.


Fantasy's fine, but let's get real. Thursday's CBC Doc Zone has the ultimate happily-ever-after with "Love Interrupted," two Romeo & Juliet-ish tales of young couples driven apart by race, religion, class and/or parental disapproval, who somehow manage to reunite later on in life. Which is more than you can say for Romeo and Juliet. That starts at 9 p.m.

From reunion back to separation, the second season of CBC's hit reality show, The Week the Women Went, needs no help from me to get people hooked – its already astounding ratings, now topping the million mark, continue to climb every week. The ultimate way to tell your loved one how much they are wanted and needed, airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

CanWest puts E! Up For Sale

www.globeandmail.com - Grant Robertson

(February 05, 2009) The tightening cash squeeze at CanWest Global Communications Corp., has forced the media company to put its secondary television network, E!, up for sale, but the stations may be shut down if a buyer can't be found in the next two months.

CanWest announced late Thursday that it is exploring strategic options for the five-city network, and has hired bankers at RBC Dominion Securities to assist in the process. The options include a sale of the network as a group, or as individual stations, depending on whether potential suitors step forward.

The E! network, which has stations in Montreal, Hamilton, Red Deer, Kelowna and Victoria, has been losing money. Offloading the assets would help stem losses at a time when CanWest, burdened by debt, has been at risk of violating lending agreements with its banks.

“In the current economic environment, we believe that our efforts are best focused on the areas of greatest return,” CanWest chief executive officer Leonard Asper said in a statement. He said the company is looking to concentrate its efforts around its main network, Global Television, and its more profitable cable channels, including Showcase, HGTV and the Food Network.

CanWest has given itself six to eight weeks to complete the review.

Though specialty channels make money from the subscription revenues collected on monthly cable bills, conventional TV stations rely solely on advertising. Deep declines in ad spending in the past eight months have hit all broadcasters hard, and are also affecting rival CTV Inc.'s secondary network, A Channel.

Two broadcasters, Rogers Communications Inc. and Astral Media Inc., say they are not looking at the E! network assets.

CanWest said the company has received interest from potential buyers in the sector, but an official would not elaborate.

Astral, which has said it may pursue deals in the slumping economy, is primarily interested in buying cable channels. Rogers, which bought the CITY-TV network two years ago, is not interested in expanding its conventional TV assets in an already challenged market.

By seeking buyers, even at dramatically reduced prices, CanWest could avoid shutdown costs associated with winding up the outlets. Though CanWest would likely not get any meaningful funds to help pay down its $3.7-billion debt in such a scenario, getting rid of money-losing stations would help preserve cash inside the company.

A similar scenario played out last year when TQS, a small Quebec television network jointly owned by Cogeco Inc. and CTVglobemedia Inc., was placed into bankruptcy protection and sold to Remstar Corp. The buyers paid very little for the assets, but Cogeco and CTV were able to sidestep much steeper shutdown costs if TQS had folded.

The move comes a week after CanWest announced one of its lenders had given the company some breathing room on its bank covenants. However, that came in exchange for limiting the company's access to a $300-million line of credit to just $20-million more than the $92-million it has already drawn.

Both CanWest and CTV have signalled in recent months, ahead of upcoming licence renewal hearings for their TV networks, that small-market television is in serious trouble. Industry executives at both companies have indicated for the first time that shutting down money-losing stations in small markets is possible.

It is an abrupt shift in strategy from two years ago when Global and CTV saw their secondary networks as an area to grow their revenue in television. However, a steep decline in advertising has now left those assets struggling.

“These stations have proud histories of serving their communities,” Mr. Asper said. “However, as they are currently configured, these stations are not core to our television operations going forward.”

U.S. Switch Will Affect Canadians Without Cable

Source:  www.thestar.com - Luann Lasalle,
The Canadian Press

(February 06, 2009) About two million Canadians who use rabbit ears or rooftop antennas to watch American television will be affected when U.S. broadcasters switch to digital TV signals in June, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting said yesterday.

The deadline for the U.S. switch to digital television had been Feb. 17, but that has been extended until June 12 to give American households more time to prepare.

An estimated 6.5 million households in the United States have yet to market the switch.

Canadian broadcasters currently have until August 2011 before they have to shut off their analog signals.

But Ian Morrison, spokesperson for a watchdog group for Canadian programs on radio and television, says people who live in communities along the United States border need to be prepared for the American switch.

"For those two million Canadians, all of a sudden they won't get those American over-the-air channels," Morrison said.

"It will just go blank," he said, describing what would happen to a television screen not prepared for digital broadcast signals.

Canadians rely on rabbit ears or other types of antenna to get their TV stations will need a set-top converter box to receive over-the-air broadcast signals from the U.S.

People who already have televisions with a digital tuner or who subscribe to digital cable or satellite services should see no change in their viewing with the transition to digital TV.

The move to digital broadcasting is promoted as a way to bring better picture and sound quality and more channels to viewers.

The U.S. Congress approved the four-month delay this week to deal with consumer confusion and problems with a program to make subsidized TV set-top converters available to those who need them.

Morrison said those Canadians affected will probably have to spend about $100 to get a converter.

"You can buy a converter that takes the digital signal and turns it back into an analog signal right at your television set."

He said of those two million Canadians affected, there will be more francophones than anglophones affected by the switch.

"They're not reaching out as much as anglophones to American channels," he said.

"The penetration of cable and satellite is lower among francophones than anglophones."

PC Magazine analyst Sascha Segan said there's no advantage to the June delay and it will leave U.S. consumers confused.

"It's up to all of the stations to decide if they're going to respect the delay," said Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices at the New York-based technology publication.

"The losers here are the station owners who are going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars continuing to broadcast analog signals that they hadn't budgeted for and the companies that have already bought the analog spectrum that was auctioned off last year," he said.

Canada should take note of what's happening in the United States, he added.

"Canada can learn from the U.S.'s mistakes in this process," said Segan.

"You guys have a couple of years to learn from our mistakes and do your transition better."

Morrison said those Canadians who don't get set-top converter boxes to adapt to the U.S. move to digital TV will end up helping out domestic broadcasters.

"From the point of view of Canadian broadcasters from such people, they will get a temporary boost because not everybody will do that and instead people will have to tune into Canadian rather than American stations unless they buy that converter."

TV Ads Adjust To The Recession

www.thestar.com - Alessandra Stanley, New York Times News Service

(February 09, 2009) Hyundai promises potential customers that they can return their new cars "if you lose your income in the next year." Carmel 6, a taxi and limousine service in the northeast U.S., gives viewers stressed by "these times of economic turmoil" 30 seconds of silence – no narrator, music or sales pitch.

And Travelocity, the online travel agency, is running a bare-bones spot featuring its "roaming gnome" mascot, but the little guy isn't moving. Instead, handwritten signs are held up announcing deep discounts on hotels. "We know times are tight," the signs say. "So we are cutting our budget for this commercial."

Television advertisements are adjusting to the recession more speedily than the programming they bracket. Judge Judy is still hollering at absentee dads and Two and a Half Men continues to titter about blonds, booze and promiscuity. But advertisers, particularly in the U.S., have adopted a tone that is a jangle of mournful compassion and forced good cheer.

Even American ads shown during the recent Super Bowl – costing up to an estimated $3 million U.S. for a 30-second spot and as eagerly watched as ever – had veiled allusions to the economy buried inside outwardly positive and humorous commercials that hewed to campaign styles of yesteryear.

A Budweiser commercial for Bud Light signalling that people will do anything to hold onto their favourite beer was uncannily like one that ran at the Super Bowl 10 years ago, except that this one was adjusted for stagnation.

The 1999 ad showed two grungy young men at a grocery store checkout who, short on money, opt to go without toilet paper rather than put back their six-pack of Bud Light.

In 2009, the people lacking cash are white-collar workers who, while sitting around a conference table, offer to forgo their bonuses rather than sacrifice their daily ration of Bud Light. (The employee who timidly suggests cutting the office beer budget is tossed out the window.)

Banks, financial service companies and insurance brokers don't have the luxury of making light of the bad news, though some try to ignore it. Citibank is running ads that promise clients cautious, loyal stewardship and business as usual, with no mention of the frozen credit market and Citigroup's multi-billion-dollar bailouts, let alone bonuses and corporate jets.

Allstate Insurance takes the opposite approach, selling itself as steeled for austerity by the Great Depression. Against a montage of photographs of bread lines and weary sharecroppers, the actor Dennis Haysbert says, "1931: not exactly a great year to start a business, but that's when Allstate opened its doors."

Explaining that the company has weathered 12 recessions since then, Haysbert offers viewers hope and even a silver lining, noting that bad times force people to "start enjoying the small things in life." The screen flashes to a large family around a dinner table. "It's back to basics," he says.

Not all ads try to ride the recession, of course. Mercedes-Benz has an ad that shows its GLK utility vehicle racing at top speed through ancient, narrow streets of a picturesque Tuscan village. The image is supposed to showcase the new SUV's smaller size and agility, but especially in today's climate, it mostly suggests a boorish insensitivity to the local population.

The ad looks all the more tactless when it is followed by one placed by the United Federation of Teachers that shows a group of well-behaved children constructing model bridges and skyscrapers out of paper and paste. "Kids rarely get a second chance," a sonorous voice-over intones. "So even in difficult times, investing in our children cannot be put on hold."

More and more of the commercial time slots abandoned by banks and car companies are being filled with infomercials, even in prime time, and not just for companies trying to sell foreclosed and repossessed homes. Those businesses are producing some of the peppiest ads on television.

"John, going to see those TFPs was so much fun!" a woman says chirpily, referring to tax foreclosure properties in an infomercial for John Beck's Free and Clear Real Estate System. "I just can't believe how much money you can make from them!"

No matter how bad the economy gets, advertising will always try to appeal to vanity, and commercials will never stop trafficking in youth and beauty. Privilege, however, is no longer something to aspire to.

A Frito-Lay spot for Cheetos features a soccer mom munching on a bag of chips at a game, rolling her eyes as a snootily dressed lady natters to her about her son Cody's "trilingual immersion program" and his fluency in Mandarin. The mom, getting ready to leave, kisses the annoying woman goodbye, deliberately smearing the back of her snow-white blouson with orange Cheetos crumbs.

The commercial isn't selling flavour, and it certainly isn't marketing the chips as a clean, easy-to-eat snack. The company is signalling what so many other advertisers are seeking to convey these days: forget the haves; they have something to offer the have-less.

Denied The Right To Watch TV Online?

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux,
Special To The Star

(February 08, 2009) Say you want to watch that Saturday Night Live sketch you missed last week. You know – the funny one.

You're in Toronto, sitting in front of your powerful new computer screen. You go to Hulu.com, the digital streaming site owned by U.S. media giants NBC and Fox. It's like a big video jukebox filled with all your favourite shows, everything from 30 Rock and American Idol to Heroes and Fringe, available on demand 24 hours a day.

You click on a clip and up pops a stark black-and-white warning: "We're sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed within the United States." There's more, including a line about Hulu being committed to making its content available worldwide. But for now, step back, Johnny Canuck – you've been geo-blocked.

Geo-blocking – or geo-gating, as the networks prefer to call it – is how content providers like Hulu, and even Canadian networks like CTV and Global, restrict access to their online videos outside the territories where they hold the rights.

Except (shh!) there's an easy way around it. You don't have to buy a grey- or black-market satellite dish as you did in the old days to see HBO or ESPN. You don't need to send cheques to a cousin in Albany to cover your dodgy satellite bill.

Just download one program to your computer and before you can say "cross-border cloaking," Hulu can't tell who-loo they're dealing with, or what country you're from, letting you sneak into their store.

As many as a half-million Canadians, among 5.5 million Web surfers worldwide each month, are already using AnchorFree.com to do just that, according to David Gorodyansky, founder and CEO of the northern California company. AnchorFree offers an ad-supported virtual private network called Hotspot Shield that, in addition to boosting PC security, allows Canadians to view geo-blocked content. Once installed (a process that takes about a minute), the shield prevents content providers from knowing what country you are in.

"Our job is not to promote Hulu or offer them in regions where they're not available," says Gorodyansky. "We're just enabling people to be private and secure online. What people choose to do once they're private and secure is kind of their business."

AnchorFree makes money from ads posted at its site, including a banner that adds itself to your browser while the service is in use. Up to now, Gorodyansky says he has not received a cease-and-desist complaint from Hulu or anyone else.

There are other sites designed to guide Canadians and others around geo-blocked content, including SurfTheChannel.com. It acts like a search engine for video content, pointing users to the show they want to see via links to YouTube, Tudou (YouTube's Chinese equivalent), The WB, ABC Family and even Canadian sources like CTV.ca.

So then why not go straight to CTV.ca, asks Stephan Argent, CTV's vice-president of digital media. Argent says 337 million videos were streamed on the network's website in 2008, including CTV's popular TV hits Grey's Anatomy, Mad Men and So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

While it's hard to compare online and TV audience numbers, Argent says some of the younger-skewed shows CTV has licensed for Canada, like The CW's Gossip Girl, are more popular online than on TV.

Globaltv.com also offers Canadians 24-hour on-demand access to its TV hits, including 24, Family Guy and, yes, Saturday Night Live. Global started by streaming Survivor in 2006, and now offers 75 shows online (if you include its specialty-channel offerings such as Holmes on Homes and Trailer Park Boys).

As with CTV.ca, Global's clips or "webisodes" have a 15- or 30-second commercial attached, but that's still better than the ad-to-show ratio on broadcast TV.

So Argent argues Canadians have no reason to use reach-around products like AnchorFree to access geo-blocked U.S. sites. "Given the choice between doing something illegal that takes effort and a legitimate, high-quality product ... that's easy to use, I think the majority of people are going to choose the latter."

One current advantage of hopping the border and surfing content at Hulu or CBS-owned TV.com rather than, say, CTV or Global is choice. TV.com (geo-blocked in Canada) has the largest TV-show library on the Web, with 38,000 videos available at the click of a mouse. Besides current hits, it offers many classic shows from as far back as 1941. The top three oldies are currently The Three Stooges Show, The Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy. Worth using a geo-block "shield" to access? As Curly would say, "Soitenly!"

Canadian network sites, to date, have no such archived content. "The Americans have had a bit of a head start," concedes Pary Bell, Global's vice-president of content. "They can start looking at their Starsky & Hutches and CHiPs. We also have that opportunity to ... look at the back catalogue but, first and foremost, our largest demand is for what's hot right now."

But is using easy-to-access services such as AnchorFree illegal? Relax, says Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and media law expert (also a Toronto Star columnist). While he acknowledges that peeking across the border at content from a restricted zone "is effectively breach of contract," he feels that doing so is "unlikely to create any kind of liability on the part of the user."

Geist says networks and various rights holders are more likely to try to come up with technical ways to stop surfers from looking past their border zones. "One way to do that is to try to identify AnchorFree users specifically, or whatever the proxy service happens to be, and block anyone using the proxy."

The problem is that there are so many ways to access content nowadays – including the illegal ones. "Many of the content owners recognize that you're better off embracing the opportunity to monetize that traffic and that interest, rather than trying to set up barriers," says Geist.

Even the "gatekeepers" – the network executives trying to play by the rules and honour rights restrictions – acknowledge that the biggest gate may be the public's belief that the World Wide Web should be free, and barrier-free.

"It's a generational thing," says Michael Goldsmith, director of original content at Teletoon, which gets hundreds of emails from American kids frustrated at being geo-blocked from Canadian shows like Total Drama Action.

"Young people feel somewhat entitled to view content that's been made," says Goldsmith. "They know that it's been made and it exists. They have a really hard time grasping why they shouldn't be able to go online and just view it when they want to view it."

The dilemma, says Goldsmith, is that Canadian producers make money selling online rights to their shows in other regions. "We don't want the Americans to see it," says Goldsmith, "not because we don't want them to see it, but because it could jeopardize a business deal that's important to the health of a good producer."

Not every Canadian cares about such considerations, and programmers know it. Global's Pary Bell, a self-described "child of the Internet," understands that "it can be very frustrating to everyone who doesn't like the notion of territories in the online world." Maintaining territorial rights is not as easy online as it is with the "walled garden" of television.

So far, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission – which may soon have to change its name to the Canadian Media Commission – has not weighed in on geo-blocking. That will change with new media hearings set to begin in a few weeks.


Buddies In Bad Times Theatre Company Cancels March Show As Cash Crunch Hits

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 05, 2009) It looks like the first Toronto theatre to really feel the recession's bite is Buddies in Bad Times.

The city's self-proclaimed home to "queer theatre" has been doing a lot of innovative program and receiving many strong reviews. However, declining audiences have meant box office revenue this season has been disastrously under budget and the theatre recently lost a crucial $20,000 grant meant for funding their youth programs.

While none of this will impact the Rhubarb Festival, starting tonight (see page E3 for more details), the cash woes have brought the cancellation of Buddies' next scheduled major production, Gay for Pay, which was to open on March 4.

"This was not a happy decision to make," said Buddies artistic director David Oiye. "But it will see us through the cash crunch."

Oiye is planning a series of fundraising events throughout the month of March, most notably an "unplugged" presentation by Daniel MacIvor of his hit Cul-de-Sac on March 21. "Our Buddies family has indeed rallied around us to support us through these bad times," Oiye said.


The announcement of the Olivier Awards on Tuesday brought happy news for David Mirvish. He's one of the producers of the hit West End musical about a transvestite nightclub, La Cage Aux Folles, which received seven nominations, more than any other show.

Does this mean we can look forward to La Cage as one of the subscription shows in the 2009-2010 Mirvish season?

Possibly, but don't forget, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is already on the playbill and the waxing tab alone for two cross-dressing musicals in one season might be enough to give even someone as munificent as Mirvish a moment's pause.


More good news from England for Canadians, this time of special interest to fans of Brad Fraser.

The author of Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love and other hits had his latest play, True Love Lies, premiere at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre on Monday night and the initial reviews are all excellent.

The Guardian calls it "a brilliantly cutting dissection of a supposedly ideal nuclear family founded on a tissue of deceit."

The Stage praises "Fraser's signature wit wrapped around piercing observations and laced with caustic one-liners."

What's Onstage cheers the work as "highly original and an absolute must-see."

Want to bet this one crosses the Atlantic soon?


Several items from the seemingly bottomless Canadian Stage Company rumour mill:

First, after Monday's column speculating on who Marty Bragg's successor would be, several people with inside knowledge suggested that the name of Marti Maraden (former artistic director of Stratford and the National Arts Centre) be moved up to join Don Shipley and Ben Barnes in the "likely suspects" circle. So be it.

Second, what are they going to present at CanStage next season? Lips are tighter than usual over on Berkeley Street, but the following items look possible:

A visit from Edmonton's Catalyst Theatre, presenting their acclaimed experimental version of Frankenstein.

A revival of Leslie Arden's The House of Martin Guerre. This was always one of Bragg's favourite shows and, although expensive, could be his farewell gift to himself.

A main stage remount of the Dora winning Obsidian show from last January, Intimate Apparel.

The Color Purple's Journey From Page To Stage Has Been A Long One

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

(February 07, 2009) How do you get the most powerful woman in show business to lend her support to your show?

It's easy: don't ask her.

That's what Scott Sanders discovered when Oprah Winfrey called him out of the blue one Saturday morning and asked if she could invest in his upcoming production of the musical based on Alice Walker's novel
The Color Purple, which opens at the Canon Theatre Wednesday as part of the Mirvish subscription season.

To be honest, Sanders missed her call on that summer morning in 2005 because he was in the shower, but when he saw his cellphone blinking he was astonished at the message he received: "Hi Scott, this is Oprah," he relates. "I'm hearing great things about what you're doing with The Color Purple. How can I help?"

The Tony- and Emmy Award-winning producer still chuckles from his office in New York when he recalls the moment.

"It's like walking down the beach and you find a bottle, pull out a piece of paper and it says, `What's your wish?'"

For Sanders, it had been a long journey to that moment, not unlike the trip that Walker's heroine, Celie, took in her epic 1982 novel, from a childhood of abuse and poverty to a realization of the love and beauty inside all of us.

Talk to any of the creative people involved with this project and you'll find that they – like readers around the world – have been moved by Walker's story for reasons that have nothing to do with their race or gender.

"From the moment I first read the book, I always felt it had music in its soul,'' recalls Sanders.

"As a white male, my life didn't mirror hers, but all of us as human beings have various and sundry challenges and issues that we have to deal with.

"It was a great story of triumph over adversity and something we could all relate to. No matter how bad you think life might be, there is still a reason to move forward, there are still ways you can change your life and change your environment."

Marsha Norman, the renowned playwright who wrote the adaptation for the musical, feels even closer to the material.

"I'm a white Southerner, but like Celie, I was a girl that nobody ever saw. If you had a cold-eyed view of the world, you would have thought that I didn't have a chance of succeeding at anything.

"All the time I was growing up, I kept thinking, `I can't get where I want to go from where I am.' I didn't have it as bad as Celie did, but I still had it bad."

Norman's bond to the work is even closer, because she and Walker both won the Pulitzer Prize on the same day in 1983: Norman for her play `Night, Mother and Walker for The Color Purple.

"I can still see the headline," Norman sighs. "The bottom right-hand corner of The New York Times: `Walker, Norman win Pulitzers for Fiction, Drama.' It's like we were linked together."

But even though Norman begged to adapt the book both for the screen and the stage ("I raised my hand like a kid and cried, `Use me! Use me!'" she jokes), she was passed by.

In the meantime, producer Sanders had spent two years getting the stage rights to the novel and two years putting a creative team together.

"Then it was 2001, and after 9/11 people only wanted fun shows like The Producers, Mamma Mia! and Spamalot, he says. ``No one was interested in a serious musical with real characters.

"No one, that is, except me. I just believed in the story and I felt passionate about it."

So he kept pushing forward.

And as the story of Celie herself illustrates, fate works in strange ways. "The author they had hired to write the book for the musical didn't work out, so they finally came to me," Norman says. ``I watched the actors learning the songs, took what they gave me and wrote the script."

In 2004, Sanders took the show to the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, to be near the novel's Georgia roots, "and although it broke a 35-year box-office record for the theatre, I still wasn't happy with it."

So the creative team went back to the drawing board for nine months of hard work and revisions. They embarked on another workshop in the summer of 2005 and Sanders felt "our show was ready to go, but we had no theatre to put it in. All the Broadway houses were booked for the fall."

Then, another miraculous phone call came through. This one was from theatre magnate Gerald Schoenfeld, who asked Sanders, "Young man, when can you open your show?"

It turned out that The Mambo Kings had decided not to come to New York after a frosty reception in San Francisco, and the Broadway Theatre was suddenly available.

"The only problem was that we had done no PR, no advance sales work and he was asking us to open in five months," Sanders recalls.

Sanders moved quickly. He put together a workshop performance of their musical and invited the media. One of those journalists was Gayle King, the editor for O, Winfrey's magazine. Considering that Winfrey had played Sofia in the 1985 film, Sanders thought her magazine might be interested in the story.

What he didn't know was that King is Winfrey's best friend, and by intermission was emailing Winfrey to say how great the show was.

The next morning, Oprah's call came. "After that," recalls Sanders, "it was magic time."

Winfrey agreed to put up $1 million of the show's $10-million budget and became a producer. Sanders offered her the credit "Oprah Winfrey presents The Color Purple," and she paused a moment before accepting. "You know," she told him, "I never wound up on the movie poster because they thought I wasn't famous enough, but now I'm No. 1 on the stage poster. What a turnaround moment!"

And just the kind of thing, she might have added, that The Color Purple symbolizes.

The show ran for more than two years on Broadway, and is now spreading its message of joy across North America via the touring company that arrives here next week.

Sanders isn't surprised at the show's far-reaching success. "You meet this eclectic, dysfunctional group of people who love each other, who have hurt each other, who have forgiven each other, but at the end of the day they are family. Like all of us."

One more thing. After the show had opened, Sanders finally summoned the nerve to ask Winfrey what would have happened if he had gone to her earlier in the project and asked for her help.

"If you had come to me," she told him straight, "I would have said no."

Show Soars To New Heights

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

The Forbidden Phoenix
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of four)
Book and lyrics by Marty Chan. Music and lyrics by Robert Walsh. Directed by Ron Jenkins. Until March 11 at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front St. E. 416-862-2222

(February 06, 2009) Shows for young audiences don't come more spectacular than
The Forbidden Phoenix, which opened yesterday at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People.

Actually, shows for any audience are rarely as spectacular as this import from Edmonton's Citadel Theatre, which proves that, in the right hands, cultural fusion can be as palatable as the culinary kind.

Playwright Marty Chan wanted to tell the story of the Chinese men who suffered physical and emotional pain building Canada's railroads. He also wanted to do it in the style of Chinese opera.

That might sound like a prescription for disaster, but it's far from it. Chan co-opts the ancient saga of the Monkey King, who travelled far and wide to feed his family, using it as a jumping off point for a touching, witty and exciting fable.

Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is an endearing figure, especially as played by John Ullyatt who played it at the matinee I attended. (He alternates the role with Richard Lee). Ullyatt has a wondrously resonant voice, a fine sense of how to deliver a lyric and the combination of comic and tragic skills the role demands.

His relationship with his son, Laosan, played with great charm by Shannon Kook Chun, is at the heart of the show, and it's written by Chan with the right mixture of toughness and tenderness.

The magical Phoenix is given a sweet sincerity and power by Lori Nancy Kalamanski and the evil Empress Dowager, with the show's most stunning costume, is a giant and forbidding presence in the hands of Nadine Villasin.

To be honest, nearly every aspect of the show is handled with flair and taste. Ron Jenkins has directed with a fine eye and a great sense of fluidity, knowing just how much to borrow from the world of Chinese opera without being slavish.

The tumblers, acrobats and martial arts warriors that the cast's ensemble portray are a fine lot, and the fight direction of Adrian Young and choreography of Laura Krewski are excellent.

Best of all are the set and costume designs of Leslie Frankish, with a bright, fresh colour sense that dazzles and a sense of line that would please the most rigorous Chinese architect.

Her deep reds, electric blues and sunburst yellows are all a treat for the eyes, and when she lets her palette move into the secondary greens and violets, the subtle relief is wonderful.

The only thing in the show less than totally superb is the music of Robert Walsh.

It makes a brave stab at combining pop music, musical theatre and Chinese opera, and despite some lovely melodies, it sounds like Asian Andrew Lloyd Webber a bit too much of the time.

Still, it's beautifully sung by the cast and the occasional musical disappointment is not enough to mar an exercise in almost complete enchantment.

Race Is On The Table In Revisioned Miss Julie

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

(February 08, 2009) When August Strindberg wrote Miss Julie in 1888, his saga of an upper-class woman's sexual involvement with her manservant caused a scandal in his native Sweden.

But times are different now, and it takes something new to shock us.

That's what occurred to Stephen Sachs when he set out to create his adaptation of the play, Miss Julie: Freedom Summer, which opens in a Canadian Stage Company production at the Bluma Appel Theatre on Thursday night.

"The play has always fascinated me," said Sachs on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. "I always thought it was such a powerful acting piece and I loved how it explored power and sexuality and the sexual tension between two characters. But I wanted to take a fresh look at it."

So he moved it to the summer of 1964, the "freedom summer" when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law and black-white relations were entering a new era in America. He placed his version in America's deep South, with Julie one of the members of the fading but still powerful post-bellum aristocracy and John her black servant.

Sexual sparks fly and tragedy ensues, just like it does in Strindberg's original, but the stakes are now somewhat different. Instead of issues of class, Sachs boldly puts race on the table.

"The original is about class struggle," Sachs admits, "but the issue of class doesn't resonate as much for Americans as race does. It's so much a part of the DNA of the United States."

Kevin Hanchard, who plays John, had no trouble with any of the changes Sachs had made.

"It wasn't gimmicky," he sighs with relief. "It's so well written. It's real dialogue. It's real emotions. It's real interaction. It's not exploitative. Not using race for race's sake. It's about people trapped in real situations that back then and, to some extent, unhappily still exist now."

When Caroline Cave, in the leading role of Julie, was first approached about the project, she weighed her decision carefully.

"I thought this is risky," she admits candidly. "But I don't shy away from that ever or wish to. When I read it, it worked for me on paper, and it's even better on stage."

Cave admits the adaptation's secret weapon is its unashamed treatment of the physical relationship between Julie and John.

"The more blatant sexuality is the key," she says. "It works very well, and I've been getting into it more and more as we keep performing it. I love Julie's experimentation with her own sexual power, the issues of autonomy and control. The power of choice she's exercising with a black man."

Sachs concurs that an interracial love affair onstage can still pack a considerable punch.

"A lot of us like to think of each other as well-minded liberals, but plays like this tap into this dark corner in all of us," he says with a laugh.

"This play makes some people uncomfortable, which is just what theatre is supposed to do."

During its initial run in Vancouver (the show is a co-production with the Playhouse Theatre), Sachs says, "We got a lot of gasps at the sexuality and the brutality."

Hanchard was delighted at the response. "You hope for reactions like that. You want people to feel strongly enough to react."

Cave agrees. "It's my city, it's where I'm from, but when it comes to theatre, there's a politeness to the audience. They're afraid of offending themselves by their own reactions. When those gasps did come through, I was happy for it. We touched a chord in someone."

Of course, timing is everything. Sachs's adaptation is perfectly aligned to coincide with the tide of feeling accompanying Barack Obama's election as U.S. president.

"I think it's wonderful and perfect that this production is happening right after we've elected the first black president," says Sachs.

"Now let's see how far we've really come."


DJ Hero Set To Spin

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

(February 07, 2009) Activision Blizzard, the publisher of the mega-popular Guitar Hero franchise, has confirmed what has been suspected for nearly a year: DJ Hero is in the works.

The rhythm game, scheduled to ship later this year for multiple consoles, will let gamers assume the role of a professional disc jockey.

"We have this product called DJ Hero coming out later this year, which is a turntable that you actually can play competitively and spin discs and mix songs," confirmed Bobby Kotick, Activision's Blizzard president and CEO, while chatting on CNBC from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week.

The online gaming community has been buzzing about such a game since the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Activision Blizzard trademarked the name DJ Hero back in February 2008, and later acquired FreeStyleGames, the U.K.-based developer of the B-Boy game for Sony's PlayStation 2 in Europe and Korea. Online reports suggest the dual-turntable-like controller will also include a cross fader, scratch platter, three buttons for sampling and a dial for sound effects.

Iron Man 2 set to soar

Another reason to save your shekels: Sega announced this week that it's working with Marvel Entertainment on the Iron Man 2 video game for 2010, to coincide with Paramount Pictures' silver-screen sequel to last summer's box-office smash.

"We are thrilled to build on the success of the Iron Man phenomenon and work with Marvel and Paramount on another epic project," says Simon Jeffery, president of Sega of America, in a company statement. "Sega and Marvel are collaborating closely to ensure we deliver an authentic Iron Man experience."

While no plot-spoiling details are available just yet, the game is in development at Sega Studios in San Francisco.

Wallace & Gromit going digital

Based on the award-winning Aardman animation shorts and film, Telltale Games' Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures will be the company's first episodic gaming series for Xbox Live Arcade (and PCs) this spring.

Players will assume the roles of both the quirky inventor and his faithful canine sidekick in a claymation world as they interact, assemble contraptions and find themselves in humorous situations. Pricing details are not yet available.

On a related note, digital distribution is also helping gamers share their own custom-made content with others over the Internet. Sony Computer Entertainment America's LittleBigPlanet for the PlayStation 3, for example, is a quirky arcade puzzle game that ships with a built-in level editor. Sony says more than 348,000 levels have been published worldwide to date (less than three months since its launch), which have been played more than 44.5 million times collectively.


Arts The Key To Attracting Tourists

Source: www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(February 11, 2009) Will Greg Sorbara emerge today as the prophet of 21st-century cultural tourism – bolstering Ontario's economy while showing our major arts institutions how to survive in these sky-is-falling times?

As Ontario's finance minister, Sorbara was one of the best friends our arts community has ever had. Now, after stepping down from cabinet, the MPP from Vaughan is playing another role that could have a major positive effect on our cultural jewels.

This morning at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Sorbara will unveil his much-awaited study of the province's tourist industry. Relying on reports from more than a dozen consultants, Sorbara will put forward recommendations on how this sector can be strengthened and present them to Minister of Tourism Monique Smith. Here are some measures he may suggest:

Develop group marketing of cultural attractions in Toronto, Stratford and Niagara. Arts organizations in all three would collaborate, with financial help from the government, rather than work in isolation.

Persuade the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum to combine their tourist marketing and make sure Toronto has an internationally appealing blockbuster art exhibit every summer, supported by special funding from Queen's Park.

Present Toronto to the world as Festival City, kicking off the prime summer tourist season with Luminato, the festival of arts and creativity, and ending with the Toronto International Film Festival, while featuring an array of smaller festivals in between.

Extend Toronto's brand as the world's most multicultural city, offering diverse attractions that will attract curious visitors from China and India who may have relatives and friends in Toronto.

The arts represent just one part of the tourism picture, but it's one that is close to Sorbara's heart, with great potential to help the province avoid sinking into poverty.

This study began before the world tumbled into recession, but Ontario tourism has had an ongoing problem for most of the past decade. In the good old days, the typical tourist group was a middle-class couple with children who piled into the family car and drove across the border.

After 9/11, SARS and the tightening of border controls, that market has dwindled alarmingly. Ontario still has a $22 billion a year tourist industry, but needs new strategies to attract a different kind of tourist.

Sorbara is likely to prescribe an investment in cultural infrastructure, which would have to involve a non-acrimonious partnership between the province and the federal government. A perfect example would be plans hatched by the National Arts Centre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to build Project Niagara – similar to the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass. – on federal land in Niagara-on-the-


In any strategy Toronto has to be the gateway to the province, but there is a Catch-22 aspect to the city's so-called cultural renaissance of the past decade.

We finally have an acoustically perfect opera house, and two museums have had makeovers by famous architects. But what we do not have is any one building – comparable to Guggenheim Bilbao or the Sydney Opera House – that on its own makes Toronto a hot tourist destination.

What Toronto does have to offer is a cluster of cultural goodies, along with proximity to North America's two leading theatre festivals: Stratford and Shaw. And it's that total package that needs to be cleverly and effectively marketed.

The arts can help us make tourists learn to love Ontario, albeit in a more modest way than they love New York, where cultural tourists go to gorge on a glorious arts cluster.

Ticketmaster Faces Suit Over Online Prices

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

(February 9, 2009) A $500 million class action lawsuit has been launched against Ticketmaster and its TicketsNow subsidiary, accusing the companies of conspiring to force customers to pay inflated prices for tickets.

"We're hearing from people that ... they can't buy tickets for the face value, and if you want to go to see your favourite artist, you have to pay two or three times the face value," said Jay Strosberg of Sutts, Strosberg LLP, which filed the suit today in conjunction with Vancouver law firm Branch MacMaster.

"It's a matter of fairness," Strosberg said. "It's also causing a fair amount of frustration."

Ticketmaster's practices amount to a violation of Ontario's Ticket Speculation Act, aimed at preventing ticket scalping, said Strosberg. The claims have not been proven in court.

"Our office has been flooded with calls," he added. "We have a registration system online and people are registering at a speed which we've never seen." The registration system is at ticketmasterclassaction.com.

Albert Lopez, spokesperson for Ticketmaster, Ticketmaster Canada and TicketsNow, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Last week, New Jersey residents were outraged after being unable to purchase tickets for an upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert there via Ticketmaster, sparking a demand by a U.S. congressman for a federal investigation into the company's practices.

Such practices included directing potential buyers to the TicketsNow site, where tickets were priced well above the face value. New York Senator Charles Schumer has since added his voice to the call.

New Jersey's attorney general pledged to launch a state probe into the matter.

Springsteen himself denounced Ticketmaster for having a conflict of interest and wrung a concession from officials that fans would no longer be directed to TicketsNow. CEO Irving Azoff of Ticketmaster, based in California, also issued a public apology.

On Friday, Springsteen fans hoping to see a show on May 7 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto called the Star to complain that tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale online, but that more than 800 higher-priced tickets were available shortly afterward on TicketsNow, at prices up to $1,338.

Strosberg said he and lawyer Luciana Brasil of Branch MacMaster have been looking at the issue for some time.

The class action suit – which could include anyone who has done business with Ticketmaster and TicketsNow since Feb. 9, 2007 – was sparked by a complaint from Henryk Krajewski of Toronto, who tried to buy two tickets last September for a Smashing Pumpkins concert at Massey Hall.

Krajewski was unable to purchase the tickets at a face value of $133 from Ticketmaster and was instead forced to pay $533.65 on the TicketsNow site.

"We are interested in hearing about everyone's experience. People should be able to access entertainment for reasonable prices. That's what this lawsuit is about," Strosberg said.

"We're both younger lawyers, and we know what it's like to want to go see an event and to not be able to access tickets."

Both firms, he noted, are also experienced in the area of class action lawsuits. Sutts, Strosberg has recovered more than $1 billion in damages on behalf of its clients, and Branch MacMaster has authored a textbook on class action suits in Canada and acted in more than 80 such cases in four provinces.

My Father, My Self: The Journey Of Dan Hill

Source:  www.thestar.com - Leslie Scrivener,
Staff Reporter

(February 08, 2009) "Am I talking too fast?" Daniel Grafton Hill IV asks.


"Do I sound totally manic?"

"Are you?"

"My wife always tells me I'm too intense," he says later. "I actually haven't been out talking to people for 20 years."

Dan Hill, known for his soulful eyes and sweet ballads, winner of a Grammy and five Junos and best remembered as author of the international hit "Sometimes When We Touch," confesses that he doesn't get out much.

In his 20s he toured North America, singing barefoot and in torn jeans, eyes closed as if tormented by love. And when the concert was over, lovesick women were waiting for him at the stage door.

"In the '70s there was probably no better thing on the face of the earth than to a be a young guy with a hit single in the U.S.," says pianist John Sheard, who toured with Hill. "You are recognized everywhere, people fall over themselves to do things for you, women are throwing themselves at you."

And Hill, he adds, "was a really fun-loving guy."

Hill is now 54; the thick beard has become a trim goatee, the dark hair that stood out about a mile is short and grey. An obsessive runner who logs 12 miles every other day, he's lean and compact. He's wryly funny and lightly teasing. ("Do I look like the kind of person who would exaggerate?") But he also comes across as a deeply introspective man. In fact, his raw memoir,
I Am My Father's Son, a searing examination of his relationship with Daniel Grafton Hill III, is about to be published.

There's a self-deprecation about Hill Jr. as well. Unsure that the story he's telling is as interesting to his visitor as it is to him, he pauses: "Am I boring you with this?"

Not for a minute. It's rare (and absorbing) to meet someone so frank about family relationships, celebrity and what it's like when your hit song is ridiculed, even though, ha ha, it still reels in royalties decades later. "Sometimes When we Touch" shows up in movies – Tropic Thunder most recently – in jingles for Coors and other products, and on television shows like Degrassi High. Hill may have earned $4 million or more over the decades for that song alone, which still brings in a reliable $100,000 a year.

He has spent the past 20 years writing songs, most recently for country singers, and estimates his sales top 100 million units, which include versions by him and others. Celine Dion performed "Seduces Me" and "Can't Live With You," the Backstreet Boys recorded "I Promise You," and 98 Degrees had a hit with "I Do (Cherish You),"which went multi-platinum on the Notting Hill movie soundtrack.

Hill stopped performing in the '90s. Record company executives were telling him he looked like a college professor, that he wasn't "virile" enough. "I didn't have that thing that Michael Bolton did; my star power, my charisma was not a match to my writing ability."

Still, he worked steadily and profitably until 2003, when his charismatic, demanding father, also known as Dan Hill, died after a harrowing struggle with diabetes, the corrosive disease that had afflicted him for decades. That stopped Hill in his tracks, too: He lost the man he'd spent a lifetime trying to please.

His father was an impressive person. Finding segregation increasingly intolerable in the U.S., he moved to Canada for graduate studies in 1950. In 1953, while teaching at a college in Baltimore, he married Donna Mae Bender, a white woman who organized civil rights sit-ins; it was a union disparaged by both blacks and whites.

A few days after their wedding, the couple moved to Toronto where Hill Sr. earned a PhD in sociology at the University of Toronto. He went on to work as research director at the Social Planning Council, founding director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (Canada's first), an advisor to government on multiculturalism and, finally, Ontario Ombudsman. With friends, the couple founded the Ontario Black History Society, and Hill Sr. wrote a book, The Freedom Seekers, about blacks in early Canada.

Despite their frequent disputes, Hill Jr., the eldest of three, saw in his father the model of the man he longed to be. In archetypal fashion, Hill Sr. was at the heart of his need to be a success.

After his father died, Hill found he couldn't write songs; he drank for a while, alone at night, after his wife, lawyer Beverly Chapin-Hill, and his son, David, had gone to bed, topping up the wine with an Imovane or two.

"People say, `You're so lucky, your husband's so emotional,'" says Chapin-Hill. "He isn't. He's just a regular guy, you've got to pry it out of him, and when he couldn't write songs, he just imploded. There was that whole dynamic of writing to win his father's approval."

He turned to his father's letters to understand the man who called him "boy" – yes, in that belittling way – the man who could both inspire and demean. "I'd lost him and wanted to find him again," Hill says. He turned to writing prose. He wrote and wrote, until he had 1,000 pages, producing the revealing I Am My Father's Son: A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness, published this week at a more reasonable 400 pages.

His father was a paradox. "There was pride in being black and fighting for greater rights for all minorities – but at the same time, giving us little messages that we had to cloak our blackness, cut it back a few notches," sums up Hill during an interview in the brick house in The Beach that he bought for $150,000 cash when he was 24 and at the peak of his fame.

Some were more than "little messages." As when he told Dan, "your hair's way too curly. Nobody wants hair that curly." He gave his son a stocking cap – a nylon stocking – to wear at night to straighten his hair.

The younger Hill wore it for three years – "a nightly reminder that, because I was black, I was different," he writes. Being black was something to embrace, his father taught him, but "you couldn't embrace it too much, or else."

Each of the Hill children, who grew up in white, suburban Don Mills in the '60s and '70s, dealt with race differently. "I lost myself in the bubble of music – driving myself to be a success," says Dan. Still, "I secretly resented dad for being the one person who could blow my Caucasian cover," he writes.

His brother, Lawrence, travelled to Africa three times and integrated some of his experiences into fiction; three novels include scenes set in Cameroon and Mali. Travel was a way of compensating for his slight exposure to black culture in Don Mills, he says. Karen, the youngest, was drawn to her black family members, and said she wished her skin were darker. She moved to Berlin after university and immersed herself in the African community there. "I made my statement, that I was black and nothing else. But it was hard to be able to say that when I came back to Toronto. I didn't always feel accepted among black folks. Now it's something that changes; it's not always consistent."

Only after their father's death did they learn that one of their ancestors, great-great-grandmother Genevieve Coakley, who at 16 worked as a seamstress in the White House of President Ulysses S. Grant, was raped by a white man also employed there. It seemed unusual that their father, a gregarious storyteller, did not share this with his three children. Marie, the daughter Genevieve bore, didn't learn until she was an adult who her mother was; she'd been raised believing Genevieve was her older sister.

Marie encouraged her own daughter, May (Dan's grandmother), to mix with light-skinned, successful blacks and tried to prevent her marriage to a darker-skinned man, Daniel Grafton Hill II. The pair eventually eloped and had a long and loving marriage.

Hill contends that self-hatred and other effects of racism pass through generations. "You covered this up, you compensated, and you tried to be more and more white to fit in." Hill recalls these as teenage feelings that didn't linger through adulthood. And he says he perceives a similar youthful lack of confidence in the letters his father wrote to his parents, which show another side to the assertive, driven, often absent man he'd known.

"If you read his letters in the army, starting when he was 17, you see very powerfully a self-doubt," Hill says of his father. "He portrayed to us that Hills were all Einsteins in training, with superior intellect, yet he said, `I don't know if I'm cut out for college. It seems I work twice as hard as other kids and they get better grades with a snap of their fingers.' He didn't want to disappoint his dad. I think my father had a certain degree of insecurity and need to achieve. This doesn't just happen to black people, but this is my story, how it affected me and my family as blacks."

His father told Lawrence, a diligent, high-achieving student – and now a widely respected writer – that he would never pass the entrance exam to the elite University of Toronto Schools. "I worked harder to prove him wrong, but it wasn't easy to hear," says Lawrence, who did attend UTS. In Black Berry, Sweet Juice, a book about racial identity, Lawrence notes that his father was not inclined to socialize with black people, and recalls his "derision" when black community events were poorly organized or a black was fired from a job.

Their father instilled in his children that nothing less than perfection was acceptable. "And that we'd never attain perfection," says Lawrence. "It was a very difficult parental position for him to take."

If Dan Hill Sr. failed as a young father, he did provide the model of a loving husband. There were difficult times. When Hill Jr. was 11, his mother was hospitalized with an episode of mania – a frightening period when he wasn't sure his mother was ever coming home. "It's no coincidence that that's when I embraced music."

Unfortunately, his father didn't support that avocation. When he was a teen songwriter, sending out demo tapes to all the record companies in the Toronto phone book, Hill Sr. told him: "Time to face the hard cold fact, boy. Accept your limitations. You're never gonna be a Bruce Cockburn."

"Why would he say that?" Hill asks. "It doesn't make any sense until you look at it through the lens that part of you feels you aren't good enough. So you succeed and accomplish and accomplish; the problem is when you stop, you become depressed because you could never do enough."

In his father's eyes, a university education and a career as a doctor, lawyer or engineer was the sole path open for his children, a buffer against racism.

But Dan neglected school subjects he didn't care about, closeting himself in his bedroom and writing songs compulsively, sometimes one a day. Nonetheless, to everyone's surprise, he passed Grade 12 with a B+ average.

When Hill was offered a recording contract with RCA at 18, his father said, "Don't lie to me, boy."

"He drew out the worst of my father, doing things to violate everything my father expected," says Lawrence. "Telling the world that he was going to make it as a singer-songwriter – to my dad that may have seemed incredibly ludicrous; he'd be rolling his eyes in contempt." Bernie Finkelstein, Hill's manager, along with Bernie Fiedler, when "Sometimes When We Touch" was selling 35,000 copies a day, didn't see the tension between father and son. After Hill signed with Finkelstein, Hill Sr. called him to say, "Make sure you look after my son". The pair was also managing Bruce Cockburn, which impressed the elder Hill. "He liked what Bruce stood for, so no matter how weird we were, we couldn't have been that bad."

Finkelstein wasn't afraid to exploit Hill's race. "It was never much of an issue when we were working with him. But when it had value, I'd admit, in certain parts of the States, I would say, `He's part black.'"

In time, the elder Hill realized he'd underestimated his son's talent. "He was no longer belittling him," recalls Karen. "He became really proud. But I hate to think of what would have happened if he hadn't had so much success. My mom was different, but her voice didn't count as much. In those things it was my dad who stood out."

Naturally, the relationships changed when the children became adults. "(Dad) couldn't affect our futures," says Lawrence. "He became a totally loving guy, a new guy, which is why we loved him so intensely and passionately through the last decades of his life. He became such a wonderful father after we left home."

The years before and after his father's death were among Hill's most difficult. "I'd never seen him go through anything so painful," says Beverly Chapin-Hill. The cruelty of his father's death haunted him. "He died a death of a thousand cuts," she says. "He had three amputations, loss of sight and kidney disease. Running is a huge passion of Dan's, and to see his father lose his legs and know that he, too, is diabetic, there is an element of terror involved. That made it all the more complicated."

It's worth noting that Hill did not name his son Daniel Grafton Hill V, a choice that hurt the boy's grandfather. "I wanted to break the chain," says Hill. "I found it really hard to be Daniel Grafton Hill IV. I felt overshadowed, and it didn't help that we had the same name."

David is 20 and was likely as worrisome a teenager as his father was. "I didn't care," he says. "I was very reckless." He hung around with a dangerous crowd, his family was threatened, and he was badly injured by a flare gun – a period in their lives Hill wrote about movingly last year in Maclean's.

David had wanted to be a rapper and was talented. "But just like my father did for me – ironically – I tried to steer him into being a writer," Hill says. "Being the total hypocrite I am, I thought he had a better chance of being a writer than a rap artist."

He advised him to channel the family eccentricities into art. "You're quirky. Big deal. I'm quirky, my brother's quirky, so we're all f---ing crazy in a way. Embrace it and do something with it. That skewed vision of the world, seeing things kind of lopsided, that's what really connects with people."

David sees generational parallels. "I think we all rebelled against our fathers. My grandfather was an atheist, he married outside his race ... he was sent away to a very strict uncle. I was sent away at the same age." He was apart from his family for two years – the first with friends in Washington state, the second at a school in St. Catharines. Back at home now, David is working on a memoir. He's calling it "Writing Saved my Life."

"We're a lot alike, me and my father," David says. "A lot of people said he wouldn't amount to anything ... He proved everyone wrong. The way he was able to make it influenced me a lot – and I think history will repeat itself in me."


'I sometimes caught myself ... "whitewashing" my behaviour to better fit in with the neighbourhood'

I was beginning to figure out that our family wasn't what one might consider ordinary. Even Dad's manner of speaking stood out, flitting back and forth, sometimes within the same paragraph, from airily professorial – a Black, liberal version of William F. Buckley Jr. sans the faux Oxford accent – to colloquial and profane. When I slept over at friends' houses, I was struck by how unprepossessing the other fathers appeared, their voices strangely monotone, their descriptions of anything – from politics to work – tepid. Walking home the following morning I could pick Dad out a good block away. He'd be hunched over the garden in our front yard, his ill-fitting straw hat and oversized, dirt-smudged clothes flapping off his body while he tenderly planted his bulbs, singing noisily along to the strains of Count Basie thumping through the living-room window. Did he simply not care how he came across? Was he trying to send our street's property values plummeting? Or was I the only one reacting to him this way: ping-ponging between feeling proud of Dad's extreme behaviour and being mortified by it?

I hated to admit to myself that much of my discomfort over Dad's eccentricities was based on race. The only brown face for miles, his actions – whether born out of his hobbies, tastes or manner of dress and speech – amplified his Blackness. Was this why I sometimes caught myself going in the opposite direction, "whitewashing" my behaviour to better fit in with the neighbourhood? This could be a dangerously easy impersonation, since my skin was neither brown nor white, just that cursed in-between shade, my lips full while not being thick, my hair curly without spinning into kinky little circles. Moreover, I understood that the way I acted could be the greatest determining factor as to whether kids in my neighbourhood saw me as Black or white. I secretly resented Dad for being the one person who could blow my Caucasian cover.

My shame, alas, would deepen in the wake of Dad's constant demands that we, as not only mixed-race children but the children of human rights activists, had a moral responsibility to enlighten people, to disabuse them of their racist inclinations. It was as though Dad thought he could will us into fierce combatants of racism by writing exaggerated accounts in letters such as this one, from 1962, to his parents: "Donna and I are both exceedingly pleased with [the children's] general development – physically; in the use of language and concepts; and in their unusually developed sense of social justice. They know when they are being wronged, by other parents or siblings, and are vociferous about their rights." It's difficult to imagine Larry, Karen or me being too "vociferous" about anything in 1962, given that I was eight, Larry six and Karen five. I didn't really start coming face to face with racist taunting until a few years later, once we'd moved to the "classy" but seemingly less tolerant side of Don Mills. It was there that I was really given the chance to stand up for social justice – and quietly stayed seated.

I was more than willing, at the know-it-all age of twelve, to dominate political debates in the safety of the classroom, rabidly engaging all comers on the issues of the day: school busing, affirmative action, America's foreign policies, etc. But unlike Dad, once I was removed from the cocoon of my classroom and confronted with real-life bigoted behaviour, whether in the schoolyard or on my block, I kept my mouth shut. While everyone traded "nigger jokes" in the dressing room after a hockey game, I'd sit twitching, silently. All I wanted was to shrink into myself, to have my skin turn paler and paler. Meanwhile, Dad's words would stick beneath my skin, reminding me of my unfulfilled obligations. Stand up to any person who uses words like "kike" or "Jap" in front of you, 'cause they'll be calling you a "nigger" the second your back is turned.

Excerpt taken from I Am My Father's Son by Dan Hill, © 2009 Out of Control Limited. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Unique Art Exhibit Celebrates The World's Iconic Drummers In Works By 50 Artists

Source:  www.thestar.com - Peter Goddard,
Special To The Star

(February 05, 2009) As anyone who's been in a band knows, there's always something different about the drummer.

That could be different in a good way or a bad way; it doesn't matter. Drummers live on their own planet. Anyone needing further understanding should only look to hockey. In hockey, it's the goalie that differs. Having to wearing a painted mask is just the beginning of it.

Understanding the drummer's outsider role provided Sandra Dionisi with the starting point needed to organize "
Cut to the Drummer," a compelling art exhibition at Steam Whistle Brewing, beginning with tonight's silent auction, with depictions of 50 drummers by 50 exceptional, internationally known illustrators. The artwork is expected to fetch prices from around $300 to $2,500.

"As I discovered in my research, drummers have their own mythology," says Dionisi, the respected Toronto illustrator behind The Bepo + Mimi Project, an initiative aiming to make design and illustration more socially responsible.

"Cut To The Drummer" – Dionisi's fourth project – is also an offshoot of the annual "F.U.M.S." concerts organized by Billy Talent drummer Aaron Solowoniuk. Diagnosed in 1998 with multiple sclerosis, Solowoniuk created a scholarship fund through the concerts to help younger Canadians with MS or who have parents with MS to further their education.

"Aaron has fought his way through it," says Dionisi. "But I think the point on every illustrator's mind was just how physical drumming is, particularly for someone with diminished abilities.

"Then there's the drummer as icon too and the symbolism of the drummer. I'm interested in the concept that drummers are always at the back, that they put themselves in the back."

Dionisi's contribution to the auction is a subtly drawn portrait of Travis Barker. The Blink-182 drummer is shown with his head down, his face hidden from view, but his torso is as busy with tattooed figures as any Renaissance altarpiece is busy with painted cherubim.

"Barker said that he covered himself in tattoos so he couldn't do anything else in life," Dionisi goes on. "It's another shield to keep himself separate, which is part of the mystique of the drummer. They keep themselves separate, except maybe for Phil Collins. Anyway he's not in the show."

But the great Art Blakey is in the show via Achey Blakey Heart by Barry Blitt, the Montreal illustrator whose cartoon for The New Yorker showing Michelle and Barack Obama at home in the White House in terrorist gear set off a storm of media controversy.

Blakey – who broke in with the Billy Eckstine band and later anchored the Jazz Messengers – mastered unimaginable heights of rhythmic complexity as well as terrifying heights of personal intimidation. He scared his bands into playing well. But the contrary-minded Blitt gives the drummer a sweet, pulsing heart and tearful eyes in an off-kilter scene that looks the way Blakey's riffs sounded.

Celebrating the long lost art of jazz-album cover illustrator is only one of several bonuses to be found in "Cut to the Drummer."

A number of artists in Dionisi's line-up are themselves drummers. A good many more include record companies in their client portfolio. Blitt has done work for Rolling Stone. Dionisi's own portrait of Oscar Peterson won a gold medal from the Art Directors Club of Toronto a while back. But it's the young illustrators' love of old-school jazz illustration that resulted in what could be quintessential jazz-era art. An example is Michael Sloan's bluesy drawing of Paul Motian, depicting the drummer for Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk heading into work at the Village Vanguard jazz club in New York.

American illustrator Timothy Cook shows Stones' drummer Charlie Watts in a retro '50s-album way. If it weren't for Watts's swing-era rhythmic discipline, the young upstarts he's playing with would likely still be stuck working London clubs. Julia Breckenreid's Archie Alleyne – a deliciously shadowy image of the veteran Toronto jazz drumming stalwart – is a lyrical contemporary exception to this old-school approach.

The drummer's role as The Other in music – "always taking the back seat to the lead guitar or singer," says Dionisi – caused fear, loathing and wonderment among their peers sometimes all at once, as shown in Katherine Streeter's evocative triptych of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.

A rarely noticed sensitivity in Ginger Baker's eyes is suggested in Lou Beach's owlish portrait of the Cream drummer. Michael Byers' Chad Smith strips the Red Hot Chili Peppers' percussionist naked. Anthony Russo's Ringo Starr positions him in front of the others in the Fab Four. Fernanda Cohen's Sheila E. – depicting one of the few female percussionists included in the show – is a flurry of flying drumsticks, spiky hair and ruffles.

"When I'd put out calls for my past shows, the number never got above 20," says Dionisi. "But with this, even after I got 50 replies I had more illustrators asking me about it. It's amazing how many people have their favourite drummer."

Peter Goddard is a Toronto freelance writer. Email: peter_g1@sympatico.ca

Just the facts
WHAT: Cut to the Drummer

WHEN: Gala and silent auction tonight, 7 to 9:30 p.m. Public reception at 9:30

WHERE: Steam Whistle Brewing, 255 Bremner Blvd.

TICKETS: $150 for the auction, $15 for tonight's reception. The exhibition continues to the end of the month

How Sweet It Is For Sugar Sammy

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Michael Posner

(February 04, 2009) Sugar Sammy recently took his first vacation in two years. The Montreal comic, who is embarking on a Just for Laughs-sponsored national tour (opening tonight, Feb. 5, in Winnipeg), took a rare week off to go on what he calls a “ball-hockey cruise of the Caribbean.”

The reason Sugar Sammy – born Sam Khullar – has been vacationless for so long is simple: He's too busy touring. Australia, Europe, South Africa, Asia – he has been to all of them, several times. His airline points number in the millions. The only populated continent he hasn't played is South America, and his agent, former Just for Laughs executive Jodi Lieberman, is working on that.

He was in Toronto recently for a round of interviews, but just for a few hours – then it was back to Montreal to collect his bags, and off to Dubai for the weekend. He has played there five times in the past year.

He travels so much that he has no fixed address, except his parents' place in Montreal, where he crashes between flights and tries out new material on his folks and his two younger siblings. He doesn't own a car, either. “What's the point?” he says. “I'm never there to drive it. I never want to have to take a job to pay bills for something excessive.”

There's no girlfriend on the scene either. “Impossible,” he laughs. “With my life? I might as well just open up a complaint department.”

Rather than throw his money away on frills, Sugar Sammy is salting it away. It's a form of insurance, he says. “The more I have, the less vulnerable I am to having to take gigs where I might be compromised.” Like playing convenience-store owners and Indian food restaurateurs in film and TV shows – good money, he agrees, and easy work, but tired old stereotypes.

In his comedy, Sugar Sammy bears a certain resemblance to the phenomenon known as Russell Peters. Like him, he has found and mined a niche ethnic market. And like Peters, he crosses over. He has a huge likeability factor. But Sammy, a Montreal-born child of Indian immigrant parents, is also fluent in French, which gives him yet another weapon in the stand-up arsenal. “I hated going to French school at the time, but I'm so grateful now. It's a great passport.”

But can an edgy, push-the-envelope stand-up comic like Sugar Sammy keep his comic integrity in a place like Dubai, navigating through its heavily censored, alcohol-free zone?

He can, he insists, by being very careful.

“You'd be surprised about Dubai,” the thirtysomething comedian says. “They do give you parameters, but you can pretty much deal with any subject, even sex, as long as you do it tastefully. It always comes down to the tone. I do talk about sex and Arab and Islamic culture, but they always know I'm kidding around. And they keep bringing me back.”

His Dubai audience tends to be about one third Arab, one third Indian and one third assorted expatriates from around the globe. But Muslims, he says, are the first ones to buy his new CD, Down with the Brown, and request a Facebook connection.

Sammy knows that other comics have encountered problems in the Middle East. “For me, it's all about winning the audience over before you venture into more difficult waters. I've never censored myself. I don't like working that way. It takes the honesty away, and that's worst crime a comic can commit – being dishonest. I'd hate to operate with that kind of filter.”

He compares the process to dating a girl. “On your first few dates, you don't right away start exposing all the crazy parts of yourself. You have to work up to that. And once she's comfortable with you, you can open up and tell her anything.”

Sammy found comedy as a child of 8 when he cajoled his mother into renting an Eddie Murphy DVD, Delirious. “It was an East Indian movie store and it was the only English-language film they had. I think I watched it six times that first day, and that was it, the defining moment. I knew what I wanted to do after that. The way I laughed uncontrollably, rolling on the floor – from then on, I tried to get kids at school to laugh the way Eddie Murphy made me laugh.”

Of course, knowing and doing were two different things and, even after he started performing in Montreal at 19, Sammy struggled for almost a decade to gain recognition. He did have his stage name early, however – attached to him by young women because of his amazing facility as a party organizer at college.

His debut was a 30-minute unpaid gig at a student fundraiser. “I have the tape, but I won't watch it,” he laughs. “I can't. I'd just cringe.”

That led to open-mike nights at Montreal's Comedy Works club. Soon, he was a regular. But he hedged his bets, taking a degree in cultural studies from McGill University and, with an eye to his future career in comedy, taking courses in marketing.

From his parents, who ran a string of six convenience stores, he inherited a strong work ethic – and worked in the stores every summer during his teens.

It wasn't until 2004, when Just for Laughs booked him for its annual summer festival that his career began to shift into overdrive. “It used to bother me that I'd audition every year and they'd reject me,” he says, “but you know what? They were right and I was wrong. I'm so glad they rejected me, because I wasn't that good. I wasn't ready. I needed to grow.”

In fact, Sammy remains ruthlessly self-critical, insisting that he still has a few levels he needs to reach. “And the moment I feel that I'm not getting better, I'll have to sit down and revaluate where I'm at. The more I work, the better I get. Better at timing, delivery, tonality and improv. You can't go up there with cockiness. Because that just leads to complacency, in which case you might as well work on an assembly line. You have to pay attention onstage.”

After the Canadian tour, Sammy heads to Lebanon, then Australia again, then Jordan. Work, work, work.

“It's the only way to get better. I'm a big fan of Wayne Gretzky's, and he used to say, ‘People tell me every day, I'm the best, but it never stopped me from trying to get better every day.' That's the way to work, because the second I stop trying to improve, someone else will take my place.”

In addition to his Winnipeg show tonight, Sugar Sammy plays Edmonton Feb. 6, Calgary Feb. 7, Vancouver Feb. 13, Surrey Feb. 14, Toronto Feb. 20, Ottawa Feb. 21 and Montreal March 12 (further information at www.sugarsammy.com/).


Goh To Retire From National Ballet

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

(February 10, 2009) The National Ballet of Canada is hoping to weather tough economic times with a 2009-10 season that includes new works along with such audience favourites as Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.

The company is also bidding farewell to principal dancer Chan Hon Goh, who is retiring in June after 20 years with the troupe, though not before she performs in Romeo and Juliet and Giselle later this season.

"I'm not immune to feeling bereft when an artist chooses to end their career and it always happens too soon, in my opinion.

``For someone who appears so fragile and delicate, she (Goh) has the most amazing strength," an emotional artistic director Karen Kain said yesterday.

Executive director Kevin Garland said despite good audiences in the current season – especially for its annual Christmas season presentation of The Nutcracker – the company has seen "an erosion of earned income as the economic news kept getting worse every day."

But that won't stop the company from continuing with its twofold mission to present beloved classical ballet along with daring new work by contemporary choreographers.

"That's our artistic mission and that's the very last thing you give up when you're faced with adversity. We're not going to give up on those two missions: beautiful classical work and very adventurous new work," Garland said.

The 2009-10 season will begin in September with a tour of five western Canadian cities of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev, before going to Ottawa's National Arts Centre from Nov. 5 to 7. It will open at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto on Nov. 13.

A world premiere of Edmonton-born choreographer Aszure Barton's latest work will debut in November, along with George Balanchine's neo-classical The Four Temperaments and Jerome Robbins' modernist Glass Pieces, which was a hit for the ballet in 2007.

Following The Nutcracker's annual run from Dec. 12 to Jan. 3, the spring portion of the next season will feature Marie Chouinard's 24 Preludes by Chopin, James Kudelka's The Four Seasons and another Robbins work, A Suite of Dances.

Kudelka's famed interpretation of Swan Lake will be onstage from March 11 to 21, 2010.

Another world premiere, new work by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo, will be presented later in the season alongside Robbins' West Side Story Suite and Opus 19/The Dreamer.

The season will close with a remount of John Cranko's Onegin, featuring a new set and costume design by Santo Loquasto.

Production Is Far From Perfect But Still Worth It

Source:  www.thestar.com - Robert Crew,
Special To The Star

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
By Kalidasa. Adapted and directed by Charles Roy. At Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W. until Feb. 15. 416-973-4000

(February 06, 2009)
Shakuntala, by the Indian playwright Kalidasa, is one of the great works of world literature yet virtually unknown to most of us here in the West.

Kudos, therefore to Pleiades Theatre for mounting the Canadian professional premiere of this wonderful piece. And while the production that opened last night is far from perfect, there is enough there to give us a taste of some of the wonders within.

This is an epic fairy tale – the king who courts a lowly maiden called Shakuntala and marries her, is hit with a curse that causes him to forget her. He reviles her when she comes to court pregnant with his baby, then recovers his memory and is laid low with remorse and depression until they are reunited.

In the midst of all this is the discovery of a ring inside a fish, a battle against invading demons and a final get-together with the gods.

The movement of the piece is symphonic. The first section is a lyrical love poem, covering the dreamy wooing and wedding, section two is gritty and emotional, with the puzzled king cruelly brushing aside his wife, while the final movement has a cosmic, universal sweep that lifts us (literally) to the heavens.

Fortunately, we have Sanjay Talwar as the king and Anita Majumdar as Shakuntala. Talwar is no stranger to classical theatre and his experience shows. He can deliver the poetry and command a stage but injects enough irony and humour into the role to make it come alive. Majumdar, meanwhile, is wonderfully passionate in her rejection scenes, tugging at the heartstrings.

Elsewhere, things are variable. Shakuntala's two companions quickly outstay their welcome with their screaming and giggling, Pragna Desai as the goddess is relentlessly perky and comedy turns by David Collins and Frank Cox-O'Connell fall resoundingly flat. Director Charles Roy is far too reverent in his approach, which makes much of the show somewhat precious.

Shakuntala is going to the 2010 Cultural Olympics in Vancouver. A lot more work needs to be done before it strikes gold.


Lil Kim, David Alan Grier Go 'Dancing'


(February 10, 2009) *Rapper Lil Kim, comedian David Alan Grier and former NFL star Lawrence Taylor are among the 13 celebrities who will cut a rug on next season's "Dancing with the Stars," ABC announced Sunday.   Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Olympic gold-medal gymnast Shawn Johnson and TV host Nancy O'Dell of "Access Hollywood" are also in the new cast for the show's eighth season, premiering March 9.   Two couples are among the new crop of ballroom twirlers: pop star Jewel and her husband, rodeo champion Ty Murray will compete against each other, while country singer Chuck Wicks will be partnered with his girlfriend, two-time "Dancing with the Stars" champion Julianne Hough.     Rounding out the new cast are Go-Go's lead singer Belinda Carlisle; actress Denise Richards; Gilles Marini, who played the neighbour ogled by Kim Cattrall's Samantha in the "Sex and the City" film and Steve-O (MTV's "Wildboyz").     "Dancing with the Stars" is hosted by Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris, with Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba serving as judges.


Panel Recommends Hockey Ban Fighting At All Levels

Source: www.thestar.com - Jim Kernaghan,
The Canadian Press

(February 10, 2009) LONDON– Fighting should be eliminated from hockey at all levels of the game, according to recommendations released today from an expert panel dealing with concussions in hockey.

"Fighting is one of the known causes of concussion, and may result in the related long-term complications," the panel's summary statement says. "Fighting can cause needless death."

The recommendations, resulting from meetings at the London Hockey Concussion Summit on Jan. 17-18, also calls from an elimination of high hits/head hits.

"Those are significant ones," Summit chair Dr. Paul Echlin said. "The reduction of hits from behind has had a major effect on the incidence of broken necks in hockey and similarly, the reduction of high/head hits should reduce the incidence of concussions."

Panellists on The Concussion Summit included four former players, three of whom were knocked out of the National Hockey League as the result of concussions – Eric Lindros, Jeff Beukeboom and Alyn McCauley – along with Canadian national women's team player Jennifer Botterill, who was sidelined for a protracted period with concussion.

Echlin stresses, however, that there was no consensus on all the recommendations.

"The recommendations in this statement are designed to serve as a framework for future discussion, and to promote significant change concerning the prevention, recognition, and management of concussions in hockey," the statement says.

Echlin and co-chair Dr. Charles Tator, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, put their recommendations together via e-mail with the participants after poring over the minutes of the day-after meeting.

The recommendations will go to the media, various hockey groups and medical associations.

Along with the rules recommendations, the panel advised a concussion certification program in which trainers, coaches and officials would gain knowledge aimed at recognizing and treating concussion.

Those teams that have pre-season physicals with medical professionals, Echlin said, have added benefits. Few young players ever see a doctor and physicals sometimes indicate problems other than neurological, such as cardiac-related.

Other recommendations in today's release are the adoption of an NHL/Ontario Hockey League role model program, studies leading to a data collection system, pre-season screening and a survey of protective equipment.

Echlin and Tator said were gratified by the turnout of 380 hockey people Jan. 17 and felt a step closer to their goal -- a unified body that involves all levels of hockey and could expand into other sports.

Football Canada was a non-hockey participant in the recommendations along with the NHL, NHL Players' Association, the OHL, Ontario Hockey Association, Ontario Hockey Federation along with a number of medical and therapeutic bodies.

Echlin said the prospective name for a central agency dealing with concussion is Hockey Concussion Initiative, which would first involve hockey and ultimately serve as a model for all sports in which head injuries occur such as football, soccer, rugby, skiing, skateboarding and cycling.

"Sometimes, events like the Concussion Summit are held and everyone departs until another one is held," Echlin said in an interview. "Our goal is to move forward from this and work to find solutions to a growing problem".

Echlin has hands-on experience with concussion this season.

Six of 23 players on the junior development team he works with have suffered concussion, one requiring disqualification for the remainder of the season.


Former Italy Soccer Star To Lead Canadian Women

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(February 05, 2009) Former Italian international star Carolina Morace is Canada's next women's soccer coach. A source confirmed Morace is to be introduced at a news conference later Thursday. Morace, 45, succeeds Even Pellerud, who stepped down last year after leading Canada to the quarter-finals of the Beijing Olympics. The Norwegian native has since taken a job as head of the women's program with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation. Morace played 153 times for her country, scoring 105 goals. She is also the only woman in Europe to have coached a pro men's team, having run Serie C side Viterbese. She debuted for the Italian women's national team in 1978, against Yugoslavia, at the age of just 14, and went on to captain the side. She has also coached the Italian women's national team and more recently served as a soccer TV analyst in Italy.


The 2 Most Effective Ab Exercises!

By eDiets Staff

Are you an ab-oholic? Do you constantly fret over a flatter stomach? Are you obsessed with achieving a six-pack? Maybe you spend countless hours doing crunches, only to see no results whatsoever. It's nothing to be embarrassed about.

You're gonna have to face it: You're addicted to abs!

Don't worry, though. That's not a bad thing -- unless you're wasting precious time on ineffective exercises when you could actually be getting more (results) for less (time). You heard it right. For those of you doing hundreds of sit-ups a day, you're probably spending a lot of time doing exercises the wrong way.

So says Michael Stefano, fitness expert and author of The Firefighter's Workout (HarperCollins). He's witnessed the fitness faux pas many times in his private practice.

"More than half my clients come to me and say they're doing 300 sit-ups and 100 bicycle kicks a day and nothing is happening," Stefano tells eDiets. "They feel a little is good, so more must be better. In the process, they abandon good form and the proper way of doing the exercise.

"My whole change for these people is to inform them of what really works and dispel the myths."

The first misconception Stefano puts to rest is the notion that you can spot reduce. FALSE. FALSE. FALSE. It takes more than ab exercises to tighten that tummy. A firmer physique requires a one-two punch of cardio exercise and strength training. And don't forget a healthy diet, as well. Here is Stefano's ultimate workout checklist.

CARDIO TRAINING: three to five times a week, exercise in your target heart rate zone with some form of sustained aerobic activity (such as walking, jogging, swimming) for 20 to 30 minutes or more.

STRENGTH TRAINING: two to four times a week, perform anywhere from eight to 12 sets of properly performed progressive resistance movements (i.e. weight training, nautilus, pushups) that works the entire body.

FLEXIBILITY TRAINING: Perform at least five to 15 minutes of stretching exercises (such as simple stretches or yoga) at the end of every workout.

Even if you follow a well-balanced fitness regimen to the letter, it doesn't guarantee you'll get washboard abs. Genetically, we're not all set up to have a toned tummy, Stefano says.

"Save yourself time, energy and possible injury... lose the obsession with things you can do nothing about," he says. "Focus on things you can change. Eat right and exercise, but don't obsess about either."

One thing you can do to improve the appearance of your midsection is to practice better posture. Poor posture often gives people the potbellied look. To improve your posture: keep your head balanced on your neck, not leaning. Shoulders should be relaxed and down, rolled back. Make sure abdominals are contracted and your tailbone pointed to the floor. Knees should be kept soft and not locked. Ears, shoulders, ribs, hips, knees and ankles should all stay vertically aligned.

"Within reason, if you work on your posture and you do the cardio and strength-training exercises, it is possible to affect the stomach and flatten it," Stefano says. "Not everybody will have a super flat stomach, but it is possible to improve your stomach."

Stefano recommends a simple strength-training regimen that can be done in a matter of minutes. Perform two sets of 20 for each exercise. Rest one minute between sets. Do this routine two to three times a week.

Lie on your back on a mat or padded carpet with your knees partially bent, feet flat on the floor and arms folded across your chest (least intense). Be sure the feet are not too near your buttocks. Exhale as you press the lower back into the floor and begin to raise your head, shoulders and chest off the floor in one unit, concentrating on bringing the ribs towards the hips. Pause briefly as you feel your abdominal muscles contract. The movement need only be a few inches. Inhale and slowly curl back down, trying not to let your head and shoulders touch the floor and maintaining tension in the abdominal muscles for the entire set. Repeat to muscle fatigue.

Trainer's Notes:
Be sure to keep the knees only partially bent with the heels at least one foot from your butt. This engages the oblique muscles as well as the rectus abdominus. To increase intensity, lengthen the pause when the abs are flexed to two seconds or place your hands behind your head (as in the bicycle kick). Extend the arms overhead to maximize intensity levels.

Goal: two sets of 20 to 30 repetitions

Lie on your back on a mat or padded carpet with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press the lower back into the floor, engaging the abdominal muscles as you put both hands behind your head (don't pull on the head). Bring the right elbow over to the left knee, and then bring the left elbow over to the right knee in a twisting, bicycle pedal motion. Continue to breathe naturally. Alternate opposite elbow to opposite knee with hands interlaced behind the head in a slow and controlled manner to muscle fatigue, with full extension of each leg on every repetition.

Trainer's Notes:
Be sure to breathe naturally and not hold your breath at any time during this exercise. Full extension of the legs will increase intensity, as will performing the motion very slowly. Keep the knees bent throughout the movement while you tap the feet to the floor (instead of extending the leg straight out) to decrease intensity.

Goal: two sets of 20 to 30 repetitions


Motivational Note

Source:  www.eurweb.com — Winston Churchill

"Success is never final."