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February 26, 2009

Well, it's the end of February and soon to be March - remember when March meant spring?  Well, not so much anymore but we're getting closer with the days getting a little longer and the temperatures slowly rising. 

Let's get right to as there is lots of exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!


Steven Page Quits The Barenaked Ladies

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(February 25, 2009) The Barenaked Ladies will be hitting the recording studio this spring — without one of their founding members.

Steven Page has left the popular band he helped form in Toronto more than 20 years ago.

The band’s website said Wednesday that Page will be parting company with the remaining members of the band to pursue solo projects including theatrical opportunities.

The other band members, Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, and Tyler Stewart will go back in the studio in April and out on the road in the fall.

The news comes months after drug charges against Page were dropped in the U.S.

Page wished them the best in the future. "These guys are my brothers," he said. "We’ve grown up together over the past twenty years. I love them and wish them all the best in the future."

The band also wished Page well in all of his endeavours. "It’s the start of a new chapter for all of us," Robertson said. "Here’s to the future!"

Page, his girlfriend and her roommate were charged with drug possession in July after police found cocaine at a Fayetteville, N.Y., apartment.

In late October, all three secured a deal that will result in their charges being dropped if they stayed out of trouble for six months.

In December, the band members joked about a tough 2008.

Robertson told a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s Massey Hall that he felt a little neglected last summer when his personal crisis was overshadowed by the turmoil in Page’s life. "I survived a ... plane crash and it barely made the news," Robertson said with tongue in cheek.

"Everyone said, 'Who cares, what’s going on with Steve?"'

Just two months after the May release of their children’s album, "Snack Time," Page was arrested.

That album is now nominated for a Juno, for children’s album of the year.

The image of Page’s dishevelled mugshot flew around the world on the Internet and the charges forced the band to bow out of a Disney charity show and stay below the radar for months.

The band’s second scare came in late August when Robertson crashed his float plane in a wooded area north of Bancroft, Ont.

Luckily, he walked away unhurt along with three other passengers.

The Barenaked Ladies went on last fall to mount a mini comeback with a series of concerts and TV appearances.

Page told fans on his blog that he was "doing great," and feeling healthier after shedding 40 pounds.

He said he looked back at 2008 as a year with a lot of positive experiences among the really bad ones. "Yes, it’s been a terrible year for the band, and for me personally, but there have also been many things to be happy and grateful for," he wrote.

"Falling in love, a renewed sense of peace, the best health of my adult life, some amazing creative and artistic opportunities, and the chance for a renewed and fruitful relationship with my band, friends and loved ones."

The band’s recording of their own version of the old "Hockey Night in Canada" theme song for TSN also brought them back into the spotlight.

Page played guitar for the band, which he helped form and shared lead vocal duties with Robertson.

His distinctive vocals are featured prominently in many of the band’s hits, including "One Week," "Brian Wilson," "If I Had $1,000,000" and "Jane."

Obama, Jean Share Animated Airport Encounter

Source: www.thestar.com -
Stephen Thorne, Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

(February 19, 2009) OTTAWA — The first black president of the United States and Canada's first black Governor General knew theirs was a historic encounter – and they appeared to revel in it from the moment they met Thursday.

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean was the first of a handful of Canadian dignitaries to greet Barack Obama as he stepped off Air Force One onto Canadian soil for the first time as U.S. president.

"You would never have imagined that you and I could both be here like today, coming from African descent," Jean was quoted as telling the president as they began what insiders described as "soft and warm" exchange.

A Jean aide said the poignancy of the moment was not lost on either of them and may have given the pair "a form of added connection."

The two held an animated conversation on the tarmac that went beyond the formal dictates of protocol before the president was introduced to the other dignitaries, including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Canada's ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson.

An Obama quip had Jean leaning back, laughing and throwing an arm around the president's back as they strode side-by-side into the reception centre for a private chat.

Jean's spokeswoman Marthe Blouin said "at that moment she was telling him that she felt it was like a love affair between him and Canadians."

"He said to her that he knew that, that he'd been informed that he was very popular in Canada. Then he joked and he added, 'Well, it's good to know because if things do not go well for me in the States, I know I can come to Canada.'

"That's why she was laughing so much."

During a media photo opportunity inside prior to their private session, Obama and Jean sat in armchairs smiling and leaning toward one another while keeping their voices low to prevent their discussion from being picked up by microphones.

During the 26 minutes they spent together – six minutes longer than scheduled – the two discussed Jean's recent visit to the land of her birth, Haiti, and its new prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, whom she described as "very dynamic and worth knowing."

Jean told Obama the Haitian situation is "terrible at the moment with the food crisis and it's even worse after the hurricanes and tropical storms of last summer and early fall and even worse with the economic crisis and the recession," although she emphasized Haiti remains politically stable.

"President Obama told her that he'd like to talk further with her on this issue," Blouin said.

As commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces, Jean thanked Obama for his "kind words" to the families of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. She also told him how she attends repatriation ceremonies for the remains of soldiers killed overseas.

She told Obama that "she feels it's important for the families to have a ramp ceremony."

Jean also spoke to Obama about "youth empowerment," explaining how she's made youth her priority as Governor General.

"She told him how she was impressed to see how many young people voted for him last fall and impressed also by the enthusiasm," Blouin said.

"She told me that they both together shared the fact that they thought empowering youth is important, important also to fight against apathy, so the young generation is involved in politics, for example."

During the photo op, Obama listened intently as Jean was heard to utter the word "hope," a key element of the president's successful "Yes We Can" campaign leading to his historic election victory Nov. 4.

On inauguration day, Jean proclaimed Obama's election as the first African-American president a "joyful" occasion "filled with symbolic meaning on a global scale."

"A new page in the history of civilizations is being written before our very eyes," she said, "fulfilling the wishes of so many youths, women and men, from every background and every creed, to see our world become more just and more human."

On Thursday, Obama told Jean he wants to return to Canada with his family. "He told her he would like to see her again," Blouin said. "And he said to her that he would love to see her in Washington as well."

It's not Obama's first visit to Canada. He spent several days in the Toronto area for a family wedding celebration in August 2004, when he was an Illinois state senator.

He, wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha took a rental car to Niagara Falls, with a brief stop in Burlington, Ont.

Slumdog Top Dog In Hollywood

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

(February 23, 2009) Bollywood stormed Hollywood last night, as Slumdog Millionaire completed the final chapter of its rags-to-riches story at the 81st annual Academy Awards.

As expected, Danny Boyle's Dickensian story of romance, fate and fortune in the slums and manors of Mumbai swept the evening, taking eight awards (of 10 nominations): Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Score and Song.

Accepting the Best Picture award, Slumdog producer Christian Colson noted how the film "had no stars, no power or muscle" and certainly not enough money. But it got to the top by relying on "mad love" and talent.

Earlier, a humbled yet elated Slumdog director Boyle whimsically evoked the spirit of Winnie the Pooh's bumptious Tigger, a promise he'd made to his young children, as the British helmer accepted his Best Director award.

But easily the most emotional bestowal of the night was the expected Best Supporting Actor win for the late Heath Ledger, whose commanding performance as the villainous Joker in The Dark Knight took the gold.

There was barely a dry eye in the Kodak Theatre – even tough guy Brad Pitt seemed to be fighting back tears – as Ledger's father Kim, mother Sally Bell and sister Kate accepted the kudos for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, the blockbuster Batman movie he didn't live to see. Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose at age 28 exactly 13 months ago last night.

"This award tonight would have humbly validated Heath's quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers, within an industry he so loved," Kim Ledger said.

The family accepted the award on behalf of Ledger's 3-year-old daughter Matilda. Kate Winslet added a flood more tears near the close of the evening as she won her expected prize of Best Actress for The Reader, finally getting her first Oscar after six nominations.

She talked of how as a young girl of 8 she practised her future Oscar speech using a shampoo bottle in front of her bathroom mirror.

"But it's not a shampoo bottle now!" she said.

Sean Penn took Best Actor for playing slain 1970s gay activist Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk.

"You commie homo-loving sons of guns!" he exulted, adding his second Best Actor Oscar to his trophy case. He first won in 2004 for Mystic River.

Penn used his time in the spotlight to lobby for gay marriage rights, scolding conservative protesters outside the Kodak Theatre who had protested Milk.

He also graciously acknowledged his closest rival in the category, Mickey Rourke, who made a career comeback as burned-out bruiser in The Wrestler: "Mickey Rourke rises again, and he is my brother."

The first glamour award of the night, for Best Supporting Actress, went to Penélope Cruz for her portrayal of an outrageously outraged spouse in Woody Allen's comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

It was her first win in two nominations (she previously had a Best Actress nod for Volver in 2007). Cruz spoke of how she used to stay up late on the night of the Academy Awards in her small town of Alcobendas, near Madrid, "where this was not a very realistic dream" to win an Oscar.

Slumdog Millionaire began barking early last night with a screenwriting prize.

"There are certain places in the universe you never imagine standing: the moon, the South Pole, the Miss World podium and here," Simon Beaufoy said upon receiving his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The self-described "repressed English writer" adapted Vikas Swarup's bestselling novel Q&A, a Dickensian story of romance, fate and fortune set in the slums and opulence of Mumbai.

The only nomination Slumdog didn't convert to a win was Best Sound Editing, which went to The Dark Knight.

Dustin Lance Black, the winner for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, Gus Van Sant's biopic of martyred gay activist Harvey Milk, had an emotional small-town memory of his own – and also an appeal.

Black said he came from a conservative Mormon family in Texas before moving to California, where he first heard about Harvey Milk and was able to embrace being gay.

"It gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married ... no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours."

Best Animated Feature went to Pixar ace Andrew Stanton for WALL-E, a post-apocalypse love story starring a loveable trash compactor robot.

The night's leading nominee, which was far from the leader by the end, was David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which had a near-record 13 nominations.

But it did well in the early going, winning Oscars for art direction, makeup and visual effects.

After a slow opening start by Aussie actor Hugh Jackman, who aped longtime show host Billy Crystal with his song-and-dance spoof of the nominated films, the show quickly made up for lost time by having presenter hand out multiple awards.

One of the few surprises of the night was the win by Japan's Departures in the Best Foreign-Language Film category, beating the favoured entries Waltz With Bashir from Israel and The Class from France.

The Slumdog winners' speeches were all as humble and heartfelt as their subject.

"All my life I had a choice between hate and love. I chose love, and I'm here," said Slumdog tunesmith A.R. Rahman, accepting the prize for Best Original Song for "Jai Ho." He'd earlier received the Oscar for Best Original Score.

Last night's retro-styled Oscar show is sure to be debated around water coolers today, but it was a magical night in at least one sense: French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, the subject of Man on Wire, winner for Best Documentary Feature, did a disappearing coin trick in his acceptance speech.


A list of winners at last night's Academy Awards:

Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Actor: Sean Penn, Milk

Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Foreign-Language Film: Departures

Animated Feature Film: WALL-E

Animated Short Film: La Maison en Petits Cubes

Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire

Costume Design: The Duchess

Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Live Short Film: Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Documentary Feature: Man on Wire

Documentary Short: Smile Pinki

Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Sound Editing: The Dark Knight

Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire

Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire

Original Song: "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire

Tyler Perry's `Madea' Tops Box Office

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

February 22, 2009) NEW YORK – Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" reigned at the weekend box office, opening with $41.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

It was the highest grossing film ever for both Perry and the film's studio, Lionsgate. Since Perry's 2005 "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" — his highest previous debut with $30 million — the actor-director-producer's films have frequently opened strongly, while generating little mainstream buzz.

Perry's box office clout has lessened recently, but the success of "Madea Goes to Jail" reinforces the notion that Perry draws the largest audience when he dons a frumpy dress as his trademark grandmother character, Madea.

Steve Rothenberg, president of distribution at Lionsgate said the debut of "Madea" was the studio's best opening in its 14-year history. The studio's previous top opening was the $33.6 million debut of 2006's "Saw III."

"You could argue that Madea is now the top female box office star in Hollywood," said Rothenberg, whose studio has distributed all seven of Perry's films, several of which were released straight to DVD. "The character is one of the great screen creations of the last decade."

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers, said Perry has "tapped into something here that is irresistible to moviegoers ... Madea may have gone to jail, but Tyler Perry is going to the bank."

Landing second was 20th Century Fox's revenge thriller "Taken," which earned $11.4 million in its fourth weekend of release, bringing its cumulative total to $95.2 million.

"Madea" was one of only two new releases. The other, Sony's cheerleader comedy "Fired Up," took in $6 million

Last weekend's top earner — "Friday the 13th," released under the Warner Bros. banner New Line Cinema — saw a steep drop in ticket sales, as is common for horror movies in weeks following their initial releases. After earning $43.6 million last weekend, it took in $7.8 million in its second.

The Academy Award nominees for best picture largely saw an increase in sales as moviegoers took to theatres for their last chance to see the nominees before the awards ceremony Sunday night.

Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire," which added 610 theatres from its previous week, took in $8 million, bringing its total to $98 million.

The Weinstein Company's "The Reader" earned $2.8 million for a cumulative of $23.2 million. Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" took in $1.3 million for its best pic nominee-leading gross of $124.2 million. Focus Features' "Milk" added $1.1 million for a $28.2 million total. And Universal's "Frost/Nixon" earned $678,000 for a total of $17.4 million.

"Benjamin Button" was the only best picture nominee not to see an increase over the previous weekend. The bumps for "Milk," "The Reader" and "Frost/Nixon" were relatively slight for best picture nominees, though not unforeseen.

"They were never destined to be huge box office hits," said Dergarabedian.

Even if the Oscar bump wasn't as pronounced this year, the overall box office performance for 2009 continues to be exceptional. Movies such as "Gran Torino," "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and now "Madea Goes to Jail" have performed better than expected.

When the economy slows down, moviegoing typically ramps up — and in the current recession that old axiom is again proving true. The total gross of the weekend's top 12 films was $119.8 million, an increase of 33 percent over the same weekend last year, according to Media by Numbers.

"This is the strongest box office start to the year that I've ever seen," said Dergarabedian. "This is the recessionary effect, funnelling people that otherwise might be doing other things straight to movie theatres."


Russell Peters Breaks Box Office Record For A Comedy Show!

Sonya Bhatia, Publicist, Sadharana.com

(February 23, 2009) Russell Peters proved once again that he is one of the most popular comedians in the world, when he broke the UK box office record for selling 15,924 tickets for an individual comedy show at the O2, beating out Chris Rock who performed at the O2 last May. Peters sold 9,000 tickets in one day when the show went on-sale last October.
Russell has built a massive underground following by word of mouth by-passing mainstream media outlets completely. Over the years he has sold out massive shows such as Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in 2008 (30,000 over two days) and New York’s Madison Square Garden, where he taped his latest DVD/CD, Red, White and Brown – now available in stores across Canada, US and the UK.
“I thinks that these types of "milestones" are proof that the people are letting the media know what's hot as opposed to the media telling them what they say is hot, comments Peters.
“I would be nothing without my fans.”
The funny-man returns to his home and native land this June with his 20th Anniversary Tour celebrating 20 years as a stand-up by remixing some of his greatest hits of the past 20 years, plus all new material. Just announced, Peters will also be performing at Montreal ’s Bell Centre during the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. Tickets go on sale Saturday, March 28th, 2009.
Within an hour of going on sale, Russell Peters’ 20th Anniversary Tour sold 12,000 tickets in Toronto and 11,000 in Vancouver . Both cities have added a second show to accommodate the overwhelming demand. 
Aside from continuing to hone his craft, Peters along with his brother and Manager, Clayton, have just produced a new one-hour special for Russell’s pal, comedian Angelo Tsarouchas and a new hour-and-a-half special ‘Russell Peters Presents’.  Both programs were made for US cable network, Showtime.
Russell can currently be heard on the second season of CBC Radio’s Monsoon House and will return to CTV’s Juno Awards broadcast as the Host for a second year in a row.  Russell’s current DVD/CD, Red, White and Brown was Canada ’s third best-selling DVD over the holidays, just behind Dark Knight and Mamma Mia.
20th Anniversary Tour tickets are currently on-sale at ticketmaster.ca and ticketatlantic.com for Halifax only.

Show dates:
Halifax, Halifax Metro Centre, Tues, June 9th, 2009
Toronto, Air Canada Centre, Fri, June 12th, 2009 and ADDED SHOW: Sat. June 13th
Vancouver, General Motors Place , Tues, June 16th, 2009 and ADDED SHOW Wed., June 17th
Calgary, Pengrowth Saddledome, Fri, June 26th, 2009
Montreal, The Bell Centre, Thurs. July 23, 2009
Special ‘Russell Peters Fan Packages’ – are available for the 20th Anniversary Tour via www.otx.ca/russellpeters. Tickets for the first ten rows of all venues are available on a ‘Will Call Ticketing’ basis only. Check website for details.
For more information on Russell Peters visit www.russellpeters.com.


Caribbean Marketplace 2009 – St. Lucia

Source: Melanie Reffes, www.canadiantraveller.net

With ‘Business on the Beach’ as the theme and industry eyes on the global economy, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), in conjunction with the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association and St. Lucia Tourist Board, hosted
Caribbean Marketplace in January along the water’s edge at Pigeon Island, St. Lucia.

Held for the first time in the Eastern Caribbean, the annual event was aimed at generating business throughout the region and attracted 1,366 suppliers, buyers and wholesalers from more than 20 countries including Canada – a significant market given the big chill in the American and British economies.

“When we look at recent tourism statistics, we realize that Canada has maintained its position as a vital source of visitors to the Caribbean,” noted Hugh Riley, acting secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, “In 2008, Canada delivered 2.3 million visitors to the Caribbean which is a robust increase of 14 per cent over the previous year.”

The Caribbean could see tourism drop by as much as one third during the first quarter of 2009, however, for the Canadian consumer; this may translate to lower prices and less-crowded resorts, restaurants and attractions. “We are encouraged by the addition of new air service to the Caribbean from Canada,” Riley added, “not only from traditional gateways but from Western Canada as well as Atlantic Canada. This type of investment tells us to be confident in the appeal of the Caribbean as a prime vacation destination for Canadians.”

Marketplace opened in style with a performance by the acclaimed St. Lucian dance troupe Zenaida and remarks by dignitaries including St. Lucia’s prime minister Dr. Stephenson King and tourism minister Allen Chastanet who remained upbeat in this uncertain economy. “Over the past two decades, the industry has generated unprecedented prosperity and we are proud of the work we have been doing with hotels, airlines and travel agents to stimulate business,” he told delegates.

In hotel news, SuperClubs announced a major re-branding. As of November 1, Grand Lido Negril Resort & Spa will be renamed Breezes Grand Negril Resort & Spa and Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa will become Breezes Rio Bueno Resort & Spa. The family-oriented Starfish Trelawney will also come under the Breezes umbrella and be renamed Breezes Trelawny.

Room rates at the new Breezes properties will remain competitive and include upscale amenities, multiple dining options and Blue Mahoe Spa services with its signature Bamboo massage. “This re-branding will improve business,” says Suzanne Fleming, director of sales for Canada, “we are now offering more affordable vacations with increased brand recognition.”

Named Partner of the Year by Expedia, Ritz-Carlton remains committed to further development in the Caribbean. According to Ezzat Coutry, senior VP, resorts slated to open in 2012 include Ritz-Carlton St. Lucia and Molasses Reef on West Caicos, in the Turks and Caicos. Both Rose Island Resort near Nassau and the property in Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic are stalled until new financing is secured. Currently in development are resorts in St. Kitts and Bermuda.

Although the pace has slowed at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, new properties will open at the end of the year or first quarter of 2010 including Le Paradis Beach Resort in St. Lucia and Westin Roco Ki Beach Resort in Punta Cana. New for agents, www.starwoodcaribbean.com/agents and www.starwoodpro.com  are on-line resources offering generous loyalty incentives.

In St. Lucia, a new marketing campaign was unveiled as well as a re-designed website - www.stlucianow.com. Island enhancements include highway expansion, new cruise pier, airport upgrades and a Village Tourism Initiative encouraging visitors to experience the many small towns. Air Canada has launched weekly non-stop service from Montreal and increased service from Toronto.

“Canada represents 13 per cent of total visitor arrivals,” says Alison Theodore, marketing manager Canada, for St. Lucia. “Since airlift has increased and our marketing efforts are nationwide, we anticipate Canadian arrivals to increase by leaps and bounds.”

Tourism is bright in Barbados with Canadian arrivals in 2008 up 7.6 per cent with continued growth anticipated for this year. Leading the pack of pro-active resorts, the trio of Almond properties is offering value-added savings on room rates. “We are seeing bookings three to nine weeks in advance, not nine months in advance,” says Chris Forbes, GM of Almond Beach Village, “we are viewing the slowdown as an opportunity to become more service-oriented in order to be ready for the upswing.” The Barbados Tourism Authority has declared 2009 the Year of the Gourmet which will provide visitors with culinary discounts island-wide.

Hotels in St. Kitts have banded together to launch “Feel the Warmth in St. Kitts & Nevis”, offering 35 per cent reductions on air, hotel and attractions. “In Canada, the Signature vacation packages have done very well,” said Ricky Skerritt, minister of tourism, “We have had preliminary talks with WestJet and are hopeful flights to St. Kitts will start before the end of the year.”

Additional WestJet flights are also on the horizon for St. Maarten. “We’ve been in discussion about charters from Toronto and we’re confident we’ll see a Saturday nonstop in November,” said Regina LaBega, tourism director.

Caribbean Marketplace 2010 will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. For more information, www.caribbeanhotelandtourism.com.


Anthony Hamilton Working New CD

Source: Michelle McDevitt /Audible Treats,  michelle@audibletreats.com

(February 23, 2009) *Some things, thankfully, never go out of style. Case in point: the bona fide soul of Anthony Hamilton.

That distinctive, six-time Grammy-nominated voice is back on "The Point of It All," Hamilton's third official studio album (So So Def/Zomba Label Group).

Like "Comin' From Where I'm From" (2003) and "Ain't Nobody Worryin'" (2005) before it, this new album once again plays up the singer/songwriter's natural talent: rich, soul-steeped vocals breathing sonorous life into emotion-packed lyrics. But this time around, you'll find the former barber cutting up a little more than usual.

"I want fans to hear my growth," says the Charlotte, North Carolina native. "But I also want to open up the ears of those who don't know about Anthony Hamilton. I don't always want to be known as the sad cat. I like to have a good time, too. I've taken fans to church and baptized them; there are those who say I've healed them with my music. Now we're going to boogie in the name of the Lord." To help balance both sides of his musical equation, Hamilton enlisted the familiar and the new. Back for return engagements are songwriter/producers Mark Batson (Hamilton's signature hits "Coming From Where I'm From" and "Charlene"), James Poyser and Kelvin Wooten. "It's always going to be them; they give me what I need," says Hamilton of his longtime collaborators. "They know what I've been doing but can see the growth I'm experiencing."

New to the Hamilton camp are the Avila Brothers (Usher, Mariah Carey) and Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, John Legend). "It makes a difference when collaborators are really into what you're doing versus just getting a check," says Hamilton. That's readily apparent on "The Point of It All." Hamilton and crew get the ball rolling on lead single "Cool" featuring rapper David Banner. The pair's rough-and-ready vocals perfectly complement each other on this Kelvin Wooten-produced mid-tempo treatise on relationship dynamics. Hamilton, who co-wrote the song with Wooten, confidently croons to his significant other that's he's cool; he's got this. There's no need to worry because together they can conquer whatever comes in life.

Hamilton also isn't afraid to admit when he's wrong as displayed on the confessional "Please Stay." Poignantly framed by a plaintive chorus of horns and Jack Splash's understated production, Hamilton makes you feel every bit of his torment as he tries to regain his lady's trust. As the song ends, his anguished, high-pitched ooohs say it all. Hamilton-who co-wrote "Please Stay" plus the other album selections- brings it all home on the title track. Produced by the Avila Brothers, (who also co-wrote with Big Jim Wright), the moving ballad zeroes in on Hamilton's strong suit: subtly powerful, sparsely produced love songs that showcase his distinctive voice. As on his 2006 top 15 R&B hit, "Can't Let Go," Hamilton breaks love down to its pure essence as he sings, "No matter what the storm will bring/I'm fine with you/The point of it all is I love you."

While Hamilton definitely knows his way around a love song, he is just as comfortable shaking things up. He pumps up the beat on the feel-good "I Feel Like Fallin' in Love," produced by Mark Batson. Hamilton then stirs up fire and brimstone on the aptly titled "Soul's on Fire." His gospel background figures prominently on the ambitious "Prayin' For You/Superman," a two-part relationship anthem that shifts gears from spirit-in-the-dark revival to organ-fronted blues without losing anything in translation. "I had a lot more time to record songs that reflect where I'm at right now. So this album was more of a mind chore for me," explains Hamilton. "The goal is always to touch as many people as you can. But I always make sure to remain down home and grass-rooted. That's what brought the fans in and keeps them with me."

Attracting fans right from the start, Hamilton's unique voice draws its soulful force and story-telling inspiration from such pioneers as Bill Withers, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Johnny Guitar Watson and Marvin Gaye. Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach, however, Hamilton paved his own road to fame. It's a road that stretches back to Charlotte, where a 10-year-old Hamilton began singing in the local church before hitting the local nightclub and talent show circuits in his teens.

Later training as a barber, however, didn't impede Hamilton's musical pursuit. A 1993 trek to New York City resulted in his signing with Uptown Records, home at the time to Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Thus began a six-label odyssey that tested Hamilton's patience and perseverance. Rather than dwell on the negative, the singer honed his chops contributing background vocals on D'Angelo's worldwide "Voodoo" tour and making guest appearances on songs by Eve, Xzibit and 2Pac.

Hamilton's career-molding break arrived in 2002 when he sang the infectious hook on the Nappy Roots' "Po' Folks." That performance netted the singer his first Gammy nomination for best rap/sung collaboration--and a new label, Jermaine Dupri's So So Def imprint. A year later his platinum debut, "Coming From Where I'm From," was released. It was followed by the gold-certified "Ain't Nobody Worryin'."

Not just a fan favourite, Hamilton is also the go-to singer for other artists whether the medium is R&B/soul, gospel, hip-hop, pop or country. In addition to new albums by Young Jeezy ("The Recession") and the Nappy Roots ("The Humdinger"), Hamilton guests on upcoming projects by Dr. Dre, T-Pain, Nat King Cole and Fonzworth Bentley.

Over the last three years, he has written and/or sung with a who's who in music including Al Green, Josh Turner, Keyshia Cole, John Rich (Big & Rich), Santana and Mint Condition. A 2007 highlight was Hamilton's cameo appearance in the Oscar-nominated film "American Gangster" starring Denzel Washington as well as his performance on the soundtrack's lead song, the Diane Warren-penned "Do You Feel Me." "It's pretty much the same rhythm, the same core, and that allows me to do a country song then bounce back to rap and then gospel," says Hamilton of his effortless versatility. "At the end of the day, it's what the heart and soul are saying; it's what I've got to say to people. I enjoy it all."

In addition to giving back through music, Hamilton participates in various national and local outreach initiatives including his own TASTE Foundation (Take a Step to Elevate). And while his future plans include writing and executive producing feature films, Hamilton remains committed to music. He and his vocalist wife Tarsha McMillian have established independent label Mister's Music Recordings, whose roster includes Ashville, North Carolina rapper Ashes Clay. "After all the ups and downs I've experienced," says Hamilton, "I've still got the same jones." And that -bottom line- is "The Point of It All."

Sun Never Sets On Reggae King's Empire

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

February 22, 2009) The King of Reggae sips at an espresso and smiles at the world.

Jimmy Cliff is 60, but as vital and connected as ever. He was in Toronto last week to help launch the Mirvish subscription season, which features the stage version of The Harder They Come, the 1972 film that made Cliff an international superstar.

"I am not Johnny-come-lately nor am I the yesterday man, I live with the time," he says with that air of tranquility you only get after living your life the way you wanted for nearly 50 years.

Little Jimmy Chambers knew he wanted to be a performer almost as soon as he was born in 1948 in Adelphi Land in the parish of St. James, Jamaica.

"They tell me I came out of my mother's womb singing," he laughs, "and I have no reason to doubt them."

By the time he was 14, he had his first hit single, "Hurricane Hattie", riding high on the ska music movement that took off as Jamaica achieved independence in 1962.

"People were upbeat then," he recalls, "full of good spirit. But as time went on, people started taking a look around and saying, `Where is this independence? What is this independence?' They didn't see it. Life was becoming hard. Maybe harder than it had been before."

Cliff credits that discontent with creating the climate out of which reggae was born.

"We Jamaicans started searching our spiritual roots, and (black leader) Marcus Garvey told us to look to Africa."

Out of this came the Rastafarian movement, whose growth is tightly interwoven with reggae's.

"If you look at the major monotheistic religions of the world," says Cliff, "you will see that there is much violence in their history. But Rasta is not a religion. It is a spiritual movement that came reborn to keep the peace in the world, to appeal to the conscience of the world."

With Rasta came reggae, with reggae came Jimmy Cliff and then came The Harder They Come. Perry Henzell's 1972 film brought Jamaica, its music and its people to the world. It made Cliff a movie star.

"Acting has always been my first love," he admits. "When you see me perform my music, that's me. But when I'm acting, I'm becoming someone other than myself and oh, I love that.

"I went into making that movie for selfish reasons. Yes, I wanted to see myself on the screen at Leicester Square, at Times Square, but along the way I realized we were telling the story of my people to the world.

"We were showing our true independence, not in word, but in deed. But reggae was never violent, because it had a spiritual base."

Cliff, however, admits that reggae's pure spirit became corrupted and it went down the road of what he calls "girls and cars and superstars" and away from its roots.

"You know, I often think that rap and reggae have a lot in common," he says. "They both started out as a sort of rebellion in music, a chance to say something different. But now?" He shrugs. "Once again, man, it's turned into girls and cars and superstars."

The normally sunny Cliff darkens as he contemplates the world today.

"We are at a point in time when civilization is in a state of decadence. You find a lot of young people who are looking for spiritual roots but they don't want to believe in the old monotheistic religions any more. I think humanity goes through these periods. We've used up those old ideas, now it's time to come up with something fresh, something new."

And does he think that will happen? His smile breaks through again, bright and warm.

"We always come up with something good when we have the need for it. It's a real truth, you know, when they say 'Necessity is the mother of invention.' I believe in people. They will always come up with the magic that we need."

K’naan’s Troubadour : Both Personal And Political

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Robert Everett-Green


(February 23, 2009) Rap is as international now as Italian opera was when Canadian tenor Edward Johnson moved to Italy a century ago and began a huge career as Edoardo di Giovanni. But rap still clings to a fierce sense of locality, which is why rap fans in many countries dress, walk and even talk as if they came from the same neighbourhoods as Jay-Z and Eminem.

Kanaan Warsame became a rap fan before he could understand the English lyrics. When he began to know what those verses were about, he didn't need to fantasize about coming from a dangerous 'hood: he spent his childhood in Mogadishu during the Somali civil war.

His first album as K'naan had a complicated relationship to locality. He was an outsider trying to represent his old 'hood to those who knew it only from headlines, in a language, genre and country (Canada) that once seemed exotic. The Dusty Foot Philosopher was all about getting there from here, and being here but coming from there.

Troubadour complicates things further, by moving the action to Jamaica, where the disc was recorded. On his debut, K'naan's diction and elastic flow sometimes recalled Eminem; here, he starts out with a monotone ragga delivery over minimal sample-based music. He's still a man in transit, and sometimes he plays that position from strength.

In Fire in Freetown, his cadence and melodic contours sound Somali, though he's rapping in English over a pushed funk beat; the fire imagery is both personal and political. In the frisky 15 Minutes, he views a Western Union money transfer from both sides, as a recipient during his hungry years, and as a sender to his Somali grandmother when he's flush. I Come Prepared muses cleverly on the contrast between dodgy past and comfortable present, while People Like Me portrays three people caught in a jam (including K'naan himself) that only heaven can solve.

Dreamer runs an extended variation on text phrases from John Lennon's Imagine, and the initially taut Bang Bang does something similar with the old Sonny and Cher hit, before making a disappointing swerve into R&B lite. More trouble awaits in If Rap Gets Jealous, a ghastly dance with the zombie remains of rap-rock, with help from Metallica's Kirk Hammett. Two attempts at uplift ( Wavin' Flag and Fatima) try too hard and go on too long.

But maybe it's only natural that someone with a fluid sense of home will get lost now and then. As he says, "it ain't easy comin' outta where we from."

Naughty By Nature Touring Canada

Source:  www.allhiphop.com - By Ace Cannon

(February 22, 2009) East Orange, New Jersey Hip-Hop group
Naughty By Nature will embark on a cross-Canada tour starting tomorrow (February 23). The group will kick off the tour at The Queens Hotel in Nanaimo and will travel through 16 different markets before winding down March 15 in Ottawa at the Capital Music Hall. Toronto rapper Peter Jackson will open for the group during the tour. Naughty By Nature is currently in the studio working on Anthem Inc., their first album in over eight years. “There’s no set date, but before this New Year comes in, you’re definitely gonna be hearing some exclusives, some appetizers to let them know we coming," the group’s front man Treach told AllHipHop.com in a previous interview. “We’re gonna be giving the people stuff to let them know the music is there, the group is there."

Tour dates are listed below:

Feb 23 Nanaimo, BC The Queens Hotel
Feb 25 Vancouver, BC The Commodore
Feb 26 Whistler, BC Garfinkels
Feb 27 Penticton, BC Element 
Feb 28 Castlegar, BCElement
March 1 Banff, AB Wild Bills March 3 Calgary, AB Cowboys
March 5 Lethbridge, AB The Roadhouse
March 6 Ft McMurray Cowboys
March 7 Edmonton, AB Edm Event Centre
March 9 Winnipeg, MB (venue TBC)
March 10 Thunder Bay, ON The Rockhouse
March 12 Toronto, ON Circa
March 13 Barrie, ON The Roxx
March 14 Montreal, QC (venue TBC)
March 15 Ottawa, ON The Capital Music Hall

Jamaica Eliminates Sex and Violence From Airwaves

Source:  www.allhiphop.com - By Ismael AbduSalaam

(February 23, 2009) The nation of Jamaica has instituted an island-wide ban of all music which glorifies violence or sexual activity.
The ban, which became official earlier this week, is targeted at quelling the growing dancehall trend called "daggering," where participants stimulate sexual intercourse on the dance floor.
The style was popularized by dancehall star Mr. Vegas, who released a song and video of the same name last June.
Under the new regulation, all music with lyrics detailing murder, arson, rape, and gun violence cannot be heard over Jamaica's TV and radio broadcast systems.
Furthermore, DJ's are not even allowed to be play censored versions of songs, as the intent and suggestive nature of the tracks would still be discernible.
As the country's most popular music genre, dancehall stands to be the most affected by the new ruling.
In recent years, the genre has endured heavy international criticism for the vehement anti-gay stance many of its artists advocate.
However, the decree will also limit the accessibility of Soca and Hip-Hop on the island.
Soca music is rarely explicit, but sometimes utilizes sexual innuendo in its lyrics and is a staple sound of Jamaican street carnivals.
Hip-Hop has strong roots with the Caribbean island due to Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc, who helped launch the genre of Hip-Hop in the 70s, after migrating to New York City in the late 1960s.
At press time, there has been no organized movement to challenge the government's ruling on free speech grounds.

Howie Beck Is No Longer Hollow

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner,
Pop Music Critic

February 22, 2009) Howie Beck could have an ego if he wanted.

He's got indie cred to burn, good critical notices from both sides of the Atlantic, an unassumingly cultivated reputation amongst his Canadian peers as a superlative songwriter/producer, and a few fairly famous, fannish friends – Feist, Sarah Harmer, Hayden, Jason Collett and Ed Harcourt among them – in the right places. But he's just as reluctant to call attention to such honest accomplishments as he is to relinquish his delicately sculpted recordings until every single heartfelt note and nuance has been rendered just so.

As a chronic second-guesser, he was the logical choice when longtime chums Collett and Hayden sought a producer who'd crack the whip in the studio for their most recent albums. Those same, mercilessly attentive ears, however, have in the past proven as much hindrance as help when turned inward and coupled with Beck's endearing, but equally merciless, capacity for artistic self-doubt. 'Tis true it took a couple of years of word-of-mouth before informed audiences outside Toronto and Canada – not to mention U.K. music mags like Mojo and Uncut – embraced the low-key, lo-fi magnificence of 1999's Hollow. But it took five years in total for Beck to produce a follow-up, 2004's Howie Beck, and at least three of those years were spent lovingly labouring over each self-played, self-recorded part.

It's taken nearly five more years for Beck to cough up his latest record, How to Fall Down in Public (in stores Tuesday), yet another work of high-achieving popcraft whose birth can be described as "agonizing." But agonizing, he insists, "in a different way."

"The actual making of the record was not agonizing at all. Preparing to make the record was agonizing because there were all these stops and starts that were just brutal. So brutal," says Beck. "I was writing stuff that I didn't like and I basically was convinced that I didn't know how to do it anymore. I've experienced stuff like that in the past, but this time I was kinda like: `Maybe I've just done the best work that I can do and I should just stop wasting everybody's time.' Including my own."

Meanwhile, the domestic recording contract he'd signed with True North for the negligently promoted Howie Beck fizzled out and the breakdown of a long-term relationship made matters worse. Thus, a harried Beck leapt at an invitation from his expat pal Jason "Gonzales" Beck (no relation) to travel to Paris in 2007 and contribute drums to last year's Soft Power album.

Gonzales – Feist's indispensable co-conspirator on her last two records – once again acted as a "motivational wizard" for a Canadian musician abroad, convincing Beck to return to France for a month so he might shed his writer's block in a foreign locale.

"I felt rejuvenated. I was able to leave the problems that I was having at home behind me for a little while," he says. "Things just kinda started rocking. And the best thing about it was having Gonzo's ear. I'd play him some stuff and he'd pick his favourites and say: `That one's a major banger. That's gotta be on the record.' I just deferred to his better judgment, and I had to consciously decide that I was going to allow myself to do that. I've never had that voice before."

With half an album already under his belt, Beck returned to his Parkdale digs and completed How to Fall Down in Public in record time. His only ambitions, he says, were to let go of the songs "without completely redoing parts until they were overdone" and to come up with a finished product that didn't sound "like a claustrophobic album that was made in my bedroom, like my other three albums."

In testament to Beck's growing production savvy, the new disc sounds as sumptuous and pillowy as the expensive '70's soft-rock records he venerates for their pristine melding of finicky technical prowess and easy, airtight songwriting – this despite the fact that, as always, it was entirely played and recorded by Beck at home, with only fleeting, barely discernible contributions from "name" guests like Feist and Harmer. Yet he's issuing it quietly, sans record label, via a national distribution deal with Fontana North and a for-hire publicity campaign that he'd prefer didn't trumpet his "name" associations.

A CD-release show at the Mod Club on April 1 will kick off a renewed attempt to nurture a cult audience at home on par with the one in Europe, but otherwise Beck is happy to let the music do the work.

"It's always `I heard your music at my friend's house.' It's always `I heard it through someone else.' That's how my music has been there, which is why the people who are my fans are my fans," he says.

"I've really made a conscious decision to focus on Canada first this time. If there's an audience for me here, great. If there's not, I'm not going to waste my time. And at this point, it would be a waste because I can focus energy on places where I'm wanted. It's been a strange struggle here."

Idol's Season 3 `Divas' Keep In Touch

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

February 20, 2009) They were dubbed "the three divas" of American Idol.

Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia Barrino and LaToya London consistently brought down the house five years ago on Season 3, which Barrino ultimately won.

No crop of finalists since then has produced such a powerhouse female soul/R&B trio, surmises London, who is in Toronto playing Nettie in the smash touring production of The Color Purple musical.

"It just hasn't, honestly, touched my season, I think. None of the seasons have," the singer-actor said in an interview yesterday.

"My mom did say this season now is almost just as good as ours. I haven't seen it though, but yeah, our season was the best to me."

London came in fourth while Hudson made seventh place on Fox's reality series, which is now into its eighth season.

Since then, London, a San Francisco native, and the other "divas" have built solid careers, with all of them releasing albums and landing steady work.

Hudson won an Oscar for her supporting role in Dreamgirls, and Barrino has earned eight Grammy nominations and nabbed widespread acclaim for playing the lead of Celie, Nettie's sister, in The Color Purple Broadway production that ran for two years. Barrino is not in the Toronto show.

The three still keep in touch, said London, noting she has communicated with Hudson to give her "some encouragement" in the wake of the killings of her mother, brother and nephew last October.

London was away mourning the death of her 91-year-old grandmother when The Colour Purple first opened here. She returned to Toronto this week.

Lucie Idlout: True Grit From Canada's Far North

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner,
Pop Music Critic

(February 19, 2009) I wouldn't mess with Lucie Idlout. Oh, no.

She was a gracious hostess and a fast friend when we first met in her hometown of Iqaluit, Nunavut, two years ago – she even fed me before she took the stage for a dream gig opening for the White Stripes on their 2007 Canadian-outback tour – but one of the first things she did was level a squint at me and intone: "I'm gonna break you." Frankly, I believed her. I still worry that she might.

Idlout exudes the kind of toughness one doesn't acquire simply through studied posing. The grit in her songs is real grit, earned through a rough-and-tumble childhood during which her father deserted the family and she bounced back and forth between Iqaluit – a pretty rough-and-tumble place in its own right – and Ottawa as her mother's government job dictated.

Her mom Leah's experiences at the hands of our federal government, which decided in the 1940s to replace pesky Inuit names with serial numbers, provided the title for her debut album, E5-770, My Mother's Name, in 2003. And while the scenarios could come from anywhere, the uglier side of life around the Arctic Circle provided ready inspiration for some furious, punkish screeds about marginalization, suicide and domestic violence. Idlout got so much out on E5, though, that the words dried up.

"There was some writer's block, for sure. There was a period where I found it impossible to write with any conviction and, more importantly, I just didn't feel like I had anything interesting to say," she says. "And if it wasn't going to be interesting to me, what was the point of putting words on paper or writing music? If it wasn't interesting to me, I wasn't convinced that it was going to be interesting to anybody."

The floodgates finally opened again while she was hanging about in the Catskills one weekend a couple of years ago, when a friend "challenged" her to write a song on the spot on the subject of "Whiskey Breath." One defiant lyric matched to a mangled Santana riff later, the low-slung standout track on Idlout's hard-charging new disc, Swagger, was born.

It wasn't a fast process from that point on, mind you, as Idlout's perfectionism tore through at least two more albums' worth of material before she settled on Swagger's 10 grunge-schooled rockers and surprisingly vulnerable ballads. Well, not that vulnerable; "For You" opens with the message: "When you're tired and feeling down / When you've lost the will to go on / I won't be there for you."

She got most of the way through a Southern-rock record before realizing "this isn't me." She jokes that she's "gone through musicians like I go through men." Then she ran out of money.

"Altogether, there were probably about 30 tunes recorded and every time I wrote something that I liked just a little bit better than the last one, I'd nix a tune and then add the next one. And that's partly why it took so long to put this thing out," says Idlout, whose goal was to make a more "palatable" album.

"I don't think that E5 was accessible at all. You had to be a very special kind of person to be interested in or to fall in love with any part of that record, whereas with this one, you might not necessarily fall in love with it but you can at least identify with one track on the thing ... There might be a bit of anger, but I think it's balanced out with love, and there's a lot of relief on the thing. It doesn't feel like you're being yelled at for the entirety of the album."

Sick of fending off questions from journalists about throat singing and baby seals, Idlout removed "all the Inuit elements" from Swagger.

Still, while there might be no songs in Inuktitut on the new record, and she's split her time evenly between Toronto and Iqaluit for the past few years, she says she's actually feeling her strongest yearning in a while to reconnect with her roots.

"I'm constantly dying to get back home," says Idlout. "I spend the first two weeks back here thinking that I've rediscovered myself again and I'm solid in who I am and what I'm doing, and then two weeks later, it's like `Aww, f---. I've gotta get the hell out of here.' It just doesn't suit me. I don't do well here."

Just the facts
WHO: Lucie Idlout

WHERE: The Rivoli, 332 Queen St. W.

WHEN: Tonight, 8:30 p.m.

COVER: $15 at the door

For Antony, Nothing's Worthwhile Without Tears

www.globeandmail.com - Robert Everett-Green

Antony and the Johnsons
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on Tuesday

(February 18, 2009) Most versions of Cinderella's story don't tell you that the glass slipper was fashioned from her tears. I learned this detail from New York singer
Antony Hegarty, for whom tears are the secret ingredient of nearly everything worthwhile.

They're secret only because we don't talk about them nearly as much as we should, just as we don't acknowledge that Cinderella was initially a boy, and that when she rose from her tears and ashes, she entered a state of grace that was also frighteningly close to death. Also, that her prince liked it rough, though not as rough as she might wish.

I'm extrapolating a little, though the bulk of Hegarty's songs (as recorded on two albums, one of which won Britain's Mercury Prize in 2005) are about a Cinderella figure who transcends the bonds of gender, death and plain-vanilla sex. She doesn't entirely transcend her suffering, however, because if she did, where would the tears go?

"It's true I always wanted love to be filled with pain and bruises," Hegarty sang in Cripple and the Starfish, the first of three encores at the end of his unforgettable Toronto set. Imagine those words sung in a tremulous, androgynous alto voice, above a rippling piano and string accompaniment, in a terraced lyrical song that Schubert might have written had he grown up in the eighties and been free to chase peacocks as much as he liked.

When I listen to Hegarty on records (his own, not those he has made with Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed or Hercules and Love Affair), I always feel as if I've come into a scene of recent devastation, where only he can see heaven's shadow. Much of his concert was like that too. He sang about the dying, the dead and the crying light, from the business end of a grand piano, stroking out the kind of meditative chords that told you that this was all for real. His pocket chamber orchestra (six players handling strings, reeds, guitars, drums and electronics) arranged various pillows of sound under the dear sick one's head. The shadowy lighting ebbed and swelled, a visual analog to Hegarty's imaginative journeys between the light and the dark.

But there were also times when he traded the glass slipper for boots made for walking. Fistful of Love, another song about rough trade, blew up into a rock-hard R&B anthem, driven by Doug Wieselman's squalling guitar solo. Wieselman switched to tenor sax for a heavy call-and-response version of Shake That Devil that underlined Hegarty's debt to gospel music — a connection made more gently in songs such as One Dove.

Hegarty also did a cover version of Crazy in Love that transformed Beyoncé's precision-tooled club banger into something much more fragile and delirious. Another World opened with a narrow string tone-cluster that was harmonically unrelated to the song proper, and stayed that way till you realized that this stubborn discord had everything to do with the crumbling world that Hegarty was singing about.

When he spoke, Hegarty turned out to be quite a joker, in the laughing-through-my-tears style of Rufus Wainwright's between-songs patter. The singer interrupted Cripple and the Starfish several times to continue a comically sordid tale about his high-school boyfriend. Then he would plunge back into the song, put another foot on that stairway to heaven, and we would get a glimpse of the gulf between art and the sources of art.

The E.N.D. Is Near

Source: Universal Music Canada

(February 19, 2009) After a four-year break between studio albums, three-time Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum Interscope/Universal Music Canada recording group The Black Eyed Peas are back with The E.N.D., their fifth studio album, set to release June 9, 2009.  “Boom Boom Pow”, will be the first new single serviced to radio April 6.

“We wanted to make a record that would make people dance,” reveals will.i.am..  Plans call for The Black Eyed Peas to kick off a world tour, playing the same global territories they covered over the past five years.  Dates will be announced in the weeks and months ahead.

The E.N.D. is the Black Eyed Peas’ first album since Monkey Business (June 2005), which sold over 600,000 in Canada , and more than 9 million copies worldwide.   Monkey Business generated Grammy Awards over two consecutive years, “Don't Phunk with My Heart” won Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group at the 2006 ceremonies; and “My Humps” won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group in 2007.  At the 2006 Juno Awards Monkey Business was named the International Album of the Year.

 The following three years encompassed a hugely successful solo album from Fergie (The Dutchess) and a solo release from will.i.am. (2007’s Songs About Girls).  Of special note was will.i.am.’s involvement in the 2008 Presidential campaign of Barack Obama. The song, “Yes We Can” was written by will.i.am., as well as the two post-election anthems, “It’s A New Day” and “ America ’s Song”.

 With worldwide sales in excess of 26 million units, including over 1.3 million units in Canada .  The Black Eyed Peas are one of the most successful recording groups.  The original members: will.i.am., apl.de.ap and Taboo released their first album Behind The Front in 1998.  Bridging The Gap, the second Black Eyed Peas album, arrived in 2000.  With 2003’s breakthrough album Elephunk, and Fergie’s entry into the line-up, the Peas became international superstars. 

The E.N.D. now begins the next chapter – in the career of The Black Eyed Peas.

Tafelmusik Nails Shot At Carnegie

Source: www.thestar.com - William Littler

(February 21, 2009) NEW YORK - `The 'Tafelnet,' jokes Trisha Baldwin, "is quicker than the Internet. I just walked up the stairs and everybody was already saying `We got Carnegie Hall.'"

Somehow, several
Tafelmusik members were privy to the managing director's phone conversation with the Toronto Baroque orchestra's New York agent, who had explained that an invitation was about to be extended by arguably the most famous concert hall in the world.

Flying to New York is nothing new for Tafelmusik. As music director Jeanne Lamon recalls, co-founder Kenneth Solway secured the ensemble a Manhattan engagement with recorder virtuoso Frans Brueggen before it was even a full-fledged orchestra. But it is one thing to play New York, and quite another to play Carnegie Hall. And it is one thing to rent the venue, and quite another to be invited onto one of its prestigious series by Carnegie Hall itself.

Tafelmusik turned up last weekend in Carnegie's Baroque Unlimited series (England's Academy of Ancient Music will be up next), as well as in one of its popular family concerts. Both events sold out. (Tafelmusik reprises its New York program tonight and tomorrow afternoon in Toronto at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre.)

"The true test of your standing in the musical community is to be presented by an important presenter," explains veteran New York publicist Josephine Hemsing, "and I still feel Carnegie is the most important place to appear in North America."

Interestingly enough, Tafelmusik wasn't the only Canadian ensemble to appear at Carnegie Hall last weekend. As part of the 25th anniversary of the Sweet Adelines, an association of female choirs, the Gateway Chorus from Edmonton shared a Sunday afternoon program. (The event was a rental.)

Literally hundreds of similar shows take place annually on Carnegie Hall's three stages. The smallest of them remains a preferred rental choice for young artists eager to launch their careers. The largest plays host to almost all the world's major symphony orchestras, including, last year, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Tafelmusik appeared on the newest of Carnegie's stages, Zankel Hall, which opened in September 2003 in a renovated underground space previously occupied by a movie house and, before that, a legitimate theatre. It has already welcomed such distinguished artists as pianists Evgeny Kissin and James Levine, the Kronos String Quartet and Michael Tilson Thomas with his New World Symphony Orchestra.

When Carnegie Hall opened its doors at the corner of West 57th St. and Seventh Ave. in 1891 as the New York Music Hall, having been built primarily through the generosity of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, no less a figure than the composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was guest of honour. Almost every major musical figure in the years since has followed in his Russian footsteps.

By no means have they all been reviewed by the publication that matters most, The New York Times. Tafelmusik, we can happily say, was: "King George I enjoyed Handel's Water Music so much that at its premiere in July, 1717, during a barge party on the Thames, he reportedly requested that the musicians repeat it twice that same night," related the Times. It added, "The work remains popular in the 250th anniversary year of Handel's death and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, a prominent Toronto ensemble celebrating its own 30th anniversary, played it superbly on Friday evening at Zankel Hall, led by Jeanne Lamon, its concertmaster and music director since 1981. ...

"Even better was its rendition of a suite from Rameau's Dardanus, which opened the program. ... Tafelmusik avoided the frantic tempos sometimes preferred by period-instrument groups, performing with elegant phrasing and lithe clarity and aptly illuminating the contrasting character of each section."

Canada's most travelled orchestra, Tafelmusik also gave concerts in New Mexico, Kansas and Wisconsin as part of this year's American tour, and will later fly to Europe, in part to keep its annual engagement as orchestra in residence at Germany's Klang und Raum Festival in Irsee.

"We are one of the last orchestras in English Canada to do significant touring," acknowledges Baldwin. "Your ability to sustain yourself on the world's stage depends on appearing on the world's stage. For us it is essential."

Just the facts
What: Handel Water Music – 30th Anniversary Celebration

When: Tonight at 8 p.m., tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.

Where: Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor St. W.

Tickets: 416-964-6337

Jazmine Sullivan Soars Into New Film


(February 25, 2009) *Up and coming R&B artist Jazmine Sullivan, a recipient of five Grammy nominations, takes a leap into acting with her first film role to begin shooting in April.

The Philadelphia singer/songwriter has a plum role in director Anthony Hemingway's "Red Tails," reports Billboard. "I play a singer who entertains soldiers," says Sullivan, who will appear in the movie alongside current touring partner Ne-Yo. "I'm really just entertainment for them, but I kind of get a little relationship going with one of them. So that's very exciting."

"I used to act when I was younger, in little plays," adds Sullivan, who attended Philadelphia's Creative and Performing Arts high school. "It never was really a passion of mine. It's just something I did and I could do. Anything where I can be creative, I like to do."

Sullivan also has a TV project in the works but says she can't reveal details yet. She's not yet sure about a fourth single from her debut album "Fearless," and a follow CD appears to be on the back burner at the moment. "I haven't discussed it with the label [Atlantic]," Sullivan says. "They aren't pressuring me yet. I think we all are trying to get ('Fearless') heard worldwide. But I am thinking of songs these days.

"I took a break (from writing). I didn't have an inspiration or anything like that for a little while. But now it's starting to come to me. I don't like to force things; as they come to me, I put the ideas down and...roll from there."

As for going 0-for-5 at this year's Grammy Awards, Sullivan said it's all good. Her time will come.

"I'm not at all upset," said the artist, nominated for best new artist and in various R&B categories. "Everybody who was nominated pretty much was deserving. I have a long career ahead of me, so this is not my last Grammys, hopefully."


New Music Highlight Of Shift Festival

Source: www.thestar.com -
John Terauds

(February 19, 2009) There's a lot of bafflegab in most cross-cultural festivals – largely tosatisfy granting agencies and foundations. But the proof is in the actual music, film, words and other art.  Shift, a multi-part, multi-venue cross-pollination of Dutch and Canadian artists and musicians organized by Jennifer Waring, artistic director of new-music makers Continuum, gets underway with a guaranteed showstopper: Dutch pianist and composer Guus Janssen. Next Wednesday, for 45 minutes, Janssen will regale listeners with his trademark blend of jazz and new music, wrapped up in a surplus of energy and humour, at Gallery 345 (345 Sorauren Ave.) at the late-night festival opening party. You never know when his keyboard fireworks will erupt in a flurry of honky-tonk or boogie-woogie. The expected start time is 9 p.m. Admission is $10. Janssen will stay in town to perform twice more during the festival, the main part of which runs to Mar. 3. On Feb.27, Janssen joins local new-music scallywags Toca Loca at the Music Gallery (127 John St.). The next day, he performs with Continuum and the Ives Ensemble at Harbourfront's Brigantine Room. Both evenings feature new compositions by both Dutch and Canadian painters. Adult full admission is $25 at both venues. This is but the tip of Shift artistic iceberg – or the bud on the tulip. For details, visit shift-festival.ca.

Ziggy Marley Records Children's Album

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 19, 2009) *With help from his famous singing siblings, daughter and several guest stars,  reggae artist
Ziggy Marley is set to  release his first children's album in the spring. "Family Time," due May 5 form Tuff Gong, features the son of Bob Marley working with his mother, Rita, sister Cedella and daughter Judah, as well as Paul Simon, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, Toots Hibberts, Elizabeth Mitchell and Laurie Berkner. In addition, Jamie Lee Curtis narrates two stories. The album was produced by Don Was and follows Marley's appearance on such children's shows as "Dora the Explorer" and "Arthur." He also voiced a Jamaican jellyfish in the animated film "Shark Tale."

Common, Microsoft Team For T-Shirts

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 19, 2009) *Chicago rapper
Common has unveiled a line of retro t-shirts with computer technology giant Microsoft.  The collection, called Softwear, harkens back to the early 80s when Microsoft was in its beginning stages. One of the shirts, titled "The Creator: The Code of Hip-Hop," features the lyrics of Common's 1994 hit "I Used to Love H.E.R" written in 80s computer font on a black background.   As the line's official spokesman, Common described the fledgling brand as "very fly and progressive," and he expects it to pick up fans once more shirts are introduced.    "I'm very enthused about it," Common stated. "No matter what size, it's gonna look right on you…Stay up and check out the Softwear."  According to Microsoft, the brand's motto is to "tap the nostalgia of when PCs were just starting to change our lives."   Currently, consumers can also select "classic design" shirts featuring Bill Gates' mugshot and a retro MS-DOS font logo.  A full list of available shirts can be viewed at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/softwearbymicrosoft/   

Def Jam Hires Chris Hicks For VP

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 19, 2009) *Def Jam has announced that
Christopher Hicks will serve as its new Executive Vice President, responsible for the acquisition and development of new talent, overseeing producers and guiding the creative vision and brand of the label.   Hicks will be based out of New York and Atlanta, like his predecessor, Shakir Stewart. He will report directly to Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid and President & COO Steve Bartels.    "Chris has a musician's ear for talent and hit songs that has brought him huge long-term success in the industry," said Reid. "His track record in Atlanta has resulted in breaking some of the biggest names in Urban and hip-hop out of that city over the past decade. We look forward to the next quarter-century of history with Def Jam as we welcome Chris aboard."    Hicks' previously held the Senior Vice President of Urban A&R at Atlantic Records and Senior Vice President, A&R and Head of Urban Music for Warner/Chappell Music positions. He was also Vice President of Urban A&R of Warner/Chappell since 2004 where he significant role in publishing agreements with Lil' Wayne, T.I. and other artists. Hicks was also involved in re-signing Dr. Dre in 2005 as well as acquiring Timbaland's catalog in 2006.    Hicks replaces Shakir Stewart who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his apartment early November of 2008. 

Deborah Cox Gives Birth To Third Child

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(February 24, 2009) *Singer Deborah Cox gave birth to her third child on Monday, a daughter named Kaila Michelle, according to Reuters. The baby was born at 11:55 a.m. at a Miami hospital to Cox and her husband/manager Lascelles Stephens. She weighed in at 7.7 lbs.   “She’s perfect and we feel very blessed,” said the Toronto-born singer in a statement. The couple has two other children, Isaiah, 5, and Sumayah, 2. Cox is nominated for a 2009 JUNO Award for Best R&B Album of the Year for her new album, "The Promise." She is also scheduled to be a presenter at the March 29 awards show in Vancouver.


Bolt From Blue Took Canadian To Oscars

Source:  www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman,
Entertainment Columnist

(February 25, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Maybe he didn't stand a chance against WALL-E, but for Chris Williams, an unassuming comic-strip doodler from Waterloo, Ont., going to the Oscars as a nominee was as excellent an adventure as a voyage to outer space – even if he has never worn an Armani tux.

"There were weeks of parties and awards show events and it was a lot of fun, but it was also a case of sensory overload," he explained the day after he and his wife returned to their Studio City home at 3 a.m. from the post-show Governors' Ball at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

"Growing up, I was just a kid who couldn't stop drawing comic strips," says the modest 40-year-old animation whiz kid. "I certainly never dreamed that could lead to the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre. But on Sunday night, there I was, surrounded wall to wall by A-list celebrities. It was madness, with paparazzi, blimps and helicopters."

All because of Bolt, a Disney cartoon feature about a heroic dog on a mission to get back to L.A. from Manhattan, co-written and co-directed by Williams, not to mention his footnote credit for "additional voices." He shared the nomination with co-director Byron Howard.

With all the parties he attended, Williams wasn't even aware there should have been one more: the annual poolside lunch given by Canada's consul general in L.A. to honour Oscar-nominated Canadians.

Somehow the consul general's research staff concluded that for the first time in decades, there were zero Canadian nominees and opted to skip the party. In fact, there were two people who should have been honoured: Williams and Vancouver set decorator Peter Lando, for The Dark Knight.

Sources say the consul general is hoping to make up for this gaffe by arranging a post-Oscars event in March to honour Williams and Lando (who flew back to Vancouver on Monday).

Williams, who was born in Missouri but spent almost all his first 25 years in southern Ontario (his father taught psychology courses at the University of Waterloo), moved to L.A. after graduating from the animation course at Sheridan College and being recruited by Disney.

"I love Kitchener-Waterloo and would have been content to spend my life there," he recalls. "But my mom was worried about what would become of me and she encouraged me to take the course at Sheridan."

After 13 years with Disney as a top writer and storyboard prodigy, Williams got a big break when he was asked not just to rewrite but also to direct a Disney movie about a dog.

It was his directing debut and, as he says laughingly, "I had never done anything remotely this big. I had been very comfortable in the story department. Suddenly I found myself as the director of this huge project. It was a great opportunity but very stressful. I'm 40, but I had such a young face I used to look about 12. Not any more. I really aged making this movie."

It all happened when John Lasseter, the cartoon genius behind the rise of Pixar, was placed in charge of Disney's animation studio as well, flying back and forth from Pixar HQ in San Francisco to the Disney plant in L.A.

At that point, the director of a planned film called American Dog quit over creative differences and Lasseter asked Williams to step in.

Before long, this was no longer a movie about a little brown dog stranded in the Nevada desert; instead it was the tale of an American White Shepherd (with the voice of John Travolta) who does not realize he has spent his life not in the real world but on an action TV show.

The denouement comes when the canine protagonist discovers he does not need Hollywood trickery to achieve superhero stature.

"There was a feeling this was the beginning of a whole new era for Disney, and everyone at the studio got behind it," says Williams. "I have never seen people work so hard or complain so little. This was a massive undertaking, with a crew of 450 people. It was a big thrill for me, but also tremendously stressful, unlike anything I'd ever done. But it was so rewarding to feel so much energy, commitment and camaraderie ... as if we were all trying to climb the same mountain."

What's next? Before addressing that question, Williams is taking the next month to spend with his wife (from Ancaster, Ont.) and Harper, their baby daughter.

"I look forward to wearing shorts and a T-shirt again," he confesses. "You know I have only two suits and two white shirts and two ties, and I had to keep rotating them for all those awards parties."

Cameron Bailey Discusses The Hype Surrounding Oscar Contender Slumdog Millionaire

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Cameron Bailey

(February 19, 2009) Every dog has its day, but for
Slumdog Millionaire, it's been months now. Back in September it picked up its very first prize, winning the Toronto International Film Festival's Cadillac People's Choice Award for most popular film. From there it has gone on to eat Doubt, Milk, Button and Frost/Nixon for breakfast. Last week it collected yet another best-film trophy, this time from the American Society of Cinematographers. That complements best-in-show kudos from America's Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, Producers Guild, plus seven BAFTAs from the British Academy of Film and Television.

All told, Danny Boyle's Mumbai-set underdog story has won 58 awards to date and collected $129-million at the box office (it cost a paltry $15-million to make). Come Sunday, it's up for another 10 statues at the Academy Awards, and seems set to take all the fun out of Oscar pools. It's the clear favourite for best film, best director and best adapted screenplay. There's also a good chance that Indian composer A.R. Rahman will take home the prize for best score.

Movies are fragile things before they're finished. Last July the TIFF team converged in a small screening room to watch a video transfer of the unfinished film. It was rough, but even then we knew we had something. It had punch and it had joy. It caught you up in its spirit. When we invited it to make its world premiere in Toronto, I knew it was a crowd-pleaser, but I had no idea how big the snowball would get.

Although Slumdog benefited from a smart, slow-burn campaign from Fox Searchlight — the people who brought you last year's underdog, Juno — this is more than just a marketing success. Somehow, this tale of a love-struck Mumbai slum dweller playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to win back his girl struck a chord with audiences way beyond all expectation.

Why? It's the zeitgeist.

Slumdog emerged in a period of enormous economic uncertainty, and somehow managed to give audiences everything they didn't even know they were looking for. In the same way that horror movies thrive in uncertain times (the Cold War fifties, the early seventies, or right now), Slumdog gives audiences a way to tap into their own economic fears. In the film Jamal and his cohorts live or die, eat or starve on the vagaries of factors well beyond their control. Their plight is far worse than any typical ticket-buyer at the multiplex, but it echoes and amplifies common anxieties. It's the oldest trick in the dramatist's book: vicarious terror.

This fable made an interesting shift from page to screen. Like the best pre-modern novels, Vikas Swarup's original book draws its prime motivation from the thirst for money. Jamal needs that 20 million rupees, which makes perfect sense to any moviegoer who has lived through the last quarter's headlines.

But Slumdog Millionaire the film isn't actually about money. It trades in economic anxiety, but its stronger motivation is love. The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy does a neat trick in setting up the story on the pillars of money worries and class conflict, but crowns it all off with the glory of love. Not coincidentally, Beaufoy also wrote that canny nineties sleeper hit The Full Monty.

And yet the story alone could never have connected as it did without the electric spark provided by director Danny Boyle. Shooting with next generation, lightweight digital cameras, Boyle had his team literally race through the alleys of Mumbai's sprawling Dharavi slum, giving the film a shockingly tactile and intimate feel. At a time when most blockbuster movies summon up worlds from a computer-generated palette, Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle made Slumdog feel real.

They also brought India home to a world both curious and nervous about its rising global power. Jamal works at a call centre, a familiar environment (and punch line) for Westerners. The story revolves around Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a familiar TV show with its own real-life Indian version, which has been hosted in succession by the nation's two biggest movie stars, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.

It's worth remembering that at the end of November, just as Slumdog was beginning its theatrical run, Mumbai was suddenly thrust into the world's 24-hour cable-news cycle, when terrorists attacked several sites in the city. The film includes a brief but pivotal scene of political violence between Hindus and Muslims, but keeps any real engagement with terrorism at a safe distance. For non-Indians, the film reassures audiences that far-off, "exotic" Mumbai is neither so foreign nor so threatening as it may seem. The city may roil with conflict between rich and poor, its service workers may be worryingly indispensable to Western economies, it may suffer from terrifying violence occasionally, but all that can be accommodated within the bounds of a good story.

Boyle's success with Slumdog has been to give each moviegoer the sensory rush that comes from immersion in Mumbai, even as the film offers a highly structured narrative that makes sense of Mumbai's chaos for non-Indian viewers. Indians themselves have a much more complicated relationship with the film, a relationship that starts somewhere in the 17th century with the arrival of British colonizers.

What elevated Slumdog beyond a British movie about India was its combination of themes, tone and timing. Its themes rooted in money, fame and love are universal. Its tone of euphoria in the face of misery offers the same salve as Hollywood's great Depression-era comedies did. And its story of pluck and persistence triumphing over corrupt, entrenched power connected just as we were learning how much greed fuelled the collapse.

Slumdog jumped from limited to wide release in the week of Barack Obama's inauguration. The timing may have been coincidence, but the payoff wasn't.

This is a film that honours the grit and humanity of those who have the least, even as it comforts those who have much. Its effect stems from one kernel message: Hope makes life bright. That may be corny, but compare it to the message of its main Oscar competitor, Benjamin Button: Death makes life sad. At a moment like this, it's no contest.

Slumdog Millionaire is exactly the right film for its time. It's the first cultural success of our new Depression.

Cameron Bailey is the co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Sean Penn's Milk Re-Defines Gays' Depictions In Movies

Source: www.thestar.com - Reed Johnson,
Special To The Star, Los Angeles Times

(February 19, 2009) HOLLYWOOD – Much already has been said, written and blogged about the merits of Sean Penn's performance as Harvey Milk. About his uncanny channelling of Milk's nasally eloquence, his skill in replicating Milk's puckish intelligence and his striking physical resemblance to the former San Francisco supervisor, underscored in recent newspaper ads touting Penn for this year's best actor Oscar.

But what about Penn's expressive use of his body? His clenched-fist joy in the scene where Milk becomes one of America's first openly gay elected politicians? His robust articulateness at a mass rally, pumping his arms in full rhetorical flight?

In Milk, Penn gives us the most credible, emotionally layered performance in a Hollywood drama of a gay man who's smart, witty, charismatic, determined, utterly comfortable in his own un-closeted skin and powerful. Not coincidentally, Milk is one of relatively few Hollywood movies in which a gay protagonist's sexuality per se is depicted as only one facet of a deep and varied persona.

Yet Penn's powerful body language in Gus Van Sant's Milk represents an aberration as well as an evolution in the history of Hollywood's representation of gay characters. For decades, the major studios have offered a long parade of gay male characters as comic buffoons (The Birdcage), tragic, self-hating victims (The Boys In the Band) and closeted sociopaths (Rope, The Talented Mr. Ripley). Of course, in that time there also have been dozens of movies with richly imagined, fully three-dimensional gay characters, many by European auteurs and U.S. independents.

But Penn's Milk, pounding the Haight-Ashbury pavement with a bounce in his step, brings a new stride, even a swagger, to the Hollywood history of gay representation.

It's worth noting that no such milestone has yet been reached by a lesbian character in a major-studio film, despite the increasing prevalence of lesbian characters in prime-time television. Looking back over the past three or four decades, for every "Desert Hearts" or "Lianna" you can spot two or three schlocky gay-chick exploitation flicks like "Basic Instinct" and "Wild Things."

To appreciate the achievements of Penn and "Milk" it helps to review a few key Hollywood movies that encapsulated their eras' prevailing attitudes and prejudices about gay men's identities and lives, focusing on how they depicted their characters' bodies and body language.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

In the Depression era, "gunsel" meant either a hired gun and/or a young, submissive homosexual. Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade sneeringly flings the pejorative at Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.), the anxiously buttoned-up young thug working for Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).

Spade's dismissive contempt for the callow Wilmer is no more (or less) casually sadistic than his behaviour toward the pitiful, imploring women in his life, including his ex-partner's widow and his femme fatale client Brigid O'Shaughnessy (the ethically challenged private eye has flings with both of them).

But when Wilmer fleetingly confronts Spade, he produces the movie's most startlingly intense emotional moment in John Huston's film noir masterpiece. Enraged and humiliated by Spade's incessant needling, Wilmer raises his gun and, teary-eyed, tells Spade in a choked voice, "Get up on your feet! I've taken all the riding from you I'm gonna take! Get up and shoot it out!"

Soon after, Spade cold-cocks the poor sap, reducing Wilmer to an all-too-recognizable Hollywood archetype: the gay man as weak-willed and sneaky, the implied consequence of leading a double life.

Cruising (1980)

Partly under pressure from the bluenoses administering the Hays Code, Hollywood went back into the closet during the Eisenhower presidency and more or less stayed there until the late 1960s (although Sal Mineo and a few others managed to slip out once in a while). Coyness and euphemism were the order of the day, with the likes of Rock Hudson and Randolph Scott impersonating big-screen macho men.

Then in 1969 (the year of the Stonewall Riots in New York's Greenwich Village, where gays and lesbians fought back against an early-morning police raid), John Schlesinger unleashed "Midnight Cowboy," the tale of a Texas dishwasher turned Manhattan street hustler (Jon Voight), which despite an X rating earned Oscars for best picture, director and screenplay.

William Friedkin's enigmatic thriller "Cruising" picked up on "Midnight Cowboy's" urban-gothic backdrop of New York in decline and turned it into an S&M fever dream set in the bump-and-grind bars of Manhattan's meatpacking district. Al Pacino plays an undercover cop stalking a gruesomely savage gay serial killer who dismembers his victims. Employing a familiar pop-Freudian trope, the murderer turns out to be a dissolute Columbia University student (doing his thesis on the American musical theatre, no less!) who never made peace with – surprise! – his disapproving father.

The movie tries to emphasize that this leather-clad milieu isn't representative of all gay culture, only one dark sub-strata of it. Yet "Cruising" inevitably reinforced an image of gay life as sordid, sex-obsessed and marginal. One of its most enduring images is of a victim pleading for mercy while lying naked and bound on a bed. His flayed torso symbolizes the confused gender relations of the late disco era, which produced a number of other movies ("Dressed to Kill," "Looking for Mr. Goodbar") featuring killers with serious sexual-identity issues.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

This warmly funny, nonjudgmental reimagining of Shakespeare's "Henry IV," written and directed by Van Sant, takes place in the Pacific Northwest, where Scott (Keanu Reeves) and Mike (River Phoenix) earn their living as hookers. Their picaresque adventures form a bittersweet tale of sexual hypocrisy, as Scott finally renounces both his vagabond lifestyle and his love for other men to gain acceptance into the world of hetero-bourgeois conformity.

The movie arrived amid a wave of earnestly well-intentioned films including "Longtime Companion" and "Philadelphia" that attempted to portray gay men, who had been devastated by the AIDS crisis, in a more positive and sympathetic manner than they had been shown in the '60s and '70s. "My Own Private Idaho," a much hipper movie than most of its contemporaries, stood out for its erotic frankness, casually worn street cred and mytho-poetic vision of young men coming of age in America's rugged western landscapes.

Key image: In the opening frames, the camera lingers over Mike's face as he receives oral sex from a client, who then tosses two $10 bills on his bare chest. The sequence is as jarring, oddly funny and fearless as a Robert Mapplethorpe nude.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

This movie significantly placed gay/bisexual characters in the American heartland rather than the usual big-city mean streets. The main characters first meet in 1963 as star-crossed bunkmates while herding sheep on horseback. Their decades-long romance is a classic love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name scenario, in keeping with the societal constraints imposed by the story's pre-Sexual Revolution milieu.

But although they hailed from wide-open spaces, the terse, vulnerable Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and the glibber, slicker Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) were trapped metaphorically in the celluloid closet. To a degree, the movie's period setting imprisons the characters in the retrograde Hollywood role of tragic, passive victims. Yet the searing integrity of the acting, capped by Ledger's towering performance, along with the visual lyricism and acute sensitivity of Ang Lee's film (Oscars for direction, adapted screenplay and soundtrack) make this a landmark in the history of cinema, gay or straight.

Most memorable body language: Ennis slumped to the floor and pounding a wall in frustration after he and Jack go their separate ways.

Milk (2008)

Since the silent film era, we've usually associated great physical acting with the great screen clowns (Chaplin, Keaton). Penn has few, if any, peers among his contemporaries in using every fibre of his being to summon a character.

His Harvey Milk occasionally evokes some of Penn's past cinematic portrayals: the tortured muscularity of the grieving father in "Mystic River"; the blustery showmanship of rabble-rousing Willie Stark in "All the King's Men."

In "Milk," Penn conveys Milk's sinewy force of personality, whether crouching solicitously at a lover's feet, exhorting a crowd at a rally or dropping to his knees like a doomed opera diva as Dan White's bullets drain away his life.

"Milk" opens with archival black-and-white footage of gay men in Miami bars cringing and shielding their faces with their hands as they're being rounded up and herded into police paddy wagons. Penn's Milk has no need to hide who he is, and neither, by implication, does the audience. With tough words, a gently amused smile and an athletic gait, Penn's Milk empowers those around him and those watching him on screen.

In the liberating spirit of Walt Whitman, he sings the body electric.

Times A-Changing In Tinseltown

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(February 24, 2009) Best Actor winner Sean Penn delivered more than just the night's most quotable line Sunday when he shouted out to Oscar voters: "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns!"

He was also speaking truth, even in jest, that would have seemed astonishing not that long ago. I don't know how many communists live in Hollywood – although the capitalists seem in full retreat – but there are clearly more "homo-loving sons of guns" there than before.

Just three years ago, when the academy controversially chose Crash for Best Picture over gay-themed Brokeback Mountain, Oscar voters were widely criticized as homo-hating SOBs. Penn's win for the gay biopic Milk, which also garnered a screenplay prize, may well have been atonement for the Brokeback debacle.

It indicates progress, at the very least, and a softening of hard attitudes towards gays. And while it is dangerous to draw firm conclusions from single events, the 81st edition of the Oscars pointed to other developments in Tinseltown thinking.

At one time, films sympathetic to Germans in World War II were unlikely to gain academy favour, regardless of quality: Das Boot went 0-6 at the 1983 Oscars. Yet on Sunday night, two such films took home gold.

Kate Winslet won Best Actress for playing a concentration camp guard in The Reader. The German-made Toyland, meanwhile, won for Best Live-Action Short for a story about a Jew who receives unlikely assistance en route to a death camp.

Interestingly, the Israeli-made Waltz With Bashir failed to win the expected Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. Ari Folman's thoughtful work is critical of Israel's involvement in the 1982 Lebanon War. Some topics may still be too hot for academy members.

There were welcome signs of change within the Oscar broadcast. The decision to double, triple or even quadruple the number of statuettes handed out by presenters was a great idea, cutting down considerably on the time-wasting shoe leather of presenters going on and off the stage.

And the choice of Will Smith to hand out four technical awards was nothing short of a masterstroke. Smith is the world's most bankable star. Who could complain about being robbed of attention when a celebrity of Smith's stature is announcing the wins?

Smith's lengthy stint in the Oscar spotlight – which he joked about – was also an excellent mini-audition for him as a potential Oscar host. He'd be great next year, since the actor and rapper could do the jokes and also the song-and-dance routines that seem to have made Hugh Jackman a popular choice this year. If the academy isn't already considering Smith for Oscars 2010, it should begin now.

Another fine new idea was the presentation of the acting awards by appreciative circles of former winners. I'll admit I was a hard sell on this and the first arrangement for Best Supporting Actress seemed hokey. But as the night wore on, I grew to enjoy the chance to reflect on the accomplishments of the five nominees and to gain insights into how they were feeling.

It was a more intimate and humane way to announce winners than just to open an envelope and consign four hopefuls to an immediate bout of depression. This way everybody got to feel like a winner.

After all, the Oscars are supposed to be about celebrating film as a medium and as an artistic community – and a global community at that, with all the golden glory reaped by Slumdog Millionaire. It's not just about choosing between winners and losers.

This year's show was far from perfect – the snobbish attitudes towards blockbusters and animated films remain – but it offered hopeful indications that closed minds are beginning to open.

Cadillac Records: Rhythm And Plenty Of Blues

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

Cadillac Records
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Beyoncé Knowles, Mos Def, Columbus Short, Eamonn Walker and Cedric the Entertainer. Directed by Darnell Martin. 109 minutes. At the Bloor Cinema. 18A
Cadillac Records is like one of those concerts you attend where numerous acts are on the bill, each limited to short sets.

(February 20, 2009) Some you love, some you like, others you can barely stand. You may leave satisfied, but it's likely you'll wish you could have had more of your faves.

Chances are you'll feel the same way about this film, which vividly recounts the history of Chicago's influential Chess Records in all but name, although the people portrayed – Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and label chief Leonard Chess – all go by their real names.

Writer/director Darnell Martin, a helmer for TV's Law & Order, tells all of these stories over a timeline that spans from the early 1940s to the late 1960s. She also drops the needle on such momentous trends as the black R & B crossover to the white pop charts.

It's a lot of ground to cover in a single movie.

It begins in 1941, when black music was dismissively called "race records," but Chicago entrepreneur Chess (Adrien Brody) is only interested in making money: "It was just the colour of the bills that mattered."

Chess discovers and promotes the rough bluesman Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) whose personal travails become the closest thing to a focus that Cadillac Records possesses.

Wright delivers a strong impression of Waters and his dogged determination to keep singing the blues while the world spins to rock 'n' roll. His early hit "I Can't Be Satisfied" rings true on several levels, including his home life with unhappy wife Geneva Wade (Gabrielle Union).

But Muddy's story, at least as presented here, is far less interesting than that of Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer).

All of these people are deserving of their own films, and with these very actors playing them. The entire cast is great – and most also do the songs associated with their roles – but three are worthy of special note.

As the star-crossed Berry, whose signature guitar riffs influenced both The Beatles and The Stones even as his personal fortunes waned, Mos Def seizes the man's vitality and vitriol.

Beyoncé doesn't show up as Etta James until well into the movie, but she floods the frame with the distilled pain of an R & B singer, known for her 1961 hit "At Last," whose intimate relations with both Chess and a heroin needle caused her no end of trouble.

The mercurial Little Walter, the only harmonica player inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, is reborn through Columbus Short's impassioned rendering, which gives us a glimpse into the sky rocket that was Walter's short life.

Considering how much ground Cadillac Records covers, it's downright weird that Martin completely ignores guitar great Bo Diddley and also Phil Chess, Leonard's brother and partner.

Perhaps there were insurmountable legal restrictions. But the movie still serves as a dandy primer for rediscovering a lot of great music.

Canadian Film And TV Actors Feted

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

(February 21, 2009) Rosemary Dunsmore, Nicholas Campbell and Jamie Watson won ACTRA Awards last night at the annual gala honouring outstanding performances, hosted by the Toronto chapter of the Canadian actors' union.

Dunsmore, known for her roles as Katherine Brooke in Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, Aunt Abigail in Road to Avonlea and the title role in CBC series Mom P.I., won for her performance as the mother of a lesbian trying to have a baby with her partner in the low-budget festival-circuit movie The Baby Formula.

Campbell, who played the title role in Da Vinci's Inquest and has more than 40 starring film and television credits, including The Insiders, Street Legal, Flashpoint and The Border, won for playing Shorty McAdoo in TV miniseries The Englishman's Boy.

Watson, an accomplished comic, is a veteran voice-over actor. He won for his performance in the children's animated TV series Peep and the Big Wide World.

Peter Keleghan was presented with ACTRA Toronto's Award of Excellence by Leah and Gordon Pinsent for his body of work.

A strong advocate of Canadian arts, Keleghan is a familiar face for his work on The Newsroom, Made in Canada, The Red Green Show, Billable Hours, Murdoch Mysteries and Slings and Arrows. He had three feature films released in 2008: Eating Buccaneers, The Bend and Coopers' Camera. He also recently finished shooting the pilot Eighteen to Life for CBC.

The gala, hosted by Teresa Pavlinek and featuring a performance by Stephanie Martin, was scheduled to be held last night at the Carlu events theatre.

"Receiving an ACTRA Award from one's peers is a significant feat and well worth both recognition and accolades," said Heather Allin, president of ACTRA Toronto.

"Our performers are some of the best in the world. Each and every one of our 15 nominees worked hard, created expansively and gave their all, and it shows."

Quebec's Box Office Has Suffered Its Sharpest Decline In Six Years

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Konrad Yakabuski

(February 18, 2009) MONTREAL — For years,
Canadian cinephiles had become so accustomed to seeing the prize for the top-grossing domestic film go to a French-language movie from Quebec that it almost became pointless to call it the Golden Reel Award. Inevitably, the winner picked up a Bobine d'Or.

Not this year. Paul Gross's First World War epic Passchendaele is set to take home the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television's Golden Reel at the Genies in April, marking only the third time in the past 11 years a French-language Quebec feature has not run away with the prize.

But Passchendaele's modest domestic box-office take of about $4.4-million is less a sign of a new appetite for English-Canadian film than an uncharacteristic year of flops in Quebec cinema.

The much vaunted Québécois movie machine sputtered in 2008. Local films designed to give Hollywood blockbusters a run for their money failed to connect with audiences.

Top-grossing Cruising Bar 2, a summer comedy sequel starring bankable Quebec star Michel Côté, took in only $3.5-million. Distributor Alliance Vivafilm, which spent megabucks to promote the film, had banked on a box-office take of at least twice that much.

For the better part of the past decade, Alliance seemed to have found the key to Quebeckers' movie-going hearts with alternately mushy and merry releases – from 2002's Séraphin to 2006's Bon Cop, Bad Cop. But in 2008, neither Alliance nor its competitors captured the imagination of Quebec moviegoers. It has been a psychological as much as financial blow.

To be sure, the energetic “Quebec new wave” of filmmakers delivered a string of gems in 2008, including Philippe Falardeau's highly regarded C'est pas moi, je le jure ( It's Not Me, I Swear) and Benoît Pilon's Ce qu'il faut pour vivre ( The Necessities of Life), which was shortlisted for a foreign-language Oscar nomination. But like the other critics' favourite of 2008 – the multi-Genie-nominated Tout est parfait ( Everything is Fine) – those films weren't expected to have broad-based audience appeal.

Over all, homegrown francophone movies' share of the provincial box office slipped below 10 per cent in 2008 for the first time in six years. And even though that 9.3 per cent share is about 10 times the share held by domestic English-language features across Canada, it represents an almost 50 per cent decline from the Quebec industry's 2005 peak of 18.2 per cent.

The relative funk of the mainstream Quebec movie business has provoked ample debate among producers, filmmakers and distributors in the province about how to get their groove back. As much as they all insist that a 10-per-cent market share is still a highly enviable performance in a world dominated by Hollywood products, no one denies it's a disappointment.

“It's been a bit of a wake-up call for a lot of people,” says Patrick Roy, chief executive officer of Alliance Vivafilm, the Quebec arm of Alliance Films. (The latter moved its head office to Montreal from Toronto last year after the provincially owned Société générale de financement acquired a 51-per-cent voting stake in the distributor.) At a 10-per-cent market share, Roy says, the Quebec industry remains in a “comfort zone” that can still yield profits for distributors. The latter typically buy the rights to films from producers in exchange for about half of the box-office receipts. But to be profitable, the megabucks marketing that accompanied some Quebec releases in the past probably needs to be scaled down.

“Certain distributors have voluntarily reduced their marketing budgets. There was a kind of overkill before,” notes Simon Beaudry, president of Montreal-based Cinéac, a consulting firm that compiles data on the Quebec film industry. The previous marketing mania, Beaudry adds, contributed to the 2008 collapse of Christal Films, whose Les trois p'tits cochons nevertheless won the Golden Reel for 2007.

Still, with intense competition between Alliance Vivafilm and its two principal Quebec competitors – Seville Pictures and TVA Films – all agree that promotional budgets are key to building audiences.

“I aim to be the dominant player again in 2009,” Roy says. Alliance claims to have captured 61 per cent of the box office for Quebec-made films in 2008, albeit during a so-so year for the industry.

Alliance is already generating buzz – some of it paid for – for its main summer release, De père en flic. The comedy directed by Émile Gaudreault ( Mambo italiano) has all the ingredients to be a box-office smash, including two of Quebec's hottest cultural commodities, the omnipresent Côté and 31-year-old comedian Louis-José Houde. The two play feuding father-and-son cops forced to work a case together. (Houde had Quebeckers doubling over in laughter with his memorable cameo as the fast-talking coroner in Bon Cop, Bad Cop. That film remains the overall box-office champion, grossing $10.6-million in Quebec and more than $12-million across Canada.)

The goal of surprising audiences is also guiding Seville Films, as it gears up under new owner Entertainment One to challenge Alliance Vivafilm for Quebeckers' box-office dollars. “The Quebec market has matured. There is an expectation now for better films and riskier films,” Seville co-president David Reckziegel says.

Seville is putting its money where its mouth is with the release tomorrow of Cadavres, a black comedy that marks the first collaboration of star Patrick Huard and director Érik Canuel since Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Unlike that film's easily accessible bawdy humour, Cadavres has more in common with Fargo and Pulp Fiction.

“This genre of film is not for grey-haired old ladies in the boondocks,” Reckziegel says. “It's targeting a young, male audience. That's a demographic that goes to the theatre a lot. But at the same time, that demographic is not used to getting this kind of cinema from the local product. They get it from American product.” Seville, Reckziegel adds, is spending “$500,000 plus” to market Cadavres.

TVA Films, a unit of media colossus Quebecor, is also offering something new to Quebec audiences this year with its upcoming Dédé à travers les brumes, a feature on the life of Quebec's Kurt Cobain, André Fortin. Fortin, who fronted the successful pop band Les Colocs, took his own life in 2000.

However, no Quebec feature film this year faces higher expectations than TVA's Pour toujours, les Canadiens, whose December release coincides with the 100th anniversary of Montreal's much-worshipped hockey team. If it fails to live up to its Disneyesque billing, the disappointment will extend far beyond industry types.

Watchmen Star Gives Butt-Kicking Performance As Sexy Superhero

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

(February 24, 2009) Los Angeles–The signs are there, and are daily becoming more apparent, that Canadian ex-supermodel and actor Malin Akerman is on her way to full-fledged stardom.

People have started to recognize her in the street and now, with the imminent release of Watchmen (March 6), the big-budget superhero movie based on the popular graphic novel, photographers are clamouring around her and interview requests are piling up.

"It's a bit overwhelming right now," the Swedish-born, Toronto-raised blond confessed with a smile.

The attention she is attracting is likely to become even more intense when filmgoers see her butt-kicking performance as the latex-clad superhero Silk Spectre II in the multi-layered mystery adventure.

"Silk Spectre is a strong, powerful woman who fights like a man and loves being who she is," she said.

Director Zack Snyder saw hundreds of actors before picking the 30-year-old for the pivotal role, which calls for her to engage in gruelling fight scenes, while carrying much of the film's emotional weight and romancing two of the superheroes, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson).

"You feel that Malin could beat you up, but on the other hand, there's a little bit of naïveté about her, which I liked," Snyder said.

"I felt Silk Spectre has lived a slightly sheltered life, but she's seen some horrible things and that was what I was looking for from Malin."

The tall, striking Akerman was talking in a suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, not far from where she now lives. She wore an elegant beige jacket with black trim and a black skirt, and her shoulder-length hair was back to its natural blond colour, having been dyed brown for the movie.

"Blonds do have more fun," she said with a wink.

She has a sunny smile, speaks Swedish as well as English, and talks freely of her conflicting feelings for both Canada and Sweden.

"It's a mix. I don't know where I belong," she said.

Her insurance-broker father and model mother brought her to Toronto from their Swedish homeland when she was 2, and she began modelling and doing TV commercials at age 5. Her parents separated when she was 6 and her father returned to Sweden, where she has visited him regularly. She holds both Swedish and Canadian passports, and her mother still lives in Toronto.

"Every time I'm in Canada I feel more Swedish, and every time I'm in Sweden I feel more Canadian," she joked. "I belong in both places and I love them both equally. It's funny because the Swedes claim me as their Swedish pride and the Canadians call me their Canadian girl. I'll take it all."

When Akerman was 17 she won the Ford Supermodel of Canada search. She enrolled in York University intending to become a child psychologist, but offers kept coming in and she landed her first major role with a guest stint on the TV series Earth: Final Conflict.

She appeared in other Canadian TV projects, including Relic Hunter, Twice in a Lifetime, Doc and Witchblade.

Akerman moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and appeared in the films Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, The Heartbreak Kid (playing Ben Stiller's wife) and 27 Dresses, as Katherine Heigl's sister. Her big breakthrough came on television when she was cast as a regular in the HBO series The Comeback, with Lisa Kudrow, and appeared in two episodes of the series Entourage.

She also had a brief stint as lead singer with the alternative rock band The Petalstones, which released an album, Stung, in 2005. The band folded and she returned to acting, having married the drummer, Italian Roberto Zincone, on Italy's Amalfi Coast.

"I am extremely lucky that I have a husband who is so supportive and not in the slightest bit jealous, and not worried about the things I do in certain scenes," Akerman said.

Akerman needed her husband's support for a naked scene in Watchmen in which she and Wilson's Nite Owl make love to Leonard Cohen's recording of "Hallelujah."

"It was important to me that it was not gratuitous in any way and I really thought it was beautifully shot," she said. "It's such a huge part of the story and if that love scene wasn't there, it wouldn't feel complete.

"I saw it at a screening with my father and my whole body froze because I knew it was coming. ... It was cool, because my dad went, `Nice job. You look really good.' But it was still awkward."

As for the buzz building around her, Malin says philosophically, "It's strange and I don't know how much I like it. But I'll deal with it."


Screen Actors Guild Rejects Final Offer From Producers

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

February 22, 2009) LOS ANGELES — The Screen Actors Guild's board has rejected the “last, best and final offer” by Hollywood producers for a new contract. SAG spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt said in a statement Saturday evening its board rejected the contract offer. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in a statement that its offer was “strong and fair.” SAG is the last holdout among several unions that have agreed to long-term contracts. The guild has opposed the producers' previous offer. It says it failed to guarantee guild coverage in productions made for the Internet and failed to make residual payments on made-for-Internet content that is rerun online, among other issues.

Chiwetel Ejiofor Worth Grain Of 'Salt'

Source: www.thestar.com - Dave Perkins

(February 24, 2009) *British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor has been cast opposite Angelina Jolie in the upcoming film "Salt," reports Moviehole.net. Originally set to star Tom Cruise, the Columbia Pictures espionage thriller was redrafted by screenwriter Kurt Wimmer as a star vehicle for Jolie. Philip Noyce remains attached as director and Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Sunil Perkash are producing, reports Variety. Jolie plays the title character, a CIA officer who's accused by a defector of being a Russian sleeper spy and must elude capture long enough to establish her innocence. Ejiofor's resume includes critically-acclaimed turns in "Talk to Me," "Kinky Boots," "Children of Men" and "American Gangster."  He also has a part in Roland Emmerich's big-budget blockbuster "2012" due in November.


Ross Is A Contender For Boxing Supremacy

Source: www.thestar.com - Morgan Campbell,
Sports Reporter

February 21, 2009) DeAndrey Abron pushes Troy Ross to the ropes and fires punches that glance off the cruiserweight contender's gloves and elbows.

Ross, a Brampton native and two-time Olympian, digs a right hook to Abron's body, then steps around him and lands an uppercut to the head, sprinkling ringside observers with droplets of Abron's sweat.

Seconds later, Ross lands a thunderous left hand to Abron's forehead, then glides away as Abron wobbles. No need to attack here, it's just sparring.

But if Ross (20-1, 14 KOs) lands a similar shot next Wednesday in Uncasville, Conn., he won't hold back.

That night, at the Foxwoods Casino, he'll compete in the championship round of reality TV show
The Contender, a made-for-TV tournament in its fifth season.

Ross, 33, will face Nigerian Hino Ehikhamenor (15-3, 7 KOs), the other survivor among the 16 cruiserweights who started the show in September.

The bout doesn't just offer Ross wide exposure – a live broadcast on Versus network in the U.S. – and his biggest payday, though still undisclosed. It is one more chance for Ross to kick-start an eight-year pro career that has stalled more than once.

"It's one of those opportunities that's very rare," said Ross, a former Canadian and Commonwealth cruiserweight champ. "This is it – I don't want to stay in the sport until I'm 50."

In 2001, Ross turned pro with plenty of pedigree and promise. Along with appearances in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, he had signed with U.S. based Duva Boxing, and his pro debut aired live on ESPN's Friday Night Fights.

But since then his career has settled into a painfully predictable pattern: a few wins and a regional title followed by cancelled fights, contract disputes and long layoffs.

After splitting with the Duvas, Ross didn't fight from January 2003 to November 2004, when he knocked out Robert Marsh in North Carolina.

By late May 2005, Ross had collected five more wins, appeared alongside Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man, and captured the Canadian cruiserweight title.

He then disappeared from the sport.

"I thought guys would have just thrown themselves at me, but instead it was the other way around," Ross said. "Guys didn't want to fight me. What was I supposed to do?"

Nearly 20 months passed without a fight.

In the meantime, Ross filmed Resurrecting the Champ, playing former heavyweight Bob Satterfield.

By January 2007, Ross had connected with England-based Hennessy Sports and, two fights later, he had won the Commonwealth title.

But by summer that relationship had dissolved, undone by still more cancelled fights.

Manager Dewith Frazer blames Ross's reputation as a fearsome puncher. In February 2005, an overhand left from Ross left Etianne Whitaker sprawled unconscious on the canvas, his right leg twitching. Frazer says few fighters want to face that kind of power.

"Opponents always want more money to fight Troy than they're actually worth," he said. "They always demand money that's not feasible."

But Adam Harris of Hennessy Sports Canada says Ross's own demands over money short-circuited even more fights.

Harris contends Ross turned down nearly a dozen bouts during his stint with Hennessy, including a $40,000 payday in Germany.

"He was unrealistic about his place in the boxing world," Harris said.

"Troy is probably at the point where he needs to follow through on something and stop blaming other people for the trouble in his career. I hope he has done that, I want to see him do well."

Ross won't discuss past promoters, but says he never has refused a fight or made a decision he regrets.

Either way, the split with Hennessy cost him another year on the sidelines.

In May 2008, producers from The Contender cast Ross on their reality series.

The show, which moved from NBC to ESPN to Versus, began filming in late summer in Singapore, and Ross reached the final – which won't be broadcast in Canada – with three straight wins.

Another win Wednesday will put Ross in a familiar position, but this time he thinks he'll have both the exposure and the promotional backing to capitalize on his success.

Frazer thinks Ross is two victories away from a world title, and the show's producers have agreed to co-promote the fighter for the next 12 months.

"Everyone's going to see what I can do inside the ring, so it's up to my promoters to capture that and take me to the next level," Ross said. "There are a lot of guys out there that I can fight."

'Fringe' About To Cross Border To Canada

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Guy Dixon

(February 23, 2009) In an unending search for better tax breaks, the producers of Fox TV's big-budget, weird-things-happen-to-FBI-investigators dramatic series Fringe is reportedly uprooting from New York and moving production to Vancouver.

The costly hit show, with a multimillion dollar budget per episode, had been looking to relocate after tax incentives for films and TV shows shooting in New York state started to look less certain. A report in the business publication Crain's New York Business reported Friday that the state incentives proved so popular (with shows such as Ugly Betty and HBO's In Treatment moving to New York), that the tax program basically ran out of money prematurely.

Yet, the move may also suggest the renewed attractiveness of Canada as a destination for large U.S. productions. In the current economic climate, big shows are even more willing to change locales aggressively. In fact, the original pilot episode for Fringe, which is supposed to have taken place in Boston, was actually shot in Toronto.

But when the Canadian dollar rose on par to the American greenback, the diminishing advantage of shooting in Canada and New York state tax breaks helped lure Fringe across the border to New York City. Now with the lower loonie, the rumour was that Toronto (and possibly Chicago) was in the running as the show's new production location. However, the word spreading throughout the industry this weekend was that Vancouver will be the new destination. Producers of the show were not available for comment Sunday.

Conan O'Brien Says Bye To New York

Source: www.thestar.com - David Bauder,
The Associated Press

(February 21, 2009) NEW YORK–Conan O'Brien said goodbye to New York and NBC's "Late Night" by passing out shards of his stage, enjoying one last rub from Will Ferrell and promising fans he wouldn't grow up for an earlier time slot.

O'Brien is heading to Los Angeles, where NBC will fulfill a promise it made five years ago to make him "Tonight" show host. That new gig begins in June.

O'Brien took a sledgehammer and axe to his stage set this week, giving fans souvenirs. On his last show, taped Friday evening and aired at 12:35 a.m. ET, a construction vehicle was used to tear down a pillar of lights, which was cut up offstage.

Most of his final "Late Night" after 16 years was spent airing highlights and visiting with Andy Richter, O'Brien's former sidekick who left the show in 2000. It was an excuse to air the priceless clip of Richter, "tricked" into believing he was going to a spa, wandering nude onto the "Today" show set and interrupting Matt Lauer.

"We're going on to this next gig and sometimes I read that it's time for Conan to grow up because he's going to 11:30," said the 45-year-old O'Brien. "I assure you, that's just not going to happen.

"This is who I am," he said, the roar from his studio audience's standing ovation drowning him out.

Some in the TV industry have questioned whether O'Brien's silly, absurdist humour would fly on the "Tonight" show. But the time slot is now a comfortable home to Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and a popular line-up on The Cartoon Network that appeals to a coveted audience of young men.

Besides, current "Tonight" host Jay Leno will continue on an NBC talk show, moving up himself to 10 p.m. in the fall.

NBC has built a new studio for Jimmy Fallon, who replaces O'Brien beginning March 2.

Ferrell, who's starring a few blocks away from Rockefeller Center in a Broadway production as former President George W. Bush, stopped by in costume to offer a few mangled words of congratulations. But he stripped off his suit to reveal another character, a leprechaun stripper who rubs up against O'Brien's leg.

The White Stripes were his final musical guest, with the duo strumming guitars on "I Can Tell We're Going to Be Friends.''

Actor Abe Vigoda made a cameo, released from a cage by O'Brien, and John Mayer sung a taped message that "L.A.'s gonna eat you alive.''

It was show No. 2,725 for O'Brien. There were plenty of doubts he'd even reach triple figures following his rocky start, as an unknown comedy writer chosen to replace David Letterman. He paid an effusive tribute to Letterman, who will soon be his direct competitor.

For all the silliness of the skits replayed for his finale – visiting Finland and Ireland, mocking people who staged a re-enactment of an 1864 baseball game – O'Brien revealed himself as a sentimentalist at the end.

His voice broke as he thanked veteran TV producer Lorne Michaels, who gave him the job.

"Lorne Michaels single-handedly made my career in television,'' he said. "I don't know what I did. I think I must have saved his life at one time. He certainly saved mine.''

He said he's still not sure what he did to deserve the opportunity.

"There are people that have hosted these kinds of shows who are better than I am," he said. "Nobody has ever enjoyed it more than I do. It's an incredible, amazing honour to do this show for you people.''


We've Come To The Trailer's End

Source:  www.thestar.com

(November 13, 2008) The TV travails of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles will soon be no more. Mike Clattenburg, creator of Trailer Park Boys, has announced on a Showcase.ca blog that there won't be a new season of the foul-mouthed comedy, which has been around for eight years. There will be a final one-hour TV special, Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys, airing on Showcase Dec. 7, and a movie sequel, Countdown to Liquor Day (the working title), due in theatres in October 2009. "But, after that, there will be no more," Clattenburg wrote. "Yes, it's the end of Trailer Park Boys. ... Much love and thanks from all of (us) at Sunnyvale Trailer Park."

Jason George Joins Shonda Rimes Pilot


(February 25, 2009) *Actor Jason George, last seen on ABC's "Eli Stone," has joined the cast of Shonda Rhimes' new ABC pilot "Inside the Box," a drama about the TV news business.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, George will play an on-air reporter at the network's Washington bureau, where the series is set.  The pilot has yet to cast its lead role, a female producer for the network. "Everwood" alumnus Sarah Drew also joins the cast as a low-level employee. Rhimes is executive producing and former ABC News producer Richard E. Robbins is writing. George is perhaps best known for his long stint as J.T. Hunter on the sitcom "Eve."


Binti's Journey : A Hard Story Told Honestly

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

Binti's Journey
Adapted by Marcia Johnson from a novel by Deborah Ellis. Directed by ahdri zhina mandiela. Until March 1 at The Loop Centre for Lively Arts and Learning, 601 Christie St. 416-537-4191

(February 20, 2009)
Binti's Journey, which opened yesterday at the inviting new Loop Centre in the Artscape Wychwood Barns, is an honestly moving show about a troubling topic: the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and its effect on young people.

We see how a poor but loving family is suddenly destroyed when a widowed father dies of AIDS. Some are ashamed to speak of the cause, preferring to say he died of pneumonia, but others come out and tell the truth, knowing that to fall victim to such a widespread epidemic is a tragedy and not a crime.

Binti, our heroine, is a sweet, self-satisfied girl at the beginning, happy with her life and her weekly acting stints on a popular radio series.

As played by the radiant Jajube Mandiela, she seems like every young woman on the verge of living a wonderful life. But then her coffin-maker father succumbs to AIDS and her world turns upside down.

Along with her bossy but loving sister, Junie (fine work from Lisa Codrington), and her ingenuous brother, Kwasi (given real charm by Patrick Amponsah), she's sent to live with relatives who abuse her, and the family splits apart.

Binti winds up with her grandmother and seemingly stern cousin, Memory (a quiet, detailed performance from Dienye Waboso), and starts learning to rebuild a life.

In the hands of director ahdri zhina mandiela, the piece has the engaging flow of true storytelling, but Marcia Johnson's adaptation often tells us too much and shows us too little, leading to a series of micro-scenes divided by lengthier chunks of narration.

The actors carry it off, though, and the simple but striking set of Melanie McNeill and warmly atmospheric lighting of Duncan Morgan do much to hold the show together.

One does cringe a bit at the more heavily political moments meant to inform us about HIV/AIDS, which all seem to be stuck onto the script like neon Post-it notes, but the show's heart is in the right place and one forgives it much.

Theatre Direct has never stepped back from confronting some of today's more difficult issues and presenting them to young audiences in a theatrically accessible manner.

Binti's Journey continues that pattern. May the show and the organization have a long life in their new home.

Matthew Jocelyn Named Artistic And General Director Of Canstage

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

(February 19, 2009) The board of the Canadian Stage Company surprised and excited the theatre community yesterday with the news it had selected Matthew Jocelyn to be the new artistic and general director of its company.

The Toronto-born Jocelyn is virtually an unknown on this side of the Atlantic, having spent all of his adult life working in Europe, with the exception of his 2006 production of The Liar at Stratford.

He made it clear what kind of energy he'll bring to the often-troubled company with his bullet-point description of what he wants theatre to be: "Exciting. Challenging. Necessary."

Jocelyn, 51, grew up in the Beach and recalls his first theatre experience being the 1964 Stratford Festival production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard.

The kind of work he's been doing since then is completely different.

After studying at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, he spent time working with such luminaries as trailblazing directors Jerzy Grotowski and Jonathan Miller.

Although his work in theatre and opera has taken him across Europe, his most significant credit is the 10 years he spent as artistic and general director of the Atelier du Rhin, the regional theatre centre in Colmar, France. For his work there, he was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French ministry of culture in 2008.

While at first glance he may seem an odd choice for an organization recently known more for producing Hair and Little Shop of Horrors than experimental theatre, Jocelyn is willing to embrace the challenge.

"The mandate of the Canadian Stage Company is a flexible mandate, as long as the work concerned is contemporary," he told the Star.

"To me, that doesn't mean when the play was written. It's a question of how we are interrogating our times through theatre in a manner that's pertinent and, if necessary, cutting-edge."

Jocelyn expects no waves as he embarks on his journey.

"From the very outset, I made it clear to the board what I would and would not do. They chose me knowing that."

Martin Bragg, who has guided the company for the past 17 years, will leave at the end of March. Jocelyn will be in charge of administering a 2009-10 season that Bragg has chosen.

"I'm completely at ease with that and I'm happy to associate myself with the season Marty has chosen. It gives us all time and time is the greatest ally," Jocelyn said.

Asked if he would reach out to ex-colleagues from Stratford, Jocelyn replied, "My arms are wide open. I love working with people and finding the ways in which different artists can learn to work together."

He added: "It's perhaps possible to live life without art ... but with it, life is much better, much richer, more productive."

Toronto theatre in general and the Canadian Stage Company in particular could use a lot more of that sentiment.

Improv Troupe Creates Theatre From Scratch

Source: www.thestar.com - Alison Broverman,
Special To The Star

(February 19, 2009) A new Samuel Beckett play premiered at the Comedy Bar a few weeks ago. Well, not quite. It wasn't written by Beckett. But you can bet he would have appreciated it. Longing Fortnight was a piece of long-form improv performed in the style of Beckett by improv troupe Impromptu Splendor.

The troupe is made up of four of the city's best young comedians: Ron Pederson, Naomi Snieckus, Matt Baram and Kayla Lorette.

Every week, they choose a different playwright and perform a one-act play in the style of that writer, making everything up on the spot. For the Beckett show, the troupe incorporated the absurd and existential elements of his work by having someone fall in love with a chair, and pretending a dangling light bulb represented God.

Impromptu Splendor is trying to generate some crossover between the worlds of comedy and theatre, which is why the troupe often features a guest performer from the theatre community.

"In the theatre community, there's this stigma around improv," explains Pederson. "We're trying to break that by bringing in great Toronto theatre actors to improvise a play with us."

Snieckus says the troupe intends to give "non-improv actors a chance to try something they're scared of. One of our priorities is connecting the theatre and comedy communities."

Baram points out the flip side: "We also want to make theatre accessible to comedians," he says.

"Our show sounds pretentious on paper," says Lorette, "but we really respect our audience."

Respect for the audience is not necessarily intrinsic to improv, the group explains. They've all had experience with improvisers who have contempt for their audience, and Impromptu Splendor is determined to change that perception of improvisers.

Although they make up the "play" on the spot, a lot of preparation goes into each week's performance.

The group spends a lot of time studying the work of the week's playwright. They meet to discuss important themes that come up, as well as any stylistic details.

"We make a lot of choices about costumes and the set," says Snieckus. "We make a real investment in the show each week."

Sometimes the show is so spot-on it's hard to believe they just made it all up. "The best compliment we've ever had was when someone asked us how long we'd been rehearsing," says Pederson. "I love tricking people into thinking we're not making it up."

Though familiarity with the playwright being emulated certainly helps, it isn't necessary in order to enjoy the show.

"In the end, we're just telling good stories," Pederson says.

Impromptu Splendor performs every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the Comedy Bar (945 Bloor St. W.). Tonight's show will be in the style of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with Maja Ardal as the guest performer and Ted Dykstra providing musical accompaniment.

Kristen Thomson : From Tragedy To Theatrical Triumph

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

(February 21, 2009) When most people experience significant pain in their lives, it stays inside their hearts. But with Kristen Thomson, it becomes the stuff of great theatre.

Her parents' divorce when she was 7 years old percolated through her subconscious for several decades before emerging as her triumphant playwriting debut, I, Claudia. And an incident surrounding her grandmother's death six years ago was the genesis for The Patient Hour, her latest script, which opens Wednesday night at Tarragon Theatre.

"My aunt called me a couple of days before my grandmother died," Thomson recalls one morning this week. "She thought I would want to see her one last time, even though she had had Alzheimer's for the past 10 years, and most other times when I'd visit, she wouldn't know who I was."

Thomson pauses to collect herself for the pivotal part of the story.

"I went into her room. She was wearing an oxygen mask, drifting in and out of consciousness. I didn't know if she could receive anything I could offer.

"But I just kept telling her how much I had loved her and how much she and her life had meant to me and all of our family."

Her voice cracks. "Nothing changed. Except tears started streaming down her cheeks.

"It made me ask questions about a kind of life in her that might have still been there when everything else was extinct. It was very powerful and it stayed with me."

But by the time the events had journeyed through Thomson's mind and heart, they came out in quite a different form.

"We're in a hospital room," she explains, "and the patient is there, but not on the stage. She's where the audience would be. The other characters seem to address the audience directly, but it's actually the patient they're talking to."

Like Thomson's grandmother, the unseen patient isn't able to communicate, but it's due to a stroke. Her son is standing watch by her bedside when he's joined by his older sister, a nurse, and another patient, whose origins are mysterious.

"It's all about the very special kind of intimacy that is created in a situation like this," says Thomson. "The patience that's required to sustain a vigil when someone is very ill. You just have to sit and wait for things to unfold."

She thinks back to her parents' divorce and muses, "Maybe my generation were the petri-dish kids on that one. There was a feeling that if people were unhappy in their marriages, they should move on.

"I guess I agree with that, but it wasn't until years later that I realized the depth of what it had meant in my own life, as well as (her siblings) Marcia's and Todd's."

Todd, in fact, makes his Tarragon debut in The Patient Hour. "For many reasons," Thomson says, "I wanted him involved."

One of the reasons might stem from childhood, when "the two of us used to play what amounted to theatre games at home all the time," she recalls. "Nobody told us that's what they were, because we knew nothing about theatre."

She isn't exaggerating. "Theatre never entered my life at all until my third year at the University of Toronto." She started her studies there in 1985 with her eyes set on English and Politics.

Then, once again, personal tragedy opened the door to artistic expression. "My best friend was killed in a car accident during my second year, and at the age of 22, I suddenly stopped and thought, `I should examine what I really want to do with my life.'"

She enrolled in the university drama program, graduated two years later and never looked back. "Within a year of getting out of theatre school," she says sheepishly, "I was acting with people like Seana McKenna and Tom McCamus. But on the other hand, in those early years, I spent nearly 80 per cent of my time on the road."

And it wasn't always easy. "I also did a lot of part-time work that had nothing to do with theatre, and I take that as a point of pride. Actors should be proud of having the guts to do any kind of a job to help support their dreams."

Those non-theatre times functioned for her in much the same way a hospital room does. "It's a place where life slows down, where you're not able to do what you normally do, so you have to stop and pay attention to other things. Like someone who needs you."

Nowadays, those people include her twin 4-year-old sons and her year-old daughter.

Between family and career, writing and acting, she strives not just for balance, but for something even more elusive.

"Simplicity is always worth striving for. Simplicity and a sense of fun," she says. "It's too easy to get all twisted up and depressed, but both life and theatre open themselves up if you approach them with simplicity and fun."

Another Home Invasion : A Taut And Thrilling Take On Aging

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
J. Kelly Nestruck

Another Home Invasion
Written by Joan MacLeod
Directed by Richard Rose
Starring Nicola Lipman
At Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary

(February 23, 2009) If you don't know Jean, you know someone like her.

Living in a suburb of Vancouver, close to her daughter, but half a country away from her two sons, the 80-year-old heroine of
Joan MacLeod's latest monologue, Another Home Invasion, is dealing with the cruel semantic shift the word "home" undergoes in so many aging people's vocabularies.

For 50 years, "home" has meant the house where Jean (Nicola Lipman) and her husband Alec raised their three children and triumphed over family crises.

Now, "home" is the euphemism for the seniors' residence that time and circumstances are forcing her into. Jean and Alec had hoped to walk out of their house under their own steam, but finding a facility that meets their needs is taking longer than hoped.

They've been on the waiting list for the couple's floor at the Kiwanis for 27 months — and in the meantime, Alec's health has deteriorated. Jean fears that she and her husband will be split up, or that they'll be "shipped off" to Abbotsford, a town whose name she spits out like an epithet.

This is the familiar frustrating drama that MacLeod overlays with an unusual, frightening one: a threatening visit from a strung-out young man in the middle of the afternoon. "I never thought about not opening the door," the isolated and often overwhelmed Jean tells us. "Not once. I didn't think anything except — good, company."

Whether the invasion of Jean's home is physical or psychological is a story best told by MacLeod's tight and suspenseful 70-minute play. Another Home Invasion successfully submerges the audience in the small but significant trials and tribulations of Jean's shrinking world of cooking, cleaning and cribbage, where Aquafit classes are a blissful underwater respite from the claustrophobia of caring for her husband. The playwright shares with novelist Ian McEwan the ability to stretch tension out over everyday domestic scenes, making every trip to the basement or late-night glass of milk in the kitchen feel like the climax of a thriller.

Lipman holds the audience rapt with her funny and furious Jean. She captures perfectly the posturing of the aging matriarch, a strong spirit in a frail body who masks her declining influence on the world with vociferously voiced opinions. But she also allows Jean's bravura to crack from time to time, as when her eyes go desperately sad when daughter Bethie declines a last-minute dinner invitation with her favourite exasperated expression: "I don't have time." (Bethie doesn't know how much time she really has.) MacLeod's psychological perceptiveness extends beyond Jean to the various characters around her: the ailing Alec trying to fix his glasses with an electric drill; divorced Bethie, both hard and dedicated toward her mother; the condescending cheerfulness of the community worker Claudia, who holds the key to the Kiwanis.

The West Coast-based playwright has already proved herself expert in creating unique, recognizable female voices in her monologues Jewel (1985) and The Shape of a Girl (2001). Though easily as memorable as those play's younger protagonists, Jean's age and lack of mobility make her story more difficult to stage in a theatrical way.

Director Richard Rose has chosen to embrace the stillness and subtlety of the piece, keeping Jean seated for most of the play, barring a few select moments where she wades through the leaves designer Scott Reid has covered the stage with. (The autumn leaves create a striking image, but one that leaves the unfortunate impression that Jean is already half buried, when she remains fully engaged in the challenges of living.) Ultimately, I was left unconvinced that MacLeod's play wasn't better suited as a short story or radio play. But if this is the only way we can hear Jean's voice, so be it. Another Home Invasion is piercingly accurate writing that interrogates how our society is really serving our seniors at a time when they most need our help. As Jean says, "There's a lot of us ladies in the same position."

At Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary until March 8; at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto from March 18 to April 19.

Also playing at Alberta's playRites festival:

The Clockmaker

Stephen Massicotte's charming new play is the best metaphysical mystery and romance to hit Canadian stages since John Mighton's Possible Worlds.

The play begins as clockmaker Heinrich Mann, made memorably eccentric by actor Christian Goutsis, is brought in for an elliptical interrogation by the enigmatic Monsieur Pierre (Tyrell Crews), who suspects him of committing murder — in the future.

Massicotte's time-bending narrative then hops back and forth between two seemingly parallel universes as the playwright explores the idea that "nothing kills peace faster than remembering." In one, Mann meets Frieda (Esther Purves-Smith) when she seeks his horological help with a clock shattered by her brutal husband Adolphus (David Keeley). In the other, they repeatedly meet seeking shelter from the rain with a freshly baked baguette.

It was a delightful shock to find all these disparate threads come together with logic still ticking. Bob White directs Massicotte's bizarre, unsettling, but ultimately sweet show with all the precision of a Swiss clockmaker. Kevin McGugan's sound design drives the mood, while Scott Reid's inventive set and props are absolutely enchanting. The whole cast is great, but Goutsis is a marvel.

The Good Egg

Michael Lewis MacLennan's The Good Egg is concerned with another sort of clock: the biological one. Infertile couple Robin (Helen Taylor) and Brodie (David Keeley) get more than they bargained for when they purchase the sperm of a handsome life-studies model named Wade (Tyrell Crews).

MacLennan's script tackles the topic of reproduction in the 21st century with frankness, and seems awfully pleased with itself for doing so. The plot, however, feels contrived and the characters often behave implausibly, especially Wade. There are some good laughs and myriad mythological metaphors, but as a real discussion of how we now conceive of conception, it feels hollow and lifeless.


Flower: A Manifesto On The Art Of Gaming

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


Price: $9.99
Platform: PlayStation 3
Rating: E

(February 21, 2009) When game designer Jenova Chen dropped Flow on us a couple of years ago, he provided a great example of how well visuals, audio and gameplay could be harmonized to create a uniquely affecting game experience.

More than an "art game," an audiovisual experience that happened to be mediated and modulated by player input, Flow was game art: for all its loveliness, it was very much a game, with goals and obstacles and a skill set to be discovered and mastered.
Flower, his latest, does the same thing: Under (and over, and within, and beyond) its simplistic, relaxing style and dazzling pastoral aesthetics lies a primordial game experience – and a manifesto on what games are and could be.

Not that the visuals and sounds are secondary. Indeed, Flower's main purpose is to deliver an experience of beauty. Players enter into the dreams of flowers, soaring through the breezy air with an ever-growing cloud of swirling petals, doing the things one imagines flowers would want to do if they weren't rooted in window pots: seeking out light and life, spreading joy and colour, generally being magical and whimsical and free.

It's terrifically wonderful to see, all windblown hillside grass and blue skies, and wonderful to hear, too – your motion through Flower's dream worlds makes music, with the score responding to the action (or peaceful inaction). Glistening chimes and tinkles arise as you gather petals in your wake.

Even if this were all there was to Flower, it'd be worth the 10-odd dollars for the download just to have such a pleasant toy at hand, therapy for dark days.

But that's not all there is to Flower; in its execution, it makes some powerful statements that everything coming after will have to acknowledge.

On a mechanical level, there are the controls. Flower uses the PS3 controller's Sixaxis tilt-sensing as its input, and it's the best implementation of this technology I've yet seen. Playing, I couldn't help thinking of Lair, the dragon-riding game that was supposed to showcase the joys of Sixaxis, but felt more like wrestling a ghost: insubstantial and frustrating.

Flower's control is exactly the opposite. It never bucks, and never dissolves into mush. You forget, in fact, that you even have a controller in your hand; there's no gap between your will and its onscreen realization. Flower sets a new benchmark, not just for Sixaxis games, but for anything – Wii games included – that implements motion or gesture control.

While this excellent control tuning goes a long way to making the wind-drifty "Zen gaming" feeling of Flower possible, especially in the early on, it's absolutely essential to the later stages, when things get considerably more hardcore. I don't want to spoil anything for you – it's easy to finish the game in a couple of hours, so you can see for yourself – but Flower isn't content to be merely pretty or technically tight. It's a manifesto in game form, and as its skies get darker and its challenges hairier, that manifesto's statement crystallizes into clarity.

Leading by example, Flower demands that game art synthesize mechanics, aesthetics and gameplay at every level.

Grand Theft Auto IV: A Wild Ride Worth Taking

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

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Platform: Xbox 360
Rating: M (Mature)
Price: $19.99

(February 21, 2009) Forget everything you know about downloadable content, or DLC, for your video games, be it new songs for Rock Band, an extra level for Tomb Raider: Underworld or bonus multi-player maps in Gears of War 2. Rockstar Games' "
The Lost and Damned," the first of two planned downloadable episodes for Xbox 360 owners of Grand Theft Auto IV, redefines what's possible for DLC with the beefiest game expansion to date.

While not a flawless frolic, there's a lot of "bang" for your buck here. Totalling about 10 hours of new single-player game play and a handful of multi-player modes, this 1.78-gigabyte download (via the Xbox Live online service) adds a ton of new content to the gritty GTA IV (original disc required), including a new storyline, characters, missions, vehicles, weapons, music, minigames and other content (such as watchable shows on the in-game TV). While "The Lost and Damned" costs about twice as much as other DLC, you're getting nearly enough new stuff for a complete $60 game.

This episode doesn't follow Nico Bellic, the protagonist from last year's game, though you will run into him in this new narrative. Instead, players will step into the biker boots of Johnny Klebitz, the vice-president of a tough motorcycle club known as The Lost. The gang must not only contend with rivals in Liberty City, but also deal with internal power struggles within the organization; Klebitz, who is business-minded, for instance, butts heads with the club's ruthless president, Billy Grey, who gets out of prison at the start of the game. The story isn't one of the game's strengths, but the writing is sharp and believable, and serves as a decent backdrop to the action.

As with GTA IV, players roam about the bustling Liberty City (a fictitious New York City), interact with seedy characters, hop in a number of vehicles and tackle dangerous missions. But rather than taking on objectives by yourself, this expansion is all about riding the streets with your crew and partaking in gang wars together. The hogs handle nicely, and gamers will learn to shoot weapons while riding, too, including an automatic 9-millimetre sawed-off gun and grenade launchers.

On that note, this "Mature"-rated expansion can get quite violent – right from one of the first scenes, when someone's face is pressed against a spinning motorcycle wheel at a bike shop, and then he is finished off with a sledgehammer to the head. Gamers will also find plenty of foul language, scenes with drinking and driving, and even full-frontal male nudity (involving a U.S. congressman, no less). Hey, this is Grand Theft Auto, after all.


Sizing Up Racism In Canada

Source: www.thestar.com - John Goddard, Staff Reporter

(February 25, 2009) Ten speakers got five minutes each to state their view: "Is Canada more racist than the United States?"

"It's meant to get your attention," Alan Vernon, editorial sales director of Sway magazine, said of the topic raised at the Sway Monologues forum last night marking Black History Month.

Playwrights, poets, film producers and politicians featured among the show's stars before the sold-out event hosted by Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex at the Courthouse nightclub.

Here are three excerpts:


I often joke, that if you could predict when you were going to have a heart attack, the best place to make that happen would be in a taxi cab, because there's a good chance that you might have a doctor in there with you. Canada has done very little to fast-track the accreditation of skilled professionals who bring a wealth of technical and cultural knowledge with them.

Instead, there are constant complaints about shortages and wait times, while we walk on the dreams of those who came here, convinced that their lives would be better...

I think that it is much easier to navigate through life when you know exactly where you fit in, but as a Canadian person of colour, I am made to feel like a foster child, desperately wanting to feel like a part of the family.


When racism is pointed out, much time is spent in denial, charging the incident or circumstance to other causes, or claiming oversensitivity or misinterpretation.

If the charge is institutional or systemic racism, research is demanded to prove its existence...

After the research is completed and analyzed, an implementation plan is discussed and hopefully designed.

All this happens haltingly and hesitantly before any concrete measures are taken, if taken, leaving the claimants to suffer not only the racism, but also the resentment of their colleagues, or worse. It also allows for much time and energy to be expended before the issue is addressed.


Just four years ago, in 2005, "the year of the gun" was declared in Toronto. A year later, in 2006, we awake to news of what has been now dubbed the "Toronto 18."

Those two moments taken together became the templates for a white Canadian establishment and their coloured lackeys to proclaim multiculturalism over, to suggest that diversity was and is a problem, and furthermore that racialized people in this country needed stricter and more stringent policing. ...

The same pundits, politicians, scholars and spokespeople of all kinds now find themselves fawning over Barack Obama, a former community organizer, among other occupations (we don't like black activists in this country, they seem too angry).

Ticketmaster settles U.S. Suit

Source: www.thestar.com - Samantha Henry,
The Associated Press

(February 24, 2009) EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ticketmaster has agreed to change its online sales process after it directed people seeking Bruce Springsteen tickets to a subsidiary that charged up to 50 times the face value.

Ticketmaster reached a settlement with New Jersey, but the changes apply to all its sales nationwide, state Attorney General Anne Milgram said Monday.

The settlement comes as Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. faces scrutiny for a proposed merger with the concert promotion giant Live Nation Inc. The merger will be the subject of congressional hearings Tuesday in Washington.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he thinks the merger would violate antitrust rules by giving Ticketmaster a near-monopoly on the concert ticket market. Schumer said Monday that he welcomed the New Jersey settlement.

"While we are pleased Ticketmaster has acknowledged its mistake ... giving Ticketmaster near total control over the distribution of concert tickets here in New York and across the country is a recipe for disaster," he said.

In announcing the merger earlier this month, Ticketmaster Chairman Barry Diller sought to dispel the notion that the deal would lead to higher ticket prices. The companies say that a combined company could better withstand the recession, sell more tickets and improve service to fans.

The problems at the heart of New Jersey's settlement happened when tickets for Springsteen's May 21 and May 23 concerts at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. went on sale Feb. 2. Some ticket buyers were redirected from the main Ticketmaster site to TicketsNow, a subsidiary that allows people who have tickets to sell them at marked-up prices.

Milgram said at the time that redirecting them might have violated the state's consumer fraud act. Springsteen said on his website that he and the E Street Band were "furious" about what happened.

Ticketmaster blamed a software glitch. The company said the ``voluntary agreement" with the attorney general formalizes changes it had already implemented.

In the settlement, Ticketmaster did not admit wrongdoing but agreed to pay the state $350,000 (dollar figures U.S.), Milgram said. The company will also compensate ticket holders who complained and change how it handles secondary sales, she said.

Milgram says she plans to further investigate the resale market – largely dominated by ticket brokers who buy in bulk and resell at higher prices.

"What is critical is that consumers understand what is happening on any Internet site during a sale of tickets," Milgram said. "The (Ticketmaster) website suggested that consumers could continue their search on TicketsNow, making it seem there was no difference in the two markets when, in fact, of course there is."

Milgram said her office received about 2,200 complaints from people unable to buy Springsteen tickets for a face-value price of $65 or $95. They were instead directed to TicketsNow, where tickets retailed for $200 to $5,000 apiece.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he was studying Monday's settlement but would continue an independent investigation into Ticketmaster sales of Springsteen tickets in Connecticut.

Also, a Canadian man sued Ticketmaster earlier this month for redirecting him to TicketsNow when he went to buy tickets to a Smashing Pumpkins concert in November. The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, says the company is violating provincial anti-scalping laws by selling tickets above face value.

Greg Malone : When Taking A Joke Is Child's Play

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

(February 21, 2009) Among the many unvarnished anecdotes scattered through Greg Malone's newly published childhood memoir You Better Watch Out is the story of the day in Grade 7 when the CODCO founder was called before the class at an unlucky moment – his trousers betrayed the bulging signs of pubescent, hormonal arousal.

The yarn, amusing enough in its own right, is enriched by the added bit of knowledge that one of the sniggering witnesses to Malone's public humiliation was none other than wisecracking classmate Danny Williams, Newfoundland's future premier.

It says something about both men – as well as the primacy of humour to the Newfoundland character – that Malone would choose to recount the story and that Williams, having been given the opportunity to vet it, was happy to see it published.

"I didn't want to surprise him, a man in his position," says Malone, who also shared pre-publication excerpts with several other subjects, including childhood friends Andy and Cathy Jones, also former members of CBC-TV's CODCO sketch comedy troupe.

Malone, the successful actor and comedian, and Williams, the former business leader turned politician, have gone on to bigger, better moments in their careers. But nearly 50 years after the incident described in the book, Malone still sees a lot of the young Williams in the Newfoundland leader, who has become a frequent burr in the side of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"You didn't mess with Danny," recalls Malone, 60, during a recent interview at the Toronto offices of publisher Random House Canada. "Danny was a small but fierce guy – a bit of a jock, but also very smart. And he liked to get up to a bit of mischief too."

Malone, who fell just 400 votes short of winning a St. John's West by-election for the NDP in 2000, obviously doesn't share all of his former classmate's views, but he does admire his approach.

"Danny likes a good fight. And he likes to win it. He's also a bit of a Newfoundland nationalist. So he's popular for that reason. Newfoundland has a history of making bad deals and Danny's been better at making deals than some of our premiers have been – certainly better than Joey Smallwood was. So people see him as a protection against bad deals at this critical time of resource development."

You Better Watch Out, which traces Malone's life through to Grade 9, describes the somewhat awkward childhood of a young boy who had no interest in sports and didn't share his father's faith in the self-improving virtues of the Boy Scouts.

"I don't mention the words `gay' or `homosexual' in the book because I didn't know those words until high school," says Malone, whose narrative includes wry reference to the challenges of being brought up in what was outwardly perceived as the "perfect family."

"If you're in the perfect family, then you must be very imperfect because you're not fitting in," he says. "As you get older you realize your family is not so perfect after all."

The book presents a St. John's that no longer exists. It was a time when the union of Malone's Catholic father and Protestant mother was viewed as a vaguely scandalous "mixed marriage."

"It's very different today, just like Toronto is different from that WASPish town where they used to roll up the sidewalks at night," he says. "The Catholic-Protestant rivalry was real. All that has been swept away. It's a much more secular society than it used to be.

"But even then, St. John's was pretty cosmopolitan because it was a port city. There were always people coming from Europe and Africa. You'd see them downtown and know that the Portuguese were in or the East Germans were in or the Russians were in. You never felt like you were in a small town because of the international traffic."

You Better Watch Out is divided into nearly 40 chapters, some as short as a few pages and each recounting a particular incident in Malone's life. Some are stories he wrote down more than a decade ago, for fear that they would dissolve from memory. Others are fleshed-out versions of anecdotes he has been sharing for years with friends.

The emphasis, despite the author's preceding reputation as a comic actor, is less on knee-slapping comedy than on colourful, detailed storytelling, with a vein of humour running through.

"Newfoundland is a harsh place in a lot of ways, so maybe humour is an antidote to that," Malone says. "If you meet someone in Newfoundland and they ask you a question, they don't just want an answer – they want a joke or a song. They're looking for more than just an exchange of information. I love that."

And so, it seems, does the premier.

Indigo Launches E-Book Service

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
James Adams

(February 24, 2009) Canada's largest book retailer, Indigo Books and Music, moves aggressively into the burgeoning e-book market tomorrow (Thursday) with the launch of its Shortcovers service.

The result of 12 months of planning and preparation, Shortcovers will enable users to buy and download e-books to their wireless smart phone or computer via the Internet, mimicking the iTunes model, which revolutionized the music business.

“It's like having a bookstore in your pocket – and more,” Michael Serbinis, Indigo's vice-president of information technology, marketing and online business, said this week.

For its launch, Shortcovers is offering “a humongous” 50,000 book titles for sale, priced from $4.99 to $19.99, as well as individual chapters of books for 99 cents each. In addition, an estimated 200,000 sample chapters will be available free for potential users.

Shortly after the launch, the service will offer magazines and newspapers – “all the big names” – for sale, and the option of buying virtual copies of individual articles, an entire issue or a yearly subscription.

In North America, Amazon already offers a similar service, but the difference is books must be downloaded using its Kindle e-book reader. Kindle's competitor, the Sony Reader, works in a similar way.

Sales of e-books still represent less than 3 per cent of the retail market in North America. But “consumption of digital media is really starting to ramp up,” Serbinis said, citing the highly successful introduction of the Apple iPhone in Canada in 2007, as “what really triggered our commitment.”

With more than 200 stores across Canada (including Chapters, Coles, Smithbooks and Indigo Spirit outlets), Indigo controls 65 per cent of the Canadian retail book market, by some estimates. Moving decisively into the e-book realm simply recognizes that “people are reading differently,” Serbinis said.

“They're reading as much, if not more, and they're doing so on screens as well as [using] physical books. When they're on-screen, they tend to read in shorter bursts and more frequently. There's this whole notion of ‘info-snacking,' of leveraging downtime – that time when you're waiting at Starbucks for a friend, or sitting in the back of a cab or on a train.”

Shortcovers is being launched simultaneously in Canada (www.shortcovers.ca) and the United States (www.shortcovers.com) at 12:01 ET Thursday. Virtual content can be downloaded using a BlackBerry Storm, Apple iPhone, Apple iPod touch and Google's Android mobile application, as well as via computer.

If you're a U.S. customer and you want a hard-copy book (as opposed to a virtual copy), your order will be filled by the Barnes & Noble chain; in Canada, fulfilment is through Indigo.

Users looking for Canadian titles on Shortcovers won't find much initially. Because of Shortcover's intent to break into the U.S. market, Serbinis has been dealing mostly with large multinational companies such as Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Harlequin to secure licences for titles to which these publishers have either North American or worldwide electronic publishing rights.

While “a number of Canada publishers have come to us, as well as groups such as the Association of Canadian Publishers,” Serbinis said Shortcovers' immediate challenge is one of logistics and volume, “to prioritize what we think consumers are going to want Day 1 in both Canada and the U.S. – and that happens to be a lot of bestsellers and perennial bestsellers, plus core fiction and non-fiction.”

CanCon is coming, though, likely next month. Random House of Canada, for instance, recently completed digitizing 100 titles, with more books scheduled for conversion.

According to Lisa Charters, Random's senior vice-president of digital publishing, their availability in the Shortcovers pipeline is “imminent.” Included are Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the Canadian Army by Christie Blatchford, winner of last year's Governor-General's Award for English non-fiction, plus Miriam Toews's recent best-selling novel, A Complicated Kindness, Bret Hart's memoir Hitman: My Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling and Broken, a suspense novel from Kelley Armstrong.

Random House will also be providing content soon to the stand-alone Sony Reader device, which went on sale in Canada last May.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the Shortcovers slogan “Find Your Next Great Read,” Serbinis expects his service will be offering book recommendations to its clients by late March.

“We need a month because we basically need to see how and what you read. Those recommendations will be based on your reading habits, your reading day … We'll know exactly what you're reading, how often, whether you've read the whole book that you've bought or not, taking that engagement information into account to provide great recommendations similar to the Netflix [online DVD sales] model.”

Shortcovers is also creating a forum for self-published and unpublished writers. An author can submit a chapter from a novel, a short story or an article directly to shortcovers.ca or shortcovers.com and list it for free, with or without ads, or for a fee of 99 cents. An entire book can be submitted, too, albeit one chapter at a time: if you want to submit the entire text en masse, you'll need to contact content@shortcovers.com.

“We'll be making the self-serve interface more powerful over time, enabling direct marketing and more functionality,” said Indigo's director of public relations. Right now the revenue split on the self-published side is 70 per cent for the author, 30 per cent to Shortcovers.

“We are not accepting any self-published physical books” for ordering at present, she added.


COBA Features Banta, With Its Tribute To Famed Singer Miriam Makeba

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Special To The Star

(February 19, 2009) Collective of Black Artists, better known by its acronym, COBA, has always anchored the Afro-Caribbean category of dance in Toronto. Alongside companies such as Ballet Creole, COBA expresses the dance, drumming and song aesthetic rooted in island life, with an emphasis on its African origins.

Over time, the African part of COBA's mandate has moved to the foreground, a shift signalled by co-founder BaKari E. Lindsay's assumption of an African name. The former Eddison B. Lindsay runs the company with his wife and co-founder, Charmaine Headley.

They have raised their son N'dere in their artistic milieu. As a child he was a capable drummer in COBA musical ensemble. Now 14, he has been cast to perform in Lindsay's new work, Maa Keeba. The dance is Lindsay's tribute to Miriam Makeba, the South African anti-apartheid singer often called "Mama Afrika," who died following her appearance at a benefit concert in Italy last November. The piece is one of three premieres in COBA's 16th annual season show, Banta, opening tomorrow at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

It both was and wasn't a coincidence that Headley's new work for Banta (think banter) is also inspired by South African culture. Since 2005, when they first commissioned a dance from him, Johannesburg choreographer Vincent Mantsoe has worked with the company four times.

"He has been my mentor for the past two-and-a-half years," says Headley, born in Trinidad but trained in dance in Barbados after her family moved there when she was 11. Mantsoe, now based in France, has been a natural fit with the company because COBA, like the South African dancer, has always focused on storytelling.

Headley, ever willing to learn, received a book from Mantsoe that inspired her new piece, Passage. It was Indaba, My Children, a collection of African legends and folktales by Credo Mutwa, a Zulu shaman who grew up in Natal with the idea of becoming a tribal historian. Mutwa compiled some 20 stories beginning with the creation myth of a tiny spark in the vast Nothingness.

"I was at a low creatively," Headley admits, "and the book inspired me. A lot of metaphors came out of this book." She abstracted images from four of Mutwa's chapters and set them into motion, layering the movement with music and chants.

Headley says her spouse is much more prolific. But, says Lindsay, the piece about Makeba, a legend of another kind, was a gift to him.

"I was driving one day and decided to listen to Makeba's songs. I could literally see the work." Maa Keeba makes reference to the singer's life and her causes as well as the Sangoma tradition she grew up in, with music such as the famous "Click Song." N'dere Headley-Lindsay plays Hugh Masakela, the South African horn player whom Makeba married before exile from her homeland.

Along with Lindsay's second premiere, Inner Voice, the company – eight dancers and seven singers and musicians – will remount last year's Doun Doun Dance, choreographed by Brooklyn-born Sis Robin Hibbert. The piece draws on the KuKu rhythms and a stick-drum harvest dance performed by women in Guinea.

Just the facts
WHAT: Banta, by Collective of Black Artists (COBA)

WHERE: Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W.

WHEN: tomorrow and Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.

TICKETS: $25 to $30 at 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com

A Second Act For James Kudelka

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Fiona Morrow

February 20, 2009) Vancouver — Meeting James Kudelka is a fraught affair. The man hailed by the New York Times in 2002 as “ballet's most original choreographer” has a reputation as a difficult curmudgeon who hates the press.

Advice comes from many quarters: sound intelligent; don't mention the National Ballet of Canada (where Kudelka was artistic director from 1996-2005); don't use the term “former” in the same sentence as “artistic director.”

It could be a tricky dance.

During a rehearsal at Ballet British Columbia for a new work premiering next week, Kudelka sits completely still, palms flat on his thighs. When things go awry, he starts loudly counting out the beats to Bach's Goldberg Variations.

The Vancouver company is being put through its paces. Kudelka is known for his complex choreography and this is no exception: The Goldberg Variations – Side 2: Adam & Eve & Steve involves two separate dances on stage at once. One is contemporary, the other classical: a central trio create edgy, angular shapes, while four couples twirl and jeté around them. With only a week to go before it debuts in a double bill with Jean Grand-Maître's Carmen as part of the Cultural Olympiad, the mood is a tad chaotic.

When we are first introduced in the studio, he can barely mask his disdain at having to give an interview, but he does arrive later, as promised, at a Starbucks. More dusty professor than flamboyant artiste, he's wearing a collection of loose-fitting garments – baggy brown pants, chunky black sweater, brown jacket – topped off with a tight black toque.

He takes sips from a small coffee, and peers hard across the table in an attempt to read my notes upside down.

We start off on what should be safe ground: the work.

“To me the music has an expressionistic layer to it that seems to be about an emotional adventure of some sort,” he proffers. “And the music has a sort of squareness to it…” He pauses for a moment to pick at the skin above the bridge of his spectacles, before frowning and adding, somewhat distractedly, “Although, since we put steps to it, we find that it's not square at all.”

As to a theme: “I think this is probably love and sex, and the power issues and the secondary things you go through, like withdrawal.”

Ballet BC approached him about a project two years ago, but Kudelka didn't start working on the piece until he arrived in Vancouver for a brief visit in January. His first decision was to choose the music: He's worked with the Goldberg Variations twice before, but this time he settled on a later, less well known section.

He started thinking about relationships that were not “typical couples – but threesomes.” He chuckles at the cleverness of the title: Side 2 references the latter part of the Variations he's using – “My generation didn't flip the record;” “and you only ever hear, ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' – and I wanted there to be a reference to a certain amount of bisexuality.” He pauses: “That'll probably stop people from buying tickets.”

It's a rhythm that becomes very familiar over the course of our 90-minute interview, with responses that start strongly, then peter away until a seemingly throwaway barb skewers the point home.

He is talking, though – and talking a lot. Perhaps because he knows Ballet BC needs the publicity to help ticket sales for the double bill. (The company escaped bankruptcy in January and has yet to announce if it will return for another season in the fall).

At the mention of Carmen he bristles. “I have nothing to do with that,” he spits. “I'm not even sure it was supposed to be on this program originally.”

Carmen, it transpires, is one of the ballets he considers to be sounding the death-knell of the art form. “Is the ballet bill of fare supposed to look like opera without words?” he asks, angrily. “If I wanted to do Carmen, Carmina Burana, Snow White…If I wanted to do those ballets I could still have a career.”

There. He said it.

After bolting from the National Ballet in 2005 (unhappy at the ramifications that came with the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts) and pulling up the drawbridge (this past summer he opened a bakery in Vittoria, Ont., population 600), Kudelka re-emerged to find himself not exactly at the top of the call list any more.

“I woke up a year ago and thought, ‘Okay, I've got to start thinking about work,'” he recalls. “I was wondering what I could go back to – and the door was gone. There wasn't even a door to knock on.”

Worried that the dance community thought he had replaced ballet with bread forever, he started marketing himself last fall. “For the first time, I have actually sent out a list of ballets that I've done,” he says, sounding quite surprised at his own initiative. “I wanted people to know that there were works that I'd made and was happy for them to have – and that I'm also available to be commissioned to do something new.”

It paid off: Just before he came to Vancouver he worked with the San Francisco Ballet, where he says he pushed himself, creatively. Before that, he worked in Toronto with Claudia Moore on a 30-minute silent piece. He's in Vancouver until next Friday, when he will return to Vittoria to spend the weekend with his partner of 18 years, Jim Wies, before heading back to Toronto Dance Theatre School where he has another commission.

When he's on the road, he spends a lot of time in hotel rooms watching entire runs of HBO shows. “In San Francisco, I watched the whole of Six Feet Under,” he smiles. “That really colours your life.”

He has a plan for how he'd like the next five years to look: Spend six or seven months a year in the dance world, then the rest supplying the denizens of Vittoria with baked goods. It sounds like just the sort of work/life balance most of us dream about, but Kudelka is anything but content. He's not in the bakery for the money. “It's better that I'm not sitting and stewing about what happened.”

“It's not ideal,” he shrugs, sadly. “But there you are.”

His personality has, he says, “always been a challenge… I think a lot of my inability to deal with people is because I'm too upfront. I can't figure out a way to soften the message…A lot of people will just say I'm a big whiner.”

When he left the National, he walked away from the job that was his life's dream. “It became very clear it didn't bring out the best of me,” he admits. “It was important to listen to the signs and not think that this is too lofty a position, I can't leave.”

Now that he's made the break, however, he seems a little left out in the cold. Instead of truly revelling in his freedom, he misses the authority that comes with the top job.

Throughout the interview, it feels as though he's throwing out little calling cards: At one point he says, “I think being away from [the National] gives me ideas of how I would handle it, were I to do it again.” More than once he refers to himself as wanting to be part of something bigger – a dance movement, over which he would preside: “Is there a role in this country,” he wonders, “for a catalyst to make a movement out of this community, but not be attached to an organization?”

Does he regret walking away?

“The only thing I wish I could have a little more is a sense of humour about it – if we could all just laugh together…”

If he sounds a bit sentimental, he is. He tears up recalling his cat dying last year in his arms; he wonders if life at 52 would feel different if he'd had children.

But he's also playful. He is completely animated when explaining the “Dog of the Day” – a game he plays to cheer himself up. (“You're allowed to name the best dog you come across, the ‘dog of the day' – but you can only pick one, so you have to be a little bit discerning”). Then he blows it with an observation about how Vancouver's homeless have “great dogs.”

“I would always give money to a person with a dog before one without,” he adds. “There we are, another reason to hate yourself and see yourself as a horrible person.”

He's only half joking. The frown is back, and he jumps out of his seat with a cry of “Enough!”

His coat and hat are on and he's off before I get a chance to say another word. “I didn't want to talk about any of that,” he splutters. And with a toss of his scarf, and last minute glare in my direction, he flounces out of the building.


Look Out, World: Tiger Returns

Source: www.thestar.com - Dave Perkins

(February 24, 2009) MARANA, Ariz.-- Brendan Jones knows the first rule of facing Tiger Woods and he said he learned it from Stephen Ames: Don't say anything to make the big guy angry.

As Woods returns to the golfing wars after an eight-month absence tomorrow in the Accenture Match Play Championship, he does so against No. 64-rated Jones, a wisecracking 34-year-old Australian veteran of the Japanese tour who sounds as anxious as the rest of the sports world to see how much game Woods brings back with him since his major knee surgery.

"I spoke with Stephen Ames and he had some good advice for me," deadpanned Jones, who has met neither Ames nor Woods but who remembers the 9-and-8 dusting Woods handed Ames after apparently regarding as slanders a couple of tepid remarks the Calgary resident made before facing Woods in one of these man-to-man events.

"The first thing I will probably say to Tiger is, you know, `Can I have three a side?' Maybe one more on the front in case I don't get to the back," said Jones, who added that he has been text-messaged a second plan of attack by friends: "They have all said it's a different format, match play's a funny game, anything can happen. Pretty much everybody has said if things don't go your way, just take out his knee."

Jones was laughing as he said all this. What else can he do? This is a hugely anticipated comeback and he's no more than a supporting actor going in.

Despite eight months out, Woods never relinquished his No. 1 world ranking. Television ratings sagged and golf attendance dipped without him, but here he is, back again and on a golf course he has never played – the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, a brand new, Jack Nicklaus-designed 7,849-yard monster sculpted out of beautiful desert about 29 kilometres from Tucson.

It seems a curious place for him to come back, given that match play offers no guarantees; he might play well and be eliminated after 16 holes – maybe not by Jones, but by somebody – and there are those 36-hole days looming on the weekend if he makes it that far. But that's Woods; he's tough to read. Perhaps he just wanted to come back in a format in which every shot, every putt counts. Maybe he wanted to get back here grinding from the start, convinced he is healthy enough to resume his run at the major championship victories that both define and dominate his career. We'll know more today, after Woods chats with the press.

Yesterday was Jones' turn and he said he's happy it is Woods he is facing, rather than No. 2 Sergio Garcia. He's speaking aesthetically, of course, but he made the long journey from Tuross Head, a town of 2,000 in New South Wales, knowing he was going to get a top dog, whether or not Woods decided to come back.

"Obviously, being 64 in the world, I'm going to be playing No. 1, 2 or 3. But I've come a long way. If I'm going to get beat by anybody, I would like to get beat by Tiger.

"When Tiger came out and said he was going to play, I was overjoyed, really, (at) the chance to play probably the best player of my generation, anyway. So, yeah, (I'm) very excited to have that opportunity, for one of the most anticipated comebacks in any sport, really. And to have a front-row seat to it all is a great honour, really."

And if he were a betting man?

"I would probably put the house on Tiger."

Extension Makes It Clear Joseph's The Man In Charge For Argos

Source: www.thestar.com - Morgan Campbell,
Sports Reporter

February 21, 2009) Kerry Joseph isn't sure he'll play as long as Damon Allen did, but after signing a contract extension with the Argonauts yesterday, the 35-year-old is eager to see how far his body will take him.

"I don't feel 35," Joseph said from New Iberia, La., where he was visiting family. "As long as I can keep doing things and I enjoy it, I don't put a number on it. Why sell yourself short?"

This latest extension is for two years. Not that head coach Bart Andrus is worried about Joseph's age – he's more concerned with the team's stability under centre.

"(The contract extension) eases his concerns about us and shows our commitment to him," Andrus said. "This is the guy that's going to lead us."

The Argos acquired Joseph last March in a trade with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and his contract was valid only through the end of last season.

In 2007, Joseph led the Roughriders to a Grey Cup title and won the league's most outstanding player award. He threw for 4,002 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Last season, Joseph recorded more passing yards – 4,174 – than he did in 2007, but the rest of his stats reflected the team's lacklustre overall performance.

His interception total climbed from eight in 2007 to 14 last year, his passer rating fell 15 points to 82.0 and the Argos sputtered to a dismal 4-14 record.

But the team's recent flurry of activity has Joseph feeling optimistic about their chances.

This week, the Argos rebuilt their offensive line, signing Rob Murphy and Dominic Picard while trading for linebacker Zeke Moreno.

"They're stockpiling us for a successful season," Joseph said.


Raptors Ship Out Will Solomon And Add Big Man

Source: www.thestar.com - Doug Smith,
Sports Reporter

(February 19, 2009) It's hardly a blockbuster that will alter the balance of power in the Eastern Conference but the Raptors made a move at the NBA's trading deadline that eases a glut at one position and satisfies a need at another. As part of a late-breaking three-way transaction, the Raptors have acquired 7-foot Patrick O'Bryant from the Boston Celtics while sending point guard Will Solomon to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings will send a future second-round draft pick and cash to Boston to complete the transaction, according to various league and team sources. O'Bryant, the ninth pick in the 2006 draft, has been languishing on the Boston bench behind Kendrick Perkins and Glenn Davis and has played in just 26 games this season. But the 22-year-old comes to a Raptor team starved for size behind Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani and, with Kris Humphries out for weeks still with a broken right fibula, O'Bryant should challenge Jake Voskuhl and little-used rookie Nathan Jawai for playing time. Solomon, signed as a free-agent by Toronto last summer, was buried behind Jose Calderon and Roko Ukic here, even before the Raptors obtained guard Marcus Banks from Miami last week. The financial considerations in the deal are nothing to complicate it or cost the Raptors any salary cap flexibility in the future. Solomon's deal ends after this season and while O'Bryant has another year and $855,189 left, only $500,000 of it is guaranteed.

Canada's Woolstencroft Captures 2nd Straight Gold At IPC World

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

February 21, 2009) KANGWON LAND, South Korea–Lauren Woolstencroft of North Vancouver, B.C., captured her second gold medal in as many days Saturday, racing to victory in the giant slalom at the IPC world championships. Woolstencroft opened the Paralympic ski event Friday with a win in the slalom. Viviane Forest of Edmonton, Alta., accompanied by guide Lindsay Debou of Whistler, B.C., won her second consecutive silver medal in the women's visually impaired category, finishing second to Austria's Sabine Gasteiger. "I am very happy about my results, more than (Friday) because I feel that I gave everything I had," Forest said. "(Friday), I had the impression that I could do more." Josh Dueck of Vernon, B.C., had a career-best sixth-place finish in the giant slalom. "I had a lot of fun today and I'm really excited about my results because it shows a lot of improvement," Dueck said. "I am looking forward to carrying on this momentum throughout this season and into next." Karolina Wisniewska of Vancouver was eighth in the women's standing category followed by Andrea Dziewior of Nanaimo, B.C., in ninth. In the men's standing category, Morgan Perrin of Vancouver finished 19th while and Matt Hallat of Coquitlam, B.C., was 21st.


Ask the Trainer: Cardio or Weights First?

By Raphael Calzadilla, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro

(February 13, 2009 ) Several years ago, many personal trainers claimed that weight training before cardio was the most effective approach to lose fat. Their reasoning was that a person loses glycogen during weight training. Glycogen is stored energy within the body, which originates from glucose (stored sugar/carbohydrates). So it seemed to make sense that one would weight train first to burn glycogen (carbs) and then perform cardio afterward to access stored body fat. However, this is a very simplistic view of how the body operates. In reality, whether you perform cardio before or after weight training will not affect how much body fat you lose.

I generally recommend weight training before a cardio session for a different reason. When one weight trains, they’re trying to constantly improve the weight poundage used in order to become stronger and tighter. This can be very taxing on the body, and to attempt lifting challenging weights after a sweat-producing cardio session can place you at risk for injury due to lower energy levels - exercise technique can easily be compromised.

If one is working with moderate or light weights, then the order of cardio and weights doesn’t matter. In that case, I recommend performing the order you prefer and that will help make your workout fun and interesting.

Regarding your second question, if the Elliptical resistance of 2-3 is enough depends on several factors. Here are the questions to ask yourself: Am I within my target heart rate range and performing cardio at 65-85 percent of max heart rate? Or, do I feel somewhat challenged in my cardio session but can still carry on a conversation if I had to? This is also referred to as RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).

Let’s discuss target heart rate first.

The target heart range formula is based on age, so I’ll calculate yours for you:

220 - 50 (your age) = 170 beats per minute (maximum heart rate)

65-85% of max heart rate is as follows:

170 x 65% = 110 beats per minute

170 x 85% = 144 beats per minute

If you’re exercising anywhere in the 110-144 beats per minute range, then you’re at an acceptable level of intensity. The best way to monitor heart rate is by using a heart rate monitor.

Although target heart rate is a very good way to monitor intensity, I prefer Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). RPE is a method that requires you to pay close attention to your body and what’s happening to it -- and that’s an approach I’ve always liked. RPE is a subjective rating of how hard you’re working during exercise, which is based primarily on your breathing. You simply evaluate how short of breath you are using a scale from 1-10.

Here is a scale to show what you should be feeling at each level:


Motivational Note

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it."

Source: www.eurweb.com - — Rabindranath Tagore