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January 15, 2009

What a winter for us Torontonians!  OK, we're not the worst hit, but definitely a colder and snowier winter than usual!

Well, believe it or not, I'm heading in for another hip surgery ... quite common once one hip is fixed (who knew?) so the other one has gone downhill quickly - but another ordeal ahead.  I have every confidence in my surgeon and know that all will be well in the end.  Thanks to those for your concern and prayers ... it really warms my heart.  All to say is that there will not be a newsletter next week (January 22).  God willing, there will be one the following week as I begin my road to recovery.

History will be made next week with the inauguration of President Barack Obama! Check out some related articles below!

Now as we hit full swing into the new year of 2009, please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!



Toronto Bus Trip Dubbed “Obamamania” Heads To Inauguration

Source: Film Market Access

(January 13, 2009) Toronto – The ObamaMania Bus Trip is leaving Toronto on the 17th of January for Washington, DC to witness the historic Inauguration of President Elect, Barak Hussein Obama, as the 44th President of the United States of America.   

This is no ordinary bus trip! It will be the experience of a lifetime from the moment passengers board the ObamaMania bus.  On board passengers will participate in quizzes related to the US presidential campaign, be entertained by spoken-word poetry, movies, music and so much more.  It will all be captured on tape for a documentary film.  In addition to capturing the fun on the bus, the documentary will include the hype that is Obamamania while offering sober reflections of the people who have followed President Elect Obama’s campaign from the start to the day he claimed victory.

The film will also explore the hopes and aspirations of Caribbean and African Canadians present; some of which are youth who are at a crossroad in their lives and are drawing inspiration from this momentous event.  Others are mature people who have experienced the sting of racism at various points in their lives.  We will also capture people as they get on the bus, their conversations during the bus trip, inaugural events and the trip home. The documentary is being co-produced by Film Market Access, Stonewall Productions, Norflicks Productions Ltd., and Scarlett Media.

Over the long and engaging electoral process, many Canadians, including those on the ObamaMania bus watched Senator Obama rally Americans by the millions.  He touched their hearts with his message of hope as he shared his vision of an America that lives up to its best self - an America that the world can once again respect and live up to his campaign slogan of ‘Yes we Can’.

The Presidential Inauguration will be held on Tuesday, January 20th, and a group of Torontonians, diverse in race and in age, will join Americans on Capital Hill to witness Barack Obama become America’s first African American President. ObamaMania passengers are currently the only Canadians who have secured accommodations approximately three miles from Capitol Hill at the beautiful Marriot Hotel – thus avoiding all security bridge closures in the district.  During their stay in D.C they will enjoy a soul shaking, feet stomping church service, inaugural events such as the swearing in ceremony and the parade, and a formal dinner the evening of the Inauguration to celebrate the historic event.

The journey begins at 7am when the first group of ObamaMania travellers are picked up at the Scarborough Towne Center. The bus will then travel downtown to lower Sherbourne and the Esplanade before making its last stop in Mississauga at Square One.  
For more information about the trip and documentary, please visit www.getonthebus.ca . To view a clip from the documentary please visit www.getonthebus.ca/blog.php

Media contact: Kirk Cooper kirk@market-access.ca

 Y&R’s Tonya Lee Williams Nominated for 2009 NAACP Image Award

Source: Sasha Stoltz Publicity

(January 8, 2009)  After three years of self-imposed absence from The Young and The Restless,
Tonya Lee Williams returned last September and reprieved her role of 15 years as Dr. Olivia Winters.  Her return was even more enhanced by the recent announcements of the 2009 NAACP Image Award nominees held this January 7 at the Beverly Hilton, where Ms. Williams name was announced in the category for Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Series.  An award she has previously received in 2002 and 2000.

Not only are Y&R fans thrilled and excited to have ‘Olivia’ back, but Ms. Williams couldn’t be happier.  “It’s wonderful to be back on the show, the time away has revitalized my passion for the character and I can’t wait to see what the writers have in store for Olivia over the coming year” In her time away Tonya has been busy.  She starred in the feature film “Poor Boys Game” with Danny Glover and continues to run ReelWorld Film Festival that she founded in 2001.  “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to help new and emerging talent reach their full potential and their goals.

The NAACP Image awards, created in 1967, honour the achievements of people of color in the arts.  The ceremony is set to take place February 12 live from Los Angeles’  Shrine Auditorium.

ReelWorld Film Festival (RWFF); Canada’s premiere non-profit film festival celebrating cultural diversity in front of and behind the camera. What began as a small festival has since garnered international attention. ReelWorld Film Festival will be celebrating its 9th year and takes place April 15-19, 2009 in Toronto.
For more information visit the ReelWorld website www.reelworld.ca

Toronto Home To Hip-Hop Diasporas

Source:  www.thestar.com - Thandiwe Vela,
Staff Reporter

(January 08, 2009) It was fate that turned Maysian Lim into "Masia One."

Her second-year university roommate just happened to be planning a rap showcase, and he was short an artist. Lim had loved hip hop since she first came across a Public Enemy tape in her native Singapore. So she offered to fill the spot, and the rest is history.

The buzz around Masia One after that first performance was loud. She even landed a commercial spot on the new urban television channel at the time, Much Vibe.

Still, when people talked about her, she was only known as "that Asian chick that rhymes."

"I didn't want to be regarded as a female Asian MC, but as just an MC," says the 29-year-old, who in 2005 became the first woman ever nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award for Best Rap Video.

Despite the challenges that come with having a foreign identity in hip hop, the success of Toronto-based international artists K'naan, Arabesque and Masia One shows that having an identity that stands out can work to an artist's advantage.

"In terms of what's the norm, I'm definitely not it. And I think that's a big plus for me," says 27-year-old Steve Kawalit, also known as Arabesque. His Jordanian-Palestinian background has made him a popular figure in both the Arab and hip-hop communities.

"I don't look like any of these cats that do what I do, and in a market that's so saturated, to have somebody that stands out is a big deal."

Will Strickland, president of the Urban Music Association of Canada, agrees. For a rapper in what Strickland calls the mecca of hip hop in Canada – mainly based on the sheer number of rappers in Toronto – a cultural identity that stands out from the crowd could be a huge asset.

"Walk down the street and every other dude is rapping," Strickland says. "Being able to tell a story from a different perspective when you often hear one perspective ... that's a good thing."

It didn't always seem like such a good thing for Masia One, who struggled with the idea of drawing attention to her cultural background.

As a result, early in her career she tried her best to distance herself from that identity.

"I came from a place where I was hiding – not ashamed of it, but hiding that I was a female Asian MC," Masia One says. "So you do so much to not show that side of you."

It was the letters and comments from Asian youth worldwide, who told her how much seeing someone "like them" on TV meant, that helped the artist overcome her fear of being labelled.

"When you're more developed and experienced in the business, you start realizing that you're allowed to and you have a responsibility to show your female or cultural perspective," Masia One says.

Rapper K'naan Warsame, known only by his first name, has also bristled at times when people focused too much on his background – particularly the violent nature of his life in civil war-ravaged Somalia.

"I don't go around doing interviews about how my history is more violent than 50 Cent's," K'naan says. "I think journalists find that more appealing and they ask those questions but you can't take the human soul and diminish it to just one small area of someone's life."

But he, too, recognizes the important role he has to play in giving his community a chance in the spotlight. K'naan doesn't usually rap in Somali, but he did at an internationally televised event in October.

"I did that mainly because I'm at the BET Hip Hop Awards and it's the first time the Somali language has been spoken in that venue of expression ever," K'naan says.

"BET's not the highest beacon but it's what young Somalis are looking at and I think they see that as a source of inspiration."

Arabesque also sees the role he plays in uplifting his Middle Eastern community, especially at a time when he sees Arabs being vilified in the media, resulting in their "tainted and skewed" image in North America.

"People see me as being Arabic but I'm showing me being a human being," Arabesque says. "They look at someone like me who is on commercial radio, who is on TV ... and they say, `Yeah, Arabesque, I feel his music. I understand what he's talking about. I can nod my head to his music. I could relate to him.'

"And they realize, not all Arabs are Jafar or whatever his name is from Aladdin."

Perhaps the greatest gratification comes when these artists tour in the regions of their roots, with a noticeable swell of appreciative fans.

Arabesque realized the depth of support for his music in the Middle East when he toured last summer with reggae star Sean Paul.

"Cats knew the words of my songs," Arabesque marvelled. "I didn't feel like I was in Sean Paul's shadow at all."

Masia One toured Asia last summer, drawing thousands and opening for critically acclaimed hip-hop band The Roots.

"Here, the people that book The Roots wouldn't even talk to me," she says. "I might draw a crowd of 50 in Toronto but thousands in Asia."

Even as these artists have moved to the mainstream, they have not left their roots behind.

K'naan's latest album, Troubadour, being released next month, features international artists such as Damian Marley, Mos Def and Adam Levine from Maroon 5, but will still include his Somali musical influences.

"The sense of beauty that people extract from my music makes most people that know my culture want to be like my culture," K'naan says. "So most artists that I love that work with me try to sing in Somali.

"I'm serious, you'll hear it on my album."


"My mom’s still waiting for me to come to my senses, because `nice Chinese girls’ don’t wild out like this."

Full Name: Maysian Lim
Born: 1979 in Singapore. Moved to Vancouver at the age of 9 and graduated from U of T’s architecture program with a minor in economics.
Acclaim: Masia One was the first woman nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award for Best Rap Video.
Newest Release: Her CD Pulau, which is the Malaysian word for the islands, was released in the fall under her own record label, Merdeka Group.
On Her Sound: “I love hip-hop music but I want to make a universal sound, an internationally relatable sound. And in a city like Toronto, the hip-hop scene alone gives you all those flavours.”

"There hasn’t been someone like me before so there’s no place to fit me."

Full Name: K’naan Warsame
Born: 1978 in Somalia. Escaped civil war at the age of 13 when he, his mother and siblings joined his father, who had been driving cabs in New York to send money to his family.
Acclaim: His debut album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, won the 2006 Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year.
Newest Release: Troubadour, due out next month, features artists Damian Marley, Mos Def and Adam Levine of Maroon 5, among others.
On His Sound: “It seems like people are trying to classify me into a certain genre and even they’re having problems with that. My music does have strong hip-hop elements, I’m a rhythmic poet and I also like to explore my traditional music, of Somalia.”

"I have my say like anyone else but I’m not shoving the message down anyone’s throat."

Full Name: Steve Kawalit
Born: 1981 in Toronto to a Palestinian mother and Jordanian father. Because people always asked him where he was from, he decided on the rap name Arabesque, “to cut the small talk.”
Acclaim: Nominated for a 2007 Rap Recording of the Year Juno Award for his album The Frenzy of Renown.
Newest Release: Last Life in the Universe, on the Japanese label Yanase, came out in September. He’s following that up with a tour of Japan.
On His Sound: “What I bring to the table everyone could understand. It’s not restricted to Arabs or the Middle Eastern community...It goes beyond race.”

Slumdog Sweeps Golden Globes

Source:  www.thestar.com - David Germain,
Associated Press

(January 12, 2009) BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.–Slumdog Millionaire lived up to its theme of an underdog who becomes a winner at Sunday's Golden Globes, sweeping all four of its categories, including Best Drama and Director for Danny Boyle.

Kate Winslet won two Globes all on her own, Best Dramatic Actress for Revolutionary Road and Supporting Actress for The Reader. The Wrestler also had two, Dramatic Actor for Mickey Rourke and Best Song for Bruce Springsteen.

"Golden Globes, or the GGs as we very affectionately refer to them – your mad, pulsating affection for our film is much appreciated. Really, deeply appreciated," Boyle said.

Slumdog Millionaire also won Best Screenplay and Musical Score, firming up its prospects for the Academy Awards. The film features a generally unknown cast in the story of an orphan boy in Mumbai who rises from terrible hardship to become a champ on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, all the while trying to reunite with a lost love from his childhood.

"We really weren't expecting to be here in America at all at one time, so it's just amazing to be here," said Simon Beaufoy, whose winning script was adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A.

Winslet, who has previously been nominated five times without winning at both the Globes and Oscars, won for her role as a woman in a crumbling marriage in Revolutionary Road and as a former Nazi concentration camp guard in The Reader.

Revolutionary Road was directed by Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes, and reunited her with her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio.

To DiCaprio, Winslet gushed: "I've loved you for 13 years and your performance in this film is nothing short of spectacular." To Mendes, she added: "Thank you for directing this film, babe, and thank you for killing us every single day and really enjoying us actually being in such horrific pain."

Woody Allen's Spanish romance Vicky Cristina Barcelona won for Best Musical or Comedy film.

The three films that led the Globe field with five nominations each – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt and Frost/Nixon – all were shut out.

As expected, the late Heath Ledger earned the Supporting Actor Globe for his diabolical turn as The Joker in the Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight. The Globe win boosts Ledger's prospects for the Supporting Actor honour at the Oscars, whose nominations come out Jan. 22, the one-year anniversary of the actor's death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

The award was accepted by The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, who said he and his collaborators were buoyed by the enormous acclaim and acceptance the film and Ledger's performance have gained worldwide.

"All of us who worked with Heath on The Dark Knight accept with an awful mixture of sadness but incredible pride," Nolan said. "After Heath passed, you saw a hole ripped in the future of cinema."

Only one actor has ever won a posthumous Oscar, Best Actor recipient Peter Finch for 1976's Network.

Rourke won for a role as a former wrestling star who gets a last chance at glory in the ring, a theme that mirrors the actor's life after he derailed his career with bad-boy behaviour. "It's been a very long road back for me," said Rourke, who poured out his thanks to The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky.

"I've said this before, in sports especially which I can relate to, really, truly great players come around every 30 years, and I really, truly believe Darren is one of those cats," Rourke said.

Other acting winners were Sally Hawkins as Musical or Comedy Actress for her role as an eternal optimist in Happy-Go-Lucky; and Colin Farrell for Musical or Comedy Actor for In Bruges, in which he plays a hit man laying low in a Belgian tourist town.

Hawkins, a relatively unknown British actress and newcomer to Hollywood's awards scenes, was visibly nervous accepting her prize.

"I'll try and get through as much as my voice and nerves and knees will let me," said Hawkins, thanking family, cast mates and collaborators on the film, including director Mike Leigh.

The robot romance WALL-E won for Best Animated Feature. Director Andrew Stanton thanked producer Pixar Animation and distributor Walt Disney, saying the unusual love story between two robots who communicate in beeps and squeaks "couldn't have been made anywhere else.''

The 66th annual Globes, the town's second-biggest movie celebration after the Academy Awards, returned to their somewhat boozy glory. Last year's Globe show was scrapped after stars said they would stay away in honour of picket lines by the Writers Guild of America, which was engaged in a bitter strike against producers. In its place was a briskly paced news conference where winners were announced from a podium.

The Globes serve as a barometer for potential Oscar contenders, often singling out deserving newcomers who might have been overlooked among bigger-name stars. The Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 90 reporters covering show business for overseas outlets.

List Of Winners Of The Golden Globe Awards

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(January 12, 2009) Complete list of winners at the Golden Globes held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association:


Picture, Drama: Slumdog Millionaire.
Picture, Musical or Comedy
: Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Actor, Drama: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler.
Actress, Drama: Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road.
Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire.
Actor, Musical or Comedy: Colin Farrell, In Bruges.
Actress, Musical or Comedy: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky.
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight.
Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader.
Foreign Language Film: Waltz With Bashir.
Animated Film: Wall-E.
Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire.
Original Score: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire.
Original Song: The Wrestler (performed by Bruce Springsteen, written by Bruce Springsteen), "The Wrestler.''


Series, Drama: Mad Men.
Actor, Drama: Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment.
Actress, Drama: Anna Paquin, True Blood.
Series, Musical or Comedy: 30 Rock.
Actor, Musical or Comedy: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock.
Actress, Musical or Comedy: Tina Fey, 30 Rock.
Miniseries or Movie: John Adams.
Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Laura Linney, John Adams.
Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Paul Giammatti, John Adams.
Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Laura Dern, Recount.
Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Tom Wilkinson, John Adams.

Cecil B. DeMille Award: Steven Spielberg.


Some Of The Caribbean’s Top Properties Are Focusing On Eco-Friendly Operations

Source:  Travel Tribe - Melanie Reffes

(December 23, 2008) Home to some of the finest reefs on earth, crystal-clear water and endless shorelines of sugary sand, the Caribbean is attracting the attention of environmentalists, who wish to ensure the sustainability of the region’s tourism product. As more and more travelers opt for stays in eco-astute properties, the goal is to make “green” the norm, not the expensive alternative.

Such organizations as Green Globe International and Green Hotel Certification are working with properties throughout the region to bring them up to current green standards, which means more than a recycling bin and a ceiling fan. From lodges in the woods to uber-luxe suites on the beach, following are some of the top green properties in the Caribbean.

Aruba: Fronting 14 palm-studded acres along Eagle Beach, the European-designed Bucuti Beach Resort and Tara Beach Suites has made the environment a priority. At this resort, which in 2008 earned Green Globe certification for the sixth consecutive year, rooms and suites are equipped with energy-saving lamps, insulation systems that retain cool air and ozone machines that leave a fragrant scent without the use of chemical sprays. Locally made Aruba Aloe toiletries are standard room amenities.

Owners Ewald and Susan Biemans are the driving forces behind the eco-efforts, employing an on-property Green Team that encourages guest participation in resort-sponsored beach cleanups and projects that monitor the giant leatherback turtle that lays its eggs on the beach from March to October.

“American travelers are choosing a property based on the eco-safeguards in place,” Ewald Biemans says. “Climate change and high fuel prices at home are creating a very eco-astute generation of tourists.”

For further information, call 297-583-1100 or visit www.bucuti.com.

Bahamas: On South Andros Island, steps away from the crystal waters of South Bight, is Tiamo, the first full-service resort in the Caribbean to use only solar-field powering for its electrical needs. Wastewater is recycled, low-flush toilets create fertilizer and all non- reusable paper is burned, with the ashes used as fertilizer. White reflective roofs and an open design make air conditioning unnecessary.

Stays in the 11 beachside bungalows, which are surrounded by 125 acres of natural forest, include biologist-guided nature tours, such as snorkelling through the blue holes and coral reefs, hiking through the ecosystems and a behind-the-scenes look at the solar water heaters and water wells. Staffers also teach classes in iguana and turtle protection.

For further information, visit www.tiamoresorts.com.

Barbados: Opened in 2008, the 267-room Casuarina Beach Resort, on the white sands of Maxwell Beach, is the fifth property in the Almond chain of all-inclusives. With resort-wide Green Globe certification (Barbados and St. Lucia), Almond has long demonstrated a consistent eco-sensitivity. The newest property, near Bridgetown, is already a leader in the preservation of endangered sea turtles, which nest on Casuarina Beach.

Set on nine acres of tropical forest, the resort operates solely within its own ecosystem and composts almost all of its waste, allowing it to maintain the landscape without chemically enhanced topsoil. Solar power heats the water, and the lighting system operates on photo cells.

For further information, call 246-428-3600 or visit www.almondresorts.com.

Cayman Islands: The 365-room Ritz-Carlton on Grand Cayman, set on 144 acres from the Caribbean to the North Sound, sets the gold standard for both luxury and an unrivalled commitment to the environment. Ambassadors of the Environment, created by preservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, has opened its programs to islanders as well as guests of the property.

Situated in the on-site Ambassadors Heritage House and modeled after a traditional Cayman cottage, the resort offers participants a chance to learn about the environment through interactive exhibits and hands-on adventures. Activities include a weekly reef survey using underwater writing slates to record marine life, and a turtle-tagging program tracks the movements of the endangered creature by monitoring nesting sites. On-property green initiatives include bamboo window shades that keep heat out while allowing light to come in and furniture made from woven wicker with hemp cushions. Moreover, artwork throughout the property is created from damaged pieces of a traditional Caymanian house.

For further information, call 345-943-9000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

Grenada: With its own desalinization plant and a strong “reduce, reuse, renew” mind-set, the AAA Four-Diamond Spice Island Beach Resort is a lot more than just a pretty face. Blending environmental ethos with practicality, the elegant, 64-room, all-inclusive, which fronts the spectacular Grand Anse Beach, was the first property on Grenada to be Green Globe certified, and it continues its commitment to the environment without compromising the luxury vacation experience.

Green initiatives include solar rooftop heaters, compact fluorescent bulbs, the grinding of used bath soap to make laundry detergent, composting of the vegetable gardens, and cleanups of the reefs and the surrounding Mourne Rouge area. In addition, as of Dec. 15, 2008, the resort is entirely smoke-free.

For further information, call 800-448-8355 or visit www.spiceislandbeachresort.com.

Jamaica: The British Colonial-inspired and Green Globe-certified Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios takes environmentalism seriously. The 74-room oceanfront property has incorporated sustainable practices into daily life both at the resort and in the surrounding communities. Paper is recycled, shredded and donated to Wassi Arts -- a local pottery company that uses it for packing -- printer ink cartridges are given to Caribbean Ink, which turns the old ones into new ones; and plastic bottles and aluminum cans are sent to the Jamaica Unified Recycling Company.

On-site environmental managers oversee programs that reduce energy and water consumption, improve wastewater disposal and protect marine life, including the coral reefs, turtles and dolphins.

Every Sandals and Beaches Resort on Jamaica, Antigua, the Turks & Caicos and St. Lucia is Green Globe-certified.

For further information, call 888-726-3257 or visit www.sandals.com.

St. Lucia: Eco-savvy from top to bottom, Discovery at Marigot Bay, on the picturesque west coast, achieved an environmental milestone with the launch of the Caribbean’s first solar-powered ferry. Designed and built by a naval architect, the Sunshine Express is a clean, quiet and energy-efficient craft, and the latest in a long list of environmentally friendly initiatives adopted by the resort. “We have always tried to do our best to protect this bay, described by James Michener as the most beautiful in the Caribbean,” says owner Judith Verity, who initiated the building of the ferry.

Other eco-sustainable measures include a high-tech sewage system that filters gray water so that nothing goes into the bay, a beach-regeneration program and the recycling of used cooking oil, which is converted to fuel by local farmers and used to power farm machinery.

Be sure to pack a DEET-based repellent for evening strolls and midnight martinis; the resort does not use toxic pesticides to control insects.

For further information, call 758-458-5300 or visit www.discoverystlucia.com.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Ringed by five beaches and traversed by a tapestry of nature trails, Palm Island in the Grenadines is an eco-chic hideaway appealing to tourists who want more from a vacation than a suntan. Because it has neither TVs nor telephones, the 135-acre retreat relies on Mother Nature to keep guests entertained.

For owner Elite Island resorts, attention to the environment is paramount, and all of the company’s properties are certified green by the California-based Green Hotel Certification. Organic waste is given to local farmers, only biodegradable products are used, products from endangered species are banned and a carbon-offset program is in place at all resorts. In addition, the workforce is more than 95 percent local.

For further information, call 800-345-0356, or visit www.eliteislands.com or www.palmislandresortgrenadines.com.

U.S. Virgin Islands: The granddaddy of Caribbean sustainability dates back to 1976, when “eco-astute” was just a buzzword and Stanley Selengut opened Maho Bay Camps on 14 acres bordering Virgin Islands National Park on St. John. Selengut set the property on platforms within the forest so that the plants and animals could continue to exist undisturbed. He also made sure that the nearby beach and coral reef remained undamaged.

Maho Bay is also one of the region's best values. It offers 114 screened-in tent cabins connected by a network of stairs and boardwalks along a hillside overlooking the bay. It’s not for everyone, though, as there is no air conditioning, and sugar-eating Banana Quit birds and iguanas may camp outside your room.

The property runs St. John’s only recycling program and operates the Trash to Treasures Art Center, where guests take classes in everything from jewellery design using used bottles to papermaking using shredded office paper.

For further information, call 800-392-9004 or visit www.maho.org.


Artists In The Middle Years: Making It Work

Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill

(January 10, 2009) Endurance, versatility and dedication. Look into the working lives and values of Canadian artists of any discipline, and those three qualities keep emerging in their conversations, in their belief systems, in their work.

Even in the wake of last year's arts funding cuts by the federal government, those qualities seem unassailable. Take first-time movie director and screenwriter Peter Stebbings, Gemini Award-winning actor Hélène Joy and roots music veteran Suzie Vinnick – all artists in their 30s, in full possession of their talent and poised at the brink of stardom. Like the vast majority of the more than a million Canadians who earn their living in the arts and culture sector, generating some $85 billion annually in the nation's economy, they will just knuckle down and get by with less.

They're used to that. They live and work in an industry eclipsed by the world's greatest entertainment juggernaut. They're not in it for glory and fame and unimaginable wealth. They endure because they love what they do in Canada, and because their work sustains them spiritually and emotionally, if not financially.

To continue that work, they'll have to do without what most working Canadians take for granted – a car, a house, ordinary luxuries, paid vacations, the expectation of a retirement income – and stretch their talents beyond prescribed professional limits, supplementing their income in whatever ways they can: by teaching music and singing jingles, as Vinnick does; by performing voice parts in animated TV shows, and by house-flipping, as Joy has; and by acting on TV, as Stebbings has for years.

Working artists in Canada are not "people ... at a rich gala, all subsidized by taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough," as Prime Minister Stephen Harper infamously said last fall. They're committed to the pursuit of what Joy calls "the juice of life," to a path that offers few material rewards, no security, little recognition and one mighty challenge after another.

Suzie Vinnick: Why This Songwriter Rents Her Home

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

(January 10, 2009) It seems there's nothing Suzie Vinnick won't do to sustain her life in music.

The curriculum vitae of the 38-year-old Saskatchewan-born, Toronto-based singer, songwriter, session musician, concert performer and recording artist is an epic testament to her ingenuity and musical versatility.

She has the voice of a blues mama who's seen it all. She plays bass, guitar, saxophone, piano, Dobro, lap steel and mandolin. A self-taught musician, Vinnick is one of the busiest session players and singers in the Canadian blues/roots music and jazz communities, having made appearances on more than a dozen recordings by other artists.

She's a crossover concert favourite, as much at home with the comedic musical troupe Betty and the Bobs – a sort of Canadian folk supergroup – as she is with the all-female country-folk outfit The Marigolds.

Vinnick is a frequent headliner at festivals across the country and in the U.S., and in November shared the Massey Hall stage as musical director and featured artist in the Toronto Blues Society's annual all-star Women's Blues Revue.

An award-winning songwriter, instrumentalist and vocalist, Vinnick has been featured on CBC Radio's Saturday Night Blues with Holger Petersen, and toured with Stuart McLean's Vinyl Café. She has performed for Canadian peacekeepers in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf.

With all her talent, and after all her hard work, you would think Vinnick could afford a modest mortgage. But because she's a performer with a low taxable income, her application for a line of credit with a major bank – simply to help finance her third solo album, Happy Here – was declined at first.

"I really had to fight for it," she says over a sandwich at her favourite diner, the Lunch Box on Bloor St. at Keele, a short drive from her lakeside apartment in Toronto's west end. "I'd really like to try to buy my own home, be it a small little bungalow or a condo, but it was a toss-up: a house, or an album that could help me further my career and help me get more work. Without a new album, it's difficult to forge ahead in this business. And it's hard to pay a mortgage without any work. So I made the new album ... and I'm renting.

"There's no security in being a self-employed musician," adds Vinnick, who counts as her retirement nest egg "a teeny tiny pension" through the American Federation of Musicians, a small RRSP, and some money contributed to another RRSP through the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.

"Then again," she continues, "I don't think there's much security in anything. You have to keep your options open and your skills intact. You have to be able to do what you need to do to survive."

This means a string of backup revenue sources, all music related. "You never know what doors are going to open, so I keep myself busy," she says. "I never turn down an opportunity to get myself heard."

That's Vinnick's voice on Tim Horton's musical TV commercials, and on ads for Interac, Ontario Foodland, Tetley Tea and Shoppers Drug Mart. Several of her songs have landed on soundtracks for TV series and movies, including MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives, ReGenesis and A Touch of Grey. One Vinnick original, "Drive," was licensed for two years (for a hefty fee) by an Alberta school bus company, which used the song as its theme at international conventions.

And as a buffer against lows in her constantly fluctuating revenues, Vinnick is a professional singer on demos for other songwriters and music publishers, and has a regular roster of music students as well.

In the roots music firmament Vinnick is already a star, though she says she doesn't feel particularly gifted, just a hard worker.

She says she is fortunate to be able to earn a living for the past five years doing what she loves without having to support her musical adventures with other full- and part-time gigs, as she has in the past – as an office manager for a law firm and a dentist, babysitting, cleaning and housekeeping.

"I always gravitated to music, even when I was a kid teaching myself guitar. It was like breathing to me. It took me a while to figure out I could earn money doing this."

By folk music standards, Vinnick is doing better than most. Her versatility, resilience and energy are paying off. "Last year was my best year ever," she says. "My gross income was $130,000. After deductions, my taxable income was $50,000. I had to pay $10,000 income tax."

Over the past six years, Vinnick's gross income has averaged $89,000 – netting her an average of $25,000 after expenses.

A lot of her performing, travel and recording expenses are directly or indirectly subsidized through federal and provincial grants. She has applied for 13 over the past five years, including Canada Council career development program funds, a Canada Council travel grant, and an Ontario arts recording grant.

Grants cover only a fraction of her professional expenses, Vinnick says, but without them she couldn't record, tour or maintain her independent business status.

And as federal arts funding slips away under the Conservative regimen, Vinnick, like so many other Canadian artists, is counting what blessings remain.

"I think it would be difficult to sell an album without CBC support, with no festivals, no concert series," she says. "I might be able to teach music, but then again students tend to take the summer off, so it's not full-time income.

"I have incredible friends/peers, also in the business, who have supported me and cheered me on. They encouraged me to go full time with music. I've also learned many valuable things through the workshops and conferences I've attended that have been put on by SOCAN, the Songwriters Association of Canada, the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, the Toronto Blues Society, and events at Canadian Music Week and NXNE."

Even with the moral support of her musical friends and financial support from government programs, Vinnick has had to make personal sacrifices for her musical independence. Though she has been in a stable relationship for the past three years, the weeks she spends on the road make it difficult to grow.

"Till this year, I've never been able to afford a place of my own," she adds. "I've always had roommates or boyfriends. Even so, my apartment is crammed with instruments, amplifiers and a piano. ... I'd like to have more space.

"And I'd like to be able to afford to take some time off just to write music, maybe even go to music school."

Not that she's complaining.

"I hope this never ends," she says. "I hope I can keep learning new things, meeting new people, visiting other parts of Canada, other countries.

"I can't imagine a world where art isn't allowed to thrive. I look around me and everything that catches my senses comes from some creative stimulus or artistic impulse. Why would anyone want to stifle that?"

Peter Stebbings: Pushing Himself To Make Changes

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

(January 10, 2009) "All of us who endure in the arts in Canada command my respect," says actor/director/screenwriter Peter Stebbings at the end of a long conversation about his life and work, his methods, motives and ambitions.

"In the final analysis, my respect for those who endure is equal to my respect for those who succeed."

Just days before he starts shooting his first full-length feature in and around Toronto – the $4-million drama Defendor, was written by Stebbings and stars Woody Harrelson, Sandra Oh, Kat Dennings, Elia Koteas and Michael Kelly – the debutant director is a bundle of raw nerves.

Putting together the final details for his movie – "it's about a guy with mental health issues, who has fallen through the cracks, lives in a storage depot, and enjoys a rich fantasy life as a superhero" – allows Stebbings about four hours of sleep a day.

He's lean and pale, and his lanky, six-foot frame seems inadequate inside the full-length worsted overcoat he has thrown over a white T-shirt and jeans on this cold Saturday night. His jaw is stubbled, his eyes, behind designer horn-rimmed specs, are red and watery. He's still $100,000 shy of his movie's financial requirements, he confesses, after adding all his personal savings to the project's budget.

"My mother used to say, `Don't worry about the money – we'll find a way,'" he says. "And we always did."

When the 37-year-old director and veteran actor (whose credits include multiple-season runs in the Canadian and U.S. TV series Traders, Madison, and Jeremiah, and lead roles in some 20 U.S. and Canadian made-for-TV movies) can grab a few moments to eat, it's at the Caffe Brasiliano on Dundas St. W., a homey and inexpensive local diner frequented by an inordinate number of artists, writers, musicians and actors in the west-end enclave, near Stebbings's home.

They know him here. Like others who come and go during our conversation, Stebbings runs a tab. He settles up when he has the cash.

These days, that's sometimes a problem.

"I roll with whatever money I have in my pocket," he says.

Apart from the small house, which he bought when he came to Toronto from Vancouver in the late 1990s to start work on Traders, Stebbings has few possessions.

"I fell in love with Toronto. The house was an impulse buy," he explains.

In the past two decades Stebbings led something of a charmed life as a young artist, enjoying exceptional success in Vancouver, where he had drifted into acting at a performing arts high school.

"I wasn't convinced I wanted to be an actor," he says. "But people were encouraging me, so I started auditioning."

It took time to land a job, and he supported himself with part-time work before a deluge of TV gigs came his way: The Beachcombers, Bordertown and 21 Jump Street.

But these weren't easy times, Stebbings recalls. His parents divorced in the 1980s, and his father, a structural engineer, had little to do with his children.

With his three elder sisters, Stebbings was raised by a devoted, well-educated mother, who had immigrated to Canada from Britain in the 1960s and worked as a librarian, having returned to university to earn a master's degree in English Literature. She died in 1994.

"She was a profound influence in my life," he says. "She encouraged me every step of the way. I was devastated when she died."

Though she would have preferred him to take a liberal arts degree – "I told her I didn't want anything to fall back on, because that's exactly what I'd have done," he says – his mother found the money to support him when he won a spot in the respected Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City, which he attended from 1993 to 1995. But work there was hard to find.

"By the late 1990s, back home in Canada, I was making really good money in television, $250,000 a year," he says. "I spent $27,000 on restaurant meals alone one year, which got the attention of my accountant.

"The following year my net taxable income was just $25,000."

The Canadian TV and movie industry took a beating after 2000. A rising Canadian dollar and the subsequent repatriation of American production decimated revenue for actors in this country, even the best.

"No one's making what we made 10 years ago," Stebbings says. "Back then I could name my own rate – I was getting triple scale and more. Now everyone gets flat scale.

"But you can't afford to get jaded. Hope does spring eternal. I still have ambitions. Maybe I should have set the bar higher. Maybe I should have gone to L.A."

Stebbings did get that chance. He landed the lead role in the pilot for a big-budget U.S. TV series that was never picked up, though the two-hour movie did get an airing.

"It was a great experience," he says. "I got to hang out with badass LAPD cops, and I learned how to shoot a gun. In the States they have a profound respect for talent within the industry, though what you've done outside the U.S. means nothing."

He may still find himself in America, he says.

"But when I go, I want to be invited. I want to be at the top of my game in Canada. I hate standing in line.

"And I do love this country. I believe in our talent, and I have an opportunity here to write and direct my own work without having to jump through industrial hoops."

Though it's not the first screenplay he has written, Defendor is the first Stebbings work to make it into production. A previous effort, with Forest Whitaker on board, came to nothing when its backing fell through.

Taking the helm as director has cost Stebbings big time.

"As an actor I didn't feel creatively satisfied," he explains. "I really wanted to make my own independent films and to tell the kinds of stories I think Canadians need to tell.

"But I took a huge financial hit to be a director."

Stebbings's movie, which came to him "in one whole piece" three years ago, is being produced by Nicholas Tabarrok's Toronto-based Darius Films.

With some Telefilm Canada funding – "about a quarter of the budget, and we've been turning over stones to find the rest," Stebbings says – the movie technically qualifies as a Canadian film.

But it's well outside general perceptions of what makes a film Canadian, the director adds.

"Australia and Britain do a better job than we do of making movies with international appeal ... even Quebec generates its own healthy audience. Canadian movies are burdened by clichés and stereotypes, and by our proximity to the U.S.

"To build a strong film culture we need to find a way to tell stories that are universal in nature, stories that aren't so ... self-conscious."

Hélène Joy : Successful - And Ignored

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

(January 10, 2009) More bemused than hurt, Hélène Joy reads off a text message on her iPhone. It's her agent informing her that despite weeks of effort, not a single magazine or newspaper in Canada is interested in doing a feature on her.

That's par for the course. Canadian artists don't get much of a break in their own media.

They're always being squeezed out by higher-profile, gossip-generating celebrities from the U.S. and elsewhere.

Joy, a veteran stage, TV and movie actor with 10 years' experience in her native Australia and five in this country, has been here long enough to know Canadians have a hard time even recognizing homemade stars. Celebrating them is just too much to expect.

This is no starry-eyed diva. Joy keeps a low profile and goes quietly about her work, which these days starts at 6 a.m. and rarely winds down before midnight. She doesn't seek fame, she says, and has just enough of a professional profile to keep her in good work.

She lives frugally in a west-end loft, which she paid for with part of the profit from the sale of a Victorian semi she restored herself. The rest she invested in a condo in the new Bohemian Embassy development on Queen St. W., which is presently a hole in the ground just opposite her favourite lunchtime hangout, the Gladstone Hotel's Café.

She doesn't mope because fans don't mob her in the streets. She rides her bike all over the city, and she's happy people don't hound her for autographs and snapshots. There's something about the freedom of relative anonymity that suits her gypsy soul.

Even so, her agent's text message disturbs her. The Gemini Awards – Canada's equivalent of the Emmy Awards, which honour the best of domestic television talent – are just a couple of days away. Joy is tipped to win (and subsequently did) in the lead actress category for her performances in two series, the crime drama Murdoch Mysteries (Citytv) and the sinister original drama Durham County (TMN/Global).

Yet in the country she has adopted, being a contender as the nation's top TV actress is not enough to make her a worthy media object.

"That's weird," she mutters.

"That wouldn't happen in Australia. And it certainly wouldn't happen in the States. I'd be in every magazine, newspaper, and TV entertainment show. Back home, actors nominated for an award as important as this are front page news overnight.

"In Canada, apparently, it's no big deal."

How Joy found her way to Toronto from Perth wasn't part of a big plan.

Having trained at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Joy became a member of the Sydney-based Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company and later joined the Melbourne Theatre Company. She worked in movies and television as well (Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, Water Rats), but found it hard to build a career in Australia.

"There's much less money to go around, and less work. ... It's a small country, even though most of the stuff you see on Australian television is homemade.

"Life led me here," she continues, her wide Australian vowels unbent by years of perfecting a clipped North American accent for screen and stage roles in Canada.

Encouraged by an actor boyfriend returning to Canada, Joy found work in Vancouver, landing a lead role in the Gemini-winning CBC comedy series An American In Canada – "such a great idea, but no one seemed to notice it," she says – and in the sci-fi series ReGenesis and the legal satire This Is Wonderland, in Toronto.

"Culturally, Vancouver wasn't stimulating," she confides. "Toronto's got a lot more going for it. It's so close to the rest of the world. There's more here to see and do. It's actually the biggest city I've lived in."

The recent property boom gave her the chance to indulge in her secondary passion: house-flipping.

"My mother's a real estate agent," Joy says.

"Early on I decided that property would be my security. As long as I owned a house, a place to live, I could withstand the ups and downs of the acting business.

"A few years back Toronto real estate was still affordable, so I bought a house with $40,000 I'd scraped together, renovated it myself while I lived with some friends and their dog in a basement apartment, and invested the profits in a loft and my new condo."

In fact, possibilities in the property market almost won her over.

"Four years ago I wondered whether I should quit acting altogether," Joy says.

"I'd had good years and bad years, and I was tired of the struggle. I wanted some assurance of future wealth, some security. I told my agent I was taking a break and went back home to work with my mother in real estate.

"It lasted a week. I realized that acting is what I do, and who I am. It's not coincidence or luck. I guess I was never really committed till then, and once I did commit, I haven't stopped working."

Lack of celebrity notwithstanding, Joy is doing pretty well just following her instincts.

Known as one of Canada's hardest working actors – she had a recurring part in CBC's MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives, starred opposite Jacqueline Bisset in the recent U.S. made-for-TV Hallmark movie An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, and was seen on CBC's 2007 Christmas special The Secret of the Nutcracker, with British actor Brian Cox – she also has a lucrative sideline in Toronto as a voice-over actor in animated TV series.

"My income has certainly risen in the past five years," she says.

"I'm earning six figures now, still living the way I did when I had nothing, and saving like a madwoman. I know this may not last, and I'd still like to be able to work as an actor if the economy goes from bad to worse."

And with "100 per cent" of her work generated or assisted by tax-supported arts programs, she'd also like to keep working if government support dries up.

"I don't believe it would be possible to stay and work here" if funding was cut, she says, adding that "it's part of any government's responsibility to keep the nation's culture alive. Art is the juice of life."

Joy does without a manager and a publicist – "too expensive" – and her agent gets 15 per cent of her gross earnings.

RRSP contributions, insurance premiums and deductible business expenses consume another 35 per cent, and 50 per cent of what remains goes to income tax.

"That doesn't leave a lot, but it's enough to keep me from looking around for a rich man to marry," she quips.

"I thank God every day for being able to live and work as an artist. I don't think there's much to live for without art. Nothing else can relieve, inspire or elevate the human spirit the way music, movies, theatre and visual arts do.

"I'll do everything I can to support art, to celebrate it, to bring it into other people's lives. There's not much point to a world without art."

Leona Lewis To Release New Version Of Debut CD

Source: J Records via PRNewswire

(January 8, 2009) *NEW YORK -- Just in time for the Grammy Awards and Valentine's Day, J Records is releasing a deluxe edition of
Leona Lewis' Spirit, the Grammy nominated, chart-topping, best-selling debut from one of the breakthrough artists of the year.

The deluxe version of Spirit will be in stores February 3, 2009.

This limited edition CD/DVD package features four new, never-before-released songs in the U.S., including Leona's #1 UK chart breaking smash hit single, "Run," originally recorded by Snow Patrol.

Leona's "Run" shattered UK chart records when it entered at #1, becoming the fastest selling digital single ever in a week. The deluxe edition will also include 7 music videos including four never-before-released music videos in the U.S. of "Bleeding Love," "Forgive Me," "Footprints in the Sand" and "Run," which is currently YouTube's most popular video globally ("Run" was watched 1.4 million times in its first 10 days live).

Additionally, this deluxe version of Spirit also includes an expanded 16-page booklet featuring never-before-seen photos of Leona. (See below for complete track listing for CD and DVD).

Leona's Spirit has been on a record-breaking streak ever since its release in the UK in November 2007, where it entered the British album chart at #1 and became the U.K.'s fastest-selling debut of all time.

In the U.S., Spirit was released on April 8, 2008 (J Records/Syco Music), and debuted at #1 on the Billboard chart, marking the first time in music history that any album by a British female artist has entered Billboard's Top 200 album chart at #1, as well as the first time any British artist, male or female, has claimed the top spot with a debut album.

The blockbuster smash single "Bleeding Love," co-written by One Republic's Ryan Tedder, reached #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 the week of March 27th, making Lewis the first British female solo artist to top the Hot 100 in more than 21 years. The single spent 39 weeks on the chart, four of them at #1 (breaking yet another all-time record for a British female solo artist) and smashed the radio spin record with the most weekly plays ever in a one-week period at the Top 40 radio format with 10,665 spins.

"Bleeding Love," the biggest selling single of 2008 has been a Billboard Digital Song chart-topper and has sold more than 3 million tracks in the U.S., while the ringtone has been certified platinum with over 1.4 million sold, with a total of over 5 million digital and mobile track sales combined. Leona's follow-up hit single "Better In Time" reached the #3 spot on the Top 40 chart and has sold 1.4 million digital and mobile tracks combined. Her third single, "I Will Be," impacted Top 40 Radio this week as the #1 most added new release at the format.

2008 was truly remarkable for Leona Lewis. Since releasing her debut album Spirit, she literally hasn't stopped. She's been breaking world records, making chart history, traveling the globe, appearing on magazine covers and generally conquering the world. No one could have predicted the scale of the Hackney born UK singer's unrivalled success. In a short space of time, Leona has established herself as an international superstar and household name.

    To date, Spirit has sold 6 million copies around the world.

    Chart and sales milestones achieved by Leona Lewis in 2008:

    --  Leona is the best selling new artist of 2008.
    --  Leona is the fifth best selling artist worldwide in 2008.
    --  "Bleeding Love" is the best selling single of 2008 and iTunes top selling single of 2008.
    --  Billboard Magazine names Leona Lewis the Top New Artist of the Year in  2008
    --  3 Grammy Award nominations for Record of the Year ("Bleeding Love"), Female Pop Vocal Performance ("Bleeding Love"), and Best Pop Vocal Album (Spirit).


    Bleeding Love
    Better In Time
    I Will Be
    I'm You
    Forgive Me
    Misses Glass
    The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
    Whatever It Takes
    Take A Bow
    Footprints In The Sand
    Here I Am

    *Myself (Duet with Novel)
    *Bleeding Love - Jason Nevins Rockin' Radio Remix
    *tracks never-before-released in the US

    Bleeding Love - US edition
    *Bleeding Love - UK edition
    Better In Time
    *Footprints In The Sand
    *Forgive Me
    I Will Be (Live)

    *videos never-before-released in the US

Borders Celebrates Motown's 50th B'day


(January 9, 2009)  *Beginning this month and throughout the entire year, Borders will celebrate
Motown's 50th anniversary with a prominent in-store display of Motown music selections along with related items, such as anniversary T-shirts.

In addition, the retailer is devoting a special page on Borders.com dedicated to Motown's anniversary, and will host both past and present Motown artists including Boyz II Men, Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Duke Fakir of The Four Tops for in-store appearances and signings in Los Angeles and Detroit.

Boyz II Men, who were recently nominated for a 2009 Grammy Award for their Decca debut album "Motown: A Journey through Hitsville USA," will sign CDs and answer questions at the Westwood Borders store in Los Angeles Jan.
13 at 7 p.m. In addition, Duke Fakir of The Four Tops and Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas will greet fans, answer questions and sign CDs at the Borders store in Dearborn Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.

Customers can also visit Borders' special Motown Web page at www.borders.com/motown to read about their favourite Motown artists, view vintage photos in the Motown image gallery and purchase CDs online.

Throughout the year, Borders will also prominently display in its stores nationwide a large selection of Motown CDs from artists such as Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, including the anticipated "NOW That's What I Call Motown," a 50th anniversary compilation of 25 Motown classics, available in stores and online beginning Jan. 13.

An exclusive Motown 50th anniversary Borders gift card will be offered to mark the label's historic 50th anniversary. Further, with any purchase of a Motown item, customers will receive (while supplies last) a complimentary 17-inch-by-27.5-inch poster featuring a colourful display of vintage images of various Motown artists.

"We feel a special connection to Motown because our company was founded and remains headquartered in Ann Arbor, just miles from Motown's Detroit birthplace. We have a tremendous affinity for the artists that this legendary label has produced over the past five decades," said Anne Kubek, executive vice president of Merchandising and Marketing for Borders Group.

A Body Well-Worn, A Soul That Still Rocks

www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(January 09, 2009) Iggy Pop is looking at a life change. As he ambled through the dark film set, over clustered power cables, he is obviously no longer the jagged, angular performer he once was. He has already long been drawn to quieter and more varied pursuits, which was partly the reason he took a supporting part in Toronto actor-director Rob Stefaniuk's forthcoming vampire comedy Suck.

“I'm not up for many wild adventures at this point. Not at all,” he said with a smile in his deep, gravel-chewing drawl.

That was before the news this week of the death of Ron Asheton, guitarist of Iggy Pop's legendary band the Stooges. When I spoke with Pop last month while he was filming in Toronto, he was scheduled to tour with Asheton and the other Stooges again this summer and to begin working on a new album for 2010.

The reunited Stooges had been a last hurrah for the band's particular brand of amped weirdness. But in his solo work, Pop has long been gearing down. “The things I want to be able to do, the abilities that excite me, are more technical now,” he said. “They are more obscure. I just managed to do, I think, a good vocal on a Dixieland type of song that's going to come out in French next year. For me, I'm really glad I did that before I kick the bucket.”

He added: “I'd like to be able to carry a tune on a memorable ballad. I've got a coupla songs that I've been involved in that are memorable to people, and that's a great thing. But on a ballad – I'd like to be able to do that.”

The real Pop, easily the most physical of rock legends even at 61, looks pliant, almost squat. It's easy to see he's dealing with a well-worn body, lost cartilage in his hip and failing knees after a career of stage diving, on-stage self-mutilation and years soaking up the liquid culture of each new city. But that was clearly years ago, as he cautiously descended a set of stairs to a basement below the set, bumping a studio light in the process. “Down to the Batcave,” he said.

Swathed in a shapeless garbage bag of a ski jacket, Pop began the interview with a highly earnest, “Pleased to meet you,” his handshake as padded as an oven mitt, his eyes impossibly wide. The effect is part rock ‘n' roll aristocrat, part deer with a semi racing toward it on the freeway.

And even though his immediately recognizable mug looks a little out of place on a $3-million Toronto-shot comedy, he was one of the first in a coterie of musicians, from Alice Cooper to Moby and Henry Rollins, to accept supporting parts in the film.

Is acting, then, the remaining creative phase for Pop? What's left after decades as garage-rock, proto-punk's icon No. 1? “Okay, there are two parts to that,” he said, settling into his folding, movie-star chair. “I have nothing left to say.” Big laughs all around. “And I like to react,” he added with sudden, turn-on-a-dime seriousness.

“That's the one thing you don't get a chance to do when you spend your entire adult life carrying around the huge zone of your genius,” he said, laughing again. “You don't have time to react to other people. And I, as an artist, find that I like to react and to just forget about my schlamozzle.”

Okay, now, it's important to get the tone of “schlamozzle” correctly. Pop typically bounces between funereal gravitas and a kind of cartoonish, ding-dong intonation. Artistic high-mindedness matched with knuckle-head humour to keep it honest.

“The things I want to be able to do, the abilities that excite me, are more technical now,” he said. “They are more obscure. I just managed to do, I think, a good vocal on a Dixieland type of song that's going to come out in French next year. For me, I'm really glad I did that before I kick the bucket.”

He added: “I'd like to be able to carry a tune on a memorable ballad. I've got a coupla songs that I've been involved in that are memorable to people, and that's a great thing. But on a ballad – I'd like to be able to do that.”

Pop was on tour in Russia when he received a copy of the script for Suck, about an aging rock band with vampires in its midst. Pop, utterly unfazed while filming his scenes, deadpanned his lines through various takes.

One of the film's producers, Jeff Rogers, who has had a career in promoting and managing rock acts such as Crash Test Dummies and Randy Bachman, knew Pop's manager. They then sent Pop an e-mail and a script in October. Rogers had also worked with Moby on the Grammy-nominated Moby: Play – The DVD, hence that connection. Another of the film's stars, veteran actor Malcolm McDowell, knew Cooper, and so one connection fed off another. But once Iggy came on board, it became easier to get the other musicians, according to Stefaniuk.

“At the time, I totally thought it was a crazy long shot, that we weren't going to get him. But he read the script and decided to do it,” Stefaniuk said. “We just thought it would be cooler, rather than to get one major actor person, to hire musicians to be the actors. There's no compromise there: It's perfect for the film. It's what we always wanted to do. When I wrote the script, I wrote in rock cameos for these parts.”

The plan is to have the film ready in time to submit to this year's Toronto International Film Festival, where Stefaniuk's previous comedy Phil the Alien premiered in 2004, and then for a theatrical release in the fall.

“I was looking for something conversational, mainly verbal and anti-physical,” Pop said during a break in filming. “It was not the first vampire movie I've been asked to do, but the others had me climbing chain-link fences – you know, eating barbed wire, violently killing my victims, that sort of thing. That wasn't really going to do anything for me in terms of what I want from being in a film.”

Other filmmakers were obviously hung up on what Pop's image once was. Culminating in the 1970s, his stagecraft included vomiting, oral sex and resting his much-flaunted private part on a vibrating amplifier. All perfectly natural in that context perhaps, and all part of the legend. At one gig, he apparently asked audience members for money to score drugs and subsequently slumped into a stupor on stage. Most famous was the time he shimmied on the floor over broken glass, requiring serious medical attention and stitches.

But Pop always saw it as putting on a good show. There's a fantastic old clip on YouTube of a semi-comatose Pop reviving himself right on cue to sing the first verse of Lust for Life. He once drolly encapsulated the era in a MuchMusic interview by saying how, during most of that time, he was considered a “no-no.”

“I try to be an omnivore,” says Pop, now older. “I try to go right across the board. I have no particular flag that I want to march under or uphold in any way. So I do advertising too. And I do very extreme music. I do a little soft jazz. I sang a coupla things in French.”

Those French songs refer to the work Pop did for the soundtrack of a documentary about French author Michel Houellebecq and the film adaptation of his novel The Possibility of an Island. Known for his particular brand of nihilism, Houellebecq is “the last relevant novelist,” according to Pop.

Pop is well aware that most have preconceived ideas about him. “Certainly it's a prerogative of an audience member to organize who you are in their mind, according to whatever set of criteria they care to adopt.” But he added: “At this point, my little nose tells me that I'm kinda like a guy who broke out of jail the day before yesterday, and they just found out, and I'm too far gone. I can't be caught at this point. I can pretty much do what I want. And if somebody doesn't like it, so what. I'm already mature, and I'm already full-founded – shall we say – as a person. I'm pretty confident that I can do as I please as long as it's done well.”

To sustain himself, Pop is a devotee of qigong, breathing exercises that he learned from a tai chi master. “I do that for an hour a day, 40 minutes if I can,” he said.

“That makes it possible for me to be among the living. It's the antidote for being me for so many years.”

Pop doesn't see his younger self as a separate person, even though he now lives in self-imposed exile in Miami. He simply had to get out of New York. “Every third person in Manhattan was a VIP,” he explained. “They all had a way to get your phone number. You're getting couriered delivery of dinner invitations, for Christ's sake. People camped out at my apartment to tell me that I wasn't down with the revolution if I didn't give money to their squatter band.”

Miami became the unplanned, the alternative. “It was serendipity. A shady friend needed some quick money. He owned some cheap real estate there, and I started going down. I didn't get killed,” he added in apparent seriousness.

“I just feel like I'm the same person, but I have a different instrument. A different choice of tools. I still have a very fast classic car” – he's talking about his own body – “that needs a great deal of care and upkeep, and I can bring it out of the garage and blow your mind a few times a year. And then I have to put it away,” he said.

These days, excess has been traded for polish. And the death of Asheton and perhaps the end of the Stooges may push Pop into the subtler, quieter work he has been pursuing. “I could continue the show right around the clock in your town until I drifted off elsewhere. That doesn't happen any more.”

For The Kuertis, Music Is All In The Family

www.globeandmail.com - Robert Everett-Green

(January 09, 2009) The story is like a scene from a comic opera. A celebrated Russian conductor comes to town for concerts with an equally renowned orchestra. He's excited about the music, and the rehearsals go well, till he and his wife notice that his name on the posters is considerably smaller than that of the cello soloist. He withdraws from the concerts, and tells the press that he has received a “moral insult.” All eyes turn to a young man who has been sitting quietly in the back of the rehearsal hall – the assistant conductor, who never dreamed he would be flung onto the podium to lead a hefty program with only one rehearsal.

All true, and
Julian Kuerti was that young man. When he tells his part of the story, the Canadian conductor's voice still conveys the shock he felt when he heard in November that he would have to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra after Gennady Rozhdestvensky's humiliating experience with font sizes.

“It really came as a surprise,” says Kuerti, who performs at Hamilton Place Saturday (Jan. 10) with the Hamilton Philharmonic and his pianist father, Anton Kuerti (with a second show at Toronto's MacMillan Theatre Sunday (Jan 11). “If I had had to play my percentages and guess which program I might have had to jump in on, that one [with the BSO] would have been very low on the list.”

As often happens, the backstory heightened everyone's interest in the person thrust into the spotlight, especially after Kuerti turned a tight situation into a success. He was praised by the players, by The Boston Globe, and even by Rozhdestvensky, who said, “In our days, many young conductors have no right to conduct, but he really does.”

In his own mind, Kuerti is still earning that right. He is charmingly humble about the rehearsal dynamic that helped him prevail during his four high-pressure concerts in Boston.

“Often, as a younger conductor, the more you speak and rehearse, the more you lose credibility,” he says. “The players start getting bored, they stop listening, and maybe they decide to test you. I had only one rehearsal with overtime, we basically read everything through once, and I didn't get to say much. So there wasn't really a chance for me to dig myself into a hole. That kind of works in your favour, assuming you have the technical skills to conduct the pieces.”

Kuerti already had had plenty of experience as the spare conductor on deck. He became one of two assistants at the BSO in 2007, and spent the previous year fulfilling a similar role in Budapest. Being an assistant is a bit like being a vocal understudy, he says, with the important difference that you don't generally get to try out your stuff till someone cancels.

Kuerti's very first professional gig as a conductor came about while he was studying in Berlin, when he got a phone call from a German chamber orchestra with which he had a casual connection. “They said, ‘How fast can you get to the train station with your suit?' ” he recalls. That was at least five years ago, but he had little trouble recalling the pieces on the program.

He has been immersed in classical music since birth, thanks to his father and his late mother, Kristine Bogyo, a cellist and founder of Toronto's Mooredale Concerts. Kuerti the younger studied violin, performed in orchestras and as a soloist, and toured Brazil with a world-music ensemble before taking a left turn into engineering physics at the University of Toronto. He got his degree in that discipline, and began conducting in 2000. He has had several teachers, though his principal mentor so far has been Ivan Fischer, with whom he served a close apprenticeship during his year in Budapest.

One of the big draws for Kuerti in Boston is the presence of James Levine, the BSO music director, who has impressed him with his organic approach and musical curiosity. Levine's extensive recent forays into the music of Elliott Carter, for instance, have made his assistant a firm believer in the American composer's merits.

“A year ago, I might have said my focus was heavily Germanic, but now I find myself drifting more toward French music, including the impressionists,” he says. “I feel like my favourite composer is always the one I'm working on at the moment. I have to dive into their world, and try to understand music the way they did.”

His program this weekend includes Bartok's Hungarian Sketches (“so fantastic and cute, and descriptive and very colourful”), Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, and two works with piano by Mendelssohn, for whom 2009 is a bicentennial year. It's an unusual luxury, Kuerti says, to be able to talk over such a program with the great musician who happens to be his father.

It's even more unusual for an assistant conductor to have a family member who can perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with no rehearsal, as the elder Kuerti did for one of his son's debut concerts with the BSO in 2007, after soloist Leon Fleischer fell ill. When BSO management heard that Anton was flying down to hear Julian's impromptu concerts in November, their witty response spoke volumes about the uncertainties of the concert business: “Tell him to bring a suit.”

Julian and Anton Kuerti perform with the Hamilton Philharmonic at Hamilton Place in Hamilton Saturday Jan 10. at 7:30 (tickets at 905-526-7756 and www.hpo.org) and Sunday Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. at the MacMillan Theatre at the University of Toronto (416-922-3714, ext. 103).

Revived Hall Draws Music Fans To The Ex

Source: www.thestar.com - Tabassum Siddiqui,
Special To The Star

(January 10, 2009) Over a frigid weekend last month, thousands of music fans ventured out to see indie pop band Stars, who sold out three straight nights thanks to a diehard hometown crowd. But instead of revisiting their usual haunts (Lee's Palace, the Phoenix, etc.), Stars decided to play the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, which left even longtime concertgoers clicking through Google Maps to find the place.

Over the past few months, performers and fans have been making their way to the elegant, modernist-styled 1,250-seat theatre at Exhibition Place, thanks to a recent revival of the historic venue by the team behind popular College St. concert hall the Mod Club.

The QE Theatre's transformation was set in motion two years ago when Mod Club owner Bruno Sinopoli, 45, first came across the space. The Mod Club caught on with touring acts soon after it opened in 2003, so Sinopoli decided to keep an eye out for a larger venue, as many local bookers and promoters were bemoaning the lack of good "mid-sized" live rooms in the city (with capacities between 1,000 and 2,500).

"Originally, I was looking for more of a standing venue, but when they opened the doors, I was like, `Oh, wow – I can't believe this place hasn't been utilized the way it should have been,'" Sinopoli says of his first inspection of the QE Theatre.

Built in 1956 by Page + Steele architects, the Queen Elizabeth Building (which includes offices and an exhibition hall in addition to the theatre) was intended to be used as "the Women's Building," hosting such domestic fare as fashion shows and cooking demos when it first opened in 1957, says Exhibition Place archives manager Linda Cobon. But in recent years, the space has largely sat dormant, save for one-off bookings by community groups and corporate customers.

"It's always been a bit of a sleeping beauty there. ... It hasn't gotten a lot of use," Cobon notes. "But it's a great building."

So when Sinopoli put forth his proposal to revamp the theatre, Exhibition Place agreed to lease him the space – leaving Sinopoli and his team to manage the theatre as they see fit – while retaining general oversight, says Exhibition Place CEO Dianne Young.

Originally designed by architect Peter Dickinson, the building features an expansive lobby and dramatic circular staircase, with an eye-catching copper sculpture of a theatrical mask (by Canadian artist Elizabeth Wyn Wood) adorning the entrance to the auditorium.

Sinopoli and his team – theatre manager Mark Prinsloo, 47, along with front-of-house co-ordinator Jorge Dias, 34 – took possession last May and found the theatre so well preserved that few renovations proved necessary, though their first major booking, up-and-coming British chanteuse Adele, forced them to scramble to retrofit the space in time for the June event. They spent around $500,000 to install high-end sound and lighting equipment, add a swanky bar with plush crimson seating (replacing a bank of old offices adjacent to the lobby), and give the foyer a general facelift.

"These guys worked like crazy – two months, every single day for 16 hours, and we pulled off the Adele show. And that was the foot through the door," Prinsloo says.

Many artists and their management are looking for more options when it comes to mid-sized venues in a busy concert market like Toronto, says veteran local promoter Jacob Smid, who brought Adele to the QE Theatre. After taking a look at the theatre, Smid consulted with Adele and her manager, sending them photographs of the space before they decided to book the first major concert there.

"It takes a couple agents, managers and artists to take a chance on a venue to really make it happen, but everyone I've brought there has been really impressed with the shows," Smid says. "It's got a unique niche in the city – it's not Massey Hall, it's not a sterile movie hall. To me, it's got a very European vibe ... and as far as the theatre goes, it's very cozy.

"I think you're going to be seeing a lot more shows there in 2009."

Indeed, recent concerts by Ani DiFranco and Of Montreal – as well as a spoken-word visit from Henry Rollins – are being followed by Antony and the Johnsons (Feb. 17), Andrew Bird (April 3), Serena Ryder (April 4) and the Great Lake Swimmers (April 25).

"You can never have enough venues in the marketplace, in my opinion," Smid says. "If you compare Toronto with Montreal, which has a smaller population, they have far more theatre-type spaces."

The three sold-out Stars shows helped cap a stellar first few months for the venue, says the band's agent, Rob Zifarelli. The theatre suits the recent industry trend of artists (Sam Roberts, Feist) playing multiple dates at a single mid-sized venue, he says, instead of one larger show. As for Sinopoli, he's just happy others are getting a chance to be as charmed by the theatre as he was when he first walked through.

"It's like we just came out of nowhere," he says. "I feel we'll have made it when [people] start coming in here and it's not `Where did this come from?' I want it to be a vital part of the city. That is the goal."

Hearing Jazz Isn't The Same As Listening To It

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

(January 08, 2009) Award-winning broadcaster, producer, composer and jazz pianist Ben Sidran performs with a trio as part of JazzFM.91's Sound of Jazz Concert Series. The Chicago native who penned Steve Miller's 1972 hit "Space Cowboy" and composed the soundtrack for the acclaimed 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams will be accompanied by local players, drummer Mark Kelso and bassist Neil Swainson, for a repertoire that's rooted in R & B, pop and bebop.

The Star spoke with Sidran, 65, who's at work on a book about Jewish popular music in America, by phone from his home in Madison, Wis.

Q: Have you noted any impact on the jazz scene from the economic downturn?

A: I've expected to, but I have not. I just came back from five weeks in Europe and we had great crowds. I think people still are going out, and jazz is human-scale music. It's not a $70 ticket like rock concerts. It's the kind of engaged evening of entertainment where you tend to get more than you put out. I think people see it in some ways like good value for money.

Q: The jazz coup of 2008 was Herbie Hancock's Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters.

A: I have mixed feelings about that. I love Herbie and I love a lot of his recordings, but the Joni Mitchell thing wasn't my favourite. And also, jazz is not music for everybody, and something happens when you hear jazz music in every Starbucks and you hear it in every clothing store and you hear it in the grocery stores, because there's a difference between hearing it and listening to it.

Q: Isn't the idea that the notoriety of Grammy's top prize will lead neophytes to further investigation of jazz?

A: That's one line of reasoning, but it doesn't seem to be the case. If you like (American jazz trio) Medeski Martin & Wood and you like their style of drumming, you might go back and you might go to James Brown, but you also might go to Tony Williams, who worked with Miles (Davis), then you might go back to Max Roach, but chances are you won't and (new listeners) don't ... because jazz is a personal journey, and I'm afraid that people listening to the Grammy Award-winning album are not so likely to make a personal journey.

Q: What was the highlight of your year?

A: I was in Madrid in November and played 14 nights in a row with a quartet in this little club called the Café Central. That's the way jazz used to be. Now you come in, play two to three nights, then you go home and have a couple weeks off. After the fifth or sixth night, we were literally playing music we didn't know, and that's a great feeling. It's sort of like skiing a new trail.

Q: What's next?

A: I'm going to be recording a kind of exotic version of Bob Dylan songs using some French and Italian musicians, taking very open, angular approaches to some of Dylan's songs. Jazz musicians tend not to do Bob Dylan. I think the reason is if you don't sing, the songs aren't that interesting harmonically and melodically. I do sing, so I can include the lyrics, but also I have found ways to approach them that are compatible with jazz playing.

Just the facts
WHO: Ben Sidran

WHEN: Monday at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Old Mill Inn, 21 Old Mill Rd.

TICKETS: $30 at 416-595-0404 or jazz.fm

The Sales Power Of A Grammy

Source: www.thestar.com - Mitchell Peters,

(January 09, 2009) Many artists dream of "packing out stadiums or selling a gazillion records," says Antonio (L.A.) Reid, chair of Island Def Jam Music Group. But to Reid there's a more important achievement. "I still hold the Grammys as the highest honour an artist can win."

This year, Coldplay, Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and Radiohead will vie for the Album of the Year on Feb. 8 at the
51st annual Grammy Awards. The event will be broadcast live on CBS from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

As in years past, Grammy nominations can help boost artist awareness and album sales. Last year, in the days following his nomination for album of the year, Herbie Hancock's Joni Mitchell tribute, River: The Joni Letters, experienced an 80 per cent sales increase. A week after winning the title, River exploded 967 per cent to 54,000 copies sold. In the week ending Feb. 17, the album reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200, the jazz legend's best sales week since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991.

Similarly, in the week following Plant and Krauss's nomination for Raising Sand, the Rounder Records release – which also garnered nods in four other categories – had an 88 per cent boost in sales. The duo's first collaborative album has now sold 1.1 million copies in the United States, according to SoundScan.

Nick Gatfield, EMI Music president of artists and repertoire for the United Kingdom and North America, says Coldplay's nod for Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends could help expose additional material on the album. Its biggest selling track, "Viva La Vida," has sold 2.7 million downloads, according to SoundScan. With seven nominations, Coldplay is also up for Record of the Year and Best Rock Album.

Then there's Lil Wayne, who leads the field with eight nominations stemming from Tha Carter III, which is at 2.8 million to date. The set sold slightly more than one million units in its first week of release last June.

Meanwhile, Ne-Yo's Album of the Year nomination for Year of the Gentleman, which has sold 731,000 copies, will come in handy for future promotional efforts, according to Reid, but Def Jam is more focused on getting the slick-dressing R&B artist a performance slot on the awards show. "That would be more important to me, because his fans draw from the emotional connection and that's the driver that really sends people to the stores."

Wayna's Found 'Higher Ground' With Sophomore Release

Source: Fiona Bloom, Fiona@thebloomeffect.com

(January 12, 2009) *NYC - A stunning 2nd album - "Higher Ground" has all the ingredients and all the musicality to be considered a contender for Best New Album.

Ethiopian born and D.C based artist
Wayna is off to a great start. Her first single off the album 'My Love' has received over 2500 downloads on #1 Soul Music website Soultracks.  

'My Love' has debuted at #18 on the hot singles sales chart on Billboard and also #2 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart. This is a huge accomplishment for an independent Soul Artist and now she's nominated for a Grammy. 

This single means a lot to Wayna, who says:

"Two years ago, I came across a startling article in Essence Magazine about a suburb of my hometown Washington, DC.  Prince George's county, it said, is the wealthiest black county in the country, but yet it has a higher rate of domestic violence than any other jurisdiction in Maryland.  How tragic, I thought.  Beyond their beautiful homes and high-powered jobs, these women were victims, hiding behind a mountain of lies that have to be re-told day after day. I wrote this song in honour of them and, in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One time might be all it takes."

Wayna has just wrapped up an FYE Retail tour performing and signing CD's.
She also just traveled to South Africa and performed at a huge Ethiopian Music Festival. 

Check out Wayna at MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/waynamusic). Also watcher her debut video, "My Love," here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn0Hnh_bpds

A Posher Lily Allen Has A New Sound

Source: www.thestar.com - Mark Sutherland,

(January 13, 2009) LONDON–In the nearly two years since Lily Allen's last album, the singer has encountered change more often than Barack Obama's speechwriter. An interview with her used to consist of a pizza-and-beer encounter in her manager's office; it's now been replaced with a tête-à-tête over tea in her swanky new flat in a nice part of North London, one of the more obvious benefits of the worldwide stardom brought by her hit debut album, Alright, Still.

And if that wasn't enough for the average 23-year-old British pop phenomenon to deal with, she's also had to cope with having every aspect of her life documented in lurid – and occasionally invasive – detail by a U.K. tabloid press seemingly incapable of distinguishing between nightclub high jinks and personal distress.

Her music has also been revamped. It's Not Me, It's You will be released Feb. 9 in the United Kingdom and a day later in the United States and Canada.

The album retains the playful spirit of her debut but, musically and lyrically, relocates her from too-cool-for-school hipster pop to somewhere between the dance floor and the real world.

"I did a retro thing last time," Allen says. "And since I did that, a lot of other people did it, too. I wanted to separate myself from the group and move forward. People think I've intentionally done something more serious, but I haven't."

Indeed, the changes in Allen's life and profile should really make interviewing her now about as straightforward as trying to interrogate Britney Spears using only Amy Winehouse as an interpreter. But somehow, the bright, sparky talent with the filthy laugh and the disarmingly relaxed manner seems to have survived.

In Britain, Allen's celebrity is now so out of whack with her status as a musician that she's been able to propel her brother (actor Alfie Allen, affectionately lampooned on the debut record's "Alfie"), and his girlfriend (actor Jamie Winstone) to tabloid infamy by association. And her MySpace endorsement of Kate Nash was cited as a prime factor in breaking the Allen-esque singer/songwriter in Britain.

She's also found time to host her own chat show (BBC3's Lily Allen and Friends), start a fashion line (for retailer New Look) and get asked by London Mayor Boris Johnson to help sort out the capital's knife-crime epidemic.

"I'm still the same person," she says after a lengthy pause. "But life has certainly changed."

Hidden Beach To Release 'Obama Soundtrack'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(January 14, 2009) *Hidden Beach Records head Steve McKeever and movie music supervisor Bonnie Greenberg have been assembling a special CD tied to Barack Obama’s inauguration, reports Fox411 columnist Roger Friedman.

The “
Obama Soundtrack,” due in stores on Inauguration Day (Jan. 20), was finished this past weekend and features a dozen stars, including Stevie Wonder, who contributed an original track called “All About the Love Again.”

Friedman writes: "The single, destined to be Wonder’s biggest hit in more than a decade, is a sizzling fresh slice of R&B, very updated and ready to embrace in remixes, etc."

Other artists on the album include Maroon 5 with their own new track, “Pure Imagination (2009),” plus will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz, India.Arie, Melissa Etheridge, Usher, James Taylor, Jennifer Hudson, Death Cab for Cutie, Ozomatli, Robin Thicke, The Tony Rich Project, Wilco, Bebe Winans, rapper Common, Lionel Richie, and Melissa Etheridge.

The album includes a DVD containing several speech clips from the president-elect. The CD also intersperses pieces of Obama speeches throughout the new songs.

"McKeever and Greenberg, with an even bigger committee, worked tirelessly to put together a combination of artists and songs based on the songs’ themes and lyrics, too," Friedman wrote. "Unlike most compilation CDs, the 'Obama Soundtrack' is full of new, catchy very hot material — no retreads or musty pieces from the vaults.

"All the artists, I am told by sources, were paid on the same level no matter how big or small they considered themselves. And that, I’ve heard in the music industry, caused a little problem as the always charming Warner M.
Group refused to make deals for any of their artists including anything from the Atlantic vaults. I’m sure, in fact, that Aretha Franklin has no idea that requests for a couple of her classic tracks like 'A Change is Gonna Come'—were declined. The M in WMG now stands for Miserly."


Jermaine Dupri Exits Island Def Jam


(January 9, 2009)  *AllHipHop.com reported late Wednesday that
Jermaine Dupri's tenure as President of Island Records Urban Music is over.   The Web site quoted a source close to the situation who said he has in fact been terminated effective immediately.    A formal announcement of his departure from the position, which he has held for nearly two years, was expected later Thursday.  During his tenure, Dupri oversaw the success of Mariah Carey's "The Emancipation of Mimi," and provided production for the Music Group’s entire roster.

Cece, Twinkie, Lawrence To Be Honoured In Nashville


(January 9, 2009)  *Gospel stars CeCe Winans, Elbernita "Twinkie" Clark and Donald Lawrence will be honourees at
BMI's Trailblazers of Gospel luncheon on Jan. 16 in Nashville, Tenn. Kirk Franklin, Faith Evans, Karen Clark-Sheard and Donnie McClurkin will perform musical tributes to the artists.  Winans helped expand the boundaries of gospel music with hits such as "Say a Prayer" and "Addictive Love."  Clark is a singer, musician and songwriter whose songs have been recorded by the Rev. James Cleveland, Al Green, Mary J. Blige and others.  Lawrence is an influential singer and producer who is known for his work with the Tri-City Singers, Stephanie Mills, Peabo Bryson and The Clark Sisters. Meanwhile, Dr. Bobby Jones and the Dixie Hummingbirds will be inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame on Feb. 2 in Nashville, along with Dolly Parton, Michael W. Smith and producer Lari Goss.  Jones is a singer and host and executive producer of the long-running "Bobby Jones Gospel" program on the BET cable network. He has a new series, "Bobby Jones Next Generation," on the Gospel Music Channel.  The Dixie Hummingbirds formed in 1928 and have influenced musical acts in several genres, including early soul singers such as Jackie Wilson and James Brown. They provided the distinct harmony vocals for Paul Simon's hit "Loves Me Like a Rock."

Janelle Monique: You Go To My Head

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

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

(January 13, 2009) The sedate piano intro to that ol' retread "Misty" augured a ho-hum solo debut from this Toronto native, but the tune turned on a percussive flourish launching her stylish, unexpected phrasing and the Latin-inflected accompaniment that defines this jazz-R&B covers disc.  I'm not wild about some of those cringe-high notes on the opening tune, but the 30-year-old Humber College grad, who you may know from local bands such as Babes in Jazzland, Plan C and Methodology, is imbued with a sensuous, distinct sound that caresses in English, Portuguese and Spanish.  The music is eclectic and captivating – festive arrangement of Kansas's "Dust in the Wind," Latin-techno take on Sting's "Fragile" and a soulful "Besame Mucho" – thanks to deft use of musicians, backup vocals and programmed sounds by co-producer Oliver Miguel, though his own tenor sax playing is not as compelling as the amount of soloing he's afforded himself. Much tastier bits from guitarist Mark Pellizzer (on acoustic and electric) and trumpeter Nick "Brownman" Ali. Check out Monique at the Lula Lounge celebration (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., $10) of this album, which was quietly released last year.  Top Track: Bolstered by impressive, big band-style horns, her clean, clear pipes do the title track justice.

The Clayton Brothers: Brother to Brother

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

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

(January 13, 2009) This is a concept album from California-born brothers, noted arranger/bassist
John and alto saxist Jeff Clayton, paying homage to some of jazz's great sibling teams, such as Nat and Cannonball Adderley, Hank and Thad and Elvin Jones, through originals as well as tunes composed or performed by brother groups. It's bluesy, high-spirited jazz that finds the fraternal deans consistently outdone by their younger accompanists, drummer Obed Calvaire, trumpeter Terell Stafford and John's pianist son Gerald (of Roy Hargrove's quintet). Besides "The Jones Brothers," none of the new songs are particularly memorable, though "Wild Man" and " Still More Work," trickily arranged to always seem on the verge of conclusion, are fun. A good jumping off point for exploration of other brothers in jazz, such as Randy and Michael Brecker and Percy, Jimmy and Tootie Heath. Top Track: "Bass Face" is a simple ballad which highlights Gerald's moxie, John's wit and Calvaire's subtlety.

Flo Rida Prepares Sophomore Album

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(January 13, 2009) *Rapper Flo Rida will follow-up his 2008 debut album, "Mail on Sunday," with "R.O.O.T.S." (Routes of Overcoming the Struggle), due April 7 from Poe Boy/Atlantic.  The first single, "Right Round," borrows from Dead Or Alive's 1985 No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and is now streaming on Flo Rida's MySpace page and official Web site.  Collaborators on "R.O.O.T.S" include Dr. Luke, J Rock and DJ Montay, who worked with Flo Rida on the smash hit "Low," reports Billboard.com.

Jennifer Hudson To Sing At Super Bowl

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(January 14, 2009) NEW YORK–Jennifer Hudson is using sports' grandest stage to make her return to the spotlight. The NFL confirmed Wednesday that Hudson will sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl in Tampa on Feb. 1. E! News first reported that Hudson would perform. Hudson hasn't appeared in public since her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew were slain in Chicago last fall. Her estranged brother-in-law has been charged in the killings. Hudson, who had released her debut album shortly before the killings, will also sing at the Grammys' MusiCares event a few days later.

Run-DMC, Metallica Lead List Of 2009 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Associated Press

(January 14, 2009) NEW YORK — Run-DMC once hailed themselves as the Kings of Rock, so it's fitting that the pioneering rappers have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Run-DMC joins the heavy metal band Metallica, guitarist Jeff Beck, soul singer Bobby Womack and doo-wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials as this year's inductee class. Rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson gets a nod for the early influence category, and the sidemen inductees are session musician Spooner Oldham and two of Elvis Presley's musicians — drummer D.J. Fontana and bassist Bill Black. The induction ceremony will be held in Cleveland — where the Rock Hall is based — on April 4.

Unreleased Tracks Form New Left Eye CD

Source: www.eurweb.com

(January 14, 2009) *Never-before-heard material from late TLC member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes will be released on a new album titled "Eye Legacy," due Jan 27.  The first single, "Lets Just Do It," features Missy Elliot, and her former TLC cohorts T-Boz and Chilli. Other artists appearing on the album include Lil Mama and Bobby Valentino.   "Eye Legacy" is the first solo album from Left Eye to be released in the U.S. It contains never before heard tracks and some remixes from her International album "Supernova."    The disc also contains a DVD of never-before-seen footage of Lisa in Honduras, where the artist was vacationing when she was killed in a car accident.


Michael Cera's Star Is Rising In Britain

Source: www.thestar.com - Mitchell Peters,

(January 09, 2009) Canadian actor Michael Cera is one of five nominees for the Orange Rising Star Award in Britain, it was announced yesterday.

The award is presented annually at the British Academy Film Awards and is voted on by the British public.

Cera, chosen by a jury of industry figures, was cited for roles in films including Superbad, Juno, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. "Since his acclaimed role as George-Michael Bluth in the Emmy Award-winning

Arrested Development, Michael's career has gone from strength to strength," a news release said.

Past winners of the prize include James McAvoy, Eva Green and Shia LaBeouf.

This year's winner will be announced Feb. 8. Cera's fellow nominees are Noel Clarke, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Hall and Toby Kebbell.

Star staff

Liane Balaban: The Undergraduate

www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(January 09, 2009) Liane Balaban had less than 24 hours to pull together an audition tape for the upcoming film Last Chance Harvey, in which she co-stars alongside Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Frazzled – and frantic to snag the role of Hoffman's estranged daughter in the tale of middle-age romance – she grabbed the first warm body she could find (her real dad's, as it turned out) to read Hoffman's lines in a tear-jerker of a scene.

In retrospect, the 28-year-old Toronto actress says, the time squeeze was likely a bonus: She didn't have time to overthink her character or, more importantly, to get freaked out by the star power with which she was vying to be cast. Acting on instinct, she nailed the audition. And, she now adds with a saucy grin, she got to spend a fantastic summer in London last year making a movie that turned out to be like “going to the best acting school in the world.”

Balaban, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of North York, went to high school at Lawrence Park Collegiate, and now lives in Montreal with her long-time writer boyfriend, is not normally the type to gush. But when it comes to talking about Hoffman and Thompson – who have a pair of Oscars each – she can't help herself, calling them the most “grounded, funny, real” people she's ever worked with.

“Dustin's such a lovely, generous, wonderful person,” says Balaban, who was a journalism student at Ryerson University before deciding to concentrate on acting after her career took off in director Allan Moyle's 1999 film, New Waterford Girl.

 (Balaban won a special jury citation for playing the Nova Scotian misfit, Moonie Pottie, at that year's Toronto International Film Festival.)

“He was giving me tips … not like coaching my acting … but life lessons,” she says. “I remember we had a big conversation over lunch, and one of the things he imparted was: Always trust your truth. Dustin told me that if the director wants you to do something, and it doesn't feel right, don't do it. Do what you want. It was nice to hear it from a vet.”

Balaban's Thompson gush-o-meter is equally high. “Emma's lovely, hilarious and so bright. Not only is she an actress, but she's a writer, an activist and an artist. She's such an inspiration,” says Balaban, sporting just a smidge of makeup, but nonetheless looking exotically gorgeous.

Last Chance Harvey, written and directed by Joel Hopkins ( Jump Tomorrow) and opening in theatres on Friday, is a sweet love story about two middle-aged people who meet as each is grappling with a dreary life that bears little resemblance to what either had hoped for.

Hoffman is New Yorker Harvey Shine, a jingle writer about to lose his dead-end job. The film starts with him hopping a budget flight to London, where his daughter, Susan (Balaban), is about to get married. Thompson is Kate, an employee of the Office of National Statistics, who longs to write a book, but finds herself instead in neatly pressed suits, polling people, and looking after her neurotic mother (Eileen Atkins).

The drama heats up when Shine's bad day gets worse, starting off with his only daughter telling him that her stepfather (James Brolin) will be walking her down the aisle to give her away. “We talked about that scene beforehand … and what I learned from Dustin was not to decide anything before you do it,” says Balaban.

“When we were rehearsing that scene, the director gave me a note about the acting. And Dustin's like, ‘Whoa. Wait. Sometimes when you give an actor a note too early in the process, they become a slave to that note, and it blocks their exploration. You never want to do that,' ” remembers Balaban. “But Dustin didn't do it in a patronizing way. He was just being helpful. And you can tell by Joel's light hand directing this movie that he just let Dustin and Emma do their thing.”

Balaban says her two co-stars had been searching for a project to do together since they collaborated on Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction in 2006.

Director Hopkins originally sent Thompson a first draft of the script. She got back to him within 24 hours saying, “Love it, love it, love it.” She then sent it along to her buddy Hoffman. About 48 hours later, the director got another e-mail from Thompson – this time confirming that Hoffman was also on board.

Last Chance Harvey has already garnered Golden Globe nominations for both Hoffman and Thompson. Balaban says she's not surprised. “As characters, they're both so likeable. And they're not acting. They really are like that in life. They bond because they're both standup comedians who love entertaining,” says the willowy brunette, who credits a teacher at Lawrence Park for instilling her love of drama.

The project is Balaban's second major-studio film, but the actress says she still loves to work on independent features, most recently shooting Jacob Tierney's The Trotsky; Michael McGowan's One Week; and Will Frears's Coach, starring Hugh Dancy (who starred in The Jane Austen Book Club with Harvey's Kathy Baker). She also manages to dabble in television, recently heading back to London to make the CBC pilot Abroad, based on Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren's tangles with British men.

And if that weren't enough to fill her plate, she has also asked Montreal-born Tierney to serve as her mentor on a screenplay she's trying to pen – and which she shudders at describing in more detail. “I've still got lots of writing in me,” says Balaban. “I have not left journalism, but I put it on hold to focus on acting. I love actors. I think it's a crazy thing to do with your life, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them.

“But I have equal respect for people who have the ability to write. If I had more discipline, I could probably do both,” she says with a shrug of her delicate shoulders. “I've learned that in order to write a book, you have to be incredibly disciplined and focused. I think one of the greatest skills a person can have is to complete a task they start. To take something from beginning, to middle, to end. In life, if you have that skill, I think you can go very far.”

Oakland Upset With New Hughes Bros. Film

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(January 8, 2009) *The
Hughes Bros have run into resistance from officials in Oakland, Calif. who are reluctant to grant the filmmakers a permit to shoot their upcoming pimp drama in the city.

Authorities are worried that "
Gentleman of Leisure," which follows the life of a legendary Oakland pimp as he tries to leave the game, will depict Oakland in a bad light, reports The San Francisco Chronicle,

The series, written by Evan Reilly, delves into the overall hustlers' subculture by examining the conflict between old-school pimps and the younger guys whose approach incorporates the violence of the drug culture.

The City of Oakland feels the show may take advantage of the negative reputation already associated with the Bay Area and create an environment that will lead to the further exploitation of women.

That image would stand in exact opposition of Mayor Ron Dellums' plan to create a "model city."

The Hughes brothers, however, argue that their aim is to do for Oakland what "The Wire" did for the city of Baltimore by staying as true to reality as possible.

"It's The Wire meets The Sopranos set in Oakland in a crime element never used before," Allen Hughes told Chronicle. "It's not just about pimps and prostitutes, but also about the history of a city that never got its due. Like Detroit or Miami and a lot of other cities, Oakland is steeped in heavy street industry, in rackets. I'm just going to say it, Oakland is a pimpin' town. It's flourished there. And whenever and wherever street life is celebrated, the city gets a shout out."

Kevin James Funny Without Limits

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

(January 09, 2009) Fun fact about comic actor Kevin James: he's almost as serious as the shopping centre commando he plays in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, opening next Friday.

The King of Queens TV star shows up for a Toronto interview in full promo mode, wearing a black baseball jersey and ball cap, both emblazoned with the Paul Blart logos.

He's been doing press since just after 9 a.m., and on the first day back from holidays when everybody else is just thinking about coffee and Advil.

James, 43, is so on message, he has a disconcerting habit of staring off into the distance as he speaks, as if he's listening to a high-frequency radio station only he can hear.

"Very, very official," James said of himself, smiling.

"Very on the money. Yes."

His intense demeanour is understandable, since Paul Blart is his big chance for marquee success in the film business. The Emmy-winning actor doesn't have to prove himself in TV, since the nearly decade-long run of The King of Queens, which ended in 2007, established his sitcom chops.

He's also set as a stand-up comedian, his original and continuing career where he's been winning raves since his breakout bow at the 1996 Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.

Yet until now James has been relegated to sidekick status in the movies, playing second banana to the likes of Will Smith (Hitch) and Adam Sandler (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry).

Paul Mart: Mall Cop could change this for him, and he knows it. He's not only the star of the movie, he's also the producer and co-writer.

"I'm invested in everything I do, even if I'm just acting in it. You obviously want to do your best. But this just has the added pressure of (producing and writing), so I really want to be technical in making sure that everybody sees it the right way. That's it. We're excited about the movie and we wanted to get it out there. We think people will really root for this guy and like this guy."

Chances are good, because his Paul Blart character isn't a huge remove from the blue-collar nebbish James played in The King of Queens.

Beefy Blart is a New Jersey sluggo who yearns to be police officer, but who has had to settle for a job patrolling the corridors of a giant mall, riding his trusty Segway scooter.

"I wanted to be a cop; I wanted to play the guy who gets off the motorcycle and just waddles up to someone like a tough-guy authority figure. Then I thought it would be funnier to portray someone who doesn't have authority but still feels that way. That's when I started looking at mall cops, saying, `This is a funny character I can play.'"

He spent some time with real mall cops, walking the beat with them, so to speak.

"I have respect for these guys, because they have to enforce the law but they don't have any weapons or any real authority. People just walk all over them. That's the perfect character to play, where you're the underdog trying to be a hero."

The movie begins as a straight comedy, but turns into a thriller when Blart becomes inadvertently involved in a terrorist takeover of the shopping centre. You could almost call it Die Hard at the Mall, and there are more than a few satiric nods to Bruce Willis and his Die Hard franchise.

He almost included a scene where he uses Willis' trademark "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf----r!" but it didn't make the cut.

"We actually did a couple of those, but this is the clean version. It should be on the DVD. We also tip the cap to Rambo and stuff like that. We just like to do it. We love those movies, so it was fun to do a comedy version of them."

James may have been the second banana in his other movies, but he's made the most of the situation. A lot of people felt he stole Hitch from Will Smith, as the lovelorn loser who needs advice from Smith's "date doctor" character. The wedding dance scene at the end, which James dominates, has had more than 300,000 views on YouTube.

"Honestly, that's a credit to Will," James said.

"He's such a secure actor himself that he was able to give me scenes that other actors may not have put in the movie." He's also been the beneficiary of Sandler's largesse. Besides a co-starring role in the 2007 summer comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, James has also had smaller parts in Sandler's 50 First Dates and last summer's You Don't Mess With the Zohan.

"I've been very fortunate. If you want to make it in Hollywood, just be friends with Adam Sandler and Will Smith. It helps. Adam's just the greatest; I love working with him, and hopefully I'll continue to work the rest of my career with him. He's really smart, doing this for a long time, turning out these blockbusters. He knows how to put his comedy together and put story and heart in there. He's really brilliant that way."

Now it's time for James to prove that he can carry a movie on his own sizeable shoulders.

"I remember an agent of mine saying a long time ago, `You'll never be the lead, but you can be the funny neighbour.' It just stuck with me, and I said, `I dunno, I don't want to put limits on myself that way. Just do what you do.'"

Americans Ruled 2008 Canadian Box-Offices, But Passchendaele Finished Strong

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - James Adams

(January 8, 2009) Canadians love their American movies. According to statistics released this week by Montreal's Zoom Services and the
Motion Picture Theatre Associations of Canada, nine of the highest-grossing commercially released films in Canada in 2008 originated in the United States. Only British-originated Quantum of Solace, the 22nd of the so-called official James Bond movies, broke the U.S. stranglehold on the top 10, finishing fourth. Gross earnings of those top-10 movies in Canada totalled more than $236-million.

No Canadian films cracked the top 10. Only six Canadian films earned more than $1-million at the box office here last year - one more than in 2007 - while the 10 highest-earning Canadian films grossed a total of no more than $20-million. Topping the sweepstakes in terms of Canadian films was director-writer-actor Paul Gross's First World War epic Passchendaele, with total theatrical earnings of almost $4.5-million, 98 per cent of that courtesy of its wide release in English-language markets.

The top box-office performers in Canada were much the same as those south of the border. For example, the Batman summer feature, The Dark Knight, occupied the summit here, with a total cumulative box office of almost $51-million, just as it did in the U.S., with a $531-million gross there.

The only "anomalies" between Canadian and American top performers were Sex and the City and Mamma Mia!, both of which made the top 10 in Canada, at No. 6 and No. 8, respectively, while ranking 11th and 12th in the U.S. The lower rungs of the American hit parade also had two films that didn't crack the Canadian top 10, namely Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, a No. 7 finalist, and Horton Hears a Who, which finished 10th.

True to form, Quebec-made francophone films dominated the Canadian-made field, earning eight spots among the 10 top box-office performers among Canadian films. Indeed, two Quebec films - Cruising Bar 2 and Babine - largely held their own against The Dark Knight and Iron Man (No. 3 on the list of overall top earners in Canada)in the francophone market, grossing almost $3.5-million and $2.3-million respectively. (French-language consumers forked over a total of $4.93-million to see The Dark Knight, $2.9-million to see Iron Man. They were the first and third best-attended movies by francophone viewers in 2008.)

Also true to form, the francophone films scored little or no distribution in English Canada.

Besides Passchendaele, the only non-francophone production to earn a berth among the Canadian top 10 films was Blindness, a Canadian-Brazilian-Japanese co-production adapted from José Saramago's novel by Toronto screenwriter Don McKellar. It earned close to $736,000 in theatres - enough for 10th place - with more than 17 per cent of that total coming from viewers of the print subtitled in French.

The money-makers of 2008 (Canada and the United States)
Top-grossing commercially released films in Canada in 2008
(in millions of Canadian dollars)
1. The Dark Knight $50.8
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull $28.3
3. Iron Man $26.6
4. Quantum of Solace $22.5
5. Hancock $18.9
6. Mamma Mia! $18.7
7. Wall·E $17.6
8. Sex and the City $17.6
9. Kung Fu Panda $17.3
10. Twilight $17.2
Source: Zoom Services/Motion Picture Theatre Associations of Canada
Top-grossing commercially released films in the United States in 2008
(in millions of U.S. dollars)
1. The Dark Knight $530.8
2. Iron Man $318.3
3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull $317
4. Hancock $228
5. Wall·E $223.8
6. Kung Fu Panda $215.4
7. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa $172.3
8. Quantum of Solace $161.3
9. Twilight $158.5
10. Horton Hears a Who $154.5
Source: Movie-list.com
The highest gross: Gone with the Wind at $1.38-billion
Highest-grossing films of all time in North America (not adjusted for inflation)
1. Titanic (1997) $600.8-million
2. Star Wars (1977) $461-million
3. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $435.1-million
4. Star Wars: Episode 1 -
The Phantom Menace (1999) $431.1-million
5. Jurassic Park (1993) $357.1-million
Source: The Lightning Group
Highest-grossing films of all-time in North America (adjusted for inflation)
1. Gone with the Wind (1939) $1.38-billion
2. Star Wars (1977) $1.22-billion
3. The Sound of Music (1965) $971.3-million
4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $967.5-million
5. The Ten Commandments (1956) $893.4-million
6. Titanic (1997) $875.3-million
Source: The Lightning Group

J-Hud's 7 Image Award Nods Leads The Pack

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(January 8, 2009) *Jennifer Hudson emerged Wednesday with the most individual nominations for the
40th Annual NAACP Image Awards, earning seven to lead the pack for its 100th anniversary ceremony.

"The Secret Life of Bees" received eight nominations, including one for top motion picture, the civil rights organization announced Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

"Cadillac Records," "Miracle at St. Anna," "Seven Pounds" and "Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys" round out the best picture category.

Screenwriting nominations included Gina Prince-Bythewood for "Bees"; Jenny Lumet, "Rachel Getting Married"; Darnell Martin, "Cadillac Records"; Patrik-Ian Polk and John R. Gordon, "Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom"; and Paris Qualles, "A Raisin in the Sun."

In television, ABC led all networks with 24 nominations and CBS followed with 14, while the CW and NBC scored 10 each.

"Tyler Perry's House of Payne" scored six bids - the most of any series - including comedy series. "Ugly Betty" nabbed a nomination for comedy series and star America Ferrera was nominated for actress. Other comedy series cited were "The Game," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "30 Rock."

Drama series contenders are "The Wire," "The Unit," "Grey's Anatomy," "House" and "Lincoln Heights."  In the music category, Columbia Records led with eight bids - five of which went to Beyonce.

As previously reported, Russell Simmons will be feted with the Vanguard Award, and both Al Gore and Dr. Wangari Maathai will receive the Chairman's Award.

Halle Berry and Tyler Perry will host the affair, which will air on Fox Feb. 12 from the Shrine Auditorium.

Dark Knight Dominates People's Choice Awards

Source:  www.thestar.com - Derrik J. Lang,
Associated Press

(January 07, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Holy People's Choice Awards, Batman!

The Dark Knight soared away with every trophy it was nominated for Wednesday at the 35th annual fan-favourite CBS ceremony. The caped crusader flick won five awards, including favourite cast, superhero, action movie and on-screen matchup for Christian Bale's Batman and the late Heath Ledger's Joker.

"On behalf of all of the cast from the movie, thank you very much to the fans," said Bale. "Here's to Heath.''

The CBS ceremony was hosted by Queen Latifah and returned to the Shrine Auditorium for its typical star-studded live show format, following last year's writer's strike-friendly, pre-taped program. Stars such as Adam Sandler, Kate Hudson, Robin Williams, Hugh Laurie and Reese Witherspoon showed up to accept their awards at the slightly subdued ceremony.

"It's such a great way to start the new year," Witherspoon, the Four Christmases star who won an Oscar in 2005 for portraying June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, said as she accepted her award for favourite female movie star. "A couple years ago, I won a great award for singing in a movie. This year, I won an award for having a baby throw up on me.''

Other recipients selected by Internet voters in categories spanning movies, television and music included Dancing With the Stars as favourite reality show, Carrie Underwood as favourite female singer, House as favourite TV drama, Brad Pitt as favourite leading man, Angelina Jolie as favourite female action star and Ellen DeGeneres as favourite talk show host.

"I wish I could share this with you," DeGeneres told the audience while clutching her trophy on stage. "I could throw it on the ground and smash it into a million pieces, and give each one of you a little piece of it, but that's violent, and that's probably why you voted for me, because I'm not violent.''

Other winners were WALL-E for best family movie, 27 Dresses for best comedy and The Secret Life of Bees for best independent movie.

Will Smith was named both the top male action star and best male movie star; Kate Hudson was declared the best leading lady. The best TV comedy was Two and a Half Men and the top TV animated comedy was The Simpsons.

Queen Latifah accepted the favourite drama and independent movie awards alongside her The Secret Life of Bees co-star Dakota Fanning. The overly enthusiastic host opened the show by wading through the audience and asking celebrities if they could keep entertaining the masses in 2009. All mimicked President-elect Barack Obama and by answering: "Yes we can."

Chatting with Cheadle

Source: Kam Williams

(Jan. 12, 2008) Donald Frank Cheadle, Jr . was born on November 29, 1964 to Don Cheadle, Sr., a clinical psychologist, and Betty, a teacher. The chameleon-like character actor with a knack for disappearing into any role has long been recognized by his peers as among the best in the business. But despite a string of critically-acclaimed performances in everything from Devil in a Blue Dress to Rosewood to Crash to Traffic to Talk to Me to Traitor, the closest he has come to landing an Oscar was in 2005 when he was finally nominated for Hotel Rwanda.

Like the African-American answer to perennial soap opera also-ran Susan Lucci, Don has been up for an NAACP Image Award 11 times, but he’s never won inexplicably. Here, he talks about his production company, his humanitarian work in Darfur and the election of Barack Obama, as well as his latest film, Hotel for Dogs, a family comedy co-starring Lisa Kudrow, Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin and Kyla Pratt.

KW: Hi Don, it’s an honour to speak with you.

DC: Hey, thank you very much.

KW: So, what interested you in doing a kiddie comedy?

DC: The truck filled with money that they pulled up to my house. No, it’s one of the first movies that I’ve ever done that my kids could see. I thought this was a good one and I actually liked the script and the relationship that my character has with the kids. Usually, it’s a kids’ world where no adult has a brain, and the kids are so much smarter and so mentally outclass the grownups.  

KW: So, how did your children like the movie?

DC: They haven’t seen it yet.

KW: And how was it working with Lisa Kudrow and the rest of the cast?

DC: Most of my scenes were with the kids. They were great. They were little professionals and serious about the work. They had acting coaches and everything. 

KW: I always think of you and Christian Bale as the best actors who have never won Academy Awards. How does it feel to be snubbed every year at Oscar time?

DC: I don’t care about the Oscars. Quite honestly, when you know what goes into that whole process, it’s very much like a political election. You have to lobby and go to parties. It has nothing to do with your performance. It’s a very political thing that I, personally, don’t enjoy doing. That’s not really on the list of things that I want to achieve in this career.

KW: I can tell as a critic which pictures and performances the studios are getting behind.

DC: It’s all about money nowadays. There was a time when, if you had an Oscar, there was a direct correlation to the push that it made for you at the box office. That’s not so much the case anymore, if you look at the last few years of Oscar-winners and what it did for them box-office wise. The time between the announcement of the nominations and the actual awarding of Oscars, that’s when you make your money. Because that’s when people look at the paper and ask, “Well, what are the critics saying are the good movies out there?” After that, it really doesn’t matter anymore. 

KW: What is on that list on the list you mentioned of things that you want to achieve in your career?

DC: I want to have longevity. I want my production company to be able to stand on its own two feet. I want to produce movies that I don’t have to be in. I just really want to have a foothold in this business and do the kind of work that I can stand by that has value. Hopefully, I’ll be getting this Miles Davis project up and running soon.

KW: I know you play sax. So, will you be playing Miles, even though he was a trumpeter?

DC: Yeah, that’s the plan.

KW: Who are some of your favourite jazz musicians?

DC: I like many guys from that era: Coltrane and Monk and Mingus and a lot of the cats Miles played with like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

KW: What made you want to do a bio-pic about Miles?

DC: I don’t really want to do a bio-pic. I don’t think that would be that interesting. I want to do something that uses his creativity and the energy of who Miles was more than a cradle to grave story about him. A straight biography could be better done by PBS.  

KW: Speaking of PBS, I remember seeing you on the PBS series African American Lives with Skip Gates. How did you like learning about your roots?

DC: It was cool to find out about my lineage. I’d always wanted to trace that back. So, that was fun and very illuminating.

KW: I see that you’ll be replacing Terrence Howard as Rhodey in Iron Man 2. Are you planning to overhaul the role?

DC: That’s up to the script and what the director wants. I’m not going to try to do anything that they’re not asking me to do. I don’t get down like that.

KW: I don’t think Rhodey did all that much in the original anyway.

DC: Yeah, the part does expand in the sequel which is much more of a buddy pic than the first one.

KW: I’ve noticed that you sometimes appear uncredited in movies, like in Ocean’s 11 and Rush Hour 2. Why is that?

DC: For different reasons. I did Rush Hour 2 just as kind of a laugh, so I didn’t really need a credit. To me, it was fine if people recognized me. And if they didn’t, that was fine, too. With Ocean’s, there was some stuff that happened behind the scenes that I didn’t like how it went down, so I just said, “Take my name off it.”

KW: Tasha Smith asks: Are you ever afraid?

DC: She wanted you to ask me that?

KW: No, it’s a question she gave me that I ask everybody.

DC: I’m a parent, so I have gradations of apprehension about the kids. I’m afraid that if something happens to them I might not be there and won’t be able to do anything about it. But generally, there’s more sort of a low boil of concern about them. 

KW: What do you think about Obama’s win?

DC: I think it’s an amazing an historic victory, and an incredible opportunity to move the country and the world in another direction which has been sorely needed for the past eight years.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman was wondering what you’re doing as far as your African initiatives to end genocide, given Obama's presidency? Have you asked for help from the new administration in terms of funding that project?

DC: They’ve already spoken about their commitment to Darfur and to the region. So hopefully, we’ll have a little more traction than we had with the Bush administration which just gave a lot of lip service, although Bush actually can toot his own horn about AIDS and Africa.

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

DC: No, I don’t have any burning desire to be asked something that I haven’t been asked before.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

DC: Yeah.

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?

DC: Putting Out of Your Mind by Dr. Bob Rotella. It was a golf book.

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

DC: I live in Santa Monica.

KW: Rudy Lewis asks: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

DC: My dad, Donald.

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

DC: I listen to everything. I have a very eclectic taste. Hip-hop… Slum Village… a lot of jazz… and salsa. 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Don, and best of luck with the new film, with your production company and with the fight against genocide in Africa.

DC: Thank you. Take care.

To see a trailer for Hotel for Dogs, visit HERE.

Deepika Padukone No Daddy's Girl

Source: www.thestar.com - Bageshree Paradkar,
Special To The Star

(January 14, 2009) For Bollywood fans, 23-year-old Indian supermodel Deepika Padukone came to the silver screen in 2007 with a ready-made tagline: daughter of Indian badminton legend Prakash Padukone.

But her debut in the mega-hit Om Shanti Om quickly established her as a celebrity in her own right. The film aroused curiosity about the newbie who audaciously played her double role with confidence opposite Bollywood's highest-paid star, Shah Rukh Khan.

It is clear, even after a short interview, the junior Padukone is not a brat born to fame. (She was on a whirlwind stop in Toronto on a global promotional tour for her latest film, Chandni Chowk to China, opening Friday at major theatres.)

Not unless a brat is someone who is jet-lagged, cold and hungry but still willing to spend time speaking candidly about her life and beliefs.

Not unless a brat is someone who says of her father, "From him I've learned how to handle success, what being a celebrity is all about and how humble he is."

But she credits her strength to the person behind the scenes who rarely gets talked about: her mother, Ujjala.

She says she always makes a point of talking about her mother in interviews, but it's usually only her father, who achieved tremendous success as a world champ in the '70s and '80s, who is mentioned in the stories that follow.

"(My mother) is the one who actually holds my family together when my dad's travelling in one direction and I'm going in another direction and my sister is doing her own thing.... She's actually really the backbone of our family."

Billed as Bollywood's first kung-fu action comedy, Chandni Chowk to China is so over the top that the male lead, Akshay Kumar, told reporters, "Leave your brains behind" to enjoy the film.

It is about the journey of a small-time cook in New Delhi with big dreams that land him in China – and in trouble. The movie was shot in both India and China and also Thailand, and fuses Indian and Chinese culture with Indo-Chinese musical compositions.

Padukone once again has a double role – it's a fairly common storytelling tool in Bollywood – this time as Sakhi and her twin, Meow Meow.

To prepare for the role of the butt-kicking Meow Meow, she trained rigorously in martial arts for six months, eight hours a day.

It was "extremely painful," she says of filming her role, in which she did her own stunts and was required to hang from cables for many hours a day. Padukone relied on her athleticism – she made it to state-level badminton competitions before deciding to pursue showbiz – to get through it.

"I always had a toned body and the fact that I was an athlete helped. How it helped was because of the kind of sequences I had in the film, I was already prepared for it. Mentally and physically. So when I went on set I didn't waste time practising and rehearsing."

The heavy makeup also proved to be a challenge: two shades darker than her natural colour to play Sakhi, two shades lighter than natural for Meow Meow, and attention to her eyes to make her look Oriental.

"I always wanted to do a film with a retro kind of feel and I got to do that in Om Shanti Om, and I've always wanted to do an action film, which I've managed to do now. So it's great. I think I'm very happy with the kind of films I've started off with."

Chandni Chowk to China is the first Bollywood movie made by Warner Bros. and the second Bollywood film made by a big Hollywood studio. The first, Saawariya, which was made by Columbia Tristar and distributed by Sony in 2007, fizzled at the box office.

Padukone describes herself as shy and reserved but shows flashes of outspokenness when asked about the fact that the highest paid male star gets twice as much as the highest paid female star.

"It's sad, but hopefully if I can change that trend I would like to do that. Because I think at the end of the day, no cinema is made without a woman in it.

"And I think we're as important as the men are, sometimes more important than the men are. And I think we're, if not as hard-working, probably more hard-working than the guys."

Speaking of guys, who are the Hollywood stars she looks up to? After some umming and awwing, she mentions Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, "because of the way they look."

Then she adds, hastily, "I mean, not taking away the fact that they also are brilliant actors. I've not really watched too many English films. I've grown up watching Indian cinema mostly."

Bageshree Paradkar is editor of the Toronto Star's Desi Life magazine, in which Padukone will be profiled Feb. 12.


Will Smith, 'Bees' Earn People's Choice Awards

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(January 9, 2009) *
Will Smith was named both the top male action star and best male movie star at the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards, held Wednesday night in Beverly Hills. Also, "The Secret Life of Bees" picked up favourite drama and favourite independent movie awards. Queen Latifah accepted the honour alongside her co-star in the film, Dakota Fanning.  The Dark Knight" won all five awards it was nominated for, including favourite cast, superhero, action movie and on-screen matchup for Christian Bale's Batman and the late Heath Ledger's Joker. "On behalf of all of the cast from the movie, thank you very much to the fans," said Bale. "Here's to Heath." Latifah, who also served as host of the CBS ceremony, opened the evening by wading through the audience and asking celebrities if they could keep the masses entertained in 2009.       All mimicked President-elect Barack Obama by answering: "Yes we can."

Quebec Film Makes Oscars' Foreign Short List

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(January 13, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Quebec filmmaker Benoit Pilon is one step closer to a foreign-language prize at this year's Academy Awards. Pilon's The Necessities of Life is part of a short list of nine films that have advanced from an initial field of 65 eligible titles. The movie follows the journey of an Inuit hunter in the early 1950s who is flown to a sanatorium in Quebec City to be treated for tuberculosis but does not understand the language. The film, in French and Inuktitut, won the audience-choice award and the grand jury prize at last year's Montreal World Film Festival. Pilon said he was thrilled and honoured to get on Oscar's short list. "To be on the list with such quality films is a great opportunity and I thank (producer) Bernadette Payeur and (scriptwriter) Bernard Emond for giving me this wonderful script," Pilon said Tuesday. Other films to make the short list include French director Laurent Cantet's The Class and Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir. The Class is the Golden Palm winner at last May's Cannes festival, while Waltz With Bashir is the foreign-language recipient at last weekend's Globes. Rounding out the list are Austria's Revanche, Germany's The Baader Meinhof Complex, Japan's Departures, Mexico's Tear This Heart Out, Sweden's Everlasting Moments and Turkey's 3 Monkeys. Academy committees will narrow the field to five finalists when nominations come out Jan. 22. Last year, Canada's Oscar hopeful was Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness.

Sandra Oh To Receive ACTRA Award

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
The Canadian Press

(January 14, 2009) TORONTO — Canadian actress Sandra Oh is set to receive yet another award. The Grey's Anatomy star will receive an ACTRA award for her contribution to Canada's film and television industry on Jan. 21. ACTRA president Richard Hardacre will present the award to the Nepean, Ont., native at a reception at the Canadian consul general's residence in Los Angeles. The 37-year-old star of Sideways and Double Happiness has won two Genie awards, a Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild awards to go with four Emmy nominations. She was also host of last year's Genie Awards.


Flashpoint Set To Fan The Flames

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

(January 8, 2009) The heroes wear black and gunmetal grey in the high-stakes world of
Flashpoint (Friday Dec. 9, CBS and CTV at 9 p.m.). Fashion options are limited when your work ensemble includes a flak jacket, utility belt and sniper rifle.

Back from a limited but extremely successful test run last season, Flashpoint follows the life-and-death rescue missions of the Strategic Response Unit, an elite tactical group modelled after Toronto's own Emergency Task Force.

The tense pilot of Flashpoint – in which the SRU deals with a man who shoots his wife and then takes another woman hostage – was inspired by a real-life incident at Toronto's Union Station in 1994. Subsequent episodes in the series dramatized similarly harrowing life-and-death scenarios, with each situation capably resolved by the SRU team.

And viewers took notice. On either side of the border, Flashpoint was a great big hit, averaging more than a million viewers in Canada and more than eight million in the U.S. Through most of its 13-episode run, Flashpoint was the most-watched show on Friday night. The show's breakout appeal surprised many people, but not Enrico Colantoni, who plays SRU head negotiator Sergeant Greg Parker.

 “The good guys are back, and they are committed,” says the Toronto-born actor, best known for his years on the sitcom Just Shoot Me and as the doting dad on Veronica Mars. “These are good guys who really care. They really do. The show embraces an idealistic notion that has been missing from TV for a while. It feels even more poignant now that things are so unstable.”

Colantoni shares star stature on Flashpoint with Kingston native and ex-Headstones front man Hugh Dillon, who plays the intense lead sniper Ed Lane; the remainder of the SRU unit is assumed by a good-looking support cast of relative unknowns.

The role of the straight-shooter cop Parker – he sends the troops into each situation with “Let's keep the peace” – is a touch more personal for Colantoni, whose older brother spent more than 30 years on the Toronto police force. “He's my inspiration, and my toughest critic,” Colantoni says. “He's living in Italy now, so I send him the DVDs. He wants to see more of the cop element and less of the sentimental stuff.”

The most expensive series ever produced in this country – with each episode in the $1.5-million budget range – Flashpoint is filmed entirely in Toronto, a fact made immediately apparent in repeated scenes of the CN Tower and other landmarks along the city waterfront. While never referred to directly, Toronto is a full character in the series (although the references to Rosedale and North York are likely to befuddle some U.S. viewers), with equal screen time devoted to the reaction of normal people caught in peril in each episode.

“This is not a flat-out action series,” Colantoni insists. “There's a little action to satisfy that taste bud, but the emotion of each situation is the real star. It strikes a chord with people watching, because we're not dealing with professional bad guys. You don't see professional criminals holding a hostage. We're dealing with real people put in very dangerous situations.”

The first new episode serves as a case in point: Revered Canadian actor Colm Feore guest-stars as David Graham, a charming billionaire industrialist in town to give away $5-million at a conference held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

Despite blanketing security, Graham's beloved wife, Catherine (Wendy Crewson), is abducted by Chilean extremists seeking to punish her spouse; in a chilling scene, the kidnap victim is fitted with a “necklace bomb,” which her captors claim will be detonated unless her husband publicly apologizes for past transgressions.

The subsequent SRU response and race to locate the detonator delivers a visual style more akin with feature-film values than most television series. “I always go back to the fact that we shoot on 35-millimetre film, which lends a richness to the show. It gives us a higher-quality, big-budget feel,” Colantoni says.

All things in perspective, however. From personal experience, Colantoni knows that a weekly series is more a job than an adventure and he brings his own solid Canadian work ethic to Flashpoint, which recently began filming its next slate of 18 episodes.

“All TV is junk food,” he says with chuckle, “but in a way, that's what makes this show so rewarding. We're working against time, on location and with crazy hours, but somehow we're able to achieve something unique that really connects with viewers. That doesn't happen often in this business.”

CBC'S Matt Galloway Likes His New Gig, Despite A Pre-Dawn Wake-Up Call

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

(January 09, 2009) Matt Galloway strides into a Starbucks kitty-corner to the CBC fortress, on Wellington St., looking little the worse for wear four days into his new routine of waking up at 4 a.m.

At 11 a.m. Galloway would normally be an hour into prepping for his regular gig as host of Radio One's afternoon drive show
Here and Now. But now, since he's the latest fill-in host on Metro Morning, his workday is done.

The 38-year-old is characteristically genial and alert as he opts for bottled water over the outlet's array of caffeinated beverages.

"I'm fully caffeinated as it is," he says. "If I have more coffee, my head might explode."

Otherwise, Galloway already seems to have settled comfortably into the gig at Metro Morning. He is subbing through the end of January for interim host Jane Hawtin, who in turn has been filling in for popular CBC morning voice Andy Barrie, who is on indefinite leave for undisclosed personal reasons.

Since Sunday, Galloway has been going to bed at 9 p.m., not long after his two daughters, ages 2 and 5. On Monday, that meant calling it a night at the end of the second period of the World Junior hockey final. Beyond that, however, he has no complaints.

"Everybody worries about getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning," Galloway says. "We'll see what happens by the end of the month. I might be a bag of ash on the middle of the floor. But so far it's been okay.

"There are a few moments every morning when I'm standing in the shower thinking, `What's happening?' But there isn't much turnaround time. I get in at 5 and we go to air at 5:45, so you have to work pretty quickly."

Before Monday, hosting Metro Morning was among the few things Galloway hadn't done at CBC Radio.

Raised near Collingwood, in the Beaver Valley town of Kimberly, he trekked to Montreal in the early 1990s to apprentice at the landmark late-night new music show Brave New Waves. At the time, he was still a student at York University, where he also worked for the campus radio station.

A former music critic at Now, Galloway became an occasional correspondent for Metro Morning in 2001. During the 2002 World Cup, hosted by Japan and South Korea, he served as a roving reporter for the show, hitting Toronto bars and coffee shops frequented by soccer-crazed fans of Italy, Portugal, Brazil and the other competing nations.

In the five years Galloway has anchored Here and Now, he has taken leave to host The Current, Sounds Like Canada and the cultural affairs show Q. Last summer, he was dispatched to the Beijing Olympics.

"The great thing was that it was as much about what was happening in Beijing on any given day as the sporting thing," he recalls. "You could talk about what was going on in the streets, what people were talking about, what was in the newspaper and on television, as well as the sports of the day.

"I'm very comfortable at Here and Now. We work very hard and have a lot of fun doing it. But it's a great experience to go and do something else."

Both Here and Now and Metro Morning are general interest programs well suited to the generalist Galloway, a musical polymath who studied political science in university, has a passion for food and is a Toronto FC season-ticket holder.

The two shows also have an overlapping cast of regular interview subjects, depending on the day's events. Toronto Mayor David Miller, TTC chair Adam Giambrone and police chief William Blair are as likely to show up on one show as the other.

"The programs are mirrors of each other," Galloway says. "It's just that the listeners are in different contexts. And it's interesting, as a host, to plug yourself into those different contexts.

"In the morning, people are just waking up. They want to know what's going on when they step out the door. In the afternoon, people are reconnecting with the day.

"The umbrella is the city of Toronto," says Galloway. "There's great food that's being made in the city of Toronto. There's great music that's being made. The politicians are deciding the future. There's sports. I'm just lucky to be able to talk about all those things in one show."

Raising The Bar Wins With Its Lowbrow Appeal

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

(January 09, 2009) It's always interesting to gauge the differences between critics and couch potatoes where a series like Raising the Bar (10 p.m. on CTV) is concerned.

A defiantly old-guard legal drama about a shaggy-haired idealist (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) who grapples with a corrupt legal system and a sea of hostile adversaries, the show was denounced by critics when it debuted on U.S. cable last fall as a tedious throwback to '90s shows like The Practice and creator Steven Bochco's previous hit, NYPD Blue.

"Bochco has made the most cutting-edge drama – of 1994!" wrote the Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan, citing its stagy interactions, telegraphed storylines and thinly drawn characters.

Others complained its predictable court cases and stereotyped notions of right and wrong seem out of date in an era of moral fuzziness, and found the lead character's pretentious rants about truth, justice and unwarranted contempt citations as grating as a Tom Waits tribute album by Scarlett Johansson.

And then a funny thing happened: the show premiered and drew more viewers than any new series launch in basic cable history.

This, of course, leads to one of two inescapable conclusions:

(1) Critics are a pack of elitist snobs out of touch with the TV-viewing public.

(2) Alien beings somehow infiltrated the Nielsen office and confused the ratings for Raising the Bar with another bar-related entity, the perennially top-rated Cheers.

Personally, since the only aliens I know – and I'm picturing Alf in an easy chair – are pretty lazy, my money is on the former, which means the very qualities that ticked off critics are what turned Raising the Bar into an instant TV hit.

I'm not surprised. Cutting-edge dramas make great fodder for portentous year-end "think pieces" on the state of the industry, but when Joe Six-Pack settles into his easy chair for a night of inebriated loafing, the last thing he wants is to have his intelligence tested with highfalutin notions of edginess.

Enter Gosselaar's Don Quixote redux, a speechifying, self-righteous legal crusader who cares so much about justice he wears crummy, ill-fitting suits and forgets to comb his hair.

"What happened here is my client got screwed by a racist system!" he blabbers in one incendiary rant after a sociopathic judge (Jane Kaczmarek) throws the book at an innocent man. "This was a sham!"

He's not finished yet, this sideburned swinger whose earnest conviction recalls Al Pacino in And Justice for All and Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco.

There are colleagues to be castigated, principles to be upheld and sexy rivals to be bedded – hubba, hubba – as this slacker maverick makes the rounds with shift unbuttoned and a perpetual case of bedhead.

Reviewing this show, frankly, was tough, because while the critic side of my brain screamed, "This is manipulative crap – get out now!" the couch potato side merrily exclaimed "Right on, slacker dude! Give 'em the business!" as I cheered wildly in my seat.

And so it goes. Slick, passionate and unrepentantly corny, Raising the Bar is a hard show to defend on artistic grounds, but once you start watching, I bet you won't turn it off.

Joel Rubinoff is the television critic at The Record of Waterloo Region. Email: jrubinoff@therecord.com

Celebrity Chef Starts Early

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Susan Sampson, Food Writer

(January 12, 2009) Julian Kreusser caught a few cooking shows by accident after morning cartoons – and decided he wanted his own.

Now the 5-year-old is the star of The Big Kitchen With Food, a public television show in Portland, Ore.

Slick, it's not. The blond cherub is prone to awkward pauses, which he may fill in by humming. His mom has had to make a cameo appearance to press garlic – his little fingers can't apply enough force. In another show, he's had a tough time rolling the dough.

Julian makes up for it with charming pronouncements: "I'm going to show you how it tastes at the end." Or: "You can't make a batter without mixing it up." He knows how to play to an audience. Tasting tomato sauce with TVP ("What's this again?"), he shudders and dramatically adds salt. (TVP is textured vegetable protein, made with soy.)

While most kids his age are safer using a Popsicle stick as a makeshift knife, Julian handles a food processor, mixer, even the stove. He has to stand on a chair to stir a pot on the burner. To avoid the sharp knife hazard, he uses a chopper.

The Big Kitchen With Food debuted in the spring, when Julian was 4. The show is a family effort. They have taped four episodes in the kitchen.

The theme song is something Julian banged out on the piano. His sister Eva, 2, works the light switches. The parents handle production. Mother Kristen McKee is a librarian and dad Ben Kreusser works as a producer for Portland Community Media.

"It was created purely out of the spontaneous urge to play with food and video equipment," McKee says of the show. "On any given day, Julian says, `Mama, I want to play Chef Julian.'"

This is a family of food lovers, she adds. McKee used to carry Julian in a pouch while she cooked dinner. By age 3, he concocted his first recipe – preparing "toasted olives" for the neighbours to snack on. Now, on air, as he prepares cookies called Yummy Yummy Citrus Boys, he announces: "This not out of a cookbook. I made it up myself."

Julian has received messages of encouragement from fans as far away as Australia. The next step: A cookbook – Julian is working on it.

See three episodes of The Big Kitchen With Food online at blip.tv.

Watching, Waiting And Hoping For Swayze

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

(January 12, 2009) LOS ANGELES–They're all waiting for him out in the parking lot: the camera trucks, the fans and the paparazzi horde. We're waiting too, inside the hotel, expectantly assembled in a conference hall. How is he? How will he look? What will he say?

But we are waiting in vain.
Patrick Swayze isn't coming. Despite his stated best intentions to attend Friday's press launch of his new A&E series, The Beast (debuting Thursday), at the TV critics tour, Swayze has reluctantly had to call in sick.

"Patrick has asked that I tell you that he has checked himself into the hospital this morning for observation after coming down with pneumonia," A&E president Bob DeBitetto explained.

"As anyone who has had a friend or family member who has undergone treatment for cancer must know, chemotherapy can take a toll on your immune system and illnesses are an unavoidable part of it."

There is genuine concern here for the 56-year-old Swayze, who revealed last March that he was undergoing treatment for stage IV pancreatic cancer. Also great affection – here and across North America – with 13 million tuning in to last week's frankly intimate Barbara Walters interview.

But that affection pales next to the love and loyalty he has engendered among his Beast collaborators and co-stars.

"It's just been an absolute inspiration for me and I'm sure the other guys," allows Travis Fimmel, the handsome young Australian who plays Swayze's FBI partner (and who spent the winter of 2003 swinging through Toronto as a contemporized Tarzan).

"He's an amazing guy. You can't help but to respect him. I just can't say enough good stuff about him."

"We work in the shadow of a tremendous act of courage," adds showrunner Joe Romano. "Everybody who writes, produces and directs the show (is) aware that he is bringing the force of his own personal struggle into this performance."

Swayze revealed his condition to the show's producers the same day The Beast pilot was picked up. But he was adamant about continuing on nonetheless and the network, in a remarkable show of faith, agreed to let him.

"We're taking our cues from Patrick," says Romano. "He is giving us every signal. And he's backing it up by showing up every day on time. Well, showing up every day ... stars never show up on time.

"I must say though, the only rough conversations I ever have with Patrick are when he reads a script and says, `Are you writing me down? I'm not climbing enough walls in this episode. Do you think I can't do it?'"

"You can hardly tell with the guy," marvels Fimmel. "He's such a man, you know? The only sick thing about him on the set are his jokes."

Even before his illness, say Beast co-creators Vincent Angell and William Rotko, Swayze was a hard sell as the series lead, a grizzled undercover FBI veteran.

"When Bill brought up Patrick's name, everybody in the room stopped for a couple minutes," recalls Angell. "We were like, wow, there's something really interesting about the opportunity for him as an actor to sort of maybe reinvent himself and play a part that, you know, as he's getting older, the gravitas that he has and the lines in his face would really speak to."

"It did seem at the time like kind of an odd choice," admits Rotko. "I mean, this is Johnny Castle from Dirty Dancing, a romantic lead. But we sat down with him at the Beverly Regent Hotel and his face immediately leapt towards us ...

"It's changed and not by surgery. I mean, it's changed because he's gotten older and, you know, more gritty. And we thought, God, this is a wonderful opportunity for him to do something (that's) a little bit of a departure for him and, at the same time, a wonderful opportunity for us, because he's a big movie star and also because he was so passionate about the material....

"He really, really wanted to do this show."

The first 13-episode season of The Beast wrapped production in Chicago in November and producers remain confident that Swayze will be back to shoot another.

"We have experienced mornings like this in the making of the show," says Romano. "So we have nothing before us that says we just can't continue making the show we're making.

"He's giving us every signal that we're in a forward mode and that continues, as far as I'm concerned, into a second season."

"Today he took everyone's advice," Romano later told the TV magazine Extra. "He was going to be contagious to others, that was really part of his thinking, and he checked himself in. It's not more of an emergency than that.... When we start shooting again, he'll be there."

No further details about Swayze's condition, or even which hospital he's in, have been forthcoming, though his mother, Patsy Swayze, was quoted Friday saying that he was "doing as well as could be expected."

Protesting – if not exactly denying – earlier reports that the cancer had spread to his liver, Swayze recently told People magazine: "Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease and from the moment I was diagnosed I knew I was in for the fight of my life.

"It's a battle. And so far, I've been winning."

Pressure Of Grey Gardens Gives Barrymore The Jitters

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

(January 13, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Drew Barrymore wasted no time embracing the legacy of her famous family name – unfortunately, it was alcoholism and she was not yet even into her teens.

She then just as precociously cleaned up her act and (aside from a briefly and clearly ill-considered marriage to Canadian comedian Tom Green) has grown up into a confident and competent adult, the appealing star and occasional producer of fluffy romantic comedies.

Get ready to meet an all-new Drew, a Barrymore now in the best possible sense, delivering the performance of her career (thus far) in the HBO dramatization of the 1976 cult documentary
Grey Gardens, to air in April.

Indeed, this unexpected emergent talent could propel Barrymore to an acting orbit adjacent to that of her Gardens co-star, Jessica Lange – who, let's remember, started out herself as a big-screen twinkie, in the 1976 King Kong, as the big ape's unwilling object of affection.

Lange and Barrymore both eerily embody eccentric documentary duo Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, "Little Edie" Beale, blueblood aunt and cousin to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who famously ended up living (happily) in squalor in the family's Hamptons mansion, the Grey Gardens of the title. (Which was in fact recreated in a field on the zoo grounds in Toronto, where the film was shot.)

"I believe that I have not proven myself yet," Barrymore allowed at the Gardens press conference in Los Angeles. "(This) is one of the greatest opportunities I've ever had in my life. And I worked harder on this than anything I've ever worked on in my life.

"I was scared all the time. I felt sick to my stomach all the time. I thought I was going to die. I really did, because I felt such a responsibility to the people that loved the documentary and hold her in such an intense regard.... I always thought, `Are they going to think that I'm going to pull this off?'"

In April she will get her answer. Though I can tell you now, it's a resounding "yes!"

Grey Gardens was the highlight of a promising cable preview. Besides returning critical hits like Breaking Bad and the under-watched In Treatment (cutting back to a two-night week), several new shows emerged early from the pack.

HBO would seem to be slowly rebuilding, with original movies like Gardens and documentaries like Alexandra Pelosi's Trials of Ted Haggart, airing Jan. 29. And there's a delightful new series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (March 29), adapted from Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana-set novels and co-produced by writer Richard Curtis and recently deceased director/producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack.

At the same time, upstart AMC continues the creative roll it started with the Emmy-winning Mad Men and Breaking Bad with a miniseries remake of the surreal '60s classic The Prisoner, co-starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen.

McKellen, who confessed to being too busy onstage to see the original back in 1967, did however have a very clear idea of what sets this new version apart.

"One of the characteristics of the original was that, in 17 episodes, the questions that you were invited to ask as to why and who is in charge, and what are their motives, were never really answered. Hence, the enduring fascination, I think. The viewers are still guessing as to what was the meaning of it all.

"Well, this is different."

Yet still appropriately respectful of the source, insists producer Trevor Hopkins.

"There are a number of ... `homages' that the keen eye will see in what's said, in what's worn, in pieces of architecture," he says. "There are a number of salutes that we make to the fantastic beast that was created. I think it would be a shame to take it to the next generation and not acknowledge what an extraordinary piece of work that was."

The original Prisoner was produced by its star, Patrick McGoohan, who has since been extremely protective of the property. But according to Hopkins, the remake has his blessing.

"We asked him to play a cameo in the piece, because it's the perfect thing for him. Although he loved it and loved the casting ... he wasn't able to travel and take part in it."

Comedy Central also debuted some promising new shows, including Important Things with Demetri Martin, a solo spinoff for the Daily Show comic produced by Jon Stewart's Busboy Productions.

Martin heads north to our own Comedy Network on Feb. 18, a week after his U.S. debut.

But the funniest preview of the week was the redundantly titled wizards-and-warriors spoof Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, starring Sean Maguire (The Class), no stranger to heroic humour having recently headlined the genre parody Meet the Spartans.

Maguire's evil arch-nemesis here is Little Britain's Matt Lucas, who also confirmed a second season for the HBO incarnation of his two-man sketch show.

Mandoon gives him the rare opportunity to play a single character for more than a few minutes at a time.

"This is very different from the other job that I do," he says, "but I'm very lucky to be able to do both. (It's a) more conservative wardrobe for me, if you're familiar with the other things I often get to wear. There's some beautiful `pouches' in this. And a wonderful sort of leather trench coat affair and ... the pagan goat pants, (for which) I'm very grateful."

The series has been picked up by Citytv in Toronto.

Fishburne Right At Home In The Dead Zone

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Andrew Ryan

(January 13, 2009) Los Angeles — The new Matrix for Laurence Fishburne is here in the soundstages of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – an ugly world of autopsy tables, morgue drawers, drain rooms and, everywhere you look, splayed rubber corpses and various body parts. And already it feels like home.

“Look at all this incredible detail,” said Fishburne, gesturing to the sprawl of crime-lab sets and allowing a rare small smile. “It's a remarkable place to be, I think. Who wouldn't want to play here?”

We are not here to play, but to observe and engage the cast of CSI, still among the most-watched programs in both the United States and Canada. Currently midway through season nine, CSI is the original flavour in the crime-procedural franchise, and the inspiration for CSI: Miami and CSI: NY.

The TV Critics' Tour moved en masse to the CSI soundstages the other day, the first in a half-day of set visits. Out came the sensible shoes.

The stop was CBS's way of introducing Fishburne to the TV press. The imposing film star is the new male lead on the show – gone is the original dour CSI boss Gil Grissom, played by William Petersen, now richer than sin and apparently intent to resume his stage career in Chicago.

Eased into the show with brief appearances in two episodes, Fishburne plays Dr. Raymond Langston, a former pathologist and academic-type. The new boss is not the same as the old boss. “Langston is a professor and has never worked directly in this world before,” Fishburne said. “His methods will agree with some CSI members, and with others it will remain to be seen.”

For the benefit of the larger group, Fishburne politely shrugged off any adjustment problems associated with moving from feature-film work into TV production. “I've heard a lot of people talk about this grind of series television,” he said flatly. “I haven't seen it yet.”

And Fishburne sounded very much like his Matrix alter ego, Morpheus, as he patiently explained, possibly for the thousandth time, his decision to join the iconic TV series.

“I was invited to come here,” he said in that serious baritone. “I have been welcomed. I have tried to do what I can do to blend in harmoniously.”

After the press session, away from the mob, Fishburne admitted that he was still finding his way into the character. “We'll learn more of Langston's personality as the story progresses and we learn where he came from. He has compassion, and we're still discovering his sense of humour, which is very necessary in this field,” he said.

The CSI set is the largest for a TV series I have ever seen, and I've been to the set of Heroes. Row after row of rooms are decorated to replicate real forensics labs. The attention to detail is astounding, right down to the tiny handwriting on the blood vials.

“This is all state-of-the art equipment, the exact same equipment used in crime labs all over the States,” said producer Rich Catalani, who came to the show after two decades spent at the Los Angeles County Crime Lab. “We buy it, rent it or it's donated to us. Real CSIs are jealous after a tour of our set.”

Our next stop was in Hollywood and the set of the new TNT series Trust Me, which will air in Canada on the pay service Superchannel, starting later this month.

The hour-long drama stars two affable Canadians: Toronto's own Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame and Ottawa native Tom Cavanagh, who played lovable losers in the long-running series Ed, and the very short-lived series, Love Monkey.

The concept casts them as best buddies and creative partners working at a present-day Chicago advertising agency.

“We get the comparison to Mad Men a lot, which of course makes no sense, “ said Cavanagh, who plays the cocky one in the partnership. “We're in the present, and we're not nearly as serious.” Several noted critics have already picked Trust Me as one to watch.

And as the sun went down over Sunset Boulevard, our final stop was to a bar/restaurant called The Peach Pit, located in a not-so-great area of Hollywood, where The CW network had arranged for the cast of 90210 to appear.

Most of the press made an immediate beeline for Canadian actress Shenae Grimes, who plays Annie Wilson on CW's remake of the seminal nineties teen soap.

The former Degrassi: The Next Generation star looked older than her 19 years at the party, possibly an effect of the constant barrage of gossip directed toward her on the Internet.

She claimed not to pay attention to any of it and played up the positive.

“I'm still having the most incredible time in my life doing this show,” said Grimes, while The CW publicity team hovered nearby.

“Everything has been such a new experience for me; I learned to drive here. Everyone has been so amazing to me.”

And after that, the bus rolled home.


TNT Adds Jada Pinkett Smith's Medical Drama

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(January 9, 2009)  *TNT has just picked up two pilots to series, among them a medical drama starring
Jada Pinkett Smith. "Time Heals" will feature the actress as a strong but caring director of nursing at a Charlotte, N.C. hospital.  The cable channel has ordered 10 episodes of the drama to premiere later this year, according to the Hollywood Reporter.  Also added for late 2009 is the cop drama "The Line," starring Dylan McDermott as the head of a squad of undercover LAPD officers who walk the line between doing their job and being seduced by easy money. Still in contention for a series pickup at TNT is Ray Romano's drama pilot "Men of a Certain Age," which might be retooled.

Fox To End Prison Break After Four Seasons

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(January 13, 2009) UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif.–It's inescapable – Fox TV is bringing Prison Break to an end after four seasons. The network said Tuesday that the drama starring Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell will begin airing its final episodes this spring. The series took a break after its December season debut and will conclude with about a half-dozen episodes starting April 17. It's the right move for Prison Break and its fans, said Kevin Reilly, Fox entertainment president. "We didn't give it the hook," Reilly told a meeting of the Television Critics Association. "The show just played out. I think you get to the point where creatively everyone feels enough stories were told." Ending the show now allows it to "finish strong," he said.

Byron Pitts Cements '60 Minutes' Spot

Source: www.eurweb.com

(January 14, 2009) *CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts will be joining the Sunday news magazine "60 Minutes" as a contributing correspondent, according to the National Association of Black Journalists.   A longtime and committed member of NABJ, Pitts will become the program's only African-American contributor, following the footsteps of the late Ed Bradley. Pitts also has been promoted by CBS News as its chief national correspondent.  "Byron Pitts brings the kind of humanity to his reporting that inspires and challenges the viewer to not only watch but get involved in the world around them; this will bring a new and improved layer to the already thought-provoking content of '60 Minutes,'" said Barbara Ciara, NABJ President and UNITY: Journalists of Color Vice President. "At a time when diversity in content and people is more important than ever, 60 Minutes has made a wise choice - one that enhances the program and provides an example of excellence in journalism."  Before being named national correspondent in 2006, Pitts served as a regional correspondent at CBS News bureaus in Miami and Atlanta before moving to New York City in 2001. The Emmy Award-winning Pitts received the NABJ Journalist of the Year Award in 2002 for his coverage of the 9/11 attacks.


Bearing Baby Comedy Could Offer Up More Than Laughs

www.globeandmail.com - Kate Taylor

Bear With Me
Written and performed by Diane Flacks
Directed by Kelly Thornton
Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto
Rating: 2.5stars

(January 12, 2009) I spotted a heavily pregnant woman leaving the matinee of Diane Flacks's new one-woman show
Bear With Me this weekend. I was tempted to sidle up to her and offer a secret of the sisterhood: Don't worry, dear. It's not nearly as bad as the comics would have you believe.

Cracking jokes about daylong morning sickness, a ballooning body, inexplicable food cravings, mind-altering labour pain, cracked nipples, sleepless nights, severe mental distraction and ferocious over-protectiveness, the veteran playwright and performer is treading familiar comic territory here. Another parent observes to her that laughter is how we cope with fear; it's also how we cope with stress, anxiety, frustration, helplessness and despair, all of which you will experience at some point in the care and feeding of an infant. Pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood feel like natural, even necessary, things to laugh at, which is perhaps why we have all done so many times. But comedy is built through exaggeration and in reality these life events seem less funny yet less dire than their stand-up incarnations.

Thankfully, Flacks's twisted sense of humour often raises these old exaggerations above the cliché. “God doesn't give you more than you can handle,” she offers in a seemingly saccharine philosophical moment before clinching it. “Got that, children of the Congo?”

She begins by promising to share with us three important lessons of motherhood and then reveals the first: It is about as difficult to remove the diarrhea from an infant scrotum as it is to remove the butter from an English muffin. (The second lesson is more predictable – anything you love … they will break – but her delivery is perfect. And the third ... well, perhaps in keeping with Flacks's comedy I should blame my inability to remember the third on the presence of a four-year-old in my life, but as I recall I was never much good at taking notes in the dark.)

What's missing here is not Flacks's signature sense of humour, nor her kinetic stage presence. Indeed, there is nothing missing here; on the contrary the problem is the surfeit of material, presumably because this stage show is based on Flacks's book of the same title. She never seems able to give any particular topic its due. True, as she passes quickly over the issue of impregnation in her lesbian relationship or inserts the occasional bit of Yiddish, she treats her identity (which might be the subject of an entire 80-minute show itself) with refreshing offhandedness. But otherwise, you may feel that the decision to parent, pregnancy, labour and delivery, and the care of an infant are all getting pretty short shrift before one moves rapidly to the next phase. Similarly, you might like to spend longer with her delicious secondary characters such as the more-Zen-than-thou prenatal yoga instructor.

Director Kelly Thornton of Nightwood Theatre provides lots of inventive physical staging to tie things together and keep them moving, greatly abetted by an admirably physical performer who has kept her fighting form despite being mother to not just one but, it transpires, two little boys.

That second boy provides the play's ending, a surprisingly earnest and sentimental bit that because of the crowded structure of the piece feels particularly sudden and unearned. There's a unifying theme here about blind spots, a lovely metaphor for the dangers you can't protect against, that needs to be developed further if Bear With Me is going to deliver something more satisfying than a few easy laughs.

Bear With Me continues at the Berkeley Street Theatre to Jan. 24. For information, visit nightwoodtheatre.net.

McKenna Rises Above Tragedy

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

(out of 4)
By Euripides. Translated by Robinson Jeffers. Directed by Miles Potter. Until Feb. 8 at the Canon Theatre, 244 Victoria St. 416-872-1212

(January 12, 2009) Even a precious gem needs the proper setting to display its brilliance to maximum effect. That's the lesson demonstrated by the production of
Medea that opened at the Canon Theatre yesterday afternoon.

While Seana McKenna's Medea is a performance to treasure, made up of equal parts fire and music, the production by Miles Potter that surrounds her has a conventionality that's profoundly disappointing.

McKenna and Potter teamed up on this play before at Stratford in 2000 and that version, to my taste, had a lot more kick than this one, but even a pretty good McKenna Medea is better than most of what you'll get to see on our stages and is well worth a visit.

McKenna is a force of nature as the driven woman who will stop at nothing to avenge herself on the husband who has abandoned her for a younger, prettier woman.

She also has to be one of the few actors around who can deliver all the aspects of this challenging role.

McKenna understands the larger-than-life scale needed to perform Greek tragedy, the resonance needed to fill the haunting poetic translation of Robinson Jeffers and – uniquely – the deep vein of black humour lurking in this woman's soul.

One might argue, in fact, that McKenna plays the sarcasm card a bit too often and when it's time for her ex-husband Jason to bound in, you almost expect him to be played by her frequent partner in comic crime, Brian Bedford.

Instead, he's played by Scott Wentworth in a solid, foursquare style that marks most of the other roles in this production. Pluck McKenna from the show and you'd be looking at the kind of Greek tragedy you might have expected to see on stage circa 1962.

Peter Hartwell's symmetrical set of pillars, steps and doors is nice, but little more. His costumes put everyone in pristine white and gold except for Medea and her nurse. And Kevin Fraser is certainly capable of more atmospheric lighting than we get here.

Potter occasionally goes for odd special effects, like two rock 'n' roll bursts of pyro that come out of nowhere and do nothing to improve matters. Most of the time, it's just park and bark.

He also changed Jeffers' chorus of three women to five, losing their individual characterizations and just giving us a quintet of white-robed ladies posing on steps and spouting out lines.

Patricia Conolly is moving as the nurse and Walter Borden amuses as the tutor, but Nigel Bennett's Creon and Michael Spencer-Davis's Aegeus are strictly by the numbers.

McKenna's performance is worth your time, which is why this show is getting three stars, but I deeply wish she were surrounded by a production that did her justice.

She isn't and that's the real tragedy of this Medea.

Hannah Moscovitch: Hit Factory

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Michael Posner

(January 13, 2009) When the car hit her, Hannah Moscovitch was running late for a grant-application appointment at the Ontario Arts Council.

That was in 2006. She no longer remembers the accident, but she does remember waking up in the ambulance, her mouth stripped of most of her front teeth, and more or less screaming at the emergency paramedic: Where's my laptop!? It was, she says now, a definitive moment.

Her professional partner, Michael Rubenfeld, rescued it from the street. He opened the case, then turned it on to show that it was still working. At which point she passed out, thinking,

“I must be a writer.”

Rubenfeld and Moscovitch are co-artistic directors of their own company Absit Omen Theatre. Absit Omen translates from the Latin roughly as “let the evil eye not be present.” And, apart from that singular encounter with the automobile, and a torn keen ligament (an injury sustained in movement class) that delayed her graduation from the National Theatre School by a year, Moscovitch's dramaturgy seems to have been blessed.

This month, one of her best-known plays, East of Berlin, has been remounted at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre and has been extended until Feb. 8. It will also be staged at Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver next month (Feb. 18-28) and Theatre Network in Edmonton from March 10 to 29. Two shorter works, Essay and The Russian Play, will be mounted in the spring by Calgary's Urban Curvz at the Pumphouse Theatre from April 29 to May 9.

On top of that, the just-turned-30 Ottawa native, now living in Toronto, has half a dozen new commissions lined up, including one for New York's Manhattan Theatre Club and an experimental work for Mill, a four-play project shepherded by Daryl Cloran's Toronto-based Theatrefront. Her contribution is a Victorian ghost story.

Moscovitch's self-doubt about her status as a playwright first materialized at the National Theatre School in Montreal. She had auditioned and been accepted as an actor (part of her audition involved presenting J.B. Priestley's A n Inspector Calls in three minutes). But after her second year, then NTS director Perry Schneiderman called her in and suggested that she might be better suited to the school's writing stream.

“I was crushed,” she laughs. “I was so insulted. I felt he was wrong.” But three months after she graduated, she turned down an acting audition at Stratford and “I realized he was right.”

She was mentored at NTS by Sheldon Rosen and Maureen Labonté. “You need help,” she says. “You need people to help you invent yourself as a playwright. I owe them a lot.”

Out of her work at NTS came Moscovitch's first play, Cigarettes and Tricia Truman, which did well enough that Ottawa's Great Canadian Theatre Company included it in its FourPlay series.

“Most writers have either an emotional insight into their characters or an intellectual insight,” Rosen says. “What makes Hannah special is that she has both, so she's able to create real characters in intelligent circumstances. And she's got a rich curiosity and the intellectual ballast to challenge and satisfy it.”

East of Berlin, a story about the son of a Nazi who falls in love with the daughter of a Holocaust victim, emerged out of research Moscovitch was doing for another play. “I came across books about the children of Nazis, and it was children of Holocaust survivors who were doing the interviews,” she said in a recent interview. “The subtext was interesting because the whole interview was pitched as a kind of apology. And what seemed theatrical to me was the idea of putting the child of a Nazi onstage and having them address the audience, as if the audience was the child of a survivor,” and instinctively unsympathetic.

Moscovitch grew up in Ottawa's Glebe district, the oldest child of two left-wing social activists, one Jewish, one Catholic/Anglican, who opened their home to a rich assembly of fellow radicals. At one point, she recalls, there were 13 people living in the family basement and “lots of political singalongs.” Her mother is a labour union researcher; her father teaches sociology at Carleton University. At 18, Moscovitch went to live on an Israeli kibbutz in the Golan Heights. “You have to do that when you're 18. I pulled weeds for four months and drank a lot,” then came back to enrol at NTS, she says.

It was only after her years there and three more acting, waitressing and writing plays, that she took a degree in philosophy and English at the University of Toronto. That, says Rosen, now teaching at Ryerson, “allowed her to develop a larger world vision than most young writers, and to be able to supplement her creative explorations with a very solid historical, sociological and psychological grounding. She's got the discipline, desire and intelligence to push her playwriting beyond her basic gift and build a much larger expressive muscle. So look out. She's just warming up.”


2009: The Year Of The Thumb

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

(January 03, 2009) Hands up anyone who hasn't ached with jealousy at the sight of some younger cousin or niece at a family gathering, happily off in the corner killing time with their Game Boy. Come on – I can't be the only socially stunted geek in the room.

This year is looking like a big year for portable gaming, and the top story's likely going to be the rise of the iPhone/iPod Touch as a game machine. Since Apple's App Store opened in the summer, users have downloaded more than 300 million pieces of software, a huge chunk of which being games. That's big-money action and in the year ahead we'll see a lot of A-level development from studios big and small looking for a piece of it. With a large and growing user base and some sweet game-conducive capabilities – the gorgeous multi-touch screen, the tilt sensor – the iPhone and its little brother will come out of the year solidly established as a serious gaming platform.

Not that Nintendo, the current handheld leader, is going to fade away and cede the thumbs of the world to Apple or anybody else – not with 90 million DS and DS Lite units in global circulation. The DS will see the continued high volume of releases this year, with a few exciting gems mixed in with all the knockoff pet simulators.

Here are five upcoming titles that should turn our thumbs on their, er, thumbnails:

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars will take the generally kid-friendly DS into some hardcore territory in March. This portable edition of the notorious gangland action-adventure series returns GTA fans to good ol' Liberty City, where they'll deal drugs, shoot it out and violate the traffic codes Triad-style. The top-down, 3-D presentation is looking especially delicious.

Moon is a first-person shooter set on the familiar satellite of the same name. Handheld FPSes are rare, and good ones are even rarer, but this Halo-esque sci-fi shooter, built on an upgraded version of the engine that powered the perfectly adequate Dementium: The Ward, looks like a winner. We'll find out for sure in a couple of weeks; Moon rises Jan. 13.

There's lots more, of course, but I need the room to tell you about the new DS hardware. Already released in Japan – and already sold to the tune of half a million units in one month – the DSi is basically Nintendo calling Apple out. It has bigger and better screens; a slimmer case; two cameras (one on the hinge facing the player, one on the case lid for snapshots); an SD card slot replacing the GBA cartridge port; built-in Web browser; upgradeable firmware; and the addition of an online store for game/app downloads. Expect a North American launch in the latter half of the year.

Finally there's the PlayStation Portable. On paper it may be the best portable game machine/Web browser/multimedia player ever made (prior to the iPhone), but Sony's handheld continues to fight for a fraction of Nintendo's volume. God of War: Chains of Olympus and Patapon were highlights in 2008 so what's up for '09? Patapon 2, of course, with cooler units, more epic pon-battles, and four-player multiplayer goodness. If ever a game merited a sequel, it's this insanely stylish drumming/strategy masterpiece. Japan got it in November and the North American release is TBA, but it'll probably be sooner rather than later.

Dissidia: Final Fantasy also looks cool to me, and not just because (just mostly because) I'm a Final fan from way back. Dissidia takes two-dozen heroes and villains from the whole of the Final Fantasy series and plunks them into an arena brawler.

Fanboy love alone would suffice to move a game like this, but apparently it's really good, debuting in Japan to rave reviews and chart-shattering sales. We'll get our chance to have Cloud Strife give Exdeath a little taste of the Buster Sword sometime "mid-year."


Celebrate Toronto's Diversity

Source: www.thestar.com -
Natasha Emery, Toronto

(January 07, 2009) "What would make Toronto a superior city for the arts? Eight Star critics reveal their utmost desires."

How disappointing that not one critic truly believes in our richest artistic strength – diversity. As I read your desires and agreed with them, I was waiting for something that speaks to Toronto, and what sets us apart from every other major world city. And you didn't quite get there.

Let's embrace classical musicians like Trichy Sankaran in the same breath as the TSO. Let's browse books at "a different book list," as well as Pages. Let's encourage television networks to create more Da Kink In My Hair, and feature any of the 50-plus different neighbourhood communities that exist in Toronto. Let's recognize the growth of Reel World and Reel Asian Film Festivals among others as the true international component of our film scene, and give urban arts its rightful place on the entertainment landscape – it's a voice of an entire generation.

For 2009, perhaps the Star's critics could widen their scope to include promoting and critiquing a greater variety of the incredible cultural arts activities that make our city No. 1.

New Minister Makes Right Noises On Arts

Source:  www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(January 12, 2009) Despite cold, blustery conditions outdoors, there was a distinct warming trend in the world of Toronto cultural politics over the weekend.

Federal Heritage
Minister James Moore made a whirlwind, 48-hour tour of Toronto that left the leaders of the city's arts community smiling and optimistic.

"Support for the arts is not just a want but a need," the 32-year-old former open-line radio host from British Columbia explained during a breakfast interview yesterday. "I recognize that and I believe that."

Although he has been in the job just over two months, the intense, fast-talking and bilingual Moore has already shown an impressive knack for saying the right things, and reversing the deep-freeze atmosphere of hostility and mistrust that characterized the relationship between Toronto's arts world and the federal government while first Bev Oda and then Josée Verner held the post of heritage minister.

Moore's packed schedule included a mix of bonding-op social events, plus tours of both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum. There was also the gala concert at Roy Thomson Hall marking the annual Toronto appearance of the National Arts Centre Orchestra with its celebrated conductor/performer Pinchas Zukerman.

As for the perception during last fall's election that the Conservatives were slashing arts funding, Moore retorts: "We had four political parties distorting our record. They were lying to the public."

The truth, he claims, is that the Harper government is spending $2.3 billion on arts and culture, more than any previous government. As for the cuts, he says, there really weren't any cuts because all the money that was shaved from programs deemed inefficient was reinvested in other arts areas, such as the Canada Council or opening ceremonies for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, which will provide a global showcase for Canadian artists and performers.

On Friday evening, Moore was the guest of honour at a small dinner party at the home of Julia Foster, chair of the National Arts Centre board, where the guests included Canadian Opera Company general director Alexander Neef, Royal Conservatory of Music president Peter Simon, Luminato CEO Janice Price, Canada Council chair Joe Rotman and his wife, Sandra Rotman, a key figure on the AGO board.

On Saturday, he was at the Distillery District for lunch with Soulpepper Theatre artistic director Albert Schultz, among others. Saturday evening began with a lively cocktail reception at the home of Peter Herrndorf, CEO of the National Arts Centre, attended by philanthropists Jim and Sandra Pitblado, former Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara, CBC Radio's Michael Enright and TV newsman-turned-MP Peter Kent.

Then it was on to Roy Thomson Hall where the new heritage minister was delighted by both the NAC Orchestra and the hall.

Before leaving town yesterday, Moore squeezed in a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum. "I've never seen anyone do such an intense survey of the cultural landscape in such a short time," says Herrndorf. "He has shown tremendous enthusiasm and that is something that can't be faked."

Herrndorf says Moore has established himself as a cheerleader for the whole cultural community.

"I've had the good fortune to meet a lot of great people, like Alexandra Montgomery (director of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics)," says Moore. "My sense is that the vast majority of people in the creative community are moderate and open-minded. They're passionate about working together."

Yes, but it remains to be seen how much Moore will be able to deliver, and how long his honeymoon with the arts world will last.



B.C. Ballet Saved From Bankruptcy

www.globeandmail.com - Fiona Morrow

(January 09, 2009) VANCOUVER — A unanimous vote by creditors has saved Ballet B.C. from bankruptcy. “Speaking as a creditor,” said Myrna Zagnar, executive director of the ScotiaBank Dance Centre, “I think it's a good thing for Vancouver and a huge benefit for the ballet.” More to come


Julian De Guzman Named Top Canadian Male Soccer Player

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(January 09, 2009) OTTAWA – Julian de Guzman has been named the winner of the 2008 Adidas Canadian male soccer player of the year.

The Toronto native was chosen in a vote weighted evenly between Canadian media and coaches who have taken the Canadian Soccer Association's national course at the B and A levels.

This is the first year the male player of the year award – first handed out in 2005 – has gone to a player other than Dwayne De Rosario.

Christine Sinclair was named the 2008 female player of the year on Thursday for the fourth consecutive year.

De Guzman scored two goals in seven games for Canada this past year, including one in a World Cup qualifier. His only two previous international goals came against Costa Rica in 2007.

The midfielder has played 35 games for Canada at the senior level.

The 27-year-old also starred for his Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna, helping the club to a spot in the UEFA Cup.

De Guzman came second in 2008 fan voting conducted by the Voyageurs supporters group, which named midfielder-striker Tomasz Radzinski winner of its Canadian International Player of the Year.

Earlier this week, Sinclair's teammate Jonelle Filigno and Nana Attakora-Gyan were named winners of the Canadian U-20 Players of the Year award while Monica Lam-Feist and Russell Teibert shared the Canadian U-17 Players of the Year award.

Argos Bring Back Cornerback Jordan Younger

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(January 13, 2009)  Jordan Younger is back with the Toronto Argonauts.

The all-star cornerback re-signed with the Argos on Tuesday after recently being released by the Edmonton Eskimos. Younger began his CFL career with Toronto in 2004 before being dealt to the Eskimos prior to last season.

"We are excited to have Jordan back as an Argo," Argos GM Adam Rita said in a statement. "He brings valuable experience and leadership to our young secondary.

"He has been an all-star for us and we expect him to play at that level in 2009."

Younger helped Toronto win a Grey Cup in '04 and over four seasons was named an East Division all-star three times and a CFL all-star twice. Over that span, he registered 189 tackles, 40 pass knock downs and 11 interceptions.

"It's like I'm coming home," Younger said. "Toronto is just a natural fit for me."

Toronto dealt Younger to Edmonton for running back Tyler Ebell and receiver TJ Acree on Feb. 15, 2008. Younger had 52 tackles, eight pass knock downs and an interception in 18 games (16 during the regular season, two playoff contest) with the Eskimos.

Despite being dealt, Younger said he never closed the door to the idea of returning to Toronto one day.

"I never ruled it out, I never let myself do that," he said. ``I was disappointed when I got traded but ultimately I do understand this is a business and that was part of the growing process for me."


Teen Hockey Player Dies After On-Ice Collision

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(January 13, 2009)  THUNDER BAY–A northern Ontario community is in mourning after a teenage hockey player died following an on-ice collision during practice. The player, 16-year-old Kristopher Meshake, was taken to hospital in Thunder Bay with a suspected broken leg following the mishap. He was also complaining of chest pains. Meshake died on the weekend. The coroner's office says it appears to have been a tragic accident and is hoping an autopsy will pinpoint the cause of death. Meshake was a member of the Aroland First Nation.