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LE NEWSLETTER

June 25, 2009

OK, I now accept that summer is here!  What a gorgeous week!  C'mon people - get outside and get active!

 This weekend is the world famous Pride weekend in Toronto.  Come out and celebrate diversity and equality!  And check out the headliners for the concerts. 


This past weekend was the
MMVAs which managed to capture the attention of millions of viewers, even with the Perez Hilton diatribe afterwards!  Then there is the passing of a television legend, Ed McMahon


Now, check out all the exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news! 

::TOP STORIES::

Jonases, Lady Gaga Steal MUCH Awards

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Jason Miller,
Staff Reporters

(June 22, 2009) The usual complement of about 6,000 Oh-my-gawd-I-can't believe-I'm here teens crammed the Queen-John Sts. corridor last night to eyeball their favourite stars at the annual MuchMusic Video Awards.

For red carpet newcomers like Canadian Idol winner Theo Tams the energy was electrifying.

"I thought the Junos were crazy," said the singer.

Ajax native Jennifer King, 16, could barely control her emotions as she waited for her must-sees, including Lady Gaga.

"She's the best ever, all her songs are so great," screamed King as her friends climbed up the steel barricades to get a glimpse.

As it turned out, Nickelback took home the most trophies, but Lady Gaga was the talk of the awards.

She stole the show with a splashy performance of two of her hit songs, "Love Game" and "Poker Face."

Her raunchy performance featured fake subway cars, dynamite and even a sparkling bustier.

The 23-year-old New Yorker won the night's first award, Best International Video by an Artist for "Poker Face."

Atypically clad in a rather tame Egyptian flapper get-up, Gaga thanked "God and the gays" when she accepted.

Nickelback scooped up three of their five nominations, including Best Video, Best Rock Video and Best Post-Production for "Gotta Be Somebody."

Pop rockers The Midway State were next with two for "UR Fave" New Artist and VideoFACT Indie Video for "Never Again."

With multiple nominations, rapper Classified, R&B singer Danny Fernandes, pop punkers Marianas Trench and Bedouin Soundclash went home with one apiece.

The night included a bunch of stellar performances, including Billy Talent, who brought their dads along to the red carpet to celebrate Father's Day, and Best International Video Award (Group) winners Black Eyed Peas, who performed their No. 1 song "Boom Boom Pow," accompanied by pyrotechnics and zebra-stripe-clad dancing zombies.

Samantha Hall, 16, came out at 4 a.m. yesterday morning just so she could grab a spot to see the Jonas Brothers, who co-hosted with a quartet of MuchMusic VJs.

She was accompanied by her dazed godmother, Lenore Bolton, who'd stood in the blazing heat all day with Hall to secure a good sightline. Bolton said the glitz, glamour and loudness at the event was far beyond what she expected.

"We're definitely coming next year," Bolton said in a breathless voice as she declared her love for the "amazing" trio of Jonas Brothers, Nick, Kevin, Joe, who took a break from their recently launched world tour to participate.

They opened the show with "Burnin' Up" from 2008's A Little Bit Longer, a smoothly adequate pop performance until its tepidity was made evident by the incendiary rendition – both in delivery and with the booming fire show that was the night's theme – by Alexisonfire of their "Young Cardinals."

The Jonases were Disney-friendly bland with the old "What's up Canada?" shoutouts. They played along ably with the sketches, like a backstage confrontation with gossip maven Perez Hilton, ostensibly catching him with a photo of them on his laptop as he updated his popular website.

Hilton was more likely to be sweated by MuchMusic.com Most Watched Video winners Girlicious, whom Hilton referred to as "baby trannies."

Local rap wonder and presenter Drake said he wouldn't have missed the chance to mingle with his home crowd for anything. Few got a bigger reception from the emphatic and boisterous crowd than the fast rising hip-hop artist.

"I've never been in Toronto and seen this reaction," he said of his first MMVA appearance.

Having realized more than three million downloads of his mixtape So Far Gone, the former Degrassi kid said he's on the verge of signing with a major record company.

"Probably by the end of next week I should have a record deal done," Drake said. "It will be with somebody under the Universal (Records) umbrella."

Filling out the ranks of non-musicians, celebrity guests like Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh, The Hills' Brody Jenner and reality stars like Tila Tequila provided some interesting moments.

MuchMusic's Devon Soltendieck worked hard to amp up famous-for-being-famous Kim Kardashian, wondering if "Kim Kardashian Tupperware (is) next?" When Kardashian pointed out it was boyfriend Reggie Bush's first time in Canada, Soltendieck inquired whether he'd had "any trouble getting across the border." Bush responded tersely in the negative.

Less uncomfortable was So You Think You Can Dance Canada finalist Natalli Reznik discussing rumours she'll join Michael Jackson's upcoming U.K. concerts. She wasn't selected but made a shortlist of dancers who could still get on board if the tour is extended. The gloved one "kept pointing on me."

With files from The Canadian Press



AND THE MMVA WINNERS ARE ...

Best Video: Nickelback, "Gotta Be Somebody"

Best International Video, Artist: Lady Gaga, "Poker Face"

Best International Video, Group: Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"

Pop Video of the Year: Danny Fernandes, "Private Dancer"

Best International Video, Canadian: Billy Talent, "Rusted from the Rain"

MuchLOUD Best Rock Video: Nickelback, "Gotta Be Somebody"

MuchVibe Hip-Hop Video: Classified, "Anybody Listening"

Best Director: Marianas Trench, "Cross My Heart"

Best Post-Production: Nickelback, "Gotta Be Somebody"

Best Cinematography: Bedouin Soundclash, "Until We Burn Into the Sun (The Kids Just Want a Love Song)"

VideoFACT Best Independent Video: The Midway State, "Never Again"

MuchMusic.com Most Watched Video: Girlicious, "Like Me"

Favourite International Video: Jonas Brothers, "Burnin' Up"

Favourite New Artist of the Year: The Midway State, "Never Again"

Favourite Video: Simple Plan, "Save You"

– The Canadian Press

The Ever-Changing Lady Gaga

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

(June 21, 2009)  Maybe we've all gone from dismissing Lady Gaga to taking her too seriously. Young Stefani Germanotta has taken the pop world by storm in less than a year with hits like the dance-pop confection "Just Dance," and credit is due. Let's just hope she remembers to keep it all fun.

Friday night's show at the Kool Haus, a prelude to her performance tonight on the MuchMusic Video Awards, had what her fans wanted: danceable hits and lots of costumes. But there was also wee bits of pretension – short films starring Gaga as "Candy Warhol," some rambling stage talk involving a monster – along with genuine musical ambition.

It might have been her affection for Toronto that spurred her to go the extra mile; Canada embraced her brand of fashion-forward pop early on, and from the stage the 23-year-old herself dubbed us the town "that gave birth to Lady Gaga." But the show had a few odd qualities that wore a little of the audience goodwill away.

Some of that is to expected: She's new to stardom and only 23, so no one should expect much by way of brilliant stage patter. And five different outfits in an 80-minute show – fairy wings, a sceptre, a jumpsuit, and a vaguely naval-looking cap all put in appearances – necessarily means several costume breaks, which broke up the momentum a bit after her opening, lively charge through "Paparazzi," "LoveGame" and "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich." (When Fergie did a show at the same venue in 2007 – likewise a last-minute target of opportunity while she was in town for the MMVAs – she too had a sceptre. Is this the new `must' for a woman's closet?)

Things were going to sag soon anyhow. "Money Honey," the most sentimental song ("When you give me kisses/ That's money honey") on her smash debut album The Fame, seemed not to persuade a generally materialist crowd. The all-ages show, coming at the start of PRIDE Week, drew young dance-crazy women, gay men, and some moms who brought their children. One wonders how the mothers handled it when Gaga suggested that her new song, "Future Love," might be about dildos. Then again, her current single "LoveGame" got the most notable spontaneous singalong of the night with its lyrics: "Let's have some fun, This beat is sick. I wanna take a ride on your disco stick."

The pace slackened further during her break from dancing and piano break. Gaga spoke about her plans with Kanye West, and played an intriguing, evenly received piano-bar version of "Poker Face." She sang much more steadily while seated at the piano, but the rest of the set wasn't just lip-synching – she was clearly singing live, and sometimes flat, at the show's start.

Who knows what such a driven young star will sound like in a few years. She told the crowd that this was the last concert (today's MMVAs presumably excluded) she'll perform without a live band.

All the same, the crowd could probably have done without the piano interlude, but the costume breaks stay.

Every few tunes, Gaga and her dancers paused and posed, giving fans ample chance to take a picture of the latest look before they disappeared backstage – proof that she does understand her audience.

R&B Stars Deborah Cox And Divine Brown Both Say Toronto's Diversity Influenced Their Music

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

(June 18, 2009) Deborah Cox is at a loss to explain why, having performed at so many Pride events all over the world, she has finally been invited to what she considers the most important one of all – next week's Pride festival in Toronto, her hometown.

"It's my first time at the Toronto festival," says Cox in a phone interview from Walt Disney World in Florida, where she's spending the day with her three children (ages 5, 2- 1/2 and 3 months) before the "summer crazies" set in, and the inevitable seasonal touring that will keep her away from her Miami "home away from home" for two or three months.

"I love doing Pride festivals... they stand alone for their energy and vibe. It's exhilarating to perform for people who are just so happy to be there. It's always a celebration."

Born to Guyanese parents and raised in Toronto's Catholic school system, Cox says she owes her enormous popularity in the gay community to the success of her 2003 album Remixed, a collection of previous chart hits reshaped into irresistible dance grooves by America's best-known deejays and remixers. The recording earned her the sobriquet, "Clubland's New Diva."

"Those tracks just took on a life of their own," says Cox, who began singing for TV commercials in Toronto at age 12, and, with her mother's help, became a top contender in young talent shows soon after.

Cox was still a teenager when she started working in Toronto's nightclubs and writing her own songs, with the help and encouragement of Lascelles Stephens, now her partner in music and life.

Just out of high school, Cox was signed to Arista Records by American music visionary Clive Davis, who gathered together a group of R&B luminaries – Babyface, Dallas Austin, and Keith Crouch, among them – to help co-write material for her 1995 debut.

Her 2002 follow-up, The Morning After, with the singles "Absolutely Not," "Mr. Lonely," and "Play Your Part" topping the U.S. dance charts, was a huge club favourite, and paved the way for Remixed.

Although she has always courted club audiences by serving up remixes of her big hits – and with energetic performances featuring dancers and extravagantly choreographed routines – Cox served notice that there's more to her music than a big beat with her 2004 performance in the Broadway production of the Elton John-Tim Rice musical, Aida, and with her most recent album, Destination Moon, a tribute to the vocal mastery of jazz legend Dinah Washington.

"I'd like to do another jazz album of Dinah Washington material," she says.

"She has such an amazing repertoire. I've already started picking songs, but it probably won't get recorded till next year, after I've finished my next R&B album and a set of Christmas songs."

In the meantime, Cox is looking forward to next weekend's visit to her hometown.

"My roots are in Toronto," she says. "All my family is there. I feel very connected to the city. I'm fortunate to have grown up there ... and the Pride Festival will be a blast."

Divine Brown, another of Toronto's formidable R&B front-runners, feels the same way.

"This will be my first Pride festival, and I'm really up for it," Brown says. "The gay community is a great inspiration to me for what they went through in the 1960s and '70s, developing their own culture, their own power – that's an amazing achievement."

Her five-octave range and sensational songwriting chops notwithstanding, Brown knows a thing or two about struggling for recognition.

Like Cox, Brown paid her dues on Toronto's club circuit before she was of legal entry age, and gained legit credentials in the local productions of the hit stage musicals Rent and Ain't Misbehavin' while she was still a teenager.

A prodigy raised on her parents' vinyl recordings of soul/gospel divas Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Chaka Khan, Brown – known then as Divine Earth Essence – was an underground star even before the release of her self-titled debut album in 2005, when the captivatingly retro single "Old-Skool Love" – a nod to slow dancing and doo-wop harmonies, written by Brown – became an urban radio smash.

A hands-on artist refreshingly free of celebrity delusions, Brown took a hand in producing the album, and played some instruments (keyboards and bass) during the sessions.

She wrote 95 per cent of the material on her dramatic sophomore effort, The Love Chronicles, released to great acclaim last year, including the hits "Sunglasses" and "Meet Me At The Roxy."

Brown is not surprised by the sudden abundance of impressive R&B talent coming out of Toronto and winning audiences in the U.S. and Europe.

"Canada has always had great R&B talent but, for the past 10 years, you could only hear it on college and campus radio," she says.

"Now that mainstream radio is supporting it, it's getting the recognition it deserves."

Brown does almost all her recording in Canada, using mostly Canadian musicians, "or Canadians who now live in America," she says. Besides, she adds, Toronto's cultural diversity has given local R&B artists and songwriters an edge, and the confidence to expand what she calls "a small, homogenized, cookie-cutter" musical genre.

"Growing up in Toronto has exposed me to so many influences that have meshed together. What others see as `very different' or `daring' in my music comes naturally to me."

Just the facts

Who: Deborah Cox and Divine Brown

When: Saturday, June 27, (Cox) or Sunday, June 28 (Brown) 10 p.m.

Where: Wellesley Stage

Tickets: Free

Part Of Her Destiny Is Playing Pride

Source: www.thestar.com

(June 23, 2009) Two performances by Kelly Rowland, formerly of Beyoncé's old band Destiny's Child, will help close Pride Week this weekend. Sunday's 7 p.m. set is added to the free performers at the TD Canada Trust Wellesley Stage; tickets are $30 (at Priape, 501 Church St.) for the Aqua Event package on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Sunnyside Pavilion.

Ryan O'Neal Plans To Marry Farrah Fawcett

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(June 22, 2009) NEW YORK – Ryan O'Neal says he plans to marry Farrah Fawcett, who is struggling to overcome cancer. The 68-year-old actor says in an interview with Barbara Walters for ABC's "20/20" that he asked his longtime companion to marry him and "she's agreed." O'Neal says they will tie the knot "as soon as she can say yes.'' Walters' interview with O'Neal airs Friday. Fawcett was diagnosed in 2006 with anal cancer that has spread to her liver. The "Charlie's Angels" star and O'Neal have a 24-year-old son, Redmond. O'Neal says the 62-year-old actress is "fighting for her life," but despite her declining health, they will "absolutely'' get married.

Farrah To Finally Say `I Do' To Ryan

Source:
Reuters

(June 23, 2009) After years of asking long-time companion Farrah Fawcett to marry him, actor Ryan O'Neal says she has finally agreed, even as she nears the end of her life after a long battle with cancer. O'Neal broke the news to Barbara Walters for a 20/20 episode to be aired on Friday.  Fawcett, 62, the former star of the 1970s TV show Charlie's Angels, is struggling for survival after being diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006, which has now spread to her liver. O'Neal, 68, who has dated Fawcett on and off since the early 1980s, told Walters she is "fighting for her life" but will "absolutely" get married. "We will, as soon as she can say yes ... maybe we can just nod her head," he told Walters. He told Walters he once asked Fawcett to marry him "all the time," and it became somewhat of a joke. The pair have one son, Redmond O'Neal. Ironically, O'Neal's breakout film, 1970's Love Story, was about a young man who marries a woman, who then dies of an unspecified disease.

Ontario Athletes Pull 2 From Fiery Crash

Source:  www.thestar.com - Jesse Mclean,
Staff Reporter

(June 22, 2009) Members of a Canadian football team helped pull two people from a fiery SUV after the vehicle collided with the team's bus yesterday in northeastern Indiana. Another woman was trapped in the SUV and died. The bus carrying the London Silverbacks was 2 1/2 hours outside Indianapolis, where they had played a season opener, when an SUV crossed the median of Interstate 69. The vehicle launched and crashed into the front window of the bus, said Sgt. John Gonya of the Steuben County sheriff's department. Several players rushed to the SUV, which had burst into flames. With the help of members of the Indiana National Guard, they dragged the female driver and a male passenger to safety. "That's the only way they survived. Because those people helped," Gonya said.

The two rescued occupants were airlifted to a trauma centre in Fort Wayne, where they were in critical condition last night.  Fourteen passengers in the bus suffered moderate injuries and were transported to a local hospital, while the rest of the team was taken to a nearby church. The Canadian Press reports that the team owner was also airlifted to Fort Wayne and is in critical but stable condition. "(The players) were kind of solemn when they came in, but now they all seem happy to be alive," said Father Gerard, a visiting priest at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. The team from London, Ont., is in the semi-pro North American Football League. A newspaper is reporting that the wife of a professional golfer from Indiana was killed in the crash.  The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne identified the victim as Beth Smith, of Peru, Ind., wife of PGA Tour player Chris Smith.

Legendary 'Tonight Show' Sidekick Ed McMahon Dies At 86

Source:
By Lynn Elber, The Associated Press

(June 17, 2009) LOS ANGELES - Ed McMahon, the loyal "Tonight Show" sidekick who bolstered boss Johnny Carson with guffaws and a resounding "H-e-e-e-e-e-ere's Johnny!" for 30 years, died early Tuesday. He was 86.

McMahon died shortly after midnight at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center surrounded by his wife, Pam, and other family members, said his publicist, Howard Bragman.

Bragman didn't give a cause of death, saying only that McMahon had a "multitude of health problems the last few months."

McMahon had bone cancer, among other illnesses, according to a person close to the entertainer, and had been hospitalized for several weeks. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

McMahon broke his neck in a fall in March 2007, and battled a series of financial problems as his injuries prevented him from working.

McMahon and Carson had worked together for nearly five years on the game show "Who Do You Trust?" when Carson took over NBC's late-night show from Jack Paar in October 1962. McMahon played second banana on "Tonight" until Carson retired in 1992.

"You can't imagine hooking up with a guy like Carson," McMahon said an interview with The Associated Press in 1993. "There's the old phrase, hook your wagon to a star. I hitched my wagon to a great star."

McMahon kept his supporting role in perspective.

"It's like a pitcher who has a favourite catcher," he said. "The pitcher gets a little help from the catcher, but the pitcher's got to throw the ball. Well, Johnny Carson had to throw the ball, but I could give him a little help."

::TRAVEL NEWS::

As Tourist Season Heats Up, City Hopes To Beat The Blahs

Source: www.thestar.com - Paul Moloney,
City Hall Bureau

(June 17, 2009) A weaker U.S. dollar and a decline in corporate travel are hurting Toronto's tourism, says the chief executive of Tourism Toronto.

But David Whitaker says he still hopes tourism can hold its own this year.

"These are challenging times," he acknowledged. "Generally, we welcome about 11 million overnight visitors to the GTA. For the first five months of this year, we've been running about 12 per cent behind on hotel performance.

"Destinations all over Canada and all over the United States are seeing declines in overnight visitors, so we're all working extra hard," he said.

"One of the things we're focusing on is regional travel. A lot of people are staying closer to home. Canadians staying in Canada."

Canadian tourists are more important than ever, he said, adding that the peak tourist season is just opening.

"Summer events, whether it's Pride or the Honda Indy next month or Caribana or the Toronto International Film Festival, those events are great marketing tools for us."

Although early results are soft, they're not disastrous, Whitaker said.

"Being down 12 per cent is a lot better than being down 30, 40 per cent," he said. "We need to see how long the rebound takes.

"Ask me in three months how we're doing."

Business travel is also off.

"About 20 per cent of our business is from corporate travel, meetings and the like. A lot of businesses are postponing meetings. Meetings are smaller. So that's had an impact."

Tourism Toronto will spend about $6 million marketing the city this season, he said.

"We're doing everything we can to stay active, stay aggressive in the marketplace.

"We're doing more online," he added. "Our own website, seetorontonow.com, is all about eyeballs.

"We also continue to work in traditional media, travel sections of newspapers and magazines, lifestyle publications."

::MUSIC NEWS::

New Releases Coming From Death Row

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(June 22, 2009) *WIDEawake, the Canada-based development company that acquired the assets of Death Row Records earlier this year, just signed a deal with music publisher EverGreen to become the worldwide administration company of the legendary rap label.

EverGreen owns the catalogues of 2 Live Crew, Third Eye Blind, MC Hammer, Tupac Shakur and others.

As part of a long-term arrangement, EverGreen will administer and handle licensing for all of the compositions and master recordings in the Death Row catalogue, as well as the processing of all mechanical and performance royalties in the catalogue, reports Billboard.com.

With the new joint venture, WIDEawake extends EverGreen's rights to market, promote and collect royalties on all the copyrights and master recordings in the Death Row catalogue, including more than 10,000 released and unreleased songs by such artists as Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger and Nate Dogg, to list a few. It also includes never-before released albums by Crooked I, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, RBX, The Lady of Rage, Warren G, K-Solo, Danny Boy and DJ Quick, among others.

In addition, Death Row is expected to generate a number of new releases in the near future, like a new album of unreleased Tupac material to commemorate the rapper's June 2010 birthday. The as-yet-untitled album will be distributed by E-1 stateside and EMI overseas.

Other forthcoming releases include a collector's edition rerelease of "The Chronic Re-Lit," slated for a Sept. 1, 2009 street date. The album will feature four bonus tracks - all unreleased master from Death Row - plus a DVD with never before seen video footage of Dr. Dre and other artists.

WIDEawake/Death Row will also release several box sets this holiday season, including a four CD collection of previously unreleased Death Row master recordings, never before seen images and video footage.

Chasing Drake

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

(June 21, 2009) He doesn't have a video of his own in rotation. He's never even made a studio album. But make no mistake: rapper Drake is one of the most anticipated guests at tonight's MuchMusic Video Awards.

"The red carpet is going to be bananas," said MuchMusic VJ Devon Soltendieck of Toronto-born
Aubrey Graham's first local appearance since his sold-out show at Sound Academy last month.

Since his third mixtape So Far Gone was released in February, Drake (aka Drizzy) – who starred for eight seasons as paraplegic Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation – has slowly become rap's hottest property.

"Hip hop has been hungry for its next big star," said New York-based Elliot Wilson, founder and CEO of RapRadar.com. "(Early in the year) people were talking about Asher Roth, Kid Cudi and Wale, and no one put Drake in. But by April, it was all about Drake."

And it's been more about Drake since his storied May 26 performance at Manhattan's hip S.O.B.'s club, which was jammed with about 300 tastemakers, celebrities, journalists and record executives, such as Warner Music boss Lyor Cohen.

Each day seems to yield new chatter about the 22-year-old, who is working on his debut album for a fall release but remains unsigned despite being wooed by major American record labels. He says it himself on top track "Best I Ever Had": "Buzz so big I could probably sell a blank disc."

In just the past two weeks:

June 6: Drake's managers say they plan to sue Canadian Money Entertainment for selling an unauthorized album, The Girls Love Drake, which features selections from So Far Gone.

June 7: His unscheduled cameo at Hot 97 FM's annual summer concert at Giants Stadium is thunderously received. It's considered an anointing by the Big Apple's hip-hop cognoscenti.

June 10: At the Black Eyed Peas' CD release party in NYC, Drake is photographed with singer Rihanna, fuelling rumours that they're an item. He has said they are friends, collaborating on her next album.

June 14: Kanye West directs the video for Drake's "Best I Ever Had." Jay-Z and Common are spotted on the New York set.

June 15: It's announced that Drake is going back on tour with Lil Wayne (the pair hit the Molson Amphitheatre Aug. 4), and will appear on the lead single for Jay-Z's forthcoming album. The same day, he performs on The Tonight Show alongside Jamie Foxx.

June 16: Complex magazine nominates So Far Gone the third best album so far of 2009.

June 18: Drake is named as an MMVA presenter.

"He's searched (online) twice as much as Eminem, who just dropped a record but is mostly selling to old fans," said Yves Darbouze, CEO of pLot Multimedia, a New York-based marketing firm behind campaigns for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Alicia Keys, Toyota and Pepsi.

The company pursued a contract with Drake after determining his "blue-chip" marketability, in part by measuring the algorithms of positive vs. negative online comments. The performer, who now shares management with Kanye West and Lil Wayne, scored an "off the charts" 78 per cent, compared with, say, Diddy's career range of 48-58 per cent, or 50 Cent's 38-48 per cent, according to Darbouze.

"We wanted to work with Drake more than any artist we have worked with before," said Darbouze. "We had several face-to-face meetings with management, but then he got so busy – he reached critical mass – and we didn't close the deal and the window of opportunity closed."

A performing producer along the lines of Pharrell Williams and will.i.am, Toronto's Slakah the Beatchild is benefiting from Drakemania: there's increasing interest in his just-released debut Soul Movement Vol. 1, which features three songs recorded with the rapper two years ago.

"Within the music community, we all said Drake was going to be the next," said Slakah, citing the high-school dropout's tone, witticisms and delivery. "With his wordplay and understanding of metaphors, he'd be a great English professor. He can say something 10 different ways and make it rhyme."

On the strength of previous mixtapes, Room for Improvement (2006) and Comeback Season (2007), Drake came close two years ago to signing with Universal Motown, which is among his current pursuers.

It's acknowledged that subsequent mixtape collaborations with Lil Wayne, who took him on tour this winter, broadened Drake's appeal in the U.S.

"That was the ultimate co-sign," said Flow 93.5FM music director Justin Dumont, who has been playing him on air since February 2006, when "Do What You Do" arrived anonymously in the submissions pile. "He always had the talent, Lil Wayne gave him the credibility. He does what Kanye does, but in some people's opinions better. His music is really honest."

Rhyming talents aside, women have also been particularly responsive to Drake's collegiate good looks and his combination of vulnerability and swagger. "When you're a hip-hop artist and you can fill a club with more girls than guys ... He's pretty much the Derek Jeter of rap: guys want to be him and girls love him," said Darbouze. "He has the marketability of Will Smith and the musical gravitas of Kanye West."

Degrassi co-creater Linda Schuyler remembers Drake (it's his middle name) as "very charismatic, even as a rather awkward 13-year-old when he started here. He had a way of connecting with people. We would do these mall tours, 3,000 to 4,000 teens screaming for the Degrassi kids, and you could see that Aubrey set off that energy."

Wilson said the offspring of a Memphis-based black musician dad and white Jewish educator in Forest Hill is a border-hopping barrier-crosser. "He's Canadian, he's half-Jewish, that's a novelty," he explained. "Stereotypes of region and race are being challenged, yet he has no credibility issues and he's comfortable in his own skin."

It wasn't always that way. In 2006, Drake spoke with the Star about being a racial minority at Forest Hill Collegiate. "It was very awkward," he said. "I never had a girlfriend. Not one of those girls would bring me home. It would be too risky."

"His parents represented two different sides of life," said Schuyler. "As he got older, he needed to find ways to reconcile those two different influences. Music was a wonderful outlet for him and he turned out to be extraordinarily talented."

The entertainer recently told Vibe magazine that his goals are to win a Best New Artist Grammy, finish high school and resume acting. In that same 2006 Star interview he said, "I'd definitely like to be an icon. Not only in the city, but across the world."

Peas Proving Plenty Popular

Source: www.thestar.com - Jason Miller,
Staff Reporter

(June 23, 2009) Before the alleged melee with Perez Hilton, the Black Eyed Peas were already garnering international headlines – the right kind.

The group fired up the MuchMusic Video Awards on Sunday with their smash hit "Boom Boom Pow" that has held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 11 weeks. Not only has the band achieved a No. 1 album in North America with The E.N.D. (their fastest sales start ever), but they're the first group since OutKast in 2004 to hold the top two slots on the Hot 100 with tracks from a No. 1 album.

The band – Fergie, apl.de.ap, Taboo and Hilton's nemesis will.i.am – sat down with the Star to talk about The E.N.D. Will.i.am, the lead rapper and creative driving force, made it clear that the album's purpose is to make people dance.

How has the group evolved since recording breakout tracks like "Request Line" to smash hits like "Boom Boom Pow"?

will.i.am: Every single Black Eyed Peas record has different sounds and influences. This one still has our trademark fusion of rhythms and melodies, but this one is the most focused, centred around dance. That's the reason why you have that taste of this is different because of the pungent focus on dance. This is the first record that we didn't have a lot of collaborations on.

What inspired this album other than bringing people to the dancefloor?

Fergie: The album is very electro inspired. Will.i.am and apl.de.ap have been DJing at every club. We wanted to pay homage to the culture, including those cats who are a part of that world was important to us.

How does visiting nightclubs add to the album's success?

will.i.am: The clubs that you go to when you have success are clubs that cater to you. The clubs that we went to on this record are underground dance clubs. That is the reason why that record sounds like that. We would go to clubs where kids didn't care about how many records we sold, so you had to be like `Hey, check this out, do you like this beat?' You're like working for respect.

After the solo careers and touring, how difficult was it to get back into the studio to produce this record?

Fergie: It was the least stressful album. Doing our solo projects you miss each other. Getting back into the studio in London was like reminiscing about old times. A lot of times we do the album and send it to the record company and they tell us to do more songs; with this album, they couldn't put it out fast enough. They got it and put it out the first time.

What are you trying to achieve by saying that you're breaking away from the concept of releasing an album?

will.i.am: Eleven years ago when we released Behind the Front people were walking around with CD players. Right when we put out Bridging the Gap Napster came out and that changed everything. Why make an album, when the kids go to iTunes and strip it apart and pick it like scabs and make playlists with it? Our record is like a DJ set; each sound blends into the next sound. We made a set, a compilation of songs strung together to make people dance. We didn't make an album.

On this album you sampled several genres, including dancehall and dance-punk. Was it difficult trying to wear so many hats?

Fergie: It's just paying homage to music that I love. I'm a fan of reggae and dub reggae music. In "Meet Me Halfway" I paid homage to Madonna and emulate her vocals.

Do you think people will take your efforts to promote equality and togetherness – by doing tracks like "One Tribe" – seriously, when the rest of your music is all about partying?

will.i.am: That shouldn't hinder you from doing it. If you want to lend yourself to change a perspective on things and you're passionate about it, that's serious. Then there is art and fun. It's two different worlds.

It’s 3 A.M. And A Canadian Bassist Is Looking For Her Big Break

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Guy Dixon

(June 18, 2009) Half a dozen musicians are taking turns riffing on the front stage at Smalls, a suitably named, cramped jazz club in Greenwich Village. Each tune is an excuse for another round-robin soloing spree, all in traditionalist hard bop. A handful of young guys in the front seats roar their approval. At the back, a woman writes quietly in a notebook. The only thing missing are beatniks in berets.

This isn't around midnight, but 3 a.m., on a warm, airless night in New York. I'd been walking around the Village all night text-messaging
Canadian bassist Brandi Disterheft, waiting to meet up with her, killing time in various clubs and filming extra street scenes for a short video I was making about her.

Brandi's regular routine in New York is to hit these after-hours jam sessions late. I just didn't realize how late.

Originally from North Vancouver, the young bassist has been playing in Toronto for a decade and has basically done all a jazz bassist can do in Canada. She's now trying to break into New York, and I wanted to film her at that pivotal moment.

Earlier that night, she was still practising in her tiny Hell's Kitchen apartment. (She has since found better digs in the West Village, steps away from Smalls and the other clubs, and a welcome change given the upright bass she has to lug around.)

I, however, am wearing down. It's 1 a.m., and then 2 a.m. Only the most nocturnal types are out, and some seem keenly interested in my camera. But for Brandi, the night's still fresh. She finally arrives. The coda ends. Another round of musicians take their turn at the front, including Brandi in a cheerful summer shirt. (The sexism has gone in jazz, but still, a summery shirt noticeably changes the mood much for the better, tempering the male jazz nerdiness.) But what's so surprising is that this scene, straight out of the 1958, exists today. Young musicians in Manhattan count on the late jams to hook up with others to form bonds, organize sessions and basically find work.

It's Brandi's turn, hitting her stride, walking and grooving up the fingerboard. While so many bassists stomp around, or try to impress with a flurry of notes (“Just nonsense,” as Brandi calls it), she's painting pictures. But then I'm biased, I was a fan even before following her for hours, sleep deprived and with video camera. She's easily one of the most compelling Canadian bassist-composers working today.

A study grant has helped her to spend more time in New York, even though she's sacrificing steady work in Toronto. Now in her late 20s, Brandi recently started private lessons with the legendary bassist Ron Carter, and another key contact has been pianist-flutist Anne Drummond, a rising player from Seattle, who studied in Manhattan and has that extra entrée. Meanwhile, Brandi's follow-up to her 2007 Juno-winning album Debut is called Second Side and is due in September, although she'll be selling copies during her summer performances. On Canada Day, she's opening for Dave Brubeck at the Toronto Jazz Festival.

It's an all-encompassing lifestyle: Practising, gigging, networking. One afternoon, we were at a jam at pianist Klaus Mueller's apartment in the heart of the Village, a couple of blocks up from Washington Square. It almost seemed scripted – young jazz musicians spending the afternoon working through Brazilian rhythms, warm air drifting in from the courtyard. For a musician like Brandi, it's living the dream.

Guy Dixon's short film on Brandi Disterheft, Toronto-New York , screens at the NXNE Film Festival Saturday night, 8:15, at the NFB Theatre, 150 John St., opening for the documentary James Blunt: Till You're Told to Stop.

For Chris Martin, The Upbeat Goes On

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Patrick White

(June 18, 2009) Winnipeg — An hour before showtime, Chris Martin lopes about the concrete backstage of Winnipeg's MTS Centre in cyan socks and baggy warm-up pants. All around him, roadies bark into headsets, and security guards clench their fists. He seems oblivious. A song is looping in his head – Nickelback's If Today Was Your Last Day – along with thoughts of Marco Polo, a recent obsession.

A week earlier, Forbes magazine had named Martin and his bandmates the world's most powerful British celebrities. Here in the home of the Manitoba Moose, the rock star appears detached, and a little alone.

Martin has blue eyes like spotlights, a diffident smile and an unfailingly affable air, but his hands are most mesmeric of all. Staring at his long, gangly piano fingers, one can't help but think these genetic aberrations form the heart of the whole hit-making, Grammy-winning schmaltz factory that is Coldplay. They play the brain-cleaving piano hooks responsible for the band's commercial appeal (over 50 million albums sold) and, sometimes anyway, one of them wears the wedding ring responsible for the band's tabloid allure.

“ I don't really believe in definitions of music by porousness or erodibility. I don't think the word ‘rock' is valid. I think it's kind of silly. It makes me giggle just to say the word ‘rock.' ”

Today, there is no wedding ring, something the tabs have interpreted as a sign his marriage to actress Gwyneth Paltrow is crumbling. The accusations, baseless as they may be, clearly gall the otherwise unflappable 32-year-old, as he steps aboard a tour bus to speak with me this week before the first Western Canadian date on the band's wildly successful world tour.

“If it's me in the news, there has to be some negativity,” he says, crossing his legs and leaning back to reveal a hint of a belly about which, he reveals, Paltrow has been ribbing him lately. “The news. They have to say we're divorced, or make fun of our baby's name. You just can't have pure positive news. Why is that?”

His eyes are piercing. He smiles. He wants an answer.

“Readers,” I say. “Maybe they can feel better about themselves if they feel worse about you and your wife. It's our daily tonic.”

“Well, that's fair enough,” he replies. “Daily tonic. I like that.”

Giving people what they want is something Martin can understand. He is a pupil of pop music, studying closely the subliminal appeal of hit songs by the likes of Nickelback. “I know they're not the most cool band to reference,” he acknowledges, “but they do something better than other people do, you know what I mean? You learn about great pop hooks, power and presentation. And I take my hat off to them.”

He's well aware of the critics who say Coldplay's music focuses too much on a steady formula of vacuous lyrics, cloying hooks and overproduced melodrama. Sasha Frere-Jones, music critic for The New Yorker, termed the concoction “warm milk.” After a New York Times reviewer dubbed Coldplay the most “insufferable band of the decade” in 2005, Martin treated the dig as good advice, promising to “just write better music.”

In 2008, the band hired Brian Eno to produce Viva La Vida , an album with more variety, and less reliance on stirring love songs – but with the same stadium melodies.

Martin himself has taken to calling his music “soft rock,” even though he realizes the term's Barry Manilow connotations. “I'm only using it lightheartedly,” he says. “I don't really believe in definitions of music by porousness or erodibility. I don't think the word ‘rock' is valid. I think it's kind of silly. It makes me giggle just to say the word ‘rock.'”

Aside from Nickelback, Martin has found inspiration hanging out with members of Kings of Leon recently. The bands met in Australia, and Martin says they had some “fun,” but wouldn't specify how he passed the time with the hard-drinking Tennessee rockers.

“Just imagine it for yourself,” he explains, “a meeting of the soft rockers and the hard rockers. It made for an interesting juxtaposition. I think it will make it into a song.”

After 121 concert dates (each of which grossed about $1-million) over the last year, Martin has seen a lot to inspire, but nothing more so, he says, than the changes in the United States since Barack Obama's election.

“Two years ago, touring America, you felt like it was on the downward,” he says. “In general, I feel that even though it's a recession, there's just a great mood and a great optimism. Even little subtle changes like going through customs feels a little friendlier now.” He pinches a slender index finger and thumb together. “Tiny little things.”

He hasn't seen much evidence of the sour economy altering the pop-music landscape, at least not in any way comparable to the Great Depression, when down times sparked a massive movement toward uptempo jazz and swing.

“I don't really subscribe to the view that terribleness is essential for art,” he says. “There's always good stuff being made – good times or bad. In bad times, there's just more baggage to hang on it. Know what I mean?

“I'll give you a good example,” he continues. “Yesterday, I watched this film called RocknRolla . … If it wasn't by Guy Ritchie and there wasn't all that personal baggage associated with him at that moment, everyone would just be, like, ‘It's a great movie.' But because people always want to attach something to something else, it changes how they see the film.”

Indeed, aside from the trail of paparazzi that follows him, Martin doesn't seem to suffer enough for his art. He's obscenely rich. He's married to one of the world's most beautiful women. He has a fan base whose monetary devotion has made Viva La Vida the most downloaded album of all time. And he happens to be unfailingly friendly.

So where's the angst?

“It's in everybody. It's not just musicians who are insecure and worried about whether their girlfriend likes them. It's everybody. And you know, I don't think it's fair to bang on about your own problems just because you're a musician.”

In fact, during our interview he seems more interested in my problems, showing great curiosity in the bleak future of newspapers and a keen interest in other articles I was working on. He also mentions his passion for the HBO series The Wire , a sure way to any journalist's heart.

But is it all an act? After the interview, I meet another reporter who says Martin had given him the same treatment, asked the same questions. Online, I find more suggestions that he's been buttering up interviewers in the same manner for the past year.

Yes, Chris Martin knows how to give 'em what they want.

Coldplay plays GM Place in Vancouver Saturday and Sunday, and Toronto and Montreal later this summer.

Novelty MC Gets Serious

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

(June 18, 2009) D-Sisive has spent more than half the past decade travelling one of the most painful routes imaginable to personal and artistic maturity, but at least he's retained the goofy sense of humour that initially made him a local sensation in battle-rap circles.

"It's hard to tell today because, I guess, I'm wearing my `pyjama outwear,' but I've now switched pants," he says, working his way through an enormous hunk of carrot cake on a Queen West patio. "I went down a size in `room.' I've decided to stop wearing baggy pants. Not for tight pants, just for `human being' pants. I think it's the first time in my life that I've ever bought Levi's. I'm growing up."

He cracks wise, but a long stretch of enforced growing up is exactly what was behind the 29-year-old D-Sisive's sudden vanishing act from the Toronto scene a few years ago. Fans can get a taste of his more sombre sound in a set tonight at Bread and Circus, part of the massive annual North by Northeast festival of up-and-coming acts from around the world.

Granted, there were initially some positive developments that contributed to D-Sisive's diminished visibility 'round these parts. There was sufficient American interest in the young MC's skills as a rapper and an all-around entertainer that for awhile he was dividing his time between Toronto and label-courtship rituals in Los Angeles.

D-Sisive's Python-esque "D-Siggy's Playhouse" shows were briefly legend about town circa 2003. Out of this period came the hysterical "Rollin' With Saget," a viral-video phenomenon cooked up with comedians Bob Saget and Jamie Kennedy. But D-Sisive was already leery of going the novelty-rap route, and the laughs were becoming harder and harder to find in his daily life as Derek Christoff.

"All at once, everything just started falling apart," he says. "There's no one to blame for that Most of my music was based on hip-hop battle sh-- and at that point I was looked at as, like, the `court jester' and I was kinda growing tired of it.

"It was just all not working out for me. And then my father started to get sick. He always had, his whole life, a drinking problem but it started to really escalate. And as I mention in the song `Kneecaps,' off The Book, after my mother passed away it started to really get difficult for him. And I was really the only one taking care of him."

Even as he reeled from his own grief over his mother's death from cancer, D-Sisive now found himself saddled with the bleak day-to-day reality of watching his father essentially drinking himself to death.

Cirrhosis and semi-regular seizures were compounded by a spiral into deeper and deeper depression and a refusal to "take any help," forcing the budding hip-hop star into an unexpected role as caregiver. He had to become the parent.

"It's not even parenting; it's like parenting a sick child. Walking in the basement and seeing your father having a f---ing seizure, your first response is to just cry but you have to pull yourself together and, like, call the ambulance. And by the second or third seizure, I already knew the routine. I'd just sit there and hold his head up.

"It didn't really hit me then, but really at those times, making music ..." he trails off. "You know, I tried a bunch of times but it didn't work out. And he just kept – it was a slow process, but he'd get sicker and sicker."

Describing in chilling detail the shock and fatalistic, slow-motion horror of walking up to a house ringed by emergency vehicles and having one's worst fears confirmed, "Father" is one of the most stunningly straight-up, autobiographical numbers on D-Sisive's long-overdue debut full-length, Let the Children Die.

Like last year's grim, Juno-nominated comeback EP, The Book, the new record doesn't shy away from the gritty details of D-Sisive's lost years. It opens with a nod to Spiritualized's "Death Take Your Fiddle" ("Think I'll drink myself into a coma ...") and generally rides a lot of slow, stark beatscapes straight to hell from there, reaching perhaps its grief-stricken apogee/nadir on "Mr. Daydream," which describes the disappointment of waking from pleasant childhood reveries of time spent with both parents into the cold reality of being an orphan with a shattering depth of emotional detail.

Let the Children Die isn't a total downer, though. The banger "High School Cool" (featuring
Kyprios and Conscience of Sweatshop Union) recently merited a wee-hours phone call from comedian Russell Peters, who's now using the tune as his exit music on tour. Likewise, "Like This" catches D-Sisive sparring with Detroit's Guilty Simpson in classic form. And Buck 65's sick guest rap on "The Superbowl is Over" still has a very fannish D-Sisive tumbling over himself in praise.

It's a brave and fully three-dimensional record, one whose nationwide acclaim – Let the Children Die is already on the long list of eligible titles for the Polaris Music Prize, and stands a very good chance of making the shortlist – might actually translate into some record sales once D-Sisive gets out on the road a bit this summer.

And the writer's block? Long gone.

"I'm already starting work on my next album because touring is yet to start. I'm still in my studio two or three times a week," says D-Sisive, whose next record is tentatively titled Jonestown and will be a "total, hardcore hip-hop record ... I was inspired by one of the reviews I got for Let the Children Die. It was probably, like, a two-out-of-five review and the guy was like, `Some of the record is good, but technically as a rapper, his flow's not that good.' So I'm like, `F--- that, I'm gonna do it – I'm gonna make the record I should've made when I was 17 but didn't have the talent.'

"Then I make my funeral-jazz-inspired Tom Waits rip-off album."

Just the facts
WHO: D-Sisive, with Atherton, Cale Sampson, Manafest, Foul Mouth Jerk and more, as part of North by Northeast

WHERE: Bread and Circus, 299 Augusta Ave.

WHEN: Tonight, 11:20 p.m.

COVER: Entry with $25

NXNE wristband

Nolan's Social Agenda Plays Out In Her Music

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Staff Reporter

(June 18, 2009 ) In more than three decades as an activist musician, Faith Nolan has written hundreds of songs, but she cites a fledgling tune as her mission statement.

"The best song I think I ever wrote was when I was 16," says the 52-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist of "Divide and Rule Us," which appeared on her 1986 recording debut Africville.

The calypso track established her expansive social agenda: from incarcerated women in Ontario and Nigeria, to gay rights in California and Afghanistan, to homelessness in Toronto.

"We don't come as one part: you're not just black, you're a woman; you're not just black, you're part native," explains the queer daughter of a white Irish mother and African Canadian and Mi'kmaq father.

"There's a constant bringing of all of one's self. I don't think it's possible to just liberate one thing. If we have gay rights, there'll be equality in the world. It all has to move for all of us together, or none of us.

"I feel like the best people in the world, people like Martin Luther King, have made the world a better place for people. I always wanted to be part of this greater movement to making humanity better for all of us."

The Toronto-based Halifax native was selected as Honoured Dyke to lead the Dyke March. After being nominated by Helen Kennedy, executive director of national queer lobby group Egale Canada, Nolan was selected by popular vote from a pool of three nominees at a general meeting of Pride Toronto.

"I'm very proud to be marching with my sisters and very honoured that people thought enough of me to do this. But I think it's all of us together, so I don't know that I represent anything special," says Nolan, who performed "Loving Womon" instead of making a speech at the meeting.

"I'm just one of the many dykes who care a lot and do a lot of work, and one of the many people in society who care. And we can move forward, and we have, and we will continue 'til we die."

Nolan uses her blend of folk, jazz and blues to document her experiences, which she finds therapeutic. Her current solo disc Mannish Gal includes the funky blues tune, "Not Good For A Longtime," about her challenges maintaining long-term relationships – "I will make you happy, but make it snappy / 'cause I'll be gone just like my pappy."

The self-taught musician who plays guitar, banjo, ukulele, bass, harmonica, harp and drums began her professional career performing in lesbian bars at 15.

"I started writing songs about what they call gay liberation, with a mix of black liberation and talking about Africville (the black Nova Scotia community where she was born), too," she says.

"Around the same time, I realized I knew nothing about slavery in Canada, or blacks in Canada. We had no idea where we had come from and there was a big denial about any native ancestry within the black community.

"I wanted to write about what it meant to live as a black person and what it meant to live as a woman and what it meant to live in poverty, because I remember growing up around Regent Park and being really ashamed that we didn't have money and that our house wasn't nice.

"I remember being really ashamed of being black, because I didn't have blonde hair and blue eyes and wasn't seen as pretty. All of those things deeply hurt and it was everyday life.

"I never write anything that isn't what happened, but hopefully it's kind of artistic and has a little bit of soul in it."

Francophones Get The Harbour Party Started

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

(June 18, 2009) Quebec folk-rock quartet Kain headlines Toronto's premier francophone event this weekend, kicking off the summer concert season at Harbourfront Centre.

Although little travelled outside their home province, the group commands an enthusiastic following there, with women screaming for frontman Steve Veilleux and live audiences singing along word-for-word to such hits as "Mexico" and "Embarque Ma Belle."

In keeping with Quebec pop tradition, Kain also holds cross-generational appeal.

Veilleux favours an acoustic guitar and the band seems as happy to show its soft side as to rock out. They play Franco-Fête, as the event is called, on the main waterfront stage Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

Also billed as the biggest French-language cultural festival in Ontario, Franco-Fête features French cooking demonstrations and a children's show with TFO television hosts Dino and Marianne.

Other top music acts:

Joanna Moon, a French-Canadian Torontonian who this week launches her debut album Vagabunda, an exploration of Cuban and Spanish flamenco. She sings in French and Spanish, and plays the main stage 2 p.m. Sunday.

Madame Moustache centres on Geneviève Néron and Julie Ross, two country music fans who formed a band after visiting Quebec's annual rodeo and cowboy festival at St-Tite, between Montreal and Quebec City. Fun-loving, campy and not apt to take themselves too seriously, they open for Kain on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Bombolessé, an infectious multicultural ensemble from Montreal, mixes rock with Brazilian and African rhythms. They take to the main stage at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Radio Radio keeps the party going in the Brigantine Room starting at 11:30 p.m. Saturday with Acadian rap and hip-hop. The four performers from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia mix French and English into the hybrid language known to Acadians as Chiac.

Just the facts
WHAT: Franco-Fête

WHERE: Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.

WHEN: Friday 8 to 11 p.m., Saturday 1 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday noon to 6 p.m.

ADMISSION: Free to all events. Full information at franco-fete.ca and 416-644-1575.

Toronto To Get Royal Treatment

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

(June 19, 2009) The Royal Conservatory of Music has announced the 10 concerts that will mark the opening of its new concert hall, beginning Sept. 25.

That start date would have marked the 77th birthday of Glenn Gould, the 123-year-old school's most famous graduate. And Mervon Mehta, the director of programming for the almost-completed Telus Centre, hopes that it will be an auspicious date for the first public concert at Koerner Hall.

That new space, with 1,140 seats arranged inside a classic rectangular box, represents "the final jewel in Toronto's cultural crown," Mehta said at a news conference yesterday.

Following a pattern set with the conservatory's 24-concert maiden season at Koerner Hall, the opening festival's 10 dates draw from a wide range of music genres, including classical, western, jazz, world, blues and Asian pop.

The first date puts the focus on the school itself, featuring the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, led by up-and-coming Quebec conductor Jean-Philippe Tremblay; the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; pianist Anton Kuerti; the school's resident ARC Ensemble, as well as some prominent vocal graduates. The program will feature a mix of old and new, including Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and Spirits of the House, a newly commissioned work from veteran Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer.

Subsequent dates feature a collection of great names, most of which are already familiar to Toronto audiences. It is a conservative and cautious roster, reflecting the fact that this is the conservatory's first foray into the financially treacherous world of concert production.

On Sept. 26, veteran jazz star Chick Corea will be joined by bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White. Toronto jazz vocalist Sophie Milman opens. Subsequent opening concerts, which resume on Sept. 29, include Béla Fleck; the Emerson String Quartet with pianist Menahem Pressler; mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade – "in her final farewell tour, and with friends, although we don't know yet who her friends are," quipped Mehta – as well as veteran Cantonese pop stars Frances Yip and Anthony Lun; blues legend Keb' Mo', and Ravi and Anoushka Shankar.

The 10th concert in the opening festival is more of a sound installation, being held during Nuit Blanche, on Oct. 3. Resident conductor-composer Brian Current will curate a sonic event "designed to fill the whole building with sound" over a period of 12 hours, Mehta explained.

With the hall opening dates set, the Royal Conservatory's new performing arts division has now programmed about a third of the 100 concert dates it wants to host next season. The remaining two-thirds will be booked by partner music producers around the city, as well as by the conservatory's school divisions for student concerts.

More information: rcmusic.ca

Jill Hennessy : Give A Singing Actor A Shot

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

(June 21, 2009)  It's a pity most people will take New York-based Canadian TV and movie actor Jill Hennessy's first full-length recording with a grain of salt – if they bother to listen to it at all.

Actors who try to cross over to music rarely succeed. There's a credibility gap music fans don't seem willing to bridge. Ask Russell Crowe, ask Keanu Reeves, ask Scarlett Johansson, ask Dennis Quaid or Kevin Bacon. Ask Billy Bob Thornton, if you dare.

Hennessy, the Alberta-born star of the hit Law & Order and Crossing Jordan, and of the recently released, highly acclaimed movie Lymelife, didn't give this perception problem much thought when she sat down with a bunch of top-level pickers and Grammy-winning roots music producer Patrick McCarthy in Lubbock, Texas, several months back to lay down a set of her own remarkably affecting and stylishly executed compositions.

The sessions yielded the album Ghost in My Head, which was launched Tuesday night with a full ensemble performance at The Living Room in New York.

"The capacity is 140, but we packed in about 200 people," Hennessy said a couple of days later in a phone interview from her home. "It was intensely intimate."

Hennessy has been made aware of the dangers of crossing the credibility line only in the last few weeks, she said, when compelled to answer media questions about which artistic path she'd rather take.

"As if music and acting are mutually exclusive. I'd never confronted this problem before. I've played music and written songs all my life, even before I started acting. No one ever asked this question till now, even though I never go anywhere without my guitar. I'm always playing it on set during breaks, singing songs and starting up jams."

In fact, Hennessy's musical bona fides are beyond reproach. For a year or more after she moved to Toronto in the mid-1980s, she busked – unlicensed – in Toronto's subway system.

"Singing in the subway prepares you for anything," she said. "I loved it because no one tells you what you can or can't play, and there's no artificial barrier between you and the audience."

She once avoided a fine when a TTC official demanded to see her permit by asking if he's like to hear a particular song.

"He asked for something by Joni Mitchell, and when I played it, I saw tears in his eyes. Then he asked for Bob Dylan's `A Hard Rain.' "

An impromptu performance of Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" and one of her own songs landed Hennessy the part of Buddy's wife, Maria Elena, during the Toronto try-outs for the Broadway-bound production of the stage musical, Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story.

By an odd twist of fate, Hennessy, her husband, Paolo Mastropietro, and their sons, Marco, 5, and Johnny, 18 months, live in the same apartment building where the Hollys lived, and Ghost in My Head was recorded in Holly's home town.

Her musical awakening in Toronto carried her through tough times when Hennessy decided to move to New York to pursue acting. She was a regular busker there as well on subway platforms and in city parks, and played rhythm guitar with the band The New Originals before landing the Law & Order gig.

A couple of years later she recorded Tom Waits' "You're Innocent When You Dream" and Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" for the Crossing Jordan soundtrack, produced by T-Bone Burnett.

Hennessy said the writers who inspire her are Waits, Dylan, Patty Griffin, Bruce Springsteen and the Cure's Robert Smith.

"But Canadian songwriters are closer to my heart," she added. "I love Blue Rodeo – they're all over the radio in Austin – and Sarah McLachlan, Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell."

For the record, the songs on Ghost in My Head are the work of an exceptionally strong and musically mature composer and singer. Vivid narratives – most are sharply drawn vignettes about fractured families and loners struggling with loss, obsessions, isolation, separation and upheaval – are enhanced by aching melodies and superb arrangements. Hennessy's voice is powerful, distinctive and assured. It deserves to be heard.

The clearly inspired musical muscle includes legendary pedal steel master Lloyd Maines, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, the Dixie Chicks' Martie Maguire on fiddle, Bukka Allen on accordion, and other accomplished pickers.

With or without a band, Hennessy hopes to hit the concert trail in Canada as soon as she can, or whenever her acting schedule permits.

"I've been playing a lot in the last few months, and it's a thrilling, satisfying experience," she said. "You're naked up there with nothing but your songs and your imagination. Music seeps more quickly than spoken words into an audience's subconscious, and that's why I think so many actors want to be musicians or singers.

"There's an immediate connection and instant gratification when you play music for people. It's the biggest high."

Montreal Jazz: Mega Fest, Minor Key

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
J.D. Considine

(June 22, 2009) How is it that the biggest music festival in Canada is built around supposedly unpopular music?

Jazz, by any reckoning, is not a major force in the marketplace. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, sales for jazz recordings have been in decline for a decade, sliding to 1.1 per cent of the market last year (down from 3.4 per cent in 2001). Jazz Times, the biggest American jazz magazine, suspended publication earlier this month; Coda, Canada's premier jazz journal, suspended publication in January (although a new issue “will be announced shortly,” according to the Coda website). Perhaps the most startling news of all was that the JVC Jazz Festival was cancelled, ending a 37-year history in New York, the biggest jazz town in North America.

Yet at the same time, the
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is not only celebrating its 30th anniversary, but expanding its role as Canada's biggest music festival. According to festival co-founder André Ménard, the festival has attracted millions of fans and pumped over a billion dollars into the Montreal economy over the last three decades; this year's festival alone is expected to attract 1.5 million visitors.

That the festival has made its mark on Montreal is undeniable. There is, for instance, the new Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan, on Ste. Catherine just opposite the equally new Place des Festivals, two buildings that almost certainly would not exist were it not for the success of the jazz festival.

“ It is a music event put on by music fans for music fans. This, to me, is my biggest source of pride, that we have not lost perspective and are still excited by it. It's a big music party, first and foremost. ”— André Ménard

There are also less concrete examples. Take, for example, its impact on the city's cultural life. “As early as 1982, barely after the first referendum, the two big solitudes in Montreal really would not mingle at the same mass cultural events,” says Ménard, who co-founded FIJM with Alain Simard in 1979. “And they started doing it, on the French side of downtown And then all the other ethnic communities got involved as well.”

But the festival's greatest legacy is strictly musical. It isn't just that FIJM has played host to the biggest names in jazz, from Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald to Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall.

“It is a music event put on by music fans for music fans,” says Ménard, who still attends between 300 to 400 concert performances each year. “This, to me, is my biggest source of pride, that we have not lost perspective and are still excited by it. It's a big music party, first and foremost.”

To get a sense of just how big a party, the FIJM anniversary is being celebrated with both a commemorative book and a DVD set. The splashy, coffee-table-ready picture book, titled Le festival sous les étoiles ( The Festival Under the Stars ), feels like a souvenir program for the festival to date. The DVD, dubbed Jazz Expressions: 30 Years of Great Music , is a bit more substantial, including a documentary on the festival, footage of Oscar Peterson's last concert in Montreal, and performances by Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and others.

For many jazz fans, however, what makes FIJM special isn't the big names so much as innovative programming such as the Invitation series. Launched in 1989 with a series of performances by bassist Charlie Haden, the idea is to provide fresh insight on familiar artists by offering them in multiple concerts, each with a different collaborator or backing band.

“To us, a festival brings to a city artists who do not come, or has them do things that they don't do normally,” explains Ménard. “We try to make the artists go out of their way. This is part of the fun of doing things differently.”

It's not just a matter of “doing things differently,” though. Ultimately, what has made FIJM such a success is a combination of insight and feel. Like any good hosts, Ménard and Simard try to anticipate what their guests will want, and do their best to ensure that the environment is as comfortable and welcoming as possible.

Meeting that first requirement is perhaps the trickiest. FIJM doesn't serve one audience, but several. Some of the audience are casual listeners at best; others are the sort of hard-core fans whom Ménard dubs “the jazz police.” How can any program possibly please everyone?

“There are two festivals, on top of one another – the outdoor and the indoor festivals,” says Ménard. The outdoor part is free, family friendly and mainstream. The indoor shows are ticketed, and organized into 17 different series, ranging from the Pleins Feux series, offering large-scale shows by Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck and Jeff Beck, to Jazz au Club, which will present the Bad Plus, Anat Cohen and Jill Barber in a nightclub setting.

“Each of the concert series are mini festivals,” says Ménard. “So it's a bunch of little festivals that add up to this big thing.”

Despite the huge crowds and steadily growing number of “music tourists” attending the festival, FIJM could not exist on ticket sales alone. “Half of the festival budget is taken by sponsors,” says Ménard. In the current economy, that could be a bit worrying, especially given that one of the festival's main sponsors is beleaguered automaker GM. “If they had declared bankruptcy, it would have been a problem for us,” admits Ménard, but things worked out. “We got paid in full,” he says, and though the company did not renew its contract, Ménard has only kind words.

“We've really had great years with them. They really accompanied our progress; they would never try to dictate.”

Not being beholden to advertisers is a key part of the FIJM feel, and the amount of space taken up by ads remains carefully controlled. “On the streets, it's a natural environment for advertisements,” says Ménard. “The concerts are free, and money don't grow on trees, so people understand that.

“But inside, we've never allowed it. In Europe, they have neon-lit signs in the backdrop, with the artist playing in front. We could have got some more money for exposure behind the major stars that play indoors, but we didn't think it was appropriate.”

Queen Ifrica 'Montego Bay'

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Fiona McKinson

(June 19, 2009) *On first listening to Sing-Jay Queen Ifrica's debut VP Records album Montego Bay, she strikes me as a Jamaican India Aarie with patois laced spiritual anthems! The drums that rumble through T.T.P.N.C (Tribute to The Pitfour Nyabinghi Center) are the bed for her lyrics.
 
A complex Rastafarian voice, she is preachy as appropriate, for me, conjuring up memories of being at my grandmother's church in Jamaica. As the album progresses Queen Ifrica AKA Ventrice Morgan flies the flag for Jamaica and her hometown notably on the catchy Welcome to Montego Bay.

As if a newscaster, this mother and daughter of pioneering Ska singer Derrick Morgan, provides social commentary on contemporary Jamaica, exploring issues such as poverty, slackness and a lack of facilities for children.

With meaningful and poignant writing and versatile delivery, Ifrica is a welcome addition to the reggae scene. Hailed as reggae's 'fyah (or fire) mama' she is hot like pepper sauce and not afraid to court controversy. Giving a voice to the voiceless, her profound yet tactful track Daddy, produced by Kemar 'Flava' McGregor (Sizzla, Luciano, Beres Hammond), is about child molestation. It is part of her campaign against abuse and incest. There was an attempt to ban it in conservative Jamaica and some DJs shied away from promotion.

"I wanted corporate Jamaica to realise that if a society is engulfed by violence, we have to look at the homes where these violent tendencies are coming from," remarks Ifrica. For Ifrica, this is more than a PR stunt. She is involved in several youth outreach programs in Jamaica's inner-city counselling abuse victims and other disadvantaged individuals. She also performs at various charity events shows where proceeds are donated to the cause.

Named "Artist of the Month" for November 2007 by The Gleaner newspaper, Ifrica has also worked with UNICEF.  She says, "When politicians want to win elections they run surveys to find out exactly where the most violence is coming from; if they tried to break this problem down from that angle, we would get more solutions."

Traditionally a deejay, Ifrica exudes her fyah on Coconut Shell and Yad the East. Calling Africa, with African inspired choral chants, provides the most dancehall inspired offering. The uplifting Lioness on the Rise, produced by Donovan Germaine (Buju Banton, Morgan Heritage, Wayne Wonder, Beres Hammond), is a standout track on a one-drop rhythm where we hear the true potential of her honeyed vocals.

Indeed, on Far Away produced by Rickman Warren, she invokes an essence of Lauryn Hill as she sings her reggae infused romantic ballad. In My Dreams allows her husky tone to echo that of Des'ree.

Ifrica got her big break through uniting with Tony Rebel's Flames Crew in 1998, following her performance at a concert honouring the late reggae singer Garnet Silk. Ifrica's performance of two Silk tunes so impressed Rebel (who had mentored the beloved Silk early in his career), that he offered to cultivate her talent through his Kingston based Flames Productions.

"I saw the same qualities in that performance I have seen in others who became big stars including Garnet Silk," comments Rebel, who produced six of the thirteen songs on Montego Bay, several of which, he co-wrote with Ifrica.

She earned her stripes performing at talent shows including the esteemed Reggae Sumfest, Summer Jam in Germany, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, the Bob Marley Festival, Reggae on the River in California and the Reggae Sundance Festival in Holland. Hits such as Randy, Jus me Brethren and Below the Waist have helped to make her name. After 14 years in the music industry I am glad to have finally discovered her!

Track Listings
1. T.T.P.N.C
2. Welcome To Montego Bay
3. Coconut Shell
4. Lioness On The Rise
5. Yad To The East
6. Far Away
7. Don't Sign
8. Daddy
9. Keep It To Yourself
10. Calling Africa
11. In My Dreams
12. Streets Are Bloody

13. Daddy (Spanish version)

Montego Bay available on 16 June
www.myspace.com/queenifrica

At Edgefest, A Generation Sends Out Its Emissaries

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

Edgefest
At Downsview Park
In Toronto on Saturday

(June 23
, 2009) Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. In this unsteady era, consider that for some (young or fearless or clueless) people, these are the best days of their lives. They are passengers on a cruise ship in a hurricane, and what is there to do but to belly up to the all-you-can-eat buffet?

Metric's aware singer Emily Haines rallied a mud-caked, rain-drenched but undampened young crowd at the city's north-side Downsview Park on Saturday, prefacing her band's final number with a homily on her generation's inheritance of a beautiful world that was sadly covered in war, concrete and negativity. “We need a national anthem,” supposed the thirtysomething star-cum-stateswoman, speaking for Canada and the United States, “two countries, and one national anthem.”

Stadium Love , the would-be anthem from Metric's new Fantasies album, is a sleek new-wave rocker about a fight that everyone is in together: “Guess you thought you could just watch/ No one's getting out, without stadium love.”

Later, right before a dynamite night-closing set by Mississauga fury-rockers Billy Talent, a foolish person representing radio station (and event founder) 102.1 The Edge said something about being glad “we weren't in America.” The jingoistic remark, which had to do with the long-time festival's almost exclusive reliance on Canadian talent, got its cheap applause, which suggested that some of the things Haines and Metric sang about were lost on the yahoos in the muck. Which is a shame, because behind Haines's pretty face is a sharp mind. Couple that package with charismatic motion – she does a herky-jerky thing to the angular rhythms and she bops to the bouncier ones – and you have the most magnetic microphone-holder in Canadian rock.

If you don't know about Canadian rock and wished to find out about it, you should have come to Edgefest. On a sprawling site that took on the look of a First World War battlefield as the day progressed, there was the Arkells, from Hamilton, who capably opened up the main stage with some communicable Springsteen-style everyman rock. (Ironically, Oh, The Boss is Coming was a post-punk Sting-on-steroids number that referred to any workplace supervisor, not the iconic New Jerseyite.) An upbeat audience (especially the fist-pumpers up front) received previews. Ontario's Alexisonfire was coy with its Old Crows/ Young Cardinals album, offering only two selections from a disc that hits shelves tomorrow. Within loud and incensed songs, the band's technique is to alternate the infernal screams from one singer with the melodic, melancholic crooning of another. It's unique.

Energetic headlining shouters Billy Talent, with its frenzied singer Ben Kowalewicz, offered more clues to their own upcoming release ( Billy Talent III ), mixing in old hits with new selections that included single Rusted From the Rain (which didn't seem to be the case).

The rain was on and off (the sun came out during a well-placed midafternoon set by rap-and-soul rocker K-os), which made the ubiquitous plastic ponchos hot sellers at $5 each. Bigger hits were the things for free: glasses of Dr. Pepper, disposable Schick shaving razors (Quattro – four blades, what will they think of next?), and sample packs of Mike and Ike gummy fruit blasts. Athletically-lean “Bud Girls” shot free T-shirts from a handheld bazooka. They also encouraged the beer garden throng: “We say ‘Bud'; you say ‘weiser'” And it worked But the day wasn't about obeying commands. Before Metric's Gimme Sympathy , the globetrotting Haines implored youth to enjoy their “hilarious adventures,” and to do what they wanted to do, despite the people who “line up to tell you that you can't do what you want.”

And that is the allure of these festivals. At Edgefest, even in the rain and mud, a group of young music fans were not only at the top of the city, they were on top of the world, and nothing or nobody would have any luck pulling them down.

Indie Festival Crowds Calgary Scene

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Fiona Morrow

(June 22, 2009) Vancouver — Zak Pashak is making headlines again. His first run of posters for the third annual Sled Island music festival in Calgary listed a selection of the 200 or so indie bands on the bill – including Holy Fuck. It only took one parent in a child-friendly café to brew a predictable storm in a teacup.

“It's kind of shocking and sad,” Pashak notes, over the phone. “It was the lead news story on CBC Calgary, right above ‘Triple homicide.'” Though Pashak argues that it's a total non-story – and questions the chances of anyone really being offended – the 29-year-old founder and director of Sled Island isn't exactly complaining. “I love the publicity,” he admits. “It's great.”

He can afford to be blithe: From its inception in 2007, when it drew 6,000 music fans, Sled has more than doubled its audience. In his first year, he brought American acts Cat Power and Spoon to Calgary, putting them on bills with local bands ready for some exposure. Last year, Grizzly Bear, Broken Social Scene and Tegan and Sara all made the trip.

“ I believe that Calgarians are not as conservative as they think they are. ”— Zak Pashak

This time out, indie queens the Breeders will join Andrew W.K., Holy Fuck and a host of local talent – including 50 bands from Vancouver, where Pashak now owns the Biltmore Cabaret, one of the hippest live music joints in town. He estimates 15,000 people will take in the festival this week.

It's a slightly smaller affair than 2008 because of some scheduling complications with the jazz festival at their new main-stage venue – Olympic Park in downtown Calgary. “So now we're sharing,” Pashak says ruefully.

It's rumoured that both Calgary's well-established jazz and folk music festivals have been taken aback by the arrival of a new kid on the block, though Kerry Clarke, artistic director of the Folk Fest, says that from her point of view, Sled enriches what Calgary has to offer.

“We're different, we come a month later,” she explains. “I think there's a mutual respect.”

For his part, Pashak says the Folk Fest has “skewed their program since [Sled] started, with way more indie presence.” But he adds that they are “really nice people and we do get along. It's Maiani at the jazz fest who has a real bee in his bonnet about us.”

On the phone, the director of Calgary's jazz festival, Pat Maiani, denies having any particular animosity toward Pashak. “You know, I kind of admire what he's doing,” he says. “But I haven't heard much about it, to tell you the truth.”

Insiders say at most there's a personality clash playing out. Pashak was determined to use Olympic Plaza, despite the Jazz Festival believing they were booked in; Maiani's last-minute approach to programming meant that he hadn't organized his line-up across the whole weekend.

“He was pretty insistent we give it to him,” Maiani says of Pashak and the Plaza site. “Whatever – we let him have the Friday night.”

Though Sled Island's shorter main-stage program means fewer big names, there are upsides to be found: “Hopefully, we'll lose a lot less money this year,” Pashak says, breezily. “Break even, maybe.”

With a total budget of about $1-million, the unusual thing about Sled is that it is almost entirely privately financed. This year – for the first time – they received some minimal grant funding: $45,000 from Calgary Arts Development Association.

So where is the remaining $955,000 coming from?

There are a couple of beats of dead air before Pashak ponies up: “It comes from me, actually,” he answers slowly. “Me, and ticket sales and a few sponsors.”

The reticence to talk about his personal fortune is perhaps understandable. In Calgary, Pashak's finances have been all over the news.

At 22, Pashak was sued for $2-million by his estranged stepfather, oil tycoon and co-owner of the Calgary Flames Allan Markin. His mother (patron of the arts and magazine publisher, Jackie Flanagan) and Markin were in mid-divorce proceedings when Pashak nabbed Molly, the family Dalmatian. Result: Headline-grabbing litigation that returned Molly to Markin and awarded an undisclosed settlement for Flanagan making her, in Pashak's words, “a very wealthy woman,” who passed on a goodly nest egg to her son.

These days he can afford to be generous about Markin's actions. “Allan went insane for a while,” he says. “And he had a lawyer who took advantage of his craziness and got him doing some very bizarre things – including a lawsuit about a dog.”

It may have made for some embarrassing press at the time, but the incident also resulted in Pashak becoming owner of a bar – Broken City – at 23. He turned it into one of Calgary's most vital indie venues, that experience leading to the conception of Sled Island in 2007.

If his mother's relationship with Markin gave him the means, though, it was his father – the city's former NDP MLA Barry Pashak – who influenced his drive. Rather than grab the cash and throw it at a fancy car or other boy toys, Pashak decided that it was his responsibility to give back.

The festival idea sprang from a feeling that Calgary lacked a sense of community – that there weren't enough opportunities for public gathering. “If there's any merit to creativity, then it should be that it affects people's minds and makes them think,” he argues. “That's what we're trying to do with the festival – bring in great bands and blow people's minds.”

Though it's a pretty impressive achievement, Sled Island is just the beginning of Pashak's plan: He is running for city council in a year or so, hoping to translate his organizational experience and entrepreneurial creativity into political capital.

“I believe that Calgarians are not as conservative as they think they are,” he says. He wants to see a more pro-active city hall with more power to effect change and a more liveable downtown core.

“In Calgary, we don't even have proper public transit”

Sled Island runs until Saturday.

MUSIC TIDBITS

Saxophonist Wins $25,000 Virginia Parker Prize

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(June 17, 2009) Saxophonist Wallace Halladay has won the $25,000 Virginia Parker Prize, given each year since 1982 by the Canada Council for the Arts to a classical music performer under age 32 who shows outstanding talent. Halladay, who has yet to turn 30, is a virtuoso who is comfortable in multiple styles, both classical and contemporary. He currently teaches at the University of Toronto, and is a soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Esprit Orchestra. Halladay joins a distinguished list of past winners of all musical stripes that includes Jon Kimura Parker, Louis Lortie, Michael Schade, Karina Gauvin, James Ehnes, Isabel Bayrakdarian and last year's winner, Jean-Phillipe Sylvestre.

Teena Marie's 'Congo Square' In Top 20

Source: Joel Amsterdam - Stax Records   310-385-4206, jamsterdam@concordmusicgroup.com / Jasmine Vega - 310-994-0950, jasmine@jprllc.net

(June 18, 2009) *Los Angeles - Legendary R&B trailblazer Teena Marie's new album Congo Square, her first for celebrated soul label Stax Records, sold over 18,000 copies this week to debut at #20 on Billboard's top 200 album chart and the #4 spot on the R&B Core Store album chart.   The record marks the return of one of her generation's most important voices and has been incredibly well received both over the airwaves and in print.   The first sultry single, "Can't Last A Day" featuring Faith Evans, is a Top 15 hit at Urban AC and continues to build, tracking top 5 spins in crucial markets like Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. Congo Square is Teena's tribute to her New Orleans heritage recalling the best of the many classic artists that have influenced her along the way including Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, the Emotions and of course, Rick James. The album has received raves from the press including People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and USA Today.   The new collection is a passionate, accessible and, as always, autobiographical adventure that cruises smoothly from southern soul and smoky jazz to dance floor funk. Along for the party are special guests , the aforementioned Faith Evans, Howard Hewett, MC Lyte,  pianist George Duke, drummer/co-composer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist Brian Bromberg and Teena's daughter Rose LeBeau. Look for Teena live in concert this summer, demonstrating once again that she remains among the most prolific and compelling live performers in pop music.  This weekend, she will perform at the West Oak Lane Festival in Philadelphia and on July 5th at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Teena's August dates include performances in New York, Chicago, Detroit and San Jose.

Instant Album For Adam Lambert?

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(June 21, 2009)  LOS ANGELES – An album featuring Adam Lambert is coming out sooner than expected. Songs from the American Idol runner-up will be released this summer by Hi Fi Recordings and Wilshire Records, beginning with the single "Want." John Hecker, CEO of Hi Fi Recordings, said the tracks were recorded in 2007 and 2008 before Lambert's rise on the popular Fox singing competition. The album will be titled On With the Show. "We were presented with a business opportunity," said Hecker. "We accepted because Wilshire Records had a long working relationship with Adam, and it resulted in excellent music that they had the rights to. The music has an audience, and it deserves to be heard. I think it's great music. At the end of the day, from my perspective, we're really helping Adam." Hecker said Wilshire Records approached Hi Fi Recordings about releasing the material earlier this year when Lambert was gaining success on the show. He said the album will feature 11 or 12 songs, many of which were co-written by Lambert. He described On With the Show as a "complete album" that would include mid- and up-tempo songs, ballads and rock tunes. Lambert inked a record deal with 19 Entertainment and RCA Recordings earlier this month after losing to Kris Allen on the Idol finale. Lambert is scheduled to record that album while on the road with the show's finalists for the "Idols Live Tour," which starts July 5 in Portland, Ore. The untitled album from 19 and RCA is expected for release in the fall.

Madonna Edges Celine For Highest Earner

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(June 24, 2009) It looks like the global economic downturn isn't bothering Celine Dion. The Charlemagne, Que., chanteuse finished just behind Madonna on a list of the top-earning musicians in 2008 compiled by Forbes. Dion earned an estimated $100 million (U.S.) last year, according to the magazine. The 41-year-old grossed $237 million on tour, released an English-language greatest-hits collection, My Love: Essential Collection, and debuted a new fragrance. Madonna brought in $110 million. Beyonce Knowles was third, followed by Bruce Springsteen and Kenny Chesney.

Ginuwine's 'Thoughts' Are Now Free

Source: www.eurweb.com

(June 24, 2009) *R&B singer Ginuwine on Tuesday released his 6th CD, "A Man's Thoughts," /Warner Bros.  The CD features the new Top 10 Billboard R&B hit, "Last Chance," which was released in March amid controversy about the Juwan Lee directed video clip. [Scroll down to watch.     [At the time, there were rumours that Ginuwine was dating actress LisaRaye, who was in the midst of her own divorce drama with husband Michael Misick.] The CD also features the kinetic dance single, "Get Involved," the first collaboration featuring Ginuwine, Timbaland and Missy Elliot in nearly 8 years. The trio all grew up together musically having first collaborated on Ginuwine's 1996 debut, "The Bachelor."  "It feels great to have the original team reunited. The fans have always loved us together and now we're back," commented Ginuwine. Another track of note on the CD is "Bridge To Love" Ginuwine's slow jam duet with singer-actress Brandy. It marks their first musical pairing. In addition to Timbaland and Missy, "A Man's Thoughts" was produced by Bryan-Michael Cox, best known for his Grammy Winning work with Mary J. Blige and Usher.   

::FILM NEWS::

The Proposal; Year One: Two Canucks, Two Formulas

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

Year One
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria and David Cross. Directed by Harold Ramis. 100 minutes. At major theatres. 14A

The Proposal
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson. Directed by Anne Fletcher. 107 minutes. At major theatres. PG

(June 19, 2009) Hidden within the swamp of Year One and the romantic jungle of The Proposal are springboards for rising
Canadians Michael Cera and Ryan Reynolds.

But will the two actors bounce or bonk?

Brampton's Cera (Juno, Superbad) and Vancouver's Reynolds (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) are on the brink of major stardom, with recent hits having raised their profiles in Hollywood and beyond.

They're being heavily promoted in their respective new comedies, yet the attention they are getting is not without risk.

Cera and Reynolds are essentially playing the same characters as always, and they're in films that rely heavily on formula. Stars can fall just as quickly as they rise.

In Year One, a ragged farce by the erratic Harold Ramis, the geography is even shakier than the history. It begins in prehistoric jungles, moves to biblical desert towns and metaphorically ends up in a bad Catskills nightclub.

The jokes are so laden with groaners you almost expect to hear rim shots after every line. It's not long after the scene shifts bizarrely from caveman jungle to Old Testament sin city Sodom, for example, that somebody reworks the "what happens in Vegas ..." line – to scant amusement and zero surprise. And you can only begin to guess the riffage on the sodomy gags.

On paper, the teaming of the human apostrophe Jack Black with the man-child Cera as the film's reluctant heroes seemed like a grand idea. As fur-clad Neanderthals Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera), they do make for an amusing couple of buddies in bad (old) times, clinging to companionship after being exiled from their tribe for hunting incompetence and spiritual irreverence.

They are lumbered by a script that seems to have drawn inspiration from Mike Myers' 2008 turkey The Love Guru, with its penile obsessions and lame religion-themed plot, rather than Ramis's avowed influences of the historical comedies of Monty Python and Mel Brooks.

This is yet another star-driven laugher, the recent Land of the Lost being another prime example, where it seems the actors went before the cameras without a finished screenplay, hoping for ad-lib magic that never happened.

There are so many leaps of logic – how could anyone simply walk from prehistoric times to biblical times? – you start wondering if producer Judd Apatow got a rental deal on leftover movie sets and just strung the ideas together.

Ramis, who has Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Caddyshack in his "win" column, co-wrote the screenplay with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg of TV's The Office. The three know funny, but their mirth meters need a tune-up. Were they afraid to go too far in lampooning Bible characters?

They take the road too travelled by making Black's Zed blustery and accident-prone and Cera's Oh timid and nerdy, just as we've seen them many times before.

Cameo shots from Apatow laugh factory toilers offer some novelty. Hank Azaria is great as Hebrew leader Abraham, who invents circumcision but has a tough time selling the idea. An almost unrecognizable Bill Hader is great as a prehistoric soothsayer who has to explain to Zed what tribal exile means. And David Cross makes a fine Cain, who has mixed emotions about knocking off his brother Abel (played by an uncredited Paul Rudd).

Others are less enlivening. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad's McLovin) is one short flat note as biblical son Isaac, while Oliver Platt is a long homophobic drone as the queenly High Priest who demands frequent oil rubs.

The female players – Olivia Wilde as a Sodom princess, June Raphael and Juno Temple as Zed's and Oh's amorous interests – have to content themselves with being mainly eye candy.

This latter concern isn't a problem for Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, a screwball comedy where reverse sexism is at work.

She's the poor man's Meryl Streep in her role as Margaret Tate, a New York book editor whose introduction tracks that of Streep's in The Devil Wears Prada, right down to the ridiculously complicated Starbucks order delivered by her servile assistant. He refers to her as "Satan's mistress" under his breath.

The twist here is that the serf, Andrew, is played by Reynolds, who normally does the hip cynic. It's an eye-opener to see him playing a pathetic pup, one who heels to every cruel whim of his employer, rather than the manoeuvring hound of his Van Wilder fame.

The freshness doesn't last long, though, as The Proposal defaults to rom-com formula. Seems Margaret is an uppity Canadian – irony alert! – whose U.S. resident status is about to be revoked by an overzealous immigration agent (Denis O'Hare).

Margaret's solution is a quickie engagement to Andrew, who allows himself to be bullied into plans for a subsequent marriage of convenience. But his cojones grow back when a plot contrivance shifts the action to Alaska, and the formula fun turns from screwball into fish-out-of-water.

City slicker Margaret has to cope with the rural foibles of Andrew's kooky kin, including his meddling mom (Mary Steenburgen), gruff dad (Craig T. Nelson), and kinky granny (Betty White, ever the scene thief), whose 90th birthday occasions the trip. They're hicks but also high rollers – "Alaskan Kennedys," as Margaret observes – and they have impulsive plans of their own for the presumed lovebirds in their midst.

Nobody who ever attended a date movie will be surprised by what happens, but The Proposal has low expectations and good vibes in its favour. Director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) never overplays her hand, or the script by rookie scribe Peter Chiarelli.

Bullock and Reynolds click both comedically and romantically, making the most of their kid-friendly bedroom frolics.

It's nice to see a movie where the leading lady's 12-year age gap over her younger leading man isn't an issue or even a plot point.

So, which Canuck gets the career boost from this weekend's movie releases?

I'm betting Reynolds, for giving us something at least a little stronger than the same old maple syrup.

Pfeiffer at 50

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(June 18, 2009 ) New York — Michelle Pfeiffer has been dreading this moment. A couple of years ago, when she first read the script for Chéri, the romantic drama opening next Friday, she immediately recognized parallels between herself and the main character. Based on a novel by Colette, the film centres on Lea de Lonval, a 49-year-old belle époque courtesan who, seeing both her career and beauty on the wane, takes a young lover to forestall her growing sense of mortality. While Pfeiffer has long been happily married to a man of her own vintage, she quickly anticipated the annoying questions she'd get from journalists while promoting the film.

“I said, ‘Well, I'm really headed into the eye of the storm here, aren't I?'” Pfeiffer recalls, an amused trill in her voice. “I said to myself, ‘Okay, everything's going to be about turning 50, the issues of your fading beauty, and all those questions you hate, hate, hate.'”

Michelle Pfeiffer on her teenage children: 'There are things only a mother notices. So you can’t be away for too long. I’ll leave, and people are there, and taking care of things, and they’re running great, and I come back – everybody’s happy, things are running smoothly – and I’m out of sync, you know? There’s this sort of rhythm that’s happening, and you’re not a part of it. It takes a while to fall back in.'

Can you blame those who might ask the questions? Pfeiffer, after all, is almost infamously beautiful: that porcelain skin, the long neck, the lithe figure, those wide-set cornflower blue eyes that unsettle the soul. For more than a quarter century, she has practised a kind of voodoo with that ridiculous beauty, using it to beguile onscreen partners (and, not coincidentally, certain swaths of the movie-going public) while keeping them off balance with a quicksilver mix of icy aggression and emotional vulnerability. Now, having passed the milestone of her 50th birthday last year, Pfeiffer is confronting the reality that she may be moving into an uncertain new phase of her professional life.

Not that she doesn't look fabulous. Today, she is in a soft, peach-hued sweater and properly distressed 7 For All Mankind jeans, both of which hug her small frame. In Chéri , she parades across the screen in a series of sumptuous period costumes; sometimes, the camera lingers on Lea in bed, her blond curls cascading across the sheets. In one scene, wearing something resembling a Grecian gown while watching her young lover lounge in the bath, she looks like Aphrodite herself.

It would be ironic if Pfeiffer, like Lea de Lonval, found her prospects shrinking, for she is contemplating returning to work on a more frequent basis. After first breaking out as the cocaine-addled gangster's moll, Elvira, in Brian De Palma's hysterical Scarface in 1983, she went on to prove her acting chops opposite such heavyweights as Jack Nicholson ( The Witches of Eastwick ).

Starting in the late eighties, she rattled off three Oscar-nominated performances in five years: as the virtuous target of seduction in Dangerous Liaisons (1988), as a washed-up lounge singer in The Fabulous Baker Boy s (1989), and as a 1960s housewife obsessed with Jackie Kennedy in Love Field (1992). But about a decade ago, Pfeiffer slowed down her pace to one leading role a year in order to dedicate herself to raising her two children, who were born in 1993 and 1994.

“When they were little, I would just throw them in a suitcase and we'd go everywhere, and once they got in school I didn't feel that was fair to them,” she explains, sitting earlier this week in the corner of a room at the Four Seasons Hotel, legs casually tucked under her on a chair.

“My daughter's 16, and it really hit me how little time I have left with her, and my son, he's 14, I only have four years left with him.”

“There are things only a mother notices,” she continues. “So you can't be away for too long. I'll leave, and people are there, and taking care of things, and they're running great, and I come back – everybody's happy, things are running smoothly – and I'm out of sync, you know? There's this sort of rhythm that's happening, and you're not a part of it. It takes a while to fall back in.”

Pfeiffer says she isn't sure what she'll do when the kids leave home. “I don't know if I'll direct, I don't know if I'll go back to school and do something else, I don't know if I'll act more, just do more movies. … It'll be interesting. I know I'll have serious empty-nest syndrome.”

“ It never occurred to me, the sort of comfort level that I had, or the ease of being with someone – you take it for granted – of being with somebody for years who knows your body, who accepts all your imperfections, and you meet them at a certain age when you're young. And 10 years later, or whatever, the idea of this new person, you know, seeing all your flaws, it makes you really vulnerable. ”

Taking the role of Lea meant being away from her family during a shoot in France, but it was an opportunity to reunite with Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton, the director and writer, respectively, of Dangerous Liaisons .

Pfeiffer, who went to college for only one year, had never read Colette, and in conversation she gives the impression of being more intuitively than formally educated: She says she had never heard the phrase ‘May-December relationship' until a few days ago, and she is unsure of the proper way to describe a gap of two decades in age between lovers. “She's 20 years … do you say ‘senior'?” she inquires.

“I was a bit daunted when I learned [ Chéri ] was from French literature,” Pfeiffer admits. “I went: ‘Oh boy,' and prepared to plod my way through the material.”

But Hampton, who began working on the project seven or eight years ago, says the list of actresses who fit the bill for the lead role of Chéri was short: “You needed an actor who was about 50, who was clearly very beautiful, and was sufficiently relaxed in herself to give herself to the story and not be made anxious by it. It's a tough subject for a woman turning 50 … and Michelle had absolutely no provisos about being shot in a way that made her look as if she was aging.”

Pfeiffer says that's not entirely true. “I don't like it, you know?” she nods. “As a person. But as an actress? You have to sort of separate the two, it's just important. It was really an integral part of the piece.”

Reaching a certain age was not the only thing Pfeiffer shared with Lea. The character initiates her relationship with the 19-year-old Chéri as a diversion, but when six years pass and the two are still together, their feelings for each other have grown without either entirely realizing it. Nevertheless, Chéri's mother arranges a marriage for her son, leaving Lea adrift and lamenting: “Being with someone for six years is like following your husband to the colonies. By the time you come back, you've forgotten what to wear and nobody remembers who you are.”

Pfeiffer admits Lea's social dislocation reminded her of when she broke up with her first husband, actor-director Peter Horton, whom she had married in 1981 at age 23. “I remember when I was married the first time and we separated – ugh, you know? It never occurred to me, the sort of comfort level that I had, or the ease of being with someone – you take it for granted – of being with somebody for years who knows your body, who accepts all your imperfections, and you meet them at a certain age when you're young. And 10 years later, or whatever, the idea of this new person, you know, seeing all your flaws, it makes you really vulnerable.

“And being single is a different lifestyle. It's like functioning in a social situation. All of a sudden, now you're single and it's scary at first,” she continues. “I mean, for better or worse, unknowingly, you kind of take on a different role when you're a married person. So I do think that is, um, really, it's scary. Does that make sense?”

Five years after her divorce with Horton was finalized in 1988, Pfeiffer married again, to television producer David E. Kelley ( The Practice , Ally McBeal ). “I think it's one of the things that makes my marriage work, that we're both in the same business,” she says.

“I'm really glad he's not an actor, because as much as you might have an empathy for each other, that creates a whole other dynamic that's kind of complicated. But you know, if you aren't in our industry, you really don't understand what it takes out of you. When I go to work, he even said to me, ‘There's a little part of you that kinda goes away, that kinda disappears, we kinda lose you a little bit.' And he tolerates that, you know? Because he knows I'll be back.”

Director's Debut Smells Like Teen Spirit

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Gayle MacDonald

(June 22, 2009) When the coming-of-age film Victoria Day had its first public screening at Sundance in January, first-time director David Bezmozgis was in the audience, feeling just a little bit sick.

Grappling with both anticipation and dread, the Toronto-based author says his emotions that day were similar to how he felt waiting for the literary reviews to come in for his debut short-story collection, Natasha and Other Stories, five years ago.

“ I wrote this script with the intention of coming back and having something that I could try to get made. It was all purely conjectural. I'd never made a movie. ”

In both instances, however, his fears were for naught. Natasha and Other Stories drew rave reviews when it was published in 2004. And Victoria Day - which screened five times at Sundance - sold out at each showing.

"It was the first time we showed the film anywhere, and you never quite know how it's going to play. You sit in the theatre and you're nervous," says the 36-year-old. "But people laughed in places where I really wanted them to. And the response was just so energetic. Of course, then I worried that maybe their response was just an anomaly ... but the film actually translated from screening to screening, which is really all you can hope for."

With both his debut feature film and his book, Bezmozgis, whose family moved to Canada in 1980 from Latvia during the exodus of Soviet Jews, draws heavily on his experiences growing up an immigrant in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill to shape his narrative.

A firm believer that art should be rooted in reality, his film - like the short stories - revolves around the every day experiences of people from his world. Like Bezmozgis, the main character in Victoria Day is an only child. And over the course of a 21-day shoot, the director stayed close to his old neighbourhood, taking the camera to his parent's split-level home at Toronto's Bathurst and Steeles Streets, to Earl Bales Park (where he drank beer, played guitar and shot hand-held fireworks with his friends) and Collegiate Arena (where he played hockey).

His aim, he says, was to make a film about "what teenage life is really like. And the thing I find most gratifying to hear from audiences is when they say how real it is. That this is what it felt like for them, too, to be a teenager."

Victoria Day, which opened in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday, is the story of 16-year-old teenager Ben Spektor (played by Gemini-nominated actor Mark Rendall), who is grappling with new-world opportunities and old-world expectations. It is May, 1988. The school year comes to a close, and Spektor goes to a Bob Dylan concert, where he sees a hockey teammate (who asks him for money) do a drug deal. The kid goes missing. And over the course of a week, Spektor's life is changed. He moves from childhood to adulthood.

Bezmozgis wrote the script for Victoria Day in 2000, well before the publication of Natasha and Other Stories, shortly after graduating from film school at the University of Southern California. He moved back to Canada soon after. It took him eight years to get this $2.5-million picture finished and in theatres.

"I wrote this script with the intention of coming back and having something that I could try to get made. It was all purely conjectural. I'd never made a movie. I'd never had anything published or produced. But I wanted to make a movie about this point in time. In this setting. This community. It was just what interested me."

The cast is made up of mostly unknowns. Spektor's Russian parents - Nataliya Alyexeyenko and Sergiy Kotelenets - were found through open calls placed in the local Russian press.

And he recruited his teen actors - Holly Deveaux (who plays Spektor's love interest, Cayla), John Mavrogiannis (his buddy Sammy) and Scott Beaudin (another pal, Noah) - largely by attending high-school plays.

"John I found at a high-school musical at Earl Haig [Secondary School]. He was playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar," says Bezmozgis, who adds the Hamilton-born Beaudin had the most experience of the lot, having worked as a child actor.

"Holly, too, had done very little acting. But I wanted real kids. If I'd hired a woman in her early 20s to play Cayla - especially for the sexual scenes - there would not have been that vulnerability.

"I never saw it as a risk casting inexperienced actors because I wouldn't have made the film otherwise. They had to be teenagers. And they had to have that sort of ineffable quality you get by looking at people who are actually that age, realistically portraying themselves."

Now that Victoria Day is in theatres, Bezmozgis - who has an honours degree in English literature from McGill University - plans to return to a novel he started in 2004. Again, it's semi-autobiographical, but pre-dates Natasha and is set mostly in the former Soviet Union and Rome.

After that is complete, he says he hopes to try his hand at another feature film. "I like directing," he explains. "I like working with people and being in a collaborative setting. I like solving problems on a day-to-day level.

"The language of film is very different from writing. And I like having the various ways of expressing myself. If, going forward, I'm fortunate enough to be able to straddle both mediums of storytelling, well then, I would be very happy."

Man For All Countries

Source: www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(June 24, 2009) LOS ANGELES — You could call Andras Hamori Hollywood's invisible Canadian. But he produces movies everywhere except L.A., where he has lived for two decades after starting his career in Toronto.

Take
Cheri, a delicately sexy bonbon set in 1906. It's about as international as you can get. A British/French/German co-production, it was shot last year in Paris, London and Germany.

Paris looms large, because the movie is based on a delicious work by the great French writer Colette (who created Gigi) and set in the splendour of La Belle Époque.

The director is British: the great Stephen Frears, whose spectacular filmography includes The Queen, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons.

The star is decidedly American: the always entertaining Michelle Pfeiffer portraying a woman who has reached a dangerous age.

Then there's Hamori. Born in Hungary, he bolted to Toronto circa 1981, partly through a friendship with the late theatre director John Hirsch, a fellow Hungarian Jew.

"The reason I jumped at the chance to do this movie is that I wanted to make the leap into a movie of A-plus quality," explains Hamori.

Indeed, working with Frears, Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates turned out to be one of the most charmed interludes of his life. And one day he got a surprise when Frears called upon him to play a cameo role as a silver-haired industrialist.

Hamori was approached by Bill Kenwright, a major player in London's West End theatre world, who became his partner on the $30 million independent movie. Hamori put together a deal that included the major European film company Pathe and the prestigious U.S. independent distributor Miramax.

What's amazing is that it took 50 years after the huge success of the Oscar-winning Gigi for a movie to be made of Cheri.

Before this project, Hamori had produced or co-produced many movies of note, including the Hungarian family epic Sunshine, the unforgettable Holocaust drama Fateless, David Cronenberg's eXistenz and a surprise Canadian box-office hit, The Gate.

Unlike such famous Hungarian producers as Alexander Korda (a giant of the 1930s and 1940s) and Canada's Robert Lantos, a friend and mentor, Hamori has chosen to keep his own profile modest.

A big break came in the mid-1980s, when Lantos and his partners got involved in what was to be a low-budget late-night cop show produced in Toronto to meet the needs of CBS, which wanted an inexpensive show to schedule against Johnny Carson on NBC. Being overextended with major movies, Lantos and his partners turned over Night Heat to Hamori. To everyone's surprise, it became a huge hit and Hamori has never looked back.

He moved to L.A. to run a Hollywood arm for Alliance Entertainment but stayed on long after Alliance closed its operation there. Yet he doesn't quite fit the Hollywood scene, partly because he always seems to be making movies in London, Budapest, Paris and Toronto.

So which country claims Hamori's loyalty? He has a Canadian passport and a Hungarian passport, and residency status in the U.S. Despite his pronounced accent, he says, "I feel more Canadian than Hungarian, because with the Holocaust, Hungary turned into a despicable place."

Two Canadian movies are on his list of future projects, one a new version of The Gate, and the other a film noir set in Toronto.

But his latest coup concerns an action movie in which Samuel Jackson will play a controversial negotiator named Andrew Mwangura, the go-between for Somali pirates and troubled seafarers.

Hamori and Jackson have partnered to secure the rights to Mwangura's story for an action movie. One thing is certain: it will be a far cry from Colette's Belle Époque.

Responding To Outrage, Films At Elgin Theatre Won't All Go At Premium

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

(June 24, 2009) Toronto film festival buffs have won the Battle of the Elgin Theatre.

Responding to public outrage over steep ticket price increases at the popular venue, the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday announced a major climb-down from its "premium pricing" strategy introduced last year.

At least 50 per cent of the screenings at the Elgin's Visa Screening Room will now be considered "regular" rather than "premium" tickets, and at vastly lower prices: $19.87 apiece rather than $38.50. The changes also affect passes. This year's festival runs from Sept. 10-19.

Last year all Elgin screenings were deemed premium, rather than just a few special events as per past festivals. It was a huge hit to the wallet for many film fans, who count on Elgin screenings to help them catch up with the fest's most popular films.

"We thought there was some tolerance to be found at that location and we probably overplayed it a bit by including all the screenings," said Peter Reitzel, TIFF's senior manager of audience development.

"So we're reverting back to just the evening screenings plus the daytime screenings on the first weekend for the premium pricing. We've also reduced the number of premium screenings by 50 per cent. We're kind of back to where we were two years ago."

Part of the problem, Reitzel conceded, is that TIFF didn't adequately explain premium pricing.

The premiums were introduced last year in an attempt to help close a $49 million funding gap for TIFF's $196 million Bell Lightbox headquarters, now being built.

"But we didn't really have it defined what a premium offering was," Reitzel said in an interview. Premium tickets are now defined as first screenings of films at either the Elgin or Roy Thomson Hall, accompanied by red carpet hoopla and/or director or cast Q&As.

The festival is also making it easier for filmgoers to choose movies and to order tickets and passes. The program book listing all 300-plus movies and the advance order book will be available Aug. 25, a week earlier than usual.

It's not all good news, though. Prices for tickets and passes are increasing by 3 per cent across the board. A single regular ticket that cost $19.29 in 2008 will be $19.87 this year, and a 10-ticket package that cost $154.50 now climbs to $159.14.

Richard Iwasa, 38, who runs the popular film buff blog TIFF Talk (tifftalk.blogspot.com), said he was pleased that the festival had taken the pricing complaints seriously.

"It looks like they did try to address a lot of criticisms coming out of last year's festival," he said. "Things are never perfect – they did hold onto some things – but I don't think the price increases are outrageous."

TIFF also announced a new festival program called City to City that will focus on the urban experience, with Tel Aviv being the featured metropolis this year.

And it named 24 films coming to TIFF from other festivals, including four Palme d'Or competition films from last month's Cannes Film Festival: Alain Resnais' Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grass), Tsai Ming-liang's Face, Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank and Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains.

Further info is available at tiff.net or by calling 416-968-FILM.

FILM TIDBITS

Common, Latifah Have The 'Wright' Stuff

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(June 22, 2009) *Fox Searchlight has tapped two rapper-turned-actors, Common and Queen Latifah, for a sports-themed romantic film titled "Just Wright."  Directed by Sanaa Hamri, the film revolves around a sports trainer who finds herself falling in love with a professional basketball player while rehabilitating him from a career-threatening injury.  Paula Patton ("Deja Vu," "Precious") has also been cast.  Latifah, Shakim Compere and Debra Martin Chase are producing from a script by Michael Elliot. Shooting starts in mid-July in New York for a release next year.

Oscars To Double Best-Picture Nominations

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
The Associated Press

(June 23, 2009) Beverly Hills, Calif. — The Academy Awards are doubling the number of best-picture nominees from five to 10. Academy president Sid Ganis said at a news conference that the academy's board of governors made the decision to expand the slate. Ganis said the decision will open the field up to more worthy films for the top prize at Hollywood's biggest party. The change takes effect with next year's Oscars on March 7. The move is a return to Oscar traditions of the 1930s and '40s, when 10 nominees were common. Ganis said the board looked at last year's slate of films and decided there was room for more in the top category. “We nominated five, but there were many other great films last year,” he said. Among last year's most acclaimed movies was the Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight , which wound up snubbed. Ganis said the broader field also might make room for documentaries, foreign-language films, animated movies and even comedies, which typically do not fare well at the Oscars. “Everybody says the academy will never nominate a comedy,” Ganis said. “Well, maybe we will.” Having 10 or more was common in Hollywood's golden age 60-70 years ago. Ganis noted that 1939's 10 best-picture nominees were Gone With the Wind , which won, The Wizard of Oz , Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Love Affair, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, Dark Victory and Ninotchka . All are generally considered classics today.

::TV NEWS::

HD Converters Come In Form Of Family, Friends

Source:  www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(June 18, 2009) This will sound, I suspect, a bit ridiculous coming from someone who watches TV for a living (a pretty ridiculous notion in and of itself).

But here it is: I know absolutely nothing about
high-definition television.

Well, not nothing ... I mean, I can see that an HD screen is substantially wider than my conventional tube. They tell me this is something called "aspect ratio." I smile and nod and pretend to understand.

High-definition, "they" will invariably assert, delivers such vastly superior picture and sound, my old-school cathode cabinet might as well be an aquarium.

By way of perspective, when I first got this job, I was still using my nephew's abandoned PlayStation to play DVDs (having only reluctantly given up on VHS), which I watched on the same blurry Baycrest box I bought for my first apartment in the late 1970s.

The Star, out of generosity and/or shame, provided an upgrade set, then state-of-the-art. I finally sprung for a real DVD player myself. Both were immediately rendered obsolete by the flat screen and the digital recorder, the high-tech harbingers of the HD revolution. Which brings me back to "them" – my more technologically advanced family and friends – for authoritative advice on what's best to watch in high-def, and why.

Predictably, among my male friends, the almost unanimous answer was sports. Now, I know even less about sports than I do about HDTV. The relative merits of HD sports therefore utterly elude me.

This despite the best efforts of my best pal, Boy Howie, to inform by immersion with an unrelenting barrage of surround-sound sport whenever I drop by. There is no escape; he hides the remote control.

"The only reality TV is sports," he insists. Particularly given the enhanced resolution of his new 42-inch HD plasma screen, which he says makes it easier to follow the ball/puck, makes the greens even greener and, like any good laundry detergent, the whites whiter than white.

Anything else he may have to say is effectively drowned out by the five-speaker surround-sound system he has perpetually set at "ear-shattering." You don't want to know what hell it's been since he discovered he could run his iPod through it (one word: bagpipes).

He can sometimes be persuaded to slide in the occasional DVD, invariably a war movie – I cannot tell you how many times I've had to endure the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

Movies run a very close second as the most preferred HD entertainment.

Being able to enjoy the entire cinematic frame, and in such vivid detail – the way nature and Steven Spielberg intended – in some ways surpasses the theatre experience, with the added convenience of close proximity to the bathroom and kitchen.

A top-of-the-line HD audio set-up also delivers theatre-quality sound. At Boy Howie's, that means the unique sensation of having a mortar shell explode less than a metre from the back of your head.

This is less of an issue watching movies with my dad, whose slightly larger 46-inch flatscreen monitor is equipped with only stereo sound.

My dad's HD viewing preferences are also almost exclusively movies and sports. Like me, he is particularly fond of action flicks and sci-fi epics, which lend themselves particularly well to flawless HD reproduction.

That being said, he will admit to not being able to tell the difference between HD and Old D. And neither can I, which suggests that it may have something to do with genetics.

I was talking last week to Canadian acting icon Graham Greene, just back from the Vancouver set of the Twilight sequel, New Moon. I recalled he had a pretty sweet HD set-up at home, upstairs in his office. I imagined him up there, whiling away the hours, basking in the glow of the many TV shows and movies he's made (particularly Dances with Wolves, for which he was Oscar-nominated, as well as Maverick, Green Mile and Transamerica) in glorious, vivid high-definition.

But no. Mostly, he says, he watches the Discovery Channel. Greene, like virtually every performer I've ever asked, cannot bear to watch himself in HD. The merciless enhanced clarity is rarely flattering, even less so in close-up, when you can see every pore.

"High definition, low self-esteem," Greene affirms.

I got much the same reaction a while back from SCTV star Dave Thomas, in his case a testament to the fact that television programming is now almost exclusively shot in HD, and therefore ideally suited to being observed in same.

Unless, again, you are the one being observed. Thomas recalls with horror the first time he saw his middle-aged self, reunited with partner Rick Moranis for an anniversary TV tribute to their iconic character creations, the McKenzie Brothers. He is thrilled, however, with HD's enhancing effect on their new cartoon incarnation, Bob & Doug, produced by his own animation company, Animax.

"I'm 30 years younger and two-dimensional. And that's how I'd like to be remembered."

So what have we learned here? For one thing, high-definition television seems to be particularly effective reproducing and enhancing primary colours – grass green, sky blue, carnage red, explosive yellow. And five speakers will blow the sub-woofers off of any traditional two.

That, and the fact that HD technology is an affront to an actor's characteristic vanity. Unless that actor is a cartoon.

And finally, that my current TV would be far better off filled with water and fish.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the nearest electronics store.

It'll Be Jon Minus Kate Plus 8

Source: www.thestar.com - Debra Yeo,
Toronto Star

(June 22, 2009) It's official: Jon and Kate Gosselin are splitting up. That was the life-changing revelation in Monday night's episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8.

But viewers could be forgiven for wanting to divorce TLC, the channel that has turned the family of 10 into its most popular series.

The hour-long show dragged on, interspersing hints about the big decision in separate interviews with Jon and Kate (Jon: "I have to do what's best for me and the kids"; Kate: "I have had a rough few days, facing the music and facing what needs to happen") with manufactured drama over where to put some playhouses for the children on the Gosselins' huge Wernersville, Pa., property.

In any event, anybody who's been following the couple's story on the Internet already knew the conclusion long before the show aired.

People.com reported earlier in the day that documents to initiate a legal split were filed in Pennsylvania Monday afternoon.

That mirrored the note that appeared onscreen after the couple's interviews, which confirmed that legal proceedings were initiated in Pennsylvania Monday to dissolve the couple's 10-year marriage.

Monday night, both of the Gosselins framed the decision as something that was in the best interests of their eight children (8-year-old twins and 5-year-old sextuplets).

"Kate and I have decided to separate," Jon Gosselin said. "It's just not good for our kids for us to be arguing in front of our kids."

"I'm not very fond of the idea personally, but I know it's necessary because my goal is peace for the kids," Kate Gosselin said.

She added that she and Jon will take turns living in the Wernersville house with the children.

Not surprisingly, nary a word was said about the alleged affairs that have put the couple in the crosshairs of the tabloids: his with a 23-year-old schoolteacher; hers with the family bodyguard.

Jon mentioned the pressures of paparazzi following the couple 24/7 and huffed, "We have soldiers in Iraq dying for our country and all these people care about is what I eat for lunch."

Nor was the question of what happens to the show addressed in a comprehensive way.

The program, now in its fifth season, started out as a look at the challenges faced by parents of multiples. But it's unlikely the producers envisioned a breakup as one of them when it all began.

"It's going to be different," said Jon, revealing a talent for understatement.

"The show must go on," said Kate. "I will continue to be here, be with the kids, do the same things I've always done with them ... Jon may do his own thing."

She added that the situation gives her a "whole new empathy" for other families going through breakups.

"I'm excited and hurt at the same time," said Jon.

Nip/Tuck Gets A Silent Send-Off

Source: www.thestar.com - Maria Elena Fernandez,
Los Angeles Times

(June 24, 2009) Los Angeles–When Nip/Tuck made its debut in 2003, it broke cable-viewing records and instantly distinguished itself with its stylized look, tongue-in-cheek tone, gorgeous stars and fresh take on America's obsession with beauty and youth. Those qualities earned it a Golden Globe for Best Drama, critical acclaim and water-cooler buzz that lasted for most of its first four seasons.

But when the FX signature series quietly wrapped earlier this month on the Paramount lot, it did so without the usual fanfare associated with the end of a noteworthy show. In part, the silent send-off was because TV viewers won't see the Nip/Tuck finale, which finished shooting on June 12, for a long time, probably as late as 2011, making it tricky to publicize. Behind the scenes too, during the last week of production, there was an awkward sense that the end already had happened, as much of the crew had already moved to creator Ryan Murphy's new Fox musical Glee last year, and Murphy himself was out of the country location-scouting for an upcoming movie.

"It's sad because it feels incomplete," said script supervisor Diana Valentine, who asked the cast to sign her finale script in between takes of shooting the show's last family dinner scene, which included almost every major character. Valentine, who joined the series in its second season, worked on Beverly Hills, 90210 for its entire run. "It's not the same feeling I had when I was wrapping on 90210. It feels incomplete, kind of separate. It's very hard."

In truth, the cast of the series that TV Guide asserted during its second season was the "coolest show on television" has been ready to move on for some time. Nip/Tuck's series finale will be the show's 100th episode, a rare marker in cable television (the only popular cable series that came close was Sex and the City with 94 episodes) that FX wanted to reach with its top-rated show.

But if the actors had had their way, the show would have ended in the fourth season when it was still the No. 1 cable series among 18- to 49-year-olds, a ranking it held for its first four years, and the critics were still in its corner. Although its overall viewership has been steady and strong over the years – Season 5 drew an average of 3.4 million viewers – it is now less popular in the 18-to-49 demographic than both USA's Burn Notice and TNT's The Closer.

"I feel we've reached a creative impasse with regards to what we can do with this story," said John Hensley, who played Matt, one of the most self-destructive characters ever created for TV. "I feel like it was, quite frankly, told a long time ago. I say that trying to be rightsized about this because I am very grateful for this opportunity. I just feel that we were a show that was very good and innovative at one point and we've gone the way of so many shows before us. Our moment has passed."

Nip/Tuck, which used hyper-real and shocking situations – remember the murderous brother and sister known as the Carver? – to examine the price people are willing to pay for physical beauty and the internal consequences they suffer as a result, was centred on the unconditional brotherly love between two plastic surgeons, Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon). Sean was the highly skilled surgeon who claimed he wanted to improve the world and felt morally superior to his best friend. Christian was the superficial ladies' man who had more heart than he let on and made no excuses about who he was.

In the five seasons that have aired, the doctors, who are in their 40s, have almost died several times, slept with dozens of women, broken up their partnership a few times and dumped a dead body in the Florida Everglades. In the 19 new episodes, which probably will air over two seasons and may begin in January, the series will become even more operatic and dark, elements that, critics say, have diminished its pleasures over time.

"The same thing that bothers me about this show is really what was great about it," said Walsh, taking a short break in his trailer.

"It existed or came about as an antidote to ER, which was a great show but had such an earnest tone, as if that's reality. It didn't include the irreverent things and wicked humour and over-the-top scenes of emotion. And Nip/Tuck brought all that craziness, where things happened too quickly and intensely, and it made you laugh while you were getting caught up in it. Of course, the longer we went, the more ridiculous it was going to seem, but that was always our thing. It really wasn't a great show. It was a great ride."

If there is a surprise to the way Nip/Tuck ends, it's in its restrained quality, which several of the actors said they appreciated after seasons of shocking and preposterous storylines.

"I've always thought the show should have been simpler than it was so, for me, it was nice to have a little less than what we've been expanding upon for the last number of years," McMahon said.

"I think you'll have an emotionally justifiable episode in the end."

TV TIDBITS

Walter Cronkite Reported Gravely Ill

Source: www.thestar.com - Frazier Moore,
The Associated Press

(June 19, 2009) NEW YORK – CBS isn't commenting on reports that veteran newsman Walter Cronkite is gravely ill. The 92-year-old former anchor of "The CBS Evening News," who has been ailing for some time, has reportedly taken a turn for the worse, according to TVNewser and other online sites. CBS News spokesman Kevin Tedesco had no comment today. Bob Schieffer said, "All of us are praying for the best, and our thoughts are with Walter's family." The host of CBS' "Face the Nation" and a longtime Cronkite colleague, Schieffer noted that he had no current news on Cronkite's condition. The face of CBS News for more than two decades, Cronkite was named "the most trusted man in America" in a 1972 "trust index" survey, and he ended each broadcast with the reassuring signoff, ``And that's the way it is." He left the "Evening News" anchor desk in 1981, but after that kept a busy schedule both in journalistic and other activities. For 24 years, he served as on-site host for New Year's Day telecasts by the Vienna Philharmonic until ill health forced him to bow out earlier this year.

Andre Braugher To Guest Star On 'House'

Source: www.eurweb.com


(June 19, 2009) *Andre Braugher, the Emmy-winning alum of TV's "Homicide," will guest star on the two-hour season premiere of "House," the show's producers revealed at a Paley Center for Media event in LA Wednesday night.  The actor will play a doctor at the psychiatric facility that Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) checked himself into at the end of last season. Braugher's character takes it as his challenge to get inside House's head.  "In thinking about who was going to diagnose the greatest diagnostician there is, I thought who would be better than someone with the authority, gravitas and great skill that Andre Braugher possesses?" the show's executive producer Katie Jacobs tells TV Guide. Laurie, for his part, says he can't wait to work opposite Braugher. "I have admired him as one of the greatest actors there is," Laurie tells the magazine. Series creator David Shore calls the premiere "more like a movie," and word is the episode will take place almost entirely inside the mental facility.       Braugher is set to star in TNT's series "Men of a Certain Age," which premieres in December.

::THEATRE NEWS::

Life Can Be Tough, But This Play Makes It Worthwhile

Source:  www.thestar.com - Robert Crew,
Special To The Star

Awake and Sing!
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
By Clifford Odets. Directed by Miles Potter. At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St., until July 31. 416-866-8666

(June 18, 2009) Committed Marxist as he was, American playwright Clifford Odets also had a taste for the good things in life.

That tension between chasing after the elusive American Dream versus the stern call for revolution against the capitalist society is just one of the fascinations of perhaps Odets' greatest play,
Awake and Sing!, which Soulpepper is staging this summer at the Young Centre.

The play's other strengths are much in evidence in this production, sure-handedly directed by Miles Potter.

Set in New York, this semi-autobiographical play charts the hardscrabble existence of a Jewish family during the Depression. It's packed with wonderfully rounded, multi-dimensional characters who, Chekhov-like, have deep undercurrents and complexities.

There's Bessie, the unforgettable matriarch (and de facto patriarch) of the family, whose finely honed survival skills have clearly been achieved at some cost. Nancy Palk is at her splendid best here, a dazzling mix of ferocity, shrewd pragmatism and buried heart.

Her father, Jacob (the excellent William Webster), is the philosopher king, whose life until now has been filled with words rather than action and whose hopes are now centred on his dreamer grandson Ralph (Jonathan Gould).

Granddaughter Hennie (Sarah Wilson), meanwhile, has become pregnant; mother quickly finds her a mate (Matthew Edison) who is every bit as innocent, charming and hopeless as her own husband (Derek Boyes).

Throw in a shady, entrepreneurial ex-soldier (Ari Cohen), a rich, self-obsessed uncle (Michael Hanrahan) and a befuddled caretaker (Oliver Dennis), and you have a vivid gallery of characters who exemplify the struggles, woes and fleeting joys of life on one of the lowest rungs of society.

What makes the play special is the pulsating language: colloquial, harsh yet surprisingly poetic at times. Odets knows these people, how they speak and how they live. His ear is precise, his observation acute, and the Soulpepper cast and creative team handle everything with superb skill.

It's a great evening of theatre. Awake and see it.

Cyrano: Big Nose, Bigger Heart

Source:  www.thestar.com - Robert Crew,
Special To The Star

Cyrano de Bergerac
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)
By Edmond Rostand. Translated and adapted by Anthony Burgess. Directed by Donna Feore. At Stratford's Festival Theatre until Nov.1. 1-800-567-1600

(June 22, 2009) STRATFORD – "It's sooo romantic," sighed a friend as she left the Festival Theatre after seeing
Cyrano de Bergerac for the first time.

True. Focused – transcendently – on the love of an outwardly disfigured man for a beautiful woman, Cyrano is a gorgeous, devastatingly romantic story. And with Colm Feore in the title role, this production often soars to the heights; I'd be heartily surprised if there was a dry eye in the house after Friday night's opening.

Cyrano, he of the unfortunately large proboscis, is a swashbuckler, poet and righter of wrongs but fears outright rejection if he dares confess his passion for his lovely cousin Roxane. She, meanwhile, has fallen head over bustle in love with one Christian de Neuvillette, a good-looking but tongue-tied young soldier.

Cyrano draws on the deep well of love inside him to provide the words for Christian, who reaps the rewards of Cyrano's fire and eloquence (although Rostand leaves their eventual marriage unconsummated).

Feore is almost everything you could want in a Cyrano – by turns dashing, funny and heartbreaking. In short, a fine actor in a great role.

There are three key scenes in the play: the wooing of Roxane under a balcony, Christian's realization of Cyrano's love for Roxane just before the battle in which Christian is killed, and Cyrano's own death scene. All are handled exquisitely by Feore, whose painful, heart-on-the-sleeve sensitivity is interspersed occasionally with wonderful sallies of wit and humour.

Director Donna Feore has also made the inspired decision to include several passages in the original French (husband Colm is bilingual) and this adds immeasurably to the overall experience.

It also helps that Mike Shara as Christian offers rather more than the handsome but dumb hunk that one usually sees. This Christian is energetic and (except around Roxanne) positive, showing glimpses of the "military wit" that he claims for himself. It works well; Shara's charisma and talent help provide a better balance for the whole play.

Amanda Lisman smiles and looks extremely pretty as Roxane. It is not, perhaps, the greatest of roles, but more can be made of it.

Wayne Best is grounded and sturdy as Le Bret and Steve Ross brings some gravitas to the pastry chef/poet Ragueneau when the temptation is to make him a throwaway comic caricature. However, John Vickery's Comte de Guiche is boom and bluster where a little more real menace would be welcome.

Santo Loquasto's costumes are lovely, as are the lights of Alan Brodie and the music of Leslie Arden. The sets, to my mind, are rather less effective, hampering the free flow of action on more than one occasion.

Talking of action, the battle scene is noisy and dramatic while the duels (courtesy of fight director John Stead) are truly exciting.

In fact, the whole thing is done with considerable panache (to use Cyrano's favourite word). And, of course, with generous helpings of love.

Orton's Loot Fresh And Funny After All These Years

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

Loot
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)
Starring Michael Hanrahan, Nicole Underhay and Matthew Edison. Directed by Jim Warren. At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St., until Aug. 1. Tickets $28-68. 416-866-8666

(June 19, 2009) The wonderful thing about British playwright Joe Orton's darkly comic plays is that they don't lose their potency over time. In fact, in these increasingly godless and venal times, Orton almost seems like a prescient prophet of doom.

Four decades after his bloody and untimely death, Soulpepper Theatre's production of
Loot is fresh, funny and not for the priggish and faint-hearted.

It helps that set and costume designer Sue LePage has paid exceptional attention to detail, from the English drawing room set to the smouldering coffin and costumes, from naughty nurse Fay's short shirt and sexy black stockings to the pinstriped trousers and waistcoat and the fashionably long sideburns worn by undertaker Dennis, that reek of authenticity.

The cast is uniformly excellent, getting the accents just right and exuding just the right tone of characters who – with the exception of poor Mr. McLeavy – are aware of society's moral strictures but gleefully choose to sidestep them.

Michael Hanrahan is a particular delight as the brutish and pompous Inspector Truscott, and Nicole Underhay comes straight out of a Benny Hill comedy sketch as the conniving nurse all too ready to move on to the next opportunity following the death of her latest charge, the late Mrs. McLeavy.

Matthew Edison as Hal and Jonathan Watton as Dennis, the two bank robbers who stash the "loot" in Hal's mother's coffin, perfectly express the Clockwork Orange immorality of their natures, and Oliver Dennis as Mr. McLeavy, the sole character with a shred of decency, is wonderfully sympathetic as his inevitable downfall looms.

The dialogue is rich in gallows humour, skewering Scotland Yard and the Catholic Church with unbridled relish. To wit, nurse Fay's laying of the 10 Commandments on Mrs. McLeavy's coffin: "She was a great believer in some of them."

The bisexuality of the two young thieves – which would have been shocking in its day – only adds to the play's contemporariness.

For those who love their comedy pitch-black, Loot is the ticket.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

MySpace To Cut 300 International Positions

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(June 23, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Social-networking site MySpace said Tuesday that it will cut 300 international positions and close at least four offices outside the U.S. as it looks to cut costs and narrow its territory coverage.

The move comes a week after the company said it would cut nearly 30 per cent of its U.S. work force in a bid to become more efficient.

"As we conducted our review of the company, it was clear that internationally, just as in the U.S., MySpace's staffing had become too big and cumbersome to be sustainable in current market conditions," Chief Executive Owen Van Natta said in a statement. He rejoined the company in April.

The News Corp. division has been trying to bring its staffing level more in line with its more popular rival, Facebook. Recent data from tracking firm comScore shows Facebook has caught up with MySpace in monthly U.S. visitors for the first time.

MySpace has had difficulty growing its user base, which stands at about 125 million worldwide. Meanwhile Facebook has said that its usage has doubled to more than 200 million in less than a year.

Beverly Hills, Calif.-based MySpace plans to trim its international work force to about 150 employees from the current 450 employees and said it will have to consult on the plan with international workers in some countries.

The company says the restructuring applies to all of its international units and will leave London, Berlin and Sydney as its primary international hubs. Offices in Argentina, Brazil,
Canada, France, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Sweden and Spain will all be looked at for potential reductions.

MySpace China and a joint venture in Japan will not be affected by the restructuring.

In the U.S., MySpace plans to cut approximately 420 employees, bringing the total number of U.S. staff to 1,000. As of May, Facebook had about 850 employees worldwide, the vast majority in the U.S.

Kong Goes Ape On Mario And His Minis

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

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again
DSiWare
800 Nintendo points ($8)
Rated E
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 four)

(June 20, 2009)
Donkey Kong. Man, sometimes I just don't know what to make of that crazy ape.

I thought he'd grown out of his girl-kidnapping, girder-climbing phase. We all have our youthful indiscretions, and for years now he's been a stand-up (well, semi-bipedally crouching) kind of guy: kart racer, villain vanquisher, pretty much the only father Diddy Kong ever had. Plays bongos in his spare time, volunteers to teach kids math.

And then he goes and pulls a stunt like this: shows up late for the grand opening of the
Super Mini Mario World theme park, finds it sold out and just loses it. Grabs the event organizer, Pauline, and takes off into Puzzle Castle. I think he's been spending too much time hanging around that nutcase Bowser.

Anyway, he grabs Pauline, and of course Mario's going to come after him. Under normal circumstances, maybe the hundreds of insane death traps that pack Puzzle Castle would be enough to stop even a pro princess-rescuer like Mario. But now Mario's got all the clockwork Mini Marios from the theme park at his disposal, and those things are made for this kind of action. They're not too bright, but as long as Mario can keep one step ahead of them, they'll eventually march right up to Kong's hidey-hole and it's game over for the monkey.

I used to think Mario was a little crazy, too. You'd think constantly having to rescue chicks from obstacle courses filled with homicidal mushrooms and rotating blades would be a real pain, but the little plumber seems to actually enjoy it.

Watching him guide his little homunculi through Puzzle Castle, though, I kind of see where he's coming from; a guy could get hooked on this kind of action. The way each wicked room functions like a perfect little machine, more musical instrument than death trap, and each one just a little more complex than the last.

I guess the Puzzle Castle is fun from the other side, too, not negotiating the deadly chambers but designing them, coming up with ever more clever challenges. Anyone in the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond can get in on this joy, with tools for creating, editing and sharing devious designs.

This ought to work out great for a thrill junkie like Mario. Even after he's rescued Pauline, he can always go back in to march his little automatons through an all-you-can-eat buffet of new levels.

But seriously. Donkey Kong? You're losing it, man. You've got to come on out of there and get back on your jungle meds.

Invasion Of The Sims

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

(June 20, 2009)  If your friends, family and coworkers have been walking around in a daze since early June, it could be because of a multiple personality disorder.

Electronic Arts has announced that its hotly anticipated sequel
The Sims 3 (thesims.com) has sold more than two million units for the PC and Mac since launching June 2, making it the bestselling computer game launch in EA's 27-year history.

More than its bestselling predecessors, The Sims 3 lets players create unique Sim characters by toying with a myriad of physical trait combinations and personality preferences (from artistic to romantic to paranoid).

Once a character (or an entire family) has been created, it can move into a home to begin the gameplay, which includes designing the interior and exterior of the abode, interacting with other Sims in town, advancing in careers and achieving long-term goals such as having a large family or becoming an international celebrity (or both, perhaps, if you want to go the Brangelina route).

EA says gamers have also downloaded more than seven million pieces of player-created content, including new Sims, houses, stories and more.

Hands-on with new Super Mario Bros. What better way to reinvent one of the most popular video game franchises than by adding co-operative and competitive multiplayer modes? This is precisely what Nintendo is up to with its Super Mario Bros. Wii by allowing up to four players on the same TV.

Due out before the December holidays, this Nintendo Wii exclusive was demo-ed at the E3 gaming expo in L.A. earlier this month. The colourful game still has players running to collect coins, bounce on baddies and reach the flagpole at the castle.

But this time around, in the competitive mode, Mario is frantically competing with other characters (such as Luigi, Yoshi and Toad) to collect as many points as possible throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. At the end of each of the 80-plus levels, players are ranked from first to fourth place.

Rather than a split-screen approach, players all share the same view, which pans out farther to encompass all the characters (when they're closer together, it zooms in on the action). If you die, you'll reappear in a bubble and it's up to your rivals to pop you out (or not, if that's how they roll). You can also pick up other characters and toss them into the abyss.

Nintendo says there will be two co-operative modes: the entire single-player game can be played alongside a friend or in a co-op-only mode for up to four players. At various points in the co-op mode, more than one player is needed to reach a common goal, such as reaching high areas by hopping up and down on a see-saw.

Beating Punch-Out!! Nintendo's Punch-Out!! for the Wii – the clever remake with cel-shaded animation, new modes and a bonus boxer – is fairly easy to pick up but can start to get tough with the more advanced fighters.

Here are a couple of little-known tricks to try out in the ring:

Regain some health: In between rounds, repeatedly tap the "–" button on the Wiimote and you'll hear a chime sound. When you start the next round, your health will be increased. You can do this once per match.

That shameful helmet: In "Story" mode, lose a fight 100 times and you'll unlock the embarrassing headgear to avoid major defensive damage.

Avoid a TKO: When you're the recipient of a heavy blow and see the knockout animation start, quickly "drum" in the air using the Wiimote and Nunchuk, and you might just get another chance (or, in the classic control mode, repeatedly press the "1" and "2" buttons).

::OTHER  NEWS::

Books By Martin Luther King Jr. To Be Republished

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(June 22, 2009) ATLANTA – Four books that have been long out of print by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will be published again under a deal with Beacon Press brokered by King's youngest son.

In a statement, Dexter King called the deal "an historic partnership."

"Beacon Press will be a dedicated public outlet for his work and will help bring his urgently needed teachings of nonviolence and human dignity, and his dream of freedom and equality to a new global audience," said Dexter King, chairman of his father's estate.

Beacon, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association, publishes books on social justice, human rights and racial equality. Among the authors it has published are James Baldwin, Derrick Bell, Cornel West, Howard Thurman, Marian Wright Edelman and Roger Wilkins.

On Jan. 18, 2010 – the federal holiday observing what would have been King's 80th birthday – the Boston-based publisher will release new editions of several of King's most important works, which have been unavailable for nearly two decades, including:

– "Stride Toward Freedom," first published in 1958, King's memoir of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and 1956;

– "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?," first published in 1967, King's last book and an analysis of the state of American race relations and the movement after a decade of U.S. civil rights struggles;

– "Trumpet of Conscience," first published in 1968, containing five lectures King gave in 1967;

– ``Strength to Love," first published in 1963, a volume of his most well-known homilies and the book in the civil rights leader's briefcase when he was killed on April 4, 1968.

Under the agreement – called "The King Legacy" – Beacon will also compile King's writings, sermons, lectures and prayers into new editions with introductions by leading scholars. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

::SPORTS NEWS::

GM Burke Plots Leaf Makeover

Source: www.thestar.com -
Kevin Mcgran, Sports Reporter

(June 24, 2009) Brian Burke is about to begin remaking the Toronto Maple Leafs and will use every tool in his arsenal – draft picks, salary cap space and trades – to build a team that will hit and fight.

"Our goal is to make the playoffs next year, we're going to have to make some changes to do it," Burke said yesterday. "We're going to be a different team.

"I like a lot of hitting. I like a lot of fighting. We have a passive group. All year long, when a trainer was on the ice – it was always our trainer– that really bothered me.

"It will be a more hostile group in the fall."

Burke said he didn't care that neither the Pittsburgh Penguins nor the Detroit Red Wings – the last two Stanley Cup winners –could be described as hard-hitting or fighting teams.

"I don't give a rat's ass what they do in Pittsburgh or Detroit," said Burke. "There's been four different Cup winners the last four years, and I got one of them (Anaheim) and it was a fighting team. We're playing it that way regardless."

Friday looms as a key opportunity for Burke to start turning his team around. Holding the seventh overall pick in Friday night's first round of the entry draft, he still remains committed to trying to move up to pick John Tavares.

"This guy is a natural goal scorer," Burke said. "You can teach hockey players just about everything. You can improve every area of skill. You can make him a better skater. You can make him stronger. But you can't teach him to score.

"This kid is going to be a big-time player. He's got a nose for the net. He'll pay a price to score. He's dominated at every level he's played at."

Burke expects it could take until the moment before the New York Islanders choose first overall before any deal gets finalized, as had happened before with Burke deals to land Chris Pronger (in Hartford) and the Sedin twins (in Vancouver).

"Teams haven't said they won't move the pick," said Burke. "Most of them have said they don't like my price. We'll see how it goes, we'll keep banging away at it."

Burke said he wasn't going to fall into the trap that had befuddled so many other Leaf GMs – he promised not to trade young players for veterans. "We're going to keep the long-term blue print," said Burke.

At the same time however, he suggested that in order to move up in the draft, he might have to trade draft picks. If he did, he'd try to reacquire picks immediately.

"I hate trading picks," said Burke. "Right now, I'm probably in a position where I'll probably have to do it. But if we trade picks, I'll probably try to get some back. I like our scouts to be busy on draft day. They worked hard all year."

But Friday is important on another matter. The no-trade clauses for both defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina temporarily expire. From draft day until mid-August, either can be traded. Burke said he's had nibbles for both, but said it was "too early to say" whether one, or both, would be moved.

Kubina earns $5 million (all figures U.S.) a year, Kaberle $4.25 million. Both have offensive ability, Kubina has a bit more grit.

Burke has a fair bit of cap space – about $12 million – with Mikhail Grabovski the only significant unsigned restricted free agent. Burke expects to be able to use his cap space to help him make trades by acquiring overpriced players.

"It's a function of teams who have made some decisions they'd like to have back, some concern about where the salary cap is going," said Burke. "But I believe teams that have cap room will be able to take advantage of that." The Leafs also have a hole at back-up goaltending, though Burke hopes to land Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson.

"When I do go to mass on Sunday I pray for help at the goaltending position," Burke told an audience at the North America Cup draw. "We had a tough year in net. Our goaltending wasn't good enough. But Vesa Toskala has had three surgical procedures. We're counting on him to be our starter, and be healthy, and get the job done."