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LE NEWSLETTER

March 26, 2009

I'm writing to you today from sunny San Jose, California!  Weather is not hot but certainly warmer than my beloved Toronto.  Hopefully we'll be starting to feel the weather of spring after I return next week. 

The
Junos are airing this Sunday - so tune in and watch Russell Peters do his magic and be proud of all our Canadian talent. Plus, Easter is just around the corner ... start making your plans now!

Check out all the exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

::TOP STORIES::

The 2009 Juno Awards Air This Sunday

Source:  Digital Home

(March 23, 2009) Canada's music awards, The Juno's will be handed out this Sunday in Vancouver. The ceremony will be hosted by comedian Russell Peters and will air live on CTV television in high definition television (HDTV) beginning at 9pm ET.

The Juno Awards are presented annually to Canadian musical artists and bands to acknowledge their artistic and technical achievements in all aspects of music.

In addition to the annual awards, Canadian classic rock band Loverboy, known for their eighties hits "Turn Me Loose" and "Working for the Weekend", will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

The following are the 2009 Juno nominees:

Artist of the Year

    * Bryan Adams
    * City and Colour (Dallas Green)
    * k.d. lang
    * Sam Roberts
    * Serena Ryder

Group of the Year


    * Great Big Sea
    * Nickelback
    * Simple Plan
    * The Trews
    * Tokyo Police Club

New Artist of the Year

    * Crystal Shawanda
    * Jessie Farrell
    * Kreesha Turner
    * Lights
    * Nikki Yanofsky

New Group of the Year


    * Beast
    * Cancer Bats
    * Crystal Castles
    * Plants and Animals
    * The Stills

Producer of the Year

    * Stuart Brawley, “Don’t Stop Now” and “Falling” (Emmy Rossum)
    * David Foster, “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Seal), “Silent Night” (Josh Groban)
    * k.d. lang, “I Dream Of Spring” and “Coming Home” (k.d. lang)
    * Daniel Lanois, “Here Is What Is” and “Not Fighting Anymore” (Daniel Lanois)
    * Nickelback and Joey Moi (co-producer Mutt Lange), “Gotta Be Somebody and “Something In Your Mouth” (Nickelback)

Recording Engineer of the Year

    * Joey Moi, “Gotta Be Somebody” and “Never Gonna Be Alone” (Nickelback)
    * John “Beetle” Bailey, “Lucky” and “If I Were A Bell” (Molly Johnson)
    * Kevin Churko, “Disappearing” and “The Big Bang” (Simon Collins)
    * Mike Fraser, “Rock N’ Roll Train” (AC/DC), “Them Kids” (Sam Roberts)
    * Randy Staub, “Something In Your Mouth” (Nickelback)

Songwriter of the Year


    * Alanis Morissette, “Underneath”, “Not As We”, “In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man” (Alanis Morissette)
    * Dallas Green, “Waiting...”, “Sleeping Sickness”, “The Girl” (City and Colour)
    * Gordie Sampson, “When I Said I Would” (Whitney Duncan), “Just A Dream” (Carrie Underwood), “Davey Jones” (Gordie Sampson)
    * Hedley, “Old School”, “For The Nights I Can’t Remember” (with Dave Genn), “Never Too Late” (with Greig Nori) (Hedley)
    * Nathan Ferraro, “Never Again”, “Change For You”, “Unaware” (The Midway State)

Fan Choice Award


    * Céline Dion
    * Feist
    * Hedley
    * Nickelback
    * The Lost Fingers

Nominated albums

Album of the Year

    * Famous Last Words, Hedley
    * Dark Horse, Nickelback
    * Simple Plan, Simple Plan
    * 70’s Volume 2, Sylvain Cossette
    * Lost in the 80's, The Lost Fingers

Aboriginal Recording of the Year

    * Auk/Blood, Tanya Tagaq
    * First Law Of The Land, Billy Joe Green
    * No Lies, Tracy Bone
    * Running For The Drum, Buffy Sainte-Marie
    * The World (And Everything In It), Team Rezofficial

Adult Alternative Album of the Year


    * Asking for Flowers, Kathleen Edwards
    * The Baroness, Sarah Slean
    * Between the Beautifuls, Hawksley Workman
    * Exit Strategy of the Soul, Ron Sexsmith
    * Is it O.K., Serena Ryder

Alternative Album of the Year

    * In the Future, Black Mountain
    * Oceans Will Rise, The Stills
    * Parc Avenue, Plants and Animals
    * Soft Airplane, Chad VanGaalen
    * The Chemistry of Common Life, Fucked Up

Blues Album of the Year

    * Acoustic Blues: Got 'Em from the Bottom, Big Dave McLean
    * Get Way Back: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield, Amos Garrett
    * Love & Sound, Garrett Mason
    * Mess of Blues, Jeff Healey
    * Ramblin’ Son, Julian Fauth

CD/DVD Artwork Design of the Year


    * John Cook, Kelly Ferguson, John James Audubon, Koko Bonaparte, Sugarbird, Paul Reddick
    * Phoebe Greenberg, George Fok, Daniel Fortin, Leda & St. Jacques, Productions l’Éloi, Pulse Of The Planet, Slim Williams
    * Anouk Pennel and Stéphane Poirer, En concert dans la forêt des mal-aimés avec l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal, Pierre Lapointe
    * Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet, Mountain Meadows, Elliott Brood
    * Dallas Wehrle, Robyn Kotyk, Alex vs. Alex, Kensington Heights, Constantines

Children's Album of the Year

    * Catchy Tune, Jack Grunsky
    * FiddleFire!, Chris McKhool
    * The Kerplunks, The Kerplunks
    * Oui!, Gregg LeRock
    * Snacktime!, Barenaked Ladies

Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year

    * Colors And Sounds, Article One
    * Ending Is Beginning, Downhere
    * I Will Go, Starfield
    * Roar Of Heaven, Life Support
    * Salvation Station, newworldson

Classical Album of the Year (large ensemble)

    * Bach: Métamorphoses, Orchestre symphonique de Québec and Yoav Talmi
    * Beethoven: Ideals Of The French Revolution, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Kent Nagano
    * Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8, Tafelmusik and Bruno Weil
    * Bruckner: Symphonie No 9, Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal and Yannick Nézet-Séguin
    * Haydn: Symphonies 62, 107 & 108, Toronto Chamber Orchestra and Kevin Mallon

Classical Album of the Year (solo or chamber ensemble)


    * Haydn: Six Sonatas for Piano, Anton Kuerti
    * Homage, James Ehnes
    * Schubert: Complete Piano Trios, The Gryphon Trio
    * Schumann: Sonata in F# Minor & Humoreske, Angela Hewitt
    * Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues opus 87, David Jalbert

Classical Album of the Year (vocal or choral performance)

    * Bach and the Liturgical Year, Shannon Mercer and Luc Beauséjour
    * Gloria! Vivaldi’s Angels, Ensemble Caprice
    * Handel: Arias, Karina Gauvin
    * Schumann: Dichterliebe & other Heine Settings, Gerald Finley
    * The Voice of Bach, Daniel Taylor

Francophone Album of the Year

    * L’arbre aux parfums, Caracol
    * Cœur de pirate, Cœur de pirate
    * Tous les sens, Ariane Moffatt
    * Tradarnac, Swing
    * Le volume du vent, Karkwa

Instrumental Album of the Year

    * Auk/Blood, Tanya Tagaq
    * The Furniture Moves Underneath, Inhabitants
    * Nostomania, DJ Brace presents The Electric Nosehair Orchestra
    * The Soundtrack, The Creaking Tree String Quartet
    * Telescope, Steve Dawson

International Album of the Year

    * Black Ice, AC/DC
    * Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses
    * Death Magnetic, Metallica
    * Sleep Through The Static, Jack Johnson
    * Viva La Vida, Coldplay

Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year

    * A Bend In The River, Roberto Occhipinti
    * Embracing Voices, Jane Bunnett
    * Existential Detective, Barry Romberg’s Random Access Large Ensemble
    * Rasstones François, Bourassa Quartet
    * The Sicilian Jazz Project, Michael Occhipinti

Traditional Jazz Album of the Year

    * For Kenny Wheeler, Don Thompson Quartet
    * Second Time Around, Oliver Jones
    * Small Wonder, Brad Turner Quartet
    * Solo, Chris Donnelly
    * TV Trio, John Stetch

Vocal Jazz Album of the Year

    * Ella...Of Thee I Swing, Nikki Yanofsky
    * If the Moon Turns Green..., Diana Panton
    * Ima, Yvette Tollar
    * Lucky, Molly Johnson
    * Parkdale, Elizabeth Shepherd

Pop Album of the Year


    * Flavors of Entanglement, Alanis Morissette
    * Holes, The Midway State
    * No Sleep At All, Creature
    * Passion, Kreesha Turner
    * Wake Up and Say Goodbye, David Usher

Rock Album of the Year


    * Fortress, Protest The Hero
    * Love at the End of the World, Sam Roberts
    * No Time for Later, The Trews
    * Parallel Play, Sloan
    * Terminal Romance, Matt Mays & El Torpedo

Roots and Traditional Album of the Year (Solo)


    * The Contradictor, Ndidi Onukwulu
    * Ghost Notes, Matthew Barber
    * Happy Here, Suzie Vinnick
    * Proof Of Love, Old Man Luedecke
    * Tinderbox, Fred Eaglesmith

Roots and Traditional Album of the Year (Group)

    * Chic Gamine, Chic Gamine
    * Fast Paced World, The Duhks
    * Highway Prayer, Twilight Hotel
    * Mountain Meadows, Elliott Brood
    * XOK, NQ Arbuckle

World Music Album of the Year

    * Africa To Appalachia, Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko
    * The Art Of The Early Egyptian Qanun, George Dimitri Sawa
    * Cairo to Toronto, Maryem & Ernie Tollar
    * Contrabanda, Lubo and Kaba Horo
    * Shivaboom, Eccodek

Nominated releases

Single of the Year

    * "Dangerous", Kardinal Offishall
    * "Gotta Be Somebody", Nickelback
    * "Lay It On The Line", Divine Brown
    * "Lost", Michael Bublé
    * "Taking Chances", Céline Dion

Classical Composition of the Year

    * "Flanders Fields Reflections", John Burge
    * "From The Dark Reaches", T. Patrick Carrabré
    * "Manhattan Music", Bramwell Tovey
    * "Notes Towards A Poem That Can Never Be Written", Timothy Corlis
    * "Song of Songs", Sid Robinovitch

Country Recording of the Year

    * Beautiful Life, Doc Walker
    * Chasing the Sun, Tara Oram
    * Dawn of a New Day, Crystal Shawanda
    * Thankful, Aaron Pritchett
    * What I Do, George Canyon

Dance Recording of the Year

    * "Everything’s Gonna Be Alright", James Doman
    * "Get Blahsted", Hatiras and MC Flipside
    * "Move For Me", Deadmau5 vs. Kaskade
    * "Random Album Title", Deadmau5
    * "Yes We Can", House Music United

Music DVD of the Year

    * Blue Road (Blue Rodeo)
    * Here Is What Is (Daniel Lanois)
    * It All Started With A Red Stripe (Moneen)
    * Live In Las Vegas – A New Day (Céline Dion)
    * A MultiMedia Life (Buffy Sainte-Marie)

R&B/Soul Recording of the Year

    * Elise Estrada, Elise Estrada
    * The Love Chronicles, Divine Brown
    * Money, Zaki Ibrahim
    * The Promise, Deborah Cox
    * TONY, Ivana Santilli

Rap Recording of the Year

    * A Captured Moment in Time, DL Incognito
    * The Book, D-Sisive
    * I Rap Now, Famous
    * Not 4 Sale, Kardinal Offishall
    * Point Blank, Point Blank

Reggae Recording of the Year

    * "Jah Lift Me Up", Blessed
    * "Renegade Rocker", Dubmatix
    * "Everything", Humble
    * "The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur", Jason Wilson
    * "Truth Will Reveal", Souljah Fyah

Video of the Year


    * Davin Black, "Blond Kryptonite" (Saint Alvia)
    * Wendy Morgan, "Going On" (Gnarls Barkley)
    * Dave Pawsey, "Detroit ‘67" (Sam Roberts)
    * Dave Pawsey, "Them Kids" (Sam Roberts)
    * Anthony Seck, "Honey Honey" (Feist)

Carlton Brown 'Rocks' LG Fashion Week

Source: Jamaica Observer

(March 20, 2009) To the soundtrack of Sean Paul endorsing the diminutive Kingston, Jamaica's king of the suit, Carlton Brown last night unleashed - to a capacity audience inside the tents at Nathan Phillips Square - his 24-piece collection called Winners Goal.

Jamaican-born Canadian-raised model Stacey McKenzie brought a taste of 'yaad' as she led the charge of Ford male models down the runway in suits of wool and silk with gorgeous pops of Caribbean colour.

Brown, who has been receiving amazing press attention, wowed the audience with his exquisite tailoring, unexpected introduction of colour and edgy appeal. "I was motivated by our Olympians in Beijing," he told Splash minutes after the show "and really wanted to make my country proud."

There was no denying that, as fashionistas, media personalities and local celebrities rocked to the music that has added to the international appeal of The Rock and marvelled at the tailoring skills of the self-taught Brown.

LG Fashion Week, now in its 10th year, has showcased over 1,000 designers and welcomed over 250,000 people. Toronto Fashion Week too has welcomed many designers to the runway, including Missoni, DSquared, Diesel, Agent Provocateur, Beckerman and Mango.

Jason Wu, formerly of Vancouver, dressed US First Lady Michelle Obama on inauguration day and for the cover of Vogue. Our own Carlton Brown is surely on his way.

Maestro Slides Into Acting Role

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(March 24, 2009) It's been 20 years since Maestro Fresh Wes commanded the entire country to "Let Your Backbone Slide."

The rapper, a.k.a.
Wes Williams, is marking the anniversary of his album, Symphony in Effect, with a birthday bash in his hometown of Vancouver on Thursday, an event that doubles as his fourth annual charity fundraiser.

"A lot of time has passed, man, but it's a blessing that people still check for me after all that time," Williams said yesterday during a visit to Toronto, noting that he unleashed his hook-laden single just as the hip-hop scene began burgeoning into a full-on movement.

"I came out in 1989 when (rap) was the cusp of something new. MuchMusic was (young), everyone involved in it were fans, you get what I'm saying? It wasn't just me alone, MuchMusic happened, (there was the Much series) RapCity at the time, you know what I'm saying? Things were going through a transition where this genre of music was slowly but surely evolving into the mainstream. And I was the guy, one of the guys, the local cats."

Today, "Let Your Backbone Slide" remains one of the country's bestselling hip-hop singles of all-time.

More recently, Williams' passion has been acting. Over the years, roles have included stints on the TV teen drama Instant Star, and the 2007 film Poor Boy's Game, along with bit parts in the 2005 John Singleton film Four Brothers and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

But Williams says he's landed his best role yet in the new cable series
The Line, airing Mondays on The Movie Network and Movie Central.

In it, he plays the violent and unpredictable drug supplier André, a menacing figure battling for control of the streets amidst morally ambiguous cops, a rival Vietnamese gang and bumbling low-level dealers.

The series is shot in east-end Toronto, but the story could take place anywhere, Williams said.

Deborah Cox Is Back!

Source: Gwendolyn Quinn, GQ Media & Public Relations, Inc. / Robyn Ryland-Sanders, GQ Media & Public Relations, Inc.

(March 20, 2009) *(New York, NY) - International recording artist Deborah Cox makes a strong return to the musical landscape with her independent release and first contemporary R&B album in six years-THE PROMISE. 

The CD marks the multi-platinum-selling artist return to the world of R&B, where her song "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" broke the record for the longest-running number one single for 14 weeks (holding the record for eight years) on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip Hip Songs chart. 

Showcasing the GRAMMY®-nominee's amazing powerhouse vocals, THE PROMISE features production by an all-star team of collaborators including John Legend (Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill), Big Jim Wright (Elton John, String, Janet Jackson), Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson), Shep Crawford (Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross) and Devo Springsteen (Kanye West, Estelle). 
 
THE PROMISE has been nominated for a 2009 JUNO Award (Canada's Music Awards) for Best R&B/Soul Recording.  Called "music's biggest night in Canada," Cox, a Canadian native, will appear on the annual award show as a presenter, scheduled to air Sunday, March 29 from Vancouver on CTV. 
 
The current single, "Saying Goodbye," is shaping up to be Cox's biggest single in years: #1 Most Added at Urban AC in its first week; and the single has received airplay on over 20 stations in the past three weeks including KJLH (Los Angeles), WBLS (New York), KBLX (San Francisco), and WSRB (Chicago).
 
"Beautiful U.R." is the first Top 40 single from the album and is already certified gold in Canada with over 40,000 downloads.  The single is currently the 11th most played song in that territory (#29 on Billboard's Top 100 chart) and is the longest running Canadian song on the charts (26 weeks).  The success of the single is quickly spreading to the U.S.  "Beautiful U.R." is on Billboard's Top 25 Singles chart with over 5,000 plays/26.5 million total audience and is Top 20 at CKEY-FM in Buffalo with airplay increases in Boston, Albany and Hartford.  In addition, the accompanying video has received over one million views on YouTube and is currently #1 on the MuchMoreMusic Countdown. 
 
Not only has THE PROMISE received acclaim from Cox's worldwide legion of fans, but recognition from critics alike, including The New York Times that writes, "Tears lurk just behind Deborah Cox's tremulous voice, and the closer they get to the surface the better she sounds. Whether she's aching or pulling herself together she now sounds like her own woman."

For more information on Deborah Cox, visit: www.myspace.com/deborahcox or www.deborahcox.com.

Drake : 2 Cool 4 School

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Joshua Ostroff

(March 22, 2009) A frigid cold front rolled into Toronto about the same time that one of hip hop's hottest prospects, young actor-turned-rapper Drake, returned home for a few hours between tour stops. He'd been on the road for weeks with his mega-selling mentor Lil Wayne, and when the tour hit New Orleans, everyone stuck around for an extra night of gambling. Echoing his musical luck as of late, Drake, former star of Degrassi: The Next Generation, left the blackjack table with a cool $900 in his pocket.

Still, it brought him back a day late. With no time to hit the studio to finish his almost-done mixtape So Far Gone, he chose instead to gather friends for dinner and make a late-night trip to his barber, before heading to Montreal for his next show.

This is Drake's first-ever tour and though he's only onstage for a couple of songs, he's still been losing his performance cherry in front of 20,000 people a night. “I've never done my own full-fledged show. Prior to this, I'd probably performed maybe 10 times in my life,” he says, seated in a resto in Toronto's hip Little Italy neighbourhood. “It's like skydiving every night. You're nervous [but once] you hit the ground, you wanna do it again.”

If Drake's plan holds, it may not be long before he's headlining – he may as yet be unsigned, but he shares management with hip-hop icons Wayne and Kanye West, and he worked on Dr. Dre's feverishly anticipated album Detox. He also has a MySpace page, where So Far Gone now resides, which boasts almost 30 million plays.

It probably helps that Aubrey Graham (Drake's his middle name) spent eight years on Degrassi: The Next Generation playing Jimmy Brooks, famously wheelchair-bound after a school shooting. The perennially popular high-school soap is a hit in Canada and a pandemonium-causing cult sensation down south. (“There are very few subtle Degrassi fans,” notes the 23-year-old wryly).

And though he has the swagger of someone used to screaming fans, Drake doesn't appear to have the ego to match.

On his latest leaked track – a Wayne-assisted remix of Santigold's Unstoppable, which Kanye West posted on his popular blog, he even boasts of having “a decent set of manners.” Sure, he summered in hardscrabble Memphis with his music-veteran father after his parents divorced when he was 5, but the school year was spent with his Jewish mother in Toronto's well-heeled Forest Hill.

“I loved the contrast, it kept me grounded. I never got caught up in the whole Forest Hill thing, but I also never was like, ‘oh, I want to be hood.' It was a good balance, I got to see both sides of life,” he says. “I'm not a wild dude; I'm a nice approachable guy. I think it was beneficial being an actor first, it taught me about being poised, about having class, how to deal with interviews and fans.” he says.

During his final season on Degrassi last year, the producers made his character a rapper against his wishes. “I was really apprehensive about it because this is my whole leap from this and now you're going to make me into a rapper character? So I wrote my own verses and tried to keep it as not-corny as possible. And it worked out.”

Drake, who is also known as Drizzy, began making minor waves in 2006 with his self-released mixtape Room for Improvement and again in 2007 with the breakthrough Comeback Season. But things started rolling when a friend from Houston serendipitously slid the latter to Lil Wayne last June. “He got through like two-and-a-half songs and stopped the CD and called me right away. Like, ‘yo, what are you doing? This is Weezy.' I was like, ‘I'm just getting my hair cut.' And he said ‘I need you on a flight tonight.'”

Drake stayed on the road with Wayne for more than a week, laying down three songs on their last night. “That just sparked a whole partnership. It was undeniable chemistry – everyone that listened was like, damn, those guys sound good together. We look so different, but, y'know, young angel, young lion.”

They've since collaborated on about 15 tracks, including the online burner Ransom, and Wayne's co-sign sent Drake's Stateside rep soaring. But he comes by his superstar associations honestly. “I have a history of music and soul inside me,” he says, noting his father was a drummer for rock 'n' roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis and his uncle is “Teenie” Hodges, guitarist and co-writer on Al Green's greatest hits.

Where Drake is really staking his claim is on the mixtape's original tracks, which eschew the now-requisite club bangers that most newcomers arrive with. (Drake did try the mainstream route with 2006 single Replacement Girl, even making a cheesy video that aired on BET, but when industry folks wanted more carbon-copy cuts, he retreated.)

Produced by Toronto's Noah “40” Shebib along with D10 and Boi-1da, So Far Gone's core sound explores dark, relatively radio-unfriendly waters. Its icy moodiness is a far cry from the “next Fresh Prince” tag that Vibe magazine recently bestowed on Drake. The big downtempo beats move at a crawl while the bass rumbles ominously and synths go spectral behind Drake's methodical flow and self-crooned (and occasionally auto-tuned) choruses. The lyrics to such songs as Successful and Lust for Life are surprisingly vulnerable, revealing an insecurity that's rare in hip hop. On the forlorn epic Say What's Real, Drake even outshines Kanye West's own Say You Will beat.

“That's the thing about having an opportunity before the commerce comes into play,” says Shebib. “You can't put out a record like that in the real world because you don't have anything that's going to go to radio or to the club. This is a chance to do that without taking a loss, because it's a mixtape. We're not selling it, we're giving it away.”

Though parts of So Far Gone were recorded on the road, most of it was laid down in Shebib's condo. It's an apt locale: a high-end high-rise on a new street that doesn't yet exist on GPS. The area seems desolate, but the surrounding construction means this building won't be alone for long. Big things are coming, and fast.

“This mixtape is a story dating back to January,” Drake explains. “From there I just take people on a journey. I have a song for Houston because that's where I met Wayne, and I have stuff about women that I went through and the climactic ending is where we are now. It's just me chasing all these things, chasing success, money and love,” says Drake, adding it's also a test-run for his debut album, Thank Me Later, expected to drop in late-summer.

Though major labels are circling – Drake says he'll make an announcement soon – so far everything has just sort of happened. Take Brand New, the first song Drake ever sang on. Sending it out into the Internet ether, it took on a life of its own: Wayne remixed it, Stevie Wonder's daughter told Drake her dad uses it to warm up his for shows and YouTube is filled with non-famous fans singing along to it.

“We've done things very unorthodox and not necessarily in our favour financially, i.e. releasing another piece of work for free,” says Drake's business partner Oliver El-Khatib. “But this is his chance to put out music that's just for the sake of art. He's not answering to anybody. There's no label. This is a position piece – look, I'm an artist.”

Besides, he adds, “this whole thing is unusual at this point, so we're just rolling with the fairytale vibe.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

::SCOOP::

Natasha Richardson, 45: Broadway Actor

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(MARCH 19, 2009) "Sometimes there's God so quickly."

When
Natasha Richardson delivered that line by Tennessee Williams in her 2005 performance of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, no one thought it would wind up being her epitaph.

But in the strange and bittersweet way that both life and theatre often work, it proved to be an ironic coda to the life of a great artist. Richardson, 45, died yesterday in a New York hospital following a skiing accident Monday in Quebec that at first seemed innocuous.

Her family legacy was dazzling enough. Her mother is the great actress Vanessa Redgrave and her father was the skilled film and stage director Tony Richardson. Her aunt is Lynn Redgrave, her uncle Corin Redgrave and her sister Joely Richardson.

On its own, that would prove impressive enough, but Richardson's own career had proved her own quality time and time again.

She was born in London on May 11, 1963, made her film debut at age 4 in The Charge of the Light Brigade and trained at London's Central School of Speech and Drama.

After a two-year marriage to filmmaker Robert Fox, she wed actor Liam Neeson in 1994. They had two children, Micheal and Daniel.

Though Richardson began her career in films like Gothic and The Handmaid's Tale, it was in theatre that she would make her real mark.

Richardson became known for defining a performance with one amazing stroke that rendered her characterization unforgettable.

In her Broadway debut as the prostitute in Anna Christie, in the 1993 revival of Eugene O'Neill's play of the same name, she made her mark with her very first line.

Just like Greta Garbo, in the movie, she demanded of the bartender that he give her "a whisky, ginger ale on the side." But Richardson's whore grabbed his wrist with a preternatural intensity when she made the second part of her order ("and don't be stingy, baby"), leaving absolutely no doubt what this woman wanted from a bar, or from life.

And a few years later, when she brought her incandescent flame to Patrick Marber's play Closer, it was possible to see in one split second over a wine bar how demonically she could want to possess someone.

The role that brought her to stardom, however, was as Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes' brilliant revisionist 1998 revival of the classic musical, Cabaret.

Throwing aside all memories of Liza Minnelli and the women who had played the part before, Richardson captured all of the character's terminal depression in her hollow eyes, her empty smile.

But ultimately, great performances rest on one moment and Mendes gave Richardson a stunner. The title song "Cabaret" has almost become a nightclub cliché, impossible to revitalize with any integrity. Mendes had Richardson perform the number on a bare stage with only one chair. And as Sally's emotional emptiness reached its peak, Richardson reached out and flung the chair to the ground in a sudden, convulsive motion that made all of her agony suddenly seem real.

It was a brilliant moment, but it only set the stage for the one that was to follow.

In the end, it's greatness that calls out greatness and that's what happened in the 2005 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire that marked Richardson's last performance on Broadway.

With all the intensity and skill we'd come to expect from this woman, she eschewed the cheap dramatics other actresses had brought to the part and zeroed in on the passionate intensity that made Blanche DuBois such a tragic figure.

And when, in the final scene, she assured us that "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" there was a sudden desperation we had never seen before.

Moment of lightning passion. Laserlike flashes of emotional need.

Richardson's art defined itself in instants of surprising and sudden intensity and it seems somehow apt, in a strange way, that her life should end on the same kind of mysterious note.

As Tennessee Williams said, "Sometimes there's God so quickly."


Natasha Richardson Died From Bleeding In Her Skull Caused By Fall

Source: www.thestar.com - Hillel Italie,
The Associated Press, Karen Matthews

(MARCH 19, 2009) NEW YORK – Actress Natasha Richardson died from bleeding in her skull caused by the fall she took on a ski slope, an autopsy found today.

The medical examiner ruled her death an accident, and doctors said she might have survived had she received immediate treatment.

Richardson suffered from an epidural hematoma, which causes bleeding between the skull and the brain's covering, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office.

Such bleeding is often caused by a skull fracture, and it can quickly produce a blood clot that puts pressure on the brain. That pressure can force the brain downward, pressing on the brain stem that controls breathing and other vital functions.

Patients with such an injury often feel fine immediately after being hurt because symptoms from the bleeding may take time to emerge.

"This is a very treatable condition if you're aware of what the problem is and the patient is quickly transferred to a hospital,'' said Dr. Keith Siller of New York University Langone Medical Centre.

"But there is very little time to correct this.''

To prevent coma or death, surgeons frequently cut off part of the skull to give the brain room to swell.

"Once you have more swelling, it causes more trauma which causes more swelling," said Dr. Edward Aulisi, neurosurgery chief at Washington Hospital Center in the nation's capital.

"It's a vicious cycle because everything's inside a closed space.''

Richardson, 45, died yesterday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan after falling at the Mont Tremblant resort in Quebec on Monday. Details of her treatment have not been disclosed.

It remained unclear today exactly how she was injured. Resort officials have said only that she fell on a beginner's trail and later reported not feeling well.

A CT scan can detect bleeding, bruising or the beginning of swelling in the brain. The challenge is for patients to know whether to seek one.

"If there's any question in your mind whatsoever, you get a head CT," Aulisi advised. "It's the best 20 seconds you ever spent in your life.''

Descended from one of Britain's greatest acting dynasties, including her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, Richardson was known for her work in such plays as "Cabaret" (for which she won a Tony) and "Anna Christie" and in the films "Patty Hearst" and "The Handmaid's Tale.''

Mourning continued today with Broadway theatres planning to dim their lights in Richardson's honour at 8 p.m., the traditional starting time for evening performances.

Praise also came from both tabloid celebrities such as "The Parent Trap" co-star Lindsay Lohan and theatre artists like Sam Mendes, who directed the 1998 revival of "Cabaret.''

"It defies belief that this gifted, brave, tenacious, wonderful woman is gone," said Mendes, who also directed the Academy Award-winning "American Beauty.''

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, the trade organization for Broadway theatres and producers, called Richardson "one of our finest young actresses.''

"Her theatrical lineage is legendary, but her own singular talent shined memorably on any stage she appeared," she said.

Richardson gave several memorable stage performances, more than living up to some of the theatre’s most famous roles: Sally Bowles of "Cabaret," Blanche DuBois of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the title character of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie," a 1993 revival in which she co-starred with future husband Liam Neeson. (They have two sons: Micheal, 13, and Daniel, 12.)

The death of Richardson, who was not wearing a helmet, greatly heightened the debate over skiing safety. In Quebec, officials are considering making helmets mandatory on ski hills.

Jean-Pascal Bernier, a spokesman for Quebec Sport and Leisure Minister Michelle Courchesne, said today that the minister met with emergency room doctors this week and will meet with ski hill operators soon.

Emergency room doctors in the province first called for mandatory use of helmets three weeks ago.

Questions also arose about why the first ambulance called to the ski resort was turned away.

Yves Coderre, director of operations at the emergency services company that sent paramedics to the Mont Tremblant resort, said the paramedics were told they were not needed.

"They never saw the patient," Coderre said. "So they turned around.''

Coderre said another ambulance was called later to Richardson's luxury hotel. By that point, her condition had worsened, and she was rushed to a hospital.

Richardson said she felt fine after her spill but became ill later and complained of a headache. Doctors say sometimes patients with brain injuries have what's called a "lucid interval" in which they act fine for an hour or more as the brain slowly, silently swells or bleeds.

Symptoms such as a headache, confusion, vomiting or difficulty seeing, speaking or moving appear after pressure builds in the skull.

Emergency surgery is often need to drain the blood or remove the clot.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

Bliss in Barbados

Source: Melanie Reffes for Dreamscapes

(March 2009) With a smile as wide as the Sea and a forkful of perfectly seared ginger tuna,  Ruth Emerson is the eternal romantic as she gazes at the rolling waves from her table at the Lone Star restaurant on the west coast of Barbados . “In my opinion, the Good Shepherd beach is the most romantic,” she says describing the sandy sliver named after the church that sits right on the waterfront. With no shortage of quixotic vistas, the sunny island in the Eastern Caribbean is, indeed, passion in paradise.

Little England, as it is sometimes called,
Barbados is bordered to the west and south by the unruffled Caribbean Sea and to the east by limestone cliffs that stand guard over the rugged Atlantic Ocean. From stunning scenery to swanky spas, Barbados is the perennial favourite of Canadians tying the knot, celebrating anniversaries or simply making time for togetherness.  With many scheduled flights, taking a break from the March winds has never been easier and with laws eliminating advance requirements, couples can say I Do on the day of arrival.

Leaders in the romance market, the trio of Almond Resorts arrange every wedding as if it were the first. “We limit the number we conduct in a day, “, says Wendy Cole VP Sales and Marketing, “There’s nothing worse than standing in line, only to be the 12th bride of the day.” At the Almond Beach Village, wedding bells ring on spacious balconies (note to couples – views from suite 3210 are postcard-perfect), at the Sugar Mill or beachfront gazebo.

Vanessa and Peter Lemvig traded the gloomy winter in Denmark for a sun-kissed wedding on the beach.  “I dreamed of getting married with the turquoise sea as a good luck charm, “Vanessa beams getting ready for the seaside ceremony.  Ann Jackson is Almond’s wedding coordinator and arranges everything from the boutonniere to the bridal suite. ”The only thing I can’t guarantee is the weather.” For couples who like a pre-ceremony cuddle or two, Guest Manager Philip Griffith is the resident expert. Our top snuggle spots are beachside or on a comfy couch.” And when the sun sets, the action moves to Tommy’s where bartender Sakina Burnett shakes and stirs a potent Bajan rum punch. “I can spot newlyweds from across the room,” she smiles, “because they have the widest grins.” Packages include Weddings in Paradise which not only offers a gratis ceremony, bottle of bubbly and best man in the event the newlyweds forgot to pack one, but also a star named in honour of the couple courtesy of the International Star Registry. www.almondresorts.com.


High on an east coast bluff, the Crane is steeped in history with an authentic cobble-stone Bajan Village. White doves enhance the Deluxe Wedding package while romance blooms in the Zen sushi bar with chefs performing magic before a wall of glass fifteen meters above the sea. www.thecrane.com.

Marrying Mediterranean décor with Caribbean chic, Sugar Cane Club may be the islands best kept secret. Hotel owner Roddy Weatherhead will tie the knot in June and says his fiancée appreciates the resort’s guilty pleasures.  “Our massages with sensual vanilla and coconut oils are a must-have for every couple “he says seating newlyweds at La Salsa restaurant. www.sugarcaneclub.com.
Fronting the south coast, Accra Beach Hotel is all about lapping waves and gardens draped with Bougainvillea and ginger lilies. Delectable receptions in Wytukai, the island’s only Polynesian restaurant ignite amour and when the party’s over, a tangerine scrub in the Chakra Spa is  good enough to eat and too good to miss.   www.accrabeachhotel.com.

From greener than green gardens to barefoot on the beach, outdoor weddings are au rigueur in Barbados. In St. Joseph, Anthony Hunt transformed a natural sinkhole into one of the most beautiful garden in Barbados.  Weddings are set amidst the guava and mango trees as classical music is piped in from Anthony’s house on the hill.

In St. George, love blossoms in Orchid World with thousands of lilac, yellow and pink orchids framing the winding paths.  Built in 1658, St. Nicholas Abbey is an elegant plantation house with the four poster bed owned by Napoleon's second wife, Empress Marie Louise one of its rare furnishings.   Our coconut palms twinkle at night for an enchanting party, “says Events Manager Heather Stout.  www.stnicholasabbey.com.    Hard to imagine but adventurous lovebirds can marry underground in Harrison’s Caves along side a cascading waterfall that plunges into emerald pools of crystal clear water. www.harrisonscave.com/

Whether you choose dining under the stars or a snack by the side of the road, Barbados is a treasure chest of culinary delights.  It’s no wonder Champers is an island favourite with
mojitos that pack a punch and red snapper jazzed up with passion fruit. www.champersbarbados.com  At the Tides, Chef Guy Beasley entices with taste bud pleasers like Little Sticky Toffee Pudding that’s so rich it comes with its own pre-nup. www.tidesbarbados.com/  And in fashionable Holetown, the Mews dishes up delectable blackened grouper and a wine list that rivals the best in the world. Arrive early to get one of two balcony tables for a dreamy dinner pour deux.
Fall in love all over again on one of many beaches from the bustling south coast with sand that looks like it was poured from a sugar sack to the craggy east coast where surfing reigns supreme. Whether it’s diving in Maycocks Bay or a sunset cruise aboard a catamaran, Barbados welcomes with Caribbean hugs and gentle breezes.

Back at the Lonestar, Ruth Emerson is ready for dessert and as she devours a divine bite of raspberry cheesecake, she asks for a slice to go – after all, her sweetie is waiting on Good Shepherd Beach.

Side-bar - Driving Directions to Good Shepherd Beach

Take Spring Garden Highway to the Frank Worrell roundabout then turn right onto Walmer Lodge. Follow the road up the west coast until you pass Escape Hotel on your left and then the sign for Good Shepherd and Fitts Village Beach. 


Travel Planner

Barbados Tourism Authority at 1 800 221 9831

 www.visitbarbados.org


www.elegantbarbadosweddings.com

www.tropicalweddingsbarbados.com

::MUSIC NEWS::

Why Awards Host (Russell Peters) Is Such A Hit

Source: By Stuart Derdeyn, Arts Columnist, The Province

The Juno Awards
Where: GM Place
When: March 29 at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets: $69-$189 at Ticketmaster

(March 22, 2009) We all know how important it is for a big awards brouhaha to have the right host. From the Oscars to the Grammys to the Golden Globes, the broadcast relies on the MC to keep the party rocking in between set changes and envelope openings.

Enter Russell Peters.

After rave reviews at last year's Juno Awards (he made it pretty easy to forget the likes of Brent Butt, Shania Twain and Nardwuar -- oh wait, that's just an online campaign to get the zany Vancouver music geek to host), the celebrated Canadian comic is back for a second round. (The telecast airs March 29 at 5 p.m. on CTV).

But before Peters can go into how he's going to top his own performance at the biggest musical event in Canada, he wants to know the last time I had an 18-year-old woman serve me tea. Hey, I thought the interview was supposed to work the other way.

"I'm not really a press guy myself," explains Peters. "I'll do it if I have to, for you, but it's part of playing the game that I don't really look forward to.

"Of course, for you it's entirely different."

The truth is, Peters is a good host because there isn't very much that he needs to change in his act to be able to have it work for mom, pop and the kids. An observational comic, he increasingly finds that there is no barrier to his humour at home or anywhere else. Save keeping the language clean and steering away from risqué stories, the Junos are like any other night on stage.

"I'm in a lofty position as I'm the first guy like me to do this and it's going so well. I pretty much bring me and sew the thing together so it makes sense from front, middle and end.

"I understand that I am the parsley to the main dish and it's really about the music and not me. Once you get that, you can approach it the right way and everything is great."

As an example, he compares past Oscar hosts Billy Crystal and Chris Rock.

"When Chris did it, it was about him. Billy made it about the event. When I host the Junos, it's about them and it isn't my time in the spotlight. That comes when it does and I take it then."

That said, the Canadian-born-and-bred comedian admits that not only did he never attend a Juno Awards broadcast before last year, but he also didn't think that his preferred musical genre, hip hop, got the attention it deserved.

"Look, the Junos really didn't have any appeal to me. Call it like it is, it was made for older, white Canadians and I was neither of those. Having someone like me hosting now means that it almost legitimizes the show to that audience and brings them to it. But I'll call it like it is if I think that something's missing."

He'd really like to see more of an urban music vibe throughout the show and has some ideas about how to bring it into the broadcast. A devoted Biggie fan, he has deep connections to the Canadian urban scene. He loves that friend Kardinal Offishall is nominated because he actually recorded the smash hit "Dangerous" at Peters' Los Angeles home.

Among the "surprises" he's got up his sleeve for this year's broadcast is -- hopefully -- ditching the live band and getting a DJ up on stage to spin jams in between presentations.

"Also, I really want Loverboy to play. Just because they are being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame doesn't mean that they will appear. Triumph was inducted last year and they didn't play. I don't even care if it's just Mike Reno and the house band."

At the moment, he's putting together a new act for his coming Russell Peters' 20th Anniversary Tour, which comes to GM Place on June 16. A few movie deals are in the works but he won't discuss them for fear of jinxing it. All he allows is that this year is looking very good for him.

From Mississippi Delta By Way Of Parkdale

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

(MARCH 19, 2009) No one's got a direct window onto prehistoric times, but it's a safe bet that this weird, wonderful thing we know as "music" was dreamed up with dancing in mind.

Rock 'n' roll, spawned from the escapist, somewhat carnal thump of the blues, certainly was, so there's no great leap required for a serious student of contemporary popular music to find his way back to the roots when making human bodies move becomes the intended focus of his art.

Such was the case, anyway, when maturing tastes and circumstance – in particular, a serious hand injury that rendered furious hardcore riffing no longer a possibility – turned former Pecola guitarist
Jamie Fleming more than a decade ago to the original, rough-shod recorded fruits of the Mississippi Delta for renewed inspiration.

From there on, the self-taught six-string dynamo honed a whole new style of songwriting and playing based on right-hand picking and bare-bones juke-joint locomotion that he has since gradually come to unveil under the "nonsense" moniker and band name
catl.

"I started in the wrong place in terms of I didn't want to learn how to play guitar. I just wanted to go towards it with Pecola and not adhere to any rules, and then I realized that there were all these things that happened before," says Fleming over drinks in Parkdale with catl bandmates Johnny LaRue and Sarah Kirkpatrick.

"I went to Rotate This and said to Pierre (Hallett, the owner): `What's some good Mississippi blues music?' And he gave me a Mississippi Fred McDowell record and that was it. I heard that record and I was like: `Wow, this is so amazing.'"

Fleming has spent a good 10 years working out how to deconstruct and reconfigure the unvarnished, porch-front boogie of McDowell, Son House and Charley Patton for contemporary Toronto audiences.

With LaRue – late of local punk outfits the Exploders and No No Zero, plus Pecola – at his side as stable timekeeper, he has, in fact, been infrequently busting out catl's scarred yowls and dirty roadhouse throwdowns at house parties and low-key club gigs the whole time.

It's only recently, however, that either party involved felt "serious" enough about the project to commit to playing shows on a regular basis or recording some of their living-room sessions, as they did last year for the just-released LP Adonde Vas? A Ningun Lado. It's a stridently lo-fi affair, released direct to vinyl on Coletrain Records, but there's a CD tucked into the sleeve for portability's sake.

"We practise in my house at Bloor and Ossington and we wanted to do something comfortable," says Fleming.

"We didn't want to go into a studio because I've heard a lot of blues recordings and they were recorded on a guy's porch or in his living room and they sound amazing because it's a document of that moment, and that's what makes it good....

``We didn't want a polished, studio-arranged type of thing because we'd all be uptight and you could hear it in the playing.''

Catl added a couple of overdubs to the album with the help of friend/recordist Jeff McMurrich and guest musicians Leslie Wormworth and Dave McMorrow, Fleming's father-in-law and a renowned session player who has logged time with Rough Trade, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Etta James.

Fleming and LaRue only officially realized something was missing from their purposefully skeletal sound last fall, though, when former Shitt Hottt keyboardist/vocalist Kirkpatrick was invited to sit in for one show that turned into five. She was not permitted to leave once Fleming and LaRue realized how invaluable her harmonies and an added layer of propulsive organ skronk were becoming to their vision.

"It's been very intimidating for me, but it's great because I love working hard," says Kirkpatrick. "I like the no-bullsh-- attitude that they have, and they were both really open to including me in the whole process, right from Day 1. Jamie really knows what he likes to hear but he never tells me what to sing or what to do. He knows when it's right and he knows when it's not right."

Kirkpatrick's involvement has allowed the rest of catl to, as LaRue puts it, "concentrate on the groove."

That all-important, in-the-pocket rhythmic swagger is what really gnaws the feistier bits of Adonde Vas? into one's brain, and it's also the secret weapon that has organically garnered catl a fan base that, in recent months, has filled on-board clubs like the Silver Dollar and the Dakota Tavern – a regular haunt to which catl returns tomorrow night before a show in Hamilton – with capacity crowds notable for dancing as hard as they drink.

"That's what it's taken 10 years to do. It's taken me a long time to play that simple beat," laughs LaRue.

Adds Fleming: "I started out playing hardcore or punk rock or whatever, and that was great for the time and that was the kind of emotion I wanted to convey with the music, but then, it was, like, `I want to make people dance instead...'

"Blues was the dance music of the time and those are the records that I fell in love with."

Listen to a free track from catl at thestar.com/whatson

Just the facts
WHAT: Catl & Bradley Boy

WHEN: Friday, 10 p.m.

WHERE: The Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave.

TICKETS: $5 at the door

Canadian Rock South By Southwest Festival

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

(MARCH 19, 2009) AUSTIN, TEX.–Until recently, as a Canadian in Texas for South by Southwest, it was easy to overestimate the homegrown presence at North America's largest and most influential music festival.

The Canuck contingent tends to flock together in
Austin. Pretty much everyone in the business who regularly makes the SXSW trip south each March knows each other.

As a brand, though, Canada seems to be enjoying its highest profile ever at SXSW 2009. Yesterday's Canadian Blast barbecue in Brush Square Park was easily the largest in the event's five-year history, moving a good 2,000 bodies through the gates and holding a block-length line-up at bay throughout an afternoon's worth of performances by such up-and-coming names as Hamilton's Arkells, Charlottetown's Two Hours Traffic and Montreal's Beast.

No longer is the Canadian Blast crowd dominated by Canadians having a blast and downing lovingly smoked meat products while escaping the winter for a week.

"It's just a better ratio. People know about Canada and they know about our bands, and we can get them to come," said Duncan McKie, head of the Canadian Independent Record Production Association. "We've got every major licensing agent from Hollywood here, we've got tour promoters from Britain and Germany. There's a certain momentum ...

"There's a business component. This is not a party. Believe it or not, this is how we do business. Deals will be done today, in this park, for thousands of dollars in touring fees and distribution deals and what have you. Across the world."

Other showcases for such homegrown labels as Six Shooter, Paper Bag and Mint are being held under the North by Northeast and Pop Montreal festival banners. This year the Independent Record Production Association and other export-minded organizations have taken over the El Sol y La Luna club and renamed it "Canada House" for four nights of shows by 40 of the 130-odd Canadian performers in town, including Gentleman Reg and Jill Barber.

Canada House, says McKie, was intended to give domestic artists who might otherwise have found themselves in "places far afield of the main event and not getting a lot of attention" a prime location to show their stuff. "Our program is to push people out into the export market and get them some traction in the world," he said.

The idea, said Bob Hunka, a Los Angeles-based representative for the Canadian songwriters' association SOCAN, is to "reach out to decision makers" such as film and television music supervisors and international booking agents. They keep coming back in larger numbers not because they're hot and bothered over the "Canadian-ness" of the music, but because of the music's quality.

"Any piece of Canadian music that gets into a show wasn't accepted because it was Canadian. It was accepted because it was good."

Anthony Hamilton Makes His 'Point'

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(March 20, 2009) *Anthony Hamilton, after seven Grammy nominations, finally took home his first this year for a project he did with the legendary Al Green.

That first award will surely just be one of many accolades the soulster is set to acquire through his career.

With his third album, “
The Point of it All’, Hamilton takes his distinctive, throaty vocals to another level.

“The point of it all is one of those things you have to spend time with and pay attention to,” he said, explaining the title to EUR’s Lee Bailey. “We walk through this thing called life looking for something; whether it be love, friendship… we tend to be searching for something. My thing is to make people aware, even the walk, the things that you encounter day-to-day – relationships, friendships, loss - and really assess what your journey is all about. Most of us are looking for love, I’ve found.”

 The disc features tracks that speak to the title in one way or another and Hamilton said that listeners will easily get the message of the title once they dive into the songs.

“I think people get it. The album itself, with the songs on the album it all comes together.”

Hamilton’s sound is reminiscent of ‘60s soul and, at times, even his Grammy partner Al Green. Like Green, Hamilton is culpable for bringing church into his performances.

“Most people, when you go out on tour, you look for sexier moments of the performance. It just so happens, with me, that’s what’s important. Every day when you wake up you pray, when you go to bed you pray, you pray over your meals, so why not acknowledge God at a concert when everybody’s in there,” he said. “Being a Christian, I think I should include all of it. Being Christian doesn’t mean you don’t have those sexy moments. I want people to know you can come to a concert and laugh, cry, dance, feel sexy and still praise the Lord, as long as it’s in context. I’m not going to say ‘sh*t’ and dammit and then say, ‘Praise the Lord.’”

“People know that this is what Anthony Hamilton’s about,” he continued. “This is important to him. Most people come there looking for it. It just became a part of what I’ve done.”

An amalgamation of soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop, and gospel – Hamilton just refers to his grouping as good music. The lead single from the new disc, titled “Cool,” features hip-hopster David Banner.

“I love hip-hop all the way back to Run D.M.C. and Curtis Blow,” Hamilton said of pulling in the genre. “I love the beat, and the heart in it and the creativity.”

David Banner was one of a handful of rap artists that Hamilton said he was looking to work with. Banner was the first to make a move and the final product was “perfect,” according to Hamilton. The song talks about conquering the world even though money is tight.

“Once David did it, it came out perfect. He showed another side of David Banner that was quite funny and what the song needed. The song is supposed to be light-hearted, but still dealing with where we are right now with the economy,” he described. “I wanted people to be able to laugh through the pain and accept the fact that things are changing, but we have to make a step to redirect our finances, and think, ‘Remember when we used to have and go out and spend money all night long?’ We can’t do it right now, but we remember when and we can laugh about it.”

Hamilton also recruited Latino Producers the Avila Brothers for the disc.

“They know good music. They studied it; they grew up with it. Being Mexican doesn’t make you less soulful. I’ve seen some bad Fedoras on a Mexican man. They’ve studied African American culture and soul music,” he said of the California natives. “They get it more than some of the brothers. I’ve been wanting to work with them for years.

Hamilton liked their work so much; he actually did three songs by the Avila Brothers. One, the ballad on his new disc, is called “Please Stay.” Hamilton said that one will appear on an upcoming inspirational album, and the third he’s saving to perform as a duet with Mary J. Blige.

“The Point of it All” is available in stores now. To find out more about Anthony Hamilton, visit his site at www.anthonyhamilton.com.

LIGHTS : A Career Clocked At Lightning Speed

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Amy Verner

(March 25, 2009) Pop singer LIGHTS doesn't talk like the average person; she speaks at light speed.

"I've been fast my whole life. My dad says that when I came out of my mom, he had to catch me with a baseball glove," she says, pausing just long enough to inhale. "I don't think that's true."

True or not, speed certainly seems to define the singer's current trajectory.

Twenty-one-year-old Valerie Poxleitner, who legally changed her name to LIGHTS (all caps for "style and flair"), is up for New Artist of the Year at the Junos on Sunday.

She just wrapped her first North American tour, including a stop in Austin, Tex., for the SXSW festival last week. Four of her songs, including her first major single, February Air, were picked up for Old Navy commercials last year. Next month, she will be making an appearance on Rockville, CA, a web drama created by Josh Schwartz (The O.C., Gossip Girl).

So it may come as a surprise that LIGHTS won't release her first full-length album until the fall. For now, her six-song EP is available in stores and online, but the real swelling of her fan base is largely thanks to MySpace, where she has generated more than six million unique views and counting.

"I'm just making my music the way I want it and putting it out there and letting the audience discover it," she said from a Toronto café last month. "I think people feel that if they've invested a certain amount of time in trying to find you or watching you grow, then they feel that much more invested in your career instead of just, like, hearing you on the radio."

The daughter of former missionaries, LIGHTS was born in Timmins, Ont., but has lived in Jamaica and the Philippines and was home-schooled with her older sister - which included music lessons from her guitar-playing dad.

"We would sing and recite poems," she recalls. "There was always music in my world."

The family moved back to Canada when LIGHTS was 11, and that same year she got a guitar. She used the fifth psalm in the Bible as lyrics for her first composed piece of music. "It's prewritten and no one can claim copyrights on you," she quips.

When she received a $1,000 inheritance from her grandmother in 2001, LIGHTS purchased an eight-track recorder and produced her first song, Saturn's Rings. "It was all these keyboard sounds and glockenspiel-y things and I figured out how to use the reverb on my voice," she says.

As for February Air, written in a Toronto hotel room on Valentine's Day, 2006, it's a feel-good crowd pleaser that represents the moment LIGHTS knew she had what it took to break through. "I gauged finding my sound on the question: Was I proud to show my friends my music? And I wasn't until that point."

Although her music calls to mind Cyndi Lauper and early Madonna, she has the potential to be much more than a retro pop princess. On her MySpace page, she writes: "If my music could be drawn, I would picture it like a comic, with simple border lines and bright colours. On first glance there is a nice composition, but upon closer inspection there is a deeper story."

LIGHTS currently has two band mates, Adam Weaver (keyboards) and Maurie Kaufmann (drums). Her manager is none other than CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi, who was introduced to her through makeup artist Paul Venoit (he was working on a photo shoot for a Wal-Mart catalogue; LIGHTS, whose mother worked for the chain, had been asked to model).

"The trick with LIGHTS has always been to not fall into the trap of underestimating her because she's cute, young and makes accessible electronic pop. When I found her at 15, I thought she was one of the most talented people I had ever met," Ghomeshi says.

Still, her look is part of the package. Covering her right torso is a massive tattoo of Wonder Woman fighting Giganta. Her signature headbands - first worn to keep her thick mane of hair away from her face - have now been co-opted by fans who appeared similarly Jazzercise-ready at a recent Toronto concert.

LIGHTS's two music videos, meanwhile, for Drive My Soul and February Air, look like lunar worlds created from cardboard and play dough. Her costume: silver moon boots, a thick layer of blue eye shadow, and skintight mini-dresses that accentuate her pint-sized yet sculpted physique.

A love of schlock sci-fi and all things interplanetary is at the heart of LIGHTS's sweet synthesized melodies. Her immediate plan following this interview is to get a tattoo of a laser gun, positioned as if it's tucked into her waistband. "It will be life-sized," she explained, then added: "If laser guns existed in real life."

However fantastical her sensibility can be, LIGHTS's lyrics are grounded firmly in reality, touching on everything from heartbreak to moments from everyday life. "I usually make a point of singing almost exactly the way I talk. ... I don't like romanticizing any ideas or using crazy metaphors."

LIGHTS, who now lives in north Toronto, also says she composes and plays everything by ear. "Even to this day, I don't know any theory. I used to work at a music store and people would always be, like, 'You're not going to make it in music if you don't know theory,' " she says. "And I was, like, 'I'll prove you wrong.' "

So far, so good. And in record time.

Sy Smith's 'Conflict' Revolution

Source:
www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(March 24, 2009) *Many may not have heard the name Sy Smith, but millions have heard Sy Smith.

A singer with a entertainment background as eclectic as her sound, Smith began as the lead for a DC go-go band, has sung behind major the soul star power of Whitney Houston, Eric Benet, Usher, Brandy, and more; shared the vocal spotlight with legendary singer Al Green for the theme songs for Showtime’s "Soul Food," and has appeared in TV commercials for GAP and Coca-Cola, among others.

She recently released her third indie album, “Conflict,” with intimate tour dates here and there, but her biggest audience of late has been due to her background vocals on the very popular TV show, “American Idol.”

“Basically, [music director/composer/producer] Ricky Minor is my boss and my first gig with Ricky, I was with Whitney Houston – I was singing background. He started bringing me along for most of the jobs he picked up,” Smith said of her entree onto ‘AI’. "There was no live music during the first three seasons of ‘American Idol.’ We came on in season four and this is my fifth season.”

Now in season 8, the show remains a ratings hit and with that comes a little notoriety and a lot of hard work for the neo-soulster.

“It feels like a 9-to-5,” she said of the “AI” gig. “We start at 8:30 in the morning. Tuesdays and Wednesdays we’re live and Monday is a rehearsal day and Sunday we record long versions of the contestants’ songs so they can go on iTunes that week.”

The long versions, recorded on Sundays, are the songs the contestants perform the following Tuesday night on the show. Smith explained that the “American Idol” band basically records an entire album in one day, but Smith finds it to be a marvellous help to her repertoire and her art.

“My only gripe sometimes is having to wake up so early because I’m such a night owl and having to sing that early in the morning,” she said. “The good thing is that I learn so many songs every season and it really keeps my chops up musically – something that you don’t get to do with pop music as it is.”

Smith’s sound itself speaks to her new album’s title, “Conflict.” Some have categorized her music as neo-soul or progressive soul. Recently she was dubbed by “Venice Magazine” as a “simply soul singer.” Smith told EUR’s Lee Bailey that she gladly accepted the title, though she’s not too sure she’d call herself that. Whatever it’s called it has elements from a plethora of genres.

“I’m a noisemaker, if you ask me. I don’t think I’m a jazz singer, per se, and I don’t think I’m a powerhouse soul singer either. I think that I’m a character singer,” she described. “Sometimes there are jazz elements and soul elements and pop elements.”

The album’s title, however, came from a deeper point for Smith than just what to label her music as.

“I felt I was in a perpetual conflict with myself: artistically especially,” she said. “I have all these different ideas that I would like to express and put out, but at the same time, I want to please the audience. It made me feel like I was being torn between my art and pleasing the audiences.”

Fortunately, Smith may have stumbled upon accomplishing both. Critics have heralded the latest disc, which is currently available. For more on Sy Smith, check out her website at www.sysmith.com.

In the meantime, look and listen for Smith on “American Idol,” check for her local (LA) performances, and keep watching for what’s next from the songbird.

Chico Debarge Gives Back

Source: Dr. Renee Matthews / CEO, Matthews Entertainment Group & Associates LLC; Alycia Matthews / COO, Matthews Entertainment Group & Associates LLC 

(March 23, 2009) *Chicago, Illinois -- Kedar Entertainment recording artist
Chico DeBarge has recently been named Managing Partner of P.R.O. (People Reclaiming Ourselves). P.R.O. is a dream realized for Chico.

Ever since his reintegration from prison into society he wanted to help others with that transition as well as speak to the youth about not repeating the mistakes that he has made in the past.

Chicago is the pilot city for this program, Chico along with P.R.O. founders Jamie Miller and Darryl Lamb already have plans to take this to other cities across the country.

Chico DeBarge known more famously for his music career and that of his siblings has had a peppered past to say the least. 

Most people credit Chico along with artists like D'Angelo and Erykah Badu with ushering in the Neo-Soul era of popular music.  Some may remember Chico from further back than 1998. 

Almost a decade prior, Chico had a burgeoning music career, signed (like his siblings) with Motown Records.  It is what happened between Motown and Neo-Soul that changed Chico's life forever.

In October of 1988, Chico along with his brother Bobby was sentenced to six years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute narcotics. While in prison Chico began a journey to which he credits most of his present day success.  Between the walls of his 8x8 cell, Chico began to grow and develop artistically as a musician, whiling away the long hours of solitude by writing and singing of his trials and tribulations as an inmate.  In the summer of 1994, Chico was released and faced with the challenge of reintegrating himself into society.  A feat that Chico says was easier said than done.

P.R.O. (People Reclaiming Ourselves) is a non-profit organization headquarted here in the Chicagoland area that provides insight and information on agencies and resources that work to reduce re-entry into the penial system with an enhanced focus on jobs, housing, substance abuse treatment and mental health issues for ex-prisoners. 

Motown Writers To Receive Award

Source: www.eurweb.com

(March 19, 2009) *Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland (Holland-Dozier-Holland) will be this year's recipient of the Johnny Mercer Award at the 2009 Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards dinner, slated for June 18 at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.

 Motown's legendary in-house writers are responsible for a catalogue of seminal pop hits sung by the Supremes, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye, among other artists on the label. Holland-Dozier-Holland are credited with developing the Motown Sound and were largely responsible for ushering in one of the most powerful and memorable eras in popular music. 

 "Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland's massive stream of classic songs changed the face of popular music in a way that has endured, creating a style that is highly influential and relevant today," commented Chairman/CEO Hal David. "The Songwriters Hall of Fame is proud to bestow our prestigious Johnny Mercer Award upon this groundbreaking team." 

 The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates songwriters, educates the public with regard to their achievements, and produces a spectrum of professional programs devoted to the development of new songwriting talent through workshops, showcases and scholarships. 

 Inductees this year include Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora; Felix Cavalieri and Eddie Brigati (The Young Rascals ); Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Galt MacDermot, James Rado and Gerome Ragni (deceased); and Stephen Schwartz. Other honourees to be announced.

 Tickets begin at $1000 each, and are available through Buckley Hall Events, (212) 573-6933. Net proceeds will go towards the Songwriters Hall of Fame programs.

Soul Diva Heeds The Gospel Of Obama

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

(MARCH 19, 2009) Soul-gospel legend Mavis Staples watched U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration events on television "wondering why I wasn't there." Having performed at the swearing-in of three presidents – Kennedy, Carter and Clinton – this time around, the 69-year-old Illinois native didn't make the bill, which included the likes of Bono and Beyoncé, as well as Staples' contemporaries, Aretha Franklin and Bettye LaVette.

"I understood: it's a brand new day," said Staples in a phone interview from her Chicago condo, ahead of her performance at Massey Hall this Saturday.

"His entertainment people chose to use other people. So I said, `It's time for the younger people to be there. I'll be there in spirit.' But I did feel bad for a while."

America's shiny new political landscape has Staples thinking that maybe it's time to put away the sort of rousing political anthems that made her famous.

"Since this inauguration I think it might be time for me to come out of these freedom songs and to start singing about a brighter day ahead. It's time to sing happy songs."

Like love songs?

"No, no," she said laughingly in those rich, raw trademark vocals. "If I had a boyfriend ... you got to have a lover to be able to sing those songs the way they should be sang.

"I have to stay in the message. I have to stay in the uplifting and inspirational. Maybe songs like `Oh Happy Day!' and `There's a Bright Side Somewhere.'"

Not that music-making has been a struggle. As a soloist, Staples is enjoying a resurgence of sorts on the strength of a trio of well-received albums in the last five years, including 2007's Ry Cooder-produced We'll Never Turn Back, comprised of stirring, updated versions of songs such as "We Shall Not be Moved" and "This Little Light of Mine" that were the chorus of the black civil rights movement.

Her erstwhile family group, The Staple Singers, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King singing in support of the struggle to gain parity for African Americans (they were even jailed overnight in Arkansas in 1965) and are best known for their '70s hits "I'll Take You There" and "Let's Do It Again."

Staples' talent came naturally, nurtured by her father Pops and honed as lead singer for the Staple Singers, which included Pops, sister Cleotha and brother Pervis (who was later replaced by another sister Yvonne). They were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Pops died the following year at 85.

Sadly, there are no young Staples poised to carry on the legacy.

"My brother is the only one in the family that has children," Staples explained. "My sisters and I were just moving too fast. We were all married, but we didn't get started.

"Pervis has five children between two wives, four girls and one boy, and none of them sing. They didn't grow up around us. The mothers, when they were divorced, they took the kids away. But I checked them out; they really don't have any singing ability. Maybe if they had been my kids it would've been different, but they don't have the voices."

Family remains central to Staples, who lives within a block of her two older sisters.

"Clee has Alzheimer's and my free time is spent sitting with her and talking and singing to her. I hate to be away from her when I'm on the road, so when I'm home I give her all my time that I possibly can."

Arthritis in both knees keeps her from the bowling and golfing of yore, but she's too busy anyway, with a list of errands to tend when she gets off the phone.

"I don't have any people like Aretha (Franklin) and Gladys (Knight) to run to the cleaners and to the grocery store. I do it all myself and I enjoy doing it, because you're mingling with the people. If you don't get out there with the people, you don't know what they need to hear."

She is often recognized, but not bothered in her South Shore neighbourhood.

"I can get away if I don't talk, but if I start talking the lady in front of me will say, `You know, you sound like that `Mable Staple.'

"And I say, `You know, so many people tell me that.' Then they'll say, `You look like her too.' I play with them for a while, then I let them know."

Whenever she can, she attends services at local Trinity United Church of Christ, where Obama was a longtime member, though she never met him.

"It seemed like when he was in church, we were out of town and when we were in church, he wasn't there. I was called to help out (at a fundraiser) when he was running for senator, but I was just working too much."

But Staples feels like she already knows the current president, "because he reminds me so much of (late '60s soul singer) Sam Cooke. His walk ... he has that swagger just like Sam and Sam had those same keen features and height."

If only Obama could sing. "I don't think he can. Goodness, he can't bowl, he can't golf, so it would be amazing if he could sing."

Just the facts
WHO: Mavis Staples with James Hunter

WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St.

TICKETS: $49.50 to $69.50 at 416-872-4255 or masseyhall.com

Studdard To Perform New Single On 'Idol'

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(March 25, 2009) *Ruben Studdard is returning to his old stomping grounds this week armed with a brand new single.

The season two winner of "American Idol" returns to its stage on Thursday as part of Motown week and is set to perform his new song "Together," the lead single from his fourth album, "Love Is."

 According to Billboard, the disc will be released May 19 through Hickory Records/19 Recordings Ltd. and distributed through RED. Featuring additional production by veteran hitmakers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis—and writing by the “Velvet Teddy Bear” himself—the album repairs what Studdard calls a “big disconnect” with his fans.

 “All of my fans aren’t solely in the urban AC arena,” Studdard tells Billboard. “People can be quick to put you in a box and then market you that way. But the beauty of ‘American Idol’ is everybody watches and votes for you; it has such broad appeal. And that’s what we wanted to do with this album: record an album of songs that people will remember and has broader appeal. Jimmy and Terry have a knack for connecting with an artist and bringing that artist’s personality to the record.”

 Studdard is currently on tour with a revival of the Fats Waller Broadway musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Co-starring “American Idol” finalist Frenchie Davis, the musical will wrap its run May 17 at the Forum Theatre in Binghamton, New York. Upcoming stops include Boston (April 10-12); Lincoln, Nebraska (April 18) and Milwaukee (April 24-25).

 “I can’t lie and say it wasn’t a difficult transition,” says Studdard of his shift from the concert stage to the theatrical stage. “It’s full throttle with eight shows a week. But it’s fun and a blessing; I’ve grown accustomed to it.”

 Since winning the “American Idol” crown, the Grammy-nominated singer has weathered the bad (financial and health issues) and the good (he married last year). Studdard says the hardest part of his journey was the realization that “everybody you think has your best interests at heart, don’t. And that’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s taught me some valuable lessons. I have a new lease on life.”

Bowfire: There's No Second Fiddle

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

(March 20, 2009)  Lenny Solomon has always thought big.

Back in the 1970s with the prog rock/jazz duo Myles and Lenny, the classically trained Toronto violinist was pushing the instrument's capacity well beyond accepted boundaries.

"I was always putting small groups together, trying to incorporate the violin into as many styles as I could, cross-collateralizing material and genres," Solomon told the Toronto Star during a break in the first tour of southern Ontario of the 15-piece, multi-violin juggernaut
Bowfire, the really big string band that seems to be the culmination of a lifetime's work and dreams.

Bowfire, which has earned accolades on Broadway, in Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago, China and Europe since its debut at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, is performing tonight at Hammerson Hall in the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga, the penultimate date in a seven-stop tour of Solomon's home province.

"This is our sixth season on tour and the first real opportunity we've had to bring Bowfire back home," Solomon said.

"Touring Canada, covering all those miles between cities, is a very expensive proposition for a band of this size. With the exception of some dates in Kitchener in 2007 and Niagara Falls/St. Catharines last fall, we seem to be spending most of our time in the U.S.

"It's always been frustrating that this all-Canadian band is barely known here."

One of the nation's best-kept musical secrets, Bowfire's unique blend of dynamic performances by first-class soloists playing, individually and en masse, dramatic arrangements of classical, Celtic, folk, bluegrass, rock, Asian and Eastern instrumental music – everything from Nova Scotia reels to Liszt's gypsy compositions to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" – has proven exceptionally popular in the U.S.

The band's self-titled concert video, shot in Kitchener in 2007, was co-produced by America's PBS.

A subsequent national airing drove demand for live performances through the roof. Plans for a third trip to China, as well as a return to New York and a run in Las Vegas, are underway.

The southern Ontario tour, which was underwritten by the Bravo! arts TV network, winds down tomorrow in Belleville.

"We're on the verge of breaking internationally in a big way," said Solomon, who concedes that Bowfire is a musician's dream, a revolving entity that attracts the best of Canada's virtuoso string players. The current roster includes Stéphane Allard, Stephanie Cadman, Shane Cook, Bogdan Djukic, Yi-Jia Susanne Hou, Ray Legere, Miranda Mulholland, Jon Pilatzke, Wendy Solomon, Kelli Trottier, April Verch and Japanese erhu master George Gao.

There's also a first-rate rhythm section: guitarist/arranger/composer Bill Bridges, pianist Bernie Senensky, bassist Lew Mele and drummer Ben Riley.

And with an ever-evolving repertoire that expands as its membership evolves, Solomon figures Bowfire will last a very long time.

"Because everyone brings something different to the table – a particular style or specialty – there's no competition, no egos."

Britney Like A Guest In Her Show

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

(MARCH 19, 2009) Britney Spears's Air Canada Centre concert last night was innovative, entertaining and well-executed, but she had little to do with that.

It was a tricked-out, 90-minute splash that opened with real circus performers – jugglers, contortionists, a dwarf – and featured multimedia gimmicks, about two dozen dancers and themed sequences (Bollywood, martial arts, magic show, etc.).

Spears was more like a special guest than the star, often difficult to pinpoint among the (literally) smoke and masses on stage.

There were two noticeable differences from her last show here five years ago: far fewer preteens in the jammed-to-the-rafters arena; and the 27-year-old pop star is coasting on her previous glory.

Of the former, I guess parents are reluctant to take a chance given Spears's penchant for erratic, oversexed performances, though this outing is relatively chaste. Of the latter, the lip-synching is a given (though she did show off passable, if thin pipes on one tune), but where that was once justified by sustained, complex dance moves, Spears seems to think it's enough to remember to hit her marks.

She clearly knows the choreography, but is devoid of precision or fluidity, dipping in and out of routines to toss her hair and strut, safe in the knowledge that the dancers will maintain the momentum.

If she broke a sweat in the first half, it was from all the lighting and hurried costume changes (more than a dozen).

The sad irony of the whole ringmaster shtick is that we all know Spears is a golden goose who is not in control of anything offstage, including the phone calls she makes and when she sees her children.

The audience, some of whom paid up to $700, welcomed her enthusiastically, but once they got over "she's actually here!", they settled into the voyeurism that keeps Spears in the spotlight, silently watching, or critiquing her to each other, with little dancing or singing along.

Nine dates into a three-month tour, it is to her credit that she's been able to get back to business after all the personal turmoil. It took Mariah Carey longer and Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill are still AWOL.

It's just too bad that she has evolved from singer to dancer to wind up as a prop in her own show.

Tonight's concert starts at 7 p.m.

Yo-Yo Ma Builds New Bridges Across Cultures

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

Silk Road Ensemble
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)
Yo-Yo Ma, artistic director. Repeats tonight. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St. 416-598-3375

(March 20, 2009)
 It's a marvel to create something new out of a meeting of cultures, which is what cellist Yo-Yo Ma has done with his Silk Road Ensemble.

For about a decade now, this group of diverse musicians spanning East and West has been building musical bridges through cross-pollination.

Sixteen member of the group arrived at Roy Thomson Hall last night with four of their latest projects. They displayed deep musicianship as well as infectious playfulness that had a capacity audience clamouring for more.

Ma never took the spotlight, preferring to play cello in the background. The concert was introduced by Silk Road member Jeffrey Beecher, who is also the Toronto Symphony's principal bass.

The program started with three instrumental pieces that mixed new music with opportunities for traditional instrument solos: the Chinese sheng (mouth organ) and pipa (lute) in Ritmos Anchinos; the Indian tabla (drums) in Sulvasutra; and the full melting pot in Turceasca, a new arrangement of traditional Roma rhythms and dances.

The rest of the meaty evening was devoted to a fresh take on Layla and Majnun, a 1908 Azerbaijani opera on a theme of doomed love. Featuring vocalists Alim and Fargana Qasimov, it was a case of love's loss being music's gain. If this is the future of world music, we have much to celebrate and look forward to.

Joel Plaskett Reflects On Touring, Composing, And Inviting Listeners On A Long Ride

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Brad Wheeler

(March 24, 2009) Do good things come in three? Dartmouth-based singer-songwriter and rocker Joel Plaskett believes they do. He's just released Three, the follow-up to 2007's Polaris Prize-nominated Ashtray Rock. It's a triple album that loosely documents the three-sided life and journey of a touring musician.

In this age of downsizing, how did the idea of a triple album present itself to you?

I had a handful of songs in threes, with the same word repeated three times, like [the track] Gone, Gone, Gone. I was just writing that way. And part of it was sparked by the fact that I had my studio space in Dartmouth. I had been writing a lot on the road, with a lot of songs half-finished. I decided to break it into three themes: The first record is about going away — or being left behind —record two is about being alone where you are, and record three is coming home.

How did the concept affect the songwriting, once you realized where the project was going?

Not all the songs are slaves to the idea. Demon I wrote in 1998, and there are a bunch of songs that existed before the idea for the record came about. But it definitely affected the material. I love playing with language. So I had a line 'good things come to those who wait,' and then I added Irma Thomas's song Wait, Wait, Wait, which is an old soul song. I had 'good things come to those who roll,' and then 'good things come to those who run.' And there's the songs Run, Run, Run and Rollin, Rollin, Rollin. The more I paid attention, the more I realized that I was writing the same thing over and over again, and turning the phrases on their side.

When you repeat the same line or word once, it's a mistake. But three times, it's intentional, right?

Exactly. Some people would run from that fear of repetition, but I felt that this whole idea, because everything was in triplicate, I thought the replication was exactly what I wanted. It freed me up. It was a liberating record to make in that respect.

The album, or albums...

It's a pile of tunes [laughs]

But it isn't, though. On one level it's about relationships, and on another it's about being a musician and the process of making a record.

Well, there's a narrative. There's my life at home with my wife and cats and whatnot. But there's also what I do and my love of music. With any person, if you have somebody else in your life, you try and strike a balance between two people. But you have this third thing, which is your pursuit, especially as an artist. So I was thinking of that third presence — two people creating a third thing. It's like chemistry. You were 331/3 years old when you made the record, and in addition to backup singers Rose Cousins and Ana Egge, the third player was your father, Bill Plaskett. How did that come about?

It started musically, because if he wasn't a good musician, it wouldn't have been happening. I wanted to document the way we play guitar together, particularly on a few of the tracks like Heartless, Heartless, Heartless and Beyond, Beyond, Beyond. He's a really good acoustic guitar player, especially in a traditional finger-style, British folk kind of stuff.

He's featured more on the second disc, which is a bit darker than the other two.

Each record has a bit of a different feel. It was deliberate. It was nice to make that second record in the context of the others, because I knew it was going to be a blue, quiet record. I think if I released just that second record on its own, people would think I was pretty down and out.

Can you talk about the three-sided journey the album is concerned with, particularly the process of making the album?

With all the travelling I do, there's a disconnect you feel when you're not around the people you care about. You get lost in what you do. I very much got lost in what I was doing, making this record. It was so much to focus on. I tried to make the record long because I wanted to make it feel like a journey. And it was a journey to make.

It's 27 songs. Do you think listeners will be willing to stay with you for such a long ride?

It's a lot for people to digest. Who knows if the interest is going to hold for other people? But it did for me to make it. Maybe it was a bit selfish, but I feel like it wouldn't have served its purpose if it was a 30-minute album. That's not enough of a journey to portray the way I felt about it.

Triple plays of the past

With Joel Plaskett's new Three and Prince's three-headed album released from his lotusflow3r.com website yesterday, the art of the audio trifecta has been revived. Listed below are notable triple platters of the past:

MUSIC TIDBITS

New Mos Def Album Due In Summer


Source: www.eurweb.com

(March 19, 2009)  *Mos Def has set June 30 as the release date for "The Ecstatic," his first studio album in three years and fourth of his career.   Two tracks from the set are streaming on his MySpace page (www.myspace.com/mosdef): the Mr. Flash-produced “Life In Marvelous Times” and “Quiet Dog Bite Hard,” produced by Preservation. Both songs are available for download via iTunes and RCRD LBL (http://rcrdlbl.com/).  "The Ecstatic" is rumoured to feature additional production from Madlib, Oh No, Chad Hugo, J Dilla, and Kanye West, according to Allhiphop.com. At recent shows, Mos Def has also performed tracks slated to feature Slick Rick (“Auditorium”) and Talib Kweli (“History”), the Web site reported.   The rapper is currently organizing an official U.S. tour, as well as a finalized tracklisting for the new CD.

Jennifer Hudson Slated To Sing On American Idol

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(March 24, 2009) NEW YORK–Jennifer Hudson is returning to American Idol – for one night only. The Grammy- and Oscar-winning actress, singer and Idol alum is scheduled to tape a performance in front of the studio audience on Wednesday after the live broadcast has ended, says a person close to the show who did not want his or her name used because the person was not authorized to speak to reporters. Hudson's appearance will air on an upcoming segment, the person says. It will be the 26-year-old superstar's first time as a performer on the stage that made her famous since the slayings last year in Chicago of her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew. Hudson will likely sing a song from her self-titled debut CD, which won the Grammy for best R&B album in February. She was a finalist on the third season of American Idol.

In a Perfect World: Keri Hilson


Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

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

(March 24, 2009)
Keri Hilson is making the transition to centre stage, having established herself as a songwriter for the likes of Usher and Britney Spears. The 26-year-old Atlanta native is currently touring with Lil Wayne, who sparks her current hit "Turnin Me On." Ne-Yo and Kanye West do fine guest turns, and producers Timbaland and Polow Da Don keep it interesting with their handclaps, sped-up basslines and synths. But it's difficult to discern anything uniquely identifiable about her brand of pop and R&B. Rihanna. Beyoncé. Keyshia Cole. Ciara. They've got it covered.

Wynton Marsalis: He and She

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

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

(March 24, 2009) The question isn't whether Wynton Marsalis can recite poetry. The question is do you want to hear
Wynton Marsalis recite poetry? Because Wynton Marsalis does as he will – usually very well – regardless of public opinion. Here, the 47-year-old New Orleans native is delivering self-penned verses as introductions to songs with his quintet. The subject is the relationship between the sexes. If you don't like the sound of his voice, or his presumption that you should, then you may want to work your way around the lyrics digitally to seamlessly get at the music, which is top shelf. It varies from blues, to swing, to Latin jazz, to waltzes. It's hard to separate the pieces into preferred tracks, because even with the spoken-word interruptions, the shimmering ballads and funky grooves flow into each other like a suite, in the spirit of his 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winner Blood on the Fields. Surrounded by ace young players, the leader blows cool, hot and confidently throughout. Bear in mind that, in cadence and delivery, Marsalis reading poetry doesn't vary much from Marsalis lecturing an audience on the significance of Duke Ellington, or Marsalis being interview by Charlie Rose. Which means a more know-it-all-ness undertone than the tenderness augured by lines about "my sputtering heart."

Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin Leaves Smashing Pumpkins

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(March 23, 2009) NEW YORK – Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin has left the Smashing Pumpkins. Chamberlin's departure is posted on the Smashing Pumpkins' website. The announcement didn't say why the 44-year-old Chamberlin left the group. Chamberlin joined the Grammy-winning alternative rock band in 1988 and played on all of their albums except 1998's Adore. The band broke up in 2000 and reunited six years later with Chamberlin and frontman Billy Corgan on board. The announcement says Corgan, who sings and plays guitar, will "continue to write and record as Smashing Pumpkins with plans to head into the studio this spring."

Timberlake Gets An Earful Of Ciara

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(March 24, 2009) *The steamy video for Ciara's first single "Love, Sex, Magic" from her third album "Fantasy Ride," debuted Monday on her Web site www.ciaraworld.com. Last seen in a risqué performance with Chris Brown during the 2008 BET Awards, the pop star has moved on to Justin Timberlake in the Diane Martel-directed video.  J.T. who co-wrote the track, makes a cameo with the singer, who rocks an array of leotards, stilettos and little else. He traces her neck with his lips before she seductively licks his ear and performs a smoothly choreographed lap dance.  "It was sooo much fun," Ciara told People.com.  "Love, Sex, Magic" is due on May 5.

The Miracles Get A Hollywood Star

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(March 24, 2009) *Smokey Robinson now has two stars representing him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for his career as a solo artist, and a brand new star for his run as lead singer of the famed Motown group, The Miracles. The crooner was on hand Friday as his former back up group was honoured in a ceremony that included one-time labelmates Stevie Wonder and Mary Wilson of the original Supremes, as well as Motown founder Berry Gordy. "I've had a star for the last 20 years or so, and it is way, way, way, way overdue" for The Miracles, Robinson told the crowd, according to the Associated Press.    According to Ron Brewington, National Vice President, Motown Alumni Association (MAA), his organization was the sponsor for the Miracles getting their star.     A number of events this year mark the 50th anniversary of the legendary Motown record label. Last week in Detroit, Gordy and Robinson joined the "American Idol" finalists to tape a segment set to air on Wednesday. "Idol's" Motown Week will culminate with a duet between Robinson and the show's season 2 winner Ruben Studdard. The pair will perform on the results show, which moves from Wednesday to Thursday this week to accommodate President Obama's Tuesday press conference. "Idol's" performance show moves from Tuesday to Wednesday night.

Uriel Jones, 74: Versatile Motown Drummer

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

(March 25, 2009) DETROIT – Uriel Jones, a drummer whose versatile style fuelled many classic Motown hits, has died. He was 74. Sister-in-law Leslie Coleman says Jones died Tuesday at a Detroit-area hospital after complications from a heart attack he suffered last month. Jones played on tracks by the Temptations, Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and others. He was part of the Funk Brothers, the talented house band on Motown recordings. Paul Riser, a Motown arranger and musician, says Jones had "a pulse in his playing that nobody else had." But Riser said Jones also could play with finesse and restraint when the song called for it. He is survived by his wife, June, and three children. A funeral has been scheduled for Tuesday at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple.

::FILM NEWS::

Kiefer Sutherland Embraces A New Role

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

(March 24, 2009) Los Angeles–Kiefer Sutherland has dialled down the reckless behaviour that earned him a reputation as a hard-drinking womanizer in his younger days and replaced it with hard work and a new love.

Sutherland, who earns $30 million (U.S.) a year as counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer on the hit show 24, spent his weekends off from the gruelling series working on a movie last year.

He opted for a complete change of pace with the 3D-animated comedy
Monsters vs. Aliens, in which he provides one of the voices. It opens Friday.

"We shot it while I was making 24, so for five days a week, 14 hours a day, I was very serious with 24, then suddenly, for six hours on a weekend, I got to have fun," he recalled. "I'd forgotten how much fun acting can be. We laughed a lot and I felt I was 5 years old again. It was a fantastic counter-balance to working on 24."

His years of drinking saw Sutherland make headlines and end up with 140 stitches after bar fights. Three years ago, Sutherland famously attacked a Christmas tree in the lobby of London's Strand Palace Hotel and a year later, he spent the holiday in jail after being arrested for drunken driving for the second time.

"I'm very happy at this point in my life and that's a large part of it," he says of his new approach to life.

A big part of it is the relationship he's been in for the past year with Siobhan Bonnouvrier, a style director at Allure magazine.

In Monsters vs. Aliens, Sutherland provides the voice of Gen. W.R. Monger, the commander of a secret government compound, which houses all the monsters on Earth. When aliens invade the planet, he convinces the president the monsters can defeat the invaders.

"One of the things I really liked about the character is that although he has the responsibility of incarcerating and managing these monsters, I think he feels bad about it because he realizes they're not the dangerous, evil monsters that everybody else perceives them to be, but they've been put away simply because they're different," he said.

"I love the message of this film, which is geared to young people and is telling them that it's all right to be different."

Sutherland looked relaxed in a black T-shirt and slacks as he talked in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills during a worldwide promotional swing for the movie.

One city missing from the tour, however, is Toronto, where the British-born Sutherland was raised and to which he still has strong emotional ties. Until three years ago, he also had a house here.

"I had it for the longest time, but to keep the pipes warm in the winter I decided to let it go when I realized that 24 was not going to end overnight," he said. "But I consider myself a Canadian and my family is still there, so it is somewhere that I expect to get back to at some point."

Sutherland's Canadian roots run deep. His grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was the first socialist premier of Saskatchewan from 1944-1961. Sutherland's father, actor Donald Sutherland, was born in New Brunswick and his mother, actor Shirley Douglas, and his twin sister Rachel still live in Toronto.

Sutherland is currently on a break from 24, which begins filming its eighth season in May, bringing with it more romance for Jack Bauer and FBI agent Renee Walker, played by Annie Wersching.

"We figured if you can't fall in love under the circumstances of life and death you're in big trouble," laughed Sutherland, who works closely with the writers in devising the shows plotlines. "One of the things that has brought them together so quickly is this desperate need for each other to survive. Nothing brings people closer together than that."

Sutherland first became interested in acting while he was at St. Andrew's College in Aurora, north of Toronto. Then he saw his mother in the play Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and decided he wanted to act.

When he was 16, he landed a role in the Canadian feature The Bay Boy.

The following year he moved to Los Angeles and lived out of his car for a few months before moving into a house with fellow struggling actors Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr. and Billy Zane.

His breakout roles in Stand By Me (1986) and The Lost Boys (1987) took him to the brink of stardom, but his life and career went downhill amid bouts of wild living and some bad movie choices.

Disheartened and disillusioned, he retreated to a cattle ranch he bought in California's Santa Ynez Valley, took up steer roping and travelled the rodeo circuit winning a number of competitions.

Then the script for 24 came along and, as he says, his life turned around. His fondness for tattoos, however, keeps the show's makeup artists busy concealing them.

"I have a lot of tattoos and it's kind of a disease," he laughed.

"You get the first one and then if it matters to you, you get more. I got my first tattoo when I was 16 and had just left home, and I was really scared so a couple of friends and I went and got tattoos as a kind of bonding thing. "

The tattoo he chose was a Chinese symbol meaning "strength" with a heart in the middle.

"From then on, any time I went through something in my life that mattered to me I had this desire to make a tattoo out of it. I kept going and I have a lot of them.

"There are times when it is difficult – certainly when I work I have to cover them up – and there are times also when I've seen a picture of myself when I had none and think that maybe I shouldn't have got any. But most of the time it's a nice map for myself about the journey of my own life."

All That Laz

Source: Kam Williams

Laz Alonso was born in Washington, DC, to first-generation immigrants who were refugees from Cuba. Although he developed a passion for acting at an early age, Laz initially pursued a seemingly more practical career in finance after his graduation from Howard University where he had majored in business. However, since he found it impossible to ignore his true calling, it was not long before he began going out on auditions while working in New York City as an investment banker.

After first finding work in TV commercials, Laz began landing bit roles on such TV series as Soul Food, The Practice and CSI: Miami. His big break in movies arrived in 2005, when he had the chance to appear opposite Jamie Foxx in Jarhead. Since then, he’s starred in Stomp the Yard, This Christmas and, most notably, Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, where he played the picture’s pivotal role as corporal Hector Negron.

Here, he talks both about his performance in Miracle, and about his portraying Fenix Rise in the Fast & Furious. The fourth instalment of the muscle car series features a reunion of the original’s principal cast, including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.

KW: Thanks for the time, Laz.

LA: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

KW: How did you enjoy making Fast & Furious.

LA: Man, everybody who loved the first one, which really built the franchise, is just going to be absolutely ecstatic about this next instalment. It brings everybody back from the original cast, only it injects about ten times the amount of testosterone. It’s like the original on steroids, so to speak. The budget is a lot bigger and technology has come a long way since then which together allows for more elaborate stuff. At the end of the day, the hero of the movie is still the cars, so any auto enthusiast is really going to love this movie.  

KW: So, is it safe to assume that your character, Fenix Rise, is a car thief.

LA: No, I don’t play a car thief. I play something a little less morally substantial, but the movie ends up being a fun game of cat-and-mouse between Vin [Diesel] and myself. [Chuckles]

KW: What interested you in plying Hector Negron in Miracle at St. Anna?

LA: First and foremost, the historical aspect. I remember growing up seeing The Tuskegee Airmen and what a profound effect that had on me. I didn’t really know at the time that I was going to be an actor or be able to play military roles, but it just really stuck with me. I think part of the reason why was because I was seeing people who looked like me in combat and other situations that were relevant to a kid’s history growing up. When you study black history, you always study the Civil Rights Movement, which encourages you to turn the other cheek. But watching a story about the Buffalo Soldiers, you see that these guys were also fighting for rights, but they didn’t turn the other cheek. They actually bore arms. So, it was a different side of Black History that I didn’t know existed outside of The Tuskegee Airmen. So, it was really interesting for me to be able to be a part of it.    

KW: I loved Miracle because I have an uncle who was wounded while fighting in Italy during World War II with an all-black regiment, yet I never saw any war movies with any African-American heroes in it when I was a child. 

LA: Yeah, even during Black History Month, rarely do you hear anybody mention the Buffalo Soldiers, how they fought, or what they accomplished, although they existed as far back as the Spanish-American War. So, I think the fact that black people also sacrificed their lives for this country is a story that should be told, in order to give a balanced account of how we’ve contributed.     

KW: How was it shooting on location with Spike Lee?

LA: I’m glad Spike was at the helm of this, because he’s not somebody who’s going to pull any punches, so to speak. He’s going to tell the story the way it was. Sometimes, people accuse him of having his own agenda, but seeing from the inside how he operates, I have to say that he was very, very committed to being accurate, historically, on all accounts. He was true to what was going on at the time, not only with the American soldiers, but with the Germans and Italians portrayed in the picture.   

KW: I recently interviewed two of your co-stars from Miracle, Derek Luke and Omar Benson Miller. How was it working with them and the rest of the cast?

LA: Oh man, to this day, we’re all still friends. It’s really special when you can leave a film set with some lasting friendships. We still call to congratulate each other and to hang out and go grab a bite to eat. So, from that standpoint, I really enjoyed the experience. It was an environment that, for the most part, was not competitive. 

KW: Why do you think the film did so poorly at the box office? The September release? Or because it was so long?

LA: I don’t think there was just one culprit.  I know we’re not the only war film that has not done well since the country has been at war. I did Jarhead in 2005 which also didn’t do well. And that was directed by Sam Mendes who had just come off of two Oscars and had Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal as its lead actors, both of whom were very hot at the time.  I think that during a time of war and economic crisis, people are looking to escape to a happier place, or fantasy. They don’t necessarily want to visit something that might be very close to home when home ain’t looking too good.

KW: Speaking of the economic crisis, you used to work at Merrill Lynch. Are you glad that you left the world of investment banking behind?

LA: Not really, because it’s still affecting us hard. [Laughs] If anything, I wish I could have been in there and hopefully helped curbed some of this stuff, although it’s much bigger than one person. What’s happened on Wall Street, as President Obama said, has affected Main Street. Look at how so many companies like Pfizer and Home Depot are laying off people while others like Circuit City are closing down. And even the movie studios are extremely lean right now. So, you realize that this is a problem that’s bigger than just Wall Street. It’s affected the entire nation and me too, even though I’m no longer working on Wall Street. It has affected me by virtue of limiting the number of movies being made, limiting which projects are greenlit. That’s killing working actors.  

KW: There was a provision in the stimulus package designed to help Hollywood that the Republicans forced the Democrats to take out, saying it was just pork.

LA: Here’s what the Republicans don’t understand. Hollywood has had to go to Prague and to other places in Eastern Europe because they’re getting bigger tax breaks overseas than they get domestically. It’s cheaper to take a production to the Dominican Republic or Canada. Runaway production has been killing the economy of Los Angeles. A film is more than just two or three stars. Hundreds of people are out of work when a production goes overseas and uses a foreign crew. The Republicans don’t understand that Obama’s plan was to invest in domestic films. That’s no different than trying to get people to buy American cars instead of imports. So, you see, we have some economic terrorists, right here in the Capitol who, in the name of partisan politics, are sabotaging programs that would make America better.    

KW: I remember you from the famous “Whazzup!” ad Budweiser ran during the Super Bowl years ago. What did you think of this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials? 

LA: Man, I hate to sound like everybody else, but I was very disappointed. But I think that’s indicative of the economy and where we are right now. Companies don’t have a lot of money to spend on elaborate ads like they did in the past.

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

LA: How can I help you? At least in my world, that question is never asked. My mom is the only person who asks me that and truly means it. And I’ve found that a lot of people run from friendship because they don’t want to be forced to offer help. 

KW: I love that question. Okay, how can I help you?

LA: [Laughs] you know what? You are helping me right now, by helping me promote myself and the projects that I’m working on. That’s a very unselfish act that I appreciate. You could be interviewing anybody else right now, but you’re spending your time with me, and I really appreciate that. 

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

LA: I made Stomp the Yard with him. Am I happy? Happiness is fleeting, like a butterfly. You can have it in your hand, and then it flies away. Even though it does fly away, you can enjoy watching it go, knowing that another one will come back. Happiness, to me, is a collage of moments. I’m happy at times, at others, I’m not. My goal is to always make sure that the times that I am happy outweigh the times that I’m not.

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

LA: I live in the San Fernando Valley. I’m a warm weather climate person. People complain about the heat of The Valley. I love the heat of The Valley.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

LA: I’m just starting to read a book by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens called, “The First Billion Is the Hardest.” I want to hear his perspective, because it’s interesting to see how people on that level think and work.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays? 

LA: I go though phases, but right now, I’m listening to some Russian music actually that I got when I spent four months in Moscow while making this film called Captivity. It’s pretty depressing, but I draw inspiration from it. Before that, I had been going through an Eighties phase for about four or five months where I was listening, you name it, to everything from Al B. Sure to DeBarge. 

KW: You’re into creating music, too. Any plans to produce an album?

LA: I’m producing. I eventually want to launch independent music production as a part of my business. I haven’t done so yet, because I’m very protective of it until I get up to speed technologically. 

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

LA: God. To me, God is unconditional love. And the unconditional love that I share with the people closest to me is only possible through God. As much as I love my mother, Sylvia, who is a hero of mine, my love for her can only be materialized through God. He is the link that holds us together, and holds me to my grandmother and to everybody who means something to me.  

KW: Sweet. Well thanks for another great interview, Laz, and I’m expecting even bigger things from you down the line. 

LA: Cool! Thank you very much.

To see a trailer for Fast & Furious, go HERE.

Will Arnett Is Finally, Sort Of, Growing Up

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(March 21, 2009) When Toronto-born comedian Will Arnett picks up the phone at the New York apartment he shares with his wife Amy Poehler, I have one simple question: What does it feel like to be called a future king of comedy?

Arnett, a lanky guy with a voice that scratches the ear like fine-grade sandpaper, starts to chuckle at the title recently bestowed on him by Entertainment Weekly. "I've also been ranked No. 9 on Best Week Ever's Top 15 Sexiest Nerd Boys," he points out.

"Am I naturally funny?" he muses. (One pictures his fingers thoughtfully stroking his pointed chin.) "I've always considered myself a jackass more than anything."

After only a few moments of chatting with Arnett, I beg to quibble - only a bit - with that self-assessment.

He tells me that he and Poehler gave their newborn son the unusual name of Archie "because we're fans of old Germanic names," and that he often dons the skintight, sequined skating costumes he sported in Blades of Glory for spins on the ice at nearby Rockefeller Centre.

So maybe "jackass" is a bit strong. "Extremely articulate smartass" might say it better.

The 38-year-old then moves on to all sorts of unfiltered confessions. There's the former drinking problem. ("I like to call them the blurry years" - he doesn't touch the stuff now.) There's his career being in the dumpster in the 1990s. ("They wrote me out of, or fired me from, almost every pilot I auditioned for.") There's being booted out of an impressive number of Toronto public and private schools. ("It was often mutually agreed - upon frisking - that I was allowed to leave the premises.")

But to use, I suspect purposely, a tired cliché, the reformed bad boy notes that "it's always darkest before the dawn, and that's certainly been true in my life - on a number of occasions."

He easily credits Fox's critically acclaimed 2003 series Arrested Development, created by Mitch Hurwitz, for turning him around. "It came into my life seemingly out of nowhere. I was rehearsing a play in New York that was not going well, and all of a sudden this show came along - which I initially balked at even reading for. I was so sick of sitcom pilots. And rejection.

"But I remember being faxed scenes, and I read it on the subway, and everything felt right. There was something about it that spoke to me," says Arnett, who played George Oscar Bluth II, a bumbling out-of-work magician. "In 48 hours, I had the job, and I was doing a read-through in Beverly Hills - wondering: 'How the hell did I end up here?' "

These days, Arnett, also dubbed one of the 20 hottest new faces in comedy by Premiere magazine, is in demand from movie executives as well as television honchos who like his sardonic geekiness.

In addition to recent appearances on such TV shows as 30 Rock, Arnett is scoring film offers - including When in Rome, co-starring Kristen Bell, Danny DeVito and Anjelica Huston; and the upcoming Arrested Development movie. Further, thanks to his gravelly bass, the actor is landing voiceover gigs on animated blockbusters like the upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens and Fox's new animated comedy, Sit Down, Shut Up, another Hurwitz concoction.

In Sit Down, Arnett is the voice of bodybuilder Ennis Hofftard, a fitness aficionado who sidelines as a teacher. The animated sitcom has live-action backgrounds, and a plot that involves unconventional high-school teachers, in a small fishing town, who always put the students second.

Included in the cast is Arnett's Arrested Development co-star Jason Bateman as Larry Littlejunk (a gym instructor, and the only one at the school who can teach), and Henry Winkler as Willard Deutschebog, a suicidal German teacher.

Arnett was born in Toronto into an upper-middle-class family. His dad, James, was a Harvard-trained lawyer who ran Molson Breweries for a few years. The main preoccupation of his mom, Alexandra, was raising her kids - one of them seemingly hell-bent on driving her crazy.

Arnett says he's not sure why he had such a predilection for landing in hot water back in his teen days; but he adds that, now that he's finally acting like an adult, he has newfound respect for the patience most of his overseers displayed. "Any teacher I had, especially when I was 14 or 15, I feel sorry for. Let's just say if they were predisposed to have a drink or two - I may have added a couple of ounces to their daily intake."

After being kicked out of the Toronto French School and Lakefield College near Peterborough, Ont., Arnett finally graduated from Leaside High. He then went to Concordia University in Montreal, but dropped out after one semester.

His mom, by then about fit to be tied, encouraged him to pursue acting, and at 20 Arnett moved to New York to study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. He began appearing in plays, but then the lean years - and the drinking - began. "Was I depressed? Hmm. I don't know if I'd use that word. Let's say I was so low I'd have to rally to die.

"In my 20s, I wanted to be taken seriously. I was young and dumb, and I didn't know what I was good at. I'd roundly rejected doing sitcom pilots - and would only read for the odd one - and that was because I had to make rent. In the end, I fell backward into comedy. And it's funny now that it's ended up being my career.

"By the way, as an actor, you should never use the expressions 'my' and 'career' in the same sentence. It's embarrassing."

Arnett started dating Poehler (whom he'd met in New York years before) in 2000. They married in August, 2003, and he says their life - especially with the addition of Archie - is rich. Arnett can't help but brag about Poehler's SNL appearances with Tina Fey during the runup to the U.S. presidential election. "For me, what I thought was the most awesome moment was when Amy did her rap on Weekend Update. Sitting next to her, you had the candidate for vice-president [Sarah Palin], swaying back and forth, as Amy spewed out this - in a lot of ways - pretty damning ditty. It was exciting to see, firsthand, all that stuff go down. Amy, Tina and Seth [Meyers] did a great job of keeping all that in check."

These days, Arnett says he's looking forward to making the Arrested Development movie - in particular working with Bateman, Hurwitz and, he hopes, Brampton, Ont.-born Michael Cera (the only regular cast member not yet to have officially confirmed).

"He was 15 when he started on the show. In comes this nice, grounded kid who comes from a really good family, and was just very comfortable in his own skin. It's pretty amazing to have that in someone so young. I certainly didn't have it. It sounds kind of patronizing to say: I'm proud of him. But I'm in awe of him."

Despite all the grey hairs he gave his parents, Arnett says he's close to them and his siblings, and tries to get home to Toronto whenever he can. "It's not as often as I'd like, but you know how it goes. You've got your work. You're busy in your life. But I love going up there. I still feel a real connection to Toronto."

Nicolas Cage Says 'Knowing' Has A Very Strong Spiritual Theme

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Marie Moore

(March 19, 2009)  *Apocalypse, Armageddon, no matter what you call it, the end of the world is a much-feared theme that is pervasive in many movies — and “Knowing” is no exception. But what makes “Knowing” different, in addition to its amazing special effects, says Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, is “I think it has a very strong spiritual theme throughout the movie and the way that it resolves is quite spiritual. I don't want to go into too much detail about that, but it's not like other films addressing disasters for spectacle.

“It’s more about how this family copes with what's happening and where they go spiritually to cope with what's happening. That's largely why I gravitated towards this script because it felt to me like something that needed to be said. We're living in difficult times right now. Everyone knows it. It's hard on everyone and I think that in difficult times people tend to really look at what matters to them and evaluate what's important to them. Is there anything else? How they want to cope with stress? And usually it goes, I think for good reason, in a spiritual direction.”

Forty-five-year-old Cage has been acting ever since the age of 17, but one film that seems to never get props and you will never find in the top ten love stories is “The City of Angels,” which starred Meg Ryan and Andre Braugher. What’s so cool about that film is the fact that the angels, of whom Cage was one, all wore black. That was quite a controversial statement considering white had always meant purity.

The first time I interviewed Cage was for the controversial film, 'Sonny,' in which he made his directorial debut. That was seven years ago, so The Film Strip asked him if he would direct again? “I'd like to,” he admits, “but my interest in filmmaking as a director would be in smaller movies that are performance driven like I did with 'Sonny'. I'd like to get back in there with a handful of actors that I really care about and make a family drama or some sort of human story.”

“Knowing” director Alex Proyas has the highest praise for Cage, even mentioning his directing has only helped his craft. “The best actors are actually filmmakers as well,” he declared. “They’re not just actors. They see the whole process and sometimes they’ve directed and other times they just have that ability, but I’m sure that’s added to Nick’s ability to tell the story as a collaborator rather than just an actor, you know. I mean Will Smith also has that ability although he hasn’t directed anything but he sees the whole thing. I find that really great actors have that ability. I mean Nic is basically subservient to the story. The story is what it’s all about and the character is secondary to that, and Nic is third to that, as a persona. It’s really about telling the best story, the intrigue and actually that’s what we want in an actor.”


Rashida Jones graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Philosophy and Religion but that didn’t stop her from pursuing acting. She has appeared in a number of TV shows and indies and this week will be starring in “I Love You, Man” at theatres across the country. Her father, icon musician Quincy Jones always stressed education but Rashida says he was always there for her, as well as her mom, Peggy Lipton (a star in the TV series “Mod Squad). “My dad was always like, 'Study this and study that because that's the most important thing!' They would support me no matter what I did." 

”But it wasn’t a huge surprise when I began acting because they're both in similar fields. That's the thing though, both of my parents always work from their hearts and I don’t think that they would want me to work from any other place. It was going to be a hard journey and they were right. To be a young actor is not an easy task. There's a lot of rejection.” So The Film Strip asked her if it was a hindrance or help having celebrity parents?

“The celebrity part of it—and in a weird way no one is ever going to believe me—but it was kind of a hindrance when I was young and trying to come up in the business because everyone assumed that I got help,” she replied. “It doesn't matter how many times I told them that I didn't. So everyone wants to be the one to counteract that, like, 'I'm not giving her any handouts. She gets so many handouts.' Everyone feels that way, and listen, if I had gotten a handout I definitely would've taken it because it was so hard. I just never got any [laughs]. But that's okay. It's better this way because now I got here by myself. I'm happy that they're successful and talented though.”

In “I Love You, Man,” Rashida’s fiancé doesn’t have a best man because he doesn’t have any male friends—just females. He, consequently, goes on a quest to find a best man. On the topic of man love, she offers her opinion.  “I actually think that this is a very topical, modern dilemma and in a weird like sociological way, I'm glad that we're confronting it because I think it's really hard for me to find friends or to reach out to friends without feeling that they're compromising their machismo,” she explained. 

“I think that they [men] need to start stepping it up because women are very good at that. They're [women] good at being emotionally expressive and being intimate with their friends. I feel like it's about time. This is the right time for men to start feeling more comfortable with being intimate in a heterosexual way, or however they choose to be, with other men.”

Jones went on to say that she also thinks it’s hard for men to bond with other men because, “They're still kind of held back by stereotypes. I feel like women have had like women's lib and all these revolutions where they've evolved and have been able to do whatever it is, have kids, nurture, be nurtured, be independent, be a business woman and they can kind of do it all and it's all acceptable and it's okay and it's the cultural norm. Guys really haven't had that breakthrough moment where it's okay to cry, where it's okay to tell your friend that you love him or that it's okay to go and find friends.”

Paul Judd and Jason Segel, who are friends in real life, strike up a friendship in the film. But has this film changed their relationship in any way? “Paul and I have never had an issue like that,” Segel says. "I don’t know. We’re not alpha male type guys.” Rudd adds, “I think that most of my friends for my entire life, we've been able to wear our hearts on our sleeves a little bit and might not be considered macho bullshit alpha male stuff."  

In the breakup scene between him Rudd and Segel, that’s the one that hits home for Segel. “The one I remember the most is the breakup scene between Paul and I, which I just thought was a brilliant breakup scene between two men, by the way. I thought it was just really funny when it got to the part about giving the DVDs back. I realized I have a set of Arrested Development CDs from a girl that I was dating that she’s gonna want back. 

“It’s so funny because Paul says in that scene, ‘sorry to ask for these back but my wife hasn’t seen the DVDs yet. She just wants to know what’s going on in the hatch [the men’s play pen]. It took Rudd 45 minutes for him to be able to do the scene without laughing [laughs]. It's so ludicrous that we're breaking up and she's just curious about what's going on in that hatch.”

Return Of Julia Roberts

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

(March 20, 2009)  BEVERLY HILLS–Julia Roberts seems to think she is no longer a target for the Hollywood paparazzi pack that follows the town's hottest stars wherever they go.

"Not many paparazzi follow me now," she laughed, ensconced in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills recently. "It's just the slow ones who haven't yet figured out I'm not the one to follow."

Roberts obviously had not seen the swarm of photographers massing at the hotel entrance waiting for her exit, a testament to her enduring popularity and the interest surrounding the release of
Duplicity today, in which she has her first starring role in nearly five years and which reunites her with her Closer co-star, Clive Owen.

Although she is devoting more time nowadays to being a wife and mother to three young children, the Oscar-winning actor insists that she has never really been away from the big screen.

"Of course my life has changed and I work less, but I was never really one to work too much," she said. "I never really did years of movie-after-movie-after-movie, but when you've got three toddlers you're performing all day long anyway, with puppet shows and stories. I act around the clock."

Not so long ago the Pretty Woman star was the world's highest-paid female actor, commanding $20 million a picture and living in the spotlight of movie premieres, parties and photo shoots.

Nowadays the 41-year-old prefers life at home as a wife to her husband of seven years, cameraman Danny Moder, and mother to their children, 4-year-old twins Hazel and Phinn and 18-month old Henry.

"My life at home gives me absolute joy," she says. "There are some days when as soon as you've finished cooking breakfast and cleaning up the kitchen it's time to start lunch and by the time you've done that you're doing dinner and thinking there has to be a menu we can order from. But then there are some days when it's just so creative and so much fun and my kids will help me and, as with anybody who's a mom or a wife, it just become a part of your day. Some days it's super-fun and some days it's a chore.''

Roberts' commitment to her family even prompted her to turn down an invitation to join previous Oscar winners on stage at this year's Academy Awards show.

"My husband had been away and just returned home so I felt it best to stay home and welcome him and be with my family,” she said.

"That was my priority so we watched the show on television."

Roberts looked relaxed and at ease in a black jean jacket over a long-sleeved T-shirt and blue jeans as she chatted during one of the few interviews she has given since she co-starred in Closer in 2004.

She has been lured back briefly into the public eye by Duplicity, writer/director Tony Gilroy's tale of corporate espionage and co-starring Clive Owen. Roberts believes the friendship she formed with Owen when they worked together on Closer sparked instant chemistry on the screen in Duplicity.

"Either you have chemistry with someone or you don't. I love Clive. I think we have chemistry because we have a similar spirit and energy."

Roberts has been a star since her first film, Mystic Pizza, more than 20 years ago. She has three Oscar nominations and one win – Best Actress for 2000's Erin Brockovich – and for more than a decade was the world's highest-paid female actor. She has made such hits as Pretty Woman, which earned her an Academy Award nomination, The Pelican Brief, Notting Hill and My Best Friend's Wedding.

Her last movie role was Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks in 2007 and three years ago, she achieved her long-held ambition of appearing on Broadway in the play Three Days Of Rain.

"That's a hard place to be, onstage eight times a week," she reflected. "It's relentless, but it's also magical and amazing. I would absolutely do it again, for sure."

She and her family divide their time among a New York apartment, a ranch in New Mexico and a solar-powered house in Malibu, Calif.

Roberts has another movie due out soon, the family drama Fireflies in the Garden. She has no other definite movie plans although she has no intention of giving up acting.

"I love the creative process and the challenge of being fully present," she said.

Canadian 'Still Reeling' About Brad Pitt Deal

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(March 24, 2009) NEW YORK — Less than a week after her second novel was picked up by Paramount Pictures for adaptation into a romantic comedy starring Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman, the former Toronto art director Leanne Shapton admitted she was still in a bit of shock over the development.

"It was completely surprising. I'm still reeling from the news," she said yesterday afternoon from The New York Times, where she is the art director for the newspaper's op-ed page.

Shapton's book, Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry, uses the format of an auction catalogue to tell the story of a couple's ill-fated romance. Published last month by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, it atomizes the four-year relationship through the hundreds of possessions and ephemera accumulated over the course of the romance - a stuffed squirrel, a Playbill program, photographs, paperbacks, half a wishbone, clothing - from its tentative and hopeful beginnings to its angry and forlorn dissolution.

Many of the artifacts were purchased for the book by Shapton at garage sales and secondhand stores, but some were already hers. In an interview with The New York Times last month, she noted that one baby outfit she and a former boyfriend had purchased as a symbol of their hope to have a family together serves a similar purpose for the book's two main characters.

The novel includes photographs of Lenore and Harold, who are played by Shapton's friends Paul Sahre, a graphic designer who worked with her on the design of the weekly Saturday Night and the redesign of Maclean's, and the Toronto writer Sheila Heti.

"It's a weird book to begin with, so for it to be recognized in such a big way was pretty interesting to me, and obviously a pretty happy thing, because you never know if something's going to remain an obscure, strange little art project," said Shapton. "But something resonated, so I'm pleased that it actually worked as a story."

Shapton did not reveal terms of the deal, which was handled by her agent Andrew Wylie and brokered by Creative Artists Agency. Pitt's production company Plan B, which was also involved in The Departed and A Mighty Heart, will produce the film alongside Portman's Handsome Charlie Films.

No director or screenwriter has been announced for the project, and Shapton said she would not be involved in the film's development. "I'm happy to hand it over to the experts," she said, citing Plan B's interest in literary adaptations. (The company is at work on adapting David Grann's The Lost City of Z and Michael Finkel's devastating true crime book, True Story.) "I'm just so curious to see what they do. I just think it's in good hands."

Shapton is a former art director of Saturday Night and Maclean's magazines, and the Avenue page of the National Post. Born in Mississauga, she is now based in New York, where her romantic life is much healthier than that of her fictional counterpart: She is engaged to James Truman, the former editorial director of Condé Nast.

Shapton is currently at work on a book of paintings for the Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

FILM TIDBITS

Animated Film To Open Cannes Film Festival

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(MARCH 19, 2009) PARIS – There will be an animated opening for this year's Cannes Film Festival. Organizers say the festival's opening-night film will be Up, a 3-D animated feature from hit-making studio Pixar. The film is a comedy adventure about a 78-year-old man, voiced by Ed Asner, who rigs helium balloons to his house and flies to South America. It marks Cannes' return to a populist curtain raiser after last year's bleak opener, Blindness, and is the first animated film to open the world's most prestigious film festival. The festival said Thursday that Up would have its world premiere at the festival on May 13 and open in the United States on May 29. The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 13 to 24.

Spike Lee's 'Kobe' Film Gets NY Premiere

Source: www.eurweb.com

(March 19, 2009) *Spike Lee's "Kobe Doin' Work," a telepic capturing a day in the life of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, will have its world premiere next month during the Tribeca Film Festival before its May debut on ESPN.    During last year’s playoffs, Lee and his cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, spent the day with the NBA standout. With unlimited access to Bryant before, during and after the game, the result is a definitive portrait of one of the sport’s greatest athletes.   The April 25 bow is part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. Following its premiere, "Kobe Doin’ Work" will be televised Saturday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPNHD.    “We are proud to kick off the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival with a documentary showcasing not only Spike Lee's fervent love of basketball, but our collective commitment to great storytelling," said Keith Clinkscales, senior vice president ESPN content development. "'Kobe Doin’ Work' and the entire sports festival slate speak to the power of film and sports to inspire, motivate and transform.”   Seven more sports-themed films will screen during the festival's April 22 – May 3 run in lower Manhattan.

Mary J. Blige says yes to Tyler Perry for 'I Can Do Bad ...'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(March 20, 2009) *
Tyler Perry has made an interesting casting choice for his next film. He's chosen R&B superstar and nine-time Grammy winner Mary J. Blige for "I Can Do Bad All By Myself."  Blige joins Taraji P. Henson, recently nominated for an Oscar, in the Lionsgate release, which is due in theatres September 11. "I Can Do Bad," which was adopted from Perry's  stage play and it, Blige will play a nightclub manager and singer who is good friends with Henson's character. In the film, which is shooting at Perry's Atlanta Studios, the venerable and money-making Madea, will also make an appearance, says the Hollywood Reporter. As far as her acting experience is concerned, Blige recently did a guest stint on "Entourage." Her last big-screen appearance was in the 2001 drama "Prison Song." Blige is coming off two sold-out national tours and is in the studio working on a new album due out this year from Interscope Geffen. The singer already has eight platinum or multiplatinum albums.

::TV NEWS::

ER Went From Life Support To Hit

Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Carter,
The New York Times

(March 23, 2009) In the long tradition of cultural touchstones forged from ignored or rejected television scripts, the story of ER stands out.

"Every network had passed on it, twice," John Wells, the show's original and longtime executive producer, recalled. "It had all these characters and medical dialogue, and they found it utterly impossible to follow.''

At the time – the early 1990s – ER was labelled a "trunk job," a script written in 1974 by Michael Crichton that had languished in some forgotten slush pile for years. Then, in 1993, the project attracted new interest when the Warner Bros. studio, which had gained the rights, began pitching the series anew, using Steven Spielberg and Crichton as inducement. (The two had just collaborated on the enormously successful Jurassic Park.) After an initial round of rejections, NBC reluctantly agreed to produce a pilot and put it on the schedule.

In the mid-1990s ER attracted more than 30 million viewers a week; at its very peak in 1998, 47.8 million. By comparison, today's most-watched dramas rarely reach 20 million viewers. It was the most watched show for three seasons, and even now remains the second most watched drama on NBC (after Law & Order: SVU).

The final episode is set for April 2.

This oral history includes many performers who became closely identified with ER.

JOHN WELLS: George (Clooney) was the first to be cast. I knew him from seeing him around the lot. Les (Moonves, now the CBS chief executive, then the head of Warner Bros.) had made a cast-contingent deal for a crime show with George, but George showed up in my office and said he'd heard about our show and he liked the part better than the legal show.

ANTHONY EDWARDS (Dr. Mark Greene, 1994-2002): I was not getting great roles in movies. But I was supposed to be directing this children's movie, so I told John Wells I probably can't do it. Then I went home, and my wife and my manager slapped me around and said this is Crichton and Spielberg. This is a big deal.

WELLS: Julianna Margulies (nurse Carol Hathaway) was just a day player. She agreed to do a small part because she was leaving town. She left town thinking she died in the pilot. Eriq La Salle (Dr. Peter Benton) we didn't cast until three or four days ahead of the pilot. Noah Wyle (Dr. John Carter) was like 13 years old and was waiting tables. We brought him in because you were always supposed to bring two choices to the network and we wanted the other guy. But he kept getting better and better, and then he got the part.

CHRIS CHULACK (director, executive producer, 1994-2009): We took seriously the idea that we were also an action show. We would have 60 or 70 extras in the background, but our extras always had a purpose.

NOAH WYLE (Dr. John Carter, 1994-2009): It changed the form of storytelling on television. It did not have the classic A-B-C, three-act structure. You often came in at the end of a story or somewhere in the middle.

WELLS: Our battles with NBC were all about blood and the fact that a lot of people were dying. As soon as the ratings came in, those complaints went away.

ERIQ LA SALLE: I also think the time was right. We came on just as the health care issue was breaking through, with Hillary Clinton out front of it.

WELLS: People leaving the show wound up contributing to our longevity. Of course when George left after five seasons, I was really worried. I thought the show was definitely going to end in Year 8 when Tony Edwards left.

MAURA TIERNEY (Abby Lockhart, 1999-2008): I was the first of the second wave. I did eight seasons and people still thought of me as one of "the new ones.''

PARMINDER NAGRA (Dr. Neela Rasgotra, 2003-2009): I was a fan of the show as a teenager in England. I was in L.A. to do publicity for Bend It Like Beckham when I met with John Wells, and he made me an offer. I had no idea how my life was going to change.

JOHN STAMOS (Dr. Tony Gates, 2005-2009): I had never seen ER. When I went in to meet them, I had this idea that maybe they could get my character together with Maura Tierney, because I thought she was really hot. I didn't know she was already with Goran (Visnjic, who played Dr. Luka Kovac) and they had a baby already. I had been asked on the show before and I didn't do it. I saw George Clooney in the commissary on the lot one day and he said to me: `Do ER. It's a great show and it will change your life.'

I wonder whatever happened to that guy.

CBC Should Emphasize Service, Not Ratings, Says Former Chair

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Ian Bailey And Caroline Alphonso

(MARCH 19, 2009) VANCOUVER and TORONTO — The crisis facing the CBC offers the public broadcaster a chance to refocus and separate itself from private stations, making it less reliant on ratings, the network's former chairwoman says.

"Because we have reached a bit of a crisis point with broadcasting in this country, it is an opportunity for CBC and the whole country to think about what public broadcasting should be," Carole Taylor said yesterday. "For me, my preference is to go for broadcasting that is different from what the privates do, that is not going for ratings but is providing a service that cannot be found anywhere else."

Ms. Taylor is a former British Columbia finance minister and head of a federal economic advisory council.

The CBC's board of directors this week approved an austerity budget for the coming year as the public broadcaster faces a $60-million shortfall in advertising revenues, primarily from television. No information was available about the size of the cutbacks. Employees will be notified about the details of the budget at the end of the month.

Speaking in Vancouver yesterday, Ms. Taylor said she had no inside knowledge of layoffs at the CBC. She said she is opposed to U.S. game shows being aired on the CBC, and expressed concern that ratings are becoming too much of a focus for management.

"I think there is a danger people, in discussing public broadcasting, look at ratings numbers as a measure of success," Ms. Taylor said. "If you do that, that inevitably draws public broadcasting into straight competition with American shows."

In a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto last month, CBC president Hubert Lacroix defended running U.S. game shows, saying they generate profit and attract viewers who stay tuned through the evening.

"... It costs 10 times more to make one hour of high-quality Canadian programming like The Border than it does to buy Wheel of Fortune - and these game shows generate a significant profit that we can then pour back into producing Canadian programming," he said.

"Further, Jeopardy! attracts over a million viewers each evening, and we carry many of those viewers into our entirely Canadian 8 to 11 p.m. prime time, thus increasing the impact and the revenue of our Canadian programs."

The CBC has asked the federal government for an advance in its regular funding to cope with the downturn. Heritage Minister James Moore has refused.

Tonight Friendly Turf For Obama

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Lynn Elber, Associated Press

(MARCH 20, 2009) UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — If TV talk shows have become a battleground where hosts and newsmakers duke it out, Jay Leno and U.S. President Barack Obama didn't get the message.

“Mr. President, I must say this has been one of the best nights of my life,” a beaming Leno announced at the end of Obama's visit Thursday to the Tonight show.

Leno queried Obama about difficult issues — including AIG's executive bonuses and criticism of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — but with minor exception allowed the president to answer without challenge.

It was a sharp contrast to the recent high drama of CNBC host Jim Cramer's painful woodshed appearance on Jon Stewart's show or David Letterman's roasting of John McCain during the presidential campaign.

Of course, a sitting U.S. president is a different animal, and Obama was the first to visit Tonight. (He'd already appeared twice as a candidate.) “I'm excited, I'm honoured to introduce my next guest, the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama,” Leno said as his studio band played Hail to the Chief.

Obama might have sensed from the outset it would not be a gruelling exercise. Leno asked if it was fair to be “judged so quickly” after less than two months in office.

“I welcome the challenge,” Obama said. “In Washington, it's a little bit like American Idol, but everybody is Simon Cowell. Everybody's got an opinion.”

The tone turned serious when the economic crisis was the topic, but Leno wasn't going to make the president sweat.

Obama had appeared “angry” and “stunned” about the AIG bonuses, Leno observed.

“Stunned is the word,” Obama replied, then launched into a lengthy, wonkish description of how the insurance giant foundered and why the company bonuses symbolize the larger issue of Wall Street's “attitude of entitlement.”

If Leno had a bone to pick, it was with federal efforts to tax the AIG bonuses out of existence.

“If the government decides they don't like a guy, all of a sudden, ‘Hey, we're gonna tax you,”' the talk show host said.

He did tweak Obama at one point, after bringing up criticisms of Geithner. As Obama defended the treasury secretary for taking the right steps against a host of problems, Leno joked, “I love that it's all his problem.”

But the biggest dig was against Leno's own network.

“A lot of people were surprised that the president came to NBC. You'd think by this time he'd be tired of big companies on the brink of disaster with a bunch of overpaid executives,” Leno said during his monologue.

It was a far different atmosphere when CNBC Mad Money host Cramer appeared on Stewart's The Daily Show earlier this month and the Comedy Central host railed at him for putting entertainment above journalism. Last year, Letterman gave McCain a tough time after the GOP presidential contender cancelled a Late Show appearance.

The White House scheduled the Tonight appearance as part of a broader outreach to promote Obama's agenda — one that's already had him on ESPN's SportsCenter this week and includes a 60 Minutes interview airing Sunday, plus a prime-time news conference Tuesday.

On Tonight, Obama had enough running room on to display his comedic chops as Leno delved into what he called “some personal things” with the president.

Leno pressed him on when daughters Malia and Sasha would get their pet dog.

“This is Washington. That was a campaign promise,” Obama replied to the pet question, drawing audience laughter. “No, no, no, no, no, I'm teasing. The dog will be there shortly.”

“How cool is it to fly in Air Force One?” a dazzled Leno asked at one point.

The 35-minute presidential interview was the only one on the show, which ended with a performance by Garth Brooks — and with Leno warmly applauding Obama.

It may be tough times in Washington for Obama, but not on Leno's Tonight.

TV TIDBITS

Ellen Finally Scores O Magazine Cover

Source: www.eurweb.com

(March 23, 2009) *Persistence has paid off for
Ellen DeGeneres. After months of campaigning to appear on the cover of Oprah Winfrey's O magazine, DeGeneres got her wish on Friday when the mighty O herself delivered the news in a surprise live video appearance.  Ellen's attempt to score an O cover became a popular segment on her talk show. The comedian would show various versions of the latest O issue with her image photo-shopped into the picture. In one cover, Ellen sits in the palm of Winfrey's outstretched hand. In another, Ellen peeks out from underneath her dress.  Winfrey said she was reluctant to make the offer, only because the Ellen-enhanced versions of her cover were so humorous. Oprah said she was serious about her offer, which comes on the heels of first lady Michelle Obama's appearance on the cover. Ellen will become the second person other than Winfrey to appear on the O cover.

::THEATRE NEWS::

Priscilla A Hit Before It Even Gets To Toronto

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

(March 25, 2009) It looks like Toronto is going to have another hit on its hands.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the musical version of the cult 1994 film about three drag queens in the Australian outback, has already been announced as part of the 2009-10 Mirvish subscription season and it opened on Monday night to generally enthusiastic reviews from the British critics.

Nicholas de Jongh, writing in the Evening Standard, proudly announced that, "I welcome it with open arms and a glad rag-bag of positive adjectives. London has never played host to a musical pitched on a higher level of gayness and camp comedy, transsexual barrier-breaking and bitchy, witty drag-queenery, than this ingenious adaptation of the sensational film of the same name."

De Jongh also said that the show "offers a joyful antidote to a world of hatred and violence."

Benedict Nightingale in The Times was impressed by the "energy, fun, tunefulness and above all the most outrageous costumes I have yet encountered" and reassured fans of the movie that "the stage version has everything – maybe more than everything – that they could reasonably expect."

Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph warned readers that while the show "makes Mamma Mia! look like Chekhov," he was won over by "an insanely euphoric and wildly contagious vulgarity."

He concluded that "the fastidious and the squeamish should avoid this show like the plague. Everyone else will have a ball."

And Simon Edge, writing in the Daily Express, delighted in "the sheer burlesque splendour" of the evening, announcing that "it arrives in a monsoon of glitter."

He summed up the feeling of most of his colleagues (critics for The Independent and The Guardian deemed it "tired old showbiz camp" and "a synthetic spectacle") by declaring that, "This sumptuously dressed show works gloriously. ... Loud, lewd and lavish, it's about as subtle as a smack in the teeth with a didgeridoo, but who cares when it's this much fun?"

The Mirvishes haven't set a date or a venue for the show, other than to say it's arriving in spring 2010.

 

Citizens of Toronto, start shopping for your opening night costumes now. You might have to go all the way to Buffalo to find enough glitter and fun fur.

Play A Love Story, Not A Crime Story

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

(March 24, 2009) For one of the country's most acclaimed and produced authors, Joan MacLeod is also one of its most invisible.

Her latest triumph is
Another Home Invasion, which opened at the Tarragon Theatre last week and which Robert Crew in the Star called one more of the author's "finely honed works of art."

It joins previous stunning one-person shows like The Shape of a Girl, Jewel and The Hope Slide.

But MacLeod chooses to live quietly on the West Coast, writing her plays as the spirit moves her, not caring how much or how little time passes between each new work.

"I love returning to the purity of one voice, one story," she said softly on the phone from her Victoria home.

"When it works, it's a fantastic form. I come from a literary background and when it all happens on the page for me, there's something magical about it."

The characters in her plays range from teens to seniors, but the developmental process, she insisted, remains the same.

"I start working the way I always do, developing a character, developing a voice."

In the case of Another Home Invasion, it was a very distinct persona that she started to explore.

"I focused in on a woman in her 80s who was pissed off and didn't know why."

She fed her characterization with a story she found in the news about a senior couple from the Kootenays who were separated because of health care issues and then one night, on TV, she stumbled on the random element that made the pieces of her vision start to click together.

"It was footage of a bait car. The kind they construct to attract thieves, but once they're inside, they can't get out of it."

MacLeod's voice filled with horror as she recollected the pictures she saw.

"A meth addict had tried to steal the car and when he realized he was trapped, he went completely out of his mind, just like a wild animal."

You have to pause for a moment here and recall the job experience MacLeod had back in the late 1970s when she served as a social worker with the mentally challenged.

It left her with a strong sense of right and wrong about our system and also put her firmly on the side of the disenfranchised in all that she writes.

For Another Home Invasion, she thought "about the seniors in our society and how we're not serving them well on any level."

And so she took all these fragments that had been floating around in her conscience and created Jean.

"She's being invaded on all sides, by the health-care system, by her children, by her husband's illness. She's trying desperately to hold on to her world."

But then a young drug addict invades her home. "The woman is so full of compassion that she treats him simply as a human being," said MacLeod. "When he first comes by at 5:30 in the afternoon, she never once thinks about not opening the door to him."

What happens after that forms the spine of the play, but rather than dipping her resolution into the melodramatic or tragic, the resilient MacLeod said, "I think of the play ultimately as a love story."

MacLeod allowed that "it's sad, but it's also very funny and I'd be surprised if anyone said it was bleak.''

"I always see the struggle to hold onto things as more important than the outside events that are trying to destroy them.

"All of my work is about family worth."

Another Home Invasion continues at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. until April 19. For tickets, call 416-531-1827.

Livent Bosses Guilty Of Fraud

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Small, Nick Aveling,
Staff Reporters

(March 25, 2009) Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb have been found guilty of fraud and forgery at Livent Inc., the award-winning live theatre company they co-founded.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Lou Benotto delivered her judgment in a University Ave. courtroom today, 11 months after the trial began.

"The creative success that you achieved due to your company was spectacular," said Benotto.

But her tone quickly changed as she cited a "deliberate misrepresentation" in Livent's public offering and "widespread and long-standing" fraud thereafter.

"I have been satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that you knew what was happening . . . That's a guilty verdict."

Gottlieb's posture barely shifted and Drabinsky dropped his head after the verdict was announced.

About 120 spectators, more than there were seats, packed the courtroom. Among them were members of both defendants' families, some of whom broke into tears at the news.

Benotto did not elaborate on her decision, instead, releasing an 86-page document recapping the trial and the reasons for her decision.

"The financial statements were manipulated. The object was to keep income as close to budget as possible," she wrote. "This was done by moving expenses from one period to another, by amortization roles, by applying the expenses of one show to another and by allocating operating costs to fixed asset accounts."

Defence lawyers will have a chance to respond to the verdict on April 8 when a sentencing date will is also expected be announced.

Drabinsky and his lawyer, Edward Greenspan, waded through the media scrum outside the court at 361 University Ave. and into a waiting van, offering no comment.

Drabinsky's other lawyer, David Roebuck, said he had "no idea" what would happen at the April 8 court date.

"You'll have to ask Mr. Greenspan," he said.

The Crown alleged that the two executives ordered accounting employees to cook the books at publicly traded Livent, allowing it to attract more than $500 million from investors and lenders.

Prosecutors Robert Hubbard, Alex Hrybinsky and Amanda Rubaszek had argued that the evidence against the two men is overwhelming.

"This fraud was carried out at the direction of Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb and was achieved largely by reducing expenses and inflating income and profits on the company's books and records," the prosecutors said.

The Crown claimed that the accused had an intimate knowledge of every facet of the company and were involved in all decisions, "even those as small as ordering filing cabinets and greeting cards."

Key to the prosecution was the testimony of six former Livent accountants, who said they were ordered to cook the books either directly or indirectly by the two accused.

Edward Greenspan and David Roebuck, acting for Drabinsky, and Brian Greenspan for Gottlieb, argued that their clients were the victims of a conspiracy by the accountants who carried out the fraud under the direction of Gordon Eckstein, their senior vice-president of finance, without their knowledge.

Drabinsky was far too busy flying around North America producing award-winning shows, and Gottlieb was too focused on the big financial picture to be aware of the accounting irregularities carefully hidden in accounting software they didn't understand, the defence said.

When caught, Eckstein and the accountants fabricated evidence and testified against their former bosses to save their skins from criminal and civil proceedings, the defence said.

The defence further argued that the documents allegedly proving their clients'' role in the fraud were suspect by the fact that they were collected and stored under the direction of Livent's new U.S. management team, which was bent on proving them fraudsters, and were likely tampered with.

The trial started on May 5, 2008, and saw 14 witnesses, 237 exhibits, and produced more than 7,000 pages of transcripts.

Witnesses at the trial testified to a dysfunctional corporate culture in which Drabinsky and Eckstein would shout and swear at meetings and the company had trouble paying its bills.

At its height in the mid-1990s, Livent had a string of hits on Broadway and across North America, garnering Tony awards. Successes included Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Phantom of the Opera and a revival of Show Boat.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

iPhone Becomes A Gaming Powerhouse

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

(March 21, 2009) It happened as inconspicuously as Sam Snake sneaking around enemy territory. Over the past 18 months, the Apple iPhone 3G has quietly evolved into a portable gaming powerhouse.

This is likely owing to the combination of a large touch screen, integrated tilt sensors (the "accelerometer") and wireless connectivity used to download thousands of games from the App Store (part of iTunes) or to link players for head-to-head matches.

"All of these features help differentiate the iPhone – and iPod touch, for that matter – from the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable," says Carmi Levy, a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst.

The touch screen and accelerometer are an intuitively simple way to play, Levy says.

"It broadens the appeal of the platform beyond its hardcore, younger-player demographic to groups who have traditionally never before seen themselves as gamers, such as middle-aged moms and dads, grandparents and even executives taking the GO Train."

On software distribution, Levy says that, unlike Nintendo and Sony, Apple does not have to manufacture a physical product, ship it through a sales channel, maintain inventories at retail stores or risk producing too many or too few games to meet demand.

"The purely online software distribution model also makes it feasible to sell at relatively low volumes and still make a profit," Levy says, "and it's a model that invites innovation and creativity."

Small-scale developers hold everyday jobs but can work evenings and weekends to bring creative titles to market "in ways they've never been able to even dream of with traditional gaming platforms," Levy says.

Games at the App Store, which now houses more than 20,000 titles, range from free to $9.99, with most hovering between the $2 and $5 range.

Does the iPhone have a chance at beating Nintendo and Sony at their own game?

"Absolutely," says Levy. "Instead of taking them on directly, Apple avoids direct competition by going after non-traditional gamers and reinforces the gaming potential of a device they already use for everyday purposes and doesn't force them to buy another device or figure out how to use it."

TOP 10 IPHONE GAMES

If you're an iPhone 3G or iPod touch gamer – or thinking of becoming one – here are 10 games that span multiple genres.

Tap Tap Revenge 2
Free; Tapulous

The sequel to the popular rhythm game that challenges players to tap on the correct spot in time with music (think Guitar Hero) sports many new features including an all-new soundtrack of more than 150 free tracks (covering many musical genres) and improved graphics and special effects. While it's a blast to tap through on your own, this sequel offers three multi-player modes to play with your friends. The game also introduces new ways to interact on higher levels, such as "tap and hold" and "multi-tap" challenges.

iDracula: Undead Awakening
$2.99; Chillingo

Action is the name of the game in this gorgeous, gothic shooter. You play as a relentless vampire hunter, attempting to ward off as many bloodthirsty creatures as possible. iDracula includes four game modes, multiple maps, role-playing gamelike powers and powerful weapons ranging from pistols and crossbows to flame-throwers and a BFG (big, er, freakin' gun). Hold the device horizontally, with your thumbs on virtual analogue sticks: the left controls your fighter's movement and the right is used to aim weapons.

Cooking Mama
$6.99; Taito
Cook up some fun with this silly culinary simulation, based on the hit video game of the same name. Follow mama's recipes and techniques by using your fingertip to chop, flip, peel and dice ingredients and then move the iPhone around for additional tasks, such as spreading melting butter into a pan. Impress mama and you'll unlock new recipes. But take too long or burn something on the stove and mama will take away valuable points from your final score.

Texas Hold'em
$4.99; Apple

One of the oldest games available at the App Store is still one of the best. Apple's Texas Hold'em is a virtual poker game that sits you down at a table with intelligent computer-controlled opponents (featuring video clips of real people). If you prefer, you can play against real iPhone users over the Internet in an optional multi-player mode. The more money you win, the fancier the locations you can unlock (and the higher the stakes get). Use your fingertip to push poker chips into the centre of the table or flick unwanted cards to fold. Tilt the phone from portrait to landscape view to see the entire table.

Flick Sports Fishing

99 cents; Freeverse

Wouldn't you rather be fishing at the cottage than staring at the walls of your office? Perhaps the next best thing is climbing into a virtual boat with Flick Sports Fishing, a simulation that lets you cast the line with a just a flick of your wrist. With good bait and technique, you'll hook a fish and reel it in using your fingertip. The fishing simulator houses a half-dozen lake locations, nine types of bait and tackle, 12 tournaments and dozens of unique species of fish. Play against a friend over the Net and show off your best catch via email using the "Brag" feature.

The Oregon Trail
$5.99; Gameloft

The classic pioneering game from the Apple II in the 1980s is back – and this time the side-scrolling educational adventure offers high-resolution graphics, new story elements and minigames. You're heading from Independence, Mich., to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and must make tough decisions while guiding your party through the unknown frontier. As with the original game, you must survive through bear attacks, bandits and sickness, choose supplies and members of your travelling party, and take on side-missions that can help or hinder your journey.

Zen Bound

$4.99; Chillingo

If you prefer a slower-paced and more cognitive game experience, one of the highest-rated puzzlers at the App Store is Zen Bound, a relaxing yet challenging game of stone, wood and rope. While listening to the original tranquil musical score, you must figure out how to wrap the rope around natural objects to reach the assigned length (while at the same time, "colouring" objects a shade of purple). More than 50 increasingly difficult levels are included (such as "Tree of Challenge" and "Tree of Reflection"), with an additional 25 coming at the end of the March.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

$4.99; Hudson

As the name suggests, Crayon Physics Deluxe is a game that explores what would happen if your crayon drawings came alive and adhered to real physics. The goal for each of the 70 levels in this 2D puzzle game is to move a ball to a star. In order to do so, you'll draw a picture by dragging your finger across the screen and, voila, the object comes alive and drops to the bottom. With a little trial and error, you'll successfully figure out the object's size, shape and direction to complete your goals. Also included is a free editor to create your own levels.

Monopoly Here and Now: The World Edition

$4.99; Electronic Arts

One of the most beloved board games in history proves to be an extraordinary interactive experience on the iPhone and iPod touch. Monopoly Here & Now plays similar to the game you grew up with but with international locations . Play by yourself against a savvy computer opponent or engage in Wi-Fi play with up to four friends. The game comes alive with touch control (plus, you'll shake the device to roll the dice), along with customizable rules, smooth animation and multiple board camera angles.

Pocket God

99 cents; Bolt Creative

While not a game per se, megalomaniacs will enjoy tapping through this quirky app that lets you flex your godlike powers over hapless little islanders. You can tilt the iPhone to make them dizzy, flick them into the water, feed them to an erupting volcano, create earthquakes and lightning, and much more. When you've expired all of your villagers, simply add more to the isle by tapping the "+" button on the top-left of the screen. Who knew being a malevolent deity would be so much fun?

Your Wired Home: Transferring VHS to DVD

Source: www.thestar.com -
Rob Wright, Yourhome.ca

(MARCH 18, 2009) Q: I, along with so many people I know, would like to transfer our old VHS tapes to DVD. Can you recommend the easiest and cheapest way to go about doing this? I was looking into buying a device (into which) you simply insert the VHS tape and a blank DVD and press record. Then I was told I should just buy a DVD recorder since I have a VCR already. Have you attempted any of these with good results? Also, how many hours can a DVD hold?

– Sabrina

Hi Sabrina

There are a number of ways to transfer material from VHS tapes – or any other analogue medium – to digital media such as DVD or CDR. Unfortunately, the easiest way is not the cheapest and the cheapest is not the easiest. The one that's right for you likely depends most on your comfort level with technology.

For technophobes, the simplest – but most expensive – solution is to take your old tapes to a shop that will do the dubbing/transfers for you.

Next simplest, and next most expensive, is to buy a combination DVD Recorder/VHS Player, which has all the cabling and electronics needed to do the trick. But one of these will set you back at least $300 for anything decent. Besides, as in Sabrina's case, most of us have an old VHS player kicking around.

If that's the case for you, look at a stand-alone DVD Recorder, such as Sony's DVDirect MC5 Multi-Function DVD Recorder, which retails for about $250. You merely connect standard RCA audio (red and white) and video (yellow composite) cables to the output of your VHS and the input of the recorder, then press "record" on the recorder and "play" on the VHS. The amount of video you can get on to a DVD depends on the type and level of compression or data-filtering you use. At DVD-quality video and audio, you'll get about two hours. But using popular standards such as MPEG-4 (H.264) or DiVX will give you upwards of 10 hours or more of video on a single DVD.

Another interesting, and relatively inexpensive, solution is to use a stand-alone audio/video capture device, such as the Pinnacle Video Transfer (about $100 U.S. at www.pinnaclesys.com). It does not record to a DVD per se, but will let you transfer your VHS videos to an iPod, USB Flash Stick or even a USB 2.0 computer-style hard drive enclosure without using a PC. Simply connect your VCR's video – composite or S-video – and RCA audio outputs to its inputs and it does most of the work for you.

None of the above solutions require the use of a computer. But for those who are at least modestly comfortable with a computer, there are a number of good solutions for dubbing, editing, digital splicing, etc. All you need is a DVD burner (standard on computers these days), an internal or external video card with either S-video or composite video inputs and RCA audio inputs to capture the audio and video from your VCR and some room on your hard drive to put the video before burning it to your DVD. Most modest, off-the-shelf computers these days come with "integrated video," which means video is handled by the computer's main processor. This is fine for viewing video on your computer. But for digitizing and editing video, you'll need a video capture card. These come with a dedicated video processor and RAM memory to do the heavy lifting. Prices begin at $50 and go up quickly from there.

If you want to edit the video, you'll also need video editing software, many of which will allow you to dub your VCR's output in real time to a blank DVD. Most video cards come with at least some freeware or trialware video editing software to get you started. More expensive and elaborate packages start at about $100. If you buy a PC that's optimized for home theatre, chances are you won't need anything else. Most Macs are already optimized for video capture and editing.

Send your questions to rwright@thestar.ca.

Fighting Evil Can Be A Lot Of Fun In Unfamiliar Terrain

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

Resident Evil 5
360/PS3
Rated M
$69.99
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)

(March 21, 2009) Since its 1996 PlayStation debut, Capcom's
Resident Evil series has been one of the stranger gods in the gaming pantheon, creating and defining its survival-horror genre while remaining disconnected from the trends and innovations in the games that came after it.

Whatever the state of the art in gaming has been, the Resident Evil titles – for better and for worse – have always proceeded according to their own rules and conventions. They sometimes feel like games that have slipped into our reality from another universe. Resident Evil 5 is no exception.

Leaving behind the staple survival-horror environments – spooky mansions, hospitals, military/industrial installations – for the sunshine and shantytowns of Africa, RE5 rejoins series stalwart Chris Redfield as he continues his quest to rid the world of evil zombification biotechnology.

The Plagas organism, a grotesque parasite that takes over its victims' bodies and souls, has been weaponized and has made its way into the hands of vaguely defined "terrorists" who have turned the war-torn and impoverished nation of Kijuju into the testing site for their hideous new bioweapon.

Along with new partner Sheva Alomar, Redfield must survive the zombie-like hordes while getting to the bottom of this crime.

This partner-based gameplay is the new thing RE5 brings to the series. Whether playing online, solo with a computer partner or via a welcome split-screen co-op mode, the focus is on Chris and Sheva teaming up to overcome obstacles and generally keeping each other alive. The introduction of co-op play, along with an increased focus on gun combat, the importance of strategic cover and the use of elements of the environment – one thing Kijuju has is plenty of is exploding barrels – make Resident Evil 5 seem almost like a Gears of War-style action game.

Almost, but not quite. This being Resident Evil, it charts its own course and defies the expectations inherent in the shooter genre it borrows from. While the infamously clunky "tank" controls that defined the series are gone – Resident Evil 4 took care of that – there's enough residual clunk that you know you're playing an RE game. Running and gunning, for example, is not possible; you have to stand still and take aim in order to fire.

Also awkward is the game's racial element, which has gained it some infamy. The problem in setting a zombie-horror game in an African country is that a lot of those zombies are going to be former African people, and the optics of a beefy white guy mowing down hordes of black humanoids are pretty disturbing. Just to be clear, though, these aren't people anymore: they're mindless husks animated by a horrible parasite entity.

Resident Evil 5 is a lot of fun if you're willing to approach it on its own terms. If you're after a freewheeling shooter, there are plenty of those to be had; if you're after classic alone-in-a-dark-mansion survival-horror experience, there are those, too. RE5, like the whole Resident Evil series, is its own thing and it provides its own payoffs: the thrill of survival; the joy of exploration, discovery and mastery; the continued revelation of one of the most insanely convoluted plot lines in this or any other medium.

::OTHER NEWS::

Aboriginal Awards Host Uses Star Power To Inspire

Source: www.thestar.com - Cassandra Szklarski,
The Canadian Press

(March 21, 2009) Aboriginal actor Adam Beach says he wants to meet regularly with the young people of Eskasoni, N.S., in a bid to stop a rash of suicides that has plagued the community.

Beach says reports of tragic deaths on the Cape Breton reserve prompted him to call officials there and offer help.

He says the local crisis centre then set up a videoconferencing call several weeks ago between him and about a dozen schools.

"I had a good hour-and-a-half discussion with them, the students, and I guarantee you ... once a month, once every two weeks, communicating by video conference, I am going to help that community," Beach said in an interview from Winnipeg, where he was preparing to co-host the
National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, which air tonight at 8 p.m. on Global and APTN.

"The rate of suicide within our communities is so high and we have to do something about it."

Beach, who filmed his 1994 film Squanto: A Warrior's Tale in Eskasoni, said he believes regular videoconferencing sessions could make a difference.

"They had 14 suicide attempts last month and, since my involvement, it's been good, everybody's talking about their issues. But that cycle, it's going to take at least 10 years (to break), so I'll probably be doing it for 10 years," he said. "Our kids are looking for commitment."

Since early 2008, five young people have committed suicide on Atlantic Canada's largest reserve and another five died as a result of drug and alcohol abuse.

Arnold Sylliboy, a youth worker with Eskasoni's mental health and social work services, said seeing a successful movie and TV star talk about his own struggles and triumphs was inspiring for the community. He noted that establishing ongoing videoconferencing sessions would likely require some sort of financial assistance.

Beach, who has spoken in the past about his struggle with gang life as a youngster in Winnipeg, traced the reserve's problems to long-standing social issues common to many First Nations communities. He said a frank, open discussion was key to breaking unhealthy patterns.

"Right now it's about communities, it's about healing from the cycles of abuse that go back through generations," said the 36-year-old actor, who appears regularly on the TV series Law & Order: SVU. "Once we can start talking about those issues, then we can take that as an example and tell those stories across Canada and then ... (tell) our governments to be accountable."

Beach is co-hosting the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards with actress Tina Keeper, from Norway House, Man. The annual gala celebrates outstanding career achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in sectors including law, sports and the arts.

This year's 15 recipients include Paul Okalik, the premier of Nunavut's first government; Stephen Augustine, hereditary chief on the Mi'kmaq Grand Council; Gemini-winning documentary filmmakers Melanie Jackson and Dennis Jackson; and Olympic swimmer Adam Sioui.

::COMEDY NEWS::

The Bitterly Funny Life Of Ron James

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

Note:
This article has been edited from a previously published version to change the ticket phone number.

(March 21, 2009) Here's the first thing you learn from talking to
Ron James: funny, real and profound are not mutually exclusive terms.

"I know I'm carrying a lot of baggage," admits the 5-foot-4, 51-year-old performer, who has frequently been called "the funniest man in Canada."

He's getting ready for a run at the Winter Garden Theatre from March 26 to April 4 with what he calls his "Mental As Anything Tour," and if his previous runs are any indication, it's bound to be a standing-room-only occasion.

Clearly it's not the devotion of his audiences that bothers James. What occasionally troubles him are some of the expectations they bring into the theatre.

"I'm short, I'm quirky, I'm funny and I'm from the Maritimes. Everyone expects me to be some kind of hobbit or leprechaun and there are times, to be honest, when it drives me crazy," he says.

James is sitting down in his offices in what is grandly called "the film district" of East End Toronto, a rabbit warren of converted lofts, disused studios and organic food stores. He's filled his space with posters from some of his certifiable TV hits like Blackfly and The Road Between My Ears.

But if you look closely, you'll also find reminders of some of the less successful times he spent in Los Angeles, a topic he returns to with the compulsion of a man running his tongue over an aching tooth.

"Sure, it hasn't been all sunshine," he laughs, "but if you grow up in the Maritimes, do you expect anything else?"

Born in Glace Bay, N.S., James is proud to share his birthplace with the likes of novelist Hugh MacLennan, director Daniel Petrie Sr. and songwriter Allistair MacGillivray.

"The light and dark get entwined in you from birth up there," he reveals, "and the smart ones never try to separate them."

Later in his youth, the family moved to Halifax and he recalls a life spent in kitchens, where smart-tongued cousins "never hesitated to lift a glass or offer an opinion."

Young James even ventured a few of his own comic stylings and found they met with approval. "You've got a way with the wit and a way with the words," said one relative, and that still stands as one of the best descriptions of James every given.

He went to university in Wolfville at Acadia – that bastion of free thought set right in the middle of the beauteous Annapolis Valley – and he had intended to pursue a degree in history. But a funny thing happened on his way through academia: He fell under the spell of legendary theatre program boss Helen Starr Boggs, who sensed there was an artist lurking inside James and led him down that path.

To this day, you can see the benefits of his theatrical training in the sharp way he switches from character to character, or knows how to shape the rhythm of a scene.

After graduation, James moved to Toronto, where he combined the best of theatre and comedy by joining the Second City Company and learning its improvisational tradition.

"I loved working there and learned a lot," he says of his time with the company in the 1980s, "but ultimately, it wasn't for me. I guess in the end I'm a lone wolf, like most Maritimers."

But still, he felt the siren song of Los Angeles and went down there in the early 1990s, "even though every fibre of my being told me that it wasn't for me."

His story was a familiar one. A few guest shots on comedy series like Wings and Get a Life, a featured bit in Ernest Rides Again and a lot of rejection in between.

James had the skill and the toughness to turn it into a bitterly amusing 1994 TV documentary called Up and Down In Shaky Town, and having cleared his mind of that baggage, he was ready for the next major discovery.

"Don't ask me why it happened," he chuckles, "but at that very moment, I discovered the work of Billy Connolly."

Something in the style of the freewheeling, take-no-prisoners Scottish comedian spoke deeply to James, and although the two men perform in drastically different styles, it's possible to see how the madness of Connolly liberated something inside James.

For the next 14 years, James has been honing his unique style of stand-up, which alternates from scathing observations about Canadian icons like Tim Hortons, through the terrors of being trapped in a traffic jam with a bursting bladder.

"I reach into myself," admits James. "I deal with the things that really upset me, anger me, bore me, frighten me, threaten me, and I bring them to the surface.

"But then I have to figure out what makes them funny. Simply to confront a fear is only half the battle. Turning it into laughter is the magic trick."

James has been doing a pretty good job of it, and he admits that "all those early years hanging around the kitchen in Nova Scotia and listening to the old folks jaw on is finally paying off."

It even looks like there's going to be a new CBC television series for James next year, but the final "t"s have to be crossed before it's official.

It looks like Ron James is a pretty happy guy these days. Just do us all a favour: Don't tell him he looks like a leprechaun.

JUST THE FACTS

Where:
Winter Garden Theatre

When: March 26 to April 4

Tickets: ticketmaster.ca or (416) 872-5555.

HOT LINKS

ronjames.ca: James's official site, complete with blog.

tinyurl.com/dhwnv6: James's famous thoughts on Tim Hortons.

tinyurl.com/cprwyp: James on cholesterol and smoking: two of his favourite topics.

tinyurl.com/cgm85r: James on Sarah Palin (remember her?)

GETTING PERSONAL WITH RON JAMES

Q: Can you name a few of your favourite towns to play in and what do you like to do after your shows?

Heather Gillis, Sarnia, Ont.


A: I love to play Sarnia (honestly!) – it's full of great people there. After the show, I like to kick back with a brew or three and just relax.

Q: My husband and I love your comedy and have seen your shows in North Bay and Cobalt. Do you prefer performing in a larger venue, such as Toronto, or the smaller towns like Cobalt? And when are you coming back to the North?
Sandy Ciraco


A: It's not the size of the city that I care about as much as the size of the venue. I find about 1,000 seats is the ideal size to play. And I'll come back to the North as soon as somebody asks me.

Q: Why didn't you hit the "big time" – either in the U.S. market or have your own major spot in a TV series in Canada?

Bob Nash


A: I believe that a career in comedy is made up of equal parts of luck, skill and timing. You can be the funniest guy in the world, but if you're not in the right place at the right time, it's just not going to happen for you.

Q: My dad was from Glace Bay. How much material did you get just from growing up there? The stories my dad told were "true" and extremely funny.

Paul MacPherson, Sault Ste. Marie


A: Growing up in Glace Bay is like being given the key to a treasure trove of comedy. The people there are not only funny themselves, but they have a unique view on the world which makes almost everything they look at funny as well.

Brian Regan, Comedy's Ordinary Superstar

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

(March 22, 2009) Brian Regan is nobody special. A husband and father, a comedian who never parlayed his material into the wider fame of a sitcom, or movies, or a massive hit record. A touring stand-up whose tour is garnering no headlines and whose big break, by his own admission, never came.

Also, Brian Regan is a huge star: the subject of several comedy specials in the U.S.; a man who has been on David Letterman's show more than 20 times; a man whose two shows this Saturday at the Music Hall have been sold out for weeks.

"I'm like in this bizarre under-the-radar world," Regan says over the phone. "There's a game my son plays called Katamari (Damacy), and that's how it's like for me. I just keep rolling along and picking up more and more people."

Like that Japanese video game's sticky ball, that rambles over bigger and bigger items, traps them and adds them to himself, his career has accumulated into something massive. Maybe that's because average people can relate to his material, which often conveys a man struggling with his lack of sophistication. Here's a moment from his most recent special, The Epitome of Hyperbole:

"I recently went to three different ballets, and I loved trying to figure out how to like those a little bit. (Audience laughs.) Three different ballets, and they all had the same story. So I wrote a ballet. I'm gonna submit it. This is the ballet I wrote: this man meets this woman and he wants to marry her, but he can't marry her because she's already getting ready to marry somebody else. So they all dance around for a couple of hours. (Big laughter.) I put in parentheses, `Do a lot of that up-on-the-toe business.'"

It's engagingly sold by an affable everyman; Regan's website describes him as a "dorm-room favourite," and it's easy to imagine the boyish 50-year-old being right at home at the dorm if he were there in the flesh. The Florida native's persona may not be hugely distinctive ("I want my comedy to be famous; I don't care about me," he says) but Regan's observational, clean material bring to mind the comedy's biggest name, whose career arc he once hoped to emulate:

"I got lucky enough to open for Jerry Seinfeld several times while his sitcom was on the air," Regan explains on the phone, "and it was such fun to play those theatres. I thought if I had a sitcom I could do that, but I wanted do it not for the sake of the sitcom, but to have people that focused on what you're doing ... I find I can actually tone it down in a theatre, try something subtle; at a comedy club you're competing with blenders and cheeseburgers."

That's the world he comes out of, having worked his way up from toiling a busboy at the Comic Strip in Fort Lauderdale, to get brief, awkward shots at the mike. Then, one New Year's Eve, the emcee was doing badly enough to summon Regan from his tray to face the crowd instead.

"I don't know how or why, but I made fun of being a busboy – I did very self-deprecating stuff then – and they just started paying attention and laughing. That was the time I'd come back to later, remembering `okay, you know how to do this. You're good enough to be comedian.'"

So theatres are what he plays now, having last graced a Toronto stage at the Winter Garden in 2007. He wants his fans to know that his show's now almost entirely different from what they saw there or on the Epitome special. When he hears that local boy Russell Peters has sold out the Air Canada Centre for two June shows despite incorporating some old material, Regan suggests he might do the same:

"Come see me – I'm doing Russell Peters' stuff! His stuff from my mouth, plus new stuff from my mouth, on a less expensive ticket."

Playing Himself Is Jon Lovitz's Best Gig

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

(March 21, 2009) It took Jon Lovitz a long time to be a stand-up kind of guy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the veteran comedian's moral rectitude but, rather, the fact that it has only been in the last five years of a 30-year career that he has ventured into the field of stand-up comedy.

From all reports, the late bloomer is good at his acquired skill and you can catch up with the results tomorrow night.

"I was always going to do stand-up," admits Lovitz on the phone from New York, "the same way that some guys say they were always going to climb Mt. Everest.

"Back in the Saturday Night Live days, Dennis Miller would keep taking me out to clubs and getting me to the edge but I never made it. My heart would be pounding in my chest like I'd been running 20 miles and I'd think to myself, `Aren't there easier ways to die?'"

Lovitz was born in Tarzana, Calif., in 1957 and studied theatre at the University of California-Irvine. One of his most famous characters, the pompous "Master Thespian," was based on a professor he had. "When you base a character on a real person," he says, "it's actually a lot more work, because you have to keep watching him and studying him, like I did with Master Thespian. But then there are others who are inventions, like Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar, I played on SNL. They're more fun, in a way, because you can just keep pulling stuff about them out of the air."

His early days also included a stint with the famed comedy group The Groundlings, where he became close to Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens. Thinking back on that time, Lovitz says he enjoyed being what he calls "a comic actor, who gets to write and perform his own material," but it's not necessarily where the big bucks are.

To make money, you wind up wrapping your voice around other people's writing on shows like The Simpsons or reading the words for commercials. But even those gigs can fade away after a while and, when it started to happen to Lovitz (as he candidly admits it did about five years ago), he thought of finally making the leap to the world of stand-up comedy. "I figured I could either get a smaller house," he jokes, "or find a new line of work."

He decided downsizing wasn't an option. "(I) started hanging around The Laugh Factory, making those terrified little late-night appearances where you're on and off the stage in five minutes. I'd pop up and do my characters from SNL but, after a while, I realized that wasn't what people really wanted."

After some trial and error, he came to the realization that what audiences were truly looking for was "Jon Lovitz being silly and funny. So that's what I do. I use my personality and make fun of myself and it really seems to work."

Lovitz believes in keeping everything loose. "If something happens, you just go with it. Some nights – wham! – you hit it out of the park, and then there's other nights you don't even make it to first."

He now feels comfortable enough to stand there and riff on his opinions on various subjects, from Bernie Madoff to the weather. "Sure, I still get a bit frightened before I start each set but, once I'm up there and rolling, that comic thing takes over and you feel right at home."

When asked how he'd describe his style, he pauses for a moment and then says: "I'd like to be thought of as a combination of smart and silly."

And if there's any doubt about the "silly" part of the equation, Lovitz gives the audiences something to look forward to. "At the end of the show," he says, "I play the piano and sing songs about Bob Saget."

Hey, who could ask for anything more?

JUST THE FACTS

WHO:
Jon Lovitz

WHEN: Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St.

TICKETS: $41 and $52 at ticketking.com or 416-872-1212

::DANCE NEWS::

`Quadruple Threat' William Yong Premieres His First Full-Length Dance

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

(MARCH 19, 2009) It was a very dreary show at the Winchester Street Theatre when William Yong made one of his earliest Toronto appearances. But the dreariness did not obscure the talent of a long, lean dancer of huge expressiveness. Yong, with his pure line, high cheekbones and animated features, could make any choreography look good.

This was in 1999 and the 20-something dancer had left a promising career in London, dancing with Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures company. Yong was one of the swans in Bourne's earth-shaking Swan Lake. He also performed in his Cinderella and toured with the company to Broadway and Los Angeles.

Toronto would be the making of him as a choreographer and the base for his company Zata Omm Dance Projects, established in 2005. But the city was not in his professional sights 10 years ago. Toronto was the place where Yong, his sister and brother and mother would reunite after his mother's difficult divorce.

"The idea was that all the kids and she could live together in one country. I didn't want to leave (London). I was actually learning a principal role in one of (Bourne's) productions."

He arrived in a city where he knew nobody, but was quickly picked up for his obvious talent. Perhaps his first gig was with Corpus. "We hired him to replace me in Two is Company," recalls David Danzon, Corpus artistic director. "We used his unique talents as both performer and choreographer to finish the piece, which he performed with Sylvie (Bouchard)." Yong emerged as "a quadruple threat," says Danzon. "He sings, dances, acts and choreographs, and to top it off, he has a good sense of humour."

That humour is evident in Yong's early works made in Canada, especially LOVEsPARK and Tenterhooks, playful sight-specific pieces performed at Dusk Dances.

Trained in Hong Kong and the London School of Contemporary Dance, Yong overcame a late start in dance at the age of 18. No one else in his family was even interested in the arts. But for anyone who cared to notice, a theatrical imagination was developing.

"I was raised by an uncle and auntie because my mom and dad were at work," Yong recalls. "I hated my uncle's place so much I would refuse to go to my bedroom. I used to imagine that if I opened the door, I would be in another place." He was fond of watching the street through a peephole where he'd see a narrow strip of action as daily life passed by.

That childhood memory is incorporated in Yong's first full-length dance, Frames, opening tonight at the Enwave Theatre. It's a hugely physical, complex work for five dancers (including Yong because he couldn't find another male) that delves into ideas of changing and manipulating perceptions.

Working with British composer Andrea Rocca and video designer Elysha Poirier, Yong is exploring ideas, he says, "of time, age, body image, body proportion and also languages, writing, media, nudity." They're familiar ideas, he knows, but he wants to provoke an audience by making them aware of what determines their perceptions of things.

Frames has been percolating in Yong's mind for the past two years. But the theme has its origins in his experience as a Chinese man living in many different cities from London to Paris, New York and L.A.

"In England, people would look and they'd be thinking, you're Asian; you're from somewhere else." The reason he feels at home in Toronto is because "nobody would look at me and say you're not Canadian."

Just the facts
WHAT: Frames

WHERE: Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W.

WHEN: Tonight through Sat. at 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $28 at 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com

An Exuberant Balance Between Music And Dance

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Elissa Poole

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Evan Mitchell
Kokoro Dance
Roundhouse Community & Arts Recreation Centre In Vancouver on Friday

(March 22, 2009) The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's new music series at the Roundhouse attracts audiences of respectable size but they are hardly standing-room-only events. Pair new music with new dance, however, as the VSO did when it teamed up with Kokoro Dance and the Vancouver International Dance Festival on Friday, and the space was packed.

Viewed as a concert, and from the perspective of a music rather than dance critic, the programming was odd: The primal, pounding rhythms of New Zealand composer Gareth Farr's Pagan Prayer for four trombones, four percussionists, and soprano (the excellent Viviane Houle, singing a text by Baudelaire), followed by Scott Good's jazzy, virtuoso Babbitt-Concerto for Saxophone(s), made for an extremely high-energy first half, but the slow-moving minimalism of Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa appeals to such a different sensibility that the program risked going out on a (long) whimper. Add dance, though, and the dynamic changes.

The sense of collaboration, of a balance between dance and music where neither obviously dominated the other, was the most exuberant in Pagan Prayer, choreographed by Barbara Bourget and the four men of Now or Never, a group that specializes in a form of break-dancing called B-boy (watch for them busking to a boombox on Robson Street or at international competitions). The pulsing, violent beat and guttural sounds of the piece's opening – Farr's influences include Balinese gamelan and Rarotongan log drum ensembles – had apocalyptic intensity. We expected similar speed and force from the dancers, but we got, initially, only slow, suspended gestures, movement an inch at a time. All the more shocking, then, when these muscled dancers rose up, in running shoes and black singlets, arms bare, faces ghoulish in the pasty white body makeup associated with Japanese butoh, and exploded into dizzying, break-dance spins and power moves, pivoting like mechanical spiders on the floor at dervish speeds that trick the eye into believing the bodies are not in contact with the ground. Not a normal night at the symphony.

Good's Babbitt concerto was also off the main track. Inspired by the novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis, and composed for the phenomenal young saxophonist Wallace Halladay, Babbitt is a farrago of different styles, from lush, romantic impressionism to Big Band swing, a separate style for each of the four saxophones – soprano, alto, tenor and baritone – that Halladay plays, each one corresponding to a different aspect of the title character's chameleon-like personality.

Jay Hirabayashi's choreography seemed less collaboration than commentary: It ran in parallel to the music, a visual gloss that cemented the music's allusion to the novel. That's not to say that the dance wasn't evocative in the underwater slowness of the movements, or touching in its eventual angst and in the awkward disconnect between the two dancers, Holly Holt and Hirabayashi. But Halladay's saxophone playing is so riveting on its own that not much can compete against it.

On the other hand, almost the opposite applies to Barbara Bourget's choreography, for nine (female) dancers, to Part's Tabula Rasa (“blank slate”). Part's music can be mesmerizing, but, like meditation, it generally requests our single-minded concentration. The score for Tabula Rasa, which might be likened to Vivaldi stuck on a single harmony, is not an exception. However, it was exactly the right music for this dance, and it was the dance that mattered.

The opening movements were strong, sculptural, discrete and active, an elegant calligraphy of white arms, red tunics, arcs and angles. But the dance became more fluid, or gently supple, as the piece progressed, and occasionally a dancer would melt into another's arms for support. There were disturbing spurts of near-spastic activity. Even more disturbing was the final gesture, of negation or, perhaps, disbelief – a head shaking, as fast as is physically possible, “No, no and no again.”

Funding Backlog Leaves Dance Tours Up In The Air

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
James Bradshaw

(March 24, 2009) A backlog of funding applications on the desk of Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore has left dance groups across the country looking at cancelling programming and scrambling to make provisional plans.

A number of members of the CanDance Network, an association of 31 specialized dance presenters, still have no answers to applications they submitted last April for funding for 2009-2010 projects. The wait is making it nearly impossible for them to arrange tours and performances, some of which are set to kick off mere weeks from now.

Meanwhile, the government is barrelling toward a March 31 deadline for funding approvals.

The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, CanAsian Dance Festival, Dancing on the Edge, New Dance Horizons and the Brian Webb Dance Company are among the groups from across Canada that, just eight days before their new fiscal year begins, have yet to hear whether they will receive crucial funding through the federal Arts Presentation Canada program. The uncertainty has left these companies with a growing list of planning problems.

But even short-term hitches can create a maddening ripple effect, said Shannon Litzenberger, executive director of the Canadian Dance Assembly.

CanDance, which has applied for $70,000 from APC, is planning a tour exchange that would bring three Canadian artists and two international groups to perform at each of three Canadian dance festivals. But the planning ground to a halt while they awaited word on federal funding and much about the festival, which opens six weeks from tomorrow, remains up in the air.

The presenters, such as CanAsian Dance Festival, need to sign on as partners in the exchange before CanDance can begin contracting the artists. But CanAsian, which has typically received roughly 25 per cent of its budget ($40,000) from APC, is seeking $50,000 for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and is wary of committing to projects until it knows it has this last quarter of its budget locked up.

"If the money is not in, or if we're not successful ... it will certainly put us in a very bad position, one that we've never been in before."

We will have a deficit for the first time," said Adina Herling, general manager of CanAsian.

And CanDance has already secured funding from the Canada Council for the Arts domestic touring program to help with the artists' travel costs, but can't claim those dollars unless the artists sign contracts before March 31, which is the end of the

federal government's fiscal year.

In an attempt to keep moving ahead, CanDance and its partners have begun drawing up contracts laden with contingency clauses to protect them if funding falls through. That has left small organizations like CanAsian standing on shifting financial ground.

The program officer responsible for CanAsian at Canadian Heritage told Herling the department was aiming to answer applications by Oct. 30, 2008, but then said three months ago that CanAsian's application had been passed on from her office and she has had no updates to offer since then.

Litzenberger said there have been years in the past when funding was heavily delayed, forcing organizations to spend on faith, but the program has run smoothly in recent years.

"Taxpayers expect both accountability and responsible management by government in the distribution of public funds. [This] is effectively hindering the impact of public investment in arts and culture," she said.

Deirdra McCracken, a spokeswoman for Moore, acknowledged the glut of applications yet to be processed.

"We are doing our due diligence with each and every one. That said, we are endeavouring to meet the (March 31) deadline - no cause for worry," McCracken said in an e-mail.

"We are doing our job in ensuring this money is spent effectively and efficiently."

But the worries persist for Canadian dance groups.

Some CanDance members had their funding confirmed months ago, but that has only left those still hanging in the balance even more fretful that they are becoming less competitive with their counterparts.

"We need to be confirming our seasons now, our venues, the dates, and [not knowing our funding levels] just delays the process. It makes us less effective and certainly less efficient in doing our jobs. We may lose out if we don't sign on," said Mimi Beck, executive director of CanDance.

DANCE TIDBITS

Alberta Ballet Inks Deal With Elton John

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(March 24, 2009) EDMONTON–Two years after teaming up with Canadian songstress Joni Mitchell to create an antiwar show based on her music, the Alberta Ballet is collaborating with another music legend. The dance company on Tuesday announced a partnership with pop icon Elton John to stage a "contemporary semi-abstract ballet" that features his hits and portrays his "challenges and triumphs." Simply called Elton, the show is being created by the ballet's artistic director, Jean Grand-Maitre, who also staged Mitchell's production, The Fiddle and the Drum. "I was enthralled and inspired with The Fiddle and the Drum and I am looking forward to seeing what Jean and the Alberta Ballet will create with my music," John said in a release. Elton is slated to debut in May 2010 in Calgary and Edmonton. Other highlights of the ballet's 2009-2010 season announced Tuesday include a tour of Mitchell's The Fiddle and the Drum across British Columbia and the western United States. The B.C. tour kicks off Jan. 19, 2010, in Vernon. The U.S. dates aren't confirmed yet.

::SPORTS NEWS::

Lance Armstrong Recovering After Surgery

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(March 25, 2009) AUSTIN, Texas–American cyclist Lance Armstrong was recovering Wednesday from undergoing surgery on his broken collarbone.

Surgeon Doug Elenz inserted a steel plate and 12 screws to stabilize the collarbone, which was broken in four pieces.

Rating the surgery on a scale of one to 10, from easiest to most difficult, Elenz called Armstrong's procedure an eight.

"This was a challenge. It was a hard case," Elenz said in a conference call with reporters.

Armstrong broke the collarbone Monday when he crashed during the first stage of the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon race in northern Spain. He flew home to Austin on Tuesday and went straight to visit Elenz.

Armstrong, 37, has said he still hopes to ride in the Giro d'Italia, which begins May 9, and the Tour de France in July.

"I think the Giro is still very doable," the seven-time Tour de France champion said Tuesday night during a conference call with reporters. "This is definitely a setback, no doubt.

"It's the biggest setback I've ever had in my cycling career, so it's a new experience for me."

Although first thought to be a simple fracture, Elenz said X-rays and a CT scan performed in Austin on Tuesday showed a more complex break.

The three-hour surgery to stabilize the bone required about a 12.5-centimetre incision and the steel plate measures about the same length, Elenz said. Assisting him was another orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Cary Windler.

Although the bone may take eight-to-12 weeks to fully mend, Armstrong will be back on the bike far sooner.

He must take a few days off before he can resume training on a stationary bike. Then doctors will monitor his arm strength, range of motion in his shoulder, as well as his pain, to decide what kind of training he can do.

"Lance is going to be a patient who is going to push the envelope," Elenz said. "This first week we're going to make Lance take it easy ... ask Lance not to do a whole lot."

Tiger Woods Wins Ranking Award Yet Again

Source: www.thestar.com -
Reuters

(March 25, 2009) MIAMI–Tiger Woods won the 2008 Mark H. McCormack Award after dominating last year's world rankings, the Official World Golf Ranking's governing board said on Wednesday.

Woods, who has claimed the award every year since its inception in 1998, has been the game's leading player since replacing Fiji's Vijay Singh in June 2005.

He retained his grip despite being sidelined for eight months after having reconstructive knee surgery following his U.S. Open victory in June.

The award is presented to the player who holds the number one position in the world rankings for the greatest number of weeks in each calendar year.

"This award is a direct reflection of the tireless work ethic he has displayed to remain the world's top-ranked player for such an extended period of time," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

American Woods, winner of 14 major titles, has occupied top spot for 540 weeks since becoming world number one for the first time in June 1997.

The award was established to honour the late Mark McCormack, a pioneer of the sports marketing industry, for his role in creating a world ranking system for professional golf.