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LE NEWSLETTER

May 28, 2009

Like so many others out there, I have a throat infection and thus you will see a lighter newsletter this week. 

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


This newsletter is designed to give you some updated entertainment-related news and provide you with our upcoming event listings.   Welcome to those who are new members.
Now, check out all the exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

::TOP STORIES::

Susan Boyle Bucks The Odds On Talent Show

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

(May 25, 2009) "You, too, my darling, can be a star one day."

Besides those reassuring words, mothers of fame-struck children can now offer inspiration by pointing to Britain's Got Talent sensations
Susan Boyle and Paul Potts, two people as ordinary as a Wal-Mart check-out line.

In a culture saturated by the day's It Girls and It Boys, the ordinary Joe and plain Jane don't usually stand a chance in any kind of popularity contest. It's a hard-knocks lesson we first learn in school: If at first you don't stand out, prepare for a life of quiet desperation.

But, two years ago, English cellphone salesman Paul Potts upset that established order. After years of community choirs and local opera, the middle-aged tenor's pluck paid off in a smash Britain's Got Talent win, sending him into global glory with a bestselling début album and tour.

As the votes were being tallied Sunday night in Britain, it quickly became clear that the 47-year-old lass from Blackburn, Scotland, is likely to follow in Potts' unlikely footsteps to the top of the talent heap.

The rapt look on the faces of the usually hyper-critical Simon Cowell and fellow judges Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden on Sunday night mirrored admiration of millions as Boyle sang "Memory," an old warhorse from Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical Cats.

Was it a great performance? Absolutely not. Was Paul Potts ever great? Not on your life. Even his second album, released two weeks ago, can't transcend the limitations of an average talent.

But Potts, and Boyle, happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Their kind of singing was commonplace before the advent of radio and television entertainment. Most people sang and played instruments to help pass the time on cold winter nights.

But what does make these two ordinary Brits extraordinary is that they are at once the product and the antidote to a fame-crazed culture that rides roughshod over the real talents, aspirations and dreams of every mother's child.

We can make it. We really can. No religion can give us more faith than the raw power of TV and YouTube.


Can Susan Boyle Do It Again?

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Reuters News Agency

(May 21, 2009) London — Internet sensation Susan Boyle, whose performance on “Britain's Got Talent” last month has been watched on YouTube by tens of millions of people and made her a global celebrity, returns to the competition on Sunday.

The 48-year-old from Scotland wowed the judges and then an army of Internet followers with her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables on the hit talent-spotting television series.

Partly because her dowdy appearance and age did not fit in with people's idea of what a celebrity should be, Boyle was an instant Internet hit.

Television crews from around the world were soon camping outside her home and newspapers have dedicated countless pages of coverage of her and what she says about our celebrity-obsessed age.

Boyle has also appeared on U.S. chat shows hosted by Larry King and Oprah Winfrey.

A fan site dedicated to Boyle is titled Never judge a book by its cover , and during her first performance in April, Boyle overcame sniggering in the audience when she took to the stage before reducing many viewers to tears.

According to the British media, Boyle is up against acts including street dancers Diversity, Darth Vader impersonator Darth Jackson and belly dancer Julia Naidenko on Sunday's show, the first of five semi-finals.

Her meteoric rise to fame has made her the bookmakers' firm favourite to win Saturday's final. Two acts chosen by the judges and the public go through from each semi-final.

The winner will perform at the Royal Variety Show and receive a cheque for £100,000 (British).


New York Loses Its Jazz Festival

Source:  www.nytimes.com - By BEN SISARIO

(May 20, 2009)
Around this time of year, posters for the JVC Jazz Festival would be appearing on the streets of New York, and jazz tourists would be finalizing plans to arrive in the middle of June for two weeks of bragworthy shows.

But for the first time in 37 years, there will be no major summer jazz festival in New York. Nor will there be related series in Miami or Chicago, as the concert company behind them is suffering a financial crisis.

At stake is one of the most celebrated legacies in American music. Two years ago the impresario George Wein sold his company, Festival Productions, to a group led by Chris Shields, a charismatic entrepreneur who planned to transform Mr. Wein’s empire through aggressive growth. Now that plan has all but collapsed, as Mr. Shields’s company, Festival Network, has lost its top sponsor, as well as several signature festivals, delivering what many call a painful blow to jazz.

In an interview Mr. Shields, 38, largely blamed the economy for his company’s woes. “I’ll certainly take criticism for the robust growth plan,” he said. “It may have been too robust for the time. I think if we weren’t faced with this economy, we would have been just fine.”

But business associates and former employees, many of whom would not comment publicly because the company still owes them money, say that Festival Network overspent on booking talent and took unnecessary risks, including opening four new festivals last summer without securing sufficient sponsorship.

“He was ambitious but perhaps overwhelmed with the realities of the New York market,” said Michael Dorf, who runs City Winery and hired Mr. Shields for the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival in 2000. “There’s something that comes from cutting your teeth working day in and day out in New York concert promotion. I don’t think Chris had that experience level.”

Last year Festival Network presented 17 festivals around the world, but Mr. Shields said he has none to announce this year. The company lost its contract for the Newport jazz and folk festivals in Rhode Island because of late payments for use of state parkland. The Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., another longtime Wein event, has gone to a competitor, and last month JVC said that after 24 years with Mr. Wein, it would no longer be sponsoring jazz.

Festival Network’s troubles, however, reach farther than Newport. In Mali, the Festival in the Desert — a renowned world-music event each January in the remote sands beyond Timbuktu — was almost cancelled this year after beginning an association with Festival Network.

Manny Ansar, the Malian founder of the Festival in the Desert, said the agreement, finalized at Newport last summer, called for Festival Network to provide a range of assistance, including enough money to produce this year’s event. According to Mr. Ansar’s American lawyer, Thomas Rome, that amount exceeded $600,000.

But communication broke down, and most of that money never came, Mr. Ansar said. The festival went on, he added, with financing from the governments of Mali, Morocco and Burkina Faso. Mr. Ansar spoke in French in a telephone interview that was translated by Mr. Rome.

Mr. Shields said that his company had invested $150,000 in the Festival in the Desert, but denied that Festival Network had agreed to finance it fully. (Mr. Ansar, for his part, said he believed the agreements were made in good faith, and he has not filed a lawsuit for the money. “In my culture,” he said, “one doesn’t abandon a friend because he’s in trouble.”)

Mr. Shields, whose own tastes lean more to folk than to jazz, had a modest profile in music before taking over Mr. Wein’s company. After graduating from Columbia in 1993, he worked briefly for Mr. Wein, and in 1998 he developed a festival on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. In 2000 he worked under Mr. Dorf as a director of the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festivals in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

But for the Festival Productions deal, he had major financial backers, including Richard Sands, the chairman and chief executive of Constellation Brands, the beer and wine conglomerate. Festival Productions was purchased for about $4 million, according to both Mr. Wein and Mr. Shields, and Festival Network announced plans to build a portfolio of world-class festivals by presenting “destination” events in prime locations.

“The goal of the company,” Mr. Shields said, “was to create enough original and desired location-based festivals that the Fortune 500s of the world would look at that umbrella of festivals and say, ‘We want to come in and sponsor the entire body.’ ”

Acquiring Festival Productions was a coup for the young company. Mr. Wein, 83, enjoys a singular reputation as the patriarch of the American festival, and he had a history of rebuffing previous offers. In an interview he said the deal with Festival Network came along at the right time. “I was at a point in my life where I was cashing in,” he said.

Mr. Wein stayed on as producer emeritus. Ben Ratliff of The New York Times praised the line-up of the 2008 JVC festival in New York, calling it “undiminished and newly energized by welcome changes of locations and some imaginative bookings.”

By last summer, though, the company was feeling a financial pinch. Mr. Shields said that sponsorship had fallen short of expectations; new festivals in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Whistler, British Columbia; and San Francisco lacked major sponsors and had weak attendance. Mr. Shields says he stopped paying himself a salary in September, as the market crashed, and by December he stopped paying staff members. At its peak the company had 37 employees, but now is down to 6.

After the company lost the Newport contracts, Mr. Wein announced that he would be presenting folk and jazz festivals there in August under his own name. (A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which administers the state parks, said Festival Network had paid its outstanding debts.)

The disappearance of several former JVC festivals, particularly in New York, have deprived many musicians of some of their most lucrative engagements this summer. But more important, many in the jazz world say, their loss sends a misleading signal about the health of the music.

“Losing a major jazz festival kind of tells the world that maybe this music isn’t marketable,” said Joel Chriss, a booking agent whose roster includes Randy Brecker and Freddy Cole. “It’s potentially dangerous.”

Mr. Shields says the story is not over. He wants to present a New York jazz festival next year. Although his company has been battered, he says its underlying model is sound. “This business plan can succeed, absolutely,” he said. “You’ve seen it succeed in the promotions business, you’ve seen it happen in sports, you’ve seen it happen in management. We by no means have given up.”

::TRAVEL NEWS::

A Mother And Son's Journey To Greece, Now And Then

Source:  www.thestar.com - David Layton, Aviva Whiteson,
Special To The Star

(May 09, 2009) Here are the first words my mother said to me after I told her we'd each have a private veranda aboard our ship: "Be careful that you don't lean over the rails or you might fall over!" She was serious.

Not long after that she called to say that spring in
Greece is unpredictable. She'd looked at the weather forecast and told me to pack warm clothes — for the next few days "layers" became her favourite word. "Do they heat the boat?"

The boat in question was the luxurious Silver Wind, a ship so white you almost needed sunglasses just to stare at it, and one of four ships operated by SilverSea Cruises.

"I don't know, Mom, but they might have some blankets we could wrap around our shoulders."

"It's not," I added, "like the old days."

Those days were in point of fact the young days, when I'd been a child, my mother a young woman, and our mode of transportation was one step up from a donkey. It had been almost 30 years since my father, Irving Layton, my mother and I last travelled to Greece together. Mother's Day was approaching, an excuse for us to go back there, but this time without my father, who'd passed away.

My mother is 76. I am in my 40s. If not now, when?

Our first stop was the Hotel Phaedra in Athens, where my parents and I had stayed in 1967. The tiny, toy elevator I used to joyride when I was a kid was still in operation, but as with my mother and me, much has changed over the intervening years. Once charging less than $5 a night, the hotel, like Athens, has been renovated and transformed for the Olympic Games in 2004. But the view of the Acropolis, which we can see from our balcony, is unchanged and eternal. So, too, the Plaka, the historical district, with its village houses and cobblestoned streets that surround it.

It was on one of those very cobblestones that my mother, on our first night, tripped and fell. My mother, previously so concerned for my own welfare, now lay on the ground with a serious gash on her forehead, a possible concussion, and the definite need to find a hospital.

Here's a valuable lesson someone once passed on to me: When in need, always go to the best hotel, even if you aren't staying there, and avail yourself of their services. The incredibly helpful concierge at the Grande Bretagne found us a doctor and then flagged a private taxi to take us there. One MRI, four stitches and two hours later, we emerged from the hospital.

It was now 11 p.m. We hadn't slept for 18 hours. Was my mother tired?

"I don't even have a headache!" she said. What might have ended our trip before it had even begun turned into the best cure for jet-lag. We went to a taverna and sipped ouzo, listening to live bouzouki music.

I knew travelling with my mother was going to be exhausting, but not quite in this way. She never stopped. In Rhodes, it was off to the whitewashed village of Lindos to visit some old friends of hers; in Marmaris, Turkey, we rented a jeep that broke down in the mountains. We hitched a ride back into town. There wasn't a musical performance, variety act or dinner reservation aboard ship that she wanted to miss.

A friend who helped me shop for the trip kept picking out cute little momma-boy sailor shirts for me to wear. Many of my friends thought it strange that I wanted to travel with my mother. I think it's strange that you wouldn't want to.

On our final night of sailing, the lights of the Ionic islands twinkling in the distance, my mother took my hand and said, "This is the best trip I've ever had."

Greece may be eternal, but we are not. Time passes. So next Mother's Day, take your mother on a trip. It's not as bad as it sounds. Promise.

David Layton is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

No wonder I want to repeat the whole trip again - but only if I can hold fast to my son's hand

The first time I sailed to Athens with my son, David, he was only a few months old.

We'd travelled there in an old Greek tub of a ship, our tiny cabin so close to the waterline that every time I opened the porthole, half the ocean sloshed in.

Four decades later, he's now taking me on a journey and it's on a cruise ship called The Silver Wind, where we each have a luxurious suite with glass doors opening onto a large veranda and a dressing room which was twice the size of my previous cabin.

Before we started our life of luxury, we'd decided to "slum" it for a few days in Athens, revisiting our old haunts.

I'd booked us into the Phaedra, a funky little hotel at the base of the Acropolis, where we'd always stayed and where David's favourite activity was riding the creaky old elevator up and down, to the intense annoyance of the two brothers, Stamatis and Yannis, who owned the hotel.

Despite our massive jet lag, we didn't want to waste a second and set off on a preliminary stroll.

As we negotiate the uneven cobblestones of the Plaka, I stumble and instinctively reach out to grab my son's arm, except that he had reached out to grab me, and in a split second I realize that, at 76, I am now the child and he the parent.

After a trip to the emergency ward and four stitches later, I cling to his arm like a limpet whenever he offers – which is all the time.

Even though I had dragged him all over the world when he was young, whether he wanted to go or not (and mostly he didn't), I'm lucky that he still wants to travel with me.

He's a great travelling companion, far more caring for my comfort than I am for his.

We have almost identical reactions to places and situations, both love going off the beaten path at the various ports of call.

We walk into whatever town we berth at, explore narrow alleyways, drink at local tavernas and then, at departure time, return to our floating palace, there to be enveloped in pampered luxury with only a gangplank connecting the two different worlds.

It never fails to astonish me that each morning we step out onto our verandas and there, like magic, another world appears in front of my eyes – Corfu, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Turkey, where we take the local bus to Ephesus and splurge on a private guide who is more intent on showing us the site of the brothels than the place where Paul preached to the Ephesians.

Later that evening, the cruise line arranges a special concert in one of the amphitheatres where, wrapped up in fleecy blankets, we listen to a string quartet, sip champagne and gaze out over the softly lit-up colonnades of one the most amazing ruins in the world.

Not that it was all paradisical. There were, of course, my constant motherly admonitions – "Make sure you're dressed warmly enough" ... "Don't lean too far over the railings" ... "That food always upsets your stomach."

I seem to have an endless supply of these shibboleths and can't stop trotting them out, even though the results are invariably counterproductive.

The bottom line, though, is that I love my son's company and, despite the mother-guilt, I console myself with the thought that I must have done something right.

When it comes time to disembark, I have a sudden panic attack at not being able to call room service at 3 a.m. if I have a sudden craving for Assiago Italiani or Bitter Chocolate Mousse.

Not that I did it, but I loved the idea that I could have done it.

No longer was there anyone hurrying across the dining room to assist me in peeling the foil off my yoghurt container or press exotic drinks on me at every turn.

No wonder I want to repeat the whole trip again – but only if I can hold fast to my son's hand.

::MUSIC NEWS::

Big Concert Names Offering Big Price Cuts

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

(May 24, 2009) It's too early to determine whether the recession is hurting the summer concert season, which starts rolling out in coming days, but music industry insiders say artists and promoters across North America are making all kinds of economy-related concessions to help music fans get the biggest bang possible for their hard-earned bucks and to ensure venues are filled to the brim.

Some major acts are offering "extreme deals" to the general public and in fan club and VIP pre-sale packages, said Sean Pate, head of corporate communications at the world's largest Internet ticket re-selling operation, Stubhub, based in San Francisco.

"U2 is selling all their seats for an average $55 this summer, and Bruce Springsteen is letting some seats go for as little as $1."

Country superstar Keith Urban is making sure that some of the best seats for his summer tour are available for $20.

"After the economy tanked in November and a traditional pre-summer lull, the volume (of ticket sales) is stepping up," Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of the concert industry trade publication Pollstar, told the Toronto Star.

"In-demand artists are not having trouble selling out," he said, citing upcoming packaged acts such as Aerosmith with ZZ Top, Nine Inch Nails with Jane's Addiction, Def Leppard with Poison and Cheap Trick, Elton John with Billy Joel, and Kenny Chesney with Sugarland.

But even those groups and others are opting to boost their "must-see" status by banding together. "We're looking at a flood of acts in the summer who are touring in recession-proof packages," said Bongiovanni.

But some artists without "must-see" status may find touring difficult this summer, or be forced to make extra concessions. The economy is forcing fans to make choices about how they spend their music money, Riley O'Connor, chairman of concert promotions company Live Nation Canada, said.

In the U.S., concert promoter Live Nation is planning to ramp up beer, food and merchandise sales to compensate for lower ticket revenue, and is considering lowering the price of cheap seats, or dividing them into more than the usual two or three price levels.

"We have to manage our costs, and you have to be responsible for what you do, and make sure any chances you take are not being too crazy," O'Connor said.

In the past decade, when radio airplay and record retail revenue – formerly the biggest sources of income for musicians – have all but disappeared due to Internet downloading and the iPod revolution, music acts have come to rely almost solely on live performances for their livelihood, Bongiovanni said.

That has created a robust and competitive marketplace for big-name acts and others with past radio hits, and a year-round feast of live music for fans, culminating in high-priced summer blockbusters.

Demand for live music has prompted a steep rise in the price of concert tickets and on-site merchandise, which have doubled since 2000, Bongiovanni said.

"The trend has been that the best seats are becoming more and more expensive, while general admission tickets have dropped in price."

But in 2009, many top-name acts are putting a much lower cap on the best seats, or offering one-price tickets across the board to combat the effects of the global economic downturn, and to ensure they're playing to full houses, said Pate.

"Keeping ticket prices down means acts may be playing in big markets for less, maybe 15 or 20 smaller markets will open up for them because of affordable seats."

There have already been casualties. The July 11 event on Toronto's Olympic Island, announced six weeks ago, featuring Broken Social Scene, Explosions in the Sky, Thunderheist, Beach House, Apostle of Hustle and Rattlesnake Choir, was cancelled last week, apparently due to poor ticket sales.

The 37-year-old JVC Jazz Festival, one of New York City's landmark cultural events, will not take place this year due to lack of corporate sponsorship money and the poor economy.

To stave off disaster, some acts are coming up with novel ideas. Hip-hop artist k-os recently concluded a 10-date tour which allowed concertgoers to pay what they wanted for his shows. They received a free CD as well.

California rock band No Doubt is making available a digital download of their entire catalogue with the purchase of a premium ticket ($42.50 before taxes and fees), while Coldplay ticket buyers will receive a free live album.

However, apparently oblivious to the recession, British impresario Richard Branson is moving full steam ahead with his fourth series of two-day Virgin festivals in Canada, with events planned this summer in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, and, for the first time, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

The Virgin festivals kick off in Montreal June 19 and 20 with Black Eyed Peas, Simple Plan, Hedley, The New Cities, Eva Avila, New Kids on the Block, Akon, Live, Lights and Divine Brown.

With files from The Canadian Press

American Idol Dark Horse Beats 'Rock God'

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

(May 21, 2009) Safe still sells when it comes to American Idol.

Given a choice between soft rock balladeer
Kris Allen and glam rock powerhouse Adam Lambert, with his "guyliner" and black painted fingernails, America went for Allen last night.

Lambert was the clear favourite of the judges and had been touted for weeks as the inevitable victor in the eighth season of the singing competition, but Allen was the dark horse who beat out another favourite, Danny Gokey, for a spot in the top two.

A world record of nearly 100 million votes were cast after Tuesday's final performance show, adding up to a record-setting 624 million votes cast in the season.

According to DialIdol.com, a website that tracks phone call traffic on vote nights, the contest was too close to call yesterday afternoon. The site said it was the first time it couldn't predict a winner.

"The underdog, the dark horse comes back and wins the nation over," said show host Ryan Seacrest after declaring that Allen, 23, a self-taught singer and multi-instrumentalist from Conway, Ark., had beaten Lambert, 27, a Californian with a musical theatre pedigree and an enormous voice.

"I don't know what to feel right now 'cause it's crazy," said a gobsmacked Allen. "Adam deserves this."

He recovered himself enough to thank the viewers for their votes.

The judges had all but crowned Lambert in the weeks before the finale. He's been called a "rock god" and the show's Michael Phelps.

"The whole idea about doing the show like this is you hope you can find a worldwide star," judge Simon Cowell told Lambert on Tuesday night. "I genuinely believe with all my heart that we've found that with you. Congratulations."

The general consensus on the web yesterday seemed to be that Lambert had been the better performer on Tuesday.

There will undoubtedly be some observers who feel last night's result was a repudiation of his sexual orientation, since Lambert is widely believed to be gay (something he neither confirmed nor denied).

But the truth could be less sinister.

Paula Abdul suggested yesterday that Allen would pick up votes from supporters of Gokey, 29, of Milwaukee. Both have a more folksy style than Lambert. Both shunned elaborate staging and wardrobe when they performed. Both are leaders in their churches. Allen is married while Gokey was widowed just before entering the competition.

Allen said Monday that he hoped the outcome wasn't decided by "having the Christian vote."

"I hope it has to do with your talent and the performance that you give and the package that you have. It's not about religion and all that kind of stuff," he said.

Lambert concurred, saying, "It's about music. That's really important to keep in mind."

Music was certainly top of mind during the two-hour finale, which was jam-packed with guests, everyone from Cyndi Lauper to Carlos Santana, Rod Stewart and even comedian Steve Martin, playing the banjo.

Highlights included a performance of "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas, Allen singing "Kiss a Girl" with Keith Urban, Lambert wailing away on "Rock and Roll All Nite" with KISS, and both finalists performing "We Are the Champions" with what's left of the band Queen.

The best line of the night went to Seacrest. Ex-contestant Katrina Darrell, a.k.a. Bikini Girl, came out to accept a "golden Idol" award in, what else, a bikini.

"I was going to ask you what's new, but I think I know," said Seacrest, referring to her very obvious breast enhancement.

With files from Associated Press

Marley, Elephant Man, Kingston Climb Charts

Source: 
www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(May 21, 2009) *After a six year absence from the Billboard 200 album chart,
Ziggy Marley returns this week at number 149 with Family Time, his latest album which has been released by Tuff Gong. The last time Marley had an entry on the Billboard 200 was in 2003 when Dragonfly entered and stalled at number 138.

Family Time also takes the top prize on the Billboard Reggae album chart, giving Marley his first chart topping album since 1999’s The Spirit of Music.

Incidentally, Marley along with his siblings the Melody Makers scored their best showing on the Billboard 200 in 1988 when Conscious Party peaked at number 23.

Elephant Man is no stranger to the Billboard charts. His latest entry Nuh Linga, which had topped charts here in Jamaica in 2008, rises from number 100 to 84 in its third non-consecutive week on the Billboard R&B Hip Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
 
Elephant Man has already charted with titles including Shake that Body featuring PI; Signal the Plane; Jook Gal (Wine Wine); Pon Di River Pon Di Bank; Father Elephant; and Don’t Stop with Janet Jackson.

Sean Kingston has the second highest debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week as his new single Fire Burning debuts at number 29. The single is currently number five on the Black Singles chart in Germany.

Kingston made waves two years ago with the hit singles Beautiful Girls, Me Love and There’s Nothing.

Over on the Billboard R&B Hip Hop Singles & Tracks chart, Serani continues to play musical chairs as No Games hops to number 56 up from number 60. The track has been on the chart for the past 23 weeks, and has only gotten as far as number 53.

The Joel Plaskett Emergency: This Good Music Comes In 3s

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

(May 23, 2009) It's a milestone kinda moment for Joel Plaskett.

Not only has the Halifax singer/songwriter just logged an utterly rare rock 'n' roll achievement – a triple-album, Three, that you can actually get through in one sitting – he's being rewarded for his diligent labours tonight with his first-ever gig at Massey Hall.

"Oh my god, I'm so excited," he says over the phone as his tour van winds into Montreal. "I feel really lucky to be doing that. We've worked really hard as a band, and it's a real feather in everyone's cap. I think everyone's thrilled and a little bit nervous about the show, but I also think the way to play Massey is to kinda treat it like any other show, while also acknowledging that it's a very special place to be, you know? We're taking the stage like we take the stage every night, anywhere."

The Joel Plaskett Emergency, as the full band has long been known, is suitably expanded – by three, no less – on its current cross-Canada tour to fit the larger venue.

Ana Egge and Rose Cousins, whose breezy, blended voices conduct blissfully popped-out call-and-response sing-along’s with Plaskett throughout Three are along for the ride. So, too, is his guitarist dad, Bill, previously a guest on single tracks on his son's 1999 solo debut, In Need of Medical Attention, and 2001's Down at the Khyber, but pickin' and strummin' away with the kids on the bulk of the new album's 27 cuts. He and Plaskett even share a co-writing credit on "Heartless, Heartless, Heartless," a faintly Maritime folk tune found midway through Three's mostly acoustic second disc.

So is dad going totally wild on tour or what? "He's loving it and I'm loving the fact that he's loving it," says Plaskett. "We get along great and he's a great player and, for him, it's a way to travel across the country and kinda be a fly on the wall and also be a part of the show. My love of music was definitely fostered and supported by my parents, so ... this is a nice way to return the favour."

The lovely ladies lending Three much of its magic, for their part, are graciously credited with the new richness of songwriting Plaskett displays on Three.

P.E.I. native Cousins is an old friend with a couple of solo albums under her belt. Brooklyn resident Egge has sung with Ron Sexsmith and toured with Shawn Colvin. The three wound up together at the Folk Alliance festival in Memphis two years ago and, on a lark, went into local recording legend Doug Easley's studio to muck around on the mikes. Something clicked. "I had such a good time writing parts for them, I thought, `This is how I wanna make the whole record,'" he says. "As I was writing and completing songs for the record, I realized their voices were gonna be a big part of it and started conceiving parts for them. It gave me a sounding board and they provide the questions I answer in the lyrics."

Plaskett's growth as a writer has been non-stop since Thrush Hermit first graduated from being fuzz-bedecked teenage brothers of "Halifax Explosion"-era Sloan during the early 1990s to the ripping old-school rock outfit that called it a day after 1999's Clayton Park. After the acoustic exorcism of In Need of Medical Attention, he flaunted an increasingly classicist and pop-literate approach and growing studio savvy over another solo album, and then two with the Emergency that would build in 2007 to the band's drunken teenage-romance concept album, Ashtray Rock.

That disc earned Plaskett reams of glowing press and a spot on the Polaris Music Prize short list, while his faithful following grew to such an extent that he could pull off stunts like playing each of his records in sequence over multiple nights at the Horseshoe Tavern.

He didn't intentionally aim bigger with Three, he says. Once the songs started coming, though, he saw no reason to stop. He actually tracked 33 for the album, then settled on three sets of nine songs – one effortlessly rockin' in a Paul Westerberg-meets-Tom Petty manner, one quiet and folky, and one full of whimsical, anything-goes pop – organized around the themes of "departure, loneliness and return."

"It was a big task. I didn't think it was when I got started. It was just like: `Oh, I've got all these songs. I'm making a triple record. This is easy,'" he laughs. "Finishing it was hard. Recording everything wasn't that much of a challenge, but completing it was sort of epic. Organizing it, sequencing it, creating the artwork, mixing and mastering – all of those things, everything was three times as much work."

Just the facts

WHEN: tonight @ 8

WHERE: Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St.

TICKETS: ticketmaster.ca

‘There Has To Be A Melody There, Or It Is Forgettable'

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(May 22, 2009)
Randy Bachman's time alone with the guitar is in the evenings. For an hour or two, he's able to work through new riffs and progressions, over and over and over again. It's not exactly a monkish discipline, though: He tends to practise in his automated massage chair as it runs through three 20-minute cycles of a “massage and shiatsu thing,” he says with a laugh.

“I just sit there and play all of my favourite finger-style and jazz things and rock 'n' roll,” all the components which, for Bachman, make up the best guitar tunes.

And as Bachman prepares to play Toronto's Luminato festival on June 5, what does he say makes up those components? What does he feel is the essence of great guitar music? (His rock anthem Takin' Care of Business , by the way, is among the 10 songs up for contention for a stunt, scheduled for the day after his performance, in which Luminato organizers are hoping to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the most guitarists playing in one spot, with the aim of breaking the existing record of 1,802 people.)

“There has to be a melody there, or it is forgettable. People remember melodies,” he says, speaking over the phone in the same no-baloney way he does on his CBC radio show, Vinyl Tap . “I grew up playing violin, and all you play on a violin is melody, the top line of the song. So even when I play a guitar solo, it's like composing a violin solo – something that you can sing, rather than a blur of notes.”

From there, he says, the trick is to keep it distinct. “There are a zillion ways to have little guitar hooks, like with triads of chords that are repetitive, as [Bachman-Turner Overdrive's] Let It Ride and some of my other songs begin. But growing up and wanting to write like the Beatles and Chuck Berry, for every song I've tried to have a distinctive, opening four-bar intro – a ‘Hi, this is what song this is.' And it has worked.”

Takin' Care of Business is a perfect example. It has “an inversion of a normal Chuck Berry riff, in which I played an extra note [as well as] left out a note. If you play that riff normally, it's Chuck Berry. If you play it the way I changed it, it's the Takin' Care of Business beginning … it's a funny, little thing. You make a little shift to make it your own.”

Many rock guitarists claim a kind of rock trueness for their music, simply due to the fact that it was composed on frets and six strings. Bachman isn't quite so blinkered. He sometimes wanders over to the piano to get a different perspective on a song. Still, all his tunes have been guitar-written, but for one.

“The only song I ever wrote on piano was the beginning to These Eyes , because it's simple, in the key of C. And I did a little suspension, played it for Burton, and he said, ‘Oh, wow.' After that, I went to the guitar and he went to the piano.”

Even as he prepares for a tour with Cummings beginning in June, which will no doubt feature several old hits, Bachman has stayed adventurous. He and Cummings are still working out which sections in such songs as American Woman can be reworked and opened up to include new progressions.

One of the things for Bachman to overcome, particularly given his interest in both rock and jazz guitar, is the urge toward complexity, at least when composing. “Another important thing of a hit guitar song is its simplicity,” he notes. “There's always the LCD, the lowest common denominator, that you must have in a song – because the LCD will appeal to the MCD, which is the most common denominator of people. Most of them don't have the musical depth or breadth to retain the melody unless it's very, very simple.”

Canadian Singer Kicked Out Of U.K. Under New Rules

Source: www.cbc.ca

(May 25, 2009) B.C.-born musician
Alison Crowe is back in Europe after getting kicked out of the United Kingdom last week.

Crowe was scheduled to perform with her band in Edinburgh, but fell afoul of new U.K. laws that require musicians to get special permits to play there.

When their plane landed in Gatwick airport, security officers locked them in a holding cell, Crowe told CBC News.

"Then they fingerprinted and photographed us and three hours later, roughly, trucked us over in a paddywagon to another building. And that's where we were kept for the remainder of the day, where we were interrogated and searched," she said.

Crowe said her passport was stamped "barred from entry" by U.K. officials.

The U.K. has introduced a Certificate of Sponsorship, required by anyone who works in the creative sector, from musicians to actors to technicians.

Each venue that employs an artist, classified as a "migrant" under the new requirements, is required to get such a certificate, a reference number that the artist must show when entering the country.

None of the U.K. venues Crowe planned to play was familiar with the new rules.

Activists oppose laws

A group of U.K. activists is opposing the new laws, saying the rules are intrusive and will result in damage to cultural and civic life.

All non-EU visitors must submit biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph to apply for the certificate and their movements may be monitored.

A group of artists and scholars has begun an online petition against the rules, saying its cost to the applicant will be enough to keep smaller performers out of the U.K.

Crowe is not the only artist to be caught by the new rules — Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov cancelled a recent tour of Britain because of the requirement.

Crowe and her band were released after six hours, but required to return to Canada.

She is now continuing the tour in Germany, which has no special requirements for touring musicians.

Crowe, who lives in Corner Brook, N.L., toured Europe, including Britain, in 2005 and 2007.

Her most recent album is Little Light, released last year on her own indie record label.

Boyz II Men Announce Hip-Hop/R&B Scholarship

Source:  www.allhiphop.com - By Ismael AbduSalaam
 
(May 26, 2009) Best-selling 90’s collective Boyz II Men recently appeared at Minneapolis’ Institute of Production and Recording to announce the initial planning of their new R&B/Hip-Hop scholarship.
 
During the visit, the group participated in a Q&A panel with students to share their 20 plus years in the music industry.
 
“It was an honour having these guys come by our school,” said Brian “Champtown” Harmon, IPR artists coordinator
. “They are around first-class, great men. A lot of folks don’t understand their love for Hip-Hop. To have them be down with our scholarship program we are developing is a wonderful thing."
 
Between 1992 and 1997, Boyz II Men dropped five #1 R&B songs and to date have sold more than 60 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most successful groups in music history.
 
In the discussion, the trio spoke about how Philly Hip-Hop culture contributed to their record-breaking success.
 
“A lot of people don’t know that we went to the high school of Creative and Performing Arts out in South Philly. We grew up with a lot of guys that are in the business right now,” explained Boyz member Shawn Stockman. “From ?uestlove and Black Thought from the Roots, [to] Amel Larrieux, we all went to the same school…We consider those the magic years because most of the artists that came out of that time got gold records and Grammys and things of that nature.”
 
The group also spoke of two well known artists that most people underrate as groundbreaking emcees: Will Smith and MC Hammer.
 
“Before Will was the Fresh Prince, him and Jeff used to do a lot of house parties at Temple University and Drexel,” Stockman explained. “How cats do it now with the buzz, Will was doing it in Philadelphia. He’d kill shows and used to be a beast, especially when Jeff was on the records.”
 
Chiming in, Nathan Morris detailed that the group was almost signed to Smith’s production company before settling on Motown.
 
Regarding Hammer, the Philly crooners argued that most emcees today utilize a multi-media blueprint created by the Oakland native in the early 90s.
 
“Hip-Hop has evolved to what it is and the guys today have gotten smart,” Stockman stated. “You can say Hammer was ahead of time. People front [now] but people danced to Hammer records…He’s another guy that if it wasn’t for him bringing us out of that six month tour…we hit all 50 states. Whether the arenas were packed or not, he still went out and gave an awesome show. And that stuck in our heads, even now. We still were around the right people to build in us that work ethic that we tend to utilize today.”
 
In addition, the group reflected on their “beef” with rivals Jodeci, and other Philly pioneers such as Steady B, Cool C, and Three Times Dope.
 
Boyz II Men’s last album was 2007’s Grammy nominated Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA.

MUSIC TIDBITS

Former Wilco Guitarist Dies In His Sleep

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(May 25, 2009) URBANA, Ill.–Jay Bennett, a former member of the band Wilco, has died at age 45. A posting on the website of his record label Undertow Music Collective says Bennett died in his sleep. Friend and fellow musician Edward Burch tells the Chicago Sun-Times that Bennett died at his Urbana home early Sunday and an autopsy was being performed. A cause of death was not immediately available. A message left for the Champaign County Coroner wasn't immediately returned. Burch says the family is mourning and unavailable for comment. Bennett worked as a sound engineer and played instruments for Wilco from 1994 to 2001. Earlier this month, he sued the band's lead singer Jeff Tweedy, claiming he was owed royalties for songs during his seven years and five albums with the group.

Jay-Z Makes Def Jam Split Official

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 22, 2009) *Jay-Z has officially brushed the Def Jam off his shoulders. In an interview with RapRadar.com, the artist confirms reports that he has ended his relationship with the record company where he made most of his biggest hits and went from rap artist to president, and back to artist again.  "I can honestly say, working with Doug Morris and LA Reid has been a unique and fulfilling experience and I respect them immensely," Jigga told RapRadar, referring to the label's higher-ups.    "I've been in the family for almost my entire career. Doug and I spoke directly and had one of the most unique 'negotiations' ever. Doug won the toss but, we both won in the end.   "I thank him for allowing me to be a completely independent artist. Not every artist can say they own or are given the opportunity to own all of their music."   Last year, Jay-Z and Live Nation struck a wide-ranging deal that included touring, publishing and albums. Jay-Z had owed Def Jam one more record.

::FILM NEWS::

Beauty, eh! Don Cherry Biopic Draws Fans To Arena

Source: www.thestar.com - Steve Lambert,
The Canadian Press

(May 25, 2009) SELKIRK, Man. – Hundreds of people converged at the hockey arena in this small city north of Winnipeg yesterday to act as extras in a film about hockey commentator Don Cherry.

Dressed in old fur coats and fancy hats, to simulate a hockey crowd in the 1950s, some travelled hours for the far-from-guaranteed chance to appear on screen.

"I want to work in the film industry and I thought being an extra would be an easy thing to start with," said Zachary Cordell, 26, who travelled nine hours by bus from Thompson, Man., and showed up in a bowler hat and charcoal vest.

"I got a notice ... on Thursday and I threw everything together to come down here."

Standing nearby was the McKelvie family, who drove up from Winnipeg after scrounging up dark overcoats, an old derby hat and a mink stole for mother, Susan.

"I went to a friend of my Mom's, who's 90 years old, and I got the coat and the fur and the hat and the gloves," she said. "Some came out of our own closets and thrift stores, that sort of thing."

Selkirk's arena is doubling as two rinks Cherry played in during his career in the American Hockey League in the 1950s and '60s, following a one-game stint with the NHL's Boston Bruins. The barn-style building is a natural fit.

"It's a fairly generic space and ... it's not over the top. You don't have electronics flying around the entire arena every time a goal is scored," joked Selkirk Mayor David Bell.

The movie, Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story, is expected to air next year on the CBC as a four-hour mini-series. The script was written by Tim Cherry, Don's son, who is also executive producer.

Known for his loud tirades and even louder clothing on his Coach's Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry has managed to attract both a devoted fan base and critics who accuse him of promoting fighting and bashing Quebec and European hockey players.

The film will reportedly include dramatizations of Cherry's boyhood in Kingston, Ont., and follow his hockey career through the minor leagues and as a coach with the Boston Bruins.

It stars Jared Keeso as Don Cherry and Sarah Manninen as Rose Cherry. Other scenes are being shot in Winnipeg and Brandon, Man.

Heath Ledger's Last Gasp

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

(May 23, 2009) CANNES, France – There were gasps from the audience at yesterday's Cannes Film Festival world press premiere of Heath Ledger's last movie as the first glimpse of the actor is his apparently lifeless body hanging from a noose.

The macabre scene is about 25 minutes into
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the Terry Gilliam adventure fantasy Ledger was making when the 28-year-old died of an accidental overdose in New York on Jan. 22, 2008. Ledger's character Tony looks convincingly dead and needs his heart massaged in order to return from the brink.

It's disturbing to sit through, and the film also has references to someone dying before their time and another staying forever young.

At a news conference, Gilliam said momentary consideration was given to removing potentially disturbing material from the movie, out of respect for Ledger and his family. Gilliam's initial instinct upon hearing of Ledger's demise was to scrap the movie altogether.

But it was decided the best way to honour the Aussie actor's memory was to make the film the way Ledger had planned it. Gilliam enlisted Ledger pals Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell to salvage the film. Each plays a later version of Tony as the character is transformed by a magical mirror while trying to save a young girl's soul from the devil's grasp.

Gilliam now considers Ledger the film's co-director, since his death forced creative changes that resulted in a very different film. "It was people's love for Heath that propelled this thing forward," Gilliam said. "We started with crying and then we started laughing."

‘It Was People's Love For Heath That Propelled This Thing Forward'

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Jason Anderson

(May 23, 2009) Cannes, France —
Terry Gilliam has never been the luckiest of directors. The filmmaker who first gained note for his surreal animations for Monty Python, Gilliam battled with Universal over the final cut of his 1985 black comedy Brazil , suffered an expensive flop with 1988's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and spent years unsuccessfully attempting to make a screen adaptation of Watchmen . Most notoriously, Gilliam's production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote , a loopy take on Cervantes's novel that was to star Johnny Depp, collapsed in 1999 due to assorted crises chronicled in the documentary Lost in La Mancha . But all those hitches and headaches paled next to the situation in which he found himself in January of 2008.

He was at work in London and Vancouver on the Canadian co-production
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus , an ambitious fantasy movie that reunited Gilliam with Heath Ledger, one of the stars of his 2005 feature The Brothers Grimm . Halfway through filming, Ledger, 28, died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

 “The first and most obvious choice was to close the film down,” said Gilliam at the press conference following a screening yesterday morning at the Cannes Film Festival, where it makes its world premiere in an out-of-competition slot. “I didn't see how we could finish it without Heath. We were in the middle of production and we'd done approximately half of his role and that was it. Fortunately, I was surrounded by really good people who insisted I couldn't be such a lazy bastard and I better go out and find a way of finishing the film for Heath.”

Thanks to a magic mirror that figures prominently in The Imaginarium , there was a second option for Gilliam. The mirror belongs to Doctor Parnassus (played by Christopher Plummer), an immortal magician who travels the world in a decrepit caravan-cum-theatre with a ragtag troupe of players. Anyone who tumbles through that mirror during one of the company's performances enters a phantasmagorical world whose elastic nature is influenced by the visitor's desires.

Ledger's character is Tony, a man of mysterious origins who comes to play a key part in an age-old battle between the doctor and the devil himself (played with all due relish by Tom Waits). Even if the silver-tongued rogue he plays here is a much milder sort than his gleefully psychotic Joker in The Dark Knight , Ledger's performance has all the liveliness that distinguished many of his later roles.

Gilliam says that having “Heath's last performance up there alive and well” was the hope of everyone involved, but merely replacing him wouldn't do. “We discussed for a long time whether one actor could take the part and I felt that was impossible,” says Gilliam. “I didn't think it was respectful or would work at all. But because we had the magic mirror and Heath goes through it three times, I thought, ‘Okay … three actors – that would be the way to approach it.' It's much more interesting and surprising.”

And so Gilliam started calling Ledger's friends. Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law all agreed to come on board and play three alternate versions of Tony in the mirror world. (They also decided their salaries would go to Ledger's daughter with actress Michelle Williams, Matilda.) “It was people's love for Heath that propelled this thing forward,” Gilliam says.

Imaginarium has yet to find a U.S. distributor, but it will surface later this year in Canada, where much of it was made – indeed, a sign for Burrard Street in Vancouver is visible in the background of the final shot. This was also one of the last projects for William Vince, the Vancouver-based producer of films such as Capote – he died of cancer at the age of 44 not long after the shoot wrapped last June. Dedicating the movie to Ledger and Vince, Gilliam calls their deaths “a double tragedy.”

Whatever happens now, Gilliam has already proven to be his usual indefatigable self. It was also announced at Cannes that Depp was back on board for another stab at Don Quixote , the film they failed to complete a decade ago. As the director exclaimed, “Don Quixote rides again” The shoot is planned to start next spring.

Special to The Globe and Mail

How Tarantino Scored His Most Inglourious Basterd

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - Elizabeth Renzetti

(May 22, 2009) Cannes, France — Five bottles of wine, a discussion about movies long into the night, and “something that resembled a smoking apparatus” – that's what it took to get Brad Pitt to agree to star in Quentin Tarantino's new Second World War movie, Inglourious Basterds . “I must have agreed to do the movie,” said Pitt. “The next thing I know I was in uniform.”

Pitt and Tarantino grinned at each like mischievous schoolboys across a table crowded with Pitt's co-stars, including Canada's Mike Myers, who adopts a clipped 1940s accent for his cameo as a British general. It was only moments after the world debut of Tarantino's new 21/2-hour film had screened to enthusiastic applause at the Cannes Film Festival, where the director was launched to international fame 15 years ago with Pulp Fiction .

Inglourious Basterds (the misspelling is all Tarantino's, and he didn't want to explain it) is a leap for the American director.

“ I'm not an American filmmaker. I make movies for the planet Earth. ”— Quentin Tarantino

His trademark humour is in place, and there are a couple of moments when the squeamish should take a trip to the popcorn stand, but it's a more mature movie, in theme and tone, than anything he's done before.

Lieutenant Aldo Raine, played by Pitt with cornpone swagger, leads a troop of Jewish-American soldiers bent on taking Nazi scalps. Literally, that is: Each of the eight “basterds” is meant to take 100 scalps, both as a way to sow terror in enemy ranks and a means to exact a small but necessary revenge for the atrocities they know are being committed.

Eli Roth plays the baseball-bat-wielding Sergeant Donny Donowitz, the Babe Ruth of payback.

“For me, being Jewish, it's like kosher porn,” he said after the screening yesterday. “It's something I've fantasized about since I was a young child. It was like doing a sex scene when I beat that guy to death.”

Of course, it wouldn't be a Tarantino movie if it only had one linear plot. We also get the overlapping stories of the German actress turned Allied informant Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) and the young cinema owner Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), who is determined to avenge her Jewish family's death. To give away her plan would be a spoiler deserving a smack, so I won't, but let's just say it allows Tarantino to use all his love and knowledge of film to rewrite history.

“It's a metaphor about the power of cinema,” Tarantino said, “but at the same time it's literal – the power of cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich.”

Those are some big plans for what is, after all, a summer blockbuster. And will multiplex audiences be turned off by the lengthy scenes spoken in French and German? (Tarantino wisely insisted that everyone speak the language of their characters, thus avoiding the usual Second World War movie scenario where even the Nazis sound like they graduated from the Royal Shakespeare Company.) The subtitles shouldn't be a turnoff – using them and an international cast helped Tarantino make a mature movie on a more substantial canvas.

“I'm not an American filmmaker,” he said. “I make movies for the planet Earth.”

Christoph Waltz, the Austrian actor who plays the sly, multilingual SS colonel Hans Landa, should be arrested for robbery because he pockets every scene he's in. In fact, Tarantino had been about to pull the plug on the project and just publish the script because he couldn't find the right actor to pull off Landa's feline wickedness in four languages. “Then Christoph read, and I said, ‘We're making the movie.'”

Hearing this at the news conference yesterday, Waltz got up from the table, went over to Tarantino and kissed him.

The international press is less interested in a little-known Austrian actor, no matter how talented, than in the world's biggest movie star, and the screams of “Brad, Brad,” nearly deafened. Pitt was channelling Jay Gatsby in a cream suit and grey scarf, and looked benignly over at Tarantino as the director described how they'd been “sniffing around each other” for years, hoping to work together but unable to find the right project.

“You had me at hello,” Pitt said.

“I had you at bonjour,” Tarantino responded.

Then the love-in continued. More of the cast continued the joke, getting up to kiss Tarantino. The question is, will the Cannes jury feel the same? Can he recapture the lightning of 1994, when Pulp Fiction took everyone's breath away and won a Palme d'Or?

One complicating factor: Isabelle Huppert, who heads the Cannes jury, was at one point expected to appear in Inglourious Basterds , but for whatever reason – Tarantino described it as “schedules and timing-wise and deal stuff” – she isn't in the movie. Insisting there was “no acrimony,” Tarantino said he's Huppert's “biggest fan” and wants to work with her soon.

It says something about this year's Cannes festival that Inglourious Basterds is one of the less gory offerings. It's also one of the few movies that offers the welcome respite of laughter. It was a relief to hear the audience laughing yesterday – it's been pretty dark on the Croisette, despite the sun.

Funny Business Booms On Museum Sequel's Set

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

(May 23, 2009) WASHINGTON, D.C.–With so many comic actors in the cast, there were bound to be plenty of laughs on the set of the sequel to the hit comedy Night at the Museum.

Robin Williams, Christopher Guest, Hank Azaria, Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais all contributed to the merriment of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, both on and off-screen, but it was Gervais who singled out the star, Ben Stiller, for special treatment.

"My only job was to try and make him laugh and put him off," recalled Gervais, the British comedian who created, wrote and starred in hit U.K. TV shows The Office and Extras.

"Ben's a huge star and probably one of the most successful actor-producers in the world, but he's always worried and very thoughtful. So that's why I try and put him off, because he's an easy target."

Gervais, who portrays fussy museum director Dr. McPhee, worked with Stiller in the original Night at the Museum and on Extras, in which Stiller made a guest appearance.

"The more I get to know him the more I like him as a person," Gervais said. "Ben's funny and sweet but you can tell he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he's always charming and what I call a genuine bloke. I've never seen him lose his temper."

Stiller managed to keep a straight face when it was called for the movie, and has nothing but praise for his supporting cast.

"The cool thing about these movies is that there's a combination of a lot of fun visual effects but also really funny comedic actors. And that energy and that mix is what these movies are all about," he said.

"I was particularly happy that (the first Night at the Museum) wasn't one of those movies that had a gigantic opening and then dropped off. It had a pretty good opening and people kept going back because of good word-of-mouth and because audiences liked it. The best feeling you get when you make a movie is that you feel like it's connecting with an audience."

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is the first film shot in Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian complex. Many of the museum's artefacts and relics, from the famous paintings and statues to the rocket ships in the halls, come to life in the movie.

Stiller, whose last starring role was in Tropic Thunder – which he also directed, co-wrote and co-produced – returns as Larry Daley, the museum's former night guard who is now a successful infomercial inventor.

He is summoned to the Smithsonian by the miniature cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) to battle the Egyptian ruler Kahmurah (Azaria), who has awakened after 3,000 years. With henchmen Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte and Al Capone, he wants to take over the museum, then the world.

With the help of Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and other new friends, including Abraham Lincoln, General Custer and Albert Einstein, Larry goes to the rescue of his old friends, who have been consigned to the Smithsonian archives.

In the process he links up romantically with the adventure-loving Earhart. "I had a great time working with Amy," said Stiller. "She was very, very funny and really embraced the comic tone. And it was fun for me to have a partner, somebody to relate to and a bit of romance because in the first movie I was running around by myself most of the time.

"I really liked the idea that this movie was able to start off with Larry in a different place and not be the same guy he was in the first movie. To me, that was the key to the sequel: to have a different place to start the movie and something new to do. I think any time you're doing a sequel the character should have evolved from where he was at the end of the first movie."

Director Shawn Levy and his crew took full advantage of the scope and possibilities offered by the Smithsonian. "We wanted everything we did in the first movie to not only be bigger, but better in the second," he said. "We wanted a journey for Larry that would be even more captivating and that would help him find his way back to the better self he got a glimpse of in Night at the Museum.

Night At The Museum: Hank Azaria Steals The Show

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

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
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)
Starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria and Amy Adams. Directed by Shawn Levy. 105 minutes. At major theatres. PG

(May 22, 2009) With the same fantasy premise, an almost identical setting, many of the same characters and cast members, lots of familiar high-school humour and even more frantic energy and digital animation trickery than the original, it's safe to say Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is now officially the second property in what promises to be a lucrative, family-friendly franchise.

It's a guaranteed blockbuster, but that doesn't mean director Shawn Levy has done all he could have to make Museum 2 a particularly memorable comedy.

He picks up three years after his runaway hit concluded, with main man Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), the former night watchman at New York's Museum of Natural History, now running a successful useless gadget enterprise, manufacturing his own inventions and flogging them to the bored and gullible on TV, and occasionally visiting his old playmates – the museum exhibits that come alive at sundown – for kicks.

It's during one of these infrequent trips to his old workplace that the newly minted gizmo magnate learns – first from his earlier mentor, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams again), and the next day from museum boss Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) – that many of his nocturnal buddies, including the resentful miniature cowboy Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson), Roman centurion Octavius (Steve Coogan), Indian maiden Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), and his favourite capuchin monkey, are to be crated for removal and storage in the bowels of the vast Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The venerable museum Daley loves is joining the digital age and holograms and animatronics are replacing his lovable, supposedly inanimate relics, which will likely never again see the light of day.

When Daley learns that the ancient Egyptian tablet that activates the inmates' surreal after-hours life has been secreted aboard the Smithsonian-bound freight by the mischievous monkey, he fears the worst: a catastrophic mess of night-living exhibits in the world's largest museum. He must intercede.

That's the set-up. The rest of the plot is standard chaos, except for some astounding visual effects and a few more characters thrown into the mix. Among them is Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), the evil brother of Museum 1's Egyptian ruler Ahkmenrah, bent on unlocking the door to the Underworld.

There's pesky, perky pilot Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and Gen. George Armstrong Custer (Bill Hader), still bleating about his defeat at Little Big Horn and longing for one more redeeming battle.

Meanwhile, Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat) and a black-and-white Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) act as Kahmunrah's three bumbling stooges, while a 20-metre-tall Abe Lincoln (voiced by Azaria) as the final arbiter in the mayhem that ensues.

Also along for the ride, and to provide a series of sly and occasionally effective pop-culture jabs, are Jonah Hill (Superbad) in a hilarious sequence as a pudgy, self-important security guard, Kitty Hawk's flying Wright brothers, Rodin's Thinker, who turns out to be a barely articulate moron (Azaria's voice again), Darth Vader, Oscar the Grouch, and Eugene Levy and the Jonas Brothers voicing, respectively, a bobbing-head Albert Einstein doll, and a trio of singing cherubim.

But somehow most of the imaginative work seems have gone into the special effects – including some stunning inventions using iconic American paintings – rather than into a script that, with a few exceptions, falls a long way short of its comic potential.

Azaria pretty much steals the show. His stint as a vengeful wannabe pharaoh with an outrageous Boris Karloff lisp and more than a hint of camp, La Cage aux Folles hysteria is a hoot and worth the price of admission. But his evil companions – Ivan, Napoleon and Capone – aren't given a line worth a laugh.

Hader, as the eternally unprepared Custer, makes the most of his one good line: "We're Americans. We don't plan, we do!" But he is wasted in most of his scenes.

Coogan's big moment, riding a squirrel into battle, lacks the weight worthy of his talent, and when, in the final struggle between good and evil, the movie stops while Stiller gets into a face-slapping match with a pair of monkeys it's clear the makers of Museum 2 have made a conscious decision to take the low road.

The one paved with gold, that is.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Source: 
www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

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

(May 19, 2009) You may well ask: isn't it a little late to be doing a Die Hard parody?

That didn't matter for this surprise January hit, which helped propel the 2009 box office to recession-defying heights.

Kevin James, from TV's The King of Queens, works his lovable loser shtick like a pooch with a pork chop in this agreeable comedy about a chubby enforcer who stumbles upon a terrorist takeover of his New Jersey retail complex.

Indeed, about 20 years too late, to be sure. If you're the kind of person who worries about such things, then this picture's modest charms, directed without distinction by Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care), will likely elude you.

James, who also co-wrote and produced the film, knows his limits and how best to make them funny. His Blart is no Bruce Willis, by about 50 pounds, which is what you'd expect of a guy who spreads peanut butter on his pie to "fill in the cracks."

Blart also suffers from hypoglycemia, a blood sugar disorder that requires frequent licks on lollipops to prevent him from blacking out.

He's perfectly pathetic, in other words. But he's determined to do the best job he can protecting his mall, as he scoots past the Cinnabons and Starbucks on his ridiculous Segway, shaking down miscreants in strollers and wheelchairs.

A single dad to preteen daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez), and forced to live with his mom, Blart has to bring home the bacon somehow. He's happy to live small, dreaming of one day making it with fellow mall drone Amy (Jayma Mays).

But then a band of terrorists, working some kind of Dr. Evil plan to fleece mall merchants by collecting their cash-register PINs – wouldn't it be easier to just knock over a bank? – accidentally lock him into their larceny and all heck breaks loose.

They forgot one thing. They forgot they were dealing with Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Sorry, that's a Rambo joke. But you get the idea.

Extras include deleted scenes, featurettes about the making of the film and James's career, and a mini doc on parkour, the extreme running sport.

Will Smith's Overbrook To Helm Katrina Film

Source: 
www.eurweb.com

(May 21, 2009) *Sony Pictures announced in a Wednesday Twitter that Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment will produce the Hurricane Katrina drama "
The American Can," written and directed by John Lee Hancock.

The story tells how ex-Marine John Keller orchestrated the rescue of hundreds of his neighbours during the deadly storm.

Standing a 6-foot-seven and 260 pounds, Keller lived in a five-story apartment building and after chasing some looters, emerged as the man in charge of the edifice and of the 244 residents, many of them elderly or handicapped.

For five days, Keller, dubbed the "Can Man," kept the building, isolated by 11 feet of water, safe from the chaos raging around the city. He also directed the eventual rescue operation from the building's roof.

Sony and Overbrook have picked up movie rights to his life story, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Hancock, meanwhile, is in production on "The Blind Side," the true story of an impoverished black teen who attracted the interest of a white couple and became one of the top high school football prospects in the country. 

FILM TIDBITS

Quebec Filmmaker Wins Three Awards At Cannes

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - The Canadian Press

(May 23, 2009) MONTREAL — Young Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan has scored a hat trick at the Cannes Directors' Fortnight, a sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival, for his French-language film I Killed my Mother . The film took the Art Cinema prize, the Regards Jeunes award and the SACD prize for best French-language film on Friday. Twenty-year-old Dolan wrote, directed and acted in the film, a coming-of-age drama about the complicated relationship between a young man discovering his homosexuality and his mother. The first screening of the film at Cannes received a lengthy standing ovation. Dolan is based in Montreal and the son of Quebec actor Manuel Tadros. I Killed my Mother is also in the running for the Camera d'or award for first-time filmmakers.

Dustin Hoffman Joins Cast Of Richler Adaptation

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(May 27, 2009) Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman has joined the cast of Barney's Version. Film producer Robert Lantos says Hoffman will play the role of Barney's father, Izzy, a foul-mouthed, retired cop. Hoffman joins lead actor Paul Giamatti, who will portray the ornery protagonist, Barney Panofsky. The film is based on the Giller Prize-winning novel by Mordecai Richler. Lantos says he's dreamed of working with Hoffman ever since he saw the actor's breakout 1967 film The Graduate while in university. Principal photography on the Canada-Italy co-production will begin Aug. 17 in Rome. Filming is also set to take place in Montreal, the Laurentians and New York. Barney's Version, published in 1997, recounts the life of an irascible and hard-drinking man who may have killed his best friend, Boogie. Lantos said Wednesday in a release that seeing Hoffman in The Graduate was "a seminal event" in his life. "This amazing actor's extraordinary performance convinced me that everything, even the impossible, was possible," said Lantos, whose producing credits include Eastern Promises, Being Julia, and Adoration, currently in theatres. "Ever since and through all of Dustin Hoffman's remarkable work, I have fantasized about making a film together some day." Lantos has said he's been working on a big-screen version of Barney's Version for 12 years. The project is a co-production between his Serendipity Point Films, the Montreal-based Lyla Films and Fandango of Rome.

::TV NEWS::

Jay Leno Retires From Tonight Show - And Ends Up In Ontario

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(May 23, 2009) It's a fair question: Following his final appearance as Tonight Show host next Friday, why isn't Jay Leno taking a vacation, instead of showing up at Casino Rama to perform just four days later?

At the start of our interview, even he can't explain it. "Look, I'm a comedian, what else do you expect me to do? Go off on a cruise somewhere like a lot of other chubby middle-aged guys and sit there sipping drinks with funny umbrellas in them?"

The 59-year-old comic sounds just a tiny bit defensive – or maybe he's just overworked.

"Heck, right after the last program I'm flying off to Atlantic City to do a show there on Saturday." He's on the phone from his dressing room at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, about to begin one of what he proudly calls "160 dates a year I've been averaging, in addition to doing The Tonight Show."

Do the math: that's 160 nights on the road plus his formidable TV hosting duties, not to mention the considerable amount of charity work he does.

Not much time left for real life, it seems, but maybe that's the way Leno likes it.

He says he has "the same wife I started with," the former Mavis Nicholson, whom he married in 1980. But with so little time at home, you wonder whether he has to have someone on his staff to reintroduce them every now and then.

Don't get me wrong. Leno is an affable, seemingly open guy ("Just call me Jay"), willing to answer any and all questions, although when I return to his workaholic habits, he gets just a bit edgy. ("You're not letting up on that one, are you?")

He quips that, for the past 17 years, "I've been the guy that most of America goes to bed with" – and he's actually right. After a shaky start in his first season, fuelled by all the behind-the-scenes drama and bitterness over whether Leno or David Letterman would inherit the throne that Johnny Carson had occupied for 30 years, The Tonight Show moved into the No. 1 ratings position for its time slot and has been there ever since.

"If I had any fears about the job, it's been in the last year," Leno admits. "After so many years at the top, I felt a real need to go out that way as well. I've said that it's kind of like the America's Cup race: you don't want to be the one who screws it up."

And he didn't. For one thing, on March 19 he nimbly hosted Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to appear on a late-night talk show. When the President made a politically incorrect joke about his 129 bowling score qualifying him for the "Special Olympics," Leno said he "knew the president had kind of put his foot in it, and for a split second I thought about editing it from the broadcast tape. But then I realized that everyone would have heard about it anyway and besides, we just don't do things like that. Not even for the President."

In the end, he's handing over a winning vessel to Conan O'Brien and – in an interesting insight into Leno's character – his final guest will be his replacement.

Not for Leno the "Holy Week" of self-canonization that greeted Carson's farewell, with Bette Midler tearfully (and literally) singing his praises or Johnny himself alone on the climactic show playing a reel of his favourite moments.

Leno just wants to demonstrate to the corporate folks at NBC that things are secure in the late night kingdom. After all, he'll be returning to the same network this fall with the tentatively titled Jay Leno Show, which will begin airing at 10 p.m. five nights a week.

"I never wanted to be a TV personality," Leno unexpectedly says after a rare pause. "I'm a nightclub guy. I tell jokes.

"Doing The Tonight Show has been exactly what I thought it would be: a great time. The real trick to show business is to observe it without actually becoming a part of it. Like I always said, `Sure it's a lot of fun, but you don't fall in love with a hooker.'"

Leno becomes surprisingly serious as he broods over the shallowness of his profession. "If you let yourself get immersed in this business, you lose a sense of what's real. You get blinded by a totally false sense of values.

"I once had a big film star on the show and during a break he told me he was looking for a really cool sports car and asked me to recommend one. I told him the new Ferrari was great and he snorted, `Everyone has a Ferrari.' I actually got mad and said to him `Don't you let anybody hear you say something like that. No, not everyone has a Ferrari. Man, I was 26 years old before I even saw a Ferrari.'"

Leno says he stays grounded through "all the time I spend out on the road connecting with real people ... I still have the friends I had in high school, and yeah, I may own 80 cars, but that's just part of the whole kid in the candy store thing. Okay, that's my one craziness."

But the most important factors in understanding Leno and his drive to succeed through perpetual motion lie in his childhood.

He was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., on April 28, 1950. Both his Scottish mother and Italian father worked in show business, but Leno found his attraction to the world of comedy on his own.

"I was in the fourth grade, and we were studying Robin Hood. The teacher was talking about the Sheriff of Nottingham and how evil he was. She said he wanted to boil all of Robin's Merry Men in oil.

"I raised my hand and said `Tuck wouldn't have minded that because he was a friar.' That was the first time I was conscious of saying something that made other people laugh, and I loved it."

But things weren't easy for young Leno. His high-school grades were so bad that his guidance counsellor actually recommended he drop out and go into manual labour.

"I'm a big believer in low self-esteem. The only people who have high self-esteem are criminals and actors," he says, bravado hiding the long-ago pain. "I've always felt I should walk in and assume I was the dumbest person in the room."

An attitude he likely picked up from his loving, but no-nonsense mother. "I remember her sitting down with me one day to tell me what she saw as the truth," Leno recalls. "She said `Look, you're not very good looking and you're not very smart, so you'll have to do twice as much as everyone else to succeed.'

"I decided then that if I worked hard enough, it would make up for any of my deficiencies."

So that's why he does 160 nightclub gigs a year and is coming to Casino Rama only four days after he finishes 17 years on late night television?

"I guess that's right." He chuckles at the revelation. "Hey, what do you know?"

Just the facts

Where: Casino Rama

When: June 2, 8 p.m.

Tickets: ticketmaster.ca

Hunting For Hits In Hollywood

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Grant Robertson

(May 20, 2009) Canada's major television networks travel to Hollywood this week on their annual sojourn to buy prime-time shows for fall, but the broadcasters will be packing much lighter wallets than in past years.

The recession, and an accompanying steep decline in advertising dollars, is expected to crimp their buying power. The networks are keeping tight-lipped on strategy, but CTV and Global acknowledge a different mood unfolding as broadcasters from around the world gather in Los Angeles to screen the new U.S. pilots.

“Every broadcast company around the world that's coming to the screenings will be more strategic, thoughtful and careful about their spending than maybe has happened in the past,” said Barbara Williams, executive vice-president of broadcasting content at CanWest Global Communications Corp. (CGS-T0.27-0.03-8.62%) “The economy has been brutal,” added Susanne Boyce, CTV's president of creative, content and channels. The network's goal is to pick shows carefully rather than buy specific “trends or timeslots,” Ms. Boyce said.

The buying strategies at Canada's big networks have become increasingly controversial in recent years.

Spending reached record heights for shows such as House, Grey's Anatomy, The Office and Fringe, in order for the networks to win the ratings wars. The broadcasters have told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that these U.S. shows drive the bulk of their advertising dollars in Canada, and are needed to subsidize Canadian programming.

In response, a consortium of TV writers, producers and actors tabled a report in Ottawa recently arguing that Canadian television shows can be profitable on their own, if funded and promoted.

Amid the debate, the CRTC has been looking at ways to curtail foreign spending, which hit a record $775-million last year across several networks, including CTV, Global, CITY-TV and others. One proposal – a formula that would require networks to spend one dollar on Canadian productions for every dollar of foreign programming they buy – could be implemented next year.

However, the Hollywood buying process is a risky trade, the CRTC recently found out in discussions with the networks.

When the Canadian networks bid on U.S. shows, they rarely know exactly how much they are spending, due to the way the U.S. studios structure the bidding process.

If CTV and Global want to buy a highly touted new show, they are often forced to also buy several other programs along with it, including some that have a lower chance of drawing big audiences.

Regardless of whether they air those shows themselves, the Canadian networks are billed by the U.S. studios each time the show airs on U.S. television, meaning they have no control over what the final tally comes to at the end of the year.

In some years, the budget ends up being higher than expected in Canada.

This process, detailed in recent private discussions with the CRTC, was not known to the regulator. The details were divulged by CTV and Global during closed-door meetings – the regulator has recently made portions of the transcripts public.

Though some of the transcripts are blacked out, much of the conversation remains intact. The payment system “was news to everyone” at the regulator, a surprised CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein told CTV and Global.

“When you buy those big shows, you don't know how much they are going to cost you,” Mr. von Finckenstein said.

“It is very, very hard to manage the budget as it is,” Ms. Williams responded, according to the transcripts. Similarly, CTVglobemedia Inc. chief executive officer Ivan Fecan told the regulator that the system has always been an issue for the networks.

“This has been true for conventional [networks] since the beginning of time – you pay by the telecast,” Mr. Fecan said.

With CTV and Global both projecting a loss at their main networks in 2009, and CanWest in a cash crunch with its lenders, both broadcasters have signalled to the CRTC in hearings that U.S. spending could soften this year. (CTV is owned by CTVglobemedia Inc., which is the parent company of The Globe and Mail.) Canadian networks such as CTV, Global and CITY-TV insert their commercials into the U.S. broadcasts of shows they purchase as compensation for the rights they buy in such deals. American networks see more financial gain by selling the rights to the Canadian broadcasters, rather than letting their shows stream into Canada over the Internet or via network affiliates in the U.S.

The U.S. television sector is also forecasting a drop in revenue this year amid the recession. The networks begin unveiling their programming slates to advertisers today in a bid to drum up ad sales in advance. Forecasts suggest the U.S. broadcasters will see declines of between 10 and 20 per cent from the $9.2-billion (U.S.) worth of commercial time sold a year ago.

Turning The Tables On Larry King

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

(May 22, 2009) And on the line from Los Angeles ... go ahead, caller ...

It occurs to me about 10 minutes before the call that I am about to interview the best-known and most prolific interviewer in perhaps the entire history of interviews, and certainly within the half-century he has been a broadcaster.

CNN staple
Larry King has talked to literally thousands of the most fascinating and famous, most noted and notorious, from presidents to paupers to shameless poseurs.

And now he's talking to me.

The occasion is the launch this week of his long-awaited autobiography, My Incredible Journey, which he was reluctantly dissuaded from calling What Am I Doing Here?, and for which he has come to Toronto tonight for a public sit-down with Heather Reisman at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

It is a life you would think would take several volumes to contain. King has been married seven times to six different women, fathered five children, survived quintuple-bypass heart surgery and a three-pack-a-day smoking habit. He's been arrested, sued, libelled and personally lost more than a million bucks in the recent Bernie Madoff scandal.

If there is anything that has not been done by or to Larry King, it's probably not within the realm of human experience. The highlights of our conversation:

Q. This book has been a long time coming. Why now?

A. Well, a lot had to do with hitting 75 and realizing that I started, gosh, 52 years ago ...

Q. My entire lifespan.

A. I've got ties older than you. So I've attained this age, I'm in good health, but I'm not going to live forever. And a lot of people told me I ought to do this book. I've done books on baseball and books on people I've interviewed, but I've never really done an autobiography. And 75 is kind of like a nice number to do it ...

Q. You've packed a lot of living into those 75 years.

A. I swear to God, sometimes I'll be driving in a car by myself, or I'm shaving or looking in a mirror, and I can't believe what I've lived. I look at my kids, I've got a 10-year-old and a 9-year-old, and I can't believe that. I mean, what am I doing with a 10-year-old? What am I doing at a Little League game?

Q. Getting kicked out for yelling at the umpire, they tell me.

A. I know. It's all crazy.

Q. So what interview have you always wanted to do and never got?

A. We always wanted to do the Pope, the last Pope. And we actually got a maybe once. That was big. I've always wanted to do Prince Charles; I want to do Fidel Castro. I'm fascinated by good and bad, by interesting people of all stripes. But if I had to pick one ... I guess J.D. Salinger, who doesn't do interviews. I was just talking about him this morning. I just read Catcher in the Rye.

Q. Do you have a best and worst?

A. The worst is easy. Robert Mitchum, who was an actor I admired, still admire. He was a great actor, but he drove me nuts. Every answer was one word. I remember I asked him, "What did you think of being directed by John Huston?" And he said, "Seen one, seem 'em all." So I said, "Are you telling me there's no difference between John Huston and, say, Bill Smith?" "Nope. Read a part, go home." ... If it's possible to pick a favourite, it would probably be Sinatra, for a combination of reasons. He embodied everything in an interview, he was very hard to get and he was never dull for a second. Then come Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, seven presidents ...

Q. I have to ask: How many pairs of suspenders do you own?

A. I have some here at CNN and some in New York for when I travel to New York, and some in Washington. I'd say maybe 150 in all. I buy them in sets: suspenders, shirt and tie. Sometimes people send (them to) me. I had some people send me some from Ghana, handmade. But they have to be buttons, no clip-ons.

Q. Will you ever retire?

A. As Milton Berle used to say, "Retire to what?" What would I do? I'm signed to 2011 – I'll be 77, 78. If I'm still doing well and CNN wants me, I'll be happy to stay. If they don't, I would do something else. But I would stay in broadcasting.

I would never want to leave an industry I love that I can still perform in.

TV TIDBITS

CBC To Lay Off 180 Workers Next Week

Source: 
www.globeandmail.com - The Canadian Press

(May 23, 2009) Toronto — CBC will lay off up to 180 employees in its English-language service next week, says Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC English Services. Stursberg made the announcement Friday to employees at the public broadcaster, said spokesman Jeff Keay. The CBC had projected in March that about 393 jobs would have to be cut in its English-language service to make up for an overall $171-million shortfall in advertising revenue. The shortfall for the English-language service is $85-million. About 100 employees have applied for voluntary retirement, which reduced the number of total layoffs necessary. Layoff notices will be served on Wednesday and Thursday. Keay wouldn't say whether more layoffs would be necessary. “The process is still underway,” he said. In March the company also projected 336 layoffs at Radio-Canada and another 70 in corporate support services, such as human resources and the legal department.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

The Good, The Bad And The Infamous

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

Infamous
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)
PlayStation 3
$59.99
Rated T

(May 23, 2009) This week, on the topic of the PS3-exclusive Infamous, I'll start low and end high.

First off, I call "BS!" on all implausible gravel-voiced main characters. On most other fronts – visuals, audio, physics, world-roaming freedom and player choice – games like Infamous are striving for realism, yet they continually give us these dudes with voices that could not possibly be found in nature; their intonation somewhere between Duke Nukem (RIP; mourn ya 'til I join ya) and the guy who does voice-overs for action-movie trailers.

I mean, our guy, Cole, shoots freakin' lightning bolts out of his hands – did game developer Sucker Punch figure we somehow wouldn't accept him as sufficiently badass unless he also sounded like Dirty Harry with laryngeal polyps and a pack-an-hour cigarette habit?

Second, moving onwards and upwards: Lightning bolts out of his hands. Infamous is a superhero (or, as per your preference, supervillain) game, a full-on, third-person, free-roaming, moral-choicing superhero (or supervillain) game, and it's a good one. After a suitably comic-bookish origin story, appropriately presented in brisk graphic-novel cutscenes, whiskey-voiced bike courier Cole finds himself with all the powers of Electro from the Spider-Man comics, right down to the ability to surf on high-tension power lines. Lightning bolts, lightning blasts, lightning waves, lightning-backed face-punches ... these are good super powers, they feel cool and tough.

And if you peel away the superpower label and see that they all map precisely to the standard video-game arsenal – various lightning bolts as pistol, shotgun, grenade, sniper rifle – so what? That's the business, man; it's all about new special effects over familiar frameworks, and when they feel this fun and fresh I find it hard to fault the commonplace.

Third, beyond his galvanic gunbelt, Cole's other superability is his phenomenal mobility, which turns his whole world of Empire City into an urban jungle-gym playground and makes the free-roaming gameplay work. Not as over-the-top (and thus maybe not quite as anarchically gleeful) as the tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound mobility of Crackdown – a game to which Infamous owes a substantial debt, if not its entire mortgage – Cole's town-crossing acrobatics are more like (almost exactly like, in fact) those of Altair in Assassin's Creed: running, climbing, jumping, using high-wires as highways and rooftops as refuges from the lethal attentions of ground-bound ill-wishers.

Again, this is all perfectly tuned for good feelings and minimal frustration; Cole goes where you will him to go, and sticks solidly when he gets there. Once Cole's full suite of travel powers is unlocked – the Electro-style cable surfing, the long-distance gliding via static electricity – the game's greatest pleasures lie in just booking around the gorgeous city freestyle, looking for hidden objects and occasionally dropping down to play Ninja Tesla Jesus with your electro-healing powers amid the plague-stricken plebeians that shamble in the gutters.

Lastly, it's not all high-spirited hijinks for our boy Cole; everywhere, the duties of superheroism/supervillainy call, plainly marked on your map and helpfully coded according to their good/evil value. The missions in Infamous generally aren't anything you haven't seen before – assault a location, defend a location, shadow some dude, beat the clock on an obstacle course, etc. – but they are many and various, and (at least at the "hard" difficulty setting I played on) more or less perfectly tweaked to sit right in that sweet spot where palm-sweating hardcore challenge just about slips over into controller-chucking frustration.

The payoffs are steady and worth it: Story missions advance the goofy four-colour comic-book plot and generally leave you with new or improved powers, while side missions bump your rep in either the halo or pitchfork direction, making their associated neighbourhood safer to travel, and provide all-important experience with which to upgrade your electrical badassery.

Looking back on the above – "standard video-game arsenal," "just like Altair," "nothing you haven't seen before," "goofy plot" – I imagine you're coming away with the idea that Infamous is a pretty generic exercise. You're not wrong. But as I said: So what? Not every game has to blow your mind with never-before-seen concepts, and "generic" is only a dirty word when it's code for "lazy and unimaginative."

There's a world of difference between "a rip-off" and "an heir to a lineage," and Infamous is a solid, well-crafted, rewarding and consistently enjoyable entry in its genre. As far as parents and cousins go, a game could do a lot worse than Crackdown and Assassin's Creed.

::DANCE NEWS::

A Dancer's Search For Pointes Of Perfection

Source:  www.thestar.com - Paola Loriggio,
Special To The Star

(May 24, 2009) Decades of ballet have taken their toll on Chan Hon Goh's feet.

It was a slew of stress fractures early in her career that led the National Ballet of Canada's principal dancer – now on the cusp of retirement – to launch her own shoe company, Principal by Chan Hon Goh Inc., in 1996.

"I was really trying to find better shoes for myself," she says, referring to pointe shoes, commonly called toe shoes, in ballet.

The shoes allow ballerinas to balance on their toes, making them appear weightless. The design has evolved little since the first pointe shoes appeared in the 1800s, partly because of ballet's love of tradition.

Even the best-made shoes fade fast. Goh goes through two pairs of pointe shoes in a single performance of Giselle, she says, sometimes three pairs in longer ballets such as Swan Lake.

Thus, finding the perfect pair of shoes – the kind that make standing en pointe feel easy – is bittersweet. "You can't put them away and use them another time."

Krumping, Popping, Locking And Waving In The Spotlight As Students Show Off Their Moves

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

(May 21, 2009) Ajamu Eversley and Dennis Gang spent the Saturday evening of the long weekend dancing, the way they pass most of their free time.

Only this time, the Mississauga pals were surrounded by nearly 100 likeminded peers at the Markham studios of
VYbE Dance, rehearsing for the school's seventh annual year-end showcase being held this Saturday at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People.

Although Eversley and Gang are not members of the company, they're part of a foursome that has been invited to perform an intense form of hip-hop dance called krump.

"It's always really cool to introduce something new," said VYbE's founder and artistic director Terry Go about including krump in the weekend's program, called "Spotlight 2K9," of urban pop, jazz and other hip-hop dances, such as popping, locking and waving.

Mimicking an American Idol format – but with no winners selected – the show will be divided into segments (e.g. Best Dance Crew) and will feature singers doing tunes by Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga and performances by four west coast choreographers.

Krump, which is defined by stomps, arms swings, chest hits, fierce facial expressions and dancers facing off in battle stance, isn't actually that new. It originated in California as an alternative to gangbanging and was popularized in David LaChapelle's 2005 documentary Rize.

"It's a very aggressive dance," said Go. "It was big at the beginning, but I've found people are more interested in watching than learning it."

Attendees of the 13-year-old VYbE – it stands for Versatile Young Bodies of Energy – range in age from 14 to 30. Alumni have appeared in TV commercials, worked with artists like Shaggy and Aaron Carter and made it to So You Think You Can Dance's Top100, but most are in it for fun, Go said.

"They really like dance and come here because they're passionate, not because their parents want them to."

Gang, 21, said his parents have never seen him dance.

"My mother thinks it's a waste of time, but she understands that I love it," said the gifted artist who has never had any formal lessons, and plans to enter the Ontario College of Art and Design in the fall.

He's taken to heart the ideals of the krump, which is an acronym for Kingdom Radically Uplifting Mighty Praise. The dance is "presented as an almost spiritual practice, born out of a sense of oppression," noted Toronto Star dance critic Susan Walker about Rize in 2005. "It's fighting stances link it to capoeira, the Brazilian martial arts-based dance form that evolved out of an African slave resistance movement."

"The world isn't perfect, so you can never have 100 per cent faith," said Gang of his dance name Fait. "I leave the `h' off to show that. It's hard to do, but I pray while I dance. You have to get rid of your pride."

As part of Rage Fam, he and Eversley will open their four-minute routine with a piece called "Prison Break."

"We're locked in a cage and when it's opened up we're free to express ourselves," explained Eversley, 24, whose dance names are Freezy and Rage.

The York University economics grad started street dancing in high school after an ankle injury dashed his hopes of a soccer scholarship. Rize inspired him to take up krumping.

"The dance is about intensity and expressing yourself," said Eversley, by day a banking sales rep. "If I had any negative energy through my regular life, I didn't have sports any more to release that energy in me, so krump is a perfect fit. It's so emotional, like therapy; it makes me feel better.

"To the naked eye it doesn't look like it has a solid foundation, but we're counting (beats) in our heads and making precise, controlled transitions."

Eversley said he spends about two hours a night practising alone or with friends "anywhere there is space and music." Occasionally battles, organized through Facebook, draw as many as 50 krump dancers from Mississauga to Pickering, to an outdoor location near a subway station.

"Usually the cops arrive and they ask for ID," said Eversley. "Once they realize that we are just dancing and expressing ourselves, they don't have a problem."

Just the facts
WHAT: Spotlight 2K9: Love 2 Move!

WHERE: Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front St. E.

WHEN: Saturday, 3 & 7 p.m.

TICKETS: $20 advance at vybedance.com, $25 at the door

::SPORTS NEWS::

Canada Basketball Hopes Youth Teams Will Give Sport A Boost

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

(May 23, 2009) It is a summer for Canada's best teenaged basketball players to take their place on the international stage, a crucial step in what national officials hope eventually leads to a return to prominence at the senior level.

Canada Basketball has high hopes for the women and men who'll compete at the world under-19 championships later this year and the first-ever international programs at the Cadet (under-16) level.

"That's the way we can compete for medals at the senior level, we can't just sort of bring together the top guys for a minute and go play," said Toronto's Greg Francis, the head coach of the junior men's team.

The under-19 men and women both qualified for the world championships last summer by finishing third and second, respectively, in FIBA Americas qualification events. And Canada Basketball officials hope the pipeline gets filled with more good young players through the newly instituted Cadet program, funded in partnership with the various provincial associations. It's a huge step in developing a mindset among promising teenagers that there are significant national team programs to aspire to.

"Now we're getting so many more high school kids, that's how we're going to get results," said Francis. "The one thing I really didn't think about is once you have more programs here, people identify with these high school kids sometimes as much as the senior team guys."

Canada Basketball will have its usual senior team programs – the men and women will attempt to qualify for the 2010 worlds later this summer – but the long-term growth of the game revolves around the junior and cadet teams.

Canada has had a history of organizations working sometimes at cross purposes for developing the sport. Canada Basketball's improved relationship with the provinces and the national team programs for teenagers are making it more relevant.

"For the first time at this level, we're building some consensus across the country," said Toronto's Roy Rana, who'll coach the cadet boys team this summer. "Hopefully we'll see many of the young people who are in this cadet program, on both the men's and women's side, continue to represent their country year in and year out."

There are still some significant issues for Canada Basketball – holding its three-day annual meeting in Toronto this weekend – to deal with.

One is that they need some success on the senior level to enhance the profile of the organization with casual fans.

But the long-term viability depends on attracting the best young players and giving them opportunities.

"Kids are starting to see we're not just talking crap about this international stuff," said Francis.

"There's something to it."

Nadal And Federer Advance At French Open

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(May 25, 2009) PARIS–The King of Clay eclipsed another mark Monday, this time breaking the French Open men's record for consecutive wins.

Top-seeded
Rafael Nadal looked his usual dominant self in the first round, beating Marcos Daniel of Brazil 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 for his 29th straight win on the red clay at Roland Garros.

"At the beginning, I didn't quite get the best feelings, but I won in three sets. That's very positive," Nadal said. "I should have won more easily ... but it was a difficult match.''

Roger Federer, the man Nadal beat in the last three French Open finals, had an easier time in his opening match, defeating Alberto Martin of Spain 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Dinara Safina, the top-seeded player in the women's draw, advanced with No. 3 Venus Williams and unseeded Maria Sharapova.

Nadal's win bettered the French Open record held by Bjorn Borg, who won 28 straight from 1978-81. Nadal also equalled the overall tournament record, matching the 29 straight that Chris Evert won between 1974-75 and 1979-81. Evert did not play at the French Open from 1976-78.

Nadal was broken three times by Daniel, but the top-seeded Spaniard remained perfect on the French Open's red clay as he tries to become the first player to win five straight titles at Roland Garros.

"His backhand is better than his forehand, but I think I made it a bit easy for him," Nadal said. "That's my opinion.''

Federer has won 13 major titles, but he still needs to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.

Against Martin, who missed the last two French Open tournaments because of injury and then by failing to qualify, Federer appeared to play effortlessly.

"Once I got the upper hand, things were pretty much in control," Federer said. "I served well when I had to, and mixed it up. That's how I want to play. I'm happy to be through without a fright.''

Also advancing on the men's side were sixth-seeded Andy Roddick of the United States, No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, No. 17 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 23 Robin Soderling of Sweden, No. 24 Jurgen Melzer of Austria, No. 28 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, No. 30 Victor Hanescu of Romania and No. 32 Paul-Henri Mathieu of France. No. 19 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic lost to Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3.

Roddick beat French wild-card entry Romain Jouan 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to win a match at the French Open for the first time since 2005.

Safina routed Anne Keothavong of Britain 6-0, 6-0, spraying shots to all parts of the court.

"I was just playing point by point, game by game, and it ended up like this," said Safina, who with Marat Safin forms the only brother-sister combination to have held the No. 1 ranking.

Keothavong had a couple of chances against Safina, but she wasted two break points in the third game of the first set, and led 40-0 in the fourth game of the second but couldn't hold on.

"When that's happening to you all you want to do is get on the scoreboard, but I wasn't able to do that," said Keothavong, who saved four match points before Safina hit a forehand winner down the line. "It just kept getting harder and harder.''

Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic won 6-0, 6-0 at the French Open last year, and Serena Williams did it in 2003.

Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, survived a sudden second-set slump to beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. She won the match's first five games, while Mattek-Sands asked for a medical timeout during the first set so a trainer could look at her right wrist.

"I'm definitely a third-set player," Williams said. "Once I get to the third set ... I feel a new level coming.''

Williams has never won the French Open, but she did reach the final in 2002 when she lost to little sister Serena. Overall, Williams holds a 36-12 record at Roland Garros, giving her the most wins of any player in the women's draw at the tournament.

Sharapova played with a bandage on her right shoulder, and she struggled in the first set before beating Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

The unseeded Russian was broken three times in the first set, but she opened the second with four straight wins before being broken once again. Before the start of the next game, Yakimova called for a trainer to work on her lower back.

"I started pretty lousy," said Sharapova, playing a Grand Slam match for the first time since last year's Wimbledon. "I was just a little sloppy. But I totally changed it around, and I started playing a lot better and more aggressive.''

No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, No. 13 Marion Bartoli of France, No. 15 Zheng Jie of China, No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, No. 22 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain and No. 29 Agnes Szavay of Hungary also advanced to the second round.

In upsets, No. 23 Alisa Kleybanova of Russia lost to Polona Hercog of Slovenia 6-2, 4-6, 6-1; No. 14 Flavia Pennetta of Italy was eliminated by Alexa Glatch of the United States 6-1, 6-1; No. 26 Anna Chakvetadze of Russia lost to Mariana Duque Marino of Colombia 3-6, 6-4, 6-4; and No. 17 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland fell to Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-3.

SPORTS TIDBITS

Mike Tyson's Daughter Dies After Accident

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 27, 2009) *The 4-year-old daughter of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was pronounced dead just before noon on Tuesday due to injuries from an accident at her family's central Phoenix home.     According to Phoenix police spokesman Andy Hill, Exodus Tyson was playing on a treadmill Monday when her head apparently slipped inside a cord hanging under the console.     Exodus' 7-year-old brother found his sister tangled up in the cable and called for his mother, who quickly removed the cord from her neck, called 911, then began administering CPR.     Police officers, who arrived at the home minutes later, found the little girl unconscious and continued performing CPR. She was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center.     Tyson, 42, was in Las Vegas at the time of the accident and flew to Phoenix on Monday. As she remained in critical condition Tuesday morning, he released a statement thanking folks for their prayers.  "There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Exodus," the family said in a statement. "We ask you now to please respect our need at this very difficult time for privacy to grieve and try to help each other heal."   At EUR press time, funeral arrangements for Exodus are still pending.