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November 12, 2009

So, the sun of Los Angeles is calling me so I'm going to listen - heading down there tomorrow (Friday for a week). The newsletter will still come out next Thursday - may be a little lighter in content so that I can get some desperately needed R&R. 

I have the
best news this week!  My friend with the soulful voice, Haydain Neale (lead singer of jacksoul) made his
FIRST public appearance in the audience for his band's filming of Bravo's At the Concert Hall: "Motown".  Colin James, Divine Brown, Suzie McNeil, Justin Nozuka, Matt Dusk, and Justin Hines performed renditions of classic hits from the artists who were instrumental in creating the essential Motown sound.  As you may remember, Haydain had a serious car accident in 2007 and is a presence that has been sorely missed from the Canadian music scene.  BUT you can now hear him again (!!) with his latest release SOULmate (see details below under SCOOP)All proceeds from the sale of SOULmate will go to the Haydain Neale Family Trust.   We love you Haydain!

So some of you may not know that I was on the cover of the Toronto Star last Saturday as a result of Toronto winning the bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games which I've assisted my boss with over the past year.  What are the Pan Am Games you ask?  The Pan American Games are a multi-sport event, held every four years in the year before the summer Olympic Games and between competitors from all nations in the Americas (comprising of the continents of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions).  Check out the related article under TOP STORIES 


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.  Want your events listed by date?  Check out EVENTS


SOULmate - the new album from JUNO award-winning jacksoul in Stores - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All proceeds from the sale of SOULmate will go to the Haydain Neale Family Trust.

(November 5, 2009 - Toronto, ON) Juno Award winning R&B/Soul artist
jacksoul, led by Haydain Neale, returns with SOULmate, a collection of all new remarkable songs that tell of love, hope and endurance, set to his trademark unstoppable beats. With hits like “Can’t Stop”, which was the #1 Most Spun Canadian track for four weeks in 2000, and “Still Believe in Love”, the #1 Most Spun Canadian track and the #1 track on all formats simultaneously in 2004, jacksoul has been internationally heralded as an incredible artist that delivers soul stirring and intoxicating music.

On November 3, 2009, the first new single from jacksoul in over 3 years, “Lonesome Highway”, was serviced to CHR/AC/Hot AC/Urban radio and made available for purchase on iTunes. This striking song was co-produced by Haydain Neale and Ron Lopata, and co-written by Haydain and noted Canadian guitarist, Stuart Cameron. The lyrics are powerful and underscore the beauty of a journey that is fulfilled with the love and support of the people around him. The message is especially bittersweet, given the incredible path that Haydain’s life has taken in the last two years. His legendary voice has been missing from the Canadian music scene since a serious motor accident in the summer of 2007, but Haydain’s strength and perseverance during his recovery have been moving and inspiring.

Listen to
jacksoul – lonesome highway HERE:

Over the past two years, with the unwavering love and support of his wife Michaela, daughter Yasmin and numerous others, Neale finished production on the album he started almost 3 years ago. Back in the studio with his fellow jacksoul band mates over the last 6 months, Haydain has been quoted as saying: ”It takes me more time now, but I still orchestrate the room.”

An inspiring journey indeed that Haydain hopes continues to send the message he wrote so eloquently in the liner notes of his last album mySOUL - “I think music can heal and educate. If jacksoul never makes another recording, I'll always be proud that our music was a positive force for not just love between couples, but love of self, community and the world. It's been a crazy place, this earth, since the last record. And if we could all exercise some true tolerance of each others’ existence; some understanding of each others’ cultures; and accurate knowledge of our common histories, we would then find ourselves in a much better world indeed.” Haydain has now amassed this new body of work – some of the most meaningful and creative writings in jacksoul’s history – and created SOULmate.

Executive produced by Haydain and Michaela Neale, SOULmate is the fifth release from jacksoul, and is comprised of ten new tracks written before Haydain’s accident. It charts the return of a powerful voice in R&B/Soul music, a potent mix of smooth vocals and tight beats, showcased in the simplicity of brilliant songwriting.

Over the course of his career, jacksoul has earned a well-deserved reputation as a gifted songwriter. Haydain was awarded the SOCAN Award for “R&B Song of the Year,” a Canadian Urban Music Award for “Songwriter of the Year,” 2 JUNO Awards for “Best R&B/Soul Recording”; and has achieved numerous #1 chart positions for singles and videos, across multiple radio formats, MuchMoreMusic and Musimax.

All proceeds from the sale of SOULmate will go to the Haydain Neale Family Trust.


Monogamy – Is It Relevant?

Source: Black Daddies Club - www.blackdaddiesclub.com

Monogamy ...is it relevant” is the first event in a series that will discuss taboo issues in the Black community. The event takes place Saturday November, 28th at 9pm at Strictly Roots Hair Salon on Bathurst Street, Toronto. (Located at 154 Bathurst Street).

On November 28th
Black Daddies Club hosts an in-depth and honest discussion on monogamy in the Black community. The event will be a safe and inclusive space for members of the community to share their views and receive knowledge.
The event will be a mix of experts as well as the community speaking quite candidly on this taboo topic of monogamy or the lack off.
Some of the expert panel will include a representative from Ashley Madison http://ashleymadisonbio.com/, a representative from the Church, a representative from the LBGT (lesbian Bi, gay, trans,) to mention a few. This will be an interesting dialogue nevertheless with these experts and the community as we draw on relevant cultural and social factors to get people thinking and talking about the concept of fidelity.

The event takes place during AIDS awareness month and will also provide valuable knowledge on the increase of AIDS in the black community. “We are not trying to pick a side of whether monogamy is right or wrong, rather we want to generate a discussion on a topic that is often times ignored in our community” said Brandon Hay, founder of Black Daddies Club.


Strictly Roots Hair Salon
154 Bathurst Street
Discussions begin: 10:00 pm SHARP!


Jubilation As Toronto Gets Pan Am Shot

www.thestar.com - Vanessa Lu

(November 7, 2009) GUADALAJARA, MEXICO–It started with cocktails in an Annex backyard, in a city desperate to shed its loser label.

It was the fall of 2005, and Bob Richardson, a key organizer in the failed 2008 Olympic bid, wanted to help out his old Carleton University roommate, Jim Watson, who had just been appointed Ontario's health promotion minister.

Ontario had fallen behind with its sports facilities. Our pools, rinks, running tracks and arenas were failing future athletes.

A decision was made. The gathering of 20, several Olympians among them, realized the only way to secure the money needed to transform the sports scene was to win a major international event.

On Friday, the idea conceived four years earlier at Richardson's house became a reality when Toronto was awarded the
2015 Pan Am Games.

When Pan American Sports Organization president Mario Vazquez Rana announced Toronto was the winner, the bid team jumped, cheered and screamed for joy. The relief was palpable. Toronto was no longer a loser.

Now, "People can say, 'We got something,' " said bid chair David Peterson.

"Now we can turn this into something big. If you think big and you have big dreams, this can be a mood changer for Hamilton, a mood changer for Toronto, and a mood changer for Ontario."

It was all done with a $2.4 billion bid involving venues from Welland to Oshawa and calling for new aquatic centres and stadiums, plus an athletes' village – later to be turned into affordable housing – near Toronto's eastern waterfront.

The vote wasn't close: Toronto's 33 votes blew away the competition in the first ballot. Lima, Peru, got 11 votes, and Bogota, Colombia, had seven.

After nearly 18 months of lobbying that sent them criss-crossing the hemisphere for votes from the 42 members of the Pan American Sports Organization, the bid team arrived in Mexico this week both hopeful and optimistic.

While arguing the city had the best technical bid, organizers were reluctant to talk about a win, fearing it might jinx our chances or even backfire if the city seemed too confident. Toronto had been down this road before, with two failed Olympic bids.

"You have to be very circumspect," said bid chair David Peterson.

But when it became clear there would only be one round of voting, Toronto's organizers became more confident, letting out some expectant hope that a win was finally within their grasp.

As the ballots were being sorted into three piles at the front of an enormous hotel ballroom, one pile was clearly much bigger.

"I was trying to follow the pen as (an official) was writing the name of city beside the pile and the number 31," said Jagoda Pike, the bid's chief operating officer.

"When they announced, my heart stopped."

It was actually 33. Bid chair David Peterson and Premier Dalton McGuinty were among the first on stage to celebrate.

The room was electric, just as it had been earlier in the day when Toronto made its final sales pitch, a crucial hour-long presentation that can sometimes knock a city out of contention.

After rehearsing over and over, the team of athletes and politicians hit it out of the park, with a passion. It opened with gymnasts, volleyball players and a tennis player bouncing into the ballroom, followed by a 60-strong delegation dressed in smart black blazers with the bid crest.

Interspersed through the show were videos from athletes across the hemisphere extolling Toronto's benefits, including the world's fastest man, Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who was in town last summer.

The final video offered a moving tale of what the Games might be: youngsters from across the Americas and Caribbean training and growing up to compete in Toronto in 2015.

"It makes me cry every time I see it," said Peterson, adding he told staff that if it didn't make him weep, the team wouldn't show it.

Toronto's hour drew hearty applause throughout, unlike Bogota's and Lima's more formal presentations, which featured wrap-up speeches from their national presidents: Colombia's Alvaro Uribe and Peru's Alan Garcia.

The Canadian politicians were all smiles afterward.

"It's a moment of tremendous celebration for us," McGuinty told the delegates. "Our promise is to present you with the best Pan Am Games ever."

Also grinning was Mayor David Miller, who had been initially reluctant to sign on after a previous world's fair bid – ironically also for 2015 – failed to get off the ground because of senior government squabbling over debt guarantees.

"I was always a little nervous. Bitten once, twice shy," said Miller.

But this time, Ottawa and Queen's Park agreed to put up $500 million each, with the province promising to cover any cost overruns. The 14 municipalities with venues are putting up their own shares.

The Pan Am Games Home Field Advantage

www.thestar.com - Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew

(November 8, 2009) There are no cheering crowds at the pool at 5:30 a.m. Sixteen-year-old competitive swimmer Amanda Reason is there, focused on being her best as she glides into the water.

"It's basically a test," she said of her early-morning practice. "If you want to pass, you have to do the set and you have to do it well. That's what I try to do every day."

Pan American Games, which Toronto will host in 2015, will bring a surge of tourism and international profile to the region.

For the athletes, it will mean new world-class facilities, a home turf advantage, and the swell of pride that comes from having an arena of Canadians cheering for them.

"Having the crowd there will be the most exciting thing that any athlete will ever experience," Reason said. "It gives the athletes confidence that the whole country is there for you."

Andrew Yorke, 20, has travelled all over Canada and the U.S. and to Brazil to compete in the triathlon. He easily rhymes off the advantages for a hometown athlete in an international event: no travelling, no time differences, no major changes in sleeping or eating habits.

"Being able to train on the course for a championship race is a huge advantage," he said. "Your knowledge of the course, visualization, just getting the feel of it is going to pay off for Canadian athletes."

The $2.4 billion plans for the Pan Am Games include venues from Welland to Oshawa. Existing facilities will be upgraded. There are also plans for an aquatics centre at the University of Toronto's Scarborough Campus. Hamilton is slated for a 50-metre pool, a velodrome for track cycling and a stadium.

"The two weeks of the party that comes with the games, that's lovely. But it ends as quickly as you can blink an eye,'' said Barrie Shepley, former Olympic coach and vice-chair of the coaching association of Ontario. "But the biggest thing I've been interested in as a coach is the legacy of the facilities that remain after the event is over.

"Anything that's going to increase opportunity will be great, not just for high-performance athletes. It inspires young athletes. It's great for kids and great for seniors. It's stuff that does not get built unless there's a Games around."

Reason moved to Etobicoke on her own in February because there was no 50-metre pool in her hometown of LaSalle, Ont., near Windsor. Her mother has now joined her.

It paid off. This summer, Reason broke the world record in the women's 50-metre breaststroke in Montreal, and placed seventh in the world championships in Italy.

Now, she's aiming for the Pan Pacific Games next year in California, then the 2012 Olympics in London. Then Toronto in 2015. "It's important to me because it's home."

Rihanna Opens Up About Chris Brown Assault


(November 5, 2009) NEW YORK–Rihanna said Thursday that she regrets going back to ex-boyfriend Chris Brown after he left her bruised and battered during a February assault, warning other women facing domestic violence to not let themselves become blinded by love.

"It's completely normal to go back. You start lying to yourself," the 21-year-old singer said on Good Morning America in her first TV interview following the beating. "I'll say that to any young girl who is going through domestic violence: 'Don't react off of love."'

Brown, 20, was arrested Feb. 8, hours after he was accused of beating Rihanna after the couple attended a pre-Grammy Awards party. He later pleaded guilty to felony assault and a judge ordered Brown and Rihanna to stay away from each other.

In the interview, Rihanna, who is no longer with Brown, said she was ashamed to go back to him after the attack. "That's embarrassing – that's the type of person I fell in love with. So far in love, so unconditional, that I went back," she said. "That's not what I want to teach people."

The attack occurred in Los Angeles' Hancock Park neighbourhood as Brown drove a rented sports car. A Los Angeles police detective described a brutal attack in a search warrant affidavit filed in the case, stating Brown hit, choked and bit Rihanna and tried at one point to push her from the car. A photo of her bruised face was circulated on the Internet. In an interview with Glamour magazine, posted online Tuesday, she said about the leaked photo, "I felt like people were making it into a fun topic on the Internet, and it's my life."

In her interview with Good Morning America, Rihanna said she soon realized that, as a role model to young women, her returning to Brown sent the wrong message. "When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn't be held responsible for telling them, 'Go back,"' she said.

"I didn't realize how much of an impact I had on these girls' lives until that happened," she added. "It was a wake-up call for me, big time, especially when I took myself out of the situation."

Brown's career suffered after his arrest, with sponsors dropping him and radio stations refusing to play his music. Both he and Rihanna had to cancel several high-profile appearances, including planned performances at the Grammy Awards the day of the attack.

Brown has apologized to fans and has said he has repeatedly apologized to Rihanna for the attack.

In August, Brown said he was still in shock about his actions. He also revealed that he called his mother, who was a domestic violence victim, the night of the attack and broke down.

ABC will air more chunks of the interview on Friday's Good Morning America and then Friday evening on the news magazine 20/20. Brown also will recount his perspective in an interview to air Friday on MTV.

Rihanna's interview coincides with the debut of her new single, ``Russian Roulette," from her upcoming album, Rated R. It's her first CD since 2007's multiplatinum Good Girl Gone Bad.

In Thursday's interview, Rihanna said, "I am strong. This happened to me. I didn't cause this. I didn't do it. This can happen to me and it can happen to anybody."

Heather Locklear : Prime-Time Queen Of Mean Returns

Source: www.thestar.com -
Dave Itzkoff

(November 09, 2009) In the seven seasons Heather Locklear spent on Melrose Place, the vintage-1990s Fox soap opera, she was synonymous with ruthlessness, deviousness and hemlines that rose as high as prime-time television would allow.

So when she returned to a resuscitated version of Melrose Place that began this fall on the CW network, Locklear considered making a few demands. Starting with her skirts.

"They're short," Locklear said in a telephone interview, "and I keep wanting to say, `Shorter,' but I have to work into that, because I think wardrobe might be mortified."

It has been nearly 17 years since Locklear, 48, first wriggled her way into the tantalizing garb of Amanda Woodward, the coldblooded – or, depending on your perspective, determined – advertising executive who imbued the original Melrose Place with a sense of backstabbing, hair-pulling purpose.

Locklear knows that not every strategy from her old playbook will work on the new show, which she joins on Nov. 17. She's now an unlikely elder stateswoman in a cast of mostly 20somethings – not to mention a mom – and what was risqué in her heyday is now tame by television standards. But as she did the first time around, she approaches the over-the-top melodrama with a healthy dose of irony.

"I really was winking at the audience," she said. "As I stood there watching everything going around me, I tried to go: `This is crazy. I'm normal.'"

Long before she landed in the bedroom-hopping hothouse of Melrose Place, Locklear had made herself a favourite of that show's prolific executive producer, Aaron Spelling. In 1981, she was cast as the feather-haired schemer Sammy Jo on Spelling's ABC series Dynasty, a stint that overlapped with her co-starring role on his ABC cop drama T.J. Hooker. ("And once you did one of his shows," Locklear said, "you had to do Love Boat, you had to do Fantasy Island," other Spelling guilty pleasures – which she did.)

In 1993 Spelling turned to Locklear again when the original Melrose Place, a much-hyped spinoff of Beverly Hills, 90210, got off to a slow start in the ratings. "You could hear the crickets," Locklear said. "It was very boring. It was all nice people and, really, there are some bad people in the world."

As Amanda, Locklear compensated and then some: she seduced several of the show's male characters, helped orchestrate the buyout of the advertising agency where she worked and drove its ex-president to suicide, overcame lymphoma and was revealed to have faked her own death. The 1999 series finale seemed to suggest that Amanda and a paramour (played by Jack Wagner) were killed in an explosion – then showed the two walking blissfully on a beach.

"Maybe they always thought, `Oh, we'll do a spinoff,'" Locklear said.

Sure enough, when the Smallville producers Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin were approached by CW to restart Melrose Place, they said their approach would mostly emphasize a new cast of characters, with one exception.

"Heather Locklear is so synonymous with the franchise," Slavkin said. "Amanda Woodward is the one character we felt could be folded in, in a much bigger way, to make the show more accessible."

Remade for the 21st century, Amanda Woodward is now a partner in a publicity firm, and both mentor and tormentor to a young underling played by Katie Cassidy.

Locklear's step back into the spotlight means she will face increased scrutiny of her personal life, which at times has been as convoluted as entire seasons of Melrose Place. In the past two years she divorced the rock musician Richie Sambora, her second husband and the father of her 12-year-old daughter, Ava; sought treatment for anxiety and depression at a rehabilitation facility; and pleaded no contest to a reckless driving charge that stemmed from a DUI arrest.

Locklear declined to discuss these matters but said that these details about her would turn up whether or not she had a starring role on a network series.

"There's that whole Internet thing," Locklear said. "You can't help but be scrutinized, so I might as well be doing something while I'm being scrutinized. People can talk about whatever they want, but this is what's happening now. I don't look back."

North Bay Boy To Be Broadway's Next Billy

Source: www.thestar.com -
Richard Ouzounian

(November 6, 2009) There seems to be no free-trade problem at New York's Imperial Theatre, where Canadians keep making headway in the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical, Billy Elliot.

It was announced on Thursday that the next performer to step into the title role is going to be 14-year-old
Liam Redhead from North Bay, Ont., who until recently, was a student at the National Ballet School in Toronto.

He joins fellow Canadians David Alvarez (still one of the three Billys who perform in rotation) and Kate Hennig, now playing his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson.

"They've been really great to me, very welcoming and anxious for me not to feel homesick," Redhead told the Toronto Star Thursday after rehearsing in New York.

But the bright-as-button young man never thought he'd wind up in this particular show, even though he saw the movie at an early age and loved it.

"When I first started dancing, I never wanted to do ballet," Redhead said. "I used to do hip-hop, jazz and tap."

It all began for him at the Barbara Treleaven School of Dance in North Bay, "when I was 7 years old and joined my sister in a hip-hop class."

But after years of other training, he changed his mind about classical dance after studying at the National Ballet School and performing the role of Misha for the past two Christmases in The Nutcracker for the National Ballet.

"That prepared me for performing in front of a really big audience and I think that's probably going to make it easier for me when I play Billy Elliot."

The best part of New York to Redhead? "I really like Times Square, but I miss all the space up in Canada."

And he also misses the friends he left behind. "Could I give a big shout out to all my buddies back at the National Ballet School?" he asked.

Of course you can, dude. You're a Broadway star, now.


Colourful St. Martin Beckons

Source: www.thestar.com - Hannah Sung

(October 17, 2009) GRAND CASE,
St. Martin–This is a great place to let it all hang out. There's a nude beach here for the truly brave. For the rest of us, visiting the French side of this tiny Caribbean island is about reconciling your appetite with your bathing suit, which are the two essential things to bring.

Me? I love eating and do it with gusto. Why mince meals when there's so much gastronomic pleasure to be had? Plus, I have no bathing suit concerns. I mean, until it's time to put one on.

St. Martin is a tiny outpost of France and the Netherlands, a playground for rich, seafaring world travellers on yachts and a quick pit stop for those on Caribbean cruises. The Dutch side is full of casinos, luxury shopping, giant hotels and strip clubs, while the French side is quieter, nary a casino but plenty of fine dining and seaside shacks called "lolos." In other words, food and beaches. This is more my speed.

I visit in September, alone, and it is particularly quiet, as hurricane season is when the islanders take their own holidays before gearing up to welcome the world.

Whenever I meet a local, whether it's at the deserted snorkel shop or at an empty bar, I ask, "Where are you from?"

The answer is often France or America. I quickly follow up with, "Why did you move here?"

My question hangs in a cloud of thick, Canadian air as the sun shines, crystalline waves lap, insects burrow into blossoms, mountains teem with slugs and snails, lizards freeze mid-scurry and rocks continue to bear the passage of time.

"Why wouldn't you move here?" the world around me seems to chirp in unison.

The person I ask usually answers with something to the same effect.

I spend an afternoon at Loterie Farm, an eco-reserve and must-visit spot on the island. I hike the grounds, ascending into a forest of thick mango and mahogany trees that provide canopy shelter from the spitting rain. I am enveloped in two-tone whistles of birds hidden among the leaves, their calls so clear and even, they sound like electronic gadgets. Vines hang all around, some thick, some as thin and red as shoelace licorice. At times, it's a steep ascent, making for a good pre-meal workout.

After my hike, I spy B.J. Welch renovating one of the two kitchens at Loterie Farm with his son and an employee.

Welch is a youthful 55 and self-described "obsessive" with sun-kissed curly hair belying his former life as a California surfer. Welch started running Loterie Farm almost a decade ago. On this day, he is working on renovations, prepping for high season on the island, when the action starts to pick up in October and November.

"Are you B.J.?" I ask, catching his eye. The three men break into a cagey routine. "I'm B.J.," "No, I'm B.J.," they all answer.

"It's important for the creator of a mystical place to be elusive, don't you think?" the real Welch says to me.

He is deadpan and charming, but not very good at being elusive. He's too friendly and candid, telling me about his brother who directs films in Hollywood, his son who is studying business at Harvard and his wife, who is a statuesque Senegalese woman in Gucci platforms, languorously minding a fluffy pooch nearby.

In other words, Welch is a laid-back, friendly local, and in Loterie Farm he has created a destination that's a lot like him – full of personality.

Loterie Farm has a marked trail and a zip-line obstacle course, but its main attraction is the food.

The Hidden Forest Café is a full-service restaurant and the Tree Lounge is a tapas bar on stilts with a disco ball hanging at a height usually reserved for the greenback monkeys in the surrounding rainforest.

"Our staff, like Toronto, is multinational," he says.

Welch knows Toronto well as he makes a yearly trip to Lake Joseph in Muskoka with his family, which includes his sister-in-law, actress Catherine O'Hara, of Home Alone and SCTV fame. Apparently, locals don't bat an eye when Bono or Denzel Washington show up, or when O'Hara, along with her family, arrives for a month every year.

After a long chat, I wind up in the Tree Lounge tapas bar. This is Julia Purkis's territory. She's a Toronto native who moved to St. Martin in 1980, a self-taught chef now renowned for her fusion cuisine that comes out of both kitchens at Loterie Farm.

"I ended up falling in love with the island and decided I wanted to live here and sail. I crewed and cooked on boats. Crewing on sail boats is a great way to see the Caribbean."

It's also a great way to learn the ropes as a chef. Purkis is mentioned by name in Fodor's and Frommer's guides.

I ask whether it's true that St. Martin has the best food in the Caribbean. She unequivocally confirms.

"There's no comparison and I've been to a lot of islands. There's close to 1,000 restaurants on this island," she says, which is incredible given that one can drive around the circumference of the island in two hours tops.

That evening, I head out to eat in Grand Case on the French side, a jumbled neighbourhood of lolos, fine dining, and residential homes painted in pastel colours. My hotel, L'Esplanade Hotel, is tucked atop a small hill in this neighbourhood, with a purview of restaurant row. Kristin Petrelluzzi, a knowledgeable and helpful American who runs L'Esplanade with her husband, assures me that any restaurant in the area is a sure bet, although she does recommend Le Pressoir.

Le Pressoir turns out to be quite romantic. I have an appetizer that involves a single "sucette" of avocado dipped in dark chocolate and nestled into a tiny bamboo steamer. This is pretty haute for food on a stick.

I follow up with a plate of grilled sea scallops sliced and arranged in a round with a warm compote of passion fruit. It is the most heavenly thing I've tasted in my life. I have no control over my arm, which takes my fork in one continuous, mechanical motion from plate to mouth to plate until it's all gone.

A meal for one, with wine, runs 70 euros (about $110 Cdn.)

The next morning, for lunch, I head to a lolo called simply The Rib Shack #6. Here, it costs just $12.50 (U.S.) – euros and American currency are accepted on the island, as well as Dutch guilders on the Dutch side. I have stuffed christophene, a local vegetable that is reminiscent of a bell pepper, crab, barbecued chicken and a johnnycake, a crispy, fried, dense flatbread that is as sinfully enjoyable as it sounds.

I work it off with a quick snorkel and lie on the beach with a sated tummy that is perhaps a touch bigger than when I arrived on the island. Bathing suit or not, it's worth it.

Hannah Sung is a Toronto-based freelancer writer. Her trip was subsidized by L'Esplanade Hotel.


Blue Rodeo's Writers Get Ambitious, And Get Along

www.thestar.com - Greg Quill

(November 8, 2009) The official line, espoused almost verbatim every time Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy opens his mouth these days, is that the band's new double album, The Things We Left Behind – released Tuesday in a variety of formats, including a two-disc vinyl package complete with retro gatefold cover – is the result of a creative burst experienced jointly by Cuddy and his career-long sidekick, guitarist/songwriter Greg Keelor.

"When we first got together to play the songs we'd been preparing for the next recording, we realized we had far more than we could put on a single album," he says via a crackling cellphone from a car somewhere in Alberta, en route to Calgary, where he and Keelor played earlier this week. It was part of a quick, cross-country acoustic two-hander, the first the millionaire songwriters have undertaken in their extraordinarily successful 31-year partnership.

"It would have seemed false to divide them up and make two separate CDs," he says. "We decided to arrange the flow of the music over a double album, and to release it on vinyl, so we wouldn't be constrained by the length of the songs."

"We talked about sequencing the songs into four distinct sides, and stretching some songs out to 10 minutes, if that's what they needed. It's a nice way to arrange music."

It's not unusual for Cuddy and Keelor to arrive at Blue Rodeo sessions with an overabundance of new songs. The band leaders, who often rub each other the wrong way, generally resolve their difference in collaboration with long-time colleagues, bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, lap-steel player Bob Egan and keyboardist Bob Packwood, by picking material that suits the band's general oeuvre and their fans' expectations, and saving the rest for solo releases.

But at a time when digital recordings seem to have lost their commercial viability, a new strategy seems both necessary and apropos. Cuddy and Keelor are making a big deal of their creative cohesiveness this time out, chatting it up like a couple of reunited brothers who've buried the hatchet.

"We haven't quite succumbed to the separate-vehicle touring mode," Keelor says, chuckling. "And we're actually sharing hotel rooms on this trip. Turns out Jim's a great roommate."

And the band is publicizing the launch of The Things We Left Behind with a performance on the roof of Diesel Playhouse (55 Blue Jays Way) on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., and an afternoon street party.

The band is also performing for the first time at the Grey Cup half-time show on Nov. 29.

Mindful of the re-emergence of long-playing vinyl recordings in the past five years, Cuddy and Keelor, who developed their musical muscles in the pre-digital era, are putting their best marketing feet forward, offering fans a seemingly more valuable product, a bigger slice of Blue Rodeo and a more formidable package.

"We've seen a huge resurgence of interest in vinyl," Keelor says. ""I don't think I'm alone in my appreciation of a collection of songs with interwoven themes spread over two discs. I don't think the concept is dead. In fact, I think it makes music more meaningful."

They're covering their bets, all the same.

The Things We Left Behind, produced at Blue Rodeo's Woodshed Studio just off Danforth Ave. in Toronto's east end, is also available as two CDs, and in a special iTunes digital package with interactive liner notes, exclusive photos of the band and portraits of their most prized instruments, a song-by-song commentary by Cuddy and Keelor, and bonus acoustic performances of four new songs from the album.

Whether it's a canny bit of commerce or a genuine exploration of the band's greater potential – evidenced occasionally in live performances – the double album is probably a more honest representation of Cuddy's and Keelor's very different musical natures than we've seen in a long time.

It covers a lot of ground, embracing expansive, symphonic constructs (Keelor's opening cut, "All The Things That Are Left Behind"), smart country-pop (Cuddy's "One More Night"), proto-punk alt-country (Keelor's "Never Look Back") and grand prog-rock instrumental experiments (the guitar-dominated closer, Keelor's "Venus Rising").

It's not quite Blue Rodeo's White Album, but it has a lot of disparate ideas that usually end up on the writers' very different solo projects.

"The solo stuff is just something to do between band recordings, which usually happen at the end of a two-year cycle," Keelor says. "Jim has a full secondary career going as a solo act, so the rest of us make solo recordings as well, to fill in the time."

As for Blue Rodeo's apparent step out of its safety zone with the new album, Cuddy says, "We're lucky to have our own hybrid studio – we can move back and forth between analog and digital modes. This time we set no limits on imagination."

Liona Boyd: Five Years Of Healing, Two New Albums, One Rebirth

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Guy Dixon

(Nov. 07, 2009) For many years, Liona Boyd had something distressing happening to her hand, specifically to her right middle finger, and it was only getting worse.

Famous for bringing classical guitar into the mainstream (and for an eight-year relationship with Pierre Trudeau), Boyd had always taken her plucking hand for granted. Like most right-handed players, she focused more on her left as she contorted her fingers across the fret board in concert and during long years of daily practice.

But a few years back, she began noticing that one finger had begun rising from the strings, throwing off her trademark rapid tremolos. For a casual player, that would have been a nuisance. For a concert guitarist, it was a disaster.

Her natural instinct was to practise more, but that only worsened the problem. Classical guitar, always the constant in her itinerant life, was failing her.

After neurological damage and divorce, says Boyd, ‘I had to leave … my whole life behind.’

After several rounds of tests, she was diagnosed as having task-specific focal dystonia – incurable neurological damage due to overuse. It's a condition shared by American pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher, who found relief through injections of Botox.

Boyd, however, hasn't had the same luck, despite five visits to specialists, complete with injections, at the National Institutes of Health in Washington. But she's coping: “The solution, I've figured out, is retraining, learning to undo some of the pathways that have been locked in the brain.”

She still plays, but she now plucks the strings by relaxing her hand, pivoting it to the right, and using the right edge of her nails. “It's got to be very relaxed,” she says. “I had too much tension happening in my hand; probably my life, too.”

In the end, her condition led to a wholesale shift in her celebrated career and a new life as a single woman.

“I was – how can I say it? – not depressed. I'm not a depressive person. But I was very devastated,” she says by phone from her home in Connecticut.

Her tone is neither emotional nor starkly matter-of-fact. It's more one of the breathy astonishment that comes after debilitating change has been given time to sink in – and some way, somehow brings a sense of renewal.

“Everything in my life was around guitars,” says Boyd, 60, who was born in London and moved with her family to Canada at age 8.

“Since I first fell in love with classical guitar when I was 13, that had been my life's passion. And to suddenly find that I couldn't play what I took for granted was a very scary thing.”

Adding to her distress: Her marriage to Los Angeles businessman John B. Simon, 24 years her senior, was ending, prompting Boyd to leave Beverly Hills, Calif., where she had lived with Simon for 14 years, to relocate to Miami to live what she now dismisses as la vida loca .

“I had to leave not just my husband, but my whole life behind,” she says.

Five years later, much has changed. Boyd has two new albums coming out in a two-month span – and, it seems, a new career as a singer and songwriter.

The first of her new records, Liona Boyd Sings Songs of Love , which was released in September, is a collection of soft duets with Croatian singer-guitarist Srdjan Givoje, with Boyd playing more basic guitar, carrying the tunes, and putting an end to her lifelong aversion to singing publicly.

She also wrote most of the lyrics. The songs, some derived from classical compositions, have an ethereal, light-classical quality similar to some of her past recordings.

The second album, Seven Journeys , due out later in November, is comprised of new-age, atmospheric music. In her contract with Universal Music Canada, Seven Journeys is referred to as “the option” record, Boyd says with a laugh, although record executives considered bringing it out first. It does feature Boyd singing, but Songs of Love is much more song-based.

(Her back catalogue is also being reissued by Universal on iTunes, a point she is careful to mention. Boyd is taking a very hands-on, self-managing approach to her re-emergence. She is up every morning firing off business e-mails. Never known to be camera-shy, she had her first bathing-suit pictorial in a recent issue of Hello! magazine.)

The two new albums “are the most important records of my life,” she says. “I put more of my life, my heart and passion and soul and everything into these records than I ever have before. … I suffered for these records.”

Not that she is one to search for sympathy. Few people even knew about the focal dystonia. “I just didn't want to be telling people at first, because I'd get sympathy from other guitarists and the media. And I didn't really want that. I wanted to find a solution to my life. My life was in kind of a crisis.”

Indeed, in 2003, she had stopped performing. “My former husband wanted me to quit,” she recalls. “He said, ‘You've won every award, you've sold millions of records. Just be my wife, and let's enjoy a luxury life and go to spas.' But I'm not that type of person. I had more of a bohemian, artsy, intellectual upbringing with English parents living in Toronto. And I also felt I had more music to give the world.”

And, it seems, a need to make a few personal changes, too. “I guess after my relationship with Pierre Trudeau, maybe I was conditioned to have older men,” she says with a laugh. “But it just didn't work, the age gap, in the end. And then I went the opposite direction in Miami, the younger ones.”

Now, she says, “I'd like to find somebody about my own age. That would be ideal. … I'm still looking for my idyllic place in the world.”

Mary J. Blige Explains 'Precious' Song


(November 6, 2009) *Mary J. Blige talks to Billboard about her contribution to the soundtrack for "Precious," one of the year's most buzzed-about films – opening today in select theatres. 

"[Director] Lee Daniels wanted me to get involved with this film. I saw the movie and I was like, 'why wouldn't I want to be involved? Why wouldn't I want to do a song for this film?'" Blige told Billboard on-camera during the Billboard/ Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music conference last week. (Watch clip of interview below.) "I didn't have lyrics as far as writing, but I saw the film and I was able to relate automatically because I've lived some of that girl's life and I know people who have lived most of her life."

"Precious," an adaptation of the book "Push" by Sapphire, stars newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as a 16-year-old girl who faces illiteracy, rape, domestic abuse, incest and weight issues, among other unfortunate things.

"My first impression of the film was that it was going to shock a lot of people. It's a very powerful film," says Blige.

"Destiny," Blige's song on the soundtrack, contains the lyrics, "age is young but my mind is much older / living up to everyone's expectation, can damn lead to a world of damnation / I gotta clear these voices from my head, all these opinionated noises / listen to the voice of my creator, open doors to a path much greater," atop a sombre piano pattern.

"I've been coming from a personal place ever since I spoke on the 'My Life' album. But we never look back into the why -- why is all this happening to us? And that is what 'Precious' is about," Blige continued. "Getting that song out, I had to dig back into the 'why,' and digging back into the why is what hurts the most."

Below: Mary J. Blige talks to Billboard's Bill Werde about making music for "Precious." Scroll down to watch Blige sing the National Anthem before Game 6 of the World Series.

Michel Legrand: The Troubadour Of Loss

Source: www.thestar.com -
Richard Ouzounian

(November 07, 2009) How do you keep the music playing?

That's not just the title of an Oscar-nominated song
Michel Legrand wrote in 1982, it's a question he has been asking all of his life.

Born in loneliness, raised in strife, the 77-year-old musician survived a painful childhood to write some of the most hauntingly lovely melodies of our time.

Torontonians will have an opportunity to hear many of them up close and personal on Nov. 13 and 14, when Legrand will make a rare appearance at the Winter Garden Theatre, along with dynamic Quebec vocalist Mario Pelchat.

Legrand has won three Oscars and been nominated on 10 other occasions for songs like "The Windmills of Your Mind," "The Summer Knows" and "I Will Wait for You." He has worked with everyone from Jacques Brel to Barbra Streisand and Nadia Boulanger to Miles Davis, but his sound has always remained uniquely his.

And what is it? The fading shadows of a Saturday afternoon in November? Someone waving goodbye from a distant train? The fleeting scent of perfume reminding you of a love lost many years ago?

"We carry so many things inside us," he says from a Montreal hotel room. "So many tragic scenes, so many brief moments of happiness. We never know which ones will last."

But for Legrand, it's easy to tell that the images that endure are the hurtful ones from his youth.

He was born in a Parisian suburb in 1932. His father, Raymond, a popular musician, walked out on the family when Michel was 3, leaving him with his mother and his older sister, Christiane.

"I hated the world of adults, which was, `Sit down, go to bed, we have no time for you.' And I hated the world of children, which was so cruel, always finding where you were weakest and striking there."

He was miserable until, one day, he noticed an old piano in the corner. "It was one of the few things my father forgot to take when he left. I sat down and put my two hands on the piano and began playing, trying to recreate a song I had heard on the radio.

"It became my only friend, my only love and, very quickly, my mother realized it was all I could do with my life."

Legrand began taking lessons at the age of 4 but, for the next five years, life was difficult as he struggled with his peers. His voice rises as he recalls that time. "The world of little boys is always cruel. It is to fight. It's always about, `I am stronger than you.' I detested my life."

The minimum age for admittance to the Paris Conservatoire was 13 but, in Legrand's case, they made an exception, letting him enter at 9.

"My life started then," he says, sighing with relief at the memory. "The only thing was music. Not who was weaker or stronger. Just music. It was happiness."

His guiding light was Nadia Boulanger, the legendary teacher whose pupils form an extraordinary list, including Philip Glass, Ned Rorem and Aaron Copland.

"She did not just teach me about music, but about philosophy, about life, and how all three should be connected together."

Legrand won numerous awards at the Conservatoire for his classical studies but his heart was already turning towards another master: jazz.

"It entered my life very early and I loved its rhythm," he says, "but during the years of the German occupation, American jazz was forbidden, so it really only came alive after the war.

"I remember that I went to hear Dizzy Gillespie in 1947. He gave two concerts in a row in Paris. I attended both and felt I had discovered another world, another planet."

A hit 1954 Legrand album called I Love Paris brought him to America and he finally began recording with the greats of the jazz world.

"I was recording with Miles, Coltrane, all the giants there in New York. I was lucky. But after a year or two, I was sick and tired of just doing arrangements and orchestrations, and I came home to France to compose."

His American jazz credentials made him attractive to the New Wave filmmakers in his native land and he wound up scoring seven films for Jean-Luc Godard, whom Legrand recalls as "marvellous! I would give him 10 themes to choose from, he'd say he loved them all, then play 16 bars from one theme a dozen times and somehow it would all be fantastic."

But his real breakthrough was with director Jacques Demy, who asked him to compose the score for a quirky romantic film called The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in which every single line of dialogue would be sung.

"Everybody was so miserably against it," Legrand remembers. "No one wanted to release it but Jacques and I believed in it."

So did the moviegoers of the world when it was released in 1964. Its major love theme, fitted with English lyrics to become "I Will Wait For You," was Legrand's first giant success and made him a hot ticket in Hollywood.

But his next few projects failed and it was only when director Norman Jewison, working with Legrand on The Thomas Crown Affair, introduced him to the lyric-writing team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman that things really clicked.

For that film, they came up with "The Windmills of Your Mind" and, in the 42 years since, they've written dozens of hits together.

"(In) 99 per cent of the cases," Legrand says, "the music comes first and it always is inspired by what I have seen in the movie."

But, sometimes, the inspiration goes even deeper. When Legrand and the Bergmans worked with Barbra Streisand on Yentl, both the composer and the star brought their past lives to the table.

Streisand's father died when she was an infant; Legrand's father abandoned him. Working together on the song that would become "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" stirred profound emotions in both of them.

"We carry our memories inside us for so many years," he says, "and then, one day, perhaps, we let them go forever in a song."

Legrand has no idea if a tune of his will become a worldwide hit or a quickly forgotten failure, and he thinks that's as it should be.

"I never ask a melody to go into the world and be embraced by it. If it fits the story that inspired it, that's all I ask it to do."

Michel Legrand and Mario Pelchat will perform at The Winter Garden, 189 Yonge St., on Nov. 13 and 14. For tickets go to www.ticketmaster.ca

Beyonce, Hilson, Maxwell Among 'Soul Train' Winners


(November 6, 2009) *Beyonce, Keri Hilson and Maxwell were among the winners at the "Centric Presents: 2009 Soul Train Awards," which taped Tuesday (Nov. 3) at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta for a special simulcast on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 9 p.m. on BET and new cable network CENTRIC.

[See full list of winners below.]

Hosted by Academy Award-nominated actors Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, the night opened with Toni Braxton featuring Trey Songz singing "Yesterday" that was sealed with a kiss.

Then Howard and Henson welcomed the audience with a rendition of Peaches and Herb's "Reunited." Other performances were given by Keri Hilson, Robin Thicke, Ryan Leslie, Raheem DeVaughn featuring Ludacris, Chrisette Michele, Mario featuring Sean Garrett, and many more.

A Motown Records musical tribute featured a medley of Motown hits performed by Henson as a Supreme, Boyz II Men, Chico DeBarge, Johnny Gill, Estelle, Vita, Mike Phillips and Melanie Fiona.

Charlie Wilson and Chaka Khan, recipients of the evening's Icon Award, were both honoured in musical tributes.

Keith Sweat, Ginuwine, Raheem DeVaughn, Kandi Burress and Brian McKnight paid homage to Charlie Wilson and The Gap Band with renditions of their hits,  including "Outstanding" and "Yearning for Your Love." Following the tribute, Wilson, himself, graced the stage to perform two songs: "Burn Rubber" with K-Ci & Jo-Jo and Bootsy Collins and "There Goes My Baby."

Erykah Badu, Melle Mel, Ledisi, Fantasia, and Angie Stone paid homage to Chaka Khan with such hits as "Through the Fire" and "Tell Me Something Good."

The evening also included skits, dance sequences and throwbacks to the infamous Soul Train scramble board and Soul Train line. Monica, Tamia, Deborah Cox, Kelly Price were among the presenters.

Below is the full list of winners:

Keri Hilson
"Single Ladies (Put a ring on it)" - Beyonce
Beyonce - I am... Sasha Fierce (Platinum) Sony Music
Jamie Foxx Ft/T-Pain - "Blame it"
Sean Paul
Mary Mary featuring Kierra "KiKi" Sheard - "God In Me"
Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo - "Knock you Down"
Michael Jackson     

Vocal Group Straight No Chaser Works The Holidays Again

www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(November 8, 2009) On the heels of their new album, Christmas Cheers, a cappella group Straight No Chaser hits the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Wednesday.

The 10-piece, all-male ensemble, founded at the University of Indiana in 1996, came to the fore a decade later when footage from a 1998 concert was posted online.

The video of them singing "The 12 Days of Christmas" – and sampling Toto's "Africa" – went viral, racking up 10 million views and the attention of Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman, who tracked the group down and signed them to the label.

The alum quit their day jobs to record and tour for Holiday Spirits, which reached No. 1 at both iTunes and Amazon.com upon release last year. Christmas Cheer includes faves like "Jingle Bells" and "O Holy Night," as well as the original song "Who Spiked the Egg Nog?"

The Star spoke with baritone and Missouri native Seggie Isho by phone from a concert soundcheck in Connecticut last week.

What were you doing when Straight No Chaser got called up to the big leagues?

I was in the wireless industry in Las Vegas. We were all pretty scattered across the country doing random things, some guys were working in finance, some were actors, we were just doing our own thing.

Why another Christmas disc when your shows are mainly comprised of pop songs?

Atlantic saw the popularity and success of the first album and they decided to ride that momentum into this holiday season. We've also recorded a full length pop album – all covers – which will be released in spring.

How are you coping with the rigours of touring?

It's tiring, but we love doing it, we always have smiles on our faces. Sometimes 10 guys on a bus can get a little tight, but this is what we love to do and we get such a rush just from seeing the fans and the responses that we could never imagine doing anything else.

Must feel like being back in college again.

Amongst ourselves, absolutely! We don't take ourselves very seriously at all. We're constantly making jokes and kind of goofing on each other. It's very much like a fraternity. We're brothers essentially: there's good times, there's going to be some arguments, but for the most part we're having a great time palling around.

With no instruments to hide behind you really have to keep your voices in shape?

We try to get a lot of sleep, drink a ton of water, tea, and cut back big time on the alcohol and the going out. It's business first. And we try to keep the talking soft. That way we don't run ourselves too dry.

What will you all be wearing?

We stick with black suits and ties to give it a Rat Pack feel, though this is a very clean, family show that can appeal to any audience, from age 6 to 60. We sing music from the `40s all the way up to current music. And the banter on stage is what people seem to grab onto most.

See the clip that started it all here: www.tr.im/12days

Dan Aykroyd's Got The Blues

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Brad Wheeler

(November 09, 2009) 'I just urge any young guitar player or drummer or bass player, or anyone out there that's playing today or who plays Guitar Hero or plays in the basement or anyone who wants to hear fine musicianship - these are going to be the nights to see it." Dan Aykroyd is not only on the phone, he is on. He's talking - no, preaching - about Canada's durable blues band, Downchild. The Toronto-based group is marking its 40 years of making robust, leaping Chicago electric blues with a national tour that includes shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal hosted by the 57-year-old entertainer and winemaker, who (with John Belushi) based his popular Blues Brothers act on Downchild's co-founding siblings.

Downchild's singer Richard (Hock) Walsh died in 1999, but the guitarist and harmonica-tooting Donnie Walsh is still at the helm. "These are going to be special nights," enthuses the ghost-busting comedic legend. "We've got James Cotton, we've got Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, we've got Colin Linden."

And we've got a blues-ed up Dan Aykroyd.

If I were to describe you, I might call you an actor, a comedian and a frustrated bluesman.


But, you've played with Muddy Waters, your Briefcase of Blues album from 1978 was a hit, and you blow harmonica on Downchild's latest album, I Need a Hat. Maybe you're not so frustrated after all.

I was able to collaborate with the best people in the business. John [Belushi] and I weren't the best musicians or vocalists, but we had ability there. And we had good dancing ability and we had the chemistry that was able to pay reverence and draw inspiration from the great showman.

The Blues Brothers idea was inspired by Downchild. How did it come together?

Belushi and I had a meeting one night. I guess it would have been back in 1973. We concocted our idea to put our band together, because John said he liked to sing and I played a little harp.

This meeting took place in Toronto, at the speakeasy you ran, right?

Club 505, at 505 Queen Street East. We were listening to Almost and Shotgun Blues and Flip, Flop and Fly. John said "that guy's voice, who is that guy?" I said "that's Hock Walsh, and Donnie Walsh, of Downchild, the pre-eminent blues band of this city and of Canada. That's the real stuff right there."

You were no blues novice - you knew about the real stuff. What was it that Downchild had?

Well, primarily the musicianship. It was the skill, the master ability on harmonica and the master ability on guitar. And it was the way Hock phrased things, and the playfulness of the lyrics in a traditional blues way.

You based your Elwood character on Donnie Walsh. In return he named his boat "Elwood." With the Blues Brothers recording three of his songs, the royalties Walsh received probably paid for the boat.

The one thing John and I did not do was to go around scooping up publishing rights. All of the artists who wrote the songs got all of their royalties. I hope Donnie will be able to buy 10 boats.

Your Elwood character was on a "mission from God." With the chain of House of Blues clubs you co-founded and your House of Blues Radio Hour, you took on a mission yourself, to spread the blues.

It's now in other people's hands, not so much mine, but we do our part. I think the mission is in good shape.

And how's your shape?

Overall, 87-per-cent. [Laughs] I'm all right, sure. I feel like a train backed over me every morning, but the brain is okay. I'm going forward - I haven't given up yet.

Dan Aykroyd hosts Downchild and guests at Montreal's Metropolis, Thursday; Ottawa's National Arts Centre, Friday; and Toronto's Massey Hall, Saturday.

Tribute Concert Marks COC Milestone

Source: www.thestar.com -
John Terauds

(November 09, 2009) You can celebrate a diamond anniversary with a big, noisy party. Or you can, like the Canadian Opera Company, make it into A Very Special Occasion.

On Saturday night, Toronto's leading company marked its 60 years with a gala concert of music from opera at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Onstage were three reputable male singers and the company's orchestra, led by its new music director, Johannes Debus.

It felt like a reverent stroll into the Temple of High 19th-Century Art. The program devoted its first half to French masters Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod. The evening closed with German colossus Richard Wagner.

The star of the show was supposed to have been Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, but he withdrew last week because of a viral infection. The company scrambled to find three replacements of the same calibre. In a vivid testament to the quality of singers this country is producing, the finest of the trio was GTA-based Russell Braun.

Braun is at the peak of his art, mixing a rich, flexible and powerful baritone with keen dramatic instincts. He was galvanizing in an aria from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and brought a powerful intensity to his Ode to the Evening Star from Wagner's Tannhaüser. Braun was sincere in one of the evening's three encores, when he and Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas blew the full house off its posteriors in the famous duet by Georges Bizet, "Au fond du temple saint," from The Pearl Fishers.

Vargas, on loan from the Metropolitan Opera, appeared to be giving his all in the three other French arias he sang, but he couldn't muster the overall finesse of Heppner.

The ailing star's absence was felt even more in the second half, which starred British Wagnerian tenor John Treleaven. There is no question that he has the pipes, physical presence and sheer intensity to carry off Wagner's heaviest work, but it took a long time for his voice to warm up. In his first aria, the "Prize Song" from Die Meistersinger, Treleaven was painfully off pitch much of the time.

The orchestra, on the other hand, was spellbinding. Arrayed onstage rather than in the pit, it sparkled. Debus showed off a crystal-clear musicality that found the underlying rhythmic motivation in each piece of music. There was momentum, but also rich, gorgeously balanced colouring from all sections of the orchestra.

The formal part of the program ended with a cathartic moment made up of three excerpts from Götterdämmerung, the conclusion of Wagner's Ring Cycle. It was a masterstroke that should have forbidden any sort of encore (but it happened, anyway).

The Wagner reminded me of another person who was not in the room: late general director Richard Bradshaw, who made the COC orchestra what it is today and was responsible for the new opera house being built. It felt great to realize that, in Debus, there is someone new on the podium who can conjure the finest kind of musical magic in our town.

While I'm on about missing people, there was one other notable absence onstage. When the Opera Festival Association of Toronto (the COC's predecessor) was founded in the fall of 1950, one of their stars was a not-yet-30 soprano named Mary Morrison. She is still alive and kicking today, nurturing many of the finest Canadian singers from her studio at the University of Toronto. Morrison is a vital link to the birth of professional opera in this city.

She is a tireless advocate of – and for – Canadian singers and composers. She is very much a part of this 60-year-old success story.

'Precious' Soundtrack Readied

Source: Lionsgate Music via PRNewswire

(November 10, 2009) *SANTA MONICA, Calif. and VANCOUVER, British Columbia, -- Lionsgate Music, the music arm of Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) the leading next generation studio, in association with Matriarch/Geffen Records, will release the official soundtrack for Lee Daniels' highly anticipated, prize-winning film

The soundtrack is available online November 3rd and in stores November 23rd. It was produced by Daniels along with Mary J. Blige, whose new song "I Can See In Color" will be the first single.

The track has already garnered raves, with Rolling Stone extolling it as "...a knockout song...expressing the goal of Precious to see the world in color."

Other artists featured on the star-studded soundtrack include Queen Latifah, Mahalia Jackson and Grace Hightower.

According to Daniels, these artists were selected because they "resonate not only in Precious' world, but speak to your soul no matter who you are."

The songs on the soundtrack effectively capture this groundbreaking film's powerful, universal message about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in 1987, PRECIOUS tells the story of Harlem teenager Claireece "Precious" Jones, who overcomes tremendous obstacles to discover her own worth, beauty and potential. Precious' tale is perfectly complemented by this deeply moving collection of songs - songs that are the sound of Precious' resilient, questing spirit, which carries her through such intense struggle.

Courage and determination, passionately expressed by Mary J. Blige, Jean Carn, Donna Allen and others, are touchstones of Precious' story and Daniels' film; ultimately the message will reverberate in listeners and audiences alike.

The film and its standout performances have already received a myriad of critical accolades and top prizes at major international film festivals. Breakout star Gabourey Sidibe was featured on the cover of a recent New York Times Magazine, and was touted as "beyond incredible" by Access Hollywood, who called the film "amazing...not to be missed." Time Magazine lauded it as "an unabashedly inspirational anthem." The Oscar® buzz is already in full swing, with predictions for nominations coming from the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Time Magazine, Elle Magazine, The New York Post and more.

PRECIOUS premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for Acting. It has since screened at such prestigious venues as the Cannes International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, and has won audience prizes at the Toronto International Film Festival, the San Sebastian Film Festival and the recently concluded Chicago International Film Festival. It is the only film ever to receive the Audience awards at both Sundance and Toronto.

For a synopsis and other information regarding PRECIOUS, please visit the official website, http://www.weareallprecious.com.

Lionsgate in association with Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry present A
Lee Daniels Entertainment / Smokewood Entertainment Group Production of
PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE, directed by Lee Daniels from a screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher based on the book Push, a novel by
Sapphire. The film stars Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri
Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz and introduces Gabourey Sidibe. PRECIOUS was
produced by Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness. Oprah
Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Lisa Cortes and Tom Heller are Executive Producers;
Simone Sheffield serves as Co-Executive Producer; Mark G. Mathis is
Co-Producer; and Asger Hussain serves as Associate Producer.

Listen to the Precious soundtrack preview:


01 I Can See In Color - Mary J. Blige
02 He Is The Joy - Donna Allen
03 Was That All It Was - Jean Carn
04 Did You Ever See A Dream Walking - Sunny Gale
05 Come Into My House - Queen Latifah
06 Just A Closer Walk With Thee - Mahalia Jackson
07 Love Is The Message - Mfsb (Featuring The Three Degrees)
08 Now That I Know Who I Am - Nona Hendryx
09 System - Labelle
10 Somethin's Comin' My Way - Grace Hightower
11 It Took A Long Time - Labelle
12 Letters (From The Original Score) - Mario Grigorov
Executive Producer: Lee Daniels & Mary J. Blige
Soundtrack Producer: Lynn Fainchtein

About Lionsgate:
Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) is the leading next generation studio with a strong and diversified presence in the production and distribution of motion pictures, television programming, home entertainment, family entertainment, video-on-demand and digitally delivered content. The Company has built a strong television presence in production of prime time cable and broadcast network series, distribution and syndication of programming through Debmar-Mercury and an array of channel platform assets. Its feature film business achieved a number one box office opening weekend in September 2009 with the eighth film in the Tyler Perry franchise, I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF, and has generated more than $400 million at the North American theatrical box office during the past 12 months. The Company's home entertainment business has grown to more than 7% market share and leads the industry in its box office-to-DVD revenue conversion rate. Lionsgate handles a prestigious and prolific library of approximately 12,000 motion picture and television titles that is an important source of recurring revenue and serves as the foundation for the growth of the Company's core businesses. The Lionsgate brand remains synonymous with original, daring, quality entertainment in markets around the world.

About Lionsgate Music: Lionsgate Music oversees music for Lionsgate's film and TV slate, builds the Company's music publishing assets and releases its soundtracks and scores. The music team has received two Oscar® nominations for Marco Beltrami's score for 3:10 TO YUMA and for Bird York's song "In The Deep" for Best Picture Academy Award® Winner CRASH. Current and upcoming projects include the soundtrack for PRECIOUS, to be released through Matriarch/Geffen Records and featuring a lead track from Mary J. Blige. PRECIOUS is directed by Lee Daniels (SHADOWBOXER) and presented by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. The film has already attracted significant buzz, winning the Audience Award at this month's Toronto Film Festival in addition to winning the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Additional upcoming projects include the Jim Sheridan film BROTHERS, scheduled for release in December featuring music from U2, as well as music for such upcoming films as THE EXPENDABLES, starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li, FIVE KILLERS, starring Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher, KICK-ASS, starring Nicolas Cage, and Academy Award® winning director Paul Haggis' THE NEXT THREE DAYS, starring Russell Crowe. The Lionsgate Music team is also working on the Starz! television series Crash, featuring music from Paul McCartney and The Doors, the third season of AMC's Emmy®-winning series Mad Men, scored by the critically lauded composer David Carbonara, and its live musical revue, Mad Men Live Revue, which premiered last fall to rave reviews at Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre, with more productions upcoming.

New Artist In The Mix: Meet Tionne; His New Single Is 'Unfreeze'(Video)

Source: www.eurweb.com  - By Eugenia Wright

(November 10, 2009) *Music world, get ready for a listening experience as a new artist in the Pop/R&B genre emerges into the limelight.

His name is
Tionne and he is on a mission to put the love back into music.

There are no harsh out of tune chords with Tionne whose mannerism is charmingly silky smooth demonstrating a very cultured upbringing and a smile that will warm your heart.

In fact, Tionne boasts a rich music heritage as the grandson of gospel music legend B.J.Stanton.

At an early age, Stanton recognized her grandson's musical abilities and nurtured his every move.  As a doting grandmother and God fearing woman, she made sure that Tionne's ears were filled with gospel music not from listening to her own recordings, but by making sure Tionne was physically seated in the church pews each and every Sunday of his youth.  He was not only required to attend church to hear the good word but was an integral part of the church becoming a member of the youth choir. His status was to be "In the service of…"

Outside of the church harsh realities loomed in the Watts area of Los Angeles where he spent his early years, forever present hovering above, but the love that existed in his home and the love he received in church was stronger than any of the gang violence that he was exposed to on the streets. Churchgoers would define this type of protection as a "hedge" built around him to ward off negativity.

Tionne's music reflects this type of unflagging love…secure and easy sustaining high notes with crystal precision. You can hear it on his single Unfreeze from his debut self-titled CD, Tionne.  It is so suave it will melt your heart and liquefy the central nervous system. On hearing it, parallels could be drawn between Tionne and his contemporaries such as Ne-Yo, Usher or even Jackson. But the difference is that Tionne is not a studio creation, he has the chops to rely on his own vocal versatility like Jackson without digital electro-techno-enhancement. His talent is natural. His sound is marketable. The album radio friendly. At 25, the timing is right. His image definitely crossover. Tionne the CD should do well on the charts and Tionne the man should do well in life.

The public at large will be able to experience the album Tionne the first week of December 2009 in time for the holidays.

Tionne was recently nominated "Rising Star of The Year" by The Los Angeles Black Music Awards.

Unfreeze produced by Jason "Jed-I" Edmonds (Nephew of famed music producer/singer Kenneth "Baby Face" Edmonds

 Watch Tionne being interviewed by actress Meagan Good

Listen to Tionne perform 'Unfreeze':

For more on Tionne, go here: www.myspace.com/officiallytionne

Amelia Curran Heeds The Call Of Home

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(November 10, 2009)
Amelia Curran is a good dog running halfway home. The gifted songwriter, whose line I just used, recorded her latest album in St. John’s. It’s a poetic record, styled in country-folk and earthy cabaret music. Curran has lived in Halifax for a decade, but had the urge to return to her birthplace for this album called Hunter, Hunter. “Newfoundlanders are infamous for always wanting to go home,” she explains over the twangy din of her band’s sound check at a Toronto club. “I’m no different that way.”

The places she’s been, the places she’s at, the places she’s headed and the places that are gone – these are the things that inform her songs. “Being human is a little ridiculous,” she reckons. “I’m sad a lot of the time, to lose the past and to not know what’s going to happen.”

What’s happening at the moment is that she’s been touring nationally behind her fourth album, the first with the gutsy Toronto independent label Six Shooter Records. Some of her dates this fall are solo, some are with Canadian folk-rock icons the Skydiggers, and one, which takes place Tuesday Nov. 10 in Vancouver, is a Bluebird North songwriters’ circle.

The Mistress

Curran loves a good metaphor; she does not use them bluntly. The “good dog running halfway home” line from the poignant Hand on a Grain of Sand could be interpreted as a reference to her decision to make the record in St. John’s and not committing to return there full-time. “It could be,” she says politely. But really it’s more general, about trying but not quite fulfilling intentions. “Despite all my efforts, all my love and all my gratitude,” she admits, “I still only make it halfway.”

(The album, by the way, was originally to be titled Good Dog Running, but Curran’s father didn’t like the sound of it.)

Asked about the riveting chorus-less confessional The Mistress, the earthy, blue-eyed Curran admits to writing from experience. “I don’t find the character particularly cool,” she explains. “It’s me – it’s a much younger me, a more defensive me.” The song, an unembarrassed heart-spilled phone message to a spoken-for lover, has been around for a while. Could an older, wiser Curran write such a song today? “Youth is so powerful, especially when you’re an artistic person,” she answers. “The song is a young me, stomping my feet, scrambling over myself trying to prove myself. Eventually you learn you don’t have to do that.”

The elegiac songwriter moved to Halifax on a whim, and is now starting to feel a little guilty about leaving “just a helluva place” St. John’s. “It was far due time to bring my work home and really share it, rather than just give a concert,” says Curran, who raves about the St. John’s musicians and engineers. She recorded parts of the album in an abandoned CBC building, its studio left behind.

She is indeed mulling over the idea of living again in the capital of Newfoundland. The thinking fits in with her notions of cloudy pasts, presents and futures. Restlessness is a muse for Curran’s graceful, intimate lyricism. “I spend a lot of my life tripping myself up and landing in the places I have room to be creative,” she says. “Never quite knowing where you are or what’s happening next raises a lot of questions in an inquiring mind.”

Amelia Curran plays Vancouver’s Roundhouse, Nov. 10; Victoria’s Solstice Café, Nov. 11; Saskatoon’s The Neighbour’s Dog, Nov. 12; Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre, Nov. 13 and 14; Kingston’s Grad Club, Nov. 20 and 21; Calgary’s Gateway Bar, Nov. 27; Edmonton’s Avenue Theatre, Nov. 28; and St. John’s Cochrane Street United Church, Dec. 10.

Taylor Swift Versus The Guys

Source: www.thestar.com -
Chris Talbott

(November 10, 2009) NASHVILLE–Kenny Chesney has made the very hard work of dominating country music look easy.

Taylor Swift is paying close attention.

The 19-year-old sensation has the record sales. She beat out every living artist – no matter the genre – this year with more than three million copies of her Fearless CD sold and counting (only Michael Jackson has sold more). The album remains No. 3 after 51 weeks on the charts.

And she's moving concert tickets as fast as they can print them.

That might be enough to sway the more than 5,000 members of the Country Music Association, who decide who gets the trophy for Entertainer of the Year, the CMA's highest honour, at the CMA Awards on Wednesday night (the broadcast will air live on ABC at 8 p.m.).

She's the youngest ever nominated for the award and the first solo female act since Faith Hill in 2000, and she's faced a lot of questions about whether either is a limiting factor.

"I think you have to do the work and put in the effort and do the touring that it takes to win Entertainer of the Year," she said. "And I don't really think it has anything to do with gender. I think if you want to compete with the boys, play on a level that they're playing at."

And the guys in this category are playing at the highest.

Using a combination of unparalleled album and ticket sales, Chesney has dominated the CMA Awards' most prestigious category with three straight wins and four of the last five. A fifth win would move him past Garth Brooks for most in the 43 years of the awards. This is the eighth straight year he's sold more than a million concert tickets.

Brad Paisley leads all nominees with seven and is entering his second year as co-host with Carrie Underwood. His album American Saturday Night debuted at No. 2 on the album charts when it was released this year and he's had 11 straight No. 1 singles on the country charts.

Keith Urban's supercharged live show has made him one of country's most bankable stars and his album Defying Gravity hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200. He's the only artist to interrupt Chesney's recent domination in the category, winning in 2005.

And then there's George Strait, a two-time winner in the category and CMA's career leader in nominations (79, with Alan Jackson) and wins (22) whose Twang also debuted as the nation's No. 1 album. Paisley said he's put together the kind of career and rapport with his fans that's really only possible in country music, and that "always" makes him a contender.

"Look at George Strait," Paisley said. "It's just unbelievable. He first won Entertainer of the Year 20 years ago in 1989. Isn't that crazy?"

But 2009 might be Swift's year – and she could soon be in the company of icons like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, three of the six other female acts to win Entertainer of the Year.

Susan Boyle To Perform One Song At Concert In Toronto

Source: www.thestar.com - Michael Crabb

(November 10, 2009)
There's no telling whether Susan Boyle's dream includes appearing in Toronto, but that's where the world's most beloved underdog will be on Nov. 26, for what's being billed as her only performance in Canada in 2009.

Boyle is the Scottish singer who rocketed to worldwide fame earlier this year after performing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables on the U.K. reality show Britain's Got Talent.

The video of that performance has been viewed 300 million times on YouTube.

Boyle will perform just one song on the Waterfall Stage at First Canadian Place at 12:15 p.m. on Nov. 26, only three days after her first album, also titled I Dreamed a Dream, is released.

It's a path trodden by another reality show prodigy: Paul Potts, the British cellphone salesman who became a YouTube sensation with his performance of "Nessun dorma" on Britain's Got Talent in 2007.

Potts, who went on to win the first season of the show, also performed at First Canadian Place when he launched his album two years ago.

Boyle's show, like Potts', will be free.

A spokesman for the venue, Brenda Parres, says it can accommodate about 2,000 spectators.

Boyle's self-deprecating manner and ugly-duckling image (her nickname is The Hairy Angel) has won her a legion of fans.

The 48-year-old church volunteer from the tiny village of Blackburn, West Lothian, who confessed to never having been kissed during her Britain's Got Talent debut, has also courted tabloid attention. After she placed second on the reality show, she was admitted to a hospital suffering from exhaustion and there were reports of erratic behaviour leading up to the finale.

Boyle is still a sensation, with her appearance on the America's Got Talent finale in September drawing 25 million viewers. She is also scheduled to sing on this week's Dancing With the Stars, which airs on ABC and CTV at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

She will sign autographs for fans after her Toronto performance.

Star staff

The UK Corner CD Review: Ginuwine: 'A Man’s Thoughts'

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Fiona McKinson

(November 11, 2009) *Ginuwine returns with a more mature sound on his sixth album A Man’s Thoughts.

It would seem that he is still thinking about the ladies if the lyrics are anything to go by, although he states that he no longer sings about ‘the latest VIP club or expensive drink.’

Indeed he shouts out Barack!

“I’ve matured a lot since I was last on the scene. I want to take it back to the blueprint that Marvin Gaye and soul legends designed.’ Ginuwine says.  “This is a new beginning for me.”

At 34, after a four-year hiatus, this father and husband to rapper Solé, who has seen personal tragedy such as bereavement, has become more responsible and the stance extends to his music. Not quite political, his daughters may have provided some inspiration for the lyrics in his interlude about just what a man’s thoughts are. If he can provide the answers, it will have a lot of girls hooked, but can he? Yes he can, not only his thoughts, but also those of guys who are equally struggling to be ‘a better person.’

Ginuwine has declared that he no longer does back flips on stage, he was quite the mover, demonstrating just how to ride his infamous Pony in his live shows. So has all the raunchiness disappeared?

This album is certainly laid back and ballad driven. This occasional actor has the part of male R&B crooner locked down. But don’t despair; there is a silver lining in that the dream team is back. The album sees Ginuwine reunited with Timbaland and Missy, whom he met on a Jodeci video set in 1996, on the funky Get Involved, which injects the right amount of up-tempo, but which Missy almost steals the shine on. Brandy is another notable appearance on Bridge for Love.

The Brian Michael Cox produced, and Johnta Austin penned, One Time For Love is a silky hit. And newcomer Oak’s beat on Orchestra is infectious. The catchy Lying To Me cleverly spins out the dramas of relationships. But there is no proof to fuel the rumours of infidelity!

PR aside, the laid back mood of the album definitely sets the tone for romance. Touch Me is a slow jam that sets the perfect pace for chillaxing. Trouble ft. Bun B (a double A side with Last Chance) is another standout track where Ginuwine sounds as youthful as any of his contemporaries.

Ginuwine was always more than (a very pretty) face. Not only can he move; but his vocals are smooth.  His dulcet tones set slow jams alight. Memorable in the R&B fraternity for his appearance in Aaliyah’s One in a Million video, Ginuwine’s latest album proves that with an award-winning career thirteen years standing, he continues to stand out in the crowd.

A Man’s Thoughts is out in the UK now on Notifi/Warner Records

The UK Corner covers urban entertainment from a British perspective and is written by Fiona McKinson. She is a freelance journalist and creative writer based in London. Contact her at info@thetalentshow.co.uk.

Kailash Kher Heads West

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(November 11, 2009) Kailash Kher has a slumdog story of his own.

From a comfortable upbringing in New Delhi, Kher launched a business, then fell into dire financial straits. But the failure gave him the impetus to quit everything to follow his dream to make it as a singer in India's entertainment capital. He arrived in Mumbai in 2001, eking out a living writing ad jingles and sleeping in crowded bunk houses.

Now he is one of India's biggest pop stars. With his first internationally released album Yatra (Nomadic Souls) , Kher is back in Toronto to play Massey Hall tonight, riding what he says is a strong international momentum for Indian entertainment. “Not only music, but any form of arts and any form of marketing. India is a big hub for the entire world,” says Kher by phone during a rare moment of downtime in his brief North American tour.

In 2004, Kher made his name singing hit songs for Bollywood films, which the actors lip-sync to on screen.

Bollywood playback artists command a huge following on their own. His past hit song Allah Ke Bande from the film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II became far more popular than the film itself.

His latest album, a mix of new songs and new recordings of past hits, aims to attract an untapped Western audience with his trademark blend of Sufi-inspired themes set to global dance beats. They are all songs which could easily fit into a contemporary Bollywood soundtrack full of polished techno, hip hop and reggae rhythms infused with Indian and Middle Eastern sounds.)

But even as Kher is trying to start all over again in the West, it's immediately apparent, during a rushed few minutes talking on his cellphone, how big a star he is internationally. A chain of e-mails from publicists and handlers showed how the itinerary for his brief North American tour is planned to the minute, fitting for someone who has performed in more than 150 Hindi films. He's even a judge on Indian Idol .

And he's not discarding any of that with his new international push. It's just a matter of fitting it all into his schedule: “The new record has nothing to do with leaving Bollywood or anything.

“Records don't take that much time anyway. A big hit song takes half an hour, or hour, to sing. The song then becomes so big, but in half an hour the song was done,” he says.

Kher's parents had tried to steer him away from music and into business. But when running a small import-export company, a lost shipment of garments and other items in Germany forced Kher into heavy debt and bankruptcy. That's when he quit everything to try music in Mumbai.

Now at the height of his popularity in India, the rest of the world is the obvious next step, he says. He is thinking of making records with Western stars. As he explains, not only does the rest of the world seem enticing, but “India is a really world market for everything [from the West]” too.

Kailash Kher and Kailasa plays Massey Hall in Toronto Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.


Janet Jackson To Sit Down With Robin Roberts


(November 5, 2009)  *ABC is expected to announce today that "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts will interview Janet Jackson for a special to air on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 10 p.m.   The singer will likely spend much of the hour talking about her late brother, Michael, Variety reported Wednesday.    The network is also set to announce that its upcoming five-episode series "Let's Dance," which features celebs re-enacting well-known dance routines - will launch on Monday, Nov. 23 at 9:30 p.m.    The 90-minute premiere will follow the final performance show of "Dancing With the Stars."      "Let's Dance" will continue to air on Mondays at 9 p.m.


Seasonal Disorder: Holiday Movies Preview

Source: www.thestar.com -
Jason Anderson

(November 06, 2009) While movie theatres aren't quite desperate enough to offer flu vaccinations to ticket buyers, they'll do everything else they can to get seats filled during the coming holiday season. Boffo box office would be like a booster shot for a business plagued with the same worries as so many industries.

Yet the slate of forthcoming releases reflects a mood of timidity. Besides a few about-to-be blockbusters like The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the selection is relatively light on sure things and star vehicles.

The Hollywood studios seem equally wary of creating a glut of Oscar hopefuls, though Nine and Clint Eastwood's Invictus will provide some competition for previously established fest faves such as Precious and Up in the Air.

And while two heavyweight directors are returning with much-anticipated films – Peter Jackson with The Lovely Bones and James Cameron with Avatar – it remains to be seen whether their risky new projects can possibly repeat the colossal success of Lord of the Rings or Titanic.

Judged on the whole, the holiday movie season shares the cautious outlook that's so endemic to our times. But since this is show business we're talking about, plenty have bolder ambitions, too. Here's what the coming season has in store. (Space won't allow for a full list and dates may change so keep checking the Star's movie listings.)

November 13


Who's in it: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson

What's it about: Various plucky folks and possibly a cute dog or two do their best to survive the global apocalypse that the ancient Mayans may or may not have predicted.

Size of ambitions: Huge. Director Roland Emmerich loves nothing more than destroying the world and his latest disaster movie promises carnage on a scale that even Irwin Allen couldn't have imagined.

Pirate Radio

Who's in it: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy

What's it about: Love Actually creator Richard Curtis returns with a comedy based on the true-life travails of the DJs whose illegal offshore broadcasts shook up Britain in the '60s.

Size of ambitions: Modest, especially given its choppy reception when released in the U.K. under its original title of The Boat That Rocked.

November 20

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Who's in it: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

What's it about: From Stephenie Meyer's bestselling series comes the second movie about Bella, her vampire beau Edward and her increasingly hairy pal Jacob.

Size of ambitions: Growing larger by the second, what with the media frenzy that's accompanied every step in the saga's production since it became a pop-culture phenomenon.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Who's in it: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton

What's it about: A horribly abused Harlem teen begins to turn her life around in this Oprah-endorsed adaptation of the novel by Sapphire.

Size of ambitions: The sky's the limit for Precious – Lee Daniels' movie already earned audience prizes at Toronto and Sundance. Having started 2009 as an Oscar underdog, it could end the year as the odds-on favourite.

Planet 51

Who's in it: The voices of Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel

What's it about: Little green people cope with the arrival of their first interplanetary visitor: a human astronaut.

Size of ambitions: Average for a CGI toon, though the lack of a Pixar or DreamWorks release this season bodes well for this movie's fortunes.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Who's in it: The voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray

What's it about: In this adaptation of the book by Roald Dahl, a crafty fox must outwit his farmer neighbours to ensure the safety of himself and his brood.

Size of ambitions: Larger than the tiny models used to create this stop-motion animated feature from director Wes Anderson, a hipster fave who's followed Spike Jonze into the world of kids' films.

November 25

Old Dogs

Who's in it: John Travolta, Robin Williams

What's it about: Two bachelor friends and business partners have to play dad when they're suddenly stuck with 7-year-old twins.

Size of ambitions: Small due to the so-so track record of Travolta and Williams in recent outings, but this might do okay if viewers mistake it for a sequel to Wild Hogs.

November 27

The Road

Who's in it: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee

What's it about: A man and his son face countless dangers while travelling through a ravaged post-apocalyptic landscape.

Size of ambitions: Somewhat reduced after John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's grim Pulitzer winner was bumped from its 2008 release date, but it still had a strong reception at festivals this fall.

New York, I Love You

Who's in it: Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman

What's it about: Eleven filmmakers (including Portman) contributed to this anthology of love stories set in the Big Apple.

Size of ambitions: The producers hope to elicit the same warmth that viewers felt for Paris, je t'aime, but are pretzels really as romantic as croissants?

December 4


Who's in it: Matt Dillon, Columbus Short, Laurence Fishburne

What's it about: A newly hired guard takes part in an inside job to steal an armoured truck filled with $42 million.

Size of ambitions: Small – action thrillers do better in the summer. But director Nimrod Antal (Kontroll, Vacancy) has proven to be an exceptional talent even with limited means.


Who's in it: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire

What's it about: When a soldier goes missing in Afghanistan, his brother tries to comfort his wife and children.

Size of ambitions: Modest – war-themed dramas are a tough sell but Jim Sheridan's remake of a 2004 film by Danish director Susanne Bier may benefit from being the first movie to exploit the similarity of Maguire and his almost-successor Gyllenhaal as Spider-Man.

Up in the Air

Who's in it: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

What's it about: A seasoned traveller who fires people for a living realizes that a life without attachments is not all it's cracked up to be.

Size of ambitions: Large and Oscar-shaped – director Jason Reitman has followed up Thank You for Smoking and Juno with a smart, slick drama that's likely to appeal to critics and viewers in equal measure.

Red Cliff

Who's in it: Tony Leung, Chen Chang

What's it about: Warlords face off in an effort to unite China in the third century AD – their clashes culminate in the legendary battle of Red Cliff.

Size of ambitions: The most expensive Chinese production ever, John Woo's war epic has already conquered the Far East, beating out Titanic at home. Though slimmed from two parts to one, the North American version will still be a hot ticket for action fans.

December 11


Who's in it: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

What's it about: Newly elected South African president Nelson Mandela uses the 1995 Rugby World Cup to help unite his still-divided country.

Size of ambitions: Clint Eastwood's name has become a trademark of quality for critics, moviegoers and Academy members alike. The prospect of seeing Freeman as Mandela adds more momentum.

The Princess and the Frog

Who's in it: The voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Oprah Winfrey

What's it about: Thanks to an especially tricky magic spell, a prince and princess find themselves hopping through the bayous of Louisiana.

Size of ambitions: Modest, seeing as Disney hasn't released a strictly 2-D animated feature since Home on the Range in 2004. But the studio is hoping audiences will still flock to this throwback to the pre-Pixar style of The Little Princess.

The Lovely Bones

Who's in it: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Rachel Weisz

What's it about: From her vantage in a mystical afterworld, a murdered girl views the lives of her bereaved family and her uncaught killer.

Size of ambitions: Considerable since the director is Peter Jackson but his adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestseller will likely be far closer in tone to his pre-Lord of the Rings drama Heavenly Creatures.

December 18


Who's in it: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

What's it about: A paralyzed former marine joins a high-tech human foray into a strange world full of giant blue aliens.

Size of ambitions: Immeasurable – James Cameron's first feature since Titanic cost only slightly less than a bank bailout. The lack of stars and cryptic science-fiction plot line may put off punters but don't forget that the forecasts were equally iffy for Titanic.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Who's in it: Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant

What's it about: A battling New York couple are relocated to Wyoming after witnessing a murder.

Size of ambitions: Decent given the season's lack of rom-com farces and no new Sex and the City movie.

The Young Victoria

Who's in it: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany

What's it about: The British queen has to grow up fast in this drama about the first tumultuous years of her reign and her romance with Prince Albert.

Size of ambitions: Appropriately regal – Québécois director Jean-Marc Vallée has been praised for the vigour he applies to the oft-stuffy genre of period dramas about British royals.

December 25

Sherlock Holmes

Who's in it: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams

What's it about: Holmes and Watson contend with a deadly villain's plot to destroy Britain.

Size of ambitions: As big as Big Ben, though the studio's demand for reshoots earlier this year led some to wonder whether director Guy Ritchie will do justice to the legendary sleuth.

It's Complicated

Who's in it: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin

What's it about: A divorcee is surprised to find herself having an affair with her ex-husband, especially when another romantic prospect arrives on the scene.

Size of ambitions: On par with What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give, Nancy Meyers' other hits with the more mature demographic that's typically underserved by Hollywood.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Who's in it: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits

What's it about: A travelling theatrical caravan is the surreal setting for a conflict between a magician, a con-man and the devil himself.

Size of ambitions: Previously negligible, given that Ledger died halfway through the production of director Terry Gilliam's latest effort. Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp stepped in to rescue their friend Heath's swan song from almost-certain disaster.

Director Swallows High-Tech Kool Aid

Source: www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell

(November 06, 2009) Director Robert Zemeckis is using Gumpian logic to promote and defend his tech-first vision of moviemaking.

To quote the title character from his 1994 Oscar winner Forrest Gump: "My Mama always said you've got to put the past behind you before you can move on."

Zemeckis is following this credo to the max with Disney's A Christmas Carol, and The Polar Express and Beowulf before that. A visionary rather than a traditionalist, he's more jazzed by the mechanics of filmmaking than he is by the content.

But why? When you've got a great story and a great cast, why tart them up with layers of lacquer? What's to be gained by combining 3-D with motion-capture, a technique that turns live actors into digital cartoons?

I put these questions to Zemeckis, and also to actors Jim Carrey and Colin Firth, at the Cannes Film Festival last May. They were talking at a lavish press event for A Christmas Carol that ironically was old-school Hollywood: an expensive catered lunch, a hotel covered in fake snow and a temporary 3-D theatre that cost a bundle to build.

Normally, press events bring out the bantering, especially with a cut-up like Carrey. You get funny stories about the difficulties of wearing digital sensors, all of which we got.

But it was clear all three men had serious thoughts about their technological tinkering.

"Telling an emotional story through the art of cinema has always been blending art and technology, always," Zemeckis said.

"A close-up is a special effect. We don't think of it as that anymore, but you can't do it as any other form in life. So you just have to do the same disciplines you would by understanding where you make the film for the sake of spectacle (and) where you take the film emotionally ... it's a constant balancing act."

Mo-cap doesn't replace makeup, Zemeckis said; it just takes it in a different direction. Carrey could have done Scrooge with real greasepaint and prosthetics, as he did the Grinch. But it wouldn't have the same impact.

"Even though we have these magnificent makeup artists who work in Hollywood, my feeling is the essence of Jim by putting that much prosthetic on his face, to create a character that would look that way, would not come through the way he has come through this way."

I thought that Carrey and Firth might simply be indulging Zemeckis. Wouldn't they rather have done a live-action movie? A Christmas Carol is just another gig, right? Wrong. "In some ways I found the process, once I'd gone through all these bizarre mechanisms in preparation, to be less artificial than any other way of making a film," Firth said.

To Firth's surprise, the actors were able to shoot the movie in sequence, a luxury in filmmaking, and to look any way they wanted rather than straight at the camera.

"So in some ways it was the closest way to actually inhabiting this story that I've ever come across ...

"Robert could also have chosen to make just a cartoon. There is incredible technology for making a 3-D cartoon now, but he wanted actors to actually animate the figures. So there's flesh and blood in there. The balance, as far as I was concerned, was very much tipped in favour of the human being."

Carrey agreed, and then some.

"I believe however you tell a story is all right," he said.

"Some stories are told with puppets, some stories are told with illustrations, some stories are told by a book.

There's no limit. And the wonderful thing about films like this is that it's like the left and right hemispheres coming together in an explosion of some sort, and you don't necessarily need to know where it's going or why you didn't do it another way.

"Of course it can be done another way! It's been done another way! This is what makes it different ... and I love it. I celebrate that. You can't question it. You can't say, `Well, what's going to be the significance of this technology?' Because we don't know yet."

I personally don't agree with Zemeckis, Firth and Carrey. I think A Christmas Carol is technology run wild. But I believe they are sincere in their enthusiasm. I also think more Gumpian logic is at work:

"Since I'd gone this far," Forrest said, "I might as well keep right on going."

'A Great Year For Asian Cinema'

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Jennie Punter

(November 09, 2009) Recent Korean films that have opened theatrically on this side of the Pacific lean toward the horror genre - like the immensely entertaining monster-action movie The Host or the psychological vampire drama Thirst. But in Breathless, which marks the directing debut of Korean actor Yan Ik-June, the horror is all too human.

The riveting film, which receives its Toronto premiere at the closing-night gala of
Reel Asian, snapped up Rotterdam's Tiger Award and several other prizes for directing and performance on its journey here. Not for the faint of heart, Breathless follows the transformation of a sullen, extremely foul-mouthed and volatile thug-for-hire who takes a swing at just about everyone he encounters - including a passing high-school girl who challenges him when he casually spits at her. The two form an oddly touching relationship, rooted in their shared experience of domestic violence.

Breathless and the 12 other Reel Asian features (the festival, which begins Wednesday, also includes shorts programs and visual-art presentations) not only offers a balanced cross-section of international and North American Asian film, but also gives audiences a chance to see cinematic achievement beyond the genres and directors typically associated with the represented countries.

"This has been a great year for Asian cinema, which made my job easy," says Reel Asian international programmer Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who also programs for the Toronto International Film Festival. "A lot of these countries have seen a recent explosion of film activity because of digital technology, which has revived their independent sectors." Phathanavirangoon points to the recent output from the Philippines, with Richard Somes's folkloric horror movie Yanggaw as an example. "There is a running theme among the younger filmmakers to tell stories, whether they be crime or family dramas, that reveal the poverty and corruption going on in their country."

Thailand has seen a boom in marital-arts action films, sparked by the international success of Ong Bak, but Reel Asian takes viewers into a rural village and its crop fields with Agrarian Utopia. The poetic, award-winning drama is a compelling ground-level perspective of the impact of modern agriculture on the working poor. "The film is not just pretty pictures but looks at a family that farms by hand and how hard it is for them to sell their crops with prices so low," Phathanavirangoon explains. "And their neighbour is a professor who decides to buy land and farm as a way to subsist - not everybody has that luxury. So the film beautifully tackles these various dichotomies."

On the home front, Reel Asian presents the world premiere of Keith Lock's The Ache, co-written with well-known Toronto poet and sex columnist Louis Bak, in which a young Chinese-Canadian woman, who secretly works in an fetish shop, unravels the mystery behind a family curse.

While there are no new films from China on this year's slate, the fest is a cinephile's must-see with the Canadian premiere of Red Heroine, the only surviving episode of the 13-part silent martial-arts series shot in 1929. Live music is provided by the Boston-based multi-instrumental trio Devil Music Ensemble, which is currently on an international tour with the film.

The 13th annual Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival runs Nov. 11-15. Screenings at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.), Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave.), NFB (150 John St.) and the Royal Theatre (608 College St.). Tickets are $12 (regular), $15 (centrepiece, closing night), $20 (opening night) with discount prices for students/seniors. Available from the fest website until today at midnight or during the fest at the Innis College lobby and venues. Pass, event and schedule information at http://www.reelasian.com.

'Sheneneh And Wanda' – The Movie

Source: www.eurweb.com 

(November 10, 2009) *It started as a comedy sketch on the "BET Awards," but by popular demand, a movie will be produced starring the characters
Sheneneh from "Martin" and Wanda from "In Living Color."

Screen Gems has acquired "Sheneneh and Wanda," starring Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence in the female characters they developed for their respective television shows.

Foxx will write the script and he and Martin will produce together through Foxx's Foxxhole and Lawrence's Runteldat production banners, reports Variety.

The project originated as a parody of a movie trailer for a film called "Skank Robbers," which Foxx and Lawrence made for the BET Awards. [Watch clip below.] The reaction was strong enough that the duo decided to turn the concept into a real film.

In the comedy, Sheneneh and Wanda are modern day independent women trying to make it on their own, one bank robbery at a time.

Foxx, who last starred in "Law Abiding Citizen," will next be seen in the romantic comedy "Valentine's Day." Lawrence will next be seen in the Screen Gems comedy "Death at a Funeral."

A Christmas Carol: Disney Dips Scrooge In Digital Goo

Source: www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell

Disney's A Christmas Carol
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Starring Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins and Robin Wright Penn. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis. At major theatres. PG

(November 6, 2009) Like a Shakespeare sonnet or Beatles tune, the Charles Dickens perennial A Christmas Carol is hardy enough to survive any abuse.

Everyone from the Muppets to Mr. Magoo to Matthew McConaughey have had their way with it, sometimes bending the story almost beyond recognition. Yet the essential Yuletide message of redemption and goodwill always comes through.

That's the good news about Disney's A Christmas Carol, a movie by Robert Zemeckis that turns a 19th-century morality tale into a 21st-century funhouse ride, replete with digital greasepaint and 3-D gaping. Look past all the techno tinsel, and the uplift is the same as always. You might even enjoy the 3-D faux snow landing in your lap.

The bad news is that all this glitter is not gold. This is the third film by Zemeckis using motion-capture technology, the others being The Polar Express and Beowulf, and he has yet to prove the worth of a dubious hybrid that is not quite live action and not quite animation.

Indeed, with A Christmas Carol he comes closest to disproving his own strenuous arguments in favour of the process, and 3-D only serves to further gild the lily. He's taken an immortal story and an A-list cast – including Jim Carrey, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman – and nearly smothered them with the digital equivalent of cellophane.

It's like taking a Christmas wreath and dipping it in wax or laminating a Christmas card in plastic. Zemeckis risks creating another Yule ghoul: the Ghost of Christmas Without Soul.

Most people might have judged it sufficient gimmick for Carrey to play not only Ebenezer Scrooge at various ages, which he does well, but also the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come who vex Scrooge on the path to seasonal enlightenment.

Carrey has such an expressive face, it seems almost a crime to hide it beneath the mo-cap process, in which actors wear dozens of digital sensors while performing, and then have their work translated to claymation-style animation.

Fortunately for Carrey and the film, he's as durable as the Dickens. His personality struggles to get through the digital goo, but it largely does, although he's much better as Scrooge than as any of the three didactic ghosts.

He's also luckier than Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins and Robin Wright Penn, the supporting players in this mainly one-man show who all but disappear behind the digits. Oldman is almost as versatile as Carrey, playing the hectoring ghost of Jacob Marley, abused Scrooge employee Bob Cratchit and the ever-inspirational Tiny Tim, but you'd likely only know this from reading the credits.

Zemeckis has at least found a way to eliminate the "dead eye" problem that made The Polar Express such an unnerving affair. There's much more life to the characters in A Christmas Carol than previously achieved, which is one small consolation if he insists on going forward with mo-cap moviemaking.

But he tramples all over the wonderful sound of Dickens, sabotaging moments where the ear should be favoured rather than the eye. The scene where Scrooge's late partner Marley warns him of the dire consequences of putting profit ahead of charity ("Mankind was my business!") is drowned out by a ghastly face-snapping stunt that looks like a steal from a Tim Burton movie. One that might seriously frighten younger viewers, by the way, as will other spooky scenes.

Zemeckis is also obsessed with motion. He hurtles Scrooge through his Christmas Eve nocturnal encounters with unseemly haste, shooting him through the streets of London and even up to the moon. One suspects that the reason the Ghost of Christmas Past is weirdly presented as a candle carrying its own snuffer is not to enhance the story but to enable it to be used as a rocket to send Scrooge on that moon trip.

And when did A Christmas Carol ever shrink Scrooge down to size, like Alice in Alice In Wonderland? But method appears in this madness. Note the use of "Disney" in the title; how long will it be before this film becomes a real thrill ride at a Disney amusement park?

In the charity of a season that is approaching all too rapidly, let it be said that A Christmas Carol is neither the worst nor the better for this decorous telling of it, and it might be just the ticket for people who don't object to digital Dickens or cellophaned Scrooges.

Hence the extra half star pushing the rating from "Bah, humbug!" to "God bless us, one and all!"

For most film lovers, though, the definitive A Christmas Carol experience remains the 1951 black-and-white version starring Alistair Sim, which requires only a roaring fireplace and a mug of cocoa to push it into a whole other dimension of enjoyment.


DVD Review : Up

Source: www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell

(out of 4)

(November 10, 2009) One of the most emotional movies yet from Disney/Pixar upholds the studio's sterling reputation with a romantic and quixotic adventure about a grumpy septuagenarian determined to fulfil a promise made to his late wife. Directed by Monsters, Inc. helmer Pete Docter (with co-direction and co-writing by Bob Peterson), Up follows the quest of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a 78-year-old balloon salesman with a head like a lantern but an attitude like a spent match. Carl recently lost his wife Ellie, the love of his life, whom he had promised to one day take on safari to mysterious Paradise Falls in the South American jungle. Life interfered, but fate, ingenuity and a nod to The Wizard of Oz get the dream aloft once more, sending Carl and 8-year-old stowaway Russell (Jordan Nagai) on a wild ride. Up is about human bonds remembered and new ones forged, and it never seems insincere or contrived, not even when a toucan version of Big Bird shows up and Russell promptly names it "Kevin."  Kevin has trouble flying, but the movie never does, whether you see it in 3-D or not. Extras abound, including a commentary by Docter and Peterson, making-of featurettes and the short films Dug's Special Mission and Partly Cloudy.

Denzel Washington Headed Back To Broadway

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 11, 2009)  *Oscar winner Denzel Washington will return to Broadway next spring in a revival of August Wilson's "Fences," the Associated Press reported.   The production will be directed by Kenny Leon, who also steered Wilson's "Radio Golf" and "Gem of the Ocean" on Broadway. Producers Carole Shorenstein Hays and Scott Rudin say the play will open in April at a theatre to be announced.    The original 1987 production starred James Earl Jones as patriarch Troy Maxson, Mary Alice as his wife and Courtney B. Vance as his son. It won both the Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.    Washington's co-stars have yet to be announced.    The actor was last on Broadway in 2005 in a revival of "Julius Caesar" in which he played Brutus.


No Glee For Disabled Performers

Source: www.thestar.com - Lynn Elber

(November 11, 2009) LOS ANGELES–The glee club members twirl their wheelchairs to the tune of "Proud Mary" and in joyful solidarity with Artie, the fellow performer who must use his chair even when the music stops.

The scene in Wednesday's episode of the hit Fox series
Glee, which regularly celebrates diversity and the underdog, is yet another uplifting moment – except to those in the entertainment industry with disabilities and their advocates.

For them, the casting of a non-disabled actor to play the paraplegic high school student is another blown chance to hire a performer who truly fits the role.

"I think there's a fear of litigation, that a person with disabilities might slow a production down, fear that viewers might be uncomfortable," said Robert David Hall, longtime cast member of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

All of that is nonsense, said Hall: "I've made my living as an actor for 30 years and I walk on two artificial legs."

Hall, 61, chair of a multi-union committee for performers with disabilities, is part of a small band of such steadily working actors on TV that includes Daryl (Chill) Mitchell, star of Fox's Brothers; teenager RJ Mitte of AMC's Breaking Bad; and ABC's Private Practice newcomer Michael Patrick Thornton.

Veteran actress Geri Jewell, who has cerebral palsy, appeared on HBO's now-departed Deadwood.

Mitchell, 44, whose credits included Veronica's Closet and the film Galaxy Quest before he was injured in a motorcycle accident, and Ed after he began using a wheelchair, is also a producer on Brothers, which is in need of higher ratings if it is to survive.

For Mitchell, Brothers represents more than just another show: he calls it "a movement" that deserves support from the wider disabled community as well as the industry.

"This is what my life is. This is what I want the world to see," he said. "I want to hold the networks accountable. If I can come out and do what I'm doing, they can come to the table."

It's not just TV that falls short of what Mitchell and others seek, including auditioning those with disabilities for roles that echo their situation and in which it is irrelevant. (Then it's up to them to prove they deserve the job, Hall said.)

Increasingly, television has been expected to reflect society in whole and not just the so-called mainstream. That was the intent in assembling the cast of Glee, said executive producer Brad Falchuk, along with getting the best performers possible.

"We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair," he said. "It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act and have that charisma you need on TV."

He understands the concern and frustration expressed by the disabled community, he said. But Kevin McHale, 21, who plays Artie, excels as an actor and singer and "it's hard to say no to someone that talented," Falchuk said.

Glee isn't alone in using an able-bodied actor for a wheelchair role: Curb Your Enthusiasm did it twice in a recent episode.

More than a third of performers with disabilities reported facing discrimination in the workplace, either being refused an audition or not being cast for a role because of their disability, a U.S. study found.

Performers fear being candid about their health or needs to avoid pity or being seen as incapable of doing a job.

"There are very talented performers with disabilities.... We just don't know what producers are thinking," said Gloria Castaneda, program director of the Media Access Office, a California state program that promotes hiring of the disabled in the entertainment industry.

TV's past, oddly enough, was brighter. In the 1980s, actors with disabilities could be seen regularly in a variety of shows. They included Jewell, who co-starred on Facts of Life, and James Stacy, who played a love interest for Sharon Gless on Cagney&Lacey and appeared in Wiseguy after losing limbs in a motorcycle crash.

More is at stake than actors' careers, say advocates. "When a person with a disability sees a positive image on TV that looks like them, their whole attitude changes. It gives them hope for what they can do in the future," said Castaneda.

Cincinnati Funk Legend Tells His Story

www.eurweb.com -  Kenya M. Yarbrough

(November 6, 2009) *TV One’s hit series “UnSung” gets real funky this weekend. The show, which profiles some of the most influential – yet forgotten – artists of the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, covers the life of funkster Bootsy Collins. The episode premieres this Sunday, November 8 at 8pm. 

 “When you’re doing those things, to me, it feels like you’re on stage and you’re performing,” Collins said of the show’s interview process. “It’s not something you make up, but when someone asks you a certain question, you respond. I don’t think about it, it’s just comes out. That’s what we call funk on stage – it just comes out.”

 Collins admitted tow getting funky and sharing several stories and emotions of his life as a funk star. Decked in signature star-shaped sunglasses and outrageous outfits, Collins became a funk staple starting with his days playing back-up for the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

 “It’s like doing a concert,” he continued. “You have in your mind that it’s going to be great, sometimes things go down, the song doesn’t sound right, you didn’t play the right note. Sometimes it’s just like that in interviews. You don’t always know what you’re going to get.”

 Collins told EUR’s Lee Bailey that he’d never venture into the depth that he did in interviews for the show. In particular, Collins was moved at having others talk about him and his career.

 “I’ve never actually gotten that deep with it – about my career and all that; to get really deep and get other people involved and that kind of thing,” he said. “You don’t know what people really think about you. That’s what I thought was going to be real classic to me. You get to hear what people really thought.”

 Collins said that the show’s producer and director were very accommodating and that the process was particularly therapeutic.

 “We were just really ourselves. Everything was like family,” he said. “It was kind of like we know them and they knew us. We went back to where I grew up and there were just some deep situations that brought back a lot of memories. It was just so real. I never went back like that before.”

 The “UnSung” episode reveals some unknown facts about the music star, but he revealed to EUR that his family played a huge part in making him the Hall of Fame Rock-n-Roller that he is. It was his brother who gave him the spark for music.

“He was the only father figure in the house,” Collins said. “It was my mom, my sister, me, and my brother. I never knew my dad. My brother was eight years older than I was and he was the cat. He was the one that I looked up to. He started playing music and I wanted to be like my brother and that’s what really got me hooked. He used to rehearse around the house all the time. His band used to come over. He played guitar. That really is what got me hooked. That was my first real hero.”

 And it was his mom who gave him the name Bootsy.

 “She said I looked like a Bootsy. I laughed and didn’t really know what that meant,” he said. “It gives me chills speaking about my mother. She was really the whole reason for me just going all out and wanting to be somebody. My mother would work hard and make $2 a week and that in itself, at a young age, kind of got to me. I was taking it all in. At the time we were going through it, we didn’t think anything was wrong. Mama made sure we were fed and had a roof over our head. We didn’t know we were poor. You didn’t even think about it.”

 Collins was also influenced by some funk and soul legends.

 “We had King Records here [in Cincinnati]. James Brown was recording here,” he recalled. “We hung out at King Records so we had the chance to run into a lot of different starts at that time: Hank Ballard, Arthur Prysock – and we also got to play on their records. This was at a very young age. I’m like, 15 years old playing at King Records with all these different artists. That was got me started and made me think, ‘This is what I really want to do.”

 “But James Jameson was the number one musician for me – the bass player for Motown,” Collins said. “He’s the one that really locked me in to wanting to play bass. This cat could do no wrong with a bass. Every note he played was perfect. At that time, when bass playing was developing, he took it to the next level. Before him it was [basic rhythm]. You didn’t have no melody or bass lines. James Jameson is the one who came up with those groovy bass lines. I never got a chance to meet him before he died. He was my all-time hero.”

    Collins added a few other famous names – Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Howling Wolf, and Chuck Berry to his list of influential artist, and commented on how growing up with such names and at such a time, he learned to revel in the moments.

 “You didn’t get to see these guys because we didn’t have TVs; TVs were just coming out and most of us didn’t have one, so it was difficult to get hands-on full-on information from watching these people. But when you saw them, you never took it for granted. You just grabbed that and held on to it and kept that vivid in your mind,” he said.

 “We didn’t have tape recorders to tape melodies, so you had to remember this stuff,” he said. “You had to remember the melodies. We lost a lot of that creativity and intuitiveness. We’ve lost that because we gave it up for a remote and pushing a button. You had to remember those things until you either had the opportunity to go into a studio or you had the opportunity to rehearse with a band and put it down. You had to keep that in your mind.”

 Bootsy Collins says he looks at things a completely different perspective that today’s artist.

 “The fact that we didn’t have anything made us strong and made us more able to deal with the world as it is. We didn’t have nothing. We had to work with what we had,” he said.

 “I have to remember to try not to get too comfortable with, ‘Oh, I can just push this button’ or ‘just jump to another track.’ I always try to think back to when you just had four tracks and it helps keep me balanced.”

 Collins is also grounded, now, because of his days of being not so grounded, doing drugs.

 “You don’t realize at the time that it’s getting heavy. You think you’re just having fun. You don’t look at it like you’re addicted. I looked at it as it’s helping me create and I feel good. I realized when I didn’t do ‘em, I felt depressed.”

 “But in a way I’m glad it went down the way it did because I earned a real valuable lesson. I wouldn’t go back and change none of that. It’s got to me to where I’m out now. I’m totally straight, feeling good and able to go back to the community and shine for them.”

 “UnSung” airs Sundays at 8pm & 11pm on TV One. For more on the series, check the website at www.tvoneonline.com. For more on Bootsy Collins, go to his official website at www.bootsycollins.com.

 Watch a preview of Bootsy Collins' UnSung, here.

Christina Hendricks: A Dangerous, Sexy Secretary

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Andrew Ryan

(Nov. 07, 2009) Along with scores of viewers, Christina Hendricks will always remember the third season of Mad Men as the year when the bombshell bit back.

For three long years, Hendricks's sultry secretary Joan Holloway had endured sexist cracks, office affairs, date rape, crushing career letdown and was even forced by her physician husband to perform an accordion solo for the amusement of his bosses. When Joan's self-serving mate Greg (Sam Page) took to whining about the unfairness of his working life in a recent episode, Joan finally summoned up some pre-Gloria Steinem inner rage and smashed a vase over his head.

“That felt great,” beams Hendricks, in Toronto earlier this week. “Someone told me women were running down the halls of their office the next day, yelling, ‘She bopped him!' And Greg had it a long time coming. He deserved it.”

For all of Joan's hardships, Hendricks remains over the moon to be part of Mad Men . Now down to this season's final episode tomorrow, the period drama set in the early-sixties advertising industry still holds rank as TV's most buzzed-about series. Created by Matthew Weiner, formerly writer-producer with The Sopranos , Mad Men has collected two best-drama Emmys for its first two seasons and reviewers concur that the show boasts some of the best acting on television today – very often citing Hendricks's portrayal of Joan as a prime example.

 “It definitely feels like we're doing something unique,” she says. “The show is mature and a little bit dangerous and sexy and it has a beautiful stylish feel to it. Put all those things together and Mad Men really stands out.”

From the beginning, there was Joan. The inaugural season of Mad Men introduced Joan Holloway as the imposing office manager of the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency. “For a working actress, the role of Joan was a gift,” says Hendricks, 34. “Everything came together in this perfect little explosion and I just happened to be there.”

Smart, capable and impossibly curvy, Joan was revealed to have had affairs with at least two of her co-workers, but she still commanded respect among the agency wolves.

“Joan is probably one of the most complex, mysterious characters on the show,” said Weiner at the recent TV critic’s tour. “On the surface, she's the epitome of early sixties sexiness; at the same time, she's very vulnerable.”

And as the Mad Men story progressed, viewers gradually learned more about Joan in small increments. “Each script in the show's first two seasons revealed a little more about her. It's not very interesting to see someone who's very obvious all the time. You can't just say Joan is bossy, or just say she's vulnerable. That's what makes her so intricate,” says Hendricks.

But life could be unkind to a beautiful woman back in the sexist Mad Men era. In the show's second season, Joan became engaged to the handsome but not terribly intelligent surgeon Greg, the perpetrator of the aforementioned date-rape scene.

Also in the second season, Joan was briefly pressed into fill-in service at the agency as an ad buyer. She performed admirably, but when the job ended, Joan received a curt thanks and was sent packing – but only after she trained her witless male replacement. As women did at the time, Joan hid her disappointment and went back to the steno pool.

“From what I've read, that was how office life was for women back in the sixties,” says Hendricks. “Women did what they were told. You'll never see Joan emote too much. She's smart enough to remain guarded.”

While Joan has suffered, Mad Men has translated into blessings for Hendricks. Before Mad Men , she was limited to supporting roles on the series Kevin Hill and Firefly , and the odd appearance on ER . Last month, she married actor Geoffrey Arend – they are spending their honeymoon in Toronto, where Arend is filming the M. Night Shyamalan feature Devil – and being on a red-hot TV show is already translating into movie work: Hendricks recently finished filming the feature Life as We Know It with Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl, and is fielding film scripts for her Mad Men hiatus.

For now, there is only one hour remaining on Mad Men and it will feel like an eternity before the show returns for its fourth season next summer. Hendricks is bound under strict confidentiality rules to not reveal any details of tomorrow night's final episode.

“But I can tell you that the finale is pretty shocking,” she says, rather coquettishly. “Something happens that absolutely nobody will be expecting. The show is about the ad business, so of course we want people to come back next year.”

Don Cheadle Sets Up Shop At NBC


(November 6, 2009) *Don Cheadle is going into business with NBC. The actor's Crescendo production company, launched with former managers Kay Liberman and Lenore Zerman, has sealed a first-look TV deal at the network, according to Variety.

Crescendo already has a handful of projects set up at NBC, as well as several more at ABC, TNT and FX. Among them, an ABC adaptation of the feature "The Star Chamber," from writer Zack Estrin ("Prison Break"), as well as a Boston-set cop drama from John Hlavin ("The Shield") at NBC.

"We take it seriously," Cheadle said of his new TV venture. "I've found there are ways to execute stories in all these mediums. It just has to be something that tickles your fancy."

Cheadle said his decision to enter the TV game came out of a conversation he had with former NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chair Ben Silverman at a party.

"We came in as a company and met and talked, and I realized that there was maybe something here," Cheadle said. "(After that), there were a lot of incoming calls with people trying to get into business with us."

Silverman is long gone, but Cheadle and Liberman said they have been working just as closely with NBC entertainment chief Angela Bromstad and her team.

"Don's a gifted actor who also is an incredibly smart producer," said Hlavin, who's behind Crescendo's "Boston P.D." at NBC. Hlavin's project will center on a homicide detective who discovers he shares a surprising connection to his new partner.

Estrin's "The Star Chamber," meanwhile, is set up at ABC through 20th Century Fox TV.  The suspense drama centers on a judge who goes after dangerous criminals who are set free by a flawed judicial system. The original "Star Chamber," released in 1983, starred Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook and Yaphet Kotto.  Cheadle singled out "The Star Chamber" as one of his passion projects.

Crescendo's hour-long drama "Gemini," also at NBC, revolves around an operative inside a little-known government agency that investigates crimes; the lead character finds himself balancing two lives, including a deep secret.

TNT is close to signing on to develop Crescendo's "RX," a medical drama from executive producer Brett King.  The project centers on a young doctor who establishes a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Lionsgate is in talks to produce.

Previously reported Crescendo projects include "March to Madness," a drama from scribe Joel Silverman and executive producers Pete Segal, Michael Ewing and Dave Miller. Set up at FX, "Madness" chronicles the glory and the seedy side of college basketball.

Among the comedies in the works at Crescendo is "It's All Love," from "The Boondocks" creator Aaron McGruder.

Crescendo is also still shopping new projects to networks, including the action drama "Ripple," from new writer Cory Marciel. The project follows Jericho, an operative who is dispatched by researchers to prevent murders that have already happened.

Cheadle said it's too soon to tell whether he'll appear in or direct any of the small screen projects -- but added that schedule permitting, he'd be game.

"I'm not looking to leave features, but I never say never to good work," said Cheadle, who noted that he appeared in a multiepisode arc on "ER." "As my schedule allows, especially if it's something really banging, absolutely (I'd do TV)."

Sesame Street: Sweeping The Clouds Away

www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(November 8, 2009)  A frantic, fretful talking frog. An insecure, asexual eight-foot canary. A googly-eyed, cookie-craving, shambling shag carpet. A miserable, filthy homeless guy in a can.

These were the people in our neighbourhood – the furry, felt and flesh-and-blood friends that awaited us every day in the idealized urban environs of that most magical thoroughfare,
Sesame Street.

And 40 years later, they're still there, more or less unchanged, with perhaps a few new additions. Their audience has turned over now several generations. But the Street remains essentially the same.

In November of 1969, when Sesame Street made its debut, I was 11 years old – well beyond its pre-school demographic, but still young enough to relate to the colour, the characters, the music and the sly humour. And maybe to unconsciously absorb a few subtle life lessons along the way.

To any kid in 1969, the show arrived as a revelation. The morning kiddie programs we had been raised on had stayed mired in 1950s values, production and otherwise. They existed merely to fill local stations' morning hours, to sell toys and snacks to impressionable young consumers.

I went back as far as Howdy Doody, to which I was apparently hopelessly addicted (my mother loves to tell of my first day of nursery school, when I refused to get on the bus until she promised to watch it for me). I skipped past Bozo the Clown and went straight on to Soupy Sales, turning up my snotty nose at Romper Room and the patronizingly paternal Mr. Rogers. (Of the homegrown offerings, Mr. Dress-Up was, even then, a guilty pleasure.)

And then along came Sesame Street.

"There had been nothing quite like it before, that's for sure," confirms Michael Davis, an expert on the subject as author of the recent authoritative Sesame history, Street Gang. "And, for quite some time, nothing quite like it after."

Its cumulative achievements still tower above those of other shows; it has won two Peabody Awards and 122 Emmys. That's a stunning tribute to the show's ambition – a far cry from the morning TV junk food of my choice in my youth, Buffalo's cross-the-border Rocketship 7, pretty much the quintessential U.S. local-market morning show.

Captain Kangaroo, Davis concedes, at least occupied an adjoining neighbourhood to the Street. Its host, Bob Keeshan, had also been the original Clarabell the Clown on the less-thoughtful Howdy Doody, Davis says, "but Keeshan did an exceptional job ... you can make the point that, as a predecessor to Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo did try to teach tolerance and understanding and peaceful resolution to conflict. Albeit in a very informal way.

"It is not at all surprising that the founding producers of Sesame Street all had their grounding at CBS with Bob Keeshan."

Under the leadership of producer Joan Ganz Cooney, a think-tank of sorts, the Children's Television Workshop (now the Sesame Workshop) took on developing a new kind of kids' show that was relevant, educational and, above all, entertaining.

"Sesame Street came along with a bona fide curriculum," Davis explains. "It was created by educators, psychologists, psychiatrists, behavioural specialists, child development specialists ... it had an incredible plan about what it would attempt to teach children. And no one had ever set out before to do that.

"Joan Cooney instructed everyone that if you had to choose between being educational and entertaining, you had to be entertaining, because if you couldn't catch and hold their attention, then all your work was for naught.

"It doesn't have to be candy. But it could be frozen yogurt."

If the Workshop's innovative approach and educational content were the yoghurt, then Jim Henson and his Muppets were the fruit at the bottom. Indeed, there would be no Sesame Street without them.

"Everyone involved thought it would maybe be a one- or two-year gig," says Davis. They believed in it "but assumed it would be over once the funding ran out.

"And the truth is, it would have, had it not been for Jim Henson and these incredible characters that he created ... characters that turned out to be incredibly marketable.

"It started out slowly, with books and records, but eventually it was the revenue from those licensing and merchandising deals that kept Sesame Street on the air."

Almost overnight, the Muppets were everywhere, as licensed images of Henson's motley crew of odd-balls, innocents, misfits and "monsters" began to challenge even the ubiquitous Disney characters for domination of children’s' toy and clothing store shelves.

"We forget how quickly it caught fire," says Davis, "and how unbelievably fast they became iconic ... I mean, within a year of Sesame Street's launch, Big Bird was on the cover of TIME."

Given the Muppets' merchandising success, it was perhaps inevitable that Disney would cast an avaricious eye in their direction. Five years after Henson's death in 1990, it was announced that the "House of Mouse" had indeed absorbed the Muppet empire, which by then incorporated film and television properties, including their own eponymous TV show.

The sole exclusions in the deal were the original Sesame Street characters, which remained with the Workshop. Disney might have eventually co-opted them too ... had it not been for an excitable little guy named Elmo.

A kind of afterthought character, the child-like Elmo suddenly emerged as the poster-beast for all things Muppet, and a line of "Tickle Me" toys that stores could not keep on the shelves.

He became a superstar, appearing on everything from Oprah to Emeril, and even The West Wing ... eventually, he even testified before the U.S. Congress. Henson's Sesame legacy was saved, and still thrives into its fifth decade.

"I objected to the subtitle Viking gave my book, The Complete History of Sesame Street. I argued that that was illogical – you can't do a complete history of something that's still on the air and still evolving.

"I think Sesame Street will be around for another 50 years ... yes, there's a crowded marketplace now for pre-school shows – the woods are full of them," says Davis.

"But there's only one Sesame Street."

Simpsons : Where Credit Is Due

www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar

(November 8, 2009) Most. Important. Comedy. Ever.

It's highly unlikely that anyone picking up Toronto-raised John Ortved's
The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History would disagree with that sentiment.

The author's new 300-plus-paged tome is an oral history of TV's longest running comedy, as the show's architects, staff members and guests recount the calculated decisions and happy accidents that went into creating what might be the last truly ubiquitous cultural juggernaut.

Ortved ends the introduction with the line: "We, as a culture, speak Simpsons." While my somewhat obscure favourites are: "Oh, so you've played knife-y-spoon-y before," "Increase my killing power? Let's do it." and my standard go-to toast, "Gentlemen, to evil," Ortved is also speaking in larger cultural implications.

"I don't think there is a force in culture that has penetrated as widely or deeply as The Simpsons have," he says. " I think if you're in your late-20s or 30s or around it, there's some DNA in the way you speak, in the way you construct your story. It doesn't matter if you're writing a story or giving a speech in a boardroom, there's some sense of irony in your sense of storytelling that has been shaped to some degree by The Simpsons."

Ortved started telling this story when he was an editorial associate at Vanity Fair, and while he pitched an article about the show as a oral history as much out of desire as calculation: "I figured it was a good way to get it in, because really, editorial associates didn't really get to write for the magazine that much, and this was a great way to let people tell their story," he says.

Simpsons staffers were told not to take part in the article, and the subsequent book (although many did). The request came mainly because of attempts to look into the dispute between Simpsons creator Matt Groening and veteran TV producer/writer Sam Simon, Ortved says.

Simon supporters feel he didn't get enough credit for his contributions, in particular, building one of the most outstanding stable of writers in TV history.

"There were strong feelings from the show's early staff that Matt Groening had been too well rewarded, to the detriment of Sam Simon, who it seems was the real guiding force of the writers' room, and that The Simpsons that we know and love is really a writer's show," Ortved says.

"The feeling is that more than any other show, they took so much time and effort to write the episodes that they did. And it became apparent that that wasn't a process Matt Groening was a big part of, especially during those early, really special years, where the show was being formulated."

Ortved is disappointed he didn't speak to certain principal characters, especially Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, and who Ortved calls "an absolute genius." Whatever the changes to the writing, the cast is mostly intact from the beginning, and Ortved still watches today, though he knows it doesn't compare to its first decade.

"I think that if the show has a problem now, it's not that it's gotten too wild, it's that it's gotten hacky.

"The jokes aren't as thoughtful, and every now and then, they do an American Idol episode or gay marriage, and it's so out of date. They seem to be trying to do cultural trends, which I understand, but there's seems to be a lack of cool in the show, and shows like Family Guy and South Park seem to be able to do that very easily and so well," Ortved says.

"It's usually 21 minutes of throwaway jokes, and then one minute of emotion or family reconciliation now. There's really nothing lasting in it any more."

Ortved, who now is usually found in New York, returns to Toronto this week for This is not a Reading Series, John Ortved in conversation with broadcaster Richard Crouse, on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Gladstone Hotel.

The event will also feature a performance by Henri Faberge and The Adorables, performing with Ortved.

"I'm nominally in that band. I show up and read poems that sound like jokes sometimes," he says. "Well, they let me be a part of their band occasionally, so they are going to play, so that should be fantastic."

Riese: As Not Seen On TV

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Marsha Lederman

(November 09, 2009) Vancouver — If you need proof that creating “television” is a completely different game these days, look no further than the Vancouver-produced science fiction series Riese . To begin with, the series launched not with a television pilot, but with a nine-minute episode on YouTube and the video site Koldcast. And before shooting even a single scene, the show's creators launched a stealth marketing campaign to promote the series, sending a “street team” to the fan expo Comic-Con in San Diego last July with 60,000 postcards, synopses and propaganda material for the Sect, the scary religious group featured on the show.

Then the producers created more Web content: behind-the-scenes videos documenting casting, costume fittings and production; a slick trailer; and, of course, a presence on Facebook and Twitter. All in an effort to have the series go viral.

“People just really got excited and we generated a lot of buzz that way,” says Nicholas Humphries, one of the show's producers.

Episode 1 launched last week, attracting some 10,000 views on YouTube in the first two days – enough to make it a featured video and for YouTube to go into partnership with the production team so that each time a new episode is launched, it will be featured on the site's main page. That alone should guarantee a substantial amount of traffic.

A good review in The New York Times didn't hurt either (“the fight scenes are so tightly edited and scored that the combined effect is on par with anything you'd see on prime time”).

It all fits into the production team's plans: either make enough money by continuing to release episodes online (generating revenue through various platforms: an alternate reality game, an iPhone app that's currently in development, even good ol' online T-shirt and mug sales) or document what they hope will be huge numbers of viewers and use those statistics to sell the series to a broadcaster.

“We realized we could put all this time and energy into shooting a pilot [to begin with] but with the economy how it is, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of broadcasters out there buying really stylistic fiction so we thought we'd still make it but take distribution into our own hands by putting it online and building a fan base that way,” says Humphries, 27 (who is married to one of Riese 's creators, Ryan Copple).

The steampunk series – a fantasy/science-fiction subgenre where stories are set in a steam-fuelled world, like the Victorian era – is set in a crumbling land, the once peaceful kingdom of Eleysia. Riese (Christine Chatelain) travels through the dying land with her companion – a wolf – battling the Sect and trying to remember the terrifying events of her own life, including the murder of her entire family.

“It's fantasy without magic, it's sci-fi without futuristic technology,” says Humphries.

The series, the first episode anyway, is heavy on style, fight scenes and music – with only a single line of dialogue uttered toward the end.

Shot in and around Vancouver with professional actors (Chatelain has starred in the TV series Sanctuary and The Collector ), this is hardly a low-rent Web project, with an estimated budget of $50,000 per episode. The shows will be released every two weeks, with five episodes making up one chapter (the producers are in post-production for Chapter 1 right now and preparing to shoot Chapter 2).

So will Riese be another The Guild – the online sitcom about a group of gamers that is now into its third season and watched by millions? Or will it be another Sanctuary – the Vancouver-produced series which began online but jumped to television after eight webisodes? Or will Riese “air” in obscurity, fighting for exposure in an increasingly crowded online market?

Stay tuned. Don't touch that … keyboard.


Masterful Acting Of An Honoured Script In August: Osage County

Source: www.thestar.com -
Richard Ouzounian

August: Osage County
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
By Tracy Letts. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Until Nov. 15 at the Canon Theatre, 244 Victoria St. 416-872-1212

(November 06, 2009) Anyone looking for a master class in great acting ought to rush down to the Canon Theatre, where Estelle Parsons opened Thursday night in
August: Osage County.

As the venomous Violet Weston, the "truth-telling," pill-popping matriarch of a family that – as I once said – puts the "diss" in dysfunctional, Parsons delivers a performance of such scope, power and precision that it's worth the price of admission on its own.

Watch her as she walks down a steep staircase on a half dozen separate occasions, each time allowing the way she hits each tread to tell us what she's thinking and feeling. Masterful.

Tracy Letts' play itself comes garlanded with every honour the American theatre can offer, from the Tony to the Pulitzer, but I have to maintain my minority viewpoint and say that I find it, ultimately, a disappointing piece of writing.

Don't get me wrong, the language has the salty tang of real people living on the edge and the script is full of laugh-out-loud zingers that you'll enjoy heartily.

But what I find even more distressing on a second viewing is the rambling nature of the play's structure, which echoes the massive three-storey set by Todd Rosenthal.

Sure, there's a lot up there to look at, but not all of the rooms are clearly visible.

To untangle the numerous threads of the plot, you'd need to take up macramé in reverse, but all you really need to know is that a family death triggers a reunion from hell in which everyone gets to air their dirtiest linen and vent their lifelong frustrations.

The only trouble is that you start to feel you're in a really frazzled Emergency Room where everybody is taking their own temperature while the triage nurse sits stoned out of her mind.

Letts has included drug addiction, alcoholism, incest, pedophilia and a whole garden variety of other neuroses. At times, it seems he has written a play in three acts and 12 steps, with everyone venting their personal problems and groping their way toward recovery.

Yes, there are moments like the astonishing dinner scene that brings Act II to a climax where you'll find yourself cheering the opposing forces and getting carried away on a giddy tide of theatrical emotion.

But by the time Act III is slowly wending to a close (the evening clocks in at 3 1/2 hours), you'll wish somebody had gone at the script with a firm hand and a blue pencil.

Anna D. Shapiro's direction is broader here than it was on Broadway, probably because this touring production is playing larger houses, but while it makes the funny moments better, the more serious ones are less effective.

From a large and talented cast, I especially enjoyed Shannon Cochran as the bitchiest bitch I've seen in years, Laurence Lau as a smiling serpent of a seducer and Paul Vincent O'Connor as one of the few characters clinging to his remaining shreds of decency.

And then there's Estelle Parsons, who should be given the keys to the city right now. Mayor Miller, what are you waiting for?

More Songs, More Dance ... More Love

Source: www.thestar.com -
Bruce DeMara

(November 07, 2009) It started with a young couple searching for a project they could embrace together. A single song grew into an hour-long play, and then into a surprise sell-out hit at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival.

And before you could say "unconventional but true love story," M
y Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding had hit the big time, with an expanded version set to premiere at the Panasonic Theatre under the auspices of Mirvish Productions.

Singer-songwriter David Hein, who's forte to-date has been travelling far and wide to do "house concerts" – a series of songs that tell a story in small and intimate settings, decided to knit some personal history into a funny, sad and sweet tale of love against the odds.

"The best thing is that we started out to work together and we work together all day long now. It's wonderful. We go to work together, we leave work together," Hein said. "We go for a coffee and talk about the play together," chimed in his actress wife Irene Carl Sankoff.

After throwing out an earlier version that was largely fictional, the couple – on the advice of close friends – sat down on Feb. 14 to write the real story of Hein's mom, her new lover, and a wedding that was better late than never.

The first step was landing a capable director, Andrew Lamb. The next to open auditions and hope somebody would show. Veterans from the Stratford and Shaw festivals – such as lead Irene Horner, playing mom Claire – eagerly came forward. (Remember, this was still a low-budget Fringe offering.)

"Then we were hoping our friends would come out to see us in the Fringe. Instead, people really liked it and word got around and people were lining up for three hours in the rain to see our show. It was overwhelming," Hein recalled.

Sharon Hampson and a scout from Mirvish Productions saw the show on opening night and urged boss David Mirvish to see it ASAP.

"The next thing we know, we got an email saying, `Could you please book four tickets for David Mirvish? Could you please book six tickets ... could you please book 10 tickets?" Hein said.

Despite being sold-out, the 85-seat Bread and Circus Theatre in Kensington Market found room, and Mirvish said that he and his entourage – including friends from New York and Texas – had a delightful evening.

The Fringe show, which sold out quickly, had a story with heart and potential for a much larger audience, so Canada's biggest live theatre producer decided to back it.

The expanded 90-minute show, with additional songs and new dance numbers, "lets the story breathe," Carl Sankoff said.

"We're excited about all the new people who will see it. But for the people who saw it already, I think we've made the world larger. There's more comedy, there's more songs, there's more dance, there's just more ... more love," Hein added.

Playing a real person in a true story is a part of the appeal for Hope; "When I found it was a true story, it was a no-brainer. It was important and heartfelt. There just wasn't any question of not doing it."

Director Lamb said the story has a fresh feel because it inverts the standard child-coming-out-to-the-folks story. And while there is a political message – the need for society to respect civil rights for all – Lamb said the show is the last thing from preachy. "It's so much fun. There's a great sense of humour that seeds its way throughout and the song lyrics are hilarious.

"You'll find that people are laughing hysterically one moment and wiping away tears the next, and then back again. It's really well-balanced," he added.

Michael Cohl Fixes Spider-Man's Web

Source: www.thestar.com -
Richard Ouzounian

(November 09, 2009) My Spidey senses are tingling ... but not necessarily in a good way.

On Friday, The New York Times announced that Toronto's own
Michael Cohl had ridden to the rescue of the troubled $45 million (U.S.) supermusical Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, which had been struggling to open on Broadway this season.

With a score by U2's Bono and The Edge, and with direction by Julie Taymor of The Lion King fame, this show seemed like the one to beat going into this season.

But the original producer, David Garfinkle, couldn't raise the necessary money for the show, and it suffered the embarrassment of announcing its cancellation and having the sets that were being constructed ripped out of the Hilton Theatre.

It was around this time that Bono approached his friend Cohl and, in effect, said: "Do something."

Cohl is now senior producer of the show and things are back on track, although it probably won't open in time for this year's Tony Awards.

As Torontonians know, Cohl is no stranger to the rock world and his name practically has to be mentioned in the same sentence with the Rolling Stones, so symbiotic is their relationship.

The Times characterized him as "as a man with deep pockets, a Rolodex packed with investors and a knack for presenting entertainment spectacles."

But in the lengthy article announcing Cohl's take-over, the paper left out one important credit. Cohl was involved with a similar project before: a troubled musical, gigantic in scope, monstrous in budget, based on a series of three films that had been worldwide successes.

The Lord of the Rings, anyone?

IT'S OVER NOW, THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT Saturday night marked the final performance of Toronto's Ramin Karimloo in the title role of the London production of The Phantom of the Opera.

But he's only got four weeks off to rest before starting work in the same part on the sequel to the mega-hit show, Love Never Dies.

Karimloo has been battling a neck injury for the past five weeks and as he told the Star on Sunday, "Emotionally, I did not want to leave the show. Mentally, I was enjoying it more than ever. Physically, I could not take any more right now."

He says that he's going to miss three women the most: Tanya, Charlotte and Linda. "They were my makeup, wig and costume girls who I saw every day. They became family, like the sisters I never had."

When it comes to playing the new part, Karimloo admits that, "I'm looking forward to living this character again, but I intend to look on Love Never Dies as a stand-alone show. It's the same man, but he's 10 years older and I know how much I changed from 21 to 31."

Karimloo hasn't been in direct contact with Andrew Lloyd Webber since the composer announced he was suffering from prostate cancer, since he feels "he needs rest with his family at the moment.''

"But he sent me a lovely letter for my closing night. It'll be great to work side by side with him again."

SAY HELLO TO VENUS AND LES FILLES DE JACQUES One last casting bulletin from our Shaw Festival spies. Down in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Agent Fudge brings word that company member Robin Evan Willis has snagged the plum role of Venus in One Touch of Venus. Willis was most prominently seen at Shaw as Anne in the 2008 production of A Little Night Music.

And from Stratford, Deep Swan reveals that the two ladies who will join Brent Carver and Mike Nadajewski next season in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris are Jewelle Blackman (last seen in Cabaret) and Nathalie Nadon (making her festival debut).


Machinarium Blows The Dust Off Of Old Genre

Source: www.thestar.com -
Darren Zenko

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
$20 from machinarium.net

(November 07, 2009) The pure adventure game is the most venerable of genres, and in its ancient form expressed the fundamentals of all games as we know them today. After all, what is a modern action game, if not a prettied-up and pushbutton-convenient way of typing "shoot zombie" and "get ammo" over and over again?

But even within its own line of development, the adventure game has been streamlined and simplified; from monochrome text to graphic adventures, and onward to the classic point-and-click game, where the whole genre – once home to the most bracing of mental challenges – basically exists within the space we call "casual" gaming or coffee-break diversions.

The weird thing is, I wasn't quite fully conscious of how far adventure games – once one of my most beloved pastimes – had drifted from its roots until Czech developer Amanita Design's
Machinarium woke me up.

The first thing you'll fall in love with in Machinarium is the, you know, graphics. Winner of the "Excellence in Visual Art" honour at the 2009 Independent Games Festival, Machinarium is an astounding thing to look at.

Its steampunkish junk-heap world of bizarre mechanisms, odd robots and piecemeal jerry-rigged contraptions capes is incomparably rich in captivating detail, somehow colourful within its rust-and-dust palette. These wonderful designs are in turn given life through excellent animation, with a presence and delicacy that induces the same transporting thrill I used to get as a kid staring for hours at the miracle of model-train layouts. Every moment and motion feels precious.

As much a treat as its visuals and animation are, the real wonder of Machinarium is in its mechanics, and what they restore to the point-and-click genre. Over time, the genre has become streamlined – we've gone from typing verbs and nouns into a command line, to clicking verbs in a menu or icon bar, to simply waving the mouse around the screen and watching for the context-sensitive pointer to indicate the spots where clicking might make things happen.

By simply reducing the mouse-waving zone to the area immediately within arms' reach of your little robot protagonist – an area made malleable by your ability to stretch or compress his telescoping robo-body – Machinarium immediately returns a sense of space, a sense of the physical, from the tired point-and-click user interface.

It may seem like I'm overstating the effect of a trivial design decision, but games, with their two-way interaction between the player and the work, are of such an intimate nature that things that appear trivial on paper can make a world of difference in application.

With Machinarium, this one little choice serves to place the character more firmly within his environment, and to place the player more firmly within the character, than most adventure games have managed in the years since we used to get down-and-dirty looking at things, opening them and taking the goodies inside. Even better, Machinarium feels challenging rather than merely difficult or obscure.

And, like all good adventure games, Machinarium tells a wonderful, surprising, twisty, involving story ... which I won't spoil even a bit here. I'll just say that, without a single word, Machinarium did more for me than even the most epic role-playing games generally manage. Do your heart and mind a favour and visit machinarium.net for a free browser demo of this rare masterpiece.


Patterson's Thrilling Puzzlers Go Mobile

Source: www.thestar.com -
Marc Saltzman

(November 7, 2009) You no longer need a PC to dive into video games based on James Patterson's bestselling Women's Murder Club thrillers. The latest in the game series, THQ's Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion, has just arrived on the Nintendo DS/DSi portable game system. This $35 "Teen"-rated title allows you to step into the investigative shoes of Lindsay, Claire and Cindy, who probe a string of seemingly unrelated murders. By using the stylus, players can examine areas for clues, interrogate witnesses and engage in Where's Waldo-like "hidden object" exercises and other puzzles. "I love to play to a big audience and, in this instance, the notion was to broaden the video game audience and appeal to both women and men," Patterson said in a phone interview with the Star. "You're not going to kill a lot of people in this game. Instead, it's a mystery to be solved, with a good story, characters, puzzles and mini-games."  Patterson, who has written more New York Times No. 1 bestsellers than anyone, says some of his other books might be made into games soon. "I do have a number of young adult stories. Maximum Ride is one, which is about to get green-lit with Sony Pictures, so we might see a game based on that. "And there's Daniel X, and we have a game coming on that, but I can't say too much."


Comedy Club Celebrates Anniversary With Eight Nights Of Laughter

Source: www.thestar.com -
Bruce DeMara

(November 01, 2009) Comedy, as they say, is hard, and running a comedy club is even harder.

Just ask
Comedy Bar co-owner Gary Rideout Jr. Since the club opened a year ago, he's done everything.

"I've done every job from cleaning urinals to bartending to doing tech to doing box office. I've done every single job," says Rideout, who with business partner James Elksnitis, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the nightspot, at 945 Bloor St. W., with eight nights of special events starting Sunday.

As a longtime comedian and producer, Rideout says he got fed up with having to move his show, Sunday Night Live, from venue to venue while seeing some of them, such as the Poor Alex and the Diesel Playhouse, close down, or having to perform in regular watering holes.

"There aren't a lot of places that aren't just the back of some barroom, with billiards, or sports on the TV or the noise of a bunch of hobo regulars," he says.

Comedy Bar offers comics a chance to hone their skills or try out new material, be it sketch, stand-up or improv, at a reasonable cost."I try to create a system where I can keep the rental fees as cheap as possible so new producers aren't taking on a massive risk," Ridout says.

It helps that Toronto's comedy community has embraced the place, he adds. "A lot of comics are there three or four nights a week either performing or rehearsing or shooting video or just hanging out watching someone else's show."

Veteran comedian Colin Mochrie, who is the host of Sunday's Sunday Night Live event, is a regular visitor and an ardent supporter.

"For comedians, it really is one of those situations where you can't get better unless you do it. There's no way you can actually study how to deal with audiences and how to deal with jokes bombing ... unless you're doing it," Mochrie says.

Stand-up/sketch artist Pat Thornton, who has a show, Hotbox, on the Comedy Network, says comics too often have to compete with bands for space in existing bars and persuade venue owners that a comedy night will be as profitable as bringing in a rock band.

The Comedy Bar, unlike other spaces, is performer-driven, Thornton says. "Whatever kind of comedy you like or want to do, there's a place where it's just going to be comedy all the time."

Thornton is making his own contribution to the anniversary celebration. Starting at 6 p.m. Monday, Thornton will do a 24-hour, non-stop stand-up charity stint, with proceeds going to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which benefits people affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

"I was talking to some friends and we came up with this wild idea of doing stand-up for 24 hours. Then I realized after it was all a go that people would have been impressed if I'd said six hours," says Thornton, adding he'll rely on a rotating team of comedy writers to keep him supplied with fresh material steps from the stage. Fans can follow the 24-hour event – with breaks for the washroom, but not for sleep – and offer jokes of their own on Twitter or on Ustream.TV.

Other highlights of the eight-day event include:

Saturday Night Live alumnus Tim Meadows, who will do two shows on Nov. 6 and 7 and host Sunday Night Live on Nov. 8.

CRUMBS, the Winnipeg-based improv stars, perform Nov. 4.

Don't You Forget About Patrick Swayze, features improvised versions of Ghost, Point Blank and Dirty Dancing.

Rideout will be playing Keanu Reeves in Point Blank. "I've really been trying to let my acting skills diminish, so hopefully, I can nail Reeves' performance," he jokes.

Watch live streaming video at: www.ustream.tv/channel/the-pat-thornton-show or follow it on twitter and tweet thornton jokes at @patthornton.


Sean Cullen Returning To Stratford

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
The Canadian Press

(November 09, 2009) Toronto funnyman Sean Cullen will play Smee, Captain Hook's sidekick, in Peter Pan at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival next year. The southwestern Ontario theatre company says the actor-comedian will also play Vinnie, the MC, in George F. Walker's King of Thieves during its 2010 season. Cullen, a three-time Gemini Award winner, was recently at Stratford as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum . Stratford officials have also announced that Sophia Walker will replace Nikki M. James as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona next year. James, who had to withdraw from next season due to “personal reasons,” was also slated to play Ariel in The Tempest alongside Christopher Plummer. Stratford says that part has not yet been re-cast. The 2010 season, beginning April 10, also includes As You Like It, Kiss Me, Kate, Dangerous Liaisons and Evita . Tickets go on sale to members on Nov. 16 and to the public on Jan. 9.


Back To Business For Busy Giller Winner Linden Macintyre

Source: www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner

(November 11, 2009) As a working journalist, Linden MacIntyre doesn't have much time to savour his elevation to the ranks of the Canadian literary elite.

The morning after his novel
The Bishop's Man won the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the veteran broadcaster was sitting in the Toronto offices of his publisher Random House Canada, after rising early for TV and radio interviews with Canada AM and Metro Morning. At the same time as taking calls on his mobile phone from a stream of well-wishers, he was already moving on to the next, looming deadline.

An unending chorus of congratulations still ringing in his ear, MacIntyre had little choice but to go into his office later in the day to put the finishing touches on a segment about the perils of marijuana trafficking in B.C. that airs Friday on his familiar CBC-TV perch, The Fifth Estate. He also had to get cracking on a story about the subprime meltdown that will air as a co-production with the PBS series Frontline.

"I'm going on a shoot for that next week," said MacIntyre, 66. "Life goes on."

Oh, and yes, at some point further down the road there will be another novel too.

"I have a subject. I have characters. I've written a bit of it already. But I don't know whether it's going to be any good. Every novel is brand new. Winning the Giller doesn't guarantee you anything."

Except, historically, a substantial bump in sales. Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce, which claimed the Giller last year, experienced a 300 per cent bump after the win was announced, with sales climbing from 30,000 to 90,000.

MacIntyre hadn't even made it to the stage to accept the award at Tuesday's gala before Random House president Brad Martin was thumbing his BlackBerry to order up an additional 40,000 copies of The Bishop's Man. For starters.

"That's what it's all about," MacIntyre said. "It's all about getting an audience for the book and getting people talking and thinking about the serious issues raised by the book."

The Bishop's Man is a solid, straightforward yarn set in Cape Breton against the backdrop of sexual malfeasance in the Catholic Church. The novel's protagonist, Father Duncan, is a fixer sent out by the bishop to minimize the political damage.

Commenting afterward, jurors Victoria Glendinning, Alistair MacLeod and Russell Banks insisted that the quality of the writing and not the book's subject matter was the reason it was chosen over the other shortlisted titles: Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean, Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault, Kim Echlin's The Disappeared and Colin McAdam's Fall.

"Maybe a different jury would not even have put this on the list," MacIntyre said. "This is a jury made up of traditional storytellers.

"Alistair MacLeod is a craftsman who tells complex stories about people, but they are stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. Russell Banks is the exact same. And Victoria Glendinning is a biographer. Good biographers take peoples' lives, shape them into a narrative and popularize them.

"So I lucked out in the sense that this particular Giller jury had a particular interest in strong narrative, character and traditional storytelling technique."

Vegas Teen Called Bling Burglars' Ringleader

Source: www.thestar.com -
Ken Ritter

(November 09, 2009) LAS VEGAS–A 19-year-old woman was the driving force behind a youthful burglary ring that preyed on Hollywood's rich and famous, often brazenly walking into unlocked homes to make off with cash, jewels and family heirlooms, authorities said.

Suspect-turned-informant Nicholas Prugo told Los Angeles police detectives that
Rachel Jungeon Lee spearheaded the break-ins, motivated by a desire to own the designer clothes and jewellery of such celebrities as Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, according to a Las Vegas police search warrant obtained by the Associated Press on Friday.

Prugo, 18, told police Lee would suggest a target, then Prugo would trawl the Internet for information about where they lived and when they would be away from home. Las Vegas police were involved because Lee lives there.

Officials said Lee was booked on a charge of possession of stolen property and released after posting $3,000 (U.S.) bail.

Police say that Lee and Prugo were part of a group of at least six that allegedly stole from October 2008 until September. After watching a house, suspects would break into poorly protected properties, often by simply walking through unlocked doors.

Acting on a tip, police arrested Prugo on Sept. 17. He initially refused to talk to police, but later "provided a full confession, and implicated several other suspects," court documents state.

"Prugo admitted to committing all of the burglaries and that Rachel Lee was with him during the residential burglaries of the homes of Audrina Patridge, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and the Hilton family," the search warrant states. "Prugo stated that it was Lee who would suggest a target and that he would surf the Internet to learn where the celebrity lived as well as the target's travel itinerary."

Prugo said Lee wanted to "own the designer wardrobes of the Hollywood celebrities she admired."

There was no answer at a Las Vegas number listed for a Rachel Lee. No listing was available for Prugo, and police in Los Angeles and Las Vegas reached Saturday had no information on a lawyer for either suspect.

Lee, Prugo and at least four others have been arrested in the case. The four others, most between the ages of 18 and 20, have been charged with felony burglary.

The search warrant states Prugo told police he and Lee broke into Hilton's house several times.

At the Lohan house, the burglary crew gained entrance by prying open a window with a screwdriver, then swiped luggage, clothing and jewellery including a Rolex wristwatch with a blue face, Prugo told police.

Police found three photos of Paris Hilton, designer jeans, three computers, a Korean passport, 204 $100 bills and less than one ounce of marijuana when they arrested Lee.

Book Review : Step Out on Nothing

Source: by Kam Williams

Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges
by Byron Pitts
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, $24.99
310 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-312-57766-7

“We all have those defining moments in our lives. Moments of great joy. Moments of unspeakable sadness and fear. We usually think we’re alone. But if we look into the corners of our memories, we’ll find them—those people who had faith in us.  Those times when a grace beyond earthly understanding touches us.  This is a story of those times. Those people. And the lessons they taught me.”

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (page 5)

(November 10, 2009) Earlier this year, Byron Pitts became the heir apparent to Ed Bradley’s coveted spot on 60 Minutes when he was named a contributing correspondent to the long-running, television newsmagazine. While many might have deemed Mr. Pitts’ ascension to the plum position a natural outgrowth of his Emmy-winning work covering such major stories for CBS as the 9/11 Attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Afghan War, the truth is that this talented reporter had to overcome a host of seemingly-insurmountable childhood challenges en route to turning himself into a great success story.

Byron and his siblings were raised in Baltimore by a single-mom who had the foresight to make the sacrifice to send him to the local Catholic school on her modest seamstress’ salary, even though they were Baptists who went to Church every Sunday. The teasing was already tough enough for her shy, sensitive, freckle-faced son, between his scrawny build and his thick, Coke bottle eyeglasses, so adding a parochial school uniform to the mix only served to make him more of a mark as he passed through the ‘hood.

For on top of that nerdy image, Byron not only suffered from a bad stutter, but for years hid the fact that he was also functionally illiterate. Fortunately, with the guidance of several critical mentors, he managed to turn all those stumbling blocks into stepping stones. He eventually mastered reading, writing and speaking without stammering, and went on to earn a BA in journalism and speech communications from Ohio Wesleyan University before embarking on his enduring, TV career.

Pitts humbly recounts these admirable achievements in Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges. The moving memoir proves to be as inspiring as it is sincere, with the potential to serve as a source of motivation for any individual who dares to dream big in the face of overwhelming learning disabilities.

He drives home the point that if he could do it, anyone can, via the matter-of-fact conclusion that, “There is nothing remarkable about my abilities or my intellect. I was simply blessed to be born in the greatest country on earth and blessed to have been surrounded by wonderful people who stood in the gap at every vital moment in my life.”  Congrats to Byron Pitts for having the guts to go public with such an intimate testimonial to the power of passion and persistence, especially when one has faith in God and strategic help along the way from some loving role models. 

To order a copy of Step Out on Nothing, visit HERE.

Andrea Martin : Showing Off Her Reading Chops

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(November 11, 2009) Andrea Martin may be one of the funniest women in the world, but there's something she's very serious about and that's reading.

"I used to read to my kids all the time when they were little, I've got a pile of books by my bed, I've read books on tape: they're a major part of my life."

So it only makes sense that the former SCTV star returns to Toronto this weekend to launch TD Canadian Children's Book Week.

She will give a one-time reading of Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, this Saturday at 2 p.m.

"I honestly believe that reading to your children is one of the best experiences you can offer them," she says on the phone from her Manhattan home.

"They think it's so special because you're sharing something with them, and you love it because you know those years go by so quickly and soon they'll be heading off on their own."

Her sons, Jack and Joe, are now 28 and 26, but she still can recall with delight the stories she used to read them when they were younger.

"Let's see, there were all of Shel Silverstein's books – I still think I've got The Giving Tree! And then there was Make Way for Ducklings and all the George and Martha series."

She snorts with a sound that any fan of Edith Prickley would recognize. "Years later Nathan Lane and I did the voices for the cartoon series and we had such a wonderful time."

Martin admits that actors, especially comedians, have to be careful not to overdo things when reading stories to children.

"When my kids were little, I had them enrolled in a private school in Los Angeles, and Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman had children there, too. All three of us had to read to them. I have to confess I felt competitive with Meryl and did far too many characters and dialects to keep up with her."

Nowadays, Martin reads for her own pleasure and the eclectic variety of the books she keeps stacked by her bedside is a good indication of the delightfully random way her mind works.

"I'm about to start The Humbling by Philip Roth. The last one I read was Julia Child's My Life in France and I'm also working through Ruth Gordon's autobiography, An Open Book. Oh, and I read lots of inspirational things like Norman Vincent Peale and this amazing book of neuroscience called The Brain That Changes Itself."

It's a wonder that Martin has had time for such reading, because her career on the Broadway stage has been proceeding at a fair clip.

The 2008 season saw her giving another hysterical performance as Frau ("He was my boyfriend!") Blücher in the musical version of Young Frankenstein, earning her fourth Tony nomination (she won once in 1993 for My Favorite Year).

Although the show wasn't a success, Martin loved the experience "because I got to work with the great Mel Brooks. My God, what a talent! What a joy to swap one-liners and work on scenes with him."

And from a totally different side of the picture, she spent last spring in the critically acclaimed revival of Exit the King opposite Geoffrey Rush.

"That was an exhilarating experience from start to finish!" she raves. "Geoffrey Rush and (director) Neil Armfield. I never met an Australian I didn't like."

Rush earned her particular praise for his mixture of reliability and fun. "He was always the consummate professional, but look close and you could see the twinkle in his eye. I loved that."

Next on Martin's agenda is the 50th-anniversary celebrations for Second City in Chicago, taking place on Dec. 11 and 12, which will give an entire night over to an SCTV reunion, featuring Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Harold Ramis and, of course, Martin.

"We're all semi-terrified, emailing each other all the time. We should literally perform our emails. Now that would be funny!"

Tickets to Saturday's reading ($20) are on sale at www.youngcentre.ca or 416-866-8666.


Bridgett Zehr: A Ballerina Set To Soar

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Paula Citron

(November 11, 2009) The National Ballet of Canada's newest principal dancer, Bridgett Zehr, is special, according to the highest authority – company artistic director Karen Kain, coach Magdalena Popa, and dance partner and fellow principal dancer Guillaume Côté.

“When Bridgett came into the company,” says Côté, “everyone knew it would be a quick ride to the top.”

Zehr entered the Toronto-based National Ballet as a second soloist in 2006, and with rocket speed was promoted to first soloist in 2007 and principal dancer this summer. Zehr will perform her first Princess Aurora in Rudolf Nureyev's very challenging version of The Sleeping Beauty in the matinee this Sunday.

Aurora is the Mount Everest of classical ballet technique, and excelling in the role would place Zehr, 24, among a rarefied pantheon of ballerinas.

Even more impressive about Zehr's rise is that she lost almost a year due to a non-union stress fracture in her foot. The corrective surgery in 2008 required two bone grafts from her hip. Says Zehr: “I was pushing myself too hard and I've had to learn to become as passionate about looking after myself as I am about ballet.” Zehr feels her road to good health has been influenced by the teachings of German-born, Vancouver-based spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth and The Power of Now.

Zehr was born in Sarasota, Fla. To audition for the Sarasota Ballet of Florida's free after-school program for lower-income children, Dance: The Next Generation, children were supposed to be 9, but Zehr was accepted when she was 7. A full scholarship to the ballet's school followed, and by the time she was 14, dance had become Zehr's all-consuming passion. “In my free time, I watched ballet videos,” she says.

She spent three years at the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Fla., when she felt she had outgrown her Sarasota teachers. A similar desire for “something bigger” triggered her audition for the Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy in her senior year. At the school, academics were via correspondence course, and Zehr sheepishly admits that she never graduated from high school (which hasn't stopped her from being a New York Times crossword-puzzle fanatic). When she was 17, artistic director Stanton Welch took her into Houston Ballet as an apprentice. According to National corps member McGee Maddox, 23, who knew Zehr when he danced in Houston, the dancer was, and is, absolutely focused on dance.

“Bridgett is endowed with a gifted body, flexible long limbs, high extensions, delicate port de bras, impeccable technique and a knack for characterization. In person, she is humble and sweet, but onstage she can be passionate and emotional. Even as an apprentice, she was getting leading roles like Calliope in Balanchine's Apollo . My classmates and I loved watching her in rehearsal.”

Zehr was promoted to soloist in Houston in 2006, but she was feeling restless again. “I wanted a company that understood the art of ballet,” she explains. She auditioned for the National that year after hearing positive things about the company from her former Houston colleague and current National principal dancer Zdenek Konvalina. (Konvalina is now her significant other.) Both Kain and Popa were so impressed that even though no soloist contracts were available, a private donor was found to underwrite Zehr's salary.

Says Kain: “Bridgett has a kind of magic. Her musicality, her beautiful line, her co-ordination speak of her undeniable talent. It is like a light shining in her.” And Popa adds words like “sensitive, intelligent and versatile.” She points to Zehr's surprising sensuality in roles like Carmen, and her ability to produce movement that is both powerful and dynamic.

“Every single part of her body is expressive,” says Popa.

Zehr's fragile appearance belies a strong personality that is both wilful and determined. Côté compares Zehr's work ethic and her penchant for detail to that of legendary Royal Winnipeg Ballet ballerina Evelyn Hart. “Bridgett understands that dance is all about communication,” he says.

And Zehr adds: “I love to tell a story. I want to make Aurora human.”

The Sleeping Beauty runs from Friday to Nov. 22 at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre. Bridgett Zehr performs Aurora, dancing with Guillaume Côté, in the Sunday, Nov. 15 matinee.

James Kudelka's Living Dances

www.globeandmail.com - Paula Citron

Living Dances: An Evening of Contemporary Kudelka
Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie
At Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto on Wednesday

(November 7, 2009)
James Kudelka has found an artistic home as resident choreographer with Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. Living Dances: An Evening of Contemporary Kudelka is both a look forward and a look back. The two Kudelka works from the 1980s, In Paradisum and Soudain L'Hiver Dernier , are Canadian classics. The two new pieces show that Kudelka's greatness is anchored in his intriguing physical images.

The world premiere Beautiful Movie features CL&C co-artistic director Bill Coleman, countertenor Daniel Taylor, the seven musicians of Taylor's Theatre of Early Music, six silent watchers, a chair, and a rag doll. The piece is set to arias by Heinrich Schütz and J.S. Bach that both use the text Erbarm Dich , which means “pity me” or “have mercy.”

The use of the doll and the baroque sacred music are vintage Kudelka in their quirkiness. First, the doll is dressed exactly like Coleman and Taylor, in a grey suit and white shirt. Throughout the piece, Coleman manipulates the doll, harassing Taylor, who is singing all the while. The doll's constant pushing and prodding is manifested in a tightly choreographed trio.

Nothing in Kudelka's work happens by chance, and he is very crafty in his metaphors. Rather than a piece of whimsy, this relentless doll is disturbing. The three characters appear like fractured parts of one personality, particularly because nothing is resolved at the end and the three remain in a state of tension.

On one level, there is a melodramatic quality to the kaleidoscope of movement and constant shifting of positions, but there is no escape from this alter ego. One wonders just how beautiful this movie is to the watchers? Who, if anyone, is showing pity for the put-upon Taylor? Is it schadenfreude because the misery is happening to others?

Sonata of the Guardian Angel (for unaccompanied violin) by Heinrich Biber is the score which has inspired Kudelka's “See” series. See #1 (2007) is a solo for co-artistic director Laurence Lemieux. Violinist Adrian Butterfield is planted stage centre. He is the fixed-point foil to Lemieux, who is drawn inexorably to something beyond her reach.

Lemieux can't stop staring into space, and that urge is manifested in vigorous movement that shifts between trying to attract attention and coming to terms with her own disquiet. Huge high kicks, big swooping arms and ferocious turns all speak to her emotional disarray.

This dance concert, which features 10 excellent dancers, superb music and stimulating repertoire, is a class act from start to finish.

Living Dances concludes tonight at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

National Ballet Keeps To Classical Roots

Source: www.thestar.com - Michael Crabb

(November 10, 2009)
National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain is launching the company's new hometown season with a work that's as much a statement of philosophy as a box office lure.

Rudolf Nureyev's opulently designed 1972 production of The Sleeping Beauty, opening Friday, remains a proven audience favourite, the more so since being refurbished and revitalized under Kain's direction, but it's also an affirmation of heritage and roots.

Nowadays, like classical ballet companies worldwide, the National Ballet is just as likely to be dancing streamlined neo-classical works by such 20th-century masters as George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins – four of the latter's ballets are scheduled for the 2009-10 season – along with idiosyncratic, cutting-edge work by choreographers of today with little time for tutus and tiaras.

The highlight of the ballet's fall mixed program is a premiere, opening Nov. 25, by Edmonton-born rising star Aszure Barton, described by Kain as "one of the most exciting choreographers working anywhere today."

March marks the return of a major contemporary hit for the company, Montreal maverick Marie Chouinard's 24 Preludes by Chopin, and in the late spring the company unveils a new work by another dance innovator, Finland's Jorma Elo.

Yet, for all the modernism, the ballet built its reputation on an ability to present the full-length classics with distinction. It's a reputation Kain wants to maintain because, as she sees it, ballet classicism is the root from which today's innovations spring. Without a grounding in the classics, the evolution of the art has no context.

Embracing such a stylistically wide-ranging repertoire, however, is asking a lot from dancers. One moment they're decorous, harmonious and graceful, the next they're pushing physical limits and contorting their bodies in ways unimaginable a generation ago.

"I'm constantly impressed," says Kain, "by the way the dancers take to the classicism of Sleeping Beauty, yet in the next hour they're working with Aszure Barton, doing amazingly interesting contemporary work."

Kain, it should be noted, could make her life a lot easier – and certainly her board of directors less anxious – if she offered audiences a supposedly safe menu of comfort food, familiar-name story ballets with glamour, romance and family appeal.

Barton may be making waves in New York, but here only diehard dance fans know her reputation.

Kain, now entering her fifth season as artistic director, is committed to advancing the art form. As a ballerina noted for her portrayal of the great classical heroines, she was always front of the line when it came to dancing new work. She wants today's dancers to have the same challenges and, as director of the only full-scale classical ballet company in the country, Kain believes the National Ballet has a responsibility to give opportunities to choreographers. "This institution," she says, "exists to develop talent."

Just the facts
WHAT: The Sleeping Beauty

WHEN: Friday to Nov. 22

WHERE: Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. W.

TICKETS: 416-345-9595 or www.national.ballet.ca


Knelman: Pan Am Games Could Pay A Dividend For The Arts

Source: www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(November 11, 2009) Now that Toronto has won its bid to host the Pan Am Games in 2015, it's time for the city's arts leaders to seize a rare opportunity. Athletics may be at its core, but this event can be about much more. It can be the occasion for a cultural explosion.

No one is more aware of this than David Peterson, the former Ontario premier who was chair of Toronto's bid committee.

"The value of Pan Am is what you make it," Peterson pronounced Tuesday in an interview about how a sporting event can be turned into a bonanza for culture. "Just having a few guys running around in a circle is not much use. We can get a lot more out of this in addition to the physical legacies of new pools and housing."

The way Peterson perceives it, this is a way to celebrate the culture of the western hemisphere.

"I have a strong vision, and we have already engaged in discussions with some of our existing cultural institutions about the role they can play."

At Peterson's request, Luminato CEO Janice Price convened a round table of prominent arts insiders to brainstorm about creative ways to highlight Toronto's cultural strengths in its bid presentation.

A particularly effective part of the presentation was a film called Share the Dream.

That film, by the ubiquitous arts marketing guru Barry Avrich, depicted athletes in three countries preparing for and dreaming of the 2015 games in Toronto.

Among the topics up for discussion at the round table were suggestions for what might be included in the opening and closing ceremonies.

"I am particularly pleased that culture was such an important part of the Toronto bid," Price said Tuesday. "The opportunity to showcase our artists and cultural facilities can only strengthen the legacy the Pan Am Games will provide to Toronto." However, we need to remember that during the two weeks in July that the Games are on, culture will play a secondary role to sporting events, except perhaps in the opening and closing ceremonies.

"During those two weeks it would be crazy for artists to compete with athletes for attention," Peterson said. "Where the great opportunity for the arts comes in is in the year leading up to the Games. During that year we should be doing everything we can to celebrate the 42 countries in this hemisphere."

That's a perfect goal for Toronto, which leads the world in creating a lively multicultural urban centre.

Peterson made clear it would be a mistake to create a new bureaucracy for showcasing the arts in the year leading up to the Games.

"We already have a number of big, capable cultural institutions. They need to come up with imaginative events that tie in with the Games, focusing on the culture and history of the Americas and taking advantage of the chance to co-brand those events with the Pan Am Games."

The Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, various theatre companies, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada are all potential partners, as long as they come up with projects that tie in with the Games and the culture of the western hemisphere.

Matthew Teitelbaum, chief executive officer of the AGO, is enthusiastic about such a partnership. "The Pan American Games is an extraordinary opportunity for the AGO and all cultural institutions to engage with diverse communities, bring people together, to inspire and be inspired by civic pride," he said Tuesday.

And Caribana chair Joe Halstead is eager to link that event with the games in 2015.

"We will engage everyone with what they're good at," Peterson said. "We might call (Piers Handling, co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival) and say, `Piers, how can we work together?'"

But how would it all be coordinated?

"Luminato might be able to manage a lot of it," Peterson said. "The festival could be extended."

The CEO of the annual June arts festival is cautiously receptive. "We have experience in coordinating projects with various cultural organizations," Price said, "and of course we want to help our arts partners make the most of this opportunity."

Practically speaking, however, Games organizers must realize that the feasibility of these grand visions will depend on how much money can be allocated to develop extra cultural projects.

And if Games-related arts events are to roll out for an entire year leading up to July 2015, then Toronto's Pan Am Games leadership will have to recruit a cultural commissioner with the powers of a wizard.

Let the search begin.

Leafs Open To Talk Of Second NHL Team: Burke

Source: www.thestar.com - Kevin McGran

(November 09, 2009) The NHL continues to play cat-and-mouse with Canadian hockey fans, the latest being those who are calling for a second team in southern Ontario. This time, the Maple Leafs aren't saying no.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged on Monday that a second team in the Maple Leafs home territory was a distinct possibility, although he gave no timeline as to when that might happen.

"Ultimately, if it makes sense from a league perspective, I'm sure it will happen. But that doesn't mean that's any time in the foreseeable future," said Daly

Daly made his comments at a sports management conference in a round table discussion that included Leafs GM Brian Burke.

The Leafs have long been believed to oppose a new team in their territory, but Burke suggested in an interview with the Star the Leafs might be open to negotiations. Burke said the Leafs wouldn't necessarily oppose a second team, as long as the business case was strong and a new team wouldn't hurt the Leafs' business or the Sabres.

"If the league ever comes to us and says: 'Look guys, it's time,' and makes the case, then we've got to listen," Burke said in an interview. "You've got to make the case."

The league has toyed with the hearts of fans in both Quebec City and Winnipeg, both of which have lost teams.

It's in the league's interests to talk up potential new cities for relocation at a time when struggling franchises – like Phoenix – are hoping for new leases or new deals from cities. A rising Canadian dollar has added to the clout of Canadian cities.

As for where a second team would go, Daly was only specific in saying that Hamilton's Copps Coliseum would not be the target.

"Copps Coliseum in its current state is not an NHL-ready facility," said Daly.

In the recent bankruptcy case of the Phoenix Coyotes, the league's experts concluded Hamilton would be the fifth most successful franchise in terms of revenue.

Raptors Say It's Time To Step Up Intensity

Source: www.thestar.com - Doug Smith

(November 09, 2009) SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS–The start of the NBA season was always going to be about learning for the newly-constructed Raptors.

Some lessons are harder to take than others.

Like figuring out how to get intensity from everyone every night.

The most disturbing aspect of the drubbing they suffered in Dallas on Saturday night was a lack of intensity at key moments in the game.

While they finished the first half and started the second exceptionally in New Orleans on Friday, they were bad in Dallas the next night, seeing a two-point deficit grow to seven in the final six minutes of the second quarter and being out-scored 22-10 in the first seven minutes of the third quarter.

"I think everybody could have put out more effort," said guard Jarrett Jack. "It was our first back-to-back ball game (and) that could have been part of it. But everybody in the league goes through it, you can't use that as an excuse.

"You've just got to bring it."

Trouble would seem to be lurking here Monday night if the Raptors don't find a way to stay consistently in the game.

The Spurs, losers of two straight and in the unusual position of having a losing record, are sure to be riled up.

And even without the injured Tony Parker and with changes to the starting line-up every now and then, they remain deep and talented.

"A lot of teams are going through growing pains right now, whether they've been together forever or whether they're putting some new pieces together," San Antonio's Tim Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News. "It's all about getting through those early-season jitters and trying to figure out what exactly your team is made of and how you're going to play."

The same can be said for the Raptors, who have been alternately good and bad through the first six games. They were good against Cleveland, bad in Memphis, okay against Detroit, far better in New Orleans and awful in Dallas on Saturday night. The bench, so integral to the team's success, was terrible against the Mavs, being outscored 58-30 by Dallas's backups and hitting just 10 of 28 field goal attempts.

But it's not as if no one saw this coming. With nine new faces, two starters and every one of the key backups, to be integrated into the system, a hesitant start was not unexpected.

With a 3-3 record after six games – including tough matchups with Cleveland, Orlando and at Dallas – there is no sense of panic or impending doom around the team.

"We just have to work at the things we want to do, focus on ourselves and get better," said coach Jay Triano.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Has Leukemia

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 11, 2009) *Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has revealed that he is undergoing treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare form of the disease that was diagnosed last December.

The former Los Angeles Lakers center said his doctor didn't give any guarantees, but informed him: "You have a very good chance to live your life out and not have to make any drastic changes to your lifestyle."

 Inspired by the way Lakers teammate Magic Johnson's HIV disclosure brought awareness to the disease in 1991, Abdul-Jabbar said he wants to do the same for his form of blood cancer, which can be fatal if left untreated.

 "I've never been a person to share my private life. But I can help save lives," he said at a midtown Manhattan conference room. "It's incumbent on someone like me to talk about this."

 Abdul-Jabbar, 62, said he became concerned last year after feeling odd sensations. He went for tests at his alma mater UCLA. "I was getting hot flashes and sweats on a regular basis," he said. "That's not normal, even for my age."

 An exam showed his white blood cell count was "sky high" and a doctor quickly diagnosed his condition. At first, all Abdul-Jabbar heard was the word "leukemia."

 "I was scared," he said. "I thought it was all the same. I thought it could mean I have a month to live."

 "That was my first question," he said. "Was I going to make it?"

 Abdul-Jabbar drew upon his years of martial arts study to approach the diagnosis like a samurai, to face death without fear.

 "I had my face on," he said.

 Abdul-Jabbar is a special assistant with the Lakers and said he hasn't had to cut back his level of activity of coaching, change his regimen or adjust his diet. "I'm able to sneak out for Thai food," he said.

 "There is hope. This condition can be treated. You can still live a productive, full life," he said. "I'm living proof I can make it."

 The retired athlete says he being counselled by his 28-year-old middle son, Amir, a third-year medical student in San Francisco.

 "He was a real great source for me, just that I can talk to him about it. Being a doctor, he understood what was happening, and gave me realistic viewpoint on it," Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview with People.com. "That means a lot to me."


Your Health Checklist for 2010

By Shawn McKee, Staff Writer, eDiets.com

(December 24, 2009)  Every year you make a list of things to change, and every year you change some things while leaving the rest for next year's resolutions. What you need is a checklist -- something that prioritizes the important things you need to do this year, this decade and for the rest of your life. Like an owner's manual for your body...

Luckily, Dr. Manny Alvarez has just what you need. He's the author of The Checklist: What You and Your Family Need to Know to Prevent Disease and Live a Long and Healthy Life. A combination of extensive research and common sense, The Checklist is a step-by-step guide that skips straight to the important facts, tests and precautions that should be observed in every decade of life -- from prenatal to postretirement.

Whether you're a sporty new model or a garage-kept classic -- or even if you haven't been following the recommended maintenance program -- it's never too late for a tune-up or too early for an overhaul.

"Early prevention is the key to good health," says Alvarez. "You'll feel better along the way, and when you get to your senior years, you'll be able to live a healthy and joyful life, instead of being hobbled with disease and medical problems."

He outlines a very specific preventative strategy based on your age, showing how to maintain your body in each decade to reach your next significant milestone healthier and happier than you thought possible. Alvarez wants to erase the concept of age and have you cruising like a well-kept classic instead of a rundown jalopy.

One of the biggest priorities in keeping you running on all cylinders down this long and winding road we call life is streamlining yourself from the start, he says.

"If obesity starts as a child, it will certainly have implications later in life," Alvarez says. "As you get older, being obese becomes increasingly more challenging. You're dealing with the cumulative stress of excess weight, plus, the higher incidence of eating disorders, diabetes, gastrointestinal and joint problems."

He recommends what he calls "nutrition from conception." He suggests tackling preventable problems -- such as obesity -- from an early age to stave off the consequences that accompany hauling excess weight around for several decades.

The tenets of his program are simple: nutrition, exercise and big-picture implications of your actions. One important aspect of this is taking the fear out of living. Get preventive tests to acquire early recognition of problems on the horizon.

"Don't be afraid," he says. "The earlier it's caught, the more treatable and curable the problem will be."

Just like life itself, maintaining your health is a constant process, and the choices you make when you're young will affect the way you live when you're older. Alvarez explains it with this analogy:

"The results will be better the earlier you start -- like return on your investment. The earlier you start saving, the better your return. The earlier you start taking care of yourself, the better you'll feel down the road."

If you've spent the last 10, 20 or 30 years as the pedal-to-the-metal, free-spending, live-for-today type, don't worry -- it's never too late to change. So what exactly are you waiting for?

If all you require is a roadmap to hit the highway to better health, you're in luck because eDiets is like the last gas station before a bridge to oblivion. Don't be afraid to stop and ask for directions.

Highway to Health

20s: "This is an important decade for developing the right habits: eating right, not smoking, exercising and knowing future problems that can arise from your lifestyle choices today. You are at the peak of your physical health, so develop proper habits for the rest of your life."

30s: "Now we can assume responsibility for our lives and our health," says Alvarez. "Age issues begin to arise. Start thinking about your first oil change -- start focusing on preventative tests like skin checks, cholesterol readings, regular trips to the gynaecologist and real attention to weight management."

Alvarez calls this the most important decade -- the "make-or-break" years.

40s: Family and professional obligations lead to stress, which becomes a major factor in mental and physical health in this decade. Your time restraints lead to a lack of exercise and time to prepare healthy meals, which contribute to obesity. It's important to recognize how stress affects your medical conditions, sexual function, weight and overall well-being.

"This is when most people suddenly realize they need to take care of themselves, which is good because it's really never too late to start doing something good for yourself."

50s: "The most important thing is to listen to your body. You'll experience changes in metabolism, hormones and be at increased risk for diabetes, which makes the preventative tests for certain at risk organs like prostate (men) and breast cancer (women) even more crucial than before."

60s and Beyond: Retirement can be a new beginning. So focus on the big issues: heart, cholesterol, lungs, eyes, hearing, colon cancer prevention and macular degeneration. For the most part, if problems can be identified early, they can be managed appropriately.

"Be proud of getting into this age bracket," says Alvarez. "Now just remember this: Youth is a state of mind. You can be old at 30, and young at 70."

Notice the warning signs along the roadside, follow the health highway and, most importantly, keep on truckin'.


Motivational Note

Excerpt from
www.eurweb.com Willie Jolley

In life, there are a number of things you have no control over, like the weather, but you can control your attitude to life. A few years ago, we had a major storm with fierce winds and heavy torrents of rain. I had a speaking engagement, and when I walked in, someone said, “Have you ever seen anything like this rain? What do you think about this stuff?” I replied, “It’s tough and a bad storm, but it’s a great day.” He said, “What? Are you crazy?” I said, “No, I’m not crazy. When I woke up this morning, I looked outside and I saw the rain and the storm and I said, ‘Wow! What a great day!’” He said, “What?” I said, “Yes, that’s right! See when I woke up and saw the rain, I was glad that I could see the rain. Somebody made a whole list of things they were going to do today, places they were going to go, meetings they were planning to attend, and friends they were going to visit . . . and they didn’t wake up! They cannot see the rain. I’m thankful every morning I wake up, because I’ve got another chance, another opportunity to and live my dreams. And because I have that opportunity, it is a great day!” Friends, every day is a great day if you get another shot at life. Every day you wake up without a chalk outline around your body is a great day! Enjoy life! Live life to the fullest because it is ANOTHER GREAT DAY!