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November 19, 2009

Enjoying the sunny skies of LA!  I've experienced some really cool people, cool food, cool music and some cool evenings! 

For the past four years, there has been the
AroniAwards which celebrates amazing people with amazing talent - those people in the community that are often overlooked are celebrated ... what a special concept that includes a full night of entertainment.  Get your tickets now!  See under HOT EVENTS for all the details. 


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


The AroniAwards – Sunday, November 29, 2009

GET READY TO INSPIRE: The AroniAwards returns on Sunday, November 29th, 2009 for the 4th Annual INSPIRE Gala. Join Comedian and AroniAwards 2009 host Jay Martin for yet another captivating event with the presentation of five AroniMAGE awards to the unsung heroes of our community. The AroniAwards Education Grants will be presented to three students who show strong dedication to community service, a positive outlook and continue to persevere despite socioeconomic hardships and other obstacles. 

AND THE AWARDS GO TO: The 2009 AroniMAGE awards will be presented to Jermaine Bagnall (Media/Sports), Schools Without Borders (Organization), Big it Up (Entrepreneurship), Thando Hyman-Aman (Education), Mitzie Hunter (Community). The 2009 AroniAwards Education scholarships will be presented to Aman Y. Sultan, Troy Knights and Chante Barnwell.

OUR INSPIRATION: The Aroni Awards Gala was created in honour of Aron Y. Haile, an African Canadian and accomplished student, entrepreneur, software developer, who died in a vehicular accident in 2003, at the young age of 30. 

GREAT THINGS HAPPEN WHEN CANADA'S TALENTS GIVE BACK: What do comedian Jay Martin, Mark Strong, Jesse Beare, Saidah Baba Talibah, Divine Brown, BabyBoyz, Manding Folikandon Drummers, Devo Brown, Patricia Jaugernaught, Women Enterprise, Nadine Williams, Sound the Horn and others have in common? Sunday November 29th, 2009 Canada’s premier entertainers and personalities present participate or perform in support of our Youth.

Arcadian Court
401 Bay St.
8th Floor Simpsons Building
(Queen & Bay)
$60 General & $88 VIP
(Includes 3 Course Dinner Catered, namic, Silent Auction, Cocktail VIP Reception, Live Performances, After Awards Reception) 
Available online at  www.aroniawards.com


Sinead O'Conner, Ali Shaheed, Mary J. Combat Sexual Exploitation/Human Trafficking

Source: www.allhiphop.com - By Nolan Strong

(November 17, 2009) A Tribe Called Quest member/producer
DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad has teamed with Mary J. Blige, Sinead O’Conner and new singer Martha B. to raise awareness about American girls who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Muhammad produced the Sinead O’Conner penned the song “This is To Mother You,” which features O’Conner, Mary J. Blige and Martha B.
Proceeds of the track will benefit GEMS, the nation’s largest non-profit dedicated towards empowering young women between the ages of 12-21, who have been victims of sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.
"Until I worked on this project, I had no idea that this kind of thing happens in our country,” Muhammad told AllHipHop.com in a statement. “Where girls as young as 10 and 11 are sold on the streets night after night. It's the kind of thing that you think only happens in third world countries. As a member of the Hip-Hop community, an industry which glorifies pimp culture, I felt compelled to do my part in supporting an organization which services and empowers these girls.”
Muhammad co- produced the track along with Martin “Doc” McKinney (Kelis, Esthero and Santigold) and Paul Hecht (Red Hot Organization).
"It was also exciting to work with really legendary and iconic women such as Sinead and Mary J. who donated their time and voices for the Girls are Not For Sale campaign. And especially newcomer Martha B. who is a child trafficking survivor,” added Muhammad.
The news of the track comes as the world mourns the death of a 5-year-old in Fayetteville, North Carolina named Shaniya Davis.
Davis’ mother, 25-year-old Antoinette Davis, is charged with prostituting the child, whose body was found yesterday (November 16) by authorities.
Davis is charged with human trafficking and felony child abuse, because authorities believe Shaniya was offered for sex.
Also charged in the case is Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, who was captured carrying the girl on surveillance footage captured in a local hotel.
"This is to Mother You" will be released on December 2, 2009, The International Day to Abolish Slavery.

Flashpoint Is Big Gemini Winner

Source: www.thestar.com -
Shannon Montgomery

(November 14, 2009) CALGARY– The cross-border hit cop drama Flashpoint was the big winner at Saturday's Gemini Awards as it snagged three of the night's top honours in Canadian television, including best drama.

CBC's Rick Mercer Report took the award for best comedy.

Flashpoint, which airs on CTV, had already started off with a bang when it scored a record 19 nominations overall. It headed into the gala with three wins from pre-show ceremonies.

The drama, which was the only repeat winner of the night, also nabbed the best director trophy for Kelly Makin and best actor award for Enrico Colantoni.

The series lured the Toronto-born Colantoni back from a quarter century working in the United States on series such as Just Shoot Me and Veronica Mars. He called the win "a wonderful way to come home."

He said the show, which follows a S.W.A.T. team working in Toronto, gives Canadians something to be proud of in a country where television is often disregarded.

"This show represents a nation in a way, we're representing in the United States and the world," Caolantoni said. "It's like, 'this is what we can do.' "

The show's trophy haul underscores a stellar first season which was shown simultaneously on both sides of the border and helped usher in a string of high-profile Canadian dramas that subsequently found broadcast deals in the United States.

"I think Flashpoint has moved things into a new direction and now American networks are looking across the border and seeing that there is actually tremendous talent in (Canada), where quality shows are being made," said executive producer Bill Mustos.

"That's an exciting kind of new sea change for our country."

He added that Flashpoint has moved the police drama in the distinctly Canadian direction of trying to get inside the minds of characters on both sides of each hostage situation and trying to find a peaceful resolution as much as possible.

Another award had a Flashpoint connection – co-star Hugh Dillon lost out on the best actor award to his colleague Colantoni but scored the best supporting actor trophy for the TV movie Of Murder and Mystery.

After his win, he mused about Flashpoint's runaway success.

"I think because great stories are great stories, and Flashpoint has an incredible emotional core, but it has this action element, and I think that's why it appeals to so many people."

Citytv's dark comedy Less Than Kind was left without a single trophy despite leading the sitcom nominations with nine nods.

The sexy period drama The Tudors was also shut out at Saturday's broadcast awards after earning 11 nominations overall. It had already won four trophies in separate ceremonies held last month in Toronto, but lost out in three major categories during the Saturday night gala, which was held in Calgary.

CBC funnyman Ron James was host of the awards, which celebrate the best in Canadian English-language television.

After traditionally being held in Toronto, the awards have moved about the country in recent years. The gala in Calgary marked the first time the awards were handed out in Alberta.

The location no doubt made it special for Albertan Erin Karpluk, who took home the trophy for best dramatic actress for her lead role in the time-travelling show Being Erica, which was also nominated for best drama and best direction.

It was also a homecoming for presenter Cory Monteith, who stars in the runaway hit U.S. musical comedy Glee, and was born in Calgary.

"What better way to have a homecoming than this? This is incredible," he gushed while walking the red carpet.

Monteith, who plays the singing football jock Finn on the Global TV series, later moved to B.C. but now lives in Los Angeles for filming of the show, which he called his "big break."

"It's a lot of work, but you don't mind working hard when you're this involved, personally, in a show and you love a show this much."

The quirky country-music show Three Chords from the Truth won for best comedy ensemble performance despite being cancelled after only 10 episodes.

After the award, the cast joked about handing out resumes, but then turned sober about what Canadian TV means to the country.

"Canada's greatest export is comedy. It is, that's just a fact," said actor Paul Snepsts.

"Celebrate it, keep supporting it."

Flashpoint faced off for best drama with ZOS: Zone of Separation from the Movie Network and Movie Central, and Being Erica, The Border and The Tudors – all on CBC.

Other comedy nominees included Less Than Kind, CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes, CMT's Three Chords and Showcase's Testees.

Corner Gas, dubbed by some as the most popular Canadian television show ever, failed to score a single nomination for the final season of its six-year run, something creator Brent Butt has called "kinda goofy." The Saskatchewan-based show had been nominated for best comedy every other year it aired and took home the award in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Corner Gas was one of three shows saluted during the Gemini broadcast, along with Royal Canadian Air Farce and Trailer Park Boys. All three shows have recently wrapped their final seasons and were honoured with a retrospective of funny on-air moments.

On the red carpet before the show, comedian Mercer said he's sure other Canadian comedies will rush in to take their places.

"When Corner Gas came along, people didn't say, 'Wow, here it is, it was just a show that came along and then it became what Corner Gas is, and that's just the nature of the beast," he said.

"There will be new shows, shows can't stay on forever."

The CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos was honoured as best talk show host for a second year running, while Diana Swain of CBC News at Six was crowned the best news anchor.

The CBC show Dragons' Den, in which inventors try to pitch their wares to a panel of wary investors, scored the trophy for best reality program.

Early on in the night, Christine Ghawi won the best actress award in a mini-series for playing the role of iconic Canadian singer Celine Dion.

She seemed stunned by the win, but quickly took advantage of the moment.

"I haven't had a job in two years since I shot Celine, so somebody please hire me!" she laughed.

International Comedy Star Russell Peters Signs With Doubleday Canada To Publish A New Book

Source: Sonya Bhatia

(November 18, 2009) –(Toronto)  Just announced Doubleday Canada has acquired the rights to a new book from international comedy star
Russell Peters. The yet-untitled book will be published in Fall, 2010.
"Russell Peters is the biggest comedy talent in the world," says Brad Martin, President and CEO of Random House of Canada Limited. "His fans around the globe are going to make this book a major publishing event."
"There is no one performing today with as unique a perspective on contemporary society as Russell Peters," says Maya Mavjee, Executive Publisher, The Doubleday Canada Publishing Group. "I had the great pleasure of seeing Russell perform to a sold out audience of 18,000 people during the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival. His hilarious commentary on race and community brought the diverse audience together as they recognized themselves in his comedy. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring Russell's incredible humour and insights to readers everywhere."
Born in Toronto , Russell Peters is an international comedy sensation. Over the course of his twenty-year career, he has headlined comedy festivals at home in Canada and throughout North America . In recent years, he has gained a devoted following around the world, and has performed sold out arena tours of China, South Africa, Australia, the UK, Singapore, Sweden, Norway, Lebanon, Bahrain, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and India.
Peters uses his wry and funny observations about race, class and culture to illuminate our human shortcomings with the sizzling accuracy of a well-aimed laser. His quick wit and gift for mimicking languages and accents allows Russell to create characters of all races and cultures to forge an immediate bond with his audience, regardless of their cultural background.
Russell's career is full of milestones. During a recent tour of Dubai , he sold tickets at the rate of one ticket every two seconds - crashing all of the online ticket sales outlets as soon as tickets went on-sale. In August, 2005, Russell was the first South Asian to headline the Apollo Theater in New York City and in 2007 he became the first comedian to sell out Toronto 's Air Canada Centre - performing to over 30,000 fans over two nights. In addition to this first-time feat, Russell became one of only a handful of comedians to ever headline and sell out the world-famous Madison Square Garden .
Russell Peters' 2006 concert DVD, Outsourced, has gone eleven times platinum in Canada, and his most recent DVD, Red, White and Brown, has been an international bestseller. His YouTube videos have been seen by 35 million individual viewers and his website, www.russellpeters.com, gets over 10,000 hits a day. Russell's upcoming show at New York City 's Radio City Music Hall sold-out in less than 72 hours with additional shows added. In the summer of 2009, he was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the top 10 earning comedians in the entertainment industry.


Montegrotto Still Working Its Muddy Magic

Source: www.thestar.com - Carol Perehudoff

(September 26, 2009) Montegrotto, Italy–It's taken a while, but I've finally found the sacred lake – at least the former site of it.

Bubbling hot and vaporous, set in a wild, marshy forest at the bottom of Monte Castello, it was a place of mystery to the ancient Venetians, a holy site devoted to the cult of the horse.

A high-pitched shriek distracts me, followed by laughter as two kids jump into the pool. Maybe several millennia ago it was a sanctuary – now it's the grounds of the Hotel Preistoriche in the Italian spa town of Montegrotto, 45 kilometres from Venice. Instead of sacred pottery vessels and chanting priests, it's aqua exercises and deck chairs around a sprawling thermal pool.

Oh, how things change.

Sitting on a mossy stone bench, I pick up a stick, tempted to dig into the cracked dry soil where a number of votive offerings, like tiny bronze horses and chalices, have been found.

I suppose I shouldn't complain about progress. If this were still the 8th century BC, I'd be up to my ears in magical rites and sacrifices instead of a week's worth of spa treatments, and the accommodation wouldn't be nearly as comfy as the five-star Grand Hotel Terme, but I can't help thinking something has been lost.

At least the water hasn't changed. Travelling down from the Lower Dolomites it takes a 25-year underground journey, soaking up mineral salts before gushing out at a temperature of 87C. Good for the joints and muscles, it's a big hit with the German, French and Italian spa lovers who flock here.

The next morning, I enter a tiled treatment room in my hotel wondering if the ancient Venetians ever wallowed in mud. If they did, it would have been an instinctive pleasure. Today, it's a science.

The mud, a mix of clay, thermal water and beneficial microbes, is cured for two months. Analyzed for its healing and pain-relieving properties, the mud here is taken so seriously that the European Patent Office has declared it a drug. Finally, a healthy way to get high.

Though the heat is a bit of a shock. "Yeow," I say, sitting down on what looks like a hot mud pie. Anna Marie, my therapist, laughs. English isn't her first language but that much she understands.

"Yeow is international," she says, coating my legs and back with maternal care while murmuring things like perfecto and brava! as if I have accomplished a far more heroic feat than simply getting out of bed.

Is it any wonder this is my favourite activity of the day?

Fangotherapy, or mud treatments, are the keystone of the region's spas, offered at more than 100 hotels in Montegrotto and its larger sister spa, Abano.

It's a simple three-step process. After soaking up the minerals in the mud, I relax in a bubbling thermal bath then retreat to my hotel room, where a second therapist gives me a quick circulation massage.

In the afternoon, I consider taking the train into Padua, 11 kilometres away, but Montegrotto is weaving its spell on me and I end up lounging by the pool. Finally, at dusk I rouse myself, wandering through the town's boutiques and then, because I'm nosy, into the various hotels.

Some have extensive park-like settings dripping with chestnut, acacia and oak. Many have fenced off "mud farms" where troughs of mud and hot spring water lie steaming in some mysterious alchemy.

At the Hotel Neroniane a row of weathered columns stands spot lit in the garden – a legacy of the Romans who eventually (and peacefully) mixed with the Venetians and dedicated the area to Aponus, god of the springs.

By then, Montegrotto was more spa resort than holy site, but there were still some otherworldly figures around. Strangest of all was a monstrous god named Gerion imprisoned deep in the Earth.

His prophecies were interpreted by an oracle, or priest, who read the signs either through the misty sulphurous water or by tossing golden dice.

It's said Hercules consulted the oracle here, as did the Roman emperor Tiberius.

I stare at the ground. There's a lot going on under here: roiling water, prophesizing gods, Roman relics and offerings to the cult of the horse.

The magic of Montegrotto hasn't been lost, I realize. It's just gone underground.

Carol Perehudoff is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Check out her blog at wanderingcarol.wordpress.com.

WestJet Adds Points Plan For Travelers

Source: www.thestar.com - Jim Byers

(November 14, 2009) WestJet frequent flyers will finally get their long-awaited points program.

Officials told the Star this week that their rewards program will be up and running in late November or early December. But they plan something different than the competition.

Where Air Canada's Aeroplan program has certain numbers of seats set aside on each airplane and program members accumulate points to "buy" those seats, WestJet won't limit the number of seats, said Gregg Saretsky, executive vice president of operations.

"We'll have WestJet dollars," which people can earn by taking flights or using the WestJet RBC MasterCard.

Saretsky said consumers will be able to pay cash if they're short on the WestJet dollars needed to book a particular flight.

"Canadian consumers find some reward programs too complicated," said WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer.

"Ours will be simple and easy to understand. You won't have to do mental gymnastics to calculate how to use them. And we won't have blackout dates or great, big restrictions on where and when you can use them."

Meanwhile, Air Canada this week said it's launching a new service that will notify passengers by email or text message to their cellphone if their flight is delayed or cancelled.

Passengers disrupted by storms or other problems will be able to re-book flights using their computer or mobile device, avoiding the need to line up or contact agents.

The airline says passengers will be notified automatically, offered alternative flights or the ability to choose another flight and be allowed to cancel trips altogether.

– Canadian Press contributed to this report


Quantifying How Blog Posts Affect Music Sales

Source: www.thestar.com - Lesley Ciarula Taylor

(November 17, 2009) Dismissed by some as irrelevant, music bloggers can have a striking impact on album sales, an expert on technology and the economy has found.

"It's been suggested that blogs are just noise that really didn't help you predict" sales, says Professor Vasant Dhar of New York University.

"A moderate amount of blog chatter might not predict anything, but off-the-chart blog chatter – even in some cases when there was no major record label behind a band – had an effect."

The study,
Does Chatter Matter? The Impact of User-Generated Content on Music Sales, done with student Elaine Chang, found that a flurry of "legitimate" blog posts influenced sales threefold.

When blog posts hit 240, sales went up six times on average, regardless of whether an album was released by a major or independent label.

"It is possible for an album to overcome the disadvantage of being released by an independent label," the study reported. "In fact, albums with such extreme highs in chatter correspond to sales even higher than major label, high-chatter albums."

Under that 240 benchmark, high blog chatter will translate into more sales, although they'll still be relatively low if the album is released by an indie label.

"The most significant variable is blog chatter or the volume of blog posts on an album. The results of this study suggest that user-generated content should be considered seriously by record labels."

Indeed, major record labels came knocking after the study was published recently, said Dhar. He said he has no plans now to perform further studies for them.

In an interview Tuesday morning with the Star, Dhar described music blogging as "electronic word-of-mouth" that transcends the old geographical boundaries.

"We were surprised at the importance of it. We expected that the views of the traditional media would count more. But in some cases, blogs were more important than media ratings. Basically, what that suggested is that when it comes to music, people tend to trust people with views similar to them more than (they do) the experts. People who are looking at the world in the same way as you (do) are becoming increasingly important."

Dhar, director of the Center for Digital Economy Research at the Stern School of Business, admitted to a personal preference for the music he grew up with: "classic" Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Who, with a flirtation with reggae in the '80s, and "several years ago, I really got into The Killers."

But the study fostered a new respect for rap in him. "I still don't care for it too much, but I understand it better," he said, an attitude that goes over well at home, where he has two children, 16 and 20.

The study measured CD sales on Amazon.com over eight weeks and defined major record labels as Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI Group and Warner Music Group, which marshal 82 per cent of the music market.

They chose consumer reviews posted on Amazon.com and websites "that are, at least anecdotally, considered influential on the music scene:" Pitchfork Media, PopMatters and Stylus Magazine, and online reviews by Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and Allmusic.

Measures of "blog chatter" were captured on the website Technorati. The weekly change in MySpace friends was also factored in, though it was found to be a less reliable measure.

Most blog posts tend to be positive, the researchers found. "Rarely will a blogger feel the need to spend time and effort to write a scathing review." So a handful of negative reviews or even silence about a release can have a strong impact.

"It's become so much easier for people to produce their own music," he said. "The barriers to entry are lower. But a lot of it isn't very good."

Would blogs have changed the music of the Sixties? "It's hard to beat The Beatles for quality and sophistication. The barriers to entry were really high and there was a lot of filtering that went on. So there might have been potentially innovative music that fell by the wayside."

Even in the 18th century, Mozart would have still been a superstar with or without blogs, Dhar mused, "but we may have had genres other than classical music emerge."

Rucker Emotional In Historical CMA Win

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 13, 2009) *Darius Rucker made history in Nashville Wednesday night as the first black performer to win a Country Music Association Award for Best New Artist.  "Wow, what a year!" the Hootie & the Blowfish frontman exclaimed while accepting his award. The singer has seen his debut country album, 'Learn to Live,' reach platinum status and spawn three back-to-back No. 1 singles this year. "Thank you to my wife and three kids who sacrifice everyday," Rucker continued in his acceptance speech. "Thank you, Mike Dungan [President, Capitol Records Nashville] -- everybody told you you were crazy and this wouldn't work. To the fans, thank y'all for accepting me. To country radio, you took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, South Carolina, and God bless y'all for that!" Rucker is the second African-American artist to take home a CMA Award, following Charley Pride, who was named Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist back in 1971.

Teen Star Swiftly Picks Up Hardware

Source: www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(November 12, 2009)
Darius Rucker became the first black singer to win new artist of the year at the Country Music Association Awards, joining Charley Pride as the only African-American to win a major individual award, while as of press time Taylor Swift had won three awards, including entertainer of the year.

Rucker, whose first country album, Learn to Live, sold more than 1 million copies, took the stage Wednesday night to wild cheers from the crowd and shouted, "What a year!''

"First of all, to the fans, thank y'all for accepting me," the jubilant Rucker said. "And I think most importantly, to country radio, you took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, S.C. Thank you so much for that!''

Swift thanked the fans for their support of Fearless, the top-selling album of the year. She also won video of the year for ``Love Story.''

"You guys, this album is my diary and so to all the people who voted for me for this is a thank you for saying you love my diary because that's the nicest compliment," Swift said.

Lady Antebellum won twice, for vocal group and single of the year. The vocal group win ended Rascal Flatts' six-year dominance in that category.

"Rascal Flatts, you've inspired us for such a long time," Lady Antebellum singer Charles Kelly said. Jamey Johnson, along with James Otto and Lee Thomas Miller, won song of the year for "In Color.''

Swift was up for four CMA awards with Zac Brown, George Strait and Johnson. Brad Paisley, up for a leading seven awards, took male vocalist for the third straight year and won event of the year for the duet "Start a Band" with Keith Urban, nominated for five awards.

The entertainer of the year category has been fairly predictable the last five years, with Chesney winning four out of five times. But there was plenty of chatter around nominee Swift.

Taylor Swift's Great Year Just Got Better

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Chris Talbott, Associated Press

(November 14, 2009) Nashville, Tenn. — It's been
Taylor Swift's year, and Wednesday was her night as she became the youngest person and the first solo female act in a decade to win the Country Music Association's entertainer of the year award.

Swift won all four awards for which she was nominated, making history on a historic night that included Darius Rucker's win as new artist.

“I'll never forget this moment because in this moment everything that I have ever wanted has just happened to me,” Swift said through tears as she accepted the association's highest honour during ceremonies at Sommet Center.

The 19-year-old crossover sensation beat the biggest names in country and snapped Kenny Chesney's stranglehold on the category: He won three straight and four of the last five. She also ended Carrie Underwood's three-year dominance in the female vocalist category.

Chesney hugged and kissed Swift on the cheek, then whispered a message in her ear before she received the trophy. She called her band on stage and was the centre of a group hug as fans cheered wildly, holding signs that said, “We love you, Taylor”; her father cried in the audience.

“Every single person in that category let me open up for them this year,” Swift said. “Thank you all so much. I love you.”

Rucker was also a fan favourite, running into the crowd during his performance of Alright. The Hootie and the Blowfish frontman, who has sold one million copies of his first country album, Learn to Live, became the second African-American to win a major individual CMA.

He joins Charley Pride, who won entertainer of the year in 1971 and male vocalist in 1971-72.

“First of all, to the fans, thank y'all for accepting me,” the jubilant Rucker said. “And I think most importantly, to country radio, you took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, S.C. Thank you so much for that!”

Swift also won album of the year for Fearless, the top-selling CD of the year, and video of the year for Love Story.

“You guys, this album is my diary and so to all the people who voted for me for this is a thank you for saying you love my diary because that's the nicest compliment,” Swift said.

Brad Paisley, who led all nominees with seven, won two awards, including his third straight male vocalist of the year.

“This was the best time I've ever had at an awards show,” said Paisley.

Lady Antebellum also won two awards, for vocal group and single of the year. The win in the vocal group category ended Rascal Flatts' six-year dominance.

“Rascal Flatts, you've inspired us for such a long time,” Lady Antebellum singer Charles Kelly said. “Thank you so much for letting us be up here.”

Jamey Johnson, along with James Otto and Lee Thomas Miller, won song of the year for In Color.

“I never thought you guys would even let me come to things like this,” Johnson, the country outlaw with the scruffy beard, joked as the audience laughed.

Swift kicked off the show with a playful version of her song, Forever & Always, throwing a chair off a raised podium, sliding down a pole and dropping to her knees to the delighted cheers of the crowd.

It was the Zac Brown Band that set the room on fire, though, with its high-rev version of Charlie Daniels' The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Co-hosts Paisley and Underwood opened the show with a few new songs of their own, skewering Kanye West for his interruption of Swift's MTV Video Music Awards win — “Mama don't let your babies grow up to be Kanye” — and lamenting the break up of Brooks & Dunn.

Later in the show, telecast on ABC, country novelty singer Little Jimmy Dickens interrupted Paisley after Underwood told him that Welcome to the Future was one her favourite videos.

“Excuse me sir, excuse me. I'll let you finish later. Now, Brad Paisley, I know you had a nice video, but ... Taylor Swift made the best video in her time. You go girl,” the diminutive Dickens said, goofing on West, who famously took the stage during Swift's acceptance speech to say that Beyonce deserved Swift's prize.

Brooks & Dunn, the best-selling duo who announced their split earlier this year, teamed with ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons on a scorching version of Honky Tonk Stomp in what was billed as their last performance at the show.

But CMA voters weren't moved by sentiment in the vocal duo of the year category, awarding Sugarland the honour for the third straight year.

“We don't usually expect this but we obviously didn't this year,” said Jennifer Nettles, half of the duo that extended an invitation to Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn to come up and speak to their fans, but they declined.

“Well, I will say thank you for what you've done for us, thank you for what you've done for country music,” Nettles said before leaving the stage.

Several tributes were paid to veterans with the show falling on Veterans Day. Underwood saluted service members and Randy Houser wore a POW/MIA hat among other nods.

Old Hands Try Something New

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(November 14, 2009) Four decades in, it wouldn't seem there would be any uncharted territory for
Downchild Blues Band, but the venerable group makes its headlining debut at Massey Hall Saturday night as part of a 40th anniversary cross-Canada tour.

"We've been practising really hard for 40 years," riffed lead singer-harmonica player Chuck Jackson of the delay in commanding the vaunted stage.

That could only be a joke, given the influence of the award-winning ensemble that inspired comedic actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to form the revival band The Blues Brothers.

Aykroyd, guitarist Colin Linden, harmonica legend James Cotton and trumpeter Wayne Jackson of The Memphis Horns are among the special guests at the Saturday show, which will be helmed by Downchild co-founder Don Walsh.

"There's a lot of girls that will tell you, `Oh, I went out with your ex-drummer,' and then they tell you his name and you never heard of them," said Walsh of the 80-plus members who have rotated through the band he launched at Grossman's Tavern with his late brother Richard Walsh.

The current ensemble is rounded out by saxophonist Pat Carey, keyboardist Michael Fonfara, bassist Gary Kendall and drummer Mike Fitzpatrick. They play about 50 gigs a year, nudged out of a lull by the ministrations of an eager new agent.

"We have an audience that really enjoys the music; that's basically what you need to keep you going," said Walsh, 62, who wrote most of the new album, I Need A Hat.

The singer-songwriter-guitarist-harmonica player has been dubbed "the father of Canadian blues" and the compositions in I Need A Hat range from the title track, about the accoutrement of every respectable bluesman, to the political "Somebody Lied" and the philosophical "These Thoughts Keep Marching."

"My goal has always been: when you show up at a Downchild concert you have the blues, when you leave you don't have the blues any more," Walsh said.

"It's the cure."

Downchild is testament to an enduring, if not chart-topping, genre, said Carey, 49. "When I teach kids how to improvise, the first thing they learn how to improvise is blues, so it's the basis of all music. This is not about popularity, it's about a timeless kind of music."

The present lineup has been together since the mid-'90s and Jackson, 56, credits that longevity to maturity. "We're at an age now where we know how to get along really well with each other."

Past emotional and financial hiccups earned Walsh a reputation as a taskmaster – there's the tale of his kicking band members out of a van on the QEW. Reflecting on these, Kendall, 62, said: "If his way was wrong for Downchild, Downchild wouldn't still be together; so there's no arguing. It works."

Gathered at The Rex, the musicians collectively scoffed when asked if they would be dressing up for tonight's bash.

"No, no tuxes," said Walsh. "I bought a new suit awhile ago. I might wear that."

Better Late Than Never For Debut

Source: www.thestar.com -
Ashante Infantry

(November 15, 2009) Four decades into a stellar career, Brazilian singer Gal Costa finally makes her Canadian debut tonight at Massey Hall. The samba and bossa nova specialist, who divides her time between New York and Salvador de Bahia, has performed her interpretations of the elite Brazilian composers, such as Antônio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, around the world. She was a key figure in the country's Tropicalismo arts movement which saw folk music melded with rock and electronica in the '60s. The 64-year-old performer spoke with the Star by phone from Manhattan.

Q: Why has bossa nova endured?

A: This music is very important in Brazil because it changed completely my generation and Brazilian music. When I heard for the first time João Gilberto singing "Chega de Saudade" on Brazil radio, it changed my life. It was a really big influence on me his way of singing and playing guitar. Bossa nova was a big revolution in Brazil and it was a big success around the world.

Q: Why are you performing with just a guitarist – Romero Lubambo – these days instead of a traditional rhythm section?

A: I always played with big bands and many instruments, but doing concerts now with just a guitar is very comfortable. I think people like it, because they can really hear my voice, my essence as a singer. During the Tropicalismo I did many experimental works and music, but I don't do anymore this kind of thing.

Q: Are there any English songs in your setlist?

A: I sing one classic song in English – "As Time Goes By." I would like to sing more in English. I'm thinking of doing a record half in Portuguese, half in English. I think it's charming when I sing in English. I'm very musical and I can really get the meaning of the sound of the English singer.

Q: Your 1973 album India was censored in Brazil, because of the skimpy bikini you wore on the cover, are you still given to risqué attire?

A: (Laughs) No. I'm still a beautiful lady, but I'm not so young to wear that kind of clothes.

Q:What about your vocal shape?

A: More than 40 years and my voice is still there like a young woman, thank God. I don't know why, it's a mystery. I think it's because I love so much what I do. If you come to the concert you'll see. I feel young singing and I feel young as a person. Q: I imagine having a 4-year-old son keeps you youthful. Tell me about the decision to adopt in your 60s.

A: Things happen when they have to happen. It's never late to realize a dream. I couldn't have a child and I don't think you have to be young to adopt. I have a big family and they love Gabriel like I love him. The two most wonderful things in the world are being a mother and making music.

Just the facts

WHO: Gal Costa

WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Massey Hall

TICKETS: $50-70 at masseyhall.com

Pop Idol Justin Bieber Schooled In Cool

Source: www.thestar.com -
Ashante Infantry

(November 16, 2009) If the high-profile mentors, millions of YouTube views and uncontrollable female fans aren't enough, pop-soul singer Justin Bieber has another enviable asset to facilitate his ascent to superstardom.

"I have a swagger coach that helps me and teaches me different swaggerific things to do," revealed the 15-year-old Stratford native, making history as the first solo artist to have four songs from a debut album, My World, in Billboard's Hot 100 prior to its Tuesday release.

In a business that's as much about image as sound, Bieber's co-manager, R&B star Usher, 31, hand-picked a wardrobe consultant/Man Friday for the youth.

"He has helped me with my style and just putting different pieces together and being able to layer and stuff like that," said Bieber of the ministrations of Ryan Good, 24, whose official title is road manager.

"Usher called me and said he thought Justin would benefit from being around a cool white boy," said hippieish Florida native Good.

While making his own first album, a teenaged Usher was famously tutored in the ways of the world by an über-cool black guy: decade-older rap impresario Diddy, with whom he was housed in New York. Bieber's relationship with the Atlanta-based Usher seems tame by comparison. "He's like a big brother to me," said Bieber. "We just hang out and don't really talk about music a lot. We go go-karting and to arcades and movies."

But he's also had some Diddy time. A circulating video clip of "Justin Bieber's 48 Hours With Diddy" finds the 40-year-old father of five promising to let the youngster drive his silver Lamborghini when he turns 16. The snippet ends with Bieber inveigling his elder, "Let's go get some girls."

If Bieber really wanted to chill with a cool white boy, he could have done worse than A-lister Justin Timberlake, who lost the bidding war for him to Usher.

"It wasn't really a personality thing because they were both great people, and they were both nice and very kind," said Bieber of that tough choice. The performer, who also plays drums, guitar, piano and trumpet, came to the attention of industry vet Scooter Braun after posting his renditions of Usher, Ne-Yo and Stevie Wonder songs on YouTube. On the eve of his album release, Bieber's racked up more than 100 million YouTube views and has four tunes – "One Time," "Favourite Girl," "Love Me" and "One Less Lonely Girl" – on Billboard's decisive singles chart.

Bieber Fever was in full effect when the tween throb breezed through the GTA recently, chatting it up at local radio stations, doing interviews, signing autographs and performing a sold-out show.

Hundreds of girls between 6 and 16 gathered from the wee hours outside both Vaughan Mills mall and the Kool Haus in the hopes of getting close to their idol du jour.

"My heart belongs to Justin," gushed Pickering's Alyssa Stockla, 13, whose parents let her skip school to line up ahead of the Friday night concert.

Her pal Yasmin Rowchan, 14, itemized the entertainer's attributes: "He's multi-talented, his voice, his beauty, his hotness, his everything."

It's not just a Canadian thing: more than 2,000 people reportedly turned out for Bieber's The Today Show performance at New York's Rockefeller Plaza last month, said to be the largest draw for any artist this year, including Miley Cyrus. Among other high-profile appearances, he presented at the MTV Video Music Awards in September and returns to Ellen tomorrow for the second time in two weeks.

On the Kool Haus stage, Bieber delivered an entertaining 35-minute set to non-stop screaming and a sea of signs of the "I Luv U" variety. He proved a blossoming showman, with mic stand tricks and hip-hop choreography suited to his sugary brand of music.

Though the charmer likes to cast himself as "single and ready to mingle" and claims he's as likely to date a regular girl as a famous girl, one can't help but wonder how well-equipped he is for these songs of amour that are his specialty.

"I think that everybody ... that babies know about love," he said. "It's just something natural about life that you can love. I don't know about in love; I'm not in love with anybody and I haven't been in love, but I know what love feels like."

In keeping with the casual look, Bieber's media coaching focuses his responses on the joys of performing, making fans happy and staying humble – saving the strut for the stage. Munching Skittles during an afternoon interview in the back of a van driving him from hotel to sound check, he kept it real with appropriate wariness and boredom.

Living out of his suitcase these days, Bieber travels with his mom and a tutor, and routinely has a beefy bodyguard or two at his side.

"I'm really claustrophobic," he said on the subject of the growing throng of admirers who greet his public appearances. "Sometimes, if it's not really organized and there's fans rushing me, it sometimes scares me."

Parrotheads Keeping Cool In Margaritaville North

Source: www.thestar.com -
Linda Barnard

(November 15, 2009) Will Parrotheads flock where they might get frost on their feathers?

Tropical troubadour Jimmy Buffett brings his latest tour, Summerzcool (in support of his new album, Buffet Hotel, due out Dec. 8) to the Air Canada Centre Thursday. It's a rare cold-weather show – held indoors rather than the usual open-air Molson Amphitheatre – for a performer synonymous with an endless Caribbean summer.

Which brings up an important aspect of every Buffett concert: the massive tailgate parties that spring up in arena parking lots, complete with bars, blenders filled with margaritas, inflatable pools and barbecues grilling cheeseburgers while beach-party costumed fans eat, drink and dance.

Not only is there no parking lot at the ACC, it's probably going to be too chilly to dance outdoors in a grass skirt and coconut bra anyway. But Buffett, 62, has no doubt his loyal fans, dubbed Parrotheads, will be out in force.

"I remember going to Minnesota and seeing fans out in the street tailgating. You watch, they will figure it out," Buffett says from an undisclosed east-coast location, the slight southern drawl of his Alabama roots coating his voice. "Our fans are a very resourceful bunch."

The "resourceful bunch" that makes up the 157-strong membership in the Toronto Maple Reefers Parrothead Club plans to hold their tailgate in the warmth of Whistler's Grille and Café Bar on Broadview Ave., the group's clubhouse for regular get-togethers.

"We'll form a conga line and dance down to the subway," says Trina Waddell, 45, a second-generation Buffet fan from the age of 10.

She earned her Parrothead wings courtesy of her aunt, Kristen Jensen, 61. Both women are dressed in gaudy Caribbean-themed finery to chat with the Star: Hawaiian shirts, leis and goofy hats studded with goodies taken from Buffett lyrics. Dressing like they survived an explosion in a Mai Tai factory is a big part of the Parrothead ethos. While not required, nobody will look twice at anyone attending a Buffett event in a coconut bra, grass skirt and flip-flops. And that's the men.

"I think there's a kind of misconceived notion that in order to be a fan you have to put on a coconut bra," says Buffett. "A good number of people don't come in costume and are just as rabid fans. It runs a much broader spectrum age-wise and you can get as crazy as you want. There are no rules."

Well, perhaps a few: Know your lyrics, sing along and quote liberally. And whenever possible, follow the same travel patterns as your musical hero, sailing into the same exotic harbours or sitting in the Paris cafes he sings about.

Buffett fan clubs boast more than 230 chapters in Canada, Australia and the U.S. In Toronto, there's the six-year-old Maple Reefers club, a riff on Buffett's Coral Reefers backup band. Club vice-president Derek Knights, 51, has been a fan since 1977 and will see his 72nd Buffett show Thursday.

"It could be more," he confesses with a shy grin. "Some of the early shows are a bit fuzzy."

He's dressed in an artfully airbrushed white suit jacket, a tribute to Buffett's "A Pirate Looks At 40" and his White Sport Coat And A Pink Crustacean album.

Knights has travelled all over the U.S. to attend Buffett shows, spending an estimated $35,000 on his Parrothead pursuits. He was on the road again last week, in Key West, Fla., for the 18th Meeting Of The Minds, an annual Buffett convention that draws more than 3,000.

Fans spend a lot of time explaining there's more to Buffett than his 1977 hit, "Margaritaville" and there's more to being a Parrothead than dressing in Caribbean drag.

Margaritaville is more than a song title. It's also a state of mind, the fans say. ("My Margaritaville isn't everybody else's; it doesn't have to be," says Buffett. "Everybody needs it and it is what it is.")

Margaritaville is also the name of Buffett's successful chain of themed eateries that kicked off in Key West in 1985 and is about to expand into Canada with restaurants planned for Calgary and Niagara Falls. He also has a stake in more than 30 "Cheeseburger in Paradise" restaurants (named for the song of the same name), and a Margaritaville Casino and Resort is under construction in Biloxi, Miss.

"I honestly believe he truly does enjoy what he's doing and he's not into it for the money," says Glenn Murray, 47, a longtime Parrothead who is taking his 12-year-old son, Greg, to his first Buffett show. "He does it for the stories he can tell."

So what is it about the singer and his story-songs that holds fans with such loyalty?

"It's like a family," says new club member Joan Roberts. "Jimmy Buffett is a storyteller and when I listen to his music it's about life experiences."

Those experiences are based on Buffett's enviable lifestyle as adventurer, pilot, sailor and performer, taking exotic trips and writing songs about the Caribbean, South Pacific, Paris and most recently, Africa. The music on the new album has a strong West African influence, some of it written while Buffett was at the Festival In The Desert near Timbuktu, Mali.

Buffett also includes Canada among those experiences. He traces his roots to Glace Bay, N.S., where his grandfather worked on ships. And he still has good friends in Toronto; pals he plans to join for an oyster roast featuring some of P.E.I.'s finest while he's in town.

"We've got great fans there and I have my lineage ... so I'm happy to be coming. Pray for an extended Indian summer and good weather," Buffett says.

Long Yu marches home to Shanghai

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds

(November 14, 2009) In a generation, China has gone from a sprawling, inward-looking country to a global powerhouse in trade, sports – and music.

Our kitchens and closets burst with Chinese-made goods. At the same time, classical musicians from the Asian superpower are increasingly prominent in our concert halls and on iPod playlists. These artists can perform the Western canon as successfully in their country's sparkling new concert halls as they do abroad. They also have a wealth of Chinese music to share with the West.

It took determined people to lead the way – musicians like Long Yu, who arrives in Toronto on Monday night to lead the Canadian debut of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall.

Keep in mind that the Shanghai Symphony was founded in 1879, nearly three decades before there was a Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Like some of the Beaux Arts and Art Deco buildings in China's most cosmopolitan city, the orchestra has recovered its former grand status in the post-Maoist economic and cultural boom.

This ensemble is worthy of any great concert venue – and has been making that point ever since its 1990 debut at Carnegie Hall.

New music director Long Yu is a fitting leader. Born into a prominent Shanghai family of musicians and composers in 1964, Yu had to suffer the privations of Chairman Mao Zedong's virtual liquidation of Western music and intellectual history in the country during the Cultural Revolution.

To study Western music in the 1970s took remarkable determination. To go abroad to pursue it further took even more guts and persistence. Yu did it, travelling to Berlin after his graduation from the conservatory in Shanghai.

Yu doesn't talk much about those years. He prefers trumpeting the international success that came afterward. He has built an impressive symphony- and opera-conducting resumé in Europe, North America and China.

At home, in 1998, he founded what has become the country's biggest music festival in Beijing. To give the country an international symphonic profile, he set up the China Philharmonic in 2000. Their Toronto visit in 2007 featured pianist Lang Lang, by far the most prominent Chinese musician in the world.

Despite these impressive credentials, becoming the music director of the Shanghai orchestra is a special event for Yu. "It is an opportunity for me to go back to my hometown," he says on the phone from Beijing. "It has been my dream for a long time."

He has been the group's leader since September only, but says he is already impressed with what he hears. "I'm looking forward to showing off the features of this orchestra," he says energetically.

Asked what he means by this, Yu points to the difference between the more reserved temperament of people from the northern capital, Beijing (home of his China Philharmonic), and the more southerly city of Shanghai (think of it as the difference between New England and the Carolinas).

"The Shanghai sound is good for showing off changing colours," Yu explains. "The musicians are very sensitive, very proud."

The guest soloist on this tour is 22-year-old pianist Yuja Wang, who was named Young Artist of the Year by the influential Gramophone magazine last month. Wang, now based in New York City, has a Canadian connection: her family moved to Calgary from Beijing when she was 14, so she could study music and English at Mount Royal College for a year.

The young pianist went on to perfect her art with Lang Lang's teacher, Gary Graffman, at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Wang is playing Sergei Rachmaninov's popular Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the program is "Dawn on the Moscow River," the atmospheric prelude to Modest Mussorgsky's opera Khovantchina, and a new work, Iris dévoilée by Paris-based Qigang Chen, "a composer I love very much," says Yu.

That piece's nine movements showcase "visions from East and West," the conductor explains. It includes traditional Chinese instruments and Peking Opera singers. "It mixes French feeling with Shanghaiese feeling.


"This is a special taste through Eastern people's eyes to describe the beauty of the world," Yu continues. "We live on the same Earth but we are from a different place."

Sounds like a blend of cultures tailor-made for a city like Toronto.

Just the facts
WHAT: Shanghai Symphony Orchestra

WHERE: Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St.

WHEN: Monday at 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $29-$128 at 416-872-4255 or www.roythomson.com

Can You Hear Canada?

www.globeandmail.com - Robert Everett-Green

The St. Lawrence String Quartet
At Walter Hall
in Toronto on Monday

(November 18, 2009) The St. Lawrence String Quartet turns 20 this year, and even though it has been based in southern California for the past 11 of those years, it decided to fete its native land by commissioning five new Canadian pieces. Instead of just calling up five favourite composers, the quartet put out a call for scores that would somehow reflect its Canadian roots, with extra points given for regional representation.

Sixty scores arrived, mostly from young or low-profile composers (no surprise, since they were working on spec). The SLSQ made its choice, rounded up some sponsors and took the winning five pieces on a short Canadian concert tour that culminated on Monday with a show that CBC Radio 2 will excerpt in future broadcasts.

The question of the night (aside from whether the pieces were good) was simple: How do you evoke a spirit of place, or a national origin, in a piece of instrumental music? The SLSQ's composers all went for one of two well-tried answers: use a folk song (real or invented) or mimic some scene in your environment.

Derek Charke's Sepia Fragments took the first option, opening with an elegiac fiddle air that segued into a percussive reel. So far not bad, especially in the ghostly wisps of sound Charke marshalled behind the initial melody, as if this tune were coming through a veil laid down by time. Unfortunately, he followed this with a gimmicky pastiche of quotations from familiar quartet repertoire, including pieces by Schumann and Shostakovich.

Marcus Goddard also went the folkloric route on Allaqi , with a slashing rhythmic kind of writing that he related to Inuit throat singing (all the composers delivered verbal spoilers in advance of their pieces). The middle section, a setting of an Inuit folk song, brought the piece within reach of the kind of well-upholstered folkloric music that was already a bit dusty when Sir Ernest MacMillan started doing it 80 years ago.

Suzanne Hébert-Tremblay's A tire-d'aile ( Fluttering Wings ) worked stylized versions of three Quebec birdsongs into a set of thematic variations. It was a solidly academic kind of writing, though not without playfulness and heart, especially in its sinewy colloquies between instruments.

Brian Current's Rounds went down to the sea for its genius loci, in a piece mostly made up of overlapping waves of melody. The best music came in the contemplative third section, which worked itself into a state from which Current's repetitions sounded less like a method working itself out and more like cries of something too urgent to be said just once.

Elizabeth Raum's Table at the Bushwakker was the only piece to acknowledge that some Canadians live in cities. Her picturesque representation of a colourful Regina brewpub was a crafty and somewhat entertaining piece of work, though ironically it was also the most European in sound.

The SLSQ played all these pieces as if they were the best music on Earth, which is really the only way to perform a new work properly. The main flaw in the show went back to a problem with the original idea: I think they would have gotten a better crop of compositions with a less restrictive brief.

Putin Grooves With Russian Rappers

www.globeandmail.com - Mansur Mirovalev

(November 18, 2009) Putin in da house? Da! He's tracked Siberian tigers wearing military camouflage, sat in the cockpit of a fighter jet, and shown off black-belt judo moves. Now Vladimir Putin is adding another groove to his tough guy persona: hip-hop idol.

Since the Russian leader popped up last week on a music TV show surrounded by rappers, some in the Kremlin elite are following his lead. On Tuesday, lawmakers and musicians were staging a “rap battle for justice” expected to include a shout out to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin, a self-described “jungle” kid hardened in fights on the mean streets of St. Petersburg, appeared on Muz-TV to hand out awards and declare that Russian hip-hoppers can help fight drugs and other problems of the youth.

He joked that the mix of hip hop, break dancing and graffiti could be more entertaining than Russia's stereotypical combination of vodka, caviar and nesting dolls.

And he suggested that Russia – which has excelled at Western art forms like ballet and classical music – could take rap into new realms.

“I have to say that young people involved in these arts in our country give them their own Russian charm,” Putin said in televised remarks Friday night. “Because rap ... is being filled with social content, discusses problems of the youth.”

Putin did not technically rap – but he did deliver his speech clutching a mike to the backdrop of a hip-hop groove. He clapped his hands while listening to the rappers, standing by the stage with the show's mostly teenage audience.

Rappers meanwhile sang Putin's praises and declared they would welcome the chance to record a track with the Russian Prime Minister, who has cultivated a bad boy image over the years with cutting wisecracks and occasional rude language.

“For this is Putin, he is our idol,” rapper Roma Jigan said in one improvised flow. “Let's give him a shout out so that the whole world hears it.”

Putin's embrace of hip hop fits in with his efforts to cast himself as a blunt-spoken man of the people. The Prime Minister has previously been filmed hanging out with motorcycle club members, hunting, fishing and skiing – in contrast with the professorial Medvedev.

Medvedev is expected to be the focal point of Tuesday night's event. Rappers and several Duma deputies planned to participate in a freestyle “address to the president” that will be recorded and broadcast.

But Medvedev, a self-declared Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin fan, is not expected to be in the house.

Rap has only recently become part of mainstream pop culture in Russia, and purists still snub local rappers as copycats who clumsily adopt the gangsta appeal.

Russian rappers are trying to fuse freestyle rap with a traditional Russian genre of songs about jailed criminals, their grieving mothers and abandoned children.

Art has always been a tool of propaganda in Russia, and now the Kremlin seems to have decided to strengthen its appeal to youth through the culture of hip hop.

Tuesday night's event, organized by the pro-Putin Just Russia party, is just the latest effort by the Kremlin to win younger audiences.

Just Russia, which won 8 per cent of the vote in recent parliamentary elections, vigorously backs Putin but opposes United Russia, the pro-Putin party that dominates parliament.

For years, the Kremlin has enlisted young people in a variety of pro-government organizations, using them as shock troops in efforts to challenge and sometimes intimidate opposition artists and political leaders.

In recent years, those movements have participated in mass pro-government rallies, laid siege to foreign embassies whose diplomats criticized Russia and sued writers, public figures and journalists who criticized Putin's government.

The Kremlin has also financed a string of patriotic films that glorified law enforcement officers, including in the KGB, Putin's former employer.

Several Russian politicians have dabbled in music.

Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's seldom-glimpsed political strategist, wrote lyrics for a gothic rock band, and several members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, have hit the airwaves with their pop-music projects.


Rihanna's 'Roulette' Spins Into Top Ten

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 13, 2009) *Rihanna's new single "Russian Roulette" rocketed 75-9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart released Thursday, marking her 12th career top 10 record.  The surge was fuelled by first-week download sales of 132,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Roulette" also opens at No. 9 on Digital Songs and edges 36-35 on Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay with 29.4 million audience impressions, reports Billboard.  Rihanna's 12 Hot 100 top 10s place her second among female acts this decade, trailing only Beyoncé's 13 top 10s since 2000. "Russian Roulette" previews Rihanna's new album, "Rated R," due Nov. 23. Elsewhere on the Hot 100, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" rises 3-2 with Greatest Gainer/Airplay honours (94.6 million in audience, up 29%). Jay-Z performed the song with his backup singer (and Roc Nation roster member) Bridget Kelly at the Yankees' victory celebration in New York Nov. 6. Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams" re-enters the top 10 with an 11-10 advance.

Susan Boyle Delays Toronto Show

Source: www.thestar.com - Victoria Ahearn

(November 17, 2009) Susan Boyle has postponed her appearance in Toronto by almost a month. Originally set to sign autographs and perform one song Nov. 26 at First Canadian Place, the Scottish singer who rocketed to worldwide fame after performing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables on the U.K. reality show Britain's Got Talent, will now be in town Dec. 21. "Global demand on her very busy schedule" is the reason being cited by her Canadian record company. Instead of one number, Boyle will now sign autographs and perform "a selection of songs" from her imminent first album, I Dreamed a Dream. As with the initial date, access to the Waterfall Stage and designated viewing area in First Canadian Place will be restricted to 2,000 people on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be no seats for the 12:15 p.m. event. For fans who want to leave with an autograph, 500 wristbands will be available at the HMV in First Canadian Place only, on Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. Only one wristband will be available per person.  I Dreamed a Dream is the No. 1 pre-ordered album in the history of Amazon.ca Music. It comes out Monday, Nov. 23.

New Usher' CD Due Just Before Xmas

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 18, 2009) *Jive Records is trying to make the new Usher CD a stocking stuffer for the holiday season.  The label has announced that "Raymond V. Raymond" will be released on Dec. 21, according to Billboard.com. The set is led by current single, "Papers," which is No. 2 this week on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 32 on the Hot 100. Usher's last album, 2008's "Here I Stand," has sold 1.2 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. His biggest-selling album to date is 2004's "Confessions," which stands at 9.7 million units.

Darrin Henson To Host 'Bayou Classic' Events

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 17, 2009)  *Actor/choreographer, Darrin Henson will host The State Farm Bayou Classic Weekend Battle of the Bands and Greek Show, featuring the legendary music rivalry between Southern University and Grambling State University.  Officially renamed, "Nerjyzed Entertainment Battle of the Bands and Greek Show," the event will feature the two bands battling for bragging rights, while fraternities and sororities compete in the annual Greek Step Show. The Battle of the Bands and Step Show will take place on Friday, Nov. 27 from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. at the Louisiana Superdome and the XXXVI State Farm Bayou Classic Football game will take place on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets for the State Farm Bayou Classic® range from $15 - $50.All tickets can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 800-488-5252, online at www.ticketmaster.com or at the Southern University and Grambling State University Box Offices.

New Beyonce Video Premieres Today

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 17, 2009)  *Beyonce's new video for "Video Phone" will has its global premiere today across 60 channels on MTV networks.  Beginning at 12:01 a.m./EST, fans can log on to MTV.com, VH1.com and all MTV international Web sites for an early view of the clip, directed by Hype Williams.  Then later today, the video will premiere on MTV, mtvU, MTV Hits, MTV Jams, MTV Tr3s, VH1 and VH1 Soul in the US and on all MTV international channels. Lady Gaga teams with Bey for "Video Phone," marking their first ever collaboration.  The single for "Video Phone (Extended Remix)" is available on "I Am...Sasha Fierce" Deluxe Edition, which will be released on Monday, Nov.23.

: New Disaster Movies Live Up To Titles

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(November 13, 2009) The planets will align to make the Earth go boom on Dec. 21, 2012, according to the Maya legend peddled in
2012, Roland Emmerich's latest schlock apocalypse.

An event of far great gravity occurs this very day, Nov. 13, 2009. The newly opened 2012 will be joined at Toronto multiplexes by three other bad movies: Antichrist, Pirate Radio and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day.

This alignment of awfulness could cause brains to explode across the city.

Or maybe not. Forewarned is forearmed, and lots of people will go to see these movies precisely because they're bad – hoping against hope they'll be of the "so bad it's good" variety.

Like WALL-E the robot garbage man, happily stacking stinking heaps, trash hunters will have oodles of choice: 2012 is thriller trash, Antichrist is art/horror trash, Pirate Radio is comedy trash and Boondock Saints is vigilante killer trash.

Many people actually enjoy this kind of thing, or at least find it educational in a masochistic way. I'm betting 2012 and Boondock Saints will please connoisseurs of crap, Antichrist will jazz contrarian snobs and Pirate Radio will serve as a cautionary tale on how not to make a movie about rock 'n' roll.

You can watch just about anything in the guilty privacy of your own living room. But what compels people to leave home and go to a theatre to pay for the privilege of rotting their brains?

I put this question to media savant Prof. Robert J. Thompson of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. He spoke in defence of badness:

"If junk is done well, it can really be a lot of fun. We need a better word for it than just `bad.' You can make a good movie that is not high quality or Oscar-worthy or critically acclaimed."

Consider the herd aspect, Thompson said. Many people go to bad movies in groups, their expectations appropriately lowered, for the express purpose of participating in a public mocking.

Witness the worldwide cult for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which bombed upon its 1975 release, yet which has enlivened sing-along dress-up parties for the past 30 years.

Ditto Troll 2, which has no trolls, no connection to a predecessor film and no discernible talent, yet it has rabid fans.

Then there's the long-running TV series (and now DVD hit) Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is entirely based upon people making snide asides about Z-level sci-fi movies.

For more mainstream merde, a good example is Glitter, the 2001 musical travesty starring Mariah Carey, and a movie she isn't eager to be reminded about.

"I saw Glitter at the theatre and the people there seemed to have congregated to see it with their friends so they could groan and laugh," Thompson said.

"They were watching that movie an entirely different way than the way it was made, and enjoying themselves. The pleasure of going to a bad movie is that sense of superiority. It's that same mockery that makes most of reality TV work."

Pop-cult attractions can change from the "good" to "bad" category as societal attitudes shift. When Sylvester Stallone's Rambo franchise began in 1982 with First Blood, audiences and critics viewed it as a serious post-Vietnam drama, of a piece with The Deer Hunter and Coming Home from a few years earlier.

The series devolved into a shooting gallery, with the scripts becoming increasingly outlandish and Stallone packing on more beef, above and below the neck. By the end of the '80s, Rambo was little more than a profitable punch line to a bad joke. And when the series was resurrected last year, it was viewed by most as campy ultra-violence.

With its built-in fan base, Boondock Saints II has similar potential to become a totem of trash. There's been strong box office in American cities where it has already opened. Antichrist might eventually win a cult following – dig that crazy talking fox! – but Pirate Radio will quickly slip beneath the waves.

As for 2012, Thompson predicts it will have a big opening weekend, if nothing else.

"The way that film has been marketed, no matter what the critics say, it's become one of those movies that is really hard to stay away from."

Especially if escapist paranoid trash happens to be your thing.


New Disaster Movies Live Up To Titles

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(November 13, 2009) The planets will align to make the Earth go boom on Dec. 21, 2012, according to the Maya legend peddled in
2012, Roland Emmerich's latest schlock apocalypse.

An event of far great gravity occurs this very day, Nov. 13, 2009. The newly opened 2012 will be joined at Toronto multiplexes by three other bad movies: Antichrist, Pirate Radio and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day.

This alignment of awfulness could cause brains to explode across the city.

Or maybe not. Forewarned is forearmed, and lots of people will go to see these movies precisely because they're bad – hoping against hope they'll be of the "so bad it's good" variety.

Like WALL-E the robot garbage man, happily stacking stinking heaps, trash hunters will have oodles of choice: 2012 is thriller trash, Antichrist is art/horror trash, Pirate Radio is comedy trash and Boondock Saints is vigilante killer trash.

Many people actually enjoy this kind of thing, or at least find it educational in a masochistic way. I'm betting 2012 and Boondock Saints will please connoisseurs of crap, Antichrist will jazz contrarian snobs and Pirate Radio will serve as a cautionary tale on how not to make a movie about rock 'n' roll.

You can watch just about anything in the guilty privacy of your own living room. But what compels people to leave home and go to a theatre to pay for the privilege of rotting their brains?

I put this question to media savant Prof. Robert J. Thompson of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. He spoke in defence of badness:

"If junk is done well, it can really be a lot of fun. We need a better word for it than just `bad.' You can make a good movie that is not high quality or Oscar-worthy or critically acclaimed."

Consider the herd aspect, Thompson said. Many people go to bad movies in groups, their expectations appropriately lowered, for the express purpose of participating in a public mocking.

Witness the worldwide cult for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which bombed upon its 1975 release, yet which has enlivened sing-along dress-up parties for the past 30 years.

Ditto Troll 2, which has no trolls, no connection to a predecessor film and no discernible talent, yet it has rabid fans.

Then there's the long-running TV series (and now DVD hit) Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is entirely based upon people making snide asides about Z-level sci-fi movies.

For more mainstream merde, a good example is Glitter, the 2001 musical travesty starring Mariah Carey, and a movie she isn't eager to be reminded about.

"I saw Glitter at the theatre and the people there seemed to have congregated to see it with their friends so they could groan and laugh," Thompson said.

"They were watching that movie an entirely different way than the way it was made, and enjoying themselves. The pleasure of going to a bad movie is that sense of superiority. It's that same mockery that makes most of reality TV work."

Pop-cult attractions can change from the "good" to "bad" category as societal attitudes shift. When Sylvester Stallone's Rambo franchise began in 1982 with First Blood, audiences and critics viewed it as a serious post-Vietnam drama, of a piece with The Deer Hunter and Coming Home from a few years earlier.

The series devolved into a shooting gallery, with the scripts becoming increasingly outlandish and Stallone packing on more beef, above and below the neck. By the end of the '80s, Rambo was little more than a profitable punch line to a bad joke. And when the series was resurrected last year, it was viewed by most as campy ultra-violence.

With its built-in fan base, Boondock Saints II has similar potential to become a totem of trash. There's been strong box office in American cities where it has already opened. Antichrist might eventually win a cult following – dig that crazy talking fox! – but Pirate Radio will quickly slip beneath the waves.

As for 2012, Thompson predicts it will have a big opening weekend, if nothing else.

"The way that film has been marketed, no matter what the critics say, it's become one of those movies that is really hard to stay away from."

Especially if escapist paranoid trash happens to be your thing.

Gaza Film Festival Gives Women Rare Opportunity To Be Heard

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Patrick Martin

(November 14, 2009)
Asmaa Alghoul has had run-ins with Hamas before.

While swimming at the beach here this past summer, she was accosted by a modesty patrol that said she was having “too much fun.”

“Hamas is eliminating the colour from our lives,” said the 27-year-old short story writer.

Which is why she was very glad to see a women's film festival take place in Gaza this week, challenging Hamas's moral authority. It's the first time this place, which doesn't even have a cinema, has held such an event.

“It's a start,” she said, happy she's not alone in her campaign for freedom of expression.

Through The Eyes of Women, the three-day program that started Tuesday, includes 27 films, all by female directors, five of whom are from Gaza. Most of the rest hail from other Arab states, with eight from the West Bank.

The absence of a cinema posed a slight problem that quickly was resolved by hanging a big white piece of fabric (about four metres by three metres) in the meeting hall of the Shawa Cultural Centre. The “screen” sagged a little, but no one seemed to mind.

“I'm very proud of my community for putting this on,” said Itamad Said, a divorced, 38-year-old mother of two.

Divorce is highly unusual in this conservative religious community, at least divorce initiated by a woman. But Ms. Said was determined to rid herself of a violent, abusive husband, and to withstand being ostracized. During her battle, she took up filmmaking.

“It's helped put my sad situation behind me, given me a fresh start,” she said.

Fedaa Abu el-Atta, 23, knows what she means. “Making films keeps our dreams alive,” she said.

And what is Ms. el-Atta's dream? “To get out of here,” she immediately replied, referring to Gaza.

About 150 of the 225 people filling about half the seats in the Shawa auditorium were women. They ranged from a couple of women in blue jeans and free-flowing hair to two others in full, black facial covering – the niqab .

Those in between included two or three dozen women without head scarves; the rest wore hijabs .

Remarkably, almost every one of them was happy to shake a man's hand. “There's no Hamas here,” said one beaming woman, quickly looking over her shoulder as she spoke.

Indeed, with outspoken, casually dressed moviegoers and films that decry violence against women and political censorship, the festival seems the antithesis of the movement that tightly rules this heavily populated enclave of two million people.

But the organizers reported little trouble getting approval for the festival.

“We first had to apply to the Ministry of the Interior for permission,” said Itimad Washah, the general co-ordinator, “then to the police commander, and finally to the Ministry of Information.”

“They [the Information Ministry] posed the biggest obstacle,” she said. “They demanded a copy of every film.”

“We refused,” she said, surprisingly, as if she were declining to pay too much at the butcher for a kilogram of meat.

“We said we would give them copies of the five films made here [in Gaza], but for the others, they have to come and see for themselves.”

On Monday, a couple of officials did show up, saw a number of the films and went away, apparently satisfied.

Ms. Washah said her bigger problem was the lack of funds that forced her to move the festival, for its third day, to the smaller confines of the Women's Affairs Centre, the headquarters of the group that put the festival together.

“We couldn't afford another 4,000 shekels [$1,100] a day for the auditorium,” she said. Everything else was covered by a grant from the NGO Development Centre, a European-backed organization that promotes democratic values.

Praise for the festival came from some unexpected sources.

A trio of 21-year-old women – two wearing tight-fitting hijabs , the other in a black niqab – said they were loving the event.

They especially liked the Gaza film that addressed the pressure experienced by working women in this conservative religious society.

“I would like to be a filmmaker,” said the woman in the niqab , her darkly made-up eyes gleaming through the narrow slits of her veil. “But my family would never let me. They say a woman should only be a teacher or a secretary.”

All three women are training to be secretaries.

Did her family also pressure her to wear the niqab ?

“Oh no,” she said. “I wanted to wear it. So did all my sisters.”

“I wanted to wear the niqab , too,” one of the other women chimed in. “But my parents wouldn't let me.”

“I wonder if my parents would let me be a TV anchor,” mused the woman in the niqab . “I really don't want to be a secretary.”

Actress Lisa Ray Preparing For Stem Cell Transplant

Source: www.thestar.com - Victoria Ahearn

(November 17, 2009) Toronto actress Lisa Ray is preparing for a stem cell transplant to treat her rare cancer.

The star of Water and Bollywood/Hollywood was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, in June and began chemotherapy in July.

Ray says she'll go into a Toronto hospital next week to start a procedure that involves releasing her own stem cells into her blood, collecting them and then freezing them.

She says that procedure will take about two weeks and act as a ``reboot" of sorts for her system, after which she'll be on a waiting list for the stem cell transplant.

Ray jokes that the whole thing feels "very sci-fi" to her.

The film star, who once modelled in India, spoke Tuesday in an interview at an event for REEL Canada, a program that brings Canadian movies to schools for free.

Ray's film Water, directed by Deepa Mehta, was played for students at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School.

It also recently screened at a film festival in Buenos Aires and Ray made the trip to see it.

She said she stayed there for 10 days and it was nice to "get a little bit of a break" from her treatment.

"Healing isn't just about the physical procedures," she added.

"You need to be emotionally and spiritually and psychologically in the right frame of mind so I just needed a break and Buenos Aires was the ticket."

Ray's upcoming films include Cooking With Stella and Defendor, which both screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

She said she's now put her career on hiatus as she goes through treatment.

A major source of her support system, she said, has been the bonding she's done with other cancer patients at the hospital.

"Like any community, you have your own shorthand, so you understand what individually you're going through, which makes things a lot easier," she said.

"But at the same time, I find that what ends up happening is ... people end up really being so transparent and real on some level that that in itself is really refreshing."

"You're just more aware of time and less aware of the pretensions that life imposes on you," added Ray. "So my cancer club has been really awesome."

Mariah Carey - The “Precious” Interview

Source: Kam Williams

Forget the JFK assassination, I can actually remember where I was the first time I heard that beautiful voice so many moons ago. I was sitting on a hilltop, high above a sprawling dairy farm, having a picnic with a friend who played “Make It Happen” for me on a big boom box which echoed down into the valley below. Of course, I was blown away and I’ve been a fan of
Mariah Carey’s ever since. That unforgettable introduction flashed through my memory and flooded my thoughts while preparing to conduct this interview.  

Mariah was born in Huntington, Long Island on March 27, 1970 to Patricia Hickey, an Irish-American opera singer, and Alfred Roy Carey, an engineer of Afro-Venezuelan descent. Her parents separated when she was just 3 years-old, which was also around the time that Mariah took to singing like a fish to water.

She got the nickname Mirage during high school, because she skipped so many classes to hone her craft at local recording studios. After graduation, she moved to Manhattan where she bounced around between jobs, supporting herself as a beautician and a waitress until her big break arrived when Columbia Records’ executive Tommy Mottola heard her demo tape. Mottola soon signed Mariah, thus launching a storybook career which has netted the silver-throated songbird 5 Grammys and 18 #1 hit singles over the years. 

During our tete-a-tete, I couldn’t help but notice the enchanting, musical lilt to Mariah’s voice, as if she can’t help but always be musical. I asked her many of my stock questions, learning that the last book she read was a delightful tale she and her co-stars Gabby Sidibe and Paula Patton shared aloud with kids during a visit to an inner-city grammar school. She also told me that her favourite meal to cook was a linguini dish that her late father liked to make, and that she’s listening to a lot of different hip-hop nowadays.

But far more significant than any of the factual answers she gave was the overall sense I got of Mariah, the person. She came across as a grounded, sincere, vulnerable and deeply spiritual soul truly interested in having a quality conversation, not as a vain diva who expected to be placed on a pedestal. When I focused narrowly on her vocal talents during our conversation, she gently reminded me that she is not merely a singer, but equally proud of her work as a songwriter who composes virtually all of her own tunes.  

As for her private life, in 2008, Mariah married Nick Cannon, star of such movies as Drumline and Roll Bounce. Here, she discusses her new movie, Precious, Lee Daniel’s tour de force where she is very impressive as a NYC social worker investigating a serious case of child abuse.

Kam Williams: Thanks for the time, Mariah, I’m honoured to be speaking with you.

Mariah Carey: No, thank you.

KW: I loved the film. You did such a great job.  

MC: Thank you.

KW: What interested you in Precious?

MC: Well, I’ve been a film of Sapphire’s and “Push” which I’m sure you know is her novel that inspired Precious. I read the book a really long time ago. A friend gave it to me, and I read it twice in a row. It was tough but it was also so incredibly inspiring and amazing.  

KW: This wasn’t your first time collaborating with Lee Daniels.

MC: He and I had just worked together on a film called Tennessee, which didn’t get the right shine, but I don’t think it was the right project for either of us. He wasn’t directing, only producing it. So, I couldn’t listen to him as a director, The thing is, I ordinarily can’t help but listen to Lee, except he couldn’t really fully direct me in this case, because he was the director. I don’t think the country thing was necessarily either one of our bags, if that make sense.   

KW: Yeah. I understand Lee was lucky to get the rights to Precious, because Sapphire didn’t care if it was ever adapted to the screen.

MC: Before he got “Push,” she had basically turned everybody down. When he got it, I was so excited for him because we had become really good friends, not thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be in this movie.” Do you know what I mean?

KW: Yep. How did you end up playing Mrs. Weiss, then?

MC: He said, “Look, I’m going to make you under and over, your hair and whatever, and you’re just going to have to deal with it. I’m going to put you under fluorescent lighting. That overhead lighting was not my friend, and neither was the hair. Someone who normally does my makeup described it as a Maria Carey nightmare. But in the end, it turned out to be a great gift Lee gave me to be able to go that far away from who I really am. 

KW: How did you get along with Gabby [Sidibe], who played Precious, and the rest of the cast?

MC: Working with that talented young lady, and then to add Mo’nique who is such a powerhouse in the film was incredible. I really have to thank Lee for giving me this opportunity.

KW: Speaking of powerful, talk a little about the revealing scene you share with Mo’Nique towards the end of the picture. 

MC: That scene is really the culmination of everything that’s transpired before in the movie. It’s when we come to learn how long the abuse has been going on. My character’s not really that likable, but I had to stay strong as an actor, because she does bring all the abuse to the surface. 

KW: We’re you at all affected emotionally while shooting that scene?

MC: Yes, we connected on a very deep level. We were crying between takes. It was very emotional.

KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Mariah, and best of luck with your movie and new album.

MC: Thank you, Kam.

KW: I really appreciate it.

MC: Likewise, take care.

To see a video of Mariah performing “Make It Happen,” visit HERE

To order a copy of “Push,” the novel on which Precious is based, visit HERE

To see a trailer for Precious, visit HERE 

This Bad Cop Is Really Good At Acting Like A Pig

www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(November 18, 2009) Few directors would mean it as a compliment to say their lead actor behaved like a swine on the movie set.

Yet Werner Herzog intends the highest praise of
Nicolas Cage, describing how well the excitable artist followed his command to "turn the pig loose!" during the shoot of cop drama Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

It's an old Bavarian expression for "go wild" that the German director favours, and Cage didn't need an explanation.

"He immediately knew what I meant," Herzog says. "And man, does he turn the pig loose! As an actor, he always understood the fluidity of the situation. The kind of musicality, jazz in particular, which allows you to improvise and stay within a certain mood and go wild."

Cage, 45, smiles when he hears of Herzog's commendation. He prefers to think of his uncaged "pig" as more "theatre of the imagination" than anything else, but for Bad Lieutenant, a loose remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 original, he did get really physical. Cage plays a good cop turned evil by a combination of pain, addiction and wanton sexuality.

"The first thing I looked at was the physicality," Cage said in an interview during the recent Toronto International Film Festival, where Bad Lieutenant, which opens Friday, had its North American debut.

"The character had a serious back injury, and I thought that would give me an opportunity like Richard the Third to do something with my body language."

That's an understatement. Cage approached his Terence McDonagh character with such bug-eyed intensity, he looks onscreen like one of Ralph Steadman's surreal drawings of the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. It's easily the most self-destructive character Cage has played since his Oscar-winning 1995 performance in Leaving Las Vegas.

Cage did such a convincing job using the fake cocaine for the role, he had Herzog thinking he was using the real thing.

"Werner, shockingly enough, would think I was really doing it, and he'd say, `What's in that vial?' And I'm like, `Oh, please! Don't ask me that now when we're about to do a take!' I got so frustrated one time I yelled, `It's coke!' Just because you can't pull me out of my prep."

How exactly do you prepare for the role of cop who can barely stand upright, yet who manages to summon enough energy to consume mass quantities of illegal drugs, to wave a massive firearm around, and beat, rape and steal from the people he's supposed to be policing?

"I would start to psych up and do the physical thing with my back, and also just start ramping up in my mind that I was on this speed-like coke or crack, and get into it and really believe in it," Cage said.

"I didn't want to glamorize the drugs. I wanted to show the hideousness of the effect of them, both in terms of his behaviour as well as in terms of his physical facial expressions. I thought that different drugs would create different facial expressions as well."

The music of New Orleans plays a big part in the movie and in Cage's performance. Both Cage and Herzog feel a strong affinity with the swamp city, and it begins with jazz.

"I try to hear sounds and New Orleans is a city of jazz, the birthplace of jazz," Cage said. "I don't consider acting to be any different from painting or music. There really is no top when it comes to imagination, just as a painting isn't over the top or that a music you wouldn't say is over the top. Why not consider doing that with acting?"

Herzog marvelled at how quickly Cage tuned in: "In a way, he was reborn in New Orleans. Seeing him in that environment, I knew that he wasn't making it up."

A lot of people think there are two Nicolas Cages on the big screen. One who does small-budget dramas like Bad Lieutenant, where the character is often hard to like, and the other in Hollywood fare like the National Treasure franchise, where Cage plays a wise-cracking action hero type.

"I see one actor who's eclectic and who feels lucky to be eclectic," Cage countered.

"I know that when you make a decision to make more than one kind of movie there is a chance that it's going to ruffle some feathers, but I can't worry about that. I can't take that personally.

"As I get older and think about the power of film, and to me that power is the ability to change people's minds, the more I want to be responsible with it and the less interested I am in putting a big sign on my head saying, `Look at me, I'm a star!'"

He is, however, willing to be a swine, but only for the right script and the right director.

New Exhibit, DVD Put Art In Motion

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(November 14, 2009) The
National Film Board is still alive and well – well, barely. But back in the day the "NFB" – "enough bees," as I heard it as a little kid – conjured up the same magic as hearing about Disney.

Disney meant cartoons. The NFB meant something more: animation. It meant squiggling lines tying themselves into knots of flowers, a world war fought in your backyard, or blue rectangles jazz-dancing. Way crazier than Disney cartoons, NFB animation made its own weird sense, even if you didn't know what that meant. Enough bees? Okay.

Two events recall those halcyon days that followed on the arrival in 1941 of experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren – at the invitation of the NFB's first director, John Grierson – and the beginning of the glory days of Canadian animation.

One is the recent release of Animation Express, a NFB "greatest hits" collection with 26 of its classic films on DVD with a total of 39 films offered in its Blu-ray edition.

Produced by the NFB's Marc Bertrand, each compilation – the DVD group runs more than three hours, the Blu-ray over five hours – includes old and new gems such as Madame Tutli-Putli, the 2007 multi-award winning stop animation film by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.

Then there's "Eleven in Motion: Abstract Expressions in Animation," opening Nov. 18 at Christopher Cutts Gallery. This exhibition of 11 original animations is "inspired" by Painters Eleven, the posse of hard-living Toronto-based Abstract Expressionists whose swagger through the 1950s is not likely soon to be forgotten.

"Eleven in Motion" also aims to rekindle our appreciation of the enormous jolt of creativity that fuelled NFB animation in the '40s and '50s, says curator Madi Piller, head of Toronto Animated Image Society. TAIS helped organized the exhibition's premiere last Wednesday at a Cinematheque Ontario showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Going further, "Eleven in Motion" also represents tacit criticism of what Piller calls the current NFB "mandate," which in her eyes inhibits the unfettered freedom of expression enjoyed in the board's early days. At the time, McLaren and his confreres seemingly operated out of their own kind of underground in the very bosom of the government. Like mysterious aesthetic operatives making exploding art, their work was forever sparking official outrage and censure.

"We want to produce things that show a total freedom," she says. "The NFB once gave everyone a lot of freedom. But does it still do it? I don't know. Even if you look at McLaren's films over the years, you can see he moved from a very abstract sense of doing things to something that existed more with the NFB mandate."

Going to Painters Eleven as the touchstone of her project was a smart call on Piller's part last summer, as she began casting about for animators "who were definitely abstract in their work," as she explains, "but were also part of the painterly tradition."

Her budget allowed for only $5,000 per animator. And she soon found that "most of them had only a vague recollection of the Painters Eleven. That meant doing research on their part, in talking to people who knew someone in Painters Eleven or finding what is out there on the Internet."

Yet her sense of timing feels right. From the hugely successful late-career William Ronald show at the Cutts gallery in 2000 – Ronald died in 1998 – to the ongoing advocacy of Painters Eleven by curator David Liss of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, there's a growing sense that a revival is at hand for the 11 leaders of English Canada's charge into Abstract Expressionism.

Formed in 1954 around painter William Ronald, Painters Eleven energized "boom town" Toronto in the late '50s before they officially disbanded in 1960. As viewed internationally, however, they were seen as merely a subset of New York's painters of the period, and even of British abstraction.

Toronto animator Ellen Besen knew quickly she wanted to respond to the masculine world of Tom Hodgson. Painters Eleven was not short of macho extroverts, from dapper Harold Town to the swagger of William Ronald. But Hodgson – an Olympic paddler-turned-swashbuckling painter in the Willem de Kooning painterly mould – was as fond of his pleasures as anyone. With Stroke, Besen matches the sexuality of a paddle stroke thrust into water with Hodgson's application of paint. Pasquale LaMontagna – a 29-year-old British Columbia-born commercial animator whose William's Creatures sexily riffs on one of Ronald's later watercolours – understood little about Painters Eleven "until this project came up," as he tells me. LaMontagna knew little about Abstract Expressionism, too. "But what I was looking for is something with an animated quality to it," he says.

It seems he found it. The "creatures" in LaMontagna's three-minute homage are in fact sperm-like squiggles of paint, dipping this and that way but ceaselessly moving forward. Unaware of Ronald's considerable sexual presence, LaMontagna worried whether the painter, if alive, would have hated his interpretation.

"No way," said a friend who knew Ronald. "He would have loved it."

Piller's gang of 11 mostly respond in inventive ways to the mentors, from Inner View, Patrick Jenkins's meditative take on Kazuo Nakamura's glass animations, to The End Is The Beginning, Craig Marshall's savvy appropriations of painter Ray Mead's spiky imagery and thorny motifs.

For the Cutts installation, 11 original paintings will be hung alongside 11 monitors, each provided with earphones.

"Eleven in Motion: Abstract Expressions in Animation" is at Christopher Cutts Gallery, 21 Morrow Ave., www.cuttsgallery.com, until Nov. 25.

Peter Goddard is a Toronto freelance writer. He can be reached at

Prom Night In Mississippi: Actor, Teens Break Down Old Barriers

Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard

Prom Night In Mississippi
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)
A documentary about the first racially integrated prom. Written and directed by Paul Saltzman. 90 minutes. At the Varsity, Kennedy Commons and SilverCity Mississauga. PG

(November 13, 2009)  The kids have the right idea in Charleston, Miss.  It's their parents with their Jim Crow sensibilities who have kept black and white apart on the dance floor for decades, insisting on two senior proms – one black, one white.

"How stupid can that be?" asks actor
Morgan Freeman, who grew up in this small southern town and still has a home nearby.

Told by the kids that this is just the way it's always been, he observes: "Tradition is one thing. Idiocy is another."

So Freeman repeats an offer he made, which was rejected, 11 years before: if the kids organize an integrated prom, he'll pay for it.

The senior class enthusiastically accepts.

"What's our limit?" one girl asks.

"You set the limit," Freeman responds, an encouragement that goes far beyond the financial.

Toronto filmmaker and former civil rights worker Paul Saltzman's doc Prom Night in Mississippi turns cameras on Freeman, his home town and the teens who live there to explore how, in a high school integrated for more than 35 years with a 70 per cent black population, white parents have forced the kids to attend racially segregated proms for decades.

It's difficult to comprehend the existence of institutionalized racism in the 21st century and it's tragic to realize that Charleston is not some isolated pocket of backwater ignorance.

In Montgomery County, Ga., proms are still segregated, The New York Times reported in May.

And in October, a Louisiana justice of the peace refused to marry a couple because the bride was white and groom was black, saying it's morally wrong.

The good-ole-boy daddy of 17-year-old Heather thinks the same.

She's a sweetly unsophisticated white girl in love with fellow senior Jeremy, who is black.

They've never been allowed to date, but plan to go to the prom together.

Like the other teens interviewed for the doc, when they speak about their experiences with racism, their parents' hatred, their missed opportunities because of skin colour, their frustration is evident.

The teens take us around their town and into their lives, with Saltzman using illustrations to recreate scenes he couldn't film, including a nasty whites-only meeting, where parents came down hard on the idea of a mixed prom and insisted an all-white version be organized.

While the white event has its tensions and problems, the integrated prom goes off smoothly, from the opening dance to the senior walk.

The couples proudly parade, the names of the girl and her escort are announced to the room, a mannered ritual of the south – one worth keeping, judging from the cheers from the students.


Morgan Freeman appears at a benefit screening of Prom Night in Mississippi Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Varsity theatre for Moving Beyond Prejudice initiative


DiManno: Battle of the Blades Mostly About The Babes

Source: www.thestar.com -
Rosie DiManno

(November 16, 2009) They're chicks with shticks.

Figure skating savvy and showtime dazzle: Olympic gold, world gold and silver, performance platinum.

Not to take anything away from the guys, those ex-NHL fancy-skating scrubeenies, the lovable mooks without whom there would have been no instantly iconic Canadiana TV show. But it's really been mostly about the babes on
Battle of the Blades, holding things together and graciously crediting their rookie partners.

The tricks, the razzmatazz and, frankly, the balls – in teensy size 2 packages that pack an athletic wallop alongside their hulking and, it would appear, rather smitten borrowed men. While it takes nerves for a Macho Male to emote to music in velvet and frills – off their rockers, as teased by some – it's the belles of the blades who've shown guts 'n' grit.

Still standing, if now and then dropped on their heads: Jamie Salé, Marie-France Dubreuil and Shae-Lynn Bourne.

Their temporarily significant others: Craig Simpson, Stéphane Richer and Claude Lemieux.

Figure skating crossed with hockey equals television hit and who would have thunk it? And why had nobody thunk of it sooner?

Certainly the sweet hockey schmos slid quickly into that chronic hand-holding, forehead kissing, arms-around-the-waist embracing thing that pairs and ice dance teams learn in pupa-hood. Looked like they'd been doing it their whole lives, last night, at poignantly resurrected Maple Leaf Gardens as guest celebrity judge Doug Gilmour was left visibly agog.

So, just what do you know about figure skating, Killer? "Um, nothing.''

But would you participate next time, if there is a next time, and surely there should be a next time? "Uh ... don't know.''

On the subject of the Gardens, at least, Gilmour was more articulate: "Haven't been in here since 1999. There are some great memories in this shrine.''

Now, some unlikely new ones too, in the kooky and kitschy format of an ersatz skating competition that blended two great national sports.

Tonight, a championship Blades duo will be declared. There will be cheers. There might possibly be tears, because, while there's no crying in hockey, it's all but mandatory in figure skating. On Sunday evening, Richer got a head start, choking up after the final performance, last time out with the elegant, dramatically gorgeous Dubreuil – "my 90-second lover.''

Golly. Never got quotes like that in a hockey dressing room.

The transformation has been complete, from hard-nosed hockey grizzlers to smooth, sultry and smouldering figurists. Lemieux, as sexually smokin' idol, even executed a throw-jump last night with Bourne, which raised the bar on side-by-side waltz jumps by Simpson and Salé.

The delightful series concludes this evening, when viewer votes will determine which tandem has earned the charity-earmarked $100,000 prize and crystal trophy.

And, hoo-boy, have Canadians ever been watching. More than 1.7 million pairs of eyeballs, on average, glued to the set every competition Sunday these past seven weeks, a cumulative audience reach of more than 10 million, lots of watercooler buzz the next day.

Last night, the pairs made their final on-ice pitch for public favour, routines more closely approximating real competition programs as the former NHLers have become increasingly assured on their toe-picks: More skating, less draping and plenty of he-man overhead lifts.

"They bought into this hook, line and sinker,'' said Paul Martini, approvingly. "It became a game-on affair for these guys because some things just never change. They're all so competitive.''

The world pairs champion, with partner (and eliminated Blades participant) Barbara Underhill, will perform during tonight's results show, as will Salé and hubby David Pelletier, Canada's sweethearts – and very nearly gold-shafted – from the Salt Lake City Olympics.

They'll skate with polish because it's their profession, even if, like Underhill and Martini, decades removed from their triumphs. But there has been something quite charming and smile-inducing about watching hockey players – figure skating-challenged in so basic a component as stroking backwards – get genuinely caught up in the Blades mano-a-mano, interpreting the music and practising the choreography, legitimizing the athleticism of a sport often disdained as too effete and unmanly.

As Lemieux said: to show that "it's okay for tough guys to put on figure skates and tight pants and go do it.'' Although perhaps he was just a wee bit over the top with this observation on his go-for-the-win skate: "It's just like playing in a Stanley Cup final and it's overtime and you've got a breakaway and your heart's pounding.''

Anyway, they were all brought back last night, those ex-NHLers voted out over the previous weeks, Tie Domi and Bob Probert, Glenn Anderson and Ron Duguay, the bunch of them, for a final bump-and-grind-past, a hip-shimmy before the fade to black.

Those still in the competition all got scores of straight 6's across the board, so they're even-up as the public's votes are tabulated.

As a card-carrying member of the Canadian Figure Skating Writers Association, I know who should win, based on the finals performance. But where would figure skating be without a judging controversy?

Here's hoping for a Blades-gate scandal.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Cory Monteith: Glee And Be Seen

www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(November 17, 2009)  "Glee," it has been said, "is like High School Musical ... if someone had punched it in the stomach and taken its lunch money."

I have been quoting that incredibly apt description of the runaway hit musical comedy series (Wednesdays at 9 on Fox and Global) ever since its debut ... without knowing who originally said it.

Mystery solved. "That was me," grins
Cory Monteith, Glee's Calgary-born star, in Toronto this week on a quick swing through Canada after appearing on Saturday's hometown Gemini broadcast.

"There may have been a trace of bitterness in there," he allows. "I was really getting tired of people comparing the two, because Glee is so not High School Musical.

"So you now have my express permission to use that quote whenever you want."

The confusion might have been initially understandable, he concedes. "I mean, okay, it's musical and it is set in a high school ..."

But that's where it stops, as Glee's exponentially growing fan base – the self-proclaimed "Gleeks" – will enthusiastically attest.

And just as Glee is no High School Musical, Cory Monteith is not Zac Efron, his HSM equivalent as the jock who discovers he's just gotta sing.

He has even less in common with his own onscreen alter ego, Glee's quarterback warbler Finn Hudson.

Monteith never played football in high school. Or sang in high school. In fact, he barely went to high school at all, dropping out in his first year.

And that was more than a dozen years ago.

"I flipped off high school at a very young age," he shrugs. "I had bigger fish to fry, getting in trouble with all my friends and running away from home and bulls--t like that."

At 27, Monteith may be TV's oldest teenager and certainly one of the oldest on Glee – "I think Mark (Salling, his mohawked co-star) is around the same age."

The way Glee's ratings keep soaring, they both better hope to hold onto their deceptively youthful appearances. "I know. I'm going to be `young-ish,' or `young-esque,' by the time we get to Season 4," Monteith jokes.

Mind you, at this point, even the onset of arthritis, liver spots and male pattern baldness could not significantly slow down the momentum of Monteith's career.

"I have a record deal," marvels Monteith, already additionally featured on the just-released Glee soundtrack album. "What the hell is that?

"I have a (solo) recording contract with Columbia. I mean, seriously. It really doesn't make any sense to me when I think about it. It probably doesn't make sense to a lot of people if you think about it."

Ten years ago, it was a different story. "I remember, when I was 17 and playing drums in a band in Victoria, the A&R (artists and repertoire) staff from Atlantic Records came up to take a look at us. We were out of our minds, we were so excited."

Now he knows better. The last few years, the music career has been on hold while he sought work as an actor.

"I call myself a working-class actor," he says. "You know, you go from one one-line gig to the next one-line gig, to a couple of episodes on this show, a couple of episodes on that show, to a small part in a movie ..."

At the same time, he was keeping his drumming hand in with a progressive metal band in New Westminster. "It wasn't anything terribly compelling: kind of King Crimson meets Queens of the Stone Age. Interesting stuff. It sure wasn't Glee.

"But that was the last six years of my career. I was getting by, for sure. I was making a good living. But it really wasn't a life, per se."

Fortunately, there was another life waiting just around the corner. Though Monteith had no idea at the time. "No clue, not a clue," he admits, even once he got his hands on the first Glee script and decided to apply.

"I mean, I could tell by reading the pilot episode that it was a well-written script. But you never know. You never know from the script where a show is going."

Or whether you'll be going with it. Though his audition tape from Canada was apparently well-received, it wasn't enough to convince the studio to fly him down for a first-hand look.

"They were basically, `We like you, but not enough to test you.' Or words to that effect.

"So I got in my car and drove down from Canada."

And even once he got down and got in, it was by no means a sure thing. "It was one of the last roles cast," he says. "When I got into the call-back, there were, like, 25 or 30 other dudes, all up for the same part. We all looked the same: 30 tall, quarterback-looking dudes, all in one room."

But when it was over, only one remained. And that was when the real work started.

Glee's average production week, says Monteith, can run as long as seven days. And that's just the actual shooting. "We get as much (rehearsal time) as they can possibly find for us. So when we're not actually shooting, we're rehearsing the dances and recording the songs."

And when they're not doing either, they're doing promotion.

Monteith is still trying to wrap his head around a recent trip to Australia, where the fan reaction was several decibels beyond deafening.

"Seriously, " he says, "I have never in my life heard anyone scream like that. I'm looking around at the others and going, `Hey, guys ... this is, like, a whole other continent!'"

It isn't any less alarming closer to home. "We were doing this mall appearance, and they were selling Glee T-shirts and then getting us to autograph them. And this lady had gone off and cut and sewed hers up into a onesie and put it on her baby. And then she brought the baby up to be autographed.

"It's very flattering, in a way. But I can't help but wonder how that kid will grow up."

I'm guessing as a Glee fan.

Local Programming Dying, CTV tells CRTC hearing

Source: www.thestar.com -
Iain Marlow

(November 16, 2009) GATINEAU, QUEBEC – The debate for the future of Canadian television is on.

CRTC hearings began Monday morning in a room packed with media executives, as CTVglobemedia argued that local TV programming is threatened unless the federal government intervenes in the current Canadian television regime.

In his opening statements, the chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission,
Konrad von Finckenstein, attempted to cut through the multi-million dollar ad campaigns launched by both sides.

"This hearing is not about the past," von Finckenstein told the room. "It is not about enshrining or protecting old business models. And it is not about taxing consumers."

The broadcasters, including CTV and CBC, want the right to charge cable companies for local programming. The cable and satellite carriers, led by telecom heavyweight Rogers Communications Inc., are resisting.

CTV suggested Canadians be offered a "skinny basic" television package – essentially, basic cable – at a low-cost rate fixed by the government, one that could only be increased by carriers with CRTC approval.

The broadcasters also argued that they want the right to negotiate a fee for their local channels from the cable and satellite companies, on a station-by-station basis. The CRTC has twice rejected broadcasters' arguments in previous hearings on the issue.

Von Finckenstein's opening statements seemed conciliatory to the broadcasters' argument – that the decline in advertising for local TV stations means Canadians may lose out on programming that reflects their communities. But his tough questioning reflected the CRTC's predicament: the federal agency is now, as it has been in the past, stuck between two highly antagonistic entities, and is faced with the possibility that it may inadvertently pass on costs to average consumers.

CTVglobemedia president and CEO Ivan Fecan, part of a large CTV group that included lawyers and U.S. consultants, told the commission what the broadcasters have argued in previous hearings on the "fee for carriage" issue, that the business model for local television is broken.

"Mountains of evidence has been filed in all of the hearings leading up to this one, demonstrating that the conventional business model is permanently compromised, that this is a long-term structural trend exacerbated by the recession," Fecan said.

With a furrowed brow, von Finckenstein questioned the assembled CTV executives, growing visibly frustrated by the broadcasters' arguments. The implication of CTV's arguments, von Finckenstein said, would lead to extra charges thrown at the average consumer, because of bickering between corporate giants who do big business with each other.

"You are in a symbiotic relationship," von Finckenstein said. "There has got to be a symbiotic solution."

Rogers, which began making its case in the early afternoon, came out swinging – saying that any type of negotiations would almost certainly turn sour, leading to signal blackouts and widespread consumer backlash. Nadir Mohamed, Rogers' CEO, lambasted what he called broadcasters' "destructive overspending" on U.S. programming. He also insinuated that the broadcasters' had failed to adopt to shifts in technology.

"They do not need a bailout," Mohamed said.

Rogers argued, as it has all along, that a fee-for-carriage-like proposal was unacceptable, that it combined what it saw as the worst of the U.S. system – signal compensation – and the worst of the Canadian system, which currently dictates mandatory carriage, mingled with Canadian content regulations.

"We are prepared to help broadcasters reinvigorate their business models for the digital and Internet age," Mohamed told the commission. "We are not prepared, however, to support a fundamentally flawed compensation proposal."

CRTC chair von Finckenstein seemed extremely frustrated by much of Rogers testimony before the committee, putting his head down in his hands at times, and repeating one idea throughout his long line of questioning.

"I must say I find your responses not very helpful, you're taking a very dogmatic stance rather than trying to understand what I'm asking from you," he said. "I think you and the (over-the-air broadcasters) are destroying each other."

Throughout the hearings, von Finckenstein kept asking why both sides couldn't negotiate among themselves and then come to the CRTC with a proposal, which it could either approve or reject. When he asked the assembled Rogers' executives why they couldn't just negotiate, which is what the broadcasters want, Lind replied: "We don't have our hand out. They do."

The hearings will continue for two weeks, with testimony from a variety of stakeholders from ordinary citizens to other broadcasters, cable and satellite providers, and groups concerned with Canadian content, such as ACTRA, the actors' union.

Konrad von Finckenstein Berates TV, Cable Executives

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Grant Robertson

(November 15, 2009) Gatineau, Que. — Canada's big television networks and the cable industry have fought a bitter war against each other in recent months, but the two sides came under attack from a common enemy Monday – Konrad von Finckenstein.

Looking visibly frustrated and angry with executives from both sides, the head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission lashed out at the networks and the cable companieshttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/mag-glass_10x10.giffor refusing to negotiate with each other on fees the broadcasters want to collect.

“I think you and the [broadcasters] are destroying each other,” Mr. von Finckenstein told Rogers Communications Inc. (RCI.B-T33.340.732.24%) chief executive officerhttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/mag-glass_10x10.gifNadir Mohamed and vice-chairman Phil Lind.

His comments came on the first day of contentious federal hearings to discuss a proposal by the big TV networks – CTV, Global and CBC – to begin charging cable and satellite companies for their signals. The debate has dominated the industry over the past few years, but was taken to a new level of bitterness this summer when each side began running attack ads trying to paint the other as greedy, cash grabbing businesses.

The TV networks want to collect about 50 cents a month per subscriber from the cable and satellite companies, arguing they make rich profits reselling their signals to consumers. The distribution companies have vowed to fight the idea at all costs, and say they will pass those fees onto consumers as a TV tax if the idea is approved.

Though Mr. von Finckenstein is well known for his gruff and abrasive approach, he raised his voice at the Rogers executives, though directing his comments also at CTV, which testified earlier in the day.

“We are talking about money. You make this sound like a religious crusade,” Mr. von Finckenstein said. “I don't know why you two don't realize it's in your long-run interests to come to some solution, rather than scaring the daylights out of Canadians.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Rogers accused the networks of being locked in an “irrational” bidding war for U.S. programming, telling the CRTC that the broadcasters should not be allowed to collect the fees.

Mr. Mohamed said the networks don't need more money to support cash-strapped local television stations.

“The destructive overspending by CTV and CanWest on U.S. programming is well known,” Mr. Mohamed said.

His comments came after Canada's largest television network, CTV, asked the CRTC during a morning presentation to let it seek compensation from cable and satellite companies for its signal.

CTV argued the subscription money is needed to stabilize local television stations, but the cable industry argues the cost of operating outlets in small markets is not the problem.

Instead, the annual trips the networks take to buy Hollywood shows such as House and Grey's Anatomy are costing too much, Rogers argued.

The cable companyhttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/mag-glass_10x10.gifsaid CRTC figures show growth in spending by Canadian networks on U.S shows grew to more than $700-million in 2008 from roughly $400-million in 2000.

The cable company said that increase of about 75 per cent compared to signal growth of about 16 per cent for the broadcaster.

Rogers, which owns its own conventional network, CITY-TV, says it believes the business can operate without subscription fees, relying solely on ad revenue rather than the subscriber fees cable channels enjoy.

Despite its criticism of U.S. program buying, Rogers has also become a more aggressive buyer of foreign shows since purchasing the CITY-TV network in 2007.

Rogers told analysts in the summer that its program expenditures have risen significantly as it buys up more programs for CITY's prime-time schedule. Executives with the company said Monday they spent $88-million on foreign programming last year at CITY-TV, compared to what they estimated was more than $350-million for CTV.

The TV networks overwhelmingly rely on more popular U.S. prime-time programs to drive their advertising revenue, since it is those shows that dominate the ratings and command higher ad rates.

On Monday morning, CTV proposed a major shakeup of the Canadian television sector that would see the country's large networks yank their signal or black out popular programming if they are unable to agree to financial terms with cable and satellite carriers.

The concept was formally put on the table at Monday morning's CRTC hearings.

Executives with CTV, the country's largest conventional TV network, told the regulator a negotiating “regime” needs to be put in place. Under the plan, CTV said networks would have to decide every three years whether they wanted to negotiate compensation for their signals with distributors, but would have to give up their guaranteed priority carriage to get it.

(Current regulations require that the big networks get guaranteed carriage on cable in a place that is low on the dial.) If a deal can't be reached, the networks would have the right to pull their signals off cable and satellite services such as those owned by Rogers and Shaw Communications Inc. (SJR.B-T19.780.080.41%) The networks would also have the right to force the cable companies to black out programs to which they own the rights in Canada that are also shown on U.S. networks.

CTV and Global buy the Canadian rights to many top U.S shows that are also shown on U.S. networks available in Canada. Currently, the networks are allowed to have their Canadian signals run during the U.S broadcast, including commercials they sell, if the shows are aired at the same time.

Having the right to black out shows would give the broadcasters more of a hammer in negotiations with the distributors, which the networks argue have become too powerful.

Mr. von Finckenstein told CTV the proposal would anger consumers and said he was frustrated by the “confrontational” nature of relations between the broadcasters and distributors.

“Isn't this the same as a strike?” Mr. von Finckenstein asked. “When you have a strike both sides lose. But here it's not only both sides but the consumer as well.”

CTV said a similar system used in the U.S. in negotiations between TV networks and the cable and satellite distributors has only resulted in a small number of disruptions, and has otherwise created negotiations between the two sides.

“The signal will be available over the air, so the consumer won't be harmed. It is the [cable and satellite distributor] that would be harmed,” CTVglobemdia Inc. chief executivehttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/mag-glass_10x10.gifofficer Ivan Fecan said.

Mr. von Finckenstein said he was concerned the proposal would end up costing consumers more.

“We subsidized the construction of their nation-wide delivery systems that have enabled digital services, telephony and Internet businesses,” Mr. Fecan said. “They have grown rich off the 40-year investment we made in them. And now it's time to benefit from our investment.”

“We need to collect what is ours, or we need to walk away in whole or in part. Our investors deserve nothing less,” Mr. Fecan said.

The network told the CRTC that almost six million Canadians watch Canadian local programs on conventional stations at dinner time, according to ratings tracker BBM Canada.

“What we're saying is, let the market decide. If we are creating value, we need to get paid for it,” Mr. Fecan said. “It would be an old-fashioned negotiation.”

As a business, small-market local TV does not earn back its cost of capital plus a competitive profit margin, CTV said.

Mr. Fecan told the CRTC that those who believed they could run a local station better have missed “a golden opportunity” to buy TV stations on the cheap this year.

Both CTV and CanWest Global Communications Corp. attempted to shed stations this year for the cost of a few dollars, provided the buyer was willing to absorb ongoing losses and assume the associated debt. Stations in Hamilton and Montreal were sold for $6 each, while stations in Red Deer, Alta., and Brandon, Man., were shut down when no buyer could be found.

“Any cable company, or any producer could have stepped forward and bought them for the cost of two double-doubles and a box of Timbits,” Mr. Fecan said.

CTV is owned by CTVglobemedia, which is also the parent company of The Globe and Mail.

The hearings come after months of public battles between the cable and satellite distributors and the big conventional TV networks.

The broadcasters have said in TV commercials that the fees would help save cash-strapped local TV stations, though the CRTC is concerned about whether the money would be targeted at the small markets that need it most.

The cable companies, in ads of their own, have branded the idea a TV tax, and have vowed to pass any costs on to consumers. If allowed, the proposal would probably add a few dollars to a monthly cable or satellite bill in most markets.

However, the proposal has been estimated to be worth about $70-million a year in new revenue to each TV network, based on an earlier suggestion of charging 50 cents per subscriber each month.

Mr. von Finckenstein opened the day telling the industry the hearings were nothing short of a procedure to determine the future of Canada's television sector.

“This hearing is not about the past,” he said. “And it's not about taxing consumers.”

In addition to discussing the fee debate, the hearings will also look at creating a new licensing regime for Canadian TV that would evaluate broadcasters as groups rather than individual assets.

For example, CTV and Global's conventional networks are now licensed separately from their more profitable specialty channels on cable. If those assets were taken together, the CRTC believes it could get a clearer picture of the profitability of the broadcasters, rather than looking only at the struggles of local television stations separately.

CTV owns specialty channels such as TSN and Bravo, while CanWest owns channels such as HGTV and the Food Network.

The hearings will also look at whether spending limits should be placed on how much the big networks can spend on foreign programming. There have been concerns at the regulator that the escalating amount the networks have spent in recent years bidding against each other for the rights to new shows from Hollywood has hurt their financial situation.

More than usual for these types of hearings, the audience on Monday was dotted with industry executives for opening testimony from CTV, including Rogers' Mr. Mohamed and CanWest CEO Leonard Asper.

Canadians In The Thrall Of The Prisoner

Source: www.thestar.com -
Rob Salem

(November 14, 2009) "Be seeing you ... eh?"

Before the original
Prisoner was packed off to Portmeirion, he made a stop first here in Canada.

Canadian viewers were actually the first to see the original The Prisoner series in its world premiere airing, on CTV in September of 1967, almost a month before its British debut and another nine before it finally aired in the U.S. (as a summer replacement for Jackie Gleason).

Canadians are appropriately now among the show's most ardent fans, further fuelled here in Ontario a decade later by a repeat run on TVO featuring commentary by broadcaster Warner Troyer and followed by a 35-minute Toronto-shot studio interview with the series star and creator, Patrick McGoohan. (See transcripts at www.cultv.co.uk/mcgoohan.htm and streaming video on YouTube.)

Another decade or so later, another TVO employee would find inspiration in that interview – Mark Askwith, then the co-creating producer of Prisoners of Gravity, the channel's seminal science-fiction TV newsmagazine, and currently a producer at the Space channel.

In 1988, Askwith collaborated with artist Dean Motter on an authorized comic-book Prisoner sequel, Shattered Visage, a four-issue series later collected as a self-contained graphic novel, and recently re-released by DC Comics.

Taking cues from the 1977 TVO interview, the pair determined that they "wanted to discover the fate of The Village, and its most famous prisoner, Number Six. We both wanted to return to a derelict Village," Askwith recalls.

"But when I was plotting the story, I was flummoxed by the notion of why Number Six would remain in The Village. Then it came to me in a dream. Our lead character asked him that very question, and he replied: `I was free to go, so I was free to stay.'"

Continuing the story in comic-book form meant securing likeness rights from McGoohan, and also Askwith's (and most fans') favourite "Number Two," Leo McKern.

"They had to approve our work," Askwith says. "McKern graciously wrote me back, praising the story. McGoohan confessed that he `didn't hate it.'"

By all reports, McGoohan was similarly indifferent to the new AMC miniseries. "He was very, very supportive ... of the casting," hedges producer Trevor Hopkins, adding that though McGoohan was himself offered a cameo role, he was by then too ill to travel (he died in January).

The current casting does however reaffirm The Prisoner's Canadian connection, with St. Catharines' Jeffrey R. Smith playing James Caviezel's brother, a.k.a. Number 16.

10 Most Important TV Shows Of The Past Decade

Source: www.thestar.com

(November 13, 2009) A decade into the millennium, the
TV landscape has irrevocably changed, while exponentially expanding to include the new digital platforms.

But in fact, the decade's major TV trends began in the 1990s, including the explosion of "reality" TV, an amalgam of game show, variety and pseudo-documentary.

Its equivalent "big bang" was the summer of 2000, when the existing hit Who Wants to be a Millionaire combined with the freshman Survivor – both American franchise shows based on imported formats – to rule a summer season traditionally dominated by reruns.

The other major contributing factor was the looming threat of a writers' strike, which did not actually materialize for another seven years, by which time cheaper, actor-unencumbered programming had gone from an option to an absolute necessity.

As the decade began, cable TV was just coming into its own, with Sex and the City and Oz embracing language and situations no network dared touch. Then along came The Sopranos, the ultimate game-changer, staking out pay cable as the new home of Emmy-quality drama.

The American networks, if only out of desperation, tentatively, selectively, looked outside their own box, incidentally reinventing the single-camera sitcom and the criminal/medical procedural.

Meanwhile, in our own country, Corner Gas turned a corner by proving that we are willing to watch our own shows. Even when they do not involve Don Cherry.

Rob Salem


They don't call it the Death Star for nothing.

It's true that American Idol 's viewership has slipped, like that of network TV in general, but it still destroys most other shows in the ratings (hence its Star Wars-inspired nickname).

Like its reality TV cousin Survivor, Idol spun off from an idea first conceived in the United Kingdom, a program called Pop Idol. The U.S. version of the singing competition, which debuted on June 11, 2002, became a mammoth hit.

It combines the mythology of the American dream – i.e., that anyone can be a star – with a healthy dose of Schadenfreude. Its well-worn template allows viewers to be flies on the wall during auditions – all the better to hoot at the truly awful singers who are always part of the mix. Then they get to cheer on their favourites, whose backstories are parcelled out throughout the season, as the musical wheat gets separated from the chaff with weekly performance shows.

In addition, Idol gives its U.S. viewers something Survivor and its ilk don't: a vote. When Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert this year, nearly 100 million votes were cast, a record for the show.

Its other secret weapon is Simon Cowell, the British judge whose biting criticism has made him a favourite. This season, alas, he won't have loopy Paula Abdul to spar with. (She left the show over a contract dispute, to be replaced by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.)

The Idol formula has been successfully applied to other competition shows, most faithfully the So You Think You Can Dance franchise.

Despite controversies (over voting and the suitability of contestants), the cheesiness of the format and the endless product placement (Ford commercials anyone?), Idol looks set to remain part of the zeitgeist for some time to come.

Debra Yeo


This 2001 HBO miniseries – at $125 million the most expensive ever made – proved to premium cable viewers that they were getting their money's worth.

Using the model of their extremely visceral 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg came together again to sculpt this 10-part tale, based on the book by biographer Stephen Ambrose.

Since nothing could rival the horror of the D-Day landing scene in Ryan, where we hear the whoosh of bullets and watch them spear through Allied soldiers, this miniseries instead elegiacally tracks the personal tales of the men of Easy Company, an airborne division, from basic training through the hell of World War II, with each episode kicked off by a grizzled veteran's testimony. Then we are whisked into the dramatic re-enactment of what happened to these real-life soldiers and how they struggled, against great pain and continuing loss, from airborne landings where they were tragically parachuted behind enemy lines, through battles leading up to the demise of Hitler.

The resulting tapestry of war, seen not from a detached historian's viewpoint but from inside the heads and hearts of these soldiers as each walked a dangerous path to his destiny, is remarkable. Damian Lewis played Maj. Richard Winters, the man who tries desperately to keep his company together amid the unfolding chaos. We also glimpse the profound and disturbing futility of war, which engenders the best, and the worst, of human behaviour. Band of Brothers has sparked a Spielberg miniseries sequel, Pacific, slated to debut in March.

Gord Stimmell


In an interview this year, performer/producer Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall, Slings & Arrows, Less than Kind) generously allowed that Canadian television would forevermore be divided into two distinct eras: before Corner Gas and after.

A tad too generous, if you ask me – his own Slings & Arrows also deserves to be on this list – but his point is well taken. Corner Gas proved once and for all that Canadians are willing to watch their own shows, even when they don't involve hockey.

Usually, we wait for American approval, à la SCTV, Degrassi and Red Green. But Corner Gas never did make much of an impact down south, unlike the others (Slings included). "Too Canadian," my brother and sister critics told me (whatever that means). "We'd need to add a laugh track," the prospective syndicators decided. "Canadian audiences are so much more sophisticated.'' (Okay, we'll take that.)

We certainly proved to be infinitely more receptive to veteran comedian Brent Butt's uniquely dry observational humour – drier even than the Saskatchewan prairie that bore him, and where he set his alternative "life that might have been" at a rural truck-stop in the middle of nowhere, a kind of meta-Mayberry for the ironic age.

Originally intending to cast the show from among his stand-up cohorts, the very hands-on Butt was persuaded to go with actual actors for Corner Gas's oddball ensemble, who immediately filled out and gently humanized what was already on the page.

He also got a wife out of the deal, co-star Nancy "Wanda" Robertson, now cast as lead in his next series, Hiccups. We'll be watching.

Rob Salem


What Hill Street Blues was to Dragnet, CSI became to virtually every police procedural that preceded it – nothing less than a reinvention of the genre, pushing the limits of what stories can be told, how they can be told ... and, thanks to subsequent breakthroughs in CGI technology, just how grotty and disgusting prime-time standards will allow them to be.

CSI started out the unwanted stepchild, the dubious dream of Anthony Zuiker, an excitable former Las Vegas car jockey with absolutely no practical television experience – which actually explains a lot. Originally developed at Disney, the show was suddenly dumped and left to fend for itself, only to be rescued by Canadian-owned Alliance Atlantis.

CSI survived and thrived to rule its Thursday-night time slot, spawn two successful sequel series (and, last week, its first-ever three-way crossover) and have a significant and lasting impact on enrolment in forensic studies, and funding of actual police CSI units.

Rob Salem


Where The Sopranos echoed the mob movies of the 1970s and '80s, Mad Men literally evoked its era, the Camelot of the 1960s – at least, up until this season's shockingly evocative depiction of the impact of the 1963 Kennedy assassination.

As he learned at the feet of Sopranos boss David Chase (who helped shepherd Mad Men into production), showrunner Matt Weiner started with a painstaking recreation of the period, from smouldering office ashtrays to the five-martini lunch. He then began to reveal, ever so slowly, the nuances of his characters-in-transition and compellingly snail-paced storylines.

The secretive employees of the Sterling Cooper (and now Draper Pryce) ad agency have proven to be a career-launching showcase for its Emmy-honoured cast, while its snappy 1960s style has fuelled a thriving retro trend in fashion and design.

Rob Salem


In the 1990s, Ally McBeal made single-camera comedies sexy; in 2001, The Office made them awkward.

There's a British expression that comes to mind for the state of mind of anyone watching the antics of Ricky Gervais's clueless office manager character, David Brent: gobsmacked.

When The Office debuted on BBC Two on July 9, 2001, Gervais wasn't the first to bring "cringe humour" to the small screen.

Seinfeld had George Costanza in the 1990s; Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm debuted in October 2000; and there was a '90s British precursor in I'm Alan Partridge with Steve Coogan.

But David Brent was a special case, with his insecurity, social awkwardness, vulgarity, racism, sexism and galloping political incorrectness, all topped by an astonishing lack of self-awareness.

The show was nearly axed for low ratings in the U.K., but went on to become the first British sitcom to snag a Golden Globe, not to mention six British academy awards and a Peabody.

It's probably the best example of the so-called mockumentary style on TV, a conceit that was successfully transferred to a U.S. version of the series. The American Office is now in its sixth season, having outlasted the original's run of 12 episodes and two Christmas specials.

It has reaped accolades of its own, including a Golden Globe for lead Steve Carell and several Emmys. But Carell's Michael Scott, while still obnoxious and clueless, has been given redeeming characteristics that make him almost likeable.

Debra Yeo


Fuggedaboudit. Which is of course something we could never do. Tony Soprano made an indelible impact on contemporary culture, bringing all the conflicted romance and revulsion we associate with the great modern movie gangsters in The Godfather, Goodfellas and Scarface right into our very homes. And making us love – and dread – every profane, perplexing minute.

Blame David Chase, the former Rockford Files scribe who crafted Tony's dysfunctional family life out of his own lingering mother issues, oversaw every minute detail of production, and masterminded the never-less-than-challenging plot line that always insisted on zigging where you expected it to zag. Notably that controversially ambiguous finale.

The Sopranos also elevated the anti-hero to unprecedented new heights – or rather, depths. Were it not for Tony, would we have ever invested in a sympathetic series protagonist who was a serial killer (Dexter), a crooked cop (The Shield), an alcoholic fireman (Rescue Me), a meth-making science teacher (Breaking Bad), a multi-married Mormon (Big Love), or, most recently, a ruthless, philandering ad exec (Mad Men) and an unfaithful, drug-addicted nurse (Nurse Jackie)?

In the case of the last two, the connection is direct, Mad Men being the inspired creation of Sopranos writer Matt Weiner, and Nurse Jackie starring former Soprano wife Edie Falco.

Rob Salem


The tribe has spoken. And it says that reality shows are here to stay.

When the first 16 Survivor castaways set up camp on the Malaysian island of Pulau Tiga in March 2000, they grounded the tent poles of a trend that's still going strong on North American TV.

It turns out, viewers like watching ordinary people get pitted against one another in extraordinary circumstances, whether it's the physical deprivations and mind games of Survivor, the globetrotting challenges of The Amazing Race or the voyeuristic confinement of Big Brother, to give just a few of many examples.

Survivor, which first aired on CBS on May 31, 2000, wasn't an original. It was based on a Swedish program, Expedition Robinson, that began in 1997 and was itself based on a format developed in the United Kingdom. But the impact of the U.S. series has been mammoth.

By the time the first season ended on Aug. 23, more than 51 million people were watching. A whopping 45 million watched the show's second season, Survivor: The Australian Outback, premiere on Jan. 28, 2001.

Though the show's ratings have declined with each new instalment (up to 19 and counting), the reality template seems to be as deeply ingrained in North American TV as one of Survivor host Jeff Probst's dimples.

With reality shows costing as little as a quarter of the typical budget for scripted programming, networks are still carrying a torch for them. And Survivor still places in the top-20 most-watched programs in North America, and the top 10 in Canada, so it seems viewers are too.

Debra Yeo


When Season 8 starts in January, this heart-thumping series will become the longest-running espionage series in TV history.

Right from the beginning, its format worked: 24 premiered two months into the rubble of 9/11 amid global paranoia and a ballooning Bush war against terrorism. The fact that its plot centres on terrorist threats of enormous magnitude was fortuitous, and fuelled the series' sudden success.

Its hero, brilliant CSU counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), repeatedly and often single-handedly saves the nation from terrible danger. It is a thankless task. Instead of being rewarded with a public medal, he slinks back into obscurity, is imprisoned, or tries to retire – until the next crisis, that is, when he gets dusted off against his will and handed his next impossible mission. His cutthroat methods, which include torturing the bad guys, have provoked a firestorm of criticism. The pacing is frenetic, against the background of a "real time" digital clock, which ticks off the 24 hours of a single day for each season of the show.

What keeps the momentum going? The plots are devilishly complex. Just when you think you know the evildoer, an even-more-wicked mentor is revealed, with some plot threads even arching into the White House. Characters come and go (usually by getting killed) at a furious pace, so Bauer is the glue that holds it all together.

Despite speculation, there's no real sign pouty-faced computer geek Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) will step into his shoes. Fans can look forward to Season 8 in January with the return of Gregory Itzin, who played the Nixon-like Charles Logan, the most slimy U.S. president ever.

Gord Stimmell


One of the great benefits of cable, in addition to freedom from the network limitations of content and ratings-driven advertising, is its ability to embrace and nurture shows of unusually high quality and relatively limited audience appeal. The Wire is the most extreme example, the best show on television nobody was watching.

The interwoven stories and characters, with an entirely different focus for each of its brilliant, all-too-brief five seasons, were ripped from the pages of the Baltimore Sun and the work of former crime reporter David Simon. His non-fiction bestseller, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, was adapted as a similarly titled network series, which he also wrote and produced.

Inevitably frustrated by the constraints of network prime time, he pitched a tougher, even more downbeat version to a reluctant HBO, and then spent the next half-decade labouring in obscurity, beloved by critics and ignored by viewers. The final season, bemoaning the fall of print journalism, featured Toronto actor/director Clark Johnson, who also directed key episodes.

Unappreciated as it may have been, The Wire outlasted other prestige buried treasures that were to follow, such as Deadwood (three seasons), In Treatment (just renewed – barely – for a third) Carnivàle and Rome (two each). And there's always DVD.

Rob Salem


7 Stories: Well Told

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

7 Stories
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 Morris Panych. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson. Until Dec. 5 at Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E.

(November 13, 2009) In the plays of Morris Panych, the laughter and tears live so closely together that one can't speak too loudly for fear of drowning the other out.

The Canadian Stage/Theatre Calgary co-production of
7 Stories which opened at the Bluma Appel Theatre on Thursday night sometimes violates that rule, but it keeps the two in balance for enough of the time to call the final result a success.

The Man, a strange Magritte-like figure with a bowler hat and umbrella, is perched on a window sill, seven storeys up in the air. He obviously intends to jump, but the frantic lives of the people all around him prevent that event from happening – at least for 90 minutes.

There's a distinct musical rhythm to the writing of the scenes here: some staccato, some legato, some stating a theme at great length, others recapitulating it briefly.

It takes a masterful conductor to orchestrate it properly and director Dean Paul Gibson's major fault is to lean on the gas a bit too much near the start of the show and go for a non-stop allegro vivace, which isn't always called for.

But variety mercifully sets in and by the time we reach the long andante sequence with which Panych ends the play, all is well.

The Man is the leading character and Peter Anderson plays him with the right wryly befuddled air: wearing the mask of comedy on top of the mask of tragedy.

But the four other actors get to steal the evening and Panych encourages the larceny with the variety of roles he lets them play.

Christopher Hunt impresses as a sleep-deprived psychiatrist as well as a colour-obsessed decorator, while Rebecca Northan scores as a wronged mistress and a tight-lipped nurse.

Damien Atkins is a knockout, virtually unrecognizable in a trio of parts that include a slimy seducer and a second-rate actor making his mediocrity finally pay off.

And Melody A. Johnson proves that, once again, she is the kook supreme of the Canadian stage, delighting us with a pair of wacky weirdos before breaking our hearts as Lillian, the little old lady whose wisdom wraps the whole play up in a bittersweet bundle.

Ken MacDonald's set is a superb mixture of skyscraper and sky, which Alan Brodie has lit to perfection.

But Panych is the one we should thank the most. Twenty years after its creation, 7 Stories seems more entertaining and yet more relevant than ever. It's the kind of fate that every author should enjoy.

Leslie Arden: The Long Road To Creative Freedom

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(November 14, 2009) If you like puzzles, you will love
Leslie Arden.

The woman generally acknowledged to be the finest composer/lyricist of musical theatre in Canada is known for creating heroines of incredible decisiveness and strength, yet, in her own life, she didn't fully come to grips with her sexuality until well into her 30s. And the creator of some of the most sophisticated work on our stages lives on a working 4-hectare farm near Orangeville and originally thought she was going to pursue a career as a veterinarian.

One more paradox appears in her latest work, The Princess and the Handmaiden, which opens Nov. 19 at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. While ostensibly a simple setting of the fable The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm, it's actually a complex piece of musical theatre that Arden has been working on since 1982.

"I wrote the first draft for three people, one of whom had to also play the piano," Arden recalls, sitting on a sofa in the Lorraine Kimsa offices. "That's all that Prologue for the Performing Arts (the touring group that commissioned the show) could afford."

Years later, producer John McKellar took an interest in it. "With his encouragement, I expanded it to 18 people and then to 35. But then we brought it to Allen MacInnis, who said he would like to do it here but he couldn't handle a cast bigger than 10."

So, after 27 years, the show is finally hitting the stage. That's the longest wait yet for one of Arden's musicals, most of which have been trapped for years in what Hollywood calls "Development Hell."

The House of Martin Guerre, the work on which her reputation rests, has been around for 20 years. Although it has known high-profile, award-winning productions at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Canadian Stage Company here in Toronto, the bigger markets of New York and London remain untapped.

The Boys Are Coming Home, her 1940s musical version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, has been in various workshops for 10 years and productions keep getting announced in Chicago and Ottawa but they somehow never happen.

"In this business, you can never count on anything," says Arden. She recalls one specific occasion. "I was meeting with David Mirvish when his father Ed walked in. David explained to his dad that he was talking about possibly producing a show of mine and Ed said, `I don't know of any other business where there's so much talk and so little action,' and he walked away."

What's fascinating about The Princess and the Handmaiden is that Arden says it deals with a theme that she has been coping with in her personal life over the past few years. "The big question to me is: Can you control your own destiny?"

To answer that, Arden has to go back to the beginning, to Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1957, where she was born Leslie Arden Jenkins to Canadian singer Cleone Duncan and her American performer husband, Paul Howard Jenkins. Arden's parents moved to Toronto and divorced when she was 6. Her mother is remarried, to Don Parrish.

"Mom handled it all so well and I wasn't traumatized at all," Arden insists. But when describing the music she loved in her teen years as "melancholy," she admits quietly: "I was an only child and all my parents worked, so I spent a great deal of time on my own. I grew up liking dark things and high stakes and real drama."

She loved music from an early age, was taught harmony by her mother and learned how to play the recorder and clarinet. But her stepfather would bring home lists of unemployed musicians to persuade his daughter that "this is a killer business and it can be soul-destroying."

Arden – then "a cranky teenager" – had a musical theatre epiphany one summer waiting for her parents to get ready for a Prince Edward Island lobster supper.

"I put a record on. I thought it was Mozart but it turned out to be (Stephen Sondheim's) A Little Night Music. I listened to it and my life changed."

Still, she tried spending a year at the University of Guelph, studying veterinary science, followed by a summer on a horse farm in Alberta. But all it took was a few days with her mother at the Charlottetown Festival to realize that "this is what I'm supposed to be doing."

She began with a songwriting workshop led by the renowned Lehman Engel and was one of a dozen participants in an invitation-only course at Oxford University taught by Sondheim.

After that, her career started its steady upward climb, including the success of The House of Martin Guerre, which everyone thought would go to Broadway and London.

But Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the men behind Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, came up with their version, which made it onto the West End stage first, dashing Arden's hopes.

"What do you do when that happens? You go for a very long walk. And then you start thinking that there has to be more to life than this."

So Arden bought her farm, where "I can't hear my neighbours and they can't hear me and I can bang on the piano at 3 in the morning if I want to."

She came close to grabbing the brass ring again when the Goodman, where Martin Guerre had been such a hit, announced it was staging The Boys Are Coming Home, only to have it cancelled a few months later after differences sprang up among the creators.

"It wasn't the show I had written. It wasn't saying things I wanted to say any more. I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, so I knew it was time to walk away from it."

Arden, who will be the songwriter for a new Broadway-bound musical based on the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, is now able to say things like, "I no longer want to win a Tony Award. I'm more interested in quality of life."

What helps give her strength is her partner of 18 years, writer/performer Cathy Elliott. "I've never talked to anyone in the press about my personal life before," Arden admits, "and I didn't even really come out to my family until my mid-30s, but it's not a political choice to me.

"It's finding the person that allows you to live the life you want to live and lets you be the best person you think you can be. It might be a man, it might be a woman."

Ragtime Roars On Broadway At Last

Source: www.thestar.com -
Richard Ouzounian

(November 16, 2009) NEW YORK - Now is the time for Ragtime.

The musical theatre had a great deal of its lustre restored on Sunday night when the triumphant revival of Ragtime opened on Broadway.

For sheer melodic invention, lyrical intelligence and dramatic force, it's unlikely that any show written in the 11 years since it first debuted in New York can match it.

This sprawling history of America in the opening years of the 20th century has acquired a whole new resonance now that we've entered the 21st.

Director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge has managed to stage the work in a way that gives it every bit of the splendour it originally possessed, but with a new fluidity and spaciousness that lets it acquire even more power.

Derek McLane's 10-metre-high set is lofty without being overbearing, Donald Holder's lighting can fill the stage with happiness or horror on cue, and the magnificent original costumes of Santo Loquasto return in all their multicoloured splendour.

There's a superb cast as well, but the major ingredient that this production has on its side this time is timing – a factor that crippled it the first time around.

When Ragtime opened in early 1998, the conventional wisdom was that it suffered from following too closely the opening of the universally acclaimed The Lion King, which emptied critics' vocabularies of superlatives and audiences' pockets of money.

But something else was working against this majestic show as well. We were all existing in a period of relative complacency, not needing or wanting to hear about how fragile the threads were that tied us all to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But oh, how the world has changed since that time. Just look at the following words that had no meaning for us then, but now can make us all shudder with terror:

Columbine, 9/11, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Katrina ... the list goes on and on.

No wonder some reviewers condemned the work back then for its anthemic qualities and derided it as sentimental and patriotic. Americans were more interested in pursuing Mr. Clinton's destiny following Lewinskygate than re-examining the overall nature of the world they had created a century before.

That's why this Ragtime has such pertinence and punch. When Coalhouse Walker Jr. now threatens urban terrorism, we know what it means. When hooded fanatics with explosives lay siege to civic landmarks, it rings all too true.

We have been there, done that, and don't need a t-shirt to remind us. No flags wave in this production. Instead, they drop to the ground in horror when random acts of racial violence occur.

Other characters now come into clearer focus as well. Father, who seemed like a good-natured cipher in the original, now becomes, in Ron Bohmer's empathetic hands, a man who goes on a long journey from prejudice to a sort of understanding.

And Christiane Noll's heartbreaking Mother isn't a golden valkyrie from the start, but a sweet, troubled woman who reaches a profound spiritual awakening.

Every role, in fact, has undergone a transformation. Robert Petkoff's Tateh is richly virile and magnetic, Stephanie Umo's Sarah has a touching, understated simplicity, and Quentin Earl Darrington gives us a Coalhouse capable of real danger and menace.

Yes, this production is smaller than the original, but it still seems giant compared to most shows today.

And if you have come to feel that (with a few exceptions) the musical theatre has been mired in a mediocre hell of jukebox revues, campy meta-theatre romps and second-rate films turned into third-rate shows, you will be willing to embrace this show with a full and open heart.

At the opening night, the audience was on their feet from the minute the curtain fell and, while they cheered the actors and stagers of this version, they saved their loudest bravos for the creators: composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, librettist Terrence McNally and original author E.L. Doctorow.

How sad, then, that the man who originally brought them all together and made Ragtime happen in the first place – in 1996 in Toronto, before it moved to Broadway – wasn't able to join them on stage.

I think Garth Drabinsky would have loved to see that Ragtime wasn't the wrong show. It just needed the right time.

The Silicone Diaries: The Performer As Work Of Art

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

The Silicone Diaries
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)
Written and performed by Nina Arsenault. Directed by Brendan Healy.
Until Nov. 22 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. 12 Alexander St.

(November 18, 2009) When faced with the unique, all one can do is acknowledge how truly special it is.

That, to my mind, is the only possible response to
The Silicone Diaries, which opened Tuesday night at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

There have been many, many performers before now who have gone on to the stage and turned their lives into a one-person show. Some of them may have been more dramatic than what Nina Arsenault is currently doing, some of them might be slicker, or funnier, or more heart-breaking.

But none, I am willing to bet, has been such a complete experience, where the performer herself is the ultimate work of art.

Arsenault is a person, as I recently wrote, who went through "eight years and 60 separate cosmetic surgeries to turn from an unmemorable man to an unforgettable woman."

But this is more than the story of a sex-change. It is the saga of someone devoted to a particular idea of beauty, obsessed by it, in fact, who turned her own body into the block of marble that she, together with a bevy of helpers raging from surgeons to sleazebags, sculpted into a work of art.

Aresenault begins as the boy-child living in an Ontario trailer park who thought a mannequin at Zeller's was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

We get no conventional biography, so hackneyed story of a man who knew he was "different." No, we cut right to the chase, just as Arsenault did, hacking away at her ribs, injecting silicone in her hips and finally having every last vestige of masculinity eliminated in her quest for a specific kind of beauty.

She's the Don Quixote of plastic surgery, tilting at windmills of legality, expense and pain to realize her own "impossible dream." Along the way, she introduces us to the bizarre people who helped her, from a married medical professional devoted to her sexuality, to a wise and weary Mexican woman who was the Mother Theresa of Silicone.

The presentation (thanks to director Brendan Healy) is accomplished, but devoid of empty slickness. Yes, Arsenault stumbles now and then over her words, but she manages to be so darkly funny (witness her encounter with Tommy Lee) and deeply committed that you forgive her all.

And the final sequence, where she admits the tragic depth of her obsession and asks us to view her without judgment or pity, is profoundly moving.

Forget Reader's Digest. The Silicone Diaries will introduce you to the most unforgettable character you've ever met.

The Children's Republic: In A Land Of Hate, A Tiny Realm Of Hope

Source: www.globeandmail.com - J. Kelly Nestruck

The Children's Republic
Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Janet Irwin
Starring Paul Rainville
At the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa

(November 14, 2009) It's been a long time since we accepted white actors putting on blackface, covering themselves in shoe polish and exaggerating their lips with makeup to play an insulting stereotype of a person of colour. So why are our stages still filled with adult actors striking wide-eyed poses and putting on annoying, squeaky voices to pretend they are children?

Just a thought, one inspired by the radical thought of Janusz Korczak, the Polish children's-rights advocate who is the subject of Hannah Moscovitch's new drama,
The Children's Republic .

A famed children's author, pediatrician and radio host in his time, Korczak ran an unusual orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw prior to the Second World War. Put aside the Dickensian images: Korczak's “republic” had its own parliament, court and newspaper, all run by children. “Children are not people of tomorrow; they are people today,” Korczak once said – and since he didn't accept adults claiming to speak for children, neither does The Children's Republic.

Following his philosophy, Janet Irwin's production at the Great Canadian Theatre Company stars past and present students of the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama (OSSD) as six of Korczak's orphans. How refreshing to see the actual, awkward body language of preteens and adolescents rather than a clownish shorthand of it.

The youthful casting also makes the play's conclusion less sentimental and more poignant than it might otherwise have been. Korczak, played by adult Paul Rainville as an endearing eccentric, was eventually forced to move his orphanage into the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis; in August of 1942, its nearly 200 children shipped off to Treblinka. Though Korczak was offered escape due to his prominence, he stayed with his children until the very end.

That's the final scene of Moscovitch's play, but for the first act there is no mention of the Nazis or concentration camps. Instead, we get a glimpse into Korczak's philosophies at work in the lives of the children in his orphanage, including Israel (Louis Sobol), an angry and violent newcomer who learns to empathize, and Sara (Leah Morris), whose musical talents eventually lead her to have to make an excruciating choice.

Moscovitch, a former student at the OSSD, has written a fairly straightforward historical drama here, delivered in a series of short scenes that might be better for a film. Irwin doesn't overcome the stop-and-start nature of the script, but exacerbates it with blackout music that drags on the action.

Nor does she quite elicit the performances from her young actors that are needed – much that should be communicated through silence and subtext is either overly telegraphed or lost. Ultimately, like many of Korczak's ideas, I liked this production better in theory than in practice.

Camellia Koo's set, however, is absolutely stunning. Perfectly lit by Jock Munro, it is comprised of a wall of chairs that float up to the ceiling, each seating one orphan's prized possessions or one of the geraniums they tend to in the courtyard. There's something quite moving about this image that the rest of the production never quite manages to build on.

The Children's Republic continues in Ottawa until Nov. 22.


A Few New Twists, Same Mario Joys On Wii Game

Source: www.thestar.com -
Raju Mudhar

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Nintendo Wii
Rated: E

(November 15, 2009) Next year we'll see if the upcoming Epic Mickey game can move Disney's greatest character over to the videogame medium, but no matter what he does, that mouse should definitely be taking notes from Mario. Nintendo's iconic plumber and friends are back with the latest game in their seemingly never-ending save-the-Princess cycle.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii comes out Sunday, and like the initial game that came out more than 20 years ago, it's a platforming side-scroller, but beyond echoing past glories, it's an incredibly fun new experience, and a reminder that even a simple-looking game can be quite a challenge.

Mario's work is cut out for him, too; while the Wii experienced phenomenal growth during its first two years, in the past six months sales of the console have slowed. For Nintendo fans, however, this is a must buy, and it only builds on the much-beloved – and 20-million-selling – New Super Mario Bros. for the DS which came out in 2006, and literally goes up to the next level.

At its basic, it's as simple as it ever was – you face the familiar Koopas and Goombas, jump and swim through levels to collect coins and face epic boss battles – but it also adds some fresh new moves and will likely generate the same obsessive find-the-hidden-stuff quests and requisite fast-twitch-muscle memorization that Mario games are known for.

The game starts off pretty easy, and at first seems almost too much so – although as I was thinking this, I reflected: if it's so easy, why am I dying all the time? Even as soon as the game's second world, however, the difficulty amps up.

The main additions to the game play are the Propeller suit (which lets you fly) and Penguin suit (which allows you to shoot snowballs and swim well) as well as the familiar array of old faves like the Fire Flower. You'll need them; some of the advanced levels have screens chock full of enemies, and intricate set pieces that require seemingly impossibly sequences of moves that will require many lives and replays.

And just in case, Nintendo has introduced a new feature to help players deal with difficult sections in games. If you die a certain number of times on a level, the Super Guide will come up – a green box with an exclamation mark on it at the beginning of the level. If you select it, Mario's brother Luigi will appear and automatically play through the level for you, showing you how to do it. You can stop him at any time and assume control; after he's done, the game asks you if want to retry or skip the level.

It's an ingenious way to deal with one of the medium's big problems – who hasn't gotten stuck on a game and then just quit? It keeps a game challenging, but not off-putting, and it's a great way to continue to court Nintendo's casual base.

The other new addition is the local multiplayer that lets you get four people up onto the screen at once. Nintendo has said it makes the game equally co-operative and competitive, but when I've tried it, it's definitely more of the latter. It's frenetic and incredibly fun – you can jump off each other's characters, for one thing – but the other great news is, it allows a more experienced player to walk a less experienced one through a level.

Really, the only complaint is that it doesn't offer online multiplayer, which is strange because that's the main selling point for so many games now. Even without it, this is a great addition to one of gaming's longest standing franchises.

Modern Warfare 2 Can Declare Victory

Source: www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
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)
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Rated M

(November 14, 2009) Given the extraordinary anticipation swirling around
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the follow-up to the 13-million-unit-selling military shooter from 2007, living up to the hype might have seemed like an impossible mission.

But Infinity Ward, the savvy California game developer responsible for this explosive sequel, has delivered the goods – and then some.

Modern Warfare 2 once again drops players into a war-torn near future as part of an elite multinational squadron.

The story continues five years after the events of the last game, but you now slip into the boots of Sgt. Gary (Roach) Sanderson, plus you'll also play as other characters throughout this campaign. You'll report to John (Soap) McTavish, your superior officer, as opposed to playing him in the last game.

Your goal is to hunt down and take out Russian terrorist Vladimir Makarov and dismantle his devoted criminal cells peppered all over the globe.

The ensuing close-combat skirmishes take place just about everywhere, from the dusty villages of Afghanistan to the snow-capped mountains of Kazakhstan to the gritty streets of Rio de Janeiro to Washington, D.C., which comes under attack by Russian forces. A controversial (and optional) scene, and one that leaked to the media a few weeks back, involves a terrorist attack on an airport (and the killing of civilians), in which you're working undercover as one of the Russian nationalists.

As with its predecessor, the game is played from an immersive first-person perspective that has you peering down the scope of your weapon to pick off bad guys. There's no shortage of horsepower at your fingertips, be it machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols, grenades, mines and the awesome, earth-shattering Predator missile. With bullets whizzing past your ears, you'll ride snowmobiles, shoot down choppers and, of course, indulge in intense multiplayer matches.

While the campaign is a relatively short six- to eight-hour adventure, many gamers are buying Modern Warfare 2 for its multiplayer offerings, including a new cooperative mode called Spec-Ops, a series of varied missions that keep things fresh. While some of these nearly two dozen objectives can be accomplished solo, they were designed primarily for two gamers – and prove to be a lot wider in scope than the unlockable arcade mode in the first Modern Warfare. A highlight is the AC-130 mission, a co-op only exercise in which one gamer mans a gunship and provides bird's-eye instructions to the second player sneaking across the terrain.

Expanding the gameplay further, and adding to its replayability, Modern Warfare 2 also ships with a host of online competitive modes (for up to 18 players), including mainstays such as "Deathmatch" (everyone out for themselves), "Team Deathmatch," "Capture the Flag" and others, spread across 16 maps. Much of the online buzz surrounding the game involves "killstreaks," customizable rewards for performing a certain number of successive kills. Nine in a row gets you a carpet bomb, for example, while 25 brings in the nukes.

This game is certainly not for everyone: With its stunningly realistic portrayal of modern military violence, its "mature" rating is a no-brainer.

But for any gamer who has ever picked up a realistic virtual weapon, Modern Warfare 2's intriguing story, outstanding production values (including near-photorealistic imagery, plus an excellent musical score and voice talent), and most importantly, thrilling first-person gameplay, all translate into one of the most memorable pieces of interactive entertainment of the year.


Yuk Yuks: That Funny Business, Explained

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(November 14, 2009) Have I heard any good jokes lately? Why, yes, I have. Even better, I've heard a swell audio book on the subject. HarperCollins's
The Yuk Yuk's Guide to Canadian Stand-Up is by Mark Breslin, the laugh-biz impresario who easily chronicles the history of the comedy-club empire he rules, beginning with Yuk Yuk's humble origins in a Toronto basement in 1974, a time when the Canadian standup scene was pretty much a joke.

As Breslin points out (in a box set, of a booklet and five CDs), this country's tee-hee tradition was actually based in sketch comedy – from the troupes Spring Thaw to Wayne and Shuster to the Royal Canadian Air Farce and Second City. Standup, ladies and germs, was American-made. “Canadians celebrate community,” explains Breslin, his book's articulate narrator. “Americans venerate the individual.”

You stand on a stage, alone, with only a microphone and your ideas. The stage is small, and there are four strong lights in your eyes. You can barely see the audience – which is a good thing.

Hello? Is this microphone working? Breslin's is. He starts with a well-conceived monologue that defines the plight and character of a modern standup artist, before moving to the history of Yuk Yuk's, his chain of 16 laugh halls. Getting the spotlight are the comedians who worked Breslin's stages, presented in a chronological order that illustrates the apparently lock-step progression of Yuk Yuk's and the Canadian standup scene.

Mike MacDonald

An excerpt from the Yuk Yuk's Guide to Canadian Stand-Up

Download (.mp3)

Breslin has a way with descriptions. He encapsulates each of 34 Canadian comics meticulously and with reverence, quickly pointing out their unique traits and their place in hardy-har-har history. Take Kenny Robinson – please. Breslin thumbnails the pioneer of multiracial comedy as a “larger-than-life character in a chrome-yellow suit” whose “frank diatribes on sex and politics have lit up the Canadian scene like no other.” First-generation Canadian standup Gary David, who worked peeler bars before the invention of the modern Canadian comedy club, was a “rotund veteran with a chipped tooth and the saddest eyes in the biz.”

You were probably fat as a kid or too thin or ignored, or got too much attention, not enough love, or some unique combination of all of the above. You were probably unhappy or at least bored, and you liked that sound of laughter. Soon it became oxygen, and you couldn't live without it. You are a standup comic.”

The CDs are grouped by comedic generations, featuring live clips from all the artists. Disc One, entitled The Roots , gathers, among others, the inventive Dave Broadfoot, the urbane David Steinberg, the outrageous La Troupe Grotesque, and Don Harron as the language-mangling hayseed Charlie Farquharson.

Gerry Dee

An excerpt from the Yuk Yuk's Guide to Canadian Stand-Up

Download (.mp3)

Disc Two has the stars of the 1980s, when Canadian standup came of age. Let's hear a big round of applause for Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, Norm Macdonald, Sean Cullen and Mike Bullard, whose interactive abilities with an audience are in evidence here.

A full two discs are given over to younger comics (many of whom you can still see in clubs today), and a fifth (described as the “funniest 50 minutes ever”) is straight live comedy from the likes of Sam Kinison, Glen Foster, Larry Horowitz, Mike MacDonald and others. I'm not sure it's the funniest 50 minutes ever – and I'm positive it's more than 50 minutes (54:58, actually).

“You can be like a drunk at the bar, except that the audience is captive and you're getting paid. And in a way, you are changing the world, if only a little. Because your job is to diagnose, not to cure.

Trevor Boris

An excerpt from the Yuk Yuk's Guide to Canadian Stand-Up

Download (.mp3)

If nothing else, Breslin, who has been described as a Napoleonic, hot-headed businessman with a “cobra's charm,” proves the adage that in comedy, timing is everything. He got in the funny business on the ground floor in the 1970s and built an empire. To his credit, with The Yuk Yuk's Guide to Canadian Stand-Up, Breslin commendably acknowledges the comedians who made it happen for him.


Pullinger and Vassanji take GG awards

Source: www.globeandmail.com - John Barber

(November 17, 2009) Canadian writing travelled up the Nile and down the Ganges Tuesday when novelists Kate Pullinger and M.G. Vassanji took top honours at the Governor-General's Literary Awards with books steeped in Eastern themes.

B.C.-born, U.K.-based Pullinger beat favourite daughter Alice Munro to win the English-language fiction award for The Mistress of Nothing, the account of a real-life Victorian noblewoman's sojourn in 19th-century Egypt. Toronto's Vassanji, twice a Giller Prize winner for his novels, took the non-fiction award for a travel book, A Place Within: Rediscovering India.

For Pullinger, a veteran novelist new to the CanLit limelight, the prize rewarded a long struggle that began more than a decade ago, when she first attempted to write a fictional account of the circumstances behind Letters from Egypt by Lucie Duff Gordon, a classic of Victorian travel literature.

 “It turned out to be a tremendously difficult book to write for a whole variety of reasons,” the novelist said after receiving the award during a ceremony in Montreal. “Indeed I abandoned it a couple times and wrote other books instead. But I always returned to it because there was something about the story that had gripped me and I had to find the right way to tell it.”

That way turned out to be a first-person narrative in the voice of Gordon's formerly anonymous maid, Sally Naldrett, who nonetheless went on to beat out the philosopher Aristotle yesterday as the historical figure most popular with Canadian literary juries.

“ I thought I had been in exile when I came back to fiction ”— M.G. Vassanji

Indeed, yesterday's prize marks the second loss for The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon's popular tale of ancient Greece, which came to prominence when nominated for three major awards this season. Last year, Rawi Hage's Cockroach was likewise nominated for all three awards, but failed to win any of them.

Non-fiction award winner Vassanji, by contrast, can't seem to stop winning. Having previously collected two Gillers for his novels, the Toronto author was philosophical about yesterday's honour.

“I've said many times and I keep saying it, prizes are nice to win, but there are other books,” he said. “This was selected, but maybe another jury would have picked something else.”

The novelist's victory in the non-fiction category turns around the results of last week's Giller contest for Canadian fiction, won by journalist Linden MacIntyre, author of The Bishop's Man. But after completing two non-fiction books in one year, including a biography of fellow novelist Mordecai Richler, Vassanji expressed no desire to expand his métier.

“It literally exhausted me – the factual checking and looking up stuff,” he said. “I thought I had been in exile when I came back to fiction. It felt like a relief.”

The Governor-General's Award for English poetry went to Vancouver's David Zieroth for The Fly in Autumn. The book “addresses our common and defining human fate – the loneliness that is a rehearsal for death – with a tenderness and buoyancy that shows the reader ‘how to walk in the dark with flowers,'” according to the jury.

First-time playwright Kevin Loring, also of Vancouver, won the English-language drama award for Where the Blood Mixes , which premiered at last summer's Luminato festival in Toronto and is scheduled to tour nationally as part of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad.

The award for children's literature went to Caroline Pignat for Greener Grass: The Famine Years, while Jirina Marton won for children's book illustration for her work in Bella's Tree .

Canadian Writers Not Sold On Google Book Plan

Source: www.thestar.com -
Michael Oliveira

(November 16, 2009) A union representing Canadian writers says it's leery of Google's proposed move into digital sales of out-of-print books.

On Friday, Google moved closer to settling a U.S. class-action lawsuit with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers.

The proposed agreement would allow Google Books to host scores of copyrighted out-of-print titles, offer previews of the content, and make them available for sale.

The agreement, which still needs court approval, would only cover American users but a Google spokesman says the service could be available in Canada sometime next year.

The service could mean a new revenue stream for Canadian publishers, but the Writers' Guild of Canada says any excitement it has about the opportunity is being tempered by the "unknowns" in the agreement.

In a letter distributed to its members on Saturday, the union said it can't currently endorse the deal, although it does address some concerns that had been previously raised.

"There are many details and advantages and disadvantages to the settlement and we need to know how they're going to play out through the American courts before we can really take a stronger position on it," union executive director Deborah Windsor said in an interview.

More discussion is needed about licensing fees for libraries that offer free access to Google's stable of digital books, and about the sales of so-called orphan works, written by authors who can't be tracked down, states the union letter signed by chairwoman Erna Paris.

"Books already digitized by Google will become 'orphans' if the rights holders do not sign up ... in order to claim them," states the letter.

"No provision has been added to the amended settlement agreement that would require rightsholders to sign up before further works can be digitized and licensed by Google."

The deal calls for the royalties from orphan works to be held for up to 10 years and if the rightful copyright holder can still not be found, the proceeds would be donated to literary charities.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the U.S. Authors Guild, estimates orphan works would represent less than ten per cent of Google's digital sales.

The Canadian Publishers' Council, which represents companies that market to schools, libraries, professional and reference markets, is already working with Google.

"We decided to move forward as an association and seize an opportunity to participate ... with Google and this has been a very good experience for us," said the council's executive director, Jackie Hushion.

Richard Sarnoff, co-chairman of Bertelsmann, Inc., which owns Random House, said the Google deal is not about "setting up the digital future of publishing."

"This is about not leaving these old out-of-print books behind in that future," he said.

Google Books is already accessible to Canadians, offering full access and downloads of public domain books and previews of more current works.

For example, three of the five novels shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize are available to preview, including the winner, Linden MacIntyre's The Bishop's Man.

The site also hosts back issues of dozens of prominent magazines including Billboard, Life, Men's Health and Women's Health and Popular Science.


GQ Names Obama 'Leader Of The Year'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 18, 2009) *GQ has crowned President Barack Obama "Leader of the Year" in its forthcoming December issue.   The honour is part of GQ's "Men of the Year" roundup which also highlights Clint Eastwood ("Badass of the Year"), Tom Brady ("Comeback of the Year"), the "Hangover" guys ("Funnymen of the Year") and Chris Pine ("Breakout of the Year").  The December issue comes with five different covers – one per nominee, with the "Funnymen" cover featuring three of the "Hangover" stars: Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Bradley Cooper.  

Johnny Depp Wins Second 'Sexiest Man Alive' Title

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(November 18, 2009) NEW YORK – Get lost, Hugh Jackman. This year's "Sexiest Man Alive" is once again Johnny Depp. Depp nudged aside Jackman to get the coveted endorsement from People magazine Wednesday. It's the 46-year-old actor's second time as "Sexiest Man Alive." He also won in 2003. Kate Coyne, senior editor at People, said on CBS' Early Show that Depp has achieved an almost "iconic status in terms of sexiness." Says Coyne: "Johnny Depp was someone who was sexy 10 years ago. He'll be sexy 10 years from now. He's someone who appeals to multiple generations of women." Depp joins other double winners Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Richard Gere. Matt Bomer, who stars in USA's White Collar, was named "Sexiest Rising Star."


Yes, She Knows She Can Dance

Source: www.thestar.com -
Denise Balkissoon

(November 15, 2009) They think they can dance, and boy, are they stretchy. Waiting for their 30-second chance to wow the judges, wannabe contestants for the third season of So You Think You Can Dance Canada got flexible at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Saturday morning.

As Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and Sade's "Smooth Operator" pumped out of the theatre, dancers waiting to audition calmed their nerves by moving their limbs in the hallway outside.

Some were tap-dancing, others leaping and quite a few popping-and-locking. A phalanx of tight-bodied 20-something women, many clad in black short-shorts, were bringing their legs very close to their ears.

In this crowd, doing the splits is no great shakes.

"I see you got the yellow memo," said Burlington's Zak Kearns upon running into his friend Jennifer Abbey.

He was wearing a black-and-yellow checked shirt with black shorts. Abbey had on a canary-coloured hoodie, dark jeans and black Converse. The two know each other – both were in the video for Rihanna's "Pon de Replay," filmed in Toronto.

They laughed and chatted while strategizing for Saturday's audition, where dancers had 30 seconds to freestyle to an unannounced song.

"That's my favourite thing to do," said Kearns, 26. "It comes from dancing at home in front of the mirror."

Kevi Katsuras was less confident. "That's the part I'm most nervous about," said the Torontonian.

Katsuras, 18, was planning to show off her skills in contemporary pointe, which combines classical ballet training with modern moves. "It's nice to see something other than contemporary and hip hop all the time."

Those were definitely the most popular forms in the audition room, but other genres did appear.

Aneal Ramkissoon was wearing thick anklets of jingly kathak bells. He came home from studying pre-med and dance in Florida and showed up to the auditions at 5:30 a.m. "There were already 63 people here," said Ramkissoon. About 350 hopefuls showed up in all.

Ramkissoon planned to incorporate classical Indian moves with jazz dance for his tryout.

Dancers who made it past the freestyle session were invited back Sunday for a solo dance to a song of their choice.

Lead choreographer Blake McGrath said So You Think You Can Dance Canada will continue to be steamier than its American counterpart, which has aired six seasons. "We're a little more free and open up here," said McGrath, a competitor on the first season of the U.S. show. "Dance has always been sexy."

An air date for the third season has not been announced.


Brendan Shanahan Retires After 21-Year NHL Career

Source: www.thestar.com - Ira Podell

(November 17, 2009) Brendan Shanahan is retiring from the NHL after 21 seasons and an almost certain Hall of Fame career.

The 40-year-old forward announced Tuesday that he wouldn't play again. After going through training camp with the New Jersey Devils, the team he spent his final season with, he and the club mutually parted unexpectedly shortly before opening night of the season.

"I would like to thank my family and all of the friends who have helped me achieve and maintain my childhood dream of playing in the National Hockey League," Shanahan said in a statement released by the NHL. "While I always dreamed of playing in the NHL, I can't honestly say that I would have ever imagined that I'd be this fortunate and blessed. I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has helped me fulfill this dream."

Shanahan, who scored 656 career goals, decided to leave the Devils in October one day after he was told there was no spot for him on New Jersey's top three lines.

He has not played this season.

Shanahan ranks 11th on the league's career goals list and is the only player with 600 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes. The eight-time all-star also played for St. Louis, Hartford, Detroit and the New York Rangers. He won three Stanley Cup titles with Detroit.

"He's the best," said Rangers forward Sean Avery, a teammate of Shanahan's with New York and Detroit.

Now that his playing days are done, Shanahan could be a fit for the NHL Players' Association, which is in a state of flux following the firing of executive director Paul Kelly and the resignations of several union officials.

Kelly was dismissed during a meeting in August, and his interim replacement Ian Penny is also gone along with the eight-member advisory board. Interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove stepped down last week, citing the inability to perform his duties as the reason. Donald Fehr, the outgoing executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has been appointed to assist the NHLPA in its search for an executive director.

Shanahan conducted a summit during the NHL's 2004-05 lockout, and that gathering of people from all aspects of hockey produced several suggestions that led to rules changes after a new collective bargaining agreement was reached.

"Maybe he can help us out with our NHLPA situation. Maybe he will be our new executive director," said Rangers backup goalie Steve Valiquette, the team's player representative. "Shanny is a leader through and through, so his leadership will be valuable in any capacity. He is either going to be a general manager or he could work for the NHLPA.

"He could do a million things that would influence hockey. He will do something great in hockey, you'll see."

The left-winger rejoined the Devils last season after the Rangers declined to offer him a deal to return to New York for a third year. Shanahan went back to New Jersey, the team that selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 1987 draft, and agreed to a deal in mid-January.

He played his first game on Jan. 19 and scored in his debut at Nashville. Shanahan had six goals in 34 games last season, and added a goal and two assists in the Devils' first-round, seven-game playoff loss to Carolina. Shanahan signed a new $1 million (U.S.) contract with New Jersey during the off-season.

"I didn't think he was going to retire," Valiquette said. "I thought he was going to come back and play still. He would've contributed well to New Jersey had that situation worked out.

"A number of teams were looking at him and I am sure he had options, so I am surprised that he is not playing."

Shanahan recorded 1,354 points and 2,489 penalty minutes in 1,524 NHL games.

Caster Semenya Speaks Out

Source: www.eurweb.com

(November 16, 2009) *Caster Semenya, the South African teen track star at the center of allegations over her gender, has spoken to Britain's Guardian newspaper about coping with sudden worldwide attention.

 "People want to stare at me now. They want to touch me. I'm supposed to be famous but I don't think I like it so much," said the runner, who emerged from obscurity to win the women's 800 meters title at the world championships in Berlin in August.

In an interview at her training track at the University of Pretoria published on Saturday, she admitted: "It's not so easy. The university is OK but there is not many other places I can go."

Leaked test results said Semenya was a hermaphrodite, containing signs of both male and female genitalia. The investigation itself sparked anger from the South African public and government, who have rallied behind the athlete.

Semenya's future in the sport could be decided on Friday when the International Association of Athletics Federations is expected to announce its ruling on the gender tests. The IAAF could ban her from competing again, require that she undergo surgery, or take no action.

But as the controversy swirls around her, Semenya said she had found refuge with her training group and her coach, Michael Seme.

"I am myself here," she told the newspaper. "Everyone just accepts me. They know who I am. I am just Caster to these guys. I feel good with them. I feel much better here with (Seme) and the athletes."

Semenya insisted she was unchanged by her elevation to global stardom.

"What is the point of me changing? If I became another person it would be bad. If I acted in a different way with my friends they would not be happy. It's important I stay the same.

She joked that "I can't go shopping no more" because of her new status in South Africa, but added: "I know who I am. I can't change what (people) say."