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September 10, 2009

What a gorgeous Labour Day weekend huh?  Now we're back at it full pace for the blast of Fall.  Already  feeling that little briskness in the air, aren't you? With it comes new TV seasons, TIFF and only a month away ... Canadian Thanksgiving!  Yikes.  

I attended the opening of
Cirque's OVO last week and OH MY!  With all the gasps and the covering of my mouth I did, I thought I was going to hyperventilate!  But in the most positive of way .... in true Cirque fashion this production is one that is not to be missed.  And they've just extended  it to November 8th under the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau at the Port Lands on Cherry Street.  See more under SCOOP.

I'm not going to waste your time talking about it but let you get right to it.  Like I said, lots and lots of entertainment news this week so please have a scroll and a read ... 


How A Shy Guy And Matt Damon Are Helping Kids, One By One

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Grant Robertson

(September 08, 2009) Sitting in his corner office at Rogers Communications Inc., (RCI.B-T30.24-0.56-1.82%) Edward Rogers has just received an unusual request from Hollywood. Matt Damon needs a favour.

“He wants me to be in his next Jason Bourne movie,” Mr. Rogers deadpans. “But I just don't have the time.”

It's not entirely implausible, but even Mr. Rogers can't help but laugh at the joke. “Not really,” admits the son of the late Ted Rogers, who at 40 is starting to grey like his father, the cable titan who built Rogers Communications. “Maybe as one of the guys getting shot in the background or something.”

In truth, Mr. Rogers and Mr. Damon have forged an unlikely partnership in recent years. Their foundation, a charity called
One X One that was started five years ago to raise money for impoverished children at home and abroad, has become one of Hollywood's hottest causes. It made CNN at length last year during the devastating floods in Haiti and, a few weeks from now, it will be showcased on HBO's Entourage .

It is a rare turn in the spotlight for the normally reserved Mr. Rogers. As the curtain rises on the Toronto International Film Festival this week, the most sought-after ticket in town will have nothing to do with the festival itself. Instead, it will be the private gala he hosts at his Forest Hill home to raise money for One X One (pronounced “one by one”).

Bill Clinton will attend, Elvis Costello will perform, and a who's who of Corporate Canada, from Research In Motion co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie to Toronto-Dominion Bank deputy chairman Frank McKenna will rub shoulders with the likes of Mr. Damon and musician Wyclef Jean, who are the faces of One X One internationally.

Though friends know him as gregarious, Mr. Rogers has often been considered the shy son of Ted. He continues to quietly head up the cable division at Rogers and serve as chairman of the trust that controls the family's voting shares while new CEO Nadir Mohamed takes the reins of the company.

But outside of work, Mr. Rogers says he has big ambitions for One X One. The foundation began nearly five years ago in his backyard when Joelle Adler, CEO of clothing retailer Diesel Canada, approached him for funds to backstop her idea of starting the organization. Neither figured at the time it would spread to Hollywood, but the growth of the foundation has been a lesson in brand building.

Named as such because it's based on one person helping one child through donations, Ms. Adler said the foundation began to gain momentum when Mr. Damon, an activist for clean water for children in Africa, came to Toronto to host the group's fundraiser in 2006. Soon after, the actor lent his support full-time, as other celebrities like Mr. Jean came aboard.

Since then, companies such as Pepsi, through its Quaker and Dole brands, have signed on. The charity sends food to children in impoverished parts of Canada, such as native communities in northern Manitoba, as well as children in Africa. The One X One brand is now on Dole juice boxes and Mr. McKenna has come aboard as chairman of the charity.

But the moment that put the charity in the spotlight came last year, right after the film festival, when floods ravaged Haiti, Mr. Jean's homeland.

With international aid slow to materialize, Mr. Jean, Mr. Damon and Mr. McKenna boarded a plane borrowed from a Canadian executive and departed Toronto to bring supplies of food and water to the small island nation. Their arrival in the country made the news on CNN and attracted the attention of the Clinton Global Initiative, headed by the former president.

“It started out as the building of a brand, and then building the brand to the point where partners like Pepsi could say, ‘Wow, let's put the One X One brand on 72 million juice boxes,'” Ms. Adler says. The strategy borrows from the brand-building approach of Brad Pitt's Make it Right charity that helped build homes in New Orleans.

Mr. Rogers believes One X One can get a lot bigger. His pet project has the same structure as running a business, he figures. Though the foundation has raised $7-million in a few short years, he suspects it can be scaled up. After opening a U.S. office last year, it has the potential to be taken to other countries.

“My dad always taught me, some of the difference between people who fail and people who don't, and companies who fail and companies who don't, is they just keep going, they never stop,” Mr. Rogers said. “It [One X One] has the ability to raise many more times the money that it has,” Mr. Rogers said.

The fact that the evening has become a hot ticket, is purely by accident, he says. “We're not vying for that,” Mr. Rogers said.

TTC Screens Offer Better Way To Film Fest

Source: www.thestar.com - Eric Veillette,
Special To The Star

(September 05, 2009) Imagine a film festival that requires no tickets, no line-ups, and is fused into the daily commute of more than a million city-dwellers.

No need to imagine: the Toronto Urban Film Festival starts next Friday and runs until Sept. 20, presenting 80 short films on more than 270 screens throughout the Toronto subway system.

"The shorts are incredibly ambitious, and it reflects well on this city," says writer, director and actor Don McKellar, this year's guest judge. (McKellar's experimental film Imaginary Lovers will be featured as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Future Projections public screening series.)

Now in its third year, TUFF is a collaboration between two organizations: Art for Commuters, which is dedicated to putting art on public screens and is led by TUFF executive director Sharon Switzer, and One-Stop Media Group, which manages the digital panels on the subway platforms.

The films run every 10 minutes on every platform, but those wanting an ad-free experience can visit dedicated film zones on the north and south platforms of Bloor station. (If you're always rushing to catch your train, the shorts can also be viewed online at torontourbanfilmfestival.com.)

This year, TUFF received more than 240 submissions from 11 countries. The films are all one minute long, silent, with themes such as "Urban Encounters" and "Urban Diversity." They include live-action parables like I Can, Can You by Neal Cumming, where a man travels the city by canoe and animated montages like Joe Pascale's Urban Jungle, bringing the metaphor full circle with wild animals appearing within our metropolis.

As Toronto celebrates its 175th anniversary, a sense of civic pride unites many of this year's selections. Of particular interest is Back in Time by Kwan Ho Tse, which merges archival photos of Toronto's busiest intersections with contemporary scenes.

McKellar sees TUFF as a great opportunity to reclaim public space. "Not to get too political about it, but normally in the subway all we see is advertising," McKellar said during a news conference at the Drake Hotel. "I was worried when I entered into this that the shorts would look like ads, but it's not the case. They seem to distinguish themselves and rise above the visual patter, which is sort of amazing in this day and age."

In addition to over $10,000 in prizes to be awarded on Sept. 19, this year marks the introduction of the "Naish McHugh Award for Emerging Filmmakers," a $2,500 cash prize. McHugh is the founder of the Toronto Film and Television Office, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary.

"It is fair to say that Naish was a part of creating Toronto as Canada's centre of excellence in English-language screen-based media," said Peter Finestone, commissioner of the TFTO.

Jackson Laid To Rest In Private Service

www.globeandmail.com - The Associated Press

(September 04, 2009) Glendale, Calif. — Paris Jackson wept as she stepped into the mausoleum where her father, Michael, was to be entombed. Katherine Jackson, overcome by sorrow, turned back when she was faced with her son’s final resting place.

On a sultry Thursday evening, amid a sea of white flowers and with a bejewelled crown placed atop his casket by his children, the King of Pop was given an intimate, private version of the lavish public memorial held shortly after his death in June.

The funeral at Glendale Memorial Park was simple but touching, according to one guest. The person, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the day, said Gladys Knight’s performance of the hymn “Our Father” (The Lord’s Prayer) soared in the vast mausoleum and moved many to tears.

When it was over, many of the 200 mourners hugged each other. Among them were Elizabeth Taylor, Jackson’s ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley, Barry Bonds and Macaulay Culkin.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who gave a eulogy at the public event and at Thursday’s service, also extolled Knight’s earlier performance of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

“Gladys Knight sang her heart out. Now we prepare to lay him to rest,” Mr. Sharpton posted on his Twitter account during the service that was held outside and then within the marble mausoleum.

The mourners followed the crowned, lushly flower-draped casket as Mr. Jackson’s five brothers — each wearing a bright red tie and a single crystal-studded glove — carried it into the mausoleum. The 11-year-old Paris cried as the group entered the imposing building and was comforted by her aunt, LaToya.

Paris and brothers Prince Michael, 12, and Prince Michael II, 7, known as Blanket, began the service by placing the crown on their father’s golden casket. They were composed through most of the hour-and-a-half ceremony.

As it ended, Katherine Jackson appeared extremely weary and had to be helped to her car, according to the guest. Earlier, she had a difficult time going into the mausoleum; she was overcome, turned back, and it wasn’t clear if she went in at all, the guest said.

The Jackson family’s tardy arrival delayed the service for nearly two hours; no explanation was given to mourners. The invitation notice indicated the service would begin promptly at 7 p.m.; it began closer to 8:30.

The 77-year-old Taylor and others were left waiting in the late summer heat, with the temperature stuck at 90 degrees just before sunset, and some mourners fanned themselves with programs for the service. As darkness fell, police escorted the family’s motorcade of 31 cars, including Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs, from their compound in Encino to Forest Lawn, about a 20-minute journey, with the hearse bearing Jackson’s body at the end.

About 250 seats were arranged for mourners over artificial turf laid roadside at the mausoleum, and a vivid orange moon, a mark of the devastating wildfire about 16 kilometres distant, hung over the cemetery.

There were two oversized portraits of a youthful, vibrant Jackson mounted next to the casket amid displays of white lilies and roses. At Mr. Jackson’s lavish public memorial, red roses covered his casket.

A large, blimp-like inflated light, the type used in film and television production, and a boom camera hovered over the seating area placed in front of the elaborate marble mausoleum. The equipment raised the possibility that the footage would be used for the Jackson concert documentary “This Is It,” or perhaps the Jackson brothers’ upcoming reality show.

More than 400 media credentials were issued to reporters and film crews who remained at a distance from the service and behind barricades. The few clusters of fans who gathered around the secure perimeter that encircled the cemetery entrance struggled to see.

Maria Martinez, 25, a fan from Riverside, California, who was joined by a dozen other Jackson admirers at a gas station near the security perimeter, gave a handful of pink flowers she had picked at a nearby park to a man with an invitation driving into the funeral.

“Can you please put these flowers on his grave?” she told him. “They were small and ugly, but I did that with my heart. I’m not going to be able to get close, so this is as close as I could get to him.”

The man consented, adding, “God bless.”

Glendale police said all went smoothly and there were no arrests.

Mr. Jackson will share eternity at Forest Lawn with the likes of Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and W.C. Fields, entombed alongside them in the mausoleum that will be all but off-limits to adoring fans who might otherwise turn the pop star’s grave into a shrine.

The closest the public will be able to get to Mr. Jackson’s vault is a portion of the mausoleum that displays “The Last Supper Window,” a life-size stained-glass re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. Several 10-minute presentations about the window are held regularly 365 days a year, but most of the building is restricted.

The Jackson family had booked an Italian restaurant in Pasadena for a gathering Thursday night, and family members and guests were seen coming and going late into the night.

“I feel like I watched Michael finally given some peace and I made a commitment to make sure his legacy and what he stood for lives on,” Sharpton said outside the restaurant around midnight. “So at one level we’re relieved; another level we’re obligated.”

The ceremony ends months of speculation that the singer’s body would be buried at Neverland Ranch, in part to make the property a Graceland-style attraction. An amended copy of Jackson’s death certificate was filed Thursday in Los Angeles County to reflect Forest Lawn as his final resting place.

In court on Wednesday, it was disclosed that 12 burial spaces were being purchased by Jackson’s estate at Forest Lawn Glendale, about 13 kilometres north of downtown Los Angeles, but no details were offered on how they would be used.

The King of Pop died a drug-induced death June 25 at age 50 as he was about to embark on a comeback attempt. The coroner’s office has labelled the death a homicide, and Jackson’s death certificate lists “injection by another” as the cause.

Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s personal physician, told detectives he gave the singer a series of sedatives and the powerful anesthetic propofol to help him sleep. But prosecutors are still investigating, and no charges have been filed.

Tyler Perry Just Keeps On Working And Working


(September 04, 2009)Tyler Perry and Lionsgate has announced that they once again coming together to to produce and distribute a new film.

This time it's Ntozake Shange's award winning 1975 play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf."

Perry will write, direct and produce. The film will be the first project for 34th Street Films, Perry's new production company, which is housed at Lionsgate.

"Colored Girls" will feature an all-star cast of female actors. Principal photography is scheduled to begin in Atlanta in November 2009 and continue through December 2009. Lionsgate plans to release the film in 2010.

The film is the tenth title in Lionsgate's ongoing franchise with filmmaker Perry, and it is Perry's first film to be based on non-original material. The franchise's eighth title, "Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself," opens nationwide on September 11, followed by the opening of "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?" on April 2, 2010. Perry is also a co-presenter and executive producer, with Oprah Winfrey, of Lee Daniels's Sundance Film Festival award-winner "Precious: Based On The Novel 'Push' By Sapphire,"  which Lionsgate is releasing in November.

"We are thrilled to see Tyler take the helm on 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Rainbow Is Enuf.' From the very beginning of his career, Tyler has told compelling stories about women's lives, and he has created a memorable gallery of multidimensional female characters. He is an ideal person to bring Ntozake Shange's play to the screen, and this movie will be a major treat for audiences across the board," said Mike Paseornek, Lionsgate President of Motion Picture Production.

"Making a film of 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Rainbow Is Enuf' is a dream come true for me. Ntozake Shange's play is a magnificent tribute to the strength and dignity of women of color, and I think audiences of all generations will be able to recognize and embrace the experiences these women represent. Creatively, this movie is one of the most exciting undertakings of my career, and I'm excited to start production this November," commented Perry

Sapphire's Precious Baby

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

(September 09, 2009) Pop star Mariah Carey says Precious changed her life.

Rocker Lenny Kravitz rearranged tour plans. Actress Paula Patton cried. Title star Gabourey Sidibe found a kindred spirit. Director Lee Daniels couldn't shake the story.

They're talking about Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, the award-winning film, drawn from an acclaimed 1996 book, that has its Canadian premiere Sunday in a TIFF gala at Roy Thomson Hall. It's set in the Harlem of 1987, where hope never even gets a chance to die.

Precious searches for meaning in the brutal life of Claireece (Precious) Jones.

Played by newcomer Sidibe, who actually is from Harlem, she's an illiterate and morbidly obese teenager who is pregnant for the second time, once again the result of rape by her own father.

Carey, Kravitz and Patton happily exchanged their usual glamour for difficult and dressed-down roles as the authority figures who seek to help the angry and distant teen.

They were joined by Daniels, Patton, Sidibe and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher to talk – make that emote – about this tough little film at a round-table session with journalists at the Cannes Film Festival in May:

DANIELS: "I read this book many years ago, I don't know when. It stayed with me; there are very few books that stay with me. I slept with it. I was like, `Oh, my God, this is harrowing,' but at the end of the day, it was light at the end of the tunnel.

"I felt that it had to be brought to the screen. (Sapphire) would not give me the rights; many famous people and studio presidents had been courting her, but she felt that she wanted it to be safe.

"She's an auteur. She really is one of the most profound writers and poets that I know. She was very particular about who had her baby and so she kept passing on it, passing on it for me. I finally showed her a film that I did (he produced Monster's Ball) and she said, `Okay.'"

CAREY: "I knew Lee was doing the movie years ago. A friend of mine gave me the book and it changed my life, literally ...

"I just said, `Let me just peel layers away of who the world thinks I am, of who even I personally feel I am as a performer, as anything, and really truly become this woman who has a large responsibility.'

"In a way, (Carey's character) is the audience. She is that shocked person who cares about what goes on and has to bare her soul because she's hearing something that is so horrific that she's never heard before. And I think a lot of people feel that way when they see the movie."

KRAVITZ: "Lee had said he wanted to meet me and that he'd been trying to meet me to work with him in the past, but could never get through to me. We met, we discussed doing some films together, and I didn't have time at the time, I was on tour ... and that's how it began.

"The thing that Lee wanted to do was make me disappear: `You can't walk like that! You can't move like that! Your hand can't do that! You can't talk like that!' Literally, in an hour, he completely changed my whole vibe. As I found out when people were screening the movie, they didn't even know it was me, which I found hard to believe, but that's a great thing."

PATTON: "My husband read the script and he said, `Paula, you have got to do this movie! Read it!' I read it and it made me cry. Truth be told, I was afraid of playing this teacher role that I had seen it in movies before ... (but) I knew I had to do it because my mom was a schoolteacher for 28 years.

"Lee wasn't going to leave until he had your best performance. There's so much trust in that. ... There's nothing like knowing that you can trust him and that he wants to get your best work out, even better than you thought you had."

SIDIBE: "I'm actually from Harlem, which is where Precious is from, so we have that in common. I wasn't an actress. I was a college student, a psych student. I had done a lot of plays at Newman College in the Bronx, but I had never really thought of acting as a career, I always thought it was too hard and frankly I'm really lazy, I don't like to try. ...

"But I knew of the book. I'm actually a pretty big fan of the book, and my mother was approached to play Mary (the cruel mother of Precious) years before I had auditioned, and it broke her heart and she didn't want to do it. She made me read the book.

"I did, I loved it and I understood why she didn't want to do it. It is a tough role to take on; it's a tremendous role to take on. She told me that I should audition for Precious and I was like, `You think I can do everything, Mom!' ...

"And now I'm a movie star! This is all the sunshine I need; it's perfect. I'm having the most fun ever, more fun than I imagined myself having. This is completely glamour. This is nothing like what I ever thought my life would be heading toward."


Cirque Show Dazzles And Delights

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(September 03, 2009) It's ironic that while Guy Laliberté is seeking glory in space, the company he founded, Cirque du Soleil, should find it underground.

Ovo, the latest touring show from the unstoppable Quebecois company, opened in Toronto last night and turned an exploration of the insect world into an eye-popping, breathtaking, heart-stopping entertainment delight.

Despite their similarities, each Cirque show manages to be different and Ovo is no exception. With choreographer Deborah Colker in firm control of her vision, this show moves with a dance-like precision unlike any other Cirque production.

Scene melts into scene invisibly, special effects spring up before we notice their preparation and magical pieces of gymnastic activity dazzle us and are gone before we have a chance to catch our breath.

There isn't much of a plot except the courtship of a ladybug who looks like Queen Latifah with the measles, pursued by a fly who is the thinnest, bluest creature you've ever seen.

But somehow, that's enough. Colker lets her insects stand for all of humanity and we get to experience most of the driving human emotions in her carefully calibrated sequences of movement, acrobatics and dance.

A gossamer cocoon becomes two artists who partner in a pas de deux that manages to combine sensuality and spectacle at once, embracing while performing death-defying feats. An adorable troupe of ants juggle with their feet and win our hearts, but come back later in the evening with slyly knowing smiles that let us realize they're not as innocent as they seem.

Instead of the typical Cirque show, where the acts can seem tacked on to a story involving an overabundance of characters, Colker makes it all work toward a central vision. Everyone is involved with every scene of the show. The star of one sequence becomes the background watcher in the next. It's a wonderfully unifying device.

Audiences will be taken by the more flamboyant sequences, including an Act I ending where a chorus of beetles takes to the skies and an Act II finale that involves trampolines, a rock-climbing wall and a dozen creatures who all look like the Green Power Ranger.

But I appreciated the gentler parts of the vision, the amazing look of the costumes, the awesome sunshine and shade of the lighting and the haunting Brazilian music that ties it all together.

Whether you come to Ovo for the big effects, or the more miniature moments of magic, you will find plenty to delight you in this joyous new show.


Jamaica Is Promoting A Wealth Of Attractions Beyond The Sun And Sand

Source: www.agentathome.com - By Melanie Reffes

(September 8, 2009) From exploring an old sugar plantation to zip-lining through the rainforest, the Jamaican vacation experience is more than a day at the beach. While figures released by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) indicate modest growth with a 4 percent hike in arrivals this year and a 3.4 percent jump in visitor spending over 2007, beds are harder to fill amidst this sluggish economy and the fierce competition from other Caribbean destinations. In an island-wide effort to stay afloat during the global recession, the government is aggressively marketing vacations beyond a swim-up bar in order to grab a lucrative slice of the tourism pie.

“There are 150 licensed attractions in Jamaica, which is the highest number in the Caribbean,“ says Trina deLisser, director of the Association of Jamaica Attractions (www.attractions-jamaica.com). “The all-inclusive properties especially promote outside tours, because it gets guests off the resort, which is a more sustainable tourism experience for them and for Jamaica.”

Launched in the summer, Island Routes (www.islandroutes.com)  is selling 80 land and water tours, including biking in the Blue Mountains, deep-sea fishing and the all-day “Root, Rock & Reggae” cruise. “Our nonstop party on the water is hosted by staff dressed as reggae icons and is targeted to serious fans of Bob Marley,” says Director Dominique Peterkin.

The largest nature adventure provider, Chukka Caribbean Adventures (www.chukkacaribbean.com) , has added two tours to its roster. “Flight of the White Witch” in Montego Bay is a series of six traverses, two rappels, one incline glide and a hanging platform suspended 1,200 feet above sea level. The “Bird of Paradise Zip-line Canopy” gives tourists a bird’s-eye view of the White River Valley with its orange groves and lychee orchards. In Negril, the “Raiders of Negril Cave Tour” will launch later this year.

Authentic Caribbean Holidays (www.authenticcaribbeanholidays.com)  bills itself as a young and dynamic company with a unique cache of tours designed for the savvy traveler. “Where Reggae Hits Are Made” is a day-long excursion to the major music studios, including Studio One, where Marley recorded his hit “One Love.” “The Kingston Night Life Tour” salutes the city’s nightclubs and musical theatre with a six-hour tour priced at $80.00 per person, with a reduction to $65.00 for groups of four or more. Transportation from the north coast resorts can be arranged.

Thrills and chills

Honoured as “Best Attraction” for 2008 by the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA), Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios covers more than 100 acres and supports a diverse ecosystem of natural springs, tropical foliage and a variety of bird species. The year-old attraction features Sky Lift Explorer, Bobsled Jamaica, Tranopy ride and a three-story railway station with mountain-top dining and retail outlets. New this year, an Athletics Pavilion celebrates Jamaica’s sprinters with an interactive exhibit and Olympic memorabilia. Agent commissions are given for bookings confirmed on the website: www.rainforestbobsledjamaica.com.

On an 18th-century estate in Ocho Rios, Camel Safari Ride is Jamaica’s only Camel Trekking Safari. In an open-air carriage “driven” by camels, tourists stop for a tour of the Prospect Plantation (www.prospectplantationtours.com).

Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours (www.bmtoursja.com)   is an all-inclusive family-oriented adventure. Cyclists pedal nine to 18 miles downhill along misty mountain paths while a van cruises behind to pick up over-exerted riders. Starting from Ocho Rios or Kingston, the tour lasts up to two and a half hours.

Aquatic adventures

New on the Hip Strip, Cornwall Beach is a stretch of white sand with a range of facilities for one entrance price of $5.00. Ideal for travelers not staying at a seafront resort or for those who come into Montego Bay but want a few hours away from the stores, the beach park makes snorkelling gear available.

With departures from Cornwall Beach, Dreamer Catamaran Cruises (www.dreamercatamarans.com)  is a licensed attraction by the Jamaica Tourist Board and owned by a team of sailing aficionados. Aboard one of three catamarans—Tropical Dreamer, Day Dreamer and Island Dreamer—tourists can buy a three-hour “Sail and Snorkel” cruise, which includes an open bar and snorkelling instruction or a two-hour “Champagne Sunset Sail & Dinner” that departs the beach at 5 p.m.. Both cruises are priced at $65.00 per person with transfers from the nearby resorts.

In Negril, two new tours celebrate the second anniversary of the Kool Runnings Water Park (www.koolrunnings.com),  the largest in the Eastern Caribbean. “Kool Culinary Heritage Tour” is a palate-pleasing excursion sampling Jamaica’s indigenous food, while “Kool Kanoe Swamp Adventure” is a scenic ride through the canals of the Great Morass, one of the island’s protected eco-systems. Visitors can stay and play all day for $28.00 per person.

Revered for the healing powers of its mineral springs, Bubbling Springs is the newest attraction on the south coast. Recent upgrades include the addition of a craft shop, restaurant and outdoor showers. What may be the island’s best-kept secret: the Fire Hole near Montego Bay is a saltwater spring bubbling with flammable natural gases that create floating flames when lit. The mystical firewater officially called Windsor Spring is believed to relieve symptoms of tired muscles and itchy insect bites. More information can be found at http://visitjamaica.com.

On the highway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, Luminous Lagoon is a bioluminescent bay that appears to glow in the dark due to small phosphorescent animals that live in the lagoon. Evening cruises depart at 7 p.m. from the Glistening Waters Marina (www.glisteningwaters.com).   The cost is $20 per person, which includes one drink.

Cascading 600 feet to the sea, Dunn’s River Falls (www.dunnsriverfallsja.com)  is a must-do for island first-timers. Guides lead tourists through tumbling waterfalls and protruding rock ledges that act like natural stair steps. To avoid the busloads of tourists, visit the falls on non-cruise ship days.

Adjacent to the Dunn’s River Falls, Dolphin Cove at Treasure Reef (www.dolphincovejamaica.com)  is the only dolphin attraction in Jamaica, and the island’s most-visited marine attraction. On the coastline of Ocho Rios, the interactive attraction offers swims with Bottle Nose dolphins, sharks and sting rays. The attraction also offers glass-bottom kayak rides, snorkelling, jungle trail walks known for sightings of macaws. For the younger set, Little Port Royal is a replica of Jamaica’s most famous pirate town.

Whet Your Appetite

The island’s most famous culinary export is also a new tour option guaranteed to tempt the foodies in the crowd. Launched earlier this year, “Culinary Jerk Trail” is a self-guided tour of ten of the spiciest spots, including Boston Jerk in Port Antonio, Ultimate Jerk Center in Discovery Bay, and the Ocho Rios Jerk Center. “Jerk cuisine has made its way onto menus worldwide, but we invite travelers to come to Jamaica and sample this dish the way it was meant to be experienced, which is in our laid-back and tropical environment,” says Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, inaugurating the tour at Scotchies Jerk Centre in Montego Bay. For more information, www.visitjamaica.com/jamaica-jerk.

The “Appleton Rum Tour” (www.appletonrumtour.com)  includes a visit to the onsite distillery beside the Black River, south of Montego Bay, and plenty of samples.

Pretty Pictures

For the less adventurous, Shaw Park Botanical Gardens (www.shawparkgardens.com)  sits high on a hilltop overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Admission is $10.00 per person. Tours are given by Nathaniel McCalla who has been introducing the 25-acre garden to tourists for more than 25 years.

New at Coyaba Gardens (www.coyabagardens.com),  Ysassis Lookout Point offers panoramic views of Ocho Rios Bay and the cruise ship terminals. Also on-property, Museum of Island History spotlights the Taino and Arawak indigenous peoples, a crafts shop, a cut-stone courtyard shaded by giant banyan and cedar trees, and a natural aquarium filled with koi and turtles.

Between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Green Grotto Caves (www.greengrottocavesja.com)  have been delighting visitors since the 18th century with a labyrinth of limestone and overhead ceiling pockets. The $20.00 admission price includes rental of hard hat, 45-minute guided tour and a drink.

A Storied Past

The subject of at least a dozen gothic novels, Rose Hall Great House (www.jnht.com)  was built in 1790 by John Palmer, a wealthy British planter. Long in ruins, the house has been restored with the addition of knowledgeable guides giving tours by appointment only. Directly opposite the Great House, The Shoppes at Rose Hall is a new shopping complex with duty-free stores and designer boutiques.

Also in Montego Bay, Bellefield Great House (www.bellefieldgreathouse.com)  is one of the oldest sugar plantations in Jamaica. The “Taste of Jamaica” is a new interactive tour that spotlights the islands culinary traditions with stops at a 100-year-old sugar mill and a jerk pit.

Jamaican Resorts A'Plenty

Source: www.Agentathome.Com - By Melanie Reffes

In the midst of a punishing recession and fierce competition for the tourist dollar, Jamaica remains on solid ground with a strong start in arrivals for this year, with the largest attraction sector in the Caribbean and accommodations that rival the best in the region. The island’s room stock has increased at a rapid rate over the past three years, due in large part to the major new all-inclusive resorts that have been springing up on the north coast. Some 29,794 rooms in hotels, villas, guest houses and apartments dot the island—and with deals and discounts, as well as clever add-ons like massages, golf lessons and cooking classes, it’s a buyer’s market. Following is a roundup of what’s going on with the major chains and independent resorts, both existing and planned.

Bar-b-Barn Beach Hotel On the famed Seven Mile Beach, the family-run Bar-b-Barn Beach Hotel has been a Negril mainstay for more than two decades. With 30 seaside cottages and an Italian restaurant on the beach, the property is within walking distance from the Negril Town Square and attracts a high number of repeat guests with rates as low as $68 per room per night in low season. For more information, visit www.barbbarn.com.

Couples Resorts Couples Ocho Rios has reopened as Couples Tower Isle after a $30 million facelift. With a South Beach ambience, the revamped 226-room, adults-only resort has 16 ocean-view suites with zero-edge walk-in showers and a floating dock at the resort’s private island. The resort is part of an all-inclusive portfolio that includes Couples Sans Souci in Ocho Rios, Couples Negril and Couples Swept Away, also in Negril. For more information, visit www.couples.com.  

Grand Palladium Bigger is better at the 540-suite Grand Palladium Resort and Spa and the 444-suite Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort and Spa sitting side-by-side in the town of Lucea, twenty-five miles from Montego Bay. Affordable and all-inclusive, the complex, owned by Fiesta Hotel Group, is the largest on the island, with 10 restaurants, 13 bars, 5 pools and an open-air theatre. For more information, visit www.fiestahotelgroup.com.  

Half Moon Half Moon resort in Montego Bay, luxury 400-acre property, is now offering all-inclusive options for group travel. The resort itself is still not all-inclusive, but clients now have this all-inclusive package program that includes three all-inclusive group packages: The Half Moon Group Plan (prices start at $190 person; all F&B, airport transfers, equipment and amenities for one meeting per day); The Total Golf Experience Group Plan (prices start at $240 per person, all of the above plus 54 holes of golf at Half Moon, White Witch, and/or Cinnamon Hill); and the Ultimate in Luxury Group Plan (prices start at $240 per person; all of the above plus unlimited golf at Half Moon, water sports and horseback riding for each person). For more information, visit www.halfmoon.com.

Hilton Rose Hall Resort Located in Montego Bay and now rebranded as a Hilton, Rose Hall Resort & Spa is now part of the Hilton Honours loyalty program with rooms bookable via the worldwide reservation system. The 488-room all-inclusive on the site of an 18th-century sugar plantation has 54 holes of championship golf, an elegant Three Palms Restaurant and Sugar Mills Water Park with thrill slides and cascading waterfalls. A boat dock and trendy nightclub will open later this year. For more information, visit www.rosehallresort.com.  

Iberostar Three all-inclusive Iberostar resorts are now open in Montego Bay as part of a brand-new mega property. They include the Rose Hall Beach & Spa, Rose Hall Suites and Grand Hotel Rose Hall. The $850-million, 978-room complex is the first Iberostar resort in Jamaica catering to families, couples and singles. For more information, visit www.iberostar.com.  

Island Outpost New in the upscale Island Outpost portfolio, Geejam is near Frenchman’s Cove in Port Antonio. Posh sea-view cabins built in the middle of banana trees are outfitted in a music theme befitting the onsite recording studio that attracts top names in the music business. Near Ocho Rios, in the town of Oracabessa, Goldeneye is adding a multimillion dollar village with 200 rooms and a lagoon. The chic hotel is known as the birthplace of the James Bond novels, with Ian Fleming’s original Suite 007 being the most requested. In Negril, a four-bedroom villa with a butler, cliffside swimming pool and underground tunnel leading to the main hotel is now open at Caves. At Jakes on the south coast, 45 new rooms and the Driftwood Spa have been added. While there are no TVs or telephones at the bohemian boutique hotel, Wi-Fi is available. For more information, visit www.islandoutpost.com.  

Jamaica Inn The Jamaica Inn is much like it was a half a century ago when Winston Churchill painted in watercolours and Marilyn Monroe sunbathed on the beach. Located in Ocho Rios, the elegant inn boasts one of the top restaurants on the island under the watchful eye of Chef Kai Bechinger. The Kiyara Spa high atop Cutlass Bay is an oasis of rest and relaxation. For more information, visit www.jamaicainn.com.

Kanopi House Ratcheting up the market in luxury resorts, Kanopi House in Port Antonio is now open with five wood-frame tree-house suites priced at $500 per night or $5,000 for the entire House, which comfortably sleeps 10. A sister property to the exclusive Kamalame Cay private island resort in the Bahamas, Kanopi House is eco-astute with green certification and organic dinners. For more information, visit www.kanopihouse.com.  

Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall Resort In Montego Bay, the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall Resort sets a gold standard for luxury. The resort is offering an all-inclusive package, “Escape to Luxury,” priced at $409 per night per room through October. It features meals at any of the gourmet eateries, including the award-winning Horizon’s, unlimited drinks from a selected menu at all restaurants and bars, 20 percent discount on mini-bar purchases, shuttles to the White Witch Golf Course and Shoppes at Rose Hall, and complimentary Blue Mountain coffee every morning. For more information, visit www.ritzcarlton.com.  

Riu Close to the airport, Riu Montego Bay is the fourth Riu resort to open in Jamaica, adding to the mega-all-inclusive landscape on the north coast. Easy to spot with its signature lavender exterior, the 681-room beachfront property is directly next to Sandals Royal Caribbean. For more information, visit www.riu.com.  

Sandals/Beaches Cashing in on the sluggish economy, all-inclusive Sandals and Beaches are selling a “No Worry Guarantee,” which gives guests a full cash refund should they be fired from their jobs. The policy is an add-on to the Trip Mate Travel Protection Plan and sold by Unique Vacations Inc. Property enhancements include new suites at Sandals Negril Beach Resort and upgrades to the 74-room Royal Plantation Resort in Ocho Rios. On the drawing board is a unique over-the-water spa at the Royal Plantation Island, two-bedroom suites at Beaches Negril and Infinity River suites at Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort. For more information, visit www.sandals.com or www.beaches.com.  

Sunset Resorts Targeting the seemingly recession-proof wedding and honeymoon market, Sunset Resorts is selling a “Romance at Sunset” package at all three all-inclusive properties, including the recently upgraded, 430-room Sunset Beach Resort & Spa in Montego Bay, the 730-room Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort & Spa in Ocho Rios and the 65-room boutique Sunset at the Palms in Negril. A travel agent rate of $89.00 per person per night has been extended through December at the Montego Bay and Ocho Rios properties. For more information, visit www.sunsetresorts.com.  

SuperClubs The granddaddy of the all-inclusive concept, SuperClubs saw a modest increase of 8 percent in bookings at its Breezes properties during the first quarter of this year. “When flat is the new ‘up’, it’s good to be able to report an increase this past winter at our most successful brand,” says Paul Pennicook, president of International Lifestyles, worldwide representative for

SuperClubs’ brands. As part of the chain’s realignment to the Breezes brand, several properties will be repositioned and renamed. On Nov. 1, for example, Grand Lido Negril Resort & Spa will become Breezes Grand Negril Resort & Spa, and the Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa will be renamed Breezes Rio Bueno Resort & Spa. The family-friendly Starfish Trelawny will become Breezes Trelawny, with the “kids stay free” and “single parent supplement” waiver remaining intact. The low-frills Ocho Rios Rooms and Negril Rooms will keep their names as will the two Hedonism resorts. For more information, visit www.breezes.com  or www.superclubs.com.

Tryall Club West of the airport in Montego Bay, Tryall Club is an upscale collection of 78 one- to eight-bedroom villas with chefs and butlers. Built on a century-old plantation, the property has an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and seaside hammocks strung between almond trees, and it offers unbridled privacy popular with honeymooners, celebrities and dignitaries. For more information, visit www.tryallclub.com.

In addition to the existing resorts above, following is a rundown of planned properties. Adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton in Montego Bay, Palmyra Resort (www.thepalmyra.com)  is set to open in the fall with 299 suites. Celebration Jamaica, developers of the Palmyra project, also plan to open a 65-acre property in Rose Hall with 2,080 rooms, as well as restaurants, golf courses and casino. Harmony Cove (www.harmonycove.com)  in Trelawny is on track to start construction of a 4,500-room resort and the island’s second casino early next year. Finally, AM Resorts’ all-inclusive Secrets brand (www.secretsresorts.com)  broke ground for its Secrets St. James and Secrets Montego Bay all-inclusive adults-only resorts in December, marking the debut of the brand in Jamaica. The side-by-side, 700-room complex is scheduled to open by end of this year with 14 bars, a concierge on every floor and oceanfront massage cabanas.


A Soul Queen's Long Reign

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

(September 03, 2009) The enduring Soul Queen of New Orleans is celebrating a half-century of performing, but her love for music goes back longer.

"I can't remember when I couldn't sing. It was just something that was natural," Irma Thomas said in a phone interview from her Crescent City home.

"Singing was a form of self-entertainment I thought everyone did. We sung the hymns of the day, gospel music, and then on the radio was what we used to call hillbilly music, now called country, or country and western. It all sounded like rhythm and blues to me."

Out this week, The Soul Queen of New Orleans: 50th Anniversary Celebration is a retrospective with three new songs and gems such as "I'm Your Puppet," "Back Water Blues" and "I Count the Tears" from the last two decades.

The 2007 Grammy winner, who plays a free show at Harbourfront on Sunday, maintains a respectable schedule, travelling with a seven-piece band.

"I'm not working as much as I'd like to, because a lot of folk are using the economy as a crutch to lean on in hopes to get me cheaper," she said. "But I won't do it. My theory is this: if you can book people who are charging you $100,000 a night, why can't you book someone who is charging you far less without telling me the economy is rough right now? Tickets are selling at $45 to $65 ... and these people are filling these arenas and you're going to tell me the economy's bad and you can't book me? You tell that to somebody that's not savvy."

She said she varies her set lists to suit the audience.

"I travel around with a 3 1/2 inch ring tablet – I'm going to put it on laptop, but now it's the old-fashioned way – with lyrics of songs I've done over the years and even some I've recorded recently, 'cause oftentimes I finds it's easier to not try to guess it, and since I don't rehearse as often as I used to because most of my guys have day jobs.

"I bring my lyrics with me and if the audience say they want to hear something, I just open it – `gimme a minute' – and I do it, whether the band remembers it or not. I do it a cappella if they don't.

"I don't believe in shoving stuff down people's throats. They paid their bucks to come. I feel they're entitled to hear what they came to hear, not `Look at me, what I can do.' And I don't get caught up in having a special dress on; I try to dress showy, but comfortable, so I'm not up there worried about my feet hurting ... If my feet hurt, I can't think. I been out of high heels for a long time."

For many years, Thomas and her husband, Emile Jackson, who have a blended family of seven children, 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, ran a popular New Orleans nightclub, but didn't reopen after Hurricane Katrina.

Now, she stays active tending to her progeny, her church community and her well-being.

"I'm blessed with a pretty decent smile and I have a good dentist who makes me take care of my teeth," she said. "I've put on a few pounds, but I'm dealing with that, too; I manage to find clothes to cover a multitude of sins. I was never a heavy smoker or drinker, and I try to exercise as much as a 68-year-old woman can on bad knees."

Just the facts
WHO: Irma Thomas

WHEN: Sunday, 9:30 p.m.

WHERE: Sirius Stage, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.


Kevin Liles Leaves Warner Music Group

Source: www.eurweb.com

September 04, 2009)  *Warner Music Group announced Thursday that Executive Vice President Kevin Liles has decided to step down from his day-to-day role at the company to pursue his own entrepreneurial opportunities.  

  However, the industry veteran will maintain a consulting relationship with the company, WMG said in a statement. 

  "Kevin Liles is an exceptional executive and one of the most dynamically creative individuals in the industry," said WMG Chairman and CEO, Edgar Bronfman, Jr. "During his tenure at WMG, he helped to design and implement our industry-leading artist services strategy that in just a few years is already producing meaningful results. With WMG now positioned for future growth, Kevin is following his heart. His presence will be missed in 75 Rock." 

  Lyor Cohen, WMG's Vice Chairman and Chairman and CEO, Recorded Music - Americas and the UK, said, "Kevin and I have worked together since the day he joined Def Jam as an intern 18 years ago. He has become a trusted friend, a brilliant executive and an incredible business partner. Together, we have built companies, signed and developed fantastically talented artists, and brought some outstanding music to the world. Even though Kevin's chosen to pursue a new challenge, we'll continue to work together in many aspects of the entertainment industry. I'm so excited to see what's next for Kev, and he takes with him all my love and respect." 

  Liles said, "In the past couple weeks I've made one of the most important decisions of my life -- to depart the Warner Music Group in order to focus more on new entrepreneurial endeavours in talent management, entertainment, media and my personal philanthropic and political passions. I am thankful for the opportunities that Edgar and Lyor have given me, most recently in entrusting me with driving the company's global artist services strategy, which is redefining the way labels and artists work together. My work here is now complete and I'm excited about the next chapter of my life."

Susan Boyle's Debut Jumps The Charts

Source: www.thestar.com -

(September 07, 2009) YouTube star Susan Boyle has dropped out of the headlines lately, but she's still top of mind with music buyers.

The first album by the Britain's Got Talent contestant isn't due until Nov. 24. But online sources say the Scottish singer's debut album, I Dreamed a Dream, has already jumped to the top of the Amazon.com charts, thanks to tens of thousands of pre-orders. The album's release date was announced just a few days ago.

The frenzy even has Boyle beating out Whitney Houston and the Beatles for the top spot.

Boyle took some time out of the Britain's Got Talent tour in July to record some songs for the album. American Idol and Britain's Got Talent judge Simon Cowell, whose label is producing the CD, said, "She sounds fantastic on record. She's so good, the album is not just going to be show tunes. We're going to take our time with this," according to People magazine.

Boyle became a sensation this year with her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables on the British talent show, which was watched millions of times on YouTube. She finished in second place. Boyle became overwhelmed by the spotlight, however, and had a temporary meltdown.

But Boyle seems to be back on track to top the charts, competing with other Cowell protégés including Carrie Underwood, Kris Allen, Adam Lambert and Leona Lewis, who are also set to release new music in November.

Sean Kingston Prepares To Tour


(September 03, 2009) *Reggae/pop performer Sean Kingston will spend fall on a headlining tour to support his forthcoming sophomore studio set, "Tomorrow."

The outing kicks off Sept. 15 in St. Johns, New Brunswick, the first of 12 Canadian dates before dipping Stateside on Oct. 8 in Seattle. The 36-city tour continues through a Nov. 13 show in Decorah, IA. Dates are below.

September 2009
15 - St. Johns, New Brunswick - Harbour Station
16 - Sydney, Nova Scotia - Centre 200
18 - Toronto, Ontario - Guvernment
19 - Montreal, Quebec - Metropolis
27 - Thunder Bay, Ontario - Rock House
28 - Winnipeg, Manitoba - Blush Nightclub
29 - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan - TCU Place
30 - Medicine Hat, Alberta - Cypress Centre

Jamaican Music Producer And Musician Steely Is Dead

www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(September 03, 2009 \) *Wycliffe 'Steely' Johnson, half of the influential production duo Steely and Clevie, has died. The keyboardist, who was in his early 50s, passed away in a New York City hospital on Tuesday.

This column has learnt that Johnson suffered heart failure.

His medical problems began last December when he was being treated for kidney failure at the University Hospital of the West Indies. He went to New York for further medical treatment, where it was discovered he had a benign tumour on his brain the size of an orange. It was successfully removed but he later contracted pneumonia. Johnson also suffered from diabetes.

Johnson was best known for creating some of dancehall's biggest techno jams of the 1980s and 1990s with drummer Cleveland ‘Clevie’ Browne, he started his career as a studio musician.

He worked with several producers, including Augustus Pablo, and was a founding member of the Roots Radics studio band for producer Henry 'Junjo' Lawes, owner of the Volcano label.

Johnson and Browne teamed up during the 1980s, after playing on Bob Marley and the Wailers' Confrontation album. They were members of producer Lloyd 'King Jammys' James red-hot team that played on a flood of hit songs by Admiral Bailey, Shabba Ranks and Nitty Gritty.

While they were one of the most in-demand producers in 1990s dancehall, Steely and Clevie said one of their most cherished projects was a Studio One tribute album they recorded in 1992.

The set featured covers of 10 songs from the legendary studio. One of them, Dawn Penn's cover of No, No, No, became an international hit two years after the album was released by Heartbeat Records and resurrected the career of Penn, who first recorded the song at Studio One in 1969.

The following year, the duo scored big again when their production of Sean Paul and Sasha's I'm Still In Love With You entered Billboard magazine's pop chart. The song was originally done in the 1960s by Alton Ellis and his sister Hortense.

Culture Minister Olivia Grange paid tribute to Johnson, saying in a statement, "Jamaica has lost another brilliant musician but we must give thanks for Steely's creativity and abundance of talent which enriched our music immeasurably."

Among the hit singles that Steely and Clevie produced on their Steely & Clevie label were Boom Wah Dis by Burru Banton, Last Night (Constant Spring) by Mr Vegas; and Old Crook by Mr G.

XM Satellite Radio Sued Over Royalties

www.globeandmail.com - Karim Bardeesy

(September 07, 2009) Two groups representing Canada's music composers and publishers are taking Canadian Satellite Holdings Inc.'s (XSR-T1.400.1411.11%) XM Satellite Radio to the Federal Court of Canada for non-payment of royalties.

The payments were mandated by Canada's Copyright Board on April 9, and are due monthly. Royalties covering the broadcast of Canadian-produced music going back to 2005 had come due on July 31 of this year.

“The creative people who write the music have not received the compensation owed to them,” said C. Paul Spurgeon, general counsel for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, which brought the claim along with another copyright collective.

XM has paid interest on the arrears owing, said Mr. Spurgeon, but has only offered to start paying the principal in September, 2010.

In a statement, XM said, “The company is committed to meeting its obligations but notes that its royalties include a significant retroactive tariff to 2005, coming due during a very challenging economic time.”

XM started broadcasting in 2005, but the royalty rates were only set by the Copyright Board this year.

“They have known for four years that they would owe these fees,” said Mr. Spurgeon

The amounts owed could be substantial for XM Radio, which has yet to turn a profit. Just for SOCAN members, the royalty rate is 4.26 per cent of the lion's share of the company's revenue. XM Radio has made $106.4-million in cumulative revenue to May 31, 2009, but only had $3.46-million in cash on hand.

Sirius Satellite Radio Canada, XM's competitor in satellite radio broadcasting in Canada, has made its payments in full and up to date, SOCAN and Sirius confirmed.

Allan Rouse : The Man Behind The Remastering

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(September 08, 2009) Of all the decisions Abbey Road Studios engineer Allan Rouse faced over the four-year process of remastering the full Beatles catalogue, one was indisputably tougher than all the rest.

"Starting," he says.

Given the intense relationships Beatles fans have with the band's music and their own memories of it, any project that implicitly offers an alternative view of that history would be automatically suspect.

"These are the originals," Rouse explains, sitting in a Greenwich Village recording studio for a listening session of the new masters with Abbey Road co-worker Guy Massey. "So: Did we shit ourselves a little bit? Yes. Because we knew that whatever we do, some people will like 'em, some people won't like 'em."

Which is why, says Rouse half-jokingly, a team of about a half-dozen people was involved in the project. "No one man was going to take responsibility for getting it wrong. We can all take the blame."

Rouse has faced the fans' ire before, but he has worked at Abbey Road Studios since 1971, and his Beatles bona fides are mighty. About 20 years ago, he got the assignment of making a backup tape of every original Beatles recording. Since then, his projects have included numerous other Fab Four spinoffs, including the 5.1 surround-sound and stereo mixes for the reissued Yellow Submarine in 1991, as well as the Love anthology and the Let It Be...Naked remix.

With the new catalogue remasters, Rouse and his co-workers are so far getting nothing but credit. Remastering the catalogue was both a simple and painstaking process. Working chronologically from first Beatles recording to last, Rouse and his team members took the original ¼-inch stereo master tapes, transferred them into the digital recording software ProTools (at 24-bit, 192-kHz), listened to each song five or six times on headphones and different sets of speakers in a variety of rooms, and then subtly addressed any noises they considered extraneous by altering equalizer levels.

But they couldn't go too far in changing the EQ levels, even if they wanted to: This wasn't a remix process, which would have allowed them free rein to fix any imbalance between instrumentation and vocals. Remastering offers limited choices, and any improvement has a potential cost. "If you want to get the voice out a bit, you start eating into the guitar frequencies," notes Massey.

Rouse agrees that the project is like a sonic equivalent of the Sistine Chapel cleaning. Still, he insists it was a mild cleaning that avoided some potential pitfalls. The urge to apply "no-noise" technology, which dampens any hisses or pops but also sucks away some vitality in a recording, was resisted. "We've done five minutes of de-noising across the whole catalogue," says Rouse. "We've been very careful about the restoration."

Pakistan's Howard Stern

Source: www.thestar.com - Mark Magnier,
Los Angeles Times

(September 08, 2009) ISLAMABAD–Fasi Zaka settles his 320-pound frame into a chair in the small, stuffy FM studio, pulls his microphone close and lets it rip.

An upwardly mobile caller seeks a girlfriend and wonders if he should move overseas for love and fortune.

Adopting an exaggerated posh South Asian accent, Zaka gently mocks the man's concerns.

"I want young girl. I am engineer," he says, speaking in a clipped, whiny fashion for comic effect. "Give me green card. I love America," he continues, before letting out a belly laugh and moving on to the next caller: "Okay, buddy, hope you get someone."

In a country with conservative Islamic values that's battling the Taliban, corruption, terrorism and a limping economy, Zaka skirts the edge, insulting listeners, questioning sacred truths and dispensing mass therapy.

The idea of a Pakistani shock jock underscores some of the nuances, complexity and diversity of a society often seen by foreigners as a land of suicide bombers, inflammatory mullahs and political turmoil.

In a recent tongue-in-cheek article, Zaka speculated what two fictional Taliban leaders, Breath (bad) Nullah from Waziristan and Fuzz Gandah Nallah from Swat, might say at an English tea party.

"We should also take action against Cartoon Network."

"Yes, we should. Tom is always chasing Jerry. They are always naked."

"Yes, it is an American conspiracy to spread sex."

Even as he's panned as frivolous or ignored by some critics and establishment types, Zaka's irreverent tone has hit a chord with 16- to 25-year-olds, making his radio show among the most popular in the nation. A core operating principle: Pakistanis are so weighted down by daily life, they need a laugh.

The "Fasi Zaka Show" on FM 91, which airs nationwide, has been described as part Jon Stewart, part Monty Python, part stripped-down Howard Stern.

"Stripped down because Howard Stern has no limits," says Hassan Gulfaraz, a frequent co-host. "We're in a very conservative country ... which means we have to be more creative."

Zakia's irreverence occasionally draws threats. A couple years ago, not long after he had launched his show, a religious caller threatened repeatedly to kill him. Some critics have chided the program's disrespectful tone, widespread use of slang and "lightweight content."

"I wouldn't call it frivolous – it has its moments," says Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a cultural critic. "But it's a bit silly."

Others say Zaka is squandering a golden opportunity to be constructive and foster moderation in a confused younger generation.

But radio hosts don't have to be boring and didactic to get their message across, counters Zaka, pointing to frequent discussions on extremism, women's equality and the violence sweeping Pakistan.

"They presume preaching is the way for change," he says. "It isn't."

Blige, Brown To Perform At Vienna Jackson Tribute

Source: www.thestar.com - Veronika Oleksyn,
Associated Press Writer

(September 08, 2009) VIENNA (AP) – Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown and Natalie Cole will be among the top artists performing at a Sept. 26 Michael Jackson tribute concert in Vienna, organizers said Tuesday.

But they left open the possibility that major stars such as Madonna might still be part of the show that will take place outside a 17th-century palace in the Austrian capital.

"Just hold your horses!" Jackson's brother Jermaine told reporters at a packed news conference in Vienna's city hall.

Event promoter Georg Kindel said that up to 25 performers are expected to participate in concert that is being billed as the main global tribute for the King of Pop, who died June 25 in Los Angeles. More names will be unveiled later this week in London and Berlin, Kindel said.

Sister Sledge, Akon, Angela Bassett, and the Germany-based boy band US5 also are among the 13 artists confirmed so far, Jermaine Jackson said. In addition, Jackson's original band and dancers will take part.

"We're very excited – the list is growing more and more,'' Jermaine Jackson said, adding that "many major Bollywood names'' and artists from the Middle East also would be involved.

All the artists will play some of Jackson's greatest hits at the concert, including "Thriller,'' "Billie Jean,'' "Black or White" and "Bad.''

"We will honour on this night not only the musician and artist Michael Jackson but also the humanitarian," Kindel said. "He's really someone who changed the history of music.''

Jackson's family and children – as well as 65,000 fans – are expected to attend the tribute to be held on a large stage with a crown on its roof and two runways in front of Vienna's former imperial Schoenbrunn Palace, one of the Austrian capital's top tourist attractions, Kindel said. A "significant portion" of the proceeds from the event will be donated to charity, he added.

Over the course of the evening, Jermaine will perform live, with video of his late brother projected onto nearby walls, organizers said. All artists will sing either "Heal the World" or "We are the World" as a grand finale.

When asked why stars such as Madonna and Whitney Houston – mentioned in Austrian media reports – were not on the list made public Tuesday, a defensive Kindel stressed the list of performers was still not set in stone. "This is not the final line-up – maybe some of the names you mentioned you will hear within the next couple of days," he said.

A sly Jermaine Jackson, meanwhile, acknowledged in response to another question that organizers were "in contact" with artists such as Madonna, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross.

Jermaine Jackson has said Vienna was chosen as the venue because his brother "loved castles," and because Jermaine was impressed with how a smaller tribute held in July outside a mothballed nuclear power plant was organized.

"The beauty of the city is what just really knocks us out because it's just a wonderful setting," to keep Michael's legacy alive, Jackson said.

Tickets went on sale last month.

Erykah Badu On Homeschooling Son Seven

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 09, 2009) *Erykah Badu talks about homeschooling, homebirths and more in a new interview with Babble. The 38-year-old singer says she felt compelled to homeschool son Seven Sirius, 11 ½, through kindergarten and first-grade.

“I wanted to give [him] special attention academically, to give him an advantage,” she said. The results? Seven “learned how to solve problems in a non-traditional way” which has served him well now that he is enrolled in a traditional school.

“He developed an edge in his schoolwork,” notes Badu. “He enjoys challenges…He pushes himself…He does his homework voluntarily.

“He does not want to miss school or be late or be untidy or not have his things in order because that was a big part of how he was brought up. I don’t have any idea what Seven is going to choose to do, but he knows how to be disciplined and how to learn, and because of that he’s one of the top students in his school, and one of the top students in Dallas.”

Citing “parents not participating in kids’ schooling,” as her biggest parental pet peeve, Erykah adds, “I don’t think it matters what school you go to, but I think it’s important for parents to be involved. And to know that when school stops, learning continues, and to continue teaching at home.”

Read more of Badu's parenting interview here.

Jay-Z Moves Up Album Release

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 09, 2009) *Less than a week after Jay-Z's entire album "The Blueprint 3" leaked online, the set's initial Sept. 11th release date was scrapped and pushed up to yesterday. Also, dates for the rap mogul's fall tour and "Oprah Winfrey Show" episode were announced on Tuesday.

With 21 dates confirmed, the tour will make stops at a mix of college campus arenas and traditional venues across North America starting at Penn State University on Oct. 9. Tickets go on sale in select markets beginning on Friday, Sept. 11 at www.LiveNation.com. [Scroll down to see tour dates.]

As previously reported, Jigga will precede the tour kickoff with a charity concert at New York's Madison Square Garden on Sept. 11 in support of the New York Police & Fire Widows and Children's Benefit Fund. One hundred percent of the proceeds from tickets sales and concert merchandise will go directly to the charity. For more information please visit www.answerthecall.org.

Meanwhile, the interview Jay-Z gave to Winfrey's O magazine will air on her talk show Sept. 24.

The two stars were filmed last month visiting the rapper's former home in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects as well as his grandmother's old home in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Appearing Tuesday on New York's Hot 97, Jay-Z told morning show jocks Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg he wanted to bring Winfrey to Brooklyn so local residents could see that her success is tangible.

"I brought her around there really for the neighbourhood," he explained. "'Cause a lot of times when you see people or you hear about Oprah Winfrey, she seems almost untouchable. When I saw her, it was shocking to me. So I know how that feels, to see someone on TV and hear their name and know there so hugely successful. They seem unattainable ... but for them to be around the way and for kids to just see that."

Jay-Z said he wasn't worried about returning to his old neighbourhood, joking that Winfrey had a presidential-like level of security with her.

"There was a lot of people out there," he said. "It was Oprah, you know? You don't want people to come snatch her up. [There was] like secret service and helicopters all around."

Jay-Z's tour dates are listed below:

September 2009
11 - New York, NY - Madison Square Garden

October 2009
9 - University Park, PA - Bryce Jordan Center
10 - Highland Heights, KY - Bank of Kentucky Center
13 - Edmonton, Alberta - Rexall Place
14 - Calgary, Alberta - Pengrowth Saddledome
15 - Kelowna, British Columbia - Prospera Place
16 - Vancouver, British Columbia - General Motors Place
17 - Seattle, WA - Key Arena
24 - Providence, RI - Dunkin Donuts Center
25 - Amherst, MA - Mullins Center
27 - Baltimore, MD - 1st Mariner Arena
28 - Columbus, OH - Value City Arena
29 - London, Ontario - John Labatt Centre
30 - Montreal, Quebec - Bell Centre
31 - Toronto, Ontario - Air Canada Centre

November 2009
1 - Ottawa, Ontario - Scotiabank Place
12 - Champaign, IL - University of Illinois - Assembly Hall
19 - Albuquerque, NM - Tingley Coliseum
20 - El Paso, TX - Don Haskins Center
22 - Austin, TX - Frank Erwin Center Arena

Rapper Speech Debelle claims UK's Mercury Prize

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Reuters

(September 09, 2009) ‘ London — British hip-hop act Speech Debelle upset the odds to win the Mercury Prize on Tuesday, one of Britain's most prestigious annual music awards.

The bookmakers' favourite in a field dominated by the debut albums of emerging acts was Florence and the Machine, but it was Ms. Debelle's debut album Speech Therapy that took the 20,000-pound ($32,810) prize.

“This feels so much better than I had imagined ... I'm from South London, I don't really get emotional, but I'm emotional,” said Ms. Debelle following the live broadcast of the award.

In nomination notes, the Mercury judges described Ms. Debelle's music as “a remarkable new voice in British hip-hop, tough, warm and reflective.”

Speech Therapy was released in June 2009 on the Big Dada label and features the popular single The Key alongside a number of other collaborations.

The other nominees were: Friendly Fires, Glasvegas, Kasabian, La Roux, Led Bib, Lisa Hannigan, Bat for Lashes, Sweet Belly Pilgrim, The Horrors and The Invisible.

The winner of the 2009 Barclaycard Mercury Prize was chosen by a panel of industry figures, musicians and journalists to celebrate the best of UK and Irish music.

Previous winners include Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Suede, Pulp, Klaxons and Elbow.

Bring On The Funk

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(September 09, 2009) ‘Oh, we have a very swinging company, working hard from day to day,” Smokey Robinson cheerfully sang in 1961, “Nowhere will you find more unity than at Hitsville, USA.”

It wasn't a hit, but The Motown Company Song portrayed a communal environment at the Detroit-based pop-music factory that, true to its flipside capitalistic motivations, had its first chart success in 1959 with Money (That's What I Want) , a syncopated and blatant R&B demand for cash written by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. Money (sung by Barrett Strong; later famously covered by the Beatles) was released on the Tamla label, a precursor to the Motown company that churned out hit after hit in the 1960s.

Most of those tunes – radio-friendly rhythm and blues that told of heartbreak and romance three minutes at a time – featured the backbeat of the Funk Brothers, the house band of 13 or so musicians that included guitarist Eddie Willis (that's his signature lick at the beginning of Stevie Wonder's Signed, Sealed, Delivered ) and bassist Bob Babbitt (you know him from the menacing bass line of the Temptations' Ball of Confusion ).

On the occasion of Motown's 50th anniversary and an appearance by the surviving members of the Funk Brothers at this weekend's Southside Shuffle in Port Credit, Ont., Willis and Babbitt recall the label's glory days and the people who made the studio at Motor City's 2648 West Grand Boulevard grand:

Guitarist Willis (who like many of the Funk Brothers played jazz clubs when they weren't in the Motown studio), on the never-stop atmosphere at Studio A, the pit-like room where music was made 24/7: “It reminded me of shift work – we did a lot of late night recording. We'd be playing in the nightclubs until 2 at night. You'd think you'd be going home, but then somebody would walk over and say ‘When you leave here you have to go into the studio.' You'd be geared up already. It was challenging, but it was a lot of fun, especially when somebody you hadn't seen in a while turned up. You wouldn't know what time it was until somebody went outside and said ‘Hey, it's daylight already.'”

Bassist Babbitt, who joined the Funk Brothers in the late 1960s, on producer/songwriter/singer Smokey Robinson: “He made you feel relaxed. That was one of things about Motown – there was always that loose, relaxed feeling. It wasn't like that way at other places. You felt welcome there; it was like a family.”

Willis on Robinson, who urged his friend Berry Gordy, Jr. to form the label in the late 1950s, gave the company its first million-seller and its first No. 1 hit, and eventually became Motown's vice president: “He knew what he wanted when he came into the studio. Those [song-introducing] guitar parts you heard on the radio, they were really his ideas. If they weren't on paper or part of the arrangement of the song, he would hum it.”

Willis remembering the late songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield: “We worked with him on the Temptations on some of the ballads and, later, the psychedelic stuff like (I Know) I'm Losing You . That was two guitars [hums the intro], but it sounds like one. There were quite a few like that.”

Babbitt on 1970's Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today) , a socially topical track by the Temptations that was produced and co-written by Whitfield: “In the late 1960s, people like Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone were starting to get popular. I think Norman wanted to go in that direction. In those days they called it ‘psychedelic.' He used the term ‘electric' some times. I don't think Ball of Confusion was even a song yet when he came in the studio. Norman had an idea he built the music around – he had a few chords, and we took it from there. Barrett Strong may have had some lyrics. It was kind of written right on the spot.”

Babbitt on the anti-Vietnam anthem War , another political statement from Whitfield and Strong, recorded first by the Temptations, but not released as a single until Edwin Starr's stunning soul-shouting version in 1969: “I didn't know that it was going to be called War . Just like I didn't know Ball of Confusion was going to be called Ball of Confusion . But it blew me away when I heard the final version. Sometimes you could hear a track and not even know about the vocals going on it, and you had the feeling it was going to be a hit, regardless of what they were putting on top of the track.”

Berry Gordy, Jr., who started Motown on a loan of $800, was just one of the guys, according to Willis: “He didn't do a lot of recording, but he'd put his hand in there. We'd do a session every now and again, and he would tell us ‘I don't know what I'm doing. I'm depending on you guys [the Funk Brothers].' It'd always work though. He was the boss man, but we didn't change a thing when he was in the studio. We'd say bad things to him, just like we would to any of the producers. It was all in fun, a bunch of men in there.”

When Willis met Little Stevie Wonder, the sightless 11-year-old prodigy was a bongo-playing bundle of get up-and-go: “He was trying to learn about the studio. He couldn't see, naturally, but he was so enthusiastic. He'd be bumping into instruments, running over chairs and things. It was funny. He didn't want any pity.”

Later Babbitt toured with Wonder, an inquisitive genius with plenty of drive: “We were in Baltimore for an arena show. We had to get there early for a sound check, but we got there so early they weren't even open yet. So, we were in a car in an alley about three blocks long. Stevie was behind the steering wheel, I was on the passenger side, and there were a couple of guys in the back. We were listening to some music on the radio, and Stevie started feeling around. The next thing I know the car started and he began driving. We were laughing so much. Finally I put my foot on the brake. It was a spur of the moment thing.”

Willis recalls the Jackson 5, who arrived at Motown in 1969 and quickly peeled off four consecutive No. 1 hits. The quintet (the last of the great Motown acts) was led by a strutting and oddly mature 11-year-old singer: “I don't know how old Michael Jackson was when he first got there, but he was no kid, I'll tell you that. [Michael's father] Joe Jackson took that youth out of him. He was a kid, but the way he talked and sang, he was very grown up.”

Even though the Motown sound was a radio-dominating brand new beat, Willis never would have believed that the label's legacy would be celebrated decades later: “It was sounding good in those days. The people appreciated it. But now, it's a different tune. Those songs, they make cry and they make me happy. I can't explain that. I'll put on something from Motown at least once a week. I'll be tripping out – I'm like ‘play it again, play it again,' because I'm hearing something that really gets my ear.”

The Funk Brothers play the Southside Shuffle festival (tomorrow to Sunday), tomorrow, 10 p.m., at Memorial Park, Port Credit, Ont., www.southsideshuffle.com .

New Beatles Collection 'A Wonderful Thing'

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

(September 09, 2009) The folks at Apple Corps and EMI – the empire the Beatles built – certainly know their stuff.

With the CD format in its final throes, they're making one last effort to convince music fans that their new boxed set of the entire Beatles back catalogue, available today for the first time in painstakingly remastered, digitized stereo, will make all your old Beatles recordings obsolete; and that the $300 asking price for the 13 studio albums, plus double CD of non-album, extended-play and alternative cuts, as well as a DVD of mini-documentaries with rare footage, voice-overs and photographs, is a small sacrifice for such a noble and exhaustingly complete post-modern masterpiece.

They're right on the money, of course. The new Beatles boxed set is a wonderful thing, containing some 217 songs repolished to crystalline perfection and reformatted deferentially into two audio channels without, for the most part, diminishing the enduring charm and excitement of the original versions of the songs, most of which were mixed and released in the single channel format, the standard format 40 years ago.

For subsequent generations who've grown up in a stereo world this set may be something of a revelation.

The songs do have additional dimension and clarity, with each sound ascribed a distinct position in the stereo spectrum. Musicians and hi-fi perfectionists may actually be able to hear the click of a plectrum on George Harrison's steel guitar strings, the spittle frothing at the end of Paul McCartney's tongue, the sardonic sneer that shapes John Lennon's vowels and even the occasional squeak of Ringo's bass drum pedal.

They will also hear succinct evidence of each player's individual technique: little errors in timing and quirks of musical judgment that were buried in the mono mixes for the greater good of the song.

And with the stylish extras – each album comes with a booklet featuring the original art work, liner notes, extra photographs and historical data about the recording – it's no surprise that Amazon.com has already sold out its original pre-release allotment and is taking back orders for future delivery.

The Beatles' marketers have been particularly cunning, however, by banking on the belief that high-end audiophile consumers, collectors and true Beatles fans will eschew the stereo jiggery pokery for a boxed set of the Beatles' 10 original mono albums (up to and including The White Album) cleaned up, digitized and remastered in glorious mono. It's on sale today too.

Again, they're on the money. The Beatles in Mono set, featuring miniaturized exact replicas of the original covers and artwork, costs about $100 more than the stereo collection and is selling twice as fast.

No surprise, really. To use one musical wag's analogy, listening to the mono set is like dipping into fresh, organic guacamole. Listening to the stereo set is akin to being served a dish of chemically enhanced avocados, tomatoes, onions, lime and salt, and a mortar and pestle. Make of it what you will, but it probably won't taste like the real thing.


Jay-Z Opens Up In O Magazine

Source: www.eurweb.com

September 04, 2009) *Jay-Z discusses his not-so-secret wedding day and his early life as a hustler dealing drugs in Brooklyn in an interview for Oprah Winfrey's current issue of O magazine.   Asked about the secrecy of his wedding, Jay said some friends and family were actually disappointed not to receive an invite.  "Very few people knew about it. The sad part is that we offended some," he told the TV host. "But people who love you understand because, at the end of the day, it's your day."   The rap mogul also opened up about his tough childhood growing up in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects, and how he pledged to give back to his neighbourhood if he ever made it out.     Explaining how he felt drug dealing was a "natural" course for him to take, he said: "If anyone did become something like a lawyer or doctor or something like that, they moved out.      "They never came back to share the wisdom of how they made it. If anyone made it, you never knew it. That's why I always said if I became successful, I'd come back here, grab somebody, and show him how it can be done."

Rocawear Has Arthur Ashe T-Shirts

Source: www.eurweb.com

September 03, 2009)  *Jay-Z's Rocawear is offering a new limited-edition T-shirt featuring African-American tennis great Arthur Ashe.      The shirt is being sold at the 2009 US Open and celebrates the USTA National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network’s 40th anniversary, with proceeds benefitting the NJTL and the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS. The tees are also available at USOpen.org for $36.   Meanwhile, the rap mogul appears unconcerned about reports that his new album, "The Blueprint 3," has leaked online before its official Sept. 11 release date.     "I may be the most bootlegged artist in history," he told MTV News. "It's a preview. I'm excited for people to hear the album. I'm very proud of the work I've done, so enjoy it."     "The Blueprint 3" features collaborators Kanye West, Rihanna, Empire Of The Sun's Luke Steele and Pharrell Williams.     The rapper recently announced details of a Sept. 11 concert at Madison Square Garden to benefit the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund.     Titled "Answer the Call," the show will be televised live on Fuse at 9 p.m. EST on Sept. 11th. All tickets will be priced at $50, with 100% of the proceeds from ticket sales and concert merchandise going to the two charities. Additional information can be found at www.answerthecall.org.   

CD Reviews ; Willie Nelson

Source: www.thestar.com – Ashante Infantry

Willie Nelson
American Classic (Blue Note/EMI) (out of 4)

(September 08, 2009) The country icon strolls through the American Songbook – "Fly Me to the Moon," "Come Rain or Shine" – in his halting, subdued style, accompanied by first-call jazz musicians like bassists Christian McBride and Robert Hurst and drummers Lewis Nash and Jeff Hamilton. Nelson, 76, doesn't vary much in range or phrasing, but his scraggly, seen-it-all voice evinces the heartache of tunes like "I Miss You So," "Because of You" and an updated version of his trademark "Always on My Mind." The warbler's black-tie getup in the liner-note photos belies the recording's casual vibe. Its only pretensions are the strings producer Tommy Lipuma inserted on a couple of tunes, rendering unnecessary smoothness and grandeur. Otherwise, Nelson sounds like he's doing sound check in an empty club. Standout players are pianist Joe Sample, guitarist Anthony Wilson and Nelson's harmonica vet Mickey Raphael, who does a stirring turn on "Since I Fell for You." Top Track: Norah Jones outshines fellow guest vocalist/pianist Diana Krall on her and Nelson's spirited, dare I say sexy, duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

CD Reviews ; Trey Songz

Source: www.thestar.com – Ashante Infantry

Trey Songz Ready (Atlantic/Warner)

(September 08, 2009) The Virginia native best known around these parts for singing the hook on Drake's "Successful" drops his third album since 2005. He blends lusty R. Kelly brashness – "Panty Droppa (Intro)," "I Invented Sex" – with Usher emo and youthful trendiness: "LOL :-)," "Hollalude." A catchy combo of grinding R&B, sure, but despite the fetching falsetto showcased on "Neighbours Know My Name" Songz's nimble voice is generally indistinguishable from say, Chris Brown or The Dream. He even mimics Jamie Foxx's stuttering, Auto-Tuned liquor ode "Blame It" for "Say Aah." The 24-year-old closes out the disc with more serious, heartfelt offerings – "Black Roses," "Love Lost" – but the overall impression is of a promising talent trying to find his way. Top track: "I Need a Girl" features live guitar over the canned beats.

CD Reviews ; Raekwon

Source: www.thestar.com
Corey Mintz

Raekwon Only Built 4 Cuban Linx ... PT II (EMI/ICEH2O)

(September 08, 2009) The In a direct plea for retroactive continuity, the first notes of Raekwon's new album repeat the last ones from his 1995 debut. The fantasy that interim albums Immobilarity and The Lex Diamond Story never happened is too appealing to dismiss. Plus, this time he's surrounded by the best beats he's had in a decade. RZA shows off with an iconic Godfather theme sampling on "Black Mozart" while providing an unobtrusively lush soul background to the aptly titled "New Wu." Dr. Dre drops piano loops so popping and crackling that no one need shout the producer's name over the track. A dozen Ghostface team-ups, plus snippets of kung-fu dialogue and the assembling of all surviving teammates, signal the album's aim at Wu-Tang glory redux. As an MC, Raekwon still simmers with the same confident tempo, as if never breathing in or out. Top track: For a die-hard Wu-head, there is no resisting the marching onslaught of lead track "House of Flying Daggers."

CD Reviews ; Kobie Watkins

Source: www.thestar.com – Ashante Infantry

Kobie Watkins
Involved (Origin)

(September 08, 2009) Drummer Kobie Watkins goes for subtlety on his debut. The Chicago native, who's a regular with jazzers Sonny Rollins, Kurt Elling and gospel singer Kim Burrell, utilizes different small combos on these songs penned mostly by him and producer Harold Mims. With the forward sounds of mellow guitarist Bobby Broom, scintillating saxists Jarrard Harris and Geof Bradfield, and a deft Ron Perrillo on Fender Rhodes, it's easy to forget it's a drummer's album. Watkins' specialty is shading and texture rather than bombast, from his delicate build-up on rarely covered 1995 Stevie Wonder ballad "Taboo to Love," to the moody congas on "Movin' On." This is pleasant, straight-ahead jazz, but the compositions are not particularly memorable. Top Track: Watkins kicks off burner "Spastic" with a relentless volley.

Jennifer Hudson Added To 'VH1 Divas'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 09, 2009) *Jennifer Hudson has been booked to perform at the "VH1 Divas" concert, to be televised live from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn on Sept. 17 at 9 p.m.  J-Hud joins fellow musical guests Sheryl Crow, Martina McBride, Cyndi Lauper and Melissa Etheridge. The ceremony will be hosted by former "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul. "We are excited that Jennifer Hudson will share her award-winning talent with our 'VH1 Divas' audience next week. Adding Jennifer to our roster of young yet hugely successful performers guarantees that the show will truly be a night to remember," said Tom Calderone, President, VH1. "We can't wait for our viewers to enjoy the performances that will reflect the talent, hard work and tenacity that has come to define this new generation of divas." Kathy Griffin, Toni Braxton, Ryan Kwanten, Lauren Conrad, Whitney Port and the cast of MGM film "Fame" (Asher Book, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Kherington Payne, Naturi Naughton, and Walter Perez) will serve as presenters for the evening. Previously-announced "Divas" include Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis, Jordin Sparks and Miley Cyrus.


Vallée Throws Himself Into His Work

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(September 05, 2009) Here's some Toronto International Film Festival trivia to start you anticipating the cinematic orgy that begins on Thursday: What do the festival's breakaway hit from 2005, C.R.A.Z.Y., and this year's closing gala, The Young Victoria, have in common?

After all, one is about a mixed-up kid coming to grips with his gayness in the Quebec of 40 years ago, while the other is about the infamous "we are not amused" ruler and her struggle to claim a throne that was rightfully hers.

It doesn't just sound like two different movies, it sounds like two different worlds – yet, somehow, they share a great deal.

If you guessed they were both directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, you'd only be partially right and it's up to Vallée himself to put the rest of the pieces in place.

"They're both about young rebels who wanted to test themselves against the society they grew up in," he says. "Deep down inside, Zac was just a rock 'n' roll guy and Victoria was just a rock 'n' roll girl. They're really the same person."

And they're really both Vallée as well.

Now, that doesn't mean the soft-spoken 46-year-old director is either gay or a member of British royalty. It's not the literal facts of a project that draw Vallée to it but the emotional undercurrent.

"Yes, I'm Zac; yes, I'm Victoria," he laughs over the phone from his home office in Montreal. "Yes, I'm the leading character in all of my films, no matter how different they seem."

He is surprised to be asked to revisit his childhood days ("I haven't thought about some of that stuff for years!") but he willingly journeys back.

Born in 1963 in Montreal, he describes himself as "from a very humble middle-class French-Canadian family. My father was a worker in a printing shop. My mother was a housewife. In those days, it was common for the mother to stay home with the family, while the father worked hard with his hands all day."

It was a lively household for Vallée and his siblings, two brothers and a sister.

"My parents were both pop music lovers and I grew up with the sound of it all around me," he recalls. "My dad would be a DJ sometimes in the evenings. They were big, big fans of Elvis Presley.

"I still remember the day he

(Elvis) died in 1977. I was with my mother in the kitchen and we heard the news on the radio. `What? Impossible!' was our reaction, because it seemed like he could never die."

Vallée's love of Presley went beyond his music and into the King's films. "I used to watch all of them as a kid, never knowing I would make movies myself one day." He chuckles. "I showed some of them to my kids recently and I was surprised and a bit embarrassed to see how simple most of them were. That's not how I remembered them."

Ask Vallée what he was like as a kid and it takes him a while to respond.

"I grew up in a tough neighbourhood," he begins. "I was shy. I was scared. I never felt I belonged. I wasn't in the right place.

He pauses. "It's hard for me to express. I think I was a happy kid but I had a sense that I wanted to do something different with my life because I wasn't sure I liked the one I had."

It's easy to see how Vallée's memories of that time would echo Zac from C.R.A.Z.Y but, with just a bit of imagination, it's possible to see the through-line from The Young Victoria as well.

The sheltered young girl who asserted herself against formidable forces to be named queen at the age of 18 was also a profound visionary, with strong dreams of how British society should change from its very roots.

"I was a dreamer at that age, too," Vallée says with a sigh. "I dreamed I could be a hockey star like my idol, Bobby Orr, or I dreamed I could be a dancer like Gene Kelly, who I'd watch over and over again in Singing in the Rain, or I wanted to be a rock star, like John Lennon or Jim Morrison."

But none of Vallée's dreams came true and so he moved away from home, supported himself and began studying "to learn how to become an accountant. I was miserable."

But while at Collège Ahuntsic, a professor named Yves Lever opened his eyes to the world of cinema.

"That one man, that one class changed my life. I suddenly started dreaming that I could be a film director. No, not suddenly. It's a one-day-at-a-time process to change your life. But I thought, `Why don't I try it and see if it works?' After all, I was always making movies inside my head."

If there was one director and one film that also made things click for Vallée, it was Hal Ashby, with his Harold and Maude.

"Everything about his style of movie-making spoke to me," Vallée says. "The way he used the music of Cat Stevens! I thought, `What a beautiful way to tell stories!'"

Vallée slowly carved out a career in québécois cinema with movies like Liste noire, but it was C.R.A.Z.Y. that opened the floodgates.

"Suddenly, I had an agent in Los Angeles and hundreds of scripts on my desk. I read them very carefully, looking for one to speak to me."

Julian (Gosford Park) Fellowes' carefully crafted, but deeply felt, screenplay for The Young Victoria was the one that did it.

"The writing was so brilliant and he also made me realize it was a love story about Victoria and Albert. Two true soulmates."

Although "very nervous as a French Canadian making a movie in England about an English queen," he found additional strength in his leading lady, Emily Blunt. "I felt blessed. She's so cool and easy-going in life but, on the set, she wants to deliver 100 per cent the best."

His favourite memory is of directing Blunt in the scene where she has just become queen and has to face the House of Lords.

"I told her she was like a rock star going on stage for her first great performance, telling 80 old men she was up to the job.

"We looked at each other and, when we were both ready, I called out, `All right, rock 'n' roll, let's go there!'"

Somehow, you feel Jean-Marc Vallée will be saying that for a long time.

Ludacris : The “Gamer” Interview with Kam Williams

Source:  Kam Williams

Christopher Brian Bridges was born on September 11, 1977 in Champaign , Illinois where he began rapping at the age of 9 and formed his first musical group a few years later. While in his teens, his family moved to Atlanta where he attended Banneker High School before majoring in music management at Georgia State University .

He later worked at a local radio station as DJ Chris Lova Lova until adopting the alias Ludacris to perform on Timbaland’s track “Phat Rabbit.” He subsequently launched his own career in 2000 with the release of the album “Back for the First time,” following that up a year later with “Word of Mouf,” and the rest is history.     

The six-time Grammy-winner is not only a hip-hop icon, but also an entrepreneur, philanthropist, restaurateur, pitchman, columnist, and of course a gifted actor. He parlayed appearances on the NBC drama “Law and Order SVU” into major motion pictures roles in such hits as the Academy Award Best Picture-winning Crash and the critically-acclaimed Hustle & Flow.

As partners with Chef Chris Yeo in Straits Restaurant, Ludacris offers Thai/Singaporean cuisine in the heart of downtown Atlanta . Plus, he has a couple of online ventures: WeMix.com, a social networking site aimed at showcasing and developing artists, and Myghetto.com, which serves as a MySpace for the hood.

Keenly aware of the less fortunate, Luda established the Ludacris Foundation which is already in its seventh year of operation. Thus far, the non-profit organization has donated over a million dollars to organizations that assist underprivileged children. The Foundation’s aim is to help kids help themselves by using music and the arts to inspire them to develop goals and then work to achieve them.

Here, Ludacris discusses all of the above, as well as his new film Gamer, a sci-fi adventure co-starring Gerard Butler, Kyra Sedgwick, Terry Crews and Amber Valletta.

Ludacris: What up, Kam?

Kam Williams: Hey, Luda , thanks so much for the time.

L: No doubt, man.

KW: So, what interested you in Gamer?

L: Man, in picking movies, I always look at all the elements before making a choice, from reading the script to seeing who else is in it to who produced it to who’s directing. The opportunity to work with Gerard Butler was definitely a plus. I’ve been a fan of his especially because of the movie 300. And I also wanted to work with the guys who wrote and were directing it, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.    

KW: Yeah, they made Crank which was quite impressive, a non-stop, adrenaline-fuelled, roller coaster ride.

L: Exactly. I made my decision based on that. In addition, I loved the role they had for me, because I never want to be typecast. I love playing all sorts of different roles.

KW: How would you describe your character, Humanz Brother?

L: I play the leader of a resistance group that’s totally against putting computer chips in human beings’ brains because I think that’ll lead to the taking over of mankind, period. So, I’m all about trying to get rid of this technology, so we can live peacefully. 

KW: Do you think a scenario like this has a chance of becoming a reality someday?

L: Man, you never know. The possibilities are definitely limitless when it comes to technology like this. We all embrace technology, but sometimes you have to be careful.

KW: How’d you get along with the other members of the cast? 

L: I loved working with this cast, especially with Gerard Butler. That’s how I study and try to become a better actor. He’s extremely serious and focused.

KW: How do you divide your time between making music and making movies?

L: It’s hard, man, but you just gotta focus on one thing at a time. I give whichever I’m doing 100% of my attention.

KW: Is there any truth to the rumour that comedian Katt Williams is your cousin?

L: [Laughs] No, but that is my homey, though. Katt Williams is one thug. That’s like my brother.

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

L: Man, over the past ten years, I believe I’ve been asked every question you could possibly ask. So, off the top of my head I can’t think of anything that hasn’t been asked.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

L: I’m sure we’re all fearful of something. I’m afraid of God. You have to be fearful of Him.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

L: [Chuckles] I am definitely happy, man. Of course, I wouldn’t say I’m always happy. I don’t think anyone is. But for the most part, I’m living out my dream. I’m doing what I have to do. My family’s taken care of. I’m financially straight. So, damn right, I’m extremely happy.

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

L: Hey man, my fans already help me by supporting the things I do, and just by understanding my changing and continued growth. So, the true fans are already helping me out there. 

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

L: I’m actually reading a book right now, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” (HERE)

KW: The Dale Carnegie classic. Music maven Heather Covington asks: What music are you listening to right now? 

L: A lot of different music. I have a Battle of the Sexes album coming out soon, so I have to listen to all these unreleased tracks so that we make sure we pick from the best of them to give to the true fans who support us.

KW: What’s the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in life?

L: All the people who told me I couldn’t make it, and individuals who were trying to step in the way of my becoming who I am.

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

L: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Mr. Barack Obama.

KW: How did you feel a year ago when President Obama said he was listening to you on his iPod?

L: I really appreciated that.

KW: Have you spoken to him since he became President?

L: That’s confidential information.

KW: What is your favourite dish to cook?

L: Tacos. That’s about the only thing I know how to cook.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?

L: By realizing that I’m extremely blessed and extremely fortunate and that it can’t be that damn bad.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

L: I see a multifaceted Negro, an entrepre-Negro.

KW: One of your biggest fans, Hajar from Queens asks: Is it true you like big women? She says she hopes so.

L: I don’t discriminate: big, small, skinny, tall, short, it doesn’t matter. 

KW: Hajar also wants to know when your next album is coming out.

L: It should be out towards the end of the year. If not, it’s coming out on Valentine’s Day of 2010.

KW: Leon Marquis wants to know if it’s true that you’re going to star in The Richard Pryor Story.

L: I wouldn’t say that it’s untrue, but nothing is confirmed yet.

KW: Lester Chisholm asks, how can hip-hop artists assist young and old transcend obstacles on whatever path they are on?

L: By embracing the new, by not being stubborn, and by being open to new artists.

KW: Loony Larry Greenberg asks: What do you think of the Amish?

L: [LOL] Oh man, like I said, I don’t discriminate. I love ‘em. I respect everybody’s faith and culture.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

L: As a multifaceted individual and as an entrepre-Negro.

KW: Film director Hisani Dubose was really blown away by your acting skills. She wonders whether you’ve been studying your craft? 

L: I always study my craft. I’m passionate about what I do, so you have to study.

KW: Tony Noel asks, what images and roles do you see for yourself in the future?

L: As far as movies are concerned, I would have to say a diversity. But only time will tell.

KW: Marcia Evans asks whether you’re still involved with AIDS awareness?

L: Yes, we’re still doing things through the Ludacris Foundation.

KW: She was also wondering how you’re enjoying your joint venture as co-owner of Straits Restaurant?

L: I’m loving it, man. Coincidentally, we have a private dinner there tonight as we speak. We’re coming up on our two-year anniversary, so I’m feeling good.

KW: Marcia asks whether you’ve mended fences with Oprah?  

L: Oprah called me when my dad passed, and offered her condolences, so I would say we are on good terms.

KW: Hey, brother, let me say I’m sorry about you losing your father.

L: Thank you, man.

KW: Marcia points out that you were doing charity work in South Africa . Are you planning to do anything musically over there?

L: Yeah, when I was there we did a couple of things with some African artists. And we’re still looking into trying to build a label over there and putting out some music. So, I’m definitely involved somewhat.  

KW: Thanks again for the interview, Luda , and best of luck with Gamer and your many other ventures.

L: I greatly appreciate it, my friend. Thank you very much.  


To see a trailer for Gamer, visit HERE

The New Queen Of Comedy, Luenell, Appears In 'All About Steve'

www.eurweb.com - By Eunice Moseley

(September 03, 2009) *The new queen of comedy, Luenell, is on a fast track to claim her crown, with yet another comedic role in a major motion picture. On September 4, 2009 20th Century Fox Films releases, “All About Steve,” starring Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church  and Luenell Campbell who plays Lydia, a “protester.”

The PG-13 film is about a quirky cross-word puzzle designer (Bullock), who has a borderline genius intelligence. She is set up with a blind date, by her parents, with a CNN camera man (Cooper). She decides he is her soul mate and that they are meant to be together. She begins a quest to follow him wherever he goes trying to persuade him that they belong together. Luenell's character, along with some other “misfits,”' like Church, are encouraging her to pursue her “man.” He starts to think he may be a victim of stalking.

Luenell, who also carried the title of the “original bad girl of comedy,” said the highlight of working on the “All About Steve” film was working with “A-lister” Sandra Bullock and she added, “and Bradley is not hard on the eyes.”

“This is the first film I've done that’s rated PG-13,” Luenell pointed out. “My daughter (a professional dancer) can see it.”

With the help of her manager, William Hanford Lee, Jr., Luenell has “bust”  Hollywood's doors wide-open and she is taking no prisoners. Her early credits in films include “So I Married an Axe Murder” in 1993 starring Mike Myers; “The Rock” in 1996 with Sean Connery; “Never Die Alone” in 2004 with DMX and Michael Ealy; “Borat” in 2006 with Sacha Baron Cohen, and “Devine Intervention” in 2007 with Jazsmin Lewis and Wesley Jonathan.

Through all this Luenell has also been appearing in television series such as “Nash Bridges,” “Reality Bites Back,” “Head Case,”  and “Californication.” As a comedian Luenell has graced the stages of BET's Comicview, The John Kerwin Show, and 1st Amendment Stand Up.

“I have a screenplay in my head, ”Luenell told me when asked about other projects she has going on. “I have a comedy album 'Luenell Live: Bold, Bad and Uncut!' now on iTunes and a Podcast (Hey Luenell Radio) show.”

For more on Luenell log onto www.myspace.com/heyluenell or www.HeyLuenell.com and for more on the “All About Steve” movie release log onto www.AllAboutSteveMovie.com

Moore's 'Love Story' Earns More Love

Source: www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(September 07, 2009) VENICE, ITALY–Michael Moore says his film Capitalism: A Love Story is dedicated to "good people ... who've had their lives ruined" by the quest for profit.

After much success at Cannes, Moore premiered the movie yesterday in his first appearance at the Venice Film Festival. It was warmly received at a press showing Saturday evening and won positive reviews. Variety called it one of Moore's "best pics."

"I am personally affected by good people who struggle, who work hard and who've had their lives ruined by decisions that are made by people who do not have their best interest at heart, but who have the best interest of the bottom line, of the company, at heart," Moore told reporters yesterday.

The film features plenty of examples of lives shattered by corporate greed – but also some inspiring tales of workers who have rebelled.

According to Moore, "the revolt you think I am calling for has actually begun. It began Nov.4" last year, when U.S. President Barack Obama was elected.

There is the Chicago glass and window company whose employees barricaded themselves to demand their pay after management laid off all 250 employees when the bank line of credit dried up.

On the side of greed, Moore tells the story of a privately run juvenile detention centre in Wilkes Barre, Penn., that paid off judges to lock up juvenile offenders. One boy said he had done little more than throw a piece of meat at his mother's boyfriend during a fight at the dinner table, and a teenage girl's offence was making fun of her school's vice-principal on a Myspace page.

The film is filled with classic Moore gimmicks, like wrapping crime-scene tape around landmark banks and Wall Street institutions. And there is the expected Moore grandstanding as he tries to make citizen arrests of bank CEOs, not getting past the sometimes amused security guards at the main entrance. By now, everyone sees him coming and knows who he is.

Moore said he considered himself a proxy for the "millions of Americans who would like to be placing crime scene tape around Wall Street."

don't call it a sequel

German director Werner Herzog says his Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage as a drug-addicted homicide detective and Eva Mendes as his prostitute girlfriend, has nothing to do with Abel Ferrara's 1992 cult classic starring Harvey Keitel. He hasn't even seen it.

"There is no relationship, because I never saw it. But I am convincingly told that they have nothing to do with each other," Herzog told reporters Friday in Venice, where the movie made its premiere.

"I hope that Abel Ferrara will see my film, which he has not seen. And I hope I will see his film soon. I am sure we will meet soon with a bottle of whiskey between us."

A brutal murder of a family of illegal immigrants drives Herzog's Bad Lieutenant, but the movie defies any conventional plotline. It's more than a murder story and doesn't want to be an exposé of corruption.

"To me it's a fairy tale, a warped fairy tale, but a fairy tale," Mendes said.

Bad Lieutenant and Capitalism: A Love Story are both competing for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded Sept. 12.

Fest Bet: Pippa's quest satirical, funny and heartbreaking

Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard,
Movies Editor

(September 06, 2009) Her decades-older publishing powerhouse husband Herb (Alan Arkin) is recovering from a heart attack, meaning Pippa Lee (she never calls herself just "Pippa") abandons their glamorous life in Manhattan for a Connecticut retirement condo in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.

Robin Wright Penn brings an air of bemused resignation to Pippa, alternating with simmering frustration when she's identified merely as the stylish woman who makes superb butterflied lamb for their friends Sam (Mike Bender) and neurotic Sandra (Winona Ryder).

Insight into the mysterious Pippa comes with striking, dramatic flashbacks – Blake Lively surprises as the teen Pippa, so different from the housewife we first meet, yet still seeking her identity when she models for some unorthodox photography with her aunt's roommate (Julianne Moore).

An aimless party girl when she meets the sexy and powerful Herb (Arkin, playing the vigorous 50-year-old), much of Pippa's uncertainty springs from childhood; Maria Bello gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Pippa's pill-popping suburban `60s mother.

Now that Herb is declining and becoming aloof as his health fails, perhaps Pippa can find answers about who she is with the help of the neighbours' seemingly rootless son (Keanu Reeves) who has some secrets and questions of his own.

Writer-director Rebecca Miller's satisfying film works on several levels – a witty satire about society and relationships that is both funny and heartbreaking, plus the cast is superb.

Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m., RTH, Gala; Sept. 17, 11:45 a.m. Scotiabank

Economic Picture Pinches TIFF

Source: www.thestar.com - TONY WONG, Business Reporter

(September 05, 2009)  While the Toronto International Film Festival is renowned for showcasing the world's finest movies, Jeffry Roick's glittery parties are known to occasionally eclipse the main event.

Roick, 43, is the event planner of choice for Hollywood North. But a tough recession means that this year's festival, which starts next Thursday, , seems destined to be less glamorous this time – even with the presence of luminaries such as George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.

At this time last year Roick had 13 confirmed bookings. This year he has two.

"Companies are really toning things down because of the economy," says Roick. "Even if they do have the money it's just not fashionable right now to spend a lot on what they think may be an over-the-top event."

Pamela Smith, publisher of TSEvents, considered the bible of the events business in Toronto, says this year has been particularly bad for the industry.

"It really is a sad state. A lot of businesses are just devastated," says Smith. "This is affecting everyone from the hotel to the caterer to the cab driver."

Organizers say the festival, considered the second-most important movie industry event after Cannes, has an estimated $135 million economic impact on Toronto. More than 470,000 people are expected to attend 335 film screenings throughout the city.

Michael Harker, founder and senior partner of Toronto-based Enigma Research, says the festival may vie with other events such as the Canadian National Exhibition for the bragging rights as the annual event with the largest economic footprint in the city.

"They fit the perfect criteria of having a huge attendance, having a lot of people from out of town and their patrons do a large amount of spending when they're in the city," Harker says.

It is also one of the single most important annual events for the hospitality industry. This is typically when the most glamorous parties are held in the city during the year. With the stars out in force, sponsors and patrons are willing to pay big bucks to up the glamour quotient.

But Smith says the hospitality industry is still recovering from a big tumble last Christmas after Wall St. imploded, with the reverberations on Bay St. here in Toronto.

"They suffered cancellations at Christmas, and that business hasn't come back," Smith says.

Case in point: Last year Roick's company McNabb Roick & Associates threw the festival's most high-profile soiree. The One X One fundraiser for 800 guests used Maple Leaf Gardens as a dinner venue for the first time. Hosted by The Bourne Identity star Matt Damon, the event raised funds for children's charities.

While a concert is still planned for the charity this year, the dinner portion is dramatically slimmed down to about 200 people with a cocktail party held in a private residence, Roick says.

"People are still having events, but the feeling is much more subdued and likely held in smaller venues and restaurants," he says.

Roick will not disclose who will be at his parties, but in the past he's hosted guests such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Clint Eastwood and Brad Pitt.

Despite the challenging economy, Jennifer Bell, vice-president of communications for TIFF, says organizers are confident the festival is "well-positioned to weather the economic storm."

Unlike other non-profit annual events such as Tennis Canada's Rogers Cup, TIFF does not disclose sponsorship details.

"We do not discuss specific figures or details associated with sponsorship arrangements," Bell says. "However, it would be irresponsible for us as an organization to suggest that we are immune to the pressures facing the arts sector globally."

Roick says sponsors are crucial to the festival, especially since they underwrite many of the costs of throwing a big party.

"When you're not getting dozens of cases of fine wine donated for your party in return for sponsorship, that makes a huge difference to the size and scope of your event," Roick says.

Still, the festival remains seductive for some sponsors. Toronto-based Porter Airlines signed on for the first time this year.

"The film festival really creates a buzz," says Robert Deluce, CEO of the commuter airline known for its emphasis on style. "I guess you could say we're bucking the trend by spending more on marketing this year than last year."

Unlike some other businesses, Porter is in expansion mode, taking on six new airplanes by the end of the year while upgrading its terminal.

The airline is also the official carrier of other arts and cultural organizations, such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Luminato.

"We feel that cultural events like the film festival are where our passengers are," Deluce says.

Deluce says he's not sure if he's going to throw a party, but he'll likely attend a few. Models dressed in Porter Airlines flight outfits will also be on show at different events.

"We're going to try and participate in every way," he says.

That may be good news for planners such as Roick, whose events could cost more than $1,000 per plate. While there is no Maple Leaf Gardens event planned for this year, the big-ticket item will be a black-tie fête planned by Roick and held at the art-moderne-style Carlu, of which he is also the managing partner.

Roick promises that it will be the party that everyone will remember this year. And who knows, he says, perhaps a little optimistically, with the festival less than a week away, things could still turn around.

"It's all about whether the stars' schedules can come together. Then it's `hurry-up and book that club,'" he says. "It could still happen."

A Bit Like Running A Dating Service

Source: www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman

(September 09, 2009) The lobby of Sutton Place Hotel was rather quiet yesterday morning as Stefan
Wirthensohn outlined plans for the film market over which he presides as ringmaster. But he knows the lull won't last.

The frantic game of buying and selling distribution rights is about to begin. By the end of the week, 3,000 prospective players will have arrived in Toronto.

Many of them will be staying at this hotel, which for years has been where the sales office is set up to help them with information, promotion, contact information and places for sales agents to meet distributors.

Most of the people with big chequebooks have not yet arrived, but yesterday two deals were announced by local distributors.

A new film boutique company called D Films has acquired rights to Creation, the opening night gala movie about Charles Darwin, from its British producer, Jeremy Thomas.

Meanwhile Alliance Films announced it has acquired Suck, a rock 'n' roll vampire film directed by, and starring, Canadian Rob Stefaniuk.

U.S. and/or Canadian rights are available on close to 100 films that will have their world premieres at TIFF and, despite the global recession, Wirthensohn – director of TIFF's sales office – is confident a lot of deals will be made. His job is a bit like running a dating service.

"Some of the prices may not be as high as they were a few years ago," he says, "but there is an appetite for films."

Among the more conspicuous movies awaiting deals are Chloe, the remake of a French thriller directed by Atom Egoyan, which will have its premiere as a gala on Sunday at Roy Thomson Hall.

Produced by Ivan Reitman's company Montecito Pictures and financed entirely by Studio Canal in France, the picture arrives in Toronto without a U.S. distribution deal. Much may depend on how it plays with the TIFF audience. In an unusual move, the filmmakers have delayed press screenings until after the world premiere.

Yet Chloe does have a Canadian distributor: E1 Entertainment. That makes it easier for the producers to present and produce the movie at TIFF, and it helps pay the hefty costs associated with such a showcase.

Yesterday's announcement about Suck may be more a matter of strategic timing than real news. Even if contracts had not been formally signed, insiders knew many weeks ago that Alliance had made the deal for Suck.

Among the other TIFF movies expected to generate offers: A Single Man, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Ondine, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Most Dangerous Man in America, Excited, Triage, Get Low and Harry Brown.

There are likely to be fewer U.S. buyers writing big cheques. But Canadian distributors are hungry to beef up their release schedules.

"We are definitely hoping to buy a number of films," says Victor Loewy, the chair of Alliance Films.

Meanwhile, Loewy's former colleagues are also competing for product. Patrice Theroux of E1 Entertainment picked up Chloe, which shows off Toronto and features Hollywood stars Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson. And Jim Sherry, running the new company D Films, chose Creation for his first acquisition.

The producers of Creation – TIFF's first non-Canadian opening gala in more than a decade – hope the high-profile slot will trigger a U.S. deal. On the morning after the red-carpet strutting, in the lobby of Sutton Place, the action will shift to TIFF's annual game show: Let's Make a Deal.


New 'Jerkin' Dance Gets A Movie

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 04, 2009) *The "jerkin" dance craze has not only inspired the hit single "You're a Jerk" from the teen duo New Boyz, but also a feature film that is currently in development from indie film producer Shariff Hasan and Melee Entertainment.   According to the Hollywood Reporter, Melee's Bryan Turner, Scott Aronson and Mike Regen are producing the project along with Hasan, Todd Moscowitz and Mike Mavrolas.  Moscowitz runs Asylum Records, which has released a number of jerkin'-themed music, and Mavrolas manages jerkin' act the New Boyz, which is enjoying a hit with the jerkin'-themed single "You're a Jerk." Jerkin' is a dance that originated in Southern California, but has now spread out across the country and around the globe. The dancers usually promote non-violence and wear brightly colored, nonbaggy jeans and shirts.   Melee is the banner behind the Mos Def action comedy "Next Day Air," which earned $10 million when Summit released it in May, and Screen Gems' $40 million breakout "You Got Served."

Urbanworld Fest Opens With Foxx Film

Source: www.eurweb.com

September 04, 2009)  *The 13th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks, has chosen the F. Gary Gray-directed thriller "Law Abiding Citizen," starring Jamie Foxx, Viola Davis and Gerard Butler, as its opening night selection.     Urbanworld – billed as the nation’s largest competitive multicultural film festival – will kick off with the screening on Sept. 23, in Manhattan, with Gray and the cast members in attendance.       This year's official film selections include Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo in Anthony Fabian’s "Skin," Chris Rock’s documentary "Good Hair," four-time Emmy nominee CCH Pounder and Nicki Michaeux in Maria Govan’s "Rain," and five films selected in conjunction with Great Britain’s B3 Media for the inaugural “UK in Focus” sidebar.     Urbanworld will run through Sept. 27. The festival will screen 68 films this year, with closing night and spotlight screenings to be announced Sept. 9.      For more information and screening dates and times, visit the official festival Web site: www.urbanworld.org.


Canadian Actors Dig Gleek Chic

www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press

(September 04, 2009) There's nothing like a little Glee to completely change your life.

Just ask Cory Monteith, the Calgary-born, Victoria-raised cast member of one of the most promising network shows this fall.

The series, about a misfit group of high school students and teachers involved in a singing, dancing, glee-club band, officially launches next Wednesday on Fox and Global after a sneak preview in May, which was rebroadcast earlier this week.

One of the songs the cast performed on that preview show – Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" – soared to No. 1 on iTunes, a fact that astonished Monteith.

"To think that the first time I was recorded singing anything it went to No. 1 – it's crazy," he says.

The tall 27-year-old plays the all-American high school quarterback who risks his cool-kid status by becoming one of the "gleeks." Interviewed last month at the Television Critics Association Fox press tour party, he said he and the rest of the cast have been working seven days a week for the past eight months cranking out the first 13 episodes.

"I've just been working and working," he said. "We've been in a bit of a bubble since we began in February or March."

Monteith said it took weeks to learn some of the dance numbers at the beginning. "Every moment that we're not shooting the show, we're learning the dance routines or choreographing the dance routines or recording songs."

And all that work is paying off.

"The Internet buzz has been shocking," Monteith said. "All of these people on Twitter and Facebook – it's just startling."

Monteith's Glee co-star, Lea Michele, says she gained "5,000 Facebook friends overnight" after attending the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, Calif., in July. Monteith himself has a Twitter name he borrowed from his character's nickname on the series: "Frankenteen."

He is one of three Canadians in the Los Angeles production, including Montreal-native Jessalyn Gilsig (Nip/Tuck) as the scheming wife of Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), the noble teacher who runs the glee club.

Gilsig has the unenviable task of playing nasty on an otherwise joyous and uplifting series. Her character gets even more manipulative with a plot twist introduced next Wednesday that will rock Will's world the whole season.

"I felt sorry for her at Comic-Con," says Morrison, also at the Fox party. "We screened the pilot episode there and people in the crowd were yelling, `Dump her! Dump her!' She's terrified she's going to get written off the show."

The show's third Canadian is B.C. native Patrick Gallagher (Da Vinci's Inquest), who plays the Ohio high school's obsessive football coach.

"He cracks me up every time," says Jane Lynch, who plays the even more manipulative cheerleader coach/arch-nemesis Sue Sylvester.

Another Canadian, Victor Garber, will guest star in future episodes as Will's father, a development that thrilled Morrison.

"I've always been a huge fan of his," he says.

A Canadian songwriter/performer is also getting some Glee glory. An Avril Lavigne song is being featured in an upcoming number, and it is Michele's favourite moment from the series so far.

"It was so touching and so moving," said Michele, who didn't want to give anything more away by naming the song.

Glee features plenty of music, but the cast doesn't just burst into song for no reason.

The musical moments come out of the story room and are not forced, said executive producer Ian Brennan.

"It's not about lawyers singing or doctors singing," he said. "The music is in there. We just kind of let it breathe."

Lynch, known for her scene-stealing roles on Best In Show and other comedy improv films, says she hasn't been called upon to sing yet but she does do at least one big dance number. She loves playing larger-than-life characters such as Sylvester.

"She has to be the most scheming, unashamed, entitled person I've ever played, and I'm just adoring it."

Jay Leno In The Hot Seat

www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(September 07, 2009) So it's come to this: the immediate future of American prime-time television rests squarely on Jay Leno's perpetually shrugged shoulders.

It says so in Time magazine, so it must be true. To quote, as Time does, former NBC president Fred Silverman: "If the Leno show works, it will be the most significant thing to happen in broadcast television in the last decade."

That's significant, though not necessarily good. The former Tonight Show host has been handed an inordinately large chunk of prime-time real estate for The Jay Leno Show – weeknights at 10 on NBC and Citytv, beginning Sept.14 – to do with what he will, which would appear to be much the same thing he used to do at 11:35.

"We'll start with a monologue," Leno explained at the recent TV critics' preview – by my count, one of at least a half-dozen major press opportunities the network has set up for him in the last seven months (there's yet another coming up later this week).

"We'll come out, boom, start with the jokes, get the show moving.... We want to keep it fast-paced. I think that's the real key. You don't want to waste anybody's time, you know. This is good food at sensible prices. Here's a bunch of jokes. A lot of jokes."

So apparently there will be jokes. That includes several warmed-over bits from Leno's Tonight Show, like "Jaywalking" and "The 99-cent Store," and of course his nightly headline read, and the familiar musical stylings of his old Tonight bandleader, Kevin Eubanks.

Guests are another issue entirely, at least in terms of TV stars, the competing networks having boycotted the new 10 o'clock interloper. So even if Leno's first show boasts the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Rihanna, and his first week Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus and Halle Berry, it remains to be seen how long he can keep it going with only movie and music talent five nights a week.

He has two years, guaranteed by the network, with no expectation of anything more than minimal ratings, the basement-dwelling NBC having apparently given up on actually attracting viewers in favour of saving a couple of bucks on scripted production.

"Nobody expects us to beat the CSIs and some of these big dramas right at the get-go," Leno allows. "But we'll be on 44 or 46 weeks, whatever it is, and the other shows are only on 22. And during those repeat weeks and whatever we'll be live, fresh, original shows."

Well, live, at least ...


• Accidentally on Purpose (Sept.21, 8:30 p.m. on CBS and Citytv): After years of false starts, Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) returns to prime time as a 30something single inadvertently impregnated by her boy-toy (Jon Foster) in a sitcom based on the book by Time movie critic Mary Pols.

"I got the most delightful email from Mary about her experience of watching the pilot with the baby daddy, who is still very much in her life," says showrunner Claudia Lonow. "I mean, they cracked open a bottle of wine and watched it together and laughed and really enjoyed it. She's very inspirational and we draw from that experience. Although the show is a little bit more romantic than her situation was."

It is also just a little more complicated. British Ugly Betty and Extras actress Ashley Jensen, who plays Elfman's gal pal, will spend the first part of the season trying to disguise her actual, real-life pregnancy.

"I will be carrying a large purse, stacks of manila envelopes, hiding behind potted plants, behind desks ... various things like that," she laughs.

I should note for the record that of all my fellow critics, I seem to be the only one who, with some reservations, actually enjoyed the pilot.

• Trauma (Sept.28, 9 p.m. on NBC and Citytv): Emergency! with helicopters. "Extra angst with ringers, stat!"


• It's all about fallen heroes Sept.21, as two, two-hour season debuts battle over the 8 p.m. slot: House on Fox and Global, and Heroes on NBC.

You can also catch the Heroes premiere a night early on Global, Sunday at 9 p.m., if that presents a conflict. Not that it should. While the Heroes struggle to rescue themselves after a spiral down into convoluted mediocrity, House is at the top of his game, particularly in this riveting, game-changing episode that pits the institutionalized doc, headcase to headshrinker, against Homicide's Andre Braugher.

• Lie to Me (Sept.28, 9 p.m. on Fox and Global): After a brilliant first few episodes, last season's late starter began to show signs of strain, even in the face of Tim Roth's stellar lead performance as a tetchy "micro-expression" expert. Expect that to change with the arrival behind the scenes of ace writer/producer Shawn Ryan, late of The Shield and The Unit.

"I came out and helped out a little bit on the last couple episodes as a favour to the studio," explains Ryan. "I had a couple of my old Shield writers who were over there, and (when) The Unit was unceremoniously dumped by CBS I suddenly found myself with a little time.

"I dug the show and I thought I could bring something to it. I think I'm trying to push it a little bit more in a character direction, add a little bit of adrenaline to the show, but really sort of dig deep. It's an incredible cast. And I just want to get to know these characters better."

• The powerhouse Monday-night CBS sitcom block returns Sept.21, with How I Met Your Mother at 8 (CBS and Cityv), followed by new addition Accidentally on Purpose at 8:30, and Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory at 9 and 9:30 (both on CBS and A).

• One Tree Hill returns to The CW Sept.14 at 8 p.m., followed by Gossip Girl at 9, which you can alternately watch at the earlier hour here in Canada on A.

• Leno's Monday-night 10 p.m. competition is, as he himself acknowledged, the still-formidable CSI: Miami on CBS and CTV, and the yet-to-catch-on Bones clone Castle, with Canadian Nathan Fillion (Firefly) channelling Angela Lansbury as a murder-solving novelist, on ABC and A. Both return Sept.21.

• Elsewhere on the box, Little Mosque on the Prairie returns to CBC Sept.28 at 8 p.m., with the cable comedy Californication coming back later the same night, on The Movie Network at 10. Dancing With the Stars cranks up again Sept.21 at 8 on ABC and CTV.

TOMORROW: Tuesday-night newcomers include three potential hits: Julianna Margulies' The Good Wife, LL Cool J spinning off NCIS: Los Angeles and an all-new Melrose Place (that's right, I said Melrose Place). And welcome back the returning CBC comedy block of This Hour, Rick Mercer Report and the fabulous Being Erica.

Walter Cronkite Celebrated At Memorial Service

Source: www.thestar.com - David Bauder, The Associated Press

(September 09, 2009) NEW YORK (AP) – Former President Bill Clinton remembered Walter Cronkite as "a great citizen and a profoundly good human being'' during a memorial service Wednesday for the legendary newsman.

Clinton saluted Cronkite for "an inquiring mind and a caring heart and a careful devotion to the facts.''

After watching Cronkite as a youngster, Clinton grew to be friends with him in adulthood, "and I just ended up being crazy about the guy.''

Others scheduled to appear included former Cronkite colleagues at CBS News, musicians Wynton Marsalis and Mickey Hart, and President Barack Obama.

Jimmy Buffett sang his classic "Son of a Son of a Sailor" for his sailing buddy Cronkite.

But before that, he had a warm recollection of seeking some advice for a mutual friend, the late "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley.

After a sail, "the sun was down, the rum was out, and I said, 'Walter, Ed called me and he's thinking about wearing an earring on '60 Minutes.'''

Buffett said Cronkite responded: "It doesn't matter if he wears an earring, as long as it's a good story." Then Cronkite added impishly: "If I was going to wear an earring on '60 Minutes,' I'd wear one of those big, long dangly ones.''

Cronkite, who died July 17 at 92, anchored "The CBS Evening News" from 1962 until 1981. He came to be known as "the most trusted man in America.''

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw called him "a seminal force in the transformation of this country.''

Brokaw, who grew up in South Dakota, said, "Walter Cronkite and all those early (TV news) pioneers lifted a lamp and showed us the wider world and allowed us to understand it more clearly and coherently.''

Katie Couric, who now sits at the "CBS Evening News" anchor desk, noted that lesser men are sometimes idealized at their passing.

"But this passing has required no selective recollections or hyperbole," Couric said. "It's been a pure joy to celebrate and remember Walter Cronkite for the way he really was.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who in 1969 made his historic Apollo 11 moonwalk with Neil Armstrong, spoke of Cronkite's passionate interest in covering the U.S. space program. He praised Cronkite's ``belief in science, his dedication to the story, and his commanding presence that made every step in space exciting for Americans of every age.''

Among those attending the service, at Manhattan's Lincoln Center, were former CBS anchor Dan Rather; ABC's Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and Bob Woodruff; and NBC's Brian Williams.

AP Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this story.

CBS is a division of CBS Corp.

On the Net: http://www.cbsnews.com


Rick Fox Moves Into 'Melrose Place

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 04, 2009) *Rick Fox is the newest tenant to nab a spot on "Melrose Place," reports Reuters.  The former Los Angeles Lakers star has been cast in a recurring role on the CW series, which is being resurrected from its original run in the 1990s.  The athlete-turned-actor will play the owner of the restaurant where all the aspiring actors on the show work. Fox's television resume includes "Oz," "One Tree Hill," "The Game" and "Ugly Betty," where he was featured alongside his ex-wife and series star Vanessa Williams.   

Mehcad Brooks Cast In ABC Drama

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 04, 2009) *"True Blood" co-star Mehcad Brooks has become a regular cast member of ABC's midseason legal drama "The Deep End," states the Hollywood Reporter. On the show, set at a prestigious L.A. law firm, Brooks will play a new character, Malcolm Bennet, an associate at the firm. So what does this mean for his character Benedict "Eggs" Talley on HBO's "True Blood?"  No decision has been announced, according to THR. His role was introduced in the first-season finale, then continued on as a regular character for the vampire drama's second season and has been prominently featured on the show this summer. Brooks' TV credits also include a stint on ABC's "Desperate Housewives."   


Where Love Blooms On The Stage

Source: www.thestar.com - Debra Black

(September 05, 2009) There is something simply magical and fairylike about listening to the poetry of Shakespeare's plays, especially as you sit under the stars on a sultry summer night.

For me, Shakespeare in the Park is also about love – love of theatre, love of poetry, romantic love, platonic love and maternal love. Through every stage of my life a Shakespearian play in the park has been like a touchstone, marking the moment in a mystical way.

This love of art and poetry has become a fixture of my summers for decades.

I first saw Midsummer Night's Dream with my cousin Karen, whom I was visiting while she was at teachers' college in London, England. That was in the late 1970s – more years ago than I care to remember. I was a University of Toronto student then, hanging out in London for my summer vacation.

My eyes closed as we sat in the outdoor theatre in Regent's Park. Suddenly, I was Queen Titania who falls in love with a vile creature of the forest or Helena who is chased by Lysander.

Since that summer, my thoughts have turned to Shakespeare as soon as the temperature rose and the summer nights grew long.

Back in 1983 when the The Dream in High Park was first mounted, I was a young journalist working in Toronto and eagerly went to see it. It was a delight – once more I was drawn like a magnet.

Since then, I have spent hot humid nights under the stars watching shows with friends. I have spent romantic interludes on the hills of the amphitheatre with a picnic – complete with a checkered tablecloth, wine and cheese – waiting for the play to begin. I have kissed and been kissed as Shakespeare's romantic comedies swirled around me. I have watched the play under the threat of storm clouds. I have sweltered from the heat, shivered in the cool rain. I have watched with the moon overhead and the stars twinkling and illuminating the players.

But perhaps one of my most vivid memories of watching Shakespeare in the Park is when my young son – now 19 – went with me to watch both Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet on two occasions. He was seven or eight years old and thrilled to be out past his bedtime.

There was something so joyful about watching my child trying to appreciate Shakespeare as he desperately tried to fight off sleep so he could watch one more swordfight. But what really surprised me was how the next day he was able to repeat huge passages from the play – like some kind of Shakespearian wunderkind. My heart beat just a little bit faster that day in the hope that perhaps my son had absorbed my love of poetry and Shakespeare.

This year I was hoping he would go with me to see The Tempest before returning to McGill University. I haven't seen it for years and was eager to go. But he hemmed and hawed and rolled his eyes when I asked him. I waited patiently hoping he would change his mind. Then suddenly, it was the end of the summer and he left for Montreal.

Now the production is almost done and I have only this weekend to go. I hope to go with friends tonight. We will take a picnic. And as I sit there, Shakespeare's work will fuel my imagination once more – taking me to a faraway land where anything is possible, where fairies may or may not exist and romance is still the stuff dreams are made of.

Summer Rituals: This is the last in a series of personal stories about seasonal traditions.

His Greatness Finally Gets Its Due South Of The Border

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

(September 04, 2009) NEW YORK–I suspect there's something wrong in the theatrical universe when you have to go down to Manhattan to catch up with a play by Canadian Daniel MacIvor, but that's just what happened recently.

His Greatness, MacIvor's look at a few days in the late life of an unnamed playwright who bears a more than passing resemblance to Tennessee Williams, became the toast last month of New York's International Fringe Festival and was selected as one of 20 shows out of 201 to open again on Sept. 17 as part of the Fringe Encores series.

This would be wonderful news except for one niggling fact.

His Greatness received its first and only Canadian production two years ago at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver. It received excellent reviews and caused a great deal of buzz, but none of the theatres in the rest of Canada picked it up.

It took a Montrealer named Adam Blanshay, who now lives in New York, to see to it that this excellent play got the attention it deserves on the East Coast, and we owe him a debt of thanks for that.

MacIvor has taken some anecdotal material spun around the time Williams spent in Vancouver during the 1980s working on two shows for The Playhouse and turned it into an elegantly heartbreaking allegory about which portion of a man contains his "greatness": his body, his mind, or his heart.

We arrive at the opening night of a show that the playwright has rewritten after a disastrous reception elsewhere (just like Williams did with the B.C. production of his out-of-town American disaster, The Red Devil Battery Sign).

His efficient but harassed assistant tries to keep the drug-and-booze-addicted older man on the rails, but still indulges him by arranging a young hustler to occupy him for the evening.

Besides its metaphorical level, the play also operates as a serious study of co-dependency in its starkest form, where three people help each other down the road to self-destruction, while claiming to be doing them some good.

It's written in a seemingly naturalistic style which director Tom Gualtieri embraces a bit too heartily, placing us in a firmly realistic hotel room.

But even MacIvor's most "life-like" plays require another dimension, and that's the one thing that's lacking here.

The performances are all solid and understand the wealth of material MacIvor has provided them, but I can think of many Canadian actors I'd kill to see do the roles up here.

Peter Goldfarb is a juicily decrepit playwright, holding on to his tattered dignity like a latter-day Blanche Du Bois, even when his accent slips. Dan Domingues combines an acid tongue and a caring spirit as the assistant and Michael Busillo is both handsome and skillful enough to play the young Angel of Death (an echo of a similar character in Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore).

It's a fascinating play that I think has even more riches than have been revealed here. I hope producer Blanshay, or someone else, brings it home soon.

Nothing But A Good Time

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

(September 07, 2009) NEW YORK–There are a lot of great things I can say about Rock of Ages, the new musical currently packing them in on Broadway, but here's perhaps the most important one: It finally made me appreciate the music of the 1980s.

Sorry to distress all you die-hard Styx and Bon Jovi fans out there, but it just wasn't my decade: too late for me and too early for my kids.

But after happily grooving in my seat at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, I'm prepared to open up a whole new playlist on my iPod.

Rock of Ages is one of those unashamedly entertaining shows that exist for no other reason than to let you have a good time.

There's a plot, sure, but just like in We Will Rock You, the story is there primarily to help you hop from one old MTV favourite to the next.

It's 1987 on the Sunset Strip in L.A. and we're in the infamous Bourbon Club, home of a heavy metal band named Arsenal with an equal amount of studs behind the guitars and on the belts.

That's where our lovers meet. If I tell you that she's a small-town girl living in a lonely world and he's a city boy born and raised in south Detroit, would you guess where this is all heading? I thought so.

It shouldn't work at all, but it does, triumphantly, because of the sheer cheekiness of the people involved. Chris D'Arienzo's book takes the coyote ugly approach to every last cliché of '80s rock, embracing it one minute, then slyly trying to saw off its arm the next.

Kristin Hanggi has staged the whole thing with a tight, explosive energy but allows her talented cast room to add as much appliqué to their performances as a good rocker of the period would have put on his jean jacket.

In fact, at the performance I attended, understudies (Jeremy Jordan and Michael Minarik) played the two leads and they were so convincing that you would have sworn they were the regular inhabitants of the roles.

This show is ready-made for Toronto. I can just see it happily playing for a long, long run and – best of all – we've got the talent in this city to cast it 10 times over.

Somebody bring Rock of Ages here real soon. I'm already jonesing to see the finale again. It's "Don't Stop Believin'" and by the time the cast finished, I was happier than I'd felt since the first time I saw Mamma Mia!

Need I say more?


Deborah Cox Books Broadway Role

Source: www.eurweb.com

(September 09, 2009) Singer-songwriter Deborah Cox will portray the late, legendary Josephine Baker in the new Broadway-bound musical Josephine, based on the life of the iconic entertainer who dazzled Paris audiences.  The musical, according to press notes, is "inspired by actual events, and takes place in Paris between 1939 and 1945: Josephine Baker is queen of the Paris music halls, involved in a liaison with Crown Prince Gustav VI of Sweden and secretly serving her adopted country in the French Resistance.  "Her heroic work during the war brings her the self-worth she so vainly sought in fame, money and the arms of royalty."  Theatre and production dates will be announced at a later time.  Cox previously starred in the title role of the Broadway production of Aida.


Batman: Arkham Asylum: Awesome When It's Not Lame

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

Batman: Arkham Asylum

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Rated T
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of four)

(September 05, 2009) Batman: Arkham Asylum is the kind of game that calls for a multilevelcritical assessment. At the global level, as a game in a world of other games, it's pretty good: big, beautiful, fun and satisfying, made with intelligence, intention, taste and confidence. On the plane it shares with other superhero video games, it's a triumph, easily making the all-time top three. Finally, as compared to all other Batman games through time, it is the absolute acme.

But the last level, the purely Batman level, is where its difficulties creep in. For 70 years, Batman and his bat context have been developed and redeveloped, interpreted and reinterpreted, by hundreds of writers, editors, artists, actors, animators and directors. From pulpy gang-busting swashbuckler through campy cartoon, brooding Dark Knight and obsessed head case to sleek techno-ninja and every gradation in between, there are an infinite number of Batmans – and nobody's personal Batman will be quite like another's. So, difficulties. Never has the needle of my internal Review-o-Meter jumped so wildly between "Awesome" and "Lame" as it did while I was playing Arkham Asylum.

Awesome: the asylum itself. This is a great-looking game and the design – big, open hub areas connecting claustrophobic warrens – is excellent, especially as the place changes with the storyline and Batman gains abilities, opening new paths while closing others. It feels alive with malice and madness. And if the damp, dirty, rusted, grimy, gargoyle-studded Gothic hellhole bedlam of Arkham makes no real-world sense as an institution, that's okay, too. This is a comic-book world and Arkham Asylum is a comic-book character, as much of a mutated, super-powered freak as the inmates it detains...or releases at its whim.

Lame: techno-Batman. I know Batman has always been a gadget guy; I love the Batrope and the Batmobile and the Bat-computer and I can even get behind the idea of protective Bat-armour. But Arkham Asylum goes too far, making every character upgrade (with the exception of a tiny handful of combat combos) an upgrade to the high-tech gear he wears and/or lugs around. Worst of all, though, is the introduction of "Detective Mode," a sort of night-vision/X-ray specs view that allows Batman to see through walls and detect clues. Lame! Batman is the World's Greatest Detective, not the World's Greatest User of Magic Goggles! The techno-Batman of Arkham Asylum is basically a lightweight Iron Man sans jetboots.

Awesome: bat-mobility and bat-stealth. The Batrope and Batcape kick ass. Swooping around Arkham, swinging like a whisper, zipping along the batline to "Wham!" your way into groups of thugs...super fun! Batman gets around and where he gets to is more often than not some high ledge or shadowy recess from which he will silently pick off ever-more-terrified gunsels one by one: dropping them with chokeholds, stringing them up from handy gargoyles, luring them into explosive traps, diving down from the girders in his trademark glide-kick. The toe-to-toe fisticuffs in Akham Asylum are okay as far as brawling goes, but the stealth action is really special.

Lame: Boss fights (spoiler warning, for what it's worth). I don't know what went wrong here, but every single boss battle in Akrham Asylum was a letdown. Not really "bad," just disappointing given the cool villains they had to work with. Bane is a generic, off-the-shelf Charging Boss (deke, attack, flee, repeat); Poison Ivy is a generic Weakpoint Boss (dodge blasts, shoot the exposed soft spot, repeat). Scarecrow's nightmare "boss" levels are interesting and atmospheric, but you never really fight him.

Half the game is spent building up Killer Croc as a figure of ultimate terror and you don't really fight him, either – his level is, in fact, one of the easiest and most boring stages of the game. The only boss battle that really surprised me was the final fight with the Joker – and what surprised me was how weak, unsatisfying, and out-of-character it was.

Awesome at first, then lame: hidden secrets. In this kind of game, I'm a secrets hound. I love nook-and-crannying a game for hidden treats. But after a while, the busy work of figuring out the Riddler's riddles, grabbing Riddler Trophies, finding Interview Recordings and tracking down the Spirit of Arkham completely takes over the game, and you see it for the padding it is. It breaks flow and mood.

I finished the game in a little over 20 hours, but it would have been less than 10 had I not monkeyed around in a gotta-catch-'em-all fever.

Still, I had a lot of fun. This is a really great game, filled with mind-blowing moments, that finds itself slightly gimped – but not crippled – by a few mysteriously poor design choices.

Gamers, Fans Come Together Over The Beatles: Rock Band

Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux,
Special To The Star

(September 05, 2009) Listen: do you want to know a secret? Even for a non-gaming, die-hard Beatles fan like me, the new Beatles: Rock Band is a psychedelic dream come true, a virtual trip across Abbey Road, inside the Cavern Club, or centre stage that summer of 1965 at Shea Stadium. If you're a boomer or were raised by one, it is the soundtrack of your life, played by you – one sweet, magical, digital, mystery tour.

Like I said, I'm not a gamer. I thought Xbox was a CNE Happy Meal. But I know all the words to "I am the Walrus" and that it's Semolina Pilchard climbing the Eiffel Tower, not "some old leaning pitcher." I've lost count how many times I've pounded out Ringo's drum solo from "The End" on the back of a headrest or dashboard or played air guitar solos to "Ticket to Ride" or "Revolution."

The Beatles: Rock Band puts all those fantasies at your fingertips, in one big box, with cool toys for every Beatle fan, including a replica of George Harrison's Gretsch Duo Jet guitar, John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 or Sir Paul McCartney's Höfner violin bass.

And, yes, you can play the Höfner left-handed like McCartney, although don't try to flip back and forth in your first session like I did. Even with game expert Marc Saltzman's guidance (we jammed at his house, to the amusement of his three tykes), it was hard enough to follow the green, yellow and blue cue notes as they whizzed past on-screen on what looks like an electronic fret highway.

Bashing along on the drum kit, with four round targets and a foot pedal, was even harder than playing the toy guitar. My "no guts, no glory" try at "Getting Better" wasn't any better on the "easy" setting. In fact, it may have been harder. The dumbed-down drum cues did not match with the steady beat pounded in my head these past 40-odd years. Ringo kept throwing me off.

Still, even a non-gamer can sing into a microphone. I scored a 97 per cent, with a "13 phrase streak," warbling "I am the Walrus." Mind you, that was on a "medium" setting (the game offers four choices for all vocal and instrumental challenges). Plus, the lyrics are right there, crawling across the top of the screen. The game rates you on tone and pitch, not memory. Getting your score after each song is like being in front of Randy Jackson without the "Dawg."

The Beatles: Rock Band comes packed with nerdy little details every Fab Four fan will treasure. After a session, the screen pulls back to reveal animated Beatles in the Abbey Rd. studio with the mixing board in the foreground. We hear producer George Martin saying things like, "Good job boys." The actual recording date is right there on the screen.

There are also cool extras such as rare photos you can "unlock" by scoring points. Who knew McCartney wore specs to so many recording sessions? You can also listen to the Beatles cut up like their Brit heroes, The Goons, on Christmas messages sent to fan club members, and even watch outtakes from the fascinating doc the Maysles brothers shot of The Beatles' first trip to America in February 1964.

The animation used throughout is dazzling – fluid and well-rendered, light-years ahead of those clumsy cartoon Beatles from the mid-'60s TV series. Things get very trippy in the more psychedelic songs, with Harrison's giant, multi-coloured head floating over the cues for "Within You Without You." You can almost smell the, er, incense.

Not everything comes in the new Rock Band box. There's no set list taped to McCartney's Höfner bass (you can always add your own). There aren't any Jelly babies to toss, and definitely no hallucinogens. When you get a perfect score singing Lennon's vocals on "Revolution," a messianic figure does not appear and say, "Alright already, you were bigger than me."

The biggest shock is what's missing from the 45-song set: The Beatles' biggest No. 1 hit, "Hey Jude"? Not there. "Let It Be"? Nope. "She Loves You"? "Help"? "Lady Madonna"? "A Day in the Life"? None of these is part of this game, although one Beatles classic, "All You Need is Love," is apparently available to download and add at a price. As for the one song I wanted to play most of all, yes, "The End" is part of the mix, but it is right at the end and you have to earn your way up to it.

On the other hand, many relatively obscure Beatles tracks are included – fun cuts like "Hey Bulldog," and the blaring Lennon lark "And Your Bird Can Sing." "Bulldog," in particular, has a Harrison guitar solo that is fun to try and keep pace with on the game.

Bottom line: The Beatles: Rock Band is the ultimate toy for boomer dads or anyone who has ever twisted and shouted along with this music. Would I want one of these for Christmas? That would be yeah, yeah, yeah.


Down but not out, Melanie Oudin rallies at U.S. Open

Source: www.thestar.com -
Eddie Pells, The Associated Press

(September 07, 2009) NEW YORK – Forget about forehands and backhands. Melanie Oudin's biggest weapon is her heart.

The 17-year-old sparkplug from Georgia proved it again Monday at the U.S. Open, extending her remarkable run to the quarter-finals with another come-from-behind victory, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 over 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova.

Oudin staved off four points that would have put her behind 5-3 in the second set, then rolled through the third, hitting corners with those underrated groundstrokes and taking advantage of 22 unforced errors by her more-seasoned, higher-ranked opponent.

Rankings, like her age, however, are only numbers.

The 70th-ranked player already had wins over No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 29 Maria Sharapova at Flushing Meadows, along with one over former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic this summer at Wimbledon. Now, she's knocked off No. 13.

After hitting a forehand to the corner for her 19th and final winner on match point, Oudin threw her racket in the air. This time, however, she didn't cry any tears of disbelief. Instead, it was twin sister Katherine sobbing in the stands.

"I'm so happy to be in my first quarter-final Grand Slam ever," Oudin told the crowd in her post-match, on-court interview.

Talk about heart. Oudin improved to 6-1 at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year when she's lost the first set. She is 17-4 overall this year in three-set matches.

"I started serving better, thought I could do it and – I did," she said.

But Oudin won this match without serving a single ace, another indication she is not blowing anybody away with sheer power. Instead, it's footwork, technique, precision. Mostly, though, she is thriving in pressure situations that make so many others in the sport shrink away.

She stung two forehand winners, including one when she was positioned completely outside the court, to take a quick 3-0 lead in the second-set tiebreaker. She also took advantage of three unforced errors and a double-fault from her 27-year-old opponent, who was trying to make her third Open quarter-final.

Too young to know any better? Maybe. Regardless, she has become the youngest American to move into the quarter-finals at America's Grand Slam since Serena Williams in 1999.

"I think this is going to do a lot," Oudin said. "I think it's good for American tennis."