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February 25, 2010

I really enjoy Black History Month - from more interesting television programming to more live music shows that I love.  Always a little sad to wait until next year for such a varied and vast selection.  Almost the end of yet another grey month.  But here in Toronto we cannot complain without hardly any snowfall, considering our friends south of the border!  So how many more months of winter? Six?

What a treat I have for you this week with the announcement of a
gospel concert - Crystal Aikin - taking place in both Ottawa and Mississauga.  With a plethora of artists in one night of entertainment, you cannot miss with these two special nights.  Get your tickets now!!  Check out under HOT EVENTS below!

So much Olympic coverage on TV and the papers but hopefully I've chosen some highlights for you below. 

So, there's lots of new entertainment news so have a scroll and a read.   

This newsletter is designed to give you some updated entertainment-related news and provide you with our upcoming event listings.   Welcome to those who are new members.  Want your events listed by date?  Check out EVENTS


World Vision Partners with BET’s Sunday Best Winner Crystal Aikin for First Canadian Mini-Tour - February 26 and February 27

Source:  Full Capacity Concerts

(February 2, 2010) 
Crystal Aikin, Stellar Award winner (Contemporary Female of the Year & New Artist of the Year) and BET’s Sunday Best winner, will be making her debut appearance in Canada for two special shows. 
Celebrating the historic legacy of Black History Month, Aikin kicks off her mini-Canadian tour in the Nation’s Capital, Ottawa, on
Friday, February 26, 2010 at Rhema Christian Centre (1550 Chatelain Avenue).  She is joined by the musical stylings of Echoes of Praise, Rochelle Hanson, Ottawa’s own Kathy Grant and World-African musical sensations, Krystaal who hail from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  On February 27, 2010, Aikin is slated to appear at Malton Church of God (7050 Bramalea Rd., Unit 42-48) in Mississauga, with Toronto’s own gospel greats, Echoes of Praise, Rochelle Hanson, Londa Larmond, and Latin-inspired Paulis Sanchez.

 Aikin was first introduced to the world through BET’s first season of Sunday Best, a gospel competition with American Idol-esque flair that searched for gospel music’s next superstar.   Originally a native from Tacoma, WA’s, never envisioned herself standing alongside certified gospel superstars on BET and hearing Kirk Franklin announce her name as the winner.  Awarded with a Zomba recording contract, Aikin re-releases her self-titled debut album on Verity Records and develops her call to ministry.  Her sound is a mix of jazzy-neo soul juxtaposed with a traditional gospel contemporary feel.  A nurse by profession, Aikin, has found her niche, using her voice as therapy to tantalize the ear and to bring healing and restoration to people the world over. A feat that she claims she knew early on as a choir director.   
Crystal has partnered with World Vision, a development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision’s goal is to encourage the Canadian public to join the work of combating poverty and improving the lives of children and their families around the world.
You are invited to partner with Aikin, World Vision and friends in a night of taking social action.  A portion of the proceeds for the Crystal Aikin show will go to the World Vision’s Haitian Emergency Relief Fund. 
Sharing her love; bringing a universal message of joy, Aikin plans on helping to change the world one child at a time.


Canada Owns Women's Bobsleigh Podium

Source: CTVOlympics.ca - By Kristina Rutherford

(February 24, 2010)
Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse led a one-two punch for Canada in women's bobsleigh, winning gold on Wednesday at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown picked up the silver medal in the Canada 2 sled.

The medals are an historic first for Canada in women's bobsleigh, and come four years after Upperton and Moyse came within 0.05 seconds of winning the country's first-ever Olympic medal, but settled for fourth.

The gold medal is Canada's seventh in Vancouver, and ties the country's record for most-ever at an Olympic Games. Canada also won seven golds in 2002 and 2006.

Humphries, of Calgary, and Moyse, of Summerside, P.E.I., led from start to finish en route to their gold medal, and broke the track record three times, finishing 0.91 ahead of their teammates in a four-run time of three minutes, 32.28 seconds.

Calgary's Upperton and Brown, of Scarborough, Ont., were in fourth heading into Wednesday's final two heats, but moved into the bronze medal position with one run to go, just 0.03 seconds ahead of Germany's Cathleen Martini and Romy Logsch.

The Germany 2 sled was out of contention after a scary crash on its final run, though both athletes were able to walk away. Upperton then drove the Canada 2 sled to the fastest time of the final heat (53.17 seconds), overtaking Americans Erin Pac and Elana Meyers, who were in second with one run remaining, but settled for bronze. 

Canada last won gold and silver in the same event in the men's skeleton in 2006. 

It's the first time Canada will occupy two spots on the podium at these Games. 

Ashleigh McIvor Wins Women’s Ski-Cross Gold

www.thestar.com - Jim Byers, Staff Reporter

(February 23, 2010) WEST VANCOUVER, B.C.—Eleven and still counting.  Canada’s
Ashleigh McIvorDescription: Ashleigh%20McIvor_small picked up a gold medal in the women’s ski cross event today.

Skiing in thick, heavy snow on Cypress Mountain, McIvor cruised through the early stages and easily won the final in front of dozens of friends and family members.

Canada now has six gold, four silver and one bronze medal at the Vancouver/Whistler Winter Games.

“It’s the most amazing moment of my entire life,” McIvor told CTV. “It worked out and I can’t believe it.”

The Vancouver native was in the village square in Whistler seven years ago when she heard her hometown was to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Ski cross wasn’t in the Olympics at the time, but she once wrote a school paper suggesting the International Olympic Committee should add it to the winter program.

Sure enough, her sport made its debut here in Vancouver/Whistler and the 26-year-old McIvor took advantage with a tremendous run in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd.

The partying also was likely to be going strong in Whistler, which is down the road from McIvor’s home in Pemberton, B.C.

“I stood there in the start gate and thought, ‘Everything in my life has led me here. I felt I was made for this event. It’s in my hometown, pretty much. What else could I ask for?’”

After a slow weekend, Canada has won gold medals on consecutive days. The London, Ont., duo of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won gold in ice dancing on Monday, marking the first time a North American couple had copped the top prize at the Olympics. McIvor, the defending world champ in ski cross, made it back-to-back golds with her performance under trying conditions.

Her victory ceremony will be held Tuesday night in Vancouver. But McIvor did a nice little dance from behind the podium before receiving her flowers at a Cypress Mountain ceremony today, shaking her body to and fro as the red-and-white crowd cheered her on.

McIvor, the 2009 world champion, wore a huge grin as she climbed to the top of the podium, snowflakes pelting her black toque as she raised her bouquet high in the air and fans waved a sign reading, “Go Ash.”

Marion Josserand of France took the bronze, while the silver medal went to Norway’s Hedda Berntsen.

Canada’s Kelsey Serwa was fifth, while Julia Murray came 12th.

Asked if she felt her win will leave a legacy for kids, McIvor nodded.

“Definitely, and I felt confident that I’d already inspired kids... to get into sport. Winning the Olympics is icing on the cake.”

McIvor learned to ski early but fell in love with ski cross, in which four racers slide down the hill at the same time.

“I’m competitive and I get amped about head-to-head combat,” McIvor once said.

Rescued Teens Reunited With Families At Pearson

Source: www.thestar.com - Denise Balkissoon

(February 22, 2010) Cold and shivering, Canadian teenagers kept their spirits up by singing as they bailed water from life rafts for the 42 hours they spent adrift in the south Atlantic, a teacher said today.

 “The water was up to our shins and we were constantly bailing,” Mark Sinker of Trenton, Ont., said after many of the rescued students and teachers from the sunken
S.V. Concordia arrived at Pearson airport before dawn.

 “It was raining on and off,” he said, “but the weather was sometimes beautiful.”

 Sinker described how the 64 people on board the floating classroom, run by West Island College International, jumped into the ocean 300 nautical miles off the coast of Brazil when the three-masted ship capsized and started to sink in high winds and swelling seas.

 He described filling the day and a half spent in the life rafts as “trying to keep people warm, keep people hydrated, keep them in the shade.

 “There were low points and high points. Certainly when there was water in the raft and people were shivering, morale was low.”

 Sinker said he was in the ship’s mess when the Concordia started to sink. It took about half an hour to go down, he said.

 Like just about everyone on board, he lost all his belongings and documents.

 Students and teachers helped pull each other into the life rafts, he said.

 “The students worked together to make sure everyone was safe and sound,” a weary Ruth McArthur of Brampton said. Her freckles standing out on her pale face, the teacher said, “Now I want one of my mom’s chocolate chip muffins” before boarding a bus away from the airport.

 David Aftergood hugged his daughter Olivia in relief. “I’m not letting her out of my sight until she’s 40,” he said.

 Anxious parents had been whisked into a private room at the airport for their reunion with their children, who arrived on a flight around 5:45 a.m. They had been rescued by passing merchant ships and taken to Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.

 “I saw children jumping up into their parents arms,” school director Nigel McCarthy said of the reunions.

 “Although we were so worried, once we knew she was okay, we just said, ‘Yay!’ “ Shelley Pillar said of her daughter Elisha Pillar, 17.

 Elisha’s grandparents and stepbrothers made the trek to Pearson from Kenilworth, near Guelph. Mom Shelley brought her daughter a pink blanket and freshly baked peanut butter cookies.

 “I knew if there was any girl who could handle that, it would be her,” Elisha’s proud mother said. “She is smart, cool and adventurous. We’re just going to love her up and send her back.”

 Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent was also there to meet the West Island students. While an investigation continues into the sinking and the long wait for rescue from the Brazilian navy, Kent said, “I think the government in Brazil deserves a great deal of credit for what they were able to do under the circumstances. We can celebrate there was not life lost.”

 Several former Class Afloat alumni had come to greet the students bearing a sign saying, “Welcome home floaties.”

 “The captain received a rousing cheer from the parents,” Kent said, describing the private reunion. “Some kids and crew were obviously showing the effects. There were a lot of cheers and a lot of joy.”

 There were 42 Canadian high school and university students among the 64 people aboard the SV Concordia, which was built in 1992 expressly for the Lunenberg, N.S.-based school.

 The rescued teenagers, crew and teachers spent much of Sunday replacing items such as clothing and travel documents that went down with the ship. Boxes of clothing were brought by the Brazilian navy and the ship’s agent, McCarthy said on the weekend.

 “The story that is slowly emerging from our students and staff is one of the heroic communal efforts that saved all aboard,” he said.

 An explosion on board the Concordia in 1996 killed one student as the ship sailed off the northern coast of Australia. Derek Zavitz was believed to have been blown overboard.

Olympic Men's Hockey: Canada Stomps Russia 7-3, Moves To Semis

Source: www.thestar.com - Jim Byers, Staff Reporter

(February 24, 2010) People were crowed around television sets in every coffee shop, restaurant and bar inDescription: Corey%20Perry_small Vancouver, watching the Canada-Russia hockey game, as the city ground to a virtual halt.

At the Waterfront SkyTrain Station, people stopped in their tracks watching the game, erupting in cheers whenever a goal was scored.

And score they did.

It took barely two minutes for Canada to stamp its authority on the men's
2010 Winter Olympic hockey quarter-finals as Dan Boyle tip-toed through Russia's defense to set up an easy tap in for Ryan Getzlaf It would be the first of ten goals scored in a feeding frenzy of a game in which the red-and-whites never looked threatened, but the Russians never stopped trying.

In the first five minutes of the game, Canada steamrolled the Russians, dominating play, hitting hard and peppering the goal with shots four shots in the first four minutes, to a single shot from the other side. Ten minutes in, Dan Boyle was at it again, this time unloading a monster shot from the blue line which benefited nicely from a sweet screen by Patrick Marleau on the power play.

And then there was three; barely a minute later, Jonathan Toews took to the wing, drew in defenders and offloaded a goal chance on a platter to Rick Nash who made no mistake slotting it past Evgeny Nabokov's outstretched leg.

Russia finally returned fire with five minutes to go in the first period when, after calling a 'catch your breath' timeout, Dmitri Kalinin went high and right, beating the shoulder of Luongo to keep his team in the running.

But their joy was short-lived when, after an extended shift that saw Canada moving the puck around like they had a man-advantage, Brenden Morrow took it behind the net and wrapped around to squeeze it past Nabokov for Canada's fourth.

At the break, Dan Boyle told reporters, "Everybody did their job and that's why we're here, but we gotta keep going ... It's nice to be a part of it and we're looking for more stuff ahead."

The second period saw Canada continue to line up to score like a 1980's bread line.

Corey Perry knocked one home on the back or lead-up work from Getzlaf and Duncan Keith, then Shea Weber teed one off after Jonathan Toews stole the puck mid-ice, sneaking it under Nabokov's elbow.

Maxim Afinogenov kept it mildly interesting from a competitive standpoint by scoring another for Russia after lead-up work from Ilya Kovalchuk.

But that was soon cancelled out as Corey Perry knocked in his second for Canada, but the Russians got on the score sheet a third time when Sergei Gonchar beat Luongo for their third.

Eric Staal took a bad fall early in the third when Anton Volchenkov toppled him as he headed towards the wall. Staal left the ice under his own steam and looks good to continue.

The rest of the game was score-free, as Canada coasted to a 7-3 victory, lining up an appearance in the semi-finals.


One medal is at stake. Twelve teams have qualified for the men's ice hockey tournament:

·  Group A: Canada, United States, Switzerland, Norway

·  Group B: Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia

·  Group C: Sweden, Finland, Belarus, Germany

Men's hockey games are being played at Canada Hockey Place (GM Place).

The full schedule for both men's and women's ice hockey are: (all times are in Pacific Standard Time Zone):

·  Wed Feb 24, 2010

·  12pm - 2:30pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Quarter-final (QF1)

·  4:30pm - 7pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Quarter-final (QF2)

·  7pm - 9:30pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Quarter-final (QF3)

·  9pm - 11:30pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Quarter-final (QF4)

Thu Feb 25, 2010

·  11am - 1:30pm Ice Hockey - Women's - Bronze medal

·  3:30pm - 6pm Ice Hockey - Women's - Gold medal

Fri Feb 26, 2010

·  12pm - 2:30pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Semifinals (SF1)

·  6:30pm - 9pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Semifinals (SF2)

Sat Feb 27, 2010

·  7pm - 9:30pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Bronze medal

Sun Feb 28, 2010

·  12:15pm - 2:45pm Ice Hockey - Men's - Gold medal  

Native Voices Bring Olympics Home

Source: www.thestar.com - Paul Watson

(February 20, 2010) VANCOUVER–There is no word for seconds in the Mohawk language, which makes it especially difficult to call the action in an Olympic ski race live for television.

Tiorahkwathe Gilbert was the first among his people to broadcast Olympic men's super-G in his native language Friday afternoon.

 A rookie to sports commentary, he has spent months training for the landmark moment. He's had long discussions with elders in coffee shops and at kitchen tables to agree on the best way to express things the Mohawk haven't had much cause to say before.

 Gilbert doesn't want to be speechless in his TV debut when it's time to explain that the only thing separating two skiers' runs is three one hundredths of a second.

 "We have a word for an hour, a minute, but we don't have a word for a second," Gilbert explains. "So we'll say, 'In the time it will take you to blink four times, or seven times or nine times.' "

 For the first time in Canadian history, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is providing play-by-play commentary of live sports in Cree, Mohawk, Ojibway, Dene, Inuktitut, Michif and Oji-Cree.

 Most of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit broadcasters calling the Winter Olympics action for APTN are rookies recruited from communities across the country and trained by veteran sportscaster Jim Van Horne.

 Van Horne's dulcet voice is familiar to fans of hockey on TSN. He has also broadcast from the Calgary, Sydney and Beijing Olympics. During the Vancouver Games, he's working from APTN's Winnipeg studios, mentoring the aboriginal broadcasters he coached.

 Listening to Cree broadcasters call the action as the U.S. hockey team beat Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday, he didn't hear anything that sounded to his ears like "Americans" or "United States."

 When he brought it up, the teacher learned something from his students.

 "About halfway through the game, I said, 'You haven't said anything about the United States,' " Van Horne recalls. "He said, 'Oh yeah, we're talking about the Long Knives.' Now that's a term that's been used to describe the United States since before the Civil War.

 Aboriginal languages are more descriptive, even poetic, than English. Words frequently paint mental pictures rather than state cold facts.

 Take a chair. In Mohawk, the word for chair, anitskwara, literally translates as "it's where you place your back upper leg and butt to alleviate pressure from the floor," says Gilbert, an elder, and former ironworker, teacher and council chief on the Kahnawake reserve, near Montreal.

 Offering someone a seat in Mohawk is a cinch compared to the word Gilbert and the elders agreed he should say when skiers are racing against the clock. It's a 44-character tongue-twister.

 The effort to get such words just right is more than worth it, says Tehawennahkwa Miller, 22, Gilbert's partner in the broadcast booth.

 When young listeners, some of them future athletes, hear the Winter Games called in their native tongues, "it's empowering that their own people are represented at the Olympics, and know that they can do it, too," he says.

 Miller is a Mohawk language teacher in Ohsweken, a village on the Six Nations territory, near Brantford, Ont. One of his favourite Olympic words is wahoya'tarathenste, which means: "He has ascended to the top."

 It's ready, on the tips of the Mohawk broadcasters' tongues, for when an athlete is headed for the medal podium.

 Karliin Aariak, a 31-year-old Inuk designer, broadcaster and filmmaker from Iqaluit, has a lot of experience covering sports. But she still had to hone her skills for the opening and closing ceremonies.

 She's spent a lifetime listening to non-Inuit mispronounce her name, so she practised saying the name of each team's flag bearer to make sure she got them all right.

 But that wasn't her proudest moment. It came in the early minutes of the opening ceremony, when Aariak told her people, in their own language, that they were also hosts of the Winter Olympic games.

 "It's the first time in Olympic history that an aboriginal group has been a partner, so it was personally satisfying to be able to say that in Inuktitut," she says.

 "I hope this is a beginning and not one-time opportunity," she adds, "so others have the chance to expose and use our language in spreading the Inuktitut word."

 For months, as Canadian athletes prepared for the Vancouver Games, their countrymen were asked to believe. Gilbert has the word worked out in Mohawk to help assure his people know they can.

 It is tasetakh, literally "the thing that you take on your journey," Miller says.

 "We need to bring the pride back into our people and to tutor them and structure them to believe in themselves," Gilbert says.

 Source:Toronto Star


‘Degrassi’ Cast Members To Lead Tours To India And Ecuador

Source: www.thestar.com

(February 22, 2010) Cast members of the hit TV show “Degrassi: The Next Generation” are planning to help lead young volunteers on tours to India and Ecuador this summer.

 The tours are organized by Me to We Trips, a 10-year-old Toronto-based organization that supports the work of its charitable partner Free the Children, and are targeted at people aged 13 to 21, says spokesperson Angie Gurley.

 Sarah Barrable-Tishauer, who plays Liberty on the show, and Evan Williams (Kelly) will help lead the trip to India’s northern province of Rajasthan. It’s scheduled to run from July 21 to Aug. 9 and costs C$4,995 including airfare from Toronto, says Gurley.

 Participants will visit Free the Children’s development projects, get involved in a school building project and join in group discussions about social issues.

 Dalmar Abuzeid (Danny) and Scott Paterson (Johnny) will be leaders on the trip to Ecuador’s rural province of Chimborazo from Aug. 10 to 28. Highlights include helping to build a school and participating in leadership workshops. The cost is C$3,595 including air from Toronto.

 Williams said he went on a Me to We Trip to Ecuador in 2007.

 “I felt useful. I felt like I was hooked in to some greater movement among the young people today to take responsibility for the state of the world, and I found awakened in myself a real desire to be part of the new wave of change,” he said in a press release.

 “I’m excited to have the privilege of leading others through a similar experience.”

 On the web:  www.metowe.com/trips/degrassi


K'naan's Song Goes Global

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(February 24, 2010) It was a warm, wet night in Manhattan in 2006, and K’naan was taking a walk alone, trying to shake off some disturbing news. It might have been something immediate, or perhaps something that had happened in Somalia, where he’s from; he can’t recall what exactly had sent him out into the New York streets. But he remembers how the air felt, that the rain had stopped, that he was in a T-shirt and that a melody suddenly came into his head, with the lyrics: “When I get older, I will be stronger, they’ll call me freedom, just like a waving flag.”

These were the beginnings of the catchy song Wavin’ Flag, which has truly gone global, first snapped up by Coca-Cola as its anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and now, recorded as a We Are the World-type fundraiser for earthquake relief in Haiti.

On that night in New York, it took the Somali-Canadian rapper 20 minutes to produce what he calls the “original sculpture” of the song, which has now gone double platinum in Canada.

“Most of my songs stem from some kind of a discontent that’s inside, and I’m somehow humming the discontent without knowing it,” K’naan said this week about the beginnings of Wavin’ Flag. “I was really in a heavy-hearted thought and I sang [it] in my head.”

Having some experiences that were difficult may give you maybe a special sensitivity to things, but I think that the humanity’s that’s built within us is capable of feeling those things with or without having seen struggle.

K’naan, 31, comes by his heavy heart honestly. He was born in Mogadishu, where as a youngster he witnessed terrible violence. He and his family escaped the civil war there by moving to North America, ultimately settling in Toronto in 1992. His breakthrough album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, released in 2005, dealt with this subject in depth and to great acclaim; it won a Juno Award for rap recording of the year and was also nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. He followed it up last year with Troubadour, which included Wavin’ Flag.

K’naan has partially re-written the song twice now, most recently to add references to Haiti for the fundraising recording. As many as 50 musicians crammed into a Vancouver studio last weekend to record the song. The idea came from music producer Bob Ezrin, who brought it to K’naan and Universal Music.

“We wanted to collectively do something that will have a ‘sustain pedal,’ that will still resonate with people as time goes by and I think that songs do that,” K’naan says.

“There was a lot of great energy, a good cause, good people coming together.” He won’t say who, but thanks to the Olympics, there were lots of artists in town in the days leading up to the recording, including Lou Reed, Feist, Stars, Our Lady Peace, Hawksley Workman, Corb Lund, Ron Sexsmith, Jully Black, Sam Roberts, Coeur de Pirate, Jason Collett, Julie Doiron, Tanya Tagaq and Chromeo.

Plus there are some big-name artists based in British Columbia upon whom Ezrin may have called, including Sarah McLachlan, Michael Bublé, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Nelly Furtado (who has worked with K’naan before) and a horde of indie bands and singer-songwriters.

The Haiti version of the song is expected to be released in late March.

While K’naan certainly witnessed his share of devastation growing up, he rejects any suggestion that he feels more of a responsibility to respond to crises in the world because of his own troubled homeland.

“Having some experiences that were difficult may give you maybe a special sensitivity to things, but I think that the humanity’s that’s built within us is capable of feeling those things with or without having seen struggle.”

They may be on the same continent, but it’s a long way from Somalia to South Africa, at least on this journey. K’naan is now associated with a big corporate sponsor, after being approached by Coca-Cola with a proposal that he write a soccer anthem for the World Cup in June. (Coca-Cola is a World Cup sponsor; the song will be used for Coke’s World Cup branding, including on TV and at FIFA events.)

K’naan says he had no concerns about hooking up with the soft-drink giant; he says Coca-Cola wanted a song that was positive and hopeful, a celebration of humanity. “To me, that’s a beautiful connection rather than a corporate connection,” he says. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey guys, pay me and I’ll make you a jingle.’”

K’naan tried to write something new, but kept coming back to Wavin’ Flag. He was surprised, though, at a top Coke executive’s response to the proposal. “He said, ‘You know, I think that Wavin’ Flag is one of those special songs and I’m afraid that in the end we’re just a brand and I don’t want to take away from your magic and the beauty of this song by making it some kind of a product.”

The Coca-Cola version, however, is much cheerier than the original. Gone are the references to war, hunger and poverty, replaced with lines such as “Celebration, it surrounds us” and “Let’s rejoice in the beautiful game.”

This was not Coke’s idea; it was K’naan’s. “Every four years [at the World Cup] the world kind of puts aside their differences and challenges themselves to love and play and have fun, celebrate each other. This is an amazing time and I didn’t want to come and kind of rain on everybody’s parade,” he says. “So I had to find a way to make that song retain its spirit and what it is, but also give it that thing where everybody feels like they’re celebrating, even though they still have something to think about.”

When K’naan sings the song tonight at the Orpheum in Vancouver, where he’s appearing as part of another sporting event – the Winter Games’ Cultural Olympiad – he will sing the original, darker version, as he always does in concert. It’s the version that came to him after the rain, when the ground was still wet.

K’naan plays a sold-out show at the Orpheum in Vancouver Thursday night, in a double bill with Tinariwen, beginning at 8 p.m. (vancouver2010.com/culturalolympiad).

A Touch Is Too Much For Some, But Not For Dan Hill

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(February 22, 2010) He could have titled his new album Sometimes When We Get Back in Touch. Toronto singer-songwriter Dan Hill, so identified by his profoundly emoted 1977 mega-hit Sometimes When We Touch, has recently popped back into our lives. Last year saw the release of I Am My Father’s Son, a well-received memoir that chronicled his career and reconciled his relationship with his late father, Daniel Hill Sr. Now the musician who has built a solid career in the past 15 years or so writing hit songs for others – country tunes mostly, but also power ballads for the Céline Dions of the world – has released a new album of his own. It’s called Intimate (out March 9) and it includes a fresh version of the super impassioned song that’s still his calling card.

In your book, you mention a poor review in The Globe and Mail in the 1970s. Are you past that? Are we good?

[Laughs]. You know, if I was upset over reviews I was getting in the seventies, I don’t think I would have ever emerged from underneath the rocks. When you put yourself out there as a performer, that comes with the territory.

You certainly do put yourself out there. Your hit, Sometimes When We Touch, still has that love-it or hate-it reaction.

Songs sometimes are so connected to the sociology of the time. That song came out a long time ago, in 1977, and the roles of how men and women were supposed to behave were quite a bit different than they are now. A lot of the issue was that guys weren’t supposed to be singing those kind of things. And I sang it in a very tremulous, very breathy voice. So, the delivery was part of what made it so connected, but also drove people to such distraction.

I’m not so sure the problem was with the era. I mean, the 1970s gave rise to the sensitive singer-songwriter, didn’t they?

Well, that’s true – the Jackson Brownes, the James Taylors, the Elton Johns, the Eagles. That being said, the culture itself, when you step outside the culture of the songwriters and the artists, had not been Oprah-fied. It just hadn’t.

How do you deal with the polarizing effect of the song?

I think the last thing you want to do as a writer, as a storyteller, is to create indifference. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to provoke, but I would much rather have a song that triggers a whole myriad of reactions than a song that inspires a shrug of the shoulder.

The older woman who inspired the song wasn’t indifferent.

When I played it for her, she said, ‘For a 19-year-old, you’re way too intense.’ I thought, ‘I got her now – I nailed her with that song.’ But then she took a bus to North Carolina. It was the first unintended time consequence of the song: It drove her right out of the country.

You’ve re-recorded the song with just piano and vocals. Why the stripped down arrangement?

The original version was very produced. We thought it would be fun to do an unplugged version and to sing it in an organic, natural way. It was fun to revisit the song. A part of me said, ‘Okay, a thousand people have covered the song, so now I’m going to do a cover. Let’s see if my cover stands up to Donny Osmond’s cover.’

Have you learned to temper your intensity?

I’m an intense guy. I run 10 miles a day, which helps alleviate my intensity. Also singing helps defuse my intensity. Playing the piano helps and writing helps. But, you know, I was wired to be intense. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

Tomorrow, Dan Hill performs (with Joe Sealy and Liz Rodrigues) at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. 8 p.m., $29. 416-586-5797.

Jazz Sisters Swing In Sync

Source: www.globeandmail.com - J.D. Considine

(February 22, 2010) As a classic work of feminist theory once observed, sisterhood is powerful. But it's also kind of magical, as Ingrid Jensen is regularly reminded.

Jensen and her sister are both Canadian jazz musicians. She plays trumpet, while
Christine performs on saxophone. Although each has her own career in a separate city - Christine has both a combo and a big band in Montreal, while Ingrid, based in Manhattan, works widely as a leader and in-demand soloist - they play together quite often, either in each others' groups or as part of the international jazz quintet Nordic Connect.

Whatever the circumstances, the music is amazing. "There's an incredibly insane amount of psychic conversation going on when we start playing together," says Ingrid, over the phone from Germany, where she's touring with teen saxophonist Grace Kelly. "We aren't talking, we aren't using words, but all of a sudden we're using this energy. ... There's so much trust there, it's almost like nothing can go wrong."

The Jensens will be showing off that sororal connection on several fronts this month. Treelines, the debut release by the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, has just been released, and the group - with, as on the album, Ingrid as featured soloist - will be playing shows in Montreal and Sherbrooke this Friday and Saturday.

Then, on Feb. 23, the Ingrid Jensen Quintet (featuring Christine) will perform at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.

In some ways, the two ensembles - Christine's orchestra and Ingrid's five-piece - couldn't be more dissimilar. "With the big band, there's just so much advance preparation," Christine says in a phone interview from her Montreal home. "First I have to write the song, then I have to arrange it, then I have to rehearse it and edit it, then I go back and arrange it some more. ... It takes three or four months of work for me to do a properly executed [score]."

With the quintet, by contrast, the writing is generally little more than a sketch, although Ingrid points out the key to the smaller ensemble is "knowing that you also have a huge toolbox full of things you can pull from to create more from that sketch than just the chords and the melody."

Christine, for her part, adds that the brass-heavy sound of her Jazz Orchestra is, at least in part, a product of her childhood.

"I'm a bit of a trumpet geek, having grown up with my sister," she says. "Ingrid being older than me, I think I heard more trumpet than saxophone."

Born in Vancouver, the Jensens spent a fairly idyllic childhood in Nanaimo, B.C., immersed in the joys of music and nature.

"There was always someone on the piano, because both my mom and Christine were playing," recalls Ingrid.

"The music I would hear in the house was so incredible. Really swinging. ... It got in my bones, and then I'd go out in nature and I'd be riding my horse around, and that would be in my head. I don't think every kid gets to experience that."

The Ingrid Jensen Quintet performs at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto on Tuesday.

A Personal Look At Superstar Céline Dion

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 20, 2010) The phone interview is just wrapping up when Céline Dion suddenly asks about my developmentally handicapped son, Michael. She met him seven years ago in Las Vegas when I came to interview her and even dedicated a song to him in the performance she gave that night.

 She wanted to speak to him, so I put him on the line, watching his face light up as they spend five minutes talking. When I took the receiver back, I started to thank her for remembering him, but she wouldn't hear it.

 "Life is precious," is all she said, "and you don't know what it's going to hold for you."

 That pretty much sums up the past quarter-century for Dion, who has gone from being one of 14 children born to a poverty-stricken Quebec family to one of the biggest, most bankable and most beloved stars in the world.

 She has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, filled a 4,000-seat theatre in Las Vegas for nearly five years, and in the process became the highest-earning entertainer of the past decade, raking in more than $750 million.

 It also seems like she's been everywhere over the past two weeks. On TV, there was Céline with Oprah, talking about the fifth in-vitro fertilization attempt she was about to undergo. In the papers, there was Céline announcing her gala return to Las Vegas, with a new three-year contract at Caesars Palace. On screen, there was Céline: Through the Eyes of the World, the documentary film about her worldwide 2008-09 "Taking Chances" tour.

 And now, here's Céline herself, on the phone from Miami, putting it all in perspective. "I'm not trying to prove anything about my life," she replies when asked about the purpose of this wall-to-wall publicity. "I'm just living it."

 It's the morning after the gala premiere of Céline: Through the Eyes of the World. Actually, it's the afternoon, because – as husband René Angelil warns in a preparatory conversation – "We had quite a party last night and Céline is sleeping in for a little bit."

 The amiable Angelil may be a uniquely canny businessman, respected in the showbiz world for the deft way he's handled Dion's career, but like his wife he wears his heart very much on his sleeve. "What is she like these days? She's still the girl I met 25 years ago and I love her more than ever."

 He apologizes for the fact that the interview is taking place over the phone, and extends an invitation "to visit us in our place in Las Vegas. Actually, it's 30 minutes away in the desert, on the shores of Lake Mead, but it's so beautiful there. A simple house. No trophies. A place where Céline can be a mom. And it's so quiet. I love that. You hear nothing." He pauses, savouring the notion. "Nothing."

 You understand his feeling. There's always a great deal of buzz surrounding Dion, and lately, it's been centred on her non-appearance at last week's opening ceremonies for the 2010 Olympic Games.

 Some people claimed she was unhappy with the placement she was being offered on the program. Others claimed she refused to go along with VANOC's "no live performance, all lip-synch" edict, while a third group insisted she was displeased with the choice of songs she was asked to perform.

 But Dion is eager to lay all those rumours to rest. "I was invited, it was true, but I couldn't come because that was the exact day they had set for my in-vitro surgery. When you engage yourself clinically to have a baby, the body decides when you're ready. My body was being monitored. I had to be very careful.

 "But if I had been able, I would have been there gladly. And I would have sung any song at any place at any time that they wanted me to. You don't go to the Olympics and say, `I want to do my song.' Everybody is there on a mission."

 As frequently happens when Dion gets emotional, her words keep tumbling out. "Some people don't realize that the Olympics are not a show. We're supposed to be there to celebrate the achievements of young kids from around the world who are sometimes even giving their lives for the honour of their countries."

 You can hear the tears welling up in her voice as you speak. "You have to understand, last Friday, the day of the opening ceremonies, was also the day of my surgery. I was under anaesthesia, moving in and out of consciousness the whole time. ...

 "I guess that is one reason I was emotionally very involved. The tragedy of that young man." She's speaking of Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died during a trial luge run. "How can you not be touched?"

 Dion has never made any secret of the fact that she and Angelil had trouble conceiving children, and that in-vitro fertilization was necessary for the birth of her son, René-Charles.

 But now, in her quest for a second child, four prior attempts had failed, and it seemed more than slightly strange for Dion to announce in advance that she was attempting a fifth procedure, putting an extraordinary amount of pressure and expectation on the event.

 "It's not strange, Richard, not at all," she disagrees. "Look, you know me, I always talk about everything openly. I want people to know my life, my story. I don't just want to sing for them. We talk about it openly because it's a beautiful thing to try to conceive. Some people may think we have everything and we are very, very fortunate. But for some parents, like us, it's not easy to have children. I want those people to know they are just like us, they are not alone."

 Dion's empathy is one of the things that most attracts her supporters and incites the scorn of her detractors. It can't be real, they insist. Nobody can care that much.

 But the strongest proof supporting her case is in Céline: Through the Eyes of the World. Ostensibly a documentary about her massive Taking Chances tour between February 2008 and February 2009, the movie also reveals two very interesting things about Dion.

 First, it shows the nerves of steel and Olympian stamina necessary to carry off such an engagement. Those who call Dion "the Iron Butterfly" should do so with admiration, because the woman is one tough cookie.

 "I know, people have this crazy idea of what it's like on tour," she laughs. "It's all private planes, limousines, room service. But there is stress, struggle, times when you're not feeling that great. When I have to cancel a show, I change the lives of thousands and thousands of people."

 And that's what the film documents. A severe throat disorder caused her to shut the tour down for several weeks and undergo treatment during which she had to face the possibility of never singing again. "Would that have destroyed me? No, Richard. I love to sing. I cherish the gift that God has given me. But there is more to my life than that."

 Her voice picks up that hint of self-mockery she's always willing to exploit. "Hey, what do I always say? `My Heart Will Go On.'" A quick sample of the Dion classic, belted out over the phone.

 Then she gets serious again. "But I mean it. I have been given so much more than a voice. I have my husband, I have my son, I have my family, I have my friends."

 The second thing the film shows is how widespread the love Dion generates – and returns – can be. From the South African children she impulsively embraces to a Korean dancer in her troupe who she makes front and centre on opening night in Seoul, from a Belgian woman who gave up her kidney so that her son could live to an Italian fan who is definitely unhinged (but undoubtedly devoted), Dion opens up her heart to them all.

 Even a cynic would have to admit that those moments weren't staged. The sincerity of the ugly duckling from Charlemagne, Que., who became a radiant international diva always shines through.

 "You couldn't have been surprised by that?" Dion scolds. "You know me, Richard, my life has always been an open book. And that movie is a piece of my life, a piece of my heart. I didn't want to create magic. I wanted to capture the magic that exists. I wanted to show people the other side of the coin. They know the Céline who sings. I wanted them to meet the Céline who laughs and cries and loves."

 And though that love gets spread around generously, the lion's share of it is saved for her husband and her son. Her devotion to both of them is intense. I still recall the moment in a 2003 interview when I asked her if she was worried about her husband, a known gambler, setting up house with her in Las Vegas and, eyes blazing, she set the record straight. "I'm glad René is a gambler, because he gambled on me, that was the biggest gamble of his life, and I will always be grateful to him for it."

 The years haven't diminished that passion, and the most quietly moving moment in the film is when their private jet takes off in turbulence and she holds out her hands to René for comfort. He clasps them and the fear leaves her face.

 Then there's her son. René-Charles is 9 now, still sporting the shoulder-length tresses that make him look like the offspring of the Bourbon dynasty rather than a contemporary kid. But on screen, he's spontaneously charming and unaffected, qualities he's picked up from both parents, although his mother revealed a story that indicates show business may be percolating through his DNA.

 "When he saw the movie, he laughed and enjoyed it," Dion relates. "But then, the credits rolled at the end, he looked very intensely and he said, `Mama, where's my name? Where's my name?"

 She roars with laughter. "Oh God, I don't think I'll ever let him near a movie again."

 If anybody questions Dion's devotion to her son, they need only look at the upcoming performance schedule for her return to Caesars Palace in 2011. The dates she's appearing may seem randomly placed, with the lion's share of the shows taking place in the summer, which is a slow season in Vegas.

 But that doesn't matter to Dion. "I wanted René-Charles to be able to go to school back east with all his friends, and I wanted him to spend as much time as possible with me. So I'm doing most of my performances around Christmas break, spring break and summer break. Vegas wanted me back? Those were my terms."

 The new show, which premieres during spring break, 2011, will be Dion, a 31-piece orchestra and a program filled with songs from Hollywood movies. "Oh yes, it's `Over the Rainbow' time, baby," she exults, "and I'm going to love it."

 But then, Dion seems to be loving everything about her life these days, including her age: she turns 42 on March 30. "Look, being a child is innocent and beautiful, your teenage years are wild, in your 20s you don't know what you're doing, but maturity, it's like a fusion between the brain, the body and the soul. It's the greatest thing."

Joanna Newsom’s Intimate Letters Have A Rugged Side

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Robert Everett-Green

Have One on Me
Joanna Newsom
Drag City

(February 22, 2010)
Joanna Newsom’s new three-disc album has a persistent epistolary quality, as if most of these songs began as allusive, intimate letters written from a somewhat remote location. After a while, you can’t help visualizing the spot: a rural house, with a garden, near a river, with jackrabbits springing by and kingfishers on the hunt. “When you come see me in California, you cross the border of my heart,” she sings, in a way that assumes the heart’s border to be just as tangible as the state line.

 As letters will do, these songs often ramble, sometimes even melodically, as if Newsom were thinking aloud while pacing the property, checking the garden but also peeking in at the big spider that sometimes won’t let her leave her room. Or maybe she’s singing about last night’s dream, but in such a way as to affirm that all the things she experienced there can be touched and felt in her waking life.

 The heart is a particularly vivid item in these songs, to be opened and examined frequently, whether as treasure chest or tomb. She sings about it the way ancient balladeers might, with tunes that often sound antique, while her harp and her bright, childlike voice imply that this fair lady’s unicorn may arrive soon. But she also has a more rugged side, which comes out when the gentle motion that launches many of these tunes (the ballad-like Baby Birch, for instance) toughens up with drums and distorted guitar, and starts to swing. Her vocal tone can harden suddenly and maybe not intentionally, and after two albums she still hits some high notes with a pronounced click.

 No Provenance begins like an elfin love-song, but then a habanera rhythm creeps in, and the feeling of that delayed second beat is too knowing and carnal for fairy trysts. That beat is one of Newsom’s favourites: She uses it again and again, along with the trick of starting a song small and blowing it up later (with help from arranger Ryan Francesconi).

 “Mercy me,” she sings at the start of Occident, and her voice somehow justifies the antiquated speech. Unlike some current rootsy musicians who want us to believe they’re hopping freights, Newsom doesn’t require us to teleport to the thirties. Her old-time sounds and language seem to be focused on present situations. It’s a risky thing to attempt, and she often succeeds. But her songwriting strategies aren’t really varied enough to keep this project lively for two full hours.

White Stripes: Red, White And New

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner

(February 21, 2010) Outside of Hard Core Logo, there haven't really been many attempts to bring a Canadian rock `n' roll travelogue to the screen – which makes it deliciously perverse that it's taken an American band to do it again.

 Emmett Malloy's ripping Under Great White Northern Lights is ostensibly a concert film about the
White Stripes' 2007 tour of our fair nation and the inscrutable relationship between ex-lovers Jack and Meg White that lends the band so much of its mystique. But always shrewd Jack had a novel idea for this particular jaunt – to take the Stripes scorching garage-blues to such neglected Canadian outports as Glace Bay, Whitehorse and Iqaluit.

 That move has added a couple of extra layers to what could have been just another documentary about a band on the road. (Albeit a band as riveting to watch onstage and unendingly conscious of crafting its own mythology as the White Stripes, so that wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing, either.)

 Still, Under Great White Northern Lights takes it one better, and in large part due to the unfamiliar environments in which Jack – who was inspired to do the tour when he learned he had family roots in Nova Scotia – and Meg find themselves.

 "That was the cool part of it," says Malloy, who's forged his friendship with the Stripes by directing several of their videos over the years. "And that's where I really applaud Jack and his ideas. Every band gets this opportunity and I think most bands are just interested in going to where it'll all work out logistically and the money's good. And you can't blame them – they have a limited opportunity to tour or they're getting advice that this is where they need to be.

 "But I've noticed that, with Jack on tour, he always kicks it off somewhere really interesting, somewhere more from a young kid's perspective of `I just wanna go somewhere cool in the world. I wanna go play for some people who've never even heard us.'"

 Jack White is too smart a fellow to not realize the effect playing in front of unfamiliar crowds would have on the performances, which are almost universally feral in Northern Lights.

 Indeed, Malloy concurs that he was blessed to catch so much fresh electricity feeding both ways onscreen. He was working with rooms that were, in some cases, half-full of people who had no idea who the White Stripes were and a 10-year-old band that's never been a slouch in the live department suddenly playing like hell to win them over.

 "In going up to these places, a lot of people knew that something big was going on in their town and really didn't know much more than that," says Malloy. "And they showed up and got their minds blown.

 "So the band got to go back to that feeling they had when they first started playing music: `I'm gonna give these people a night they'll never forget.' And I feel like that was the energy that was captured. It wasn't like playing Utah at The Shed."

 Under Great White Northern Lights really gets its glimmer, though, from the arty, black-and-white interstitial bits – Jack and Meg frolicking on the shores of Frobisher Bay, for instance – and concert footage from secret shows conducted across Canada in weird spots like the back of a Winnipeg bus and an elementary-school classroom in Toronto that break up the interview and performance sequences. That and the genuinely poignant and unforgettable final scene where Meg suddenly collapses in tears on Jack's shoulder after he serenades her with "White Moon" on the piano, but that's another story and you should just see that for yourself.

 "I could have gotten the soundbites and the performances and the interviews anywhere, but this became as much about where we were and who we were around as it (was about) the music itself," says Malloy, who aspired to "romance" Canada a little onscreen.

 "Two people on a stage, no matter what the venue, it starts looking the same. So I'm really glad we got to move around with this band and document all that stuff and get the secret shows and get all that stuff down. That's what made this film. The people and the places made this film as much as the music, and I think they're going to end up being the stars of the show."

 Out of deference to these stars, Under Great White Northern Lights had its premiere last September at the Toronto International Film Festival – it was a "necessity" that it debut in Canada, says Malloy – and is now making a return to our city for a week-long run at the Royal starting Feb. 26.

 The Royal, it turns out, is only the third theatre to exhibit the film. The other was in Denmark. The U.S. won't even get a look at it until the South by Southwest Festival in Austin next month. A DVD and live album follow on March 16, both also available to super-fans in a $259.99 box set with a mountain of other goodies on the White Stripes' website.

 "I feel like we're finally putting this thing out for real. What I forget is that very few people have seen it," says Malloy. "We kind of felt like (Toronto) was our big moment. That premiere up there was so exciting, and with Jack and Meg both there it felt really great to show it. It felt like a hometown crowd.

 "An all-time night, for sure. That really felt like the proper way to kick this thing off."

Eric Clapton No Match For Jeff Beck

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner

(February 22, 2010) This was supposed to be a guitar battle, not a complete capitulation.Description: Jeff%20Beck%20and%20Eric%20Clapton_small

 Oh, well, we knew going in who the cool kid was gonna be on this
Eric Clapton/Jeff Beck co-headlining tour. So I guess the major disappointment stemming from Sunday night's Air Canada Centre gig by the two aged British guitar heroes – one set by Beck, one set by Clapton, one anticlimactic six-string duel between the two – was that Clapton didn't even bother showing up to prove us wrong.

 It's not like Beck, who famously succeeded Clapton in the Yardbirds back in 1965, was up there throwing it in his old friend/foe's face, either.

 His opening set, while spiked with the kind of artful white-noise fireworks and jazzbo '70s-fusion quirks that everyone kind of anticipates from Jeff Beck, was still a pretty mild-mannered one. He brought a 12-piece orchestra along with his ace bass/drums/keys backing band and kept the all-instrumental vibe soft and cinematic, almost – dare I say it? – Knopfler-esque in its blues-derived inoffensiveness.

 During most of his time onstage, he leaned heavily on drowsy material such as Jeff Buckley's "Corpus Christi Carol" and Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" rather than fully uncorking the mindbending, high-volume Strat theatrics he reserved for moments like an awe-inspiring assault on the freaky latter half of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life."

 You'd think the prospect of being mildly shown up by Jeff Beck at half-power would have moved Clapton to rally beyond the usual, rote white-blues sleepwalk. But no, the guy might as well have strolled out in his jammies for his set, kicking it off with lackadaisical, seated acoustic versions of "Driftin' Blues" and "Layla," and then failing to inject any electricity into what should have been an electric set of can't-miss crowd pleasers, including a lifeless run at the Dominos' "Tell the Truth," the world's longest and lamest "I Shot the Sheriff," and a perfunctory, groove-deficient "Cocaine" that should have been retitled "Thorazine."

 Seriously, this was one of the laziest big-venue performances I've seen in years. Dude didn't bother to break a sweat. Beck came out to inject a little fire into the proceedings an hour later – consistently stepping back from his incendiary lightning bursts of blurred fretwork to let Clapton step in, only to watch Clapton dole out a few rote blues licks and return to the mike for another verse of "Shake Your Money Maker" or "Little Brown Bird." And what was one of the first tunes they turned all those years of honing their era-defining rock 'n' roll axe-craft to covering? Henry Mancini's "Moon River." Say no more.

JD’s ‘Secret Garden’ Remake Features Usher, Songz, Thicke, Tyrese and Barry!

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 18, 2010) *Jermaine JD Dupri has come up with what could turn out to be a pretty good idea. He’s recruited Usher, Robin Thicke, Tyrese and Trey Songz for a cover version of Quincy Jones’ classic 1989 smash hit “The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite).”

 The original of course featured James Ingram, Al B. Sure, El DeBarge and the late, great Barry White.

 Dupri recently elaborated on how he approached the song:

 “It took a minute for me to even think about touching it,” Dupri told MTV’s Shaheem Reid. “It’s a couple of components in that record that you don’t wanna touch – Barry White being one of the main components. I had to leave him [on the song]. There’s nobody out there in the world that’s got a voice like his or even sounded the way he sounded. So I had to make sure I could leave that. It’s gonna be interesting for y’all to hear how these young guys sound mixed in with him.”

 On the original "Secret Garden" each vocalist had a verse and an opportunity to sing to the ladies. Obviously it would be crazy to not do the same thing in the remake.

 On the original “Secret Garden” each vocalist had a verse and an opportunity to sing to the ladies. Obviously it would be crazy to not do the same thing in the remake.

 “Luckily, it’s a record that hip-hop really embraced as a ballad,” JD said. “It was a record I lived with so much. I kinda felt it was a record that was a part of my life. So it wasn’t that hard for me to get into it. But I just had to figure out all the ways and who to put on the song. I feel that at the time [Quincy] made the record, each one of the guys had a certain thing for the ladies.”

 And here’s something just as interesting. Dupri told MTV that the “Secret Garden” redo will appear on a new Quincy Jones album! But no release date has been announced.

Thanks to Lady GaGa, Akon Is Considering Retirement

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 20, 2010) *Who knew
Akon had it going on the way he does? The Senegalese born singer is supposedly considering an early retirement thanks to Lady GaGa.

The attention getting pop star is signed to his label and with her mega success, he’s sitting pretty, financially.

Akon signed the singer to his KonLive label at Interscope Records in 2007 after she was dropped by another of the company’s imprints.

GaGa’s Grammy-winning hits have gone on to dominate music charts across the globe, and Akon admits he could quit his own career for good and continue to live in luxury thanks to the lucrative deal.

Speaking about his agreement with Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine, Akon told the Associated Press:

“I was like, ‘Yo, I want to sign that right there. She needs to be under my umbrella. Jimmy was like, ‘Yeah, whatever you want. Take her. Let’s get it done.’ And she just blossomed into a super megastar, man.”

“She’s pretty much retired me. She was definitely a blessing. She came at the right moment. I’m glad I believed in her, boy. That goes to show you, if you believe in something strong enough, it will pay off.”

Musicians Meet Secretly In Vancouver For Haiti Benefit Single

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Alexandra Gill

(February 18, 2010) Vancouver, BC — Canadian musicians are waving the Maple Leaf for Haiti, secretly recording a benefit single for the earthquake-ravaged country.

 Famed Canadian music producer Bob Ezrin is spearheading the project, which will include Somalian-born Canadian rapper
K'naan, performing the K'naan hit song Wavin' Flag .

 The recording is taking place Thursday at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, which was founded by Bryan Adams.

 The new Olympic anthem-in-the-making was recorded on the fly amidst all the excitement of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

 “They've pulled this together so quickly,” Adrienne Kakoullis of Holmes Creative Communications said Thursday afternoon. “They're in the studio right now.”

 Although details are still sketchy, she confirmed that about 40 Canadian vocalists and performers had gathered to record a new version of the song Wavin' Flag .

 Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Feist, Nickleback, Emily Haines, Ron Sexsmith and Colin James are just a few of the Canadian performing artists currently in Vancouver for the Olympic Gameswho may have lent their voices to the super-group recording which sounds similar to We Are the World , the 1985 charity single for African famine relief. Diana Krall is also in town, as is Broken Social Scene.

 “All of Canada's best to record @iamknaan's Wavin' Flag for Haiti in Van City tomorrow!” reads a post that went out on Twitter yesterday.

 Mr. Ezrin, who is producing the Wavin' Flag project, worked on Pink Floyd's album The Wall . He recently made a new album with Peter Gabriel and owns the Nimbus School of Recording Arts in Vancouver.

 The afternoon session was videotaped for a possible future television broadcast by John Brunton of Insight Productions, the Toronto production company behind Canadian Idol and Battle of the Blades .

 “I'm not at liberty to discuss it at the moment,” said Mr. Brunton said by phone on Wednesday, confirming that he was indeed in Vancouver to film a major project.

 “I'll probably have a better opportunity to talk about it tomorrow,” he added. “I'm muzzled.”

 Wavin' Flag will also be featured as the anthem for this year's World Cup in South Africa. K'Naan sang the same song at Canada For Haiti , a broadcast telethon that raised $13.5-million for Haitian quake victims last month.

 A similar broadcast telethon, Hope For Haiti , brought Madonna, Coldplay, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and U2's Bono together in live performances from London, New York and Los Angeles.

 In Vancouver, two local radio stations, Red FM and Radio India, have raised more than $1.5-million through individual listeners who came out in droves to pledge donations for quake-torn Haiti.

 Rumours of the project began swirling last week when K'naan posted this message on Twitter: “Coming soon: Me & Bob Ezrin (producer of Pink Floyd's The Wall) are working on something epic! But u didn't hear from me ok?”

 The Toronto-based hip-hop musician wrote: “Sadly, leaving Peru already but heading to Vancouver to do something that'll hopefully help some lives in need.”

 Proceeds are to go to Free The Children, War Child Canada and World Vision.  

Former Bros star Matt Goss Brings Old-School Cool Back To Las Vegas

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 20, 2010) LAS VEGAS–"Back in the day..." is how singer Matt Goss currently begins many of his sentences.

 But it's not because the guy once best known for his performances with the British pop group Bros is dwelling on his yesterdays.

 Far from it.

 No, it's more because of the heady air of nostalgia that hangs over Goss's new assignment.

 Starting on March 12, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is scrapping that piece of Egyptian high camp called Cleopatra's Barge – its piano lounge for many years – and replacing it with "The Gossy Room," a hip, happening hangout for the new, 21st century-styled Matt Goss and his ever-expanding group of followers.

 How do you describe "Le Nouveau Goss"? In many ways he sounds just like he always did, with a voice that manages to be erotic yet cajoling, producing a sound that seduces the ladies and enthrals the men who wish they could be seducing those ladies with similar ease.

 But the style is harder to pin down. The swagger of Harry Connick Jr.? The bedroom eyes of Michael Bublé? The world-weariness of Randy Newman? The musicianship of John Pizarelli?

 Goss has all of these qualities, but there's also something uniquely, well, Gossy about the finished product. The almost dandyish wardrobe, the rakishly tilted porkpie hat, the blazing blue eyes, the carefully cultivated facial stubble. It all radiates a long-forgotten concept of style, fallen into disfavour for so long that it needs someone as forceful as Goss to effect its rehabilitation.

 Goss is cool the way Sammy Davis Jr. was, the way Dean Martin was and – most of all – the way Frank Sinatra was.

 "Yes, it's Sinatra I think of a lot. I can't help it," says Goss, unwinding over a Spartan feed of bread sticks and mineral water at Rao's, the straight-from-Manhattan transplanted Italian restaurant that looks like a whole crew of '50s wise guys should be sitting at the bar and the Chairman of the Board himself, Old Blue Eyes, Francis Albert Sinatra, might be holding down a corner table.

 "For any of us who love Las Vegas, who love music, who love class, Sinatra was the man," enthuses Goss. He speaks with the same intense, raspy whisper that Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer uses to intimidate terrorists on 24, but in Goss's hands, the effect is far more pleasant.

 "I'd never imitate Frank," insists Goss, "that would actually be an insult. Nobody really wants to hear somebody pretend to be somebody else. But I would like to emulate him, to revive all the things he stood for back in the day."

 There's that phrase again: "Back in the day." It's something you're hearing a lot around Las Vegas as this most malleable of cities looks for its latest personality makeover.

 Having gone through "Vegas the Family Playground" and "Vegas the Hedonists' Hideaway," the time seems ripe for a return to what Sin City represented back in the days of The Rat Pack: "Vegas the Home of Cool."

 These days, Goss certainly seems like the coolest of dudes, in the very best sense of the word. Gone are the days of 1980s pop-star hysteria, done are the years of 1990s touring in search of an image, forgotten, too, is that 2003 British comeback where the fans of a whole new generation discovered the power of Goss.

 Nowadays, he radiates the mellow but potent charm of a 20-year-old Scotch that's been resting in its keg, waiting for the right moment to arrive.

 "I feel comfortable with myself now, I guess that's the big difference," reasons Goss as he looks back at the past. "A man has to wait for his moment and know when that moment has come."

 That moment came in 2006, when Goss's song "It's the End of the Road" became the theme of the U.S. version of "So You Think You Can Dance," and brought him to the attention of American audiences. A new recording contract, some gigs with David Foster and a variety of TV appearances made the new Matt Goss a very popular fellow indeed.

 Then he discovered Vegas (and vice versa), making the synergy complete. A smash run at The Palms, starting in 2009, put the frame around the picture, and the savvy folks at Caesars Palace realized Goss was what they had been seeking to provide hip-smaller-club contrast to the big spectacle of the Colosseum, where Céline Dion is returning next year.

 "You have to be humble, you have to be fearless and you have to give your all to your music. That's all it takes," Goss concludes.


Video: Erykah Badu’s Jump Up in the Air (Stay There)

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 18, 2010) *
Erykah Badu’s new music video for her “leaked” track “Jump in the Air (Stay There)” feat. Lil Wayne just hit the Internet. The single comes ahead of the March 30 release of her new album “New Amerykah Part II: Return of the Ankh,” due Mar. 30. Because “Jump in the Air” is considered a “leaked” track, it won’t appear on the album in original form (a remix is in the works, instead, according to Billboard.com), but Badu still gave her fans the below visuals to go along with the song.


Place To Be: Hiromi

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(out of 4)

(February 23, 2010) Discovering New York-based, Japanese-born jazz pianist
Hiromi through her first solo piano recording would be befuddling. How does she get all those sounds? Surely there's lots of overdubbing involved? However, if you're familiar with the pint-sized performer's five previous albums, or caught her at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival last summer you know that she's simply bedazzling and apt to employ an elbow or fist on the keys, or reach inside to pluck the strings. Still, I can't figure out how she gets that harpsichord sound on this disc's "Pachelbel's Canon." Though noted for her eye-catching outfits (courtesy of fashion designer husband Mihara Yasuhiro), technical expertise, as well as electric and acoustic fluency, what makes the classically trained Hiromi particularly delightful is the enthusiasm she brings. That verve is underscored with song titles like "Cape Cod Chips" and "Berne, Baby, Berne!" on this album about her travels. The 30-year-old doesn't incorporate the usual amount of pop and rock on this album, but it's still fairly progressive. And it's nice hear her subtler side on the ballads "Sicilian Blue" and "Somewhere." There's still that ceaseless volley of notes, but, as in the Art Tatum tradition, never ineffective. Top Track: It's easy to envision Hiromi kicking her heels down a Parisian boulevard on the spirited blues "Choux A La Crème," about the French pastry.

The Good Girl: Kellylee Evans

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(out of 4)

(February 23, 2010) Anyone startled by this Ottawa-based singer/songwriter's transition from jazz to self-described "alternative-soul pop" in the four years since her debut album wasn't listening closely. Though Evans placed second in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004 and used some jazz musicians and arrangements on Fight or Flight? there were many hints of the eclectic world she would fully inhabit on her sophomore effort. The title track, the disc's top tune, is a rocking Pat Benatar groove about refusing to play by the rules; "Lost" is a bass-heavy groove with reggae undertones and Sade-style vulnerability; and the electro-pinging "I'm Not My Own" showcases a yearning that's all hers. There's not as much variety in tempo and instrumentation as the project augured, but these original tunes about love and personal evolution are well served by Evans's rich, buoyant vocals. Under the jazz umbrella, she was a crowd favourite who racked up Juno nominations. This music isn't a huge departure; interesting to see how she fares in the big bad pop world.

JLo Splits from Sony Record Label

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 23, 2010) *It’s the end of the road for Jennifer Lopez at Sony. Nikke Finke of DeadlineHollywood.com is reporting that the singer is no longer recording for Sony Music’s Epic Records. However, there are conflicting stories as to how it all went down. Version 1: Lopez’s contract was up and since she fulfilled her obligation with her last two singles, it wasn’t renewed. A mutual decision was made not to go ahead with an album. Version 2: Lopez was dropped by Sony because of low record sales. Either way, JLo’s forthcoming studio album, “Love?” is now in limbo. Some Internet reports say that “Love?” — which featured a pre-release dance hit “Fresh Out the Oven” and a pre-release dance dud “Louboutins” — was nearly finished and set to come out in April. But Lopez’s camp told Finke that “Love?” was still a work in progress and “by no means done” and that record release dates tend to be flexible. Lopez’s manager, Benny Medina, confirmed the split between his client and Sony. “Jennifer had a wonderful relationship with the Sony Music group,” he noted, “and they have shared many successes together, but the time was right to make a change that best serves the direction her career as an actress and recording artist.” In the meantime, JLo’s new romantic comedy “The Back-Up Plan” is set to come out on April 23, when it will go up against “Wall Street 2″ and “MacGruber.” The entertainer is also slated to host the show next weekend.

Wyclef Tapped to Present at Rock Hall

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 23, 2010) *Musician Wyclef Jean has been selected to induct reggae icon Jimmy Cliff into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month. The presenters were announced Tuesday by the hall, which is based in Cleveland. Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio will induct rock group Genesis, Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees will induct ABBA, and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is set to honour The Stooges. Also, Jackson Browne will induct David Geffen. The induction ceremony takes place March 15 in New York and will air live on Fuse TV at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Idol Fans Like Ellen Degeneres, Miss Paula Abdul

Source: www.thestar.com - Reuters

(February 24, 2010) LOS ANGELES–Ellen DeGeneres is proving a hit with American Idol fans as a new judge, although Paula Abdul is very much missed, according to an AOL Television poll released on Tuesday. As the public gets its first chance this week to vote for performers on the top-rated TV talent contest, guitar-playing Andrew Garcia and young mom Crystal Bowersox are emerging as early fan favourites among the top 24. Garcia, 24, of California, and Bowersox, 24, who plays guitar and mouth organ, won a leading 26.2 and 25.2 per cent of votes in the AOL Television poll over the weekend. Michael "Big Mike" Lynche, whose wife had their first baby while he was competing, was third favourite. But Lynche was also voted the most overhyped, as fans decided by an overwhelming 78.3 per cent that highlighting personal stories such as his gave contestants an unfair advantage. Just over 58 per cent of those polled said DeGeneres was doing an "awesome" job in her new role, with just 7.4 per cent judging her "awful." But plenty of Idol fans are missing Abdul, who quit last summer in a dispute over her contract renewal. Some 46 per cent said the singing competition was not the same without her, while 41 per cent said they did not miss her and a surprising 12 per cent appeared not to have realized she has left.

Dave Matthews coming, Mos Def isn’t, DOOM probably will

Source: www.thestar.com - Robert Cribb

(February 24, 2010) Rap fans will be disappointed to hear that Mos Def has cancelled his Kool Haus concert, scheduled for Thursday. However, the promoters at REMG Entertainment say they’re doing everything they can to guarantee that the co-headliner, the masked rapper known as DOOM, will actually perform in the flesh.  Talk has persisted over several years that DOOM, as Daniel Dumile is known, gets an impostor to masquerade as him during some live shows. Last week after a Chicago concert, fans reported the performer onstage had a different body type than DOOM, lip-synched in lieu of rapping and left after 20 only minutes. REMG says it will demand photo ID from the artist before he takes the stage for the show, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 27.

Brian McKnight Continues ‘Evolution’ Tour

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 24, 2010) *Brian McKnight has set aside some dates for a North American tour as he continues supporting last year’s “Evolution of a Man,” which hit stores in October and features collaborations with Jill Scott and Stevie Wonder.  The crooner begins Friday (2/26) in Oakland, CA, with a trio of March shows to follow. After a three-month break, the performer/producer will return to the tour for a handful of June and July casino performances throughout the Midwest before wrapping up Aug. 13 in Biloxi, MS. The full schedule is listed below.  February 2010
26 – Oakland, CA – Fox Theater

March 2010
6 – Windsor, Ontario – Caesars Windsor The Colosseum
12 – Englewood, NJ – Bergen Performing Arts Center
13 – Atlantic City, NJ – Resorts Atlantic City

June 2010
13 – Detroit, MI – TBA
26 – Dover Downs, DE – TBA

July 2010
8 – Dallas, TX – TBA
9 – Houston, TX – TBA
10 – Norman, OK – Riverwind Casino
11 – Thackerville, OK – Winstar Casino

August 2010
13 – Biloxi, MS – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi


Sixty 'Just Another Year' For Richard Gere

Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard

(February 23, 2010) Richard Gere may be one of the screen's most enduring sex symbols, working in an industry that worships the cult of youth, but he's not bothered about aging. In fact, he approached turning 60 in August as marking "just another year.''

"It meant nothing, if you want me to be honest with you," said Gere from New York, a shrug in his voice, as he talked to the Star in a Canadian exclusive while promoting his latest movie,
Brooklyn's Finest.

When pressed, he admits turning 50 was a jolt, "only because of the roundness of the number; the inability to be able to think you're 22.

"You do start to forget things a bit," he says, "and you don't recover with injuries as quickly."

Silver-haired Gere hasn't succumbed to vanity: still handsome, his features have changed and he looks his age onscreen as he plays Eddie Dugan, a recently divorced, burned-out career cop working his last week on the beat in Brooklyn's most dangerous neighbourhood.

Eddie's story is one of three separate police tales that eventually knit together in Brooklyn's Finest: Don Cheadle is an undercover drug squad cop desperate to get out, and Ethan Hawke has to deal with temptation and rising panic as his lousy paycheque can't stretch to care for his expanding family and ailing wife. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), Brooklyn's Finest opens March 5.

"This is literally the last seven days of his life as a cop and all those forces that play into memory and projection and what am I going to do; it's all quietly intense for him," Gere explains, adding that he sees each cop's onscreen tale as "a short story, a small novella."

Gere describes Eddie's role as "the quiet part of the story." But the part still called for him to do some physically demanding work. "The hardest ones are the fight scenes, because they end up being quite technical," says Gere.

Just trying to hang on for one more week, Eddie refuses to rise to the bait as young Turks on the force taunt him as a has-been with a booze problem. He bristles at having to take raw recruits as ride-alongs in his squad car. He just wants to be left alone to finish his shift. "He doesn't want to get involved," says Gere. "He wants the windows up and the radio off."

But Eddie does get involved in ways he couldn't foresee, and that leads to self-doubt and despair, feelings he tries to soothe through his relationship with a sympathetic young hooker (Shannon Kane).

"Shannon and I got to know each other quite well," says Gere, who shares a bedroom scene with the actress. "Over the process of working on the scenes, she and I got very comfortable with one another, very comfortable and very trusting.

"It's never easy (to film a sex scene)," Gere points out, but he adds building trust between actors "makes it very possible."

Gere has sizzled as a leading man over the years, first catching moviegoers attention as street punk Tony in Looking for Mr. Goodbar with Diane Keaton in 1977 and then as swaggering male prostitute Julian in American Gigolo (1980), which included Gere in a very controversial (for the time) full-frontal nude scene. And he set the bar high for romantic moments as he swept Deborah Winger off her feet in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982).

Then there was Pretty Woman. Released 20 years ago next month, Garry Marshall's rom-com is about a businessman (Gere) who falls for a call girl with a heart of gold whom he hires to accompany him to business events. It propelled Julia Roberts to superstardom.

"Yeah, we had a great time," Gere says of making Pretty Woman. "Garry is someone I talk to, and I talk to Julia quite a bit. Julia was the youngest, but in many ways we were all very young then."

Gere may be teaming up with Marshall again. He's touted to star in Marshall's remake of the 1948 Frank Capra classic State of the Union, which starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. (Annette Bening is rumoured to play the Hepburn role.) Gere confirms he's had discussions, but nothing has been signed yet.

An accomplished musician who played Danny Zucco in the 1973 London production of Grease in 1973 (the part that later helped launch John Travolta's screen career), his work in the Oscar-winning, made-in-Toronto musical Chicago earned Gere a Golden Globe as tap-dancing shyster lawyer Billy Flynn.

"We had a great time in Toronto on Chicago," Gere says. "The U.S. has decided they can do tax rebates too, so we don't get up there much now," he adds with a chuckle. "As much as I like shooting in Toronto, I like to be home."

Home for Gere, his wife, Law & Order actress Carey Lowell, and their 10-year-old son, Homer, is about 70 km north of New York City in exclusive Westchester. Last year, they opened the eight-room Bedford Post Inn, offering luxurious lodgings in a renovated 18th-century house.

Gere bristles at the suggestion he's becoming a hotelier. "This is not a career for me," he says coolly. He says he and Lowell opened the inn as a place for a first-class restaurant in the area. And they've achieved that. Gere proudly says the Farmhouse dining room made Esquire's list of best new American restaurants last year.

"I enjoy food," says Gere, adding his preference is for "anything Mediterranean," and he's pleased with chef Brian Lewis's "Mediterranean filtered through an American sensibility" approach.

Gere rarely makes more than one or two movies a year, which gives him time to devote to humanitarian causes. A Buddhist since the late 1970s, he's a dedicated follower of the teachings of Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama and an outspoken advocate of human rights in Tibet.

As selective as he is about work, what made him sign on for Brooklyn's Finest, a small-budget movie that has taken more than a year to get into theatres since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival? "I liked the script a lot," Gere says. "Antoine and I worked on the character and we were on the same wavelength about what to do with it."

The movie was written by Michael C. Martin, a Brooklyn transit worker in his mid-20s who penned the screenplay as part of a scriptwriting contest he entered five years ago to raise some cash to cover car repairs. Martin didn't win, but the script eventually sold.

Gere is full of praise for the neophyte writer: "How would you think it was possible to write something this sophisticated out of nowhere?"

Marlon Wayans Is Ready to Play Richard Pryor

Source: www.eurweb.com - From the LA Times

(February 22, 2010) *When it was announced that
Marlon Wayans and not Eddie Murphy would be portraying Richard Pryor in the long-discussed biopic of the comedy giant, the news was greeted with Internet jeering.

Wayans wasn’t surprised when he read the disparaging comments — you can’t hang your star on films like “White Chicks” and “Little Man” without consequences.

“Look, I want to be able to make the stupidest movies ever, because they make people laugh and they make money,” Wayans recently said with a smirk. “But that’s not all I want to do. And I think I’ve proven to some people — the ones paying attention — that I can do more. Everybody else, well, they can wait and see and make up their mind.”

Wayans believes he is on the verge of winning over sceptics and just maybe establishing a name for himself that goes beyond his status as “the other Wayans” — or maybe even “the other-other-Wayans.” The 37-year-old is the youngest of 10 children in the show-business brood that came to fame on “In Living Color,” the 1990s television show created and written by Keenen Ivory Wayans and Damon Wayans. His position in the family photo has given Marlon Wayans plenty of opportunity — he and sibling Shawn got their own show, “The Wayans Brothers,” for four seasons on Fox beginning in 1995 — but also an ongoing challenge in establishing anything resembling an individual identity.

“I have no complaints,” Wayans said, “but I do have a plan. I love doing comedy, but I also love to do drama.”

Read MORE of this LA Times article HERE.

‘Hurt Locker’ The Big Winner At British Film Awards

Source: www.thestar.com - Jill Lawless

(February 22, 2010) LONDON—Britain’s love of the underdog triumphed Sunday as intimate war drama “The Hurt Locker” beat 3D spectacular “Avatar” to take six prizes, including best picture, at the British Academy Film Awards.

 Kathryn Bigelow won the best-director battle with “Avatar’s James Cameron, her ex-husband who grew up near Niagara Falls, Ont., for her intense depiction of a bomb-disposal squad in Iraq.

 “It means so much that this film seems to be touching people’s hearts and minds,” Bigelow said.

 Bigelow also beat out Vancouver-based director Neill Blomkamp, who was nominated for “District 9.”

 Both films had eight nominations for the British awards, considered an indicator of possible success at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles next month. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” each has nine Oscar nominations.

 “The Hurt Locker” also took British prizes for original screenplay cinematography, editing and sound.

 “Avatar” won awards for production design and visual effects for its vivid vision of a distant moon populated by a blue-skinned species called the Na’vi.

 “Hurt Locker” screenwriter Mark Boal dedicated the best-film prize to the hope of peace “and bringing the boys and girls back home.”

 Bigelow also paid tribute to soldiers serving in Iraq, and said the goal of the film was “putting a bit of a spotlight on a very, very difficult situation.”

 “I hope that in some small way this film can begin a debate ... and bring closure to this conflict,” she said.

 The “Avatar”/”Hurt Locker” battle initially seemed like a David-and-Goliath story. Cameron’s last feature, “Titanic,” won 11 Oscars, including picture and director. “Avatar” is a global phenomenon that has taken more than $2 billion (U.S.) at the box office.

 “Hurt Locker” has made about a hundredth that much.

 “It did not seem like a slam-dunk commercial proposition,” said Boal, who thanked Bigelow and the cast for making “an unpopular story about an unpopular war.”

 Montreal-born Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner won the Adapted Screenplay award for “Up in the Air.”

 Homegrown British talent did not go home empty-handed. Rising star Carey Mulligan was named best actress for playing a precocious teenager in 1960s London in “An Education.”

 Colin Firth was named best actor for his performance as a bereaved Englishman in California in Tom Ford’s “A Single Man.”

 Firth said he almost declined the award-winning role, which has also earned him an Oscar nomination. He said he had been about to turn it down by email “when someone came to repair my fridge.” He never sent the email.

 “I would like to thank the fridge guy,” Firth said.

 Firth said he had emerged from working with fashion designer-turned-director Ford “better groomed, more fragrant and more nominated than one has ever been before.”

 Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, already a hot Oscar favourite, won the supporting actor prize for his turn as a chilling, charming Nazi colonel in “Inglourious Basterds.” The supporting actress award went to Mo’nique for “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.”

 Director Duncan Jones took the award for best British debut for his lost-in-space drama “Moon.”

 A tearful Jones, whose father is musician David Bowie, said it had taken him a long time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

 “Finally, I think I’ve found what I love doing,” he said.

 Earlier, Kate Winslet, Audrey Tautou, Quentin Tarantino, Vanessa Redgrave and “Twilight” stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart all walked the red carpet before the ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House, with Prince William on hand to add real royalty to showbiz aristocracy.

 Mulligan turned heads in a sweeping monochrome floral dress by Vionnet.

 She described the experience of being nominated as “like being punched — nicely.”

 Prince William, wearing a traditional Saville Row suit, received huge cheers and stopped to chat with waiting fans and have his picture snapped outside the opera house.

 William presented a lifetime achievement award to Redgrave, and also was announced as the new president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which presents the awards — a role once held by his grandfather, Prince Philip.

 “Fish Tank,” Andrea Arnold’s drama about a feisty London teenager, was named best British film. The award for best animated feature went to Pixar’s soaring 3D adventure “Up,” and Jacques Audiard’s prison thriller “A Prophet” was named best foreign-language film.

 “Twilight” actress Kristen Stewart won the rising star award, decided by the public.

 Stewart was cheered loudly by hundreds of film fans when she arrived at the opera house — but even she admitted to being star-struck.

 “I’m sitting right behind Kate Winslet, and every time she turns around I wish I didn’t exist,” Stewart said. “I love her.”

Nate Parker As Ben Chavis: New Film ‘Blood Done Sign My Name’ Puts Justice On Screen

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

(February 19, 2010) *The new film, “Blood Done Sign My Name” is based on the true story of the role of local high school teacher Ben Chavis in the civil unrest created by the 1970 racially motivated murder of a black Vietnam veteran and the acquittal of the white businessman who was charged.

 Nate Parker, who stars in the film as young activist Ben Chavis, is known for his roles in a number of other civil rights-focused period pieces including “Pride,” “The Great Debaters,” and “The Secret Life of Bees, but the young star told reporters that he looks for roles that take on the historical plights of his community because they very often mirror the same struggles the community deals with today.

 “My attraction is that I see such similarities in the projects of the period as I do in the now – 2010. Dr. King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ So it’s my duty as an artist and as a person of the community to posture against injustice,” he said.

 “When these projects come along, what it gives to me is a model or a blueprint of solution that I can take into 2010. I can say, ‘This is how we deal with incarceration in the black community. This is how we deal with HIV and disease.’”

 Parker said that he looks to heroes like Dr. Ben Chavis in his work and in his personal life.

 “I see the path that he’s taken and the sacrifices that he’s made, whether it’s been going to prison or being shot at standing as a pillar in the community and I say, that’s what I want to do,” the actor stated. “If it means me using my platform as an actor and getting in the position of using the media, so be it.”

 He confessed that he does often choose projects like “Blood Done Sign My Name” because if he’s going to be typecast, he wants to be typecast as someone who wants to be a leader and wants to fight the injustices in the community. He added that the chose this film in particular because it steps a little bit outside of the familiar civil rights journeys that are often refreshed in the media.

 “I chose this one for two reasons,” he began. “One, because it deals with civil rights, but not civil rights as we’re used to it in 1964-65, but in 1970 this brother was killed. I read the book after (director) Jeb Stuart came to me, and I looked at Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo police brutality [cases] and the young brother that just got killed in Chicago and I said, ‘There are so many similarities in the protecting and the paternalism, and the sweeping under the rug that I can use this to go out and speak.”

 Parker has been noted for committing to working to provide educational opportunities for young males via Wiley College, the Marshall, TX school brought to fame by “The Great Debaters.”

 “I often speak at Wiley College and I just did a keynote [address] there,” he said. “So to be able to go out and talk about this film as a tool for education of what we can be doing for even things that are plaguing that campus, I think there is power in that.”

 Dr. Chavis, now 62 years old, was quite pleased with the final cut of the film, calling it “phenomenal” in its accuracy even though he was not directly involved in the making of the film.

 “Tim Tyson wrote the book, and the screenplay was based on the book. The book, however, is an adaptation of Tyson’s PhD dissertation. When he was a student in graduate school working on his dissertation, I gave him extensive interviews,” Chavis clarified. “In a sense it was probably better that I didn’t get involved with the movie because truth doesn’t need an arbiter.”

 “So I wasn’t on the set,” he continued. “I didn’t have to coach him. When I saw the first rough cut, I had to reach over and shake the hand of [director] Jeb Stuart. This is not your average Hollywood film. The degree of accuracy is phenomenal. Most times, to sensationalize this or to sensationalize that, you take away from what really happened. This is one of the most accurate movies I’ve ever seen.”

 “To capture all of this in film was a bold effort,” Chavis declared. “There have been a lot of movies about the Ku Klux Klan. This is the only movie I know that shows that the Ku Klux Klan has a theology; they have a perverted sense of religion – they’re burning crosses in the name of Jesus.”

 Chavis was equally impressed with the portrayal by Parker.

 “He captured the tension – you could see it in his face – the passion, but also the responsibility of leadership. When you made a speech back in those days and people followed you, you were accountable for what you said, for how you say it, where you say it and you have to look around to see who’s behind you.”

 Chavis recalled that looking behind him during that march referred to both keeping watch and protection over those following you, but also looking out for those in opposition.

 “That march from Oxford (North Carolina) to Raleigh took us three days. We were shot at on the way. My biggest concern wasn’t just to make it to meet with the Governor, but to make sure nobody got hurt. It was clear this was a pivotal moment in Oxford,” he said.

 “Dr. King had just been killed two years earlier in ‘68, so there was already a fear among adults,” he recalled. “When I led those students out of the class to the courthouse, it was to teach them something about life in real time and the film captured that.”

 Chavis reflected on the fact that two Southern states voted for a black candidate for US President in the 2008 election and related that to the youth movement more than 38 years before.

 “It was the youth vote. To some extent, young people’s consciousness is beginning to transcend the racist and racial stereotypes that were commonplace in 1970. The school that I led the students out of was a segregated school even in 1970, even though the Brown decision was in 1954,” he said, “but there were young people pushing that envelope and I think it was captured very well in this film.”

 “It happened in 1970 post civil rights movement, post King being assassinated, and this young brother Henry Marrow was killed,” Parker added. “Not only was there no justice, but the Chamber of Commerce paid the bail of the people that actually did it, who were admittedly a part of the Ku Klux Klan.”

 “I had to go after the mindset of black people,” Chavis recalled. “I thought, ‘How am I going to get these brothers and sisters to stand up when they are used to these kinds of things?’ While we were focused on Henry Marrow’s murder, there were many murders. This was commonplace. What made it distinctive was that we stood up about it.”

 Chavis agreed that progress has been made throughout the nation as well as in his hometown of Oxford, there is much more progress to be made.

 “This movie cannot be shown in Oxford,” he said, “because instead of desegregating the theatre they just closed it. People that live in my hometown are going to have to drive 30 miles to see this movie. Has there been progress in Oxford? Yes. Has Oxford become a racial Utopia? No.”

 “Blood Done Sign My Name,” also starring Lela Rochon, Darrin Henson, and Rick Schroeder, is in theatres nationwide.

Indie Goes 3-D

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(February 19, 2010) The young women snarl and sneer and do battle like street fighters, if stylized ones in blue lipstick and black leggings. Behind them is a special-effects green screen for overlaying movie backgrounds, riffing off 1970s kung fu, The Matrix and a version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

 In front of the action, the cameraman dons strange, Blade Runner-like glasses. And at one point, a technician covered head to toe in green holds a metal rod in front of the camera. Once he’s digitally removed from the picture, the rod will become a projectile hurtling toward the audience.

 The fighters are in fact models wearing clothes made by Toronto-based designer Nada Shepherd, and the film shoot is just one example of the growing use of 3-D among lower-budget productions, particularly in creative hubs such as Toronto and Montreal. No longer the purview of just IMAX and Hollywood blockbusters, 3-D is exploding and hurling toward audiences from all levels of film and video making like never before.

 Shepherd had been looking for a new way to show off her designs and grab people’s attention. For months, she had been batting around ideas for a fashionvideo with Toronto director Grant Padley. Then she saw Avatar.

 “I’ve never had a project go to fourth gear so ridiculously quickly. Once we had a 3-D cinematographer, we had a concept within days,” Padley says. The video for Nada Designs is billed as the first 3-D fashion presentation of its kind and will be shown prior to Toronto’s Fashion Weekat the end of March. At first, the idea was to keep the film hush-hush to heighten anticipation, but now they’re talking about it because of another fashion 3-D film due next week: U.K. fashion powerhouse Burberry will be shooting its runway show in 3-D and screening it to fashion insiders in various fashion centres from Paris to Tokyo.

  Colour is best used when it is designed properly, and that’s even truer of 3-D. If you have a very pedestrian treatment of 3-D, it’s like a [garden-variety] treatment of colour. — Sean MacLeod Phillips

 Driving 3-D’s spread is new and cheaper Hollywood-grade 3-D technology, such as the $21,000 (U.S.) stereoscopic camera from Panasonic. And with this accessibility, the prediction is that it’s only a matter of time before someone makes the Citizen Kane of 3-D, creating an entirely new 3-D cinematic language far surpassing director James Cameron’s alien landscapes in Avatar.

 No one is happier than Tim Dashwood. The Toronto-based specialist in 3-D and the cinematographer for the Nada Designs video, says, “We’ve been speaking to people for about a year and half now, bringing them into the office and talking to them about 3-D and saying that 3-D is the future. No one really got back to us until Avatar started winning the weekends [at the box office, where it has now made $670-million]. By that second weekend, everyone started calling. The floodgates opened.”

 Dashwood says he has since signed a deal with a Canadian director – he couldn’t specify who due to a confidentiality agreement – to shoot a 3-D feature film with a budget of only around $1-million, tiny by 3-D standards. Avatar reportedly cost roughly $230-million (U.S.) to shoot. It’s also a tiny fraction of the $170-million budget for Robert Zemeckis’s 2004 animated film The Polar Express, also released in 3-D. However, short IMAX documentaries and concert films are typically made for under $10-million, although some estimates pegged 2008’s U2 3D as having cost around $15-million.

 Toronto-based cinematographer Tim Dashwood says it took the Avatar phenomenon to ignite interest in 3-D.

 “The perception is that you can’t do a [feature-length] 3-D movie for less than $10-million. With our technology … we’re proving otherwise,” Dashwood says, adding that he can shoot in 3-D for as little as 12 to 15 per cent added to the total budget.

 The 3-D community still has that old Creature From The Black Lagoon gumption. Dashwood and other cinematographers often custom-make 3-D camera rigs for shoots, for example. Dashwood is also selling 3-D editing software he’s developed for $389 (U.S.), far less than the cost of a professional editing suite. The software is a plug-in for Final Cut, the popular editing software that helped transform indie filmmaking by giving home computers the capabilities of a professional editing suite. Dashwood’s plug-in allows users to adjust disparities between the two streams of footage that combine to create a 3-D effect. Film editors can now perform the complicated synchronizing of left-eye and right-eye images on a laptop.

 As Munro Ferguson, an animation director heavily involved in 3-D animation at the National Film Board of Canada’s StereoLab project in Montreal, says, “What’s great for people interested in 3-D as an art form is that there are so many new tools becoming available. ... It’s becoming really accessible to independent filmmakers and artists from all kinds of different fields.”

 The NFB’s StereoLab uses a computer drawing system developed by another Canadian pioneer, Mississauga-based IMAX and called SANDDE, for Stereoscopic Animation Drawing Device. An animator wearing 3-D polarizing glasses holds a wand and draws in the air while watching the results in simulated 3-D on a screen. Although it takes many layers of technology to create a 3-D animated landscape, including steps such as digitalizing simple hand drawings if necessary, SANDDE then allows the animator to draw in the environment itself.

 The glasses are key. They aren’t the flimsy red and cyan kind, which made a comeback in the 1980s. That technology is still used to create cheap 3-D effects on Internet videos. But the current wave is based on polarizing lenses, the kind worn to watch Avatar and used back in the 1950s, which separate and direct two slightly different versions of an image to each eye, creating the stereoscopic effect.

 But the biggest, new development, say those in the industry, is the ability to do away the complicated synchronization that used to be necessary in the projection booth. The slightly different left-eye, right-eye images now both come out of the same lens on the projector, rather than two. They flicker too quickly to notice, and all the viewer sees is the 3-D. What theatre owners and distributors see is the wider profit margin of the simplified equipment.

 Still, 3-D has one image problem: the hangover from its sensationalist past, like the looming claw rising from the black lagoon in the 1950s. Much of the current wave still plays up the wow factor – from the Art Gallery of Ontario’s screenings of Egypt 3D: Secrets of the Mummies at one end of the spectrum to Tinto Brass (Caligula) and other porn directors announcing 3-D projects at the other. Meanwhile, YouTube is introducing 3-D video capabilities. And electronics companies such as Sony are pushing hard into 3-D televisions and home video.

 But Sean MacLeod Phillips, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based director of photography who is pioneering new camera set-ups and other 3-D technologies, warns that the creativity now has to match the tools. He stresses that 3-D has to be seen as its own art form, rather than an add-on to 2-D. He makes the comparison to the use of colour film.

 “Colour is best used when it is designed properly, and that’s even truer of 3-D. If you have a very pedestrian treatment of 3-D, it’s like a [garden-variety] treatment of colour. It definitely adds some sizzle, but it doesn’t really help the drama unless the person actually takes charge of it and designs it, the way an art director uses colour in a film, or a cinematographer uses light and composition. Those are all design elements. It’s not something where you flip a button and suddenly it becomes 3-D.”

 Some predict that 3-D will find its true, artistic fulfilment in the lower-budget indie works. The NFB’s Ferguson notes that now even the latest films by emerging filmmakers working for the film board’s Hothouse apprenticeship will be in 3-D.

 “3-D filmmaking was pioneered by a bunch of amateurs working in their basements all over the world. And even a lot of the people who are big Hollywood filmmakers like Cameron and Zemeckis, they started off as 3-D enthusiasts when they were kids. So it’s not top-down, it’s bottom-up,” Ferguson says.  

Cree Director Neil Diamond's Real Look At Reel Indians

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Geoff Pevere

(February 19, 2010) When Neil Diamond was a boy growing up on a James Bay Cree reserve, he loved spending Saturday nights in church basements watching movies. Some of his favourites were Westerns. Still, there was always something wrong with the picture.

 "I didn't even really think about it much until I left the reserve," the director of the documentary Reel Injun said over a sandwich during the Toronto International Film Festival last September. ``They were just movies. But then people started asking me these questions, like `Do you still live in teepees?' `Do you still ride horses?' `Why isn't your hair long?' And, `why is it curly?'"

 He shakes that curly hair and laughs.

 "I began to realize that people had a very fixed idea of what my people were, and I wanted to find out just where that idea came from."

 The result is Reel Injun, a feature-length documentary investigation of a century-plus of popular images of aboriginal North Americans.

 It's a journey that takes Diamond literally across a continent to California (where, among other commentators, he queries Marlon Brando's notorious Oscar-night proxy Sacheen Littlefeather).

 Figuratively, it's a trip across a much vaster terrain: to the constantly shifting landscapes of stereotypes and symbology, from romantic reverence to racist misrepresentation, and from pro-native anti-capitalist Soviet Cold War propaganda to the Inuit-generated triumph of Atanarjuat.

 And what's with all these white people – such as the Hollywood Indian icon Iron Eyes Cody – who pretended to be native American even when they weren't on camera?

 "I had no idea it was going to turn out like this," says Diamond, who grew up on the Waskaganish First Nation in western Quebec and opted to appear in his own movie to drive home the theme of first-person discovery.

 "It started with seeing people like Burt Lancaster playing Indians in movies, and I thought I'd make a funny half-hour movie about white people in native drag. It was going to be called I'm Not Indian But I Play One on TV.

 "But then our research started and it just grew into this massive idea. All these different elements started to come into it. Like stereotypes. Where do they come from? Do they come from film? Literature? TV? The German fascination with natives. The American love-hate fascination with native Americans. And ultimately, the attempt by us to make our own images. It was so rich it just kept on growing."

Fish Tank: Newcomer Katie Jarvis Shines In Off-Beat Coming Of Age Tale

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

Fish Tank
(out of four)
Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender and Kierston Wareing. Written and directed by Andrea Arnold. 124 minutes. At the Cumberland. 18A

(February 19, 2010) In a year less crowded with new young talent, Katie Jarvis might now be getting fittings for her Oscar nomination dress.

 She's the 19-year-old star of
Fish Tank, the new Andrea Arnold film belatedly arriving in Toronto theatres following its award-winning bow at Cannes 2009.

 Jarvis has been overshadowed by the success of Carey Mulligan in An Education and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based On the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. It's almost as if there's an unwritten law that the spotlight can shine on only so many new faces at one time.

 Too bad, because Jarvis excels in the role of Mia, a terse 15-year-old living in British council flat hell who is a study in repressed rage – at least until the arrival of her mother's new boyfriend .

 The aptly titled Fish Tank has the contours of a coming-of-age saga, although it's not a conventional one by any means. Arnold's follow-up to Red Road, her harrowing surveillance drama, further demonstrates the British writer/director's late-reveal style of filmmaking that's grounded in strong character development.

 The final act of Fish Tank is impossible to predict, and it might be dismissed as improbable and even preposterous, if not for the careful layering of personalities and motivation that precedes it.

 Much of this has to do with the performance by Jarvis, who defines the concept of naturalistic acting. Word has it that this unschooled actor was cast after Arnold spotted her arguing with her boyfriend at a train station. A station that is actually seen in the film, part of the dreary urban landscape that is much of modern Britain.

 Mia lives with blousy mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) in a crowded public housing flat that is emblematic of shattered dreams.

 Much of what has gone before in Mia's life and much that we witness is understood rather than explained.

 She isn't attending school, for whatever reason, and she has a substance abuse problem that hasn't yet completely consumed her – although you know it eventually will.

 Other teens treat her with both scorn and wariness, because they never know when she might explode. She is capable of warmth, but her instincts invariably lead her to trouble – as when she takes pity on a chained horse whose owners object to her meddling.

 The only thing motivating Mia is thoughts of a career as a hip-hop dancer.

 She has a talent for dancing and a hunger to get better – but money and inspiration are in shorter supply than compassion and caring.

 Then mom brings home new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender), a hunk with a ready smile and a roving eye.

 Without warning, Mia finds herself both attracting and reciprocating feelings of desire.

 There will be a temptation to judge Fassbender's character, since Mia is a year younger than the British age of sexual consent.

 But Connor is more horndog than pedophile, and he's not completely without conscience, as he shows in an interlude where he takes the entire family on a Sunday drive. He is as caught up in the moment as Mia is, and he lives in a neighbourhood where rough justice is the only law that anybody knows.

 Fish Tank attains aspects of a thriller as it proceeds towards its unforeseen conclusion. But at all times it remains a solid character study about lonely and desperate people, who seek only to escape the invisible glass walls that surround them. 

Defendor: Woody Harrelson Shines As Saviour Of Steeltown

Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard

(out of four)
Starring Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas and Sandra Oh. Written and directed by Peter Stebbings. 95 minutes. At AMC Yonge-Dundas. 14A

(February 19, 2010) The antidote for all those brooding comic-book superheroes wrestling with inner torment and battling computer-generated baddies can be found in a seriously dedicated dude with a duct-tape D on his sweater and a jar of marbles as his secret weapon.

 First-time Canadian director Peter Stebbings presents a sweetly engaging and very watchable take on an unlikely hero tale with
Defendor, which premiered at the Toronto film festival last year.

Woody Harrelson is superb as Arthur Poppington, a 40-something man-child who truly believes he is Defendor, self-appointed protector of the citizens of Hamilton from "punks." (There's no attempt to hide Steeltown's gritty, wintry identity; the radio call-in show signs in from "the Hammer" and locals thumb tabloid-size copies of The Spectator.)

 We first meet Arthur as he undergoes a psychiatric assessment with a sympathetic court-appointed shrink (Sandra Oh) after his arrest for dumping a local drycleaner head-first into a garbage can. Arthur has his reasons for doing it, but he's not telling. "It's classified," he says evenly.

 A flagman for the city, he's been squatting in the municipal works yard, perfecting his arsenal of homemade punk-busting weaponry. At night, Arthur dons his "uniform" of bike helmet, utility belt and face-paint mask to take to the streets as Defendor. In between stopping crime, he's on the lookout for Capt. Industry, the mythic "evil mastermind" he is sure is behind the town's ills.

 Stuck in the mindset of a comic-book-loving kid, steely-eyed Arthur is fond of using hero-speak: "Trouble has a way of following me." So when he "rescues" lippy Katarina (Kat Dennings), a crack-smoking teen hooker, Arthur sees it as a civic duty and a chance to set her on the straight and narrow. She sees it as a free place to crash and a gullible guy to rip off.

 Dennings makes Katarina both tough and reluctantly tender, a trope that could be an annoying stereotype in less-skilled hands. But Stebbings has given her a lot to work with, and there's plenty of onscreen chemistry with Harrelson's Arthur that makes us genuinely care about these characters.

 Rhetorical questions have no place in Arthur's world. "Who writes your dialogue, Spider-Man?" sneers Kat. "I write it myself," he replies, slightly hurt.

 Montreal actor Elias Koteas plays crooked cop Dooney with malevolent glee. He's especially good when going toe-to-toe with Defendor/Arthur, who tries to elicit information by squirting lime juice in his eyes. Take that!

 Stebbings fills Defendor was humorous bits, comic treats dropped in quickly and without fanfare. It gives the movie a proper pace, well punctuated with laughs at the right time, and outrage and sympathy at others. What makes the film work so well is Arthur's unrelenting seriousness and dedication to the literal truth. He is a superhero; bullets cannot harm him. If it happened on The Rockford Files, it must be true. This isn't a game to Arthur and while others may find his mission hilarious, he will not waver.

 "I can't relax," he protests. "Not while there are people out there who need me."

 John Rowley's score marches along nicely in the early scenes, sounding like a vintage episode of TV's Superman as Defendor heads out to make the gritty streets safe again in a utility bucket truck, the Mack bulldog hood ornament similarly masked and labelled "Defendog."

 There's another dimension of the superhero at work in Defendor and a suggestion that this kind of work can be the business of mere mortals, too. Taking on the mantel of protector is perhaps the most heroic deed of all.

Meet The New Muppet Master

Source: www.thestar.com - Michael Cavna

(February 23, 2010) If the thought of watching Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show in the 1970s leavesDescription: Muppets%20Bohemian%20Rhapsody_small you feeling warm and fuzzy, then you're a prime target for Kirk Thatcher and his YouTube Muppet videos.

Thatcher is the Los Angeles-based creative talent who directed "Beaker's Ballad," the latest official video to go viral with one million views. Thatcher, then an effects supervisor, first met Jim Henson in 1987 – after finishing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, he recalls – and by the next year was working full-time for the Father of the Muppets.

"He was warm and fuzzy. He was genuinely above and beyond what you would consider `nice,'" Thatcher says of Henson, who died in 1990.

Now, decades later, it is the 40-something Thatcher who helps bring such warmth to Kermit and Miss Piggy. And in doing so, he is directing the Muppets to fuzzy viral-video success.

Thatcher and his fellow puppeteers just released "Beaker's Ballad," which features the "meeping" scientist Beaker – he of the bulging eyes and shock of Day-Glo orange hair – straining to strum the '70s Kansas chestnut "Dust in the Wind" before being barraged by labels signalling his "epic fail."

With recent videos, "The Muppets are capturing people's attention again.... We do Muppet TV movies, but they don't ignite around the world like the videos," says Thatcher, who won an Emmy in 1998 for the children's program Muppets Tonight.

Last Thanksgiving, director and crew had their most popular video yet, with the Muppets – including Gonzo and the frantic Animal on the drum kit – parodying Queen's classic "Bohemian Rhapsody." The official video on the studio's YouTube channel has been viewed more than 13 million times.

Nostalgia "is definitely part of it," Thatcher says of the videos' virulence as they tap into '70s pop culture. "We had a list of 50, 60 songs – `American Pie,' big ballads that everyone sings along to – but `Bohemian Rhapsody' rose to the top. It lent itself well to filming 60 to 70 characters."

The videos "are very much a group effort," notes Thatcher, who grew up on the Sesame Street Muppets and The Muppet Show. The core troupe of about 20 people, he says, shot the "Bohemian" video in one day on a small sound stage in North Hollywood. He also notes that 70 Muppets in a scene – as opposed to roughly a half-dozen in a scene – is "epic in scale" for Muppeteers.

"It's fun, it's happy, it's nostalgic, it's safe – and it's like an homage," says Thatcher, who early in his career worked on creatures for such '80s projects as Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and Gremlins. "It's light, fun and in keeping with the spirit of the Muppets."

So what nostalgic song or film scene might the Muppets tackle next? Thatcher says he and in-house Muppets writer Jim Lewis joked to themselves about spoofing Quentin Tarantino. With Kermit-esque characters.

The title, naturally: "Reservoir Frogs."

Sing A Song Of Power

Source: www.globeandmail.com - R.M. Vaughan

(February 18, 2010) Now that the United States has an African-American president and we have a Haitian-Canadian Governor General, it’s easy to forget that only a generation ago many people of colour in North America lived separate and unequal lives – lives distorted by strict and openly racist regulations. When we watch footage of segregated restaurants, swimming pools, movie theatres and even water fountains, we can’t believe our eyes (and, yes, my fellow Canadians, such things went on here too).

A moving new documentary,
Soundtrack for a Revolution, looks at the anti-segregation protests in the United States through the era’s protest music – a key component of the struggle that has been largely overlooked, or, worse, smothered in self congratulatory nostalgia. As co-director Bill Guttentag notes, the songs sung by protesters and activists, while beloved today, are rarely studied within their full historical context (and are not given their due as powerful social tools). Blending together blunt interviews with former activists, still-shocking archival newscasts and subtle animation, the Oscar-winning director brings the stifled segregationist epoch back to unhappy life.

People have trouble believing that this happened, that it happened in the United States, and that it happened not that long ago.

But Soundtrack For A Revolution is not all gloomy remembrance – the film turns the tables by asking prominent musicians (the Roots, Wyclef Jean, Angie Stone and John Legend, to name a few) to lovingly perform the very songs once shouted out by angry school children, bus boycotters, striking garbage workers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The result is a documentary that literally sings.

I’m not a big fan of the “cultural appropriation” debate, but, did the fact that you are not African American become problematic while you were making the film?

Well, you know, I think it’s an interesting question. I think the story, in a way, belongs to everybody. In the same way that you would never want to say to an African-American or Asian actor, “you can’t play Hamlet,” it’s the same idea with making a film. Of course, you have to be sensitive to peoples’ stories, but the storyteller can be of any ethnicity. You just have to try to tell the best story that you can. It’s something I’ve thought about, for sure.

Fair enough. Why does popular music today not have the same social power that it did then, or even during the punk era?

Well, as has been said in the film, the music gave people the ability to say things, in song, that they couldn’t otherwise. I think it empowered people. The interesting thing was that virtually everyone we interviewed started singing at some point. Songs were completely part of the DNA of the movement. It’s a different time now – what are the movements today? And what is fuelling them?

How important is the music, and how much of the importance is fuelled by nostalgia?

I think people definitely thought about the music back then, all the time. That’s why people sang to us. If you look at historical footage from the movement, people were singing in churches, singing as they marched – singing was a continual part of the movement. So, when they’re looking back at that time now, I think it’s something they remember fondly, certainly, but it’s also just true.

Do young African-Americans know about the civil rights movement?

I actually don’t think the question is about young African-Americans, I think it’s about young people in general. I’ve had the chance to show the film in schools, elementary schools to colleges and people just don’t know the story. It’s not that they’re poor students, it’s that they haven’t been taught it.

The footage of segregated spaces is almost impossible to process.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? People have trouble believing that this happened, that it happened in the United States, and that it happened not that long ago. A lot of the people we interviewed said, “People say things haven’t changed, and they’re wrong.” Things have changed a lot in their lifetimes – they remember the “coloured” water fountains, they remember not being able to vote.

Some of the people who supported segregation, and there were many, must still be around, or have descendents. Did you consider speaking to them?

We did consider that, and, like any film, you make choices about what you include and what you don’t include. But I think there’s a film to be made from that, you know, to find out where their heads were at. In fact, one of the activists we interviewed recently reconciled with somebody who had attacked him at a sit-in. The guy apologized and felt really bad about what he had done.

Let’s talk about We Shall Overcome. I keep expecting that song to turn up in a car commercial.

Ha! Really? It probably won’t turn up in a commercial, because there’s somebody who owns the copyright, and they’re pretty protective of it. But, is it overused? Well, you have to ask yourself, why does a song have everlasting power? Why is that song sung in liberation movements all over the world? It’s sung as much today as it ever was. But you can’t explain it – what makes anything iconic? I think the song speaks to hope.

Soundtrack for a Revolution opens Friday in Toronto.


Polanski Wins Prize In Berlin

Source: www.thestar.com

(February 20, 2010) BERLIN—Filmmaker Roman Polanski, still under house arrest in Switzerland, won theDescription: roman%20polanski2_small award for best director Saturday at this year’s Berlin film festival for The Ghost Writer. The film’s producers accepted the Silver Bear award on behalf of Polanski. Producer Alain Sarde said Polanski told him he would not have attended the festival had he been free because the last time he travelled to accept an award he “landed in jail.” Polanski is under house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad, awaiting a Swiss decision on whether to extradite him to the U.S. to face possible further sentencing in a 32-year-old sex case. The Turkish film Bal (“Honey”), about a 6-year-old boy who stops speaking when his father disappears, won the top honour, the Golden Bear for best film.

Brian White in Film About Love During Obama Campaign

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 23, 2010) *Actor Brian White has been cast in the romantic comedy “Politics of Love,” a film inspired by the real-life romances that blossomed during Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. White will play a black volunteer coordinator working for the local John McCain office who strikes unexpected sparks with the devoted Indian Obama volunteer coordinator portrayed by Mallika Sherawat. Ruby Dee, Gerry Bednob and Loretta Devine co-star in the film from director William Dear (“The Perfect Game”). The screenplay was written by Gary Goldstein (“If You Only Knew”). White currently has a recurring role on the TNT series “Men of a Certain Age.” He next appears on the big screen in MGM’s 3D thriller “The Cabin in the Woods,” hitting theatres in January. He most recently appeared in the features “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” “Twelve Rounds” and “Fighting.”

Albertans Helped Give Life To Na'vi

Source: www.thestar.com - Lana Michelin

(February 24, 2010) RED DEER, Alta.–From the blue-skinned Na'vi aliens to the mystical Tree of Souls, some of the most jaw-dropping effects in the blockbuster movie Avatar were made with the help of two Albertans. Ron Miller, a native of Innisfail, south of Red Deer, is a facial technical director with Weta Digital who worked on bringing the blue, three-metre-tall alien Na'vi to life on screen – along with a host of scarier creatures from the plant Pandora. His colleague, Mark Pullyblank from the Red Deer area, is a senior layout technical director at Weta. He helped create the enormous tree in the movie that links all life forms on the alien planet. Both Miller and Pullyblank work in New Zealand for Peter Jackson's digital animation company that also helped create Lord of the Rings and King Kong movie effects. But they started out half a world away as Alberta kids who liked to draw and watch movies. "I can remember in the dead of winter, lying in my bed in our little farmhouse (outside Red Deer) and dreaming of working in the movies someday," recalled Pullyblank. Today, he has not only contributed to Avatar, the biggest-grossing movie ever made, he has also helped create films like Night at the Museum, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Watchmen. "I occasionally find myself sitting in a dark theatre watching the end credits.”If I'm patient enough, I can catch my name scrolling by on the screen. I know no one else is watching, but it still tickles," Pullyblank said. Miller's early creativity was encouraged by his artistic mother. "As a child, I was always drawing, watching movies and playing video games," recalled Miller, who spent two years in the visual arts program at Red Deer College, specializing in painting and printmaking. He eventually took 3-D animation at a Calgary school, and began working at a series of different studios in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.   Miller, whose film credits include The Day the Earth Stood Still, was surprised when he first met Pullyblank. "I couldn't believe there was someone else here at Weta that was from the same area in Canada that I was from," Miller said.


TV Organized By Content

Source: www.thestar.com - Robert Cribb

(February 24, 2010) It’s the daily thumb workout: Scrolling through hundreds of television channels splayed across the onscreen guide in a needle-and-haystack quest for some worthy time-wasting.

There’s a better way. Rogers’ new launch guide service I’ve been playing with applies some basic human editing to the channel guide, lumping together channels according to content. So, instead of having to hunt for which station is carrying the Leafs’ game, the entire sports broadcasting feast is laid out for your viewing pleasure. There’s no better time to appreciate such luxury than during the Olympics — the big daddy of all winter sporting television events. There are a dozen or more channels showing regular Olympic content at any given time.

And figuring out which is airing what is anyone’s guess. Let’s face it, we’re not all entranced by the scintillation of televised curling. And while cross-country skiing and shooting rifles at things may both be worthy endeavours on their own, there remain some among us who don’t quite understand their seamless integration into an Olympic-worthy sporting event. And so, a single press of the “Guide” button on the remote convenes a menu of about 20 stations airing at least some Games coverage — all in one place. For even greater precision, a single “mix” screen reveals live views of six common Olympic stations including CTV, Sportsnet, OMNI 1, OLN and RDS. It’s not, perhaps, the best list.

CBC and NBC far outdo many of those stations in their Olympic coverage, yet appear nowhere on the “mix” list. But any time there’s human mediation, there will be inexplicable decisions.

There are plenty of other content-focused applications here. Rogers’ “Daily Essentials” option provides the same six pre-screenings of current kid shows, news and weather stations. As the father of a 5-year-old, I can attest to the overwhelming advantage of having six stations and their content displayed in one place for speeding up the decision-making process of a young mind. It will save you 19 minutes of channel surfing between stations spread across the programming guide every afternoon.

Representing nothing less than a breakthrough television achievement, Treehouse, Family Channel East and West, Nickelodeon, Teletoon and YTV are all right there on one screen going head to head in a grudge match over your child’s mosquito-like attention span.

Here’s the thing: It works.

Displaying the universe of choices brings unprecedented focus to the crucial decision between Spiderman or My Friend Rabbit. There’s also a launch guide option for On Demand programming, from movies and TV shows on The Movie Network and specialty programming including NFL Network, Howard Stern and Anime. We all still have our instinctive go-to channels, of course, for which we require no guidance.

Mine is HBO Canada or the Movie Network, as it should be for all of you. But for those all-too-common moments when our habitual stations fail us with eyeball-offending litter, themed programming offers tender respite. It could be better, of course, with more targeted content, such as a listing of all movie dramas or comedies on right now. And I want to be able to type the word “hockey” or “Up In The Air” and get a listing of every time programming with those words is being aired.

If none of it is on now, I want to be able to find listings for future airings so I can record it.

In other words, I want it to think more like the way I do. But this is a good start.

Jill Scott Stars in Lifetime’s ‘Sins of the Mother’

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 20, 2010) *R&B singer and actress
Jill Scott (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) headlines the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) original film “Sins of the Mother,” a touching story about the harsh realities of love, forgiveness and the closest of bonds between mother and daughter.

 Based on author Carleen Brice’s moving novel, Orange Mint and Honey, the movie features Scott as reformed alcoholic Nona, Nicole Beharie (“American Violet”) as her daughter Shay and Mimi Rogers (“The Door in the Floor”) as Nona’s sponsor Lois.

 About ‘Sins of the Mother’

 Graduate student Shay Dixon (Beharie) reaches a crossroad in her life when she finds herself broke, burned out and unable to cope with the stress of school.

 With nowhere else to go, she embarks on a journey home to Tacoma, Washington, to face her abusive, alcoholic, estranged mother, Nona (Scott).

 When she returns home, Shay finds Nona living life as a recovered alcoholic, with a new daughter and completely transformed.

 Thrown by her mother’s new path, Shay must now accept Nona’s changes and influences, including her sponsor Lois (Rogers) — all forcing Shay to move past her pent-up anger and awaken her own relationships.

 “Sins of the Mother” premiered Sunday, February 21 on Lifetime Movie Network. Look for encore presentations on Wednesday 2/24 and Saturday 2/27 (at 8 PM & 12 AM).

Funny or Die Presents: Comedy Website Spawns TV Show

Source: www.thestar.com - Jake Coyle

(February 19, 2010) NEW YORK–Will Ferrell and Adam McKay forged their partnership years ago onDescription: Funny%20or%20Die_small Saturday Night Live. Now, in a much different way, the two are back on TV with a sketch comedy show.

 On Friday at midnight, HBO Canada will premiere
Funny or Die Presents, a new half-hour series that compiles clips from the comedy video website that McKay and Ferrell co-created in 2007.

 The show arrives as part of a new batch of HBO comedy. The Friday slate also includes the premiere of The Ricky Gervais Show, the start of Season 8 of Real Time With Bill Maher and Season 2 of The Life and Times of Tim.

 Funny or Die Presents is the fruition of a deal hatched in 2008 between the site and HBO, which purchased a piece of FunnyOrDie.com reportedly for a price in the neighbourhood of $10 million (U.S.). There's further overlap in that HBO airs the McKay and Ferrell-produced hit Eastbound & Down, which is prepping a second season.

 Funny or Die Presents represents an increasingly common fusion between web-created content and television. When the series was announced, Ferrell sarcastically asserted the deal was "the missing link moment where TV and Internet finally merge."

 The show is introduced by a 1950s-style TV host who intones: "Funny or Die is at the forefront of computer technology, leading the way in computer comedy programming. Tonight marks a departure from our usual business model as we join the ever declining world of broadcast television."

 McKay, best known as the director of comedies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers, says "that joke is 70 per cent true and 30 per cent joking."

 When FunnyOrDie.com was launched, it was rare in its combination of professionally created content (from Ferrell, McKay and their Hollywood friends) and user-generated videos that, if deemed funny enough by viewers, could compete with the pros.

 It has had some mammoth hits, such as "The Landlord" (nearly 70 million views) and the beloved series Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis. It has often capitalized on the news cycle by rapidly creating timely videos. Videos submitted by users have been far less likely to find viral success, but McKay believes the contributions have gotten "way better."

 Funny or Die Presents isn't the next Saturday Night Live – it's somewhat slight, unabashedly cheap programming. McKay describes it as "the least noted or developed TV show that's maybe ever been put on.''

 "The whole concept of Funny or Die ... was the idea that people could have a place to put up whatever they wanted to put up with no notes and no filter. The TV show came out of that same spirit."

 McKay was a writer at Saturday Night Live in the late 1990s. He has occasionally written sketches, including one performed by Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. In Funny or Die Presents, he sees an unfiltered sketch show not beholden to network demands or audience expectations.

 For frequent visitors to FunnyOrDie.com, the material on the HBO show will look familiar: Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln with Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglas in "Drunk History"; Rob Riggle and Paul Scheer in "Designated Driver"; Fred Willard in "Space Cats."

 "It has an energy to it," McKay says. "There are some pieces that are brilliant and some that are kind of a mess. It feels really kind of free."

 The show, produced by FunnyOrDie.com creative head Andrew Steele, is a step toward longer-form material. McKay's goal is to transition the site further into TV and low-budget movies.

 "That's probably the next big step for Funny or Die: to continue to sort of blend the two," says McKay.

Native Voices Bring Olympics Home

Source: www.thestar.com - Paul Watson

(February 20, 2010) VANCOUVER–There is no word for seconds in the Mohawk language, which makes it especially difficult to call the action in an Olympic ski race live for television.

Tiorahkwathe Gilbert was the first among his people to broadcast Olympic men's super-G in his native language Friday afternoon.

 A rookie to sports commentary, he has spent months training for the landmark moment. He's had long discussions with elders in coffee shops and at kitchen tables to agree on the best way to express things the Mohawk haven't had much cause to say before.

 Gilbert doesn't want to be speechless in his TV debut when it's time to explain that the only thing separating two skiers' runs is three one hundredths of a second.

 "We have a word for an hour, a minute, but we don't have a word for a second," Gilbert explains. "So we'll say, 'In the time it will take you to blink four times, or seven times or nine times.' "

 For the first time in Canadian history, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is providing play-by-play commentary of live sports in Cree, Mohawk, Ojibway, Dene, Inuktitut, Michif and Oji-Cree.

 Most of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit broadcasters calling the Winter Olympics action for APTN are rookies recruited from communities across the country and trained by veteran sportscaster Jim Van Horne.

 Van Horne's dulcet voice is familiar to fans of hockey on TSN. He has also broadcast from the Calgary, Sydney and Beijing Olympics. During the Vancouver Games, he's working from APTN's Winnipeg studios, mentoring the aboriginal broadcasters he coached.

 Listening to Cree broadcasters call the action as the U.S. hockey team beat Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday, he didn't hear anything that sounded to his ears like "Americans" or "United States."

 When he brought it up, the teacher learned something from his students.

 "About halfway through the game, I said, 'You haven't said anything about the United States,' " Van Horne recalls. "He said, 'Oh yeah, we're talking about the Long Knives.' Now that's a term that's been used to describe the United States since before the Civil War.

 Aboriginal languages are more descriptive, even poetic, than English. Words frequently paint mental pictures rather than state cold facts.

 Take a chair. In Mohawk, the word for chair, anitskwara, literally translates as "it's where you place your back upper leg and butt to alleviate pressure from the floor," says Gilbert, an elder, and former ironworker, teacher and council chief on the Kahnawake reserve, near Montreal.

 Offering someone a seat in Mohawk is a cinch compared to the word Gilbert and the elders agreed he should say when skiers are racing against the clock. It's a 44-character tongue-twister.

 The effort to get such words just right is more than worth it, says Tehawennahkwa Miller, 22, Gilbert's partner in the broadcast booth.

 When young listeners, some of them future athletes, hear the Winter Games called in their native tongues, "it's empowering that their own people are represented at the Olympics, and know that they can do it, too," he says.

 Miller is a Mohawk language teacher in Ohsweken, a village on the Six Nations territory, near Brantford, Ont. One of his favourite Olympic words is wahoya'tarathenste, which means: "He has ascended to the top."

 It's ready, on the tips of the Mohawk broadcasters' tongues, for when an athlete is headed for the medal podium.

 Karliin Aariak, a 31-year-old Inuk designer, broadcaster and filmmaker from Iqaluit, has a lot of experience covering sports. But she still had to hone her skills for the opening and closing ceremonies.

 She's spent a lifetime listening to non-Inuit mispronounce her name, so she practised saying the name of each team's flag bearer to make sure she got them all right.

 But that wasn't her proudest moment. It came in the early minutes of the opening ceremony, when Aariak told her people, in their own language, that they were also hosts of the Winter Olympic games.

 "It's the first time in Olympic history that an aboriginal group has been a partner, so it was personally satisfying to be able to say that in Inuktitut," she says.

 "I hope this is a beginning and not one-time opportunity," she adds, "so others have the chance to expose and use our language in spreading the Inuktitut word."

 For months, as Canadian athletes prepared for the Vancouver Games, their countrymen were asked to believe. Gilbert has the word worked out in Mohawk to help assure his people know they can.

 It is tasetakh, literally "the thing that you take on your journey," Miller says.

 "We need to bring the pride back into our people and to tutor them and structure them to believe in themselves," Gilbert says.

 Source:Toronto Star

Dan Is No Hank, Fred Ewanuick Says

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

(February 24, 2010) In keeping with modern political times, Fred Ewanuick is on a campaign of sweeping change.

In his own unique, unforceful way, Ewanuick says there are absolutely no similarities between his beloved Corner Gas character, Hank, and his title role on Dan for Mayor (premiering Monday on CTV). And he really means it.

“For one thing, right from the beginning, we decided Dan would never wear a hat. And so far, so good,” says Ewanuick, speaking over the phone from Whistler, B.C., amid the Olympic Games.

And, this time, Ewanuick is the star of the show. Paired with Hiccups, which stars his former Gas castmate Nancy Robertson, on Monday nights, Dan for Mayor spins off Ewanuick’s TV persona, albeit from a different perspective. On the new show, the good-natured comic actor is smarter, funnier and actually connected to the world around him.

Perhaps fittingly, the career path leading Ewanuick, 38, to his own TV series reads like a Canadian slacker success story. Of Italian-Ukrainian lineage, his family ran a trucking business in his hometown of Port Moody, B.C. While in high school, he took theatre arts, “but I came up with every excuse in the book not to have to do the plays because I was so nervous and shy,” he recalls.

Ewanuick eventually enrolled in a local college to study English, women’s studies and theatre. . He failed all three. He then auditioned and was accepted into the college’s two-year theatre intensive program. He lasted one year. “I actually got asked to leave the theatre program,” he says sheepishly.

But providence arrived from, of all people, his godmother, who worked at Science World in Vancouver. “She told me they needed show people,” Ewanuick says, “and since I had theatre on my résumé, they hired me. I got paid to do these little theatre shows and science demonstrations for kids. I loved it.”

Thereafter, Ewanuick applied his energies to acting full-time. He studied intensively with revered Vancouver acting coach Shea Hampton.

He made his small-screen debut – playing a gnome – on The Addams Family in 1998. Next came a succession of guest shots, on both Canadian shows, including Cold Squad and Da Vinci’s Inquest, and U.S. network series, such as Dark Angel, Monk and Tru Calling, that were filming in town.

All Ewanuick’s legwork and training coalesced in early 2004 with the arrival of an unassuming little Canadian sitcom called Corner Gas. Series creator and executive producer Brent Butt took the central role of genial Brent Leroy, who ran a gas station in fictional Dog River, Sask. Ewanuick was an immediate fit as Brent’s childhood, and childlike, best buddy Hank, a genuine prairie dog who loved the Saskatchewan Roughriders and always wore a hat; every day was a bad-hair day for Hank.

The job lasted six seasons, with Corner Gas regularly pulling in a viewing audience of a million-plus weekly. By Ewanuick’s account, the show hit a groove by the second or third season, by which point all the actors stopped acting and simply became the characters.

“It didn’t feel like work and everyone couldn’t wait to get on set every day. I learned a lot from Corner Gas.”

Those lessons transferred over to Dan for Mayor, which is set in the fictional burg of Wessex, Ont., and casts Ewanuick as easy-going barkeep Dan Phillips, who exhibits some very un-Hank-like brash behaviour in the opening episode: When Dan’s ex-girlfriend, Claire (Mary Ashton), announces that she has recently become engaged, his immediate response is to blurt out that he’s running for mayor. “Hank would probably go burn down her shed or something,” Ewanuick says.

Booked for a 13-episode run, Dan for Mayor was created and written by Corner Gas veterans Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White, who devised the title character with Ewanuick in mind.

For Ewanuick, the big change is longer work days. “I’m sort of doing Brent’s job now, acting-wise,” he says. “On Corner Gas, I was only in a few scenes each episode; now I’m in every scene, every day, which was an adjustment. I really underestimated the workload.”

But the everyman is not complaining. There are few homegrown actors who can jump from one prime-time series to another one and Ewanuick is wise enough to appreciate the difference. “Oh, it’s rare, and I’m pretty grateful,” he says. “In the Canadian TV industry, we don’t have the luxury of waiting around or being choosy. I know I was really lucky to go right from Corner Gas into this new show. It wouldn’t have been much longer before you would have seen me doing commercials for the local audio-video store.”

Dan for Mayor launches on March 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV.
Dan Is No Hank, Fred Ewanuick Says

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

(February 24, 2010) In keeping with modern political times, Fred Ewanuick is on a campaign of sweeping change.

In his own unique, unforceful way, Ewanuick says there are absolutely no similarities between his beloved Corner Gas character, Hank, and his title role on Dan for Mayor (premiering Monday on CTV). And he really means it.

“For one thing, right from the beginning, we decided Dan would never wear a hat. And so far, so good,” says Ewanuick, speaking over the phone from Whistler, B.C., amid the Olympic Games.

And, this time, Ewanuick is the star of the show. Paired with Hiccups, which stars his former Gas castmate Nancy Robertson, on Monday nights, Dan for Mayor spins off Ewanuick’s TV persona, albeit from a different perspective. On the new show, the good-natured comic actor is smarter, funnier and actually connected to the world around him.

Perhaps fittingly, the career path leading Ewanuick, 38, to his own TV series reads like a Canadian slacker success story. Of Italian-Ukrainian lineage, his family ran a trucking business in his hometown of Port Moody, B.C. While in high school, he took theatre arts, “but I came up with every excuse in the book not to have to do the plays because I was so nervous and shy,” he recalls.

Ewanuick eventually enrolled in a local college to study English, women’s studies and theatre. . He failed all three. He then auditioned and was accepted into the college’s two-year theatre intensive program. He lasted one year. “I actually got asked to leave the theatre program,” he says sheepishly.

But providence arrived from, of all people, his godmother, who worked at Science World in Vancouver. “She told me they needed show people,” Ewanuick says, “and since I had theatre on my résumé, they hired me. I got paid to do these little theatre shows and science demonstrations for kids. I loved it.”

Thereafter, Ewanuick applied his energies to acting full-time. He studied intensively with revered Vancouver acting coach Shea Hampton.

He made his small-screen debut – playing a gnome – on The Addams Family in 1998. Next came a succession of guest shots, on both Canadian shows, including Cold Squad and Da Vinci’s Inquest, and U.S. network series, such as Dark Angel, Monk and Tru Calling, that were filming in town.

All Ewanuick’s legwork and training coalesced in early 2004 with the arrival of an unassuming little Canadian sitcom called Corner Gas. Series creator and executive producer Brent Butt took the central role of genial Brent Leroy, who ran a gas station in fictional Dog River, Sask. Ewanuick was an immediate fit as Brent’s childhood, and childlike, best buddy Hank, a genuine prairie dog who loved the Saskatchewan Roughriders and always wore a hat; every day was a bad-hair day for Hank.

The job lasted six seasons, with Corner Gas regularly pulling in a viewing audience of a million-plus weekly. By Ewanuick’s account, the show hit a groove by the second or third season, by which point all the actors stopped acting and simply became the characters.

“It didn’t feel like work and everyone couldn’t wait to get on set every day. I learned a lot from Corner Gas.”

Those lessons transferred over to Dan for Mayor, which is set in the fictional burg of Wessex, Ont., and casts Ewanuick as easy-going barkeep Dan Phillips, who exhibits some very un-Hank-like brash behaviour in the opening episode: When Dan’s ex-girlfriend, Claire (Mary Ashton), announces that she has recently become engaged, his immediate response is to blurt out that he’s running for mayor. “Hank would probably go burn down her shed or something,” Ewanuick says.

Booked for a 13-episode run, Dan for Mayor was created and written by Corner Gas veterans Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White, who devised the title character with Ewanuick in mind.

For Ewanuick, the big change is longer work days. “I’m sort of doing Brent’s job now, acting-wise,” he says. “On Corner Gas, I was only in a few scenes each episode; now I’m in every scene, every day, which was an adjustment. I really underestimated the workload.”

But the everyman is not complaining. There are few homegrown actors who can jump from one prime-time series to another one and Ewanuick is wise enough to appreciate the difference. “Oh, it’s rare, and I’m pretty grateful,” he says. “In the Canadian TV industry, we don’t have the luxury of waiting around or being choosy. I know I was really lucky to go right from Corner Gas into this new show. It wouldn’t have been much longer before you would have seen me doing commercials for the local audio-video store.”

Dan for Mayor launches on March 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV.

The Shat To Star In Twitter-Based Pilot

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(February 24, 2010) Hold on to your hat -- an excrement-based television pilot is in the future for the man called the Shat.

The straight poop, the Hollywood Reporter website says, is that
William Shatner will star in a CBS comedy project based on a popular profanity-laced but very funny Twitter account, Shit My Dad Says.

That tweet trough, which boasts nearly 1.2 million followers, is the online outlet for the irreverent musings of a hilarious old man who sees life through kaka-coloured glasses.

The Twitter feed was created and is maintained by Justin Halpern, now an Internet celebrity who describes himself thus: “I'm 29. I live with my 74-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says.”

The role – Shatner as the eponymous pappy – is a natural fit for the 78-year-old pop-culture icon. He most recently starred on ABC's legal dramedy Boston Legal, winning an Emmy for his whimsical portrayal of the zinger-firing, legend-in-his-own mind litigator Denny Crane.

The Montreal-born bon vivant is no stranger to Twitter ruminations; his own account regularly updates fans on such things as his horse hobby and, recently, his support for the U.S. hockey squad over our own boys.

The turncoat’s tweets are rarely funny, though, or even interesting. The Shat’s latest cybercough: “So many priorities, so little time. Sometimes I wish I could take a break and just ride my horses. What's your escape? My best, Bill.”

Well, Bill, some people’s idea of escape involves reading a funky tweet. Whereas the Priceline.com pitchman's quotes are polite and fan-friendly, the rough-cut philosophy of Halpern’s dad is priceless. One recent quip: “The baby will talk when he talks, relax. It ain't like he knows the cure for cancer and he just ain't spitting it out.”

With thoughts like that, the as-yet-untitled new show will write itself – Twitter boldly goes where no microblogging has gone before.


Donald Faison Likes ‘The Odds’ at CBS

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 19, 2010) *”Scrubs” alum Donald Faison has just been cast in the CBS pilot “The Odds,” a move that has sparked rumours that his current series, “Scrubs,” may soon be a done deal at ABC. The buddy-cop show from WBTV is set in Las Vegas, “where the cops are as outrageous as the crimes they solve.” Faison will play Tyler, the new lead homicide detective who took over for the recently demoted Wade (Sullivan Stapleton).

Wanda Sykes to Receive GLAAD Media Award

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 19, 2010) *Wanda Sykes will join Drew Barrymore as honourees at the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards, to be held in New York on March 13 at the Marriott Marquis and in San Francisco on June 5 at the Westin St. Francis. GLAAD announced Thursday that Sykes will receive the Stephen F. Kolzak Award which is presented to an openly LGBT media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights. “I am truly honoured to receive the Stephen F. Kolzak award,” Wanda said in a statement. “I greatly appreciate the work that GLAAD continues to do, promoting equality, fair representation and tolerance for our LGBT community. I just pray that I don’t ruin what GLAAD has achieved with all of my shenanigans.” Previous recipients of the Stephen F. Kolzak Award include Rufus Wainwright, Melissa Etheridge, Bill Condon, Alan Ball, Ellen DeGeneres, and Sir Ian McKellen. Drew Barrymore will receive the Vanguard Award, which is presented to media professionals who have increased the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community. Additional GLAAD Media Award ceremonies will be held in Los Angeles on April 17at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

‘Top Model’ Takes Cycle 15 Search Online

Source: www.eurweb.com

February 22, 2010) *Tyra Banks is hosting an online search for the upcoming 15th season of “America’s Next Top Model.” “This is a chance for you to be seen by ME!” says Banks at Tyra.com. “Forget about those long lines, and just send ‘em right here. I will be looking at ALL of your pictures and choosing the girl that’s going to fly to California to be on Top Model! “I wanna see all of you! From the Fiercely Real (ya know, plus sized) to the ’’traight’ (skinny) models, just doin’ your thang.” Women aged 18 to 27 who are 5ft 7in or taller are advised to send four photos of themselves in a swimsuit to be considered for the competition. Banks will post the winning photos on her Web site. Meanwhile, Cycle 14 of the series premieres March 10 on The CW.


Mirvish Productions Unveils New Season

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner

(February 22, 2010) Mirvish Productions’ announcement of its 2010-2011 season Monday lived up to the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” which was played as an overture to the proceedings.

 “Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone!”

 Three of the shows had already been announced by David Mirvish, including the co-production of the Stratford Festival’s 2009 hit, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

 Also previously announced was the popular drag queen musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, already a hit in Australia and London, stopping here on its way to Broadway.

 Last week, Mirvish revealed plans to play Billy Elliot, another London/Australian/New York hit, in one of its theatres next February.

 But the three surprises that Mirvish Productions revealed were also pleasing prospects.

 A brand-new production of the beloved Marsha Norman/Lucy Simon musical, The Secret Garden, based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, will be coming to Toronto after a European pre-engagement. The Menier Chocolate Factory, currently the hottest theatre in London, announced that it would be bringing its hit production of the Neil Simon-Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical classic, Sweet Charity, direct from a run in the West End, complete with the full London cast.

 And to round out the season on another British note, the bittersweet comedy, Calendar Girls, already a hit film and play, will have its North American debut here, with an all-Canadian cast directed by Marti Maraden.

 Mirvish also announced a whole series of “off subscription” specials that included the previously announced Rock of Ages, Mamma Mia!, My Mother’s Jewish Lesbian Wiccan Wedding, A Jew Grows in Brooklyn and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as one big surprise: the Toronto premiere of Rod Beattie in the latest Walt Wingfield show, Wingfield: Lost and Found.

Cirque's Elvis: That's All Right

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 21, 2010) LAS VEGAS—Some people believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. Not me. I'mDescription: Cirque%20Elvis_small content to pin all of my trust on Cirque du Soleil, especially after Friday night's immensely enjoyable opening performance of Viva Elvis! at the Aria Hotel here in Sin City.

 It's no secret that this was one of the most troubled shows in the organization's history and, after a distressingly bad press preview in December had tongues wagging, Cirque's senior vice-president, Gilles St. Croix, admitted that "The show is not complete. It is not what we want," and postponed the opening six weeks.

 During that time, Cirque showed the stuff it's made out of and went to work. With director Vincent Patterson steering the ship while Cirque executives cracked the whip, a total overhaul took place and the final result – while not up there with Cirque's greatest shows – is certainly one that should fill its Vegas theatre with happy patrons for years to come.

 The original concept of telling the story of Elvis's life through four narrators is mercifully gone. Nobody comes to a Cirque show to hear words. There are still a few random appearances from Col. Tom Parker, Elvis's manager, but they causing little damage, although the show would be better if they were totally eliminated.

 There were also a lot of damaging attempts in the early version to represent the King onstage through various means, including a well-known Elvis impersonator and a 25-foot high dancer (with the trademark pompadour) on stilts.

 All of that is gone as well. So what remains? Well, you get 90 minutes of high-powered entertainment, full of splendid dancing, inventive staging, a wonderful use of multi-media and over 30 Presley songs. In many ways, this is the least Cirque-like of all their shows. There's almost no aerial legerdemain, no nebulous New Age music, no melancholy musings and not a single damned clown anywhere in sight. For that alone, let us give thanks.

 Yet despite stripping away all those things that seemed to define Cirque, the show is unmistakably one of their projects. That comes through in the melding of sight, sound and movement that the Quebecois company does so well.

 Whether it's a kinetic jitterbug set to "Blue Suede Shoes," a montage of Elvis kissing scenes from the movies set to "Love Me Tender," or a pull-out-all-the-stops staging of "Suspicious Minds," there's enough eye candy to leave you wonderfully sated.

 The last number, in particular, features a wonderful coup de theatre. Having avoided letting anyone portray Presley all evening, virtually the entire company become him as a never-ending line of Elvises fills the stage.

 Everyone is wearing the trademark heavily fringed suit he often sported in performance, but instead of his pristine white, they're in every colour of the rainbow, each person's outfit dyed a distinctively different hue. And you suddenly realize the fringe the hangs down from their sleeves is over twice its usual length.

 As the company moves its arms in huge, swinging arcs, while performing some perfect pelvis-thrusting choreography, the effect is like watching an explosion of colour and movement that pours off the stage.

 And at that point, you can't wipe the smile off your face. You're happy that you're seeing something so entertaining, that the proper tribute is being paid to Elvis as a performer and that Cirque has pulled yet one more rabbit out of their capacious theatrical hat.

 Along with the joy, you feel relief and gratitude. Or as Elvis himself might have said, "Thank you, thank you very much."

Youngsters' Business Musical Keeps The Doors Open

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 21, 2010) There are two things that aren't supposed to have long runs: young love affairs and new Canadian musicals.

Daniel Abrahamson and Rachel Brittain are proving both of those statements to be wrong.

 The young duo first met at Sheridan College's Musical Theatre Program in 2002 and have been together ever since.

 And, even more amazingly, they've collaborated on a musical called
Funny Business, which has also enjoyed a surprisingly long life since its debut at the Fringe Festival in 2007.

 Back then, I hailed their satirical musical look at the contemporary business scene (co-authored with David Falk) as "fresh, tuneful and full of talent."

 It went from a sell-out run at the Fringe to an impressive 119 performance run at the Diesel Playhouse, closing shortly before that lamented venue went dark because, in Abrahamson's words, "the management was going south already."

 A lot of people would have let it go at that, but not Abrahamson and Brittain.

 They rejigged their show, making it faster and funnier, provided it with a recorded full band track, took it on the road to Vaughan and are now bringing it back to the Bread and Circus Theatre at 299 Augusta Ave., from Monday through Saturday night.

 They're the first people to admit that a mainstream satirical musical about the Bay Street business world might not belong at an alternative theatre space in Kensington Market, but their motto has always been "Never say no," and that was the only space available.

 "I really believe this show has a lot to say to younger, hipper audiences as well," insists Abrahamson. "It's all about the sham and Shazam that lies behind a lot of the business world today and my peers can understand that."

 The 25 year-old Abrahamson and his 26 year-old partner have honed their skills in all the venues that young actors have to use – her at Her Majesty's Feast and him at the numerous Home Shows, as the charming man who sells you that appliance that will steam away all the dirt from your floors.

 But theatre is their real love and coming back to this show that they created, performing in it for the first time, "is really kind of a meta experience," according to Abrahamson.

 The more level-headed Brittain concedes that "we had always hoped to tour the show in this kind of easily movable format," but admits that it took the two of them a while to figure out just how to shake the pieces into place.

 And the best part is that working together has made their relationship stronger. "I thought `Dear God, if we can handle this, we can handle everything!'" says Brittain.

 While Abrahamson admits that "We have so much passion for what we do and so much passion for each other. If those two passions can coexist, then why not do it for life?"

 So that's what's on their agenda. They've even set the wedding date: July 2, 2011.

 "It's even further in the future than Billy Elliot," quips Abrahamson, "but we're sure this one is going to have a 100 per cent Canadian cast."

Outspoken Director Has No Regrets

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 22, 2010) It's one of the basic laws of theatre that if you're going to have one strong-willed person writing a show about their life, you better have another strong-willed person directing it.

 They don't come much stronger than Monica Parker and Pam Brighton, who have teamed up on a project called
Sex, Pies and a Few White Lies, which starts a special three-performance showcase run Monday night at the Stealth Lounge of the Pilot Tavern, 22 Cumberland St.

 Both Parker and Brighton are resurfacing in Canada after several decades away. Parker has spent her time in Los Angeles with her husband, Gilles Savard, writing and producing everything from TV's Murder, She Wrote to the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven.

 Brighton has spent her time in England and Ireland, juggling careers in theatre, radio and law, while working on dozens of shows, including the original version of Stones in His Pocket (more on that later). But flash back 33 years ago, to 1977 when Parker and Brighton met up for the first time in the revolutionary production of Eve Merriam's feminist vaudeville called The Club.

 It set Toronto theatre on its stuffy, masculine, WASPish (and waspish) ear, making Brighton the hottest director in town and the late George Luscombe's Toronto Workshop Productions on Alexander St. (now the home of Buddies in Bad Times) the place to be.

 Shows like Ashes; Dusa Fish Stas and Vi and St. Joan of the Stockyards cemented Brighton's reputation, and it looked like the sky was the limit.

 In 1980, the Stratford Festival asked her to join Martha Henry, Urjo Kareda and Peter Moss as one of the "Gang of Four," who held power for a few months before the board fired all of them in a vain attempt to get Briton John Dexter to take over the organization.

 "Well, that was quite a kick in the teeth now, wasn't it?" says Brighton, still smarting after 30 years. "I was going to direct Stephen Ouimette as Hamlet and I think that's one of the things I still regret the most."

 It also started a kind of run of bad luck for Brighton. She quit a high-profile directing job at a major Canadian theatre during rehearsals, "because the leading actress was one of the most appalling women I had ever met. No talent whatsoever."

 And a few years later, in 1985, she dug her grave a bit deeper by giving an interview to one of the Toronto daily papers the day before her production of a show called Fever Dream opened, saying that, "It's very depressing to do a play that's terribly flawed. But there's no use pretending it's good when it isn't."

 After that, Brighton went back to England. Does she now regret being so outspoken? Absolutely not.

 "When young directors ask me what they need to do to succeed, I say, `Keep your boredom threshold very, very high, so you don't make some of the mistakes that I've done over the years.'"

 Brighton started a kind of "wandering in the desert" period at that point.

 "After a couple of years I went back to college and qualified as a lawyer, but I found it was a very solitary profession, very lonely and I didn't like it, then I moved to Belfast and worked for the BBC for a while, but then I came back to harness in the theatre."

 And to one more gigantic quarrel in the theatre. She was the original director of the worldwide hit Stones in His Pocket, but shortly after it opened (to excellent reviews for her work) she was dumped from the show.

 "I never had a contract, you see, because I had trusted all those people for years, but once they started seeing pots of lovely money on the horizon they thought it might be better if I didn't get a part of it."

 A lengthy and bitter court case was finally decided against Brighton in 2004.

 But now she's happy to work on Parker's play, which chronicles her lifelong struggle with being a plus-sized woman.

 "I think the whole emphasis on thinness comes from the North American diet industry," insists Brighton. "I grew up in Yorkshire in England, where no one was ever described as fat. We were all just different sizes.

 "It's a very, very funny play, but also a very profound play. It's about how society can make us feel ashamed of ourselves and really, where do they think they get the f--king right to do that?"

 Nice to know that 33 years have done nothing to tame Pam Brighton.

Known For Enthusiasm As 1980s Sitcom Star, Mindy Cohn Stars In Glorious At Stage West

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 18, 2010) You're never too young to learn The Facts of Life. Or too old, for that matter.

Mindy Cohn, who was still a teenager when fate cast her as Natalie in that long-running 1980s sitcom and now, at 43, is taking on a whole new challenge as Florence Foster Jenkins in the comedy Glorious, currently playing at Stage West.

 Jenkins was an amazing woman whose voice defied all conventional standards of quality, yet deeply desired an operatic career. She funded her own tour and, although most people mocked her, she finally appeared at Carnegie Hall at the age of 76, a month before her death.

 "You have to understand about Florence," says the ebullient Cohn on a day off from rehearsal. "It wasn't just a pitch problem. She knew music well. She just didn't hear what everybody else heard.

 "But there were people who fell in love with her, because they fell in love with her, not her voice. Hey, it's all timing. Who's to say that in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ethel Merman might have showed up and people would have looked like, who is this lady?"

 It's quite a treat to talk to Cohn, who still maintains the high-energy enthusiasm and relentless honesty that she brought to her character of Natalie on that long-ago show about a fictional girls boarding school where nothing too terrible ever really happened.

 But she's not living in the past and what she readily dispenses is a sassy, practical wisdom about every aspect of her life and career.

 "Look, let's put things in perspective with that show," she begins. "NBC was the No.3 network when we started and we were never a runaway hit. Naw, we were the little engine that could. We were on for nine years, but we were only in the Top 20 for five of them. Sure, we always did well and beat our competition, but hey, not the stuff of TV history!"

 Cohn admits that as the years have gone on, people's attitude about The Facts of Life has changed.

 "When it was first on, they'd look around before whispering to you. `I love your show. Don't tell anyone.' But then later on, it became a guilty pleasure they were proud to admit and now they shriek across malls at me, `Natalie! I loved you!'"

 Does that bother her?

 "Not at all," she laughs. "I feel the same fondness for Natalie that the fans do. I can't be one of those actresses who disassociate themselves from the sitcom roles they've played.

 "You have to honour what you did in the past, but still have a career in the present. As I age and different parts come along, I say, `So be it!'"

 Cohn says she learned a lot from Cloris Leachman, who appeared on The Facts of Life with her during its later seasons. (Leachman also appeared at Stage West in 2000 in Over the River and Through the Woods.)

 "She told me that if you're a working actress, you have to be just that, a working actresses. Take the good stage parts when they come along and do what you have to do to pay the rent in between."

 For Cohn, that's involved a lot of voiceover work, most notably as Velma in What's New, Scooby Doo?, for which she was nominated for a daytime Emmy Award.

 "Yeah, that keeps me in the style to which I've become accustomed," she jokes, "but sometimes it bites me in the butt, because think I must've died and gone somewhere!"

 Along the way, she's had a varied career that included a memorable HBO version of James Lapine's Table Settings, in which her co-stars were Stockard Channing and Robert Klein, plus an assortment of independent films including Violet Tendencies ("I play Violet, of course"), which opens this April.

 But right now, she's here and she's happy playing Florence, "because she's terminally optimistic, just like me. I believe in follow your bliss. No, not the rub-a-Buddha, light-a-candle kind of thing; just enjoying your life.

 "Florence has real joie de vivre; that's why I like her."

 Then she cuts loose with the kind of guffaw that Natalie used to dispense 30 years ago on TV.

 "Hey, look at me. I'm still playing a broad!"

  Just the facts
WHAT: Glorious

 WHEN: To April 16

 WHERE: Stage West, Mississauga

 TICKETS: 1-800-263-0684  or www.stagewest.com


Halo Legends Review: Beware The Power Of The Nerd

Source: www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko

(February 21, 2010) I guess plastics is a pretty good business and all, but if I was that avuncular business guy in The Graduate I'd throw my meaty arm around Dustin Hoffman's shoulders and offer one word: Nerds. There's a great future in nerds. Get their powerful, fantasy-craving brains turned on to your fictions and their surprisingly deep pockets are open to you as long as you keep expanding that universe and keep those goods flowing. Goods like Halo Legends.

 Similar to The Animatrix, the 2003 collection of shorts that supported the Matrix sequels, Halo Legends brings several heavyweight Japanese animators out to play with the characters and settings created for the Halo video games. This ought to be pure nerd-bait alchemy: the cross-pollination of anime style with a 30-million-selling game franchise? It certainly looks good on paper.

 It looks pretty good onscreen, too, for the most part, with a wide range of styles on display across the seven shorts on the disc. Amid the straight-up, straight-faced cel anime (I particularly liked Studio Bones' "The Babysitter," sappy ending and all) we also get a bit of classic Japanese cartoon slapstick with "Odd One Out" from Dragon Ball Z director Daisuke Nishio, a watercolour-styled samurai showdown in Hiroshi Yamazaki's "The Duel," and a full-on CGI action spectacular in "The Package," directed by the legendary Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed). The films are helpfully prefaced by a pair of rather dry "Origins" spots that sketch the setting for anime fans who may be unfamiliar with the Halo canon.

 Ah, canon. That sacred and shifting concept, separating real fictions from fake fictions. Nerds care a lot about canon in their fantasies, which may explain why Halo Legends – at least to these non-stickler nerd eyes – seems to step very gently in its "exploration" of the Halo mythos.

 It's actually a little disappointing, this timidity. There are certainly many avenues in which the Halo universe might have been expanded – What's life like for the minor races in the Covenant? What, for that matter, is life like for non-military humans? – but Legends mostly gives us what we've already got: Spartan super-soldiers in action-packed frontline derring-do, honourable Elites doing their best Klingon impressions, the cribbed-from-Larry-Niven space opera setting staying safe and 2.5-dimensional within the bounds of battlefields and briefing rooms.

 But even this is not and will not be enough for the canon-obsessed fans who make up the hard and vocal core of the Halo audience. Selling to nerds is good business, yes, but, as with plastics, quality control is key to keeping the orders coming – one brittle bale of polystyrene and you've had it.

 And no market has a more developed sense of entitled proprietorship over their purchases than video-game nerds. Reaction to Halo Legends among "the community" is divided more or less 20-80 between "I'll buy it because it's Halo" and (surprise!) angry, offended screeds.

 A sample comment (wholly representative aside from its lack of spelling errors) from one "Augustus" on the www.bungie.net forums: "Halo Legends is an abomination that must be cleansed. The large quantity and size of obvious canon mistakes are ... disturbing. I spit on Legends."

 So be warned, young Hoffmans who might seek to build your fortune on the discretionary spending of the Nerd Nation; sell those fantasies, but once sold never, never let those fantasies grow or change or be presented in an unusual manner. Dealing with the geek market is like dealing with Satan: once nerds buy your products, they own you.

3-D Already Here For PC Gamers

Source: www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman

(February 13, 2010) While hardware makers such as Sony prepare their consoles for the planned launch of 3-D TV this summer, PC gamers looking forward to three-dimensional gaming can already get into the action.

Asus G51 3-D gaming notebook (available on Monday for $1,949) is powered by an Nvidia 3D Vision graphics package and bundled with wireless "active shutter" 3-D glasses that deliver realistic stereoscopic images at full resolution.

 Basically, the 15.6-inch 3-D screen offers 120-hertz motion acceleration (similar to many LCD HDTVs), and works with the laptop's graphics processing unit driver to double the 60-frames-per-second video signal, delivering up to 120 images at any given time to each eye.

 The G51 can also turn 2-D content into 3-D, including support for nearly 400 PC games out of the box, such as Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, Capcom's Resident Evil 5, 2K Games's Borderlands and Eidos/Warner Bros. Interactive's Batman: Arkham Asylum.

 Tech specs of this 64-bit Windows 7-based laptop include an Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M graphics card and Altec Lansing speakers with EAX Advanced HD 4.0 audio for 3-D sound effects.

 The Asus G51 3-D gaming notebook can be bought through NCIX.com, MemoryExpress.com or CanadaComputers.com.

 Mario & Sonic feel Games spirit

 The 2010 Winter Olympic Games had not even begun when Sega was announcing its related video game had already snagged a "gold" in sales.

 Last week, the Japanese publisher announced its game Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games for the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS had together sold nearly 6 million units in Europe and the United States alone.

 Gamers can compete in more than 25 official events – such as ice hockey, speed skating, skeleton and downhill skiing – as their favourite video game mascots, including Mario, Luigi, Sonic, Tails, Princess Peach, Yoshi and Donkey Kong.

 The Wii version of the game takes advantage of the motion-sensing controller. In the bobsleigh event, for example, four players can sit in a line in front of the TV and work together to hop into the bobsleigh at the right time and lean left or right while speeding down the icy track.

 This game also includes over-the-top fantasy events for you and up to three friends to tackle, inspired by familiar Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog worlds.

Heavy Rain: A Game That Comes To Your Emotional Rescue

Source: www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko

Heavy Rain
(out of four)
PlayStation 3
Rated M

(February 20, 2010) The goal of unifying film and video games in an "interactive cinema" is an old one, and its pursuit has spawned many disastrous projects. But Quantic Dream's
Heavy Rain is as close as the medium has come to reconciling this mess into something both playable and watchable.

 Generally, the problem with this hybridization has been that each side ends up damaged or outright crippled by a fundamental aspect of its counterpart: the flow and cohesion of film narrative – the "authorial intent" Roger Ebert cited in his infamous argument against the artistry of games – is fractured by often-trivial gameplay, while the freedom and agency of games is proscribed by the linear demands of the narrative.

 A psychological crime thriller with a whiff of sci-fi about it, Heavy Rain is the interlocking story of four individuals – an insomniac journalist, a world-wise P.I., a desperate, grieving father, and a high-tech FBI agent – on the trail of the Origami Killer, a serial child-slayer who drowns his victims in rainwater. These are great characters and compelling in themselves; together, their stories would make for a top-notch crime film.

 But this isn't a film. It's a game; we're to play it, not watch it, and Heavy Rain's main mode of play involves what has come to be known as "Quick Time Events." For those unfamiliar with the term, coined for Yu Suzuki's magnificent 2000 flop Shenmue, QTE are best described by the pithy, if uncharitable, phrase "press X not to die" – onscreen icons prompt players for input, and success or failure at this simple reflex task decides a scene's outcome. It is rightly reviled as a cheap way to add "interactivity" to otherwise wholly scripted sequences.

 So maybe this is faint praise, but Heavy Rain does QTE better than any game ever has. For one thing, it's pervasive; through various appropriate button-presses, stick-twiddles and controller-waggles, the player is constantly in what feels like physical contact with the game's virtual world. For another, it's organic and integrated, rather than simply a series of demanding prompts overlaid on the screen. The prompt icons move and swivel along with characters and camera, responding visually to the emotional level of a given scene and by that response build emotion, feeling more like an extension of the character than a menu of choices. When it works – and it usually works – it's sublime.

 Of course, it is still QTE, so when it doesn't work, it feels ridiculous. Sitting there, alone in the dark, inputting each individual motion of starting a car, or each fidgety gesture as your character waits impatiently for an appointment. As with any medium, whether it's film or games or this Frankenstein "interactive cinema," anything that makes your mind drop out of the fictional space and into the "what the hell am I doing?" mindset just flat-out murders the experience.

 But as easy as it is to fall out of Heavy Rain's magic circle, it's just as easy to get sucked back in. As in any good thriller, Heavy Rain just keeps ratcheting up the stakes, working that cycling mechanism of tension-release that grabs you by the glands. The way the four storylines intersect provides a good supply of those endorphin-releasing "OMG" moments when you realize something the characters haven't yet figured out, and players are treated to scene after scene of unforgettable power.

 Whether these scenes would be as powerful, or even more powerful, had they been straight-up filmed rather than interactive is debatable; maybe director David Cage missed his calling as a film director, and his life's work on interactive cinema is so much tilting at windmills. So what? Heavy Rain is a worthwhile experience, the best game in a bad genre. 


Greg Curnoe Shrine Cycles Through Coffee Shop

Source: www.thestar.com - Murray Whyte

(February 20, 2010) On the wall at Cherry Bomb Coffee on Roncesvalles Ave., a slight, royal-blue CCM track bike with curled handlebars dangles from the wall, held at a sharp angle by a slim cable. It's from the 1930s, without gears or brakes – suitable for velodrome riding, and not much else – and has the quiet, elegant grace of a perfect machine: Simple, functional, pure.

 These elements, no doubt, helped prompt the late
Greg Curnoe, the renowned Canadian artist, to make the bike the subject of one of his paintings. On the wall at Cherry Bomb, a framed poster of the piece – the blue bike on a background of acid yellow – sits next to the cycle itself.

 It's Curnoe's bike, one he probably rode at the Forest City Velodrome in his hometown of London, Ont.

 Once people realized what they were looking at, the bike shifted from curiosity to apparition. "It's become a bit of a shrine," says John Ruttan, who owns the café. "People have been leaving things – offerings, I guess. Somebody left a book of his art, someone else left behind postcards of his work that the Art Gallery of Ontario published. I guess they were just looking for an occasion."

 The impromptu memorial remains tragically apt. It was November 1992, and Mike Barry was where he always was – in his custom bicycle shop, fitting his lightweight frames with loving precision – when the news coming through the shop radio hit him with the force of a blunt object: On that crisp, late-fall morning, Curnoe had died while riding with his cycling club near his home, the victim of a truck driver whose attention drifted exactly when it should not have.

 "It was a Saturday," Barry says. "It was just devastating. Everyone just stopped. We had no words. We just couldn't believe it, really couldn't."

 Curnoe's death was heartbreaking, of course. As an artist, he had achieved a particular kind of celebrity. His work, like his life, was disarmingly vibrant, all filled with bright colour and fuelled by his various passions – cycling, for one, and a cheeky political activism. By the time he died, at age 55, he had carved a uniquely prominent position for himself in Canadian art.

 For some, though, Curnoe will be remembered first and foremost as a cyclist. Barry made Curnoe two sleek bicycles, bearing his custom brand name: Mariposa. Both were subjects of Curnoe paintings that would later become famous. In the years since Curnoe died, Barry has gotten both bikes back, as well as the blue CCM. He's been lending bikes to Ruttan, from his collection of hundreds, since Cherry Bomb opened five years ago, but the three sacred Curnoes joined the rotation only recently.

 Barry can be forgiven some preciousness. He remembers the first time Curnoe visited his King St. shop, Bicycle Specialties, in 1972. Curnoe, just 35, already had the swagger of a big shot. His work was in the collection of the National Gallery, and in 1976, he'd be representing Canada at the Venice Biennale.

 The year before, Curnoe had taken a breathless ride with his friend, Bill Harper, and his cycling obsession began. Poet Christopher Dewdney told The Walrus magazine recently that, by 1972, cycling had become entwined with his work "in an intense symbiosis ... Bicycles represented the stripped-down relationship between form and function that so appealed to him."

 Cycling would help him embody his passions in literal ways. Barry remembers Curnoe arriving at his shop to pick up his first Mariposa TT, a sleek, bright-yellow road racer. The Vietnam War was escalating; Toronto was flooded with draft dodgers. Curnoe arrived at the shop with a folder of letraset under his arm, and proceeded to stencil a favourite slogan – "Close the 49th parallel" – on the crossbar, in English on one side, French on the other. "That was Greg," Barry recalls with a laugh. "He just had such an enthusiasm for everything."

 Tall, with the robust build of a natural athlete, Curnoe, thick-haired with a thatch of moustache, must have seemed a little atypical in a field where dense, quiet intellectualism was becoming the norm. Curnoe rejected all of that; from Toronto, where he had attended – and failed out of – the Ontario College of Art and Design, he relocated home to London, where he unapologetically began a practice of artmaking devoted to the visceral world around him.

 Intellectual explorations of high-minded theory bored him – as they did most audiences, who in the '80s became increasingly alienated from contemporary art. Curnoe stood as a willing antidote. He founded a magazine and gallery that made clear his priority: Both were called Region, embodying his rejection of the rootless, international intellectualism that had infected contemporary art.

 He was a frequent guest on TV and radio shows, challenging critics to speak in a language that had some visceral meaning.

 He had major retrospectives, touring exhibitions, was added to important collections. All the while, he was riding.

 Recently, Barry has been commissioned by a couple of museums to make replicas of the yellow TT, lovingly known as "the 49th Parallel." ("I wouldn't sell it for anything," he says.) Here, art, life and Curnoe's death intertwine: He was riding the 49th Parallel the crisp morning he died. "It got a lot of things going around in my mind," Barry says. "How well I know him, what a terrific guy he was. It can get quite emotional."

 At Cherry Bomb, the impromptu tributes continue. "When people come in here and talk about him, it gets you a little teary-eyed," Ruttan says.

 "I'm not an art major, but they're beautiful, aren't they?"

Bryan Adams, Robin Phillips among G-G winners

Source: www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(February 23, 2010) Rock star Bryan Adams, theatre and film director Robin Phillips and impresario WalterDescription: Bryan%20Adams%20gg%20awards_small Homburger are among the winners of the Governor-General’s Performing Arts Awards for lifetime artistic achievement, announced in Montreal yesterday.

Joining them are 60-year stage veteran Françoise Faucher, dance innovator Édouard Lock, and musician and aboriginal-rights advocate Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Vancouver’s Mohammed and Yulanda Faris will be given the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts, particularly for their focus on youth engagement in the arts.

And 34-year-old Montreal conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has won the National Arts Centre Award for exceptional achievement over the past year.

Nézet-Séguin and the six lifetime-achievement honourees each receive $25,000 and a commemorative medallion from the Royal Canadian Mint, while the Farises receive a medallion and a specially commissioned artwork.

The Globe and Mail spoke with three of the laureates about their newly won decorations.

Bryan Adams

Why him: Bryan Adams has done it all, from 18 Juno Awards and a Grammy to collaborations with everyone from Elton John to Luciano Pavarotti. And he’s just marked another milestone, performing for tens of millions of viewers at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics.

What it means: “It’s a rich tapestry of talented people. I'm seriously honoured to be among them. To be honest, and you can ask anyone that works with me, I'm shy of receiving awards of any kind. The biggest reward is the continuation of the work, and there's always lots to do.”

At work: “The Olympics were certainly one of the largest audiences I've had the opportunity to play for. Doing The Wall with [Pink Floyd’s] Roger Waters in Berlin was the other massive one.”

Next up: “Perhaps because I've not had a family, I've got this perpetual desire to create something from nothing. Even if I never made a penny from it, I'd still be carving away, because it makes me happy.”

Édouard Lock

Why him: The 55-year-old Lock has been a force in Canadian dance since his debut in 1975. A noted
Description: edouard%20Lock%20gg%20awards_small choreographer, he founded the internationally successful company La La La Human Steps and has taken his choreography, known for pushing human limits, to dozens of countries.

What it means: “You get excited for your next project and then that project leads to another project. These types of awards, they just stop that momentum for a little bit. You do tend to reflect backwards and pause a little bit.”

At work: “You don't actually decide to tour – you have to be invited. We've had long relationships, we started touring in Europe in 1982. So in some ways, some of the European cities know us almost as well as some of the Canadian cities.”

Next up: “Dance has progressed in a whole bunch of ways. ... It's sort of like watching a clock. If you stare at it, you don't see it. But if you just do something else and come back to it, it's changed – it's a bit like that.”

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Why him: Groomed in Montreal, Nézet-Séguin just finished his first season as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, is principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic and made a hugely successful debut in 2009 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

What it means: “I was so excited and so honoured to receive this, because it’s coming as the most unexpected gift. Of course, when I line up what has happened in that year, I start to be almost scared of myself.”

At work: “I feel that now there's very much an international train that I need to take. But this is always keeping in mind that once I will have made a world tour of things, I want to always keep some time for Canada, to come back.”

Up next: “Prior to that sort of skyrocket speed of the past two or three years, I spent a very good seven or eight years founding my own ensemble and getting my tools ready here in Montreal. ... This gave me the experience and the tools to be able to sustain that kind of speed now.”

Eat, Pray, Love And Marriage

Source: www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner

(February 22, 2010) Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is on the line from her home in rural New Jersey, cheerfully heaping scorn on her initial attempts to craft a follow-up to that mega-selling 2006 memoir.

 The bloated first draft of the new book, Committed, was just so much "personal blah, blah, blah," she explains, before checking herself with a convulsive fit of laughter.

 "Obviously, I don't object to writing that way," she says. "I did it with Eat, Pray, Love. It's kind of what memoirs are for.

 "But it was almost as if I was writing an imitation of Eat, Pray, Love. It read like diary entries. It wasn't appropriate to the subject matter or the place that I had reached in my life."

 Committed, which debuted atop the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list last month, is a sequel to the extent that it picks up where Eat, Pray, Love left off.

 Eat, Pray, Love described the year Gilbert spent travelling to Italy, India and Indonesia while searching for renewed purpose in the wake of a failed marriage.

 The book, a huge commercial hit, became a staple of book clubs across North America, including the one hosted by TV's Oprah Winfrey.

 A movie version, starring Julia Roberts, is slated to open this summer.

 Committed, subtitled A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, tracks Gilbert's decision to plunge back into the marital waters with Felipe, the boyfriend from the end of Eat, Pray, Love. But the new book, while including a substantial measure of confessional reflection, goes beyond the personal into a wider analysis of its subject from a sociological and historical dimension.

 "The first version was bigger but a lot more empty. I was afraid to include the historical background because I was afraid that readers wouldn't want to stay with it," says Gilbert, who will be interviewed on the stage of the John Bassett Theatre Wednesday by Indigo's Heather Reisman.

 "I came to realize that what I really wanted was to write the book that I wished somebody had handed to me on the day that I found out I needed to get married and I would just trust that other people would get something from it as well."

 Neither Gilbert nor Felipe, both survivors of ugly divorces, were keen to remarry. But it became the only way for Felipe, a Brazilian-born Australian citizen, to live in the U.S.

 This circumstance provides the narrative hinge for a discussion of marriage, which historically has been motivated by factors – legal and economic – other than romantic love.

 Marriage without love is seldom an option for couples today, at least in the West. But the institution continues to evolve, both in terms of extending the possibility to same-sex couples and within the straight community.

 "Marriage, as a living entity in a Darwinian way, reinvents itself with every generation," Gilbert says. "It needs to be updated or it will go away."

 The new wrinkle is something Gilbert calls "the wifeless marriage."

 "A lot of women I know want to be married, but not a lot of them want to be the wife, which is to say the one who generally gives up more in order to provide for her family.

 "Traditionalists were so afraid that feminism was going to kill marriage. It seems like it might have saved it. From all the studies, it looks like the marriages that are most enduring are those where the women waited as long as possible to get married, who had children after they had established their economic autonomy and who are married to men who consider them equal partners."

 Gilbert, 40, began her writing with the prize-winning 1997 short story collection Pilgrims, followed by a novel, Stern Men.

 She is returning to fiction, having set aside autobiography for the time being to work on a novel. Before it is finished, however, she can look forward to the surreal experience of watching Julia Roberts play her on the big screen.

 "I imagine all sorts of unexpected feelings will arise," she says.

 "It'll be like looking through a photo album of my travels except that somebody much more attractive has been Photoshopped into the picture. That should be nice."

 Elizabeth Gilbert is in conversation with Indigo's Heather Reisman, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., John Bassett Theatre, 255 Front St. E. Tickets: $18


Michael Baisden Launches Mentoring Program

Source: www.eurweb.com

(February 19, 2010) *Nationally-syndicated radio host Michael Baisden has created a campaign to encourage one million Americans to sign up as mentors for children in need through a national outreach effort. The One Million Mentors Campaign to Save Our Kids will launch with its first event in Dallas on Feb. 17 and hit the road to visit 72 cities in a campaign-themed bus. At each tour stop along the way, Baisden will host mentoring forums in partnership with local mentoring organizations and affiliates of Big Brothers Big Sisters, National Cares Mentoring Movement and 100 Black Men. “The videotaped beating of Chicago teen Derrion Albert was truly the final straw for me,” said Baisden. “After seeing it broadcast repeatedly on national news I knew I needed to step up and get involved personally in the effort to save our kids. My hope is that by touring across the country, this national mentoring campaign will have an impact on some of these young people who need caring adults involved in their lives.”


Great Scot Colin Mochrie meets Lady Luck

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(February 20, 2010) If comedian Colin Mochrie had stayed in Kilmarnock, Scotland, where he was born in 1957, you might have found him today in one of those tacky comedy clubs that cling like barnacles to third-rate British seaside resorts, braving the crowd with a desperate grin and assuring them that "Mochrie's the name, mockery's the game."

 Fortunately, his parents moved to Canada when he was 7 and his life went in quite a different direction. He's internationally known as one of the stars of the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, he's rehearsing for the upcoming Canadian Stage production of Art and, this weekend, he receives the highest honour media union ACTRA Toronto can bestow on one of its members: the Award of Excellence (see sidebar).

 Previous recipients include Gordon Pinsent, Sarah Polley and Paul Gross, which made Mochrie question their choice of him.

 "I felt at first there must have been some kind of horrible mistake. You look back on the previous recipients and say, `Really? You're putting me up there with them? Wow, thank you!'"

 He adds, in a sly undertone, "When I'm holding it, then I'll believe it."

 As he talks while finishing his lunch during a break from the early rehearsals of Art, one sees how it's typical of the quick-witted Mochrie to turn almost anything into a jest. But, unlike many of his colleagues, the butt of all his jokes is usually Mochrie himself.

 There may be insecurity behind his humour, but no cruelty.

 Pushing the clock back, he has no memories of his Scottish childhood, "except for a smell I've never smelled anywhere else wherever I've travelled. An odd Scottish smell, kind of tarlike. It's a bit unpleasant but pleasant in its unpleasantness."

 He reasons that his father moved the clan to Canada "because he didn't love living in Scotland, which is rare for a Scot. But, of course, once we left the country, then our house became a shrine to all things Scottish: velvet pipers on the wall, bagpipe music playing 24/7.

 "We first moved into a completely French neighbourhood in Montreal, which I figured was either financial necessity or sheer accident."

 Frightened by the FLQ crisis of the late 1960s, the Mochries moved across the country, first to Edmonton and then, Vancouver.

 "I was a very shy kid then," Mochrie says, "mainly because we kept moving around so much. I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was fascinated by the ocean."

 Deadpan pause, then the zinger. "I was also a big fan of Flipper."

 But just at this most impressionable time of Mochrie's adolescence, when he was settling into Killarney High School in Vancouver, two things happened: "My father suddenly decided we were going to go back to Scotland and he sold our place and moved us into a motel. But then he got cold feet and we lived in that damn motel for what seemed like the longest time before he finally decided to stay in Canada.

 "I felt like my whole life was falling apart then and I didn't know what I was going to do. I've hated insecurity ever since."

 Luckily, something came along to give Mochrie a brighter view of things. "A friend of mine talked me into being in a school play called The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch. I played Mervin Vale, the undertaker, and when I got my first laugh, I was, like, `Wow! This is what I want always, this feeling!'

 "It was exactly like a drug rush. `I want this again, right now!' I came out of my shell and joined all these clubs. Did the announcements for class like Batman and Robin. Turned into this guy who just wanted to make people laugh."

 Unfortunately, that did nothing for Mochrie's love life. "I heard there were girls in high school. But we never crossed paths. I was always the good friend or `like a brother.' Later on, women develop into a maturity where they realize funny men are good for them. But high school is not the place to be funny when you want girls."

 So an innocent Mochrie went on to Studio 58 at Vancouver City College's Langara Campus, where he studied theatre and learned that he had a real gift for improvisation, which led him straight into Vancouver's TheatreSports troupe after graduation.

 "I love improv," Mochrie says. "It plays right to the slacker in me. You don't have to prepare anything, just have fun!"

 TheatreSports now has a worldwide reputation but, back then, Mochrie recalls, the troupe had "to go down to the McDonald's on the corner and drag people in to see the shows. We had great people like Jay Brazeau, Peter Anderson."

 Mochrie might have stayed there forever had a combination of romance and restlessness not lured him east. "The lady I was with then, Leslie Jones, wanted to move to Toronto and I thought, `Why not? I don't have anything else to do.' So we moved and then we broke up."

 In a way, that was a good thing, because the first job Mochrie auditioned for was the Second City Touring Company and the woman in charge of hiring was Debra McGrath, who wound up marrying Mochrie in 1989.

 "Deb said it was between me and the cute guy, so she picked me," he recalls, with typical Mochrie irony. But it still took them years to get together. "Well, she was married, that was one of the problems. And I was still incredibly thick when it came to women."

 Luckily, he was very sharp when it came to Second City and he's still remembered as one of the stellar members of the Toronto company. "Every night, I got to improvise and that strengthened my work ethic. Every day, we would work on a new sketch based on the improv from the night before. It's like a comedy college. It's where I learned how to talk to the audience."

 That would come in handy with the life-changing gig he was about to embark on. In 1989, BBC 4 launched a new improvisational comedy series called Whose Line is it Anyway? and flew Mochrie out to audition. "My son had just been born, I psyched myself out totally. I sucked."

 But they gave him two more chances and he finally landed on the show, staying with it through to the end of its British run in 1998 and then moving right into the U.S. version, starring Drew Carey, until it finished in 2006.

 "My career has been based on great fortune," Mochrie says. "I have one skill that sets me apart from the majority of performers, and then along comes this show that plays to my strength and makes me look terrific."

 But Mochrie has no intention of clipping coupons or standing still. "I love working. It's such a big part of who I am."

 Which is probably why he finds himself venturing out onto the boards again in the CanStage production of Art, starting performances on March 15.

 "Every time I would go to the theatre, I would say, `I should do this.' So, here I am. I'm terrified, yes, but it's always healthy to have the fear."

 He pauses for a moment, going back in his mind to that horrible year when he lived in a motel with his family, not knowing where their life would go. "I learned how to be funny," he says a bit wistfully, "because I thought that if I was funny, then I would always have friends."

 And he was right.


Dancemakers Presents A Trio Of Dynamic Duos

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Paula Citron

(February 22, 2010) You could say Dancemakers knows a thing or two about creative match-ups. Description: dancemakers22rv1_501641gm-a_small

When a group of York University dance grads founded the company back in 1974, their goal was to be a repertory collaborating with a wide range of choreographers. In its first 16 years, the company did just that – presenting new dance pieces by New York’s Paul Taylor and Lar Lubovitch, Canadians such as Judith Marcuse and Karen Jamieson, as well as Dancemakers members Carol Anderson and Peggy Baker.

Under former artistic director Serge Bennathan, the company then broadened its scope further. It became the Dancemakers Centre for Creation, hosting residencies and workshops. And in 2002, it moved to a permanent home in Toronto’s Distillery District. Bennathan also launched the series Dancemakers Presents, a showcase for rarely seen companies from outside the city.

Now, current artistic director Michael Trent, who took over in 2006, has launched the Dancemakers Presents Festival. Called TwoByThree, it’s a program of duets featuring six acclaimed, avant-garde choreographers from four countries. “The duet is a powerful, compelling launch site for discussing human relationships,” Trent says.

Here’s a cheat sheet of must-see pairings onstage until March 6.

Mélanie Demers and Laïla Diallo

The duo: The last time Montrealer Mélanie Demers came to town she earned a Dora nomination for her work Les Angles Mort (2008). Her collaborator Laïla Diallo (born in Montreal but now based in England) has danced with Wayne McGregor’s famed Random Dance and is now associate artist at the Royal Opera House in London, Swindon Dance in Wiltshire and the Arnolfini in Bristol.

The duet: Sauver sa peau explores the multi-layered nature of our identities through the metaphor of skin. The dance is structured around a fluid succession of physical tableaux that provide varying perspectives on this question: If skin is always renewing itself, is identity also in a constant state of becoming? The original music is by Jacques Poulin-Denis.

Runs until Feb. 25.

Ame Henderson and Matija Ferlin

The duo: Torontonian Ame Henderson and Matija Ferlin of Croatia have been collaborating since 2003 – presenting work in both Europe and Canada. Trent calls Henderson one of the brightest stars in Canada: “In her work, [she] proposes a concept, or asks a question – then she finds a unique, piece-specific way to address the central issue through a fusion of dance, theatre and performance art.”

The duet: In their piece The Most Together We’ve Ever Been, Henderson and Ferlin present a never-ending series of beginnings – a constant hello, as it were – which raises the question: Are they the right people in the wrong space, or the wrong people in the right space? The work addresses our need for something to happen, while embracing the emptiness of never really getting anywhere.

Mauricio Ferlin’s set design differs from city to city, but includes objects not usually found on theatre stages – such as haphazard clumps of furniture and mounds of paper. This echoes the performers’ dilemma: Are the objects ready to be used in these new contexts, or are they frozen in their potential?

Runs Saturday to March 1.

Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion

The duo: Since 2002, Briton Jonathan Burrows and Italian composer Matteo Fargion have been touring the world with their intriguing collaborations. As Trent says: “[Burrows’s] journey began in the formal world of ballet, and when he started to ask the big questions about the nature of dance and its relationship to art, he dedicated his career to discovering the answers.” Some critics question whether Burrows’s experimental pieces belong on stage or are better suited to the studio – you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The duet: Burrows and Fargion’s minimalist Trilogy – comprising Both Sitting Duet, The Quiet Dance and Speaking Dance – will be shown over two nights. Collectively, the works are a gentle exploration of how the relationship between music and dance is perceived, and what the boundaries are between the two. Press reaction has ranged from “absurdist self-indulgence” to “enchanting revelation.”

There will also be a third program from the pair containing two new works: Cheap Lecture is a rhythmic rant set to music; A Not Very Subtle Representation of Resilience Through Dance is a chaotic meditation on dance and mortality.

Both Sitting Duet is on March 4. The Quiet Dance and Speaking Dance are on March 5. Cheap Lecture and A Not Very Subtle Representation of Resilience through Dance are on March 6.

TwoByThree: A Festival of Duets takes place at Dancemakers Centre for Creation in Toronto until March 6. The festival also includes a lunchtime program of conversations called Talking Dance. For details, visit dancemakers.org.


Clara Hughes Caps Olympic Career With Bronze

Source: www.thestar.com - Jim Byers, Staff Reporter

(February 24, 2010) What a way to go.

Clara Hughes, racing the last event of her legendary Olympic career, picked up a bronze medal Wednesday in the women’s 5000-metre speed skating race at the Richmond Oval.

It’s the 12th medal of the 2010 Olympics for Canada and the sixth medal of Hughes’ remarkable career, having won a pair of bronze medals in cycling at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, then a bronze in the 5000-metre speed skating race in Salt Lake City at the 2002 Winter Games. She added a gold in the 5000-metre race in Turin in 2006, as well as a silver in team pursuit.

Hughes, 38, raced in the third-to-last group and finished with a time of 6:55.73. She flashed a huge grin when she saw her time posted, putting her in first place for the moment. Germany’s Stephanie Beckert bested Hughes’ mark by some four seconds to ease into the top spot and put Hughes in second.

Two skaters went to the start line in the last group, both with a chance to push Hughes off the podium. Gold medal favourite Martina Sablikova bested Hughes and Beckert to take the gold in 6:50.91. But Daniela Anschutz Thoms of Germany came fourth, giving Hughes the third spot and setting up one of the better bronze-medal parties Canada has ever seen.

“It’s such an amazing feeling,” Hughes told CTV. “I want to say thank you to this amazing crowd once again. You gave me wings.”

Hughes, a native of Winnipeg who now makes her home in Glen Sutton, Que., carried the flag at the Opening Ceremony back on Feb. 12. She jogged around the infield and waved to the crowd once she realized she had a bronze medal to add to her collection, carrying the Canadian flag with well-deserved pride.

Hughes said she was focused on doing her best, not winning hardware.

“There was so much talk about medals and owning the podium. I don’t think in those terms, I think in terms of excellence. I did that in the last race of my life on ice and it was so enjoyable and I’m so proud of the process.”

Canada now has 12 medals at the Winter Olympics — six gold, four silver and two bronze.

Kristina Groves of Ottawa hoped to win a medal but never got on track and finished sixth. Highly-decorated but injury-batted Canadian Cindy Klassen came 12th.

Hughes showed her trademark endurance, picking up speed as she went. But she said she didn’t need to rely on her traditional pain tolerance.

“I didn’t really need it today, to be honest. I skated really well technically and normally I don’t. Today I felt so good and I felt I had such good rhythm.”

Asked if she considers herself Canada’s greatest athlete, Hughes shook her head and said Canada is full of great people in arts, music and education.

“I just consider myself a Canadian,” she said.

U.S. Buzzing After Spanking Canada

Source: www.thestar.com - Mitch Potter, Washington Bureau

(February 22, 2010) WASHINGTON – Canada finally emerged as a massive blip on America’s radarDescription: hockey%20olympics%20Canada%20loss%20to%20the%20US_small Monday, with screaming headlines everywhere.

 And the lasting lesson for the largely invisible neighbour to the north: you need not send all your premiers south to get noticed in Washington. All you need to do is lose. To the Americans. In your own sport. On your own ice.

 That was the tenor of a flurry of stateside reports that shot to the top of most-read lists throughout the U.S.

Washington Post front-racked its account of Sunday night’s Olympic hockey calamity under the heading, “U.S. leaves Canada red, white … and blue.”

 Over at the
New York Times, a gentle home-page sprinkling of salt in Canada’s wound was labelled “Tough day for a land where hockey is religion.”

 A more triumphant glee was found on Facebook, where one set of brazen American fans launched a new page titled “Miracle On Ice, 2010 Version (Suck it, Canada!).”

 And so it went, from CNN to
Sports Illustrated and even to the Los Angeles Times, where a readership wholly unacquainted with winter drove the paper’s account of “upset victory by U.S.” to the top of its most-popular list.

 It was precisely the sort of noise – in volume, if not in tone – that seven of Canada’s provincial premiers had hoped to make when they arrived Friday for a rare three-day mission to Washington to tub-thumb the benefits of free trade and smoother border operations.

 And at first blush, the political charm-offensive worked, replete with a rare summit between the Canadian premiers and U.S. state governors. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was so moved by the Saturday meeting to belt out his own improvised rendition of “O Canada.”

 But as radar blips go, the Canadian political mission attained the sound of one hand clapping – the more than 200 news reports of the premiers’ efforts landed exclusively north of the border. Not a single word appeared in the U.S. media.

 Washington analysts who specialize in how Canada registers on America’s scanners took the Olympic hockey feeding frenzy in stride.

 “You can’t take the ‘Own the Podium’ approach and also expect to be treated as the nice guy. When you lose, they’re going to kick you in the shins,” said former Canadian diplomat Paul Frazer, a Washington-based political consultant.

 “But the fact everyone seized on the U.S. victory and ignored the premiers mission isn’t really a problem,” said Frazer.

 “Nine out of 10 times, when the U.S. media notices Canadian politicians it usually involves some kind of bad news. The fact that no American reports were generated means there was no bad news. The goal was to get the attention of the governors, not U.S. reporters. And that’s what they got.”

Korean Star Kim Yu-Na Skates With The Soul Of A Canadian

www.thestar.com - Lesley Ciarula Taylor, Staff Reporter

(February 23, 2010) When world reigning champion
Kim Yu-Na glides onto the ice carrying South Korea’s hunger for a gold medal in figure skating Tuesday night, she’ll do it with the soul of a Canadian.

The 19-year-old who would twice become the first woman to break 200 points in figure skating scoring for her technically flawless performances sought out Canadian Olympian Brian Orser four years ago to give her what she lacked: spirit and soul.

Since then, she and Orser have trained at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club in Willowdale. Kim spends all but three months of the year in Toronto, far from her homeland where she is, said Orser, “the No. 1 superstar.”

“My personality is shy,” Kim said in an interview with the New York Times. Orser gave her “a more feminine acting program.”

Orser, who won silver at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, also gave her nothing her legion of fans could when she battled nerves at the 2009 world championships.

“I know what you’re going through,” he told her. “It worked. I just saw her relax.”

Kim, the first South Korean figure skater to win the world championships, finished 16.42 points ahead of silver medallist Joannie Rochette of Canada in the March worlds.

Orser is confident it will work again starting Tuesday night in the women’s short program and culminating Thursday with the long program.

“Of course we go for gold. She is ready. I believe if she skates her best, she is unstoppable,” he said when they arrived in Vancouver on Friday.

He told the Star in January: “We took this girl at 15 who was just a machine. She could do all this stuff, but nobody had chipped away at her soul. The soul and the spirit is what you need in skating.”

South Korea’s highest-paid athlete with $7.5 million (U.S.) in endorsements alone last year from Nike, Hyundai Motor, Korean Air and other major brands, Kim decamped to Toronto to avoid the hype and frenzy that surrounds her in her homeland.

“It’s like travelling around with Princess Diana. She is very gracious to her fans. They love her, they embrace her,” said Orser.

Love her and demand perfection and vindication from her. Kim’s rivals are the Japanese skaters Mao Asada and Miki Ando. Kim’s only two defeats in two years have been from Asada. For Koreans, the memory of Japan’s 35-year occupation of their now-divided country burns fresh, more than a half-century later.

“Koreans’ blood roils when their country competes with Japan in sports of elsewhere,” Soon Doo-heon, a professor at Yong-in Songdam University in South Korea and an Olympic blogger, said.

In a book of essays published last month, the teenaged superstar let the pressure she feels at a country’s expectations trickle out.

“If my performance falters, not only people around me but the whole nation might turn their back on me,” she wrote.

In an interview with Agence France Presse, she tempered her hopes: “It’s my first Olympics. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a child.

“Whether I get gold or whatever, it’s not about the medal. I will take away many good memories from Vancouver.”

Her Canadian team also includes top choreographer David Wilson and former Canadian Tracy Wilson.

And her Canadian life last month included carrying the Olympic torch in Hamilton, which to Orser was all part of the training.

“When she carried the torch in Hamilton, I knew it,” he told the Star’s Chris Young. “All I had to do was look at the picture of her and the looks in her eyes told me. She gets it.”

DiManno: Moir and Virtue, a Glorious, Golden Duo

www.thestar.com - Rosie DiManno, Sports Columnist

(February 23, 2010) VANCOUVER– Gorgeous and golden.  An exquisite performance brought the house
Description: Tessa%20Virtue%20and%20Scott%20Moir%201_small down and Canada up: podium pinnacle in ice dancing.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had never been coy about their Olympic aspirations – anything less than gold would have been a wrenching disappointment, an abject failure even.

They did not fail. They did not disappoint. They nailed it.

The marks were staggering: 110.42 in the free dance and 221.57 overall, untouchable.

"Oh my God, it's the exceptional moment we've always dreamed of," Moir said. "We couldn't be happier."

The first ice dance Olympic championship ever earned by a North American duo was invested on – earned by – this symbiotic young couple who grew up only a few miles apart from each other in London, Ont., if unaware of each other back then in those sprout days, yoked together when she was 11 and he was 13.

They have only ever danced with each other.

"It was such a journey, so many had helped us along the way," Virtue said.

Monday night, at the Pacific Coliseum, they danced into the Olympic annals. She's 20, he's 22. The music was "Symphony No. 5" by Gustav Mahler, a haunting piece played at the funeral of Robert Kennedy; just as evocative if not so sombre in this environment.

In a free dance final that mesmerized, the five best tandems on the planet skating with heart and soul – each couple making it look so deceptively effortless rather than the culmination of so much hard work and muscle-numbing practice – Virtue and Moir were simply superior, ethereal and gaspingly athletic, in a zone of their own.

They twizzled in impeccable synchronicity, they stroked in a blur of unison, yet soft and feathery on the ice, Virtue's winter white costume a fetching flutter of chiffon, Moir the powering engine to innovative lifts and spins, tricks they invented and few others would dare risk.

While ice dance – only allowed in the Olympics since 1976 – may sometimes seem more Cirque du Soleil than sport, Virtue and Moir have found the sweet spot between artistry and athletic. This knack was on display in Sunday night's fierce Original Dance flamenco number, where the Canadians took over the interim lead from Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the reigning world champions.

It dazzled even more Monday night in a wondrous routine of blazing speed and extraordinary creativity, both classic and cutting edge in its presentation, hardly any daylight visible between the skaters when both had their feet on the ice – that counts for a great deal in ice dancing – and each so confident in the other on dervish manoeuvres, Virtue surrendering into Moir's arms on complicated dismounts where she can't see a thing.

Such faith this couple has in each other, in their seamless selves: soul to soul.

At the end, Moir whispered into Virtue's ear, "Thank you so much."

They earned Level 4 marks on both straight and circulation step sequences and that's never been done before.

Whether such perfection was in fact necessary in the final flight of skaters is now moot. Their training partners, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S., started out the evening 2.6 points behind and appeared a tad stiff compared to their sublime "Original Dave" ode to Bollywood.

They took silver; the Russians took bronze.

Both North American couples, for the past five years, have trained in suburban Detroit under the same coach, Russian expatriate Marina Zoueva. To outsiders, that might seem awkward, with Zoueva on the boards for both teams – so pretty much guaranteed gold on this evening. Zoueva begs to differ.

"It's actually really nice. They are so different in their characters, their temperament, their physical and artistic abilities. I love both.

"When I'm watching Charlie and Meryl, they touch my soul. When I'm watching Tessa and Scott, I forget about the stopwatch (to time lifts), I'm just melting."

Virtue and Moir, who are not, despite how it looks, romantically involved, were the first Canadian dancers to win junior worlds in 2006 and silver at senior worlds in 2008. Then she had surgery to relieve pain in her shins and their progress was set back, yet the team still secured a bronze at '09 worlds. Devastated four years ago at not making the team for the Turin Olympics, they immediately took a bead on Vancouver, not just to make it but to win.

The experience had totally lived up to the expectations, even before they blew away the field. Said Virtue: "We feel like all Canada is on the ice with us."

And they're not going anywhere, except to Turin next month for worlds and, four years hence, to defend their Olympic title in Sochi.

Still, in a country that has produced some amazing ice dancing teams – Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, Marie-France Debreuil and Patrice Lauzon most recently – there are other Canadians climbing up the ranks.

Scarborough-based teenagers Vanessa Crona and Paul Poirier showed their fitness as potential successors by climbing from 17th to 14th with their free dance.