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May 13, 2010

What a week this has been.  Crazy cold snap of weather here in Toronto.  This better mean that we have a longer and warmer summer.  I apologize for not mentioning Mother's Day last week ... thankfully I did remember to call my own mother but this holiday did creep up on me this year.  However, and in support of suffering women, I have listed the exciting
Hope House Fundraiser to help raise funds for 100 girls from the red light district of Calcutta. For the price of a ticket you have an amazing night of entertainment, food and fun, including artists Maestro Fresh Wes (Williams), Ivana Santilliand DJ Rekha.

There are no words to explain what I experienced when I went to see the
Vision Warrior performance by Scot Robinson (New York) in Oakville last Saturday.  An incredibly powerful and healing experience - please read my RECAP below to get the bigger picture ...

Scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

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


Hope House Fundraiser With Academy Award Winners - THURSDAY, MAY 27th

Source:  Hope House

Special offer just announced!  $100 per ticket and BRING A FRIEND FOR FREE (2 tickets for price of one, one drink per person) for this sensational fundraiser! Just put your guest's name in the Box when you purchase your $100 and you will receive an extra ticket at the door. 

Basement Bhangra - Thursday, May 27th

I want to invite you to one of the most anticipated fundraisers and one in which I am personally involved. The
Hope House fundraiser was inspired by the Oscar winning film "Born into Brothels" and we are raising money to build a wonderful project to help 100 girls from the red light district of Calcutta (www.kids-with-cameras.org/school/). 

We have a terrific line-up for the evening including:
In Attendance
Join Born into Brothels Academy Award winning
Director Ross Kauffman and Executive Producer Geralyn White Dreyfous in helping to build Hope House and helping girls from the red light district of Calcutta.
Exclusive engagement with Hip Hop legend
Maestro Fresh Wes from Los Angeles performing classics and new music (Let your Backbone Slide!).

Rare appearance by Juno nominated singer
Ivana Santilli performing the latest from her upcoming album "Santilli"
World renowned
DJ Rekha (as seen on CNN and David Letterman) from New York City with Dhol Circle drummers.
Catering by Babaluu Supperclub, Palais Royale, Foodtrends, and Couture Cupcakes.
Includes two drink tickets.

And that's not all!  Enter a world inspired by India's magic with Fantasy Lounge, Fortune Tellers and Tarot Card readers, a Maharani's Salon (Henna Beauty Bar & Make-up Artistry), Fashionistas Shopping Haven, Photography Expo, and much more!
Facebook Page 
Join our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=118675501480585&ref=mf
VIP Indian Garden Party
Find out more about our VIP Indian Garden Party http://www.kids-with-cameras.org/toronto/ 
If you would like to make a donation in lieu of attendance, please visit http://torontohopehouse.eventbrite.com/ or complete the attached pledge card.

THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2010
Palais Royale
1601 Lake Shore Boulevard W.
8:30pm – 12:00am
Dress: Stylish and chic
To buy tickets visit HERE

$100 per ticket and BRING A FRIEND FOR FREE (2 tickets for price of one, one drink per person).


VIDEO: Singer Lena Horne Dies At Age 92

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Verena Dobnik, — The Associated Press

(May 12, 2010) New York - Lena Horne, the enchanting jazz singer and actress who reviled the bigotry that allowed her to entertain white audiences but not socialize with them, slowing her rise to Broadway superstardom, died Sunday. She was 92.

Horne died at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Gloria Chin. Chin would not release any other details.

Horne, whose striking beauty and magnetic sex appeal often overshadowed her sultry voice, was remarkably candid about the underlying reason for her success.

“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she once said. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”

In the 1940s, she was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among a handful with a Hollywood contract.

In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical Stormy Weather. Her rendition of the title song became a major hit and her signature piece.

On screen, on records and in nightclubs and concert halls, Horne was at home vocally with a wide musical range, from blues and jazz to the sophistication of Rodgers and Hart in songs like The Lady Is a Tramp and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.

In her first big Broadway success, as the star of Jamaica in 1957, reviewer Richard Watts Jr. called her “one of the incomparable performers of our time.” Songwriter Buddy de Sylva dubbed her “the best female singer of songs.”

But Horne was perpetually frustrated with the public humiliation of racism.

“I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out ... it was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world,” she said in Brian Lanker's book I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.

While at MGM, she starred in the all-black Cabin in the Sky, in 1943, but in most of her other movies, she appeared only in musical numbers that could be cut in the racially insensitive South without affecting the story. These included I Dood It, a Red Skelton comedy, Thousands Cheer and Swing Fever, all in 1943; Broadway Rhythm in 1944; and Ziegfeld Follies in 1946.

“Metro's cowardice deprived the musical of one of the great singing actresses,” film historian John Kobal wrote.

Early in her career Horne cultivated an aloof style out of self-preservation, becoming “a woman the audience can't reach and therefore can't hurt” she once said.

Later she embraced activism, breaking loose as a voice for civil rights and as an artist. In the last decades of her life, she rode a new wave of popularity as a revered icon of American popular music.

Her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, won a special Tony Award. In it, the 64-year-old singer used two renditions – one straight and the other gut-wrenching – of Stormy Weather to give audiences a glimpse of the spiritual odyssey of her five-decade career.

A sometimes savage critic, John Simon, wrote that she was “ageless. ... tempered like steel, baked like clay, annealed like glass; life has chiselled, burnished, refined her.”

When Halle Berry became the first black woman to win the best actress Oscar in 2002, she sobbed: “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. ... It's for every nameless, faceless woman of colour who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, the great-granddaughter of a freed slave, was born in Brooklyn June 30, 1917, to a leading family in the black bourgeoisie. Her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her 1986 book The Hornes: An American Family that among their relatives was a college girlfriend of W.E.B. Du Bois and a black adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dropping out of school at 16 to support her ailing mother, Horne joined the chorus line at the Cotton Club, the fabled Harlem night spot where the entertainers were black and the clientele white.

She left the club in 1935 to tour with Noble Sissle's orchestra, billed as Helena Horne, the name she continued using when she joined Charlie Barnet's white orchestra in 1940.

A movie offer from MGM came when she headlined a show at the Little Troc nightclub with the Katherine Dunham dancers in 1942.

Her success led some blacks to accuse Horne of trying to “pass” in a white world with her light complexion. Max Factor even developed an “Egyptian” makeup shade especially for the budding actress while she was at MGM.

But in his book Gotta Sing Gotta Dance: A Pictorial History of Film Musicals, Kobal wrote that she refused to go along with the studio's efforts to portray her as an exotic Latin American.

“I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become,” Horne once said. “I'm me, and I'm like nobody else.”

Horne was only 2 when her grandmother, a prominent member of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, enrolled her in the NAACP. But she avoided activism until 1945 when she was entertaining at an Army base and saw German prisoners of war sitting up front while black American soldiers were consigned to the rear.

That pivotal moment channelled her anger into something useful.

She got involved in various social and political organizations and – along with her friendship with Paul Robeson – got her name onto blacklists during the red-hunting McCarthy era.

By the 1960s, Horne was one of the most visible celebrities in the civil rights movement, once throwing a lamp at a customer who made a racial slur in a Beverly Hills restaurant and in 1963 joining 250,000 others in the March on Washington when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Horne also spoke at a rally that same year with another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, just days before his assassination.

It was also in the mid-'60s that she put out an autobiography, Lena, with author Richard Schickel.

The next decade brought her first to a low point, then to a fresh burst of artistry.

She had married MGM music director Lennie Hayton, a white man, in Paris in 1947 after her first overseas engagements in France and England. An earlier marriage to Louis J. Jones had ended in divorce in 1944 after producing daughter Gail and a son, Teddy.

In the 2009 biography Stormy Weather, author James Gavin recounts that when Horne was asked by a lover why she'd married a white man, she replied: “To get even with him.”

Her father, her son and her husband, Hayton, all died in 1970-71, and the grief-stricken singer secluded herself, refusing to perform or even see anyone but her closest friends. One of them, comedian Alan King, took months persuading her to return to the stage, with results that surprised her.

“I looked out and saw a family of brothers and sisters,” she said. “It was a long time, but when it came I truly began to live.”

And she discovered that time had mellowed her bitterness.

“I wouldn't trade my life for anything,” she said, “because being black made me understand.”


Legendary Singer Lena Horne Has Died

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 9, 2010) * *Lena Horne, the enchanting jazz singer and actress who reviled the bigotry that allowed her to entertain white audiences but not socialize with them, slowing her rise to Broadway superstardom, died Sunday. She was 92.

Horne died at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Gloria Chin. Chin would not release any other details.

Horne, whose striking beauty and magnetic sex appeal often overshadowed her sultry voice, was remarkably candid about the underlying reason for her success.

“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she once said. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”

In the 1940s, she was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among a handful with a Hollywood contract.

In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical “Stormy Weather.” Her rendition of the title song became a major hit and her signature piece.

On screen, on records and in nightclubs and concert halls, Horne was at home vocally with a wide musical range, from blues and jazz to the sophistication of Rodgers and Hart in songs like “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”

In her first big Broadway success, as the star of “Jamaica” in 1957, reviewer Richard Watts Jr. called her “one of the incomparable performers of our time.” Songwriter Buddy de Sylva dubbed her “the best female singer of songs.”

But Horne was perpetually frustrated with the public humiliation of racism.

Read MORE of this AP story HERE.

The Otherworldly Greatness Of Steve Nash

www.thestar.com - Doug Smith

(May 07, 2010) You sit and watch the Phoenix Suns and the question that comes up often is: What’s
Steve Nash got up his sleeve now?

Such is the greatness of the otherworldly point guard that when the stakes are the highest he can seamlessly change from one persona to the next, dominating and controlling this way and that depending on what the situation calls for.

In Game 1 of Phoenix’s second-round playoff series, he was the dominant scorer, shredding whichever San Antonio Spurs defender had the misfortune of trying to guard him. Nash finished with 33 points and 10 assists, 17 of those points coming in the first quarter when the Suns set the tone for the first two games of the series.

“He controlled the game too much,” was how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put it. “He ran it down our throats.”

In Game 2, 48 hours later, he was the quiet but effective leader. His 19 points and six assists were hardly earth-shattering, but when he was on the court he was, for long stretches, the best player in the game: dictating tempo, making the pass that led to the pass that led to the basket, controlling the game from a distance.

“It might not have been the prettiest offensive display that we’ve had, but we have confidence that we can win these games,” Nash said after that game. “There is a confidence in that. We’re not out there to win pretty. If we don’t have a smooth night offensively, there definitely is a strength that we didn’t have in the past.

“I can’t remember really being a part of a team that’s had so many guys step up and play so well.”

But it comes from the leader, as anyone who watches the Suns regularly can tell you.

Those were two virtuoso performances by Nash – the primary reason the Suns took a 2-0 lead into Friday’s Game 3 of the best-of-seven series – and a testament to his ability to adapt to whatever the need may be. It speaks to his brilliance, his leadership.

But should it come as any surprise, really?

If there is anything we’ve learned about Nash over the years it’s to never count him out and never to be surprised by anything he does.

As it is, the most impressive thing about what he’s doing is that he’s doing it at all.

This was supposed to be the denouement of a brilliant career, rather than the continuation of an unlikely journey that’s seen him defy critics and win two most valuable player awards.

At 36 years old, he’s supposed to be on the downside, playing out the string rather than pulling it. He’s played 14 seasons and logged more than 32,000 minutes, carrying a relatively slight 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame up and down NBA courts, often against bigger, stronger, quicker opponents.

“I’m never surprised,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano, who knows Nash as well as anyone in the NBA. “That’s just Steve.”

It’s also “just Steve” that Nash is even in Phoenix at this stage of his life, let alone leading a lightly regarded Suns team to within two wins of a berth in the Western Conference final.

After seeing the demise of the Seven Seconds Or Less Suns and living through an ill-fated attempt to turn Phoenix into a run-of-the-mill team anchored by an aging Shaquille O’Neal, Nash could have played out this season and sought riches — and new challenges — on the free agent market. No one would have blamed him, really, had he decided to force a trade somewhere to play out his dotage. New York would have been a logical destination. He has a summer place there and strong ties to Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.

But Nash is loyal — to fans, teammates and a city. He knows he is woven into the fabric of Phoenix and to leave the organization that allowed him to become what he’s become would have run counter to principles held closely by the native of Victoria.

That’s why he decided to take a two-year contract extension last July, a deal that will probably take him to the end of what should be a hall of fame career.

But perhaps that’s even folly to suggest. Why can’t Nash play two years after that, or three? He’s relatively healthy – his core strength is among the best of any player in the league and he has missed just 26 games total in his last six regular seasons – and the competitive fires still burn.

As he’s shown throughout the playoffs, there has been no significant drop-off in his play.

There is no telling when this ride will end. If the Suns get past the Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers likely await in the conference final.

There’s also no telling what the operator of the Phoenix ride might do on that stage. After all, the question remains: “What’s Steve Nash got up his sleeve now?”

The National Film Board Measures Human Side Of The Canadian Economic Crisis

Source: National Film Board of Canada

(May 6, 2010) – As the global economy recovers from its most severe downturn since the Great Depression, the National Film Board of Canada is documenting how Canadians are experiencing the crisis and its aftermath with its first bilingual web-documentary GDP: Measuring the Human Side of the Canadian Economic Crisis.
Jointly produced by the NFB’s English and French programs,  the ambitious one-year pilot project was launched in September 2009 and now features nine hours of online visual content – over 138 short films and photo-essays that document the “Great Recession” as it plays out in different communities and sectors across Canada. From BC’s embattled logging towns to Bay Street, from a Quebec family farm to an inner city high-rise, takes the pulse of a nation as it comes to terms with a crisis that has shaken the very foundations of the global economy. During these first six months, GDP has gone to the heart of Canadians’ concerns, documenting their everyday struggles and sharing  their hopes and passions.
To date, there have been over 200,000 viewings of GDP – on the English and French versions of  <gdp.NFB.ca>, at the NFB’s online Screening Room as well as on iPhone app platforms.
Produced by Marie-Claude Dupont, the project is directed by Hélène Choquette (The Refugees of the Blue Planet, Avenue Zero) with the participation of over 30 gifted filmmakers and photographers across Canada – a remarkable creative team that’s giving vibrant form to this new documentary genre. The project captures the real-time experiences of a diverse cross-section of Canadian society, through more than a dozen episodic film series, hearing from an unemployed autoworker in Oshawa, Filipino guest-workers in Alberta, a Newfoundland couple in the midst of a midlife career shift and others. Complementing the films are beautifully crafted photo-essays, incisive snapshots of Canada’s recession experience, featuring such compelling subjects as a Windsor mom fighting to keep her boy safe from the psychological fallout, and Bevan Jones, brother of convicted Montreal fraudster Earl Jones. The project features an interactive map displaying films, photo-essays and comments from across Canada, and is also complemented by a Google map of participating Canadian communities.
“Our visitors constitute a vital part of the GDP project,” says Dupont. “We already have 4,000 followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks – and many have been contributing their own material to the site, enriching the overall interactive experience. By the time we wrap up in September 2010, the GDP project will feature over 200 original films and photo-essays, along with hundreds of user comments – and will constitute an invaluable audiovisual document of a pivotal chapter in our collective experience.”
View the trailers on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=6As0AXM2Lkg
Follow the GDP project on Twitter: twitter.com/gdpproject
Join the Facebook group: facebook.com/GDPproject

Last night, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), in collaboration with Turbulent and Toxa, received a NUMIX award – the first awards for excellence in multimedia production in Quebec – in the Original Production: News and Magazine category for the interactive web documentary GDP – Measuring the Human Side of the Canadian Economic Crisis.
About the NFB
Canada’s public film producer and distributor, the National Film Board of Canada creates social-issue documentaries, auteur animation, alternative drama and digital content that provide the world with a unique Canadian perspective. The NFB is expanding the vocabulary of 21st-century cinema and breaking new ground in form and content through community filmmaking projects, cross-platform media, programs for emerging filmmakers, stereoscopic animation – and more. It works in collaboration with creative filmmakers, digital media creators and co-producers in every region of Canada, with Aboriginal and culturally diverse communities, as well as partners around the world. Since the NFB’s founding in 1939, it has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies. The NFB’s new website features over 1,400 productions online, and its iPhone app has become one of the most popular and talked about downloads. Visit <NFB.ca> today and start watching.

Barbara Walters Announces Heart Surgery On The View

Source: www.thestar.com - David J. Prince

(May 10, 2010) NEW YORK, N.Y.—Barbara Walters said she will have surgery later this week to replace a faulty heart valve and take the summer off from The View to recuperate.

The television legend made the announcement on the air Monday. She said she's known about her condition for a while, and decided with her doctors that this is the best time to have the surgery.

"Since the summer is coming up," she said, "I can take a nice vacation."

Walters, 80, is one of the best-known personalities in television news. She began on the Today show, was the first woman to anchor a network evening news program, then was one of the toughest competitors in the fierce game of landing sought-after interviews.

At a time others would be slowing down, she created The View in 1997, and the daily talk show with a woman's round-table has become a staple on daytime TV.

She said her condition would be a surprise to many friends. "But I thought it best not to talk about it too far in advance."

Walters said she had not felt any symptoms from the narrowing of the heart valve, which can worsen and restrict the flow of blood to the heart.

Whoopi Goldberg, her co-host on The View, asked Walters if she is scared.

"Look, nobody wants to have this kind of surgery," Walters said, but she added that it has become more commonplace and done safely.


Vision Warrior – Changing Lives

I have to tell you about the one-man show that had a drastic and changing affect on me.  Scot Robinson’s
Vision Warrior is a theatrical lecture presentation conceived and performed by film and television actor Scot Anthony Robinson.  Now, this is a dude that acted in such movies as Clockers, New York Undercover, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, New Jack City and Mo' Better Blues.  Scot gives a graphic tour of his descent into a life of drug and alcohol addiction, a nightmarish downward spiral which left him homeless in 1992 on the streets of Los Angeles and New York. 

Here's a little taste of what his show is about in this recent commercial for a drug-free America:

I attended his most recent lecture, and first Canadian performance, in Oakville last Saturday morning at the Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving (OSAID)’s annual conference.  I thought I was going to support my friend, Scot and his life-changing work for high school kids. 

What transpired was not only witnessing the re-enactment of his “raw, frightening, ironically funny” story but also an aggressive attempt to pierce your world with truth and love and accountability while confronting issues like ‘experimentation’ with alcohol and drugs, low self esteem and stress.  He immediately commands attention in the room by calling out those not giving him their complete attention.  It reflects the passion that Scot has for Vision Warrior and for the love he has for youth, while trying to save their lives with his message of how to avoid common yet dangerous missteps in life.

It became apparent quickly that this was NOT simply a message for youth.  I was deeply moved and affected by his message, applicable to every race, age group and demographic.

In the past 17 years over one million educators, young people and their families throughout the United States have shared the electrifying experience of
Vision Warrior.  It was a thrilling experience and one that I will not easily forget but instead apply to my life.  That is the challenge.

While his website is being completely redone, you can still check out and/or reach Scot at www.visionwarrior.com 


Between The Highs And The Lows, Life Happens

Source: www.globeandmail.com - K’Naan

(May 10, 2010) It was not my dream to be an artist.

How could it have been? I thought artist, much like a leader, was something you either were or weren’t. Never something you set out to be. And as a boy in Mogadishu Somalia, although art plainly encapsulated the world as I knew it, what I really wanted to be was an optometrist.

But there weren’t any doctors in my family. My father, they explained, was a civil servant of sorts, who then moved to New York for reasons all the poets in my life would fail to articulate. My mother was, by nature, a poet, but above all the distraction of talent, she was a mother. Her father was loved by all, a poet whose nickname was Ahyaa Wadani, meaning something like “The Passion of the Country” or, “the Soul of the Country” or, “The jewel...” (Translating the Somali language into English is like squeezing an oversized person into a fitted shirt - always needs some stretching to make it work.)

One day when I was about seven, my mother took me along for my grandmother’s appointment with an eye doctor. Her eyesight, much like the prospects of the country, had been slowly dimming.

I remember clearly the glory of his entrance to the waiting room where we sat. A white overcoat, a pen hugged by the cartilage of his ear, poking through what used to be a proud army of hair, now retreating. Everything about him suggested some incorruptible dignity. I’ve always wondered if he looked as impressive to my mother as he did to me. I wanted to be him.

He searched for fugitives with the light thing into grandma’s prisoner eyes for a while, like tolerable interrogation. Then with a great big sigh meant to prove his empathetic efforts, the sound of finality from someone who’d seen it all, he said, “I'm sorry, but there’s nothing I can do, it’s just old age.”

I remember how overcome I was with disbelief. I thought, if I was he, a doctor entrusted with that overcoat, I would fix grandma’s eyes. Suddenly I went from wanting to be him, to having to be him.

I realize now that music in my life came in a similar fashion: much more of a need than a want - an antidote to a poison rather than a recreational drug.

I was a teenager in Toronto when it first hit me. The intolerable fear of insanity. You see, as Somalis, the fine art of psychoanalysis is not something we’ve learned to appreciate. You’re either a crazy person or you’re not. And since I didn’t really know any Canadians, there was no one to explain to me the sudden flood of anxiety attacks, depression and insomnia.

It’s fitting, I thought. I’ve escaped a war with minor injuries, adopted a new country where even laziness could be transformed into an opportunity for success, and I thought I would get away clean? Of course there had to be some tragic balance to this overbearing fortune. God, I thought, did I really have to choose between peace and sanity. I remember having these thoughts alone in a living room, pacing up and down, opening and closing windows in a frenzy, but one mid-afternoon when I ended up in a bathtub still half dressed, I decided that I should tell someone.

Mom said that the answer was in the Koran. My answer to her was, didn’t the Koran say to seek help from professionals? And so we did. Doctor after doctor, blood test after blood test, and they would all conclude that I was fine, almost blushing about how perfectly healthy I was. It went on this way for a while, but the unsummoned tears continued, the voices in my head were getting more opinionated than my own voice. So I made excuses to hide from it. It was all beginning to be too painful to live with.

At this point I was already fancying myself as someone with some musical talent. I could often find a little poetry in me if I needed to. Kids in the neighbourhood thought I could rap and if, on a good day, I went to the mall with friends, I would spend all my time inside Radio Shack playing their little keyboards until they kicked me out for not buying.

My first songs were written in this condition. One song, called Voices In My Head, I remember writing during a particularly torturous anxiety attack. I had gotten the news of a Somali boy who was a friend in Toronto, leaping to his death from the 20-something floor of an old high-rise we once lived in.

Another song, a kind of a happy one actually, In The Beginning, was written and recorded on my way to check into the emergency room. A minor stop to a major event, I thought. In reality, all my life was in the minor key, but it was out of defiance that I wrote it all on major.

And where am I now? I suppose they’re right to say that I’m flying high. I was recently honoured with two Juno awards for these songs of desperation.

And at the moment, I’m writing this on a plane from China where I had just performed at the World Expo. But once again, it seems that the great balancing act is in motion. Somalia is worse now than it was when I left at age 13. And while my career has some mentionable highs, my romantic life is adorned with the quiet lows. So I suppose this all means more songs.

I didn’t turn out to be an optometrist. But I do hope that in some way, my music opens an eye or two, to a great continent of both immeasurable beauty and struggle. And to my own life, written as a country disguised as a person.

Pat Metheny’s Machine Music

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

(May 12, 2010) Pat Metheny’s got a new band, and he’s the only one in it.

He calls it the Orchestrion, and even though it involves roughly 500 instrumental “voices” altogether, he’s the only musician onstage when they’re playing. (Metheny and his orchestrion will be at Massey Hall in Toronto on Thursday.)

Apart from his guitar, everything else – pianos, marimba, vibraphone, orchestral bells, basses, guitarbots, percussion, drums, blown bottles and so on – is played by custom-built machines, created by a half-dozen different companies or inventors.

If that description brings to mind a sort of oversized, mutant player piano that may be because Metheny’s original inspiration was the player piano his grandfather kept in the basement. As a child, he and his cousins were fascinated by the machine-driven instrument; as an adult, Metheny kept pondering the possibilities of mechanized music-making.

“ The tech aspect of this is complex to the point where it takes me several hours to explain it to even the most technically oriented and knowledgeable people.”

He wasn’t the only one. Ken Caulkins, another piano-roll buff, founded an “automated music” company called Ragtime West in 1971. Yamaha developed its own twist on the player piano, and introduced the digital Disklavier system, in 1987. A little over a dozen years later, the musician and engineer Eric Singer formed the League of Electronic Musical Robots, a co-operative devoted to the development of robotic musical instruments.

Metheny discussed his own ideas with these and other inventors, and slowly his Orchestrion came together. “Each inventor had a challenge,” he explains, via e-mail. “They first had to get it to work, but then it had to be refined quite a bit to get it to sound not just okay, but great. That was a huge thing for me. Each instrument had major challenges. None of them were easy.”

The robotic tasks varied, from pushing the right amount of air across the top of a water-filled bottle to simultaneously plucking and “fretting” the strings on a guitarbot. Nor was it simply a matter of getting the instruments to play themselves, because in order for the instruments to play together, Metheny and his inventors had to devise a system to keep everything in synch.

Getting all the instruments to agree on a downbeat “down to the sub-millisecond” was, Metheny says, one of the first issues to be surmounted. “Once that was achieved, then it could start to be music.”

As a child, Metheny was inspired by a player piano; his current project is along similar lines, but so complex "it takes me several hours to explain it," he says.

In concert and on his Orchestrion album, Metheny improvises against his robot band. However, that’s not quite the same as improvising against a player piano, where the mechanized end sounds the same every time.

“People are sometimes assuming that ‘it’ is written in stone and never moves while I move freely around it,” he says of his Orchestrion pieces. “That is really not the case. It can be whatever I want it to be, from the most detailed material to something that is 100 per cent improvised, and anywhere in between at will – it is very flexible and open-ended. I feel more like a conductor, but in 3-D.… However, it is always quite good at playing exact things exactly if you choose to do that.”

Precisely how it works, he adds, is extremely complicated. “The tech aspect of this is complex to the point where it takes me several hours to explain it to even the most technically oriented and knowledgeable people,” he writes. “And the word ‘programming’ is not really one that exactly fits what is going on either.”

Nor is touring with the orchestrion especially simple. It takes five hours to set the instruments up, and tuning is just as painstaking. Everything has to be tuned to the vibraphone and marimba, says Metheny, “because they don’t change. That means two pianos, all the stringed instruments – the guitarbots, the pneumatic guitars and bass and whatever I am playing at the time – and the bottles have to go to where the mallets sit, which is just above 440 [Hz].”

That takes “roughly two hours of each day.”

The Orchestrion isn’t Metheny’s first venture into cutting-edge instrument technology. He was a very early adopter of Synclavier guitar synth technology, and also plays a 42-string acoustic guitar called the Pikasso, built for him by Toronto luthier Linda Manzer.

“I had the idea of wanting to be able to have things ringing while being able to add to existing harmonies in different ways,” he says. “I explained what I wanted to Linda, and as she always does, she took the basics of what I wanted and turned it into something of her own that is very special.”

“Special” is an understatement. The Pikasso augments a standard, six-string guitar neck with three additional necks, a second sound hole, and many strings. It also includes a pickup to trigger Metheny’s Synclavier. According to Manzer’s website, the Pikasso took two years to build, and weights 6.7 kg.

“She has been one of my best collaborators and is one of my favourite musical people on the planet,” Metheny adds. “Actually, she and I have been working on something new, but it is taking a long time. I think it will be a really unique sound when it is done.”

Pat Metheny performs with his Orchestrion at Massey Hall in Toronto at 8 p.m. Thursday (416-872-4255).

Queen Latifah Added to Lilith Fair Tour


*Queen Latifah is the latest artist to be added to the all-female Lilith Fair tour, joining a diverse lineup that includes Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Rihanna. The rapper/singer/actress – in theatres this weekend with “Just Wright” opposite Common, is making a return visit to the travelling festival after performing in the first Lilith Fair in 1997. “Queen Latifah’s spirited performances on the original Lilith Fair are still some of the most memorable,” said event co-founder Marty Diamond. “She has had a remarkable career over the past 11 years, from music, to acting to now film production. She is a role model and inspiration to many, and we are thrilled that she is taking the time from her hectic schedule to rejoin the tour.” The tour–which kicks off June 27 in Calgary, Alberta–runs through more than 35 cities this summer, wrapping in mid-August with a show in Dallas (8/16). The lineup will change from stop to stop as the trek moves across North America, with only Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan appearing at every date on the tour’s calendar. Latifah will appear on two dates, in Las Vegas and Detroit. Other acts on the bill include Anjulie, Corinne Bailey Rae, Janelle Monae, Nneka and Norah Jones.

The tour dates are listed below:

June 2010
27 – Calgary, Alberta – McMahon Stadium
28 – Edmonton, Alberta – Northlands Spectrum

July 2010
1 – Vancouver, British Columbia – Pitt Meadows Airport
2 – Ridgefield, WA – The Amphitheatre at Clark County
3 – George, WA – The Gorge Amphitheatre
5 – Mountain View, CA – Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View
7 – San Diego, CA – Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre
8 – Phoenix, AZ – Cricket Wireless Pavilion
9 – Las Vegas, NV – Mandalay Bay Events Center
10 – Los Angeles, CA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
12 – Salt Lake City, UT – Usana Amphitheatre
13 – Denver, CO – Comfort Dental Amphitheatre
15 – Kansas City, MO – Capitol Federal Bank at Sandstone
16 – St. Louis, MO – Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
17 – Tinley Park, IL – First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
18 – Shakopee, MN – Canterbury Park
20 – Noblesville, IN – Verizon Wireless Music Center
21 – Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
23 – Montreal, Quebec – Parc Jean Drapeau
24 – Toronto, Ontario – Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
27 – Cuyahoga Falls, OH – Blossom Music Center
28 – Camden, NJ – Susquehanna Bank Center
30 – Mansfield, MA – Comcast Center
31 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center

Maxwell Looks Forward to Touring with Jill Scott


*Maxwell is calling his upcoming tour with Jill Scott “my dream come true, basically.”

Billboard is reporting that the R&B pair will launch a 20-show run on May 21 in Cleveland. Maxwell ways he will close each night, but is hoping to join Scott on stage at some point during the concerts.

“I would love to. I think it would be great,” Maxwell says. “I think it would be great to create something special like that because she’s just so good, you know? It’s two different shows; she’s got her own look and her own thing she’s doing visually and stagewise, and I have my own thing. But hopefully we’ll be able to overlap the show, somehow. I think people deserve that, something special like that.”

Maxwell says he’s met Scott on several occasions, including a 2008 BET Awards tribute to Al Green and this year’s NAACP Awards, but is looking forward to getting better acquainted during the tour.

“I’m sure we’ll be hanging out and, y’know, she’ll probably teach me what to do on stage, vocally,” Maxwell notes. “I could probably benefit from her wisdom.”

Maxwell’s “BLACKsummers’night,” his first album in eight years, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last July, went platinum and has picked up two Grammy Awards. He also made history as the first male artist to score three consecutive No. 1 hits — “Pretty Wings,” “Bad Habits” and “Fistful of Tears” — on the Urban Adult airplay chart.

He predicts that another one or two singles are possible from “BLACKsummers’night” (“Love You” and “Stop the World” are the odds-on favourites), but he’s also putting the finishing touches on its follow-up, “BlackSUMMERS’night,” which he expects to release some time between September and February. He’ll eventually complete the trilogy with “Blacksummers`NIGHT.”

Delhi 2 Dublin Lives 2 Party

www.thestar.com - John Goddard

(May 08, 2010) The last time
Delhi 2 Dublin played Toronto, the fiddle player pulled her dress over her head.

She was wearing enough underneath to stay decent but the gesture cranked the intensity level beyond what seemed possible.

You got the sense that anything could happen at any time with this band, which might explain why Olympic organizers hired them for the final Winter Games blowout — the Athletes Village party after the closing ceremonies.

“The Canadian curlers had just won gold and hockey finished that day,” recalls electronics and tabla player Tarun Nayar.

“Everybody was getting wasted, partying, and there we were in the middle of it all, the only non-athletes there, getting our pictures taken with all the people we had just seen on TV.”

Delhi 2 Dublin is a five-piece Vancouver band that calls its musical style a “mashup,” meaning they cross Irish fiddle tunes with Punjabi dance music, and throw in reggae, dub and electronica for good measure.

They started as a lark. Three years ago, Nayar with a pick-up band of mostly Indian and electronica players were asked to do a St. Patrick’s Day party, giving them the idea to somehow add some Irish flavour to their compositions.

“In retrospect it probably sounded terrible but the energy in the room was so high,” Nayar said by phone a few days ago from the band’s rehearsal studio. “It was one of those moments that told me we might be onto something.”

What the original promoter referred to as “Bombay to Belfast” evolved into the band of the current name.

All are Canadian born. None is Irish. Fiddle player Kytami — one name only — is part Japanese and grew up as Kyla LeBlanc. During Canadian Music Week here in March, the group became the darlings of the “Spotlight on India” program.

“(The organizers) flew in a bunch of Indian music execs and we were definitely the act that I think they were interested in,” Nayar says. “We’re already talking about a tour (to India) in September or December, and music distribution and licensing deals.”

Although they are still building a following in Toronto, with a gig Tuesday at the Drake Underground, the players have already begun to tour internationally.

Last fall they played Taiwan and at the end of this month perform in Hong Kong at Music Maters, Asia’s biggest music conference.

“I think next year we will find ourselves travelling more,” Nayar says. “One of our goals is to play in Europe — our sound would work so well over there.”

In time for the Toronto show, the band has a new CD, Planet Electric, their third in total but second of all-new songs. Their second CD was a remix.

“The big thing is the songwriting process this time around,” says Nayar of the difference between the group’s 2007 self-titled debut album and the new release.

“We actually locked ourselves for 10 days in a cabin on Galiano Island, in the Gulf Islands, and wrote the whole album as a group,” he says. “Some of us came with ideas but we really fleshed out the important stuff over those 10 days and then spent the rest of the year just playing that material out live, fine-tuning what worked and what didn’t.

“The first album, because we had to get it out so quickly, we said, ‘Okay, this on top of this, on top of this, and that’s a track,” he says.

Planet Electric is a lot more representative of where we are and what we’re doing.”

WHO: Delhi 2 Dublin

WHEN: Tues. May 11, doors 9 p.m., show 10:30.

WHERE: The Drake Underground, Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.


Popera Star Katherine Jenkins On The Rise

www.thestar.com - John Terauds

(May 07, 2010) Move over boys, it’s time for a woman to muscle in to the popera pantheon.

Welsh mezzo-soprano
Katherine Jenkins, unarguably the most popular classical-crossover singer in the United Kingdom, is set to conquer the hearts of North Americans weaned on the male balladry of Josh Groban, Il Divo and Andrea Bocelli.

Jenkins’ secret weapon is album no. 7, Believe, which was released here by Warner Music on May 4. Although it is not yet official, we can look for a Toronto stadium concert before the year is out.

In town to promote Believe on Wednesday, Jenkins sang on Canada A.M. and did the media rounds. She admits that it’s a big change to walk anonymously down a Toronto street when, back home, she is stalked by paparazzi.

But her profile here is likely to rise quickly. Jenkins has that special charisma that separates true stars from us mere mortals.

The tractor beam of her huge, grey-blue eyes grabs me even before we’ve shaken hands. Her eyelashes would be the envy of any Church St. drag queen. Her smile is a cup of summer sunshine.

Best of all, this 29-year-old diva with 4 million record sales to her credit, is a charming, down-to-earth individual who has not forgotten her working-class roots in Neath, a town of 45,000 near the south coast of Wales.

Jenkins’ personal story — first adult song learned at age 4, anointed Welsh Choirgirl of the Year by the BBC, scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London won at 17, offered a 1 million-pound ($1.53 million) recording contract by Universal four months after graduation — reads like a fairy tale.

“It doesn’t happen to someone like me, from my background,” says Jenkins. “That’s why I didn’t believe it. I didn’t even tell anyone that I’d signed this record deal. I thought, if I tell anyone, someone’s going to take this away from me.”

Those first six albums, all of which topped the classical and crossover bestseller charts in the U.K., featured an eclectic mix of opera, art song, Welsh folk and church music, and old pop standards.

Believe, the first product of a new, 6-million-pound (about $9 million) six-album contract with Warner, is aimed straight at global domination.

Enter Canadian-born producer/arranger David Foster, the king of adult-contemporary listening, musical godfather to such stars as Groban and Michael Bublé.

“We both wanted to make an album that was all modern songs but that was still me singing in my style,” says Jenkins of using her classically trained voice to sell generation-spanning pop favourites.

From “Till There Was You” to “La Vie en Rose,” Believe vibrates with Foster’s signature string-orchestra swells and key modulations, building toward a rousing climax. To bolster her popera credentials, Jenkins has included a duet with tenor Bocelli in “I Believe,” as well as with violinist André Rieu (“Ancora Non Sai”).

Rather than being branded a sell-out to schlock, Jenkins hopes her performances can be a vocal bridge between the pop and classical worlds.

“I think most people know more about classical music and opera than they realize,” the singer states. “The average person on the street is aware of the major melodies,” thanks to film and advertising.

“Sometimes we should take away the barrier that makes (classical music) a little intimidating,” the mezzo says emphatically. “I think the music speaks for itself and the people love it.”

The point is made for Jenkins when she sings in the world’s combat zones. Since launching her career, Jenkins has been to Iraq twice, and to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, where British troops go to decompress after their tour of duty.

“Every time I do something like this it turns into the most wonderful thing,” she says, eyes aglow.

“It’s not just the music when you go out there,” she explains. “In my experience, (the soldiers) can’t talk to each other, and sometimes they’ll say something to me that they can’t say to each other. Sometimes, that’s quite harrowing. But you feel like they need that.”

Jenkins is eager to share the power of stardom, as much as the music. “Especially now, when I’ve had some success, I need to give something back. It’s not a one-way street.”

Jenkins' picks

Katherine Jenkins has an iPhone loaded up with music of different genres. Asked for her favourite classical and pop recordings, she offered these two candidates:

Classical: The 1736 Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, sung by Andreas Scholl and Barbara Bonney. Besides actually singing this piece, “Now and again I’ll dig it out and be in complete bliss,” Jenkins smiles.

Pop: “Lady Gaga!” Jenkins bursts out laughing. “We couldn’t be any more different.” The mezzo was surprised to find a serious artist under the outlandish costumes. They were both part of a show for the Queen last fall. “I watched her sound check and, yeah, she knows what she’s doing,” Jenkins says.


KRS-1 is Back in the L.A.B.


*Hip-hop legend KRS-One recently finished production on his appropriately titled EP, “Back to the L.A.B. (Lyrical Ass Beating).  The six-track record will be released through KRSOneline.com. Each song is expected to be a lyrically charged response to some rappers who have allegedly been “disrespectful” to the rapper in recent years, reports TheBoomBox.com.  KRS-One is known for his hot battling skills, reminding new school heads in a 2002 battle against Nelly, that he still has it in him. The veteran rapper released a series of “diss tracks” including “The Real Hip-hop,” and “Ova Here.”
“Back in the L.A.B.” will feature production from Da Beatminerz, Freddie Foxxx, JS-1 and DJ Kenny Parker.  The project will be available for $4.99, but no official release date has been announced.

Usher: Tops Billboard for 9th Time, Called ‘Disrespectful’ by Dupri


*Usher has just scored his ninth No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with “OMG,” his latest single from the album “Raymond v. Raymond.” The track, which features vocals by will.i.am, lifts from No. 6 to No. 1 in its fifth week on the chart. Usher first reached No. 1 in 1998 with the single “Nice & Slow.” No other artist has outpaced his production of No. 1s in that time period. Mariah Carey and Rihanna have the second-most chart-toppers in that span with six each. Usher last held the No. 1 spot for three weeks in March 2008 with “Love in This Club,” featuring Young Jeezy. In other Ursh news… Jermaine Dupri, who executive produced Usher’s 2004 album “Confessions,” has responded to the singer’s accusations that Dupri snubbed him when it was time to record “Raymond v. Raymond.” “I didn’t really want to be executive producer of Usher’s projects after ‘Confessions’,” Dupri told Vibe. “You sold more records than any other artist in this decade based on that album and now I have to ask Usher, ‘Am I the executive producer of your next album?’ That seems disrespectful to me. “As a producer, it’s kind of hard for me to go back into people’s projects when I gave you your biggest album ever. …I don’t feel like I’m supposed to ask to produce anymore. People are supposed to come to me and tell me that I’m the executive producer. That’s why I get more kicks working with younger artists.” Despite his comments, Dupri co-wrote the track “Foolin’ Around” on “Raymond v. Raymond.”

No More Albums for Janet Jackson, Just Singles?


*Janet Jackson said she is through with recording full-length albums and will focus on putting out singles and securing quality acting roles for the remainder of her career – this according to her ex-boyfriend and producer Jermaine Dupri. “I can tell you that she’s not working on an album. We just did the one song ‘Nothing’ for the ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’ soundtrack,” Dupri tells Vibe. “Last time I heard she really didn’t want to do an album. She wanted to just do singles every once in a while. She’s looked at the marketplace – albums are not really doing what they usually do when you put all this budget out there. Janet is just trying to figure out her landscape.” Dupri says his former girlfriend’s future in film looks promising. “She has a lot of work going on that’s keeping her in the right direction,” he says. “The movie came out, which is the biggest Tyler Perry movie he has had thus far. It looks like her star power as an actress is still there. And she’s about to do the other movie, ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf’ with Mariah Carey, Kerry Washington and Whoopi Goldberg.”

Video: Sade Turns Housewife in Clip for ‘Babyfather’


*Stop the presses. Sade has her hair down and is washing dishes in the new Sophie Mueller-directed music video for her latest single, “Babyfather.” She’s also doing laundry and making Jello in the clip, her latest release from the “Soldier of Love” album. Meanwhile, a bunch of children (a.k.a. “flowers”) play just outside of her window. Flowers are a running theme throughout the video, which ends with Sade serving her Jello to all of them through a vending truck and driving off. Watch the video below.


Lady Gaga Unveils 2011 Tour Dates

Source: www.thestar.com - David J. Prince

(May 10, 2010) Lady Gaga has yet to embark on the North American leg of her 2010 Monster Ball tour, but she's already looking ahead to next year. With most of this summer's dates sold out, the singer will return in 2011 for a run of arena dates starting February, tour promoter LiveNation announced Monday. The 2011 North American Monster Ball Tour is set to kick off Feb. 19 in Atlantic City, with 10 arena dates confirmed through April 18, including a March 3 stop at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. (Tickets go on sale Monday, May 17 through Ticketmaster and LiveNation.com.) Additional dates are expected. Semi Precious Weapons, which is set to open all 2010 dates, will continue with the tour in 2011. Tickets for the 2011 shows go on sale May 14 at LiveNation.com. Additional information can be found at LadyGaga.com. The 2010 North American Monster Ball Tour begins June 28 in Montreal and continues until Sept. 19 in Raleigh N.C. Gaga is also one of the headliners of this summer's Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago, and will appear at Carnegie Hall on May 13 with Sting and Elton John as part of the annual Rainforest Fund benefit concert. Although Gaga's 2009-2010 North American tour was also dubbed the Monster Ball, the star promises an expanded production built to suit the larger venues.

Video: Mary J. Blige ft. Trey Songz – We Got Hood Love

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 11, 2010) *Mary J. Blige has just released the video for ‘We Got Hood Love” feat. Trey Songz, the next single from her album “Stronger With Each Tear.” Directed by Chris Robinson, the clip follows three feuding couples who eventually kiss and make up. While Songz and his love interest filmed their scenes at a New York apartment, Blige and her on-screen lover, Buffalo Bills’ player George Wilson, shot their altercation in Miami. Wilson told the Buffalo News about his experience with Blige: “I just played off her. If she jumped down my throat, in my mind I’m saying, ‘Say something. Come back, come back,’ because all we really had to do was argue. They had the music playing over us, so it was definitely a new arena for me. I’m used to having my jersey and helmet on. “But to have them off and be in front of the camera and be working with an icon like Mary, I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game like you have to on the field. I wanted to make it seem like I was as comfortable as possible so that when you see the video hopefully I don’t look like an amateur.”


Apollo Begins Installing Walk of Fame

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 11, 2010) *New York’s Apollo Theater began laying down its own Walk of Fame today with plaques that will honour entertainers including late singers James Brown and Michael Jackson. The famous Harlem venue had been celebrating its own Hall of Fame list of legends every year, but on Monday began installing bronze rectangular plaques on the sidewalk outside the theatre – with Smokey Robinson and Ella Fitzgerald joining Brown and Jackson among the honourees. “I started out at the Apollo and it will always be a home to me,” Robinson, 70, said in a statement on being named in the first group to have plaques installed. “For me to have a plaque honouring me in front of the Apollo Theater is one of the proudest achievements in my life.” Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin plaques will be laid down when their names are inducted into the theatre’s Hall of Fame next month. In recent years, the theatre has served as a place for thousands of fans to honour both Jackson and James Brown after they died.


Jay Baruchel’s Best Year Ever

Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard

(May 12, 2010) “This could be the best year of my life,” Jay Baruchel says with the unabashed passion that seems to weave through any conversation with the Canadian actor.

Is he talking about his starring role in the new teen comedy The Trotsky, opening Friday? Or maybe it’s the critical kudos he’s racked up voicing Hiccup in the DreamWorks blockbuster How to Train Your Dragon? Or perhaps it’s the soon-to-be released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where he stars opposite Nicolas Cage in a big-budget flick considered one of the summer tent pole releases?

For Montrealer Baruchel, who calls his beloved Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood “my home; my heart,” everything in his professional life takes a back seat to one thing: hockey. As he chatted with the Toronto Star in a boutique hotel dining room Tuesday, proudly wearing a Habs shirt with Michael Cammalleri’s name and number on his back, he predicted he’ll be inking a Canadiens tattoo if the boys bring home the cup.

“First Canada won (Olympic) gold and now the Habs have gone farther that they have since the last time we won the Stanley Cup,” says Baruchel, who adds just fantasizing about a future Habs win moves him to tears.

He shares that fact with a shy grin that doesn’t conflict with his earnest posture. Intense and something of a nervous cat, Baruchel is given to jittery gestures like playing with the Celtic cross tucked inside his shirt. But there’s something very charming and genuine about him. We spoke last fall during the Toronto International Film Festival and he made the same impression: He’s the least actor-like actor you could meet.

He’s a guy who values simple pleasures — he’s excited about getting the grass seed down and the screens up on the Montreal home he shares with two of his best friends from childhood in the same neighbourhood where he grew up. He calls himself “Mr. Domestic” and has a tattoo of his mom’s maiden name on his forearm. And he says one of the few regrets he has had in his career was that he was so rarely able to work in his beloved Montreal.

That changed with The Trotsky. Written and directed by Baruchel’s boyhood pal Jacob Tierney, it’s the story of Montreal high school student Leon Bronstein, who is convinced he’s the reincarnation of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. He believes it’s his destiny to spread reform to the masses — or at least to the halls of his school. The movie also stars Geneviève Bujold, Colm Feore and Emily Hampshire.

“It marked the first time I got to work at home in 10 years,” Baruchel says. “It’s been a hard pill to swallow, for all the success I’ve been able to have in the States and all the cool movies I’ve gotten to make. . . I couldn’t get arrested in Quebec. The Anglo community kindly took ownership of me. I’m still in the same neighbourhood I grew up in and there’s tremendous goodwill there. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago when I was doing kids’ shows and everybody was trying to kick my ass.”

Baruchel was wary of playing Leon at first, even though he loved the script and found the character “hilarious.” But he was 27 — 10 years older than the teen he was to play onscreen — when production on The Trotsky began.

“I had thought I was done playing teenagers and I probably am now, but when I read Leon, it didn’t matter what age he was. He was the dude, whether he was 50 or 17 or 100. He’s an iconoclast and he’s appropriate to no generation or setting whatsoever. He exists on his own plain of reality, not unlike Ferris Bueller.”

John Hughes’s 1986 classic comedy starring Matthew Broderick as the king of the slackers is “my favourite No. 1 or No. 2 movies of all time,” says Baruchel. “I know everything there is to know about that movie and I know Broderick was 10 years older than Ferris and that was the same age difference I had playing Leon.”

Tierney advised Baruchel to play Leon as “earnest, genuine, committed and authentic; without a moment of pretense or hesitation.” He said that got him “75 per cent there,” but the rest came the day he first put on Leon’s Trotsky-inspired wardrobe. The skinny tie, hedgehog hair, owlish glasses and battered leather book bag did the trick. “I looked in the mirror and suddenly the rest was there.”

No sooner had he finished The Trotsky than Baruchel was off to New York for six months to work on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the live-action reimagining of the segment of the same name starring Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney’s 1940 animated fantasy, Fantasia.

“It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, but I loved it. I got to live in Manhattan and it was lovely, I love it there but I also loved the proximity. I got to go home anytime I had three days off.”

As for working with Nicolas Cage, Baruchel described himself and the actor as “kindred spirits, we’re both kinda outsider guys.”

They have similar tastes in music and comedy — Baruchel says he shared mixes with him.

“We’re both film nerds and history nerds and just nerds. And getting to act with him made me want to be as good as I could be. He’s a character actor who has become a movie star, and if I am ever going to be the lead, I’ll be in that situation. If I can be one of those guys, that’s the dream.”

Baruchel was similarly excited to make a kids’ movie that has had such success, voicing Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. It was no quick gig; he started working on recording the character in 2007 while shooting Tropic Thunder.

“It was a wonderful movie and I cry every time I see it,” Baruchel says of Dragon. “I’m as proud of it as I have been of anything and I’ve gotten to give this to kids. It’s the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen and it’s super exciting and funny, and it’s an awesome f---ing movie.”

But as much as he loves Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and flying on dragons (and his Habs), Baruchel’s real passion is for horror flicks. He’s just finished shooting one in Montreal with Tierney that he predicts “is going to be a hell of a thing.”

Called Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, it’s based on Chère voisine, by Québécoise writer Chrystine Brouillet, and Baruchel stars alongside Scott Speedman and Emily Hampshire. He hopes the movie will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

“I go so far as to say it probably contains the most gruesome death scene to come out in any movie this year. And I don’t say it lightly,” he says with pride. “There’s a lot of killing in our movie. There may be movies that are gorier but there won’t be others that are more brutal.”

Tierney set the action in a brownstone apartment in their Notre-Dame-de-Grâce ’hood where they both grew up, and the movie centres around a kind of love triangle. “We all have our secrets,” Baruchel says cryptically of the characters.

And then there’s Pig, the movie Baruchel hopes to finish in the next two or three years. He’ll be directing the story set in an American city where four black teens are hunted by a white cop.

“It’s going to be a controversial f---ing movie,” Baruchel says with delight. “My mother is really, really worried.”

“My writing partner and I are creating that with relish right now,” he adds. “All of this, all of my acting is a means to making this happen. It’s the culmination of my life’s work.”

Robin Hood Tops A Short A-List At Cannes

Source: www.thestar.com - David Germain

(May 11, 2010) CANNES, FRANCE—Hard times for the economy. Hard times for the Cannes Film Festival, at least in terms of splashy Hollywood films for which the world's most prestigious cinema showcase is known.

Cannes opens Wednesday with Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Ridley Scott's "
Robin Hood," one of the few A-list premieres at this year's festival, whose line-up has an undercurrent of economic themes.

The timing of Cannes could not be better for "Robin Hood." The movie opens theatrically Wednesday in France and elsewhere over the next two days, including the U.S. debut Friday, so the media frenzy as Crowe and Blanchett strut the Cannes red carpet is great publicity as it tries to compete with current blockbuster "Iron Man 2."

"It's an honour, but it's also bloody useful. Everything today is marketing. You've got to get positioned really fast. You better establish yourself in that opening week," said director Scott, who was not attending Cannes because of recent knee surgery. "We're very happy to be opening Cannes, because it's such an enormous venue and helps get your film out there."

Along with "Robin Hood," starring Crowe as the roguish archer battling medieval robber barons, Cannes offers a first look at financial wolves of our own times with Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," the follow-up to their 1987 hit "Wall Street."

The 12-day festival also features director Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job," a documentary narrated by Matt Damon that examines the causes of the economic meltdown. The Directors' Fortnight, a line-up of films outside the festival's main program, also features Jean-Stephane Bron's "Cleveland vs. Wall Street," about a lawsuit against mortgage bankers the city blames for devastating real-estate foreclosures.

Stone's "Wall Street" follow-up brings back Douglas' corporate raider Gordon Gekko. After getting caught in the first film, Gekko did eight years in prison, wrote a memoir and now is itching to get back into the trading game from which he is barred.

Set amid the financial chaos of 2008, the new movie is not simply the further adventures of Gekko but a story about the runaway train Wall Street has become since the first film, Stone said.

"Our movie goes beyond. We're not really chasing the movie, because it's 22 years later," Stone said. "We're trying to bookend it and say this is a new 'Wall Street,' this is 'Wall Street 2.' This is another time and place. Things have changed, and millions of dollars have now become billions of dollars."

The new "Wall Street" co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin and Frank Langella, and it features a brief appearance from Charlie Sheen, reprising his role from the original.

"Inside Job" is a nonfiction counterpart, chronicling the long prelude of greed and excess before the economy went bust.

"A gigantic crisis was a quasi-inevitable result of the emergence over the last 30 years of investment banking as an unregulated, out-of-control, criminal industry," director Ferguson said. "As the industry grew and became wealthier, became more powerful, it progressively disabled all the alarm systems and corrupted all the people and institutions that should have restrained it and did restrain it prior to the 1980s."

Brolin also co-stars with Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Freida Pinto in Woody Allen's ensemble romance, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," which premieres at Cannes. Watts has another Cannes entry, co-starring with Sean Penn in Doug Liman's "Fair Game," in which she plays CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked by officials in the Bush administration.

"Fair Game" is the only film by an American director among the 19 competing for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize. As many as five American films have competed in past years, and festival director Thierry Fremaux said he hopes the scant American presence will be temporary.

"The Cannes Film Festival must show more American films," said festival director Thierry Fremaux. "That's part of our tradition and part of what we want for the future."

Most of the big-name films at Cannes, including Stone, Allen and Scott's movies, are screening out of competition. Others playing out of competition include Stephen Frears' comedy "Tamara Drewe," starring Gemma Arterton; Diego Luna's child drama "Abel"; and Olivier Assayas' five-hour-plus terrorism epic "Carlos," with Edgar Ramirez.

The competition includes three films directed by past Palme d'Or winners: Mike Leigh's "Another Year," starring Jim Broadbent; Ken Loach's "Route Irish"; and Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy." Also in the running are two films from past winners of the festival's directing prize: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful," with Javier Bardem, and Bernard Tavernier's "The Princess of Montpensier."

The fact that only 19 films are in the festival's main competition indicates that organizers had less to choose from this time. The competition typically includes 20 to 22 films.

"Last year, numerous important directors were at Cannes. This year, most of these important filmmakers are writing or filming — working, in any case," Fremaux said. "The selection process was, therefore, a delicate matter, given the absence of all these filmmakers. The selection is a nice one, one which forced us to use our imagination."

Cannes Film Festival Endures, Come Rain, Shine Or Volcanic Ash

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(May 11, 2010) CANNES, FRANCE - Nothing puts a damper on the party atmosphere like flood waters lapping around your Manolo Blahniks.

Unless it’s volcanic ash hovering above, preventing you from getting to the party in the first place.

Add the persistent cloud and drizzle hiding the usual sun here, and you could say that Mère Nature has delivered a triple whammy upon the 63rd
Cannes Film Festival, which opens Wednesday.

The red carpet outside the Palais des Festivals will be ready for stars Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow and William Hurt to walk upon for the evening fest opener Robin Hood, the adventure saga directed by Ridley Scott (who is a no-show, owing to knee surgery complications).

Workers Tuesday were also busily arranging planters of spring flowers along the Croisette beach promenade, and installing the posters heralding the many films that will screen here over the next 10 days.

They're the normal last-minute arrangements for the world's most prestigious film festival, which this year is also expected to attract the celebrity likes of Mick Jagger, Woody Allen, Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Javier Bardem, Juliette Binoche (this year's poster girl), Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Shia LaBeouf and Jean-Luc Godard, to name just a few.

But in many ways Cannes is reeling, and not in a cinematic way. The Riviera resort town was walloped last week by 10-metre waves, a freak event that caused substantial damage to shops and restaurants closest to the water. Most of the flood has been mopped up, but ugly concrete barriers remain on the Rue Félix Faure that appear to have been used in a vain attempt to hold back the water. The bad weather has also contributed to a reported dip in hotel bookings.

And although "the show must go on" is the watchword, there are noticeably fewer people in town, most likely the result of pesky Icelandic volcano ash, which is once again playing havoc with air travel.

Instead of debating the merits of films that will be showing here, journalists and movie industry players are regaling each other with horror stories of delayed flights and alternate modes of transport forced by the mercurial dust clouds, which were reported heading straight for this region Tuesday, just as thousands of international travellers were supposed to arrive at nearby Nice International Airport.

I spoke to one scribe from Los Angeles who told me of his 36-hour odyssey dodging the airborne ash to get here. He arrived to find the rain that has made Cannes seem even more inhospitable this year.

But he made it, as will likely most people who planned to attend, because this is a festival that can't be missed — although that doesn't stop the usual "death of cinema" headlines that always herald the start of any big festival. London's The Independent offered the cheery "Has Cannes Lost The Plot?" in a weekend thumb-sucker about how the fest has supposedly "fallen out of step with modern cinema."

But the article was more provocative than pertinent, because Cannes endures — it also survived the current economic doldrums and the 2003 SARS outbreak — and this year's films promise to be as eclectic, challenging and satisfying as they always are.

The fest will be bookended by glitzy Hollywood offerings: the genre picture Robin Hood to open and the belated-but-timely Oliver Stone sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps to help close the final weekend.

In between will be plenty of challenging auteur cinema for critics and films buffs to savour. They include the Film Socialisme, the first feature in six years (and very possibly his last) by aging French film lion Godard; The Certified Copy, the first English-language feature by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami; and Carlos, Olivier Assayas' epic biopic of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, a film that will test any cineaste's patience with its running time of a whopping 5 hours and 19 minutes.

This year's official competition also has one of the youngest of celebrated filmmakers, Canadian flag-bearer Xavier Dolan, 21, of Quebec, whose sophomore film Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires) follows his triple-prize debut J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) that premiered here last year.

The Cannes line-up also boasts the latest work of possibly the world's oldest major filmmaker, Portugal's indefatigable Manoel de Oliveira, age 101, who will debut the mystery The Strange Case of Angelica.

The 80-year age span between Dolan and Oliveira speaks to the diversity of cinema, despite the gloomy natural events and the doom-laden headlines that have bedevilled this year's bash.

So does the annual political protest over a controversial selection, which arrived like clockwork Monday.

Italian Culture Sandro Bondi announced he would boycott Cannes to protest Sabina Guzzanti's documentary Draquila — Italy Trembles, which reportedly is critical of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's response to the devastating 2009 earthquake that shook the city of L'Aquila.

There is one confirmed casualty of this year's unsettled environmental and economic situation at Cannes: parties. There will be fewer of them. BBC Films announced it won't hold its annual beachfront cocktailer, an economic move that other firms are likely to emulate.

But that just means people will have more time to concentrate on what Cannes is really all about: the movies.


Peter Howell's Top 10 at Cannes

Here are my Top 10 films to anticipate at this year's Cannes Film Festival, presented in alphabetical order:

Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu): The Mexican master of the splintered storyline (Babel, Amores Perros) travels to Barcelona for the story of a man seeking to save his children, and himself. Javier Bardem stars.

Chatroom (Hideo Nakata): Japanese horror meister Nakata, creator of the original The Ring franchise, returns with a thriller about online manipulation that reportedly chills more than a Facebook de-friending.

Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard): Sure to infuriate at much as it enlightens, but a new Godard movie is always an event — if only to hear the master complain that cinema has gone to les chiens.

Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires) (Xavier Dolan): Quebec wunderkind Dolan again writes, directs and stars, this time in the drama of a ménage à trois that gets frisky in bed and risky outside of it. Can Dolan repeat the success of last year's J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)?

The Housemaid (Im Sangsoo): The sexy thriller of a housekeeper who provides more than cleaning services to her wealthy employer, much to his family's chagrin. This remake of a 1960 film by the same name has some early buzz as a possible Palme d'Or contender.

Robin Hood (Ridley Scott): A fresh and brutal telling of the legend of the woodland hero who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. With Russell Crowe in the title role and Cate Blanchett as his Maid Marion.

Stones in Exile (Stephen Kijak): A documentary on the making of Exile on Main Street, the 1972 double LP the Rolling Stones recorded just up the road from Cannes in a former Gestapo HQ. Many call it the best rock 'n' roll album ever made, even with all the drugs consumed by Keith Richards.

Tournée (On Tour) (Mathieu Amalric): Actor turned director Amalric, who played the most recent Bond villain, travels with a troupe of showgirls across France, in a movie that promise much ooh la la.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone): Twenty-three years after they defined 1980s greed with their "greed is good" drama Wall Street, director Stone and actor Michael Douglas reconvene to take the pulse of the recent bank scandal and economic meltdown. Shia LaBeouf is the raw meat.


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen): Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins head the celebrity cast in the Woodman's latest film and Cannes sighting. It's billed as a story of romance and treachery.


Peter Howell

Vancouver Actor Babz Chula Dies At 63

www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(May 08, 2010) Beloved Vancouver actor
Babz Chula has died after an eight-year battle with cancer. She was 63.

The Genie- Leo- and Jessie Award-winning actor died Friday at her Vancouver home, surrounded by her husband, cinematographer Larry Lynn; her three children and other family and friends.

“It was a beautiful, sunny morning,” says her friend and colleague Ben Ratner. “The sunlight streaming in the window and the curtains blowing in the breeze and Van Morrison was always Babz' favourite and [his] song Into The Mystic was playing. Just as soon as that song started playing, she took her last breath and let herself go. ... So it was very, very peaceful. After eight years of ... so much difficulty it was just a great, great comfort to see her go so peacefully.”

Born Barbara Zuckerman in Springfield, Massachusetts, Chula grew up in Los Angeles and moved to British Columbia in 1971. She had three children, two stepchildren and four grandchildren.

Chula had dozens of roles in film, made-for-TV movies and television series. She was known not just for her talent as an actor, but for her warmth and engagement on set. “In her whole career in the film business she'd treat a production assistant with as much respect as she'd treat an executive producer,” says Ratner, who ran the Babz Chula Lifeline for Artists Society, which raised money for her cancer treatment.

In 2002, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2005, she was diagnosed with an unrelated blood cancer, but continued work.

Among the big names to rally to her cause over the years was X-Files star David Duchovny, who in 2008 offered himself up as a dinner companion on e-Bay, to help raise funds for her treatment.

Chula's final role was in Carl Bessai's film Fathers and Sons, which Bessai has just completed. “She was an actor's actor, a director's actor,” he says. She was a person who loved the creative process; not just reading lines from a script, but creating. And I thought that was awesome; she was inspiring that way.”

A memorial is planned for May 23 at the Granville Island Arts Club Theatre.

Halifax Swimmer Turned Filmmaker Breaks The Waves At Cannes

www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(May 07, 2010) Halifax filmmaker
Noah Pink could probably swim the last few kilometres to the Cannes Film Festival.

The azure waters of the Riviera are warm and inviting, and he used to be a competitive swimmer — he once swam for Nova Scotia at the Canada Games, with the back stroke his specialty. The only sharks in Cannes are the ones at the hotel bars, making deals.

A much more difficult feat for Pink, 27, was landing a screening slot at the festival in the prestigious Director’s Fortnight program. That took a lot of skill, luck and ingenuity, the latter including sneaking into nearby buildings to get aerial shots.

The only thing he didn’t have was an abundance of money. Pink had just two weeks to shoot and just $1,500 to get him started, an amount less that what it costs to rent a top hotel room in Cannes for a single night.

ZedCrew, his 44-minute “feature novella” about a determined trio of Zambian hip-hoppers trying to make their way to New York, is one of only two Canadian films at this year’s Cannes fest, which runs May 12-23. The other is Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats), which has a slot in the Un Certain Regard section of the official selection.

Pink is following a long tradition of Canadian filmmakers who have used the auteur-driven Director’s Fortnight as their entrée to Cannes. Dolan’s debut film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), bowed last year in the Fortnight (or the Quinzaine, as it’s commonly called), and won three awards there. Other Canuck filmmakers who have brought films to the Quinzaine include Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand and Denis Villeneuve, this year’s big Genie winner for Polytechnique.

“We’re kind of humbled by it,” writer/director Pink said from hometown Halifax, where he and cinematographer Christopher Porter did post-production on ZedCrew. The two share production credits.

The fact that Pink even has a film at all to take to Cannes is no minor miracle. He had little money, no cast, no camera and only a partial script for ZedCrew when he travelled with Porter to Lusaka, Zambia last spring, ostensibly to shoot a corporate documentary for a Zambian brewing company. Pink pays the rent at home making corporate docs.

Pink had an idea to shoot ZedCrew in his spare time while in Zambia, using the single camera that he rented. The film’s story — about three determined and desperate hip-hop stowaways — was based on a newspaper article he’d read in Halifax about immigrants smuggling themselves to North America inside the giant rectangle containers used in the transport industry. It’s dangerous way to travel — migrants risk dehydration, starvation and suffocation — but it happens all over the world.

The doc that Pink was making for the brewery was about trucking safety, a major issue in Zambia.

“Road accidents are like the No. 3 or No. 2 killer in Zambia. So we hooked up with the head of transport for the brewing company and then asked him at the end of the documentary if he’d mind letting us just come in on a Sunday to shoot the containers.

“He said ‘no problem,’ so everything kind of worked together. A lot of the travelling scenes you see in the film were shot because we were shooting the documentary.”

Casting was even more fortuitous. ZedCrew is the dramatic saga of a hip-hop trio lead by real-life Zambian rhymer Alvin Fungo, whom Pink discovered online

“It was totally serendipitous. It started out with me just Googling Zambian hip-hop artists and then making a list and then going through them one by one, whoever had a MySpace page. I was just reading articles and all that kind of stuff online.

“I found his website and his music automatically connected. I knew it was above and beyond everything else that was being put out. And so I contacted him through MySpace — I had to set up my own MySpace account first — and then he got back to me and then we met a few days later.”

It must have been a very odd meeting: a Canadian from Halifax approaching a Zambian hip-hopper who had no previous acting experience about making a movie that was still just a glint in Pink’s eye. But the two clicked and Fungo helped him get the other cast members.

“The first time we met, I hadn’t completed the script,” Pink admitted.

“So I went there and I had the story mapped out in my head and I said, ‘I have this story idea I want to talk to you guys about. Do you think we could pull this off? Is this something you could relate to?’

“And they said, ‘Yes.’ I think it’s kind of the dream and also the reality of friends and people they know and also how people there think of America. It’s a place so far away, it almost becomes its own reflection of their own hopes and aspirations. That, to me, was interesting and they understood that idea.

“So it was really kind of a collaborative effort. It was never one guy telling the other guy ‘This is what the story is.’ Obviously, they helped translate the script. In many ways, it was a very collaborative effort. We all felt we had a piece of it.”

The collaboration included the use of Fungo’s music, which gives ZedCrew the feel of such musical landmarks as The Harder They Come.

“I really think that without his music, this movie wouldn’t be what it is,” Pink said. “His performance and his music are the heart of the story.”

Pink may have been making ZedCrew on the fly, but he was no amateur and no stranger to Africa. His 2007 comic short Bad Day, Good Day, Bad Day, also lensed by Porter, screened at festivals around the world, winning several prizes.

He also recently won a Canadian People’s Choice Award from CBC Radio 3 for Red Song, a 2009 video he directed for the East Coast rock band Hey Rosetta!

In 2006, he directed Wings of Hope, a doc about a former “lost boy,” a Sudanese war genocide refugee, who had settled in Halifax, but wanted to raise money to build a school back in his home village.

Pink may indeed be a natural at filmmaking, but it wasn’t really part of the plan growing up. He got involved in swimming early on, and went to the University of Pennsylvania for four years to pursue his athletic interests. But he decided it was time get out of the water and to do something on dry land.

“I wasn’t going to have a future in swimming because I wasn’t that good!” Pink said, laughing.

Pink has gone where waves of fate have carried him. Even his decision to make ZedCrew the odd length of 44 minutes — he calls it a “feature novella” because it’s neither a conventional short nor a feature — is largely the result of happenstance.

Chances are they might have tried to get into a North American festival like Sundance or SXSW if they had a movie that was either a regular short or feature.

“We were told that it would be difficult to get into festivals in North America because of the length, but Europe might be more accepting of its length.”

You can say that again. Pink and Porter are on their way to France, and while Pink has a feature in mind for his next project, the two may decided to revisit ZedCrew and shoot a few extra minutes to get it up to the 70 or 80 minutes expected of a feature.

They just have to hope that their spontaneous filmmaking style continues to work for them. So far, so very good.


Tarantino To Head Venice Film Fest Jury

www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(May 06, 2010) MILAN—The
Venice Film Festival says Quentin Tarantino will head the jury that will award the coveted Golden Lion at this year's festival. The festival called the director “one of the major creative figures in contemporary cinema” in an announcement of his appointment on Thursday. It runs from Sept. 1-10. The festival cited Tarantino's highly original filmmaking style, work as a character actor in such moves as Sukiyaki Western Django, films that have launched and relaunched acting careers and his dedication to young filmmakers in his work as a producer. Tarantino has directed such films as Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill movies. The festival says Tarantino is “perhaps the only American auteur to be adored world wide like a rock star.”

Terrence Howard To Play Nelson Mandela In Winnie


Terrence Howard will portray South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela opposite star Jennifer Hudson in director Darrell J. Roodt’s “Winnie.” Shooting begins May 31st throughout South Africa, including Johannesburg, Capetown, Transkei and Robben Island, according to Variety. Toodt directs from a script he co-wrote with Andre Pieterse and Paul L. Johnson based on author Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob’s biography of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela. Hudson was previously announced as the actress tapped for the title role. Unlike her ex-husband who has become universally deified, Winnie is a more complex figure. A controversial activist who was a key component in the anti-apartheid struggle, she later fell out of favour due to her hardline approach and was later convicted of charges in relation to the torture and murder of a 14-year old police informer by one of her bodyguards.

RZA Puts Up His ‘Iron Fist’ for Universal

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 12, 2010) *Wu-Tang Clan founder and martial arts fanatic RZA will star in and direct a new action-adventure for Universal set in feudal China. Titled “The Man with the Iron Fist,” the film will feature the rapper/producer as a blacksmith who creates weapons for residents of a Chinese village who are required to fight against dangerous forces. “RZA has imagined every tribe, every fighting style, every costume. He knows kung fu like I know horror,” said director Eli Roth (“Hostel”) to Deadline New York. Additionally, Roth told the film blog CHUD: “RZA’s script is amazing. He has been studying directing with Quentin Tarantino for years, and he’s really ready to get behind the camera. His impact on rap music and hip hop culture cannot be measured, and he’s ready to add his own unique style and vision to the world of film. This movie will have everything martial arts fans could want, combined with RZA’s superb musical talent. This project has been his dream for years, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. And fans should know that yes, there will be blood … This ain’t no PG-13.”

::TV NEWS::\

CBC Wants To Bring Canadian Talent Back Home From L.A.

Source: www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar

(May 10, 2010) Home is where Heartland is. Or possibly the next Little Mosque on the Prairie, but Canada’s national broadcaster is also looking outside the country to find it.

CBC’s arts and entertainment program team was in Vancouver on Monday and plans to be in Los Angeles later this week to meet and ask for pitches from Canadian writers, directors and producers.

“The message has been getting out,” said Kirstine Stewart, the CBC’s executive director of network programming. “We are open for business. We are the only people who make Canadian prime-time series and we’re looking for the best of the best. It’s really kind of a talent scouting trip.”

Populist CBC shows such as Being Erica, Dragon’s Den, Battle of the Blades and Death Comes to Town have helped the public network’s ratings. Stewart made a similar talent tour when she first took her job four years ago, and she thinks it’s time to attract more creative people to help her figure out what should come next.

Being Erica star Erin Karpluk, a Vancouver resident, was helping to sell to CBC’s story in British Columbia on Monday. Her show’s international success — Being Erica is credited with adding half a million viewers for the Soapnet specialty network in the United States — can help persuade top Canadian writers and producers who have been concentrating on the U.S. television market to look at the CBC in future.

“These people can’t really see what we’re doing, as they tend to be focused on the U.S. market,” Stewart says. “So we need to introduce ourselves and say, ‘You know that show Being Erica on Soapnet? That’s actually from us. Or you know, The Tudors that you see on Showtime? That’s actually from us.’ ”

According to some Canadians working in L.A., it won’t be a hard sell.

“You know, it may surprise some people to know how well respected Canadian programming is down here,” says Donald Martin, a Canadian writer who has worked in California for more than a decade.

“People are very much aware of Being Erica and a lot of CBC’s programming,” says Martin, who lives in Los Angeles, but also keeps an apartment in Toronto.

In 2008, he worked with CBC on a Céline Dion made-for-TV biopic, and he thinks it’s a good idea that the public broadcaster is trying to attract talent in Hollywood.

“I think it makes good creative sense, and makes good business sense, because a lot of the Canadians in Los Angeles are people who are doing very well, in whatever medium that they are in,” he says. “I think it’s helpful for Canadian broadcasters to get that kind of experience and have it brought back home.”

He’s looking forward to the event this week and hopes to learn more about what the CBC is looking for.

Stewart says the CBC also caught the interest of several “big names” in the U.S. when it brought back the Kids in the Hall comedy troupe last year to produce the Death Comes to Town series.

It’s too early to say what might come of that, she says, but their interest helped to set her sights a little higher.

“What is the next iteration? What is the next step in what people want to see reflected on their public broadcaster? Now that we have had some success in building a basic kind of audience, and a basic relationship with the public, we’re looking for where we can go that might be a little more experimental, or a little more interesting.”

Omari Hardwick: The ‘Kick-Ass’ Interview with Kam Williams


*Born in Savannah, Georgia on January 9, 1974,
Omari Hardwick was the second of four children blessing the union of Clifford and Joyce Hardwick.

The family moved to Decatur where Omari excelled in athletics and established himself as a standout, eventually earning himself a college football scholarship.  

Although he had demonstrated a certain flair for the dramatic early in life, it wasn’t until his junior year at the University of Georgia that Omari that he began his formal training in acting. While there, he joined the Athens Theater Company and eventually starred in a number of plays including August Wilson’s “Fences.”

Soon after graduation, a knee injury cut short his plans for a pro football career. Omari then decided to focus on acting full-time and headed to New York City to hone his skills on the stage before making the move to Los Angeles. After years of perseverance, Omari finally landed a breakout role when Spike Lee cast him as Dante’ in Sucker Free City.  

Omari’s showbiz career has benefitted from a steady rise ever since, with the versatile thespian exhibiting an enviable acting range in such films as Miracle at St. Anna, Next Day Air, The Gridiron Gang, The Guardian and Beauty Shop. And among his upcoming offerings are The A-Team, For Colored Girls, Bolden and I Will Follow. Meanwhile, he’s also appeared on TV shows like CSI: Miami, Crossing Jordan and Saved, and he currently co-stars opposite Dylan McDermott on TNT’s gritty, cop series Dark Blue.

Here, Omari talks about his controversial new movie, Kick-Ass, the adaptation of the Marvel Comics series which opened up in the #1 spot at the box office.

Kam Williams: Hey, Omari, nice to meet you, and thanks for the time.

Omari Hardwick: Same here.

KW: What interested you in doing Kick-Ass, such a controversial film?

OH: It was the controversy itself which interested me. I already was a fan of [director] Matthew Vaughn from his collaborations with Guy Ritchie on Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. I met with him early on in the process and appreciated his creative vision. My interest definitely revolved around how an 11 year-old girl would be a superhero and potentially train my character in the sequel. So, of course, I salivated at the opportunity. It was definitely a bold pick, but I had a lot of fun working with a young genius in [co-star] Chloe Moretz. Plus, she’s from Georgia, I’m from Georgia, so everything lined up.

KW: What was your main challenge in doing this film, the action sequences?

OH:  I wouldn’t say it was the physicality, having come to acting from the world of sports. The main challenge was just the scheduling, really, because my TV show, Dark Blue was taking off at the same time, and this was being shot in London for the most part, and then also in Toronto. There was a lot of travel involved and scheduling conflicts, but I had to do it, so I figured a way to get it done.  

KW: Were you surprised when the picture was #1 at the box office? I loved it, and said in my review that it’s the best comic book adaptation since The Dark Knight. It’s also the best blockbuster I’ve seen this year so far.

OH: Man, that’s very humbling for me to hear you say that, Kam. I knew that it would do well, but I didn’t expect this kind of initial reaction. It’s definitely the Pulp Fiction of its day, only with kids.

KW: Laz Lyles was wondering whether you had any pre-conceived notions about what Kick-Ass would be like, and if going into a project with ideas about it tends to prepare you or hinder you?

OH: That’s a great question. I’d have to say it’s a little bit of both. For this kind of film, there was enough vagueness in the script that it left me a little baffled about where I’d fit in and what I’d mean to the film. There were some challenges for me in trying to figure out how to play this guy because, honestly, my character was the only one that was quote-unquote “real.” The rest were sort of fantastical. The major challenge was in figuring out, how do I maintain Marcus’ subtlety and realness while supporting the superhero theme of the movie? But of course I jumped in full steam ahead.      
KW: Larry Greenberg says that you have an amazing acting range, and he wants to know how you go back and forth from shooting a non-stop action film like this to the TV show and then to making For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide without getting whiplash.

OH: I appreciate the compliment. It’s very humbling to hear someone recognize the range that I have, but the whiplash definitely happens. Travel in between work helps, and maybe getting away after a project’s done.

KW: Laz says, since you’re going to be in A-Team, she’d like to know what you think of this resurgence of Eighties action films and if there any you’d like to see the dust blown off of and remade today?

OH: Like anybody who grew up in the Eighties, I cringe at the thought of these movies being remade, because of the corniness and cheesiness of the originals. I hope that in the 21st Century, they’ll be able to eliminate the cheese factor when they redo them. If I could remake any Eighties project, it would be less an action flick than a character-driven drama with a rich story to tell.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, what are your goals as an actor, and where do you want your career to go?

OH: Just to tell the truth in whatever role I do, and not got lost or swallowed up by the scope when I’m in a blockbuster. And I want to avoid being typecast and any obvious comparisons to other actors.    

KW: You don’t want to get pigeonholed.

OH: Right. If I can just be thought of as Omari Hardwick who had a really, really solid career, and whose work is appreciated in its own right, I think that would be a great legacy to leave behind.

KW: Irene has a follow-up. What were the factors and who were the people who made you who are?         
OH: My mom and pop, and my four grandparents who I’m blessed to still have. As an African-American male born with a couple of strikes against you because of your skin color, I think it’s very, very important to have some positive role models around, especially male influences. Fortunately, for me, one was never that far away. I could always just turn to the lefty or to the right, and I had positive grandparents, uncles and coaches. So, I was lucky that I didn’t have to search far for my heroes.    

KW: Yeah, when I interviewed LeBron James, who was raised by a single mom, he credited his coach for serving as an important male influence in his life. Did you see his movie?

OH: LeBron actually invited me to the premiere to play in a celebrity game. We talked and found out that we have a lot in common. That dude was going on 45 at 14 years of age. He’s a great guy and ridiculously mature.


Gandolfini takes shine to Quebec TV series

www.globeandmail.com - Gayle MacDonald

Do you still miss the white terry robe, the womanizing, the panic attacks, and those mafia headquarters, the strip club better known as Bada Bing? Well, Tony Soprano fans may soon mourn no more. Rumour abounded yesterday that James Gandolfini, who took HBO to new heights playing the crime overlord on The Sopranos, is now toying with the notion of returning – in some capacity – to the specialty cable channel powerhouse.

It’s been three years since the show went off the air, but yesterday the U.S. trade magazine Variety reported that Gandolfini is attached to a new HBO series, Taxi 22, about a politically incorrect, Archie Bunker-like cab driver in New York.

Currently, Gandolfini is only confirmed to have signed on as executive producer of the half-hour show, based on the popular French-Canadian series Taxi 0-22, which stars Montreal comic Patrick Huard (Bon Cop, Bad Cop) as the button-pushing cabbie, Rogatien Dubois Jr.

Yesterday, Huard could not be reached. But an HBO spokesperson in Los Angeles stressed the series – in early stages of development by Gandolfini’s Attaboy Films production company – has not even been picked up as a pilot yet.

In other words, it’s sadly way too soon for Sopranos junkies to rejoice that Tony is going to move from the mean streets of New Jersey to central Manhattan.

In Quebec, Taxi 0-22, a single-camera comedy now in its fourth season on TVA, is watched by roughly 1 million people each week.

The Unsinkable Betty White

www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(May 07, 2010) It promises to be the mother of all Mother’s Day shows. The May 8th edition of Saturday Night Live will reunite a half-dozen former female fan favourites (see sidebar), almost all of them moms.

But it’s the eternally maternal guest host who really has people excited. When television icon
Betty White steps onto the SNL stage, no one is quite sure what to expect. Least of all Betty White.

“I have no idea what they’re planning,” the sitcom veteran confessed in a lively phone conference earlier this week.

“But they promised me I wouldn’t have to do any nudity.”

Ba-da-boom, Betty.

It’s hard to say exactly when and where Bawdy Betty began — arguably, back in 1973, when the then quintessentially wholesome White played so brilliantly against type as Sue Ann Nivens, the hot-to-trot “Happy Homemaker” on Mary Tyler Moore, and what was intended as a one-off guest shot quickly became a regular recurring role.

And then, 12 years and two Emmys Awards later, White was re-invented yet again, originally cast as the similarly slutty Blanche Devereaux on Golden Girls, but persuaded instead to take the role of adorably, endearingly naïve Rose Nyland.

(Canadian fans will be spending Saturday afternoon glued to TVtropolis, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., for a Golden Girls marathon of classic episodes featuring St. Olaf’s favourite daughter.)

I would argue that the Betty White Renaissance — the current one, anyway — began with her sweetly scatological monologue on the televised 2006 William Shatner roast, where she ingenuously cross-referenced a very private part of Shatner’s anatomy with the emergent homosexuality of his Star Trek co-star, George Takei.

Now, these things always tend to get a little dicey, taste-wise. But this was Betty White . . . and therefore something akin to watching your grandmother mud-wrestle.

But then, I’m old enough to remember that younger, cleaner, shinier Betty White, back when she was Password’s reigning queen, as colleague and consort to host Allen Ludden, whom she met on the show and was married to, from 1963 to his death in 1981.

That Betty White was the smart, sunny staple of the classic game-show celebrity panel, not only on Password and its subsequent incarnations (Plus, Super, Million-Dollar), but also on To Tell the Truth, I’ve Got a Secret, Match Game and Pyramid, and then as host of her own short-lived Just Men!, for which she won a Daytime Emmy.

And if that Betty White had so much as uttered a “darn” on air, the network switchboard would have lit up like a Christmas tree.

Turns out she was holding out on us. “I’ve always had a bawdy sense of humour,” White allows. “I have no idea what I’m going to say. My mental editor goes to sleep sometimes and I have to watch it like a hawk. And I sometimes I see double entendre where it really doesn’t exist.

“I have fun with it and I try not to hurt anybody. But I have to watch myself carefully sometimes.”

She comes by it honestly. “My father was a traveling salesman,” she explains, “and he would bring jokes home and he’d tell them and they’d never explain them to me. If I got them, that was fine. If I didn’t that was fine. But both my mom and my dad had a wonderful sense of humour. And we would get through some of the grim times (that way). It sure beats the alternative.”

The “bawdy” part is a more recent revelation, one that has made her the go-to geriatric jokester for a whole new generation, for her scene-stealing film and television roles — most recently, The Proposal and 30 Rock — and talk-show shenanigans, from beer pong with Jimmy Fallon (“I almost had him . . . and then he drank my beer!”) to her reciprocal on-air laugh affair with Craig Ferguson.

“That’s been the most fun of anything I’ve done,” she says. “(Craig is) just incredible. He’s a good friend. I love him. The only thing is we can’t ever dare make eye contact when we’re working together, or we both crack up. I don’t know why. We just tickle each other.”

Ferguson is far from her only fan — over half a million signed on to a Facebook petition to have her host Saturday Night. White, a self-proclaimed “technological spazz,” heard about it from her agent.

“I couldn’t believe it. It just came out of left field. I was astounded.”

The inevitable offer came (her second, actually) . . . and was graciously turned down.

“I told my agent to please tell them, ‘Thank you, I appreciate it, but no thank you.’ And he said, ‘No, you have to do it.’ At my age, to be invited to do a show as current and choice as Saturday Night Live . . . he thought would be a wonderful opportunity, a different direction to go in.”

She remained unconvinced. “I’m an old broad,” she laughs. “I said I’d rather watch it than do it. And he said, ‘If you don’t do it, I’ll (dump) you.’

“I love my agent. He’s done a wonderful job for me. I trust his judgment. So here I am, going to do it . . . and I’m scared to death.”

It certainly isn’t the prospect of doing live TV, which White was doing long before even the parents of the current cast were alive.

“I grew up in live television, so that’s no problem,” she says. “I was on five-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, for four years when I started my career in Los Angeles (in 1949, on a local variety show called Hollywood on Television.).”

Even less of an issue, she says, is her age, 88. “I’m blessed with good health and I’m grateful for it. My energy level is very high. So the physical part of Saturday Night doesn’t worry me at all.”

So what is the problem? She thinks for a moment. “It’s an intimidating assignment, let’s put it that way. It’s just the hoping I can do justice to all those other great people who were on there. It’s so New York, and I’m so California, and I’ll feel kind of like a fish out of water.

“But as long as I’m committed to do it . . . I want to make it a fun adventure.”

She already has an idea for that problematic opening monologue.

“They keep telling me, ‘Oh, when you come out for the introduction, everybody’s going to be so excited,’” she says. “And so I would love it if they, you know, they introduced me, ‘Here’s Betty White!’ . . . and then nothing. No applause. No nothing. The audience just stares back at me.

“I think that could be fun.”

Fun, but, much like White herself, highly unlikely.


CBC's Being Erica To Return For A Third Season

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(May 11, 2010) Vancouver — Being Erica will return to CBC Television for a third season.  The series, about an over-educated, underachieving thirtysomething named Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk), who is allowed to go back in time and correct mistakes made in her formative years, has been a critical hit, earning Karpluk a Gemini Award for best dramatic actress last year.  “I think she’s a real girl,” said Kristine Stewart, general manager of CBC Television, when asked about the show’s success. “A real girl with real-life regrets, and that’s something everybody can identify with.”  Stewart made the comments in Vancouver on Monday, where she and other CBC TV programming officials were meeting with writers and producers in an effort to get more dramatic and comedic content out of Vancouver. (They’re also holding a round of meetings with Canadian writers in Los Angeles this week.)  Being Erica will return to CBC Television in October. Twelve episodes have been ordered for season three.

General Hospital Tops Daytime Emmy Nominations

Source: www.thestar.com

(May 12, 2010) NEW YORK, N.Y.—The soap opera General Hospital leads the pack with 18 Daytime Emmy nominations. It was also announced Wednesday that As the World Turns, which has been cancelled by CBS, has 13 nominations. CBS is airing the annual awards show from Las Vegas on June 27. The Young and the Restless has 16 nominations, Sesame Street has 14 and One Life to Live has 13. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will give a lifetime achievement award to Agnes Nixon, a creative force behind many soap operas. One was All My Children, whose star Susan Lucci said Nixon helped create the very fabric of daytime TV. The ladies of The View have a chance to repeat last year’s win as Best Talk Show Hosts. http://www.emmyonline.tv

Tyra Banks to Publish First Novel

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 11, 2010) *Tyra Banks has inked a three-book deal with Delacorte Press for a fantasy series set at an elite school for supermodels. Delacorte, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, said Tuesday that the first novel, “Modelland,” is due in the summer of 2011. The story will follow a girl who tries to maintain her beauty game while navigating the drama brought by the students, who are dubbed “Intoxibellas.” “It’s for all the girls and guys who want a lot more FANTASY in their lives … and some fierceness and magic, romance and mystery, crazy and wild adventures, and yeah, some danger too,” Banks wrote on her web site describing “Modelland.” After retiring from modeling in 2005, Banks launched her day-time talk show, which ends this year. Banks also produces and serves as a judge on the reality show “America’s Next Top Model.” She authored a how-to make-up book in 1998, called “Tyra’s Beauty, Inside and Out.” “Modelland” will be her first fiction book.


Canadian Makes Good In England’s National Theatre

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(May 10, 2010) “ What do the following three men have in common? David Hare, Alan Bennett and Drew Pautz.

They’re all having world premieres of plays they wrote at the National Theatre of Great Britain this season.

What don’t they have in common?

Pautz was born in Toronto.

On the phone from the National Theatre’s offices, a few days before the Tuesday opening of his play, Love the Sinner, Pautz was still not quite able to believe his good fortune.

“I pinch myself, pretty much daily, working at the National. It’s profoundly surreal, to share a place on the bill with such extraordinary writers and one absolutely feels that you’re walking hallowed halls here. But I do imagine I’m going to be caught and kicked out as an imposter at any moment.”

That’s not very likely, because the 38 year-old author is stepping into the major leagues with a highly controversial and accomplished work, which manages to push a lot of hot buttons, including the ordination of gay clergy, and sexual relations between older men in positions of authority and younger men looking to them for guidance.

Pautz sets his play boldly on a large canvas that moves between Africa and England, and takes his themes into the even larger arena of the Anglican Church’s responsibility to change its doctrines to reflect the modern world.

Add a frank level of sexual discussion and what is reportedly a generous amount of nudity, and you have the ingredients for a succès de scandale as well as a potential succès d’estime.

But how did Pautz get from Mississauga, where he grew up, to the heart of the British theatre scene?

His parents were both high school teachers, but they didn’t steer him towards the world of drama. That happened when he was in Lorne Park Secondary School “and I entered the grand tradition of writing plays for the Sears Drama Festival.”

One of his teachers also brought him along to assistant direct on a show at the Rhubarb Festival (Quantum Kumquat and the Chaos Game), where he saw “what a mad delight it could be to work in the professional theatre.”

His next step was the theatre department at the University of Toronto and although “I deluded myself for a while with some vague idea of becoming an actor, I quickly realized that wasn’t where my talents lay.”

A lot of things began to become clear when he worked as an assistant stage manager for Robert Lepage on his legendary 1992 production of Macbeth at the Hart House Theatre.

“That was the single most important thing that happened to me in my youth,” Pautz proudly claims. “I realized that you didn’t have to be just a director or designer or writer or actor. You could be a maker of theatre, that’s what Lepage was.

“He was very friendly and kind to me, but even then, he was extraordinarily busy, with five projects on the go. This was just before he burst onto the world as a major force, but even then you could sense his enormous potential.”

The U of T department was under the leadership of Pia Kleber at that point and Pautz recalls “the inspired combination of major European figures with Canadian heavy hitters who came to work with us. It made a great impression on me.”

Pautz went on to do an MA in literature, but it convinced him that “I was never meant to be an academic and I wanted my future to be in the working theatre.”

But first, he decided to begin “the obligatory greatest hits of Europe tour that most young people eventually take.”

He didn’t get much further than London because, once there, he discovered “a whole new world of theatre that intrigued me enormously,” and began working for a variety of experimental companies as a lighting designer, director and author, finally becoming one of the founding members of The Work Theatre Collective.

In 2007, he made his first major splash as an author, when the English Touring Theatre presented his play Someone Else’s Shoes (a satirical comedy set in Toronto) to general acclaim, and the stage was set for his debut at the National.

And while he loves working in England, “nothing would thrill me more than the chance to see one of my plays done back home in Toronto.”

His next work, still being written is “about the world of philanthropy” and it’s called The Gospel of Wealth.

An Immigrant's Story: Parents Just Don't Understand

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

Written by Norman Yeung
Directed by Keira Loughran
Starring Jeff Yung, John Ng and Janet Lo
At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace in Toronto

(May 11, 2010)
Pu-Erh, Guangzhou-born, East Vancouver-raised Norman Yeung's first full-length play, is about a Chinese-Canadian family dealing with a generation gap exacerbated by a linguistic chasm.

Father (a strong John Ng) speaks Cantonese, but only rudimentary English despite having lived in Vancouver for almost a quarter of a century; Mother (Janet Lo) speaks English a little better than her husband, but just a little.

Their 25-year-old son Raymond (Jeff Yung), on the other hand, speaks English perfectly, but struggles to get more than a word or two out in Cantonese.

Their jobs separate this family even further: Father works in Chinatown, moving boxes, while Mother chops the heads off fish in a factory. Raymond is an actor, struggling of course, a concern to both his parents. They're still very Chinese, while he’s very Canadian – so Canadian, his mother remarks, that he’s moving to the United States.

That's where we come in: Raymond and Father are drinking tea – the pu-erh of the title – before going to the airport, where Raymond is flying to New York to try to break onto Broadway.

Their farewell conversation is not going well: Father and son keep trying to say important things to one another in Cantonese or English, but are met with confused, uncomprehending stares. This opening is hard to swallow. While it is indeed possible that a man and his son might not speak the same language, it seems likely that after 25 years they would have figured that out.

Thankfully, something magic is in the air this morning, and after a few awkward, unbelievable minutes of this, Father and son are suddenly able to understand one another. Communicating without barriers for the first time, they talk about Father's regrets and Raymond's artistic dreams and their differing views on what constitutes hard work. Ultimately, however, it's a discussion rather than drama.

In Pu-erh’s second scene, two years later, Mother, who we haven't seen yet, delivers a monologue in a mix of Cantonese and English about her courtship with Father, who has recently died. (She proves to be a witty companion. “I hope he has a daughter,” she says of Raymond. “Chinese boys are so … numerous.”) In the final, most engaging scene, three years further down the line, Raymond returns from New York and has a confrontation with his mother, who rather than magically speaking English, has been hard at work improving her language skills and has moved on up from the fish factory to working as a receptionist.

In some ways, Pu-erh is a very familiar play, falling into a line of semi-autobiographical drama by Canadians that goes back to David French's Mercer plays in the 1970s, at least. Raymond's family is transplanted from Chinato Vancouver rather than from Newfoundland to Toronto, but the family dynamics are somewhat similar.

Unfortunately, Yeung's play gets too bogged down in wish fulfilment and self-flagellation to be a memorable addition to the genre. Raymond's parents may be a bit overbearing, but are otherwise too unstintingly noble. Their romantic past involves reading banned literature in China, while their lives since immigrating to Canada have consisted of years of back-breaking work raising their son, taking extra shifts to pay for his acting lessons. In other words, they're not very interesting.

Raymond isn't, either, but because he's too one-dimensional in the other way – his defining trait is an exaggerated North American self-absorption. But while the play critiques this, it is absorbed with Raymond as well; his parents aren't even given names in the program.

Keira Loughran’s direction of the production is quite beautiful, however. The action takes place on the face of a clock (designed by Jackie Chau), and when the characters step off of it, they move in a dream of Eastern-influenced choreography. A recurring motif of books in different languages being passed around by the family members is unexpectedly poignant. But this elegiac staging can't make up for the plodding of the play.

Pu-erh continues at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille until May 15. It then runs at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts in Richmond Hill, Ont., from May 21 to 23.  

Please Give: Love, Death And Liberal Guilt

www.globeandmail.com - Liam Lacey

Please Give
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener
Starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Amanda Peet
Classification: 14A

(May 7, 2010) Something that’s often missing from American movies is the middle ground of experience, between the down-trodden strivers in Sundance independent films and the star-driven fantasies that rule the box office. That makes writer-director Nicole Holofcener a rarity for her wry slice-of-life comedies, which both reflect and gently satirize the uncomfortably middle class.

Please Give is the fourth film from Holofcener (Walking with Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money), who got her start as an editor on Woody Allen’s 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters (which her late stepfather, Charles Joffe, produced).

Allen’s influence is perceptible but not intrusive and Please Give is what you’d expect from a smart New York comedy. It’s sometimes precious and arch, but also blunt and witty. Please Give is also a woman’s film, inasmuch as it’s about family, homes and décor and, memorably, body image.

The opening pre-credit scene is a montage of breasts of all different shapes, hefts and ages being placed on a metal tray in a mammogram clinic, which must be a cinematic first. There’s a subplot about a teenaged girl’s desperate search for jeans that fit, another familiar ordeal. Mostly, as the title suggests, Please Give is about neurotic liberal guilt.

Catherine Keener (who has been in all of Holofcener’s films) plays Kate, who runs a used furniture shop specializing in “mid-20th-century modern” furniture, most of which exists in the grey zone between kitsch and classic. Kate and her good-humoured, vain husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), scoop their inventory from the bereaved relatives of recently dead old people and sell it at a sizable mark up. The work is moderately distasteful, but there’s some self-righteous satisfaction in ripping off people who show contempt for their dead parents’ taste in furnishings.

Kate is a sophisticated version of Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer character from Saturday Night Live – someone who can be relied upon to see the tragic side of things. She’s drunk on empathy, handing out Chanel lipstick to the transvestite on the corner, or offering a $20 bill to an affronted African-American man who is merely waiting outside a restaurant for a table. Mentally handicapped people make her weep uncontrollably so they end up having to comfort her.

Meanwhile, Kate’s teen-aged daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), a chubby, truculent 15-year-old with bad skin, wants some of her mother’s charity to begin at home.

Kate’s family lives next door to an ill-tempered, 91-year-old lady, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert, Fran Drescher’s grandmother in The Nanny), whose apartment Kate and her husband have bought, with plans of expansion as soon as she dies. Andra has two granddaughters. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who works in the mammogram clinic, is kind and depressive, and Mary (Amanda Peet), a masseuse and cosmetologist, overtans, overdrinks and can’t help stalking her ex’s new girlfriend.

The two families come together when Kate decides to have a birthday dinner for Andra – perhaps the film’s sharpest set-piece. Andra is rude; Alex flirts with Mary. Mary gets drunk, talks about Abby’s acne and insists on knowing all the details of Kate’s renovation plans when her grandmother dies.

Please Give is a series of such set-piece scenes, a breezy, though not negligible, exploration of the contest between avarice and empathy. The characters are entertainingly contradictory, though in a somewhat predictable way: Nice people aren’t honest, and honest people aren’t nice. The exception is the dutiful granddaughter, Rebecca, but she’s so ground down by responsibility, she’s suspicious of pleasure: Why do people go on about the leaves turning colour?

Inasmuch as the film has a conventional happy ending, it’s about Rebecca’s emergence from her emotional cocoon and the incrementally more healthy adjustment of other characters’ behaviours.

Please Give doesn’t so much end as find a place for the characters to pause, where we leave them. You suspect that, like most of us, they’ll spend the rest of their lives worrying they can never get or give enough.

A Parade Of Delightful Performances

www.globeandmail.com - J. Kelly Nestruck

Waiting for the Parade
Written by John Murrell
Directed by Joseph Ziegler
Starring Fiona Byrne, Deborah Drakeford, Michelle Monteith, Nancy Palk, Krystin Pellerin
At the Young Centre in Toronto

(May 08, 2010) 
Waiting for the Parade, John Murrell's 1977 series of vignettes about five Calgary women on the home front in the Second World War, is getting a light and lovely revival at Soulpepper under the direction of Joseph Ziegler.

Based on interviews Murrell conducted in the 1970s, this slice of social history may creak in places, but it's the rare Canadian play that has been produced regularly since its premiere.

Several generations of our best actresses, including Fiona Reid, Martha Henry, Kelli Fox and Susan Coyne, have had a shot at these roles. Here's how the five currently keeping the home fires burning light up the stage.

JANET (Deborah Drakeford)

The character: The drill sergeant of the home front, this humourless prig keeps the women busy creating care packages for soldiers and preparing for a Japanese bombardment. Her militancy is compensation for the shame she feels that her husband has not enlisted.

The performance: This Little Miss Fascist is a bit of a cartoon, so Drakeford plays her mostly for laughs, with a killer instinct for physical comedy. Still, she drops enough hints at an inner emotional life to make the character intriguing even as Murrell uses her time and time again as the baddie.

CATHERINE (Michelle Monteith)

The character: Catherine is the only one of this group with a husband off fighting in Europe; as his absence lengthens, she gets a job as a trolley girl at a local munitions plant to make ends meet. Loneliness, fear and exhaustion lead her to moonshine – War Widow's Weakness, she calls it – and men.

The performance: Monteith is a go-to gal for vulnerability, but here she excels at painting a picture of resolve and resilience. Her body language is a tad too 21st century, however, and her key drunk scene falls as flat as she does.

EVE (Krystin Pellerin)

The Character: Schoolteacher Eve's jingoist husband is too old to enlist, so he greets her every morning with a hardy rat-a-tat-tat of an imaginary machine gun instead. She is not amused, however, preoccupied with the fates of her Grade 12 boys dropping out to join up and her favourite film actor Leslie Howard.

The performance: Pellerin is charming and affecting in this role, which is a classically Canadian heroine – sentimental and slightly naive, but with a feisty streak and innate sense of what's right. The talented, young comedian pulls off the tricky, technical stuff – comic sobbing, for instance, as much of an acting minefield as drunkenness – and makes you want to cheer as she stands up for herself and, with surprise and mischievous delight, discovers her radical side.

MARGARET (Nancy Palk)

The character: The oldest of these women, widow Margaret has one son off fighting in Europe and another in jail for passing out Communist propaganda down by the stampede grounds. Her life has been reduced to pickles, preserves and prickliness.

The performance: Margaret is both wry and fussy, qualities that play to Palk's strengths as an actor. Where she doesn't succeed, however, is in making us feel her character's throbbing loneliness – a problem, overall, in this production.

MARTA (Fiona Byrne)

The character: Born in Germany, Marta has lived in Canada since she was 9. Her elderly father has been interned – he had a framed picture of Hitler in the basement – and she must endure increasingly frightening harassment.

The performance: Prideful Marta is the meatiest role here, fighting to maintain her allegiance to her father and her country, even as both abuse her. Byrne gives a restrained and detailed performance – her bearing, accent and sense of humour all sit perfectly in a middle ground somewhere between the Rhine Valley and the Rocky Mountains.


While he handles the comic moments deftly, Ziegler's production fires blanks whenever we get to Murrell's more moving and poetic passages. This is Waiting for the Parade as directed by Janet; efficient and focused, but only awkwardly showing any inner emotion.

To be fair, this Canadian classic is the rare war play where no major character dies of anything worse than natural causes. Perhaps its enduring popularity owes something to its bloodlessness. It's worth seeing for the delightful performances, but I can't quite shake the feeling that its ideal audience is a class of Grade 10 students on a field trip, armed with a historical check list.

Waiting for the Parade runs until May 29.

Back From The Brink: Rocker Brings His Story To Stage

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(May 07, 2010) Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll.

The unholy trinity that wrecked so many lives in the latter half of the 20th century came close to destroying
Jake Ehrenreich, the author/star of A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, now being presented by Mirvish Productions at the Panasonic Theatre.

He experienced a near-fatal cocaine overdose while performing in a trendy Manhattan disco, had a shoebox full of numbers of the girls he'd slept with and came close to being picked as a replacement drummer for KISS.

He could have wound up as a statistic, but he pulled himself off the thrill ride in time.

It's a story he hints at briefly in his entertaining stage memoir, but to get the full story, you've got to read his book, which bears the same title, but contains 20 times the material.

“There's a danger that a stage show can get preachy,” Ehrenreich admitted in an interview at the offices of Mirvish Productions, “and I didn't want to do that.”

His book, his life and his play are all marked by the fact that he's the child of Holocaust survivors and, ironically, that made him want to be careful about how much heaviness he was dishing out.

“My goal was to say ‘Life can continue.' and to tell that story with love, humour and music.”

But in between the pages of a book, you can say a lot more and even though Ehrenreich's style remains breezy (more David Steinberg than Saul Bellow), there's a lot of tough stuff that gets revealed.

“The first thing I wanted to do as a teenager,” he confesses, “was to get as far away from the world of my family and the Holocaust as I could. I left school and became a musician.”

But before too many years went by, he was so far down the road to excess that he found himself literally choking during a performance one night, with so much cocaine in his system that he couldn't breathe.

“That was it, I told myself. No more. And that night, I stopped.”

But in a very Ehrenreich move, he took all of his expensive drug paraphernalia and — instead of booting into the nearest dumpster — he brought it into the club that night and gave it to those who were still using.

“I couldn't throw it away, are you crazy? I had the gold coke spoons, the whole thing. Why waste it?”

The same lack of desire to burn bridges was seen in his sex life, as well.

A precocious teen once he got started, he plowed his way through hundreds of eager young women who were anxious to share the bed of a sexy rock drummer in the 1970s and '80s.

“For every girl I met, I'd take the piece of paper I'd written her phone number down on and right a few notes afterwards. ‘Really nice,' ‘Too much trouble.' Stuff like that. Then I'd put them all in a giant shoebox.”

And as his wife, Lisa, found out later, her name was in that shoebox, too, with a note stating “Looks like Roseanne Arquette” added after their initial encounter.

Keeping the shoebox filled with numbers was cheeky enough, but Ehrenreich upped the ante by using it as precursor of Google for his late-night booty calls.

“When I would go out for a gig at night, I'd take out five or six numbers and put them on a list to use later in the evening. A kind of ‘What kind of girl do I feel like seeing tonight?' kind of thing.”

He insists that since his 1996 marriage he's been faithful, but he still has the shoebox full of numbers and at his bachelor party, his friends would read out a woman's name and ask him if he could remember his notes about her.

The rock 'n' roll part was less destructive, but even there, Ehrenreich concedes that he became a drummer for all the wrong reasons.

“There's a lot of power in the drums. Aggressive people play them. They give you a lot of control. ‘Strong and wrong' was my motto if I didn't know the piece we were playing.”

One more thread of mortality in Ehremreich's story and it's a scary one: His mother and two sisters all succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer's and of course, he lives with the threat of it himself.

“Most of the time you're in denial about it, but you finally have to face it,” he claims.

But when offered a test to tell him whether or not he had the genetic marker for the same disease, he declined.

“I decided not to find out. What would I do if I learned I had it? Wouldn't it increase my fear? What would I gain from it?”

Besides, he's already got enough reminders of how life can offer you hints of mortality: that gold coke spoon, those drumsticks, that shoebox full of phone numbers and the grand prize winner — coming from a family who survived the Holocaust.

Calgary’s Becoming Known For Theatre, Dance And Arts Events

www.thestar.com - William Littler

(May 08, 2010) CALGARY—Culturally speaking, Calgary’s image has long been associated with 10-gallon hats, high-heeled boots and anything oil can buy.

Reality, as is so often the case, dictates otherwise, save during a 10-day period (July 9-18 this year) when the Stampede pleads Southern Alberta’s case for incorporation into the State of Texas.

Consider what confronts visitors in the finally snow-free weeks ahead. In the field of festivals alone there are the Calgary Ukrainian Festival, the Calgary International Blues Festival, the Live Stage Urban Arts Festival, the Calgary International Children’s Festival, the Reggae Festival and Global Fest.

Dance attractions range from flamenco to folk to contemporary ballet, with one of Western Canada’s finest ensembles, Alberta Ballet, under the energetic direction of Jean Grand-Maître inspiring even Elton John to offer to collaborate on a mainstage production. The two-hour, million-dollar-plus ballet called Love Lies Bleeding, inspired by Sir Elton’s life and music, with choreography by Grand-Maitre, had its world premiere in Calgary May 6.

Edmonton, which likes to call itself Festival City and likes as well to think of itself as the culturally deeper destination, has valid historical reasons for its attitude. Today, however, Calgary is on the march, passing its northern neighbour in size, mounting even more festivals and arguably supporting more artists as well.

Having recently staged a successful production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Calgary Opera is looking forward to a future mounting—the first in Canada—of the opera our superstar tenor Ben Heppner is currently premiering in Dallas, Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. Earlier this season the Alberta company presented the latest of a number of operas yet to be encountered in Toronto, Mark Adamo’s Little Women.

Under Roberto Minczuk’s direction the Calgary Philharmonic has rebounded from its near-bankruptcy of five years ago to enter a new period of solvent growth, housed in one of Canada’s finest musical venues, the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

And theatregoers who can’t obtain tickets to the Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor’s Communion at the Martha Cohen Theatre these days will find plenty of alternatives at Stage West, Vertigo Theatre, Pumphouse Theatre, the Martha Bell Theatre or a number of other venues devoted to the spoken word. The city has become home to more than two dozen professional theatre companies.

With a budget of $3.75 million, Calgary Arts Development funds about 150 arts organizations annually and small wonder. A recent study put Calgary at the top among Canadian cities in per capita consumer spending on culture.

The city benefits as well from a newish provincial arts policy, Spirit of Alberta, reversing a western Canadian belt-tightening trend in provincial arts support that continues to affect the cities of neighbouring British Columbia.

Not that the avant-garde seems to be especially welcome, as yet. Strolling through the city’s art galleries a visitor finds naturalism habitually trumping abstraction. A recent director of the prestigious Glenbow Museum reportedly lost his job in part because of a declared intention to champion more adventurous contemporary artists.

And yet, there is now an identifiable cultural district in Calgary, with at least a dozen venues occupying prime downtown real estate, and at least a dozen events can be found listed daily on the Calgary Arts Development website.

Walking among the glass-sheathed skyscrapers of the downtown streets one notices, as well, the results of a civic requirement that capital projects contribute one per cent of their budget to public art. Calgary is even slated to build a bridge by the ultramodernist Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

This is, of course, a new-looking city, much of whose history has fallen to the wrecking balls of progress. Although the earliest signs of human settlement date back an impressive 12,000 years, the metropolis of the Bow River Valley became that only in recent decades.

Yes, Calgary now hosts Canada’s second-largest zoo, easily reachable by an efficiently modern light rail system, and the Saddledome plays host to many of the same attractions who appear in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Does this make the city of the Flames and the Stampeders a destination comparable with the city of the Maple Leafs and the Argonauts? Athletically, yes. Culturally, not quite.

And yet, those hats and boots belie a place that has become well worth a visit for reasons other than bucking broncos and business deals. Canada’s foremost piano competition, the Esther Honens, takes place here. One Yellow Rabbit Theatre launched High Performance Rodeo here, reportedly the biggest such festival west of Luminato.

Back in 1887 the British parliamentarian W.S. Caine described Calgary being “as quiet as an English country village.” How times have changed.

Rock Of Ages Stars Have Never Stopped Believin

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(May 07, 2010) Meet Elicia MacKenzie and Yvan Pedneault, Canada’s charmed musical comedy couple.

They both came out of nowhere to grab the leads in The Sound of Music and We Will Rock You, two of the biggest hits in Toronto’s recent history, and now they’re sharing the stage as Sherrie and Drew, the star-crossed lovers in Rock of Ages, the hit Broadway musical which has its Canadian premiere at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on May 11.

And to make things just a bit spookier, their lives bear more than a certain resemblance to the saga of the couple in “Don’t Stop Believin’’ the iconic Journey tune which inspired the whole production and now serves as its roof-raising finale.

Don’t believe me? She’s described as “a small town girl, living in a lonely world” and — not wishing to give offence to the good citizens of either New Brunswick or British Columbia — the Moncton-born, Surrey-raised MacKenzie is the first one to admit that when she hit Toronto, her previous abodes “seemed pretty small towny. It was awfully daunting to be here at first.”

“Living in a lonely world” MacKenzie strikes everyone who meets her as Little Miss Sunshine, but look deep in those liquid eyes and you’ll find a residue of pain that allows her to connect, even at 25, with the deeper emotions in the roles she’s played.

She doesn’t talk about it much, but her parents divorced when she was 6 and she moved with her mother from New Brunswick to B.C. to start a new life. That’s where she first discovered performing “by singing for myself, by myself, learning how to make believe.”

And how about Pedneault? Okay, he’s only a “city boy” if you want to consider Sept-Iles, Quebec, population 25,514, a city. “Born and raised in South Detroit”? Hey, everyone now admits that South Detroit = Windsor = Canada.

But Pedneault himself eagerly agrees that he did his own equivalent of taking “the midnight train going anywhere” when “I set out at 16 to follow my dream of being a singer.”

A stint as very young rock radio host, and some quality time in a band, got temporarily forgotten when he moved from Quebec City to Montreal and started working in the world of musical theatre.

But when he travelled down to Toronto to crash an open call for We Will Rock You, “I knew this was the right direction for me. It’s in my soul.”

So just like in Rock of Ages, the two young wannabes hit the big city, bursting with idealism.

Luckily, the saga of Elicia and Yvan parts company with that of Sherrie and Drew at this point, since both of our kids instantly made it big, getting rave reviews and tons of audience acclaim for playing Maria in The Sound of Music and Galileo in We Will Rock You.

“Yeah, I’m really grateful I didn’t have to wind up as a stripper like Sherrie,” jokes MacKenzie. “I don’t think I could have made it. Sherrie is a much more driven and outgoing person than me. She’s a ballsy chick who knows how to follow her dreams.”

Then where did she get the confidence to convince the New York creative team that she was the right woman for the role?

“I’m an actor,” she says quietly, but firmly. “And I like to think I’m as versatile as I can be.”

Quick flashback to the TV reality show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, which gave MacKenzie her plum role in The Sound of Music.

She always had been what Andrew Lloyd Webber called “a bit of a dark horse” until the week she shattered her goody-girl image by letting loose with a rough, tough and raunchy rendition of ``Cabaret.’’ That other side of MacKenzie was there all along.

As for the ’80s gloss the part required, MacKenzie laughs that “It seems like my stepdad was always listening to Van Halen, while my Mom loved Heart. And I grew up knowing what the stereotype of the ’80s was: one big, long, wasted party.”

Pedneault got his inspiration a little more up-close and personal. “I was born in 1981,” says the 29-year-old actor/singer, “and I had three older sisters. They were my teachers. I would watch them teasing their hair, putting on their makeup, getting dressed to go to parties and playing the music over and over.

“And you have to understand, a lot of French Canadian musical artists have always been loud and theatrical, just like those ’80s bands. It seemed natural to me.”

After his star turn in We Will Rock You, it was a done deal that Pedneault would be asked to audition for Rock of Ages, but he went in hoping to play Stacey Jaxx, the wasted egomaniacal glam rocker.

But Kristin Hanggi, the show’s director, pulled Pedneault aside and asked him to try out for the hero, Drew, instead.

“She told me I had something in my eyes that went with the role,” grins Pedneault.

And so he got the part, just like MacKenzie was cast as Sherrie. But the odd thing, as Pedneault reveals, is that the first time the two of them ever met – onstage or off – was at the final callback.

“I had seen her last performance in The Sound of Music and I knew how great an artist she was,” says Pedneault, “but I wasn’t prepared to meet her in person.”

At this point, the Hollywood fantasy would be that the two of them fell madly in love and were now the hottest of show business couples.

No way. “I believe in like at first sight,” admits MacKenzie, “but I don’t know about instant love.”

And besides, the two of them were already dealing with baggage – good and bad – from their personal lives.

Although MacKenzie talked rapturously all during the lead-up to The Sound of Music about her longtime fella back in B.C. “and how perfect we were for each other,”

she now simply says “I had a boyfriend. It didn’t end up working out. Long distance is no way to conduct a relationship.”

Yes, she “is seeing someone now,” and she’s keeping his name to herself.

But it’s not Pedneault.

He went into We Will Rock You “with a fiancée back home in Quebec,” but she also faded into the woodwork as he fell in love with Kelly Fletcher, the show’s dance captain. They got engaged and are planning to get married in January.

“I have a real life here now,” he says happily.

So there you have them: a gal and a guy who have made it to the top of a very difficult profession at a relatively young age.

Do they have any advice to offer the thousands of would-be Elicias and Yvans out there?

“We sing it every night,” declares Pedneault, “ ‘Don’t Stop Believin.’ ”


Banksy’s Street Art Sets Toronto Abuzz

Source: www.thestar.com - Murray Whyte

(May 10, 2010) It must have felt like old times for Banksy, the otherwise anonymous Brit who’s become the international brand name of subversive street art in the last decade or so. It started as a rumour Sunday: Had Banksy touched down in Toronto? Was it an imitator? A prank?

First, on Facebook, Simon Cole, who owns Show & Tell Gallery on Dundas St. W., posted a handful of photos of Banksy-esque works — cartoonishly grim black and white figures, darkly comic non-sequiturs — on various walls here. Responses were sceptical: “I am not so convinced these are Banksy works . . . are you?” wrote David Angelo. A user called Pe Kenia Grande asked: “Do you think it’s really him? Or just someone trying to promote his movie . . . ”

On Monday morning, less than 24 hours after Banksy’s Toronto pieces appeared, a British PR agent was beating the media bushes with news of Banksy’s latest guerrilla works: “His first in Canada, ever!” she said, repeatedly, in an interview yesterday.

The agent, who asked not to be identified (“technically, what Banksy does is illegal,” she said), was asked if the artist’s sudden appearance might have something to do with the film. Exit Through the Gift Shop, which tracks a frustrated documentarian’s attempt to follow the artist, was released on Friday.

“I think it has relevance, yeah,” she laughed.

Things have changed for Banksy. 15 years ago, he was known only for his cheeky guerrilla paste-ups — an image of two London police officers necking lustily, a little girl frisking a heavily armed soldier — that would appear in British cities overnight, unsigned and unclaimed, leaving bemused confusion in their wake.

But in the past decade, Banksy has gone from street prankster to international multimillion-dollar industry: His work sells to the rich and famous for tens of thousands of dollars each. Last year, in his hometown of Bristol, England, he staged an elaborate museum show, complete with an animatronic sculptures: a riot cop riding a toy rocking horse, a squirming tube of bologna.

He called it “Banksy versus the Bristol Museum,” in an attempt to preserve his outsider status. But Banksy has been on the inside of the culture industry for years. Even his apparent anonymity appears exhausted, having been outed by various sources as a 40ish Bristolian named Robert Banks (his PR rep's response: “No comment.”)

Still, his Toronto touchdown is an event. “If it wasn’t for Banksy, I wouldn’t own an art gallery,” said Cole. His gallery represents a vibrant cross-section of street artists. Before Banksy and Shepard Fairey (who made the iconic “Hope” poster during the Barack Obama campaign in 2008) helped build mainstream popularity for the form, it had no place in the art market.

Banksy’s Toronto work is festooned on walls near Adelaide St. and Spadina Ave., (a dour-looking suit with a sandwich board that reads “will work for idiots”), Church and Front Sts. (two men and a child contemplating a scribbled “BANSKY” in bright purple), and three other locations. Suffice to say that Banksy 2010 is less subversive and more spectacle: on Facebook, Cole’s post had attracted the comment, “Let’s round up the troops and go steal some art,” from a user named Avi Gold.

Banksy’s PR agent confirmed the dilemma: “Once his work goes up, people do take it upon themselves to help themselves,” she sighed. Last month in Los Angeles, a large mural was removed — not easily. “They took the whole side of the building down,” she said.

If it seems an odd fate for an out-there street-art rebel, Cole’s not troubled. “He’s not doing ads for Sony,” he says. “If you’re a graffiti artist, you want to make a living doing graffiti. What’s wrong with that?”


Shooter Fans, Rejoice! Halo: Reach Beta Is Open

Source: www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman

(May 7, 2010) If the streets look a little less crowded these days, that’s because Microsoft Game Studios has officially launched what the company calls the “biggest console beta ever” for its upcoming Halo: Reach video game.

A “beta” refers to a game that’s not quite ready for retail, but stable enough to invite members of the gaming community to put it through its paces. Not only do the developers benefit from feedback, as players will likely find wrinkles that need to be ironed out before the game’s official launch, but it also helps generate more hype for the title.

Concluding May 19, this free multiplayer beta is downloadable via the “
Halo 3: ODST” game disc, and lets sci-fi shooter fans with an Xbox Live Gold account ($60/year) test-drive the Xbox 360 exclusive. (Note: those with the free Xbox Live Silver account can play for free from May 14 through May 17.)

Bungie Software’s standalone prequel features a darker story that takes place in the year 2552, when mankind is at war with the Covenant, an alliance of militant alien races, on a human-occupied planet called Reach. You star as a member of Noble 6, a team of Spartan soldiers, commissioned to protect the vulnerable colony.

The beta, however, focuses on the game’s online modes, and testers can partake in a few different solo and team-based match types — including a popular four-on-four Team Deathmatch Arena mode. On May 14, Bungie will add a fourth option that focuses on much bigger Spartan vs. Elite battles in a match type called “Generator Defense.”

Before each match, players can choose from four ability types: Scout (quick sprinters), Guard (force fields), Stalker (high-tech camouflage) and Airborne (jetpack access). New weapons include the Needler Rifle (a cross between the alien Needler and Spartan Battle Rifle) and the Plasma Launcher (the Covenant equivalent of a rocket launcher).

But perhaps the beta, open to “millions” says Microsoft in its press release, was a bit too ambitious: Bungie has acknowledged technical issues on its website. In a post titled “Beta Backend Blowin’ Up,” Bungie writes: “We’re aware and working to resolve slow matchmaking times and inaccessible playlists. As soon as we’re back up and running at full capacity, we’ll make some noise. Stay tuned for more information and thanks for your patience.”

“Halo: Reach” will be available this fall.

New Wii bundle available Sunday

Starting Sunday, a new Nintendo Wii bundle will be available for $209.99, the same price as the existing option.

But this new package — available in black or white — adds a few goodies to the mix. Along with the Nintendo Wii console, Wii Remote controller, Nunchuk controller and copy of Wii Sports, gamers will also find the newer Wii Sports Resort game and the Wii MotionPlus accessory, which snaps underneath the Wii Remote for added precision.

Iron Man 2 Video Game: An Empty, Joyless Exercise

www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko

Iron Man 2
PS3 / XBox 360
Rated T
(out of 4)

(May 07, 2010) You don't have to go too deep to find the makings of a good action game in
Iron Man 2.

A super-strong super-suit (two of them!), complete with boot-jets and force beams, an interesting rogues' gallery filled with potential thugs and bosses, a high-tech setting packed with espionage and intrigue, and a storyline where the game conventions of levelling up and upgrading are actually fundamental to the main character's identity. Heck, there's even had a handy "what not to do" cheat-sheet in the form of the atrocious game they released to coincide with the first movie.

So, what went wrong here?

Oh, lots of things. Almost everything, really.

Over-complicated flight controls, which, while a bit less persnickety than those in the first game, doggedly militate against the joy one ought to feel when piloting a supersonic battle suit. Crummy beat-em-up action on the ground. Astoundingly ugly and misshapen character models, with the main character voiced by a Robert Downey, Jr. imitator who wouldn't pass muster on one of those novelty answering-machine tapes they used to sell. Annoying menus. Bland environments. No two-player coop, even though the War Machine/Iron Man scenario so obviously cries out for it.

The real failing of Iron Man 2, though, is a failing of physics. I'm not even talking "physics" in the game-nerd sense of accurately tracking the trajectory of a drop-kicked drone, or the ballistics of blood-spatter, but of the basic job of making the polygons and particles on-screen feel, while you're playing, like real objects.

Nothing in Iron Man 2 feels real; it's all a bunch of holograms. Iron Man and War Machine look like they're flying and punching and missile launching, they look like they might be heavy-metal superheroes, but they feel like they're made of tissue. Everything is weightless and hollow. Nothing crunches; nothing gets you in the gut. Without that visceral involvement, what good is an action game?

The old Marvel Super Heroes tabletop role-playing game ranked powers and abilities with a hierarchy of adjectives, and the lowest rung on that ladder was “Feeble.” That word kept flitting through my head as I forced myself to keep playing this game. I'd mutter it to myself with every whiffy, diaphanous super-punch, with every light-as-a-feather flutter into the side of a building, with every repulsor-ray that blasted with all the power of a dollar-store laser-pointer. Feeble.

I have been an Iron Fan since the age of 12. In all that time, I have never stopped craving a proper Iron Man video game. At one point, I made my own Iron Man: The Game label and taped it onto my Atari 2600 Berzerk cartridge; I made up my own little storyline where blocky killer robots were renegade S.H.I.E.L.D. Mandroids.

Twenty-five years and five generations of consoles later, and that relabelled Berzerk cart is still the best Iron Man game ever. I highly recommend it as an alternative to this empty exercise in joylessness. 


Just For Laughs Announces 4th Festival Line-up

Source: www.thestar.com - Bruce DeMara

(May 10, 2010) When it gets hot out, we could all use a good laugh.

The fourth annual Toronto
Just for Laughs festival, which runs from July 6 to 11, will feature more than 100 performers at 14 venues, including galas starring actor and comedian Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), Demetri Martin (know for appearances on The Daily Show and Important Things with Demetri Martin), Louis CK (who starred in The Invention of Lying with Ricky Gervais) and Wayne Brady (the former Whose Line Is It Anyway? regular who’s the new host of Let’s Make a Deal). Two other gala headliners will be announced soon.

“(This) is now Canada’s largest multicultural comedy festival and (Toronto) is an appropriate place to have that kind of festival. Toronto is actually the home to excellent comedy, comedy based in many different cultures. This summer will be bigger and better than ever,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller.

The festival will feature a lot of international talent, including Irish comic Tommy Tiernan in his one-man show, Crooked Man; Germany’s Michael Mittermeier on Safari and a one-night show of the Young@Heart Chorus, which features performers ranging in age from 73 to 89, at Roy Thomson Hall.

Canadian Comedy Award winner Mike Wilmot will headline The Nasty Show at the Panasonic Theatre, featuring humour not for the easily offended.

Comic Sugar Sammy will host The Ethnic Show: Ethnical Difficulties at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Mark Little will host The Homegrown Comics, featuring nine up-and-coming Canadian comedy stars at Absolute Comedy.


TFC win 4-1 over Fire at gusty BMO Field

www.thestar.com - Chris Young

(May 08, 2010) For
Toronto FC, these are heady times - at home, anyway.

TFC ran it overall season record to a perfect four-for-four at BMO Field with a 4-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon – and perhaps most notably, they didn’t have to rely on scoring ace Dwayne De Rosario to put up their biggest offensive explosion in nearly three years.

Chad Barrett scored two goals and O’Brian White and Nick LaBrocca had singles as TFC’s four-goal output matched their Major League Soccer club high set on June 17, 2007, in a 4-0 win over Dallas.

Mind you, De Rosario, who came into the match with seven of the team’s nine goals this season including their Nutrilite Canadian championship win over Montreal, had a pair of assists. The TFC captain set up White for a tap-in two minutes into the second half, a critical goal as TFC nursed a 1-0 halftime lead and switched ends to play into a stiff northeast wind that made conditions difficult.

Logan Pause grabbed some life for the visitors on a lovely 35-yard blast in the 51st minute, but Chicago couldn’t get any closer as Barrett came to life with a brace. After he steered in a lovely White feed that made it 3-1 in the 67th minute, Barrett coolly took De Rosario’s through ball and finished over Chicago ‘keeper Andrew Dykstra to wrap it up and improve Toronto’s overall MLS W-L record this season to 3-4.

Toronto opened the scoring in the 24th minute when LaBrocca’s windblown cross from the left side got an assist from the wind and sailed into the far corner over Chicago ‘keeper Andrew Dykstra.

The teams traded chances after that, Stefan Frei looking sharp in stopping a fizzing Marco Pappa free kick from close range and Dykstra beating away a Barrett blast from just outside the penalty area.

De Guzman picked up his fourth caution of the season, and his third in the past three games, when he was late with a tackle on Pappa, the Fire’s liveliest attacker during a first half in which the lakeside weather was the biggest story.

Ahead of a light June schedule with just three matches, all of them at BMO Field, TFC will pile up some air miles as they go in search of their first road result of the season. Four of their remaining five games in May are away from home, including west-coast dates in San Jose, in Los Angeles against the Galaxy and in Vancouver for a Nutrilite Canadian championship match with the Whitecaps.

Fab Habs Bounce The Penguins In Game 7

Source: www.thestar.com - Paul Hunter

(May 12, 2010) PITTSBURGH—The Montreal Miracle continues.

Call it destiny or, perhaps, a road trip by those ghosts that were once said to haunt the old Montreal Forum. There does seem to be some unseen hand at work as the Cinderella
Canadiens have now pushed through to the Eastern Conference final with a stunning 5-2 victory over the Penguins on Wednesday night in Game 7 of the NHL’s second playoff round.

This is Montreal’s first trip to a conference final since it won the Stanley Cup in 1993, the last time a team based in Canada won an NHL championship. Now Canada has another team to get behind with the Habs reaching the final four.

“I would think the whole country would probably be pushing a little bit (for us) and should we win tonight, we’ll probably get a pretty good rallying cry from the whole country,” Montreal’s Mike Cammalleri before the game.

Sure, there are worldly explanations for what happened here or really, what the Habs have been doing throughout a post-season in which they knocked off Washington, the NHL’s top regular-season team, and now the defending Stanley Cup champs, both in seven games.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh’s two scoring powers, could produce little in this series. Looking as if they might be tired after two runs to the Cup final — with an Olympics squeezed in there as well — each could manage only one goal in these seven games against Montreal.

It was not a good night for the Pens’ other big stars, either. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled early in the second period after getting shredded for four goals on 13 shots. And Sergei Gonchar had a horrible outing in his own end.

The brilliance of goaltender Jaroslav Halak has been a constant for Montreal, and he made two eye-popping saves on Crosby and Malkin early in the third period with Pittsburgh pressing. Richmond Hill native Mike Cammalleri, he of the timely and creative scoring, recorded his playoff-leading 12th goal in this victory. And the dogged defensive work of former Maple Leaf Hal Gill, back in the lineup for Game 7 after sitting out a match with a lacerated calf, and partner Josh Gorges are the main reason Crosby was held to just one goal in the seven games.

Funny, isn’t it, how many of the Habs that now carry Canada’s hopes have connections to the Toronto area and have convinced GTA fans, however grudgingly, to cheer for their long-hated rivals.

Not only did Cammalleri score, but so did Dominic Moore, the former Leaf who hails from Thornhill. Then there’s P.K. Subban, the often spectacular rookie defenceman from Rexdale who rose to the occasion when he was called up from the minors and pressed into big minutes. Glen Metropolit hails from Regent Park in downtown Toronto.

Yes, there are rational explanations for what happened, but Montreal also enjoyed some remarkable good fortune.

Brian Gionta’s goal in the opening minute was as odd as they come. During a man advantage, Subban carried the puck down the left boards until, when he’d almost reached the corner, he fired a backhander in the direction of the net. Gionta tipped the puck and somehow it squeezed between Fleury and the post, and fell in behind the netminder for the early Montreal lead.

Moore made it 2-0 on another lucky bounce, the puck bounding to him in the high slot, and his no-look sweep-shot had the Habs up 2-0 going into the second.

Montreal would eventually lead 4-0 before the Pens came briefly to life with a couple of goals late in the second, but Halak shut the door early in the third and Gionta clinched the game with his second goal midway through the period.

It was the last NHL game at Mellon Arena. The Penguins are moving across the street to a new building for the start of next season.

The Canadiens played the first game here back in 1967. They won that one, too.