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January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!  Now that we're heading into the completion of the first week of January and the sunny weather is uncharacteristically warm for Toronto, who can think of winter and it's dreary, cold days?  OK, so perhaps I've just invited the 'revenge of winter' just for having said that!  In the meantime though, I'm going to enjoy every moment!

One of those upcoming moments will be on Friday night at
Harlemfeaturing Natasha Waterman!  Natasha's reputation for excellent performances is far-reaching so don't miss out on this special night - one of the many that Harlem brings us weekly. 

Don't forget you can just click on the titles or pics and it will take you to the full articles!

What a nail biter in the
World Junior Hockey Championships with Russia beating Canada - booo!  But there's also tons of good news, bad news and funny news (see article by John Doyle under TOP STORIES.)

And I can't go without saying, thanks to you all for your ongoing support and for your kind words and warm seasonal greetings!  Happy New Year!


Harlem (on Richmond) Presents Natasha Waterman - Friday, January 7

Harlem on Richmond St. is featuring the sultry and smooth vocals of Natasha Waterman this Friday.  Harlem is Carl Cassell’s landmark restaurant-bar and benchmark of Northern cool which is located at 67 Richmond St E., the corner of Richmond and Church Streets. 

Situated in the hub of city movement, Harlem adds polish to an area already carving out new urban development. But no development is ever complete without the social and cultural contributions of the colourful class.  You’ll find it all passing through Harlem.

The second floor hosts a fully wired space which will immerse you in sound, you’ll discover delectable food, all steeped within Harlem's break-through artistic backdrop.  “We’ll have the best of Toronto’s DJs,” says Allen. “Expect a combination of live music and the DJ, and the focus will be on a lot of local talent.”

About Natasha:

Natasha's soul piercing voice and songwriting skills are refreshing and she writes about her life experience
s that are close to home. Natasha comes from a strong musical background.  As a child she never knew why music was so influential in her life. By the time Natasha was 11, she had her first publication in a Canadian poetry book entitled “Acorn's Book Of Poems”. This set the stage for her to continue writing and she did.

Waterman comes from a long journey in the music industry from television to movies including voiceovers. Natasha will soon be releasing her first commercial album titled “Long Road”.

Come join the fun at Harlem on Friday night! 




Gina Wilkinson, Multi-Talented Theatre Artist, Dies At 50

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(December 31, 2010) Gina Wilkinson, a veteran of nearly 30 years on the Canadian show-business scene, died of cervical cancer in Princess Margaret Hospital on Dec. 30. She was 50.

Although she began as an actor with the Stratford Festival in 1983 and continued performing throughout her career, she had also recently made a tremendous name for herself as a director, most notably for the hit Shaw Festival production of Born Yesterday in 2009 and Wide Awake Hearts at Tarragon Theatre in 2010.

“I wasn’t pointing my life in any particular direction,” she told The Star in an interview this past November. “You just get on the train that arrives and go where it takes you.”

Wilkinson was born in Victoria, BC. in 1960, the daughter of an artist father and a woman who ran a ballet school, which Wilkinson herself attended until the age of 12 when she switched her passion to acting. She made the switch because, as she said in a 2004 Star interview, “First of all, I got breasts and hips, so it was never going to be classical ballet, but I also needed to speak. It wasn’t enough to move bodies through space.”

She attended the National Theatre School, graduating in 1979 and moved to Toronto with her fellow NTS grad, Henry Czerny, “who got me a job chasing dogs for the Humane Society.”

She doesn’t remember her Stratford debut in 1983 very fondly, because of the way she was treated by one of the guest directors “who loathed me. He actually stood at the back of the theatre and said ‘Miss Wilkinson, why don’t you try stenography for a living?’”

But the resilient Wilkinson forged on and a year later, earned rave reviews for her performance as Maria in Twelfth Night at Skylight Theatre. She also got kudos for creating the role of Gail in the 1986 premiere of George F. Walker’s Criminals in Love. Years later, she would appear as a regular on Walker’s television series, This Is Wonderland.

During her years as an actress, she appeared all over Canada in plays by authors ranging from Shakespeare to David French. She also wrote one play herself, My Mother’s Feet, which was produced by Canadian Stage in 2005.

She began her directing career in 1997 with a Toronto Fringe show called Risk and gradually built up a reputation doing shows for Summerworks and at out-of-town venues like Theatre Aquarius and The Grand Theatre.

When director Neil Munro was taken ill in 2009, Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell took an enormous chance by asking Wilkinson to stage Born Yesterday at the Shaw Festival. It proved to be the hit of the season and she returned in 2010 to direct Half an Hour to similar acclaim. She was slated to do Shaw’s Candida in 2011.

“Gina Wilkinson was very funny, very sexy and very, very smart - not a combo that many can pull off, but she did so with unparalleled brio,” Maxwell commented on Friday. “We will treasure our memories of Gina while nursing a great sadness. A brilliantly bright light has gone out in Canadian Theatre.”

Wilkinson fell ill in November while directing The Seafarer at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Subsequent diagnoses revealed her to be suffering from stage 4 cervical cancer.

Her life partner since 2000 had been actor Tom Rooney of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. They were married on Dec. 19.

Wilkinson is survived by her husband, her mother, Marie and brothers Martin and Adam.

Cavaliers Offer Job To Homeless Man With Golden Voice

Source:  www.thestar.com - Tom Withers

(January 05, 2011) CLEVELAND—With a deep, refined voice, one that had been sadly misplaced, Ted Williams simply asked for help to get him off the streets.

He’s been heard.

Left homeless after his life and career were ruined by drugs and alcohol, Williams has been offered a job by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and is being pursued by NFL Films for possible work after he and his compelling tale became an online curiosity.

“This has been totally, totally amazing,” Williams said in a phone interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, his voice choking with emotion. “I’m just so thankful. God has blessed me so deeply. I’m getting a second chance. Amazing.”

Williams was contacted Wednesday by the Cavaliers, who have offered him a position that could include announcing work at Quicken Loans Arena, the team’s downtown arena. Williams said the team has offered him a two-year contract and said they would pay his mortgage.

But, wait. It gets better.

Williams said the Cavaliers’ offer is just one of many flooding in over the past two days.

“I can’t believe what’s going on,” said Williams, a father of nine, adding he feels like Susan Boyle, the English singing sensation who became an overnight star. “God gave me a million-dollar voice and I just hope I can do right by him.”

Williams said he is flying to New York to see his 90-year-old mother, who lives in Brooklyn and has stood by him during his battles with addiction.

“She has always been my best friend,” he said, crying. “When I was a kid, she would take me down to Radio City Music Hall and on the subway. I’m just glad that she is still around. I prayed that she would live long enough that I could make her proud and see could her son do something other than stand along the side of the road with a sign asking for money.”

Williams’ life began spiralling downward in 1996 when he began drinking alcohol “pretty bad.” He used marijuana and cocaine and lost interest in his radio career. Williams said his last job was with a station in Columbus. He eventually wound up on the streets, despite the best efforts of his children, seven daughters and two sons who all live in the Columbus area.

“They have mixed emotions about what is going on,” Williams said. “During my detox stages, I had a tendency to eat up everybody’s food. I’m a grandfather, too, and I was eating what should have gone to their kids.”

Williams said he celebrated two years of sobriety “around Thanksgiving. I just hope everyone will pray for me.”

Williams was initially spotted by The Columbus Dispatch standing near an exit ramp off Interstate 71. In a video interview that quickly became wildly popular, Williams — holding a cardboard sign that asked motorists for help and says, “I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times” — explained in his smooth, bottomless voice that he was drawn to radio at the age of 14.

When he first heard Williams’ beautiful, bottomless voice, Kevin McLoughlin of NFL Films, which has chronicled pro football for nearly 50 years, knew he had to contact the unknown man.

“It’s that voice,” said McLoughlin, director of post-production films for the NFL told the Associated Press. “When he was telling his story, I said, ‘That’s what we do. This guy can tell a story.’ Somehow, some way, I need to get a demo with him. He could be that diamond in the rough.”

McLoughlin has not been able to contact Williams, but he intends to track him down.

“The man deserves a second chance,” he said.

Apparently, he has received a few of them.

Williams’ story should be an inspiration for other homeless people, said Bob Ater, executive director of the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless.

“One of the problems with a lot of homeless people is that they have some rich talent, but don’t have the confidence to exploit that talent,” Ater said, adding he was unfamiliar with Williams before the video hit. “He’s fabulous. The Cavaliers could use a boost of some kind.”

They sure can. The Cavaliers, after all, are 8-26 and in last place in the Central Division. They play Toronto tonight in Cleveland.

Georges St-Pierre to fight Jake Shields at UFC debut in Toronto

Source:  www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko

(January 03, 2011) LAS VEGAS, NEV.—Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will headline UFC 129, the UFC’s debut in Toronto.

UFC president Dana White confirmed to The Canadian Press that the 29-year-old from Montreal will defend his 170-pound title against Jake Shields at the Rogers Centre on April 30.

St-Pierre (21-2) last fought at UFC 123 in Montreal on Dec. 11, when he won a unanimous decision over Josh Koscheck.

Shields (26-4-1) is coming off a split decision win over Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann at UFC 121 on Oct. 23.

The UFC had been looking at having heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez meet Brazilian banger Junior Dos Santos in Toronto but Velasquez has been sidelined by a torn rotator cuff.

While White confirmed GSP-Shields, bout agreements have yet to be signed, another source said. But that appears the next step.

Hey, Happy New Year: It’s All A Crock

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - John Doyle

(January 05, 2011) Hello and Happy New Year. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Yes, looking forward to coming back to work in January and writing this column. The holidays are over and a very good thing too. Don’t get me started. Don’t. Just stick with me here.

Never got away anywhere. Heathrow closed. Cancelled flights. On the phone to Air Canada. Time passed. Heathrow still closed. Time passed. Flights resumed. Dublin Airport closed. Surrendered to the weather over there. Postponed all plans. Hunkered down: a quiet holiday. Nothing to do, nowhere to go.

Felt a bit queasy, mind you. Disappointment? No. A great, uneasy flu-like feeling came over me. Next thing, it was extensive carnal knowledge of the toilet bowl. Upchuck central. Teeth-chattering, hands-quivering, feeble-body feeling. Then a day of sitting upright, sipping flat Coca-Cola. Followed by the arrival of a hacking cough, chest congestion and a runny nose. Charming. That was Christmas Eve.

The Brother was on the blower. Well ensconced in Doyle Mansions in Dublin, gone ahead of the weather, he crowed. Supping on turkey and trimmings and sipping Jameson, he feigned concern. Inquired about the well-being of “the Brother and the bag.” An inside joke. Me being elevated to the “Brother” status, for a change, and “the bag” being the Brother’s well-established term for the tummy. Hilarity ensued at his end. That is, an unbearable cackling sound on the phone. He claimed my severe illness and familiarity with the toilet bowl reminded him of his early adventures in Canada when his favourite tipple was a concoction made of Gatorade and Advocaat. Those were the days, he claimed. “Cheers,” he said, insufferably.

On the broad of my back, stretched out like a mackerel, I gazed at the television. The news mainly. What was the news? The weather, people shopping and getting stuck in traffic. Tips for bargain-hunting on Boxing Day. Gripping stuff. Footage of people stuck at airports. Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris. A close-up of a woman in Paris, gazing up at the list of delayed and cancelled fights, her face dissolving into tears. I felt her pain. Though at least she was upright and mobile.

Of course, the TV news was delivered by people unknown to me. Youngsters stepping in for the likes of Pastor Mansbridge, Lloyd “Boy” Robertson and that nice woman on Global. Where were they? Feet up with a book and a drink in the Caribbean, I imagined. Or at the spa. A hex on them.

Read a book. Mr. Bill Carter’s
The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy. A book of admirable depth, girth and detail. Perfect for the person so sick they’d be gripped by traffic reports from places they’d never visited nor intended to visit. More than four hundred pages of detail about how brave, spunky Conan O’Brien went to Harvard, wrote some TV shows, was picked to host a late-night chat show, became way popular and was given the job of hosting The Tonight Show. Then he became a victim of scoundrels at NBC who treated him with wicked disregard for propriety. Wicked, I tell you. They favoured this Jay Leno character, a big-jawed jokester who would sell his sorry soul to be on TV, apparently.

The upshot is that brave spunky O’Brien took umbrage when it was suggested that
The Tonight Show be moved back on the schedule by half an hour. He asserted that “the institution” that is The Tonight Show might be irreparably undermined. Reacting with savage indignation, he took a buyout, walked away and found a job hosting a chat on another outlet. Perhaps you’ve heard the story? Well you don’t know the half of it. The grim details – meetings, insults, an occasional swear word – are laid out with copious detail in Mr. Carter’s book.

At the end of the tale, the author seeks the sage opinion of Jerry Seinfeld on the strange events he has recounted. This is the best bit. Seinfeld goes to the heart of the matter: “How do you not get that this whole thing is phony? It’s all fake. There’s no institution to offend! All of this ‘I won’t sit by and watch the institution damaged.’ What institution? Ripping off the public? That’s the only institution. We tell jokes and they give us millions.”

Needless to say, I found this bracing and I embraced it. Sick, tired of being sick and fed up, I agreed: It’s all a crock. Seinfeld speaks the truth. The new year starts thus – with resolve to recognize the phony, the idiotic and the sadly misguided. There’s a lot of it around.

Take the
People’s Choice Awards (CBS, Global, 8 p.m.), which involves a lot of eejits voting for their “Favourite TV Doctor” or “Favourite On Screen Team,” whatever that is. Then, awards are handed out. It’s “an institution” or something. Then there’s tonight’s Primetime (ABC, 10 p.m.), which covers the vital issue “Celebrity Weight Loss – What Really Happens.” I’m starting to feel nauseated again.

But I’ll feel better. Eventually. Stick with me in 2011.

Check local listings.


Vancouver rapper Mad Child Barred From Entering U.S.

Source: www.thestar.com - Bruce DeMara

(January 05, 2011) Vancouver hip-hop artist Mad Child has been barred from entering the U.S., possibly because of past associations with the Hells Angels motorcycle club.

Mad Child, a.k.a. Shane Bunting, said he was recently stopped by U.S. customs officials at Vancouver International Airport and held for questioning for 8½ hours before being denied entry.

“I’ve been touring America with a work visa for years and have had absolutely no problems,” Bunting said, despite a criminal conviction 16 years ago for assault.

“It was a surprise. I was all packed up and ready to go, I had my dog with me and . . . all my luggage.

“And yeah, I just didn’t see it coming because it had been such a routine thing going through the Vancouver airport and going through customs.

“I’ve done it so many times, I just didn’t expect it.”

Bunting, one of the two principals of the Juno-Award-winning hip-hop group Swollen Members, said he was questioned repeatedly by U.S. customs agents about whether he was a member of the Hells Angels, something he repeatedly denied.

In a 2009 interview with Exclaim magazine, Bunting acknowledged his friendship with outlaw bikers has caused controversy and may have contributed to Vancouver-based talent agency Nettwerk Management’s decision to drop Swollen Members from its roster.

He has also publicly acknowledged his struggles in kicking a longtime addiction to OxyContin and has spoken at high schools to discourage teenagers from following the same path.

“The thing that is frustrating to me is that I am being judged for the people I associated with and for some trouble I had back . . . over 16 years ago. In the last year, I’ve managed to defeat my drug addiction and really worked on changing my life to become a better person,” Bunting said.

The no-entry decision is particularly surprising since the Swollen Members were performing in the U.S. as recently as last month, when their tour bus was demolished on Dec. 14 at a level crossing in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The group, which took a three-year hiatus between 2006 and 2009, is preparing to release its sixth album, Dagger Mouth, in March and had planned a number of U.S. concert dates to promote it.

Bunting has been told by a U.S. lawyer he can apply with a waiver to enter the U.S., despite the criminal conviction, but the process could take up to six months.

Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said she can’t comment specifically on Bunting’s case but said entry can be denied for a variety of reasons, ranging from national security concerns to visa issues or a past criminal conviction.

Are House Concerts The Next Big Thing?

Source:  www.thestar.com - Nick Krewen

(January 01, 2011) Next weekend, Joanne and Blair Sleightholm are bringing the Bluebird Café concept to their spacious Yonge and Eglinton-area home.

Inspired by the tiny Nashville restaurant that launched the songwriting careers of thousands, the Sleightholms are staging their second series of in-the-round performance house concerts for two, possibly three shows on January 8 in their living room, which holds 45 people.

Reasonably priced at $10 — all proceeds go to the musicians and sound-system rental — the two 90-minute acoustically-driven shows beginning at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. will feature local country music warbler Lindi Ortega; Indiana folk singer-songwriter Stephanie Lambring and two of the Sleightholms’ own budding artists, Madeleine and Gavin Slate; the former is a Nashville songwriter and the latter has just finished recording his debut album with producer Colin Cripps.

So why are the Sleightholms opening their abode to the public? Joanne Sleightholm says it’s a natural extension of their music loving lifestyle.

“Our house has always been filled with music, and people came to our house to jam all the time,” says Joanne, whose fulltime occupation is teacher consultant. Her husband Blair is a teacher.

“After dinners, we’d always have people over with guitars and we always sang around the living room. It didn’t matter — whenever people came over, we did that.

“So I got this idea: let’s just have kids come and sing at the house. I sent out e-mails to friends. The kids sent out e-mails, and within 24 hours, two shows were sold out. And we did that in June (2010).”

The allure for people to invite musicians into their homes for intimate shows seems to be growing, and not just locally. In Winnipeg, renowned promoter Mitch Podolak says the demand for house concerts is skyrocketing, and he’s generating the business to prove it.

Since 2006, Podolak — founder of the Winnipeg and Vancouver Folk Festivals — has been operating Home Routes, an organization that books performers exclusively into house-concert circuits across Canada.

“As of February 3, 2011, we will have 14 circuits of six performers,” says Podolak. “We’re coast-to-coast-to-coast and we’re growing at an extraordinary rate.”

Each circuit consists of six musicians performing a series of 12 concerts from late September through April. The Ontario circuit encompasses Mississauga, Georgetown, Guelph, Caledon, Meaford, Midland, Haliburton, Kanata, Wakefield, Quebec, North Gower and Pickering.

Prior to Christmas, New Jersey singer-songwriter Spook Handy, the father-daughter team of David and Ariana Gillis and Manitoba’s Lindsay Jane entertained each community; beginning February 4 through April 17, Nova Scotia’s Kev Corbett, Manitoba’s Jess Reimer and New Jersey’s Mike Agranoff are coming.

Even established names like Valdy, Barney Bentall and Tom Wilson are touring homes, as clubs dwindle: Podolak says there’s plenty of work for performers, especially in communities that are a little off the beaten track.

“We’re trying to fill two needs at once: the needs for artists for places to work and provide access to live music for rural Canada, primarily. We’re in the cities, too, but we’re way, way more in the small towns.”

Podolak says the admission to attend a house concert is $15, with the musicians keeping 85% of the gross and Home Routes retaining 15%. Musicians are billeted and fed by homeowner presenters, and Podolak says performers can net as much as “$2,000 per week.”

Figures provided on the Home Routes website ( www.homeroutes.ca) also illustrate how quickly this business is growing: In the 2007-2008 season of four circuits across Canada, artist revenue was pegged at $133,000. For 2009-2010, an additional 10 circuits were implemented for a projected artist revenue of $512,000.

Podolak says there’s also an increased demand by potential presenters champing at the bit to get involved, even though they see no profit and bear the expenses.

“We have 40 on the waiting list,” he states. “We also expect by next fall to be somewhere around 18 or 19 circuits in Canada.”

Podolak also says next fall his first U.S. circuit will launch (in North Dakota), and that the goal of his six-member office is to reach “90 circuits in North America in order to make a really decent living.”

From a performer’s perspective, Toronto singer-songwriter Gregory Hoskins says house concerts provide hassle-free intimacy.

“I like the no-nonsense experience,” says Hoskins, who usually books a handful of house concerts a year through his website, gregoryhoskins.com.

“A lot of them you can do without sound systems. It’s just a real nice thing to be able to play your songs and not worry about the other stuff — loading in and sound checking.

“There’s also an opportunity to have a different kind of communal experience when you’re sitting 30 feet away from the farthest person.

“For an audience, it’s kind of a mind-blowing night.”

Although he’s played everywhere from mansions to living rooms, and been fed, paid and sold some records there, Hoskins says some gigs can be challenging.

“There can be really bad experiences — the wrong people, the wrong house, the wrong night, the wrong town,” he notes.

“I did one, where a woman’s boyfriend was a biker, and that was okay. I played to five people, and two of them were over 80 and couldn’t speak English. But she wanted me to come down and make an entrance on a spiral staircase, so I bailed.”

Joanne Sleightholm hopes that her future house events (ask for details at josleigh@yahoo.com) will become a bi-monthly series beginning in March, regardless of whether her kids are involved.

“We love it so much, we’d even do it for other kids,” she insists. “Being teachers, we love helping kids be better.”

Shania Twain Gets Remarried

Source:  www.thestar.com

(January 02, 2011) Shania Twain has got married.

The Still The One singer tied the knot with Swiss businessman Frederic Thiebaud in Puerto Rico on New
Year’s Day, just weeks after their engagement was announced.

Her representative told People magazine: “They were married at sunset in Rincon, Puerto Rico, in front of 40 of their closest family and friends.”

Following news of their engagement, Twain took to her blog to express her delight at the news and said she was excited about her future.

She said: “2010 is leaving me with a renewed faith in love and commitment. . . Talking about love, I am excited to share some personal news with you; I’m in love! Frederic Nicolas Thiebaud has been a true gift to me as a compassionate, understanding friend and over time, an amazing love has blossomed from this precious friendship. Fred and I are happy to announce, our ENGAGEMENT! (sic)”

Twain was previously married to Robert “Mutt” Lange but their 14-year union ended in May 2008 after he embarked on a relationship her friend and Thiebaud’s ex-wife, Marie-Anne. Twain has said that experience has shown her who her true friends really are.

Twain — who has a nine-year-old son, Eja, with her ex — said: “In the last two-and-a-half years of adjusting to life after separation and divorce, I needed to lean on others more often than I was accustomed to. These people have been gifts, and I am fortunate to have so many of these beautiful people — friends, family and beloved fans, whose support I cherish more deeply with each day that passes. Now another year is about to pass, and I would like to thank everyone who helped me believe that new beginnings are possible and that love can be trusted.”

Forget Auto-Tune. This Is Music For Grownups

Source:  www.globeandwell.com - Brad Wheeler

(December 29, 2010) Adults do not abide the Auto-Tune, and they do not cotton to reggaeton air horns. They prefer melody, subtlety, elegance, uplift, relevance, thoughtfulness and substance. They do not spell California Gurls in the same manner as Katy Perry. And they may like the following albums, all released in 2010, an excellent year in listening for the grownups.

An arresting listen, this humid, mature collection of acoustic soul from the Be Good Tanyas' sultry warbler is a classic in-waiting.

Representative track:

Related listening: Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dog's
God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise – tight-throated crooning from a troubled troubadour, this time with a new band.

Robert Plant:
Band of Joy

The in-a-mood-for-a-melody singer's second consecutive winner (2007's duet album
Raising Sand with Alison Krauss was a bluegrassed beauty) artfully and often hauntingly mixes folky twang with vintage, vibrating, West Coast rock.

Representative track:
House of Cards

Related listening: The self-titled debut from the sweet, sassy Alabamans,
The Secret Sisters, produced (as Band of Joy) by T Bone Burnett.

Gil Scott-Heron:
I'm New Here

Mind-blowing post-modern blues and resolute spoken word from the former “New Black Poet” who brought us
Whitey on the Moon in 1970. Blunt, riveting retrospection marks his first album in 13 years.

Representative track:
Me and the Devil

Related listening: Mose Allison's
The Way of the World. The veteran southern pianist's sparse and swinging first album in a dozen years free-wheels wonderfully.

Sarah Harmer:
Oh Little Fire

“I was waiting around to be played like an old piano.” A master class in singing and songwriting, from a graceful, willowy Ontarian who has never sounded better.

Representative track:
The Thief

Related listening: Doug Paisley's rootsy
Constant Companion is your iPod's best friend.

Mavis Staples:
You Are Not Alone

The mahogany-voiced gospel icon preaches hope and kinship, on an album produced by fellow Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco fame).

Representative track:
You Are Not Alone

Related listening: Robert Randolph and the Family Band's
We Walk This Road, one of the year's estimated 783 albums produced by T Bone Burnett.

Tania Gill:
Bolger Station

Eclectically improvised pop and jazz, equal parts playful and thoughtful. All aboard for the first-class and fanciful Toronto pianist, with trumpet, bass and drum accompaniment.

Representative track:
Bolger Station

Related listening: Elizabeth Shepherd's
Heavy Falls the Night, soulful and tuneful modern jazz.

Luke Doucet and the White Falcon:
Steel City Trawler

Whip-smart, well-conceived and crunchy – guitar rock and folk-flecked pop with a point. The Hamilton-based Doucet, as underrated as the Steel City itself, makes his most accessible record yet.

Representative track:
Thinking People

Related listening: Kelly Stoltz's
To Dreamers, one more excellent disc of San Francisco power pop from an intriguing songwriter.

Bruce Springsteen:
The Promise

“So turn up your radio, and darling dial me in close.” A welcome blast from the past, composed of archived tracks from the mid-seventies deemed not edgy enough by the Boss to fit onto
Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Representative track:
Gotta Get That Feeling

Related listening: Bob Dylan's
The Witmark Demos (1962-1964) – rough-cut samples from a scruffy song-peddler who forecast a hard rain and a strong answer-blowin' wind.

The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert:
Live in Vancouver (DVD)

With a live follow-up to 2009's inventive
Things About Comin' My Way, Steve Dawson and friends (Oh Susanna, Colin James, John Hammond, Geoff Muldaur and more) continue to explore the unwashed and evocative Depression-era blues of the Chatmon brothers.

Representative track:
Sitting on Top of the World

Related listening:
Genuine Negro Jig, by the plucky string-band traditionalists the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Meaghan Smith:
The Cricket's Orchestra

Whistling, swinging, finger-snapping retro-orchestral pop from the airy-voiced Haligonian. Fun, with just the right quotient of cuteness.

Representative track:

Related listening:
Clapton, a masterful and dreamy journey of pop, blues and New Orleans' standards from Mister Slowhand and his all-stars.

We Remember: Jazz Great Billy Taylor dies at 89

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 29, 2010) *Jazz pianist and media personality Billy Taylor died of a heart attack in New York City Tuesday (Dec. 28), The Washington Post reported Wednesday. He was 89. Taylor, who grew up in Washington and moved to New York City in the early 1940s, played alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He was also a protégé of Art Tatum. In 1958, he became the musical director of NBC’s television series “The Subject is Jazz.” [Watch below.] He profiled more than 250 artists as an on-air correspondent for “CBS News Sunday Morning” and received an Emmy Award for his segment on Quincy Jones. He also hosted the NPR series “Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center.”

Taylor was the artistic adviser for jazz programming at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where he
often performed with his own trio and other groups and launched the annual Women in Jazz Festival, according to The Washington Post.

Taylor received such awards as the National Medal of Arts and was designated a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988.

Below, Billy’s Taylor’s unique version of Duke Ellington’s theme song, written by Billy Strayhorn, from a live gig in 2001 featuring Billy on piano, Chip Jackson on bass and Steve Johns on drums.

We Remember: Singer Bobby Farrell Dead at 61

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 30, 2010) **Boney M frontman Bobby Farrell was found dead in his hotel room in St. Petersburg on Thursday, the day after a performance in the city where the band rose to stardom in the Soviet era, his agent said on Thursday.

“He did a show last night as part of Bobby Farrell’s Boney M and they found him this morning dead in his hotel room,” agent John Seine told Reuters by telephone from the Netherlands. Farrell was 61.

“He did not feel well last night, and was having problems with his breathing, but he did the show anyway,” he added.

The cause of his death was not immediately clear, said Sergei Kapitanov, representative of St. Petersburg’s branch of Russia’s investigative committee.

Farrell was famous for dancing and lip synching for the disco band that rose to prominence in Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union with songs like “Ma Baker,” “Rivers of Babylon” and “Rasputin.”

Boney M was put together by German singer-songwriter Frank Farian who also produced most of the vocals for the group, which stormed to the top of the charts in the late 1970s with a string of disco hits.

VIDEO: Jazmine Sullivan Shocker: Done with the Music Business … for Now

Source: www.eurweb.com

(January 2, 2011) *As successful as she appears to the outside world, apparently on the inside Jazmine Sullivan is in turmoil.

Seemingly from out of nowhere Sullivan, 23 and a protégé of Missy Elliott, just up and quit the business. At least that’s what she announced via Twitter on Sunday; she’s on hiatus ’til further notice:

“I’m making an official announcement that I am taking a break from music,” she tweeted. “I’m trying to figure out who I am… w/out a mike, paper or pen. I promised myself when it wasn’t fun anymore I wouldn’t do it. and here I am. [sic]“

As you can imagine, those tweets didn’t stay up too long before they were deleted by someone who we’d bet wasn’t Sullivan. At EUR press time, her label, J Records, had not commented.

Sullivan has been nominated for nine Grammys since her debut in 2009, including this year’s Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Holding You Down (GoinIn Circles).”

VIDEO: Lupe Fiasco: New Album ‘Lasers’ will be Worth the Wait

Source: www.eurweb.com

(January 3, 2011) *After numerous delays and label drama surrounding his upcoming album “Lasers,” Lupe Fiasco is finally ready to release the project with plans on making it his biggest yet, reports Billboard.

Due March 8, “Lasers” will feature superstar producing duo the Neptunes, as well as guest spots from Trey Songz and U.K. rapper Sway. The lead single “The Show Goes On,” which saw a proper release and video last week [watch below], is a song Fiasco said will appeal to “die-hard Lupe Fiasco fans.”

“It’s a big controversial record, and a lot of ears should perk up on this song. It really is what the direction of ‘Lasers’ is all about,” Fiasco tells Billboard.com.

Fiasco is no stranger to controversy. Back in October, more than 200 of his fans gathered outside the NYC offices of Fiasco’s label, Atlantic Records, to celebrate label execs finally setting a release date for “Lasers.” But the gathering, called Fiasco Friday, was originally planned to protest Atlantic’s ongoing delayed release of the album.

The protest effort was preceded by an online petition signed by Fiasco followers. It read: “The fans below have been waiting for the release for Lupe Fiasco’s album ‘Lasers’ for over a good year now Enough is enough, we demand that you stop playing around and give us the album that we have been highly anticipating since the release of ‘The Cool.’”

The rapper has also tackled music piracy, fighting track leaks on various blogs — some of which have reportedly stopped covering the rapper due to his strong opposition to piracy. However, Fiasco says his stance on hackers and leaks remains the same.

“When it’s something that’s done illegally or maliciously, it’s different,” Fiasco says. “It’s songs you don’t even have as the artist, and some dude in the middle of nowhere that hacked into a computer has it. It upsets the balance of what you want to do as an artist and how you want to roll your album out.”

He adds: “People don’t really understand the ramifications when a song leaks. There are actually studios that are sued, and engineers that are fired.”

Fiasco, however, is not opposed to the idea of offering some of his music for free — just so long as he maintains a sense of control.

He teamed up with Gatorade’s Replay Series, which airs on Fox Sports Net, this past fall to give away a track titled “We Can Do It Now.”

The inspiring, Chicago-centric song features Fiasco’s fellow Windy City natives Common, Jennifer Hudson and producer No I.D. — perfect for the show’s Chi-town-focused third season.

For now, Fiasco looks forward to the release of “Lasers” — and to furthering his own musical legacy, despite the industry hiccups that have plagued him along the way.

“I think I set the precedent for record labels — showed everyone that you can have rappers that don’t fit the format and still have a presence,” says Fiasco. “You look at a person like me, or Kanye, and it was sort of a shock to the system. I definitely think I was part of changing that, and an influence to a lot dudes that are coming out today.”

Las Vegas’s Newest Hotel, The Cosmopolitan Hosts All-Star Opening Bash

Source:  www.thestar.com

(January 01, 2011) LAS VEGAS – “You are the luckiest people in the world tonight, do you know that?” rapper Jay-Z told the black-tie crowd of 1,500 who celebrated New Year’s Eve on Friday night at the opening of The Cosmopolitan, the newest hotel in Las Vegas.

And he was right. The officially-announced 2-hour concert, with
Coldplay opening for Jay-Z, turned into a star-studded 3-hour affair with impromptu guest appearances by Beyoncé, Kanye West and John Mayer that kept the audience screaming with delight.

Coldplay started just after 11 PM, with lead singer Chris Martin in typically hyperkinetic form, pleasing the fans with a classic “greatest hits” selection, including an impassioned version of “Yellow” and a sweet-and-tender rendition of “Fix You,” inspired, no doubt, by the presence of Martin’s wife, Gwyneth Paltrow in the celebrity-packed audience.

Just before midnight, Jay-Z joined Martin and company to ring in the new year, then, after a short break, he began performing solo, but not for long. There had been rumours of everyone from Rhianna to Eminem appearing on stage with Jay-Z, but the sudden appearance of Kanye West surprised everyone and the two powerhouses shared the spotlight for a quarter of an hour.

But after he left, Jay-Z brought out another friend, John Mayer, who simply played guitar on several songs, including some blazing riffs on the hit “99 Problems.” By this point, it looked like the sky was the limit and the crowds were delighted, but not surprised when Beyoncé, Jay-Z’s wife, entered to sing an ecstatic version of “Forever Young.”

Then it all really began to resemble a superstar jam session. Martin returned to ad lib keyboard accompaniment for Beyoncé on an intensely moving rendition of “Halo” and after the diva departed, Kanye came back onto the stage and joined Jay-Z and Martin for a never-to-be-repeated three-way attack on “Homecoming”.

Throughout the evening, sequined showgirls dispensed Dom Perignon champagne to the audience members who managed to press closest to the stage and the whole atmosphere was more like the best party in town than a standard pop concert.

It was the crowning glory of The Cosmopolitan’s opening weekend, which served notice that the $3.9 billion hotel was living up to its aim to be the hippest hotel on the strip. Other entertainers during the weekend included indie sensation Florence and the Machine, cult favourite Ben Folds and gospel diva Mavis Staples.


Justin Bieber Tells Vanity Fair About Sleep Troubles

Source:  www.thestar.com

(January 04, 2011) NEW YORK, N.Y.—While many girls dream about Justin Bieber at night, the singing sensation is struggling to fall asleep. The 16-year-old tells Vanity Fair magazine that sometimes he suffers from insomnia. Bieber says his “mind races” at night and it happens because he begins to “think about all the things I didn’t have time to think about during the day — like family and God.” Bieber says he doesn’t always have time to think about these important things because “you just get caught up (in everything else) during the day.” Bieber’s multiplatinum-selling album, “My World 2.0,” is up for a Grammy for best pop vocal album; he’s also up for best new artist. The February issue of Vanity Fair hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Jan. 6 and nationally on Jan. 11.

Toronto’s Marian Cheney Named Music Teacher Of The Year

Source:  www.globeandwell.com - The Canadian Press

(December 16, 2010) Toronto native Marian Cheney has received the teacher of the year award from MusiCounts, a musical education charity.  For the past 20 years, Cheney has taught at Queen Victoria Public School in the Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto's west end.  Her policy is that children should be able to join band or choir regardless of musical ability or financial situation.  She's also credited with co-writing the school's current theme song.  Hard-rockers Billy Talent presented Ms. Cheney with the award at an event on Thursday.  Ms. Cheney and her school each received $10,000, sponsored by the band.  “Having lived in the west end of Toronto ... this is extra special,” Billy Talent singer Ben Kowalewicz said in a release. “Having teachers like Marian gives us all hope that the kids of tomorrow are in good hands.  “Our music class in high school [where we met 17 years ago] had a huge impact on the band as we got to meet like-minded people and start the creative process of learning our instruments.”  Said Ms. Cheney: “Music has the power to change lives.”


Michelle Williams Is Happy Being Blue

Source:  www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(January 04, 2011) Call her a committed artist or maybe a masochist, but Michelle Williams is happy that everything about Blue Valentine was an ordeal.

She became involved with Derek Cianfrance’s heartbreak drama nine years ago, three years after he’d started work on it.

Back then, Williams was a promising TV actress (Dawson’s Creek) and not yet a respected film player. Her many laurels since include a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Brokeback Mountain in 2005, and there’s serious talk of Oscar attention for Blue Valentine.

Production dollars weren’t easy to get for the film, and its searing depiction of a marriage breakdown was even harder to capture. Williams and co-star Ryan Gosling engaged in extreme method acting prior to filming, moving in together so they could work on the nuances of marital life and strife.

Somehow this tough independent film was finished in time for a Sundance 2010 premiere. Since then it has braved the festival circuit (Cannes and Toronto included), a censorship battle stateside (more on that later) and seemingly endless press promotion chores.

The film finally opens Friday in Toronto, and yet Williams — who also took time to make Take This Waltz in Toronto for Sarah Polley — sounds not the least bit exhausted by the process. On the contrary, she seems energized.

“You know what’s amazing?” said Williams, 30, calling from New York.

“It’s that I’ve been working on Blue Valentine since I was 21. So it makes sense in my mind that promoting it should have the same kind of effort and endurance behind it that being committed to it and finally making it had.”

The Montana-born actress admits there’s another reason why taking the long road suited her.

“I’ve always had this feeling that I never want my movies to come out, that I would prefer them to just be sort of personal exorcisms or explorations, something that I did with friends, family.

“Because I feel shy. I wonder how it’s going to be received, and it feels disconnected, somehow, from the experience of making it,” she adds. “But now I’ve come to understand that the audience is the final piece of the puzzle and that there would be actually no point in making it if it didn’t get a shot at being in the world. So now I’m curious how it opens, how it’s being received — and I have to be accountable for it.”

Williams was curious and also infuriated by the recent uproar over the rating for Blue Valentine in America. Censor board MPAA initially classed it NC-17 (No one 17 and under admitted), a mark that would have killed its commercial chances.

The reason was an oral sex scene, performed by Gosling on Williams, which Cianfrance and studio The Weinstein Company refused to remove. Instead they appealed the rating and won a rare reclassification to a simple “R” for mature adults.

“When I first heard about the (NC-17) rating, I was incensed and sadly so, because I’m a girl and I wasn’t socialized to fight,” Williams said.

“I was taught to accept the world as it was given to me and work within it. But I did come to understand it as a censorship issue and an issue of favouring violence over sex, that’s when I started to feel like I had something I could say about this.”

The higher-profile Black Swan has a similarly graphic oral sex scene to Blue Valentine, yet it escaped the threat of a NC-17 slapdown. Williams has given up trying to make sense of MPAA rulings, but she defends her intimate scene as being an essential part of the film’s depiction of intense love followed by equally powerfully romantic dissolution.

“When you think about censorship — fear-based censorship of women’s sexuality — you’re actually in quite a good crowd,” she points out. “Another thing that’s interesting is, when we did that scene, Derek and Ryan said to me, ‘This is your decision. And when you see this movie, and if it makes you uncomfortable, we’ll take it out.’

“And because I knew that, it gave me the freedom to go as far as I could with the scene.”

Blue Valentine had a subtle but profound affect on Williams’ view of marriage, which she has yet to experience in real life. She was involved with the late Heath Ledger for several years, and they had a daughter named Matilda Rose, now five, whom Williams loves reading bedtime stories to.

Williams still believes in being part of a committed couple, despite the “essentially unknowability” between partners (she quotes screen inspiration John Cassavetes for that phrase).

But she’s now warier about love.

“My romanticism and my optimism have not been diminished, but I do think you have to be vigilant and willing to compromise and it’s something you have to stay ahead of,” she said.

“You have to outsmart the problems because they’re so insidious, because they’re inherited. Living inside of you is your mother, your father, a distant relative you never met. You’re at the mercy, to some extent, of your DNA and of your formative experiences which happen to you, largely, without your consent. So you have to practice in learning to work with what you have.”

One thing Williams doesn’t have to practice, although she thinks she does, is looking completely at home in front of the camera.

The lens loves her, more than just for her beauty, which is why no one should worry about her playing Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming My Week with Marilyn, a biopic that might seem dubious in other circumstances.

“Thank you! Then maybe I am a good trickster!” Williams said, laughing at the compliment.

“You know, for some reason I allow myself in work to be more confident, to be braver, to expose more, to risk more — and my life is the opposite of that.

“There’s this Flaubert quote that I love: ‘Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’ That’s how I see myself.”

Williams may call Toronto home

If Michelle Williams ends up moving to Toronto, which she just might do, then Sarah Polley will be the reason.

Williams was here last summer starring in Take This Waltz, a romantic comedy written and directed by Torontonian Polley that co-stars Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman and Luke Kirby.

She was so enchanted with the place — good thing she didn’t visit during our 2009 garbage strike — that she’s seriously thinking of moving here from L.A.

“You know, when I made Take This Waltz, we were looking in windows of real estate offices and I thought, ‘This is a place I could live. I've got a place where I feel at home,’ “ Williams said.

“Yes, Toronto, I’ll be seeing more of you.”

She already has Canadian connections to spare. Her career résumé includes the role of Young Sil from the 1995 sci-fi hit Species, in which she was the junior version of the she-creature played by Canada’s Natasha Henstridge. And her Blue Valentine co-star Ryan Gosling hails from London, Ont.

But Williams would have happily gone anywhere to make Take This Waltz, because she admires Polley so much.

“I get all sort of flushed with feeling and a strange sense of pride, which I don't often experience, when I think of the two of us, when I think of being directed by her.”

She credits Polley and Take This Waltz for preparing her for My Week with Marilyn, a fact-based drama in which she plays Marilyn Monroe to Kenneth Branagh’s Sir Laurence Olivier. She went straight from Polley’s film to the Monroe one.

“Take This Waltz put me on my tippy toes in terms of agility, performance, moment-to-moment. I felt like I was being finely tuned by the material, the part, and Sarah. That's the space that I carried over, directly and immediately, into Marilyn. It felt like I was firmly pressed up against the edge of my abilities.”

NFB Doc Glimpses Into Immigrants’ High-Rise World

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(January 05, 2011) Take a glimpse into someone’s life that is otherwise invisible to most.

Zanillya Maria Farrell is a musician and the daughter of the recently deceased singer Bobby Farrell of the disco group Boney M. Many would label her part of the huge, immigrant community in a southeast corner of Amsterdam and stop there. But her story, although unique, symbolizes the dramatic changes happening in cities around the world.

In the groundbreaking, Web-based work Out My Window by the National Film Board of Canada, Farrell’s story is one of 13 offering glimpses of lives within otherwise anonymous housing developments.

The interactive page about her (which can found by entering the main site here) opens into a 360-degree view of her apartment and the high-rise community out her window. Click on an image of her, and a brief segment about her life as a musician living in the failed housing project of Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam pops up. In a few glimpses of only two or three minutes each, we hear her music and her story, and learn about her community, which has since been restored as a vibrant multicultural area. Most important, it’s home.

Unlike a regular documentary, Out My Window tells its stories in cursory pieces, which feel like actual visits into people’s lives.

That’s the case with XuLuo Huangzhong and a high-rise cemetery in Tainan, Taiwan, a multi-storey building full of memorials to the deceased, where the elderly XuLuo spends her time.

It’s also true of Amchok Gompo, a Tibetan musician living in one of the more than 1,000 residential high-rises in Toronto. Click on images of items around his apartment, including a small statue of a yak to see stories that aren’t voyeuristic, but are polite and welcoming, as well as more thought-provoking than regular documentaries trying to build emotional tension in their story lines.

“What we were trying to do was replicate or mimic this feeling of when you visit somebody’s home and you get to know them in a non-linear, fragmented sort of way,” director Katerina Cizek says. “You’re talking about one thing, but over the shoulder you see something, and you say, ‘Oh, can I ask you about that photograph?’ And then that leads to a piece of their history.”

Cizek previously directed a NFB multimedia project that captured glimpses of inner-city life stemming from downtown Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. She and NFB producer Gerry Flahive are using many of those same Web-based techniques, such as layering stories across different multiple pages, for the five-year experiment Highrise. Out My Window is the first interactive film in the Highrise series.

Cizek and Flahive are also collaborating with academic research on how cities are changing, such as the multiyear Global Suburbanisms program at Toronto’s York University, which looks at how cities have inverted: The suburbs are now the lower-income peripheries and the inner city is the wealthier urban core.

Many people in this changing suburban periphery “don’t have cars. They’re not stereotypically suburban. ... They are invisible, to some extent politically invisible. But they are also physically invisible because they are not living in Chinatown or Little Italy. They are living in these anonymous high-rise blocks,” Flahive says.

“And that’s a really good place for documentaries,” he adds. “The overall Highrise project is not about architecture and urban planning. Primarily, it’s about how people live. The attempt is to peel back some of those stereotypes.”

The individual segments for Out My Window were made by local photographers and crews, with Cizek often directing the segments from thousands of kilometres away in Toronto via Skype, e-mails and phone calls.

Yet, for all of its emphasis on technology, Cizek and Flahive are actually going for something far older: A non-linear way of telling the story of people’s lives in the lower-income high-rises, doing so in the way people in the real world perceive things, in small dollops of information, rather than regular, documentary-length stories.

“Our conventional storytelling narratives don’t really account for this, and that was what I was really most interested in as a documentary filmmaker,” Cizek says. “We always think non-linear storytelling is somehow new, that it goes against the grain and is driven by technology. But, in fact, it’s not. It’s very much the way we tell each other our stories in person.”

For Out My Window, Cizek stopped at about 90 minutes of content. But the stories are so varied and interrelated, the approach so inviting, it seems that she could have gone on indefinitely. What traditional documentary could accomplish that?

“The scope we have with Out My Window is definitely broad. The diversity in these buildings is as complex as life itself,” she says.

Rick Groen And Liam Lacey's Best Films Of 2010

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Rick Groen and Liam Lacey

(December 31, 2010) Another Year  - Without once stooping to sentimentality, director Mike Leigh manages to make goodness – embodied in a happily married couple surrounded by emotional cripples – both ethically convincing and dramatically compelling. Even Milton couldn't pull that off.


In this sprawling yet deft portrait of the notorious terrorist, director Olivier Assayas plunges us deep into the pathology of our times.

The wattage meter: How brightly are these stars shining?

Despicable Me

It's a deliciously animated, 3-D kids' flick that sticks a Latinate polysyllable in the title, spins a subversive plot where every adult character is a villain, and, for once, puts all 3 of those Ds to imaginative use.

Inside Job

As brainy as it is brave, Charles Ferguson's investigative doc places those Wall Street kleptocrats under a bright spotlight, and makes them squirm.

The King's Speech

In the many isolated scenes between Colin Firth's stammering George VI and Geoffrey Rush's imperious speech therapist, what might have been just another British period piece soars into the actors' dazzling clinic.


As a brain-damaged man recreates his tragic story with miniature figures, therapy evolves into art, and Jelf Malmberg's documentary grows into its own dolls' nest of strange yet inspiring surprises.

Rabbit Hole

The subject is sad – the effect of their child's death on a married couple – but the treatment is so unflinchingly honest that the effect feels liberating, even joyful in its raw truths.

The Social Network

About the young life and litigious times of the Facebook founder, David Fincher's film has the staccato wit of a drawing-room comedy, the fatal flaw of a tragic romance, and the buzzy immediacy of a front-page headline.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Set amid the dreamscape of the Thai forest, Apichatpong Weerasethakul brings Buddhist reincarnation to wondrous life in a tone poem both graceful and comic.

Winter's Bone

Despite the trappings of flinty realism – the swamps and meth labs of the Missouri Ozarks – Debra Granik's primal film unfolds like an elemental myth from the stormy past, a Greek tragedy driven by dark fates and struggling toward a catharsis.

Seinfeld’s ‘Grumpy Old Man’ Dies

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(January 04, 2011) LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Character actor Bill Erwin, whose nearly seven-decade Hollywood career included his memorable role as the grumpy old man on television's Seinfeld, has died. He was 96.

Erwin, also known for his role as Arthur the bellman in the 1980 fantasy film Somewhere in Time, died the morning of Dec. 29 at his home in suburban Los Angeles' Studio City, his son Mike Erwin said Tuesday from his Jacksonville, Ore., home.

He died of age-related causes, his son said.

"He just ran out of gas," Mike Erwin said. "He was happy to the end."

Erwin's death was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Erwin's Hollywood career dates back to 1941, when he appeared in the movie You're in the Army Now. His scores of credits include roles on The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Golden Girls, Growing Pains, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Who's the Boss? and My Name is Earl.

But his old man character Sid Fields on Seinfeld, which got him an Emmy nomination in 1993, is perhaps his most memorable role.

Erwin studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse and performed in stage productions around Los Angeles through the decades. He also dabbled as a cartoonist and his work was published in The New Yorker, Playboy and Los Angeles magazine.

Besides his son Mike, Erwin is survived by son Timothy Erwin, and daughters Lindsey Thomas Erwin and Kelly Erwin, all of Los Angeles; and his sister Mary Gene Cosper in San Angelo, Texas.

Plans for a public memorial service in Los Angeles were incomplete.

Little Fockers Remains No. 1 At Box Office

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(January 02, 2011) LOS ANGELES—Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller’s Little Fockers remained the top draw at the weekend box office with $26.3 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

It was closely followed by Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon’s western True Grit, which was No. 2 for the second-straight weekend with $24.5 million.

Little Fockers, released by Universal, raised its domestic haul to $103.2 million. Paramount’s True Grit lifted its total to $86.8 million, becoming the top-grossing film ever from directors Joel and Ethan Coen, whose previous best was $74.3 million for No Country for Old Men.

With no new wide releases out over New Year’s weekend, the Hollywood top-10 lined up largely the same as it did over the Christmas holiday.

Bridges also had the No. 3 film with Disney’s sci-fi sequel Tron: Legacy at $18.3 million, while Dan Aykroyd’s family flick Yogi Bear, from Warner Bros., was fourth with $13 million.

After a sluggish fall and holiday season, Hollywood is off to a slow start in 2011. Overall revenues came in at $158 million, down 28 per cent from New Year’s weekend a year ago, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

The holiday season in 2009 was unusually strong, largely because of James Cameron’s Avatar, which was on its way to becoming the biggest modern blockbuster with $2.8 billion worldwide.

A year ago, Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel also held up well over New Year’s weekend.

“What made the difference last year was just that incredible combination of films,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Hollywood.com box-office analyst. “That said, I think 2011 is going to be a huge year. If you look at the titles, I think we’re going to get our box-office strength back.”

The final Harry Potter film is among Hollywood’s offerings this year, along with the latest in the Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Twilight, Cars, Kung Fu Panda, X-Men and The Hangover franchises.

Little Fockers has done good business despite bad reviews for the third instalment in De Niro and Stiller’s Meet the Parents franchise.

“I’m sorry the business isn’t better for the industry overall, but having said that, it doesn’t make a difference for us. We were the No. 1 film for the holidays,” said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. “Considering it’s the third time around, not so bad.”

True Grit is a rare hit western — once a Hollywood staple but a genre that has all but vanished. Industry insiders had been sceptical about the film’s prospects, especially since the 1969 version of True Grit was one of John Wayne’s best-known roles from late in his career, earning him the best-actor Academy Award.

But the Coens never considered their version a remake. They did a faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, the source for both movies, and the Coens’ version has earned terrific reviews.

“They acted like there’d never been another movie made, that this was the first. You’ve got to give them credit. It’s a stunning achievement,” said Don Harris, executive vice-president of distribution at Paramount.

While this season’s top hits failed to measure up to Avatar and other 2009 holiday blockbusters, smaller Oscar contenders continued to score in the top 10.

Paramount’s boxing drama The Fighter, with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, was No. 7 with $10 million, raising its total to $46.4 million; Fox Searchlight’s psychosexual thriller Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman, came in at No. 9 with $8.5 million, raising its haul to $47.4 million; and the Weinstein Co. historical drama The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth, was No. 10 with $7.7 million, pushing its sum to $22.8 million.

Other awards contenders debuted well in limited release. The Weinstein Co. marital drama Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, took in $180,066 in four theatres.

Sony Pictures Classics’ British drama Another Year, from director Mike Leigh and featuring Jim Broadbent, took in $120,390 in six theatres.

Tim McGraw And The Fine Art Of Changing Hats

Source:  www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard

(January 03, 2011) BEVERLY HILLS—He may be country music royalty, but minus his trademark black cowboy hat and clad in a hoodie, jeans and glasses, Tim McGraw passes unrecognized when he pops into a cocktail party at a Beverly Hills hotel just before a press screening for his new movie, Country Strong.

He doesn't wear his hat or sing a note in the new drama, which opens Jan. 7.

That's all left to Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Kelly Canter, a fading country star plagued by booze and depression.

McGraw plays her husband and manager, James, who struggles to get her back on the road as their marriage crumbles.

The next morning, when he met with the press to talk about the movie, McGraw was dressed in similar low-key fashion.

Perhaps taking a page from fellow singer-actor Justin Timberlake, he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, a red plaid shirt and grey cashmere sweater vest over dark-washed jeans, the height of geek chic. The only bit of country star bling was his bright gold wristwatch, a massive thing with a huge face.

With supporting roles in The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights (with Tron: Legacy star Garrett Hedlund, who also co-stars in Country Strong as an up-and-coming singer), McGraw is anxious to keep working in front of a camera as well as behind a mic. But he realizes that filmmakers may have trouble seeing past his profile as a country star.

“I know how probably the trepidation of anybody hiring me for any movie is they don't want me to be a distraction,” said McGraw, 43. “They don't want the audience to go in and every time … ‘Oh that's that country music singer guy.' Hopefully, I've gotten a little past that.”

He feared it might be “too much to ask the audience” to see him playing a country music manager's role but not sing in Country Strong. But McGraw had faith in writer/director Shana Feste's abilities to “build a character that everyone will buy into and not really think it's Tim McGraw,” especially when he saw her critically well-received 2009 drama, The Greatest.

“This character in particular, when you read the script, I thought there was no way that James Canter would sing,” McGraw said of his character, who always dresses like a Southern gentleman in sharp suits, trim beard and precisely styled hair.

“The way I approached this role was that he was really the only adult in the film,” McGraw added.

“He had to make the adult decisions. I never thought of him as an ass at all, or a bad guy. I thought he had to make some tough decisions that nobody else could make.”

Making the movie required a real commitment from McGraw, who was performing in Las Vegas while shooting. He'd film all day, fly out to do the show and fly back to the set for the morning.

“The last two, three weeks turned into about 20-hour days. It was kind of tough,” he admitted. “But it's also the things that when you look back, when you make a good film, made it interesting and that's what made it kind of cool.”

In Country Strong, James struggles with Kelly's return from rehab and attempts to get back on the road despite a miscarriage caused by an onstage fall after drinking. Their already-frayed marriage is put under more strain by Kelly's infatuation with Beau (Hedlund), a musician she met in rehab, and ambitious singer Chiles Stanton (Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester), who makes it clear she'll do just about anything to get to the top.

Paltrow has been friends with McGraw and his wife, country singer Faith Hill, for about 10 years, he said. The Oscar-winning actress impressed both McGraw and Hill with her singing talents; he calls her a “fantastic” singer.

“She sucks you in and you totally believe in her and she melts you,” McGraw said.

“There's an honest, almost heartbreaking, an Appalachian loneliness in her voice. I think she's got a fantastic country voice.”

McGraw also spent some time working with Hedlund who, like Paltrow, is an untrained singer.

He was equally impressed with Hedlund's voice and acting talents.

“I really think he's gonna be a huge movie star. I think he's gonna be one of our leading men down the road.”

McGraw said as they sat and played, he told Hedlund, with his “resonant, deep, cool-sounding (speaking) voice,” he had the building blocks to become a solid singer.

“I told him, you just had to believe in what you're singing. You have to believe yourself that you're good.

“A great singer is not necessarily a requirement for being a successful singing artist, I think,” McGraw added.

“I told him he should approach it as he's coming to town to be a country music singer, not that he's coming to town to play one.”

McGraw said he plans to continue taking acting roles.

He plays a CIA agent in his next movie, Safe House, with Denzel Washington, although with an album planned for this spring and a summer tour, music is very much on his mind.

“I've got straight-up bills to pay. Three daughters — that's a lot of shoes,” he laughs.

“Movies aren't gonna pay for that for me.”


'True Grit,' 'Black Swan' Receive Writers Guild Noms

Source:  www.thestar.com

(January 04, 2011) LOS ANGELES, CALIF.—Huge hits such as True Grit and Inception will be up against smaller films such as 127 Hours and The Kids Are All Right for screenplay honours from the Writers Guild of America. Inception and The Kids Are All Right were among guild nominees Tuesday for best original screenplay, along with Black Swan, The Fighter and Please Give. True Grit and 127 Hours are in the running for adapted screenplay, along with I Love You Phillip Morris, The Social Network and The Town. Some of the year's most acclaimed films, including The King's Speech, Winter's Bone and Toy Story 3, were ineligible because they were not made under the guild's contract guidelines. Guild winners will be announced Feb. 5.

Mo’Nique to Announce Oscar Nominees

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(January 4, 2011) *
Nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 25, by Mo’Nique and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak. The two will unveil the nominations in 10 of the 24 categories at 8:30 a.m. ET/ 5:30 a.m. PT, reports USA Today. Last year Mo’Nique received her first Oscar nomination and win for her supporting performance in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” She also hosts her own late-night talk show, “The Mo’Nique Show,” on BET.

::TV NEWS::\

Oprah’s OWN To Start Airing Programs In Canada

Source:  www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press

(January 05, 2011) Canadians can start sampling content from Oprah Winfrey’s new network on Friday. Although OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network won’t be available here until March 1, select shows will be airing on W Network and VIVA through February. W will air OWN programming every Friday night at 9 p.m. until the network launches, while VIVA will air shows over three days: Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Mondays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and Fridays from 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, Oprah Presents Master Class, Kidnapped By the Kids, Miracle Detectives and Enough Already! with Peter Walsh are among the shows on sneak preview. OWN will replace Corus Entertainment Inc.’s VIVA on the dial when it launches in Canada. OWN launched in the U.S. last weekend.

Canadian Women’s Cooking Show Debuts On Oprah Winfrey Channel

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(December 31, 2010) Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic's cooking show Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.

A pair of Vancouver women credit perseverance and patience for making them rare
Canadian headliners — along with Shania Twain — on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) which launches in the U.S. this Saturday.

Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic’s cooking show Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag will appear weekdays at 3 p.m. between the midday movie and former model Cristina Ferrare’s culinary segment, except Fridays when it follows Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, a series about the final year of the media maven’s talk show.

“That’s the heart of daytime TV, we’re pretty happy about that time slot,” said Wallner of the plum spot their show landed.

Though Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag, which appears in Canada on W network and Viva, is seen in 35 countries, and their previous show The Shopping Bags aired in the U.S. on the defunct Fine Living channel, the ladies are stoked about accessing the 80 million subscribers OWN inherited from the former Discovery Health Channel.

“Obviously Oprah has a special gift in picking things and making her mark and we’re very excited that they chose our show,” said Matisic.

The hosts missed the chance to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show following the release of their 2005 book The Shopping Bags: Tips, Tricks & Inside Information to Make You a Savvy Shopper.

“We always said ‘We’ll know we’ve made it when we make it on to the Oprah show’ and a few years ago we were actually booked as guests and then something happened in the news and that particular episode changed and we got cancelled,” recalled Wallner.

“We always thought ‘We were so close to making it.’ And now, we’re just looking at each other saying ‘Isn’t it funny how things turn out?’ That’s what I mean about being patient.”

The women had no direct contact with Winfrey during the OWN negotiations and have yet to meet her. But their understanding is that she made the final call on program purchases and personally saw and chose their show.

What impressed her was an effervescent, self-deprecating duo of amateur foodies vetting cookbooks and kitchen products.

“When you hang out with a lot of real chefs you realize just how little you know,” said Toronto native Wallner, 41. “I think that’s what makes the show so approachable — that we are just like our viewers in the kitchen. Everything that can and does go wrong in your kitchen also can and does go wrong in ours. The point of the show is to weed out the books that are either totally unrealistic in their recipes, or where the recipes don’t work, or where they’re bland. The cookbook shelf is so crowded, our goal is to weed out the worthwhile.”

Winfrey, whose official best friend Gayle King is an integral part of her empire — and will have her own talk show on OWN — may have also been captivated by the similar backstory of Wallner and Matisic’s effortless camaraderie. Winfrey and King met in the mid-’70s working at a Baltimore TV news station; Wallner and Matisic met as news reporters at Global TV in Vancouver in the mid-‘90s.

“I always say to people that it’s amazing that we became such close friends, because it was really an unlikely scenario,” said Croatia-born, B.C.-raised Matisic, 42.

“We were competing for the same stories, the same breaks, the same advancements, and it just never affected us at all. We were friends kind of instantly. We had the same educational background, the same resume; we were practically the same person.”

They still are: just ten months apart, the pals share a similar build and are both unmarried, outdoors-loving West Coasters. Even their voices are barely distinguished in a phone interview.

They left Global within eight months of each other a decade ago and lived off their savings for two years while flogging their notion for a show that merged journalism and shopping.

“The challenge was in selling it to the broadcaster, because we had no experience as producers, or pitching a show, or putting a show together,” said Matisic. “It took a couple of runs and more than a couple of rejections before somebody finally put us into development.

“And that was certainly a lesson in perseverance, we had taken such a risk and we had so many people betting against us. We left full-time jobs in media which don’t come along everyday and we had a lot of naysayers, a lot of people saying we were crazy. So not getting it done was just not an option.”

Vetting a wide range of consumer products, The Shopping Bags ran for seven seasons. They didn’t get on Winfrey’s show, but Wallner and Matisic were “smart-shopping” regulars on other popular programs, such as Good Morning America. In 2008, they spun off as planned into Grocery Bag which is in the midst of its third season, interrupted by one season of the fashion-based Anna & Kristina’s Beauty Call. In the Winfrey tradition they produced the spinoffs themselves.

OWN debuts in Canada Mar. 1 under the aegis of Corus Entertainment which owns W Network and Viva. That means though their deal is with OWN U.S., Grocery Bags could end up on OWN here as well.

So far, it’s the only Canadian-helmed show, besides Shania Twain’s reality series announced in the cable channel’s blend of original and acquired programming.

With Winfrey committed only to appearing in some 70 hours of programming in 2011, OWN’s other offerings include a series about female prisoners and Rosie O’Donnell’s return to the talk show format.

At work on a food-related book and focused on the “expansion of the Anna & Kristina brand,” Wallner and Matisic plan to herald OWN’s debut with champagne.

And they’re not ruling out an appearance before The Oprah Winfrey Show winds up next fall.

“We’ve learned to never rule anything out,” Wallner said. With her “big picture” outlook and Matisic’s attention to details, the pals say their friendship is integral to their thriving business.

“I think our shows are successful because we are really friends,” said Matisic. “We’re not faking that. We’ve had arguments and tried to shoot while we’re having them and it’s a challenge. We really need to remain friends in order for this to be successful.”

New CBC Show Aims To Inspire A Nation To Lose Weight

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux

(January 02, 2011) First a confession: as I sit to write about the new CBC series Village on a Diet, it is all I can do not to get up and make myself a big, fat sandwich.

That urge alone might make this 10-part reality series, which begins Monday night at 9 p.m., required viewing for this craving critic.

The fact is that obesity in Canada is out of control, with statistics showing that childhood obesity rates in particular have tripled in the past 25 years.

With a new year upon us, bringing new resolutions, a group of six health and nutrition experts swoop down upon the small northern British Columbia town of Taylor — where more than 60 per cent of the population have been declared overweight or obese — with the goal of helping the community shed one ton of collective weight in just three months. The bigger goal is to provide a you-can-do-it-too example for the rest of the ever-expanding nation.

It’s all part of CBC’s new “Live Right Now” initiative, an ambitious plan to shake viewers out of bad eating habits and to create a movement toward healthier lifestyles. For the next few weeks, CBC personalities like George Stroumboulopoulos and Peter Mansbridge will be weighing in, sharing their own personal tips on avoiding the winter snack trap.

To a reporter always hungry for a scoop, and not just of news, it sounds a bit precious. What will CBC choose to campaign for next winter: “End War Now”? How about “Make Shows I Want to Watch Now”?

The idea of shedding weight through TV viewing also seems counterproductive. Don’t most networks covet couch potatoes? If we’re up, out and exercising, aren’t we likely to be far away from any TV set?

These were questions I took to the panel of experts CBC had assembled in Toronto a few weeks ago to help promote the launch of Village on a Diet. They include a doctor, a dietician, a chef, a psychologist and two no-nonsense physical trainers. They are superheroes of svelte, and they’re out to turn Taylorites from tubbies to trim and fit citizens.

This Heroic Health Squad knew they had their work cut out for them. Taylor was chosen from a list of communities where obesity outpaced the already alarming national average. This meat-loving, truck-driving oil and gas town needed an intervention, something the town council recognized when it invited the producers to use its community for this experiment.

“Going there and doing this was a no-brainer,” says Garfield Wilson, a U.K.-born, Edmonton-raised personal trainer. “When you get the opportunity as experts in health promotion to go to a town and do a show like this across a national platform, it’s like winning the lottery.”

Dr. Ali Zentner felt the same way. A cardiac risk management and obesity specialist, Zentner can relate to patients who come to her for help losing weight. Back when she was a stressed-out med student, bad eating habits led to her own weight ballooning out of control to the point she tipped the scales at 322 pounds.

Through diet, exercise and determination, she has been able to cut her weight in half.

All of the experts agree that dieting doesn’t work alone. A healthy lifestyle is just that: a lifestyle. “We’re trying to make profound changes in people’s lives,” says Zentner.

The suggestion that remote Taylor may lack the range of nutritious foods available to Canadians in larger urban centres to make this lifestyle switch a reality is quickly shot down. “How often do you eat fast food?” asks registered dietician Maria Thomas. Point taken, I concede, falling back on the excuse that I live in Brampton, where cars are built and fast food restaurants flourish. Doing anything as odd as walking in a city filled with drive-through banks and doughnut shops seems like a form of civil disobedience.

Nonsense, says personal trainer Mike Veinot. Start by walking to the grocery store.

When you get there, suggests Jonathan Chovancek, an award-winning, Vancouver-based chef, buy whole foods that are high in nutrition. Chovancek says that, as a nation, we’re eating too many frozen and processed foods with long lists of ingredients few of us can even pronounce. Go for the fruits and vegetables and legumes and cook them ourselves, he says. “Start taking control of what we put into our bodies by taking control of what we bring into our homes.”

If a busy, commuter lifestyle leaves little time for cooking, grab a roasted chicken from the supermarket and a salad, says registered psychologist Adele Fox. It is as fast, and as cheap, as getting barbecued chicken at a fast-food restaurant, only healthier.

“Except watch the salad dressing,” cautions Wilson.

The team concedes that not every town or individual has a personal fitness team to guide them through this booty-shrinking boot camp. “Coaches are going to push people farther than they push themselves,” says Wilson, who feels he can help mentor and support others through this TV show. “Our goal is to make everyone feel yes, you can do this.”

The bottom line, in more ways than one, is everyone can do one thing to start moving toward a healthier lifestyle, and Village on a Diet will provide plenty of ideas and inspiration along the way.

Message received. Story over, now I can go make that sandwich — right after I get back from walking to the grocery store.

Dear Genevieve Host Gorder Looks To Canada For Interior Design Items

Source:  www.thestar.com - Victoria Ahearn

(January 04, 2011) Viewers may see some Canadian flair on the American interior design series Dear Genevieve, which kicked off its fourth season Tuesday on HGTV Canada.

The show’s famed Manhattan-based decorator,
Genevieve Gorder, says she’s looked north of the border “a number of times” for items for the show.

“There’s a company called Gus in Toronto with modern furniture, a lot of upholstered goods and accessories, that I’ve used on a couple of episodes where I’ve done a more contemporary esthetic,” Gorder said in a recent phone interview.

“When I do go to Canada — my husband’s from Canada — I source pretty heavy and bring back what I can because I can get more for the dollar.”

Gorder’s husband is Calgary-born Tyler Harcott, whom she met about a decade ago when she was one of the original decorators on TLC’s Trading Spaces and he was hosting the channel’s Junkyard Wars.

The network had asked them to participate in a show called The Dating Story, but things didn't quite go according to plan.

“I said, ‘Sure, you know what? I will do it. He’s tall and northern and I’m from Minnesota and we’ll probably have a lot in common — we’re both humbled by the cold, let’s have a date.’ And he was cute,” said Gorder.

“It never happened because they thought that if the date went bad, that two of their top show personalities would look really bad on top of it. So they cancelled it, but we still ended up going out.

“They would’ve had a miniseries on their hands had they let it happen because we’ve been together almost 10 years now and we have a daughter.”

Each episode of Dear Genevieve begins with Gorder sifting through emails, letters and videos from homeowners distressed over design issues. She then picks one query to respond to and surprises the homeowners with in-person help.

If something goes awry during the makeover, Gorder doesn’t mind it making it to air. Her goal is to deliver unscripted, truthful coverage that viewers can relate to.

“I’ve been doing design television for a really long time and I think our audience has graduated with design television,” said Gorder, who runs her own design company, gg studios, and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

“What we could do 10, 12 years ago and set up or redo or contrive (scenes) doesn’t work anymore because the audience is always savvier than any network gives them credit for.”

With the economy recovering from the recession, Gorder’s audience is also more strapped for cash than it was in previous seasons of her series.

As a result, she gets fewer requests for kitchen remodelling these days. Instead, homeowners are often asking how to make small rooms function better, for less.

“In the years past, I’d have almost a season full of kitchens and that’s the most expensive room, as we all know, to do in every home,” she said.

“People are refraining from biting off the big chunks that they used to so it’s pushing all of us to be a bit more creative and seeing how far we can push.”

The biggest interior design trends for 2011, said Gorder, include a palate of oyster, cream and blush colours replacing the world of neutral and beige.

She also thinks bold, Ikat and Suzani folk prints will be prominent on everything from wallpaper to linens and china.

The key to adding luxury on a small reno budget, she said, is figuring out the right items to splurge on.

“Like, a kitchen, you should spend your money on great cabinetry because you won’t have to change it out and you won’t have to do it again.”

New Musical Director for American Idol

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 31, 2010) *
Ray Chew is officially taking the former seat of Rickey Minor as music director forAmerican Idol,” according to the Hollywood Reporter

Chew has served as bandleader and musical director for such programs as NBC’s “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” and “The Singing Bee.” He also curated all the music for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where “Idol” alum Jennifer Hudson sang the national anthem, and the inaugural ball ushering in Barack Obama’s presidency in January 2009, which featured performances by Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, and Sting, along with an unforgettable rendition of Etta James’ “At Last,” sung by Beyoncé as the first couple had their first dance.

Chew also has a great reputation among big names like divas Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Alicia Keys. Recently he performed alongside Rihanna as the pianist and conductor on her hit “Unfaithful.”

With his career steadily rising, Chew is ready to tackle the new task.

“It’s sink or swim. You can’t tread water; you have to actually go somewhere. If you’re treading water and imagine yourself out in the middle of the ocean or large lake, you can only tread water for so long. If you’re swimming, you got a chance; you got a shot. You might swim to a log or something or some place where you can catch your breath and keep swimming.”

Family Values, Canadian-Style

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Matthew Hays

(January 02, 2011) A funny thing happened on the way to season two for the creators and chief writers of 18 to Life, a CBC sitcom shot in Montreal that has garnered a loyal cult following.

While writing and shooting season two, which debuts on Monday co-creators Karen Troubetzkoy and Derek Schreyer found themselves in a back-and-forth with CBC execs about whether they could use the word “penis” in an episode. “The CBC felt it was too on-the-nose in context,” says Troubetzkoy. “So we had to find a substitute for the word. The CBC, Derek and I exchanged a list of possibilities, including junk, pajama python and Pope John Pole the Third, before finally settling on pecker, which fit like a glove.”

That, says Troubetzkoy, was the perfect creative debate to cap the creation of the show’s second season. . And it also points to the conflicting pressures and demands involved in creating a saucy, boundary-pushing TV series in a medium that is in serious transition, and in a format that faces conservative criticism despite having an audience with more liberal expectations.

Troubetzkoy and Schreyer said they wanted to push some boundaries with their show, but they didn’t expect to step into the family-values cultural war south of the border when the show began airing on the CW network last year. Canadian reviews had been generally favourable, but some American critics took umbrage with the show’s premise that two teenaged kids would get married, fresh out of high school, and then move in with the young wife’s parents. The Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin trashed the show, fuming that “the CW, a network aimed at teenage girls, apparently couldn’t find an American network stupid or venal enough to make a sitcom about the amusing foibles of teenage marriage. Thanks for stepping in, Canada.”

While the show does feature some frank discussion of sex, the content is generally pretty benign, allowing the characters to work through various conflicts as two couples from different generations would. If anything, it reaffirms faith in family.

“When you see people that young falling in love, and then committing to each other, it creates a strange emotional combination of horror and being moved,” says Schreyer. “We weren’t trying to make a statement on marriage, but our feeling was that these two characters were far too young to be tying the knot.”

For the record, Schreyer and Troubetzkoy are in a long-term relationship, but are not married. Which prompts the question: How many of the show’s plots are hatched from their own experience? “Some, but not all,” says Troubetzkoy. “We’re quite happy to exploit our own relationship for cash.”

Schreyer says the second season has allowed the writers to move beyond the teen-marriage premise and let the characters explore new and different themes. “Everyone is a bit more mature this year,” he says. “The parents have accepted the marriage. We’ve become a bit more irreverent. We’ll certainly be exploring the gender divide.”

This season’s premiere has the young couple (Michael Seater and Stacey Farber) confronting each other about how many sexual partners they had before they wed. “Many of the episodes are about honesty,” says Troubetzkoy. “Do you trust your partner with the truth? It’s tricky, because we want the show to be salty, but also sweet. It’s a complicated balance when you look at the private side of relationships.”

Schreyer says it’s a strange time to be creating and writing for TV. On the one hand, some Canadian TV shows have managed to sell to U.S. networks, which is seen as a big breakthrough. “But this,” he adds, “leads some to try to pre-sanitize the shows so American networks won’t object to anything.”

At the same time, the influence of brazen cable shows such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City have expanded what’s acceptable to audiences and sponsors. Indeed, it’s contradictory, but America is the country where Bristol Palin, who had a child out of wedlock, has emerged as an advocate for abstinence and traditional marriage. .

“We really thought that by having our teen couple get married, we might not offend the religious right,” says Schreyer. “And then by having the sex in it, we would please the liberals. But both seemed to be offended in the end.”

Special to the Globe and Mail

Paula Abdul Says ‘I Have A Brain’

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux

(January 02, 2011) LOS ANGELES—Former American Idol judge Paula Abdul says that being perceived as stupid was one of the most annoying misperceptions people have about her.

Abdul, 48, who returns to television this week with her own dance reality competition show, also insisted that she was naturally goofy and that her sometimes volatile public behaviour was not the result of drugs or alcohol.

“I am intelligent, I am,” Abdul told Julie Chen in an interview that was broadcast on CBS Sunday Morning.

“But people don’t give you enough credit for having a brain,” Chen replied, according to a transcript released on Thursday.

“Having a brain, that’s a concept, yes, with Paula Abdul. I have a brain,” Abdul said

Abdul was an American Idol judge for eight years before quitting the TV singing contest in 2009 in a contract dispute. Her often odd behaviour on the show sparked rumours about drug taking.

But the dancer and singer told Chen; “I’ve never had a drinking problem. Even though I’ve been in this business for quite some time. I’ve never physically been drunk in my life. I’ve never been drunk in my life. I don’t use recreational drugs. But, I am goofy.

“It’s Paula. It is Paula. And, even the people on Idol know that none of that existed, ever,” she said.

Abdul made her name as a recording artist in 1988 with the multi-platinum album Forever Your Girl, which spawned the No. 1 hits “Straight Up,” “Cold Hearted,” “Opposites Attract” and the title song.

But she began her career as a choreographer while performing with the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleading squad, where she caught the eye of the Jacksons, going on to choreograph music videos for them and other artists, as well as scenes in movies such as Big, Coming to America and Jerry Maguire.

Abdul told Chen she got the bug to be a performer watching Singin’ in the Rain when she was 4 years old.

“I fell in love with Gene Kelly,” she said. “And truly, that is my earliest, most beautiful memories of deciding right then and there, as my parents said, that I stood up and I put my fist down. I said, ‘I'm going to be an entertainer!’”

Live to Dance premieres on CBS and CTV on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The series showcases solo performers, pairs or groups of any age or genre vying for a $500,000 prize.

Abdul is an executive producer as well as a judge and a mentor to the contestants.

Her fellow judges are choreographer Travis Payne and former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt.

With files from CBS, Debra Yeo

Kodjoe No Longer ‘Undercovers’ But Career and Family Keep Him Busy

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(January 05, 2011) *
Boris Kodjoe is on the move. Besides his acting career, he and his actress wife, Nicole Ari Parker, have started a foundation for their daughter’s sickness, as well as a custom shirt line.

In an interview with VIBE, he shared his thought about “Undercovers” being cancelled, how he and his wife deal with love scenes, his daughter’s battle with spina bifida and more.

On “Undercovers”: Every week I did something crazy that I hadn’t done before. One time I blew a hole through a concrete wall and climbed thru it into a tall building. Then I would jump out of planes, making my way from a cockpit. It was crazy but it was so much a fun as an actor being able to do so many things on a daily basis, that almost never happens.

On love scenes: Nicole is a beautiful actress who’s had her share of love interests in films over the years with everybody from Denzel [Washington] to Eddie Murphy so it’s a very balanced situation. I’ve watched her do those scenes and she’s watched me, but now we have our little rituals. When I know a love scene of hers is coming up I usually get up and make myself a sandwich so I don’t have to watch [laughs]. We make fun of it. She’ll critique my technique, tell me what it looks like and what I could have done better.

On daughter’s spina bifida illness: Spina bifida is a birth and spine defect that affects the bowels, bladder and legs. When you have a child with spina bifida it’s about 13 times more expensive. The spectrum is really wide some children are in wheelchairs, others are in leg braces or use canes or walkers. It affects mobility. So the management of a child with spina bifida is quite intense and it affects the family in a very deep way- it can be traumatic.

Read the full interview here.


CNN’s John Roberts Said To Be Joining Fox News

Source:  www.thestar.com - Melissa Maerz

(January 03, 2011) NEW YORK—John Roberts is expected to join Fox News Channel as a senior national correspondent based in Atlanta, according to Mediaite. The site said the Canadian, a former MuchMusic VJ, will report on major domestic and international stories for the network. The move would be a boon for Fox News, which scores an award-winning journalist with Roberts, who has spent the past two decades covering major news stories for CBS News, where he often filled in for Evening News anchor Dan Rather, and CNN, where he co-anchored American Morning. In December, CNN announced that Roberts would be moving to the network’s Atlanta headquarters to be closer to his fiancée, CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, who is pregnant with twins. By choosing to work with Fox instead, Roberts jumps to a news network with higher ratings, along with the chance to get out of the studio and back into reporting.

Toni Braxton and Sisters Star in Reality Show for WE

Source: www.eurweb.com

(January 3, 2011) *It looks like singer Toni Braxton and her sisters are jumping on the reality show band wagon. Braxton, and her sisters – Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar – will appear in “Braxton Family Values” on the WE network starting in April.  The WE network appeals chiefly to women, and with Oprah Winfrey’s new OWN network going on the air last weekend, it is looking to sharpen its focus for viewers. The network said it will emphasize programs that feature families.  “Our goal is to put on families that are big personalities, who are interesting, entertaining, full of drama and conflict and you can’t wait to tune in next week,” Kim Martin, the network’s president and general manager, said recently.


Megan Follows - An Irrepressible Reputation To Live Down

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman AND Vancouver

(January 03, 2011) As Anne Shirley on Anne of Green Gables and two sequels, there was a time when Megan Follows was the face of Canadian culture. She’s been recognized on safari in Tanzania and on the Yangtze River in China. Now 42, Follows still divides her time between Toronto and Los Angeles, between theatre and television. She’s in Vancouver for the Canadian premiere of This by Vancouver-raised playwright Melissa James Gibson. Follows plays a recently widowed woman trying to make it through middle age as a single mother.

How much of your own baggage do you bring to this role?

I guess one man’s baggage is another man’s treasure chest. I’ve certainly been touched by a few of the themes in this piece. And I appreciate the combination of the subject matter and humour. Not a guffaw kind of humour, but the way humour can help us survive and navigate through periods of huge transition. It certainly speaks to me in that I’m definitely in a period of transition myself. I’m recently single and my children are growing up, going off to college.

I just watched your audition for Anne of Green Gables on YouTube. What do you remember about that day?

I remember that the day before we had spent hours doing the audition. I had flown in from Los Angeles. I was one of the first people they had seen in the previous year and they’d since seen 3000 people and they hadn’t found who they were looking for. And I got another crack at it. I think I was there 3 hours working on the scenes and if I recall, doing some of them with nobody in the room with me, to a plant in the office. Then the next morning just before we were going to the airport, this frantic call came in. Mysteriously, the tape had been destroyed. I had 45 minutes to get back down there, and do the whole thing again if I wasn’t going to miss my flight. Then I thought okay it’s in the hands of the fates. So that’s the audition that you see on YouTube.

Does the continued interest in that role irritate you at all?

No. It’s kind of obvious, so I’m really proud of it. I know how hard that was and I know how well it was done, so I take it as a compliment.

Is there a particular fan encounter that has stayed with you?

I was at a clothing store in Beverly Hills, this trendy clothing store, and this young woman was helping me out and then she kind of took a good look at me and she said ‘do I know you?’ I said ‘you might’ and then she just burst into tears and started to shake. ‘You were Anne. I love you. I grew up with you.’ She was this L.A. girl, all done up, and I thought ‘wow, that character meant something to her as a young woman.’ And I can’t forget that; the experience for girls of having a role model whose essence was the quality of her character. She wasn’t defined by the men in her life. That still stands out because it’s still rare.

What do you think of the roles available to female actors today?

There are some fantastic roles for women and women of a certain age on television, whether it’s Medium or The Closer or Damages or Saving Grace. And the theatre - certainly in the last several hundred years, once women were allowed to perform - has offered excellent roles for women to grow into. And that is, of course, the complete opposite of what happens in cinema.

When you were playing Anne on TV, things were very different in terms of media scrutiny. How do you think you would have handled the world that young actresses have to live in today?

It must be a nightmare. That whole thing: the paparazzi, a gazillion magazines. You can’t lie on a beach. God forbid your bikini rides up too far or you’ve eaten too many doughnuts and they catch you wiping your mouth. That must be exhausting, that lack of privacy.

How much did you learn about navigating the world as a young actor from your parents [actors Dawn Greenhalgh and Ted Follows]?

My parents were working performers so obviously I saw that there wasn’t a lot of fairy tale going on there. It was a precarious world. One that they were deeply committed to and deeply loved, but one that required a lot of hard work. I think that grounds you, because you also see the heartbreak. You understand that and there’s a lot of it in our business.

Do you still experience heartbreak?

Oh, sure. Absolutely.

Roles you wanted but didn’t get?

Sure. That still happens, definitely.

How do you deal with it?

It depends. It’s a sting. And then you kind of pick yourself up and you look towards the next one.

This is at the Vancouver Playhouse Jan. 8 - 29; opening Jan. 13 (vancouverplayhouse.com).

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Plum Role In Vancouver A Learning Curve For Ballet Star

Source:  www.thestar.com - Michael Crabb

(January 01, 2011) Most holiday seasons, Chan Hon Goh’s major concern was stepping from a huge golden egg to dance the iconic Sugar Plum Fairy role in the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker. Now, 18 months after her farewell performance, Goh is still worrying about The Nutcracker but from a radically different perspective. Instead of dancing it she’s producing it; a lavish, $1 million version for the Vancouver-based Goh Ballet Academy that by all accounts has quickly won the hearts of local audiences.

Producing a new Nutcracker that Vancouver could embrace as its homegrown own was the first task Goh tackled after an illustrious 21-year career with the National Ballet. It was a major investment for the academy, founded by her parents after leaving China in the mid-1970s.

The academy, where Goh herself studied, quickly established a reputation for producing immaculately trained dancers. It already had a Nutcracker in which to showcase its talented students each December, but Chan persuaded her parents, Choo Chiat Goh and Lin Yee, to develop a spectacular new version that would incorporate students from several local studios and feature guest principal dancers in the major classical roles. And she called in Canadian-born veteran Anna-Marie Holmes, renowned for her staging of the classics, to choreograph it.

Despite her long experience as a dancer, Goh was taken aback by the minefield of logistical and financial issues she had to manage. “It was so much more than I expected and a real growing experience.”

Staged for the first time in December 2009 at the 1,800-seat Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, it was a runaway hit, winning critical plaudits and drawing crowds in excess of 90 per cent capacity.

Exhausting as it may have been for the former ballerina, it was also enough to make her commit to doing what her parents had long wanted: to take over the academy itself.

Goh, 41, concedes that she “sat on the fence” for a while following her retirement from the National Ballet. She was uncertain of her capacity to run a major private ballet school. It was also a matter of psychological adjustment. “As a dancer, it was all me, me, me,” she explains. “As a teacher and director it is constantly giving, giving, giving.” Nutcracker convinced her that giving brings its own rewards.

Goh officially became head of the academy, where her ballet teacher husband Chun Che is now vice-principal, last summer. Before that she boned up on everything from labour law to financial management. And there was the teaching itself, something Goh knew was as much a gift as a learned skill. “For years my husband had always told me, ‘It is much harder to be a teacher than a dancer.’ But I had to learn that for myself.”

With the holiday season now in full swing — and a 4-year-old son to keep entertained — Goh says she’s happy to take some family time, especially after a second Nutcracker season she feared could be a disaster. Not that Goh had any artistic concerns, but knowing the limited scale and fickleness of the Vancouver market — and that they’d be competing with a couple of Canucks games during the six-show run — she wondered if they’d get an audience.

Complicating matters was the fact that Ballet BC had booked Alberta Ballet to present its colourful Nutcracker at the larger Queen Elizabeth Theatre, a situation Goh had unsuccessfully tried to forestall by offering the city the Vancouver-produced version in partnership with Ballet BC.

Fortunately for Goh, the Albertans did not arrive until Wednesday, so she got first crack at the market. Although the numbers were slightly down from 2009, the response was solid enough to suggest the accuracy of Vancouver Sun critic Kevin Griffin’s enthusiastic original assessment of the Goh Nutcracker: “a Christmas tradition for years to come.”

Says Goh, “I must admit, I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief.”

Don’t Stop Believing In Our Musical Theatre Talent

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(December 31, 2010) Rock of Ages: By no means a perfect production, but it was cast entirely from the local talent pool, and that was cause for celebration.

There’s going to be a big hole in my heart come Monday morning.

No, my kids won’t be going back to college; they’re too old for that. And there aren’t any family members tearfully heading back home; I dodged that bullet as well.

But both Rock of Ages and Priscilla Queen of the Desert will be playing their final performances on Sunday and that means — apart from the final two weeks of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — there are no big commercial musicals featuring local talent.

Here’s the sadder fact. Once you subtract the handful of Canadians who are going to be in Billy Elliot after it starts previews in February, that’s it.

None of the shows on the agenda for Mirvish or Dancap productions for 2011 call for any major participation by the homegrown triple threats our city turns out in dazzling numbers.

And that’s a tragedy.

It’s no secret that I’m a major booster of the musical theatre talent this city has produced and continues to produce. When a show like Mamma Mia! can run for five years using virtually nothing but local artists, or when a We Will Rock You or The Sound of Music can keep dozens of our people gainfully employed for years at a stretch, it’s a wonderful thing.

I don’t know about you, but there’s a real difference to me when the people putting on the show I’m seeing come from the city I live in.

Take the two shows that are closing on Sunday. Priscilla is the flashier affair and there’s a real buzz about the sense that it’s Broadway-bound. But there are only two Canadians in the cast. (There were two more, but their jobs were eliminated just before Christmas in a move positively Scrooge-like in its insensitive timing.)

And while Tony Sheldon, Will Swenson and Nick Adams are all world-class talents, they’re all “from away.” Consequently, I’ve come to feel about them the way I would about people I meet on vacation. Great companions for a brief while, but not a lasting part of my life.

Rock of Ages is something different and that’s why I plan to be there on Sunday night, ready to laugh, cry, sing and dance in equal proportions.

It’s not that it’s the greatest show ever put on a stage. Nobody, including its creators, has ever claimed that.

But, with one or two exceptions, it was cast totally from within the local talent pool and that was a cause for initial celebration and current depression.

I loved the way that performers of all ages and levels of experience were sharing the stage. Veterans I’ve known for up to 40 years like Victor Young and David Keeley rocked side by side with recently minted stars such as Elicia MacKenzie and Yvan Pedneault, and newborn scene stealers like Cody Scott Lancaster and Adrienne Merrell.

There’s a sense of continuity here, something that lets you know a tradition, a lifestyle, an art form is marching on through the decades.

Don’t get me wrong; there are places for our artists to strut their stuff. A revival of Adam Brazier’s excellent production of Assassins begins next week at the Theatre Centre, while the daring Joel Greenberg and Mitchell Marcus present Jason Robert Brown’s Parade at the Berkeley St. Theatre Upstairs.

But both of these shows are in small theatres for limited runs and that’s not how you build an artistic ecology or a way of life for your performers.

When Wicked comes to town for the third time and winds up grossing nearly $2 million a week, it’s great for the people behind it. But it does absolutely nothing for the artists of Toronto and — by logical extension — for the citizens of Toronto either.

We’ve got to start producing our own shows, or at least our productions of shows, with the frequency we did back in the 1990s. That’s when this city was really alive, from a theatrical point of view.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Yes there is. The newly formed Theatre 20 has brought together some of the best and brightest our city has to offer in the world of musical theatre. When they announce their plans on Jan. 20, we can only hope it heralds a new dawn for those singing and dancing fools who help to make our lives worthwhile.

In the meantime, you’ll find me at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on Sunday, singing along with my theme song.

“Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Barbra Streisand Reported In Talks To Act, Direct And Produce A Gypsy Movie

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(January 05, 2011) Barbra Streisand may have Gypsy on her mind, but as a movie.

Is Barbra Streisand planning to end her screen career with one more blockbuster appearance as Rose, the stage mother from hell, in the iconic musical, Gypsy?

That’s what Michael Riedel, the Walter Winchell of the new millennium, reports in Wednesday’s New York Post.

According to Riedel, the 68-year-old superstar “is deep in negotiations to direct, produce and star in a movie version of Gypsy.”

The major source for Riedel’s information seems to be the show’s original author, Arthur Laurents, who holds veto power over anyone who wants to play the role in a major production. (Lyricist Stephen Sondheim and the estate of composer Jule Styne aren’t quite so proactive.)

Laurents told Riedel that “We’ve talked about it a lot, and (Barbra) knows what she’s doing. She has my approval. . . . She had a mother who she always thought was Mama Rose. I don’t want to get into the details, but the point is she knows. She’s got it in her. She’s going to be much more than people expect.”

The musical originally opened on Broadway in 1959, starring Ethel Merman. It tells the story of the early career of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and how her incredibly driven mother, Rose, pushed her to the top.

Rose has long been considered the greatest role for a woman in musical theatre. The stars who have played it on Broadway alone include Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone. Rosalind Russell made the 1962 film version and Bette Midler starred in a 1993 TV adaptation.

The Stratford Festival presented it in 1993 starring Sandra O’Neill and the Shaw Festival presented in 2005 with Nora McLellan and Kate Hennig (soon to star in the Toronto production of Billy Elliot) alternating the role.


Cheap Thrills For Your PC

Source:  www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko

(December 31, 2010) Steambirds still flies. Hey, you know what’s a fun January activity? Not spending money. Luckily for us, 2011 dawns on an age where high-quality free diversions flow like water. In the spirit of New Year’s thrift here are a few of my own personal favourites, some new, some perennial. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Steambirds: Survival


Turn-based combat games have the benefit of giving the player lots of time to think, planning out their moves, but making such a step-by-step proposition really move and flow enough to get the adrenalin pumping is tough. The Steambirds games accomplish the feat.

A swirling game of high-tension dogfighting set in an alternate-universe Battle of Britain, Steambirds: Survival (thanks to designers Andy Moore, Daniel Cook et al) takes the mechanics of the first Steambirds game — now available (for money) for iPhone and Android — and hones them into pure arcade joy. Tons of unlockable planes allow for a wide variety of play styles, but it’s always a perfectly balanced mix of white-knuckle action and brain-stretching tactics.



Not just one of my most-loved free games, not just one of my most-loved platform games, but one of my favourite games of all time, Derek Yu’s Spelunky blends dungeon-delving, treasure-gathering and emergent chaos into a totally unique experience that’s different every time you play.

The basics are straight out of Pitfall 2, Lode Runner, and any other ladders-and-chasms game you can think of: run and jump, dodge or defeat monsters and traps, gather gold and rescue the girl. These elements are then frothed up by a random map generator that allows them to interact with each other in unexpected and often insane ways, a freshly sadistic challenge at the bottom of every staircase. It’s hard, it’s hilarious, it’s addictive and it’s free.

Knytt Stories


A wonderful freeware game of quiet, atmospheric exploration.
There is a feeling to the world of Knytt that’s unlike any other — or at least, unlike any other before it. The vast spaces through which you move on your Metroid-like adventure live and breathe, as vivid in their lo-fi pixilation as any high-def 3-D realm; its beauty really has to be seen and experienced.

But Knytt, the adventure, isn’t the whole story to this package. With Knytt Stories, designer NicklasNifflasNygren has provided an extensive suite of easy-to-use world-creation tools with which players can craft and share their own worlds. And craft and share they do; along with official Nifflas-made expansions hundreds of user-created adventures are freely available, and their quality at the highest level is absolutely outstanding. There’s the potential for hundreds of hours of joy here, for the price of a couple mouse-clicks.

stephanT and friends”


First runner up in the ninth Casual Gameplay Design Competition hosted by casual-games blog Jay Is Games, Fiends is top-ranked with me. An exploration of the contest theme of “Friends,” this little gem is everything I like in an indie game: an obvious labour of love, with just enough audiovisual polish to be inoffensive, completely focused around its core gameplay idea.

Looking like a Zelda-type dungeon crawl, playing like a puzzle game and reading like a cheeky but loving piss-take on the whole adventure genre, Fiends challenges the player to move through increasingly complicated labyrinths filled with titular Fiends. On the way you’ll gather a band of buddies, each with their own unique and often bizarre ability; placing these pals so that their various talents open a path to the exit is the name of the game. It’s simple, engaging, fun, funny and — once again — free.


Mark Twain and the N-word

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(January 05, 2011) Should classic novels be updated to suit modern tastes and mores?

An American publishing firm has touched off a controversy by announcing it will publish new editions of
Mark Twain's novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in which the word "nigger" will be replaced with "slave."

Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to produce the new editions, says his goal is to publish versions of the novels that will be read by people who would otherwise avoid them because of the presence of the offending and polarizing word.

Critics have swarmed Gribben, sending him harsh e-mails and criticizing him for sacrificing Twain's art in the name of political correctness. Twain scholars say the revised books won't be true to the period in which Twain was writing.

What do you think?
Join an online discussion of the issue at 3 p.m. today with Queen's University English professor Rob Morrison, who has taught Twain and other authors whose works have prompted calls for censorship. He is familiar with the wrath of students offended by portrayals of women and visible minorities, but believes "the harder the book, the more important it is to teach it."

Morrison's latest book, The English Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey, was nominated for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the oldest literary prize in Britain.

Also taking part will be Martin Levin, editor of Globe Books and an expert on the work and life of Mark Twain. The discussion will be moderated by Peter Scowen, online editor of Globe Books and Globe Review.

Mobile phone users who want to follow the discussion should go to this link.

Or go here.

Marvel Promotes Alonso To Editor-In-Chief

Source:  www.thestar.com - Matt Moore

(January 04, 2011) PHILADELPHIA—After more than a decade spent guiding several of Marvel Comics’ biggest characters as an editor, Axel Alonso has been promoted to editor-in-chief, Marvel Worldwide Inc. said Tuesday.

Alonso will oversee all of Marvel’s publishing aspects and will advise on their creative direction, as well as help develop new story lines and new initiatives for the heroes and villains that make up Marvel’s roster, including the Avengers, Spider-Man, Punisher and Dr. Doom, among others.

Alonso replaces Joe Quesada, who was Marvel’s editor-in-chief for a decade and its chief creative officer since 2010.

As the company’s chief creative officer, Quesda oversees its creative endeavours in film, television, publishing and online, too. Marvel has expanded beyond the printed page in recent years, mounting film adaptations of Iron Man along with planned releases this year of Thor and Captain America.

Marvel also promoted Tom Brevoort, another longtime editor, to senior vice president of publishing.

Quesada lauded Alonso’s uncanny ability to shepherd titles from simple idea to printed product.

“For over a decade, Axel’s been instrumental in bringing fresh new voices to Marvel and reinventing our biggest characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Wolverine and so many more,” Quesada said in a statement. “He’s fought to create unique imprints like Marvel MAX while also bringing fresh new voices to the Marvel family.”

Alonso joined Marvel in 2000 as a senior editor and helped oversee critically lauded runs of Amazing Spider-Man and the X-Men, along with revisioning western character Rawhide. He was promoted to vice president and executive editor in 2010.

Alonso also oversaw cross-promotional projects, including the recent mashup that saw several notable NBA athletes reborn as super heroes in “ESPN The Magazine.”

Alonso said he was prepared to step up to his new role, which comes in a year when the company has said it will kill off a member of the fabled Fantastic Four and is unveiling a new event series called “Fear Itself” that will play on contemporary concerns and fears in its comic books.

“Marvel has a great history of the most dynamic and memorable (editor-in-chiefs) in comics history and I’m honoured to step into this role,” Alonso said. “I’ve been blessed to work with some of the most creative men and women in the world, bringing to life some of the most compelling stories you’ll find in any medium. This new role provides me with exciting challenges and prospects I’ve never encountered before, but I know one thing-Marvel’s getting even bigger in 2011.”


New Year Means Higher Airfares And More Rental Homes

Source:  www.thestar.com  - Arthur Frommer

(December 31, 2010) One of the prerequisites of being a
travel columnist is the ability to afflict one’s readers with pretentious predictions about the year ahead. Here’s what I expect to happen in 2011:

1. A greatly increased use of apartments and vacation homes in place of standard hotels. It’s the most pronounced trend in travel, and companies like Homeaway.com, VRBO.com, Rentalo.com and hundreds of local real estate brokers are flourishing because of the skyrocketing popularity of such alternative accommodations. Large segments of the travelling public are today convinced (and they’re right, in my view) that apartment/home rentals cost much less than hotels and improve the quality of the stay.

2. A surge in travel to Central America. It’s one of the few areas of the world to which airfares have remained low and prices for accommodations, food and sightseeing similarly have not increased much. For just a few hundred dollars from almost anywhere in North America, one goes round-trip to Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, each one of which (except Costa Rica) remains relatively undiscovered and authentic.

3. A continuing increase in the use of the Internet for travel planning, at the expense of travel agents. Throughout the past year, we’ve witnessed remarkable improvements in the ability of the Internet to discover the best options for travel. We now have not simply a highly effective group of “aggregators” for airfares, surveying all the prices available to us (momondo.com, kayak.com, do-hop.com and many more), but “aggregators” for car rentals ferreting out bargains in every city (autoslash.com, breezenet.com), aggregators for best hotel prices (hotelscombined.com, hotelly.com, kayak.com, momondo.com), companies resembling aggregators for cruise prices (cruisecompete.com, vacationstogo.com). Can any travel agent do better than these? I don’t think so.

4. A deliberate reduction in the size of tour groups: The undeniable success this past year of the various operators of “small group adventure tours” — gapadventures.com, djoser.com, intrepidtravel.com, adventurecenter.com, smartours.com — has prompted several other standard operators of group motor coach tours to announce they will now be limiting their groups to no more than 24 passengers (thus, Brendan Vacations has placed such a limit on several of its tours of Ireland). I sense dissatisfaction with the standard 48-passenger motor coach tours, and a growing movement toward an insistence on smaller groups by people who nevertheless want to travel in an escorted group.

5. A further decline in the quality of the cruise experience. This next prediction obviously is based on my own subjective reaction to the effort by nearly all major cruise lines to transform the cruiseship into an amusement park. Despite my own loud protests, it appears that the new, giant ships with their bowling alleys, boxing rings, water chutes, carnival rides and itineraries spending most of the time either at sea or at phony private beaches or artificial villages are apparently doing well. I base that surmise on the higher cabin prices charged by such behemoths as Oasis of the Seas and Norwegian Epic, and by the orders that have now been placed for construction of more large ships. Increasingly, people seeking a foreign travel experience via cruising, or looking for quiet conversation, interaction with their fellow travellers, calm and repose, will have to book the upscale ships still offering those features, or else stay away from cruising.

6. And a final prediction — a discouraging hike in airfares. Seems to me that this final and depressing prediction is inevitable. The price of oil has reached $80 a barrel; the possibility of “peak oil” (the exhaustion of major oil fields) and the increasing use of oil by China and India, lead me to believe that airfares will continue to soar in the months ahead. The response of cost-conscious travellers? We must all place greater emphasis on reducing the price of our accommodations, meals and sightseeing when we travel; because we must continue to travel.

So there you have predictions for travel in the year ahead, good and bad, promising and not.

New Year Means Higher Airfares And More Rental Homes

Source:  www.thestar.com  - Arthur Frommer

(December 31, 2010) One of the prerequisites of being a
travel columnist is the ability to afflict one’s readers with pretentious predictions about the year ahead. Here’s what I expect to happen in 2011:

1. A greatly increased use of apartments and vacation homes in place of standard hotels. It’s the most pronounced trend in travel, and companies like Homeaway.com, VRBO.com, Rentalo.com and hundreds of local real estate brokers are flourishing because of the skyrocketing popularity of such alternative accommodations. Large segments of the travelling public are today convinced (and they’re right, in my view) that apartment/home rentals cost much less than hotels and improve the quality of the stay.

2. A surge in travel to Central America. It’s one of the few areas of the world to which airfares have remained low and prices for accommodations, food and sightseeing similarly have not increased much. For just a few hundred dollars from almost anywhere in North America, one goes round-trip to Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, each one of which (except Costa Rica) remains relatively undiscovered and authentic.

3. A continuing increase in the use of the Internet for travel planning, at the expense of travel agents. Throughout the past year, we’ve witnessed remarkable improvements in the ability of the Internet to discover the best options for travel. We now have not simply a highly effective group of “aggregators” for airfares, surveying all the prices available to us (momondo.com, kayak.com, do-hop.com and many more), but “aggregators” for car rentals ferreting out bargains in every city (autoslash.com, breezenet.com), aggregators for best hotel prices (hotelscombined.com, hotelly.com, kayak.com, momondo.com), companies resembling aggregators for cruise prices (cruisecompete.com, vacationstogo.com). Can any travel agent do better than these? I don’t think so.

4. A deliberate reduction in the size of tour groups: The undeniable success this past year of the various operators of “small group adventure tours” — gapadventures.com, djoser.com, intrepidtravel.com, adventurecenter.com, smartours.com — has prompted several other standard operators of group motor coach tours to announce they will now be limiting their groups to no more than 24 passengers (thus, Brendan Vacations has placed such a limit on several of its tours of Ireland). I sense dissatisfaction with the standard 48-passenger motor coach tours, and a growing movement toward an insistence on smaller groups by people who nevertheless want to travel in an escorted group.

5. A further decline in the quality of the cruise experience. This next prediction obviously is based on my own subjective reaction to the effort by nearly all major cruise lines to transform the cruiseship into an amusement park. Despite my own loud protests, it appears that the new, giant ships with their bowling alleys, boxing rings, water chutes, carnival rides and itineraries spending most of the time either at sea or at phony private beaches or artificial villages are apparently doing well. I base that surmise on the higher cabin prices charged by such behemoths as Oasis of the Seas and Norwegian Epic, and by the orders that have now been placed for construction of more large ships. Increasingly, people seeking a foreign travel experience via cruising, or looking for quiet conversation, interaction with their fellow travellers, calm and repose, will have to book the upscale ships still offering those features, or else stay away from cruising.

6. And a final prediction — a discouraging hike in airfares. Seems to me that this final and depressing prediction is inevitable. The price of oil has reached $80 a barrel; the possibility of “peak oil” (the exhaustion of major oil fields) and the increasing use of oil by China and India, lead me to believe that airfares will continue to soar in the months ahead. The response of cost-conscious travellers? We must all place greater emphasis on reducing the price of our accommodations, meals and sightseeing when we travel; because we must continue to travel.

So there you have predictions for travel in the year ahead, good and bad, promising and not.


Russia Scores Five Goals In Third To Beat Canada For Gold

Source: www.tsn.ca

(January 5, 2011) Russia stunned Canada 5-3 with an unlikely five-goal third period to win the gold medal at the
World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

Canadian captain Ryan Ellis fired home a power play goal to open the scoring at 4:50 of the first in front of another sea of Canadian red at HSBC Arena. Carter Ashton added a goal late in the period to double the lead, and Brayden Schenn scored his 8th of the tournament in the second period to give Canada a three-goal advantage.

Russia stunned Canada in the opening moments of the third period with two goals in 11 seconds, and three in 4:56 total. Artemi Panarin and Maxim Kitsyn both scored from close range less than three minutes into the frame. At 7:29 Vladimir Tarasenko wired a one-timer past Mark Visentin to tie the score. And with less than five minutes to play in the game, Panarin potted his second of the game to give Russia its first lead.

Nikita Dvurechenski scored with 1:16 left in the game to give Russia a two-goal advantage.

With a goal and an assist, Schenn now has 18 points, which ties him with Dale McCourt (1977) for the most points by a Canadian in one tournament.

The Russians pulled starter Dmitri Shikin after he allowed three goals on 18 shots. Igor Bobkov is now in goal and has since held Canada off the scoreboard.

Ellis, playing in his third and final world junior tournament, opened the scoring on a slapper from just inside the blue line after Canada controlled the puck in the zone.

Without about five minutes left in the period, Tyson Barrie made a superb defensive play to break up a rush by Yevgeni Kuznetsov and protect Canada's one-goal advantage.

Ashton then scored with 14 seconds left in the first after Canada applied pressure in the Russian zone. Ashton scored on a wrister from near the right faceoff circle over the shoulder of Shikin.

Schenn's goal from the slot at 6:27 of the second chased Shikin. Canada continued to control the play throughout the second frame, before things took a dramatic turn in the final period.

This is the seventh time since 1999 that Canada and Russia have met in the championship game at the World Juniors. Russia won three straight meetings in 1999, 2002, and 2003, while Canada won the next three consecutively between 2005-07.

It's also the 10th straight time that Canada has played in the gold medal game at this tournament.

Canada and Russia met on Boxing Day in the first game for both teams. Canada won the affair 6-3.

Canada last won the gold medal in 2009 in Ottawa when it defeated Sweden. Russia's last gold medal win was in 2003 in Halifax over Canada.

In the bronze medal game earlier on Wednesday, Team USA defeated Sweden 4-2. It was the first-ever medal for the Americans on home soil after five tries.

Former Blue Jay Roberto Alomar Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Griffin

(January 05, 2011) On Wednesday, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., welcomed its two newest members — second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven.

The latest additions brought the number included on the exclusive list of all-time baseball greats to 205. The induction ceremony will take place on Sunday, July 24, at 1:30 p.m. at the museum in upstate New York, the mythical home of baseball’s first game.

Also being welcomed into the hall in July and announced earlier will be former Jays GM Pat Gillick and longtime Montreal Expos broadcaster Dave Van Horne.

Alomar barely missed entry last year, his first time on the ballot, collecting 73.7 per cent of the votes cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The requirement for election is 75 per cent. Alomar starred for the Blue Jays from 1991-95, collecting two World Series rings and is expected to become the first Hall of Fame player to enter wearing the Jays cap, when his bronze plaque is unveiled at the July ceremony.

Five other Hall of Fame players spent portions of their careers with the Jays, including Phil Niekro (Braves), Rickey Henderson (A’s), Dave Winfield (Padres) and Paul Molitor.

Alomar, in a starry 17-year career with the Padres, Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks, compiled a career .300 average, with 474 steals, 210 home runs, 2,724 hits and an impressive .814 OPS.

The switch-hitting second baseman redefined the position and became an innovator defensively on artificial turf. He won an all-time high 10 Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, was named to 12 all-star games and finished Top 5 in MVP voting five times, including three straight years from 1991-93. He was recognized by his peers as the best player in the AL.

Blyleven was in his 14th year with only one chance remaining after this. His candidacy had been gaining significant momentum in recent years due to some convincing statistical breakdowns by SABR members that removed weight from his win total, compiled playing mostly with mediocre teams, and demonstrated how his others numbers stacked up well against pitchers already enshrined.

Blyleven, in 22 seasons with the Twins, Indians, Rangers, Pirates and Angels, compiled a 287-250 record, but more impressively logged 242 complete games and 60 shutouts in 685 starts. His 3,701 strikeouts rank fifth overall in major-league history. Of the Top 9 in career strikeouts, all six pitchers that have become eligible are enshrined at Cooperstown. Now make that seven.

Alomar joins the great Roberto Clemente as the only Puerto-Rican born Hall-of-Fame members to be voted in by the writers. Fellow Puerto Rican, first baseman Orlando Cepeda was selected by the Veterans Committee in 1999. There are 111 players voted in by the BBWAA since 1936.

Alomar received the second highest vote total in history, 90 per cent of the record 581 ballots submitted by the BBWAA. Blyleven finally broke through the glass ceiling, compiling just under 80-percent of the vote. Third, and now the man banging on the door, was shortstop Barry Larkin with 62-percent. He was followed by closer Lee Smith, first baseman Jeff Bagwell and outfielder Tim Raines.


Team Canada Beats U.S. To Advance In World Junior

Source:  www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko

(January 03, 2011) BUFFALO, N.Y.—Bring on the Russians. Canada has advanced to its 10th straight final at the world junior hockey championships with a 4-1 win over the rival United States on Monday. Curtis Hamilton, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen and Zack Kassian scored for Canada. Canada will face Russia for gold. Russia beat Sweden 6-5 in a shootout in the other semifinal. Canada played a physical game to get revenge on the Americans, who beat the Canadians 6-5 in overtime in last year’s gold-medal game. That ended a run of five straight titles for Canada. Canada opened the scoring 2:38 into a physical first period. Cody Eakin fed Hamilton, who stickhandled in on the U.S. goal. Jack Campbell made the initial save but Hamilton got the rebound and put the puck past the helpless American goaltender. Canada added to its lead at 13:54 of the first when Brett Connolly set up Howden. Canada goaltender Mark Visentin also drew an assist on the play. Canada went up 3-0 at 5:59 of the second period on a two-man advantage. Johansen tipped the rebound of a Ryan Ellis shot past Campbell. Johansen has a point in all six of Canada’s games in the tournament. Kassian made it 4-0 at 6:02 of the third period, scoring on a breakaway seconds after Canada killed off a slashing penalty. The U.S. spoiled Visentin’s shutout bid when Chris Brown scored a power-play goal at 9:37 of the third.

Tim Hortons Launches Leafs-Themed Doughnuts

Source:  www.thestar.com - Chris Zelkovich

(January 04, 2011) Waffles, meet your match The Toronto Maple Leafs and waffles? That’s so 2010. Instead of tossing out waffles to express their displeasure with their team as some started doing last year, Leafs fans can now show their support by scarfing down Maple Leaf doughnuts. Or, considering the psychological frame many Leafs fans are in these days, they might want to toss those, too. As of Monday, fans can satisfy their cravings for fat and sugar with a doughnut covered in blue-and-white sprinkles at Tim Hortons 320 Toronto-area locations whenever the Leafs play a home game. That’s 21 dates entering Monday’s game, not including playoffs. “We’re hoping the doughnuts will help the Leafs. And if that doesn’t work, the Leafs should help us with the doughnuts,” said Tim Hortons spokesperson David Morelli. There was no indication how the tarted-up vanilla-dipped doughnuts were selling on Monday, though apparently not all shops got the memo. One Yonge St. shop was simply advertising the blue-and-white version as vanilla-dipped doughnuts. This isn’t Tim Hortons’ first foray into sporting confections. In the past year, it has sold doughnuts in the team colours of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, London Knights and Windsor Spitfires. Since some of those teams did well and others flopped, there’s no hint as to what these doughnuts might do for the Leafs.