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February 23, 2012

Welcome to the last week of February, if you can believe it. Still the mildest winter that I can remember and that's all fine with me ... sorry to those that enjoy the whole winter thing.

Speaking of non-winter weather, I am fortunate enough to have been asked to go to this year's
32nd St. Maarten Heineken Regatta ... fast sailing boats all day (I'm sure there's more technical terms!) and live music on the beaches of the island in the evening. This year's big closing act is Beres Hammond! In lieu of this trip, there will probably not be a newsletter next week. I will be working on taking a much-needed rest! But I'll have all the scoop for you shortly after my return.

And since I'm speaking of the islands, many of you have asked me the whereabouts of
Chef Anthony Mair. Well he has spent most of his time in Jamaica, sharing his wealth of culinary skills to the locals. See all the update on the chef under SCOOP.

Black History Month continues with its many offerings and celebrations.
Obeah Opera continues until March 4th! To refresh your memory, Obeah Opera is a musical that is for anyone appreciating the legacy of Black music. Get all the details under HOT EVENTS.

Also in news, Whitney Houston's star-studded memorial service (did we ever lose interest in her, I wonder?); K'naan has a new video featuring Nas; Canadian Sharon Van Etten gives us some soul; DeMar DeRozan dunks; and finally, the upcoming Oscars with many stories within FILM NEWS; and so much more! Check it all out under TOP STORIES.

Remember that you can simply click on any
photo or headline and get to your entertainment news instantly. Or click on your favourite topic in the Table of Contents!

This newsletter is designed to give you some updated entertainment-related news and provide you with our upcoming event listings. Welcome to those who are new members!


Chef Anthony Mair Is Making His Mark In Jamaica!

Chef Anthony Mair
, former partner of Harlem Underground in Toronto, has visited his native country of Jamaica numerous times over the years. His experiences from these visits helped his decision to spend the majority of his time there, finding ways he can pass on his experiences and teach the culinary youth of the island.

One thing became very obvious to Anthony during his earlier visits to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands; there is a need in culinary institutes for proper knives, knife technique, and kitchen equipment. As an answer to this need, Chef Mair created his own culinary supplies and knife exchange business called Mair Cutlery.

Through Mair Cutlery, Anthony has been able to promote the
importance of using the proper knives and equipment in the kitchen. In addition to attending culinary events to endorse his initiative, Anthony has also instructed several workshops on Knife Techniques. He does demos at high schools and post-secondary culinary institutes across Jamaica.

To further his efforts to help the youth throughout the Caribbean, Chef Mair created the Caribbean Culinary Network (CCN). CCN is an education driven, Caribbean-wide collective of food professionals. CCN was created to become THE central resource for all things culinary in the Caribbean. Through workshops, mentorship programs, and events like the Marlin Festival and the recent Negril Culinary showcase, Caribbean culinary students will gain access to the specialty knowledge and practical experience necessary for acquiring diversity and global marketability. Add the CCN to your Facebook HERE.

In addition to Mair Cutlery and CCN, Chef Mair has partnered with Felix
Wilmot to become the co-owner of Serious Chicken Restaurant in Negril, Jamaica. Serious chicken is a beautifully rustic restaurant located near Rick’s Café on West End road. It was at Serious Chicken that Anthony gave Simon Majumdar, a judge in the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, a complimentary Mair Cutlery knife. Majumdar, who was visiting the island, enjoyed his meal and shared his love of Serious Chicken on Facebook saying, “We were all raving about it for the rest of the day.” See video below.

The Serious Chicken menu consists of delicious authentic
Jamaican cuisine, along with a daily chicken special that reflects a popular chicken dish from other countries (e.g. Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Kiev, Coq au vin, etc). Every nationality has its specialty chicken dish, and you will get a chance to experience each of them at Serious Chicken Restaurant. The restaurant continues to grow in popularity and has recently been showcased by Vibes Cuisine, a well-respected Jamaican cooking program.

What’s next for Anthony? In March he will be appearing as a guest Chef at Restaurant Number Four in Ajijic, México. Chef Mair will be presenting delicious entrees that reflect his unique perspective of Latin Caribbean cuisine.

Anthony’s focus is in the Caribbean but Toronto is never far from his mind. In the near future he will be hosting an exclusive dinner event for his Toronto fans. Be sure not to miss it!

VIDEO: Vibes Cuisine's Great Jamaican Eating Tour visits the Serious Chicken Restaurant in Negril and meets Chef Anthony Mair and Felix Wilmot.


Whitney Houston Funeral: ‘You Wait For A Voice Like That For A Lifetime’

Source: www.thestar.com - By Nekesa Mumbi Moody

(Feb 18, 2012) NEWARK, N.J. — The best voices of a generation all paid tribute to her. But in the end, the most powerful voice at
Whitney Houston's funeral was her own.

The first notes of “I Will Always Love You,” at the end of a 3 ½-hour remembrance of the pop superstar, played as her casket left the hometown church where she first wowed a congregation.

Her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, walked right behind her, sobbing, “My baby.”

Houston's voice — “you wait for a voice like that for a lifetime,” mentor Clive Davis said — moved her daughter, mourners like Oprah Winfrey and a packed church to tears after the biggest names in gospel and pop music sang about God, love, lost angels and moving on.

Stevie Wonder rewrote lyrics to “Ribbon in the Sky” for Houston — “you will always be a ribbon in the sky,” he sang. So did gospel's the Rev. Kim Burrell for “A Change is Gonna Come,” which cousin Dionne Warwick said was Houston's favorite song of all time. R. Kelly brought the New Hope Baptist Church to its feet with a stirring version of “I Look to You,” the title of Houston's final studio album.

PHOTOS: Friends gather to remember Whitney Houston

VIDEO: Sights and sounds from Whitney Houston’s funeral

Wonder and Alicia Keys may have been the most famous singers offering tributes, in a congregation of mourners that included Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Kevin Costner and Chaka Khan. But the church choir and performances from the Winans family, the gospel star Rev. Donnie McClurkin and Burrell were equally powerful.

Houston's 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina, sobbed and embraced Houston's close friend, singer Ray J at length, as her mother's voice began to drift through the church. His sister, singer Brandy, put her arm around him throughout the service.

Clapping hands, swaying and singing along with the choir to gospel hymns, the biggest names in entertainment joined Houston's family and fans in the New Jersey city where she was first born and found her in voice in church.

Costner imagined a young Houston using her winning smile to get out of trouble, Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick offering short insights about the singer. Her co-star in “The Bodyguard,” which spawned her greatest hit, remembered a movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, who “still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?'“

“It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end,” Costner said.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry praised Houston's “grace that kept on carrying her all the way through, the same grace led her all the way to the top of the charts. She sang for presidents.”

Warwick presided over the funeral, introducing speakers and singers.

Houston's mother was helped by two people on either side of her as she walked in and sat with her granddaughter and other family to begin the service.

Houston's ex-husband, Bobby Brown, briefly appeared at her funeral, walking to the casket, touching it and walking out. He later said in a statement that he and his children were asked repeatedly to move and he left rather than risk creating a scene. Close family friend Aretha Franklin, whom Houston lovingly called “Aunt Ree,” had been expected to sing at the service, but said early Saturday she was too ill to attend. Franklin said in an email to The Associated Press that she had been up most of the night with leg spasms and sent best wishes to the family

Singers Jennifer Hudson, who sang “I Will Always Love You” a night after Houston's death in a Grammy tribute, mourned Houston along with Monica, Brandy, Jordin Sparks — representing a generation of big-voiced young singers who grew up emulating the star of the '80s and '90s.

As the funeral began, mourners fell quiet as three police officers escorted Houston's casket, draped with white roses and purple lilies. White-robed choir members began to fill the pews on the podium. As the band played softly, the choir sang in a hushed voice, “Whitney, Whitney, Whitney.”

A program featuring a picture of Houston looking skyward read “Celebrating the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, a child of God.” Pictures of Houston as a baby, with her mother and daughter filled the program.

“I never told you that when you were born, the Holy Spirit told me that you would not be with me long,” Cissy Houston wrote her daughter in a letter published in the program. “And I thank God for the beautiful flower he allowed me to raise and cherish for 48 years.”

“Rest, my baby girl in peace,” the letter ends, signed “mommie.”

The service marks one week after Houston, one of music's all-time biggest stars, was found dead in the bathtub of a Beverly Hills hotel the night before the Grammys. A cause of death has yet to be determined.

To the world, Houston was the pop queen with the perfect voice, the dazzling diva with regal beauty, a troubled superstar suffering from addiction and, finally, another victim of the dark side of fame.

To her family and friends, she was just “Nippy.” A nickname given to Houston when she was a child, it stuck with her through adulthood and, later, would become the name of one of her companies. To them, she was a sister, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.

“She always had the edge,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said outside church Saturday. “You can tell when some kids have what we call a special anointing. Aretha had that when she was 14. ... Whitney cultivated that and took it to a very high level.”

A few fans gathered Saturday morning hours before the service as close as they could get to the church, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Miami. Bobby Brooks said he came from Washington “just to be among the rest of the fans.”

“Just to celebrate her life, not just her death,” said Brooks, “just to sing and dance with the people that love her.”

Others were more entrepreneurial, setting up card tables to sell silk-screened T-shirts with Houston's image and her CDs. But only the invited would get close to the church; streets were closed to the public for blocks in every direction. But their presence was felt around the church, with a huge shrine of heart-shaped balloons and personal messages that covered the street corner around the church entrance.

Houston's death marked the final chapter for the superstar whose fall from grace while shocking was years in the making. Houston had her first No. 1 hit by the time she was 22, followed by a flurry of No. 1 songs and multi-platinum records.

Over her career, she sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs like “Saving All My Love For You,” ''I Will Always Love You,” ''The Greatest Love of All” and “I'm Every Woman.” Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.

But amid the fame, a turbulent marriage to Brown and her addiction to drugs tarnished her image. She became a woman falling apart in front of the world.

Her last album, “I Look To You,” debuted on the top of the charts when it was released in 2009 with strong sales, but didn't have the staying power of her previous records. A tour the next year was doomed by cancellations because of illness and sub-par performances.

Houston is to be buried Sunday next to her father, John Houston, in nearby Westfield, N.J.


“You wait for a voice like that for a lifetime.” — Clive Davis


“Stevie Wonder rewrote the words to 'Ribbon In the Sky.' That was very special because that was her favourite song.” — Roberta Flack, after the funeral


“We are here today, hearts broken but yet with God's strength, we celebrate the life of Whitney Houston.” — the Rev. Joe Carter


“Whitney, you are the only woman that could bring all of us together. Whitney, today is your day.” — Carter


“Rest, my baby girl in, peace. You're now in the arms of Jesus. Love, Mommie.” — note from Houston's mother, Cissy Houston, in the program


“There was a grace that kept on carrying her all the way through. The same grace led her all the way to the top of the charts.” — Tyler Perry


“The other thing I know for sure, and this is more important than anything that she's done in her life: Whitney Houston loved the Lord.” — Perry


“Your tears may fold. ... The flowers will wither. ... You'll be driving down the street one day and you'll hear Whitney's voice talking in your head. You'll giggle inside of yourself as if she were sitting in the car with you, and you will find that people that you really love they may leave you outwardly but they never leave you inwardly.” — Bishop T.D. Jakes


“We suspend our sorrow, perhaps our anger just long enough to remember the sweet miracle of Whitney.” — Kevin Costner


She “still wondered, 'Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?' It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end. If you could hear me, know I would tell you, you weren't just good enough, you were great.” — Costner


“Even when she was tired or a bit lost, she gave and gave and then gave some more. When she did not want to do things, she did them anyway, and we are so much better for it.” — Houston's sister-in-law Patricia Houston

OKP Exclusive Video: NaS x K’naan Interview On The Set Of “Nothing To Lose” Video Shoot

Source: www.okayplayer.com - by Eddie "STATS"

(Feb 14, 2012) Straight from the set of a shoot for the forthcoming video for their
collaboration “Nothing to Lose,” distant relatives NaS and K’naan chop it up on who linked them up (three guesses and the first two Marleys don’t count) how they subsequently came to work together and on building a Pan-African bridge across the gulf between Queensbridge and Somalia.

Get a little more background from Okayafrica’s exclusive interview with K’naan–and then try to fix in your memory what this moment looks and feels like, folks–it looks and feels like the future.


Sharon Van Etten: The Singer-Songwriter Is Not As Gloomy As Her Music

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(Feb 19, 2012) "We all try to free, the sighs of the past, we don't want
to last." The melancholic indie singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten is not as gloomy as her music, and she doesn't walk under her personal rain cloud. She arrives in Canada for a pair of concerts, touring in support of an album generally considered to be her best yet. She's on the rise, looking back less and less at the restless days that now seem to be behind her.

The new album is called Tramp, but she's done sleeping around

"I'm finally starting to feel at home," Van Etten explains, speaking about the suburban Brooklyn area she now happily calls home. "The touring can be a little displacing, but now I finally have a place to return to." The title Tramp refers to the singer-songwriter's previous boho-hobo lifestyle. "New York is an intimidating city, and I'd only really kept my foot in the door there," explains Van Etten, 30, who flopped and snoozed on the couches of friends and fellow musicians when she wasn't touring. "But I finally found a neighbourhood that's more my vibe, where I'm reminded of the place I grew up, with the houses, the families, the tree-lined streets and the quiet." All that said, the native of bucolic New Jersey is speaking from the road, the cellphone connection scratchy from Chicago as she makes her way to shows in Toronto (Feb. 21) and Montreal (Feb. 22).

She's with the band

Van Etten's first two albums - 2009's Because I Was in Love and 2010's Epic - were fairly stripped down, of confessional singer-songwriter aesthetic. Tramp, produced by Aaron Dessner (a fellow Brooklynite and the guitarist for alt-rock indie kings, The National), is still mostly downbeat, but it's a more textured record, with fuller arrangements and hazy harmonies. Lead track, Warsaw, is psychedelic folk, Kevin's is an affecting, languid waltz and Serpents rocks like an opiated Fleetwood Mac. "It's an evolution," says Van Etten, comfortable now with her new '65 Fender Jaguar and with "Rudy," her big, red hollow-body electric. "I'm learning to write for a band - there's a different language, and it's a different sort of collaboration than working with just one other person." Her touring band now counts a female harmony singer, making it a four-piece. "In some ways, being on the road is like summer camp. There's a camaraderie, but I'm also learning how to be more of a leader."

And she's on the guest lists

Van Etten has forged friendships with a who-who's on young indie-rockers, adding her morose brand of sultry on songs by The National and The Antlers. Bon Iver covered her Love More. Those bands, and the artists listed on the liner notes to Tramp (under "Recommended Listening"), share a earnest passion and a comforting sort of gentleness. "I'm attracted to music made by people who let themselves be emotional. They really care about what they do, and we believe in what they say." That kind of openness - a big part of the 1970s California folk-rock movement - went out of style for a while, but it seems to be back. "Being sad, being in love," says Van Etten, "these things are starting to be accepted again."

Don't worry, she's fine - but thanks for asking

Her songs are sad. And on Serpents, she allows herself to be angry - "serpents in my mind, looking for your crime." Yet, on stage, between songs, Van Etten is quite the, um - well, how would you put it? "I'm a total goofball," says the indie chick herself. As for Serpents, Van Etten says she doesn't feel sorry for herself, and that the song doesn't necessarily point the finger at anyone. We Are Fine, about a friend helping someone through a panic attack, is one of the more optimistic songs she's ever written. "I'm not the sad sack that people might think I am," she says. "But I think that if I didn't write and perform, I probably would be."

Sharon Van Etten plays Toronto's Lee's Palace on Feb. 21 and Montreal's Il Motore on Feb. 22.

Raptor DeMar DeRozan Knows All About Dunking

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

(Feb 22, 2012) TORONTO— DeMar DeRozan was a sixth grader when he soared through the air for his first slam dunk.

It was a moment of athletic brilliance that earned him bragging rights with his friends and set the stage for a life lived above the rim.

“It was at recess, just playing around, trying to show off that I could dunk, and I could pull it off,” DeRozan said after a practice this week. “It was a little bet. You know when you're young everybody's trying to dunk, and I said I could dunk.

“And I got it in, finger tips. . . .that was the first time.”

Fast forward 10 years, and the 22-year-old Toronto shooting guard is one of the most explosive dunkers in the league.

The Raptors high flyer turned plenty of heads in the NBA's slam dunk contest the past two years, but won't be part of this weekend's annual all-star festivities in Orlando.

Fans cried robbery last year when DeRozan failed to make the final after throwing down what many thought was the dunk of the night — a ridiculous alley-oop reverse windmill that he called “The Showstopper.”

The Raptor was the only dunker who didn't use gimmicky props — Blake Griffin rolled out a Kia car and a choir, Serge Ibaka had cheerleaders, JaVale McGee brought in an additional hoop.

“Dunk contests are dunk contests, you just go out there and do dunks. Every time I was in the dunk contest it was just strictly dunks,” said DeRozan, who won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American high school game in 2008.

“I think people want to add more excitement to it because they feel they've seen all the dunks. So sometimes you have to add a theme or props or whatnot. It is what it is. I just like going out there and doing dunks, I'm not all into the props or anything.”

DeRozan doesn't need anything but the lightness in his legs and the rim in his sights.

To those who will never know that high-flying feeling, the Compton, Calif., native offered this description: “It's a rush. You're running and either you're catching lobs or you're dunking on somebody. It's like a rush, being able to do something that quick, that fast in the air.”

The decision to drive and dunk happens in a split second.

“I think everything just happens so quick, when that first thing pops in your mind, that's what you do, it's just a rush when you're that high in the air, thoughts run through your head so fast. You just try to get it in,” DeRozan said.

He doesn't often practise alley-oops with teammates, there's just a connection that develops.

“You just see (the alley-oop) coming,” DeRozan said. “It's just that chemistry you have with your teammates, when you're running the floor. We don't necessarily work on it, it just happens.”

Heading into Wednesday's game against the visiting Detroit Pistons, DeRozan was the Raptors' second-leading scorer behind Andrea Bargnani, averaging 15.5 points and 3.30 rebounds a night.

Already known as a talented player for his ability to finish around the rim and his mid-range jump shot, he added some long-range game this season, knocking down three-pointers with confidence.

But it's his dunks that draw the big cheers from Raptors fans.

“Knock on wood,” DeRozan said, he has never been injured dunking. Not that injuries don't happen.

“You're either going to run into the pads, or run into somebody, anything is liable to happen when you're jumping that high in the air,” he said.

Saturday's dunk contest has Minnesota's Derrick Williams, Indiana's Paul George, Utah's Jeremy Evans, and Houston's Chase Budinger.

General consensus is the dunk contest isn't what it used to be. DeRozan's favourite all-star dunk moment: Vince Carter's reverse 360-degree windmill in 2000. The former Toronto Raptors superstar won the event that year.

DeRozan has tried the dunk, but failed.

Naw, I can't do that one,” DeRozan said.



He lists any of Carter's dunks, including his mammoth jam over seven-foot-two French centre Frederic Weis at the 2000 Olympics, as his all-time favourites.

“Choose any Vince Carter dunks, they would be my favourite dunks,” DeRozan said. “He was one of my favourite players growing up.”

DeRozan narrowly lost to New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson in the final of the 2010 dunk contest.

Oscars 2012: Who’s who at Sunday’s Academy Awards

Source: www.thestar.com - By Maria Puente

(Feb 21, 2012) Everybody knows the big stars on
Oscar night: Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, George Clooney. But who are all those other people and names that keep coming up? Here’s a glossary of some of them to prepare you for the onslaught of coverage leading up to Sunday:


Albert Nobbs

He’s the fictional title character in the film starring Glenn Close. In the story, Albert is a woman who has spent 30 years pretending to be a man so she can work as a hotel waiter in 19th-century Ireland. Then she meets another hotel employee who is a woman masquerading as a man (Janet McTeer). Close not only stars as Albert, she has been working to get the film made for 15 years, after also starring in the stage production in 1982. The script is based on a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Close was nominated for best actress, her sixth nomination, while McTeer was nominated for best supporting actress.

Chico & Rita

This is one of the films nominated for best animation. Co-directed by Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque), It’s the story (in Spanish) of a Cuban piano player, Chico (voiced by Eman XOR ONA), with big dreams, and Rita, a beautiful lounge singer (Limara Meneses), with a great voice. They meet in a Havana bar in 1948, they part, they end up in New York, where she stars in a movie musical and he gets deported back to Cuba just as Castro is taking over. In short, it’s a Latin ballad of epic love and epic heartache, played against a soundtrack tracing the evolution of Latin jazz by Grammy-winning composer Bebo Valdes.

Michel Hazanavicius

Uggie can thank this guy for making him a star. Hazanavicius, 44, is the Lithuanian-French director of best-picture nominee The Artist, the husband of the female lead and best-supporting-actress nominee, Berenice Bejo, and a nominee himself for best director. He’s well known and respected in France as the director, producer and writer of popular spy spoof movies starring Jean Dujardin, the best-actor nominee for The Artist. He also worked in TV and in commercials, but now he’s the toast of Hollywood, his hard-to-say name on everyone’s lips (that’s ah-zahn-a-veece-ee-us) for his silent and black-and-white paean to the origins of the film industry.


No one at the Oscars is likely to be cuter — or furrier. Uggie is a 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier in the multi-nominated silent film The Artist, and the dog who very nearly scampered off with the picture. A canine with his own Twitter account, Uggie has been almost as big a star on the red carpet as his nominated human co-stars. But he does more tricks (for sausage treats). Uggie’s fans started a “Consider Uggie” campaign to get him a special Oscar for playing the role of “Jack,” even though the academy doesn’t give awards to animal performers. He did get the Palm Dog Award for best dog performer at the Cannes Film Festival, and he’s expected to do a bit with Oscar host Billy Crystal during the show. Not bad for a dog rescued from the pound.

Demian Bichir

This sexy Mexican star, 48, got one heck of a career boost when his name was called alongside Pitt’s, Clooney’s, Oldman’s and Dujardin’s. What propelled him to Hollywood’s biggest stage? An emotional, searing performance in A Better Life, in which he plays an immigrant gardener trying to make a living and raise his American-born son in East Los Angeles. Despite the fact that the film has pulled in only $1.7 million at the box office, it has been a critical darling, scoring 85 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. And if Bichir looks familiar to you, that’s because he last seduced Mary-Louise Parker as drug lord Esteban Reyes on Weeds, and played Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che. Next, he’ll appear in Oliver Stone’s Savages. Bichir has a baby daughter, Gala, from a past relationship.

Rooney Mara

The waifish newcomer, 26, raised eyebrows for her stunning portrayal of anti-social computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the American film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestseller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Under the unflinching tutelage of director David Fincher, Mara went the extra mile for the part, enduring multiple body piercings, gruelling physical training, picking up an onscreen smoking habit and suffering through a wacky Edward Scissorhands-esque haircut, to boot. But, Mara, who also lit up the opening scene of Fincher’s 2010 flick The Social Network, says the poking and primping was the easy part of the process. “I had to learn to ride the motorcycle and work out non-stop. The dialect and computer training. There’s all that stuff,” she told USA TODAY. Also easy? Watching the New York Giants win the Super Bowl in February. Mara comes from football royalty: Her dad’s family, the Maras, founded the Giants, while her mother’s clan, the Rooneys, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Lorraine Schwartz

She’s the celebrity jeweler-du-jour, the most sought-after bauble designer for film stars who love diamonds. The third generation to run her family’s New York-based diamond business, Schwartz first got a name on the red carpet in 2002 when actress Halle Berry wore her sparkly gewgaws to the Screen Actors Guild awards. Since then she has designed for the likes of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Cate Blanchett, Heidi Klum, Kim Kardashian, Barbra Streisand and the late jewelry-loving Elizabeth Taylor. In Beyoncé’s Single Ladies video, the titanium glove she wears was made by Schwartz, and the wedding ring she got when she married Jay-Z also came from the designer’s collections.


This is the fashion label founded by British-born actress/designer Georgina Chapman and actress/former model Keren Craig, two art-school grads who named their brand after Marchesa Luisa Casati Stampa di Soncino, an eccentric Italian heiress and patron of the arts in early 20th-century Europe. The label is trending up thanks to the frequent mentions by red-carpet walkers wearing Marchesa frocks. Chapman, 35, also is known as a judge on Project Runway: All Stars. She married Harvey Weinstein in 2007; their daughter was born in August 2010.

Tadashi Shoji

He’s the Japanese-born artist-turned-fashion designer who specializes in special-occasion gowns for women who parade down red carpets. He’s getting more attention this year thanks to supporting-actress nominee Octavia Spencer (The Help), who has turned heads in his dresses at awards ceremonies this season. Based in Los Angeles since 1982, Tadashi is now in thousands of major department and specialty stores worldwide, plus two signature boutiques.

Naeem Khan

He’s an Indian-born fashion designer who launched his label in 2003. Khan, who apprenticed with Halston, moved to the USA as a teenager to develop his skills. His collection is known for dresses with a sophisticated, clean look and hand-embroidered details. Actresses Mireille Enos (The Killing) and Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) wore his dresses to this year’s Golden Globes.

David Meister

His may not (yet) be a household label, but Meister has quietly and quickly become the de facto dean of the red carpet, outfitting stars from Jane Seymour to Jennifer Nettles in gowns that, if not exactly edgy, ooze elegance. This year alone, he dressed a quintet of ladies, from Jessica Lange to Penelope Ann Miller, for the SAGs, while Maya Rudolph, Andie MacDowell and Jane Lynch (a repeat customer) wore him to the Globes. Oscar nominees Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have both turned up in his designs at recent events. On his website, Meister, an Ohio native, credits his first job, with Danskin, for teaching him how to flatter the female figure so fluidly.


Annie Mumolo

She’s an actress, screenwriter, comedian and producer, nominated for best original screenplay for the girls-gone-wild romp Bridesmaids, which she co-wrote with Saturday Night Live alum Kristen Wiig. It has turned out to be a breakout moment for both of them. At 38, Mumolo is a member of the improvisational comedy troupe The Groundlings and has appeared in multiple films, such as Bewitched, and television shows such as Two and a Half Men.

Billy Beane

William Lamar “Billy” Beane III, 49, is a former baseball player and the current GM and minority owner of the Oakland Athletics. The star of Michael Lewis’ 2003 book on baseball economics, Moneyball, Beane is now much more widely known thanks to the biopic/sports drama by the same name, which stars best-actor-nominated Brad Pitt as Beane. It’s the story of how Beane, though constrained by small budgets for player salaries, nevertheless built a winning Oakland team in the 2002 season by acquiring undervalued players with the help of a convoluted statistical strategy devised with his deputy, a university-educated statistician (Jonah Hill). Once languishing in the league basement, Beane proves the validity of his approach when the Athletics win 20 consecutive games in a row, an American League record. Moneyball is a best-picture nominee.

Harvey Weinstein

You can’t miss him in any room — he’s big, loud and powerful. Soon to be 60, he’d be the classic big-time Hollywood producer/studio boss if he had a fat cigar. Co-founder of Miramax, he and his brother Bob run The Weinstein Company, the seven-year-old studio that nearly always has at least one picture in contention for Academy Awards (this year, the company’s list includes The Artist, My Week with Marilyn, The Iron Lady and W.E.). Weinstein is famous for his tantrums and his consuming passion for movies, especially during Oscar season when his tireless promotion of the worthiness of his pictures in the past led to a ban on such campaigns by the Academy. Nevertheless, Weinstein has been honoured by the British and the French for his contributions to the film industry, and he’s an active philanthropist and political donor (to Democrats). His second wife is Georgina Chapman of Marchesa.


Monkey Majik: Canadians Move Hearts In Japan

Source: www.thestar.com - By Jason Anderson

(Feb 22, 2012) While the Plant brothers may not be the first western
musicians who can claim to be big in Japan, their place in the pop world is nothing if not unique. Two brothers from Ottawa, Maynard and Blaise, form the Canadian half of Monkey Majik, a band whose ties to Japan have grown more profound since last year’s horrific earthquake.

Singing songs in both Japanese and English, the band has sold hundreds of thousands of albums and plays to arena-sized audiences throughout East Asia. Yet Monkey Majik remains virtually unknown in the country where the Plants first called home.

Indeed, it wasn’t until four years ago that the band — named “Goodwill Ambassadors” to mark the 80th birthday of Japanese-Canadian relations in 2008 — played any shows in Canada. Monkey Majik’s sold-out concert at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre on Feb. 19 marked their first appearance in Toronto.

The fact that tickets for the show are already scarce suggests that Monkey Majik has a following here. Nevertheless, the Plants admit that they have trouble convincing their friends in Canada what they’ve achieved on the other side of the world.

“We often get asked, ‘Are you guys big there?’ ” says Blaise in a phone interview from Sendai, the city in the north of Japan where the band is based. “The world is so connected now, especially through the Internet, so it’s pretty easy for people to go online and find all this information. But at the same time if you’re not aware of it, you could miss it.”

Their success is all the more surprising considering how they never really set out to be pop stars. Both brothers originally went east to teach English; Maynard says that music was never more than a hobby before he came to Japan in the late ’90s. “I was just looking for a reason to stay in Japan after I’d finished my teaching contract,” he says.

Monkey Majik was formed after Blaise joined Maynard in Japan in 2001. Known as a “hybrid band,” the group blended the perky sound of J-pop with Canadian rock influences like the Tragically Hip.

After five years as an indie act, Monkey Majik had their first major mainstream success in 2006 when they recorded the theme song for a TV drama. Despite their rising popularity, they opted to stay in Sendai rather than move to Tokyo, the centre of the country’s music business. The Plants’ relationship with the city gained a profound significance when the surrounding region was devastated by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March of last year.

Along with their Japanese bandmates Tax and Dick, the Plants spent the next several weeks doing volunteer work in various areas. The group’s concerts in Toronto and Ottawa this week were arranged by the Japanese government to acknowledge these efforts, which included a major benefit concert in Osaka in July. They’ve also been named “Ambassadors of Resilience,” though Blaise insists that the real ambassadors are the people who came together to provide whatever aid they could.

“Since the big earthquake, we’ve really seen not just our community but the worldwide community really work together and try to rebuild and help out,” he says. “We’ve seen people from all around the world, from Australia and Germany and Thailand — everywhere we went, we would see foreigners helping out in people’s homes and volunteering. People really came together as one community.”

As difficult as they’ve been, the experiences of the past year have deepened the brothers’ connection to their adopted home. Even so, they’re eager to bolster Monkey Majik’s profile in Canada, too — they’re planning more shows here for later this year. They’ve already noticed certain differences with their audiences in Canada.

“The fans are very respectful when you tour in Japan,” says Blaise. “During the song they will scream and dance but at the end of the song, they go completely quiet. So when we did the shows in Ottawa and Vancouver in 2008, it was so surprising because people went so crazy the whole time.

“It was almost a culture shock. We’ve been playing music here for so long and this is all we know so these concerts were more about us watching the fans than them watching us!”

Enormously Talented, Hugely Successful, Larger Than Life – And Beaten Down To Size

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Leah McLaren

(Feb 19, 2012) So, apparently Karl Lagerfeld thinks
Adele is “a little too fat.” At least that’s what he told the Metro newspaper before retracting his comments and pointing out that he himself lost 30 kilos and understands “how it feels when the press is mean to you in regards to your appearance.” For obsequious good measure he added, “Adele is a beautiful girl. She is the best. And I can’t wait for her next CD.”

I’m sure that Adele, having topped the charts, blown the roof off the Grammys and won the heart of every adolescent girl on Earth, can finally rest easy knowing that a 78-year-old man who fans himself without irony thinks she’s just the bomb.

Still, Lagerfeld’s got a point. (Actually he’s got quite a few. In the same interview, he dismissed Greeks and Italians for their “disgusting habits”; took a potshot at the Queen; and said that, had he been born a Russian woman, he’d be a lesbian “as the men are very ugly.”) Adele is, indeed, by current fashion-industry standards, a little too fat to be a Chanel model (most of us can sympathize) or a professional pin-up, period.

She’s simply not that sort of pop star. And what’s more, she knows it. As she told Anderson Cooper in her recent 60 Minutes interview, “I don’t want to be some skinny mini ... I don’t! … Even if I had a Sports Illustrated body, I’d still wear elegant clothes. I ain’t lookin’ like no slapper. … Exploiting yourself sexually is not a good look.”

I tend to agree, though it must be said, a good look on one diva may not be a good look on another (Lady Gaga looks sooo much more chic in a Kermit collar than does Beyoncé). But the deeper truth here, surely, is that our tendency to obsess over the bodies of famous women – skinny, fat or otherwise – is not a good look on any of us.

Since Adele cleaned up at the Grammys, everyone from Cooper to Margaret Cho has come to her defence, hailing her “real” beauty. But surely this misses the point.

Thin women are just as authentic as zaftig ones. Aesthetics are not political stances, and expressing a preference for one body type over another does not make you any more nobly feminist or miserably misogynistic than the next person. It just makes you a person obsessed with the size and shape of other people’s bodies.

And body obsession, in case you hadn’t noticed, is an affliction that commonly affects people who are tedious, neurotic or deeply superficial – usually all of the above. It’s boring. Not only that, it’s increasingly rampant in a culture such as ours, plagued as it is with dreary celebrity gossip of the “Bump watch! Cottage cheese alert!” variety. As our pal Lagerfeld recently pointed out, there is now an entire genre of celebrity coverage devoted to photo galleries of “50-per-cent bimbo, 50-per-cent pregnant women.”

And why? Evolutionary biologists will tell you we are naturally predisposed as a species to be obsessed by the images of the female body – fat, thin, pregnant or otherwise – because of the powerful reproductive signals those images send to our largely unevolved Stone Age brains. The Stone Age ended several millennia ago, so shouldn’t we put down our clubs and stop beating up (or, just as destructively, slavishly venerating) famous women based entirely on the way they look?

Watching Adele soar into official superstardom last Sunday as the entertainment industry mourned the premature death of Whitney Houston, a woman who once astonished with a divine voice of her own, it was impossible not to mentally compare the two divas – one radiant, full-figured and very much alive; the other dead, and for so long before that a wraithlike spectre of her once-blazing talent.

For years, tabloid photos of Whitney’s “alarming weight loss” served as outward proof of her sad decline. During her disastrous European tour in 2010, however, the story changed tack as her body “ballooned,” resulting in a stream of “shocking weight-gain pics” that seemed only to further illustrate her lack of self-control. The late Amy Winehouse endured similar body scrutiny in her day, as has Mariah Carey, despite giving birth to twins at the age of 41.

I’m not completely naive. I know that physical appeal is part of the package when it comes to making it in the music industry. But it seems sad to me that so much ink should be spilled, so much cultural energy wasted, on endless dissection of an aspect of these spectacularly talented women that really ought to be irrelevant.

Adele should not be hailed a hero for being a little on the chubby side any more than Mariah should be condemned for it. What we should venerate – and mourn – in our pop divas is their incomparable talent. The rest, as Karl Lagerfeld well knows, is just a passing fashion.

Marianas Trench Grows Ever Broader

Source: www.thestar.com - By Nick Krewen

(Feb 17, 2012) Look up the word “ambitious” in the dictionary, and you
might just see Josh Ramsay’s picture staring up at you.

There seems to be no shortage of drive in the young Vancouverite, whether it concerns his eclectic pop band
Marianas Trench, one of three acts (including All Time Low and These Kids Wear Crowns) opening for Simple Plan at the Air Canada Centre Sunday, or his numerous writing and production duties for various 604 Records label mates like pop siren Carly Rae Jepsen (signed in the U.S. the other day to Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun’s new label), country singer Melissa Rae Barrie or punk pop rockers Faber Drive.

“If there’s one thing that I do, it’s ambitious stuff,” laughs Ramsay, co-writer of Jepsen’s Canadian smash “Call Me Maybe,” down the line from an Edmonton tour stop. “I always do things that I feel are just a little bit beyond my actual ability.”

Case in point is Marianas Trench’s third and latest epic, Ever After. Ramsay, who serves as the band’s chief songwriter, front man and guitarist, fashioned a 12-song, 54-minute fairytale that taps into influences ranging from Beach Boy-flavoured harmonies and rhapsodic Queen-like orchestration to electrobeat grooves employed by any number of modern-day dance pop acts.

But he says extending himself is the only way he learns.

“I couldn’t think of a better exercise as a songwriter and producer than to work on a whole bunch of things that are nothing like what you do,” he notes. “I take all those tricks I’ve learned in other genres, and bring them all to Marianas. It adds more diversity.”

Ramsay say the current tour is also pushing Marianas Trench — which includes a lineup of guitarist and pianist Matt Webb, bass player Mike Ayley and drummer Ian Casselman — even further as performers.

“We have a whole bunch of production that we’ve never done before, and that’s fun for us,” Ramsay explains. “Having props on stage and marks that you have to hit all the time, there’s another element of thinking during the show than just standing there and playing. You have more audience area that you have to cover — you just can’t entertain the front row.”

Ramsay admits that due to his band’s support role, the Simple Plan tour isn’t conducive to playing the latest effort, up for a Juno Award for Pop Album of the Year, as it should be heard.

“There are no stops on the album — it’s one continuous piece of music with interludes between every song,” he clarifies. “So when we do it live on this tour, we’re not doing it back to front, but we are doing it in pieces so people get to see parts of the story.

“So they’re seeing two or three songs that are back to back. There’s dialogue that we’ve recorded, and we’re reading it because the album package comes with a storybook. I feel that with this tour, people are seeing the first act.”

Ramsay expects Marianas Trench to launch a fuller spectacle later this year.

Adam Lambert To Join Queen For Summer Concert

Source: www.thestar.com - By Hilary Fox and Nicki Finlay

(Feb 21, 2012) LONDON —
Adam Lambert has nabbed his dream gig: Singing vocals for the iconic British band Queen as they headline the second day of the U.K. rock festival Sonisphere 2012.

The former American Idol singer-songwriter will step into the late Freddie Mercury’s shoes for the band’s July 7 set at Knebworth Park in Stevenage, north of London.

Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor confirmed the one-time collaboration Tuesday with Lambert, 30, a runner-up in season eight of the popular American TV song competition.

The Sonisphere show marks the third time Lambert has sung with the landmark band, following an eight-minute set at the MTV Europe Awards in November to celebrate Queen’s Global Icon Award, and a 2009 performance of “We Are the Champions” on American Idol.

“It’s great, they are the coolest guys, they are so down-to-earth,” Lambert told the Associated Press in a recent interview in London.

“They are very sweet and just to be up there doing this music is such an honour. Freddie Mercury was a hero to me and his voice, his song writing and being gay, the whole package is amazing,” the American singer said.

Mercury’s final concert with Queen also took place at Knebworth in August 1986. But Lambert, who is also gay and theatrical, insisted he was not trying to take Mercury’s place.

“I in no way am trying to copy or mimic or replace Freddie or do what he did, that would be insulting to his memory and to the fans that hold him in such high regard,” Lambert said. “I just am paying tribute. I am excited to sing the songs that he wrote and to try to give them some sort of flair that he would appreciate.”

A new single from Lambert’s highly anticipated second album Trespassing — “Better Than I Know Myself” — is out now in the U.S. and being released next month in Britain.

Sinead Gets Her Boom Box Back

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(Feb 17, 2012) How about you be you,
Sinéad O'Connor? Is that what you're suggesting? Well, absolutely. That's what we've been waiting for. What a smashing idea.

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is the Irish iconoclast's first album since 2007's spotty Theology, which followed releases that covered reggae and traditional Irish folk songs. This new one is an arresting record that recalls the singer-songwriter's early career, when nothing compared to her. Boldly immediate, often beautiful, and as blunt as her haircut, the album couldn't have come at a better time.

O'Connor has been in the news of late. There was the desperate plea on her Twitter account about her suicidal urges. And her marriage seems to be of the manic sort - on and off again like the refrigerator light bulb in Cee Lo Green's kitchen. This, her ninth LP, is a positive development and a change in talking points. Recorded with her long-time collaborator (and first husband) John Reynolds, concerns love and loss, hope and regret, anger and justice - universal themes, often well-worked by O'Connor.

Jumping right to the last page of this book, the last track, V.I.P., is a stark hymn that questions vanity, materialism and the worship of celebrities, with O'Connor casting her eyes upward to the red carpet in the sky. "To whom exactly are we giving hope," she asks, "when we stand behind the velvet rope, or get our pictures taken with the Pope?"

Are you listening, Susan Boyle, the pseudo idol who sang I Dreamed a Dream to Pope Benedict XVI? And we're looking at you too, Nicki Minaj, speaking of papal-ish photo ops. Minaj, you might have seen, did a ritualistic Catholic thing at last weekend's Grammy Awards. O'Connor, ordained a priest in an independent Catholic group in 1999, as well as being a well-known Vatican-basher, exorcises her demons less outlandishly.

Reason With Me, an intense, breathy and darkly cinematic ballad, tells the story a junkie thief who won't love, for fearing of losing that love. On the other side of the pendulum is the joyous opening track, 4th and Vine, which bounces, plunks and strums along like a Paul Simon ditty. It's all about her recent Las Vegas wedding - "I will, I will, I will."

The Wolf Is Getting Married rocks to an upbeat, with sentiments bright and hopeful. Sounding like a Neko Case vehicle, it's as buoyant as we've ever heard from O'Connor.

And then there's this: "I bleed the blood of Jesus over you," she sings on Take Off Your Shoes, which O'Connor has described as an imagined address delivered by the Holy Spirit at the Vatican. "You brought me into infamy, and now you're so surprised to see me," she intones. "Even you can't lie when I'm around."

Yeah, awkward. Imagine the Catholic establishment, looking for any excuse to cut that meeting short. "Um, H.S., we'd love to chat, but we've got Susan Boyle in the next room."

A Rolling Stone feature on O'Connor in 1990 began with the singer asking a question: "Where's my boom box?" More than 20 years later, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is a return to form. O'Connor is O'Connor again.

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

Sinéad O'Connor

One Little Indian/Universal

Wynton Marsalis, Jazz Great, To Play At Toronto’s Massey Hall

Source: www.thestar.com - By Richard Ouzounian

(Feb 17, 2012) For
Wynton Marsalis, “All That Jazz” isn’t just a song title, it’s a way of life.

Think of the great jazzmen on the contemporary world scene and the moon-faced, 50-year-old trumpet player who’s going to be playing at Massey Hall on Feb. 23 is likely to lead the list.

Artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, winner of eight Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize, his combination of scholarly investigation and populist musicianship has made him a major force in world jazz.

He’s also a highly regarded composer and the recent release of a collection of his original works, The Music of America, serves to remind us of the depth of his contribution to the art form.

But it’s not hard to see where his career path came from.

Not only was he born in New Orleans to renowned pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr. but his brothers Branford (saxophone), Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums) are all virtuoso musicians in their own right.

“Everybody has this idea that the Marsalis family must have been having one giant jam session all the time, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he says on the phone from his N.Y. office. “We were like every other black family down south in those days, we were struggling to get by, trying to live from day to day.”

When he was very young, his first musical memories were “my father and some of his friends playing Monk and Coltrane. Modern jazz.” He laughs. “I didn’t love it!” But, ultimately, he was “born to the breed” and couldn’t help being a jazz baby.

And while most biographies hasten to point out how he was playing in local churches by age 8 and made his debut with the New Orleans Philharmonic at 14, it’s another kind of music-making he recalls most fondly from those years.

“I played in a funk band from the time I was 13, working with a bunch of guys in their 20s. We gigged three or four times a week. We’d play talent shows, proms, hotel, frat parties. Everybody wanted to book The Creators.” He snorts with laughter. “I know, man, that was a saaaaddd name!”

The normally taciturn Marsalis loosens up as he remembers that period of his youth. “I had a good time socially, and believe me, that was a good thing to learn. But believe it or not, that’s also where I learned how to be professionally responsible and how important rehearsal was.

“When you have to play so many different kind of gigs with lots of people paying good money to come and hear you, then you figure out pretty soon that you always better show up prepared to play your best. Have your fun, sure, but have it later.”

As he got into his late teens and the question started to be asked of how Marsalis would spend the rest of his life, he got two conflicting pieces of advice from family and friends.

“Almost everybody told me not to go into music because I’d wind up struggling like my dad. They wanted me to go into chemistry or math, subjects I loved in school, just to be safe.

“But my dad’s advice was simpler. He said ‘Don’t have something to fall back on.’”

Fortunately for the world of music, Marsalis heeded his father and never looked back.

His first recording as a leader, Wynton Marsalis, was made when he was 19 and presented a new talent to the world.

An old vinyl copy of it still rests in my basement and a quick listen to it after many years brought back the fresh sound and clear, optimistic tones that mark all of Marsalis’s work.

“I just wanted to play jazz, good swinging jazz. Too much of what passed for jazz at the time was just pop instrumentals. I wanted to play the real thing.”

Marsalis hasn’t just been a man who plays jazz, he believes in it, delves into the history of it and still keeps hoping for it to have even wider acceptance in the entertainment world.

“There’s never been a widespread embracing of it by the larger culture. There’s always been an attempt to destabilize it, to undermine the musicians, both black and white, who play it.

“Is prejudice behind it? Man, that’s a huge political issue, too big a one to get into right now, but I feel the more I can teach about the history of jazz, the better off we’ll all be.”

For Marsalis, it’s important to go back to basics and he lists a lot of classic names like Sidney Bechet, Roy Eldridge, Joe “King” Oliver, “Bunk” Johnson and “of course, Louis Armstrong. Everyone in American music learned from him.”

Early in his career, Marsalis went through a period of playing and recording classical music, but the change from jazz to the stricter form wasn’t as strange as it might seem.

“I studied the form and figured out the time. The music was written down and you had to play it as written. No, I didn’t find that took away any freedom from me as an artist. It’s a different discipline. We don’t read a book and say it was restricting.”

But he returned to jazz and did an increasing amount of composition, something he had fallen into by chance at first.

“When I had to do my first record, I was 19. Herbie Hancock produced it. I asked him to write the songs and he said ‘No, you do it, man, it’s your record,’ and so I did. Ideas would come to me and I’d write them down. That was it.”

But his work kept growing in size and scope, until what finally emerged in 1997 was his oratorio on the theme of slavery, Blood on the Fields, which was to win him the Pulitzer Prize.

The origins of the piece had been with him for a long time.

“When I was young, I would visit The Cabildo, which had been restored as a museum about slavery. I would go back time and time again to look at the chains, to read about people like Frederick Douglas, to learn what my people had been through.

“What I wanted to communicate the most is that freedom is always on the menu, even for slaves. You don’t have to accept slavery. The thing that makes you free is that you try to be free. When you maintain that mental distance from whatever has been imposed you, you can acquire a kind of freedom.”

Today, his work with Jazz at Lincoln Center occupies the lion’s portion of his time, but he still has visions of compositions he wants to write.

“I have an opera in me, about the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement that will emerge when the time is right.”

He wraps up the conversation by paying tribute to the musicians he spends his time with.

“I’m also blessed to work with an orchestra made up of the most amazing artists, each one a genius in their own right, adroit at orchestration, skilled in various forms and styles, always discovering new levels of harmonic sophistication.

“And I’m still doing what I always said I wanted to do, playing jazz, good swinging jazz.”


Marcus Roberts — the genius of the modern piano, an inspiration to any musician

Branford Marsalis — my brother, who taught me a lot, about everything.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra — working with such big talents is a big influence on me.

Stanley Crouch — I learned a lot from him. A critic whose criticism is art as well.

Geoffrey Ward — A great historian. I learned so much about The Civil War and slavery from him.

Pavlo Strings The World Along

Source: www.thestar.com - By Nick Krewen

(Feb 22, 2012)
Pavlo Simtikidis is not a man who operates by convention.

For example, the 42-year-old master guitarist, who specializes in Mediterranean-style instrumentals and will be performing selections from his ninth album Six String Blvd, at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday, gives one lucky concertgoer his signature guitar nightly when he's on tour.

He also started his own line of Meritage wine and in his 14-year career has built his following by playing live, from craft shows across North America to now having twice sold out Massey Hall.

Even Friday's Roy Thomson Hall gig, part of a 19-day cross-Canada tour, will be different from the other dates: guest singers John McDermott, Mark Masri and a string quartet will be making a one-time-only appearance.

He's sold over 500,000 albums in a 14-year career with very little radio airplay — and done it his way.

“I find when I follow my passion and do it for the right reasons, it always finds a way to succeed at some level,” said Pavlo, 42, while nursing a glass of red wine during an interview last week at a popular Greek restaurant on the Danforth.

His refusal to compromise is also key to his musical approach as well. His Universal Music-distributed, independent release Six String Blvd — available through his website, www.pavlo.net — contains the type of fluent and lively Mediterranean-style instrumental guitar music that is joyful and very easy on the ears. (In 2002, launched and won a copyright infringement lawsuit against R&B icon R. Kelly, who “borrowed” Pavlo's “Fantasia” guitar motif for the hit “Fiesta” without permission.)

Alex Cuba plays guitar on “Cuban Brass Cowboy,” Sultans Of String's Chris McKhool lends his magical violin to “Mediterranean Jig,” and there's an instrumental version of Gordon Lightfoot's classic “If You Could Read My Mind” that's endorsed by the man himself.

And, per usual on a Pavlo album, there is an unusual collection of instruments with exotic names like erhu (a two-stringed Chinese bow instrument); duduk (an Armenian wind instrument); ney (Arabic flute); baglama (a Turkish bouzouki of sorts) and the six-stringed Greek tzoura, adding an international flavour to the work's dozen wordless songs.

“For me, I've kind of come full circle,” admits the Toronto-born Juno Award winner, who started playing guitar at the age of 10.

“I've tried to sing a few songs on some of the albums, but my first two albums were all instrumental.

“So I went back to my roots. The only difference is, I've travelled the world a hundred times since.”

“It's still guitar-based, but I've really been influenced by the sounds I've heard during my travels.

“I go to South Korea and I draw 2,000-3,000 people per concert,” he marvels. “I have a deal in China where they sell my album through these unique initiatives, and Taiwan is one of my biggest album markets.

“It's because it's instrumental, and because of the infectious grooves that Mediterranean and Latin music bring to the table, it opens up to the world . . . no language barrier.”

Now he wants to collaborate with Sting. The pop superstar hasn't even been contacted, but Pavlo swears, “I don't care if it takes 10 years, but it's going to happen.”

Wise men don't bet against Pavlo Simtikidis.


Kanye West Heads to the Middle East for Video/Film Shoot


(February 11, 2012) *No one can tell Kanye West “no.” Why? Because he’s going to find a way to do what he wants. And despite what anyone has to say about the Middle East or what America is about to do in that region, music reigns supreme in Kanye’s world. According to sources, the rap star sent his scouts out to Doha, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to find some spots for filming. “They did a full round of meetings, speaking with various government agencies, institutions and private investors,” a source told the Hollywood Reporter. “They toured each area and met with all the major players.” He’s doing another one of those very long music videos it seems. “It’s supposed to showcase the beauty of the region, a piece that’s culturally sensitive and embraces the customs and traditions of the region,” the source continued. But at this point, it’s a rumor since Kanye’s camp has yet to confirm the deets.

CeCe Winans Hopes to be ‘Very Involved’ with Goddaughter Bobbi Kristina

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Feb 15, 2012) *CeCe Winans, godmother to Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter Bobbi Kristina, is promising to be “very involved” in the 18-year-old’s life, a source tells E! Online’s Marc Malkin. The celebrated gospel singer and longtime friend of Houston has reportedly “been praying regularly specifically for Bobbi Kristina,” according to the source. Soon after learning of Houston’s death, Winans, who lives in Nashville with her husband and their two children, issued a statement to E! News: “I have no words to express how I feel. Whitney was not just a friend but a sister and I am going to miss her voice, her humor but mostly her friendship. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest singers of all time but she was also a great person. Please keep her family in prayer and the best way to honor her is to be reminded that tomorrow is not promised to any of us so love God and love each other.” She also tweeted, “I LOVED her SO much, but God loved her more. I pray she’s resting in His arms!” As previously reported, CeCe’s brother, the Rev. Marvin Winans, will deliver Houston’s eulogy at her funeral on Saturday in New Jersey.

::FILM NEWS::    

Oscars 2012: Canadian Nominees Share Their Oscar Plans

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(Feb 22, 2012) There’s a bumper crop of Canucks expected at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood Feb. 26 for the Oscar ceremony and live broadcast. Before they packed their bags, we asked a few
Canadian nominees to answer some questions about the big night:

Philippe Falardeau, writer-director, Monsieur Lazhar (Best Foreign Language Film)

Q. Are you taking a good-luck charm?

A. Lucky Charms cereal

Have you written an acceptance speech? Who do you want to thank?

A. I’m writing a different speech every day in my head. I will have 24 versions by Oscar night.

Q. Who are you hoping to meet there, which star or director?

A. Would like to meet George Clooney and (Italian movie actor) Bud Spencer. I think I have more chance meeting the former.

Q. Which movie are you rooting for as Best Picture?

A. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Oh, sorry, uh, Hugo, I think.

David Shamoon, screenwriter, In Darkness (Best Foreign Language Film)

Q. Are you taking a good-luck charm?

A. My beautiful wife of 41 years, Carol, is accompanying me to Los Angeles. She’s pretty much all I need.

Q. Have you written an acceptance speech?

A. No. The rules say that the director and producer from the submitting country go up to accept the award on behalf of everyone associated with the film. That’s more than enough for me.

Q. Who are you hoping to meet?

A. I already spent some time with George Clooney and Alexander Payne who directed and co-wrote The Descendants, and Asghar Farhadi, who wrote and directed A Separation, at (the Telluride Film Festival). I’m hoping to catch up with them in L.A. and spend more time with them since it was such a pleasant experience the first time around.

Q. Which movie are you rooting for as Best Picture?

A. The Descendants, not only because I’m a big Payne and Clooney fan, but because I really think it’s the best of the nominees.

Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, writers-directors, Wild Life (Best Animated Short)

Q. Are you taking a good-luck charm?

A. We’ll each be wearing our plastic 1967 Doctor Dolittle flicker rings. Wendy’s features each end of the pushmi-pullyu, while Amanda’s has Doctor Dolittle and a horse wearing glasses.

Q. Have you written an acceptance speech?

A. We haven’t yet written an acceptance speech, but the Academy has urged us to be brief and memorable and to avoid long lists of names. That said, we’d definitely thank the National Film Board of Canada.

Q. Who are you hoping to meet?

A. Well, we’ve already had our picture taken with George Clooney, so it’s all downhill from there, right?

Q. Which movie are you rooting for as Best Picture?

A. The Tree of Life or The Artist

Patrick Doyon, director, Dimanche/Sunday (Best Animated Short)

Q. Are you taking a good-luck charm?

A. No.

Q. Have you written an acceptance speech?

A. Haven’t written a word yet but I would make sure not to forget to thank the NFB, my two producers, Marc Bertrand and Michael Fukushima, and definitely my partner Ariane who was soooo supportive.

Q. Who are you hoping to meet?

A. Believe it or not, I really am looking forward to meeting fellow nominee and Quebecer Philippe Falardeau of Monsieur Lazhar, whom I have never met. It would be cool to meet George Clooney for a discussion but it might intimidate me. . .

Q. Which movie are you rooting for as Best Picture?

A. I would never try to answer that question because I did not get to see all of the films in the category.

Oscars 2012: Canuck Sound Mixer David Giammarco Goes From Tire Factory To Red Carpet

Source: www.thestar.com - By Cassandra Szklarski

(Feb 21, 2012)
David Giammarco has come a long way from working at a rubber tire factory.

This weekend, the Welland, Ont.-native will walk the red carpet at the Academy Awards, where the 49-year-old father of two is up for a sound mixing Oscar for his work on the baseball movie

Giammarco says it’s a surreal experience for a small-town Canuck, noting he was mixing rubber at a tire factory some 25 years ago when he decided to move to Toronto.

At the time he was “young and hungry” but had no designs on a movie job. Giammarco says he hoped to land a gig in the music business or possibly return to school.

“I was trying to get my career going. A career. Something,” Giammarco recalls in a recent interview from Los Angeles, where he lives with his playwright wife Sheila Sawhny and their two boys.

“And then through some people I knew who knew I was looking for work, this sound editor named Wayne Griffin gave me a job.”

That job was as an assistant sound editor on Joshua Then and Now, a Canadian production based on the Mordecai Richler book that would go on to collect five Genie Awards.

The film also kicked off a steady career for the unassuming Giammarco, who says he’s been “very lucky” to go from job to job to job, landing in Los Angeles in 1989.

“If you got with a crew that was working you can sort of keep going with them,” he says, noting how insular the sound community is.

Over the course of more than 25 years in the business, Giammarco built a lengthy resume that reads like the broadcast lineup of an all-hits movie channel: there’s the sci-fi horror The Fly, the comic classic Groundhog Day, the gangster tragedy Boyz N The Hood, the star-packed As Good as It Gets, the Tom Cruise action film Mission: Impossible II, Ben Stiller’s wild adventure Night At the Museum and the recent eye-popping reboot Star Trek.

Giammarco was nominated for best sound mixing in 2008 for 3:10 to Yuma, which also gave him a taste of Hollywood glitz that he rarely sees behind the scenes.

“Just that film alone was fantastic because I really like westerns and it’s a treat to work on a western,” says Giammarco, whose team lost that year to The Bourne Ultimatum.

“And going to the awards, it’s pretty surreal ... Just walking down the red carpet, I didn’t even know I could walk down the red carpet.”

This year, Giammarco shares the spotlight with co-nominees Deb Adair, Ron Bochar and Ed Novick.

It’s a surprise nomination in a category that typically favours explosive action films such as previous winners Inception, The Hurt Locker, The Dark Knight and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Moneyball is relatively staid by comparison, centring on the front office machinations of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and his controversial use of statistical analysis.

It faces more bombastic and stylish rivals in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Hugo.

“For this one to be recognized for the sound work was very surprising,” says Giammarco, whose sister Joan and brother-in-law Greg Orloff are also sound editors.

“The spectrum of what’s (nominated) is great. They aren’t all big effects movies and they aren’t all sound effects movies. There’s a good cross section of work there, which is really nice to see.”

Giammarco says Moneyball, which stars Brad Pitt as Beane, features “a lot of subtle work” that includes narration, voice-overs and escalating crowd sounds.

“It was atmospheric and moody and I think it was very effective,” he says of the end result. He picked a collection of scenes detailing an Oakland A’s winning streak as his favourite to work on.

Giammarco is proud of Moneyball, but admitted he’ll also be cheering for another film he worked on, The Help, at Sunday’s bash.

Although it’s not up for best sound editing, The Help collected nominations for best picture, best actress and two for best supporting actress.

“It’s great to see that film do so well,” he says.

Giammarco’s career continues to unfold in typically varied directions.

He says he just finished work on the ensemble comedy Think Like a Man, a relationship farce due in April featuring Gabrielle Union, Chris Brown, Regina Hall, Morris Chestnut, J.B. Smoove and Kelly Rowland.

His next project is The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans.

“I’m excited to work on it,” he says of the hotly anticipated reboot.

“It should be a lot of fun and from a sound effects, mixing standpoint there’ll be a lot of great things to try to do and work with.”

Oscars 2012: Academy Awards Gone Weird

Source: www.thestar.com - By Peter Howell

(Feb 16, 2012) Imagine if the Grammys
this year were to have given Album of Year to an ancient 8-track tape by the Bee Gees.

It would be almost as strange as what the Oscars seem set to do on Feb. 26: showering kudos upon a black-and-white silent movie made by the French to celebrate America’s early Hollywood era.

But the expected gold rush for The Artist isn’t the only odd thing about the 84th annual Academy Awards. Not by a long shot.

This might just be the weirdest Oscars ever, if you consider the following nine sets of facts, figures and follies:

LOVE POTION NO. 9: Due to an arcane rule change, there are nine nominees for Best Picture this year, for the first time in Oscar history.

This will also be the ninth time that comedian Billy Crystal has hosted.

Another noteworthy ninth, from The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg: Just nine films in Oscar history have won Best Picture without also having an accompanying nod for Best Film Editing, the most recent being Ordinary People in 1980. This is a good omen for The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo and Moneyball and a bad one for The Help, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Coincidence? There’s a 99.9 per cent chance of this.

WHO’S ON FIRST? It’s supposed to be a privilege and honour to produce and host the Academy Awards. You could hardly tell that by this year’s debacle, in which the Academy invited the low-brow Tower Heist duo of Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy to run the show.

Loud-mouthed producer Ratner was quickly forced to resign after making a public gay slur, and mercurial host Murphy followed suit out of a perverse sense of loyalty. They were replaced by the class act of Brian Grazer and Billy Crystal, who should have been the Academy’s choice in the first place.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: If preceding awards and punditry are correct, The Artist is about to become the first silent Best Picture winner in 83 years, following original Best Picture winner Wings from 1927-28.

The Los Angeles Times has cited what may be an even more impressive statistic for Oscar voters, most of whom live in L.A.: The Artist is the only film of the nine Best Pictures nominees to have been entirely shot in L.A.

And speaking of silent success: If Best Supporting Actor nominee Max von Sydow triumphs for his mute performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, he’ll be only the second male non-verbal winner in the supporting category. John Mills is to date the sole silent Best Supporting Actor winner, for his celebrated turn as the village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter in 1970.

UGGIE HUMPED BY RIN TIN TIN: Uggie the Jack Russell terrier, the scene-stealer who accounts for much of The Artist’s popularity, has been winning non-official awards from Cannes to Tinseltown.

But Uggie might have been able to compete for an Oscar, had not action star Rin Tin Tin spoiled it for all canines at the original Oscars ceremony of 1929.

In her recent book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Susan Orlean writes that there was serious talk of giving the first Best Actor award to Rin Tin Tin, a German shepherd whom many people felt was a legitimate actor. The first Oscars ballot actually gave “Rinty” the most votes, or so Hollywood legend goes.

“But members of the Academy, anxious to establish the awards were serious and important, decided that giving an Oscar to a dog did not serve that end,” Orlean writes.

OLD AND NOT IN THE WAY: This year’s Best Supporting Actor category uniquely boasts two octogenarians: Canada’s Christopher Plummer for Beginners and Sweden’s Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Both are 82, the same age Hal Holbrook was when he became Oscar’s oldest male actor nominee in 2007. Plummer is considered a sure bet to succeed, which would make him Oscar’s oldest winning actor come Feb. 26, toppling George Burns’ victory at age 80 in 1976.

This is very likely the oldest group ever of Best Supporting Actor nominees, totaling a combined 313 years: the others are Nick Nolte, 70, for Warrior; Kenneth Branagh, 51, for My Week with Marilyn; and lone youngster Jonah Hill, 28, for Moneyball.

BEST ACTRESS, MEET BEST PICTURE: Best Picture candidates usually go hand-in-hand with nominations for actors and/or actresses, in either the lead or supporting category. There have been just 11 Best Picture winners without accompanying acting nods, the most recent of which were Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

Does it work in reverse? We may find out this year in the hotly contested Best Actress category, due to the unusual situation whereby just one of the four nominees is in a film competing for Best Picture. That’s Viola Davis from The Help, who is arrayed against Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

HOLLYWOOD, HOLLY-WOULDN’T: As much as it appears that Hollywood denizens adore The Artist, it would actually be out of character for them to give Best Picture to a film that celebrates their famous ’hood.

Reporter Gregg Kilday of The Hollywood Reporter notes that “Hollywood has never had much interest in honouring movies about Hollywood.” He points to the failure of A Star is Born in 1937 to cash in on its Best Picture nod, while Singin’ in the Rain (1952) wasn’t even nominated — and both films have plots similar to The Artist. Meanwhile, neither the 1954 nor 1976 remakes of A Star is Born were deemed worthy of Best Picture consideration.

There’s a similar Academy bias against films about movies, adds Kilday’s colleague Feinberg. If either The Artist or Hugo wins Best Picture, he writes, it will be the first movie about movies ever to do so.

BEST PICTURE/DIRECTOR DISCONNECT? Oscar likes to link Best Picture and Best Director when handing out the gold. There have been 85 Best Picture winners, of which 62 also won for Best Director, Wikipedia notes.

And there have only been three Best Picture winners that didn’t have at least a nomination for Best Director: Wings (1927/28), Grand Hotel (1931/32) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). This is a bad omen for this year’s Best Picture candidates Moneyball, The Help, War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which have no accompanying director’s love.

But strange things do happen, and Oscar watcher Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily.com is predicting a rare Picture/Director split this year, with maybe The Artist getting the former and Hugo’s Martin Scorsese the latter.

Stone recently tweeted: “Not since 1968 (that’s 44 years) has the winner for Best Picture in Musical/Comedy at the (Golden) Globes gone on to win both Picture and Director at the Oscars.”

A PRECEDENT BY A REPEAT: Here’s a real bit of Oscar arcana, courtesy of Wikipedia. Kenneth Branagh, Best Supporting Actor nominee for My Week with Marilyn, is the only actor ever to have been nominated for playing a previous Best Supporting Actor nominee.

He plays Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn, in the regal role Olivier had in The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. Olivier went on to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Marathon Man in 1976, but he didn’t win. The same fate is likely to happen to Branagh — Christopher Plummer seems unstoppable — but at least he achieves a precedent with his nomination.

Tyler Perry Morality Play Finds Groom-to-be Torn between Shallow Fiancée and Homeless Widow

Source: by Kam Williams

(Feb 19, 2012) Wesley Deeds (
Tyler Perry) has it all, or so it seems, between serving as CEO of a thriving computer software company and his impending marriage to a successful, if shallow, San Francisco realtor (Gabrielle Union). The dedicated, driven executive was handpicked by his mother (Phylicia Rashad) over his hot-headed brother, Walter (Brian White), to replace their late father to run Deeds Corporation.

But because Wesley has spent most of his life trying to satisfy the wishes of the domineering family matriarch, he might be getting married in a few months more to please her than himself. Even his already-jaded fiancée, Natalie, finds her Momma’s Boy a tad too boring and predictable, despite his being a great catch.

Then, while the couple is in the midst of putting the final touches on their elaborate wedding plans, a fly lands in the nuptial ointment in the person of a most-unlikely other woman. Lindsey Wakefield (Thandie Newton) is a struggling, single-mom living in a car with her 6 year-old daughter, Ariel (Jordenn Thompson).

She fell on hard times after her husband was killed in Iraq, when she had to drop out of nursing school and find a job. And the only reason the homeless woman and wealthy Wesley happen to cross paths is because she’s the night janitor in his office building.

The gruff, ghetto girl initially rubs her relatively-refined boss the wrong way. After all, she is definitely a little rough around the edges, and just not the class of female Wesley’s accustomed to associating with.

However, the tension between the two starts to dissolve the night she offers to give him a back massage while he’s burning the midnight oil at work. And upon hearing all the details of her pitiful plight, Wesley altruistically offers Lindsey and little Ariel a free apartment to crash in indefinitely.

Will this gallant knight-in-shining-armor develop deeper feelings for the grimy damsel-in-distress who subsequently cleans up so nicely, literally and figuratively? If so, will he be able to summon up the gumption to break off his engagement, given the little matter of his fast-approaching wedding day?

That difficult dilemma is the raison d’etre of Good Deeds, the latest modern morality play written by, directed by and starring Tyler Perry. Avoiding his usual staples of comic relief courtesy of Madea and clownish support characters, Perry presents this sober soap opera in straightforward fashion.

Consequently, in the absence of those typical distractions, the plot is not only perfectly plausible but remains refreshingly grounded in reality from start to finish. Along the way, veteran lead actors, Tyler, Thandie Newton and Gabrielle Union, generate a convincing chemistry guaranteed to keep you on edge right up to the surprising resolution of the unfortunate love triangle.

Another compelling Tyler Perry parable delivering a priceless message about what really matters most.

Video: This Means War Review: Chelsea Handler Steals The Show

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

This Means War
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy and Chelsea Handler. Directed by McG. 98 minutes. Opens Feb. 17 at major theatres. 14A

(Feb 17, 2012) A salty talking blond who swills vodka from a sippy cup
and favours sex while eating Cheetos — not a pair of buff CIA agents — saves the day in rom-com This Means War, blasting into theatres Friday from Charlie’s Angels director McG.

Not even cutie-pie Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon can hold our attention for long in this ridiculous, bombastic romance. Instead, this is late-night talk-show host and comic Chelsea Handler’s flick as she steals every scene she’s in, contributing the only real laughs to this rote popcorn muncher.

Handler plays once-yummy mommy Trish, best galpal to perpetually single product tester Lauren (Witherspoon). At Trish’s insistence, Lauren is lured into the world of online dating and meets a hunky Brit named Tuck (Tom Hardy) for a coffee and some promising chat. Sparks fly, but that same evening she runs into slick, blue-eyed FDR (Chris Pine) in a contrived meet-cute setup in a DVD rental store. Romantic lightning strikes twice.

We know what Lauren doesn’t: Tuck and FDR are best friends and ass-kicking CIA agents, recently busted down to desk jobs for blowing a Hong Kong shoot-’em-up sting involving a smashed helicopter and an exploding briefcase full of cash. Their hard-nosed boss, an ill-used Angela Bassett, is not amused.

This is the least far-fetched element of the script, where Tuck and FDR decide working should take a back seat to competing for Lauren’s hand without her knowing about the contest. May the best agent win. The country can look after itself.

Soon Tuck and FDR are using every illegal (and expensive) spy trick imaginable to gain inside intelligence on Lauren’s private life, likes and dislikes, thereby thwarting the other from effectively wooing their prize. They break into her place to plant bugs and cameras. And as if that’s not enough, one dispatches a surveillance drone to watch from the sky.

Millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded spyware are destroyed along the way without the agents batting an eye, while the high-octane soundtrack pumps out a thumping bass to accompany flying fists and bullets. Any protests from the lesser agents roped into helping Tuck and FDR relating to invasion of privacy gets shooed away. According to This Means War, no wonder it took so long to find Osama bin Laden. The CIA was trying to land a date.

Meanwhile, newly separated Tuck plays weekend daddy to his cute kid and FDR tries to make peace with his well-heeled horsey-set family.

Lauren wrestles with her guilt over stringing two guys along but Trish tells her a few test drives are required before she can decide on her make and model. Will it be sweetly sensitive family ride Tuck, or flashy sports car FDR?

Meanwhile, Til Schweiger shows up as the bad guy with an unidentifiable Eastern European accent, just to add another ridiculous element to the plot.

Co-written (with Timothy Dowling) by Simon Kinberg, who also penned 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, This Means War races to a frenzied ending that is sure to be in contention for dumbest of the year. Yes, it’s only February, but we may already have a winner.

Video On Demand Changes Who Gets To See Movies First

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bruce DeMara

(Feb 16, 2012) There’s a growing trend in the U.S. that’s challenging
the order in which movies have traditionally come to consumers — first cinemas, then video stores, followed by the home video on demand (VOD) market.

Today, the digital version of a film is usually available as soon as it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray. And increasingly, online players in the U.S., including iTunes, DirecTV and Amazon, have started offering new movies to home audiences either before or at the same time they debut at the local cinema.

This has opened a whole new potential audience for independent films, which lack the theatrical reach and marketing budget of studio pictures.

Margin Call, starring Kevin Spacey, a drama about the 2008 financial market meltdown in the U.S., is the film most industry watchers point to. It opened last October in theatres on the same day it was offered on iTunes, a move that allowed the independent film — made for just $1.5 million — to notch up more than $5 million in VOD sales, making it a solid money-maker.

Magnolia Pictures, a U.S. distributor of indie films with a robust VOD strategy — slogan: “Watch a movie on your home screen before it hits the big screen!” — recently offered low-budget haunted hotel flick The Innkeepers to home audiences before it came out in theatres earlier this month.

And in the biggest deal to date, Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions has inked a deal with DirecTV to debut his latest film, Get the Gringo, on May 1, more than a month before it goes into wider release.

While traditional theatres may cringe at the implications of this industry trend, it holds great potential for smaller-budget films that can’t otherwise get wide distribution or afford a multi-million-dollar ad campaign.

Modest Canadian films, too often overlooked by mainstream theatres south of the border, stand to benefit as well. On Feb. 24, the same day that Goon, the hockey comedy starring Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel, opens in Canadian theatres, Magnolia’s Magnet Releasing will offer it on “ultra VOD” across the U.S., more than a month before a theatrical release there. This means anyone with a high-speed internet connection willing to pony up can see the film.

“Definitely in the United States, it’s the new wave. I guarantee there’s a boardroom in L.A. where yet another distributor is talking about how they’re going to get into the VOD business because it’s clearly what consumers want,” said Mark Slone, a senior vice-president at Alliance Films Canada, Goon’s Canadian distributor.

“I definitely think it’s going to be a growing trend,” agreed Andrew Frank, director of home entertainment for film distributor Mongrel Media.

David Purdy, vice-president of video products for cable giant Rogers, was even more bullish.

“We believe 2012 will be a watershed year for our customers in terms of getting these early-window Video on Demand films and we’re working really hard with both independent and major studio partners to figure out a model that makes sense and to bring it to our customers,” Purdy said.

“I believe just as we became concurrent — or day-and-day — with the video stores, we will become concurrent day-and-day with the theatres. It’s just a matter of time.”

In fact, Frank pointed out the first real experiment with same-day or concurrent VOD and theatrical release (and DVD) was Mark Cuban’s challenge to the traditional pecking order, Magnolia’s Bubble in 2006 by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Many of the largest theatre chains in the U.S. refused to screen it.

Unfortunately, the film flopped with its audience.

“It was just the wrong movie to do it with. It was ahead of its time,” Frank said.

While VOD may offer a new revenue stream that will benefit independent and low-budget films, studios still have the dollars to aggressively sell their films, Frank said.

“Nothing replaces the need to raise the awareness of a film, whether it’s a festival circuit, paid advertising, social media campaigns.”

But pure economics are going to ensure the trend expands, noting Rogers has seen annual “double-digit revenue growth” in its VOD market in recent years.

Industry watchers agree there will be strong resistance both from theatre chains and video rental stores here if VOD audiences start regularly getting first crack at new films.

“There are two obstacles. The first obstacle is the theatre chains ... especially Cineplex, which has 80 per cent of the screens in Canada, and the other obstacle is the video stores. They think their business is being taken away,” Frank said.

A spokesperson for Cineplex Entertainment, who asked not to be named, confirmed the company has a policy of only exhibiting “first-run” films with a guaranteed buffer before release on DVD and the VOD market.

Purdy noted that in the U.S., there’s much more of a “patchwork quilt” of theatre ownership, making it less able to block the tides of change.

“I really don’t think there’s going to be much attrition or cannibalization of theatre revenues,” Purdy added. “I think the overall pie would grow with us. Families in particular would benefit from being able to watch new releases in the comfort of their own home and I think they’re willing to pay a premium to do that.”

Slone said the issue is broader than a struggle between theatre chains, video stores and home entertainment customers.

“The question is: are you really competing with formats or are you competing with a myriad of entertainment opportunities that are out there to kids, available all the time all over the place — video games and online chats and everything else — that suck up people’s entertainment attention?” Slone asked.

“My belief is that having more movies available in more ways, more often, is only going to increase movie interest over other forms of entertainment.”

Melissa McCarthy: A Hot, Steamy, Scandalous Success

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Lynn Crosbie

(Feb 21, 2012) “You feel that steam heat? That’s from my
undercarriage.” That’s the belle de jour, actress Melissa McCarthy, speaking as the disquieting Megan in the movie Bridesmaids – a role for which she has received an Academy Award nomination in the best-supporting-actress category and fame, which may be viewed as a powerful avalanche, entraining more attention each day.

But it’s beyond fame now; she’s garnering a hot, steamy, scandalous success – scandalous because of the appalling vastness of the character she plays; the dimensions of her unvarnished obscenity and blunt, shark-like appetites.

McCarthy is hardly the first Rabelaisian performer by a long shot. But, sticking out very much like a sore thumb among her fellow nominees, she is the first large-and-in-charge female and blue comic to grace the uppity Oscars lists.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, reviewing Bridesmaids for Salon last year, called it “a triumph for vomit, and feminism” and “your first black president of female-driven comedies.”

However uneasy we are with the fatuousness of that comparison, Williams correctly identified the significance of the film – and what Bridesmaids, which recently became the most popular video-on-demand of all time, means to pop, culture and to the notion of female friendship.

As Bridesmaids continues to captivate us (the cast will be presenters, it was recently announced, at the Oscars ceremony), McCarthy’s fame grows along with it.

After shedding her skin as Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls in 2007, McCarthy reappeared three years later as Molly Flynn on CBS’s Mike & Molly, a comedy about two morbidly obese Chicago natives who meet at an overeaters anonymous gathering and fall in love.

The show was a success straight off, but it was McCarthy who drew all of the heat.

Last year, she won an Emmy for her performance on the show, and, after a charming ceremony in which all of the nominees charged the stage, a stunned McCarthy thanked everyone but Billy Gardell, the colossal Mike himself.

“I know I’m forgetting somebody!” she whimpered, as if seeing a future unhampered by sharing a TV bed with a mountain who sleeps with a rumbling sleep-apnea mask.

McCarthy then hosted Saturday Night Live and has been cherry-picked for bigger, upcoming roles including the Knocked Up sequel, This Is Forty. Last week, she and her husband Ben Falcone got the green light from CBS on a TV pilot for their new, so-far-untitled comedy project.

Why is McCarthy so huge? Why not, say, Kristin Wiig, who starred in Bridesmaids and is also an Oscar nominee as co-writer of its screenplay? Because McCarthy is almost insanely likable. The sophisticated actor reads, also, as if she’s our funniest, wildest friend.

In Bridesmaids, Megan – vulgar, absurd and funny – is Wiig’s character’s only true friend at one point, and by the film’s end all the women are exposed to be beautiful monsters: female friends, ultimately.

On Mike & Molly, she is sharp, and bossy, but soft-spoken and kind to the near-lunatics who surround her; divested of her Megan rash and hideous sports clothes, she is a large woman who is also beautiful, something new on TV, and in the world.

Roseanne Barr was extremely overweight, but this seemed tied, ineluctably, to her Roseanne character’s laziness and working-class appetites (the Connor family food was always processed junk with a side salad). And Roseanne was beautiful only to her gigantic husband, who punched a man in a bar for trash-talking his “fat wife.”

Molly’s weight is not even an issue on the show: She is, after all, only a third of the size of Mike.

Last week’s Valentine’s Day episode featured her sharing the romantic day with Mike’s partner’s girlfriend due to strange circumstances; on Two and a Half Men, in the preceding slot, the men’s adversarial girlfriends bonded while trapped alone during a monsoon.

The coincidence is notable because it speaks to the Bridemaids Effect (or the McCarthy Effect): a growing sense, on TV and in movies, of the significance of female friendship.

Not shop ’n’ bitch, cookie-dough-binging, man-talking friendship, but friendship that cannot be defined as anything but whole and true, that runs the gamut from lascivious and coarse conversations, to sad, curt remarks, to great affection and great irritability, and to dislike, both passionate and careless.

Filmed in the manner of raunchy male capers (with the requisite slo-mo walking scene), Bridesmaids does gender genre films one better and is, amazingly, a story about how women enjoy and endure each other.

If roles for women are finally changing, who better to lead the charge than the unlikely heroine, Melissa McCarthy?

::TV NEWS::    

Degrassi Star Neil Hope, a.k.a. 'Wheels,' Died Four Years Ago

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(Feb 16, 2012)
Degrassi producers and former cast members have confirmed the death of Neil Hope, who played the character Derek “Wheels” Wheeler on the long-running show, having only learned of his passing in 2007 days ago.

As fans mourned Thursday, Stephanie Cohen, vice-president of marketing and communications for Epitome Pictures Inc., which produces the teen drama, said executive producers Linda Schuyler, who was involved in the original series, and Stephen Stohn were “incredibly saddened” by the news.

“Neil made an important contribution to our lives, to the lives of our television team, who are like a family to us, and indeed to the lives of many Canadians and others around the world who were influenced by Neil and the roles he played starting from the early days of The Kids of Degrassi Street,” the pair, who were on vacation Thursday, said in a statement.

“His life was not an easy one, but the time he spent with us was a shining example of
determination, hard work and hopeful optimism and he is sorely missed.”

Former Degrassi stars shared the news among themselves on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, said Dan Woods, who played teacher, and later principal, Mr. Raditch on the show.

Woods said he first met Hope when he was a teenager on the set of Degrassi Junior High.

“He was a quiet guy when we were off set, but full of energy, very bright-eyed,” Woods said in a phone interview with the Star from California. “We’re all pretty shocked about the news. We’re saddened by it. Neil was a great guy and a great light.”

Schuyler and Hope worked together over the past 32 years the show has been running, from The Kids of Degrassi Street to Degrassi: The Next Generation, where Hope appeared in three reunion episodes with old cast members Pat Mastroianni and Stefan Brogren, who play Joey Jeremiah and Archibald “Archie” “Snake” Simpson.

But Cohen said Epitome had lost touch with Hope in the past several years since his last appearance in 2003.

On Twitter Thursday, after tweeting a link to the Star’s story of Hope’s death, Stohn wrote: “We have respected the privacy of the family by not saying anything until now, but our entire team is very emotional about his passing.”

On a Facebook page with only three members dedicated to getting Hope to join the social networking site, Tracy Northrup Hope, believed to be the wife of Hope’s brother Danny, wrote in January: “It has been confirmed that Neil passed away Nov 25 2007. RIP You will always be in our hearts and always remembered. Now we all can be at peace. We miss you soo much !!!!xoxox

A website commemorating Hope by web developer and self-proclaimed Degrassi fan Einat Razin, claims to have made it “with permission from Tracy Northrup Hope (Neil's brother Danny wife).”

On social media sites, fans and celebrities expressed shock at the sudden news of Hope’s death.

“Neil Hope,” “RIP Wheels” and “Zit Remedy” (the fictional band of which Hope’s character was a member) were all trending on Twitter in Canada Thursday.

Hope died at age 35, reportedly of natural causes in Hamilton. His death was only made public today.

Hope’s character on Degrassi faced challenges related to alcoholism, which mirrored his own life. Hope lost his real-life parents to the disease, while his character, “Wheels,” lost his onscreen adoptive parents when they were killed in a drunk-driving accident.

His last appearance on the Degrassi series was in 2003 during a Season 3 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

The Simpsons Hits 500 Episodes: Matt Groening Shares His Favourite Moments

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bill Keveney

(Feb 16, 2012) 500 episodes are a lot to dig through to find the best of
a treasure-trove. Simpsons creator Matt Groening, executive producer James L. Brooks and producers who have been in charge of the show over its 23 seasons (many of whom remain with the show) share some of their favourite characters and episodes — and their thoughts:

Matt Groening (creator)

His favourite Simpson? “I like Lisa the most, in part for corny reasons, because she’s sensitive and is in anguish in a way that the family seems pretty oblivious to. Her belief system is so different from everyone else in town, the fact that she’s Buddhist and vegetarian and has some kind of intellectual curiosity. I think of her as the only character who is going to grow up and escape from Springfield.”


— Virtually every Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) episode.

— All Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes

Homer’s Enemy, May 4, 1997 (Season 8). New co-worker “Frank Grimes calls Homer on his insanity and dies for his efforts.”

Once Upon a Time in Springfield, Jan. 10, 2010 (Season 21, 450th episode). Krusty the Clown hires a female sidekick, Princess Penelope (Anne Hathaway), to attract girls to the show. “The last couple of seasons, I feel the marriage of writing and exuberant animation has taken us to a new level.”

Holidays of Future Passed, Dec. 11, 2011 (Season 23). The Simpson kids, all grown up at a future Christmas. “We thought maybe if we were going to call it a day, that might have been the last episode.”

At Long Last Leave, Feb. 19, 2012 (Season 23, 500th episode). This Sunday’s episode, in which the Simpsons are evicted from Springfield. “It has a lot of little jokes that longtime fans will really like.”

James L. Brooks (executive producer since Season 1)

His favourite Simpson? “It changes some. I think it’s currently Homer and, every once in a while, you feel somebody’s been neglected and it feels good to do a show for that person. I think our never-can-miss character is Maggie. But Homer’s at the hub.”


Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Dec. 17, 1989 (Season 1, Episode 1). At Christmastime, the Simpsons adopt a dog, Santa’s Little Helper. “I love that above all else. It was our birth, as far as I’m concerned.”

Stark Raving Dad, Sept. 19, 1991 (Season 3). Homer meets a tall, stocky white man who claims to be Michael Jackson. “Michael Jackson did the show. It was so surreal and great.”

Who Shot Mr. Burns, Parts 1 and 2, May 21/Sept. 17, 1995 (Seasons 6 and 7). A Simpsons whodunit cliffhanger, with baby Maggie as the culprit. “It actually worked going across seasons. People wanted to know who shot Mr. Burns.”

The Way We Was, Jan. 31, 1991 (Season 2). Marge and Homer go to their high school prom. “I have a soft spot for when we do flashbacks and we show Marge and Homer in their earlier years.”

Lisa’s Substitute, April 25 1991 (Season 2). Dustin Hoffman voices Lisa’s substitute teacher. “Yeardley Smith (Lisa) and us went to New York for the recording session so the two of them could be in the studio together. Once we did that, it put a priority on the way we work with our actors, that we’re all in the same room at the same time, whenever possible.”

Al Jean (show runner with Mike Reiss in seasons 3-4; by himself, seasons 13-23)

His favourite Simpson? “Lisa. I was always nerdy growing up and my sister was a lot more like Bart, so I always identified with Lisa.”


Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. “That first Christmas show was so amazing when I saw it. That was the best thing I’d ever been involved with.”

El Viaje de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer), Jan. 5, 1997 (Season 8). Homer hallucinates after eating a superhot chili pepper. Johnny Cash plays the talking coyote. “The animation on that was great.”

Behind the Laughter, May 21, 2000 (Season 11). Simpsons family is featured in a parody of VH1’s Behind the Music. “I thought it was a great concept and really well executed.”

Gone, Maggie, Gone, March 15, 2009 (Season 20). Lisa goes undercover as a nun to find Maggie. “It was a little bit of a satire of The Da Vinci Code, which I think was brilliant and really sweet.”

Holidays of Future Passed. “It was one of the best episodes we ever did.”

Mike Reiss (show runner with Al Jean, seasons 3-4)

His favourite Simpson? “I like Homer because he’s a comedy writer’s dream: He’s fat, stupid, bald, lazy, and a drunk; in Season 4 we decided he smells, too.”


Lisa the Skeptic, Nov. 23, 1997 (Season 9). Lisa questions whether an unearthed skeleton is that of an angel. “This is one of the 5 per cent of episodes I didn’t work on. ... It was so smart and funny. That’s when I realized, ‘Gee, maybe I’m the thing that drags the show down.’ “

Treehouse of Horror VI, Oct. 30, 1995 (Season 7). Invasion of billboard icons; Groundskeeper Willie’s Nightmare on Elm Street parody; 3-D Homer. “Almost always one of the three installments on a Treehouse of Horror is not so good. ... That was the first time I thought they went three for three, three really amazing segments. Maybe the best Treehouse we’ve done.”

The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star, May 15, 2005 (Season 16). Homer becomes a Catholic; Liam Neeson plays a priest. “Homer loves the idea of getting absolution for everything he does. It was funny and provocative. I just go, ‘Wow, how did we not think of this in 15 years of the show?’ “

22 Short Films About Springfield, April 14, 1996 (Season 7). A day in the life of Springfield, playing off the film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. “I think our parody wound up being much more famous than the original thing. It was very inspired.”

Like Father, Like Clown, Oct. 24, 1991 (Season 3). Krusty reunites with his estranged father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski (Jackie Mason). “The day after it aired, we were flooded with calls. People were a little surprised how emotionally moved they could be by The Simpsons. We’d done sensitive episodes before, but that one opened the floodgates.”

David Mirkin (show runner, seasons 5-6)

His favourite Simpson? “Bart is an amazing character, but in all of history, I don’t think there’s as amazing a character as Homer Simpson. He has so many attitudes, so much depth and shallowness simultaneously. He’s so relentlessly positive and eternally hopeful.”


Lisa the Vegetarian, Oct. 15, 1995 (Season 7). Lisa becomes a vegetarian; Paul and Linda McCartney guest-star. “This was really personal to me because it was the experience I had of becoming a vegetarian.”

Deep Space Homer, Feb. 24, 1994 (Season 5). Homer is an astronaut. “I used to be an aerospace engineer, (and) this is a favourite episode of NASA. I made a DVD of it and sent it to astronaut Ed Lu at the International Space Station.”

Marge vs. the Monorail, Jan. 14, 1993 (Season 4). Conan O’Brien wrote this spoof of The Music Man. “It’s just brilliantly funny throughout. It’s a great example of Conan’s delightful sense of humour.”

Lisa’s Wedding, March 26, 1995 (Season 6). Lisa is to be married in the future. “That was a Jim Brooks idea. It was the first time we went into the future and stayed there. ... It was the first time we had heads in jars, still alive and talking. They do that a lot on Futurama now.”

Who Shot Mr. Burns, Parts 1 and 2. “It was really fun to create a mystery solvable through freeze frames. We worked really hard to come up with a nice, complex mystery. Virtually no one solved it.”

Josh Weinstein (show runner with Bill Oakley, seasons 7-8)

His favourite Simpson? “It has to be Homer, because he just speaks to everything inside you that you want to do and the way we all secretly are.”


Mr. Plow, Nov. 19, 1992 (Season 4). Homer starts a snowplowing business. “It had that real Simpsons feel. It was full of brilliant, crazy jokes.”

Homer the Heretic, Oct. 8, 1992 (Season 4). Homer stops going to church. “It’s one of the first episodes where The Simpsons took on something really controversial. Even just taking about religion was sort of a no-no in sitcoms.”

Bart Sells His Soul, Oct. 8, 1995 (Season 7). Bart sells his soul. “(Writer) Greg Daniels had actually sold his soul or bought some kid’s soul. It really happened. ... You get to do a crazy story with Bart and Milhouse and also have all these metaphysical aspects to it.”

You Only Move Twice, Nov. 3, 1996 (Season 8). Homer gets a new job, unwittingly working for a supervillain (Albert Brooks). “It works on so many insane levels. ... We wanted to fool viewers into thinking the Simpsons were going to move to a new town.”

Summer of 4 ft. 2, May 19, 1996 (Season 7). Lisa tries to transform herself into a cool kid. “It captures what it feels like to be a kid like Lisa and sort of be an outcast, and to have a chance for a new beginning. It spoke to a lot of the writers. A lot of (the writers) are nerds who feel more like Lisa.”

Mike Scully (show runner, seasons 9-12)

His favourite Simpson? “I guess I’d have to go Homer, because there’s a little Homer in every guy and he makes all other husbands look good by comparison. I’m a big Homer fan. (And) I love Lisa because I have five daughters. I’m a big sucker for all the Homer/Lisa episodes. I think Lisa is the heart and conscience and the intellect of the show.”


Bart the Daredevil, Dec. 6, 1990 (Season 2). Homer tries to stop Bart’s risky skateboard jumps. “The classic sequence where Homer skateboards over Springfield Gorge (is) still one of the funniest sequences ever on television.”

Homer’s Phobia, Feb. 16, 1997 (Season 8). Homer worries that a friend’s (John Waters) influence might make Bart become gay. “Relatable and hilarious. And John Waters did a great job.”

HOMR, Jan. 7, 2001 (Season 12). Homer temporarily becomes smart. “A very emotional, funny Homer/Lisa episode where we get to see how Homer became stupid and what his life would be like if he was smart.”

The Book Job, Nov. 20, 2011 (Season 23). Homer decides to cash in on the “tween-lit” craze. “An Oceans 11-type heist episode where we got to play with the form, but still tell a good story.”

How I Spent My Strummer Vacation, Nov. 10, 2002 (Season 14). Homer goes to rock camp with teachers Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Brian Setzer and Lenny Kravitz. “My personal rock ‘n’ roll fantasy.”

Magic Johnson’s Cable Channel ‘Aspire’ Set for June Launch

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Feb 21, 2012) *NBA legend-turned-business mogul, Earvin Magic Johnson, is gearing up for the next phase of his expansive business portfolio – running his own network.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Hall of Famer is preparing for the summer launch of Aspire, a 24-hour channel with a focus on what Johnson called positive, uplifting images of African Americans. The basic cable outlet will join other channels targeting black viewers, such as BET and TV One, and will offer opportunities for blacks who have struggled to find work in mainstream Hollywood.

“This is so exciting for me, I’m pinching myself,” Johnson told the LA Times’ Greg Braxton and Meg James in a phone interview. “This is big for myself, for the African American community and the African American creative community. I wanted a vehicle to show positive images and to have stories written, produced and directed by African Americans for our community. Aspire — that’s how I’ve been leading my life.”

Aspire’s mix will include film, TV, music and comedy, with a combination of acquired projects and original programming. “There will some performing arts and shows about faith,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s entry into the television arena comes courtesy of communications giant Comcast Corp. as part of its agreement with the FCC and Department of Justice to diversify the cable landscape. Comcast agreed last year to launch 10 new independently owned cable channels, with most backed by African Americans and Latinos, by 2018. Johnson’s channel is scheduled to be the first.

Comcast’s obligation to support minority-owned channels came after a bruising yearlong federal review of the Philadelphia cable company’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, which includes the NBC broadcast network, NBC television stations, Universal Studios, Universal Pictures, cable channels USA, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo.

During the extensive review process, which spanned all of 2010, executives were called before Congress to defend the merger. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) was particularly tenacious in her grilling of NBCUniversal and Comcast officers, questioning their commitment to hiring and advancing minorities.

With Aspire, which is scheduled for a June 30 launch, Johnson becomes the second A-list celebrity to launch a network in the last two years. Oprah Winfrey established OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network as a vehicle for her philosophy of inspiration and personal empowerment. But OWN has struggled ever since its January 2011 launch, failing to develop any shows or projects that have attracted large audiences.

Johnson is aware of the risks: “We’ll learn from those who have gone before us. We understand the landscape, and we will run a sound business.”

Launching a cable channel takes considerable investment — in some cases, as much as $100 million. Johnson declined to discuss the financial details, although the venture will be paid for through a combination of personal and private equity funds.

Aspire will have headquarters in Atlanta and will partner with GMC, a regional cable channel that offers uplifting programming. The channel Aspire initially will be available in 11 million of Comcast Cable customers’ homes. Johnson hopes to expand the network to other cable providers to reach about 50 million homes within a few years.

Johnson will be the chief executive of Aspire, while Eric Holoman, the president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, will be chief operating officer.

An executive to run the channel is being sought. Johnson will not have much involvement with programming: “I’m not going to be picking shows. That’s not what I do.”


Larry King And CNN Cut Ties

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bill Keveney

(Feb 16, 2012) NEW YORK, N.Y. — CNN and longtime talk show host
Larry King are cutting ties 14 months after his prime-time series ended. King did four specials for CNN within the past year. But CNN said in a statement on Wednesday the network and King have mutually agreed to end the specials. The 78-year-old King says he has “nothing but respect for CNN.” He says he’s “looking forward to all the wonderful business opportunities” to which he’ll now dedicate his time. British host Piers Morgan now has the time slot King held. He does a similar interview program.

Rapper Eve Returns to Television

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Feb 19, 2012) *
Eve is on her way back to television and will make her great debut on NBC sitcom “Whitney.” The comedy series stars Whitney Cummings and is based on her real life experiences and stand-up comedy routines, says TheGrio.com. In this coming episode, Eve and Whitney fall on bad terms about who knows what, but everything that happens, leads up to a monumental change in the series. As of now, there is not word on whether or not Eve’s role will be recurring. Whitney airs on NBC Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Maya Angelou Recovering After Being Hospitalized

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Alex Hutchinson

(Feb 22, 2012) *Poet Maya Angelou is said to be on the mend following a brief illness that forced her to cancel a planned speech in Texas. Angelou’s lecture agent David LaCamera said Tuesday the 83-year-old poet was scheduled to speak on Wednesday at Texas Women’s University in Denton, but came down with an illness that left her in the hospital for three days. LaCamera declined to describe the nature of the illness, but said Tuesday that Angelou is resting at home in Winston-Salem, N.C., and is unable to travel. He says her doctor told her that she’s on the road a lot and has to slow down for a few days.


St. Martin or St. Maarten: The Caribbean’s Friendly Island means good food

Source: www.thestar.com - Kevin MacLean

(Feb 16, 2012) The first taste of the rich beauty and culture of
St. Maarten for many travellers comes when their cruise ship docks at Philipsburg, capital of the Dutch side of this twin-nation isle.

There’s the lure of tax- and duty-free shopping, some of the finest and best-priced jewellery, watches and camera gear in the Caribbean, all just a short trek from the pier along the boardwalk that curls around the Great Bay.

But St. Maarten is so much more than a shopping mecca.

At less than 100 square kilometers (with 37 beautiful, sandy public beaches), renting a car or hiring a guide for the day to tour around is well worth it.

But for the more committed and ambitious traveller, a week in this tropical paradise is in order.

It’s oft been said that you should stay on the Dutch side (St. Maarten) and eat on the French (St. Martin). Truthfully, though, you can dine almost anywhere here — beach fare or gourmet resto — and expect a great meal.

ON THE LOLO For local cuisine, nothing beats the “lolos.” That’s the locals’ nickname for the dozens of small, independent eateries, sometimes right on the beach or side of the road, but never far from the water. Lolos are the height of informality: picnic tables, plastic plates and cutlery. But you can order a heaping helping of creole barbecued ribs, with rice and vegetables — and a beer — for as little as $7 (U.S.)

Or you can opt for the royal treatment.

England has the Queen but St. Maarten has Hilma Harris, queen of the lolos.

The proprietor of Hilma’s Windsor Castle laughs at suggestions she’s island royalty. “Just Hilma,” she insists, “Plain old Hilma.”

Her castle is a faded brown trailer, with four simple bar stools out front. No big sign, no table service, no formal menu. You get whatever Hilma prepares that day. It’s a favoured hangout of tourists who stumble upon it (and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain when he’s on vacation). But her main clientele is locals who come for the salt fish sandwiches, johnnycakes, beef, chicken or fish patties or hearty soups. And ice-cold Heinekens.

Locals know to arrive early. Hilma’s has operated for almost 20 years but is only open Monday to Saturday from “about 8 a.m.” till 3:30 sharp — or whenever the food runs out.

We filled up on salt fish, johnnycakes, a chicken soup that could have been eaten with a fork, plus beer and rum punch for about $12.

The royal connection? Hilma travelled to England twice in the early 1990s. “I loved it. And when I started I decided I was going to make this my castle,” she says, gesturing around the tiny trailer. “So I called it Hilma’s Windsor Castle.”

You’ll find her on Airport Rd. in Simpson Bay, beside the RBTT Bank.

GRAND FOOD On the French side, Marigot is the political capital, but Grand Case (pronounced Gran Cass) is the culinary capital. Lolos and fine dining restos dot the main street along the beachfront.

From January until Easter, each Tuesday from about 6 p.m., is Harmony Night along Grand Case Blvd. The main street (the only street, really) is closed and, after dark, there is a small Nawlins-style Mardi Gras parade. The street is awash in vendors, artists and good food.

The euro is the currency on the French side, but many formal restos, and classic lolos like Talk of the Town and Sky’s The Limit, accept U.S. dollars at par (a sizable discount for your greenbacks). For a special night out, try Le Tastevin Gourmet Restaurant (letastevin-restaurant.com) or La Villa (lavillasxm.com).

MARIGOT CULTURE The shopping district is reminiscent of Paris’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. You’ll find Hermès, Cartier and Longchamp, among others. Daily (except Sunday) there’s an open-air market plus dozens of restaurants to grab a taste of France. On the waterfront, Sarafina’s is a popular patisserie and café, with hearty baguettes, croques monsieur, yummy macaroons and pastries. The ruins of Fort Louis, built in 1789, overlook Marigot, offering splendid views of the capital and, on a clear day, neighbouring Anguilla. Some days you’ll be the only ones up there.

SUNNY DAYS Simpson Bay-area entrepreneurs like Aqua Mania (stmaarten-activities.com) offer tourists day trips for snorkelling, diving or partying on a catamaran. But there’s plenty you can do on your own.

Pinel Island, part of the National Marine Park, is one of the best snorkelling spots. Located off Cul-De-Sac at the north end of the French side, the island is a 10-minute ferry ride (a crowded, open 20-foot launch, really). The reef at Pinel is protected as part of the federal nature preserve, but the government permits snorkelling in some areas. If you prefer a lazy day at the beach, you can rent a chair or enjoy the weather at one of the open-air restaurants.

PLANE GAMES At Princess Juliana Airport, you can get up close and personal with huge jets landing on the main runway. It’s one of the few places in the world you can get so close to the big birds. From Maho Beach to the edge of the runway is about 100 metres and the jumbos pass barely 30 metres above you. Noisy. Exhilarating. Crazy.

Kevin MacLean is a freelance writer based in Toronto.


WestJet has regular flights direct to Princess Juliana International Airport from Toronto.

SLEEPING Condo and timeshare rentals abound, with studios from about $700 a week. WestJet Vacations offers packages from about $1,200. If you’re on a platinum budget, check out La Samanna, at Baie Rouge, on the French side. One of the island’s most luxe resorts, it’s nicknamed “Lotsa Money” by locals. From about $850 per night for a deluxe room to $9,500 for a four-bedroom villa. Go to lasmanna.com.

DRINKING Beer prices in bars and corner stores are $1 to $4 a bottle. Locally produced Guavaberry rum is a popular souvenir sold in the official store on Front St., Philipsburg.

SHOPPING Philipsburg’s parallel one-way shopping avenues — Front St. and Back St. — are chock-a-block with everything from dollar-store trinkets to $25,000 rings and bracelets.

WEBSURFING www.st-maarten.com

Travel Deals: Newfoundland, Bahamas, Hawaii, Ontario and more

Source: www.thestar.com - Kathryn Folliott

(Feb 17, 2012) Newfoundland and Labrador have done a great job
promoting their destination these past few years with an eye-catching ad campaign. If you’re ready to book, Globus has a deal: 12-day tours discounted by $200 per person, as long as you reserve by April 17. Trip highlights include Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its spectacular scenery, the Strait of Belle Isle (also known as ‘Iceberg Alley’), L’Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site and the only known Viking settlement in North America, the historic community of Trinity, Cape Spear and St. John’s with a cruise of Witless Bay to see the humpback whales. With the discount, prices start at $2,379 per person and include accommodation, touring, attraction tickets, daily breakfasts and most dinners, including a lobster dinner and a farewell dinner complete with one of Newfoundland’s famous ‘Screech-In’ ceremonies on the last night. Tours run June through September. See www.globusjourneys.ca.

AQUA’S A ‘10’

Aqua Hotels & Resorts enjoyed its 10th birthday celebrations last year, so much so that the company is extending its ‘Aqua is 10’ promotion into 2012. ‘Aqua is 10’ takes 10 per cent off best available rates, and all you have to do show at picture of yourself at age 10 when you check in. The deal is available through Aug. 10 at 17 Aqua properties on Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Kauai. Another promotion, ‘Aqua Five-O’, applies to 11 hotels in Waikiki and comes with a special $50 (U.S.) rate on the first night of a minimum three-night stay. And a third option, the ‘Snooze-n-Crooze’ package, includes a compact car rental and free daily parking plus a coupon book for Waikele Premium Outlets, with availability at 16 participating Aqua properties on Oahu, Maui and Kauai. You can even ‘Take Your Top Off’ - with an upgrade to a convertible. See www.aquaresorts.com.


London, ON’s London Hotel & Suites invites guests to ‘Put the Cold on Hold’ with its winter getaway package, with a free third night’s stay plus one free in-room movie with popcorn, in-room hot chocolate, coupons for the local Children’s Museum, a local attractions booklet and a $25 gas card. Available through March 31, the deal also includes breakfast for two each morning, plus kids under five years old eat free. See www.londonhotelandsuites.com.


It is better in The Bahamas ... especially when that Bahamas vacation comes with a $400 discount for stays of six nights or more. Shorter getaways qualify for savings too, to the tune of $250 for three or four nights. Packages must include airfare and bookings must be made by Feb. 27 with participating tour operators, for travel through June 20, with no black-out dates. See www.bahamas.com.


Sunquest: Aruba, air & hotel, $789 (+$409 taxes & fees) (Feb. 25). www.sunquest.ca

Air Canada Vacations: St. Thomas, air & hotel, $1,299 (+$85 taxes & fees) (Feb. 25). www.aircanadavacations.com

Nolitours: Camaguey, air & hotel, $677 (+$276 taxes & fees) (March 15). www.nolitours.com

Signature Vacations: Puerto Vallarta, air & hotel, $675 (+$357 taxes & fees) (March 23). www.signaturevacations.com

Transat Holidays: Lisbon, air & hotel, $915 (+$395 taxes & fees) (March 4). www.transatholidays.com

Bel Air Travel: Anaheim, air & hotel, $449 (+$208 taxes & fees) (Feb. 25). www.belairtravel.com

Sunwing Vacations: St. Maarten, air & hotel, $1,095 (+$320 taxes & fees) (March 1). www.sunwing.ca

Sell Off Vacations: Ocho Rios, air & hotel, $249 (+$346 taxes & fees) (Feb. 24). www.selloffvacations.com

itravel2000: Six-night Paris, air & hotel, $980 (+$520 taxes & fees) (April 19). www.itravel2000.com

WestJet Vacations: Barbados, air & hotel, $1,199 (+$142 taxes) (March 31). www.westjetvacations.com

Tour East Holidays: Eight-night Singapore & Malaysia, air, hotel, meals, sightseeing, $3,050 (+$250 taxes & fees) (through March 31). www.toureast.com


Diver Alexandre Despatie Qualifies For London Olympics

Source: www.thestar.com - Randy Starkman

(Feb 21, 2012)
Alexandre Despatie’s nerves didn’t betray him as he bounced on the three-metre springboard.

He’s never been the shaky type.

But deep inside, the stress was churning away unlike it ever has in his decorated diving career.

He’d qualified for the
2012 Summer Games the day before in London in the three-metre synchronized event, but the individual event is where he’s built his reputation — and Tuesday those Olympic berths were on the line.

His worries were justifiable. The 26-year-old missed all of last season with a knee injury, had only been training fulltime for a month and had a disastrous outing in his first competition back a week ago. Plus this World Cup meet in the Olympic pool was his last chance to qualify for his fourth Games.

“When I get nervous, I’m not the shaky type or I don’t lose my emotions or anything,” said Despatie. “I think it’s on the inside. I was nervous. It made concentrating a bit more difficult in that sense. I would try to focus as much as possible on the dive, but I couldn’t help it (thinking) in the back of my head that I needed to perform today.”

And perform he did. It may not be medal worthy. But it showed plenty of mettle. The mission was to qualify and that was accomplished. He was eighth and teammate Reuben Ross of Regina 11th in the preliminaries to each secure a spot — the top 18 earned Olympic berths.

“My emotions are all over the place right now because this is a big step forward,” said Despatie on a conference call from London.

“The best news of everything is I’m officially back and it feels really awesome just to have done it.”

A wunderkind when he first arrived on the scene at 13 at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, Despatie heads towards to the 2012 London Olympics as more the aging gunslinger. He’s been wounded, but now he’s back and beginning to reload.

“I want to make that comeback,” he said. “I want to come back hopefully stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m in great physical shape right now. Now, I need to put more diving inside of me. That’s all I’m going to be doing.”

The two-time Olympic silver medallist doesn’t think it’s unrealistic to think he can stand on the podium once again.

“All I can tell you whether it’s realistic or not is that I’m going to give everything that I have and everything that I’ve been giving in the past 10 months to make it realistic and to show up and have the tools to succeed and have the tools to be at my best and give myself a chance to be a contender.”

Roseline Filion of Laval, Que., was regarded as just about the happiest fourth-place finisher around in the women’s 10-metre event. Her previous best finish was a sixth at a World Cup in China in 2010.

“I’m really happy even though I’m less than two points from the bronze medal,” said Filion. “I did all my dives like I’m supposed to do, clean entries, great rotation and I’m really, really satisfied, even though I don’t have a bronze medal. It gives me great motivation to continue in this Olympic year.”

Canada’s Rush, Lumsden Claim Silver At Bobsled World Championships

Source: www.thestar.com - Star wires services

(Feb 19, 2012) LAKE PLACID, N.Y.— Canada’s
Lyndon Rush and Jesse Lumsden put a silver lining on what could have been a disastrous weekend at the world bobsled and skeleton championships.

The duo raced to second place in the two-man bobsled despite a stomach virus that nearly knocked Rush out of the competition and left a podium finish in doubt.

“Coming down the track was awful. I was gagging the whole way down,” Rush said. “Thankfully the run is only a minute long.”

Rush and Lumsden were the leaders after the first two of four races Saturday, but Americans Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton surged past the Canadians with a near-flawless third run Sunday.

Holcomb had a four-run time of three minutes 42.88 seconds, 0.46 seconds ahead of Rush and Lumsden.

Rush, from Humboldt, Sask., credited Lumsden’s strength for pushing the two to the podium.

“Jesse pushed the sled by himself today, I was basically a windsock. He was on his own,” Rush said.

Maximilian Arndt and Kevin Kuske of Germany took the bronze, 0.55 behind Holcomb. World Cup champion Beat Hefti and Thomas Lamparter of Switzerland were fifth. Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., and Calgary’s Derek Plug were 17th.

The world championship medal was the first for Rush and Lumsden, a native of Burlington, Ont.

Rush, a bronze medallist in the four-man at the 2010 Olympics, teamed up with the former CFL running back this past fall, in a move that has already paid off. Rush and Lumsden won a World Cup silver medal in Konigssee, Germany, their first podium finish, and then won gold two weeks ago at Whistler, B.C.

BRONZE FOR NESBITT: Canada’s Christine Nesbitt raced to a track record in the 1,500 metres Sunday en route to claiming bronze at the world all-round speedskating championships.

Ireen Wust of the Netherlands captured her third career title after finishing on the podium in all four races of the all-around championships — an endurance test for speedskaters. The champions are determined by their combined results over four distances.

Nesbitt, the overall World Cup leader from London, Ont., had a 2.70-second advantage over Wust ahead of the final race after winning the 1,500 earlier in the day.

But she could not keep pace with the Dutchwoman and finished a distant eighth in the 5,000 to drop to third overall.

The Canadian clocked one minute 55.95 to set a track record in the 1,500. She shaved off just one-hundredth of a second from the previous mark set by Claudia Pechstein in 2008.

Wust was 1.03 seconds behind for second, followed by Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg at 1:57.61.

Klassen finished fifth overall

CFL Legend Cal Murphy Dies

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Allan Maki

(Feb 17, 2012) Somewhere in the great beyond, Bob Ackles and
Cal Murphy are having a riotous talk, reliving those days when they went at each other hammer and nail.

Ackles, the former B.C. Lions' general manager, will be chortling over the time he cut off Murphy's sideline communications during a 1985 playoff game due to a CFL rule. And Murphy, who was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' head coach back then, will be shaking his head and remembering how he repeatedly called his foe "a weasel" for doing it.

Rule breaker. Weasel. Oh, how they'll be laughing.

We lost another member of the CFL's good old guys on Saturday. Murphy passed away in Regina, where he had been hospitalized for broken ribs after suffering a fall earlier this month. He was 79.

Feisty, combative, jovial, quick-witted, Murphy was a favourite among fans, players and media alike. He spent more than three decades as a coach and GM in the CFL and was widely regaled for his ability to spot a football player. He took one look at University of Calgary football player Dan Federkeil and said, "You're good, but you'll never make it to the NFL. Have you thought about playing on the offensive line?"

Murphy was scouting for the Indianapolis Colts and liked Federkeil's footwork. Sure enough, Federkeil was signed by the Colts and played in the NFL.

But the best thing about Murphy was that he was proudly, fiercely Canadian. He coached at the University of British Columbia before joining the Lions and being named their head coach in 1975. Midway through the following season, Murphy was canned by the man who had hired him, Bob Ackles.

"I remember the time Bob fired me," Murphy said when Ackles died of a heart attack in 2008. "A few months later, I was in Fort Lauderdale at the NCAA coaches' convention. Bob was there and asked me if I wanted a couple of tickets to the Canadian dinner. Then he said, 'You want to have a drink?' I called my wife and said, 'I'm in the bar having a drink and you'll never guess with who?' I told her it was Bob Ackles and he's buying."

Murphy guided the Blue Bombers to the 1984 Grey Cup championship then coached the rival Saskatchewan Roughriders as well as in NFL Europe and the XFL. Eventually, he became a regular visitor to every CFL stadium press box, where he scouted for Indianapolis and his friend, former Colts' GM Bill Polian, who once worked with Murphy in Winnipeg.

Ackles was one of several CFL figures who died in 2008, including Ralph Sazio, Earl Lunsford, Joe 'King' Krol and broadcasters Don Wittman and Leif Pettersen. (In December of 2007, former commissioner Jake Gaudaur and broadcaster Don Chevrier also passed away.) Ironically, the guy who suffered two heart attacks and underwent a heart transplant in 1992 out-lasted them all. That was Cal Murphy. Rule-breaker.

His buddy, the weasel, ought to get a chuckle out of that.

Blue Jays’ Spring Training Focused On Ricky Romero And Starting Pitching

Source: www.thestar.com - Mark Zwolinski

(Feb 19, 2012) DUNEDIN—All eyes watching the
Blue Jays, who finally report to spring training this week, will focus on one key area over the next six weeks: starting pitching.

As club president Paul Beeston recently noted, the club will go as far as its starting pitching allows it to go. With the organization viewing itself as more competitive from this year through 2015, starting pitching is the foundation the Jays hope to build on.

As spring training finally arrives — reporting dates are Wednesday for pitchers and catchers and Saturday for full squad — starting pitching is the one area of the team in which there could be an honest and interesting competition.

Others include the battle for left field — between Travis Snider and Eric Thames for now (unless Anthony Gose tears the cover off the ball during the spring training games) — and which among a group of at least five major-league-worthy bench players make the team.

The bullpen could also see jockeying, depending on how many left-handers the club sees fit to carry.

There are, of course, many other intangibles with the roster. (You’d expect a spot will be made for Omar Vizquel.)

But this spring should be largely about starting pitching. It will also be about sorting those other battles while giving a long look at some of the organization’s brightest prospects for the future.

Consider that GM Alex Anthopoulos took heat for what was perceived as a disappointing winter. The Jays lost out on Yu Darvish. They bowed out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, based on the organization’s policy of a five-year limit on rich free-agent contracts. They were rebuffed by other free agents and trade potentials like Koji Uehara and Roy Oswalt.

Those developments followed the winter of 2010, when the organization also met with rejections from free agents Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee.

Anthopoulos’s five-year rule on free agents, though, is in fact well founded. Many industry experts feel that once a player with a multi-year deal (Fielder signed for nine years) reaches 30, a club is actually signing him through declining years.

The Jays also continue to rank with Tampa and San Diego as one of the best developmental organizations in baseball and to make strides in Latin America. Once that stockpile of talent arrives over the next year or two, the club should be in position to spend or trade for a superstar player who could put them over the top as true contenders.

This spring training, while primed to sort out those positional battles, will bring that stockpile of future talent into the immediate picture like never before.

So here’s a look at some details to watch as the spring unfolds:

Starting pitching: At this point, the locks in the rotation are Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Depending on your ranking, Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan and Henderson Alvarez should round out the starting five.

Cecil is expected to come to camp reflecting the benefits of an off-season weight-loss and training regimen. Alvarez’s solid showing as a call-up last year and McGowan’s triumphant return to the majors after several years of shoulder battles should keep those two on the inside track.

Meanwhile, Kyle Drabek and Joel Carreno will battle for spots.

Drabek could be an interesting wild card. The Jays coaching staff have worked with him on his delivery and his tendency to get overly serious and try to throw too hard when he gets into trouble. The plan for Drabek is to have him actually back off when he’s in trouble and rely on his natural ability and control the competitive tension that boils in him when he allows runners on base.

Challenges: Drew Hutchinson, the gem find (15th round in 2009) who rocketed into serious prospect status last year, has been the talk of the organization over the past year. He’s been rated by many sources as one of the Jays’ top prospects and the prospect pitcher with the best control.

Recent first-rounders Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins are entering important camps for their respective careers. Veteran Aaron Laffey (could he be this year’s Jo Jo Reyes?) and Chad Beck (bullpen) remain interesting prospects, as does Vancouver-born Trystan Magnuson (bullpen).

The future: Check off these names, if you haven’t already — Noah Syndergaard, Travis D’Arnaud, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, A.J. Jimenez, Marcus Knecht, Aaron Sanchez, Carlos Perez, Daniel Norris, Moises Sierra, Adeiny Hechavarria.

Some of them may get a long look in spring. Some will climb the minor league ladder and possibly get a call-up.

There is also a host of names on the nonroster invitee list, with Laffey and Beck providing the most interest.

The general manager: Anthopoulos has been credited in several expert corners with making the off-season’s best trade: acquiring Sergio Santos from the White Sox. More importantly, he appears to have shown to be ahead of the industry curve in avoiding mega-term and megadollar contracts.

In the meantime, Anthopoulos has certainly developed a platform of at least half a dozen prospects who are expected to be quality major-leaguers within one to three years. Once those young players arrive, Anthopoulos will be in the position to land a big-name player (via free agency or trade).

This winter and last, he was a serious player in more player scenarios than met the eye. At this point, though, to spend more on Fielder and Darvish than the value foreseen by the organization simply did not make sense.

Anthopoulos joined top organizational scouts at the Jays’ Dominican academy this past week to watch Cuban prospect Jorge Soler. This is in keeping with the Jays’ reinvigorated approach to Latin America, one that landed Hechavarria and almost landed lefty sensation Aroldis Chapman.

For now, the organization will still sell the future. It’s not a broken record marketing ploy: it’s the smart thing to do at this point.

Intangible themes: What does the future hold for Beeston now that he is in the last year of his contract? (It’s likely he stays to see the team into the post-season.)

And what will transpire with Canadian superstar Joey Votto, who is free-agent eligible after this season? Jays fans are certainly hoping he is the big free agent on the horizon.