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LE NEWSLETTER

January 5, 2012

A new year has begun! 
2012 is here ... still sort of hard to believe in some respects as it seemed to sneak up on me.  Good times with family and friends though for sure.  Am I the only one to welcome the regular day-to-day routine back?  

Given the turning over of a new year, what a perfect time to celebrate Canadian artists.  One of those at the top of the list is
Director X, whom I had the privilege of interviewing over the holidays. He is the epitome of coolness, which my guess is, originates from an inner confidence, pride in his work and the good fortune of being successful at what he loves to do. Check out what he has to say under SCOOP.

This week's news features the scoop on
Weeknd; new Canadian talent Jaclyn Kenyon; Justin Bieber in Wahlberg's new basketball film; Adam Beach in a new television series; and Team Canada takes a hit from Russia; 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.

::SCOOP::

X Marks the Spot: Exclusive Interview with Director X

Source:  Dawn Langfield, Langfield Entertainment (OR SEE FULL INTERVIEW AND VIDEOS AT http://langfieldentertainment.com/DIRECTORX.htm)

Director X joined me at Harlem’s east side location (www.harlemrestaurant.com) over the holidays to have a bite and discuss his long-established career.  His vibe appears confident yet soft spoken with an air of down-to-earth sophistication.  Before engaging in the interview, we spoke about his son, western medicine versus alternative medicine and how he witnessed first-hand the attacks of 9/11.  Currently living in New York and in Toronto for the holidays, we speak today on his start in the entertainment industry and much more.

 

Many of you know the legacy of Director X who is lauded as one of the most successful artists to come out of Toronto.  Born Julien Christian Lutz, Director X is of Trinidadian and Swiss descent, who first made his impact in the entertainment industry as a music video director under the name of ‘Little X’.  Celebrating the wealth of talent in Canada, Director X has worked with artists Nelly Furtado, Kardinal Offishall, Wes “Maestro” Williams, Glenn Lewis and Choclair, to name a few.  Videos that you may recognize at a glance are:

 

                     Maestro - "Stick to Your Vision"

                     Kardinal Offishall - "Ol' Time Killin'"

                     Alicia Keys - "How Come You Don't Call Me"

                     Sean Paul - "Gimme The Light"

                     Aaliyah - "I Care 4 U"

                     Rihanna - "Pon De Replay"

                     Usher - "Caught Up"

                     Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland - "Promiscuous"

                     Sean Paul feat. Keyshia Cole - "Give It Up To Me"

                     k-os feat. Saukrates & Nelly Furtado - "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman"/"Robot Kid"

                     Nicki Minaj - "Your Love"

                     Karl Wolf featuring Kardinal Offishall in Ghetto Love

 

And the list goes on and on.  [Scroll down to see assorted videos.]

 

Director X attributes his drive and passion to having the opportunity to first watch, listen and learn while under Hype Williams’ tutelage, an American music and film director.   

 

Dawn:       There’s a lot of talent in our city – both musically and the other arts.  Have you come across any Canadian artists that you feel stood out to you? 

 

Director X:  The dancers.  Especially back in early 2000.  I was always impressed by the dance talent in this city because that was so much more my world.  If you’re in front of my camera singing and dancing, you’ve gone through your steps to be found.  But the dancers, you can find them anywhere; could be kids at a gas station.  The dancing in this city is not like any other cities.  There’s a lot of talent up here.

 

Dawn:       Who are some of your favourite Canadian artists? 

 

Director X:  I like Weeknd musically.  He’s on my radar.  The Weeknd is dope.

 

Dawn:       Do you have a preferred musical genre to work in?

 

Director X:  Not at all.  I don’t care.  There is definitely the world where people can accept me in as far as who’s hiring.  But for me, myself, no.  When they’re saying, ‘we need a new rock video’, they’re not thinking ‘let’s get X’ unless they’re trying to say, ‘let’s do something different’.  Normally though, it’s like ‘oh this has a hip hop feel, let’s get a hip hop guy’.  And Black directors, Black artists, definitely get held in that position in a way that White artists do not.

 

Dawn:       Is that more prevalent in other areas of the world or here?

 

Director X:  The United States especially.  Here I found that commercially, I’d be up for Zellers commercials and all these kinds of jobs, where in the States, there will always be [reference to] the African-American world.  Occasionally some things would come up out of it, but for the most part, their system is made like that. Like I said I would be doing stuff a lot more outside the box.

 

Dawn:       You shoot such visually appealing work.  How different is it from the director’s chair to shoot a music video or a commercial or do you see it all as art? 

 

Director X:  Thank you.  Commercials and music videos are different in the same way that there are similar styles of dance.  You’re still dancing to music, but one’s a tango and one’s hip hop.  So, commercials are much more structured; more rules to the game.  You're not executing your own idea, you’re doing someone else’s. So it is like doing a tango.  There’s a dance that the judges know and they’re there to see how you execute the dance step that everyone does. 
 

                  As opposed to hip hop, where there are no rules, they’re there to see you do something that they’ve never seen before.

 

                  So music videos, the client is not as involved – it’s your idea the majority of the time and even if it was a collaboration idea, it’s really yours.  Artistically there’s a lot more freedom in a music video than a commercial, where the idea comes to you.  They’ve been working on that idea, they’ve had that client for years – they signed a contract.  They’re doing radio and commercials and they’re going to do another commercial that’s coming off this one.  This is a relationship. 

You’re kind of walking into a marriage.  You’re having a moment with this husband and wife and the relationship can be just as different as a husband and wife. And you’ve got to interact with that as it is.  You’re going to leave, and they’re still married.  It’s a very very different experience. 

 

                  It’s what’s your idea is within the structure of their idea.  ‘This is what we’re doing, what do you want to do within this world?’  It’s a long process to make a commercial.  By the time they come to me, they’ve discussed this.  This ain’t some new idea.

 

Dawn:       What has been the most poignant moment in your career?

 

Director X:  I don’t know the most poignant.  I think Usher’s “You Got it Bad” was a big moment.  Kardinal’sOl’ Time Killin’” was a big moment.  Redman “I’ll be Dat”.  Big moments meaning had a big impact.  That Kardinal video had a big impact on the world.  This tiny little video we did.  Really shifted things around.

 

 


 

Dawn:       What challenges you the most in directing?

 

Director X:  Coming up with something original within the budgets that we now have to deal with.  That’s a big deal.  When I started and came into the game, budgets were much bigger.  I was there when budgets went from not tiny but ok, to being humungous, disgusting and crazy back down to tiny again. 

 

Dawn:       Is that a reflection of the music industry as a whole?

 

Director X:  Music industry and economics.  The music industry got smashed twice.  It got smashed by the technology and then got smashed by the economy.  You put those two things together … not everyone gets $200-300,000 or million dollar videos anymore. 

 

Dawn:       When did the transition from Little X to Director X happen and why?

 

Director X:  I’m in my 30s now, I’m not a rapper.  I’m not ‘Little’.  [laughsDoesn’t it sound better?  I wish I’d called myself Director X from the very beginning but it is what it is.  Little X came from a street thing, back in the hip hop/rap conscious days.  But it’s not that world anymore.

 

Dawn:       Did you ever want to give up when you were on your way up?

 

Director X:  I had a moment but that moment was the one that put me to the side of ‘don’t give up’.  I had a really bad shoot and Hype [Williams] gave me a pep talk and a couple of other directors that I worked with as well.  Hype was the one telling me that ‘the feeling like you suck and that you can’t do it, is the enemy.  You have to fight that feeling.’  After that, that was it.

 

Dawn:       I would love to see you directing feature films – is that on your radar?

 

Director X:  Of course.  I’m a director so all the parts of being a director are there.  But where I am in certain stages and what I’m dealing with, I don’t really discuss that stuff.  The playbook is for the team. 

 

Dawn:       So back to music, what’s in your CD player right now?

 

Director X:  Mumford & Sons, Bon Ivor, College, Mighty Sparrow.  That’s all the music that I was listening to today.  Right now I’m on that kick – Bon Ivor and Mumford & Sons so I’ll be on that kick for a minute.  College I’ve been on that for a month or two.  And the Mighty Sparrow?  That could vary.  That might be Jimi Hendrix tomorrow.

 

Dawn:       If you could work with any artist (living or past), who would they be?

 

Director X:  I would have liked to have worked with Lauryn Hill in her prime.  Jimi Hendrix too.

 

Dawn:       What do you want people to remember you for?

 

Director X:  I haven’t done anything significant enough – give me some time on that and we’ll figure that one out. 

 

Dawn:       Last question.  Are you happy?

 

Director X:  Yeah.  Life is good. 

Thank you to Director X, his manager and Carl Cassell of Harlem for assisting in making this interview come together.  For more on X and his career, go to http://directorxfilms.com.

 
alicia keys - how come u don't call me? by biggboy619

 
Usher - Caught Up by hushhush112

 
R.Kelly - Happy People by coolfunk

 
Cassie - Me And You by -CrAzY-

::TOP STORIES::

An Unbeatable Last Weeknd For 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ben Rayner


THE WEEKND
Echoes of Silence (Independent)

(Dec 22, 2011) Seriously, how is the
Weeknd gonna top this?

Enigmatic Toronto underground-R&B sensation Abel Tesfaye dropped his third free online release of 2011 yesterday at www.the-weeknd.com, appropriately enough during the wee hours of the longest night of the year, and it’s entirely on par with its two grimly mesmerizing predecessors. Indeed, I’m inclined to think these Weeknd records have actually traced an upward curve over the months.

March’s House of Balloons introduced a spooky, tripped-out template from which August’s Thursday and the new Echoes of Silence haven’t much deviated, yes, but Tesfaye and his production partners, Doc McKinney and Illangelo, have brought an increasingly rich and varied palette of unsettling sounds to bear upon his slippery falsetto with each subsequent release. It might be essentially the same thing every time, but it’s got no problem at all holding your attention the third time ’round.

Nevertheless, it might be a good time to close the door on this particular chapter of the Weeknd’s development, anyway, since Tesfaye et al. are going to have a tough job coming up with anything as flat-out disturbing as Echoes of Silence’s “Initiation.” Over sickly trip-hop beats, Tesfaye details a drugged-out night on the town with a girl who’s in way over her head in a voice that’s regularly shifted up and down in pitch in truly disturbing fashion. “The party won’t finish/ It’s a f---ing celebration,” he slurs with an undercurrent of real menace, leading you to believe the poor chick’s evening is going to turn out like that the depraved party scene at the end of Requiem for a Dream. This is the purest, blackest distillation yet of what the Weeknd does.

Elsewhere, you get a cocky, but reverent cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” (renamed “D.D.”) and a few hints of vulnerability on the truly forlorn “Next” and “Montreal,” wherein Tesfaye warbles “Je ne pleurais pas, je ne pleurais pas . . . ” in a quavering voice that suggests he’s only very good at playing the villain and would trade all the coke and pills and empty sex for a shot at something meaningful. In the meantime, his emotional torment remains endlessly compelling.

Twelve People To Watch In 2012: Jaclyn Kenyon

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ben Rayner


(Jan 01, 2012 )  Is the world ready for yet another youthful pop phenom
from small-town Ontario?

Jaclyn Kenyon might be all of 14 years old, but the Waterdown native has been turning down offers to sign with various record labels and management and publishing houses for a couple of years already.

Now she’s about to ring in 2012 by inking a prestigious development deal with Atlanta’s Plumbline Music Group and “Mama” Jan Smith, a beloved behind-the-scenes figure who’s helped mentor such big names as Drake, Usher, Jill Scott, Trey Songz and a certain plucky kid from Stratford named Justin Bieber.

“I guess a lot of stuff that’ll be pretty life-changing is going to happen in the next few months,” says Kenyon, who admits to being “overwhelmed” at how well her nascent career is suddenly going, but has also proven herself quite capable of holding her own against performers twice her age at events such as Honey Jam and Hamilton’s Jamilton Talent Search since she was about 12.

“It’s really exciting,” adds the singer-songwriter, who has a younger brother, 11-year-old Jordan. “It’s really cool how everything has worked out. Since I was little, it’s always been music, music, music. And there are a lot of times when it’s hard, but I also couldn’t see myself living without it.”

Kenyon — who, according to her manager father, Will, has been “sitting on top of a piano since she was 3” — appears well placed for longevity in the music business. She and her family have been cautious about working with anyone who’s not interested in letting Jaclyn Kenyon be herself. And although she’s being groomed as a singer and cites performing onstage as her greatest love, she’s as much in demand for her songwriting chops as for her powerful voice.

Indeed, while Mama Jan says her young charge “needs to home in on the style that she wants to carry forth for the next five or 10 years” as a singer, she believes Kenyon is already wise beyond her years as a writer.

“Jaclyn, as a writer, I believe she can write for anybody,” says Smith from Atlanta. “Stylistically, she really doesn’t have a lot of limits, which is awesome.”

For the time being, Kenyon is amassing songs with her right-hand man, Steve Costello, a 19-year-old guitarist from Sudbury, and making semi-regular trips to Atlanta to whip her material — girlish pop-rock that she describes as “an Evanescence meets Taylor Swift kind of thing” — into shape under Plumbline’s watchful eye. Mama Jan “absolutely expects” to have material ready to release by the end of 2012.

“I really see myself in a place where I want to be for the rest of my life,” says Kenyon. “I really see this as what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.”

Mark Wahlberg Casts Justin Bieber In Basketball Flick

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bang Showbiz


(Dec 28, 2011)
Mark Wahlberg claims “intuition” led him to cast Justin Bieber in his forthcoming basketball film.

The Contraband star is planning to make a movie with teen heartthrob Bieber about his favourite sport, and says it was an immediate and natural choice for them to work together.

Asked why he picked the Baby singer, Wahlberg told MTV: “Intuition. I’m pretty intuitive.

“I see the guy and spent time with him and you see what he does and how he does it, and then you actually have a conversation with him and it’s there.”

Although 17-year-old Bieber has had little previous big screen experience — aside from his documentary film Never Say Never — Wahlberg is confident he can make the project work, adding: “It’s there — and if not, I will extract it.”

Wahlberg has previously likened the project to The Color of Money, a 1986 film about an old pool player and his young protégé, starring Paul Newman and a young Tom Cruise.

He added: “Wait till you see me and Bieber in the flick. Think of, like, The Color of Money.

Wahlberg is hoping the film can go into production in 2012.

Personal Struggles Inspire Arctic Air's Adam Beach

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Marsha Lederman

(Jan 03, 2012) Adam Beach is all smiles and charm as he leads a tour through the cavernous and chilly Aldergrove, B.C., set of the new CBC television series Arctic Air. "This is the hardest thing about working on the show, is sitting inside that little pilot seat and acting with just looks of your head," Beach says inside the cramped reconstructed DC-3, where some of the scenes are filmed.

But in fact there's something much more difficult about this role. For Beach, it presents some parallels with his own life that have made the experience both extremely satisfying and, at times, excruciating.

"There's a close likeness [between] who I am and who Bobby is," Beach, 39, said during an interview shortly after the tour, speaking about the character he plays. "He's left Yellowknife to become a businessman, and now he's come home. I left home to become a Hollywood guy and now I've come home.

"The struggle with business; I had that in my life with the business in Hollywood," he continues. "Maintaining integrity ... that's one of my big things. And the loss of parents that Bobby has. I lost my parents as a kid."

Beach was eight years old when his father drowned, two months after his mother was killed by a drunk driver. "She was eight months pregnant," Beach says. "Died in front of the ditch in front of my house. So that's a constant reminder every time I go visit home."

Beach was born in Ashern, Man. and spent his childhood on and near the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve. After his parents' deaths he was raised by grandparents and then his uncle, who took him to Winnipeg, where Beach became interested in acting.

Then he did become a Hollywood guy, as he says, with high-profile credits including Cowboys & Aliens, Flags of our Fathers, a Golden Globe-nominated role in HBO's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and TV series Big Love and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

His latest project, Arctic Air, is set in a booming Yellowknife, where native son Bobby Martin - now a suit-wearing business success - returns to help run the airline his family partly owns.

Beach has tapped into his personal history for this portrayal - in particular for an episode where Bobby searches for his missing father. And it hasn't been easy.

"That's a past that I kind of keep to myself. I've dealt with it to a certain level, but when you have to reveal it again, it's like breaking an egg and having to put it back together when the day's done."

Beyond this conversation, there's no indication of Beach's personal demons as he tours the set, cracking jokes and holding the hand of co-star Leah Gibson, who plays Candi Lussier, a front-desk clerk at the Frontier Hotel who is hoping one of the visiting businessmen might be her ticket out of Yellowknife - booming or not.

But he gets serious again when he talks about the heritage he shares with his character.

Beach says Bobby is a culturally aware, noble character whose spirit and strength make him a fine role model for young first-nations' viewers in remote communities (who will have access to the series because it's on CBC). He cites one scene where, after being taunted by an adversary - called "Geronimo" and "Chief" - Bobby finally punches the guy in the face.

"That act is going to release a lot of people who deal with ignorance and racism," says Beach, who is Saulteaux. "I wouldn't want people to punch out people, but it says a lot of Bobby's character. There's so much you can push and try to manipulate or manoeuvre with me, but I draw a line. A lot of people need to see that.

"That's going to save a lot of these youth in recognition to move forward in their life in a positive way. And that's one of the key [reasons] why I'm doing the show," says Beach, who has three children of his own, aged 3 to 15.

Beach takes his responsibility as a role model for native youth very seriously. He is involved with the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and at schools, conferences and other events, he speaks candidly about the difficulties he has faced, and his road to recovery - and success.

When Arctic Air shot on location in Fort Resolution, NWT, the local elementary school invited Beach to speak. With little notice, he got the cast into a truck and while the crew struck the set, made an impromptu visit to the school, where Beach wowed star-struck students and staff who presented him with an eagle feather.

"Oh my gosh, Adam's a superstar," says co-star Pascale Hutton, who plays pilot Krista Ivarson, the daughter of Bobby's business partner (Kevin McNulty). "You go into these communities and not just the kids - the kids, the adults, everybody flocks to him. And Adam is so gracious and warm and welcoming and really authentically and with true conviction wants to learn about them and know what they need and know what their struggles are and what their joys are and make a connection with each individual person. It's beautiful," she said.

"It's an inspiration to work with somebody who really walks the walk and wants to make a difference," she continued.

Gibson - whose personal relationship with Beach was evident - has accompanied him to several school presentations. "It's inspiring, it's exciting," she says, recalling one visit, in particular, to a Grade 12 aboriginal-studies class in New Westminster, B.C.

"The kids were all very well informed and very eager and had very intelligent questions," she says. "And they'll never forget this conversation with him. They'll never forget having him there and sharing his energy and his inspiration and his excitement and his passion."

Arctic Air premieres Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC-TV

No Shame In Team Canada’s Performance

Source: www.thestar.com - Dave Feschuk


(Jan 04, 2012) CALGARY—As
Team Canada gathered for an anticlimactic practice here on Wednesday morning, only a handful of hard-core locals were in attendance to cheer them on.

Woooo!” hollered one, as the host nation’s entry in the world junior hockey championship took the ice.

At least a couple of the players, stiff-legged and long-faced, turned their heads toward the noise. About 14 hours earlier, a now-glum group of Canadian teenagers had put on a third-period charge that had a sellout crowd at the Saddledome screaming itself hoarse. In Tuesday night’s frantic race against the buzzer, Canada had dinged posts and come close, only to lose in a semifinal heartbreaker, by the historic score of 6-5, to the eternal rivals from Russia.

And now, Canada’s would-be bronze medallists were back to practising hockey in its usual environment — in relative quiet, but for the murmurings of the usual media throng and that singular, innocent whoop.

Getting revved up to play Finland in Thursday afternoon’s third-place game, in other words, will be no easy task. And it wasn’t made easier with Wednesday’s news that Canadian forward Boone Jenner, who was levelled with a match penalty for spearing Russian star Evgeni Kuznetsov on Tuesday, had been suspended for Thursday’s action by the International Ice Hockey Federation, which also suspended Russian defenceman Ildar Isangulov — whose head hit to Jenner precipitated Jenner’s indiscretion — for Thursday’s gold-medal game.

“(Getting up for Thursday’s game) is a real challenge for us,” acknowledged Don Hay, the Canadian coach. “We’ve got to go play the game. There’s no use feeling sorry for ourselves. You’ve got to get over that.”

It’s been three years since Canada won gold at this tournament. And in a country in which gold, in some minds, should be a given, the obvious question could be: “What’s wrong?”

Going micro, certainly you could analyze the breakdowns in tactics and discipline and goaltending that allowed Russia to build Tuesday’s 6-1 lead. And certainly, even in doing that, we should all remember that these are kids — not to mention kids who didn’t quit — even if some of them have already inked NHL contracts that firmly place them among the 1 per cent.

Going macro, certainly you could also point out that Canada’s players are products of a developmental system that is, the occasional setback aside, the envy and the bane of the rest of the hockey world.

In the 30 years since Canada started sending a hand-picked team of the country’s best players to this tournament, it has emerged victorious 15 times. Over that same span, Russia (and the Soviet Union before its dissolution) have won nine times. There aren’t many dynasties in the history of sports that can compete with either of those win rates.

Going macro, you don’t need to be a blinkered homer to suggest Canada is actually developing junior players too well, or at least too quickly. Jeff Skinner was eligible to play in this tournament, for instance. But Skinner is into his second season as an elite NHLer, not to mention the reigning rookie of the year in the best league on the planet, so the Carolina Hurricanes weren’t inclined to spare his services. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was eligible to play in this tournament, but Nugent-Hopkins, before he was recently sidelined by a shoulder injury, was having a season for the Edmonton Oilers that makes him the front-runner to be Skinner’s successor on the Calder Trophy winners’ list.

Tyler Seguin could have been in uniform on Tuesday night. Alas, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins weren’t in the mood to lend Canada their leading scorer.

The last time Canada actually iced a team that was truly made up of its best players in the under-20 age group — back in 2005, during the NHL’s last lockout — perhaps you’ll remember the outcome. The maple leaf claimed gold with a 6-1 win over a Russian team led by Alex Ovechkin. In that tournament Canada outscored its opponents by an aggregate score of 41-7. Canada’s roster included the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf and Shea Weber.

As Hay, who won gold with that group, lamented in the lead-up to the tournament: “You want to go best against best, and you can’t.

You can’t, and so you lose to a team of Russians that, as talented as they are, writhe around like Eastern European incarnations of Vince Carter every time they’re touched. You can’t, and so you put up with a Canadian team that lacked some of the discipline typically associated with this country’s best players. You can’t, and yet you still come within a goal or two of a trip to the gold-medal game. There’s no shame in that, and plenty for a fan to cheer.

::MUSIC NEWS::

O Canada, What A Great Music Year We've Had

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(December 26, 2011) Canadian media organs (including this one) are famous for ferreting out the maple-leaf passport in any situation of note. This year in music, however, no sleuthing was needed to find the Canadians - at the top of the charts, in the winner's circle, and on the big stages of the world. In 2011, the place to go for the new cat's meow was our home and native land.

The year was only a few weeks old when Arcade Fire rocked the Grammy Awards by taking the biggest prize: album of the year. A few months later, Robert Lepage, another Montrealer, stood Manhattan on its ear with the second instalment of a physically vast and conceptually ambitious staging of Wagner's Ring cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.

This year's new albums by Feist, Drake, Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé, Nickelback and the Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye) either topped the charts or charmed the critics or both. Electronica star deadmau5 (a.k.a. Joel Zimmerman) became the first Canadian musician of any stripe to headline at Toronto's Rogers Centre, the last stop in a wildly successful tour by a guy who neither sings nor plays an instrument.

This was the year that confirmed that you don't need a conventional studio album to get a lot of ears in your corner, and maybe even some prizes on the mantelpiece. The Weeknd's House of Balloons landed on the Polaris Prize shortlist, even though it was released online for free (his second gratis album, Thursday, was downloaded 180,000 times on its first day). Tesfaye was merely following the lead of his cohort Drake, who scored his first Grammy nominations (in 2009) on the strength of mix tapes unavailable in any store. The pair - along with Drake producer Noah (40) Shebib - were widely credited with creating a dark new nexus for soul and hip hop, though Drake's reflective, self-doubting subject matter wasn't so novel to anyone familiar with British rappers like the Streets and Wiley.

Sometimes a perception of newness wasn't needed. Nickelback kept on pulling in the bucks with its formula lout-rock, so despised in some quarters that Nickelbacklash became both a noun and a social-media tag. The Sheepdogs' simulation of deep-fried Southern rock put the Saskatoon band on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, and Bublé's staunchly MOR album Christmas continued the stellar sales record of the world's favourite pitch-corrected crooner.

The Quebec government built a resonant new symphony hall for Montreal's orchestras, and the city's Museum of Fine Arts converted an august old church into a recital hall. Calgary Opera took a successful gamble on The Inventor (a new opera by Bramwell Tovey and John Murrell), while Pacific Opera Victoria came up snake eyes with Mary's Wedding (by Andrew P. MacDonald and Stephen Massicotte).

Daniel Lanois added another stream to his career as producer and performing songwriter, becoming impresario for the terrific new Greenbelt Harvest Picnic near his hometown of Hamilton. Convicted fraudster Garth Drabinsky, launched the BlackCreek Summer Music Festival (with sports entertainment producer Kevin Albrecht) in a north Toronto tennis stadium that played to small audiences and left big bills unpaid.

Shows that stood out for me included, in Toronto, Orfeo ed Euridice at the Canadian Opera Company, Prince at the Air Canada Centre, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky at Koerner Hall and St. Vincent at the Phoenix Concert Theatre; the opening Orchestre symphonique de Montréal concert at that city's new Maison symphonique; k.d. lang's Luminato show at Toronto's Pecaut Square; R. Murray Schafer's Symphony No. 1 by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall; Ray Lamontagne at Greenbelt Harvest in Ontario's Christie Lake; and, for sheer intense craziness, Lady Gaga at the ACC.

You had to be there, and I'm glad I was.

TUNES FROM THE PAST

In a lukewarm new trend, what was old was
old again in 2011. Major recording artists redid past music and raided vaults for scraps left behind. "You ask why?" wrote the Scorpions, in the liner notes to Comeblack, a package of covers and rerecordings of past hits. "The answer is simple," continued the band that once rocked like a hurricane. "The album is an encore for our diehard fans, saying thank-you for all the support for so many years."

The answer for all the revisits actually isn't simple, but neither is it too complicated. The Rolling Stones polished up some 1978 outtakes in order to sell a deluxe version of their Some Girls album from that year. Styx's Regeneration Volume I & II, on the other hand, rewrites history by rerecording old material note-for-note but without former co-leader Dennis DeYoung.

Prince partied like it was 1981 with his "new" single Extraloveable, a fresh recording of a previously unreleased track. With The Smile Sessions, Brian Wilson reconstructed a Beach Boys' album initially recorded in 1966 and '67 and rerecorded in 2003. Peter Gabriel's New Blood took a sledgehammer to the original arrangements of his classics, newly "reimagined" without drums or guitars. Counting Crows released a live version of its 1993 debut August and Everything After.

Foreigner has new product for the merchandise table with Jukebox Heroes, rerecordings of their radio staples from the 1970s and eighties, now with a new singer. Feels like second time, indeed.

From Adele To Zach Galifianakis, A Look Back At 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - By Joel Rubinoff


(Dec 30, 2011)  In
pop culture terms, it’s been a year of upended expectations, foiled predictions and distorted memories as digital culture bombarded us with 3-D movies, special effects dinosaurs and Auto-Tuned pop singers with such ferocity that a back-to-basics backlash suddenly became inevitable.

And so it began, resurrecting the past in two equally potent ways:

(1) faithfully, in old school films like Super 8, Hugo and Midnight in Paris; TV shows like Pan Am, and retro-hits like Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” and Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.”

(2) modernistically, in ambitious films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and edgy rock albums by The Black Keys.

This latter permutation isn’t nostalgia but a reinvention of the past fuelled by the Internet, which places all time periods on equal footing, without regard to historical context, and acts as a temporal version of Denny’s all-you-can-eat buffet.

On other fronts, 2011 revealed itself in tiny increments that indicate that while the current decade may look like what’s come before, its spirit is uniquely its own. To wit:

DEFINING MOMENTS

 • Zach Galifianakis, jokingly described by actress Charlize Theron as a “fat garden gnome,” steps up as poster boy for disaffected geeks, eager to give the finger to Hollywood even as he appears in one of the year’s biggest hits, The Hangover Part II. “I hate that guy,” he told one fan, pretending not to be himself. “I think he’s a terrible actor — and he’s fat.”

 • Pop star Britney Spears turns 30, a pole-dancing automaton whose past mental health issues have done nothing to curb her ability to churn out hits. Why is this a big deal? Because Amy Winehouse — the troubled retro-soul queen whose staggering talent overshadowed robotic, glass-eyed Britney — is dead. More proof that when it comes to longevity, product trumps artistry every time.

 • U.S.-based Parents Television Council — meddlesome, oft-derided beacons of TV civility — proves itself the Little Pitbull That Could as four prime-time targets, including TV’s The Playboy Club and $#*! My Dad Says, bite the cancellation bullet. If the shows weren’t so offensive, we’d be outraged.

 • Kristen Wiig and the cast of Bridesmaids create a new movie paradigm: the female-centred comedy that isn’t a cliché-spewing chick flick. Why? Because it’s genuinely funny. In an industry obsessed with frat boy pratfalls and poop jokes, its mix of sentiment and satire (and OK, one poop joke) came across like a fish that can walk on land.

 • Box office smash The Help rewrites the Civil Rights era as Mean Girls meets Bridesmaids in the Jim Crow south. Golden Globe nominations follow, with Oscars a sure bet. Civil Rights activists who recall those times with horror whack their heads in frustration.

 • Adele slays Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters as pop’s new saviour, championing authenticity and old school talent in a sea of Auto-Tuned belly buttons. Her album, 21, is a critical and commercial smash.

 • Katy Perry — a sexed-up Annette Funicello with cutting-edge producers and limited vocal skills — ties Michael Jackson’s record with five No. 1 singles from a single album, 2010’s Teenage Dream. Cutting irony: it scored a measly 52 per cent on metacritic.com, while PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, which few mainstream listeners have heard of, ranks as the year’s best.

 • TV’s Glee introduces gay culture to redneck America with the Sue Sylvester Shuffle, a post-Super Bowl episode that contains a gay, anti-bullying theme that became the highest-rated scripted TV broadcast in three years. Preceded by a war of words with Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill, who revealed middle America’s latent homophobia when he told Glee creator Ryan Murphy to “buy a new bra.”

EPHEMERAL DISTRACTIONS

 • Kim Kardashian’s marriage ends after 72 days, defying cynical pundits who believed her televised betrothal to a lanky athlete who equates God with basketball wouldn’t last 72 hours. Kim, you’re a phony and we hate you, but what would we do without you?

 • Donald Trump questions Barack Obama’s citizenship, puffs out his chest and threatens to run for president. Obama produces birth certificate — oops — and Trump skulks back to ivory tower with his name on it, never to be heard from again (well, for five minutes).

 • “It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on . . .” Fourteen-year-old Rebecca Black obsesses about where to sit during a car ride to middle school in this Auto-Tuned inanity that sparks critical derision, public outrage and, gulp, death threats. Somehow, it becomes the year’s most watched video on YouTube. Justin Bieber, whose song “Baby” generated a similar furor, puts Black’s name on his speed-dial.

 • Party animal Charlie Sheen cracks up in public, gets fired from his sitcom, Two and a Half Men, spouts Zeus-like inanities about “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA” and launches a manic, wild-eyed “victory” tour that touts his new catchphrase, “Winning!”

 • Geriatric Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, 85 — ditched at the altar by a buxom beauty young enough to be his great, great (great) granddaughter — affixes a “Runaway bunny” sticker to his fiancé’s upcoming Playboy cover and cries all the way to the bank.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

 • “Dangerous,” “unpredictable” Piers Morgan succeeds affable Larry King as host of CNN’s flagship talk show, reveals self as toothless toady . . . bores audience . . . ratings drop . . . Zzzzz.

 • Kitchener’s Lisa LaFlamme replaces iconic Lloyd Robertson as chief anchor on CTV National News, only the second woman to lead a weeknight national newscast. No hype, just competence, humility and hard work.

 • Indie rockers R.E.M. pack it in, noting “a wise man once said, the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.” Millions of 20- and 30something pop fans scratch their heads and wonder “Who’s R.E.M.?”

 • The Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell, makes a majestic last stand — with a compelling new album and farewell tour — as Alzheimer’s closes in for the final act.

COMEBACKS

 • The Monkees, long past their heyday as mop-topped emissaries of “the young generation,” reunite for a 45th anniversary tour, then break up over allegations of drug abuse and internal conflict. What, again? See you boys in five more years.

 • The Beach Boys — the iconic ’60s surf pop band that spent most of the past three decades filing lawsuits against each other — announce plans for a 50th anniversary reunion tour in 2012. Sure, they hate each other, but the money is off the hook.

 • Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, 68 — name-checked in the Maroon 5 pop hit “Moves Like Jagger” — finds his nostalgic likeness overshadowing his latest comeback in pan-cultural pop misfire SuperHeavy. Fans like their icons, well, iconic.

 • Woody Allen, after years of box office neglect and personal scandal, scores the biggest hit of his career, in dollar terms, with Midnight in Paris, an old-fashioned romantic comedy that eschews toilet humour for literary gags about Salvador Dali. The pendulum-swinging backlash against the terrors of high tech continues.

 • Steven Spielberg revisits the wide-eyed wonder of his early films with Hollywood’s retro-minded Super 8 (producer), TV’s retro-minded Terra Nova (producer) and two big-screen outings of his own, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin.

PREMATURE PRONOUNCEMENTS

 • “Rock ’n’ roll is dead!” declares British newspaper The Guardian. The Black Keys release critically hailed El Camino. Wait, rock is still alive.

Albums That Really Rocked In 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ben Rayner


(Dec 28, 2011)  I have a list of
25 excellent records from 2011 here that I cannot bring myself to whittle down any further.

It could easily be much longer. I just have to call it somewhere or we’ll be here until next December. It was just that kind of year — new objects of compulsive listening have come fast and furious, one on top of the other, without pause for the past 12 months.

It’s worth pointing out that a lot of everyone’s favourites came from Toronto this year: Drake’s Take Care, F---ed Up’s David Comes to Life, the Weeknd’s House of Balloons and Austra’s Feel It Break — which sits at the top of this list for the simple reason that it was the album I listened to the most in 2011 — figure in a number of prominent international publications’ year-end roundups at the moment.

This city has arguably more happening from a musical standpoint than ever and there are a whole lot of artists in this town who deserve our applause. Give it up for ’em, won’t you?

Now, here’s some music that makes me really, really happy. Hope some of it makes you happy, too.

1. Austra, Feel It Break. Many local observers have assumed for a few years now that Katie Stelmanis was going to do something great with that massive voice of hers. I’m not sure anyone expected it to be this great, though. The debut record from Austra, the moody synth-pop trio that shares Stelmanis’s middle name, is one long, Gothic frisson from start to finish, the chilly perfection of its pulsing electronic nightscapes exceeded only by the operatic grandeur of the vocals. An outright stunner and maybe the best thing Paper Bag Records has ever released.

2. P.J. Harvey, Let England Shake. For her eighth album proper, the most consistently compelling female performer of the past 20 years reinvented herself once again, this time as an ethereal species of protest-folk singer. The result was a rivetingly original treatise on nationhood and the folly of war vividly draped in the muck and blood of the battlefield and the finest album Polly Jean Harvey has made in a decade.

3. High Places, Original Colors. Rob Barber and Mary Pearson all but abandon the cluttered ethno-electronica of their early recordings for a surprisingly direct and booming turn on the dance floor. Changing shapes and getting better all the time.

4. Wild Flag, Wild Flag. Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of the late, great Sleater-Kinney join forces with Helium’s Mary Timony and ex-Minder Rebecca Cole for an indie-rock “supergroup” that really is super. So much fun.

5. Dog Day, Deformer. Losing half their band last year didn’t faze Seth Smith and Nancy Urich. They moved to the coast outside Halifax and went to work reconfiguring Dog Day as the raw, unkempt and deliciously misanthropic punk-rock duo that gets tuneful revenge on the world on Deformer.

6. The Luyas, Too Beautiful to Work. Too beautifully weird to ever be more than a cult proposition, sadly, Jessie Stein and Co. really hit their art-pop stride on their sophomore album. Much singsong loveliness lurks amidst the bracing noise and tricked-out polyrhythms.

7.
The Weeknd, House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence. Youthful Toronto future-R&B upstart Abel Tesfaye released three internationally acclaimed mini-masterpieces of self-loathing in 2011 — free, without a record label and without doing a shred of press, no less. A star really is born.

8. F---ed Up, David Comes to Life. Yes, it’s exhausting to get through. But let’s not forget that a rock opera by a hardcore band has no business existing in the first place, let alone being this tuneful and accomplished.

9. Cold Cave, Cherish the Light Years. Like every awesome Goth album that came out in the 1980s, all playing at once.

10. Del Bel, Oneiric. Cinematic spookiness from another highly promising new Toronto act led by composer Tyler Belluz. Singer Lisa Conway is a pretty major discovery, methinks.

11. Mastodon, The Hunter. Shorter songs and the absence of an overarching concept don’t make The Hunter any less brain-bubblingly complex than the rest of the Mastodon catalogue. The new kings of thinking man’s metal.

12. The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient. Tom Petty’s Jeff Lynne years as heard through a thick fog of shoegazer ambience and really, really good weed.

13. Thee Oh Sees, Carrion Crawler/The Dream. Manic garage-punk battery with a large side order of sleaze. Deliriously entertaining.

14.
The Roots, Undun. Bizarrely accessible, considering it’s a hip-hop concept album about a doomed hustler inspired by a Sufjan Stevens song. One of the Roots’ best.

15. Young Widows, In and Out of Youth and Lightness. About as dark and heavy and mirthless and scary as breakup records get.

16. The Pack A.D., Unpersons. Becky Black and Maya Miller set out to make “a really loud, fun punk-rock record.” Mission accomplished.

17. Cut Off Your Hands, Hollow. Insanely sweet and catchy New Wave jangle-pop from New Zealand. Why isn’t this band huge?

18.
Drake, Take Care. Far more thoughtful, subdued and musically challenging than your average hip-hop record. This kid’s the real deal.

19. Jon McKiel, Confidence Lodge/Tonka War Cloud. An EP and an album’s worth of dark-shaded songs about murder, mortality, loss and other fun topics from a most intriguing young Halifax singer/songwriter.

20. Young Galaxy, Shapeshifting. Just when we thought we were getting to know Young Galaxy, the Montreal dream-pop outfit handed its third album over to Swedish producer Dan Lissvik of Studio and let him give it a formidable dose of electroshock therapy. Warm, invitingly rhythmic and entirely unexpected.

21. Smith Westerns, Dye It Blonde. A pack of kids barely old enough to drink legally yet who play like shaggy-haired 50-something stoners who complain that rock music stopped being relevant in the 1970s.

22. The Darcys, The Darcys. Talented Toronto underdogs finally have a smashing sophomore record to show for a couple years’ worth of uncommon adversity.

23. Zomby, Dedication. Mysterious U.K. electronic producer curates a peculiarly cohesive collection of all-over-the-place micro-instrumentals inspired by his father’s passing.

24. The Mark Inside, Nothing to Admit. I’ve said it before, but it’s true: Nothing to Admit is exactly the record you wish all those disappointing, overhyped Brit-pop guitar bands would make. And it’s from Toronto.

25. Hooded Fang, Tosta Mista. Perpetually peppy local lads and ladies turn up the fuzz outta nowhere for a non-stop, chugging go-go-pop dance party. Suddenly we have no idea what the next Fang record will sound like. And that’s just fine.

Crystal Ball Gazing: Which Musicians Will Be Noteworthy In 2012

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

(January 1, 2012) Divination in the ancient world was the job of people who commanded as much fear as respect, and were often not believed and were sometimes killed when their words didn't match what fate and the gods had in store. I don't have to dig around in sheep entrails to tell you a few things that will almost certainly happen in the New Year, and a few others that should (or shouldn't).

Four in the bag

Leonard Cohen returns in January with a new disc called Old Ideas, proving once again that our unofficial poet laureate's charm is grounded in self-deprecation. Mark Lanegan Band launches Blues Funeral in February, eight long years after the gravel-voiced doom rocker's underrated (and poorly named) Bubblegum disc. Also in February, alt-country chameleon Kurt Wagner leads Lambchop back to the table with Mr. M, and Montreal indie rockers Plants and Animals return with The End of That. Many other discs are coming, along with regular predictions of the CD's demise, but experience has shown that release dates are as changeable as the moon, though far less predictable.

Said to be on the way

We all seem to have a favourite band that broke up with a bang or a sigh, but lives on as the focus of hints about a reunion tour or album. The Fugees, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin - can we just agree now that these people are quits, for good?
Outkast, however, has shown real signs of reanimation lately, with strong indications that Andre 3000 and Big Boi will cease their wayward ways and rejoin for another disc from the great Atlanta rap duo later in 2012.

The name's Saariaho, Kaija Saariaho

We're approaching high noon in Canada for contemporary Finnish music, as Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival and the Canadian Opera Company prepare to fete
Kaija Saariaho, a celebrated figure in European music. It will be interesting to see whether the WSO and COC can jack up her profile here quickly enough to sell all the seats reserved for her music - especially the 16,000 seats booked for the COC's eight-show run in February of her luminous 2000 opera, L'Amour de loin, in a 2009 production by Cirque de Soleil director Daniele Finzi Pasca.

The way up and the way down: Black Keys & Arctic Monkeys

Opening for the red-hot Black Keys must feel like a bit of a come-down for
Arctic Monkeys, who were the biggest new rock bands in the world after their debut disc landed in 2006. Or is it just that the concert business is temporarily too frail for the polar primates to front their own stadium tour? Either way, it's double fun for everyone, as the two-band pairing arrives at Montreal's Bell Centre (March 13) and Toronto's Air Canada Centre (March 14).

What we need:

Signs of life from
Remy Shand. 2012 will mark the 10th anniversary of Shand's debut album, The Way I Feel, which sold like crazy, got four Grammy nominations and made Winnipeg a new home of sweet-and-steamy soul music. Within a year, Shand had dropped from sight, with a wave of the hand and a promise for a new album soon. Ten years later, it's time we sent a search party after this dude, with dogs. Also: Some Canadian opera at the Canadian Opera Company. Or at least we could use a signal that the country's biggest, richest producer of music drama intends to produce something in its six-year-old theatre that was actually made here. No, it's not easy, but yes, it's absolutely necessary.

What we don't need:

Over a year since Roger Waters's The Wall Tour Live is still rolling on, with eight Canadian dates in May and June and enough after that to fill out the summer. The spectacular show has been well-received, but is a disturbing symptom of the whole bovine, four-stomachs-of-nostalgia phenomenon, according to which any album that was big decades ago must be regurgitated, remastered, expanded and played out in grand multimedia splendour. Done to death, more like it. Can we move on, please? That and more botox, plastic surgery and steroids in music recording. I'm talking about all the nasty nips and tucks with pitch-correction software and other synthetic twiddly-bumps that have bounced the human voice off the radio and replaced it with the cooing of androids. Ugly, ugly! Computerized pitch correction is art corruption, plain and simple.

Producer Cites The Pain Behind Winehouse's Songs

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(December 27, 2011) "I get a slight twinge of guilt, that I got to ride the coattails of Amy Winehouse without having to endure any of her pain."

Mark Ronson, the English musician, DJ and producer, is speaking from London. Ostensibly he's on the phone to chat up the posthumous Winehouse album Lioness: Hidden Treasures, for which he produced two tracks (covers of the Shirelles' Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and the Zutons' Valerie). But mostly the conversation has to do with producing in general - being on the other side of the glass while genius and its pain converge at the microphone.

It's a sort of midwifery. But no matter what empathy and technical ability the facilitator possesses, it's Winehouse and other tortured artists like her who do the pushing and produce the soul. "As a producer, you're just there to ensure that the arrangement is the best it can be," says Ronson, who, with Salaam Remi, famously co-produced Winehouse's landmark Back to Black. "You don't have to do any of the bad stuff."

Winehouse's bad stuff, tragically, was very bad indeed; she died of "misadventure" last July.

Ronson, who also produced Adele's brilliantly sad 19 (from 2008) and is currently working on Montrealer Rufus Wainwright's Out of the Game (due out next year), uses the adjective "lucky" when describing the experience of making soulful music. "When a song is so great and the lyrics are so honest and heartfelt, and you know what growing pains happened in order for the artist to get there, it's special," he says. "You realize it's just such a tremendous fight that caused that song."

Though others give him a lot of the credit for Winehouse's career progress from 2003's neo-soul and vocal-jazzed Frank to 2006's earthier and R&B-influenced Back to Black, Ronson naturally gives the credit to the singer-songwriter with the winged eyelashes and beehive hair. "Her voice had gotten grittier, a little deeper and a little more dangerous between those two records," explains Ronson. "And the songs were there. It was just a matter of arranging it to the kind of music that she loved, which was the sixties jukebox pop records that they played in her local pub."

Asked if artists can separate their music from themselves, Ronson is clear: "It's nice to be clever and write nice little couplets, but you don't get to write 'And I tread a troubled track / My odds are stacked / I'll go back to black' if you haven't been through the wringer emotionally."

The artist-producer relationship comes in various levels of collaboration. Where George Martin or Daniel Lanois are quite involved, someone like Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies) concerns himself with engineering only, to the point where he doesn't even want his name attached to the albums.

For Ronson, working on the posthumous Lioness: Hidden Treasures wasn't a completely different experience than working with Winehouse when she was alive. For Back to Black, a demo vocal track was used for the band - Brooklyn's Dap-Kings - to play along with. Once the music was finished, Winehouse would sing the final vocals in London.

"I once called her from Brooklyn," Ronson recalls, "but the phone call woke her up, because it was midnight in London. I held the phone up to the speaker for about 30 seconds so she could hear what it sounded like, and then I put the phone back to my ear." What did Winehouse say? Was she happy with the sounds? "I got a dial tone," says Ronson. She had hung up. "So, that was her feedback during Back to Black."

For the Lioness release, Valerie was an alternate cut recorded in 2006 by Winehouse and Ronson. A less-soulful version, thought to be more radio-friendly, was released in 2007 on Ronson's Versions album. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow was a bit more complicated: Ronson hadn't recorded the original vocal (used for the Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason soundtrack), and wasn't keen on re-working the track at first. "But then I heard the vocal," he explains, "and I thought it was kind of brilliant. I'd be lucky, if Amy was still alive, to get a vocal like that."

Speaking about his role as a producer, Ronson mentions Love is a Losing Game, from Back to Black. It was a battle for him because Winehouse's original acoustic-guitar-and-vocals demo was affecting enough on its own. "The lyrics were enough in that song," says Ronson. "You didn't have to do much."

But because it seemed lazy to him not to dress it up in the groovy style of the rest of the album, he added a sixties vibe to it. Ronson thinks the unplugged version will eventually see the light of day, perhaps on a Back to Black reissue. "It's just so strong," he says. "Amy with just the guitar and vocals would have smoked other singer-songwriters anyway."

HMV Canada Set To Enter Crowded Online Streaming Marketplace In 2012

Source: www.thestar.com - By Nick Patch


(Dec 29, 2011) 
HMV Canada is hoping a new online streaming subscription service will help the venerable music retailer recover from a year marred by store closures and the ongoing decrease in physical music sales.

The company is looking to launch its streaming service in March, said HMV Canada president Nick Williams in a recent interview.

By the time it launches, the new venture should face competition from a number of other services including Rdio, Slacker Radio, Rara and Deezer.

But Williams is confident that HMV will have no trouble standing out in that marketplace.

“I think we’re more than capable of overachieving against (the competition),” Williams said.

“The brand is strong enough ... that we can talk with authority and with confidence and of course, people trust the brand.”

Williams says HMV’s streaming service will charge the industry-standard $5 per month for unlimited access through a computer and an additional $5 a month for mobile access.

While new streaming services are now entering the Canadian market at a steady pace, none have taken hold the way Spotify has internationally, so Williams sees an opportunity.

For one thing, Williams argues that few people have actually signed up to pay for streaming online.

“A lot of it is early adopters only at the moment, in fact I’d argue that most of the people who signed up for these are industry people,” he said.

He also points out that HMV has a pre-existing relationship with Canadian record labels as well as the expertise to build a competitive catalogue of music. And since 2009, HMV has operated a digital retail shop with more than 10 million MP3s for sale, and has studied how its consumers have responded to the service.

But the music retailer’s biggest advantage, he argues, might lie in marketing.

“A challenge I think all these startups have ... is that they haven’t got a consumer base to talk to,” Williams said.

“So they have to have an enormous marketing chest to start to try to work out how they get to the consumer. I think the big opportunity for us is, clearly, we have 35.5 million people walking through our doors every year ... who we can talk to, and actually sell this model to, using language I guess that people probably more readily understand.”

Of course, the company is also banking on the fact that music consumers will continue to move away from buying physical albums.

The company has become drastically less reliant on CD sales to fuel its overall business. Physical album sales now make up roughly a third of HMV’s sales revenue, down from over 90 per cent a decade ago. Williams expects that to continue, although at a slower pace than has been predicted by some industry pundits (he still believes there’s an appetite for physical music, especially in Canada).

HMV has responded to decreasing music sales by scaling down the number and size of its stores. Two B.C. locations — including a flagship Vancouver superstore — will close in early 2012, while the company’s iconic location in Toronto has already downsized. Williams acknowledges the possibility that more of the company’s 100-plus stores could be closed or shrunk in the years to come.

Williams says the company is moving toward “boutique”-style spaces, and he now pegs the ideal store size at roughly 3,500 to 5,000 square feet.

He says the company will still try to accommodate public appearances from artists even in the smaller locations, though he concedes that it’s become “more and more difficult” to do so with the struggling industry. But the days of the music superstore are largely in the past.

“If I’m honest, because of the pressures that are building through other avenues of purchase — online and in our case digital — there’s just no requirement for a footprint of that size anymore,” he said.

“When it was all physical, and everybody was shopping on the street and in the malls, and you couldn’t buy digitally, then of course, the bigger the store, the better ... But in reality now, the footprint size for all retail is decreasing.”

Questlove: 'I've Never Been That Type Of Sensationalistic Hip-Hopper'

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(Jan 03, 2012) Who had a more interesting year than Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson? The drummer for the hip-hop group the Roots reflects on an intriguing album (Undun), an unrealized super-group with his late friend Amy Winehouse, the long-awaited return of the neo-soulster D'Angelo, a flap involving U.S. presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, and his band's bold new directions in thinking-man's rap music.

Questlove, on the narrative theme and structure of Undun, a song-cycle that comments on the often short, tragic lives of African Americans, some who die from bullets and some from bad diets. The album begins with the sound of a cardiac flat-line, chronologically working its way back in reverse: "There's age 23, and there's 48. Violence is the hooded stranger of death that's around the corner that you have to avoid. And then there's your heart. High cholesterol is that same monster waiting for you at age 48. We wanted to tell a story, not personalizing it where the listener would have pity. We didn't want the protagonist to be a villain or a hero. We thought it would be more interesting to do the album as the voice inside of his head. Also, it was a challenge to tell a story backward in reverse linear fashion, and to tell it in a short manner. Most of our albums are sprawling 78-minute magnum opuses of sound and rhyme. We wanted to cut it by half, but to have the same impact."

On the difficulty of building the perfect precise pop song: "I have respect for anybody that can effectively make their point in three minutes flat. You might call it formula, but one man's formula is another man's unsolved Rubik's Cube. If you tell me to take an orchestra and do an Impressionist turn-of-the-century Debussy or Stravinsky, and to incorporate some jazz and to do a hip-hop rhyme in 7/8 meter and to do it in 14 minutes, I can do that in my sleep. But if you tell me to colour within the lines and produce a simple, effective three-minute pop song, you would discover me nine hours later on the floor with my hair out of my head and blood on the floor."

On Amy Winehouse and a jazz/hip-hop super-group that never happened: "Amy's jazz vocabulary was tremendous. We became Skype buddies - always trading music. She put me onto Lionel Hampton stuff; I put her onto [hip-hop producer] J Dilla. Then one day she was like 'Let's start a group.' She wanted to do an artistic jazz record, with the two of us and Mos Def and Raphael Saadiq. We wanted to make it happen, but her visa situation was messed up. We could have gone to Jamaica or to Europe, but all of us had day jobs. This was deep into her success, and I was honoured that she considered me even worthy to collaborate. Not because she was Amy Winehouse, but because she was such a damn jazz snob - and jazz snobs are so hard to please."

On the much anticipated, long in-utero new album from the neo-soul genius D'Angelo: "We're keeping our fingers crossed. I've said before that the album is 97-per-cent done, and I still maintain that quote. I worked on it earlier, and when I came back aboard last June it was all there. We made up four or five fresh joints when I came back, and I also played over top songs that already existed. I told him: 'Yo, dude, I hear it.' He needs to put in the commitment to tying up the loose ends, mostly lyrically. One of the dangers of being an isolated artist - and he is seriously an isolated artist; there's just me, Q-Tip and Jesse Johnson of the Time - is that he's his own judge, jury and creator. I know he's sacred. He's also very unaware of how much he's missed. Every time I tell him that, he just doesn't believe me. I just want to grab those master tapes and run away with them."

On pointedly playing (as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) a nasty tune as the walk-on music for Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann when she appeared on the talk show in November, and the effect the hullabaloo might have had on the release of Undun that same month: "The album stands on its own. People have said we wanted some controversy because the album was coming out. That's the rapper thing to do - the sex tape or whatever before the record. But I've never been that type of sensationalistic hip-hopper."

On the Roots, a veteran band on a fresh new hip-hop path: "The last record, How I Got Over, was a midlife-crisis record. It was an album full of vulnerability, self-doubt, existentialism and forks in the road. I was concerned about the 40-year-old's place in hip hop; we didn't want to be seen as old or grumpy or cynical. With Undun, I'm glad the band was in agreement about making a narrative record. Often you see artists that had expired or had worn out their welcome. But this is a new road travelled. If people are slow to work their way back to us, that's fine. We'll be waiting here, when they get here."

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Drake, Warren G Remixed And More

Source: www.thestar.com - by: Garnet Fraser


(Dec 23, 2011) This week: a couple of local rappers at either end of the
fame scale.

Drake takes the Bay

The Drake song "The Motto" didn't make the cut for as an official album track for Take Care, but they made a video for it anyhow. (Maybe this is all about which of the album's guest stars were available for filming.) Our Drizzy is rolling through the streets of San Francisco in this one; if you're hoping to see a high-speed chase through that famous cityscape like in Bullitt, you're out of luck - Drake's too laid back for that.


Drake ~ The Motto Featuring Lil Wayne & Tyga (Official Video) from OctobersVeryOwn on Vimeo.


The Game goes mental

When you get Tyler the Creator and Lil Wayne to guest star on your rap, the title just about writes itself. "Martians vs. Goblins" references, of course, Tyler's album Goblins and Weezy's self-description as the Martian. The track has a couple of problems, mind you: Tyler's typically malicious, though he's still entertaining in his way, and the Game should know, dammit, that Captain America is a property of Marvel comics, not DC. Still, the Saw-like setting of an insane asylum is both visually appealing and apt.


Game Ft. Tyler The Creator "Martians Vs. Goblins" Directed by Matt Alonzo from Matt Alonzo on Vimeo.


Glenn Macaulay gives to Warren G

Local young comedian Glenn Macaulay, familiar to those who hang around Toronto's Comedy Bar, has an unusual name on Christmas list: Warren G, known for his 1994 smash "Regulate" and ... well, something else, I'm sure. In this sly unauthorized remix of that hit, the song's interpolated with Macaulay's rapping and singing about his holiday chores: "Just hit the east side of the HBC/ On a mission trying to find a gift for Warren G." Delightfully silly.



Lana Del Rey does a video on the cheap

Her previous video got rushed into circulation just last week after it leaked onto, of all things, a Russian social-media site; this one may have been what the young New York  chanteuse planned to release. In contrast to the posh look of "Born to Die," this is one anyone with a computer could have made this one, cobbled together as it is with found footage of bad girls from various old film and TV clips. If you're already starting to resent this fast-rising indie darling (who'll have her debut album and her debut on Saturday Night Live next month) at least this one's cheap and cheerful.



And Slayer gets festive

In a week where legit releases are few and far between, we have room to celebrate this skilled marriage of Slayer's "Angel of Death" and footage of passionate Christian worship. The creators of the clip were probably trying to subvert the religious ecstasy of the flocks viewed, but the opposite happens; it's Slayer who are undone by the joy of charismatic churchgoers. If church was always this entertaining, we'd need rock 'n' roll a lot less. Happy holidays, everybody.

 

Rebecca Black Was 2011’s Internet Sensation

Source: www.thestar.com - By Peter Larsen


(Dec 29, 2011)  LOS ANGELES —
Rebecca Black walks down the
hallway of a Los Angeles TV studio, a small entourage trailing her leopard-print stiletto heels, when suddenly the sound of Friday — the song that turned this Orange County, Calif., teen into the Internet sensation of 2011 — drifts through the open door of the studio control room.

Black seems not to notice, her mind on the interview ahead with the KTLA Morning News team on Thursday. And on some level, why would she? She’s certainly heard her song and seen her video countless times in the year since she recorded it as something of an expensive lark, a project she figured only her family and friends would likely ever see.

But beyond that, it also must feel like Friday happened in some other lifetime, given the whirlwind that swept her out of middle-school obscurity to worldwide fame — or infamy, depending on your point of view — since the video went viral in March and exploded into the love-it-or-hate-it song of the year.

How much has happened in the nine months since then? A few highlights: Black co-starred in Katy Perry’s video for Last Friday Night and later popped up on stage with Perry to sing Friday with her at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. She appeared as a presenter at the Teen Choice Awards — and won the Choice Award as Web Star of the year — and also popped up at the MTV Video Music Awards. She released two more singles and videos, “My Moment” and “Person Of Interest.” Lady Gaga tweeted words of support. She posed for a photograph in the No H8 campaign.

Then Black won the online equivalent of a pair of Oscars, when “Rebecca Black” placed No. 1 on the Google Zeitgeist, the list of the fastest rising searches of the year, and Friday being named the most-watched YouTube video of the 2011.

“They’re definitely great lists to be on,” Black says. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that this little kid from Orange County is on the top of Google Zeitgeist and YouTube.”

Those year-end honours brought a new rush of requests for interviews, so last Thursday we caught up with Black in Los Angeles, as she set out for interviews with KTLA, E! and Hollywoodlife.com, to watch how she handles the media spotlight and catch up with her about all that she experienced in the nine months after she burst onto the pop culture landscape,

“It doesn’t feel real at all,” she says as she starts to talk about how life has changed. “I try to think, ‘Why haven’t I freaked out over some of the things that have happened?’ “

On the set at KTLA, Black looks comfortable. She’s done interviews with reporter Sam Rubin before, but she says she seldom gets nervous anymore in the public eye. “I assume you got paid?” Rubin asks her at one point. “Yeah, yeah, I got paid,” Black tells him, smiling. “But a lot of the money goes to pay for things.”

When we met Black in March, it was just days after Friday had gone viral and she had just gotten home from school when we arrived at her house for the first interview she’d ever done with anyone. At the time, she and family seemed almost in shock over all the YouTube views for Friday, which at the time had only — “only” — 13 million of the nearly 200 million it would eventually reach.

She talked about sticking to her normal routines, school and friends and trips to the mall, while also seeing where all this attention might lead, but in the weeks that followed, the bright glare of her new-found fame overran any semblance of normalcy. Soon, demands for her time outside of school — interviews with everyone from Ryan Seacrest to Jay Leno and that offer to work in Katy Perry’s video — as well as continued verbal abuse from other kids prompted her to leave her school for studies at home.

“There was one morning when I woke up and said, ‘Mom, we have to try it, because it’s really hard,’” says Black of home schooling, which she’s continued for her ninth-grade studies this year. “You can try to make up tests but you can only miss so many lessons.”

As for bullying by other kids, which was reported earlier this year as the cause for her leaving school, that was more of a secondary reason, she says. “I’d not ever really been picked on until the Friday thing started,” Black says. “They would chat me on Facebook and say, ‘Your song sucks,’ or ‘People only buy your song because it sucks.’

“Being a teenage girl, words hurt.”

It was weird, she says, not going to school every day and not being around her friends and other kids at first. And she says she lost her best friend during that time, too. “When she told me that I don’t care about our friendship, I got mad,” Black says.

At the same time, she and her parents, Dr. Georgina Marquez and Dr. John Black, were trying to figure out how to take her fame and see what kind of career it might led to.

“I don’t have parents who are specialists in the (entertainment) industry,” Black says. “They are veterinarians who are used to set salaries and set hours.

“So it was kind of overwhelming.”

Across town at the offices of the E! network, Black tapes a comic bit to air during red carpet coverage of the Golden Globes next month, and then sits for an interview with E! News reporter Kristina Guerrero, who asks her why she thinks Friday took off the way it did. “I think (because) it’s an anthem,” Black says. “And it’s one of those things where you either loved it or hated it. So you would tell your friends to watch the video to see what they think.”

It’s a lot to take in, Black says, as she ticks off the many wonderful experiences she’s had over the last nine months.

“The best fun time I had was the (Katy Perry) Last Friday Night video,” she says. “The best things I could check off my bucket list were going to the VMAs and the TCAs, and winning a Teen Choice Award.”

Beyond the awards shows and video shoots and movie premieres, on a more personal level she says she feels like a different person in some ways.

“I’ve become a lot more mature,” Black says. “A lot of people will tell me about little things that I used to think were big problems, and now I think it will all be OK, it’s not a big deal.

“My mom says I’ve become nicer,” she adds, laughing. “And I think I agree with her. When you’re in middle school you have all the girl drama. I would have my teenage days, when I would get a little bit mean, just from hanging around with other kids all day.”

Her parents say they’ve been impressed with the maturity and hard work she’s shown this year, too.

“Overall it’s been a wonderful, positive experience,” Marquez says. “It has definitely exposed her to so many different situations that she wouldn’t be exposed to until she was a lot older or maybe even never.”

“I hope she doesn’t lose out on her childhood, so to speak,” Black says. “You’ve seen the maturity, but she’s still a 14-year-old. It’s great knowing that she’s enjoyed it,” he says. “She’s had to deal with all the negativity that’s come with it, and I’m amazed that she’s been able to handle it with such class.”

In a conference room at her business manager’s office in West Hollywood, Black sits down for an interview with Kirstin Benson of Hollywoodlife.com, who asks at one point whether she’d go back and change anything about the Friday video if she could. “I did the video thinking no one but my family and friends would see it,” Black says. “One part of me says maybe I’d make some changes, but another part of me says, Friday is what got me here, so no, I wouldn’t change a thing.’”

At the start of each month, Black sits down with her manager, Debra Baum of DB Entertainment, and her parents to talk over what they’ll be working on for the month to come, a conversation which she — as the 14-year-old CEO and president of RB Friday Inc. — has a considerable amount of input in.

In 2012, the focus is going to be on live performances to some degree, she and Baum say, though there are other projects coming or in talks as well.

In the spring, she’ll star as one of the lead voice actors in the English-language version of Bunny Fu, which reportedly is the most successful Chinese animated movie ever. Baum says there are also talks about doing a feature film based on Black’s unlikely Cinderella story of success.

A few months from now, a fourth single and video will be released. Given that she’s a YouTube-born star, the plan is to continue with the single-and-video model and hold off on releasing an album for now.

She’s recorded a new version of Friday, too, one she says is truer to the artist she hopes to one day be, and that will eventually be released too.

Friday is a big part of me now,” Black says. “I think that’s what 99.9 per cent of the people who know me know me from. When we re-recorded it, I didn’t want it to sound like it sounds, like it’s bubble gum pop.

“I wanted it to sound like we’re on the beach, someone has a guitar, someone has a drum, and so we did. And I love it — it’s so good!”

 

U2 Retains Throne As Top Touring Band In 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - By Cassandra Szklarski


(Dec 29, 2011)  LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — Perennially popular Irish
rockers U2 were again the top touring band in the world in 2011, repeating their globe-topping haul from 2009, according to trade magazine Pollstar.

The band brought in $231.9 million in 34 shows, narrowly beating out British boy band Take That, which took in $224 million after reuniting with its popular front man, Robbie Williams. U2’s 2009 concerts took in $311 million worldwide, the magazine said.

Globally, the top 25 tours of 2011 reaped $2.1 billion, about the same as last year. But North American gross ticket sales from the top 25 tours were $1.19 billion, about 4 per cent less than in 2010.

Pollstar editor-in-chief Gary Bongiovanni said that decline probably resulted from promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc.’s effort to cut down on money-losing shows.

But he said he expects a rise in North American revenue next year as the Beach Boys celebrate their 50th anniversary. He said the Rolling Stones, also marking 50 years together, also are likely to hit the road, though there’s been no official announcement.

Madonna is likely to tour to promote her first album in five years, set for release in March. And Justin Bieber, who rocked the world but not the U.S. in 2011, may return to play gigs closer to his Canadian roots.

Adele, the British singer whose second album, 21, has been the top-seller this year, also is expected to draw big crowds in 2012 after undergoing throat surgery recently to correct a problem that had led her to cancel many concerts.

“When she comes back, she’ll be doing incredible business next year. There’s obviously a lot of pent-up demand to see her,” Bongiovanni said.

 

Singer Youssou N’Dour To Make Senegal Presidential Run

Source: www.thestar.com - By Mark John and Diadie Ba


(Jan 04, 2012) DAKAR — Senegal’s
Youssou N’Dour has taken his music to audiences around the world but says his decision to stop singing and run for president was prompted by a nagging sound straight from the streets of his West African nation.

“For over 15 years I have heard this buzz going about for me,” N’Dour said at his headquarters in a chic suburb of the capital Dakar, adorned with awards including a gold-plated Grammy for his 2004 album Egypt.

“An overwhelming majority of the Senegalese people have asked Youssou N’Dour to run as president ... I said ‘yes’ and I agreed to be a candidate,” he said in an interview with Reuters and the African news agency APA.

After months of speculation, N’Dour, 52, announced his plan to run in a February 26 election late Monday. But whether the co-writer of the 1994 hit single 7 Seconds has time to translate his domestic popularity into votes is far from certain.

A successful businessman with his own newspaper, television and radio channel, N’Dour already leads a grassroots citizen movement and has long been a conduit for criticism of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, who wants to extend his 11-year rule.

The 85-year-old Wade is a skilled political operator with decades of experience and his hands firmly on the machinery of power, while N’Dour must join a crowded pack of over a dozen presidential rivals.

In a country which treasures intellectuals and whose first post-independence president was the poet and linguist Leopold Sedar Senghor, N’Dour’s relative lack of formal education is another potential handicap he knows he must overcome.

“For 50 years the people have seen Senegal run by what I would call traditional politicians and they have had enough,” he said of a country where formal jobs are scarce and most of whose 12 million population are living on a few dollars a day.

“They want something new and I am the model,” said N’Dour, peering through thick-rimmed spectacles.

The February vote will be watched throughout Africa after a string of marred elections, from the deadly post-poll dispute that blew up in Ivory Coast just over a year ago to Democratic Republic of Congo’s flawed attempt at democracy last November.

Wade’s decision to run for a third term is in itself controversial, with opponents arguing it breaks rules limiting presidential terms to two mandates. Wade says a first term starting in 2000 predated those rules and so does not count.

Government proposals last year to change election rules prompted opposition allegations it was trying to rig the election and were hastily dropped after they led to some of the worst street violence Senegal has seen.

Some fear more unrest if Wade is deemed eligible to stand again in a legal ruling due at the end of the month, or if the election itself is not seen as credible.

N’Dour, who like Wade predicts an easy victory for himself, said he rejected violence but warned the Senegalese were becoming impatient for change.

“The last thing I want to do is set fire to this country I love so much ... But do you think the people will accept a rigged election? No.”

 

MUSIC TIDBITS

Los Angeles Coroner Says Rapper Heavy D Died Of Natural Causes

Source: www.thestar.com - The Associated Press

(Dec 28, 2011)  LOS ANGELES, CALIF.—The Los Angeles coroner's office says Jamaican-born rapper Heavy D died of natural causes. The self-proclaimed “overweight lover” of hip hop, who became one of rap's top hit makers with a combination of humour and positivity, collapsed outside his Beverly Hills home on Nov. 8. The 44 year-old rapper, whose real name was Dwight Errington, died later at a hospital. Coroner's office spokesman Craig Harvey said Tuesday that weight and a transcontinental jet flight were contributing factors. The cause of death was pulmonary embolism and deep leg vein thrombosis. He also had arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Heavy D became one of the genre's most integral stars in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His hit “The Overweight Lover's in the House” played up his hefty frame.

The Original 7ven Hooking Up with Fox Sports and the NBA

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Jan. 02, 2012) *Funk band The Original 7ven, formerly known as The Time, is hooking up with Fox Sports Net for a musical start to the NBA season. The bands old jams and their single “#Trendin” will be played throughout basketball games along with game highlights and special productions. The Original 7ven stole the show when it opened the Soul Train Awards ceremony recently with an extended performance and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in late October. The group’s new CD is the first time the seven musicians have recorded together in over 21 years. Check out more music at www.TheOriginal7ven.com.

Kanye’s ‘G.O.O.D. Music’ Album Eyed for Spring 2012

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 29, 2011) *Kanye West’s next project – a compilation album featuring artists on his G.O.O.D. Music label – is “almost done” and has a target release date of Spring 2012, according to G.O.O.D. artist Big Sean. West, who released the duet record “Watch The Throne” with Jay-Z earlier this year, will head to London to complete work on the project, according to Sean. “We’re going to do the G.O.O.D. Music album first: we’ve been working on that,” he said. “So, me, Kanye, Cudi, CyHi, John Legend, Common, Pusha T, everybody on G.O.O.D., Mr. Hudson – we’re all working on a new project; it’s almost done. “We’re going to London to finish it up and do the last part of it and working on my album at the same time with ‘Ye and everybody.”

::FILM NEWS::    

A Shining Year Ahead For Canadian Film

Source: www.thestar.com - By Cassandra Szklarski


(Jan 01, 2012) An effects-laden vision of Montreal in the future, a magical adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece Midnight’s Children, a 3D take on kids’ hockey, and a sci-fi-tinged thriller centred on our celebrity-obsessed culture are among the Canadian films expected to hit theatres in 2012.

Movie fans have much to look forward to as established heavyweight directors including Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta and Michael Dowse bring new work to the big screen. Meanwhile, promising new filmmakers make their debut, including David Cronenberg’s son Brandon and Denis Villeneuve’s brother Martin.

The younger Cronenberg follows in his famous father’s footsteps with the disease thriller Antiviral, about a young man who works at a clinic that sells celebrity viruses to obsessed fans.

Any apparent similarities in subject matter to the early body-horror work of David Cronenberg — whose first forays include the 1975 parasite chiller Shivers — are hard to ignore, admits producer Niv Fichman.

“It comes from that DNA, shall we say,” chuckles Fichman, who nevertheless insists that Brandon Cronenberg holds his own as a filmmaker.

“It also is very different. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond to it. Brandon has that undeniable last name.”

Antiviral stars Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class) and features Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method) as a celebrity who donates a diseased sample. It also includes a cameo from film and TV veteran Malcolm McDowell.

Martin Villeneuve offers up the interplanetary love story Mars et Avril, set in Montreal some 50 years in the future and based on two graphic novels he released in 2002 and 2006. The sci-fi tale centres on an old musician, played by veteran broadcaster Jacques Languirand, who falls in love for the first time with a much younger woman, played by Caroline Dhavernas (Passchendaele,). Theatre giant Robert Lepage plays a cosmologist whose research into virtual technologies extends to bold experiments on himself. His head is actually a hologram, with all of his ideas, memories and thoughts stored electronically, says Villeneuve, who is 11 years younger than Denis.

Needless to say, the movie is heavy on special effects with Lepage’s character largely achieved through performance-capture technology. Villeneuve, whose brother is known for more down-to-earth fare including the black-and-white rendering of the Montreal massacre Polytechnique and the Oscar-nominated Incendies, says six cameras were trained on Lepage’s head while another actor portrayed the cosmologist’s body.

“It was quite a challenge to play, especially because there wasn’t anybody to interact with him so he had to act in void really,” says Villeneuve, who turned to Denis for help on the script.

Polley follows up her acclaimed 2006 directorial debut Away From Her with another look at marriage in Take This Waltz. Michelle Williams plays a young wife whose wandering eye is drawn to a handsome stranger across the street, played by Luke Kirby, while funnyman Seth Rogen reveals a tender side of himself as her unsuspecting husband.

David Cronenberg has two films in the pipeline — his psychological study A Dangerous Method finally gets a Canadian audience after touring the world, while his buzzed-about take on the Don DeLillo novel “Cosmopolis” could hit theatres by the end of 2012. We’ll see once and for all whether “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson has the chops to helm a serious drama alongside A-listers Paul Giamatti and Juliette Binoche.

Canadian films have a notoriously difficult time drawing dollars at the box office but 2012’s crop is packed with potential, says Stephanie Azam, a national feature film executive with Telefilm Canada.

She points to some slick, celeb-studded productions — including Dowse’s hockey comedy Goon, with Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel and Liev Schreiber; David Weaver’s crime thriller The Samaritan, featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Wilkinson; and Nathan Morlando’s period piece Edwin Boyd, starring Scott Speedman and Brian Cox — as films that are expected to do well with audiences.

“All these films have U.S. distribution, which is huge,” says Azam, noting they also boast sizeable budgets buoyed by hefty private investments.

“It’s a really big deal that we’re getting potential day-and-date releases with big marketing campaigns and that stamp of approval really helps to find audiences here in Canada.”

Mehta’s long-awaited adaptation of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is expected to be one of the biggest films to premiere in 2012, although no date has yet been set.

The Toronto-based director has said it incorporates dream-like sequences as the sprawling tale moves forwards and backwards in time.

Co-star Zaib Shaikh (Little Mosque on the Prairie) describes the Sri Lankan set as “magical” and says he’s excited to see what audiences think of the elaborate production.

“Anticipation is high, everyone’s buzzing about it already,” says Shaikh, who plays the poet Nadir. “I know Salman’s buzzing, I know Deepa’s buzzing.

“Salman’s scope is large and Deepa’s scope is large in terms of their effect on cinema and the literary world so just to have worked with them on a project together of this magnitude, and for it to be Canadian, is a dream come true.”

Sarah Polley To Bring Margaret Atwood To The Screen

Source: www.thestar.com - By: Peter Howell


(Jan 04, 2012) One Canadian star is bringing another to the big screen:
Toronto actor/director Sarah Polley plans to do a screen adaptation of Toronto author Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, The Hollywood Reporter says.

The 1996 historical novel, which won that year's Giller Prize (it was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize) is based on the true-life 1843 murders of Ontario's Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery.

Two household servants, Grace Marks and James McDermott, were convicted of the crime (Marks was jailed for life, McDermott was hanged) but the facts of the case have never been completely established.

Atwood first approached the saga as the writer of a 1974 CBC-TV film titled The Servant Girl, but she admits she has changed her mind regarding Marks' guilt or innocence.

There are no casting or filming details yet for Polley's adaptation.

The Canadian Press reports that the project is one of 29 scripts being backed by Astral’s Harold Greenberg Fund, including a new political drama from Paul Haggis called Paris; a thriller from Splice director Vincenzo Natali called Nobody; the First Nations story Empire of Dirt from Defendor director Peter Stebbings; and the drama The Lion’s Share from Edwin Boyd creators Nathan Morlando and Allison Black.

Polley's 2006 debut feature, Away From Her, was also based on the work of a noted Canadian author, in that case an Alice Munro short story titled The Bear Came Over the Mountain.

Take This Waltz, starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in a drama of marriage stressed by temptation, is due out this summer. It's based on an original screenplay.

Toronto Actor Patrick J. Adams Snags SAG Nom For Suits

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bruce DeMara


(Jan 02, 2012) It took a homecoming of sorts for
Patrick J. Adams to find himself in the company of a boardwalk emperor, a serial killer and a high school chemistry teacher “breaking bad.”

Toronto native Adams, 30, is in rarefied company, with a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actor in a Television Drama for his starring role in Suits.

The nomination pits Adams against such heavyweights as Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights). The awards will be presented on Jan. 29.

In Suits, Adams plays Mike Ross, a college dropout whose photographic memory gets him a job at a high-powered New York law firm.

The little series that could premiered last year on the USA Network to strong critical reviews and debuted on Bravo! in Canada on Oct. 3. It was filmed in Toronto, where it will begin shooting Season 2 within the next two months.

The irony isn’t lost on Adams who, after a decade as a struggling actor in Los Angeles, has achieved a career breakthrough close to home.

“It’s never far from my mind. The world works in mysterious ways,” said Adams, recalling the day he left for the University of Southern California more than a decade ago.

“I remember that day. It was terrifying. You’re making a huge life change and nothing’s ever going to be the same. I remember flicking off the bedroom light and having my bags packed and just feeling ‘What am I doing?’” Adams recalled.

“And then when I booked this series about 10 years later and I packed my bags and came back to Toronto, and because I hadn’t found a (new) place to live yet, I walked into that very same condo and went up to my bedroom and flicked on the light and put my bags down and thought, ‘This is so strange to have this 10-year circle to get back to this same point.’ It was pretty beautiful.”

Adams said the SAG nomination is particularly important because it comes from a group representing actors.

“To be nominated by your peers like that is just a huge gift and, at the same time, a huge responsibility. That’s never far from my mind either. When I see the actors that I’m up against, I see actors that really do the work. These are great actors that come to work every day, and they’re always digging deeper and they’re always growing as artists,” Adams said.

“So when I see my name up against — not up against, up with — their names, I think, ‘Well, I have to continue to do that work.’ You can’t sit back on your laurels. I can’t just go, ‘Oh this is great, I’ve arrived, this is a dream come true.’ You’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep working.”

Adams worked on the 2009 film Rage, directed by Sally Potter, with Buscemi, though they didn’t share any screen time, and only met and got a chance to know each other when promoting the film at the Berlin Film Festival.

Before Suits, Adams also got to work veteran actors Dustin Hoffman and Michael Gambon on the HBO series Luck, set to premiere on Jan. 29.

“I was almost stalkerish. I just kept my eyes on him (Hoffman) the whole time, watching what a guy like that does between takes, how he talks to people, how he conducts himself, what his preparation is,” Adams said.

“(Hoffman) is such a great guy, such a tremendously kind guy, such a giving guy, but also one of the most determined and incredible actors and artists I’ve ever met in my life.”

As for his part on Suits, Adams said he’s impressed by how the writers have created such a “flawed character,” a guy who risks being found out and banished at any given moment.

“Anytime I feel he flows into too cocky, I try and bring him back down to earth by having him be reminded that he’s got a long way to fall and that every step he takes up, he could fall that distance, so he has to be careful. That’s the joy of playing him,” he added.

Twelve 2011 Movies That Moved Spirit And Soul

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Johanna Schneller

(December 31, 2011) A couple of weeks ago, Mike White dropped into Toronto for an onstage chat. White has staked out a corner of L.A. for himself, writing, directing and acting in TV shows and films (Enlightened, Chuck & Buck) that probe uncomfortable situations, resulting in the kind of pain/pleasure you get from touching your tongue to a sore tooth. About his recent work, however, he said something that struck me and stuck: "The older I get, the more I'm interested in compassion."

Compassion - more and more, that's what I'm yearning for, too. And judging by ticket sales for noisy Hollywood fare, which are sagging like sad socks this season, it seems lots of people are.

It's a tricky chord to hit, though. One note wrong, and it's treacly, preachy or just plain dull. And not every film has to belabour it - something that sizzles your nerve endings can be fun for an hour or two. But the films that settle in my heart are the ones that open a window into how other people experience being alive. Here in alphabetical(ish) order are 12 that did that for me in 2011.

Beginners, written and directed by Mike Mills. How do people end up in lives that don't make them happy, and why are they afraid to change? Mills explores those questions in the story of a father and son who don't miss their last chance to connect. Not only does it achieve a near-impossible tone of lighthearted sadness, it also boasts one of the best performances of Christopher Plummer's storied career.

Coriolanus, written by John Logan from the Shakespeare play, directed by Ralph Fiennes. This is Fiennes's directorial debut, and it's impressive. He keeps the language, but updates the period to a modern-day Balkans-style civil war, and employs everything he ever learned about Shakespeare and film to cracking effect. I think you'll be startled by how timely he proves this story of posturing politicians making pointless war.

Melancholia, written and directed by Lars Von Trier; and Take Shelter, written and directed by Jeff Nichols. Together, these two offer a master class in the different ways one medium can explore what seems at first glance to be the same subject - in this case, mental illness and the end of the world. Von Trier's take is operatic, lush, at times bitterly comic. Nichols's is smaller, sparer, more grounded. Both are wonderfully humane and make you shiver at how fragile sanity, not to mention our little experiment of life on Earth, really is.

Moneyball, written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, directed by Bennett Miller; and Win Win, written and directed by Tom McCarthy. This pair is not linked because they're sort-of sports movies (the former about pro baseball; the latter, high-school wrestling). They're linked because they're bittersweet dramas about good men on the cusp of something great. And they're standouts because they prove that, in the right hands, character is drama.

Pina, directed by Wim Wenders. This documentary, shot in 3-D, demonstrates the passion in compassion. Pivotal German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch died in 2009, and Wenders and Bausch's company of dancers pay homage to her in the best way: with a few words, and a lot of stunning dance. Thanks to the close-ups only film can provide, the full spectrum of emotions in Bausch's pieces come alive in a way they can't from the distance of a stage. The 3-D is seamless - it's the first film that let me forget I was wearing those ridiculous glasses. (The only other one to have come close was Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Who'd have thunk it would be German documentary-makers who would perfect Hollywood's new toy?)

Project Nim, directed by James Marsh. Another documentary, this time focusing on language-development researchers in the 1970s who tried to raise a chimp in a human family, with shattering results. Like Marsh's previous doc, Man on Wire (one of my favourite films of 2008), it operates on many levels. It's about human exuberance and folly; it's about the chaos that comes with breaking mores; and most of all, it's about the passing of time. No other medium can compete with documentary, and its juxtapositions of footage from then and now, in showing us what we gain and lose as the clock ticks forward.

Shame, written and directed by Steve McQueen. I've written about this movie in previous columns, and tons of people have joined in the debate about whether its story - an urban man at the nadir of sex addiction - is revelatory or a retrograde morality tale. But I still maintain it's the film of 2011, because it's so about this moment in time: the nexus we're living in of social and sexual freedoms, technology that should but doesn't always make us feel more connected, and (most of all) unprecedented access to pornography. Believe it or scoff at it, but you should see it.

The Tree of Life, written and directed by Terrence Malick. Yes, it's long, and some of the imagery seems incomprehensible, and yes, I'm not sure he pulled off the dinosaur bit. But it tackles head-on the mystery of life, what we alone in the known universe are up to on this little blue ball. This is a movie that aches - to feel, to know, to break free, to find home, to love. You can't just watch it casually. You have to give over to it. Is it pretentious? Sure. But name me an act of trying to make art that isn't.

The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom. This docu-comedy, largely improvised by its stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, made me laugh like nothing else this year. Not much happens: Winterbottom films Coogan and Brydon on a culinary tour of northern England. But in the hands of these three, who previously collaborated on one of my all-time favorites, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, that's plenty. They're geniuses at reducing deadly sins - pride, envy, lust - to their smallest iteration, rendering them hilarious.

The Whistleblower, directed by Larysa Kondracki, written by Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan. An underrated Canadian film is not news. But this political thriller, about a UN peacekeeper (Rachel Weisz) confronting the moral mess of postwar Bosnia, made news this year when it prompted the UN to take a hard look at some of its hiring practices - and alleged cover-ups. It's also a wrenching look at human trafficking, and features a note-perfect performance by Weisz that deserves a lot more attention.

And now I can think of no better way to close out one year and begin the next than with a defining quote from Pina Bausch: "Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost."

10 Movie Trends That Need To End

Source: www.thestar.com - By Peter Howell


(Dec 29, 2011) It’s not that 2011 was such a
terrible year for movies.

On the contrary, it was a very good year, especially for arthouse and foreign cinema.

It was a bad year for movie trends, however. Bad film habits, old and new, reached toxic levels of annoyance in the past 12 months.

In no particular order, here are my Top 10 Movie Trends That Need to End.

1. Overuse of 3-D: Oddly enough, 2011 offered signs both of 3-D’s demise (Pirates IV, Green Hornet) and rebirth (Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin). What’s clear, both from box-office returns and critical consensus, is that 3-D only works for a very few films, not the majority Hollywood schemes for.

2. Invisible calories: Don’t you wish you could drink and eat whatever you like and not gain an ounce or a wrinkle? It only happens in the movies: Charlize Theron in Young Adult, Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher and Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne (and Eat Pray Love in 2010) binge on booze and junk food yet still manage to look rail-thin and gorgeous. Is anyone buying this ridiculous and harmful fantasy?

3. “Ugly” beauties: A corollary to No. 3 is the tedious film trope of beautiful women who supposedly become ugly when they slip on a pair of glasses, a dowdy dress or a few extra pounds. A variant of this is the beauty who has supposedly gone to seed, yet really hasn’t. If Young Adult had Theron looking like her title hag from Monster, rather than the goddess she really is, the movie would have been a lot more interesting.

4. Trailer countdowns: Once upon a time, movie studios just released movie trailers. Now they have trailer countdowns, marking each day like Santa-crazed toddlers until — OMG! — the trailer or teaser will hit the interwebs. Could we kill the trumpets and just go back to releasing the damned trailer?

5. Board games as movies: Following the colossal thud of Clue in 1985, you’d have thought movie moguls would have gotten the clue that board games make lousy movies. But noooo . . . 2012 brings Battleship and there are plans for film versions of Monopoly, Risk, Ouija and even — horrors! — a Clue remake. Has Hollywood really run this low on ideas?

6. Unnecessary remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels: Answering our own question above, yes, it seems Hollywood really has run out of new ideas. Never before in the history of movies have there been so many films based on previous films. You know it’s gotten out of hand when even bad movies like Footloose get remade, and still-current movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo get immediate makeovers. Could we please nail shut the recycling bin and work on some fresh ideas?

7. “Chick flick” putdowns: When movie critics, mostly male, deem a movie deficient in decapitations and explosions, they refer to it as a “chick flick.” Even female critics have been known to use this derogatory, sexist and inaccurate label. In a year when Bridesmaids so hilariously explodes gender stereotypes, it’s time to retire the “chick flick” tag and the lazy critical mindset it implies.

8. ADHD action scenes: When a director doesn’t know how to properly direct an action scene, he or she resorts to the cheats of wild camera movements and/or frequent edits to give the impression of motion. This technique rarely helps the story, succeeding only in giving the viewer a headache. Remedial classes in action filmmaking should be prerequisites for all directors of blockbusters.

9. Critical revisionism: When The Artist premiered at Cannes last May, a lot of film critics huffed that even though they could appreciate a black-and-white and silent homage to Old Hollywood, no way could Joe and Jane Popcorn get it. Now that it seems The Artist might go all the way to Best Picture at the Oscars, many of these same critics are moaning how “mainstream” the film is. Let’s keep our prejudices straight, people!

10. Oscars overreaction: Speaking of the Oscars, since when did it become a life-or-death matter what film 6,000 people in the movie industry declare to be the year’s best? There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when the Oscars were considered a joke, and “cool” people questioned their worth. Now you can read fevered bloggers who act as if they might actually end it all, should The Artist or War Horse take Best Picture come February. Keep repeating to yourself: “It’s only a movie prize. . . It’s only a movie prize. . .”

Queen Latifah: The ‘Joyful Noise’ Interview with Kam Williams

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Jan. 01, 2012) *Born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark, NJ on March 18, 1970, Queen Latifah is an award-winning actress, rapper, singer, author and entrepreneur. She landed an Oscar nomination in 2003 for Best Supporting Actress, as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominations for her performance as Mama Morton in “Chicago.”

In 2008, Latifah received rave reviews and won a Golden Globe, SAG and an NAACP Image Award for her powerful portrayal of a mother who overcomes an addiction to crack and becomes a positive role model and AIDS activist in the black community in HBO’s “Life Support.” In addition to her film and television accolades, she earned a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance in 1994, and was nominated for Best Female Rap Solo Performance for “Go Head” in 2004.

Latifah made her screen debut in Spike Lee’s 1991 film “Jungle Fever,” and her other film credits include “The Bone Collector,” “The Last Holiday,” “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Just Wright.” Here, she talks about her latest movie, “Joyful Noise,” a musical comedy co-starring Dolly Parton.

Kam Williams: Hi Queen, thanks for the interview.
Queen Latifah: Hey, Kam, no problem.
 
KW: What interested you in Joyful Noise?
QL: I felt that its timely, uplifting story was perfect for me, given what’s going on in the world right now. And I already loved the studio, Alcon Entertainment. They’ve made a lot of nice movies in the past [The Blind Side, Dolphin Tale, etcetera], and they really do a great job of marketing their films. And I liked the idea of working with Dolly Parton and Keke [Palmer].
 
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: What was it like working with Todd Graff? It seems like he knows a lot about both music and comedy. ?
QL: He really does. It was great working with him because he’s very thorough. I believe he had an excellent grasp of every aspect of the film from the music to the staging. He knew exactly how he wanted it presented, which made the process a lot easier. And he likes to rehearse, which I do, too. So often, you don’t get that opportunity. You only go over everything once and, the next thing you know, you’re on set. Todd had a vision of what he wanted to do and, because he also wrote the screenplay, it was easy for him to make observations, take notes and tweak the script whenever necessary. It was perfect!
 
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you think people will take away from Joyful Noise?
QL: I would say that overall, the movie offers an inspirational message of hope, love, camaraderie, joy and overcoming challenges in difficult times. All that good stuff!
 
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: What’s your favorite song in Joyful Noise?
QL: My favorite song? For me, it was “Fix me, Jesus.”
 
KW: Harriet also asks: How hard was it to make the switch from hip-hop to acting?
QL: Developing my skills and getting really good at acting was actually more challenging than making the switch. As a rapper, you sort of act in music videos and in the persona you adopt onstage. You kinda have to put yourself out there and be courageous even to be a rapper. So, to step into acting was not that difficult a transition to make. What was difficult was the work and the practice that went into becoming good at it, because I hadn’t had any training. 
 
KW: Harriet asks: Is there a classic film that you’d like to star in a remake of?
QL: Hmm… Good question! The James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll film Claudine. Or maybe Taps the military story starring Tom Cruise and Sean Penn. But that one’s all boys so I probably couldn’t do that one anyway.
 
KW: Finally, Harriet says: You did such a great duet with Tony Bennett. Who else would you like to do a duet with?
QL: Gee, there are a whole bunch of people I’d like to duets with. I don’t know, pick somebody. [Chuckles] Let’s see… Harry Connick, Jr. would be nice.
 
KW: Kate Newell asks: Will you be making a guest star appearance on the TV show Glee?
QL: Whenever they invite me. I would love to. 
 
KW: Patricia also asks: What advice do you have for females interested in founding a record company or breaking the glass ceiling in the music business?
QL: Try to network with others, and don’t take no for an answer. It will be a challenge. You just have to connect with people who believe in your vision and who will work with you and advance your cause. And don’t give up!
 
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Of what achievement are you most proud?
QL: I did get as far as high school. [Laughs] Just kidding. Let me think… I don’t know… The Oscar nomination?
 
KW: That’s fine. Tony Noel asks: Are you involved with the community in your hometown of Newark, and how do you feel about the city’s future?
QL: I’m as involved as I can be. Whenever I’m asked to do something, I always tend to show up. Lately, I’ve been trying to do some land development for affordable housing. I feel very positive about Newark’s future, but I know we need a lot of help. I think that starts with the education of our kids and making the streets safer.  
 
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Which charities are you choosing support nowadays, given that lots of non-profits have suffered the last few years because of the bad economy?
QL: We have our own charity called the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation which has awarded partial scholarships in and around Newark, New Jersey for the past 15 years. I support many organizations that I feel are doing the right thing, like Alonzo Mourning’s foundation, Alicia Keys’ foundation, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and other well-established foundations. I kick out a lot of time and money wherever I can.  
 
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
QL: Scrambled eggs.
 
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
QL: I see this 5’10” black lady. She’s sexy! Who is that girl? Me? Oh, snap!
 
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
QL: Being smacked on my ass in this bright room when I was maybe 4 or 5 minutes old. I remember wondering, “What is going on here?” It was not cool. [LOL]
 
KW: Thanks again for the time, Queen, and best of luck with Joyful Noise.
QL: Thank you, Kam.
To see the trailer for Joyful Noise, visit HERE.

Spike Lee Reprises Mookie for ‘Red Hook Summer’

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Jan 03, 2012) *Spike Lee will reprise his role as Mookie from 1989’s “Do the Right Thing” in his next joint “Red Hook Summer,” which will premiere Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film depicts a diverse set of characters sweating out the summer in Brooklyn, according to a new synopsis released by the festival.

One of the main characters in the movie, which doesn’t yet have a theatrical release date, is a boy named Flik, according to the new synopsis. His mother sends him from their well-to-do life in Atlanta to spend the summer with his grandfather in Brooklyn’s Red Hook housing project.

Flik has never met his grandfather, who is played by Clarke Peters of “The Wire.” Flik is “bored and friendless, and his strict grandfather, Enoch, a firebrand preacher, is bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior,” according to the synopsis.

Flik becomes involved with Chazz, a girl from Enoch’s church, and romance presumably ensues.

The film also stars Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, Nate Parker, James Ransone, Keke Palmer, James Ransone and Thomas Jefferson Byrd.

“Red Hook Summer” is produced by Lee and James McBride, who collaborated together on the script.

Lee is also working on an American remake of the 2003 South Korean thriller “Oldboy.”

FILM TIDBITS

‘War Horse,’ ‘The Help,’ ‘The Artist’, ‘Bridesmaids’ Among Producers Guild Nominees

Source: www.thestar.com - Suzanne Hanover/AP

(Jan 03, 2012) LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — The historical epic War Horse, the Deep South drama The Help, the silent film The Artist and the wedding comedy Bridesmaids are in the running for top honours from the Producers Guild of America. Also nominated Tuesday for the guild’s big film prize are two George Clooney tales: the family drama The Descendants and the political saga The Ides of March. Two Paris stories made the cut, the family adventure Hugo and the romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris. Rounding out the 10 nominees are the thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sports tale Moneyball. Animated contenders for the Jan. 21 awards are The Adventures of Tintin, Cars 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots and Rango.

Meryl Streep To Get Berlin Film Festival Lifetime Award

Source: www.thestar.com - By Reuters


(Jan 03, 2012)
Meryl Streep will get a lifetime achievement award from the Berlin Film Festival in February, along with a retrospective of some of her most famous movies of the past 30 years. Festival organizers said Streep, 62, who is currently starring as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, would be presented with an honorary Golden Bear on Feb. 14. “We are delighted to be able to award the Honorary Golden Bear to such a terrific artist and world star. Meryl Streep is a brilliant, versatile performer who moves with ease between dramatic and comedic roles,” Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement on Monday. Organizers plan to screen six of Streep’s movies, including her Oscar winning roles in Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice during the film festival next month. The New Jersey-born Streep has a record 16 Oscar nominations and is considered a front-runner for a 17th nod for her portrayal of Thatcher when Academy Award nominations are announced on Jan. 26 in Beverly Hills.

Trailer: 50 Cent in Mario Van Peebles’ ‘All Things Fall Apart’

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Jan 04, 2012) *Though it premiered on BET last month, Mario Van Peebles’ latest film as both an actor and director, “All Things Fall Apart,” is set to receive a theatrical release on Feb. 14, reports Yahoo! Movies, which released the trailer today. [Scroll down to watch.] The synopsis: Deon, played by 50 Cent, is a football player who suffers a deadly disease. However, despite receiving love and praise his entire life because of his athletic ability, he’s still a good person who loves his family and is willing to share the glory on the football field. His mother Bee is incredibly proud, his younger brother Sean is understandably jealous, and Bee’s boyfriend/Deon’s surrogate father Eric sees the football star as a winning lottery ticket.

::TV NEWS::     

Meg Tilly: A Dark Past, A Shining Future

Source: www.thestar.com - By Richard Ouzounian


(Dec 30, 2011)
Meg Tilly has learned to look past the pain.

The 51-year-old actress who sits on a sofa in this elegant midtown hotel has a warmly welcoming smile as she talks about
Bomb Girls, her television series about women in munitions factories during World War II, which debuts on Global on Jan. 4.

“I love this time period. It’s the first time women had a pay cheque, were making decisions, doing things that were men’s jobs and doing them damn well.”

Her voice has a throaty catch in it that’s irresistible, but there’s the hint of something guarded behind her almond-shaped eyes, which are pretty much the only legacy from her father, Harry Chan, who left her at the age of 3.

“My childhood?” She looks at you warily, as if deciding to reward you with her trust. “It was like if I stopped running, this rabid pack of dogs is going to gobble me up. But I’m big now and they’re smaller and I know how to deal with it.”

It’s been almost 30 years since she burst, seemingly out of nowhere, to capture the imagination of filmgoers with roles in The Big Chill and Agnes of God (for which she was nominated for an Oscar.)

And it’s been nearly 20 years since she vanished into the mists of British Columbia to raise 3 children and heal a series of very private wounds.

Now she’s returned to acting, but — like everything Tilly does in life — she does it full-out, leaping into the breaking waves, not dipping her toe into the shallows by the shore.

Last summer she knocked out this critic, as well as many others, with a searing performance of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for Victoria’s Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. She’s about to entertain all Canada as the brassy Lorna in Bomb Girls and next April, Toronto will get to see her on stage in Tarragon Theatre’s production of The Real World? by Michel Tremblay.

But it’s a long road that brought her to this point. Long and hard and shrouded in secrecy for most of her life.

“I never told anybody what I went through growing up. Happy, happy, happy. That’s what I showed the world.

“I was worried that if anybody learned the truth about me, they would turn away in disgust. They would see me as dirty. I wouldn’t be lovable.”

She was born in Long Beach, California, but after her father and mother divorced, they moved to remote Texada Island, off the coast of British Columbia.

A stepfather entered the picture around then, a man with a limitless appetite for abusing his children.

“There was one period when my stepsisters had to live in the doghouse and were beaten every day. Or I would go to town with him to get groceries and wind up being hurled all over the van.”

It grew worse and worse and young Tilly recalls a time when “my parents were still officially together, but he was sleeping in the basement.

“He would cry a lot and hold his gun to his head and I would say ‘Why don’t you just do it?’ but he was ultimately such a coward.”

By the time she was 13 “I was into liquor and drugs to try and dull the pain, but one night I saw something that stopped me going down that road forever.”

Tilly actually starts to sound like her teenage self as she goes back in time to that moment nearly 40 years ago.

“We were going to this neighbour’s house for dinner. I remember it was spaghetti. Like we were finally going to have a normal life. The neighbour woman went down to get my stepfather, but when she came back, his scent was all over her.

“I started to run from room to room trying to get away, drinking wine, 5 glasses I think. I went into the bedroom and this woman was standing there, just looking at me and my stepfather was going down on her.”

Tilly gasps for air, the way she must have back then.

“I ran down to the beach and ran until I couldn’t run anymore and I was crying. The water was coming in and out. Just me and the water. And I thought ‘It’s all been here since the beginning of time. This too shall pass.’”

And it did. Her stepfather left, but the boyfriend who took his place was even worse.

“He was an alcoholic and he’d pour gasoline all over the soft furniture and look at me and say ‘I’m going to set you on fire. The others can leave, but you’re going to have to stay.’”

How did Tilly survive all this? “I learned how to hide. I could get through really dangerous situations by melding into the wall.”

Her eyes dart around the luxurious hotel suite, suddenly a frightened animal.

“I still do it today. See that corner there? It’s dark; I could get lost in the shadows. Or I could go skinny against the curtain, or fall behind this sofa that’s blocking the view. I always knew where to hide.”

She ultimately wound up hiding in ballet.

“I started at 15, which was very late and everybody told me it would never happen, but the rigor and discipline and pain that you turn into something beautiful appealed to me.

“In 2 years, I went from everyone laughing at me to winning scholarships.”

And she got cast in her first movie, the iconic story of young talent striving for the top, Fame.

“I didn’t have much to do, but I showed it to my kids not long ago. I said ‘Freeze it! First one in the back. That’s my arm!’”

Still, it was a beginning, until the day in dance practice when Tilly’s partner dropped her, breaking her back.

“The day that happened, I thought my life was over. I even thought of killing myself. But I didn’t. I went back home and my sister Jen had already started working in the movies so she said, ‘You’ve got your SAG card after Fame, come on down and try to get a job.’

“I did. And to this day, whenever a real big challenge or heartbreak comes, I say ‘I don’t know what the positive side of this is, but there will be one, because there always has been.”

The hits started coming, but once again, fate intervened.

She had been cast by Milos Forman in the film of Amadeus as Constanza, Mozart’s wife. Her costumes were fitted, rehearsals were going swimmingly and then “I tore all the ligaments in my leg playing soccer. Was it intentional? Accidental? I never knew.

“All I know is that I was having fame nightmares. I was terrified about being famous, because the only way I could survive when things got bad at home was by hiding and if I was famous, I couldn’t hide any more …”

Eventually, she walked away from the business. Part of it was simply the decision to raise her three children “properly, the way I was never raised,” and part of was due to her dissatisfaction with a lot of the way the movie business was being run then.

“As a lead actress, a lot of times you’re the fire hydrant that guys want to prove themselves on. The men on the set want to see who gets the girl. I didn’t want any part of that.”

What brought her back? “My kids grew up and my sister Jen gave me a bracelet with a quote from George Elliot on it:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

She looks straight ahead. No fear, no memories of the past.

“Good advice. So I decided to take it. I’ve been spending my whole life trying to fix my family and I know now I can’t make it better.

“But maybe if I talk about what happened to me, other people won’t have to go down the road to self-destruction. Once you stop running, you realize that the rabid pack of dogs that were chasing you weren’t that big or scary at all.”

MEG TILLY’S FIVE FAVE ROLES

THE BIG CHILL — Larry Kasdan gave us two scripts. One we shot. But the other one we memorized and rehearsed had all the stuff that happened in between the actual scenes. And we rehearsed for four weeks. Amazing

AGNES OF GOD — I actually prayed NOT to get the Oscar, because Anjelica Houston was up for it against me and she showed up that night with her father who was barely breathing with a respirator. “Give it to her!” I begged. And that’s what happened.

THE TWO JAKES — A notoriously bad movie, but I loved working with Jack Nicholson. Robert Towne left us hanging. We’d be standing there in full costume and makeup waiting for script pages to come through the fax machine.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? — Hey, I thought that even if I fell on my ass they’d all be getting their money’s worth, because there’s good fun in trashing people.

BOMB GIRLS — I like the woman I play in this show. I like all the female characters. They’re real. They want things. And they fight to get them. My kind of people.

Rizzoli & Isles Debuts In Canada On Tuesday

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bill Brioux


(Dec 30, 2011) In police parlance, the expression is to “throw the book
at you.” That also seems to be what TV networks are doing these days.

Many of today’s hit
TV shows are based on books. Before Dexter started carving up serial killers on TV, he sprung from the twisted mind of novelist Jeff Lindsay. True Blood is based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries of author Charlaine Harris. Likewise, The Vampire Diaries are based on the young adult horror series from novelist L.J. Smith. HBO’s Game of Thrones came from the fertile mind of bestselling fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin. ABC’s new Friday night drama Grimm is inspired by the 200 fairy tales penned by the brothers Grimm.

Bones gets its inspiration from forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs’ popular crime novel series. The twist there is that the main character in the series, Temperance Brennan (played by Emily Deschanel), writes crime novels under the fictional pen name Kathy Reichs.

Fact and fiction get blurred again by Castle, a CBS crime drama about a mystery novelist (played by Canadian-born Nathan Fillion) who helps police solve crimes. The series wasn’t based on a book, but three successful novels and one graphic novel have been spun off from it, all supposedly written by fictional TV character Richard Castle. Castle also pays homage to its writerly roots, having real authors like Dennis Lehane and James Patterson occasionally guest as Castle’s poker-playing pals.

Author Maureen Jennings’ book series of Murdoch Mysteries did precede the City series starring Yannick Bisson as the turn-of-the-20th-century detective. Haven, seen on Showcase, is loosely based on the Stephen King novel The Colorado Kid.

More TV shows based on novels are coming to network TV in the new year, including the shot-in-Toronto NBC drama The Firm, based on the bestseller by John Grisham, and Are You There Chelsea?, drawn from the humorous memoir Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea by late night talk show host Chelsea Handler.

Add to the list
Rizzoli & Isles, premiering in Canada Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Showcase. The series, which stars Angie Harmon (Law & Order) as policewoman Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander (NCIS) as medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles, has been a hit for two seasons on the U.S. cable network TNT.

Rizzoli & Isles is based on The Apprentice by bestselling author Tess Gerritsen. A visit to the set last summer on the storied Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood uncovered few books but plenty of the usual police squad room desks and notepads. There was also a standing bar set, complete with the new Stanley Cup banner of the victorious Boston Bruins (the series is set in Boston).

Harmon held court on the set and sat surrounded by a circle of reporters. At 39, the raven-haired Texan is a mother of three girls and happy to be working on a show a short drive from her Hollywood home. Her husband is former NFL star Jason Sehorn, who surprised her in 1998 by coming out of the audience of The Tonight Show, getting down on one knee and proposing to her on air: the kind of fairy-tale romance that usually only happens in books.

Harmon was laid back and laughing though much of the set visit. One of her co-stars, Lee Thompson Young (who plays police partner Barry Frost), had her in stitches during the informal session. Young, who worked in Toronto for three years shooting The Famous Jett Jackson (and loved every minute of it), told Harmon she struck him as “what would happen if Aphrodite and (Warner Bros. cartoon character) Yosemite Sam got together and had a daughter.” Said Harmon, “It’s literally the best compliment I’ve ever received.”

Rizzoli & Isles has received a lot of attention in the U.S. for what some viewers perceive as romantic tension between Harmon’s cop character and Alexander’s medical examiner. Is there a lesbian subplot? “I think a lot of people are going to project on it what they want,” says Harmon. “I’m not saying we didn’t help.”

The two characters seem to have their moments, with plenty of lingering looks and double entendres. Harmon says there was a bit of a backlash in the lesbian community later in the series when it seemed clear there was no real relationship. “We found ourselves on the defensive,” says Harmon, “especially the actors. We’re just acting what’s on the page.”

So don’t throw the book at them, pleads Harmon. “We’re storytellers. We put out there what these characters are and what they’re written to be.”

Chelsea Handler on Chelsea Handler

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Andrew Ryan

(Dec 30, 2011) Step by step, Chelsea Handler is moving up the Hollywood ladder. The razor-witted bombshell provides the inspiration for the upcoming comedy Are You There, Chelsea?, on which she also holds rank as executive producer and plays a minor role. Born and raised in Livingston, N.J., Handler spent over a decade on the comedy-club circuit before she landed the E! series Chelsea Lately in 2008. The new sitcom is adapted from her bestselling book, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, and stars former That '70s Show regular Laura Prepon as Chelsea Newman, a thinly-disguised version of Handler in her 20s. Handler also has a recurring role as her TV self's self-righteous born-again sister. She spoke to The Globe from Los Angeles.

What's it like watching someone play you on TV?

Oh, it's great. It's a dream come true. I'm so sick of playing myself I can't even tell you.

How close is the hard-partying sitcom version to you in your 20s?

I had a really good time for a really long time, and then it just turned into a different kind of good time. It's about what's important to you at the time. On the show, her life is about the here and now and having as much fun as possible and enjoying life and not being judgmental. She's taking everything in stride.

Does hosting a daily talk show in any way prepare you for half-hour comedy?

It's very different for me, because I come from the cable world. In cable we don't take notes, and we tape Chelsea Lately in 22 minutes a day. With a sitcom, it takes four hours to tape one show. And then you get notes from the network and the studio. It's much more of a collaboration than anything I'm used to, but it's a really fun process.

How do you explain the title switch-around?

Well, you can't put "vodka" in the title, for network purposes. So I thought Are You There, Chelsea? was a funny play on the fact I'm not playing myself. It was a cute way to keep to the book. Although there is plenty of drinking on the show, you just can't have it in the title.

Was it your idea to play a support character on the show?

I wanted to do something a little more challenging. It's fun to dress schlumpy and have a different appearance and attitude. I'm still sarcastic on the show, but I'm very kind of buttoned-up. And it's nice to play against someone who's playing me.

You recently renewed your E! contract. Why keep the daily grind of a talk show?

I realized I was in a position at E! to make the show into whatever I wanted to make it into. So if I want to get more serious about topics or talk more about politics or sports or whatever, I kind of have the audience already in place. I figured I would rather stay in a place where I've built a loyal fan base. With the sitcom, I have three shows going on, which is all I can do at this point. It just made sense to stay.

Has your creative involvement on this show finally made you feel like a Hollywood insider?

I've accomplished and experienced a lot in this industry, and I've had amazing highs and big lows. I don't feel like an outsider, but there's always those times when you think: Do I really belong here? They're few and far between compared to 10 years ago or my childhood, but I'm pretty good about not letting that get the best of me. And to let fleeting thoughts fleet.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Are You There, Chelsea? debuts Jan. 11 on NBC and Global.

Oprah's Rolling Up Her Sleeves - And Hoping For An Ace

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Shelley Youngblut

(December 30, 2011) It's hard to believe that 2011 would end with Oprah Winfrey as an underdog, but that's exactly where the queen of television has found herself, fighting to turn her fledging cable channel around. And she's doing it the only way she knows how: by putting herself in the spotlight with the Jan. 1 launch of a new series, Oprah's Next Chapter, on OWN, the Opera Winfrey Network.

While she'll be back on the air, she's stuck to her guns about her desire to "get out of the chair" and leave a studio audience behind. The debut episode of Oprah's Next Chapter takes her to the New Hampshire home of Steven Tyler. Future instalments have her visiting pastor Joel Osteen's Houston church and travelling to Haiti with Sean Penn. The show's premise - Dream It. See It. Share it. Achieve It. And Repeat - taps into the galvanizing grace that is at the heart of Oprah's appeal.

Sadly, it's taken Winfrey a year to fully embrace her current dream. Last January, she was on top of the world, basking in the launch of OWN and revelling in planning the final five months of The Oprah Winfrey Show. While her last show, watched by 13.3 million people when it aired on May 25, lived up to the hype, it's been a year of dashed expectations at OWN, whose average daily viewership of 136,000 is not just minuscule, but 8 per cent less than that of the network it replaced, Discovery Health.

The so-called Oprah Effect has been so potent for so long that no one - including Winfrey - believed it wouldn't be enough to transform a secondary cable channel at the far end of the dial into a ratings powerhouse. A little Oprah, it turns out, isn't enough to win over viewers, cable providers or advertisers.

"If you just want your name on a channel and you want to look at a pretty logo, get yourself some stationery and call it a day!" That isn't some disappointed industry analyst talking, but rather Oprah herself, just before OWN went on the air. She's since taken her own lesson to heart and rolled up her sleeves, something, she has said, ego never does.

In keeping with Colin Powell's Pottery Barn theory, while Oprah may not have broken her cable channel all by herself, she now owns its recovery. Top executives from the launch are gone, replaced with key people from Winfrey's production company, Harpo (her first name spelled backward). In July, she became the channel's CEO and chief creative officer, in addition to its chairman. "It's 10 times harder than doing my daily show," she wrote fans on Facebook.

But she also posted this inspirational quote from Anne Wilson Schaef on her wall: "What we perceive as a failure may simply be our inner being's way of telling us that we are ready to move to a new level of growth."

Oprah doesn't back away from her mistakes; she embraces them. And even though she's worth a reported $2.7-billion and is on a first-name basis with every celebrity in the world, her brand's greatest asset is how vulnerable and marvellously human she remains. In the January, 2011, issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, she said that launching her own network was the first thing that truly scared her. But she decided to push through the fear, telling herself, "God is not going to give this opportunity and just leave me alone - why would I be put in this position, just to fail?" With the start of Oprah's Next Chapter, it looks like she's finally listening to her own best advice.

OWN by the Nielsen numbers:

6.7 million

Average daily viewership of The Oprah Winfrey Show in November, 2009, when Winfrey announced she would be ending her syndicated talk show in 2011.

13.3 million

Number of people who watched the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 25, 2011.


1.2 million

Number of people who watched Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes when it debuted along with OWN Network, on Jan. 1, 2011.
Two weeks later, only 557,000 viewers were tuning in.

333,000

Number of people who watched the Oct. 10, 2011, debut episode of Oprah's Lifeclass, in which she recycles old highlight clips with a self-help lesson plan.

479,000

Number of people who watched the Oct. 10, 2011, debut episode of The Rosie Show hosted by Rosie O'Donnell. (One month later, average daily viewership would dip to 244,000.)

839,000

Number of people who watched the debut of the reality series Why Not? With Shania Twain, OWN's top-rated episode of 2011.

247,000

Average daily prime-time viewership of OWN from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2011. (The cable channel it replaced, Discovery Health, had averaged 250,000 viewers in the same time period in 2010.)

OWN: A timeline

Average daily prime-time viewership of OWN from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2011.
(The cable channel it replaced, Discovery Health, had averaged 250,000 viewers in the same time

May 14, 1992: After complaining about the state of trash TV, Oprah's solution is to own her own network. She thinks of the letters OWN: "I'm always looking for signs, signals, and so I wrote that down in my journal that night."

Jan. 15, 2008: Winfrey and Discovery Communications announce that they will launch OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network in 2009.

Nov. 20, 2009: Oprah announces to shocked fans that the upcoming 25th season of The Oprah Winfrey Show will be its last.

Jan. 1, 2011: After a series of delays, OWN goes on the air. Oprah, meanwhile, focuses on the final five months of her talk show.

April 30, 2011: OWN averages 297,000 daily prime-time viewers in its first quarter. "The main problem is that Oprah is not on OWN," RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank told The Hollywood Reporter. "They need her, and I think she will really have to step up to make it work - and to preserve her reputation and credibility."

May 6, 2011: Christina Norman, OWN's CEO, is ousted, following the earlier exits of the channel's original programming chief, general manager, digital chief, and chief marketing officer. "I will soon be able to turn my full energies to working with you all," said Winfrey in an e-mail to staff.

May 25, 2011: Oprah says a tearful goodbye to The Oprah Winfrey Show.

July, 2011: Oprah becomes OWN's chief creative officer. "I will put my brand and my future on the line because I know this one team - OWN/Harpo - is the boat I want to be in," she said in an e-mail to staff.

Fall, 2011: The weakening of the so-called Oprah Effect spreads to other platforms. In September, single-copy sales of O, The Oprah Magazine decline by 256,000 from a year earlier, while ad pages fall by 19 per cent. The number of unique visitors to Oprah.com drops 18 per cent compared to October, 2010.

October, 2011: The Rosie Show and Oprah's Lifeclass debut to disappointing ratings. A new reality series, Welcome to Sweetie Pie's, featuring a former backup singer of Ike and Tina Turner and her St. Louis soul-food restaurants, averages 418,000 weekly viewers; its strong appeal among African-American viewers encourages network executives. "It doesn't mean we're going to turn into the Roots channel," cautioned Oprah.

Jan. 1, 2012: Originally scheduled to launch this fall, Oprah's Next Chapter, Winfrey's first completely original contribution to OWN, will debut on the network's first anniversary. "I don't worry about failure," she says. "I worry about, 'Did I do all that I could do?' "e period in 2010.)

Up next on OWN:

A Controversial 'Get': Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant Penn State football coach charged with sexually assaulting eight boys is angling to plead his case as Oprah's first high-profile interview in 2012. Winfrey told an audience of cable operators in June that O.J. Simpson and Susan Smith, in prison for the 1995 murder of her two sons, are at the top of her most-wanted list.

Grand Slam: Louder Than a Bomb, a documentary about four Chicago high-school students as they prepare to compete in the world's largest youth slam poetry contest, premieres on Jan. 5.

Going Pig: Gastown Gamble, a reality series about a couple attempting to resurrect Save-On-Meats (and its neon pig) in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, debuts on Jan. 18.

Neighbourhood Watch: Million Dollar Neighbourhood - Can 100 families in Aldergrove, B.C., raise their collective net worth by $1-million in 10 weeks? Tune in on Jan. 22 for the first episode of this series.

TV Challenge In 2012: First, Make Us Happy

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By John Doyle

(January 2, 2012) Hello and Happy New Year.

It's really swell that people get together, share their dislikes and act on
them together. Cathartic, no doubt, and peachy. But, listen, if you're going to complain together, it's best not to use the same words and phrases. In such cases, this thing called a Thesaurus is dead-handy. You're welcome.

Now then, what's going on? If I've got this straight, what's going on is that nobody is going to the movies. In the avalanche of year-end lists and pontifications that marked the end of 2011, I'm pretty sure I read that movie-attendance has fallen to shockingly low levels. Little wonder. Look at all the lists of Top Ten Movies of 2011 and ask yourself: Are there are more than two you'd pay to see?

This is where our favourite topic, television, comes in. Obviously, people both here and in the U.S. are watching TV. And it doesn't matter whether it's on an old-school TV set, a grand flat-screen thingy on the wall showing everything in HD, or on a laptop while sitting in bed with the dogs.

Television's challenge in 2012 is to keep getting better. To entertain, distract and sometimes reflect the searing reality in which so many people exist. Movies aren't doing it, are they?

The Bachelor (ABC, City TV, 8 p.m.) returns and is the big deal on tonight's menu. Now, before you start rolling you're eyes heavenward, remember this: It's cold outside, the Christmas bills are piling up and life is kind of tedious. This is the ideal time to indulge in watching cheerfully trashy, contrived nonsense about a gaggle of ladies vying for the hand of some handsome lug who is, of course, in the end, far less charming that he seems.

On this, the 16th edition, the bachelor is Ben Flajnik, a 29-year-old California winemaker. He was the chap spurned at the end of the 2011 edition of The Bachelorette. He proposed to bachelorette Ashley Hebert, but she turned him down and took a chance on one J.P. Rosenbaum instead. Look, it's trash, but it's as good a tonic as thinking about a winter holiday in the sun somewhere.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Shows such as The Bachelor are our equivalent of ancient, midwinter celebrations of life and love, a rejection of cold and darkness. It's a primordial impulse to indulge in life-affirming fun and play silly games in the middle of long, dark winters. Our ancestors did it and we're doing the same darn thing. Western civilization will not fall if millions watch Ben choose a lady. (And I use the term "lady" with reservation, given the advance publicity devoted to some of the contestants.) In fact it will continue to thrive. Stories of wooing and courting are at the bedrock of our culture.

This is not to say that TV's only role in 2012 is to offer frivolity. Over the next few months we will see the arrival of several important dramas that will provoke and challenge viewers, from the soft satire of GCB (formerly called Good Christian Bitches) on ABC to the probably corrosive satire of HBO's Veep, about a female Senator who finds being Vice-President of the United States is nothing like she expected. The latter comes from Brit writer Armando Iannucci, responsible for The Thick of It and I'm Alan Partridge. Plus HBO's Game Change, which follows John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, from his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate to their defeat in the election.

There's the fluff and the fiercely engaged with politics, money and the madness of now. It's going to be a great year. And if anybody wants to complain that my endorsement of The Bachelor is a partisan shot at the Conservative Party if Canada, I'm interested to hear your views. Remember to use a Thesaurus, though, if there's more than one of you writing.

Also Airing Tonight: Craig Ferguson's International House of Comedy (CBC, 9 p.m.) is a distilled version of the gala opening to last year's Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. Ferguson hosts a one-hour stand-up comedy show with bits from Nina Conti, Ryan Belleville, Danny Bhoy and Adam Hills. There is also an appearance by Eddie Izzard. As always with these things, the quality of the comedy varies wildly. Belleville does a very good segment about being a Canadian in other countries. But it's Ferguson himself who is outstanding - throwing jokes at everything with deftness and precision, including a brilliant bit about the alleged love triangle of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie.

New Workplace Sitcom Channels America's Economic Woes

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By John Doyle

(Jan 03, 2012) There's a new U.S. network sitcom starting tonight, a seemingly slight show about a couple of guys - real men's-men types - who dress up as women in order to land jobs.

The show is
Work It (ABC, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.) and it is simultaneously hokey and crudely funny. It might last six weeks. It might last six years. But in the way that television shows will casually and lavishly illuminate the culture, this silly show arrives on the perfect day.

Tonight also begins the great American political drama that unfolds every four years. Chapter one of this edition of the drama begins with the Iowa caucuses.

CNN is calling its coverage "American Choice 2012: Iowa Caucuses" and it runs from 7 p.m. to midnight, but really the coverage will last all day long. Fox News calls its special newscast "America's Election HQ: Iowa Caucuses" and airs it from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., but it too will be dwelling on Iowa all day.

An intriguing portion of the U.S. culture will come into focus by tonight. The Republican race, which has been going on for many months, thanks to countless TV debates, has seemed anarchic. Leading candidates and their positions have soared in popularity and then evaporated in a harum-scarum way. Far as I can tell, television is at the core of everything. It seems the key Iowa race has three main components for the candidates: meet-and-greets with voters, TV appearances and TV ads.

The TV ads - which are easily found online - are fascinating. Rick Santorum, who has suddenly emerged as a leading candidate, has been running TV spots that look like promos for the NBC series Parenthood. One has the impression the guy has about 14 kids and spends all his time throwing around a football with them when he's not busy gazing at the sky awaiting the word of God. And if you want a clue about the recent collapse in support for Newt Gingrich, check out a negative ad run by the campaign of Ron Paul, which roasts Gingrich for "serial hypocrisy." A recent report by CNN estimated that five anti-Gingrich ads from other candidates and their supporters have been running every day in the last few weeks in Iowa.

The context of the Iowa caucuses is mind-boggling. Look at the year just ended - the Occupy movement, the eurozone's near-collapse, the Arab Spring, the U.S. economy solidly stalled, the ranting about the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent. What meat there is for politicians and pundits who want Barack Obama defeated. What material for rocking TV coverage of the race for the Republican nomination and then the big battle in the fall.

And yet, watching the Republican race unfold, leading up to the Iowa vote today, it all seems bizarrely disconnected from reality. Arguments between candidates have focused on issues meant only to rally deeply conservative voters. The issues seem to be abortion, same-sex marriage, gun rights, immigration law, devotion to church and biblical interpretation of everything from health care to divorce.

Work It presents a rather different United States. Here's ABC's synopsis: "Looking for a job in today's economy can be a real drag. Take Lee Standish (Ben Koldyke), one-time breadwinner and current unemployment statistic. After being laid off, Lee will do anything it takes to support his family - even if it means putting on a skirt and heels."

At the moment, Work It is stirring some debate about whether it might be offensive to the transgender community. In the peculiar way that the U.S. media culture works, this point of view on a TV show is the dominant one. It's all about somebody being offended and the opportunity to attack the Hollywood entertainment industry for being insensitive.

The issue is phony, utter nonsense and a distraction. Work It is a broad comedy, more in the British TV style than the American tradition. What matters is that it presents a contrarian narrative to what has emerged in the build-up to the Iowa caucuses. Two beefy guys who once had jobs at a Pontiac dealership dress as women to land jobs selling pharmaceuticals. It's jobs and work that matter. The characters are desperate to find work, any kind of work. Under the crude comedy, there's desperation.

"It's the economy, stupid" was the phrase that emerged from Bill Clinton's winning 1992 presidential campaign against George H. W. Bush. For all of Bush's perceived strengths, the Clinton campaign knew that it was the recession economy that really worried voters. And now, while the Republican candidates continue to natter about preposterous concerns and TV pundits engage in intense debate about evangelical voters, it looks like 1992 all over again.

Sometimes, seemingly silly TV shows say more than months of political coverage on the U.S. all-news channels. Biblical interpretations. Yeah, right. Jesus wept.

Check local listings.

TV TIDBITS

Liza Gets Hot In Cleveland

Source: www.thestar.com - by: Debra Yeo


(Jan 03, 2012) The question at this point isn't who's guest-starring on
Hot in Cleveland but who isn't. The TV Land comedy, which returns to CTV on Jan. 10, has made headlines with its parade of guests, including Mary Tyler Moore (last year) and Ed Asner (still to come). Now, EW.com says singer and actress Liza Minnelli will visit the comedy for one episode. Minnelli, who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, will play the agent of soap star Victoria Chase, played by Wendie Malick. Hot in Cleveland also stars Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli.

Master P’s Daughter Cymphonique Gets Her Own Show

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Jan 02, 2012) *Move over Romeo. It’s Cymphonique’s time to shine. Master P’s daughter, Cymphonique, now 15, has been granted her own television show on kids network, Nickelodeon, “How To Rock.” Being the offspring of one of the most successful businessmen – at one time – in the Hip Hop industry, young Miss Miller follows in the footsteps of her older brother who also had his own Nick show, “Romeo!,” from 2003 to 2006. But daddy admits this wasn’t what he wanted. “I tried everything in my power to stop this girl because this can be a hard, sick business – really easy to get taken advantage of,” Master P told AllHipHop.com. “I guess you can’t hold raw talent back.” “How To Rock” is not only Cymphonique’s entrance to a field of opportunities, but it’s also a strategy the network is using to boost declining ratings. The show is expected to debut some time next year.

::THEATRE NEWS::

Suggested 2012 Vows For The Arts World

Source: www.thestar.com - By Martin Knelman


(Dec 30, 2011)  As far as 2011 in southern
Ontario's world of arts and entertainment, our revels now are ended. Now we turn to hopes and prospects for 2012. Here are my proposed New Year's resolutions for a short list of people who are in a position to make a difference.

MAYOR ROB FORD

Wake up and acknowledge that arts and culture are the lifeblood of Toronto. They make this a vibrant, exciting city and one of the best places in the world to live. They make some of the smartest and most talented people elsewhere want to move to Toronto. They fuel economic development, as restaurants, hotels and retail shops cluster near cultural hubs. And did you ever wonder why there's a building boom in downtown Toronto during a global economic downturn, or why those who can afford to do so are selling their houses in the suburbs and buying condos closer to the action? So even if you personally are neither an arts lover nor a cultural consumer, you need to realize that culture is the goose that lays the golden egg. Instead of putting the arts on the chopping block, go back three spaces and honour the proposal that city hall endorsed last summer, to increase spending on the arts.

STRATFORD BOARD OF GOVERNORS

Go right ahead with a full-scale search for the next artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, who will take over after Des McAnuff moves on at the end of the 2013 season, but keep in mind that the ideal candidate has been working at the festival for more than two decades. I doubt that you will find anyone more qualified than your current general director, Antoni Cimolino, who has been holding the festival together even as artistic directors came and went. Cimolino started as an actor of note before becoming an administrator, and he is one of the few people to have directed plays on three Stratford stages (Festival, Avon and Tom Patterson). That includes his outstanding 2011 production of The Grapes of Wrath. Question: If Cimolino becomes artistic director, who takes over his old job of running the business side of the festival?

PIERS HANDLING

The Toronto International Film Festival is still one of the city's flagship entertainment events, drawing global attention as well as lighting up its hometown. But the move into TIFF Bell Lightbox has been a bumpy ride and some changes need to be made if the organization is going to balance its books and reach its full potential. That will entail coming up with a stronger business plan, creating new revenue streams and shaking up the staff. You also need to make improvements in programming. At the annual September festival, Canadian-produced documentaries deserve to be showcased rather than shunted aside in favour of lesser selections from the U.S. And during the 354 days of the year when there is no festival, the programming at the state-of-the-art cinemas upstairs at the Lightbox needs to put more emphasis on popular appeal, combined with stronger marketing.

KEVIN ALBRECHT

It's time to come clean about what really happened at the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival last year and what is going to happen next. A large-scale summer music festival at an outdoor venue within the city may have seemed like a great idea. But it ended with vast sections of empty seats, late cancellations of scheduled concerts and a stack of unpaid bills. Meanwhile, there has been no definitive answer to the question of what happens in 2012. Can Albrecht, the festival's CEO, clear off the debts from the 2011 festival and come back with some kind of festival next summer, albeit with fewer events and a more solid business plan? One thing is certain: Garth Drabinsky, now serving a jail sentence, will not be reprising his role as the festival's artistic director.

MATTHEW TEITELBAUM

In 2011, the Art Gallery of Ontario made dramatic improvements in its lineup of temporary exhibitions (A couple of them — the show about Chagall and his Russian contemporaries, and the one featuring works from the collection of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum — are still on display). The AGO has been strengthened for the long term since recruiting Elizabeth Smith as executive director of curatorial affairs. But it still has a long way to go if it is going to reach its potential and make ordinary Torontonians love it. Start by following the example of the Royal Ontario Museum and cut the top general admission price to $15. Given the fact that the AGO is largely funded by the Ontario government, price should not be a barrier to any citizen of this province.

Former SNL Writer And Toronto Native Joe Bodolai Commits Suicide

Source: www.thestar.com - By Victoria Ahearn


(Dec 27, 2011)  TORONTO — Canadian TV writer
Joseph Bodolai was an outstanding scribe who had a knack for comedy and discovering and mentoring young talent, one of his friends said Tuesday after news broke that he committed suicide in Los Angeles.

“In many ways Joe reminded me a little bit of Hunter (S. Thompson),” said producer John Brunton, president and CEO of Insight Production Company Ltd., in a telephone interview from Toronto.

“He was very, very well read, he had a broad scope of reference, he loved politics, he loved comedy, he was a terrific writer and one of the funniest guys I ever knew in my life.

“And more than anything, Joe made me laugh and laugh and laugh — made me laugh like hell — and he’s just terribly, sorely missed.”

The Los Angeles coroner’s office said Tuesday that Bodolai, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer, committed suicide in a Hollywood hotel room.

Coroner’s office spokesman Craig Harvey said room service staff found the body of the 63-year-old Bodolai at 1:30 p.m. Monday in a room at Hollywood’s Re-Tan Hotel. He checked into the hotel on Dec. 19.

Harvey said Bodolai drank a mixture of Gatorade and antifreeze. The death has been ruled a suicide. Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said there was no suicide note.

But the final entry on Bodolai’s personal blog is dire.

Dated Dec. 23 and titled “If This Were Your Last Day Alive What Would You Do?”, the blog entry includes mournful lists of Bodolai’s regrets and things he was proud of.

“We were very, very tight back in the day and I feel very, very sad that he slipped through our fingers,” said Brunton, who gave a speech at Bodolai’s wedding in Toronto and collaborated with him on several TV projects, including the 1987 CBC series “It’s Only Rock and Roll.”

“I wish that I’d known he was in such a terrible state because I definitely would have reached out. I had no idea. Once he left for Los Angeles we lost touch with each other and I just feel sick about it.”

Besides writing on 20 episodes of “Saturday Night Live” in 1981 and ‘82, Bodolai was also the TV producer for 20 episodes of “The Kids in the Hall.”

Bodolai, who had two sons, also wrote for the Gemini Awards and was a writer and producer on the TV series “Comics!”

On his blog, he wrote that he also penned the first draft of the 1992 film “Wayne’s World” with Mike Myers.

“He was an incredible mentor of young comedians and young talent in this country and he got an enormous satisfaction out of giving people their first opportunities in the world of comedy,” said Brunton.

“He had a great eye for talent and had a great pedigree working for ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He had tremendous instincts when it came to comedy and was an outstanding writer of not just comedy but his views on many things in life.”

Born in the United States, Bodolai moved to Canada to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War. Brunton said late senator Ted Kennedy helped Bodolai clean up his record in the U.S. so he could go back when he wished.

“(Bodolai was) very, very, very radical and political in the early days and that’s one of the reasons why he and I became such good friends,” said Brunton.

“We both shared some of the same ideas. We were both kind of radical hippies.”

Bodolai’s Facebook page states he’s from Toronto but Brunton said he moved back to the U.S. around the late ‘90s.

With files from the Associated Press

Theatrical Cheers And Jeers

Source: www.thestar.com - By Richard Ouzounian


(Dec 26, 2011) Top 10 Lists are so 2010, don’t you agree? The
important thing to do at the end of the year is to look at our major theatre companies and decide if they deserve to dwell in the Hall of Fame, or take the Walk of Shame.

The best way to do that is to pick a representative production from each and let the chips fall where they may.

THE STRATFORD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL — “IS IT MCANUFF FOR YOU?”

It was a pretty good year for our country’s largest theatre, with Jesus Christ Superstar selling out all summer, now enjoying a run in LaJolla and opening on Broadway next spring. Artistic Director Des McAnuff made that one magic, but I think he did even better with Twelfth Night, a superb blend of rock music, inspired design, great acting and — oh yes! — a Shakespeare script. Can’t forget the Bard, boys!

THE SHAW FESTIVAL — “GEORGE BERNARD WHO?”

There were two terrific shows at the Shaw Festival this summer: Topdog, Underdog and When the Rain Stops Falling. But there were two things wrong with them: they were in the smallest of the company’s four venues and they weren’t written by Shaw. In fact, for the first time ever, there won’t be any plays by Shaw on the mainstage next season. Time for a name change?

SOULPEPPER THEATRE COMPANY — “FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT”

Even if it didn’t draw the audiences they hoped, Soulpepper’s bold experiment with repertory this year only served to remind us how good their company is and how equally stellar most of their shows are. It just doesn’t get any better than watching Nancy Palk and Gregory Prest in the final scene of Morris Panych’s harrowing production of Ghosts.

CANADIAN STAGE — “MAYBE THEY SHOULD CALL IT ‘CAN’T STAGE’”

When some people claim they’re enjoying Matthew Jocelyn’s programming, they usually mean shows he’s imported from elsewhere. But when they mount their own productions, like The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Soviet Union, there are often fewer people in the theatre than there are words in the title. Maybe one day they’ll open the balcony again.

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE — “TAKE A CHANCE ON ME”

Under Andy McKim, Theatre Passe Muraille has become the most totally eclectic theatre in town, offering a home to every kind of work imaginable. Not all of the shows have been winners, but when he does grab the brass ring, as he did just recently with Ride the Cyclone, it makes for an explosion of joy like nowhere else. That wonderfully quirky musical just may have been the best show of the year.

TARRAGON THEATRE — “IS IT 2012 YET?”

2011 wasn’t really one of the finest years in Tarragon’s history, from their stilted The Misanthrope and disappointing Forests through the mute monks of Name In Vain, it was a year that didn’t ring the bell. But for me, the low point was More Fine Girls, an attempt to make a hit sequel out of a play that wasn’t really that good to begin with, performed as a tribute to the cult of personality.

STUDIO 180 — “THIS IS A CLASS ACT”.

Studio 180 doesn’t do a lot of productions, but most of them are stellar and 2011 showed them hitting the bull’s-eye twice. Whether you preferred the painful examination of holocaust guilt called Our Class, or the deeply emotional look back at the AIDS crisis in The Normal Heart, you’d have to agree that Joel Greenberg and his actors knew how to deliver the goods.

FACTORY THEATRE — “HOW MUCH RICK MILLER IS TOO MUCH?”

This past year showed Factory doing some of what it did well, like a thoughtful revival of Zaide’s Shoes. But too much else went wrong, especially this fall, where a misguided colour-blind production of The Rez Sisters was preceded by three Rick Miller plays in repertory. And the saddest part was that Miller’s attempt to salvage his 2009 misfire, Hardsell, made it into a bona-fide flop.

INDEPENDENT THEATRES — “THIS IS WHERE YOU LOOK FOR REAL GREATNESS.”

Toronto’s active independent theatre scene came up with one absolute bonanza this year. The new Independent Artists Repertory Theatre unveiled a smashing production of Daniel MacIvor’s play about the fading days of Tennessee Williams, His Greatness. MacIvor, Richard Donat and Greg Gale were a superb cast and the whole thing radiated A-1 quality in a tiny venue.

COMMERCIAL THEATRES — “ELECTRICITY”

Mirvish Productions and Dancap Productions brought in a lot of great shows this year, including the out of town tryout of Hugh Jackman’s smash one-man show and the unforgettable Next To Normal. It was a bit sad that none of the shows featured a Canadian company, but Kate Hennig’s starring presence in Billy Elliot reminded us of what was possible. More local talent in 2012, please?

2012 On Stage: Canadian Theatre Lookahead

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

(Jan 02, 2012) MOST ANTICIPATED SHOW OF 2012: King Lear at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa

As his time as artistic director of the NAC English theatre winds down, Peter Hinton is taking on Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. (Yep, it's the greatest.) Relocated to Canada in 1608, the year the play was written, Hinton's production is already noteworthy for having an entirely aboriginal cast, including such well-known actors as Tantoo Cardinal, Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas) and Craig Lauzon (Royal Canadian Air Farce). Emmy nominee and Genie winner August Schellenberg - a veteran of the Shaw and Stratford Festivals and the original, 1969 production of George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe - takes on the title role. Here's hoping Hinton goes out on top.

LEAST ANTICIPATED SHOW OF 2012: You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

From Jesus Christ Superstar, Stratford is now moving on to the gospel according to Peanuts? Pretty much every conversation I've had with regular festivalgoers since the classical theatre company's 60th season was announced has begun with a baffled/angry/ironic remark about You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown being on the bill.

And yet, under artistic director Des McAnuff, Stratford has pulled off surprises before: I recall a jaw or two dropping when it was first announced that Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock operas were now fair game. Of course, that leap of faith resulted in the Festival's upcoming visit to Broadway, so we're keeping our minds open about Snoopy.

MOST HYPED SHOW: War Horse at the Princess of Wales in Toronto

Mirvish is going all out to promote its production of this First World War puppet play that originated at Britain's National Theatre. If the Canadian cast can pull off the magic of the London and New York production, however, the months of buildup will be more than justified.

Steven Spielberg may have already adapted the play into a movie, but it won't take away the chief appeal of Nick Stafford's play based on Michael Morpurgo's novel - the incredibly lifelike and loveable horses designed by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company. They live and breathe - and seeing the carnage of the trenches through their neutral eyes is profoundly moving.

MOST UNDER THE RADAR SHOW: Bliss at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto and Centaur Theatre in Montreal

Quebec playwright Olivier Choinière's surreal drama about four Walmart employees, Céline Dion and a Josef Fritzl-style dungeon didn't make huge waves when it had its English-language premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in London. But there's a reason why Caryl Churchill, one of the UK's greatest playwrights, translated this stylish, nightmarish script. Up-and-comer Steven McCarthy is in charge of the professional North American premiere - and, based on how good an earlier version was at SummerWorks festival, this should be the moment the anglos finally catch on to an exceptional piece of writing.

THE 2012 TREND: Sophocles for All Seasons

We all know about Oedipus and his misfortunes, but what about jealous Deianira, who accidentally kills her beloved husband Heracles? Of the seven surviving plays by ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles, The Women of Trachis (also known as The Trachiniae) is perhaps least familiar to audiences. What a surprise then that two of the most anticipated shows of the 2012 season are versions of the play.

First up, in January, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe) takes on British Martin Crimp's update of the story, Cruel and Tender, at Toronto's Canadian Stage. His cast includes Arsinée Khanjian, Nigel Shawn Williams, Jeff Lillico and Cara Ricketts.

Then, in the spring, Quebec director and playwright Wajdi Mouawad's controversial trilogy Des Femmes - which puts The Women of Trachis together with Antigone and Elektra - plays the National Arts Centre in Ottawa followed by Montreal's Théâtre du Nouveau Monde.

Another prominent Elektra will hit the Stratford Shakespeare Festival come summer. Thomas Moschopoulos, the Athenian director who staged the closing ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games, directs Canadian poet Anne Carson's translation with Yanna McIntosh as the title character.

THE IT ARTISTS OF 2012: Whoever ends up running the country's most-important English-language theatres. In June, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced that Tony-winning artistic director McAnuff would be moving on. In October, Hinton announced he was leaving the NAC in 2012. Both men will be tough acts to follow. Their successors will be announced in the coming months - and immediately come under intense scrutiny from artists and audiences who always have strong feelings about these institutions.

THE 2012 CAN'T MISS LIST

ENRON at Theatre Calgary in Calgary

Lucy Prebble's satire about the rise and fall of the Texas energy company was a surprise hit on London's West End - and then a surprise flop on Broadway. Theatre Calgary will break the tie with its Canadian premiere of the play. Antoni Cimolino, general director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, visits the Stampede city to direct and brings Graham Abbey (The Border) along to play Enron's infamous president Jeffrey Skilling. Starts January 31.

Carrie at the MCC Theater in New York

Canadian director Stafford Arima makes an attempt to bring Carrie, the 1988 musical based on the Stephen King novel, back from the dead. The fact that there's a book called Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops tells you all you need to know about how the show was originally received. Was it simply ahead of its time? Theatre junkies who have only heard the legends can't wait to find out starting Jan. 31 off-Broadway.

August: Osage County at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg

The 'Peg finally gets a chance to see the most critically acclaimed American play of the past decade - and gets the bonus of one of Canada's most venerable actors in the lead role. As of March 7, Martha Henry will be popping pills as the profane matriarch Violet Weston in a new production of Tracy Letts's dark comedy August: Osage County. Ann Hodges directs.

Once: One Boy, One Girl, One Bar, Four Stars

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

(Dec 30, 2011) Broadway-bound is not an adjective one tends to associate with Enda Walsh. Housebound, yes. The Irish playwright's stylish tragicomedies tend to revolve around misfits unable or unwilling to leave their homes. Bedbound, too: That's even the name of one of his weirder works.

And yet, in adapting the music-filled Irish movie
Once for the stage, Walsh has a Broadway-bound hit on his hands. He's fleshed out the film's proto-romance with amusing secondary characters and carved out a narrative, through folk-rock songs, that leads to an ending equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.

I'd almost say Walsh is the key to why Once is one of the most charming new musicals of the year, but this is one of those productions that delights from just about every angle.

The 2006 movie, you may recall, was an indie hit about a Dublin busker and a Czech single mother who have a brief encounter of sorts. Falling Slowly, one of the tunes written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, ended up winning an Oscar for best original song.

For the musical, designer Bob Crowley has transformed New York Theatre Workshop into an Irish pub that is so real that you can actually go up onstage before the show and order a pint or a dram. If you are so inclined, you can also sing and dance along with the musical-instrument-playing cast during their preshow jam session of fiddle-filled folk.

Out of this fitting arena for story and song, Once eventually bubbles up. He (Steve Kazee) is busking. She (Cristin Milotti) is a passerby who stays to listen.

Director John Tiffany's production instantly grabs onto the theatrical possibilities of the scenario: When, in the initial conversation between the two, He says he makes a living fixing Hoovers, one immediately rolls across the stage into She's hand.

He and She - they didn't have names in the movie, either - both have absent partners. She's raising a child on her own, the father having returned to the Czech Republic, and their marriage is in limbo. He's broken-hearted, with a girlfriend departed for London. She encourages He to woo the ex-back with his music. Together, they round up a band and record a demo.

In short, He and She make beautiful music together - and the plot hangs on whether the literal will become metaphorical. Both leads are easy to fall (quickly) for: Kazee has a strong jaw line and voice, while Miliotti has an idiosyncratic singing style and is the quirky girl of every guy's dreams.

If their encounter seems more fantastical than in the film, well, the non-naturalism is suggested by the title, which is the beginning of the beginning of a fairy tale. Tiffany, internationally famous for his stunning National Theatre of Scotland production, Black Watch, directs in a heightened style that makes He and She's story resonate at an almost mythic frequency.

Once's songs rarely move the plot forward, but Steven Hoggett provides choreography that either comments on the action or deepens character. A co-founder of Britain's Frantic Assembly theatre company who was also responsible for the military movement in Black Watch (and the musical American Idiot, too), Hoggett doesn't try to knock you off your feet Broadway-style, but gently sweeps you off them. During one song, She and other women in the cast wander around dreamily in headphones, seeming to trace the contours of the aching holes in their lives. In another, the characters yearnfully enfold themselves in one another's arms.

Bleakness sneaks in here and also in the backstories of the new and rounded-out characters - whether the music-store owner facing foreclosure or the chorus of Czech immigrants who chased the Celtic Tiger and ended up stuck serving fast-food in a slowdown.

Beautifully staged, wonderfully written and with songs well worth a second (or third) listen, Once transcends most movies-turned-musicals. It's a romance that will leave you swooning, a Before Sunset for the era of Craigslist missed connections.

Once runs at the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St., New York, until Jan. 15; it reopens on Broadway on Feb. 28 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, 242 W. 45th St.

Once

Book by Enda Walsh

Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney

Directed by John Tiffany

Starring Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee

At the New York Theatre Workshop in New York

The Globe And Mail's 2012 Dance Preview

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Paula Citron

(Jan 04, 2012) From edgy Quebec choreographers to a moving ballet about domestic violence, the country's dance card is full this year.

What I'm most excited to see

Toronto Dance Theatre artistic director Christopher House understands that dancers in a one-choreographer company need outside stimulation, which is the reason behind its annual showcase called Four at the Winch. This year's version (Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto, Feb. 23-March 3) features Quebec choreographers: Estelle Clareton represents edgy dance theatre with a touch of circus; Lina Cruz is whimsical, experimental and eccentric all at the same time; Deborah Dunn is intellectual and sophisticated; Jean-Sébastien Lourdais pushes the body to the outer limits.

What I'm least excited to see

The late choreographer Alvin Ailey created 79 works, but you wouldn't know it given the tendency of the company he founded, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, to include his 1960 signature Revelations at every performance. To be fair, there will be four other works on the program during its Canadian tour (Sony Centre, Toronto, Feb. 2-4; NAC, Ottawa, April 17; Salle Wilfred Pelletier, Montreal, April 19-21), but new artistic director Robert Battle needs to leave the chestnuts behind.

The event with the biggest hype

The Bolshoi Ballet (Sony Centre, Toronto, May 15-19; NAC, Ottawa, May 23-26) is, along with the Kirov, the summit of classical dance. The fact that both companies have toured within a year of each other is a balletomane's dream. Nonetheless, the Sony Centre needs to be more adventurous. The Bolshoi is performing Swan Lake in Toronto, which the Kirov performed in the city last year. Ottawa, meanwhile, gets Don Quixote by the Bolshoi; last year it got the Kirov's La Bayadère. Toronto doesn't need another Swan Lake so soon: Whether choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev (Kirov), or Yuri Grigorovich (Bolshoi), it's essentially the original Petipa/Ivanov version.

The event that's under the radar but deserves big hype

Ghosts of Violence began as a short work by Igor Dobrovolskiy, artistic director of Moncton-based Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada. Originally created for an advocacy group fundraiser, it has grown into a full-length ballet about domestic homicide. The fact that women's groups across the country are clamouring for this piece points to the power of art as an instrument of social change (The Playhouse, Fredericton, Jan. 19; Paul Davenport Theatre, London, Ont., Feb. 22; Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Feb. 25; Imperial Theatre, Saint John, March 15; Confederation Centre, Charlottetown, March 29; Dalhousie Arts Centre, Halifax, May 5).

The It boy of the year

Montreal dancer/choreographer José Navas and his Compagnie Flak are better known outside the country for his stunning abstract works that celebrate the beauty of the human body. This year, however, Canadians will get to see what the fuss is about. Not only will Navas present his solo Personae in Montreal and Ottawa, as resident choreographer of Ballet BC, he'll unveil his full-length Bliss in May. It caught everyone by surprise when BBC's artistic director Emily Molnar appointed Navas, the quintessence of an indie dance artist, as resident choreographer in 2010. A much-praised short version of Bliss was unveiled last season, but can Navas sustain a full-length ballet ensemble piece? (Personae/Compagnie Flak, Cinquième Salle, Montreal, Jan. 11-28; NAC, Ottawa, March 8-10; Bliss/Ballet BC, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, May 10-12)

The big trend

It's well known that story ballets put bums in seats, so it's no surprise Canadian companies are moving in that direction. This only works, however, if the new works are worthy. The National Ballet of Canada did well in 2011 with Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alexei Ratmansky's Romeo and Juliet. This year's offerings include Nureyev's The Sleeping Beauty and the North American premiere of Kevin O'Day's Hamlet. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, unfortunately, has had two duds in a row, with Jorden Morris's Moulin Rouge and Mark Godden's Svengali. In short, producing notable new story ballets is a crap shoot. Nonetheless, the Royal Winnipeg and Alberta Ballet seem to be moving to a story-ballet-only repertoire, too, meaning that audiences are missing out on being exposed to a range of choreographers in mixed programs. Is it a dumbing down?

The can't miss list

World-renowned Canadian ex-pat Aszure Barton, regarded among the top of New York choreographers, is creating a new duet for Donald Sales and her sister Cherice, Chapter Three: Collaboration (premiering at the Chutzpah Festival in Vancouver, Feb. 19-21). Sales is a revered former dancer with Ballet BC, while New York-based Cherice Barton is a talented dancer, choreographer and actor. The second world premiere on the program, jointly choreographed by Sales and Cherice, is set on six excellent Vancouver dancers - Lara Barclay, Leon Felzo-Gas, Jennifer Welsman, Cori Caulfield, Kevin Tookey and Billy Bell.

French bad boy choreographer Mourad Merzouk and his Company Käfig presents two pieces, Correria and Agwa (at Théâtre Maisonneuve, Montreal, April 12-14; NAC in Ottawa, April 19-20, and at Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto, May 2-5). An explosive fusion of hip-hop, samba, capoeira, bossa nova and acrobatics, they are performed by young Brazilians from Rio's Companhia Urbana de Dança.

The great Crystal Pite presents two works, Dark Matters (Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Feb. 28-March 3) and The You Show (Agora de la danse, Montreal, March 21-24). Dark Matters cunningly fuses the curiosity of both physicists and psychologists; The You Show, made up of four duets, explores memories of love and separation. Both works are tinted with Pite's choreographic invention, demanding technique, droll sense of humour and raw emotional edge. Long-time composer Owen Belton contributes the original scores.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

Forget Touch. This Year Is All About Sound

Source: www.thestar.com - By Raju Mudhar


(Jan 01, 2012) It is time to speak and be heard.

While the last few years have been defined by
touch technology and gesture-based control, 2012 is all about asking for what you want.

The biggest tech companies in the world are looking to capitalize on voice control. It’s a battle that’s currently being waged on cellphones, but is quickly moving to hallowed ground: the living room.

Apple, Google and Microsoft have all started to lay the groundwork to integrate more options for voice control, eventually making it key to how entertainment is consumed.

Apple’s Siri on iPhone 4S, which can send emails, texts, reminders and search the web, is right now carrying the megaphone for voice, pushing its competitors to rise to meet its standards. It certainly was not the first voice recognition software, but compared to its predecessors it has set a high bar for comprehension and integration with other apps. Despite the fact that it not as effective around the world as it is in the U.S. — where location services are built in, very much enhancing its capabilities — it is already blaring out the siren call of the future.

Google is said to be responding to that call by ramping up development on an improved version of its Voice Actions app for Android. The “secret” voice-recognition and control software is code-named Majel, named after Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett- Roddenberry, who is the voice of the Federation computer on Star Trek.

And while the groundwork in voice technology is being laid out on phone devices, the living room is emerging as ground zero.

The launch of Xbox’s Kinect motion control device last year rivalled the iPad for biggest tech product device. With an installed base of about 10 million, much of the focus on the device was gesture-based controls using movement to play games, but it also came with some rudimentary voice commands. Recently Xbox upgraded its gesture-based controls on the Kinect and partnered with a number of entertainment companies, bringing providers such as Rogers on Demand, UFC and many more to the console. It is also now using voice control to find and search for entertainment on the device powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

“We’re all challenged by search; it remains key to the web experience,” says Glenn Purkiss, product manager for Xbox Live Canada. “So to take that to console and have the ability to find specific entertainment in that TV experience is empowering.”

Viewers can also chat through the device while watching something, and on the video game front, you’ll soon be able to use voice to command to control actions, as demonstrated in Mass Effect 3 at last year’s E3 game conference.

While Apple does not comment on speculation or rumours, the tech press and blogs have been in overdrive writing reports of how Siri will be integrated in the next version of Apple TV, or into a new TV product altogether (it’s already being referred to as Siri TV). At the very least, many believe it will be integrated with iTunes for streaming of videos, which is similar to what Xbox Live is already doing.

Amid reports that Apple is meeting with TV execs, a Wall Street Journal All Things Digital piece recently breathlessly predicted ways the company could revolutionize TV.

“Most observers and analysts believe that Siri’s voice commands could eliminate the need for those clunky TV remote controls. With the blurring and exponential proliferation of television and web content, telling your TV what you’d like to watch, instead of scrolling through a nearly infinite number of program possibilities, makes a lot more sense,” wrote Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint, an online entertainment site.

The push now is on to remove the barriers around the technology and make things simpler.

At last month’s LeWeb conference, the biggest tech conference in Europe, Alexander Ljung, the founder and CEO of sound creation site Soundcloud, laid out how his company is trying to capitalize on voice. One of the ideas is that “recording is the new QWERTY.”

“If you look at the web over the last 15 years … the things that have gotten massive traction, the one thing that is common for all of them, is that they make things very simple,” he said. “Everybody carries a small computer in their pocket all the time … But it’s also a microphone, so 24/7, you’re walking around with a microphone in your pocket. We have added a single record button (to our app), to make it so you can create stuff with a single click. We kind of half-jokingly say, Twitter is 140 clicks, this is one; so we’ve made it 40 times simpler than Twitter. When it’s that simple to create, we think that a massive explosion of creativity and creation happens.”

Despite the fact that using your voice is simpler, there still are barriers. Siri is only available on the 4S; Android has many different versions that are often haphazardly updated depending on cell providers; and Kinect offers gesture-based control and the regular controller, which is how most traditional users still interface with their Xbox 360s.

Then there’s the fact that even though many of these features exist, people have to be comfortable using them. For many, even though talking to someone on the phone is natural, talking to your phone takes some getting used to.

“I played around with Siri when I first got my phone,” says Andrew Maclean, 22. “You know, she was funny, but I still don’t use it day to day. I still mostly just type and text. It’s weird to just talk to your phone.”

Skyrim, Bastion And Duke Nukem Forever: Three Of Note In 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - By Darren Zenko


(Dec 30, 2011) A big year for games, 2011, a big year for a big industry
facing some pretty big challenges — so much so that flipping the calendar with a top-news recap or hits-n-misses list seems inadequate.

Where’s the art? Games are about experiences, and looking back over the last 12 months of big business, bad business and beautiful accomplishments, I find that through it all 2011 was a year that, week by week, release by release, kept me thinking about the ways in which games create the spaces in which they work magic . . . or do not.

Partly this has to do with my own experience of spending most of 2011 gaming from a sickbed, keenly craving the escape of virtual worlds, but it also has to do with the technical maturity of this generation of consoles. It’s been six years since the Xbox 360 launched. The consoles’ capabilities are thoroughly known quantities and even midmarket PCs have them beat in terms of graphical power. Games can no longer hope to dazzle with mere fidelity in order to absorb players; whether for the hardcore shooter or casual frolicker, the only way to make a game space come alive is through old-fashioned artistry and consideration.

Which brings us to
Skyrim, which I’m going to go ahead and call Game of the Year. In a year fat with rich virtual worlds you can almost smell and taste — the Istanbul of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Arkham City’s noxious thugopolis — Bethesda Game Studios has given fantasy gamers a realm of unprecedented depth and reality. It’s not just set decoration that’s the secret to Skyrim’s success — to be honest, all those cabbages can get a bit silly — but a thoroughgoing sensitivity and commitment to the fundamental concepts of the fantasy genre, informing and enriching every nook and cranny.

Basically, it’s all about time with Skyrim. From pre-Tolkien days and on up through the game worlds of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs, the idea of unspeakable antiquity, of old glories and horrors brooding under the Earth, has been a cornerstone of heroic fantasy, and no dungeon-crawling game has brought this forward so well. To adventure in Skyrim’s crypts, caves and catacombs is to feel eons surrounding you, civilization succeeding forgotten civilization in layers of ruin like geological strata, the poor stones and timbers of more recent races huddled, terrified, atop it all. The virtual space creates mythic space and that mythic space expands to fill the whole experience with wonder and terror.

On a smaller but no less successful scale, a similar feeling comes through from Supergiant Games’ Xbox Live Arcade title Bastion, my favourite “small” game of the year. The idea of creating, or re-creating, space and time informs the whole game, as the world and its history literally rise up and assemble themselves around you as you play. Visually and emotionally striking, Bastion’s style has something of an “art game” feel; what sets it apart is that it also happens to be a fast fiery action game. It’s considered esthetics in evoking its world are inseparable from its commitment to being a fun thing to play, making Bastion a valuable model of how even white-knuckle gaming need not be a stranger to real artistry.

Unfortunately, I can’t look back on the success of Bastion — or Skyrim, or L.A. Noire, or even Rage — in creating memorable space and place without having my mind wander against its will to the great evil 2011 visited upon me and all gamers, Duke Nukem Forever. Easily the Worst Game of the Year, a stillborn thing somehow brought to life through industrial necromancy, DNF certainly managed to create an unforgettable game space; just you try scrubbing it from your cortex.

A vile exercise in bad taste, and a lousy shooter to boot, the one interesting thing about Duke Nukem Forever is that it achieved its incredible level of failure by exactly the same approach to world creation as its betters: total, pervasive commitment. Commitment to its conception of a lurid, filthy, sexist, mean-spirited, ugly world where joy goes to die. Never once does DNF fail to immerse the player fully in this unendurable hell.

Before Anakin: New ‘Star Wars’ Game Mines History Of A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Source: www.thestar.com - By Curtis Withers


(Dec 21, 2011) With a penchant for weaving engaging complex
characters and engaging storylines into their products, BioWare has become one of the premier creators of role-playing video games in North America.

Now the Edmonton-based developer is hoping a strong narrative — and a heavyweight licence — will set its first massively multiplayer online game apart in a highly competitive market with
Star Wars: The Old Republic, which hit store shelves Tuesday.

The PC game takes place thousands of years before the popular Star Wars films. The Galactic Republic has forged a tenuous peace with the despotic Sith Empire, and the Republic’s Jedi knights are seeking to rebuild after being decimated their enemies in the last war. Peace does not make for an engaging video game plot, however, and soon the universe is again swept up in a conflict between the two sides.

Players can choose to either serve the Republic or Empire as their characters embark on a journey that will take them to several far-flung planets, including Star Wars favourites such as icy Hoth or arid Tatooine. Along the way players will take on a multitude of quests to progress their individual stories, either alone or with a group of friends. Players have a choice in what kind of characters they want to be, from an honourable Jedi knight wielding an iconic lightsaber to a bounty hunter for hire.

With interactive dialogues storylines influenced by players’ decisions, the focus on the game’s story is immediately apparent. BioWare has taken the role-playing elements that made their games Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins popular and integrated them into a video game genre where narrative often takes a back seat.

“One of the key things right from the start is that we wanted to bring story to the MMO space,” said Greg Zeschuk, co-founder and vice-president of BioWare. “There’s always been bits and pieces of stories, sort of story arcs in these games but the actually active storytelling is kind of mundane. We wanted to bring some of the things we learned, like cinematic storytelling and dialogue.”

Each of the eight character classes has its own storyline, and players are thrown into the mix right away with an introductory cutscene that begins the narrative. Even within the eight storylines, the narrative can deviate significantly depending on a player’s choices.

At first glance, the results appear seamless. When fighting enemies or wandering the universe, players on a server will exist in the same space. When a player reaches a point where a cinematic sequence is necessary to advance a storyline, the player enters an exclusive copy of the world called an “instance” where the drama unfolds without fear of the player getting attacked or otherwise distracted.

“The ultimate choices you make are very personal, and part of that goes back to the structure,” Zeschuk said. “We have developed instancing technology, that allows you to exist in areas by yourself or with other people you’re playing with directly. There’s no strangers. So when the story part unfolds it’s personalized.”

While many MMO standards are present in The Old Republic, the way they are integrated through instances is unique. A player may be tasked with destroying 10 berserk robots, but the mission will be framed by a cinematic introduction and ending that puts the quest in the context of the overall story.

“The real crux, the defining difference from other games, is actually a sense of choice,” Zeschuk said. “A typical MMO game will say ‘get five of these,’ and you’ll go get five of them and the guy goes ‘here’s your prize.’ And that’s it. In our game there’s usually a context, there’s some story set up for it.”

The player can choose to be rude or gallant when dealing with characters, and can even make decisions that will alter the course of the story. The player’s character is fully voiced, giving a sense of individual personality largely not found in the genre. There’s also plenty of latitude when it comes to character development, regardless of what side you choose. You can be a scheming and deceitful smuggler who is allied with the Republic for convenience, or an honourable warrior who just happens to work for the Sith.

Along the way players will meet nonplayer characters called companions, who will fight alongside them and take part in their stories. The types of companions are varied, ranging from helpful robots to hulking creatures from a long-forgotten evil race. Having a companion to help out in battle is nothing new for MMO games, but in The Old Republic the characters have distinct personalities. They react to things you say and do, and can either become friendly or resentful as a result.

“The fundamental thing about companions is that they serve a purpose as they reflect your choices,” Zeschuk said. “At a point, you actually do feel for them. You get attached to them and they’ll describe events around you and they’ll participate in the conversations, and there’s an enormous amount of backstory and involvement for each of them.

They feel like an entity to themselves, and even though you can direct their actions in combat a little bit they feel independent. You don’t play them at any time, they’re hanging out with you. It’s really cool. You can also make them very unhappy, and things can happen as a result.”

BioWare is not the first developer to bring the Star Wars franchise into the multiplayer gaming world. Sony Online Entertainment launched the highly anticipated Star Wars Galaxies in 2003, but the game failed to live up to expectations and was ultimately cancelled, with the servers going offline for good last week.

Time will tell if BioWare’s attempt at bringing Star Wars to the massively multiplayer universe will fare better. It will be a while before players experience the end-game content and discover whether it’s worth paying a monthly fee once the narrative has run its course. For now Star Wars: The Old Republic makes an excellent first impression, bringing innovation to a genre that sorely needs it.

Included with purchase is 30 days of access to the game, after which players can continue to play for about $15 a month depending on length of subscription.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is rated T for Teen for PC.

::OTHER NEWS::

We Remember Iconic African Americans of 2011

Source: www.eurweb.com - J.C. Brooks

(Dec. 31, 2011) Every year, we lose members of the African American family that have been instrumental and encouraging to our lives.  Those that have used their talents to increase our lives are worthy of remembrance and this year the list is filled with dynamic individuals of note.

Vesta Williams and Heavy D were huge shocks to everyone and both had mysterious deaths. Their music is an integral part of our life’s playlist. Joe Frazier will always remembered as the man who handed Muhammad Ali his first defeat. Nathaniel D. Hale, more popularly known as “Nate Dogg”, was instrumental to rap, but also used his life to help young men and women through a Christian mentoring program.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth died at age 89.  He was a right-hand man of Martin Luther King, Jr., that always reminded us to fight the good fight against racial injustice. The Grio.com has memorialized these astounding individuals and many more in a photographic slide show.  Let us give them a moment of silence out of reverence and respect for what they have offered us all.  Thank you.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

Arthur Frommer’s 15 Top Bargain Vacations

Source: www.thestar.com - Arthur Frommer


(December 28, 2011)
February is a peak season for vacationing in the tropics, and prices are especially high for the third week in that month. Nevertheless, I’ve found a number of comparative bargains during the first half of February, and departing at the end of February, particularly in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and for nonstop, round-trip flights directly from and to Toronto. They follow below, always (for vacations in the Caribbean) for periods of seven nights at all-inclusive hotels that provide all three meals and unlimited drinks daily in the prices they offer):

(1) Budget-priced Cuba, from Toronto: $685 to $845 per person depending on February date of departure, including round-trip airfare (and all fees and taxes) between Toronto and Manzanillo de Cuba, and seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, all meals, all drinks) at the three-star, 283- room, beachfront Club Amigo Merea del Portillo, with its five restaurants and three pools (the total cost, including fees and taxes, will be $685 per person for the departure of Thursday, Feb. 2; $705 for Thursday, Feb. 9; $875 for Thursday, Feb. 16; and $845 for Thursday, Feb. 23.
The price is at least $200 per person less than you would pay to stay in other Cuban locations or resorts. Air transportation is by Sunwing Airlines, and the tour operator is Sunwing of Canada (sunwing.ca or phone 416-620-5999 or 800-668-4224).

(2) Budget-priced Cancun from Toronto: $888 to $918 in February per person, including round-trip air (and all fees and taxes) to Cancun on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, all meals, all drinks) at the beachfront (it has two beaches, actually) Celuisma Dos Playas hotel, a budget property but comfortable and wellmaintained. Monday departures from Toronto, costing $888 per person for the departures of Monday, Feb. 6, 13 and 27, and costing $918 for the departure of Monday, Feb. 20. Though a charge in the high $800s may not seem to be budget level, prices in Cancun have risen greatly for the winter months of 2012, and $888 is at least $200 to $300 per person less than you would pay for an air-andland package using most other resorts in Cancun’s hotel zone (where Celuisma Dos Playas is found). The tour operator is Sunquest Vacations (www .sunquestvacations.ca, phone 877-202- 1600 or 800-387-8438) using the airline of Thomas Cook of Canada.

(3) Standard Cuba (Varadero Beach): $985 to $1,075 per person in February, a package consisting of roundtrip air from Toronto, and including accommodations for seven nights, three meals daily and unlimited drinks, at the long-established Be Live Turquesa (which was formerly the Oasis Turquesa) on a long and wide beach off crystalclear waters. A hotel smaller than most (268 rooms) but with many amenities, and a location only 8 kilometers from downtown Varadero, the Be Live Turquesa is a key ingredient in air-andland costing $985 per person for the departures of Sunday, Feb. 5, and $1,075 for the departures of Sunday, Feb. 12 and Feb. 26. (Another departure on Sunday, Feb. 19, is a too-high $1,235 per person). Contact Sunwing Vacations.

(4) Upscale Cuba in early February: $1,306 per person. A special promotion of Air Canada Vacations places you for seven nights of room, all meals and beverages at the glamorous, five-star Melia Las Dunas Resort, with its six restaurants, two cafeterias, five bars and breathtaking beach near Santa Clara, Cuba. Normally too expensive a hotel to be the subject of a bargain-price package, this one is priced at $1,306 per person for the departure of Feb. 4, 2012, only — a remarkable price for quality of this sort. Contact Air Canada Vacations at www.aircanadavacations.com or phone 866-529-2079.

(5) The Riviera Maya (South of Cancun, Mexico) in Early February: $1,212 per person, including round-trip air (and all government fees and taxes) to Cancun, departing on Wednesdays (choosing that day of the week saves a great deal of money), Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 only; later departures are available only at a much higher price. Participants, in addition to air, also receive seven allinclusive- nights (with three meals daily and unlimited drinks) at the four-star, 480-room Viva Wyndham Maya resort in the popular Playacar area south of Cancun. The tour operator is Sunwing of Canada, flying Sunwing Airlines. (In addition to every amenity, the Viva Wyndham Maya is on a particularly pleasant white-sand beach.)

(6) Budget-price Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) in February: $945 per person, including round-trip air from Toronto (and all government fees and taxes) on Sunwing Airlines, on Sunday departures: February 5, 12 and 26 (the Sunday departure of February 19 is a higher $1,105 per person. Also includes seven nights of all-inclusive arrangements (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks) at the 170-room Celuisma Cabarete (with four restaurants and two pools), which accepts adults only (over the age of 18). Contact Sunwing Vacations.

(7) Standard Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) in February: $1,083 per person including round-trip air from Toronto (and all government fees and taxes), departing on Fridays Feb. 3, Feb. 10 and Feb. 24, and including seven all-inclusive nights (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks) at the Bahia Principe San Juan near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, as well as round-trip airport-to-hotel transfers. Tour operator is Air Canada Vacations.

(8) Air and three hotel nights in London: $1,191 per person, including round-trip air on Air Canada and all government fees and taxes. Departing Toronto on one date only (Feb. 2), returning Feb. 6, Air Canada Vacations will fly you round-trip to the British capital and put you up for three nights at the centrally located (an easy walk from the British Museum, a longer but moderate walk from the theater district) Hotel Royal National, a giant hotel of hundreds of small but comfortable rooms near Russell Square, including breakfast each morning, all for that $1,191 price (including all government fees and taxes and fuel surcharge).

(9) Air and four hotel nights in Paris: $1,212 per person, including round-trip flights on Air Canada and all government fees and taxes.
At a surprisingly low cost, which is almost the same as you’d spend for a similar but only three-night-long air-and-land package to London, Air Canada Vacations will fly you round-trip to the “City of Light,” Paris, departing Toronto on Wednesdays Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 29 (but not on Feb. 22), and put you up for four nights at the utterly modern (it was built in 2004), seven-story, three-star Concorde Montparnasse Hotel behind the Gare de Montparnasse (housing three subway lines), including daily breakfast, for a total of $1,212 per person including government taxes and fees. Departures on the same package on Feb. 22 cost as much as $800 more!).

(10) An Upscale Vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in Early February: $1,329 per person, including round-trip air transportation on Air Canada (with all government fees and taxes included) and seven nights of allinclusive arrangements (room, three meals daily, unlimited drinks, all else) at the 865-room Occidental Grand Punta Cana Resort, with its nine themed restaurants and three swimming pools, all on a 700-yard-long beach ($1,329 per person, including all taxes and fees, is charged for the Monday departure of Feb. 6 only. On most other dates in February, roundtrip air and an all-inclusive week at the Occidental Grand Punta Cana would cost as much as $1,724 per person. Contact Air Canada Vacations.

(11) Costa Rica Independently, in February: $1,199 for seven nights in Costa Rica (not including airfare), traveling by “Adventure Bus” from place to place. An immensely popular, freespirited approach to touring Costa Rica, as packaged by Toronto’s G Adventures (GAdventures.com, 888-800-4100), these well-priced arrangements place you for one hotel night in the capital city of San Jose, one night at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, four nights in a hotel along the beaches of Guanacaste, and one remaining night back in San Jose. You are brought from place to place by Adventure Bus, which takes you direct to your hotel in each location. Meals other than breakfast are not included (you are advised to budget $230-$300 for your meals); the price of $1,199 remains unchanged on near-daily departures throughout February 2012. In the G Adventures website or catalog, look for “Costa Rica Pass — Route 1 Adventure Bus.”

(12) Escorted Costa Rica in February of 2012: $1,095 per person. On daily departures in February, the long-established Caravan Tours will take you by escorted motorcoach on a 10- night tour of every important sight of Costa Rica, for a total of $1,095, including quality accommodations, all three meals daily, daily escorted sightseeing and entrance fees. Airfare to Costa Rica, for which you make your own arrangements, is not included. Go to Caravan.com or phone 800-CARAVAN.

(13) Orlando for seven nights in February: $546 to $578 per person for round-trip airfare from Toronto on Westjet Airlines (including all government taxes and fees) and seven nights of accommodations (but without meals) in Orlando, for a remarkable $546 to $578 per person at the Seralago Maingate East for the Saturday departures from Toronto on Feb. 4 and Feb. 11 (Feb. 26 departure costs a higher $726 per person, and the Feb. 18 departure is far too high in price for our budget-priced listings). You’ll enjoy free shuttle transportation to the Orlando theme parks — and on Westjet, you can check your first suitcase. Note that the Seralago has two swimming pools, a kids’ pool, tennis court and numerous other amenities Contact WestJetVacations.com (or phone 877- 733-9724).

(14) Cruises of the Mediterranean for $78 to $92 a day, in February 2012: Go to VacationsToGo.com, click on “Mediterranean,” then on “7-night cruises,” and you’ll discover that cruise prices for those European waters have sharply fallen because of inadequate demand. The main reason? High airfares across the Atlantic, and a lingering belief that recent violence in the Middle East has made such cruises dangerous, which is not the case. Cruise prices in the Mediterranean in winter (all offered on ships of Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, scheduled for numerous departures) are among the great bargains of travel ($549 for a 7-night cruise, or $78 a day; $559 or $79 a day; $599 or $85 a day; $649 or $92 a day); lengthier cruises are occasionally available for less than those daily sums, although you’ll have to pay airfares (including fees) of $1,000 and more to reach the embarkation and debarkation ports.

(15) China — five Cities in nine nights: $1,299 per person, including round-trip air from San Francisco to Beijing and Shanghai (and all government fees and taxes), hotel accommodations with three meals daily (except on one “free day” in Shanghai), and daily escorted sightseeing including all entrance fees, for departures on Feb. 9, 16 and 23 (the price ascends to a stillmoderate $1,449 per person in March).
Showing its determination to be the unchallenged leader in low-cost air-and-land packages to China, China Focus ( www.chinafocustravel.com, or phone 800-868-7244) has now announced that $1,299 per person price for winter departures of its signature tour called “Historic China.”

* * *

NOTE: The prices cited are per person for each of two people traveling together, and do not include government taxes and fees (unless those taxes and fees are specifically listed as included). Airfare is often included in the price, but only when specifically mentioned. Prices are subject to change, and new listings will periodically be substituted for those that are no longer valid.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Order your copy of Frommer travel guides at www.starstore.ca.

50 Places For 2012

Source: www.thestar.com - FROMMER’S

(December 30, 2011) Bay of Fundy: World’s highest tides and superb hospitality in a relaxing setting.

Beirut: Decades of civil war hasn’t taken the sheen off its glossy, cosmopolitan swagger.

Chongqing: A captivating glimpse of modern China — the good, the gritty and the glamorous.

Curaçao: One of the region’s most cosmopolitan cultures and a standout capital in Willemstad.

Fukuoka, Japan: A vibrant, user-friendly city offering expansive city parks and museums.

Ghana: Embraces traditional and contemporary cultures as well as beaches and safaris.

Girona, Spain: The charms of Barcelona without the crowds.

Greenwich, London: Great naval history and remarkable baroque facades.

Kansas City: New museums, college basketball centre, fabulous fountains and glorious barbecue.

Yucatán Peninsula: Beaches, unique cuisine, fiestas and exotic wildlife in the safest region in Mexico.

TRAVEL EDITOR JIM BYERS

Amelia Island, Florida: A quiet oasis outside Jacksonville with great golf, seafood and deserted beaches.


Ann Arbor, Michigan: There are few things better than an American college town, and this is one of the best.

Belize: The second-largest barrier reef on the planet, Mayan ruins and a relative bargain.

Belfast: Anniversary of The Titanic in 2012 in a city with great pubs and sophisticated cuisine. Splurge on the A-1 Merchant Hotel.

Paros, Greece: Sure, there could be strikes, but there also will be sales. Fab seafood and beaches on this Aegean island.

New York: 90,000 hotel rooms and 50 million visitors this year says it all.

North Island, New Zealand: Beautiful bays and islands in a tropical setting. Favourable exchange rate a bonus.

Prince Edward County, Ontario: On a continuing rise with fresh food and wine and fabulous, sandy beaches.

Rio de Janeiro: Government is cleaning up slums prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Tokyo: Great shopping, food and gorgeous temples. And a visit might help the country recover from its tourism blues.

LONELY PLANET TOP CITIES

Bengaluru (Bangalore), India: “The undisputed Elvis of South Asian megacities.”


Cadiz: “Few places embody the spirit of gutsy Andalucian living like Cadiz.”

Darwin, Australia: A pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and world-class wilderness just down the road.

Guimaraes, Portugal: Breathtakingly beautiful with medieval, red-roofed buildings.

Hong Kong: “The mood in China’s most liberated city is edgier and more vocal than ever.”

London: The 2012 Summer Olympics, of course.

Muscat, Oman: Expanding museums and resorts.

Orlando: Host to NBA All-Star Weekend in February. Check out the funky “Milk District.”

Santiago, Chile: New museums, top-notch dining and exhilarating nightlife.

Stockholm: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo luring tourists to trendy shops and bohemian bars.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER

Dresden, Germany: A carefully reconstructed historic centre with world-class museums.

Guatemala: Living Mayan culture and colourful markets.

Istria, Croatia: Lovely Adriatic views, fresh seafood, crumbling hill towns.

Koh Lipe, Thailand: Alternative to over-exploited Koh Phi Phi.

Muskoka: Thousands of kilometres of shoreline, great villages and towns only two hours from Toronto.

North Colombia: Golden beaches at the crossroads of the Caribbean and South America.

Oman: Less bravado than Dubai or Abu Dhabi, with lovely stone buildings in Muscat.

Sonoma, California: Great food and wine without the Napa Valley crowds.

Sri Lanka: A mountainous, mist-draped realm that’s relatively undiscovered.

Virunga Volcanoes, Africa: Highly active volcanic zone with chimps, mountain gorillas and elephants.

TRAVEL + LEISURE

Abu Dhabi: Capital of UAE, booming with “starchitect” museums and high-design hotels.


Bentonville, Arkansas: New Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art designed by Moshe Safdie.

Costa Navarino, Greece: Sunny valleys, Byzantine churches, and sandy dunes bordering the crystal-blue Ionian Sea.

Hamburg, Germany: HafenCity development is a “hypermodern showpiece” rising on the city’s old docklands.

Northern Coast of Mozambique: Rustic beach retreats giving way to ultra-luxe resorts to rival of Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Panama: Courting high flyers by giving everything an upgrade — hotels, museums, and even that famous canal.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Formerly for the jet-set elite, a new airport should make it more accessible to a broader audience.

Southern Bahia, Brazil: No-fuss beach life with snorkeling on pristine coral reef or hiking through a dense tropical forest.

Toronto: “Remarkably hip restaurant, fashion, and nightlife scenes.” Aw, we’re blushing.

Xishuangbanna, China: Rain forests, Buddhist temples, tribal villages, and China’s last remaining wild elephants.

::SPORTS NEWS::

Jennifer Heil Named Canada's Female Athlete Of 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

(Dec 29, 2011) MONTREALThere are athletes whose careers fade away and then there are those such as Jennifer Heil, who leave at the top.

Canada’s most successful female freestyle skier ended her career earlier this year with an unexpected sweep of the moguls and dual moguls gold medals at the world championships.

That performance earned Heil the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press female athlete of 2011.

“I knew it was the last time I’d stand on a podium and hear the Canadian anthem,” Heil said of her double victory at Deer Valley, Utah. “It was an incredible moment that just kind of wrapped up my whole career in this one last great final moment.”

The 2006 Olympic gold medalist garnered 115 points to win the award in balloting among sports editors and broadcasters across the country.

Long-track speed skater Christine Nesbitt was second with 100 points, ahead of soccer star Christine Sinclair (84), short-track speed skater Marianne St-Gelais (39) and world champion boxer Mary Spencer (31).

The award is named after Rosenfeld, an Olympic champion and all-rounder who was voted Canada’s top female athlete for the first half of the 20th century.

Figure skater Patrick Chan won the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male athlete of the year on Wednesday.

It is surprising Heil has not won the Rosenfeld Award before, considering a stellar career in which she won five overall World Cup titles, 58 World Cup top-three finishes, four gold and two silver medals at world championships, gold at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and silver at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

The wins at her final meet were especially significant because, while she had three world championship golds in dual moguls, in which two skiers come down the hill together, she had never before won the single moguls title.

Heil, a native of Spruce Grove, Alta., who has been based in Montreal since 2006, retired after the worlds in February to do charity work and concentrate on her studies at McGill University in business management, with a minor in political science.

She has not even been on skis since, although she planned to get back on the snow during a visit to Alberta to visit her family this week.

Then again, it took daily work from doctors, physiotherapists and others just to keep her upright to compete last season.

Just before the 2010-11 campaign, Heil suffered a bone bruise in a knee, an injury that takes 12 to 18 months to heal. But she kept going.

“My physiotherapist was massaging my leg after every run,” she said. “I was on the ice machine for hours.

“I had to get some lubricating injections to ski. It was tough to have confidence. I almost didn’t make it to the world championships and that was very important to me, to have one last shot at that title I had never won. So my medical team had to really get behind me.”

The week before, she made the painful announcement at a World Cup meet in Calgary that she would retire at the end of the season. Then, with a load of family and friends watching, she fell during her final race in Canada.

“I think I fell maybe three times in my entire career and I fell in that race in Calgary,” she said. “The world championships were four days later and you could say my confidence was at an all-time low.

“I wanted to get into the right mindset and I wasn’t getting there. Finally I just let it go, let the expectations go, and said ‘I’m here. I love this sport. It’s my last opportunity to go down my favourite hill.’ It’s one of the hardest in the world and I just wanted to connect with that speed and joy. So I just let it go. And it all came together.”

Now she’s added female athlete of the year to her list of prizes.

“It doesn’t seem real, it’s a huge honour at the end of my career,” the 28-year-old said. “There are a lot of women that have won that I’ve looked up to my whole career, and aspired to be at their level of excellence. Nancy Greene [1967 and 1968] obviously being one. She was a legend. I really looked up to Catriona Le May Doan [1998, 2001, 2002] and her total domination of her sport [speed skating].”

Heil’s goal now is to do as well off the trail as she did as a skier. Given the drive and dedication she put into that, it would be tough to bet against her.

After missing a medal by 1/100th of a point at her first Olympics in 2002, Heil shut down competition for a year to rework her technique and rebuild her body so she could compete with the world’s best.

She came back to win three World Cup titles in a row.

Before the 2006 Games, she discovered that her training expenses exceeded her financing and wondered whether she could continue. But seemingly out of nowhere, a group of business people from Montreal and Edmonton came together with the money she needed for perhaps the best training crew in the country.

She rewarded them by taking Canada’s first gold at the Turin Games and afterward, she helped found B2ten, an organization that raises money to finance high-level athletes, with her coach and boyfriend Dominick Gauthier and businessman J.D. Miller.

Heil fell in love with freestyle as a youngster watching Canadian Jean-Luc Brassard win gold at the 1994 Olympics and hopes to be an inspiration for another generation of young girls to pick up the sport. She runs a summer camp for girl skiers that has become so popular they’ve had to turn applicants down.

She recalled receiving a picture drawn by a girl ahead of the 2010 Games of her standing on the top level of a podium.

“I had drawn that same picture when I was nine years old and I took it and tucked it in my backpack and brought it to the hill with me,” said Heil, who ended up second to American Hannah Kearney in Vancouver.

She also works with the Because I’m a Girl program and last summer took three girls who had been identified as leaders on a 10-day trip to Rwanda.

And she designs jewellery for Birks. She showed one with five different sized rings that signify joy, team, target (or focus), courage and “everything hanging from a dream.

“I believe in my heart that I could challenge for a gold medal in Sochi [in 2014], but it felt like the right time [to retire],” she said. “I was in a fortunate position where I had accomplished my goals and I wanted to start building the next phase of my life.

But of course I’ll miss being in the start gate. There’s nothing like that moment where your eyes narrow and you hear the starter and you push out of the gate and just let it happen. It’s a special feeling to be able to soar off a jump and travel 30 metres and do a backflip in the air. It’s like you’re flying.”

Magic Johnson Tackles HIV/AIDS and Homophobia via Hip Hop

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Jan. 01, 2012) *Earvin “Magic” Johnson is rolling up his sleeves and bringing in the big guns to wipe away homophobia and HIV/AIDS.

He’s petitioning rappers and other members of the Hip Hop community to be a part of his latest campaign to bring awareness to both issues and to stop discrimination against gays.

His main focus, however is to break down the stereotypes about HIV/AIDS.

“What we’re trying to do is reach out to the Hip-Hop community because they have power — power with their voice, power with that mic in their hand and power with the lyrics that they sing,” Magic Johnson told The Huffington Post.

The retired NBA star-turned-entrepreneur explained the organization of the whole movement is in its beginning stages at the moment, but he’s been working with a few big names he not quite ready to reveal.

“We’re going to come out next year with everybody and we’ll have a nice big press conference and what we’re going to do, what our plan is, because it’s so important that we rally — not just them, either,” Magic said. “I need the Hip-Hop community but I also need the basketball players and football players. We need a little bit of everybody, so that’s what we’re working on now.”

2011: The Year That Was

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press


(Dec 31, 2011) You think it's rough in the serious parts of Canada's
National Newspaper? Spend some time back here as we head into the one-year anniversary of what could effectively be the end of Sidney Crosby's career. If only you'd stolen a peek the other way, Sid. If only you'd raised your head for a millisecond during that last shift of the second period at the Winter Classic and seen ham-and-egger David Steckel. If only that trademark, sixth-sense awareness on the ice hadn't let you down ...

We've had off-season body counts and in-season career counts and that's just in the NHL. It just seems as if it's all been about fighters taking their own lives and Crosby's stillborn return from the fog of concussion, but there's been so much more: the usual labour intrusions, drug arrests, and failed tests in almost every sport, and alleged odious sexual assaults on young boys at Penn State.

Yet on the field or the ice, it was the good guys who ruled as never before. So on the eve of 2012, let's raise a toast to the Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Bruins and Dallas Mavericks for giving us satisfying champions in four major sports.

Credit the Packers with getting it started in their 31-25 Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The character and integrity of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers are more in the mould of Bart Starr than his predecessor, the tiresome and egomaniacal Brett Favre. Rodgers scored one for the white hats in beating the Steelers and their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who missed four regular-season games after violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. Roethlisberger thus avoided sexual-assault charges, but was still shown to be an out-of-control, sexist oaf worthy of derision, surrounded by the usual coterie of enablers endemic to the NFL lifestyle.

The Packers set the tone. The Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in a riveting best-of-seven Stanley Cup final, with rags-to-riches goaltender Tim Thomas the face of a team that was transformed from the big, bad Bruins of yore by its proximity to the Canucks, an unlikable and of whiners who spend an inordinate amount of time sniffing out imaginary, league-orchestrated officiating conspiracies and carping about a lack of respect.

The Canucks are a star-crossed team destined to become the Chicago Cubs of the NHL; they are the only people on the planet unaware that they won't win until they tie the can to goaltender Roberto Luongo; they are a team cheered on by folks who have twice celebrated failure by laying waste to their city. Canadians are parched for a Stanley Cup winner, but not bad enough that they'd want their thirst satiated by that lot.

Bless the Dallas Mavericks for snatching the NBA title from LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, whose odd combination of entitlement and false bravado had worn thin and who became the Wall Street bankers of the sports world. No team in recent memory has been as reviled.

And shout-outs, too, to the McMaster Marauders for their improbable, crazy-quilt, double-overtime win in the Vanier Cup over the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or, as well as the B.C. Lions for sifting through the ashes of a 0-5 start and conjuring a home-field Grey Cup win.

Resiliency was also a trademark of the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals, who were something else in winning what was forecast to be a sexless, benign, white-bread showdown with the Texas Rangers. Twice the Cardinals won despite being down to their last strike, and they overcame a monumental by manager Tony La Russa during a pitching change, which he blamed on a bullpen phone.

There has never been a team quite like these Cardinals in the long history of baseball: 10 ½ games out on Aug. 25, eight games out in September ... World Series champions. "Destiny" is a cliché, but when the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker stared into a sea of reporters and offered it as an explanation, all anybody could do was look down at his notebook or tape recorder and nod.

For NHL, The Cash Is In Canada

Source: www.thestar.com

(Jan 01, 2012) A secret National Hockey League report detailing the ticket revenues of its 30 teams provides additional ammunition for those suggesting more struggling U.S.-based teams should be relocated to Canada.

The confidential document shows that the six Canadian NHL clubs last season accounted for about 33 per cent of the $1.2 billion (U.S.) in league ticket revenue. In 2007-08, Canada's six teams represented 31 per cent.

The report, which was obtained by the Star from several league sources, suggests operating a club north of the border is much more lucrative for the NHL. Five of the top six-revenue generating clubs are based in Canada, with the New York Rangers being the lone team from the U.S. in that group.

“There will be a lot of people using these numbers to argue that the league would be better off with teams in Quebec City and Hamilton, Ont., rather than Columbus, Ohio, and a number of other locations where the NHL is not setting the world on fire,” said Marc Ganis, president of a Chicago sports advisory firm that has advised the buyers of several NHL franchises.

“The NHL had this initiative in the 1990s to expand into the U.S. sunbelt and by anyone’s definition, that strategy has been demonstrated to be only marginally successful,” Ganis said. "I think the argument for more Canadian teams definitely has merit."

While the six Canadian-based teams outpaced their U.S. rivals in ticket income last year, it’s unclear where they did the same with sponsorship and broadcast revenue. The NHL and the NHL Players Association are still negotiating the final figures on a broad report on hockey-related revenue for 2010-11 season.

The NHL report does however indicate that some U.S.-based clubs have markedly improved their financial standing. For the most part, those clubs are playing meaningful playoff hockey with young exciting stars, but they have also found new way to connect with their fan bases.

The five teams who have most increased their ticket revenue over past five seasons are all based in the U.S. A year after winning the Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks generated about $1.1 million per home game in regular-season ticket revenue in 2010-11, more than double the $500,000 per game the team garnered in 2007-08.

The Washington Capitals' ticket revenue climbed 82 per cent in five seasons to $1 million per game last year. Other top gainers were the Pittsburgh Penguins, with a 38 per cent increase ($1.1 million per game in 2010-11), the Boston Bruins (up 38 to $1.1 million) and the New York Rangers (up 23 per cent to $1.6 million.) The Penguins, for instance, have had 227 consecutive sellouts, and boast 14,000 season-ticket holders. There's another 9,000 on the waiting list.

Dave Morehouse, president of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said his team's improved fortunes aren't only because the team has superstar Sidney Crosby.

Unlike some U.S.-based NHL teams, the Penguins have emphasized growing youth hockey in the city.

"We have at least three or four games every year where we hold 900 tickets back and on the day of the game, students can get any seats for $25," Morehouse said. "We also have a free exhibition game each season. We don't sell it to a sponsor or anything. We just get 18,000 tickets printed and distribute them through youth hockey. It's the rowdiest exhibition game you’ll ever see.

The report also shows that after years of steady increases, the league's most profitable teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, are no longer reaping double-digit increases in ticket revenue.

The most improved Canadian club was the Vancouver Canucks (up 21 per cent to $1.7 million.) "This is good for the league so long as the Canadian dollar stays where it is," said former Maple Leaf Sports executive Bill Watters. "If it goes back to 60 cents what a mess the NHL will be."

The currency exchange rate is important because Canadian NHL teams generate most of their revenue in Canadian dollars while their largest expenses, player costs, are in U.S. dollars. The more valuable the Canadian dollar is, the less expensive it is for Canadian teams to buy U.S. dollars to cover their expenses.

It will come as no surprise that the richest NHL team was the Montreal Canadiens, who league sources said were slightly ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs with $2 million worth of ticket revenue per game.

Based on 41 home games, the Canadiens generated about $82 million in 2010-11-excluding revenue from preseason and playoff games.

While Canadian-based clubs are among the most successfully, the report suggests that — with the exception of the Canucks — ticket pricing has reached a tipping point north of the border. The average Leafs ticket is now twice that of the Boston Bruins, the most recent Stanley Cup champions. It appears the Leafs may have maxed out.

The report also highlights the continued struggles for the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes, who garnered $420,000 per game in 2010-11, down from $450,000 in 2007-08. The Coyotes are losing more than $30 million a season and several league executives and NHL Players' Association officials have said it's only a matter of time before the club is relocated.

"It's strange for sure," Watters said. "It's a nice arena, but it won't work. The location is so far outside the city of Phoenix that for fans, it's like driving from Burlington to Oshawa every night."

Perhaps the most surprising data from the league report concerns the New York Islanders, whose $392,000 ticket revenue per game was only better than the Thrashers. The Islanders' ticket revenue was down 28 per cent over the past five seasons, despite the fact the team plays in North America's largest media market.

The Dallas Stars, who had the biggest decline in ticket revenue among the 30 NHL teams, generated $660,000 per game, down 30 per cent from $950,000.

Unlike other pro sports leagues such as the National Football League, which generates billions of dollars in revenue from huge TV and sponsorship contracts, the NHL is a so-called "gate-driven" league where ticket revenue accounts for close to half of the league's total revenue.

The league often publicizes its attendance, and has suggested the number of fans to attend NHL games has been record-setting in recent seasons. Trouble is, the NHL's attendance figures are based merely on tickets distributed, not overall revenue from ticket sales.

DeRozan Elevating His Game With New-Found Confidence

Source: www.thestar.com - Doug Smith


(Jan 03, 2012) A year ago,
DeMar DeRozan would set himself to launch a three-pointer and the ball would be passed to him and the shot would fly and he’d have zero confidence it would go in.

That lack of confidence was a big reason why the Raptors swingman only attempted 52 three-pointers in 82 regular-season games and a huge factor in him making only five of them.

But an extended summer in the gym, and the discipline to stay there shooting until he’d made up to 500 in a session, have imbued DeRozan with a new-found sense of confidence.

And a shocking new proficiency in three-point shooting.

DeRozan, who needed to add range to his jump shot to make his forays to the basket easier, has five three-pointers already this season and had two in Toronto’s 90-85 win over the New York Knicks on Monday.

“I didn’t change my form, it’s more my work ethic, just getting comfortable,” he said. “I think last year I just wasn’t comfortable with it, I was timid about shooting it. Now when I shoot it, I shoot it with confidence like I know it’s going in.”

In his two years and four games in the NBA, DeRozan has become known as a gifted athlete with a good mid-range game and the ability to finish at the rim. He hasn’t, however, been an effective outside shooter, allowing defenders to play off him and take away his strengths.

But adding range to his jump shot, he forces defenders to pay more attention to him on the perimeter and, if his ball-handling continues to get better, that should allow him to more easily get by a first defender and attack the basket.

“He’s put in the time, he’s worked hard at it,” coach Dwane Casey said of DeRozan’s improvement.

And the hard work is what has given Casey as much confidence in DeRozan’s shot as the 22-year-old has. The last thing a coach wants is a guy who can’t make a shot from beyond the arc continuing to put them up.

That DeRozan would put in the hours of practice caught Casey’s eye.

“I tell the guys, you’re allowed to shoot the shot if I see you work on it in practice and after hours at night time,” said the coach. “He’s put in the hours . . . shooting with (assistant coach) Eric Hughes and he’s done a god job, mainly, working at a game tempo.”

The Raptors desperately need DeRozan, and others, to become accomplished three-point shooters. It is one of the weaknesses of the offence, and since they are now getting scant shooting production from whoever is playing the small forward spot, if DeRozan can stretch defences with his shooting, it should open more space for the likes of Andrea Bargnani or Jose Calderon to operate.

CFL Quarterback Carousel Keeps Turning

Source: www.thestar.com - Chris Zelkovich


(Jan 03, 2012) Quarterbacks in the
Canadian Football League have always been wise to keep a good supply of change-of-address cards on hand.

But past quarterback shufflings pale in comparison to what has taken place heading into the 2012 season.

The trade that sent Calgary’s Henry Burris to Hamilton for Kevin Glenn on Tuesday brought the total of top-line quarterbacks traded since the season ended to four. That means half the league will have new guys lining up behind centre next season.

No records are kept on this kind of thing, but league observers can’t remember that happening before. It’s a far cry from last season, when there was only one new starter in the league.

“It’s been a unique year,” said TSN analyst Glen Suitor. “It’s one of those cases where things just fell into place for a lot of teams for a lot of different reasons.”

In the case of the Calgary-Hamilton deal, Suitor says neither team had much choice.

“Both Burris and Glenn had pretty much run their course where they were,” he said. “Henry wasn’t going back to Calgary and Glenn’s expiry date in Hamilton was up. The real question there was could (general manager Bob O’Billovich) sell Glenn to the fans again?”

Fellow TSN analyst Matt Dunigan sees the mass quarterback migration as a good thing.

“It’s fantastic for the league,” he said. “It’s put the CFL in the news at a time of the year when what’s usually a very down time.”

Here’s what the changes have wrought:

TORONTO ARGONAUTS: After starting the season with Cleo Lemon and finishing with Steven Jyles, the Argos shocked the CFL by prying Ricky Ray away from Edmonton. All the Argos have to do now is find a few more receivers to catch passes from a proven QB. There could be more quarterback changes in Toronto, depending what general manager Jim Barker does with backup Dalton Bell.

B.C. LIONS: Not surprisingly, the Lions are standing pat after Travis Lulay’s impressive season and Grey Cup performance. But Lulay has drawn some interest from NFL teams and could leave after next season unless the team locks him up and makes him a Lion for life.

EDMONTON ESKIMOS: It’s hard to imagine an Eskimo team without Ray, but that’s what fans are facing for the first time since 2004. Jyles is the leading candidate to replace him, but after his spotty performance in Toronto, he will be pressured by youngsters Matt Nichols and Eric Ward. Veteran Kerry Joseph is available, too, though many believe Edmonton GM Eric Tillman has another quarterback hidden somewhere.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS: After two seasons backing up Burris, Drew Tate basically sent the 2010 Most Outstanding Player to the bench at mid-season and out of Alberta afterward. Tate looked impressive from the start and won his last three regular-season starts. The addition of Glenn, who had a 52-point outing in the East semi-final, provides valuable insurance.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS: Despite the league’s worst record, the Riders have the fewest questions at quarterback. Darian Durant will start once again, apparently with Ryan Dinwiddie and Cole Bergquist backing him up.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS: Any team that has the oft-injured Buck Pierce can never really be considered to have stable quarterbacking. But Pierce did start most of the games last year and has capable backups in Alex Brink and Joey Elliott — assuming all three potential free agents can be signed. That shouldn’t be a problem, though.

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS: With Burris aboard, there likely won’t be any of the quarterback-sharing that took place last season between Glenn and Quinton Porter. The real question is whether Burris somehow lost his skills the moment he turned 36 or whether he has one more good season in him. The Cats believe quarterbacking was the only thing that stood between them and a Grey Cup last year.

MONTREAL ALOUETTES: As has been the case seemingly forever, Anthony Calvillo will start and Adrian McPherson will be unhappy about being the backup. But Calvillo started to show his age (39) at times last season and an end to McPherson’s long wait may be in sight.

Healthy Again, Woods Eyes Fast Start In Abu Dhabi

Source: www.thestar.com - Michael Casey, Associated Press

(Jan. 02, 2012) DOHA, Qatar - Tiger Woods has rediscovered more than just the ability to win again.

Having ended 2011 with his first victory in two years, Woods said the joy of being able to play golf with a healthy body has returned as well.

He told The Associated Press by email that he has fully recovered from the leg injuries that ruined much of last season. He also hopes his recent victory at the Chevron World Challenge in California is the "start of another great run."

"The lowest moments (last year) came from the fact that I wasn't healthy and couldn't put in the time on and off the course that I wanted and needed to, and that was frustrating," Woods said. "I was playing with pain and that isn't fun. The last couple of months have been really fun and that is mostly because I am feeling healthy again and building week on week."

Woods is preparing for his first tournament of the year and his first in Abu Dhabi. He will be facing a world-class field that features U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, top-ranked Luke Donald and defending champion Martin Kaymer.

The tournament starts Jan. 26 and will give a first indication of whether Woods can maintain his level of play at the Chevron in December. That was his first victory since a car crash outside his home in 2009 led to revelations of extramarital affairs that derailed his marriage and golf game.

"I am looking to get off to a fast start in Abu Dhabi and keep building from there," Woods said. "Now that I am healthy, I feel I can keep building my game and confidence week on week, much like I did at the end of (last) year
from the Australian Open to the Presidents Cup to, finally, a win in California."

Woods finished third at the Australian Open, and then delivered the clinching point for the American team in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Now he's eager to show some of the young players who have grabbed the spotlight during his two-year slump that he's still a force.

Donald made history this year by winning the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic, while McIlroy's dominant performance at the U.S. Open drew comparisons to Woods in his prime.

"There are so many great and talented players in the game right now
it is exciting for golf fans and I relish the challenge of going head-to-head with any number of the leading players on a Sunday afternoon," Woods said. "Rory and Luke are both very talented golfers and I admire what they have achieved in the last year. I look forward to having many great battles on a Sunday afternoon with these great players in 2012."

He acknowledged, however, that reclaiming the No. 1 ranking he held for so long might prove difficult. After falling out of the top 50 for a brief period last year, Woods is now ranked No. 23.

"The young guys coming through are practicing harder and training harder than ever before and raising the bar," Woods said. "I think the level of consistency I had a few years ago would see me climb back up the rankings pretty quickly, but I do think there are some pretty phenomenal golfers out there that I really respect."

Brock Lesnar Retires After First-Round Loss At UFC 141

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press


(Dec 31, 2011)
Brock Lesnar took one last kick to his stomach and crumpled at the side of the cage, unable to fight back when Alistair Overeem pounced.

Lesnar had been finished by a 6-foot-5 Dutch kick boxer in the first round at UFC 141. A few minutes later, the UFC's former heavyweight champion finished his own meteoric mixed martial arts career.

Lesnar retired from the UFC after Overeem stopped him with one vicious kick to the body at 2:26 of the first round in their heavyweight bout Friday night, leaving the UFC heading into 2012 without its biggest pay-per-view star.

"This is the last time you'll see me in the octagon," Lesnar said.

Largely thanks to his fame from a career in pro wrestling, the hulking Lesnar (5-3) played a significant role in expanding the UFC's profile and fan base over the past four years. He beat Randy Couture in 2008 to win the heavyweight title, defending it twice before losing the belt to Cain Velasquez last year.

But Lesnar has fought just three times in the past 2 1/2 years while dealing with bouts of a lower-intestinal ailment that nearly killed him. The accumulation of pain and rehabilitation finally undid Lesnar, whose famed strength and stubbornness couldn't overcome diverticulitis.

"I've had a really difficult couple of years with my disease, and I'm going to officially say tonight is the last time," Lesnar said.

Lesnar's return from a 14-month injury absence was a short, one-sided beating. After taking damage from two knee blows early on, he couldn't recover from a kick to the liver from Overeem (36-11), who made a stellar UFC debut despite getting cut near his right eye by a punch from Lesnar.

The 34-year-old Lesnar's announcement stunned fans who already realized he faced a difficult matchup in the UFC's traditional end-of-the-year event in its hometown. The matchup was a classic MMA clash of styles, with Lesnar's brute wrestling contrasting sharply with Overeem's vicious striking.

"I had no idea he would do that, (but) am I surprised? No," UFC President Dana White said. "Brock Lesnar has made a lot of money in his career and has achieved a lot of things. ... He brought a lot of excitement to the heavyweight division. What he accomplished in a short amount of time is amazing, but I get it. It doesn't shock me."

Overeem is three years younger but much more experienced than Lesnar, hurting the former champion at least twice earlier in the round while Lesnar failed in his attempt at a one-legged takedown.

"I promised my wife and my kids if I won this fight, I would get a title shot, and that would be my last fight," Lesnar said. "But if I lost tonight ... you've been great."

Overeem will get the next shot at UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos, who watched from a seat near the octagon.

Overeem is a champion kick boxer who has fought in multiple promotions over the past decade, winning titles in Dream and Strikeforce with nearly unbeatable striking and size. He joined the UFC in September, finally presenting his formidable skills and intimidating physique to the sport's largest audience.

"My experience in UFC was, it's huge," Overeem said. "I think it's like 100 times bigger than Strikeforce. K-1 (kick boxing) is big, but this is a lot bigger. I was a little bit blown away, still am. I loved every second of it."

White might have given an immediate title shot to Overeem if the timing had been better, but Dos Santos only claimed Velasquez's belt in early November. Overeem welcomed a debut against Lesnar, even guaranteeing a knockout in the first two rounds.

"First or second round, I promised," Overeem said.

Lesnar hadn't fought since losing his heavyweight belt to Velasquez in October 2010, cancelling a bout against Dos Santos last June in Vancouver after another flare-up of diverticulitis. The former NCAA wrestling champion and fake WWE wrestler kept his unparalleled popularity during his recovery, and Lesnar used the time off to modify both his diet and his standup game, attempting to improve his biggest weakness.

As it turned out, Lesnar couldn't improve enough to contend with the supremely skilled Overeem, who embraced Lesnar afterward.

The undercard at the MGM Grand Garden featured two upsets: Lightweight Nate Diaz won a bloody unanimous decision over Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone with superior boxing, and Johny Hendricks stopped welterweight star Jon Fitch with one punch just 12 seconds into their bout.

In the co-main event, Diaz (15-7) backed up his tough talk and rude behavior in a fight that had the sellout crowd on its feet as he battered Cerrone, nearly a 3-to-1 favorite in the MGM Grand sportsbook, for most of the three-round standup fight.

Diaz, the brother of bad-boy welterweight Nick Diaz, picked apart Cerrone's defense for most of the fight, leaving Cerrone bloody after his first loss in seven fights since September 2010.

Cerrone (17-4) knocked down Diaz at least a half-dozen times with kicks and leg-whips, but Cerrone refused to fight Diaz on the ground, repeatedly allowing Diaz to get up.

The unusual strategy showed respect for Diaz's ground skills, but also minimized the importance of those knockdown shots in the eyes of the judges, who scored the bout 30-27 twice and 29-28 once, all for Diaz.

Hendricks (12-1) ascended to elite status with one sneaky left hook that caught Fitch (27-4-1) right on the button, flattening the favored San Jose fighter, whose return from a 10-month absence was stunningly brief. Hendricks, a two-time NCAA champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, completely stunned Fitch, who had lost just one fight since December 2002.

Early in the pay-per-view portion of the card, Swedish light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson (13-1) stopped veteran Vladimir Matyushenko with a perfect left hand midway through the first round.

Unbeaten featherweight Jim Hettes got new fans' attention with a comprehensive thrashing of veteran Nam Phan, repeatedly threatening to finish the fight with strikes and ground work.

David Beckham Will Stay In L.A., French Club President Confirms

Source: www.thestar.com - Michael Casey


(Jan 03, 2012) DOHA, QATAR—
David Beckham is set to stay with the Los Angeles Galaxy after turning down a chance to join Paris Saint-Germain, the French club said Tuesday.

After weeks of negotiations with PSG, the 36-year-old midfielder and former England captain decided he doesn’t want to move his family from the United States.

“David Beckham is not coming,” PSG President Nasser al-Khelaifi said at the Qatar Open tennis tournament. “We feel a little disappointed. But both sides agreed it would be better that we not do the deal . . . maybe in the future.”

Beckham’s five-year contract with the Galaxy ended after he won his first MLS Cup in November. He was wooed by several clubs across Europe.

“David Beckham is in Los Angeles,” al-Khelaifi said. “And he’s going to stay there.”

Beckham will try to finalize a new, improved deal this week with the Galaxy, which was paying him an annual base salary of $6.5 million.

French media had reported that Beckham would have been paid almost double that at PSG, whose Qatari owners have spent more than $100 million on players during six months in charge.

Beckham and wife Victoria, a former member of the “Spice Girls,” moved to California in 2007 after he left Real Madrid.

The celebrity couple now have four children and decided during a Christmas break in England that they did not want to move back to Europe permanently.

“I’m very proud of the time that I’ve spent with the Galaxy and it might continue,” Beckham stressed recently.

The Galaxy’s recent success and the signing of Ireland captain Robbie Keane have shown Beckham that the LA club can meet his ambitions during the final years of his career, which began at Manchester United.

Beckham is also a regular starter with the Galaxy. He also has expressed hope of playing for Britain’s football team at the London Olympics.

The new MLS season starts in March.

If Beckham remains with the Galaxy, he may play in their CONCACAF Champions League match against Toronto FC at the Rogers Centre on March 7.

The first leg of the quarter-final will take place indoors in Toronto.

TFC, which has reached the knockout stage for the first time in the competition for top clubs from North and Central America as well as the Caribbean, will travel to California for the return leg March 14.

Beckham has also expressed hope of playing for Britain’s soccer team at the London Olympics as one of three players above the age of 23.