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May 24, 2012

What an amazing long weekend we enjoyed last weekend - all three days of the long weekend were long, sunny days reminiscent of summer weather to come!

The sun is also shining on
Canadian rapper D.O. (Defy the Odds). Early word is that the debut solo album entitled Heavy in the Game does not disappoint. Don't miss the hot new product for Canadian rap. If you want a sample of what's in store, check out some of the music videos here to support the release of the album (so talented!) So check it out under SCOOP and get your FREE download!

Now I know a lot of you are fans of R&B, jazz and blues - check out the latest concert news in that
Lalah Hathaway (Donny Hathaway's daughter and Grammy-nominated artist) is coming to Toronto on June 10th at the Courthouse! Exciting news for all music lovers - don't wait to get your tickets because this will be a cool and hot concert. Tickets are on sale now! And I have some FREE tickets to give away for who can answer what school Lalah got her formal musical training. See the answer under HOT EVENTS and enter the contest HERE.

Here's an all in out call for those that enjoy theatre and supporting the arts! You can do both by attending the fundraiser for
Miracle Man below under HOT EVENTS! Get your tickets and support today.

In this weeks news: Drake does an interview with MTV; the loss of musical icons continues with the passings of Chuck Brown, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb; Ariane Moffatt shoots for the anglophone market; D'Angelo is back!; the Casey Anthony story comes to theatres; Samuel L. Jackson shares his fondness for Toronto; 3/4 of the Wiggles retire; Usain Bolt prepares for the Olympics; and much more. Check it all out under TOP STORIES.

Also, feel free to forward on this news to your friends by hitting the FORWARD link at the bottom of this email - you know you want to!

Don't forget to check out the tags that have
VIDEO on them so you can watch music videos and/or film trailers!

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


MAY 27:: The Miracle Man Fundraiser Featuring Celebrity Karaoke

Source: Andrew Moodie

Come eat, drink and karaoke the night away! Supporters of the arts in Toronto, now is your opportunity - they need your help to bring this play to life. Join us for an exciting fundraising event in support of Renaissance Theatre’s workshop of The Miracle Man at the Gladstone Hotel.

Directed by Shaw Festival’s Associate Artistic Director Eda Holmes and written by Michael O'Brien and Allen Cole,
The Miracle Man is set in the 20's about a group of small time crooks in Montreal who head to a small town in Quebec in an attempt to hoodwink the townsfolk out of their money, but they soon discover that the tables have been turned. Based on the Frank Packard novel, The Miracle Man is a classic, Tin Pan Alley style musical.

Renaissance Theatre is a company created by
Andrew Moodie to revive plays that have amazing potential and need a second chance at life. Together with Brenda Kamino, they are presenting a reading of The Miracle Man in early September.

This fun night of Celebrity Karaoke, hosted by Catherine Johnson, features many special guests including:



Terminal City

Lost Girl


Miraculous Cures



Way Downtown

Billable Hours

Being Erica



The Border

Degrassi: TNG

How to be Indie


Rookie Blue







The L.A. Complex



The Incredible Hulk





We Will Rock You


Lost Girls








Global News

The Gladstone Hotel

1214 Queen Street West

6:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Cash Bar, Hors d'oeuvres and Silent Auction

Tickets: $40 ($60 for 2); reserve your ticket at: tickets.renaissance@gmail.com
Facebook: Miracle Man Fundraiser

If you can't make it, you can always send a donation through Paypal. All payments are made to our email address at renaissancecanada@gmail.com.

Special thanks to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Ontario Arts Council, The Canada Council for the Arts.


JUNE 10:: Lalah Hathaway In Concert

Her name is legendary.
Her music is timeless.

Her lyrics touch you at the core.
Her voice possesses rich warmth that soothes your ears and holds you close.

She is
Lalah Hathaway. And she's coming to Toronto! Her tour has received rave reviews globally so don't miss your chance to get on board this soul train on Sunday, June 10th at the Courthouse (details below).

The daughter of the great Donny Hathaway, Lalah Hathaway made a good impression with her debut recording Lalah Hathaway in 1990. She not only displayed poise, confidence, and good technique, but was also versatile enough to do more than just light urban contemporary ballads. Her stage shows included jazz, pre-rock pop, and even gospel, and Hathaway later appeared on Black Entertainment Television doing jazz and fusion.

A trained pianist and vocalist, she is a graduate of the
Berklee School of Music and her career has spanned two decades. 21 years after the release of her first LP, her career continues to thrive. Lalah kept, and continues to keep busy by recording and touring with several acts including George Benson, Take 6, Marcus Miller, Rahsaan Patterson, Mary J. Blige, The Winans, Gerald Albright, David Sanborn, Carl Thomas, Angie Stone, Robert Glasper, Donald Lawrence, Eric Roberson, Grover Washington, Esperanza Spalding, and just recently, Prince.

In 2008, Lalah released her 4th solo album Self Portrait on the renowned Stax label, which debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s R&B charts, and to date is her most successful CD. Opening with lead single “Let Go,” the 12-track set is best described as a journey from heartache and pain to awakening and renewal. Self Portrait garnered Lalah her first
Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance with mid-tempo slow jam “That Was Then.”

Lalah understands who she is as an artist and continues to remain consistently true to her vision in song and lyric. Lalah looks to the future of music by embracing the zeitgeist of her present. "My hope is to continue to make timeless art for people…in a way I feel like my dad came here in part so that I could get here- and I am here so that he can stay here. I was born for this."

Danny Marks

Danny Marks is the current holder of the Toronto Blues Society's Blues with a Feeling Award for lifetime achievement in music and broadcast. This iconic rocker's roots go back to the sixties as a founding member of Capitol Records' group, Edward Bear. After a span as a journey man session musician throughout the seventies, Danny settled in to the club scene, establishing a cult following as a genre bender in music and humor.

A house band gig at Toronto's famed Albert's Hall led him to host his own nation-wide TV show, Stormy Monday. Through the eighties, Danny starred in CBC radio's hit series the Hum Line. Most recently, Danny Marks recorded two original music albums, Guitarchaeology and True, before paying tribute to Toronto's R&B roots with Big Town Boy in 2005. Danny's in his fifth year as the radio host of JAZZ.FM91's Saturday night blues show, bluz.fm.


VIDEOS: Canadian Hip Hop Artist D.O. Releases Free Online Album (Heavy in the Game)

Source: Strut Entertainment

(May 15, 2012) Toronto, ON –Canadian rapper and Guinness World Record holder (Longest Freestyle Rap), D.O.
(Defy the Odds), released his new independent album, Heavy in the Game. The inspiration for Heavy in the Game comes from D.O.’s extensive domestic and international touring, his experience with launching independent label Northstarr Entertainment, and his success as one half of hip hop duo Art of Fresh. The album features 19 songs recorded at home in Toronto, in Taiwan with producer Brooke "Diz Dallas" Daye and in Nova Scotia with Canadian rapper/producer Classified. A full track listing is included below.

"It's On" featuring Chad Hatcher produced by Classified

"’Heavy in the Game’ is a line that comes from my favourite 2Pac song," says D.O. "It's about being immersed in your craft that even though you may want to leave, you can't - you've worked too hard to get where you are and there's no looking back. As a Canadian musician, especially a rapper, I'm grateful that I've been able to be doing this professionally for 10 years. This album represents my best work. I'm proud that a lot of people will be able to relate to this album. Heavy in the Game is about trying to do the right thing even when you are faced with the temptation to slip."

Born in Watrous, Saskatchewan, D.O. moved to Ontario with his family at the age of two. Growing up, he spent summers visiting his father's family in Cape Breton and his mother's in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. D.O. graduated from Toronto's York University in 2001. In 2003, he was featured in XXL Magazine for his Guinness World Record and he hit the road for the first of many tours, selling mix tapes from his trunk in the north-eastern U.S. Around the same time, D.O. created his school tour program, Stay Driven, developed to educate students on anti-bullying, anti-violence, peer pressure and leadership. In 2007, he released his debut album, The Northstarr, which earned a nomination for Best Hip Hop Artist at the Ontario Independent Music Awards. By late 2008, Art of Fresh released their debut album, Back to the Earth, with the breakout single "Out This World" soaring to #1 on the U.S. College Hip Hop Radio charts. Between Back to the Earth and Art of Fresh’s sophomore release (2010’s When the Night Comes In), D.O. released his sophomore solo album in 2009, Stay Driven. The album featured several prominent producers, including Classified, Slakah the Beatchild, Marco Polo and Metty the Dert Merchant (Sweatshop Union).

With numerous videos in rotation on MuchMusic, thousands of YouTube views and MySpace plays, D.O. is an artist and entrepreneur with a creative vision and a hunger for success that is matched only by his ability to deliver relevant music with a message.

The album can be downloaded at: http://iamdo.bandcamp.com/

Twitter: @iamdo


"She Likes You" produced by Classified already has close to 150,000 views on Youtube

"Can't Tell Me" produced by Jahronomo Inc.

1. Bill Russell
2. Interlude
Heavy In The Game (feat. J-Bru)
4. Interlude
Can't Tell Me (feat. Famous, Sonreal, Chris Jackson)
6. Take It In (feat. Slakah the Beatchild)
7. Interlude
Back To Blazin (feat. Chris Jackson)
9. For Heaven Sake (feat. Slakah the Beatchild)
10. Interlude
It's On (feat. Chad Hatcher)
12. By The Way
Take Care of Me (feat. Miss David)
15. Be Alright (feat. Preetam Sengupta)
16. What You Want
17. She Likes You
18. Ah Yeah (additional vocals by Maestro Fresh Wes)
19. Shut It Down (feat. Rochester)
20. The Legacy 2.0
Can’t Tell Me (Original)


Drake Has A 'Good' Feeling About Justin Bieber Collabo

Source: MTV.com - Rob Markman, with reporting by Sway Calloway

(May 23, 2012)
Drake has a jam-packed schedule taking his Club Paradise Tour city to city, but the Toronto rap star still manages to find time to record, especially since he has a studio on his tour bus. Right after Club Paradise's last show in Boston, Massachusetts, Drizzy will begin recording new music, possibly for his next album.

"I'm really excited to start working on new music. I start like June 18," Drake told MTV News correspondent Sway Calloway when the two met backstage in Houston on May 17.

"I got a studio bus out here so me and 40 started working on a couple joints the other night. Just getting warmed up," he continued. "I did like the 'Amen' track for Meek [Mill] and I did 'No Lie' for 2Chainz."

Fans have already raved over Drizzy's performance on both "No Lie" and "Amen," which appears on the Philadelphia MC's recently released Dream Chasers 2 mixtape. Still, the Young Money star has a few more collaborations that fans will hear in the coming weeks, one of them being French Montana's "Pop That."

"I'm on French Montana's single; me, him, Ross and Wayne, which is a crazy lineup," Drake said. "And then on Justin Bieber's record. I wrote a song for him as well."

At the time of the interview, Drake wasn't sure of the name of the Bieber record or if the song would even be included on Justin's upcoming Believe LP. "Awkward Justin Bieber moment," Drizzy joked after pondering the very slim chance that he wouldn't make the final cut. "Yeah, we'll see. It's a good song though; produced by Hit-Boy."

Well, Drake doesn't have to worry. On Monday, the Biebs unveiled his Believe track list, and his fellow Canadian does appear on the song "Right Here." We have no reason to doubt Drake's word about "Right Here," but we'll all will just have to wait until June 19 when Believe is released to finally hear it.

Go-Go Funk Pioneer Chuck Brown Dies

Source: The Associated Press

(May 17, 2012) Chuck Brown, who styled a unique mix of funk, soul and Latin party sounds to create go-go music in the U.S. capital, has died after suffering from pneumonia. He was 75.

Brown, widely acclaimed as the "Godfather of go-go" for his pioneering sound, died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. Hospital spokesman Gary Stephenson confirmed Brown had died after a hospital stay that began April 18.

Thanks to Brown and his deep, gravelly voice, go-go music was uniquely identified with Washington. That's where he continued to play the city's club circuit to a loyal audience late in life.

Mayor Vincent Gray said the nation's capital will be a different place without him. Mournful admirers of the musician were called Wednesday evening to an impromptu candlelight vigil in Washington, where a sound truck was to blast a special Chuck Brown music mix to the crowd before a prayer session for him.

"Go-go is D.C.'s very own unique contribution to the world of pop music," he said. "Today is a very sad day for music lovers the world over."

In 2007 Brown told The Associated Press that go-go was influenced by sounds and fast beats he heard early in life, growing up in North Carolina and Virginia, combined with his experience later, playing with a Latin band.

"Go-go is a music that continues on and on, and it's a call and response communication with the audience," Brown said.

Go-go was heavy on percussion with drummers as lead players, accented by guitar riffs, keyboards and horns. Sometimes the musicians would play for two or three hours without stopping. In between tunes, Brown would keep the thunk of percussion going and talk to the crowd.

Defining a sound, inspiring younger artists

Brown's hit Bustin' Loose with his group, the Soul Searchers, helped define go-go's sound. It spent several weeks atop the R&B chart in 1979. Rapper Nelly later sampled Brown's Bustin' Loose in 2002 for his massive hit Hot in Herre, which won Nelly a Grammy.

Brown didn't get credit at first, though, and "had to go through some legalities to get it right, but we knew, once we heard the song, that's Chuck Brown," said Gregory "Sugar Bear" Elliott, lead singer of the go-go band EU (Experience Unlimited.)

'Chuck Brown Will Always Be Bustin' Loose — the Godfather of Go-Go'—Spike Lee, filmmaker

In 2007, rapper Eve sampled Brown's song, Blow Your Whistle, in her hit single Tambourine. Brown told the AP he admired such artists.

"Go-go had some influence on rap because a lot of rap musicians come to my shows," he said. "Some of them were students at Howard University. People like Puff Daddy, he's been to see us when he was a young Howard University student."

Filmmaker Spike Lee, a fan of Brown's, used go-go for his movie School Daze.

"Chuck Brown Will Always Be Bustin' Loose — the Godfather of Go-Go," Lee said through a spokeswoman.

Elliot said Brown had been a father figure since he was a teen when he aspired to be a rocker like Jimmy Hendrix but realized he wouldn't make it that way as a young black man. When he saw Brown perform, he said he "instantly knew" what he wanted to do.

"Chuck Brown is going to live on forever. I'm going to make sure of that," Elliott said. "When they see me, I want them to see a reflection of Chuck because he inspired me so much."

He added: "The go-go sound is still going strong."

When Brown was younger, he spent some time in jail. While behind bars, he traded five cartons of cigarettes for his first guitar. After he was freed in 1962, Brown played with several bands and then formed the Soul Searchers. To comply with terms of his parole, they couldn't play where alcohol was served, so they went to churches, recreation halls and youth centers.

Brown's daughter, Cherita Whiting, said he had died from complications with pneumonia and was gone too soon.

"I just want to tell all his fans, thank you, for lovin' our dad," she said. "He had the best fans in the world."

During the crack epidemic of the 1980s, violence in some clubs affected go-go's reputation. Brown said "we can't blame the go-go for that," though.

More recently, he said he had seen more grandparents at his shows, with an audience ranging in age from 18 to 60. In 2005, he was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Washington was always his most loyal fan base, Brown told the AP, and he was happy to play in the city for the rest of his life.

Disco Legend Donna Summer Dead At 63

Source: www.globeandmail.com - The Associated Press

(May 17, 2012) Disco queen Donna Summer, whose pulsing anthems Last Dance, Love to Love You Baby and Bad Girls became the soundtrack for a glittery age of sex, drugs, dance and flashy clothes, has died. She was 63.

Her family released a statement, saying Summer died Thursday morning and that they "are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy."

"Words truly can't express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time," the statement read.

Summer had been living in Englewood, Fla., with her husband Bruce Sudano. The website TMZ reported that she has been suffering from lung cancer.

Summer came to prominence just as disco was burgeoning, and came to define the era with a string of No. 1 hits and her luxurious hair and glossy, open lips.

Disco became as much defined by her sultry, sexual vocals - her bedroom moans and sighs - as the relentless, pulsing rhythms of the music itself.

Elton John said in a statement that Summer was more than the Queen of Disco.

"Her records sound as good today as they ever did. That she has never been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted," he said. "She is a great friend to me and to the Elton John AIDS Foundation and I will miss her greatly."

Love to Love You Baby, with its erotic moans, was Summer's first hit and one of the most scandalous songs of the polyester-and-platform-heel era. The song was later sampled by LL Cool J, Timbaland and Beyonce, who interpolated the hit for her jam Naughty Girl.

Unlike some other stars of disco who faded as the music became less popular, she was able to grow beyond it and later segued to a pop-rock sound. She had one of her biggest hits in the 1980s with She Works Hard For The Money, which became another anthem, this time for women's rights.

Soon after, Summer became a born-again Christian and faced controversy when she was accused of making anti-gay comments in relation to the AIDS epidemic. Summer denied making the comments but was the target of a boycott.

Still, even as disco went out of fashion she remained a fixture in dance clubs, endlessly sampled and remixed into contemporary dance hits.

Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines, Summer was raised in Boston on gospel music.

Love to Love You Baby was her U.S. chart debut and the first of 19 No. 1 dance hits between 1975 and 2008 - second only to Madonna.

During the disco era she burned up the charts: She was the only artist to have three consecutive double-LPs hit No. 1: Live and More, Bad Girls and On the Radio. She was also the first female artist with four No. 1 singles in a 13-month period, according to the Rock Hall of Fame, where she was a nominee this year.

Her genre-defying sound helped her earn Grammy Awards in the dance, rock, R&B and inspirational categories.

She released a number of albums that reached gold or platinum status, including the multiplatinum Bad Girls and On the Radio, Volume I & II.

She also had a number of top-10 Billboard hits, including Hot Stuff, She Works Hard for the Money and MacArthur Park.

She released her last album, Crayons, in 2008. It was her first full studio album in 17 years. She also performed on American Idol that year with its top female contestants.

Bee Gees Singer Robin Gibb Dies At 62

Source: www.thestar.com - By Gregory Katz

(May 20, 2012) LONDON—With his carefully tended hair, tight trousers and perfect harmonies, Robin Gibb, along with his brothers Maurice and Barry, defined the disco era. As part of the Bee Gees — short for the Brothers Gibb — they created dance floor classics like “Stayin Alive,” ''Jive Talkin',” and “Night Fever” that can still get crowds onto a dance floor.

The catchy songs, with their falsetto vocals and relentless beat, are familiar pop culture mainstays. There are more than 6,000 cover versions of the Bee Gees hits, and they are still heard on dance floors and at wedding receptions, birthday parties, and other festive occasions.

Robin Gibb, 62, died Sunday “following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery,” his family announced in a statement released by Gibb's representative Doug Wright. “The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time,” it said.

The Bee Gees, born in England but raised in Australia, began their career in the musically rich 1960s but it was their soundtrack for the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever” that sealed their success. The album's signature sound — some called it “blue-eyed soul” — remains instantly recognizable more than 40 years after its release.

The album remains a turning point in popular music history, ending the hard rock era and ushering in a time when dance music ruled supreme. It became one of the fastest-selling albums of all time with its innovative fusion of harmony and pulsing beats. The movie launched the career of a young John Travolta whose snake-hipped moves to the sounds of “You Should Be Dancing” established his reputation as a dancer and forever linked his image to that of the Bee Gees.

Despite financial success, Robin Gibb and his brothers endured repeated tragedies. Maurice died suddenly of intestinal and cardiac problems in 2003. Their younger brother Andy Gibb, who also enjoyed considerable chart success as a solo artist, had died in 1988 just after turning 30. He suffered from an inflamed heart muscle attributed to a severe viral infection.

Robin Gibb himself took care of his health and, at the time of his death, was a vegan who did not drink alcohol.

Gibb was for decades a familiar figure on the pop stage, starting out in the 1960s when the Bee Gees were seen as talented Beatles copycats. They sounded so much like the Beatles at first that there were strong rumours that the Bee Gees' singles were really the Beatles performing under another name.

Many late-'60s bands were quickly forgotten, but the Bee Gees transformed themselves into an enduring A-List powerhouse with the almost unbelievable, and certainly unexpected, success of the song “Stayin' Alive” and others from the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack that accompanied the movie.

With this second wind, the Bee Gees sold more than 200 million records and had a long string of successful singles, making their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Saturday Night Fever” — actually a compilation album featuring the Bee Gees but including songs by other performers — represented the pinnacle of Gibb's career, but he enjoyed more than 40 years of prominence as a Bee Gee, as a solo artist, and as a songwriter and producer for other artists.

The Bee Gees consisted of Barry Gibb, the eldest, and twins Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb. Their three-part harmonies became their musical signature, particularly in the disco phase, when Barry's matchless falsetto often dominated, and they were renowned for their wide-ranging songwriting and producing skills.

The Gibbs were born in England on the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea, but moved to Australia with their parents in 1958 when they were still quite young and began their musical career there. They had been born into a musical family, with a father who was a drummer and bandleader and a mother who liked to sing.

After several hits in Australia, their career started to really take off when they returned to England in 1967 and linked up with promoter Robert Stigwood.

After several hits and successful albums, Robin Gibb left the group in 1969 after a series of disagreements, some focusing on whether he or Barry should be lead vocalist. He released some successful solo material — most notably “Saved by the Bell” — before rejoining his brothers in 1970 and scoring a major hit with “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”

The Gibbs then suffered some slack years — searching for a style that could sustain them in the post-Beatles era — and Barry Gibb started experimenting with falsetto vocals, first on backup, and then in the lead position.

The brothers were at a low point when they went into a French studio to try to come up with some songs for the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack at the urging of Stigwood.

The success of those tunes — closely linked to the popularity of the movie, and the power of the disco movement — changed their lives forever, giving them a string of number one hits.

After several years of chart success, the Gibbs spent much of the 1980s writing songs and producing records for other artists, working closely with top talents such as Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton. They also continued touring and releasing their own records.

Gibb also released more solo albums, including “Secret Agent,” during this period.

The band continued in the 1990s, gaining recognition for their body of work with induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Then came Maurice's sudden death in 2003. The surviving brothers announced that the name Bee Gees would be retired with Maurice Gibb's death, although Robin and Barry did collaborate on projects and Robin Gibb continued his solo career and extensive touring despite mounting health problems.

He had to cancel several engagements in 2011, including one with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and he showed an alarming weight loss on his rare public appearances. He was hospitalized briefly in 2011 with what doctors said was an inflamed colon and had surgery for intestinal problems in March, 2012.

One of his final projects was “The Titanic Requiem,” a classical work he co-wrote with his son Robin-John, that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra premiered in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Robin Gibb remained emotionally attached to the Isle of Man, keeping a house there as well as homes in rural Oxfordshire, England, and Miami.

He also became involved with numerous charities and worked to establish a permanent memorial to the veterans of Britain's World War II Bomber Command and recorded songs honouring British veterans.

Gibb is survived by his second wife, Dwina, and four children, as well as his older brother, fellow Bee Gee Barry Gibb, and his sister Lesley Evans, who lives in Australia.

READ MORE: Robin Gibb’s music legacy

PHOTOS: Remembering Robin Gibb

Q&A: Ariane Moffatt Starts Small Again

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ben Rayner

(May 23, 2012) Ariane Moffatt is a bona fide pop star in her native Quebec, routinely playing to crowds in the 5,000 to10,000 range and racking up ADISQ awards the way some of us rack up parking tickets.

With her fourth studio album, MA, the spunky Montrealer has set her sights on expanding her domain beyond la Francophonie. The record is her first to be sung in Canada's two official languages, which means English-speaking listeners who've heretofore perhaps turned a deaf ear to Moffatt's supple voice and endlessly intriguing songwriting are suddenly waking up to what Quebec has known all along: she's the real deal.

A solitary Moffatt wrote, performed and produced nearly every note of MA — a winning mix of supple, groove-oriented electro-pop bangers and pillowy ballads — by herself in her Mile End studio, but she's been hitting the road hard with an all-star band of Montreal scenesters ever since making a big dent at the South by Southwest festival in Austin this past March. She arrives at the Drake Underground this Friday, which provided a good excuse for a chat.

Q: So is playing English Canada and the States like starting over again for you?

A: That's for sure. I did that with France. It's been two records or so that I've been doing some development more seriously with France. It was a choice that I made consciously, to start over again. And I think it's better for me to start over again than to do the same thing in a place where I'm comfortable and just know what's gonna happen next. I don't have overambitious expectations. I'm really realistic about this show-business thing. But feeling the vibe of convincing people in a small venue and feeling that electricity is what I like most about my work.

Q: Well, you have a really strong record as a calling card. This one was a bit of a departure for you, too, right?

A: It was a learning process. At the same time, it was kind of going back to the no-compromise state where you are when you start. I had been working hard in France touring Tous les sens, my third record, and I really needed to cleanse myself of selling myself and doing promo. So I got a little place in my neighbourhood five minutes' walk from my home, and my plan was totally to just to have an enlightened place where I could improve my producing skills and just get to know my gear better. It was very much recherche et développement . . . also I wanted to push myself and not be rational. If I wanted to have a minute and a half of instrumental stuff at the end of the song, why not allow myself to do it?

Q: Did you plan on doing it all alone?

A: It wasn't conscious that I wound up doing it all by myself. I started working and I was pushing it further and further and people around me, when I tried to talk to collaborators, they were, like: “Just go back to your studio. You can go further. If you have problems, we'll be there, but you're close to doing your own record yourself.” So that was a good boost of confidence from my peeps.

Q: You've got a really good band with you these days.

A: I have a kick-ass band. It's a blessing. I chose people who have their own projects, too, who are creators. The bass player and the guitar player were with Beast and Lisa (Iwanycki), the keyboardist, is in a band called Creature. The drummer used to be with Winter Gloves. So they all know what it is to be a warrior and to start over again and I feel like they're pushing me . . . I have this unit that came like a gift after all this solitude. I'm super-happy to go back on the road with them.


Cold Specks’s Voice From Beyond, And More

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner

I Predict a Graceful Expulsion (Arts & Crafts)

(May 21, 2012) Sit down for just a few minutes with Al Spx, the enigmatic Etobicoke-expat-in-London whoT records as Cold Specks, and you’ll realize very quickly that this shy, self-effacing 24-year-old would be doing exactly what she does even if the international critical intelligentsia and the combined record-label might of Arts & Crafts and Mute Records had never mobilized behind it.

You don’t need to meet her, mind you, to deduce that Spx is coming from an honest, unguarded and entirely uncalculated place. The voice says it all. All the industry boardrooms in the world can’t Katy Perry this sort of instrument into existence, can’t predict or foment the sort of attention that has accrued to Cold Specks’s debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. We’re just fortunate that smart folks like U.K. producer/manager Jim Anderson (Los Campesinos!, the Twilight Sad) and perennial P.J. Harvey associate Rob Ellis curated a doting environment so that voice could strut its stuff.

It’s the voice that carries the album, the voice and the evangelical conviction with which it’s delivered. The real songs, it’s safe to assume, will come in time. For now, Spx’s Spartan gospel-folk vignettes easily subsist as the sketches the album’s intermittently fleshy arrangements — I’m not the first to invoke the National in relation to “Winter Solstice” or the tempestuous “Hector,” nor will I be the last — diligently attempt to present as more than sketches because she’s so freakin’ good at singing them. Period.

Spx is a very public acolyte of Alan Lomax’s Deep South field recordings from the late 1930s and early 1940s, and it shows in the raw church-earnestness of her vocal takes. Even when the production cops to contemporary anthemic/uplifting indie tropes, Spx’s raspy alto sounds like it’s being teleported in from some ageless wormhole repository of the properly soulful. She’s a huge talent and this album will be huge. Her next record, however, will be the real killer.

Top track: “Hector.” Sharon Van Etten ain’t the only sad chick who can brood.

Call Me Maybe: Is This The Best Pop Song Ever?

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Sean Michaels

(May 21, 2012) The first time Josh Ramsay heard the biggest pop song in the world, it was not yet the biggest pop song in the world. The 26-year-old was at his recording studio in Vancouver, cozied among electric guitars, arcade games and what he describes as “a human-sized hamster ball.”

On this spring day, Ramsay's client, an unsuccessful Canadian Idol contestant, played him a song she had been working on. “It was a folk song,” Ramsay recalls. He didn't love it. But hiding somewhere around the second verse, like a needle in a haystack, one line caught his ear:

“Here's my number,”
Carly Rae Jepsen sang, “so call me maybe.”

Call Me Maybe was released in September. Since then, these three minutes and 14 seconds have been certified platinum in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The song spent four weeks as the No. 1 single in Britain, holding off Nicki Minaj, B.o.B. and Justin Bieber. Online, Katy Perry has recorded herself singing along with the track. So have Bieber, actor James Franco and the Harvard University baseball team. The Village Voice dubbed it the song of the summer, Gawker called it “perfect” and on YouTube, Call Me Maybe has been viewed roughly 280 times more than Arcade Fire's latest video.

If you've not yet heard Call Me Maybe, you may want crawl out from under that rock. Sure, the song is lightweight, tinselly and as lyrically sophisticated as one of Leonard Cohen's sneezes. But it's also breathless, jubilant and beautifully catchy.

Unlike Rihanna's dour bangers or Perry's relentless hard sell, Jepsen's ersatz teen pop (she is also 26) feels airy, thrilling, fun. Even though she is older than edgy ingénues like Lady Gaga and Jessie J, Call Me Maybe has a girl's swoony, fairy-tale romanticism: “I threw a wish in the well,” Jepsen begins, “looked to you as it fell.” Then the song pivots and Jepsen herself is the prize, “chased” and “stared” at, offering the chorus's coy understatement.

Sure, it's a ridiculous catchphrase: “Call me, maybe.” But that chorus, plain and luscious, is miles away from the remixes and ringtones of the rest of the Top 40. With wheeling strings, a simple disco beat, it's “the sonic equivalent,” wrote the Voice's Maura Johnston, “of a cartoon character's eyes turning into big pink hearts.”

The song was not always thus. After Jepsen brought Ramsay the tune, he says, he threw almost everything away. “If someone has a song that's awesome, I just produce it. If someone has a song that's not awesome, I write on it till I think it is awesome.”

In this case, Ramsay “just liked the one line,” so he and Jepsen started almost from scratch. They borrowed a melody from the pre-chorus, raised it to a higher key (so Jepsen could “belt it out a bit more”), and “filled in the rest.” Tavish Crowe, a guitarist who helped Jepsen write the initial demo, received a songwriting credit for “good karma.”

Though this is his first international smash, Ramsay is no amateur. As front man of the emo band Marianas Trench, he has scored two top 10 Canadian albums and four platinum Canadian singles. He has also written and produced hits for Danny Fernandes and Faber Drive, and a slew of singles for other pop and country acts. It runs in the family: Ramsay's father, Miles, was a successful jingle writer, penning the A&W root beer theme – arguably the greatest moment in the history of the tuba.

For Call Me Maybe, Ramsay had the hunch to “ditch the synths” and go for something semi-acoustic, closer to Jepsen's folk roots. “I showed Carly [Annie Lennox's] Walking on Broken Glass as an example of how a string riff could be cool in a dance tune,” he says.

The goal is always to find the hooks that won't get unhooked. “Every melody should be one that gets stuck in your head,” he explains. “That's how I write: If it gets stuck in my head for a few days, I use it. If I forget it, then I assume it wasn't that good anyway.”

Ramsay insists that Call Me Maybe is not the best thing he's ever done, just the luckiest. Luck's the thing that got the song on the radio; luck's what brought it to Bieber's ears – convincing his manager to sign Jepsen to his label; luck's what has now put Ramsay on a short list to produce songs for Lady Gaga and Usher.

And even if that doesn't work out, there's still Marianas Trench. After cancelling their last batch of gigs due to a freak episode of vertigo, Ramsay and the band are booking their first arena tour. “I think I must have a horseshoe,” he says, “inserted in a place we shouldn't discuss in print.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Carrie Underwood, The Idol Big Enough For Oprah

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ben Rayner

(May 18, 2012) There’s famous and then there’s the kind of famous that gets Oprah Winfrey knocking on your door.

American Idol victor-turned-country-superstar
Carrie Underwood — whose fourth album, Blown Away, debuted atop the Canadian and U.S. charts two weeks ago — is the latter kind of famous. The most commercially successful Idol graduate in the show’s 11-year history, Underwood gets grilled by Mama Oprah at 9 p.m. Sunday night during the latest episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter on OWN.

This time, her hockey-playing husband Mike Fisher, a Peterborough boy currently playing centre for the Nashville Predators, gets dragged along for the ride.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with Oprah on a couple of occasions on a couple of other shows, but this is actually the first time that Mike and I have sat down and done an interview together, which amazes me. We’ve never done that before in almost two years of being married,” says the Oklahoma-raised, Nashville-based Underwood, 29, whilst being whisked between engagements during a two-day promotional stop in Toronto this past week.

“She came down a few days ago and we took around to one of our favourite places to spend time — it’s not too far away from our home, kind of a weekend getaway — and we took her to where we’re gonna be building our house someday. And we went to the Bridgestone Arena to skate around on the ice a little bit.”

Wait a minute: did Oprah skate?

“No, she did not,” laughs Underwood, politely ignoring a subsequent question about how well she thinks Winfrey would take being checked into the boards by her man.

In any case, Underwood has earned a lot of points in former Ottawa Senator Fisher’s home nation by embracing hockey fanhood wholeheartedly since marrying into the game. A regular at Nashville Predators games — jersey and all, hurling insults at the linesmen — until the team was knocked out of the playoffs by Phoenix in five games this year, she’s doing remarkably well for someone who missed out on the NHL altogether while growing up in the tiny town of Checotah, Okla. Indeed, she’s kind of incredulous that she didn’t discover hockey sooner.

“It’s one of those things where I didn’t grow up with it, but now I’m kinda sad I missed out on it for the 26 years before I met Mike,” she says.

“I love sports, so it amazes me I didn’t discover it on my own. It took marrying a hockey guy for me to be a fan and now I’m definitely a fan.

“Everybody’s always like: ‘Don’t you care if he gets in fights? Doesn’t that make you sick to your stomach?’ It’s OK. I know he can take of himself. I just want him and Nashville to get a little further along in the playoffs. Hopefully, they’ll be able to do that next year.”

Considering she’s got a blockbuster album to promote, Underwood is taking it surprisingly easy on the touring front this summer.

She’ll play the odd festival date here and there, such as her touchdown at the Boots & Hearts Festival in Bowmanville Aug. 10-12, but she’s still enough of a small-town gal to have largely set aside the warmer months to attend “a lot of family weddings” and spend time with her husband during the off-season.

Come September, mind you, it’ll be time to put the stormy, arena-ready epics from Blown Away through their proper paces in the big-room environments for which the album — considerably more rock ‘n’ roll than it is country — appears to have been written.

“I’m a lot of things. I’m certainly not gonna lie. I listen to everything,” says Underwood. “I definitely like to think of myself as a country artist who can use other influences to make my album appeal to not just country-music listeners.

“There were certainly songs on there that seemed to want lots of production and seemed to want lots of drama. When you have a song like ‘Two Black Cadillacs’ or ‘Blown Away,’ they need something that’s as grand as the lyrics and the stories. So we just tried to do what the songs wanted us to do.”

D’Angelo Talks About His Years Long Battle with His Demons (Video)

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 23, 2012) *D’Angelo is back everybody.

Yes, the man who set the world on fire with his smooth sounds and heart racing lyrics is back on his grind after years of mysteriously disappearing, living lost in addiction, letting that sexy body fall apart.

A dark cloud loomed over his life for years, forcing him to live like a hermit without close friends and family. Drugs took over his lifestyle and weight gain was incredible. Not to mention the man endured a car accident caused by his drunkenness that nearly killed him.

He was on his way back to stardom, but his wreck turned off several music executives, pushing him farther down the rabbit hole of despair. Even Clive Davis rescinded his decision to signing D’Angelo to a $3 million contract.

But he’s back and sober after failing two stints in rehab. Although he’s not what he once was in his younger days, the sultry singer is looking good and quite well at 38, reports GQ.

“I didn’t really think I had a problem like that,” he said. “I felt like, you know, all I got to do is clean up and I’ll be fine. Just get in the studio and I’ll be f*cking fine.”

RELATED: D’Angelo Back in the Studio Recording New Album

What brought him to the light was the tragic passing of producer J Dilla in 2006. The two had just spoken on the phone, when just like that, his friend was gone after losing the battle against lupus.

“I felt like I was going to be next. I ain’t bullshi**ing. I was scared then,” he says, recalling how shame engulfed him, preventing him from attending the funeral. “I was so f**ked-up, I couldn’t go.”

He further described his battle against principalities, mentioning he felt a dark side pulling him to a place he never wanted to know.

Check out the full interview at GQ.

Watch D’Angelo’s behind the scenes video for his GQ feature:

Hoodie Allen: Hip Pop From The Soul

Source: www.thestar.com - By Christian Pearce

(May 18, 2012) Q. When did you start listening to hip hop?

A I think one of the first hip-hop records, I think it was a Coolio record. I don’t remember what song it was. I think I got introduced to hip hop via mainstream ways, and then quickly tracked back to this underground world . . . I was a big backpacker.

Q. You were a fan of the Beastie Boys, what was your reaction to the passing of MCA?

A. I’ve now been through a few significant music artists’ passing, and that was like the first time that I ever felt really affected. When people were affected by like 2Pac or Biggie and Jam Master Jay, not to be disrespectful, but they weren’t as personal for me. Hearing about MCA was a real shot in the gut.

Q. What did you take from the legacy of the Beasties?

A. What was so cool about them is they’ve been able to be themselves their whole career, and they’ve done stuff that’s really fun and innovative. And they broke all the rules for sampling, and that was a big part of what I did starting out.

Q. Hip hop has come from the ’hood, the inner city and poverty. Your music doesn’t reflect that. Do you think a connection with the inner city is no longer relevant in terms of legitimacy in hip-hop music?

A. I guess it’s all very cyclical. Truly, it started off as just party records — beginning of hip hop was almost like partyish-disco kind of fusion. I think everything evolves. It’s a super young genre compared to everything else that exists . . .

But I’m very aware that I don’t fit into the classical hip-hop fold, and that’s cool with me — I’ve never tried to. I think you run into a problem when you force people to sort of see you one way, and they see you another.

Q. Did you ever experiment with other genres?

A. I don’t really consider myself to be all that hip hop. I know what I do is rap, but in my opinion I feel like I already kind of exist in a few genres, whether it be pop or some sort of indie-rap feel, but explicitly doing other stuff, I really haven’t.

Q. What’s your target audience?

A. Moms, mostly moms (laughs) . . . I make music for myself, and I think in the beginning I saw that a lot of people that related were my peers or people my age. I think now even younger kids are getting into it, and that’s really cool for me. I think the younger you are the more you allow yourself to be involved and sort of engrossed in something, and really become a fan and relate to the music. Sometimes the older you get, the more jaded you are.

Q. What’s your message?

A. It some ways my story is a good reflection of the message, because I’m not really taking the traditional route here or what anyone thought I’d end up doing, coming from where I was at. And yet I’m doing what I love and having fun doing it, and it’s going well. It seems super cliché, but you only have one chance to go forward and follow what you love to do in life, and I encourage people to do that because I did, and I’ve busted my ass and it’s paid off.

Q. You’re performing in Toronto on May 21. What’s your approach with live shows?

A. This show has blown up, because it was supposed to be at Wrongbar, and Wrongbar sold out. And then it was supposed to be at Mod Club, and Mod Club sold out. And now it’s at Phoenix Concert Theatre . . . I feel like our live show is just like a rock band, like a party.

I do play with a live band. I grew up going to hip-hop shows, and hating hip-hop shows. They were just so monotonous, so formulaic, and boring. And we really try to break that in every way, and bring people an uninterrupted fun set in what we do, and our goal has been accomplished thus far.

Mayer Hawthorne’s Soul Rolls On

Source: www.thestar.com - By Chandler Levack

(May 22, 2012) For blue-eyed 33-year-old soul singer Mayer Hawthorne “home is where the tour bus parks.” Calling from Atlanta, he’s been on the road for the last two years on a worldwide tour that’s taken him from Australia to Indonesia, to Europe to finally North America, where he’ll play Toronto venue The Hoxton with his band The County this Friday.

On his second full-length album How Do You Do, released on Universal last fall, the singer’s brand of Motown-influenced love songs is aided by a serious bro appeal. Rendered in his classic soul falsetto, tracks like the brass-tinged “The Walk” regale in descriptions of a heartbreaker’s mile-long legs and luscious lips, and then call her out on her “shitty (fricking) attitude.”

Like any of the musicians taxed with the emerging “new soul revival” (he may very well be the dude Adele), he worked his way backwards. “Growing up in Detroit, Motown is our musical heritage,” says the musician, born Drew Cohen. “But I wasn’t even alive during the heyday, everything I’ve gathered is from old video footage, and by hearing stories and by listening to the records.

“I grew up listening to NWA and LL Cool J and Public Enemy. I learned more about soul music through hip hop than from the music itself.”

Who knows how much of that influence will come out in the Hoxton gig, or Hawthorne’s subsequent late-night gig DJing at Revival on the same night. But his sincere hip-hop love love pays off in other ways; his past musical collaborators have included west coast legend Snoop Dogg, who added a slinky rap solo to his airy Fender Rhodes-jam “Can’t Stop.” Though the bespectacled Hawthorne (who often performs in a bowtie) seems like an unlikely match for the Godfather of Rap, the two balance each other out in the butter-smooth track.

“Snoop is always jamming classic soul music.” Conceding that “he definitely smokes more weed than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Hawthorne says there’s no lack of natural mellow spirit to Snoop: “He has a boom box that he carries around that’s hooked up to his laptop, that blasts stuff like The Stylistics, Willie Hutch and The Delfonics. He just has a tremendous amount of love.”

Hawthorne’s been living in Los Angeles for the last five years and seems perfectly acclimatized to the Hollywood lifestyle. Back home, parts of his city are falling into ruins, but Hawthorne remains optimistic about the city’s future.

“Detroit is such an amazing place with such an incredible history,” he says. “And I think it’s an exciting time, all the rules are out the window. There’s a chance to completely re-design the city and start from scratch.”

Indeed, Mayer Hawthorne found himself in the position of offering his services to Detroit when the controversial band Nickelback was slated to perform at the Thanksgiving halftime show of his beloved Detroit Lions football team. Though a petition circulated around the internet to oust the band, Nickelback played on. Instead, Hawthorne offered a live stream to Rolling Stone of him rocking out in his parent’s basement with a full band. (His dad plays bass.) He insists he has no beef with the Canadian rockers; instead, he’s all about the love.

Says Hawthorne, “I make music for people to have fun to and for people to make love to. And people tell me they make love to my music all the time.”

Hoxton tickets available via Ticketweb.ca; Revival event admission is $20 at the door.

Next Music From Tokyo: Toronto Doc Brings Japanese Indy Music To Canada

Source: www.thestar.com - By Nancy J. White

(May 17, 2012) Nothing about Steven Tanaka says hip, underground, or rocker. The anesthesiologist at St. Joseph’s Health Centre stands in his scrubs, stethoscope draped around his neck, hair neatly trimmed, arms tattoo-less.

But the 38-year-old doctor, who never even played in a teen garage band — “I was a wallflower,” he says — has a secret life as tour organizer of Next Music Tokyo, showcasing leading independent, underground bands from Japan.

He not only selects the bands, he bankrolls the tour, books hotels and venues, designs posters, rents equipment, acts as tour guide, driver, emcee and roadie. Once he even manned the door.

“I’m having the time of my life doing these tours,” he explains with a big smile. “I’m living vicariously the life of a rock star without being in a band.”

The latest Next Music from Tokyo tour plays at The Rivoli in Toronto on Friday and Saturday then heads to Montreal and Vancouver. The four bands on this tour, explains Tanaka, offer distinct styles, including math rock, electronic hip-hop, and a Japanese twist on klezmer music.

He started Next Music from Tokyo three years ago to introduce Canadians to the vibrant Japanese indy music
scene that he loves and give some of his favourite groups a chance to tour.

To call the tours non-profit would be an understatement. Tanaka spends about $40,000 on each tour – airfare is the biggest chunk – and makes about $5,000 in ticket sales, he says. His bands play small venues and he keeps ticket prices low. “It’s a hobby,” he laughs, “an expensive hobby.”

But one with lots of memories. Like the time a band member received an electric shock on stage and fell over. Not to worry: Tanaka and five fellow doctors rushed in to help. Or the time, to save money, he put up 25 band members in his two-bedroom downtown condo overnight.

“Obviously I’m not married. No way a significant other would live with this. Unless, of course, they shared the same passion for indy Japanese music.”

His parents, he says, aren’t aware of how deeply he’s committed financially and time-wise to the tours. “They’d be upset. They’d say I should be focusing my time and money on settling down, getting married.”

Tanaka grew up in Vancouver, the son of Japanese immigrants. He was a studious kid who took piano and violin lessons. Although he says he has no significant talent, he always loved music — heavy metal in elementary school, punk and hardcore in high school. Although, he hastily adds, he never dressed punk.

He believed the stereotypes about Japanese pop and rock: manufactured idols with pretty faces who could play a little, he says. Then about six years ago he got more interested in Japanese culture, and during a visit, discovered the independent music scene.

“I was surprised at how creative and passionate it was,” he explains. “They’re more dynamic on stage than groups here. They’re more interactive with the crowd, jumping in, creating a bond.”

He was smitten, travelling up to eight times a year to Japan to listen to music. He collected 1000 CDs. In Japan, he met a British journalist who was organizing music festivals. Tanaka figured he could do that too, preferring to spend his money on music tours instead of expensive clothes or cars.

As a novice concert promoter, he struggled to arrange the first tour, especially getting all the permits. But it’s gotten easier over time. He thought the 2011 tour would be the last, but those shows were the best ever, spurring him on.

“People come up telling me, ‘That was the best concert I’ve ever been to,’” he says. “Those words make it all worthwhile.”

For more information, visit nextmusicfromtokyo.com

Youngsters In Toronto Orchestra Take Notes For Later

Source: www.thestar.com - By Trish Crawford

(May 18, 2012) The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra is where young musicians forge their dreams of musical careers — and more.

Hugo Lee, a 17-year-old oboe player who commutes to rehearsals from Unionville, has his eyes on an orchestra job and has landed a scholarship to attend the Julliard School in New York this fall. Trumpet player Rachel O'Connor, 21, is studying music at the University of Toronto, aiming for a master's degree in performance and is already handling paying weekend gigs as a soloist and in a band, Trio of Belles.

But there's also Nicole Li, 17, who has played violin in the orchestra since she was 10, wants to be a doctor like her father and plans to pursue science at Western University this fall. An older sister is already on this path.

All three are heading out with the youth orchestra to British Columbia for a series of concerts starting May 20 after the students successfully raised $30,000 in an online drive to support the trip.

Whatever they're learning working side-by-side with other young musicians under the conducting and coaching of Toronto Symphony musicians are the skills and determination to succeed at anything, says Lisa Griffiths, TSO senior manager of education who is a graduate of the youth symphony.

The bassoon player was on her way to a musical career and was playing with the National Youth Orchestra one summer when she suffered a catastrophic near-drowning, whose injuries stopped her performing career.

Griffiths discovered she loved arts administration and turned her talents there. That a music education can open the door to many careers is a message she gives frequently gives music students. “You are in a passionate learning environment. This is a place to find yourself.”

Victor Feldbrill founded the youth orchestra 38 years ago as a way to train future musicians, foster the love of music and engage the public in the orchestra's activities.

Cellist David Hetherington has been a youth coach almost from the very beginning. “The students are not just talented and capable but highly motivated,” says Hetherington, calling the experience “tremendously rewarding.”

One of his favourite activities is a weekend spent at a northern camp in the late fall where students can study intensely with the coaches, forming a strong bond, he says.

Although four members of the TSO are graduates of the youth symphony and many graduates work with other orchestras, Hetherington says that's not the only goal of the program.

“It is important for the orchestra that the general public is interested in what we do. Often these students become leadership types who are role models. They have influence.”

Whether it inspires them to attend the symphony, its support it with donations or join boards and committees, Hetherington says these young people will support music their whole lives.

Conductor Alain Trudel, who has been conducting the orchestra for eight years and is retiring after the tour to B.C. “Talking during a rehearsal break at Koerner Hall, as students kept working on their music or texted quietly, Trudel says there is a camaraderie between these students because “they share the same passion.”

As the father of five teenagers, Trudel, of Montreal, says, “I know all about teenagers. It is important to belong. They come from all different walks of life but no barriers exist when you play music together.”

Nicole Li, who played solo at the Sept. 24 concert at Roy Thomson Hall and will again solo in B.C., isn't saying goodbye to music altogether. Western has an orchestra, she says, and she plans to play in it.

Will Downing Discusses His Triple Threat CD Release Strategy

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Ricardo A. Hazell

(May 21, 2012) *Last week we published part one of Lee Bailey’s conversation with R&B crooner Will Downing.

The smoothed out soulful singer gave us the breakdown on how he feels the Internet has cut into the profits of artists, and he also spoke on the state of the music industry. In this offering Downing tells us about his plan to remain relevant as an independent artist, despite the modern pitfalls.

“Your project is your demo for promoters,” Will told Lee. “That’s the way you support yourself these days. The physical product that you have in your hands? All you’re doing with that is telling someone that you’re still alive, you’re still worth something (and asking) ‘Can you hire me?’ That’s it! You end up giving away more than you’re actually selling and what you do sell will not sustain or support you financially for a long period of time.”

Wow, seems pretty harsh. But, hasn’t that always been the nature of the beast called the music industry?

“I don’t know if it’s always been that way because we all knew some people who somehow sold enough records to acquire a royalty,” he explained. “If you legitimately had a smash record, 60 years from now you would still be getting a check. Now, everything is momentary. You sell what you can sell, get your hands on whatever it is you can get your hands on, and whatever you do with it that’s it. ”

The industry is a cruel, fickle beast, is it not? But, asked Lee, if the game is so jacked up why not trying something new?

“This is what I know how to do and I do Ok with it,” said Downing. “The live shows have sustained me for the last 20 so3mething years and fortunately I have a fan base and we’ve kind of grown up together. So when they come see me they know they’re going to get some quality. That’s what I’ve done for the last 20 some odd years. It’s damn near like a sing-a-long. I’m doing alright. I ain’t complaining one bit!”

Well, we’re glad he’s not complaining. For a minute there it looked like a there was some complainingoin’ on. Will’s not just some grizzled veteran waxing and waning for the good ol’ days. He’s actually making moves to counteract what he feels is the short attention span of the modern listening audience. Honestly? It’s not a bad idea. Check it out.

“Let me see if I can clear this up for you a little bit. Remember when I told you about the Internet and people listening then forgetting? Well, I was a victim of that on the last LP I released, which was entitled ‘Lust, Love and Lies’,” Mr. Downing explained. “I put all this work in to this album and I put about … what I considered, 12 really good songs on there and it kind of got lost. It had one single that did really, really well, then we released the second single and we did okay with it. Then people were kind of like ‘alright, well now I’m on to the next thing.’ We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this record with promoting and all this other stuff and it just kind of got lost.

“What prompted me to make the (new project) this way is I got a phone call from a friend of mine who lives in the Baltimore/DC area. She called and said ‘Oh, I just heard your new single on the radio’ and then she prefaced it by saying ‘When’s it coming out?’ I’m looking at my telephone and I said ‘It’s off the project that you have.’ Then she says ‘You know what? I only listen to music in like 30 second increments now and then I kind of move on to the next thing.’ And it just made me think like, ‘You know what? I’m giving y’all too much music. You can’t even absorb the music that I’m giving you, It’s too much. I’m going to break this project down into a 3 part series with each part having 4 songs.”

There you have it! The solution to being lost in the media static as a recording artist? Release as music as you can, as often as you can.

“The first project came out in November and it was entitled ‘Yesterday’. ‘Yesterday’ was four remixes. There was ‘Ooh, Baby, Baby’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, ‘Send for Me’ by Atlantic Starr, Angela Bofill’s ‘This Time I’ll Be Sweeter’ and then I did the Delfonics ‘La La Means I Love You.’ That was part one. Every four months I’m going to release another project. In February, I released a project called ‘Today’, which is four Will Downing songs done in the style, and in the way, that you’ve known me to do what I do for the last 20 some odd years. In June, I’m going to release something called ‘Tomorrow’ and that’s going to be four original Will Downing songs with a twist to it. Something you’ve never heard me do before, or something that you haven’t heard me do in a very long time. Then, in October, I’m going to put them together and add a couple more songs and we’re going to call the whole LP ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’.”

Kimbra Follows Gotye In Winning North America Over

Source: www.thestar.com - By James C. McKinley Jr.

(May 23, 2012) On her 22nd birthday, Kimbra sashayed onto the stage at Webster Hall, in her first bona fide concert in New York, while her band vamped on a campy movie theme. She wore a short pink party dress with poofy sleeves and her hair in bangs and a flip, a retro 1960s ’do. She looked doll-like, a brunette version of Alice in Wonderland from a Disney film, but showing off more leg than Alice would. And when she began her first song, “Cameo Lover,” an upbeat plea to her man for intimacy, her voice was anything but innocent.

Some of the people crowding around the stage that night in March began to sing along, even though the song is not on American pop radio, and her first album, Vows, only came out in the United States after the show. “I always imagined my first American tour might be pretty modest,” she said later. “What I was really surprised about was how many people knew the words to my songs already.” Her cross-country tour continues through July 7.

The star-making machinery at Warner Brothers Records is firmly behind Kimbra, who comes from New Zealand, and she has had a run of good publicity in the past year. She was the talk of the South by Southwest Music Festival in March, where she did eight sets over four days and impressed critics. Vows sold more than 100,000 in Australia (which qualifies as platinum there) after its release in August, peaking at No. 4 on the Australian charts. Then she won an award for best new female artist from the Australian Recording Industry Association.

But what brought her to wider attention in this country was her duet with Gotye on “Somebody That I Used to Know,” a song that has become an international hit and spent five weeks at No. 1 in the United States.

Rob Cavallo, chairman of Warner Brothers Records, said the Gotye hit came well after the label had signed her, which was in June. He had already decided to pour resources into promoting her. “She has the potential to be like Prince,” he said. “That’s how strong her musicality is.”

High praise, yet it remains to be seen if Kimbra’s quirky, jazz-inflected R&B and pop will find a big American audience. She is philosophical about her sudden visibility here when she still has not had a single on the pop charts.

“It’s a good thing, because you get to build a foundation and explain what you’re about,” she said at an interview in Warner Brothers’ New York office. “It’s difficult if you get thrust to the top with a hit single, and nobody knows anything about you.”

Kimbra’s songs are more experimental than many pop radio tracks. She layers her vocals with a loop machine, singing underlying motifs before adding the melody and then a harmony line above. She is fond of complex, syncopated rhythms; unpredictable song structures; and the occasional jazz harmony.

She admires singer-songwriters, she says, who “use their voices as instruments,” like Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and Prince.

Kimbra, born in March 1990, grew up in Hamilton, N.Z., the daughter of a physician and a nurse. A boyfriend in high school turned her on to Miles Davis and the Mars Volta. She bought a loop pedal and started experimenting with layered vocals. When she was 17, Mark Richardson, a manager and producer, persuaded her to move to Melbourne, Australia, and pursue music rather than go to college.

It was in Melbourne that she started working on Vows with Francois Tetaz, who is Gotye’s producer. (He introduced the two singers.) The album was a long time in gestation. Both Tetaz and Richardson counseled Kimbra to wait until she had a strong set of songs.

“I would have been very happy at the age of 18 to put it out,” she said. “Here I was sitting in Melbourne, and my manager and my producer were like: ‘You’re not ready yet. You don’t know what you want to say as an artist.’ I’d say, ‘Yes, I do.” ’

“She’s 22 years old, and she knows exactly what she wants every note on her album to sound like,” said Cavallo.

But Cavallo did want to tweak the album for an American audience. At lunch after the audition, he told Kimbra he regarded some of the songs as “underbaked and sleepy-sounding.” In November the label put her together with three proven American producers: Mike Elizondo, Greg Kurstin and Mark Foster, who also is the frontman of Foster the People. The U.S. release has six new songs.

Onstage at Webster Hall on March 27, Kimbra was electric. She leapt and shimmied in her flouncy dress, played a tambourine vigorously, flung her hair and sometimes did odd hand and arm motions as she sang.

Offstage she is very much a young woman in progress. She is still girlie enough to admit, “I get very excited by Walt Disney films.” But these days she says she finds inspiration in stories about mystics and C.S. Lewis’ theological works. On a recent morning she was working her way through the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Strength to Love.

“I just find it really fascinating the way we struggle to find meaning in the universe,” she said without a trace of irony. “It inspires a lot of my songs.”

Peter Gabriel’s 25th Anniversary So Tour Coming To Toronto

Source: www.thestar.com - By Raju Mudhar

(May 23, 2012) Twenty five years later, Peter Gabriel is still willing to be your “Sledgehammer.”

The singer just announced that he’s going to be doing a tour of full album performance of So, his seminal, multi-platinum selling album from 1986, which spawned hits like “Red Rain,” “Big Time,” “Don’t Give Up” with Kate Bush and his classic “In Your Eyes.”

Called The Back to Front tour, Canadian fans get the first taste of the tour, kicking off in Quebec City and coming to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

The release said that Gabriel will be touring with members of the original tour’s band. He’ll also be performing songs from his other albums.

So was also known for its groundbreaking videos, and Gabriel has embraced elaborate concert set-ups, with interesting use of visuals as part of his shows.

To coincide with the tour, So will also be reissued in several versions, including a special edition 3-CD set and super deluxe box set.

Reunion tours are very hot and lucrative in the concert market right now, as are tours that focus specifically on a classic album, such as the Pixies did in 2009, when the band started a tour focusing on the 20th anniversary of the album Doolittle.


Phillip Phillips crowned American Idol

Source: Jill Serjeant, Reuters

(May 23, 2012) Indie artist
Phillip Phillips won American Idol on Wednesday, becoming the fifth male singer in a row to take the title and a guaranteed recording contract. The 21-year-old guitar player from Georgia, who brought an indie vibe to the top-rated TV contest, beat ballad singer Jessica Sanchez, 16, of California in the public vote. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest said a world record 132 million votes were cast by phone, text and online for the two finalists.

Kanye West Leads BET Nominations

Source: www.globeandmail.com - The Associated Press

(May 22, 2012) It's a family affair at the upcoming BET Awards: Kanye West has the most nominations with seven, while his mentor, Jay-Z, earned five, and Jay-Z's wife, Beyonce, received six. Jay-Z and West collaborated last year on the album Watch the Throne. Their songs - In Paris and Otis - are up for video of the year. Beyonce has two nominations in that category with Love on Top and Countdown. The fifth nominee is Usher's Climax. The nominations were announced Tuesday in New York. Samuel L. Jackson will host the July 1 award show, which will be held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj will perform. Other multiple nominees include Brown, Lil Wayne, Drake and J. Cole. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly will receive a lifetime achievement award.

Whitney Houston’s Last Recording, A Duet With Jordin Sparks, Released Ahead Of Movie

Source: www.thestar.com

(May 23, 2012) NEW YORK, N.Y.—Whitney Houston’s final recording is being released. The song, “Celebrate,” is a duet with Jordin Sparks from Houston’s last movie, a remake of the film Sparkle. The song debuted Monday on Ryan Seacrest’s website and will be available on iTunes June 5. Sparks performed a tribute to Houston Sunday night at the Billboard Music Awards, singing “I Will Always Love You” as Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina wiped away tears. Houston’s death in February at age 48 came as the singer had been attempting a comeback and had finished filming Sparkle. She drowned in a bathtub in Beverly Hills, Calif. Authorities said her death was complicated by cocaine use and heart disease. Sparkle opens in theatres August 17.

::FILM NEWS::    

Toronto Actress To Play Casey Anthony

Source: www.thestar.com - By Isabel Teotonio

(May 23, 2012) Toronto actress Holly Deveaux will play Casey Anthony, “the most hated woman in America,” in an upcoming movie about the controversial murder trial.

Deveaux, who starred in the children’s TV series Baxter, will play opposite Rob Lowe of West Wing, who will portray prosecutor Jeff Ashton.

Lowe, who’s also well-known for his work on the TV shows Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Recreation told TMZ: “It’s gonna be interesting … I think people are gonna dig it … great script.”

It was announced Tuesday that Deveaux beat actresses such as Kristen Stewart, Alyssa Milano and Jennifer Love Hewitt to snag the role of the 26-year-old who was reviled by the American public after a Florida jury acquitted her for the 2008 murder of her two-year-old daughter Caylee.

The verdict last July outraged legal pundits and surprised millions who had watched Anthony’s six-week trial
live on television. Weeks later, Reuters published results from E-Poll’s E-Score Celebrity Research that tracks public perceptions of celebrities. It found Anthony was the most hated person in America.

The film Prosecuting Casey Anthony, which is based on Jeff Ashton’s best-selling book Imperfect Justice, will begin shooting on Tuesday in Winnipeg and should take about three weeks.

Ashton told the Orlando Sentinel he was flattered by the casting.

“I wish I had his boyish good looks,” Ashton said. “When I told my wife, she asked, ‘So does that mean I’m married to Rob Lowe now?’”

Although Deveaux plays the title role, the film’s main characters are Ashton, defence attorney Jose Baez and prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick.

The role of Baez has gone to Cuban-American actor-comedian Oscar Nunez, who plays Oscar Martinez on The Office. Elizabeth Mitchell of Lost will portray Burdick.

The characters of Anthony and her parents, George and Cindy, will be secondary. Cindy’s role has yet to be cast but George will be played by veteran actor Kevin Dunn of hit films such as Mississippi Burning, Blue Steel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and most recently the TV show Luck.

All of Deveaux’s dialogue comes directly from the public record.

The movie will rely heavily on news footage to give it a documentary look, and will not use re-enactments of Anthony’s life, the film’s writer Alison Cross told the Sentinel.

“It’s not our intention to make a movie that tries Casey Anthony for the third time,” Cross said. “She was tried in court and she was tried by public opinion.”

Samuel L. Jackson Talks About The Samaritan And Working With Quentin Tarantino Again

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(May 17, 2012) “You didn’t say whether you liked The Samaritan or not,” Samuel L. Jackson points out.

The question in the form of a statement comes near the end of a wide-ranging exclusive phone interview with the Star Saturday afternoon, where we talked about everything from how 63-year-old Jackson chooses roles, to his enduring marriage, fondness for Toronto and famously frequent use of the M-word (the one that sounds like mothertrucker) onscreen.

Jackson has been watching a thunderstorm blow across the sky from his hotel room as we talked. I feared unleashing one over the phone if I told him the truth about the made-in-Toronto film where he plays Foley, an ex-con out of jail after a 25-year murder sentence who gets lured back into a life of crime.

After all, he just took on the New York Times’s movie critic A.O. Scott on Twitter for his review of The Avengers. Jackson responded: “#Avengers fans, NY Times critic A.O. Scott needs a new job! Let’s help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!”

When Jackson explained he reads everything that’s written about him — unlike 99 per cent of Hollywood — I share my opinion about The Samaritan: the actors did well — Irish actress Ruth Negga, Tom Wilkinson and Jackson were all impressive. But the often-rote script didn’t make it. The final scene was a dud when it should have exploded.

“There were some misses. You’re right,” Jackson observed. “That’s a fair assessment. It’s flawed.”

Jackson goes on to explain that he enjoyed working on The Samaritan, which he called “an interesting noir thriller” and his character, a man he describes as being “adrift in that sea of emotion.” He shot the movie last March, just before starting work on The Avengers.

“He was a lion among sheep and he’s become a sheep and he doesn’t quite know how to do that. Having love in his life is something he’s not used to,” said Jackson of Foley’s romance with Iris (played by Negga, who Jackson described as “a great little actress”).

But he said the picture’s finale was different than the one he read when he signed on, and that was disappointing.

“It had a much darker ending, which was the thing that totally sold me on it when I read it,” he said. “This is great. It’s dark. This is crazy. They (the filmmakers) pulled back on in a lot of ways which upset me. It’s flawed for those reasons; the film needs to be full bore.”

It sometimes happens, Jackson concedes, especially when you have signed on for 143 films (that’s the Internet Movie Database’s count).

“What I always tell (people) is I don’t get to go into the editing room so I have no idea what the film is going to look like when it’s over,” he said. “I just go in there and do the best I can.”

That goes for his Oscar-nominated role as scripture-quoting hit man Jules in Pulp Fiction or S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury in The Avengers.

That’s why he spoke up about the New York Times review. “I just don’t understand trying to pick away at a damned superhero movie,” he said. “Noise and toys, that’s all it is.”

Noise, toys and more than a billion at the box office — and counting. It’s a fitting addition to the resume for the man named by Guinness World Records as the highest-grossing actor of all time, earning $7.42 billion.

“Somebody keeps that statistic and I have had that pseudo-crown,” Jackson said with a chuckle. “Entertainment Weekly says I’ve made 10 billion somethin somethin’. I believe it.”

Jackson is also known as one of the busiest men in Hollywood. He’s in New Orleans until June, working on Django Unchained, the drama opening in December that reunites him with his Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds director (Jackson narrated Basterds), Quentin Tarantino. The film is already provoking controversy for its plot about slaves in the American South and its rumoured revenge angle, not unlike Tarantino’s heralded Nazi-killer drama Inglourious Basterds.

“I describe it as a heroic love story,” said Jackson. “A guy who is a slave (Jamie Foxx) and who loses his wife (Kerry Washington) in the midst of all the madness of slavery and tries to find a way to reclaim her. And that’s a love story.”

Jackson plays Stephen, a house slave owned by brutal Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Christoph Waltz also stars.

Jackson admits the subject matter makes filming difficult at times and for a black man, playing a slave onscreen brings unique challenges.

“I have talked a lot to my grandfather and grandmother, who were one generation removed from slavery, who talked to me about their parents who were slaves, when I was young, so I understand it,” said Jackson.

“I have an historical obligation to give this character all the weight and depth I can so when people see this film, like when they see a Holocaust film, they can have a certain understanding of how horrible it was.”

Jackson, who was involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, said he is determined to be historically correct, “so we can tell our story in a way that hasn’t been told before.”

He credits Tarantino with helping to take the sting out of difficult days on set, when a scene weighs on the cast.

“I enjoy the filmmaking process so much,” said Jackson. “He (Tarantino) makes it a fun place to be every day. No matter how difficult the subject matter or the scene may be, it’s always a fun place to be. It’s always shot well and we do a lot of things to take (away) the nastiness of what we just did. We play music. We talk. We laugh.”

Samuel L. Jackson: in his own words

Samuel L. Jackson shared some thoughts on golf, Kangol caps, critics and his Guinness record in an interview with the Toronto Star.

• On working in Toronto, where he made The Samaritan last March, one of several films he’s shot here in addition to appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival: “I like the city. I like the people. It’s familiar to me now. I can drive and feel my way around and I am able to walk around and people don’t bother me. It’s delightful, great restaurants.”

• When the weather co-operates here, Jackson can play golf, a sport he loves. He likes playing Redtail Golf Course, south of London, Ont., Eagles Nest, north of Toronto, and Lionhead in Brampton. “Golf courses get to rest a long time up there so they’re always pretty and pristine.”

• Speaking of golf, the makers of Jackson’s trademark Kangol cap may add a golf version to their line of snappy headgear. “I used to have stock in Kangol. I have a good relationship with them. We were talking about creating a golf line.” Jackson says he was inspired to wear a cap by his grandfather. “Except, I turn mine around. He always wore his forward.”

• He’s been married to wife LaTanya Richardson since 1980. What’s the secret of their marriage lasting so long in Hollywood? “According to my wife, she said in the New York Times the other week: amnesia.”

• He knows what we’re saying about him, including New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s recent review of The Avengers, which pointed out that the movie’s “failures are significant and dispiriting.” “I read everything that’s written about me. Other actors may say they don’t, but I do. I had a feeling about it (Scott’s review) and (in) the age of social media there’s no way to hide. I can just Twitter my fans and they can say what they want to.”

• You can predict what Avengers fans said, but what about his fellow actors? “Most of the actors, yeah all the actors, defend me and all the critics defend him (Scott). It’s fine. You can be in your home or in your office and say what you want about people and sometimes critics say vile things about actors in terms of what their abilities are, of why they did something or why did you choose that job, which is not their job. All you need to do is talk about the product.”

• He’s perhaps Hollywood’s busiest actor. Jackson has signed a nine-picture deal with Marvel to play eyepatch-wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury. He’s back in the studio in January or February to start work on Captain America 2. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. After he finishes Django Unchained next month, he has considering three new films and is recording the voice of a snail for DreamWorks’ animated adventure, Turbo. The snail’s name escapes him.

• How does Jackson decide which movies to say yes to? “Story, character, sometimes location,” he says with a laugh. “I want to be a certain place I haven’t been, but mostly it’s story and character and length of time (on set).”

• Yes, that was his own lengthy, skinny braided goatee in Jackie Brown. “I watch a lot of Hong Kong movies.”

• And then there’s that M-word so often associated with Jackson. There’s even a 2½ -minute YouTube video that splices a stunning number of them together. Jackson laughs at tallies like “how many times I said mother------ in Jackie Brown” and seems amused by the latest list in Entertainment Weekly, where writer Marc Snetiker compiles the number of creative variations on the M-word Jackson has used in his Twitter tweets: it’s 57.

Toronto Actress Sarah Gadon Walking Two Red Carpets At Cannes

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Gayle MacDonald

(May 20, 2012) The fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous doesn't hurt. But it's Sarah Gadon's quiet confidence and poise on-screen, most recently in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, that has the Toronto actress's phone ringing off the hook.

Of course, this week, the 25-year-old is not at home, thank you: She's walking two red carpets in Cannes - first for Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral, then for Papa Cronenberg's hotly anticipated Cosmopolis alongside Robert Pattinson.

Clearly, the up-and-comer has a debt to the Cronenbergs. She dishes on how they've built up her cred, and on how that's paying off on her next project, Denis Villeneuve's his new thriller An Enemy with Jake Gyllenhaal.

This is your first trip to Cannes. And somehow you've managed to make it a double whammy.

Initially, I was very excited, very honoured to be going with Cosmopolis. Then I got a call from Brandon, I was a ball of excitement and I said to him, 'Why did you tell me when I'm on the street car? I can't jump up and down!' I'm sure by the time I touch down in Cannes I'll be a ball of nerves.

How did you end up getting two Cronenberg flicks, anyway?

I guess David liked my work on A Dangerous Method so he asked me to work again. When I got the script for Antiviral, I called Brandon up and said are you sure you want to work with me - because there will be enough comparison to your dad. And he was fabulous. He was so clear in his vision for his film. I was very moved by his passion.

Are their directing styles similar?

David and Brandon are the kind of directors who tailor their direction to each actor they're working with. And they surround themselves with really incredible people who are talented in their field and very passionate about their work. It sounds simple, but it's difficult to achieve because directors are working with so many different people on such a large scale.

Speaking of incredible people, you've also shared the screen with serious heartthrobs: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Pattinson and now Gyllenhaal. Did that bowl you over?

The way I look at it, I've aligned myself with Cronenberg and now Villeneuve, and that's when I go, OMG. For me as a film student, it's all about the director and the film process, and I feel honoured to be at these auteurs' table. I certainly have pinch-me moments.

Right, you're finishing your undergraduate degree in cinema studies at U of T. How do you juggle?

I don't plan on school taking a back seat. I'm a part-time student and I plan to finish my degree. I think there are a lot of part-time students, with jobs on the side or stressful careers. I'm certainly not the first person to be working while I'm in university. The only difference is, when I'm working, I'm not necessarily in Toronto.

Has Cronenberg had that impact on your career?

He did elevate my status as an actor in a big way, not just in Canada but internationally. Since A Dangerous Method I've had meetings with everyone from J.J. Abrams to the producers of Drive. And they all have the same thing in common, they say: "Wow you worked with Cronenberg." He gave me instant film cred.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Adoring Marley Biopic May Be Overdoing It

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(May 18, 2012) There's a line between propaganda and documentary, a divide that Marley director Kevin Macdonald adroitly blurs and dances on blatantly. His movie is authorized (if not commissioned) by the family of the dead dorm-room hero and reggae superstar. Marley is highly watchable, finely crafted legacy preservation - and it's either a white-washed sham or awesomely shaded.

Early in Macdonald's chronological 145 minutes, the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie is shown arriving by plane to Jamaica in the 1960s. Selassie was seen by the Rastafarian movement as a messianic figure, and so his state visit was highly momentous. He is greeted at the airport by ecstatic mobs.

In 1978, Marley was living in self-imposed exile in London. With political violence in Jamaica at a high, the No More Trouble singer was brought back to his homeland to headline the One Love Peace Concert. As with Selassie, Marley's landing on the tarmac in Kingston is framed as something near heaven descending.

Was Marley a god? No. A super-spiritual musician? Yes.

Macdonald, whose previous credits include 2006's The Last King of Scotland (a fictional account of the Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin starring Forest Whitaker), does an excellent job of tracing the messages of Marley the songwriter back to the Marley the man. Or, in the case of 1970s Cornerstone, Marley the boy. In the film, Marley's friends, family members and fellow musicians describe him as a shunned boy, unrecognized by his father. And so he grew up to sing: "The stone that the builder refused, will always be the head cornerstone."

The film has received much attention for its innovative marketing, involving premieres last month on Facebook, iTunes and theatres outside Canada. On May 19, Ziggy Marley (son, reggae artist and the film's executive producer) chats live on Facebook.

Macdonald has received a lot of credit for revealing his subject's flaws. That's naive. Yes, the One Love believer's hyper-infidelity and freewheeling procreation is discussed. But marriage is a narrow Western concept, the film seems to assert. Some men can only handle one woman; Marley, who was actually quite "shy" and had women flocking to him, could "handle more." Adoring wife Rita explained it all away with the notion that she had risen above the rank of wife to the loftier role of "guardian angel." The flings, then, were no thing.

(As an aside, if Macdonald ever did question Rita about her 2004 claim that Marley had raped her in 1973, the episode never made it into the film.)

The most ludicrous segment has to do with the get-up-stand-up Rastafarian visiting Gabon and its ruthless ruler Omar Bongo. What's up with that? Oh, Bob hadn't realized Bongo was a dictator, and, hey, what the heck, as long as he made the long trip, might as well make the best of it and give the concert and bed Bongo's daughter.

I'm coming to believe that Macdonald couldn't be buying all this sycophantism. And so he presents his doubts subversively, like a political prisoner blinking out Morse-code messages while delivering a captor's propaganda. Marley's camp approved of the one-sided account, while Macdonald assumes smarter watchers will take his obvious half-truths as a signal that not all is as it seems.

More likely, I'm overrating the director's nuance. And I'm probably overrating the transgressions of a deeply inspiring icon. Marley the film wonderfully explains its subject's music. As for Macdonald's message, I'm just not sure.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Classification: PG

Q&A: Shirley MacLaine, One Witty Lady

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bruce DeMara

(May 17, 2012) Q: How did you get involved with the film?

A: Jack (Black) called me and I had seen some of (director/co-writer) Rick Linklater’s stuff and I read (the
script) and I liked it because it’s a sociological statement on people from that part of Texas who have ended up being our president (George W. Bush). And I thought, “Judas Priest.” You know the old story, “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” That’s what they evidenced and it didn’t matter if Bernie said “yes, I killed the woman” or not, they said, “we don’t want to believe it.” So I thought of it (the film) as a political-social statement, frankly. The whole thing is social satire. What it does is it shows us, my God, we’ve got to be careful who we elect president.

Q: How did you prepare for the role?

A: I practised how to get up early in the morning, because I don’t like to do that. But knowing that I was going to work with Jack Black made it easier. He’s so wonderful to work with, he really is. But no, prepare, no. (Pause) I guess I tried on some aspects of what I might be like when I’m much older.

Q: Do you have any empathy for the character, who is rather nasty?

A: Well, even a raging dinosaur brings out empathy in me, so yeah. I don’t know what was wrong with her. I just thought she was funny.

Q: How was it on the set during shooting?

A: It was so wonderful working with him (Black) honestly, oh my God. We improvised a lot of stuff that wasn’t in the script. Wasn’t Jack brilliant? I think he should get a nomination.

Q: Do you still enjoy acting?

A: Love it, just love it. I’m about to go play Ben Stiller’s mother. We’re doing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Q: I remember that film. Danny Kaye did it, right?

A: Yes, he did. When I told Jack Black I had this long affair with Danny Kaye, oh boy, then he really wanted to cast me. (She laughs.)

Q: I always wondered . . . uh . . . I always thought Kaye was gay.

A: No, he wasn’t. At least not with me (more laughter).

Q: Are there any good roles for women actors out there?

A: No, there are not enough. I’m fortunate enough to have made this transition into seniority. So as long as Meryl Streep turns (a role) down, I’ll get it.

Q: You’ve done so many different kinds of roles over the decades. Is there anything you feel there is left to do as an actor?

A: No. I don’t want to do Shakespeare, never have, never will, never want to. I couldn’t do it.

Q: Shakespeare has written some great roles for women. Lady Macbeth, for example. Portia in Merchant of Venice.

A: (She laughs.) I would never remember the dialogue.

Q: Do you have advice for young actors entering the business nowadays?

A: Yes, go do some past-life therapy. I think we (as human beings) are getting to the point where we’re becoming more cognizant of our history, let’s say our soul history.

The Dictator Puts Democracy In Its Place: Review

Source: www.thestar.com - By Peter Howell

The Dictator
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris and Jason Mantzoukas. Directed by Larry Charles. 84 minutes. At major theatres. 14A

(May 15, 2012) For a satirist of such vigour and fearlessness, it’s somewhat disconcerting to see Sacha Baron Cohen playing the palooka in
The Dictator, his new comedy.

Cohen’s role may be that of a ruthless military strongman, the fictional North African dictator General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen, but in reality he’s like an aging boxing champ, struggling to regain a title that came so easily to him years before. A knockout win is still possible, but it’s going to be a round-by-round battle to get there.

Cohen was brilliant in Borat in 2006 but a near-disaster in Bruno three years later. Early indications from the relentless pre-sell of The Dictator were that he and director Larry Charles were trying a bit too hard with material that was a bit too soft. Satirizing fascist nut jobs is hardly a new idea; Charlie Chaplin nailed it with his definitive The Great Dictator in 1940, back when this kind of comedy actually was bold and even dangerous.

But Cohen and Charles deserve kudos for departing from their usual formula of setting Cohen’s crazed characters loose in the real world. The gig is up on that conceit — Cohen is now too famous — so he and Charles and their creative team have had to write a story using professional actors rather than credulous mooks.

They’ve also added a genuine rival (Ben Kingsley), a smart sidekick (Jason Mantzoukas) and a real love interest (Anna Faris), who all do more than just act as foils to Cohen’s ballsy brand of comedy.

It doesn’t start well. Aladeen’s mythical Wadiya isn’t that far a conceptual remove from Borat’s real Kazakhstan, except the jokes are cruder (if that’s even possible), more violent and strictly hit-and-miss. Aladeen usurped the throne of Wadiya from its rightful inheritor (Kingsley), who obligingly opted to become his personal assistant (cue revenge motivation).

We learn to no surprise that the heavily bearded Aladeen is barbaric, sexist and misogynistic, killing all who dare question or challenge him.

Events conspire to send Aladeen to America (shades of Borat again), whereupon he discovers that freedom is just another word for follicles to lose. He takes up with a holistic peacenik (Faris, very game), who follows world news but apparently is easily conned.

Much of The Dictator is like a Mike Myers movie, trading in juvenile slapstick, shock humour and the obligatory airing of naughty bits. And it’s often funny, certainly funnier than the homophobe baiting of Bruno.

But to use the boxing metaphor again, The Dictator gets close to a 12th-round knockout when Aladeen delivers an impassioned speech about why democracy and fascism actually have a lot in common — hey, don’t both regimes celebrate their “1 per centers”?

The speech is hilarious and so right-on, you could imagine Barack Obama’s campaign team trying to figure out a way to use it against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. It’s one of the few times when a single scene redeems an entire movie.

It’s also a welcome and needed reminder that Cohen and Charles are still capable of great and daring comedy, when they really put their minds to it.

Killing Them Softly: A Gangster Flick About 'Our Time And Who We Are'

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Liam Lacey

(May 22, 2012) The star wattage at the Cannes film festival increased notably Tuesday morning with the screening of Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer with a chess player's intelligence, sent to clean up the mess after a mob card game is robbed.

Adapted from George V. Higgins' 1974 wiseguy novel, Cogan's Trade, the movie is set in the fall of 2008, against the backdrop of the U.S. presidential elections and the collapse of the financial markets - it's played as an unmistakable, if heavy-handed, allegory for capitalism run amok - politics and the mob mirror each other.

In many ways, Killing Them Softly is a bookend to an earlier film at Cannes, the Prohibition-era Lawless: both are stories of extreme violence and power corrupted that reflect America through a foreign director's eyes. Lawless was directed by Australian John Hillcoat. Andrew Dominik, who directs Killing them Softly, is a New Zealander in his mid-40s with two films to his credit: the highly regarded The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (also starring Pitt) and the New Zealand-set Chopper.

When Dominik walked into the press room Tuesday morning to meet the overflow crowd waiting for Pitt, there was a brief moment of confusion: With long blond hair, a suit jacket and open white shirt, he superficially resembled the Hollywood star, who is also a producer on the film.

Pitt entered a moment later with an exaggerated round-mouthed "Bonjour" to the crowd, before the panel sat down. First, Dominik explained why he took a 38-year-old gangster novel by Higgins (also the author of The Friends of Eddie Coyle) and decided it was about Wall Street and the bailout:

"I originally enjoyed the book for its very simple plot and great character, but as I read it I realized it was about gambling and a crisis triggered by a lack of regulation, so it was something I couldn't ignore.

"I always think the crime film is the most honest American genre," he added, "because Americans, at least the ones I've met in Hollywood, are very concerned with money."

Pitt, who is one of the film's producers through Plan B Entertainment, said his company (which also produced The Tree of Life) wants to support independent directors such as Dominik, but "we're also looking for stories about our time and who we are. We were at the apex of the mortgage and loans debacle and people losing their homes right and left."

Perhaps because of our time and who we are, Pitt also dealt with the usual Brangelina inquisition: No, Angelina Jolie was not attending the festival - because she is preparing a movie; yes, he hopes to work with her again in a film; no, they have not set a date for their marriage. Someone else asked Pitt if, as a father, he was concerned about starring in violent films.

"Not in any way," Pitt said. "Violence is an accepted part of the gangster movie. I'd have a much harder time playing a racist or something like that, rather than someone who would shoot a guy in the face."

Dominik was surprised by questions about the film's violence and mounted a high-brow defence, citing Bruno Bettelheim's book on fairy tales - The Uses of Enchantment - and Slovenian culture theorist Slavoj Žižek's analysis of The Three Stooges in terms of Freud's model of the psyche.

After going all through the characters in the film as examples of elements of the psyche, he concluded: "The movie is basically teaching people to have good mental health, not to blindly seek pleasure or not to indulge in too much self-punishment."

The response was met with laughter from the crowd, though Ray Liotta, who also stars in the film and had so far been silent, looked as though he might be inclined to perform some cathartic violence himself by this point.

He interjected: "I have no idea what they're all talking about. I'm here to play pretend."

For all that, Dominik acknowledged, when discussing the film's soundtrack, that the "movie's not real subtle, you know what I mean? Everything's talking to you."

In comparing it to his Jesse James movie, the director explained: "That was my Leonard Cohen song. This one's my pop tune."

Review: Even solid cast can't satisfy overreaching plot

The late criminal-lawyer-turned-author George V. Higgins wrote reams of juicy wise-guy Boston vernacular, with enough plot twists to keep the characters busy. Writer-director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) has extracted some of the juicy language and plot of Higgins's 1974 novel: a smooth clean-up man named Jackie Cogan must punish the idiots who robbed a high-stakes mob poker game.

Pitt is solid as a cocky pragmatist who prefers to kill victims "softly" from a distance rather than making them suffer. A colourful cast, with James Gandolfini resurrecting the spirit of Tony Soprano as a boozing, hooker-loving hit man who has lost his touch. As a genre movie, it's conspicuously stylish: downbeat, sparely populated night-time locations (shot around New Orleans) contrast with moments of spasmodic violence and realistic bloodshed. The problem area is the film's ambition to be something more than it is, with the robbery's fallout treated as a metaphor for the 2008 Wall Street crash. Can't these wise guys go anywhere without John McCain and Barack Obama on the television sets going on about America's promise?

::TV NEWS::    

Hugh Laurie: Life after House?

Source: www.thestar.com - By Rob Salem

(May 21, 2012) Eight or so years ago, at a Fox network party in Los Angeles, I cornered Hugh Laurie and talked at him for half an hour, raving on about the Blackadder series, and his collaborations with Cambridge chum Stephen Fry, and even his first novel, which I had actually read . . .

I stopped to let him take a breath, just long enough to introduce a friend who had been standing patiently by. “This is Hugh Laurie,” I said. “He’s starring in a new medical drama called House. He is a complete and utter bastard.”

Laurie broke into a wide grin. “Why thank you,” he beamed, “thank you very much!”

There was good reason for self-doubt. Before Laurie became an international star as misanthropic, pill-popping diagnostic genius Gregory House, he was best known and much beloved as the quintessential British upper-class twit, in the third and fourth Blackadders, and, opposite Fry, as Bertie Wooster in the definitive BBC adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster.

Now these in-bred clots seem very far removed indeed; alien incarnations from a former life. Now, as he leaves Princeton Plainsboro Hospital behind forever — the last episode of House airs Monday night on Fox and Global, following an hour-long retrospective — Laurie’s identification with the irascible character is complete.

In 2011, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Laurie as the world’s most-watched leading man, and, at $700,000 (U.S.) per episode, the highest paid actor ever in the history of dramatic television.

From British buffoon to irritable, obnoxious American . . . and back? Who knows? The perpetually homesick Laurie has no doubt already returned, at least temporarily, to England. Stephen Fry tweeted only last week that the two were already working on some sort of hush-hush reunion project.

The British are used to seeing their actors — Laurie included — leap back and forth between comic and dramatic roles. Americans are more inclined to label, doubly so with Laurie, who is so distinctively, wryly American in House that some fans are not even aware that he is English. Let alone that he can be so broadly, brilliantly silly.

They were more receptive to an equally extreme leap, from acting to music, when Laurie indulged his passion for New Orleans jazz with an impressively authentic collaborative album, Let Them Talk (also videotaped as a PBS special), which quickly rose to ninth on the Billboard Blues chart.

But, again, not funny, and not at all British. If Laurie does seek to pursue an acting career in the States — and at these prices, who wouldn’t — he will have to contend with the general perception that he is, at best, a wittier Simon Cowell, at worst, a smarter, more miserable Larry David.

It may take some convincing — even to himself.

“There are all sorts of aspects of his character that I feel very sympathetic to,” Laurie acknowledged, even at the start of that first season.

“I suppose there’s a big jerk inside me. There must be. That’s the only explanation.”


Two shows have been renewed for next season that no one really ever expected to see again — the three-year-old cult favourite, Community, and the freshman backstage musical drama, Smash.

Both will be back on network schedules next season . . . but without their executive producers, respectively, Dan Harmon and Theresa Rebeck.

This would be the TV executive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

Neither creator, despite network claims to the contrary, will be contributing in any way to the shows they each originated.

Harmon was quick to comment on his blog: “(NBC president) Bob Greenblatt . . . says he’s sure I’m going to be involved somehow, something like that. (But) he’s never called me once in the entire duration of his employment at NBC. He didn’t call me to say he was starting to work there, he didn’t call me to say I was no longer working there and he definitely didn’t call to ask if I was going to be involved.”

Smash’s Rebeck was more circumspect, preferring to put a smiley face on her involuntary severance by focusing on the positive.

“I'm moving on,” Rebeck told the Vulture website. “I have other things to do. I feel like it is what it is and I’m really proud of the work I did, and it was time to do some other stuff. I owe Random House a novel and I was really excited about finishing that for them, and I am also going to the O'Neil with a new play this summer. So I just have a lot of things on a plate.”

Harmon has been replaced by Happy Endings scribes David Guarascio and Moses Port; Rebeck by Gossip Girl showrunner Josh Safran.

Stay tuned.

Larry King To Resume Talk Show This Summer

Source: www.thestar.com - By David Bauder

(May 18, 2012) NEW YORK, N.Y. — Larry King said Thursday that his talk show will resume this summer on the new digital network Ora.TV, earlier than he or the network had anticipated.

The show Larry King Now will mark the startup of the network financed by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Executives had originally intended to launch in the fall.

But King said he wanted to “get into the political mix.” The Democratic and Republican national conventions to name presidential nominees are this summer.

King said he expected the format of his show to be similar to Larry King Live, which aired on CNN in prime time for 25 years, and he’s retained much of his old production staff. The new show will generally be 30 minutes in length, instead of an hour, although there will be flexibility to go shorter or longer depending on who’s being interviewed, said Jon Housman, Ora.TV’s CEO.

Fresh episodes will be posted online about 5 or 6 p.m., as opposed to the 9 p.m. start time of King’s TV show, although viewers will be able to watch it whenever they want.

King, who’s 78, said he misses the nightly show.

“The night I missed it the most, when it really hit me, was the night Osama bin Laden was killed,” he said, adding his show would have spent a week on the topic.

Ora.TV said it expects King’s show to set the tone for a network that will largely consist of talk shows. It will be available in multiple ways online, through streaming and apps, and at several locations beyond Ora.TV’s own website. Housman said he was not ready Thursday to announce any specific distribution deals, but said it will be made clear before Larry King Now starts the various ways it will be available.

Ora.TV is laying the groundwork for King’s return through efforts to make him available in ventures where younger people who might be more inclined to watch a digital network will see him. For instance, King has a new skit that will be made available on the website Funny or Die next week.

King wouldn’t pinpoint a guest for the first night of his new show but said he’s shooting high — aiming for President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. He said he still expects to book quality guests because of his long relationships in the business, even though a digital network has less visibility than traditional TV.

“It’s not Harvey Glick saying ‘please come on the Harvey Glick show,’” he said.

Mick Jagger Gets Satisfaction On Saturday Night Live Without The Rolling Stones

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(May 20, 2012) Do Keith Richards and the other Rolling Stones think they're the only band around? Do they still bet they're the only ones in town for Mick Jagger? They shouldn't, not after Jagger's easy-winning charisma on the blowout season finale of Saturday Night Live.

The knighted 68-year-old British singer hosted the show and dominated the music segments, fronting Montreal's Arcade Fire for a live-wire version of The Last Time, premiering a Chicago-styled 12 bars of the presidential-election blues with guitarist Jeff Beck, and more than keeping up with Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters on a medley of 19th Nervous Breakdown and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It).

Jagger's up-hill attempts to prove himself as a solo attraction in the past have failed, but with his recent appearance on the Grammys and now with his SNL spotlight holding, the singer is a star different than before: the Betty White of rock, a late-career wrinkle to his résumé.

First up, Arcade Fire (with The Strokes' Nikolai Fraiture) struck the thumping bass and ecstatic electric lead riff of The Rolling Stones first Jagger/Richards single. (Those red patches the Fire members were wearing were a show of support for the protesting students of Quebec. One recalls The Stones anthemic Street Fighting Man: "My name is called disturbance.") Rumours have been circulating about a 50th-anniversary tour for the legendary English band this year, but it now looks like a tour will only happen in 2013, if it happens at all. Maybe we've already seen The Stones for the last time - we don't know - but Jagger with Arcade Fire might be a better, vigorous option anyhow.

Or Jagger (who more and more looks like a healthier David Johansen of the New York Dolls) could tour with the Foo Fighters: 19th Nervous Breakdown was trashy and charged, though Jagger hit a couple notes flatly. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll was glam, blues-sleezed and muscular - "Can't you see, that this old boy is getting lonely?"

Jagger being lonely (or at least restless) would explain last year's Super Heavy project, the semi-successful experiment with Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, AR Rahman and Damian Marley.

Skit-wise, Jagger impersonated Steven Tyler, the Aerosmith singer and American Idol evaluator. This was turnabout fair play, as Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry had founded their careers as the second coming of the Glimmer Twins.

Jagger, Arcade Fire, Steve Martin and cast members sent off departing SNL cast member Kristen Wiig with a farewell homage that included versions of The Stones's She's A Rainbow and Ruby Tuesday - "still I'm gonna miss you."

In his 2010 autobiography, Richards gloatingly frowned upon Jagger's solo deal with CBS Records in 1983. "Anybody can get bigheaded once in a while and think, I can do this with any old band," he wrote. "But obviously he proved it's not true."

Arcade Fire and Foo Fighters aren't any old bands, but the Satisfaction singer proved something new: That the Rolling Stones might now be millstones around his neck; that Saturday night might have been the start of something fresh; and that Jagger has done it again, for the first time.

CBC Searches For ‘Dorothy’ For New Production Of Wizard Of Oz

Source: www.thestar.com

(May 23, 2012) CBC is launching a nationwide search for a “Dorothy” to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Canadian production of The Wizard of Oz.

Auditions for the role start June 1 in Vancouver and hit Toronto June 18th at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studios from 9:30 a.m to 6:00 p.m.

The auditions will be aired as a competition series on CBC starting in September. Host Daryn Jones will introduce the 10 finalists who will compete live on Over the Rainbow Sunday nights on CBC Television, singing a mixture of Broadway and pop songs each week. Then, in half-hour results episodes on Monday nights, the bottom two Dorothys (as determined by an online public vote) will face-off and one participant will be selected by the judges. The competition culminates in a showdown between the final three, with Lord Lloyd Webber attending, while Canadians choose the winner.

Webber’s new production opens at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto this December.

“We’re looking for a fresh new star in the making, and Canadians will play a key role in helping us to find our “Dorothy,” said David Mirvish, of Mirvish Productions. “The new Dorothy must be able to not only sing, act and dance at a high level, but also have the charisma and presence to carry a marquee production on one of the country’s largest stages night after night.”

Those unable to attend the live auditions, can submit their performance online at cbc.ca/overtherainbow in the Ticket to Oz contest, which will offer one individual a place in the Top 100.

In addition, there will also be a secondary search for the role of Toto.. .

Video: Donald Driver Wins ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 23, 2012) *Another NFL star has danced his way into the “Dancing With the Stars” end zone.

In the quickstep footsteps of Emmit Smith and Hines Ward, last night saw Green Bay Packers receiver
Donald Driver hoist the show’s Mirrorball Trophy, defeating Telenovela star William Levy who placed third, and runner-up, classical music singer Katherine Jenkins, a season-long standout. [Scroll down to watch.]

Driver, who danced with professional partner Peta Murgatroyd, was cited by the judges for his intensity and determination, and willingness to listen and learn from them during the course of the TV ballroom dance competitions season.

Watch a recap of the season finale and Driver’s road to victory below.


Purple, Red And Yellow Wiggles To Leave Popular Band

Source: www.thestar.com - By Kristen Gelineau

(May 17, 2012) SYDNEY — Three members of the children’s music quartet The Wiggles will be hanging up their colourful outfits and leaving the Australian band this year, with the Blue Wiggle the lone original member left dancing.

Jeff Fatt (Purple Wiggle), Murray Cook (Red Wiggle) and Greg Page (Yellow Wiggle) will leave after the group wraps up a “Celebration Tour” that begins this month and ends in Australia in December, the band said in a statement Thursday. The trio will no longer perform but will take on backstage, creative roles.

Three replacements have already been chosen to join Anthony Field (Blue Wiggle), who helped found the group in 1991. Since then, the group has earned worldwide renown with dozens of pop-influenced children’s albums, concert tours and a television show featuring singing, jumping, dancing and skits with recurring characters like Wags the Dog and Henry the Octopus.

The demands of touring and performing have taken their toll, and the three departing members want to spend more time with their families, Cook said.

“We’ve been entertaining children around the world for 21 years and it’s important that we plan for the future so that The Wiggles can keep wiggling in the years to come,” Cook said in the statement.

Page, who made a surprise return to the group in January after leaving five years earlier due to illness, said it was time to move on.

“When The Wiggles asked me to return to the group last year I was excited at the thought of performing with the three guys that I started the group with 21 years ago,” Page said. “With Murray and Jeff’s decision to stop performing at the end of the year it’s a nice sense of closure to also end my time on stage during the final tour with all the original members of the group.”

Page, Field and Cook had studied early childhood education before they founded The Wiggles in Sydney in 1991. The band has sold more than 23 million DVDs and 7 million CDs worldwide, and its TV shows are broadcast in more than 100 countries, according to The Wiggles’ website.

Performers Emma Watkins, Lachlan Gillespie, and Simon Pryce will become the new Yellow, Purple and Red Wiggles, respectively.

Ballet School Celebrates Male Dancing

Source: www.thestar.com - By Michael Crabb

(May 18, 2012) Jeremy Ransom is mining his teenage memories. For this year’s National Ballet School Spring Showcase he’s restaging a cheerful, technically dazzling work called Here We Come that hasn’t been seen for almost 20 years and in which Ransom danced as a Grade 12 student at its 1978 ballet school premiere.

And it’s not just any work. Despite celebrated Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine’s oft-quoted assertion that “Ballet is woman,” Here We Come, choreographed by Erik Bruhn, is designed to celebrate male dancing.

The Danish-born Bruhn was widely considered the finest classical male dancer of his generation. He was also friends with the National Ballet of Canada’s founding artistic director, Celia Franca. Through that connection, Bruhn forged strong links to Canadian ballet as a dancer, teacher and producer of the classics, ultimately becoming the National Ballet’s artistic director in 1983.

For more than a decade before that, Bruhn had been paying regular visits to the National Ballet School as a guest teacher. Naturally enough, Bruhn was assigned to the boys. It was the ballet equivalent of having Wayne Gretzky coach the high school hockey team. Those, like Ransom, fortunate enough to be his students have never forgotten the experience.

“He had a huge impact,” says Ransom. “He gave us tough things to do and rejoiced when we really bit into them.”

Bruhn’s own Copenhagen schooling had been in the tradition of the great 19th-century Danish ballet master August Bournonville, whose choreography gave ample scope for virtuoso male dancing. Bruhn thus assumed that men should have an equal place with women in ballet and went on to prove that, with no sacrifice of virility, they can dance with elegant, expressive refinement. It wasn’t just about how high you could jump. It was about how you got up there and how you came down.

“Erik brought with him that knowledge of the Danish tradition,” say Ransom. “And he had his own special take on rhythm and co-ordination. It was hard as students to acquire his particular way of moving, but it was fascinating to experience.”

As the years progressed, a talented group of male students, many of whom progressed to stellar professional careers, blossomed spectacularly under Bruhn’s mentorship to the point he decided they deserved a work to showcase their accomplishments. Thus Here We Come, a suite of dances for 12 men, set to Morton Gould marches and with a jaunty nautical air, was born.

By the time Bruhn became National Ballet director, several of that original cast, including Ransom, had joined the company and Here We Come was revived in 1983, but Bruhn died of lung cancer in 1986 and his ballet disappeared from the repertoire. The school revived it for a 1993 showcase but since then it’s remained dormant until Ransom, now 51 and on staff at the school, began teaching parts of it to his students. From there, the logical step was to revive the whole ballet to challenge a new generation of ballet school boys with Here We Come’s very challenging choreography.

“It’s hard to get right,” explains Ransom, who’s been collaborating with fellow teacher Ana Jojic on the revival. “I keep being reminded how difficult it actually is. You just have to dive into it. We’ve been working the boys very hard, but I’m glad to say they’re doing very well.”

The Spring Showcase runs May 24 to 26 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St.; 416-964-5148 or http://www.nbs-enb.ca.

Whoopi Goldberg: A Wild Year Made A Career

Source: www.thestar.com - By Richard Ouzounian

(May 23, 2012) Whoopi Goldberg knows what she's doing.

Whether it's The Color Purple or Hollywood Squares, Ghost or The View, she's the person with the plan, the one who doesn't have to ask anyone for directions.

That's why it's not surprising that she's got a ready answer when asked what she's going to be discussing at Roy Thomson Hall in
Toronto on June 1 as part of the Unique Lives and Experiences series.

“I'm going to be talking about a continuation of a career that has made me happy,” said the 56-year-old Goldberg during a recent phone interview from New York.

It's made a lot of other people happy as well; she's one of just 11 people who have won (in competitive categories) all four of the major awards: Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy, and she remains a one-of-a-kind personality.

“I always figured I'd be a working actor. I just felt that I had the stuff you needed to make a living, but I absolutely never thought I'd get where I have.”

She was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in New York City on Nov. 13, 1955, the daughter of a nurse and a minister, although her father left early on. Her sassy stage-name came from everyone saying she whizzed around like the flatulence-imitating whoopie cushion, combined with her mother's feeling that “you needed a Jewish name to be a star.”

Avant-garde gigs led up to the creation of her 1984 stage piece The Spook Show, made up of various characters Goldberg had created, ranging from a male drug addict to a lily-white 12-year-old Valley girl.

“They were all characters with whom I had developed a personal relationship in my mind. I took my time creating them and did it in a controlled environment. I never thought how anyone would react to them, I just had to get them out there.”

Writing in the New York Times, critic Mel Gussow praised her off-Broadway debut as “a cross between Lily Tomlin and Richard Pryor, but added “it may not be long before people will try to compare future comics to the inimitable Whoopi Goldberg.”

It happened sooner than anyone, especially Goldberg, ever imagined. Superstar director/producer Mike Nichols saw The Spook Show, loved it and moved it to Broadway in October of the same year, calling it, simply, Whoopi Goldberg.

The critics cheered and audiences packed the theatre for five month. Director Steven Spielberg had also seen her and after falling in love with her talent, cast her as Celie in his film of The Color Purple.

Recalling that frantic year in her life, Goldberg laughs. “You don't even get a minute to say it's all going too fast. It just goes. It goes the way it's gonna go and you can't stop it.”

She admits that when she started filming, “initially I was really scared. I'd never made a movie before. I thought it would work like a stage play and I'd get a little more time to put it all together.

“I made a lot of mistakes and if I have one thing I'd like to do over in my life, it's make The Color Purple again, knowing all I know now.”

But despite Goldberg's own reservations, she was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. She didn't even mind losing it, because the award went to Geraldine Page, winning it for The Trip to Bountiful on her eighth nomination.

“That woman should have gotten her Oscar for ages before that and I was happy she won it.”

The movie Goldberg finally did win an Oscar for was Ghost, the huge 1990 hit where she played a phoney clairvoyant who suddenly discovers she's genuine.

Goldberg and her performance seem so much a part of the film's success that it's amazing to hear her tell the story of how she wasn't wanted for the role.

“I heard about it from a friend. He said ‘Every black woman in Hollywood but you is auditioning.' I called this agent and he said ‘They don't want you. They think you're too big and would take people out of the story.'

“That got me mad. And I said, ‘You know, Marlon Brando's pretty big on screen and nobody complains about him.' ”

But nothing happened until the late Patrick Swayze was signed for the leading role. “He wanted me to play it so badly, he said ‘You offer it to Whoopi, or I don't do it.'

“So the first day, I had to meet all the people who didn't want me as well as the one who did and we all had a good time.”

With so many high points in her career, it's surprising that her favourite is voice-over work in The Lion King, playing hyena Shenzi.

“I'll tell you why. My granddaughter was little when I made it and she was pretty pissed at me at first. ‘You're not very nice in this, Granny,' she said.

“But then we went to the premiere, walked down the red carpet and James Earl Jones gave me a big hug and she hissed, ‘Granny, you know Darth Vader!'”

In 2007, she took over as host of The View, a position she still holds today, but when asked what brought her there, she chortles “I needed a gig, plain and simple and it's been a fun gig.”

Her outspoken opinions about the likes of Roman Polanski and Kathy Griffin have caused controversy, but she remains firm about what she's said. “Here's the thing. If it's somebody I know, then I feel I have the right to speak out. I don't keep out of those arguments just because I know them.”

At the end of the day, however, she has a refreshingly uncomplicated view of her career.

“I have not won the Nobel Peace Prize. I've just been trying to entertain people. That's all.”

Soulpepper Knocks It Out Of The Park With David Storey’s Home

Source: www.thestar.com - By Robert Crew

By David Storey. Directed by Albert Schultz. Until June 20 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St. 416-866-8666.

(May 18, 2012) Birds are singing as two men meet on a terrace and sit themselves down on wrought-iron chairs for a nice long chat.

Jack is tall, elegant and carries a cane. Harry is stockier, florid and more casually dressed. And they make conversation about everything and nothing — their wives, people’s names, Christmas, the army and air force, canes, beards and moustaches, and much more besides.

Their speech is clipped, filled with clichés and platitudes and chock-a-bloc with heavy pauses and non sequiturs.

Welcome to the remarkable world of David Storey’s
Home, a magical play that’s been revived far too infrequently since it made its debut in 1970 (with a cast that included John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.)

It’s not long before we meet two other characters (and I use the word advisedly).

There’s Kathleen, a flirty Cockney who is consumed by lust and aching feet and who giggles ridiculously at every possible double entendre. And there’s her friend, the sour, pugnacious Marjorie. Raucous and earthy, they are a sharp contrast to the men (and considerably less prone to tears).

Dissect the word “home” and you come up with a number of possible meanings. It’s your home and native land, your country. It’s the roof over your head, the place where you live with your family. And paradoxically, it’s a place where they put you when you are too old, dangerous or mentally ill to live with your family.

Only a Grinch would give much more away about this play. Indeed, much of the considerable joy of the occasion is the audience’s slowly growing comprehension of the Five Ws --- who, what, when, where and (possibly) why.

It’s also a mirror in which we can easily recognize the reflection of ourselves and the world in which we live — our home.

And it’s a fabulous piece for actors, demanding both a tight ensemble and individual flair, and the Soulpepper cast delivers on both counts.

Just watch Oliver Dennis, the slightly stiff, dapper and assertive Jack, interacting with Michael Hanrahan’s sensitive, seemingly more placid Harry. Or Brenda Robins’ superb Kathleen joshing and jousting with Maria Vacratis’ formidable Marjorie. Sharp technique, subtle pacing, vulnerability, and honesty — it’s all there.

Director Albert Schultz is in no rush and has allowed the text to breathe — wisely so. The speeches and the thoughts they contain may seem random and unconnected but are anything but.

Thanks, Soulpepper. It’s a Home run.

Panamerican Routes: Transplanting Latin Political Theatre In Toronto

Source: www.thestar.com - By Nicholas Keung

(May 21, 2012) Toronto actor/director/playwright Beatriz Pizano has had no problem finding stereotypical commercial roles as a Latina maid, wife of a drug cartel leader or mother of a son killed in gang wars.

But the Colombian native has preferred to spend the past decade telling heart-wrenching stories about civil conflict, massacres and child soldiers on a live stage — a tradition she has transplanted from Latin America, where political theatre against authoritarian regimes is very much alive.

Through productions at the
Aluna Theatre, which she founded in 2002, Pizano hopes to bring all these global issues to her Canadian audiences’ awareness — and consciousness.

From Thursday to Saturday this week, Pizano is hosting an international conference in Toronto to explore theatre and human rights as part of the two-week Panamerican Routes festival that features innovative Canadian and Latin American voices through mainstage performances, professional development workshops and a photo exhibit.

“I don’t think I’m political. I just explore stories that grab my guts,” said Pizano, whose company has been honoured with multiple Dora Awards, the Oscars of Canadian performing arts.

“It’s important that we talk about the world outside and around us, to make that connection,” she added. “Arts always come first, but we have to challenge ourselves and produce something that matters.”

There is a lot in the program that features New York-based puppet theatre company Loco7, which originally came from Bogota; San Francisco-based actor Violeta Luna, who hails from Mexico; and renowned Colombian artist/activist Patricia Ariza.

Their stage performances, along with their Canadian counterparts’, will shed light on issues from the violence in Colombia to the life of an underground revolutionary in Chile, the pursuit of a migrant’s American dream, the Mayan genocide in Guatemala, environmentalism and feminism.

The Panamerican festival is refreshing for Roberto Gutierrez-Varea, a founding professor of the University of San Francisco’s performing arts and social justice program.

Political theatres are unique in Latin America, where artists often take on the task of challenging and criticizing the established regimes, the Argentine said.

“They keep the humanities alive among the repressed people, the lives lost, disappeared and into exile,” noted Gutierrez-Varea, who studied architecture and psychology in university because all theatre schools were closed by the military dictatorship then.

“There are productions on different topics, often taboo topics,” he said. “For the artists and the audience, theatre is a way to engage, not to escape.”

Gutierrez-Varea said he was shocked when he arrived in California on a scholarship in 1987 and realized how “depoliticized” education was in North America.

Not only did he initiate the theatre and social justice program in San Francisco, long a sanctuary city for migrants, he also founded community-based performance groups such as

Soapstone Theatre Company and El Teatro Jornalero to give a voice and space for American Latinos.

These productions validate the community’s own existence and values based on issues they can relate to and care about, he said. “You are creating safe spaces for the unsafe,” he added.

Themes they explored are borderless, Gutierrez said, because they ultimately touch on the universal values of love, fairness, security and loss that a North American audience can identify with.

Ariza founded la Corporacion Colombiana de Teatro, the first independent theatre in Colombia, in 1966, with a mission to “express the moment in the time we’re living.”

The theatre’s productions tackled political and social issues such as peasants’ revolts, the fight for housing, the history of guerrillas and most recently, the issue of feminism.

“We started the national theatre movement. And we are the (unofficial) spokespersons for the people to relate their issues to the government,” said Ariza, who inspired the Panamerican Routes festival.

The movement was so strong that “the elites were left without theatres because theatres were now the theatres of the mass and the poor.” The government, instead, pumped in money into commercial theatres to counteract the popularity of the independent theatres.

However, the controversial and sensitive issues her theatre highlighted — often involving the political regimes and paramilitaries — have also landed Ariza into trouble.

Thugs would come in to destroy the theatre and threats were uttered. Her name even came up on a 1987 hit list; eight of those on the list were killed.

“I’m not afraid,” said Ariza, “because of my legacy of so many years of work and I have so many people who support and protect me.”

When asked what Canadian activists can learn to engage and mobilize the public in social activism, Ariza paused.

The theatre movement in Colombia — and in other Latin American countries — is organic, Ariza said.

“It’s born out of the reality of each place,” she added. “The exchanges of knowledge and experience through events such as the Panamerican Routes will be a good start.”


Next iPhone Will Boast Larger 4-Inch Screen: Sources

Source: www.globeandmail.com

(May 20, 2012) Apple Inc. AAPL-Q plans to use a larger screen on the next-generation iPhone and has begun to place orders for the new displays from suppliers in South Korea and Japan, people familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

The new iPhone screens will measure 4 inches from corner to corner, one source said. That would represent a roughly 30 per cent increase in viewing area, assuming Apple kept other dimensions proportional. Apple has used a 3.5-inch screen since introducing the iPhone in 2007.

Early production of the new screens has begun at three suppliers: Korea’s LG Display Co. Ltd., Sharp Corp. and Japan Display Inc., a Japanese government-brokered merger combining the screen production of three companies.

It is likely all three of the screen suppliers will get production orders from Apple, which could begin as soon as June. That would allow the new iPhone to go into production as soon as August, if the company follows its own precedent in moving from orders for prototypes for key components to launch.

Apple’s decision to equip the next iPhone with a larger screen represents part of a competitive response to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

Samsung unveiled its top-of-the line Galaxy smartphone with a 4.8-inch touch-screen and a faster processor earlier this month.

Samsung, which this year became the world’s largest cell phone maker, sold 45 million smartphones in the first quarter, and sales of the Galaxy phones outstripped the iPhone.

Apple was not immediately available to comment.

Apple’s move toward a larger display for the next generation iPhone was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to being Apple’s rival, Samsung is also a major components supplier to the U.S. computer, tablet and phone manufacturer.

The share of the production of new screens that go to each of the three manufacturers working with Apple has not been determined, one source said.

Sales of the touch-screen iPhone now account for about one-half of Apple’s total sales, and the phone has been a key source of growth for the company in Asia.

A report in March by a South Korea business newspaper said Apple would use a “retina” display on the next iPhone, the same technology in its latest iPad that enhance image quality.

The latest iPhone 4S was introduced in October last year.

Minecraft Adapts To New Environment: Xbox

Source: www.thestar.com - By Darren Zenko

Minecraft: XBox 360 Edition
1600 Microsoft Points, or about $20
Rated E

(May 19, 2012) If you have even one or two even marginally geeky friends, the odds are you have had
Minecraft evangelized to you. The exploration-and-crafting PC masterpiece, hand-developed by Swedish creator “Notch” Persson, has become the ultimate indie-sandbox success story; not to go all “a simple YouTube search reveals” on you, but a simple YouTube search reveals the depth and breadth of what Minecraft’s millions of users are capable of — everything from full-size replicas of the starship Enterprise to functioning mechanical computers — given the game/toy’s simple-but-deep collection of Lego-like materials and physical laws, and the extent of the proud and helpful Minecraft community.

But there’s “sandbox” and there’s “sandbox,” and the recent release of an official Minecraft on the XBox 360 well demonstrates how, with a few changes of tone and priority, two versions of one title can cover a range of definitions while retaining a central identity and, more importantly, a common soul.

We use the sandbox metaphor to describe games that create free-form play areas, games that prioritize free play over a prescriptive narrative or rigid gameplay flow. Minecraft in its original incarnation — tutorial in a nutshell: Here is the world; start punching things and figure it out — is the platonic ideal of the grainy childhood play area, a magical place ready for any passing fancy, packed with wonder and, very importantly, all but devoid of the Real World’s helicopter moms nervously guiding/shielding/fussing and generally radiating a “No, no, no, you’ll hurt yourself” vibe.

Minecraft 360 calls in the choppers. It’s a relative thing, of course — MC360 is still a libertarian Candy land compared to anything else available — but in order to make it work 360 developer 4J Studios had to fence the lot a bit. Crafting of tools and synthesization of materials is now simplified and in-game guided, relying hardly at all on the purely speculative “what if I cook these things together?” alchemy — or the “what do the online Minecraft wiki gurus say?” cookery — that held (sorry, holds; nothing’s changed, outside the fence) much of the PC version’s addictive charm in the same way mixing mercury and stoat blood over a brazier of mummy wrappings so captivated medieval proto-chemists.

MC360 even offers something very like a tutorial, taking you through the crucial baby steps between your first karate-chopping of living trees into workable wooden planks and your first overnight survival against the insidious creeps that stalk the starlight beyond the flickering glow of your first torch and the dubious doughtiness of the first doorway of your first rickety huddling-hut.

More literally, the size of Minecraft’s sandbox itself is more tightly constrained on Microsoft’s console than in the vast wilderness of the PC. The randomly generated virtual worlds are still crazy enormous filled with strange spaces to explore and exploit, but there is little of the danger of getting full-on lost to the point of just shrugging and starting over as there is in the original.

Left to consider is the meta-sandbox of Minecraft, the sandbox of tinkering with the game itself. Here again it might be said the console version loses out; MC360 doesn’t and won’t support the sprawling, kudzu-like ecosystem of third-party community modifications, plug-ins, fixes, patches, skins and tools that has grown around Minecraft like it grows around any popular PC game that encourages such activity.

The priority, here on the 360, is all on maintaining the Minecraft experience while bringing the learning curve down to somewhere closer to a level with which a home-console player — less patient; less naturally geek-tinker inclined; bereft of a wiki window on his/her TV; interacting via (or if you prefer, saddled with) a controller rather than mouse-n-keys — will be not only comfortable but happy.

Purists may sniff and turn up their noses until they tumble over backward with clear sinuses, and the infraliterate comments-section ragers may rage until even their own adrenalin glands take out restraining orders ... but “real” Minecraft hasn’t gone anywhere, and Minecraft on the 360 is a good game.

Even with a tutorial, the first unsheltered, too-fast onrush of dusk is tense and spooky, greatly enhanced by the game’s excellent ambient music and sound. Even laid out rather than made occult, the industrial alchemy of crafting is a joy to explore. Even circumscribed, the world is big enough to satisfy dreamers of all but the most grandiose of lifestyle-commitment projects. Even without a mouse and keyboard, the controls and menus are quick, comfortable and useful.

And, hey, miracle of miracles, the introduction of a four-player, share-the-couch, split screen mode — a mode that would be more than welcome on many more titles, by the way — Minecraft on the 360 manages to make this near-geekiest of geek games, this hermitage of virtual hermitages, this engineering and manufacturing sim available as something like a social experience. How’s that for alchemical miracles?

Walking Dead A Zombie Game That Tests Your Ethical Limits

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Chad Sapieha

(May 10, 2012) It’s hard to distinguish which threat is bigger in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day: the ghouls stalking the streets or the frightened, unpredictable people with whom I’ve taken refuge.

Among the ragtag band of survivors huddling with me in a deserted pharmacy is a redneck whose anger is tempered only by his heart condition, a reporter busy blocking out the horror by fixating on a broken tape recorder and a reclusive geek who sees in the chaos an unexpected opportunity for heroics.

And then there’s me: a convicted murderer for whom the undead apocalypse might actually prove a blessing. If it weren’t for a zombie wrecking the police cruiser I was riding in, I’d likely be rotting in a cell.

Plus, I’ve been given a chance to redeem myself by playing the role of protector to a young girl whose parents were killed. I’m still not sure which of us needs the other more.

The Walking Dead is unlike any other zombie game you may have played. The first episode of this five-part series, which looks and feels more like Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels than the hit television show they inspired, isn’t just a mindless slaughter-fest. Rather, it’s a study of human relationships formed under duress.

You’ll spend the bulk of your time in conversation, where character backgrounds are revealed, secrets are spilled and alliances are formed. Authority and trust are recurring themes. The only way to get people to abide by your decisions is to earn their confidence, but it’s impossible to please everyone. You’ll need to make hard, emotional decisions that will play well for some and poorly for others – and all concerned are quick to remember whether you helped or scorned them at crucial moments.

Of course, like any good zombie story, there’s also a bit of terror and gore, such as a scene in which a crawling carcass refuses to let go of my boot, forcing me to repeatedly kick it in the head before pulling myself through a door to escape.

However, even these moments – which play out as quick-time events in which we must tap specific buttons on cue – are unlike the action in most zombie games, which typically see well-armed players offing cookie-cutter creatures in numbers so high a computer is required to calculate them. In contrast, I fought only a handful of undead in The Walking Dead’s first episode, and each encounter was a heart-pounding experience.

The most haunting situations are those that force a hurried decision you know, even as you make it, will have lasting consequences. When ghouls suddenly attack a quiet farmyard, do you rescue the defenceless young boy being pulled off a tractor or the farmer’s grown son, who not long ago saved your life by giving you a lift out of a zombie-infested neighbourhood?

Even more interesting: What does your choice say about you?

Indeed, after spending three hours in a world in which the living and dead cause stress in equal measure, I think I’ve learned more about myself than anything else. For the video-game medium, that’s a step in the right direction.

The Walking Dead
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
ESRB: Mature
Release: April 27, 2012
Score: 8.5/10


Diving And Singing With Whales In Manitoba

Source: www.thestar.com - Lola Augustine Brown

(May 17, 2012) CHURCHILL, MAN.—Stuffed into a hooded wetsuit, with one foot hooked into the ropes of the Kodiak that is dragging me through the icy waters of Hudson Bay, it was really hard to think up a song to sing.

I’d been told that beluga whales are attracted by singing, so I did my best. I belted out Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” through my snorkel, and, much to my amazement, an immense beluga emerged from the gloomy depths and kept pace about a metre below me, looking very much like he was smiling (or mocking me). Four more whales swam below him, and I was treated to one of the most surreal and awesome experiences of my life.

I belted out “Please don’t take my man,” but the whales were obviously losing interest, so I sang louder. But the moment was gone and the beluga sank back down to join its pod, which then disappeared into the murky green water.

Soon, another swam by, and another. I wanted to stay down there, but realized after 40 minutes that I couldn’t feel my fingers and it felt like my blue lips were going to fall off my face. I had to give in to the shivering and flop back into the boat, where I was teased heartily for my loud country-music yodelling.

In the time that I stayed in the water, I was visited by at least a dozen curious belugas. They were huge, ghostly and beautiful; and I couldn’t believe I was getting so close to them.

In late July and early August, thousands of belugas fill the mouth of the Churchill River where it meets Hudson Bay. Walking along the shore in August, you can see pods of them swimming by, with the adult whales white and up to four metres long, and their grey-brown calves measuring about a metre and a half. Standing on the shore is eerie and beautiful, and the whole area is a different kind of wilderness than anywhere else in Canada.

Snorkelling is just one way to get out and see the whales. You can also go kayaking in the estuary or ride on a Kodiak — either way, the whales will swim by to check you out.

It was on a Kodiak tour that I saw my first polar bear; a massive hulk of yellow-white fur on the shore across from Churchill, wandering around the grounds of the historic Prince of Wales Fort. A later trip to the fort required a guide carrying a gun, something that anyone wandering away from the town centre is advised to carry in case of a bear attack.

Although August isn’t prime time for bear-watching, the one I spotted on shore was just a taste of what was to come. I took a floatplane ride over the tundra, and saw 13 polar bears lounging on the beaches in groups. The ride also let me to see how many whales there were in the estuary — giving me some perspective of what 3,000 whales look like when they’re all gathered in one spot.

I also visited champion dogsledder and guide Dave Dailey, who is surely the poster boy for aboriginal tourism in Churchill, and whose wife runs the Wapusk General Store. Dailey is a master storyteller, and is happy to share homemade traditional bread and jam.

During the summer, you can go dog-carting, led by a team of yapping sled dogs. It’s a thrilling, if juddering, ride through scrublands. (Mosquito jackets are recommended for any activity during the summer in Churchill, as there are so many beastly swarms there that it looks as though you are walking into a flock of small birds.)

Churchill is a funny place. It is all about tourism, since there is little other industry, but there is nothing high-end here — although gift shops charge a pretty penny for traditional artwork.

Restaurants are lacking, too, although you may find yourself spending a lot of time at Gypsy’s Bakery (you must try the apple fritters).

But forgoing modern conveniences and dropping your expectations a little is so worthwhile: Churchill is raw and wild, and the incomparable experiences you get here more than make up for any amenities the town lacks.

Lola Augustine Brown is a freelance writer based in Halifax. Her trip was subsidized by Travel Manitoba.


ARRIVING Air Canada and WestJet offer round-trip flights from Toronto to Winnipeg from $550. Once in Winnipeg, you’ll need to fly with Calm Air to Churchill, which costs about $600 each way. Alternatively, if you don’t mind a 47-hour scenic train journey, you can take ViaRail from Winnipeg to Churchill, at a cost of $370 each way.

SLEEPING The Seaport Hotel is basic motel-style accommodations with a fridge and a microwave, and costs $115 per night for a double room in August. 299 Kelsey Blvd., 204-675-8807. Seaporthotel.ca

The Lazy Bear Lodge is a rather charming log inn with a good restaurant serving locally trapped and caught food. A double room in August costs $200 per night, but you can book a variety of beluga tours with the lodge that offer package rates. 313 Kelsey Blvd. 1-866-687-2327. lazybearlodge.com

WEB SURFINGtravelmanitoba.com, Churchill.ca, seanorthtours.com

Safari In Style At South African Resorts

Source: www.thestar.com - Kathryn Folliott

(May 19, 2012) Think African safari vacations must be wildly expensive? Certainly there’s every opportunity to blow the budget on these sorts of once-in-a-lifetime trips. But there are deals to be had too; you just have to know where to look.

Lion World Tours’ 10-day Lion Sands in Style package is now going for $3,899 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip airfare from Washington, D.C. on South African Airways (as well as a round-trip flight to get you to Washington), all flights within South Africa, four nights at More Quarters hotel in Cape Town, three nights at the five-star Lion Sands River Lodge or Tinga Game Lodge and six open-vehicle game drives. There’s also a half-day tour of the Ernie Els winery — the champion golfer has been in the wine business in Stellenbosch since 1999 — plus 13 meals.

Departures run Sept. 2, 11 and 18 for Lion Sands River Lodge, and Oct. 5, 12 and 31 for Tinga Game Lodge. Prices include fuel surcharges, government taxes and departure fees. See lionworldtours.com.

Golden celebration

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge turns 75 this year — as does its predecessor, the less-famous-but-still-impressive Bay Bridge — and the Hotel Vitale is celebrating with a special Spanning the Bay package. Available from May (Golden Gate’s birthday) through November (Bay Bridge’s birthday), the package includes one night’s accommodation in a deluxe waterfront guest room with Bay Bridge views, plus dinner for two at the hotel’s Americano restaurant, and a commemorative Golden Gate 75th Anniversary hat and mug, for $599 (U.S.), double occupancy. The always-scenic Bay Bridge boasts a little extra sparkle this year, with a beautiful and mesmerizing light sculpture art installation illuminating the cables every night from dusk to midnight. See hotelvitale.com.

Cranberry stay and play

The Stay & Play package at Collingwood’s Cranberry Resort includes accommodation, two rounds of golf with power cart, and a hot buffet breakfast in the Courtyard Bistro. Available through Oct. 1, the package starts at $272, double occupancy. See thecranberryresort.com.


Hard Rock Cafe restaurants pop up in just about every major city in the world and, now, Hard Rock Hotels are becoming ubiquitous, too, offering rockin’ accommodation from Bali and Biloxi to San Diego and Singapore. Hard Rock’s All-Inclusive Collection, with all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, has a Kids Stay Free promotion this summer (for bookings now through Aug. 27, for travel June 1 to Aug. 31), plus a deal offering between $500 (all prices U.S.) and $2,500 in resort credit per room (for bookings now through Dec. 15, for travel through Dec. 23). See HRHallinclusive.com.

Kathryn Folliott is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Prices quoted are subject to change and availability.


Sunquest: Punta Cana, air & hotel, $569 (+$374 taxes & fees) (June 10). sunquest.ca

Air Canada Vacations: Six-night Frankfurt, air & hotel, $907 (+$571 taxes & fees) (July 4). aircanadavacations.com

Nolitours: Holguin, air & hotel, $317 (+$276 taxes & fees) (June 2). nolitours.com

Signature Vacations: Costa Rica, air & hotel, $695 (+$330 taxes & fees) (June 11). signaturevacations.com

Transat Holidays: Amsterdam, air & hotel, $989 (+$497 taxes & fees) (June 18). transatholidays.com

Bel Air Travel: Bermuda cruise, $728 (+$130 taxes & fees) (June 3). belairtravel.com

Sunwing Vacations: Orlando, air & hotel, $235 (+$310 taxes & fees) (June 10). sunwing.ca

Sell Off Vacations: Paris, air & hotel, $969 (+$526 taxes & fees) (June 23). selloffvacations.com

itravel2000: Dublin, air & hotel, $989 (+$476 taxes & fees) (July 23). itravel2000.com

WestJet Vacations: Honolulu, air & hotel, $1,249 (+$156 taxes) (June 28). westjetvacations.com

Tour East Holidays: 12-night China, air, hotel, 4-night Yangtze cruise, transfers, tours, $3,250 (July 9). toureast.com


Olympic Rower Brian Price Is Small But Mighty

Source: www.thestar.com - Joseph Hall

(May 23, 2012) A five-year bout with childhood leukemia would leave a sports mad Brian Price perpetually on the bench.

It would also help place him on top of an Olympic podium.

With his growth stunted by five years harsh chemotherapy cocktails, Price was relegated to the basketball and soccer sidelines in high school — longing to participate. Aching to play.

Then, in 1992, he watched, riveted, on television as the Canadian Mens 8 rowing team won gold at the Barcelona Games.

“I watched them win, and then I watched this little guy jump up into the arms of this big guy,” Price recalls.

“I thought ‘wow, that guy’s a little guy, I’m a little guy … I can do that’.”

The little guy in question was coxswain Terry Paul. And his celebratory leap into goliath rower Derek Porter’s arms would change the direction of Price’s life.

From sidelined high school squirt — 95 pounds and five-foot-four — Price would see himself emulate Paul’s achievement at the 2008 Games in Beijing after drumming Canadian crews to three world championships.

It began in earnest in Grade 13, when Price took himself down to the local rowing club in his hometown of Belleville and announced his intention to helm a team.

“They said ‘do you want to row’ and I said ‘no, I want to cox’. I already knew I wanted to cox,” Price recalls.

For uninitiated, a coxswain’s roles in an eight-rower boat are both multiple and critical.

Sitting in the stern facing forwards, the cox is literally the eyes of the craft, as the rowers pull with their backs to the bow.

“I felt that I was very good at developing friendships with people, I was very good at being leader, I’d done that all through my Scouts when I was a kid. It was just a natural role, a perfect role to get into that position.”

It was also, Price admits, a way to mix it up with the big boys, and erase his benchwarmer memories.

“Instead of being on the bench in soccer and not even trying out for football, I was now the guy telling these basketball players, these football players, these jocks what to do,” he says.

He also learned quickly — through the wind in his hair — that his back-of-the-boat role was a potent one.

“If I said stuff, we went faster, if I said something else, we went faster still,” says Price, whose small size — now 121.2 lbs. — is a huge advantage in a sport where weight is an enemy.

“I just fell I love with it.”

A cox also steers the boat — rudder wires attach to his toes — and dictates strategy and pace over the course of a race and is both captain and chief cheerleader on the craft.

“I’m always talking to them. I’m always communicating with them. I have a microphone and there are three speakers in the boat and if something is going to happen or needs to happen, I’m the one who makes sure they do it and do it at the exact same time,” Price says.

“There has to be a respect level developed so that if you say it, they will do it without questioning. They do it because you said it.”

This commodore role means a cox is arguably the most integral and least interchangeable member of an Olympic rowing crew.

Indeed, this year — his 11th with the national 8s team — the 36-year-old Price will be guiding a boat with six different rowers than the one that took gold in Beijing.

“I may be in defending my gold medal, but I see this as a new thing and I want to get a new medal for these guys and that’s the way I see it,” he says.

Price contracted acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 7 and fought the disease with chemotherapy for five years. The drugs reduced his thyroid gland output by half and affected his growth — his younger brother is six feet tall.

Price has viewed countless sunrises over waters roiling or placid as his charges have pulled to the dawn.

But the pull of his family may soon draw him to land. Wife Robbi, and daughters Brianna, 5 and Peyton, 2 have lived long enough with his schedule and whirlwind travel, he says.

Price says London will be his last Olympics, but that he’d like to stay on with the team for another year to help break in a new cox.

What he’ll do afterward is unclear at the moment, though a job in communications is a possibility.

“But I’m trying to find something I love, because I loved rowing.”

Bolt Refining Start To Try To Break World Records At Olympics

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Karel Janicek, The Associated Press

(May 23, 2012) Usain Bolt is hoping to turn his only weakness into a strength in time for the London Olympics.

The tall Jamaican sprinter has never been known for fast starts, so his main focus this season is to become quicker out of the blocks.

Having already smashed the world records in the 100 and 200 metres, Bolt anticipates what will happen if he gets the start just right in London.

"It should be a world record," he said while looking ahead to Friday's Golden Spike meet in Ostrava. "We were working on my start. We were reviewing a few things and seeing what we can improve. Over time, my start gets better. I am very happy; my coach is very happy where I am start-wise."

Last year, Bolt failed to defend his world title in the 100 in Daegu, South Korea, after he was disqualified for a false start.

"I know exactly why I false started," he said. "I don't think it will be a factor at the Olympics."

Bolt is the favourite to retain his Olympic gold medals in the 100 and 200, although the Jamaican is expected to face tough competition from countryman Yohan Blake, who won the world title.

Bolt doesn't seem to be bothered.

"As long as I'm in great shape, nobody beats me, for sure," he said. "For me, I'm focused on what I want to do. I know what I need to do to be a champion, so I'm working on it."

Bolt is unlikely to threaten his world record of 9.58 seconds when he runs the 100 metres Friday. He says he still has time to find his optimal form before London.

"All I have to do is to work on transition and technique," he said. "We have probably two months to get it right, so it shouldn't be a problem. I'm definitely on the right track."

Bolt will be competing in the eastern Czech city for the sixth time and wants to improve his season best of 9.82 that he set May 5 in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Golden Spike will be the first European meet for Bolt this season. He will also compete in Diamond League meets in Rome on May 31 and Oslo, Norway, on June 7 before returning to Jamaica for the national trials.

He plans to be back in Europe to run in the 200 at the Diamond League meet in Monaco on July 20, his last race before the London Olympics.

Meanwhile, the fastest man on the planet was handed an unlikely defeat by young athletes at a 60-meter race in Ostrava on Wednesday - although he was running in jeans.

"I don't like losing anyways," Bolt said.

Lakers Superstar Kobe Bryant’s Stubbornness An Admirable Quality As His Skills Decline

Source: www.thestar.com - Cathal Kelly

(May 22, 2012) They put Jerry West on the logo and they push Magic Johnson out onto soundstages to deliver the threats, but it’s Kobe Bryant who defines the Los Angeles Lakers.

He pulled them up the ladder — them kicking, him screaming. After a decade spent balanced there, the rest of them are now left hanging off his ankles. While his grip was loosening, Oklahoma City was climbing over his back.

This five-game series felt less like a passing of the torch as it did the lighting of an eternal flame in Bryant’s memory. What we remember right now is not the diminishing skills, but the omnipresent consistency of Bryant’s effort.

Nobody in sport wears more professional hats — shot taker, court tactician, ball hog (never has Gary Payton’s accusation that ‘you ain’t even lettin’ the ground touch the ball’ seemed more apt than when it’s in Bryant’s hands), front-seat coach, pre-game martyr, post-game Grand Inquisitor.

“I’m not fading into the shadows, if that’s what you’re asking,” Bryant said, after someone had put it to him elliptically. “I’m not going anywhere.”

We believe him. The man who once threatened to quit the team with fortnightly frequency is now as securely planted as a tree stump. Any move puts him in the second-fiddle role to some younger star. He’s only the alpha as long as he remains in purple and gold.

Were he shoehorned into a bit part somewhere, even the most hopeful GM knows in his bones that Bryant would get up to nothing but trouble.

“I would put my house on it,” Bryant said of the Lakers contending again next year. “They can put their house on it, but I don’t think they want to bet that because they’re not stupid. They’re foolish, but they are not stupid.”

That’s Bryant in a nutshell right there — a hard slap followed by a brief tickle. He’s delusional, but he’s still the most articulate bully in sport.

Those sorts of wan boasts start creeping in to the thoughts of men who find the game has sped up on them.

In the macro sense, the Lakers failure on the Midwestern plain has put paid to the Big Three model that became the moneyed vogue in the NBA. Three cap-consuming stars are no guarantee of anything — not in Miami, and certainly not in New York — unless all three are simultaneously eating minutes and grinding opponents.

Oklahoma City’s model — with a variety of click-and-play talent arrayed behind one huge expenditure — is the new done thing. When you figure that that one costly piece, Kevin Durant, makes slightly less than Pau Gasol and more than $10 million (U.S.) less than Bryant, the Thunder begin to resemble Wal-Mart — limitless offensive supply at (relatively speaking) Dollar Store prices.

Despite the fact that they sold themselves as a trio, the Lakers were left with Bryant out there alone all series long — “like Rambo,” as he put it afterward. Gasol and Andrew Bynum took turns galumphing around the court wondering if Brooklyn is as cool as people say it is.

Lakers fans didn’t ask themselves why they bothered to threaten fringey three-point specialist Steve Blake with death after a missed shot in Game 2.

Any team that trusts the spaghetti noodle arms of Blake to carry it past the threshold should expect to end up in a pile on the floor. That’s where the Lakers are today.

After it fizzled, Bynum was already talking his way out the door — “It really doesn’t matter to me. I’ll play anywhere.” The Lakers traded Gasol once this year, and may get it right the second time round.

Bynum will only bring back equal value. That move is a wash at best. Gasol might fetch you something if he didn’t chew up a quarter of any team’s cap space. The Lakers have only one draft pick come June — the 60th of 60 picks. Their books are so bloated that even if they seek a cap exception it will only net them in the region of $3 million (U.S.) in additional funds.

We’ll put this in Hollywood pitch terms — “Titanic meets The Money Pit.”

The micro view focuses in on Bryant — once the game’s greatest player, now he is its Howard Beale, shouting out windows that he’s not going to take this anymore.

Altruistic neutrals will spend this off-season worrying about Steve Nash and his legacy. Though Bryant’s is far more secure, I worry about him.

As he shrinks as a player, it’s getting easier to like him as a person. His stubborn struggle against the flickering light, his unwillingness to accept that the landscape has shifted under his feet, could be the most admirable thing about him.

Didier Drogba Leaving Chelsea After Leading Club To First Champions League Title

Source: www.thestar.com - By Darren Zenko

(May 22, 2012) LONDON—After maddening and thrilling football fans in equal measures for eight years, Didier Drogba’s combustible Chelsea career is over.

And it was fitting that one of football’s most theatrical characters went out with one final, dramatic flourish.

With the last kick in his last game, the 34-year-old Drogba won the Champions League for Chelsea on Saturday, scoring the decisive penalty in the shootout against Bayern Munich.

“Even the greatest stories come to an end,” the Ivory Coast forward wrote Tuesday on his website. “My contract is finished and I am now prepared to leave the Blues. It is with great sadness but also with much gratitude that I announce (to) you my departure from Chelsea.

“I played my last game for the club in Munich and I am delighted to have finally been able to lift the Champions League trophy after an incredible final.”

Success in European football’s illustrious knockout competition is the culmination of a thrilling career with the west London club, where he also won three English Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups.

“(Leaving) has been a very difficult decision for me to make and I am very proud of what we have achieved,” Drogba said. “But the time is right for a new challenge for me.”

That new challenge could be in football’s new frontier: China.

The two-time African Player of the Year has been widely linked with a move to Shanghai Shenhua, which former Chelsea teammate Nicolas Anelka joined in January and now coaches.

But a career in politics could also be beckoning when Drogba hangs up his boots, having used his status in Ivory Coast to help unify a country that saw at least 3,000 people killed in postelection violence in 2010, and has seen other disorder over the last decade.

But while Drogba is regarded as something of a peace figure away from the pitch, during matches he can be one of football’s most inflammatory players.

He has infuriated fans with what they view as a habit of diving, and enraged referees with his aggressive foulmouthed conduct, earning several bans from UEFA.

Saturday’s final was redemption for Drogba after being sent off in the 2008 Champions League final loss to Manchester United for slapping Nemanja Vidic.

Drogba was — usually — Chelsea’s man for the big occasions, contributing nine goals in nine finals.

Chelsea was on the verge of losing a second European Cup final when he planted a powerful, late header in the Bayern net to send the game into extra time.

Despite conceding a needless penalty that was saved by Petr Cech, he more than made amends for giving Chelsea that scare when it came to the shootout. Facing the hostile Bayern crowd, Drogba coolly dispatched the fifth and last penalty past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

It was Drogba’s last act in a Chelsea shirt, which he ripped off before prancing in front of the visiting fans, savoring every last moment of adulation.

“Winning the game was the turning point, that’s why I decided (to go),” Drogba told the BBC.

“We’ve made a story all together, and I want people to remember that,” he added. “I think it’s the best time to move on.”

But with his Champions League exploits entering Chelsea folklore, Drogba isn’t likely to be away from Stamford Bridge for long.

“I may come back in the future, but in a different role,” he said.

Drogba’s header in Munich put his final Chelsea tally at 157 goals in 341 appearances.

“I am sad, even if (leaving) is part of the life of a footballer,” Drogba said. “We have to accept it. Above all, I will remember all the great seasons I have had here, and all the emotions that will remain forever etched in my memory.”

Drogba was one of then-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s early signings in July 2004 when he moved from Marseille for 24 million pounds (then $45 million), a British record for a striker at the time.

“Didier has contributed so much to all of Chelsea’s recent successes,” chief executive Ron Gourlay said. “He has been a consummate professional during his entire time here and as one of the natural leaders in our squad he has been an inspiration to a lot of our younger players.”

His departure was no surprise to the Chelsea hierarchy.

“We have known for some time that this outcome was likely,” Gourlay said. “But Didier and the club only made a final decision on that in the last couple of days, because for obvious reasons neither Didier nor the club wanted to distract focus away from the Champions League final. The talks were amicable all the way through.”


Stanley Cup Final Opens May 30 In Eastern City

Source: www.thestar.com

(May 22, 2012) NEW YORK—The Stanley Cup final will begin May 30 at the home of the Eastern Conference champion, the NHL announced Tuesday. Based on their superior point totals from the regular season, the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils will host the first two games of the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is set for June 2 before the series moves to Los Angeles or Phoenix for Game 3 on June 4. The Western Conference champion will also host Game 4 on June 6. If necessary, the East champion would host Game 5 on June 9. The West champion would be home for Game 6 on June 11 and the East champion would host Game 7 on June 13. All games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. eastern. The Devils and Rangers have split the first four games of the Eastern Conference final. Game 5 is set for Wednesday night in New York. In the Western Conference final, Los Angeles took a 3-1 series lead into Tuesday night's game at Phoenix.