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NEWSLETTER

Updated:  December 22, 2005

Holy frigid out there!  Only a short time left until we all get to take a little break during the holidays!  Don't forget your holiday gift suggestions - the gift basket with your own personal selections by Andrea and the unique vocal training gift set by Elaine Overholt - all details below. 

We lost two pioneers this week, Richard Pryor and Stanley "Tookie" Williams.  See details under SCOOP


On a more positive note, I can offer you the very special interview this week – the one and only Jully Black! She offers words of wisdom and clarity of self that transcends into her music.


Check out all categories - tons of Canadian content in MUSIC NEWS, FILM NEWS, TV NEWS, THEATRE NEWS, and OTHER NEWS!  Have a read and a scroll!  This newsletter is designed to give you some updated entertainment-related news and provide you with our upcoming event listings.   Welcome to those who are new members.  Want your events listed by date?  Check out EVENTSWant to be removed from the distribution, click REMOVE.

 

 

::HOT EVENTS::

 

 

New Year's Eve at IRIE FOOD JOINT

Carl Cassell invites you to come through your fav hangout on New Year’s Eve for the unique and laid back vibe of Irie.  Enjoy the buffet dinner for the mere cost of $30 per person and stay on for the party at no extra cost!   

Live music will be featured and DJ Carl Allen will be representing on the turntables and you know how he brings it – old school mixed with the new!  Throw your favourite jeans on or dress to the nines.  Everyone is welcome!  The party will include all night Irie hors d’oeurves, party favours, and champagne at midnight.  Deny winter and party on the heated patio.  Join us at Irie on New Year’s Eve – what a deal – for the cost of dinner, you get a New Year’s Eve party as well!  As always, Irie brings you - food – music – culture all under one roof. 

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31
NEW YEAR’S EVE AT IRIE
Irie Food Joint
745 Queen Street W.  
Dinner:  $30.00 and party for free
9:00 pm
www.iriefoodjoint.com

 

 

::HOT GIFT IDEA::

 

 

Baskets By Andrea Presents Their 2005 Collection

Want an impressive solution to corporate or personal gift giving?  Choose from Andrea’s wide selection of custom-themed baskets.  Each year we are pleased to prepare custom made gifts for you, our special clients and friends, using the finest containers and quality products.  We take special care in ensuring that your gift is appreciated and moreover, addresses any special dietary needs or allergic concerns. In addition to our regular favourites, "Christmas Delights" and "Tropical Delights" we have a collection of CD's by the renowned concert pianist, Linda Gentille.  We have prepared a number of basket themes around her CD's, e.g. "Movie Night" featuring hits from the movies with your favourite munchies! Visit www.gentille.com.

Traditional Favourites and Christmas Delights


An assortment of gourmet delights for the Holiday Season and after. 
Price range: $60 - $100.

Toasting the Season!

Six inch silver tray with two wine glasses or champagne flutes with wine/champagne, gourmet coffee and truffles.
Price based on choice of wine or champagne.

The Spa

Various products guaranteed to provide a soothing and pleasurable bath experience.
Price starts at $45 upwards.

Tropical Delights

Capture the flavours of the Caribbean. Tropical spices, fruit juices, rum, exotic jams like guava and pineapple, and savoury plantain chips!
Price starts at $50. Available without rum.

For book lovers, baskets are available at Burke's Bookstore, 873 St. Clair Avenue West Telephone: 416-656-5366.

To ensure Christmas delivery, no orders accepted after December 16. Order your custom baskets today by calling Andrea at. 416-496-8413or faxing your order to 416-496-7915 or email: andrea@on.aibn.com

Baskets by Andrea is a subsidiary of Andrea Delvaillé & Associates, specializing in advertising, marketing, public relations and special promotions. 

Contact Andrea at:  416-496-8413; email: andrea@on.aibn.com

 

 

Elaine Overholt’s "Big Voice DVD"

Give the gift of vocal training this Christmas to your favourite aspiring singer!  Elaine Overholt is one of North America's most respected and treasured singers and voice coaches, having coached the likes of Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, and Queen Latifah, with a reputation for working miracles in the studio and on the set.

 If you are a professional or aspiring singer who needs a great vocal warm-up and workout, this is it!  The Big Voice Complete Vocal Warm-Up and Workout CD is meant to be used in conjunction with the Big Voice DVD which explains Elaine’s techniques in detail.  Use it at home, in your dressing room or your limo and you’ll be ready to burst onto the stage or the studio. 

$64.98 + PST and GST + shipping and handling
VISA/MasterCard accepted
info@elaineoverholt.com or call to purchase 416.466.1816

 

 

::EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW::

 

 

Jully Black Exposed

I finally got the opportunity to interview Canada’s Miss Jully Black on Monday night at Irie Food Joint.  We laughed and we cried (really!) and the true essence of Jully came out – not to imply that she hides behind a façade.  On the contrary! Jully reveals her thoughts on her career with the release of her much-anticipated (and aptly titled) debut album, This Is Me (available at www.jullyblack.com or any retail outlet).  We also discussed the music industry, her life’s struggles and triumphs, the CUMAs and a fan’s near suicide.  What I came away with was less of an interview and more of a discussion among friends, even though this was the first time we sat down together.  Her clarity of self transcends into her music – what you get is the real, the exposed … Jully Black!  
 

LE:

You’ve been working in the industry for quite awhile.  What would you say is the thing you are most proud of at this point in your career? 

JULLY:

My perseverance and my will to win.  The fact that I didn’t give up.  It doesn’t matter how many accolades you may receive or not receive or nominations or whatever, it’s just the fact that I kept going and I’m still on my path.  That’s what I’m most proud of.

LE:

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

JULLY:

I never ever totally wanted to put it down and say that’s it for me.  However, I felt very very weak.  I’ve been on my knees but not all the way on the floor.  Metaphorically speaking.  Absolutely.

LE:

You’re also well known for your dynamic songwriting skills.  Who is your dream to work with on the songwriting tip?

JULLY:

David Foster, Diane Warren – true songwriters.  Babyface and R. Kelly – true songwriters.  Anyone that can write for both Celine and B2K – it’s all good! (laughs)

LE:

What are your thoughts about the Canadian music industry and what’s been the biggest challenge?

JULLY:

As far as Black music in Canada, it’s still in it’s infancy but we’ve come a long way.  The biggest challenge would be having people realize that my audience is broader than just urban.  Because when I go to my shows, I perform primarily for a white audience but yet radio needs to understand that the music does translate.  So, that’s been the biggest challenge. 

LE:

What do you think about the current state of urban music in Canada?

JULLY:

Even in the past year or two years, it’s funny because it’s bittersweet.  CHUM FM has been a supporter of Jully Black before my album was even completely recorded.  Just taking a chance based on a good song.  I’ve seen more than one artist come out per year as far as Black music is concerned.  Normally it’s one a year – it’s Keshia’s year, it’s k-os’ year or whomever.  This year we had myself, Divine (Brown), Kardinal (Offishall), Melanie (Durrant), Juice (aka Rochester), Carl Henry – all in one year.  But my fear is, is Canada ready for so many artists at once or are we splitting the difference – are we splitting votes so to speak, as far as sales? 

LE:

What would you say is the unique contribution of Canadian urban music globally?  Is there something you hear outside of Canada about our music?

JULLY:

Our uniqueness is that we’re Canadian and that we’re just as good if not better – often I would say that we’re better but we’re just not looked at as much.

LE:

Do you think that’s a confidence thing from our end?  I feel that we’re responsible for how the world sees us – just like in life; you’re responsible for how other people see you.  What’s the key to unlocking or getting a closer understanding of who we are?

JULLY

Pride.  Canadian Pride – that’s the bottom line.  What you project is what you reflect so if you’re projecting that ‘oh, it’s good for a Canadian’ then that’s exactly what you’re going to reflect.  We need to go as an army and let the world know.  Like the people in the UK – half of them we don’t even know but they’re selling platinum!  And you know who we could learn from?  We could learn from Quebec.  We can learn from French Canadians because they totally embrace their own. 

LE:

I think it’s also important to convey that this translates into the boardrooms too.  Not just artists.  Because if we approach things like ‘oh please give this Canadian artist a listen…’

JULLY:

Yes yes!  Yeah, you’re begging.  It’s desperate.  There’s no way you should have to beg and plead.  Especially with the Americans, they’ll look to Canada and see how an artist is doing in their own country.  And really, it’s not a reflection of how good we are.  [Example:  Gold status in Canada is 50,000 units sold – in America, it’s 500,000!]

LE:

Unless the American wants to make an effort to understand the culture, then they’re going to pass.

JULLY:

And most times they do – they’re not willing to make the effort.

LE:

I find it interesting that more and more U.S. record labels are asking to be put on my distribution because I believe that they are peeping Canada.

JULLY:

There’s some diamonds in the rough and they’re trying to figure it out.  You’re in the streets with us – the people in the business suits don’t know so to speak.  Even the presidents of a label – you want to know what’s going on in a company, go ask marketing or promotions or publicity.  You’re not going to go to the president because 9 times out of 10, they don’t know. 

LE:

What do you like most about being a Canadian artist?  The least?

JULLY:

I only consider myself a Canadian artist by birth.  So, I don’t have likes and dislikes. 

LE:

When you sang I Travelled at the Gospel Jubilee, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place!  How is it that you can evoke such emotion from your audience?

JULLY:

It’s definitely not contrived.  I come from a truthful place.  Even if I’m singing ‘Mary had a little lamb’, it’s going to be truthful.  That’s what’s missing in music now, especially in R&B is that it’s kind of identifying what’s going on in the world – it’s fast-paced and it’s 'wham bam thank you ma’am.  Come and get a piece of my body and keep it moving.  Look at my bling, look at my grill, look at my ice.'  So, there’s no real truth to it so when I perform, that’s where I get to be me

 

That’s where the realness is because you can pick up ‘This is Me’ and come see my live show and it’s two different things.  The live show, you’ll connect the dots once you see me live.  It doesn’t matter if I have a room full of enemies, I’m going to sing to them with love.

LE:

I just love that you keep a diary on your website.  You really reveal your true self in this – why did you choose to use this forum?

JULLY:

I look at my fans as my one best friend so there could be millions out there but I speak to them as though I’m speaking to the person I trust the most.  And your fans know you best, especially if they listen to your lyrics.  I don’t think the fans just need to know me if I’m having a good day.  You cut us, we bleed red.  We just happen to have a cool job.  And so what?  A cool job could be waitressing – to that waitress, that’s her cool job.  I meet people, I get tips, I get to speak to people.  So, I decided to take the diary route, not only to speak to them but to keep it fresh and to keep myself on my toes.  Because we can get caught up and can lose ourselves.  And that keeps me very grounded where fans come up to me and say ‘oh my gosh, I read your diary’ and ‘you helped me get through this’ or ‘I can’t believe that you love Oprah like I do’. 

LE:

You’ve suggested a few times that you’d love to be on television or host television – has there been any headway on this?

JULLY:

As far as television, I would definitely say that there’s been headway with eTalk training me, trusting me and having me do some great interviews.  I’m interviewing Shakira tomorrow so that’ll be pretty cool.  I’ve interviewed Aerosmith, Alicia Keys, Sean Paul and now tomorrow Shakira which are my one-on-one sit down interviews and then I’ve done red carpets at the Emmys, film festival and the MTV Music Awards in Miami.

 

Again, it’s just being me and I love doing it.  Maybe because I was the youngest of nine and I didn’t get that much attention so I’m like ‘look at me, look at me!’  It’s really fun to interview other artists because we’re speaking like we’re friends.  Even my interview with Aerosmith which is one of my most favourite interviews – it was hanging with the boys but them being mentors and legends so I learn from these interviews.  And I also study the interviewee so now when I’m being interviewed as Jully Black, how do I steer the conversation etc. 

There’s a lot on my plate but I’m just letting destiny do its thing.  There’s a lot going on in the world and once upon a time I was complaining more than I was appreciating so I have a new perspective now – I’m getting older and wiser. 

LE:

Who are some of your influences – not just musically but anyone’s who’s made their mark for you?

JULLY:

Of course, my mother is my #1 influence in my life – my queen, my everything.  Maya Angelou, Madonna, Oprah (of course), Queen Latifah.  What’s she’s done with her career is unbelievable.  She’s a Cover Girl, she’s a plus size woman, she’s a Black woman defying all the odds.  I would say those are my key influences. 

LE:

When people hear you sing who do people compare you to?

JULLY:

I’m always compared to Mary J. Blige but note for note, we sound totally different.  She’s passionate and she’s a legend now.  She’s definitely helped the altos of the world.  And Lauryn Hill is another influence.  But my musical influence is Etta James.  And Gladys Knight.  They both have a rasp to their voice that helped me to accept my rasp. 

LE:

Was that a challenge?

JULLY:

Hell yeah!  For instance, I started singing when I was 6 years old so I had a kid voice but a higher register.  So, when people hear that you can sing, they say ‘hit your highest note’.  It was a challenge but it had me train my lower register which broadened my higher register so I started singing a lot of Anita Baker – a LOT of Anita Baker – at a young age, like middle school and that made my higher register that much higher because most women can’t sing low.  So, that was my strategy.  I learned that at a very young age. 

LE:

Did someone tell you that if you train your lower register it’s going to affect your higher range because I didn’t know that.

JULLY:

No.  But it’s just like math – it makes sense.  That’s why I know that I was born to do something with this gift because there were a lot of things that I figured out on my own.  I just started vocal training this year and that totally changed my voice in the most amazing way.  I have to send a shout out to Falconer, the greatest voice trainer on the planet!  I love him!

LE:

The rasp to me … even if you weren’t passionate about delivering a message, it could sound it.  It sounds heartfelt.  There’s many things that we can’t embrace about ourselves until we get some knowledge about it but it’s obviously made a change in your career too. 

JULLY:

I’m with you on that!  Totally.  It’s your uniqueness.  I just said, this is my blessing, this is my gift.  Not everybody could do what God wants me to do and that’s the raspiness in my voice. 

LE:

There’s a lot of talent in our city – who are some of your favourite Canadian artists?  Favourite overall artists?

JULLY:

Alanis Morrisette.  I respect her not only as an artist and songwriter but I respect her taking the chance in changing direction with her sound and with her imaging.  She embraced it, loved it and stayed with it.  K-os, Kardinal, Saukrates.  I would say Michie, Maestro – the pioneers.  Definitely Dallas Green of Alexis on Fire.  He has a solo album out.  My backup singers actually, DShon and Tonya Renee – those two are insanely talented and they are artists in their own right. I always say that your background singers should sing better than you or equal.  It’s just as important.  They are part of my DNA. 

LE:

The CUMAS.  I have to talk about that performance.  Were you feeling being there because you were sooo great.

JULLY:

Before This Is Me came out, I was doing songs that no one knew.  It’s still that whole message that music is the only language we all speak.  It’s my slogan, my title, it’s my email.  So, with what’s going on in the world and in Toronto with the violence, lyrically, Living In The Ghetto Ain’t Easy was the song and the message I wanted to convey and let everyone know that it ain’t easy but dreams do come true so stick to your vision.  I’m a Jane and Finch girl! 

LE:

It’s part of who you are and it’s in your delivery of songs.  Almost every time I’ve seen you perform, it’s been a goosebump experience and the more I’m in the industry, the less that happens.  That was the song of the night for me!  It has to do with you knowing you. 

JULLY:

It comes from love – again.  In a weird way that night I kind of felt I was in my own box.  And the only friends that I felt were there were my band and of course my amazing manager, Sandi.  The night was very heavy and kind of emotional.  In the past, I may have handled it differently but I just put it into the performance. 

LE:

Why was it emotional for you?

JULLY:

Unfortunately, the urban industry in Canada and specifically in Toronto has a far way to go with true, sincere, genuine solidarity.  Not just fair-weather solidarity when the cameras are on or when you’re at an industry event.  Shout out to Ngozi Paul, one of my ‘kink’ ladies [‘Da Kink in my Hair’ theatre production] for producing the show and putting a lot on the line. 

LE:

What pieces of advice would you give to a young artist that wants to enter the business?

JULLY:

I would say to really explore who you are trying to be, not necessarily who you are but who you are trying to be.  It’s two different things.  Who are you really trying to be?  Are you trying to be the humanitarian, the philanthropist?  Are you trying to be the vixen?  Who are you trying to be?  What risks are you willing to take?  How long are you willing to wait? 

 

Also, groom your craft.  Try different things.  If you’re a vocalist, experiment with different genres – dig in the crates!  There’s nothing original – learn from the foundation.  That’s what has set the industry.  The pioneers set up the wall and built the foundation. 

 

Don’t be afraid to fall and get back up.  My Mom always says you can’t go further than the ground.  Get up – you know where you fell already so don’t fall in that same spot. 

 

Know that you’re a product.  You ARE a product.  Are you going to buy the beaten, battered, bruised apple?  Or are you going to buy the shiny one.  It looks nice!  Everything is affected – know that relationships are affected – personal, business, your family.  There’s a lot you have to sacrifice but if you know that you’re doing it for yourself and therefore once you’re happy, your friends, family and fans will be happy too and you’ll be ok. 

 

We break while we take a moment to speak about Jully’s sister who passed away in 1990 and how much she misses her, how much her family has grown closer because of this tragedy and how her legacy lives on. 

LE:

What do you want people to remember you for?

JULLY:

I want people to remember me as a loving, sincere, passionate person that just happens to be a singer.  Who just happened to be a songwriter.  I don’t want what I do for a living to be my memory.  I want the person first then my career second. 

 

One thing that Oprah said on her recent Letterman appearance was even if you don’t have ‘Oprah money’ or ‘Letterman money’, it doesn’t take much to make a difference in somebody’s life.  When you make a difference in one person’s life, that chain is where it starts.  You think that you have to go around and break the bank but really it’s if you truly affect one person …

 

I got an email from a fan who was suicidal and heard I Travelled and decided not to kill himself – long story short.  That alone shocks me – I haven’t even responded yet because this one, I need to sit and really speak to this person and let him know that he has affected me.  And that’s the ripple.  Where he feels that my song saved his life, his honesty has given me the courage to keep going.  Especially in a country that doesn’t get it yet. 

LE:

Just recognizing that it is a journey – it’s not over if this doesn’t happen … or I don’t get this record contract or recognition – it’s that it will always be ok.  It’s what you do with the ‘ok’ part.

JULLY:

That’s IT!  Exaactly.  

LE:

If you could work with any artist, living or past, who would it be?

JULLY:

Etta James first.  I would say Marvin Gaye.  Classy music about love and even about sex, sexuality, sensuality that wasn’t raunchy.  And of course, the voice.  If I could bring him back after his father killed him – imagine what he’s got to say!

LE:

So, what’s in your CD player right now?

JULLY:

Michael Buble right now.  I definitely put him in the ranks of a top Canadian artist who struggled for 10 years in Vancouver.  Struggled with nothing, nothing!  And David Foster, another great Canadian artist.

LE:

Any message for your fans?

JULLY:

I love you.  I don’t even feel to push the record down people’s throat.  I sincerely love you and to quote Donny Hathaway … ‘more than you’ll ever know’. 

 Thanks both to Jully Black and Myrinda Makepeace for making this interview happen.  A true artist with a real message.

 

::SCOOP::

 

 

Tookie Executed: Crips Co-Founder Pronounced Dead At 12:35am Pacific

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 13, 2005) *Stanley Tookie Williams is dead. The co-founder of the internationally known and feared Crips street gang died by lethal injection early Tuesday for the 1979 killings of four people in two Los Angles robberies. While acknowledging he had a violent past, Williams, 51, went to his death maintaining his innocence. Before the execution, about 40 death penalty opponents and Tookie supporters marched approximately 25 miles from San Francisco holding signs calling for an end to "state-sponsored murder” and chanting, “They say death row, we say hell no!”  About 1,000 opponents of capital punishment and a few death penalty supporters held vigil outside the San Quentin State Prison to await the execution, among them, Rev. Jesse Jackson, M A S H actor Mike Farrell and singer Joan Baez. "Tonight is planned, efficient, calculated, antiseptic, cold-blooded murder and I think everyone who is here is here to try to enlist the morality and soul of this country," said Baez, who sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" on a makeshift stage set up just outside the gates. At 12:01 a.m. this morning, officials inside the death chamber struggled to find a vein to inject the lethal mixture into Tookie’s arm, according to witnesses. Their laboured effort caused Williams to look up repeatedly with apparent frustration, shaking his head at supporters and other witnesses. 

"You doing that right?" it sounded as if he asked one of the men with a needle. After he was declared dead, his supporters shouted in unison: "The state of California just killed an innocent man," as they walked out of the chamber.   California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the unofficial time of death was 12:35 am Pacific. Williams’ body was later moved out of San Quentin for burial, but the fierce death penalty debate sparked by his life inside continues on.  Williams was sentenced to death in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven in Whittier and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple's daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned. Williams claimed he was innocent.  During his time on death row, Williams became an anti-gang crusader and the author of several children’s books denouncing gangs and violence. His case set off intense debates over the death penalty and redemption, with celebrities and activists saying his initiatives and anti-gang message from behind bars had proven his life was worth saving. During Williams' 24 years on death row, a Swiss legislator, college professors and others nominated him five times for the Nobel Prizes in peace and literature.  Among the celebrities who took up Williams' cause were Jamie Foxx, who played the gang leader in the 2004 FX biopic of his life “Redemption”; rapper Snoop Dogg, himself a former Crip; Sister Helen Prejean, the nun depicted in "Dead Man Walking"; and Bianca Jagger.  Despite numerous appeals, even to the US Supreme Court late Monday - this after his clemency appeal was rejected by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - his execution went ahead as scheduled. 

"Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?" Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote in his decision to deny clemency. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."  Schwarzenegger also referenced part of a transcript from Tookie’s murder trial, where witnesses said he bragged about the shootings, stating, "You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him." Williams then made a growling noise and laughed for five to six minutes, the transcript noted. "There is no part of me that existed then that exists now,” Tookie proclaimed during a recent interview with the Associated Press. “I haven't had a lot of joy in my life. But in here," he said, pointing to his heart, "I'm happy. I am peaceful in here. I am joyful in here."

Clemency Denied For Tookie

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 12, 2005) *Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has denied clemency to convicted murderer and Crips co-founder
Stanley Tookie Williams, clearing the path for his scheduled execution at one minute past midnight, tonight.   Schwarzenegger’s decision followed the Federal Appeals Court’s rejection of a stay of execution hours earlier, and the California Supreme Court’s rejection of an appeal late Sunday based on new information in the case.   In a statement released by the governor’s office, Schwarzenegger wrote: After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency. The facts do not justify overturning the jury’s verdict or the decisions of the courts in this case.  Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke and prayed with Tookie for about 45 minutes early Monday, told CNN that he is disappointed with Schwarzenegger’s “decision to choose revenge over redemption and to use Tookie Williams as a trophy in this flawed system.”

Tookie Again Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 9, 2005)  *Condemned San Quentin inmate
Stanley Tookie Williams has again been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by professor Philip Gasper of Notre Dame de Namur University in California.   His announcement Wednesday marks the fifth year in a row the professor has nominated Williams, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Dec. 13 for the 1979 murders of four people. During his time on Death Row, the former gang leader has been an advocate for peace and authored several children’s books designed to encourage youth to steer clear from gangs.  "I respect him for his willingness to be public with his stand against gangs and for peace, though he must cope daily with a violent prison environment where gang members and unfriendly prison officials surround him, many of whom do not support his message or his work," Gasper told AFP. "Moreover, I admire Mr. Williams because of his ability to do this remarkable work for youth, despite the fact that he is, in prison jargon, a 'dead man walking'." California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger held a clemency hearing Thursday in which each side was allowed 30 minutes to make their case why Williams should be spared or killed by the state. Schwarzenegger will announce his decision as late as Monday. "His contributions to anti-gang activities; his children's books and his role in negotiating gang truces has had effects in the United States and internationally," Gasper said. "This is somebody who is playing a very positive role. It would be a huge loss to society to stop him from playing that role."

 

Comedian Richard Pryor Passes At 65

Excerpt from www.allhiphop.com - By Nolan Strong

(Dec. 10, 2005) Iconic comedian/actor Richard Pryor passed away this morning (Dec. 10) of a heart attack, after being ill for years with multiple sclerosis.  Pryor, 65, who has been sampled by such artists as Dr. Dre, DJ Premiere, A Tribe Called Quest and others, passed away at a hospital near his home in the San Fernando Valley. Pryor’s business manager Karen Finch stated that a private memorial service will be held by private invitation.  The family is also requesting donations to Pryor’s recently established animal charity, Pryor’s Planet.  The multi-talented Pryor was born Dec. 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois. Pryor was a more mainstream comedian in the mid-1960’s, until he started working profanity and the word n***er into his act.  Pryor’s second album, 1970’s Craps (After Hours) on Laff Records helped the comedian gain a larger following.  Seeking a larger deal, the comedian released the classic comedy album That Nigger’s Crazy on the Reprise/Warner imprint. The hit albums continued for Pryor, who released hit albums like Is It Something I Said?, Bicentennial N***r, Richard Pryor: Wanted – Live In Concert and Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip. In 1977, the comedian launched his own television show The Richard Pryor Show on NBC in 1977.  He also wrote for the hit series Sanford & Son, hosted a controversial episode of "Saturday Night Live" and later hosted his own children’s show, "Pryor's Place."

In 1979, Pryor took a trip to Africa and vowed never to use the N-word in his stand-up comedy routine again. In 1980, Pryor was freebasing and accidentally set himself on fire. Despite being severely burned, Pryor worked the incident into his stand up show, "Richard Pryor Live on Sunset Strip."  According to Pryor’s wife Jennifer, the comedian had actually tried to commit suicide by pouring high proof rum over his body in a drug induced frenzy and lit himself on fire. Also, in 1980, Pryor used his considerable clout in Hollywood to form his own movie production company, Indigo. The comedian appeared in almost 50 movies, including "Lady Sings the Blues," "The Wiz," "Silver Streak," "Car Wash," "Greased Lightning," "Stir Crazy," "Superman III," "Harlem Nights," "Brewster's Millions," "The Toy," "Bustin' Loose," "The Muppet Movie" and others. In 1983, the comedian earned $4 million dollars for his role in "Superman III," earning a million more than the film’s star, Christopher Reeve. Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986 and was later confined to a wheel chair. His 1995 autobiography “Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences” were released to critical acclaim.  In 2004, Pryor was voted the “Greatest Standup Comedian of All Time” by Comedy Central. The comedian was married six times in his life and is survived by his wife Jennifer Lee Pryor and six children, Richard Pryor, Jr., Elizabeth Stordeur, Rain Kindlin, Kelsey Pryor, Steven Pryor, Franklin Mason and three grandchildren.

Comedy Profane And Profound

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Jeremiah Marquez, Associated Press


(Dec. 11, 2005) Richard Pryor, the groundbreaking comedian whose profanely personal insights into race relations and modern life made him one of Hollywood's biggest black stars, died of a heart attack yesterday. He was 65.  Pryor died after being taken to hospital from his San Fernando Valley home, said his business manager, Karen Finch. He had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system.  "We loved him and will miss you," his ex-wife, Flynn Pryor, said from her Florida home.  Pryor lived dangerously close to the edge both on stage and off.  He was regarded early in his career as one of the most foul-mouthed comics in the business, but he gained a following for his universal and frequently personal routines. After nearly losing his life in 1980 when he caught on fire while freebasing cocaine, he incorporated the ordeal into his routines.  His audacious style influenced generations of standup artists, from Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock to Robin Williams and David Letterman, among others.  A series of hit comedies and concert films in the '70s and '80s helped make Pryor one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood, and he was one of the first black performers to have enough leverage to cut his own deals. In 1983, he signed a $40 million, five-year contract with Columbia Pictures.  His films included Stir Crazy, Silver Streak, Which Way Is Up? and Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip.  Throughout his career, Pryor focused on racial inequality, once joking as the host of the Academy Awards in 1977 that Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were the only black members of the Academy.  Pryor once marvelled "that I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can't do much better than that.''

But he battled drug and alcohol addictions for years, most notably when he suffered severe burns over 50 per cent of his body while freebasing cocaine. An admitted "junkie" at the time, Pryor spent six weeks recovering from the burns and much longer from his addictions.  He battled multiple sclerosis throughout the '90s.  In one of his last movies, the 1991 bomb Another You, Pryor's poor health was clearly evident. Pryor made a comeback attempt the following year, returning to standup comedy in clubs and on television while looking thin and frail, and with noticeable speech and movement difficulties.  In 1995, he played an embittered multiple sclerosis patient in an episode of the TV series Chicago Hope. The role earned him an Emmy nomination.  "To be diagnosed was the hardest thing because I didn't know what they were talking about," he said. "And the doctor said, `Don't worry, in three months you'll know.'  "So I went about my business and then, one day, it jumped me. I couldn't get up. ... Your muscles trick you; they did me.''  While Pryor's material sounds modest when compared with some of today's raunchier comedians, it was startling when first introduced. He never apologized.  Pryor was fired by one Las Vegas hotel for "obscenities'' directed at the audience. In 1970, tired of compromising his act, he quit in the middle of another Vegas stage show with the words, ``What the ... am I doing here?" The audience was left staring at an empty stage.  He didn't tone things down after he became famous. In his 1977 NBC television series The Richard Pryor Show, he threatened to cancel his contract with the network. NBC's censors objected to a skit in which Pryor appeared naked save for a flesh-coloured loincloth to suggest he was emasculated.

"I wish that every new and young comedian would understand what Richard was about and not confuse his genius with his language usage," comedian Bill Cosby said through a spokesman.  In his later years, Pryor mellowed, and his film roles looked more like easy paycheques than artistic endeavours. His robust work gave way to torpid efforts like Harlem Nights, Brewster's Millions and Hear No Evil, See No Evil.  Recognition came in 1998 from an unlikely source: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington gave Pryor the first Mark Twain Prize for humour. He said he was proud that, "like Mark Twain, I have been able to use humour to lessen people's hatred.''  Born in 1940 in Peoria, Ill., Pryor grew up in his grandmother's brothel. His first professional performance came at age 7, when he played drums at a night club.  Following high school and two years of army service, he launched his career, honing his comedy in bars. By the mid-'60s, he was appearing in Las Vegas clubs and on the TV shows of Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson.  His first film role came with a small part in 1967's The Busy Body. He made his starring debut as Diana Ross' piano man in 1972's Lady Sings the Blues.  Pryor also wrote scripts for the television series Sanford and Son, and The Flip Wilson Show. He collaborated with Mel Brooks on the script for the movie Blazing Saddles.  Later in his career, Pryor used his films as therapy. Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, was an autobiographical account of a popular comedian re-examining his life while lying delirious in a hospital burn ward. Pryor directed, co-wrote, co-produced and starred in the film.  "I'm glad I did Jo Jo," Pryor once said. "It helped me get rid of a lot of stuff.''  Pryor was married six times. His children include sons Richard and Steven, and daughters Elizabeth, Rain and Renee. Rain once said her father always "put his life right out there for you to look at." 


Comedian Richard Pryor Dies At 65

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Jeremiah Marquez, Associated Press

(Dec. 10, 2005) Los Angeles — Richard Pryor, the caustic yet perceptive actor-comedian who lived dangerously close to the edge both on stage and off, died Saturday. He was 65. Pryor died shortly before 8 a.m., local time, of a heart attack after being taken to a hospital from his home in the San Fernando Valley, said his business manager, Karen Finch. He had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. "We loved him and will miss you," his ex-wife, Flynn Pryor, said from her Florida home. Pryor was regarded early in his career as one of the most foul-mouthed comics in the business, but he gained a wide following for his expletive-filled but universal and frequently personal insights into modern life and race relations. His audacious style influenced an array of stand-up artists, including Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and Damon Wayans, as well as Robin Williams, David Letterman and others. A series of hit comedies in the '70s and '80s, as well as filmed versions of his concert performances, helped make him Pryor one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. He was one of the first black performers to have enough leverage to cut his own Hollywood deals. In 1983, he signed a $40-million, five-year contract with Columbia Pictures. His films included "Stir Crazy," "Silver Streak," "Which Way Is Up?" and "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip." Throughout his career, Pryor focused on racial inequality, once joking as the host of the 1977 Academy Awards that Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were the only black members of the Academy.

Pryor once marveled "that I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do, and I can make a living from it. You can't do much better than that." In 1980, he nearly lost his life when he suffered severe burns over 50 per cent of his body while freebasing cocaine at his home. An admitted "junkie" at the time, Pryor spent six weeks recovering from the burns and much longer from drug and alcohol dependence. He battled multiple sclerosis throughout the '90s. In his last movie, the 1991 bomb "Another You," Pryor's poor health was clearly evident. Pryor made a comeback attempt the following year, returning to standup comedy in clubs and on television while looking thin and frail, and with noticeable speech and movement difficulties. In 1995, he played an embittered multiple sclerosis patient in an episode of the television series "Chicago Hope." The role earned him an Emmy nomination as best guest actor in a drama series. "To be diagnosed was the hardest thing because I didn't know what they were talking about," he said. "And the doctor said 'Don't worry, in three months you'll know.' "So I went about my business and then, one day, it jumped me. I couldn't get up. ... Your muscles trick you; they did me." While Pryor's material sounds modest when compared with some of today's raunchier comedians, it was startling material when first introduced. He never apologized for it. In his 1977 NBC television series "The Richard Pryor Show," he threatened to cancel his contract with the network after NBC's censors objected to a skit in which Pryor appeared naked save for a flesh-colored loincloth to suggest he was emasculated. In his later years Pryor mellowed considerably, and his film roles looked more like easy paychecks than artistic endeavors. His robust work gave way to torpid efforts like "Harlem Nights," "Brewster's Millions" and "Hear No Evil, See No Evil." Pryor was married six times. He and Flynn Pryor had a son, Steven. Previous children included another son, Richard, and daughters Elizabeth, Rain and Renee. Daughter Rain became an actress. In an interview in 2005, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer that her father always "put his life right out there for you to look at. I took that approach because I saw how well audiences respond to it. I try to make you laugh at life."


We Remember: Richard Pryor; Comic Genius Dies At Age 65

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 10, 2005)  *Richard Pryor, the master comedian who lived close to edge on stage and off is dead at the age of 65.  Pryor died Saturday morning shortly before 8 am of a heart attack after being taken to a hospital from his San Fernando Valley home. He had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Pryor was truly a King of comedy, but early in his career he was seen as one of the most foul-mouthed comics around, but in the end he won over a lot of converts with his universal and frequently personal insights into modern life and race relations. Pryor's style influenced many of today's stand-up comics, including Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and Damon Wayans, as well as Robin Williams, David Letterman and others.

Here are some selected celebrity reflections and comments:

 “When Richard spoke about life, it was funny to everybody. While his comedy was centralized in what was then called ‘the black experience,’ white people, Spanish people, Hungarians even, were laughing, because at his core, and at the core of his comedy, the human experience lives.” - Whoopi Goldberg

 “His recordings lit the creative spark in me, which still burns to this day. The discovery of these timeless performances led me to realize what I am. Richard Pryor is truly one of the great artists of our time. His comic genius and influence remain unparalleled. - ”Eddie Murphy

 “Richard Pryor's comedy is a mirror, a statement, a social commentary, and an explanation of a condition. Richard Pryor is a giant of American comedy. There are two periods of comedy in America: before Richard Pryor and after Richard Pryor.” Paul Rodriguez

 “Richard will never be equaled for his depth of exploration into character during a period of war, civil rights issues, drugs, and political corruption. He was never a "joke-teller"; he was a performer of the caliber of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Lenny Bruce. There was one, and only one, stand-up comic who covered this period; the '60s, and these experiences for me,with his jazz like approach. Richard is the consummate comic jazz artist, and no one will ever touch his genius.” - Chevy Chase

 “When I was a kid nothing gave me more pleasure than waiting for my parents to leave the house so I could listen to a Richard Pryor album. I didn't know it then, but by listening to those albums, I was preparing myself for what I'm doing today. If I hadn't listened to Richard as a kid, I'm sure I'd still be a comedian – the only difference is I'd really suck. Richard Pryor is the greatest comedian of all time.” - Chris Rock

"By telling the truth about his pain, Richard held a mirror up to society, and we were able to see our fears, our beauty, our prejudice, our wretchedness, our hopes, our dreams – all of our contradictions. What other man has no secrets? Richard Pryor shared all of his. He is truly the greatest comedian of our time.” - Damon Wayans

 

::MUSIC NEWS::

 

 

Du The Right Thing

Excerpt from Sway Magazine – www.swag.ca - By Errol Nazareth

(Winter 2006) Imagine being signed to legendary Motown Records and then being unceremoniously let go. You’d have every reason to be bitter and to go off on the music industry at every opportunity. Not if you’re Melanie Durrant. The 24-year-old singer, whose debut album, Where I’m Goin, is creating a buzz among those with discerning ears, is way too mature to waste her energy being angry and pointing fingers. “I was upset and I didn’t write anything for a while,” she said a week before her album arrived in stores. “But being angry on the record, that’s not the way to succeed. It’d probably make me feel worse.” Understandably, Durrant is tired of recounting her experience with Motown. But, for the record, here’s what went down nearly three years back. “They heard my song, ‘Where I’m Goin’ (the commercial for Chrysler’s PT Cruiser) on TV. They flew me down to New York and they decided I’d be a Motown artist,” Durrant says. “Everybody was all excited. But there was another artist, by the name of Lumidee, who did a song, ‘Never Leave You (Uh Ooh, Uh Oooh!),’ that was really big two summers back. They signed her and figured that since her song was playing on the radio 24-7, it’d be a smart move to put her out first. When her album bombed, a lot of people got fired from Motown. They were the ones who were pushing my stuff, and when they were gone, I had nothing.”

That experience manifested itself in ‘Eddy,’ one of the album’s catchiest jams. The song is about a relationship gone sour, and Eddy is a metaphor for the music industry. “My favourite lyric in the song is ‘What have I walked into?,” Durrant says. “It was like, I got this deal which was so exciting. I was part of Motown, where people like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross came from, and suddenly it flipped into a bad thing where the people who liked me were gone and I had to figure out how to get out of it.” Durant’s impressive vocal range on some cuts she sounds very young and on others like a seasoned R&B singer and the thought she invests in her lyrics and music sets her apart from her contemporaries, who seem happy churning out cookie-cutter R&B for the masses. Where I’m Goin boasts dancehall, reggae, pop and R&B flavours, acoustic guitars and arrangements you’re not likely to find in the average R&B album. As Durrant says, “Not many people are playing around with changes and chords. A lot of stuff is sampled and people are just singing what someone’s told them to sing. They’re not feeling it and that’s why you’re not feeling it.”

Durrant credits her mother with inspiring her to listen to different sounds. “My mum’s a singer, and she’s always listened to a variety of music, from Aretha Franklin to Minnie Ripperton to Buddy Holly to Count Basie,” Durrant says. “It never occurred to me to stick to one style or to call myself anything specific because I grew up listening to everything.” And, she says, there wasn’t the temptation to put all her influences on the record. “I didn’t set out to put out a specific record. I just did my thing and incorporating different sounds happened naturally.” Durrant may have cleared one major hurdle in her young recording career, but as a black female singer in Canada, she’s aware there are more looming ahead. “There aren’t that many urban stations,” she says. “And labels are more interested in supporting other styles of music. Also, when you do get signed you’re not given that push, but I’m still gonna go forward. Even if 10 or 15 people leave my show blown away, it makes me feel like a million bucks and makes up for all the crappy stuff.”

 

Cancon At The Grammys

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Guy Dixon


(Dec. 9, 2005) If Canada's contingent of Grammy nominees proves one thing, with acts ranging from Arcade Fire and Neil Young to crooner Michael Bublé and that polka master Walter Ostanek, it's that the award show likes the tried and true. Neil Young, for instance, received two nominations when the Grammy list was announced yesterday in New York. One is for best rock album for Prairie Wind, and the other is for best solo rock vocal performance for the song The Painter from Prairie Wind. Hamilton-raised Daniel Lanois, who already has a collection of Grammys, received two nominations this time around for his own ethereal music (best pop instrumental performance for Agave, best pop instrumental album for Belladonna) and for other people's music (for album of the year for his production work on U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb). Arcade Fire, the propulsive indie band from Montreal which has been on most tastemaker's list of favourite acts over the last couple of years, received nominations for best alternative album for Funeral and for best song written for film or TV for Cold Wind.

Nominees for album of the year are: Mariah Carey for The Emancipation of Mimi, Gwen Stefani for Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Kanye West for Late Registration, U2 for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Carey, who resurrected her flagging career this year, topped the list of nominees with eight, along with rapper-producer Kanye West and R&B singer John Legend who also received eight apiece. 50 Cent, Beyoncé Knowles, the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am and Stevie Wonder received six nominations each -- another testament to the industry's strong support for rap and pop-tinged R&B. Besides Young, Lanois and Arcade Fire, other Canadians receiving nominations included Vancouver singer Bublé for best traditional pop album, for It's Time; Ostanek along with Ron Sluga for best polka album, for Time Out for Polkas and Waltzes; and SCTV alumnus Rick Moranis for best comedy album, for The Agoraphobic Cowboy. Howard Shore, the Toronto-raised film composer, returned this year with a nomination for best soundtrack score for The Aviator, while Sarah McLachlan received a nod for best music video for World of Fire. Winnipeg rapper Fresh I.E. returned with Truth Is Fallin' in tha Streetz, nominated for best rock-gospel album. Others included Toronto-born trumpeter Kenny Wheeler for best jazz instrumental album by an individual or group for What Now? Cathy Fink returned with another nomination in the children's category for best children's musical album for Scat Like That. The awards will be presented in Los Angeles on Feb. 8.

Carey, West, Legend Top Grammy Nominees

Excerpt from www.billboard.com - Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.

(Dec. 8, 2005)
With eight nominations each, Mariah Carey, John Legend and Kanye West lead the field for the 48th annual Grammy Awards. 50 Cent, Beyoncé, the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am and Stevie Wonder have six nods each for the honours, which will be handed out Feb. 8 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast live on CBS.  Carey and West are both up in the album of the year category, with "The Emancipation of Mimi" (Island) and "Late Registration," respectively (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), respectively. They will compete against Paul McCartney's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" (MPL/Capitol)), Gwen Stefani's "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." (Interscope) and U2's "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" (Interscope).  Carey and West meet again in the record of the year field, where her "We Belong Together" and his "Gold Digger" will vie for the trophy with Gorillaz's "Feel Good Inc." featuring De La Soul, Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" and Stefani's "Hollaback Girl."  Legend is up for the best new artist award along with Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane and Sugarland. As a songwriter, he earned a song of the year nod as J. Stephens with William Adams (Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas) for "Ordinary People." That category has his work mentioned alongside Bruce Springsteen ("Devils & Dust"), Boyd, Jeff Hanna and Marcus Hummon ("Bless The Broken Road" performed by Rascal Flatts), U2 ("Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own") and J. Austin, Carey, Jermaine Dupri and Manuel Seal ("We Belong Together" performed by Carey).  Other multiple nominees include Missy Elliott, Alicia Keys, Springsteen Stefani and U2 (five), and Common, Destiny's Child, Foo Fighters, Gorillaz, Neptunes, Brad Paisley, Phil Tan and Gretchen Wilson (four).  Voting members of the Recording Academy will receive ballots after they are mailed Dec. 14, which will be tabulated by the accounting firm of Deloitte beginning Jan. 11.  For the full list of nominations, visit grammy.com.

 

Jazz Series Will Mark Fest's 20th

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Tabassum Siddiqui, Entertainment Reporter


(Dec. 14, 2005) The
Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival is blowing its own horn with a concert series to kick off the festival's 20th anniversary season. The series, presented by local radio station JAZZ.FM91, features a line-up of concerts designed to reflect the diversity of the genre.  The jazz festival began in 1987 at three local venues and has since grown to include performances at 41 different venues across the city. The festival, one of Toronto's most popular summer attractions, has an annual economic impact of over $20 million on the city each year.  "As part of the mandate to present jazz on a year-round basis, we thought we'd take advantage of the 20th anniversary by doing this series," Downtown Jazz executive director Patrick Taylor said at a press conference yesterday. "We wanted to showcase some of the great artists we've had in the city over the last several years."  The anniversary series features six concerts running in various venues from February to April, including:

·  American acoustic jazz trio The Bad Plus, who have been drawing in new fans with their covers of rock songs by the likes of Nirvana and Blondie, play Revival on Feb. 8.
·  Grammy-nominated Chris Potter, known as one of the finest saxophonists of his generation, plays two sets at Revival Feb. 15.
·  California guitarist Charlie Hunter brings his unique 8-string guitar (comprised of 3 bass strings and 5 guitar strings) stylings that run the gamut of funk, hip-hop, folk and modern jazz to the El Mocambo on Feb. 22.
·  Horn-driven big band ¡Cubanismo!, led by Jesús Alemañy and his 15-piece band, will marry Latin rhythms with a variety of musical styles at the Opera House on March 6.
·  Award-winning pianist/composer Randy Weston, credited with bringing the music of Africa to the fore in jazz, will offer up his global sound at the Glenn Gould Studio on March 10.
·  Local trombonist, composer, arranger and conductor Russ Little, a mainstay in the Canadian jazz scene for years, leads his own group through numbers from his new solo album, Snapshot, at the Glenn Gould on Apr. 3.

Taylor said Downtown Jazz hopes to add two more shows to the winter run of the concert series and then host another series in fall 2006 following the 20th anniversary edition of the summer festival, which will take place June 23 to July 3, 2006.  Tickets for the concert series go on sale Friday at all Ticketmaster outlets, and range from $24.50 to $39.50 depending on the show.

 

Balking In A Winter Wonderland

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Ben Rayner


(Dec. 11, 2005) Let's be frank here: The music of the holiday season is, by and large, excruciating. Even this hardened Grinch will concede a slight warming of the heart if he catches a flash of the Salvation Army Brass playing "Good King Wenceslas" at the Eaton Centre, but classic carols and solemn hymns of praise do not a radio playlist make.  Malls, offices and those homes where there's a tree gleaming in the window by Dec. 1 demand a steady infusion of canned holiday cheer to properly indoctrinate their occupants in the "spirit of the season."  In turn, each December we find ourselves being victimized by an entire sector of the music industry that exists only to find new ways of recycling the same basic messages — about snow, home and family, peace on Earth and the all-around niceness of Christmas — in the most shamelessly manipulative and unimaginative ways possible.  It's not all bad. But for every endearingly cheeseball holiday anthem like Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" or Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," there are 50 treacly horror shows that make you want to dig at your own skull with a rusty hook. Seriously, it's a bottomless pit.  Coming up with a definitive list of the worst offenders would, thus, be impossible. And in any case, after three days of intensive research into the matter, this writer was teetering on the brink of complete insanity and simply had to pull the plug.  While sorely incomplete, the following is nevertheless a sound, representative sampling of some of the most reprehensible holiday music ever made. Mercilessly saccharine balladry, ghastly attempts to rock up old favourites for the kids, Christmas standards massacred by cartoons, puppets and pets — it's all here and it's all pretty much unlistenable.  Jingle Cats, "White Christmas." Bing Crosby's corpse is no doubt still spinning itself into a tizzy over this, one of the lowlights of the Jingle Cats' second — yes, second — album, Here Comes Santa Claws. The Cats' records were, admittedly, the logical sequel to the illogical Jingle Dogs' project, but just because it's possible to sample and manipulate yowls and barks into a semblance of melody doesn't mean it should be done.

This version of "White Christmas" is so grating that even real cats get upset when it's playing, although the oddly psychedelic video might be somewhat palatable with the right combination of drugs.  Barbra Streisand, "Jingle Bells." Oh, the affectation! Streisand's oozingly pretentious attempt to personalize the traditional song is half show tune, half scatting jazzbo wankery from someone who sounds as though she'd much prefer to be hauled about in a crystal chariot by a cortege of manservants than to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.  Kenny Rogers, "My Favourite Things." Admittedly, it's kind of a hoot to picture the Gambler daintily picking his way through lyrics like "Raindrops on roses/ And whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles/ And warm woollen mittens" in the studio, but he's as ill a fit for this Sound of Music classic — which appears on the '97 CD Kenny Rogers' Christmas — as that ridiculous image suggests. To add to the torment, his voice croaks and strains beyond its reach throughout the entire song.  Bruce Springsteen, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Speaking of straining, surely even Bruce is now embarrassed by the ultra-macho pummelling he and the E-Street Band delivered to Jolly Old Saint Nick on this overwrought '80s live recording. Shouting in lieu of singing over the band's typically unsubtle Jersey bar-band rumble, he comes off less as an excitable child on Christmas Eve than a knife-wielding sociopath lying in wait by the chimney. Even worse than Corey Hart's angst-ridden version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  Luther Campbell, "Ho Ho Hoes." Open-minded families might not balk at the idea of unwrapping their presents on Christmas morning to raps on fellatio and Santa's big bag, but this classless single from the former 2 Live Crew mastermind is still limp as hip hop and too dimwitted to be funny. Other tracks on the Christmas at Luke's Sex Shop EP, by the way, include "Christmas Spliff," "Christmas F---in' Day" and the more sober "Jesus is Black."  Alvin and the Chipmunks, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." Those nasal cartoon harmonies are the obvious turn-off, but this damnable holiday perennial also irks for its unrepentant celebration of spoiled children — pardon me, rodents — pining ceaselessly for a hula-hoop and "a plane that loops the loop." Then, the little capitalist brats wreck the recording session. Would be more satisfying if Dave's cries of "Aaaaalvin!" were followed by a few good, hard slaps.

Michael McDonald, "House Full of Love." Not content to savage such standards as "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Winter Wonderland" on his 2001 album In the Spirit, the constipation-voiced ex-Doobie Brother also saw fit to contribute a few originals to the seasonal canon. This puzzling slab of discofied white soul seems to be McDonald's ill-conceived stab at cornering the Christmas makeout-music market, buttering the ladies up with vacuous come-ons like: "All I need is just some mistletoe, you and I/ Baby, I'm satisfied right here in your arms." Barry White it ain't.  Babyface, Christmas With Babyface. So dreadful is this soulless, schmaltz-ridden holiday collection from R&B's long-reigning lord of the obvious that to single out one tune for persecution would be unfair. The ballads are predictably goopy and sopping wet with strings, but Babyface's mincing vocal performances on sprightlier numbers like "Sleigh Ride" and "Winter Wonderland" elevate the mundane to tragic comedy.  Rosie O'Donnell and Elmo, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" The 2000 compilation Another Rosie Christmas is a treasure trove of dreadfulness, giving us both Barry Manilow's godawful "Because It's Christmas (For All the Children)" and Ricky Martin's "Ay Ay Ay It's Christmas." It reaches its nadir, however, when an apparently shameless O'Donnell joins forces with the lamest Muppet of all time, Elmo, to defile a seasonal classic in honour of juicing sales of the Tickle Me Elmo doll. It's worse than what you hear in your head right now.  NewSong, "The Christmas Shoes." Gag. Some dude is standing in line behind a filthy little urchin trying in vain to buy his mother some new shoes because "Daddy says there's not much time ... and I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight." Naturally, he glimpses "Heaven's love," opens his heart and coughs up the cash for the shoes. Sounds like the plot of a horrid holiday movie, doesn't it? Oh, wait. Two years after this song's 2000 release, it became one. A pair of swift kicks to the crotch for NewSong, then.  Elmo and Patsy, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." No, don't worry, it's not the Muppet, but another Elmo. Still, this cornball-country Christmas staple about an elderly woman trampled to death beneath the hooves of Santa's flying reindeer team has to be one of the most irritating pieces of music ever put to tape. For Hee-Haw lovers only.  The Orchard, "Good Coach Shanahan." It's not so much the staggering awfulness of this football-centric rewrite of "Good King Wenceslas" — one of the gems from Christmas Carols for Denver Fans, available online — that gives one pause, but the thought of the Broncos-obsessed meathead out there who is no doubt repeatedly subjecting his friends and family to the disc as we speak. No doubt Christmas dinner is spent in jersey and matching ball cap and frequently interrupted by irate calls to radio sports-chat shows.  Chris DeBurgh, "A Spaceman Came Travelling." Oh, I get it. That's what you call an "allegory." Clever.  Barney, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Bearable, perhaps, if the Barney in question were a Rubble. As performed by that despicable purple dinosaur, however, this already endless carol plays like a season in hell.  Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" No, they don't. Many of them don't celebrate Christmas, see? This is why they hate you.

 

Paying Tribute To Canada's `Dean Of Jazz'

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Geoff Chapman, Jazz

(Dec. 8, 2005) Canada hasn't put Phil Nimmons on a postage stamp — yet.  Yet it's about time the clarinettist, bandleader, arranger, educator and adjudicator was given another nudge toward the adulation that our citizens reserve for pianist Oscar Peterson and singer Diana Krall.  One step forward in the illustrious career of the 82-year-old usually dubbed "the dean of Canadian jazz" takes place Monday with a concert titled A Portrait of Phil Nimmons at Isobel Bader Theatre.  The music will be played by trombonist Dave McMurdo's 19-piece jazz orchestra, which recorded Nimmons pieces live at the Montreal Bistro in October 2004. It's now out on what is surely one of the must-have discs of this year — make that this century.  The triple-CD is released by the Canadian Music Centre on its Centrediscs label.  This is the first jazz venture in its impressive composer's portrait series — appropriately Nimmons was a co-founder of the League of Canadian Composers way back when. The honour is deserved, since he has been instrumental in bringing jazz into the Canadian music mainstream since the 1950s.  On two of the CDs, the music, mostly composed in the 1970s for his Nimmons `N' Nine plus Six big band, is terrific. On it Nimmons, a real Mr. Modest, solos just four times (his sound influence more Benny Goodman than Artie Shaw) but the richness and texture of his writing is well captured by McMurdo's team, which includes a bevy of hot Canuck jazzers such as alto Cam Ryga, tenor Alex Dean, trumpeter Mike Malone, trombonist Terry Promane and the lively rhythm unit of pianist Brian Dickinson, guitarist Reg Schwager, bass Paul Novotny and drummer Kevin Dempsey.  It's very clear the musicians are having a good, intense and imaginative time. Great workouts? "Threeful," "Nufsicisum," "Arf" with six soloists, "Three And Four" and the 19 minutes-plus "The Torch."

As McMurdo dryly remarks in his liner note: "The clarinet player worked out fine."  The third CD is a seamless documentary with music about Nimmons. It's put together by Eitan Cornfield, who draws lots of fascinating material from his warm-voiced subject that traces his life from early years in his birthplace Kamloops and then Vancouver, to his time at the famed Juilliard school in New York on a clarinet scholarship, the constant CBC work, his busy career with his renowned Nimmons `N' Nine and Nimons `N' Nine plus Six jazz formations, his composing and his tireless advocacy for jazz education.  Nimmons has written more than 400 compositions, among them major works such as The Atlantic Suite, The P.E.I. Suite and "The Torch," commissioned for the 1988 Winter Olympics and premiered in Calgary by young musicians directed by bandleader-trombonist Rob McConnell.  (Perhaps one shouldn't mention an early best seller from his 1960s days, "Mary Poppins Swings!")  The concert is also a fundraiser for the big band's trip to the 2006 convention of the International Association for Jazz Education in new York next month.  There'll be a new Nimmons piece, which he said last week "is half-finished and the biggest jazz piece I've created since the Olympics work." It will be performed by the McMurdo orchestra.  "For years Dave (McMurdo) has been championing my music. He's always had a bee in his bonnet about it and it's finally happened" says Nimmons. "He's been the fountainhead and I've redone charts that originally were for Nimmons `N' Nine plus Six. Dave's band is a great big canvas, with great soloists."

Nimmons, the first Canadian inducted into the IAJE Hall of Fame, says he's "thrilled" that his new work is the first commission by IAJE/SOCAN — the latter is the Society of Composers Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.  At the end of last month SOCAN gave a lifetime achievement award to Nimmons, who's also composed contemporary chamber and orchestra works for voice, piano, strings and other ensembles as well as for CBC dramas in the early days.  He's done hundreds of orchestrations, including the television premiere of Anne of Green Gables, Oscar Peterson's themes for the film Big North Ontario and scores for movies.  Nimmons won the first jazz JUNO, the first Toronto Arts Award for music excellence, is an officer of the Order of Canada and member of the Order of Ontario and has won many other awards.  By no means is he about to finish up a six-decade career.  He still fields a regular quartet featuring pianist Gary Williamson, bass Steve Wallace and drummer Barry Elmes, teaches composition and improvisation as an emeritus professor at UofT and, as a mark of his continued interest in new exploration has a new CD out, a free improv session with rising star pianist David Braid recorded in a church in rural Dundas.

 

Young Marley's Voice Is True

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Ashante Infantry


(Dec. 11, 2005)
Damian Robert Nesta Marley calls for silence.  The youngest son of Bob Marley is perched on a coffee table in his dressing room at the Guvernment nightclub. The Jamaican-born, Miami-based rapper-singer, 27, has an unlit, half-smoked spliff in one hand and a black marker in the other.  Crowded into the smoky chamber are Marley's bandmates, his younger sister Leah (a first year McMaster University student), a dozen autograph seekers and a journalist.  Marley's demeanour reflects the "Respect" he writes on the 8x10 glossies of himself while making sure to spell each fan's name correctly and smiling into yet another camera phone.  As if he hadn't just finished a rigorous 90-minute show.  As if it weren't almost 2 a.m.  As if there weren't a 12-hour bus ride to another city pending.  Finally, it's the reporter's turn.  "We're going to do a recorded interview and we need some quiet, please," he tells the throng.  Up close, the weariness is evident. So are the inviting eyes of his beauty queen mother (Miss World 1976) and reputed sang-froid of his superstar father, who died when Damian was 2. He is polite in the manner of over-interviewed celebrities, and guarded in the way of artists who believe their work speaks for itself.  The sold-out crowd of 1,000 who witnessed his triumphant Guvernment show — his first headlining gig in Toronto — would likely concede the latter.  From the moment he took the stage with "Confrontation" from his acclaimed album Welcome to Jamrock, through a medley of his father's songs, to the finale with Jamrock's incendiary title track, the audience — mostly white 20-somethings with a smattering of older black Rastafarians — was enraptured.  It wasn't strictly on the strength of his performance: Marley's band cues weren't as smooth as one would expect near the end of a North American tour; he didn't show the vocal dexterity he demonstrates on disc; and his accoutrements consisted of one screechy backup singer, a fulltime flag waver and the marvel of his lengthy dreadlocks sweeping the back of his thighs.

But like the reception to
Welcome to Jamrock, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard's album chart, Marley's appeal is a combination of the enduring allure of his father and the socio-political sincerity and spirituality he exudes musically. "Even when he covered his father's songs, his own sensibility and spirit came through," said his Toronto promoter Jonathan Ramos. "A couple of times during the show I would just stare in awe and think, `This is the closest I'll come to doing a show with royalty.'"  Bob Marley is attributed with saying he wanted to have as many children as there were shells on the beach. When he succumbed to cancer at age 36 in 1981, he left behind a dozen.  There are the five he raised with his wife Rita: Sharon (Rita's child whom he adopted), Cedella, Ziggy, Stephen, Stephanie (the product of his wife's affair, but accepted by the singer). The others he fathered with seven different women outside his marriage: Rohan, Robert, Karen, Julian, Ky-Mani, Damian and Makeda.  The first to follow in his musical wake were Ziggy, Stephen, Sharon and Cedella, who comprised The Melody Makers.  Ziggy, Ky-Mani, Julian and Damian have since made solo albums and all of the performing sons appeared on 1999's Bob Marley: Chant Down Babylon, which blended their father's vocals with contemporary artists.  While attaining moderate success, none of the Marley children has emerged as his clear moral and musical inheritor.  As it should be, says University of South Carolina professor Kwame Dawes, author of Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius.  "We should stop trying to find that person," he explained. "It is unfair. Are we still looking for the next Shakespeare, the next Mozart, the next Beethoven? We would be silly to do so."  Unfair or not, the hunt endures. And the latest recording by Marley's seventh son has reggae enthusiasts taking note. Written and produced in conjunction with big brother Stephen, Welcome to Jamrock is an engaging stew of lyrically dense, musically eclectic tracks that tackle social issues ranging from poverty to parenting.  "Damian Marley is certainly the reggae man of the hour," said Toronto's Klive Walker, author of dubwise: reasoning from the reggae underground.

"There's no shortage of dancehall artists dealing with social commentary, but in grabbing the imagination of the mainstream, he's fairly unique. Shabba, Shaggy and Sean Paul all did it either talking about romance, sex or partying. And Third World, Ziggy, UB40 — they never really hit the charts or made an impact with a song that had those themes of equity and justice."  The album's centrepiece is "Welcome to Jamrock," whose lyrics outline the rough-and-tumble reality of Jamaica's poorer citizens: "Come on let's face it, a ghetto education's basic/ A most a the youths them waste it/ And when they waste it, that's when they take the guns and replace it/ Then them don't stand a chance at all."  Dubbed an "early contender for reggae song of the decade" by the
New York Times, the tune has been covered by Alicia Keys and Lil' Kim and earned Marley an opening spot on U2's tour and two Grammy nominations.  "Damian's greatest blessing is that he sounds so little like Bob," said Dawes. "The other brothers have not fought that influence and I think they have suffered for it. The other debts to his father are obvious: a passion for issues and ideas, a directness of statement, a sensuality and a religious sensibility."  But the reggae-hip hop fusion on Welcome to Jamrock, with turns by U.S. rappers Nas and Black Thought, gives others pause.  "I'm not a huge hip-hop fan," admits L.A. musicologist Roger Steffens. "(But) when I got out a big magnifying glass and read the lyrics ... I was very impressed. I thought they were very committed and intelligent and in many ways, very clever."  Recalling that producer Chris Blackwell overdubbed Bob Marley's first few albums with rock and blues guitar licks to appeal to a rock audience, Klive Walker thinks the son's hip-hop leanings are appropriate for the times and still accessible to older ears.  Steffens likes the young bachelor's deportment. "He's conducted himself in a very admirable way," he said. "You don't hear scandal about him; he hasn't left a trail of babies all over the world like others have; and he seems very serious about what he's doing. He comes from a very interesting background —Miss World and Mr. Universe (a.k.a. the King of Reggae) — you better do something with your life when you have those credentials."

Damian has never wanted to be or do anything other than what he is and is doing," said his mother, Cindy Breakspeare, on the phone from her Kingston, Jamaica home.  "Anything that resembled a microphone, from when he was 2 years old, went to his mouth."  The Toronto-born, Jamaica-raised Breakspeare was an upper class teenager when she met the ghetto-reared Marley. She became Miss World, he an international singing sensation and Damian was the result of their ongoing love affair. After Marley died, Breakspeare married a lawyer-politician and had two children. Now 51 and an interior designer, she is remarried to a pilot turned musician.  Though her eldest had a private school upbringing, his social conscience is not surprising.  "I never isolated Damian from anything," she said. "His stepfather is a politician, so my children grew up visiting with people from all echelons of life. With that, combined with where his dad was coming from, he seems to really feel what's going on around him."  But she acknowledges it was hard letting go of her first-born, who for the last decade has resided primarily in Florida with his older brothers.  "We always knew he would want to go and be a Marley among Marleys. I just had to learn to accept it.  "I believe in what he's doing, the same way I believed in what Bob was doing. Supporting Damian is just an extension of supporting Bob back then and the joy of watching the world wake up to Bob's genius."

The interview with Marley is unremarkable and ends quickly — it's time for him to go. On the short walk to the parking lot he will pose for four photos, sign his name 11 times and tape a radio promo.  Then, with one foot in the idling van, he'll turn back, to accommodate one last earnest fan.

 

Stefani Entertains A Safe Distance From The Edge

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By J.D. Considine

Gwen Stefani
At the Air Canada Centre
in Toronto on Friday

(Dec. 12, 2005) As much as she tries to seem cutting edge, Gwen Stefani is ultimately more follower than leader. Sure, her recent solo album, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, was recorded with the hippest producers (Nellee Hooper, Jam and Lewis, the Neptunes, Dr. Dre, Andre 3000) and relentlessly references Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district and such couture lines as Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garçons. She's so eager to distance herself from the tomboy-ish ska girl image she had in No Doubt that her solo show attempts the sort of wholesale re-invention fans once expected of Madonna. Like Madonna, she has an onstage female posse, a troupe she has dubbed the Harajuku Girls (although, in truth, only one of the four is actually from Tokyo). Also like Madonna, she stages each song as a mini-spectacle, changing costumes and musical mood with each new number. And there were more than a few moments when Stefani's platinum bob and stop-sign red lipstick harked back to the Madonna of True Blue or Bedtime Stories. But where Madonna made sure that her stage shows stirred controversy, Stefani and her Harajuku Girls just wanted to have fun. As such, there wasn't much in the way of messages in the music; apart from Long Way to Go, which illustrated its saga of interracial romance with black and white slides of black and white lovers, there was essentially no social content at all. Instead, Stefani's songs were mostly about dressing up, going out, having friends and getting laid, all of which she made seem as wholesome as a trip to the mall. Even Bubble Pop Electric, a homage to dates at the drive-in that unambiguously promises "to give you all my love in the backseat," was transformed into an oddly sweet exercise in faux-'50s nostalgia. As the Harajuku Girls, in stylized poodle skirts, danced with greaser-attired "Johnnies," it was almost as if we were watching a Madonna-inspired tribute to the sitcom Happy Days.

Daring? Deep? Decadent? Hardly. But then, Stefani isn't exactly appealing to the artsy or avant garde. No doubt that's partly the reason her Japan-ophilia is focused on the name-brand friendly trendies of Harajuku instead of the more genuinely outré youth chic of Tokyo's Shibuya district (the epicentre for such kogal subcultures as the chemically tanned ganguro girls and the witchy yamanba look). Stefani may enjoy adding some edge to her image, but she doesn't want to seem scary or incomprehensible. That's why her show, like the music itself, was so rigorously grounded in the familiar. And so The Real Thing rolled along on the same chord progression as Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time while Luxurious built its groove upon the Isley Brothers' much-sampled Between the Sheets. And then there was Rich Girl, which lifts its hook from If I Were a Rich Man and its sentiment from Material Girl, and managed to be even less adventurous than the single, whose dancehall-tinged rap was notably absent from the live version. Not that anyone really cared. Whatever Stefani's show lacked in imagination or insight was more than made up in exuberance and enthusiasm. So what if she did more barking of lyrics than actual singing? Her drum corps rendition of Hollaback Girl -- itself little more than a chant and a beat -- was the perfect shout-along finale to an utterly entertaining evening. It could be that, for most pop fans, one Madonna is more than enough. Gwen Stefani may not have the most original act in pop music, but it's worth remembering there's a reason people often like cheerleaders more than actual leaders.

Stefani The Next Madonna?

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
 Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic

(Dec. 10, 2005) There's been so much media speculation lately as to who will be "the next Madonna" that Madge herself has resorted to sounding like ... well, Madge herself again.  With Kylie Minogue temporarily sidelined by illness, oddsmakers have turned their sights on British electro-pop ice queen Alison Goldfrapp and No Doubt frontwoman-turned-solo-superstar Gwen Stefani. Both bombshell blondes, oddly enough, turned up in Toronto yesterday at the same time — the former for a press day in honour of her U.K. hit album, Supernature, and the latter for a sold-out stop at the Air Canada Centre pushing her remarkably popular Love Angel Music Baby record.  With Goldfrapp's album still a month away from release on these shores and probably a little too British and electro-oriented to take off in "rockist" North America, the frontrunner round these parts is likely Stefani. 

Gwen on her own is still the consummate American pop star, surrounded by dancers and fashion-plated Harajuku girls, and capable of uniting 'tweens, teens, radio-attuned moms and dads, "urban"-music heads and even those hipsters capable of admitting their weakness in the face of unstoppable bubblegum like "Rich Girl," "Hollaback Girl" and the vaguely Goldfrapp-esque "What You Waiting For?"  The filler remains filler, though. Energy level in the full house was noticeably dropping by the time the lack of material forced "Serious" to be dragged out forever through tedious band/dancer introductions toward the end of the show. The belatedly anthemic "Orange County Girl" fared better than, say, the skittering, rather Prince-ly Andre 3000 collaboration "Long Way to Go," but overall one got the sense this was a show hanging on the hits.  "I wasn't even going to go on tour, but then you guys kept buying the record, you kept tempting me," Stefani admitted at one point.  How could she not? Love Angel Music Baby has exceeded most expectations and her star status demands this sort of pop spectacle. She's just getting ahead of herself; once her solo canon swells to the size of Madonna's, she'll have enough standards to get by. For now, however, it's a case of "almost there."

 

Hi-Tek Busy With Solo CD, Dre, Snoop

Excerpt from www.billboard.com - Gail Mitchell, LA

(Dec. 9, 2005) Noted producer Hi-Tek calls himself a free agent right now, but is keeping busy with a number of projects. The Cincinnati-reared Tek has two songs on 50 Cent's soundtrack to "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," and during the last couple of years, has been steadily racking up credits on albums by other Aftermath and Interscope acts, including the Game, Lloyd Banks and D12.  Current studio gigs include collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Styles P, Busta Rhymes and Dr. Dre's long-awaited "Detox" album. "I've been submitting tracks to see what he's feeling," Hi-Tek tells Billboard of the latter project  In the meantime, Hi-Tek is juggling several other projects. One is the follow-up to his 2001 solo debut on Rawkus Records, "Hi-Teknology." He describes the work-in-progress as similar in concept to his last effort, which featured a diverse artist line-up. "Upgrade this one to the 10th power," he declares of the new album that presently lists Nas, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def and Raphael Saadiq in the guest column.  "I don't consider myself a rapper," Hi-Tek adds, "though I do have some verses on this album. It's more about my versatility as a producer."  Building buzz through his work with various underground artists, Hi-Tek netted above-ground notoriety when he produced rappers Talib Kweli and Mos Def (as Black Star) on their pivotal 1998 self-titled album. Two years later, Hi-Tek and Kweli partnered as Reflection Eternal for the critically acclaimed "Train of Thought" album, which helped cement the reputation of Rawkus. In between their busy schedules, the pair are planning to record a second album.

"We're nitpicking at it right now," Hi-Tek says, "because Talib is working now on his next solo album. But we've done a couple of joints." For the last three years he has also been grooming an R&B singer he discovered in Cincinnati named Dion. Hi-Tek has featured him on various projects, including the track "I'm Runnin' " from the Game's 2005 debut album.  Lamenting that a lot of hip-hop sounds the same, Hi-Tek says he is shopping for the right distribution deal that will help him "keep my creativity. The major labels can stop you from being original. Right now they're looking for something that's already going on. I'm looking ahead of the game."

 

Jam Says New Janet Set Nearly Complete

Excerpt from www.billboard.com - Clover Hope, NY

(Dec. 9, 2005)
Producing/songwriting team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are finishing up production on Janet Jackson's eight-studio album. Without revealing too much, Jimmy Jam promises that the as-yet-untitled Virgin set will boast a small tribute to Jackson's 1986 effort, "Control" (A&M).  "It's a milestone year for us and for the collaboration," Jam tells Billboard.com. "It'll be 20 years since the release of 'Control,' so there's definitely a little bit of a nod to that on the new album."  As previously reported, some of the album was recorded at Jackson boyfriend Jermaine Dupri's studio. Dupri, who is president of Virgin Urban, is also executive producer of the album.  "Hopefully in January we'll be done with her project," says Jam. "We're trying to have a single around February and the album around April or May. It's up to the record company, but we'll definitely have it done by then. We're real close."  The new offering will be the follow-up to 2004's "Damita Jo," which was released amidst the aftermath of Jackson's controversial Super Bowl halftime show. The set debuted at No. 2 on The Billboard 200 and has sold 979,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Jam, who serves as vice chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, was on hand yesterday (Dec. 8) to announce the nominees for the 48th annual Grammy Awards in New York. He and Lewis scored a nod for producer of the year. Several projects they worked on also notched multiple nominations, including Gwen Stefani's "Love. Angel. Music. Baby" (Geffen).  "Interestingly enough, they're all for different things," says Jam of their nominations. "We're up for producer of the year, which is wonderful since it's the body of work that we did throughout the year. But it's really more a testament to the diversity of the artists that we work with."   "There was a point during the summer where we had the No. 1 downloaded track with 'These Boots Were Made For Walking" by Jessica Simpson, and we had 'Be Blessed' by Yolanda Adams at the top of the gospel charts," says Jam. "To have produced two songs that have nothing in common, but to have that be kind of the glue, is cool."  This year, the pair also lent production to Mary J. Blige's "Breakthrough," due Dec. 20 from Geffen.  As for future collaborations, Jam is hoping to pair two of R&B's strongest voices in Sade in Seal. "I've been saying for years and years that the one artist I'm looking forward to working with is Sade," says Jam. "I don't know if that's ever going to happen. I might be 70 years old and still haven't worked with her, but I'd love to do a duet with her and Seal."

 

Kindred The Family Soul Is 'In This Life Together'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com - By DeBrah B. Pryor

(Dec. 9, 2005) Once again the celebrated husband-wife duo that comprises Philadelphia based
Kindred The Family Soul returned to the spotlight - bringing their sophomore release IN THIS LIFE TOGETHER - to a wider audience of fans via the VH1 Soul Presents…The Love and Music Tour.  On this night, the third stop on the 13-city tour that began in Orlando, Florida ... they anxiously wait to perform for the crowd at the House of Blues in L.A. before moving on to San Francisco, Las Vegas and finally, the East Coast. Returning to audiences by way of a 2003 debut--the critically-acclaimed “Surrender To Love”-- the neo-soul singing narrators of life’s vicissitudes use an eclectic array of music styles on this record, including R&B and Hip Hop, to invite us on a voyeuristic journey inside their seven-year-union with eleven original songs that communicate the trials and tribulations that come with commitment to family, relationships, children, and self. A celebration of the highs and lows of life with a significant other, songs like Where Would I Be if I Didn’t Know You ...transports us back to a time when music actually moved you to do more than dance; it actually made you think; and the strong, beautifully blended voices of the two really make this song which celebrates the effect we have on each others’ lives a must-hear.  “I think this record speaks better for and about us than the first album,” says Fatin Danztler, who, together with his wife Aja Graydon, is Kindred The Family Soul. “I think that me and Aja are connecting a whole lot better. We’ve grown so much and have so much to talk about. We’re a little past the honeymoon stage of our marriage and the beginning of our career. We’ve settled in.” Since the last record, the couple has had another child and developed a business together in addition to their artistic collaboration. “I think it has made us a lot stronger this time,” Fatin continues.

“In This Life Together” is storytelling at its finest; and the musical prowess and artistic choices of Kindred The Family Soul make it easy to listen to perspectives on real life issues without it sounding too “preachy.” Inspired by the dual autobiography of legendary husband-wife thespians, the late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, the songs chosen are nicely balanced, in both music and content. Do You Remember talks about extending the act of forgiveness in a relationship, and yearning for the days of old, before harsh words and hurt feelings; Woman First shares the ambiguity of a woman’s sensuality after childbearing; yet acknowledges the reassurance a loving man can bring. Message To Marvin (What The Hell…?) revisits the Marvin Gaye classic that opened our eyes to a destructive war-torn universe while offering a plea for peace. Here, Kindred borrows on that theme and while showing that little has changed since the recording of Marvin’s song, incorporates the headlines of today (“Michael’s on trial for being a pedophile…what the hell is going on?”) Then there’s Sneak a Freak.   “I think people have a tendency to believe we might be a little preachy,” Aja says, trying to explain why they wrote a song about not being able to ‘get busy’ until you put the kids to bed. “We still like to have fun. We have three kids; we really love each other. We have a real active passion for one another...I think people are comfortable with sexuality in every other form that it comes in but to talk about sexuality between a man and his wife...It’s a playful thing, not heavy...it’s ‘kosher-allowed-love.’ We’re supposed to interact with each other this way.” Aja describes the song as “a nice break from all the love and struggle songs,” and a sequel to a line from “Far Away” a single that had a major impact at radio and which appears on their debut.  As with any new artists preparing a sophomore release, Kindred The Family Soul wondered which way to take their music the second time around--especially following the success of their debut effort.   “We were very nervous and I venture to say afraid to go back into the studio to follow up the first record because we didn’t know where to go,” Fatin offers. “You get your whole life to make the first record, and usually you get a couple of months or maybe a year to make your second and you’re supposed to make the same thing or the equivalent to what you made before...but the songs just started to pour out of us the moment that we stepped back into that world” adds the man who, along with his wife, got the attention of the legendary Rudy Dee -- whose marriage to Davis lasted 56 years-- when she heard he’d worn a T-Shirt bearing a photo of her and Davis captioned “Real Love” on  a Hurricane Katrina Fundraiser.   “The album is our story,” concludes Fatin, “...they were a couple we felt a lot of commonality in.” The music of Kindred The Family Soul is a timely message showing that we all share the same universal concerns and no matter what, we ARE in this life together.     For MORE from Kindred (Hidden Beach Recordings) - and to sample their music - log onto www.kindredthefamilysoul.com/

 

Kevin Liles Spills Business Secrets In New Book

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 9, 2005) *In ten years, Baltimore hip hop head
Kevin Liles went from being an unpaid intern at Def Jam Records to becoming the first president of the company in 1998.  Reporting directly to Island Def Jam CEO Lyor Cohen, Liles oversaw the label’s daily operations and was responsible for finding new talent. He also played a key role in the careers of Def Jam artists Jay-Z, Ja Rule, and DMX, among others. The hot shot exec was also instrumental in the creation of satellite labels Def Soul and Def Jam South, and set up cross-branding deals that saw the label enter the clothing and video game arenas.  Liles and Lyor Cohen are currently kicking up dust at the helm of Warner Music Group – the result of an incredible rags to riches ride that Liles says is based on a firm list of ten rules that has governed his every movement in the music industry.   “Make it Happen: The Hip Hop Generation Guide to Success,” his new book with senior staff reporter for “Crain’s New York Business,” Samantha Marshall, outlines those specific steps to success, which Liles believes can benefit anyone who has the will to succeed.  In fact, his first rule in the book is to “find your will.”    “Find that thing in you that gives you fire, that you’re willing to sacrifice everything for,” he tells EUR’s Lee Bailey. “And then once you find that, play your position – which is rule number five, “ play your position.” 

“Whether it’s intern, whether it’s coach, whether it’s nurse, doctor, you’re your position.”  You’ll have to read the book to discover rules two through four – much of which ushered the 37-year-old from his intern position for the mid-Atlantic manager, whom he replaced in 1994 and within the same year, became general manager of promotions for the West Coast.  In 1996 he was promoted to general manager/VP of promotions, with the Def Jam presidency coming two years later. The position held a lot of power for a young man who started with nothing but a will to succeed. But according to the tenth and final rule of his book, power is something that shouldn’t be brandished for show.  “The last rule is ‘flex purpose, not power,’” says Liles who recently had a street renamed after him in Baltimore. “I always tell people once you get the power, don’t flex it. Just always have the mission in hand. Always do it based on what your purpose is. Those things have helped me to this day.” Liles prides himself on being able to reach his goals without taking the easy route, which Liles says traps too many young black males growing up in America’s inner cities.  “I’ve been blessed to do it the right way and to do it the honest way and to give of myself,” he says. “I now practice what I call my four ‘S’s’: Number one, serve my community and my family. Number two, I sacrifice, because nothing comes without pain. Number three, I surrender to the callings and the opportunities that come in my life. Number four, I survive.”

When a woman at a recent speaking engagement asked Liles why he would advise kids to simply “survive,” he told her: “Where I’m from, I’m supposed to be a statistic. I’m supposed to be dead, in jail or on drugs by the age of 21. My form of surviving helped me survive in a world where everyday, someone wants to be better than you. Everyday, somebody wants to take you down. But I’m not here trying to be better than you, I’m here trying to make you better.”  “I want to let the world know that I truly think that by reading, ‘Make it Happen,’ people can change their lives, whether they’re 16-years-old, 24, 28, 34,” he said. “I met a girl yesterday. Fifteen years, she’s been doing the same thing and said, ‘I really want to get into event planning.’ I said, ‘Well what have you done to start? Honestly, you’ve just been talking about it. When are you going to believe in yourself enough to do it?’ I truly think I can change some people’s lives.”   Liles admits that the experience of penning the book has introduced him to a new purpose.  “It’s definitely part of my future,” he says when asked if he would write more books. “I really enjoyed it and most of all, I bump into people who say to me, ‘Kevin, I don’t want to be an artist. That’s yesterday. I want to be an executive because they make the decisions.’ To have people bump into me and say, ‘I want to be like you, [I realize that] this is a calling for me. It’s something I have to do.”

 

Going with Dr. Flow

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Stephen Hunt

(Dec. 10, 2005) LOS ANGELES -- Sherman Hershfield walks down the sidewalk in Leimert Park, a rough, low-income Los Angeles neighbourhood, with a kind of lopsided shuffle. He's on his way to a weekly open-mike night sponsored by Project Blowed, a collective of rappers that's been at the core of underground West Coast hip-hop for a decade now. Hershfield's swagger is not hip-hop showiness; the balding, bespectacled 69-year-old developed a limp after a series of strokes that may have impaired his footwork, but set free his inner rapper. Hershfield, a retired Beverly Hills neurologist, is comfortable in Leimert Park, a mostly black neighbourhood that was once one of America's great jazz districts. The block where Hershfield is headed is practically a museum of 20th-century urban-American cultural expression: There's the World Stage, started by drummer Billy Higgins, that attracts legends such as Max Roach and Charles Lord; Fifth Street Dick's, a coffeehouse that features spoken-word poetry; Babe and Ricky's, an R&B Bar straight out of Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential, and then there is Hershfield's destination: Project Blowed, a hip-hop open mike that attracts established and hopeful young rappers looking to throw some rhymes. On a sidewalk crowded with young kids at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night, a young guy in baggy jeans and a throwback 76ers jersey spots Hershfield. "Doctor Flow!" he says, smiling. "What's crackin'?"

Doctor Flow is Hershfield's stage name, a moniker he earned from the smooth freestyle -- that is, the improvised rapping he's performed over the past six years at Project Blowed. Unlike others attending -- the group includes Asian and Latino rappers among a black majority -- Hershfield's skills don't come from a youth spent in freestyle-rap circles on street corners in places like Compton, Inglewood and the Bronx. Growing up Jewish in Winnipeg's rough North End, Hershfield attended St. John's Technical School in the 1960s. His strongest musical influence was his mother, an accomplished classical pianist and a driving force behind the creation of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. After med school at the University of Manitoba and a neurology residency at the University of Minnesota, Hershfield had a stint working for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War in San Antonio, Tex., and then moved with his first wife to California in the early 1970s. The strokes started in the late 1980s when Hershfield fell asleep seeing patients at work. The original diagnosis was a sleep disorder. Unfortunately, Hershfield's drowsy behaviour didn't stop at work; he often fell asleep driving through the streets of Los Angeles. In 1990, he was in 10 car accidents -- luckily mostly fender-benders. Then one night at home in 1991, he suffered a grand mal seizure, which is to nodding off at work what an 8.5 earthquake is to a little trembler. During a grand mal seizure, one loses consciousness and can experience jerking movements, stiffness in the arms and legs, and urinary and fecal incontinence. The grand mal landed Hershfield in hospital, where the sleep-disorder diagnosis was revised to a stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow stops to an area of the brain, causing brain-cell damage and dysfunction. If Hershfield's brain were a computer, one would say his hard drive had been corrupted. He gave up driving and became that unlikeliest of Angelenos: a public-transportation-riding professional. (That's as much a story as the rapping-doctor bit). As he started riding the bus around L.A., he found himself thinking in rhymes, reflexively freestyle-rapping his normal train of thought. At first, Hershfield just jotted down his rhymes in a notebook. At the time, he also worked as a volunteer at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance, which fed into his storytelling. "What I did was, I rapped the Holocaust," Hershfield explains. "Then I set it to classical music." Hershfield even carried a tape recorder, with a cassette featuring Brahms. To pass the time at bus stops, he would perform for people.

Hey, it's Hollywood. You never know who might be waiting for the bus. One day, waiting for the bus, a young African-American jewellery vendor who was also a rapper overheard Hershfield. "Man, that's great," he said. "You ought to take that down to Leimert Park [Project Blowed]," he said. The following Thursday night around 10 p.m., following a day spent practising medicine and dinner with his Japanese wife (they met at a Buddhist temple), Hershfield caught a bus heading south on Crenshaw, got off at 41st Place, located Project Blowed and signed up to rap. Was he nervous? Hershfield just smiles. "No," he says. "I didn't even know where I was going."

"The first night, he didn't do so well," recalls Ben Caldwell, a bearded, fifty something film-studies professor from Cal Arts who started Project Blowed 10 years ago. "What he was doing" -- rapping the Holocaust to Brahms -- "wasn't quite what they were doing, but they respected his right to say what he had to say. And nobody asked him to 'please pass the mike' " (the rejection chant at Project Blowed). Beyond musical success, Hershfield found rapping to be therapeutic. The seizures stopped. Although his driving days were over, Hershfield returned to work. He stopped falling asleep with patients. His ability to focus was better. Something had healed his brain. Was it the rhymes? One Sunday afternoon earlier this year at Cantor's Deli on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, Hershfield pulls out a file of articles that have been published on neural activity. Although they are written in incomprehensible science-speak, they basically all agree on the premise that Hershfield has as to why he started to rhyme all the time: The strokes, which afflicted the right side of Hershfield's cerebral cortex, weakened that side. To compensate, the left side of his brain picked up the slack, which activated the "melody and beat centre" of his brain, causing him to think in rhymes. Hershfield's rap therapy is unconventional, and he's had a tough time getting his professional colleagues to take him seriously. He recalls a recent visit to a neurologist at UCLA. "I tell them, 'I'm a stroke survivor, and now I rhyme. I rap! I thought you might find that interesting.' They say, 'I'm not interested in rhyming, I'm just interested in memory and dementia.' "

The actual medical benefits of rhyming and rapping are part of a larger debate about the benefits of music therapy on cognitive behaviour. Dan Elligan, a PhD from Boston University, wrote a book called Rap Therapy about implementing rap music as a culturally sensitive form of therapy for urban youths -- but there was no chapter about healing 70-year-old stroke victims. Music therapists maintain that it helps stroke victims in a number of ways: movement and muscle control, speech and communication, cognition, mood and motivation. Author and physician Kevin Patterson worked with stroke victims in Halifax as part of his internal-medicine residency a number of years ago. "Some people will get an aphasia [a language disorder caused by damage to a temporal lobe] that leaves them unable to speak, but they can still sing," Patterson said. "The patients, as soon as they see that they can sing, that they can communicate, they break into tears," Renato Rozental, a neuroscientist at New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in a Discover Magazine interview about the reaction of stroke victims to music. "How is music doing this? I personally don't know." Others dispute the notion that music and/or rhymes help injured brains. Dr. Steven Pinker, a Canadian-born Harvard psychologist and the author of How the Mind Works, has described music therapy as so much "auditory cheesecake" -- a tasty premise, but not provable as a scientifically measurable form of therapy. (Pinker described Hershfield's story as "fascinating" but declined to comment on Hershfield's self-diagnosis.)

Considering that it happened to him, and that he's a board-certified neurologist when he's not an up-and-coming rapper, I ask Hershfield his professional opinion of how he healed. Instead, he gives me his professional opinion as a Project Blowed-certified rapper of how he healed. "Let me tell you a story," he says. One night, Hershfield found himself talking to a young African American at a Project Blowed party about why, it seemed to him, rappers were happy all the time. "We're not," the young man said. "We rap through the depression. We're not people in Beverly Hills, taking all the pills." Hershfield smiles at the irony -- he's probably the only guy from Beverly Hills using rhymes as meds. "I think it [rap] is good for depression," he says. "That I believe. That's the number-one thing. This is the only thing I have left in life." Over the past year, Hershfield retired from practising medicine and suffered more setbacks with his health. He now walks with a cane -- -- and recently a doctor diagnosed him with dementia. He separated from his wife, and moved into an assisted-care home in the Pico district of Beverly Hills, where he has discovered a new pastime: learning Hebrew. "I know all the words," he says. "Pretty soon, I'm going to be rhyming in Hebrew." Hershfield's new plan is to adapt Nobel Peace Prize-laureate Elie Wiesel's Holocaust novel Night into a rap album. "I can't go back to medicine," he says. "I'm left with rap. It's the only thing that can make me happy."

 

Snoop Bits: Mama Launches Charity ‘Mothers Of Entertainers’

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 9, 2005) *With the motto "
Rising Above Adversity One Child At A Time," the new charitable foundation Mothers of Entertainers (M.O.E.) is being launched next week by the mother of rapper Snoop Dogg with plans of serving the underprivileged, the homeless, victims of domestic violence and participating in gang intervention. "For the last 15 years this has been a dream of mine" says Snoop’s mom, Beverly Broadus Green, now an evangelist minister. "To reach out, touch and help the kids in the streets, the kids on drugs, the mothers on crack, or mothers who are experiencing domestic violence, it is my dream to help them." So far, Green has enlisted Kelly Price and her mother for the organization, and plans to reach out to the mothers of Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ced the Entertainer, Chris Tucker, Daunte Culpepper and pop stars Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff.        "I just spoke with Claudia Price, Kelly Price's mother, and she is so excited," said Green. "P Diddy and I spoke and he told me to just call him and he would put me in touch with his mother. I am so excited and can't wait to be out there." Green will spend Dec. 12-17 in Boston to officially launch M.O.E. Her itinerary includes a speaking engagement at the Epiphany School in Dorchester, MA on Dec. 14. New England sports celebrities expected to attend are Willie McGinnest of the New England Patriots, Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis of the Boston Celtics and others from the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins.

For more information on this event or to schedule a visit from M.O.E. in your area, please contact Elizabeth Mroz at beth@platinumonemedia.com.  *In other Snoop news, XM Satellite Radio has named the artist as executive producer of XM's classic hip-hop channel The Rhyme (XM Channel 65), current home of Snoop's radio show "Welcome to Da Chuuch With Big Snoop Dogg."  "I am truly excited about being able to have total control over the music and programming for The Rhyme on XM. I will play music that people have never heard and music that they haven't heard in a long time," said Snoop. "We need more Snoop Dogg music all the time because the music I play makes people feel good. Consider yourself a part of this new Snoop Dogg eargasm."  As executive producer, Snoop will provide the creative direction for the channel and assist in the development of new exclusive programming for The Rhyme, as well as other channels. In addition to serving as executive producer, Snoop will continue to host "Welcome to Da Chuuch" on The Rhyme, which debuted on XM in December 2004. Beginning in early 2006, "Welcome to Da Chuuch" will return for a new season on The Rhyme with new episodes airing each week.

 

7 Questions For Bette Midler

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Brad Wheeler


(Dec. 9, 2005) Bette Midler Singer, comedian, actress. Born Dec. 1, 1945, in Honolulu. The last syllable of her first name is unpronounced because her mother thought that was how Hollywood star Bette Davis pronounced her name. Performed her cabaret act at the famed gay men's club the Continental Baths, in the early 1970s, with Barry Manilow as her accompanist. Has earned four Grammy Awards, three Emmy Awards, one Tony Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and nine American Comedy Awards.

'I think it's a bunch of hooey! Everybody's a damn diva -- it's enough to make you gnash your teeth." Bette Midler, on the phone from New York, is riled. That is a very good sign, for a docile Midler just wouldn't do. She's promoting her new album, Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook, which was produced by her long-time buddy Barry Manilow, who also produced her previous disc, a big-selling tribute to Rosemary Clooney in 2003.

Midler doesn't like the term diva it seems, preferring prima donna instead. When questioned about the difference, she excuses herself. "Hang on," she requests, and returns to the phone after a few seconds. "I have my little book here . . . dive, divan, here it is -- diva," she announces triumphantly. " 'An operatic prima donna or a very successful female singer of non-operatic music. Also a goddess.' Well, everybody loves to call themselves a goddess." What does it say about the word divine, then? "Oh, well, I have always been divine," she purrs.

No arguments here.

You've just turned 60. How's the voice holding up?

You know what? The voice is pretty good. I sing a lot, and I have a voice teacher here and there. I'm pretty steady with it. I think if you keep it up, and you keep your wind up -- running, which I still do -- you can go for a while. I've learned a lot over the last few years about singing and voice production. It's a field that I'm really interested in, because it's me -- my instrument is my body and myself. Also, I've never overdone anything. I find if you don't abuse yourself, and get enough sleep, you can hold on for a long time.

You've never overdone anything? Don't you pretty much overdo everything, as a rule?

Well, that's my job, you know, it's not my life. I've made up a wonderful character for myself, and my character's given me a wonderful life. But if I were to behave that way in real life, I would have been dead 25 years ago.

Getting back to learning about singing. Are you talking about picking up subtleties, or about making allowances for your age?

Both. You find yourself having to manoeuvre over certain spots that don't work any more, but I've also found things that I didn't know what their names were. I didn't know certain things on vocalizing -- pianissimo and dynamics -- that weren't on the forefront of my mind before. Other singers will talk to you about techniques if you ask them, but it's not something like sitting down for a cup of coffee and them saying, "Let me tell you how I sing." Singers don't talk that way, and it's too bad. And a lot of times, the business of the business doesn't allow a lot of time to go places and talk to other singers. You don't go to shows every night of the week, and run into old friends as often as you wish you did.

Did you ever cross paths with Peggy Lee?

I did not meet her. In fact, I don't think I ever even saw her live. I think because she was so still, so reserved. And I was interested in another whole thing, much more energetic style of performing -- a bigger style. And for her it was a conscious decision to be so detached. It was very hip to be cool in the forties and fifties, and I think she was cooler, actually, than any of them were. I don't think she got the acclaim that the Chet Bakers and the Miles Davises of the world got, but Peggy, in her way, was way cooler than them. She, for me, was the essence of it -- the epitome of it.

She didn't get the recognition, because she was a woman?

I think it was that. People were not so aware in those days that you could be overlooked because you were a female. So, it was a struggle for a lot of these women. If you read Peggy's autobiography, it was so staggering what she lived through as a young person. She was abused at a time when people didn't even call it that. Her stepmother beat her bloody, and she escaped. But she had no bitterness -- not an ounce of bitterness in her soul. She was a romantic and an optimist her whole life. She lived through such terrible things, but she was a survivor, and wasn't ruined by what she had lived through.

So, how do you approach a Peggy Lee tribute album, given that your style is more visual, even in the studio?

I wanted to do my version of it. I didn't want to do an imitation, but I did want to try to do something smaller than I usually do. I think I accomplished that. These songs are not big songs, and to belt them out is not serving the song well. I had to try to get the emotional impact that I'm loved for -- that I'm known for -- in a much smaller vocabulary. As for the visual style, it's something that I do without knowing that I'm doing it. But it does come across. Barry likes that kind of thing -- he likes it a lot, and he always tries to get that from me.

Apparently Barry had a dream about the Clooney tribute album before it actually happened, and now he's saying he had another dream, about you and Peggy, that inspired the new record. That sounds like myth-making.

[Laughs.] He's really good at that. Somebody on his team is actually spending time on that kind of thing. He broke his nose, getting up from bed in a hotel, and it was in the papers the next day. Now, if it was me, I would have been mortified -- I would have never told anybody that I had broken my nose. He's always in the paper, and he's doing so fabulously that I'm thrilled to death for him. So, he can keep dreaming. He can have as many dreams as he wants.

 

Tommy Boy Presents 'Hip Hop Essentials 1979-1991'

Source: Christie Z-Pabon, ToolsofWar@aol.com 

(Dec. 12, 2005) To celebrate its upcoming 25th anniversary, in 2006, Tommy Boy is releasing HIP HOP ESSENTIALS 1979 - 1991, a foundational 12 volume CD collection featuring 144 extremely diverse tracks which have contributed to the groundwork of classic Hip Hop music.  
Hip Hop Essentials 1979 - 1991 was expertly compiled by executive producers Tom Silverman (founder and CEO of Tommy Boy) and Stu Fine (founder of Wild Pitch Records). With an introduction to the entire collection by Nelson George, each volume features a set of liner notes from a noted journalist such as Jeff Chang, Dan Charnas, Raquel Cepeda, Bill Adler, Brian Coleman, Toure, Harry Allen or Davey D. The cover art for each volume features a classic image from the collection of Martha Cooper, legendary Hip Hop photographer.  HIP HOP ESSENTIALS 1979 - 1991 encompasses a magical era when party dances were practically made up daily, shouting out your zodiac sign was flavour and Afrika Bambaataa was pushing his message of "peace, love, unity and having fun" to the universe. Some tracks may also re- educate young and old alike to the dangers of cocaine, unprotected sex, racism, skeezer women, tramp men or police brutality. The collection will take you back to a time when Hip Hop was not mainstream and wasn't always easy to find outside of NYC. Hip Hop Essentials 1979 - 1991 clocks out just before the era of Gangsta Rap explodes and just touches on its beginnings with Schoolly D, Ice-T, N.W.A. and just a few others.  Digging into the Hip Hop Essentials 1979 - 1991 crates could reveal wonderful and oft forgotten secrets for today's industry and commercial artists to discover about true Hip Hop success:

1. There's no biting in Hip Hop.
2. You must have a DJ and sometimes he is leader of your crew!
3. Everything can be turned into Hip Hop if you sample it right.
4. Rap is just one element of the culture not the whole culture!
5. Being experimental and unique is best.
6. Dancers provide good hype and don't have to be strippers.
7. It's OK to have a message, be educational and/or take a stand.

Look for Volumes 1 through 4 to debut in stores in November 2005. Volumes 5 through 8 will be on the shelves on January 24, 2006 and remaining Volumes 9 through 12 will complete the set on March 7, 2006.  Join us in 2006 to celebrate Tommy Boy's 25th Anniversary and its significant contributions to the history of Hip Hop.

 

It's Opera, But A Whole Lot Glossier

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By J.D. Considine, Special to The Globe and Mail

(Dec. 14, 2005) Opera is not exactly a popular music. Simply say the word, and the first image that flashes into most minds is a fat lady in a Viking helmet bellowing Wagner. This is usually followed by an involuntary cringe. Few enjoy being bellowed at by the oversized, much less in German. Indeed, opera-phobia is a favourite topic for humorists. The hapless husband trying to wriggle out of a night at the opera is a beloved trope of sitcom writers. Likewise, cartoonists are quite fond of the amateur diva whose hapless attempts at various arias leaves pets cringing and neighbours pounding the ceiling. (Luckily, we readers are spared the soundtrack.) Yet even as opera remains the butt of jokes, opera-styled pop — big, booming voices delivering mellifluous melodies over lush, orchestral arrangements — keeps popping up at the top of the charts. The field isn't especially large, but it encompasses a fairly wide array of stars, from the male quartet Il Divo to teen soprano Charlotte Church, and from former Andrew Lloyd Webber star (and spouse) Sarah Brightman to occasional Luciano Pavarotti duet partner Andrea Bocelli. At the moment, the most popular of these is Il Divo. Created by Simon Cowell, the nasty judge of American Idol fame, the group seems the perfect combination of eye and ear candy: Four handsome, well-groomed young men with powerful voices and a talent for sweepingly romantic melodies.

Although three of the four have operatic training, what they sing isn't opera — or even genuinely classical — but pop songs tarted up with orchestral arrangements and translated lyrics, so that listeners can enjoy the familiarity of the Toni Braxton hit Unbreak My Heart while imagining they're experiencing an aria by Bellini. A cheesy ploy, perhaps, but one that clearly has the public salivating, as both their self-titled debut and the just-released Ancora went to No..1 on the Canadian album charts. Nor are they alone in turning a quasi-classical sound into a popular success. Josh Groban, a protégé of Canadian producer David Foster, topped the American charts in 2003 with his second album, Closer, three years after Church's Christmas album, Dream a Dream, sold over a million copies in the United States. Factor in strong and steady sales for Brightman, Bocelli, tenor Russell Watson and Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford, and operatic pop begins to look like a genuine phenomenon. But why are listeners who would unhesitatingly swat away Madame Butterfly drawn to this music? Well, because what's being sung isn't actually opera, for one thing. Although there are arias that any pop fan would happily hum, to hear them at the opera you have to sit through hours of boring recitativos and a lot of overblown acting. A pop song, on the other hand, offers three or four minutes of melodic bliss with no boring bits — instant gratification. Operatic pop goes for the best of both worlds. "The music doesn't really sound classical," says composer and critic Greg Sandow, who has written about classical music for The Wall Street Journal and pop for Entertainment Weekly. "What they do is occasionally add a little bit of classical spice, and given that classical music stands for 'class' and romance, it sounded more romantic."

That sense of romance isn't just a matter of string arrangements or conservatory-learned vocal technique. Unlike the traditional image of opera stars, these tenors tend to be hunky, not chunky. Or, as Simon Rayner, a marketing manager at Sony/BMG, puts it: "While they have a considerable male fan base, there is no question that Il Divo have strong appeal to females of all ages." Unsurprisingly, Il Divo made its initial impact in North America through an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Groban made his splash through appearances on Rosie O'Donnell's show and a PBS special, while Crawford has had had tremendous success playing as well as singing romantic roles. There are advantages to being male in this genre, beyond pleasing the ladies. "Sopranos can be screechy, but a good tenor doesn't seem to bother anybody," observes Sandow. "And ever since Caruso, there has always been some big tenor voice associated in the popular mind with opera and romance, who was a bestseller and celebrity. Caruso, remember, was the first million-selling recording artist, and to sell a million records in the days when recordings were new — that's extraordinary." Back then, though, the boundaries between pop and opera weren't so clearly drawn. "For 100 years or more, there has been a genre of singing which overlaps with operatic singing but really is its own thing," says Alex Ross, music critic at The New Yorker. "In the music-theatre tradition, sometimes the singers will sing arias from opera together with popular melodies or traditional melodies." What those songs and arias had in common wasn't so much a sense of style as an emotional investment in the music — what Ross describes as "a more unabashed form of expression than you get in a lot of contemporary pop music, which seems more emotionally detached or from the darker end of the spectrum."

"Also," says Sandow, "it has no irony, so you can do what has always been one of music's great pleasures — just wallow in it." In that sense, operatic pop likely owes a certain amount of its success to being an antidote to the beat-focused monotony of hip-hop and club music, where melody invariably takes a back seat to rhythm and texture. Its popularity is likely more a retreat from rap than a move toward opera and art song. Meanwhile, some actual opera singers have made efforts to move their art closer to the popular spectrum. Pavarotti's association with U2 and other rockers is an obvious example, but Ross is more intrigued by the genre-smashing work of soprano Dawn Upshaw, whose most recent album, Ayre, mixes operatic singing with elements of folk and klezmer music. "Maybe people from different directions are looking for this middle area where, on the one hand, there's a connection to tradition and classical technique, and on the other an emotional immediacy and connection to popular culture," suggests Ross. "Some people are just doing it more artfully than others."

 

MUSIC TIDBITS

Prince Inks With Universal For New CD

Excerpt from www.billboard.com - Jonathan Cohen, Los Angeles

(Dec. 9, 2005)
Prince has inked a deal with Universal for the release of his next album, "3121." The set will be preceded by the single "Te Amo Corazon," the video for which stars actress Mia Maestro ("Frida," "The Motorcycle Diaries") and was directed by actress Salma Hayek.   The clip, which was shot in Marrakesh, will be available online Tuesday (Dec. 13) via Prince's NPG Music Club site. A press conference in Los Angeles is scheduled for that evening.  "3121" is the follow-up to Prince's 2004 studio set "Musicology," which was issued via a one-off deal with Sony's Columbia label. The album debuted at No. 3 on The Billboard 200.  That release was supported by a lavishly praised tour which drew nearly 1.5 million people and grossed $90.2 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. Prince is expected to return to the road sometime next year.


G-Unit Members Stopped At Canadian Border

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 9, 2005) *Only 50 Cent and G-Unit members Olivia and Lloyd Banks were allowed to enter Canada for his Canadian tour, as the rest of the artists on the rapper’s label – Tony Yayo, Mobb Deep, M.O.P. and Young Buck – were denied entry into the country because of their criminal records. SOHH.com reports that the four acts were turned back at the United States-Canadian border, while 50 was able to gain entry only after obtaining a temporary resident permit. On stage at his first tour stop, 50 vented about his immigration frustrations to the crowd. "Somebody got shot the other day and they said it was my fault and didn't want to let me in the country,” he said. “I was in immigration for about two hours today and I thought about turning back. Young Buck got turned back. And Tony Yayo, Mobb Deep and M.O.P. But I stuck it out . . . F*** the police!"  50 Cent is scheduled to wrap his Canadian tour in Ottawa on Dec. 21. The rapper will launch a tour of New Zealand and Australia in February.


June 8, 1975 — The Night Bob Marley Seized White-Bread Toronto By The Ears

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Peter Goddard

(Dec. 11, 2005) During those many years in the `70s and early '80s while I toiled as the Star's popular music critic, I caught many good concerts, a few great ones and those we knew even at the time were you-had-to-be-there events, such as (in my pre-Star days) John Lennon at Varsity Stadium in 1969, his very first solo show away from the Beatles and our introduction to Yoko Ono.  There was only one transcendent concert — Bob Marley at Massey Hall in 1975.  Something happened that night I still can't completely explain. For years I thought it was just the frame of mind I was in at the moment — and no, my thinking was not enhanced herbally, though I was nearly alone in that regard — until I heard through the grapevine that Marley himself had talked later about the show (his first in Canada) being special.  In good old white-bread Toronto? At Massey Hall? How?  In my original Star review I compared it to hearing John Coltrane, Ray Charles and Brahms' Lieder for the first time. And yes, it had that much immediacy to it, the kind that leaves you with the sense of never having heard anything like it before.  But I had heard stuff like it before. A lot of stuff. Reggae was huge by the mid-'70s. Soon I, and many others, would know every cut on Toots and the Maytals' Reggae Got Soul album. Sharp ears could pick out the presence of the dominant rhythm section in reggae — drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, in town recently with Sinead O'Connor — within three seconds on any disc. Why, even knuckle-dragging metalheads had heard of The Harder They Come, the soundtrack from the 1973 Jimmy Cliff movie. Marley was already a legend.  The truth was, I was not a reggae guy in particular. It was just one thing I liked. I rather distrusted all my white, wannabe-hipster friends needing Marley as their late cool find. By the mid-'70s, reggae had become a fashion statement for many straight, middle-class WASP folks, despite the fact that blond dreads didn't always cut it.  Then Marley walked out on that stage and transported the crowd, the hall, the music and the night itself to somewhere I had never been.  His band, the Wailers, had only recently been revamped. Still, they sounded as if they were an extension of his brain. He did all his hits, from "No More Trouble" to "No Woman, No Cry." You swore the songs were being conjured up fresh and new on the spot.  I saw him twice after that, once at Convocation Hall and then in 1979 at Maple Leaf Gardens. By then he was a star, but he never matched the high at Massey Hall.  He darn near glowed on stage. It was as if he'd been created out of nowhere to do that one concert. Wow.


Canada's Folk Music Awards Begin A Tradition

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Dec. 12, 2005) Toronto -- Lynn Miles and Nathan were both double winners at the inaugural Canadian Folk Music Awards, held Saturday night at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Miles won both best-English-songwriter and best-contemporary-singer honours for her album Love Sweet Love, while folk group Nathan won for best contemporary album and best vocal group for Jimson Weed. Other winners included Le Vent du Nord (best traditional album), Ian Robb (best traditional singer), Alpha Yaya Diallo (best world artist), Genticorum (best ensemble), Henry Manx (best solo artist) and Beyond the Pale (best instrumental group). Staff


Lawrence, Moss Lead Stellar Award Nominees

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 13, 2005) *Let the church say amen for gospel artists Donald Lawrence and J. Moss, both of whom received 10 nominations to lead the pack for the 21st annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards. The event will be held Jan. 21 at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House and air in syndication Jan. 28 through Mar. 5. Both Lawrence and Moss are up for artist of the year, CD of the year, contemporary male vocalist and contemporary CD, among other awards. Sister act Mary Mary received the second-highest number of nominations with six. Rizen earned five nominations, and Smokey Norful pocketed three. McClurkin, Lawrence, Mary Mary and Moss received nods in the artist of the year category, while LaShun Pace, Twinkie Clark, DeNetria Champ and Dianne Williams were announced as the female vocalist nominees. Battling for top male vocalist are Moss, Norful, Lawrence and Micah Stampley.   The new artist of the year category features Champ, Moss, Stampley and Tamela Mann. The album of the year nominees include Mary Mary's self-titled set, Moss' "The J. Moss Project" on GospoCentric, Donald Lawrence & Co.'s "I Speak Life" on Verity and Norful's "Nothing Without You" on EMI Gospel.  The ceremony will be hosted by Donnie McClurkin, Vickie Winans and Israel Houghton.

Times Really Are A Changing

Source: Associated Press

(Dec. 14, 2005) Washington — Singer Bob Dylan will host a weekly radio music show on XM Satellite Radio beginning in March. The hour-long show will be a mix of music hand-selected by Dylan as well as commentary, XM, which claims more than five million subscribers, announced Tuesday. Dylan also will interview guests, including other artists. “Songs and music have always inspired me,” Dylan was quoted as saying in the statement. “A lot of my own songs have been played on the radio, but this is the first time I've ever been on the other side of the mic. It'll be as exciting for me as it is for XM.” The show will be on XM's deep album rock channel Deep Tracks -- XM channel 40. XM broadcasts live daily from studios in Washington, New York City and Nashville, Tenn.

 

::FILM NEWS::

 

Egoyan, Cronenberg Meet The New Class

Source:  Canadian Press

(Dec. 13, 2005) Toronto — Features from David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Deepa Mehta have made the list of Top Ten Canadian films for 2005, says the Toronto International Film Festival Group.  But there was also a generous helping of titles from newcomers on the list. Cronenberg's “A History of Violence,” which also garnered a Golden Globe best-picture nomination Tuesday, made the cut as did Egoyan's “Where the Truth Lies” and Mehta's third instalment in her elements trilogy, “Water.” All three films had gala screenings at this fall's Toronto film fest. Also named were Jean-Marc Vallee's “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” which is Canada's official candidate for the Academy Award best-foreign-film nominees this year and won for best Canadian feature at the Toronto festival in September. Other Quebec titles include “Horloge Biologique” by Ricardo Trogi, Bernard Emond's “La Neuvaine” and first-time feature director Louise Archambault's “Familia.” Also “The Life and Times of Guy Terrifico” by Michael Mabbott who, along with “Archambault,” won the best first-time feature award at the Toronto fest. Rounding out the list are Aubrey Nealon's “A Simple Curve” and the latest entry from veteran documentarian Allan King, “Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company.” “It's a powerhouse year for Canadian film,” said Piers Handling, TIFF Group's director and CEO. “The range of Canadian titles — from dynamic new filmmakers to our established veterans — reflects the diversity of filmmaking in this country.” The Top Ten is compiled by a panel of filmmakers, academics, journalists, festival programmers and other industry professionals. Public screenings of the titles will be held in Toronto at Cinematheque Ontario from Jan. 27 to Feb. 5. The series will also tour to Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa at a later date.

Canada's Top Ten

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Dec. 14, 2005) The Toronto International Film Festival Group announced Canada's Top Ten films of 2005 last night at an event hosted by actors Brent Carver and Lisa Ray.  The winners are chosen by a 10-member, national panel of filmmakers, academics, journalists, programmers and industry professionals. Public screenings with introductions and Q&As and panel discussions with some of the filmmakers take place Jan. 27 to Feb. 5 at Cinematheque Ontario. Tickets are on sale at the year-round box office, Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street W., on the website at http://www.topten.ca, or by phone at 416-968-FILM. The top 10 Canadian films of 2005 are (in alphabetical order):

C.R.A.Z.Y.
Familia
A History of Violence
Horloge Biologique
The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico
Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company
La Neuvaine
A Simple Curve
Water
Where the Truth Lies

 

East Meets Western

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Peter Howell, Movie Critic

(Dec. 10, 2005)
Madonna vamping in her underwear while singing "Like a Virgin" isn't the first mental image one would connect with Ang Lee, the shy Taiwanese film director with the Midas touch.  Yet he applies Madonna's try-anything approach to his own career, one that has expanded over the past decade from finely tuned examinations of his Chinese culture to award-winning studies of the American and British psyches. He loves to switch between languages and genres, confounding expectations every time much like a certain pop superstar.  "I like to be in a place where I'm scared and not knowing what I'm doing," he said in an interview, calling from the Calgary locale of his controversial new movie, Brokeback Mountain.  "That's where I'm learning the most and enjoying the most and getting the most thrills. How does that Madonna song go, `Like a Virgin'? I feel like a virgin, for the very first time. I wish I could live to be 300 years old so I could try everything."  Lee, 51, views filmmaking as an adventure. He's explored such diverse sources as Jane Austen's mannered Sense and Sensibility, Stan Lee's monstrous The Incredible Hulk and Rick Moody's morally challenged The Ice Storm, bringing fresh insights each time.  He energized the martial arts thriller and Chinese traditions with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a movie that took romance to high-wire heights.

Now he's challenging both notions of rugged western manhood and conservative mores with Brokeback Mountain, a film opening next Friday. It stars Hollywood hunks Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two rootin', tootin' cowpokes who find a new way to make a home on the range, while spending lonely nights tending sheep.  The movie begins in 1963, a time when even most city gays were afraid to come out of the closet. The western twist to this sexual awakening story is the most provocative part of it Ñ who ever heard of the Marlboro Queen? But that's what attracted Lee to the story, which was adapted by screenwriter Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show) from a short story in The New Yorker by Annie Proulx.  "I like to use repression," he said.  "I like to work against something rather than along with something. I don't know if that's the way I'm brought up or where my talent is or my character is. Maybe it's because I'm a nice guy, or a repressed person myself. But it attracts me, and it's easier for me to work with."  How does he define repression? Ledger and Gyllenhaal seem awfully liberated up on the mountain.  "There are social complications to everything we do. There was repression in Sense and Sensibility and here, too. You want to be with everybody and you don't want to be left out, so you want to behave accordingly. We all have social obligations, but deep inside the heart of everybody I think we're all more complicated than social codes let us be. So free will sometimes clashes with social obligations, and I use that a lot, it's true."  Brokeback Mountain has been doing well on the festival circuit and has been tipped by many critics as a strong Oscar contender. But it has yet to be seen by mainstream audiences, especially in the American heartland, who might have trouble with its gay cowboy theme.

The Drudge Report, the online gossip sheet, has been trumpeting the film's Oscar potential while at the same time warning that it will likely inflame red-state conservatives with its sympathetic portrayal of homosexuality.  Was Lee trying to be provocative?  "No, I was just trying to be truthful. Let's put it this way: The provocativeness of the material really attracts me and I try to be very truthful to the story. It's going to speak to me and haunt me for a long time."  The irony isn't lost on Lee that the America he now calls home is a lot different than the America he emigrated to in 1978. His 1993 film The Wedding Banquet studied the family and social conflicts occasioned when a gay Chinese man feigned a marriage to satisfy his hidebound Taiwanese parents. The movie was set in New York, and American society was held up as a shining example of cultural freedom.  "These days, it's the other way around," he said.  "When I made The Wedding Banquet I was using America as a liberal place, and the parents were coming down from the East. They were the restraining force. But since that movie, and I'm thinking eastern Asia, not the Muslim countries, attitudes in the East have changed a lot. Particularly where I come from, Taiwan and Hong Kong. I think people have loosened up a lot Ñ although China is another story.  "For this subject matter (homosexuality), it's easier for Asians to change their attitudes. Most straight people usually don't like gay things, but other than that I think socially it's more about filial piety (devotion to parents). A man has to deliver offspring to carry a family along. I think that has more to do with social convention than the concept of condemnation."  America, on the other hand, has grown steadily more conservative in recent years. Politicians and lawmakers, who seek to roll back the clock, are threatening liberal advances of the past 30 years Ñ and it has a chilling effect. Just this week, the Ford Motor Co. announced it would no longer advertise its cars in gay publications.  Lee is a little apprehensive about how Brokeback Mountain is going to go over in the U.S., his most important market.  "I don't know what response I'm going to get. But I'm hopeful, because it's a very benign love story. It has gentleness and sensitivity. I hope in a big way that it will prevail more than the idea of messing with the genre or the characteristics of the western.

"It's just telling the true story from the other side. I think the movie has a very realistic, truthful voice. There will be voices against it, I'm sure. But that doesn't stop me from making the movie. I'll just deal with it, I guess."  He admits he had to overcome some of his own fears to film the lovemaking scenes between Ledger and Gyllenhaal. He actually added another one to the script, because he thought it was necessary to prove the sincerity of the love between the two men, who also happen to have wives and children.  He chose Ledger and Gyllenhaal fairly quickly in the casting process. He was impressed by Ledger's work in Monster's Ball, even though his role was small.  "He's a very good actor; I could see that from Monster's Ball. I felt he could carry that western mood, and also that self-loathing fear and violence. He could also carry that western brooding, non-verbal thing from the last century, which is inherent in that genre. Jake I cast more because of the romantic need. He's the counterpart of Heath. I think they complement each other very well."  As far as Lee knows, both Ledger and Gyllenhaal are straight Ñ although gossips have suggested otherwise. Ledger, at least, defused that rumour by falling in love on set and fathering a child.  Says Lee: "It would make my job easier if they were gay. But I go for the best actor and look and disposition for the part. It just so happens I think they're straight. I think a good actor goes a long way.  "It's probably harder to get gay actors to do the part, actually. They might have been more concerned than straight good actors. If you do two (gay roles) in a row, you might be pigeonholed into that kind of casting. That might damage your career."

He doesn't view Brokeback Mountain as a true western. He considers his 1999 Civil War movie Ride With the Devil to be "pre-western" and Brokeback Mountain "post-western." Neither film has cattle or gunslingers, which is how Lee defines a western. He likes taking the dusty trail less travelled.  "Well, I guess that's eastern culture: indirectness. It's about something usually bigger than what we can do. That's different than the American can-do spirit. With us, it's not always about winning. You do your best but you are yearning for something. You express it indirectly because you're shy about telling the truth."  Lee is the first to admit that he's shy. But he's also brave, although he doesn't like to use the word.  "When you like something so much, as I did the story of Brokeback Mountain, you get obsessed with it. And fear disappears. When I started to make it, in the very beginning I was afraid and concerned.  "But during the making of it, the world seemed very natural to me. It was very matter-of-fact to me, because I was inside of that world. I forgot that I was doing something challenging and brave. If I thought I was being brave, then I'd be very scared at the same time."

 

Opening The Secret Bible Of The Inuit

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail -  By John Thompson

(Dec. 10, 2005) IQALUIT -- Lamech Kadloo's seal-skin pants glint in the half-light as he watches the bullies at work. They grip their young captive by the shoulders of his parka, chuckling as they spin the child in tight circles until he collapses. "Taima," Kadloo shouts, thrusting his arms forward in a shamanic push. Without being touched, the bullies tumble sideways and out of sight. The bit of magic could belong in Star Wars, but this story likely predates the birth of Christ. In Iqaluit, where snowmobiles roar along city streets and ravens hover over a slushy, slowly freezing Frobisher Bay, filmmakers this week have just wrapped up the shooting of Kiviuq, a huge, sprawling epic passed down by Inuit over millennia. It's a story that was nearly lost. Until recently, some elders who knew the tale had not told it for an entire lifetime -- a legacy of missionaries who warned that Inuit traditions were devil worship. "We should have had all those stories as a kid," says Quentin Crockatt, 21, who plays one of the bullies. Like most Inuit his age, he had never heard the story until he became a part of it. "We're filming part of our history," he says.

Filmmaker John Houston, who, as the son of Inuit art popularizer James Houston, passed his early childhood in Cape Dorset, spent this September interviewing some 50 elders around the vast territory, finding new fragments at each stop. Some elders, such as Samson Quinangnaq from Baker Lake, spoke for as much as seven hours while telling the story. Midway in the tale, Houston says, Quinangnaq, 81, stared at him and asked, "You know what this story is about, don't you?" Houston shook his head. "He said, 'It's the secret bible of the Inuit. Kiviuq was a prophet, and these stories are parables.' " "Others said, 'That's exactly what we've been thinking.' " Put another way, Houston says it's a foundational tale of Inuit culture, an example of how people should live that's almost forgotten. Houston also says that Kiviuq is on par with Western epics like Homer's Odyssey, making it of interest to audiences outside Nunavut. "It has that kind of substance and depth and reach.

"We have a story, as Canadians, sitting right here under our noses that has that power." As a hero, Kiviuq is so attuned to his environment he can hear the far-off cries of a lemming drowning in a puddle and is sympathetic enough to rush to its rescue. He lives at the dawn of creation, in a world where nothing happens without reason, advancing from one problem to the next by virtue of his generosity and perseverance. Kadloo, who plays the part of the hero, remembers being told the tale when he was about 8. Now 41, the Pond Inlet resident says the story demonstrates not only how the Inuit overcame the challenges of living in the Arctic, but how they came to enjoy it. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be happy today," he said. And with the number of challenges currently facing the residents of Nunavut, where hopelessness drives one of the highest suicide rates in North America, Kadloo says they can always use role models. Kadloo has worked on five films with Houston since 1987, most recently as an actor playing the shaman in the documentary Diet of Souls, which was nominated for two Gemini Awards this year. To prepare for the part of Kiviuq, he spent the last few years growing his hair long. Kadloo also had to learn old Inuktitut words from a dialect no longer spoken -- a testament to the story's age. While the full epic has enough explicit sex and gruesome violence to warrant a restricted warning, Houston's 90-minute production will leave out the tale's maggots, snot-licking and dismembered body parts. But it does include the essentials, including Kiviuq's two true loves, the fox woman and the goose woman.

The production could also be the first time Inuit elders appear in film as actors, rather than just storytellers. It was a natural step, Houston said, given their flair for dramatic delivery. "They don't just tell the story. They perform the story." The three elders in the film will be the real stars, Houston said. "This will be an homage or tribute to the Inuit oral tradition." The $990,000 production, expected to be completed by next fall, is to be broadcast on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) with English subtitles. Houston says a book is also in the works.

 

King Kong Storms On Screens On December 14

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 12, 2005) *Triple Academy Award® winner
Peter Jackson, who made motion picture history with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, now brings his sweeping cinematic vision to one of the screen’s most enduring classics and one of the greatest cinematic adventures of all time: King Kong.   The all-star cast includes Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis as Kong and Evan Parke as First Mate (Mr.) Hayes aboard S.S. Venture. Universal Pictures will release the highly anticipated film nationwide this Wednesday, December 14.   In the motion picture thriller King Kong, Parke lends his talents to the role of first mate Hayes aboard the S.S. Venture.  Hayes is a seasoned veteran of the 369th division of the 24th infantry in the American army—one of the first all-black, American units to serve in World War I.   In addition to his regular duties, he also  serves as Captain Englehorn’s conscience and keeps a watchful eye on Jimmy, played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), the youngest crew member, whose experiences onboard the ship prove more fantastical than any old salt’s seafaring yarn. 

While the character’s history prepared him for the unexpected, Parke notes that the journey the entire crew and passengers of the S.S. Venture take will be unlike anything they’ve known … from the beginning of the trip.  He offers, “The sea represents adventure, an opportunity to learn.  It’s funny, even now; people say we’ve discovered everything that we need on earth.”  Just as his character soon learns, Parke quips, “Of course…we know now that’s not fully true.” Through his diverse roles on screen, stage and television, Parke is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most versatile and commanding actors.  Most recently, Parke was seen in Warner Bros.’ Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, opposite Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer; the film was from producer Joel Silver and directed by Shane Black.  He has also been seen in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes; The Replacements with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman; and Lasse Hallström’s Oscar®-nominated The Cider House Rules.  Originally from Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, Evan was a full-time economics student at Cornell when he decided his senior year to take classes in black theatre and dramatic literature—and discovered his passion for acting.  After receiving his degree in economics, Parke worked for three years in various corporate jobs (including FedEx and pharmaceutical sales), but he could not get acting out of his system.  Following his dream, Parke went on to receive his master’s.

Black Is The New Black

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Peter Howell, Movie Critic

(Dec. 12, 2005) NEW YORK—It's the morning after the world premiere of Peter Jackson's
King Kong, in which a giant ape once again takes Manhattan.  Actor Jack Black, however, is concerned about something considerably smaller, but no less hairy: his moustache.  "I'll be shaving it," he announces to the Kong press junket at The Regency hotel, explaining his new hirsute look.  "You're getting an exclusive moustache sighting," he teases. "It's going to be gone tomorrow."  Jackson's $207-million (U.S.) remake of King Kong, opening in theatres Wednesday, affords an even better opportunity to see the new Jack Black.  It's a different spin on the maniac who punted Will Ferrell's pooch in Anchorman, tormented music shop customers in High Fidelity and led a rebellion of students in School of Rock.  For King Kong, in which he plays movie director Carl Denham seeking wild footage for fame and fortune, Black found himself in the unusual position of having to research a role.  He was following in the footsteps of Robert Armstrong, who indelibly played Denham in the 1933 original King Kong.  "This one has got some darker elements to it and it's a period piece, which I don't usually do, and it's not all about, `Here comes that crazy Jack Black gonna do his thing!'" Black says, punctuating his words with sarcastic inflections. "I had to really concentrate on where this character was coming from, in the time and the place in the world where he was."  He had never seen the original King Kong in its entirety, but he did so immediately before auditioning for the role of Denham. And after he got the job, he studied films of the 1930s to get the flavour of the times. He even got to make mock movies with a hand-cranked camera used to make the original King Kong.  The hardest thing of all for the 36-year-old Californian was playing a figure of authority. He's always been more comfortable shaking up the status quo.  "The thing that I had to get over in my own mind was that (Denham) is a leader of men," Black says, making his voice boom with mock importance.

"He's the boss. And people do his bidding. And that for some reason was difficult for me to imagine. I'm more comfortable playing the guy who is the drifter. The free plains crazy man."  This is not to suggest that Black has suddenly turned into Laurence Olivier. His version of Carl Denham is even more extreme than Armstrong's. He's not above lying, cheating and even kidnapping to get his movie made, and he risks the lives of everyone in his production — including Naomi Watts's Ann Darrow — travelling to remote Skull Island to document Kong and his wild kingdom.  Black's Denham also has death-defying scrapes, including fleeing from a stampede of dinosaurs and fighting off man-eating cockroaches.  Black had no problem with the major use of special effects in the film, which often throws actors for a loop. The ape Kong is entirely computer-generated, but Black says it was "a breeze" to pretend he was grappling with a giant monkey.  "I felt like I was born to do it. It's the same job as all the movies I've done. It's always pretending like something is happening that's not really happening and pretending like you're feeling something you're not really feeling.  "But I loved it. I loved running as fast as I can and screaming as loud as I can."  True to his new calling as a serious actor, Black actually rehearsed running quickly and screaming loudly. But he did it in his own inimitable style.  "I like this one green field over at UCLA where I went to college ... I'd go and run around and imagine monsters chasing me and stuff at night when no one was there."  He had a diabolical plan to put his stamp on the role of Denham. He lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper: "My first instinct ... was, `I'm gonna base it on Peter Jackson.'  "Because I'm already heavy. And then he was skinny. Wait a minute, I've gotta lose weight.... But then, on the first week of following him around before we started shooting, I realized Pete is not the guy that I have to be for this movie. He's a really sweet guy that you really like and you trust him and you always feel safe with."

Jackson told Black he wanted him to play Denham like Orson Welles. Black says he couldn't quite get Welles down, either.  "Here's the thing that I don't have, the Orson Wellesian thing. It's that no matter what he's doing, he's kind of cool. He's always debonair and in control, which is not my style."  That's for sure. But could Welles have sprinted so convincingly away from a rampaging dino? Not on your life.

 

Narnia Push Is On At Christian Stores

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Dec. 9, 2005) GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — With Friday's release of the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the marketing push to promote the sale of Narnia books and other related merchandise is reaching a crescendo — and nowhere more so than in Christian retail stores.  Christian allusions can be found throughout the best-selling fantasy novel, which follows the adventures of four young siblings during the Second World War who discover a world of fauns, centaurs, unicorns and talking animals inside an armoire.  The heroic lion Aslan, a symbol of Jesus Christ, battles the White Witch, who is seen by some to represent a servant of Satan if not the devil himself. The residents of Narnia refer to a human boy as "a Son of Adam" and to a girl as "a Daughter of Eve."  The movie has already boosted sales of the seven-title Narnia series published by HarperCollins.  While the publishing company is distributing the C.S. Lewis books and other related merchandise to general retailers, its Zondervan division, a Grand Rapids-based publisher of Bibles and other religious books, is responsible for getting Narnia items into Christian bookstores and gift shops.  Large, elaborate in-store displays at many stores depict wardrobes, lions, lampposts, knights and other Narnia items and characters. Besides the original books, Christian retailers are stocking their shelves with a variety of movie tie-in products, from music CDs to figurines.  Doug Lockhart, Zondervan's president and chief executive officer, said sales at Christian stores are going through the roof, though he declined to release figures.

"It has been a very stable franchise but with the exposure that has been associated with this upcoming movie release, the sales have taken a dramatic increase, multiple times," Lockhart said.  Nancy Guthrie, a spokeswoman for CBA International, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based trade association that represents about 2,300 Christian retailers, agreed the movie has been having a positive effect on store sales of an already popular and steadily selling book series.  "It's giving them the opportunity to not only offer new books about C.S. Lewis and Narnia but certainly to feature these classic children's books, as well as, really, the broad list of titles available by C.S. Lewis."  Rhonda Barnett, owner of the Blessings to You shop in Three Rivers, said Thursday that few of her customers had been buying the Narnia books until recently.  "There's never been too much interest, but within the past month, it's really increased with the release of the movie coming up," she said.  An atheist in his youth, Lewis, a professor at Oxford, became an Anglican convert as he grew older. Aside from his Narnia books, he is best known for such spiritual works as A Grief Observed, in which he reflects on God and life following the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, from cancer, and Mere Christianity, in which he uses logical arguments to make a case for orthodox Christianity.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950 and has remained a favourite among generations of young readers. Nearly 100 million Narnia books have been sold.

 

How Telefilm Can Make Movies, Not Just Deals

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Kate Taylor ktaylor@globeandmail.ca

(Dec. 10, 2005) Like thousands of other Canadians, I went to see
Water this week, drinking in the film's exotic images of the subcontinent and its romantic story about the fate of a community of widows on the eve of Indian independence. This film by Toronto's Deepa Mehta is Telefilm Canada's current poster child for the potential of the English-Canadian movie industry: With rave reviews from its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, a carefully timed commercial release last month and a well-orchestrated marketing campaign, Water has already earned more than $1-million at the box office and is expected to top $2-million. That makes it one of those rare English-Canadian films, still in theatres more than a month after its release, that may actually earn back the money -- $2.6-million in this case -- that the federal film agency has invested in it. It was also, by the way, shot in Sri Lanka and stars South Asian actors who speak almost all its dialogue in Hindi. Making a successful Canadian film is tough; hey, defining a successful Canadian film is tough, so, no wonder it took Parliament's standing committee on Canadian Heritage 249 pages to come up with some suggestions for a new feature-film policy contained in a recently released report. Some of these recommendations are obvious: The committee suggests that DVD rentals and television broadcasts, not just the box-office dollars earned from theatrical release, be included when calculating the audiences that Canadian films are reaching, and wants the CBC to show more Canadian film. And some of them are charmingly naive: In the absence of either federal political will or constitutional authority to legislate on this issue, the committee simply challenges exhibitors to double the amount of screen time allotted to Canadian features.

Many of the recommendations, however, are solid proposals that should deliver more successes, whether they are an internationally minded film like Water or a more nationally motivated one like C.R.A.Z.Y., the Quebec coming-of-age piece set during the Quiet Revolution that is currently crossing over into the English market. The committee chose to weigh in on this topic because of the perception that the current policy is not working: that was the infamous target of five per cent of Canadian box office for Canadian films, established by the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2000 under then minister Sheila Copps. Actually the 2000 policy is working just fine -- Canadian films have the target in their sights -- it's just not working in a way that is politically acceptable. The boffo numbers are all from Quebec and while English-Canadian film has grown exponentially during those years it is still only earning about 1.5 per cent of the box office, a number that may represent a real achievement in the marketplace but remains politically embarrassing. The committee's idea is not merely to recognize the differences between the two markets, but actually to codify them, setting up separate targets, one for Quebec and one for the rest of Canada. That will be tricky -- how do you divide the budget between a French arm that is investing in a mature cultural industry and an English arm that is trying to start one? -- but it should allow the English side to concentrate on what is realistic and what's not. Quebec's distinct culture can produce populist genre films that speak to mass audiences, movies such as the Les Boys series and Florida. On the other hand, whatever the success of English Canada's attempts to do the same (Men with Brooms, the heist movie Foolproof, the out-of-the-closet comedy Mambo Italiano), they can never compete with Hollywood product. Is Telefilm an investment banker lending money to genuinely marketable strategies -- in which case it's a decidedly unsuccessful one since it rarely recoups its capital -- or is it a cultural agency giving grants to artists, in which case a film's box-office potential would come second to its creative credentials? The question is an important one because no Canadian feature headed for theatrical release can ever get made without Telefilm's money.

Cutting into the heart of this dilemma, the committee recommends that Telefilm start using peer juries, which is the way arts bodies like the Canada Council award grants. Meanwhile, the agency's executive director Wayne Clarkson is floating the idea of creating powerful individual officers -- sort of super-curators or artistic producers -- to make the picks. Both suggestions are a response to complaints in the industry that nobody can be held accountable for Telefilm's anonymous decisions. Certainly, either peer juries or film czars would be an improvement on the current situation where faceless bureaucrats -- and I call them that in the nicest possible way -- dictate the nature of Canadian cinema. The committee noted that all the witnesses who appeared before it argued for quality over quantity, and making the decisions more transparent would help achieve that because it would force individuals to defend the choices. At Telefilm, just talking about the content of film rather than box-office targets would put the horse back in front of the cart.

 

Clooney's 'Good Night' Wins Critics' Prize

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Dec. 12, 2005) NEW YORK (AP) — The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures gave its best-picture award Monday to Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney's sparse, black-and-white depiction of Edward R. Murrow's on-air battles against Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  The group spread the awards around, naming Ang Lee as best director for the cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain.  Two performers who underwent significant transformations for their roles received the top acting honours: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in Capote, and Felicity Huffman as a preoperative transsexual in Transamerica.  Even though Good Night takes place a half-century ago, the National Board of Review was struck by its relevance to the current state of journalism. David Strathairn stars as Murrow, the pioneering CBS News anchor who criticized McCarthy for his communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Clooney is the director and co-star.  "The press is very much on the tip of everybody's tongue — what they're reporting, how much they're reporting," said Annie Schulhof, National Board of Review president.  "I think it was an extraordinary film. Mr. Clooney really nailed it. He really understood the issues," Schulhof added. "It got people talking, and many times, that's what a good film does.''  Supporting acting honours went to Jake Gyllenhaal for Brokeback Mountain and Gong Li for Memoirs of a Geisha. Mrs. Henderson Presents, about a wealthy widow who started a nude revue in 1930s London, received the ensemble acting award.  

The National Board was the latest group to recognize Terrence Howard with a breakthrough-performance honour for his varied work in several films this year, including Hustle & Flow, Crash and Get Rich or Die Tryin'. He received similar honours over the weekend from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Online.  Noah Baumbach won the original-screenplay honour for The Squid and the Whale, his semi-autobiographical story about divorce in a literary Brooklyn family, and Stephen Gaghan won the adapted-screenplay award for Syriana, his multilayered thriller about oil, power and manipulation in the Middle East.  Syriana also was among the group's list of the year's top 10 films. The rest, in alphabetical order: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, A History of Violence, Match Point, Memoirs of a Geisha, Munich and Walk the Line.  Also on Monday, the New York Film Critics Circle planned to announce its choices for the top films of 2005. Golden Globe nominations were scheduled for Tuesday morning.  The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, formed in 1909, is composed of film historians, students and educators.

 

Not Just A Gay Cowboy

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Gayle MacDonald

(Dec. 13, 2005) When
Jake Gyllenhaal was first approached several years ago to play Jack Twist -- a ranch hand who falls deeply in love with another cowboy in the film Brokeback Mountain -- he turned it down flat. Without even reading the script. "Like everyone else, the first thing I heard was 'the gay cowboy' movie," says the actor, who turns 25 next week. "I thought it was something I would not want to get anywhere near just because it sounds absurd. Well, this movie is anything but absurd." The project, based on the short story by E. Annie Proulx, had trouble attracting any stars or directors, mainly because the subject matter was seen as potential career suicide. (At various point, Colin Farrell, Josh Hartnett, Joaquin Phoenix, and directors Gus Van Sant and Joel Schumacher were all linked to Brokeback, but nothing materialized). But co-screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana would not give up on this tale of two gay ranch hands who fall in love in 1963 Wyoming. Finally, Academy Award-winner Ang Lee read the script, and was immediately hooked. The words moved the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to tears. With Lee on board, it suddenly became much easier to convince Gyllenhaal and his co-star Heath Ledger to risk alienating their fans and take on the challenges of making this $12.5-million picture, shot in Alberta's Rocky Mountains.

Gyllenhaal says he was bowled over the beautifully crafted script, which at its core, is simply a timeless love story. "The description of it as a gay cowboy movie is just [because of] the need for people to simplify everything," says Gyllenhaal, who has been acting since age 10. "I think that description of Brokeback has just become a stereotype of a story that, ironically, is all about dispelling stereotypes." The actor adds that he also knew, in Lee's hands, the subject matter would be handled with respect and care. "Knowing Ang's vision of movies, his ideas in movies, I just read the script in a different way. I knew he would get the right thing out of it. And the fact that he was casting two straight actors, who clearly had never journeyed there, I think that was a significant message. I just knew it was going to be a certain kind of story, that if I passed on it, I would deeply regret not doing." His instincts were right. Brokeback Mountain has already received rapturous reviews from critics and viewers. Out of the gate, it won the main prize at the Venice Film Festival, and yesterday, the New York Film Critics Circle named the cowboy romance as the year's top film. (The New York critics also gave best-director honours to Lee and voted Ledger best actor.) Lee was also voted best director by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, while on Saturday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association also chose Brokeback Mountain as its top film of 2005. It's considered a shoo-in for today's Golden Globe Award nominations, and there's Oscar buzz for both Ledger and Gyllenhaal's gritty performances. In the film, Gyllenhaal plays a gentle, almost sweet Jack to Ledger's gruff Ennis Del Mar.

In an interview during the Toronto International Film Festival, Gyllenhaal readily admits filming the aggressive sex scenes was nerve-racking. In one scene, Ledger grabs him so forcibly Gyllenhaal almost gets his nose broken. But the anger in the love scenes was integral to getting across how conflicted and tortured both men (especially Ledger's character) were over their relationship. "I felt there was an aggression that they just both understood. The frustration and the anger were just another form of communications, just like sex is," says Gyllenhaal. "The type of sex you have is always reflective of what you're trying to say. This was just their way of communicating. They dealt with animals all the time, and they behave like animals, in a way, toward each other." Gyllenhaal adds that Lee's prowess as a director gave him the confidence to push the sex scenes to that primitive level. "He's a true auteur. To him, you are pieces in a puzzle. Ang plays a lot of cards, but there are two cards he plays more than any other: One is the sensitivity card, and the other is the card of torture," laughs Gyllenhaal. "And he's extremely adept at playing one off against the other. He's very cunning and very smart, and you never see the wheels turning. Ang's a bit of a mystery to a lot of people because a lot of very intelligent people like to show that the wheels are turning. He doesn't." Gyllenhaal's Twist is a young drifter who meets Ledger's Del Mar when they are hired to protect the thousands of sheep that graze on Brokeback Mountain through a summer. They become friends, then lovers. They eventually leave the mountain for their old lives, marry and have kids, but they reconnect a few times a year on so-called fishing trips. Their marriages crumble, but Ledger will never commit to a same-sex relationship in an era and land entrenched in deep conservatism. Gyllenhaal, who has had an on-and-off again relationship for years with actress Kirsten Dunst, says he believes the film has been labelled "gay cowboy" because "people are still somewhat semi-afraid and judgmental of the story so they try to pigeonhole it. "The truth is it's just a story about the love of all human beings," says Gyllenhaal, whose father Stephen is a director (Waterland), mother Naomi Foner a screenwriter, and sister Maggie an actress. The actor says it will be fascinating to see if audiences come out to see a film that takes aim at the revered cowboy, a cherished American icon. "If they're smart and enlightened, they'll come," says Gyllenhaal. "Because it's really just a story about two people who happen to meet and fall in love, and wish desperately they could live happily ever after." Brokeback Mountain opens in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal on Friday. It opens in Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax on Dec. 23, and in Victoria, Edmonton and Winnipeg on Jan. 13.

 

Paramount Chief Eyes Box-Office Summit

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Alex Armitage

(Dec. 13, 2005) LOS ANGELES -- Paramount Pictures' agreement to buy DreamWorks SKG for $774-million (U.S.) reflects an effort by new Paramount chief Brad Grey to revive the sixth-ranked film studio. DreamWorks founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen said yesterday they agreed to sell their Hollywood studio to Paramount after spending nine months in talks with NBC Universal. As negotiations with NBC stumbled, Mr. Grey called the founders last week and sealed a deal within days, Mr. Geffen said. "Brad called me up and said he wanted to get into this," Mr. Geffen said yesterday on a conference call with reporters. "In one week they managed to deliver." The deal, which values DreamWorks at $1.6-billion, shows Mr. Grey's drive to rebuild Paramount Pictures Corp., creator of The Godfather and Indiana Jones series, after a decline in box-office rankings. Mr. Grey, a 47-year-old talent agent known for representing stars, hadn't run a studio before Viacom Inc. chairman Sumner Redstone hired him in January. At the time, Mr. Redstone pushed Mr. Grey's history as a "deal maker." "Brad Grey is signalling this is a new era for Paramount," said Hal Vogel, chief executive officer of New York-based Vogel Capital and author of Entertainment Industry Economics. "Paramount looks quick, smart and aggressive. That's the signal they want to send to Wall Street and to Hollywood."

Los Angeles-based Paramount agreed to take on about $826-million in DreamWorks debt, taking the enterprise value of DreamWorks to $1.6-billion. To pay for the purchase, Paramount will sell DreamWorks' library of 59 films for as much as $1-billion. Paramount will end up investing $500-million to $650-million, chief financial officer Michael Dolan said on the call. With Glendale, Calif.-based DreamWorks, Paramount will increase its slate of movies to between 14 and 16 a year, from the 11 it had planned. The studio will also secure the talents of Mr. Spielberg, 57, who with Mr. Geffen will produce four to six movies next year for Paramount. Mr. Spielberg will be employed by the studio as director and producer, and Mr. Geffen will be chairman, the companies said. Mr. Katzenberg will continue as CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the producer of Shrek and Madagascar movies. Paramount and DreamWorks Animation, which is publicly traded, signed a seven-year worldwide distribution agreement starting in 2006.  The purchase of DreamWorks dovetails with Mr. Grey's plans to ramp up movie output and take on more big-budget productions.  While Paramount secures a studio that has produced big hit, it also is buying a company that has failed to fulfill its founders' vision. DreamWorks ranks seventh in box-office rankings this year with $499-million in receipts.

 

Golden Globe Good Morning

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Martin Knelman


(Dec. 14, 2005) David Cronenberg was happily waking up yesterday at his Forest Hill home — having recently returned from a promotional tour of Europe — when his phone started ringing. He'd somehow missed catching the bulletin on TV and radio that his movie A History of Violence had been nominated for a Golden Globe award as best dramatic movie of 2005.  That now makes it a potential Oscar nominee in the category of best picture.  "Yes, but the key word there is `potential,'" Cronenberg cautiously allowed in a phone interview with the Star. "I've never had a movie nominated for a Golden Globe before, so I'm very happy and a bit surprised."  Given the rave reviews the picture has received, its festival triumphs at Cannes and Toronto, the $50 million take at the box office so far, and the fact that it was the runner-up choice of critics' groups in both New York and L.A. for movie of the year honours (which went in both cases to Brokeback Mountain) it's surprising he was surprised.  But Cronenberg — known as a cult director working on the fringe in his own eccentric way — has not been in the running for glamorous mainstream honours in the past. And he didn't expect he would be this time, either, although, as he puts it, "Of course, you always want your movie to be as great as it can."  Technically Cronenberg is not personally nominated. It's the producers who are eligible for an award in the best picture categories.  And Cronenberg was snubbed in the best director category. But his movie did get a second major Golden Globe nomination. Maria Bello — who plays a wife learning nasty secrets about her husband — is in the running as best actress.  Also overlooked: Canada. Although it was shot in Toronto by a director who has spent his entire career living and working in this city, through the bizarre rules of movie deals, A History of Violence — bankrolled by the Hollywood mini-major New Line — counts as a U.S. film.

Meanwhile, the marvellous Quebec movie C.R.A.Z.Y. (Canada's official entry in the Oscar race for the best foreign-language film) was conspicuously absent from the Golden Globe list.  But one high-profile Canadian in Hollywood is among the nominees. Paul Haggis, who made his directorial debut with Crash, made the cut in the original screenplay category.  "The weirdest thing is that my movie is probably the most expensive production in its category," says Cronenberg, known for shunning Hollywood blockbusters and making relatively inexpensive and defiantly off-mainstream movies that can best be described as Cronenbergesque.  At $32 million (U.S.) Violence is the most expensive movie Cronenberg, 62, has ever made. But that's a very modest budget by Hollywood standards. This year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association shunned studio blockbusters in favour of more modestly budgeted productions.  The other movies nominated as best dramatic picture — Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardener, Good Night and Good Luck and Match Point had budgets in the same range.  The directors of those other four movies were nominated in the best director category, along with Steven Spielberg (for Munich) and Peter Jackson (for King Kong).  Asked why Violence had a higher budget than his previous movies, Cronenberg quipped: "Because on this one, everyone got paid."  Normally he wouldn't be attending the event, since he personally is not nominated, Cronenberg says. "But New Line has a big table. They want me to be there, so I am going. And I'm looking forward to it."

The Golden Globes will be handed out on Jan. 16. But he is not in a hurry to make reservations to be L.A. for the Academy Awards on March 5.  "This was never an Oscar designer movie," he explains — by which he means the sort of movie that is thought of in advance by studios and producers as a potential Academy Award winner.  Coming soon, more screens for A History of Violence (which had seemed to be at the end of its theatrical run) to capitalize on nominations publicity.  Ironically, Cronenberg did function as a producer, as he usually does, but opted not to fight for a producing credit when his contract was negotiated.  As for the national identity of this picture, Cronenberg says: "As far as I am concerned, and certainly from the creative point of view, this movie is a Canada/U.S. production."  But there is no such thing , because the U.S. is not among the countries with which Canada has a coproduction treaty. In fact a film's official identity depends more on where the money is from than where the talent is from, or where the picture is shot.  Still, the chances are that Cronenberg's next movie will be a Canadian production, or at least a Canada-U.K. co-production.  In fact, Cronenberg and producer Robert Lantos (through his company Serendipity Point Films) are in negotiations on two projects.  Neither is the one announced at Cannes in May. Lantos and Andras Hamori were set to produce Painkillers, from Cronenberg's original screenplay — a sci-fi thriller about plastic surgery as performance art. He'd been working on the script for years.  "Sometimes it's good to be afraid of what you create," Cronenberg told The Hollywood Reporter "and I am afraid of Painkillers. That's why I have to do it."  A few months later, he decided he didn't have to do it.  Now if the financing pieces fall into place, he is hoping to move forward on Map to the Stars, from an original script by Bruce Wagner, to be produced by Lantos and Serendipity.  All he wants to say about the material is that "it's a real Hollywood story."  In fact, it's an operatic ghost story about a kid who happens to be America's biggest TV star — and a heroin addict.  Also in the works: a movie version of the Martin Amis novel London Fields.  "In the best of all possible worlds, I'll make both of those movies — one starting next spring, and the other immediately after I finish the first one."

List of TV nominees

Cowboy Romance Leads Golden Globe Nods

Source: Associated Press

(Dec. 13, 2005) Beverly Hills, Calif. — The cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain positioned itself as a key Oscar competitor Tuesday, roping in seven
Golden Globe nominations, including best dramatic picture and honours for actor Heath Ledger and director Ang Lee. Other best drama picture contenders were the murder thriller The Constant Gardener, the Edward R. Murrow tale Good Night, and Good Luck, the mobster story A History of Violence, and the infidelity drama Match Point. The Globes have a separate category for musical or comedy films. Nominated there were the theatre tale Mrs. Henderson Presents, the Jane Austen costume pageant Pride & Prejudice, the Broadway musical The Producers, the divorce story The Squid and the Whale, and the Johnny Cash film biography Walk the Line. The Globes were the latest recognition for Brokeback Mountain, a critical darling that has received top honours from critics groups in New York City, Los Angeles and Boston. Along with Ledger, who plays a family man concealing a homosexual affair from his family, best dramatic actor nominees included three actors playing real-life figures: Russell Crowe as Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man, Philip Seymour Hoffman as author Truman Capote in Capote, and David Strathairn as newsman Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck. The fifth nominee was Terrence Howard as a small-time pimp-turned-rap singer in Hustle & Flow.

Felicity Huffman received two nominations, best dramatic actress in a film for her role as a man preparing for sex-change surgery in Transamerica and best actress in a TV musical or comedy for Desperate Housewives. Her Desperate Housewives co-stars Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria also were nominated. Other best dramatic film actress nominees were Maria Bello as a wife learning painful secrets about her husband in A History of Violence, Gwyneth Paltrow as an unstable math genius' daughter in Proof, Charlize Theron as a woman leading a sexual harassment lawsuit in North Country and Ziyi Zhang as a poor girl who becomes the belle of Japan's geisha houses in Memoirs of a Geisha. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain grabbed a supporting actress nomination for Michelle Williams as Ledger's wife, who chooses to ignore his affair with a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) to hold her family together. The movie also scored a directing nomination for Lee and received nominations for best screenplay, score and song. For best actor in a movie, musical or comedy, Globe voters nominated Pierce Brosnan as a burned-out hit man in The Matador, Jeff Daniels as a husband unglued by divorce in The Squid and the Whale, Johnny Depp as candyman Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Nathan Lane as a Broadway con man in The Producers, Cillian Murphy as a cross-dressing Irishman in Breakfast on Pluto, and Joaquin Phoenix as country legend Cash in Walk the Line.

Best musical or comedy film actress nominees were Judi Dench as a 1930s British dame who opens a nude theatrical review in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Keira Knightley as the romantic heroine in Pride & Prejudice, Laura Linney as a divorcing wife in The Squid and the Whale, Sarah Jessica Parker as a woman hated by her fiancé’s relatives in The Family Stone, and Reese Witherspoon as country singer June Carter in Walk the Line. Two years ago, the Golden Globes correctly predicted winners in all key categories, including best-picture champ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and actors Sean Penn, Charlize Theron, Tim Robbins and Renee Zellweger. But a year ago, the Globes missed the mark, picking The Aviator as best picture, an honour that went to Million Dollar Baby at the Oscars. Jamie Foxx and Hilary Swank won lead-acting Globes and went on to earn Oscars, but Globe voters chose Clive Owen and Natalie Portman of Closer for the supporting-actor honours, which were won at the Oscars by Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby and Cate Blanchett for The Aviator. The Globes are handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a relatively small group of about 90 reporters for overseas news outlets. Yet with a nationally televised awards ceremony on NBC and a historically solid knack for picking eventual Academy Award winners, the Globes wield a fair amount of sway among the 5,800 Oscar voters. Winners of the Golden Globes will be announced Jan. 16, five days before polls close for Oscar voters. Oscar nominations come out Jan. 31, and the awards will be presented March 5. The Globes feature 13 categories for film and 11 for television. Unlike other major movie awards, the Globes have separate divisions for dramas and comedies or musicals in the best-picture and lead-acting categories. Anthony Hopkins will receive the group's Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement.

 

FILM TIDBITS

Jackson coming 'Home'

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 9, 2005) *Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendez are set to star in "Home of the Brave" about three soldiers readjusting to home life after serving in Iraq, reports Production Weekly. Jackson will play a doctor who returns home after spending several months in the war zone, only to find that the transition to civilian life is more difficult than expected. The Irwin Winkler-directed film is scheduled to begin shooting late February in Spokane, Washington and Morocco.


Robert Newmyer Passes Away

Source: Associated Press

(Dec. 13, 2005) Los Angeles — Robert F. Newmyer, a prolific independent film producer whose credits include Training Day and The Santa Clause movies, has died. He was 49. Newmyer died Monday of a heart attack while he was working out at a gym in Toronto, his friends said. Newmyer, who had more than two dozen movie credits, was known for his passion for making both big studio pictures and independent films. "He liked to move people," Jeffrey Silver, his partner at Outlaw Productions, told the Los Angeles Times. "He liked to make them laugh, and he liked to make them cry." Newmyer started off as a vice president of production and acquisitions at Columbia Pictures. He and Silver formed Outlaw Productions in the late 1980s, which was named after Newmyer's favourite Clint Eastwood character, the outlaw Josey Wales. They hit it big with sex, lies and videotape in 1989 and the company took off when it produced The Santa Clause in 1994. This year, Newmyer mortgaged his homes in Los Angeles and Telluride, Colo., to raise $3 million to finance Phat Girlz, a romantic comedy about an aspiring plus-size fashion designer starring MoNique Imes-Jackson. Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired the film, which is scheduled to be released in April. "Bobby was a true maverick and a true risk-taker," said Amy Pascal, chairwoman of Sony Motion Pictures Group. "He was unlike anyone else. He put all his cards on the table." One of his pending projects — The Lost Boys of the Sudan — developed from a 60 Minutes segment about a group of young boys who were trying to flee the violence in the African country. He was so moved by their stories that he housed some of the boys in his home over the last several years, said Lucy Fisher, his cousin and fellow movie producer. Newmyer is survived by his wife, Deborah, and his children, Sofi, Teddy, James and Billi.


Manitoba Film Tax Credit Draws Flak

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Dec. 13, 2005) Winnipeg -- A Conservative member of the Manitoba legislature wants to know why the provincial government appears to be involved with a raunchy cable television program called Kink. Kelvin Goertzen said the government is wasting taxpayers' money by offering tax credits for X-rated productions. "When you've got children waiting in pain for health care, you've got to question if this is where the government should be putting money," said Goertzen. Kink, a series on the Showcase channel, filmed part of its fourth season in Winnipeg in the summer of 2004. When the Winnipeg segment aired on national television in May 2005 -- featuring a transvestite hooker, a voyeur-seeking married couple, a dominatrix and transgender cabaret stars -- the government of Manitoba was acknowledged in the final credits. Eric Robinson, the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism, said the province offers a film and video production tax credit as incentive to shoot in Manitoba. "In anticipation they will receive the [tax] credit, the [Manitoba] logo is placed in the credits," he said. "The government has not flowed any money to the program; that comes as a tax credit and the company has 30 months to apply for the rebate." CP


Broadcast Film Critics Love Terrence Howard

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 13, 2005) *The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) gave the Paul Haggis film “Crash” its second highest number of BFCA Award nominations with six, including best picture and a supporting actor nomination for Terrence Howard.  Howard also received a best actor nod for the pimp-with-a-dream drama “Hustle & Flow” and a best song nod for the title track.   The BFCA, 200 members strong and comprised of television, radio and online critics, also gave four nods apiece to "Walk the Line," "Capote" and "Cinderella Man," while "The Squid and the Whale," "Rent," "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" each scored three. The winners will be announced Jan. 9 at an 8 p.m. ceremony to be held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and air live on WB Network. Dennis Miller will host.

 

::TV NEWS::

 

Families Switch Racial Identities In TV Series

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Dec. 9, 2005) LOS ANGELES (AP) — At least one black family learns what it is like to be white while a white family becomes black in the six-part documentary series Black. White., which is scheduled for broadcast on the FX cable network in March.  Makeup temporarily transforms the two families for the series developed by filmmaker R.J. Cutler and actor-rapper Ice Cube. They then go out and see what life is like in another person's skin.  "The loud message of the show is that we are a divided nation," said Cutler, who won an Emmy for outstanding reality program for American High. "But we can come together if we're willing to talk about our differences and work to see the world through the eyes of other people."  For the run of the show, the Sparks family of Atlanta and the Wurgel family of Santa Monica, Calif., share a home in the San Fernando Valley. But with makeup, Brian and Renee Sparks and their son, Nick, are transformed from black to white. Bruno and Carmen Wurgel and their daughter, Rose, become black.  The race-changing makeup application, administered by Oscar-nominated artist Keith VanderLaan, took three to five hours per family member.  "We're doing something that has never been done before that advances in makeup technology allow," said Cutler, who produced the Oscar-nominated documentary The War Room.  The show's creators say the switch changes the families' core values in ways they could not have imagined.  "Black. White. will force people to challenge themselves and really examine where we stand in terms of race in this country," said Ice Cube.

Black Family Becomes White In New FX Doc

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 9, 2005) *For those curious to know how it would feel to live for one week as a white person in America, Ice Cube and filmmaker R.J. Cutler ("30 Days," "The War Room") have teamed up in an attempt to answer the question with “Black. White.”  The six-episode documentary series, which uses carefully applied makeup to make an African-American family white and a Caucasian family black so that they can experience life in different skins, is being executive produced by Cutler, Cube and the rapper’s production partner, Matt Alvarez.      "I'm really excited to be a part of a show that explores race in America," Cube says. "'Black. White.' will force people to challenge themselves and really examine where we stand in terms of race in this country."   The African American Sparks family of Atlanta and the white Wurgel family of Santa Monica shared a home in Tarzana, CA outside of Los Angeles while the six-week film shoot took place last summer.  Keith VanderLaan, an Oscar nominee for his makeup on "The Passion of the Christ," oversaw the transformations for each of the family members before they walked outdoors to spend time as a member of a different race.        "This series is an example of how television can be an extremely powerful and useful medium," Cutler says. "I believe the Sparks and Wurgels took a big chance but are better people for having done so."  The show is due to premiere in March.

 

CBC Miniseries To Take On Asian Stereotypes

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Canadian Press

(Dec. 10, 2005) VANCOUVER—An edgy CBC show about Asian organized crime in British Columbia is trying to take race relations to a new level of realism on Canada's small screen.  Shooting in Vancouver, star Byron Mann says Dragon Boys goes beyond what most TV productions deliver.  "Usually, the race issue is tiptoed around very cautiously," said Mann, who plays a Chinese-Canadian RCMP detective trying to bring down a senior gang leader.  In the multi-plot Dragon Boys, cops casually crack racial jokes.  "In one scene, the police superintendent gives me a pep talk," says Mann, whose Asian film career is much bigger than his Canadian profile.  "My Caucasian partner asks me what it's about. He says, `So, what were you and the superintendent talking about? Trading noodle recipes?'  "I say, `No, we were trying to come up with a way to convince you guys to build us a railroad.'"  Mann says that's how people on the street, and people from different cultures who work long days with one another, actually speak.  The show, directed by Jerry Ciccoritti (Shania, Trudeau), weaves together the lives of Asian-Canadians living in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. One story focuses on a family: the son has been targeted by young criminals and his father struggles to connect with him.  Another plot involves a Cambodian woman who is an illegal immigrant, trapped working as a prostitute in a massage parlour.  Other subplots intersect these dramas, which all come together in the style of the thriller Traffic, says Mann.

Writer Ian Weir, who's Caucasian, said CBC jumped on the project immediately, excited to see a drama driven by Asian-Canadians.  "They are here and on the street, but they're not represented on TV in the same way," he said.  Celebrated Asian star Eric Tsang, who has appeared in about 150 films, plays a crime boss, while his son Derek Tsang has also come from Hong Kong to act in the drama.  "I was absolutely blown away by the reaction from really big Asian stars who have just flown so far to do this," says Weir. ``They are saying to me, this is the role I've been waiting for my whole life."  Filming in a suburban Asian mall, Mann was mobbed by fans.  "This, quite frankly, is a cast far above the level of anything you could expect to get on a Canadian television production. We were in this mall shooting and in the video store, there's a huge poster of Byron promoting his latest movie. Everyone in the mall wanted to talk to him," said Weir.  The two-part, four-hour drama will air on CBC next September.

 

In The Real, Wry Spirit Of Christmas

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Rob Salem


(Dec. 12, 2005) There are no heart-warming special moments, no Important Life Lessons learned. Brent LeRoy is not visited by Christmas ghosts, nor by a bumbling angel trying to earn his wings. Hank does not nurse an ailing reindeer back to health, or volunteer as an elf, or otherwise help send Santa on his merry way.  At no point does grouchy Oscar proclaim, "Bah, humbug!," nor sweet-natured Lacey, "God bless us, every one!"  Because that just wouldn't be Corner Gas.  The Saskatchewan-set sitcom, in its third successful season, is nothing if not consistent. So it comes as no surprise that when they finally got around to doing a Christmas episode (on CTV tonight at 8), it would be fuelled, so to speak, by the exact same style of minimalist, observational, wry, dry, character-driven comedy.  In other words, by Brent Butt, its creator, executive producer, head writer and star.  "It's very realistic," he says of the seasonal one-off, which sends Hank (Fred Ewanuick) off on a misguided charitable endeavour; Lacey (Gabrielle Miller) trying to negotiate her way back to Toronto; Wanda (Nancy Robertson) wrestling with — and over — a transforming toy goat robot; and Brent himself pining for an aluminium tree.  "All these things could happen," Butt insists. "They're the kind of events that anyone could go through on any given Christmas."  And then the writer in him kicks in. "Hmmm," he muses aloud. "Now there's a title ... `Any Given Christmas' ..."  In fact, the episode is unremarkably entitled, "Merry Gasmas."  The remarkable part was that they were able to even shoot a Christmas episode at all.

Corner Gas is, out of necessity, filmed during the summer months. "It's very tricky to shoot (on location) in the winter," explains Butt.  "People don't understand. They think you're just being wimpy and avoiding the cold. And sure, that's 80 per cent of it.  "But the other 20 per cent of it is, if you miss a day of filming because of weather, that's like a quarter million bucks. And we don't have that to kick around, you know?"  The interior scenes for the Christmas episode were shot during the regular summer production period. The cast then reassembled for one day last month to shoot all the winter exteriors. "So some of the snow," he allows, "is fake."  If even noticeable, this would be the sole false note in a series firmly rooted in its own heightened reality. At Christmas or any other time of year.  And that may be the true secret of its across-the-board popularity. In a country that generally has to be guilted into embracing the best of its own homegrown culture, Corner Gas has proven an unprecedented success.  "I think part of the problem in the past," Butt suggests, "is that we've tended to try and force-feed our culture to people, and they've been kind of resistant to that. Whereas, if you just put it out there and say, `Oh, by the way, this show happens to be Canadian,' they embrace it more than if you try to have a moose in every episode.  "Sometimes we have a tendency to say, `Look at how Canadian we are!' instead of just being Canadian.  "Our show has a very broad demographic, and the reason that our numbers are so high is that we kind of have something for everybody. There's subtle wordplay, there's virtual slapstick, there are so many different levels of comedy ... the show is universal in a lot of ways. The characters are archetypal, and then they have their own flavours and colours. But really, who doesn't know a cranky old guy, or a sarcastic co-worker, or a dopey buddy from high school?"  Butt did: born and raised in small-town Tisdale, Sask., he has often said that Corner Gas is the story of his life that might have been, had he not left to pursue a career in comedy in the mid-1980s.

"This was something I wrote down a long, long time ago," he reveals. "So it had been in my head a long time. And in a way, I kind of lived it, although Tisdale isn't as small as Dog River is — I wanted to accentuate the smallness a bit. But I grew up in the rural prairies, so I knew what I was writing about."  And who.  "That was one of my biggest surprises in all of this, being kind of naïve and new to this whole thing. When it came to casting these characters, I had specific people, comedic personalities, in mind — stand-ups, mostly, because that was my world. But because it's written in a kind of realistic way, it was always funniest when we could find really solid actors, the people who were best able to inhabit these characters.  "If you believe that they believe what they're saying, then it's funny."  (Butt also got a bride out of the deal: he and co-star Nancy Robertson were wed in Vancouver on Nov. 19, the same night the show that brought them together won the Gemini Award for Best Comedy Series.)  Not that Butt's more comedically inclined colleagues haven't been more than welcome on set. Tonight's Christmas episode alone features cameo appearances by comedy all-stars Dan Redican, Gavin Crawford and Roman Danylo.  Not to mention that recent guest appearance by Prime Minister Paul Martin.  Butt admits that it's going to be tough to try and top that level of stunt-casting.  "We're thinking maybe the Queen of England," he deadpans, "strapping on a bungee and base-jumping from a grain elevator."

 

Networks To Rein In Candidates' Debate

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Antonia Zerbisias


(Dec. 13, 2005) When the federal political party chiefs come out of their corners Thursday and Friday for the first round of the leaders'
debates, they won't be swinging.  That's because the group of broadcasters and politicos who determine the format for the election slugfests are eliminating the all-out verbal sparring.  Formerly open mikes will be closed. Political leaders will have to seek permission to speak from the moderators. It's going to be more like polite Jeopardy!  In other words, a gentlemanly duel, unlike the 2004 dust-up that had Prime Minister Paul Martin, Conservative chief Stephen Harper and, most especially, NDP leader Jack Layton and the Bloc Québécois' Gilles Duceppe elevating the decibel level but not the tone of the debate.  "All of us felt that the shouting, shouting, shouting was unacceptable," says CTV News president Robert Hurst. "It's fair to say that, some of the party leaders, their tactic was to shout because they had nothing to lose."  "We wanted a way to improve the format so that there is actual debate among the leaders — but not the kind of anarchy there was last time," explains CBC News honcho Tony Burman, who chairs the broadcasting consortium made up of CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global Television and the private French-language network, TVA This campaign, there are two sets of debates.  Round one consists of the French-language face-off on Thursday, while the English bout is on Friday at 8. Trina McQueen, a former journalist and executive at both CTV and CBC-TV, will moderate the English-language forum that takes place in Vancouver.  She will introduce videotaped segments from those Canadians deemed to be most representative from the more than 8,000 who submitted their questions. The leaders will each get a minute to answer, and then can have a go at each other, in a not-so-free-for-all.  The second round takes place in Quebec, in either Gatineau or Montreal, on Jan. 9 (English) and 10 (French). Questions will come not from viewers but from moderator Steve Paikin of TVO's Studio 2.  Burman says that everything about the debate is a complex negotiation, involving as many as 20 people around the table.

"This is all like the U.N.," he jokes, comparing it to making peace in the Middle East, "It's an endless process."  One real area of contention — again! — is which party leaders make it to the podium.  The Green Party is making a pitch for leader Jim Harris to be included, arguing that, unlike the Bloc, it is a national party, with a full slate of candidates. But, says Burman, there's never been a case when any leader has been included without his (or her) party holding at least one seat in the House of Commons: "That's the threshold."  For citizens, the advantage of the debates is that they are relatively unfiltered looks at the leaders, free of camera-friendly crowds and canned campaign stops. Which is why we watch. Some 11 million Canadians tuned into at least part of the June 2004 English-language debate.  But, this time, will holiday shopping and partying, plus the more polite format, drive viewing down? Steve Wyatt, Global-TV's senior vice-president of news and information, is not so sure that that the debates will be dull.  "I think it was boring last time," he says, noting how there was more ill will than illumination.  So what to look for?  For many, it's what journalists and pundits call "the knock-out punch."  Like in 1984, when then Liberal Prime Minister John Turner took it on the chin as Conservative contender Brian Mulroney, referring to Pierre Trudeau's senate appointments, thundered, "You had a choice."  Or perhaps in the U.S. in 1992, when then President George H.W. Bush could not relate to the woman asking how the national debt affected him. "I'm not sure I get it," he replied, allowing Democratic challenger Bill Clinton to reach out with folksy tales from Arkansas.  But that's not what the network guys necessarily hope for since, without ads, the debates are not about the ratings.  Says Burman: "At the end of four hours, what we want is that viewers — who are voters, who are citizens — are able to say, "That gave me an insight to what this election is about and what the leaders are about.'"

 

::THEATRE NEWS::

 

Pops Goes The '80s Glam Rock Star

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Rita Zekas

(Dec. 10, 2005) Alan, we hardly knew ye.  No more big '80s hair. No more Captain Eyeliner.  Alan Frew, lead singer of '80s glam rock band Glass Tiger, is making his acting debut in the Christmas pantomime Snow White and the Group of Seven, playing the Elgin Theatre through Jan. 8.  Snow White stars Frew, Ross Petty, Seán Cullen and four Canadian Idol winners/contestants, including Elena Juatco (who plays Snow White), Ryan Malcolm, Gary Beals and Billy Klippert. Panto producer Petty is doing drag yet again as Queen Celine Poutine.  Frew is a five-time Juno winner and recipient of four Canadian Classic Awards (for songs that get more than 100,000 airplays). Glass Tiger sold more than 3 million albums worldwide. When asked why the group was called Glass Tiger, he made a face. We didn't care to press the point. It's probably a Paper Lion reference thingie.  The group was first called Onyx; then The End. Their first LP, The Thin Red Line, released in 1986, sold more than 400,000 copies domestically and 500,000 in the U.S. As a songwriter, Frew has written Top 10 hits including "Someday," "So Blind," "I'm Still Searching" and "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)."  He has toured with the likes of Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Julian Lennon, Creedence Clearwater, Huey Lewis and Fleetwood Mac.

He hosted his own series, Road Stories with Alan Frew, in which he went mano à musician, comparing war stories on the road, and released two solo albums.  Frew was familiar with panto as a kid in Glasgow but he's an acting neophyte.  "It's a new challenge," he admitted over sushi with his manager Sharon Brennan. He still has a Scottish burr, despite being here for 30 years.  "Taking different career risks puts you on edge. I didn't even do theatre in school but I've been acting all my life — people just don't know it. Being in a rock band in front of 30,000 to 40,000 people is acting. I'm a communicator.  "This lady sitting beside me, I'm driving her crazy. I told her, `I want to start acting.' So Sharon called Larry Goldhar at Characters (talent agency)."  Frew pitched his case.  "I told him I'd like to take a serious run at acting and he said that it was probably easier to make a rock star an actor than an actor a rock star.  "Larry called Ross Petty and they were thrilled. I was willing to take an audition and I went down unprepared. I just strolled in with my acoustic guitar and sang `Someday,' one of Canada's greatest hits. That was back in June and here we are."

Frew is Pops, one of the Group of Seven. "We are a pretty hurtin' boy band," he said. "The six are my sons brought to the dwarves' cottage because they have vacated to do Lord of the Rings. Snow White comes along and helps us find a mojo."  His sons include three Canadian Idols. Heck, as Shania would say, that don't impress him much. He doesn't watch reality TV. He has never seen a Canadian Idol telecast, though Frew, who is part of the old guard, fronting Glass Tiger from '86 to '92, does ruminate on instant fame.  "They (the Idols) came out the other end thinking that they've been there, done that and then the reality sinks in that it's been a slog," he said. "They have some feelings of disillusionment. They've been through the process of a kid climbing up the ladder — that part of it is as real as Bono singing at ACC. And I hope the kids admire me, (paying my dues) singing in a bar.  "Pops is someone who won't let go of the '80s. My hair is long — way big '80s hair. I have earrings, eyeliner and a ridiculous combination of clothes. Last night (in previews), we had the giggles because it was the first time we saw each other in costume. We have Afro wigs. Snow White tries to help us find the mojo to master several musical styles: we do Beach Boys, the Jacksons, Bon Jovi and the Backstreet Boys."  Snow White director Ted Dykstra didn't press Frew to lose his accent.  "He was really good to me," Frew said. "He gave me free rein to change things. Instead of playing it down, he wanted me to ham it up. Pops has a monologue and he allowed me to change it into a wee bit Pythonesque. I ramble on with, `When I was a boy, living in a dwarf's house was a luxury!'"

Frew's own kids are 26, 17 and 16 months old. He knows the youngest is coming to see dad, for sure.  He said he never had an epiphany. He always knew he wanted to be an entertainer, though he took several U-turns.  "I was also a registered nurse," he said. "I played football and then I got into a band. Some guys heard me singing at a party and invited me to gig with them. That band disintegrated. Then I thought that I'd like to be a doctor so I went to night school and did sciences. I was an orderly in a hospital. I did autopsies and took my RN. I worked in Newmarket and at night I played in another band."  They went through a succession of bands in the early '80s but by '85, they had jelled into "an incredibly hot bar band and the record companies started sniffing around. We played Ontario Place Forum four nights straight and security was taking me through the tunnel. Girls were screaming. One little girl screams my name and says, `Alan, I love you. You gave me my morphine at pediatrics.'"  He'd be rockin' all night and have to get back for a 5 a.m. hospital shift. The Glass Tiger could be found catnapping. "One day I sat down with the hospital administrator and he said, `How about taking a leave of absence?' That's when I wrote, `Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone).' We got a gig opening for Boy George's Culture Club and my nursing career came to a complete halt. Even then, I knew I was an entertainer in scrubs."

Glass Tiger never really disbanded, Frew said. "Glass Tiger did a tonne of dates this summer — and I thought I'd hung my skates up," he chuckled. "We put out a DVD to commemorate our 20th year and there are two new songs. We did 20 to 30 shows in Canadian festivals and big, big clubs. The audiences included people the age of the Idols: 19, 20, 21. They couldn't have possibly been there the first time around."  Frew, 47, was 16 when he came to Canada. "In Glasgow, I thought it was normal to get up in front of everyone to entertain. My aunties would be the dancing girls. I never thought I'd make a living out of it. In Glasgow, on any given night, you could hear a brilliant tenor in a corner of the pub."  He's hoping the acting part of his career will go as well for him as the music.  "For a guy that never did it, my first monologue is long enough to scare the pants off you," he said. "But it's not War & Peace. It's a great little atmosphere to cut my teeth on. You are in front of an audience who understands that's it's a bunch of adults being goofy."  Yet under the rock star persona, there beats the heart of an activist.  Frew is heavily involved in charity work, especially children's charities and the Canadian Crime Victims Foundation.  "We raised $20,000 to help Leslie Mahaffy's brother get a college degree," he said. "And Karla Homolka gets a college degree free in prison. I'll fly the Crime Victims Foundation flag as long as it takes."

 

Tinseltown Gives Broadway A Boost

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Simon Houpt, shoupt@globeandmail.com

(Dec. 12, 2005) Hollywood isn't the only town keeping an eye on movie grosses these days. Around the theatre district, producers are keeping their fingers crossed that the film adaptations of Rent and The Producers are going to translate into an enduring bump at the Broadway box office. There's a compelling precedent: In the months leading up to the December, 2002, release of Rob Marshall's Oscar-winning adaptation of Chicago, that Broadway musical was flirting with closure, regularly playing to only 60-per-cent capacity houses. But after the film opened, and ran and ran, audiences found their appetite whetted again for the live version of the show. So here we are, nine years after opening night, with Chicago still packing them in, regularly running at 90-per-cent houses. Which is why, even if Rent isn't catching fire in movie theatres across North America, it's got a new lease on life down on 41st Street. And The Producers, which has also been fluttering in the low 70s per cent of capacity, looks primed to capitalize on the wave of Universal Studios' promotional efforts for the film version. This will be doubly good news for Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who revive their roles as the crooked producers for the film. As the originators of the outsized Max Bialystock and the timid Leo Bloom, the stars are contractually guaranteed a cut of The Producers' box office, wherever it plays, for the rest of its natural-born life. To all the New Yorkers who won't share in the payday, Rent and The Producers represent something else, namely the most recent examples of a rare species: a movie set in New York. Cinemas are actually quite flush with New York stories this year, from Mad Hot Ballroom to The Squid and the Whale.

There is also some little movie about a big ape whose name escapes me, and Prime, which even featured that Manhattan cliché, the therapist. For all the noise about New York's hold on American culture, very few movies are set here any more. Partly, it's a question of economics: producers of Derailed, for example, relocated the story from New York to Chicago because it was cheaper to shoot there. The Bloomberg administration has been trying to change that, spending the last couple of years trying to take back the film business that had fled to Canadian and other U.S. cities with a combination of grants, tax incentives and discounts. Posters for movies that shoot here are adorned with "Made in N.Y." stamps, like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But some filmmakers have suggested that New York's absence from the silver screen proves that it's played out. It's probably not a coincidence that The Squid and the Whale, The Producers, Rent and that ape movie are all period pieces. Woody Allen, this city's filmic poet laureate, had to move to London to wake himself from his decade-long creative slumber with his new drama, Match Point. He has just wrapped up his second London shoot, Scoop, and says he's happy working on that side of the Atlantic. Even Martin Scorsese has recently forsaken this city, going west for last year's The Aviator and east to Boston for next year's The Departed. Which may explain why the New York media is so flattered with the current flush of New York movies. Local TV entertainment reporters have fallen over themselves praising the director Peter Jackson for his recreation of 1933 Manhattan in that big ape movie (even if most of the recreation took place inside a bunch of servers in a New Zealand computer lab). Even The New York Times splashed out with a front-page Metro section article last week pegged to Jackson's movie on the significance in the city's psyche of the Empire State Building and other tall structures. (For my taste, the piece went bizarrely off-key when it quoted Debra Burlingame, the board member of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation who led the fight to kill the International Freedom Center, about the fact that giant apes aren't as much of a threat to skyscrapers as airplanes loaded with jet fuel. You don't say.) Local media also fawned over Rent's portrayal of the East Village, circa 1989, with only a couple of reports bothering to mention that the director Christopher Columbus, who has never lived here, shot the film on San Francisco sound stages. Only a couple of writers proved ungrateful with the attention. In The Observer, Choire Sicha said that the city hadn't been rendered so faithlessly on screen since The Day After Tomorrow. "What the hell skyline is this? What's this F-train stop doing at the corner of 10th and Avenue B?" he asked. That was mere background for his real attack on the film, which he accuses of whitewashing the awful history of AIDS in the city. "All in all, it's about as gritty as the Rent Cycle Karaoke class that takes place at the 38th Street Crunch on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. It makes the East Village look a little less authentic than Sesame Street, a little more than It's a Wonderful Life. It's illusory, despicable, and the worst sort of rewriting of history." Finally: the old nasty New York spirit.

 

Hobbits Descend On Toronto

Source: Canadian Press - By John McKay

(Dec. 12, 2005) Like an orc invasion, the media descended on a stark east-end rehearsal studio Monday for what producers promised would be a "taste" of the massive theatrical production of Lord of the Rings, scheduled to open in February. With no props, costumes, sets or lighting — just a bare stage and some recorded music — six excerpts from the three-hour, $27-million Mirvish production based on J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved fantasy trilogy were performed in front of an outsider audience for the very first time. "The world is waiting for Toronto, for Ontario, for Canada to offer this great epic story to it for the first time ever," Irish-born producer Kevin Wallace declared to the gathered throng. "Yes, it's a world premiere and it is yours!" There were majestic, menacing stilt walkers depicting those dreaded ringwraiths, diminutive actors as Frodo Baggins and his Hobbit company, wooden swords, fair elf maidens and a simple gold ring in the centre of it all. And less than eight weeks from now, when the whole thing is ready to be unveiled on the city's Princess of Wales stage, impressive special effects are promised too, the theatre's own unique equivalent of the kind of digital effects that made the Peter Jackson film trilogy such an impressive cinema experience. But the Rings stage experience will be attracting fans from far and wide, fans who may not be regular theatregoers, who may be more used to the ready-made audio-visual stimuli provided by movies. Wallace didn't see that as a problem.

"This is a scale the likes of which frankly nobody will have seen before," he promised. "You're standing within 15 feet of Frodo. You can see the sweat on his brow. You can see the emotion in his eyes. And you're breathing the same air. That's a unique experience in the theatre." And he rejected the suggestion that theatre is somehow an elitist experience. "The theatre's a popular art form. It's a terrible thing when people think 'Oh this is just for a certain section of society,' It's not. The theatre's for everybody." Canadian actor Brent Carver, who plays Gandalf, said the films were beautiful and Sir Ian McKellen was fantastic as the grey-bearded wizard. But he agreed the stage can offer extraordinary things. "A simplicity that I think only the theatre can really give to a live audience, you know?" And then there's music. Lilting solos, symphonic crescendos and mournful, eerie choruses. "Mr. Jackson did an extraordinary job but they didn't include any of the songs," stressed Carver. "The book is filled with people expressing themselves fundamentally with music. Absolutely fundamental to their existence. Middle Earth was sung into existence."

The score was assembled from diverse sources: A.R. Rahman from India, the Finnish folk music group Varttina and British composer Christopher Nightingale. And Carver said it all works. "Tolkien was mad about Nordic myths and the Finnish language, actually, and languages period. So it's very interesting that the world of Finland and India and Britain and Canada is all coming together in a way. . .to speak an international language." If all goes well, the production will, within a year's time, be headed for London's West End. And eventually to Broadway. "Yeah, but no hurry, though," said Wallace, content that Canada will always be where it began. "It's going to be the place that I think Tolkien fans will come on pilgrimage to, to see the original production in Toronto." Both Wallace and Carver admitted being nervous about presenting such a barebones sneak preview at this time, but they agreed that it will be positive for the production. "It's actually good for the actors to taste what it's like to play this in front of an audience," said Wallace. "So it's a bit of a shot in the arm halfway through the rehearsal process. It did feel good." Carver admitted it was nerve-wracking but there was "a very good feel in the room." Wallace was asked, after following in filmmaker Peter Jackson's footsteps, if King Kong might be next for a theatrical musical. "What a good idea!" he exclaimed.

First Look: Lord Of The Rings

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Dec. 13, 2005) James Loye as Frodo with Evan Buliung as Aragon, and other cast members rehearse a scene from the $27-million stage adaptation of The Lord of the Rings yesterday in Toronto. The show, featuring 55 actors, begins preview performances on Feb. 2 at the city's Princess of Wales Theatre. The world premiere of the show, produced by Kevin Wallace and directed by Matthew Warchus, is on March 23.

 

 ::OTHER NEWS::

Wondering What To Buy Those Quirky Folks In Your Life?

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Dec. 10, 2005) Why slip freaky gifts into your loved ones' Christmas
stockings? Do they really need your esoteric tastes imposed upon them? Hell, yes! Everyone knows that gift giving says more about the giver than it does the taker. That's what makes it even more important that the gift you're giving truly is an expression of who you are. So avoid the ol' cheque-in-a-Hallmark card or a could-be-from-anyone gift certificate — who knows what trash they'll buy. Use our ideas instead ... and pretend they're yours!

ENZA JUSTIFIES THE MEANS

For the man who has everything ... make him into a woman. Paddy Aldridge's Take A Walk on the Wild Side (161 Gerrard St. E.) is one-stop shopping for cross-dressers and drag queens. For the full effect, your man needs a makeover from Enza Supermodel, drag queen extraordinaire and Metro News social columnist. Once your man has his wig, heels, undies, pantyhose and outfit organized — Paddy can help with all of this — it's into the chair with Enza.  First-timers will find it a little overwhelming at first, says Enza, but after a few applications the makeover becomes second nature. For those who graduate to doing their own makeup, Enza has a tip: "Don't put on foundation with your hands if you're wearing long fingernails. It gets stuck under the nails. Use a sponge."  A makeup session runs $60. For $120, you can get a lesson. Call 416-961-6112. For a full list of services and products go to http://www.wildside.org

Susan Walker


HAIL TO THE CHEF

To recreate the restaurant experience at home, I recommend a breadbasket filled with artisanal breads by Marc Thuet (http://www.thuet.ca), whose eponymous restaurant on King St. W. exemplifies Alsace's best. Try his wonderfully dense potato loaf studded with crisp bits of speck ($6.99 at Pusateri's and other locations). To drink, order a case of bottled water from Aqua Distribution (http://www.aqua-store.com). Discerning palates might appreciate Finé artesian water from Japan ($72 for a dozen 720 mL bottles); the frosted glass bottles are starting to appear at high-end Toronto restaurants. Or, pour your favourite wine into stemless Riedel glasses, the so-called O tumblers that are replacing traditional wine glasses at many restaurants because they are dishwasher-safe and half the price of other Riedel stemware ($8.25 to $9.50 a piece at William Ashley China).

Amy Pataki


THREE GOLD RINGS

Toronto's new opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, will not have a single bad seat, promises COC general director Richard Bradshaw. But the ultimate treat is Wagner's full Ring Cycle. The Everest of the opera world is made up of four plays that tell a mythic tale of lust, greed, betrayal and incest — Das Rheingold, Die Walkyrie, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.  People are coming from all over the world for one of the three full performances of the cycle next September. Bradshaw says nearly a third of the tickets have been sold to people outside Canada. Unfortunately, the remaining seats are expensive — but the experience is priceless for the true opera fan. There are seats left on the ground floor and the third and fourth balconies for between $1,200 and $1,700. Info at http://www.coc.ca or phone 416-363-8231.

John Terauds


MUTTON CHOP MAKEOVER

This beats the portrait of Dorian Gray. And it trumps those ubiquitous portraits of Elvis on velvet. The folks at TheVelvetStore.com will fix you up with a custom-made velvet portrait of yourself (or a loved one whose photo you furnish) as Elvis, and it will only set you back $150 (U.S.) — unless the subject has had too many fried banana sandwiches, in which case they'll have to let out the frame. Perfect for hanging beside the medicine cabinet so every morning you can ask yourself, "What would Elvis do?"

Rita Zekas


FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING ... FROM THE ONE WHO HAS NOTHING

It's one of those things that happen to everyone. You buy a gift for a young child and immediately they abandon the toy to play with the box it came in. Here's the perfect gift for that type of kid — and it doubles as a great arts and crafts activity for the holidays:  Portland, Ore.-based design firm Fwis (readymech.fwis.com) has created free DIY "flatpack" toys. By flatpack they mean paper combined with some wonderfully out-there designs, which are available in PDF format that you can download, print out and build by following the directions.  All you need is a printer, some heavy paper stock, scissors and tape (preferably double-sided). Choose from Astro Julie, Skeletron (who comes in black or white) and the Papercut of Death. The best part? All it will cost you is time.

Raju Mudhar


MILLER TIME

Wanna lure someone into the joys of the comic book? There are two ways to go about it this Christmas. The one, the only, the must-have is Alan Moore's seminal, genre-subverting, post-modern joyride, Watchmen, now conveniently available in an "absolute edition" for $66 at Amazon.ca. If you're cheap, get the not-so-absolute version for $18. Also, you could make a jolly gift pack of the Sin City: Recut & Extended version DVD ($31.47) and Frank Miller's Complete Sin City Library ($103.03), containing seven books that serve as the movie's source material.

Malene Arpe


OH, HENRI

In case you can't quite come up with the extra million to buy that little Matisse painting you planned to stuff in someone's stocking, there's a terrific backup gift in Hilary Spurling's two-volume biography, A Life of Henri Matisse. The first volume, The Unknown Matisse (Penguin, $32.99), is a first-rate history of the painter's early years, when he escaped the dreary landscape of northern France for the Mediterranean where he helped reinvent what painting was all about. Even better, it's a great read. If the recipient has been particularly nice — or even better, naughty — you can stuff the other stocking with the second volume, Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour, which takes the reader up to the artist's death in 1954 (Hamish Hamilton, $40).

Peter Goddard


HOW SWEET IT IS

The sweetest gift you'll get this year — a talking Napoleon Dynamite doll ($24.99). Comes dressed in a "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt and says 18 memorable lines from the movie, like "Maybe I will. Gosh!" and "But my lips hurt real bad." Part of a whole line of Napoleana available at Sunrise Records (see http://www.sunriserecords.com for locations). There are also Napoleon Dynamite talking pens ($9.99) so you can listen to inspirational sayings while drawing ligers and wolverines; shot glasses ($6.99); The Complete Quote Book, so you won't make a flippin' idiot of yourself by saying the wrong thing ($9.99); energy drink ($2.99) to power your killer dance moves; and a sweet metal-covered notebook with cool drawings inside ($10.99).

Linda Barnard


GET SOME ENTERCISE

Late December is characterized by a lot of sitting on one's ass and getting fat; January is about getting off the former and losing the latter. Why not bridge the gap between the two with the Entertrainer, a clever home-gym gadget? This dumbbell-sized device is wirelessly linked to both your television and a heart-rate monitor (included). If you're working out too slowly, the TV volume decreases or even shuts off; if you're overworked, it gets too loud. By the end of a month, you'll be in good enough shape to kick this annoying little bugger right through your flat-screen ($100 U.S. plus shipping, etc. at http://www.theentertrainer.com).

Ariel Teplitsky


GO FIGURE

Action figures aren't just for grandpa anymore. Everyone on your list would benefit from owning a reproduction of their favourite sci-fi/horror/fantasy characters. They stimulate the imagination and make for great conversation pieces, as well as impress prospective dates. One of the spots to shop is Sideshow Collectibles, conveniently located at http://www.sideshowtoy.com. Also conveniently, there's a sale this weekend just in time to have the loot FedExed to Canada. We recommend the 21-inch-tall, limited edition Jason from Freddy vs. Jason. Pay just $225 (U.S.) and you'll also receive the smaller but equally delicious bonus Jason. Oversized machete included! For the deluxe gift, however, nothing beats the $549 1/4-scale Terminator Endoskeleton. It's so damned cool, you just want to lick it until your tongue gets stuck.

Malene Arpe


WICKED GIFT OF THE WEST

If someone on your Christmas list was a fan of Wicked when it played its all-too-brief engagement here earlier this year, or if they're counting the days until it returns next October, here's a perfect gift. Wicked: The Grimmerie (Hyperion, $54) is much more than the "behind-the-scenes look at a hit Broadway musical" that it proclaims to be. It's also a beautifully designed piece of eye candy that will dazzle even those not part of the cult of this musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Author David Cote fills the pages with fascinating facts and photographer Joan Marcus keeps the colourful images coming non-stop. It's also bound to look like some witch's long lost family album. Maybe it is.

Richard Ouzounian


SOUND OFF

A note of confirmation to all the poor suckers who cough up 99 cents per song on iTunes.com: You're being robbed. Wander over to http://www.emusic.com, where the fine folks offer an entry-level subscription of US$9.95 per month for 40 songs — that's about a quarter a track, if you're counting — not to mention 50 freebies just for signing up. As a virtual shop, Emusic is more boutique than megastore — think Soundscapes, not HMV — as the offerings tend towards independent labels, indie rock and progressive forms. But the back catalogue of everything from punk to soul to world beat and classical is vast and fascinating, and the endless articles, advice and intra-member knowledge exchange is an adventure in itself. If this is the future of music buying — 20 cents a song, unlimited downloads and burns once purchased, a sense of community and the artists get paid — then the future is friendly, indeed.

Murray Whyte


THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON TAKING

To buy a Personal Video Recorder outright from a cable company such as Rogers will set you back more than the typical amount for a gift between pals: $400.  But here's a thought: For $19.99, you could gift a trial run of the life-altering device (you can record two programs and watch another at the same time) for one month. Spend $39.98 and give them two months. And that includes the Canadian time-shifting channels. All they need is basic cable. The only sticky etiquette question is what to do if the giftee wants to have the PVR forever or to get more channels: Are you on the hook for their cable bill?

Tanya Workman


REVENGE OF THE NERDS

Is your loved one a geek? Make them an uber-geek with the Ultimate Video Game Chair. This leather recliner features built-in game controllers, surround speakers and 12 motors that shake the chair to intensify the gaming action (and probably help prevent bedsores after sitting in front of a screen for three days straight). Yes, Steve Carell's character in The 40 Year-Old Virgin had one. How cool is that? Sure, proud new owners of a game chair may never go on a date again — but what date can possibly live up to Call of Duty 2 played on the world's greatest La-Z-Boy? Oh, be prepared to fork over $600 plus shipping and taxes. See http://www.ultimategamechair.com for Canadian dealers.

Ariel Teplitsky

 

OTHER TIDBITS

Canada-Born Scientist Among People's Sexiest

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Canadian Press

(Dec. 12, 2005) Toronto — A Canadian shares a page with Bono in People magazine's sexiest men issue but Michael Manga is a reluctant and unlikely heartthrob. He's no rock star -- he works with rocks. Mr. Manga is an associate professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California in Berkeley and a winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, often called the "genius awards" in the United States. When the 37-year-old father of two got the e-mail asking him to appear in People, he said, he was reluctant and hoped the whole thing would blow over quickly. "I found it all quite funny and very embarrassing," Mr. Manga said, adding that he thought long and hard before accepting the magazine's offer. "I thought this might be the only science that shows up in the issue, perhaps the only science that shows up in the [magazine] the entire year," he said, explaining why he said yes. Mr. Manga wasn't allowed to tell anyone about his imminent 15 minutes of fame, not even his family. He said he didn't tell his wife, even when the issue hit the newsstands. She finally got word when her mom called her with the surprising news. That's when the teasing started. "I don't know what else I could have expected," Mr. Manga said. Mr. Manga is 5-foot-11 and has long, dark hair. His family background makes for an interesting DNA mix with ties to South Africa, India, Germany and Poland. He was born in Hamilton, lived in Toronto and Ottawa, and went to school at McGill University in Montreal before heading to the United States to study at Harvard University and the University of Oregon.  He now teaches geodynamics, is planning the research for his fellowship and runs a personal website on such sexy topics as the rheology and dynamics of suspensions, and the continuum percolation theory. There's no mention of the People appearance on his website, just science information and pictures of his wife and kids. And he said he's not planning to post anything about the magazine -- ever. He said there has been almost nothing fun about the experience; he's just taken a lot of grief and ribbing from his colleagues. He never reads People and neither did his colleagues -- until now, he said. "The good thing about the university is it took two weeks for anyone to pick up on it. People here don't read People." Mr. Manga appears in the Nov. 28 issue alongside the likes of Jude Law, Ben Affleck, Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell.

 

 ::FITNESS::

 

Holiday Weight Gain Survival Guide

By Michael Stefano, Special For eFitness

(Dec. 12, 2005) It seems like only yesterday that you were worried about how you would squeeze into last year's swimsuit. It took you almost six months to recover from the overindulgences, festivities and inactivity of last winter.  And just when you finally got things under control, summer ended and you found yourself indoors, less active, and fully clothed. It became easy to relax and give in to temptation.  But the fall/winter season continues to wreak havoc way past summer's end. Halloween candy and Thanksgiving dinner give way to non-stop partying and December's too-busy-for-anything-but-shopping syndrome. You can almost feel your pants squeezing you as your weight spirals out of control.  I'm not suggesting that you totally refrain from holiday festivities. Enjoying simple pleasures with friends and family is what life is all about. So how can we celebrate the season, but avoid the post-summer tendency to slip out of shape? I offer you five surefire ways to survive the holidays and avoid the season's most common pitfalls.

Pitfall Blaster 1: Allow Yourself To Bend, Not Break

It's important to have a fixed plan, lofty goals, and high ideals, but during this most hectic time of year, when daylight and physical activity levels naturally wane, you need program-flexibility more than ever.  Have a plan B in every case. When your week unexpectedly calls for extra time at work or a last minute party invitation, and you still have a shopping list a mile long, getting to the gym may prove impossible. You should have an abbreviated full body circuit routine at the ready -- something that can be done just about anywhere in under 15 minutes. Plan B can substitute for your regular workout whenever you're pressed for time.

Pitfall Blaster 2: Eat Some Of The Stuff You Love

Food plays a larger role in society than simply providing nourishment. The dinner table is where family and friends come together, especially around the holiday season. Allow yourself to enjoy your favourite foods with the ones you love, but always in moderation. Portion control is the key to enjoying just about everything.  When chowing down we have a tendency to eat past satiation. Slow down and listen to your body while chewing your favourite foods. Learn to push your plate away at the first sign of fullness. If you totally deprive yourself of all the foods you love, your cravings will grow and you'll eventually succumb in a rebound fashion.

Pitfall Blaster 3: Plan And Prioritize Your Time

Suggestion number one called for a plan B in case of unavoidable circumstances getting the better of you at the last minute. However, long range planning can help avoid most short-range problems. If necessary, keep your workouts short and sweet. Try to schedule exercise into a relatively quiet part of the day, such as early morning. You might also try working out at home or joining a gym near your place of work to save travel time.  Write down your schedule and do your best to stick to it. Let others know how important your exercise program is to you. Once your friends and family understand that fitness and weight control are important part of your life, they’ll have to respect your decision to stay in shape (and maybe even join you, see next tip).

Pitfall Blaster 4: Include Your Family And Friends

As much as possible, include your loved ones in your fitness-oriented lifestyle. This isn't to say that everyone will support it, let alone participate. Set an example with your behaviour as best you can, but never lecture.  You could take a hike on a chilly weekend morning. Entice the family with the reward of tasty brunch right afterwards. You could also invest in some home gym equipment as a special holiday gift for the home, and turn the purchase into a family outing.  At family meals, serve all fresh vegetables, big salads, and turkey instead of beef or pork. Minimize the addition of saturated fats such as cream cheese and butter and replace with smaller quantities of olive oil. Remove any sweetened drinks from the supper table, and limit all refined carbs. Become the family that knows how to eat right and stay active.

Pitfall Blaster 5: Don't Fret Over Setbacks

Don't try to make up for yesterday, by eating less or exercising more today. Get back on your regimen and cut your losses (or gains). Stress and depression about missed workouts, or trying to make up for yesterday with an overly intense or lengthy session will only sabotage your progress.  Your goal should be to challenge yourself in small increments. To attempt to go beyond this will surely result in frustration, over training, and injury. Relax, think about the big picture, and remember tomorrow is another day.

These have been five very practical suggestions to help you manage the year-end physical slide most of us experience. Allow yourself some leeway when it comes to exercising, and realize, it’s okay to give in to a few treats at the appropriate times.  Whenever possible, include your family in your plan, but don't be too hard on yourself if you fall a little short. Get up, dust yourself off, and get right back on the program.

Michael Stefano is author of The Firefighter's Workout, which features more than 50 exercise illustrations. To learn more about Mike Stefano and his fat-burning, body-sculpting programs, click here to visit his website.

 

 ::MOTIVATION::

 

Motivational Note:  Consistency

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com

"When you see someone successful in a sport, career, parenting, relationships, losing weight, saving money or becoming clean and sober...it's because they worked at it consistently. They had discipline. They focused on a desired result. If you want different results than what you've been getting in the past, are you ready to let go of some activities, associations, beliefs or habits? The world heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis said, "There is no such thing as a natural. A natural dancer has to practice hard. A natural painter has to paint all the time." Success at anything requires discipline, focusing on established priorities, determination and placing yourself in a supportive environment to win --- not fail. Think on an area in your life where you are discontent. Start by making a decision from your discontent and your discipline helps you to finish and achieve your goal. What area in your life are you discontent? Are you putting your time and energy on your priorities or on trivial and minor things? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least." Today's question for you is "What matters most to you?" ~ Jewel Diamond Taylor Save the date - Saturday, January 21, 2006: Life Coach Jewel Diamond Taylor will facilitate her 20th Annual Super Goal Saturday Conference. Get the details and register soon to save your seat in the "Success Locker Room". Special guest coach invited back by popular demand will be the Fitness Motivational Speaker Jerry Anderson. Join us for the 2006 Kick Off. www.DoNotGiveUp.net/SuperGoalSaturday2006.htm