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Updated:  January 5, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Welcome to a new year full of hopes and aspirations - one day at a time people!

Again, YES, this IS another new format that I'm trying out on you guys this week ... FYI, the purpose is to drive more hits to my actual site. If you read the email only that I send out each week, this means that you are not generating a hit for my site - which is how I can look more alluring to potential advertisers. So, let's see what happens ... I encourage you to click on the 'CLICK HERE FOR FULL NEWSLETTER' link as this will take you to the very gorgeous (!) full page with all headlines and all graphics.

OR, click on any of the subtitles i.e.
TOP STORIES, MUSIC NEWS, FILM NEWS ... it all takes you to my site!

Thanks to the good people at
Barbados Tourism Authority, I will be travelling next week to the Barbados Jazz Festival ( with headliners Lionel Richie, Jill Scott, Roy Hargrove and many others! I'm thrilled to be attending with Donovan Bailey as his onsite publicist and look forward to the entire experience (and fun in the sun of course!). As a result, there will not be a newsletter next week (Thursday, January 12th) but look for an entire recap of the festival the following week (Thursday, January 19th). Our accommodations are at The Crane in Barbados (pictured above) - a site for sore eyes! Wish me luck!

Tons of news including 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 EVENTS. Want to be removed from the distribution, click REMOVE.


Sublet Available

A beautifully-furnished large one-bedroom apartment at Yonge/Bloor is available immediately for at least six months for $1,000/mo. (utilities included). Subway and shopping is downstairs from apts! Interested? CLICK HERE.


The Cream Of A Bountiful Crop

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Robert Everett-Green

 (Dec. 30, 2005) What did I miss? The question seems agonizingly acute, as the last hours of 2005 trickle away with hundreds of the year's discs still unheard. But these I did get, and they were wonderful, and here they are.
 Breaking Kayfabe, Cadence Weapon (Upper Class). A stupendous debut from Edmonton's Rollie Pemberton, who at 19 is already a master of dense, lyrical rhymes and hard-shifting textures.
 Arular, M.I.A. (XL / Beggars Banquet). Just when it seemed that Britain's masala connection had lost its spice, along comes Mathangi Arulpragasam with a compulsive collection of whip-smart tracks about dislocation in times of civil war.
 Dusty Foot Philosopher, K'naan (Track & Field / Sony & BMG). The Somali-Canadian rapper gives us the sound and rhythm of fear on the mean streets of Mogadishu, extending a Somali tradition of chanted verse via the polyglot media of hip-hop.
 United We Fall, Sweatshop Union (Battle Axe / EMI). Vancouver's best rap crew leaves the bling aside and grapples with the issues of the day, with enough sharp riffs and grooves to keep you shaking.
 Divine Brown, Divine Brown (Blacksmith / Universal). Funky and smooth by turns, Brown's debut disc takes the best of the old school and gives it a soulful new twist.
 Get Behind Me Satan, White Stripes (V2). The Detroit rock duo's fifth album questions everything we thought we knew about them, dressing a compelling batch of original songs in everything from marimba to Hawaiian guitar.
 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade (SubPop). Like a dirty face peering at you through the bus shelter window, Wolf Parade comes on intense and a little crazed, with a lo-fi sound and a subtle songcraft that reveals more of itself with every listen.
 Funeral, Arcade Fire (Merge). Like a circus troupe of abandoned children, the Arcade Fire calls out across the smoky lights for the return of all lost items, and for the length of this album you're half-sure that all will be restored.
 You Could Have It So Much Better, Franz Ferdinand (Domino / BMG). The playful Scots, who some thought would fade after their sunburst of attention in 2004, shake the dance floor all over again with this wry and witty collection of dance-rock.
 Aim Right for the Holes in Their Lives, Novillero (Mint Records). Vitality and unease fight to a draw in this terrific collection from Winnipeg's Novillero, as the band clothes its reflections on moral desperation in a rocking mod sound.
 Elevator, Hot Hot Heat (Sire / Warner). The Victoria rockers prove that their much-lauded debut was no fluke on this album of snappy, well-written songs about the shabby grandeur of life as we know it.
 Demon Days, Gorillaz (EMI). The demon of the title is undoubtedly Satan, who must have carried off at least two souls in exchange for this compulsive disc from Damon Albarn and Danger Mouse.
 Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple (Epic / Sony & BMG). Apple wanders her charmed maze with the stare-you-down gaze of the perpetually disenchanted, while forging a distinctive sound with just about every note.
 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty). Stevens' magical cycle of songs about the Prairie State brings the American pastoral tradition in tune with a chamber-pop idiom that feels as rare and delicate as the scent of a pressed rose.
 Pretty in Black, Raveonettes (Columbia / Sony & BMG). Sweden's nerdy-brilliant rock duo slip down memory lane and find a pair of brass knuckles, on this clever and tuneful twist on the sounds and sentiments of early sixties girl pop.
 Witching Hour, Ladytron (Ryko). The Liverpool quartet's spooky craft gets immeasurably deeper on this album of calmly attractive lullabies about doom and desertion.
 Martha Wainwright, Martha Wainwright (MapleMusic). She took her sweet time, and it was worth it. Her new songs (both here and on the excellent I Shall Internalize EP) show the bashful assurance of a musician doomed to self-exposure.
 Live It Out, Metric (Last Gang Records). Cool passion seems an oxymoron till you catch a dose of it from Metric's second album, a sneaky and addictive amalgam of rock, pop and electronica.
 Tristan und Isolde, Placido Domingo, Antonio Pappano and others, Royal Opera House (EMI). Domingo's first and last tour of the toughest role in the heroic tenor repertoire shows him exerting a lifetime's share of dramatic smarts and emotional intelligence, with a tenor still silvery and strong at age 64.
 Opera Proibita, Cecilia Bartoli (Decca / Universal). The title's a fib and the photos are a travesty, but Bartoli's performances of oratorio excerpts by Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonio Caldara gleam like rich silk.

David Cronenberg: Artist Of The Year

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Liam Lacey

(Dec. 31, 2005) The world, according to various reputable international bodies that monitor such things, is getting more peaceful all the time: fewer wars, fewer casualties, declining crime rates. 
It just doesn't feel like it, does it?  Our fascination with violence is apparently irrational, as well as addictive and debilitating. Sated by reports of the endless war against terrorism, bombarded by the daily dreadlines about kidnappings, torture and abuse, we are in a psychological state of siege. So we turn on the tube to relax to the carnage of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Which brings us to this year's choice for our artist of the year: filmmaker
David Cronenberg. His accomplishment in 2005, after almost 40 years of filmmaking, and with a reputation that has ranged from despised to exalted, has been the release of A History of Violence, a clarifying exploration of our attraction to, and fear of, the human dark side. At once a thought-provoking art film and a visceral thriller, a black comedy with a moral recoil, A History of Violence is the most sensational and provocative film of 2005. Shown in competition at Cannes, the movie has been called a masterpiece by leading critics at the Chicago Reader, The New York Times and The Village Voice, where principal critic J. Hoberman went further, declaring Cronenberg the most important narrative director in the English language over the past 20 years. The case is persuasive: After hitting what appeared to be his creative and popular peak in the late eighties with such films as The Fly and Dead Ringers, Cronenberg has shown remarkable staying power. Now in his early 60s, he seems to be going from strength to strength, finding new worlds of strangeness beneath ordinary surfaces in 2002's Spider and in A History of Violence. With his meticulous command of the elements of the film medium, a sense of the surreal reminiscent of Luis Bunuel, and black comedy worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, he must be seriously ranked among the great film directors.

A History of Violence has finished on the Top 10 lists of the Associated Press, Newsweek, The Observer, Ebert and Roeper and the Los Angeles Times. It was picked as this year's best film by the Toronto Film Critics Association, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, and won runner-up as best film of the year (behind the sentimental favourite, Brokeback Mountain) by the New York and Los Angeles critics' groups. The film has also won a Golden Globe nomination, and looks like the first Cronenberg movie with a good shot at being Oscar's best picture. Yet, in its way, the movie is a modest offering. The title is not some sweeping statement on human aggression. It refers to the humble language of the police blotter, as in "The suspect has a known history of violence." Not an ideologue -- at best, he's a cryptic moralist -- Cronenberg plays his cards close to his chest in History. The initial collision between good and evil is set up with a jolting economy. Two bleary-looking men are leaving a motel in their vintage convertible.  The younger one, taking orders, goes back into the hotel to get water. There's a body on the floor, and then he sees a little girl behind the counter and raises his gun. Cut to another little girl screaming in her bed from a nightmare, as reality and dream seem to blur together. The second little girl's tender family gathers round -- the handsome parents, Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Edie Stall (Maria Bello), and big brother Jack (Ashton Holmes). Next morning we see them in their perfect pastoral town, pleasant enough to make Andy Griffith's Mayberry (which, after all, had a jail and a town drunk) look depraved. The town looks, in short, like a movie set. Tom, soft and feminine in manner, works behind a lunch counter; his perky wife practises law. When they make love, they role-play as randy teenagers. But Tom, whose pleasant manner always involves a touch of hesitation that his surname suggests, may not be what he seems. Soon, the family begins being terrorized by a series of criminal invaders from the East, dark-clad, mutilated men like Carl (Ed Harris), who refuses to use Tom's name, preferring to refer to him as Crazy Joey Cusack.

A History of Violence has its detractors who find the film either too Cronenbergian ("shockingly vicious" -- David Edelstein, Slate) or not Cronenbergian enough ("surprisingly conventional" -- Todd McCarthy, Variety). Others, reasonably, find the thin-veneer-of-civilization argument trite. What's considerably more interesting is how Cronenberg implicates the viewer by using the conventions of action filmmaking, with his own mischievous twists. First, we thrill to the scenes of bravura action, and then we feel a sense of sickly recoil. At the simplest level, the camera doesn't stop with the quick draw and puff of smoke, but takes a glance at the ruined flesh. As Andrew Sarris wrote in The Observer, A History of Violence "isn't so much a comment on America . . . as it is a comment on American movies and the violent ecstasies they have provided to audiences around the world. There is a spiritual price to be paid for almost a century of guilty pleasure and self-indulgence with the potent narcotic of cinematic violence, however harmlessly vicarious it may have seemed." On a similar theme, Manohla Dargis in her New York Times review notes that "the sheer unreality of the hamlet initially makes it clear that this story is not taking place in the here and the now, but in a copy of the world that looks -- wouldn't you know it -- a lot like a movie. Mr. Cronenberg, a Canadian, is taking aim at this country, to be sure. But he is also taking aim at our violence-addicted cinema, those seductive, self-heroicizing self-justifications we sell to the world." Perhaps the Canadianness of A History of Violence is not immediately evident (though when was the last time you remember seeing a Hollywood action hero embarrassed by his prowess at mayhem?). Cronenberg was hired by an American studio, New Line, to adapt an American graphic novel (written by John Wagner and Vince Locke), with an American scriptwriter (Josh Olson) and American stars. Yet Cronenberg, who insisted on reworking the script substantially, is unimpeachably Canadian. He has spent his career living in his hometown, Toronto, and shot A History of Violence in Ontario using a supporting cast of Canadian actors and a family of collaborators with whom he has worked for years -- editor Ron Sanders, composer Howard Shore, costume designer Denise Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suchitsky.

And while A History of Violence has few of the spectacular Cronenbergian images beloved of hardcore fans and postmodernist academics (erupting bodies, flesh merging with technology), he's in the familiar territory of double identities, inner monsters and characters who feel compelled to reinvent themselves. At 97 minutes, A History of Violence is a rigorously designed film, structured around scenes that mirror each other and build to a progressively intense sense of dislocation. To quote the review of itby the Observer's Sarris, "Mr. Cronenberg has imbued his narrative with a style of personal conviction that is found in only the greatest auteurs." Alfred Hitchcock talked of playing the audience like an instrument. In A History of Violence, Cronenberg demonstrates a similar confidence. Taut, funny and suspenseful, A History of Violence turns us from spectators of film violence to uncomfortable co-conspirators. We revel in the skill of the movie's implementation even as we squirm at its implications: Perhaps we've been a bit too enthusiastic about the brutality we revile.

Critics and comrades on Cronenberg

"Very wise, he's a very wise man. Just very calm. I mean, all his films are full of psychological disturbance and danger and a weird, sort of perverse tone -- something threatening and odd. But he himself, there's a Zen quality about him, which is the opposite feeling of his films."

-- Ralph Fiennes, star of Cronenberg's 2002 film, Spider, speaking to Globe and Mail reporter Simon Houpt earlier this month.

"Cronenberg has always been a great student of human behaviour, and very interested in peeling away that thin veneer of civility -- that is, how we get along, how we jockey for position, and what we present as our identity. . . . Underneath that, it's always kind of a mess -- and we are animals."

-- A History of Violence star Viggo Mortensen, on PBS's The Charlie Rose Show.

"I doubt anyone who has cancer, for example, will want to sit through a David Cronenberg movie."

-- Concordia University film-studies professor Carole Zucker, earlier this year, alluding to Cronenberg's reputation for showing body-morphing grotesqueries.

"I was personally appalled."

-- Ted Turner, in 1996, on Cronenberg's Crash. The film's U.S. distributor, Fine Line Features, was then part of the Turner Broadcasting System.

"I like David a lot, we enjoy each other's company. He has no bull or ego about him, we just sit down together and say, 'How are we going to do this?' It's just very relaxed, and he always has that same wonderful crew around him. It's a very happy working situation. . . . When you find a director who creates the kind of working environment that makes you look forward to going to work, then you gravitate back toward him."

-- Jeremy Irons, in 1992, while shooting Cronenberg's M. Butterfly in Toronto.

" ' . . . sex and car crashes . . .' -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times"

-- Blurb on video box for Crash.

"There's a real playfulness . . . and not as much panic as there is normally on film sets."

-- Willem Dafoe, at the 1999 Berlin Film Festival, promoting eXistenZ.

"You Should Know How Bad This Film Is. After All, You Paid For It."

-- Headline in Saturday Night magazine for an article on Cronenberg's 1975 government-funded film, Shivers. The movie, by the way, turned a profit.


To me, the life that we live is heaven. My idea of paradise is life on Earth. But we often don't know it, and can't see it that way, until, I'm sure, we start to leave it. I guess that's the way I feel about film. 

Season Spanned Saints To Sinners

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Jim Bawden, Television Columnist
 (Dec. 30, 2005) Lockouts, underfunding, bad time slots: welcome to the world of
Canadian TV in 2005.  There are more channels than ever before, but Canadian drama almost disappeared. American imports got pride of place in many Canadian network schedules. And yet there had been watchable homegrown programs all along, some quite brilliant.  Here is one viewer's flashbacks on the Canadian TV season:
 Best miniseries: It has to be CTV's Lives of the Saints, director Jerry Ciccoritti's beautifully done adaptation starring Sophia Loren and Fab Filippo, who truly bonded as mother and son. Strangely, neither received a Gemini nomination.
 Best American imitation: Take a look at an old episode of Cold Squad, the Vancouver crime show starring Julie Stewart that ran seven years on CTV. Then examine Cold Case, CBS's series on Sunday nights that's set in Philadelphia and stars Kathryn Morris. Now, tell me which of the two is cutting edge — and has the prettier blonde with the trimmer haircut?
 Teen fave: Mothers on my block keep complaining their teens stop doing homework every night to catch the sexy soap
Metropia (11 p.m. on OMNI1), made right here in T.O. There are only 12 new episodes of this slick serial left before reruns take over. Blame funding problems. As a showcase for a dozen up-and-coming young Toronto actors, Metropia has been tops.
 Lockout: CBC President Robert Rabinovitch locked out his 5,500 employees just as the new season was about to start, thus giving the competition a huge edge in the ratings race. Viewers seemed more indifferent than outraged by the CBC's descent into reruns. After all, American fare was only a click away.
 Age before beauty: Canadian filmmakers Michael Maclear and Harry Rasky have been crafting memorable documentaries for decades. Once again they hit homeruns: Maclear with a visit to his ancestral roots and an examination of race relations in the new South Africa in A Town in Africa (on the History channel); and Rasky with his latest Raskymentary, Modigliani: Body and Soul (on TVOntario).
 Canadian expatriates: On American TV you'll find dozens of talented Canadians who have migrated south to get discovered. Examples? How about Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), Kelly Rowan (The OC), Elisha Cuthbert (24), Kari Matchett (Invasion) and Michael Cera (Arrested Development).
 Popularity contest: Canadians don't watch much homegrown TV, or so the surveys tell us. How then to account for the popularity of Corner Gas, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Red Green, Puppets Who Kill or The Newsroom III? Answer: each had that winning combination of talented performers and proper time slot.
 It figures: Consider the strange case of The Eleventh Hour, which garnered 15 Gemini nominations plus a cancellation slip from CTV. Could the blame be placed on its lousy time slot, Saturday at 10, when nobody is watching network TV (outside of hockey fanatics)?
 Best series actor: A gaggle of talents kept us watching Da Vinci's Inquest/Da Vinci's City Hall (Nicholas Campbell), This is Wonderland (Michael Riley), ReGenesis (Peter Outerbridge), and The Eleventh Hour (Jeff Seymour and Ben Blass).
 Best series actress: Sonja Smits (The Eleventh Hour), Cara Pifko (This is Wonderland), Thea Gill (Queer as Folk) and Wendy Crewson (The Man Who Lost Himself).
 Best actor (single performance): Stephane Demers (Trudeau II), David Sutcliffe (Murder in the Hamptons), David James Elliott (The Man Who Lost Himself), Ron White (Plague City) and Ron Lea (Mayday).
 A fond farewell: How many Canadian shows have lasted 15 seasons, I ask you? So let's cheer Red Green, a.k.a. Steve Smith, who departs with great class and a fine record of attracting enthusiastic fans as he moved over the years from CHCH to Global to CBC. Possum Lodge should be declared a national landmark, if it only existed.
 New miniseries: Given Canadian TV's leaning to bio treatments of the formative years of Canadian personalities (Pierre Trudeau, Shania Twain, Tommy Douglas), I'd like to propose these: In "Young Knowlton," an eager reporter dons glasses to become newsreader for CBC's National. Or the Travis family becomes alarmed when their 4-year-old daughter begins endlessly remodelling her dollhouse in "Oh Debbie!" In "Young Elwy," a time machine enables a movie buff to play an extra in Citizen Kane.
 Future stars: My list of future stars already on their way includes David Julian Hirsh (Naked Josh), Alexz Johnson (Instant Star), Shawn Ashmore (Terry) and Stephen Lobo (Godiva's).
 Publicity, please: CBC-TV bureaucrats fired their hardworking veteran team of 33 publicists to save a few bucks, then turned around and hired a dozen more managers. Then the network wondered why such miniseries as Il Duce Canadese and Trudeau II fared so poorly in the ratings.
 Skin trade: Yes, it's true, bits of Canadian TV are X-rated these days, notably "adult" movies on Pridevision, SexTV and The Movie Channel. Public outrage has been muted. It's a far cry from 30 years ago when the arrival of Baby Blue Movies on Citytv drove some viewers to frothing frenzy.
 Skinned off: By contrast, softcore stuff withered, so to speak. Bliss, an attempt at women's erotica for Showcase, had too many bared buns and not enough dramatic substance. In Show Me Yours, the actors showed and showed, but so what? Both series deservedly got cancelled.
 Funniest series: Not the best, mind you (that's Corner Gas). But the news spoof Jimmy MacDonald's Canada on CBC made me laugh loudest this year.
 Uniquely Canadian: Where else but in this country, I ask, could one find such unique TV series as The Naked Archaeologist (Simcha Jacobovici), It's Me Gerald (Gerald L'Ecuyer), Slings & Arrows or even Robson Arms?
 Queer facts: After five seasons and 83 episodes, the T.O.-made Queer as Folk decamped to reruns after spending more than $80 million in the city and keeping hundreds of local actors employed. With sales to dozens of countries, it proved one of Canadian TV's most successful exports.
 Docu time: Canadian TV makes some of the finest documentaries anywhere. My 2005 choices include entries from John Zaritsky (College Days, College Nights), Mark Starowicz (Breaking Point), Peter Lynch (A Whale of a Tale), Mike Sheerin (Secret Mulroney Tapes), and Irene Angelico and Ina Fichman (Black Coffee).
 Gone but not forgotten: Canadians I'll miss on TV include James Doohan (Scotty of Star Trek), bespectacled newsreader Bill Cameron, character star Jonathan Welsh (Adderly, ENG) and the funniest of Global's "Nice Guys," Bob McAdorey.
 Anchors away: The big three U.S. anchors (Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw) departed within the same year, for different reasons. Meanwhile it was steady as they go for the Canadian triumvirate of Lloyd Robertson, Peter Mansbridge and Kevin Newman. Conclusion: these days our anchors really are better than theirs.
 Gemini winners: Quick, now: Which Canadian series has three cast members with best actress Gemini nominations? You're correct if you said Paradise Falls, with Victoria Snow, Tammy Isbell and Kate Trotter. But Paradise Falls is in reruns on Showcase these days because of funding difficulties (it may be back next fall).
 The Medium is the Message: Psychics are a hot topic in U.S. prime time these days (think Medium, Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural). To rev up Canadian TV, I propose the following new shows: A CTV drama, "Nose for News," starring a Lloyd Robertson type as a newscaster who can spot a story before it happens. Or what about "Ghost Renovator," with a Debbie Travis clone who hears whispers in the cracks and crevices of the homes she's remodelling?

A Play On Aging Was Hard To Forget

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Kamal Al-Solaylee

 (Dec. 29, 2005) We all waited for it and, oh girl, was it ever worth the wait. In 2005, the perpetually beleaguered but resilient creature we know as Canadian theatre was desperately seeking that rarest of all love objects: the bona fide critical hit and conversation piece it had not seen since Michael Healey swept 1999 with The Drawer Boy.  Playwright and mathematician John Mighton obliged with his first new play in nearly nine years: Half Life, a luminous meditation on the nature of memory loss, aging and emotional and artificial intelligence, set within the bleak walls of a nursing home.  When Half Life received its world premiere at Tarragon Theatre on March 1, in a co-production with the company that developed, Necessary Angel, ecstatic reviews were only the beginning. Soon thereafter, it played festivals in Ottawa and Montreal; won a Dora for outstanding new play; picked up the Governor-General's nod for English drama; and enjoyed a critically lauded tour in Scotland.  Mighton then sealed the deal when he won the 2005 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, Canada's largest award ($100,000) for the dramatic arts.  As its director and dramaturge, Daniel Brooks, mused at another reception thrown in honour of Mighton this month, it seemed like the painfully shy playwright was being feted every other week.
 Only the most blinkered would begrudge Mighton and Half Life the success and accolades both so richly deserve. It did mean, however, that most other English Canadian plays that premiered in 2005, particularly in Toronto, were living in Half Life's shadow.  In 2005, only a handful of new plays are likely to join Half Life as worthy additions to the Canadian dramatic canon. These new plays included Claudia Dey's Trout Stanley, seen at the Factory Theatre; Ann-Marie MacDonald's Belle Moral, at Shaw; Judith Thompson's Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Jabber and his Catatonic Songstress at the Theatre Centre; Michael Redhill's Goodness, a co-production between the Tarragon and Volcano; and Greg MacArthur's Get Away at Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary.  Although developing new works remains the single obsession of Canadian theatre -- a playwright and script factory -- only a handful of plays every year seem ready for mass consumption (or select consumption, given shrinking theatre audiences). Notwithstanding the plays mentioned above, 2005 revealed a severe crisis in noteworthy playwriting -- especially in Toronto and at Theatre Passe Muraille and CanStage.  No such crisis is in sight when it comes to the classics, as Canadian theatre proves quite masterful at adapting and staging works from world repertoires. We are becoming better known as interpreters of other people's stories than originators of our own; quite the shift for a theatre culture built on the post-Centennial nationalist grounds of the late 1960s. The perfect compromise? The English Peter Hinton, the new theatre artistic director at Ottawa's National Arts Centre, who hinted in an interview with me that his next two seasons will be devoted, respectively, to new Canadian works and Jacobean and Elizabethan revivals. The highly uneven Stratford and the consistently solid Shaw remain the custodians of the classical legacy, of course. But with the mighty Soulpepper moving into year-long programming and into its own digs in 2006, and Montreal's Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre dipping into the same classical pool with edgy interpretations of works by Ibsen and Wilde, among others, the Canadian stage is permanently set for discovering neglected works or revisiting canonical others.
 Ambivalent as I feel about such trends, I have to acknowledge that my most thrilling theatre moments in 2005 were watching our actors engaging with the works of long-dead and long-may-they-still-live masters. The Tennessee Williams revival Orpheus Descending at the Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson, led by Seana McKenna, Jonathan Goad and Dana Green under Miles Potter's inspired direction, set a new standard of performance excellence that, miraculously, was matched only a few weeks later on the same stage by Leon Rubin's treatment of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. (Once again, Goad and Green were in the company.)  But for every sensationally cast production at the festivals, there was another with head-scratching choices. Cynthia Dale and David Snelgrove as Maggie and Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Lucy Peacock as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!? Over at Shaw, Nora McLellan gave short shrift vocally to the role of Mama Rose in Gypsy, and Diana Donnelly was disappointing in the title role of Shaw's Major Barbara.  Fine ensemble acting abounds in Toronto, including of course the original cast of Half Life, but the year was bookended by two outstanding examples. A production of Tom Murphy's 1961 Irish play Whistle in the Dark, which launched the generically but appropriately named Company Theatre in January, comes to mind with good turns from David Jansen, Phillip Riccio, Allan Hawco, Sarah Dodd, Oliver Becker, Aaron Poole and Joseph Ziegler. (This is getting to be a pattern, and it may look like favouritism, but Goad was the lead there too.) The other example was assembled by David Ferry in November for a riveting production of Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the Fermenting Cellar. Philip Akin, Diego Matamoros, Irene Poole, Sanjay Talwar, Camilla Scott and others battled it out in a fictional courtroom for over three hours and knocked the socks off audiences. The play may have been explicitly American in its politics and theatrics, but our Canadian cast put its stamp on both with verve. Such Canadian subcontracting may anger our nationalist old guard, but it may prove the most lasting legacy of 2005.
 Theatre 2005: the best and worst in brief
 Now that's what I call acting
The indefatigable Albert Schultz as Hamlet was the most sensitive, linguistically commanding and intellectually imposing performance of the year. The Big Bens: Ben Campbell and Ben Carlson towering above all else as Undershaft and Cusins in Joseph Ziegler's production of Major Barbara at Shaw. Michelle Giroux as Grace, the tough cookie in Claudia Dey's Trout Stanley, was simply a revelation, as was Nicole Underhay in You Never Can Tell at Shaw.
 Hall of shame: so, so many to choose from
 The worst offenders were: Bat Boy, a bloodless commercial production of a toothless musical that deservedly expired and closed early. The Merry Wives of Windsor, the nadir of summer Shakespeare in Toronto. It simply can't get any lower than that. Crowns: CanStage's sinking showboat about hats that makes you long for the sophisticated days of the high school play. Fishwrap: David Macfarlane's axe-grinding play gave a bad name to journalists and Tarragon Theatre, which unwisely staged it.
 Overrated: Iris Turcott
 The chief dramaturge at CanStage's Play Development Unit is held in some quarters of Canadian theatre in high regard. This remains entirely inexplicable to me, considering the flood of second-rate new plays that the Unit churns out:
My Mother's Feet, Written on Water, Mick Unplugged, among others.
 Underrated: Hellman and Inge
 Lillian Hellman's The
Autumn Garden and William Inge's Bus Stop belong to a kind of theatre that has the words unfashionable and stuffy written all over it. Thanks to two strong productions at Shaw this year, the two played as the absorbing, wise and moving works they really are.

Canada, Russia In Final

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Ken Campbell, Sports Reporter
 (Jan. 4, 2006)  
VANCOUVER—Shortly after last night's game, Canadian goalie and Maple Leafs prospect Justin Pogge was pulled aside for drug testing by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. "I think I set the world record for the fastest drug test," Pogge said. Fans of the Canadian team and the Leafs will be happy to learn that the only drug Pogge might test positive for would be one to keep him awake during his games at the world junior championship. Canada will appear in its fifth straight gold-medal game at the tournament tomorrow night against Russia and victory, should it come, will almost certainly be accomplished on the strength of the most suffocating, efficient and disciplined defence in the event's history. With remarkable puck control and proficiency at keeping opponents away from the net, Canada has turned in a defensive effort for the ages. "I think it's the closest thing to playing in the NHL with this talent in front of me," Pogge said after stopping 19 shots and no more than a handful of quality chances in Canada's 4-0 semifinal win over Finland. "This group has incredible determination and heart." Should Pogge find a way to pitch his third shutout of the tournament tomorrow night, Canada would not only defend its title but also set the championship record for fewest goals allowed with six, eclipsing by one the mark set by Russia in 2000 and equalled by Canada last year. The Russian team, however, played seven games while this year's Canadian squad will have played six. Canada has been stunningly precise in all areas of the ice. Its forecheck has created a number of chances, its opportunism gives it a terrific transition game and its ability to keep opponents away from dangerous scoring areas has been uncanny. The Finns did not have a legitimate scoring chance until the 14:24 mark of the second period, when a Ryan Parent giveaway led to a breakaway for Finnish captain Petteri Wirtanen that Pogge easily stopped. The vast majority of the Finns' chances — and we use the term loosely — wound up embedded in the maple leaf on Pogge's sweater. "You know what? If you're going to want to come into our house, you're going to get punished," said Canadian winger Ryan O'Marra. "It's a tough place to play against us. I don't think any of their forwards wanted to go in there. We punished them in our zone and we punished their defencemen in their zone. In effect, it wore them down."
 Canada's appearance in another gold-medal game is testament to its domination of this event since it went from a round-robin to a playoff format in 1996. In the 11 tournaments since, Canada has advanced to the gold-medal game eight times, winning three and losing four. While Canada has yet to overwhelm its opponents offensively, it has done a superb job of controlling the puck, which seriously cuts down on its opponents' ability to create offence. "Of course, it's very hard when they have the puck all the time," said Finnish forward Lauri Tukonen, a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings. "It's pretty hard to play defence all the time. You waste lots of energy and you take stupid penalties." At the other end of the spectrum was Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask, the Leafs' first-rounder last summer, who faced a mind-boggling 96 shots in 24 hours and got one goal from the players in front of him. "I played five games and I did not allow any weak goals at all," Rask said, "so I can be happy with that." Canadian coach Brent Sutter said his players are ready for tomorrow night and know that victory is unlikely to come as easily as it has so far. "We're going to make mistakes, I know we are," Sutter said. "But they will be corrected."


Free Downloads Part Of Spyware Deal

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Larry Neumeister

 (Dec. 31, 2005) NEW YORK – A proposed settlement of lawsuits against Sony BMG Music Entertainment would let some consumers receive free music downloads to compensate them for Sony surreptitiously including spyware on millions of CDs, lawyers said Thursday. Lawyers said the deal requires the world's second-largest music label to stop manufacturing compact discs with MediaMax software or with extended copy protection or XCP software that could leave computers vulnerable to hackers. The proposed settlement was submitted to U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday. A judge is expected to decide in January whether to tentatively approve it. According to the settlement, Sony BMG will let consumers who bought the CDs receive replacement discs without the anti-piracy technology and let them choose one of two incentive packages. The first package allows consumers to obtain a cash payment of $7.50 (U.S.) and a promotion code allowing them to download one additional album from a list of more than 200 titles. The second package permits them to download three additional albums from the list. The court papers said Sony BMG would try to offer Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes as one of the download services available to consumers. Those who purchased MediaMax CDs would receive additional compensation.
 Elizabeth Pritzker, a lawyer for the consumers, said the settlement provides for the compensation to be paid out beginning as early as mid-January, even before final approval of the deal is granted. Sony began including MediaMax on some of its discs in August, 2003, and introduced XCP last January. Both software programs limited the number of copies of a disc that a user can make. Beginning in November, more than 20 lawsuits were filed after a computer-security research specialist a month earlier traced a hidden software program on his computer to an XCP disc he had purchased and installed, the settlement papers said. According to the court papers, the software program made the user's computer more susceptible to unwanted intrusion from third parties and disabled any firewall and anti-spyware protection programs previously installed. Sony BMG has said it has provided consumers with a one-click "uninstall" application that lets them remove MediaMax from their computers. MediaMax was loaded on 27 Sony BMG titles, including Alicia Keys's Unplugged and Cassidy's I'm a Hustla.

Freddie Jackson, King Of 1980s R&B: Returns With Personal Reflections

 Excerpt from - By Kevin Jackson

 (Dec. 22, 2005) To urban contemporary listeners, Freddie Jackson was one of the biggest stars of the latter half of the '80s, dominating the R&B charts seemingly at will. Jackson's forte was sophisticated, romantic soul ballads aimed at adult audiences, but he was also capable of tackling urban contemporary dance fare and even the occasional jazz tune. He scored a whopping eleven number one singles on Billboard’s R&B chart and delivered some classic chestnuts which are today still rotated on the radio.   Jackson, who has been missing from the charts for more than five years, has returned with a cover of Back Together Again, a duet with fellow 1980’s Rhythm and Blues singer Me’lisa Morgan. The song recently went to number one on Billboard’s R&B Singles Sales chart.  The song can be found on Jackson’s new album Personal Reflections for the independent label Artemis.    The album contains ten tracks all of which are covers of songs made popular by other artistes as far back as the 1970’s. Recording covers is nothing new for Jackson. As he explained in an interview on Friday, ‘On my first album I had a cover of Good Morning Heartache. Then later on I did a cover of Me and Mrs. Jones’, said Jackson.  Personal Reflections is the first album of new material from Jackson in five years.   "I always wanted to do an album of covers. It’s something like my pet peeve to record other people’s music. When I met with Daniel Glass the CEO/President of my new record label he asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him. An album of covers. I am extremely happy with this Personal Reflections album. I can reflect on each and every one of the songs on the album," Jackson said.  Unlike the days when he was signed to major labels when he rode the charts with hits such as Do Me Again, Tasty Love, Just a Little Bit More, You Are My Lady, Rock Me Tonight, Main Course, Have You Ever Loved Somebody, He’ll Never Love You Like I Do, Jam Tonight, Love Me Down, Hey Lover and Nice and Slow among others, Jackson finds working with an independent label allows him to do what he wants.  "I have been asked to be with majors and the wonderful thing is that I still sing in keys. With an independent label I can pull off as many singles as I want from my album, I can say what I want. I have been doing this now for 22 years and there comes a time in your career where an artiste should be able to stand on their own ground," he explained.
  Asked whether he felt that labels today are more concerned about pushing artistes and not the real music, Jackson said, "Its pretty unfortunate. Most of the artistes won’t have the longevity like I have for 22 years.   I think there are some good stuff out there. Some don’t make a difference, while some I will only listen to for the next couple of months. Will Downing just came out with a new album, my friend Luther Vandross who died recently and Jeffrey Osbourne (who has a new album out similar to mine) we have a die hard fan base. Longevity is the key."    Jackson further stated, "When I was signed to Capitol Records we went through artiste development and that helped to develop Freddie Jackson into what he is today. There isn’t much artiste development being done today. Beyonce is probably the only artiste who has undergone any form of that lately. I am just grateful to still be in the game. It may not be the way it was in the 1980’s, but what I have right now is far beyond what some of these new jacks have right now."  Personal Reflections is very personal to Jackson. This intimate gathering of rhythm and blues chart toppers includes songs such as Back Together Again (made popular by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack);  I Go Crazy (a hit for Paul Davis); Don’t Know Why (a Norah Jones original ); Love Ballad (first recorded by LTD featuring Jeffrey Osbourne); I Wanna Get Next To You (Rose Royce’s 1970’s chestnut); Save The Best for Last (a 1992 number one hit for Vanessa Williams); I’ll Be Around (the Spinners); I Wanna Know Your Name (the Intruders); Do That To Me One More Time (a number one hit in 1979 for The Captain and Tennille); and One in a Million (the Larry Graham staple).  Don’t Know Why is his personal favourite on the album.  "When I listened to the song and practiced it, I just felt there was another way to feel the story from a male perspective. The song is a situation that I went through. It’s just a piece of poetry," Jackson said. Asked whether any of the artistes whose songs he had covered on the album were among his musical influences, he was quick to point out Jeffrey Osbourne. "Jeffrey and I just did three shows together and I gave him copies of my album. He called me a few days later and said ‘You sound kinda good singing my song.’  It’s hard to sing the song of a living legend like Jeffrey. I was in high school when he was singing with the group LTD."  Interpreting classic hits such as those on Jackson’s album was quite a challenge for the singer.  He said that while working on the album he made sure to stick to the melodies of the original songs and to avoid taking the songs out of their context. "These songs were number one records, they were Grammy Award winning songs, icon songs, and so the only thing I had to do was to do the best job, to sing them to shed another light on them."
 Over the years he has recorded duets with the likes of Me’lisa Morgan, Natalie Cole, Melba Moore and others.  He cites Moore as his favourite collaborator. "I love each of them so differently but I have to give hats off to Miss Melba Moore. She discovered me and she helped to do the artiste development that I told you about. She invested her money into me and spent all her money to make my debut album which we shopped to the record company. I was singing background for her and one day we were on an airplane and told me to watch her, use her and take what I can from her. She also taught me stamina and how to be a strong artiste," Jackson reminisced.  The journey for Freddie Jackson has been a roller coaster ride. He describes it as been good and bad. "My journey has been up and down, side ways, in the middle, its bruises, its laughter, its tears. Bad experiences, good experiences. But that’s the nature of how it is with show business. You have to know your show and you have to learn your business. I think I have done very well with both of them. Everything I did in the past that I know better now. I call my career a long expensive dress rehearsal," he said laughingly.  Jackson was born in Harlem, New York in1956. Like so many soul stars, he was trained as a gospel singer from an early age, singing at the White Rock Baptist Church. There he met Paul Laurence, who would later become his producer and songwriting partner. After completing school, Jackson joined Laurence's group LJE (Laurence-Jones Ensemble) and played the New York club scene. During the early '80s, Jackson moved to the West Coast and sang lead with the rhythm and blues band Mystic Merlin. He signed with Capitol Records in 1984. He them moved on to RCA Records in 1994. A year later he signed with the independent label Street Life.   Asked what has stood out most for him during his career, Jackson said, "Getting my first residual cheque and moving my mother out of the ghetto. My mother and my family are my heart and soul. When I go to my mother’s house I still take out the garbage." 
 After scoring more than thirty singles on the Billboard charts, and selling more than 10 million albums, Jackson says that having a hit on the charts doesn’t matter to him these days. "I don’t feel pressured in any way to get a hit on the charts. The charts don’t matter to me. I have had eleven number one singles. It’s not like I don’t know what it is to bask in the glory. I am the second person since Dinah Washington to have the number one and number two records on the charts at the same time. I am going to continue to tour and make good music. But it would be nice to have another number one hit."  If a career in singing hadn’t worked out for Freddie Jackson, he said he would have gone into another field that he has a passion for, culinary arts. "I would have been doing something in the culinary field. I have a cook book coming out next Spring and I am working with a great chef on that project. I love to cook. My dishes are tasty, that’s why I named that song Tasty Love which was one of my number one hits."  Jackson shared a great friendship with rhythm and blues legend Luther Vandross who passed away earlier this year. Said Jackson, "Luther’s death still affects me. I miss him everyday.  We were very good buddies and very good friends, contrary to the beliefs of the rest of the public. We used to play jokes on people. There will never be another man to pick up a pen and write a love song like he did. It’s just unfortunate for one that I never got the connection with him in that way. But we connected musically and in mind, body and soul."

Looking Forward To Her Love Angel Music Baby

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

 (Dec. 29, 2005) SUNRISE, Fla.—According to the almanac, Dec. 21 was the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — but for Gwen Stefani it was a long, melancholy slog in an anonymous arena in this bland suburb of Fort Lauderdale.  On the closing night of her first solo tour, which she describes as an uneven affair, Stefani found herself short of breath by the third song and staring out at a surprisingly listless crowd. She exhorted the fans at the Bank Atlantic Center to make some noise, and the crowd of mostly daughters and mothers stirred a bit. Then she tried a different approach: "I want you to do this so loud the baby hears you!"  The crowd went wild.  Just like that, the week's worst kept celebrity secret was officially surrendered. Stefani, who has been struggling through fatigue and distraction for weeks, pushed herself through the rest of the show like a marathon runner on finish-line fumes. By the time she donned her famous majorette uniform (recently altered for her changing figure) and yelped through the "Hollaback Girl" finale, the show was as much about spirit and sentiment as sound. 
 Afterward, backstage, her husband, rock singer Gavin Rossdale, videotaped the tearful scene as Stefani said goodbye to the tour's backup dancers and musicians: "I'm so sad, but I'm so glad it's over. I'm so glad."  The tour was never supposed to happen; Stefani was famous as the lead singer of No Doubt, a pop powerhouse in the late 1990s. The Police and Madness were the music models in those early days, but last year Stefani wanted to get in touch with the urban pop hits she grew up singing to her bedroom mirror in Anaheim, Calif., in the 1980s.  The result was a solo project, "Love. Angel.Music.Baby." that she describes as a lark, a chance to work with Dr. Dre (as well as Pharrell Williams, Andre 3000, Linda Perry and others) and make videos like Madonna. The album dips into hip-hop, R&B, disco and pure pop. And that "lark" musical project has led to five Grammy nominations, including album of the year.  That dilettante approach is fitting for Stefani; she recently made her debut as a film actress (as Jean Harlow in The Aviator), and as a fashion show organizer (to promote L.A.M.B., her successful line of clothing and purses).  The plan now is to return to her London home with Rossdale, "eat pizza" and avoid interviews. In February, she plans to attend the Grammys in Los Angeles but will not perform.  No matter what she says now, there's cause to wonder whether motherhood and hip-hop beats will change the rhythm of Stefani's career for good. She points out, though, that the absence of No Doubt songs from her solo tour's set list is a reminder that the band's hits belong to the group, not to her.  "This tour is cheesy and girly and I love it," she said. "This is its own thing."

Mariah’s ‘Mimi’ Named Top Album Of 2005

 Excerpt from
 (Dec. 30, 2005) *With only three days to spare before the end of 2005, Mariah Carey has surpassed rapper 50 Cent in a race for the best-selling album of the year.    The singer’s Grammy-nominated “The Emancipation of Mimi” sold 290,000 copies during the week ending Dec. 25, sending the comeback disc to the top spot for the year 2005.    Should sales projections prove accurate through the post-Christmas rush, the album’s 37-week presence on the chart and 4.87 million units sold puts the singer in contention to be the first female solo artist to boast the year's No. 1 album since Alanis Morissette’s "Jagged Little Pill" in 1996. 50 Cent’s “The Massacre” sold 30,000 copies last week, landing him at No. 2 for 2005.  His sophomore set has been on the album charts for 43 weeks and has sold 4.83 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.     On the latest sales chart, "Mimi" stood at No. 6 for the week, while "Massacre" languished at No. 125. Both albums had opened at No. 1.    
 Meanwhile, Carey’s latest single, “Don’t Forget About Us” ranks No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for a second week. The rest of the Top 10 is as follows:   
 2. Run It – Chris Brown
 3. Grillz – Nelly feat. Paul Wall and Ali & Gip
 4. Laffy Taffy – D4L
 5. Photograph – Nickleback
 6. Stickwitu – Pussycat Dolls
 7. Check On It – Beyonce feat. Slim Thug
 8. Gold Digger – Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx
 9. There It Go! (The Whistle Song) – Juelz Santana
 10. My Humps – Black Eyed Peas

Racism In The Music Business

 Excerpt from -
Bob Davis,
Why isn't anyone talking about racism in the music business?  I've been a fan of black music since the sixties, and have always been angry at the unaware racism of many (other) white people, who only listen to music by white artists.  Here in Philly, as elsewhere, the white bands get the work, and much of their music is a pale imitation* of what originated in and still comes out of the black community.  I am particularly concerned about the affect of this form of racism on the great originators of R&B music, and those artists who continue in that tradition.
One of the most obvious examples of racism in the music business in Philadelphia in recent years involved the Adam's Mark Hotel.  The manager of the club there called Quincy's hired a black band, and got fired for doing so.  There was litigation.  The response of the hotel was to close the club. Other ways in which racism affects black musicians include:
 - Only a very small percentage of venues in the Philadelphia region  (and elsewhere) book black bands.  Both known black recording artists and lesser known artists are given less opportunity in every aspect of the music business, locally and nationally.  The chittlin' circuit, where black performers had a chance to hone their acts and gain popularity in the black community, no longer exists.  Black musicians advise other black musicians that in order to get bookings, it's necessary to have white band members.
 - Agencies that promote musicians for corporate, public and private events, as well as venues, promote only white bands or bands with some black faces; few, if any, promote all-black bands.
 - It is harder for black artists to get record deals or airplay; only a few stations play black music; in Philadelphia region, two of the three stations that play black music are owned by white corporations.
 - Few black artists are played on white stations.
 - Newer black performers who gain recognition don't have much career longevity.
 - Government & private funding of the arts is predominantly allotted to white artists.
The history of racism in the music business has been documented in the PBS series on rock and roll, and in the more recent series on jazz.  On the Tonight Show recently, Arsenio Hall said (talking about the white group 98 Degrees), " I remember when R&B groups used to be black."  The PBS series on rock and roll showed how after the "British invasion," the careers of black artists who had been "cross-over" artists, meaning popular with both blacks and whites, took a sharp downward turn.  When a black group recorded a new song, a white group would do a cover version before the original version was released.  Great artists like Ruth Brown have been cheated by record companies. Many have lived and died in obscurity after (or without) brief moments of fame.  This  includes many whose music is still loved and played, and continues to enrich our lives. The PBS series on jazz documented how this music was copied by white bands, while many of the black originators were shut out, and were shut out as performers because of their skin color.   *I do not mean to invalidate white musicians or their creativity.  Most musicians (white or black) and other artists are oppressed by the entertainment industry and the injustices of this economic system.  It is necessary to acknowledge, however, that the history of popular music since the 1950s (and earlier) has been the music industry's search for white performers who could imitate the music of black artists.
The music business has, in recent years, pushed a narrower and narrower range of music on the public.  Rap and hip-hop are marketed heavily; young people often have little exposure to any other genre.  The reality is that there is a great diversity of preferences in music; there are audiences for every form of music.  Radio and television stations restrict access to so much of our cultural heritage.  Older audiences and performers are discriminated against, because of the demographic slant toward the young, so ageism comes into play.  Critics and the public are increasingly dissatisfied with the low quality of present day popular music; meanwhile, many of the most talented musicians lack the opportunities they deserve.
The image of the young black male as a "thug" is promoted heavily in gangsta rap.  This is being done deliberately, to worsen the racist stereotype of black youth as dangerous, as the "enemy."  The result is damaging not only to those who fit the stereotype, but also to other young black people, to the entire black community, and to white youth as well, who emulate this image.  The materialism that is glorified in many music videos and rap lyrics is the antithesis of the long tradition in the African-American community of spirituality and great passion for social and economic justice.
  The tradition of R&B, or what is aptly called "soul music" is alive and well, and continues to thrive in the communities in which this music started.  Audiences and new artists are of all ages, including young people who are exposed to this genre.  Soul oldies are featured on movie soundtracks, in commercials, and piped over the sound systems in public places.  This reflects the hunger of audiences for more music of this genre. Many of the great originators of soul are still around, and are not honoured.
  Elitism has created the myth that some kinds of music are superior to others, for example, that jazz is superior to rhythm and blues.  So currently in Philadelphia, there are an increasing number of venues that hire black jazz musicians.  Some R&B musicians also have developed a jazz repertoire, because there is more work for jazz artists.  So a few find a way to survive, but that doesn't make it right that R&B artists and the art form of R&B are disregarded.
  The image of the black man that is projected in soul music is a threat to the white establishment in a different way than the image of the "thug" is. The black male R&B artist has long conveyed a terrifically strong positive energy in his presence and in his music.  His personal power and charisma reflects a combination of spirituality, intelligence and virility that is perceived as threatening, because this is obviously a force that could prevail against oppression.  So the suppression of soul music is another way of crushing the black man, black political power, and black culture.
  Racism in the music business must be challenged, and must be ended.  There is too much talent, and too little opportunity, both here in Philadelphia and elsewhere.  Black musicians need to start talking about this, and speaking out.  Shining light on this form of racism would succeed in ending it.  Musicians must take power in the music business.

Coast Rocks: Tyrese Hopes To Be Puffy

 Excerpt from
(Dec. 23, 2005) *Tyrese Gibson has so many big ideas swimming around his head that he often goes for days without sleep.  The 26-year-old, who was introduced to the world exactly 10 years ago singing on a bus in a Coca Cola commercial, has since become a bonafide R&B balladeer and credible actor with four films under his belt.        But what he has done so far pales in comparison to what he plans to accomplish in the coming years.    “I’m looking to do something that hasn’t been done on the West coast,” a beaming Tyrese tells EUR’s Lee Bailey. The two sit in the singer’s office inside of Headquarter Entertainment Studios, the name of his new multimedia company in Hollywood that houses numerous aspects of multiple industries.     “We’re doing film, television, I got a set of screenwriters here, including myself,” Tyrese says. “It’s a record label, I’m coming out with a fragrance, clothing lines, we’re in a bunch of different worlds. But we’re going after one thing at a time. We’re not trying to overwhelm the marketplace by doing too much.”   Headquarter Entertainment is currently overseeing the soundtrack album for the feature film, “Waist Deep,” due April 28 through Focus Features/Universal. Tyrese stars in the picture alongside Meagan Goode, Larenz Tate and The Game.   Of equal importance to the Watts native is keeping Headquarter Entertainment free of the stereotypical drama that's shadowed similar independent companies rooted in urban music.     “I’m looking to have a situation that’s done the right way - no drug money, no gangsta element to it,” says Tyrese. “There’s not a bunch of Crips and Bloods running around here with any of that gangsta energy. It’s all first class. I wanna cross all genres and all ages with this Headquarter Entertainment.”     His lone role model in this endeavour is none other than Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, the former Howard University promotions hustler who founded Bad Boy Entertainment in New York and built his own successful clothing line, restaurant and other business ventures.     “Puffy is not a one-dimensional guy,” explains Tyrese. “He’s in a bunch of different worlds and he jumped in one lane at a time and he conquered them all.  I’m very motivated by his class, by his execution and his detail. The West coast doesn’t have anything that’s taken seriously.  
 “I’m looking to revolutionize everything about this West coast music movement and everything else. When I do a party, it’s going to be done right. Everybody’s going to go home safely. I’m gonna pray for everybody before they leave, on the microphone.”     He’s dead serious about this.  The interview was punctuated three times with the phrase, “Now it’s very important that you mention this…”  Twice, the directive preceded details of his upcoming double album; an ambitious project for J Records that will feature his usual crooning on one disc and rap on the other, under the hip hop moniker Black Ty and the guidance of Kurrupt from the Dogg Pound.     “It’s very important that you mention this; the album is called “Alter Ego,” Tyrese says of the double disc, due next year. “I’m not gonna go MC Hammer and all of a sudden try to be the hardest cat on the block. I’m gonna play my lane. I’m from Watts. I got a story to tell. I’ve been rhymin’ longer than I’ve been singing, so the time is now to make that transition.”     With pride, Tyrese rattles off names of the artists who have made guest appearances on the project, including Snoop Dogg, Paul Wall, Chingy, Baby from Cash Money, R. Kelly, Game and Guerilla Black.     “I just did a duet with Nate Dogg on top of Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’ beat,” he adds. “That beat was done by DJ Battlecat and Jellyroll, two of the biggest West coast producers other than Dr. Dre. And they’ve never done a record together.  So that should give you a sense of the synergy and people willing to come to the table and collaborate.  The Game don’t get along with Guerilla Black, but yet they’re willing to be on the same album.”     “This is very important that you mention this,” he continues. “If what I was doing as a rapper wasn’t right, none of these guys would be willing to put their street credibility on the line to mess with an R&B cat trying to rap. It just wouldn’t happen. It doesn’t matter how much money there is, or how positive or great my movement is, they don’t want no parts of anything corny. You’re gonna be shocked when you hear the music. The world is going to be shocked when they hear the music.”

Where Have All The Crooners Gone?

Rick Scott, Great Scott P.R.oductions,
(Dec. 28, 2005)  Classy, suave and silky smooth vocalists seem to be an endangered species in popular music and there is an undeniable void since the passing of Luther Vandross.  With his third album slated for release on Valentine’s Day, soul-jazz song stylist Victor Fields emerges poised to carry the torch.  We recently sent you the Victor album, a diverse collection of soulful R&B, adult pop, chill contemporary jazz and romantic jazz standards.   No matter what style of music the Bay Area-based vocalist sings, Fields’ voice is distinct, elegant, and inviting.  He carefully selected the ten songs that comprise the new album.  Actually Fields fell in love with the songs, but if you ask him, he’ll tell you that the songs selected him.  The material creates an array of moods, beginning with upbeat and festive R&B grooves, slowing down to seduce with mid-tempo rhythms, romancing through amorous ballads, and relaxing with cool jazz chestnuts.  The songs are what is most important to Fields and he exercises the freedom to choose material from virtually any musical genre, although the common thread is love.  Two tracks – Chuck Loeb’s “This Could Be Paradise” and Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” - will be serviced to radio after the holiday season.  Other album highlights include the hopeful “Love Will Save the Day,” Diane Warren’s broken-hearted “Show Me the Way Back to Your Heart,” Vince Gill’s lonely “Colder Than Winter,” the yearning “Something Tells Me” and the triumphant album closer, “It’s Never Too Late in Life.”  Fields put fresh spins on dramatic classics by Cole Porter (“Night and Day”) and Billy Strayhorn (“Lush Life”), which are certain to please traditional jazz connoisseurs.   Victor is Fields’ second consecutive album produced by Chris Camozzi.  The production is lush yet unobtrusive, allowing Fields’ passionate tenor vocals to shine front and center, and the musicianship on the record is accomplished.  It was important to both artist and producer to keep the production sounding “live.”  Previously the duo collaborated on the critically acclaimed 52nd Street, which hit the Billboard chart and featured appearances by Chris Botti, Jeff Lorber and Gerald Albright. 
 Although Fields’ mother was a Julliard-trained musician, she urged her son to be practical about his career choice, which is why he initially shelved his dream of becoming a singer in favour of becoming a businessman.  She passed without ever pursuing her own musical aspirations and that inspired Fields to commit to his undeniable first love.  He penned personal and revealing songs for his debut album, Promise, which was produced by Grammy-winner Kashif.  Both Promise and 52nd Street have garnered favourable reviews in publications such as USA Today, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.   Above all, Fields loves being on stage singing for appreciative audiences.  Plans are being made to support the release of Victor with an East Coast concert tour in the spring.  Have you listened to the new album yet?  We ask you to please consider Fields for an interview, feature, performance or inclusion in an appropriate roundup piece and kindly consider the album for review.  Please let me know if you need anything on our end.  Thanks for your consideration.  On the web:

Kirk Whalum Presents The Babyface Songbook

 Excerpt from - By DeBorah Pryor /

 (Jan. 3, 06) While it seems a pretty smart move for an artist to cover songs that have long been established popular by the masses, it is especially sweet when a musician with the credits of a
Kirk Whalum does so. He’s recorded with the likes of Eric Clapton, Luther Vandross, Al Jerreau, Quincy Jones, and Nancy Wilson; and has produced soundtrack recordings for the films “Boyz in the Hood,” and “Grand Canyon,” and worked with Barbra Streisand on the music for “The Prince of Tides.” But his work on “I Will Always Love You” from the 1993 release, “The Bodyguard” can be credited with potentially turning his career on a pivotal axis. The song snagged him a 7-year spot on the Whitney Houston Bandwagon known as “The Bodyguard Tour” and mainstreamed him into the view of audiences he may have never reached on his own. Whalum’s latest project, Kirk Whalum presentsThe Babyface Songbook, is a collection of 12 songs originated by the incomparable Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Paying homage by devoting an entire CD to the music of an artist who is under the age of 80 and still alive deserves particular note (Not that The Whispers didn’t do the same thing in 1997 with Songbook Volume 1: The Songs of Babyface with little to no “hoopla” or acknowledgement by the man); but then again, ‘Face himself didn’t sit in on that project. But I digress. Sorry, I’m human. “When we decided to do the Babyface songbook it was a natural because I love his music, says Whalum, who was actually prodded by his friend Babyface to, “…let me sit in if there’s a spot,” when he called the producer to let him know he’d be working on the project. “I’ve had the chance to record with him and observe him over the years,” continues Whalum, who assembled an impressive company of musicians including Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Chuck Loeb and Dave Koz to work on the project. Koz also served as Co-Executive Producer with Hyman Katz and Frank Cody. That spot was “found” and Mr. Babyface himself sits in on background vocals for I Said I Love You. 
 With the help of producer Matt Pierson, who gathered the data and selected the songs, Whalum's instrumental renditions of the Babyface classics "Shoop Shoop" from the film “Waiting To Exhale,” Can We Talk brought to the Top 10 by a young Tevin Campbell; I’ll Make Love To You made popular by Boys II Men and Toni Braxton’s sexy Breathe Again serves as a strong reminder of the vast repertoire and diverse range of Babyface; whose talents as a songwriter, producer, arranger and performer has seamlessly crossed genres and contributed greatly to the “household name” status of many to today’s singers and groups. During his exploration of what project to embark upon next, Whalum, who has also garnered rave reviews for his Gospel albums, pondered, “what is it that the people would enjoy hearing right about now?” Deciding on the Babyface music he comments, “It’s a matter of taking something that the public already knows and loves and seeing if you can do something with it that will really make them smile.”  And smile you will. But exactly who is this saxophonist who dares tackle the repertoire of one of music’s most prolific and endearing talents? Kirk Whalum, who recently celebrated 25 years of marriage to his beloved Ruby, has been around the industry for quite some time. A Smooth Jazz favourite, he was born in Memphis, Tennessee; the son of a preacher man. His original _expression of interest in music was via the drums; but the “shiny” appearance of a saxophone turned his head one day in Junior High School and a new love was born. After receiving a scholarship to Texas Southern University, he pursued his love of music by playing Houston’s local club circuit, which started him on the path to musical maturity. Whalum cut his musical teeth in the city by hanging out with Acid Jazz giants Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Stitt -- predecessors to the great John Coltrane -- and credited with influencing Coltrane’s musical approach. Soon, Whalum’s warm, passionate playing style started gaining attention; his local following grew and he became “the” opening act for all the jazz shows that came into town. One of those was jazz pianist Bob James, who heard him in 1983 and invited him to travel to New York and record on his CD, Bob James 12. Later, Whalum joined James’ band and toured with them for several years. Soon the labels came a-callin’ and at Columbia Records he released five albums; most notably Cache, a 1995 record that put him on the charts by reaching #1 and resting there for five weeks.  He reunited with James again in 1996 to record Joined at the Hip and the two earned a Grammy nomination before Whalum switched to Warner Bros. Records in 1997 and released his first solo album, Colors, a deeply personal work inspired by his appreciation for cultural and musical diversity; as well as his passion for racial unity. “For You was literally an offering for the people,“ states Whalum, about the 1998 record that rendered four Top Ten hits and sat pretty on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts for 53 weeks. The album planted Whalum on the Smooth Jazz Charts and remains his best-selling album to date. Thinking back on his motivation for the record Whalum says, “I think of people driving back and forth to work and on the subway back East; and the kind of things that might help put them in a good place after a long day. For You was that kind of CD. And fortunately for me, it was also very commercially successful. It kind of put me on an alternating path.”
 A deeply spiritual man and philosophical thinker, Whalum received two Grammy nods in the year 2000 for Unconditional, where his talents as a songwriter, arranger and co-producer helped spawn a #1 hit for the song “Now ‘Til Forever,” the album’s first single. His steady work ethic has shown him releasing new music at least once a year, with The Christmas Message in 2001; the critically acclaimed Gospel According To Jazz Chapter II in 2002 and the 2003 release of Into My Soul, where he revisits the homegrown soul influences of his native Memphis and admits that the record went “even deeper into [all the other aspects] of who ‘Kirk Whalum’ is.” A passionate speaker, Whalum often makes his point via the recitation of a familiar lyric or by humming a few bars of a song. He has a happy, gracious and genuine disposition and admits he wanted to select the Babyface songs that he thought, “would work” and further, that he “could deliver.” Calling Edmonds his “hero” and close friend he reiterates, “I’ve highlighted the ‘melodies’ of Babyface’s music as opposed to his lyrics,” and places his friend in some very good company adding, “Brahms is a composer who...could push the right buttons over and over again...and people would ask him ‘how do you do that’ and he admitted...’I pray for these melodies’...I’m convinced that the same scenario exists with Babyface. There is a knack that he has for getting right to the heart of the matter.” Whalum admits, “I so wish that I could do that like Babyface,” when asked if he feels he, too, may have this “knack” and continues, “No, I am absolutely paying homage to and aspiring to, as a composer myself, the gift that Babyface has...I think we all have our particular gifts. I think if you asked him [BF] he’d probably say ‘I wish I could interpret a melody like you.’ I believe my gift probably leans towards that area. And remember, a gift is not something you earn, its something that you got for free, and God is the one who gives us these things,” he concludes. “As an interpreter of melodies I stand my ground.  I’m glad that I have what I have...but when it comes to be able to get to the point, and get there sooner and really do it in a classy way…that’s what this record is about, elevating the music of Babyface into a different kind of light…from the standpoint of sophistication, to say that this is not just a…pop songwriter, this guy deserves to have his songs done much like a Cole Porter. These are songs that have the kind of impact on people that puts him in that take the lyric out of those songs and they’re still great songs.” As if this talented artist and impressive being did not have enough on his creative plate, he has stepped up to record the jazzy, New Orleans-tinged single “When the Saints Go Marching Back In” which will go towards benefiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He has enlisted rappers Coolio and CZ to appear on the record and there is also a compilation that includes the single and features heavyweights such as James Brown. To keep up with the many moves of this talented, warm-hearted musician, or to purchase his latest project, Kirk Whalum performs…The Babyface Songbook on the Rendezvous Entertainment label, visit; you’re sure to find it one of the most personable websites around today.

From the Arcade Fire to Sam Roberts, Canadian acts embrace the violin

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

 (Jan. 3, 06) What is the quintessential Canadian rock instrument? Certainly, acoustic guitar has been a standard accoutrement for many of Canada's pop stars, from singer-songwriters such as Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to artists as varied as Bruce Cockburn, Terri Clark, Blue Rodeo or the Barenaked Ladies. But there's nothing particularly Canadian about that; Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson and countless other non-Canadians also regularly strum non-electric guitars. It's not exactly a definitive trait. No, what seems to set Canadian bands apart is their penchant for violins. They're everywhere, it seems, from such alt-rock buzz bands as the Arcade Fire, Stars and Broken Social Scene to local favourites such as Final Fantasy, Hidden Cameras and the Dears. Even Sam Roberts, who prefers the six strings of a guitar for his solo work, started out with four strings and a bow as a violinist. Canadian rock violin isn't the rollicking Celtic fiddling of the Maritimes, like what Ashley MacIsaac or Natalie MacMaster do. It isn't "sweetening" in the Top-40 sense of anonymous session players adding a layer of strings to some saccharine ballad, nor is it mock-classical gimmickry, like the amplified violins of the Electric Light Orchestra. Instead, the violins in contemporary Canadian rock tend to be fully integrated, as much a part of the sound as horns, keyboards or -- yes -- even acoustic guitar would be.
 In the songs of Arcade Fire, the Dears and Stars, they're an integral part of the composition, not only defining the musical mood but laying an essential part of the harmonic foundation. Moreover, the strings don't sound as if they've been tacked on to the arrangement to add a bit of "class," like the string quartet in the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby -- they come across as though part of the music from its inception. Historically, violin has not been much a part of the rock tradition. Bob Dylan had Scarlet Rivera along for his protest single Hurricane in 1975, John Mellencamp added Lisa Germano to his band for the album Lonesome Jubilee, and even Sly & the Family Stone threw a violin into the mix for the funk classic Loose Booty. But the instrument never took a central role and rarely defined the sound of a song, much less a rock group. By contrast, Final Fantasy -- chiefly Owen Pallett, a classically trained violinist and composer -- applies violin much as rock songwriters might use a guitar, to provide both rhythmic impetus and harmonic structure. Of course, using violin as the backbone of a rock song takes not only imagination but a certain amount of compositional skill, yet Pallett thinks this is precisely why so many rockers have moved in this direction. "The proliferation [of violinists in rock] is just the result of more people seeking out classical writing and textures," he says. He cites as examples artists as diverse as Radiohead, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur, and the alt-rock trio Blonde Redhead as examples of rock bands whose songs take a classical approach to harmony. "And now you've got Sufjan Stevens, who's on top of everyone's top-albums list, who has moved from new composition into writing pop music." Pallett, whose second album as Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds, is due out in May, was trained in composition and hoped to write opera, but moved to pop music after being discouraged by the attitudes within classical music. "They're trying to write technical pieces, not self-_expression pieces," he says. "So the choice, for me, to switch from classical music to rock was more a compositional one. "But I know that many violinists who make the switch have been deterred, quite honestly, by some pretty nasty teachers and symphony directors." He laughs. "Classical music would be much better [served], I think, if teachers would relax and start teaching people the joy of playing the instrument." Until then, though, classical music's loss will likely remain rock 'n' roll's gain.

Still Working On First Album, Locals Get ACC Gig

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Angela Pacienza, Canadian Press

 (Jan. 3, 06)
Hello Operator couldn't believe their luck when they landed the opening spot on Hilary Duff's cross-Canada tour.  The gig, which begins tomorrow in Victoria, is a great opportunity for the new wave-leaning indie band, whose members come from Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  "We're pretty excited," said front man Mike Condo of the 19-city tour. "It's such a cool audience. We really like playing for a teenage audience. They really get into it."  The tour hits the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 22.  Formed in early 2003, the Toronto-based outfit was midway through recording their first album when they got the contract to open Duff's hot-ticket Still Most Wanted tour.  "Our management called us. They said ... `Do you guys want us to pitch you?'" said Condo, who grew up in Woodbridge.  Hello Operator came to the attention of Coalition Entertainment, the management company that represents Our Lady Peace, via Condo's brother Dom, a local music producer who's worked with Joydrop and The Waking Eyes.  Last summer, Coalition arranged for the band to open two gigs for Simple Plan.  "Those shows went over very well for us. That may have helped us get (the job opening for Duff)," said Condo, who's joined in the group by Craig Mailman on bass, Evan Huson on synthesizer, Lee Campbell on drums and Justin Bunn on guitar.  Hello Operator (formerly known as Go!), is part of the 1980s craze that seems to have hijacked the airwaves of late. Members, who are in their early 20s, cite The Cars, David Bowie, The Cure and Gary Newman as major influences.
 "I'm happy because I really, really liked '80s music," says Condo.``It's the fun element. It makes people happy and want to dance and have a good time."  He's confident the band will be able to stand out amid the multitude of bands borrowing from the same synth-driven era.  "We're able to do it a little different. Not too many bands sound like the early new wave of (Elvis) Costello and The Cars," said Condo. "This is our contribution to the whole new, retro revival."  The band is trying to follow the indie formula which has worked wonders for Canuck groups like Arcade Fire and Hot Hot Heat.  "We're trying to do as much as we can on our own and stay away from the whole major game," said Condo. "We believe that if we can build it up ourselves to a certain level we'll have more power as a unit."  To that end they've posted four songs on, frequented by trendy teens and young adults.  But they also realize the tour is just a launching pad.  "It'll be important for us to come back and finish the record after the tour," said drummer Campbell, who hails from Moncton, N.B.  "Playing for so many people, it's an opportunity not a lot of people get. You got to be smart about it."

A Survivor Of The Blues: 92-Year-Old Blues Pianist Pinetop Perkins Plays On

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Brad Wheeler

 (Jan. 4, 2006) Black jack on a red queen, and
Pinetop Perkins is winning at solitaire. Bluesmen died last year, but the slight 92-year-old is bucking the odds, playing cards solo at Toronto's Sheraton downtown hotel, room 1611. The pianist, in town late last summer for a one-off gig with a pickup band, is alert and in high spirits, but admits to feeling "a little rough" on occasion. "Because," he explains, matter-of-factly. "I'm old."  Perkins walks with aid of a cane (with a little keyboard on the handle), and he doesn't mention a run-in with a freight train a couple of years back -- perhaps because others have had it much worse. Colleagues went down in 2005. Among them: James (Little Milton) Campbell, a son of a Mississippi sharecropper, born in 1934. Campbell carved out a long, notable career as a rich-voiced guitarist in the soul-blues style of Bobby Bland and B. B. King, building up a strong black Southern constituency with brassy, funky chart successes such as 1969's Grits Ain't Groceries. Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown, a narrow-bodied multi-instrumentalist nicknamed for his substantial voice, came to be in Louisiana in 1924, though he was mostly Texas-raised. A pioneering genre-blender and unrepentant pipe-smoker, Brown died of lung cancer after a long, unusual career that saw him begin as a drummer during the Second World War. He later filled in for ailing guitarist T-Bone Walker and toured with a 23-piece orchestra playing swing and jump blues. Brown, who had a hit with 1949's My Time Is Expensive, was busy to the end, last spring releasing Timeless, an album of bayou blues and lively Cajun romps.
 Closer to home, dying at age 64 was Long John Baldry, an elongated, urbane British pop and blues performer who, after mentoring youngsters Rod Stewart and Reg Dwight (later to be known as Elton John), emigrated to Canada, settling eventually in Vancouver. Pianist and songwriter Emery Williams Jr. was known as Detroit Junior, though he was based in Chicago. A brisk, humorous performer whose lyrics retained a contemporary focus, he died of heart failure on Aug. 9. He was 73. Canadian blues fans may remember George (Wild Child) Butler, a gregarious, rounded artist known for enthusiastic vocals and a swampy harmonica tone. Born in Alabama in 1936, Butler spent his last years in Windsor, Ont., before his death last spring. Fat Possum Records, an insurgent independent label based in Oxford, Miss., lost a pair of performers this year: bruising singer-guitarist Paul (Wine) Jones and R. L. Burnside, a colourful drone-blues specialist whose reputation will not shrivel with time. Attractive to rockers who fancied his no-nonsense Mississippi-hill-country style, Burnside served time on a murder conviction. His defence, although unsuccessful, was memorable: "I didn't mean to kill nobody," Burnside reportedly told the judge. "I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord." A tough year for the blues, then, yet one the genre's oldest performers pushes on. Son-of-a-preacher-man Perkins is a quick-to-grin, sweet old man, much less felonious than Burnside. But make no mistake, the one-time pianist to Muddy Waters has lived perilously. "I tell people all the time," Perkins says often, his drawl slow and gravelly. "I came up the hard way. Mmm-hmm." He did at that, scarcely even having a childhood in his hometown of Belzoni, Miss. His parents split when he was 6 or 7, with young Joe Willie Perkins staying with a tobacco-chewing mother who plied her son with cigarettes to keep his hunger at bay. (To this day, Perkins is a heroic smoker, inhaling on menthol tubes so long a novice puffer would probably fall off the end of them if they tried to use the things.) He left home at the age of 9, unable to read or write, finding work as a mule-driver at 50 cents a day. He learned to fix pianos as he developed his skill as a player of them. "I listened to other players," he says. "Picked it up by ear." Perkins entertained on guitar and piano at juke joints and plantation cockfights. Eventually he graduated from driving mules to farm vehicles. "I could make that tractor do everything but talk," Perkins recalls proudly.
 His guitar-playing days came to an abrupt end in Helena, Ark., in the mid-1940s, when a furious chorus girl stabbed Perkins in the left bicep, leaving tendons and muscles damaged to the point that he no longer has complete function of the arm. "She lit into me with that knife, man," Perkins says, shaking his head at the memory while pointing out the sinkhole in his scrawny muscle. "I used to be able to boogie around, but I need a bass man with me all the time now." Perkins refers to the boogie-woogie style of piano playing, characterized by repeating left-handed rhythmic patterns, while the right hand handles the melodies and improvisation. When he was attacked, the pianist was in Arkansas as a sideman to guitarist Robert Nighthawk, who hosted a radio program at the time. Later, Perkins would switch to rival Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time show. In 1953, he recorded Pinetop's Boogie Woogie, a song not originated by Perkins, but by Clarence (Pinetop) Smith years earlier. Perkins's most famous days came when he replaced the legendary Otis Spann in Muddy Waters's band in 1969. By that time, Perkins was based in Chicago, a city he called home for some 40 years before relocating to LaPorte, Ind. There he was blindsided twice -- once by a swindler who left Perkins with an empty bank account, and in 2004, by a train the gentle bluesman never saw coming. "The whistle wadn't blowing," Perkins recalls, with small emotion. "I didn't see it, neither." Although his car was demolished, Perkins emerged from the accident with a head injury and a severely bumped right arm, but no broken bones. He now resides in Austin, Tex., where his affairs and health are managed by a caretaker who also looks after Perkins on the road. How long, the road? "Well, if I retire, I can't make no money," Perkins reasons. "I pray to the Lord all the time, 'Please forgive me for the little stuff I've done.' I just wanna make people happy and a make a dollar or two. "It's all I know to do."

An iPod Can't Rock The House
 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By J.D. Considine

 (Jan. 4, 2006) Technology eventually makes fogeys of us all. Baby boomers, who snickered at the scratchy sound of their grandparents' 78s, saw their parents' hi-fi sets evolve into sophisticated stereo systems, complete with record changers and eight-track tape players. All of which, in turn, seemed strange and old-fashioned to their children, who grew up on CDs and cassettes and thought of LPs as something used only by rap DJs. Yet, no matter how much the technology evolved, the basic idea of a sound system endured. Everyone has something to sit in front of and listen to music on, right? Not any more. In a surprisingly short period of time, the hi-fi as we know it has been rendered obsolete, tossed into the dustbin of history. According to the U.S.-based Consumer Electronics Association, sales in 1999 for individual audio components -- CD players, tuners, etc. -- exceeded 270,000 units.  By 2003, that number had shrunk to roughly 20,000 pieces, barely enough to sustain a niche market. Where once the mark of musical sophistication was huge speakers and a stack of components, now it's an
iPod and bookmarked file-sharing sites on a PC. Just as the rise of the MP3 has cut into CD sales, so too has it taken a toll on CD players. But there's more to this story than shifting technology. Although it's true that CD players have all but disappeared from big-box electronics stores, such as Future Shop and Best Buy, CDs haven't. And while many stock their iPods with tracks downloaded on-line, quite a few load music from their CD collection. CDs aren't obsolete yet.
 So why have people stopped buying CD players? Mainly because of DVD. Not only did DVD deliver a better picture than VHS, it improved the sound quality of home theatres -- especially when connected to a surround system. Equipment manufacturers would have been happy had consumers purchased a whole new audio system for their home setups, but most chose instead to make buying new amps and speakers seem a bargain by pointing out that DVD players also played CDs, and so a home theatre could double as a hi-fi. What ultimately sealed the deal, however, was that DVD players were also cheaper than CD players -- at entry level, as much as one third the price. Although some of that price difference could be chalked up to the ultracompetitive nature of the DVD market, much of it stemmed from the fact that dedicated CD players invested a lot in a quality that consumers ultimately didn't care about: sound quality. However much the industry liked to trumpet "CD-quality sound" as the benchmark for audio fidelity, the truth is that the greatest improvement most of us noticed was a lack of noise -- the pops, clicks and occasional distortion that bedevilled LP players. It was the rare individual who, after dubbing a CD onto cassette for use in a Walkman, would notice the diminution of audio quality. So long as the songs came through clearly and crisply, who cared about fine details? From the audiophile perspective, what stereo was intended to deliver is a vivid, three-dimensional "sound stage," an aural illusion that duplicates as accurately as possible hearing the spatial relationship between musicians -- the guitarist up on the right, the bass there on the left, the saxophonist front-and-centre, and so on. Headphones used to be considered an ideal means of experiencing that aural illusion, but the rise of the Walkman effectively ended that, as portable stereos put a greater emphasis on portability than stereo imaging. Nor has the iPod improved matters, since one of the first things that gets lost when compressing a recording into an MP3 is the depth and vividness of the sound stage. And while docking units may promise to "expand and enhance" the music stored on an iPod, cramming all the speakers into a single small unit is hardly the best way to generate stereo sound.
 Audiophiles, who are perhaps the only people still buying stereo components, tend to have fetish about the sound stage, and will happily spend hundreds -- or even thousands -- to get a slightly more focused image. They also go to great lengths when setting up a stereo to find the "sweet spot" where the sound stage seems most vivid, and prefer to do all their listening from that point. For most of us, however, dedicated listening has become something of a rarefied pursuit. We hear music all the time -- in offices, in shops, in elevators, while driving, while dining, while socializing -- and its omnipresence has, ironically, cemented its place as background. Being awash in music most of the day has led to a sort of soundtrack effect, in which we want to hear music constantly but seldom stop and listen. Perhaps the most poignant example of this effect is in nightclubs and concert halls, where the number of people chatting through a performance testifies to the lack of focus accorded music. It's not that the audience no longer respects the art of music-making. They simply don't consider rapt attention to be an essential part of listening. But so what? Scholars who've studied performance practices over the centuries say the idea that music should be appreciated with quiet concentration is a relatively recent notion; audiences in Mozart's day were just as keen to chat and socialize as fans at a Green Day show. Technology may change quickly, but our attitudes to something as basic as music likely don't. If the hi-fi aesthetic has fallen out of favour, it's because it didn't fit with what most of us want from music or the way music fits into our lives. And while that may be cold comfort to the shopper who doesn't understand why it's so hard to find a simple CD player at Sears, odds are he or she will get over it. After all, nobody misses the eight-track, do they?

Pretty Ricky: Miami's Hot New Find

 Excerpt from - By Kevin Jackson

 (Jan. 4, 2006) A boy group comprising four brothers. Three rap and one sings. That's the story of
Pretty Ricky from Miami. The quartet which has been compared to the Jackson Five, has been red hot on the R&B and pop music circuit with their smash singles Grind With Me and Your Body. At a time when the music marketplace is flooded with carbon copy rappers rhyming over recycled hip-hop beats, here comes Pretty Ricky high energy and artistic ability which epitomize the phrase blood is thicker than water. Pleasure, Slick 'Em, Baby Blue, and Spectacular comprise the hip-hop ensemble known as Pretty Ricky, and they have emerged with a unique flair, coupled with the discipline and tenacity that breeds chart-topping success. On the red carpet at the recently held Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, this writer caught up with the members of this engaging and charismatic boy group. Pretty Ricky is certainly no overnight success. The quartet has been doing its thing since 1997. At an early age they learned the value of a hard work ethic. They began as pre-teen dancers for an older brother who was on the verge of his own solo career. "We wanted to be trendsetters. Everything somebody is doing, we try and go against the grain and do something else just to be different," said Baby Blue. Known for their onstage dance ability, the brothers also began to express their unique style with their attire. Dressing themselves in trendy outfits they became known as "those glitter boys," reminisced Slick 'Em. As a result, the brothers even developed their own clothing line, Marco De Bleu. The name Pretty Ricky they adopted from a character played on the television sitcom Martin, by actor Miguel Nunes.
 "We took the name from the character that Miguel played on Martin and we have been running with it ever since. Due to the fact that we dressed well, the girls were always calling us Pretty Ricky," said Baby Blue. The members of the group noted that residing in Miami, they get the opportunity of interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. "We pick up on a lot of cultures and we hang out with the Haitians, the Jamaicans and even the Spanish. Everything Irie and copasetic, you done know," group member Slick Em said. Influenced by the likes of The Jackson 5, *NSYNC, Immature, Nelly, Tupac, and The Notorious B.I.G., Immature, Usher, Keith Sweat, Stevie Wonder, and Gerald Levert, they realised that influences can only take you so far – what they needed was to find their own voice. "We are influenced by anybody who makes good music. We love all kinds of music. We don't discriminate. Good music is good music," said Baby Blue. They teamed up with producer Jim Jonsin of Unusual Suspects production team fame (responsible for Trick Daddy’s recent smash, Let’s Go), and history was in the making. In 2002, Pretty Ricky scored a radio hit on Miami's top mainstream radio station Power 96 with Flossin. The song created a buzz for the quartet and opened up doors that they once banged on. They later opened shows for some of hip-hop’s heavyweights, including Run-DMC, Lil Jon, Trick Daddy, Trina, and newcomer, fellow Miami comrade Pitbull, whom they cite as someone who has "opened doors, shown us a lot of love, and taught us a lot," said Spectacular. In late-2004, Power 96 began playing another Pretty Ricky track, Grind With Me. It instantly became the #2 most requested song on the station, and the group made history when it went on to become the most requested song in the station’s history. In December 2004, Atlantic Records Co-Chairman/COO Craig Kallman was in Miami, where he felt the huge buzz surrounding Pretty Ricky, witnessed a hysteria-generating live show, and hosted an impromptu audition in his hotel room. Kallman made them an offer on the spot.
 "Although other offers were on the table, the impression Craig gave our father was like… 'we’re going to take care of them’," recalls Baby Blue. "And they agreed on it right there," said Spectacular. Pretty Ricky’s debut album Blue Stars was released earlier this year Atlantic Records in association with the group’s own Blue Star Entertainment International imprint. The album has already gone gold and is nearing platinum status. Grind With Me peaked at number nine on Billboard's R&B Hip Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single Your Body got as far as number 22 on the R&B chart, and number twelve on the Hot 100. The group's latest single is Nothing But a Number. Asked what they have learnt from the music business so far, Slick Em said, "Just be humble, be patient and keep working hard, because its not easy. Treat everybody with the same respect.” Now that they are famous and making moves on the charts, life just hasn’t been the same for this group. Spectacular noted, "We just work harder now. We are in extra over drive and we keep on pushing for our goals."


Blige’s No. 1 ‘Breakthrough’: Mary J. Album Enters Billboard On Top

Excerpt from

(Dec. 29, 2005) *Mary J. Blige’s new album “The Breakthrough” is enjoying the view atop The Billboard 200 album chart after selling a leading 727,000 copies in the U.S. this week,  according to Nielsen SoundScan.  The Geffen set, featuring Jay-Z, Raphael Saadiq and Bono, marks Blige’s third No. 1 disc, and 11th appearance on the album chart since arriving on the music scene in the early 90s.   With sales of 598,000, Jamie Foxx’s album “Unpredictable” debuts at No. 2. The J Records disc is the “Ray” star’s follow up to his 1994 debut, “Peep This,” which  peaked at No. 78.  The Notorious B.I.G. enters the chart at No. 3 with “Duets,” a Bad Boy release featuring the late rapper with a string of guest artists, including Eminem, Jay-Z, R. Kelly and Blige.  “Duets,” which comes nearly nine years after Biggie’s death, sold 438,000 copies in its first week.        Eminem's "Curtain Call: The Hits (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope) falls 1-4 this week, while "American Idol" star Carrie Underwood's "Some Hearts" drops 2-5.   In its 37th week on the chart, Mariah Carey's "The Emancipation of Mimi" (Island Def Jam) climbs 7-6 on a 52% sales increase to 290,000 units.

Stevie Wonder To Receive UNCF Honour

Excerpt from

(Dec. 29, 2005)
*The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) announced legendary songwriter, musician and singer Stevie Wonder will receive an all-star tribute for his lifetime achievement on UNCF's annual televised fund-raiser, An Evening of Stars.  Among the artists confirmed for the tribute are Fantasia, Maroon 5, India.Arie, Toni Braxton, WGN anchor Merri Dee, actress Ruby Dee, CSI's Gary Dourdan, The Wire's Idris Elba, Vivica A. Fox, rap master Doug E. Fresh, Terrence D. Howard (Four Brothers, Crash), comedian D.L. Hughley, Regina King, Tyler Perry, Emmy nominee Jeremy Piven, entertainer and former NBA all-star John Salley, actor-director Robert Townsend, Tyler Perry and the first two recipients of the UNCF Award of Excellence, Lou Rawls and Quincy Jones.  The four-hour tribute, taped at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, will air nationwide in over 65 markets on Jan. 7.   "Stevie Wonder has been at the forefront of UNCF's efforts to raise money for deserving students through An Evening of Stars, and we are proud that he is this year's honouree," said Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF's president and CEO. "Stevie has contributed a great deal to the music industry, so this tribute is much deserved and highly anticipated."

Ashanti And Full Force Together

Source: Bowlegged Lou/Full Force

(Dec. 27, 2005) Grammy award winner Ashanti and legendary production team Full Force hooked up on Ashanti’s new album on The Inc./ Def Jam records entitled “Collectables by Ashanti” which features hot new songs & hot remixes.  Besides Full Force, Some of the other guest collabo’s on the album are with Paul Wall, Ja Rule, Free, Method Man, Nas and others. Needless to say – there was a sigh of relief from Friends and family of The Inc’s top dawgs Irv & Chris Gotti as they both were recently acquitted in a court of law of any criminal wrong doing.  Irv Gotti is the man responsible for discovering Ashanti and Ja Rule. You can sample Ashanti/Full Force collabo at (Just click on to the jukebox song list and you’ll find it)  Tune in to the year 2006 more FULL FORCE surprises to come!

Ginuwine, Jagged Edge Team To Tour

Excerpt from - Barry A. Jeckell, NY

(Dec. 29, 2005) Epic labelmates
Ginuwine and Jagged Edge will link up early in 2006 on the Ladies Night Out tour. It is unknown how long the tour will stretch. At deadline, just a handful of stops are confirmed: Feb. 9 in Atlantic City, N.J., Feb. 11 in Mashantucket, Conn., Feb. 12 in New York, Feb. 16 in Milwaukee and Feb. 17 in Merrillville, Ind.  Tickets for most are already on sale, while Atlantic City pre-sale seats will be available Jan. 3, with the public sale slated for Jan. 7. Donell Jones and Case are slated to open. Ginuwine will be out in support of his latest release, "Back II Da Basics." Released in mid-November, the set debuted at No. 3 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 12 on The Billboard 200; it has sold 176,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.  Jagged Edge will be touring behind its new self-titled disc. Originally due this month, the set has been pushed to March 28, according to the group's official Web site.

Bono Feared Activisim Might Force Him Out Of U2

Associated Press

(Jan. 2, 2006) London
Bono said he feared his commitment to campaigning against poverty would force him out of his band, U2. "They (the band) are hugely supportive spiritually and financially of the work I do but they are in a rock 'n 'roll band and the first job of a rock 'n 'roll band is not to be dull," Bono told BBC radio Saturday. "So, we have to be very careful about just letting me go too far." With fellow musician Bob Geldof, Bono was one of the leaders of this year's international Make Poverty History campaign and Live 8 concert and he frequently makes on-stage statements about global poverty during U2 concerts. "When I do my rant on making poverty history, I have got Larry Mullen, our drummer, behind me looking at his watch, timing me." "I thought we would wear our audience out but it hasn't happened," he said. "People are smart out there. They know what you are doing, they know the compromises you are making, they get it."

Rangel, Dinkins Help Keep Roof Over Boys Choir

Excerpt from

(Jan. 3, 06) *The
Boys Choir of Harlem (BCH) will not be tossed out of its practice facility on Jan. 31 thanks to a new deal reached with the New York City public-school system and the efforts of Rep. Charles Rangel and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. Facing eviction from the Choir Academy of Harlem, the public school where it has rehearsed for the past several years, Rangel met privately with New York Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott in a plea to keep the choir at the school.  Last week, the Dept. of Education asked the group to leave the facility after it failed to address financial and leadership problems over the past 12 years. In addition, the choir also failed to find a replacement for its founder, Walter Turnbull, which it had agreed to do in 2004 after an investigation found he did not act on allegations that an employee had sexually abused a student. New York Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott announced Wednesday that "although the city would allow the choir to remain as an after-school activity, it must establish its administrative offices outside the school and repair its managerial and financial structure on its own," reports CNN.  After meeting with Rangel, Walcott expressed an interest in finding a solution to the BCH issue and wanting the group to succeed. Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration claims that much of the 18,000 square feet - crucial space for the city's crowded school system - is not even being used by the choir. "We continue to value our relationship with the Harlem Boys Choir, but the use of that space is desperately needed for the Harlem community," Walcott said. According to Newsday, Dinkins is weighing the idea of stepping in as chairman of the BCH, and that the city should restore its faith in the group.

Singer’s ‘Oprah’ Debut Opens U.S. Doors

Excerpt from

(Jan. 3, 06) *Singer
Heather Small is the latest in a long line of artist to experience the power of Oprah Winfrey and the reach of her daily talk show.  After Small released her album “Proud” five years ago in the UK through Arista, the set languished in record stores until she performed the title track on Winfrey’s stage. The exposure, Small says, has led to a boost in sales and increased interest from U.S. record labels to sign the 40-year-old vocalist.  "It has been an experience," Small told Billboard. "And I must give thanks to one of the show's producers.” According to Small, a "Winfrey" producer heard "Proud" in a workout class and "thought the song might work for an upcoming theme on the show," Small said. The producer played it for Winfrey, and things took off from there.” Small was on vacation in Bali in October when she heard of Winfrey's interest. "My manager sent me an e-mail that said, 'You'll never guess who I heard from,"' Small said. "When Oprah calls, you go." After performing the song on the show, Winfrey told viewers what the tune meant to her and that it was available for download at iTunes for 99 cents. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the song went from about 200 digital downloads during the week before Small's appearance, to about 3,300 in the days after. The song’s number of downloads on iTunes now totals 12,000. It is also the theme song for NBC’s popular reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” Small’s managers subsequently received numerous inquiries about the artist from U.S. record labels, which will get a chance to see her perform in a February showcase in New York.   Small, meanwhile, is floored by what she calls "the power of Oprah," stating, "you don't fully comprehend until you experience it."


Will Smith’s ‘Hitch’ Is Blockbuster’s ‘Most Rented’

 Excerpt from

 (Dec. 30, 2005) *"Critics may get the first word on movies, but the final reviews ultimately come from the people,” begins a statement from movie rental chain Blockbuster.   According to “the people,” Will Smith’s film “
Hitch” was a must-see this year, as the DVD topped the list of most popular Blockbuster movie rentals in 2005.   The Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher comedy “Guess Who” placed fourth on the list, while the critically-acclaimed “Crash” ranked sixth.   Also making the top 25 were “Million Dollar Baby” (11), “The Pacifier” (15) and “Ray” (24).     Here is the full list:
 1. "Hitch"
 2. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"
 3. "National Treasure"
 4. "Guess Who"
 5. "Meet The Fockers"
 6. "Crash"
 7. "War of the Worlds"
 8. "Ocean's Twelve"
 9. "The Forgotten"
 10. "The Notebook"
 11. "Million Dollar Baby"
 12. "Hostage"
 13. "Monster-in-Law"
 14. "The Longest Yard"
 15. "The Pacifier"
 16. "Spanglish"
 17. "Troy"
 18. "Ladder 49"
 19. "The 40 Year-Old Virgin"
 20. "Cellular"
 21. "The Aviator"
 22. "Sahara"
 23. "Hide and Seek"
 24. "Ray"
 25. "Be Cool"

2006: THE YEAR OF ... ?

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Rebecca Caldwell

 (Dec. 30, 2005) So 2005 will be remembered as the Year of Will Ferrell, whose five movies manoeuvred his manic performance style into the mainstream. And 2004 was the Year of Jude Law, whose starring roles in five films earned him some Oscar-night ribbing from Chris Rock in February (as well as a humourless defence from fellow thespian Sean Penn). But whose image does the celluloid crystal ball project for 2006? It should be a very good year for Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds. The soon-to-be Mr. Alanis Morissette springboards off his three releases of 2005 (The Amityville Horror, low-budget comedy Waiting and commercial pap Just Friends) into a busy 2006 with five films on the go. He's currently filming Smokin' Aces, where he plays an FBI agent tracking down a comedian-turned-mobster-stoolpigeon on the lam. Hot on Reynolds's heels, though, is Vince Vaughn, Hollywood's busiest sidekick, who, after four movies in 2005 (such as Wedding Crashers, starring Owen Wilson -- and an uncredited Will Ferrell in a cameo) has four more on his schedule, including The Break Up, opposite Jennifer Aniston. As for female actors, Sarah Michelle Gellar has five films on her plate, including an untitled romantic comedy with Alec Baldwin, which may at last redefine her career post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (She's made only two movies since the TV series ended in 2003: the Scooby Doo sequel and horror flick The Grudge). Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow, who has appeared in only five films in the past four years, including 2005's Proof, has six movies on her slate in 2006. Paltrow plays singer Peggy Lee in (another) Truman Capote biopic, Infamous; stars in the adaptation of Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors; and embodies Marlene Dietrich in an as-yet-untitled film.
 Occasionally, the star-of-the year spotlight can be a little harsh, or even blinding. It's unlikely, for instance, that Ferrell will pick up an award for any of his films this year, unless Teen Choice creates a category for best screaming modulation in a comedic performance. And after losing the best-actor Oscar to
Sean Penn in 2004, Law is now best known for another kind of overexposure: getting caught cheating on his girlfriend, actress Sienna Miller, with his children's nanny.  But star-going-supernova is a formula that has worked for Paltrow in the past. Her previous stint as a Year-of contender -- 1998, when Paltrow appeared in five films -- proved winning indeed: She may have starred in forgettable thrillers Hush and A Perfect Murder, but she also picked up indie cred in Sliding Doors, and, more importantly, a best-actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. And with Paltrow's recent Golden Globe nomination for Proof, 2006 may well be remembered as the dawning of Gwyneth's second golden age.

The Year In Review: Don We Now Our ...

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Rick Groen

Gay apparel

Three actors -- Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Marc-Andre Grondin in C.R.A.Z.Y., Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote -- deliver exemplary performances as gay men in a state of crisis. Interestingly, and encouragingly, the best of the three, Hoffman's, comes in a film where the character's homosexuality is not the central theme of the story, but just an accepted fact of everyday life.

Gaudy apparel

In Transamerica, Felicity Huffman raids the closet of her aged, bottle-blonde mother and comes out with an outrageously tacky evening gown that -- as a woman playing a man working hard to be a woman -- she wears with just the right touch of maladroit bravado.

Disney apparel

The good folks at the Disney factory hire Lindsay Lohan, party girl extraordinaire and so provocatively displayed in Mean Girls, to appear in their latest assembly-line opus, Herbie: Fully Loaded. They then dress their star down in loose attire clearly designed to protect innocent eyes from her principal assets. Yes, Herbie comes fully loaded, Lindsay does not. And I thought Uncle Walt was in the business of fun for the whole family.

No apparel

In Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, and in Clement Virgo's Lie With Me, nudity abounds and, amid the protruding appendages, the question arises: Getting it up in the good name of realism, should movie actors go beyond the simulation of sex to its actual performance? Answer: Not unless the movies are a whole lot better than these two.

No screenings

To fend off opening-day reviews, the studios, in the case of certain (even worse than usual) movies, are now denying critics the customary privilege of advance screenings. How quaint of them to think we still have any dissuasive power.

Too many screenings

In stubborn pursuit of gold and glory, director Ron Howard releases Cinderella Man twice in the past year. It doesn't improve with age and, each time, the clock strikes midnight on his sentimental little yarn.


2005: The Year The Blockbuster Busted

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Geoff Pevere, Movie Critic
 (Dec. 30, 2005) When the big ape goes bananas at the climax of Peter Jackson's super sized remake of King Kong, he gives the movie industry circa 2005 its best metaphor. Think about it. In the same way the moody behemoth lunges free of his chains and sends patrons fleeing from the theatre where they've paid top Great Depression dollars to see "The Eighth Wonder of the World," so have audiences been charging from the multiplex in the era of the bludgeoning blockbuster.  It was the year of the slump. Or was it? Sure, box office numbers were down for overall theatrical attendance, but DVD sales and rentals continued to scale the Empire State Building of retail glory. (And major studio movies, which are growing increasingly longer, more special effects-driven, and butt-numbingly slack in narrative structure, are devolving accordingly.) People were flocking from the multiplex, but when they got home most of them were watching blockbusters anyway. And that may be the most significant thing one say about the movie-going experience nowadays: more than ever, movies are just trailers for DVDs.  These were movies I especially enjoyed this past year. They are listed alphabetically.
Brokeback Mountain: Ang Lee, with the considerable help of co-screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, adapts Annie Proulx's brittle short story of two Wyoming sheep herders in love (played admirably in the movie by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), and in the process comes up with a movie of classically romantic proportions. While much of the inevitable media flap focuses on the "boldness" of the mano-a-mano love story, Brokeback Mountain's real power derives from the bone-simple honesty of the telling. A heartbreaking all-American love story about love that's not allowed.
Capote: As Truman Capote, the startling Philip Seymour Hoffman embodies the idea of writing as neurosis: desperate for fame and recognition, yet paralyzed by the possibility that he's a fraud, Hoffman's Capote becomes something close to a killer while writing his true-crime classic In Cold Blood: he'll sacrifice anything and anybody on the gallows of his own ambition. With his first movie, Bennett Miller demonstrates an extraordinary understanding of how the carefully delineated incident can reveal an entire life. By focusing exclusively on the writing of In Cold Blood, Miller's movie, adeptly scripted by Dan Futterman, casts harsh illumination on Capote, writing, celebrity and other matters of cold-blooded concern.
Grizzly Man: In the hours of videotape left behind by the "amateur" grizzly bear observer Timothy Treadwell (who was mauled on the job in 2003), the veteran German filmmaker Werner Herzog finds his most potently unhinged subject since the death of actor Klaus (Fitzcarraldo) Kinski — whom Treadwell, it must be noted, rather unnervingly resembles. Intoning over self-recorded images of the fearlessly deluded Treadwell making like a talk-show host in the Alaskan wilderness — with live grizzlies as his guests — Herzog soberly draws a portrait of a mad and fatal retreat into nature.
A History of Violence: David Cronenberg's most assuredly unsettling movie since Crash is about a man (Viggo Mortensen, looking dangerously like Jack Palance) who can't escape his own bloody footprints: just when he thinks he's settled a comfortable distance from the sins of his past, they catch up and splatter the present. Subdued, rigorously understated and churning with treacherous undercurrents, it's a movie that exudes a grandmaster's confidence in the game.
Holy Girl: In a slightly seedy hotel in provincial Argentina, a group of doctors gather for a medical convention and an opportunity to get debauched for a few days. At the same time, the pubescent daughter of the hotel's live-in proprietress, who is suspended somewhere between spiritual and sexual calling, sees a chance at bringing redemption to one of these badly behaving doctors. Utterly original and idiosyncratic, Lucrecia Martel's second movie is sometimes inscrutably elliptical. But its tone of seeping eroticism blended with Catholic repression makes for a darkly tasty experience.
Look at Me: A superbly deft ensemble comedy about ego, ambition and upper-middle-class myopia, Agnes Jouai's movie focuses on the variously parasitic people drawn into the orbit of a grotesquely insensitive middle-aged writer and his chronically neglected teenage daughter. Exhibiting a precision of incident and character that's all but disappeared from mainstream movies these days — only The Squid and the Whale comes close — Look at Me respects the sticky complexity of its characters while sparing none of them. And there's something deeply reassuring about a movie that suggests everyone's guilty.
Los Angeles Plays Itself: Cal Arts film professor Thom Andersen has grown up in Los Angeles (don't call it L.A., at least not to him), and he's made a movie about the contradictions between the city he lives in and the one he and the rest of us have grown up watching in movies. Part movie history, part semiotic essay, part hard-boiled diatribe and part lament for a place lost both to time and popular myth, Los Angeles Plays Itself uses nearly three hours worth of often brilliantly juxtaposed movie clips to point out the chasm that yawns between what is shown and what is.
Nobody Knows: Based on an actual incident, Kore-eda Hirokazu's extraordinary movie tells the story of a group of kids who lived for months in a Tokyo apartment after being abandoned by their mother, their plight entirely unnoticed by the city around them. It's easily imaginable as the stuff of outrage or sensation, but Kore-eda takes an altogether more provocative and disturbing tack: he tells the story from the kids' point of view, and in doing so makes a movie about the heartbreaking resilience of children left — as so many are — to their own devices. Unfolding with the sometimes dreamy pace of a child's distracted attention, Nobody Knows is altogether more chilling for being so calm.
The Squid and the Whale: Writer-director Noah Baumbach has taken the autobiographical stew of his own parents' mid-'80s divorce and turned it into one of the most perceptive and gruesomely funny American movies about family relations to appear in years. After being subjected to the peculiar horrors of joint custody, the two Brooklyn-based Berkman boys (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) find themselves lost between more than brownstones: their affinities are painfully and deliberately split between their parents, a situation which is especially exacerbated by their bitterly petty failed-novelist dad (a powerfully good Jeff Daniels). A movie with a high cringe factor, but only because it's aim is so true.
The World: On the outskirts of Beijing, a group of young people work at a theme park (a real one) called The World. Consisting of ersatz miniature replicas of international tourist landmarks (including the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge and even the World Trade Center), the park provides both a smashing visual metaphor for global consumer culture and a resonant dramatic backdrop for this mysterious tale of cultural drift. Chinese director Jia Zhangke's subject is the emergence of a generation of Chinese people who inhabit an existential limbo somewhere between the old and new Chinas. They carry cell phones, talk pop culture and send text messages, but they communicate in the void between a buried past and an unforeseeable future.
Honourable Mentions: Dig!, Good Night and Good Luck, Jarhead, Last Days, Ong-bak: The Thai Warrior, Sarabande, Sin City, Tarnation, 2046, War of the Worlds, C.R.A.Z.Y. and Mondovino.

New iPod May Be The End For Theatres

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Peter Howell

 (Dec. 30, 2005) Amidst the hoopla of Top 10 list-making and Oscar forecasting, something far more important about the movies in 2005 has been overlooked, it seems to me.  We may look back on this year as the beginning of the end of movie-going as we know it.  I'm referring to the magnificent ritual of the past century, whereby film lovers congregate in dark public auditoriums to gaze upon a silver screen reflecting wondrous images. I see this rite changing dramatically, and it saddens me.  This might sound alarmist, and I wish it were simply that. But technological and cultural innovations of the past 12 months have pointed the way to a revolutionary future for the movies, one that few could have envisioned until recently. Watching a film is fast becoming a hermit's pursuit.  For starters, there's the video-screen
iPod, introduced this fall, which at the moment is being treated as a modest brand extension of Apple's portable jukebox gadget.  Right now, early buyers are using it as a miniature VCR, for watching music videos and certain TV dramas downloaded from the Internet.  Few think of it as a device for viewing movies, because the screen is tiny and the battery power doesn't last much beyond 90 minutes.  But if Apple holds true to form — and to Internet rumour — it will introduce a video iPod this coming year with a larger screen and longer battery life, making it much more feasible for owners to watch a feature-length film whenever and wherever they feel like it.  And watch how that will create a whole new culture of movie consumption, just as the audio iPod has changed music appreciation.  Back in Christmas 2001, when I became literally the first kid on my block to get an iPod (I thought they were cool, and still do), people used to ask me two things: (a) What's an iPod? and (b) Why would you want to carry 1,000 songs around with you?  Now it seems everybody has an iPod, each capable of carrying 10,000 or 20,000 or more tunes. The same transformation will happen, and fast, when the video iPod catches on. I predict that before 2006 is out, you'll be seeing people watching movies on iPods in cars, trains, restaurants and bars — just about anywhere but in a movie theatre. You'll also be reading warnings from public officials about the dangers of walking around city streets while staring at a tiny screen.  Traditionalists who demand a larger screen may well opt to stay in their basements, viewing a DVD on a new high-definition TV, because the cost of turning your abode into a bijou is rapidly dropping. How many times have you heard people say in the past year that they'd prefer to stay home and watch a movie on DVD, because the quality is so good, the price is right and they don't have to put up with the cost, the noise, the ads and the rude patrons found in cinemas?
 DVDs are so popular, and currently so profitable, they're threatening to overtake theatrical releases as the primary method Hollywood studios use to roll out a movie. There are already worrisome signs that the studios have forsaken tradition in favour of the fast buck.  The typical gap between a film's theatrical and DVD release shrank by about 15 days in the past 12 months, making it even more obvious that you now don't have to wait for long to see a popular movie on your home screen.  The trend is accelerating. Studio chiefs are giving serious consideration to simultaneously releasing their movies in theatres and on DVD, the latter being aimed at the growing numbers of people who have stopped going to the cinema altogether. There's even been a suggestion that the DVDs of current movies should be sold at theatre candy counters, for people to buy on the way home to show family and friends who can't be bothered coming out.  The thinking is diehards will continue to go to theatres, and the rest will buy even more DVDs.  This is very flawed logic, as history has shown. The introduction of television in the 1940s and 1950s cut deeply into the movie habit for many people, who went from seeing one or two movies per week to one or two per month. The decline accelerated with the arrival of home videos in the 1980s and the DVD in the 1990s, although rising ticket prices helped mask the box office erosion.  Current trends in alternative moving viewing, which are likely to impact faster than ever, could deliver the coup de grâce to the movie tradition that has been so much a part of our culture. What incentives will exhibitors have to keep theatres open, if the studios and computer companies are aggressively encouraging people to watch movies at home or on iPods?  The century-old habit of going out to the movies could become a cult pursuit indulged in by the nostalgic, much like the people who gather for antique car shows. And the films that do get shown in public theatres will either be blockbusters like King Kong or sentimental reissues of Casablanca and other classic fare. Independent and foreign films will be virtually shut out. The vast middle ground of popular entertainment will have been ceded to the single end-user, huddled in a basement or coffee shop.  This may seem like an overstatement, but stick around. Next month at the Sundance Film Festival there will be two panel discussions about the future of movies. One is titled, "Stay-at-Home Movies: The Home Theatre Experience and the Future of Exhibition." The other has the ominous handle, "Going, Going, Gone? The Culture of Movie-going."  In previous years at Sundance, panels have talked excitedly about making and marketing independent films. Now there's a real concern that there may soon be no more theatres or movie audiences to make films for, at least the kind of theatres and audiences we all grew up with.  And what we'd all be losing is that incredible feeling of sharing an experience like none other — the collective gasp heard from an audience when a secret is revealed or a plot turned, like the shark's arrival in Jaws, the horse's head in The Godfather or the twist ending in The Sixth Sense. People go into theatres as strangers, but when they come out, they've experienced something together that has bound them, if only briefly.  Who has not seen tears stream from a fellow moviegoer, or heard laughter bounce off the walls of a theatre?  And how will it feel when we are crying and laughing all by ourselves?

Kevin Zegers Is A Good Actor, Grounded And Easy On The Eyes

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Rita Zekas

 (Jan. 1, 2006) In the not too distant past, everybody was getting jiggy.  Now, as we are drop kicking another year to the recycle bins, I predict that everybody will be keen on getting Ziggy.  Ziggy, not as in Marley. Ziggy as in the nickname for
Kevin Zegers, my prediction for the hot breakout actor of 2006.  Last year, I predicted Rachel McAdams would be the It Girl for 2005. Eat your heart out, Wiarton Willie. Last year, McAdams was incandescent in The Notebook. This year, she was the icing on the wedding cake in Wedding Crashers and is giving Sarah Jessica Parker grief in The Family Stone. She's even being touted as the new Julia Roberts.  Right now, anyone who has seen Transamerica can't stop raving about Zegers, 21, who hails from Woodstock via Ingersoll.  The camera loves Zegers. He's a hottie. You can't take your eyes off him and not just because he looks eerily like a young Johnny Depp. He also has major acting chops.  In Transamerica, he plays Toby, a troubled street hustler who goes on a road trip with Felicity Huffman's character Bree, a man waiting for the final snip of his sex-change operation. Toby thinks Bree is just this weird reject from the black lagoon with a do-gooder complex who bailed him out of jail. He doesn't know Bree is his father.  The film is generating great buzz and Zegers is getting attention from the right people.  "People I never dreamed of meeting," he says from Woodstock, where he is spending the holidays with his family.  "Harvey Weinstein sat down with me and Spielberg's company is taking meetings with me. I'm being considered seriously for Ryan Gosling jobs."  Zegers remains refreshingly unspoiled by it all. He even blew off the Elton John/David Furnish nuptials because his sister Katie, also an actor, was pregnant and it was approximating her due date.  (He has two sisters, Krista and Katie, who already has identical twin girls just over a year old.)  "I hadn't seen my family for a long time," he says. "I love being Uncle Kevin. I can't stand the thought of not being with them."
 Besides, he'd already spent two weeks with John and Furnish in their digs while shooting the London leg of It's a Boy Girl Thing, a U.K./Canadian collaboration produced by Furnish and shot principally in Toronto.  "I stayed at their house in London for a couple of weeks," Zegers says. "I would consider them good friends; they are two of the nicest men I've ever met and really private about their personal life. We hung out, but I was mostly working. (He is the male lead.) We had dinner every night at their house, which is called Windsor Castle."  Boy Girl Thing marked Furnish's debut as a film producer.  "It's a romantic comedy about switched identities but is much less silly than the usual ones," Zegers says. "It's about two kids who grew up together really hating each other and always messing with each other. They wake up in each other's bodies when they are 18 or 19 years old. It is a body-switch movie but more of a romantic comedy than the high school ones: it's When Harry Met Sally for kids.  "David is from here and proud of it. He used to be on set every day; he is a really good people person. If I had a problem, I'd go to David. As an actor, you feel out who you can talk to. He wasn't just sitting with the suits on-set, he dealt with all the `personalities' and he became a friend."
 Though Zegers had worked in four Air Buds, MVP: The Most Valuable Primate and co-starred with Katie Boland in the coming-of-age film Some Things That Stay AND he had never done a straight comedy before.  "It was a little weird at first; it was about not wanting to make an ass of myself. But you close your eyes and forget that you look like an idiot to 80 people on the set. You go full bore."  Zegers has lived in Los Angeles for the past four years. He started acting at age 6.  "I grew up in Ingersoll and moved to Woodstock," he says. "I never lived in Toronto AND my mom drove me back and forth. I just remember always doing it (acting).  "There was never a moment of `Omigawd, I want to do it.' I had this knack. I did stuff in London (Ont.), graduated to working Toronto AND it was an hour-and-a-half drive each way."  In addition to his siblings, nieces and parents, Zegers is at the family homestead with his lady, Marisa Coughlan from Boston Legal, and her mom.  "A friend of ours set us up," he says. "We've been together a year and a few months."  Zegers plays hockey in L.A. in Jerry Bruckheimer's celeb league made up mostly of Canadian actors and Denis Leary. He loves a cold beer and has two dogs named Walter and Willis. And a shoe thing: he told Teen Vogue mag, "I have 15 pairs of jeans and 30 pairs of shoes. I'm a total metrosexual."  He admires designer Tom Ford's style and narrowly missed working with him. Ford is guest editor of the "Young Hollywood" edition of Vanity Fair, the one in which Rachel McAdams famously refused to pose nude, then relented. Hey, it's Vanity Fair.  Zegers was almost in that issue. He recently had a meeting with Katie Smith, Vanity Fair 's L.A. editor. "They had already shot the issue," he says.  Zegers may not have had the opportunity to show any skin in Vanity Fair this year, but there is plenty of Zegers dermis in Transamerica. He insists there was no "Whoa, dude!" moment when he read the script.  "It is all necessary," he says. "Nothing in it is gratuitous. I thought it was all necessary to tell the story. I knew this movie was going to do well when I read the script and I don't know anybody in town who didn't want to do it."
 So how did he win the brass ring? "I stalked the director," he says. "I wasn't a shoo-in; they saw everybody between 15 and 25. I'm sure some big names went for it. Friends of mine and sought-after actors did. It is 95 per cent luck. You just hope you don't screw it up."  He shot the film two years ago. It was screened at the film festival circuit, including the Toronto International Film Festival and Tribeca.  "Sundance passed on it," Zegers says. "It was screened at the Elgin in Toronto and my whole family saw it. They loved it.  "Toby is a screwed-up kid and I think audiences respond to that. Toby and Bree have commonality with the rest of the world: everyone feels like a freak at some time and I was using the crap I feel about myself. They are socially uncomfortable and it makes them stand out like sore thumbs. Toby feels weird in his own skin."  Hard to believe Zegers ever felt socially inept.  "I was 19, living in L.A. by myself," he says. "I was as lonely and depressed as any young person in the midst of feeling out what works and what doesn't. It was an idea I could relate to. Toby used his physicality and sexuality and everyone is guilty of that. He was hustling on the streets of New York AND which was not something I do. He makes a pass at Felicity's character but not because he lusts after her. It is the only way he knows how to show affection. It's like a first hug."  He has nothing but great things to say about Huffman.  "She works really, really, really hard. Not to say that I'm lazy but I used to do enough to get by. I'd do that at school. My mom said, `You need 80 per cent to get an A.' I'd never max out my potential. Felicity did everything in her power for two and a half months to go full bore. We had this discussion that if either one of us is off in this film, it won't work. `We need this to work or you and I won't be good.' We were on the same page."  And in the same car for 2Ê1/2 months.  "In a car without air conditioning driving through Arizona," he says. "If I look really sweaty, it's because I was pouring sweat. I lost a lot of weight for that movie. I am a well-fed Canadian boy; Toby was on the street doing heroin and frail. I'm 21. I had a fairly developed body: I've worked out since I was 16. I ran and did cardio."
 Changing his body should not be troubling to an actor like Zegers, who aims to emulate that most talented of chameleon/pinup boys, Johnny Depp.  "We're going to do the whole award season AND we have two Golden Globe nominations and I'm going," he says. "Yes! Hopefully I'll get to meet people like that. Not that I'm starstruck AND everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. It's more like sit down and have a chat."  He mentions meeting Wayne Gretzky at a golf club. "You can talk to him. He said, `It's cool that you are doing well.' I said, `It's cool that you are Wayne Gretzky.'"  Paul Nicholls, his L.A. agent, says Zegers appeals to both men and women. "That's what people saw in Tom Cruise in Risky Business and Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise."  So with talk like that starting to circulate, how does Zegers avoid swollen-head syndrome?  "Kevin did a press junket and the journalists asked him the same thing: `You're so grounded.' Know what he said? `Every time I do great, my manager reminds me I suck just as often.'"  Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt should remember that, too.

Quebec's Up: Anglo Canada? Never Mind

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Kate Taylor

 (Dec. 30, 2005) It's official: Canadian film's minuscule share of the domestic box office fell in 2005 -- in English Canada, at least.  Once again, it was a lopsided story, with Quebec's hearty film industry reporting another banner year while English Canada struggled to hold onto its smaller gains.  French-language Canadian films earned a whopping 26 per cent of Quebec box office, an increase from 21 per cent in 2004 and one that was driven by a whole series of popular French-language movies, including the coming-of-age story C.R.A.Z.Y. and the sentimental historical picture Aurore. On the other hand, in English Canada, the share of the domestic box office fell to 1.2 per cent, from 1.6 per cent in 2004.  The optimists at Telefilm, the federal funding agency that has been shooting for a combined target of 5 per cent (and reaching it because of Quebec's recent successes), point out that 2005 still represents the second highest market share of the past five years in English Canada, and that box office grosses have multiplied many times over during that period. Indeed, the market share used to be a mere fraction of a per cent -- 0.2 per cent in 2001, to be precise.
 More pessimistic observers, however, note that Hollywood's box office was down in 2005, reducing the number of admissions Canadian films have to sell to hit these percentages. And none of the most profitable "Canadian" films this year -- Deepa Mehta's Water, Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies and the horror movie White Noise, a co-production with the United States and Britain -- was even set in Canada. With the gap between Quebec and English Canada growing yet wider, no wonder that this was also the year where both Telefilm and its political masters increasingly agreed that the English and Quebec targets should be separated. Telefilm executive director Wayne Clarkson suggests that 2.5 to 3 per cent is a realistic goal for English Canada and predicts it can be achieved in three years. To build those numbers in 2006, he looks forward to the continuing success of Water, as well as the movie versions of the Trailer Park Boys television show and the Anne Michaels novel Fugitive Pieces.  As for a Quebec target, the sky's the limit. To be fair, the size difference in the two markets should be noted: English Canadian films have to sell $7-million worth of tickets to gain a percentage point in their market; in Quebec, French-language Canadian films can do that with a mere $1.5-million in sales.

Comedies, Docs To Be Saved From 'Vinegar Syndrome'

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Carl Hartman, Associated Press

 (Dec. 28, 2005) WASHINGTON -- The documentary Hoop Dreams and footage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are among the 25 movies picked this year for the U.S. National Film Registry, a compilation of significant films being preserved by the Library of Congress. Fiction films chosen by Librarian of Congress James Billington range from Buster Keaton's last comedy, The Cameraman, to the Christmas classic
Miracle on 34th Street to the 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The 2005 selections bring to 425 the total number of films being preserved by the Library of Congress or other institutions involved in the project. "Sadly, our enthusiasm for watching films has proved far greater than our commitment to preserving them," Billington said. Half the movies made before 1950 -- and 80 to 90 per cent of those produced before 1920 -- have disappeared, he said. He added that more are lost each year, partly because of the recently discovered "vinegar syndrome" that attacks the safety film used to preserve many films.
 The oldest film selected this year is a documentary from 1906 of the San Francisco earthquake and the fire that followed. The disaster, which destroyed much of the city, was one of the first recorded on film.
Hoop Dreams, from 1994, follows the lives of two inner-city Chicago kids vying for college basketball scholarships, illustrating the limited opportunities for lower-class black families in America. Another selection is a set of field recordings of music and services at the Commandment Keeper Church in Beaufort, S.C., in 1940. A team working under novelist Zora Neale Hurston recorded the songs and services of South Carolina's Gullah community. Recently rediscovered sound recordings are being reunited with the film. Popular successes on the list include The French Connection, in which Gene Hackman plays a cop tracking down international drug smugglers. The three-hour dramatization of Edna Ferber's novel Giant portrays life on the great Texas plains and stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. "The films we choose are not necessarily the 'best' American films ever made or the most famous, but they are films that continue to have cultural, historical or aesthetic significance," Billington said.


Searching For Funding, Filmmaker Hits On A Solution: His Old Pals At Google

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Associated Press

Jan. 1, 2006) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are making their first foray into the movie business, helping to finance a friend's independent film.  The Internet moguls are the executive producers of Broken Arrows, the story of a man who loses his wife in a terrorist attack and takes a job as a hit man.  The film is written and directed by Reid Gershbein, a computer graphics designer at DreamWorks Animation who became friends with the Google founders in the 1990s when they were doctoral students in computer science at Stanford University.  "I can't say how lucky I am," Gershbein said Thursday. "They were extremely generous."  Production costs are just under $1 million (U.S.), Gershbein said. Brin and Page funded about half the film, barely a dent in their personal fortunes, estimated at $16 billion (U.S.) each.  Brin and Page aren't the first Internet billionaires to try bankrolling films. Former eBay Inc. president Jeffrey Skoll was executive producer of recent films such as Syriana, North Country and Good Night, and Good Luck.

African-American Critics Choose Crash As Top Film

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Jan. 2, 2006) New York --
Crash, the Los Angeles ensemble drama about the prejudices of intersecting characters, has been selected as the top film of the year by the African-American Film Critics Association. Besides Crash, the association chose nine other movies as the top films of the year: The Constant Gardener; Good Night, and Good Luck; Brokeback Mountain; Syriana; Walk the Line; Hustle & Flow; Capote; Batman Begins; and North Country. "The films selected for 2005 boldly reflect a bridge towards tolerance," association president Gil Robertson IV said in a statement this week. The association chose Terrence Howard as best actor for his performance in Hustle & Flow. Felicity Huffman earned the best-actress recognition for her gender-bending role in Transamerica. "Although our organization pays special attention to work by artists of African descent, in the end, merit carries the day and Ms. Huffman is undeniably amazing in this role," Robertson said. AP

Black Reel Awards Announces Nominees

Excerpt from

(Jan. 4, 2006) *The Foundation for the Advancement of African-Americans in Film (FAAAF) has nominated
Terrence Howard for three Black Reel Awards, while three of his films lead the pack in overall nominations.   Howard received nods for Best Actor (“Hustle & Flow”), Best Supporting Actor (“Crash”) and Best Supporting Actor, TV (“Lackawanna Blues”). Meanwhile, “Hustle & Flow” and “Crash” have a leading six nominations in the film category, and the Halle Berry-produced “Lackawanna” dances above the television crowd with nine nods.   Bow Wow’s “Roll Bounce” skates into second place in the film category with five nominations. As for the rest of the TV nods, ABC’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” starring Berry, has seven nominations, followed by five-time nominees “Sometimes in April” (HBO) and “Miracle Boys” (Noggin).    Other multiple nods went to Idris Elba (“The Gospel” and “Sometimes in April”), Rosario Dawson (“Rent” and “Sin City”) and Tyler Perry (“Diary of a Mad Black Woman”).   The winners will be announced at the Black Reel Awards Gala on Feb. 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The awards ceremony will be part of the 2006 BRA Gala Weekend, to be held Feb. 15-18 at various locations throughout D.C.   Nominees and winners for the 7th Annual Black Reel Awards were selected by a panel of national television, radio, print and Internet film critics. The nomination criteria was based on films that were written, directed, produced, executive produced or featured African-Americans.    The complete list of nominees can be found at  

Filmmaker Documents True Cost Of Katrina

Excerpt from The Toronto Star – Associated Press

(Jan. 4, 2006) NEW ORLEANS, La.—Gripping his trumpet,
Irvin Mayfield talks about growing up on Music St. and how his father taught him to play. The jazz musician also discusses his decision to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina and his father's choice not to — and the months-long wait his family had to endure before learning Irvin Mayfield Sr. had drowned.  "This is something we're not going to be able to heal from, as a city, for a long time," Mayfield tells New Orleans filmmaker Stephen Rue, president of the Motion Picture and Television Association of Louisiana.  It's part of more than 135 hours of interviews Rue collected and plans to release as a 130-minute documentary — a comprehensive view of Katrina's effects as told by the people who experienced it. He's financing the film himself and it should be finished by mid-March, he said.  There have been countless film and TV crews in and out of the city since Katrina, among them a crew working with filmmaker Spike Lee. But Rue has something they don't: extensive footage taken just weeks before the storm in the now-destroyed Lower 9th Ward.  Rue was shooting there for a Habitat for Humanity project. That neighbourhood, one of the city's poorest, was wiped out by a sudden levee breach. "I think about the many, many people we met. I wonder if they made it, wonder where they are now."  He has also travelled to several states to interview evacuees. "It's a tapestry of stories by those affected," Rue said.  Media coverage and home footage taken during the storm is included, as well as interviews with historians such as Douglas Brinkley, who's writing a book, titled The Great Deluge.

Altman Film To Open South By Southwest Festival

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Jan. 4, 2006) New York --
A Prairie Home Companion, director Robert Altman's screen adaptation of the Garrison Keillor public-radio program, will open this year's South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Tex. The movie, featuring Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan and Keillor himself, will make its North American premiere on March 10, festival organizers said. The film is scheduled to arrive in theatres in June. AP


Only In Canada: The Winter Preview

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Alexandra Gill

 (Dec. 31, 2005) The holiday madness is grinding to a halt. Here in the Great White North, that usually means it's time to pull up the comforter and gently slide into couch-potato mode. While you're there, the country's major television broadcasters are hoping you might slip into something a little more, um, Canadian. There will certainly be plenty of new homegrown programming to choose from this January. From comedy and teen soaps to a miniseries on China and an operatic reality show, it's all yours for the viewing. "Our view has always been that January scheduling is a good thing because of the winter blahs," says Eva Czigler of CBC Television, which has the biggest crop of new midseason shows. "In this part of the world --well, except for Vancouver -- people tend to stay in more because it's miserable outside. Our audience figures are at their peak in January and February." Czigler says the network's lockout of employees last fall had no effect on any of the new programs, mostly comedies, launching this month. But the federal election did push the premiere of Hotel Metropolitan, Ken Finkleman's new series, to March. She adds that unlike U.S. series, which generally run about 22 episodes, Canadian series tend to be shorter and easier to introduce at midseason. Canadian programs do seem to have a better chance of success when they're introduced at midseason or during the summer, says veteran media buyer Dennis Dinga of M2 Universal. "It doesn't make sense to start a Canadian program in the fall, because there's always so much new product coming from the U.S. broadcasters," he says.  "People are tuning into a lot of different things and trying to figure out what their appointment viewing schedule is going to be for the week. Canadian programming doesn't get a lot of test time. Whereas if you introduce it in January or the summer, that's when viewers are looking for something new." Dinga points to CTV's Corner Gas as an example. After hugely successful starts to the season for Corner Gas and Degrassi: The Next Generation, CTV isn't making any radical changes to its schedule this winter. It does have several new original programs in the cooker: Whistler, Alice, I Think, Jeff Ltd. and the highly anticipated TV movies Shades of Black: The Conrad Black Story. But no air dates have been set for any of these yet.
 "CTV launches its new and returning series over the course of a 52-week schedule, and by doing so does not restrict itself to the traditional model of launching programs two or three times a year," says CTV spokesperson Mike Cosentino. Mind you, an ultra-flexible strategy can sometimes backfire, says Dinga, pointing to CTV's Robson Arms, which initially debuted to high ratings last summer. "In my opinion, they killed it because they played it so goddamn much. You were getting Robson Arms every other night and sometimes every night in a row. It's better to stick to six episodes, build an audience, and then bring it back in the fall." The midseason strategy worked for CHUM last year, when it aired the first six-episode season of Godiva's on Bravo. The second season of this Gemini-nominated soap-opera drama about young workers in a Vancouver restaurant is being moved up to the network's main CITY-TV stations when it premieres in February, and will be preceded by a repeat of the first season. "It's still very hard to get people to watch Canadian shows," says Ellen Baine, vice-president of programming for CHUM Television. "We're all guilty of it, even with movies. We say 'Oh, if it's Canadian, I'm not going to bother watching.' When we're not getting all that cross-border promotion from the U.S. networks in the winter, we can really push a show harder." Dinga agrees that the unique Canadianness of most indigenous programming is easy for audiences to detect. That's why he's betting on Global's Falcon Beach to be the hit of the new midseason shows. "It doesn't even look Canadian, so that's good," he says of the new teen soap opera, which revolves around a fictional summer resort on Lake Winnipeg. "Yeah, it's a Canadian knock-off of The O.C." -- still a top show among teens and young adults. "I think Falcon Beach will be a success too. It's the one Canadian show to watch."
 Global is certainly planning to put all its promotional might behind the new series. "It's been a long time since Global put a big Canadian drama series on the air," says Barbara Williams, the network's senior vice-president of programming. Williams says Falcon Beach fits perfectly into its new branding strategy of being "the newest, the freshest, the funniest." "Putting a summer beach show on the air in the dead of winter is very fun," she says. "For Canadians, there's nothing we crave more in January or February than a beach. We can't all get there, but we can all sit down on the couch and be transported there for an hour."
Cold Comfort


 Hatching, Matching and Dispatching
Mary Walsh (formerly of This Hour Has 22 Minutes) co-wrote, co-produced and co-stars in this comedy series about the Fureys. The Newfoundland family run their community's wedding hall, funeral parlour and ambulance service. Premieres Jan. 6, 9 p.m.
 Getting Along Famously
Debra McGrath and Colin Mochrie were the other winners from last year's pilot run during comedy week. In this new series, they star as Kip and Ruby, the fictional married stars of the hit 1964 CBC variety show It's Ruby and Kip. Premieres Jan. 6, 9:30 p.m.
 Comedy Week
Three new pilots compete for a permanent spot on next year's schedule. Cheap Draft, Bad Language, Fast Cars, Women and a Video Camera tells the tale of three young lads in their late 20s who tap into their deepest fears to create a video for a video contest (Jan. 3, 9 pm.). In Rabbittown, the claws come out when two flamboyant cougars, old pals from junior high, are reunited (Jan. 3, 9:30 p.m). This Space For Rent is a one-hour pilot about three slacker roommates and the lives of their hipster friends in downtown Vancouver (Jan. 4, p.m.)
 Comedy Gold
This two-part, four-hour miniseries that celebrates Canadian comedy and culture includes interviews with Mike Myers, Lorne Michaels, Michael J. Fox, Mary Walsh, Rick Mercer, Ivan Reitman, Alan Thicke and Colin Mochrie, to name just a few. Jan. 1 and 2, 8 p.m.
 China Rises
A four-part series chronicling the monumental changes unfolding in the planet's most populous nation. Mark Starowicz co-produced the series with The New York Times, the U.S. Discovery Times Channel and Germany's ZDF Television. Jan. 22 and 29, 8 p.m.

 Bathroom Divas: So You Want to be an Opera Star?
Forklift drivers, accountants and aerospace engineers come out of the shower in this six-part documentary series that follows a country-wide search for the next Pavarotti. Six finalists are selected to attend an opera boot camp and compete for the chance to win a debut performance at Roy Thomson Hall with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Premieres Jan. 7 on Bravo, 9 p.m.
 MuchMusic VJ Search: The Series
Canadian Idol meets Big Brother when MuchMusic talent scouts scour the country for VJ hopefuls, throw the 10 finalists into a luxurious Toronto penthouse, roll the cameras and let viewers vote on who will win. Premieres on CITY-TV stations across the country on Jan. 30 at 8 p.m., with a repeat broadcast on MuchMusic the next night.

 One Dead Indian
A vivid recounting of the tragic events that unfolded in September 1995, when members of the Stony Point band gathered in Ontario's Ipperwash Provincial Park to protest a long-standing claim to an ancestral burial ground. Jan. 4, 8 p.m.
 Ice Storm: The Salé and Pelletier Affair
In their first tell-all television interview since the gold medal controversy at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Canadian figure skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier recount the back-room deals that cost them the gold medal in this hour-long documentary special, narrated by Colm Feore. Jan. 7, 8 p.m.

 Falcon Beach
Look for lots of hot days and steamy nights, hookups and heartaches in this new 13-episode, hour-long dramatic series about a group of local and vacationing young'uns who share a summer at a waterfront resort on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Premieres Jan. 5, 8 p.m. -- Alexandra Gill

'One Dead Indian' Tells Of Ipperwash Crisis

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Sheryl Ubelacker, Canadian Press
 (Jan. 2, 2006) In a society that prizes its reputation for multicultural tolerance and inclusion, the title of CTV's latest small-screen movie offering seems shocking for its bald-faced political incorrectness.  And
One Dead Indian (Wednesday, 8 p.m.) doesn't pull any punches when it comes to content, either.  The movie is based on the book of the same name by Toronto Star reporter Peter Edwards, who wanted the title to illustrate the injustice and prejudice involved in the Ipperwash crisis, which culminated in the death of aboriginal protester Dudley George.  "I saw the title as a way of turning an ugly phrase back on people who use, or think it," Edwards said. "The phrase `One Dead Indian' is an ugly but revealing mirror."  The TV movie traces the events that led up to the Sept. 6, 1995, shooting of George in Ontario's Ipperwash Provincial Park and the subsequent trial of the provincial police officer charged in his death.  Once home to the Stoney Point native community, the Ipperwash reserve was taken over by Ottawa in 1942 for a military training camp, with the promise that the land would be returned at the end of the World War II.  More than 50 years later, with the base closed and nearby Ipperwash Park a lakeside playground for summer holiday-makers, Stoney Point natives entered the park on Sept. 4, 1995, to stage a peaceful protest to back their land claim.  What happened two days later — and why — is the subject of an ongoing provincial inquiry, which is set to hear testimony in mid-January from former premier Mike Harris, who has denied ordering in police to remove the protesters.
 An Ontario Provincial Police riot squad, backed by a heavily armed tactical unit, marched on the protesters the night of Sept. 6. In the ensuing melee, 38-year-old George (played by Dakota House of North of 60 fame) was fatally shot by provincial police officer Kenneth Deane as police opened fire on unarmed protesters.  Band councillor Slippery George was almost beaten to death by officers when he tried to talk the police into backing off.  In the decade since that night, George's brother Sam (portrayed by Eric Schweig) and other family members have continued to pressure the province for justice — and answers to a number of troubling questions: Why did the Ontario Provincial Police decide to confront native protesters that night and who gave the order? Was it strictly a police decision or was pressure brought to bear from Queen's Park?  "It still amazes me how it all happened," said actor Pamela Matthews, a Cree from northern Ontario who had met Dudley George for the first time a couple of days before his death during a chance visit to Ipperwash, where she had vacationed as a child in the 1960s.  In a weird twist of casting fate, Matthews portrays George's sister, Carolyn, in the movie.  "When I was a kid ... my dad was the resident doctor (for cadets) in training at CFB Ipperwash, so we spent several summers going there, and we were actually camping on the army base camp portion of the land that's in dispute," Matthews recalled. "I was just a kid. I had no idea there was even a land issue."
 On Labour Day weekend in 1995, Matthews and a friend were near Ipperwash while driving back home to Toronto and decided to visit the park, where they'd heard native protesters had gathered.  Despite the heavy police presence — "there were cops all over the place and the odd helicopter was flying overhead and there was a police boat out on the water" — Matthews and her friend jumped over the barricade and were waved over by a group of aboriginals sitting at a picnic table.  "One of them was Dudley George, and so we sat and talked for a couple of hours and they told us what was going on," she said. "We just sat there and everything seemed pretty calm. They were just enjoying the weather and enjoying the beach.  "It was men, women and children. There was no threat to the rest of society whatsoever. It was so peaceful. So we were quite shocked to hear the OPP had marched in and killed Dudley George."  Another coincidence also tied her to the TV project: Matthews had worked as a legal aide with the George family's team of lawyers and was in the courtroom the day Deane was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death. (He was sentenced to two years less a day to be served in the community.)  Matthews hopes One Dead Indian will help illustrate to Canadians the broader emotional context surrounding the shooting death of Dudley George, the first native protester killed in Canada in 100 years.  "A lot of non-native people understand, but don't understand, why the native people want their land back," she said. "And a lot of people think it's because we're greedy. But it goes a lot deeper than that. It's our ancestral lands.  "Hopefully this film will have them think more and realize that we just want our land back and be peaceful the way things used to be."

Idol's Seacrest Signs $21M Deal With E!

 Source: Lynn Elber, Associated Press

 (Jan. 4, 2006) LOS ANGELES -
Ryan Seacrest's new year is looking good so far. The American Idol host and radio DJ signed a deal with E! Entertainment Television that includes producing and hosting the channel's red-carpet awards coverage.  Seacrest, who joined Dick Clark for ABC's New Year's Rockin' Eve on Saturday and has called Clark a role model, appears to be emulating the veteran producer with the three-year, E! contract announced Tuesday.  Seacrest will be executive producer of E!'s Live From the Red Carpet, starting with the Golden Globes on Jan. 16. He'll share hosting duties with designer Isaac Mizrahi and E!'s Giuliana DePandi.  Mizrahi and DePandi will work the red carpet while Seacrest will act as master of ceremonies from a "strategic tower perch," according to the channel.  Star Jones, who handled red-carpet shows for E! after Joan Rivers and her daughter, Melissa, skipped to the TV Guide Channel, won't be part of the team, an E! spokeswoman said.  Seacrest's deal with E! extends beyond Hollywood's awards season.  In March, Seacrest will become managing editor and lead anchor of E! News, joining current anchor DePandi, E! said. He will produce series for the channel through his Ryan Seacrest Productions, and has the option of selling shows to other networks or channels.  
 Seacrest also will produce and host celebrity interview specials for E! as part of the agreement, which some reports have valued at $21 million US. The channel declined to specify the contract's value.  "This is a huge coup for E! ... He is the very best at what he does," Ted Harbert, president and chief executive officer of E! Networks, said in a statement.  Besides E! Entertainment Television, E! Networks operates the Style Network and E! Online.  Seacrest will have a full plate. He's remaining with Fox's American Idol talent contest, which returns for its fifth season Jan. 17, and continues to host the weekly American Top 40 radio shows as well as his morning radio show for Los Angeles station 102.7 KIIS FM.  The KIIS show will begin airing from Seacrest's new ``state-of-the-art" studio at E! Network's headquarters in Los Angeles, the channel said.  Seacrest, who's also a fill-in host for CNN's Larry King Live and has signed to take over New Year's Rockin' Eve when Clark no longer does the show, has to get busy if he wants to model himself on Clark.  The 76-year-old host and producer, who gained fame as the host of American Bandstand, is a successful entrepreneur whose empire has supplied TV with movies, game and music shows, beauty contests and more.  Clark's TV appearance on New Year's Eve was his first since he suffered a stroke in 2004, and marked Seacrest's first participation as a host and producer of the special.  A misstep for Seacrest was On-Air with Ryan Seacrest, a syndicated daytime talk show that was felled by low ratings after nine months.

Arrested Development's Going Out Kicking

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Jake Coyle, Associated Press

 (Jan. 3, 2006) New York — It's only fitting that “
Arrested Development,” the most self-referential show on TV, would go down chronicling its own demise. The sitcom is essentially a lame duck after Fox announced in November that it wouldn't order a full third season — broadcasting 13 episodes instead of 22. Though an Emmy-winning critical hit, its ratings have been paltry, averaging fewer than 5 million viewers this season. Monday night's episode blatantly parodied the show's situation. “The Bluths were desperate,” the narrator (Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director and one of show's executive producers) intoned about the show's hyper-dysfunctional family. “The press had them all but finished.” Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, then announced: “If we want a chance of keeping this family going past the next few weeks, we're going to have to pull out all the stops.” The episode — the ninth of the season — at various points pretended to be 3-D, trotted out celebrities including Andy Richter, Ben Stiller and Zach Braff, and turned into a pseudo-live broadcast. The plot involved a fundraiser for the family's legal bills — a veiled plea for the show itself. Though such a revealing premise could be expected to rile network executives, Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said the network didn't have problems with the show: “It ran.” “Our backs are against the wall and it's really come to begging,” Michael Bluth said — which the narrator immediately followed with: “Please tell your friends about this show.” The second season of “Arrested Development” was also cut from 22 episodes, to 18. Fox appealed for support for the program and the Web site was founded.
 In May, the network surprised many by not only renewing “Arrested” for a third season, but moving it to 8 p.m. on Mondays — a move Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori called “audacious.” “We have confidence in the show,” Liguori said at the time. With Fox's November announcement, “Arrested” has been rumored for a possible move to cable — and even that development was satirized in an exchange between Jeffrey Tambor's George Bluth Sr. and Bateman's Michael. “I don't think the Home Builders Organization is going to support us,” George says. “Yeah, the HBO is not going to want us,” replies Michael. “What are we going to do?” “I think it's show time,” George then says. Chris Alexander, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, which produces the show, said both Showtime and ABC have expressed interest in “Arrested Development,” but no deal has yet to be reached. The show has won six Emmys and one Golden Globe, but some critics have suggested it's too zany to keep up with and the upper-class characters aren't “relatable” to audiences. In a concluding speech on Monday's show, Bateman had even acknowledges that by saying: “We've been given plenty of chances, and maybe the Bluths just aren't worth saving, maybe we're not that likable. We're very self-centered.”


Jermaine Jackson Claims Reality TV Series Is A Go

Excerpt from

(Dec. 29, 2005)
*Sources told the New York Post that Jermaine Jackson has been telling folks he hooked up a $7 million deal for 13 episodes of the family’s proposed reality show. As previously reported, the pilot being shopped to networks is loosely based on the comeback efforts of Tito’s sons Tariano (Taj), Taryll and Tito Joe (TJ) – known in the 90s as the singing group 3T.  The TV pilot reportedly includes footage of Michael Jackson on the way to hear the verdict in his molestation trial in June. A source said, "Michael is rocking back and forth pretty fast with a Bible open in his lap. He's saying: 'they tried to do this to Job, now they are trying to do it to me. Why me?'"  The source added that there is no footage of Jackson celebrating his acquittal of child molestation. The singer reportedly told the family that he wanted to be alone and escaped into a guest house on his Neverland Ranch before moving to the Gulf state of Bahrain.  Music producer Cory Rooney is said to be producing the reality show, which will not include footage of  Michael's sister Janet nor brother Randy, as both have refused to  participate. 

TV’S First Black Gay Talk Show Returns

Excerpt from

(Dec. 29, 2005)
*“The Herndon Davis Reports,” America’s first black gay, TV talk show, returns for a second season Thursday, (Dec. 29) at 10 p.m. on the Dish Network’s Healthy Living Channel 223 and on select Time Warner cable outlets.  “The Herndon Davis Reports” bills itself as “a national talk show that is completely black gay focused and provides continuously uplifting messages and representations of black gay life.”  Davis, the show’s executive producer and host, adds that “the second season is filled with on location shoots where we travel the entire country interviewing black gay men and women from all walks of life in order to place a face and a voice to what it is like to be black, gay and proud.”  Several episodes for the second season will focus upon spotlighting openly gay and black entrepreneurs, politicians and executives and understanding how they’re able to thrive in their respective careers despite encountering both racism and homophobia. Other episodes for the new season will focus upon HIV, gay adoptions, black gay youth, and building a cohesive black gay economic community. Below is a listing for the upcoming 6 episodes.

• Dec. 29, 2005 - Growing Spiritually Beyond The Black Church- Guest, Bryan Edney, Motivational Speaker, Educator.
• January 5, 2006 - Duane Cramer, International Photographer- Exclusive Interview on location in San Francisco.
• January 12, 2006 - Joseph Ware, Entrepreneur, The Bates House B&B, Exclusive Interview on location in Oakland
• January 19, 2009 - Controversial Author, JL King, Exclusive Interview, on location in Atlanta
• January 26, 2006 - The State of Black Gay Atlanta – Panel discussion with guests, Darlene Hudson, J. Lawrence Warren, Krista Ford, and Raymond Duke on location in Atlanta.
• February 6, 2006 - The State of Black Gay Literature -Guests, Brent Carpenter, Frederick Smith, and Trent Jackson

Will Canucks Make Hit Of Beach?

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - John McKay, Canadian Press

(Jan. 2, 2006)
Falcon Beach is about to hit the treacherous waters of Canadian television with a lot riding on it.  The 13-episode series — a spinoff of a TV movie-of-the-week that drew respectable ratings a year ago — debuts on Global next Thursday, and it's carrying the hopes of two production companies, backers like Telefilm Canada and Global itself. The broadcaster has mounted a huge marketing campaign for Falcon Beach, its only original prime-time drama this season.  But will the ever-elusive TV youth demographic embrace a made-in-Canada series set in a beach community? Especially when that community is in Manitoba and not, say, The O.C.'s glamorous Southern California?  Producer John Murray says he and his partners came up with the idea back in 2001, long before The O.C. debuted on U.S. television, although he concedes they were thinking of a homegrown equivalent of Dawson's Creek or Beverly Hills 90210.  "The idea of a beach town, I thought there was a certain romance to that," says Murray. "It never really occurred to me `Oh, this is second-best to a California show.'"  The series is shot on location in the Lake Winnipeg resort town of Winnipeg Beach.  The plot picks up where the movie left off. We are reintroduced to local wakeboard jock Jason (blond, muscular Steve Byers) and the female dilemma he faces: snooty but sexy Paige (blond, shapely Jennifer Kydd) or former flame Tanya (Devon Weigel), who left Falcon Beach four years earlier for a fashion career on the runways of Milan but is now fed up with the jet-set-and-drugs lifestyle of an international model and has returned home.  There are also the inevitable clashes between the townies and well-heeled vacationers.  And the youngsters have parents, too, with their own story arc targeting a second, older demographic. It's all set in a cottage community where the harbour, arcade, dance hall and campfires should ring familiar to Canadian viewers wherever they live.  Despite the blue water seen in some of the publicity photos, Lake Winnipeg is noticeably brownish and the sand on shore rather muddy looking. And if the hot bods don't always look sun-bronzed, that's a reminder that Canadian summers are preciously short.  "You're very aware that as soon as that snow thaws, you gotta make hay while the sun is shining," says Murray. "In the series, each season is arced out through a summer."  Not that they've been given an official green light for a season 2. But if the numbers are positive and the funding forthcoming in May, cast and crew must prepare to reconvene on location in June to shoot 13 more shows.

Don't Cry For, Or About, Andrew Lloyd Webber

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Kamal Al-Solaylee
 (Dec. 30, 2005) Kicking off 2006 with a concession instead of a resolution may not be an ideal start to the year, but it makes sense when Andrew Lloyd Webber is involved. He's not -- or at least hasn't always been -- the monster of musical theatre purists love to hate. In 2006, the English musical-theatre composer will celebrate a few milestones while his detractors (and there are many, so many) weep in agony and reflect in amazement at his longevity. Like it or not: You will be hearing a lot from and about Lloyd Webber next year.  In January, The Phantom of the Opera becomes Broadway's longest-running musical (20 years and counting), taking over from the previous champ, Lloyd Webber's own Cats. That show will celebrate its British 25th anniversary in May of next year and, like many of his musicals, continues to tour successfully around the globe. Meanwhile, The Woman in White, Lloyd Webber's first new musical on Broadway in 11 years, shows signs it may be struggling -- playing at 53 per cent capacity during the all-important Christmas week compared with 94 per cent for Phantom -- but there's enough money in its producers' pockets to ensure its survival until it develops new audiences.  Toronto gets in on the Lloyd Webber act when the Hummingbird Centre pays homage to his music in a series of concerts, headlined by Michael Burgess and featuring Liz Callaway and Alice Ripley, among others, starting next Thursday. A concert, with its greatest-hits approach, may indeed be the better way of experiencing his oeuvre than sitting through one musical at a time.
 Did the man always come with qualifiers or at least "approach with care" warnings? Not really. The clinically unproved but anecdotally common symptom of Lloyd Webber Dread belies the enthusiastic reception of his early work. His name may be standard byword for mediocrity and bad taste now, but, from the late sixties until the late seventies, his shows challenged and forever banished the tea-for-two, song-and-dance tradition of British musicals. In 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar mixed the period's psychedelic flare with religious revisionism and a rock score rarely heard in London's West End. The progressive (yes, progressive) trend continued with the semi-Brechtian Evita in 1978 with its cleverly observed commentary on the unexpected ways sexual and political power feed into and depend on each other. It's not a coincidence that the culturally savvy Tim Rice supplied the lyrics to both shows. Then came Cats. For many, and with considerable hindsight, this was the beginning of the end of a certain innocence, before the prefix "mega" got permanently attached to the word "musical." Again, its first critics were less jaded. Michael Billington, the august theatre critic for The Guardian in London, hailed it as a "triumph" and an "exhilarating piece of total theatre." Even Frank Rich, the New York Times critic who would reserve his most venomous reviews for the British composer in the eighties, conceded that Cats (when it opened on Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre in October, 1982) "believes in purely theatrical magic, and on that faith it unquestionably delivers." What followed were a string of megamusicals (Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard), which relied more on manufactured theatricality than musical or lyrical sophistication for emotional effect. Each featured at least one good song that had a life beyond the show that spawned it. Love Changes Everything from Aspects of Love gave its leading man, Michael Ball, his biggest hit on the British charts. Diva lovers everywhere still wage bloody battles over which of the many leading ladies who played the deluded Norma Desmond gave the definitive treatment to With One Look or As If We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Boulevard. (I vote for Elaine Paige, followed closely by Patti LuPone. Don't even talk to me about Glenn Close's "interpretation.")
 Subsequent shows (The Beautiful Game, Whistle Down the Wind) started and flourished briefly in London, but never became monster hits, transferred to New York or had much luck touring North America. Ironically, these were the best-reviewed shows and the most-personal projects in Lloyd Webber's post-Evita career.  It seems that the public wants Lloyd Webber to go big, big, big or stay home.  The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber runs Jan. 5 to 8 at the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E., 416-872-2262.

Hair Cast Finally Gels

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

 (Jan. 4, 2006) The Age of Aquarius is finally getting ready to dawn.  CanStage is expected to officially announce today the casting for its final production of the year, "the tribal love rock musical"
Hair, which is scheduled to open at the Bluma Appel Theatre on March 30.  More than 600 performers auditioned for the 20 roles available.  Director Robert Prior and choreographer Stephen Hues joined with original author-lyricist James Rado in making the final selection.  
 The result is what CanStage artistic producer Martin Bragg calls "the next generation of extraordinary musical talent in this country," a group of fresh faces that will bring the energy necessary to breathe new life into this celebration of flower-power, freak-outs and love-ins.  Jamie McKnight, currently appearing as the Prince in Ross Petty's annual panto, Snow White and the Group of Seven, will star as Claude, the young man whose draft notice sets the action of the show in motion.  Craig Burnatowski will play his anarchic buddy, Berger, devoted to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll in all their forms. Burnatowski is a York University graduate whose credits include appearances on Queer as Folk and Missing.  And Karen Burthwright, seen locally as one of "The Dynamites" in Hairspray, will play Sheila, the woman they're both involved with.  The remaining members of the "tribe" will be played by Matthew Boden, Matthew Brown, Kimmy Choi, Kevin Dennis, Gerrard Everard, Ryan Field, Alana Hibbert, Bryan Hindle, Andrew Kushnir, David Mongar, Katrina Reynolds, Julius Sermonia, Valerie Stanois, Zachary Stevenson, Sheena Turcotte, Cleopatra Williams and Naomi Zara.  Hair was first presented at Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in October 1967 and later moved to Broadway in April 1968, where it ran for more than four years. It was an international phenomenon, spinning off hit companies around the world, including a 53-week run at the Royal Alex in 1970.  Book and lyrics were by Rado and Gerome Ragni, two out-of-work actors. The music was by Canadian Galt MacDermot. The CanStage version, produced in association with Dancap Private Equity, begins previews on March 20 and is scheduled to run until June 17, although if this Hair keeps growing, it could easily turn the rest of the summer of 2006 into a repeat of the Summer of Love.

Cirque Under The Albert Hall Big Top

 Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - By Gayle MacDonald

 (Jan. 4, 2006) Canada's most artsy acrobats and one of this country's hottest exports,
Cirque du Soleil is turning up everywhere these days -- most recently at London's historic Royal Albert Hall, where they'll mount the show Alegria. From tomorrow through Feb. 5, the Quebec-based Cirque will offer Britons two daily shows, one in the evening and the other, the so-called Alegria Tea Packages, at 3 p.m. After its run at the Royal Albert, Cirque du Soleil will take the same production to Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels and Rome, wrapping its European tour of Alegria (which means "jubilation") in May. Meanwhile, Cirque -- which has performed for more than 33 million spectators since 1984 -- also recently announced a new live-music event, Delirium, which kicks off a North American tour, starting at Montreal's Bell Centre, on Jan. 26. ad1Delirium, a compilation of 21 musical numbers performed in previous Cirque shows, promises to push the limit of arena performance -- a new venue for the Cirque folk who typically perform under a big top. As well as offering audiences a healthy dose of its usual athletic acrobats, it will also showcase musicians and singers. So far, Delirium's first North American stops in 2006 include 13 cities such as Montreal; Toronto; Albany, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Indianapolis, Ind.; Kansas City, Mo.; Houston, San Antonio, Tex.; and Dallas/Forth Worth. 


‘Color Purple’s’ Lachanze Draws On Personal Loss

Excerpt from

(Jan. 4, 2006) *Actress
LaChanze, the current toast of Broadway for her portrayal of Miss Celie in “The Color Purple,” says the pain and grief of her character is something she knows all too well. On Sept. 11, 2001, the 43-year-old theater star lost her husband, Calvin Gooding, a Cantor Fitzgerald trader, in the World Trade Center attacks. LaChanze says it was her profession that allowed her to endure the pain of his sudden death. "I have a great vehicle - theatre, drama," she tells AP. "I was very angry and hurt and disappointed, and sad and lonely, everything. But I was able to come to the theatre and completely leave my world for a moment."  Born Rhonda Sapp, LaChanze was eight months pregnant with her second daughter when her husband was killed. More than four years after the terrorist attacks, LaChanze has been given a role that brings the pain right back.   Celie, the heavily burdened protagonist of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel, is portrayed by LaChanze over four decades – from her separation from sister Nettie and abusive marriage at 14, through her transformation into a spiritual, self-affirming heroine. In portraying Celie’s arc, LaChanze draws on the grief experienced following 9/11. "This grieving, it helped me to understand how one would come out of that," she says. "Because I have come out of it. I was able to keep moving forward, keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think about that when I'm going through Celie's journey."

New Law Puts Leash On L.A. `Stalkerazzi'

 Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Sandy Cohen, Associated Press

 (Jan. 1, 2006) LOS ANGELES—They lurk in bushes, camp out in cars and hover in helicopters. Some are brazen enough to openly brandish their cameras, like old western gunslingers.  They may be hated, but their work — candid pictures of celebs in unguarded moments — is coveted. They are the paparazzi, purveyors of pix that are the lifeblood of the weekly star-tracking mags and tabs. Their photos demand huge sums of money and are circulated worldwide. And as the public hunger for such glossy grist has grown, they've become ever more relentless and ruthless.  But now there are some new reins on the paparazzi parade.  A new California law goes into effect today that increases penalties against overly aggressive photographers — dubbed "stalkerazzi" — who forcefully thrust their cameras into famous faces or crash their cars into a celebrity's vehicle. They now are liable for three times the damages they inflict; plus they'll lose any payments their published photos might earn. Publishers also can be held liable.  "Now the paparazzi are going to have to think twice about chasing down a celebrity anywhere in California," said Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, who drafted the bill, which was signed into law in October by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (The former actor had an infamous paparazzi moment in 1998 when they used their cars to surround his SUV as he and wife Maria Shriver picked up their child from school.)  The new law was inspired by a rash of recent celebrity car chases, Montanez said. In May, a photographer following Lindsay Lohan crashed into the actress's car in West Los Angeles. The photographer was booked for assault with a deadly weapon, but prosecutors found insufficient evidence to press charges.  In August, actress Scarlett Johansson was involved in a minor car crash in a Disneyland parking lot after being followed by paparazzi, and actress Reese Witherspoon said photographers tried to run her car off the road in April.  No criminal charges resulted from those incidents, but the Los Angeles district attorney's office continues to investigate paparazzi photographers' aggressive tactics, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.
 Montanez said the new legislation "targets those who break the law in their attempt to get the photograph."  While some celebrity shooters think the new law is needed to curb increasingly aggressive behaviour, others call it unfair and unnecessary. And it may even be unconstitutional.  Though the legislation is aimed at paparazzi photographers, it could have "a chilling effect" on newspapers and other media, said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.  "This law now gives (celebrities) the ability to quash a photograph, and potentially a story (resulting from the photograph), with a frivolous lawsuit in an attempt to keep the public from being informed," he said. "The Constitution demands a little bit higher standard before the government puts the kibosh on a newspaper's ability to publish that story."  Montanez insists the law was "specifically crafted in a way so there is no infringement on the rights of journalists."  "This is about paparazzi who wait and hunt the celebrities, their prey, until they catch the celebrity in a state of compromise," she said. "They engage in assaultive behaviour, and we can't condone that."  Longtime celebrity photographer Frank Griffin, co-owner of the Bauer-Griffin photo agency — which bills itself as "the Hollywood Hunt Club" — said existing laws already cover attempted assaults and that the new legislation unfairly targets celebrity photographers.  "Why should there be different standards for a hard-news photographer and a celebrity photographer?" he asked.  With the proliferation of photo-filled, celebrity-centred magazines, more paparazzi have emerged to fill the pages with images of the rich and famous. The more exclusive the photo, the bigger the paycheque, said former celebrity photographer Brad Elterman.  Shots of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner with their new baby, for example, could be worth $500,000 (all figures U.S.), he said.  "The business is driven by money," Elterman said. "The guys who take the pictures don't care how they get the photo because they have nothing to lose."  Jim Ruymen, a Los Angeles photographer for 30 years who worked as "a photojournalist by day and a paparazzo at night," said paparazzi photography has always been intrusive, but increasing competition has led to more in-your-face tactics. There might be "15 to 20 cars outside someone's house, waiting for them to leave so you can chase them down," he said.  "Part of the paparazzi act is you really have to have no conscience. You've got to rein these guys in, so we don't have a Diana here in Southern California," he said, referring to the Princess of Wales who was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997 as paparazzi pursued her vehicle. Investigators found that Diana's driver was intoxicated and speeding.
 Celebrities are likely to appreciate the new legislation, though none of their publicists returned calls for comment here.  George Clooney, an outspoken defender of the First Amendment yet a critic of overzealous photographers, has said that being photographed is the price one pays for celebrity, but some tabloids take things too far.  "If you say to someone, `I'll give you $400,000 (U.S.) for the first picture of Madonna's baby,' there are lots of people who are willing to break the law to do that," Clooney told CNN in 2003.  The new legislation amends a bill passed in 1998 that established the concept of "constructive trespass" for photojournalists. It said that using a long lens to capture an image of a person who had "a reasonable expectation of privacy" was tantamount to trespassing.  Ewert, counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, questioned the constitutionality of that law, but it has not been challenged in court, he said. Laws are presumed valid until challenged.

Raptors' Road Wins Have Sam Smiling

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Doug Smith, Sports Reporter
 (Jan. 1, 2006) Even as his team enjoys phenomenal success — well, phenomenal success being a relative thing with the
RaptorsSam Mitchell professes not to be worried about wins.  No, really. He's not.  What drives the coach more is seeing daily improvement in his young and raw team, which is why Mitchell began 2006 in something of a good mood.  The Raptors, completing a fine 7-7 month that included six road wins capped by a dramatic 99-97 comeback win in Indiana on Friday, are showing the kind of improvement the coach knows will stand them in good stead in the months to come.  "As coaches, our thing is not necessarily wins and losses, it's how we play the basketball game," said Mitchell. "I worry about how we're playing the game and the records will take care of themselves."  The way the Raptors have been playing games of late has been, for them, quite impressively.  A few blips notwithstanding — a drubbing administered at home by Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago leaps to minds — there have been several encouraging signs of late.  Equally the best road month in franchise history with six away wins in December, Toronto has now eclipsed both the Hawks and the New York Knicks in the win category and can no longer be considered the worst team in the 30-team NBA.  It's not much, but coming off a 1-14 start, it's something to be proud of. All that's left to do now if find some way to improve on a wretched 2-12 home record.  "We have a lot more home games in January," said Chris Bosh, who had his 15th double-double of the season with a 22-point, 13-rebound game in Indianapolis. "We need to turn around our home situation and we have to keep winning some games on the road.
 "We'll see what happens, but I think everything is coming together."  January should present the Raptors with a chance to continue their string of away success. They have eight road games — including dates at struggling Atlanta, injury-ravaged Denver, struggling Chicago and mediocre Utah — and seven games at the Air Canada Centre.  That's reason for optimism, as is the fact the Raptors have to be buoyed by their defensive performance down the stretch of their last two games, both victories, and by the combination of Bosh and rookie Charlie Villanueva, who combined for 47 points and 23 rebounds Friday in Indianapolis.  In a win over Atlanta at home on Wednesday, they forced the Hawks into eighth fourth-quarter turnovers and Friday they played a zone defence for most of the final quarter that completely befuddled the Pacers.  And with Rafael Araujo nailed to the bench for the entire second half Friday night — missing out on his usual six- or seven-minute stint — Bosh and Villanueva worked wonderfully together.  "We work off of each other very well," said Bosh. "He can shoot and I can shoot and he crashes the boards and does a good job of playing aggressively and cleaning up some of our misses."  There are storm clouds on the horizon, though.  Neither Jose Calderon nor Joey Graham practised at the Air Canada Centre yesterday; Calderon because his right foot is sore and Graham because of a strained left knee and both are day-to-day heading into a Tuesday game in Atlanta.  If either of them miss extended time, the toll on point guard Mike James will be substantial, and Mitchell will be forced to use either Jalen Rose or Eric Williams more than he wants to at small forward.

Fans Dealt Bad Hand In '05

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Chris Zelkovich
 (Dec. 30, 2005) The sports media world will remember 2005 for many things, most of them bad.  It was a year that started with the cancellation of the Canadian sports world's version of mother's milk: the NHL season. That led to the emergence of poker on sports channels, a development that produced more pasty-faced, out-of-shape performers than classic curling broadcasts.  Despite this blow to sanity, the sports world survived and by the end of the year everybody was basking in the warm glow provided by vastly improved ratings. The CFL, Blue Jays and NHL all enjoyed big TV audiences in 2005.  As for the Toronto Raptors and the NBA, they can only hope for ratings as big as poker's.  There was plenty to celebrate and plenty to regret in the annual Good, Bad and Ugly recap.
 2005, THE GOOD: How much impact the arrival of satellite radio will have on the sports world isn't known yet, but there's no doubt it adds one thing all sports fans want: choice. As for regular sports radio, a little competition never hurt anybody. ... Another welcome newcomer was Goltv, at least for those who can't get enough soccer. ... Toronto product Dan Shulman continued his rapid rise at ESPN and was even recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the best announcers in the business. ... Best move: after the CBC couldn't re-sign Glenn Healy and then laid off Chris Cuthbert, TSN wasted no time in hiring two of the most competent guys in the business. Best move, part II: Martine Gaillard, buried in an ill-fitting reporter's job at The Score, found new life at Rogers Sportsnet. ... High-definition television, along with the CableCam, put CBC's Grey Cup coverage at the top of the list. ... After months of turmoil, peace returned to the curling world when the misguided Canadian Curling Association put things back to the way they were. ... Sportsnetnews continued to go beyond the 30-minutes-of-highlights model and explore some intriguing and important issues. ... While ABC got all teary-eyed saying goodbye to Monday Night Football, it overlooked the fact the show has been living off the memory of Howard and Dandy Don for about 20 years.
 2005, THE BAD: Worst economic calculation: a CTV/Rogers consortium won the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics, but somehow managed to offer $50 million more than the competition. ... Worst development: Sportsnet airing viewers' text messages (at 50 cents a pop) during shows like Prime Time Sports. Maybe Rogers thinks allowing unidentified people to tell everyone "Leafs suck" is making the world a better place. Or maybe Ted needs the money. ... The Toronto sports media community was in a state of shock when a rumour circulated that FAN 590 host Gord Stellick had turned down an opportunity to endorse a product. Things returned to normal when it was quickly learned there was absolutely no truth to the rumour. ... Learning on the job: it was a rough year for Jays fans who had to endure the growing pains provided by rookie baseball announcers Jamie Campbell and Warren Sawkiw. Raptors fans are also suffering as radio voice Paul Jones learns the business. ... All that money will help the NHL's bottom line, but OLN knows a lot more about covering bow hunting than it does hockey. ... Most irritating abbreviations: calling the power play "the p.p." and referring to the NBA as "the association." ... All those guys who said the positive response to CBC's announcer-free football broadcasts would make them reconsider how much they talk obviously have pretty short memories. If you've noticed any decrease in verbal output, you have better ears than I. ... Maybe if they didn't talk so much, the following language crimes would not have been committed in 2005: 1) ESPN football analyst Joe Theismann told viewers that a running back "just voided out of the backfield." A messy play indeed; 2) TSN football analyst Glen Suitor, attempting to say that a player had "some success," instead told viewers he "had some sex;" 3) Sportsnet baseball announcer Jamie Campbell noted twice during a game that Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Batista and catcher Gregg Zaun "were in agreeance" on pitch selection; 4) TSN baseball analyst Pat Tabler told viewers that Yankees pitcher Paul Quantrill was making his 799th career appearance. "One more will give him 800," he added, apparently for the benefit of those not scoring at home; 5) CBS football analyst Steve Buerlein informed viewers that debating a referee's decision was "a mute point." We can only hope.
 2005, THE UGLY: To the paid talkers who continued to paint Todd Bertuzzi as the victim and Steve Moore as a whiner — what's a broken neck, anyway? — please shut up in 2006.


Raptors Forward Villanueva Earns Rookie Award

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Canadian Press

(Jan. 3, ’06) Raptors forward
Charlie Villanueva is the NBA Eastern Conference rookie of the month after helping Toronto post a 7-7 record for December.  Villanueva is only the fourth Raptors player to earn the honour, joining Vince Carter, Marcus Camby and Damon Stoudamire.  The six-foot-11 rookie out of the University of Connecticut averaged 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 24.8 minutes in 13 games. He led the Raptors bench in scoring 10 times, and shot 53 per cent from the field and 77 per cent from the free throw line.  Villanueva registered two double-doubles, including a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in Toronto's 99-97 win Dec. 30 at Indiana. He recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-high three blocks in the Raptors' 102-101 win at Atlanta on Dec. 2.  The New York native is second in the league among rookies in double-doubles with four, third in scoring (12.7 points a game), and fourth in rebounding (5.7).