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Updated:  March 23, 2006

This week offers us a special offer from
The Exchange Suite - see below for details. And I'm giving you the lyrics and video again for the track "Hope" featuring Twista and Faith Evans. Just think it's important to remember that there's hope out there ... go to TOP STORIES for the scoop.

And don't forget to pick up your copy of
Papa San - a great blend of reggae and gospel.

Mark your calendars for a special night - the Harlem Gospel Choir on March 6th! All details below under EVENTS.
Check out all categories - tons of Canadian content in MUSIC NEWS, FILM NEWS, TV NEWS, THEATRE NEWS, and OTHER NEWS!  Have a read and a scroll!  This newsletter is designed to give you some updated entertainment-related news and provide you with our upcoming event listings.   Welcome to those who are new members.  Want your events listed by date?  Check out EVENTSWant to be removed from the distribution, click REMOVE.




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Canadian Musicians Grumble Over Juno Line-Up

 Source: Angela Pacienza, Canadian Press

 (Mar. 20, 2006) With Coldplay and Black Eyed Peas among the scheduled performers, this year's
Juno Awards are fast becoming must-see TV for music fans.  Some musicians and industry folk, however, are uncomfortable with the international line-up, arguing that homegrown artists should be the focus — particularly at a time when Canada's music scene is being lauded around the world.  "A lot of people are talking about it. A lot of people are very upset," said Fred Litwin, who runs Ottawa-based indie label NorthernBlues Music.  Trevor Larocque of Toronto's Paperbag Records didn't attempt to hide his sarcasm: "Coldplay's playing I hear. They're an amazing Canadian band."  Some in the indie music sector feel the TV component of the Junos has lost its focus, letting ratings and broadcaster CTV dictate the content rather than the country's pool of talent.  Entire genres, such as roots, country and jazz, continue to be excluded from the televised show, they say.  "We would never be asked (to perform on the broadcast). Blues is too much of a small genre. They have no commercial interest in it," said Litwin.  There's also the thorny issue of how many CTV personalities, including Ben Mulroney and Canadian Idol faces, will be included on the April 2 program.  As it stands, about nine acts get to perform and only a handful of the 39 Juno categories are awarded during the TV broadcast. The rest are handed out during a dinner the night before.  "Our award isn't going to be presented (on TV) because Coldplay and Black Eyed Peas have to play," lamented Marco Raposo of Pocket Dwellers, which is nominated for best new group.  Bringing in international superstar acts isn't new for the Junos. In the 1980s, Tina Turner and Crowded House performed. Last year, country hotshot Keith Urban was invited as a presenter.
 And producers haven't ignored homegrown talent.  Indie performers like Broken Social Scene, Bedouin Soundclash and Massari are all set to play. As well, Halifax's cutting-edge rapper Buck 65 will compose and perform the show's theme music.  Other high-profile Canadian acts include Michael Buble and Bryan Adams.  Industry watcher Larry LeBlanc said the content wasn't really an issue until bombshell actress Pamela Anderson was announced as host.  "The lightning rod is Pamela Anderson," said LeBlanc, the Canadian bureau chief for Billboard magazine who's been covering the Juno Awards for more than 30 years.  "This is the year they didn't need international acts. Pam's two breasts will do more for ratings than Coldplay and Black Eyed Peas."  But the show's executive producer, John Brunton, said naysayers should look at the flip side.  "It used to be we had to beg Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot," he said. "We couldn't get Canadians to the show. Now the show has grown up . . . we can compete with everyone in the world."  He said Canadians should be proud to have a "world-class awards show" that attracts international acts and press, and can compete against other programs like the Grammys.  "Can we not start behaving like a world-class country and not be shy about sharing our stage with the biggest bands in the world?" he said. "The small town thinking makes me insane."  Labels lobby hard to have their acts play at the Junos, given the show's enormous profile.  A talent committee made up of representatives from the industry decides who ultimately gets one of the coveted performance spots, said Brunton, adding that organizers consider all the genres, looking at what the "big story" of the past year was.
 He said the country's blooming independent music scene won out.  "Next year it might be an urban scene. (The Junos) really just tries to reflect what the stories are in the Canadian music scene each year," he said.  While Raposo said he can understand the draw of international acts, he insisted his seven-piece hip-hop funk outfit is just as entertaining as the Black Eyed Peas.  "We have enough talent in Canada that we could have put on a great show," he said.  Another option, says blues man Litwin, would be to pair less commercially viable acts with mainstream ones.  At this year's Grammy Awards, for example, gospel artist Hezekiah Walker performed with superstar Mariah Carey. At a past Juno show, Nelly Furtado was brilliantly paired with aboriginal group White Fish Juniors.  Said Litwin: "They could be worked into the show if (the Junos) really cared about different genres of music."

Drex Inkredible To Release Long Awaited LP

 Source: Lola Plaku E-mail:
(Mar. 20, 2006)
Drex Inkredible is set to release the long awaited debut solo LP on March 24th 2006. The album is being released on MixNuts ENT, an independent record label based in Toronto, Ontario. The 16 track album has been executively produced by Drex Inkredible himself, but it also features production by notable names such as Tone Mason, Pro Logic, Big Sproxxx, Frank Dukes and Soze, to name a few. Artists featured on the LP include Mayhem Morearty, Theology 3, Rawluck, Chris Stylez and various others. The album includes a DVD with 4 videos for the singles “Tell Em”, “The Newz”, “Rip ‘Em Apart” and “Fuck Drex”. The first two singles are also available on vinyl.  Tell Em – Being the first single on the LP, this track can be said to define the character of the artist. The track merges experience with knowledge to form a strong message delivered to its listeners.
 A reflection on the values society upholds for its individuals, “Tell Em” gives an in-depth look at lifestyles bound by stereotypes. It complies a storyline of individuals that have failed to realize their inner strength, as well as those who have not permitted society to put boundaries on who they are and what they can achieve. Using his own life as an example of self-realization, Drex gives a chance to his listeners to understand his lifestyle. Tell Em Remix feat. Mayhem Morearty – The remix version of the original shifts the focus on to stereotypes casted within hip-hop by its critics who claim its negative influence on today’s youth.  The Newz – As the second single to hit wax, this track is a representation of the music industry in Canada. Proclaimed as a “Symphonic Boom Bap”, this single is an attack on misconceptions and on the hardships musicians are faced with when stepping foot in the entertainment industry. Drex Inkredible takes the approach of the artist and of the critic in order to present a much more realistic view of his opinions. If you want to hear real… “The Newz” is as real as it gets.

Prince Grants E-Mail Interview To Billboard

 Excerpt from
(March 20, 2006) *There’s always a catch when it comes to interviewing His Royal Badness. Billboard magazine writes of a reporter approaching Prince's table during Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Doug Morris' Feb. 8 Grammy afterparty to schedule an interview – only to be shut down with a polite smile and the reply:  “When the time is right, we will talk.”   Eventually, the right time rolled around, not in person. The musician completed an e-mailed Q&A from Billboard to promote the release of his highly-anticipated new album “3121,” due tomorrow with appearances by new Prince protégé Tamar and legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker.   Billboard scribe Tamara Conniff writes: “The likely reason for Prince's desire to write instead of talk might be so he can use his signature Prince-isms: ‘2’ is ‘to,’ ‘b’ is ‘be,’ ‘c’ is ‘see,’ ‘eye’ is ‘I’ and ‘nrg’ is ‘energy.’ Appreciative of a platform to speak his mind, he signs his e-mail: ‘Thanx 4 granting us this forum 2 holla from. Peace.’”   Here is Billboard’s Q&A with Prince:
 Q: Why is making one-album deals a good business model for you?
 A: This was the first agreement that was designed by us without the clause/claws of the standard recording deal. The best business model is one that is free-flowing, just like the music.
 Q: What do your fans not know about you?
 A: There's a lot that fans don't know about me. People tend 2 project on2 U whatever they want 2 c.
 Q: What are your thoughts on the music business with the advent of mobile and digital?
 A: Music is a sound nrg wave that is best xperienced LIVE. Because eye play music, eye have a different perspective on how it should b delivered. That said, eye (am) not so sure a musician would have come up with the idea 2 sell music in the digital realm.
 Q: Do you see yourself as an innovator?
 A: Innovator? It's not a word eye use, but we do try 2 introduce new ideas or methods 2 business that more resemble the common-sense principles taught in the Bible.
 Q: What inspires you?
 A: 2 c someone breaking free from the limitations of the world.
 Q: Who are you listening to right now?
 A: Musically, eye am listening 2 Tamar right now. She is a brilliant writer and a kind soul. Her 1st album is coming out in May of this year.

Farewell To 20 Years Of Celebrity Coverage

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Rita Zekas

(Mar. 18, 2006) This is it. Adios muchachos.  After 20 years or so of bowling for boldface, reporting on the comings and goings, nipping and tuckings, air kissing and kiss-offs, and assorted bad behaviour in the celeb petting zoo, I am going into celebrity detox.  It will entail a 12-step program. I will avoid newsstands. I will hide in the bunkers. I will take refuge from the bombardment of celeb mags, the In Touch, InStyle, Us, People and their ilk that are so interchangeable, you can't tell the difference: they all chase the same six celebs.  Even fashion magazines have these same six on their covers. When is it celebrity overkill? When the dogs of celebs start writing their own books.  I will channel surf past the infotainment shows — The eTalks, Entertainment Tonights, the E-I-E-I-owes with clones of Mary Hart — and wean myself from surfing the gossip sites.  I will join a support group for former readers of Entertainment Weekly.  When I started out in this beat with intrepid photographer Louie de Filippis, it was a celeb wasteland out there in T.O. — a paparazzi-free zone. There were no autograph hounds stationed outside the uptown hotels. No paps with video cameras prowled Yorkville shops, boites and restaurants, stalking unwary boldface.  Now it's open season on celebs. Troops of hounds, amateur videographers and civilians with cellphone cameras trip all over one another to tip off the infotainment shows.  U.S. paparazzi migrated up here to feed the pages of the celebrity glossies because the boldface used to be lulled into a false sense of being able to go about their business and pleasure unmolested. Not any more.'s "Stalker" feature just announced it will post locations of celebrities on the Internet, complete with a locator furnished by Google Maps, within minutes of each sighting.  Jeez, I remember all the hoo-ha when the location of Goldie Hawn's holiday house (cottage just doesn't cut it) in Muskoka was featured on the front page of the Star. Martin Short and Kevin Spacey tore a strip off me during the film festival's George Christy lunch shortly thereafter (from which I was later banned), and I had nothing to do with it. I was away that day, vacationing at Lake Joseph, one lake over from where Hawn and Short have properties.  Hawn complained that people were pressing their noses against the kitchen window while she was washing dishes.  Oh, yeah. Like she washes her own dishes.  Way back before Toronto became Hollywood North, circa 1986, with the advent of Three Men and a Baby (Ted Danson, Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg were all spotted locally) and Switching Channels (Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner), Toronto the Good was Pleasantville.  When Suzanne Somers came to town to shoot Nothing Personal in 1979, directed by George Bloomfield, uncle of Maury Chaykin, it was a big deal. Traffic literally stopped.  Now we have everyone from Robert DeNiro to Sean Connery filming here and life goes on.  Heavyweights Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Burnett shot the TV movie Between Friends here way back in 1982 and the only juicy gossip was the prop department having to substitute fake food for the dinner spread because Taylor would inhale the grub between takes. Yet no one cared that Taylor was camped out at the King Eddie.  Maybe her dog, Sugar, should have written a book.

I've been doing this for so long, I was there when the Toronto International Film Festival was Festival of Festivals and the parties were still accessible to fans and Canadian journalists. There were no doornazis with clipboards, expensive haircuts, last year's Prada and colossal delusions of adequacy barring you from covering your own festival.  The festival's events planner, Barbara Hershenhorn, could walk Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty back to their hotel unmolested after the screening and party for Reds in 1980.  In 1995, Tom Hanks could engage in a walking commentary with journos along Cumberland St. while at the festival promoting his film That Thing You Do.  Those were the days of the Variety Club luncheons preceding the Genies, Geminis or Junos inevitably held at the Royal York Hotel. During one luncheon, a haughty Donald Sutherland snubbed one of the Landers sisters (one was on Dallas, the other was on B.J. and the Bear) when he was introduced to her.  At least she had some TV Q, which is what they called TV cred in those days. I recall being so green, I went up to Toronto Sun columnist Sylvia Train in panic pleading, "Help! I don't know who any of the Canadian actors are in the green room."  Neither did she. People still don't know.

What we still need, most of all, is a Canadian star system.  We don't have one, despite the proliferation of these new infotainment shows, which tend to highlight Canadian actors who have left the country to make it big in the U.S. of A. Jim Carrey doesn't need any more press. Neither does Mike Myers, Keanu Reeves or, shudder, Céline Dion.  But Tom McCamus does. So do Randy Hughson, Kristin Booth and Sara Topham. And you won't see ET Canada chatting up actors on a red carpet for Soulpepper.  I was the first to interview Mia Kirshner, who played the terrorist who did really, really bad things on 24. Funny, she didn't look like a terrorist. She didn't even look like the naughty schoolgirl stripper she played in Atom Egoyan's Exotica, the reason for the interview. She looked sweet and demure.  I assured Gloria Reuben that yes, it was a good idea to do ER.  I was first to interview Emily Hampshire, who could be the new Rachel McAdams, whom I also interviewed very early on when she was still a blonde.  I interviewed Dean McDermott way back when he was a loving father and husband, about a year before dumping his wife for Tori Spelling.  When Don Johnson and then-wife Melanie Griffith were having dinner at the now defunct Mezza Luna while he was in town shooting Guilty as Sin in 1992, I followed Griffith to the washroom to find out if she washed her hands.  She did.  I also checked her coat to see if it was real fur.  It wasn't.

Years later in that same washroom, Farrah Fawcett told me it was her screwed-up thyroid meds that caused her to babble incoherently on Letterman, all the while babbling incoherently.  Natalie Portman is doing press far and wide for V for Vendetta, trying to debunk her academic goodie goodie image by stating that while she doesn't do drugs, she's been known to have a few cocktails. Flashback to a film festival party in 1998 at the Rosewater Supper Club for her film Anywhere But Here. Portman wasn't drinking water at Rosewater. The champagne was flowing. We had infiltrated the VIP area courtesy of Portman's co-star Susan Sarandon's hairguy, who was a friend. Suddenly, Portman executed this dainty little slump and had to be carried upstairs and poured into a limo. She was so tiny, we could have flung her over our shoulder ourselves.  Star Gazing was first to break the story — complete with photos — of Meg Ryan hooking up with Craig Bierko, after she broke up with Russell Crowe.  Ryan was here shooting the boxing film Against the Ropes; Crowe and Bierko would play boxing rivals in Cinderella Man, shot in Toronto.  Star Gazing brought you accounts of Crowe misbehaving at Hemingway's and biting his hulking bodyguard, Spud, on the ear during an altercation. I even ran shots of Spud the morning after the night before.  Star Gazing brought you Colin Farrell dropping trou and Chad Michael Murray visiting the Brass Rail peeler bar while still technically on his honeymoon with Sophia Bush.  Last week, this space broke the story about Sienna Miller visiting T.O. and engaging in public affection with her latest squeeze, Hayden Christensen.  New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove has banned the mention of Brad Pitt and Paris Hilton in his column. I don't ever want to hear about professional victim Jennifer Aniston — hey, if Brad Pitt dumped me for anyone, I'd be happy it was Angelina Jolie. Think about how Jane Fonda must feel. She became aerobics queen to finance her husband Tom Hayden's senatorial campaign and he dumps her for a woman with cellulite.

Okay, I cop to being the Pete Doherty of celebrity detox; I can't promise to never type the dreaded words "Jessica Simpson" again.  I'll be transferring to the Star's Saturday Shopping, so check out that section for the latest exclusives. And I won't be excluding celebs because as we all know, they love to shop. But they prefer freebies.  In these pages it will be business as usual at Star Gazing. It will continue in its grand and glorious two-page format every Sunday, only without moi. But the scoops will go on.

Celebrity Hits And Misses

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Rita Zekas

(Mar. 18, 2006) 10 things I won't miss about covering celebrities
1. Being forbidden by celeb handlers from asking personal questions.
2. Celeb handlers.
3. Celebs that lie to you, though catching them in a lie is oh so sweet. Kate Hudson insisted that her mom Goldie Hawn was not at the 2000 film festival to screen her daughter's film Almost Famous because she was in Los Angeles. Gotcha! We caught Hawn at Bistro 990 drinking her way through the wine list.
4. Come-alive-for-$1.05 plonk and things on sticks during parties.
5. Celebutantes and their little dogs, too.
6. Sleep deprivation. Staying up way past my bedtime on school nights to stalk stars.
7. Approach avoidance. Being denied access to stars in VIP areas and/or being restricted to nosebleed sections behind barriers at the film festival.
8. Entourages. Why does Lindsay Lohan need a posse of 10 to talk about her oeuvre?
9. My aching feet. Standing for 12 hours in stilettos is crippling.
10. Not being able to expense my shoes.

10 things I will miss about covering celebrities

1. Posing impertinent questions, such as asking Charlton Heston if he would ever do drag. He was taken aback, huffed and puffed and said, "No, it would hurt my career." I pointed out that Dustin Hoffman wore a dress in Tootsie and he's still working. "I wouldn't be able to play Macbeth," he countered. "But you could play Lady Macbeth," I said.
2. The adrenalin rush chasing down stars on dark streets at breakneck speeds. Like shadowing Nicole Kidman to The Senator after she ditched her own premiere of The Human Stain (nobody liked that one) to party with her To Die For director Gus van Sant.
3. Crashing parties where I've been specifically barred. I pretended to be the aunt of an employee to infiltrate Lauren Holly's stagette at The Big Easy.
4. Chris Noth. I conspired to sit beside him at Joso's one night and he agreed to a fan shot with my pal and myself as long as I didn't publish it. Then everyone else in the place wanted one.
5. Hanging out with folks at Bistro 990 (ciao, Fernando), Opus, Sotto Sotto, Vaticano and Joso's waiting for boldface.
6. Working with Louie D.
7. Getting paid to read Vanity Fair and Hello!
8. Playing Name That Drug while reviewing celebs at awards ceremonies.
9. Getting great behind-the-scenes dirt on stars. Like their hygiene issues: Barbra Streisand allegedly had a showering clause inserted into Nick Nolte's contract for Prince of Tides.
10. My sources. Thank you so much. You know who you are.

Hope – Twista featuring Faith Evans

 I listened to this track again this week and know that there's somebody out there that could use this message - one of my all time favourite tracks.  (OK, not Canadian but truly I find the words inspiring!) Check out the video HERE and the lyrics below.
  [Twista talking]
  Man, I know we had a lot of tragedies lately.
  I just wanna say rest in peace to Aaliyah,
  Rest in peace to Left Eye,
  Rest in peace to Jam Master Jay,
  And everybody lost in the Twin Towers,
  And everybody lost period.
  All we got is HOPE!!
  [Verse 1 (Twista)]
  I wish the way I was living could stop, serving rocks,
  Knowing the cops is hot when I'm on the block, And I
  Wish my brother woulda made bail,
  So I won't have to travel 6 hours to see him in jail, And I
  Wish that my grandmother wasn't sick,
  Or that we would just come up on some stacks and hit a lick, And I (I wish)
  Wish my homies wouldn't have to suffer,
  When the streets get the upper hand on us and we lose a brother, And I
  Wish I could go deep in the zone,
  And lift the spirits of the world with the words within this song, And I (I wish)
  Wish I could teach a soul to fly,
  Take away the pain out cha hands and help you hold them high, And I
  Wish my homie Butch was still alive
  And on the day of his death we had never took that ride, And I (I wish)
  Wish God could protect us from the wrong
  So that all the soldiers that were sent overseas come home
  We will never break, though they devastate, we shall motivate,
  And we gotta pray, all we got is faith.
  Instead of thinking about who gonna die today,
  The Lord is gonna help you feel better, so you ain't gotta cry today.
  Sit at the light so long,
  And then we gotta move straight forward, cuz we fight so strong,
  So when right go wrong,
  Just say a little prayer, get ya money man, life goes on!!!
  Let's HOPE!
  [Chorus (Faith Evans)]
  Cuz I'm hopeful, yes I am, hopeful for today,
  Take this music and use it
  Let it take you away,
  And be hopeful (hopeful) and He'll make a way
  I know it ain't easy but that's okay.
  Cuz we hopeful
  [Verse 2 (Twista)]
  I wish that you could show some love,
  Instead of hatin so much when you see some other people comin up (I wish)
  I wish I could teach the world to sing,
  Watch the music and have 'em trippin off the joy I bring, (shiit)
  I wish that we could hold hands,
  Listen instead of dissin lessons from a grown man, And I (I wish)
  Wish the families that lack, but got love, get some stacks
  Brand new shack and a lack that's on dubs, And I
  Wish we could keep achieving wonders,
  See the vision of the world through the eyes of Stevie Wonder, (you feel me) (I wish)
  And I hope all the kids eat,
  And don't nobody in my family see six feet, (ya dig)
  I hope the mothers stand strong,
  You can make it whether you wit him or your man's gone, And I (I wish)
  Wish I could give every celly some commissary,
  And the po po bring the heat on them priest like they did R. Kelly, And I
  Wish that DOC could scream again
  And bullets could reverse so Pac and Biggie breath again, (shit) (I wish)
  Then one day they could speak again,
  I wish that we only saw good news every time we look at CNN,
  I wish that we could never get the blues,
  Wish I could bring back the people that died, Eddy too
  I wish that we could walk a path, stay doin the right thing
  Hustle hard so the kids maintain up in the game,
  Let's HOPE
  [Chorus (Faith Evans)]
  Cuz I'm hopeful, yes I am, hopeful for today,
  Take this music and use it
  Let it take you away,
  And be hopeful (hopeful) and He'll make a way
  I know it ain't easy but that's okay.
  Cuz we hopeful
  [Verse 3 (Twista)]
  Wish the earth wasn't so apocalyptic,
  I try to spread my message to the world the best way that I can give it,
  We can make it always be optimistic,
  If you don't listen gotta live my life the best way I can live it,
  I pray for justice when we go to court,
  Wish it was all good so the country never even went to war
  Why can't we kick it and just get em on,
  And in the famous words of Mr. King "Why can't we all just get along",
  Or we can find a better way to shop and please, And I
  Hope we find a better way to cop a keys, And I
  Wish everybody would just stop and freeze,
  And ask way are we fulfillin these downfalls and prophecies,
  You can be wrong if it's you doubting,
  With the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains,
  And only the heavenly father can ease the hurt,
  Just let it go and keep prayin on your knees in church!!
  And let's HOPE
  [Chorus (Faith Evans) X2]
  Cuz I'm hopeful, yes I am, hopeful for today,
  Take this music and use it
  Let it take you away,
  And be hopeful (hopeful) and He'll make a way
  I know it ain't easy but that's okay.
  Cuz we hopeful


B.I.G.’S ‘Ready To Die’ Pulled From Shelves

 Excerpt from
(March 20, 2006) *Sales of the Notorious B.I.G.’s first album, “Ready to Die,” are about to come to a screeching halt after a jury decided the title track contains a portion of an Ohio Players song without permission. On Friday (March 17), jurors found that Bad Boy Entertainment and executive producer Sean "Diddy" Combs illegally used a part of the Ohio Players' 1971 song "Singing In the Morning." Bridgeport Music and Westbound Records, which owns the song rights, were awarded $4.2 million in punitive and direct damages.  This legal action is the latest in hundreds of sampling lawsuits brought by Bridgeport Music and Westbound Records, which also own song royalties by George Clinton and the Funkadelics. Most ended in out-of-court settlements.  "We've just been battling this for such a long time," Armen Boladian, owner of Westbound and Bridgeport said. "So many have been settled because companies didn't want anything to do with it, and we knew we were right." There was no word on when and how the ban on “Ready to Die” would be enacted. The defendants, Bad Boy Entertainment, Bad Boy LLC, Justin Combs Publishing and Universal Records, are planning to appeal the decision.  "We think (the verdict) is without merit," defense lawyer Jay Bowen said. *Meanwhile, Biggie’s March 9, 1997 murder remains unsolved, but, a fresh team of police detectives has been assigned to look into the case, authorities said.  "They are investigating it, following up on the leads," Assistant City Attorney Don Vincent told the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Thursday.  
 Biggie, born Christopher Wallace, was 24 when he was gunned down following a party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. His family sued the city, alleging that the police department covered up the involvement of rogue officers in the killing. Family members claimed Death Row Records chief Marion "Suge" Knight orchestrated the shooting. The mogul has any denied involvement.   A federal judge declared a mistrial in July. In January, the city was ordered to pay the family $1.1 million after the judge ruled that a police detective intentionally hid statements by a jailhouse informant linking the killing to two officers. A retrial is expected later this year.

Aguilera Looks 'Back' On Upcoming Album

Excerpt from - Soran Baker, L.A.

(Mar. 17, 2006)
Christina Aguilera receives musical assistance from an unlikely collaborator on her upcoming album, "Back to Basics," due in June via RCA. Gang Starr principal DJ Premier produced five songs for the project, which finds Aguilera paying tribute to the music that inspired her: soul, jazz and blues from the 1920s, '30s and '40s.  "It was kind of a shock because I was like, 'How the hell does she know about me?'" Premier recalls of his first conversation with RCA about the album. "I'm one of those guys that really doesn't expect pop artists to really be up on me. My first question was, 'What does she know about me?'"  It turns out Aguilera was familiar with some of Premier's jazz-influenced work with Gang Starr in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially the song "Jazz Thing."  "It had elements of Miles Davis and Billie Holiday and little horn pieces," Aguilera says of the tune. "The way he combined that, I was like, 'Hm. I bet he would get where I'm trying to go with this record.' It was taking a chance. God knows if he would even do it because it was kind of his first time, I think, even venturing into the 'pop' world. I knew that it would be a different and new thing for him."

Aguilera says that her work with DJ Premier is new territory for both of them and continues her legacy of taking creative chances with her music. Likely single "Ain't No Other Man," produced by DJ Premier and Charles Roane, clocks in at 127 beats per minute -- most pop and rap songs rarely exceed 10 -- -and features energetic horn blares. Another song, "Thank You (Dedication to Fans)," finds Premier slicing up pieces of Aguilera's first hit, "Genie in a Bottle," and pairing them with voice-mail messages from Aguilera's fans.  These songs gave Aguilera the sounds she desired and allowed her to fulfill another one of her mandates. "The thing that I try to do with each record, I don't necessarily go to the main people that are the No. 1 chart-toppers in music," she says. "I really like to go left field, think a little bit out of the box and go with someone, maybe a little bit more obscure, that I really respect. Not to say that Premier is that, but just to say that I'm not going to go to the obvious person, say, the Neptunes, Pharrell or Lil Jon. I really like to go someplace different that people haven't approached."

The Very Best Of Peabo Bryson Available Now

Source: Holly Cooper, D.I.T. Public Relations, 917-597-3048,

(Mar. 22, 2006) Fairfax, VA --
Peabo Bryson is recognized as one of contemporary music's premier male vocalists and legendary soul balladeer, with a career spanning nearly three decades. His musical repertoire has earned many honours including an Oscar, multiple Grammy awards and numerous Billboard top listings. Time Life has created a special 16-song CD entitled The Very Best of Peabo Bryson available now in retail stores nationwide.  Bryson' portfolio of greatest hits includes Tonight, I Celebrate My Love, the ever-popular hit duet with R&B legend Roberta Flack; Show and Tell; Let The Feeling Flow; Can You Stop The Rain; Feel the Fire; Closer Than Close; the Oscar and Grammy-winning A Whole New World from Disney's hit movie Aladdin recorded with Regina Belle; and the Grammy-winning Beauty and the Beast recorded with Celine Dion.  His unprecedented international success resulted in being the first artist in music history to have separate records topping four different charts in 1992: "A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)", which topped both the Pop and Adult Contemporary charts. During this time, Peabo teamed up with Tony Winner Lea Salonga and recorded the song "We Kiss In A Shadow" for the classical musical The King and I, which was No.1 on the Classical Crossover charts; while saxophonist Kenny G's multi-platinum "Breathless" which also featured Peabo on "By The Time This Night Is Over" topped Contemporary Jazz charts.

"For the first time in Bryson's career, his timeless music is available on one CD for his loyal fans and music enthusiasts to enjoy worldwide. The Very Best of Peabo Bryson represents a blockbuster of greatest hits. He is the undisputed master of romantic ballads. As spokesperson for Classic Soul Ballads Collection on television, Peabo was seen by more than 75 million viewers and instrumental in the 3 million CDs sold," states Mike Jason, Senior Vice-President of Audio & Video, Retail at Time Life..  Bryson demonstrates a passion for the music he writes and produces which is evident in his live performance and continued sold out concerts. "My primary objective when writing a love ballad is to share what I would like for others to feel through music. When I perform Feel The Fire, Can You Stop The Rain, A Whole New World, or my other favourites, I want my audience to recognize that love is real," states Bryson.


Headquartered in Fairfax Virginia, Time Life Inc. was founded in 1961 as one of the world's largest direct marketers of audio and video products on CDs, DVDs and VHS. The company sells music, videos, books and other products throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and is the largest advertiser of music products in Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Time-Life sets the standard in the direct response industry with its trusted brand and pioneering new direct marketing techniques via phone. Time Life also sells over the Internet and through major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Circuit City, K-Mart, Musicland and Best Buy to traditional CD outlets.

Craig Northey: Musician Has A Lot Goin' On

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Victoria Ahearn, Canadian Press

(Mar. 21, 2006) Musician
Craig Northey gets giddy when he talks about the first time he watched the hit CTV ensemble comedy series Corner Gas.  That's because the former front man for the now-defunct alt-rock group Odds co-wrote the theme song at star Brent Butt's request, without ever having seen the show.  To Northey's pleasant surprise, the song actually meshed well with the overall Prairie tone and humour.  "It was fantastic and I was calling everyone in the family, `Come here, quick! Come see Brent's show!'" the father of three recalls about the time Butt sent him the demo in 2004.  "A lot of the times you do things for multimedia, it hinges on it being good and it's not what you wanted it to be. But I love Corner Gas."  Northey, based in North Vancouver, co-wrote the catchy jingle, called "Not a Lot Goin' On," with his musical partner Jesse Valenzuela of the Tempe, Ariz.-based rock band Gin Blossoms, and then fleshed it out for the duo's self-titled debut, Northey Valenzuela.  The 13-track album, which contains a recording with bluesman Colin James, was released this month in Canada on the True North Records label.  Northey and Valenzuela, both singer-guitarists, met in the early 1990s when their bands crossed paths on their journey to fame and fortune in Los Angeles, when they "just had the promise of the future going," says Northey.  After an introduction through a mutual friend, the bands started touring together and supporting each other's records in their home cities.  Northey says the Odds and Blossoms would often sleep "on the same floor" after gigs, and he and Valenzuela started to form a strong friendship.  "Jesse and I bonded over this guy's giant record collection, one of the things that we liked — Nick Lowe records, old soul music, you know — and stayed up late, listened to records and became friends," he says.

When the Gin Blossoms broke up in 1997 (they reunited again in 2002), the Northey-Valenzuela bond became even stronger as they started flying to each other's homes to write songs.  "We used to call the project, for a while, Frequent Flyer, because we did it on air miles," says Northey, recalling trips to Valenzuela's home in L.A. to cut tracks in his home studio.  Years later, however, they realized their back and forth collaborations resulted in a hodgepodge of songs that didn't connect.  That's when things came full circle for Northey.  He recruited his ex-Odds mates Doug Elliott and Pat Steward, as well as Cowboy Junkies keyboardist Simon Kendall, among others, to record the tracks with them. Northey says they did it live off the floor in just eight days in North Vancouver.  "We thought it would be kind of a compounding process: the more mistakes we allowed, the more interesting it might be," says Northey, who gave each artist just one or two takes to record their parts.  "It makes people twitchy when they're listening to it because they can tell they might be able to perfect it. But sometimes perfecting it doesn't make it any better."  The process was raw and "liberating," says Northey, but it was a tough sell — until a Universal Music rep saw it on and asked them to remaster it for wide release.  Perhaps the Corner Gas hype helped.  "I'm hearing from fans of music I've made in the past from England ... and places that the show's being sold and they're freaking out, going, `I was watching the show and then I saw your name and I heard your voice,'" says Northey.  With "Not a Lot Goin' On" chiming out of TV sets every week and a new album out, Northey seems content, perhaps more so than a few years ago when he had, well, not a lot goin' on.

Local Tributes To Shostakovich, Composer For Modern Horror

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
John Terauds, Classical Music Writer

(Mar. 19, 2006) We know music can sound happy or sad. But can a sequence of notes and chords speak to us about terror and dictatorship?  Yes. It was written by
Dmitri Shostakovich. The talented, tormented Russian created a spare musical language that embodies 20th-century Russia.  To mark his 100th birthday on Sept. 25, musicians around the world have begun to commemorate this singular artist, who died in 1975. Locally three such events are planned for this week alone.  But let's look back to his time first. On July 20, 1942, during World War II, Shostakovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine. The accompanying article starts off with an old Russian proverb: "When guns speak, the muses keep silent."  Then it does an about-face: "Last winter, as he listened to the roar of German artillery and watched the sputtering of German incendiaries from the roof of Leningrad's Conservatory of Music, Fire Warden Shostakovich snapped: `Here the muses speak together with the guns.'"  When the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under guest conductor Stefan Sanderling, performs the Russian's Symphony No. 8 this week, his music will slice through our emotional armour and pierce our souls. It may also provoke us to think about freedom of expression and an artist's true voice.  Much has been written about Shostakovich and his rocky relationship with the Soviet state and dictator Joseph Stalin. The contradictory stories and arguments prove that words are irrelevant in a world of propaganda, disinformation and fear of honest opinions.  Shostakovich's musical dots and squiggles contain all we need to know about him and Soviet society.

The late conductor Kyrill Kondrashin said in 1980 that Shostakovich's music "is inseparable from the events of his life. That is why, until now, it spoke more to the hearts of audiences in his homeland than outside it. But we may now speak of a renaissance of Shostakovich in the West, since the facts of his life have become known here as well and have forced people to look at his music with new eyes."  Sanderling, 42, grew up in East Berlin, behind the Iron Curtain. He has written a lengthy background essay on Shostakovich, which he shares with musicians before rehearsals.  He writes that nothing "leads to greater misunderstanding than judging from the safe haven of intellectual freedom works of art that were created under the conditions of a dictatorship."  There were times Shostakovich offended Stalin, endangering his life. At other times, he was hailed as a hero of working people. Stalin expected a victorious symphony from him in 1943, once the Germans were repelled from Leningrad's periphery. Instead, the gun-fed muses prompted him to write a grim work of death, war and dictatorship.  In an interview, Sanderling describes the Symphony No. 8 as "very politicized, very personal music." He says this is Shostakovich's "most complete symphony. There is not one note too few and not one note too many."  More importantly, "even an audience that doesn't know the music realizes that something incredible has just happened."  The strength of this work, says Sanderling, is how it captures the little ways in which a police state wears down the human spirit. "The most horrible things that happened were the daily little things that were done to you," he says of life behind the Iron Curtain. "They were things that hurt your pride and dignity."  Sanderling likens the systemic oppression to a creek that, bit by bit, washes stones downstream. History washed away the Berlin Wall, Warsaw Pact, Politburo and gulag. But the music remains, its power undiminished.

Hawksley Workman Puts The Question To Fans In His New Album

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Brad Wheeler

(Mar. 21, 2006)
A singer’s voice is lost, concerts are cancelled, a butterfly turns moth. Hawksley Workman, Canadian pop musician, is a colourful flier sadly grounded. A bout of laryngitis destructs Workman's ability to perform, and many shows have been postponed so far. It is, to say the least, a distressing situation. "It's kind of like a plumber who loses his tools," says Workman, on the road to Quebec City from Fredericton. My, he is low then, seeing himself more as a pipe-fixing grunt than the fancy performer he's well-known to be. He cannot be blamed for his depression. Where a throat infection would less inhibit an ink-voiced bluesman or a smoke-and-honey chanteuse, for an extravagant vocalist like Workman, the affliction is major. I rely on my voice to give me my swagger," he says, sounding a little gravely. "When I don't have three or four octaves available to me I feel like the emperor without my clothes." More literally, he's a singer without a band, touring the country only with a pianist. "It feels like there's less to hide behind. The voice becomes all the more important." Still, despite the situation, Workman rationalizes his malady. "Even we rock 'n' rollers are mortal. We just forget it sometimes." Judging by Workman's new album, the apocalyptically pastoral Treeful of Starling, mortality is not far from the songwriter's mind. "One certainty of living is that you're gonna die," he sings on the florid pop of Hey Hey Hey (My Little Beauties), "So why not stand in awe of it, instead of asking why." That is the album's question. Modern urban society races forward at a breakneck pace -- a churning, blurry velocity that won't allow for flower smelling. The world that is gets ignored for what it could become.

"We seem to only trumpet the virtues of progress, and that progress is the only way to mark the quality of our own existence," explains Workman, who admits to Luddite tendencies.  "It just seems to me that life moves too fast to even live it any more. That things are just too tense to even exist -- to even breathe a full breath." Workman, 30, slowed things down himself a year ago. Since emerging as a flamboyant rocker in 2001 (with his striking debut disc For Him and the Girls), Workman's ride had been a wild one. He toured the world over, recorded three albums (including the Christmas-themed Almost a Full Moon), and based himself among Toronto, Paris and his hometown of Huntsville, Ont. He lived star-big, and it caught up to him. On Jan. 2, 2005, Workman awoke from a "boozy haze" that had endured for a couple of years. He found a house to rent in the California desert and flew out within days. He ended up staying for six weeks, alone, "a real hermitage." There he watched coyotes, woke up with the sun, got clean and wrote the clever and melodic songs that appear on Treeful of Starling. Musically the album is stripped down and not gaudy, though the piano-based pop is hardly drab. Nicely quirky, it has, as one reviewer put it, an "understated extroversion." Opening track A Moth Is Not a Butterfly recalls Bob Geldof's theatrical I Don't Like Mondays.  There's a megaphone (perhaps once used by Roger Waters) on You and the Candles. Lyrically, it's soberly reflective in its observation of the world's state now and where things head. Workman sees a culture in decay and city-heavy societies crumbling, with mankind longing for riches and progress instead of living for the day. "The kind of prosperity that humanity is after these days, it seems we have to be so fast to get to it, we don't live our lives while we try to seek our fortunes." And so, Workman welcomes simpler times -- times before clocks and nights that are brightened by candles. The singer whose rendition of the Beatles' Revolution provided a soundtrack to a World Cup soccer commercial, now wants a devolution. "Absolutely," Workman asserts. "The only help for our evolution is devolution. That's probably what the recording is all about." Workman is not slowing down himself -- at least not when it comes to making music. He actually recorded three albums last year, including one darker record that came first, and one pop-like collection that came last. Those two records will likely be released at some point, but for now Workman sees Treeful of Starling as the right one to go first. "I really wanted to have that be the record that stood for where I was," he says. "It felt like I found my voice again." For Workman, that is no small thing. Hawksley Workman is scheduled to play St. Catharines, Ont., March 31; Victoria, April 2; Vancouver, April 3-4; Calgary, April 6; Regina, April 8; and Saskatoon, April 9.

The Hampson Interview: Imogen Heap

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Sarah Hampson

(Mar. 18, 2006) Like a funky Mary Poppins, Imogen Heap drops in on the scene, a vision of cheer amidst people who have seen too much of a Canadian February. Six feet tall, her hair a high nest of messy tendrils and big red flowers, her eyes shielded by oversized pink sunglasses, she sweeps down the hall of the converted warehouse of Sony BMG in downtown Toronto, publicists in tow, as though they are her charges for the day and not the other way around. Her beige skirt is voluminous, with layers of crinolines visible underneath, and over a fuchsia sleeveless, pleated blouse, she wears a fitted raspberry-red morning coat, with a rounded swallowtail shape at the back. Around her neck: a sparkly gold scarf. The palms of both hands are encircled with partial gloves made of coloured lace. Her shoes: pointy and cream-coloured. On one cheekbone, she has placed a shiny stick-on butterfly. And yes, the bag she carries is large and overstuffed. Settled into a room, she plops down onto a sofa, then leaps up again, to stand, in the centre of the small space, her long, thin frame angled in a pose, holding her hands out and turning them in small circles, in a gesture that says, 'What can I get for you?' She means a refreshment, some strawberries perhaps or a piece of pineapple that have been laid out on a side table against one wall. But she appears capable of magic, of pulling a talking bunny from her bag, if that's what you desired. She is a hostess to her own world, leading her visitors out of any assumptions they may have and into an appreciation of her freshness.

Born outside of London, England, in a country that tolerates eccentricity, celebrates it even, she is completely at ease with herself, free, a wild child from some other universe, programmed on creativity and unaware of what uncertainty or self-doubt might feel like. Even though she seems apart from the mainstream, both in music (electronic pop) and in personality, she is deeply engaged in it. In fact, much of her music is the soundtrack to popular culture hits, such as The Chronicles of Narnia film and a handful of TV shows, such as The O.C., CSI and Six Feet Under. "Yeah, I like to dress up," she says blithely in a soft, breathy voice. "I love colours. I love textures. I love mixing things together," she continues, looking down at her costume, as if for the first time today, to check what exactly she has put on. "For me, it's important. I like to get up in the morning and feel, you know, the way I want my day to be. I want it to be fun. I want it to be colourful. I want it to be different and exciting, and maybe if I dress that way, maybe I think it will happen more," she says. Her lean, patrician face offers a whimsical smile. But do not be fooled by the impossible girlishness of being Imogen Heap. A smart, disciplined mind lies behind the bouquet she presents. This Mary Poppins has a few instructions she could hand out, but they're not about manners. They are business strategies for how to get what you want in the recording industry. Heap, who is just 23, has shrewdly guided her third and latest album, Speak for Yourself, in a way that has everyone talking. A classically trained pianist who plays the cello and clarinet, among other instruments, she has been recording music professionally since 1998, when she made her first album, I Megaphone, straight out of school.

Her love of electronic music, which in her hands is rich and warm, as layered and textured as her surprising wardrobe, began at boarding school in Cambridge, England, where she was sent when she was 12, after her parents split up. "I didn't get on famously at the beginning with the girls and guys," she offers. "I spent all my time in the music school and I soon [found] a little room with a computer. I loved this idea that you could come up with something in your head. You could play it and you could hear it back right away, and you could manipulate it and add to it." A year later, she entered the Brit School in London, an avant-garde (and free) school for 14- to 19-year-olds, specializing in performing arts and technology. After her first album, she teamed up with Guy Sigsworth, a celebrated producer who has worked with Madonna and Bjork. Their collaboration was a band called Frou Frou, and they signed with Island Records for their CD Details, released in 2003. But she was unhappy, not with Sigsworth, but with working within the structure of the music business. "There's always all this promise, and then you watch it slowly die, another four years of work down the drain." The biggest promotion of Details came from the single Let's Go being on the soundtrack of the hit movie Garden State. She decided to go it alone. She mortgaged her apartment to finance time in her studio. "I wanted to make a record I was really, really proud of and do it completely on my own terms. I was fed up with the stupid comments [from record executives] who would have demo-itis and they'd come and say, 'Oh, it's not as good as the demo, you know,' " she says, mocking their seriousness. Also, she chose not to work with Sigsworth again so she could "find out what my real sound was."

She then had her agent submit a track, unsolicited, to the TV show The O.C. They used the song Hide and Seek, an a cappella piece of her layered voice, for the finale of season two in 2005. To maximize the broadcast's potential, she made a short-term deal with iTunes through her own company, Megaphonic Records, to coincide with the broadcast of The O.C. episode. Within a week, the song had jumped to number 32 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Record companies were at her feet. Heap retains the masters of her songs and simply licenses them for distribution through the RCA Victor label. "The deal is amazing," she offers. "It's really, really creative. It's not to do with money or advances. I have 100-per-cent artistic control," she says brightly. "I can do what I like." One example is her hiring of Arno Salters, a Canadian director with Toronto-based Spy Entertainment, to make her video for Goodnight and Go, a song on the album about a foolish but fun sexual encounter. "I think it's important to understand the business," she says in her light-hearted manner. "I've been at it 10 years now, and I do pick up a few things along the way. And I've always been interested in it, only because the less you understand about it, the more bitter you become because you don't understand why certain things have to be done in certain ways." The sentences all rush out of her, quickly and softly as wind. She gestures with her arms in a flighty, schoolgirlish way. "And I didn't think it was rocket science," she adds. And where does Heap get her best ideas for her songs and her navigation of the business? On her bicycle, of course. She rides regularly from her studio to her home along the south bank of the Thames. But no, it doesn't fly.

Grand Hustle/Atlantic Release, “King,” To Drop March 28

Warner Music Canada

(Feb. 22, 2006) Grand Hustle/Atlantic recording artist T.I. has announced details of his highly anticipated new album, “KING,” set to drop March 28, as well as his big-screen debut in “ATL,” set to open March 31.  “KING” follows the breakthrough success of 2004’s RIAA platinum-certified “URBAN LEGEND,” which spawned such smash hits as “Bring Em Out” and the Grammy nominated “U Don’t Know Me.” “What You Know,” the first single from “KING,” was #1 most-added track at both CHR/Rhythmic and Urban radio nationwide.  The single’s companion video, shot earlier this month in L.A., features cameos by actor Mike Epps and Blink- 182/Transplants Travis Barker of Blink-182/Transplants/MTV fame.  Veteran hip-hop video director and Atlanta native Chris Robinson not only directed the music video, but also the upcoming Overbrook/Warner Bros. Pictures film, “ATL,” starring T.I.  The music video shows a day in the life of T.I., where he attends the premiere of “ATL,” joins the film’s cast at the theatre, and then attends the after-party.  T.I. (Tip Harris) will make his acting debut in “ATL” as lead character Rashad. The film tells the story of a group of four friends who have just graduated from high school in Atlanta. “ATL” spotlights the city’s famed Jellybeans skating rink, a popular hangout not only for the teens in the film, but for both T.I. and Robinson as real-life teens growing up in Atlanta.  Songs from “KING,” including “What You Know,” “Front Back,” and “Ride Wit Me,” which is the featured song in the film’s trailer, will appear in “ATL.”  The film is set for release March 31.  Atlantic Records and Warner Bros. Pictures are working closely together on both projects, partnering in field marketing, advertising, publicity, and screenings. In conjunction with both the release of “KING” and “ATL,” T.I. will make appearances at exclusive album listening events and movie premieres in Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit the week prior to the projects’ release dates.  The rapper also plans to make appearances at larger premieres in Atlanta and Los Angeles the week of March 27. 

T.I.'s video for “What You Know” made its world premiere on BET's Access Granted on February 15.  In addition, T.I. appeared on BET’s 106 & Park on February 17, and will appear again on the show the day before his album release, March 27.  BET will also air several interviews with T.I. on various shows, including BET Style and Rap City, all airing in the next few weeks, as well as Hosted Saturday airing April 1. T.I. will make an appearance on MTV’s TRL on March 27 as well as on DFX that same week. MTV’s The Leak will feature “KING” from March 21-28, and MTV News will soon feature interviews with the rapper filmed during his album photo shoot last month as well as during the "What You Know" video shoot.  MTV2’s Sucker Free Sunday Countdown featured T.I. on February 19 and T.I. will host Sucker Free Sunday on March 26. Fuse will feature T.I. on both the Daily Download and Hip-Hop Confidential.  T.I. was recently nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance for his song “U Don’t Know Me.” He also walked away from the Second Annual VIBE Awards with a win in the Street Anthem category for the same song.   This summer, T.I. will exclusively sponsor two teen girls on the first T.I. Music Sponsorship with It’s Cool To Be Smart “Single Parent Initiative” as part of his ongoing commitment to support the local Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta.

For more information on T.I., visit

Diva Unleashes Her Fiery Passion In Operatic Coup

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
John Terauds, Classical Music Writer

(Mar. 18, 2006) To get a top international diva to sing one of her signature roles for your opera company is a major coup. To get her at the last minute, to fill in for an unwell leading character, is a monumental stroke of luck.  Boston-born
June Anderson made her Metropolitan Opera debut opposite Luciano Pavarotti in 1989. The dramatic coloratura soprano began her tour of leading roles on every major opera stage a decade before that.  And, when the curtain goes up at the Hummingbird Centre on March 30, she will make her local opera debut in the title role of the Canadian Opera Company's Norma, in a six-performance run.  The two-act drama, which premiered a La Scala in Milan on Boxing Day, 1831, was not an instant hit. But it soon gained a steady following thanks to its solid, female-centred drama coupled with gorgeous, melody-rich music by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835).  The lead role has become a career touchstone for the modern diva, including not-so-distant soprano legends Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland.  "I spent two-thirds of my career working towards Norma," says Anderson during a break in rehearsals earlier this week. Her strong, flexible voice and ringing top notes made her a natural for what is known as the bel canto style.  "Norma was an arrival, a destination," she says. "Once I was there, I had to figure out what to do next."

Some early-19th-century bel canto operas are a series of show-stopping arias, with not much of substance in between. But Bellini's work stands as a dramatic and musical whole. It also contains great arias, such as the infamous "Casta Diva."  "Norma spoiled me for so much other bel canto repertoire," says Anderson. "In the beginning, bel canto was my whole world and, with Norma, my world suddenly got bigger."  Now, at the age of 53, her passion for the opera is undiminished. She has extended herself to sing works from other eras, including a Paris production of contemporary German composer Hans-Werner Henze's 1966 opera, The Bassarids, last April.  Asked about her favourite production of Norma, Anderson pauses to think, then says that every production she has done has had its highs and lows.  "I prefer productions that don't get in the way of anything," she concludes. She tilts her head sideways. "I like productions like this, instead of straight-on."  Anderson is not pleased with the only Norma she has recorded on DVD. The production, filmed for Italian television in 2001 by director Carlo Battistoni, used an original manuscript by Bellini. According to Anderson, its many faults included having "Casta Diva" set a whole tone higher.  "Bellini's first Norma, Giuditta Pasta, told him this was impossible, and so it has been sung a whole tone down ever since," says Anderson.  The Canadian Opera Company's effort is a remount, using Allen Moyers' set and Anna Oliver's costumes. It is directed by François Racine and conducted by David T. Heusel.  The role of Norma represents a daunting two-plus hours of singing. The character is a Druid high priestess with two children who discovers that her lover, the Roman proconsul Pollione, is running off with Adalgisa, a young novice priestess.  The two women eventually make an accommodation with each other, but not with Pollione. It all ends with Norma and Pollione going up in flames on a great pyre.  Anderson has been singing in Europe since 1982 and keeps apartments in New York and Paris. But she has no current or upcoming engagements in North America. "With the exception of this Norma," she says with a big smile.  Her European reviews continue to glow about the quality of her voice and artistry. This makes her surprise Toronto stop an even bigger vocal treat. The Canadian Opera Company presents Bellini's Norma at the Hummingbird Centre on Mar. 30, Apr. 4, 7, 9, 12 & 15. Info at

Presenting A Fun Way To Jazz Up Your Sunday

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian

(Mar. 18, 2006) NEW YORK—If you're looking for a fun couple to spend Sunday morning with, let me suggest
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey. Jazz fans know him as the genial genius of the guitar and show-tune aficionados hail her as having some of the most persuasive pipes around.  They're husband and wife, but more importantly, they're the hosts of a program called Radio Deluxe, which can be heard locally on JAZZ FM 91 every Sunday starting at 9 a.m.  "I'm a huge fan of John and Jessica's," affirms Ross Porter, president and CEO of the station. "They're natural entertainers with great comedic timing and because of their pedigree, they're able to attract an impressive list of guests."  The guests are important, because Radio Deluxe is something different — a loose-limbed combination of free-flowing talk and fine-sounding music, all wrapped up in the persuasive personalities of the two hosts.  It's the kind of show that used to be on the radio years and years ago, only not quite this good. Everyone from Margaret Whiting and Liza Minnelli to Michael Bublé and Peter Cincotti (tomorrow morning's guest, by the way) stops by to chew the fat and warm the airwaves.  "We haven't found anyone who isn't passionate about music," says Molaskey. You'd have to put her and her husband on the top of the list.  It's the kind of windy, rainy day in Manhattan that makes everybody tense and we're all crowded into a tiny, tiny office, but the atmosphere couldn't be more relaxed — thanks to Pizzarelli, Molaskey and their daughter Maddie.  "We've been kicking this idea around for a while," admits Pizzarelli, 45. "We originally wanted to do a cooking show. Kind of Playboy After Dark meets Molto Mario on the way to Seinfeld."  "I was going to wear this retro hostess gown," recalls Molaskey, "and we'd have this fabulous loft apartment. Tony Bennett would drop by and tell us his favourite thing to eat was Mario Batali's gnocchi, and Tony would sing while Mario cooked."  They both laugh, then sigh.

"Fabulous idea," says Pizzarelli, "only nobody wanted to put up the bucks to do it."  But even though TV might have been prohibitively expensive, radio was relatively cheap and so they found their concept of music mixed with conversation moving to the airwaves, minus the food and the fancy apartment.  What they have is a band, some guests and an insatiable curiosity for what makes people tick.  "There's this great old guard of music," says Molaskey, "who are still willing to tell stories about the giants they worked with and we feel we have a responsibility to document it."  "And then," she continues, "there's the younger generation, like these great guys you find playing in the Minor Leagues."  "Very nice analogy," nods baseball fan Pizzarelli approvingly.  Everything gets the lightest of touches from this duo. They put their heads together and sing a theme song that never made it to the air. "Swinging conversation, no real preparation/ It's all here on Radio Deluxe," it goes.  "I like them to be relaxed," is how Pizzarelli describes his interviewing technique. "I start the tape rolling as soon as they walk into the room. Before you know it, we're into it.  "Annie Ross once asked, `When are we gonna start?' and I said, `Hey, we're almost done.'"  Molaskey smiles. "John always has his guitar around his neck. People will start telling a story and then just slip into song and he'll accompany them. There's something so sweet about people singing like that."  "I let her do all the real work," grins Pizzarelli, "and then I feel comfortable asking the dumb questions."  They're both proud to be part of what is frequently called "the revival of the Great Popular Songbook," taking their place alongside Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and the rest.  "You know something," starts Molaskey, "this is the quintessential North American art form. Good is good and sooner or later things find their own level."  And a background in jazz is useful for doing unscripted radio.  "We're just riffing," explains Pizzarelli, "like we always do. You're constantly in the moment. It's not about tomorrow or yesterday. It's about what you're doing right now with the melody that's being played."  Porter says the format works. "Their show is very popular with our listeners," he says. "I'm very pleased and not at all surprised."  "I think if I was at home listening to the show," giggles Molaskey, "I'd want to be there."  And she's right.  Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey is heard 9-11 a.m. Sunday mornings on JAZZ FM 91.

Paul Rodgers Does Creditable Job Of Fronting Queen

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Vit Wagner, Pop Music Critic

(Mar. 17, 2006) Let's be honest, if Queen had gone the Rock Star: INXS route to find its new singer, there is no way they would have ended up with
Paul Rodgers.  Surely, someone younger and more marketable than a largely forgotten minor icon of the 1960s and '70s would have emerged when all the votes were in.  It's a good thing, then, that Queen did not go down that road.  Rodgers is no Freddie Mercury, the charismatic crooner who fronted the '80s glam-rock mainstays until his death in 1991. But the 56-year-old former singer for Free and Bad Company is no wannabe, either.  As a co-author of "All Right Now," Rodgers was responsible for one of the most enduring rock anthems ever to shake an arena to its foundations, a song that 35 years after it was a hit brought last night's nearly sold-out crowd at the Air Canada Centre to a state of fist-pumping delirium.  There aren't many tunes that could hold their own as an encore number wedged between "We Will Rock You" and "We are the Champions." If anything, it was the most potent of the three. It didn't hurt, of course, to have Queen guitarist Brian May laying down the licks.  Too bad Rodgers never came close to equalling that high point during his stint with Bad Company. Of the three songs from that outfit on the set list, "Feel Like Making Love" and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" stood up passably well, but the eponymous calling card "Bad Company," which featured Rodgers on the grand piano, was tepid by comparison.  Credit May and drummer Roger Taylor, the two surviving Queen members who are part of the current sextet, for giving Rodgers his due. And credit Rodgers, too, for knowing when to recede into the background.

Taylor, whose singing voice carries a vague resemblance to Rod Stewart's, stepped out from behind the kit to deliver "These are the Days of Our Lives," presented against a backdrop of documentary footage of Queen from younger days. Earlier, he had lent his voice to "I'm in Love with My Car," preceded by an obligatory drum solo that sounded, well, obligatory.  Likewise, May was allowed his own extended showcase of guitar virtuosity. He also led a solo, acoustic sing-along to "Love of my Life," dedicated to Mercury.  "I never thought that this would happen," May said. "This is a big bonus in my life. I hope it is in yours, too."  Unlike INXS, which doesn't even acknowledge late singer Michael Hutchence in its shows, Queen stuck a plausible balance between honouring Mercury and going forward without him — even if the new offering, "Take Love," didn't exactly whet the appetite for an entire album with other songs like it.  For the most part, Rodgers successfully navigated his way through "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Another One Bites the Dust" and other Queen standards.  No doubt, the test in the back of everyone's mind was "Bohemian Rhapsody," which Rodgers managed with more than a little help from Mercury. Fully half of the song was presented with the band accompanying video images of their former singer in his operatic glory. When Rodgers finally joined in, the transition seemed more fluid than forced.  In that sense, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was emblematic of an unlikely reunion that came across as more natural than might have appeared possible on paper.

Blunt Shares His Pain

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist

(Mar. 22, 2006) When you're playing the high-stakes vulnerable romantic gambit, complete with devastating Byronic sobs in every lyric and your bleeding heart in plain view, the tricky bit is to make the sensitive-poet angle seem real when you're out there in front of 2,500 devoted believers.  You don't ruin the spell, as British military officer-turned-pop sensation
James Blunt did last night at Massey Hall in his first local concert appearance, by suggesting that the assembly — mostly well-groomed females in their late teens through mid-30s — get naked in order to affirm their approval.  This crowd, as far as this witness to the first full Blunt assault in Toronto could see, was too well behaved to take him seriously, or to take offence. Instead, his fans continued to scream and sigh, flashed their camera phones with increased fury and urged him to sing harder, louder, higher.  Blunt and his four-piece band could do no wrong, as long as his emotively ragged falsetto was in gear and the ache in his soul was reflected in his weary, watery eyes, his beggar-boy stance and plaintive voice.  Every generation needs romantic balladeers. Pop music, life itself, would be nothing without them. And Blunt is the latest in a long line of tender and brutal romantic manipulators. He has a heartbreaking way with words, the ability to make the most preposterous declarations of undying love or fear of betrayal and loss seem almost honest. His melodies are great soaring structures built around ascending and descending chords thickly laden with the joy of passion at full throb, and alternatively with the dark and sinister calamity of despair.  There are no half measures in any of these songs. And on record, Blunt pulls it all off masterfully — so well, in fact, that from the get-go last night, every young female voice in the audience seemed to be singing the songs along with him, as if to offer strength to compensate when Blunt apologized for his worn voice.  "You're going to get a very raw version, the way I felt it when I wrote it," he confided with appalling disingenuousness about 30 minutes into a 75-minute show, as he sat down at the piano alone to launch "Goodbye My Lover" — arguably the most excessively sentimental pop ballad since Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch" — with its grand melodramatic sigh of a refrain, "Goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend, you have been the one, you have been the one for me ..."

The loneliness and pain he tried to convey didn't quite have the same meaning with a thousand sobbing women singing along, but hey, this was a special moment.  Each voice seemed to be sharing Blunt's anguish in intimate solitude, the way we all have at some time in our lives when pleasure and pain, tears and rain are all the same — to borrow another gem from the handsome young ex-soldier's collection — and find their meaning only in a trifling song.  They're not all trifles. One of the most forceful pieces last night was the anti-war ballad "No Bravery," a big angry thing full of haunted memories of a ravaged and empty Kosovo, some of them captured on video and projected onto a screen upstage, over Blunt at the piano.  That one song contains all the rare elements James Blunt will need in his post-romantic years.


Kanye West, Chili Peppers To Headline Lollapalooza

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Mar. 18, 2006)
Austin, Tex. -- Kanye West, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Wilco are among over 120 acts to perform at this year's Lollapalooza festival. The lineup, announced Thursday at the South by Southwest music festival, includes about twice the number of last year's festival, when Lollapalooza was downsized from a coast-to-coast tour to a weekend event in Chicago. Lollapalooza 2006 will take place Aug. 4-6 in Chicago's Grant Park. Other acts include Common, Death Cab for Cutie, the Flaming Lips, Queens of the Stone Age, the Shins, Iron & Wine and the Raconteurs, the new band formed by Jack White and Brendan Benson. AP

Richie Spice Currently On In The Street To Africa Tour

Excerpt from - By Kevin Jackson

(March 20, 2006) *With his latest hit Youths are So Cold making moves on the local charts, singer Richie Spice and the other artistes from the Fifth Element stables, are currently pulling in audiences on their In the Street to Africa tour.  The jaunt has so far made stops at the Ragga Muffins Festival in California, the island of St. Marteen, Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia Beach, and Massachusetts.  Accompanying Richie on the tour are Spanner Banner, Etana and Jah Penco.     Richie Spice whose seven year old recording Earth a Run Red topped the charts in 2004, has had numerous chart successes within the past two years. His hits include Black like Tar, High Grade, This Ghetto Girl, Righteous Youths, Operation Kingfish, Marijuana and Earth Alert (currently riding the New York Reggae chart).   A new album from Richie Spice is expected later this year. His most recent album Spice in Your Life was released in 2004.

LeToya Rolls With Houston Hip-Hoppers

Excerpt from - Clover Hope, N.Y.

(Mar. 21, 2006)
Original Destiny's Child member LeToya Luckett will release her solo debut July 18 via Capitol Records. "LeToya" features appearances from fellow Houston artists Mike Jones, Paul Wall and Slim Thug, as well as production by Scott Storch, among others.  LeToya says of the album's title, "It's the world's first time hearing me and getting to know me as a solo artist, so what better way to get them to know me than call it LeToya?" The first single, "Torn," is currently No. 53 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.  During her seven years in the original Destiny's Child quartet, Luckett co-wrote several of the group's singles, including "Bills Bills Bills" and "Say My Name." The singer appeared on two of Destiny's Child's four studio albums: its 1998 self-titled debut and the 1999 follow-up, "The Writing's on the Wall" (1999).  In late 1999, LaTavia Roberson and Luckett both parted ways with the group, after which Farrah Franklin (who departed after five months) and Michelle Williams joined up. The resulting trio announced its split last June during the European leg of their Destiny Fulfilled...and Loving It tour.

'Lost' Diana Ross Jazz Album Due In June

Excerpt from - Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

(Mar. 21, 2006)
An album of jazz standards Diana Ross recorded more than 30 years ago will see the light of day for the first time this summer. Due June 20 via Motown/UME, "Blue" was intended as a companion to the hit 1972 soundtrack to "Lady Sings the Blues," in which Ross portrayed jazz legend Billie Holiday.  However, Ross instead followed up the project with the pop album "Touch Me in the Morning," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. In its wake, "Blue" was shelved; the master tapes were only recently discovered in Motown's vault, according to the label.  "Blue" was produced and arranged by longtime Ross collaborator Gil Askey. It features such selections as Cole Porter's "Let's Do It," Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen's "But Beautiful," the Gershwin Brothers' "I Loves Ya Porgy" and the Motown original "Had You Been Around," which was performed in "Lady Sings the Blues" by Michelle Allar.  Several other tracks appeared in alternate form on the "Lady Sings the Blues" soundtrack, while different takes of "Little Blue Girl" and "Smile" wound up on "Touch Me in the Morning" and Ross' 1976 self-titled album, respectively.  "Blue" is rounded out by three bonus tracks ("Easy Living," "He's Funny That Way" and Duke Ellington's "Solitude") that were recorded during the "Lady Sings the Blues" sessions but never released.  Ross has not released a new studio album since 1999's "Every Day Is a New Day."

Streisand Eyeing Return To The Road?

Excerpt from - Ray Waddell, Nashville

(Mar. 21, 2006)
Talk is heating up about a fall tour by Barbra Streisand, though published reports citing ticket prices that would top out at $1,500 are incorrect, a source close to her camp tells It does appear a Streisand trek is in the works after two years of industry speculation that Streisand would embark on her first jaunt since 2000.  Sources say Rolling Stones promoter Michael Cohl is in talks to produce the Streisand tour. History shows that Streisand has not balked at exorbitant ticket prices, and that consumers have not balked at paying them.  Outside of a John Kerry fundraiser in 2004, Streisand's last public performances were Sept. 27-28, 2000, at Madison Square Garden, two sell-outs that grossed $14.4 million. Ticket prices for that show, billed as Streisand's farewell, were $2,500, $1,275, $375 and $150, according to Billboard Boxscore.  Streisand charged the same prices for Sept. 20-21 shows that year at Staples Center, grossing $12.6 million. Millennium sell-outs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas grossed $18.2 million, with tickets topping out at $2,500.  Streisand has previously been credited with shattering the glass ceiling on concert prices with her 1993-94 tour, which sold out 22 dates with tickets as high as $350. That outing grossed nearly $60 million.  Streisand's manager, Marty Erlichman, would not confirm any details of a tour, but did not rule it out. "A tour is being explored, but nothing has been finalized, including important aspects not entertained in the media speculation today," he tells "As soon as this is resolved one way or the other -- she may not go out -- the facts will be announced."


EUR Interview: Inside Denzel (The Inside Man)

Excerpt from - By Kam Williams

(Mar. 21, 2006) *Born in Mount Vernon, NY on December 28, 1954,
Denzel Washington was the middle child of three children born to Denzel, a Pentecostal preacher, and Lennis, a beautician. Denzel developed an interest in acting while attending Fordham University, embarking on a career which need not be recounted here.  The two-time Academy Award-winner, who was named the Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine in 1996, currently commands $20,000,000 per picture. Here, he talks about his latest outing opposite Jodie Foster in Inside Man, a cat-and-mouse crime caper directed by Spike Lee. Inside Man opens this Friday in theatres in North America.

KW: How did you decide to do Inside Man?

DW: Spike called me up. I read it, and said, “Yes.” It’s as simple as that.

KW: How much research did you do for this role?

DW: To be honest with you, I didn’t do a whole lot of extensive research, because I just didn’t have the time. I was doing a play on Broadway and had all of five days off before rehearsals, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you I did a whole bunch of stuff. We hung out with some New York City detectives. Part of the reason I liked the idea of doing the film was because it’s very wordy. This guy talks a lot. And I was getting good practice playing Brutus. So, it’s like, “Shakespeare Goes to the Street.”

KW: What special training regimen did you do to play this character, Keith Frazier?

DW: None. I ate. [Laughs] I felt like he’s sort of settled in his ways, and has his routine, and is in over his head. I was actually in better shape, and I sort of let myself go.

KW: How was it working with Spike? I heard that he allowed you to improvise several scenes. Were you comfortable with that?

DW: I actually started improvising with Spike some 17 years ago on Mo’ Better Blues. That was the first time I can remember really just setting a scenario and seeing what happened. I remember this scene where we were just coming off stage, and then we go backstage and I get into an argument with Wesley Snipes’ character. That was one of the first times I sort of improvised. So, it all kinda’ started with Spike many moons ago.

KW: How was the chemistry between you and your co-star, Jodie Foster, another two-time Oscar-winner?

DW: Jodie’s cool. I like Jodie. I like her a lot, and obviously, she’s a great actress. So, I was excited about the opportunity to work with her.

KW: And how was it improvising working with Chiwetel Ejiofor?

DW: Chiwetel is really an elegant and good man, and a great actor. It was tougher for him, because I was just riffing, and he has this accent. So, he didn’t know what I’m going to say, and he was trying to learn how to speak American. He had to go back over to his speech coach and figure out how to respond. So, it was more difficult for him, but he’s a good man, so we had a good time together.

KW: What did you think about the Academy Awards?

DW: I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. I went to Tower Records and I was teaching my daughter how to drive.

KW: How did you feel about It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp being performed and winning for best Song?

DW: I didn’t watch the show, so I can’t comment on what the show was about, but I’m happy for the people who won.

KW: A lot of black people feel that the Academy only honours African-Americans for work which presents their own people in a negative light. You played a corrupt cop in Training Day, Halle Berry got naked in Monster’s Ball. And now that pimp song. Do you agree?

DW: I won the first time for Glory. Wasn’t that positive?

KW: Yeah, but do you think there might be any truth to the perception?

DW: I don’t know if there’s any truth to it, but I think they have the right to feel that way. I don’t sit down with all the voters, and poll them, and I can’t speak for what people think. It’s not like we all get together for a Hollywood meeting to decide. To be honest, I don’t know what people think. You’d have to ask individuals.

KW: How else can you explain it?

DW: I think sometimes you are awarded something over here when you should have won over there. I don’t think that’s new with me. I don’t think Scent of a Woman was Al Pacino’s greatest performance, but that’s what he won for. If I had been in his shoes, would people have said it was because it was race? You know what I mean?

KW: Yep.

DW: He’d been nominated eight times. If that had been me, and I’d been nominated eight times, would people say it was a racial issue? I think there’s something to be said for the “We owe you one” issue. Plus, people like the bad guy. I certainly did. [Chuckles] I enjoyed Training Day. That was one of my favourite parts. I liked it. I had a good time.

KW: Out of all the roles you’ve played, which one is the most like the real Denzel?

DW: Training Day. [Laughs again] I love saying that. There’s no one part. I’m not those people, I just portray those people. They affect you, and they all become a part of you. But I can’t say I ‘m closest to any particular one. I’d like to think that I’m doing something different from myself and not just trying to bring me to that character.

KW: What are you working on now?

DW: I’m working now in New Orleans with Tony Scott. We did Man on Fire together, and Crimson Tide. This [Déjà Vu] is an interesting picture, technically.

KW: How so?

DW: It’s strange. It takes place in different times. It’s like a reverse love story.

KW: What genre?

DW: I wouldn’t know what you’d call it. But there’s some new technology that he’s using, and it’s wild.

KW: What’s it about?

DW: Without giving it away, I can say that it takes place over four days and it moves around in time.

KW: What’s New Orleans like?

DW: It’s interesting. It’s a tale of two cities. Downtown, most of the Garden District and the French Quarter are pretty much intact. I mean they still have hurricane damage, wind damage, or whatever. And then there’s the rest of the city, 80% of the city. Mile after mile after mile after mile of empty homes.

KW: Have you spoken to folks out there?

DW: Well, riding around, there aren’t a lot of people out there to talk to. I like getting in my truck and just riding around, but I try to leave people alone. What do you say?

KW: How are the people’s spirits?

DW: It seems like they’re trying to put it together. I went to a basketball game the other night, the New Orleans Hornets first game back in town. There was an energy there. It was like a reunion of a lot of people who hadn’t even seen each other in a long time. And then, of course, you have the hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t back. So, I don’t what they’re going to do, but it’s going to take a long time.

KW: What’s on the horizon for you, American Gangster?

DW: Yeah, that announcement ought to be soon, but it looks like it’s a done deal, with Ridley Scott directing, and me and Russell Crowe, this fall, here in New York.

KW: Which of your movies was your favourite to make?

DW: I don’t pick one. I’m just blessed to have traveled the world and to have had so many great experiences. I think landing in Africa to make Cry Freedom had the greatest impact on me. It’s been a great life, I’ve been very blessed.

Freeman To Shed Light On 761st Black Panther Batallion

Excerpt from

(March 20, 2006) *“Do you remember ‘Glory?’ What was your reaction to it?” asks Morgan Freeman, preparing to answer a question about an upcoming film project that’s as close to his heart as his beloved home on the Mississippi Delta. The actor’s query yields responses ranging from shame to anger that “Glory” – the story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, an all-black unit who served with valour in the Civil War – had not been taught in history books or depicted in film any sooner. Freeman uses the reaction to illustrate his motivation for producing a project on the 761st Tank Battalion, the first all-black armoured unit to enter combat during World War II.   “They were called up in late 1944 after General Patton had pretty much burned out much of the mechanized portion of the 33rd Army and needed more tanks and men,” explains Freeman. “Against General Eisenhower’s wishes, he called up this group, and they were sent from England to France, attached to the 26th Infantry, and fought their way to the Rhine River, where they were 183 days to front. Go back and do some research and find out what that means.”   It means, 183 days fighting on the frontline without rotation.   “In spite of attempts by brass to keep them back, they were the first American units to hook up with the Russians at the Rhine River, they had to steal gasoline and ammo to get there, but they did it,” Freeman continues. “They were the tip of the spear. You know how Patton was going through Europe? They were leading the way.”  Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a book about the Panthers, entitled, “Brothers In Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes.” Freeman has been quietly shepherding a cinematic version of their story for years. Right now, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard (“Remember the Titans”) is penning a screenplay, but the actor admits: “It’s a struggle because there’s a lot to it.”

The 68-year-old Oscar winner is pleased to be at a level in Hollywood to be able to get the story told, but cautions: “It’s a great position to be in if I can pull it off. Stories only get told by people interested in telling them. I’m interested in telling it, because it’s really part of our collective history. If it falls to me, then it falls to me to try and succeed, and I’m exalted. I’ll go to my grave having succeeded, having done what I needed to do.”   Freeman has two working titles for the project: “761st Black Panther Battalion,” the nickname the unit gave themselves, and “Unsung.” He has interviewed one of the unit’s survivors, Sergeant Johnny Holmes, at his home in Chicago.  “One interesting thing about combat veterans, they don’t remember a thing,” says Freeman of his talks with Holmes, alluding to the frustration he has encountered in getting the story to the screen. “Once the moment is over, it’s like, what happened? It’s not there. It’s a blur. It’s just a lot of vagueness because [in combat] you’re not thinking, you’re totalling reacting. It’s all instinct. I’m beginning to understand that.”   He says the disconnect during combat was perfectly illustrated by Tom Hanks’ character in the film “Saving Private Ryan.”    “He’d go into this zone where he was just paralyzed and watching the mayhem, and then snap out of it and start functioning,” notes Freeman.   The phenomenon could also apply to this interview, which sort of drifted away from its original objective – the promotion of his new film “Lucky Number Slevin,” due in theatres next Friday (March 31). The actor said his role as the mean-spirited boss of a mob family was “no challenge, just fun,” further explaining: “Challenge comes if you’re having to channel. Jamie Foxx channelled. Joaquin Phoenix channelled. Phillip Seymour Hoffman channelled. David Straithern channelled. That’s work. You gotta do research. You have to get inside and make little things work, little tics.”  No such “channelling” occurred in “Slevin,” a comic thriller that follows a mob standoff between an African American crime syndicate led by Freeman’s character, The Boss, and a Jewish mafia outfit ruled by The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). A case of mistaken identity lands Slevin (Josh Hartnett) into the middle of their war.

That was about all the time spent on discussing the film before the subject turned to the 761st tank battalion and other things, including his narration on the Academy Award winning documentary, “March of the Penguins.”    “My arm was twisted,” he said of his initial desire to do the project, which traced a group of Emperor penguins in Antarctica during their annual 80-mile trek in harsh conditions to a breeding ground where they pair up with mates and procreate. “A friend of mine asked me to do it; said, ‘C’mon, listen, let me just send it to you. If you don’t like it, just throw it away.’ So I saw [the French version] and thought, ‘My goodness, it’s really quite good.’”  Freeman marvelled at the fact that humans actually survived the same treacherous conditions endured by the penguins in order to get their miraculous story on film. The passion of French director Luc Jacquet to document the annual march is a prime example of the actor’s philosophy on the importance of bringing untold stories into theatres. Instead of blaming Hollywood for an unwillingness to actively sniff out such topics as the 761st Tank Battalion, or the Massachusetts 54th, Freeman points the finger in the opposite direction.   “It isn’t your responsibility to tell my story. It’s not an active holding back [by Hollywood], it’s just negligence,” Freeman affirms. “I’m the negligent one in my story. You want your story told, then it’s up to you.”

Haggis: As Canadian As Apple Pie

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail -
Kate Taylor,

(Mar. 18, 2006) How to put this politely . . . Listen, all you drooling wannabes with your noses perpetually pressed to the glass of the great candy store to the south, Oscar-winning filmmaker
Paul Haggis is not a "Canadian director." Or if he is then WorldCom founder Bernard Ebbers, convicted of the largest accounting fraud in U.S. history last year, is a Canadian telecommunications executive. Both men settled permanently in the United States in their 20s and built their careers there. Haggis has worked for years as a screenwriter on various U.S. television series, was nominated last year for the script of the Clint Eastwood boxing movie Million Dollar Baby and this month won the best-picture Oscar for Crash, a film about car accidents and race relations in Los Angeles. But the Canadian media's Sally Fields school of cultural nationalism ("You like me!") insists he is "Canada's Paul Haggis" or even "Paul Haggis of London, Ont.," as though he hadn't been living for years in Santa Monica. You'd think the guy was Cindy Klassen.  Of course, Haggis tells Canadian journalists that he is a proud compatriot: Many members of the large Canadian-born contingent now working in Hollywood have fond memories of their original home and regularly identify themselves as Canadians; they just can't make as good a living here. What would be really surprising was if Haggis told Canadians he left a land so plagued with an inferiority complex that some of its citizens are actually annoyed he didn't mention Canada at the Oscar podium because he saw no opportunities here and wasn't the least interested in making films at home. Indeed, the ironic retort to critics of Canada's lacklustre record of producing its own popular entertainment is that Canadians are great at making hit movies and smash TV shows: Just look at what they are doing in Hollywood.

Haggis has speculated that his status as an outside observer in American society helps him write his scripts, a theory that is also often put forward to explain why Canada produces so many successful American comics. Canadians, without any colourful accent or obviously identifying national traits, are very good at disguising themselves as Americans. No matter how long he lives in New York, Liam Neeson will be considered an Irish actor, while Canadians meld into the crowd. Haggis's achievements reflect well on him; they reflect next to nothing on Canada. While the Canadian media have gushed over Haggis's win, opinion elsewhere is largely against him, because Crash beat out sentimental favourite Brokeback Mountain, which many felt was the better film. Last week, the American writer Annie Proulx, whose short story inspired Brokeback, penned an anti-Oscar screed for the British newspaper the Guardian. She is not the right person to say it, but of course all that she writes of the shallowness, sentimentality and self-importance of the Oscars is true. On the other hand, her argument about the politics of the best-picture choice is hilarious: She accuses the aging and pampered Academy members of being out of touch with American diversity. Yup, those doddering old white men can't be trusted to recognize liberalism's flavour of the year and made the mistake of picking the racial-tolerance movie over the gay-positive movie.  Another person who is peeved at Crash is Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, who wonders why Haggis had to use the exact same title as his 1996 feature about sexual perversity and car accidents. Meanwhile, he speculated to the Toronto Star that his History of Violence did not win in the two categories in which it was nominated because its ambivalence about violence, which it shows as both pointless and thrilling, wasn't popular with jurors looking for movies that were demonstrably anti-Bush and anti-conservative.

Wait a second . . . did I call Cronenberg a Canadian filmmaker? Well, yes, he lives in Toronto and shoots here, making international movies in international settings. Artists are free to make their personal career decisions and to adopt whatever citizenship they choose, and there is not much point judging them for that. Perhaps there is a commendable commitment in the decision to stay home, or maybe it's actually just cowardice. Perhaps there's bravery in the decision to try one's luck in Hollywood, or maybe it's only self-interest. The brain drain is part of a geopolitical reality, but let's be honest also about the reality of the achievements of those who went south and stop trying to hitch some Canadian wagon to their Hollywood star.

Nostalgia, Sam Peckinpah Style

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Don Irvine

(Mar. 20, 2006)
No director made movies more passionately than Sam Peckinpah, and aside from Orson Welles, no great filmmaker suffered more at the hands of the studios for whom he plied his trade. Between 1961 and 1983, Peckinpah made 14 feature films, many of which didn't make it to their first release intact. He's usually thought of as a "lost" artist, robbed of half his career by alcohol, personal demons and studio hacks. Yet as Cinematheque Ontario's Toronto retrospective Bring Me the Films of Sam Peckinpah makes clear, he gave us everything he had, and everything he had was enough. The zeitgeist has been much kinder to Peckinpah, of late, than he ever was to himself. In the past few years, the studios he worked with have re-released virtually all his movies on DVD. More importantly, they've repaired most of the damage they'd done to them as well. With the release next month of a restored Cross of Iron, every one of Peckinpah's most important movies will be available to the viewing public, more or less the way he'd intended us to see them. At his peak, he was generous with his genius. Between 1969 and 1973, Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, Junior Bonner, The Getaway and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Let's put that in perspective: In the same amount of time it will have taken the producers of the James Bond franchise to bring Casino Royale to market this fall, Peckinpah made six extraordinary films. How could we have been that lucky without noticing it at the time?

Watching them as a group today is an overwhelmingly nostalgic experience: The passion Peckinpah had for both the western and the idea of the West leaps through the screen from his heart directly to yours. Your emotions are held hostage with no hope of being ransomed, because you're being kidnapped by a kind of filmmaking that's gone forever. So it's very easy to develop a tendency to look back at Peckinpah's westerns the way Peckinpah looked back at the fin-de-siècle West. When you contemplate the Jerry Bruckheimers and the Michael Bays currently cranking out films in the action-adventure genre, you may find yourself identifying with Deke Thornton in The Wild Bunch. Surveying the motley posse he's been saddled with to bring the "bunch" in, he spits out: "We're after men -- and by God, I wish I was with them!" Unlike, say, Howard Hawks, Peckinpah was not concerned so much with what a man does when a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, but rather where a man can go if he simply wants to be a man. For Peckinpah, manliness is more of a place on a map than a state of mind. If, like Joel McCrae in Ride the High Country, all you want is to enter your house justified, where do you build your home? The answer, to most Peckinpah men, is somewhere within hailing distance of Mexico: All of Peckinpah's most effective films feature Mexico as a background motif; a source of inspiration and moral compass.

Peckinpah's men are outsiders, refugees from authority and compromise, gun-toting Holden Caulfields laid low by middle age. They're people for whom Mexico represents the only remaining frontier worthy of the name, the only place that's both untrammelled and has in it the kind of people with whom you'd want to share a bottle of whisky. It's where the Wild Bunch finds both paradise and death, and it's where Billy the Kid refuses to run and is killed for it. Major Dundee's Major Dundee goes there and nearly becomes Heart of Darkness's Colonel Kurtz; and it's the place Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw are getting away to in The Getaway. (Virtually every movie of Peckinpah's could probably be called The Getaway.) When escape to Mexico is not an option, you get something like Straw Dogs. Infamously described by The New Yorker's Pauline Kael as "the first American film that's a fascist work of art," 35 years later Straw Dogs looks more like the Paul Verhoeven version of Home Alone -- a potentially defensible thesis about a reasonable man's capacity for violence, done in by screenwriting straight out of Basic Instinct. In the context of the films he surrounded it with (the gentle Ballad of Cable Hogue on one side and the genial Junior Bonner on the other), Straw Dogs is a bizarre artefact -- Peckinpah besieged by his own demons with no frontier to escape to. It also marked an intrusion of the modern into his work, as if he'd finally looked around and noticed Nixon and Vietnam and he was never entirely able to shake it off. Thus, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is as much about America in 1973 as it is about New Mexico in 1881. Mutilated beyond credibility in its first release, the 2005 restoration allows it re-entry into the pantheon of Peckinpah's greatest achievements, as the valedictory to the western that he was never allowed to deliver in person. An even better and less sentimental distillation of all of Peckinpah's themes than The Wild Bunch, Pat Garrett is a melancholy farewell to the West and the western, both for the director and for cinema itself. Nobody makes westerns anymore at least partly because, in 1973, Peckinpah saw to it that there'd be nothing left for them to say. But where is a director to build his home, when he's just made the last western that would ever need to be made? Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is, in effect, the sight of a filmmaker tearing his guts out while coming to grips with the answer. Apocalyptic, obnoxious, and sometimes downright campy, Alfredo Garcia is the great Peckinpah Burnout Movie. In it, he pushes every cinematic thesis he has ever developed past the point of credulity -- seemingly over the edge of the earth. Jean Luc Godard tacked the words "Fin du Film; Fin du Cinéma" to the end of his Weekend in 1967, and they're words that surely could have closed Alfredo Garcia as well -- in blood-red letters.

No other substantial filmmaker, except perhaps fellow cinematic wild man Samuel Fuller, ever wore his guts so unashamedly on his sleeve or made so career-destroying a movie. It's hard to tell at that stage whether it was a matter of spiritual authenticity or temporary insanity. One thing is certain: For Peckinpah, getting his vision onscreen didn't just matter, it was a matter of life and death. And ultimately, with a few more indifferent movies -- and a lot of help from whisky -- the struggle killed him. But we should resist the urge to see Sam Peckinpah as a martyr. Film critic David Thompson saw Peckinpah's screen work as a metaphor for its author's sufferings in Hollywood; however, the truth is exactly the other way around. The studios did him in, just as surely as the ranchers did in Pat Garrett, but Peckinpah used his suffering at their hands to perfect the myth he put on screen. He wouldn't have had it any other way. For us, his life represents the last of a line of men stretching from Ride the High Country's Steve Judd through Pat Garrett to The Wild Bunch's Deke Thornton. Sam Peckinpah was our last Western hero. Bring Me the Films of Sam Peckinpah plays Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto until April 9. For information: 416- 968-FILM or /cinematheque. Iron Cross will be released on DVD on April 18.

Tragedy At The Top Of The World

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Gayle Macdonald

(Mar. 18, 2006) IGLOOLIK, NUNAVUT -- It is not yet 4:30 in the afternoon, and the moon hangs high in a seamless, blue Arctic sky. But already they are arriving at Ataguttaaluk High School in Igloolik. Women with chubby, red-cheeked babies bundled into amautiks, the traditional Inuit baby pouch, on their backs. Older kids pulled along in plastic toboggans. Men and their spouses or offspring crammed onto snowmobiles, some of whom have made the trek from Hall Beach, a community 75 kilometres south of this town, population 1,600, located at the top of the world. By 5 p.m., the gym is packed with 500 or so friends and neighbours of Zacharias Kunuk, who is hosting the first of three "family screenings" for his new feature film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, which in September will have a starkly different gala: its official world premier, when it opens the Toronto International Film Festival. But this preview for his home community, held last Saturday night, is what matters most to the weathered 53-year-old Inuit director. And it's in keeping with a tradition Kunuk set with his first feature film, the internationally acclaimed Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, which had its inaugural screening in this same gym in December, 2000. Within six months, that film went on to scoop up the prestigious Camera d'Or at Cannes, and wowed critics enough that both The Times of London and The Daily Telegraph sent reporters to the set of Knud Rasmussen. The frigid temperature (30 C below) does not faze these people, who came in droves -- some by prop plane from as far away as Qaanaaq, Greenland; and Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit -- to watch Kunuk's latest cinematic creation, which explores the controversial impact of Christianity, force-fed to the Inuit by zealous missionaries in the 1920s, forever altering (Kunuk would say crippling) his people's once-proud way of life.

We're doing it for the people," says Kunuk, a soft-spoken man whose English is halting, and who is far more comfortable conversing in Inuktitut. "Otherwise, they will be the last people to see the film. One of my friends left the seal hunt early so that he could get here before the show starts," Kunuk, himself an avid hunter, adds proudly. Before the lights go down, Kunuk and his audience will share a feast. Rachel Uyarsuk, a 101-year-old Igloolik elder, who plays a shaman spirit in Journals (she was 20 when the actual Danish ethnographer/ explorer visited her hometown), blesses the food. Then the crowd, grabbing makeshift plates made of ripped cardboard boxes, lines up for raw caribou and Arctic char.  Families eat together on the gym floor, using ulus (knives used to slice fat from seal skin) to carve the meat into bite-sized portions for elderly parents and tots. They alternate the main course with large bags of Humpty Dumpty chips, for sale in the school's main hall, and Freezies, which cost $2. (The community's most needy fill plastic grocery bags with the leftovers. One woman, six children in tow, neatly tucks her remaining caribou into her white purse.) When it is time to show the movie, a fuse blows, delaying things slightly. Then, at 7:20, the lights go down (and up again three times during the performance thanks to mischievous kids). Kunuk -- joined by his five children, as well as his parents, Enuki and Vivi -- sits silently watching the crowd's faces. When the credits roll less than two hours later, there is rousing applause.  Some say they liked Atanarjuat, based on an Inuit legend, better. Others attest to being equally touched by this film, about the last great Inuit shaman, Avva. But all say they were glad Kunuk took on a taboo topic: shamanism, which the early missionaries dubbed devil worship, and which still sits uneasily with some of the town's most religious Anglican, Roman Catholic and evangelical residents. Like Atanarjuat, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen was filmed entirely in Inuktitut (without subtitles), which made it tough for an outsider to follow. But the startling images of the people living on this unforgiving land in the early twenties -- shot with traditional costumes and tools made painstakingly authentic to the time -- make it abundantly clear that Kunuk has once again tried hard to make a movie that reconnects a displaced people with their traditional values. With their endangered past.

Igloolik is on an island 2,800 kilometres north of Toronto, near the northeastern corner of Melville Peninsula, accessible this time of year only by plane. My descent into Igloolik feels like falling into a white tunnel. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, is a smattering of box-shaped wooden homes, built on stilts because the frozen ground prevents the digging of foundations. The wind leaves a pattern, like crocheted lace, on the snow. It's a place of crisp blues, greys, whites, dark faces and pink skies.  With over four millennia of history, Igloolik (with a population of just under 1,300 people) ranks as one of the most traditional of Inuit communities, and is a cultural hub of the Arctic. But for all its historical richness, the people, by and large, are poor. Suicide (especially among those under 20), alcoholism, drug use and spousal abuse are rampant. The people live largely off of government subsidies, and the town's lack of private enterprise means there's little incentive to find work.  For centuries, the frozen land demanded the Inuit people learn how to adapt and survive. And yet the march of modernism (ATMs, cable TV, snowmobiles, phones, electric heat, organized religion) means they are now floundering in this ice-capped wilderness. Kunuk's 16-year-old production company, Igloolik Isuma Productions (Isuma means "to think" in Inuktitut), located in a ramshackle office on the island's shore, is one of the few success stories here, periodically employing hundreds of local people as actors and film crew while injecting several million dollars into the economy. In these parts, Kunuk is a reluctant hero.  But he's a hero with a mission: His goal, he says, is to shake the Inuit, especially the young people, out of their colonial complacency. His film, like the society he lives in, is a paradox of resiliency and despair.

"Mind the smell of caribou," says Paul Irngaut, an employee of Isuma Productions, which is sandwiched, ironically, between the Anglican church and the Catholic St. Stephen and Our Lady of the Apostles. Knud Rasmussen's costume coordinator, Michilene Ammaq, is just inside the steel doors, laying out the film's traditional clothes, painstakingly made from animal fur, on the wooden floor. She's trying to air them out before they go up to the high school for the first screening, where they will be displayed on either side of the giant screen. Her son, Todd, 8, shot his first polar bear yesterday, she tells me proudly. Upstairs, Kunuk is hunched over a kitchen table at his computer, checking e-mails. Around him, prominently displayed, are posters from his various features and documentaries, as well as a wolf jaw and Isuma's sexual-harassment policy. The shy filmmaker explains that his new film, shot in the relatively balmy months of April and May last year, is the story of explorer Rasmussen, who travelled through this area in the 1920s, chronicling the conversion to Christianity of the great shaman Avva (played by local resident Pakak Innukshuk) and his wilful daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik). Like Atanarjuat, the actors in Knud Rasmussen are largely people who live down the road from Kunuk, with six Greenlanders and half a dozen Danes thrown in. Kunuk says he still remembers the first time he saw a white man -- it was a priest in the 1960s -- who came to give him a vaccine. "My parents still remember a world before the 'men in the dresses,' the missionaries," says Kunuk, who did not live in a house until he was 9, and dropped out of school after Grade 8. "Our film tries to answer two questions that have haunted me my whole life: Who were we? And what happened to us?" Born in a sod hut in 1957, and raised Anglican, Kunuk says he blames the missionaries for upsetting the natural balance and rhythm of Inuit life. "When the whalers came, nothing changed," says Kunuk, who is an officer of the Order of Canada, and who co-directed Knud Rasmussen with his long-time friend and business partner, Norman Cohn, a New York-born videographer.

"The missionaries brought their beliefs, and laid the law on the land," Kunuk continues. "They killed our spirit. No wonder people are killing themselves. They feel hopeless, they feel lost. If you meet an Inuit on the land, he is not at all what he is like in town. They are two different people. Taima!" he sighs: It's done.  The island of Igloolik is flat tundra. There is one hill, on the edge of town, that serves as the cemetery and the toboggan run for Igloolik's teeming mass of children. (Fully 60 per cent of the population is under 25). Scores of makeshift crosses have been pounded into the frozen ground. The most recent inscriptions, carved by knife into wood, are names like Lorenzo, Jamie, Mary, Joey and Caitlin. In one straight line, there are a dozen graves, kids aged 12 to 19 -- all deceased in the past two years.  Charley Qulitalik, a 29-year-old cook at the Tujurmivik Inn (one of his specialties is Arctic-char pizza), says his cousin hung himself at his workplace two weeks ago. Qulitalik is not sure why the man, just 20, took his life. "It's weird," he says, "but suicides seem to go up after suicide-prevention seminars come into town." Dave Kisilewich, a math and science teacher at the high school, who moved to Igloolik from Edmonton in 1989, figures he's "got a whole classroom of kids up on the hill. "Kids hang out in the street at night," he says. "They hang out at the Northern [grocery] store until it closes at 9. They go to the community hall, but it closes then, too. The siren goes off every night at 10 to remind the kids to go home. School's really the only game in town, but the dropout rate is high. There's nothing for them to do." Kunuk is both perplexed and saddened by the high suicide rate among young adults. "My movies are about hope, and we're going really slow, very slow, in trying to reach them. Our elders always tell us, 'Your time will come, you don't have to kill yourself.' But clearly, many have lost their ability to listen."

Kunuk's films, he says, have a message: "Take a look around. Appreciate where you come from. Go out on the land, in the different seasons. You walk out there in the middle of nowhere, and you know someone has been there before. A long time ago. They leave traces. Maybe an inukshuk, too," he says, referring to the man-shaped piles of stones used as landmarks. "There is beauty in how the wind carves the snow, how the animals feed. With The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, we want to see how much imagination people have." Igloolik is ridiculously expensive. Milk sells for $14 a bag. Chips are $7. Dried caribou in a bag is $60, and is located in the freezer next to Breyers French-vanilla ice cream, which sells for $11.59 for a small tub. A solitary, sorry-looking pineapple at the Northern store is $15. After the three weekend screenings at the high school, the floor is littered with candy wrappers, pop cans, Joe Louis cakes and pudding cups. It's hardly surprising that diabetes is on the rise here.  Cohn and Kunuk know that Atanarjuat, the highest-grossing Canadian film of 2002, is going to be a hard act to follow. With the new film, whose budget of $6.3-million was roughly three times that of its predecessor, and which is now on a 56-community tour across the Arctic, Cohn says they wanted to deal head-on with the modern-day challenges of the Inuit.  "Our first film was a classic love and revenge story set in the mythic, apolitical past," he says. "Our second film is about how people were colonized by Christianity and dragged into the 20th century." One of Kunuk's own sons, he adds, is apathetic about the traditional ways of living on the land. "I ask him to come caribou hunting with me," says Kunuk. "I invite him, but he wants to watch TV." Cohn travelled to Paris earlier this year to submit The Journals of Knud Rasmussen for consideration at Cannes. Last week, after TIFF announced it would be the Canadian festival's opening feature, Cohn says he withdrew the Cannes submission. "We made a decision to do the opening night in Toronto as a statement of how we see ourselves," he asserts, "as a new world, new film industry, as opposed to an old world, old guard. The decision not to go to Cannes was ours. Not theirs."

To make The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, Isuma Productions set up the Siuraajuk base camp 75 kilometres east of Igloolik. The crew survived blizzards, meagre meals (local hunters were hired to shoot lunch and dinner), and the departure of the French-Canadian cooks halfway through production. The interior scenes were shot 10 minutes outside of Igloolik, at a sod house.  A trip to that site lands me with frostbite on my face. After we return to the Tujurmivik Inn, the hotel's oil runs out. Inside the hotel, the temperature quickly plummets to below zero. Everyone walks around in boots and parkas until the oil man -- an in-demand guy who works 24/7 -- shows up 90 minutes later. The hardship, despair and routine desolation of life in this community seems a world away as I prepare to leave under an indigo sky on Monday morning. A final glimpse through a window of the tiny plane shows the snow-encrusted town bathed in a golden sun, the light so bright on this blank white canvas, you have to shield your eyes.  In Kunuk's world, time has marched on, but this morning, from the sky above Igloolik, somehow manages to seem like it's standing still.

Natalie Portman Blows Up

Excerpt from - By Marie Moore

(March 20, 2006) Last week Natalie Portman, aka Queen Amidala from “Star Wars,” showed her rapping skills on SNL. This week she will be seen blowing up a London tunnel that ultimately brings down the British Parliament. As the reluctant heroin in “V for Vendetta,” (Evey) Portman, is pulled into V’s subversive web of intrigue when rescued from the hands of two unsavoury characters by the masked man. The government, thinking Evey is an ally of V (Hugo Weaving), makes life hell for her. This controversial, cautionary political commentary is fodder for fiery attacks. The Film Strip asked Portman if she is concerned about the public’s opinion of her. “I’m just trying to do stuff that’s different all the time,” she explained. “Something new and interesting for me that will hopefully be interesting for other people to watch. I definitely want to make movies that people like. I mean, the point of creating a movie is to interact with an audience and to give them some sort of entertainment and some sort of feeling.” Emotions will run high as V’s wrath wreaks havoc on the British bureaucratic regime because of its political persecution and treatment of homosexuals. The acts of violence take on special meaning in the light of the attacks that not only struck America on 9/11, and other parts of the world, but the bomb that killed commuters who rode the London transit system July of last year.  Some of the rage Portman expressed in the film was not hard to tap into. Her hair is still growing in from being cut on camera, but it was an act of which she is proud. “I was very focused on being where the character is at that moment, which is in a very traumatic place with this violence being committed against her. We only had one shot to do it because you can't go back and re-shave the head. We had several cameras on and we had rehearsed the head shaving with volunteer guys from the crew. But, for me personally it was a choice I was happy to make.”

There was just as much drama going on off the set as on. “The Matrix” media shy Wachowski Brothers were unavailable to answer rumours that were running rampant. In press materials on the film, one story mentioned that older brother, Larry, left his high-school sweetheart and wife of nine years for a dominatrix and liked to dress in women’s clothing.  Then there was the matter of two V’s. The first V, James Purefoy, it was reported was dissatisfied performing behind a mask because it disguised his talents. Hugo Weaving, Agent Smith in the “Matrix” movies, flew into action. The other matter involved Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel, that was illustrated by David Lloyd. Unhappy with the film’s version, he distanced himself from the project and refused have his name attached. Even Lloyd has misgivings in the beginning.   “When I was first sent the script, I was kind of disappointed that it wasn't more faithful to the original, Lloyd revealed. “But the changes they made were quite valid, and I think they kept the core of it completely… So I think they did a fantastic job.  “Allen had strong views about it. If you check out the Internet, you know. Allen's not happy with most film translations. Interesting thing about ‘League’ and also ‘From Hell’, they were both made by people who weren't actually fans of the original product, which is completely different in this case. And I was very optimistic and that optimism has been justified. And Allen's viewpoint is his own and he's entitled to it, but it's not mine.”

On the subject of all the politics and violence, Portman put it succinctly. “I guess I'm politically aware, but I think I get sick of the news after a while because I'm a pretty optimistic person. So I like to go back to personal joys too.”  “V” might be the most talked about film so far this year, but one of the best films I’ve seen this year is “Akeelah and the Bee,” starring Laurence Fishburne, Keke Palmer and Angela Basset. It’s an inspirational and uplifting story about an eleven-year-old from south Los Angeles with a gift for wards. The film opens in April and a must see.

Shar Jackson: Fed’s Ex Talks

Excerpt from - By Kenya Yarbrough

(Mar. 22, 2006) *
Shar Jackson may have been a side note in the entertainment history books. She may have become a one-point question in a trivia game. But Ms. Jackson’s goal to move out of the shadows of TV stardom and tabloids is clearly set in motion.  Jackson is most recognized for her co-starring role on the ‘90s Brandy-led television show “Moesha.” But what has catapulted her to the front covers of super-market rags is the fact that her ex, Kevin Federline, is Britney Spears’ new husband. Interestingly enough, Jackson has remained CALM during all the Federline-Spears press. And has, in her own words, ‘turned negatives into positives.’ And while the press has given her life and career quite a bit of a publicity boost, it’s her hard work and generosity that will make her a household name.  In an engaging interview with EUR's Lee Bailey, we learned that the 29-year-old actress, singer, and mother of four has quite a few projects on hand: a philanthropic foundation, a new album, a new television show, and that just the start. Jackson’s foundation is quite appropriately titled – SHAR, which stands for Sharing, Helping And Reconciling. The foundation’s focus includes inspiring young inner-city kids in their own space and inspiring young mothers.  “I was a teenage mom, and normally I’m supposed to be a statistic,” she said. “You know, when you have a child young, you can’t do anything you want to do. Once you’re a teenage mom, everybody tells you your life is over. I’m not condoning being a teenage mom, but it happens every single day. So I want to help and let these kids know that it isn’t over. You can still be and do whatever it is you want in life. I’m living proof of that.”

Jackson says the foundation is currently building a compound where they will house young moms, give them parenting classes, and aid them in pursuing their career and educational goals. Another part of the foundation is a program called Sweet Dreams.   “[This program] goes to inner-city kids’ homes and we completely redecorate their bedrooms and in most cases, we give them a grant for whatever they want to do in their life,” she said. Jackson said she was inspired to do this program because of her own upbringing.  “I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Although there was chaos outside, my Mom gave me the freedom to paint my room and stuff and it became my safe-haven. So the concept was something that me and my sister came up with.” (To send letters regarding deserving kids, mail t 11432 South Street #512, Cerritos, CA 90703)  But enough of her sweet charity. The Shar Jackson that the public’s been subjected to has not been an angel. Stories of a vendetta against her ex-man and his new bride have bubbled up more than once. But Jackson shakes it all off. She believes people will believe what they want to believe and giving attention to negative press isn’t really worth her energy. Jackson even said that she didn’t start paying attention to it until it affected her children.  “It wasn’t about enjoying it. It was about taking the negative and turning it into a positive. I could have easily hid in a corner and let people make up every story that they wanted to about what I was going through or what I was feeling. Instead I just chose to say, this is what’s going on – take it or leave it.” Nevertheless, Jackson had nothing but kind words about her famous ex, when she spoke to us. “I’m proud of him. I’m happy that he set his mind to do something and he’s going to do regardless of what everyone says and what everyone thinks. I’m happy for him, and I’ve heard of few of his songs and I like ‘em.”

Even though Jackson admits that K-Fed (who incidentally has never referred to himself as K-Fed, until the press so named him) is no hip-hop head, she says his “bad rap” is what came before any lyrics were laid. “He’s gotta get past that negative stuff first before anyone will honestly listen to it. They judge it before they even hear it. It’s like when Jamie Foxx came out with his first album years ago. Nobody wanted to take him seriously because they were like, ‘Oh that’s the funny guy from ‘In Living Color.’ They never paid attention that he had an amazing voice. And unfortunately it took them ten years and now they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, did you know Jamie Foxx can sing?’” And the advice she gives to Federline, isn’t anything she hasn’t relied on herself: “I tell him to ignore all the negativity and stay truthful to yourself.” As a matter of fact, Jackson has her own disc to deal with. Though most known for acting credits, Jackson is also a singer. She was lead of a group called Impulse who released a single on “The Princess Diaries” soundtrack. “I am working on my album. I’m loving every minute of it. It was entitled ‘Overdue,’ but it’s been changed. The new title was inspired by all the crap you’ve read in the tabloids. Since there isn’t necessarily a genre created, I think, that includes all the things [of my sound], we came up with our own. It’s called ‘dirty edgy.’” In the midst of completing her album, which is expected to hit stores this summer, Jackson is working on an ABC television show called “The Ex-Wives Club.” The show, which is also co-hosted by famous exes Marla Maples and Angie Everhart, finds people that have gone through separation or divorce and are having a hard time getting back to themselves.

“It’s hard,” Jackson says from experience. “When you have your heart broken, it can completely change the person that you are. If you don’t have a support system behind you, you might not get through it. So, we’re that support team.” At the end of a day of tabloid dodging, community goodwill, movie shoots and recording sessions, Jackson said that it’s her family that keeps her focused and grounded.   “My family keeps me happy. My kids keep a smile on my face. As long as I have my family foundation – my Mom, my sisters, my brother, my kids – I’m good. Career-wise, I’m not limiting myself at all. God has a lot of stuff planned for me, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”


Tyler Perry Plays ‘Daddy’ With Lionsgate

Excerpt from

(Mar. 17, 2006) *Still riding high on the box office success of “Madea’s Family Reunion,” the movie’s director and star, Tyler Perry, has inked a deal with Lionsgate for his third film, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  Perry will write, produce and direct the Cinderella twist about a young, beautiful, successful female attorney who falls in love with a janitor and single father of three daughters. Despite strong objections from the attorney's father, love triumphs in the end.  Perry’s first two previous outings with Lionsgate were the box office topper “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” in 2005 and this year’s “Madea’s Family Reunion,” which earned $30 million in its opening weekend and held its No. 1 box office position for two consecutive weeks.  "I am so pleased to be working with Lionsgate once again," Perry said. "They have continuously proven their commitment to my film projects as well as their expertise at innovative marketing and distribution campaigns time and time again." Reuben Cannon, who produced both "Reunion" and "Diary," will join Perry again as producer of "Daddy's Little Girl," which has been fast-tracked for a June start and, like both previous films, is set for a February release.  Meanwhile, Perry’s first book, "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Life and Love," is due next month via Riverdale/Penguin. He also recently inked a deal to distribute his TV series "House of Payne" in first-run syndication.

Keke Palmer Gets Her Closeup At ShoWest

Excerpt from

(Mar. 17, 2006) *It was all about 12-year-old actress
Keke Palmer Tuesday (March 14) at the annual ShoWest convention in Las Vegas.  During a ceremony marking her title as ShoWest Rising Star of the Year, the youngster was lauded by the suits at Lionsgate for bringing her A-game to its upcoming film “Akeelah and the Bee,” where she plays a middle-school student in South Central Los Angeles who dreams of entering the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. Fresh from their Oscar best picture win for "Crash" a week earlier, Lionsgate’s Releasing president Steve Rothenberg and Theatrical Films president Tom Ortenberg were on hand at ShoWest to welcome exhibitors to a screening of “Akeelah” at the Le Theatre Des Arts in the Paris Hotel.  “Akeelah” producer Sid Ganis described the 10-year journey of the project, which sprung forth from an original screenplay by its director, Doug Atchison. Even after the film's producers had scored powerhouse actors Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett to play the adult leads, the project still depended on finding a young actress with the chops to pull of the title role. During a nationwide search, a tape of Palmer landed on the desks of the filmmakers, and the rest was history.  Palmer’s budding film experience includes roles in the TNT original movie "The Wool Cap," a bit part in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" and a plum role as Madea’s foster child in “Madea’s Family Reunion.   “Akeelah,” due in theatres April 28, was produced in association with 2929 Prods. and Starbucks Entertainment, becoming the first feature that the coffee chain will promote in its outlets in exchange for a financial stake in the picture.

Della Reese Launches New Clothing Line

Excerpt from

(Mar. 22, 2006) *Actress, singer and ordained minister,
Della Reese, says it’s about time that fashions for plus-size women include the vibrant colors and patterns she has used in her own self-designed creations for years.   "I want to give women the opportunity to have some pizzazz also," said Reese, who will unveil her new line of clothing, Della Reese Fashions, on the Home Shopping Network April 4.  The collection features cocktail, office and casual wear in a range of colors.  The 74-year-old, who describes herself as 5 feet 2 inches tall and 200 pounds, said: "It's very difficult for me to find anything with shape or color ... some oomph. I like bright yellows, oranges, reds. I like purple and pink, not just purple and purple and purple.”

Ross in ‘PDR’

Excerpt from

(Mar. 22, 2006) *
Evan Ross, star of the upcoming film “ATL,” has been cast in the Lionsgate film “PDR” opposite Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac. The movie is based on the true story of Jim Ellis (Howard), who organized a group of troubled black inner city teens into one of the best swim teams in the country. Ross, the 17-year-old son of Diana Ross and her late husband Arne Naess, will play one of the kids on the team. Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott Reeves, joins the cast as the captain of a predominantly white rival swim team.


Teen Drama Degrassi Hits 100

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Vinay Menon

(Mar. 20, 2006) It's a milestone for both the characters and the show. 
Degrassi: The Next Generation celebrates its 100th episode tonight (CTV, 8:30 p.m.) with a season finale that includes a first for the teen drama: a graduation ceremony.  Somehow, this coming-of-age ritual seems doubly appropriate. In 2005, you see, the "Degrassiverse" celebrated a quarter-century and expanded with its very own Big Bang: a CD compilation (featuring Canadian artists such as Buck 65 and Sam Roberts); a hot-selling DVD; popular books (including an illustrated history and the Official 411); an upcoming series of character-extending graphic novels (Degrassi: Extra Credit); Web-based minis (brief shorts available for download), and plans for the students at Degrassi Community School to hit the big screen in a feature that may corral director and superfan Kevin Smith.  This season, Degrassi was the top-rated Canadian drama, tipping past the vaunted 1 million mark while averaging 746,000 viewers. In the United States, where it exploded into a cult hit, Degrassi's blistering summer run on The N turned it into the network's flagship series.  "I can't explain the show's success, to be perfectly honest," says Miriam McDonald, 18, who plays Emma Nelson. "It's one of those things that people are just drawn to. We're not trying to be a slick, over-produced American show. We just show things as they really are."  This emphasis on unadorned realism, a focus on teen storytelling that neither condescends nor panders, has captured young imaginations across the planet; Degrassi has been sold to more than 120 countries.  Two years ago, Adamo Ruggiero, who plays Marco Del Rossi, was in Los Angeles for an autograph session. Burly security personnel were needed to keep the boisterous crowd, in excess of 6,000, from rushing the stage.

"I remember thinking, `Oh my God, this is surreal,'" says Ruggiero, 19. "At that moment, I really started to grasp how big the show had become."  Ruggiero makes an important observation: living as we do, in the monstrous cultural shadow of America, Degrassi has inverted the usual import-export relationship.  "Kids in the states are screaming for a Canadian show — and they know it's Canadian," he says. "They want to come to Canada. They want to come to Toronto and talk about the CN Tower. This is really important. I think our show has proved that our television, our work, our culture can reflect back."  A friend of co-creator Linda Schuyler recently returned from a trip to China. Upon learning the tourist was Canadian, a translator remarked, "Ah, Bethune, Degrassi."  So how does Schuyler, who executive produces with husband Stephen Stohn, explain the show's success? "I always figure that's your job," she says, laughing. "No, I'm thrilled by it. But I was so petrified when we came back with The Next Generation. Much as I wanted to do it, I also thought to myself, `Linda Schuyler, you must be crazy.'"  After all, her successful franchise — The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High — was already scorched into the minds of Canadian viewers.  Why would she tempt fate with a new project that might very well end in failure and leave a black hole in the Degrassiverse? The short answer: she had more stories to tell.  "We're always analyzing drama in this country and saying, `How can we make it right?'" she says. "It's like catching lightning in a bottle. But it's not just a question of getting good stories."  Yes, just ask producers of This Is Wonderland or Godiva's, two excellent but underappreciated shows that were recently cancelled. To this end, Schuyler credits CTV and The N for providing all the things a successful TV show requires in these competitive days: a good and consistent time slot, season orders of more than 13 to 15 episodes, and the strong arm of network publicity.

"There has been this confluence of great things and here we are able to celebrate 100 episodes five years into it," she says, a landmark none of the other Degrassi series can boast.  Whereas many teen shows eventually sell out, Degrassi continues to buy in to its set of "founding principles." Point-of-view storytelling, on-camera realism, age-appropriate casting and the fearless tackling of hot-button issues: date rape, anorexia, cyber stalking, domestic abuse, school violence, drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, teen homosexuality, to name just a few.  As Jimmy (Aubrey Graham) sardonically cracks in tonight's episode, the school is "such a unique combo of shootings and gonorrhea outbreaks." Or, as the New York Times noted in a lengthy feature last year, "(Degrassi) confronts controversy in a way that American network television wouldn't dream of." (See: the 2004 two-part story involving Manny's abortion that The N never aired.)  Looking ahead, Schuyler is contemplating a spin-off for the older kids. But her focus, for now, is on Season 6. After tonight's graduation, some new faces will undoubtedly arrive when school doors open in the fall.  "I talk about Degrassi as being that wonderful time in people's lives where they have a foot in childhood and a foot in the adult world," she says. "And that push-pull is the very thing that gives us our drama."

Do We Want Our MTV Any More?

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Vinay Menon,

(Mar. 21, 2006) According to the ads, the drought ends today.  Which means at precisely 6 p.m., when
MTV Canada is officially (re)born, those disgusting commercials featuring actors sucking on faucets, lapping at dishwater scum or wringing sweaty socks into their parched mouths will come to a merciful end.  The pre-launch campaign, tinged with late-'90s irony, was making a point, even if it's a questionable one: Canadians are thirsting for MTV.  So after weeks of carefully planned hype, the flip-past specialty channel talktv will trade its obscure t! logo for one of the world's most powerful brands.  Aside from masochists and insomniacs, nobody will miss talktv, the CTV-owned station that morphed into a dumping ground for decomposing reruns of Vicki Gabereau, The Camilla Scott Show, The View and eTalk Daily.  But will anybody care about the latest incarnation of MTV Canada? Or will today's buzz quickly give way to tomorrow's white noise?  MTV's previous entree into this country, on a digital station owned by Craig Media, was a bust. Few watched the old MTV Canada because: 1. You needed a helicopter to reach it on the digital upper tier and, 2. It rarely broadcast anything worth watching.  By sharp contrast, the newer, slicker version of MTV Canada will devote resources to original production; seven new homegrown series are already in the works. The network hopes to entice viewers with a zeitgeist-grabbing mix of entertainment, lifestyle and reality programming.

But aren't we already swimming in this kind of stuff? What is this drought you speak of, MTV Canada?  When MTV hit the airwaves in the summer of 1981, with The Buggles' "Video Killed The Radio Star," the song was a harbinger of a dawning cultural and media revolution.  MTV was fresh, brash, cheeky, raw, edgy. About 16 years later, when Bart Simpson scrawled "I No Longer Want My MTV" on a blackboard, music videos had driven bored youth toward a thousand new diversions.  The MTV brand survived. But it needed an overhaul.  These days, MTV's most popular shows are all about the young and the beautiful, the aspiring rich and the hopefully famous, as CTV demonstrated Saturday night by giving Canadians a preview of the neuron-zapping 8th & Ocean, Gauntlet 2 and Real World: Key West.  While some Canadians may still associate MTV with music, that's no longer true in any real sense.  With the birth of MTV2 a decade ago, the main network slowly reinvented itself and, a few years later, the suits arrived at a bottom-line conclusion: young viewers would rather watch Jessica Simpson crack stupid about the origins of tuna than watch Madonna gyrate for three minutes.  Of course, MTV can still air music as it pleases, whether it's a controversial Eminem video, a Coldplay concert or the countdown madness of the wildly popular Total Request Live.  MTV Canada doesn't have this luxury, at least not on the specialty service, which remains bound by talktv's existing regulatory licence.  (MTV Canada is for viewers who want to talk about music, not actually watch or listen to music.)

This, in part, explains today's launch strategy, which is all about — jargon alert! — cross-promotion and brand leverage. It's a good thing there isn't a Top 40 hit titled, "Multi-Platform Content Distribution" because MTV Canada would undoubtedly have licensed it for marketing purposes.  Here's the thing: once you penetrate the corporate boilerplate, there are some nagging questions. CTV has already brought MTV hits such as The Osbournes, Newlyweds and Punk'd across the border, so should its new programming block known as "MTVonCTV" really excite viewers who are likely more interested in CSI, Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy — shows that have made the network No. 1?  And since those with broadband access can already download content from countless music and entertainment websites, should we get too hot and bothered by MTV Overdrive, or a mobile service, or video-on-demand?  Advertisers may swoon over the promise of multi-platform opportunities — and indeed, MTV announced yesterday it has already inked deals with 23 sponsor partners — but will young viewers have time for this new array of shiny distractions? And does CTV risk its own market share by devoting resources to this new adventure?  But when MTV Canada launches today, from inside the Masonic Temple, there will be only one question that truly matters: does Canada want its MTV?

Not Your Average Science Geek

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Deirdre Kelly

(Mar. 18, 2006) A basketball hoop hangs from the back of the door, and there are heart stickers and glitter pens on hand for visiting children. The espresso machine, still warm from the morning's first hit of java, glistens on a wooden shelf. It's a typical homey scene, except that this is not a home. It's a science lab.  And not just any science lab, but the Toronto base of an international research initiative, the $105-million Structural Genomics Consortium -- that's the study of human DNA, to the likes of you and me -- where history is being made amid baseball bats, hardware-store catalogues and dust-covered books with titles like Elements of Medical Mycology and Biological Ultrastructure .  Overseeing the work that goes on at this hotbed of scientific inquiry, and similarly cast against type, is Aled Edwards -- a world-renowned biotechnologist. As much as his goal is to break the ordered code of human proteins in order to advance an understanding of life, the senior University of Toronto scientist is also determined to dispel the myths that cast his profession in a false, even frightening light out there in the world at large.  Just say "white lab coat" to him, or suggest Albert Einstein was a nutty professor, and 43-year-old Prof. Edwards -- who is dressed in chinos and a red McGill sweatshirt, a souvenir of his alma mater -- is likely to lecture you on the perils of having a narrow point of view. That's his mission: "To dispel the notion that scientists are out of touch with reality, that we play with test tubes and do bizarre things."  To this end, Prof. Edwards has attached himself to the television series ReGenesis, which enters its second season tomorrow night on The Movie Network. He is the show's academic consultant, the one who ensures there is scientific fact in the science fiction that drives the weekly show, which follows a team of crackerjack scientists as they battle biohazards and viral plagues. "I thought putting science on television would be fun, and kids would think it's cool," the father of three teenagers explains.

"We all agreed that as much as possible, given that it is fiction, we would stick with real characters [and] depict real scientific interests. The point is to show that scientists aren't super-human. They make mistakes.  "Experiments don't always work. There can be confusion over how to interpret the data. The media portray science as cut and dried, but for most scientists at the cutting edge there is no right or wrong. There are just differences of opinion." One of the first things Prof. Edwards addressed -- of course -- were the lab coats worn by "scientists" on the series, and then he took on the weird-coloured fluids the set designers had put into test tubes, in an effort to make the research look "authentically" scientific. "I hate that!" Prof. Edwards blurts, his grey-blue eyes flashing. "The driving force, between artists and creative types, is colour and light. But a lab should be a lab. We don't care how blue anything is."  As a result of such lobbying, actors portraying scientists on the series now dress in casual clothes, not unlike Prof. Edwards,' and the liquids in the test tubes glow less brightly. But finding the right balance between factual accuracy and compelling drama can sometimes be difficult, says head writer Tom Chehak. "I always like to start off with the farthest premise you can think of," explains Mr. Chehak, who wrote for several other science fiction series, including Alien Nation, before helping executive producer Christina Jennings develop ReGenesis last season. "Sometimes we come up with things that Aled is resistant to, and then we explain to him the emotional value we're going for. He'll either guide us, or he'll just nix the idea entirely because it isn't plausible. It's back and forth like this, until our dramatic sense is satisfied -- along with Aled's scientific sensibilities." One idea that "just kept going south," as Prof. Edwards explains it, emerged from the writers' fixation on radiation and radioactivity, specifically regarding changes in the human body that might occur as a result of exposure to radioactive materials.  "Radiation, if you want to cause mutations, only affects the germ line -- that's science-speak for sperm and eggs. And so [changes occur] only in babies and not in adults," he continues. "It took a lot of time, until we found the right approach," one that matched the writers' interest in radioactivity with the scientific reality -- articulated by Prof. Edwards -- "about what radiation and radioactivity is."

Ironically, Prof. Edwards has sometimes come up with ideas that the ReGenesis team has considered too "out there" for their viewing public. A case in point involves what Prof. Edwards calls the "fruity fruit fly" phenomenon, a discovery (rooted in experiments done on fruit flies) enabling scientists to isolate the gene that causes homosexuality in humans. "We call it the gay gene." Prof. Edwards mentioned the idea last year, after reading in a scientific journal that by changing a gene in the brains of fruit flies, scientists were able to make them change their sexual behaviours. "The females acted like the males and performed the courtship dance -- just by altering a single gene." Prof. Edwards is visibly excited as he tells this story, kneeling on his office chair and spinning around in circles.  But the ReGenesis team passed on the idea for last year's inaugural season. Prof. Edwards assumes it was too contentious: "The ethical issue is being able to modulate sexual orientation with a pill. What are the ramifications on society? Do you force people to take it?" What a difference a year makes, however. After giving more thought to the controversial concept, Mr. Chehak and Ms. Jennings decided to explore the theme in three new episodes meant to combine good drama and good science. Exactly what the good doctor ordered. "There's dramatic tension and there's scientific tension," says Prof. Edwards, "and they feed off each other. And if the viewers feel that tension, then they're getting it, they're liking it, and hopefully, they're also asking questions. 'Can that really happen? Is that real?' "And if that goes on, then it means they're starting to get curious. And that's the whole point -- to make people think and question. You just want people talking about science again, in a way that's good."

After Nine Years, Canadian Tire Has Retired Its Relentlessly Handy Pitchman

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian

(Mar. 18, 2006) "Aren't you the
Canadian Tire Guy?" asked the waitress as she came over to the table.  "Yes I am," said Ted Simonett. "I mean, yes I was."  For the 52-year-old actor, those last two words will come to mean a world of difference. It was just over a week ago that he was officially told his role as the handy husband on a series of 125 Canadian Tire commercials for the past nine years would cease to be.  "In truth," he confesses, "I expected this to have happened a long time ago. After all, I was the unwanted guest in people's homes for nearly a decade."  During that time, he saw himself morph from a virtually unknown stage actor to one of the most visible faces on this nation's media landscape.  That's all well and good. In fact, it's what every performer dreams of. But what they don't expect to happen is that the recognition will start out as acclaim and wind up as derision.  Simonett saw things change from where people used to happily wave at him on the street to the point where he won one newspaper's poll as "The Most Annoying Canadian," beating out Ben Mulroney.  "It's like being lowered into a wonderful warm pool," is how Simonett describes it, "full of very happy, well-fed barracudas. But suddenly the barracudas start to get a little hungry and you're dead meat."  Even that sensation, Simonett insists, "has been largely restricted to the media and a certain amount of 416 cynicism. To be totally honest, in all the years I've been doing this, only three people have ever come up and insulted me to my face. Hundreds and hundreds of others have had nothing but nice things to say."  None of this is what the Kingston-born performer could have envisioned at 16, when he decided to put down the saxophone in his high school band and play the leading role of Harold Hill in The Music Man instead.

He was instantly hooked on acting, studied at York and Queen's universities and then went off to England. To get into the union, he worked as a stage manager with the English National Opera, moving on to make his professional debut in The Rocky Horror Show.  After three years, he came back to Canada and started a period of nearly non-stop stage work.  "I characterize myself as a light comic actor," he suggests modestly, "and that fit perfectly with all the cabarets and dinner theatres that flourished in Toronto during the 1980s." In 1983, while starring in a production of Cabaret at the St. Lawrence Centre, he met dancer/choreographer Madeline Paul, to whom he has been married since 1991.  Simonett did his fair share of TV and film work and was even flown to Los Angeles to audition for the role in Moonlighting that later made Bruce Willis a star.  But in the 1990s, the kind of theatre Simonett excelled at started drying up.  When work grew scarce, he exploited his penchant for photography and set up a kind of cottage industry providing headshots for fellow actors' resumés.  Then, in 1997, he was asked to audition for a single commercial for Canadian Tire.  "I remember it well," he chuckles. "I was selling Robo-Grip Pliers. I remember thinking at the time how funny that was, because I am at best a reluctant handyman."  To this day, Simonett has no idea why he was picked other than the possible reason that "I had a beard then and so did Bob Villa, who was very popular."  That one commercial led to three the following year, then more and more, until finally "they officially put me under contract." Simonett noticed a slight shift in tone at that point.  "I stopped talking directly to the camera and started interacting more with my neighbours, which is one of the things that some people later said seemed to bother them."  But at first, all was bliss.  Simonett began to be recognized everywhere he went "with the amazing exception of Canadian Tire stores. I'd go shopping there and my picture would be everywhere, but no one would say anything. I guess it's like they expected to find me there."

If there was any backlash, it kept fairly under the radar until last fall.  Then, in its Oct. 31 issue, Maclean's magazine devoted its cover to "The Age of the Wuss," with a grinning picture of Simonett.  "We had no idea it was coming. My wife was at the dentist's that morning when their copy of Maclean's was delivered. That's how we found out ..."  It seemed to release the floodgates and suddenly the media were full of people ranting about how much they hated "the Canadian Tire Guy."  "I knew they didn't really mean me personally," he reasons, "just the character I was playing. You try to take it all with a grain of salt. But it still hurts."  Despite rumours to the contrary, it wasn't that magazine cover, nor the subsequent venom it unleashed, that led to the commercials being cancelled.  "That was in the works for a long time," he insists. "We knew the spring before that we probably would be bringing it all to an end soon. We were on the air for nine years. Good God, I completely understand that."  Financial worries aren't a big part of Simonett's picture because "I was more than fairly compensated for the work I did. However, if this was America, I'd be set for life, which I'm not."  In the future, he'd like to get back on the stage again.  "I recently emceed a friend's CD launch and it was the first live performing I'd done in five years. I was petrified, but it was so much fun."  He laughs. "Don't you think a lot of theatres would do well if they cast me as the villain in one of their productions?"  Looking back at it all, Simonett calmly declares that "if I were asked to do it all again, knowing everything I know now, I'd still sign on for it.  "I had a whole career before and I hope I'll have a whole career after, but I think I will probably be the Canadian Tire Guy for the rest of my life."


Restyling Hair, The Musical

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - James Adams

(Mar. 21, 2006) With less than two weeks to go before CanStage's production of Hair officially opens in Toronto, we're being told in advertisements that we need the "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" "now more than ever." But did we even need it in the spring of 1968 when, after stints off-Broadway and in a discotheque, the debut show migrated to New York's Biltmore Theater for what would turn out to be a smash four-year run? Hair's supposed timeliness this go-round has to do, one imagines, with the American boondoggle in Iraq and, tangentially, the KandaHarper-coated rhetoric that has accompanied our deployment of troops to Afghanistan's dusty killing fields. In the days leading up to the previews that started yesterday, James Rado, one of the three creators of the original, was busily tweaking the CanStage show, and no one is going to be surprised if some of that fiddling heightens the parallels between the Vietnam War, which served as a major animus of the original Hair, and our present-day involvements in faraway lands. Of course, it won't be the prick of relevance but the anesthetic of nostalgia -- what CanStage calls "recapturing your spirit of hope," those once "golden living dreams of visions" -- that will be the primary motivation for most ticket holders to this Hair revival. Truth be told, yours truly thought Hair was a mistake almost from the get-go, when I was 18 and therefore the very target of Hair's siren songs. It was a mistake from a hippie perspective because it sought success on Broadway -- Ethel Merman! Al Jolson! Carol Channing! -- when Broadway was an irrelevancy, something to be ignored, not wooed or embraced. Hadn't no less a saint that Bob Dylan told us: "There's no success like failure?" A mistake from a New Left perspective because Broadway as an institution, as a myth-making mystification machine, had to be abolished, not simply reformed by putting everyone in sandals and headbands instead of dancing shoes and top hats. It was also a musical mistake. Like most Sixties' kids, my first hints of Hair were the hits on AM radio -- the Hair theme, Good Morning, Starshine, Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, Easy to Be Hard -- all of them performed by such astonishingly lame pop artists -- the Cowsills, Oliver, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night -- that even now I reel with shame at ever having been moved enough to sing along to the "Gliddy glub glooby / Nibby nabby noopy" chorus of Starshine.

Back then, I even thought Tommy by the Who was a mistake. To my mind, a "rock opera" was a contradiction in terms. While rock could be operatic and a rock album could carry a "concept," it could not be an opera. No, sir. That was the Old World of Verdi and Wagner, Mozart, Berg and Strauss. Rock was something spontaneous, unruly, as-yet unformed, separate, "electric folk music for the mind and body," to paraphrase Country Joe and the Fish. Tommy felt like kitschy overreaching, a bloated bid for formalistic seriousness by a misguided Pete Townshend and, as it turned out, an anticipation of a far worse horror: Jesus Christ, Superstar. Sometimes art is more interesting than life. Hair, however, appeared at a time when the reverse was true, or, to be more precise, when the art of life and the life of art seemed magically intertwined, convulsive and rich with possibility (however illusory). No one now would ever think of putting the Hair soundtrack in a time capsule of artefacts from the last 50 years. No one, that is, except perhaps a curator at the Richard Nixon Library, because even in its heyday Hair wasn't so much a potent distillation or snapshot of the era as a sort of one-stop shop for Moms and Dads and suburbanites out for a taste of "youth culture" before they returned home to vote the Nixon-Agnew ticket. Having immersed my 55-year-old self in things Hair(soundtrack, playbills, movie, reviews, memoirs and so on) for the last 10 days, the whole enterprise still feels as musty and fusty as it did when I was a teen and my ears and eyes were telling me that Hair was going the way of Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady, except faster. What's worse: Listening to Frank Mills the other day got me thinking good thoughts about . . . Bye Bye, Birdie. Will a similar dismay afflict those young 'uns who visit CanStage? Will they see a Hair piece as phoney as Mom's blond streaks and Dad's rug? Or will they find something inspiring and empowering, revelatory and revolutionary, not just a mixed-up, mushed-down Reader's Digest condensation of hippiedom, with a raft of barely hummable sort-of rock songs powered by outdated lyrics that rely heavily on catchphrases and rhyme-y list-like streams of words?

One of the first Hair revivals was the movie Hair, which came out seven years after the Broadway production folded and 12 years after its off-Broadway inauguration . I say "the movie Hair," rather than "the movie of Hair," because the former, with a rewrite by Michael Weller, bears little resemblance to what people originally saw in New York or on stages in London, Los Angeles, Paris, West Berlin and dozens of other cities, including, in 1970, Toronto. There's general agreement the movie isn't very good. But one of its strengths relative to the 1968 play is that it actually has a semblance of a plot, with a sort of Tale of Two Cities twist at the end. It also has blessedly fewer songs, the performances of which (with a couple of exceptions) are lacklustre and uninvolving, not least because director Milos Forman just couldn't seem to find a lyricism in his cinematography to synchronize with Twyla Tharp's choreography. Seeing the movie now, you realize its best moments, in fact, are the small, non-musical ones: Claude's departure from his rural Oklahoma home for military service in New York; Berger's confrontation with the hosts of a debutante ball he and his hippie amigos have crashed; Hud's flight from the responsibilities of caring for his girlfriend and their two-year-old son; Nicholas Ray's irony-laden cameo as a sourpuss colonel sending his boys off to Vietnam (Ray, of course, having been the director of Rebel without a Cause). Yet even though the film has more spine and coherence than the musical, it is as anachronistic today as it was upon its theatrical release in 1979. Sometimes a work of art is so much of its time that it comes to epitomize that time for the ages. Other times a work of art is too much of its time and, despite its adherents' claims of timelessness and universality, it ossifies into artefact, novelty, something for the scrapbook. Or the scrap heap. Thirty-nine years after Hair's debut, CanStage is giving audiences perhaps the defining chance to either write its obituary or experience its resurrection. Hair runs in previews at Canadian Stage's Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto until March 30 and has its official performances March 31 through June 17. Meanwhile, James Adams has a full head of hair and bumper stickers for the Grateful Dead and the MC5 on his car. The Review section will be sending him to a hippie reprogramming centre this spring.

Color Purple Has Power Of Sincerity

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(Mar. 22, 2006) Her name is the first thing you see on the marquee as you walk up Broadway.  "Oprah Winfrey presents
The Color Purple."  She's not starring in it, didn't write it and only put up 10 per cent of its production cost, but ask anybody who the most important person connected with this show is and they'll tell you.  It's Oprah.  No one had to think twice about why Winfrey would lend her platinum-coated name to the musical based on Alice Walker's novel. Not only did she play one of the leading roles in the 1985 Steven Spielberg film version, but the whole project taps directly into the theme of black female empowerment that she's built her empire on.  Publishers have known for years that a Winfrey recommendation can send book sales through the roof, but cynics were anxious to see how much sway her appeal would have on Broadway, where a single orchestra seat costs over $100.  The musical opened to ho-hum notices in December, but that hasn't mattered. The box office is selling close to $300,000 (U.S.) worth of tickets a day, the advance is sitting at $22 million and it's playing to near-capacity in one of Gotham's largest houses.  A seven-month run in Chicago has been announced for the fall, with a national tour to follow.  And it's all a tribute to the power of "O."  On a Saturday afternoon, walking towards the Broadway Theatre for the sold-out matinee of The Color Purple, I can instantly see her influence on the audience lining the street to get in.  It's not unusual for an afternoon theatre crowd to be mostly female, but it is a rare thing in New York for it to be black as well.

A survey done by the League of American Theatres and Producers during the 2004-05 season rated the average audience for a Broadway show as being 3.8 per cent black, despite the high-profile appearance that year of Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar.  The production office of The Color Purple says black people make up about 50 per cent of the audiences, although on this afternoon it seems closer to 75 per cent.  But Winfrey's drawing power transcends race. Scott Sanders, the show's lead producer, said her involvement has attracted a number of first-time theatre-goers to the show. He added that many people of all races have been inspired to visit New York for the first time just to see The Color Purple.  Inside the theatre, the difference in the atmosphere is tangible. These people aren't in their seats just to be entertained or to be trendy. Rather, they are there to be emotionally engaged.  When the lights dim and the story of poor, oppressed Celie begins to spill across the stage, they spontaneously shout out their feelings as fate deals her blow after blow.  The arrival of the life-affirming Sofia (Winfrey's role in the film) is a signal for them to erupt with joy. Her song about how women should refuse to accept male abuse ("Hell No!") receives a tumultuous roar of approval. (It's not a coincidence that "Hell No!" T-shirts sell briskly in the lobby at intermission.)  In the middle of all this, I'm almost tempted to check my critical faculties at the door and just go along for the ride.  But, keeping a cool head, here's how the show looks to a middle-aged white male.  Marsha Norman's book does a capable job of keeping the narrative moving, but Act I seems like a Cole's Notes synopsis as Celie hops from disaster to disaster. There's also some ill-advised choreography by Donald Byrd in the "African Homeland" sequence early in Act II that doesn't ring true.  Yet somehow, as the story reaches its healing conclusion, an amazing thing starts to happen. The power of the characters and their message get to you. Even the score, which had seemed wanly generic, begins to pack a punch.  And by the time the amazing LaChanze, as Celie, welcomes everyone in her life to the final picnic, you'd have to be made of titanium not to have tears rolling down your face.  Pick away all you want at the flaws in The Color Purple — it has sincerity and integrity, and the two qualities win out in the end.  The Winfrey name may bring the people into the theatre, but the show itself is what has them leaving on a cloud. It's a combination that can't be beat.

It's Showtime: Michael Therriault

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Michael Posner

(Mar. 22, 2006) A funny thing happened to Michael Therriault on his journey to Middle-earth. When he auditioned for The Lord of the Rings producer Kevin Wallace and his creative team last summer, the Stratford-trained actor had been reading for the part of Frodo or one of the other Hobbits. Then, on the spur of the moment, he also asked to read for Gollum, the deformed wretch who haunts Middle-earth in search of the one ring. According to Therriault, he read two lines and then had to stop. " 'Sorry,' " he told the assembly. " 'That was horrible.' I was so embarrassed." But something in those two lines clearly registered. During callback auditions for Frodo, director Matthew Warchus asked him to have another go at Gollum. "They asked me to describe Gollum in a sentence," Therriault, 32, said last week in an interview, "and I said he's like someone not at home with his soul." Then they gave him 15 minutes to work up a physical presentation of that idea. By the end of the day, he pretty much had the role. "His absolute focus and precision of movement meant that you were instantly engaged right from the moment he went into character," says producer Wallace, recalling that audition. "Michael is very courageous, very conscientious and pushes the boundaries. It was self-evident to everyone in the room that he has that extra quality -- a combination of intelligence, imagination, and the vocal and physical abilities to realize his objectives."

On the eve of the world premiere of the most expensive stage production in history -- the $28-million The Lord of the Rings opens tomorrow night at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre -- this may sound like a producer's standard hyperbole. But having been fortunate enough to see LOTR's first preview performance, it's clear that if the show has a star -- over and above the sheer spectacle of its production -- it's Gollum. Moreover, when it comes to Therriault, it's very difficult to find comment that is significantly different. Thus Richard Monette, the Stratford Festival's long-reigning artistic director: "He's astounding. And so versatile. He can do Henry VI and he can do Ariel [The Tempest] and he can do Andrew Aguecheek [Twelfth Night]. He'll come to rehearsal with a dozen different ways of doing things, readings, stage business. And there's absolutely no ego with Michael." Thus Stratford veteran William Hutt: "I first saw him as Mordred in Camelot in 1997, and he was electrifying." On the basis of that performance, Hutt later told Monette he wanted Therriault to play Ariel to his Prospero in the 1999 production of The Tempest, and urged him to tackle Oscar Remembered, a one-man show -- directed by Hutt -- about Oscar Wilde. Thus John N. Smith, who directed Therriault in his first major TV role, as Tommy Douglas in the recent CBC-TV miniseries, Prairie Giant: "The kid is so talented. And a phenomenally hard worker. He was so well prepared. He was watching rushes from the first day."

My own nephew, actor Rami Posner, who spent four seasons with Therriault at the festival, calls him "a triple threat. He can sing, dance and act and do it all well. He's the most human, genuine person I've encountered in the industry. I challenge you to find someone to say a negative word about him. And there is no harder working actor. He lives, eats and breathes theatre." Because rehearsal time at Stratford was always at a premium, Posner and a few other actors formed what they called the Fight Club, otherwise known as the After Hours Club, returning to the theatre in the evenings to continue working on their roles. "When Michael heard about that, he asked if he could join. But whereas we used to go home and eat something and then come back, Michael would stay and rehearse by himself until we arrived, and then after we left at 10, he'd stay and continue working." The hard work has clearly paid dividends: Seven seasons at Stratford, in increasingly prominent, skill-stretching roles. His Dora Award-winning performance as Leo Bloom in the Toronto production of The Producers. The plum part as Douglas in Prairie Giant. And a five-month sojourn on Broadway as Mottel the tailor in Fiddler on the Roof, opposite Harvey Fierstein and Andrea Martin. In preparing for Gollum, Therriault naturally read J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy, and used descriptions of Gollum to lay down the basic physical construct of the character. But he also -- while appearing on Broadway -- sought out modern-dance performances, went to the Lincoln Center dance library and made a binder of images that conveyed the same emotional impact as Gollum, and later hunted down tapes of the experimental British dance company, DV8. It's a tired cliché to suggest that someone was born for the theatre, but in Michael Therriault's case, it almost seems true. Growing up in Oakville, Ont., son of working-class parents -- his father drove trucks and later worked on the line at Ford, his mother worked with seniors -- Therriault says he knew he wanted to act and sing as early as elementary school. By Grade 6, he says, he had started phoning around on his own, looking for a dramatic-arts school.

When he discovered the Etobicoke School of the Arts in Toronto, his parents were sceptical: It was an hour and a half away in Toronto and they couldn't afford it. But his grade-school principal was so impressed with the young Therriault, he arranged for the board of education to pay a full scholarship, including tuition and transportation costs. "I think I remember saying to my parents, 'I'm going. I have to go.' They couldn't say no." Later, his mother encouraged him to go into modelling. " 'Mom,' I said, 'have you seen what models look like?' 'But you're so handsome. You look like Gene Wilder.' 'Mom, Gene Wilder used to scare me as a child.' " On graduation, he enrolled in Sheridan College's performing-arts program and soon won an audition to Stratford. (The only other jobs he's held were as busboy and wait staff at the CN Tower, the Second Cup and the Golden Griddle, from which he was fired after a week.) At his callback audition, he performed Mordred's song -- The Seven Deadly Virtues. "It was okay and they said, 'Thanks, Mike.' " But then [choreographer] Tim French, who had seen me in a summer-stock show stood up and said, 'Wait a second. Michael, I'd like you to do that again and do it this way.' I don't think I'd have gotten the part if he hadn't said give it another try." In his early years at Stratford, the critics were pretty tough on Therriault. "I stopped reading them," he says. "It was really hard. You know when you're not hitting the mark." But Monette and Hutt, he says, never lost faith. "If it weren't for them, I don't know if I'd have a career. They just believed in me. When The Miser opened in 1998, I got ripped apart. Richard calls me at home and immediately offers me the part of Ariel for the next season. And he'd say, 'You should do this, it would be a real stretch for you.' " It was Hutt who pushed him, reluctantly at first, to tackle Oscar Remembered. Again, Therriault says, not a critical success, "but for me a giant learning curve and in that respect a huge success." Therriault says he often felt inferior at Stratford because he had not attended the National Theatre School; at times, he contemplated leaving the festival and going back for more training. "You know, we often box ourselves in as actors and as people. But that's such a dangerous thing to do. You're just not giving yourself enough credit." Despite his success, Therriault leads a Spartan, almost monastic existence. When he changed apartments once, friends offered to rent a truck and move his furniture. "Unnecessary," he told them. "I don't have any furniture." He bought his first bed when the landed his role in The Producers. He recently rented a furnished condo in midtown Toronto, but concedes that he's been living out of a suitcase for the past couple of years. When he lived in New York doing Mottel, he rented a flat in New Jersey and took the shuttle bus into Manhattan for his eight performances a week.

Therriault says he can't see beyond the end of his 18-month commitment to The Lord of the Rings. The seven-month rehearsal process has been exhausting, and he feels ready for opening night. "Bill Hutt told me once that for actors, it's all just play, and the audience is allowed to peek in if they want. That's very freeing. To think, 'I'm just going to indulge myself like a little kid and not worry too much about whether they like it or not.' I'll try to remember that on opening night."

Theatre Is No Lame Bird

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(Mar. 22, 2006) It was supposed to be "one brief shining moment," but it went on for 47 years. When the
Hummingbird Centre closes for 20 months of renovations next year, its CEO, Daniel D. Brambilla, revealed yesterday that the last show to play there will be the one that opened the building: Camelot.  Back on the night of Oct. 1, 1960, it was Richard Burton who played King Arthur in the Broadway-bound musical. On June 25, 2007, Michael York will be starring as the monarch of the Round Table.  "I like the idea of one era ending the same way it began," said the expansive Brambilla. "Think of it as curtain going up, curtain coming down."  And when the new era of the Hummingbird Centre begins, what can the people of Toronto expect to find?  Last November, Brambilla outlined to the Toronto Star his plans for a $75 million, 40,000-square-foot multicultural and tourism facility that would be joined to the 49-storey condominium tower Daniel Libeskind has designed to soar over the existing theatre.  At this point in time, Brambilla still isn't 100 per cent certain he can get all the permits and money he needs in place by the December deadline for the project, but he seems decidedly optimistic and surprisingly calm.  "Look, when I came here three years ago, everybody thought this theatre was finished. The opera and ballet were moving out, people thought the place was a white elephant, Mel Lastman and his boys wanted to tear it down." 

Brambilla wipes the past away with his hand. "That's all gone now. I've got a clean canvas to work with. Everything is possible.  "We've turned the story around from almost demolishing a historical building to not only saving it but making it prosper."  The 55-year-old ex-New Yorker was best known as a tough show business lawyer and a member of Garth Drabinsky's Livent team before coming to the Hummingbird in 2002, and he still can play that card when needed.  "I'm treating this like a business. We're a not-for-profit charitable organization, but I don't think of it that way. I want to be aggressive."  And he revealed the depth of that aggression when he announced he would be bringing in the Radio City Rockettes for next year's Christmas show, adding a major new competitive attraction to a holiday landscape previously dominated by the National Ballet's Nutcracker.  "They're coming for 84 performances over seven weeks and the advance sales are huge. Huge! I couldn't be happier. Yes I know it's called The Nutcracker Killer in every other city it's ever been in. Before I announced the idea, I had the ballet in here and said `I'm bringing the Rockettes in, and I want to see if we can work together. I want this theatre to thrive, but not at your expense.'"

Brambilla admits he's got "the hardest job in Toronto, trying to raise $60 million by December." (The other $15 million comes from the developer for the right to build the condo tower.) "But even if the full plan doesn't materialize, we'll be able to run the theatre and run it well."  Brambilla's agenda is to de-emphasize the traditional programming of the past and look closely at Toronto today.  "The whole push out into the multicultural community is where this building is going. It's the wave of the future."  He addresses the fact that "for many years this was where the white establishment went. This was the home of the opera, the ballet. Now we're inviting people of all races, all colours, to bring their shows here to his iconic building ... we're going to build a new, exciting centre for this city together."  Sure, you could call it a crazy idealistic dream, but then, come to think of it, so was Camelot.


Eric Idle Is Happy To Be The Keeper Of The Monty Python Flame

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Michael Posner

(Mar. 20, 2006) Of the six original members of the Monty Python players, arguably as seminal an influence in comedy as the Beatles were in music, it has fallen mainly to Eric Idle to keep their brand of anarchic insanity alive. After a decade of brilliant mayhem, the group effectively dissolved in the mid-seventies, and Graham Chapman (he died in 1989), John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam found new ways to amuse themselves. So did Idle, but he also found time to produce Python books, Python video games, a couple of international tours exploiting Python sketches and, as of last year, the hottest show on Broadway, the Tony Award-winning Monty Python's Spamalot. "Nobody else really wanted to do funny, I found," said Idle, 63 this month, explaining how he had become the undeclared custodian of all things Python. "And I still like doing it. It makes me laugh. I like this shit. It's why I got into this business. I also got deflected into movies, but I found myself asking: 'Why am I doing this, when what I really want to do is write and perform?' " Idle was in Toronto this week to promote the touring production of Spamalot, which will open at Toronto's Canon Theatre in July.  He wasn't initially sure how his fellow Pythons would react to the notion of a musical -- each member has a veto right over anything involving Python material, as well as a royalty on revenues.

It was the one thing that wasn't a given," he said. So he took the risk, wrote the book, developed the songs with long-time collaborator John Du Prez, recorded them and sent them off to his former colleagues. "And we had one of those songs that takes the piss out of Broadway. You know, 'Once in every show there comes a song like this. . . . Oh, where is the song that goes like this? Where? Where is it?' And that just got them, because it's a very Python kind of thing. It turns the focus back onto itself. That's the Python key: to mock the form in which it lives." Still, it took 17 hard rewrites of the script before Idle and director Mike Nichols were content. "Mike was very insistent about fidelity to the form -- that it couldn't be just a series of sketches, but had to have a real storyline and characters." Born in England's Durham County, Idle lost his father, an RAF officer, at age two, the result of a New Year's Eve car accident. At seven, his mother dispatched him for 12 years to a private school in Wolverhampton, a place where "you either learned to laugh or went mad." At Cambridge University, he was quickly invited to join the Footlights Club, where he met Cleese and Chapman. "It saved my life, I think," Idle says. "Every weekend, we'd go off and do cabaret -- fully scripted shows with songs. No improv. Improv is for people who can't write or have no memory. We were from the old-fashioned school, where we actually try to get funny and then do it again even better." The comedic philosophy that emerged to form the core of the Pythons derived in part from Cambridge sketch-writing wit, and in part from the surreal groups like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, an art college group that wrote songs like My Pink Half of the Geranium. "Then Gilliam came along from America and he was in another space, a sort of Harvey Kurtzman cartoony world. And then we plugged together. So there isn't a sensibility in Python -- there's really six different sensibilities."

Recently, for a new PBS show and DVD, each of the surviving members was asked to choose what they regarded as the group's best sketches. With the exception of the classic fish-slapping dance, "none of us chose the same things. Cleese thinks that anything he did not write is not funny. That's his basic rule of life." Some people might have been sceptical about the appeal of Spamalot -- too many in-jokes that only Pythonistas would get. Idle wasn't. The fact is, he says, "there aren't any boondocks anymore.  "Because of television, everyone is au fait. Everyone watches Jon Stewart or Letterman. They know what the box office grosses are. It was always my basic goal that people who had never seen Python, understood Python or even hated it be able to come to the show and enjoy it." Spamalot was a hit from the moment it opened in Chicago in 2004. "We did worry about the Broadway audience, especially on opening night. Because the people there are celebrities, and they don't really laugh in case it affects their facelifts. But we'd never had less than a standing ovation, every night."

Idle himself says he might be tempted to join the cast at some point, but he's not keen to do the requisite eight shows a week and won't do it until his daughter, now in 10th grade, goes to university. From his first marriage, he also has a son, an acupuncture healer in Australia. "He has a sense of humour, yes, but it's hard to be the child of a Python." Although he is based in Los Angeles, has appeared in several movies (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Nuns on the Run and Dudley Do-Right) and written several of his own, Idle is not particularly enamoured of the film world. "I think it's all shit, really, the movie industry. It's never been less than shit. "We [the Pythons] were very fortunate in the beginning because we gained total control of the films," he recalls. "We wrote them.  "When we sold The Meaning of Life to Universal, we refused to give them the script. We gave them the budget and a 10-line poem that I wrote. We said, 'What are you going to do -- give us notes? Tell us how to write a Python film?' We had the best of it. The rest of it is just listening to people who are opinionated and unqualified."

Gay Gamers' Reality Check

Source: Jose Antonio Vargas, The Washington Post

(Mar. 18, 2006) WASHINGTON—Only in an online role-playing game: a man playing as a woman, a husband and wife playing as a lesbian couple, a transsexual showgirl playing as a magical mage.  In the swashbuckling fantasyland that is
World of Warcraft — with more than 6 million players, each forking up $14.95 (U.S.) a month — you can take on a whole new identity. That's the beauty of it. Total escapism.  Or so Sara Andrews thought.  Lately, she's been the most talked-about figure in that robust but little-known subculture within games: gay gamers.  They're the players — of all ages, many of them out, some closeted — who serve as the antidote to the stereotypical image of the young heterosexual male video game player. They have built online communities like and, to name just two. They also foster gay groups within online role-playing games such as City of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, aka WoW.  The question is — why? What does being gay have to do with gaming? Isn't the whole point to leave behind one's identity in a realm of pure fantasy? Should the rules of conduct online mirror the rules of real life?  Andrews says yes. "To many gamers online, `gay' or `homo' ... are used as general insults. And they feel like they can type them in over and over again because they're on their computers and I can't see them in person," she says.  Andrews, 25, is a transsexual showgirl at Play Dance Bar in Nashville by night, and a spell-casting mage online on her days off. "Being gay, I can't help but get (ticked) off and react. I didn't leave the real closet to be forced back into the virtual closet.''

The answer Andrews and others are learning is that their virtual worlds can simply be an extension of the world they're living in.  Online worlds, in fact, are as complex as real ones.  Within World of Warcraft, there are numerous "guilds." They are not unlike high school clubs, and last year, Andrews started one akin to a Gay-Straight Alliance. She named it Oz.  In late January, Andrews was trying to recruit new members to her GLBT-friendly guild: gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender. ("Why do we have gay clubs? Because a lot of men dancing with other men would get ragged on in straight clubs, right? Same thing for online games," she explains.)  Repeatedly, she wrote in general chats within the game: "We are not `GLBT only,' but we are `GLBT friendly!' "  Then one of the game's moderators, interpreting the game's "terms of use," cited her for "Harassment-Sexual Orientation.''  "Advertising sexual orientation" was inappropriate, said a spokesman for Blizzard, the California-based company that owns WoW. Many people are offended at the mere sight of the word "homosexual," the company noted.  Furthermore, "we do feel that the advertisement of a `GLBT friendly' guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise," Blizzard wrote Andrews.  To many gay gamers, Blizzard's stance amounted to the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.  "The idea that sexual orientation doesn't belong in games is absurd. It's in movies, it's in music, it's on TV," says Alexander Sliwinksi, a gaming columnist for In Newsweekly, the gay weekly paper in Boston.

Chris Viccini, a graphic designer in Atlanta who started in May 2003 and plays WoW, was confused. "What message was Blizzard trying to send?" asks the 35-year-old. "That gay people aren't welcome in the game?''  Things exploded online. Lots of very heated chatter in gaming forums, gay and straight alike — from, the biggest of the online gay gaming sites, to, the blog site for the hardcore gaming set, to, the one-stop shop for geekdom, to, the go-to-site for millions of online role-playing gamers.  An articulate bunch who haven't met a link they haven't sent in an e-mail, these gamers had lots to say.  Word spread.  Gays? In games? Gay guilds in games?  "It looks like the real world and the virtual one are growing closer together on a daily basis. Prepare to start paying your WoW property taxes any day now," a gamer wisecracked on  On, another gamer wrote: "Gay people have a tendency to bring their own persecution down upon themselves. `LOOK AT ME!!!!! I'M GAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' Then they wonder why people think they are (jerks).''  Over at, a gamer who calls himself "Webimpulse" got so frustrated reading all the postings: "The kind of bigotry I'm seeing on here has just killed any chances of me ever renewing my World of Warcraft subscription. Blizzard used to be cool.''  A lawyer at Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, got involved. Blizzard apologized to Andrews and promised to conduct "sensitivity training" for its more than 1,000 game moderators.  The game's "terms of use," says Lisa Jensen, a spokeswoman for Blizzard, are currently in review.  "It was quite a wake-up call for us. It wasn't anticipated at all. It kind of spiralled out of control," Rob Pardo, the lead designer of WoW, says of the continuing online imbroglio.  "It erupted over us not having a stated policy dealing with sexual orientation within the game.''  Questions abound from gays and straights. Identity in online role-playing games — whether you're playing a rogue, a shaman, a warlock or a paladin — is elastic, elusive, ever-changing.  But is it possible to avoid bringing a part of yourself to it?

"The reason that being gay is relevant to gaming is because gaming nowadays enables people to construct and reconstruct their identities," says Sherry Turkle, the author of Life on the Screen. An MIT professor who studies the culture of online identities, she is sometimes referred to as a "cybershrink.''  "We're at a transition point in how we view these online games. We're so used to the dichotomy: real life, game life.  "But these online games," she continued, "are at a place somewhere in between.  "It's not just a game. They spend hours there. They have friends there. They have a life there.''

Gerard Dure: A Master At His Craft

Excerpt from - By Deardra Shuler

(Mar. 21, 2006)
Gerard Dure has put 14 years into his hair salon located at 635 West 125th Street.  One immediately sees the Asian and Egyptian artwork and interior design that has obviously been lovingly constructed when entering the salon.  Even his staff is diverse.  The mural ceilings bear out Gerard’s creative flair.  Twenty years in the beauty business gives credence to the fact the Gerard Dure Salon has a Master at the helm; who is a master at his craft.   A colourful child at birth, Gerard is the offspring of multicoloured diversity.  His mother is Irish and Black and his father is Haitian/Dominican. Born in Brooklyn, Gerard attended musical school at the First All Children’s Theatre.  He attended the High School of Music and Art, later known as LaGuardia Performing Arts High School.   At 14, Gerard performed at the Alaska Repertory Theatre.  He completed high school in Columbus, Ohio and then armed with endurance and talent returned to New York at age 18.  Determined to forge a career in show business, Gerard won talent contests at the Apollo Theatre and garnered several musical awards.  Money was often scarce so Dure occasionally found himself a vagabond, staying in the homes of friends and even at a homeless shelter.  Few knew of his financial straits because Dure always kept up appearances when auditioning for singing gigs. At 19, his luck turned for the better when he found himself doing a stint with Eartha Kitt who selected the budding actor to accompany her on stage.  As a result, he caught the eye of hairdresser extraordinaire, the late and great Teddy Jenkins.  Jenkins was in high demand by celebrities because he had the rare skill of mastering both makeup and hair. He even knew special effects makeup. Jenkins offered Dure a job as his assistant.  “I had no intentions of becoming a hairdresser. I wanted to sing and only saw hair as a temporary job between show biz gigs.  Yet, doing hair came natural to me.  Teddy started getting me bookings and I found myself making mad money,” recalled Mr. Dure.  “I learned a lot from Teddy and I began to excel at makeup as well.”
Before he knew it, Gerard was doing hair and makeup for people like Queen Latifah, Evelyn Champagne King, Bernadette Peters, Eartha Kitt, Chaka Khan, Angie Stone, Lil’ Kim, CeCe Peniston, Denyce Graves, Toni Braxton, En Vogue and Tyra Banks, etc. “At 19 years old I was the key hair and makeup person for the show Black and Blue on Broadway.  I even toured the world with Meli’isa Morgan.  The tour was great because I didn’t have to spend money so I saved a lot.  I toured Europe, Japan, and throughout America.  Ultimately, at age 21, I decided it was time to get an apartment where I continued to do hair.  Eventually, I found a warehouse on 125th Street that was a real fixer-upper.  It didn’t have electricity or water and was filled with debris.  I saw it had potential and eventually made it into the salon I own today,” said Gerard whom Barbara Walters tapped to profile on her ABC Network show, “The View.”  Gerard combined fine arts and the art of hair care over the years, experimenting and developing products and a hair weave method, which eventually resulted in his flat hair weave technique.  He became a sensation and was featured in hair magazines throughout the world. “I have never viewed myself as a celebrity, so I was surprised when I received worldwide attention. God has blessed me and I view each success as a miracle,” stated the grateful stylist.  These days, Dure is in the process of writing a book on beauty.  “It’s my first book so I am anxious to get it right.  I plan to call it “All About Beauty.”  The title is self-explanatory because it will be like a beauty bible.  I cover nutrition, exercise, skincare, hair care, fashion, diet, and everything pertaining to health and beauty.  I advise black people in particular about staying away from the 3Ss -- starch, sodium, and sugar and instruct them on the best ways to eat healthy and exercise.   A good diet of healthy food is really something people should incorporate into their lives as a permanent way of life.   My book will be loaded with common sense information that anyone can apply,” promised the hairdresser to the stars.
Gerard plans to write more books, however the popular and gifted beauty Meister has no intentions of stopping there.  He is creating “’The Look’ with Gerard Dure,’” a TV show that should hit airwaves by July 2006.  “I found I enjoyed television after working on the program “Life and Styles,” featuring Kimora Lee Simmons.  “I was a guest beauty advisor on “Life and Styles.”  In fact, I was the only Black makeup and hair artist on television doing this.  I started to wonder about that.  I saw that white hair consultants could come in and get the permanent jobs simply by advising while I was actually doing the work.” Dure remarked.  “These white advisors didn’t know how to do hair or apply makeup, they merely gave their opinions. I decided why not create my own variety show and make it something no one has ever seen before.  My dream is to expose people to all of the beauty secrets that lie within my heart.  I plan to have a whole lot of unique and innovative things on my show that will blow people’s mind.  It definitely won’t be the average standard faire. It will be original.  My style has always been to create something new and different and my show will be proof of that.” Interested parties can learn more about Gerard Dure at:

York University New Hall Worthy Of Accolade

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic

(Mar. 21, 2006) The physical renaissance of Toronto culture isn't just happening downtown, as visitors to the gala-concert opening of
York University's Accolade Project fine-arts facility and inaugural arts festival witnessed last night.  Far north of the longest shadow cast by the Royal Ontario Museum or the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts sits the university's now-complete Faculty of Fine Arts, all bright and shiny in its new digs.  Most inspirational of all, it went from blueprints (by Bregman + Hamann Architects-Zeidler Partnership) to unlocked doors in less then three years. And, eschewing grand architectural pronouncements, it delivers the essentials: room for students to learn, to practise and to perform in bright, airy, friendly, clean spaces.  A case in point is the Recital Hall in what is called Accolade East.  The building has a 325-seat auditorium with proscenium stage to house theatre and dance (there's even an orchestra pit with elevating floor) as well as a 500-seat cinema/lecture hall.  This means each space could be tailored to specific acoustic and physical needs.  The concert space could therefore be designed specifically for making music.  From the vantage point of either the main-level seats or the three-row balcony, the space is a success — and a testament to how much you can do with the simplest of architectural elements.  The room starts with the ideal "one box" form, which places the music in the same space as the audience.  The sound is shaped by floor-to-ceiling convex, cream-coloured plaster pillars that are approximately two metres wide. The stage is a hollow box covered in hard maple. And things that can buzz and vibrate, like the exposed catwalks, are clad in acoustic panels.

To adjust the sound, many of the plaster pillars contain double doors that swing open on large hinges. The floors are bare concrete, as are the main structural columns. The seats are tastefully padded in grey cloth.  The overall effect in the tall yet intimate room is of a sober focus on the artistic tasks at hand.  The sound is clear and direct, if not particularly warm. High frequencies (high notes) are occasionally piercing in their directness, while low frequencies (bass notes) are more muted.  The sheer variety of music — much of it new — produced on the stage was testament to the enthusiasm of the faculty and students for their new quarters.  CBC Radio Two In Performance host Andrew Craig, himself a York music graduate, hosted the evening, which included a couple of hundred student choristers and over a dozen York alumni or faculty on stage at various times.  Music department head Michael Coghlan's Accolade Fanfare for Five Trumpets blew the audience's hair backward in a suitably exuberant opening gesture.  The evening ended with the world premiere of Eclipse, a concerto for piano, 10 instruments and voice by York alumnus David Mott.  Written in three movements that weave into each other, and conducted by professor Mark Chambers, Eclipse was a showcase for the considerable talents of Christina Petrowska Quilico at the piano.  It also attempted to fuse musical styles and ethnicities into a new kind of sound, in much the same way as the mixture of backgrounds is changing the face of Toronto society and culture.  There was a buzz of anticipation in the scarlet-painted lobby before the gala began, and there were even wider smiles afterward, as everyone involved last night realized that this particular piece of Toronto's cultural renaissance couldn't have turned out any better.  The Accolade Fine Arts Festival of music, dance, theatre and visual arts runs to Sunday in all of the building's public spaces. More information at

Toronto Gets Its Joie De Vivre On

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Martin Knelman

(Mar. 22, 2006)
The spirit of old Hogtown — a place where having a good time was officially frowned on — may finally be buried on the night of Sept. 30 and into the morning of Oct. 1.  Those are the dates of this city's first Nuit Blanche, details of which will be announced with gusto by David Miller, our party-animal mayor, at a media conference today.  On that particular Saturday night and Sunday morning, the civic duty of Torontonians will be to stay up all night celebrating contemporary art in three designated city arts zones. This all-night freebie culture crawl — from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. — has been conceived as an occasion to be sleepless in Toronto.  For the benefit of the unilingual: "Nuit Blanche" is French for White Night. (Literal translation: a phenomenon of nature in places like the Arctic where at a certain point in the year the sun never sets.)  Actually, the full name of the event is Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. That first word, which needs no translation, represents the sponsor contributing some money to showcase this city's cultural treasures. Scotiabank thus enters the populist art field less than a year after breaking into an exclusive culture club now rebranded the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Toronto's dusk-to-dawn festival is frankly patterned on an event enjoyed annually by more than 1,000 Parisians. The Paris event, which began in 2000, includes free all-night programs at the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre, as well as a Latin music festival at Les Halles.  Toronto's version — organized by the arts and culture division of city hall under its Live With Culture program — focuses on three hyperactive arts zones:

·  Queen St. W. from Dufferin to Trinity Bellwoods Park, where the curator will be cultural consultant Clara Hargittay.


New Book Tells How Rap's Shot Callers Got On Top

Source: Rose Carrano / Rose Carrano Public Relations / 646-638-2181

(March 16, 2006) New York, NY -- Thunders Mouth Press, a division of Avalon Publishing Group, has released "Hip-Hop, Inc.: Success Stories of the Rap Moguls." The title examines the rise of the rap music industry from obscurity in the South Bronx to a worldwide sales phenomenon. It shows how a few street-smart, savvy entrepreneurs parlayed growing success on the music side into lifestyle empires that spread across fashion, films, beverages, restaurants, finance, and technology.  In just two decades, rap music co-opted the mainstream music industry and created one of the most enduring, global success stories in American music history. At the heart of the hip-hop music industry are its brilliant entrepreneurs. These guys may not have an MBA, notes co-author Dr. Richard Oliver, but they have innately figured out most of the principles we teach at the classroom. Especially when it comes to product line extensions and cross-promotion, they are relentless. To the casual listener, hip-hop music may seem unsophisticated, says Tim Leffel, the other co-author of Hip-Hop, Inc. When you really look at the people running these companies, however, you find entrepreneurs who are as savvy as any well-known CEO.  "Hip-Hop, Inc." reveals the strategies and success stories behind Bad Boy, Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella, No Limit, Aftermath, Death Row, and all the extending product lines that came with them. It looks at the new generation of moguls coming up, especially in the exploding southern rap scene, and lays out the path to riches many of them are following. The book is distributed by Publishers Group West and is available now in bookstores and at online book retailers. For more information on the book and authors, visit

Kerry Washington Hired As Face Of L’Oreal Paris

Excerpt from

(Mar. 21, 2006) *Actress
Kerry Washington has been scooped up by L'Oreal Paris to become the spokesperson for its new HIP (High Intensity Pigments) cosmetics collection, designed “for women who love color.” "It's really exciting for me to be one of the faces of L'Oreal and to be working with a company that has historically represented so many different kinds of women with different kinds of skin color," says Washington. "One of the main reasons I was so attracted to working with L'Oreal is because of their slogan, 'Because I'm Worth It'. L'Oreal is so much about supporting women, helping women feel good about themselves, and it's great to feel like I can be a part of that."  Washington, whose film credits include “Save the Last Dance,” She Hate Me” and a star-making turn in “Ray,” will begin appearing in print ads for the HIP line later this year. "Kerry Washington is a rising star with acknowledged talent, who has won the admiration of many women with her acting ability," declared Youcef Nabi, International General Manager of L'Oreal Paris. "We can't wait to see her magnificent eyes light up our newest ad campaigns."  Kerry was also seen in this past summer's “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and “Fantastic Four,” directed by Tim Story and based on the Marvel comics superheroes.  The Bronx-born 29-year-old will next be seen in the Wayans Brothers' comedy “Little Man,” due in theatres July 5, and “The Last King of Scotland” opposite Forest Whitaker, due in the fall.


Smith: Nothin' but (Inter)Net

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Doug Smith, Sports Reporter

(Mar. 21, 2006) If
Antonio Davis is done, and it sure looks like that's the case for this year at least, how is he to be remembered?  The veteran Raptor second-go-round centre is on the shelf with a bad back and some personal things to work out and it will be a shock to all if he ever puts on a Toronto uniform again.  So, then, what's his eulogy?  There are three choices:

·  The guy who played Dikembe Mutombo with one wrecked shoulder during the greatest two-week stretch in Raptor history. He gave away about four inches and 20 pounds, was injured from Game 1 to Game 7 and still played.
·  The guy who played himself in to precisely the trade he wanted by not playing hard, making no bones about his desire to leave and forcing then-general manager Glen Grunwald into making a bad trade.
·  The guy who almost single-handedly carried Toronto into the playoffs against the Pistons in 2002, helping them overcome an injury to Vince Carter in the last month of the season and get into the post-season despite that injury and the (lack of) coaching from Lenny Wilkens.

Says here that two out of three wins.

Davis may have engineered a sorry departure — and his comments about our educational system didn't help, that's for sure — but on the whole, he did more good for the franchise than bad.  The haters out there, and there are many, will complain about the contract he got, his departure, his wife, his return, his body language but there is no doubt that he is, today, the best centre the Raptors have ever employed and he was an integral part of the best success in franchise history.  If he never plays here again — and it's 95-5 he won't in Toronto, although he'll probably get a one-year deal somewhere next fall — he's done enough that he should be appreciated, rather than castigated, as he leaves.

FUTURE RAPTOR?: Here's a name to think about as the draft rolls around.
Andrea Bargnani.

You don't think general manager Bryan Colangelo, with his varied and serious connections in Europe and specifically Italy, hasn't been paying close attention to the 7-foot forward for years?  The disinformation campaign around the draft is about ready to begin in earnest — although the last day that GMs officially tell the truth is usually Lottery Day — so it should be mentioned now that Bargnani is, at the moment, the apple of the Raptor eye.  Another guy to look at closely: Duke's Shelden Williams. He's a beast, and if the draft does go just four deep - LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Adam Morrison and Bargnani - Williams is a logical Raptor pick at No. 5.

IT'S A CONTRACT SPORT: Mike James tells people Monday that money is going to be an object is his decision where to sign this summer, as we figured all along. Well, he didn't exactly say it out loud but read those quotes again: Cash Will Be King.
Okay, how much?

Does he get the full mid-level exception of somewhere near $5.5 million a year to start (which is what all that teams that are over the cap will be able to pay him), or does he get more.  There are general managers in the league that I've talked to who think a deal that starts about $4.5 million a year, goes out over four years with only half the final year guaranteed makes sense.  I still think the Raptors, if indeed they want to keep him, will have to offer at least the mid-level exception because some team out there will give it to him.  It's going to come down to years on the contract that make the difference, I think, and that should be a scary thought. I know the Raptors have new management in place, but history is they give one year too many (Jerome Williams, Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, Nate Huffman, Vince Carter, the list is almost endless).

And the question is: In four years, when the Raptors hope to be good, and legitimate Eastern Conference contenders, where does a 34-year-old Mike James fit in?  Tough call, Mr. Colangelo.

THAT WAS THEN: We're in New York tonight and it brings back memories of the last time the Raptors were here.  It was the middle of the second quarter the game before the all-star break and the lads were up 12 and the Sixers were losing to the Spurs.  A guy turns and says, "hey, if the Raptors win this and the Sixers lose to San Antonio, Toronto's only 3 1/2 games out of the playoffs going into the break."  My, how times have changed, eh? Raptors blew that one, Sixers ended up beating the Spurs and the season is pretty much history.  All it'll take now is a 16-game winning streak to finish the season and the Raptors will finish four games below .500.  Guess anything's possible.


Watching the zaniness unfold around the Knicks, where Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown kept slagging each other all last week, got me to thinking about the zaniness that's followed The Heroes Of The Hardcourt over the years. Ended up with a Top Five feuds.

Darrell Walker vs. Tracy McGrady

New Year's Eve in Washington (just before the Gladys Knight concert sans Pips), Walker suggests McGrady smarten up or he'd be out of the league in three years. Tracy's response: Something close to a yawn. No wonder the kid ended up playing the Raptors like a fiddle on his way out of town.

Alvin Robertson-Carlos Rogers

Always wondered if they found Rogers strangled in a ditch somewhere how they'd explain Robertson's fingerprints on his neck. Robertson was the old vet; Rogers the, um, loquacious kid who just didn't get it. A terrible mix.

Rafer Alston-Jalen Rose

The night in Charlotte where the spent an entire game ignoring each other and not passing the ball to one another was among the most embarrassing moments ever. So much so that players went out of their way to talk about it with writers.

Hakeem Olajuwon-Lenny Wilkens

Signing The Dream might not have been the brightest idea ever, signing him to play for a coach he didn't like from the time the two spent together with the 1996 American Olympic team was silly. Money-hungry Olajuwon never brought it up.

Butch Carter-Just About Everyone At The End

Day before Game 3 of first playoff series vs. the Knicks, about four players in the alcove of the practice gym, calling out their coach. Next day, they all show up wearing headbands because they know how much that bugs their coach.


Q: Given (Bryan) Colangelo's history and his newly given control, do you think any player is untouchable? He may be the person who has the guts to trade the likes of Bosh or Mo Pete, even if it is unpopular at the time — but he may have something bigger in mind! What are you thoughts?
Edwin Frondozo, Toronto

A: Yeah, I think dealing Bosh or Peterson would sure make him unpopular. And rightfully so.
Seriously, there is no reason to blow this thing up and that's what that would be, an explosion. Besides, I'm not sure there's a 21-year-old in the league that I'd trade Bosh for; and since his salary next year will still be from his rookie deal, there's no way they could get anything good in return. Unless Miami wants to trade Dwyane Wade or Cleveland wants to part with LeBron James.
You can never say anyone's untouchable, but Bosh is as close as it gets.

Q: Why is everyone giving Joey Graham such a hard time? Since when are rookies supposed to come out of college as superstars? When Kobe Bryant came into the league, he was barely averaging 8 points a game. Steve Nash only averaged 3.3! Why is everyone disappointed in his play? HE'S A ROOKIE!
Mike Walterson, Halifax

A: I don't think anyone's disappointed with Graham compared to other rookies, but his wildly inconsistent play — and effort — was cause for concern in the middle of the season. He seems to have finally got it over the last 10 days or so and that's a promising sign.
If Graham ends up being a solid rotation player on a playoff team, that would be about what everyone expected when he was drafted.
One guy connected to the team said this week they'd finally figured out how to get Graham to stop thinking and start playing and I think that sums up what was so disappointing about him at times this season.

Q: What is your take on Hoffa? He was a consensus mid-late 1st round pick back in 2004 draft, so while the Raptors selected him high at 8, it's not like the rest of the experts thought he would be around in the 2nd round. When I watch him live at games warming up, taking shots, he seems to genuinely have "decent" skills for a big man. Sure he has zero hops but he's a huge body who can pass, shoot from 12-15 feet in, and hustle. Have the super critical Raps fans just shot his confidence?  (It seems like he plays as if he is afraid to make any mistakes or miss any shots). If he was drafted to a team where he was playing low pressure back up minutes behind a proven centre, would we see a different Araujo emerging now? After all the abuse he's taken here in T.O and not once complaining publicly about all the heat he takes, I hope he can turn it around and prove a few nay-sayers wrong.
A. Jarvis, Milton

A: Oh, good, a chance to riff on Haffa. It really doesn't matter whether he was drafted No. 8 or No. 18 or No. 28 for all that matter, the flaws in his game are far too serious to overcome.  Araujo is, by all accounts including mine a nice guy who works hard and tries and wants to get better but, really, that's no big deal.  The facts are indisputable. He fouls too much, is too slow afoot, really doesn't have the basketball IQ to play regular minutes in the league and isn't getting any younger or quicker. I know the fans have been hard on him, and so has the media, but that's too bad, it's a tough league where you have to perform at a high level every night. Maybe in another situation he's okay, somewhere where he can be the 11th man on a playoff team; I don't see any upside for him in Toronto.

Renegades Rescue Plan In Doubt

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - David Naylor And Allan Maki

(Mar. 21, 2006) Despite league assurances that progress was being made in the Ottawa Renegades salvage operation, the prevailing mood in the Canadian Football League last night was one of deep concern. Club officials remained largely in the dark about what league governors would hear in a telephone conference call concerning the club. The call was planned for this afternoon, but has been delayed until tomorrow. Wright was expected to detail a plan whereby majority owner Bernie Glieberman would accept some of the estimated $6-million in losses for the 2006 season, perhaps as much as $3-million. The rest of the Renegades' deficit would be covered by the league. That could end up costing the eight other franchises $400,000 to $600,000 each. But a team source yesterday said discussion among the clubs had revealed an overwhelming consensus against funding Ottawa to any degree. Funding is a tough sell among governors who have grown impatient with the Ottawa situation in the past 1½ years and are hesitant to throw what many argue would be good money after bad.

Wright, who returned from vacation on Sunday, met with Glieberman and also spoke with minority partner Bill Smith by phone.  The league office issued a statement claiming "significant progress was achieved in establishing clarity and identifying options for 2006 and beyond." Three years ago, the CFL operated both the cash-starved Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but, because those were midseason bankruptcies, the league was only on the hook for half the season and therefore less money. In this case, the Renegades would have to be funded from training camp through 18 regular-season games. Ottawa is currently functioning with a bare-bones staff with no ability to sell tickets or sponsorships as the team twists in the wind. The lack of infrastructure makes running the Renegades more akin to a start-up operation than a takeover. One source estimated losses for such an operation could reach as high as $8-million. While many club officials were once confident that Ottawa could be salvaged for the coming season, most have become far less optimistic. It is believed that the league and commissioner Wright only became aware of the severity of the problem in recent weeks, which explains why the CFL is now faced with a difficult decision so close to the opening of training camps, two months away.

There has been talk the CFL may consider suspending the Renegades for 2006. That's a tactic used by the National Lacrosse League to avoid folding a franchise. However, the nature of building a competitive CFL team would render any future team starting from scratch a tough sell in a market already suffering from four losing seasons. Even if the Renegades can be saved, this recent episode is expected to be a blow to Wright, who is entering the final year of his contract. Under his tenure as commissioner, one-third of the CFL's teams have succumbed to financial woes and turned to the league for assistance. Governors David Braley of the B.C. Lions and Robert Wetenhall of the Montreal Alouettes wanted a new commissioner hired when Wright's contract expired last year. Instead, Wright was given a one-year extension.

Graham Knows Seeds Of March Bear Fruit In June

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Michael Grange

(Mar. 21, 2006) The subplot of basketball in March is how it affects what happens in June. March Madness -- also known as the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball championship -- provides talent evaluators for National Basketball Association clubs a chance to see the best of the college ranks compete under the most trying of circumstances. Inevitably, reputations are born and the hype grows so that by the night of the NBA's draft on June 28, it seems that half of the clubs in the first round are poised to take a player who will take them to the playoffs based on what they did in March. Toronto Raptors rookie forward Joey Graham has found out the hard way that things don't unfold quite so neatly, and that all those college players competing their hearts out in March won't necessarily hear their names in June. Moreover, even those called in June are likely to find themselves struggling come November, when the NBA's regular season starts. "Are some guys going to be in for a shock?' Graham said the other day. "Yeah, some guys are going to be in for a shock. What are there, like 400 players in the NBA? Do the math. It's not for everyone." However, Graham's play for the Raptors in March is going a long way toward justifying what happened last June. That was when the Raptors made him the 16th pick in the 2005 draft based in part on his strong showing in the NCAA tournament last year, when he led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to the round of 16. This year's version will get under way on Thursday. Graham is enjoying what is easily his most productive four-game stretch of his rookie season as the Raptors visit the New York Knicks tonight. He's averaging 10.8 points on 56.3-per-cent shooting, along with five rebounds and 1.5 steals a game.

The numbers compare favourably with his season averages of six points and three rebounds a game. Graham resists the suggestion that a light bulb has simply come on over his head. Instead, he says, all the struggles that came before this stage, when many wondered whether the considerable athletic gifts harboured in his 6-foot-6, 220-pound body were forever to be hindered by doubt and hesitation, have contributed to a slow realization of what he needs to do to succeed in the NBA. "You can't really just wake up one day and just say, 'I'm going to play awesome today,' " he said. "You know, I had to learn. I had to figure some things out." Perhaps the most important thing was to spend less time trying to figure things out on the floor and more simply doing what his speed, strength and leaping ability made possible. "When I started being a whole lot more aggressive, I think, a lot of good things started happening," he said. "Going to the boards a lot harder, running the wing a lot harder, playing better defence -- just knowing and picking up on things." In the Raptors' win over the Milwaukee Bucks last Friday, Graham came down the floor in the first half, took off well outside the key, the ball a grapefruit in his oversized hands. In college, a thunderous dunk was likely seconds away, but in the pro ranks, someone just as fast and with plenty of savvy had the temerity to plant himself in front of the rim, drawing a charge. After a quick talking to from Raptors veteran Darrick Martin during the next timeout, Graham had another chance on a break a few moments later, only this time he pulled up for a comfortable jump shot over a helpless defender.

Graham has made and will make his share of mistakes, but appears to be learning from them. "Some guys, it just takes longer," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "He's not the biggest, fastest, strongest guy on the court any more, at his position. . . . So now you've got to learn how to play basketball. Now you've got to learn how to adjust. I would say like a lot of rookies, he was just tentative." For now, it appears that the hesitancy has been shed. On a team with plenty of scoring options, Graham has realized that his best contribution is flying in from odd angles to compete for offensive rebounds and using his strength to hold off bigger men on the defensive boards. He may not be getting plays called for him, so if he wants his touches, he can start with deflections and steals. And just like all those starry-eyed college kids playing for their futures in March, Graham is playing for his, too. The Raptors can extend his contract after next season if they choose, or they can use their draft pick this season on a player at his position they think will give them more of what they're looking for. Such is the cycle of NBA life. Once again, what he does this March will affect what happens in June. "I've got to finish out the rest of this season strong to show [general manager] Bryan Colangelo and the coaches that I can handle the responsibility," he said.

Canada Wins Swimming Gold

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - JAMES CHRISTIE, Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press

(Mar. 21, 2006) Melbourne, Australia — Canada won its first gold medal in a world's swimming event in eight years Tuesday when Michael Brown of Perth, Ont., charged to the wall to win the 200-metre breaststroke in record time at the Commonwealth Games  Brown won a three-way race with Australians Jim Piper and Brenton Rickard, who had led for the first 150 metres. Brown's time of 2 minutes 12.23 seconds is a Game's record. Rickard was timed in 2:12:24 and Piper in 2:12:26. "I touched the wall and when I saw that I was first it was overwhelming," said Brown. "I hadn't had the best meet going in. Until today actually, I felt pretty bad in the water."  Brown was third heading into final 50 metres but swam a strong final leg to claim Canada's first swimming gold since the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Canadians won four races.  "It's a pretty phenomenal feeling after feeling the way I did earlier in the meet," said Brown.  The former record was set by England's Nick Gillingham at the Victoria Commonwealth Games in 1994, 2:12:54. Brent Hayden of Mission, B.C., and Andrew Hurd of Oakville, Ont., each won silver while the women's 4x100-metre medley team took bronze on the final day of swimming at the Games. That gave Canada one gold, eight silver and seven bronze at the meet, surpassing its goal of 12 medals.