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LE NEWSLETTER

August 14, 2008

The most rainfall and the least amount of sun - what a summer for us Torontonians!  And what's with the chill in the air this week?  Does that mean that we can expect a late summer?

The industry has lost two icons this past week in the persons of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.  Such a great loss on both accounts and they will be missed.


Scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

 

::TOP STORIES::

Actor, Comedian Bernie Mac Dead At 50

Source:
www.thestar.com - F.N. D'alessio, The Associated Press

(August 9, 2008)  CHICAGO–Bernie Mac, the actor and comedian who teamed up in the casino heist caper "Ocean's Eleven" and gained a prestigious Peabody Award for his sitcom "The Bernie Mac Show,'' died Saturday at age 50.

"Actor/comedian Bernie Mac passed away this morning from complications due to pneumonia in a Chicago area hospital," his publicist, Danica Smith, said in a statement from Los Angeles.

She said no other details were available and asked that his family's privacy be respected.

The comedian suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body's organs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. He recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which his publicist said was not related to the disease.

Recently, Mac's brand of comedy caught him flack when he was heckled during a surprise appearance at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama.

Toward the end of a 10-minute stand-up routine, Mac joked about menopause, sexual infidelity and promiscuity, and used occasional crude language. The performance earned him a rebuke from Obama's campaign.

But despite controversy or difficulties, in his words, Mac was always a performer.

"Wherever I am, I have to play," he said in 2002. "I have to put on a good show.''

Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on Chicago's South Side. He began doing stand-up as a child, and his film career started with a small role as a club doorman in the Damon Wayans comedy "Mo' Money" in 1992. In 1996, he appeared in the Spike Lee drama "Get on the Bus.''

He was one of "The Original Kings of Comedy" in the 2000 documentary of that title that brought a new generation of black stand-up comedy stars to a wider audience.

Mac went on to star in the hugely popular "Ocean's Eleven'' franchise with Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

His turn with Ashton Kutcher in 2005's "Guess Who" topped the box office. It was a comedy remake of the classic Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn drama "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" – with Mac as the black dad who's shocked that his daughter is marrying a white man.

Mac also had starring roles in "Bad Santa,'' "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Transformers.''

In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in "Moesha," the UPN network comedy starring pop star Brandy.

The comedian drew critical and popular acclaim with his Fox television series "The Bernie Mac Show," which aired more than 100 episodes from 2001 to 2006.

The series about a man's adventures raising his sister's three children, won a Peabody Award in 2002. At the time, judges wrote they chose the sitcom for transcending "race and class while lifting viewers with laughter, compassion – and cool.''

The show garnered Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Mac.

"But television handcuffs you, man," he said in a 2001 Associated Press interview. "Now everyone telling me what I CAN'T do, what I CAN say, what I SHOULD do, and asking, `Are blacks gonna be mad at you? Are whites gonna accept you?'''

He also was nominated for a Grammy award for best comedy album in 2001 along with his "The Original Kings of Comedy" co-stars, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric The Entertainer.

In 2007, Mac told David Letterman on CBS' "Late Show" that he planned to retire soon.

"I'm going to still do my producing, my films, but I want to enjoy my life a little bit," Mac told Letterman. "I missed a lot of things, you know. I was a street performer for two years. I went into clubs in 1977.''

Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct. 5, 1957, in Chicago. He grew up on the city's South Side, living with his mother and grandparents. His grandfather was the deacon of a Baptist church.

In his 2004 memoir, "Maybe You Never Cry Again," Mac wrote about having a poor childhood – eating bologna for dinner – and a strict, no-nonsense upbringing.

"I came from a place where there wasn't a lot of joy," Mac told the AP in 2001. "I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn't a lot of things to laugh about.''

Mac's mother died of cancer when he was 16. In his book, Mac said she was a support for him and told him he would surprise everyone when he grew up.

"Woman believed in me," he wrote. "She believed in me long before I believed.''

Bernie Mac A True Showman

Source:
www.thestar.com - Frazier Moore, Associated Press

(August 11, 2008) Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh as well as connect with him.

For Mac, who died Saturday at age 50, it was a winning mix, delivering him from a poor childhood to stardom as a stand-up comedian, in films including the casino heist caper Ocean's Eleven and his acclaimed sitcom The Bernie Mac Show.

Though his comedy drew on tough experiences as a black man, he had mainstream appeal – befitting inspiration he found in a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx as well as Moms Mabley, Red Skelton and Redd Foxx.

Mac died of complications from pneumonia in a Chicago-area hospital, his publicist, Danica Smith, said in a statement. "The world just got a little less funny," said Oceans co-star George Clooney.

Mac suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body's organs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. He recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which his publicist said was not related to the disease.

Recently, Mac's brand of comedy caught him flack when he was heckled during a surprise appearance at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama.

Toward the end of a 10-minute stand-up routine, Mac joked about menopause, sexual infidelity and promiscuity, and used occasional crude language.

Obama took the stage about 15 minutes later, implored Mac to "clean up your act next time," then let him off the hook, adding: "By the way, I'm just messing with you, man.''

Even so, Obama's campaign later issued a rebuke, saying the senator "doesn't condone these statements and believes what was said was inappropriate.''

But despite controversy or difficulties, in his words, Mac was always a performer.

"Wherever I am, I have to play," he said in 2002. "I have to put on a good show.''

Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on Chicago's South Side. He began doing stand-up as a child, telling jokes for spare change on subways, and his film career started with a small role as a club doorman in the Damon Wayans comedy Mo' Money in 1992. In 1996, he appeared in the Spike Lee drama Get on the Bus.

He was one of The Original Kings of Comedy in the 2000 documentary of that title that brought a new generation of black stand-up comedy stars to a wider audience.

"The majority of his core fan base will remember that when they paid their money to see Bernie Mac ... he gave them their money's worth," Steve Harvey, one of his co-stars in Original Kings, told CNN on Saturday.

Mac went on to star in the hugely popular Ocean's Eleven franchise with Brad Pitt and Clooney, playing a gaming-table dealer who was in on the heist. Mac and Ashton Kutcher topped the box office in 2005's Guess Who, a comedy remake of the classic Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Mac played the dad who's shocked that his daughter is marrying a white man.

Mac also had starring roles in Bad Santa, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Transformers.

But his career and comic identity were forged in television.

In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in Moesha, the UPN network comedy starring pop star Brandy. The critical and popular acclaim came after he landed his own Fox television series The Bernie Mac Show, about a child-averse couple who suddenly are saddled with three children.

The series won a Peabody Award in 2002, and Mac was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy. In 2007, Mac told David Letterman on CBS's Late Show that he planned to retire soon.

"I'm going to still do my producing, my films, but I want to enjoy my life a little bit," Mac told Letterman. "I missed a lot of things, you know. I was a street performer for two years. I went into clubs in 1977.''

Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct. 5, 1957, in Chicago. He grew up on the South Side, living with his mother and grandparents. His grandfather was the deacon of a Baptist church.

In his 2004 memoir, Maybe You Never Cry Again, Mac wrote about having a poor childhood – eating bologna for dinner – and a strict, no-nonsense upbringing. His mother died of cancer when he was 16.

"I came from a place where there wasn't a lot of joy," Mac told the AP in 2001. "I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn't a lot of things to laugh about.''

A public memorial is planned for noon Aug. 16 in Chicago.

Bernie Mac's Final Moments

Source: www.eurweb.com

(August 11, 2008) *A sister-in-law to late comedian Bernie Mac has opened up to People magazine about the entertainer's final moments at the hospital with his wife, Rhonda, and their 30-year-old daughter, Je'Niece.

"He opened his eyes on his own and looked at Rhonda. She called his name, and he opened his eyes and nodded to her," said Rhonda's younger sister, Mary Ann Grossett. "She smiled at him and told him, 'Don't leave me … 'I'm waiting for you to come back.' He shrugged his shoulders, and she said that's when she knew he was tired. He signalled to her that his body was tired."

Mac, Grossett revealed, was hospitalized in Chicago on July 24, eight days before the date announced by his publicist. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and immediately placed on a ventilator. He died at 2 a.m. on Saturday.

The night before, "He struggled for his life. He couldn't breathe," said Grossett. The next day, doctors "were working on him. They tried to resuscitate him two times. One time he came back for about an hour. Then he went into cardiac arrest the second time."

Grossett said the last communication between Mac and Rhonda took place on July 31, one week after he was admitted to the hospital. "He told his wife [non-verbally] that he could breathe on his own, and he wanted the ventilator out. He motioned that he wanted it out," says Grossett.

Additionally, Grossett says Mac's inflammatory lung disease contributed to his death. "He had sarcoidosis, but it was in remission," she says. "But because he had it, his immune system was compromised. He had an infection ... He was on a new medication that suppresses the immune system, and that's where the pneumonia came from." 

She says that doctors kept Mac sedated, although he was conscious at times and he contracted a second strain of pneumonia while in the hospital. 

Of her widowed sibling Rhonda, Grossett says, "She’s devastated. However, she's at peace about his transition because of her faith in God. Her faith is what is sustaining her." 

A funeral for Mac is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 15, at an undisclosed location. The family requests that donations be made to the Bernie Mac Foundation for Sarcoidosis, 40 E. Ninth St., Suite 601, Chicago IL 60605. 

Community activist Najee Ali says a candlelight vigil for Mac, as well as Isaac Hayes, will be held at 6 p.m. tonight in Los Angeles at 5th Street Dicks coffeehouse in Leimert Park (4305 Degnan Blvd.)

Some of Mac's celebrity friends, co-stars and professional associates have issued statements expressing condolences and sharing memories of the comedian:

• Samuel L. Jackson, his co-star in the upcoming film "Soul Men," says:  "It goes without saying that Bernie was one of the preeminent comedians of our generation. He was also an attentive husband, a great father and loving grandfather. I feel blessed to have shared years of friendship with Bernie Mac, and I'm honoured to have finally co-starred with him in what I consider to be his finest cinematic acting achievement. My sincere prayer is that his family will be comforted by the warmth of love from all of us who knew and respected this man."

• Don Cheadle, who starred with Mac in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" and its two sequels, says: "This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie. He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed, but heaven just got funnier."

• George Clooney, fellow co-star in "Ocean's" franchise: "The world just got a little less funny. He will be missed dearly."

• Brad Pitt, fellow "Ocean's" colleague, says: "I lament the loss of a ferociously funny and hardcore family man. My thoughts are with Rhonda and their family. Bernie Mac, you are already missed."

• Chris Rock: "Bernie Mac was one of the best and funniest comedians to ever live, but that was the second best thing he did. Bernie was one of the greatest friends a person could have. Losing him is like losing 12 people because he absolutely filled up any room he was in. I'm gonna miss the Mac Man."

• Cedric the Entertainer: "It's hard to put into words just how I feel and what a painful loss this is. Bernie was a brother, a friend and one of the comic masters of our time. Sharing the marquee with him during the phenomenon of the Kings of Comedy tour bonded us like family, and created a unique moment in comic history marking some of the most meaningful, memorable and fun times of our lives. His comedic approach was his own brand and will definitely stand the test of time. The level of his talent always inspired me and other comedians to 'bring their A-game.' I promise you that you never wanted to be the guy who had to follow Bernie's set! As a husband and father, he was THE MAN and my thoughts and prayers are with his family. He will truly be missed, but so well remembered."

• Niecy Nash, who played Mac's sister on 'The Bernie Mac Show,' recalls his knack for making fellow actors feel at home on the set. "When I showed up to work, he said something to me that had never been said to me on a set before. He said, 'Baby girl, the script here is not the Bible. Do you, and I'll follow. I got mine, you get yours.' When he said that, I knew everything was going to be all right. I was happy to have the freedom to make up some funny with him. It was simply delicious. My working experiences with Bernie were so amazing, that from that point on, I wouldn't have cared if he called me in the middle of the night to come and be in a scene where I didn't have anything to do but sit in the background and eat cereal. I would've just done it because I loved him like that."

• Jenifer Lewis: "Bernie's style of comedy was bold, courageous and revolutionary—I never knew anyone who loved to be funny as much as Bernie. He will most definitely be very missed."

• George Lopez: "He was one of those comics that was unique because of his approach, his look, his voice [and] the content of his material. Bernie fell into that category of people who were inherently different like when you saw them, you knew they were different and when they spoke, you knew they were different. As comics, we're all brothers. and I’ll miss him a lot. He was a good friend of mine."

• Luke Wilson, Mac's costar in 'Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,' told People: "He couldn't have been a nicer guy. He just seemed like a real family man and just a nice guy on the set, just very kind of normal guy."

• Carl Reiner, "Ocean's Eleven" costar, says: "It's a tremendous loss because of his age and the fact that he was such a vital, original human being. When I use the word 'original' I really mean it. He was like no other person I knew. He lived his life to the fullest, even when we were on the set of Ocean's. He had his own little apartment and he cooked and invited people to lunch every day and he had food that was for everybody. He made very exotic things. His conversations were always different than any conversations I had with anyone else. They were very family-oriented; he talked about his wife and children with such love and it's very hard to believe that he's not with us anymore."

• Kelly Preston and John Travolta: "We are heartbroken. He will be deeply missed. He was a wonderful, kind and gentle man."

• Fox Broadcasting Company and 20th Century Fox Television, home of "The Bernie Mac Show," stated: "Bernie Mac was a gifted talent whose comedy came from an authentic and highly personal place. He was a tremendous live performer and a wonderful actor. Fox was proud to be the home of The Bernie Mac Show, and all of us at Fox and 20th Century Fox Television extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Rhonda, and daughter, JeNiece."

• J.D. Hall, voice over actor who worked with Mac on an episode of Moesha, says: "He was a genuinely funny and nice guy. I say this because prior to working with him on the show, I had no knowledge of who he was and how well known of a comedian he was. But, unlike a lot of people at his level, he was very friendly, down to earth and accommodating. When our paths accidentally crossed about a week later at LAX airport, he greeted me as if I had been a life-long friend and I could feel the genuine warmth and sincerity of that greeting. May God have mercy on his soul."

• Irene Mama Stokes: Bernie Mac will be remembered. I met him on the set of Bébé's Kids, his words of encouragement helped me to continue to pursue my career in comedy. His comedy had an impact on our community and the world. He will truly be missed."

• African American Film Critics Association's Wilson Morales: “Bernie Mac had the ability to effortlessly make people laugh. He was an incredible talent with whom my colleagues and I in AAFCA always looked forward to covering. Bernie had a big heart and he will certainly be missed by the members of our organization.”

Singer, Songwriter Isaac Hayes Dies At Age 65

Source:  Associated Press

(August 10, 2008) MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless "Theme From Shaft" won Academy and Grammy awards, died Sunday, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said. He was 65.

A family member found Hayes unresponsive near a treadmill and he was pronounced dead about an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, according to the sheriff's office. The cause of death was not immediately known.

In the early 1970s, Hayes laid the groundwork for disco, for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. And he was rapping before there was rap.

His career hit another high in 1997 when he became the voice of Chef, the sensible school cook and devoted ladies man on the animated TV show "South Park."

The album "Hot Buttered Soul" made Hayes a star in 1969. His shaven head, gold chains and sunglasses gave him a compelling visual image.

"Hot Buttered Soul" was groundbreaking in several ways: He sang in a "cool" style unlike the usual histrionics of big-time soul singers. He prefaced the song with "raps," and the numbers ran longer than three minutes with lush arrangements.

"Jocks would play it at night," Hayes recalled in a 1999 Associated Press interview. "They could go to the bathroom, they could get a sandwich, or whatever."

Next came "Theme From Shaft," a No. 1 hit in 1971 from the film "Shaft" starring Richard Roundtree.

"That was like the shot heard round the world," Hayes said in the 1999 interview.

At the Oscar ceremony in 1972, Hayes performed the song wearing an eye-popping amount of gold and received a standing ovation. TV Guide later chose it as No. 18 in its list of television's 25 most memorable moments. He won an Academy Award for the song and was nominated for another one for the score. The song and score also won him two Grammys.

"The rappers have gone in and created a lot of hit music based upon my influence," he said. "And they'll tell you if you ask."

Hayes was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

"I knew nothing about the business, or trends and things like that," he said. "I think it was a matter of timing. I didn't know what was unfolding."

A self-taught musician, he was hired in 1964 by Stax Records of Memphis as a backup pianist, working as a session musician for Otis Redding and others. He also played saxophone.

He began writing songs, establishing a songwriting partnership with David Porter, and in the 1960s they wrote such hits for Sam and Dave as "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man."

All this led to his recording contract.

In 1972, he won another Grammy for his album "Black Moses" and earned a nickname he reluctantly embraced. Hayes composed film scores for "Tough Guys" and "Truck Turner" besides "Shaft." He also did the song "Two Cool Guys" on the "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" movie soundtrack in 1996.

Additionally, he was the voice of Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" and had radio shows in New York City (1996 to 2002) and then in Memphis.

He was in several movies, including "It Could Happen to You" with Nicolas Cage, "Ninth Street" with Martin Sheen, "Reindeer Games" starring Ben Affleck and the blaxploitation parody "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka."

In the 1999 interview, Hayes described the South Park cook as "a person that speaks his mind; he's sensitive enough to care for children; he's wise enough to not be put into the 'whack' category like everybody else in town — and he l-o-o-o-o-ves the ladies."

But Hayes angrily quit the show in 2006 after an episode mocked his Scientology religion. "There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," he said.

Co-creator creators Matt Stone responded that Hayes "has no problem — and he's cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians." A subsequent episode of the show seemingly killed off the Chef character.

Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack in Covington, Tenn., about 40 miles north of Memphis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother died and his father took off when he was 1 1/2. The family moved to Memphis when he was 6.

Hayes wanted to be a doctor, but got redirected when he won a talent contest in ninth grade by singing Nat King Cole's "Looking Back."

He held down various low-paying jobs, including shining shoes on the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. He also played gigs in rural Southern juke joints where at times he had to hit the floor because someone began shooting.

Isaac Hayes, 65: Pioneering Musician

Source:
www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(August 11, 2008)  MEMPHIS, TENN.–Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless "Theme From Shaft" won Academy and Grammy awards, died yesterday, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said. He was 65.

A family member found Hayes unresponsive near a treadmill and he was pronounced dead about an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, according to the sheriff's office. The cause of death was not immediately known.

In the early 1970s, Hayes laid the groundwork for disco, for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. And he was rapping before there was rap.

His career hit another high in 1997 when he became the voice of Chef, the sensible school cook and devoted ladies man on the animated TV show South Park.

The album Hot Buttered Soul made Hayes a star in 1969. His shaven head, gold chains and sunglasses gave him a compelling visual image.

Hot Buttered Soul was groundbreaking in several ways: He sang in a "cool" style unlike the usual histrionics of big-time soul singers. He prefaced the song with "raps," and the numbers ran longer than three minutes with lush arrangements.

"Jocks would play it at night," Hayes recalled in a 1999 Associated Press interview. "They could go to the bathroom, they could get a sandwich, or whatever."

Next came "Theme From Shaft," a No. 1 hit in 1971 from the film Shaft starring Richard Roundtree. It was an irresistibly urgent mix of wah-wah guitars and hi-hat cymbals spiced by the famous line, "They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother----/ Shut your mouth!"

"That was like the shot heard round the world," Hayes said of the song in the 1999 interview.

At the Oscar ceremony in 1972, Hayes performed the song wearing an eye-popping amount of gold and received a standing ovation. TV Guide later chose it as No.18 in its list of television's 25 most memorable moments. He won an Academy Award for the song and was nominated for another one for the score. The song and score also won him two Grammys.

"The rappers have gone in and created a lot of hit music based upon my influence," he said. "And they'll tell you if you ask."

Hayes was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

"I knew nothing about the business or trends and things like that," he said. "I think it was a matter of timing. I didn't know what was unfolding."

A self-taught musician, he was hired in 1964 by Stax Records of Memphis as a backup pianist, working as a session musician for Otis Redding and others. He also played saxophone.

He began writing songs, establishing a songwriting partnership with David Porter, and in the 1960s they wrote such hits for Sam and Dave as "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man."

All this led to his recording contract.

In 1972, he won another Grammy for his album Black Moses and earned a nickname he reluctantly embraced. Besides Shaft, Hayes composed film scores for Tough Guys and Truck Turner. He also did the song "Two Cool Guys" on the Beavis and Butt-Head Do America movie soundtrack in 1996.

Additionally, he was the voice of Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" and had radio shows in New York City (1996 to 2002) and then in Memphis.

He was in several movies, including It Could Happen to You with Nicolas Cage, Ninth Street with Martin Sheen, Reindeer Games starring Ben Affleck and the blaxploitation parody I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka. He had a cameo role in an episode of The Bernie Mac Show, whose star died Saturday.

In the 1999 interview, Hayes described the South Park cook as "a person that speaks his mind; he's sensitive enough to care for children; he's wise enough to not be put into the `whack' category like everybody else in town – and he l-o-o-o-o-ves the ladies."

But Hayes angrily quit the show in 2006 after an episode mocked Scientology, which Hayes practised.

"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," he said.

Co-creator Matt Stone responded that Hayes "has no problem – and he's cashed plenty of cheques – with our show making fun of Christians." A subsequent episode of the show seemingly killed off the Chef character.

Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack in Covington, Tenn., 65 kilometres north of Memphis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother died and his father took off when he was 1 1/2. The family moved to Memphis when he was 6.

Hayes wanted to be a doctor, but got redirected when he won a talent contest in ninth grade by singing Nat King Cole's "Looking Back."

He held down various low-paying jobs, including shining shoes on the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. He also played gigs in rural Southern juke joints where at times he had to hit the floor because someone began shooting.

Associated Press with files from Reuters

Hip-Hop Dancer Wins TV Show Prize

Source:
www.thestar.com

(August 08, 2008) Joshua Allen doesn't just think he can dance. The 19-year-old street dancer from Fort Worth, Tex., won the fourth season of reality competition So You Think You Can Dance last night.

"I just want to say that never let anybody tell you you can't do anything, because no matter what you do, you can always go forward. The sky's the limit," said a teary-eyed Allen, after sharing a hug with runner-up Stephen "Twitch" Boss, 25, of Montgomery, Ala.

Allen wins $250,000 (all figures U.S.) and a part in the movie Step Up 3-D, being produced by Hairspray director Adam Shankman.

Besides Boss, Allen bested Courtney Galiano, 20, of Queens, N.Y., and Katee Shean, 20, of San Jose, Calif.

But there was some good news for Shean, a judges' favourite going into the finale: as the top girl who didn't win, she gets a $50,000 consolation prize.

Nearly 60 million votes were cast after the final four did their stuff Wednesday night, according to host Cat Deeley.

Allen is reportedly the first dancer from a hip-hop background to win the show, a ratings hit in both the U.S. and Canada, where it airs on CTV.

Star staff, with files from E! Online and the Hartford Courant

Dance Champion Opens Up, After His Moving Moment

Source:
www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, TV Columnist

(August 10, 2008) The beaming smile said it all. It pretty much had to. Joshua Allen, the surprise winner of television's top-rated So You Think You Can Dance competition, has never been much for words – his body language did all the talking, and with an uncanny emotional eloquence that seemed to belie h compact and powerful physique.

And when, in the closing moments of Thursday night's live finale, host Cat Deeley announced his name, a giddy, gob-smacked audience – both in the studio and at home – hung on for what seemed like an eternity of awkward silence waiting for him to speak.

Which he did, eventually, overwhelmed as he was with joy and gratitude, shock and disbelief.

So it was back to the smile – ear-to-ear now, unencumbered at last by those train-track braces he'd worn since the first auditions.

But once the cameras and lights and pressure were gone, so too went Allen's shyness. Eleven hours later, in a day-after phone conference, the 19-year-old "street" dancer was positively chatty.

"I was really just shocked," he confirmed of that moment of truth. "I was really expecting her to say (fellow finalist) Twitch (Boss). I knew that a lot of people loved Twitch."

"I think it took him a second to process," allowed runner-up Boss himself, speaking to the L.A. Times after the broadcast. "I heard it right away, so I was like, 'Oh my God!'

"I have to be happy for Josh," Boss added. "He's like my brother. And it's a big day for hip hop."

Even as audience and judges' favourites began to be eliminated – notably recused judge Debbie Allen's protégé Will Wingfield, and then widely anticipated winner Katee Shean – few expected it would come down to the two least formally trained dancers.

Dance creator/producer/judge Nigel Lithgoe deemed it "inspirational for all of the kids that can't afford dance classes. It's exactly what I'd want the country to see."

Allen, in fact, did have some training. "I started taking classes when I was 10," he explained, "but only in the summer, because I was (also) into sports. For me, it was sports more than dance. I ran track, and I was a varsity running back."

In the end he chose dance and, setting his sites on the TV show, went to work broadening his skills.

"I took modern class, I took some ballet classes, I took jazz classes ... I wanted to know what everything was. I didn't want to go into the competition and be dumbfounded."

However, he now says he had no real idea of what he was in for – rehearsing the final dance-off with Boss, a gruelling Russian production number, landed both dancers in hospital with dehydration.

"We were expecting a hip-hop number," Allen confessed. "Then we got this, and we were like, `God, how are we going to pull this off?'

"But we did good, I thought. We really had fun with it."

And that, he says, more than the $250,000 prize, the promised movie role in Step Up 3 or the sold-out 50-city live tour, is the most significant thing the Texan will take away from the competition.

"Even when you're exhausted and you feel like there's nothing you've got to give anymore, you have a lot more to give. The show pushes you that hard. We didn't know our limits."

::TRAVEL NEWS::

The Other China

Source: www.thestar.com - Jeremy Ferguson.
Special to the star

(August 09, 2008) HANGZHOU, CHINA–Breathless in Beijing? Suffering from Olympic asphyxiation? How about beauty, history and some gentle sightseeing?

Then Hangzhou's the place to hang out.

Marco Polo did. Arriving in the late 13th century, he was the first Westerner ever to see it.

He devoted 16 pages of his diary to it, calling the city "beyond dispute one of the finest and noblest in the world." And Marco had seen more than most.

It was rich and powerful then, as China's capital under the Southern Sung Dynasty. In those days, it was a centre of silk, art, literature and thought, with a surprisingly cosmopolitan population including Arabs and Persians.

It all came to an end when Marco's benefactor, the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, sacked it. Afterwards, Hangzhou slipped into historic oblivion.

With seven million people, contemporary Hangzhou may not sound laid-back. But compared to Beijing, it's a village. And because it hasn't been part of the mainstream since the 13th century, it feels like one.

Pronounced "Hong-Joe", it's two hours southwest of Shanghai by car. This will change when the Shanghai Maglev – the fastest train in the world at 431 kilometres per hour – arrives in 2010 and cuts the time to a mere 12 minutes.

Today it's the capital of Zhejiang Province and the natural choice of getaway for international expats stationed in Shanghai. Its charm is an easygoing meld of the ancient and the modern.

The Lei Feng Pagoda, for instance, was built in 975 AD. It boasts one of the greenest views in urban China. You can huff and puff your way up its 1,000 steps or, since it was rebuilt in 2002, ascend the hill by escalator and elevator.

Fashionable condos come furnished from Ikea. Their balconies hang with equally fashionable undies.

Downtown Hefang St. represents old Hangzhou for tourists. It boasts a permanent carnival atmosphere in which the popular snack is xi-dan or "happiness egg" – a half-hatched chicken egg in which the embryonic chick is eaten, feathers, blood and all.

My wife tucked into one, much to the amusement of the astounded Chinese throng, who gathered around to see if the yanguedze – the Mandarin expression meaning "foreign devil"–could really do it.

"What does it taste like?" asked her chicken-hearted husband.

"Chicken," she said, pulling a feather from her mouth.

Chicken-heart found local fare more appetizing at the Chenghuang Pagoda restaurant. "Vast are the numbers," Marco Polo had written of Hangzhou diners, "of those accustomed to dainty living, to the point of eating fish and meat at one meal."

Hangzhou delicacies are justly renowned: Beggar's chicken came wrapped in lotus leaf and bursting with five-spice fragrance, the whole thing roasted in a crust of mud.

The chef steamed shrimp in tea leaves, another testimonial to the awakening of China's gastronomic dragon.

Hangzhou history's is played out at the Song Dynasty Village, China's first historic theme park. All stops are pulled to dazzle and awe in the 3,000-seat theatre.

The show is an over-the-top, full-throttle song, dance and acrobatics extravaganza based on Hangzhou's heyday as ancient capital.

A $6 million budget buys plenty of costumes and special effects in China. Don't be surprised when rain pours down from an artificial sky. Or an ancient wall is swept away by a sorcerer's flood. Or warriors battle in pools of light and smoke as live horses thunder across the stage.

The Imperial Court is resplendent, of course. Just for good measure, the Chinese, who do this sort of thing brilliantly, throw in a French can-can and a coy black-light striptease.

At every flourish, you're reminded this is Hangzhou by way of Vegas.

Our second day took us to the Mei Family Village on the city's outskirts. It's a pilgrimage for tea-lovers. Here is Dragon Well, China's finest green tea, a drink so revered that most prosperous villages actually pay their taxes in tea leaves.

Here we learned how to appreciate tea as you do wines, weighing bouquet, body, flavour and aftertaste. The very best Dragon Well tea costs a cool $600 a kilo.

Inarguably, Hangzhou's crown jewel is West Lake, an idyll known across China for its eye-filling scenery, lagoons, pagodas, old stone bridges, rockeries, weeping willows and flowering peach trees.

"On the lake itself," Marco wrote, "is the endless procession of barges thronged with pleasure-seekers...their minds and thoughts intent upon nothing but bodily pleasures and the delights of society."

For people-watchers, it proffers a fine passing parade: old folks out for a stroll, lovers patting each others' bums, couples out for a gentle spin on the lake, erhu players, wandering opera singers and fishermen silhouetted at sunset.

On the lakeshore, the modern Xihu Tiandi complex encapsulates Hangzhou hip, a swank, renovated neighbourhood of galleries, restaurants, clubs, bars and – yes – Starbucks. The Hong Kong developer designed it as a role model for Asian café society.

At the Tea and Wine Chapter, a boutique restaurant on the lake's eastern shore, a shoe-store bell summoned our server, nattily dressed in a svelte linen riff on South Chinese costume.

What are Chinese hipsters eating? Tofu, the ubiquitous bean curd, arrived soft and silky, with crab roe set like little orange pearls among the ivory tofu cubes. Sichuan duck smoldered in a sauce seething with chilies and five-spice.

In the "crystal fold" tradition, iceberg lettuce became a crunchy wrap for a racy mix of minced chicken and spices.

We ordered a bottle of Montes Carmenere from Chile. What a fusion it was: atmosphere and wine from the West, delicious, seductive fare from the East. Eat yer heart out, Marco.

Jeremy Ferguson is a freelance writer based in Victoria, B.C. His trip was sponsored by the China National Tourist Office.

::MUSIC NEWS::

It's Hard To Hate These Boys

Source:
www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic

(August 08, 2008) The planet is no worse off for getting Backstreet back.

This stuff is plainly not for me and, I must confess, the hours leading up to long-in-the-tooth boy band the
Backstreet Boys' comeback gig at the Molson Amphitheatre last night involved a lot of sulking and self-pity on my part.

Whatever, though. Having weathered a half-dozen of the Boys' performances over the years – I first saw them at dingy Robert Guertin Arena in Hull 11 years ago, back when Quebec had beaten the rest of Canada, and most of the world, in contracting Backstreet Fever – I knew it would be painless enough and oddly satisfying from a showbiz-professionalism standpoint.

You'd have to be totally heartless, in any case, to hate on a show that appeared to make the resurgent and very gracious Backstreet Boys as happy to be doing their thing again as the more than 10,000 overwhelmingly female fans squealing in the stands and praying that the encroaching thunder clouds would suddenly prompt a live re-enactment of the wet homoerotic theatrics in that video for "Quit Playing Games With My Heart."

This was a love-in, through and through, where even the new batch of adoring 'tweens and teens joining Backstreet's original Toronto congregation in collective praise and girlish infatuation could confidently take up every single word of such once-inescapable megahits as "Larger Than Life," "I'll Be the One" and, of course, "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)."

Nick Carter, A.J. McLean, Brian Littrell and Howie Dorough have been operating without the solemn, moustached presence of Kevin Richardson since last year's Unbreakable album, yet his absence went largely unnoticed. The newly bearded A.J. brought the facial hair ("He looks like he's from Canada, doesn't he?" quipped Carter at one point, prompting McLean to remark that he would "move here in a heartbeat") to compensate, while the set list supplied the solemn by honing mainly in on the dreary, interchangeable soft-rock ballads ("Incomplete," "Unmistakable," etc.) that began dominating the Boys' repertoire around 2000's "serious" album, Black and Blue.

No one in an audience that went berserk every time it heard the word "Toronto" cared, but none of the newish stuff nor the solo material each member showcased throughout the evening – apparently, Littrell and Carter both privately long to become Bryan Adams – had the hooks and pop longevity of the singles the Boys wedged into a late-set medley. You might've hated 'em, but those tunes stuck in your head; not so much "Trouble Is" or "Any Other Way."

Still, when the guys huddled around a faux trash-can fire – the high-tech set budget of yore has been reduced to a few chairs and a poker table – for a song, one got an unintentional vision of what might have been had this comeback bid totally tanked. They seem nice, so let 'em have another 15 minutes.

Large Pro Promises Main Source Vibe For New Album

Source:  www.allhiphop.com -
By Tai Saint Louis

(August 13, 2008) Celebrated producer Large Professor has disclosed plans to go back to his vintage early 90’s sound on Main Source, his first studio album in over six years.

As a member of the group Main Source, Large Professor’s distinct, melodic production helped fuel their debut Breaking Atoms, now widely regarded as a Hip-Hop classic.

That album also featured the first appearance of a 17-year-old Nas on “Live at the BBQ,” a teen MC that Large Professor himself discovered.

Asked why he would name is new album after his seminal group, Large Pro explains that it reflects how he’s altered his approach from previous releases.

 “I called this project Main Source because I felt on the music tip I went back to the original recipe,” Large Pro reasoned. “That recipe is Main Source [the group]. When it comes to that real Hip-Hop, Large Professor is the main source of that.”

Extra P’s last album 1st Class (2002) featured the standout track “Stay Chisel” with Nas and also featured appearances from Busta Rhymes and Akinyele, who also debuted on “Live at the BBQ.”

Despite the good critical reception of that LP, Large Pro was clear in emphasizing a clear distinction between his third and upcoming fourth album.

 “The difference between this album and 1st Class is that on this one I used a lot of ill loops,” he reveals. “On 1st Class I went a little more primitive and was chopping up little sounds, but this time I got the ill loops and the original recipe.”

Main Source will feature Jeru the Damaja, Lil Dap, Mikey D, and Lotto, a cast of artists Large Pro feels blessed to have.

 “These are dudes I normally get down with on a day to day basis,” Pro stated. “It was all natural (and) we always say “Yo let’s do something in the studio,” (and) now we finally did it.”

While he still remained active producing, many wondered why he waited so long to complete his fourth album.

For Large Professor, it was simply a matter of giving his soul peace.

 “I figured out that you can’t live your life in the industry,” he explained. “You gotta live a normal life and do things when time allows and everything is right. And now is the time.”

Main Source drops September 16 on the GOLD DUST record label.

Former Gangster Rapper Master P Changes Name

Source:  www.allhiphop.com -
By Tai Saint Louis

(August 13, 2008) After close to fifteen years in the game, rapper Master P has decided to officially abandon the name under which he attained success.

With over 75 million records sold worldwide, the five-time Grammy Award winner will now go by
P. Miller in an effort to expand on his equally impressive achievements as a businessman.

 “I’m changing my name because Master P is who I used to be,” the No Limit Entertainment CEO explains. “I call it my childhood, and P. Miller marks my manhood. There’s a lot of people out there who are afraid to grow up and change, but I’m not and P. Miller is the evolution of me, Percy Miller, the entrepreneur, the businessman.”

With a net worth valued at an estimated $500 million, Miller has achieved quite a bit of mainstream attention in recent years, most notably since appearing before the United States Congress in 2007 to address the widely publicized criticism of Hip-Hop lyrics and culture.

Soon after, he and his son Romeo launched Take A Stand Records as a profanity-free record label.

In July, Miller made history by inking a deal with retail giant Wal-Mart to distribute his affordable P. Miller Designs clothing line in stores nationwide, thus becoming the discount chain’s first African-American Hip-Hop supplier.

 “I’ve branched out into so many different arenas, but all that gets overshadowed because I come from the Hip-Hop industry,” says the multi-platinum artist, who’s maintained his relevance with a new generation of fans by being the driving force behind his son’s run at superstardom. “People grow mentally and spiritually through life experiences, but when you come from Hip-Hop, it’s almost impossible to get past the stereotypes associated with it.”

Throughout his illustrious career, Miller has also used his success to support and motivate others through two charitable organizations, P. Miller Youth Centers and the P. Miller Food Foundation, and the 2007 release of Guaranteed Success, a semi-autobiographical guide to wealth building and business.

In support of the book, Miller embarked on tour with Donald Trump, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki, working with The Learning Annex to teach the importance of financial literacy.

The Night A Rebel Folk Poet Reinvented Rock 'N' Roll

Source:
www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist

(August 13, 2008)  I knew, as my first real lover and I huddled over his songs by candlelight in her tiny student flat in Glebe, on the edge of the Sydney University campus but significantly not part of it, that Bob Dylan was probably a very dangerous artist, a rebel and a rule-breaker, a poet so safe in his cleverly invented skin that he was virtually unassailable.

A mystery to the world at large, he was a revelation to those who dared to listen with open hearts and minds.

Dylan was the first songwriter to use the language and thematic matter of folk music and blues – love, death, work, struggle, alienation, migration, suffering – to construct an alternative to the trite and trivial, love-saturated pop model churned out by the music industry of the day. He was reinventing popular music, making it big, profound, important.

In retrospect, Dylan was the quirky quintessence of the spirit and intellect of the largest, smartest, best educated, most pampered, most curious and most expressive generation in history. He was bound to happen.

And because he shone so brightly, because he was the living hope of that great emerging consciousness, he was, for a time, a folk hero in the truest sense.

But with his profane electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and with the release of the rock-enhanced albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited in the same year, Dylan had served notice that he wanted out of the folk club.

His followers – and back then, many did regard him as a saviour and visionary – were divided.

Some felt they'd been duped, manipulated and betrayed by a canny entrepreneur who really just wanted to be a pop star like the clowns he once reviled.

Others feared his dalliance with electrified rock 'n' roll buried the power and meaning of his words, and hoped it would pass.

A few went with him whole hog and set out with him on what they believed was a journey across a new musical frontier, destination unknown.

So it was amid this ideological and artistic tumult that my girlfriend and I found ourselves with tickets to the second of Dylan's two Sydney concerts – Wednesday, April 13 and Saturday, April 16, 1966 – in an immense former cattle arena known as the Stadium.

The atmosphere was explosive. Sydney was the first stop on Dylan's first "electric" world tour, and no one knew what to expect.

Fears were quelled in the first half of the show, an acoustic set of new-era Dylan favourites, some from the yet-to-be-released Blonde On Blonde: "She Belongs To Me," "Fourth Time Around," "Visions Of Johanna," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "Desolation Row," "Just Like A Woman" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." The diminutive singer, befuddled by the Stadium's revolving stage, which turned 90 degrees at the end of every song, astonished us with the clarity of his enunciation, his wry phrasing and the musical brilliance of his extended, free-form harmonica solos.

But after intermission, when the band – Toronto's The Hawks, minus drummer Levon Helm, who had been replaced inexplicably by volcanic pounder Mickey Jones – launched into an unbelievably loud "Tell Me, Momma" then "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)," pandemonium reigned. People around us screamed their disapproval, demanding aural relief. Others headed for exits in disgust. Children were held to bosoms as if Satan had suddenly materialized. Fights between the faithful and diehard folkies erupted high in the shaky bleachers.

I remember Jones's cannon snare and mammoth kick drum beats locking into Rick Danko's bass notes like orchestrated artillery, and Garth Hudson's soaring organ glissandos, but not much of Robbie Robertson's guitar (he was tasteful to a fault), which was overwhelmed by Dylan's rhythmic punch. The music packed such a visceral wallop that it demanded a visceral response.

The remainder of the electric set – notable for the inclusion of "One Too Many Mornings" and "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," from his Greenwich Village acoustic period – went by in a blur, till the final offerings, "Ballad Of A Thin Man" and "Positively Fourth Street," when Dylan poured all the venom and scorn he could muster into the crackling air.

Outside in the street, Jen and I were speechless. There was no way of putting what we'd just witnessed, this queasy shifting of cultural gears, into words.

Something really big had just happened and we both knew, without having to say it, that our lives would never be the same.

Opera, In A Tent

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Marsha Lederman

(August 12, 2008) VANCOUVER — Darcia Parada was having dinner at a friend's loft in New York when she noticed that the acoustics in the apartment were fantastic. It gave the Edmonton native - a long-time opera student and singer - an idea: Why not perform opera in smaller, unorthodox spaces where people who might never venture out to the Met would feel more comfortable and more involved?

She was reminded of the idea when she attended an art installation at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, a space inside the bridge's anchorage that was used for exhibitions until post-Sept. 11 security measures closed it off. Finally, she decided to act on it.

It was the beginning of
Mercury Opera, named for the planet nearest the sun - tiny, as founder/artistic director Parada explains, but hot.

"Basically [we] take opera out of its conventional form and bring it to the people, make it more accessible for audiences who might be intimidated by going to the opera in a conventional setting like the opera house, where you're so distanced from the scenery and the actors. So our aim is to really bring it up close so that people feel what it's like."

Mercury Opera's first production, Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, was staged in a Manhattan loft called Studio Ze in May, 2000. "It resembled sort of a cross between a Versace fashion show and a Hollywood premiere," Parada says. "We had a long red carpet that ran through the space, the orchestra was almost on top of the audience, the action was everywhere," she remembers. "It felt incredible. It really felt like something exciting was beginning." The run of Cavalleria Rusticana was sold out.

Now, the upstart opera company has relocated to Edmonton, thanks to Parada's marriage to a hometown boy. And tonight the city will get its first taste of the "guerrilla opera company," as she calls it, with a performance of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (The Clowns) inside a tent at Giovanni Caboto Park, followed by a run in a slightly smaller tent at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.

"I've always wanted to stage this particular production of Pagliacci. The setting is Coney Island on the day of the Mermaid Parade and ... I'd always conceived it to be staged inside a tent, so it would be like a circus tent."

The opera, "a bleeding slice of life" (as described in the prologue), features a jealous husband who is the main player and director of the show-within-the-show (Canio), a faithless wife (Nedda), a colleague who pines for Nedda (Tonio), Nedda's lover (Silvio) and another colleague (Beppe).

For Parada, the biggest challenge of producing this opera in Edmonton turned out to be casting.

"When I staged things in New York, the singers that were literally on my doorstep were phenomenal, and everybody wants to work," she says. "Edmonton really doesn't draw opera singers."

She found her Tonio (Roland Burks) in New York, and her Beppe (Dean Kokanos) in Pittsburgh. For the role of Nedda, she cast Cara Brown - who lives in Fort McMurray, but is originally from the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park.

Parada was particularly thrilled to cast an actual Edmontonian, Dan Rowley, in the role of Canio, but when Rowley came down with pneumonia three weeks ago she needed to find a quick replacement. She tracked down Percy Martinez in the middle of a move from New York to Los Angeles.

For the role of Silvio, however, she received only a single response to her casting calls - and it was from someone who, as it turns out, wasn't available.

"I tried high and low to find someone who was not from too long a distance to cast. I put notice out in Edmonton and no one wanted to join the production. So that was a real bummer."

Parada wound up casting her husband, Boris Derow, in the role.

"He was originally going to be an ensemble member because he sings [but] he's not very experienced on the operatic stage at all ... and it was a huge risk. But I couldn't find a Silvio." She believes, though, that with Derow's Italianate looks and his chemistry with Brown, it will work out.

There is other local talent in the production: all of the ensemble members and musicians; while the conductor, Mark Hycczko, is from New Jersey.

Despite the casting challenges, Parada wants to continue producing operas in unexpected Edmonton spots. Her plan for next summer is to stage Puccini's Il Tabarro (The Cloak) - set on a barge moored beside the Seine - on the Edmonton Queen Riverboat, which more typically plays host to weddings and school field trips. Parada wants to put the orchestra on the boat and have the audience watch from the riverbank.

"That's my next project," she says, stepping out from a rehearsal of Pagliacci. "So hopefully this one will be such a smashing success that people will start throwing money at us."

Pagliacci runs Aug. 12 at Giovanni Caboto Park and as part of the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in the Fringe Tent Aug. 14-22. All performances begin at 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the Aug. 12 performance are available at http://www.tixonthesquare.ca and for the Fringe Festival at http://www.fringetheatreadventures.ca.

*****

Other highlights from the Edmonton International Fringe Festival

Trashcan Duet: London, Ont., playwright Jayson McDonald (Giant Invisible Robot) teams up with Fringe veterans Black Sheep Theatre (Bat Boy: The Musical) for a comic drama about the pairing of a beat poet with a deadbeat.

Killing Kevin Spacey: When Charlie (co-writer Elan Wolf Farbiarz) realizes he has much in common with Kevin Spacey's wimpier roles, he decides to go for a more Al Pacino existence. KKS is slated for an off-Broadway run next year.

Balls!: Not (always) as vulgar as one might fear, this work from Toronto's Rob Salerno examines courage, male friendship and testicular cancer. Winner of the Hamilton Fringe New Play Award and the London (Ontario) Fringe Best Original Production.

Mr. Fox: Following up on their Fringe sensation Dishpig, TJ Dawe and Greg Landucci team up once again - this time for a behind-the-scenes look at the twisted world of a rock radio station mascot. Landucci writes and stars in the one-man play; Dawe directs.

Crude Love: About as Canadian a story as it gets: In Alberta's oil sands, a dump-truck driver from Newfoundland falls in love with an eco-warrior. From Vancouver husband-and-wife team Gillian Bennett and Russell Bennett (who also co-star), creators of the award-winning cult hit The Reefer Man. Crude Love was named Outstanding Ensemble Performance at this year's Ottawa Fringe.

Teaching the Fringe: After Keir Cutler (Teaching Shakespeare) got word of a fan complaint about his play Teaching As You Like It (the accusation: Cutler was teaching the seduction of children), he responded by writing this new work. The reviews and audience reaction have ranged from raves to rants - but Teaching the Fringe always seems to spark a discussion.

M.L.

Opera Not Over Until This Score Of Teens Sings

Source:
www.thestar.com - Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter

(August 09, 2008) "I thought Phantom of the Opera was a real opera." "It's over when the fat lady sings, or something like that?" A week ago, that's all they knew.

But by yesterday, the group of 14 teens from at-risk neighbourhoods had not only written, but dramatized and performed their own opera with the help of
Canadian Opera Company professionals – and police officers.

"I know what it is you've faced. I've seen what you can do, and I know what you are going to do with it," a teary-eyed Mark Henderson told the teens after their gala performance yesterday.

The auxiliary Toronto constable is an extra in opera productions and had noticed how the art form's youth programs tended to attract only privileged kids.

He felt it was a world that teens he'd worked with in troubled communities should be a part of, too.

The Toronto Opera Program ran for two one-week sessions serving 40 kids ages 11 to 18, free. The project is the first of its kind for COC and ProAction Cops and Kids, which raises money for programs to promote positive relationships between officers and youth.

Every day was something new and different – how to sing, write, choreograph, create characters or work on the backdrop.

Their words were set to opera music, from the Barber of Seville and Don Giovanni among others.

"It's a project that gives voice to the ideas of these young people," said Daniella Marchese, the drama professional who worked with the students.

The teens also created spoken, dramatic scenes about dealing with drugs, gangs and not being a part of the cool crowd.

"I love acting – everyone calls me a drama queen anyway," said Sabrina Idukpaye, 15, who lives in the Jane-Finch area.

"I thought that this would be a great opportunity. I like the amount of energy you have to put into opera."

Scarborough's Dajana Kovacevic, 16, said, "We learned to be comfortable with who we are ... we learned our voices are different, but we can all still sing."

Initially, she worried about working with police officers, thinking they'd want to "question" the teens.

Instead they saw an entirely different side of the law.

"They're not mean like people say," said Ocean Aarons, 14, of the officers. "They're fair."The COC and police say they plan to run the program next summer.

MUSIC TIDBITS

Usher Hands Career Back To Mommy

Source:
www.eurweb.com

(August 08, 2008) *Fifteen months after Usher fired his mother as his manager, the singer has dumped her replacement, Benny Medina, and brought his mom back into the fold to steer his career.  In a short statement issued by his LaFace/Zomba label Wednesday, it was announced that the artist "has dissolved his management arrangement with Benny Medina and has re-engaged Jonnetta Patton as his manager." Last month, the New York Daily News quoted sources who said Usher was unhappy with Medina's handling of his current album, "Here I Stand," which sold 433,000 copies in its first week compared to the 1.1 million copies of his last album, "Confessions," during its opening week in 2004.        "People have been telling Usher to listen to his mother," a source told the Daily News at the time. "Nobody knows how to sell him better than she does." Disputing that he "fired" his mom, Usher said he "retired" her near Mother's Day last year to hire longtime industry vet Medina, who worked the "Here I Stand" project that has so far sold 948,000 units in the U.S. in its 10 weeks out. Meanwhile, the singer has also cut ties with W&W Public Relations, a publicity firm that also serves as the official reps for Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys and Ludacris.

Leon Ware Shoots For The 'Moon'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(August 11, 2008) *Singer/songwriter/producer Leon Ware is preparing to release his first major label album in more than two decades.   The Stax/Concord Records set, entitled "Moon Ride," is due tomorrow (Aug. 12) and reportedly captures the sensual style of music that has been his trademark since the recording of his own albums began in the '70s.   Ware is best known for his writing and production credits on projects by Gaye (the "I Want You" album), Michael Jackson ("I Wanna Be Where You Are") and Quincy Jones ("Body Heat," "If I Ever Lose This Heaven") among others.    "Moon Ride" continues the velvetiness with such tracks as "Loceans," the Gaye-inspired "I Never Loved So Much" and lead single, "Smoovin'."   "This album has all the things I lean toward: romance, sensuality and spirituality," Ware says. "I live in that place; it's my religion."

John Lennon's Killer Denied Parole For 5th Time

Source:
www.thestar.com - Richard Richtmyer, The Associated Press

(August 12, 2008)  ALBANY, N.Y. – John Lennon's killer was denied parole for a fifth time Tuesday by a board that said he remains a threat to the public. Mark David Chapman will remain in New York's Attica Correctional Facility for at least two more years for gunning down the former Beatle nearly three decades ago on a Manhattan sidewalk. Chapman, 53, has been in prison for 27 years since pleading guilty to the murder, which he has said he committed to gain attention. He became eligible for parole in 2000 after serving 20 years of a maximum life sentence. In a one-page decision issued after Chapman's appearance Tuesday, parole board members said they denied his parole "due to concern for the public safety and welfare." The parole board said that although Chapman has had a clean disciplinary record since 1994, he told board members during the hearing that he planned and conducted Lennon's killing "with an essentially clear mind." Considering that, the board said, his release "would not be in the best interest of the community." A transcript of the hearing, conducted by two parole board members, was not immediately available. Chapman, a former maintenance man from Hawaii, fired five shots outside Lennon's apartment building on Dec. 8, 1980, hitting Lennon four times in front of his wife, Yoko Ono, and others. Ono, who has previously written the parole board arguing against Chapman's release, did not offer any testimony in his latest hearing. "She was very pleased at the division of parole's decision," said her lawyer, Peter Shukat. He declined to comment further. Chapman's next appearance before the board is scheduled for August 2010.

::FILM NEWS::

Penélope Cruz: Beauty, Brains And Gravitas

Source:
www.thestar.com - John Hiscock, Special To The Star

(August 10, 2008) LOS ANGELES–Penélope Cruz has a technological excuse for why she does not like talking about her personal life.

It's the fault of the Internet, she says. "I have a big reluctance to talk about anything that might later be misconstrued. I was not worried before, but since the Internet, every time you do an interview 300 other people are going to take that story and turn it into something else.

"I wish I could be more relaxed and funnier in interviews, but I can't because I always regret it afterwards."

For the past year the 34-year-old actor has been in a settled relationship with her most recent leading man, Javier Bardem, 39, her fellow Spaniard and multi-award-winning actor whom she first met at 16 when they worked together in the film Jamón, Jamón and who co-stars in her new movie, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

In it, Cruz plays the tempestuous ex-wife of a painter (Bardem); she re-enters his life when he is involved with two other women.

"All the characters are suffering and struggling so much and to me it was a drama," she said. "Woody managed to make all of us forget that we were doing a comedy, and when I saw the movie with an audience in Cannes I wondered why they were laughing so much.... I laughed when I read the script and I did not laugh again until I saw the movie."

She was wearing white Oscar de la Renta flared pants with a white T-shirt and black-and-white striped jacket, an outfit which perfectly complemented her lustrous dark hair, full lips and flawless olive skin.

The petite actor did not learn English until she was 19 and she talks quickly with a strong accent, which sometimes makes it difficult to follow, although she says she is finally comfortable with the language.

"I wanted to be able to work in other places, not just in my country, so I learned English late and when I was 23 I got my first movie in English – Hi-Lo Country with Stephen Frears – and I learned my lines phonetically," she said. "I didn't have any command of the language and it was very painful because I didn't know what people were saying.

"I have worked in four different languages – French, Italian, English and Spanish – and it's a lot of work, but I know I have to keep studying because, as well as Hollywood, my heart needs to keep working in my country and also in other places in Europe."

Cruz is an old hand at the fame game. She grew up in Alcobendas, a working-class suburb on the outskirts of Madrid. Her father, a car mechanic, is divorced from her beautician mother, but she remains close to both.

After studying classical ballet, she auditioned at 15 for a talent agent who signed her immediately. At 18, she went to New York to continue her dance studies and burst onto the international scene in 1992, lending nudity and a sultry innocence to the role of the sexy teenager in the art-house hit Jamón, Jamón. She acted in English for the first time in the British TV crime thriller Framed and then caught Hollywood's attention as a nun impregnated by a transvestite and infected with AIDS in Pedro Almodóvar's 1999 Oscar-winning All About My Mother.

Since then she has skilfully divided her time between big-budget Hollywood blockbusters such as Gothika, Head In The Clouds and Sahara, whose paycheques have allowed her to indulge her taste for smaller films that build her reputation as an actor. They have included the Oscar-nominated Volver and critically acclaimed Italian film Non ti muovere (Don't Move) in which she played a plain Albanian rape victim.

The busy Cruz has another film out, Elegy; she has just finished Broken Embraces with Almodóvar; and she and Bardem leave for London shortly where she will spend five months rehearsing and filming the musical Nine, with a cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench and Nicole Kidman.

On film sets she has established a reputation for sweetness banded with steely professionalism. She later became romantically involved with some of her leading men; gossips have suggested it's not entirely coincidental some of her co-stars left their spouses after filming with Cruz. Nicolas Cage split with wife Patricia Arquette after Captain Corelli's Mandolin; Matt Damon with girlfriend Winona Ryder after All The Pretty Horses and, most famously, Tom Cruise with Nicole Kidman after Vanilla Sky.

Cruz went on to have a three-year relationship with Cruise, and then dated Matthew McConaughey, her co-star in Sahara.

She has claimed: "I've never fallen in love with someone I'm working with – it's always been afterwards. If something becomes friendship, then maybe months later it becomes something else, but you can never know. It's always a mystery. You can't plan those things."

Woody Allen recalls that during the filming of Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Spain, Cruz and bachelor Bardem often spoke passionately to each other in Spanish, and he had no idea what they were saying.

"She has everything," he says of Cruz. "She's very sexy, is very, very beautiful, and she's also a great actress who can get a laugh if you need a laugh or be tempestuous if that's what you need. There are no limits on her career."

Amal: A Rewarding Tale

Source:
www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard, Movies Editor

Amal

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif
Starring Rupinder Nagra, Koel Purie, Naseeruddin Shah, Tanisha Chatterjee and Roshan Seth. Directed by Richie Mehta. 101 minutes. At the Varsity. 14A

(August 08, 2008) Diogenes walked the daylight streets of ancient Athens, holding a lighted lantern and searching in vain for an honest man.

Eccentric millionaire G.K. Jayaram (Naseeruddin Shah) is his modern-day version. Crusty and fractious, he wanders New Delhi, his frayed trousers held up by a rope belt, disappointed by the failings he sees in his fellow man.

Until he meets Amal, an auto-rickshaw driver who politely accepts his abuse, shyly refusing a small tip, all the while maintaining a quiet dignity.

Played with understated skill by Rupinder Nagra, Amal carefully pilots his late father's only legacy, a glorified scooter with a backseat, as he ferries school kids home or drives the lovely, sharp-tongued shop owner Pooja Seth (Koel Purie) to and from her kiosk each day.

His dark eyes giving voice to the emotions he can't express, Amal folds his lanky frame into the rickshaw and watches the world without judgment through a battered windshield. He charges no more than the price on the meter and he refuses to gouge passengers like his slick pal, Radha.

When he tries to nab an Artful Dodger-like child pickpocket Priya (played with streetwise charm by Tanisha Chatterjee) who is injured in the chase, he takes responsibility for her medical care, sleeping in the hallway outside her ward.

Meanwhile, G.K. writes a new will in a smoky bar. And when he suddenly dies, his executors find that he has left his estate to the mystery driver Amal, but only if he can be found within 30 days. G.K.'s spoiled kids wait like vultures on a fence, knowing if Amal can't be found, they get the cash.

There is nothing obvious about the story, which moves carefully and unpredictably, taking us through the streets of Delhi with a view from the back of a rickshaw.

Roshan Seth is especially effective as G.K.'s former business partner, Suresh, who is charged with the task of finding Amal. He's tempted to ink a deal with the devilish youngest son, who is saddled with a gambling debt to a local mob boss, to get the inheritance.

Based on the story by Canadian Shaun Mehta and directed by his brother Richie, Amal had its premiere at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and was a worthy recipient of considerable TIFF buzz. It's beautifully paced, lovingly shot and makes its points about high and low-caste conflicts and values in a gentle voice.

"The poorest of men can be the richest," G.K. observes. And it would seem, the most honest.

Heightened Fear

Source:
www.thestar.com

(August 08, 2008) James Marsh is terribly afraid of heights.

Which turned out to be something of an advantage for a documentary filmmaker making a movie about a wire walker's 1974 dance between the rooftops of the World Trade Center buildings.

First, because the wire walker, a wily, elfin man named Philippe Petit, found it hilarious.

Second, because Marsh was able to infuse the film, Man on Wire, with his own terror at the prospect of stepping onto a steel cable strung some 417 metres above the streets of New York. He spent almost the entire budget, in fact, on one special-effects shot that shows what Petit would've seen when he was up on the wire had he decided to look down.

"If you suffer from a fear of heights ... the film really puts you through it," Marsh says. "I still need months of therapy to get over it, I'm sure."

Marsh had been aware of Petit's high-wire walk at the World Trade Center as a sort of urban legend, but it wasn't until he read the Frenchman's book, To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers, that he became "utterly captivated by this real-life fairly-tale."

The filmmaker's intention was to present the story in the style of a heist film. (Think Ocean's Eleven with subtitles, juggling and unicycles.)

"The story was amenable to it because what you have is this sort of criminal conspiracy and people putting on disguises and snooping around the buildings taking photographs and manufacturing false paperwork, false I.D.," the director says. "Yet the end result is something beautiful. It's a kind of gift to the city. So it's a brilliant inversion of the normal crime story – when you find that the objective isn't to take something, but to give something."

Of course, Marsh first had to persuade Petit, who now lives in upstate New York, to let him do it.

The first phone conversation did not go well. The first meeting was only slightly better, Marsh recalls, but after four hours, during which the director promised it would be a true collaboration, Petit agreed.

Then, by way of a goodbye hug, the wire walker picked the pocket of his documentarian.

"That then started a year-long, often quite mischievous, sometimes very antagonistic, collaboration," Marsh says.

To re-create the endeavour, Marsh rounded up Petit's old friends and cohorts who helped him scheme and plan for years to pull off the risky stunt. The recollections of Petit's close friends flesh out the intensity of the planning and the danger surrounding the walk. And in Petit's barn, Marsh found old video footage, which had been tucked away in boxes for decades, of the crew in the midst of preparation.

"It's amazing to see that everybody loves this film," Petit, 58, said in an interview. "It's beautiful to see everybody inspired, everybody in love again with the twin towers."

People do love the twin towers again, Marsh says, but they also come to love the man crazy enough to dance on a wire between them.

The Washington Post

Batman Catches Up To Lord Of The Rings

Source:
AP/Reuters/Bloomberg

(August 11, 2008) LOS ANGELES — Batman was higher than Hollywood's newest pot heads.

The Dark Knight took in $26-million (U.S.) to finish as the No. 1 movie for the fourth-straight weekend, beating the stoner comedy Pineapple Express, which opened in second place with $22.4-million, according to studio estimates yesterday.

The weekend haul lifted the Warner Bros. Batman sequel to No. 3 on the all-time domestic box-office charts with $441.5-million, behind only Titanic ($600.8-million) and the original Star Wars ($461-million).

The last movie to remain No. 1 for four consecutive weekends was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which premiered in late 2003, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers. That movie did it during a much slower time of year, with nowhere near the competition that The Dark Knight has faced during Hollywood's busy summer season.

"It's almost unheard of. Summer doesn't usually afford films that much of a wide-open playing field," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.

However, the numbers reflect today's higher admission prices, and The Dark Knight likely will not approach Star Wars or Titanic in terms of actual number of tickets sold. Taking inflation into account, The Dark Knight would need to pull in about $900-million to match the number of tickets sold for Titanic and about $1.2-billion to equal Star Wars. Since opening Wednesday, Sony's Pineapple Express had taken in $40.5-million. The action comedy stars Seth Rogen as a pot smoker on the run from crooks after he witnesses a murder, with his lovably clueless dealer (James Franco) in tow.

The weekend's other wide release, the Warner Bros. sequel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, opened at No. 4 with $10.8-million, raising its total to $19.7-million since debuting Wednesday.

The movie reunites gal pals America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively as the foursome whose friendship is reinforced by the worn pair of pants they share.

Its 2005 predecessor, released before Ferrera and Lively became stars with their respective TV shows Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl, earned $9.8-million during its first three days.

Universal Studios' The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor finished third on the weekend with sales of $16.1-million.

Receipts for the top 12 movies fell 22 per cent to $109.5-million from the year-earlier period, Media By Numbers said. For the year, box-office sales of $6.15-billion are down 0.4 per cent from a year-earlier. Year-to-date attendance has dropped 4.3 per cent.

Bernie Brillstein, 77: Agent And Producer

Source:
www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, Television Columnist

(August 13, 2008)  In the entertainment industry, there are the people who've got the talent and the people who can spot the talent. And then know how to sell it.

Luck and timing aside, the former would be nowhere without the latter.

Such a man was
Bernie Brillstein, who died last week at the age of 77.

Much has been made of the comedy revolution of the mid-1970s, spearheaded by the breakout cast of Saturday Night Live.

But as much as the likes of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and later Bill Murray, Marty Short and Adam Sandler, would change the face of television and movies, it was Brillstein who discovered them (sharing no small credit with producer Lorne Michaels, whom he also managed), then guided and helped to shape their success.

And then, as his influence grew along with theirs, he expanded to include A-listers like Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage, and eventually such prestigious and revolutionary TV hits as Larry Sanders and The Sopranos.

Less a manager than a sort of avuncular uncle, Brillstein's beginnings are the stuff of classic Hollywood legend.

He grew up sharing the Manhattan home of his uncle, vaudeville and radio dialect comic Jack Pearl.

After graduating from New York University and a stint in the army, he made the most traditional and time-honoured entrance into the business: the mailroom of the William Morris Agency.

It did not take him long to work his way up to agent, striking out on his own with the Brillstein Company in 1969.

One of the first to see and reap the benefits of producing his own clients' projects, he enjoyed his earliest TV success with the Muppets, which brought him to Saturday Night Live in 1975.

From that point on, he piloted the rocket that propelled the SNL stable to movie stardom, executive-producing (among others) The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters, Dragnet, Summer Rental, The Cable Guy and Happy Gilmore.

In the 1980s, Brillstein partnered up with an up-and-coming young hotshot named Brad Grey, whom he had met at a San Francisco television convention.

Grey had a similarly classic Hollywood backstory, having started out as a gofer for Harvey Weinstein before hitching his wagon to rising star Bob Saget.

Grey is now the head of Paramount Pictures.

The partnership's Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, established in 1991, was also responsible for such precedent-setting television as It's Garry Shandling's Show, Mr. Show, Politically Incorrect, Just Shoot Me, NewsRadio and Primetime Glick.

I had the privilege of being seated next to the effusively charming Brillstein at an SCTV tribute dinner in Aspen in 1999.

To suggest that he had stories would be the understatement of the decade (now almost three).

By that point, he was pretty much working from a script, having quite eloquently chronicled his own life and times one year earlier in his memoir, Where Did I Go Right? You're No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead.

And now he is. And no one wanted it.

rsalem@thestar.ca

Leonardo DiCaprio Expected At Film Festival

Source:
www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman, Entertainment Columnist

(August 13, 2008)  Every year on the opening weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival the town goes berserk for a Hollywood celebrity who looms above other visiting movie stars. Last year it was George Clooney, who was here for the world premiere of Michael Clayton.

This year you can expect that role to be played by
Leonardo DiCaprio. No announcement has been made, but my spies say TIFF has snared the North American premiere of Body of Lies, a highly touted espionage thriller in which DiCaprio is teamed with Russell Crowe.

The picture will have a coveted weekend gala slot on Friday, Sept. 5, Day 2 of the festival. Part of the deal between TIFF and Warner Bros. is that DiCaprio will fly to Toronto to walk the red carpet and appear onstage.

You can be sure the studio will use the festival showcase to promote the movie's North American theatrical release, scheduled for Oct. 10. Indeed, it's already getting a big push with a trailer that precedes The Dark Knight.

Body of Lies is a movie with an impressive pedigree. Based on a hot novel by Washington Post journalist David Ignatius, the script was written by William Monahan, who wrote the screenplay for The Departed, which also featured DiCaprio. Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is a cinephile favourite.

DiCaprio – whose name regularly appears on lists of Hollywood's biggest stars and the world's most beautiful people – made the transition from promising young actor to megastar with Titanic in 1997.

In Body of Lies, DiCaprio plays a former journalist in the Iraq war, hired by the CIA to track down a top-ranking terrorist.

But first he has to win the co-operation of a veteran CIA operative, played by Crowe, who runs a covert operation in Jordan.

Today, the festival is expected to announce its Special Presentations line-up, many of which will be shown at the Elgin Theatre (or Visa Screening Room as TIFF calls it). The list of Roy Thomson Hall galas and visiting stars will follow next week.

It will be intriguing to see how these two compare. An insider tip is that over the past five years, the Visa Screening Room line-up has surpassed the Roy Thomson gala schedule by a margin of 75 Academy Award nominations in 16 categories compared to 51.

Two movies from the 2007 TIFF gala list scored major Oscar nominations: Michael Clayton and Elizabeth: the Golden Age. But the big winner of the year was No Country for Old Men, which had its premiere at the Visa Screening Room.

In recent years, sophisticated filmgoers have favoured the Elgin's offerings over Roy Thomson galas, the latter with its excessive emphasis on such glitz factors as studio hype, celebrity-gawking and who's wearing what. At the Visa Screening Room, film devotees believe all that really counts is the quality of the movies.

That's why passes for both the early and late screenings at the Visa Screening Room are already sold out, even though there is no way of knowing what movies will be shown there and even though Elgin ticket prices are no longer a bargain compared to those at RTH.

For the first time this year, TIFF did not offer Roy Thomson gala passes. Instead tickets for each gala will be sold separately.

Let the frenzy begin.

mknelman@thestar.ca

FILM TIDBITS

Film and TV director Till To Get Lifetime Award

Source:
www.globeandmail.com

(August 12, 2008) Toronto — Veteran film and television director Eric Till, 78, is set to receive the Directors Guild of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award while four of his "protégés," including Denys Arcand and David Cronenberg, are vying for director-of-the-year honours, it was announced yesterday. The seventh annual award show, to be held in Toronto Nov. 8, recognizes directorial, editing and design accomplishments in more than 20 categories in TV and movies, as voted on by members of the DGC. Till, a native of England, has had a decidedly eclectic career since moving to Canada in the mid-1950s. Among his credits are Bethune starring Donald Sutherland, and Red Green's Duct Tape Forever. A complete list of nominees can be found at http://www.globeandmail.com/arts.  

::TV NEWS::

CBC's Most Adorable – And Lethal – Comic

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - R.M. Vaughan

(August 08, 2008) One could almost pity the Beijing Olympic bosses. Almost. What with the Tibet uprising, the torch relay fiasco, boycott threats and the nail-biter over which heads of state will attend the opening ceremonies and which will not, it's like a giant, murky cloud is hanging over the entire Games. Oh, wait a second....

Haven't the autocrats suffered enough? Now CBC-TV is rubbing hot chilli sauce in the wound by sending its most deceptively adorable - and thus most lethal - comic, Shaun Majumder, as an official correspondent. And not as Shaun Majumder, plain citizen, but as his frantic sportscaster alter ego Raj Binder.

Chatting with the This Hour Has 22 Minutes veteran days before his departure for the Middle Kingdom (and fresh off his Just For Laughs festival tour), I got the distinct impression that the game plan for this adventure is "no game plan" - or at least not one he was willing to reveal. Innocence often protects the adventurous traveller, but if the next time we see Majumder, he is standing all alone in front of a large, loaded tank, he can't say nobody warned him.

So, you're going to a police state to impersonate a non-existent journalist ... Can't you just borrow a documentary on Chinese prisons from the CBC vault?

Hee hee! Well, I think it's our job as humorists to cover the lighter side of human-rights abuse. It's a huge responsibility. No, no - I'm kidding. And that's not my joke. Kathy Griffin introduced me that way at Just For Laughs, "And he's going to China to cover the fun side of human-rights abuse!" Best intro I ever had.

How did you get permission for this? Did you explain the concept to the officials?

You bring up something I actually hadn't thought of before. Personally, I'm not doing any of the pursuing of accreditation, I'm not in charge of any of that stuff. But it's a good question, because if they know that this is a character, it won't work - and it's not just Raj, it's a hybrid of Raj and me.

We didn't send the officials a tape of Raj, so I guess they're just assuming that Raj is one of the Canadian journalists. And when they see him, they'll think: Well, that's an interesting person ... from Canada? Is he from Canada? With that accent?

You know what's gonna cause trouble? They're gonna look at Raj and think he's got some kinda salmonella, because he's sweating balls, he looks sick, like he's gonna have a heart attack, and then they'll discipline their own people accordingly.

But, honestly, I don't think it's going to be much of a problem. We're not going to be putting China in a bad light - it will be me in a bad light! And if there are reports of Raj Binder being handcuffed and put in prison, that's bad press for them.

Your fate is in the hands of CBC lawyers.

That's right! Bye-bye!

Will you have access to the athletes compound? I hear it's quite a frat party.

Raj will definitely be spending time in Canada House. I'm a huge athletic fan, so that's going to be pretty cool. Raj will be enticing the athletes to lighten up: C'mon, kids, it's just the Olympics!

 Speaking of athletics, you have noticeably muscled up in the last year. You're secretly on the Olympic team, aren't you?

Yes, I was training for the Olympics! I've always been a fan of fitness, the healthy body/healthy mind formula. It helps when you're living in the vacuous hole of Los Angeles, to be feeling fit and strong, because you deal with the ups and downs of this crazy industry far better if you are active. If you're sedentary, sitting in your apartment waiting for the phone to ring ... you're gonna spiral downward. So I try to get out and surf, go to the gym as much as I can.

Who's your dream "get" for this particular adventure?

The dream "get" ... this is not going to be as much like 22 Minutes. On 22 Minutes we'll be like, "We gotta get so and so." But this is gonna be a different kind of coverage, because, first, it's not 22 Minutes, and it's more me and Raj in the environment of the Olympics, with the stories that will kind of come from what's going on there. One of the things we'd love to do is sit down in a Chinese home, with a family, and find out what they think is funny. What is their sense of humour?

 I'm guessing anybody from the top tier of the IOC is pure gold.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! They're not quite police, but I think they think they might be during the event. What was his name from the IOC, the one who said something about hockey players using steroids ... Dick Pound. He'd be a good "get."

Please bring back some of that kid's putty that turns into ecstasy when it gets wet.

What is that?

 Don't you read the newspapers? (Explanation of Aqua Dots toy scandal follows.)

You mean literally GHB? Oh hoh hoh hoh! Oh no! That has gotta be one harsh comedown on Boxing Day.

*****

Particulars

Born: Jan. 29, 1972, in Burlington, Nfld.

The kids love him

Majumder once hosted the YTV morning show Brainwash under the nom de TV Ed Brainbin, eventually moving up to hosting the slime segments on the game show Uh-Oh!

Older kids know him as Kumar's brother in the film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

Big time

In addition to his gig on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, he starred this spring in the Fox mid-season replacement sitcom Unhitched, a Farrelly brothers production.

Life with Michael Seater: Who needs L.A.?

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Catherine Dawson March

(August 12, 2008) Maybe, if you're an actor in Canada today, you don't need to head to Los Angeles to boost your career. Maybe it's possible, especially if you work in television, to stay and still be a star.

Michael Seater thinks so. He has never been to L.A. Not even the airport. The 21-year-old Toronto native stars in the just-announced CBC-ABC pilot 18 to Life - and he still doesn't have to head south. The pilot was filmed in Montreal.

18 to Life comes after three years as the titular character on popular tween sitcom Life with Derek, a Gemini-nominated role on the cult hit ReGenesis, and portraying the ultimate Canadian anti-hero - a young Conrad Black in the TV biopic.

"With ABC buying 18 to Life, it's American television but you can still be here. It's a really nice door that's opening, with Flashpoint [CTV/CBS] and The Listener [CTV/NBC]. You can still be here and have success," Seater said in a recent interview.

Life with Derek has already turned him into a much-loved face in the tween market on both sides of the border, and in many of the 115 countries it airs in. In person, Seater has a sweet charming way with kids who inevitably become dumbstruck in his presence.

Life with Derek is one of Family Channel's Top 10 series. Seater's star got a little hotter when Disney, a well-established creator of careers, asked him to be reporter-at-large during the Disney Channel Games and chase down megastars like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers for interviews.

Flying down to Florida in April to take part in the event was the closest he had ever come to looking for work stateside. "I was supposed to go down to L.A. for the last three pilot seasons, but I always come up with a viable excuse not to go," he says. "I'm really comfortable here."

Seater already owns a condo along Toronto's waterfront and bought a cottage on tony Lake Muskoka last spring, a few months after he turned 20. "I also got a car because I had to be able to get there, and it's on an island so I had to get a boat.

"Why go to L.A? I like what's going on here!"

Seater, the youngest of three siblings, was always a performer, singing so often for Grandma at Sunday dinner that his parents found him an agent when he was 8. He made a lot of commercials, then ended up in short film by Andrew Currie (Fido),

From there came the kids' TV shows (The Zack Files, Blake Holsey High, Life with Derek), TV movies and eventually minor roles in feature films.

"I've worked for eight years straight in Toronto," he says. "My friends are here, my family is here, my home is here, my cottage is up north, I'm really happy here."

He's chatting amiably this afternoon outside his local Starbucks. To sit at this Harbourfront patio, Seater sports oversized sunglasses paired with scruffy Vans sneakers, skinny jeans and a zipper necklace.

If the eyewear keeps him from being recognized today, he might not be so lucky in a more heavily trafficked teen/tween location. Toronto born and raised, Seater says he had to stop riding the subway because he would feel trapped.

"I'm all for meeting new people, but it can be awkward," he says. "They come up to you and they're like, 'Hi Michael, how are you?' and you're like, 'Nice to meet you.' And then they just stare. And I'm thinking, 'But you came up to me! It's your responsibility to keep this conversation going.' "

If young admirers are dumbstruck, their mothers are more persistent, he says. However, pesky parents may stop using their daughters as an excuse to meet him if ABC green-lights 18 to Life for more episodes, as is expected.

On TV he ages only a year: from 17 in Life with Derek to legal adult on the new show. But it's a big leap for Seater. Now that Derek has finished (the fourth and final season begins airing on Family in the spring) he has to find a older fan base.

This new show will help: Portraying a newlywed teenager (with co-star Stacey Farber of Degrassi: The Next Generation) means playing a more nuanced character that gets thrust into more adult situations. The role, he says, "is very much where I am in my life right now. I'm getting out of being a kid, but not quite playing adult roles yet."

TV TIDBITS

Vancouver's Park lands Border role

Source:
Canadian Press

(August 12, 2008) Vancouver-based actress Grace Park, who plays a humanoid robot on the hit sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, is taking on another feisty role. The former model has been cast as a U.S. Homeland Security agent on the Canadian crime-fighting series The Border, which starts airing its second season Sept. 29 on CBC. The drama, co-created by filmmaker Peter Raymont, follows an elite team of Canadian border-security officers in Toronto. James McGowan plays the lead of Major Mike Kessler, while Sofia Milos co-stars as a U.S. special agent. Park's character, Liz Carver, is "smart, ambitious, edgy and very attracted to Det. Sgt. Gray Jackson (played by Graham Abbey)," said a press released issued yesterday.  Battlestar Galactica, which airs on Space in Canada, is on hiatus after airing the first half of its fourth and final season. There's no word on when the second half of the season will air. In the meantime, Park can also be seen co-starring in A&E's new drama series The Cleaner.

::THEATRE NEWS::

National Ballet Dancer To Join Dirty Dancing Cast

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - R.M. Vaughan

(August 08, 2008) Toronto — After an 11-year tenure that saw her ascend to second soloist, National Ballet of Canada dancer Julie Hay has resigned to take on a different, dirtier sort of dance.

Hay will join the Toronto cast of the Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning
Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage in the role of Penny.

Born in Toronto and trained at the Quinte Ballet School of Canada in Belleville, Ont., Hay was named the National Ballet's second soloist in 2003. She has danced in numerous world premieres, including James Kudelka's An Italian Straw Hat.

The addition of Hays is just one of many casting changes taking place as the musical moves into its second year. Johnny Wright, a former first soloist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, will share the role of Johnny, the male lead, with current star Jake Simons. Taking over the role of Baby, the female lead, is Ashley Leggat, a native of Hamilton and one of the stars of the TV show Life with Derek. The first performance with the new cast will be Aug. 19 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

Those Who Live In Glass Houses

Source:
www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(August 09, 2008) If Canadian playwrights ever achieve mythological status, there's one piece of casting that's already a done deal.

Joanna McClelland Glass would have to play Athena.

It's not just the cool elegance that this 71-year-old radiates that makes her right for the role, but the concern with serving wisdom and justice that she shares with her ancient Greek counterpart.

Palmer Park, now in previews at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival prior to its opening next Saturday, is almost the quintessential Glass play in that it contains many of the features that have marked her work over the years.

In the first place, it's based on historical fact: There is a Palmer Park in suburban Detroit and after the deadly "black day in July" race riot of 1967, it was one of the few parts of the city where blacks and whites still tried to live together in harmony.

It's also about an actual chapter in Glass's life.

"I first came to Palmer Park in August of 1968," she recalls now, sitting in the living room of her house in Stratford where she has been carefully supervising its restoration for the past year.

"The city was still a shambles, even a year after the riots. It's hard to be diplomatic about Detroit. It's a very sad city. I find it second only to New Orleans in its sadness."

Glass is not speaking just from a subjective point of view.

Before the 1967 riot, the city's population was nearly 2 million. In the six months following it, as Glass puts it "the phone book lost nearly 300,000 names."

Today the city is home to 900,000 people.

"I guess it all started with Henry Ford and his automobile," says Glass.

"He made the city prosperous, but he also planted the seeds of its future strife when he brought thousands of people up from the deep South to work on his assembly lines for $5 a day."

By the time the 1960s arrived, most Detroit blacks had trouble finding affordable housing and many were the subject of large-scale police brutality.

Early on Sunday morning, July 23, 1967, a police raid on a "blind pig" or after-hours speakeasy in the city's West Side served as the fuse that exploded a bomb of racial tension that had been building for decades.

Before the violence was over, five days later, 43 people were dead and 2,000 buildings were burned down.

That was the prelude to the situation Glass entered a year later.

"The educational system in the States is built on property taxes," explains Glass, "but when so many white people moved away following the riots, the Detroit school system was in dire straits."

But the people of both races who chose to live in Palmer Park didn't want to see their local elementary school closed, or gutted, or overcrowded with inappropriate busing.

"There is a cynical truism," observes Glass, "that integration in America is what happens between the first black moving in and the last white moving out. It usually takes two to four years."

To tell the story of what Glass saw happen, she creates two couples who live next door to each other – one black, one white.

Like everyone in the neighbourhood, they're middle or upper middle class: teachers, doctors, professional people.

"The character Kelli Fox plays is based on me," volunteers Glass, "but her husband, played by Dan Chameroy, is entirely different from my husband."

Glass is equally concerned about the black couple, Fletch and Linda Hazelton, played by Nigel Shawn Williams and Yanna McIntosh.

"It's a little delicate to have a white lady writing about it," allows Glass, picking her words carefully, "but there hasn't been a lot written about the black middle class, the ones who did everything you were supposed to do to be accepted by the white community in those days, only to find the wall was still up."

But not in Palmer Park, at least not for a while. The residents convince everyone that an integrated neighbourhood can be a reality and raise money to keep their local school supplied and open.

"At that point in time," recalls Glass, "the broke-down Detroit school system was using busing as its answer to everything.

"They were taking kids who came from homes where there was one toilet down the hall for five families and sending them to schools in upper class suburbs where the recess conversation would be, `Oh, are you going to Bermuda for Christmas?'"

And in a way, that's what finally did in Palmer Park. The school board sent 130 black children from an overcrowded school in an impoverished neighbourhood to the environment the parents had worked so hard to maintain.

"It marked the beginning of the end," sighs Glass.

"By my daughter's last year in school, she was one of four white children in her class. Today, Palmer Park is only 10 per cent white and that's mainly old people who just don't want to leave."

The scars of the past obviously cause Glass great pain still, so why would she want to reopen wounds after 40 years?

"Because segregation has seeped back into the American schools even worse than it was back in the 1950s. And the worst part is that it seems like there's hardly anybody even trying."

In a year when America might elect its first black president, Glass is wise to ask us to look at our past in an attempt to find an answer for our present.

Shaw Festival Urged To Diversify Line-up

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - James Adams

(August 13, 2008)  A prominent African-Canadian playwright and actor has launched a campaign to get more non-white actors and directors and more racially diverse plays into the Shaw Festival, and he is meeting with the festival's artistic director tomorrow to "find a solution."

Toronto's
Andrew Moodie, 40, electrified the country's theatrical community last week when he announced that he was starting an online initiative he calls Share the Stage to lever the festival, started 46 years ago at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., to embrace such practices as colour-blind casting. In the announcement, Moodie asks: "Does the festival actually have a policy to exclude people based on race?" More than 500 people have joined the Share the Stage Facebook group since it was launched last Tuesday.

The Shaw specializes in plays written by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, as well as works, new or otherwise, set during Shaw's lifetime (1856-1950). The festival has never employed a black director and of its company of actors, numbering more than 65, eight are members of racial minorities. The one black lead performer for 2008 is Thom Allison, in the musical A Little Night Music.

In a reply to Moodie last week, Jackie Maxwell, artistic director of the Shaw, said her organization has no policy to exclude participation in its operations on the basis of race. Moreover, since being named to her post in 2002, "there have indeed been shifts here at the Shaw regarding redressing racial and gender imbalances on our stages," even though these efforts, she acknowledged, have "moved more slowly ... too slowly."

Maxwell, 52, agreed to meet with Moodie tomorrow. "He's got expectations and I have to clarify how valid those expectations are," she said yesterday, "and/or ... I have to look and go, 'Okay, if that's what the expectation is, how do I react to that?'

"It's not that I want [the controversy] to die down," she added. "I want it to fold in a constructive way, into the thinking we've already started."

Moodie, an award-winning playwright whose credits include Riot, Oui, A Common Man's Guide to Loving Women and The Real McCoy, said he is not interested in imposing a quota system on Shaw, Canada's second-largest English-language theatre festival, where "you have two plays by an African Canadian, one by a native person, one by an Asian ... You should find a play that excites you."

Nevertheless, he believes that the festival is missing out on a huge talent base by not more actively courting Canada's "multi-ethnic cultural mosaic."

Instead, Moodie thinks that the Shaw should emulate the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. "They've got it right. ... They're working with members of colour to commission new plays and commission plays that are black-themed." This year's Stratford cast an African Canadian, Nikki James, as the lead in Romeo and Juliet and hired an African American, Ron OJ Parsons, to direct Joanna Glass's Palmer Park: A Visit to Post-Riot Detroit.

"I want to provide some tools, some very specific tools, to ensure that [Maxwell] is given the ability to break down barriers if they exist and, on top of that, I want to give her tools to strengthen her theatre, so that she can create better theatre, make more money and put more bums in seats."

Supporting diversity, he added, "is not about taking a financial loss to do something good," and he cited the box-office success Toronto's CanStage and Mirvish Productions had recently with, respectively, with Cookin' at the Cookery and Da Kink in My Hair.

Five years ago, Moodie brought one of his plays, The Language of the Heart, to the Shaw for its consideration - a play it subsequently turned down. Set in the 1920s with dialogue evocative of the kind Lillian Hellman used in The Little Foxes (which Shaw has mounted this season), the drama was conceived with a large cast of black people in mind. According to Moodie, after its submission, he was told by a Shaw employee that its rejection hinged largely on the fact "the cast had too many people of colour."

The rationale here was "they can't do a play with a large black cast [because] they have to cross-cast through the season and you can't get a black actor to be a lead in other plays because it would affect box-office."

Moodie and his associates have made Maxwell "realize that there's a lot of misperceptions about the Shaw and what we're doing now. And I emphasize now. I think there's historical perceptions that are no longer accurate. But it's up to me to make sure that that is cleared up ... and move forward."

Cirque Du Soleil Is Making Big Changes To Its Big Top

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Sarah Boesveld

(August 13, 2008)  Since Cirque's Saltimbanco opened in Montreal in 1992, the show's colourful costumes and awesome acrobats have wowed audiences under an old-fashioned Grand Chapiteau that provided both shelter and intimacy in the tradition of an acrobatic bazaar.

But for its latest North American tour, the world-renowned circus has shed its tent in favour of bigger venues usually reserved for rock stars and hockey matches.

Starting today, the painted and spandexed acrobats will perform their twisted feats in Toronto's Air Canada Centre - one of the biggest stadiums in the country. It's the 47th stop in an arena tour set to continue throughout 2009.

Transforming the show from an intimate tent affair to an arena spectacle took a total of 21 weeks.

The task demanded that technicians raise the stage and intensify the lighting and sound to resonate throughout a massive environment.

What follows is a breakdown of the changes Cirque du Soleil underwent to bring Saltimbanco to the masses.

***

2,500

NUMBER OF EXTRA SEATS

The conversion from big top to arena means double the audience size, a huge boost in ticket sales and a chance to bring Saltimbanco (translated from Italian to mean "to jump on a bench") to new markets, acrobatic coach Michael Ocampo says.

The switch allowed the North American tour to stop in 47 cities so far this year (with 136 more to come) versus the six or seven shows a year previously possible under the big top. (They would perform in one spot for months at a time.) Many of the new stops are smaller cities where the audiences "maybe heard of Cirque du Soleil and always wanted to see the show but might've never had the chance," Ocampo says.

245,000

WEIGHT, IN KILOGRAMS, OF EQUIPMENT HAULED AROUND IN A DOZEN, 16-METRE TRAILERS

"It's really like a rock 'n' roll show, not like a circus show," production manager Michel Therrien says.

But the tractor trailers transporting the 33-by-20-metre stage, plus hundreds of costumes and props, are surprisingly compact - and need to be as the tour moves briskly from city to city. "It's much more efficient and mobile," says Tanya Jacobs, head of wardrobe for Saltimbanco. The closets packed with 1,200 costumes are built into the trucks and need not be unloaded: Performers simply pluck their flamboyant feather dresses and sleek silk and spandex bodysuits out of the trailers.

9

NUMBER OF HOURS TO SET UP THE SALTIMBANCO STAGE

Time is a precious commodity when setting up and tearing down the giant yellow, green, blue and fuchsia stage, and Saltimbanco crews are grateful for the time-saving convenience of the arena tour, Therrien says.

"The big top took four days to set up," he says. "[Now] we always work on concrete, we don't have any weather issues. When you work on the big top, sometimes there's rain, and you're in the mud or sometimes there's snow. We don't have those challenges in an arena."

But one challenge facing the engineers in each new city is fastening the acrobatic rigging to the arena floor. Every venue has tiny metal-rimmed holes called circus rigs in different points of the ground. Wires are anchored into the holes and linked to the acrobatic grid - a circular nest of yellow metal bars suspended nearly 10 metres in the air. Trapezes, the Russian swing and the bungee are then fixed to the grid, which needs to be firmly in place before it's safe for the artists to perform.

Starting at 7 a.m. yesterday, 20 Cirque technicians in Toronto and about 60 more locally hired crew began to unload the stage and slowly position and lift lighting off the concrete floor. The colourful stage was wheeled in and held steady by steel counterweights.

By noon yesterday, about 100 snake-like chains dangled from the ceiling and were fastened to lighting grids below. Crew members straddled and balanced on startlingly narrow rafters in the arena - perhaps higher than the acrobats perform - yanking the chains to hoist the lighting and acrobatic grid in preparation for show time.

51

NUMBER OF PERFORMERS WHO HAD TO LEARN THE ROPES

A shift to the arena venue means sinewy acrobats need to readjust how far they leap and swing during the performance, Ocampo says. When artist Yannick Blackburn overextended herself during a manoeuvre last December in a Montreal arena, ringmaster James Clowney stepped in to rescue him. In doing so, he broke his leg, an ankle and a cluster of ligaments in his knee (he was back on tour within six months).

Injuries are relatively few for the acrobats, many of which are world-class international performers. An invisible wire acts as a backup in case performers lose their footing, Ocampo says, but it can't guarantee they won't fall to the floor.

"Even if the safety wire's there and it's going to catch you, the fall is still very violent and it hurts your body. You can bruise your ribs, you can even break a rib if you fall hard enough."

8

NUMBER OF PERMANENT SHOWS

The grandeur of an arena tour aligns with Cirque's recent move toward opening "permanent" shows around the world, especially in Las Vegas. The company will open Zaia, its first such show in Asia, on Aug. 28 in Macau. And the ink is still fresh on the sale of 20 per cent of Cirque to Dubai property developer Nakheel and investment company Istithmar World Capital. The sale follows last year's announcement of a plan to develop a permanent show in Palm Jumeirah in Dubai by 2011.

37,820

KILOMETRES COVERED SINCE THE TOUR BEGAN IN LONDON, ONT., ON JULY 31, 2007

The North American tour sees no firm end in sight. Having already played Canada's West Coast, Saltimbanco heads to Hamilton by the end of August and goes into the United States until January, 2009.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

Too Human: Wait's Over For Game (Almost)

Source:
www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar, Entertainment Reporter

(August 10, 2008) Along with the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup, waterfront redevelopment, or the completion of the Lahore Tikka House on Gerrard St., the release of Too Human is something that many thought we'd never see.

The long-gestating video game from respected St. Catharines-based developer Silicon Knights has been more than 10 years in the making but unlike those first three things, the game is finally ready for its spot in the limelight when it launches Aug. 19 exclusively for the Xbox 360.

Moving from myth to reality is that much more sweet because fans have already had a taste. The first level of the game was made available as a free demo through Xbox Live, the console's online community marketplace on July 14 and there have been over a million downloads allowing the game's target audience (hard-core gamers) to really begin salivating for the full version. But if they've been waiting a long time, that's nothing compared to the company.

"Too Human has been a project that has been really near and dear to Silicon Knights' heart for an extremely long time. We first conceptualized it in 1993. Now there are all these kind of rumours that we've been working on it for that long, and that is definitely not true," says Denis Dyack, president of the company. "But it's almost company-defining for us in many ways. We believe in it, we love it. And you know getting it done, I can only describe it as shock right now, it hasn't sunk in. Ask me four months from now."

Considered to be Dyack's pet project since its inception, Too Human is a sci-fi based retelling of Norse mythology, where people have essentially elevated themselves to the level of gods through cybernetic enhancement. Our protagonist, Baldur, has been charged with rescuing humanity from an onslaught of machines that have come to destroy them.

"I think one of the cool things is that if you don't know a lot about Norse mythology, the characters are developed on their own, so you don't have to have that back story. If you have it, (it's) a little bit richer for you," says Henry Sterchi, the game's design director.

The game gets its name from Baldur's fellow gods concern that he hasn't enhanced itself enough.

"They keep telling him, `you're too human for this. You need to alter yourself.' And basically they're trying to get you to give up your humanity for this power. That's the core underlying story," says Sterchi.

The company says the game is a hybrid of action and role playing, which means that there's both plenty of button mashing fighting along with opportunities to build up and customize characters, by acquiring skills.

"We realize that people aren't going to go `hmm, my humanity has been contemplated.' It's got to be fun," says Sterchi. "People still have to pick up the controller and go aah, argh, ooh, aah."

Reaction to the demo for many has provided plenty of those oohs and ahhs. The game looks beautiful and seems to have an engaging, robust story. As well, the game has definitely taken cues from filmmaking, with Baldur seamlessly entering into flashbacks.

With a little over a week until the game is launched, Too Human has all the markings of a hit, which must be extremely gratifying considering the epic quest it seemed to take to create. It was first previewed at E3 in 1999 as a title for the original PlayStation. Silicon Knights then signed an exclusive deal with Nintendo, and then the game was supposedly in development for the GameCube. It never surfaced and the deal between the companies expired.

In 2005, Microsoft announced the game as part of trilogy for the then-oncoming 360. Supposed to be out at launch, the game missed it by a little over two years.

One problem was that Too Human was supposed to be developed using Epic Games Unreal 3 Engine, but in 2007, Silicon Knights launched a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and lack of support from Epic, who countersued. It remains unresolved, so Silicon Knights' executives will not speak on the matter. However, it forced the company to build the game engine from scratch. Execs also won't talk about how much Too Human cost to make, but Sterchi scoffs at the rumour that the tab exceeded $80 million.

These days, execs are downplaying the years-in-the-making tag, and instead saying that the games development cycle was about four years, which is long, but not incredibly so for a big-budget title. With an underwhelming field at E3 and the real video game season kicking off in the fall, Too Human has an opportunity to become the game that the rest are judged by.

"Clearly they are a high quality developer. Clearly it's an eagerly anticipated game, but I just don't know. It'll sell its million units, I just don't know if it's going to sell five," says Michael Pachter, analyst on the video game sector for L.A.-based Wedbush Morgan Securities. However, the Xbox's creators, Microsoft, could use a hit that's exclusive to their system, to blunt the PlayStation 3's appeal, and online game play is also valuable. "This game hits both of those."

Whether it can move past the hardcore gamers will determine what kind of a hit it will be. No matter where the sales figures end up, Dyack believes that the unique mix of elements sets Too Human apart.

"I think the game is so original ... there's really nothing out there like it right now. It's a true fusion between action and RPG, the control system is unique and innovative, the story is a signature Silicon Knights story, very well researched. I just think its well rounded nature and what it is will surprise people. There's nothing like it on any other console, nor has there been."

Spidey, Batman And More Will Soon Make Leap To New Video Games

Source:
www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman, The Game Guy

(August 9, 2008)  Comic book fanatics not yet sated by all the superhero flicks this summer need not hang up their Batman Underoos just yet, as the action is soon coming to a small screen near you.

No, we're not referring to the DVD and Blu-ray versions of The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk or Hellboy II. Rather, a handful of superhero-sized
video games based on comic book characters are in the works for this year and next.

"Comic books allow readers to visually connect with the ideas of the artists and writers involved, no matter how outlandish or fantastical, and video games go one step further by letting you live out these over-the-top adventures," says Victor Lucas, the Vancouver-based creator, executive producer and host of video game-related television shows including The Electric Playground and Reviews on the Run.

"Readers can now get a sense of what it would be like to fly, lift immovable objects and punch bad guys' lights out," adds Lucas, who admits to being a "complete comic-book junkie" since childhood.

As with Hollywood, video games based on comic books can translate to monster sales, too. Activision's Spider-Man 3, for example, which is based on the film of the same name, sold more than 2 million units in the U.S. alone, according to the NPD Group. Vivendi's The Hulk, which stars another Marvel Comics character, sold more than 1.2 million at retail in the U.S.

A handful of new superhero-themed video games were on display at the 2008 E3 Media & Business Summit last month, set to launch this year and next, including a stronger presence from DC heroes and villains. We look at four of the biggies.

Mortal Kombat vs.

DC Universe

Consider it a battle between two billion-dollar franchises: Midway's Mortal Kombat warriors, such as Scorpion and Sub Zero, face off against DC Comics' icons including Batman and Superman.

Available this fall for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (worldscollide.com) is a fighting game that features signature attack styles and special moves, multiple solo and multiplayer game modes and never-before-seen environments.

More importantly for comic book enthusiasts, perhaps, is an intertwining storyline penned by the Mortal Kombat creative team in collaboration with celebrated comic-book writers Jimmy Palmiotti (Painkiller Jane, Marvel Knights) and Justin Gray (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, JLA Classified).

DC Universe Online

Unveiled at the recent E3 Expo, Sony Online Entertainment's DC Universe Online is an action-heavy massively multiplayer online role-playing game slated for a late 2009 launch on the PlayStation 3 and PC.

Players first create a unique superhero or super villain from scratch – by selecting from hundreds of appearance and ability options – and must progress through interactive worlds, such as Gotham and Metropolis. Depending on their role and the missions they accept, players will befriend the likes of Superman, Flash or Batman – or vow to destroy them.

Jim Lee, a legendary comic-book artist who founded DC Comics' popular WildStorm Productions, is a creative director for the project.

A physics-based combat system allows for epic battles that let players use the environment to inflict damage, such as tossing a bus or streetlights at foes.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Set in an apocalyptic New York City, Activision's Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is a non-linear web-slinging adventure that gives players complete control over the game's direction, including which missions to partake in, what kind of abilities to upgrade and where the epic battles should take place.

Players will also be able to select which Marvel heroes or villains to bond with, and can switch between the agile red suit or deadly black suit (as seen in Spider-Man 3).

The game will be out this fall for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii (though features will vary between the three versions).

LEGO Batman: The Videogame

Following the critically acclaimed and commercially successful LEGO: Star Wars and LEGO: Indiana Jones video games, an all-new adventure starring the Caped Crusader is nearing completion.

As with its family-friendly predecessors, LEGO Batman: The Videogame, from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, fuses the beloved children's building toy with familiar superheroes and villains. Gamers control Batman and Robin in an original storyline that has the dynamic duo take on Gotham City's most notorious criminal masterminds, including The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler and more. The game will be available next month for all major consoles and handheld systems.

::OTHER NEWS::

Damon Galgut Says South African Novelists Can't Avoid Politics

Source:
www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner, Publishing Reporter

(August 09, 2008) South African writers have long been masters at balancing the political and the personal in their narratives.

This was acutely evident during the racially segregated apartheid era, which produced such celebrated literary giants as J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Breyten Breytenbach, as well as the great dramatist Athol Fugard. But the necessity of setting individual concerns against a larger societal backdrop hasn't entirely lost currency in the 14 years since the collapse of white rule.

"Up until 1994, there was something offensive about a South African story that simply bypassed politics," says novelist
Damon Galgut from his apartment in Cape Town. "In theory, that's not the case anymore. We're free to write about absolutely anything.

"But in practise it's not so simple, just because this is a very highly politicized society. The society is still shaped by the weird politics that apartheid depended on, so that even seemingly innocent subjects take you into that area."

Galgut's new novel, The Impostor, centres on Adam, an unemployed would-be poet who takes up residence on a remote, ramshackle rural property owned by his brother. There, by coincidence, Adam renews acquaintance with a boyhood schoolmate, Canning, who is in the process of turning his vast family homestead into a golf course.

The focal point is the uneasy relationship between the two men, as well as the sexual tension between Adam and Canning's wife, Baby. But the broader backdrop is one of social unease, continuing racial inequity and political and economic corruption. A mood of uncertainty and vague menace prevails, as it did in Galgut's novel The Good Doctor, shortlisted in 2003 for the Man Booker Prize.

"It's a characteristic of pretty much anything I've ever written that you've got that air of something brooding that's about to happen," says Galgut. "That applies as much to my own psyche as it does to the South African psyche at large. I don't know how much coverage you get of the South African political situation, but we're not in a great place right now."

Galgut is referring to a power struggle between the courts and backers of Jacob Zuma, who is facing corruption charges after unseating South African president Thabo Mbeki as leader of the all-powerful African National Congress.

"To put it simply, we have a very corrupt government right now. And they're intent on removing the checks and balances that still stand in their way," he says.

Galgut, 44, published his first novel, A Sinless Season, at the age of 17, but his passion for fiction dates back even further. Diagnosed at age 6 with lymphoma, he spent much of the next five years in hospitals.

"During that period, a lot of my relations used to come and read stories to me," he recalls. "Psychologically, I associate stories with love, attention and consolation, so there was an impetus to try to create that."

Galgut, who will attend the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre in October, is the author of five novels and a collection of short stories, as well as four plays. The Good Doctor, which rejuvenated his career, was the first of his titles to be published in North America since the precocious debut of A Sinless Season. Another novel, The Quarry, originally published in South Africa in 1995, was released here in the wake of The Good Doctor's success.

"I thought I'd write a new South African novel because we didn't have anything that was apparently attempting to face up to the new reality."

When Miles Davis Hired John Coltrane Over The Likes Of Sonny Rollins, It Transformed Jazz

Source:
www.thestar.com - Nick Krewen, Special To The Star

Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever
by Farah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington
Thomas Dunne Books,
294 pages, $27.95

(August 09, 2008)  You need only a passing acquaintance with jazz to know the importance of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

Trumpeter Davis has been at the forefront of every jazz movement since the late `40s, launching with the cool jazz of 1950's Birth of the Cool, for which he assembled a nonet that incorporated non-traditional jazz instruments like tuba and the French horn; the modal jazz of the '50s, best typified by his best-selling Kind of Blue in 1959; and the fiery jazz-rock fusion of Bitches Brew in 1970.

Davis even took a brief stab at marrying jazz and rap with 1991's Doo Bop, but died before the album was finished.

John Coltrane – Trane, as he was universally known – rewrote the book on tenor saxophone and became a leading exponent of avant-garde jazz, or free-form jazz.

They came from diverse backgrounds. St. Louis-raised Davis was the son of an affluent dentist; Coltrane's Philadelphia upbringing strictly resided in working class poverty. And their illustrious paths converged in the mid-1950s when Davis hired Coltrane to play sax in his quintet.

The association with Davis, a Columbia recording star, was so immediately beneficial for Trane that his economic stature virtually changed overnight, as he bought homes for his family and mother.

Davis had a good ear for young lions. Those whose careers he helped kick-start to new levels of fame read like a who's who of contemporary jazz: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Tony Williams and many, many more ... and Coltrane was no exception.

Davis took considerable flack from jazz critics who were amazed he would hire such a fairly green saxophonist instead of someone more established. But Davis liked the potential that he saw in young Coltrane, who relentlessly practiced his craft any time he had a spare moment.

Davis always marched to the beat of his own drummer anyway. According to the authors of Clawing at the Limits of Cool, Davis gave Coltrane the platform to scale new heights of jazz saxophone.

The union didn't take right away. Coltrane's growing heroin habit forced Davis – who had conquered his own speed demon years before he met Trane – to fire him.

Coltrane cleaned up his act, rediscovered religion and played for a while with another innovative and renowned jazz cat, Thelonious Monk, before rejoining Davis.

Coltrane returned with fewer of his earlier inhibitions. He continued pushing the envelope to the point where the famous trumpeter and leader could no longer challenge him. Coltrane then emerged as the leader of his own quartet, stretching boundaries way beyond conventional melody through his harmonic substitutions.

The book focuses on the music the duo created between 1955 and 1961, and in much greater detail it lays out how Davis and Coltrane changed the face of jazz, both together and individually, in a way that still resonates in today's music.

Authors Farah Jasmine Griffin, a Columbia literature professor and author of a previous Billie Holiday biography, and tenor saxophonist and jazz educator Salim Washington, rely on the kind of intricately detailed musical language that real musicians understand. Non-musicians will have more difficulty following along.

There's also an agenda here to position both Davis and Coltrane as black cultural icons. While there's no question about their stature in that regard, the racial subtheme interferes with the musical side of the project.

Yes, there were times both jazz geniuses were victimized – the authors describe a severe beating Davis suffered at the hands of police that was racially motivated – but the book's sense of authorial anger is distracting.

Jazz is the music of discovery, a music of improvisation and one that aggressively pushes towards new horizons. At its best, it challenges the techniques of those who play it to reach deeply into themselves and communicate on a spiritual plane.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane shared that commitment and pushed each other. The whole world stood up and listened.


Nick Krewen
is a Toronto freelance writer and editor.

::SPORTS NEWS::

Canada Unbeaten In Women's Softball

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Doug Smith, Sports Reporter

(August 13, 2008) BEIJING–Nothing is being lost from the batting cage to the batter's box for Canada's Olympic softball team that put on another display of run-scoring power here Wednesday.

With another impressive offensive show, Canada ran its record to 2-0 in the
Olympic softball tournament, routing Netherlands 9-2 at the Fengtai complex in a game stopped after six innings thanks to softball's seven-run mercy rule.

Coming a day after a 6-1 opening day win over Taiwan, Canada has scored more runs than any team in the tournament so far, a far cry from the 2004 Athens Olympics when the team scored just six in seven games.

"They're bringing it to the field, it's one thing to be out there pre-game or on a practice field hitting off somebody like me but what they're doing is they're becoming complete hitters," said manager Lori Sippel. "They know how to manage their at-bats and what I'm really pleased with is they're rally taking one pitch at a time.

"They might let one get by them or they might foul a good one off but they're getting on to the next pitch quickly and I'm proud of that."

Kaliegh Rafter hammered a two-run home run to left field in the fourth inning and Melanie Matthews followed that with a two-run blast to right and a single later as Canada provided winning pitcher Danielle Lawrie with more than enough run production.

Rafter and Matthews connected off Netherlands reliever Rebecca Soumeru, who replaced starter Kristi de Vries to open the fourth and got rocked.

De Vries had been shelled in the third before leaving, giving up three runs. The big blow was a bases-clearing single to the wall in right by Jennifer Yee, who robbed herself of an extra base hit by stumbling going around first.

"In our practices we're really working on working at-bats as much as just free swinging and right now it's working," said Sippel.

Lawrie allowed only a fourth inning run on a double, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly before giving way to reliever Dione Meier, who surrendered a solo homer to Sandra Gouverneur.

But for all the success Canada's had in its first two games, a much different and more difficult task awaits.

The United States, which has won the gold medal in each of the three Olympics that have had women's softball in them, plays Canada on Thursday in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Americans beat Australia 3-0 on Wednesday as Cat Osterman threw a no-hitter and stuck out 13 in the seven inning game.

"We don't really look what's on the jersey," said Lawrie. "If we play Canadian softball, out there and stay confident with our offence and defence, I think good things will happen.

"The pitchers have to hit their spots, and hitters have to go up there chipping away and executing and they're doing an excellent job."

Canada has played the United States tough in the past, including earlier this year at a tournament in Omaha.

"That was a huge stepping stone for us just to see how we can go out there and perform consistently," said Canadian ace Lauren Bay Regula, who should get the start. "That's all we need to do here. Play consistently. We "now we have the ability to be great."

SPORTS TIDBITS

Canada Advances To Soccer Quarter-Finals

Source:
The Canadian Press

(August 12, 2008) BEIJING–Canada's women's soccer team is through to the quarter-finals in its Olympic Games debut. The Canadians advanced to the final eight before they even stepped on the pitch Tuesday, thanks to a 1-0 German victory over North Korea in an early Group F game. The ninth-ranked Canadians wrapped up preliminary-round action against No. 3 Sweden in Group E later in the day at Beijing Workers' Stadium. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals along with the top two third-place teams. The North Koreans were threatening an upset before a Birgit Prinz shot in the 86th minute was bobbled by 'keeper Jon Myong Hui, and substitute Anja Mlttag poked home the win. The Canadians could face several teams in Friday's quarter-finals, depending on the outcome of their game and two other late games – New Zealand versus the U.S., and Norway versus Japan. The Canadians went into their matchup with Sweden tied with China atop Group E with four points. Germany's victory also advanced the host Chinese to the quarter-finals, which are being played at Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao. The Canadians opened the Olympic tournament with a 2-1 win over Argentina, and then played host China to a 1-1 draw.

::FITNESS::

6 Fitness Truths

By Raphael Calzadilla, BA, CPT, ACE, RTS1, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro

Over the years I've written several fitness myths and tips columns. In a quest to simplify things for you, I've decided to provide my favourite ones. If someone said to me that they needed to get in shape and only wanted six tips to carry them through thick and thin, these would be the top six.

In essence, there would be times when this person would get stuck, experience boredom or question why something isn't working. They would then simply come back to the top six and review them. From a workout perspective, I'd be willing to bet they'll find the solution to their issue.

1. Exercise does not require a hefty time commitment. The number of days you work out does not constitute level of fitness. I see a lot of people in the gym five to six days a week, and they'd be better off playing table tennis. Consistency and level of effort is the key. I'd rather see someone work out three days per week with enthusiasm and intensity, than five inconsistent days of lackadaisical effort.

In addition, long workouts are counterproductive. Numerous studies prove that more than one hour of an intense workout increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that, among other things, will assist in destroying muscle. Obviously an elite athlete has to work beyond this mark, but I am referring to the average workout enthusiast.

2. Change your workout. There is no best and only way to work out. In reality, it's all good if it works for you, but you don't want to stay with any of it for too long. The body will adapt to any exercise routine in approximately four to six weeks. The body will become efficient at any workout you give it. At that point, it becomes time to change the workout and get the body challenged again. The muscular system and cardiovascular system need to re-learn new movements when you change a workout. That's when progress accelerates.

3. "No Pain, No Gain" is a myth. There is absolutely no reason to cause pain in the gym. Natural progression is a smart method to ensure progress. This refers to slow and systematic increases in weight training, gradual increases in cardiovascular endurance and slow but steady flexibility progression.

"No pain, no gain" will only put you at risk for injury and diminish your ability to use precise exercise form. I'm not saying you shouldn't challenge yourself, only that you should not view your workout as a form of punishment.

4. Weight-training musts. Vary the volume of sets, time between sets, reps and exercises. Manipulate your routine every three to four weeks and view change as the key constant. Performing the same workout for months is ineffective. You have to not only challenge your muscles but change the adaptation. This takes time to learn, but once you get used to changing your workout every three to four weeks, you'll make great progress.

Beginners should follow a structured program such as eDiets fitness program, which provides a full-body workout on three alternate days per week. This will help to provide a foundation for future progress.

5. Cardiovascular tips. We've been taught that performing cardiovascular exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at a target heart rate of 60 to 80 percent is a great way to lose fat. Yes, it can be. But, what do you do when you know it's not working anymore?

One of the methods I've found successful is interval training. Interval training is best described as incorporating higher-intensity exercise with lower intensity. This method helps stimulate and speed up your metabolism. Intervals can be applied to any form of cardiovascular exercise and although it's been a widely used technique for training competitive athletes since the '50s, the concept grew into mainstream fitness in the '90s.

The beauty of interval training is that you don't have to work out for long periods. Unless you're training for a competitive event, anything longer than 25 to 35 minutes is unnecessary, and that includes warm up and cool down.

Let me show you how it's done.

The following is a protocol for interval training using the treadmill as an example:

Begin with a warm up of five minutes at level 3 intensity (3 mph):

A. On the sixth minute, increase to 4 mph (light jog)
B. On the seventh minute, increase to 5 mph
C. On the eighth minute, increase to level 6.5 or 7 mph
D. For the next two minutes, (minutes nine and ten) return to 3 mph
E. Repeat A-D two additional times, but increase the level of intensity one mile per hour on each phase.
F. Cool down for five minutes at 3 mph

The total workout time including warm up and cool downs is 25 minutes. A-D above represent one cycle. In this example, you perform three cycles of higher-intensity training. If you're at a more advanced fitness level, then you'll need to adjust the speeds and times accordingly to make sure the intensity is somewhat demanding at the higher levels.

This workout can be done on the stationary bike, StairMaster, walking outdoors or using any other form of cardio. For the experienced cardio group, don't think you can jump right into this type of training. Moderation and natural progression are vital. In the morning, you wouldn't get in your car, start it up and immediately try to reach 80 miles an hour.

The beauty of this type of training is, based on the fact you have stimulated your metabolism to such a high degree, you continue to burn calories the day after your workout. Most people are obsessed with how many calories are burned during a workout, but one of the keys to losing fat is making sure your body continues to burn lots of calories 24 to 48 hours after the workout.

Another way to play with your cardio program is to perform interval training for three weeks, followed by longer duration, moderate cardio for three weeks. I like this method because it avoids the adaptation. As you can see, the key is to keep thinking change after three to six weeks.

6. Mind/body exercise. It may not be an exercise tip per se, but we sometimes forget we should move toward activity we enjoy. Exercises such as Pilates, Yoga, stretching and martial arts bridge the gap between simple movement versus movement that also has a calming effect. Even if you don't venture into this arena, you still want to make sure that you improve your level of flexibility by using a stretching program.

As you move toward your goal, you can never forget that dietary consistency will be important. eDiets will arrange a healthy and delicious meal plan for you that will place you at low enough calories to shed fat, but high enough to sustain your energy. Combine this with our online fitness plan that provides great workouts as well as my six top tips and you'll be on your way.

As always, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

::MOTIVATION::

Motivational Note

Sourcewww.eurweb.com
— Mary Kay Ash

"For every failure, there's an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour."