November 13, 2008
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Another week chock full of entertainment news ... take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!
Musical Legend Miriam Makeba Dies
Source: www.thestar.com - Celean Jacobson, The Associated Press
(November 10, 2008) JOHANNESBURG–Miriam Makeba, the South African singer who wooed the world with her sultry voice but was banned from her own country for more than 30 years under apartheid, died after a concert in Italy. She was 76.
In her dazzling career, Makeba performed with musical legends from around the world – jazz maestros Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon – and sang for world leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela.
"Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us," Mandela said in a statement.
He said it was "fitting" that her last moments were spent on stage.
The Pineta Grande clinic in Castel Volturno, near the southern city of Naples, said Makeba died early Monday of a heart attack.
Town Mayor Francesco Nuzzo said Makeba collapsed late Sunday at the end of a concert against organized crime, which has been blamed for the local massacre in September of six immigrants from Ghana.
Makeba had not looked well as she visited an immigrant aid center in Castel Volturno early Sunday afternoon, the mayor said.
The death of "Mama Africa," as she was known, plunged South Africa into shock and mourning.
"One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing," Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said in a statement.
"Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song.''
Makeba wrote in her 1987 memoirs that friends and relatives who first encouraged her to perform compared her voice to that of a nightingale. With her distinctive style combining jazz with folk with South African township rhythms, she was often called "The Empress of African Song.''
The first African woman to win a Grammy award, Makeba started singing in Sophiatown, a cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Johannesburg that was a cultural hotspot in the 1950s before its black residents were forcibly removed by the apartheid government.
She then teamed up with South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela – later her first husband – and her rise to international prominence started when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959.
When she tried to fly home for her mother's funeral the following year, she discovered her passport had been revoked. It was 30 years before she was allowed to return.
In 1963, Makeba appeared before the U.N. Special Committee on Apartheid to call for an international boycott of South Africa. The South African government responded by banning her records, including hits like "Pata Pata,'' "The Click Song'' (``Qongqothwane" in Xhosa), and "Malaika.''
Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1966 together with Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid.
Thanks to her close relationship with Belafonte, she received star status in the United States and performed for President Kennedy at his birthday party in 1962. But she fell briefly out of favour when she married black power activist Stokely Carmichael and moved to Guinea in the late 1960s.
Besides working with Simone and Gillespie, she also appeared with Paul Simon at his "Graceland" concert in Zimbabwe in 1987.
After three decades abroad, Makeba was invited back to South Africa by Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon, shortly after his release from prison in 1990 as white racist rule crumbled.
"It was like a revival," she said about going home. "My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried.''
She insisted that her songs were not deliberately political.
"I'm not a political singer," she insisted in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper earlier this year. "I don't know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us – especially the things that hurt us.''
Makeba announced her retirement three years ago, but despite a series of farewell concerts she never stopped performing. When she turned 75 last year, she said she would sing for as long as possible.
Makeba is survived by her grandchildren, Nelson Lumumba Lee and Zenzi Monique Lee, and her great-grandchildren Lindelani, Ayanda and Kwame.
Acclaimed South African filmmaker Anant Singh, who worked with Makeba on the hit anti-apartheid film Sarafina, was in awe of the singer.
"We acknowledge the huge role she played in bringing global awareness to African music during the time she lived abroad and she will always be remembered as the mother of African music," he told the South African Press Association.
Tributes poured in on morning radio talk shows, with many callers in tears as they recalled her humour and her unrelenting spirit.
"She had been part of my life for a long time. It is a great loss," singer P.J. Powers told radio station 702. "She had a huge soul.''
Teen Actor Thrives In 'Danny Boyle School'
Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard, Movies Editor
(November 08, 2008) Dev Patel can barely contain himself.
Just 18, the London-born star of the movie that won the People's Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival and is generating Oscar buzz, repeatedly apologizes for "going on" as he talks about Slumdog Millionaire, opening Wednesday.
"The thing is, quite frankly, I've never been so passionate about something in my life," says the tall, lanky teen, an untrained actor whose only prior professional job was a year-long run on the British teen dramedy Skins.
His puppyish enthusiasm verges on "pinch me, this can't be real," and made for an interesting contrast with most of the other stars at TIFF, for whom the fest circuit is old hat.
The night before, Patel joined director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Sunshine) and fellow Slumdog cast and crew onstage at Ryerson Theatre to a standing ovation after the film's TIFF premiere. He was still riding that wave as he chatted with the Star in a Yorkville hotel.
"Oh God, it was unbelievable," he marvelled. "It was brilliant, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. My heart was beating at a million miles per hour watching that.
"I felt that acceptance ... they accepted the film and they liked it and the way I portrayed this boy."
"This boy" is Jamal Malik, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who ends up on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to be A Millionaire? His motivation for being on the show is finding lost love Latika (Freida Pinto), but the show's host can't fathom how a poor, uneducated kid – a slumdog – could possibly be able to answer the increasingly difficult questions. The police are called in and Jamal, suspected of being a cheat, faces questioning, which quickly descends into a disturbing torture scene.
"I was worried," Patel admits of filming those dramatic moments. "There's a fine line between when you're getting electrocuted for it to turn into something funny and stupid."
Boyle helped him learn how to make his performance credible, says Patel.
"I didn't know how to pitch my performance to the camera, because there is a difference when you've got a wide angle and a short angle and things like that, which I was oblivious to before," Patel says. "So really I've learned through him to dig deep enough to find that emotion."
Earnest and clearly completely in thrall of his director-mentor, Patel says he devoted himself to learning all he could from Boyle.
"When he's explaining you should see this guy," he says excitedly. "It's almost like he's acting. He's got this thing where he puts his hands through his hair and they all stand up and you see sweating with a mountain of courage. He's pounding it into you what he feels."
That passion helped him understand how to prepare for his role, getting far more of an acting education than any dramatic academy, Patel adds.
"I've gone to the Danny Boyle school. I could never have asked for a better filmmaker to introduce me into the world of movie making."
Patel got so caught up in the desire to do his best, he ended up shooting part of the film with an injured foot, the damage caused during a chase scene in a railway station. But Patel refused to back off and take it easy.
"This is the time in my life. It's just a whole thing of passion," he says. "Working with a crew who is so passionate about it ... it's just amazing, you know? It's brilliant. It really rubs off on you."
An admitted "classroom joker" as a kid, a devoted practitioner of martial arts and fan of Bruce Lee, Patel credits his mother with helping him find his calling as an actor.
He'd done some plays in school "in front of 50 parents" and had the bug, so when his mom spotted an ad in Metro for open auditions for Skins that said no acting experience required, she told her son they were going.
"She told me the day before my science exam, and she was like, `Dev, I'm going to take you to this audition tomorrow,' and I said, `What? You're crazy! This is TV. What are they going to want with a kid like me who's done nothing?' We had this massive argument and to think of it, I was so close to making her just give in and say, `Okay, stay home.'
"But she rode it through, stubborn as hell. She dragged me down and we went there."
Patel still lives in Harrow, a suburb of northwest London, with his parents and sister. His dad is an accountant, his mother a careworker at a centre for the elderly. And he answers "of course" with a grin when asked if he'll be able to go back home to a quieter life after all the attention.
Although he has "no idea" what's next in his career, if Patel has any say in it, he won't be living the quiet life for long.
"Now I've got the taste for it. I just want to get something," Patel says, excitement rising in his voice. "I'd love to get something challenging again, I want to get something meaty.
"I want to work with people who are going to (help me) excel as an actor and form me, like I'm the clay and this director's going to make me into something brilliant."
City Concerns Hit Silver Screen At Regent Park
Source: www.thestar.com - Iain Marlow , Staff Reporter
(November 08, 2008) The Regent Park Film Festival is not Cannes or TIFF and it doesn't want to be: there are no celebrities or red carpets, no champagne and no flowing dresses; the filmmakers are local or independent, the food is from a local Jamaican chef, the screenings are free and there is free child care.
"We replaced the popcorn with jerk chicken. People love it," says Karin Hazé, the festival's director.
The event, which opened Wednesday and closes tonight, screens films that tackle local issues: race, dislocation, immigration, homelessness, poverty and hope for a better future.
"We're serving the community of Regent Park, which is predominantly new Canadians, new immigrants who can't afford and can't go to films," Hazé adds.
In an area where local residents are rarely reflected in art or media – except this past summer, when an activist-artist pasted two-storey portraits of locals onto buildings scheduled for demolition – this festival's films are targeted toward the community's concerns.
Nelson Mandela Park Public School, in the neighbourhood at 440 Shuter St., is hosting the screenings.
The festival started in 2003 with no budget and has grown gradually, doubling its audience by Hazé's estimate.
When it started to win grants and funding – now totalling about $80,000 a year – the four-day festival was turned into a year-round community organization that holds monthly film clubs and has scheduled screenings in women's shelters and community health centres.
Some of the films are from around the world; others are from around the block. Several were directed and produced through local organizations.
One film, in a tremendous bout of self-reflection, follows a kid detective trying to locate a mysteriously missing building, in an obvious nod to the widespread demolition and redevelopment of Regent Park.
The organizers have also expanded the project into 11 local schools. Between Wednesday and yesterday, roughly 1,200 middle school students watched films they otherwise would never have seen – Dutch and French cinema, Canadian and Argentinian animations, Kenyan documentaries.
The organizers hope, with additional funding, to start screenings at schools across Toronto.
One film is about a newly arrived West Indian immigrant child's friendship with a young Canadian girl, said Elizabeth Schaeffer, who helps co-ordinate events for students at Nelson Mandela.
For Regent Park kids, "It's a really, really important opportunity for them to see films with issues you wouldn't typically see in Hollywood films," Schaeffer said.
Biki Kangwana, a film director and trustee of Kenya's slum-tv, which had films showing at the festival, told organizers he wants to take the locally made short films back home – because, he told them, the issues in Regent Park were the same as in Nairobi.
Grace Park's Done Being A Dirty Girl
Source: www.thestar.com - Rob Salem, TV Critic
(November 08, 2008) Grace Park is thrilled to be back on Earth ... and not the other way around.
"It is nice for a change to not be covered with dirt," laughs the stunning Vancouver actor, who spent much of the last five years on Battlestar Galactica knee-deep in more than her share of mud, blood and crud.
Make that way more than her share, having been revealed early on as a covert alien android infiltrator – indeed, several covert alien android infiltrators, mass-produced with hidden agendas and often not even aware of themselves ...
You won't necessarily understand any of that last paragraph. Suffice it to say that this is science fiction. And Park, as Lt. Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, has endured enough extreme trauma and drama to last several lifetimes.
"Crying, dying, losing babies, rebirthing in goo, all that stuff," she recalls with a slight shudder. "I mean, it was fun ... "
But so are makeup and heels. Park is in Toronto now, looking coiffed and kempt and in control as the latest addition to the ensemble cast of the Gemini-nominated immigration enforcement drama The Border (her first episode airs Monday night on CBC).
"This is the perfect departure," she says. "It's like, space ... Earth. Death, murder ... nice clothes and makeup."
And very little dirt. "We do have one episode," she allows, "where I do get a little bit of dirt on my face. And they didn't even have fake dirt! I was like, `What is this? Eye makeup? You are putting eye makeup on my face for fake dirt? What do you do here for fake blood?
"I mean, come on, is this even a real show?'"
"Real" as opposed to, what, wandering uncharted space with the galaxy's most extreme and literal case of multiple personality disorder?
In fact, it doesn't get much more real than the waterfront set of The Border, one of the show's two major standing sound stages. On your way through the adapted studio space to the impressive glass-and-chrome "Immigration and Customs Security" headquarters, you pass by a Canadian Customs booth that looks quite alarmingly official.
Because it is. The facility still functions as a working customs checkpoint for incoming cruise ships.
The show's storylines are similarly rooted in reality. "It's ripped from the headlines," Park enthuses. "It's very current-day, a very smart show. You're dealing with (people from) Somalia, Iraq, China, the Philippines, all over the world. So I think it's very relevant.
"The pace is really fast. You probably have to watch it at least twice before you actually understand what they are saying. You kind of just get the gist ... you're riding the wave, but you don't really know what wave you are riding."
Born in L.A., but a Vancouver resident since the age of 2, Park is once again the transplanted American in her new role as Liz Carver, a Toronto-based U.S. homeland security agent all the way from Idaho.
"She's a good girl," she says, immediately putting considerable distance between it and her interim TV role – filmed as she was wrapping up Battlestar – as sassy sexpot intervention agent Akani Cuesta on the initial season of A&E's The Cleaner.
"(Carver's) dad is a Methodist preacher," she reveals. "You kind of find that out along the way. She had three brothers, so she kind of knows how to hold her own. She was the girl of the family, so she also obviously knows how to be feminine. But she doesn't want to be a guy.
"The girl is ambitious. She loves this job. She wants to do good at it, and she works her way up.
"But when the other characters are, like, `Tell Her Highness that we're ready,' you have an idea of how they see her."
Her family's move to Vancouver proved fortuitous for Park's acting ambitions. She started straight out of high school in the popular high-school drama Edgemont, alongside another future fantasy pin-up girl, Kristin Kreuk, a.k.a. Smallville's super ex-girlfriend, Lana Lang.
Vancouver has long been action-central for imported American genre shows. Park made episodic appearances on almost all of them: The Immortal, The Outer Limits, Dark Angel, Andromeda, The Dead Zone, Stargate SG-1, Jake 2.0 ...
The unlikely 2003 miniseries remake of the '70s sci-fi chestnut, Battlestar Galactica, would have seemed another one-shot proposition, particularly given the initial fan reaction to the "Boomer" role. It was originally played by an African-American male, then recast as a Korean-American/Canadian woman.
But the cult-hit mini went immediately to series, and from there to critically praised pop-culture phenomenon, as the Battlestar faithful quickly came to embrace both Park and her fellow sexually reassigned co-star, Katee Sackhoff, as the badass fighter pilot, "Starbuck."
There is, perhaps, no greater genre validation, in a demographic still dominated by hormone-driven young men, than the fact that both self-professed "Battlestar babes" – along with Alberta-born Tricia Helfer – have become regular fixtures on Maxim magazine's Hot 100 List.
The trade-off was the rather intense, dark and convoluted storyline that made Park's uniquely conflicted character an outcast among outcasts (actually, outcasts among outcasts, but ... oh, never mind).
You wouldn't think she'd miss it. But that wouldn't be taking into account the uniquely familial atmosphere on the now-disassembled Battlestar sets.
Out of necessity, if nothing else. "It's kind of abnormal, I guess, with all that death and dysfunction on screen ... I don't know if that helps or makes it worse.
"But then," she deadpans, "I never said we were a happy family."
She doesn't have to. I've been on set. And even if I hadn't, it shows in the work.
The much-anticipated final 10 episodes of Battlestar's farewell season begin airing on Space in January, followed by a subsequently shot prequel TV-movie.
But for Park and her Galactica pals, the voyage is already over. "It was really sad," she sighs. "When we finished (the final episodes) back in July, we still had all the sound stages up, and all the sets were there and the camera truck was there ..."
But life – terrestrial and otherwise – goes on. "Battlestar overlapped with The Cleaner, and then Cleaner just barely overlapped with The Border, and then Border overlapped with Battlestar again ... so we just did this big circle.
"Going back, finally, I kind of didn't want to get back into all that heavy, dramatic, dark, raw stuff again. I had already realized how much of a departure it's been, to go to these comparatively much lighter shows."
Lighter, and a lot less dirty.
Joseph Boyden wins $50,000 Giller Prize
Source: www.thestar.com - Vit Wagner, Publishing Reporter
(November 12, 2008) Through Black Spruce, the follow-up to Joseph Boyden's acclaimed novel Three Day Road, is this year's winner of this year's $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The announcement was made at a televised gala last night at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel.
"I'm worried that my friends up in Moosonee and Moose Factory weren't watching, but I hope they were because I want to tell them, `This is for you guys, too,'" said Boyden, moments after receiving the award.
"This is for my love of James Bay, my love of the First Nations, my love of the wilderness of Canada and contemporary and urban Canada, too," continued Boyden, 42, a member of the Woodlands Metis raised in Willowdale.
Boyden's novel was chosen ahead of four other finalists: Rawi Hage's Cockroach, Mary Swan's The Boys in the Trees, Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault and Anthony De Sa's Barnacle Love. Each of the runners-up received a cheque for $5,000.
Boyden lives and teaches in New Orleans with his wife, the novelist Amanda Boyden. But he still spends significant portions of each year in Canada, visiting friends and family on the shores of Hudson Bay, where Through Black Spruce is largely set.
The novel, the second book in a projected trilogy, alternates between two perspectives. One involves a trapper, Will, the son of one of the characters in his previous novel, Three Day Road, who is hospitalized with a coma. Sitting for long stretches at his bedside is the novel's other narrator, Will's niece Annie, who describes her search for her missing sister, a successful fashion model.
Winning the Giller "means that I'm allowed to continue writing," Boyden said. "I will always write about the First Nations of Canada. I will always celebrate and be behind the First Nations of Canada. And I will always push the message that we need to heal. We've begun healing. And it's incredibly important."
Asked how he planned to mark the win, Boyden said: "In the short run, I'll celebrate with my family. In the long run, I've been talking about starting up a fellowship for young students in Moose Factory in order to try to help them get into university."
Boyden's 2005 novel, Three Day Road, won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award, as well as being shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Fiction.
In all, jurors Margaret Atwood, Colm Toibin and Bob Rae considered 95 books by 38 publishers across the country.
The Giller, founded by benefactor Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife Doris Giller, a Toronto Star book editor, was first awarded in 1994. Past winners include Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Alice Munro.
Last year, the award went to Elizabeth Hay for Late Nights on Air. Sales of her book jumped 628 per cent in the first week after the announcement of the prize. Vincent Lam's Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, the 2006 winner, experienced a 464 per cent bump in sales.
As a footnote, it was the first time in four years that the "Guess the Giller" poll of public libraries, bookstores, Scotiabank branches, literary festivals and post-secondary institutions – won this year by Swan's novel – failed to correctly predict the eventual winner.
Boyden's win also broke another recent trend: For the past two years it was the second-bestselling book among the Giller nominees that emerged as the winner. If that had held, Cockroach would have won. Prior to last night, Through Black Spruce already ranked as the bestselling book of the five.
The award ceremony will be rebroadcast on CTV today at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m.
in the Sun Review
I was able to check out Soulpepper’s Raisin in the Sun last week at Young Centre for the Performing Arts at the Distillery last week. Have you ever experienced a play where you forgot that these were actors and got completely caught up in the story? This is a rare feat, especially in theatre and I had chills several times. Some brought on but the overt racial injustices, some because of the intangible feeling of despair and then again because of the matriarch’s unstoppable faith. And some were simply because the performances moved me.
While this story is not new to many of us, it took on new meaning and relevance to me because of Obama’s win for presidency, only two days earlier. The parallels and storyline were more poignant as the story is based in Chicago, where the announcement of the first Black President of the U.S. took place.
Will a financial windfall change the future of this family or will it destroy its ingrained sense of survival? Just when you thought all was lost, there were underlying currents of optimism for a future despite the past. Were these not recurring themes in Obama’s campaign?
I can’t even pick out a favourite performance as each one was so powerful and completely exhilarating.
The play speaks on our responsibility to seeing the human race as one united family despite the pangs of doubt and distrust performed fervently and without restraint by Charles Officer, playing Walter Lee Younger, a man struggling to find his place in the world but imprisoned in his own home. His performance was palpable at times. The ‘conductor’ of the family was well-rooted in the matriarch of the family, Lena Younger, performed by Dora award-winning Alison Sealy-Smith. Hearts break when the mere suggestion of despair seems to claim her.
Lest we forget performances by Awaovieyi Agie in the role of Joseph Asagai, the sexy Nigerian betting for the affections of the ‘independent thinker’ Beneatha Younger, played by the riveting and statuesque beauty, Cara Ricketts. And what could have easily been downplayed as the submissive housewife and mother, Ruth Younger burst out in the performance by Abena Malika, former background singer for jacksoul. Nosy neighbour was played Barbara Barnes Hopkins, Michael Blake plays suitor George Murchison and Diego Matamoros plays the offensive character who pretends to be ‘politically correct’ but loses the battle. Kofi Payton plays young Travis with enthusiasm and surprising experience for such a young actor. Matthew Kabwe plays Walter Lee’s remorseful business partner, Bobo.
I’ve always been drawn to this story and even had the opportunity to interview the director of the TV production, Kenny Leon, starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan, to name a few.
You only have a couple of days left to catch this ‘must-see’ play which still carries a strong impact and relevance today. The production wraps up on November 15th.
Welcome To The Culture Of Cute
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Julie Traves
(October 31, 2008) Gwen Stefani got here first.
I hate to admit that. The singer, after all, co-opted Tokyo street style for banal girlie pop, then hired four Japanese girls as her own entourage-slash-accessories — and last month launched a line of perfume inspired by their edgy subculture.
Doesn't turning rebel teenagers into brands sound just a bit like exploitation?
Except that Harajuku Girls like these love the attention. Come to their catwalk — centred on the bridge between a shrine and a high-end shopping area in Tokyo — and you'll see them preening and posing for tourists.
Many are tweens from the suburbs, and their looks change as fast as their moods. But there are a few constants: Bows are big. So are knee-highs and Little Bo Peeps with lacy bonnets. And some girls, so-called Goth-Lolis, mix up their Lolita looks with dog collars.
This is the strange reality of kawaii — the Japanese culture of cute. Because these girls aren't mere curiosities or fashion victims. Kawaii (pronounced ka-why-ee) is not just for kids. Nor is it a passing fad in this fad-obsessed country.
Kawaii is a larger sensibility that stands for youth and style, but also all that is sweet, harmonious and wholesome. And it permeates every aspect of Japanese life — from entertainment to design to sexuality.
As David Wagner, a culture and communications expert in Tokyo tells me, cute is "ingrained in the Japanese psyche."
This could explain why the army and the Tokyo police force have cartoon mascots. And why earlier this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed the character Doraemon — an animated cat — as its cultural ambassador.
In other words, Gwen got it right. For a glimpse of the real Japan, you have to see this country's "fatal attraction to cuteness," as the song goes, for yourself.
THE MUSEUM OF CUTE
That means taking an ad-hoc tour of Tokyo, because what has been described as the "hegemony of cute" here isn't always easy to pin down. Kawaii is everywhere and nowhere all at once.
There is certainly nothing overtly adorable about a city dominated by concrete, glass and neon. When I first arrive, in fact, I feel like one of the characters in Lost in Translation, alienated and slightly paralyzed by the city's immensity.
But eventually I shake off my jet lag and make out finer details. That salaryman on the subway has a tiny Snoopy charm hanging from his cellphone. Magazines such as Cutie pop from newsstands. Then there are those cartoons. Everywhere.
"Japan is anime culture," says my friend Misako Iizumi, a 33-year-old sales assistant at Tokyo Visa.
So I start with Ghibli Museum, run by Hayao Miyazaki, the granddaddy of Japanese animation. It's not quite what I expect. I don't see hordes of hipsters paying homage to the man behind films such as My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. The exhibits — a super-kawaii "cat bus," a "boy's workshop" with the filmmaker's sketches and paintings, and a maze of child-sized corridors and stairwells — are mainly aimed at visitors under 10.
But coming here does remind me why being cute can be so appealing: The wide-eyed characters in anime films demand to be taken care of, to be protected. They can be plucky and adventurous, but when things get rough, they moue a bit and … everything turns out okay.
Another plus to Ghibli: It's smack in the middle of a residential area about 30 minutes from Tokyo, where you can see kawaii's effect in context. Because when Miyazaki's fans grow up, there's a lot of pressure to conform, to make everything okay. The streets are immaculate. The homes are tiny and uniform. Even the joggers look cool and pressed, as if they're holding back from sweating. And this is where you come home to unwind from the brutal work world.
Enter kawaii, a kind of cultural Prozac. As Iizumi tells me: "When I look at cute things, lovely things, that makes me feel relieved. It's like a pet. They cure our wounded soul."
Best of all, while looking and acting cute offers escape from the rigidity of adult life, it doesn't upset the larger social order. Kawaii icons don't rebel — Hello Kitty doesn't even have a mouth. They just paint the world a happy shade of pink.
To explain this, Wagner says, it helps to consider one of the basic values of Japanese culture: harmony. "Japanese don't like conflict," he says. "They avoid it and prefer to just look at the beauty of things, instead of, sometimes, the reality."
At the very least, theories like these make sense of Ghibli's mission to be "a museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul." And of grown women posing for photos at Sanrio Puroland — a Hello Kitty theme park on the edge of town.
Or why not indulge your inner Harajuku Girl with a little kawaii-themed retail therapy?
For that, you can head to Takeshita-dori, the pedestrian street near the bridge where the girls pout for pictures. This is where you'll find staples for looks such as ero-kawaii (erotic cute) and kimo-kawaii (creepy cute). Nearby is the five-storey kawaii emporium Kiddyland, where plenty of adults jostle for dolls and toys and stuffed bears in little sleeping bags.
Or concentrate on the "109" building in Shibuya. A landmark in this neon-washed downtown hub — known for the highest concentration of love hotels in the city as well its youth-culture scene — this tower of boutiques caters mainly to gyaru, or gals.
From what I can tell, these are Harajuku Girls minus the angst (average age: 16; average skirt length: 16 inches) and they come here to rifle through Cute & Street brand knee socks and T-shirts with smiley faces at shops such as Tralala and Pinky Girls.
As for those of us past our "pinky girl" prime, there are lots of kawaii finds at traditional department stores in the Ginza district.
At Mitsukoshi, for instance, the housewares department stocks designer towelettes with little cat ears. Downstairs, sleek OLs — or Office Ladies — line up for expensive French pastries shaped like piglets and bunnies.
And there is kawaii fashion for men. Hello Kitty makes cheeky men's briefs with "Caress me deadly" written on the butt. Hipsters often wear their anime passions on their sleeves and shoes and jackets.
A better bet to see the male take on cute, though, is at a maid café.
According to my translator, James Yellowlees, an expatriate who runs an HR consulting firm in Tokyo, there's a large spectrum of coddling in Japan: a tradition of fawning servant-escorts that extends from refined geishas to hostesses to fake maids.
And in Tokyo, Akihabara is the district where computer geeks in their 20s and 30s come for the latest tech goodies, manga — and some pampering from a maid.
This doesn't mean prostitution. Yet there's clearly something sexual about the girls outside Akihabara Station, promoting cafés in their skimpy French maid uniforms. As we head down a side street to a curtained second-storey joint called Royal Milk, I feel a bit apprehensive.
But the inside is charmless more than seedy. The tabletops are plastic. Fluorescent lights buzz from a particle board ceiling. The only frills are a TV showing anime and photos of the house maids.
Plus, of course, the maids themselves. Usually they wear ruffled headbands, high-heeled Mary Janes and the requisite knee-highs — but customers can pay maids to put on schoolgirl outfits, or to dress up like their favourite anime characters.
"Cuteness is the most important thing," the manager says.
And the cutie-pie treatment. Just ring the tiny white bell at your table. One of the maids will come over, crouching down in deference, to take your order. On the menu are dishes like the Royal Milk Omelet — which your maid will top with a happy face in ketchup if you desire.
It's hard not to chalk one up for critics of kawaii, who say the Japanese obsession with cute isn't therapeutic, it's infantilizing. Being a male burikko (or fake child) doesn't seem to promote harmony so much as narcissism.
Or maybe some kink. Pay extra and you can get a massage or a facial in a back room, which I'm not invited to see. Shell out $75 and you can also hang out with the maids (but nothing more) for half an hour. Mostly, the manager tells me, his clients are "maniacs" for anime: "They want to talk to women who share that obsession."
The maids claim they do. For instance, Matsumi Ashkawa, who has worked here full-time for the past two years, says she loves a game about a former ruler trying to recover his kingdom.
And Matsumi gets kawaii. When I ask her how old she is, she says 17.
"They're all 17," she says, pointing to her colleagues. "They all have a young heart."
Kawaii Cute. And youthful. And sweet. Pronounced like Hawaii.
Kimo-kawaii Creepy cute.
Ero-Kawaii Erotic cute. As if the usual knee-high socks with bows at the thighs aren't erotic enough.
Goth Lolis "Loli" for Lolita, mixed up with a Goth aesthetic.
Burikko The term for fake child, often aimed at women who talk in cutesy ways.
Iyashi Healing. Arguably a side effect of cute, cuddly things.
Mamasan A motherly hostess who fawns over customers at "snack bars." See also: Maid cafés and geisha.
Otaku An extreme geek (sometimes the word refers to a shut-in) who is obsessed with anime, gaming and technology in general.
PACK YOUR BAGS
Air Canada (aircanada.com) and All Nippon Airways (ana.co.up) fly direct to Tokyo from Toronto and Vancouver. Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) generally routes through Hong Kong.
WHERE TO STAY
CERULEAN TOWER TOKYU HOTEL 26-1 Sakuragaoka-cho; 81 (3) 3476 3000; ceruleantowerhotel.com. Rooms aren't cheap (singles start at $560), but this hotel is located in the heart of Shibuya.
PARK HOTEL 1-7-1 Higashi Shimbashi; 81 (3) 6252 1111; parkhoteltokyo.com. A moderately priced option in the city's business centre with rooms from $220.
TOURSELITE ORIENT TOURS 800-668-8100; elitetours.com. This Toronto-based tour company offers a number of hotel/airfare packages to Tokyo, as well as larger tours of Japan. Prices for a flight and five-night stay in Tokyo start at $1,488 a person.
WHAT TO SEE
GHIBLI MUSEUM 1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka; ghibli-museum.jp. Hayao Miyazaki's curiosity cabinet-cum-museum. Big with kids and anime fanatics. But you must reserve in advance; Canadians can order tickets through JTB International (jtbi.ca) for $10 plus service fees.
SANRIO PUROLAND 1-3 Ochiai, Tama-city; 81 (42) 339 1111; puroland.co.jp. Run by Sanrio, the manufacturers of Hello Kitty and other ultra-cute characters, this theme park is a good 40-minute train ride from central Tokyo. It's worth it, though, if you're dying to see Kitty's Pepto Bismol boudoir or only-in-Japan products. Tickets are $38.
ROYAL MILK 81 (30 3253 7858; r-milk.com. This is just one of many maid cafés in Akihabara. Come here to chat with maids (for a fee) or just get them to "put sugar and milk in your tea for you" for $9.
HARAJUKU To see the Harajuku Girls, head to the bridge just outside Harajuku Station (between the Meiji Jingu shrine and Omotesando Street). Or go to Takeshita Street for your own kawaii outfits.
KIDDYLAND 6-1-9 Jingu-mae; 81 (3) 3409 3431. This is the toy store for kids — and for adults in search of a little cute therapy. MITSUKOSHI 1-4-1 Nihombashi Muromachi; 81 (3) 3241 3311. Japan's oldest department store carries kawaii towels and adorable edibles. Or come when the doors open to see utterly cute salesgirls perform their daily welcome ritual. MORE INFORMATION For more Tokyo attractions,visit jnto.go.jp.
Canadian Bass-Baritone John
Relyea Prepares To Play Méphistophélès At The Met
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Simon Houpt
(November 06, 2008) NEW YORK — John Relyea is supposed to be mulling the temptations of the soul, but what he really wants to do is talk about New York public schools. The Toronto-born Relyea and his wife moved to Rhode Island eight years ago, when his salary as an apprentice at the Metropolitan Opera didn't stretch very far and a rural outpost was all they could afford. But with his career now on solid footing - his role as Méphistophélès in Robert Lepage's production of Hector Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust, which premieres tomorrow night, is about the 20th primary role he will play at the Met - Relyea and his wife are contemplating a move to New York.
Still, though opera singers often lead the life of the jet set, quotidian concerns reassert the fact they are mortal. Relyea has two sons, 7 and 5. "We travel a lot for work, but we still have to put our kids through school," he says with a grim chuckle. And private school in New York, at about $30,000 per kid per year, is pretty much out of the question.
Fathers and sons come up a lot when you talk to Relyea. His dad is noted Canadian singer Gary Relyea; both are bass-baritones. (His mother is soprano Anna Tamm-Relyea.) For the first two or three years of John's formal training, beginning at the age of 17, Gary was his teacher. Last year, John got his parents a subscription to Sirius Satellite Radio, which has a channel carrying live Met broadcasts, "so they can tune in whenever I'm onstage and give me notes later," Relyea says with a laugh. "He'll forever be my voice teacher, whether I'm studying with someone else or not."
Relyea is sitting now in a hallway tucked behind the main lobby of the Met theatre, surrounded by the quiet industry of backstage. One worker vacuums the carpet while stage technicians who have just come from the auditorium strut by, their key chains jangling. He is nursing a mild cold, which is not enough to throw him off his easygoing manner. Next to him, a glass case holds a few mementos from the Met's history, including the shirt of a Méphistophélès costume from the 1906 production of Faust, the only time the opera was staged here.
Relyea would have a tough time fitting into that outfit. At 36, he is a strapping 6-foot-4. Onstage in Faust, he uses the length of his body like a serpent, coiling and uncoiling to reel in his unsuspecting prey, played by Marcello Giordani. (Susan Graham stars as Faust's doomed lover, Marguerite.) Over the past few years, Relyea has built a reputation for nasty manipulators, including Garibaldo in Handel's Rodelinda and Kaspar in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz at last year's Salzburg Festival. (Having sold his soul to the Devil, that character tries to substitute someone else in the deal.)
"I just think they're a lot of fun," Relyea says with a chuckle. "Their motivations are so clear-cut and there's little in the way of inner conflict, and I kind of like that. It's a very electric feeling, you know, when you have such direct purpose onstage."
Quite often, he notes, basses like himself end up as priests or kings, "compassionate characters who are more thoughtful, introspective," which makes the evil roles so delicious.
And though there is a singular motivation, "Méphistophélès actually has a lot of levels: He has sarcasm, he's ironic, he's funny; he's not just bad, evil, mean." In fact, Relyea doesn't turn truly nasty until the final scenes, when he effectively steals Faust's soul out from under him.
Faust will be broadcast live into cinemas on Nov. 22 as part of the Met's popular HD series, including many Canadian theatres. But though Relyea began his career in Canada, singing with orchestras from the age of 20, and he will even appear later at the Seattle Opera in a production that originated at the Canadian Opera Company - Lepage's Bluebeard's Castle - he has yet to sing with the COC itself.
"I never really got called," he shrugs. "I guess we'll see, depending on what happens with the new regime there. I'd love to come and sing in the new opera house. I've heard great things about it.
"It'd be nice to go there and do something I haven't done anywhere else," he adds. It would also mean that his parents, who live in Stratford, wouldn't have as far to drive to see him perform. Though they often come to New York to see him at the Met, they're going to miss tomorrow's opening-night performance of Faust because they have more prosaic obligations to fulfill: babysitting their grandsons, so Relyea's wife can catch him in the first couple of shows, tomorrow and Monday. And, maybe, talk to people about schools.
Canadian visionary makes Met debut
Canadian theatre whiz Robert Lepage makes his Metropolitan Opera directing debut tomorrow night with his production of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust, a high-tech feast featuring digital projections that respond to the live music and the performers onstage. The production has evolved since Lepage and his Quebec City-based company of creative technicians, Ex Machina, first staged it in Japan in 1999 and later in Paris. After a public dress rehearsal on Tuesday, Lepage spoke with the Met's radio host Margaret Juntwait for an onstage Q&A. Some excerpts:
Juntwait: How do you make the technological magic happen?
Lepage: We've been working with new tools that all have to do with interaction. Most of the images you've seen today, or most of the textures, are triggered by the music coming from the pit, by the singers, or by body movement. ... At the very top, in the prologue, the birds fly high or low, close or far, fast or slow, depending on the pitch, depending on the volume, depending on the drive of the orchestra, so when the orchestra swells, the flock of birds swells also.
Juntwait: There were earlier productions in Japan and Paris. I could imagine, given the changes in technology, that it has changed since then.
Lepage: It has, but most of the ideas that you witnessed today were there 10, 11 years ago when we started to work on The Damnation of Faust. The problem is the technology was not around. ... now there are tools sensitive enough and the technology is more user-friendly to be able to live up to those early ambitions.
Juntwait: Do you have a sense of what's next for you with these technologies?
Lepage: I don't want to give anything away, but we - and when I say we I mean my company, Ex Machina, who are devising all of those things - we are staging the Ring for 2010, 2011, 2012, and of course this is a bit of a dress rehearsal for us, an attempt to see how these thing react in this kind of opera house.
Sam Roberts Takes Another Stab At International Scene
Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic
(November 11, 2008) Sam Roberts offers a realistic assessment of the international profile he and his band enjoy in comparison to their many friends in the endlessly au courant Canadian indie scene.
"Whenever we go to Europe or the States, they're always talking about Canadians, so it's kind of like: `Why have we never heard of you?'" laughs the Montreal rocker during a day off in Toronto yesterday. (Tonight the Sam Roberts Band kicks off a four-night stand with The Stills at the Danforth Music Hall. The other shows follow on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.)
Yes, travelling beyond these borders can be a humbling experience for Roberts, who has been a staple of rock radio and on the main stages of events like Edgefest in his home country since scoring a left-field hit with the indelible "Brother Down" in 2002.
Stateside, it's been a different story, as Rounder Records has just signed on as the fourth U.S. label in five years to take on a Roberts record. It will release this year's fine disc Love at the End of the World (released this spring by Universal Music in Canada) in February, at the same time as the affiliated Decca Records takes up the challenge of putting the album out overseas.
The affable Roberts has learned to reserve mild expectations for his music's exportability, but he's putting an optimistic face on the matter.
"Rounder just put out that Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album, so that's paying for them to release our album and for us to do what we do and either sell or not sell records," he says modestly. "As much as things always seem to fall apart with our labels, there seems to be enough momentum that we might have another shot.
"The same goes for Europe. We actually have a plan this time, to release an album by a company that actually seems to like the record and then go over it and support it by playing live. It seems fundamental, but it's not as easy to do as you might think. There seems to be some goodwill out there, so we're going to capitalize on it."
This process, mind you, will ensure that the Sam Roberts Band – which has only paused in its touring schedule once since the new disc came out to allow guitarist Dave Nugent time to have a baby this summer – gets to spend very little time at home once its current Canadian tour ends in late January.
It's a grind, and no doubt a strain on Roberts's personal life, since his own daughter was born in January 2007. But while devoting another year to promoting Love at the End of the World seems "an eternity in musical terms," he says, it will only serve to make the band's storied live show that much sharper in the long run.
It should also make for better Sam Roberts records, since the band feels it was only just beginning to harness the range and volatility of its performances – which effortlessly mingle shaggy-dog everyman pop-rock with psychedelic moon shots – on the last album.
"That unpredictability is kind of built into the way we play. It started off because we didn't have a choice in the matter, but we've learned to harness that spontaneity. We've spent the better part of the last decade on tour and kind of honing that elasticity," says Roberts, noting that much of the recording was tracked live off the floor. The rambling "Detroit '67," in fact, was the first tune the band ever taped completely live, vocal take and all.
"I try not to think too much of what I'm going for when I'm trying to write, but it seems a natural progression, at this point, to shrink the gap between what we do onstage and what we do in the studio," he says. "I don't think we've got that gap narrow enough yet, but there's a lot more `stage' and a lot less `studio' on the new record."
Idina Menzel: Wicked's Witch Wants Her Freedom
Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic
(November 09, 2008) Having barely made a dent in the pop market with three solo albums, Idina Menzel still managed to fill The Music Hall to three-quarters Friday night on the strength of star turns in the Broadway blockbusters Rent and Wicked.
Though the one-time wedding singer offered up a soulful version of "Embraceable You," the Tony award winner's 90-minute set drew primarily from current album I Stand, a collection of inspirational adult pop tunes mostly co-written with top producer Glen Ballard, best known for Alanis Morissette's mega-selling Jagged Little Pill.
The lyrically weighty songs' lack of distinctive melodies rendered them generic on disc, but in performance Menzel's theatricality and powerhouse vocals give them new life. Backed by a six-piece band, the 37-year-old New Yorker was casually dressed: in paint-splattered, ripped knee jeans, a ruffled, belly-skimming white shirt, fitted grey jacket, sensible shoes and with her long dark hair parted in the middle. She's Nelly Furtado adorable and Morissette intense with a voice that soars to show stopping heights but also resonates in lower registers.
Refreshingly unscripted, Menzel was playful and outspoken, encouraging banter from the audience and openly chewing candy. The entertainer riffed on topics ranging from her marriage to actor Taye Diggs ("The longer you're together, the stronger you get") to her elation about Barack Obama's election.
She also took shots at her record label, Warner – "sorry if anybody from the record company is here" – for insufficient Canadian promotion of I Stand, which spawned the Top 20 single "Brave" in the U.S.
Menzel excels in subdued arrangements, such as the beautiful Diggs-inspired ballad "Where Do I Begin," delivered while seated on a stool. But the singer who came to the fore playing larger-than-life roles like Wicked's witch Elphaba chafed under the constraints of stillness, rubbing her knee and picking at her clothes throughout the tune.
She seemed much more comfortable playing the free spirit, flitting about the stage in jerky, unchoreographed movements she ridiculed. Those segments may have lacked focus, but Menzel is a confident performer with an authentic voice and way of expressing it.
Size Doesn't Matter To Sexed-Up Usher
Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic
(November 10, 2008) In the wake of disappointing sales of current disc Here I Stand, Usher is playing up his sex symbol image to a core constituency.
The Atlanta-based R&B singer who sold out the Air Canada Centre twice in 2004 on the strength of nine million disc-selling, four No. 1 singles-yielding Confessions, performed at Kool Haus Saturday night for a capacity crowd of 2,150 on his 14-city One Night Stand: Ladies Only club tour.
The healthy complement of men who turned out for the $79.50 show, which only suggested the gender restriction, were subjected to a two-hour striptease. I lost count of how many times Usher's jacket, shirt, vest and undershirt were removed and replaced, either by him or a barely clad dancer. And yes, the 30-year-old married father is still sporting washboard abs.
He began the concert with "Intro" and "Love in This Club" from Here I Stand and included hits from other discs, but songs from Confessions – "Yeah," "Caught Up" – garnered the biggest responses.
Accompanied by four dancers and an eight-piece band set back on a riser, Usher played piano, rapped, executed deft mic tricks and showcased slick dance moves comprised of James Brown shuffles, Michael Jackson crotch jabs, and his own brand of pop-and-lock gymnastics.
Some gimmicks didn't work: a cigar kept going out and the search for an age-appropriate audience member to bring onstage turned into a 25-minute yawn.
Even without the bells and whistles of his arena shows, the suave song-and-dance man with the nimble falsetto is still exciting to watch.
The real question is whether this small-change tour can help resurrect his diminished brand.
Although it's a fine record, tipped to the performer's new roles as husband, father and social activist, sluggish sales (just over a million copies) of Here I Stand hampered his ability to sell out 10,000-plus seaters this time around.
Was poor promotion to blame or a disinterested base of giddy girls who were not ready for the all-growed-up Usher who appeared on magazine covers with his wife and infant son?
When things went awry, the singer rehired mom-manager Jonnetta Patton, who'd guided his career since he signed his first record contract at 14 and whom he'd replaced last year.
Now Usher is said to be at work on a new album and on this super-sexed, female-focused tour, which recalls his wild, supermodel-dating past.
There was no mention of wife or kids during the show, and just as well I couldn't see whether he was wearing a wedding ring given the optics: onstage canoodling with a fan and a bikini-clad dancer grinding her butt inches from his face.
Maybe that's what Usher fans want; after all, Here I Stand's only No. 1 single was a randy romp about having sex in a nightclub.
Maybe mother knows best.
Insideamind See The Turntable As More Than Just A DJ Tool
Source: www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar, Entertainment Reporter
(November 06, 2008) They describe themselves as "musicians with turntables" and while to some that may seem like an oxymoron, local duo Insideamind is out to change the perception of what a DJ performance can be.
Made up of Cheldon Paterson (a.k.a. Professor Fingers) and Erik Laar (a.k.a. Steptone), tonight Insideamind are releasing Scatterpopia, a headphone masterpiece of an album that blends echoes of jazz, hip hop, ambient and experimental music all borne from the manipulation of their chosen instrument.
"The turntable has always been thought of as that hip-hop instrument, and while we still have ties with whatever people call hip hop these days, I think the turntable has always been that thing that's been used to break rules," says Laar, 28. "It was never meant to be used to scratch or manipulate records, it was just supposed to be used to play them, so for me, it's always been part of that culture of rebellion.
"The job of people with turntables is to always flip things up in some way, so whether it's crossing genres or just playing with sounds in different ways, that's what we get off on."
To that end, beyond just using samples of breaks records to create the funky soundscapes on Scatterpopia, Paterson says they looked for new ways to use the device to create sounds.
"We were just trying to gather different sound sources, whether it be actually using records or just any part of the turntable, you know, like tapping on it or touching the needle, stuff like that," he says. "A lot the drums were things like touching the needle, hitting the turntable and then going in and adding effects to it to make it kind of sound somewhat similar to a kick drum or a snare. ... Our whole thing is experimenting with noise."
What about that strange title, Scatterpopia? The boys say the word describes a mythical dreamland they came up with where turntables grow on trees. While it sounds a bit goofy, the idea plays on their attempt to mix electronic sounds with the organic. Much of the album was recorded in cottage country north of the city, and the guys cite artists Kid Koala, Matthew Herbert and Björk as influences.
Most of the record consists of beat-filled soundscapes, but the duo also makes judicious use of top-notch guests. Local improv musician Colin Fisher plays saxophone on the wobbly "Broken Toy." Local indie darling Laura Barrett sings on the otherworldly ballad "The Tiniest Spy," and British spoken-word artist Sarah Sayeed raps on "Whispering Through Windows." Montreal beat-maker Ghislain Poirier also amps things up on "Twilight Harvest."
As well, the duo does more than just drop the needle when it performs, trying to create more of a theatrical stage presence, with choreographed moves and small skits.
"We do have our moves, and we're stretching things out, doing a bit more stage performance and acting things out from the record. We really enjoy the bigger stages because we like taking advantage of the entire space," says Paterson. Expect to see some of those theatrics at Lee's Palace tonight. Their eventual goal, they say, is to add dancers and other performers, and take the whole show on tour.
"It will hopefully be more of a play," says Laar. "I guess I'd rather not call it a musical – hopefully we can come up with something a bit cooler than that."
Just the facts
WHAT: Insideamind album release party, with guests LAL, Peter Project
WHERE: Lee's Palace, 529 Bloor W.
WHEN: Tonight. Doors at 8:30
TICKETS: $8 at the door
Joan Baez Hasn't Lost Faith In The Power Of Song – Today's Youth Just
Need An Anthem
Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist
(November 08, 2008) Joan Baez still believes in the power of song, but the poster child of the 1960s folk-based protest movement – her soaring soprano used to liberate thousands of voices with a single pass through "Kumbaya" – is a little more cynical these days.
"There has been a long dry spell, too long," she says, during a phone conversation from her California home, about the absence in contemporary popular music of songs with any kind of social or political message at all.
"There are the rappers, of course ... but the message is always anger. Music seems to have become very self-centred in the years since Reagan. I think it's hard for kids to find common ground, or classmates in school who care enough to speak up or to join an organization like Amnesty International.
"They need someone to write them an anthem."
There was no shortage of anthems in Baez's heyday, when America was embroiled in a struggle for civil rights and a war in Vietnam. Bob Dylan was the prophet prince of protest music, and Baez was his stunning, raven-haired acolyte and chief interpreter.
The times haven't changed as much as Baez and her boomer audience once hoped. And even if someone did manage to write a universally acceptable new protest anthem, who would sing along? Communal vocalizing isn't cool in the new millennium.
"It doesn't have to be a song," says Baez, who's performing at Massey Hall tonight with guitarist John Doyle, bassist Todd Phillips and multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. "It could be an idea, a way of thinking about things.
"Maybe because Barack Obama has already changed so much in the way young people are thinking about the world, they can put (his ideas) to use. Something, anything will work as an instrument for social change.
"It's hard to be optimistic, but you can give hope to the hopeless."
Baez, who has always refrained from endorsing political candidates but made a big deal this year about giving her nod to Obama – "for what it's worth" – says she was moved beyond words when Ralph Stanley, the great white, Southern folk and country music patriarch, a living symbol of American conservatism, came out on the Illinois senator's side.
"Just coping with how we got to this point, to electing a black president ... it's like The Twilight Zone," she says on the eve of Tuesday's election. "I'm anxious and hopeful. We've never come this far before."
Baez and her boomer peers may be able to take some credit for musically voicing ideas that would take root 40 years on. But she'd like to remind us that the power of song moves in mysterious ways, not always to improve the human spirit.
"Songs have always played a part in revolutionary behaviour – singing moves people, even the bad guys," Baez says.
"In the worst case I can remember, I was in Thailand and needed a helicopter to get to my next stop, over the Cambodian border. The man in charge was a colonel, a guy so evil he would have cooked his own mother. He told me I could have a helicopter if I sang him a song ... and for a while I wasn't inclined to negotiate. Finally, I gave in and sang a few verses of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." His eyes went cold ... he seemed to be somewhere else ... but I got the helicopter."
Baez is still relishing the praise being heaped on her new album, Day After Tomorrow, recorded in Nashville by songwriter and outspoken political activist Steve Earle. Songs of conscience – four of them written by Earle – dominate the largely acoustic folk/country collection, Baez's 50th, and her first studio effort in five years. "It's doing really well," she says. "I just got back from Europe, and the halls were packed everywhere. I think it's because it's a new flavour and style for me."
The singer can't remember whose idea it was to team up with Earle, "but it was the right idea.
"I'd met him before ... we've toured together in some places, but I didn't really get to know him until we got into the studio. I was apprehensive. I'd been told he's volatile. He turned out to be very intense, and a compulsive talker, but he has so much to say ... he knows so much."
Particularly about socialist politics. "I call him `Pinko,'" she says, laughing. "His politics are definitely on the left of mine."
Just the facts
WHO: Joan Baez
WHEN: Tonight, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Massey hall, Shuter St. and Victoria St.
TICKETS: $49.50-$69.50 at roythomson.com and 416-872-4255
Jonathan Edwards A Genuine Troubadour At Heart
Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist
(November 06, 2008) For Jonathan Edwards there's always a new beginning.
A genuine troubadour at heart, the one-time prince of the New England folk kingdom – his boom-era hits include "Sunshine," "Shanty" and "Red Light, Green Light," the latter a co-write with the late Tim Hardin – Edwards, 62, seems unencumbered by conventional ambition and several brief affairs with fame.
"I never really stopped playing, but I did take a 10-year hiatus in the Caribbean, layin' around the shanty getting a good buzz on," he said during a phone conversation last week.
"I'd come up to New England for a few gigs in the summer, and spend the rest of my time writing stuff that never got played. I was married to a woman (who) didn't want to hear songs that weren't about her."
That's behind him now, along with other stored baggage that includes some wonderful musical highs: a recording and performing partnership with Emmylou Harris and her then-husband, Canadian producer Brian Ahern, for a while in the mid-1970s that led to a major label deal, followed by lots of touring, and an amazing collaboration, Blue Ridge, with primo bluegrass band Seldom Scene in the early 1980s.
After each episode in his musical life, Edwards just drifted away, never really showing any interest in sticking to a career plan.
Edwards, who's performing at Hugh's Room tonight with his band, was seen in many U.S. cities on last summer's Hippiefest tour bill, with Cream's Jack Bruce, Eric Burdon and The Animals, The Turtles Featuring Flo and Eddie, Janis Ian and Badfinger.
"They threw me on first – alone – for four songs," he said. "It was tough at first, but ended up being a lot of fun."
Edwards is used to performing solo under less than luxurious circumstances.
Sometimes the payoff is surprisingly beneficial. He was stunned to discover, a few years back, that some old concert bootlegs of him and Harris had found their way onto Dutch radio and that he had a huge and well-attuned following there.
"The first time I went to Holland they were singing along with the songs," he said. "I didn't know this audience existed."
Subsequent tours there cemented friendships with promoters, venue owners, record distributors and bookers, and in November last year yielded the album Rollin' Along: Live in Holland.
"I'm really happy with the live album," Edwards said. "The producers paid very close attention to the sound of my guitar and vocals. It sounds full and rich, but has all the energy you expect from a live record.
"And some of those songs I hadn't played in years. It was fun rediscovering them."
Next on Edwards' agenda is finishing the soundtrack for the Daniel Adams movie Chatham, about three retired mariners (played by Bruce Dern, Rip Torn and David Carradine) who advertise for a mail-order wife/housekeeper (Mariel Hemingway) in a New England fishing village in 1905.
"I'm doing it all with traditional instruments, all acoustic. I love doing movie soundtracks. ... I hope I get to do more."
Just the facts
WHO: Jonathan Edwards
WHEN: Tonight at 8:30
WHERE: Hugh's Room, 2261 Dundas St. W.
TICKETS: $27.50 at 416-531-6604, $30 at the door
Guinand Takes Music To South American Slums
Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic
(November 08, 2008) An encounter with Maria Guinand is a life-changing experience – for the interviewer as much as for the children and adults she works with every day.
Neither politician, news anchor, supermodel or actor, Guinand brings hope to children living so far below the poverty line that they don't even show up in official stats.
She does it with music.
She also helps spread the gospel of music well beyond the boundaries of Latin America and her home country of Venezuela.
Last night, Guinand was to lead nearly 200 young singers in University Voices 2008 at Metropolitan United Church. Presented by Soundstreams, the program celebrated music of the Americas.
It also supported Guinand's work in the Andes – $1 from every ticket went to Guinand's Construir Cantando foundation, based in her hometown of Caracas.
Behind the wavy grey hair and twinkling eyes is a steely resolve that brooks no complacency in her main choir, the Schola Cantorum, or the dozens of satellite ensembles the organization has set up in the slums and hinterlands of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
Nor does Guinand allow hearts to bleed for kids whose homes have a dirt floor and for who a bowl of rice and beans is a day's eating.
Guinand tells of one music teacher, one with "a big heart."
"Whenever I went to her school, at the beginning, she'd say, `Oh, Maria, these children have the most difficult lives. They have been beaten by their parents, and that one is abandoned.'"
All Guinand wanted was to hear the kids sing.
"So, one day, I simply said, `Look, we're not here to feel pity for them, to forgive them for not singing well because they have so many problems or handicaps. We are here to push them to the highest of their possibilities artistically. Full stop.'"
The conductor concedes the work with the kids from favelas – originally a Brazilian word for the shantytowns that encircle just about every Latin American city – is never easy.
Their world is outside official bounds, impervious to bylaws and invisible to school boards. Caracas has a favela of nearly 2 million, says Guinand, breeding a culture of helpless resignation.
She once stopped a particularly raucous rehearsal to remind the kids how privileged they are: "When you go out from this room, how many children have what you have? How many children are able to receive so much attention and education as you are receiving continually? You have to do it. You have been chosen to do it."
Guinand says the room immediately fell silent. "They understood."
The dynamic leader and her composer husband, Alberto Grau, came to Toronto straight from a two-week tour of Normandy and Sweden with 40 members of the Schola Cantorum Youth Choir.
"We are very tough with the musical levels they have to reach," says Guinand. "It is not easy at the beginning. They don't understand. And, often, the parents will say, `Well, if he can be shining shoes in the street, why should he be singing eight hours a week?'
"Now they have seen that their child has a passport and has gone away to places they would not otherwise even think about. That changes the life of not only the child, but of his whole community."
Guinand and her organization aren't just training future musicians and teachers, but are helping to raise "human beings who are certain that they can reach places they thought they could never reach."
The conductor recalls one Bolivian chorister from a home with no running water. At a mass choir concert, "I asked him, `How do you feel? Why do you like singing?' He said something like, `I feel illuminated. I am with a light inside and full of love.'
"I thought, what else can I possibly ask for?" says Guinand. "We want that child to continue in the project so that this illumination inside can become permanent."
Guinand tells of another singer who wants to become a chef and learn French as well as English.
"We were travelling and they would hear me speak these other languages, and the children would ask, `Can we learn those languages, too? Is it possible?' It is possible."
Guinand values each childhood epiphany. "It's is like putting on one light in the darkness. If you put another light, then another one, the darkness diminishes and you start to see a road. This is as much as we can do."
As with many inspirational people, Guinand is able to help people see beyond their immediate state.
"A choir is only limited by the limits that the leader or conductor puts on it," she says, in what could be a metaphor for so many other ways of striving for something better.
"Why can't you have the best choir in the world in this place?"
Donny And Marie Osmond A Hit In Vegas
Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic
(November 10, 2008) LAS VEGAS–She's still a little bit country and he's still a little bit rock 'n' roll.
That's what the fans of Donny and Marie Osmond packing the showroom at this city's Flamingo Hotel are happily rediscovering these days.
It's been 29 years since the famed brother-sister duo appeared for an extended run on the Strip. Though this was meant to be a limited engagement, they've proved such box office dynamite that their contract has been renewed for two years.
It now seems like the most logical of moves, but there were some people who had their initial doubts. Like Donny.
The 50-year-old singer, who made his debut 46 years ago performing "You Are My Sunshine" on The Andy Williams Show, still has the boyish good looks and guy-next-door charm he's lived on for years.
"But I said no when they first asked us to get back together," he insists, stretching his feet out on a sofa backstage before a recent show. "After all, we had parted company to go our separate ways and that's just what we did."
Over the decades, Donny had been the quieter one, happily married, raising his family and shunning the limelight except for professional reasons, while Marie – with her multiple spouses, widely publicized depression and more flamboyant lifestyle – has been more "out there" in the public eye.
"Hey, that's the genius of Marie," says Donny, defending his younger sister. "She's not afraid to do things big, to go too far, but if she ever hurts your feelings she apologizes."
Osmond says that he and Marie threw out all the scripted banter that had been prepared for them and made up their own material.
(A sample: Donny proudly shows the audience the Flamingo room keys bearing their pictures. "Dear Donny," Marie quips, "on key for the first time in his life.")
But as the clock ticks toward curtain time, his sister is present only as a subject of conversation. Marie hasn't left the building. Heck, she hasn't even entered it.
"This happens a lot," shrugs Donny. "We don't worry. She's never late, although she does cut it pretty close. You just go out there and relax. She'll give you an awesome show."
And she does. The Flamingo is one of the last great old-style showrooms in Vegas, with big scarlet booths that wrap around the stage where those onstage really get a good view of the audience. No more 4,000-seat theatres where they could be phoning it in from Reno.
A performer has to work hard and that's what Donny and Marie do. Snappy dance numbers, nail-you-to-the wall vocals and bursts of unexpected comedy.
Marie, 49, gets lots of material going about the hot flashes that suddenly take hold of her during the act.
"Wow!" she gasps at one point, "I just had a private summer vacation there for a moment."
And the two of them dip just deeply enough into the well of nostalgia to draw a tear or two, while still keeping things upbeat.
"It's not a wax museum," insists Donny. "It's not just about the past."
Whatever magic blend of yesterday and today these two have been able to concoct, it works. The 20-somethings in the audience are as happy as the 60-year-olds who watched them faithfully on TV.
Backstage, Marie makes up for the interview she couldn't give before the show with a breathless burst of enthusiasm.
"Timing is everything. This felt like the right show with the right people and the response has been so great I'm glad we did it."
THR33 RINGZ: T-Pain
Source: www.thestar.com – Ben Rayner
(out of 4)
(November 11, 2008) It feels a bit disingenuous of T-Pain to rail against all the peeps copping his signature, AutoTuned vocal sound on the Billboard singles chart when no one is guiltier on Thr33 Ringz of beating that dead horse than T-Pain himself.
Pain exhibits a reasonably strong human voice of his own on the short, sweet and uncharacteristically unadorned "Keep Going," so the Tallahassee rapper turned cyber-soul slinger can obviously carry a tune. Apparently, though, he's more interested here in supplying the ladies (and the more open-minded fellas out there) with a boatload of sumptuous slow jams that permit one to imagine what it might be like to be seduced by a robot Lothario.
He's got his loverboy shtick down, but Thr33 Ringz barely rises above the bedroom-eyed crawl that sets in with "Chopped N Skrewed" until Pain gets sufficiently worked up about other artists biting his formula to start rapping again on the indignant album-closer "Karaoke." "Watch me do me! Watch me do me!" he roars, wondering "Why you wanna do some sh-- I did in '03?"
Guess he's the only one allowed to spin his wheels, then. And T-Pain does spin them rather elegantly and with generous good humour on Thr33 Ringz – "Long Lap Dance" was written, he explains, because he can never get his money's worth from a regular-length tune. His next album, however, might want to do more than lead a pack of A-list guests (Ludacris, T.I., Lil Wayne, Kanye West et al.) through familiar, plodding paces.
Top track: "Karaoke," where, with the aid of DJ Khaled, the beats finally start popping and T-Pain stops crooning through a machine.
Hold Steady Tackles Questions About Faith
Source: www.thestar.com – Stuart Laidlaw, Faith and Ethics Reporter
(November 10, 2008) A recurring character in Hold Steady songs is a girl named Holly, short for Hallelujah. She drinks too much, gets caught up in druggy parties and has way, way too much sex with strange men.
And when redemption finally comes, she asks her priest, "Can I tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?"
This isn't your cousin's Christian rock.
In fact, it's not Christian rock, at all. It's harsh, it's questioning, it's about struggling with faith and all that it entails, from sin and denial to forgiveness and redemption.
"It took me pretty well into my adulthood to figure out how my Catholic upbringing affected me and fits into my life," Craig Finn, the 37-year-old guitarist and songwriter for the band, tells the Star from New York.
"And I'm still figuring out."
The quest continues tonight night when Hold Steady plays the Phoenix on a double bill with southern rock band the Drive-By Truckers.
Named "best band in America" by Maxim and the first in 15 years to make the cover of the Village Voice, Hold Steady is a leader in independent music. Despite little mainstream radio play, when they played Toronto last year the audience sing-along was at times louder than the band.
Appropriate since, as Finn writes in the title track of the band's latest album, Stay Positive, "the sing-along songs will be our scriptures."
The Hold Steady follows others who use religious allusions in pop music, including Bruce Springsteen, Prince and even Lou Reed.
Despite some reports to the contrary, Finn says he wasn't raised in a particularly devout family. In fact, when he sees a news story claiming he had a pious upbringing, he clips it and sends it home to his parents.
"They always have a good laugh," he says.
Finn didn't set out to write faith-based songs, saying instead that he wanted to explore narratives around the characters, like Holly, he's developed through his songs. They lead "desperate lives," he says, and like him include their faith in their attempts to come to terms with their situations.
"The concepts of forgiveness and redemption keep coming up," says Finn, who took theological classes while studying communications at Boston College. "No matter what you believe, it's hard for me to imagine there are people who think those are ugly concepts."
Stay Positive is perhaps the most faith-infused album yet. One song, "Lord, I'm Discouraged," is even written as a prayer.
But far from praising God or asking for forgiveness, this prayer uses gospel-inspired lyrics to question the nature of piety and why nothing is done to help a girl in a drug-induced death spiral.
"Can't you hear her?" the song asks. "She's that sweet missing songbird when the choir sings on Sundays."
Besides Holly, Finn's recurring characters include St. Paul (also a city in Finn's home state), Gideon (who has "a pipe made from a Pringles can") and Adam and Eve, whose story he retells as a tale about failing to take responsibility – apt today as greed collapses the economy.
"I heard the dude blamed the chick, I heard the chick blamed the snake, I heard they were naked when they got busted," Finn sings in "Cattle and the Creeping Things."
"I heard things ain't been the same since."
Singer Now Calling Her Own Tune
Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic
(November 07, 2008) After conquering Paris, London and Montreal, you'd think that Toronto would be a piece of cake, but if there's one thing singer Stephanie Martin has learned it's that nothing comes easy in show business.
Her debut album in 2007 (Shape, Line & Harmony) wound up on the "Best New Music of the Year" list on CBC and her fans are legion, but breaking through to a wider public is another matter, which is why she's appearing in concert tomorrow night at the Enwave Theatre, sharing the stage with George Meanwell, late of Quartetto Gelato.
"Having spent time since the CD was released trying to grow, I thought it was time to multiply my audience by sharing my experiences with somebody else," says the striking brunette vocalist.
She grew up in Montreal, singing in both official languages "as easy as if it was breathing," but she wasn't quite sure which way her career would go.
Internationally famous producer Cameron Mackintosh settled that when he saw her perform in Les Misérables in Montreal.
"She was wonderful in the part (Eponine)," Mackintosh recalls, "with the proper combination of innocence and strength."
He sent her on to lead the Parisian company and then to London, but it was there the bloom of being the star of a mega-musical came off the rose for Martin.
"It's difficult to establish yourself in a place that isn't your home and, after the warmth I felt in Montreal and Paris, when I got to London I suddenly found myself working harder than I ever did."
Martin lost her health, lost her voice and came back to Canada, where she found a husband.
Cast in the original production of Napoleon at the Elgin Theatre in 1994, she not only earned rave reviews as the wounded Clarise but captured the heart of the show's librettist/lyricist, Andrew Sabiston. They married and have a son, Oliver.
At that point, Martin wanted to change her creative direction.
"I could have safely gone on being an interpretive artist," she admits, "singing other people's songs, but I always felt I could do better than that."
And so she started writing. At first, she imitated the people she admired: Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Ron Sexsmith.
"It takes folly to be in this position," she laughs ruefully. "Songwriting is so very, very difficult, but in the end it rewards you more than anything else."
She reaches for imagery to describe her creative process: "I try to put myself into a lyric that tells a little bit of a story that will paint pictures, that will be sensual. I rely on instinctive, poetic, lyrical inspiration."
And so far she's doing very well. Her partnership with Meanwell this weekend is something different for her.
"We're each going to make a guest appearance in each other's set. He'll play cello in mine and I will sing in his.
"The gods smiled on me when I was young," says Martin, "and they've been smiling ever since."
Stephanie Martin and George Meanwell appear in concert tomorrow at the Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W. Call 416-973-4000.
Girl Talk Gets A Sample Of Controversy
Source: www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar, Entertainment Reporter
(November 09, 2008) The Internet-approved term for the part of a song that gets stuck in your head is earworm. Consider Girl Talk, the guy who's creating next-generation party music by stringing those sticky bits together.
Greg Gillis is the laptop musician who has been slicing and dicing samples to create music that has ramifications long after he's finished his legendary sweat-filled performances. In the past two years, Gillis, alias Girl Talk, has released two genre-reunifying mash-up albums that sound like concentrated AM radio shoved into a blender, with the result being an unbelievably catchy milkshake of all of your favourite songs melded together.
As an example, take the opening of "Shut the Club Down," the second song on his latest album, Feed the Animals. Avril Lavigne's "Hey you!" cry from "Girlfriend" is cut up and repeated in the background over a beat to Jay-Z's "Big Pimping," which switches to Toni Basil's "Mickey." Rapping over that is a verse from "Who the F--- Is That?," a song by rappers Dolla and T-Pain. That lasts for about 30 seconds until a snippet of an Aphex Twin song becomes the melody, and the words change over to an aspect of another rap song, Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's." Feed the Animals is made up of more than 300 such samples, mixing old and new, rock with hip hop and everything in between.
To some, he's basically the new-school version of '80s novelty samplers Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. But Gillis has created something that's a technical marvel to hear, and one of the catchiest collections of music ever put together. None of the samples have been legally cleared, so he's also become a bit of a poster child in terms of the ongoing controversy over copyright.
Whatever the legal implications of his music, he's known for bringing an incredible party wherever he goes, and this Wednesday he's in town for a sold-out show at the Kool Haus. Of course, considering that his music is completely dependent on technology, technical difficulties come with the territory, and it doesn't help that he's notoriously hard on his equipment.
"In the year 2007, I smashed three laptops so that was a bad year. This year I bought one of those Panasonic Toughbooks, and they're supposedly for military use – they (say) you can't break them – and that has been good so far. I've only broken it twice," he says from a tour stop in Milwaukee. "I had a show in Lawrence, Kan., about a week ago, and it was absurdly sweaty on the stage. Like, literally I felt I was playing in a shower ... and after the show, I always try and go and turn it off as soon as possible, but it was kind of sitting there a bit too long and moisture was soaking in, and even though the computer keyboard is supposed to be waterproof, it just stopped working."
In this case, it's an easy fix; he's using an external keyboard, and the Toughbook seems to be getting better with time. Good thing, too, as Gillis needs his tech, as he approximates his intricately mixed albums on tour, triggering his samples in real time, meaning that no two shows are ever the same.
"The sets and most of the arrangements are pre-thought out. Like what I want to do, transitioning from segment to segment is improvised a little bit, but most of the core ideas are set. Like, `This melody with this hook with this beat, I know that sounds good. I want to play that.' But even if I try, I know that it's impossible for me to re-create (the album) exactly."
The funny thing is that despite his music basically being audio collages of well-known samples, his fans know his albums so well that they often expect certain melodies after a certain hook – like Busta Rhymes rapping over The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," on "What It's All About?" – so Gillis enjoys switching things up to keep fans on their toes.
So the big question remains: How come Gillis hasn't been sued for using so many well-known samples without permission?
"U.S. copyright law has an idea called fair use, and, you know, almost every country has some version of it. In the U.S., it says that you can sample without asking for permission from the original source material depending on the nature of your work. It's kind of tricky, like how transformative it is, and how it impacts the source material, things like that. It's an idea that has been used before, and from my standpoint, I believe that the work should be qualified under fair use provision," Gillis says.
"Besides, I think the idea of recontextualizing pre-existing elements is just becoming something that is really familiar to our culture right now, like everyone is using Photoshop. So I feel like, if you're doing music like mine, if it truly is transformative, and it's not creating any sort of competition for the original source material, what is the problem there? What's different from that to any other band using their influences?"
Gryphon Trio Shows How New Music, Easy Listening Can Co-Exist
Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic
(November 07, 2008) One of the greatest pleasures of good music is being able to share it with others. Which is something Toronto's Gryphon Trio knows how to do with panache.
The group made up of violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and Jamie Parker on piano is the ensemble-in-residence of Music Toronto, the city's prime source of chamber music programming. As such, they are not only expected to play nicely, but act as ambassadors to as wide an audience as possible.
As they played their season's first Music Toronto program – and marked their 15th year together – at the Jane Mallett Theatre last night, the three musicians, now in their early forties, demonstrated what makes them so special on several different levels.
Most obviously, their playing was first-rate in a program that included two canonical works in the repertoire: Haydn's Piano Trio No. 32 in A Major, from 1793, and Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49, premiered in 1840.
The players gave each piece its due, approaching the Haydn with a light effervescence that illuminated the limpid textures of classical-era style.
The Mendelssohn was all melodramatic Romantic swings between sweet contemplation and heart-on-sleeve emotion.
This great musicianship extended to two new works, examples of the Gryphons' quest to reach out.
Lunar Reflections, a five-moon suite commissioned from 34-year-old Canadian pianist and composer Heather Schmidt for last summer's Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, showed how new music and easy listening can co-exist.
Schmidt's writing, by turns atmospheric and exuberant, gives the pianist a lot more work than the string players, a task that Parker made light work of.
Despite his virtuoso workload, Parker never outshone his two partners on stage.
Gryphon March, by Claude Watson School of the Arts student Paula Gil was a short but satisfying product of the Gryphons' 11-year commitment to connect with young people as mentors.
Luckily, CBC Radio Two was there last night, too, helping ensure that an even wider public will share in the pleasure sometime soon.
Lattimore Tells About 'Timeless'
Source: www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M Yarbrough
(November 12, 2008) *It’s about time to hear from soul balladeer Kenny Lattimore, but it’s also about “Timeless.” The smooth tenor released the aptly named project this fall, featuring a bevy of classic tune remakes.
While making a great song out of great song may not seem to be a difficult task, it is a daunting. After all, Lattimore’s new offering includes covers of songs of legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and Elton John just to name a few.
“When you have an original that is a classic, it becomes an arrangement project,” Lattimore said of taking on the challenge of the disc. “You go in and say, ‘What is too much? What do we change?’ In some ways, we want to do the songs the way they were and just have me sing, which is what a lot of the singers did back in the day. And then other songs you totally put a different spin on. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what you want to do exactly that still going to give justice to the song so that you can tell the story – because it’s about their lyrics that makes these songs great.”
Lattimore’s “Timeless” hit stores in September and led with his version of the Norman Connors/Michael Henderson '70s smash “You Are My Starship.” While that is a well known mega-hit across the board, the mixture of styles and artists covered on the disc purposely gives audiences the idea that perhaps it’s a disc of new material.
“We wanted to do songs that made the album feel like it was an original album,” Lattimore revealed. “When people hear the rest of the CD, depending on what genre you listen to or what your age or what you’ve been exposed to, we were hoping that you wouldn’t know all the songs. That tends to happen with most everybody. Even with some of the greatest music connoisseurs; we try to get you with at least one or two of these songs.”
One instance is the Al Green-penned “Something.”
“It’s so soulful and it’s so him, that I couldn’t do it like him,” Lattimore acknowledged. “That’s the one thing you have to know when you’re doing remakes – when you’re in over your head. If you’re going to do something different, that’s OK, too.”
Lattimore explained that the challenge of the disc lay not in simply redoing the songs, but in reinvigorating the lyrics.
“You’re interpreting,” he continued. “It was taking me outside of the normal Kenny and it stretched me – just a little bit. It’s very challenging because you don’t want to get lost in it where you’re just doing a cheap imitation of something, but you want to take from the spirit in which the original artist did it and give it back to the people with equal passion.”
In choosing the songs, Lattimore told EUR’s Lee Bailey that his initial step was to select songs that were in his vocal range. If he felt that the song flowed and was organic to his range, he moved on to the next step, choosing songs he liked, for instance the Otis Redding track “I Love You More Than Words Can Say.”
“I wanted to do songs that were in my vocal range and what I could do justice to in terms of my voice. [‘I Love You ...] happens to be one of my father’s favourite songs. I knew I was going to do Otis Redding. I was part of a celebration of his music last year in Macon, Georgia so I said I had to do an Otis Redding song because of the fact that he was so free as an artist. It was like a different experience every time he sang.”
The project originally started out as a celebration of the Memphis sound. The tribute began to grow, however, as Lattimore and the label’s Mitchell Cohen started bouncing around the names and tracks of other artists.
“We were going to do Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and kind of tribute the Memphis sound,” Lattimore said. “I don’t sound anything like them. I don’t have the edge of their raspiness and things like that, so we thought it would be interesting to hear me sing these.”
“Eventually, as we compiled the songs, -- all of a sudden there was Elton John, Jeff Buckley, and I knew I wanted to do something from Donny Hathaway, too,” he continued. “It sounded more interesting as we talked about it for us to do a selection of songs than a specific kind of tribute.”
Within a year of the concept, Lattimore was putting the finishing touches on the disc attributing the quick turnaround to the fact that he was doing songs that are already great. Such as the classic “Ain’t No Way” – a song made famous by the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
“Sometimes when you’re singing a woman’s song, it really creates the natural separation and difference so that you don’t feel as pressured. So I thought about that. I loved the melody, I loved the feel of the song – how ‘bout I just sing it,” he said of the challenge. “Strip it down, just play the keyboard, give me a little drum beat, give me the bass – that’s what makes these songs timeless.”
Stripping the songs down to the melody is what Lattimore said was the key to making the project sound great.
“It was about [going] in raw first and singing the song and if it sounds like it’s organic and it feels good then we’ll do the rest of the production over that.”
To check out some of Kenny Lattimore’s raw and reworked tracks or to find out where you can catch him live, visit his website at www.kennylattimore.com.
Pianist Makes Tough Program Look Easy
Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic
(November 12, 2008) It's easy to take for granted the technical ability, background knowledge and sheer willpower needed to turn a concert grand piano – a gleaming, 500-kilogram lump of wood, metal, leather and felt – into a musical instrument.
That is, until you hear the likes of 47-year-old Canadian master Marc-André Hamelin.
Making one of his all-too-rare visits last night at the Jane Mallett Theatre for Music Toronto's recital series, he took great piles of notes and turned them into poetry.
What we heard was so beautifully crafted that it put most pianists' efforts to shame. And Hamelin made it look ever so easy.
Dressed in a dark suit with an open-necked white dress shirt, he looked liked someone who had just come home from a long day at the office and sat down at the piano to unwind for a few minutes.
The only thing missing was a frosty cocktail.
Yet this was anything but an easy program. Much of it was inspired by the golden age of the piano in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Back then, the big pianists were no mere interpreter, but a creator as well, dazzling audiences with fireworks born of their own imaginations.
Hamelin's playing, likely more technically proficient than anything from 100 years ago, evoked every ghost in the piano pantheon.
From the Polish contingent, we heard two pieces (a Barcarolle and the Ballade No. 3) by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) and the over-the-top Symphonic Metamorphoses on Wine, Women and Song by Johann Strauss by Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938).
Although the Jane Mallett Theatre's new Steinway piano has not reached the brilliance needed to fully colour this showy music, Hamelin did his level best to wow the audience with breathtaking dexterity as well as an unerring sense of phrasing.
The program opened with two well-known Sonatas by Haydn, from the last quarter of the 18th century. Most pianists make them sound astringent in their classical-era purity. But Hamelin added an élan that fleshed out a musical soul that the printed score only alludes to.
In a further nod to golden-era greats, Hamelin played two of his own creations out of a set of 12 Études in minor keys: one inspired by Goethe's tragic Erlkönig poem and a tender Tchaikovsky lullaby reworked for left-hand solo.
(As an encore, he smilingly tossed off Suggestion Diabellique, the dressiest set of chopsticks ever wielded on a keyboard.)
As if all this wasn't enough to sate listeners – and exhaust the most accomplished of pianists – the evening's crowning glory was the Sonata in a State of Jazz by 89-year-old French pianist-composer Alexis Weissenberg.
This 1982 suite, made up of a tango, a Charleston, blues and samba, is like the ostentatiously illegitimate love child of George Gershwin and Charles Ives: all icy, formalism hiding luscious jazz beats and harmonies. Hamelin deftly plucked the jazz nectar out of each blooming measure.
There is only a handful of pianists in the modern instrument's 150-year history who have been able to do so much with their chosen instrument – and make us smile in the process.
Let's hope Mr. Hamelin decides to make a return visit very soon.
We Remember: Soul Singer
Nathaniel Mayer Dies Following Series Of Strokes
(November 6, 2008) *Soul singer Nathaniel Mayer, best known for hisTop 40 hit "Village of Love" in 1962, has died from complications following a series of strokes, his representatives said on Tuesday. He was 64. Mayer died on Saturday in Detroit, according to a blog posting on his MySpace page. He suffered a stroke in April, and his representatives said at the time that doctors were optimistic that he would recover. But the announcement of his death said that he suffered many months of complications and illnesses. A devotee of James Brown, Mayer largely abandoned the recording business after "Village of Love," but returned in 2004 to record the album "I Just Want To Be Held" for boutique Mississippi label Fat Possum Records. He released a follow-up in August 2005, "Why Don't You Give It To Me?" (Alive Records), helped by a crew of young punk and soul revivalists, including Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. Funeral arrangements for Mayer are pending.
Throat problem puts lid on
Kravitz's Canadian tour
(November 6, 2008) Vancouver — Lenny Kravitz cancelled the remainder of his Canadian tour yesterday because of a severe throat problem. The American singer-songwriter was due to play Vancouver's GM Place last night and Victoria's Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre tonight. Ticket holders are advised that automatic refunds will be applied to any credit-card purchases, while all others should be returned to the point of sale. Concert promoters Live Nation said Kravitz will embark on a world tour in 2009, including dates across Canada.
Obama Inspires Common To Leak 'Changes'
(November 10, 2008) *Barack Obama's Presidential victory Tuesday night inspired fellow Chicagoan Common to leak the song "Changes" from his upcoming album "Universal Mind Control," due Dec. 9. [Scroll down to hear track.] "I wrote this song to inspire the young world to believe that change can happen. To be honest, I also envisioned it as a great inaugural song for Barack Obama," said Common of the track, which features singer Muhsinah Abdul-Karim as well as a spoken word appearance by his daughter Omoye. Hopeful about Obama's chances of a victory, Common was inspired to pen "Changes" during the campaign, but when hope became a reality, he was moved to leak the song ahead of schedule, according to a statement from thinkcommon.com. Common has always been vocal about his support of Barack Obama and was even the first hip-hop artist to name check him in a song almost four years ago.
T.I. Passes Hot 100 Baton To Himself
(November 10, 2008) *T.I. again succeeds himself at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as "Live Your Life" featuring Rihanna, trades places 2-1 with "Whatever You Like." "Life" also replaced "Like" on Oct. 9, making T.I. the ninth artist in the rock era to accomplish such a feat, Billboard reports. "Live Your Life" also returns to No. 1 on Hot Digital Songs with 184,000 downloads, while "Whatever You Like" maintains the top spot for an eighth week on Hot 100 Airplay, with 162 million impressions. Elsewhere on the Hot 100, Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy" slides 3-5. Britney Spears' "Womanizer" is down 5-6, with Kevin Rudolf's "Let It Rock" featuring Lil Wayne and Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent" holding at Nos. 7 and 8, respectively. Akon's "Right Now (Na Na Na)" jumps 14-9 and is the top digital gainer after selling 117,000 downloads. "Miss Independent" is No. 1 for a second week on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, where Jamie Foxx's "Just Like Me" featuring T.I. is the top debut at No. 48. Foxx's next album, "Intuition," is due Dec. 16 via J.
Source: www.thestar.com – Ashante Infantry
(out of 4)
(November 11, 2008) The singer/songwriter known for soulful pop hits such as "Crazy" and "Kiss From A Rose" handles with aplomb this album of classics by the likes of Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield. Uber-producer David Foster refreshes beloved tunes with strings, echoes and breaks in unexpected places, and Seal gives an authoritative reading of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes's "If You Don't Know Me By Now." By turns instructive and seductive, the 45-year-old brings weariness and passion to the songs; love to see this performed live. Top Track: Only Al Green's original of "I'm Still In Love With You" tops this version.
The Promise: Deborah Cox
Source: www.thestar.com – Ashante Infantry
(out of 4)
(November 11, 2008) The Miami-based, Scarborough native gets heavyweight help from producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on her first R&B album in six years, which is primarily comprised of thoughtful adult contemplations such as "Love Is Not Made In Words" and "Where Do We Go 2." She has the No. 1 song in Canada, the self-empowering, reverb-plumped "Beautiful U R" which counsels "Don't ever let nobody break you down girl ... Look in the mirror and see who you are." Other songs include a piano-driven title track penned by John Legend and the erotic "All Over Me" which recalls Jam and Lewis's work with Janet Jackson, replete with whispery intro, thunder effects and finger snaps. Cox's rich pipes are as vibrant as ever, but there's not a single song taking them to their (1998) "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" zenith. Top Track: Co-penned by Estelle, "You Know Where My Heart Is" is a hip, percussive tune that recalls Lauryn Hill.
Yellowhead To Yellowstone And Other Love Stories: Ian Tyson
Source: www.thestar.com – Greg Quill
(out of 4)
(November 11, 2008) Don't let the voice fool you. If it weren't for the epic cowboy narratives and high-country romance, you might think it's Rod McKuen on a comeback. But this is Tyson, apparently unrestrained by age – he turned 75 in September – and the astonishing effects of irreparable vocal cord damage caused a year ago. The voice may be unrecognizable – it seems higher, more conversational in tone, though as pitch-true as ever – but it's well suited to these folk-derived melodies and lusty tales of rough riding and heartache. The backing is the blend of country-rock sounds we associate with Tyson – lots of twanging guitars and lap and pedal steel. Though it's getting a lot of attention, Toronto writer Jay Aymar's "Cherry Coloured Rose," a tribute to the late wife of the CBC's Don Cherry, every other song is superior for the power of Tyson's poetry. Top Track: "Love Never Comes At All," one of Tyson's finest – and saddest – ballads.
Queen Latifah To Host People's Choice Awards
(November 12, 2008) *Queen Latifah has been tapped as host of the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards, airing live, Jan. 7 on CBS. The rapper-turned-actress, and star of "The Secret Life of Bees," is up for favourite leading lady against Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. Will Smith, meanwhile, earns nods for favourite action star and favourite male movie star. "The Dark Knight" goes up against "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" for favourite movie. "Mamma Mia!" has been nominated for movie comedy as well as "Get Smart" and "27 Dresses." In the TV categories, the drama field consists of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Grey's Anatomy" and "House." Vying for top comedy series honours are "Two and a Half Men," "Ugly Betty" and "Samantha Who?" Patrick Dempsey ("Grey's"), "House" star Hugh Laurie and Charlie Sheen ("Two and a Half Men") are up for favourite male TV star, while "Samantha Who?" lead Christina Applegate will vie with Sally Field of "Brothers and Sisters" and Mariska Hargitay of "Law & Order: SVU" for female TV star honours. To celebrate its 35 years of publication, People Magazine will present the first People's Choice Award for favourite star under 35. Other new categories include superhero, movie cast and TV drama diva. The People's Choice Awards honour fan favourites in television, movies and music. Awards will be presented at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
The Stud Who Became An Actor
Source: www.globeandmail.com - R.M. Vaughan
(November 07, 2008) It's not easy being an aging hunk. Not that I'm speaking from experience, just observation. While it's true that Hollywood has no idea what to do with women over 35 (some would argue 25), it has only a few more ideas about what to do with male actors once their abs give out and their biceps loosen. They can always play dads or presidents (the Bruce Greenwood strategy), or work their wrinkles and handles for comic effect (the William Shatner/Alec Baldwin strategy).
Or, in the case of Canadian Gil Bellows, the last decade's hunk of the decade, they can actually start to act, looks be damned. When I first met Bellows, I didn't recognize him. Gone was the clean cut, starched-shirt sexiness I remembered from his days playing lawyer-in-love Billy Thomas on Ally McBeal. Sporting a shaggy beard and an even shaggier biker-do, he looked like he was auditioning for the part of Jim Morrison in a Doors tribute band.
But sexy is as sexy does - and Bellows latest projects, Paul Gross's hit First World War epic Passchendaele, and the omnibus drama Toronto Stories (currently doing the festival circuit and deserving of a wider release), prove that the actor's appeal has always been primarily fuelled by his talent. His turn as a mentally damaged father in Toronto Stories is so harrowing, it's painful to watch (in the right way).
In conversation, the former himbo is serious, thoughtful, worried about the state of the world and about the not much better state of his chosen industry. He was so different from what I expected of a sex symbol, he made me wonder what depths remain unfathomed in the cast of Baywatch.
Your performance in Toronto Stories has killed off goody-two-shoes Billy Thomas forever.
Oh good! I'm so glad to hear that. I didn't take the part for that reason, but I think when you have done a role that is embedded in people's psyche, a reference point for audience members, it's important to shatter that, if you hope to keep growing and building as an actor. It's been a conscious transition, to show that I can do a variety of things, things where a suit and tie are not required.
Was it difficult when Ally McBeal ended, because it was such a cultural phenomenon, to find work?
Well, in the sense that you were part of a phenomenon, you never want to run away from it or deny it, you just want it to be an aspect of your career, a significant chapter in a novel, but not the whole novel.
Not that you aren't a sexy daddy, but are you glad your boy-toy phase is over?
No! Ha! No! I appreciate your compliment, but one of the things I love about being a man and being an actor is that you are afforded an opportunity to explore your sexuality as you mature. Women are rarely given the same privilege. So, it could well happen, within reason, for me to find a role in the next few years where I would be in a tank top and tight pants. I'd be more than happy to pull it off.
Here's hoping. Let's talk about omnibus films. How do they work? Were you given the whole script for Toronto Stories, or just your part?
I was given the whole film, and what I thought was so fantastic was that the link between the pieces was very clever yet still allowed each director the space and time to make their own imprint on their stories. Beyond reading it, I just focused on my story. My whole focus was to build that character.
You're another one of these chameleon types. You look nothing now like you do in Toronto Stories, or in the upcoming 24 prequel.
Or, in Passchendaele [where] I play an obese, one-armed drunk. That's part of what I'm hoping to do, show people that I can transform myself. I tell you, it was fun being a television star, and I look forward to having another experience like it, but at the end of the day you want to be considered first of all an actor, and second, a good one.
It's hard to overlook the fact that the selling of Toronto Stories has been, so far, that it is about Toronto, set in Toronto - a city that often plays American cities - yet, the star attached to this film being offered to the media is you, the actor the PR people keep reminding us, who has had the biggest U.S. career.
Yeah, yeah, and that's a shame. What you're bringing up is the fact that we don't really support our own universally, we kind of pick and choose the people who get the spotlight, and other people, very deserved people, don't necessarily get that attention.
I guess all I can say is that I think it's unfortunate, and I think it's a product of the reinforced psychological dynamic of the relationship between the media and Canadian performers. For the most part, and there are exceptions, most Canadian performers have to achieve some kind of success, in Europe or Asia or the United States, to get the kind of attention they've always wanted and duly deserve here at home. It's a crying shame, and hopefully we can change it.
Born: June 28, 1967, Vancouver
Billy played around: In a bit of TV cross-pollination, Bellows's Billy Thomas character from Ally McBeal also appeared on an episode of producer David E. Kelley's The Practice. Some actual lawyerin' took place.
Here's a thought: Unthinkable, scheduled for release next year, stars Bellows and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) as members of an FBI counterterrorism squad sent to interrogate a man who claims to have planted nuclear bombs in three cities. Bellows and Moss survived high school together in Vancouver, so this should be a breeze.
‘Must get it right. Must
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Johanna Schneller
(November 7, 2008) He was hooked to a wire, and he'd trained with the stunt department for two months. But when Daniel Craig was actually standing in an upper-storey window in Siena, Italy, on location for Quantum of Solace – his second outing as super-spy James Bond, opening Friday – about to jump onto the roof of a bus that was barrelling down the narrow alley below, he found it, he deadpanned, “very disconcerting.”
“Your mind just goes, ‘No,'” Craig said, from the safety of a Toronto hotel sofa during a whistle-stop publicity tour (Chicago last night, Los Angeles tomorrow). “You've got half of Siena who've turned up to watch – ‘What's this idiot doing?' You want to nail it first off so you don't have to do it again. Then this actor thing comes out in me: ‘Must get it right. Must entertain.' It's awful.”
Not for the audience. Craig, 40, is unlike the five men who preceded him as 007, and not because he's blond. He's the most serious actor of the lot, having played roles as varied as a selfish poet (Ted Hughes in Sylvia), amoral drug dealer ( Layer Cake), family slayer ( Infamous), lover of painter Francis Bacon ( Love Is the Devil) and tormented professor ( Enduring Love). His fierce realism in his first Bond film, 2006's Casino Royale, reinvigorated the franchise, earning the highest grosses of its 46-year history, $594-million (U.S.) worldwide. The first thing that went out the window was the kind of nudge-wink irony that had come to characterize the series. When Craig gets hit, he looks like it hurts (in fact, during filming, he sliced off a fingertip and got a black eye that required eight stitches), and when he jumps, his body is taut with purpose.
In person, however, he's not what I expected. Yes, he's insanely handsome, with a face that seems carved by a sculptor to suggest manly experience, and blue eyes so bright it's as if a key light is permanently aimed into them. But he's more compact and delicate than he appears on screen, and much friendlier. He doesn't brood or glower; he's modest and laughs a lot. He is, dare I say it, jolly. He refers lovingly to his teenage daughter, from a two-year marriage that ended in 1994. He wore a white shirt, black tie and tan cardigan that was half GQ, half grandpa, and his right shoulder was in a sling, healing from recent surgery on an old injury that he'd exacerbated playing Bond.
“I couldn't tell you which scene did it,” he said. “I look at the movie and go, ‘Oh, it could have been there, or then.' I phoned up my mother earlier and said, ‘I'm aching today.' She said, ‘Welcome to my world.' “I'd love to do a movie where I'm doing the same stunts, but where I can go, ‘Holy shit!'” Craig continued. “Like that great scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they jump off the cliff, and they both go, ‘Aaaahhh,' and their arms are pinwheeling, trying to fly. That's a weird one – when you first do a jump, you do start flapping your arms. The stuntmen go, ‘Don't do that.' It must be some bird instinct in us somewhere.
“But the action stuff doesn't look right if you react to everything. If I'm in a car chase and I go ‘Ooo! Oh!' every time something happens, the audience says, ‘It's okay, it's a movie.' I don't want them to remember that. I'm driving into Siena in that car and it could be a big gag [here he mimes waving]: ‘Morning, everyone!' But [expletive] that, I want it to be serious. The audience should be breathing quite heavily at that point.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger had rules when playing his action heroes. For example, when you walk down the stairs, you never look at the stairs. Craig found that hilarious. “My influences – though believe me, I'll never get there – are people like Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy,” he said. “That manliness those guys had – they could look at the stairs, they could do whatever they wanted. There were no rules for them. Tracy would enter a scene looking down, and when he'd look up, his blue eyes would spark. But he'd say, ‘I'm just looking for my [expletive] mark,' because he was so short-sighted.” Craig laughed heartily. “Fred Astaire – he rehearsed for weeks upon weeks, and then shot his dance routines in one take. That is skill. Those are my heroes.”
Craig took his time signing on to play Bond. His attitude during his first, exploratory meeting with the franchise's long-time producers, siblings Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, was: “‘This is so nice of you. Quite frankly I can't imagine it, but good luck,'” Craig said. “We had a productive conversation about how they wanted to strip the franchise down and start again, but I went, ‘Wow, great idea – big job! I'll be going now,' and kind of backed out the door.”
He kept them waiting a year and a half, until he read the finished script. “Daniel is serious about his work,” Wilson said. “He shoots all day, then goes to the gym for an hour or two, goes home, has a very light dinner and is in bed by 9. He's very intelligent, interested in all kinds of things, politics, art. But he's very careful about what he does. He's chosen his career path very carefully.”
This December, Craig's serious-actor side gets a workout in Defiance, based on the true story of three Jewish brothers who survived the Second World War by setting up a camp in the frigid Belarusian forest. “It's a really interesting dilemma because they committed nasty crimes, but for the sake of survival,” Craig said.
Hmm. For a charmer, Craig seems perpetually drawn to playing bastards. “I've always liked a weakness in character,” he said. “I like flaws. Moral ambiguity is more interesting that somebody who just goes, ‘I'm right and you're wrong.' I like debate. How someone breaks. With Ted Hughes, for example, there wasn't an awful lot of redemption in the film, but I understood him. And reading Birthday Letters that he wrote for her [the poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide during their marriage], you went, ‘Oh, he loved her.' What happens in any relationship, nobody knows. Those things are interesting. Breaking someone down and building them up again is life, and you must explore that.”
He paused, grinning. “Drawn to bastards, am I?” he said. “Maybe you've picked something out. I'm a bit worried now.”
The Dylan Of Dirty Ditties Is Finally Catching A Break With A
Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner, Pop Music Critic
(November 09, 2008) Formerly known only to truckers and more adventurous shoppers at roadside gift shops, unapologetically lewd country singer Larry Pierce has been getting his first taste of cult celebrity since the crowd-pleasing documentary Dirty Country took his strange tale to the big screen last year.
The film – whose featured songs such as "Let's Get Something Straight Between Us" were praised by Variety as "inexplicably engaging, almost sweet" – makes its Toronto premiere tonight at the Bloor Cinema. To mark the occasion Pierce has flown into town from Middletown, Ind., with wife and muse Sandy, as always, by his side (he traveled once without her and will never do it again, he says) to sweeten the screenings with his first two shows ever outside the U.S.
We sat down for drinks with the Pierces on Friday afternoon and found that the man with the filthiest mind in country music might be the nicest man in show business. We have already been invited to party with Larry and Sandy in their garage back home. We intend to take them up on that offer.
How does it feel to officially become an "international recording artist"?
I never really thought about it until you mentioned it. The most recent thing on my mind was how it felt to be a national recording artist after being on the Howard Stern show. I'd never been on national radio before – actually, it's worldwide radio – so I'm getting a lot of fans from all over. Some of them don't even speak English. I'm getting lots of emails from overseas.
It must be cool to suddenly experience some recognition.
For the type of material I'm doing, it's really neat. I never thought, in a million years, that I'd ever be doing anything like this. But everybody – everybody – even if you don't play music or play an instrument, at some time or another, you've had a song that you like and you've changed the words to it to something a little naughty ... (but) after having these albums out on the market and knowing they were available nationally since the first one came out in 1992 – after 10 years or so and no recognition, you assume nothing else is going to happen. I was just enjoying writing the songs and recording them for my friends and they'd pay me a few thousand dollars and it was over.
How do the folks back in Middletown feel about the "dirty country" singer in their midst?
I don't really know because nobody talks to me much about it except people who dig it ... I did used to worry about it, though. "My God, if somebody finds out what I'm doing, we'll have tomatoes thrown at the house. Or they'll try to burn the house down."
What was your reaction when you were approached to do the documentary?
They wrote me a letter and I looked at Sandy and I said: `Yeah, right, a documentary on me.' I wasn't even gonna reply, but I thought they at least deserved a response. So I wrote and said: "Look, guys, I'm really impressed that you want to do something like this, but there's really no story here. I'm married with children, I'm 50 years old and I work in a factory. I appreciate you contacting me, but there's no story here." And they wrote back to me and said, "We think that's even better yet."
Madagascar Sequel Packed With Genuine Laughs
Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell, Movie Critic
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
(out of 4)
Animated comedy featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith
and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath.
89 minutes. At major theatres. G
(November 07, 2008) The law of the jungle in filmmaking is that if you don't get it right the first time, then no amount of monkeying will make a second attempt swing.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa makes a fool of that rule. It has everything Madagascar had three years ago, but also two things the original was woefully lacking: a good yarn and genuine yuks.
The animated laugher about zoo critters on the lam was by no means a failure, as a $500-million-plus global box office would attest.
But the humour was flatter than elephant dung, and the film served more as a babysitter than anything approaching classic comedy.
Wonder of wonders, somebody was listening to the critics. Perhaps it was co-directors and co-writers Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, who this time share scripting duties with Etan Cohen, who has Tropic Thunder and episodes of TV's King of the Hill to his considerable credit.
Whatever it is, they've managed to enliven the characters – animal magnetism, perhaps? – and expand the story while adding a fine sense of the absurd.
On that last point, would you believe a little old lady Noo Yawker named Nana (Elisa Gabrielli) who uses her martial arts skills to mess with the menagerie?
Madagascar 2 picks up exactly where the first film left off. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) seek to return to their dens in New York's Central Park Zoo, after some accidental and unauthorized adventures on the island nation of Madagascar.
In a nod to Flight of the Phoenix, one of many film and TV references in the franchise, they plan to fly home using a crashed plane that their pesky penguin pals have cobbled together.
Things don't go as planned – huge surprise there – and the zoo crew instead find themselves on the continent of Africa, a place brotha Marty correctly calls "our ancestral crib," yet which is completely foreign to them.
Here's where the smarter writing pays off. The first film never got past the tired fish-out-of-water premise, and the jokes were staler than a forgotten box of animal crackers.
Madagascar 2 actually gives a new twist to the old trope: these animals are back where they came from – Alex even finds his parents – and yet they don't feel like they belong. It's up to these pampered New York plush toys to learn to adapt or die.
Standing in their way is the aforementioned psycho senior and a jealous lion named Makunga, who wants to be alpha male of Alex's family pride. But there's also love on the loose.
Stepping up to centre stage is King Julien, the loony lemur voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen whose role has been considerably and profitably expanded, as befits a comic who made a small film called Borat since the first Madagascar.
But those wacky penguins, led by the headstrong Skipper (writer/director McGrath), still steal every scene they're in.
The movie even looks better than the original, approaching photo-realism in its jungle imagery. For better or worse, the music is every bit as corny as before: "Born Free" is still the theme tune and Barry Manilow and Boston is on the penguins' eight-track player – but what do you expect from those bird brains?
The highest praise I can give Madagascar 2 is to say that it reminds me of the antics of another animal, the one called Monty Python.
Suddenly, the prospect of a Madagascar 3 seems not only inevitable, but actually worth roaring about.
Leal: The Soul Men Interview With Kam Williams
(November 07, 2008) *Sharon Leal was born in Tucson, Arizona on October 17, 1972 to a Filipino mother and African-American father.
A natural performer, Sharon started singing at the age of two, and attended Roosevelt High School of the Arts in Fresno, California. After graduation, she studied acting and voice while attending Diablo Valley Junior College.
The statuesque, 5’8” beauty broke into showbiz on Broadway in both Rent and Miss Saigon and on TV in New York City as Dahlia on the daytime soap opera The Guiding Light.
She later relocated to Hollywood where she appeared on such series as Boston Public, CSI: Miami and LAX before landing her breakout role in 2006 as Michelle Morris in Dreamgirls.
Sharon has already made five more movies since, including This Christmas and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married. Here, she shares her thoughts about her latest film, Soul Men, which co-stars Samuel L. Jackson, and the recently-deceased Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.
Kam Williams: Hi Sharon, thanks for giving me an opportunity to speak with you.
Sharon Leal: Hi Kam, I’m happy to.
KW: Let me first say belated happy birthday! You had a birthday last month.
SL: I did, yes. Why thank you
KW: What interested you in playing Cleo in Soul Men?
SL: I needed a job. [Laughs] No, it was a great, great prospect, because when I read the script it was very funny, and I heard that Sam Jackson and Bernie Mac were doing the film, I instantly gravitated towards it. So, it was a great score, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
KW: Sadly, two of your co-stars, Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, have passed away since the shooting.
SL: Obviously, with Bernie, it was so untimely and shocking. I think all of us were kind of in denial about the fact that the situation was serious because when he was on set with us, he was in great spirits and in good health. We were dancing and singing and working long hours. None of us really anticipated his condition degenerating to the point that it did. So, it was devastating and shocking to hear that he had passed. On the other hand, Isaac had been sick, but he was in good spirits as well. He had just suffered a stroke, so we knew he was vulnerable health-wise. Still, to have them both pass so close to each other, and to have them both be a part of the film, is very sad, and makes for a bittersweet opening for us. Although, speaking for Bernie, I know he would have really wanted it not to be a sad occasion, and he’d like nothing more than for us to celebrate his life. People are really going to enjoy his performance, since his character is so funny, so amazing, lovable and endearing.
KW: Do you have anything to say about what Jennifer Hudson, your co-star from Dreamgirls, is going through after the murder of her mother, brother and nephew?
SL: All I can say it is that it’s an unimaginable tragedy, and that my thoughts and prayers go out to her. I love her dearly. She’s an amazing girl. And I can’t imagine the kind of grief that she must be experiencing. So, I just send her good vibes and good thoughts and prayers.
KW: How was it being directed by Malcolm Lee?
SL: Malcolm is a great director and a lovely human being. He has great vision and is very clear and succinct about what he wants and needs.
KW: How comfortable were you with another role which called on you to sing like you had to do in Dreamgirls?
SL: I started out doing musical theatre. My first professional gig was on Broadway. I was in Rent and in Miss Saigon. I went to a performing arts high school and did community theatre. So, I’ve always sung. I’m just lucky that there’s a trend in film that they’re doing more musically-based projects, and I’ve benefited from their popularity right now.
KW: When did you get bitten by the acting bug?
SL: It kind of hit me early. I was painfully shy as a kid, but I felt right in my element onstage. So, it was something that I naturally gravitated towards, and was lucky enough to have outlets and venues to pursue it. I got my Broadway gig by going to an open casting call in San Francisco. They picked two girls, and it was a great excuse to get to New York, and I never really looked back. I’ve had a nice run since, and I hope it continues.
KW: You’re very exotic-looking. What box do you check off when you fill in the census?
SL: All of the above. I remember it was always very confusing filling it out. My mother’s from the Philippines and my father’s African-American. So, I have a little mixture going on.
KW: Being mixed, how do you feel about Barack Obama?
SL: Historically, it’s unprecedented, having the first African-American president. It’s very exciting for him to be the face of this country, and to feel an affinity for and a connection to a President who looks like you. That’s pretty amazing!
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
SL: That’s a great question to ask. Yeah, I am. With the way this business is, with all the competition and just the level of instability, we’re forced to ask ourselves that question, because you experience so much uncertainty, just being in the industry. You couldn’t really do it, unless the love you had for it was really strong, and the passion was really there. The passion has never really left me. I think with every job it’s impossible not to be happy, because you know how difficult it is to keep a momentum going, to be fulfilled, to be challenged by different roles, and to just work consistently. The fact that I’ve been able to do that for a couple of years is a pretty big achievement. And as hard as I am on myself, I can sit here and really appreciate it. So, yes, professionally, I’m very fulfilled by what I do. It’s a challenge to stay focused and to stay positive and to go out of your way to stay happy by being appreciative. Bernie Mac was a great teacher in this regard. We had a lot of conversations where he reminded me exactly what it meant to stay grounded and to never forget where you come from and how lucky we are to do what we dreamed of doing when we were kids. Yes, I’m happy and I feel very blessed.
KW: You were in a movie with Columbus Short, weren’t you?
SL: Yes, This Christmas.
KW: And Tasha Smith, who you were also in a movie with, Why Did I Get Married, asks: Are you ever afraid?
SL: Hmm… [Chuckles] Yes, I mean I don’t think you could be a human being and not feel some trepidation. But I think it all falls in line with your perspective and how you handle the unknown. This industry really preps you and trains you for survival mode. It’s a perseverance game, and a faith game. It’s really about seeing the light, not getting discouraged, and believing. It’s about keeping the faith. You expect great things to happen and hopefully they will. That’s the way I try to approach this business. It’s about facing fear head on and pushing through it. That’s how great things happen.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson, who you were not in a movie with, asks: What was the last book you read?
SL: I’m into biographies. I just finished a very popular one called Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. And I just started a biography of Ava Gardner by Lee Server called Love Is Nothing. I’ve always been sort of fascinated by her.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington who you might be in a movie with one day asks: What’s music are you listening to nowadays?
For the full interview, please go HERE.
Alicia Keys: The Belle Of The Black Ball Interview
With Kam Williams
(November 11, 2008) *Alicia Keys burst on the scene in April of 2001 with the release of the single Fallin' from Songs in A Minor, the critically-acclaimed debut album which launched her meteoric rise.
A piano prodigy who studied both jazz and classical composition at the prestigious Professional Performance Arts School of Manhattan, the class valedictorian was admitted to Columbia University at just 16 years of age, but soon took a leave to pursue her musical career.
Among the many accolades she's already collected are 11 Grammys, along with multiple American Music, Billboard, Soul Train, Teen Choice, People's Choice, NAACP Image, Rolling Stone Magazine, VH1 and BET Awards.
Hailing from Harlem, Alicia was born on January 25, 1980 to Teresa Auguello, a paralegal, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant.
The stunning diva is a delicious mix of Irish, Italian, Jamaican and Puerto Rican lineage, and she's been named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People, FHM Magazine's 100 Sexiest Women in the World, Maxim Magazine’s Hot 100 and VH1's 100 Sexiest Artists.
A true Renaissance woman, Alicia is not only a gifted singer/songwriter/arranger/musician/actress, but also the author of a best-selling book comprised of poetry, lyrics and intimate reflections called "Tears for Water."
She made her big screen debut in 2006 playing a seductive yet ruthless assassin in Smokin' Aces, following that well-received outing with a measured performance as Scarlett Johansson's best friend in The Nanny Diaries.
Alicia's about to make cinematic history as half of the first duet (with Jack White) ever to perform a James Bond theme on a 007 movie soundtrack, namely, "Another Way to Die," in the upcoming Quantum of Solace.
Despite her incredibly busy schedule, she makes time for philanthropic work with numerous charities, most notably, Keep a Child Alive, an organization she co-founded which is dedicated to delivering life-saving medicines directly to AIDS victims in Africa.
On November 13th, Alicia and some very famous friends will be performing in NYC at her Fifth Annual Black Ball, a benefit dinner/concert for children and families in Africa with HIV/AIDS. (For more details, call (718) 965-1111.
Here, she talks about the Ball and about her latest film The Secret Life of Bees, a touching tale of female empowerment set in the Sixties at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She turned in what proved to be the movie's most memorable performance as June Boatwright, despite being surrounded by a stellar cast which included Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson, and a couple of Oscar-nominees in Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo.
Kam Williams: Thanks for the time, Alicia. I'm really honoured.
Alicia Keys: Thank you, sir, I appreciate that so much.
KW: I feel terrible, because it's so late and I understand you're in Germany and you just came offstage after performing a big concert. You must be exhausted.
AK: Yes, and you should feel awful! [Laughs out loud] No, I'm good. I'm definitely good. I had a good show, and it takes me a little while to settle down anyway.
KW: Well, I wanted to talk to you about The Secret Life of Bees.
AK: I loved this movie, so I want to do this.
KW: I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, but there's a scene early in the picture where a character silently opens up a tiny, folded piece of paper which says something about the Civil Rights Movement. When I read it, I started crying right then and there, and my eyes remained watery until the very end.
AK: Wow! Well, I'm so glad that it moved you, because it moved me, too.
KW: The film had so many subtle touches like that which delivered an emotional wallop. Its effective use of space and emptiness reminded me of your music.
AK: That is a beautiful image, and thank you for comparing it to my music. I appreciate that so much. I agree that Gina [Director Gina Prince-Bythewood] did an amazing job. And everybody involved loved it from the minute they signed on. She created a very nourishing environment on the set, where we just supported each other and wanted to do an incredible job. So, I'm really, really happy about how Gina was able to be so subtle, yet so strong.
KW: To me, it was the most important film of its type since Eve's Bayou. Have you seen that film?
AK: Funny you should mention it, because I watched Eve's Bayou prior to beginning work on this one because I felt it would have a similar vibe. Also, I wanted to watch it for the accents, figuring it would give you a nice feel for the regional dialects, given that it was set in the Bayou. But did you know they didn't do any dialects in that film?
KW: I never noticed that.
AK: That was really funny, but it was still a great movie.
KW: What did you base your interpretation of June Boatwright on?
AK: On many things. On my own personal emotions and feelings… on my understanding of my character's complexities and really wanting to bring them forth even without explaining them. I also based her somewhat on these beautiful pictures we had from this book called Freedom Fighters. There was one girl in it in a black and white photograph who just had her arms crossed. The way she was looking at the camera made me feel, "Wow! That's my June!" There was something about how hopeful and strong she was, yet closed-off emotionally, that I really wanted to take and make a part of June. I also took some inspiration from a really good friend of mine who has a kind of attitude like June has. When you first meet her, you're terrified of her. You think she's just the meanest thing, when she's really a sweetheart, and so vulnerable underneath it all. That's why she has to be a little tough, because she can't afford to give all her love away. So, I really took a lot of those firsthand experiences and put them into June, too. She was based on little pieces of a lot of different people and things.
KW: Another thing I was impressed with was that there was an arc, not only to June, but to so many characters in the film. That degree of development added to the richness of the cinematic experience.
AK: Seriously, that's true what you say. You see each person start one place and end up somewhere else. How many times do you have a film where so many characters can make such significant transitions within it? So, I agree.
KW: I also liked the way the movie made statements about the Civil Rights Movement without hitting you over the head with it.
AK: True, because you wouldn't quite say it's a story about the Civil Rights Movement, but it's definitely about that era. I'm really proud of that aspect.
KW: Any truth to the rumour that you might play Philippa Schuyler in the screen adaptation of her biography, Composition in Black and White?
AK: It's something that Halle Berry really wanted to bring to life, and that we've been working on for a little while. Hopefully, it'll pan out.
KW: Born in the Thirties, Philippa was also a child prodigy from Harlem who had one black parent and one white parent. Do you think there are many parallels between your life and hers?
For full interview, go HERE.
Festival Spurs Dialogue Between Israelis And
Source: www.thestar.com - Nicholas Keung, Immigration/Diversity Reporter
(November 12, 2008) Israeli documentary producer Amit Breuer believes human stories can make people think, talk, tolerate and be thankful – even if their views are oceans apart.
The annual Voices Forward festival, a joint Israeli and Palestinian undertaking, is now into its third year. What's most rewarding, says Breuer, its artistic director, are the dialogues it generates about Middle East conflicts that polarize communities here and there.
This year, the festival expands from just movies to include art exhibits, music performances, lectures and plays.
The five-day event, beginning tonight and funded by the Zukerman Family Foundation, is showing 10 films from both Israeli and Palestinian moviemakers.” We have a long-term mission and (changes) are not going to happen over one day. It is a process ... to help people see others as human beings and shatter stereotypes for both sides," explained Breuer, who moved here from Israel four years ago and initiated the film festival with programmer Stacey Donen.
"If Palestinians and Israelis can't talk with each other honestly and openly here in a place as open as Toronto, how will progress be possible anywhere else in the world?"
The spotlight of this year's festival is Hebron, the West Bank's second-largest city and the only one with Israeli settlements at its heart. The 35,000 Arabs in the H2 sector, living next to 600 Israeli settlers, have had their movements restricted and businesses closed down, and faced army checkpoints and searches.
Avichay Sharon is no stranger to Hebron. The former Israeli military first sergeant was once deployed there and later founded Breaking the Silence, a project by a group of veteran Israeli soldiers who gather photos and video testimonies of colleagues detailing what they witnessed serving in the Occupied Territories during the second intifada.
Some of those images, in conjunction with works by ActiveStills – a group of documentary photographers chronicling Hebron's 40-year occupation – are being shown in Canada for the first time, at the XEXE Gallery, 624 Richmond St. W., until Nov. 29 as part of the festival.
"It's a difficult project," said Sharon, 27, who is scheduled to lead a discussion about the exhibit at the Royal Cinema, 608 College St., on Sunday. "We are showing the ugliest images of our home country, things that no one wants to see."
But it is important to get the images out to the public, especially the international community, which also has a stake in the conflicts, he added.
"It is time for people to realize the bigger story," Sharon explained. "People who are privileged to be deciding things for us must have the responsibility to know what (those decisions) really mean."
Breuer admits the joint effort by Israelis and Palestinians irks some in both communities, but she'd like people to view the festival as "food for thought through entertainment.''
"We don't have to agree, but we shouldn't be afraid to dialogue," she said. "I hope people will challenge themselves and come to the festival."
Voices Forward kicks off tonight at 7 at the Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. W., with a book launch, musical performances and film. For the festival's full program, visit voicesforward.org/VF.
Heart And Soul
Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press
(November 07, 2008) I'm a soul man. No, I'm a soul man. Hey, we're Soul Men. It's the last onscreen appearance for Bernie Mac and soul legend Isaac Hayes in this tale of two former backup soul singers, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Mac) who haven't spoken in 20 years but suddenly have to sing at a reunion concert for their late lead singer (John Legend – who is not dead in real life). It's giving us the blues that the studio wouldn't let us see Soul Men in time for a review, but put your hands together for movie critic Peter Howell, who will tell you all about it in Sunday's entertainment.
Rushdie And Mehta To Make Film
Source: www.thestar.com – The Canadian Press
(November 11, 2008) Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta and celebrated writer Salman Rushdie are set to collaborate on a movie adaptation of Rushdie's book Midnight's Children. Mehta's producer, David Hamilton, says he, Mehta and Rushdie hashed out the plan over dinner earlier this year when the novelist was in Toronto to promote his latest book, The Enchantress of Florence. He says Mehta and Rushdie plan to co-write the screenplay this spring. Production is set to begin in 2010. Rushdie's Booker-prize winning novel Midnight's Children is set against the backdrop of India's blossoming independence. Hamilton says Rushdie and Mehta met several years ago in New York when the novelist attended a screening of the Canadian director's celebrated Water, which was nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar. Mehta's latest film, Heaven on Earth, is in theatres now.
Jamie Foxx Prepares 'Intuition' For Dec
(November 11, 2008) *Jamie Foxx's new film "The Soloist" will arrive in March on the heels of his third album, "Intuition," due Dec. 16 from J Records, reports Billboard.com. The CD, Foxx's third, is led by the single "Just Like Me" featuring T.I., which is the top debut this week at No. 48 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The track was co-written and produced by the hitmaking team of the-Dream and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart. It becomes available via digital retailers today, Tuesday, Nov 11. "Intuition" will also include contributions from Timbaland, Ne-Yo, Sean Garrett, Salaam Remi and Carlos McKinney, among others. It's the follow-up to 2005's "Unpredictable," which has sold 1.98 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "The Soloist," co-starring Robert Downey Jr., opens in U.S. theatres on March 13.
Will & Jada On Essence Cover
(November 12, 2008) *Will and Jada Pinkett Smith grace the cover of December's Essence magazine and dish about a number of topics in the cover article, "The Story of Us." The couple talks about starting an independent school near their California home, raising their blended family and strengthening their 11-year marriage. Also, Essence listens in as Mr. and Mrs. Smith interview each other and talk about how they make it all work. Log-on now to Essence.com for exclusive photos of the power couple’s romantic photo spread. The magazine also lists its second annual Essence 25 Most Influential of 2008, which presents 25 African Americans who had the greatest impact this year—from politicians, actors, educators, entrepreneurs, entertainers and more. Plus, President-elect Barack Obama is the Readers’ Choice African-American of the Year.
Jaden Smith Is The New 'Karate Kid'
(November 12, 2008) *Columbia Pictures has announced that Jaden Smith, the son of Hollywood titan Will Smith, will star in an all-new version of "The Karate Kid," based on the 1984 hit film led by Ralph Macchio. The movie will be produced by Jerry Weintraub (who launched the original franchise) and Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment, along with his partners James Lassiter and Ken Stovitz, reports Variety. The project, written by Chris Murphy, will begin shooting next year in Beijing and other cities. While the new film will be set in that exotic locale, it will borrow elements of the original plot, wherein a bullied youth learns to stand up for himself with the help of an eccentric mentor. Jaden Smith, who next stars in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," practices martial arts as a hobby.
Comedy `The Office' Takes A Fictional Trip To Wintry Winnipeg
Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press
(November 07, 2008) Hands off that free trade agreement, Barack Obama.
We wouldn't want to shut down any cross-border dealings with the Dunder Mifflin Company, the fictional paper supply business lampooned in The Office.
Next Thursday, Dunder Mifflin's hopelessly absurd regional manager, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), gets what he thinks is a plum company perk: an all-expenses, inter-office trip to Winnipeg.
Michael sees it as a chance to shine on an international stage. The company sees it as a nice thing to do for Michael after they busted up his office romance with HR manager Holly (Amy Ryan).
When he gets there, he finds out that visiting the Manitoba capital in November isn't exactly Paris in the springtime. The place is cold and snowy and altogether ordinary – not unlike his own base of operation, beautiful downtown Scranton, Pa.
In fact, Winnipeg was dubbed "the Scranton of Canada" by the comedy's writing staff. Winnipeg, said Emmy winner Brent Forrester, who wrote the episode, struck the right balance between "exotic and obscure."
Running quality control on all the Canadian jabs was the lone Canuck on the writing staff, Toronto native Anthony Farrell. Farrell really isn't an expert on Winnipeg – he's only ever been to that city's airport on a stopover – but, then again, the episode wasn't really shot in Manitoba, either. (Like all Office episodes, it was shot near Los Angeles.)
Still, Farrell made sure nobody stuck any "ehs" into the script. There are no obvious Canadian actor cameos either. The set was dressed with Canadian goods. A call was made to the Manitoba tourism bureau, which sent boxes of Old Dutch potato chips, shopping bags from The Bay and other 'Peg paraphernalia. Farrell says spotting the Canadian loot is a hoot and should merit a second look. "The art guys and the prop guys plastered the walls with the stuff."
Farrell was consulted when actors were hired for the episode. Executive producer Greg Daniels asked him, "Who do you think looks the most Canadian?" Farrell says he just based his choices on "people who looked like my friends' parents."
Farrell's own cross-border move never seemed out of reach. When he was a high school student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto, a history teacher's comment that "America was the dog, Canada the tail" bugged him.
"Even as a 13-year-old, I took exception to that," he says.
After graduating from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., Farrell studied comedy writing at Toronto's Humber College, where he met others with ambitions of living and working in Hollywood. While he got involved with the local stand-up and improv comedy scene, he never worked on a Canadian TV show, heading straight to the U.S. after graduating from Humber.
A play he wrote examining human interaction called The Room helped him land his gig on The Office, which began as a British comedy series. NBC's version of the series is more of a critical favourite than a ratings magnet, although the early numbers have been strong so far this season.
Farrell points out that the show is always among the top draws among younger viewers who watch it online or on their iPods. An expected post-Super Bowl airing should spike TV ratings in the New Year, although Farrell doesn't expect it to ever be a No. 1 hit.
"It's different from the normal, broad, slapstick humour," he says. "It has a very loyal, specific audience, and the people who are most likely to be really into it have probably already found it."
As for any more Office trips to Canada, who knows, says Farrell. He's prepared to stand on guard against Canadian stereotypes sneaking into future scripts, although he does concede bringing a couple of cases of Canadian beer into the writers' room couldn't hurt.
"It would have been fun sitting around drinking Moosehead," Farrell says.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton.
Seth Macfarlane: Family Guy Creator Talks About Future Of Show
And How He Plans To Spend Windfall
Source: www.thestar.com - Michael Cidoni, Associated Press
(November 06, 2008) BEVERLY HILLS, Calif–Talk about inflation. Seth MacFarlane is Hollywood's hundred-million-dollar man – and he's not even bionic.
MacFarlane, 35, is creator and executive producer of Family Guy, Fox's top-rated prime-time 'toon (yes, even more popular than The Simpsons), one of the all-time best-selling TV-on-DVD titles, and a show that spearheaded the digital-download video phenomenon.
So it's no wonder the studio recently served up a $100-million (U.S.) production deal to keep their Family man happy. MacFarlane also is at the helm of the Fox 'toon American Dad! and is working on a Family Guy spin-off series, Cleveland.
"In all honesty, my representative said I could get that much money and I didn't stop him," MacFarlane said. "Can I spend a hundred-million dollars? No. I'll spread it around as much as I can."
Spreading the wealth? Clearly, MacFarlane is an Obama man. He did some campaigning for the Democratic presidential candidate, and even took a shot at the Republican competition on Family Guy.
In a recent episode, baby Stewie is transported to World War II Germany, clunks a Nazi on the head, steals his uniform, and puts it on. "Hey, there's something on here," Stewie says, feeling something on the jacket's lapel.
Cut to a close-up of a "McCain-Palin" button.
The gag got huge laughs at a rare public pre-screening of the episode for a sold-out crowd at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. MacFarlane then sat down with The Associated Press to talk about money, politics and the future of Family Guy.
Q: So, how does $100 million change your life?
A: Nothing I can do can really live up to that amount of money on a daily basis, so my view of it ... (is that) I gave them all of my 20s, which are irretrievable. (I put my) heart and soul into that show and, in turn, they give me $100 million. I think that's fair. One of those is replaceable, the other isn't.
Q: Word is the first thing you bought was a house.
A: It's airy, open. It's not huge, not palatial. As a graduate of art school, I'm very conscious of the use of space, more than anything else.
Q: Given how much you work, does it really matter where you live?
A: Yeah, I guess that's true. It really doesn't matter where you live because I'm never there. When I am there, I want it to have the environment of a retreat.
Q: Let's talk about what pays the mortgage: Family Guy. What's new for the seventh season?
A: In one episode, Stewie kidnaps the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They (the original cast members) all came back, reunited to do their voices for us. Brian tries to legalize pot in Quahog (Rhode Island, where the show is set). Peter tells the story of his ancestry. Down the line, we have our Family Guy abortion episode, believe it or not. Hats off to Fox for letting us take some risks, as always. There can be a lot of trouble, but at the end of the day, they do generally step up for risky, sensitive, topical stuff.
Q: More than one of your writers has said that seven seasons in, you're running out of pop-culture things to reference.
A: At this point, we hope the characters have gotten to the point that we don't have to lean on that quite as much. There's always new media and new pieces of pop culture emerging that you can make fun of, and so we'll continue to draw from that. But I don't think it's as much of a crutch as it was 10 years ago.
Q: But after the success of Blue Harvest (the show's Star Wars spoof), you're going back to the Star Wars well.
A: It was so popular that we thought it might be fun to write the Empire (Strikes Back) episode; it would be fun to do. As we got into the Empire episode, we found that it's almost twice as much work, but we'll get through it, somehow, and it'll be great. It's like redoing the movie.
Q: Cleveland (a Family Guy neighbour) is getting his own series. What does it say about the state of television that Entertainment Weekly picks him – an animated character – as the cover boy for a story on African-American characters in prime-time?
A: This is a guy who's played like a real three-dimensional guy – not just as a cardboard, stereotyped black guy. I actually would stack that show up against other shows about black characters in recent years because I think a lot of them are – they dumb them down for some reason. They talk down to their audience. We're just treating this like Family Guy, like any other show.
Q: American Dad! has always been the stepchild of Family Guy in terms of viewers and critics.
A: It's had a struggle. American Dad! has had a struggle. But now it's regularly beating The Simpsons.
Q: Say, 20 years from now, what are you hoping people will think about Seth MacFarlane and Family Guy?
A: I don't know. It also depends on what way television standards go. If the FCC continues to put the crunch on everything and things become more conservative, Family Guy may be viewed like All in the Family, which would be like the greatest thing in the world for me. It's just about the greatest show there was. ... Twenty years from now, if they say the show is still funny, that's enough for me."
Al Gore TV Comes To Canada
Source: www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press
(November 10, 2008) Al Gore's Internet-fuelled news network is coming to Canada.
The former U.S. vice-president's media company, Current, comprises a TV channel and a website, and draws heavily from citizen journalists.
It is already in operation in the United States, Britain, Italy and Ireland.
In Canada, a similar set-up will be run as a joint venture with the CBC, although the digital TV channel – to be known as Current Canada – is pending regulatory approval.
CBC executive Richard Stursberg says the project has "the potential to dramatically alter the way Canadians interact with both television and online programming."
It's hoped that one-third of the channel's content will come from viewers, and that Current Canada will be launched late next year.
Gore, who co-founded Current and acts as its chairman, says the channel will encourage involvement from young people.
"By creating a cable network that works in concert with our online community, Current is facilitating a global conversation with our young adult audience," Gore said today in a release. "There's nothing like it on the media landscape today."
Since famously losing the U.S. presidency race in 2000, Gore has gone on to be one of the most visible advocates of new media and environmental projects, winning an Academy Award for the global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth and a Nobel Peace Prize.
The CBC says the new venture will focus on involving young adult audiences through participatory initiatives on TV and the web.
"Based on the successful model of Current TV in the United States, the U.K. and Italy, we intend to fundamentally redefine some basic elements of how programs are created and evaluated," said Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC English services.
"This includes the interesting notion of who gets to create programming."
CRTC Raps Shaw Over Gay Channel
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Canadian Press
(November 06, 2008) OTTAWA — The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ruled that Shaw Cable has not been marketing its gay-and-lesbian TV service nearly as well as do other cable systems. The broadcast regulator says, as a result of being subjected to "undue disadvantage," OUTtv was not getting nearly the audience on Shaw that it was getting elsewhere. The CRTC says that in December, 2007, 0.49 per cent of Shaw subscribers watched the gay-and-lesbian channel, which has 500,000 subscribers across the country. That compares with 18.11 per cent of Telus subscribers during the same period, 15.69 per cent of Bell ExpressVu watchers, 9.27 per cent of Cogeco subscribers, 7 per cent on Rogers systems and 6.61 per cent of Star Choice subscribers. That's an average of 10.7 per cent of subscribers watching OUTtv on the five other services - or 21 times Shaw's rate. No sanctions were announced; Shaw has 30 days to respond to the ruling with proposed fixes. The CRTC says Shaw did not take steps to inform customers of the service; it grouped the service with adult programming even though it contains none; and it did not make the channel as available as it did others during "freeviews." "It is clear that Shaw currently markets OUTtv in a different manner than any of the other Category 1 services that it distributes," the ruling says. Brad Danks, chief operating officer of OUTtv, says he is not happy with the costly and time-consuming complaint process, particularly since it includes no sanctions for the offending cable system. "The expense and timing of this process is extraordinary," Danks said in an interview. "There is no financial incentive for them to move quickly on this."
Lisa Bonet Struggled With TV Return
(November 7, 2008) *Former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet says her decision to return to television – in a recurring role on the ABC cop drama "Life on Mars" – was not an easy one. "To have my face reinstated in minds and homes once a week was an intense decision," says the notoriously press-shy actress and mother of 19-year-old Zoe and 16-month-old Lola with boyfriend, actor Jason Momoa. The couple is expecting their second child in January. Bonet, 41, says she has a hard enough time just dealing with the paparazzi every day. "It feels like you're being stalked," she says. "As a shy person, that type of attention coming at me violates something. I don't like that it's expected to come with the territory." As for why she decided to sign on for a the new role, despite some reservations about the attention she'd be getting, she tells People.com, "You know, I guess it all has to do with the stars lining up and it being the right time and the right project." A happy love life also helped. "Having a mate has given me that feeling of safety," she adds. Although she's uncomfortable around the press, Bonet takes full advantage of the People interview to squash a widespread rumour that she also has a son. "I don't have three children already," she says. "I always hear that I do … Apparently, there's some young child locked in a basement," she quips. "I don't dwell on that stuff, but that comes to mind.”
New Tyra-Produced Show To Begin Jan. 5
(November 6, 2008) *The new reality show from executive producers Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher has just received a plum slot on ABC's winter schedule, reports Variety. Titled "True Beauty," the series will make its debut on Monday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. following the two-hour season premiere of "The Bachelor." The following week, "The Bachelor" will shrink down to its normal 90-minute frame, leaving room for "Samantha Who?" in its regular 9:30 p.m. slot. "True Beauty" continues at 10. ABC has kept details of "True Beauty" under wraps. But, the show from Warner Horizon, Bankable Prods. and Katalyst, revolves around people who live in a house together and compete in a beauty pageant.
Omari Hardwick Cast In TNT Pilot
(November 6, 2008) *Actor Omari Hardwick, best known for his role as a paramedic in the TNT series "Saved," returns to the cable channel in the upcoming drama pilot "The Line," according to the Hollywood Reporter. Executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, "Line" is a character-based police drama that revolves around a squad of undercover LAPD officers as they walk the line between doing their job and being seduced by easy money. Hardwick will play Ty, an undercover cop with complex criminal aliases who is a model suburban husband on the outside. The pilot will be directed by Danny Cannon and written by Doug Jung and Jonathan Littman.
Chappelle To Turn Tables On James Lipton
(November 10, 2008) *Dave Chappelle, one of the more memorable guests to ever appear on Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio," will take over the show for one day as host James Lipton's takes a turn in the hot seat. According to E! Online, the reclusive comic will interview Lipton as part of the show's 200th anniversary episode, which will feature highlights from its past 14 seasons. Chappelle famously discussed his abrupt departure from Comedy Central's "Chappelle Show" and subsequent retreat to Africa during a Dec. 2005 taping of "Actor's Studio" that aired in Feb 2006. The two-hour Chappelle-hosted special will air Nov. 10 with a look back at Lipton's interviews with Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Will Smith and Angelina Jolie and others.
When The Secrets Come Out
Source: www.thestar.com - Mark Selby, Special To The Star
(out of 4)
By Diane Samuels.
Directed by Christopher Newton.
Until Nov. 23 at the Al Green Theatre.
(November 07, 2008) There's an old
Yiddish proverb that says, "To every answer there's a new question."
In Kindertransport, the award-winning play by Diane Samuels, there's no limit to the questions one daughter poses when she discovers a secret long kept hidden within her stout suburban British household, 40 years after World War II: that her mother was born Jewish to a German family. Along with thousands of other unescorted Jewish children, she had fled to a new life in a foster home in England in the year before Germany's invasion of Poland.
With the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht next Saturday, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company presents this fictional (but reality-based) story of Evelyn, a woman who must confront her conflicting feelings about her heritage and answer her daughter's questions about a past so troubled and tragic that she has blocked it out.
Christopher Newton has directed the piece with a fluidity that appears effortless as the play tells a non-linear story in three disparate locations on one stage.
Cameron Porteous's set design is spare but multi-purpose: a set of boxes and trunks in an attic, symbolic of a people who, since the original Exodus, have been made to relocate against their will.
The transitions between scenes are graceful thanks to Emily Porter's sound and Kevin Lamotte's light designs that flawlessly situate the audience in each scene. Tyler Devine's video projections are created with care and skill, but with all the other crafts executed as proficiently as they are, his efforts are unnecessary.
Patricia Hamilton is a strong actor playing the foster mother Lil as regal, caring and stoic ... a stiff-upper-lipped British matriarch if ever there was one.
Jenny Young is weaker as Evelyn's inquisitive daughter, Faith – a one-dimensional actor with a repetitive delivery who is prone to unmotivated hysterics.
Without a doubt, the night belonged to Jennifer Dzialoszynski, a capable and charismatic performer who single-handedly carries the show as the young Eva who, years later, conforms to her British surroundings as Evelyn. As the 9-year-old refugee, she has a charming incorruptibility; later, her body language and deportment show the budding maturity of a teenager who makes a final, crucial decision.
Despite some arguments in Act II that devolve into a Coronation Street-style shouting match, this remains a powerful story about identity and family, where untended communication gaps can become chasms over time.
The Joy Of Tormenting Charlie Brown
Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic
(November 06, 2008) Jane Miller isn't exactly like the infamous "girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead," because – in Miller's case – when she's good, she's very, very good.
But when she's bad, she's better.
Think back on some of Miller's memorable performances on the Toronto stage: as one of the libido-to-the-wind women who powered the amazing Carole Pope revue Shaking the Foundations, or the girl who took the term "hockey mom" to a funkier level in Disco Goalie.
Now, she's gleefully playing one of the most conniving bitches in dramatic literature. No, not Lady Macbeth or Hedda Gabler.
It's Lucy van Pelt, the dark angel who spent decades rattling the world of Charles M. Schulz's iconic comic strip Peanuts, and is now doing the same over at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in the musical You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, which starts previews Sunday.
The raucous Miller chortles gleefully at the affinity all of her friends says she has for the bossy Lucy.
"Everyone says it's a perfect part for me and then I furrow my eyebrows like Lucy and say, `What do you mean?'"
When confronted with the fact that most of her previous roles haven't exactly been kid-friendly, she summons up a great air of mock dudgeon and says, "I want you to know that I made my professional debut at Santa's Village in a show called Santa in the Sun and my co-stars were Juan Chioran and Ellen-Ray Hennessy."
Before dwelling too long on what effect that entertainment might have had on young, impressionable minds, Miller is anxious to explore the deeper underpinnings of the Schulz characters that make them so perennially entertaining, while being heartbreakingly true.
"Look at the men in her life," she sighs. "She loves Schroeder because he's unattainable. Isn't that what all women do? They run around thinking, `If somebody gives me love, then I'm not worth it.'"
She shifts her focus to her ultimate nemesis, Charlie Brown. "Oh, he's just a sore she can't help poking at. She doesn't have any compassion for him, but she can't help telling the truth. She's very confident and he's a loser; no wonder he keeps coming back."
Just like Lucy, she roars through the men in her cartoon life. "Linus is just a responsibility and someone she can nag, while Snoopy is the only one who will actually go fart in her face. They both have a lot of gall and they admire that in each other."
Ask Miller if she doesn't find this all a bit too serious for a cartoon musical and she snaps back, "Not at all. The hardest thing is not to try to play at being kids. The more authentic our actual feelings are underneath, the funnier and more touching we can be."
Her favourite moment in the show, both as an adult actor and as the childish character she plays, is the song "Happiness."
"I'll tell you why I like it so much," she says, suddenly gentle. "It's about being really specific about those things that gladden your heart. It's about really being in the moment.
"It takes you back to a time when everything actually was that neat and simple and I have a real aching nostalgia for that. A sense of awe about the world, a place where things made sense."
But then, when she swings into Lucy van Pelt's dark side of the moon, she just thinks of two things.
"First, I remind myself of what I'm like on a really grumpy day, and second, my husband, who once told me I was a bulldozer, but a cute one."
Just the facts
WHAT: You're a Good Man,
WHEN: Sunday to Dec. 30
WHERE: Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front St. E.
TICKETS: $10 to $20 at 416-862-2222 or lktyp.ca
My Pal Pierre: One-Woman Show Recalls An Enduring Friendship
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Michael Posner
(November 12, 2008) In 1985, while a student at the National Theatre School, a twentysomething Brooke Johnson became friends with Pierre Trudeau, then a sixtysomething lawyer in Montreal. The friendship - platonic - continued for 15 years, in meetings, lunches, hikes and, in a pre-e-mail era, actual correspondence. Out of that friendship and her diaries of the period came Trudeau Stories, Johnson's one-woman show, directed by Allyson McMackon. It opens at Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille tomorrow and runs until Dec. 6. Johnson spoke recently with The Globe and Mail.
When did it occur to you to turn your connection with Trudeau into a stage vehicle?
I did not set out to write a play. But after he died, in 2000, I wanted to clear my mind and write down what happened, to remember that time. I did a reading of [one of the stories] at a Theatre Columbus evening and people encouraged me about the writing. I did not know if I could formulate more stories, so there was a lot of hard slogging.
The relationship was platonic, but did you think it might turn romantic?
I was afraid that it might be more than platonic. I knew his reputation and at that dance [their first meeting], he was charming and extremely attentive, so it would have been kind of silly if you didn't think about it. But I didn't want that. I had a boyfriend and we certainly had talks about it. He believed me when I said it was a friendship thing [with Pierre] and it was an important part of my life. ... I didn't want to not carry on that relationship. Pierre talked about jealousy and the problem of jealousy. ... I was in my early 20s and had all kinds of stuff going on. ... I did not put the idea of a romantic relationship first. My first priority was the school.
He had, at that first meeting, suggested getting together again.
Yes, and I had treated it rather flippantly. So I gathered my courage and ran after him as he was leaving. That's what led me to write a letter after the next meeting, to lay out where I was at and hoping I did not sound presumptuous. The comparison is a staircase by Escher and not knowing if you're going up or down.
What new material have you added to Stories since you did it at Summerworks in 2007?
A few things. ... There's a story called Brecht, Lobsters and the Just Society, which is almost a monologue of Trudeau talking about his work at the law firm; there's some stuff about my grandfather and there's a short little shopping trip we made on the way to lunch. It's all added about 10 minutes to the piece so it comes in at 75 minutes. I just wanted to add a couple of little flavours, mostly about him.
Was he fatherly toward you?
He was very caring, warm and attentive. Were you okay? Did you have the right food to eat? Overly attentive, so in that sense, fatherly ... and sometimes challenging, which is also what a good friend should be.
And physically. Climbing mountains. I tried my best to engage him intellectually, but I was not educated in the same way and I sometimes did not feel up to par. But he always listened and responded in kind. ... [Physical activity] was a really important part of who he was ... skiing, hiking. ... And when his legs started to fail him, that really affected how he felt about himself.
The friendship eventually petered out. Why was that?
I'd let the friendship drift away. ... I was getting involved in shows and you can't dictate where your next job will be. And his memory was failing. ... His Parkinson's was affecting him and he was in his late 70s and I kind of felt he'd forgotten about me. I did contact him once and just got a response from his secretary. And then long after his son [Michel] died in 1998, I eventually wrote to him. But seven days later, he died.
Phenom Leaps Onto Broadway
Source: www.thestar.com – Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic
(November 11, 2008) NEW YORK–There's a moment in the second act of Billy Elliot, the hit London musical scheduled to open on Broadway this Thursday night, when the young dancer playing Billy leaps into a number called "Electricity" which sums up all the magic and excitement that dance has come to mean in his life.
And when David Alvarez finishes that song, he encapsulates it all so perfectly that it's no wonder audiences have been known to break into a spontaneous standing ovation.
Even though he's only 14 years old, it's obvious that the Montreal-born dancer of Cuban heritage is the real thing: a super-talent who's ready for every challenge that this three-hour panoply of emotions based on Steven Daldry's 2000 movie can fling at him.
Parental discord, civil strife, rioting crowds, creative pressure and family ghosts are all one to Alvarez and he takes them calmly in his stride.
"It's funny," he admits in his softly accented voice, "but as an actor, it just happens for me. I get deep into the character and once I'm there, I'm there."
It's the day after a preview performances and he sits calmly in the balcony of the Imperial Theatre, looking down on the now-empty stage he set on fire the night before.
"I had no idea," he says, "what it would be like to be the star of a Broadway musical."
The role is so demanding that two other young men share it with Alvarez, but all three are considered equal and there is no sense that any one is superior to his colleagues.
The Toronto Star's Susan Walker spoke to Alvarez shortly after he was cast last spring, but at the time he had no idea what was really ahead of him.
He now admits that "the biggest shock was seeing all the scenery and how everything moves around so fast. The flying during the dream ballet was pretty scary at first as well."
"In fact," Alvarez says in a rare moment of self-doubt, "I really wondered how I would get through the whole thing."
At the time, he hadn't counted on the theatre's secret weapon: the audience. "They cheered me a lot," he blushes, "and their adrenaline was incredible." He nods his head like a savvy showbiz veteran. "It's really a lot easier with an audience."
But before you start to think that Alvarez might be just a natural talent who slipped effortlessly into this complex role, it's worth hearing him discuss his thought processes.
"I saw the movie before I even knew there was a musical of Billy Elliot and I found it incredibly touching. Because I want to be a ballet dancer, too." He smiles. "The only difference is that my parents are very supportive."
And courageous. They defected to Canada in 1993, where David was born a year later, before moving to San Diego and finally relocating in New York when it became obvious their son was headed for a major career in dance.
He was spotted by a casting director who saw a picture of him in a magazine with his class from the American Ballet Theatre, and after a long and strenuous audition process, he got the role.
"They later told me they knew from my first audition I would be one of the Billys," he grins, "but they kept it secret from me until I had finished all my training."
And the devoted Alvarez looked on that training as intellectual and emotional as well as physical.
"When I first got the part, I went onto the Internet and discovered everything I could about the miners' strike," he admits, describing the bloody 1984 British labour dispute that forms the background of the show. "I wanted to know everything that was going on in this kid's life."
He even reaches into the world of childhood fables to describe the relationship Billy has with the ghost of his deceased mother.
"For me, Billy is a bit like the story of Bambi and his mother. She dies, but she gives him the knowledge and the inspiration to go on."
Inspiration is a big word for him right now, during the opening week of the show when the New York critics will be judging Alvarez and his companions. "You put everything you can into every performance and don't give up."
And even though he's different in many ways from the typical Broadway showbiz kids in the cast, he admits "we have one thing in common; we all know what we want to do with our lives and that's perform.
"I believe that if you have the will to play Billy Elliot, then you can do it.
"After all, the show's principal message is that if you have a dream and if you really want it, then you'll get it.
Spanish Dance Takes Over T.O.
Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker, Dance Writer
(November 06, 2008) Tango and flamenco dancers will be burning up the floor at three different venues in downtown Toronto over the next 10 days. Wherever either dance form is practised, the words "passion," "soul," "fire" and "pain" are frequently dropped.
Apart from their Spanish cultural origins, the dances have very little in common. (The word "tango," originally applied to music, was first used in Andalusia, Spain, the birthplace of flamenco.) But the idea that the performances are felt as much as seen is something emphasized in both tango and flamenco and helps explain their universal appeal. It's not something you'll experience sitting at home in front of So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing With the Stars.
A quality that is often talked about in flamenco is duende (pronounced DWEN-day). The poet Federico Garcia Lorca developed the concept in a lecture he gave in 1930.
"Duende is a struggle, a dark force, having very little to do with outer beauty, a struggle present in the artist's soul, the struggle of knowing that death is imminent," Lorca said. He saw duende as a critical element in dance, music and the bullfight.
In flamenco music, song and dance, duende can be seen as the driving force.
"It's an elusive thing to try to describe," says Esmeralda Enrique, who will premiere Cantos de la Tierra (Songs of the Earth) with her company and guest Spanish dancer Juan Ogalla tonight at the Fleck (Premiere) Dance Theatre. "It involves a complete surrender of your being to the moment, and it can happen with a group of people performing. If they all surrender at the same moment it becomes a different level of experience."
Singers, like Enrique's guest cantaora from Spain, Encarna Anillo, and musicians – another guest performer is guitarist Oscar Lago – also channel duende.
There is a correlation between tango and flamenco, says Enrique. "It's the emotional quality. Visually both forms are stunning to watch, but it's mostly what one feels that we are dancing to."
In the case of the tango, it's the emotions shared by a couple. There is a saying that "tango is not in the feet. It is in the heart."
Ines Cuesta partners Mauricio Celis in a show straight from Buenos Aires called Tango Fire, running for two shows on Saturday at the Winter Garden Theatre. The couple, who is also husband and wife, has been dancing together since their teens.
Tango is all about the embrace, and the Argentine tango, as opposed to the North American ballroom form, calls for close heart-to-heart contact. In tango, says Cuesta, "You show a lot of emotions and feelings. It's in my gaze. I love him and I love dancing with him."
Tango couples mate for life. They become one artistic unit. "You must listen to his body," says Cuesta of the woman's role. "It's very important to have the energy running between you."
During breaks from touring with Tango Fire, Cuesta and Celis, one of five couples in this well-received show performed to live music by Quatrotango, dance in the supper clubs and restaurants of Buenos Aires. "Tango is our life," she says. "We can't stop working."
Since he quit his job in the financial services industry last year, flamenco has been Lionel Félix's life. As founder and executive producer of the Toronto International Flamenco Festival, Félix has pulled off a small coup by bringing in renowned Spanish flamenco dancer Mercedes Ruiz to headline the performance on Nov.15 at the St. Lawrence Centre that caps the second annual festival. She will also lead some of the festival workshops that begin on Tuesday.
Félix, a former football player and mathematician, is one of the few men in Toronto to have studied flamenco. He started in 1995.
"I went through all the schools," he says. He was also a ballroom dancer, competing in the Canadian championships as recently as 2006.
To Félix, duende is a way of explaining a deep connection to one's art.
"You have to be able to bring others into that vibration of duende. Sometimes the audience has a part to do by giving the feedback that the artist needs." In flamenco it's a deep emotional connection to self, he says. With the tango, the same connection is made by a couple.
Ruiz, a rising international star with plenty of passion to pull in an audience, will perform her solo Juncá. Enrique and her company as well as Carmen Romero will also dance in the festival show.
It will be a fitting close to a tempestuous time for dance lovers.
Just the facts
What: Cantos de la Tierra
Where: Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W.
When: Tonight through Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $23 to $40 at 416-973-4000
What: Tango Fire
Where: Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge St.
When: Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.
Tickets: $39 to $120 at 416-872-5555
What: Mercedes Ruiz at Toronto International Flamenco Festival
Where: St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front St. E.
When: Sat., Nov. 15 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: Go to TorontoFlamencoFestival.com
Will EA Be Wearing Mouse Ears?
Source: www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman, Special To The Star
(November 08, 2008) Electronic Arts, the world's largest entertainment software company, has been hit by hard times, it seems. Not only did the publisher of Madden NFL, Spore and Mirror's Edge lay off 6 per cent of its workforce last week, but the company's overall value has dipped from around $19 billion (all amounts in U.S. dollars) a few years ago to about $7.3 billion now.
While EA is usually the one eyeing acquisitions (most recently courting Take-Two Interactive, the makers of the Grand Theft Auto games), the Redwood City, Calif.-based giants could be the target of a takeover, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
In fact, the editorial speculates that the timing would be right for a firm like Disney to acquire EA. "Any entertainment company could be interested in EA given continued growth in video game sales, the potential for cross-fertilization with TV and film storylines, and advertisers' interest in buying space in games," notes the WSJ article. "Disney makes the most sense. EA's biggest assets include sports games, such as Madden NFL, which would fit with Disney's ESPN cable network. Disney also could save at least part of the roughly $200 million it spends annually developing its own games.
"Disney could afford it ... its stock has massively outperformed EA's this year."
While this Disney takeover is purely speculative, it does raise some interesting questions. Would Disney axe new and unproven titles, such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Space? Would they pull the plug on expensive, massively-multiplayer online role-playing game projects, such as Warhammer Online? Or would every NFL quarterback who wins the Superbowl in Madden 2010 yell "I'm going to Disneyland!" How about The Sims: Hannah Montana's House? This could go on forever, folks ...
Nintendo tops hardware sales Matthew Tattle, account manager at the NPD Canada market research firm, has confirmed that the Nintendo Wii is the fastest-selling piece of video game hardware in Canada ever, "hitting the 1 million unit sales mark while only just finishing its second year of sales."
Tattle says Nintendo appears to have the Midas touch: "But nothing has sold more than the Nintendo DS since 2006, with over 1.6 million systems sold in Canada from January '06 to Sep '08."
Mamma mia, Mario!
Gears Of Wars Sequal Trumps Original
Source: www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman, Special To The Star
Gears of War 2
(out of four)
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $59.99 (or $69.99 for Limited Edition with bonus DVD, book, photos and steel case)
(November 08, 2008) If you catch any typos in this review of Gears of War 2, it's because my hands are still shaking from playing this frantic, futuristic action game. You see, this sequel, much like its 5-million-unit-selling predecessor, can really rattle a guy's nerves (in a good way). Whether or not you've played the original, Microsoft Game Studios' tactical shooter for the Xbox 360 is one of the best – and most intense – video games of the year.
Players once again star as beefy Marcus Fenix, the leader of the COG (Coalition of Organized Governments) Delta Squad, who successfully staved off an attack by a vicious subterranean alien race known as the Locust Horde. Except now, six months later, these "inhuman genocidal monsters," as one of your fellow soldiers calls them, are back and stronger than ever in Gears of War 2. In order to save humanity from extinction, which is already threatened by a fatal disease called "Rust Lung" (caused by the Lightmass Bomb explosion at the end of the first game), you must crush the Locust Horde once and for all.
Unlike most shooters that encourage you to run-and-gun with brute force, the golden rule in Gears of War 2 is "take cover or die." Played from an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective, you must hide behind pillars, walls, burned-out cars and rocks, and pick the right time to turn, aim and shoot at baddies, or even use a downed enemy as a shield. Marcus can crawl, dodge and roll, crouch and run, and execute a SWAT turn which flips him facing left to right, or vice-versa, while his back is against an object.
Weapons are plentiful and powerful – such as the "Mulcher" high-powered machine gun or "Frag" grenades – and players will no doubt be hunting for boxes of ammo lying around to replenish their supply. Then there's the chainsaw duels: When you're face-to-face with an enemy wielding a "Lancer," you must quickly tap the "B" button to win the fight.
This sequel doesn't veer far from what made its predecessor one of the best-selling Xbox 360 games to date, but fans of the franchise can expect bigger set pieces (we don't want to give away any surprises here); a deeper story and better dialogue that makes you care more about the characters you meet (though there's still the odd cheesy one-liners like "Look ma, no face!" after destroying a baddie); and new and bigger enemies that are difficult to take down (including a massive lake monster about halfway through the game).
This gorgeous, high-definition game also offers multiple modes in which to play. The single-player campaign, for instance, can be played solo or with a friend beside you (via split-screen), or over the Xbox Live online service. Up to four players can also tackle the Horde mode together, to fight wave after wave of Locust enemies. Multiplayer modes, however, are what will give this game some longevity, with – count 'em – eight different game types, including a twist on capture-the-flag called "Submission" (capture an enemy, use them as a shield and drag them inside a ring) and "Annex" (retain control over fixed capture locations for a predetermined amount of time).
Gears of War 2 trumps the original in all respects, which is no easy feat. Between the tight controls, well-designed levels, better story, gorgeous graphics and many game modes, shooter fans will no doubt be playing this sequel for many nerve-wracking months to come.
An Open Letter
to Barack Obama
By Alice Walker, Theroot.Com
(Nov. 5, 2008) Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.
I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.
I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.
A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
In Peace and Joy,
Fine Yuletide Gift For Wee Hockey Fans
Source: www.thestar.com - Garth Woolsey
Casey and Derek On The Ice
By Marty Sederman
Illustrated by Zachary Pullen
(Chronicle Books, $15.95, 36 pages)
(November 09, 2008) "The outlook wasn't hopeful for the Rocket team that day.
The score was three to two with just a minute left to play."
If you've ever heard or read the classic baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat," you will recognize the rhythm and rhyme.
What author Marty Sederman has done here is transfer that essence into hockey terms in a terrific little book aimed at the youngest hockey players (and, of course, their parents).
As with all such lavishly illustrated children's works, this one is as much (if not more) about the crisp and colourful paintings done by Zachary Pullen as it is about Sederman's words. Sederman is a Harvard graduate and recreational hockey player who started writing poetry about the same time her two sons got into the sport. Pullen played hockey as a kid and describes himself as an avid fan of the Colorado Avalanche.
Together they tell the story of brothers Casey and Derek, linemates with the Rockets as they play a crucial contest versus the Titans.
"Derek's strength and Casey's speed would get the tying goal.
Any kind of shot would do – top corner or five-hole."
With Christmas approaching, parents and grandparents should snap up this little treasure, ideal for bedtime or anytime reading, ages 3 to 9.
The Definitive Lennon At Last
Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill, Entertainment Columnist
(November 09, 2008) "No writer is just one person," British novelist, playwright and biographer Philip Norman says.
He's quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald by way of explaining why he believes the world needs to know more about the late John Lennon – the subject of Norman's new 821-page chronicle of the ex-Beatle's life and times – than it does already.
"A writer is multiple personalities. And John Lennon was a massive complexity."
Besides, the only two full biographies of the artist Norman calls "a towering presence in the 20th century" – Ray Coleman's tame and by-the-numbers Lennon: The Definitive Biography, and Albert Goldman's scandalous psycho-fable, The Lives Of John Lennon – "just don't do the job," the writer continues, in a sun-drenched corner office of his Canadian publisher in downtown Toronto.
"John needs a literary biography, something that puts him into context.
"When you take into account the origins and scope of his work – his music, his poetry, his art and his politics – Lennon's life is an epic canvas. It's the stuff of a Russian novel."
John Lennon: The Life (Doubleday Canada, $40) does unfold as a novel. Its greatest strengths are not the intriguing, never-before-shared insights Norman has drawn from Lennon's childhood friends and acquaintances, or from the usual suspects (Lennon's second wife, Yoko Ono, and his son, Sean, and stepdaughter, Kyoko, and Beatles producer George Martin and songwriting partner Paul McCartney).
The witness accounts, verbatim conversations and reconstructed minutiae are evidence of Norman's exhaustive research – three years in the gathering, a year in the writing and editing – but nothing we didn't know or suspect about his complex and troubled subject.
What really sets his book apart are the writer's attention to and first-hand understanding of the economic, class, geographical, historical, cultural and sociological details of Lennon's upbringing and circumstances.
Norman's vivid re-creation of post-war Liverpool – tough, violent, depressed, class-divided and impoverished, still straining against the effects of post-Edwardian propriety – and of the head-spinning changes wrought on the port city's disaffected early boomers by emerging liberalism, counter-establishment thought and rock 'n' roll, is as evocative and compelling as the work of any great historical novelist.
"You have to judge real people in the context of their times," says Norman, whose well-regarded 1980 chronicle of The Beatles' rise and fall, Shout!, he calls "a snapshot in which John was just one character, while this is a portrait in oils."
The book, from which 60,000 words were edited to yield a tidy 300,000, didn't come easily, he explains.
"It was hideously difficult. It's not easy to write about music, to explain in words what The Beatles' songs sound like. You can't just stop mid-sentence and say, `Listen to the record.'
"And keeping all the pop culture shifts together, keeping an authentic timeline, trying to write an accurate account of the life of a pop artist without sounding too portentous or too trivial – it was horrible pressure. So much that's written about pop music is concerned with dross. How do you write about it in a literary fashion?"
Of the hundreds of things Norman learned about Lennon while researching the book – having covered the dissolution of The Beatles' own, supposedly neo-communist enterprise, Apple Corps, for a regional British newspaper, he was long ago acquainted with his subject's aggressive nature, "his need to have enemies" and his often outrageous displays of rage and ego – what surprised the biographer is not necessarily what seems to have inflamed critics and post-boomer readers with little or no understanding of the mores, politics and cultural atmosphere of the period in which Lennon almost became the great artist he always wanted to be, and a global icon.
What has captured headlines, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, is Lennon's own admission – on a tape recorded diary made in the Dakota in New York in the mid-1970s – that he once fantasized about having a sexual encounter with his mother, Julia.
"She was more like a flirtatious older cousin and fascinated him ... the opposite of her sister, John's prim Aunt Mimi, who raised him," Norman says.
Also raising eyebrows are Norman's examination and ultimate dismissal of rumours that Lennon harboured homoerotic feelings for McCartney that were apparently thwarted by his bandmate's "immovable heterosexuality."
The lingering yarn that Lennon had "briefly responded" to Beatles' manager Brian Epstein's advances gets another – inconclusive – airing.
"John regarded Brian as a father figure," Norman says. "He was always looking for a father."
Lennon's brutal callousness toward his first wife, Cynthia, and cold dismissal of their son, Julian – he often left them penniless when Beatlemania was reaching its peak, and once smacked Cynthia in the face in public – are laid out with unwavering honesty, though Norman was surprised by Cynthia's almost affectionate, after-the-fact rationalization of the treatment she received.
"Their partnership was doomed," he says. "She had to be hidden away. No one wanted to know a Beatle was married. She seemed acquiescent."
Later, with Ono, Lennon also succumbed to abnormal displays of jealousy and insecurity. Despite his claims to the contrary, primal-scream therapy didn't help, nor the drugs and alcohol he consumed during his infamous, 18-month "lost weekend" in California.
These reconstituted tales, and questions raised in the book – and elsewhere – about whether Lennon contributed to the death of mentor and early Beatle Stu Sutcliffe, who died of a brain haemorrhage in Hamburg in 1962 not long after Lennon kicked him in the head during a beating, seem only to have refuelled anti-Lennon sentiment in the media. That was not the author's intention.
"The world has such a settled idea of him – that he was tough, cynical, violent, jealous, manipulative, ruthless," says Norman, who recently completed a West End-bound stage musical – "a dark story with uplifting music" – based on the life and work of American pop meister Neil Sedaka.
"But he was also insecure, vulnerable and screwed up by his childhood. He imagined himself deprived of love, yet he was surrounded by a large and loving family that included his mother, till she was run down and killed outside Mimi's home when he was 17. His politics were dismissed as naive and presumptuous, but they provided the template for the kind of humanitarian and peace work Bob Geldof and Bono have accomplished.
"John was a bundle of huge contradictions. But given what happened to The Beatles in just 10 years, I'm surprised they all didn't turn out to be monsters."
Arts Minister Of The iPod Generation
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Steven Chase
(November 09, 2008) OTTAWA — Should you have trouble concentrating, newly minted federal Heritage Minister and iPod junkie James Moore has just the prescription for you: baroque music.
The 32-year-old British Columbia MP - who's just made history in becoming Canada's youngest-ever federal cabinet minister - describes this era of music as though it were vitamins for the mind.
"I can't sit down and read for more than half an hour unless I am listening to baroque music," says Moore when pressed for examples of what sorts of culture Canada's latest arts minister likes to consume.
"Baroque's best for listening to when you study because it's layered music; it's intense; it's all about rhythms. You'll have a percussion section going and you'll have a string section ... and so what it does is it actually gets your brain going and thinking in ways that promote rhythm," he says.
"When you have rhythm - that's what you're looking for when you're studying."
Moore will likely require lots of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi in the days ahead.
He's got a big set of briefing books to absorb after taking over a file where policy missteps taken before the recent election was called resurfaced during the campaign to hurt Conservatives. Relatively minor cuts to arts programs - designed to play well with the party's red-meat conservative base - ended up damaging Tory electoral fortunes in vote-rich Quebec.
But Moore is unapologetic about the nearly $45-million in cuts, including PromArt funding for artists touring abroad, saying these were sound decisions in the name of fiscal responsibility that rival parties misrepresented. (All the money was redirected into other programs under Heritage's mandate, Tories are quick to note.) His predecessor, Josée Verner, told The Globe and Mail in August that she was working hard to find replacements for PromArt and Trade Routes, two of the programs eliminated. But Moore declined to say whether he would proceed to do that.
"I am not going to make any commitments at this time."
But while he defended the cuts, Moore left the door open to new initiatives.
"Those decisions that were made in the past are not going to change in terms of the funding side, but there's always opportunities in the future to work with these groups and work with arts and culture communities to ensure that we all go forward together."
Quick on his feet, with four years experience in broadcasting as a talk-radio commentator, Moore was first elected as an MP in 2000. He's taken on increasingly significant roles for the Tories since they took power and last June was promoted to minister of state - a post outside cabinet - responsible for official languages.
The Harper Conservatives like Moore because he's careful with his words, hard-working and utterly dedicated to the party's cause. This ambitious MP is also what amounts to a professional politician, having won his seat in the Commons a mere six years after graduating from high school.
One of Moore's most important duties for the Harper government in recent months was his able service as senior flak catcher. He deftly shielded Prime Minister Stephen Harper from political controversy surrounding an alleged financial offer to dying B.C. MP Chuck Cadman - fielding the bulk of the questions on the matter in the Commons.
The youngest of three children, Moore was born in the Vancouver-area city of New Westminster, B.C. and raised in neighbouring Coquitlam. Unusual for a British Columbian, he was schooled entirely in French immersion through Grades 1 to 12, an experience he thoroughly endorses with a grudging nod to Liberal bilingualism policies.
"I don't know if it was [my parents] sort of accepting the Trudeau sales pitch about the importance of having two official languages and investing yourself in them, but I think it was certainly part of it."
More libertarian than conservative, Moore set himself apart from many Tory colleagues three years ago when he voted in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage. He's also a decade or more younger than many fellow cabinet ministers, a difference reflected in the playlist of his ever-present 160-gigabyte iPod, which is packed with everything from Sum 41 to Public Enemy to Barenaked Ladies. "The arrest [of Ladies front man Steven Page] didn't change the fact they're a great band," he says.
Moore's communication skills - demonstrably superior to his Tory predecessors at Canadian Heritage - appear to be an important part of the reason he was moved to Heritage.
He says the problem with the arts-funding controversy is the Conservatives were unable to explain themselves over the din of the election campaign. Rectifying this will now be a chief concern of his. "I am going to be out there every day that I can reminding Canadians that the government of Stephen Harper is the government that always has, and will continue to, stand up for Canadian culture, arts and heritage," says Moore, who offers the statistic that overall cultural spending by the Harper government is up close to 8 per cent this year from the last year the former Liberal government ran Ottawa.
He said he's keen to meet with "any and all" arts groups who have suggestions for him and wants to move beyond recent conflicts between the Tories and cultural communities. "This is not about debating the past; this is about where we want to go in the future."
He said while he has no background in the arts, he's a "fan" of artists and "supporter and a believer in the government's role to partner in and ensuring that Canadian arts and culture has a federal government that's supporting it in meaningful ways."
Moore holds up the recently released Canadian war film Passchendaele as an example of successful state-funded art. "These are the kinds of things we ought to be doing and the kind of things we ought to support," he said of the ambitious production, which has received mixed reviews across North America.
He says it's unfair to criticize the Tories for taking more than $40-million in savings from arts-programs cuts such as foreign touring funding and redirecting some of it to the Olympic torch relay. "The torch relay will highlight arts and culture ... It's one thing to say we're going to help finance a handful of artists to travel around the world and go to specific venues and present their talents. It's quite another thing when we have the opportunity in 18 months time when we're hosting the world to have the eyes of over three billion people around the planet looking [at] Canada."
Don't Forget Us, Local Artists Say
Source: www.thestar.com - Murray Whyte, Toronto Star
(November 10, 2008) David Moos, the Art Gallery of Ontario's chief curator for contemporary art, has had his hands full lately. And happily so. With the brand new AGO set to reopen later this week, Moos is luxuriating in the museum's reinvigorated commitment to his department.
Two floors of a new tower are given over to contemporary work, with a sprinkling of more throughout its eclectic collection: old masters, boxwood sculptures and Group of Seven paintings. Then there's a new, $5 million endowment to acquire contemporary works, a luxury the museum has been without for a long, long time.
"Anywhere you go in this gallery, you're never far from contemporary art," said Moos recently.
On the day he spoke, commissioned pieces by up-and-coming local contemporary art stars Shary Boyle and Kent Monkman were being installed."You're never far from a Toronto artist, either," said Moos. "And I'm proud of that."
But as the AGO prepares to reopen its doors, there's no shortage of concern on the part of a local art community that has often felt itself on the wrong side of the fortress walls.
To many artists here, the AGO has seemed impenetrable, splashing out on touring shows from big-name contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, or blockbuster historical shows, while the local art scene was given short shrift: occasional group shows or marginal spaces.
"I don't feel like the AGO's only job is to respond to the artistic community here, but it's a big part of its job," says Jessica Bradley. Bradley served as the AGO's chief curator of contemporary art, Moos's position, until 2002; she now runs Jessica Bradley Art + Projects gallery, which represents Boyle as well as a slate of other emerging local artists.
She's well acquainted with the challenges of running a mixed-mandate institution in a city brimming with artists.
"Toronto has the greatest concentration of artists in the country," Bradley says. "And for one reason or another we – and I don't just mean the institutions, though they're a huge part in that – have failed to make that evident to the public. "
Some point to the eclecticism of a scene that defies easy representation. Others aim squarely at the AGO's conservative collection of board members and patrons who shied away from daring contemporary work and were quick to take their artistic cues from abroad.
"Toronto collectors don't collect Toronto artists, so it was hard to be represented there," says Luis Jacob, a Toronto artist and curator.
Jacob, along with other Toronto artists Kelly Mark, Nestor Kruger, James Carl and Germaine Koh, among others, will be part of a grand reopening installation called "All Together Now: Recent Toronto Art," a nod to the dynamic do-it-yourself scene that has risen to boiling here over the past decade.
Jacob calls the gesture hopeful, but he suggests a need for much more.
"There's a kind of amnesia in this city," Jacob says. "And as artists, you can't work with that. You can't make work with meaning if there are no shared references."
Moos knows the critique. Part of the museum's role is to engage with the local scene, he says, but more so to "serve as a platform" to vault some of those artists internationally. "And I think that's something we haven't already done a great job of in the past," he acknowledges.
Whether it's the AGO's responsibility to build a collective local artistic memory has always been a major point of debate in the art community. But for Kelly Mark, there's no argument at all.
"They should be writing the history of the Toronto art scene and collecting Toronto artists. To my mind, that's their mandate," says Mark. "Look all over the country: the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal, the Winnipeg Art Gallery – they all supported their artists. The AGO hasn't done that and Toronto artists suffer."
Mark is an artist at the forefront of the burgeoning Toronto scene that is reaching new heights, with exhibitions all over the world.
She's also included in "All Together Now." Moos describes Mark as a Toronto artist whose career the AGO will be "focusing on," along with artist Micah Lexier, to build a "comprehensive holding" of their work. Mark wonders what that means.
"They have one of my drawings, from 1997," she laughs. Her piece in "All Together Now" is on loan from the collector that owns it; the AGO is hedging about acquiring it. Many of the works in "All Together Now" are not new acquisitions, but old pieces – like Koh's and Carl's – acquired more than five years ago while Bradley was still curator.
The gallery's confusion about its role is an easy solve, Mark says. "It's simple: show more art and be involved in the community," she says.
Simple, perhaps. Just not easy. But is it the AGO's job? Bradley says yes. "You have to go back to the leading art institutions to establish a more sustainable level of cultural awareness of the vitality of artists in this city," she says. "That does not mean doing a nice group show every couple of years and making them feel included; it's something deeper than that. It's about building culture."
Two Street Artists Have Co-Opted The Derelict Buildings Of
Source: www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon
(November 12, 2008) At Queen and Sherbourne streets in Toronto, amid the uneasy mix of skid row strivers and the influx of upwardly mobile professionals, sits the image of a woman in her late 20s, sitting contentedly on the wall of an old, boarded-up tavern.
She's a tremendously calming presence on this downtown east-side corner, a life-sized black-and-white cut-out image plastered onto the bricks. Wearing sensible shoes and a casual blazer, she sits with her shoulders hunched, watching the street life. She is Lilia Anne Bergeron, the now-deceased mother of prominent Toronto street artist Dan Bergeron, taken from an old photo he found while clearing out her possessions. She will be missed once a large condo building goes up in her place.
It's that sense of loss that Bergeron (a.k.a. Fauxreel) and fellow street artist Gabriel Reese (alias Specter) are commemorating in a new art exhibition called A City Renewal Project, which takes place in a Toronto warehouse this month.
Just as street art has hit new levels of sophistication, from the groundbreaking work of France's Blek le Rat to that of British artist Banksy and countless other urban artists around the world, the brick walls and abandoned storefronts of Canadian downtowns that provide a canvas for artists are fast disappearing. In their place are the glass, concrete and steel of condo buildings.
So Bergeron and Reese have taken an empty warehouse and created their own streetscape indoors to showcase this transition. Using many of the same techniques as in their outdoor work, in which large photos are plastered to walls, they have taken the images of actual buildings and have adorned them with street art, fake signs and painted-over condo ads. On view until Nov. 23, it is homage to downtown dereliction and disappearing street-art surfaces.
There's a flipside to this though. Abandoned buildings and old walls tend to get covered with street art just before they are demolished. So, in a way, the artwork itself signals their imminent destruction.
“We're not choosing a side on the issue. It's more about documenting this change that's happening, and showing the beauty in the [older] buildings that still exist,” Reese says. “As street artists, we work on these types of structures. So they are the buildings which, to us, are the most beautiful spaces, whereas to everyone else on the block they are the blight of the neighbourhood.”
Unlike most graffiti, which appropriates a wall and demands attention, Reese and Bergeron's work often blends in with the surroundings. And unlike graffiti, it is meant for ordinary passersby as much as for other artists.
“Graffiti is codified. It's for other writers for the most part. But we're trying to be inclusive.” Bergeron says.
For instance, Reese's Not Wheelchair Accessible, seen on a storefront in the indoor installation, is social commentary in artistic form. Still, some guerrilla impulses do cross over into their work, particularly the drive to stir public attention by working outdoors. So even if they see a distinction between their work and graffiti, “we've always been influenced by graffiti,” Bergeron says.
His work often involves painting over billboard ads. One example was his retouched billboard at Toronto's Front and Bathurst streets showing multiple images of Kanye West and the message “Just don't let it get to your head!” Coming from skateboarding culture and photography, Bergeron, 33, transferred that same sense of scouting around for perfect urban locations to his street work.
“I would rather have someone feel something about the work, whether it's positive or negative. If it's just there and you've passively looked at it, well then it's just as memorable as any of the bad advertising you see or some street furniture that's boring,” he says.
Bergeron is also the artist behind the Vespa ads plastered on downtown walls around Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary, depicting people with motor-scooter handlebars for heads, using the same photo-appliqué technique as much of his other artwork. Inevitably it garnered criticism once people began to realize that it wasn't street art, but advertising. Bergeron counters that all artists need to pay the bills, especially with Canadian galleries relatively slow to embrace street artists. Advertisers are the ones filling that gap. The energy drink Red Bull, for instance, is sponsoring A City Renewal Project.
Reese, 30, who recently relocated to New York, has a similar site-specific approach to his work, which tends to be even subtler than Bergeron's, such as repainting storefront signs. One piece, for instance, involved changing the sign of an abandoned Chinese storefront to read “Gentrification.” Or changing the sign above a boarded-up restaurant from “Christine's Place” to “Christine's Livelihood.” The whole point is to make the changes look like the original old signs.
(Both Bergeron and Reese have detailed websites featuring their work, at fauxreel.ca and specterart.com, respectively.) “With the work we do, people aren't sure if it's really supposed to be there or not. … And even if people don't get it, or they come up with their own ideas, that's what it's all about. Someone might get it and someone else might not even see it. It's just about these subversive ideas,” Reese says.
In a way, their work and the small warehouse installation show the continued intimacy and small scale of Canadian street art as opposed to, say, the much larger city art projects organized by New York's Deitch gallery. In lower Manhattan this past spring, for instance, Deitch unveiled a massive re-creation of one of the late Keith Haring's downtown murals to commemorate what would have been the artist's 50th birthday. The crossover between street art and the gallery system is long established.
Meanwhile, you have Bergeron quietly adding an image of his mother to his street work. In Canadian downtowns, with the condo buildings moving in, much of the work remains small and personal. “We would put up work on these spaces because no one cares about them,” Bergeron says.
A City Renewal Project runs until Nov. 23 in Toronto at 39 Lisgar Ave. in Toronto, 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 12 to 5 p.m. weekends.
Venus Williams wins WTA Championships
Source: www.thestar.com - The Associated Press
(November 09, 2008) DOHA, Qatar–Venus Williams rallied to win the WTA's Sony Ericsson Championships for the first time, defeating Vera Zvonareva 6-7 (5), 6-0, 6-2 Sunday in the final of the season-ending event.
The Wimbledon champion took command in the last two sets with powerful serving, smashes and aggressive groundstrokes against her Russian opponent.
"I'm so excited," Williams said. "That was a hard-fought match, every point, right down to the end."
Williams won US$1.34 million at the event, which for the first time offered the same prize money as the men at the ATP's season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai.
Williams' ranking will improve to No. 6 from No. 8, while the ninth-ranked Zvonareva also will move up two spots. The two were the lowest-ranked players at the event, which featured the top eight players in the world.
"I know I can go higher," said the 28-year-old Williams, a former top-ranked player who defeated No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals.
Zvonareva became increasingly frustrated and collapsed to the ground in tears when Williams broke her in the final set to go up 3-1. Williams, who lost their first meeting at the 2003 French Open, now holds a 6-1 record against Zvonareva.
Zvonareva surged to 5-2 in the first set, and led 5-3, 40-0. But she was unable to convert four set points in that game, and Williams won it on her second break point.
In the tiebreaker, Zvonareva fell behind 1-5, but rallied to win it on her fifth set point when her backhand slice clipped the net cord and dropped over.
The first lady of Qatar, Sheika Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, presented the trophy to Williams.
"Thanks to your Royal Highness for coming. Wow," Williams said.
The trophy is named after tennis great Billie Jean King, a vocal proponent of equal prize money for male and female tennis players. She sat with Mozah and other dignitaries during the match and joined Williams on court for the award ceremony.
Kostopoulos Handed Three-Day Suspension
Source: www.thestar.com - The Canadian Press
(November 10, 2008) Tom Kostopoulos says he's sorry but that still didn't stop the NHL from suspending the Montreal Canadiens' forward for hitting Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn from behind during a game Saturday night.
The NHL slapped Kostopoulos with a three-game suspension Monday for the hit that came during the first period of Toronto's 6-3 home victory.
Kostopoulos will forfeit almost US$33,000 in salary and will miss games Tuesday night against Ottawa, Thursday night at Boston and Saturday night against Philadelphia.
"I sincerely regret the injuries suffered by Mike Van Ryn," Kostopoulos said in a statement. "This is an unfortunate turn of events."
Kostopoulos received a five-minute boarding penalty and game misconduct after he rammed Van Ryn from behind while the Leafs defenceman retrieved the puck in the corner.
Van Ryn stayed on the ice for several minutes and was removed on a stretcher suffering from a concussion, broken nose and broken bone in his hand. He's expected to be out at least a month.
"I was just trying to get in on the forecheck and get the puck," added Kostopoulos, a veteran checking winger. "I didn't anticipate him turning and couldn't stop.
"I was trying to finish my check and obviously, it did not end up well. I never intend to injure another player. I feel bad. I hope he is going to be all right and resume playing as quickly as possible."
NHL vice-president Colin Campbell said Kostopoulos was a repeat offender. He received an automatic one-game suspension last season for instigating a fight late in a game against the Boston Bruins.
"While it is my determination that Kostopoulos did not deliver a check to an unsuspecting opponent, his actions caused injuries," Campbell said in a statement.
The incident sparked debate between those who felt Van Ryn should not have turned his back on the play and those who say a defenceman should have the right to protect the puck without getting slammed from behind.
To Don Gloves For 'One More Shot'
(November 11, 2008) ATLANTA–The end might actually be near for Evander Holyfield. But it won't arrive without one more title shot.
Holyfield, who said he plans to retire by the end of 2009, will meet 7-foot Russian Nikolai Valuev for the WBA heavyweight title Dec. 20 in Zurich, Switzerland. Final contracts are expected to be signed before the end of the week.
"I knew I would get one more shot, just had to be patient," said Holyfield, who turned 46 last month. "But I realized my time is running out and I've got to get this thing pretty soon. My whole thing, how old do you want to be when you pursue this?"
Holyfield, countering pleas from fans, media and the boxing community, has been putting off retirement until he reclaims the championship. He has not held a share of the title since losing the WBA belt to John Ruiz in March of 2001.
Holyfield now says he plans to retire before the end of next year, although he's quick to add, "I'm not in control of my life. If the Lord says, `I made you heavyweight champion again and I want you to keep fighting,' I'll stay as long as He wants me to stay."
Holyfield (42-9-2) is expected to make only $600,000 (U.S.) for the bout.
Valuev (49-1, 34 KOs), who is likely to be a huge favourite, had put off committing to fighting Holyfield because of a lack of interest. But no other bouts materialized and one potential opponent, Andrew Golota, lost Saturday in China.
Despite recent public financial issues with outstanding loans and child support, Holyfield strongly reiterated he is not fighting for the money but rather for a desire to reclaim the championship.
"People are always asking me, `Why are you keeping this going? Are you doing this for the money?'" he said. "It's kind of odd. I had this as a goal even before I had any money problems and situations. You get tired of explaining to somebody that you're not doing this for the money."
The Valuev bout is being held in Switzerland due to a lack of interest by sites in the U.S.
"It's sort of like this is going to happen in secret," Holyfield said. "That's too bad because it's going to be a great story. It's going to be a shocker."
Cox News Service
Your 12-Week Fat-Blasting Workout
By Raphael Calzadilla, BA, CPT, ACE, RTS1, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro
"If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got." -- Anonymous
Most of us know the benefits of cardiovascular exercise: reduced risk of heart disease, improved heart function, improvement in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as reduced risk of osteoporosis. And let us not forget one of our favourite benefits: less flab!
One fundamental problem with cardiovascular exercise for many people is that it simply becomes boring. I've read countless articles related to the types of cardio to perform, how frequently to perform them and how to reach your target heart rate. No one, however, seems to address the fact that this stuff can be boring for the everyday person. I'm not sure I can completely change your perspective about this, but I know I can provide you with a 12-week program that may stimulate your interest, your metabolism and your fat loss.
Most people tend to do the same workout day in and day out. Many end up "throwing in the towel" because they get psychologically burned out. It's sort of like eating pizza -- you may love it and it may be your favourite cheat food, but if you had to eat it every day for a year, I guarantee it would make the bottom of your favourite food list.
The same applies to exercise. You simply can't use the treadmill or elliptical machine every single workout for the same amount of time and with the same intensity levels. It will eventually catch up to you. When it does, you'll start to make excuses as to why you can't work out -- and you'll actually convince yourself the excuses are legitimate.
The human body will adapt to any exercise routine in approximately four to six weeks. If you do the same routine over and over, the body will adapt and become efficient at the movement. That's a good way to stall your progress.
In order to alleviate boredom and to keep you in fat-burning mode, I'm outlining several methods for manipulating your cardio workouts. You can perform each for three weeks at a time (or even two weeks at a time). The process will keep you motivated and have you burning loads of fat (assuming you're consistent with your eDiets nutrition program). Always remember one golden rule: Exercise does not work in and of itself -- nutrition is a huge component.
The following is my 12-week fat blasting workout that's designed to produce results. If you've been power walking for 20 minutes on the treadmill every day for the last year, things are about to change. You can select any type of cardio you wish as long as you adhere to the parameters of each three-week segment.
1. Longer Duration/Moderate Intensity (Weeks 1-3) -- This cardio method is based on keeping an elevated heart rate but not working so hard that you're burning out or short of breath. I recommend 40 minutes (beginners can start with 15 minutes) of walking or light jogging. This can be performed three to four days per week depending on your level of experience. I also recommend maintaining a heart rate of approximately 65 to 75 percent.
2. Interval Training (Weeks 4-6) -- This workout can be performed three to four days per week. Interval training is best described as incorporating higher intensity exercise with lower intensity. This method helps stimulate and speed the 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 more than 25-30 minutes is unnecessary -- and that includes warm up and cool down.
The following is a protocol for interval training using the treadmill as an example:
Begin with a warm up of five minutes at level 3.0 intensity (3 mph).
A. On the sixth minute, increase to level 4.0 (light jog).
B. On the seventh minute, increase to level 5.0.
C. On the eighth minute, increase to level 6.5 or 7.0.
D. For the next two minutes, return to level 3.0.
E. Repeat letters A-D two additional times, but increase the level of intensity by 1 on each phase.
F. Cool down for five minutes at level 3.0.
Total Workout Time (Including Warm Up and Cool Down): 25 minutes. Letters A-F 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 accordingly to make sure the intensity is somewhat demanding at the higher levels.
3. Combination Training (Weeks 7-9) -- Combination training can be performed four to five days per week. It simply combines the moderate intensity/longer duration method with interval training. Our goal is to stimulate fat loss by changing the parameters of the workout and also to keep ourselves mentally stimulated. Here's an example:
Monday -- Moderate intensity/longer duration for 40 minutes.
Tuesday -- Interval training.
Wednesday -- Rest.
Thursday -- Moderate intensity/longer duration for 40 minutes.
Friday -- Interval training.
4. The Split Workout (Weeks 10-12) -- The split workout asks you to perform a different cardio exercise every day (four days per week) for 30 minutes. Again, we are attempting to change the adaptation from the previous three weeks to ignite fat loss. Most people enjoy the variety of this workout after they get over the initial fear of change mindset. Here's an example of this workout:
Monday: Power walking
Friday: Aerobics dance tape
The beauty of this 12-week program is that you continue to burn calories the day after your workout -- you've stimulated your metabolism to such a high degree. 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 24-48 hours after the workout. With the above training parameters, you're bound to make excellent progress.
Beginners should reduce each workout by one day, decrease time by five minutes and perform at a level of intensity that is comfortable (approximately 55-60 percent of target heart rate). I strongly encourage everyone to invest in a heart rate monitor to accurately gauge your individual target heart rate.
As always, your ultimate success in achieving your goals is based on effective exercise (weight training and cardio), following your nutrition plan and massive amounts of consistency. Please check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Source: www.eurweb.com — John Wooden
"Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."