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April 2, 2009

OK, now I realize that this newsletter is a couple of days late - and you know that I never miss a week, at least without letting you know in advance.  Well, I have a great excuse - as I ended up at Emergency on Monday night!  For more information, check out under PERSONAL UPDATE.

Easter is next week so enjoy your times with family - should you celebrate this religious holiday.

So the news skips a few days but I've tried to make this newsletter still informative and timely.

OK, so I'll get right to it - Check out all the exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news! 


Charles Officer : Calling The Shots

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Pamella Bailey

(Spring 2009) "I wrote this film for four people — my mom and my sisters," says 33-year old
Charles Officer, co-writer and director of the feature film Nurse.Fighter.Boy. The film, inspired by events from his childhood, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and was quickly snapped up for distribution by Mongrel Media, landing Officer on the list of Canada's most talented emerging filmmakers.

Nurse.Fighter.Boy is an urban love story with a touch of magic. Jude, played by actress Karen LeBlanc (ReGenesis), is a nurse and single mother living with sickle cell anemia struggling to raise her son Ciel, played by 12-year-old Daniel J. Gordon ('da Kink in my Hair). Ciel is worried about his mother's illness and secretly casts magical incantations to protect her. Clark Johnson (The Wire) plays Silence, the fading fighter who falls in love with Jude and ultimately finds something worth fighting for.

The film draws on many elements of Officer's life growing up as the youngest of four children in a single-parent household in Toronto's east end. Having grown up with a sister with sickle cell anemia, Officer feels the illness is very much misunderstood.

"When I was younger, I didn't know my sister was sick. She would get crazy nosebleeds. She would sleep under the table.... When I found out my sister had sickle cell anemia, I still didn't know what that was. Even in my own house."

Shot over 23 days with a hand-held camera, the film is a colourful journey through the streets of Toronto where Officer grew up — the back alleyways of Eastern Ave., the vibrant corridors of Woodbine and Danforth, and the Cabbagetown Boxing Club where the young Officer learned to box at age 13.

Capturing the lush cityscapes and the intensity of a character's mood through actions rather than dialogue fits Officer's style of filmmaking, which he describes as visual and observational. He credits this approach to his graphic design background at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).

"I am a visual presenter of a story. I didn't go to film school, so I used what I knew. I wanted to let the actions speak. Let the actors do something differently as actors. We are often expected to be entertained by black people... I wanted to pull back and present them in an honest way."

Officer didn't set out to become a filmmaker. He studied communication design at OCAD but left to play professional hockey in Europe for a year. He was later drafted by the Calgary Flames and played for an NHL farm team. After suffering a career-ending injury, he came back to Toronto, where he developed an interest in acting while working as a graphic designer.

Encouraged by an acting teacher, he headed to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, where he wrote his first short film, When Morning Comes. It premiered at TIFF in 2000 and launched him into the public eye as an emerging filmmaker. His second project, Short Hymn_Silent War received a Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Short at TIFF in 2002 and was later nominated for a Genie Award in 2004.

As an artist, Officer takes responsibility for the work he produces, using film as a medium to deal with important issues. He is currently at work on a documentary about Harry Jerome (see pg. 42), the African Canadian sprinter who made history in the 1960s. He's also developing a piece that deals with gun violence.

"It's so hard to make a film and it's such a huge commitment that I have to take responsibility for what I am putting out there for people to see. I can't afford to make some romantic comedy. I only get a few shots."

Nurse.Fighter.Boy will be screened at the Sarasota Film Festival (Apr 3-4) and at the Bytowne Cinema in Ottawa (Apr17-23) .

Marc Eversley : Hoop Dreams

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Duane Watson

(Spring 2009) It's clear that
Marc Eversley, Assistant General Manager/Player Development for the Toronto Raptors, takes the lessons he's learned throughout his life very seriously. "George Raveling, the Global Sports Marketing Director at Nike, always talked about the value of a relationship," he says. "I've never seen it come to life more [than when I was at Nike], the value of an interaction with somebody, the value of going up and shaking someone's hand and looking them in the eye. It can take you anywhere."

Those very relationships took Eversley from his humble beginnings as the floor manager of Nike's first Canadian retail outlet to the head office as Sports Marketing Manager, Basketball. In February of 2001, he moved down to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to become Sports Marketing Manager (NBA), negotiating endorsement deals for NBA players, including Steve Nash, Vince Carter and Gary Payton among others. Three years ago, a phone call from Jim Kelly, Toronto Raptors Director, Player Development, offered a chance for the Brampton native to come home and take on a new challenge with the team.

Eversley describes his job responsibilities as "fluid," spending the majority of his time with the team at home and on the road Ñ he doesn't do the same thing every day. "Basically, I build relationships with our players," he says. "The player development aspect of my title is really about helping them enhance their lives off the court, so when they get on the court they're focused and ready to go. In terms of roster management, I'm always looking at ways to improve our team, whether it is trades, free agency or the draft, and I also do a little bit of scouting."

Standing at 6'8", 245 pounds, one might easily assume that Eversley is a professional basketball player, but he'll be the first to tell you that his "baller" aspirations were short lived. "Somewhere along my sophomore year, I was like, 'You're good, but you're not that good, and you're probably not going to earn a living playing basketball, so you better start focusing on the books." Graduating from Urbana University in Ohio, he recalls his clear career plans: "I wanted to work in sport, and I had two places I wanted to be: Nike, because they were the number one sports and fitness company in the world; or go home and start something new with a young budding franchise like the Toronto Raptors." Obviously, Eversley's clear focus in setting goals and pursuing them has been key to his success.

When asked about one day being the General Manager of an NBA franchise, Eversley is cautiously optimistic. "Working with Bryan Colangelo [Raptors President & GM], right now is an absolute dream," he says. "He's one of the youngest and brightest general managers in the league. I aspire to be similar to him and I aspire to run my own team one day. Is that next year, or five years from now? I don't know, but it's definitely a goal of mine. I'm focused today on doing my job to the best of my ability. Growing up in Toronto and watching the birth of the Raptors, every single time I drive up to this arena, I feel somewhat honoured that I'm part of this, but I would love to run my own team one day."

Vancouver-Born Extreme Skier McConkey Killed

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(March 27, 2009) CORVARA, Italy – Vancouver-born extreme skier Shane McConkey was killed jumping off a cliff with a parachute while filming a movie in Italy this week. He was 39.

His sponsor Red Bull confirmed his death yesterday.

McConkey was in Corvara on a ski-BASE jump when he had a mid-air malfunction, Red Bull said in a statement. Italian emergency responders arrived within minutes and pronounced him dead at the scene, according to the sponsor.

"Shane loved life and innovated both sport worlds he touched, skiing and B.A.S.E. Jumping," Red Bull spokesman Patrice Radden said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, the sport he pioneered also carries inherent risks."

McConkey founded the International Free Skiing Association and had grown popular in recent years for his BASE jumping competitions and big-mountain film exploits.

During his career he won the IFSA world tour of freeskiing in 1996 and 1998, and finished second in the 1999 Winter X Games Skier X competition.

In 2001, Skiing Mag listed him as the top skier in North America, and Powder magazine readers voted him skier of the year three times.

McConkey lived and trained at Squaw Valley's Olympic Village south of Truckee, California. He is survived by his wife, Sherry, and three-year-old daughter, Ayla.

Viv Leacock Finds His Way Through Love And Art

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Cheryl Nneka U. Hazell

(Spring 2009) Born in the mid-'70S in Montreal to Trinidadian parents and raised on Canada's West Coast,
Viv Leacock's knack for being a natural entertainer has landed him roles in plenty of Hollywood and Canadian productions in the last decade. This married father weighs in on his evolution as an actor and his latest roles in The Thaw and Cell 213.

How did you go from having dreams of being a stand-up comedian to acting in television and film?
When I was 17 years old, there was a talent contest in my high school. One of the judges for the show was a local agent who approached me after the show and told me I had really good stage presence and charisma. I ended up going to an audition for a local show called Neon Rider and ended up doing five episodes. But eventually I walked away from acting for seven years.

What was the turning point that brought you back to acting?
Our mom passed in 1997 from the effects of a mild stroke. The only thing that got me out of the house was an acting workshop with a local casting director named Carol Kelsey. I went into the workshop completely open to any impulse and let my mother's death hit me. I almost felt wrong using the memory of my mom, but I was so connected with the person I was doing the scene with and that's where it all started coming together again for me.

How did you land the parts in Cell 213 and The Thaw?
My agent, Natasha Trisko, gave me the breakdowns for both characters. She believed that the virtues the characters possessed were in me as well. In the audition for The Thaw I gave my own little twist to it and ended up getting the part. With Cell 213, the character was an inmate, 6'4", huge dude. I got the makeup and special effects woman from The Thaw to scar up and put tattoos all over my face. The next thing I knew, I was flying to Toronto for the shoot.

Why won't producers take a powerful leap to help create more recognizable black talent?
Not enough has been done before this point. There's no star system in Canada. They don't know how to market us here. It's difficult in that a lot of the producers and directors have a hard time with the whole black Canadian thing. There's not any personal type of interaction to the point where when they see a breakdown for a show that calls for a doctor, they don't automatically consider a black person for the role. They don't think it because they don't see it and that's the problem.

It's Déjà Vu At The Junos

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

(March 30, 2009) VANCOUVER – Ho-hum, ho-hum.

Despite the great strides made at the
Juno Awards by artists of a less conventional "industry" bent than was custom in recent years, the final trophy tallies for 2009 seemed to circle the wagons a bit and largely erred on the conservative side.

Thundering Alberta populists Nickelback predictably gathered three of the five awards for which they were nominated: Album of the Year for Dark Horse, Group, Fan Choice, and opened CTV's closing-night broadcast with the dumb-as-nails double entendre "Something in Your Mouth."

Front man Chad Kroeger was uncommonly gracious backstage, joking with the press that critics were "softening up on us a bit" and extending a heartfelt thank you to the Nickelback listeners who voted for the band over Hedley, Céline Dion, the Lost Fingers and Leslie Feist.

"I did not expect that. I would have voted for Hedley," he said. "Our fans are amazing to us and we've got a great connection with them. They've been so supportive. We've really seen it recently. We just got done a large run in America and they're giving houses away for $100 in Detroit and we're still selling out the Joe Louis Arena...."

Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall scored a pair of statuettes for a hit single featuring ubiquitous hook man Akon and the most pointedly commercial album of his career. Meat-and-taters rocker and Juno performer Sam Roberts got two of his own, as did his increasingly radio-friendly Montreal neighbours the Stills. Vancouver homeboys Loverboy were singled out for "lifetime achievement" honours and induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Bryan Adams actually showed up to the ceremony for once (with his mom!), although for once he didn't win anything. The whole thing exuded a "corporate cheerleading" kinda vibe, although it was nice to see humble St. Catharines singer/songwriter Dallas Green recognized for his grassroots success as City and Colour with a Songwriter of the Year prize.

At least host Russell Peters could be counted on to deflate the proceedings a bit, wasting no time after a brief, Bollywood-styled dance intro in skewering a few rock-star egos in the front rows at General Motors Place. There was mention of an "Anne Murray sex tape," allusions to ex-Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page's recent troubles with American drug authorities ("He went to sniff out some other work"), a spot-on joint assessment of mall-punks Hedley and Simple Plan ("I can't tell which of you is which") and an amusing verbal spar with droll crooner Michael Bublé. A special jab was reserved for Loverboy front man Mike Reno's decidedly capacious figure: "Looks like someone's been eating for the weekend." Ba-dump-bump.

"They trust my judgment," Peters said of his CTV handlers after the show. "They just kinda let me go. I never felt constrained at any point."

With the 2010 Winter Olympics on the horizon, CTV and the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences took no chances on the Juno broadcast, stocking the performance bill with homegrown mega-success stories such as Nickelback, Adams and Sarah McLachlan, and paring the tedious business of passing out the awards down to just seven categories.

Energetic appearances by the Stills, Serena Ryder and a Dallas Green/Gord Downie duet on City and Colour's "Sleeping Sickness" kept the brisk program entertaining enough, as did a nicely understated acoustic-guitar-and-fiddle duet between Adams and Ottawa's Kathleen Edwards. Even the soggy Vancouver weather co-operated.

"It's a sunny day today. That's a good thing," said McLachlan, who performed last night and also received the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at the pre-broadcast gala on Saturday. "Our city is glorious and beautiful, and I think it's being very well represented today."

Toronto singer/songwriter Lights (a.k.a. Valerie Poxleitner) was a fairly sunshiney presence herself, evidently coasting on the high of pinching the New Artist of the Year award from the better known, major label-backed Crystal Shawanda, Jessie Farrell, Kreesha Turner and Nikki Yanofsky.

"To move up in all this talent is such an honour," she said afterwards, with an infectious grin on her face. "This was just something started in my bedroom and suddenly it's expanded to the entire country."

Roberts and his band brought their career Juno total to six by weekend's end, usurping Adams, City and Colour, k.d. lang and Ryder for the Artist of the Year title last night and collecting Rock Album of the Year at the Saturday-night gala.

A figure conspicuously absent from the proceedings was Offishall. Rebounding from what many viewed as the disappointing commercial fortunes of last year's Not 4 Sale album, he scored Single of the Year for "Dangerous" and Rap Recording of the Year for the rest of the disc but, unfortunately, he was too busy recording overseas to enjoy and had to relay his second videotaped "thank you" of the weekend from Europe.

"Next year we're gonna do 90 per cent hop hop and only 10 per cent lifetime-achievement awards to Nickelback," he joked. "You guys have got enough awards already."


THE REMAINING BARENAKED LADIES made one of their first appearances as a quartet whilst accepting a Best Children's Album Juno for Snacktime, and danced around the topic of co-founder Steven Page's recent departure from the band. Eventually, though, the elephant in the room was acknowledged. "Everyone is looking for us to say, one way or the other, (that) it's been an incredibly hard year," said front man Ed Robertson. "So I'm going to say it: it's been an incredibly hard year."

The serious interlude gave way to a Robertson freestyle rap that ended with "If you're gonna smoke something / I suggest meat."

THE AWARD FOR BEST ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – maybe ever – must be handed to Montreal's the Stills, whose popular 2008 album Oceans Will Rise earned them statuettes on Saturday night for Alternative Album of the Year and New Group of the Year. The band, which has released three albums, couldn't help having some deadpan fun with the rather inaccurate "New Group" title. "When we started this band six months ago, we never could have imagined how quickly things would happen for us," quipped singer/guitarist Tim Fletcher. "It's really like we're just getting to know each other and beginning our journey."

THE MOST GRACIOUS comportment exhibited by a member of Can-pop royalty came from the charming Buffy Sainte-Marie. Beaming backstage with her Juno for Aboriginal Album of the Year, she offered good advice for up-and-comers following in her footsteps: "Be smart, take care of yourself and your gift." Most importantly, "learn to dance. It keeps you skinny." You wanted to run up and pinch her cheeks.

RUNNER-UP in the "grace" department? Toronto singer/songwriter Serena Ryder, who toasted her win for "Adult Alternative" Album of the Year by donating a $2,000 cheque to the kid-friendly charity MusiCounts.

COLDPLAY'S TOO BUSY to cross the pond to collect the International Album of the Year award. The lads did offer a pre-recorded video message from the road wherein front man Chris Martin claimed they were held up at Canadian customs. "We've been told we won something, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, we're stuck in immigration and we can't get into your country," he said.

NOT TO BE OUTDONE, Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall offered a taped message to say "thanks" for the Single of the Year award for Akon collaboration "Dangerous." It concluded with him getting his chin shaved by a personal assistant. Peculiar.

– Ben Rayner


Life is Short

OK, so this is what happened for those that are interested.  I was in California last week visiting. On my last night in San Francisco, I had some sort of heart palpitations and shortness of breath - in a big way.  And again when leaving the plane the next day. Upon the advice of a doctor I called after landing back in Toronto (and having 3 more such but lesser episodes on the plane and after landing), he advised that I should take myself to Emergency.  I went straight from the airport to Emergency.

I did so at St. Mikes as he said they have a top notch emergency with top cardiologists should I need it.

Thank goodness I did ... Turns out that I have a very large pulmonary embolism (blood clot) in my lungs (both). Blot clots are a common risk for patients of hip surgery. I also have a clot in my calf, which is where the trouble started.  I have started immediate blood thinners and it will control it from getting bigger.

The doc said that the body then breaks up the embolism on its own. They have every hope that I will be just fine! I was discharged from the hospital on Friday - and that's why the newsletter is late.

There is much to be thankful for - one being that I listened to the advice given and came to the hospital when I did. They've made it quite clear that I'm very 'lucky' and that if I wouldn't have done what I did, that I would have keeled over and died.

So I'm being proactive and trying to keep my sanity and wits about me. Making some small adjustments in my life and it's all a good thing.

Thanks again for all your prayers, concern and support.  More confirmation that life can be short and that we must live it to our highest potential.  I truly hope that I can raise the bar in my own life. 


John The Bee Man, Kayaking, Hybrids Help New York City Go Eco

Source: www.thestar.com - Leslie Garrett,
Special To The Star

(March 21, 2009) NEW YORK–We generally think of ecotourism as travel that takes us out of the urban and into the rural. Trekking through Costa Rican rainforests, feasting with villagers in the Andes, or biking through the Outback. But New York City?

Well ... yes.

For one thing, it's close enough to Toronto to get to via car, bus or train – all friendlier travel choices (to the Earth and the wallet) than air. And though skyscrapers and end-to-end cabs don't exactly constitute nature, as cities go, it's greener than most.

Wendy Brawer of Green Maps enterprise is one New Yorker who confirms her city's eco-offerings – such things as amazing bike trails (and plenty of places offering rentals, such as Bike Central Park, which offers two-wheels by the hour or day), the biomass-powered Liberty Island, community gardens and progressive initiatives such as Sustainable South Bronx.

You'll find eco-offerings – and much more – on New York City's Green Map (you can preview the first of the "open maps" by visiting www.opengreenmap.org/en/greenmap/nycs-green-apple-map#).Such as? A ride – day or night – on the Staten Island Ferry, says Brawer.

You'll see a working harbour and both ends have "green" terminal buildings – buildings that subscribe to sustainable building principles. What's more, the ferry is free.

If you get to Staten Island, visit Everything Goes, a collection of four thrift shops on the North Shore. It's owned and operated by a group that lives and works together – sharing in the proceeds and offering up goods that are recycled, restored or reclaimed.

Peter Greenberg, NBC Today Show travel editor and author of Tough Times, Great Travels: The Travel Detective's Guide to Hidden Deals, Unadvertised Bargains and Great Experiences, is a native New Yorker and another cheerleader for New York's eco-initiatives.

"New York City has been making great strides in the environmental movement," Greenberg says, "particularly in the travel sector. For starters, New York is so easy to get around in on foot and by public transportation that you can literally spend a week there without ever hailing a cab."

If you do fly into New York, Greenberg points out that you can hire an Ozocar, an airport shuttle that uses only hybrid vehicles, and its prices are comparable to a regular taxi. And if you do find yourself flagging down a cab, the city is ripe with hybrid offerings.

And new regulations introduced in October 2008 will have greened the entire fleet by 2012. The city has also put 850 hybrid-electric buses on the streets.

But it's boating that Greenberg particularly loves, particularly kayaking on the Hudson River. (www.downtownboathouse.org/programs.html). "There are three piers along the Hudson from which you can set out," he explains, "and best of all, it's entirely free."

The waterfront is often overlooked by visitors to the city, yet it's bustling with plenty of activity. Depending on the time of year, you can choose from movies on the pier, concerts, community picnics or shore cleanups – or simply enjoy New York's beaches. "They're not the most pristine," Brawer admits, "but they're much-loved."

To find out more about waterfront events, click on waterwire.net and look up its calendar of events.

If Coney Island beach is on your to-do list, make sure you check out the New York Aquarium. While the fuel cells that power the aquarium aren't too exciting to watch, the creatures inside – including Kulu and her son, known as "Brooklyn's biggest baby" – will fascinate.

New York is also famous for its restaurants – more and more of which are greening their ways. While it's fairly easy to find local and organic offerings, Brooklyn-based Habana Outpost, offering Mexican cuisine with a Cuban flair, has taken green to the extreme.

The indoor-outdoor establishment, which is open from Earth Day through Halloween, boasts solar panels (the first restaurant in NYC to be solar-powered), a kitchen that was formerly a U.S. postal truck, recycled picnic tables (they used to be plastic bottles) and a "green gutter" for rainwater reclamation. "We're very community-based," says Leslie Meenan, who, with her brother Sean, owns Habana Outpost and its sister restaurant in Manhattan, Café Habana.

Children are invited to join in at workshops, getting dirty in the gardens, learning about composting and meeting local resident John the Bee Man, who teaches kids about his beehive.

If you're childless, you might be lured to either location by promises of organic frozen mojitos.

But be prepared to wait.

"It's first-come, first-served," says Meenan, who notes that restaurants operate on a conviction that no one guest is better than another.

Even Tom Hanks had to wait an hour for a table.

"He was so lovely about it," says Meenan.

To burn off those eco-calories, try a walk to Battery Park (those seeking out Ground Zero will be at the north end of the park) and Battery Park City.

Travellers will discover an area that has no pesticides, all native plants, site-specific artwork and solar buildings.

Even those who choose the concrete jungle can appreciate its greener side. More than 11,000 traffic lights and "walk" signals have been switched to light-emitting diodes that use 90 per cent less energy than conventional lights.

And, at day's end, rest your head in a "green" hotel, such as The Benjamin in Manhattan, New York's only ECOTEL-certified hotel.

Or consider one of Greenberg's favourites, Kimpton's 70 Park Avenue, which converts its kitchen oil into biodiesel and has an "eco-concierge" on staff to help your stay be as green as possible.

Whether you take a big bite of the green apple or just a nibble, you'll undoubtedly taste a different side of the city that never sleeps.

Leslie Garrett is a Toronto-based freelance writer.


A Land Of Singer-Songwriters

www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(March 27, 2009) From the first acoustic guitar strums of Serena Ryder's single Little Bit of Red, it's easy to guess where music executives would like to steer the young Toronto-born singer-songwriter.

The song has drive, a backroads twang, a robust vocal quiver.
Radio programmers undoubtedly hear boundless crossover potential, backed by the fact that Atlantic Records has picked up her Juno-nominated album Is It OK in the United States. (EMI released the album in Canada last year.)

At the same time, Ryder's audience has already been clearly pigeon-holed by the industry. The singer's Is It OK is nominated for adult alternative album of the year at this weekend's Juno Awards in Vancouver, emphasis being on the word "adult."

Driving home the point, Ryder is also up for artist of the year against such adult-oriented contenders as Bryan Adams and k.d. lang. It will all help push the singer onto commercial radio's Hot AC category, where AC stands for the two dullest words in radio lingo, "adult contemporary" (today's middle of the road), and "hot" means anything with a modicum of spice.

Of course none of these labels are fair to the 25-year-old Ryder. And they are utterly irrelevant to her growing fan base who also don't fit such neat categories. But they are the labels the industry uses, and that affects how the music gets to audiences.

What's needed for artists such as Ryder is a new definition for this kind of adult, cross appeal. Whereas in the 1970s, M.O.R. may have been the purview of the Carpenters, today, there are artists coming from broader and more interesting musical directions. And Canada is particularly strong at producing them, from Ron Sexsmith to Sarah Slean, from the bohemian flavour of Feist to Toronto-based Elizabeth Shepherd's jazz songs and B.C.-based guitarist-singer Alex Cuba's Latin groove. All are getting critical attention and larger audiences, including older fans.

These are musicians travelling what is the new middle of the road, without the pejorative connotations the term usually carries. After his 1972 hit Heart of Gold, Neil Young may have famously proclaimed that the middle of the road "soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch." But Young's middle-road periods were among his best. And given the rehashed pseudo-punk and tuneless R&B thrown at younger listeners, the new middle of the road is proving to be a highly creative place for many artists.

They are, let's say instead, at the crossroads.

"I think we're in a golden period of Canadian music right now," said veteran Canadian music journalist Larry LeBlanc. "Every time I turn around, I'm hearing more and more of what we do really well. We do meat-and-potatoes rock really well, and we do singer-songwriter incredibly well."

"The new middle of the road, or whatever you want to call it, does have new artistic cachet today," said Kai Black, executive producer of daytime programming at CBC's Radio 2. "In the old days, there was a certain lack of dimensionality to the music. The lyrics could be pretty potent, if you think about some of those old Burt Bacharach-Dionne Warwick songs. … But musically they didn't have a lot of dimension."

Instead, the new middle ground is full of variety and verve, Black said. "Artists like Serena Ryder, Alex Cuba, Jenn Grant or Justin Rutledge. There's a wide range. On the country side, you have Ryan Adams to Corb Lund who fit into that musical box. You have [pianist-vocalist] Laila Biali doing interesting covers of [Joni Mitchell's] Woodstock and Sexsmith's Secret Heart. It's more a sensibility, I think, than a tonal box."

In other words, mature music is less about what it lacks, and instead about the diversity it contains.

It's not a diversity Canadian radio has recognized. LeBlanc notes that Canadian singer-songwriters are regularly featured on radio abroad, despite how they are categorized at home. He said that when BBC Radio's influential host Bob Harris came to Canada, he criticized the fact that he couldn't find singer-songwriters such as Kathleen Edwards, Sexsmith or Winnipeg roots singer Alana Levandoski on the dial. (Remember the 2003 Edwards tune One More Song The Radio Won't Like?)

While these new singer-songwriters may not show up on commercial radio, they do dominate the soundtrack for CBC's Radio 2. And that sound is basically the new and improved M.O.R. Feist's jaunty 1234 is ubiquitous, as is Sexsmith. When weekday morning host Tom Allen wants to get down, he might momentarily ditch the Cancon and play up-tempo Van Morrison. But raw electric guitars (save for the occasional oldie by the Guess Who) are out. So are dance beats (save the occasional highly toned-downed funk or James Brown-era R&B).

This marks a clear aesthetic distinction from commercial radio's Hot AC, where Nickelback and other guitar-wielding bands rule the roost, or even the new AAA ("adult album alternative") format, which is more of an updated version of album-oriented, classic-rock stations. In the States, Hot AC also contains more danceable R&B acts.

"When you get to your 30s and 40s, you still like music, but you don't have people turning you on to new things like you did back in high school," Black argued.

"So, what do people want? They want something they are familiar with, something they can hold on to. When you hear an artist like Serena Ryder or [Toronto's soft-voiced] Melissa McClelland, they still have a semblance of familiarity for people who are older. There's melody. There are lyrics. There's a song structure people are familiar with. I think those artists are appealing on that level. But up to this point, nobody has been presenting these artists in a really comprehensive way

It's Time To Leave Our Own Legacy, Jazz Musician Says

Source: www.thestar.com -
Ashante Infantry

(March 26, 2009) Voted DownBeat magazine's "Rising Star on Trumpet" five years in a row, New York-based Jeremy Pelt makes his Toronto debut at The Rex this week.

Drawing comparisons to legends like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, the 32-year-old L.A. native has distinguished himself with a forceful sound and incisive compositions, including all the tracks on his fourth and current disc, November, named for the month it was recorded in 2007.

The album's highlights include a wistful ballad, "Nephthys", the abstract "Mata" named for his 97-year-old grandmother, and "466-64 (Freedom Fighters)" with its arresting bass line inspired by a tour of Nelson Mandela's Robben Island prison cell.

Tonight's Rex gig will feature tunes from November as well as new compositions from his band members, Pelt said. Just don't expect to hear cuts from the Great American Songbook.

"I'm very pro-composer, pro-musicians making their own money and leaving their own legacy," Pelt said. "I'm not going to say anything bad about Cole Porter – those are great songs – but I want more musicians to look toward recording their own songs. I've made a pledge to not record standards any more under my own name."

After graduating from Boston's Berklee College of Music, he cut his teeth with the tribute big bands of Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington.

"Just to be working steadily as a leader at this point is one of the biggest goals that I have to date," he said.

Saxist JD Allen, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Darrell Green comprise his current ensemble.

Just the facts

WHO: Jeremy Pelt Quintet

WHERE: The Rex, 194 Queen St. W.

WHEN: Tonight, 9:30 p.m.

COVER: $11

Miles Griffith : Paying Tribute To Freedom, Vocalist Sticks To His Style

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(March 28, 2009) Vocalist Miles Griffith is in town tonight for a themed show at Trane Studio called Freedom/Obama. Noted for a whimsical, fleet-tongued style – he has been called "Satchmo on steroids" – the native New Yorker is best known as the voice of Jesse in Wynton Marsalis's 1994 Pulitzer-winning Blood On the Fields.

Raised in a musical family, Griffith was a member of The Boys Choir of Harlem and attended LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts (of Fame fame) before going on to jazz studies at Long Island University and Queens College. A respected educator, he has collaborated with the likes of the late drummer Max Roach, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxist Jimmy Heath. As a band leader, he has released four albums, the most recent being The Struggle Never Dies!

I spoke to the 39-year-old singer from his home in Brooklyn.

Q: What was your early introduction to music?

A: My family is from Trinidad and Tobago; my aunt is the queen of calypso – Calypso Rose. So as a child I heard all kinds of music – Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Marvin Gaye – but always had the steel drum in the backyard with my father playing alto pan. I was always hearing the music and hearing it in a very percussive way. You don't read music when you play the pan, you just go by ear. I scatted the notes from the pan.

Q: How did you connect with Wynton Marsalis for Blood on the Fields?

A: I first met Wynton when he came to my high school to do a workshop. Some time later I did a concert with him and Jimmy Cobb and Jon Hendricks at the school. He really liked what I did and said "Maybe I'll call you for something." A couple years passed and in January 2004 I was at a gig in Pennsylvania and my mother called to tell me this guy named Wynton Marsalis had called. I thought "Yeah, right," but I called the number and he said "I need you to come do an audition in two to three hours." I really didn't think it was him, so I hung up. He called back, I did the audition and the rest is history.

Q: What's the impetus for tonight's Freedom/Obama theme?

A: I've always thought of my style of jazz singing as freedom: changes are always allowed and sometimes hard for everyone who is not ready for them. President (Barack) Obama represents peace, unity, hard work, openness, love, struggle realized and a continuance to grow forward.

Q: How will this manifest on stage?

A: I'm going to do a celebration of the music of the (current) CD and tie it in with the avant-garde music of the past and the avante-garde music of today and to Obama and then mix it up and have a little straight-ahead jazz up in there, a little bit of funk. Maybe the last song of each set, or the last set, I have the audience perform with me in a call and response. It's going to be participatory.

Just the facts
WHO: Miles Griffith

WHEN: Tonight at 9

WHERE: Trane Studio, 964 Bathurst

TICKETS: $15 at the door

Marcia Johnson : One Year, Four Shows (And Counting)

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(March 26, 2009) When a rookie player hits a bases-loaded homer his first time up at bat in the majors, it is bound to attract attention.

No wonder all eyes are on
Marcia Johnson for this evening's opening of Opera to Go at the Enwave, when Johnson's libretto for My Mother's Ring will mark the fourth show she's had produced in her first year as a professional playwright.

Binti's Journey got things rolling at Theatre Direct; then came Courting Johanna for the Blyth Festival; finally, Late, for Obsidian Theatre Company. All three works were highly popular and critically acclaimed.

If My Mother's Ring earns a similar reception, Johnson, 47, will have had a year to look back on with pride. Before she burst onto the scene as a playwright, Johnson spent years as an actor. Writing, she says, had never occurred to her.

"It's weird how things happen," she says at her High Park home on a recent morning. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way at all. I wound up replacing a writer on one project, another was delayed and a third was bumped up a year.

"Suddenly they all came together at the same time!"

It's the kind of experience that would have thrown a seasoned veteran off-stride, but Johnson seems to be taking it all not just with equanimity, but with joy.

She smiles shyly, offering her secret.

"I just put it all in this place where I could deal with it and not realize how huge it all was. I also tried to be present as much as possible and enjoy each experience."

Two of her works were adaptations from very different authors and the experiences were similarly skewed.

Binti's Journey was based on The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis, but as Johnson explains, "Theatre Direct had made all the arrangements with Ellis beforehand and I never exchanged a word with her during the whole creative process."

Courting Johanna, on the other hand, was based on the title story of Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, and the impulse to adapt it came directly from Johnson.

"I was at a party," she says, giggling, "and I saw Alice Munro there. I admired her work so much that I just screwed up my courage, walked across the room and told her how much that one particular story has meant to me.

"The next thing I heard was Alice telling me that she always thought it would make a great play."

Johnson makes a giant "whoosh!" sound to illustrate how she felt about "this giant gift falling into my lap."

She got the rights to Munro's story the next day and the famed author kept out of her way, "offering only the slightest advice at the end."

And now, on her first opera, Johnson has had two collaborators. One of them is her composer, Stephen Andrew Taylor, who she says has "taught me so much how music can help to outline an emotion or build a character."

But her other partner on the show was CBC Radio. She happened to be listening to the news the day the tragic story of comedian Tony Rosato was told.

Rosato had become convinced that his wife and daughter had been replaced by impostors, a psychosis called Capgras Syndrome. He was finally institutionalized because of it.

"I had never heard of it before, but I couldn't erase it from my head," Johnson says. "I mean the whole idea of someone turning on you like that. That's what drives me to write. Something I can't shake. Something I can't get out of my system.

"And when I write it, I never really get it out of my system, but at least I get to share it."

Johnson researched the condition and decided that "it had probably been around since people thought their children were changelings in the Middle Ages, or even back in the 1950s, when some folks thought they saw Communist agents everywhere."

And so she turned it into one of the punchy 15-minute pieces that Tapestry is presenting as part of its engaging Opera To Go series.

Will it be Johnson's fourth hit of the year?

"I don't think that way," she says, laughing. "I just love to tell stories."

Just the facts

WHAT: Opera to Go

WHEN: Tonight to Sunday

WHERE: Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront

TICKETS: $20-40 at 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com

Ann Hampton Callaway : Jazz Diva Revels In New Freedom

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

(March 28, 2009) "Swing! Swing! Swing!" is the exuberant name of the show that Ann Hampton Callaway will be performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it also captures the way the jazz diva is feeling about her life these days.

She's got a new album, a new home and a new openness about her personal life that has left her feeling "absolutely exhilarated!"

The album is a magnificent collection of love songs called At Last, which shows this versatile vocalist at the top of her form, bringing joyous new readings of everything from Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" to Joni Mitchell's "Carey."

The home is a mountainside retreat in Croton, N.Y., a short drive north of Manhattan, where she enjoys "an outdoor deck with a slate floor and a hot tub, guarded by evergreen trees that wrap around the house but allow the deer a chance to peek through."

And the personal openness? After many years, Callaway finally "outed" herself earlier this year and is now freely discussing her relationship with her life partner, Kari Strand.

"I've always been out to my family, friends and peers," admitted the 50-year-old singer on the phone from her home, "but I hadn't gone ahead and dared to make that kind of open statement to the world at large."

What caused her finally to make the decision?

"One reason," she begins, "was a sense of responsibility. I needed to stand in my own light as the person I am. I wanted to give myself the freedom to talk about all the things in my life that I've transcended.

"The other is that I'm finally with a partner who is open-hearted. We travel together, share together, love together. Other people who had been in my life before weren't prepared for that level of openness."

Callaway took advice from some of the best when contemplating her decision.

British actor Ian McKellen "told me that coming out was a huge thing for him as an artist. He realized how much energy he had been forced to spend in hiding a part of him, and once he didn't have to do that anymore the difference was incredible.

"I believe that honesty is the most important thing you can have as your guiding light. Nowadays there's no attempt to be anything else but myself."

But Callaway also makes it clear that her art is far from being driven by sexual politics.

"When I'm singing a love song, I want people to feel free to picture whatever person they want to be in love with. I don't want my sexuality to be the dominating facet of my art."

There's not much chance of that happening. Callaway has spent decades carving out a career as the pre-eminent singer in the great classical tradition of Ella Fitzgerald and her ilk. To many people, her "breakthrough" moment was when she wrote and recorded the theme to CBS's The Nanny, which was on the air in from 1993-1999.

Born in Chicago in 1958, Callaway has been working on her art since her youth, finding music an eloquent way to deal with the pain of her parents' divorce, which happened when she was a teenager.

Callaway and her younger sister Liz both went to New York in their early 20s and worked in their chosen fields: Ann singing in clubs, Liz working on Broadway musicals.

The two of them frequently perform together (and now live three minutes apart by car), and every now and then they cross over into each other's fields, Ann having earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in Swing! in 1999 and Liz frequently recording albums of classic standards.

"When I first came out to Liz," laughs Callaway, "I was so earnest and serious about it that when I finished she broke into laughter. `That's it?' she asked. `I thought you were going to tell me something horrible, like you had cancer.'"

As for her parents, Callaway admits that her father, renowned Chicago journalist and broadcaster John Callaway, "knew I liked women probably before I did. My sexuality is complicated. I'm not purely gay. I'm attracted to men; I just don't fall in love with them."

And Callaway's mother, Shirley, "was initially crestfallen but has come to accept everything fully over the years. I've had such a supportive family."

All of this leads to Callaway's upcoming performance in Toronto with conductor Jack Everly.

"One of things I love about working with Jack," says Callaway, "is that he always puts together such a fantastic program."

The orchestra will set the scene with swinging renditions of period classics like "Begin the Beguine" and "Sing, Sing, Sing," heating the stage up sufficiently for Callaway to sweep on and set things on fire with her renditions of "Blues in the Night" "Embraceable You" and "From This Moment On," among many others.

"I even break into a swing improvisation," reveals Callaway, "and we get the audience moving and grooving with us as well. It's an exciting and fun show.

"Even if someone walks into Roy Thomson Hall depressed, I defy them to leave feeling the same way."

Callaway always feels a true obligation to her audiences, wherever they are.

"I feel an incredible sense of responsibility and opportunity as an artist.

"Because if you're a musician, then your life is a musical."


Q: Have you ever worked with any of the local musicians in Toronto aside from the TSO? If so, what was is like?

Harry Bennet, Toronto

A: I really loved the group who backed me up at my last appearance at the Top o' the Senator: John Sumner on drums, Steve Wallace on bass and Mark Eisenman at the piano.

Q: I wonder if you have considered making another CD with your sister, Liz Callaway?

Chris Chang, Markham

A: Liz and I are working on a project now, tentatively titled Boom, which will be about the great singer-songwriters of the 1970s.

Q: If you could have performed with any artist from the past, who would it have been?

Kamal Al-Solaylee, Toronto

A: Oh my God, there's so many! I guess either Ella Fitzgerald or Judy Garland. Or maybe both of them at the same time!

Q: Is there one song you love performing more than any other?

Arkady Spivak, Barrie

A: Right now I really love singing "Over the Rainbow." The place that I go to when I sing that song has such a profoundly deep emotional resonance for me.

Idol Judges Sing Adam Lambert's Praises

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(March 26, 2009) NEW YORK – Adam Lambert showed his softer side on American Idol, earning a standing ovation for his smooth performance of "The Tracks of My Tears."

Guest mentor Smokey Robinson, who originally performed the classic song with the Miracles, rose to his feet after watching the 26-year-old theatre actor hit all the right notes during Wednesday's Motown-themed instalment of the Fox singing competition.

Lambert, who's from Los Angeles, ditched his rocker duds for a sleek silver suit and smoothed his black hair back into an Elvis-style pompadour.

Judge Simon Cowell said Lambert delivered the night's best performance and became a star in his eyes. Fellow judge Kara Dioguardi agreed, saying Lambert showed "true artistry."

The four judges were also equally impressed by the vocal stylings of Allison Iraheta, Matt Giraud and Kris Allen. Cowell liked Allen's cover of "How Sweet It Is" but said the 23-year-old married heartthrob from Conway, Ark., needs to show more swagger and confidence.

Giraud is a 23-year-old piano player from Kalamazoo, Mich.

Lil Rounds and Danny Gokey scored mixed reviews for their respective renditions of "Heat Wave" and "Get Ready." Cowell told Rounds, 24, of Memphis, Tenn., she'd missed a potential Idol-defining "moment" by picking the wrong song (he'd rather hear the soul singer belt "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"). But the cranky judge had harsher words for Gokey, deeming the 28-year-old crowd pleaser "clumsy and amateurish."

Michael Sarver and Megan Joy had a tougher time on stage. Judges slammed Sarver's cover of "Ain't Too Proud To Beg." Even sugary-sweet Paula Abdul chimed in, comparing the 27-year-old oil rig worker from Jasper, Texas, to an old-school Vegas lounge act.

Joy, 23, of Sandy, Utah, was targeted for her shaky take on "For Once in My Life." Cowell called Joy's performance "horrible" while Randy Jackson declared it a "train wreck" and "mad crazy."

One of the 10 finalists will be sent packing on Thursday's elimination show – unless judges act on the new rule that allows them to save a favourite contestant they feel has been unfairly booted by voting viewers.

McLachlan Gets Back To Work

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(March 27, 2009) Following the breakup of her marriage and a three-month bout with laryngitis, beloved Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan has picked up her pen once again.

McLachlan says she is writing her first album of new material since 2003's Afterglow and plans to hit the studio in April with long-time collaborator Pierre Marchand.

As for a release date? Well, McLachlan has always been an artist who just can't be rushed.

"The record company (Nettwerk) is hoping for next year – I highly doubt that, knowing the pace at which I write," she said in an interview.

Last year saw the release of Closer: The Best of Sarah McLachlan, a career retrospective that featured two new songs by the singer.

Just as the record was being released in October, McLachlan confided in interviews that she was separating from her husband of 11 years, drummer Ashwin Sood.

McLachlan says she's doing fine now. "You know what, life is wonderful," she said. "It's that old thing of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We're presented with whatever we can manage."

These past few years, McLachlan has been busy raising the two daughters she had with Sood while continuing her humanitarian efforts, for which she's being honoured Saturday during Juno Awards weekend.

McLachlan will receive the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award and is slated to perform during the Juno show on Sunday, which will be held in her adopted hometown of Vancouver.

Amir ElSaffar Combines The Music Of His Iraqi Heritage And His Own American Experience

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(April 02, 2009) The good ol' American jazz of his birthplace may have led Amir ElSaffar to his calling, but it was the Middle Eastern traditions of his paternal ancestors that fulfilled his raison d'etre.

The Chicago native makes his Toronto debut at the Music Gallery on Wednesday with his Two Rivers Ensemble, a quintet that melds contemporary jazz and classic Iraqi music.

"I actually didn't like the trumpet for a couple years until I heard Miles Davis's Kind of Blue," recalled the 31-year-old musician who wound up with the horn in elementary school, because he couldn't get a sound on the saxophone.

After post-secondary studies, he moved to New York, following the path of most nascent players.

While seeking to set himself apart, ElSaffar immersed himself in the Big Apple's progressive music scene, collaborating with up-and-comers like pianist Vijay Iyer and saxist Rudresh Mahanthappa.

"I moved out of Chicago, because I didn't want to just play straight-ahead music; I found it musically limiting," he explained. "There is an avant-garde scene (in Chicago), but I never felt like that was quite my vibe either, because it was very free.

"I like music that's free, but has some kind of parameters to it, where the structure's actually giving you something more challenging to work with; as opposed to something really loose, or just playing standards, because that's a structure that's existed in the music since the 1920s."

The youngest of five children of a Baghdad-born father and New York-born mother whose roots trace back to "almost Mayflower stock" was chagrined that none of his contemporaries were experimenting with Arabic music.

In 2002, funded by a $10,000 prize, he set off on a yearlong odyssey through Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Syria and Iraq to investigate the region's music.

"I found that people received what I was doing very warmly," said ElSaffar, who had previously visited Iraq once in his teens, wasn't a practising Muslim and didn't speak Arabic (he's now fluent).

"They were touched that this guy that lives in America – and in their perception has access to everything and everything is easy – was choosing to be in Iraq, especially in this difficult time, to study the music."

He spent six months in the country, immersing himself in its maqam music, which is poetry set to ancient melodies.

When he left, prior to the start of the war in March 2003, he continued his studies with exiled Iraqis in Germany and England.

"I had become so deeply involved in the music that I didn't want to quit. And it seemed like the teachers outside of Iraq were feeling more worried about the music continuing and being able to pass on what they knew," he explained.

Though ElSaffar had become as well-versed in the recitations of classical Arabic and colloquial Iraqi poetry as he was in playing the santoor (a 96-string hammered dulcimer that is native to Iraq), he didn't plan to be a maqam singer. But he was encouraged by the positive reception from Iraqis at some rudimentary performances when he returned to the U.S.

In 2005, he founded Safaafir, with his violinist sister Dena El Saffar and her percussionist husband Tim Moore. It is believed to be the only American group performing Iraqi maqam.

Concurrently, ElSaffar picked up his trumpet again and resumed playing jazz. But he hesitated when approached to do a project that combined maqam with jazz, even though that had been his pre-quest intention.

"I'd gotten so deeply entrenched in the maqam music that the idea of taking it out of its context, where it's so perfect and so beautiful and made so much sense, and introducing it to a very modern jazz medium – it didn't make sense to me anymore," he explained. "I didn't want to mess with it.

"But then I started playing with some ideas and things started to make sense. I'd take a melody and change the rhythm around a little bit and I felt like I was maintaining the essence of that melody, but able to extract it into another context."

The resulting 2007 disc Two Rivers draws from ElSaffar's broad palette of classical, jazz, blues and maqam.

"Eventually, I realized this is the music that makes the most sense for who I am, because it really expresses me as an American as well as an Iraqi and living in this time when Iraqi and American relations are so tried and difficult."

Just the facts
WHO: Amir ElSaffar's Two Rivers Ensemble

WHEN: April 8, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Music Gallery, 197 John St.

TICKETS: $25 at ticketweb.ca


A Chat With Chestnut

Source: Kam Williams

Born in Cerritos , California on New Year’s Day in 1969, Morris Chestnut was a student-athlete in high school but focused on finance and drama at California State University . Although he made his big screen debut in 1991 opposite Ice Cube in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, he really found his breakout role eight years later as the groom-to-be in Malcolm Lee’s The Best Man.

Since then, the handsome hunk has been a staple of romance-themed, urban-oriented fare, appearing in such hits as The Brothers, Two Can Play That Game, Breakin’ All the Rules and The Perfect Holiday. Chestnut has also displayed his versatility by successfully crossing over into mainstream flicks, appearing in everything from Half Past Dead to Like Mike to Confidence to Ladder 94 to The Game Plan.

A very private family man, Morris keeps a low profile in suburban L.A. , where he lives with his wife, Pam, and their son and daughter. Here, he talks about both producing and performing in Not Easily Broken, a romance drama based on a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes. The modern morality play which co-stars Oscar-nominee Taraji Henson is just being released on DVD after opening in theatres back in January.

MC: Hey, what’s up Kam?

KW: Thanks for the time, Morris.

MC: No problem, man. 

KW: How did you like my review of Not Easily Broken? I gave it four stars.

MC: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

KW: What interested you in making this movie?

MC: It was a couple of things. First of all, I’ve been married thirteen years now, so, I related to my character, Dave. I saw it as a great opportunity to have a platform, at this time in our society when a lot of people have money and marital problems, to make a statement that everything worth having takes some work. When people are courting, many of them think that when they get married, that’s it, and everything will be on Easy Street. But you really have to work even harder once you’re married, because the challenges are that much greater. Another part of my interest was the opportunity to step behind the camera to executive produce.    

KW: Well, you made an excellent choice in terms of material, an adaptation of a morality play by Bishop T.D. Jakes which is both entertaining and has several worthwhile messages to deliver.

MC: That’s what we wanted, and Jakes would concur with everything I’m about to say about the picture. We wanted it to be entertaining, because if you’re not entertained, you won’t be engaged, and then you’ll miss the subtle messages. Jakes didn’t want folks watching it to feel like they were being preached to as if they were just getting a sermon. He wanted people to be entertained, and if they also get the messages, then the movie will have fully served its purpose.  

KW: I thought it was innovative for this genre of film that the other woman [played by Maeve Quinlan] was white. 

MC: Quite frankly, I have white, Asian and Hispanic friends in real life. And in the movie, we didn’t make it a big deal that she was white, just like it wasn’t a big deal that my best friend [played by Eddie Cibrian] was white, either. We tried to make it as seamless as possible.

KW: Yes, the colorblind casting was handled very well, in a way which I think reflects changes in the culture.

MC: The culture definitely has shifted.

KW: How was it working opposite Taraji Henson as your wife? This has certainly been a big year for her with the Oscar nomination for Benjamin Button.

MC: We were so excited for her when she got the nomination. But back when we cast her for this movie, we didn’t know what quality role she had in Brad Pitt’s movie. And that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. We already knew that she was a very talented actress who just hadn’t been given the opportunity to play those roles yet. We knew that she could play a professional woman, although she had previously played mostly street-type characters. That was part of what was exciting about giving her the opportunity to play Clarice. And she ripped it.

KW: How about the rest of the cast?

MC: Once we had Taraji, we thought teaming her with Jenifer Lewis to play her mother would definitely enable the audience to empathize with what my character would be feeling. As far as casting Kevin Hart, I just called him. Kevin’s a friend of mine, and we’ve done a couple of things together in the past. The deal with Kevin is, you know you’re going to get something funny, you just don’t know what he’s going to pull out of his big bag of tricks. I actually also called Wood Harris on the phone, and asked him, “Hey man, can you come do this?” It was tough to get him, but we were glad we did, because he delivered a standout performance. Same with Eddie Cibrian. I called him and asked, “Can you do this with me?” It was challenging putting it all together and getting it done, but we feel very fortunate about the outcome.

KW: When I interview actresses, I ask them what actor they’d like to act opposite as a romantic lead, and your name comes up more than anybody’s.

MC: Oh really? That’s something. [Chuckles]

KW: Who has been your favourite leading lady from your movies?

MC: Wow! Man, I can’t answer that. [Laughs] I couldn’t pick just one favourite. What I will say is this. Every leading that I’ve worked with has, for the most part, been professional. They came to work on time, knowing their lines, etcetera. Obviously, when you’re working with fine actresses, you’re going to have a few diva moments in there, but all of the women have come to work ready to go, so I’ve been fortunate to have had positive experiences across the board, pretty much.  

KW: So, what actresses that you haven’t worked with before would you like to have play your leading lady in the future?

MC: Wow, there are so many great actresses out there. I would love to do something with Angela Bassett. She’s so strong. Or Viola Davis . Her scene in Doubt was phenomenal. 

KW: You seem to be cast as an athlete in a lot of your movies. How do you keep in such great shape for that?

MC: You know what? I’m a weekend warrior. I try to come out and play sports and keep as active as I can.

KW: When did you first develop your interest in acting?

MC: It goes back to high school. I wanted to win a scholarship to play football in college. But when that didn’t pan out, I figured I needed to find something else to do. I went to see a friend of mine in junior college who was in a play, and I thought that might be something I could get interested in. From there, I just started pursuing it.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

MC: That’s a good question. I’m kind of a private person, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get me to talk. I actually have to get myself up for these types of situations. So, no, there’s probably not one particular thing that I want people to know that I’m not being asked about.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

MC: Am I happy in life? I think overall, yes, but I’m not satisfied. Obviously, I can’t complain. 99% of the people in the world would say there’s something that they’d like to change about their lives, because nothing’s perfect, and nobody’s perfect. I suppose I could look at the glass half-empty instead of as half-full. Would I like to do bigger budgeted movies, and have more diverse casts? The answer is yes. But by the same token, I have to feel grateful when I look at people who haven’t been as fortunate as I have been. So, there are always things I’d like to improve on, but at the end of the day, I can’t complain. 

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

MC:  [LOL] Yeah! Of course. Look at the economic situation right now, people have worked their entire lives to amass a nest egg, expecting to retire, only to have someone like Madoff swindle them out of their money, and suddenly they’ve lost it all and have to start over again. That let’s you know that anything can happen in life. So, yeah, I do get afraid.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

MC: I’m not an avid reader, but the last book I read was How to Play Omaha Poker. I like to play poker, maybe a little too much, but I definitely enjoy it.

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays? 

MC: That depends. I’m an R&B and Hip-Hop type guy. When I work out, which I do at least four or five times a week, I love to get the latest Hip-Hop because it really pumps me up and inspires me to get that workout on.

KW: What was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

MC: Ooh, my shyness. That’s something I have to overcome every time I audition for a job or even do an interview. I’m not really an outgoing type person. My friends are always telling me I have to get out of the house more. Just doing an interview with you takes a lot out of me.   

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

MC: My parents, Shirley and Morris Chestnut, Sr. As a child, I couldn’t really appreciate all the struggles and trials they had to go through in life, and the sacrifices they had to make while raising me. But now, as an adult and parent myself, I do. They’re at the top of my list, because they are the reason I am where I’m at today. I’m a product of their efforts. 

KW: Where in L.A. did you grow up?

MC:  I was raised in Orange County , which is about 40 miles outside of Los Angeles .

KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan wants to know, where in L.A. you live now?

MC: I live in The Valley, which is about 20 miles away.  

KW: Teri Emerson would like to know when was the last time you had a good belly laugh?

MC: [Laughs] Last time I had a good belly laugh? When I was on the phone with my boys. Me and my friends have these conference calls at least three times a week where we talk mostly about sports and tease each other when your team loses. A lot of my buddies are a lot more creative than I am, and they come up with some very funny jokes.

KW: Who do you like in the NCAAs?

MC: Well, I’m a USC fan, but we were one and done. There are still some storylines I’m looking forward to. These rules violations by Connecticut are making it a little more interesting. I’ve always liked North Carolina because of their colors, that powder blue and white.

KW: The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can do to help you?

MC: They can help me by continuing to support me. If I’m in a restaurant, and you see me eating and you want to come up, that’s cool. I get it, I understand, because I have fans who don’t miss a movie and can quote some of my characters’ lines. I appreciate that. 

KW: Thanks again for the interview, Morris, and best of luck with all your endeavours. 

MC: Thank you.

To see a trailer for Not Easily Broken, visit: HERE

Cinefranco : Montreal Film Opens Festival

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Entertainment Reporter

(March 27, 2009) The 12th annual Cinefranco film festival gets underway today, bringing Toronto a rich bounty of 33 features and 28 shorts from all French-speaking parts of the world.

Running to April 5, most of the screenings are being held at the Royal Cinema (608 College St.), and adult tickets are a modest $10 ($8.50 for students and seniors, $5 for high school students).

The festival's opening film is a recent effort, Montreal filmmaker Stephane Gehami's En plein coeur (Straight to the Heart). It's a good-hearts-gone-bad tale that feels a bit forced at times.

"You're a good kid. Yes, you steal cars and you don't go to school, but you're a good kid. You do it for your mother."

That's what older grifter Benoit says to teenager Jimmy in the odd counterpoint in this gritty slice-of-lowlife film set in a decidedly unglamorous Montreal.

Among a little gang of car thieves and petty criminals, the human face is always front and centre in this urban drama with a dash of dashed love.

The two main protagonists are nicely played by the well-worn Pierre Rivard and innocent-faced Keven Noël. (106 minutes, tonight at 7)

The festival's offerings run the full range from achingly serious to uproariously funny, and there are several documentaries.

There are some offbeat efforts that are particularly worthy of your attention:

A Sentimental Capitalism (Un capitalisme sentimental)

Fernande Bouvier's face floats up on screen to tell us she is neither beautiful nor ugly and, in every respect "a woman with no attributes." But, "before I disappear, I'm going to tell you my story."

What follows is a half-sung, half-told crazed dream that pierces the heart of our current global economic malaise.

Fernande seeks happiness and fortune amid the peeling-paint garrets of Paris and the greed-strewn streets of New York City in the Roaring Twenties, not realizing that she will get caught up in a bubble economy.

Filmmaker Olivier Asselin turns this Canadian-made fable into a biting satire of both the pretensions of art as well as the excesses of capitalism. Lucille Fluet is perfect as the naïve artiste surrounded by a world in which every man is looking out of for himself. (93 minutes; tomorrow, 3:45 p.m.)

The Joy of Singing (Le plaisir de chanter)

Singing lessons, sexual shenanigans and the fulfilment of souls cross paths in unexpected ways in this serious and side-splitting spoof of spy thrillers. The criminal stuff is glossed over, while filmmaker Ilan Duran Cohen reveals the affairs of the heart in their unvarnished messiness.

At the film's still centre sits well-off Parisian voice student Constance (Jeanne Balibar), whose husband has been tortured and murdered in connection with illegal trafficking of uranium ("His great mistake was to stop playing the piano," says his bitter sister).

As sweet and innocent as Charlotte in Sex and the City, Constance refuses to let reality interfere with her love of music.

At one point, her sister-in-law accuses her of choosing stupidity and blindness. "I prefer peace and innocence," Constance replies sweetly. (98 minutes; April 4, 10 p.m.)

It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks (C'est dur d'etre aime par des cons)

This fast-moving documentary by Daniel Leconte follows a controversial lawsuit brought against Parisian trashy-satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo after it published cartoons lampooning Muslim fundamentalism.

Defending the right to poke fun at the world is charismatic Philippe Val, editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, whose case gets an unexpected boost when he gets a letter of support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

This doc, although specifically French, forces to ask questions on tolerance that we usually prefer to politely brush aside. (118 minutes, April 5, 7:30 p.m.)

For details: www.cinefranco.com

Two Teens In Regent Park Are Focus Of Hot Docs Film

www.globeandmail.com - Tenille Bonoguore

(March 27, 2009)  For all its diversity, its hope, its challenge and dismay, Regent Park was largely invisible to filmmaker Hubert Davis on his daily commute down Gerrard Street four years ago.

Fresh off an Oscar nomination for his first short film Hardwood, the 29-year-old was working in a downtown editing suite and hunting for his next project.

Mr. Davis wanted to do something about race, crime and identity in Toronto, and already had chosen a working title when he steered his car into the inner-city neighbourhood for a charity event.

By the end of the night, he realized he had stumbled upon the ideal location. Shortly afterward, he returned with a small film crew to document the lives of charismatic 15-year-olds Mikey and Kendell, two friends from childhood facing diverging paths.

The tale of their journey to adulthood, Invisible City, asks a question first posed by Ralph Ellison in his 1952 novel Invisible Man: "To whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me?"

"For the most part, these kids do not have a mainstream voice," Mr. Davis said. "They do not have an outlet to get their voices heard. In a way, this film was that: for these families to speak and be heard, and tell their stories in their words."

During the three years he spent exploring the lives of the boys, their mothers, and teacher Ainsworth Morgan, Mr. Davis found an unknown world in the streets he had ignored.

Regent Park, now going through the first phase of its revitalization, has been both safe haven and cloistered danger zone, where the sense of community is stronger than any he has found elsewhere in Toronto, but the world outside remains equally unknown to its young residents.

And it could all disappear. While Regent Park's revitalization promises new homes and a clean slate, residents wonder whether their sense of home and community will survive.

"There's a lot of positive things going on there, but the flip side of that coin is there's also a certain kind of stigma to it, from outside but also from within," he said.

The film, he hopes, will shed light in both directions when it premieres as part of the Hot Docs film festival on May 2.

Mr. Davis hopes people outside Regent Park will see universal issues: mothers striving to help their sons make good choices; young men struggling to define themselves in a hard world; a community facing an uncertain future.

And the residents, most importantly Mikey and Kendell, will see themselves on the big screen, and realize there is more to the world than the streets of this one neighbourhood.

"I'm hoping that Kendell and Mikey are able to get a better grasp on themselves and their potential. ... That they're able to dream beyond their community and at the same time stay true to themselves and where they came from," he said.

"I think that's the biggest challenge in these communities - that idea of being able to see yourself outside of the circumstances that you're in."

Festival runs April 30-May 10. For more information, visit

Marie-Hélène Cousineau : An Unconventional Filmmaker

Source: www.thestar.com

(March 27, 2009) The remarkable films out of Canada's north over the past decade have been dominated by men, in particular Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, the duo behind Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.

The women of Nunavut are now finding their voice.
Marie-Hélène Cousineau is the founder of Arnait Video Productions, a video workshop for Inuit women that is allied with Igloolik Isuma Productions, which Kunuk and Cohn co-founded.

Working with community elder and actor Madeline Piujuq Ivalu (who is also the female lead), the Montreal-born Cousineau directed
Before Tomorrow, a drama of family love in the midst of isolation and a smallpox tragedy. The film won the Best Canadian First Feature prize at TIFF '08.

Cousineau recently spoke to the Star by telephone in advance of today's theatrical release:

Q: Before Tomorrow has been described as part of a trilogy with Atanarjuat and Knud Rasmussen, due to its similar themes and Inuktitut dialogue. Do you see it that way?

It's a trilogy to me in terms of process and in terms of making those feature films. From the same people, produced by the same company and working with the community. It's not necessarily a conventional trilogy in terms of subject, yet even so I think the subjects are somehow similar. This one would be set in the time before the events of Knud Rasmussen.

Q. What time would that be?

A: It's unclear, and I guess we wanted to be unclear of terms of where exactly it's happening in the north. It would take place in the mid 19th-century when traders and whalers were starting to go up north ... all of the Americas' native people got sick from being in touch with southerners.

Q: You started Arnait Video Productions in 1991, yet it has taken this long to make your first feature. Why is that?

I'm working with women who don't speak English or French. I'm working with people who have never touched a camera before, so I think it's pretty fast considering that. It took a long time. At the same time it's a small community, and there's no place to make more than one feature at the same time. It's only 1,500 people. You have to go one by one.

Q: The camera work is amazing. I've never seen underwater shots like this before.

Yes, it was the first time we had them. We brought a camera crew from Montreal to do an underwater scene because we really wanted to do it. In Inuit mythology there's this Sedna who is the goddess of the sea, the boss of all the mammals, and she lives under the water. Underwater is a very rich place of mythology and storytelling.

Q: The smallpox scene is like something out of a horror movie.

I know! We did some research about what it would look like and actually it looks bad like that. It took a long time to do that makeup.

Q: You are part of a filmmaking collective, with many people having a say, the actors included. Is it hard having so many cooks stirring the broth?

We had a lot of meetings, every day, morning and night, even in production. But I think that's why the film is good. I don't think Inuktitut. I didn't grow up like this, and I wanted to make sure we weren't making any mistakes. The film was true, but at the same time, we were able to take all the liberties we needed to create something original.

Q: It's very different from conventional filmmaking.

Totally. I don't think I could work in conventional filmmaking. I would hate it

3D Flick Packs In Adventure And Laughs

Source: www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell, Movie Critic

http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Animated sci-fi comedy featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Rainn Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, Will Arnett, Stephen Colbert and Paul Rudd. Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. At major theatres. G

(March 27, 2009) Do not adjust your senses, or remove your funny spectacles.

You are about to return to the 1950s, through the medium of the riotously retro
Monsters vs. Aliens and its UFO invasion silliness.

But first, a word about format. This is the movie DreamWorks Animation hopes will secure it a 3D beachhead in popcorn palaces, and the onscreen results bode well. The extra dimension is the best yet in the current 3D craze: it draws you in without smacking you in the face, apart from an opening paddleball wallop.

Viewers in traditional 2D – and there will be plenty of those – needn't feel stoppered by lack of an eye-popper. This film has hidden depths, especially for adults who mistakenly think Monsters vs. Aliens is only for kids.

Dig the Eisenhower-era intrigue: patriotic Yankee monsters are summoned to save the planet from a four-eyed alien nerd (who probably hangs with Marvin the Martian). The film is nominally set in our current fractured times, but the vibe is pure '50s flying-saucer paranoia, with ray guns set on "stun" rather than "kill."

You'd have to be the parents or even grandparents of today's tots to recognize all the hilarious references to classic sci-fi movies of decades past. These monster mash-ups are rad, dad:

Ginormica: Voiced by Reese Witherspoon and also known as Susan, she's a bride-to-be from Modesto, Calif., whose close encounter with a meteorite transforms her into a giantess just one inch shorter than the title freak of Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman;

B.O.B.: A sapphire splodge with no brain, one eye and an insatiable appetite for junk food, it's Seth Rogen getting jiggy with the icky entity from The Blob;

Dr. Cockroach, PhD: Half mad scientist, half cockroach, all Hugh Laurie and a big hat-tip to the lab accident of The Fly;

The Missing Link: An upright and uptight reptile, voiced by Will Arnett, who is missing no links at all to Creature From the Black Lagoon;

Insectosaurus: A skyscraper-sized and almost silent homage to Japan's monsteriffic Toho Studios, and its buggy behemoth from Mothra and countless spin-offs.

It's a bit of a stretch to say they're fighting "aliens." It's really just one megalomaniac midget who goes by the vainglorious handle Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson). He does, however, have four eyes and the ability to clone himself into innumerable Gallaxhars. He also has a spectacularly clumsy giant robot to assist his dirty deeds, such as smashing up San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in the film's grandest set piece.

There's more. With nods to Dr. Strangelove (and a certain recent White House occupant), Kiefer Sutherland voices monster wrangler Gen. W.R. Monger while Stephen Colbert plays the clueless and over-caffeinated U.S. president.

Monger is the guy who summons the monsters from the laid-low Gitmo where they've been imprisoned since the 1950s – all except new arrival Susan/Ginormica, who was to marry her TV weatherman beau Derek (Paul Rudd) before fate and gamma rays intervened.

Co-directors Rob Letterman (Shark Tale) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2) have packed everything but a tray of Rice Krispie squares into the tale (although there is a Jell-O mould), and it's clear the project was near and dear to their geeky li'l hearts.

It's almost too much love. A surfeit of characters and a committee-written plot that combines outer-space Armageddon with female empowerment makes for an embarrassment of riches.

You can understand why Letterman and Vernon got carried away, though, since these monsters are so loveable – especially Rogen's amorphous B.O.B., who is dumber than the sack of hammers he could consume with one gulp.

And Gallaxhar is also pretty funny. He wants to take over the planet, but he learned how to fight by watching old Three Stooges movies.

Monsters vs. Aliens has obvious franchise potential, and let's hope that idea flies. Part II could make better use of these motley mutants, now that we've gotten to know them.

How about Paris for the locale, as hinted in the film? It's the city of the Eiffel Tower and inhabitants who often consider everybody else to be monsters and aliens.

Ayesha Mohan Proves Her Acting Mettle, Transcontinental Appeal, In Two New Feature Films

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

(April 03, 2009) It takes most actors years of hard work and grinding sacrifice to land a leading role in a feature movie.

It took 25-year-old New Delhi-based, Toronto-schooled Ayesha Mohan no time at all to be cast as the female lead in two major movies released this year.

She plays a murderous seductress in controversial Indian director Anurag Kashyap's Gulaal, which was four years in the making and opened a couple of weeks ago in her homeland where it's already a critical and box-office hit, and the troubled young female catalyst in American director Chris Smith's shot-in-India feature, The Pool, which made its workshop debut at the Sundance Festival in 2007, and opens across Canada today.

But an acting career was the last thing on Mohan's mind when Kashyap more or less demanded she forsake her job as his assistant to audition for the part in Gulaal.

"I was 21, and all I've ever wanted to be is a director," she told the Star in a recent interview in Toronto – her home away -from home.

For the past two years Mohan has been studying directing and screenwriting at Sheridan College, returning to Delhi at the end of each semester.

"I'd gone to Delhi specifically to be Anurag's assistant on Gulaal. He's a very famous director in India, and I'm a great admirer of his work."

At his elbow she watched as he interviewed and auditioned a number of well-known Indian stars, none of whom satisfied him.

"One of my jobs was to read lines to the actors, to get them started on their scenes," Mohan said. "After so many auditions I knew exactly what he was looking for. One day he just turned to me and said, `You're auditioning for this part tomorrow.' And the next day he cast me."

As chance would have it, Smith saw some rushes of Kashyap's movie when he was scouting locations and acting talent in Goa for his Hindi-language adaptation of American novelist Randy Russell's short story, The Pool. He asked Mohan to fly to the province's capital, Panjim, for an audition. "The opportunity to work with an American director appealed to me," Mohan said. "I had seen his first feature, American Movie, and I loved it."

Apart from Bollywood legend Nana Patekar, who plays her father, Mohan is the only "experienced" actor in The Pool. The other two leads are played by novices Venkatesh Chavan and Jhangir Badshah, Panjim natives whose real-life experiences found their way into Smith's and Russell's script.

"I've learned to love acting – it can only help you become a better director," said Mohan, who had never travelled outside India till Smith brought her to Sundance in 2007.

"But I did love working in Goa. It's such a beautiful, warm place, and so different from the rest of India. The seafood is wonderful."

Her only anxious moments in The Pool were her scenes with Patekar, a revered screen idol at home.

"He's such a big star," said Mohan, who has completed her first screenplay and hopes her next debut will be as a director. "Everyone looks up to him. I was very nervous."

Working on The Pool with a blended American and Indian crew was a novel experience, she added.

"Because we were speaking in Hindi with actors who don't speak English, the dialogue was almost impossible to put into a script format. Chris doesn't speak Hindi, and had to trust that we knew our lines. His method suits the nature of the film, which is a collection of random moments strung together.

"He didn't try to force foreign ideas into the film. It's a story that could happen anywhere."


Studio: Sean Penn To Play Larry In `Stooges' Movie

www.globeandmail.com - Tenille Bonoguore

(March 27, 2009)  NEW YORK (AP) — Sean Penn is going slapstick. The studio MGM says the double Oscar winner has signed on to play Larry in the Farrelly brothers' big-screen update of "The Three Stooges." Jim Carrey was "in negotiations" for the role of Curly, said MGM spokesman Grey Munford. The studio first featured the stooges in a series of shorts and features beginning in 1933. Munford would not confirm reports that Benicio Del Toro will play Moe. He said filming begins this fall on the comedy, which is expected to be released in 2010. The casting of a serious actor like Penn in the assuredly goofy comedy isn't such a stretch: The actor launched his storied career as goofball Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Female Eye Fest Honours Rozema

Source: www.thestar.com -
Star staff

(March 27, 2009) I've Heard the Mermaids Singing director Patricia Rozema will be the focus of a tribute Sunday night at the 7th Annual Female Eye Film Festival. The award-winning Canadian filmmaker, director and writer has made a wide range of movies, from When Night is Falling and White Room, to the adaptation of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Kit Kitteredge: An American Girl and Grey Gardens, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. The Female Eye film fest, which runs through Sunday, will screen a compilation of Rozema's works at the Rainbow Cinemas, Market Square, 80 Front St. E. For more on tickets, a schedule of films, workshops and panels, go to femaleeyefilmfestival.com


CP24 Starts Breakfast War With Citytv

Source: www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(March 27, 2009) When I got up yesterday morning, I felt a couple of decades younger. This is not something I am accustomed to feeling at 5:30 a.m.

Nonetheless, tuning in to yesterday's launch of CP24's new "breakfast" broadcast – a 3 1/2-hour block entitled, oddly enough,
CP24 Breakfast – I could not help but be reminded of the debut, almost exactly 20 years ago, of a remarkably similar-sounding early-a.m. institution, Citytv's Breakfast Television.

And it wasn't just pre-coffee stupor. I mean, here was veteran anchor Ann Rohmer, who astonishingly hasn't aged a nanosecond since starting BT, along with the irrepressibly antic Steve Anthony, another BT original, now hovering above the city in the CP24 chopper in a long overdue return to the tube.

And, along with these two reassuringly familiar faces, a gaggle of enthusiastically youthful up-and-comers, notably co-hosts Melissa Grelo and Matte Babel and winsome weather-watcher Nalini Sharma.

Right out of the gate, the show was funky, friendly and fast-paced, imbued with the same kind of comfortable, casual vibe the fledgling BT once had – and still does, to a lesser degree, in its current, slicker, more polished incarnation.

This is no coincidence. I'm told that CTV's acquisition of the CHUM group was at least partly predicated on City's in-house jewels-in-the-crown, BT and Cityline.

Losing those shows in the regulated City split-off to Rogers had to hurt. And though there has been little apparent progress toward a promised new CHUM TV venue for the award-winning Marilyn Denis, CP24 Breakfast would appear to be the first salvo in a morning war of words.

Rogers' plans for their own City-based all-news channel have no doubt further stoked the fire.

This all has to be a tad uncomfortable while both organizations still share a floor in the same building on Queen St. W., awaiting completion of a street-level City newsroom fronting Yonge-Dundas Square.

Enthusiasm for the new CP24 format is far from unanimous, even here in the Star newsroom. The moment I got into the office, I was set upon by a couple of colleagues, regular risers to CP24 who were nothing short of appalled.

One even compared the new package to MTV's The Hills Live After Show (a compounded abomination I would liken to un-anaesthetized dental surgery).

But then, they have become used to the somewhat gentler, wallpaper-like start to their morning that the more generic CP24 used to provide. To them I say: the news crawl's still there, and the weather and the stocks and all that other useful stuff. The "show" part takes up maybe a quarter of the screen. All you have to do is turn down the sound.

But then, I've never really watched CP24. Or at least, never listened. In this town, it is not possible not to watch CP24, in the subway to and from work, and then after, on every over-the-bar monitor and set in every watering hole in the GTA (at least, so I have it on good authority – it would be physically impossible, even for me, to know this for a firsthand fact).

It is actually now possible to only listen to CP24. Even as the channel unveiled its new morning format, CTV introduced a rebranded CHUM AM radio station as CP24 1050, simulcasting the audio portion of the 24-hour broadcast (except for a couple of weekend spots), so those who drive in to work can pick up where they left off before leaving the house.

She's Precious, 'No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' is perfect

USA Today - By Robert Bianco, USA Today

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
HBO, Sunday, 8 ET/PT
* * * *  out of four

(March 27, 2009)  Anyone who hasn't read Alexander McCall Smith's best-selling No. 1 Ladies' novels may be surprised by how lovely he makes life in Botswana seem, and how enchanting his characters are. And those who have may be even more surprised to see how well the books translate to TV — and to find this gentle, simple series on HBO, a network better known for edgier, nastier fare.

Yet here the books are, and they could not be in better hands. Co-written and now run by Blackadder's Richard Curtis, this Sunday's premiere is the last film that Oscar winner Anthony Minghella directed, and one of the last that Oscar winner Sydney Pollack produced. It's a fitting cap to their career legacies.

Shot in Botswana — as it should have been, and probably wouldn't have been had anyone other than HBO been supplying the budget —The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency stars Jill Scott as the aptly named Precious Ramotswe, an African woman of "traditional build." When her beloved Daddy dies, she sells his cattle and sets up Botswana's first and only ladies' detective agency.

She has no training, but she has well-developed powers of observation and an empathetic understanding of human behaviour. ("I know I will succeed, because a woman knows what's going on more than a man.") She wants a new life for herself, but she also yearns to help her people and her homeland. "I love my country Botswana and I love Africa," she explains, "and I want to do good with the time God has given me."

And there you have the larger, sweetly put point, and one of the reasons some will find the series as precious as its heroine. As much as anything, Ladies is McCall's attempt to counter some of the stereotypes many of us have about Africa, and to share and explain the affection he has for a world where gentility and formality still have a place. You'll hear it as much as see it: Contractions are seldom used, women refer to each other as "my sister," and people address each other with honorific’s and last names.

Though Precious is the No.1 lady, she's not working alone. She has a wildly efficient if socially deficient secretary, Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose), and two male helpmates: a mechanic who is smitten by her, Mr. JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati), and a hairdresser who sends clients and gives advice (Desmond Dube as BK, a character created for the series).

Together, they tackle mysteries and confront criminals, but this is not a crime show. Bad things can happen: Children go missing, husbands disappear, men vanish into the wilderness. But most of her cases are fairly easily solved, and most turn out all right.

There's a temptation to call such stories "small," but this one surely isn't; it's life-size. We're just used to seeing so many things on TV that are wildly exaggerated and larger than life that anything real can seem slight.

A Grammy-winning singer, Scott imbues her character with a natural warmth and charm, and if she's initially not quite the grown-up force Precious needs to be, she grows into the role as the series goes along. You'll find the same growth with Rose, who's a bit too overtly comic at first, but brings great depth of feeling to Grace's later troubles.

Fans of the novels do have to remember that TV is not a book. Characters are dropped and added to fill out episodes, and plots expand and contract. Still, this is as good an adaptation as any Ladies lover could wish, one that overflows with the joys of life and exudes an all-embracing spirit.

Be ready to be beguiled.

Out Of Africa, One For The Ladies

www.globeandmail.com - Andrew Ryan

(March 26, 2009) The transfer of a beloved novel to television rarely captures the source material, but inordinate care was taken in the case of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Sunday, HBO Canada at 8 p.m.). For once, literary purists will be hard-pressed to complain.

Years in the making, the adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's popular book series was a painstaking affair with a substantial budget, at least by usual TV standards.

Originally conceived as a feature film, the BBC-HBO co-production comes to TV with the imprimatur of movie-world icons Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack. The Oscar-winning producer-directors collaborated on the pilot episode, but passed away before production on the series began last year.

“The show is a legacy to both men,” said executive producer Harvey Weinstein at the recent TV critics tour. “Anthony was very passionate about the books, and Sydney was responsible for Out of Africa, probably the best movie ever made about that country. So the legacy lives on.”

Filmed on location in Botswana in late 2007, the two-hour pilot of No. 1 Ladies was in fact the last film Minghella directed before his untimely demise last March at age 54.

Minghella also handpicked Grammy-winning soul singer Jill Scott to play the plucky female heroine Precious Ramotswe, a smart and eternally upbeat woman who leaves her abusive husband and the Botswana countryside, sells her father's cows and moves to the big city, where she opens her own detective agency – the first of its kind, hence the name.

Born and raised in North Philadelphia, Scott's acting experience pre-No. 1 Ladies consisted of a few small film parts and a regular role on the UPN series Girlfriends. She dutifully read the books and studied with a dialect coach to prepare, but the character didn't register fully until she stepped off the plane in Botswana.

“I looked around and Precious was suddenly there, just like that,” said Scott, 37. “I saw people that looked like me, and my cousins and girlfriends. Botswana was never tainted by apartheid, and so almost everyone there is gentle and loving and warm. They don't have ugliness there. Precious only wants the best for her country.”

Staying faithful to Smith's version, Precious is, well, precious. Each episode in the seven-part series was adapted directly from one of the No. 1 Ladies books (the author served as an adviser during the shooting) and Scott holds her own as the good-natured gumshoe.

Speaking in polite clipped phrases – “I will give you a try,” “I sincerely agree” – and without contractions, Precious is pragmatic, almost to a fault.

When her prim new assistant Mma Makutsi (played by Anika Noni Rose of Dreamgirls) complains of a typewriter missing keys, Precious suggests she use only words without those letters. In the first show, she deals with a cheating husband and a missing finger and tackles both cases with observational skills worthy of Columbo.

“Precious has exactly the right kind of mind for detective work,” said Scott. “She often sees things other people don't notice and is detail-oriented. She loves people, so she's good at reading people. Precious is optimistic, but she's not a fool. She's a very powerful woman.”

Precious's buoyant nature sustains The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which itself marks a notable departure from recent dark cable fare such as Dexter, True Blood and Big Love. In truth, every character on the show holds a sunny disposition – even the bad guys – which is also in keeping with the book.

Pending public response to the first seven episodes, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency could reopen its doors in the near future. Scott says she would sign to play Precious again “in a minute.”

Smith recently completed his 10th entry in the No. 1 Ladies book franchise and has stated he is “absolutely delighted” with the TV version; he even plans to fold new characters created for the show into future novels. And the show's producers have already signed a 10-year lease on the production facility in Gaborone where the series was filmed – just in case.

“We're entering a wonderful new era for America and the continent of Africa,” says Richard Curtis, who co-wrote the pilot screenplay with Minghella and serves as executive producer on the series. “The world would probably be a better place if people took a more positive attitude toward Africa. I hope we can contribute to that as well as provide some cracking detective shows.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: Hooked on Botswana love

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

(March 28, 2009) More often than not, when a TV series or film is described by those involved as "a labour of love," it is at best an exaggeration; at worst, an utter fabrication. In the case of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the new HBO series debuting tomorrow night at 8 on HBO Canada, it is something of an understatement.

It begins, as these things tend to, with a love of the source material: a series of wildly successful novels by Edinburgh's Alexander McCall Smith about the only female detective in Gaborone, Botswana. Precious Ramotswe deals with everything from cheating husbands and fake fathers to corrupt businessmen and even suspected murder.

The emotional impact of the project was magnified by the passing of its prime movers, prolific producer Sidney Pollack and co-writer and director Anthony Minghella. Both died last year, shortly after the two-hour pilot episode was completed.

"It casts a giant shadow," acknowledged executive producer and mercurial mogul Harvey Weinstein, making a rare appearance before the press during January's TV press tour. "This is the last movie in Anthony's career ... and I was privileged, over the last 15 years, to make every movie that Anthony directed.

"Every time we see one of these episodes, it reminds us of Anthony and, of course, his great partner, Sydney Pollack – and how appropriate, because, in my mind, Sydney made the best movie out of Africa, which was Out of Africa.

"So the legacy lives, and that's the great thing about our industry."

Then there is the love of the land, a peaceful pocket of southern Africa where the series is both set and shot – the first TV or film production ever to do so.

"I live in Scotland," explained author McCall Smith, "but I spent my childhood in Zimbabwe, right next door to Botswana.

"I started to visit Botswana back in the 1980s, and I worked at the University of Botswana ... I fell in love with the country, although I didn't dream at that stage that (we'd) have this very long literary conversation.

"I wanted, I suppose, with the books, to say something about this extraordinary country, get across some of its particular magic and appeal. And I sat down one day and started to write the story about a woman who has a little detective agency, and off it went. And I have just finished the 10th novel.

"Botswana is an extraordinary country," he further enthused. "An amazing place. When you go there, you have this strange feeling, a very strong feeling, that you are in a place which is just thoroughly good.

"I think that there's been a tendency to portray Africa in very negative tones. And most people see Africa in the media presented as being a continent full of distress and suffering. Now, that distress and suffering is there, but there's also this wonderful joy and these marvellous human qualities, which the film has so beautifully brought out."

It is those human qualities, as evoked by the characters and the actors (largely local) who play them, that will have viewers immediately and irretrievably hooked. Particularly effective are the two series leads: the self-styled detective Precious Ramotswe, played by Grammy-winning R&B singer/songwriter Jill Scott, and her practical, prissy secretary Grace Makutsi, played by movie Dreamgirl Anika Noni Rose, an Obie- and Tony Award-winning stage star.

Though both are American imports, they so indelibly embody their respective characters that I had to ask McCall Smith how close they came to how he had originally pictured them.

"People sometimes don't believe me when I say this, but I don't actually see my characters," he insisted. "I hear them, but I don't ... I don't see people. I see a countryside, but I don't actually see the characters."

At least, not until now.

"When Jill and Anika came along," he says, "I said, `That's fine. That's perfectly all right by me.' And (now) I actually have ... they've given me a picture of my characters which I didn't have before."

It is hard to imagine a more vivid depiction than that of support star Rose, who, like the author himself, tends to work more by sound than by sight. "I had read several of the books before I was cast," she says. "And I found it very interesting, what Sandy says about his characters, because for me, when something resonates with me, I can hear the voice as I'm reading the script. So for me, she came to life immediately from these pages."

And what did that voice sound like? "I did not audition with a Botswana accent," she allows. "I auditioned with a South African accent, because it was one that I knew and I wanted them to be able to hear that this was something that could fit on my tongue.

"(When) we went there, we had a dialect coach. And in that time period, I really got to be around the people of the area, and take those rhythms into my person and become a part of that earth. Which is, I think, extraordinarily lucky and very necessary in that situation."

The sentiment is echoed, with several essential variations, by series star Scott, a relative acting novice who landed the coveted Ladies' role. (Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Queen Latifah and more than a dozen African actors were considered for the part.)

"I had never read the books," she admits. "I had just the `sides' (a partial audition script). I didn't have the accent at all. But I watched Sarafina (the film version of a South African musical) and I pulled what I could get out of that. I auditioned with the Sarafina accent, but it didn't go over so well."

Nonetheless, Minghella kept calling her back, again and again, eventually even flying from London to Philadelphia just to see her again.

"(That) was definitely a highlight in my life," Scott says, "to meet this wonderful man who had done so many incredible movies ... it blew me away. Here I am, auditioning with Anthony Minghella ...

"He auditioned me about five hours every time. He definitely put the thing on me. And then, once all the auditioning was done, I read the books and I started to really understand what it was about.

"But I didn't get it completely until I got to Botswana and I looked around ...

"Botswana was never tainted or touched by apartheid. So that makes the country and the people very strong and very warm towards each other. They don't have ugliness. They just don't have it. The character itself started to come to me based on where I was, just being around the people, having dinner, having conversations ...

"There was such a gentle nature to the people that I understood why Ramotswe was so kind and so gentle and so loving, and why she wants the best for her country.

"She's a powerful woman, that lady."

TV Tumult On The Canadian Dial

Source: www.thestar.com -
Bruce Demara, Greg Quill, Raju Mudhar, Entertainment Reporters

(March 28, 2009)



Chopped 105 jobs in November primarily at MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic and MTV; won't renew licences for stations in Windsor and Wingham, eliminating 28 positions; chopped 118 newsroom jobs at A-branded stations, including 24 at CKVR in Barrie, with stations in Ottawa, London and Victoria also affected; 24 jobs trimmed at Canada AM.


The recession and a sharp decline in ad revenue are cited as the reason to cut costs. Parent company CTVglobemedia forecasts a $100 million loss in 2009. Another issue is refusal by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to require cable and satellite companies to pay for airing the broadcasters' signals, which would have injected about $300 million annually in the industry.

Possible next step

CTV appears better poised than the competition to weather the economic crisis because it has the lion's share of Canadian viewership, but says allowing carriage fees from cable and satellite companies is the "first step" needed to save conventional broadcasters and for "the survival of local news." The CRTC has taken the unusual step of holding hearings for one-year licence renewals next month rather than the standard seven years.



With Canwest Global shares hovering around 30 cents and carrying a debt of about $3.9 billion, the company recently put five E! channels up for sale (with no buyers in sight) and is looking to sell assets. It recently sold its 26 per cent stake in The Score for $6.62 million, and is trying to sell the remaining $3.6 million in shares of Score Media Inc.


On top of a steep drop in ad revenue, many issues stem from the debt left from previous purchases, in particular the heavily leveraged buyout of Alliance Atlantis in 2007, with U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs as a partner. Critics had charged that Canwest's payment plan was unrealistic, and that putting assets up for sale would be the outcome. Those forecasts appear to be coming true.

Possible next step

April 7 is Global's next important date – that's the latest in a series of deadlines granted by creditors for Canwest to negotiate new terms. In the meantime, the company has partnered with competitors CTV in an attempt to lobby federal broadcast regulator CRTC to look at a number of ways it can become more profitable, including relaxing Canadian-content restrictions and seeking fees for carriage from cable and satellite companies.



Cutting costs to help make up for a $65 million shortfall in its 2008-2009 operating budget, including reductions in prime-time entertainment, variety, documentary, current affairs, news and entertainment programming, elimination of 800 jobs in its TV and radio operations and more repeats of all programs.


Ad loss due to the economic slowdown cited as the prime culprit in a $65 million shortfall in its 2008-2009 operating budget, with a $171 shortfall predicted for 2009-10. Management made overtures to the Harper government, requesting bridge financing – a loan or advance of $125 million – hoping to reduce or forestall job and programming cuts, but the Conservatives turned them down.

Possible next step

Will open a voluntary retirement package next week for one month, in the hope that "several hundred" employees will apply and forced layoffs will be reduced. Layoffs will start in May and continue through September. CBC's "news renewal" initiative to integrate news coverage will be complete mid-April; by then, the effects of the cutbacks may change the form of its TV news even more, especially regional and French-language operations.

What it means to you

Something's got to give. Somebody's got to pay. Without a new revenue source, conventional private broadcasters will continue to lose money and trim costs. That means less local news and programming, especially in the smaller markets. The CBC has already conceded it will be ordering fewer episodes of original series; private broadcasters will inevitably follow suit. The result: less original programming, more reruns.

The CRTC has realized somewhat belatedly that there is a crisis. There's also growing political will in Ottawa to preserve local programming. If the commission decides to levy a 50-cent per subscriber "carriage fee" on Rogers, Shaw and Bell Canada, it will give conventional broadcasters a new revenue source. But the commission would have to ensure that cable and satellite companies don't simply pass on those costs through higher cable and subscriber fees. Otherwise, it'll be the consumer – you – who ends up paying more.

ER Tops Television Farewells

Source: www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(April 03, 2009) This week's a week for fond farewells, with ER flatlining last night in its final episode, and veteran CTV weatherman Dave Devall hanging up his umbrella tonight.

Two things up front: there may be some spoilers ahead. Not that I would necessarily know, since I haven't really watched an episode of ER since George Clooney left in ... what was it now, 1999?

Until last night, and the long-running hospital drama's two-hour series finale. Better late than never.

I have nothing against the show, never have. I just don't like hospitals. Even hospitals where they seem to be having a lot of fun, like in St. Elsewhere, Scrubs and House.

And ER has never been a lot of fun, not ever, and certainly not last night, where we were, in the first hour alone, introduced in rapid succession to a teenager in an alcohol-induced coma, an oblivious elderly lady with dementia and a broken wrist, a cancer-ridden 20-year AIDS survivor, a doomed mother of twins, a kid who'd swallowed his mama's rosary ...

Business as usual at Chicago's County General. Or, as tellingly described in a significantly casual exchange between the mammoth desk clerk Jerry and nurse Haleh:

"Tough day?"

"Just about the same as any other."

In much the same vein (forgive me), there was nothing particularly notable about the fact that a lapsed viewer such as myself would not recognize any of the current ER staffers. Except Alexis Bledel, who I only know as a Gilmore Girl and part of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

But, again, has it not always been thus? It seems to me the only chance any of these characters ever has for redemption or relief from the grind of constant crisis is to die or leave. And besides, the constant cast turnover is a primary reason the remarkable medical drama has lasted an astounding 15 years.

Not that the long-time fan was not rewarded with nostalgia-tinged closure. Clooney, I gather, popped back in again weeks ago, bringing with him Julianna Margulies. And Anthony Edwards' dead Dr. Greene, who returned last year for a flashback, is now represented by his med-student daughter.

And even I, Johnny-Come-Back Lately, found myself a little choked up by the sight of Noah Wyle's Carter alongside fellow veterans Sherry Stringfield, Eriq La Salle, Laura Innes and his erstwhile bride, Thandie Newton, gathered together for the opening of his Joshua Carter Center, named for their late son.

In the world of ER, you couldn't ask for a happier ending than that.


We cannot leave behind the subject of finales without enthusiastic acknowledgement of Wednesday night's spectacular swan song of the Americanized Life on Mars – I would venture to say, a series sign-off worthy of mention in the same breath as The Fugitive, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H and Newhart (feel free to add any I may have left out in the Star website comment section).

The spoiler alert is hereby suspended – I would not dare ruin the out-of-nowhere, entirely unexpected, yet absolutely satisfying climax for those who will want to run out and buy the inevitable 17-episode DVD boxed set.

Even the occasional uneven episode still boasted unceasingly excellent performances by Harvey Keitel, ex-Soprano Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Moll and its charismatic Irish lead, Jason O'Mara.

Whatever you thought the resolution would be, I can pretty much guarantee you were wrong. And that includes anything resembling the end of the British original.

Less-wrenching season finales coming up the rest of this month: United States of Tara on Monday; Life on Wednesday; Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (possibly forever) and Friday Night Lights (back in the game) on Friday; King of the Hill (hanging in till December) on Sunday; Howie Do It (please, make it stop) on April 24; Chuck and Heroes on April 27; Better Off Ted on April 29; and In the Motherhood/Samantha Who? and Private Practice on April 30.

There are some biggies in May, starting May 6 with the last episode ever of Scrubs. And you can expect double-stuffed two-hour seasonal send-offs for Lost (May 13), Grey's Anatomy (May 14), Desperate Housewives (May 17), 24 (May 18), American Idol (May 20) and Ugly Betty (May 21).

Jay Leno says good night to The Tonight Show on May 29.


Forty-eight years of telling us the sky is falling – or rather, what's falling from the sky – ends tonight as CTV staple Dave Devall ends his unprecedented run, now officially confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the world's longest-serving weatherman."

But this isn't goodbye, Devall assures. "It's just `so long.' At the end of April, I'm going to take a week to just relax and put things into perspective."

One would hope someplace warm. And indeed, one of several projects Devall has planned is a CTV special about the troops in Afghanistan – as seen from a weather perspective.

"I know that sounds funny," Devall allows. "But they're dealing with quite a different climate over there. By the same token, I want to put the spotlight on those men and women who are doing such a wonderful job and giving Canadians such a wonderful reputation."

The life of a weatherman, like the weather, invariably has its ups and downs. On the one hand, people tend to hold you accountable for the climate. "But I've come to look forward to that," concedes Devall. "If somebody doesn't abuse me at least once a day, I think, `What am I doing wrong?'"

Fortunately, those who have come to depend on him are equally vocal with their affections. "I love it when I'm in a crowded situation and some lady yells out, `I go to bed with you every night!' And I'm, like, 'Geez, lady, cool your jets.'"

And now, he says, he's ready to cool his. "I said to myself, `Dave, you have more years behind you than ahead, so you better start enjoying yourself.' I'm just ornery enough to stick around for another 50 years."

And just how old is he? Devall won't say. "Besides, age is just a number."

And so is the temperature. "Hopefully," he laughs, "they'll start measuring age in Celsius too."

Rob Salem, the Star's TV columnist, is not planning to go anywhere for a very long time. Email: rsalem@thestar.ca.


King Geoffrey Rush Declares Abnormal The New Normal

www.globeandmail.com - Simon Houpt

Exit the King
Written by Eugene Ionesco
Adapted by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush
Starring Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, Andrea Martin, Lauren Ambrose
Directed by Neil Armfield
At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York

(March 27, 2009) Thank God somebody around here knows how to have some fun. Unemployment is spreading, the banks are bankrupt, high priests of capitalism are doing the socialist catechism. I know what you're thinking: Now would be a perfect time for some rarely performed Theatre of the Absurd chestnut, right?

No, seriously: in a topsy-turvy world, when all the old certainties have suddenly become uncertain, what could be more appropriate? As Berenger the King himself declares, "Nothing's abnormal when abnormal's the new normal." And what once seemed absurd now seems merely descriptive.

But here's the thing: Despair is a blast! At least it is when
Geoffrey Rush is in command, here making an astonishing Broadway debut as Berenger, Eugene Ionesco's impotent potentate who is a little like Bruce Willis's character in The Sixth Sense: He's almost dead; he just doesn't want to accept it yet. This, despite the constant reminders from his nagging ex-wife, Queen Marguerite (Susan Sarandon), who brusquely informs him, "You are going to die in an hour and a half. You are going to die at the end of the play."

Berenger has been on his way out for decades, really; someone probably should have relieved him of his crown centuries ago. Absolute power has corrupted him. Under his short attention span, the kingdom has shrunk to almost nothing. (Not to make too much of the contemporary parallels, but Berenger was always more interested in having fun than planning for the future.) The small amount of land still remaining is falling into an abyss. His organs are shutting down. His orders are ineffectual. And yet, like the American economy, he refuses to accept the inevitable, believing even now that he can cheat Death.

And why not believe that? Rush is giving a death-defying performance that shoots for immortality. Working from a new translation he co-wrote with director Neil Armfield, he radiates with Berenger's spiky, self-pitying glee, the king's magnificently egotistical heart the most toxic asset that ever existed.

There he stands, stripped at the end of Act One of his royal robes, like a ghostly Gumby in pathetic Hugh Hefner pyjamas, slippered feet pointed awkwardly inward, knees knocked together. After an unplanned tumble or a rickety dance to try to prove his vitality, he leans rheumatically on his sceptre, his pancake makeup face a mask of rigor mortis. A childish, jealous man, Berenger can't stand to think the world might go on in his absence. "I'm dying, let everything die," he decrees.

Taking his cues from Rush, Armfield treats his troupe like travelling vaudevillians, placing them up there between the footlights and a single, lavishly drawn backdrop, and decking them out with glorious stage business. Most rise to the challenge. As the long-suffering cook, cleaner, and court attendant, Juliet, the sublime Andrea Martin nearly steals the show even before it begins, wordlessly threatening audience members as she holds up a card warning people not to text during the performance. Lauren Ambrose, best known as the troubled daughter on S ix Feet Under, but a respected New York stage vet, is a blubbering, self-regarding Queen Marie, as much a diva as any reality TV principal.

Sarandon, alas, is the weak link in an otherwise muscular ensemble. Feeble of voice and indistinct of character, she provides this year's case study (see previously: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington) in the hubris of film actors believing the legit stage is their friend. Sarandon can be luminous on film, where the merest quiver in her deer-like mien can be captured and projected to the back row of a cinema. But 37 years after she last acted on Broadway, she is technically unequipped to fill a big house.

Worse, she misreads Marguerite, failing to provide either the maternal disdain or, later, the deep and knowing compassion the first queen has for her husband. The play's final 10 minutes, in which Marguerite guides Berenger through the final stages of his expiration as everything but her voice evaporates from his perception, should be mysterious and haunting. Instead, the wheels come off.

And then Rush — canny showman that he is — snatches the play back in its fading seconds. Taking his seat on Berenger's throne, Rush for the first time all night relaxes his limbs, his trunk, and finally his face. He looks out to regard the audience as himself: that is, as an actor understandably pleased with his own accomplishment. He has shown us something true, and now he can rest. A tiny smile begins to cross his face. Then, turning his face skyward, he is swallowed up by the sudden darkness, and his final breath echoes through the hall.

Bragg Faces His Final Canstage Curtain

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

(March 28, 2009) It's a quarter to three, there's no one in the place but Marty and me, and we're talking about how hard it is to say goodbye.

This Tuesday,
Martin Bragg will shut the door behind him as he leaves his office at the Canadian Stage Company, just like he's done for the last 17 years.

But on Wednesday morning, he won't be coming back.

"It's going to be really sad," he says, staring off into the distance. "You don't spend 17 years in a place without leaving a huge part of you behind."

The dapper Bragg has always had a bit of Frank Sinatra about him – the sophistication, the aloofness, the occasional bouts of arrogance – but today the resemblance seems even more pronounced. You wouldn't be surprised to hear him break into the trademark song of Ol' Blue Eyes:

And now, the end is near;

And so I face the final curtain ...

But more, much more than this,

I did it my way

Indeed, some critics claim that many of the problems now facing the organization exist because Bragg did it his way. On the other hand, he reduced the organization's deficit from $3 million to just under $1 million, and produced more memorable plays than he did forgettable ones.

He remembers how it all began: "It was 1992 and I was sitting in my home just outside Seville in Spain. I was in the middle of a project promoting Canada to the Spanish market. A $3-million show involving Céline Dion, Blue Rodeo, the Snowbirds, you name it.

"Then Jim Leach called me up and asked me how I'd feel about being managing director of the Canadian Stage Company."

The organization has had a long and troubled history. It began in 1973 as Toronto Arts Productions, morphed in the '80s into CentreStage, then merged with Toronto Free Theatre in 1986 to form the Canadian Stage Company.

But it soon was saddled with crippling debt, and Bob Baker was brought in during the summer of 1990 to salvage things. He needed a strong financial hand to help turn things around, which is when the board approached Bragg.

"Initially, Bob and I had a great relationship," says Bragg. "We went all the way back to Stratford together in the 1970s."

And for a while, their partnership, "the double-headed monster" as Bragg calls it, seemed triumphant.

"We cemented that company as being important on a national stage," he recalls, "and our shows at Berkeley Street rode that long-run trend of the 1990s: Angels in America: 42 weeks; Poor Superman: 30 weeks; Death and the Maiden: 28 weeks."

But like many relationships, time gradually eroded this one and the board fired Baker in 1998.

"It all collapsed around Claptrap," sighs Bragg, recalling the lavish comedy written by Baker's partner, Tom Wood, which opened to some of the grimmest reviews in the organization's history. "It was a very emotional, intense time. So much of their life and their passion was tied up in that project and it was problematic, to say the least."

Bragg's adversaries have always insisted he engineered the whole situation so he could achieve sole control of the organization, but he denies that emphatically.

"It's just not true. Bob had been there eight years at the time. I think he was exhausted and battered down by the emotional toil of Claptrap not succeeding, which made him lose support inside the organization.

"I don't harbour any ill will toward Bob at all. We couldn't have achieved the successes we did without the two of us working together."

Bragg does admit that he told the board to "take a pause" to examine its options, and not hire another artistic director right away. "Okay, the impetus was mine, but the due diligence was carried on by the board outside of me."

The eventual decision was to appoint Bragg as artistic producer, the sole force running the organization. "I decided to cement the image of the Canadian Stage Company as Canada's leading contemporary theatre company. I didn't think we needed to compete with Stratford and Shaw. And for a long time, I felt I was successful."

Regrets, I've had a few;

But then again, too few to mention.

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exemption.

"I have many regrets," concedes Bragg in an uncharacteristically self-doubting moment. "One of them was that – despite the international success of The Overcoat – I wasn't able to pump up the Canadian exporting machine more around the world.

"My other big regret would be not being able to figure out how to crack the problem of getting more Canadian work premiering successfully on the Bluma Appel stage."

Then, Bragg sums up the problem with the organization's two performing spaces: "Berkeley Street is the heart of the company. The Bluma Appel is the dilemma."

Despite an often impressive record, Bragg has had to deal with two highly contentious seasons near the end of his reign. The first is what he dubs "the perfect storm" season of 2005-2006, when "whatever could go wrong, did. Nothing sold. Fundraising tanked. Every single income line went down."

The bottom line was a loss of $700,000, which was especially painful after all those years of chipping away at the deficit.

That perfect-storm season wound up leading to the events of 2008, when in the course of a few weeks, Bragg accepted the resignation of artistic director David Storch, laid off a dozen employees and had to endure a lot of negative press about announcing a mainstage season devoid of Canadian content.

"I wish that spring had never happened," he says softly. "I'd be lying to say that my skin is so thick that it didn't hurt. I wish I could have done it differently, but I'm still glad I did it, because we're going to show a surplus this season."

But then he realizes it's not his company any more, and Matthew Jocelyn will be walking in the door Wednesday morning.

"For the first time in 17 years," Bragg realizes, "I'll wake up without going to CanStage. But it won't be a liberating feeling. It will be the hardest thing I've ever had to do."

The record shows,

I took the blows ...

And did it my way

First Hand Woman : Peeling Away The Pain

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Cheryl Nneka U. Hazell

(Spring 2009) Denial. Bargaining. Anger. Depression. Acceptance.

When a love gone awry plays with our emotions, how does one navigate through the madness?
Sarah Michelle Brown's theatrical debut, First Hand Woman, has succeeded since it opened at Montreal's Fringe Festival last summer and to sold-out audiences at Toronto's Factory Theatre in January.

Brown's love/hate relationship with this play was compounded by challenges in creating it since everything was being played out within one woman's mind. A couple of years ago Brown decided to make it more physical and actualized and decided to cast it. Four well-known local actresses were handed the script and were asked which characters they related to the most, which one they were afraid of, and which they were burning to play.

Choosing actresses to actualize the images she had in her head was only the first step. The next one would be to put her creation into the hands of an equally adept visionary. Esther Jun, director and dramaturge, was Brown's ultimate choice after a call was put out for directors. "When I met with Esther, I asked her what would be her vision for this play. Her response to me was in the form of a question: 'Are we talking about the Fringe Festival version or the big-budget version?' I liked that answer because I surely have some big dreams for this play and it showed vision and foresight on her part and her understanding of potential future endeavours with it."

It wasn't only actors who carried the play. Vocalist Saidah Baba Talibah and percussionist Guiomar Campbell were involved in the musical composition and soundscape, and they worked with the sound designer and art director. Saidah was the "voice" while Guiomar was the "heartbeat."

This artistic collaboration is typical in the realm of theatre and one of many reasons why Brown is drawn to it. "What I love about theatre is that you can use your poetry in language and when you're finished writing it, you're really just starting your journey, especially if you're also producing it."

If you have ever attended a film or play and felt that the characters got you, if you've left feeling inspired enough to go out and create or make a change in your life, then you've lived in an artistic moment. Brown believes that First Hand Woman has had the power to do that.

"Experiencing people coming up to me and thanking me for putting that voice on stage or for making them laugh or cry and putting them through this rollercoaster of a journey, there's nothing like being on the receiving end of people saying that what I did worked."


Coming Soon: Gaming In 'The Cloud'

Source: www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman,
Special To The Star

(March 28, 2009) One of the most exciting video game announcements to surface out of this week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco – perhaps one of the biggest industry stories of the year – is OnLive's on-demand delivery of top-tier video games.

Traditional console manufacturers such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo might have something to worry about should this concept take off. The OnLive (onlive.com) game distribution system lets PC or TV gamers play top-selling titles "in the cloud," as if they owned the game on disc.

OnLive says it has inked deals with many of the industry's top publishers, including Electronic Arts, THQ, Ubisoft, Take-Two, Eidos, Warner Bros. Interactive, Epic Games, Atari Interactive and Codemasters. Games will be available at the same time as those titles are released on plastic.

Founded by WebTV pioneer Steve Perlman and former Eidos CEO Mike McGarvey, OnLive streams games over a broadband connection to any Intel-based Mac or PC running Windows XP or Vista – or to a television via a small set-top box (supporting a wireless controller and VoIP headset for online chats).

Standard-definition games would require a minimum 1.5 megabits-per-second connection, while high-definition titles would need 5 Mbps or more.

The OnLive duo says one key advantage is that the system is future-proof: users won't have to upgrade hardware to play games down the road as all upgrades take place on the back end.

The service – which will work via a monthly subscription at first, then on a per-title basis – is slated to go into public beta testing this summer and to launch later this year. OnLive says it will likely offer free trials of some or all of its games, allowing players to try before they buy.

Soar to victory in H.A.W.X. If you're having a little trouble dog fighting through Ubisoft's new Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., here are some cheats to help you unlock better aircraft. Visit the hanger and enter these following codes:

For Xbox 360 FB-22 Strike Raptor: Hold left trigger, then press right bumper, X, right bumper, X, right bumper, Y. A-12 Avenger II: Hold left trigger, then press X, left bumper, X, right bumper, Y, X. F-18 HARV: Hold left trigger, then press left bumper, Y, left bumper, Y, left bumper X. For PlayStation 3 FB-22 Strike Raptor: Hold L2, then press R1, square, R1, square, R1, triangle. A-12 Avenger II: Hold L2, then press square, L1, square, R1, triangle, square. F-18 HARV: Hold L2, then press L1, triangle, L1, triangle, L1, square.

Exploring The Wii's Retro Charms

Source: www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko,
Special To The Star

(March 28, 2009) Man, I love downloads.

Living out in the country, where a trip to the nearest mall-based game shop is a day-devouring expedition, if I could somehow swing this gig without having to worry about transporting physical discs to my home I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I love all the flavours, too: the sleek sophistication of the PlayStation store with top-notch indie offerings like fl0w and Everyday Shooter, the joys of Xbox Live Arcade and the passionate chaos of Xbox Community Games.

But the warmest spot in my nerdcore heart is reserved for the old-school pleasures of the
Wii Virtual Console (nintendo.com/wii/virtualconsole).

From the first day with the Wii, indiscriminately grabbing diamonds and duds alike – Super Mario 64 and Ice Hockey on one hand, Urban Champion on the other – it's been a great trip through time, my memory card bloating with old Nintendo favourites, Turbo Grafx and Neo-Geo titles I drooled over but never got to try, and weird Japan-only treats I'd barely heard of until Wii made them available.

Sure, all this and more can be had on any computer via emulation, but there's just something about a television, you know? And since the VC has added Commodore 64 and arcade-game titles to its menu, and I just happened to have a fresh pile of Wii Points on hand, last night I figured I go on another buying spree.

First up was The Last Ninja, a game all my C64-owning friends had but I never got to play because it was "too long" (we'd usually play World Games instead). In the comfort of my own 21st-century den, I now have all the time I need to work my way through this kick-ass martial-arts adventure, and if it feels slow and awkward under my spoiled thumbs, well, regaining old skills (and old levels of patience) is one of the charms of retro gaming. Just get into the groove of an era where games were really challenging, soak up those Erol Otus graphics, and imagine the Classic Controller is instead a black-and-red Epyx 500XJ with that satisfying microswitch click.

I'll admit the difficulty level strained my modern attention span, so I took a breather with the arcade game The Tower of Druaga, the first in a big-in-Japan series I'd completely missed the memo on. This is a maze-based game that has a lot of elements we associate with the "rogue-like" genre: you move your hero through a randomly generated labyrinth, slaying/avoiding enemies and gathering items and power-ups in a quest to reach the top of the tower. Again, as with so many old games, it's very difficult, but fun-difficult in that insidiously quarter-sucking way of the old arcades.

If there's one way I would improve the Virtual Console experience, it'd be the addition of some historical/cultural context. In the same way that the enjoyment of old literature can be improved with the reading of a thoughtful introduction, all these games would be enhanced by an essay or short video detailing their creation, placing them in their time and place.

Sure, all this material (and so much more) is readily available online, but how much cooler would the VC be if it went from well-stocked antique store to full-on museum?


It's Harry Jerome Time Again

Source: www.swaymag.ca - BY: Austin Maxwell

(Spring 2009) The Black Business and Professional Association's (BBPA) annual
Harry Jerome Awards (HJA) honour and remind us of the legacy of a true African Canadian hero: Harry Jerome.

As the premier Canadian track athlete of his time, Jerome garnered several significant medals for himself and his country. These successes were paired with scholastic excellence and social consciousness. Jerome used his influence in the sports world to acquire equipment for young athletes who couldn't afford it. He vocally opposed the misrepresentation of African Canadians on Canadian television, asking that licences be suspended if "stations could justify neither having blacks as on-air personalities, nor airing stories about the [African Canadian] community." Long before the phrase gained recent popularity, Harry Jerome's life told all African Canadians: "Yes, we can."

This year's celebration promises to continue in the tradition of excellence advanced through previous award ceremonies, while a stellar group of recipients headlines the 2009 edition of the Harry Jerome Awards.

"Some of the achievements of this year's nominees include being named to the Order of Ontario; winning a young entrepreneur award for achievements in technology from the African Canadian Achievement Awards and Black Enterprise Network; as well as one winner who has written a Dora-nominated play that has broken box-office records and received four NAACP Theatre awards," says Sandra Gabriel, BBPA communications director.

"It's so important, now more than ever, to show our young people that there is nothing they cannot do. We must encourage them to reach for the sky and beyond — to be the very best they can be, and realize their full, true potential. We need, also, to encourage and develop mentors in our community who will make the effort to begin nurturing and cultivating youth, so as to prepare them for their future."

The 27th annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards Gala will be held on Saturday, April 25, 2009 at the Toronto Congress Centre, 650 Dixon Road. For more information on the Harry Jerome Awards visit bbpa.org.


Canada's Walk Of Fame : Nominations Are Open

www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(March 26, 2009) Who should be a shoe-in for the next spot on Canada's Walk of Fame? Maybe superstar architect Frank Gehry, whose support should be building after his renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario. How about pop singer Feist, who might get more than 1-2-3-4 votes. Former heavyweight boxing champ Lennox Lewis would have a fighting chance, you would think. And is time running out for 60 Minutes star Morley Safer?  Canadians are invited to recommend fellow citizens who deserve to be recognized for their achievements in music, sport, film and television, as well as innovators in the fields of literature, science, and visual and performing arts. Nomination suggestions can be made by visiting www.canadaswalkoffame.com, where contest information can be found.  Canada's Walk of Fame, originated in 1998, is composed of stars placed on the sidewalks of downtown Toronto. Five fortunate contest participants will each win an all-expenses paid trip for two to Toronto for the Canada Honours Weekend celebration, held Sept. 11-13, 2009

Free Cirque Show To Close Luminato

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

(April 03, 2009) A free three-day presentation from Cirque du Soleil will be the highlight of the closing weekend of Luminato, June 12-14, both organizations announced on Friday. The event will take place all across Harbourfront and will utilize the Harbourfront Centre, the Toronto Music Gardens and HtO Park. Both aerial and ground activities will take place and the artists of Cirque will be interacting with Luminato audience members as well as artists from the Bell Orchestre. On Sunday night, a special one-of-a-kind performance is expected to serve as a culmination of the weekend and a gala closing of this year's Luminato. Cirque du Soleil spokesman Renée-Claude Menard called the event "an appropriate return to Cirque du Soleil's roots as street entertainers and a wonderful way to mark our own 25th Anniversary." Luminato is a 10-day celebration of the Arts and will run this year from June 5-14. For more information, go to www.luminato.com/2009


Japan's Past Makes A Modern Comeback

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Special To The Star

(March 26, 2009) A study of Kabuki theatre called "Why Men Love Drag" is yet to be written, but the 400-year-old Japanese song, music and dance tradition is back in favour, enjoying a whole new audience outside Japan.

Highly formal, supremely stylized, ritualized and encoded, Kabuki is performed by men only (women were banned from the stage in 1629). Those men who excel in women's roles, called onnagata, are especially prized.

Bando Tamasaburo, the most renowned of contemporary onnagata, is the star of Dojoji (A Lover's Duet). A film of this performance at the Kabuki-za Theatre in Tokyo is one of three films screening tonight and Saturday at Scotiabank Theatre in the Japan Foundation series Cinema Kabuki.

The actor was in his mid-50s when he performed opposite a much younger man, Kikunosuke, in this story of a young woman turned into a serpent after wandering off the sacred path. The two Kabuki performers make mirror images of a young maiden in a metaphorical depiction of a soul divided.

Everything that Tamasaburo does on the wide, shallow Kabuki stage is fascinating to watch, though it helps to know what you're watching. He wears many layers of garments, shed at intervals in the story, and shows in his sinuous, erotic dancing how the onnagata came to define the feminine in Japanese theatre.

Tamasaburo came to the attention of French choreographer Maurice Béjart, who proclaimed him a star. He made his New York debut to great acclaim in 1982. He danced for Yo-Yo Ma in the cellist's video of a performance of Bach's Suite No. 5 for Unaccompanied Cello and he performed with the Kodo drummers on their 25th anniversary. Now close to 60, Tamasaburo has been on the stage since he was 7.

Dojoji is a well-known Buddhist temple and the gist of this story is that a young maiden who has fallen in love with a priest comes in search of him. The priests, in their white wigs and long white robes, are a comical lot. A trio of narrators is floated in on a moving platform that also contains the musicians, playing their long-necked string instruments.

Tamasaburo's dancing is at once ritualized and quite direct, like modern dance at times. Every gesture tells the story, but the maiden also speaks in a high squeaky voice. The audience applauds at timed intervals and people shout out encouragement to the characters. Buddhist sayings and beliefs ("the material things of this world have no substance") abound in the text.

Nezumi, a satirical comedy, opens the festival tonight at 7. Kanzaburo, another celebrated Japanese actor, stars as Nezumi, a Japanese Robin Hood, in a comedy of manners set in the 18th century. Dojoji runs Saturday at 1 p.m. and The Sentimental Plasterer, a domestic comedy about a tradesman with a bad gambling problem, screens at 3:30 p.m.

Just the facts
WHAT: Cinema Kabuki

WHERE: Scotiabank Theatre, 259 Richmond St. W.

WHEN: Today at 7 p.m. and Sat. at 1 and 3:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $23 at cineplex.com or at the box office. Info at 416-966-1600, ext. 229

Tips For Aspiring Dancing Stars

Source: www.thestar.com - Rita Zekas,
Special To The Star

(April 02, 2009) In my next life, I'm coming back as a dancer.

Melissa Williams, one of the foxy choreographers on both U.S. and Canadian versions of So You Think You Can Dance, was trying on boots last month at the now defunct Zola Shoes, vamping in positions no mere mortal could emulate.

She's tiny, just like Prince, the mini-man responsible for her first big break.

Williams is 5 feet, 3 3/4 inches, a small-town girl from Amherstburg, Ont. She lives in Windsor with her musician husband David and their children, Michael, 3, and Ava, 1.

Known for her edgy, sexy, athletic "rock meets theatre" choreography, Williams took her first dance lesson at age 6 and booked her first professional gig at 14, a role in a production of The Wiz.

"It was my first dance convention (at age 6), which is what I do now."

Her company, Extreme Dance Conventions and Competitions, tours North America holding dance workshops in multiple styles featuring some of the top choreographers and teachers in the industry.

"I keep it rock 'n' roll, underground, rogue style," she explains. "There are 10 to 15 in a class and I'm the cheapest in the market."

An Extreme workshop will be held in Toronto Saturday and Sunday at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Centre. Registration details are at xtremedance.com.

Doing SYTYCD, Williams has come full circle. When she was 16, she made her first trip to Los Angeles to compete in Star Search, making it to the semifinals up against Ellen DeGeneres.

"It was lifts and hip hop," she says. "I was in Grade 11 and I hooked up with a dance partner who was a tall African American and I taught him hip hop. I was this little white girl; I wanted to be a Fly Girl on In Living Color. My friend beat out J. Lo."

Back in L.A. at age 19, she embarked on a six-year adventure as a dancer and choreographer with Prince. She was hired to dance in His Purpleness's late-night cabaret Erotic City at his nightclub Glam Slam, where she went by the name Shockadelica.

"He'd use it to rehearse and try out new material," Williams recalls. "It was more theatre than club. He was very elusive; he'd be back watching in the private VIP booth. I worked for him for three years before I spoke to him.

"I was at Paisley Park (studio in Minnesota) for 2 1/2 months to rehearse for the New Power Generation. We never saw Prince in the same outfit twice and he was in full makeup. You felt lazy; how do you not come up (to the barre)? So we wore false eyelashes in rehearsal."

At 21, she was in Showgirls. Director Paul Verhoeven was hiring 25 dancers from Erotic City and she went to the audition.

"He cast me as Julie, the bitter older dancer. It was so much fun: the biggest part of five bit parts. I became a gay icon; there are little `Julie clubs.' Elizabeth Berkley played the role on and off camera."

Williams has also worked with George Michael, Bryan Adams, Michael Caine, Randy Quaid and Carmen Electra. Caine was in the 1999 film The Debtors.

"Michael Caine had a scene with a lap dancer and I had to teach him some (dance) moves," she recalls. "The film revisited Elvis and Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas. It was my first opportunity working with actors and working with actors with two left feet is challenging. But they are actors; they bring more to the table. They will engage you."

The next season of CTV's So You Think You Can Dance Canada starts shooting in October, with the cross-country audition tour arriving in Toronto on May 18.

It is a punishing schedule for contestants and choreographers alike.

"They have six hours total to learn the routines," Williams explains. "That is especially difficult when they are doing a genre they are unfamiliar with: you get a B-boy (devotee of hip hop) and a ballerina and they have to do disco. They get to do it in costume once and, out of the six hours, they have an hour and a half at least shooting the intro parts. During the second rehearsal, it's just us in sweatpants for three hours of grinding it. You are their parent, their cheerleader and taskmaster, and then you cut them loose and hope they don't forget it all when they are on national TV."

As for tips for aspiring dancers: "Go to every audition, watch and observe, and you can see what works and steal it. It's fine to be a shoplifter."

But not in a shoe store.


Sterling Silver For Canada's Joannie Rochette

Source: www.thestar.com  -
Rosie Dimanno

March 29, 2009) LOS ANGELES - Mano-a-mano-a-mano: A three-way tug of sinew and heart.

That was the best, most fiercely fought women's final in years at the world figure skating championships.

A full house was on hand at the Staples Center to witness it.

In the end, amidst the sweat and the tears, it was South Korea, Canada, Japan on the podium: Kim Yu-Na,
Joannie Rochette, Miki Ando.

A first world medal for Rochette.

A first world gold for Kim, the almost-Canadian – she trains in Toronto under coach Brian Orser.

A brilliant finish – best event of the competition – to the 2009 worlds.

For Kim, who turned five of six triples cleanly, it was also a season-best long program score of 131.59 and new overall record (under the revised scoring system) of 207.71, the only female ever above the 200 mark.

Five-time Canadian champion Rochette, second after the previous evening's short program, unspooled a gorgeous performance, skated to "Concierto de Aranjuez," handsomely rewarded despite a few small botches: tiny extra hop on the last part of a triple Lutz-double toeloop-double loop, doubling down a triple loop, two-footing the triple Lutz.

Yet the judges loved what they saw and racked up the points: 123.39 on the free skate with a final tabulation of 191.29. That put the 23-year-old in first ... pending, overtaken only, in the end, by Kim.

"I made a mistake on my last jump but I tried to be passionate at the end and give it everything I had," an exhausted and slightly stunned Rochette said afterwards.

"Even on a night when I wasn't feeling my best, I was able to get silver."

She admitted to fatigue, but Rochette took strength from a solidly consistent season and relentless training regimen.

"I was able to deliver it."

This, getting on the podium, one step from the top, is the near completion of a long-imagined tableau.

"It is a little girl's dream. Since I was young I've been dreaming of it. The first time I was at worlds, I dreamed it would happen but I never believed it. This year, what made the difference was that I started to believe it and I started to see myself doing it. It showed in my performance."

Also, the crucible of these worlds – not wilting under the mental and physical strain – provides a reservoir of experience from which to draw at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"At the Olympics, it's going to be the same thing."

A mistake-free, sublime performance from Ando, gold medallist two years ago and an injury withdrawal in 2008, threatened to eclipse the Canadian but fell just short. While garnering a higher score of 126.26 for her free skate, Ando still couldn't catch up, with an aggregate mark of 190.38, for bronze.

Mao Asada, the defending world champion and third after the short program, opened with a brilliant triple Axel – the only lady to even attempt it this year – in combination but then fell when trying for a second. She slipped to fourth.

These intense rivalries among the top women on the planet will continue throughout next season, en route to Vancouver.

It was fitting that Orser, the 1987 world champion for Canada and silver medallist at the Calgary Olympics – that unforgettable head-to-head with Brian Boitano – was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame yesterday, with a ceremony here before the competition.

His prize pupil is Kim, who sweetly refers to that famous rivalry of two decades past as "Brian-Brian."

It was Orser who put the smile back on Kim's face when she came to him as a 15-year-old, miserable about her sport and her life.

As mentor and coach, Orser helped bring the joy back to skating for Kim, well aware of the gem that had landed in his lap. And, with a private tutor teaching her English, the teenager also began to feel less isolated in Toronto.

"The world champion was my dream," she said last night. "I did it here. I'm very happy."

Rochette, it should be noted, defeated Kim earlier in the Grand Prix season.

At the other end of the Canadian ladies spectrum, Cynthia Phaneuf was last at worlds in 2005 but has struggled with injury and puberty since, a growth spurt essentially requiring her to relearn her jumps.

The 21-year-old from Sorel, Que. – surprise Canadian champion in 2004, in the pre-Rochette era – fell three times in her long program. She finished 15th.

"Anyway, it was better than the first world championship I did four years ago."

She was 20th back then.

Anyone who doubts what skaters are made of didn't see the guts it took for France's Candice Didier to continue with her program earlier in the afternoon after a horrific fall and thumping skid into the boards. Clearly in agony, she was helped off the ice by medical personnel but returned to finish the program, though unable to execute several jumps because of bruises to her hip.

She received a standing ovation for courage, acknowledged through tears.

Chan Pleased But Puzzled About Judging

Source: www.thestar.com - Rosie Dimanno

(March 28, 2009) LOS ANGELES - Off the ice, backstage, behind the curtains, Patrick Chan caught an edge on his skate guards and went SPLAT, sent sprawling on the concrete floor.

"I guess that counts as my belly-flop," the freshly minted world silver medallist guffawed yesterday, a good night's sleep removed from post-competition celebrations.

That's a none-too-subtle dig at rival Brian Joubert, the former world champion Frenchman who engaged in a verbal thrust and parry with Chan over the past week in a largely media-driven squabble over the too-quadless-state of men's figure skating.

"I was thinking, `Please don't put this on air!'" Chan recalled of his pratfall following Thursday evening's free skate, as he looked around for prying TV cameras.

Perhaps it will show up some day on YouTube.

Joubert's follies, on the other hand, were broadcast on TV and right in front of the judges. His technical and mental breakdown at the Staples Center involved a botched landing on a triple Axel, then an outright fall and bum-skid on another jump. At that point, the perfectly executed quad-toe to start had become a dim memory.

Not that Chan was taking any pleasure in Joubert's woes. "I'm not the type of person to laugh in another person's face."

A droopy performance cost Joubert the championship as he sank from front-runner to bronze. He was clearly despondent but gentlemanly in shaking Chan's hand.

"He didn't say anything because he was very upset," said Chan, arranging his facial features into a properly solemn expression. But then – the kid can't help it – he broke into a grin.

"At least now he has medals of every colour!"

Bronze here, silver last year behind Canada's Jeffrey Buttle and gold in 2007.

Chan, upstart 18-year-old from Toronto and competing in L.A. at only his second worlds, outscored Joubert in seizing silver, though the night really belonged to local guy Evan Lysacek, redeemed in gold after losing his national title earlier in the year.

Even a perfect Chan would not have caught Lysacek and Chan was not quite perfect, if nevertheless divine. He did miss a double toe on the back end of a triple Axel combination but, thinking on his feet, just managed to squeeze in a single. Had he failed to do something, he would have lost all credit for the combo.

What Chan hadn't realized, until a reporter pointed it out yesterday, was that Joubert actually beat him on the program component scores – the artistic marks, used to be – with higher presentation marks for linking footwork, execution, interpretation and skating skills.

This makes no sense. And Chan was stunned.

"No kidding? That's bad, that's really disappointing. Like, come on."

Chan had watched Joubert, who skated last, and turned to Mike Slipchuk, director of high performance for Canada, in astonishment.

"I said, `Are you serious? Are you kidding me? This is his program?'"

Chan, who says what he thinks and damn the consequences, couldn't let go of what he – and most observers – thought was a clear case of strange, maybe suspicious, judging, at least in these specific marks. He wasn't exactly sure who to blame or who should be dealing with errant scoring.

"I don't know who the boss is, but I'm pretty sure he's going to be upset about what happened," Chan said. "I think it's good that it's happening now and this didn't happen at the Olympics. That would be really bad. They'll be discussing it and hopefully spread the word to more judges."

The boss is Ottavio Cinquanta, head of the International Skating Union, and in a press conference yesterday he made no mention of judging irregularities.

In his own fashion, guilelessly, Chan did then try to ameliorate criticism of Joubert. It just didn't come out quite right: "I bet if Brian had a better program and better spins and worked on his spins more and had that quad, he would have definitely taken it home with a big lead."

And if pigs could fly ...

Ice Dance Duo Claim Bronze

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(March 28, 2009) LOS ANGELES – Canadian ice dancing duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won a bronze medal Friday at the world figure skating championships.

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., scored 99.98 points for their innovative performance to music from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," giving them a total score of 200.40

The 2008 world silver medallists were barely hanging onto third place heading into the free dance after finishing sixth in Friday's original dance, but reached the podium with a solid performance Friday night.

Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin won gold, scoring 100.85 in the free dance for total 206.30.

Kingston, Ont.-born Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto of the U.S. won silver, scoring 100.27 in their free dance for a total score of 205.08.

The world championships capped a challenging season for Virtue and Moir, who missed the entire Grand Prix season while Virtue recovered from surgery on her shins to ease the pain caused by compartment syndrome. They'd competed just twice before arriving in L.A., and didn't make their season debut until the Canadian championships in January.

Meanwhile, Joannie Rochette is poised to win just Canada's second medal in ladies singles in 36 years. The skater from Ile-Dupas, Que., was second in the ladies singles short program, trailing only South Korean sensation Kim Yu-Na.

Rochette earned a season's best 67.90 points for her elegant and expressive performance to George Gershwin's "Summertime," and a standing ovation from the dozens of Canadians in the crowd.

"The thing I'm the most proud of was I was reaching to the audience more," said Rochette.

Kim, who trains in Toronto with former Canadian star Brian Orser, dominated the field with her huge jumps and flowing spirals. Her score of 76.12 was the best ever by a woman, and easily beat her previous best of 72.24. Orser, the 1984 and '88 Olympic silver medallist, was comical in his animation during the program, mimicking Kim's every move.

Japan's Mao Asada scored 66.06 to finish third heading into Saturday's long program, her one blip in her program was doubling a planned triple Lutz.

Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que., was 15th with a score of 53.14.

Rochette has traditionally had to battle back from behind.

"It's the name of her game," her coach Manon Perron said with a laugh.

She was ninth after the short program at the 2006 Olympics, but fought back to finish fifth. She was sixth after the short program at the worlds last year in Sweden. The difference this season, she says, is a newfound sense of confidence and the ability to portray her love of skating when she steps on the ice.

"I think that's always been one of my strengths, to be able to fight, I fight for everything all the time," Rochette said. "But I think what I was missing was a bit of spark, show my joy for skating, sometimes you can do it in practice but when you get in competition you're a little bit more nervous.

"Just having more confidence, my training has been going very good, I've had a consistent season, so of course coming here I felt much better about myself so it's easier to reach out to the audience."

Rochette's only misstep came on a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. The 23-year-old fought to hang on to her Lutz after a shaky takeoff, then didn't have the momentum for a triple toe loop so was forced to do a double.

"It was a good fight, she was stuck from the start and she managed to do three rotations and put the double toe after," said Perron. "That was a big shock when she started it but she handled it really well."

The 21-year-old Phaneuf, who's back competing at the world championships for the first time since 2005, lost major marks when she fell on a triple Lutz, the first jump of what had been a planned Lutz, double toe-loop combination.

"We didn't practice a lot on this ice, the way I came into my triple was the same as usual, but the boards were coming a little bit faster than I thought," Phaneuf said.

"It feels very good (to be back at worlds), it was my goal this year so my goal is already achieved," she added


Adam Munro Makes 27 Saves In Marlies Win

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(March 27, 2009) PHILADELPHIA – Adam Munro made 27 saves as the Toronto Marlies blanked the Philadelphia Phantoms 3-0 in American Hockey League action Friday. The Marlies (36-28-3-6) opened the scoring 1:22 into the game when Tim Stapleton put a shot over the shoulder of Philadelphia goaltender Scott Munroe. Jaime Sifers made it 2-0 when he converted the rebound of a Jeremy Williams shot that hit Munroe and rolled over his shoulder. Ryan Hamilton capped the scoring when he poked puck over the line during a goal-mouth scramble. Munroe stopped 24 of 27 for Philadelphia (36-29-2-4).


Ask the Trainer: How to Lose Love Handles

Raphael Calzadilla

(March 27, 2009) Raphael: I would like to lose my love handles and the fat around the top of my hips. I feel I am in decent shape: I run 3 times a week with strength training as well as riding three horses five times a week, but that fat just seems to stick. Are there any specific exercises to target that area? Thank you. -- Carrie


If you’re running three times per week for at least 2-3 miles, strength training three times per week with intensity and horseback riding five times per week, then it sounds like you have a very good exercise program.

I’m going to provide an 8-step plan for you, but I first want to clear up a misconception related to spot reduction. Many people think that if they focus on a trouble spot, whether it's abs, butt or legs, that it will magically begin to shrink and tighten up.

Spot reduction isn’t possible. Focusing on exercises specifically for your obliques (love handles) and fat around the top of your hips won’t work. The good news is that I’m going to tell you the truth about how to correctly reduce those annoying trouble spots.

If you want to reduce your love handles and fat on your hips, then you’re going to have to lose body fat all over your body. You can’t remain at your current body fat level and achieve smaller trouble spot areas. I don’t know how tall you are or how much you weigh, but a reduction in body fat is the only way to attack the areas you mention.

Mother Nature actually protects us from making ourselves look like cartoon characters. For example, let's say you have 15 pounds to lose and your focus is on shrinking love handles and hips. If nature allowed you to lose only in those areas and no where else on our body, that would result in a very odd-shaped body lacking balance and symmetry.

Instead, Mother Nature forces us to lose fat all over the body so that we can be in balance and look lean. However, the first place we gain fat is generally the last place we lose it, so I suspect your love handles and hips are the first place you tend to gain body fat.

That being said here is my 8-step plan for breaking through your plateau:

1. There must be a plan for food intake -- aka your diet. If you're using one of the eDiets food plans, then you can easily determine the amount of calories you take in per day, as well as the ratios of protein, carbohydrates and fats. My recommendation is to reduce your calories by 150-200 (as long as it does not fall below 1200 calories). If you’re not using an eDiets plan, the same 150-200 calorie reduction applies.

2. Add one additional day of running to your program. This doesn’t have to be forever – just until you achieve your goal and then you can eliminate this extra day. Keep the rest of your workout (strength training and horseback riding) exactly as you currently perform it.

3. Make sure you record your scale weight and measurements. Contrary to popular belief, there's nothing wrong with weighing yourself once per week. Even if you get a body composition test (also called body fat tests), you'll still have to step on a scale.

4. Remain on the program for three weeks and don't make any changes at all. If you start reducing food or increasing activity before the three-week point, you might sabotage your efforts. It's important to have a clear starting point. Some people stay on a specific program for months and never make a change -- that's insanity. After three weeks, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn't have some degree of fat loss. If you're losing up to 1 to 2 pounds per week, you're on the right track. Even a bit less is fine.

5. If you haven't lost weight yet, it's time to make a change. At this point, I do not recommend adding more activity and manipulating calories. Do one or the other -- not both. It's vital to have an understanding of what's working. The change in parameters needs to be tightly controlled. Reduce your daily caloric intake by 100 (again assuming it does not fall below 1,200 calories).

Here comes the tricky part. In some cases, you might not be eating enough, so calories would need to actually increase. For example, a person can't work out six days per week for 90 minutes and take in 1,200 calories per day. The person most likely won't lose fat -- the body will rebel. This is one of the reasons I always tell members to contact eDiets Nutrition Support and always mention their activity level. We need that information to increase or decrease calories. However, I’m going to go on the assumption that you need a reduction in calories.

6. If you haven't lost weight in 10 days after the above change, I would then increase activity --but do not decrease or increase food intake. Again, exercise tight control -- you want to know the formula that works for you.

7. Allow 10 days to pass. Most people are losing fat by now and have the formula for their personal success. It may sound like a hassle, but it's actually not that many weeks when you consider your entire lifetime.

8. If you've followed the above advice and you're stuck at a plateau, it may be time to shift the ratios of protein, carbohydrates and fats. It's possible that the food plan you're using isn't working efficiently with your biochemistry. In this case, eDiets dieticians can be of enormous help in guiding your program.

As you can see, it takes is some degree of experimentation when you hit a brick wall and are dealing with tough to reduce spots such as your love handles and upper hip area. However, there is always a solution. It takes some work and effort but once you have the formula, you're home free and you’ll achieve the look you desire.

If you’re an eDiets member, please visit my support board called Exercise and Fitness, and I’ll answer any questions you have about the process I outlined above.

Best of luck, Carrie!


Motivational Note

Source: www.eurweb.com — Charles Buxton

"If you decide to go for it, do it with spirit: Sometimes success is due less to ability than to zeal."