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LE NEWSLETTER

December 10, 2009

15 days 'til Christmas!!  I know that not all of us celebrate Christmas, but that's my own internal festive clock going which is quickly going to go off and hopefully I accomplish what I am supposed to before then.  But must say that while winter is definitely not my favourite season, I did start to feel more festive once it started to snow. 

Now, I attended (of course!) the tribute to celebrate
Haydain Neale's life this past Monday - what a joyful, tearful, moving and celebratory experience at the Phoenix.  Check out some photos in my PHOTO GALLERY!  The artist line-up held it DOWN!  I can't say it like the professionals and their journalistic skills in their coverage under TOP STORIES, but here's a bit from my perspective.  It was a difficult evening as we rode the emotional roller coaster together.  I walked away with many things - the pulsing message beating through the night was 'love one another'.  Haydain was smiling down on that evening for SURE.  One of the highlights for me was Wade O. Brown's 'church' rendition of The River.  Thank you to all those involved from the family (Michaela and Yasmin) to every band member to vocalist, promoter (big ups to Jonathan Ramos!) to backstage person.  A bit of closure for me personally but the struggle to come to terms with his passing is still present.  All I know what to say is to please pick up your copy (great holiday gift) of SOULmate, a collection of all new remarkable songs that tell of love, hope and endurance, set to Haydain's trademark unstoppable beats available at Amazon and iTunes Music Store, hmv digital.

Next up is Leaving the Dream State - definitely check out this CD which uses spoken word fused with urban electronica - get all the details under SCOOP.  Go for the ride!

Now come in from the cold and take your walk through the warm hipness of this weeks entertainment news!


This newsletter is designed to give you some updated entertainment-related news and provide you with our upcoming event listings.   Welcome to those who are new members.  Want your events listed by date?  Check out EVENTS

::TOP STORIES::

Haydain Neale Tribute: Heart, Soul And Memory

Source: www.thestar.com -
By Ashante Infantry, Entertainment Reporter

(December 8, 2009) His ardent fans have pledged never to stop loving him, but relatives say Jacksoul frontman
Haydain Neale, who succumbed to lung cancer last month, would have wanted us to keep loving each other.

Music insiders and long-time listeners filled the Phoenix in his honour Monday night. The concert, headlined by Nelly Furtado, with whom he shared management, also included k-os, Jim Cuddy, Chantal Kreviazuk and Dan Hill.

Billed as "Can't stop loving you: a celebration of the life and music of Haydain Neale," it was a festive homage to the 39-year-old Hamilton native, who had been away from the stage recovering from a serious 2007 motorcycle accident.

Near the end of the two-hour set, widow Michaela and daughter Yasmin recalled his optimism in the face of challenging rehabilitation. "Love was the guiding force in his daily life," said Michaela, adding that Neale would have been thrilled to see so many gathered in his name, but would "like us to wake up tomorrow and remember to keep loving each other no matter what life throws at us."

Backed by Neale's long-time rhythm section, the performances showcased his inspirational songwriting through renditions of "Can't Stop" (Divine Brown), "Still Believe in Love" (Luke McMaster) and "Think You Should Know" (Keshia Chante).

One of the highlights was
Wade O. Brown's fevered gospel version of "The River," which left the crowd cheering.

"He was such an amazing artist," said Amanda Ciarmela, 22. Medical researcher Megan Greenberg said Neale's music inspired her.

"If I was going to compare Haydain to anyone, it would be Marvin Gaye," said Neale's publisher, Ivan Berry, citing "Still Believe" as his best penned tune. "He was that deep lyrically and so far ahead of the game musically.

Video: Musical tribute to Jacksoul singer

   

CBC To Air Haydain Neale Tribute Special
 
For those who could not attend
Can’t Stop Loving You – A Tribute To Haydain Neale on December 7 in Toronto, a one hour tribute special will air on CBC Radio 2’s Canada Live at 7:00 pm on Thursday, December 17th (Radio 2 airs on 94.1 FM in Toronto, hosted by Andrew Craig).

It will also air on CBC Radio 1 on "Canada Live" at 2:00 pm on Friday, December 18th (Radio 1 airs at 99.1 FM in Toronto) and be available via stream on demand next week at: http://www.cbc.ca/radio2/cod/

For a list of CBC frequencies across Canada - please go to:  http://www.cbc.ca/frequency/

Please pick up your copy (great holiday gift) of SOULmate, a collection of all new remarkable songs that tell of love, hope and endurance, set to his trademark unstoppable beats available at Amazon and iTunes Music Store, hmv digital.


Nelly Furtado Leads All-Star Memorial Concert For Jacksoul's Haydain Neale

Source: www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(December 7, 2009) It's tough to write the words "
Haydain Neale tribute concert," but the star lineup of musicians who assembled at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre last night made sure the event was infused with the warmth and interconnectedness that was at the core of the late Jacksoul frontman's being.

Everyone from Nelly Furtado to Dan Hill, k-os, Chantal Kreviazuk and Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy came together to say a beautiful goodbye to the soul singer -- who died late last month from lung cancer -- with "Can't Stop Loving You: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Haydain Neale."

"Haydain wasn't a downer guy," Neale's bandmate Ron Lopata told Spinner before the concert. "He wanted to spread good vibes. He would have thought, 'Wow, I guess all my years of trying to spread love and this message of how music can heal the soul, maybe I actually did something and people listened to me.' This is a huge testament that he achieved his goal."

The man with the rich, soulful voice and gigantic smile lost his battle with cancer on November 22nd after a remarkable slow-but-sure recovery from a 2007 moped accident that initially left him in a coma. He was just 39 and leaves behind his wife, Michaela, and daughter, Yasmin. All proceeds from the tribute concert went to the Haydain Neale Family Trust.

Kreviazuk kicked off the night with 'Not One Drop,' a poignant song she wrote after hearing of two untimely deaths, including Neale's, and recalled how she, too, was in a moped accident 15 years ago. "For some reason I'm still here. I thought Haydain would be here longer. I feel like a big cheat tonight. But, anyway, this is for him, his family and it's a song to be sad to with no regrets."

It was a tear-invoking beginning but the two-hour show was mainly a celebration of Neale's music with most of the artists covering Jacksoul songs. Often the pale renditions revealed just how good a vocalist Neale was, or perhaps how he embodied the song and the message of the lyrics, and no one could deliver them quite like he did.

Backed by the remaining members of Jacksoul -- drummer Davide DiRenzo, keyboardist Lopata, bassist John "JK" Kanakis, and guitarist Justin Abedin -- Divine Brown covered 'Can't Stop,' Tomi Swick sang 'Someday' and Keshia Chante took on 'Think You Should Know.' But when it was
Wade O. Brown's turn, he gave Jacksoul's 'The River' a stunning, booming vocal that roused the crowd with its lyrics: "Take me to the river / Accompany me to Heaven / Everyone will know that you're my one and only."

Ivanna Santilli recalled how she first heard Neale's "classic, classic soul" when she was given the vinyl and took it home to play on her parents' turntable. "I discovered gold," she said, before singing the soft jazzy soul of 'Unconditional.' Justin Nozuka, on acoustic guitar with DiRenzo on hand drums, sang 'After Tonight,' a song he co-wrote with Neale for his own album, and k-os came out with his band to play two of his own songs, including 'Sunday Morning.'

Perhaps the most touching moment came next when Yasmin came onstage with her neighbour, Dan Hill (best known for the classic '70s ballad 'Sometimes When We Touch'). She sat beside the legendary singer-songwriter as he told a story of his own father and sang 'Daddy's Song.' Luke McMaster followed with a spirited version of 'Still Believe In Love,' as Yasmin stayed onstage at the far back and danced to the inspirational hit.

Jim Cuddy took the stage next and recalled the last time he saw Neale, in Vancouver, where he invited him onstage for Blue Rodeo's 'Try,'s a song Jacksoul recorded for 2006's 'mySOUL' covers album. "That guy could sing like a motherf----er," he laughed. "We had a sing off, and we oversang the sh-- out of it." Cuddy then said what those who knew him already knew: "When you ran into Haydain, you felt better having talked with him."

His wife and daughter then took the mic to read moving, heartfelt letters to Neale. The whole room fell silent out of respect, sadness and understanding for these two people whom Neale loved so greatly and spoke of almost anytime you saw him. It was a strong, important moment in a night that celebrated a musician, but also a loving husband and father who put family first.

The evening closed with Nelly Furtado, backed by a small band, including James Bryan of the Philosopher Kings on guitar. "Last time I played the Phoenix was 2000. I opened for Jacksoul right here," she said between performances of 'Broken Strings' and 'Like a Bird.'

The musicians then returned to the stage to join together on '
oneSONG,' the only original from 'mySOUL,' which includes the lyric: "Last night I dreamt of a choir full of soprano, alto, tenor and bass / and it stretched across the planet now, every woman, man, religion and race."

That's what Neale got last night in this little microcosm at the Phoenix -- and that's what he would've loved.

www.jacksoul.com

Film Buffs Bid Farewell To The Carlton Theatre

Source: www.thestar.com - Denise Balkissoon

(December 07, 2009) The last show at the Carlton Theatre was glamorous, the way it should be, with people milling around outside, chatting about film and theatre, then lining up at the ticket booth. They came to catch one last flick at Toronto's alt-movie theatre on Sunday night. And once again, the Carlton felt like a relevant, arty place to be.

"This is the only theatre I would ever miss," said Lucas Domingues, here with a few friends to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He liked that obscure movies could have a months-long run at the Carlton. "It would get the word-of-mouth going, even for a movie you'd never heard of."

Yes, the Carlton is small and tired, with multiple posts obstructing worn screens smaller than the flat panel in your bedroom. It's not surprising Cineplex Odeon is finished with the theatre.

But step back in time for a minute, to an era before HD and downloading. TIFF was the celeb-parched Festival of Festivals, the Leafs played at Maple Leaf Gardens and its neighbour was Toronto's go-to cinema for foreign, experimental and political film.

For suburban kids like me, the Carlton introduced a world of weird, sophisticated movies that would never play at the Scarborough Town Centre. The first film I saw there was Atom Egoyan's Calendar.

The miniature theatre off Yonge was definitely a special place for the now-celebrated director. In 1984, Egoyan edited his first movie, Next of Kin, in a suite across the street from the Carlton. He remembers gazing wistfully out the window, fantasizing about showing a movie there.

"Either my sights were very low, or it was a very different time in Canadian film history," says Egoyan, the director of a dozen feature-length movies, winner of a slate of international awards and juror at every film festival that counts. He, too, appreciates that small films, such as Calendar, could run at the Carlton for months on end. "It was a very important space in my career."

The staff have been transferred to other cinemas, but many say it won't be the same. "All the other theatres are pretty crappy to work at – you have to wear a hat," said Wytze Wilson, who worked at the Carlton for a year. "And I'll never see you anymore," he said to his friend, Tommy Dillon, as they served up their last bags of popcorn. "You're going to the Sheppard Grand, I'll never make it way up there."

"I'm sad," said Dillon, who worked at the theatre for four years. The two planned to stick around until "four in the morning," getting nostalgic and "trying to break stuff."

Almost 30 people filed into tiny cinema six for the last film ever, Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. The red velvet curtain actually creaked as it went up, revealing Moore, as informative and self-indulgent as ever. It was a classic outing at the movies, hearing strangers laugh and tsk-tsk in a darkened room.

Just after midnight, it was over. A few stragglers stayed in their seats as the lights went up, unwilling to face the end. The concession stand was abandoned, the popcorn makers empty. I signed the guestbook, then left the Carlton for the last time, heralded out by the strains of Michael Jackson's "Beat It."

Mary J Blige's Song to Benefit Victims of Sex Trafficking

Source: www.essence.com - by Jeannine Amber


(
Note:  Toronto's own Adrian Eccleston plays guitar on this track which is gaining more and more notoriety.) (December 3, 2009) In America, tens of thousands of young, vulnerable girls are being sold for sex, lured and into prostitution and then terrorized by the pimps who prey on them. Now, the reigning queen of surviving pain, Mary J. Blige, has joined forces for renowned singer-song writer Sinead O'Conner to help bring awareness to the issue. The powerful duo has recording a remake of O'Connor's 1996 song, 'This is To Mother You,' which was released yesterday, The International Day to Abolish Slavery.

"When I read the lyrics to 'This is to Mother You' I really fell in love with the song," says Blige, who, like most Americans, was unaware of the prevalence of child sex trafficking in this country until her introduction to GEMS. "It describes how I feel about my work and how so many fans view me--as a mentor and a mother figure. It has always been my dream to be able to encourage women and let them know that if I can make it they can make it too, despite any physical and emotional abuses they may endure."

One hundred percent of the song's proceeds go to support GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, a Harlem-based agency that provides counselling and support to young victims of sex trafficking, many of whom are African American. (READ ONE GIRL'S HEARTBREAKING STORY HERE.) Beyonce Knowles and Halle Berry have also lent their support to the organization, which has helped hundreds of young girls leave their pimps and start new lives.

For more information, or to purchase the song, visit http://www.gems-girls.org/music/this-is-to-mother-you

Bryant Gumbel Battling Lung Cancer

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 9, 2009) *
Bryant Gumbel revealed Tuesday that he has undergone surgery and treatment for lung cancer.

 The 61-year-old host of HBO's "Real Sports" revealed his condition to a surprised Kelly Ripa while subbing for Regis Philbin Tuesday on "Live with Regis and Kelly." [
Scroll down to watch clip.]

"They opened up my chest, they took a malignant tumour and they took part of my lung and some other goodies," said Gumbel, adding that "the pathology on most of the stuff came back benign, but enough aggressive cells escaped the tumour that it warranted some treatment."

 Gumbel said he had preferred to keep his condition private and only told Ripa backstage to explain why he couldn't dance with her during a segment on the show. He said he's meeting with his surgeon and oncologist next week and hopes to be cleared soon so that he can play golf.

The tumour was not in Gumbel's lung, but next to it, said Sean Cassidy, a friend of Gumbel's and president of DKC, a New York public relations firm. Gumbel is not a smoker, he said.

Gumbel said he and his wife, Hilary Quinlan, had wanted to keep the news private. He said he had even kept his staff at the HBO sports newsmagazine "Real Sports" in the dark. HBO said Gumbel didn't miss an episode, taping shows on both Sept. 15 and Oct. 27.

"We hope," he said. "We HOPE, it's over."

::SCOOP::

Leaving The Dream State – New on Itunes

Source:  Max Pereira

Leaving The Dream State is designed to make people aware of certain esoteric truths.  Evren produced the album (evrenmusic.com) and was performed at Armageddon and Reality. The album was mastered by Deryck Roche at Level 2 Music Productions and it is currently distributed through Indiepool. The album is a journey - political, historical and finally spiritual, definitely observational.  Hence the name of the musical entity "Leaving The Dreamstate".

Leaving the Dreamstate presents 'The Orion Project'... Indiepool.ca has created their own, new music genre. Using spoken word fused with urban electronica, this politically provocative piece of work challenges the listener to re-evaluate our society and its preconceptions. Enjoy the journey...

CHECK IT OUT:

On Itunes: HERE

At IndiePool: HERE

The Orion Project homepage: HERE  

::TRAVEL NEWS::

Warming Up To Winter

Source: www.thestar.com

(December 05, 2009) (It's the time of year when GTA residents start looking for some winter sun. Here are the
top 10 sun destinations searched from Nov. 15 to Nov. 30 by users of the travel search engine at www.travelalerts.ca

1. Varadero, Cuba

2. Punta Cana, D.R.

3. Cancun, Mexico

4. Montego Bay, Jamaica

5. Cayo Coco, Cuba

6. Puerto Plata, D.R.

7. Holguin, Cuba

8. Aruba

9. Nassau

10. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 

::MUSIC NEWS::

Chantal Kreviazuk: Just Famous Enough

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(December 07, 2009) With her rocker husband, bicoastal lifestyle and erstwhile spokesmodel and screenwriting gigs, singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk has never been wallflower material, but the title track of her current album, Plain Jane, speaks to her desire for normalcy.

"When you're young, it's overwhelming," said the Winnipeg native of being in the spotlight with her husband, Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida, early in their marriage in the late '90s.

"We were so in love and we just wanted to be in love and be on an island. He'd be on tour, or I'd be on tour, and one of us would be at home waiting. Then he'd get home and we'd go out and it would be, `Hey Raine, saw your show last night!' or we'd be out for dinner and girls would be coming up and asking for autographs; all difficult stuff when you're young, stupid kids."

The saving grace has been splitting their time between homes in Toronto and L.A., where neither are as well-known, allowing Kreviazuk to "cultivate life as a regular gal."

"I'll have friends in my car and they're ducked down and we've got paparazzi chasing us, but I can lean out the window and yell, `Hi, I'm Chantal!' and no one gives a s--t; it's great," she said in an interview.

The first-call songwriter, who has penned tunes for Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani and Kelly Clarkson, declined to name her celebrity pals – "whoever, it could be somebody I'm working with, could be Avril, Carrie Underwood ... I have a few friends who are famous actresses and they get hounded" – but insisted she wouldn't trade for their lives for "a billion dollars."

"It's not fun," said the mother of three young boys. "When I come to Canada and work here that's good, but it's not everything."

Hard to believe the Juno-winning songstress, who made her recording debut in 1997, doesn't relish the idea of, say, a Top 10 North American smash.

"If you asked me that three-to-five years ago, I would have said, `I want a No.1 hit song,'" said Kreviazuk, 35. "But I've matured, I'm emotionally evolved, and when you ask me that I'm factoring in what comes with it and that is not being able to be a great mom. And I'm saying that to people I know, literally: `I'm sorry, you're just not. I love you, but you're not. You can't be great at everything.'

"I know what goes into having a No.1 song, having a No.1 movie, and so much otherwise is sacrificed. And I can honestly say that the things that I value, that make me love my life, those things are so important to me at this time in my life, I would not be willing to compromise them."

The performer, who showcases her fifth album at Massey Hall on Tuesday, gets professional satisfaction writing hits for other performers, having her songs placed in movies and television, touring Canada every few years and lending her stature to humanitarian efforts.

As advocates of War Child Canada, which assists children affected by war, she and Maida walked the talk with the hiring of their nanny of six years, Bibiane Mpoyo of Burundi.

"Living with a war refugee is really intense, it's a risk every day," said Kreviazuk. "And there are days where something inappropriate happens. It's not age appropriate, or I know that she can't leave what's happening back home at the end of the canyon on her way into our house. There's a lot of understanding and patience that has to happen, but what she brings into our lives couldn't be without her experiences and we're gaining something far more valuable than what is being risked."

Kreviazuk and Mpoyo wrote "Na Miso," which appears on Plain Jane.

"The song is the culmination of her perspective on missing Africa and my perspective on Africa and not being able to be there – it doesn't feel like enough to be mindful and helping from another country; you wish that you could be there and be present with the people in the trenches making a difference. Bibi wishes she could be there, because it's not enough to talk to your mother on the phone. Na miso means `with eyes.' It means I want to be in the room, present, and see you to love you, not be away from you to love you."

Drake Graduates To Next Level

Source: www.thestar.com -
Ben Rayner

(December 03, 2009) It's hard to believe there's something less necessary than the American Music Awards out there on the industry calendar, but a second Grammy Awards special is just that.

Unnecessary because – and, please, take a deep breath before attempting the entire official title – The Grammy Nominations Concert Live! Countdown to Music's Biggest Night, broadcast Wednesday on CBS, provided the battered American music business with yet another excuse to posthumously honour Michael Jackson and to thank itself for foisting vacuous tripe like the Black Eyed Peas' "I Got A Feeling" upon our waking lives.

Doubly unnecessary when the big hook in a night tailored to a younger crowd than the Grammy Awards typically courts was an awkward performance by wayward Jonas Brother Nick's new white-soul group, the Administration, a stiff for-hire outfit that reportedly contains members of Prince's old New Power Generation band. And triply unnecessary because we all knew what was coming, anyway.

Multiple nominations for Beyoncé, Black Eyed Peas and recent AMAs "it" girl Taylor Swift? Bingo. Lady GaGa officially minted as the hot new thing, just a week after her new EP arrived in stores? Check. U2 in the running for rock album of the year? You betcha. Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, finally nominated together for an album of blander-than-bland dad rock? God help us all.

All moaning aside, it must have been a pretty special night for upstart Toronto rapper
Drake, the former Degrassi: The Next Generation cast member who's lately had a couple of top-10 hits on the U.S. pop charts thanks to tracks first circulated through the Internet underground. Now, he can add two Grammy nominations to his resumé.

His mix-tape cut "Best I Ever Had," originally from the free album-length download So Far Gone, is actually in pretty decent company in the rap solo performance category, too, up against tunes by Jay-Z, Eminem, Kid Cudi and Mos Def. "Best I Ever Had" is also vying for best rap song against Kid Cudi, T.I. and Justin Timberlake and a couple of Jay-Z tracks.

"It's definitely an honour. I haven't even put out my first album yet," said Drake, 23, when approached by host LL Cool J during the broadcast, making sure he said "hi" to his mom like a proper, nice Canadian boy. "I just want to make sure I get a nice suit."

Beyoncé Knowles is the frontrunner going into the Jan. 31 Grammy ceremony in Los Angeles. The hard-working R&B diva notched an impressive 10 nominations in total, including song of the year for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" and record of the year for "Halo." Her I Am...Sasha Fierce record, meanwhile, squares off against the Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D., Lady Gaga's The Fame, the Dave Matthews Band's Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King and Taylor Swift's Fearless in the album of the year category.

Swift, for her part, scored eight nominations and will also compete with Beyoncé for song and record of the year. Not far behind her were Kanye West, Maxwell and the ever-present Black Eyed Peas with six nominations apiece. Mildly subversive Lady Gaga, the pop tart it's okay to like, barged her way into the big leagues with five of her own.

The other Canadian making a minor splash was none other than Neil Young, who gave up his citizenship years ago, but will always be a Winnipeg boy to us. He's up for best solo rock vocal performance for "Fork in the Road" against similarly long-in-the-tooth chaps Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty and Prince. His huge Neil Young Anthology, Vol. 1 set also got a nod in the decidedly glamour-less "best boxed or special limited edition packaging" competition.

Michael Bublé is usually popular with the Academy, but his new disc, Crazy Love, landed in stores too late to make this year's shorter, 11-month window for eligibility. The Vancouver crooner will, thus, have to content himself with a nomination for the live album Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden in the best traditional pop-vocal album.

Bublé's fellow Grammy perennials Nickelback – whose huge late-2008 hit Dark Horse album arrived just a bit too late to make the cut for the last round of awards – made a modest showing outside the major categories, with their "Burn it to the Ground" relegated to the best hard rock performance ghetto.

Other Canucks with single nominations included Torontonian Melanie Fiona, whose "It Kills Me" is up for best R&B vocal performance; Montreal's Beast (short-form music video); producer David Foster (best instrumental arrangement); and Alberta First Nations group Northern Cree (Native American music album).

One Canadian notably absent from the massive list of Grammy hopefuls was St. Catharines polka king Walter Ostanek, a perennial nominee for years now who, the oft-stated joke goes, can actually lay claim to more Grammy trophies than the Rolling Stones. Sadly for Ostanek, the best polka album category was eliminated this year.

Sophie Milman's Life Is A 'Culinary Winter'

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - J. D. Considine

(December 03, 2009) Like most people in Canada, jazz singer Sophie Milman doesn't usually observe American Thanksgiving, but this year she was happy to spend the last week in November giving thanks.

“My label down there, which is Koch, sent me a list of radio stations that play my stuff to call and thank,” she says, nursing a herbal tea in a bakery on Toronto's St. Clair Avenue. “There are 70 stations on there! So I had to get busy with the phones.”

Be Cool
A song by Sophie Milman
Download (.mp3)

For Rihanna or Lady Gaga, 70 stations is a drop in the bucket. But for a jazz singer – particularly one who is “somebody on an indie label in Canada,” as Milman says – that's a huge amount of radio exposure. It's also a fair indicator of just how big the Toronto-based vocalist has become south of the border. Her third and latest album, Take Love Easy , got to No. 6 on the Billboard jazz chart, and continues to sell steadily. Meanwhile, persistent touring has earned her enough of a following in the United States that she has played the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and sold out the Blue Note in New York. Indeed, it's getting to the point where Canadian dates, such as her Massey Hall show in Toronto Friday night or the Ottawa Jazz Festival benefit on Dec. 8 are relative rarities on her schedule.

Spending so much time on the road has its costs, of course. Like most singers, Milman is protective of her voice, and has a long list of dietary no-nos to keep her pipes in peak condition.

Unlike the Rolling Stones, I don't have merch sales – T-shirts, sweatshirts. For a while, my manager thought that we should have scented candles, but touring with them would have been more expensive than actually selling them.

“I can't have anything caffeinated,” she explains. “Not even decaf tea, because apparently the enzymes in the black tea, even if it's decaffeinated, cause reflux. Not a lot of milk, no tomatoes, nothing spicy, no chocolate. Can't have oranges, lemons, anything citrus-y. Can't have too much bread, can't have cheese. … It's unbelievable.

“My life has become this culinary winter,” she says, laughing. “The first time I went on the road, five years ago, I gained weight; now, every time I go on the road I lose weight because I basically eat apples and drink hot water with honey.”

Mostly she plays jazz clubs and small concert halls, although festival bookings have landed her in larger venues, such as the Kennedy Center in Washington.

“Sometimes they put me into enormous venues that are impossible to sell,” she says. “Like in Kalamazoo, Mich., we were booked into a 3,000-seater. Five hundred people showed up, and it ended up being a fantastic show because they were so starved for jazz. They went completely nuts.”

While not yet as big a draw as Diana Krall or Michael Bublé, Milman is, at 26, already a major artist. There's word of an imminent deal with a major label (“I can't talk about it now,” she avers), but she's in no hurry to hit the big time.

“I mean, I definitely wouldn't want the pressure Norah Jones had to deal with,” she says. “Imagine having bestselling album of the decade, and then selling a few million less the next time around and being called a failure. It's unbelievable. When I was reading about that, I thought, ‘Poor girl.'

“I like incremental growth,” she continues. “But I definitely don't like what's going on now with piracy. It used to be that jazz artists or people who didn't have mainstream audiences thought, ‘We're safe. Our audiences are older; they don't know how to use all these sites.' Yeah, they do, because they have kids that show them.”

Take Love Easy turned up on download sites such as Kazaa and LimeWire “as soon as it came out,” says Milman, who was hardly flattered by the attention. Nor is she convinced by arguments that touring will make up for lost CD revenue.

“Unlike the Rolling Stones, I don't have merch sales – T-shirts, sweatshirts,” she says. “For a while, my manager thought that we should have scented candles, but touring with them would have been more expensive than actually selling them.

“I am doing better than a lot of people,” she adds. “But it is upsetting to me that there's so much lost revenue, and then these pop-culture faux intellectuals tell me that everything should be free. It makes me want to punch them. Because if I'm facing this – and I'm successful, I have a Juno, I travel the world, I play the best venues – then you can imagine how it is for people who are just starting out now.”

Sophie Milman plays Massey Hall in Toronto Friday at 8 p.m. (416-872-4255 and a benefit for the Ottawa Jazz Festival at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa next Tuesday (613-241-2633).

Stevie Gets Emotional During MJ Tribute

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 3, 2009) *
Stevie Wonder had to pull himself together after nearly breaking down in tears during a performance of a Michael Jackson song at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert.

With John Legend seated next to him on another keyboard, Wonder was singing his late friend's song "The Way You Make Me Feel" when he suddenly choked up, hunched over and held his hands to his face as the music continued playing. [Watch the clip below.]

Stevie eventually got himself together and finished the song -- and ultimately received a hug from John Legend and a huge ovation from the crowd.

The concert, which also featured Aretha Franklin, U2, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, aired on HBO over the weekend.

Def Jam Celebrates 25 Years

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 7, 2009) **LOS ANGELES -- Def Jam Recordings has defined rap and hip-hop since its founding in 1984. Now, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest urban music label in history, the two-CD set Def Jam 25: DJ Bring That Back and the DVD Def Jam 25: VJ Bring That Video Back, now available through Def Jam/UMe, provide the essential overview in sound and on video of the label that broke new ground and set the trends that changed pop culture.

Def Jam 25: DJ Bring That Back brings together 25 classic tracks spanning the 25 years of Def Jam by presenting the tracks in reverse chronological order, from 2008's triple platinum #1-charting "Disturbia" from Rihanna and The-Dream's Top 5 R&B/Hip-Hop "I Luv Your Girl" back to LL Cool J's debut, "I Need A Beat," issued on Def Jam 12" 001 in 1984. Also heard from the 2000s are Rick Ross with the Top 10 Rap "Hustlin'," Young Jeezy's "Go Crazy," Kanye West's gold #2 R&B/#3 Rap "Jesus Walks," Ludacris with the #6 Pop/#2 R&B/#3 Rap "Splash Waterfalls," Ashanti's #1 Pop/#1 R&B/#4 Rap "Foolish," Ja Rule featuring Vita with the #8 Pop/#2 R&B "Put It On Me" and Musiq with the Top 10 R&B/Hip-Hop "Just Friends (Sunny)."

From the '90s are DMX's "What's My Name" (Top 10 Rap), Jay-Z featuring Jermaine Dupri with "Money Ain't A Thang" (Top 10 R&B), Foxy Brown featuring Dru Hill with "Big Bad Mama" (#5 R&B/#9 Rap), Redman featuring Method Man with "Whateva Man" (#3 Rap), Montell Jordan's platinum "This Is How We Do It" (#1 Pop/#1 R&B), Method Man's "Bring The Pain" (#4 Rap), Onyx with the platinum "Slam" (#4 Pop/#1 Rap), Boss featuring Papa Juggy with "Deeper" (#1 Rap), Nice & Smooth with "Hip Hop Junkies," Public Enemy's "911 Is A Joke" (#1 Rap) and 3rd Bass with the gold "Pop Goes The Weasel" (#1 Pop).

The '80s contributions are Slick Rick's "Children's Story" (#5 R&B/#2 Rap), Oran "Juice" Jones' gold "The Rain" (#9 Pop) and LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "I Need Love" (#1 R&B).

Def Jam 25: VJ Bring That Video Back collects 20 slammin' and soulful videos from 1986-2009. Among the biggest hits are Rihanna's triple platinum #1 Pop "Umbrella" featuring Jay-Z, Ne-Yo's platinum #1 Pop "So Sick," Dru Hill's platinum #4 Pop/#1 R&B "In My Bed," Redman & Method Man's gold Top 10 R&B/#2 Rap "How High" and LL Cool J's gold "Goin' Back To Cali." LL is also seen with the #4 Pop/#1 R&B/#2 Rap "Luv You Better."

Also representing' are Warren G (#4 Rap "Smokin' Me Out" featuring Ronald Isley), Kelly Price & Friends ("Love Sets You Free"), Case (#4 Pop/#1 R&B "Missing You"), N.O.R.E. (#10 Pop/#3 Rap "Nothin'"), Ludacris (Top 10 R&B/#5 Rap "Southern Hospitality" featuring Pharrell), Onyx ("Throw Ya Gunz") and Young Jeezy ("My President" featuring Nas). Shown too are videos for songs on DJ Bring That Back 2008-1984: "The Rain," "Children's Story," "This Is How We Do It," "Foolish" and "Jesus Walks." And finally, Chrisette Michele's "If I Have My Way" and Karina's "16 @ War" show the way to the future of Def Jam.

For more, go here: www.ilovethatsong.com.

Behold the 9TH Wonder of the World!

Source: Kam Williams

  Born Patrick Denard Douthit in Winston-Salem, NC on January 15, 1975, 
9th Wonder is a Grammy Award-winning producer, DJ, college lecturer and social activist. Since his introduction to hip-hop in 1982, 9th has been immersed in the music and the culture of the art form, while gaining experience in music theory throughout middle and high school.  

  9th attended North Carolina Central University, where he decided to pursue a career in music. In 1998, he, along with Phonte Colerman and Thomas Jones (Rapper Big Pooh), formed the hip-hop trio, Little Brother which released the critically acclaimed album, "The Listening." 9th then got his big break when he was tapped to produce a track on Jay-Z's "Black Album."

Next, he produced 3 songs for the Destiny's Child, before winning a Grammy with Mary J. Blige for her album "The BreakThrough"(Good Woman Down), Erykah Badu's "Honey" on the album New Amerykah, and most recently, Ludacris' "Do The Right Thang", a song featuring Common and Spike Lee.

9th was recently appointed the National Ambassador for Hip-Hop Relations and Culture by NAACP President Ben Jealous to lead a board of Ph.D’s, and hip-hop artists. Here he discusses his life, career and musical philosophy.

Kam Williams: Where does the name from 9th Wonder come from?

9th Wonder: I was a history major in school, so obviously I’m familiar with the 7 wonders of the ancient world. But, my name really comes from a song written by a group from the early Nineties named “Digable Planets.” They were a trio from Howard University and they had a song called “9th Wonder.” I liked the name of the song. The thing about being a hip-hop producer is that you have to find a name that can be shortened, or changed around, and still have a ring to it. I just wrote down a bunch of names and when I wrote down 9th Wonder, I went, “Wow, that works!” It looked good on paper and it sounded good.

KW: Gladys Knight said in her interview with me that hip-hop has been bad as far as the quality of the music and the stories that they tell. Why did her statement rub you the wrong way?

9th: Because I’m a member of the Hip-Hop Generation. Hip-hop is how I feed my children. Hip-hop is something that helped me understand the music of the generations before me. And those are the things that aren’t talked about when the words hip-hop come out of someone’s mouth. There are so many negative stereotypes that are attached to this music, but hip-hop has saved a lot of lives, and started to decrease gang violence in neighbourhoods in NYC in the 70's with Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation. It really banks on the spirit of innovation, when it comes from a jazz improvisation perspective. But similar to jazz, as hip-hop became commercialized, it became something else. And in many aspects I agree with her as far as the hip-hop, if you want to call it that, which is now on the radio and the images we see on TV—it definitely over-dramatized and sensationalized the pure essence of the music. And, I just don’t think that the pure essence of any art form is on TV.

KW: But it seems to me that the most celebrated stars, at least starting somewhere in the 90’s, became people who advocated violence, and the abuse of women. And I wonder whether, in the wake of that, the music now means something different to the kids who grew up watching those stars on BET and MTV.

9th: Well, a lot of things happen by design, as far as the images that are put out there. And I don’t have control over what is played out there on the radio. It’s just like the whole thing about burying the word “nigger.” I think there are many TV shows that call us nigger all day without even using the word. I mean a lot of the usage of words that degrade women and promote the pimp image came from Seventies black exploitation films—that certainly wasn’t started by us. Except, I think the difference between then and now is that mass media is much bigger. And I think a lot of the criticism has to do with the older generation’s not really trying to understand what they see in younger generations.

KW: In terms of your own work—from solo LPs to remixes of older albums to collaborations—which is your favourite thing to do?

9th: My favourite two things to do are DJ-ing and producing. I mean, I’ve been everywhere in the world from across the continental US to Toronto to Paris. And at the same time, I just love producing. I’m a fan of everyone from Holland, Dozier and Holland to Quincy Jones to Jimmy Jam to Teddy Riley. And now I’m starting a new frontier that I’m also starting to really love—teaching at higher levels.

KW: Yeah, I heard you just got an appointment at Duke University?

9th: Right. I got an appointment from Dr. Marc Anthony Neal. We’re teaching a class together called, “Sampling Soul.” It’s a class that will discuss black music from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s and the effects it had on the African-American community with regards to social revolution. We noticed that in the 20th Century a lot of music was fused with social movements—that a number of songs and albums backed societal change, especially starting in the late Sixties. So that’s what we will be talking about.

KW: I’ve also heard currently that you’ve been hired to teaching at a college that has very few students in it?

9th: Yeah, by William McKee who works for a philanthropic organization. Barber-Scotia College was originally the first all black girls school in the nation. It’s located in Concord, North Carolina. At its height, it probably had a thousand students. But because of mishandling of funds, it’s now in a bad way, losing accreditation and accumulating a lot of debt.

KW: Well how many students are there now?

9th: 12. And 10 are freshman.

KW: How does it stay open?

9th: I don’t know, as of yet. But at least the school has its own buildings. They are under review for accreditation right now. A lot of the smaller HBCU’s are going through the same thing. I think that the business models and the reasons why kids are going to school are changing. Of course, we’re still going to need lawyers, and doctors, but at the same time there is more of a push for kids to be in business for themselves. And not to think like an employee, but like an employer.

KW: What percentage of your success would you attribute to you business savvy and what percentage to your music savvy?

9th: For me, I think they go hand in hand. Much of my success actually lends itself to my schooling and academic savvy because I know how to manage my time and I know how to be my own boss. School taught me how to do that. Yes, my musical knowledge has helped and I treat everyone with respect, but a lot of that all lends itself to the fact that I’m self-disciplined. That comes from the classes I’ve taken and the schools I’ve gone to.

KW: Is there also an identifiable thread that runs through your music? You’ve worked with a lot people whose styles are very different from each other, from Jay-Z to Erykah Badu. Is there a 9th Wonder trademark sound that people can recognize?

9th: Soul! [Laughs] I have worked with a gambit of different people. And most of those artists are cut from different cloths, with regards to the sounds of the music, but I think that something that joins us all together, no matter the artists I work with, is soul. Soul is really more of a feeling than anything else.

KW: And who would you say are your major influences?

9th: Probably my biggest influence is Curtis Mayfield because his music is just so soulful—I hate to be vague. [Laughs] “The Makings of You” is one of my favourite songs ever. And every time I do a solo record I try my best to fuse it together like “Superfly” was made. All of his albums were great all the way through, but that one was just over the top. It was, basically, the soundtrack for life in 1975. I mean I have quite a few influences, especially in hip-hop, but over all, he’s my main one.

KW: So when you sing, do you sing in falsetto like he did?

9th: [Laughs] I don’t sing. I’ve coached and trained people in harmony but I don’t sing at all.

KW: What do you think was the big break in your career?

9th: The Jay-Z record “The Threat” off Jay’s The Black Album. I had done a lot of underground things before that. I had been part of a critically acclaimed group called “Little Brother.” And though we had been covered by a lot of press, from a mainstream standpoint, the record I did for Jay-Z was my biggest break, especially since it was also covered in the movie Fade to Black.

KW: Well, I’ve heard rumours about a Little Brother reunion…what’s happening in terms of that?

9th: I don’t think that’s going to happen. I would love to do it, but Phonte is doing well with his live hip-hop group called Foreign Exchange. Big Pooh is doing his own solo thing, too. I just think our careers are now all going in three different directions. Mine is leaning more and more these days towards education.

KW: And Chris “Play” Martin, of Kid-n-Play is also an artist in residence where you are now, at North Carolina Central?

9th: Right.

KW: Have you thought of doing a collaboration with him?

9th: Not from a musical standpoint. Play is now leaning more towards video production. Right now, he’s knee-deep in his own TV show and it’s becoming very successful.

KW: Mentioning him just makes me think again about their movies, which were great, and I thought that their music was great too. What happened to music like that?

9th: In 1988, we had Public Enemy’s album called It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. In that album I learned about people I had never even heard of in my history classes in school. And between that album and music from artists like A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-One, enrolment in black colleges went up between 1988 and 1993. We were becoming educated. The youth was being enlightened. Just like back when slaves sang spirituals to each other to teach themselves where to run. That was a way we communicated. Black people have always been able to communicate through word of mouth. And what better way to pass messages than through this brand new music that’s educating our youths? But I think that once someone got hip to that, that’s when all the other stuff started to be pushed to the forefront. I think if you really go back to the records being made from ’88 to ’90, there was a lot of Afro-centricity in it, from Queen Latifah to the hip-hop collective Native Tongues. Queen Latifah had a song called “Ladies First.” There were so many songs with positive messages. All of the songs that were, so-to-speak, detrimental to our ears weren’t played on the radio. NWA was not played on the radio at that time. And even though they were called the world’s most dangerous rap group, even they had a political message attached to their music. But negativity was pushed to the forefront, and I don’t think that was by happenstance. We were becoming educated and enlightened at that time. On TV, we had The Cosby Show and A Different World—there were very powerful black shows on television. Even in film, we had Spike Lee directing Do the Right Thing and also putting out soundtracks that had Public Enemy on one end, and jazz musician Stanley Clarke on the other. Hip-hop was a bridge—not just to black history, but also to positive ideas like KRS-One’s safe-sex messages. These rappers were subliminally teaching us. Where do think the term “dropping science” came from? It wasn’t cool to be dumb.

KW: So then how did it evolve from that, to East Coast—West Coast and then to gangsters killing one another?

9th: Commercialism. We didn’t start gang violence. It isn’t just a hip-hop thing. Leonardo DiCaprio starred in the movie Gangs of New York. That took place in the 1800’s. I mean, the media likes to tell us that there are more black men in jail than not. It’s not true. The thing about it is, these are images corporations want to push to the forefront. Gangs and violence in America didn’t start with us. The media is putting messages out there, saying that hip-hop teaches you to kill, but why aren’t they talking about Ozzy Ozbourne coming out on stage and biting off a bat’s head? I will say that I don’t approve of all of the stories that we tell in our music, but at the same time I can’t tell someone who grew up with a drug-addicted mom, or in the poorest part of the country, not to tell his story.

KW: That’s true—there are a lot of negative statistics that people throw around, and assume to be true.

9th: Right, I mean I bet there are meetings at BET and MTV where people pitch great ideas for shows. But this is America—the media thinks we love sex and violence.

KW: Yeah, but there are black film and music producers, defending the content of stations such as BET, saying that we have to dumb it down for black people. Meanwhile, AZN has reality shows that focus on high school students applying to Ivy League schools.

9th: Yeah, and I hate to get so political, but Willie Lynch-ism is a very real, ugly truth. And lots of people say they don’t want to hear about the ugly side of life, but we’re letting people come into our societies and rip us apart through these images.

KW: So, what do you let your kids listen to?

9th: What I grew up on. Just recently, I taught my 9 year-old that black people invented soul music. One of the first songs I played for her was Stevie Wonder and, pretty much all kids like his songs. And now my kids are Michael Jackson nuts, since he passed on and I took them to see “This is It”.

KW: Yeah, wasn’t that film great? I couldn’t believe what a perfectionist he was.

9th: Yeah, Michael Jackson was incredible. I don’t think the world will see another one.

KW: Is there any question that no one ever asked you that you wished someone would?

9th: No.

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

9th: Of course. Number one, I’m a black man in America and history has told me that a lot of intelligent black people are silenced and strategically put in places where we can’t effect the rest of our people. That makes me scared sometimes.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

9th: I’m very happy. The main reason why I’m happy is because I know what I want to do with my life. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people run aimlessly through their lives, not knowing what they want to do, not being happy with their jobs, wondering about what their purpose is. I think I’m coming to grips with what my purpose is in this world…I’m very blessed too.

KW: Teri Emerson asks, when was the last time you’ve had a good laugh?

9th: I laugh everyday—with my kids and my closest friends. I can be one of the most serious people in the world, but on the flip side be one of the silliest. I think laughing is good for the soul. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work—but at the same time I like to have a good time. I think laughter eases a lot of life’s pains. Like my momma always tells me—you’ve got to laugh to keep ‘em cryin’.

KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asks, what was the last book you read?

9th: The last book I read was called “The Wu-Tang Manual”. It’s a book about the group “The Wu-Tang Clan” and it was written by the RZA.

KW: Music maven Heather Covington asks, what music are you listening to right now?

9th: Right now, a lot of 70’s soul music. I have 15,000 vinyl records.

KW: Wow (laughs).

9th: On my iPod right now, I have a play list that’s got Gwen McCrae, Edwin Starr, George Duke, Barry White, etc.

KW: What would you say is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

9th: To balance industry and family. That, I think, is an obstacle for all of us in the music industry. We in the industry are very passionate about our work. A lot of people don’t understand that. We love what we do, but it is still work. All of us are our own bosses. And trying to explain that fact to someone who works for somebody else is a big obstacle. It’s like someone’s telling you that you have to go to work to get paid, but I have to tell myself.

KW: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

9th: My mom, Patricia Douthit.

KW: How do you want to be remembered?

9th: I want to be remembered as someone who tried to help his people. I don’t care about the Grammy or the platinum plaques. I hope to be remembered as someone who helped carry the torch for the people who came before me.

KW: How can your fans help you?

9th: My fans can help me, first, just by documenting and chronicling hip-hop music in general. Right now it’s becoming more and more of a push for the music to be in academia. Second, just stop all the tremendous illegal downloading. When you download it’s not so much of taking money out of peoples pocket, but if you like a person’s music and you want that person to continue to make music for you to like, that person has to eat. Musicians are going to make music because they love it, but at the same time if you want that person to not have to get another job so they can focus on the music you love so much, you have to support that person.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

9th: A tired young man [laughs]—tired and weary—but with a lot of fight and a lot of heart.

KW: What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

9th: Know who God is. The meek shall always inherit the earth. I’ve got a lot of things I never asked for. Also, be humble in your steps and respect your elders always, even if you don’t always agree with what they have to say. You should also know your history. In order to be good at something, you need to be an expert and know everything about it. Nobody should be able to tell you more about what you want to be.

KW: What is your favourite dish to cook?

9th: Spaghetti. It’s my favourite dish to eat too [[laughs]. I eat it seven days a week.

KW: Flex Alexander asks, how do you get through the tough times?

9th: Music has really always been my sanctuary. I also pray and look towards my kids—they keep me sane.

KW: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

9th: My children.

KW: Who was your best friend as a child?

9th: It’s funny you should ask me that today. I have a lot of people who I call my friends and who I call my brothers, but my first friend who I made in kindergarten is a guy by the name of Chad Eric Greene. Chad died this past Wednesday.

KW: Man, I’m so sorry.

9th: Chad was a fireman. He didn’t die in the line of duty, but he had a wife, two kids and a baby on the way. The craziest thing about my friendship with him was that, I think, my generation was the first real generation in which black and white kids could be best friends, especially in the South, with out being looked at as crazy. Chad was white and he was my best childhood friend when I first got to school and we graduated together from High School.

KW: Uduak Oduok asks, how do you think African culture will be affecting America, musically, or in any other way?

9th: Well, African culture has always affected us musically—rock, rap, even country music. They all have one thing in common—a drummer. Obviously classical music has percussion, but especially in genres like Go-Go music, African culture remains prevalent today.

KW: Thanks again, 9th, and best of luck with both your teaching and your music.

9th: Thank you.

To see a video of 9th Wonder talking about his musical background, visit HERE

To order a copy of the CD R&B Sensation by Tyler Woods, produced by 9th Wonder, visit HERE 

To see a music video of Slow Jams/Relations by Tyler Woods, produced by 9th Wonder, visit HERE 

To see a music video of Prove Myself by Tyler Woods, produced by 9th Wonder, visit HERE    

To see an interview with Tyler Woods, visit HERE

Bocelli's Fans Forgive All Flaws

Source: www.thestar.com -
John Terauds

(December 03, 2009) Pure love is impenetrable, especially when wrapped in the pastel tissue of heartfelt music.

The newly crowned queen of hope, Susan Boyle is unassailable, but we have yet to see how long her moment of glory will last. Bono is beyond reproach as the prince of charity, but he knows how to divide his time between advocacy and music.

Then there's
Andrea Bocelli, in a class of his own as the ultimate in critic-proof performers. Love is the only plausible factor.

He has sold 60 million records – on a demanding schedule that seems to produce at least one album every year – earning him a place in Guinness World Records. And yet the artist has never been able to get any respect from critics.

The 51-year-old Italian tenor's concert Thursday at the Air Canada Centre is likely to draw a big crowd. He's plugging a new Christmas album that was No.5 on last week's Nielsen SoundScan chart in Canada. What could be more love-filled than hearing "White Christmas" in Italian, or contemplating "I Believe," the late Pope John Paul II's favourite song?

Bocelli has sung opera, but his real connection with a mass audience has been from the pop side of the crossover equation. After impressing Italian rocker Zucchero with a demo tape 20 years ago, the Tuscan native quickly blazed the trail for every Romance-language-crooning pop-opera act we know today, most notably Il Divo.

And even though his voice has deepened a bit, and may have added a rough edge or two, he soldiers on, vocally pleasuring hordes of female fans around the world.

He has found great success despite the hurdle of a disability (he suffered from glaucoma in childhood, before being permanently blinded after a soccer accident when he was 12), an against-all-odds achievement that only enhances his appeal. Certainly, there must be something more than pure musical ability.

After his April 2005 Toronto concert, I wrote this of Bocelli's performance: "He is probably the most unmusical person to have become an international star in the last 100 years. He knows not how to phrase a line of music, nor does he introduce the slightest bit of nuance into either his pop or opera numbers.

"Bocelli stands on the stage in a characteristic slump, almost immobile, like an exact mirror of his vocal delivery. In short, he has the stage presence of a boiled turnip."

Those words caused the biggest deluge of indignant emails I have ever received. I clearly had no understanding or appreciation of music. I was a moron. An idiot (and much worse).

Other classical critics have had an equally hard time trying to reconcile this singer's perennial popularity with performances that can be bested by countless lesser-known, lesser-paid artists.

Bernard Holland, reviewing a 2006 concert for the New York Times, wrote: "The tone is rasping and thin and, in general, poorly supported. Even the most modest upward movement thins it even more, signalling what appears to be the onset of strangulation. To his credit, Mr. Bocelli sings mostly in tune. But his phrasing tends towards carelessness and rhythmic jumble."

Reviewing Bocelli's American operatic debut in Detroit 10 years ago, the Times' Anthony Tommasini was devastating: "Even within the modest dimensions of his voice, he lacks a feeling for the impassioned lyricism that is a hallmark of this role, Massenet's operatic rendering of Goethe's character (Werther)."

It's not surprising that the world's great opera companies have not come calling. Bocelli, who only began to sing in his early 30s, after getting a law degree, is a pop singer. Fortunately, he has learned to embrace that fact.

The most compelling reason I can find for Bocelli's enduring success comes down to love – not just the kind he sings about, but something kindled in the hearts of his fans. In an interview published in The Scotsman last month, Catherine Deveney writes:

"There is something about Bocelli, a personal intensity, a liquid emotion in his voice, that women in particular respond to. (He may not like it, but his blindness adds to the sense of emotional vulnerability that his voice provokes.) Bocelli, one female fan tells me, is the only man apart from her husband who reduces her to tears. `I forgive them both and love Andrea more.'"

As long as fans can muster that kind of forgiveness, it will never be time to say goodbye. The critics don't know what they're talking about.

Just the facts
WHO: Andrea Bocelli

WHERE: Air Canada Centre

WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $75-$500 at 416-870-8000 or
www.ticketmaster.ca

Seductive Brazilian Tunes, From Old Chestnuts To Improvisation

Source: www.globeandmail.com - J.D. Considine

The Art of Time Ensemble
At the Enwave Theatre
In Toronto on Friday

(December 07, 2009) Just before the intermission on Friday, Emilie-Claire Barlow closed out her selection of bossa nova tunes with a chestnut called O Pato, or, in English, The Duck. Written by Jayme Silva and Neuza Teixeira, it was first recorded by Brazilian jazz great Joao Gilberto in 1960, and has been a bossa nova standard ever since.

Barlow had a great time with the tune, singing both Jon Hendricks's jokey English lyrics as well as the original Portuguese, and by the time she hit the final refrain there was hardly a soul in the Enwave Theatre who wasn't won over. Between the effervescence of her delivery and the infectious pulse of the backing band, it was a textbook demonstration of why, after half a century, bossa nova remains Brazil's most famous musical export.

O Pato also makes a handy metaphor for the concert as a whole. Not simply because of the way the song's melodic grace, rhythmic insistence and casual wit typify the sound of Brazil, but because, like a duck, the music presented a façade of effortless grace that belied how much was going on beneath the surface.

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 1, composed in 1932 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, typified this sort of duckiness. Composed for eight cellos and relying heavily on motifs drawn from folk music, it was lush and tuneful in ways that 20th-century classical music seldom is. Yet beneath that wonderfully accessible veneer lies an impressive compositional rigour, as Villa-Lobos applied the structural logic of Bach to his homegrown themes. The Art of Time rendition found a fine balance between lustre and clarity, particularly on the final movement, Fuga (Conversa).

Barlow took a jazz approach to Brazilian music, using the songs as a springboard for improvisation. Although there was the expected quotient of instrumental solos, mostly by tenor saxophonist John Johnson and guitarist Reg Schwager, much of the invention was rhythmic, not only from the drums and percussion but also the bass and Schwager's guitar. It was an unassumingly intricate sound, made all the more dynamic by the subtle virtuosity of Barlow's singing.

Bossa nova tunes can be a real trap for singers; they're meant to sound easy, but demand incredible melodic and rhythmic precision. (It's the duck model again.) Barlow, whose rich, warm voice and impossibly true pitch seemed meant for bossa nova, easily met the challenge, breezily navigating the winding melody and serpentine pulse of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Agua de Beber and brilliantly exploiting the circular momentum of his Aguas de Marco.

Guinga - the professional name of Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar - is a Brazilian guitarist and composer whose work took up the second half of the program. As a player, his intricate, technically demanding style evokes a rootsier Egberto Gismonti; as a composer, his rambling, mournful themes and idiosyncratic approach to harmony suggest comparison with Hermeto Pascoal.

Working with the same band as Barlow (plus mallet percussionist Mark Duggan, pianist Andrew Burashko and, at one point, half the cellos), Guinga offered nine examples of his work, ranging from a witty, percussion-fuelled ensemble piece that evoked a sort of Kurt Weill samba, to a gorgeously mournful tone poem that played the cellos off against Johnson's nimble sopranino sax.

Perhaps the only complaint that could be mustered against Guinga was that only one of the tunes - Cine Baronessa, a lovely, Barlow-sung ballad with echoes of Eric Satie - had its title announced, and even that seemed inadvertent. It would have been nice to have known what songs were seducing us, but by any name the music would have been as ravishing.

Genius Within: The Inner Life Of Glenn Gould - Musician Reveals Himself To Camera

Source: www.thestar.com -
Peter Howell

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Directed by Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer. 109 minutes. At The Royal Thursday through Sunday.

(December 03, 2009) Despite his bumpkin attire and oddball affectations,
Glenn Gould considered himself a thoroughly modern artist, in tune with the times and with mass media.

"I know I would have been very unhappy as a 19th-century man," he says via voiceover in Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, a documentary revealing the complicated and often engaging human behind the late Toronto pianist's legend.

It's one of many eye-opening admissions. The film challenges conventional wisdom about the man whose virtuoso recordings, beginning with his daring take on J.S. Bach's The Goldberg Variations in 1955, made him a giant of classical music.

Co-directors Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer dig deep, interviewing members of Gould's intimate circle and unearthing rare footage of the man at work and play. In scenes from his 20s, rapturously stroking the keyboard, he resembles a young Warren Beatty. A friend compares Gould to James Dean.

Much of the film is told in Gould's own words, each one spoken eloquently and distinctly.

He is revealed to be a man of many passions, and also as a savvy consumer of media who carefully crafted a public image to suit his desire to keep the world at bay – but also within reach whenever it suited his purposes.

Genius Within is the most complete portrait yet of this complex artist.

Beyonce, Taylor Swift Lead Grammy Nominations

Source: www.thestar.com -
Derrik J. Lang

(December 02, 2009) LOS ANGELES–Canadian rock legend Neil Young and 23-year-old Toronto rapper Drake each received two nominations for the 2010 Grammy Awards on Wednesday.

Michael Buble, Nickelback, Melanie Fiona, David Foster and Michael J. Fox were also among the high-profile Canucks who earned Grammy nods as the Recording Academy unveiled a handful of nominations for its 109 categories during a prime-time CBS special.

Beyonce, meanwhile, has enough Grammy nominations for her and Sasha Fierce.

The omnipresent diva garnered the most nominations with 10 nods, including nominations for album of the year for "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," song of the year for her anthem "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" and record of the year for "Halo."

Country crossover sensation Taylor Swift wasn't far behind Beyonce, getting eight nominations, including album of the year for her multiplatinum sophomore disc "Fearless"; song and record of the year for her hit, "You Belong With Me."

Another diva was also nominated in all three categories: Lady Gaga. The eccentric entertainer, who had five nominations overall, garnered a best album mention for her debut CD, "The Fame," while her "Poker Face" got nominations for record and song of the year.

Drake – whose real name is Aubrey Drake Graham – is up for best rap song and best rap solo performance for his breakout hit, "Best I Ever Had."

The song was culled from his mixtape, "So Far Gone." Drake doesn't have an official album out yet.

"Being a kid from Toronto, I'm just proud, man," Drake said when interviewed during the show. "I know my mom's at home, buggin' out."

Young, meanwhile, is up for best solo rock vocal performance for the title track from "Fork in the Road" and best boxed or special limited edition package for his expansive archives collection.

Young, who has never won a Grammy, will also be feted as the MusiCares Person of the Year in a dinner gala on the eve of the Grammys, which will be held on Jan. 31.

Buble's recent, chart-topping album "Crazy Love" wasn't eligible for Grammy consideration this year, but the Vancouver crooner still earned a nod for best traditional pop vocal album for ``Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden."

Nickelback earned a nomination for best hard rock performance for ``Burn It To The Ground," their sixth Grammy nomination.

Fiona, a Toronto native, is up for best female R&B vocal performance for "It Kills Me," while Fox is up for best spoken word album for his "Always Looking Up."

Alberta powwow dance group Northern Cree are up for best Native American music album for "True Blue," their fifth Grammy nomination.

Foster is nominated with Jerry Hey for best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalist(s) for "A Change Is Gonna Come," as sung by Seal.

And Montreal electronic duo Beast nabbed a best short form music video nomination for "Mr. Hurricane."

Other nominees for album of the year included the Black Eyed Peas ``The E.N.D." and Dave Matthews Band's "Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King."

The Black Eyed Peas were also nominated for record of the year for their feel-good song, "I Gotta Feeling," while the Kings of Leon were nominated for "Use Somebody."

The Kings of Leon hit was also nominated for song of the year, as well as Maxwell's comeback hit, "Pretty Wings."

The Black Eyed Peas, Maxwell and Kanye West got six nominations each, while Jay-Z and DJ David Guetta got five.

The country act the Zac Brown Band was nominated for best new artist, along with R&B siren Keri Hilson, rockers MGMT, the punk duo the Ting Tings and the rock group the Silversun Pickups.

Wednesday's special also gave nominees the chance to perform, such as the Black Eyed Peas, who sang their ubiquitous hit, "I Gotta Feeling," as well as provided face time for CBS' stars, like LL Cool J, the rapper-actor who is the star of "NCIS: Los Angeles."

Other performers on the show included Nick Jonas and The Administration, Maxwell and Sugarland.

Joe Spreads Holiday Cheer In Song

Source: www.eurweb.com - By J. Jermayne

(December 8, 2009) *Singer Joe (Thomas) is giving fans a gift and a message this Christmas. With the release of "Home is the Essence of Christmas," Joe says it all: friends, family, and loved ones are the important treasures. And, the CD is the perfect way to share the holiday together.

Though "Home is the Essence of Christmas," has familiar Christmas classics, it is for the grown and sexy. With a big band sound, and Christmas classics like “I’ll be home for Christmas,” “Christmas Time is Here,” and “The Christmas Song,” Joe cruises listeners down memory lane in style.

Joe told EUR the CD has a Frank Sinatra/Nat King Cole flair.

“It’s very classic: live music, piano, upright, bass, drums with brushes. It’s jazzy, big band,” Joe said.

Listeners can expect to hear several guest solo musicians on the saxophone and horn. One of Joe’s favourite songs is what he calls “The Charlie Brown song” which he did with “Lil’ Amanda.”

The Christmas CD is Joe’s first, and he says it “makes sense. Now that I’m doing my own thing and don’t have to take advice, it’s getting back to how it used to be. Being independent, it gives me a lot of freedom, maybe three or four years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do a Christmas album.”

"Home is the Essence of Christmas" was initially released exclusively with iTunes, and is selling through Target stores. "Home is the Essence of Christmas" also available online. The decision to release online and to drive sales online also makes sense to Joe who said, “It’s where the industry is going. It’s the next stage of selling records.”

In addition to Christmas appearances in Europe and New York, Joe’s future stops include Asia, South America, Brazil, Africa, and a big charity in Jamaica with Shaggy in January. The charity shows, including the ones he has done in Africa for the past 15 years are meaningful parts of work and travel.

“I guess sometimes one could take it a little lightly—17 or 18 years of doing things at a certain level--but I definitely count my blessings, and don’t lose sight of those moments,” Joe said of his career and extensive foreign travels.

Joe is focused on the music for now, though a play and other projects may be in the works. He is pleased with the path his career has taken and calls it all “a great experience.”

Check out Joe performing 'The Christmas Song' from 'Home Is The Essence of Christmas':

Label For Coldplay, k-os Joins Online Video Channel

Source: www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(December 8, 2009) NEW YORK–EMI Music has agreed to join other major music labels in providing music videos of its artists on Vevo, a new music video channel debuting Tuesday night on YouTube in the U.S. and Canada. Vevo is a joint venture among Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Media Co. and is streamed through Google's YouTube. Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion (U.S.).

Videos also will be seen on Vevo.com and a special Vevo branded player that can be placed on social networking and other websites.

The deals with Vevo are separate from YouTube's existing relationships with the recording labels of Universal, Sony and EMI to stream music videos on its site. But Vevo said these video streams will be integrated into its service. Vevo will have its own YouTube channel.

Music fans can watch music videos from these music companies through the Vevo channel on YouTube or by searching for the artist.

EMI labels to appear on Vevo include Astralwerks, Blue Note, Capitol and Virgin. EMI is a unit of EMI Group Ltd. in the U.K. High-profile artists whose video might be affected include KT Tunstall (signed to Virgin), Norah Jones (Blue Note), Coldplay and Katy Perry (both Capitol) and Canadian rapper
k-os (signed to Astralwerks).

Vevo, based in New York, signed up CBS Interactive Music Group last week. It is working on a deal with Warner Music Group Corp.

Vevo will be financially supported by ads and revenue will be shared with the music labels. The service also plans to sell song downloads, merchandise and concert tickets.

Faced with declining sales of compact discs, recording labels are experimenting with new ways of distributing their music online, such as through ventures like Vevo.

The recording companies, led by Universal, are seeking to gain a greater share of advertising revenue from music videos than is currently generated on sites such as YouTube.

They also seek to separate professionally produced content from the user-generated fare on YouTube, while better matching advertisers with a youthful demographic.

YouTube will receive a fee for providing Vevo with technology, but will not share in advertising revenue. The Vevo site and player will also have links to allow viewers to buy songs from Amazon.com or Apple Inc.'s iTunes.

MUSIC TIDBITS

Sade's New Single Drops Today

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 8, 2009) *"Soldier of Love," the first single from
Sade in nearly a decade, will have its world premiere at 7 a.m. EST this morning on her Web site www.sade.com.  The track, from the group's forthcoming album of the same name, was co-produced by Sade with Mike Pela, and was co-written by Sade along with long-time collaborators Andrew Hale, Stuart Matthewman and Paul Spencer Denman. The track, according to Epic Records, features "a pulsating and anthemic drum beat along with haunting vocals that Sade is known for." "Soldier of Love," the album, is due Feb.

Lightfoot Joins Big Mariposa Line-up

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(December 03, 2009) Fans driving the carefree highway to the 50th-anniversary edition of the Mariposa Folk Festival next July will witness, on the Sunday-evening main stage, sets by homegrown heroes Ian Tyson, Murray McLauchlan, Sylvia Tyson and, it was announced yesterday, Gordon Lightfoot. The Orillia native will make his fourth appearance at the iconic festival since it returned to that town in 2000. Asked recently if he would consider joining a Canadian-folk supergroup with people like the Tysons, the 71-year-old ace told The Globe and Mail that such a thing would be "too complicated." Mariposa runs from July 9 to 11.

BET'S 'Sunday Best' Headed To Nigeria

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 3, 2009) *To commemorate the one year anniversary of
BET in African, the network will bring its gospel music competition series, "Sunday Best" to Lagos, Nigeria on Sunday Dec. 6.  Hosted by Kirk Franklin, the series returns for its third season in search of the next great gospel singer and expands its auditions outside of U.S. borders for the first time. Gospel greats and judges for the Nigerian tryouts, Donnie McClurkin, Kim Burrell and British-Nigerian gospel artist Muyiwa Olarewaju, will join Franklin during the auditions at the Eko Hotel located at Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Lagos, NG 12724.  An episode during the show's upcoming season will highlight footage taken from the Nigerian auditions and the series will air in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and Africa reaching more than 101 million households around the world. The first round of "Sunday Best" auditions on Dec. 6 in Lagos will be open to the first 1000 contestants age 21 and older who have a government issued form of identification. Doors to the venue will open at 10 a.m. Contestants who make it past the first round will be asked to come back on Monday, Dec. 7 and judges will then determine who will travel to the United States to compete during the show's third season.  U.S. auditions cities and dates will be announced at a later date.

Keith Murray In Africa To Raise Aids Awareness

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 3, 2009) *In the midst of a tour through Africa this week, rapper
Keith Murray took some time out to visit children affected by HIV and AIDS in Mozambique in recognition of World AIDS Day. As part of his trip, Murray spoke to youths about the disease and met with children in two orphanages. Murray, best known for his 1994 debut album "The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World," lost both his mother and sister to AIDS when he was in his early 20s. "The impact that HIV and AIDS can have on a person and a family is something that I know on a very personal level, which is why I was so determined to make this trip," the 37-year-old told HipHopDX.com. "The most painful part is watching people close to you go through it and feeling that there’s nothing you can do to help. (But) I think talking about it helps."  Murray's mother died after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion when he was 20, and his sister passed away three years later.

Kelis Signs With Will.I.Am's Label

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 3, 2009) *
Kelis is about to make a comeback with the release of her upcoming untitled album through Will.i.am Music Group, the Interscope imprint from Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am.  The announcement comes on the heels of last week's Internet release of her David Guetta-produced retro dance song "Acapella." The album also features tracks produced by will.i.am, as well as Free School, Boyz Noize, Burnz and DJ Ammo. Kelis' last label deal was with Jive Records, and she reportedly was dropped in late 2007. Earlier this year, a pregnant Kelis filed for divorce from her husband, rapper Nas. In July, a judge ordered him to pay Kelis, who has since given birth to a baby boy, nearly $44,000 in monthly support. The artist is best known for her 2003 single "Milkshake," which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 chart and sold 883,000 digital downloads, according to Nielsen Soundscan. The track is from her best-selling album, "Tasty," which sold 535,000 copies.

Will.I.Am Announces First 'Data Awards'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 3, 2009) *Black Eyed Peas member
will.i.am announced that the First Annual Data Awards, honouring the contributions of DJs and the dance community, will be held on Jan. 30, at the Regal Cinemas in Los Angeles during Grammy Awards week.  Winners in the categories of Best Dance DJ/Producer Solo, Best Dance DJ/Producer Group, Best Remix and Best Original Track will receive a custom gold BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone. In addition to The Data Awards, will.i.am is also supporting a number of additional projects during Grammy week. As a follow up to last year’s successful “Worlds on Fire” artist exhibition, this year will.i.am, Dipdive, BlackBerry and the Grammy Foundation will collaborate to present “Who Killed the Music?,” an art collection featuring customized, limited edition white BlackBerry Bold smartphones that will help kick-off Grammy Week at The Target Terrace from January 24-31.  The gallery will host 15 pieces from the hottest contemporary surrealist artists, and a portion of all work sold will benefit the Grammy Foundation.

Keys, Lebron Help Honour Charitable Teens

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 4, 2009) *Alicia Keys and LeBron James join Hayden Panettiere and Justin Timberlake for the first-ever TeenNick HALO Awards, in which the four celebrities will present awards to charitable teen honourees.  The entertainers will pair up with four real-life teenagers who give back to their communities in various ways: An AIDS education organization, an ocean research advocacy group, a community improvement project to turn teens away from drugs and gangs, and a support group for girls with scoliosis, reports People.com.  "One person can make a difference, and it's my hope that this special will encourage ongoing activism and inspire a new generation of leaders," says creator and host of the show, Nick Cannon.  Additionally, each honouree gets to meet and work with their corresponding star, based on the celeb's own charitable interest. (Timberlake, for example, works with The Shriners Hospitals for Children, so he'll be teamed with Leah Stotz, who founded the scoliosis education and support group.)  The awards ceremony will air on TeenNick Dec. 11 at 8 p.m.  

Flo Rida Booked Breast Cancer Awareness Concert

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 7, 2009) *With controversial new talk of mammograms being inadequate for women under 40, the Grammy Foundation has put together an event to support breast cancer awareness among ladies within the age group.  Rapper Flo Rida and Grammy nominated British act The Ting Tings will perform in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania tonight as part of radio station B94's “Winter Blast,” a concert designed to call attention to the issue.  Proceeds will benefit the Glimmer of Hope Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based organization that has raised millions of dollars for breast cancer research.    The fund raiser is scheduled to take place at The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall. Doors open at 7:30pm and ticket prices are $25 per person.    Meanwhile, Flo Rida's latest album "R.O.O.T.S" was nominated for a Grammy in the Rap Album of the Year category.

Drake Album Pushed Back Again

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 8, 2009) *Rapper
Drake says fans will have to wait a while longer for the release of his new album "Thank Me Later."  The set has been pushed back yet again after previous announced dates of January 2010 and February 14 were scrapped. A new release date has not been announced. “I'm making great progress on it. I'm hoping for March now," the Canadian rapper/actor told MTV News. "It's just pulling everybody together.”  The album already features Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne, but Drake hopes to add another huge name before the set arrives in stores.   “I had a wish list for my managers of everybody I wanted involved that stem beyond hip-hop. I'm trying to pull it all together. I'm really trying to work with Sade,” Drake said.

CD Pick of the week: Chris Brown

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

Chris Brown Graffiti
(Jive/Sony)
 (out of 4)

(December 8, 2009)
Chris Brown is in a tough spot with this third album: how to maintain the contrite abuser P.R. stance necessitated by his conviction of assaulting ex-girlfriend Rihanna, while returning to form as a lovesick R&B hottie.  He tries to juggle it all, singing about "cars and the girls and the cribs" ("What I Do"), the girl who got away ("So Cold") and the ones chasing him ("Sing Like Me"). In the hands of more than half a dozen different producers – including Swizz Beatz and Palow Da Don – Brown, 20, burnishes his usual candy-coated hip-hop with a robotic Euro pop sound. He has decent pipes, but lacks the emotional gravitas to carry a moody power ballad like "Crawl" and gets upstaged by the nuance and resonance of guest crooner Tank on their slinky duet "Take My Time."  And the Virginia native, who garners co-writing credit on most of the tunes, is not as penitent as you might expect: there's a woe-is-me thread throughout and on "Famous Girl" he references "Disturbia," a tune he co-wrote for Rihanna, and intimates that she cheated on him and broke his heart. Not nice or appropriate, even if true. If you can separate the man from his music, as R. Kelly fans do (or maybe they don't), this album still isn't very satisfying.  Top Track: "I Can Transform Ya," `cause I haven't yet tired of Lil Wayne, who drops some slick lines here.

Shakira Joins The Debate

Source: www.thestar.com - Associated Press

(December 8, 2009) Michael Jackson and Mother Teresa. Stephen Hawking and the Dalai Lama. And now
Shakira. The Colombian pop singer – famous for hits "Hips Don't Lie" and "Whenever, Wherever" – joined a diverse group of luminaries when she addressed the Oxford Union on Monday. The 32-year-old, who is also a UNICEF ambassador, used her speech to hundreds of Oxford students to stress her belief in education for all. Students had waited in the rain to see the pop star at the university's famous debating society. The pop star runs a charity that builds schools for poor children in Colombia.

Shock Value II: Timbaland

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ashante Infantry Entertainment Reporter


(Interscope)
(out of 4)

(December 8, 2009) The spoken intro by DJ Felli Fell kicks
Timbaland's new album off like a sizzling mixtape, but the disc's lack of continuity turns it into a ho-hum compilation. Sure, there's a guest on every track – Miley Cyrus, The Fray and a quartet of Canadians, Chad Kroeger, Drake, Nelly Furtado and Esthero – but that's expected given the super-producer's limited rhyming and singing skills. What's challenging is the music, which is mostly Timbaland's twitchy electro grooves, alternating with '80s pop ("We Belong To The Music"), dance ("If We Ever Meet Again") and acoustic arrangements ("Timothy Where Have You Been") thrown in. This disc neither enhances nor diminished his groundbreaking rep; it just sounds like a powerful player calling on favours and friendship. Top Track: The food-sex analogy is just silly, but "Carry Out" (featuring Justin Timberlake) is a funky good time.

Furtado To Open Medal Ceremonies On Feb. 14

Source: CTVOlympics.ca

(Nelly Furtado, Barenaked Ladies, Paul Brandt and Billy Talent are among the Canadian artists to perform at the
Olympic medal presentations.  "The Victory Ceremonies will be the place to be in the evenings in Vancouver during the Games," said David Guscott, VANOC's executive vice president in charge of celebrations and partnerships.  Great Big Sea, Hedley, Theory of a Deadman, Stereophonics, Loverboy, Trooper, Burton Cummings and INXS are also on the roster.  The victory celebrations are slated to take place inside Canada Hockey Place during the Olympic Games.  Tickets are available for $22 at www.vancouver2010.com. Centre stage premium tickets are $50.  MuchMusic's MUCHONDEMAND (MOD) will provide coverage of the concert series each night.  MOD will also be hosting live shows at the base of Whistler Mountain including video countdowns, celebrities, bands and athletes.  "With two live shows from the base of Whistler Mountain each day, MuchMusic is going to make sure every fan across this country can connect and interact with the mind-blowing and unparalleled pandemonium this historical event is sure to bring," said Brad Schwartz, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Much MTV Group.  The first concert will take place on Feb. 14, with a British Columbia theme. Nelly Furtado will headline the medal presentations for short track speed skating and freestyle skiing.

:FILM NEWS::

Toronto To Host Indian Oscars In 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar

(December 09, 2009) One of Bollywood's global awards shows is coming to Ontario. The 2011 International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards will be held in the Greater Toronto Area on June 16-19. Announced in Mumbai, the awards travel to a different international city around the world each year, but this is the first time they will take place in North America.

"Ontario is thrilled to host the
2011 International Indian Academy Awards. With so many film buffs living in Ontario, Indian film stars and executives will feel right at home. We look forward to an eventful and successful weekend and awards," said Premier Dalton McGuinty in a press release.

Conceived in 2000, the awards serve to help promote Indian films around the world, and Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachan has served as the brand ambassador for the academy and prizes. The organizers estimate that the event will draw 500 people from the Indian film industry and the telecast will capture an international viewing audience of over $350 million.

The IIFA awards are just one of several awards that annually honour the massive Indian film industry, but is also expected to draw in tourists, as well as allowing many local fans to celebrate the movie business. As such, the awards will cap off four days of events, which will include an industry conference and film festival.

Colin Firth Dresses Up

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Amy Verner

(December 07, 2009) Less than five minutes into Tom Ford's A Single Man, Colin Firth's character, George Falconer, says in a voice-over monologue, “I know fully what part I am supposed to play.”

He is staring into the mirror, taking stock of his features and his feelings. But the image we see is a different Firth than the dour-cum-puppy-dog persona he's become so known for in Bridget Jones's Diary , Love Actually and Pride and Prejudice. This man takes great pains to remain poised and polished despite being consumed by the emotional pain of having lost his lover (Matthew Goode) in a recent car crash. “Slightly stiff but still perfect,” he concludes, acknowledging that the man staring back at him “isn't so much a face as a predicament.”

It's heavy stuff to be contemplating before he sits down to breakfast (or skips it; the bread was never defrosted) yet Nov. 30, 1962, will be like none other for 52-year-old George who has every intention of committing suicide by day's end.

How long does it take to become this man? He's hanging on by his fingernails and in this case the fingernails are the cufflinks, the perfectly tied knots.

Firth, who appeared sharply dressed for an interview during September's Toronto International Film Festival, admits he identifies with some aspects of George, a British professor teaching English in Los Angeles, better than others. Which ones?

“The way he gets himself together in order to face the world; the way he tries to turn himself into an effective, almost machine-like creature for school,” answered Firth, whose performance earned him a best-actor award at the Venice Film Festival in early September.

As for the fastidiousness, described by Firth as “body armour,” well, that's pure Ford. “This is where Tom's own skills are informed by his own passions, by his own needs. So it's not about decorating the film although there's nothing wrong with that,” explained Firth. “It's actually at the service of saying something about who this guy is. How long does it take to become this man? He's hanging on by his fingernails and in this case the fingernails are the cufflinks, the perfectly tied knots.”

Ford, famously known as a scrupulous fashion designer, has repeatedly said that A Single Man , adapted from the short novel by Christopher Isherwood, is his most personal work to date. “There's an enormous amount of me in the book,” he confessed in a separate interview during TIFF, only hours after he had signed a distribution deal with Miramax (Ford provided much of the film's financing in the wake of Lehman Brothers going bankrupt last year).

In collaboration with Canadian screenwriter David Scearce, Ford said he was able to “graft a lot of my own struggles that I was going through in life” onto the story (fortunately, he had the support of Isherwood's partner, Don Bachardy).

The role of director suits him, he added. “Having always been in fashion and the business side of fashion, I'm very pragmatic and I like that part of being in control. A lot of people have criticized me for it, but as a designer, if you're not in control, you're not designing. The whole point is, it's my way; that's what a designer is.”

A Single Man is meant to explore the spiritual side of life; Isherwood studied the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta, where Ford has looked to the classic Chinese text Tao Te Ching for answers beyond the material world. As George's day advances with the dreamy cadence of a Debussy composition, he begins to see everything with added richness – colour manipulation in postproduction transforms objects and people from wan to Technicolor – because he believes it's his last opportunity to take it all in. It's an existential narrative wrapped in the same mid-century modern slickness as Mad Men .

And while setting the story in the present could have worked, staying faithful to the era worked that much better. For one thing, “being gay isn't as much an issue today,” he said. “I was also born in 1961; my earliest memories of my mother are with the beehive hairspray, so for me it's also [a] very personal era because it's among my first memories of beauty.”

Ford modelled George's boozy pal Charley, wonderfully played by Julianne Moore, after his grandmother, right down to the pink cigarettes. Ford said he was beside himself when costume designer Arianne Phillips (regular stylist to Madonna) showed him the vintage black-and-white dress that Charley would eventually wear for the dinner scene and it was from the same now-defunct store El Pavon where his grandmother shopped in New Mexico.

“There were a lot of weird things like that [that] happened on [the] movie,” he said, pointing out that he shares the same astrological sign, Virgo, as Firth and Isherwood.

The appeal of the film for Firth was that “it didn't seem to conform to any conventions … so it was a leap into the unknown.” But the opportunity to work with Ford, who he knew little about, proved even more compelling. “It had been proposed to me by a very, very brilliant man who never made a film before.”

What excited him less was the scene where he strips down to go night swimming. “The hardest thing is when you read a script and see you have to take your shirt off. And you think, oh God, how many hours of [exercise] do I have to do or how many lentils do I have to eat?” Firth deadpanned.

Ford said working with great actors made his transition into filmmaking that much smoother. And for someone who's directed fashion spreads and ad campaigns, it's not as if he was new to working behind the camera. “I felt so comfortable from the moment I started. You know, the only nerve-wracking day I had was the very first day where I had to say ‘action' and ‘cut' because I was terrified to say ‘cut,'” he said, laughing. “I wanted to make sure I knew how to do that.”

A Single Man opens in select Canadian theatres on Dec. 11.

Jason Lewis Gives Great Text

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Gayle MacDonald

(December 8, 2009) Fans know him best as the hunky ex-boyfriend of Sex and the City man-eater Kim Cattrall. Now,
Jason Lewis, a California native with surfer-boy good looks, landed in Canada recently to shoot an independent film called Textuality (about technology's impact on relationships), in which he co-stars with Canadians Carly Pope and Will & Grace alum, Eric McCormack. Directed by Warren Sonoda ( Cooper's Camera ), the set is a palatial home perched on St. George's Golf and Country Club in Etobicoke, the western end of Toronto. Lewis, 38, is dressed in a Hugo Boss suit for his role as a serial-dating stock broker. He takes a seat on the sofa in the family room to chat about why he jumped at a timely, cheeky (yes, there are bums) script that explores how technology makes it easier to be connected to everyone, than to feel connected with anyone.

How did you become aware of this movie?

I did a play up here in Toronto years ago at the Berkeley Street Theatre. The producer and writer [of Textuality , Marc Rigaux and Liam Card] just happened to know this kid I did the play with. He recommended me. They sent it to me. And I liked it, mainly because nobody's abjectly evil, good or bad in this. They're just human beings, with their own issues and character foibles.

You did some pretty memorable sex scenes in Sex and the City with Kim. Can viewers expect the same sort of outrageous stuff in this film?

Well, it's definitely going to be an R-rated film, or NC-17. There are bums and whatnot. But not any full frontals. This film is a classic comedy, built around a set of circumstances where you take somebody, put him in a situation, then you make it worse – and then you make it really worse. And he has to fight through it.

Did you enjoy working on Sex and the City , the TV show as well as the movie? And what was one of the most embarrassing things the producers asked you do.

It was phenomenal. In any situation, it's not the product you're making, but who you're making it with. And the cast and crew was terrific. But there was one scene I found tough when my character [Jerry “Smith” Jerrod] is supposed to go full nude in a play that he's doing. I think I did about 20 takes of that to a live audience. That was a wild night for me.

Have you ever been in a relationship that was too textual, i.e., controlled by Twitter, BlackBerry, Skype or Facebook?

Ironically, no, I'm old school. Don't get me wrong, I love texting and stuff, but I believe in face-to-face communication with people I care about, and having a full-on relationship. I'm one of those guys who sits down with someone to dinner, puts my phone away and doesn't answer it – unless there's an absolute emergency, and then you excuse yourself. Sometimes I think we put all this noise into our lives, so we don't hear the noise.

What's the key to a good relationship, then, given how many ways we have to get messages out?

I don't know how anyone ever figures out a relationship but somehow we do. To have a really good relationship with someone you have to be able to communicate and connect. And as great as technology is, I think it's blurring the lines between people, making things less tangible, fuzzier somehow. It just feels like an appropriate script for what's going on right now in the world.

Morgan on Mandela, Mirrors, Mississippi and More

Source: Kam Williams

(December 3, 2009) Morgan Freeman, Jr. was born in Memphis , Tennessee on June 1, 1937 but raised from infancy in Charleston , Mississippi by his paternal grandmother. Every summer as a young child, he would visit his parents who had moved to Chicago , which is where he developed his love of the cinema.

He started acting at the age of 9, exhibiting promise as a lead character in a school play. Although he had won a statewide drama competition, upon graduating from high school, he opted to enlist in the Air Force rather than accept a college scholarship to pursue his true passion.

After being honourably discharged from the military in the late Fifties, Freeman decided it was time to take his shot at showbiz. But he struggled for years, first finding work as a dancer, then on the stage in a variety of modest company productions. Eventually, he made his way to Broadway where he debuted in Hello Dolly in 1968, which led to his landing a steady gig as Easy Reader on the children’s TV series “The Electric Company.”

He subsequently appeared on such soap operas as “Another World” and “Ryan’s Hope” before finally landing his breakout role opposite Robert Redford in Brubaker in 1980. Hollywood soon took note, enabling the capable thespian to blossom into the universally-admired, consummate actor we’ve all enjoyed over the years.

A cursory glance at Mr. Freeman’s resume’ reveals a plethora of memorable hit movies, including Lean on Me, Glory, Unforgiven, Amistad, Deep Impact, Bruce Almighty, Batman Begins, Gone Baby Gone, The Bucket List and The Dark Knight, to name a few. He delivered Oscar-nominated performances, in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption before finally winning that elusive Academy Award in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby, which also earned Best Picture and Best Director honours for Clint Eastwood.

He reunited with Eastwood to make his latest picture,
Invictus, an uplifting, historical saga based on actual events which unfolded in South Africa shortly after the fall of the apartheid regime. Freeman, who still makes his home in Mississippi , spoke with me recently about his life, career and the challenge of portraying Nelson Mandela.

Kam Williams: Mr. Freeman, thanks so much for the time. I’m honoured to be speaking with you.

Morgan Freeman: Well, thank you.

KW: First, let me say congratulations on winning the National Board of Review’s Best Actor Award for Invictus.    

MF: Thank you very much.  

KW: Was making this movie a labour of love? I heard that it was something that you’d wanted to do for a long time.

MF: Well, it wasn’t necessarily this project, but I felt destined to do something about Mandela. I don’t know whether you know that in 1992, when he published his autobiography, he was asked who he would want to play him, if the book ever became a movie. And he named me. So, I was sort of the chosen one, as it were. Therefore, I expected that eventually I would play him, but we always thought it would be in a movie version of “Long Walk to Freedom.” It didn’t turn out that way, however.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0030565812?ie=UTF8&tag=thslfofire-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0030565812

KW: But you obviously also liked Invictus.

MF: My partner and I thought that this story was ideal. This one, we felt was perfect to go with.

KW: Are you referring to your partner in Madidi restaurants and Ground Zero blues club?

MF: No, to my producing partner, Lori McCreary.

KW: Jim Cryan, a reader with in-laws in Mississippi , says he’s enjoyed eating at Madidi down in Clarksdale . He says it’s very upscale, so he was wondering whether when you cook for yourself you make any down home Southern dishes like barbecued bologna sandwiches.

MF: I don’t cook. I’m a partner in the restaurant, but it isn’t because I like to cook.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman wanted to know whether you ever met Mandela.

MF: Yes, I’ve met him on a number of occasions, and have even been able to spend some time with him.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, how would you characterize your relationship with Clint Eastwood, as a friend, mentor or fellow artist?

MF: I think it’s as friend and fellow artist. Yeah, fellow artist, first.

KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, who or what has been your greatest source of encouragement and inspiration?
MF: Sidney Poitier, his whole life and career.

KW: She also wants to know, how important is spirituality in your life?

MF: Very important. Very important, indeed, although I’m not what you would call “officially” spiritual.

KW: Aspiring actor Tommy Russell asks, did you ever want to give up as an actor?

MF: Oh, yeah. Many times… many times…

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

MF: [Laughs] No, I’ve been asked everything that you can imagine.

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

MF: Afraid? Yes, I get afraid, because I’m an adventurer. I like to live on the edge. Afraid means you have an adrenaline rush.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

MF: Happiness is relative. I’m content.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

MF: Well, I’ve been with Clint and [co-star] Matt Damon the last couple of days, and we’ve laughed a lot.

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

MF: Oh, gosh… I’m sorry. I can’t remember what the last book was offhand.

KW: Maybe it’ll pop into your head before we finish.

MF: Yeah.

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

MF: An eclectic mix of people. Right now, I have a mix on my disc player of Norah Jones, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Al Green.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

MF:  My earliest childhood memory… I think my earliest childhood memory is of getting up one morning and putting my own shoes on. I put ‘em on the wrong feet.

KW: That’s funny, because my earliest childhood memory is being taught by my mother to tie my shoes while we sat under a tree in a park.

MF: Do you remember how old you were?

KW: Either 3 or 4.

MF: That seems to be about the same age that I was.

KW: The Mike Pittman question: Who was your best friend as a child?

MF: I had a lot of best friends as a child. My first one’s name was Sonny Man. [Chuckles] Then there was Bobo and Walter, up until I was a teenager.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

MF: When I look in the mirror, what do I see? I see me. What does that mean? Do you have any idea?

KW: No, because I don’t know how to interpret the answers to that question.  MF: I meant, can you interpret the question? What did you have in mind there?

KW: It’s a question I use often, and I leave it to each person to interpret the meaning. 

MF: Do you ever get any interesting answers to that?

KW: Yeah.

MF: Really?

KW: Sure, they can be very revealing! Ludacris said, “an entrepre-Negro,” Gladys Knight said, “A child of God,” Faizon Love responded, “The light! The reflection of the light,” Mo’Nique said, “I see somebody that’s full of life,” and LeBron James answered, “A great father, a great friend, a loyal person and someone who’s always trying to make a difference.” I like offbeat questions that people aren’t always asked which cause them to pause and become a little more introspective, like: Are you happy?

MF: I see happiness and sadness as two sides of the same coin. And if you’re somewhere in the middle of that, you’re going to float both ways from time to time, but you never know what your ambient temperature might be.  

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?

MF: I have this amazing belief in myself, and the idea proven to me time and time again that if you just keep going, stay on your feet, and keep moving, things will work out.

KW: Wesley Derbyshire asks, how is it that you always manage to evoke power, deep emotion, and true conviction onscreen, and in such a serene fashion?

MF: In my mind, acting is believing. That’s the way I learned it, and how I still think of it. So, in order to be true to any character, you have to believe that you are that character, and that you have his belief system working for you. That way, when you’re reciting your lines, you’ll be saying them from a place of conviction.  

KW: Laz Lyles asks, did you have to sacrifice a modicum of reverence for Mandela as an actor to bring out the full palette of complexity and humanity of a person as universally esteemed as Mandela? She says she heard Clint Eastwood mention some of the ways in which Mandela was flawed. So she’d like to know what it was like for you as an actor to get into the psyche of a person who is viewed as so selfless and spiritual, and to discover that he’s also flawed.

MF: Well, I had already read so much about Mandela that I knew a long time ago that not only is he a human who is flawed, but that there are certain personal failings as a man for which he cannot forgive himself. For despite all of his political triumphs, he feels unfulfilled in terms of his family.

KW: Carmela Reimers asks, how hard was it to get Mandela’s accent down?

MF: Very hard. In fact, that was the most challenging part of the whole role. It wasn’t impossible, but if I were to say any part of the role was hard, it would have to be that. 

KW: Uduak Oduok asks, how did you like shooting on location in South Africa , and how do you think Africa will be influence America , culturally, in the coming years?

MF: I really enjoyed being in South Africa . It is really an amazing place. We spent about 6 weeks in Cape Town and 2 weeks in Joburg [ Johannesburg ]. I still find it a very exciting country. As old as it really is, right now it seems on the verge of leaping into the 21st Century. Culturally, I don’t think Africa is going to have any more effect on America than it already has, which has been considerable. But I believe South Africa will have an enormous influence on the rest of that continent. I certainly hope so. 

KW: Larry Greenberg was wondering whether, despite your many accolades and accomplishments, there are any projects you still feel you must take on?

MF: Yes, I must get a few more historical dramas made about the black experience in America .

KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

MF: Working as an actor… Yep.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

MF: For anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps? I’ve laid down a lot of footsteps and tracks in different directions, so it would depend on which way they want to go. In general, I would say, “Gird your loins, and go where you want to go! Do what you want to do.” 

KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?

MF: By just remaining fans, and by letting me know if I mess up. 

KW: Have you remembered the last book you read yet?

MF: No, I’ve been concentrating on what you’ve been asking. Let me think… One of the last ones was Whiskey Gulf by Clyde Ford, a friend of mine up in the Washington area. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593155220?ie=UTF8&tag=thslfofire-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1593155220

KW: Have you been doing a lot more voiceover work lately? It seems like I’m always hearing you on TV and radio ads.

MF: No, sometimes I think I hear my voice, too, but it’s not my voice. So, you have to be a little careful there.

KW: Yeah, Richie Havens said the same thing. That there’s a guy impersonating him who has done a bunch of commercials.

MF: Right. If a good model sounds alike, some people go for it.

KW: Thanks again, Mr. Freeman. I really appreciate the time, and I’ve admired your career and enjoyed all your work.

MF: Thanks so much, that’s very kind of you.


To see a trailer for Invictus, visit HERE.

The Wright Woman For The Part

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Gayle MacDonald

(December 07, 2009) When director Rebecca Miller was casting the lead in her upcoming, independent film, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, she auditioned every 50-year-old actress she could think of.

But after weeks of calls and meetings, the Ireland-based Miller still did not have the "right" Pippa. Then, out of the blue, she got a phone call from an American agent who said, "What about Robin?" - as in Robin Wright Penn, who this summer dropped the Penn portion of her surname after splitting with on-again, off-again husband, Sean.

"Robin had popped into my head, but I never seriously considered her because I didn't think an actress would want to age up," conceded Miller, during a chat in September during the Toronto International Film Festival, where she was screening her feature that opened on Friday in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

But the 43-year-old Wright had no qualms about portraying a woman in the half-century club. "It never crossed my mind," says Wright. "That's what we do as actors. We always try to step outside the box, at least that's certainly what I do.

"It's fun to explore, to reach - whether it be through a character's age or mind set. For me, the idea of playing someone somewhat older wasn't beyond my grasp."

That said, she adds she is a bit more sensitive to getting older in real life. "Of course I'm age-obsessed in my personal life. Aren't we all?" asks Wright, whose slow, sultry cadence caresses like a cashmere wrap. "To a certain degree, I try to age gracefully, to age bravely. But it's just a mantra you have to adopt."

Miller, who wrote and directed the script that is based on her novel of the same name, worked with Wright a full year before they began a seven-week shoot last April in the Connecticut towns of New Milford and Danbury, near where Miller was raised.

The prep time, Miller adds, was crucial, given the film's tight schedule.

"That's what's great about Robin," says Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur, who is also married to actor Daniel Day-Lewis. "She works in the tradition of a Gena Rowlands in a way, in that she just attacks a part with the heart of a lion. Robin is a rare actress. And she hasn't been overused, which I think is good ... because she's still quite mysterious to people, and has a lot of [untapped potential] people haven't seen yet."

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is the story of an aging, suburban housewife who is grappling with a seedy past (that she's totally submerged) and trying to deal with the declining health of a much older husband (played by Alan Arkin). Told through a series of flashbacks, the plot is a complicated retelling of Pippa's life as it follows the character from her days as a young girl in a dysfunctional family, a debauched youth (played by Gossip Girl's Blake Lively) to a woman who, seemingly, has the perfect life. That is until her marriage shows cracks, her relationship with her kids starts to crumble, and she meets the moody son (Keanu Reeves) of a neighbour next door. The film also stars Julianne Moore, Maria Bello, Winona Ryder and Monica Bellucci.

Wright says she loved the restraint of the Pippa character - a woman who wears pastel sweater sets and sensible Ferragamo flats. "This is not like any other role I've been given," says the Dallas-born actress, who appeared in films such as Forrest Gump and White Oleander. "I don't find it difficult to have layers brewing under the façade. Particular scenes, however, I found extremely challenging, like one with Alan in the kitchen, and another [sex is involved] with Keanu in the back of a truck.

"If I felt I didn't nail some isolated scenes - or if there were beats I didn't achieve - I'd want to reshoot. But you do that as an actor, always, in every movie. You pick apart your performance and trash yourself," says Wright, who punctuates that sentence with a low grrrrrr. "That's what makes you get up and do the next one. You want to do better."

Another hurdle was figuring out how to make the older/younger Pippas mirror one another. "I studied the physical aspects of Blake - the way she holds her arms and raises her eyebrows in the middle of her forehead when someone asks questions," explains Wright, whose teeny frame sports the designer scruff of faded jeans, T-shirt and a leather jacket. "I'm more visual in my creative process. I'm not so much about writing out the history of the person. I'm more of a mimic. I like to work on the physical, tactile things," says Wright.

While a lot of actresses in the 40-plus club find work increasingly scant, Wright says she's one of the lucky ones, with parts coming out her ears. In the next 12 months, for instance, she's starring in Robert Redford's The Conspirator, Ari Folman's The Futurological Congress and a remake of a French film.

But the frenetic pace suits the recently separated Wright, who adds that her two kids with Penn - now 18 and 16 - are at an age where they can pretty much fend for themselves. "One's in college, so it's a different ball game. It's going to be a busy year, but they're fine," says Wright, who recently showed up at the film's premiere in New York with her blond tresses now a luxurious shade of brown. She was overheard to remark "this is all about new beginnings for me."

Ironically in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, her character says something similar when she observes that her life plan is simple: "I'm just seeing what happens next."

Wright says she doesn't think Pippa has any regrets. And she, too, makes no time for them. "I don't believe regrets are beneficial for the future. Things happen for a reason, I absolutely believe that. And we move on."

Last Train Home To Show At Sundance Film Festival

Source: www.thestar.com -
Linda Barnard

(December 03, 2009) Canadian director Lixin Fan's first feature, Last Train Home, fresh from taking top prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam last month, is one of two homegrown movies to screen at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Joining it is director Adriana Maggs's debut, Grown Up Movie Star, a Newfoundland-set drama about a family in crisis, starring Shawn Doyle (TV's Big Love) and Tatiana Maslany. Toronto alt-country rockers Elliott Brood feature on the soundtrack.

The Park City, Utah, film fest, founded by actor-director Robert Redford in 1981 to showcase independent movies, runs from Jan. 21 to 31. Both documentaries and dramatic feature films – 112 movies in all – were selected to compete for prizes at the fest, representing 38 countries.

While the movies may not have Hollywood studios and inflated budgets behind them, that doesn't mean the stars and stories aren't impressive, as this year's line-up shows. Sundance is often an incubator for movies that go on to great commercial and critical success. Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire and An Education both premiered there last year.

Among the movies in competition at Sundance next month:

Blue Valentine (world premiere): Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this portrait of an American marriage.

The Dry Land (world premiere): America Ferrera, Ethan Suplee and Melissa Leo star in the drama of a U.S. soldier returning home to Texas.

Howl (world premiere): James Franco stars as the young Allen Ginsberg in this film about his groundbreaking poem "Howl" and the obscenity trial that followed. David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels also star.

Sympathy for Delicious (world premiere): Mark Ruffalo makes his directing debut and Orlando Bloom stars as a newly paralyzed deejay who becomes involved with faith healers. Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney and John Carroll Lynch also star.

Sundance is skipping its opening-night tradition of premiering an out-of-competition film. Instead, it will start with screenings of one dramatic competition film and one doc entry. Those titles will be announced later.

Other movies at the fest, including star-studded premieres screening out of competition, will be announced Thursday

For a complete list of Sundance movies, go to:
www.sundance.org/festival.

With files from Associated Press

Ben Affleck, Katie Holmes To Join Sundance

Source:
www.globeandmail.com - David Germain, Associated Press

(December 03, 2009) Los Angeles — Ben Affleck, Katie Holmes, rapper 50 Cent and The Twilight Saga: New Moon co-stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are taking their acts to the Sundance Film Festival.

They are among the stars of big-name premieres announced Thursday for Robert Redford's independent-film showcase that runs Jan. 21-31 in Park City, Utah.

Stewart and Fanning team up for director Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways , a portrait of rocker Joan Jett as she forms her band in the 1970s. Stewart also stars in the Sundance entry Welcome to the Rileys , one of 16 films announced Wednesday for the festival's U.S. dramatic competition.

The festival's premieres section includes 13 films screening out of competition, among them The Company Men , a corporate-downsizing tale starring Affleck, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello and Tommy Lee Jones. It was written and directed by Emmy-winning TV producer John Wells, whose credits include The West Wing and ER .

Holmes joins John C. Reilly and Kevin Kline for the gigolo story The Extra Man , directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, whose American Splendor won the grand jury prize for U.S. dramas at Sundance in 2003.

50 Cent appears with Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland in the crime drama Twelve from director Joel Schumacher ( Batman Forever, The Phantom of the Opera ).

The documentary line-up features a daring entry for the festival that takes place in the heartland of the Mormon church. Reed Cowan's 8: The Mormon Proposition examines the church's support of California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.

Among actors directing films are Entourage star Adrian Grenier, whose documentary Teenage Paparazzo premieres at Sundance. The film is an exploration of celebrity culture, inspired by a 13-year-old boy who snapped a photo of Grenier.

Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directing debut with the Sundance premiere Jack Goes Boating , in which he stars with Amy Ryan in a story of romance and betrayal involving two New York couples.

Alongside such Hollywood regulars, Sundance is adding a section called Next, featuring eight films shot on ultra low budgets of less than $500,000, mostly made by unknown filmmakers and actors.

“We're a discovery festival, but we're not just about the discovery of films. We're about the discovery of talent,” said festival director John Cooper. “We wanted to make sure talent wasn't getting past us because they're working in a low-budget form.”

Among the Next titles are Linas Phillips' Bass Ackwards , following a man on a road trip after a bad relationship with a married woman; Sultan Sharrief's Bilal's Stand, about a Muslim teen in Detroit coping with family strife while angling for a college scholarship; and Katie Aselton's The Freebie , in which she stars with Dax Shepard in the tale of a married couple who decide to grant each other a one-night stand with someone else.

Whose Idea Was 'The Princess And The Frog?'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 4, 2009) *Ironically, the inspiration for "The Princess and the Frog," Disney's first feature starring an African American princess, came from two Caucasian men: current Pixar-Disney chief John Lasseter and the late Walt Disney himself.

"The story really came from an initial idea of doing an American fairy tale, which hadn't been done at Disney," said "Princess" co-director Ron Clements to the Associated Press. "And setting it in New Orleans, which is John Lasseter's favourite city in the world. It was Walt Disney's favourite city in the world ... Out of that, it seemed natural that the heroine would be African-American."

Discussion of the character's race had some of the film's principals bristling.

"We walk around being black every day, and nobody talks about it," noted Anika Noni Rose, who supplies the voice of lead Princess Tiana. "So, I suggest you follow your instinct and let it be nothing to be talked about."

But the "Dreamgirls" actress admitted that the significance of can't be ignored.

"The big deal is that it will quietly affirm to young brown-skinned children that they are special in this world," Rose said. "And I think that it is a bigger deal to those of us who grew up without it and are now adults and have been waiting for it. It's exciting to us, because we know how important it is to our children to have, to be image affirmed."

Meanwhile, Essence has announced that Rose is the cover girl for its January 2010 issue. Inside, the actress reiterates what she told the AP about her character being Disney's first black princess.

"I hope we get to a point where black characters in mainstream roles is not something we think about; we are just there," she says.

FILM TIDBITS

'Fela' Headed To The Big Screen

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 9, 2009) *On the heels of Broadway's critically acclaimed musical "
Fela!," Focus Features announced it is developing a feature film based on the life of the African musician with British artist Steve McQueen directing.  McQueen, who made his feature directing debut last year on the Irish hunger strike drama "Hunger," will write the script with Biyi Bandele, based on the Michael Veal book "Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon." The Broadway musical has spurred a resurgence of interest in Fela, who died in 1997, and his Afrobeat musical style, which is a fusion of American jazz, funk and West African drums.  The musical is not connected to the film project: Focus is basing its project on a rights package consisting of screen rights to Fela's music and his life story, plus Veal's book, according to Variety.  Fela lived large -- with some 27 wives -- and paid a high price for speaking out against oppression in Nigeria. In one attack on his home, Fela's 78-year-old mother was killed after being thrown from a second-story window. Fela responded by placing her coffin on the steps of the Nigerian leader's residence.  Focus president James Schamus said the movie deal was not a reaction to the musical's opening. Producer Lydia Pilcher of Cine Mosaic spent five years tying down the rights for Focus. Schamus made the "Fela" deal last week just as the Comcast pact to take over NBC Universal was being finalized.  •Focus Features is the specialty films unit of NBC Universal.

::TV NEWS::

Canadian Idol Gig Pays Off For Being Erica Rocker

Source: www.thestar.com - Debra Yeo

(December 8, 2009) You could consider it lucky that
Sebastian Pigott's biggest acting gig to date also allowed him to show off his musical chops.

He certainly does.

"That was the gift of this job, to get to play and write (music) as a part of the show," says the 26-year-old Torontonian, who played rock-star-cum-barista Kai on Season 2 of the CBC series
Being Erica.

The season finale airs Tuesday at 9 p.m.

The last time Pigott was on TV in a big way, in the summer of 2008, it was all about the music. He made it to the top eight of the reality singing competition
Canadian Idol.

It turns out that had something to do with him getting the
Erica job.

"Sebastian's appearance on
Canadian Idol was important because we were looking for somebody who was authentically a musician," says series creator Jana Sinyor. "Sebastian had the charisma and musical experience to make the role believable."

Pigott was convinced his acting wouldn't win him the role when he first auditioned to play Kai in March.

"To be honest, I felt like I'd screwed up the audition," Pigott says.

When the season started, Kai was the server at main character Erica's favourite coffee shop. But he and Erica (Erin Karpluk) shared a secret: both were involved in a unique form of therapy, able to travel back in time to relive and learn from moments of regret.

As the season progressed, Kai became a friend and potential romantic interest to Erica. (Pigott says the characters were having an "emotional affair.")

It was also revealed that he was a refugee from the future, a rock star who had opted to stay in his past, and Erica took an active role in helping him resolve his regret, over the suicide of his best friend and bandmate.

"We knew from the beginning that Kai would have a large arc, and it was always planned that Erica and Kai would develop a complicated relationship that would threaten her relationship with Ethan (Erica's boyfriend, played by Tyron Leitso)," says Sinyor.

Pigott says the challenge in playing Kai was to show how messed up he was without turning off viewers.

"I think he's got a really good heart, (but) he does a lot of things that if you're not careful you can just lose the character, where people don't like him."

Kai "doesn't like himself," adds Pigott, but his "redeeming factor (is) how much he loves his friends."

Pigott, who has been studying acting for five years with coach John Riven, thinks a good actor is "willing to admit to darker parts of himself."

Playing Kai meant mining feelings of self-loathing and insecurity, as well as the emotion of his father dying when Pigott was a child and the love he has for his older brother Oliver, an accomplished musician who also appeared on
Canadian Idol.

Oliver co-wrote a song for the show with Sebastian, "Alien Like You." Sebastian performed it in part in an earlier episode and sings the whole thing in a climactic moment of Tuesday night's finale. Pigott says the single will be available for download after the show airs (check www.cbc.ca/beingerica).

The Pigott brothers have a new album out,
Pigottry, and a video (shot in Georgetown) due before Christmas.

But Sebastian will continue juggling his music with acting and related pursuits.

He has sold a screenplay, for a modern-day western set in Grey-Bruce, to Canadian director Ed Gass-Donnelly (
This Beautiful City).

And he'll be seen in an episode of upcoming Canadian series
The Bridge, playing "a real bad guy."

It doesn't look like Kai will return to
Being Erica, assuming it's renewed, but Pigott would jump at the chance.

"Working with Erin and Michael Riley (who plays Erica's therapist, Dr. Tom), they bring it every time," he says.

"I feel
Erica is one of the best shows we've got up here. It's not derivative; it's not trying to be an American show. It's been picked up all over the world."

Soap Down The Drain: CBS Cancels Another Daytime Drama

Source: www.thestar.com - David Bauder

(December 8, 2009) NEW YORK–CBS cancelled
As the World Turns on Tuesday, putting the company that coined the phrase "soap operas" out of the business of making daytime dramas for the first time in 76 years.

As the World Turns has been on the air since 1956 and televised its 13,661st episode Tuesday. Its last episode will be next September, the network said.

It's the second daytime drama CBS has cancelled in a year, after Guiding Light. Both shows were produced by a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, the company for which the term "soap operas'' was created because it used the shows to hawk products like Ivory soap and Duz laundry detergent.

Daytime dramas have been fading as a genre for years with more women joining the work force and the increased number of channels offering alternatives like news, talk, reality and game shows. In tough economic times, paying casts, producers and writers proved prohibitive to networks when there were cheaper alternatives.

The cancellation will leave CBS with only two daytime dramas: `The Young and the Restless and The Bold and Beautiful.

Through the years, actors Marisa Tomei, Meg Ryan, Parker Posey and James Earl Jones have appeared on As the World Turns. The show follows families in the Illinois town of Oakdale.

"It's a hell of a Christmas present," said actress Eileen Fulton, who will mark 50 years playing the character Lisa Grimaldi on the show. Her character has been through nine marriages and Fulton was hoping for a 10th before the signoff.

"I'm just very sad," she said. "I'm sad for all of the people who work out there in Brooklyn (where the show is filmed). We're a family. I hate to be split up. It's like a divorce.''

Brian Cahill, senior vice president and managing director of the P&G subsidiary TeleNext Media Inc., said the company is actively seeking a new outlet to carry the show.

TeleNext said the same thing about Guiding Light, which went off the air in September, but has been unable to find a new home. Keeping the show alive online has been discussed, but that's an alternative where cost may prove prohibitive.

Procter & Gamble first began producing soap operas in 1933 with the radio show Ma Perkins, and has made a total of 20 such programs in its history.

Underwood Embraces Variety

Source: www.thestar.com - Denise Balkissoon

(December 07, 2009) The variety show was once a television staple, and Carrie Underwood thinks it might be time for a resurgence.

The country music star hosts Monday's An
All-Star Holiday Special on Fox, and believes it's just the tonic for the regular TV lineup.

"I think it's really great they're making a comeback because I think it's really good family programming, and nowadays it seems like every show is about, like, murder or police and people shooting at each other," Underwood said.

The 26-year-old was too young to catch the 1970s-'80s golden age of the variety show. It once was as common as the reality show with stars like Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell sisters, Sonny and Cher, and even The Muppets mixing music and comedy. But Underwood did her research before shooting her show in Los Angeles earlier this fall.

"I remember a little bit of the Mandrell sisters and I have gone back and seen episodes of their show just to kind of, I don't know, get some ideas and kind of see how it's done from a master's perspective," she said.

She also had variety show veteran and country music star Dolly Parton on the set to lend advice. Underwood said she'd never met Parton and the two hit it off right away – especially when they realized they lived close to each other.

Brad Paisley, fellow American Idol winner David Cook, Idol host Ryan Seacrest and Neil Patrick Harris also appear in the special, along with Underwood's mother and sister.

The show caps quite the year for Underwood. She won the Academy of Country Music entertainer of the year award in the spring, and her new album, Play On, debuted at No. 1. She also hosted the Country Music Association Awards for the second straight year.

`Badass' Who Wears Fanny Packs

Source: www.thestar.com - Debra Yeo

(December 09, 2009) Patrick Gallagher would like to achieve at least one thing with his role on Glee: make fanny packs cool.

No really.

"I'd like to have one," the Canadian actor says on the phone from Los Angeles.

"Women have purses; (men's) pockets are stuffed."

It was his idea to make a fanny pack part of the wardrobe of his character, Ken Tanaka, the football coach on the hit musical TV series about the travails of a high school glee club.

The shorts and knee socks and everything fitting a bit too tightly? That was the costume designer's idea.

"Patrick the person hates (the shorts). Patrick the actor loves them," Gallagher says.

"It would be nice for Ken to get a pair of pants," he adds.

Seriously though, the British Columbia-born actor is loving being a part of Glee.

The series has its fall finale Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox and Global.

The cast starts filming the first season's remaining nine episodes in January to air in April. And Gallagher, 41, is looking forward to getting back to work.

"It's kind of like candy with nutritional value, that's what that show is like, like a Twinkie that's good for you," he says.

"People really do love doing that show. ... It's a pleasant place to work."

Playing Ken has been a bit of a departure for Gallagher, who often gets cast in "badass" roles.

"I'm not really that tough a guy, I just look like one I guess."

His first real shot at comedy was the Night at the Museum movies with Ben Stiller, in which he played Attila the Hun. He's proud of the work and the fact he created a language for Attila to speak in the films.

"I haven't done a lot of comedy. It's actually really nice. I've played a whole bunch of different stuff," he says, part of the advantage of being a character actor.

He's been a vampire in True Blood, a detective in the Canadian series Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall (the shows "that helped propel me to where I am now"), a British seaman in Master and Commander, even a racist coffee shop owner in the miniseries Taken.

And then there's Ken.

Gallagher's happy that Ken's been able to grow a little on Glee.

"I think Ken in some weird way is one of the most normal characters on there. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. ... He's lonely, a little bitter, but he's got a good heart."

From the teasers that have aired, Wednesday's episode portends developments in the love triangle between Ken, his fiancé, school guidance counsellor Emma, and Will, the Spanish teacher and glee club adviser whom she really loves.

But Gallagher doesn't give anything away, preferring to let us be surprised on Wednesday.

He doesn't know what's next for Ken, although he's heard some rumours.

He'd be happy if the producers bring back the Acafellas, the a cappella singing group that Will formed in one episode (Gallagher got to rap and dance, which he hadn't done for about 20 years).

He'd definitely like to sing again and he's got just the number: Radiohead's "Creep," his favourite karaoke song, which he thinks perfectly expresses Ken's feelings about Emma.

And, of course, he hopes to stay on Glee for another few years.

When it comes right down to it, though, he's thrilled just to be a working actor. He's been able to make a living at it for eight years now. (His last "regular" job was bartending at a White Spot restaurant in Vancouver, the same one fellow Canadian Cory Monteith, who plays Finn on Glee, worked at two years later.)

"To work at all in this industry is a big deal," he says.

"Even one or two lines in a TV show is no small feat. Thousands of people are trying to do that."

Network TV: Alive And Kicking

Source: www.thestar.com -
Mary McNamara

(December 03, 2009) Poor old NBC.

There they sit with The Jay Leno Show, TV's equivalent of that famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline, having called time of death on scripted drama and indeed traditional U.S. network television while all around them great new shows are popping up like the plague victim in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"I'm not dead," says ABC with its new comedy line-up; "I'm getting better," says CBS with The Good Wife and NCIS: Los Angeles. "I think I'll go for a walk," adds Fox with the runaway buzz generator Glee.

Meanwhile, NBC is hanging on with critical-maybe Community and on-the-bubble Mercy; the network was forced to "cancel" Trauma, even though it's not really cancelled per se, because there is literally nothing to replace it.

This is what happens when you panic – you leave your combat buddy for dead only to find he wasn't, and then he comes back for revenge. Network TV – it's aaalllliiiivvvee.

In all fairness, one can't put all the blame on NBC. Pretty much everyone has been mourning the death of network TV for years; it was a dominant theme at this year's Emmys, for gosh sakes. Beset by cable, YouTube, Hulu and the writers' strike, the American networks seemed like they were in a freefall, with only a few new bright spots – The Mentalist on CBS, for starters – offering any hope at all.

But in the summer, while media pundits were wasting way too much time and energy pontificating about the meaning of a 10 p.m. slot dominated by the new Leno show, writers, producers and actors were busy putting together a bunch of terrific shows. And not just on HBO and Showtime.

ABC had the best fall. Without much fanfare, the network brought us Modern Family, V, FlashForward, Cougar Town and The Middle. CBS added the wildly popular Los Angeles to its enormous NCIS fan base and threw in the wonderful The Good Wife to boot. (I like Three Rivers too, although a hit it's not.) Fox's Glee is a multimedia sensation, with Past Life and the regrettably named The Human Target set to debut in January.

Sure, there were a lot of misses too – Hank comes to mind, as does The Forgotten and Accidentally on Purpose – but still it was far from the sort of wipe-the-slate-clean season to which we have all become accustomed. And while American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance preempt their neighbours whenever they need to go into overtime, it's hard to say "There's nothing on TV" and make it stick. There's plenty on TV, and for once you don't have to have premium channels or BBC to see it.

Meanwhile, NBC is still stuck with Leno. Yes, it is cheaper to produce than a scripted anything, but so is televising city council meeting or kids' talent shows, and clearly that's not the answer.

It might have helped if Leno and his writers had delivered on what they promised – a show markedly different from The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, but they didn't. And no matter how much fans may love Leno and his monologues, it's difficult to imagine many people settling in at 10 p.m. for a 20-minute chat with Abigail Breslin, who is, after all, only 13, God bless her, even if there are paintballs involved.

No, as Leno's ratings fall, people are obviously using that block of time to catch up on the recordings of the other major network shows they love.V

TV TIDBITS

Dave Foley's Lost Festive Special

Source: www.thestar.com - Bill Brioux

(December 05, 2009) Missing from this year's TV Christmas list is one of the most star-packed entries of the past 10 years: Dave Foley's The True Meaning of Christmas Specials. The 2002 CBC offering featured the Kids in the Hall cut-up (heard in the new animated special Prep & Landing, see main story) goofing on the season with a who's who of Canadian comedy, including Mike Myers, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, Tom Green and Kevin McDonald.  Clips from the special can be streamed at YouTube, where Foley nails David Bowie in duet opposite Flaherty's Bing Crosby. Myers is shown in a bathtub full of money, and asks butler Green to fill it up with fresh bills from barrels marked "Wayne's World" and "Austin Powers." "We needed a house to shoot that scene, so Tom Green let us use his if we cast him as the butler," Foley explained in Toronto at the CBC winter press launch. That's where he also spilled the beans on why the special has fallen off the holiday radar. "Our producer – and I use the term with a certain shudder – failed to clear any of the music and didn't tell anyone until after we shot it and edited it," he says. 

::THEATRE NEWS::

Civil Elegies: Lee's Poetry Resounds In A Brighter New Vision

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

Civil Elegies
(out of 4)
Based on the works of Dennis Lee.
Created by Mike Ross and Lorenzo Savoini. Directed by Albert Schultz. Until Dec. 24 at the Young Centre, 55 Mill St.
416-866-8666

(December 09, 2009) If we have nothing else to thank Albert Schultz for – and believe me, there's a lot – we
owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for reminding us that Dennis Lee is so much more than the man who wrote Alligator Pie.

All of this became clear Tuesday night as Mike Ross took Lee's 42-year-old
Civil Elegies and used it as the centrepiece of a thought-provoking and deeply moving piece of theatre.

Back in 1967, Lee was still a young man who sat in the shadow of the newly constructed Toronto City Hall and looked both backwards and forwards at the history of this city and this country.

Not everything he saw was positive, but what is amazing is how resonant his vision remains today. Lee's lament for a nation that has sold its birthright, is divided amongst itself and faces a "procession of holy wars" still sounds so many deeply disturbing chords that one is tempted to hail him as a prophet.

But from this vision, Ross has managed to snatch something that contains enough upbeat energy to make us look forward to the future with at least a smidgen of hope.

Ross sits at the piano, where he intersperses Lee's darker thoughts with some of his lighter or more upbeat poems, including "Spadina," the piece inspired by the 1970 demonstration against the Spadina Expressway, which is the closest thing to a revolutionary ode this city has ever produced

The magic of the evening rests in the way the oil of Ross's persuasive charm intermingles with the vinegar of Lee's bleaker vision. Ross has a unique style in his playing and singing, that reminds you of a Randy Newman without the underlying bitterness, or a Tom Waits who's managed to circumnavigate his way around despair.

He also has the charm of true simplicity, cutting up a Tim Hortons coffee cup to form a model of City Hall, or dipping his pen into a jelly doughnut to colour a hastily scrawled map of Canada the appropriate shade of red.

Director Schultz and designer Lorenzo Savoini have kept the production simple but eloquent, with a subtle use of projections that underscore the proceedings tellingly.

Lee had the initial insights. Ross had the idea of bringing them to the stage. Schultz made it all happen. To all three of these men, our thanks. 

Goldie Semple, 56: Veteran Of Shaw And Stratford Festivals

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(December 09, 2009) Goldie Semple, one of Canada's finest classical actors, who divided her career between the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, died Wednesday morning at the age of 56, following a long battle with cancer.

Semple spent 17 seasons with the Shaw Festival and 9 at Stratford, playing most of the great roles in the repertoire of both theatres. Antoni Cimolino, General Director of the Stratford Festival, where Semple first appeared in 1980, recalled that "She had a rare gift – she was luminous both on stage and in real life; a leading lady who was not only a statuesque beauty but had extraordinary warmth and intelligence. Her wit and vitality made her a delightful comedienne but her courage to reveal the truth – as when she played Constance in King John who has lost her only son – made her utterly heart rending. The Stratford Festival is in mourning for her loss."

Semple was born in Richmond, B.C. in 1952 and received her early theatrical training at the University of British Columbia, where her colleagues included her lifelong friend, Nicola Cavendish and her husband of 32 years, Lorne Kennedy.

Semple and Kennedy went on to study at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and then returned to Canada, where they worked almost without cease for the next three decades, staying together as often as possible.

Semple's most unforgettable roles during her Stratford years began in 1980 as Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, with William Hutt, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, with Brian Bedford, Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew, with Colm Feore and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra with Leon Pownall.

Christopher Newton brought her first to Shaw, where she made a stunning 1981 debut in the title role of Camille. After her Stratford years, she returned in 1999 with a brilliant star turn as Larita in Noel Coward's Easy Virtue and later went on to such triumphs as Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker and Rosemary in Picnic.

Semple kept performing during her lengthy illness and often praised Shaw's Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell, for structuring the seasons so that she could manage to work while undergoing treatment.

Her final performance was in the 2009 series of Coward plays called Brief Encounters, where she turned in three masterful comedy turns in one evening, earning smashing reviews and audience acclaim.

She is survived by her husband and their daughter, Madeline. Plans for the funeral service and memorial are to be announced.

Harvey Fierstein Gets Another Chance To Play Tevye

Source: www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(December 7, 2009)
When the 2005 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof closed, Harvey Fierstein didn't want it to end. So when Chaim Topol pulled out of the Toronto touring production last month because of injury, the gravelly voiced actor leapt at the chance to reprise his role as Tevye - the deeply traditional Jewish father swept up in a sea of change - and squeezed a 19-week run in around his work writing new shows with Cyndi Lauper and Alan Menken.

What was your history with Fiddler before you did the Broadway revival?

Well, I was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn and my parents took us to theatre once a month, at least. We saw everything. ... And then, one day when I was 10, I walked into the theatre, sat down and the curtain went up and there was a Jew centre stage. And that was a shock. I mean, there were Jews in show business, but they all changed their names and got nose jobs. But to see somebody standing centre stage saying, this is what it's like to be a Jew, and people in tears, it was shocking. I walked out of that theatre with this incredible pride.

But of course, this show has such huge appeal beyond the Jewish community as well as within it....

You can look at an audience, and you see a group of Hasidic Jews on one side, and a group of nuns on the other side, and a bunch of girls that have come on a class trip, and somebody in a wheelchair, and some tourists that are wearing I Heart NY shirts - and this disparate audience becomes one 10 minutes into the show. It's an amazing thing.

When you first did this role, you said it was taking a risk. Does it still feel that way?

No. Because, thanks to a wonderful director and a wonderful cast of thirtysomethings, I pulled it off. So it no longer feels dangerous. But there was a thing when my manager called me and read me this thing from Variety when they were saying, now that Topol seems to be retiring and the rest of the guys are gone or too old, that I seem to be the Tevye of this generation. ...That is a heavy thing to be dropped on you. But it seems that the three creators, Jerry [Bock] and Joe Stein and Sheldon Harnick have sort of given me the nod.

So you've made Tevye your own, now?

I'll never forget. There's a moment when he meets the Russian boy that the daughter is seeing on the sly, and the boy reaches out and shakes his hand, and it's an uncomfortable moment. I did it, and when the boy wasn't looking, I wiped my hand off. And Joe Stein said, 'What the hell are you doing? You can't do that! It's not nice!' And I said, well, prejudice is not nice. He said, 'What do you mean, prejudice?' And I said, if Tevye wasn't prejudiced, why would God make his daughter marry a Russian boy? And he said, 'Go ahead, do it.'"

I've seen you described as an atheist. How do you find playing this very religious man?

I find it fascinating. I am, as you say, an atheist, but that doesn't mean I'm not a spiritual person. ...But, by the same token, playing this role of this man who begins the show with God in his back pocket - though I'm sure God would argue the other way around - [and moves] to actually questioning God as to why he's doing this shit - wars, floods, revolutions, and other catastrophes, 'all the little things that bring people to you' - you know, he's not above bargaining with God. But by the end of the first act, he's pissed at God. ... It's really interesting to watch God change his role in this man's life.

Stepping into the void as you have, has the rehearsal period felt short, or is it like riding a bike?

It's a different production, so I have to learn the blocking, some of the dancing is different. And I like that. It's a little bit of a challenge.

NAC Gets A 40th Anniversary Present

Source: www.globeandmail.com - J. Kelly Nestruck

(
After years of waiting, Peter Hinton has finally got the present he's longed for under the Christmas tree: A quarter-century after it was disbanded, the National Arts Centre's resident acting company has been reborn.

Comprised of 18 actors from across the country, the NAC's English Theatre Acting Company takes its first bow Dec. 11 in Ottawa, in artistic director Hinton's new adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol  starring Stratford Shakespeare Festival favourite Stephen Ouimette as Scrooge.

Then, in the new year, the company will return to perform in Bertolt Brecht's classic 1939 anti-war play, Mother Courage and Her Children, also directed by Hinton and then travelling to the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Since taking over the National Arts Centre's English Theatre in 2005, Hinton has made no secret of his desire to resurrect the acting company that was a part of the original vision of the NAC. That celebrated bilingual company was split down linguistic lines in the late 1970s, then dwindled until it was finally killed by budget cuts in the 1980s. “It took four years to find a way to integrate it back,” Hinton says over the phone from Ottawa. “I'm very happy that it has returned.”

What exactly is an “acting company?” For an art form interested in the nuances of language, theatre can be infuriating unspecific with its own jargon. There are plenty of theatre companies that don't have an acting company – what the word “company” means in this case is a group of actors who work together on more than one play or a whole season of plays, often rehearsing or presenting them in repertory. In Canada, the companies at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Shaw Festival are the two most prominent examples, though plenty of others have come and gone.

Most theatres hire actors for specific roles, one play at a time – like the National Arts Centre has for the past 25 years. It's the difference between being on staff or working on contract for a short period.

There are advantages to both models, but having worked at Stratford, Hinton is a strong proponent of the “fuller and richer” theatre that comes from having a group of actors bond over an extended period together.

The primary benefit is in a longer gestation period. At most theatres in Canada, productions will get anywhere from two to four weeks of intensive rehearsal – not quite Dickensian working conditions, but often a race to performance that leaves little time for experimentation or a deeper investigation of the text.

While the number of rehearsal hours may not necessarily be that much more in a company situation, they are spread out over a longer period of time.

In the case of A Christmas Carol and Mother Courage , the two plays have been rehearsed in tandem since the end of October. Now that A Christmas Carol is opening, the company will continue to work on Mother Courage during the day until it premieres in January.

This less hectic schedule is heaven for Tanja Jacobs, a regular performer at the NAC who will be playing the titular war profiteer in Mother Courage , one of the great female parts in 20th-century drama. “It's is the role of my lifetime, I think,” says Jacobs. “And it's fantastic to have the time think about it.”

Another advantage to having a resident acting company is that it broadens a theatre's image in the eyes of the public. “In the past, my face has been the way we personify the theatre,” says Hinton. “Now, it's the faces of a lot of people.”

Indeed, the English Theatre Acting Company is diverse in every way except language; the original bilingual company was an expression of a bicultural vision of the country, but the new one represents our current multicultural reality. There are visible minorities such as black actor Michael Blake, a stand-out graduate of Soulpepper Academy in Toronto, and mixed-race actor Julie Tamiko Manning, whose play Mixie and the Halfbreeds recently caused a stir in Vancouver. Representing aboriginal Canada – an aim Hinton always has in sight – is Métis artist Jani Lauzon, a co-founder of the Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble. There is even an apprentice actor with Down syndrome in the cast – Vancouver's Niall Patrick McNeil. “I think our company looks a lot more like the country than I do on my own,” Hinton adds.

While this roster is certainly inclusive, will it pay off artistically? Jacobs thinks so, describing the rehearsal-room atmosphere as one full of the optimism and generosity that breeds good theatre. “I've experienced this from time to time in regional theatres and in the big festival situations, but I think this balance of diversity – of race, of sexual orientation, of ability, of experience, of what part of Canada one has grown up in – is unique.”

The English Theatre Acting Company is currently being billed as a 40th-anniversary treat for the NAC – but Hinton fully intends for it to become established. His plans for expansion include a national audition tour, growing the company by another 10 actors, hiring more apprentice actors, integrating playwrights and other directors into the mix and expanding the repertoire to four or five plays a season.

But for the time being, Hinton and his 18 actors are thankful for what they have this holiday season. “Like every true theatre person, I have longed to be a part of something permanent all my life,” says Jacobs. “This is a dream that's finally come true.”

A Christmas Carol continues at Ottawa's National Arts Centre until Dec. 26.

Finally, A Holiday Romance That Makes Scents

Source: www.thestar.com -
Richard Ouzounian

Parfumerie
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
By Miklós Laszló. Adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins. Directed by Morris Panych. Until Dec. 24 at Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St.
416-866-8666.

(December 03, 2009) The best Christmas presents are the ones that surprise you and who would have ever thought a 72-year old Hungarian play would prove to be one of the major delights of the 2009 theatre season?

Parfumerie is its name, and in the production Morris Panych has directed for Soulpepper Theatre that opened Wednesday night, it's the kind of show that you dream about: funny, touching, perfectly performed, beautifully designed, smartly written and impeccably staged.

The plot is familiar from a whole variety of offshoot that have sprung from this source, ranging from She Loves Me to You've Got Mail, but in this – the original incarnation – we're in a Budapest cosmetics store at the start of the Christmas season.

At the heart of every version is the story of two people who seem to hate each other in real life, but love each other as secret pen-pals.

They couldn't be more exquisitely played than they are here by Oliver Dennis and Patricia Fagan, with him an uptight, snappy otter and her a sloppy, prickly porcupine. It's sheer joy to watch the way these two mismatched souls bicker their way into each other hearts.

But that's just the beginning. Adapters Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins have made room for other heart-warming stories on the stage, by concentrating on the Chekhovian heartbreak that settles on the shop's owner when he discovers his wife is having an affair.

Joseph Ziegler brings such a delicately wounded sensibility to the aging cuckold that you simply want to hug him and make the pain go away.

Ultimately, you feel that way about everyone in the shop, from the wonderfully meddling senior clerk of Michael Simpson, the sleek but sleazy ladies' man of Kevin Bundy, the gauche yet delightful apprentice of Jeff Lillico and the faithful old retainer of Brenda Robins.

It's the Soulpepper company at their best: grasping the particular style of a grand play from the world library and bringing it onto the stage with seemingly effortless teamwork.

Within the candy-box set of Ken MacDonald, Panych knows just how to manipulate his cast, swirling them in giddy patterns one minute, then freezing everything into a simple, stunning picture the next.

What's equally superb about Panych's work is that he respects and embraces the sentiment of the work, but knows how to leaven it with humour and occasional cynicism to stop the blend from getting too treacly.

This is a wonderful holiday show for adults, with an ending guaranteed to have you reaching for your handkerchief as the snow falls and the Christmas lights twinkle.

See it with someone you love if you can, but see it you must.

One-Hit Wonders Make A Musical Smash

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(December 05, 2009) A song you'll never forget from an artist you can't remember.


That's what we call a "one-hit wonder," and the archives of modern music are full of them.

Sure, we can all "
Play That Funky Music," but who initially issued the command? We know what it's like to be "Torn Between Two Lovers," but what lady suffered the heartache first? And, come to think of it, who originally asked the musical question, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" (The singers of those songs, by the way, are: Wild Cherry, Mary MacGregor and Baha Men. See what I mean?)

Howard Pechet, the executive producer of Stage West, has been intrigued – some might say obsessed – with these one-trick pop ponies for years. And together with director-choreographer Timothy French, he put together a musical revue called One-Hit Wonders. After a smash run in Calgary earlier this year, the show is now playing at Stage West Mississauga until Feb. 7.

On the phone from Edmonton, Pechet admits that "I've been thinking about doing a show like this for so long that I forget when the original idea occurred."

The main hurdle was figuring out how to string all these various songs together. What made it click for him was discovering the saga of Norman Greenbaum.

Never heard of him? Welcome to the club. He was an obscure singer/songwriter who hit it big in 1969 with a song called "Spirit in the Sky." Greenbaum didn't dramatically drop off the radar as soon as that song peaked, but kept slogging away for five years with diminishing returns and finally vanished out of sight.

What made an impression on Pechet was that at one point, "his record company owed him $250,000 in royalties and didn't know where to find him."

The ultimate one-hit wonder.

For the record, Greenbaum now lives in California and is "devoting my energies to developing `Spirit in the Sky,' the website." Yes, you can surf to www.spiritinthesky.com and see what ol' Norm looks like today.

Or you can drop by Stage West and catch up with the other 71 songs ready to bring back memories of favourite one-hit wonders.

For more information and tickets, go to www.stagewest.com or call 905-238-0042

ONE-HIT BIOS: A SAMPLING

CHARLENE ("I've Never Been To Me")

Originally recorded in 1976, it went nowhere. Charlene Marilynn D'Angelo left showbiz and was working in a candy shop in England when a Tampa deejay started plugging the song again in 1982 and made it a hit. It became big all over again when featured in the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but it still never helped Charlene have another hit.

FALCO ("Rock Me Amadeus")

The man born in Vienna as Johann Hölzel in 1957 trained as a classical musician before throwing it all away to become a European rock star. His only song ever to make it big in North America was 1986's "Rock Me Amadeus," released in the wake of Milos Forman's successful film about Mozart. He spent the rest of his career unsuccessfully trying to duplicate it, and died in a 1998 car crash.

LOS DEL RIO ("Macarena")

This Spanish duo is made up of Antonio Romero Monge and Rafael Ruíz. Aftermore than 40 years as professional entertainers in their native country, they exploded onto the world scene with the novelty dance "Macarena," which spent a record 14 weeks at the top of the charts in 1994. They've continued recording, but follow-ups such as "Macarena Christmas" and "Fiesta Macarena" never made it big.

BENNY MARDONES ("Into the Night")

This Cleveland native was a one-hit wonder who made it twice. His 1980 pop fave brought him attention for a few years, but he never made anything out of it and faded from view. Then, in 1989, a radio feature called "Where Are They Now?" featured Mardones and his song, making it a hit all over again, but – just like the first time – he never had another success.

JEANNIE C. RILEY ("Harper Valley PTA")

Riley was only 23 when her song about hypocrisy in suburbia became No. 1 on the pop and country charts simultaneously. She rode that tune and her sexy image for about a decade, but never had another hit. In 1980 she became a born-again Christian and wrote her autobiography, From Harper Valley to the Mountaintop.

::OTHER NEWS::

Howie Mandel's Good Clean Fun

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian

(December 5, 2009) You wouldn't describe Howie Mandel as "touchy-feely."

Not only would such a cozy term be emotionally wrong for the edgy, often abrasive comic and host of Deal or No Deal, but it's physically inaccurate as well, a fact you'll discover from reading his new book,
Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me, which explores in depth the fact that Mandel is a lifelong germophobe suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.

"You know what that means?" Mandel snaps over the phone from his Los Angeles home.

"If somebody is stupid enough to grab my hand, then I have to run into the nearest bathroom, scrub down with the strongest soap I can find, hold my hand under scalding water until I scream and then send somebody out in search of disinfectant.

"Purell," he snarls. "The rest of you people think you discovered it when H1N1 came along. I've been buying it by the truckload for years."

Mandel first went public about his condition accidentally 10 years ago, when he was on The Howard Stern Show one morning and found himself physically unable to leave the studio during the live broadcast.

It seems that one of the other guests had been demonstrating how he could manipulate his genitals in much the same way that children's entertainers make animals out of balloons.

The only problem was that, when exiting, he touched the studio doorknob with the same hand with which he had manipulated his penis – without washing it.

"You have to understand," Mandel says, "to me, that was all the horrors coming together at once: nudity, sex, germs, public exposure. I could not touch the same doorknob that man had used. I could not!"

Stern baited Mandel and provoked him into a meltdown during which he admitted, on air, that he was both a germophobe and suffers from OCD.

"At the time, I thought my life was over," Mandel says. "Now I know it had just begun. It wasn't a secret any more, so it lost some of the darkest parts of its power."

To try to figure things out, Mandel goes back to Toronto, where he was born on Nov. 29, 1955, and recalls a family who, while "they coddled and loved and supported me, were also a bit driven about cleanliness.

"Look, I'm not a doctor. Just because I have the disease doesn't mean I'm an expert about what caused it. But if someone came over to my crib to make nice with me, my mother would wait until they turned around, then spray the Lysol all over the exact spot on the railing they had touched.

"Maybe that's how it starts. Her mom had a cleanliness fetish that she passed on to her and she passed it on to me. That's kinda normal. We all have the same thoughts, you know – you don't want to put your finger on something ooky – but for people like me, it becomes an obsession, a compulsion, and you cannot stop it, and soon it takes over your life."

As if the germophobia and OCD weren't enough, Mandel realized later in life that he had also been suffering all along from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. "Yeah," he grumbles, "I had the whole damn alphabet ganging up on me."

But once again, it wasn't particularly funny to live through.

"My mother would see this kid coming home. I was angry and lonely and resentful. My issues made sense to me, just not to anybody else. And there wasn't a name back then anybody could put on it. It was just me. Howie being Howie."

To anyone who knew him then, that was a frightening thing.

"The most common reaction from adults to me as a kid," Mandel recalls, "was them making a `tch!' sound and then rolling their eyes. I always let it all out. I had tantrums. I would act out. If I got bored in class, I'd start passing out candy. I didn't know I had a psychological condition. I didn't know I was a sick kid. I was just weird Howie."

But he finally found a place where weird Howie made sense: in the world of stand-up comedy.

On April 19, 1978, he decided to take part in amateur night at Yuk-Yuk's and, although he can't recall specifically what he said or did, he knew that "I was in my comfortable place, my happy place. I just spewed. It was very scary, I guess. The thrill and fear of being on the roller coaster.

"I'm very aware of how the audience is reacting and I rise up to meet them. Okay, they like this, then let's go in this direction. Whoa, they're pulling back, time to try something else. It's just the most exhilarating thing in the whole world."

For the only time in our conversation, Mandel lets a moment go by without filling it, and then he says, "I wish my whole life could be one big stand-up routine. From the moment I open my eyes, I wish someone could say, `Ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel.'"

He became an overnight success by 1979 and rode the comedy coaster for the next three years, putting rubber gloves over his head and acting out any demented fantasy that occurred to him.

Then, in 1982, TV came calling with the most unlikely project: a hospital drama series laced with black comedy called St. Elsewhere.

"To this day, I don't know why they called me. I was a replacement for somebody who was already there that they asked to leave. They shut down the pilot until they cast me. And I always felt like the odd man out. They were actors; I was a comedian."

But he played Dr. Wayne Fiscus for six seasons before going back to the world of stand-up and shows such as the animated series Bobby's World. Then, after the failure of his syndicated talk fest, The Howie Mandel Show, he saw his career dwindling into a series of pointless special appearances.

"I was about to quit the business when they offered me Deal or No Deal. I said `No, this is humiliating. I don't want to be a game show host.' And my wife said `You idiot, take the deal.'"

Since hitting the air in 2005, it has revitalized his career "and liberated me to do this book."

Mandel is more self-aware now, but it doesn't mean he's turned into a softie.

"Look, we all know we're going to die. As my therapist says, `Nobody gets out alive.' So just be aware of what you're doing while you're alive."

He also has the last word on his various diseases. "People always ask me if they're a gift. And I say, if they are, I want to return them."

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game - Prequel Lacks A Sense Of Self

Source: www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
(out of 4)
Platform: PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PC
Price: $49.99-$59.99
Rated: T

(December 05, 2009) Near the beginning of James Cameron's
Avatar: The Game, Sigourney Weaver briefs your character by saying: "I guarantee you this is the most hostile planet you've ever seen, but keep an open mind and she'll reward you in ways you wouldn't imagine."

Just in case you missed it, another character says pretty much the same thing minutes later. Unfortunately, despite this in-game coaxing – which seems like it's coming straight from movie director James Cameron's mouth – the game doesn't manage to reward you for your time spent playing, and surprisingly suffers from a lack of imagination.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't your typical movie spinoff train wreck (see related story), it's just that it feels very standard. It tries to touch on many of gaming's recent trends – a decent single-player campaign, with additional multiplayer modes – and does a decent job, but certainly does not stand out in any way, save perhaps for its stunning graphical representation of the lush, jungle-covered planet Pandora.

Set up as a third-person action game, the title is a prequel to the film. You play as Ryder, a signals specialist for the RDA, the human army that is attempting to snatch control of Pandora from the blue-skinned native population, the Na'vi. Because of your special DNA, you are able to take control of an avatar, essentially a human-controlled Na'vi clone.

The split gameplay is probably the game's most interesting feature. It opens with Ryder as a human, and then as his avatar. Then comes the crucial point where you must decide if you want to play the rest of the game as a human soldier or as one of the Na'vi.

If you go down the human path, it's very much a traditional third-person shooter, with plenty of guns, vehicles and mechsuits that you use to blow away the aliens.

As a Na'vi, you have special abilities such as turning yourself invisible, although your weapons are much more primitive: bows and arrows, swords, clubs and poleaxes. The Na'vi game is more of an action-adventure experience, focusing on melee-style combat. The various missions on both sides are fairly basic – go here, get this, give it to that guy. It can get a bit tedious.

There are a few buggy bits: jungle zones where you get stuck, wonky controls on some of the vehicles (in particular, the animals the Na'vi fly on) and the usual third-person issue of trying to kill small enemies that get so close that they are out of your targeting view. But for the most part, you are a pretty effective killing machine whichever path you choose.

If there is something that stands out, it is how good Pandora looks, and playing the game you get a pretty good feel for the planet. The storytelling, however, is pretty ham-fisted, moving abruptly through what should be more meaningful scenes, like the first time you try out your avatar. The game's "Pandorapedia," meanwhile, forces you to click out of gameplay if you want to learn about the world's plants and animals.

The latter feature – and this game in general – is a must for Cameron fetishists, but for the rest of us it definitely pales in comparison to recent blockbuster titles like Assassin's Creed 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Even judged as something designed to build hype for the upcoming movie, I was a bit disappointed. Seeing Avatar 's alien animals, futuristic vehicles and verdant setting made the whole thing feel like a bit of a spoiler. 

::COMEDY NEWS::

Bob Newhart: Still Standing, As Long As The Jokes Don't Get Old

Source: www.thestar.com -
Bruce DeMara

(December 03, 2009) At 80 years old, with two successful television series under his belt, numerous honours – including three Grammys and the coveted Mark Twain Prize for American humour, awarded in 2002 – Bob Newhart just can't resist the urge to get out there on stage and entertain.

"I just can't imagine not doing standup," said Newhart, who appears Friday night at Roy Thomson Hall – one of the 20 gigs he still does on average each year.

Born in Oak Park, Ill., and growing up on Chicago's west side, Newhart realized comedy was in his blood.

"Comedy was something I was going to expose myself to," Newhart said, before pausing significantly.

"Well, that's not quite the way of expressing it, I suppose," Newhart said with a soft self-deprecating laugh, during a telephone interview this week.

That comic style – gently satirical, determinedly "button-down" and middle class – propelled him into a decades-long career and induction into the Television Hall of Fame on the popularity of his eponymous 1980s sitcom and his scores of other television appearances.

After failing as an accountant – he famously joked that his "close enough" attitude toward balancing the books showed he wasn't suited to a lifetime of number-crunching – Newhart said standup presented the first opportunity to find his comic voice.

"It (standup) is something I really didn't start out to do. But the first job I was offered was a standup job and that was the only job I was offered so I said, `Well, I guess you'd be learning how to do this. This is the only thing you've got going,'" he recalled.

After travelling far and wide – Newhart recalls one of his early gigs was in Windsor – his big break came with his first comedy album called The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, which won him Grammys for Best New Artist and Album of the Year in 1961, beating out competitors like The Sound of Music cast album, Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra.

"I found out later that Frank wasn't all that thrilled that he lost to a comedy record. It didn't take a lot to upset Frank," Newhart noted.

But if that sounds a bit critical, Newhart quickly offers an anecdote in praising of "Old Blue Eyes."

Newhart said Sinatra was known to close friends as Mr. Anonymous because he was very generous but didn't like to brag about it.

Once, while heading to an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Sinatra stopped for a shoeshine.

"(Sinatra) said to the guy shining his shoes, `What's the biggest tip you ever got?' And the guy said, `$100, Mr. Sinatra.' So Frank took out $200 and he gave it to him and said, `Now that's the biggest tip you ever got.' He started to go in to do the show ... and he said, `Just out of curiosity, who gave you the $100?' And he said, `You did, Mr. Sinatra,'" Newhart said.

Newhart has always avoided political humour – "because you wind up offending half your audience automatically, according to the demographics anyway" – and the use of profanity, despite the fact that the late Richard Pryor, the very first recipient of the Mark Twain Prize, is one of his idols.

"The language is language I wouldn't use but it's language that's appropriate to the story he (Pryor) is telling. It's the street language, which I would expect. I wouldn't expect Richard Pryor to say `Gosh, darn,'" Newhart said.

Newhart's other big idol is the late Jack Benny, a comic known for his wry cheapskate persona.

"Jack was one of the bravest comedians who ever worked because he wasn't afraid of silence. There are some comedians, they panic if they haven't got a laugh in the last 15 seconds," Newhart said.

"But Jack would take the time to tell the story because he knew it was going to pay off. I guess I'm not afraid of silence either as long as it doesn't go on too long, like a half an hour."

Part of the joy of performing these days is playing in old-time theatres and vaudeville houses that have been "beautifully restored," except the backstage dressing rooms.

"That's where the money stops," Newhart said with a chuckle. "Which is fine because it's kind of like the way it was years ago."

"As you walk on the stage, there's a whole bunch of people who have gone before you and it's kind of a nice feeling. You're standing there and you're getting laughs and you're saying, `Wow, I'm standing where Jack Benny was and he was getting laughs and I'm getting laughs.'"

Newhart, who has performed across Canada over the decades, has a soft spot for Canadian audiences because of their appreciation for his low-key comedy.

"There's something about the Canadian understatement and what I do that we seem to connect," he said. "I love Canadian audiences, they're very polite."

Just the facts
WHO: Bob Newhart

WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St.

TICKETS: $59.50 to $79.50 at 416-872-4255 or
www.masseyhall.com

Shaq Back With Another Comedy Showcase

Source: www.eurweb.com

(December 3, 2009) "
Shaquille O'Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam" part of a series produced by Codeblack Entertainment and executive produced by O'Neal, returns to Showtime this weekend with an all-new line-up of comedians.

Earthquake, Lavell Crawford, Melanie Comarcho, and Arnez J. will perform as part of Shaq's new special, which is scheduled to premiere Saturday, Dec. 5 at 11 p.m.

Directed by Leslie Small, the All Star Comedy Jam was filmed in front of a live audience at South Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater during the American Black Film Festival.

The first instalment, shot in Phoenix the night before the 2009 NBA All-Star Game with hosts Shaquille O'Neal and headliner Cedric "The Entertainer," aired on Showtime in June 2009 with a corresponding DVD release in September.

"We have been thrilled with the success of the first All Star Comedy Jam and are pleased to announce the next instalment of the special," said Codeblack CEO Jeff Clanagan. "This franchise is committed to showcasing the legends of the comedy business while giving an opportunity for up-and-coming comedians to shine."

The DVD of "Shaquille O'Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam" will be available on Feb. 2, 2010 at all major retailers and on-line at http://www.codeblack.com/. A third instalment of the franchise will be filmed at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game in Dallas with an airdate later in the year.

::DANCE NEWS::

Debbie Allen's 'Oman ... Oh Man'

Source: www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(December 9, 2009) *Actress, choreographer and director
Debbie Allen launched to fame in part due to her role as dance professor Lydia Grant in the film and the 1980s TV adaptation of “Fame.”

She came to the series as a Tony Award winner for her role as Anita on Broadway’s 1980 “West Side Story” and has since become a choreography star, a motion picture director and a dance academy founder. This weekend Allen presents her latest theatre project “
Oman Oh Man!” at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

“It’s a new dance driven spectacle. You could say it’s a musical because it has song and dance and dialog,” she described. The musical has its West Coast premier tomorrow, December 10 and runs through Saturday, December 12. 

“It previously played to a standing-room-only crowd at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre last March,” Allen said of the new project. “It was part of a festival called Arabesque that celebrated Arabic culture. I was the only artist chosen to create a newly commissioned piece that would somehow narrow the gap between Muslim and Christian cultures.”

Allen told EUR’s Lee Bailey that while the project could perhaps see the light of the Milky White Way, it is currently and modestly being supported by her theatre, the Debbie Allen Dance Theatre, the Annenberg Foundation, the Kennedy Center, Target Stores, and various philanthropic organizations.

“The importance of the message of this piece is so vital to the community and an inspiration for young people,” she said. “The message is that we are all very different, but at the same time there is so much about us that is so alike. We pray to the same God whether we call him the Almighty, or we call him Allah, or we call him God.”

The project was created by Allen who said that the initial plan for the project was for it to be a ballet, but after visiting the country of Oman, she was led to make the piece more complex.

“After I went to Oman, after I read 15 books, and interviewed different artists, I decided that we needed to have dialog [in the piece] because if you don’t hear the characters speak then there’s something that will be missing,” she said.

“I created it with Arturo Sandoval who is one of the most incredible composers on the planet,” she added. “The score is just spellbinding. In its essence it covers so many things. In doing this, it’s been a journey for me and for all the young people involved. It speaks volumes about the power of the arts.”

Allen calls the production family friendly, but explained that there are elements of satire that will attract teen and adult audiences, too. She also said that the piece certainly has conflict that brings a little weighty energy to the production, which is about two young military school roommates; one an American and one from Oman.

“There’s always conflict and as people are getting to know one another, there can be something that is a catalyst that sparks conflict between them. I think it’s important to have conflict so you can have discussion and resolution. There is conflict and there is a battle that takes place and it’s done in dance,” Allen described. “It’s great.”

Allen said that she chose for the characters to be quite young because it kept an innocent and honest air to the conversation about their conflicts and differences.

“It doesn’t become overly political,” she said, “and it’s something that everyone can embrace. I chose two boys because I was inspired by the Sultan Qaboos’ biography. At the age of about 13 he was sent away to military academy in Great Britain and he went there for many, many years. He mastered the English language, studied politics and even served in the military over there. He came back and really has been such an innovator in his country.”

“He just moved his country really fast into the 21st century,” she continued. “It’s very progressive. That’s why I wrote the story.”

Inspired by the charisma and character of Sultan Qaboos, Allen hopes that the production inspires audiences.

“Cultural diplomacy is one of our strongest tools of understanding and communication,” she said of using the artful production to motivate young and older audiences to think and dispel myths about Middle Easterners and their culture. “This is the mission that I set out on. For most people of the Muslim faith, it is about their dedication to God. That is what their religion is about.”

“Oman ... Oh Man” runs December 10-12 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. For more information on Debbie Allen, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, and ticket information, visit www.debbieallendanceacademy.com.

“We’re hoping everyone will come and enjoy this piece and join us on especially on our way into this holiday celebration, which is a time for everyone to forgive and embrace and reach out to one another,” Allen said. “This is a good time to be doing this production.”