20 Carlton Street, Suite 1032, Toronto, ON  M5B 2H5
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LE NEWSLETTER

December 22, 2011

The season is in the air, isn't it?  Let me take the time to wish you all a fantastic holiday with the warmth of friends and family around you. 
Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, etc. etc.  By the way, it is a somewhat shortened newsletter this week - busy times for us all!  I wish you all the joy of the season. 

OK guys the time is here - check out this coolest of cool live music events on Boxing Day - the
Revival VIP Jam! Trust me on this one - some big names and talent are going to be surprise guests ... never know who's going to show!  But no matter what, known or unknown - the live music and good vibes that come from this night will keep you warm the rest of the season!  Check out all the details under HOT EVENTS!  Check out photos from last year's jam HERE. Recognize any of your favourite performers?

When you're just recovering from all the love and good eats and starting to unwind, then it will be time to make plans for New Years Eve - and the soulful place to be this year is the
SOULFUL RESOLUTION!  Check out the details below under HOT EVENTS

This week's news features the scoop on
Motown Gold at Stage West; Jamaal Magloire back in Toronto; Olympian Ohenewa Akuffo; Ryan Gosling racks u another award; and so much more!  Check it all out under TOP STORIES.

Remember that you can simply click on any photo or headline and get to your entertainment news instantly. OR you can click on your favourite topic under the Table of Contents.
OR you can simply click HERE for all the articles.  

::HOT EVENTS::

Revival VIP Jam – Monday, December 26

Come out and join the funkiest holiday celebration at Revival Bar on Boxing
Day - the REVIVAL VIP JAM!  You never know who's going to show! (hint hint)  It will be a reunion of veteran vocalists, musicians and DJs who are coming together to wish each other festive greetings, get their funk on and raise funds for the Dave 'Soulfingaz' Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund.

Check out photos from last year's jam HERE. Recognize any of your favourite performers?

The Jam will be hosted by the Andrew Craig, Shamakah Ali, DJ's KC, Sean Sax, and other jam DJs.

A few years ago, a monumental movement known as the VIP JAM went from being an open mic Monday night gig in Toronto to a cornerstone in Toronto's live music scene.  It brought unity to all - long time performers, first timers on stage, and music lovers.  DJ's dedicated to playing real music also brought the funk ... and the JAM is remembered fondly and is still the talk of the town.

Dominique, Joe and the Revival staff keep that love burning so the reunion returns as
THE REVIVAL VIP JAM.

The stage will feature seasoned talent of the Toronto music scene who reunite for an evening of real music, celebration with friends and festive cheer.  Many surprise guests will be in the house - you don't want to miss it!  You never know who will be there!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 26
THE REVIVAL VIP JAM
Revival Bar
783 College St. (at Shaw)
9:00 pm

$10 Cover goes to donation to the Soulfingaz Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund
www.revivalbar.com

::DECEMBER 31:: Start The New Year With Soulful Resolution" at Harlem East Side

Harlem East Side:: Your favourite neighbourhood spot for soul food and good vibes is having a New Year’s Eve celebration just for YOU - Soulful Resolution.  Join us for a special New Year's Eve dinner followed by a night of dancing and celebration with our friends and family. Ring in the New Year with SOUL!

$60:  Soul Food - Dinner + Party (details below)
$30:: Soulful Times - Party Only (details below)
Soul Music - DJ Solgroove spins all night long
TICKETS ARE LIMITED

$60 Tickets ($46.88 + Tax & Gratuity) includes the following:

* A Dinner:
- Harlem Crisps
- Catfish Lafayette
- Jerk Chicken Quesadillas
- Southern Fried Chicken
- Jambalaya
- Blackened Catfish Etoufee
- Spinach Mandarin and Goat Cheese Salad
- Corn Bread
- Mac-n-Cheese
- Collard Greens

* Dessert
* A Glass of Rum Punch With Your Dinner
* Glass of bubbly at Midnight
* Party favors
* Admission to the Party

Reservations can be made for 6 pm - onwards

$30 Tickets (Tax included) includes the following:

* Admission to Party 8pm - until late
* Glass of champagne at Midnight
* Party favors

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31
SOULFUL RESOLUTION 
Harlem East Side
67 Richmond St. East (at Church)
$60:  Soul Food - Dinner + Party
$30:: Soulful Times - Party Only
Soul Music - DJ Solgroove spins all night long
TICKETS ARE LIMITED
Tickets:  Harlem Restaurant (67 Richmond St. East at Church) or book online via email: info@harlemrestaurant.com

::TOP STORIES::

Motown Gold Calls For Dancing In The Streets

Source: www.thestar.com - By Richard Ouzounian

Motown Gold
By Howard Pechet and Timothy French. Directed & choreographed by French. Until Feb. 5, 2012 at Stage West Mississauga. 5400 Dixie Rd. 905-238-0042.

(Dec 17, 2011) It’s really thoughtful of those nice people at Stage West to offer us our holiday gift a week early.

Motown Gold, which opened at their Mississauga home on Thursday night is not only the best musical revue they’ve presented in years, but it’s a show packed with such solid, classy entertainment that our city’s large-scale commercial producers ought to pay it a visit and bring it across that perilous border between 905 and 416.

There’s nothing new about Motown Gold. It’s the usual mix of dozens of pop songs from a specific genre, tied together with informational narrative tidbits and presented with non-stop precision by a talented cast.

The difference between this and other seemingly similar shows Stage West has produced is that everything works perfectly this time around.

Except for one stretch in Act II, when too many artists are flung at our head in rapid succession, the book by Howard Pechet & Timothy French keeps things moving at just the right clip.

Sure, it can still start to sound like you’re getting airline safety instructions from a flight attendant, but at least this time around, they’re from stylish Porter.

Samantha Burson’s set has just the right Motown feel, marrying the grille of a Motor City cruiser with an all-night diner’s jukebox. Allan McMillan’s lighting uses supersaturated colour to the best possible effect and the costumes by Rebecca Toon and Laura Nardone-Surdi just keep on a-comin’, all those in those peacock hues that no one wears in real life, but look delicious on the stage.

Especially in the show’s first act, where we get heavily into Smokey Robinson and the Miracles as well as The Temptations and The Supremes, director-choreographer French moves everything with a sleek and stylish grace that is truly poetry in motion.

And house musical director Anthony Bastianon, along with conductor/keyboard artists Michael Lerner, keeps the band driving along all those appropriate grooves.

Cast? Ten terrific artists, each one ready to light up the stage when their solo moments come, but content to be superb backup artists when those efforts are needed as well.

Troy Adams, sleek and slim and shiny-pated manages to sound sweet, yet intense, on “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” while the diminutive powerhouse, Karen Andrew, rocks the joint with “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

Tafari Anthony captures the right mixture of power and pathos with “Never Can Say Goodbye,” Andrew Broderick burns with a youthful intensity throughout, but especially on “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” and Louise Camilleri adds a gorgeous mixture of class and sass to every number she touches.

Teresa Holierhoek has one of those glorious voices that fills the stage with emotion,
Aadin Church is the perfect man to front those Motown manifestos, Jivaro Smith gives you goosebumps with “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” and Saccha Dennis perfectly nails a whole series of divas, including the great Diana Ross.

French’s choreography is almost journalistically exact in capturing those unique hand movements and pelvic shuffles that gave the form its classic edge and he constantly keeps rearranging his company in pleasing visual patterns, a must when you’ve got no story to tell.

Are there missteps? Some tiny ones. As mentioned, the second act could use some cutting and trimming here and there, with fewer artists being celebrated and less monologues to deliver.

And isn’t there a way to find an Afro wig that doesn’t look like a Chia pet? That’s the one visual where this show falls down.

But other than that, this is a winning wow of an entertainment that deserves to keep running in Toronto long after its Stage West closing date.

When you end with a rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as electric as the one on display here, you deserve all the cheers you get.

Finally, Magloire Comes Home

Source: www.thestar.com - Stephanie Findlay

(Dec 16, 2011)
Jamaal Magloire has always been Toronto’s biggest basketball star.

“Walking into the gym with him, it got quiet,” said Victor Herbert, Magloire’s former high school teammate. “Everybody was like ‘whoa, who is this guy?’ ”

Vince Carter came and went, but Magloire never forgot his Toronto roots and Torontonians never forgot him — even when his career kept him south of the border for 15 years.

Last week, 33-year-old Magloire became the first Canadian to sign with the Toronto Raptors.

Though most say his best days in his career are behind him — he was an NBA all-star in 2003/04 — most agree his experience, serious work ethic and charisma will help rejuvenate the moribund Raptors.

Yet homecoming for this Scarborough native is a bittersweet one.

It is a return to the city where he began his path to NBA glory, but it is also the backdrop to the tragedy that in large part defined Magloire’s young life: the still unsolved gun slaying of his 19-year-old half-brother, Justin Sheppard. Sheppard was a gifted basketball player struck down by violence just as his career was about to blossom the way Magloire’s had.

There’s little doubt history played a role in shaping Magloire into the closest thing to a model citizen this city’s basketball community has. He is the son of blue-collar immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago who became an athletic star thanks to his supportive family, a dedicated team of Toronto District School Board staff and a little luck.

Magloire and Sheppard used to play against each other in the off-season. “Neither one wanted the other to get the better of them,” said Audette Shephard, Justin’s mother.

The tragedy of Sheppard’s death motivated Magloire to give young Toronto ball players a little bit more luck than his brother enjoyed.

Every year, Magloire has summered in Scarborough to coach basketball teams and spend time with his son, Jalen. Magloire’s mother manages his charity, which is dedicated to helping youth, and his assistant is his old high school friend. He’s a fixture of Toronto’s annual Caribbean carnival.

“He understood where he came from,” said Simeon Mars, Magloire’s personal trainer and friend. “I think it’s his duty to give back, too.”

Jamaal Dane Magloire was born May 21, 1978, in Toronto, the first child of Garth, a welder, and Marion, an insurance worker. They lived in a townhouse at Sheppard Ave. and Don Mills Rd. Almost four years later, on Feb. 21, Justin Sheppard was born.

“He was a very rambunctious little boy,” said Marion of toddler Jamaal. “You couldn’t take your eyes off of him for one second.”

He was energetic and clumsy. “At that stage of the game, we were calling him ungainly and uncoordinated,” she said.

Still, he loved sports. Every Christmas, said Marion, her son would beg for an athletic gift. “Skates at one time, soccer at one time, until he found his niche,” she said.

That happened in Grade 6, when Magloire began playing basketball in the summer and winter.

“Despite what some people believe, the ball won’t freeze,” Magloire has said about his frosty practices. “It still bounces.”

In 1994, 16-year-old Magloire went to Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute, a school whose basketball team, the Saints, has been in the senior level city finals 34 of the past 35 years.

Mars, then the Saint’s assistant coach, would book the school gym late into the night and supervise an informal league of city basketball elites.

“I didn’t want them to wander in malls or streets doing nothing,” Mars said.

“You had guys who had gone away to school on scholarships, you had guys who played successfully overseas, guys on the Canadian national team, and just neighborhood basketball guys with a street reputation,” said Mars. “They’d all come in to play.”

One year after he arrived at Eastern Commerce, Magloire was transformed. In his second and final season at the school, Magloire, now co-captain, led the Saints to a 39-3 record and the Ontario high school championship, averaging 23 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots per game.

On May 21, 1996, he signed with Kentucky University, whose basketball team, the Wildcats, were reigning NCAA champions.

“You needed an 18 on the ACT (American College Testing) to qualify academically; he scored 21,” said Eastern Commerce head coach Lou Sialtsis. “He wore number 21 and his birthday is May 21 and that’s when he signed with Kentucky.”

Magloire played college ball for four years, earning the nickname “Big Cat” — “Jamaal was the biggest, strongest, baddest dude on the floor,” said Mars — before signing on with the Charlotte Hornets in 2000.

Magloire’s NBA career was inspiring for every young Toronto player, his half-brother included.

“Even though they’re from different mothers, they look alike, they smile alike,” said Shephard, Justin’s mother, “and they’re both like brick walls when they’re on the court.”

The brothers shared a love of Trinidadian food — roti, fried plantain and king fish —hip-hop and the soca music of the twin island nation.

Basketball and the number 21 were important to Sheppard, too.

“When Jamaal left Eastern Commerce, they retired the number,” said Shephard. “When Justin went to Eastern, they took it out and gave it to him.”

In 2001, 19-year-old Sheppard was planning to attend a Maryland prep school on a basketball scholarship, but was found dead on a little-used footpath minutes away from his Sherbourne St. high-rise, with two gunshot wounds to the head.

Magloire contributed $50,000 to a reward set up to find Sheppard’s killers; it was a very public beginning to his extensive community work in Toronto.

“I remember him saying, we’ll get through this,” said Shephard.

In 2005, likely with the tragedy of his brother’s death in mind, Magloire established JAMBA, a training camp for young basketball players, mostly from Scarborough. The next year, he coached teams.

He brought the same determination to his off-court work as he did to his games, said Natalie Richardson, Magloire’s assistant and high school friend.

“He came back when his season allowed. When the teams were playing, that’s where he was,” said Richardson, 37.

People in the stands were shocked to see the NBA centre on the sidelines, she said, but the boys expected it: “He’s here; he’s going to come,” said Richardson.

Magloire also began participating in Toronto’s Caribbean carnival (formerly known as Caribana) as a band leader in a masquerade parade. In 2007, after he formed his own band, he took the title of Band of the Year. The next year, too.

“We used to be a section in another band until he decided he wanted to bring his own,” said Magloire’s mother. “He’s a competitor, always got to be the best at what he does. He must have said one day, ‘I can do that and I can do that better than so and so.’ ”

That Magloire became a community leader is owed, in part, to circumstances beyond his control.

“He was blessed with Simeon Mars,” said Ro Russell, a longtime Toronto coach. “He had that father figure. If anything was going the wrong way, Simeon was there to stop it from going in the wrong direction.”

Magloire was one of the lucky ones playing ball in the ’90s, says Russell.

“You didn’t have as many people then that were helping young student athletes, mentoring them and helping them reach their potential,” he said. “Jamaal was fortunate to have a guy like that in his corner.”

Today, Mars is still working with Magloire.

Soon the two will be training in Toronto like they did at Eastern Commerce, almost two decades ago.

“We’ll go down to the Raptors facilities at night. He’ll continue working his skills, shoot shots,” said Mars.

“We have a wonderful marriage, so to speak, for lack of a better word.”

You were always on my mind

December, 1995: “I’m leaving high school a year early and I’m going to sign with a school this spring. My dream is to play in the NBA. Hopefully, I can play for the Raptors.”

June, 1999: “I have some other workouts scheduled, but I’d love to be here in my hometown and be a part of this organization,” said Magloire after testing for the Raptors. “I’ve worked hard and I definitely want to be a first-round pick.”

February, 2004: “All I can say is, I love my city and it’s where I’m going to be when my career is done. No city I’ve been to comes close to the city of Toronto.”

March, 2004: “The fans in Toronto always have treated me well. It’s always nice when your accomplishments get acknowledged in the city you grew up in. And Toronto is my city.”

May, 2005: “That would have been a great opportunity,” said Magloire about playing for the Raptors. “But everything happens for a reason and timing is everything in this business. My day will come when I will have my say and have an opportunity to play where I want. You know how I feel, again, about this city, the country and everything about this place.”

Brampton Wrestler Upended On Road To London

Source: www.thestar.com - Randy Starkman

(Dec 19, 2011) They call her “Auntie O” because they’re a little young to
get their mouths around pronouncing her first name.

Of all the people to whom Brampton wrestler
Ohenewa Akuffo had to break the news of her stunning upset loss at the Canadian Olympic trials this past weekend, the toughest to tell were her little niece and nephew — “Auntie O” won’t be going to the 2012 London Games.

“I’m letting them understand because they see how hard you work, they see how much sacrifice you make and that’s the hardest thing, to reassure them I will be okay,” said Akuffo.

Akuffo was the definite favourite heading into the tournament. She has won world championship silver and bronze medals for Canada, a gold at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She’s had a virtual lock on the 72-kilo spot since 2005.

But Leah Callahan got the better of Akuffo at the Olympic trials in Winnipeg on Saturday, beating her in both of their matches to earn a spot for London.

Akuffo is a class act. She was featured last week in the Star’s “Canada’s Women Warriors” story and video. She’s a very wounded warrior right now, not in the physical sense but certainly on an emotional level.

“I always say warriors in the truest sense, in your weakest moments and your strongest moments — it’s the combination of both that make who you are and make you stand strong,” she said. “In your weak moments, people bleed with you because they feel your pain. The pain is what carves out the intrinsic part of you.

“Either you give up on yourself or you keep going. These are defining moments. When you have a defining moment, it either breaks you or makes you stronger. I always say to myself, ‘You find the strength in it,’ because there’s a choice.”

Akuffo said she had no regrets about the way she wrestled in Winnipeg.

“I took a few risks that misfired on me, that were capitalized on by my opponent, but I was happier I took those risks rather than not,” she said, adding she was still reeling from the defeat.

“It’s still pretty raw. It’s like an open wound. It’s just trying to find yourself in the midst of it, that’s the thing. You’re, like, still in disbelief of the reality. You’ve been thinking about it every day of the year, knowing there was the moment and now the moment is over and you’re still evaluating everything.”

Akuffo is impressed with the women’s team that will represent Canada in London, including defending Olympic champion Carol Huynh (48 kg.), two-time Olympic medallist Tonya Verbeek of St. Catharines (55 kg.) and three-time world champion Martine Dugrenier of Montreal (63 kg.).

“They’re powerhouses. It’s going to be fun to watch and just cheer them on. I’ve been to world championships and Olympics with these girls and I know they’re going to do the country well.”

Akuffo is pulling hard for Callahan, too.

“I want Leah to do her best because at the end you’re still cheering for Canada and caring for her wellbeing and for her to have a good day because it’s for the country. Sometimes you have to get over yourself.”

Time deems Ryan Gosling Coolest Person of 2011

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(Dec 16, 2011) Canadian film star Ryan Gosling is Time magazine’s Coolest Person of the Year.

In a tongue-in-cheek article on the Time website, columnist Joel Stein praises the London, Ont., native for being “a man who is tough but emotional.”

He notes the Oscar-nominated heartthrob smokes, plays in a rock band and has broken up a fight in Manhattan, but he’s also known to strum on a ukulele-type instrument on the streets and dance ballet.

Time’s Coolest Person Committee picks the winner of the title, which it first handed out last year.

Stein says this year’s committee was “determined to pick someone whose cool was tested and pervasive, obvious even to the dorks who work” at the magazine.

The Coolest Person honour came as Gosling got two Golden Globe nominations: Best Dramatic Actor for The Ides of March and Best Comedic Actor for Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Gosling also starred in the acclaimed action-drama Drive and Blue Valentine this year.

Stein writes that Gosling is so cool, he refused to talk to him about the Coolest Person honour.

Last year, the honour went to actor James Franco.

::MUSIC NEWS::

Rick Ross Spurs Great Expectations

Source: www.thestar.com - By Christian Pearce

(Dec 21, 2011) Having graced Drake’s OVO Fest not so long ago, Florida’s biggest rap star,
Rick Ross, is back in town. Joining Washington, D.C.’s Wale for a Thursday show at Sound Academy, the Star gives you an idea of what to expect when Ricky Ross tests the structural integrity of another Toronto stage:

Hefty Cuts: Ross is a definite boss when it comes to big songs. Across four albums, he’s proven adept at making the type of tracks that cause a frenzy when performed live. From early winners like “Hustlin” and “Push It,” to assorted incarnations of “Maybach Music,” to recent bangers like “MC Hammer” and “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast),” Ross flies in with a full sack of sonic toys for hip-hop kids.

Unbridled Ego: What other rapper performs with a mammoth poster of himself as the backdrop? From before the point his music began to ride radio waves, Ross has been a picture of self-assurance. When he boldly informs his audiences, “I am the game’s biggest star,” you can bet he believes it now more than ever.

Wild Storytelling: Ross’s lyrics are a perfect example of why we were never supposed to believe gangster rap. Everybody in hip hop knows Ricky was employed as a correctional officer in his home state, eventually adopting the name of a drug mogul for his rap moniker. He has always been a character, hopefully consumed by fans with a grain of salt.

Stationary Delivery: Unlike fit colleagues such as Lil Wayne who bounce around as if on a perma-pogo stick, Ross is a statuesque performer. As he stands poised at centre stage, exaggerated noggin-shaking and thick arm-waving are the most that should be expected from the Teflon Don. Ross eschews theatrics in favour of a gritty delivery, boosting the believability of his image and lyrics.

Life-Threatening Situations: Ross’ famous breasts and belly belie the fact that insiders say he rarely rests. That professional abandon may play a role in recent seizures that led to the cancellation of at least one Ross concert. Hip hop has previously lost figures that rose to an unhealthy weight (Buff Love of the Fat Boys, Big Punisher), which exacerbates the physical demands of touring and performing.

Drake: Ross is a champion of guest appearances, in his music and on stage. His concerts have seen him bring out everyone from Diddy and Busta Rhymes to Pusha T and Akon. Given Ricky’s close association with Drake and the favours the latter no doubt now owes the former, if Drizzy is in town there is only one place he could be.

A Sistema Under Construction

Source: www.thestar.com - By William Littler

(Dec 15, 2011) You might say it began at Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School, Sept. 22. Then again, you might say it began that week in October 2009, when the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela metaphorically blew the roof off Toronto's Four Seasons Centre.

Sistema Toronto is a new arrival on the local scene based on
El Sistema (The System), a revolutionary music education program responsible for rescuing countless numbers of children from the crime-ridden slums of Caracas and other Latin American cities.

El Sistema is the brainchild of Jose Antonio Abreu, who was in Toronto that October week to receive the $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize for his pioneering work in music education and who brought with him not only his internationally travelled youth orchestra but an alumnus to conduct it, arguably the most exciting young maestro in the world today, Gustavo Dudamel.

Robert “Bobby” Eisenberg did not attend the Four Seasons Centre concert. It was only one of a number of youth orchestra events organized within the week with the help of the Glenn Gould Foundation, including a huge concert at the Rogers Centre at which 14,000 schoolchildren, bussed in from as far away as London and Windsor, shook the roof with their cheering.

The concert Bobby Eisenberg attended took place in a Rosedale residence, at which four string players from the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra performed Dvorak's so-called American String Quartet so impressively that the founder of York Heritage Properties sent a cheque to Brian Levine, executive director of the Glenn Gould Foundation, with the message “let's talk.”

Meanwhile, David Visentin, former associate dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music's Glenn Gould School, met Jose Antonio Abreu at the Rogers Centre concert, and flew down to Caracas as a volunteer guest teacher.

Upon his return he and Eisenberg, both inspired by their Venezuelan experience, launched a Sistema Toronto, with Visentin as executive and artistic director.

Not only did the Toronto District School Board's division of teaching and learning welcome the initiative (having participated in the Rogers Centre concert), classrooms in Parkdale Junior and Senior Secondary School were offered rent-free.

But a relationship to do what? In Venezuela, El Sistema is heavily funded by the oil-rich government as an after-school exercise in social engineering, a means of keeping impoverished, at risk children off the streets and giving them hope through music.

I use the term at risk advisedly. During my own visit to Caracas a couple of years ago I was told by an El Sistema teacher of the promising oboist missing from class for several days only to be found lying in the street with a bullet hole through his head.

Toronto is obviously not Caracas, but as David Visentin points out, poverty takes different forms. There is socio-economic poverty, as in Venezuela, and there is also the poverty to be found anywhere “when the light of potential goes out in a child's eyes.”

Parkdale, he suggests, is an ideal setting for Toronto's first Sistema, with its multicultural population. The ethnic groups most extensively represented in his first classes are of Tibetan, Hungarian Roma and South Asian descent.

Classes, as in Venezuela, are offered after school and free. Instruments are also provided free (thanks to Yamaha Canada) and the children are even given a nutritious snack to keep them fuelled before each two and a half-hour session, four days per week.

This year there are 60 students, all learning string instruments (Sistema does not require previous training), from Grades 1 through 4. Visentin anticipates doubling the number and increasing the grade level and range of instruments next year, gradually working toward Grade 12 and the establishment of other centres throughout the city, as funding permits.

The children can be seen at work, playing, singing and doing exercises in a demonstration presentation at Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School Tuesday at 5 p.m. And the electric violinist “Doctor” Eugene Draw will host a multi-performer benefit concert at Lula Lounge Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

In the long run Sistema Toronto hopes for government funding to help pay the bills. It costs about $3,500 a year to provide the musical training, or about a third of what one might expect to pay for private lessons.

And although the teaching is done by paid professionals, a volunteer support staff helps out. Mathew MacDonald, a drummer in the University of Toronto's jazz program, explains his motivation succinctly: “I wouldn't dream of taking money for this work. It's too important. It gives the kids an outlet to discover themselves.”

The object is clearly not to produce virtuosi. A parent recently told Visentin that when she asked her daughter who is best in the class, the little girl looked up to her and said, “We all are.”

New Tunes From Our Lady Peace, Lana Del Rey

Source: www.thestar.com - by: Garnet Fraser

(December 20, 2011) Our Lady Peace lost a bit of momentum with their last album, 2009's Burn Burn - they went independent with it, with unhappy commercial results for Canadian rock's juggernaut of a decade ago. Now they're back in the loving arms of Warner Music, and they have a strong new single for your pleasure. Listen to "Heavyweight," below - it's got highly contemporary radio-friendly drums, but then the vocals start, and it couldn't be anyone but Raine Maida.

"Heavyweight" is already on sale at iTunes in the U.S. and Canada; it's a good way to tide fans over until the band's eighth album, which the Peace-niks say they're still at work on in L.A.

And if good singles whet your appetites for music, then you'll be looking forward to Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, out next month, after hearing "Off to the Races." We didn't know she had that other, higher vocal register to play with, and the peppy interludes on this one set it apart from her languid, longing work to date. Listen and enjoy - it's free on iTunes UK, but not available here legally. 

 
Janet Jackson Hopes to ‘Inspire’ as New Face of NutriSystem

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec 16, 2011) *Grammy award-winning recording and film star
Janet Jackson has been tapped to be the new face of NutriSystem’s national advertising and marketing campaign, she announced Thursday on “Good Morning America.”

NutriSystem is unveiling its new NutriSystem Success Program, which features new Chef’s Table entrees, new protein shakes, a My Daily 3 customized activity plan and a new transition and maintenance plan.

Jackson has made no secret that she has struggled with yo-yo dieting, which she revealed in her New York Times’ bestselling book, “True You.”

“Dieting never worked for me, counting calories never worked for me, and denying myself the foods I love never worked for me,” Jackson said in a statement.

“With NutriSystem I am seeing results already, and I am so impressed by both the thought and the nutritional science behind the program.  There are millions of women like me who want to be successful but don’t have the tools to do it on their own.  I hope I can help inspire them.”

“She is very open about her personal weight struggles and will be appearing in a substantial national advertising campaign to help inform and motivate consumers,” said a NutriSystem spokesperson.  “The ads, which were shot on location in Australia during Ms. Jackson’s recent worldwide tour, will debut before the end of the year.”

Jackson’s print and television ads for NutriSystem will be seen on various media platforms through 2012.

It’s ‘Official’ – Howard Stern Signs Up For America’s Got Talent

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(Dec 15, 2011) “It's official – Howard just signed on the dotted line – he is now the newest judge on America's Got Talent!”

With that 85-character tweet, complete with typo, America’s foremost shock jock confirmed he will be appearing on the new season of the hit NBC series.

Another tweet from Stern’s show’s official Twitter account says Stern will start shooting in February and will “actually be traveling the country to do the audition rounds.” The first round of auditions will be in Austin, Charlotte and San Francisco.

The show will also move from Los Angeles to New York to accommodate Stern, whose Sirius XM satellite-radio show is done out of NYC.

“I’m going to be Piers Morgan on steroids,” he told MTV News, making reference to the judge he’s replacing.

“I'm going to go there as a serious judge.

“If people think I'm the crazy man, I am not. I am the voice of reason.

“Goofy acts are not going through.”

Stern will share the panel with Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel.

According to Deadline Hollywood, Stern had been looking for a whopping salary of $15 million a year.

The next season of America’s Got Talent will air in the summer.

As with all things Stern, his new job ensures controversy. Prior to his official signing, the conservative Parents Television Council was already threatening an ad boycott.

“If the rumours are true that NBC is considering the addition of radio shock-jock Howard Stern to the America’s Got Talent judges table, the result will be the alienation of tens of millions of advertising dollars,” Parents Television Council president Tim Winter said in a statement last month.

“Such a move smacks of desperation by the once-proud peacock network. Any short-term buzz from Stern’s shock value will result in a longer-term decline as families abandon the show for more suitable programming.”

It’s ‘Official’ – Howard Stern Signs Up For America’s Got Talent

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(Dec 15, 2011) “It's official – Howard just signed on the dotted line – he is now the newest judge on America's Got Talent!”

With that 85-character tweet, complete with typo, America’s foremost shock jock confirmed he will be appearing on the new season of the hit NBC series.

Another tweet from Stern’s show’s official Twitter account says Stern will start shooting in February and will “actually be traveling the country to do the audition rounds.” The first round of auditions will be in Austin, Charlotte and San Francisco.

The show will also move from Los Angeles to New York to accommodate Stern, whose Sirius XM satellite-radio show is done out of NYC.

“I’m going to be Piers Morgan on steroids,” he told MTV News, making reference to the judge he’s replacing.

“I'm going to go there as a serious judge.

“If people think I'm the crazy man, I am not. I am the voice of reason.

“Goofy acts are not going through.”

Stern will share the panel with Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel.

According to Deadline Hollywood, Stern had been looking for a whopping salary of $15 million a year.

The next season of America’s Got Talent will air in the summer.

As with all things Stern, his new job ensures controversy. Prior to his official signing, the conservative Parents Television Council was already threatening an ad boycott.

“If the rumours are true that NBC is considering the addition of radio shock-jock Howard Stern to the America’s Got Talent judges table, the result will be the alienation of tens of millions of advertising dollars,” Parents Television Council president Tim Winter said in a statement last month.

“Such a move smacks of desperation by the once-proud peacock network. Any short-term buzz from Stern’s shock value will result in a longer-term decline as families abandon the show for more suitable programming.”

Katy Perry Tops Adele To Become MTV’s 1st Artist Of The Year

Source: www.thestar.com - By David Bauder

(Dec 16, 2011) NEW YORK, N.Y. — Katy Perry’s run of No. 1 singles has earned her the distinction of becoming MTV’s first artist of the year.

Perry topped Adele after a spirited discussion among MTV’s internal panel of experts, the network said Thursday. Adele’s Rolling in the Deep was chosen top song of 2011, said Amy Doyle, the network’s chief of music programming.

MTV also declared Skrillex its electronic dance music artist of the year over David Guetta.

Different parts of MTV would make “best of” lists in the past, but the network wanted to establish a franchise that brought all its online and TV arms together and emphasized MTV’s music roots, Doyle said. The network, established in 1981, hopes it becomes an annual thing.

Seven panellists made the final choice, and their deliberations were featured in MTV programming this week.

Rolling in the Deep was an obvious selection as top song, Doyle said. Runners-up were Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass and Rihanna’s We Found Love.

“I loved the song the moment I wrote it,” Adele said. “The melody and the beat added some conviction to it. I think that’s why people connected with it.”

Perry’s achievement of tying Michael Jackson’s Bad as the only albums to yield five No. 1 singles was particularly impressive, Doyle said. Along with the title cut, California Gurls, E.T., Firework and Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) all topped the charts. She’s trying to beat the record with the current single The One That Got Away.

“You just really felt her presence in pop culture throughout the year,” Doyle said.

Skrillex, whose real name is Sonny Moore, describes his music as a combination of “dubstep, electro and glitch.” MTV included the category of best electronic dance music artist to pay tribute to the way the style is taking off with its young viewers, she said.

MTV also asked its viewers to vote on their choice of the best live performances shown on MTV all year. Their choice was Hurricane by Thirty Seconds to Mars.

Blige’s ‘Living Proof’ Makes Oscar Shortlist for Best Original Song

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec. 20, 2011) *Mary J. Blige’s song “The Living Proof” from the film “The Help” is one of 39 tunes that made the shortlist for an Academy Award, and now moves on to the next elimination round. [Scroll down for the video.]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will screen clips featuring each song in random order for voting members of the Music Branch on Jan. 5. Members will determine the nominees by an averaged point system of voting.

A maximum of two songs may be nominated from any one film.

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced Jan. 24.

The 39 shortlisted songs are, in alphabetical order:

“The World I Knew” from “African Cats”
“Lay Your Head Down” from “Albert Nobbs
“Star Spangled Man” from “Captain America: The First Avenger”
“Collision of Worlds” from “Cars 2″
Dakkanaga Dugu Dugu” from “DAM999″
“DAM999 Theme Song” from “DAM999″
Mujhe Chod Ke” from “DAM999″
Rainbird” from “Dirty Girl”
“Keep On Walking” from “The First Grader”
“Where the River Goes” from “Footloose”
“Hello Hello” from “Gnomeo & Juliet”
“Love Builds a Garden” from “Gnomeo & Juliet”
“Bridge of Light” from “Happy Feet Two”
“The Mighty Sven” from “Happy Feet Two”
“Never Be Daunted” from “happythankyoumoreplease
“Hell and Back” from “Hell and Back Again”
“The Living Proof” from “The Help”
“Coeur Volant” from “Hugo”
“It’s How We Play” from “I Don’t Know How She Does It”
“When the Heart Dies” from “In the Land of Blood and Honey”
Ja Nao Estar” from “José and Pilar
“The Keeper” from “Machine Gun Preacher”
“Life’s a Happy Song” from “The Muppets”
“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”
“Pictures in My Head” from “The Muppets”
“Summer Song” from “The Music Never Stopped”
“Imaginary Friends” from “Olive”
“Sparkling Day” from “One Day”
“Taking You with Me” from “Our Idiot Brother”
“The Greatest Song I Ever Heard” from “POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”
“Hot Wings” from “Rio”
“Let Me Take You to Rio” from “Rio”
“Real in Rio” from “Rio”
“Shelter” from “Take Shelter”
“Gathering Stories” from “We Bought a Zoo”
“Pop” from “White Irish Drinkers”
“Think You Can Wait” from “Win Win
“The Backson Song” from “Winnie the Pooh”
“So Long” from “Winnie the Pooh”

Study Reveals Pop Is Still A Man’s World

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ben Rayner

(Dec 19, 2011) It’s not an out-of-nowhere revelation or anything, but it still helps sometimes to have the bleedin’ obvious confirmed on paper for all to see: male recording artists far outnumber their female counterparts on the pop charts.

A statistical study presided over by Concordia University sociologist Marc Lafrance and published this past week in the journal Popular Music and Society concludes, after sampling 10 years’ worth of Billboard charts, that all those Lilith Fair-emboldened claims made at the turn of the millennium that women were finally bound for equal representation with men in pop music might have been a touch too optimistic.

Lafrance and co-researchers Lara Worcester and Lori Burns examined two of the industry bible’s accepted barometers of public taste, the Top 100 singles sales chart and the Top 100 radio-airplay chart, between the years 1997 and 2007.

Basically, they counted the number of hits by male solo acts and female solo acts, as well groups methodologically classed as “male,” “female,” and “male and female,” that hit the charts through that period and, as sociologists do, measured the overall scores tallied by each side against each other in a variety of scientifically rigorous ways.

The results place men solidly in first place. Saleswise, “male artists had 238 hit songs (54.1 per cent) and female artists had 182 (41.4 per cent).” When it came to getting spins on major North American radio stations, “male artists had 271 hit songs (61.6 per cent) and female artists had only 151 (34.3 per cent).”

“This really just came about out of curiosity,” says Lafrance. After a recent conversation about the “women in rock” mania that briefly blazed up in music journalism towards the end of the 1990s, when the likes of Alanis Morissette and Céline Dion and Shania Twain were moving boatloads of records and Lilith was a surprise smash hit on the concert circuit, he had assumed that there would have been a subsequent, corresponding boost in the female presence on the pop charts.

A professionally ingrained sense of duty to find empirical evidence to support that hypothesis compelled him to pull some Billboard data from the Lilith era of 1997 to 1999, and the data wound up proving him wrong: “1997 and 1998 were two of the worst years for women on the charts in our decade-long sample,” he laughs.

A research project was, thus, born. And while the results might not be super-surprising — wow, men dominate yet another field — there’s still some intriguing food for thought to be found amidst the finer details.

The disparity between sales figures and airplay figures, for instance, is an interesting theoretical departure point because it implies that people are granted far less choice in gender representation in the music they hear on the radio than the music they actually take home to listen to themselves.

“Not only do men dominate more often on the airplay charts, but the margin by which they dominate is wider than it is on the sales charts,” the report tells us.

The decision makers behind modern, corporate radio’s narrow playlists clearly favour the male voice — or, at least, the decision-making process that gives rise to their musical and gender homogeneity does. Think radio is a bit of a boys’ club? Well, yeah, you’re probably right.

A noticeable disparity, too, lies between male- and female-fronted groups. The latter is an almost non-existent presence in the study.

Women are grossly under-represented on these two Billboard charts as musicians, as women who play instruments and form bands. No wonder it’s still cause for popular remark when a new “all-girl” band starts making the rounds.

True, this is partly traceable to the fact that pop’s traditional guitar/bass/drums set-up (not to mention rock ‘n’ roll’s “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” mythology) is still regarded as a “boy” thing while girls are more likely to be quietly planted at the piano or behind a cello.

There are still a lot of women playing bands out there, however, and it’s revealing that they don’t tend to score many Billboard hits.

Who does? Well, think of the big female pop stars of the moment — Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Nicky Minaj and Lady Gaga, who’s a bit subversive but still playin’ the game — and then think backwards in time to their previous iterations.

Pop favours a pretty gal in a revealing outfit, plain and simple. Also, the report rightly notes: “The female artists who do well on the charts are an increasingly important part of celebrity tabloid culture — a culture that, as we know, scrutinizes and sensationalizes many aspects of their lives both on and off the stage.

“Similarly, these female artists are often fully fledged consumer brands whose commercial success is driven as much by who they are and how they look as it is by what they do and how they sound.”

Every so often someone who breaks the mould slips through, yet that then becomes the hook. Adele has this year’s biggest album in 21, yet have you yet come across a story on her that doesn’t mention somewhere that she’s more “real” (ie., larger) than your average pop star?

“There’s something very ornamental about the way women figure on the pop charts,” concurs Lafrance. “There’s a long history of us, as a culture, of being very happy to be entertained by the lovely, charming, chirpy female singer. We’re happy to be beguiled by her, but when it comes down to who we actually value as musicians and who we really attribute ‘cred’ to, that still seems to be the province of men.”

There’s some good news for the girls. When they do make the charts, women tend to do much better than men, getting closer to No. 1 much more often and for longer periods of time — although to Lafrance, this suggests that pop stardom for women is a more fleeting experience than for men.

“We can’t help but conclude that men seem to be able to chart on the strength of their own careers as musicians,” he says. With female artists, though, “there seems to be a kind of cultural imperative at work (where) women need to produce themselves as sexy, exciting, readily consumable brands.”

He might be onto something. When a female pop star gets big, after all, she gets big. She’s everywhere you look, starring in a movie and launching her own perfume and clothing lines.

Her cultural impact is enormous — look at the inescapable dent Gaga has smashed into the popular consciousness — but it’s also a presence of the exhaustive/exhausting, all-pervasive variety that tends to wear out its welcome before long. And then it’s on to the next one. You haven’t come a long way, baby.

Percussionist and Composer Ralph MacDonald Dies at 67

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec 19, 2011) *According to Jazzwise Magazine percussionist and
composer, Ralph MacDonald, who was one of the most recorded percussionists in jazz, soul and funk as well as a Grammy Award winning songwriter, has died.

MacDonald, who penned the classic R&B tunes “Just the Two of Us” and “Where is the Love,” suffered from a stroke and lung cancer in recent years.

MacDonald, died yesterday (12-18-11) in Stamford, Connecticut.

Born in Harlem in 1944, MacDonald was the son of the well-known Trinidadian calypso musician Macbeth the Great and started playing drums and percussion as a small boy. At 17 he got a job in Harry Belafonte’s steel band playing pans and percussion and stayed with him for ten years, composing Belafonte’s Calypso Carnival album in 1966

Read/learn MORE at Jazzwise Magazine.

Timbaland: ‘I Was In Love With Aaliyah

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec 16, 2011) *Producer
Timbaland has opened up about his true feelings for Aaliyah in a new episode of “E! True Hollywood Story,” revealing he was seriously in love with the young singer but couldn’t act on it.

“When I first met Aaliyah – it’s time for the world to hear this, I’m gonna give a little secret – I was in love with her,” he said in the special, set to premiere Dec. 20. “I said, ‘She’s just a baby, I’m old.’ I said to myself, ‘I’m just gonna be her brother.’

“Oh man, I was fightin’, I was fightin’ a lot – a big war. But I loved Aaliyah.”

Aaliyah, who died in a 2001 plane crash, collaborated with Timbaland
and Missy Elliott on her second album.

The Timbaland tell-all also features a candid conversation about the producer’s past weight issues, which almost drove him to taking his own life.

He explains, “I was almost 400 pounds. Who wants to be a 400-pound black man? I’m looking in the mirror, my breast is bigger than a girl’s breast. And I was saying, ‘That ain’t cool.’ So I got very depressed, like suicidal depressed.”

This hour-long THS episode also features interviews with Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Missy, Keri Hilson and Ryan Tedder.

American Idol Runner-Up Takes Break To Serve Church

Source: www.thestar.com - By Robert Crew, Associated Press

(Dec 21, 2011) SALT LAKE CITY—American Idol runner-up
David Archuleta will take a break from his singing career to serve a two-year proselytizing mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The contestant from the 2008 season made the announcement during a Christmas concert this week in downtown Salt Lake City, according to the Deseret News. The 20-year-old Miami native, who grew up in Murray, Utah, said he's not quitting music, but feels a strong call to serve the church.

A video of the concert on Archuleta's website shows him overwhelmed with emotion and crying as he talks about his plans. The crowd screams wildly with the news and gives him a standing ovation.

“It's not because someone told me that I'm supposed to do it, and not because I no longer want to do music, but because it's the feeling that I've felt I need to do this with my life,” Archuleta told the crowd.

Archuleta was 16 and one of the youngest contestants when he competed on the seventh season of American Idol, which was won by David Cook. The runner-up has since released three albums, one of which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.

In 2010, he performed with the Grammy-winning Mormon Tabernacle choir at the group's annual Christmas concert.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed that Archuleta had been called on a mission by the faith. Hawkins said he didn't know when Archuleta was scheduled to report for missionary training.

The location of Archuleta's mission has not been disclosed either by him or church officials.

Statistics released in April show the church has more than 52,200 members currently serving full-time proselytizing or service missions worldwide. About 75 per cent of missionaries are men between 19 and 21. Single women over 21 and retired couples make up the remaining 25 per cent.

Single men typically serve for two years and women and couples serve for 18 months.

Missionaries volunteer for service but must be selected by program officials in Salt Lake City. They are not paid and must cover their own expenses while in the field.

The church has more than 350 missions worldwide.


MUSIC TIDBITS

Lady Gaga Voted Associated Press Entertainer Of The Year

Source: www.thestar.com - By Jake Coyle

(Dec 19, 2011) NEW YORK, N.Y. — Lady Gaga has been voted the Associated Press Entertainer of the Year. There were 135 ballots submitted by U.S. news organizations that make up the AP’s membership. Editors and broadcasters were asked to cast their ballots for who had the most influence on entertainment and culture in 2011. Lady Gaga narrowly edged out the late Apple founder Steve Jobs by three votes. Her year was dominated by the release of her second studio album, Born This Way. Previous winners of the AP Entertainer of the Year include Betty White, Taylor Swift, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.

Doctor Requests Prayers For Terminally Ill Singer Etta James

Source: www.thestar.com - By Jake Coyle

(Dec 16, 2011) RIVERSIDE, CALIF. — At Last and Tell Mama blues singer Etta James, whose health has been fading in recent years, is now terminally ill, and her live-in doctor is asking for prayers. Dr. Elaine James, who isn’t related to the 73-year-old entertainer, tells the Riverside Press-Enterprise that the singer’s chronic leukemia was declared incurable two weeks ago. The doctor has cared for Etta James at the singer’s Riverside, Calif., area home since March 2010. Elaine James says she’s spreading word of the singer’s ailments so people will pray for her. She says fans know Etta James has been sick “but not how sick.” Court records in the singer’s probate case show she also suffers from dementia and kidney failure. Elaine James made her comments outside a Riverside conservatorship hearing over the singer’s $1 million estate. The singer’s son, Donto James, wants a conservator rather than the singer’s husband, Artis Mills.

Video: Willow and Nicki Minaj in ‘Fireball’

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec 19, 2011) *Roc Nation on Friday released the video for
Willow Smith’s latest single “Fireball.” Featuring Nicki Minaj, the track has Will and Jada’s 11-year-old emerging from a fireball and dancing down a vacant block, declaring “I’m the fireball of the party.” The choreography is just as eclectic and quirky as Willow’s numerous outfits. Meanwhile, Minaj – in her curly pink wig – joins Willow near the end for her verse. Watch below.

 

Video: Jason Weaver and Sky Keeton are the ‘Sons of Bobby Brown’

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec 17, 2011) *Actor
Jason Weaver, best known for his roles in “Smart Guy,” “Drumline” and “ATL,” is getting creative to expand his entertainment career and most of all,  to generate some extra  income. Tapping into his singing abilities, Weaver has created a new group, Sons of Bobby Brown, an idea birthed while working with songwriter Sky Keeton. If you’re wondering, “Are they Bobby Brown’s sons?” Of course not. The actor/singer explains how the name came about. “We were in the studio this past summer writing for other artists…We would just say we’re on some Bobby Brown stuff, it had an edge to it, some soul, it was on some rock star stuff, and we said we’re the sons of Bobby Brown,” says Weaver. The duo plan to release a mixtape sooner than later which will likely include their first song, “You Got Me,” which has an accompanying music video. Watch it below:

 

VIDEO: R. Kelly Ready With 32 New ‘Trapped in the Closet’ Chapters

Source: www.thestar.com - By Christian Pearce

(Dec 21, 2011) *
R. Kelly tells TMZ he’s ready to film 32 new chapters of his infamous hip-hopera “Trapped in the Closet,” but doesn’t have the money to get the ambitious production underway. In 2007, the singer released 22 chapters of his opus.  Now, Kelly wants to keep the saga going, “but it costs a lot of money to do … so we’re actually looking for investors,” he tells the website. Written and produced by Kelly, the “Trapped in the Closet” series tells a story of a one-night stand that sets off a chain of events, which gradually reveals a greater web of lies, sex and deceit. Musically, all chapters of the song feature the same melodic theme with varying lyrics, relating an ongoing narrative. The first five chapters of the set are included on his seventh studio album “TP.3 Reloaded,” with the first chapter being released as the first single from the album. Watch below.

 

::FILM NEWS::    

Egoyan Signs Reese Witherspoon For New Film

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(Dec 16, 2011) Toronto director
Atom Egoyan has scored a casting coup, landing Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon in the leading role in his upcoming film Devil's Knot, based on the brutal Arkansas slayings of three eight-year-old boys.

Slated to begin filming in the southern States this summer, Egoyan (Sweet Hereafter) says the 35-year-old actress, who won her Academy Award for Walk The Line, is "perfect" for the emotionally wrought role given her skill set and the fact that her New Orleans roots mean "she knows that culture very well."

"It's an emotionally loaded journey she goes through, but I met with Reese, and we talked at length about the project, and she's eager to take on the challenge," Egoyan said Friday.

Egoyan's feature film, based on Mara Leveritt's non-fiction book, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, is the dramatic re-telling of the 1993 murders of three Boy Scouts which led to the conviction of three men Jessie Misskelley Jr., Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin - all of whom were found innocent and released from jail, after 18 years, last August.

Egoyan says he's also leaning heavily on Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's two HBO documentaries, Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations "which have covered the (legal battle) so well."

In the $20-million film, Witherspoon will play Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the murder victims. At first convinced of the trio's guilt, she eventually begins to doubt their culpability.

"The movie roots us emotionally to what happened in the town," says Egoyan. "I think what's interesting is the consequences of this event on an entire community. It's obviously the story of how justice was completely mishandled, which led to a lot happening in those homes and families that was as traumatizing."

Over the course of the last 18 years, celebrities including Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (who chipped in for the men's defense expenses) have championed their cause.

Blair Underwood Launches Signature Men’s Suit Line!

Source: www.eurweb.com - By LaRita Shelby

(Dec. 20, 2011) *This is Blair Underwood’s season to sell, however the reason for the season is more than skin deep, as is everything with the conscientious actor, director, author and consummate business man. As a celebrity who has been reluctant to endorse products or co-brand his image, The BU Collection, Exclusively at K&G is a multi-tiered business model that is designed to promote haberdashery that is Classy, Confident & Cool, at a price you can afford.

Blair Underwood Suits first appeared in K&G stores and on line in mid-summer 2011, and sales have soared, even prior to a full scale promotional campaign.  This is due in part to the robust nature of Blair Underwood as a brand name and due to his community service to civic and fraternal organizations.  The community that he serves is now aware of his brand and they have supported in kind.  Though Blair’s career is laced with high achievement, he has always been a man within reach.

Earlier in the year young winners of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship
Award were gifted suits from The BU Collection.   Suits have also been donated to young men in foster care.  For these recipients wearing a suit and knowing the name bearer warrants a double reward.

Mr. Underwood is also very excited over the newly released The BU Executive Suit Line, which is designated by suits with chic purple interior, a regal family crest and fine purple stitching around the button holes.  These design features are more than an eclectic sales tactic; they are emblematic of a humane and cultural bond shared by all.

The BU Collection also stands for self-empowerment and a clarion call for being the best and the ultimate you.  Underwood recalls the message in the movie Kings Of The Evening, which echoes these sentiments.

Jason Reitman Drawn To Flawed, Complex Characters

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(Dec 19, 2011) If you’re a nasty, narcissistic piece of work, chances are
director Jason Reitman will take a shine to you. The reason, the four-time Oscar nominee explains, is that “nice people are kind of boring.” So when Diablo Cody’s script for Young Adult crossed his desk, Reitman says, he was fascinated by the extremely flawed – some might say full-blown sociopath – Mavis Gary, who is played with ferocity by Charlize Theron. He says he knew he would be alienating fans of his more gently satiric films such as Up in the Air, and he warns that if anyone goes to see Young Adult expecting Juno, they had better hightail it out before the lights dim. The film opened on Friday.

What attracted you to this acerbic comedy?

I just really loved Mavis and felt I hadn’t read that character before. Another biggie was the third act, which was just so brave. It features a character who did unlikeable things, instead of likeable things, and at the moment where a traditional film character would make a 180-degree turn to become a better person, Mavis doesn’t. We think she must have learned something [from her reprehensible plan to steal back her high-school sweetheart, who is happily married with a new baby], but she doesn’t change. I think that’s very true to life.

The ending, where Mavis seems restored in her confident delusion, is subversive and disturbing, but you say you found her humanity. Can you explain that?

I look at Mavis and see a woman who is vulnerable, broken, and really wants to be loved, but just acts out in the wrong ways. I’m not a big believer in good and evil. I think sometimes we just act like children. I don’t really care if I like Mavis. That’s not my intention. The idea is to watch a character portrait – one that is going to make you squirm. There is something good and important about being uncomfortable at the movies. When we’re comfortable, rarely do we think about where we’re at in life. If a movie is going to have an emotional effect on somebody, it shouldn’t be easy breezy. I’d rather watch someone in a movie who is complicated, has issues and makes mistakes. A pleasant person isn’t going to be very interesting.

Toward the end of the film, Mavis has a spectacular meltdown in front of a crowd and her well-meaning parents. What role did mom and dad play in their daughter’s brokenness?

They were so intent on their child being happy that they never really stepped in when things were wrong. There is a great moment where Mavis says, “I think I’m an alcoholic,” and mom says, “Oh you silly.” This one exchange opens up the entire childhood. You realize every time this girl brought up an issue, the mom didn’t want there to be issues. I’m a dad now and I get that you just want your kids to be happy. There is a natural instinct to calm them down, and say everything’s fine, instead of dealing with the problem at hand.

Does your high-school self still live in you somewhere?

Yeah, the insecure part of me. I’m very insecure and always have been. But I guess you don’t become sensitive enough to become a filmmaker without that. If there’s a character in the film I can relate to, it’s probably Matt Freehauf [comedian Patton Oswalt, who plays an overweight guy who was bullied in school and was unpopular]. I certainly wasn’t popular, but I don’t also remember being disliked. I think I really just was off either in a movie theatre or cutting something in a video room.

Is Mavis’s stuck-in-youth thing something you would describe as a generational malaise?

I never really thought much about it, making this film. It wasn’t really a theme as much as a specific element of Mavis’s life. The only moment when things made sense for her was when she was 17, and since then, she’s been trying to retrace her steps. It’s like she’s gone so far off the highway, and now she’s trying to find the road again. So she literally goes back to her high-school boyfriend and tries to get him back, no matter how unreasonable her mission is.

We’re used to seeing males playing these narcissistic characters – like Jim Carrey in Cable Guy or Bill Murray in What About Bob? But it’s unusual in a woman’s role. Why was Theron chosen for the part?

I needed an actress who is incredibly brave because I didn’t want someone to come in and do a caricature. I wanted the real deal: a dramatic actress who was willing to not do an accent or affectation. I wanted a real person, one who makes you uncomfortable and makes you cringe at the end. Charlize was game for that. Her defining characteristic as an actress is being fearless.

Young Adult has an “indie” feel rather than the larger social statement of Up in the Air. Were you conscious of wanting to go in a different, more intimate direction, rather than topping yourself with something bigger?

I had written a follow-up to Up in the Air called Labor Day, which I’ll be directing this June. But Labor Day got pushed back, and I had this window. This screenplay showed up and I was in this rare position to direct a film that is very hard to get made these days in Hollywood. I knew that it had the potential to ostracize certain audience members. And I knew it was certainly different from my prior work. If people come in expecting Juno, it’s going to be a punch in the gut. But the films that made me want to be a director are ones from the seventies like Carnal Knowledge, Shampoo and Downhill Racer. Movies that don’t have sweet endings.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

The Monday Q&A: Jamie Bell

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(Dec 19, 2011) Steven Spielberg approached
Jamie Bell to play Tintin, the Belgian artist Hergé's beloved reporter/sleuth, when the northern England native was only 15. Blown away by Bell's BAFTA Award-winning performance in Stephen Daldry's musical Billy Elliot, the Oscar-winning director thought the teen had the unique looks and dancer's agility to play the lead in the animated film, The Adventures of Tintin. Now 25, Bell signed on to work with Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson in a project that has been on Spielberg's to-do list as far back as 1983, and finally opens on Dec. 23. Bell calls Tintin one of the most physically demanding roles of his career, primarily because of Spielberg's use of cutting-edge performance-capture technology, which required Bell and co-stars Andy Serkis (the salty Captain Haddock) and Daniel Craig (the villainous Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine) to act out myriad stunts as Tintin pursues the bad guy around a digitally rendered globe. Bell shares his views on the challenges of making a film that he feels does justice to Hergé's inimitable, visual style.

Everyone involved in this film is heavily invested in Hergé's oddly coifed hero. How old were you when you first came across the graphic novels?

I came across the Canadian-made cartoon first on Teletoon, which is definitely a generational thing given I saw it first on TV instead of reading the books. It's kind of blasphemous to admit that, given what Tintin is. What I loved about the cartoon is that Hergé was genuinely dealing with adult subjects like political corruption. And I respected how Hergé treated me like an adult. I also found Haddock hilarious. I love how angry, how bitter he is, and yet at the same time, he's really just as innocent as Tintin. I eventually started renting the books from the library, and then I had a completely different appreciation for the art work.

In most animated films, the actors primarily lend their voices. Performance-capture technology requires the talent to act out the virtual stunts, using their movements and facial expressions in footage that is incorporated in "real time" into a 3-D digital character. Was it disconcerting at first to get the hang of this technique?

This is one of the most physical movies I've ever done. People generally think when you do a movie like this that you're just the voice. But here we were physically inhabiting the character, which means you're performing in exactly the same way you would in a live-action film. Tintin is an adventure film, which means there's lots of bashing around, flying planes, running and jumping. It was exhausting because you don't have those moments in a shooting day where you can rely on lights being moved around, or set changes, to give you the 40-minute breaks to sit down, get off your feet and collect your thoughts. I call it the Acting Olympics because you just don't stop.

This is the first time Spielberg and Jackson have collaborated. How did they divvy things up?

Peter had the leg-up on the technology so it was useful for Steven to have a wizard next to him. Peter was on set for the first week and then he'd Skype daily from New Zealand before his writing sessions would start with Guillermo del Toro for The Hobbit. So halfway through the morning, you'd hear Peter's voice booming from the speakers somewhere, and then you'd see him all bleary-eyed, with his coffee, waking up. One minute he'd be avidly offering suggestions and notes, and then you'd see him turn around and write a key scene for the other movie. It was absolutely a collaboration. Every decision Steven made was bounced off Peter.

Serkis, as Gollum in Jackson's trilogy The Lord of the Rings and now as Haddock, has the most performance-capture experience. Did he offer tips?

There's no doubt, Andy is the go-to guy for this. Not because he's weird, or likes to run around in speed-skating outfits. It's because he's genuinely a really good actor and that's what you respond to when he morphs into such life-like, digital characters. Andy's not the kind of guy to instruct without asking. I never asked him anything about how to do it. But I would watch him in the morning and see him studying the monitors to see his character in real time. He would be trying to work out his posturing, and as soon as he got it, became completely immersed. He loses Andy in Haddock.

Spielberg was very careful to stay honest to Hergé's original books. What kind of direction would he give you?

Steven loves actors. But he actually provided little actual direction. I think he knew - that independently of each other - Andy and I had the characters down pretty much. So he was just more focused on making the story kick, and making an exciting movie. Steven also used a virtual camera in the small physical space in which we were shooting. We were literally kind of dancing around him, and he was dancing around you. So it's a very physical relationship you end up having with a director.

Is The Adventures of Tintin suitable for really young kids?

Tintin is not Bambi. He's more like the Lion King. Speaking of The Lion King, the first time I saw that movie was really traumatic for me. It scarred me deeply. Recently I went and watched the 3-D version and it was cathartic. I finally purged from my system a kid's film that affected me deeply.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

War Horse Script Brought Co-Star Tom Hiddleston To Tears

Source: www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(Dec 18, 2011) “It was a good week,” British actor Tom Hiddleston conceded with a grin.

That would be the week two legendary directors, Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg, chose him to star in their films. The Allen movie was Midnight in Paris, where 29-year-old Hiddleston plays F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the call from Spielberg was for War Horse, opening Dec. 25.

Based both on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel set during World War I — about a bond between an English boy named Albert Narracott, and his horse, Joey — and the 2007 stage adaptation of the same name, Hiddleston plays Capt. Nichols. He takes the heartbroken Albert’s beloved Joey to the front when Britain needed horses both for the cavalry and to move guns and supplies.

“The screenplay was so moving I cried four times the first time I read it,” said Hiddleston, who first captured attention from moviegoers this year in a far less sentimental film, playing the supervillain Loki in Thor. He’ll reprise his role in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, due out May 4, 2012.

“I think it’s just classic storytelling,” he said of War Horse. “I read the book and I saw the play and the reason the book and the play work is because it somehow encapsulates something very deep and profound about the human condition.”

Hiddleston said Joey displays “nobility and perseverance and strength and dignity in the face of horror” as he serves in the trenches and battlefields of World War I. The setting offers a “romantic, poetic backdrop” that adds drama to the tale as Albert tries to find a way to be reunited with his horse.

“It’s a very simple and beautiful story,” said Hiddleston. “Spielberg saw that when he saw the play and so shooting it was a dream. It’s very hard to encapsulate it without sounding sentimental.”

Hiddleston felt a personal connection to the story and shared that with Spielberg about it when he auditioned for the role.

“We talked about First World War history and the horse and certainly in British schools, the First World War is a big part of our history, so I feel very connected to it,” he said. “I’d played the trumpet in the Remembrance (Day) service when I was 13 and it was a great honour. After I told him that story, he said, ‘I’d like you to do it.’”

That kind of thing “never happens,” Hiddleston said with a chuckle. “Usually the casting director calls your agent and your agent tells you but he (Spielberg) told me across the table.”

Hiddleston shot War Horse last summer in Devon and Cornwall in southwest England and said the setting adds to the “just gorgeous” look of the film. But the heart comes from its director.

“Spielberg is a master. He’s just a miracle maker. He’s one of the kindest men I’ve ever worked with and I think that kindness runs through all his work.”

The Girl With The Sudden Cachet

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Liam Lacey

(Dec 16, 2011)
There have been few occasions when a casting decision has been as closely scrutinized as the choice to hire Rooney Mara for the role of Lisbeth Salander in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The novel's compelling anti-heroine, an androgynous punk computer hacker, helped push Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy to sales of more than 65 million copies worldwide. And a lot of actresses - including Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence (an Oscar-nominee, for Winter's Bone) - were after the part.

Many fans of the book were dubious: An early, bare-breasted poster of the star was criticized for showing a Lisbeth that looked vulnerable and sexualized. Champions of the Swedish film adaptations also compared her unfavorably to their brooding lead, Noomi Rapace. When Vogue put the gamine Mara on its cover, the accompanying article made her sound like a schoolgirl in thrall to her director, David Fincher, in a relationship "charged with the electric current of a mentor-protégé crush."

That's a very different impression from the assured young woman with an educated East Coast accent speaking over the phone from Los Angeles. Mara seems to be sitting pretty calmly on the cusp of a life-changing wave of publicity, and it soon becomes clear that the 26-year-old is no typical ingénue. Nor is there anything breathless about the way she speaks of her director, who first cast her in a small part as a preppie college girl in his film The Social Network.

"He's always the smartest guy in the room," she says, "but there were definitely moments when we disagreed over choices. As well as usually being right, he's really collaborative, and makes you feel incredibly safe as an actor."

The simple truth is that Mara is considerably more worldly than your average ingénue. Raised in the wealthy New York satellite town of Bedford in Westchester Country, she comes from two professional sports dynasties: Her great-grandfather on one side is New York Giants' founder Tim Mara; on the other it's Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While taking her independent-studies program at New York University, she founded a charity for AIDS orphans, Faces of Kibera, raising money partly by auctioning off football memorabilia. It isn't something she makes a fuss about: "It's very helpful to an actor to get outside your comfort zone, to make sure quote-unquote 'real life' informs what you do."

Following her older sister Kate Mara (We Are Marshall, 127 Hours), Rooney first attended auditions at 19, landing roles on Law & Order (as a teen who hates fat people, because she was once overweight herself) and ER, as well as parts in such indie films as Youth in Revolt and The Winning Season. But it wasn't until last year that Mara got her first lead role, in a remake of the eighties horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street - which, it turns out, almost made her quit the business. "All I can say is that it wasn't a good experience," she says, "and I thought that if this is what acting is like, I don't really want to spend my time doing it."

Fortunately, she had another role that same year: as Erica Albright, the girl who dumps Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in the first five minutes of The Social Network. Fincher told Vogue: "I remember the feeling that I needed a foil for Jesse and his intense inability to see other people. I needed somebody about whom the audience could go, 'Dude! She's right there!' "

On a hunch, he also invited Mara to audition for the starring role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She hadn't read the book - although her mother had previously told her she'd be perfect for the part. "She reads a lot of books and always tells me the same thing, so I didn't pay much attention," says Mara, dryly. "I read the three books in a week. I'm honestly not sure how I would have judged them if I hadn't already been thinking of them as David Fincher movies, but I could tell this was a great character."

Rooney auditioned repeatedly for the next two and a half months. Fincher shot footage of her in character on the Los Angeles subway system. He told her to go out and get drunk before a screen test, to convince the studio she had the grit for the role.

Finally, he called her into his office and started talking to her about actresses whose careers were defined by one role: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, Tina Louise in Gilligan's Island. At the end of the discussion, he showed her the iPad where he had written the press release announcing her as the new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

"Everything he was saying, I'd already been weighing all these things in my mind," says Mara. "I knew it was an amazing opportunity, whatever doubts I had about the downside. What I respected a lot was that he presented it to me as a choice, and wanted me to make the right decision for myself. That was really fair of him."

After that, she says, she entered "a year of living at 100 miles an hour in this little bubble." There were days of experimenting with the character's look, de-prettifying the actress by bleaching her eyebrows, chopping her hair, piercing both her face and body. She trained in skateboarding and kickboxing to help achieve Lisbeth's boyish slouch. A brutal rape scene, shot last February, took 10 days.

Throughout, while filming in both Sweden and Los Angeles (where most of the interiors are set), Mara wore Lisbeth's clothes.

In hindsight, the casting of Rooney seems more savvy than risky. This week, she was nominated for a Golden Globe; early reviews have singled out the intensity of her performance. ("She cuts through scene after scene like a swift, dark blade," wrote The New Yorker's David Denby.)

What did Fincher see in the four days on the set of The Social Network, shooting Mara, as crisp co-ed Albright, that translated into a vision of the actress as a street lizard like Lisbeth? Their intelligence and independence are obvious common ground, but maybe it was just his instinct that, as he put it, "she's a great weirdo."

So is Mara an outsider who's good at playing an insider? Or is she a privileged insider whose just really good at playing an outsider? She answers without hesitation: "Erica Albright is a lot more foreign to me than Lisbeth Salander is."

Sidebar

Fame, as stars well know, is fickle. Achieving sudden "It" girl or boy status makes for high expectations - which are sometimes just as quickly dashed. Relative newcomer Rooney Mara made a considered choice taking on the role of Lisbeth Salander in the sure-to-be-blockbuster American film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Here's how a few other instant stars have fared in the spotlight.

Vivien Leigh

No casting call was ever grander or more publicized than that for Gone with the Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel of the U.S. Civil War. Auditions were held for more than 30 major stars (Tallulah Bankhead, Paulette Goddard, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur and Lucille Ball) and hundreds of unknowns. The role, however, went to a little-known English star, Vivien Leigh. Gone With the Wind was already being filmed - still with no Scarlett cast - when Leigh, on the arm of her boyfriend, Laurence Olivier, met producer David O. Selznick at a party celebrating the film's burning-of-Atlanta scene. Leigh went on to win an Oscar for best actress in 1940, (and would again in 1952, as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire).

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

The childhood friends from Boston co-wrote 1997's Good Will Hunting. When they won best original screenplay at the Oscars, they went from nobodies to stars. Surprisingly, though, they never achieved fame again as writers. Damon (Saving Private Ryan, The Bourne Identity) has risen to megastar status. Affleck gave us such doozies as Daredevil and Gigli, before his more recent turn as the respected director of such films as Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

Gretchen Moll

In 1998, Vanity Fair declared the actress the "It girl of the nineties." But her films that year - Woody Allen's Celebrity; and Rounders, with Matt Damon - bombed. Since then, though, she's been praised on Broadway and excelled in Mary Harron's biopic, The Notorious Bettie Page. She's also enjoyed a comeback in the current Martin Scorsese-produced TV series Boardwalk Empire, in which she plays a former prostitute and manipulative mob mother.

Daniel Radcliffe

He was first noticed as a 10-year-old for his part in a BBC adaptation of David Copperfield. Then, J.K. Rowling endorsed the decision to cast him as the boy wizard in the adaptation of her bestselling series - although Radcliffe's parents were reluctant to turn their son into the eternal Harry Potter. While he has done one other movie (December Boys) and stage plays including Equus and How to Succeed in Business, it remains to be seen if Radcliffe will transcend his most famous role.

Black Film Critics Circle: ‘The Help’ is Best Film of 2011

Source: www.thestar.com

(Dec 21, 2011) *“
The Help” was named the best film of 2011 by the BFCC/Black Film Critics Circle.

Dee Rees was also named best director for “Pariah,” Viola Davis for best actress also for “The Help” and Olivier Litondo for best actor in “The First Grader.”

The announcement was made Tuesday a day after members of the organization cast their votes the night before.

RELATED: ‘The Help’, Idris Elba Earn Golden Globe Nominations

The BFCC awarded prizes in 13 categories including best picture, director, original, and adapted screenplay.

“This year was a very engaging one in cinema,” says Mike Sargent, BFCC co-president.  “Both commercial and independent fare illustrated the continued ability of Hollywood to entertain, spotlight new talent, show fresh perspectives and move audiences.  Congratulations to all of the winners.”

The complete list of award winners include:
Best Picture – THE HELP
Best Director – Dee Rees for PARIAH
Best Actor – Olivier Litondo for THE FIRST GRADER
Best Actress – Viola Davis for THE HELP
Best Supporting Actor – Albert Brooks for DRIVE
Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer for THE HELP
Best Independent Film – PARIAH
Best Original Screenplay – Dee Rees for PARIAH
Best Adapted Screenplay – Tate Taylor for THE HELP
Best Documentary – BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Best Foreign Film – LIFE, ABOVE ALL
Best Animated Film – RANGO
Best Ensemble – THE HELP

FILM TIDBITS

Michelle Williams Horrified By Plans For Movie Based On Heath Ledger’s Death

Source: www.thestar.com - By William Littler

(Dec 19, 2011) Michelle Williams is horrified at plans for a movie based on the days leading up to Heath Ledger’s death. The My Week With Marilyn’s former boyfriend — the father of her six-year-old daughter Matilda — died from an accidental overdose in 2008 and Williams is said to be furious that the film based on his last days is being touted. A source said: “Michelle was horrified to hear talk of plans for such a grim film. She hates the thought of reopening old wounds and finds it distasteful that people are trying to make money off his legacy. She never thought the film would get the green light but it looks like her worst fears could come true.” Williams and Ledger met on the set of Brokeback Mountain in 2004 with Matilda born on October 2005 and friends say it is the young girl Williams is most worried about. The source added: “It’s all about Matilda. She doesn’t want their daughter to be constantly reminded of the circumstances surrounding his death for the rest of her life.”

Idris Elba to Play Nelson Mandela in Upcoming Biopic

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Dec 17, 2011) *It’s settled then. Sexy British actor
Idris Elba will play the role of former South African president Nelson Mandela in an upcoming biopic. You may ask why he was chosen out of all people. There’s no telling, but one thing is for sure: he’s good. Elba has taken on some pretty major roles lately, including movies like “Thorand Takers.” But this one may be a bit challenging as movie watchers will have to decide who among the list of actors (Morgan Freeman, Sydney Poitier, De Klerk, Terrence Howard, and Dennis Haysbert) plays the better Mandela.

::TV NEWS::     

A Grinch's Guide To Unseasonal TV

Source: www.thestar.com - By Rob Salem

(Dec 20, 2011) Bah, humbug. Look, I start out with as much Christmas cheer as the next guy. I have nothing against “goodwill toward men.” But when it starts interfering with my TV time . . .

It usually starts with Scrooge and the 800 different incarnations, from Alastair Sim to George C. Scott to Mr. Magoo, that we are forced to endure every year.

Edmund Gwenn doddering across 34th St.; Jimmy Stewart racing through snow-covered Bedford Falls . . . Rudolph and Frosty and all those creepy little Rankin Bass puppets, Charlie Brown and his pathetic, emaciated tree . . .

And all those endless Christmas specials. I mean, seriously, Russell Peters? Michael Bublé? Justin Bieber? Russell Peters? (I know I listed Peters twice, but his special was particularly awful.)

The Grinch had the right idea, but even he was subverted to the other side.

I am determined to stay strong and not surrender to all this intrusive cheer. I am going to spend the entire week alone, in front of the TV, ignoring my family and friends (unless they bring food, in which case they will be briefly tolerated).

There’s not a lot on TV this weekend that isn’t drenched in eggnog and swathed in holly.

The occasional “Very Special Christmas Episode,” however unlikely, is bound to sneak in sooner or later.

For example, Friday night, when what would otherwise be a most welcome all-new episode of Chuck turns out to be just more Christmas drivel.

In fact, it pretty much all is, all night long, except for reruns of A Gifted Man (CBS at 8) and Blue Bloods (CBS again, at 10), two of the best shows of the season.

And, if you must, on NBC at 9, you can rewatch the pilot for Grimm, if only to reassure yourself that it is indeed just another dumb Buffy ripoff.

As you might well imagine, the unseasonal pickings are particularly slim Christmas Eve.

But look, there’s a Blue Bloods rerun again at 8 — perversely, last year’s Valentine’s Day episode.

Actually, things start to look more promising just a bit further up the cable tier, with a Dog the Bounty Hunter marathon on A&E, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws on rotation on Spike TV and, at 10 o’clock on TLN, one of the greatest anti-Christmas movies ever, 1988’s original Die Hard.

By that time of night, however, I will already be an hour into Pulp Fiction, the 1994 Tarantino classic that IFC starts running at 9.

By Christmas Day — or, since I get to sleep in, more like Christmas Late Afternoon — I’ll be down for Comedy Gold’s Big Bang Theory marathon and, at 9 o’clock, the least Christmasy thing I could possibly think of, the Kevorkian biopic You Don’t Know Jack, with Al Pacino.

Second choice, starting an hour earlier on AMC, John Wayne and a particularly effective Dean Martin partnering up in the 1959 cowboy classic Rio Bravo.

If none of the above appeals to you, you can still keep the festivities fairly low-key by tuning in the 24-hour “yule log” fireplace channel and hiding the remote.

Or you could just set the TV on fire.

Happy holidays to you and yours.

Sequel Series Makes Firm Commitment

Source: www.thestar.com - By Rob Salem

(Dec 17, 2011) When we last left Mitch McDeere, he was hiding out in the Caribbean with his wife, Abb,y and brother Ray, on the run from the mob and his duplicitous former law firm.

That was 10 years ago, in the fictional context of the characters and plot, and in the real-time elapsed since the publication of the bestselling John Grisham novel,
The Firm.

That’s eight years since the film of the same name, in which the characters were portrayed respectively by Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn and David Strathairn, with Holly Hunter helping out as an investigator’s assistant.

And now they’re back, personified by Josh Lucas, Molly Parker, Callum Keith Rennie and Juliette Lewis, emerging from a decade in the witness protection program to discover ... it isn’t over.

The Canadian co-produced sort-of sequel series debuts on Global and NBC Jan. 8, with a backstory-packed two-hour double episode, moving to its regular Thursday-night time slot Jan.12.

It’s hard to imagine a better cast, with Lucas taking time from a thriving movie career, as is quirky Lewis, now secretary and girlfriend to the disreputable brother McDeere, played by Rennie.

Rennie’s longtime friend and occasional co-star, Molly Parker, returns to relative normalcy after years of TV time-travelling — Deadwood’s wild west, Swingtown’s 1970s suburbia — and a rather gruesome end, a few weeks back, on the about-to-end season of Dexter.

“I’m alive,” she reassured me earlier this week at The Firm’s press-day preview.

The change of pace — and era, and tone — was welcome, if not entirely planned.

“The right thing comes at the right time,” she says. “That’s just the way it’s always been for me.

“It’s not like I’ve had a great plan all along, like, ‘Now I’m going to do a legal drama,’ or something. But there were a few considerations, one being that I wanted to try something that is entertaining and, you know, exciting.

“I liked the thriller aspect of it.”

She also liked the cast. “I knew we could kick ass.”

Though she’d never met Lucas, they fell immediately in sync. “And I’ve known Callum for years.”

She was particularly looking forward to working with Lewis.

“Juliette is magical,” she affirms. “I’ve always admired her.

“I’ve always thought she was one of the strongest, most interesting actresses around. She’s cool, she’s rock ’n’ roll ... she’s really smart. She has this intuitive intelligence.

“Sometimes, I forget (to do my lines), because I’m just watching her. People are going to love her on this show.”

And Lewis is loving it right back — returning to regular series TV for the first time since the late 1980s.

VIDEO: Lewis on why she decided to return to TV

“This was a perfect fit, material wise,” Lewis says. “It’s from John Grisham, and it’s a great character.

“Holly Hunter played her in the film. You could call her a distant cousin to me, in the acting tree. I love her.”

Like Parker, she says it’s largely fate that determines her eclectic choice of roles.

“Or they choose us, I don’t know,” she shrugs. “You make it your own. I’ve been given stuff that’s very one dimensional, but if I’m lucky enough to work with a good director, I can create something deeper.

“So this is interesting. What drew me to the piece was the cast, the material, the series, the unknown ... each episode I don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s suspenseful.”

She’s also leapt at the chance to spend some quality time in Toronto. While here, she appeared in the locally made viral video comedy hit S--- Girls Say.

And this city was also her favourite stop on her recent rock tour across the country in her parallel career in music.

“I love Toronto!,” Lewis enthuses. “We played everywhere, Calgary, Hamilton, I don’t know, everywhere you can imagine, little cities, big cities ...

“Toronto is one of my favourite cities. I don’t know if it’s me or them. I’m just saying, it’s off the wall. My shows in Toronto are off the wall.”

For series lead Lucas, the Canadian connection is even more personal — indeed, he credits us with his original inspiration to become an actor.

“There was a film being made in Canada — I have yet to track it down, actually — and they got hit by such a severe snowstorm, they had to relocate.

“So they moved the production to Charleston, S.C., off the coast, where we lived at the time, on this tiny little island. They rented our house as the production office, and they shot all of these scenes in and around the house, and on the beach.

“To this day, I can’t find this movie, but it was a Canadian production and I remember they (had to hide) all the big palm trees, and they put up all these Canadian pines.

“I snuck down to watch this scene — I hid in the sand dunes — and really watched this scene between two teenage kids, where they’re fighting, a boy and a girl, and the boy pulls out a gun, he doesn’t shoot her, but he threatens her ...

“And it was right there and then I decided I wanted to be an actor.”

The series’ storyline also strikes a personal chord.

“My own parents were hardcore anti-nuclear activists,” he reveals. “We were all over the country — we were never on the run, never quite in this situation, but we did often have the CIA, sitting in a black car, parked outside our door.

“We knew that we were being watched to a certain extent, and, like this story, my family was incredibly close, because we didn’t necessarily trust much that was happening outside.

“So I feel there’s an integrity to that in this show ... because they only have each other, and they love each other, and they have to rely on each other.

“Luckily, thank god, we have had the pure luck here of having a cast of people like that.

“So, yes, I’m very, very happy to be here.”



Watch expanded interviews with Juliette Lewis, Josh Lucas and Molly Parker at http://youtu.be/QWqIj1jdmlU

::THEATRE NEWS::

The Cirque Remains Unbroken

Source: www.thestar.com - By Robert Crew

Quidam
***1/2 (out of 4)
Created by Guy Laliberte, Franco Dragone and Gilles Ste-Croix. Directed by Franco Dragone. Until Dec. 30 at Ricoh Coliseum, 100 Princes Boulevard, Exhibition Place.

(Dec 21, 2011)
Quidam, the Cirque du Soleil show now at the Ricoh Coliseum, opens with a young girl named Zoe acquiring a bowler hat which belongs to a strange, headless figure who carries an umbrella and looks as though he’s stepped out of a Magritte painting.

Zoe (Alessandra Gonsalez) is bored and ignored by her parents; her father always seems to have his head in a newspaper (literally, on one occasion). And wearing the bowler, Zoe embarks on a journey of discovery, loosely guided by a ringmaster/host named John (Mark Ward.)

Some 2 hours 20 minutes later, all of us have witnessed a series of mind-stretching circus acts, guaranteed to free our cramped, everyday imaginations and let them soar.

Quidam has somewhat more of a framework than many Cirque shows and many of the acts dovetail neatly into the plot (although some don’t.)

Skipping and yo-yos, for example, are a part of many a childhood; there’s a wonderfully athletic exhibition of the former, using multiple performers and several skipping ropes.

The diabolo, a kind of large cotton reel with a waist, is the Chinese version of a yo-yo and it’s balanced and spun on a string between two sticks. Simple in concept but amazingly difficult to execute, particularly with such grace and skill.

Other highlights (for me) include Banquine, a wonderful display of acrobatics and human pyramids; the German Wheel — Cory Sylvester performing a series of spins and manoeuvres inside a circular metal frame; and Statue, a truly beautiful exhibition of control and balance by the amazing Natalia Pestova and Alexandre Pestov.

Then there’s the sensual Aerial Silk act — acrobat Isabelle Vaudelle suspended from a long length of blood-red fabric, wrapping and twisting it around herself as she rises up, then swoops down.

The performance is ultimately disturbing, evoking images of death, as the performer hangs head-down and limp at the end of the act.

To lighten the mood, there are a couple of delightful clowning turns, starring mime Voki Kalfayan and random audience members.

In one, a young woman is invited on stage for a romantic tryst in a car. In the second, several people take part in a melodramatic, silent movie shoot. Lots of fun.

The set is remarkable, an overhead arch consisting of five rail tracks, with trolleys on each. They can support and transport ropes, hoops and people (including three large, green zombie-like figures who hang around disconcertingly at one point.)

And of course, there’s lots of live music, played by six musicians and seemingly drawn from all corners of the world. Not to mention crashing sound effects, thunder and lightning and dramatic lighting design.

It all adds up to a hatful of new experiences, both for Zoe and the audience. A tip of the bowler to Cirque for another winner.

Dance Theatre of Harlem Returns After 8-year Hiatus

Source: www.eurweb.com - Simone Cooper Public Relations, SCPR@aol.com

(Dec 18, 2011) *After an eight-year hiatus, Fall 2012 will mark the return of the
Dance Theatre of Harlem Company, a beacon of excellence in the performing arts community for more than 40 years.

Along with a world-class school that trains young people in classical ballet and the allied arts, the organization boasts a professional ballet company of ethnically diverse artists who perform a demanding and eclectic repertory on international stages.

In addition to the return of the performance season, I also wanted to make you aware the company is seeking classically trained dancers at the principal and soloist level, with auditions taking place in January and February 2012.

Accomplished male and female dancers are encouraged to submit audition reels and resumes online at http://www.dancetheatreofharlem.org/dth-company-auditions between now and January 5, 2012.  Select individuals will be invited to audition in person in one of four cities:

San Francisco  January 14
Miami  January 28
Chicago  February 5
New York  February 25

On the day of the audition, dancers should have $20 for the audition fee (cash only); a resume; proper ballet attire, including pointe shoes for women; a headshot and a full-body dance photo.

For those who wish to audition in person only, pre-registration is recommended. For more details, interested parties can visit www.dancetheatreofharlem.org or can email coauditioninfo@dancetheatreofharlem.org.

Virginia Johnson, former DTH prima ballerina and founding editor of ‘Pointe’ magazine, succeeded Arthur Mitchell as Artistic Director of DTH in 2010 and would be available to speak to you about the auditions, the upcoming season, and other exciting developments with the company. Laveen Naidu, Executive Director of DTH, is also available. Thanks so much, Lee, and I look forward to hearing from you soon about the possibilities.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

Top Tech Gifts For Entrepreneurs

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Lynn Greiner

(Dec. 14, 2011) Visions of sugarplums are all very nice, but at this time of year, visions of tech toys tend to light up one's eyes just as brightly. While some of these goodies tend to the practical, they're all nice to find under the tree.

Let's start with something (almost) pocket-sized. One frustrating thing about being on the road is the lack of reliable wireless connectivity; hotel Wi-Fi often tends to be iffy at best. One solution: a travel router. Belkin's Wireless Dual-Band Travel Router is $79.99.

The router itself is the size of a deck of cards, and it comes in a travel case that keeps it and its tiny power plug and cables corralled. Its small size doesn't mean small functionality – the router plugs into a hotel room's Ethernet connection; then you attach the included USB cable to the power plug and connect it, and you have your very own wireless hotspot for all of your devices.

The router is pre-configured with 256-bit WPA2 encryption to keep your hotspot secure and private, and supports 802.11a/b/g/n wireless standards. It will operate on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands simultaneously, and is VPN-friendly.

Cute and useful – what more could one want!

Speaking of cute and useful, another (rather more expensive) option for the entrepreneur in your life is the Toshiba Portégé Z830 ultrabook. About half an inch thick at its fattest, and tipping the scales at a mere 2.5 lb, this 13.3 inch ultrabook would slip easily into the document pocket of a briefcase. With its Core i3 processor, standard 4GB memory and 128GB solid state drive, it has enough muscle for most office functions, and the eight-cell lithium ion battery will power the machine for up to 8.5 hours.

Videos play very smoothly on the Portégé Z830, and Intel Wireless Display software allows you to stream them to an appropriately equipped TV with the help of a device such as D-Link’s MainStage TV Adapter. It plugs into a composite video or HDMI connection on your HDTV to display streamed content in 1080p with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound – perfect for presentations on the road.

Once the work is done, you might want to grab a good book. The Kobo Vox eReader is the only colour eReader currently available in Canada. Under the covers, it's a 7-inch tablet running Android 2.3 Gingerbread on an 800 MHz processor. It has 8 GB of internal storage, and will hold up to 8,000 books. If that's not enough, it will also take a 32 GB Micro-SD card.

All of that space can be stuffed full of books from the source of your choice, as long as they’re in ePub format. The Kobo store offers colour books especially for the Vox.

In addition, the Vox comes loaded with the Zinio reader for magazines, PressReader for over 1,900 newspapers, Globe2Go, the Globe and Mail's ePaper, and apps for Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and more. And you can install other Android apps (yes, even Angry Birds). Of course there’s audio and video support; listen through the speaker (tinny), or via earphone.

Android users who try to swipe to turn pages in the reader app are apt to be frustrated. For best results, all you need to do is tap the right edge of the screen to advance, the left edge to go back a page, and the middle to pull up menus, just as on Kobo's eInk readers. Opening a book takes a moment or two, but page turns are brisk.

The battery life is not wonderful. You need to keep Wi-Fi turned off to get best results, which Kobo says is up to seven hours (usually less). And the Vox will not charge over USB; you need to use the A/C adapter. But if you're looking for an eReader that also has tablet functionality to put under the tree, it'll do the job quite well.

Finally, a toy that’s practical but still interesting: the Belkin Conserve Insight Energy Use Monitor (about $30). Just plug it into a standard outlet, plug the device you’re curious about into the monitor’s plug, and you’ll get an instant view of its power usage. Leave it for a while and you can see how much the device is costing you (you can program in local rates), or how much CO2 emission that usage represents. A long cord between plug and display lets you monitor an outlet without crawling under the desk.

Next-Level GPS Helps You Avoid Traffic Snarls

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Lynn Greiner

(Dec. 20, 2011) Running a small business can mean you’re constantly on the road for meetings, sales calls or deliveries. Getting stuck in traffic or getting lost is the last thing you need – and that’s when the latest technology comes in handy.

Most people who drive for a living have a standalone
GPS system stuck on their windshield. At its most basic, a GPS simply maps a route from one point to another, based on satellite location information and maps stored in the device.

But as many of us have found, to our chagrin, that means we can be misled. Maps can be less than accurate (people who blindly follow them have been known to end up in lakes) and the devices don’t take temporary conditions into account. I once almost missed a flight because a cab driver was so fixated on his GPS that he didn't see the signs about a road closure, and then had trouble re-plotting his route.

However, some of today's GPS systems are more than mere maps-in-a-box. Companies have realized that the service is more important than the hardware, and have concentrated on improving the information people receive from their systems.

Consider the TomTom Go Live 1535M, for example. Yes, it has maps. Yes, it knows where you are. It has voice recognition, so you can just tell it where you want to go, and it displays your route on a generous five-inch screen, as well as providing directions in a range of voices – instructions from Yosemite Sam, Kim Cattrall, Darth Vader or even Pepé Le Pew are just a download away.

But the cleverest tricks don't reside in the device itself; they live in TomTom’s HD Traffic service. The company receives traffic information from all devices (with user permission, of course) and uses it to deduce traffic patterns and flag slowdowns on both major and secondary routes. Depending on the time of day, it will offer different routes to compensate for those patterns. It receives updates every two minutes.

If you don’t want to buy a standalone device, most smartphones offer some sort of navigation tools. For iPhone, iPad 3G, Android and Windows Mobile 5 or 6 (but not Windows Phone 7), for example, there’s CoPilot Live.

The service is available for more than 50 countries worldwide, and it also offers a walking mode to keep you from getting lost when you’re hoofing it. The professional version includes multi-stop trip optimization and a detour button that searches for alternate routes. As long as you’re connected to the Internet, live services (by subscription) pick up on local traffic conditions and modify the route accordingly.

BlackBerry users can download the free BlackBerry Maps app for turn-by-turn directions, route planning and location updates. Add BlackBerry Traffic (also free) and you have not only a route, but also a sense of what the traffic will be like.

Windows Phone users aren’t left out, either. For example, Navigon, owned by GPS behemoth Garmin, has announced several apps for Windows Phone 7 that should work on the updated Mango OS. They offer all of the usual amenities, including route suggestions, lane maps and real-time traffic alerts, as well as an augmented reality function called Reality Scanner.

Finally, Intelligent Mechatronics Systems (IMS), the company behind the in-car voice recognition app iLane, have come up with an interesting way to help relieve gridlock.

IMS Traffic Intelligence uses signals from cellphones to build maps of traffic conditions. Each phone continually makes itself known to cell towers in its vicinity, and the system tracks the changes to calculate traffic speed. This information, aggregated and refreshed every five minutes, can be used to synchronize traffic lights, or in planning infrastructure improvements. The Region of York, north of Toronto, plans to introduce a smartphone app based on the technology to assist commuters on their daily trek.

Forget Shoes. Headphones Are The New Style Statement

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Dave Morris

(Dec 14, 2011) Dr. Dre has had his share of hits. But when the star,
Eminem producer and hip-hop icon appeared at the plate at Fenway Park last year to promote his new Beats By Dre headphones, fans were understandably confused. What was he doing at a baseball game - not the first sport you'd associate with rap music - and in a Boston Red Sox jersey, no less, plugging a special edition of his headphones with the Red Sox logo attached?

The good doctor was on to something. Two years before, he launched the slickly designed brand in immediately recognizable black, white and red, which happen to be the Red Sox's team colours. Today, annual sales are reportedly approaching $500-million (U.S.) and musicians from Justin Bieber to the estate of the late Bob Marley have scrambled to launch their own headphone lines, along with non-music celebs such as LeBron James. What Dre discovered early now seems obvious: For a lot of consumers, headphones are no longer just about sound.

Not everyone thinks that's a good thing, of course. In 2007, an article in Rolling Stone written by former Billboard editor Robert Levine proclaimed "The Death of High Fidelity." Because many listeners were consuming music on iPods and computers, he wrote, the relatively low audio quality of most MP3s seemed to be a non-issue to all but a few industry pros and audiophile nerds.

Which, you'd think, would doom fancy headphones to sit in garages next to dusty 8-tracks. But market research firm NPD Group says otherwise: U.S. headphone sales in 2010 were up 17 per cent over the previous year.

Did the public suddenly develop more sensitive ears? Possibly, and the iTunes Store's decision in 2009 to upgrade its standard of audio quality may have helped. Francis Delage, co-owner and manager of Canada's Moog Audio, says it makes sense for people who live with their headphones on to invest in a decent pair.

"You see the amount of people on the street or on the streetcar using headphones constantly," Delage says. "If you're going to spend two, three hours a day with something in your ears, you want good quality."

The more likely factor, however, is that capitalism abhors a vacuum. With smartphones in every pocket and handbag, consumers locked into multi-year phone contracts are looking to personalize rather than upgrade their gadgets, and they appear to have found an ideal vehicle for it in pricey headphones as fashion accessories.

"That's pretty new," Delage says, "for us, especially." Though Moog largely caters to musicians and DJs, Delage has observed an increase in customers coming into the Toronto location who are as concerned about the look of their headphones as they are about their sound.

He points to the Urbanears line, which comes in 12 different colours and which "changes every season. Headphones used to be black, maybe silver," Delage says. "Now, even professional manufacturers like Pioneer who make DJ headphones make them in white, black, red, gold ..."

Though the past decade has seen youth brands such as Skullcandy winning over teens with brightly hued splatter-paint designs, and audio stalwarts like Bose pushing the mainstream price envelope with noise-cancelling headphones for business travellers, Beats By Dre were the first to turn headphones into a status object for style-savvy grownups.

Some listeners, however, complain that their striking design can't disguise their poor sound. One audiophile told The New York Times that Beats headphones were "absolutely, astoundingly bad," and critics allege that the amped-up low-end frequencies are overwhelming, colouring the rest of the sound field. Others argue that audio is like wine tasting: Experts often have different criteria than the average consumer.

And if Beats are pricey - the popular Beats Studio by Dre model sells for about $350, the same price as Bose's much-better-reviewed QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling units - many listeners are willing to pay a premium for that little "B" next to their ear canal.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

Ottawa To Crack Down On Misleading Airline Ads

Source: www.thestar.com - Jim Byers

(December 16, 2011) Huge news this morning that should delight anyone who’s tried to decipher an airline advertisement.

In a move that should end those baffling ads that suggest air fares of $99 for flights that actually cost four times that, the Government of Canada announced Friday morning that it will proceed with regulations requiring Canadian air carriers to include all fees and taxes in their advertised prices.

In a press release issued this morning by Transport Canada, it was stated that The Honourable Steven Fletcher, Minister of State (Transport), and Pierre Poilievre, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities “will now proceed with developing regulations regarding airfare advertising.”

“Our government is committed to enhancing consumer protection while promoting fair competition by ensuring greater transparency of advertised airfares for Canadian travellers,” said Minister Fletcher. “This will allow consumers to easily determine the full cost of airfares in order to make informed choices.”

Clause 27 of the Act provides for the making of regulations requiring a carrier to include in the price advertised all costs to the carrier of providing the service and to indicate in the advertisement all fees, charges and taxes related to the service that are collected by the carrier on behalf of another person .

The Canadian Transportation Agency will begin the process of drafting regulations, including consultations with stakeholders. The regulatory process is expected to take approximately one year

This blogger and editor has been railing against the government about this for years, as have many a consumer baffled and bamboozled by ads that talk about fares to Paris for $350, or whatever, but actually amount to closer to $1,200 or so by the time you add the return ticket, taxes and fuel surcharges.

It’s totally unfair to make folks read the fine print, and this is a HUGE step towards righting a long-standing wrong in my opinion. Sadly, it likely will take a year of hearings and talks before the new rules go into effect.

Still, it’s a big win for Canadian consumers and, as Star business reporter Vanessa Lu reports, “comes on the heels of similar measures in the European Union and the United States, where regulators have responded to the complaints of frustrated passengers.

The European Parliament has had legislation in place since 2008.

The United States currently imposes some requirements, but is requiring all-in airfare advertising, beginning in January, Lu wrote.

I have no doubt the airlines will howl, so hang on and enjoy the fireworks.

Catch Some Rays On Grand Cayman

Source: www.thestar.com - Tim Johnson

(December 9, 2011) GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN—“A lot of people are really nervous at first, but after a little time here, they start to get used to it,” the tattooed, laid-back former Missourian told me, her eyes hidden behind big, brown sunglasses, her hands occupied with the task of handling a giant stingray.

As we chatted, waist-deep in the warm blue water on this sandbar out in the middle of
Grand Cayman’s North Sound, several of these grey monsters swirled around, brushing past our legs or bumping into our backs in search of food. Nearby, as if on cue, a woman in her 20s screamed, “Oh my god! They’re all around me!”

She almost tripped on a small male ray in her attempt to scamper away from a group of curious rays that had surrounded her. Samantha, the Missourian, has worked on this sandbar, which is known as Stingray City, and welcomes boatloads of tourists every day, for more than five years—and she has the deep, even tan to prove it. That whole unfortunate business with Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin gave all stingrays a bad name, but Samantha says that these South Atlantic Rays are definitely harmless unless you step directly on, or happen to kick, their little appendage with the stinger — and even then you won’t die, but just render you into a state of discomfort for a little while. All of a sudden, I feel stingers underfoot with every step I take.

Stingray City is just one of the unique attractions on Grand Cayman. While many Canadians seek little more than sun, sand and a great tan from their mid-winter Caribbean vacation, this place — which doesn’t have a single all-inclusive resort — offers a much different experience than most tropical destinations. Made famous in the 1980s for its tax-free offshore banking system and its starring role in popular movies like The Firm, Grand Cayman (along with its smaller sisters, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac) includes a surprising array of fascinating attractions, the perfect place for travellers who want more stimulation out of their warm-weather trip than just a thick novel and a lounge chair.

Cuisine is one significant area where the Caymans have excelled, although Vico Testori remembers a time when this wasn’t so. Attracted here from his native Italy more than 25 years ago by the bright sun and the absence of taxes, Testori owns a lovely Italian restaurant called Pappagallo’s, a quiet thatch-roofed spot tucked away on Grand Cayman’s quiet north side.

“When I got here, it was exactly like that book, Don’t Stop the Carnival,” Testori tells me, his staccato patter having apparently persisted through a quarter-century of laid-back island life. Back then, his restaurant didn’t even have a water line. Agriculture produced almost nothing, and if the boat from the mainland didn’t come on Monday, he was left without milk or fresh vegetables. “In those days, the shelves were empty. Now we have all sorts of French cheeses in the supermarket,” he says. “It’s a trade-off. In the old days people were happy with less, and life was quiet and serene. Now we have more of everything.”

But there’s more to Grand Cayman than food, a fact confirmed for me by Anthony Clarke, a young Caymanian who grew up over in Bodden Town, a small settlement on the south side of the island. With a steady hand on the wheel of the catamaran that has just taken me snorkelling at the wreck of the Kittiwake, a World War II rescue boat recently sunk to create an artificial reef, Clarke, with a pleasant island lilt, explains that, far from the glam image of big dollars and soft sand that now (quite appropriately) marks the Caymans, his grandmother has told him stories about times past when hordes of mosquitoes plagued this place, a scourge so thick smoke pots burned inside every house and cows sometimes died from breathing in too many of the insects.

Life is better now, with the mosquitoes under control and with a good degree of general wealth, coffee shops, movie theatres and other elements of modern life. “There’s always a lot going on. Plays, food events, fishing and volleyball tournaments, waterski races—there’s always something,” Clarke says. And even though Grand Cayman has become thoroughly modern, Caymanians have preserved a few of the important elements from their past, including their proud seafaring heritage. Many people here own boats, taking them to Rum Point on Sundays (“they call it ‘going to Church,’” another local told me), and the island also celebrates with a number of boat-related festivals.

Tim Johnson is a freelance writer based in xxxx.

Just the Facts

STAYING The Caribbean Club ( www.caribclub.com) offers luxurious three-bedroom, three-bathroom condos on a glorious stretch of Seven Mile Beach, starting at around $500 per night. For somewhat less salubrious accommodations, check out the Marriott Beach Club Grand Cayman ( www.marriott.com), which features many rooms with ocean or tropical courtyard views, starting at $189.

DINING For great a great meal, make sure to visit: Pappagallo for Italian with island flare; ( www.pappagallo.ky); Abacus for great steaks and seafood ( www.abacus.ky); and Luca ( www.luca.ky) for the best wine list on island.

DOING On the north side of the island, the Cayman Turtle Farm ( www.turtle.ky) has helped revitalize the Green Sea Turtle population. You can handle juveniles and swim with older ones. At the island’s Botanic Park, endemic Blue Iguanas sun themselves in the parking lot and scurry along the garden paths. Opened just last year, the Cayman Motor Museum ( www.caymanmotormuseum.com)displays the private collection of a wealthy Norwegian shipping magnate (and part-time island resident). It showcases more than a dozen Ferraris, one of Queen Elizabeth’s earliest royal limousines and the original Batmobile.

WEB SURFING: For more information on the islands, visit www.caymanislands.ky.

::SPORTS NEWS::

Super Bowl Moves Online, But Maybe Not In Canada

Source: www.thestar.com - Chris Zelkovich

(December 20, 2011) America’s biggest sports event is coming to the small screen.

The National Football League and NBC announced Tuesday that the next
Super Bowl will be streamed live online and to cellphones for the first time ever.

But that doesn’t mean Canadians will get the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl and its commercials on mobile phones and computers Feb. 5. A CTV spokesman said the network has no plans to follow NBC’s lead at this time.

The move is all about grabbing as big an audience as possible.

“It’s part of the new concept of television everywhere, replicating the broadcast signal on as many different delivery platforms as possible,” said Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications and former head of CBS Sports. “It’s all about maximizing your audience.”

Pilson said with sports rights fees continuing to climb, and networks such as NBC recently agreeing to a 50 per cent hike, making sure no one misses the game is essential.

Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s senior vice-president of media strategy and development, said the league and NBC echoed those comments.

“Whether it’s just for a quarter, if somebody has to run out to the store to get something they forgot, now they can stay connected to the game,” he said.

The online product will be different from what’s beamed to millions of TV sets, which could result in people watching both versions. The web version will include additional camera angles, highlights, stats and replays of the Super Bowl ads.

NBC has been streaming its Sunday night NFL broadcasts for four years, drawing as many as 300,000 viewers a week. The network said many of those are also watching the games on TV.

“We don’t want to limit ourselves to people not in front of the TV,” said Rick Cordella, vice-president and general manager for NBC Sports Digital Media. “The playoffs are appointment viewing. People schedule their day around it.”

The game is annually the biggest attraction on U.S. television, with last season’s Super Bowl drawing a record audience for any show with 111 million viewers. More than 6.5 million Canadians watched the game on CTV and RDS.

NBC will get an early start on its Super Bowl strategy, streaming broadcasts of wild card Saturday on the league’s and network’s websites in the U.S. It will also follow suit with the Pro Bowl.

Pilson said this is a sign of things to come, adding that NBC might do the same thing for this summer’s Olympics.

Also Tuesday, the NFL announced plans to require teams to place certified athletic trainers in the pressbox to help monitor head injuries, a result of the Browns' failure to test quarterback Colt McCoy for a concussion. The new protocol was to be outlined in a memo to all clubs by Wednesday.

With files from Associated Press

DeFrancesco Accelerates Racing Savvy In Europe

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Grant Robertson

(Dec 18, 2011)
Devlin DeFrancesco has learned a lot about the art of racing in just a few years on the go-kart track. But as he lined up for a championship race in Europe recently, the 11-year-old from Canada realized there was one more skill he'll need to acquire fast - command of another language.

With dreams of becoming a Formula One driver by his early 20s, DeFrancesco is part of a small cadre of Canadian-born kids making the jump to competing in Europe very early in their racing careers.

Not unlike the trend of European hockey players coming to the Canadian junior ranks to boost their exposure to scouts and increase the chance of making the NHL, DeFrancesco wants to show he can drive among the best young drivers in Europe, having proved he can make the podium consistently in North America.

"I can show them Canadians are some of the best drivers in the world," DeFrancesco says of the daunting jump for a kid his age. "There's very good Canadians out there as well."

But having just wrapped the season in Italy, where racing is a top youth sport, there's one thing DeFrancesco hadn't bargained for when he landed overseas. Sitting on the grid before a recent competition in Ortona, an Italian town on the Adriatic Sea, he struggled to understand what the race announcer was saying over the loudspeaker.

"The announcers speak in Italian. It's quite hard to understand to be honest," he says.

The language of racing has been less of a problem. His seventh-place finish in the Final Cup, Italy's championship race that draws the best 60 to 90 young drivers from across Europe, was a promising sign for next year. With a top-10 finish under his belt, DeFrancesco now wants to place higher in the category next year and hopefully move up an age category to compete against older drivers.

In shifting his focus to Europe, DeFrancesco follows Montreal-born Lance Stroll, the 13-year-old who was signed by Ferrari at 11, and now spends much of the year racing in Europe. While Stroll drew global attention as the youngest person ever signed to an F1 team, the younger DeFrancesco has been making a name for himself as another top emerging talent from Canada.

In the past 12 national-level races he entered in North America, DeFrancesco made the podium every time - a record, his coaches point out, no other driver his age can boast.

With a new wave of Canadian talent now cracking the ranks of professional racing - namely Toronto-born Robert Wickens, 22, who is on the cusp of Formula One, and 24-year-old IndyCar rookie of the year James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont. - younger racers such as DeFrancesco and Stroll may represent Canada's future 10 years from now if their promise is realized.

DeFrancesco has the same pro ambitions as his older predecessors. Racing in Europe has raised his game, he says over the phone from Florida, where the family now lives.

"I've got a lot more aggressive. It's helped me a lot with passing and everything," DeFrancesco says. "The drivers are a lot better there, and a lot more aggressive."

Adjusting to the larger, louder crowds has also been a change. Much like a Canadian town will pack a junior hockey rink for a game, thousands of fans in Italy will turn up at the track on race day.

"This was a building year in Europe to get used to the European driving," says his father, Andy DeFrancesco. "We're putting him with the sharks at all times, and he's got to fight his battles."

The European go-karting circuit is a who's-who of F1 names. Hugo Hakkinen, the 11-year-old son of two-time F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen, is among DeFrancesco's rivals. And five-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher's 13-year-old son, Mick, has also raced the circuit before, often under his mother's maiden name to avoid drawing attention.

The move to Europe is not something every up and coming North American racer can do, though, since the costs are astronomical and the logistics are complex. Andy, a financier in the mining and energy sector, has spent tens of thousands of dollars or more to set up Devlin's racing career overseas, including a teacher who travels with him on the road.

However, the payoff could be huge, since there is a history of North American drivers who eventually cracked the pro levels after training against drivers in Europe.

Back in Florida on a rare break from training this month, Devlin is busy getting ready for the coming season, which means catching up on schoolwork. Italian lessons may be next on the priority list.

"Poco," DeFrancesco says, when asked how much of the language he has picked up at the track (that is, not much). The rush to learn Italian will be one of many races he'll be running next year as he looks to compete on a much bigger stage.

Junior Hockey Player Smith-Pelly Lives Out Two Dreams

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Eric Duhatschek

(Dec 19, 2011) There is a certain symmetry to the world junior hockey
championship this year as it relates to Devante Smith-Pelly, who will be front and centre in the tournament, one of only two players who joined the squad directly from an NHL roster.

A year ago, Smith-Pelly was watching the tournament from the outside while his coach with the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, Dave Cameron, was running the show. This year? Their roles are reversed. Cameron is an interested spectator, watching closely as one of his former protégés takes a leading role, in trying to help Canada win gold.

Smith-Pelly played three seasons for Cameron at St. Mike's, and in the beginning it wasn't clear where his career would go. The 17-year-old version of Smith-Pelly had conditioning and weight problems and, at one point, Cameron instituted a rule: If Smith-Pelly was ever carrying more than 210 pounds, he would be out of the lineup that night.

"I have to admit, when I was 16 or 17, I wasn't committed to off-ice as much as I should have been," Toronto-born Smith-Pelly said in an interview. "I'm real glad I had a coach who was really tough on me and made sure I knew that if I wanted to get to the next level, I'd have to get all that stuff under control.

"Last year, going into the season, I really took that message to heart and made sure that it wasn't a problem. I made sure it was all gone. I owe a lot to Mr. Cameron. I'd say he is one of the biggest reasons I'm playing in the NHL at 19."

The other Canadian teenagers playing in the NHL this year were chosen in the top 10 of the NHL's entry draft. By contrast, Smith-Pelly went 42nd overall to the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, following his second junior season. But it was last season when Smith-Pelly blossomed - a 36-goal regular season followed by an eye-popping playoff, in which he scored 15 goals in 20 games and was named to the Memorial Cup all-star team. Smith-Pelly carried that fabulous finish into a strong summer camp for the world junior team.

Eventually, the question wasn't whether Smith-Pelly was good enough to make the Canadian squad, but whether the Ducks would give him a month away from his NHL duties to represent his country internationally.

The Ducks consented, as did the Tampa Bay Lightning in freeing up Brett Connolly.

For Canada's first exhibition game against Finland on Monday, Smith-Pelly was pencilled in alongside Winnipeg Jets prospect Mark Scheifele on what figures to be the No. 1 line for coach Don Hay. Hay will wait until after the three pretournament games before naming his captains and associates, but Smith-Pelly (along with returning forward Jaden Schwartz and defenceman Brandon Gormley) are considered strong candidates to all get letters.

Hay particularly likes the physical dimension that Smith-Pelly brings.

"You have Smith-Pelly who will create a lot of physical play and I think guys will really follow him."

As for Smith-Pelly, he understands he has a rare opportunity to achieve two dreams - making the NHL, playing for his country at the world juniors - in a single season. Win or lose, Smith-Pelly has been assured by Ducks general manager Bob Murray that he'll be back in sunny California to resume his NHL career once the tournament is over.

"Not a lot of people do get the chance to represent their country; it doesn't happen that often," Smith-Pelly said. "Not getting a chance last year, and then with me making the team this year in the NHL, I thought that was it - and I'd never get the chance to play in something like this. It was something I wanted to do. It's exciting, it's a feeling you can't really describe, especially with it being in Canada. I just can't wait for that first real game."

The Grooming Of Canada's Next Formula One Driver

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Grant Robertson

(Dec 18, 2011) The speedometer hits 120 kilometres an hour before
Lance Stroll starts to find his rhythm. This is his first time driving the Circuito Internazionale Napoli, but he is making it look easy - like he's been doing this for decades.

Today is a closed practice, accessible only to Stroll and his small team of coaches and hand-picked advisers. But had this famous racetrack in southern Italy sold tickets, auto racing aficionados would have probably filled the bleachers - just for a chance to glimpse Stroll with their own eyes. To see what all the fuss is about.

His first lap clocks in at 1 minute 20 seconds. Not bad for a rookie. Then, successive laps begin to tell the tale of this aspiring Formula One driver from Canada who has caused ripples throughout the auto racing world. He cuts through the course in 1:16 and begins to shave a second or two off each lap: 1:14, 1:12, 1:11, 1:10, 1:09.

By the time he pulls back into the paddock to have his tire pressure checked, Stroll is within reach of a track record.

He takes off his helmet, brushes his dark hair to one side, and stares intently at a small computer that has been tracking his every move. His top speed blinks across the screen: 127 km/h.

He is quiet for a few seconds. It's not the 130 he wanted.

"We'll save that for the race," Stroll says, dripping with sweat and disappointment.

It's still pretty fast for a kid, who turned 13 in October.

Back home in Montreal, it's a school day for his friends, but Lance has come to Italy to begin one of the most audacious experiments auto racing has ever seen.

Ferrari, that engineer of perfect cars, now wants to engineer the perfect driver.

The project was unveiled in June of 2010, when Ferrari, cherished in Italy for its racing prowess and renowned worldwide for its high-end sports cars, announced that Lance, a standout on the North American go-kart circuit, was to become the youngest person signed to a Formula One team, at 11.

The move raised eyebrows across the sporting world: a boy who was then five years away from a driver's licence would be groomed into an F1 driver, one of the most challenging jobs in professional sports. Not to mention one of the most dangerous.

It had all the earmarks of a publicity stunt. But Ferrari wasn't joking. Its experiment with Lance will test the limits of how talent is developed in professional auto racing, and how much it costs to build a winner.

At a time when F1 is struggling with soaring costs and waning TV ratings, forcing the sport to seek out new markets in Asia and the Middle East to revitalize itself, Ferrari is undertaking a strategic overhaul of its own.

It is a blueprint that will require at least eight years to complete. And if all goes according to design, it could change auto racing's oldest team forever.

Even Ferrari acknowledges it is a gamble.

"A project like this was never part of the culture of Ferrari," says Luca Baldisserri, head of the Ferrari Driver Academy, where Lance is training. "He is very young. We know that. It's a big jump in the dark, to be honest."

At the centre of it all is Lance, an unassuming teen with a wide grin, unflappable concentration and a preternatural gift for speed.

"I've seen a lot of kids - fast kids," says British racing coach Mike Wilson, who has mentored numerous F1 drivers. "He's got that killing instinct. It's something that's born inside of you."

HUNTING FOR A PROTÉGÉ

Ferrari never thought its search for a driver would lead to Canada. It seemed only logical the best talent would be found in one of the many racing-mad countries in Europe.

But Lance is an anomaly. He began driving at 5, after his father bought him a miniature go-kart as a gift. Like most parents who steer their children toward sports they love, Lawrence Stroll is a car buff and Formula One fanatic. But he never gave the karting idea much thought. It was just something Lance could do for fun.

A few years later, as soon as the rules allowed, Lance was racing competitively in Quebec. And by 9, he was dominating the North American circuit against much older kids, winning more than 70 per cent of the events he entered - a freakishly high percentage in a sport where victories are scuttled by something as arbitrary as a blown gasket.

As Lance won races, it was common for rivals to suspect he had an advantage. And he did. Success in racing takes money - lots of it, since the karts cost $7,000 (U.S.) or more and practice time is expensive. But his father is a wealthy man, having made millions in the textiles business. He also collects Ferraris, and his family owns a Montreal dealership that sells them.

Despite those ties to Ferrari, though, Stroll says he was suspicious when his son was approached in 2010, after a race in Florida by a man with a strange-sounding offer. How would Lance like to come race for Ferrari, the most storied name in racing? Scouts had been watching as he racked up victories across North America, and they liked what they saw.

Stroll didn't believe it. This man was a con artist, a fraud. He was incensed.

"I told him, you're full of [expletive], this isn't true," the father recalls. It took a phone call from Italy later that afternoon to change his mind.

After scouring racing's junior ranks in Europe and North America, the Ferrari Driver Academy had settled on two or three boys it thought it could mould, and Lance was its first pick.

The Ferrari Driver Academy? Stroll had never heard of it. But then, Ferrari hadn't said very much publicly about its new program.

Though Lance was eager to accept, his parents were reluctant. He was still a boy, and this was a major commitment. "I wanted Lance to digest it," Stroll says. "With the time and money Ferrari is spending, you've really got to know you want to do this."

But Ferrari wasn't the only one interested. Within days, Ferrari's bitter F1 rival, McLaren, heard what transpired in Florida and lobbed in a competing offer. After mulling his options, Lance chose Ferrari, and a few months later, boarded a plane for his first training session at the academy.

Despite murmurs in Canadian racing circles - mostly from Lance's competitors - that Stroll's money and connections paved Lance's way into Ferrari, the man who runs the academy bristles at this suggestion.

Seated in a cluttered office at Ferrari's headquarters in Maranello, Italy, Baldisserri speaks bluntly on the subject: Ferrari does not sell spots on its roster, he says.

The team is bankrolling the entire project. Win or lose, it is Ferrari's wager.

BUILDING A RACE-CAR DRIVER

Ferrari has long dreamed of engineering the perfect race-car driver.

The idea first struck the racing team's founder, Enzo Ferrari, in the summer of 1977, when he got to thinking that with enough ingenuity, he and the expert minds at his company could revolutionize auto racing by extending Ferrari's prowess beyond the car to the person behind the wheel.

"I like thinking Ferrari can build drivers as well as cars," Enzo once said, after setting eyes on an aspiring driver from Canada - a scrappy, tousle-haired daredevil named Gilles Villeneuve.

At 26, Villeneuve was skilled but still rough around the edges for Formula One, which is the most technically demanding of all professional racing disciplines, requiring a constant mixture of violent braking, acceleration, hairpin cornering and rapid gear shifting.

Villeneuve grew up racing snowmobiles near Chambly, Que., and showed an uncanny knack for winning when he jumped into cars. Standing just 5 foot 2, he was dubbed il piccolo Canadese - the little Canadian - by Enzo Ferrari after joining the team.

Villeneuve rocketed to stardom under Ferrari, winning six F1 races and reaching iconic status, especially in his home province. But it all came to a gut-wrenching halt at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, when Villeneuve died after being thrown from his car in a violent collision. Considered one of the purest talents F1 has seen, Villeneuve's death haunts the Ferrari team to this day.

Enzo Ferrari's dream of building the perfect driver was deferred, and over the years the team found other ways to win - mainly by spending gobs of money. In 1996, Ferrari paid a record $25-million a year to lure reigning champion Michael Schumacher to its team, and was rewarded with five successive F1 titles between 2000 and 2004.

But since Schumacher's reign ended, the balance of power has shifted dramatically within the sport, and Ferrari has been losing ground to more cunning rivals. Two years ago, the Italians went back to the drawing board.

In 2009, Ferrari created its driver academy after realizing it needed to get better at developing talent from within. The original plan was to work with young men - 17- or 18-year-olds. It wasn't until Ferrari found Lance that the blueprint changed.

Lance's training program at Ferrari is an F1 regimen modified for a boy. The team of coaches and technicians watching over him includes gymnastics experts recruited specifically for this project.

"They are specialized in dealing with children," Baldisserri says. "They know how to build co-ordination first, then the muscle."

On a typical training day, Lance balances on an exercise ball inside a gymnasium at Ferrari and closes his eyes. A trainer hands him a steering wheel and tells him to concentrate. Holding his arms straight out in front of his body, Lance is instructed to visualize the courses he will race on in Europe, and to steer himself through the imaginary turns. Apart from the steering motion, he must remain perfectly still. It is an exercise to build balance, stamina and focus.

Later, he will visit a nutritionist before heading to a classroom session on racing strategy, and then to the "Mind Room," where Ferrari teaches its drivers to stay calm under pressure. Computer programs help build Lance's reflexes and hone his use of peripheral vision, while another machine quietly tracks his brain activity, breathing patterns and blood pressure.

During a race, the average F1 driver is subjected to extreme conditions, including force five times that of gravity. On a tight corner, or a long straightaway, that's enough to temporarily arrest a driver's breathing and make his head feel like a 50-pound weight. Sweating from the heat of a car straining to hit 350 km/h, a driver will lose up to three litres of fluid during a race, and his blood pressure jumps by half.

At Lance's age, racing takes a similar toll. Fatigue slows reaction times, making wheel movements sloppy.

"After a lot of laps you start to get dizzy," he says, in a voice that has not yet cracked. "Balance is really important for driving, so your head doesn't go like this" - he tilts his head as if asleep - "when you get tired. So you have to always stay strong. We work on that a lot."

Ferrari is starting Lance out slow. He won't get in an actual race car until he is at least 15, and his workouts, for now, are limited to low-impact cardio and balance drills.

"I'm too young for weights," he says with a shrug.

More than three decades after Gilles Villeneuve arrived in Italy, Lance Stroll is the new piccolo Canadese inside Ferrari.

NEW ECONOMICS OF RACING

The groundwork for the Lance Stroll experiment was laid in 1995, at a posh hotel in London.

That year, McLaren boss Ron Dennis was handing out trophies at an awards gala when a particularly brave 10-year-old informed one of racing's most intimidating figures that he would someday race for him. The boy's name: Lewis Hamilton.

Dennis laughed and told the boy to call him in about nine years. But after watching Hamilton clean out the karting ranks for the next three years, Dennis made a crazy bet in 1998, signing Hamilton to McLaren at 13. Jaws dropped across the racing world and controversy ensued.

It was an unprecedented move, and few people gave it much credence. But Hamilton began winning at every rung of amateur racing. Soon, he was knocking on the door of Formula One as an entirely new breed of driver - weaned on the go-kart circuit and bred by McLaren with an F1 ethic. With access to high-tech racing simulators and coaching that only professionals were previously afforded, Hamilton developed more rapidly than any driver who had come before.

Then, in 2007, everything changed.

Desperate for a Formula One title, and not expecting Hamilton to contend any time soon, McLaren went out and paid top-dollar to steal 2006 F1 champion Fernando Alonso away from the Renault team. At more than $30-million a year, it was one more blockbuster deal in pro racing's history of audacious spending.

What no one expected was that Hamilton, a rookie breaking into F1 in his early 20s, would almost immediately challenge for racing supremacy, and ultimately win the 2008 championship at 23. That same year, Alonso came fifth.

Other teams took notice of the math: McLaren was paying Alonso more than $30-million a year. Hamilton cost a measly $560,000.

This breakthrough lit a spark at Ferrari. Building a driver from scratch wasn't merely doable - as Enzo Ferrari once mused - it was ingenious.

"With the cheques that we write Fernando or Michael [Schumacher], we can build 20 drivers," Baldisserri says, his eyes lighting up.

Racing isn't the first sport to venture deep into the youth ranks for undiscovered talent.

Soccer has long taken this approach to controversial extremes. Spanish club Real Madrid made headlines this year when it signed a 7-year-old from Argentina to its development squad. Dutch team VVV-Venlo pushed the boundaries further, signing an 18-month-old toddler to a symbolic 10-year contract after watching him kick a ball on YouTube.

But soccer's roulette-style search for talent isn't always taken seriously. Though some stars have emerged, fans generally brush off such contracts for what they are - mostly stunts.

Racing's move into the world of child prodigies is far more serious and cost-intensive. McLaren spent an estimated $5-million on Hamilton's development over 10 years, and Ferrari is also investing considerably in Lance.

The team has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a high-tech simulator for karts. By the time Lance is old enough to pilot a regular car, he will have logged thousands of hours behind the wheel. "With the simulator, you can eliminate all variables - traffic, tires, conditions - and concentrate only on pure driving, on your driving line, your style" Baldisserri says.

When Ferrari sought out Lance, it was looking for someone with the basic building blocks of racing: the ability to make lightning-quick decisions, assertiveness, patience and calmness under pressure. Psychological tests helped determine the best candidates.

The signs of a good driver are visible during a race - fighting off an opponent in the corners, consistent lap times, and the judgment to know when to pass and when not to take the gamble.

Yet the dangers of the sport are inescapable, something Lance's parents think about often. As much as Lawrence Stroll is a fan of auto racing, he worries deeply about his son's safety.

"Like any parent, the first time I saw him go, I thought 'Are we all crazy here?' " he says. "I was just very scared that he would get hurt."

Virtually every sport has risks - concussions for hockey and football players, for example - but none are as perilous as auto racing. There have been 45 fatalities in the 61-year history of Formula One. And though safety reforms have reduced accidents considerably in the past 20 years, auto racing remains one of the most dangerous ways to earn a living in pro sports.

A cold reminder of that reality came in October, with the death of British racer Dan Wheldon on the IndyCar circuit in Las Vegas.

For Stroll, allowing Lance to race is a daily battle between the protective parent and the one that wants to encourage his son's ambitions. "You watch him and you watch him, and you begin to find a comfort level over time," he says. "[The worry] is never gone, but you just learn to live with that."

The gear worn by drivers speaks volumes. Lance's blood type is stitched across the waistband of his fire-proof racing suit, just in case. In addition to his helmet, he also dons a heavily padded vest to protect his ribs, and heat-resistant gloves.

Lance will be introduced to faster speeds and more imposing cars gradually. Ferrari is in no rush until he has an expert grasp of the road. One wrong move and he could end up in the wall.

"It's good for him to do his mistakes now," Baldisserri says. "Because mistakes when you are older, you will pay for them 10 times. He needs to understand that, because otherwise it can be dangerous."

Baldisserri admits Ferrari officials have asked themselves if Lance was too young for the academy. "Yes, definitely," he says. "But it's something that at the moment he is responding to very well."

SKILL, MONEY, LUCK

A sport that used to regard a 28-year-old driver as young may soon consider him over the hill.

Since Hamilton burst upon the scene, pro racing has been in the throes of a youth movement. Kids are getting better, sooner.

Hamilton was two months shy of his 24th birthday when he became the youngest driver to win the F1 championship in 2008. Sebastian Vettel bettered that mark last year, taking the title at 23 years 5 months.

But the youth revolution is not limited to the twisting tracks of Formula One, the oldest, fastest and most global of the three pro auto racing circuits.

In NASCAR, the stockcar circuit that dominates the attention of U.S. audiences, driver Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 this year, just one day after turning 20.

IndyCar, the predominantly North American oval circuit, is also seeing a surge of young drivers, including James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., who won rookie of the year this season, at 24.

Spotting talent at a young age is not easy. Some say it's impossible. There are many factors that can scrap a racing career.

Drivers are usually 18 before Ferrari can tell if they are ready for F1 consideration, and it helps if they are piccolo. If Lance, who stands 4 foot 9, adds too much height or weight in his teen years, it will be difficult to squeeze into the cockpit of an F1 car, which is designed for aerodynamics, not leg room.

This issue has thwarted racing careers before: In 2005, Austrian driver Alexander Wurz lost his spot as McLaren's backup driver when the team's engineers designed a faster car that didn't accommodate his 6-foot-1 frame. Wurz was replaced by 5-foot-8 Pedro de la Rosa of Spain.

Some aspects of Lance's development are even harder to predict. Competitors who are fearless on the track at a young age may grow tentative when they graduate to faster cars. Hesitation may only add seconds to a lap time - but that's enough to reduce a driver from great to just average.

Lance admits he sometimes gets nervous before competitions, but it's the anticipation of the race that does it, not the speed. "Nervous can be good," he says, repeating what his coaches and sports psychologists tell him about the rush of adrenaline that hits before a race. "It means I'm ready to go."

Lance has a team built around him that extends well beyond Ferrari. Stroll has brought aboard Montreal sports psychologist Wayne Halliwell, who worked with NHL star Sidney Crosby as a boy. "He reminds me a lot of Crosby at that age," Halliwell says of Lance's intense focus.

For added coaching support, Stroll also contacted Mike Wilson, a British racing legend who competed as a teenager against the late Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian who many consider was the best F1 driver in history. Wilson figures he gets 100 calls a year from parents around the world who want him to coach their child.

When Stroll called, Wilson turned him down.

Stroll persisted and offered to fly Wilson to Montreal to watch Lance race. "I said to my wife, 'Listen, I've got this Canadian kid I'm going to watch him,' " Wilson recalls. " 'I'll be back in a week and that will be the end of it.' "

But after watching Lance turn a few laps in Montreal, Wilson signed on to the project long-term.

Like Ferrari, Wilson is putting his venerable name on the line with Lance. But if anyone knows the razor-thin margin between becoming an F1 driver and fading into the background of the sport, it's him. Wilson had the chops to race at the highest level, but he lacked the means. Formula One requires money and timing, and he had neither. With a baby on the way when he was in his early-20s, Wilson abandoned his dreams and opted for paying gigs, and the F1 window closed.

Though Canada has produced more than its share of talented drivers, money counts as much as ability. At 22, Toronto-born Robert Wickens is considered good enough for the F1 circuit. But unless he can crack a top team like Ferrari or McLaren, Wickens will need to bring sponsorship dollars to the table - cash that is akin to buying your way onto the grid.

It's an unforgiving reality of the sport. With only 12 teams in today's Formula One circuit, and two cars for each, there are 24 spots on race day. And even with money and talent, getting there takes one additional element that no driver can control.

"Luck," says Wilson, jamming his hands into his jean pockets as he watches Lance spin around the track at the Circuito. To make it, every driver needs skill, money "and a lot of luck."

'A BULL'S-EYE ON MY BACK'

Before Lance goes to bed each night, he opens up a small coil notebook and scribbles a few paragraphs about his day at the track.

This is his training journal, which Halliwell has asked him to keep just as Crosby did nearly a decade ago, when he was a hockey prodigy with a world of pressure bearing down on him.

The handwriting is that of a child, but the language is a race car driver's. "Yesterday was a good day," Lance writes. "We easily have a good three-tenths of a second in the chassis and that will make us top three."

Turning through the pages, one phrase in particular begins to stand out in the diary. Lance jots it down many times: "I know I am fast. I know I am fast. ..."

This is a confidence exercise. Before each race, Lance flips down the visor on his helmet, closes his eyes, and repeats to himself. "I know I am fast."

They are reassuring words, especially as Lance finds himself at the centre of a gathering storm. Ferrari's decision to sign a boy - a Canadian boy at that - does not sit well with many European competitors.

Not long after Ferrari's announcement went around the world, Lance began to notice something different during his races. First, he shrugged it off. Then, it was undeniable. It was as though the other kids were trying to run him off the track. Was it because of the Ferrari deal?

"It couldn't have helped," Lance says with a shrug. "But I can't do anything about it. I'm not going to not accept the offer" just to make other people happy.

With the eyes of the racing world upon him, Lance is now trying to keep a low profile. When Ferrari welcomed Lance to its team, Baldisserri presented him with the rarest of gifts: a bright red Ferrari racing suit, just like the one Villeneuve wore. It is the most famous uniform in racing.

But Lance told Ferrari it's probably better if he doesn't wear it. "It's like having a bull's-eye on my back," he explains. "The other kids are going to be saying: 'He's a Ferrari driver - go and get him.' "

Baldisserri agreed. Everyone is chasing Lance Stroll.

So on race day, the famous red suit stays at home and he zips himself into an anonymous blue-and-white uniform. Only a small yellow sticker on his helmet - the prancing horse logo of Ferrari - signals his potential as a Formula One driver.

On the track, the logo is hard to spot. At 127 km/h, this tiny symbol of a sport in transition is little more than a blur.

UFC’s 'Big Nog' Recovers Arm Surgery

Source: www.globeandmail.com - The Canadian Press

(Dec 19, 2011) Vail, Colo. —
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, whose arm was broken at UFC 140 in Toronto, has had a plate and 16 screws inserted in his arm.

The surgery is detailed in an entry on the Brazilian heavyweight's website attributed to Dr. Tom Hackett of the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo.

“I'm feeling better,” Nogueira tweeted.

Nogueira's humerus was broken when he refused to tap to a Frank Mir kimura on Dec. 10 at the Air Canada Centre.

Initial reports were that surgery was not needed. But Hackett says the radial nerve, which affects power and sensation to the hand, was affected.

“The nerve was in the area of the fracture and the bone was pinching the nerve,” Hackett wrote. “Prior to the surgery he had very little strength in his hand and no strength in his thumb.”

Since the surgery, function is returning to the hand.

“If everything goes well he will begin full training in the next several months and should be 100 per cent for competition fighting in six months or less. We anticipate a complete and full recovery.”