• This Week's Film Reviews (July 5th)

    Early Wednesday openings of DESPICABLE ME 2 and the LONE RANGER due to the holiday on July the 4th in the U.S.  Other films open Friday.

    DESPICABLE ME 2 (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

                To love DESPICABLE ME  and DESPICABLE ME 2 films, one must love those invented cuties called minions.  The minions are tubby little minitiasized children-like helpers of villain Dru (Steve Carell), who is supposedly turned over a new leaf in the second film.

                Both directors voice several minions themselves, so this a minion obsessed film.

                No doubt these creatures are cute, cuddly and goofy, and one film about them could have stretched their lovability to the limit.  It does not help that the directors intensify the cuteness factor in this one.  Neither does it help that the film has a thin plot relying on the affability of the minions again.

                Gru, who stole the moon in the first film is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to deal with a new super criminal (Benjamin Pratt).  His faithful second in command, Dr, Nefario (Russell Brand) turns out not to be faithful as he joins the other side.  Gru is assigned a female agent, Lucy (Kristen Wii) to help.  The two lonely souls fall in love with each other and Gru’s villainess has turned to niceness.

                DESPICABLE ME 2 is animation more inclined to the younger children.  But the blend of goofiness and cuteness work well to keep the adults laughing as well.  But this is no super animated film say compared to BRAVE, THE PIRATES MOVIE or SHREK.  The directors also resort to lots of objects hurled out from the screen to the audience in this 3D outing.


    I’M SO EXCITED! (Spain 2012) **

    Directed by Pedro Almodovar


                The Spanish title of the new Almodovar film which translates to “The Passenger Lovers” has been changed to the title of Pointer Sister’s song I’M SO EXCITED which is performed as a lip-sync drag queen dance style, except that the performers keep their male clothes on.  Anything can happen in an Almodovar movie, and in this case, 3 gay flight attendants perform I’M SO EXCITED to cheer the passengers of a troubled flight.

                Almodovar has opted for serious fare lately since the success of his best film LA MALA EDUCACION (BAD EDUCATION).  ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, TALK TO HER and his previous THE SKIN I LIVE IN show the gay director in top form.  In his latest offering he goes back to the comedies that he started with that made him famous.

                Almost the entire action of the film takes place on board a passenger flight.  Due to mishandling of the plane’s landing gear (Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas in cameos), a flight has to keep circling till they can make a dangerous emergency landing.  The flight attendants have to save the day.  With this scenario, director Almodovar tries very hard, in fact too hard for comedy.

                All the staff are gay or if not, have tried by giving blow jobs.  One passenger is a psychic who can foresee death.  (In Almodovar’s early WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? There is also the supernatural with a child able to move objects.) 

                But the film only goes to prove how difficult it is to make a funny film.  Despite Almodovar’s gift for coming up with comedic set ups, more often that not, the timing is off or what comes off is just not funny.  One can tell from the performance of I’M SO EXCITED” how hard all the staff of this film have tried.

                The result is a slightly amusing rather than the hilarious farce that the film aims to be.  Nothing to be too excited about this film whose highlight is the performance of this song.


    THE LONE RANGER (USA 2013) ****
    Directed by Gore Gerbrinski

                It’s been a while since THE LONE RANGER hit movie screens.  So, as well known as his hero is, the LONE RANGER feels original in look, concept, layout and execution tough the film’s format has bee used before.

                The story of the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammr) is told from Tonto’s (Johnny Depp)’s point of view.  A boy wearing a mask visits an Indian exhibit in a museum where an older Tonto appears to tell his story.  The last time, an aged Indian told his story of the west was in Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN with Dustin Hoffman as a 100-year old Indian telling his version of Custer of the West.

                As a Hollywood blockbuster produce by Jerry Bruckheimer, THE LONE RANGER has plenty of pyrotechnics even and special effects though one might think a western need not have any.  A bridge is blown up, trains with carriages plunge into a river and the Lone Ranger rides his white horse, Silver on the roof of the train.

                Running a two and a half hours, Vebinski’s film is well paced with more evil and plot revealed towards the climax.  At least the filmmakers realize that a good story is important to the success of a good film.  And the film has good one involving evil railroad Lords, best villains and chivalrous heroes.  The Indian is given a different more sympathetic look in the film.  This is one film in which the audience will be cheering for the Indians and booing at the Calvary.

                Depp who stars and produced the film does a good job.  Depp injects the humour, mystery and depth of the otherwise traditional tale of the west.

                THE LONE RANGER plays its safe with a look typical to the old westerns like THE HALLELUYAH TRAIL and CAT BALLOU that were all hits at the box-office.  The filmmakers also opt for more slapstick action complete with chase and wild antics at the end, similar to films with chase endings like Richard Lester’s A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE E FORUM and WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?  The film has lots of shoot-outs and killings but with minimum amount of blood.  The film will serve as a good family outing.

                THE LONE RANGER will likely spin off ore sequels.  But judging fro the care and effort put into this one, a few other LONE RANGER films will be welcome.


    20 FEET FROM STARDOM (USA 2013) ***


    Directed by Morgan Neville


                Forget DREAMGIRLS and THE SAPPHIRES!  This is the real thing!  This comprehensive documentary on back up singers takes a cross sectional look at a number of famous back up singers, all Black, who make it to the top on their own.


                Audiences seldom realize the different back up singers do to a song.  The back up singer to Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson are just two examples that both Jagger and Jackson cannot do without.


                Neville’s film starts at the very beginning when back up singers were only white who just oo-ah’ed a song without body movements.  When the Blacks took over, the back up singers practically guaranteed he success of a song.  Archival concert footage illustrates the fact.


                Neville has assembled an impressive list of interviewees that include Sting, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen who attest to the contribution of back up singers. 


                But the film gets a bit high ended over these singers.  At one point, backup singing is described as a higher calling in which the love of singing is put above fame.  The film then contradicts itself by displaying one such singer, Darlene Love who progressed from back up singer to sole performer.  Yet another case is denoted – the one of Judith Hill.


                The only downside that is mentioned is the decline of the industry for the need of backup singers in the80’s, but this segment is slowly shadowed by the induction t fame of back up singer Darlene Love


                But one cannot deny that the film does not shed light on the singers that stand 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.  More should be said of the future of the subject.  But the archive footage of performances is sufficient to entertain audiences for the price of their ticket.


    THE WAY, WAY BACK (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

                This charming and hilarious comedy is about a teenager, Duncan (Liam James) who learns how to stand for up for himself for the first time.  This he learns during his summer break, while earning the bonus of learning to be cool at the same time.

                THE WAY, WAY BACK can hardly be called a coming-of-age story as this change in his life occurs in a short period of time (the summer break).  This is a plus, as there are already too many coming-of-age indie films.  It also helps that the script, also written by Rash and Nixon (who also have minor roles in the film) is a very funny one.

                Duncan is spending summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette).  He would rather be spending it with his father, though he does not realize that he is not wanted there.  But to make matters worse, he is taken to the summer house of his mother’s boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) who belittles and bullies him half the time.  Duncan sneaks a job at an amusement park, bonding with one of the managers, Owen (Sam Rockwell).  In the mean time, he has a crush on the neighbour’s daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

                The story is simple enough with Duncan proving himself at work, gaining confidence and finally standing up for himself against Trent.  The success of the film thus depends on the different set-ups that lead to the conclusion.  These are both hilarious when need be and dramatic, again when need be.

                Performances are excellent all around, especially from newcomer, Liam James.  Carell plays against type and is entirely convincing as the asshole character. Though it is easy for Sam Rockwell to steal the show as the child man who cracks his own jokes every opportunity he can, it is actually Collette who delivers the film’s best performance as the mother, who has to show affection for her son and boyfriend and needing to demonstrate the traits of both sensitivity and strength.

                Though simple in design, THE WAY, WAY BACK emerges as a winning crowd pleaser.  No wonder Fox Searchlight decided to screen several word-of-moth screenings even before its screening for the press.


    Best Film Opening:THE LONE RANGER

    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN



  • TIFF Cinematheque - Century of Chinese Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque presents – Century of Chinese Cinema

    TIFF Cinematheque presents a whole range of Chinese films from China, Taiwan an Hong Kong in place of Summer in France and Italy this year.   The films include several different themes from the Golden Era of the 30’s and 80’s up to gangster films of the20’s such as INFERNAL AFFAIRS that went on to become Hollywood’s remake of Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED that won the Oscar for Best Picture.

    The series runs from June the 5th to August the 11th.

    For the complete list of films, ticket pricing and screening dates, check the TIFF website at:


    Courtesy of TFF Cinematheque, screeners and hence capsule reviews are provided for a total of 21 films outlined below.  This article will be updated frequently to include more reviews as this critic views the films.

    These films will bee capsule reviewed.  Please check this page for daily updates.

    SONG AT MIDNIGHT (1937)                                Golden Era                  Jun 30

    SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN        (1948)             Golden Era                  Jun 25

    RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (1961)           New China                  June 9

    THE LOVE ETERN (1963)                           New China                  July 13

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)             New Directions           June 16

    KEKEXILI MOUNTAIN PATROL (2004) New Directions           June 11

    VIVE L’AMOUR (1994)                               New Directions           June 20

    A CITY OF SADNESS (1989)                                  New Waves                 July 1

    ACTRESS (1992)                                           New Waves                 June 22

    RED SORGHUM (1987)                               New Waves                 July 14

    THE BLACK CANNON INCIDENT (1985)           New Waves                 June 1

    THE HORSE THIEF (1986)                          New Waves                 June 29

    THE STORY OF QIU JU (1986)                  New Waves                 July 14

    YELLOW EARTH (1984)                             New Waves                 June 7

    DUST IN THE WIND (1986)                        New Waves                 June 9

    36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)        Swordsmen,                June 22

    A BETTER TOMORROW (1986)               Gangsters and June 8

    A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971)                           Ghosts                           June 15

    FIST OF FURY (1971)                                      “                              June 14

    INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002)                                       “                              June 7

    POLICE STORY (1985)                                    “                                          June 13           


    (in the order of the list above)       

    RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (China 1961) ****

    Directed by Jin Xie


                RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN has the feel of a propaganda communist movie right from the heroic folksongs to the romantic look of the communist troops liberating villages from the evil tyrants.  But propaganda movies can turn out quite entertaining as well – the British oldie WENT THE DAY WELL? and this little known Chinese gem being prime examples. This film is set in the 1930’s when warlords and rich landowners were ruling the oppressed poor.  A housemaid, Wu (Xijuan Zhu) has been beaten and jailed by villain Na (Qiang Chen) after trying to escape several times.  She is rescued by the leader of the first female army, Hong (Xin Gang Wan).  He frees her and she joins and becomes an important leader in the RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN.  The film has lots of exciting battle scenes done without special effects.  With solid performances and excellent period atmosphere, director Xie’s film, propaganda or not, turns out to be quite compelling and entertaining at the same time.  The audience is also spared any ridiculous romance between Wu and Hong, making the film pure action drama.

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (HK 2000) ****

    Directed by Wong Kar Wai


    Wong Kar-Wai has been the Asian director to watch after his odd and stylized camerawork amazed critics in "Chungking Express".  IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE was originally to be shot as a low budget quickie, but the film ended up with a 14-month difficult shoot. The film is a period piece.  It is 1962 in Hong Kong. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) move into an apartment building. They discover that their respective spouses are having an affair. They become friends, face the facts and something deeper develops. The times change. There is more room for Wong to display his bag of tricks without getting into too much trouble with plot or structure. These tricks show up as the dance of a swaying ceiling lamp, a steaming kettle in the background of a scene with Mrs. Chan in the foreground or the slow-motioned drizzle of water on the street amidst Wong's favourite Latin tunes.  The Chinese culture and period atmosphere are vividly captured.  Buying noodles by going to the store with a tiffin carrier, the courtesy offered by apartment neighbours and the mah-jong games are typical of the Chinese lifestyle at the time. And the dim lighting (many scenes lit by the ancient lamps), wardrobe (Cheung in dozens of beautifully made 'cheongsams') and sets underscore the effect.  Wong knows exactly what he wants and he captures the mood and period of the lovers, with his camera that works like an extension of his inner being. Enjoyment of "In the Mood For Love" can be summed up in Maggie Cheung's line after she pays a compliment on her boss' tie, "You notice these things when you pay attention". The camerawork, techniques and storytelling that director Wong experiments with more than engages - it astounds and amazes.


    KEKEXILI: MOUNTAIN PATROL (China 2004) ****


    Directed by Lu Chuan


                A remarkable documentary styed action drama set in the harsh mountain ranges of Tibet, this film feels like a Chinese western, the type made by Sierra Leone.  The drifter in the film is a journalist who joins the mountain patrol hired by the government o stop antelope poachers.  But the poachers have murdered one of their won, so there is a personal vendetta involved.  The patrol drive out to the perilous terrain where they meet up an corner their enemy.  The film’s characters are as harsh as the terrain and what is seen on screen is totally expected in story or atmosphere.  Though the audience is clearly put on the side of the patrol, director Lu also offers the poacher’s points of view.  But what is missing is the Tibetan/Chinese conflict since the film takes place in Tibetan territory with Chinese characters.



    VIVE L’AMOUR (Taiwan 1994) ***


    Directed by Tsai Ming-liang


                VIVE L’AMOUR is the film that shot director Tsai and his muse Lee Kang-sheng) to fame.  The minimalist story concerns 3 urban drifters, real estate agent Mei (Yang Kui-mei) a street vendor, Ah-jung (Chen Chao-jung) who has an affair with her and gay cremation salesman, Hsiao Kang (Lee).  There is sex among the three in what is basically a very slow moving bedroom farce (or condo farce for that matter since most of the action takes place in a to be bought condo space).  Director Tsai has the uncanny ability to garb his audience with segments in which nothing happens – Hsiao Kang breaking open a watermelon with a pen knife, an extended crying scene at the climax, to mention a few.  Whether audiences will favour this art film is difficult to predict but what is on display here is originality, lots of emotion and very little dialogue.


    Directed by Huang Jianxin


                An efficient quietly humorous satirical comedy executed without much aplomb but one that gets its message across nonetheless quite effectively.  For a film coming out of communist China, it is a wonder this film did not get banned considering that the theme stresses the ineffectiveness of the party’s bureaucracy.  THE BLACK CANNON INCIDENT is the missing Chinese chess piece that goes missing in the hotel of Chinese engineer and German interpreter Zhao (Liu Zifeng).  His telegram to the hotel to find the missing piece is intercepted by the party and taken to be soothing fishy and looked down upon, as the cost of the telegram is higher than the piece itself.  Zhao is demoted and moved to another region while the German Mr. Hans (Gerhard Olschewski) returns to work.  Mr. Hans requests the service once again of Zhao who had worked with him before.  The party refuses to do so, until the mystery of the chess piece is solved.  Mr. Hans is stuck with an incompetent nontechnical interpreter that results in costly broken machinery.  All the incidents are filmed without much fanfare, but feel authentic as if really happening in real time.  At the end, the stubborn get their come-uppance while the mystery of the missing chess piece is resolved.



    THE HORSE THIEF (China 1986) ***


    Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang


                Director Tian’s (THE BLUE KITE) epic family drama about a horse thief and his family is set across the vast barren plains of rural Tibet.  The simple story involves the said thief, Norbu who is ousted by his tribe for his crime.  His son’s death that he attributes to his wrongdoing embarks him on  quest for redemption.  He meets and begs to be taken in with the Buddhist monks who also reject him.  Tian’s film is shot with minimal dialogue but with the stunning cinematography of the scenery making up for the simple narrative.  The film has a religious feel about it as it contains a lot of scenes with Buddhist ceremonies. 



    YELLOW EARTH (China 1984) ***

    Directed by Chen Kaige


    YELLOW EARTH is the first film by Chen Kaige (THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN) and shot by cinematographer Zhang Yimou before Zhang went to made hits like THE STORY OF QIU YOU, ZU DOU and RED SORGHUM.  Chen’s later films have always been problematic narrative-wise, so YELLOW EARTH with a very loose narrative seems to suit the director best.  Most of what transpires is told though images.

    A soldier is sent to outer regions of Central China to collect folk songs from the poor, so that these can be written for moral boosting songs for the soldiers.  His travel brings him to a family in which he meets 14-year old Cuiqiao forced to marry an older man against her wishes.  He also connects with the slightly dim younger brother.  Cuiqiao wishes to join the female army but escapes crossing the yellow river at the end of the film.  The film contains lots of folklore, but these sound really strange to foreigners.

    DUST IN THE WIND (Taiwan 1986) ***

    Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

    Critically acclaimed early Taiwanese film from Master Hou Hisao-Hsien about a

    story of a young couple from a village in the northern-east part of Taiwan.  The boy, Ah-yuan goes to the capital of Taipeh to work after graduating from junior high school so he can earn money to send home. The girl, Ah-yun follows him the next year and they work hard to earn enough money to marry.  Then Ah-yuan gets the draft to spend three years in the military while the girl marries someone else.  Although Ah-yuan regrets (extended scene of him crying) what happened he does not blame Ah-yun.  Director Hou  givrs atmosphere and mood more emphasis than the narrative.  For example the information of the news of Ah-yun marrying someone else comes in the scene in a billiard room.  Ay-yuan’s military friends are playing pool and relay this information to each other while Ah-yan throws up in the back room.  The result is a film difficult to the point of annoying to follow, but this is more than made up by the film’s rich texture displaying the way of life of the rural Taiwanese.

    A TOUCH OF ZEN (Taiwan 1971) *****
    Directed by King Hu

    A TOUCH OF ZEN is the best swords saga ever made.  I should know as I grew up watching all the 70’s swordsplay flicks from Golden Harvest and Shaw Studios.  A TOUCH OF ZEN from Master director King Hu (DRAGON INN, SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAIN) contains all the elements that make a perfect period actioner from the costumes, music, atmosphere, props and lighting.  The fight in the bamboo grove with the rays of sunlight shining through the trees is nothing short of spectacular as the night scenes by the dilapidated temple where just enough light is present to expose the characters’ faces.  Though basically an action film, the first fight scene does not occur till well into the first hour.  Director King Hu’s film is strong on narrative with sympathetic, identifiable characters like Ku (Chun Shih), a mamma’s boy who finally shows his true heroic colours after falling in love with a female fugitive, Yang (very popular actress of the time, Hsu Feng).  The females in the audience will also fall in love with this strong female character.  The climatic showdown at the end, full of suspense, action and special effects will leave audiences at the edge of their seats.  Ultimately, all this ties down to a love romance in which love conquers all.  The film won critical when first screened at Cannes and became the first Chinese action film ever to win a prize at Cannes.


    A BETTER TOMORROW (HK 1986) **
    Directed by John Woo


                John Woo’s films are all style and show.  When someone is being shot or beaten up, the guy has to jump up in or turn a few rounds before falling down.  Subtlety is not his strong point or a strong narrative.  If one can accept those flaws, Woo’s A BETTER TOMORROW can be quite the delight.  Two brothers (Shaw Organization Studios’ Ti Lung sporting the most horrible haircut by a lead and Leslie Cheung) are on opposite sides of the law.  Their father dies as a result on the bad one’s bad activities and the cop cannot forgive the other one.  That is about it for the storyline.  Films from Hong Kong are normally available in two versions, Cantonese and Mandarin.  This film version dubbed in Cantonese is observable at one point when the choir is singing in Mandarin, as they cannot dub the song into Cantonese.  Lots of shouting, jumping and violence in what is a typical John Woo movie! 


    INFERNAL AFFAIRS (HK 2002) ****


    Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak


                Arguably the best cop movie ever from Hong Kong and one that spun off two sequels INFERNAL AFFARIRS 2 and 3 and the Hollywood remake THE DEPARTED that went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  The film opens with the training at a police academy where on display are the recruits who are surprisingly all exceptionally good looking.  Two graduates are hired for life, one as a mole for the police to work in the Triads (Tony Leung) and the other, Lau (Andy Lau) in the police force itself while really an employee of the Triad boss.  Directors Lau and Mak take their work with dead seriousness, paying attention to detail from the execution of police procedures to the staging of busts and drug deliveries.  The result is a film so tense and involving that the audience easily overlooks the thin storyline.  The audience is brought to identify with both moles, no matter which side they are on.  The two moles are unaware who the other is and are ordered to flush the other out.  The film is also riddled with Buddhist messages such as continuous hell being the worse of hells.  But the film is more emotion than action packed with the audience faced with a compelling film from start to finish.



  • The Italian Contemporary Film Festival


    The second edition of the ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Festival) runs in Toronto from June 26th to July 6th and promises a fine time of Italian films.  Judging from last year’s festival, the number of films has more than doubled to 11.  And this humble critic believes that the films screened are of a high standard showcasing both commercial and critical fare,

    The screenings take place at 3 venues, one of which is at the Royal by Little Italy.  Food and wine after the show is therefore most appropriate.  One of the films screened is set here in Little Italy.

    The films are mostly North American premieres from around the world including Japan and of course Italy . 

    Screenings will be accompanied by social events attended by celebrities from Italy or of Italian heritage, a commercial forum to bring together Italian, Canadian and international operators and a series of conferences focused (at least in part) on young filmmakers.

    For complete information on the festival, programs, films, screening times, venue and ticket pricing, please check the website at:


    Capsule reviews for selected films:




    Directed by Peter Strickland


                It all sounds excellent for the premise of a horrific drama.  Timid Brit (Toby Jones) gets employed in a strange unfamiliar Italian town to do the sound work or a horror film only to find that working there is scarier than the movie itself.  The tory allow plenty of opportunity to display the art of sound creation and sound mixing.  But director Santini (Antonio Mancini) does not seem to know where to take his material to.


                New British employed wanders into the BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO for his new job.  He is given attitude an the runaround for his expenses by the director of the film he is working on.  Nevertheless, he works the sound realizing then that many of the ‘screamers’ are upset as well.  The film has plenty to show on how sounds are created, from stabbing (done with a vegetable knife plunging into a cabbage) to a poker inserted into a vagina.


                One wonders of the unlikely choice of Toby Jones as the lead except that his small stature would be perfect for the role of a character subject to being bullied.  His character is bullied to no end, and one would wish to see him stand up for himself at the end.  He does exert his frustration but just once, at the receptionist for not getting his check.  He should be mad at Santorini and the director.



    LE GUETTEUR (THE LOOKUT) (France/Belgium/Italy 2012) ***


    Directed by Michele Placido


                More a typical French crime flick than an Italian film, this is a strange pick for the ICFF.  The only things Italian about this quite well executed taut rime thriller is that it is an Italian co-production and othat ne of the main characters, Nico (Luca Argentero) who gets wounded during the bank robbery is Italian.  The story centres around Detective Mattei (Daniel Auteuil).  Mattei is obsessed with capturing sniper, Vincent Kaminsky (Matthew Kassovitz) who is with the bank robbers and has something to do with Mattei’s son’s death.  A subplot involves a mad doctor Franck played by Dardennes Brothers’ favourite Olivier  Gourmet.  An entertaining rather violent film witb lots of nudity, aided by fine performances from an international cast and the excellent exciting set-up action pieces.




    Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

                THE LAST LEOPARD is an homage by award winning Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (CINEMA PARADISO), a man who also loves the cinema and well known for his sentiment in films.  It suits things well that he directs THE LAST LEOPARD, the homage to Goffredo Lombardo, the most celebrated Italian producer of all time.  The film is so called because he produced the really costly film THE LEOPARD that starred Burt Lancaster with him actually transforming into the Lancaster character himself, as one of the interviewees in the film says.  For those who have not heard of Lombardo, this is the film that tells all of the man.  By the end, you would learn to respect this Mogul of Cinema, for what he stands for, for his love for the cinema, for a man of his Word and for his work in the medium.  Tonrnatore has assembled the most exhaustive list of talking heads I have ever seen in a documentary.  These famous film talents include directors like Tornatore himself, Ettore Scola, Francesco Rosi and actors like Alain Delon, Guillermo Gemmi, Bud Spencer, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale and the list is endless.  The film moves on at a very rapid pace with Lombardo’s films playing in the background of the interviews.  THE LAST LEOPARD is a delight and a must-see for those who love the cinema.

    REALITY (Italy/France 2012) ****

    Directed by Matteo Garrone

                REALITY is director Matteo Garrone’s follow up to his 2008 Cannes Jury Prize Winner GOMORRAH which also won the same prize at Cannes this year.  Instead of the Sicilian Mafia, Garrone takes on Reality TV as his subject with lead character, Luciano (Aniello Arena) a reasonably successful family ex-fishmonger retailing pasta making robots to make a living.  His obsession into being chosen as a participant in a reality show called Big Brother eventually drives himself and his wife, Maria (Loredana Simioli) insane.  It is only him that believes that he will be selected, right down to the theatrical ending that can be described as both sad and happy.  Garrone’s Neapolitan family with chubby children and crazy relatives come right out of a Fellini movie and so are the lead’s antics in selling the robots.  Cineastes will be pleased to see the actors in GOMORRAH appear in REALITY in completely different roles.  (Example is the machine-tooting skinny youth cast as a bewildered bartender here.)  REALITY is both sad and hilarious but never far from the reality of the reality of life either.

    SHUN LI AND THE POET (Italy 2011) ***

    Directed by Andrea Seagre 



                This looks more like a Chinese than an Italian film but the setting is the little fishing town of Chioggia in Italy.  This is a sensitive story of friendship with a little romance between two lonely souls that find comfort in each other’s company.  One is Shun Li (Zhao Tao) who has to work in the local bar to pay for the debt she incurred while moving from China to Italy  She also hopes to bring her 8-year old son over.  The man is a retiring fisherman Bepi (Rade Serbedzija) who has immigrated years back from Croatia.  But the difference in cultures that initially brought them together is now posing to be a problem, thanks to Bepi’s so-called mates.  But Segre’s film is a quietly beautiful one, with lots of pleasant sights and local scenery to look at.  And one can tell from the mood o the film that only good things can happen to Bepi and Shun Li.

    THERMAE ROMANAE (Japan 2012) *

    Directed by H. Takeuchi

                The setting in this very strange box-office hit Japanese entry is 149 AD – the Roman Empire .  The current emperor has hired and is fond of current public bath architect Lucius Modestus (Hiroshi Abe).  And why not?  During his feats of unconsciousness, he is transported to the present in Japan where he steals ideas like the bathtub; milk fruit drinks and toilet flushes for his Roman designs.  There is total chaos in this film that might have succeeded if there was a bit or order in the disorder.  There is no reasoning or logic for Lucius to travel through time.  The antics are hardly funny either.   The props and atmosphere of ancient Rome with Japanese doubling as Romans and speaking Japanese are totally ridiculous.  But what is the most incredible is that the audience is supposed to believe that the Japanese playing a Roman is in reality not  a Japanese but a Roman.  Not that anyone cares in this awful film based on a manga comic book.

    The Films: (Descriptions)

    BENVENUTO PRESIDENTE         OPENING NIGHT FILM (International Premiere)

    Director: Riccardo Milani

    Cast: Claudio Bisio,Kasia Smutniak

    Country: Italy

    Running Time: 103 min.


    Quoted from The Guardian,-Lizzy Davies, April 17, 2013

    “Italian cinemas are this month showing a film about a bald librarian from the mountains called Peppino who, due to a voting glitch that terrifies everyone – including himself – is elected to the highest office in the land. As it charts his journey from provincial joker to maverick statesman, Benvenuto Presidente! has given viewers some much needed laughs at a time when real-life politics is every bit as strange as fiction, but certainly not as funny.” 


    SIBERIAN EDUCATION (Educazione Siberiana      North American Premiere

    Director: Gabriele Salvatores

    Cast: John Malkovich, Peter Stormare, Arnas Fedaravicius, Eleanor Tomlinson

    Country: Italy

    Running Time: 103 min.

    Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

    The story of a gang of children growing up in a lawless community in a forgotten corner of the former Soviet Union, SIBERIAN EDUCATION follows two best friends who gradually become fierce enemies as they find themselves on opposite sides of the strict code of honour of the ‘honest criminal’ brotherhood. An adaptation of the Nicolai Lilin autobiography of the same name, this thriller stars John Malkovich as a colorful Russian godfather.


    (L'Ultimo Gattopardo: Ritratto Di Goffredo Lombardo)  North American Premiere

    Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

    Country: Italy

    Running time: 75 min.

    Legendary Italian film producer Goffredo Lombardo is one of the most celebrated producers in Italian cinema (The Leopard, Rocco and His Brothers, Il Bidone). The son of Gustavo, a pioneer of Italian cinema and founder of the Titanus Film Company, Goffredo helped to give international prestige to the Italian film industry after the Second World War. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (Oscar® winner Cinema Paradiso), THE LAST LEOPARD pays tribute to Goffredo Lombardo through archival footage and interviews with top actors and filmmakers.

    DIAZ:DON’T CLEAN UP THIS BLOOD (Diaz – Non pulire questo sangue)

    Writer/Director: Daniele Vicari

    Cat: Elio Germano, Jennifer Ulrich, Claudio Santamaria

    Country: Italy

    Running Time: 120 min

    Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

    This searing political drama retraces the seminal events which took place in the Diaz school raid during Genoa ’s violent G8 Summit in July 2001. Diaz is named after the temporarily vacant city-center school used by protest-groups as a makeshift base and sleeping quarters during the economic summit. The police stormed the school and brutally attacked young men and women from all over Europe for two hours.


    Director: Matteo Garrone ( Gomorrah )

    Cast: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli and Claudia Gerini

    Country: Italy/France

    Running Time: 115 min.

    Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

    Acclaimed director Matteo Garrone follows his award-winning crime epic Gomorrahwith this dark comedy about the impact of contemporary media and the nature of fame. Winner of the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, REALITY follows Luciano, a Neapolitan fishmonger who becomes obsessed with landing a role on the Italian version of the hugely popular reality TV series, Big Brother.



    Director: Peter Strickland

    Cast: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino.

    Country: UK

    Running Time: 92 min


    Compared to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, this smash hit at the Edinburgh Film Festival pays tribute to Italian horror master, Mario Bava. In this sinister and moody thriller, Gilderoy, a timid English sound engineer (Toby Jones - Hitchcock, Infamous), finds himself working with a group of mysterious filmmakers on a low budget horror film in 1976 Italy. Immersed in a Kafkaesque world, he slowly begins to lose his mind.

    SHUN LI AND THE POET (Io Sono Li)                            North American Premiere

    Writer/Director: Andrea Segre

    Country: Italy/France

    Cast: Zhao Tao, Rade Serbedzija, Marco Paolini, Roberto Citran, Giuseppe Battiston

    Running Time: 98 min.

    Set in Chioggia , a small village on the Venetian lagoon, SHUN LI AND THE POET is a poetic and moving film about the fragile friendship between a shy Chinese waitress (Zhao Tao) and a middle-aged Slavic fisherman (Rade Serbedzija). Zhao was named Best Actress at Italy ’s David di Donatello Awards for her role, and director Andrea Segre received the London Film Festival’s Satyajit Ray Award for his first feature.

  • TIFF Cinematheque - Jacques Demy

    Les Films de Jacques Demy

    One of the French Nouvelle Vague, coming on the scene with his first film LOLA, openly gay director Jacques Demy is known for his ‘happy’ films primarily because his LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG, a full musical is arguably the happiest film of all time, despite its tragic theme of separated lovers.  Demy is known for his other musicals LES DAMEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT and UNE CHAMBRE D’UNE VILLE.  The latter is a curious piece with music and songs blended into a riot scene with lots of blood and people beaten up.  Films about the director’s childhood were made by his wife, Agnes Varda, the one called JACQUOT DE NANTE (never released here but shown once at the Cinematheque years back), being really charming.

                Demy’s marriage to his wife must be a strange one.  No one relly knows.  But one might get a clue of what Demy thinks of marriage in the one scene in LA BAIE DES ANGES when Claude Mann tells Jeanne Moreau what he thinks of marriage: ”I opted out as marriage sucks the risk and love out of life!

                TIFF Cinematheque has assembled quite the exhaustive list of Demy films.  For complete details, check their website at:


    CAPSULE REVIEWS for selected films:

    LA BAIE DES ANGES (France 1963) ****

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                BAY OF ANGELS begins when a naïve bank clerk, Jean (Claude Mann) is introduced to gambling by his colleague.  His lucky win of 450,000 fr, (6 months wages in less than half an hour) gives him the courage to tell his father off, gets kicked out of home and leave for the Cote in Nice.  Seduced there by a compulsive gambler in platinum blonde wig (Jeanne Moreau), he becomes her escort as they initially get very lucky at the roulette table.  One must love the croupier’s spin of the roulette wheel as he music of Michel Legrand’s music plays reflecting the randomness of life at the same time.  The film hooks the audience on just as gambling does.  And the effect is no less engaging!  Hot in black and white, the film still gives the impression of complete colour!

    UNE CHAMBRE UNE VILLE (A ROOM IN TOWN) ( France 1982) ****

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                It must be a Demy film when the Baroness (Danielle Darrieux) returns to playing a sonata on the piano right after a tragedy when her daughter Edith (Dominique Sandra) leaves with her gun in her handbag to confront her jealous husband (Michel Piccoli) intent to ill her.  The Baroness is out of money and forced to rent the room of the film title to a ship dockworker who falls in love with her daughter, Edith.  Edith leaves her husband while the worker gets his girlfriend, Violette pregnant.  Clashes between the police and striking workers get violent.  It is 1955 in Nantes , where Demy is from.  But tragedy never prevented Demy rom making a colorful and happy picture.  From the bright ink tea-shirt that the dockworker first wears to the fur cot donned by Edith (though she is naked underneath), there are lots to behold.  The entire film is done musical style (like LES PARAPLUIES DES CHRBOURG and LES DAMOISELLES DE CHERBOURG) in which the entire dialogue is sung instead of spoken.  The result is film so delightful that the critics in France took an ad in the paper for the public to see this film when it first came out.  This version is a restored print.  

    MODEL SHOP ( USA 1968) ***

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                Demy’s American film is a strange one, one about a handsome architect drifter, George (Gary Lockwood from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) going abut town trying to get $100 for the back payment of his car or lose it totally.  He gets distracted by following a French lady in white (Anouk Aimee) to a MODEL SHOP where he spends the money he got for the car photographing her.  This lady is actually Lola, the Lola from Demy’s first film LOLA who is supposedly now moved to L.A.   the Meanwhile, he is worried that he would be drafted  into the army to fight the Vietnam War.  Demy’s film is a complete tease with lots of good looking actors hinting of sex but with nothing happening.  The film shows Demy as he looks at America (this is his only American movie) and where he stands, for example on the legality of marijuana as in the coffee shop scene in which the camera lingers on the headlines on an article on marijuana that Lockwood reads.  MODEL SHOP is an observation piece in which nothing much happens in the foreground but much happens in he background.

    LOLA ( France 1961) ****

    Directed by Jacques Demy

                Demy’s first film stars Anouk Aimee as Lola, a prostitute/cabaret dancer who sleeps with visiting sailors.  She has a 3-year old, Yvon by from her first love, who abandoned her.  He still loves him and waits for him, spurning the love of every other suitor on the way.  It is Demy’s nice touch that two of her suitors other give Yvon the same identical gift, a trumpet to play with.  With Demy’s colours, Michel Legrand’s mesmerizing musical score, one cannot help but fall in love with Demy’s charming directorial debut.  Some of this music is replicated in Demy’s later success LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG as well as part of the theme of abandoned regnant girl and daughter/mother relationships.  But LOLA has a happy ending in which Lola’s love does return claiming: “I am rich!” bringing the happy film to an even happier finish.  In contrast, the separated lovers do not come together in LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG, but Demy still completes that film with a happy ending.  Both these films are the best of what Demy has to offer.

(France/Wet Germany 1964) ***** Top 10

Directed by Jacques Demy   


Arguably the happiest film ever made.  THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is the umbrella store owned by Madame Emery ( Chris tiane Legrand) who lives with her 17-year old daughter, Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) in the apartment upstairs.  She falls in love with poor mechanic, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) who lives with her bedridden Aunt Elise (Claire Leclerc).  Mother objects to the affair but Geneviève pursues her love.  When Guy has to leave for a 2 year military service, she is impregnated and coerised to marry another man to support the child.  In the hands of other directors, this knocked up affair of a couple forced to marry others would not have turned out like this.  Colourful (umbrellas, clothes, shop décor and even the car repair shop) with the dialogue sung out as a recital totally with music by the fabulously talented Michel Legrand, nothing can be as delightful as watching this film on screen.  The last 5 minutes of the film, the most tragic, in which the separated couple finally meet by chance is the most moving and unexpected that can be imagined.  Bring lots of Kleenex for this entry and be prepared to see this film again and again.  Michel Legrand was nominated for the Oscar for the unforgettable song he wrote for the film: “I will wait for you”.  The film was nominated for a total of 4 Oscars including Best Foreign Film and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 1964.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (June 28th)

    Opening this week are THE HEAT, WHITE HOUSE DOWN and the doc HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS.


    Also observing a check is the Italian Contemporary Film Festival.



    THE HEAT (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Paul Feig


                From Paul Feig, the director of BRIDESMAIDS comes another female bonding movie starring McCarthy who was also in the first feature.

                The plot concerns an over confident, educated and effective FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) assigned to Boston to work with small time foul-mouthed officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to solve a drug related case.  It is a female brains vs. brawn to solve the case.

                The film demonstrates the acting talent of Bullock as well as the comedic expertise of McCarthy.  The two characters play extremely well against each other, with the audience often swayed from one side to another.  The female buddy cop movie is a welcome change from the frequent male buddy cop movies that then only populated  movie screens.  In fact Bullock and McCarthy fare so well (and better say than any Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in their LETHAL WEAPON films) that one would expect very soon a sequel such as THE HEAT 2.

                Running at over two hours, one can suspect that the film went over as the filmmakers decided to leave all the improve bits intact.  Despite the loose narrative and thin plot, the film hardly feels like 2 hours due to the fact that the film is often so funny.

                There is one scene in which Bullock confesses the difficulty of being a female in her working world.   Fortunately, the film does not delve into the serious issues but quickly switches back to comedy.

                The film is basically a two actor vehicle.  No one else is memorable or given anything important to say.  The only exception could be the ambulance segment in which a paramedic has an argument with Bullock’s FBI character.




    Directed by Mathew Cooke


                Written, directed and narrated by Matthew Cooke (DELIVER US FROM EVIL, TEENAGE PAPARAZZI), the documentary HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS is a surprising accurate account of the said process while being honest, funny and true.

                 Executed in the form of a guide set at different levels,  Cooke teaches the ABC’s of how to make it from Level 1 (Getting Started) to Level 5 (How to Become a Drug Lord)  In the process, the audience is taken through domestic and international distribution of narcotics from street corner seller to private distributor to Drug Lord.  Cooke enlists the aid of many past dealers and distributors as well as cops and narcotic agents.  Why would past offenders tell their stories?  The reason is that all of them are now converted and working to help those dealing with drug abuse.  A few of them, such as the Hispanic Pepe, are just plain hilarious on camera, offering tips on how to make money selling drugs.  The film starts off with marijuana and cocaine and later informs that the principles can be applied to any other drug.  Stars such as Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon have their say just as the film includes clips from SCARFACE and THE GODFATHER.

                It would be simple to dismiss the film as cheap entertainment because of its subject matter being drugs.  But upon careful consideration, Cooke has concocted a very well made documentary.  The subject is well researched, tested and tried, the interviewees are experts in the field on both sides, who must have been persuaded a great deal to participate in the movie and the film is surprisingly accurate from its math (a segment includes how much money can be made in just 3 months with a marijuana start-up kit) to what is happening out there in the streets.  The film is both educational and entertaining, hilarious and scary as it grows mostly serious toward the end.  But the film does lag a bit towards he second third due to the film delving a bit too much in depth with the accuracy that not everyone (unless you are in the industry) cares about.

                The setting is the U.S., so what transpires is not applicable to Canada or other countries.  The film emphasizes that guns are needed to protect the seller.  This might not be true in Canada and elsewhere where it is not the right of every individual to bear arms.  This right leading to violence and killings, according to Cooke, is what is driving the drug industry to uncontrollable violence and corruption.

                The best thing about the documentary is the overall good intention of the filmmaker.  He gives his two cents worth on how to stop the drug wars and violence and the film has the overall tone of a drug user quitting the habit and helping others.  I first saw this film a TIFF and seeing it a second time is just as much fun as it is instructional.



    STORM SURFERS (Australia 2012) ***

    Directed by Justin McMillan and Christopher Nelius


                The technology of 3D is most effective in films like STORM SURFERS and those on overcrowded attended concerts in which the audience would favour the same experience as being there without actually being there.

                STORM SURFERS is a character driven Aussie documentary about storm surfers and their quest to search and ride the biggest wave.  Never mind the fact that they have families or may lose their lives.  The thrill cannot be matched.  Fortunately, the film captures the high spirits of three characters and transfers them to the audience.

                The three are surfers and best friends Ross Clarke-Jones and two time surf champion Tom Carroll.  They enlist the aid of surf forecaster Ben Matson.  The trio chase giant storms and hence giant waves across the southern oceans.  The camera work is more than excellent as it seems that the lenses are on the surf board with the surfers.  Of course, the lenses are splashed with sea water, but the thrill of the rides is captured well enough.

                The technique of surf hunting through the computer is also explained quite effectively.  The three also speak to the camera as they explain their logic of their motivations.  Take it or leave it, the audience have to handed tit o them at least for being dedicated daredevils.  But one might want to hear what the families o these three has to say about the activities.

                What the film lacks in narrative material, it more than makes it up during the surf action segments when the waves are ridden.  Whether one likes this sport or not, one cannot dispute that this is one of the most exciting documentaries this year.




    WHITE HOUSE DOWN (USA 2013) **

    Directed by Roland Emmerich


                The second foray into an attack on the White House after the Gerard Butler vehicle (OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN) boasts James Vanderbilt, the writer of THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN teamed up with Emmerich, the director of INDEPNDENCE DAY.  The film promises lots of pyrotechnics and action sequences.  But apart from those, there is little else the film has to offer.  The film, of course opens on Independence in the Stats.

                The tired plot is a rehash of other films.  As already mentioned, this is already the second film on the same theme of the White House under attack.  The hero being a single father with a daughter (WAR OF THE WORLDS), a President that is black (DEEP IMPACT, THE FIFTH ELEMENT), an unexpected hero (the tour guide) varying villains, a twist with an emerging new villain at the end – are nothing new at all.  There is one scene with a gun pointed at the little girl’s head, which might upset the censors.  Even the nice little touches like Cale entering the burning White House to see a painting of the same (the old British attacking) could be easily thought off.  But upon second thoughts, no one in the audience would believe the girl will be shot.

                Cale (Channing Tatum – yes, one gets to see his shirtless upper body at least 5 times) takes his daughter, Emily (Joey King) to tour the White House.  He leads her to believe that he is up for the job of the President’s secret Service.  When the White House comes under siege, Cale has to protect the President (Jamie Foxx) while losing Emily in the washroom – about the only novelty in the story.  In the process, two others get sworn in as President.

                One cannot complain about the stupendous crashes (the helicopter shut down and exploding on the ground; car crashes; burning rooms), but it stakes more than these to make a suspenseful action thriller.  Emmerich acts like a traffic cop orchestrating one sequence after another rather than functioning as a director.



    Directed by Paul Andrew Williams


                Known for his shocking domestically violent first feature LONDON TO BRIGHTON, director Williams goes mushy in his film dedicated to the family.  Arthur (Terence Stamp) is coping with the news of his wife, Marion’s (Vanessa Redgrave) terminal cancer.  He has to put up with her perpetual cheeriness, especially when she forces him to take her to her choir practice.  Arthur also has problems relating to his son (Christopher Eccleston) though his granddaughter is quite the peach.  It appears that the family problems are all too convenient and nothing that has not been seen in other films before.  Still Williams squeezes many funny moments from the choir group (called the OAPs – old age pensioners, the common term for seniors in Britain) and the songs chosen deliberately go against type.  Redgrave and Stamp do marvels with the limited script delivering performances demonstrating them as masters of their craft.  The point that the choir is in competition also enables Williams to make his tearjerker a feel good movie.




    Best Bets of the Week:



    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN



  • This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 6, 2013)

    It is Ethan Hawke week.  Two new films BEFORE MIDNIGHT and THE PURGEopen.  The first of the end of the world films THIS IS THE END makes its debut Wednesday.


    TIFF Cinematheque opens their Century of Chinese Films series.

    Film Reviews: 

    BEFORE MIDNIGHT (USA 2013) ***

    Directed by Richard Linklater


                Starting off with BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, the third in the trilogy of romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) is pretty much more of the same.  The American and French who met years back on a train in Europe are still in love.  They make love, argue and talk, talk and talk.  If smart talk is not your cup of tea, then avoid BEFORE MIDNIGHT at all costs.  If you don’t mind the occasional banter, which a times turns pretty clever, then you are in for quite the treat.

                Jesse has divorced his wife (not seen in this film) and is now married to Celine with two daughters and living in Paris.  But the film is set in the Greek Islands, where they are vacationing.  Jesse has just said to goodbye to his son from his wife and feels guilty as hell for not being there in the States for him.  He secretly wishes Celine move with him to Chicago so that he can be with his son.  No way for Celine, who has just found her dream job.

                So sets up the big argument for the couple, which is part of the premise for the movie.  They each argue their points, almost break up, and discover that the love for each other still binds.  All this happens amidst smart talk, written by Linklater and actors Delpy and Hawke.  Though it is all an obvious set up, the film still grabs and moves as there is some truth in their arguments to very couple’s encounters.

                The climax of the film is the reconciliation of the couple.  Jesse seeks out Celine, angry and sitting lone outdoors at a cafe BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  He practically woos her again.  That makes the movie.

                Love or hate the BEFORE series of movies, one cannot deny the chemistry between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  They obviously bring their own personal baggage into their characters as well.  The series always contains interesting dialogue!



    Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

               THE KINGS OF SUMMER originally titled TOY’S HOUSE tells the story of three kids, the kings as they decide to build their own house in the middle of the woods, away from their parents and authority. They thus rule as kings and hence the film title. 

               The main protagonist is Joe Toy (Nick Robsinson), escaping his single father Frank (Nick Offerman). He brings along his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) whose parents are driving him insane. A strange kid called Biaggio (Moises Arias) with a machete tags along. This is a tale of the kids, their family, their interactions as well as lessons learned.

     Example, when Kelly appears at Joe’s door, his immediate response is “I don’t do cookies!” or when Joe falls out the house window. The humour is amusing at most but hardly laugh-out loud funny. The result is either, enjoyment of the humour all the way throughout the film or pure irritation when everyone around you laughs except for yourself.

               The other flaw is the film’s credibility. It is unlikely that three kids could build such a functional house in the woods. Another factor is where they obtained all the proper building materials and haul it all to the woods.

               Performances are top-notch, given the relative experience of the newcomers. The three kids are nothing short of excellent. But it is Moises Arias as the strange Italian kid Biaggio who steals the show. Every scene he is in, he is a welcome surprise, whether it be delivering a serious line or goofing it up, dancing on the pipe in the woods.

               Another problem is the film’s predictable ending. It is clear and no surprise half way through the film how it will end. The lack of a good punch in the climax makes a let-down given the upbeat nature of the film throughout. 


    Directed by Joss Whedon


                The William Shakespeare play MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING has been made into films countless of times, the latest being this one in 2012 and the last one in 1993 directed by Kenneth Branagh with an all star cast including himself, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington.

                The 2012 one by Joss Whedon is a modern adaptation, which means it is set in the present with all the modern technologies like camera, phones fast cars and airplanes.  But the characters still speak in the Bard’s prose though one wonders the director’s decision to shoot the film in black and white.  The film is aided with a rich soundtrack by family member Jed, the highlight being an original song sung by an Asian by the piano as a trapeze act is performed by two beauties on a swing at a party.

                The actors are all apt and absolutely good-looking, right out of fairy tale territory.  It takes a while to get into the language of Shakespeare, but if English is your mother tongue, it only takes 15 minutes or so before your ears become fluent with the rhythm and rhyme of the olde English.

                But the story though universal and the Bard’s words immortal, the story of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is already all too familiar.  Whedon’s film contains no new insight or surprises, no matter how well made it is.  The film would thus not disappoint.  It is more than pleasant, entertaining and fun but unfortunately still mired in all too familiar territory.


    THE PURGE (USA 2013) *

    Directed by James DeMonaco


               The film THE PURGE is set in the year 2022 when the United States has been taken over by a series of multinational corporations known only as the "New Founding Fathers of America", who in order to keep the population under control, have instituted an annual 12 hour period, commencing from 7pm on March 21st to 7am on the morning of March 22nd. During this period all criminal activity, including murder, becomes legal. This annual event is known as "The Purge". The only rules during the purge are that "Level 10 ranking Government Officials" must remain untouched and usage of "Class 4" weaponry and above is forbidden. During this emergency services are suspended and all external calls are unanswered. The Purge is designed to serve as a catharsis for American citizens, giving them a chance to vent all negative emotions however they desire and express dark impulses. The result is a prosperous America with employment rates as low as 1% and a huge decrease in crime.

               There is an inherent problem with films containing preposterous premises like THE PURGE and similar ones like THE ASTRONAUT FARMER in which the audience has to believe that a farmer is capable of building a rocket from scratch and using his brains in his backyard or WARM BODIES in which zombies can turn back to human beings. The director has to spend an enormous effort trying to convince the audience of the film’s credibility. And often and not when this does not work, the film falls completely apart, no matter how well made.

               But for THE PURGE, considering that the United States grants its citizens the right to bear arms with the result of idiot citizens blasting their weapons and killing people in schools, the premise might be quite believable. Still, during the promo screening of THE PURGE, there are lots of scatters wolf wild laughter amidst the serious scenes. 

               James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, surprisingly well groomed for a change) is a wealthy home security developer living in a picturesque neighbourhood, who has made a fortune exploiting fears of the annual purge, by flogging security systems that turn homes into impenetrable fortresses. At home, Mary Sandin (Lena Headley) struggles with her two children: teenager Zoey is dating a considerably older boy named Henry (Tony Oller) who her parents do not approve of, and Charlie (Max Burkholdr), who has autism and has been home schooled by Mary and has little knowledge of the outside world is obsessed with the moral justifications of the purge, much to the concern of the rest of the family. When the purge begins, Charlie lets a stranger into the house and the violence begins.

               The film has not much story and the basically horror flick with the futuristic premise grows boring really soon despite its 90 minute running length. The story is totally predictable from start to end, if not laughable. Hawke, Headley and cast try their damndest hard to save the film but to no avail.

               For a film that must the filmmakers be thinking when making this movie?


    THIS IS THE END (USA 2013) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

    (This film opens Wednesday with a Tuesday night evening screening)


                THIS IS THE END concerning the end of the world, Bible Apocalypse style in which God’s chosen ones are drawn up to heaven according to the Book of Revelations is not the kind of film Christians would condone despite its general accuracy.  The film has tons of swearing, drug abuse, foul language and wild partying.  But it is also one of the most hilarious films of the year, one filled with surprises at every corner.

                The film begins at the L.A. airport, where Jay Burachel arrives to meet buddy Seth Rogen.  After smoking up for a few hours they decide to attend a big party thrown by James Franco also attended by Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson and lots of other celebrities.  (The stars play themselves in the movie.)  After Jay and Seth decide to go to the corner grocery store to buy cigarettes, all hell (literally) breaks lose with people beamed up into the sky while an earthquake swallows up the city.  The two barely escape back to Franco’s place, where nothing has happened inside except the continuing party.  Then the house shakes up.

                No one knows what is happening so the less the audience knows about he plot or story, the more entertaining the film will be.  I knew nothing of the story prior to the screening, nether had I seen the trailer.  So, as more of the story is revealed, the film grows more and more intriguing.

                The film contains more than ones share of laugh out loud moments.  The actors improvise half the time, so that the funniest scene would be the big argument between Danny McBride (the party’s uninvited guest) and Franco about masturbation.  Other surprises include the exorcism of Jonah Hill by Burachel using what he had learnt from THE EXORCIST. 

                The special effects are top notch from the car crashes, earthquakes and the gigantic monsters.  The one that shows up with a huge dick to possess Jonah Hill is an inspiration in crudeness.  Surprisingly, the film also contains a few genuinely scary scenes.

                The actors are all game for almost anything.  Take Michael Cera and Channing Tatum for example.  They play off each other characters very well and with much hilarity.  Channing Tatum’s cameo at the end is so off beat that it has to be seen to be believed.  The Back Street Boys also lend their touch in a grand musical number.  Who could tell that the end of the world could be so much fun?



    Best Film Opening: THIS IS THE END


    Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END


    Best Foreign: NO

    Best Doc: REVOLUTION

    Best Comedy: ADMISSION

    Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

  • Forever foxy: Pam Grier and her legacy


    Witty, vivacious, trailblazer, icon.  Words can't fully describe the unique individual that is Pam Grier,

    known for her work  in cult classics like Foxy Brown and Coffy,  to  the critically acclaimed Jackie Brown, where she played strong, fearless dynamos on screen, Pam also happens to exude this fearlessness in her everyday life.

    Tragedies early in her life, which she ultimately triumphed over, she readily admits has coloured her artistic choices. She is a woman who now refuses to be victimized and she plays that role with gusto.

    It is clear Pam learned early to be self-reliant and tough, but toughness does not mean un-feminine and Pam embodies this duality perfectly as the sexy lady / badass.

    With a career that spans over thirty years Pam has consistently played confident, sassy, outspoken heroines, so its hard to imagine her as painfully introverted, practically considered autistic at one point. This and many other insights are thrown out to an audience of Pam Grier acolytes at the Varsity cinema.

    In toronto for the CFC's black history month celebration, Pam, candidly spoke about her early struggles and her memoir entitled FOXY. “Writing is an arduous process its not something that's easily done, plus I had to revisit accounts in my life that were very tragic and I didn't know if I could finish it, and yet I committed to finishing it, because if I don't sell this book, people  will lose their jobs at the publishing house and my philosophy as a black panther with that sensibility of empowerment and self-fulfillment, is that if I work other people work and that's really critical because they work and open doors for other people.”

    Pam's memoir is a stirring account of growing as young Afro-American in a racially divisive world, chronicling her families struggles as well as her life as survivor of sexual assault. It also gives us a voyeuristic look at  the tenuous yet exhilarating life of black actresses in hollywood in that era.

    In her conversation with Host Sharon Lewis, she is fiery, surprisingly funny and insightful. She is unafraid to open about her special brand of feminism/activism, her love of men and her horses. Yes, she houses a horse refuge on her ranch home in colorado.

    When she speaks of her horse refuge we are also exposed to her tender side, you sense that they have given her as much as she has given them, it's a beautiful moment.

    When pressed on what inspired her iconic roles, we find out that  the women in Coffy and Foxy, were inspired by her Mother and Aunt, women who  happen to be beautiful, used to Guns and not afraid to fire to them. She also let it slip that her life story will soon be on the big screen as well as a Coffy re-make, thrilled would be an understatement when describing the audience''s reaction to this news.

    Pam could simply be seen as a great actress from another era, an exclamation point, in the ever evolving history of black cinema but her strength of character both on and off screen will not  allow us to simply acknowledge her. She demands  to be more than a memory. Pam's legacy and work is a constant reminder to her fans to believe in one's self and challenge the system, challenge sexism, challenge discrimination. Pam demands that we be fierce in our love for her and her work and fierce in our own lives. This is living foxy baby.

  • Dance to remember

    Dancers from across the diaspora gathered tin Toronto, for a celebration of dance culture and creativity.

    The closing night featured  world- renowned dance companies, Alvin Ailey Dance Company and PHILADANCECO showcasing their talent and love of the art form.

    A fitting kickoff to black history celebrations in our city, the TD sponsored, International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) Conference brought together over thirty dance companies for three days of friendly artistic competition.

    An audience packed with eager young aspiring dancers, family, friends and dance enthusiasts were treated to performances from artists of all shapes, styles and backgrounds, each displaying  passion, creativity and showmanship.

    In the first half of the evening ,we watched Danza Corpus  equipped with visual aids and flamboyant wardrobe stalk the stage. In this solo presentation, the story and music were well choreographed but seemed to lack a confidence in execution.

    But where Danza faltered ,the National Dance theatre of Jamaica, did not. With strains of Reggae melodies interlaced with audio loops of Bob Marley's distinctive voice and Busta Rhyme's head-nodding lyrics,  this dance company performed one of the most  innovative pieces of the evening. As a group they had presence and chemistry, but individually; each dancer gave off an aura of invincibility, crucial to the presentation's rebel theme. With manual dexterity (females lifting males, males throwing females) and an excellent sense of theatrical timing the story of Jamaica's revolutionary soldier, Bob Marley, was told with each emotion etched on their faces. Without a doubt, this company raised the bar and set the tone for the rest of the evening, the Jamaicans brought their A game.

    Bwsene !nmotion Australia, Salia ni Seydou and State of Emergency all gave diverse performances and the audience was entertained and beguiled by each groups technique and distinctly unique approach to dance.

    However, the final piece before intermission, by the Lula Washington Dance theater entitled the Healers was simply breath-taking. Three gorgeous male dancers in silken,white robes appeared on stage, running, tumbling and storming into our consciousness. They partially disrobe, the audience screams their approval and then not only do they dance, the leap with an electricity that is unseen but felt. The musical arrangements work perfectly with the theatricality of their movements and when it ends we are all left wanting more.

    Following the intermission the Philadelphia Dance Company presented Guess who's coming to dinner.

    As one of the larger dance companies on stage this evening, the energy and execution of their piece was phenomenal. From the costumes to the music incorporated, this crew showcased a level of mastery not fully achieved in the first half. They moved as a unit, each step- choreographed and executed on cue with the music. Though just a  single 15 minute performance, we were treated to a group routine and two solo routines. The prop (a steel platform) used throughout the presentation was ingenious. Dancers leapt, shimmied and tumbled as if this structure was also dancer, a natural inhabitant of the stage. PHILDANCO's  solo routine was by far the best of the evening, this young dancer passionately told her story, her body stretched and arched around the platform, bewitching and intense. In the end PHILADANCO received a standing ovation. Only fitting, for one of the most entertaining  groups in the conference.

    The Alvin Ailey American Dance theatre presented the Evolution of a Secured Feminine, a solo performance as a dramatic and emotionally stirring as a broadway production.

    Rachael McLaren, tells a story that embodies the melancholy, strength, vulnerability and vigour of a career woman through dance. Her costume's duality instantly captivates the audience's attention and the melodies of Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson make this the most thought provoking performance of the evening.

    With stellar performances by the Dallas Black Dance theater and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance ensemble, Dance Immersion's IABD conference aimed to showcase excellence in dance across the diaspora and certainly achieved that.

  • Education of Auma Obama: A family affair

    Have you ever pondered what motivates Barack Obama? At TIFF this year, through the documentary “Education of Auma Obama” we are given perhaps  a glimpse of the inner-workings of the man through the eyes of his family. By Following  Auma Obama, we are introduced to the story of Barack''s Kenyan ancestors.

    If you admire the President, you'll adore Auma. Throughout the documentary, director Branwen Okpako weaves an intimate portrait of the President's father, grandfather and older sister, Auma. Through home videos, interviews and archives we are introduced to Auma''s life and struggles as a daughter, step-daughter, activist and lately as the President's eldest sister.

    Auma is a vibrant, charming and wickedly intelligent Kenyan and the film works because rather than focusing solely on the exploits of her famous sibling, his election is instead used as a backdrop to tell the story of Auma and their father's dreams, idealism and tragedies. Branwen also highlights the strength of his legacy through the triumphs of his offspring which in seemingly uncanny coincidence have ended up agitating for the very changes that he did not live to see fulfilled.

    In the following interview Branwen gives her thoughts on Auma and the film.

    Why Auma Obama?

    Branwen Okpako: All the films I make are about people I know. I went to school with Auma and I was sure if I pursued an intimate portrait of her you'd get to know him [Barack], get to know the family, that was the first idea, the first impulse.

    So, I went to Nairobi just to talk to Auma. At that time, at the beginning of 2008 when her brother was beginning to talk about running for the Presidency, she was getting a lot of attention from the media.  Auma was being very careful about who she talked to andnd here''s an old friend coming along saying, “I want to put your life on the big screen,” so she was reticent at first.

    I got to observe her working, I got to talk to her a lot and I realized it was the perfect opportunity to tell our story.

    When we were in film school together 20 years ago we''d always talked about as black women, as filmmakers;  what do we want? 

    We don''t see ourselves correctly portrayed, it's like were invisible. I knew this was something she cared about and so I was kind of confident that she would take that slant.

    What distinguishes her from the other Obamas?

    Branwen Okpako: I think the most important thing that makes her stand out is that she's a woman, and her perspective and her approach to life is the feminine side of a very masculine phenomena -- in the sense of politics, in the sense of moving on the world stage.

    Through telling her story you get to hear about these huge issues -- but from a female perspective. As you see in the film she's somebody who's extremely courageous, who has distinguished herself throughout her life, in a personal way, but  also in a political way as well she's a very interesting person not only because of her brother, or her father. She played a pivotal role in both their lives because she brought them together.

    What do you want us to take away from this film?

    Branwen Okpako: Just after Barack wins the Presidency the press at his Grandmother's homestead in Kenya immediately inquires about the changes she would now want and her response was, “We have a good life.” I think there's  something in this everybody can take a little bit out of, the satisfaction with one''s own life and the pride in one's life, not to be hankering after other things that one doesn't have, but to really look at what you have and where you are and be satisfied with that.

    Do you think that they share similar viewpoints on the world?

    Branwen Okpako: What she says in the film is that when they met, what she most enjoyed, was the fact that they had something in common, that they both understood and wanted the same thing. That was the first time in her life she'd met someone in her family who felt the same way, who understood why she was so driven, why she was so politically active, why she was running in this direction because he was trying to do the same thing. I think it was very important the way they found each other.

    Did you want Barack’s input in this project?

    Branwen Okpako: I did initially when I started, I was always trying to call and they said you know he's running for office, it was a very busy time of his life. So, any obstacle you're confronted with in the creative process you make it part of the process, you make it a part of what the film is going to be. So I decided to limit the (focus) to the women in the family, just to have mostly voices of women, the only men in it are the European men who represent the European mentality and the European system. They are showing what kind of conflict she (Auma) was facing when she was in Europe and what she had to contented with. The so called positive-racist attitudes she had to deal with and the way she re-acted, very cool headed, never getting angry, always going to the rational, always going to the arguments to get people to see things differently.

    In this way she and her brother are very similar. Interestingly, what we also see in the film is someone working on a grass roots level with young people, and somebody working on almost a symbolic level (Barack), because by the time you get to that stage you're basically a symbol of something so that’s why I said to myself not having him in the film is actually realistic, he's a symbol of so many things and a hope, and if that symbol can inspire people to get active and get moving, that''s his role in the film.

    If Auma had Barack''s access or his upbringing would she be President?

    Branwen Okpako: If you ask her she will say that's not what she wants to do, she doesn't want to be politician. She knows the limits of that. She wants to do what she's doing. But she's in a very privileged position to do that, because she's got this family, she's got this background, she's got this education, that's why I named the film, “The Education of Auma Obama”. The film is not just about the education that she has obtained through her hard-work, but it is also about the education she is giving at the same time.

  • Sprockets: Engaging, educating and entertaining youth through film


    Sprockets, the annual Toronto International Film Festival for Children and Youth launched this week. Running from April 5-17, the 14th annual Sprockets festival, the biggest programme yet, will screen more than 100 films, from 28 countries and in 20 languages. A combination of screenings and on-site activities at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sprockets seeks to engage, educate and entertain youth of all ages through the magic of cinema. Particularly focusing on children aged 3 through 18, the festival is an interactive and hands-on experience which establishes concrete interactions between youth, educators, filmmakers and the craft of cinema.

    Throughout its existence, Sprockets has featured films addressing a variety of contemporary social issues confronting youth from around the world. “We’re very pleased to be able to offer our programming over two weekends this year. Themes range from bullying and childhood obesity to dreams of car racing, circus performing and making it big,” says Elizabeth Muskala, Director of Festivals and Events, TIFF.

    Two films AfroToronto.com wishes to highlight amid this year’s impressive programme are: Louder Than a Bomb (99 minutes, USA, 2010) and Soul Boy (60 minutes, Kenya/Germany, 2010).

    The power of spoken word

    Selected by Oprah Winfrey’s "OWN Documentary Club", Louder Than a Bomb is a critically-acclaimed documentary film about the world’s largest youth poetry slam event held annually in Chicago. Founded in 2001, the Louder Than a Bomb competition attracts in excess of six hundred teenagers from over sixty Chicago area schools. It’s the only festival of its kind and scope in the United-States. From its inception, the slam event has been focused around team performances.


    The film makes an important statement about the transforming nature of a cohesive team spirit. We follow a group of very inspiring young people who face various odds. The filmmakers take us into the everyday lives of several students. We find out about their family and personal struggles and delve into how slam poetry helps them to navigate through treacherous waters and make it to the other side.

    Be ready to have established conceptions and stereotypes about spoken word poetry taken to task. Louder Than a Bomb crosses racial, gender, religious and class lines to teach us about the universality of creative expression through spoken word.

    The boy with a manly soul

    Another film we recommend that you catch at the 14th annual Sprockets Festival is Soul Boy. Set in Kenya’s impoverished slum of Kibera, Soul Boy is the story of a 14-year-old boy, Abila, who is tasked with the daunting task of saving his father’s soul.

    Abila was surprised to find his father dazed, confused and bed-ridden with a mysterious illness. His mother brushes it off as a simple hangover but Abila takes his father’s seemingly incoherent blabbering seriously. He finds out that his father’s soul had been stolen by a Nyawawa, a female spirit.


    Abila sets out to find the spiritual woman his father was with on the drunken night when he gambled his soul away. When Abila finds the woman, she tells him that he is just a boy and so can’t do anything to save his father’s soul. But Abila shows tremendous strength of character and insists on taking on the challenges to redeem his father’s flawed soul.

    Admiring the young boy’s courage, the spiritual woman gives him a series of seven tasks to accomplish. If he is successful in completing all of them by a set time, he will ensure the return of his father’s soul.

    Remarkably complete in just six weeks, Soul Boy was written by local Kenyan writer Billy Kahora and co-directed by Kenyan-Ghanaian Hawa Essuman and German director Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run, fame). The pace of film is indeed reminiscent of Run Lola Run as the young Abila moves from one challenge to the other. It is considered by many critics as one of the best films to come out of Kenya.


    All screenings and on-site activities take place at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King St. West, Toronto.

    Visit tiff.net/sprockets,call 416-599-TIFF(toll free 1-888-599-TIFF) or visit the Box Officeat TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West, Toronto.Tickets are priced at Adult $12.00, Student/Senior $9.50 and Children (12 and under) $8.50. Family packets of 10 tickets are available for $75.00. Visa is the only credit card accepted by TIFF. 

  • Single with Baggage From Jersey to Montreal

    I really needed a break, a get away from it all travel by myself mini vacation kind of trip. I decided to go to Elizabeth, NJ (right next to Newark) for three days because Air Canada had a great seat sale and then to take VIA Rail to Montreal for the weekend.

    The great thing about Elizabeth, New Jersey is that they have a shopping mall with over 200 outlet stores called Jersey Gardens. Jersey Gardens has high end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Ambercrombie & Fitch to stores like Marshalls and Rainbow. I went there armed with a list of what I really needed as opposed to just buying things for the sake of it. I really needed a new down winter coat that was very warm, and I ended up getting a coat and a jacket (Michael Kors) for a super reasonable price because of the time of year.

    I stayed at the Country Inn Suites for 3 nights because: a. it’s super reasonable, b. they have a free shuttle from the Newark Airport and a free shuttle to and from Jersey Gardens Mall, c. they only charge $10.00 a night for incidentals, d. they have a free breakfast every morning from 6am-9am, e. if you miss the free breakfast they are right next door to IHOP and Ruby Tuesdays, f. it’s clean and nice, and g. the staff are very accommodating and friendly. Of course I never book any hotel without reading the reviews Trip Advisor first.

    If you are a single traveller like me and you want to experience more than just shopping in Jersey Gardens, I would suggest that you take the local NJ Transit 111 or the 115 bus form Jersey Gardens Mall straight into Port Authority in Manhattan. A local bus is only $6.50/each way. There are other shuttles and coaches that cost much more, but why pay that when you don’t have to. I was only in New York for an hour. I came out of Port Authority, went into the clothing store Strawberry to look around, headed out on the street and began my familiar walk, and then my knee and foot gave out…BOOM CHAKA… and so I could not go to my favourite pizza joint and ended up having a not so great slice of chicken pizza and then I limped by Madame Toussaint’s Wax museum and Morgan Freeman was the figure on display outside, and then I walked behind a lady talking on her cell phone about an appointment with a woman to communicate with the dead. I LOVE NEW YORK CITY… but I had to head back to Jersey because by this time I was limping.

    No offence to Newark Tourism but if you are travelling on your own you probably should not venture to downtown Newark on your own…it is an experience that well, it’s an experience is all I can say.

    On my last night I went to my favourite place to eat in America; TGIF Fridays and they had a special on three course meals for only $16.99. I chose the Spinach flatbreads as an appetizer, and my favourite meal the Jack Daniels Chicken and Shrimp Combo and the Brownie Supreme for dessert.

    I returned to Toronto after 3 days to start the next leg of my trip; VIA Rail to Montreal, Quebec for the weekend. I booked at the Maritime Plaza Hotel.

    I’m on the train now, and have not been on VIA Rail since 2004, and they have really changed for the better…real comfy seats, internet, who could ask for more.

    Well, of course that little description was before the darn train started. It is quite a bumpy ride…good thing I have strong insides…I don’t know how those people managed to sleep so well with all of that bumping and hard jerking of the train, but somehow they did it.

    I arrived at my hotel and told the front desk staff how they had good reviews on line (perhaps I spoke too soon). I went to my room and um well let’s just say I could not stay there.  It was damp and dank, and the carpet was not clean and the sheets had some stains and hairs and things.  So, I called the front desk to let them know. I was given a key to an upgrade (at no extra cost of course) and was sent to the Executive Suites. This room was cleaner and nicer it was no Omni or Westin, but I was definitely more comfortable.

    In the evening I set out to find somewhere to have dinner. I found a bar on Crescent that looked super popular for their menu but they weren’t too nice to me at the door, so I left. As I was walking I tried to remember the name of a Mexican restaurant I used to go to all the time, but the name escaped me. And then as if by chance, I looked up and there it was, 3 Amigos. I ordered the grilled salmon, tiger shrimp, rice and mixed veggies; it was filling and pretty awesome.  There was loud festive Mexican music in the background with a dash of reggae, great service and they had St. Patrick’s Day decorations mixed in with the multi coloured Mexican décor. I ate chocolate mousse for dessert (though I swear I ordered the bailey’s cheesecake) all for $30.00 (no more American prices for big meals). I asked the manager to take a picture of me by the front door, but I have a new camera and didn’t know how to get it to work. The manager was like… “When you figure it out come and get me and I will take the picture.” It took some time but I finally figured it out, and he actually came back and took a picture of me grinning by their front door.

    On my final morning in Montreal, I ate a nice full breakfast at the train station and then boarded the train. This time it was open seating and they boarded the train much earlier than the specified time. By the time I got on the train there was only one seat left beside a man who tried to ignore me and had his jacket on the chair. Let’s just say this, the train that I took back to Toronto was not as spacious or modern as the one I left in. the man beside me was very rude and had his arm and elbow on the arm rest and very much into my private space. I spent a lot of the trip sighing and leaning way out into the aisle to move away from his legs and arms.  He was quite rude and though I was upset to the 1000th power, I kept my thoughts to myself. To make matters worse out of all the things to order he ordered crackers and tuna in a can (sigh).  I never said a word but I wrote in my notebook how angry I was at the inconsiderate man beside me (something I always tell the youth I work with to do). The only thing that made me smile a little bit was what happened when I got up to let him go to the bathroom.  When he returned I stood up to let him sit down and he yelled, “NO NO NO DON’T GET UP YET!!”  I was thinking to myself, “Lord please give me strength.” And then when he finally decided to sit down he banged his head so hard on the way back down to his seat, I thought to myself, “Now see, what happens when you are mean to people on the train.”

    I arrived safe and sound back in Toronto and I can say that once again that being Single With Baggage really is not so bad, unless of course you sit by a rude man eating tuna and crackers for 6 hours on a train.

    This trip is rated:

  • I Marcus Garvey

    Monserrat-born playwright Edgar Nkosi White’s play “I Marcus Garvey” has been enjoying a well-reviewed run at The Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road). Directed by Rhoma Spencer, this production, presented by Theatre Archipelago in association with b current, runs until this coming Sunday, March 27th.

    When she recently spoke to AfroToronto.com, director Rhoma Spencer said she spent the last eight years trying to make the production happen. It’s indeed a project that is close to her heart. A smaller version of the play was staged in February of last year at both Papermill Theatre and the U. of T.’s William Doo Auditorium. On the strength of the positive reception, she felt confident about giving birth to the current production.

    In Rhoma Spencer’s eye, Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) was a true visionary who lived way ahead of his time. “Long before Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope, we had Marcus Garvey inspiring people of African descent everywhere to strive towards a better future. Long before Kwanza, Garvey spoke of recognizing Pan-Africanism and the value of African principles.” Spencer also adds that at the time when the League of Nations (now the UN) was carving Africa, Garvey was saying: “Leave Africa for Africans.”

    As founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), Garvey was pivotal figure of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements. He was a strong believer in economic self-reliance and for the need to develop black-owned businesses.

    Rhoma Spencer remarks how the UNIA’s emblematic red black and green colours are today represented in the post-colonial national flags of several African countries.

    “I Marcus Garvey”, a North American premiere, recounts Marcus Garvey’s life journey through his activism in Jamaica, England, America and Canada. The play is skillfully complemented with live music. Bob Marley’s powerful “Redemption Song” goes a long way into conveying Garvey’s message.

    The timing of the play, as Rhoma Spence points out, is very appropriate since 2011 was declared by the United Nations as the International Year for People of African Descent.


    Show info:

    Location: Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road)

    Runs until: March 27, 2011

    Time: 08:00 PM to 10:30 PM, Sunday Matinee 2pm

    Admission $15-$35
    Students $25

    Tickets online at www.totix.ca or in person at the TO Tix Booth, Dundas Square.

  • Happy like us

    Your friend Charles called for you earlier tonight at around seven. Ever since our university days he’s always been the one within your entire posse I always got along with the best. There’s always a welcoming tone in his voice. He seemed eager to talk to you since he said you two hadn’t spoken for a while.

    I promised him you would call him back when you got back home tonight. Although my heart slightly skipped a beat, my cheerful voice remained undisturbed as I remembered you calling me from the office three hours earlier to let me know not to wait up. “I’m meeting up with Charles for drinks” you said.

    I know there must be a valid explanation. I know how hard you work and how the long hours blur your mind occasionally.

    All my girls know how much of a good man you are. They keep reminding me.

    Lisa, you know the one from church, called me last night to complain again about her no-good current boyfriend. “My clock is ticking” she said. “I don’t have time anymore to put up with his bullshit excuses and commitment-phobic crap.” “I hope you know how good you have it with Peter.”

    Yes, I know I have a good thing.

    I silently pity women like them who waste years in dead-end relationships and find themselves at forty with nothing to show. At least if she had spent her energy on her career and found herself single at forty with a house of her own and money in the bank, I could feel more sympathetic.

    I mean look at my friend Shawna from work. You know the one who always shows up alone at our house parties? She sure doesn’t seem unhappy. Wasn’t she the life of the party when we had people over for New Year’s?

    I keep reminding you, we should try to fix her up with Charles.

    Even though she’s a successful single gal with a full life, I know she would love to find that right life partner who will “complete her” as she confided in me once in a moment of weakness.

    I have to admit that I enjoy knowing that Shawna, somewhere deep inside of her, feels jealous of me. We’re both career women who’ve excelled in our professions but I’ve got something she doesn’t have.

    Oh, before I keep going on and on, go upstairs now and call Charles. I’ll be down here fixing you dinner. I’m making your favourite dish tonight, coconut chicken and rice. I’ve already put the chicken in the oven. The smell of the spices is just enough to cover the scent of this perfume I don’t recognize which blew into the house with your arrival.

    As you go up to the room, change into something more comfortable. Let’s make this a romantic evening tonight.

    Throw that white shirt into the hamper. I know the collar gets dark with sweat sometimes after long days at the office. It would help if you sprayed your collar with that stain remover on the shelf as well. It works wonders. It even successfully removed the lipstick mark your secretary accidentally smudged on it last week when she ran into you in the hallway.

    So did you tell Charles about Shawna? They’re both dear friends and they so deserve to be happy like us.


  • A portrait of the first Afro-Canadian city councillor in London, Canada: Harold Usher

    Harold Usher, P.Eng., DTM was born in Belize (in Central America) and arrived in Canada in 1963. Harold has devoted most of his life contributing to the betterment of mankind, the community, and his fellow citizens, starting from his childhood membership in his Primary School (St. Mary’s) Choir and the Boys Brigade in Belize to acting in Dramatic plays for his Methodist Church in Belize.  He participated also in Drama groups in Jamaica and Montreal, CANADA.  Mr.  Usher is a City Councillor (Ward 12) in London, Ontario, CANADA who, with his election in 2000, and re-elections in 2003, 2006 and 2010, became the first and only person of African/Caribbean ancestry or African Diaspora, to be elected to London (Ontario, CANADA) City Council.

    He is a 1972 Civil Engineering graduate of  Sir George Williams (currently Concordia) University in Montreal and worked for Bell Canada, in various Engineering/Management capacities and levels for 24 years.  In 1996 he embarked on other work/career adventures such as inspirational speaking and training.  Later, he was involved in politics. He is also a Distinguished Toastmaster, an Author, an inspirational speaker and human resources development trainer, who believes that “Service to humanity is the best work of life,” and “Service is the rent we pay for being on this earth.” He also got involved with various Multi-cultural and non-profit Community organizations, The City of London, The United Church of Canada and others.

    Soon Usher began to champion “issues and causes” related to Race Relations; Justice; Equity; Human Rights; jobs for the unemployed; as well as other Opportunities, including Housing for the Homeless, the Poor, People with Disabilities, visible minorities and ethnic groups, and the community in general, particularly the Youths and the Elderly – simply to ensure every citizen can live in harmony and enjoy a good quality of life, with dignity and respect.

    As a City Councillor, Usher has three special roles, namely: 1) representing his  constituency (people who voted for him) at City Council or on public matters that affect their quality of life, 2) set policies for the smooth running of the City, and the implementation of projects that ensure a good quality of life for the residents, 3) advocate good, honest, transparent Government. In order to accomplish these, Mr. Usher sits on several committees, reads a lot of information and attends a lot of meetings – prepared. Everything else follows from those in a complex environment.  The job is demanding and challenging but deeply rewarding for Harold Usher. It is part time - however, city councillors are on call 24/7.  Mr.  Usher advocates that visible minorities and women get more involved.

    Mr.  Usher is a prostate cancer survivor and wrote a book in collaboration with his renowned Canadian Urologic Surgeon, Dr. Joseph Chin, entitled, PROSTATE! PROSTATE! PROSTATE! A Problem of Men, in which he shares his story, what he learned, and encourages men to get regular prostate examinations, and to take action quickly once diagnosed with prostate cancer.

    City Councillor Harold Usher became the recipient of the 2010 African Canadian Achievement Award (ACAA) in the prestigious category of "Excellence in Polices."  The Awards Presentation was on Saturday May 29, 2010 at The St.  Lawrence Centre for the Arts, in Toronto.  Harold was nominated for this Award by the Honourable Jean Augustine.  Harold Usher`s contribution to the community has been emphasized in various publications such as Who’s who in Black Canada by Dawn P.  Williams.  On a personal level, Mr.  Usher is married to Melba (née Wright) Usher, also born in Belize and the couple has three daughters, all born in Montreal.

    Experiences and Achievements:

    • Actively serving the Community for more than 25 years
    • Professional Engineer (P. Eng.)
    • Politician (Councillor, City of London, Canada)
    • Distinguished Toastmaster
    • Inspirational Speaker
    • Human Resources Development Trainer
    • Advocate for Human rights, Justice, Equity and Race Relations – a voice spoken and heard
    • Co-Author of Book entitled:  “PROSTATE! PROSTATE! PROSTATE! A Problem of Men” - helping Black Men survive the terrible disease of prostate cancer
    • Cultural Background: Canadian Citizen (African/Caribbean Ancestry or African Diaspora – Born in Belize)

    Special Award:  Harold Usher received the  Canada 125th Commemorative Medal, from the Governor General  in 1992

    Other Honours:

    • The Distinguished Toastmasters (DTM) Designation from Toastmasters International (three times)
    • The Toastmasters International President’s Citation
    • The joint Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) and The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) Citizenship Award
    • The London (Ontario) Black Community Achievement Award
    • The PRIDE African Canadian Achievement Award for “Excellence in Politics



    ·         London City Council (London, Ontario, CANADA) - elected 2000 and each term since then
    ·         City of London Community and Neighbourhood Committee (CNC) – Chair 2000 to present
    ·         London Transit Commission (Past Chair) 2000 to present
    ·         Lake Huron Primary Water Supply System Joint Board of Management (Past Chair) 2000 to present
    ·         City of London Council’s Housing Leadership Committee 2007 to present
    .        Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Board of Directors 2011
    ·         FCM Standing Committee on Social-Economic Development 2008 to present
    ·         FCM Standing Committee on Municipal Infrastructure and Transportation Policy 2008 to present
    ·         FCM Standing Committee on Increasing Women’s Participation in Municipal Government 2003 to present
    ·         Western Fair Association – Board of Governors 2010 to present
    ·         Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning and Development Board (EMOWPDB) – Visible Minority Representative 2000 to present
    ·         Goodwill Industries Ontario Great Lakes - Board of Directors 2006 to present
    ·         Ontario Society of Professional Engineers - Member 2001 to present
    ·         Professional Engineers Ontario – Member, 1974 to present
    ·         Black Community Leadership Congress (BCLC) – London Branch, 2001 to present
    ·         London Black History Committee – Coordinator of “Closing GALA” 2002 to present
    ·         White Oaks United Church of London 2004 to present
    ·         The Journeys of the Black People of the United Church of Canada 2006 to present
    ·         The United Church of Canada - Gender Justice Advisory Committee of the General Council, 2010 to present
    ·         Garrison Community Council of London, 2006 to present
    ·         Telephone Pioneers of Canada/America 1990 to present
    ·         Thames Valley Toastmasters Club (Past President), 1984 to present
    ·         London City Hall Toastmasters Club – Originator, Sponsor and Past President, 2007 to present
    ·         Fanshawe College President’s Academy (Alumni of the Board of Governors), 2002 to present
    ·         Consortium for Belizean Development – International Board of Directors, 1985 to present
    ·         Fathers Day Walk/Run Fundraiser Event for Prostate Cancer Research –  Honorary Chair (London) 2009 to present

  • A Screaming Man: Putting God on trial


    “Screaming Man,” an award-winning film by Chadian writer-director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun currently screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until March 23rd, poses an important question: “Where is God when humans suffer?

    With the recent natural tragedies in Haiti and now Japan, there perhaps is no better time to put God on trial. Of course, this is not a new concept. God, the divine entity or the omnipotent one has been cross-examined by humanity since pre-biblical times. During the Second World War, Jewish prisoners in one of Hitler’s most notorious concentration camps convened a Beit Din (a Jewish court of law). They put God on trial and they found God guilty.

    While the verdict in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film is less clear, it is nonetheless evident that this God, who has seemingly gone silent in the face of civil war and poverty in Chad, hasn’t escaped severe scrutiny. The name of the film itself was inspired by celebrated Martinique-born poet Aime Cesaire’s collection of poetry entitled Return to My Native Land. Contemplating the role of God in front of human suffering, Cesaire wrote “A screaming man is not a dancing bear”.

    A very telling quote from the film, spoken by a hardworking, generous and kind-hearted cook who had just lost his job, encapsulates it all: “Our problem is that we put our destiny in God’s hands.”


    What is humanity to do then if God is silent? What happens when life’s circumstances take over and our screams towards the heavens suddenly turn inaudible even to those surrounding us? Perhaps then we decide to become God ourselves and, with all our human failings, try to set the course straight.

    The screaming man in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film is Adam (played by Youssouf Djaoro), a former swimming champion who, with his son Abdel (played by Diouc Koma), supervises a pool in an upscale hotel frequented exclusively by foreigners. This job is his whole life. He takes pride in his responsibilities and enjoys being a role model for his son.

    One day, his world come crashing down when the hotel’s owners announce to him that he will be relegated to the role of hotel gatekeeper and that his son Abdel would now supervise the pool. What follows is a complex escalation of emotions which leads to the patriarch’s ultimate betrayal of his son.

    The pace of the film may sometimes appear painfully slow and we are often left to guess what Adam is really thinking. But we soon realize that Mahamat-Saleh Haroun offers interesting metaphors and important parallels between the destiny of one man and that of his family and country.

  • Zab Manoungo: mind, body and African rhythms

    French-Congolese dance performer, choreographer, teacher and philosopher Zab Manoungo epitomizes the concept of the consummate artist. The daughter of a revolutionary African intellectual who fought against colonialism, Zab Manoungo was raised with a Pan-Africanist cultural consciousness which clearly informs her journey as a dance artist.

    She is currently in Toronto presenting her COBA-commissioned (Collective of Black Artists) work entitled “On a Clear Day” (ends today, March 13th). The opening of COBA’s Breaking Point! at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre this past Friday was a resounding success.

    AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak to Zab Manoungo before this week end’s triple presentation. She was thrilled with having the opportunity to work with COBA for the first time. While COBA had commissioned works in the past by choreographers from Senegal, Haiti and South Africa, this marks COBA’s first Canadian-based commission.

    For the past twenty years, Zab Manoungo has been at the helm of her own Montreal-based dance company, Nyata Nyata. A highly sought-after dancer and choreographer, her creations have been showcased internationally. In addition to her dance credentials, she also holds a Master’s degree in philosophy and teaches the subject at Montmorency College in Laval, Quebec.

    She tells AfroToronto.com that dance, music and philosophy are one in her perspective. “Most great philosophers from Socrates to Nietzsche have celebrated the art of dance as one of the most important and fundamental endeavours at the level of human intelligence. Thus, it’s not a new thing to make such a rapprochement unlike what may be commonly believed. We tend to separate body and spirit in the West. From my vantage point, however, it’s a joyous thing to join the two because philosophy is really the art of questions and art allows me to answer” she adds.

    When asked how she discovered her passion for dance, she takes us back to her early childhood in Congo-Brazzaville where she was part of several dance groups. She mentions that, at the time, her country was going through its post-colonial independence era and dance was partly how her people redefined themselves in the face of modernity. There was a whole movement around this development so it was a great opportunity to explore rhythm and traditions.

    Eventually, political developments marked by coup d’états brought her family to France. There, she continued to pursue her interest in dance with other groups of Africans. She recounts to us: “The environment in France was much more Pan-Africanist. I came across students from throughout the continent and the diaspora. I started working with those diverse groups in universities and my interest for the art refined itself to the point of necessitating research and the development of a discipline.”

    Zab Manoungo realized through her journey that she was not satisfied with the way in which tradition was approached. She found most people’s interpretation of African dance as being too fixed, too rigid, too representative and too politicized. “I was looking for another road which would be more personal” as she clarifies.

    In her opinion, dance allows us to have access to a whole new level of understanding of our relationship with the world -- through the environment, our interactions with the sacred, and the education of the body and the spirit. “When we study African rhythms, we discover that they transmit tremendous knowledge. That’s why I’ve put so much emphasis on understanding rhythm as being structural in the relationship between mind and body. That’s why I have and continue to work towards breaking those limiting representations of traditional dance both in the West and in Africa” as she explains to AfroToronto.com.

    As a daughter of post-independence Africa who has transposed herself within various cultures, Zab Manoungo reveals to us that she cherishes a long-held idea of an African cultural renaissance. She points to her working collaboration with COBA as a representation of how different African communities have matured to the point of calling on each other to redefine African diasporic culture. As this week end’s diverse choreographies displayed at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Zab Manoungo’s vision of a Pan-African dance universe is alive and well.

  • Wise.Woman: An Interview with Rebecca Fisseha


    How far would you go to find yourself? This is the question that Ethiopian-born playwright Rebecca Fisseha asks us to explore in her first full-length play and main stage production, Wise.Woman, now showing at Toronto’s Theatre Centre (1087 Queen W). The play, which opened on February 20th, comes to a close this coming week-end with three more days of presentations.

    Rebecca Fisseha is an emerging playwright, and York University graduate, who honed her writing skills as a member of current’s rAiz’n the sun training ensemble. She originally submitted Wise Woman of Abyssinia to rock.paper.sistahz III 2004. Other works featured as workshop productions with b current, Obsidian and the SummerWorks and Crosscurrents festivals are: February, The Exhibition of Love, Leaving Home, The Product and Daughter’s Last Supper.

    Wise.Woman tells the story of a westernized young Ethiopian woman, Saba, who goes back to her ancestral land to marry her childhood sweetheart, Solomon. The play also explores the ancient tale of Queen of Sheba (Queen Mak’da)’s visit to the land of Judah. We thus find the main character, played by Cara Ricketts, assuming both the modern and ancient roles of Saba and Queen Mak’da.

    AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to interview Rebecca Fisseha about her play:

    AT: The play talks about a journey of self-discovery and cultural reawakening. This is very relevant for multi-cultural Canadian youth. What has the response been so-far in workshops and the current production from Ethiopian and other youth?

    RF: I believe they are very happy to see a show that references stories, locales and expressions that are familiar to them either because they grew up in that environment or know it second hand from their parents or extended family. Seeing live theatre on stage by people who for the most part look and sound like them has also been refreshing. They appreciate the scale and look of the show as well as the message of self-reliance that it communicates. I hope that we will have more opportunities to perform for school and community groups in the future so that we can get more detailed feedback from the youth.

    AT: What did that journey in writing Wise.Woman bring to you personally?

    RF: It allowed me to comprehend one aspect of my cultural heritage in a way that I probably wouldn't have had it not been for the time and thought that went into writing the play. Now that I have completed it, I feel brave enough to apply the same interpretive twist to the many other traditions, stories, myths and legends that I have grown up with and find out what they mean to me personally. With Wise.Woman, I came to see the story of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba not only as the nation-founding legend it has always been presented as, but as the story of one woman who chose to go her own way -"into her own country"- and by doing so ensured her immortal place in history.

    AT: How did the play evolve from the initial conception through the fleshing out of the plot and ideas with a dramaturge and/or producer?

    RF: It evolved over approximately four years, with a lot of gaps in between where I wasn't necessarily writing or rewriting or researching or workshopping the script with actors and a dramaturge. I like to consider the gaps in between the times of activity as "simmering", because that  is when I processed, most often subconsciously, all the work that I had done on the script. The initial story was always the King Solomon and Queen of Sheba story. Out of that emerged the figure of a couple of tourists, a man and a woman. The play as it is today emerged out of continued exploration of the worlds of those two pairs of people, their humanity, their search for belonging and what I as a writer had to say about them from where I stand. My dramaturge and director ahdri zhina mandiela was instrumental in helping me articulate what I, Rebecca, had to say about this piece of history that I was dramatizing and juxtaposing with a modern story. Without that, the play would have rang hollow, it would have been purely presentational.

    AT: What impact do you hope the play will have on those who see it?

    RF: The repeated response so far has been that people have never seen anything quite like this show before. The mixture of old and new worlds, the creative use of chorus members to create setting and mood, the use of live singing and the blending of modern dialogue with ancient heightened text - a lot of it inspired by the Song of Songs - has created and I hope will continue to create a feeling of having been teleported to another place and time for those who see it. It is also an opportunity for audiences to experience a culture that is not often showcased on the stage, that of Ethiopia. As a bonus we have traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on Sundays, so if nothing else people will walk away with a little organic East African caffeine running through their veins!

    AT: Where do you see the world of theatre going in Toronto with respect to diverse voices both on stage and behind the stage?

    RF: I expect that the future will be more of the present. We will see even more of what we are beginning to see in terms of diversity. However, it has also been said by those who have been at it longer than I that things move in cycles, so that a period of increased diversity will be followed by its opposite and so forth. So while I can''t predict with any certainty either way, it is in my interest to hope for the best. I look forward to the day when diversity becomes the norm as opposed to an exception that has to be highlighted every rare time that it makes an appearance.

    AT: A few words about the cast members?

    RF: The truly wonderful aspect of the cast of six and chorus of nine members is the multiplicity of cultural backgrounds that they represent. The group as a whole is a very accurate picture of the idea of Canada: people who originate from nearly every continent and call this place home for their own individual reasons. I really doubt that such a collection of individuals has ever graced a stage in Toronto theatre history. As well, they contribute quite a wide range of performance experience, from members who have several Stratford seasons under their belt to those who have recently begun their performance training under b current's rAiz'n training ensemble for emerging artists.

    Wise.Woman runs until March 8, 2009 at The Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen Street West (Queen & Dovercourt) on Friday and Saturday 2pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 6pm (weekday Matinees also available for Schools). Tickets are $15 for students & artworkers and $20 for adults, general. Tickets can be purchased online atwww.artsboxoffice.ca.

    For group sales, the teacher preview, and school sales call 416 533 1500 or emailThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Interview with Stacie Upchurch: former candidate of The Apprentice 2

    Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Stacie Jones Upchurch grew up in Colorado.It is important to note that Upchurch hasn’t just relied on her beauty to “make it”.  She attended both Emory and Mercer Universities in Atlanta where she received, respectively, her B.A. in Marketing and her M.B.A. At twenty, while attending college, she set up a marketing company that employed a staff of seventeen.  She ran several businesses in Atlanta before settling in New York City, poised to achieve her modeling, acting and business goals.  

    In this respect, Modeling on the runways of New York City, acting on daytime television, running her own Subway franchise, starring on Donald Trump’s “Apprentice,” (season 2)  represents just a few of Stacie J.’s accomplishments.

    Aforementioned Stacie Upchurch is an ambitious and a brilliant woman.  She became a candidate for the second season of the TV reality show The Apprentice.Over one million people apply each year to participate on this show. Upchurch was among the eighteen highly qualified and successful applicants.  All candidates of The Apprenticewere subjected to a series of interviews, auditions and intense competition with other aspiring corporate executives.  Over forty million people watch The Apprentice each week.  It has become one of the most successful programs in television history, and has received at least four Emmy nominations.

    Stacie Upchurch started modeling in college when Manhattan Model Search came to Atlanta looking for new talent. Out of 5,000 people, Mrs.  Upchurch was one of two finalists chosen by Elite NY, and soon Stacie started working in Miami. She then modeled in Europe and Africa, and subsequently returned home to Atlanta to finish graduate school and pursue business interests. Stacie Upchurch was also a professional model with Ford Model Management based in New York City.After selling her interest in her first restaurant, Stacie Upchurch resumed her modeling career and went to New York to pursue other business endeavors.

    Settling in Harlem, Stacie J. and her family decided to open a Subway Sandwich Shop franchise. Their business, located in Harlem across from former President Bill Clinton’s office on 125th Street, allows the youth to gain valuable experience which will serve them in the future.After living there for a few months, Mrs.  Upchurch recognized and seized a great opportunity to create jobs, provide healthy food alternative and take advantage of an emerging market within her community.

    Stacie Upchurch has also launched a jewelry and accessories line available at Icing by Claire''s stores nationwide. The line, available in 200 stores, includes rings, belly chains, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, sunglasses, handbags, and belts.  Icing by Claire''s, a division of Claire''s Stores Inc., is an accessories store for women age 17 to 27.

    It is important to mention that Mrs. Upchurch has an interest in other domains.  In this regard, she made her acting debut in the film “The Scorned” (a 2005 horror movie). It was the first movie comprised entirely of people from previous reality television series. The movie was filmed during the E! behind-the-scenes reality show “Kill Reality”; Upchurch played the role of Trish.  She also acted in many American soap operas such as As The World Turns, One Life To Liveand so on.  Throughout her career, Upchurch has made the cover of several magazines, including Lucirefrom New Zealand.  She has also been a guest on popular programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show.

    Now, Stacie J. is a full-time mom to her 2-year daughter Riley Lynn and an insurance professional for Unique Underwriter, the fastest-growing national Independent Marketing Organization that focuses exclusively on mortgage protection insurance, and on generating top-quality mortgage protection insurance leads for our agents. She currently manages approximately 30 agents in NY/NJ, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami.  Our columnist had the pleasure to speak to her last November.  Stacie Upchurch was located in New York during the interview.  By Patricia Turnier, Columnist of www.afrotoronto.com and Editress-in-Chief of Mega Diversities.


    Patricia Turnier, LL.M. talks to Stacie Upchurch, M.B.A.:

    P.T.  Who inspired you when you were younger to become successful?  In other words, did you have a mentor?

    S.U. While I was in college in Atlanta, I had a mentor when I was 17 named Michael Child. He was a very prominent businessman and is still in Georgia. I learned a lot from him and I will always be grateful. He owned a small medical company with four employees, including me. This experience allowed me to learn how to run a small business. Michael Child took me under his wing.  He taught me about accounting, customer services, contracts, profit margins, marketing, in other words everything concerning entrepreneurial skills. The knowledge that I got from him will serve me for life.  Michael Child is still one of my biggest mentors.

    It is important to mention that for a long time I had an interest in commerce. Since I was 14, I had small businesses in Colorado. I owned a business at one time with my younger sister.  I was always doing something related to business. I knew for a long time that I had the entrepreneurial spirit. I would like to add that my mother always encouraged me to do my best in every road I chose. She told me to never settle for mediocrity.

    P.T.  Can you elaborate more about the small businesses you had with your younger sister when you were 14?

    S.U. I can tell you about one of the businesses that I owned in Colorado with my younger sister and that I loved.  We used to ski in the mountains. We had to take a train before. We realised that the passengers were thirsty and hungry. So, the night before the ski trip, we used to make candies which were called more specifically rock candy, baked in the stove, with different flavours. We sold them with Pepsi products and so on. That was huge at the time in Colorado. The kids and their families loved what we sold.  We did this every week. We sold the same products in schools also. In addition to all this, I had a babysitting service. I always worked in high school. So, for a very long time I had an entrepreneurial spirit.

    P.T.  In 2005, you were a candidate for the second season of the Apprentice.  What did you learn from this experience?

    S.U. The candidates and I were in a very competitive setting. We were from different backgrounds but we had in common a type A personality. Some of the contestants had an entrepreneurial background, but the majority came from Ivy League universities and were doing well in their respected fields. The contestants were accustomed to winning; none of us expected to lose [Laughs].

    My Apprentice experience made me realise even more that when I was in college I wasn’t a member from any sororities or affiliations. Being an entrepreneur, I always call the shots and made the decisions since I was at the head of my organisations. Most of the business people that I know didn’t even have a sorority experience. I never was in a big corporate setting. I ran my own businesses and I dealt more often with individuals such as my assistants. When you are in The Apprentice, you end up in a team setting and it didn’t help in my case that I didn’t have a sorority experience.  I would have had more tools to deal with different type of personalities if I participated in sororities, but at the time I wasn’t attracted to female group gatherings.  I felt for instance that if I needed to organise a fundraising, I could do it on my own.  I am not used to relying on other people so The Apprentice was an adaptation for me.

    On the show there were two aspects to consider:  1) everything which had to do with being part of a sorority clique, 2) the business part of the contest where you have to do the task.  In other words, there is a subjective part (power relations, group dynamics…) and a more objective part to consider in the entire process.  In this respect, as a contestant it is important to find a way to navigate toward all of this. In the Apprentice, it is a prime necessity to play overall as a team and it can be the same thing in other corporate settings.  I was great for the part of doing the tasks.  However, with my independent personality it created an incompatibility of characters with the other female candidates and I didn’t do small talk with them.  So, to sum up, I am more an independent woman than a team player.  I realise that in business one is not always judged on merit and performance. This is what I learned about myself throughout my experience in The Apprentice.

    P.T.  Do you think it is a myth or a reality that to make it in a high level position in corporate America, a female needs to adopt male standards?

    S.U. Well, my background is not corporate America. So, I can only speak conceptually about that and I am going to base my opinion on what I heard from my friends who worked at that level. I know that they have to play the game.  They need to find a balance between being a team player and a hard worker.  Overall, the majority of people at the head of companies are male. There are many factors to consider about how a female can rise to the top of corporate America. She often has to work long hours, put their family aside.  Some have to wait to start to create a family. Getting to the top is attainable, but it is not easy. If the females have mates, their partners need to be very understanding.

    In some cases, females in corporate America have to display male characteristics: working long hours, not having kids. In other words, some feel that they have to be hard-core. In some milieus, they think they need to do this to be taken seriously. Others even believe that they have to be authoritative. However, it is possible to command respect without adopting those traits. I also believe that in some cases the reverse of the medal is true. I mean using male standards can help some females to get to the top of corporate America. It plays an important part in the culture of this realm.  Maybe one day this situation will change, but alas for now adopting male standards is part of the culture.

    P.T.  What advice do you have for young visible minorities to enter and to break the glass ceiling in corporate America?

    S.U. I think it begins with education. You should equip yourself with the highest level of education possible. Unfortunately, overall we still live in a world which discriminates against females and people of colour. So, being highly educated and well cultured are the best deterrents to discrimination. If you can go to Harvard, do it. If you are able to obtain a Master’s or a PhD, go for it.  You have to be equipped to shatter the glass ceiling. You need to be prepared. It is important also to be passionate about what you are doing and work hard. Eventually, people will recognise that and they won’t be able to stop you from breaking the glass ceiling. For me, to get to the Apprentice after competing against over a million people I had to set myself apart by being among the most prepared academically besides my entrepreneurial experience.  It has been like that with everything I have done.

    P.T.  What advice do you have for employees who are in a cutthroat work environment?

    S.U. [Silence] My first inclination would be to say that in this kind of situation, an individual is not shrewd if he chooses to be quiet.  You have to be diligent, a hard worker and find a balance to see how to navigate in a cutthroat environment.  You are entitled to make a living, at the same time you have to find a way to make sure that this kind of difficult situation won’t be detrimental to your mental health.  It is important to show integrity and honesty consistently because this will always prevail.  At the same time, you have to make sure that nobody will step on you by behaving in a cutthroat way.

    Human resources or other authorities such as unions have to ensure that you will be in a supportive work environment.  They have the responsibility to create and maintain a stress-free working atmosphere for their workers by using psychological approaches.

    P.T.  As an entrepreneur, do you have some advice for someone who wants to start his own business?

    S.U.It is helpful to find a mentor. It is important also to not take no for an answer. You can find someone who has a similar enterprise that you want to build and offer to work for free (through an internship program for instance) even as a learning experience for six months to a year. At the end of this process, you will get referrals. The training experience will also allow you to see if you will want to pursue a career in your realm. You have to be sure of what you want. There are people for example who can dissuade you from opening a Subway Franchise because in their minds there are already a lot of them. In fact, whatever the type of company you want to open (a computer store and so on) you will always find negative people who won’t encourage you. It is important to not be influenced by that and avoid those individuals. However, before opening a business there are guidelines to follow. You have to know your market by studying it. You have to be aware of who are your competitors and analyse how you can bring something to the table, etc.  If you want longevity in the business sphere, you have to be passionate because you will be less discouraged with the future hurdles that may arise.

    P.T.  You like to explore other avenues such as acting.  How was your experience as an actress in the horror movie The Scorned in 2005? Are you interested to do other movies?  If so, what would be your ideal role to play and why?

    S.U. I modelled for about 12 years when I was younger and acting was a natural progression of modelling.  The Scornedis an experience that came to me after being on The Apprentice.  I would like to add that I have already been in many American soap operas (All My Children, One Life To Live, As The World Turns, etc) for about 10 years.  It is important to note that for now my acting career is on hold because my priority is my daughter.  Also, to prosper as an actress you have to move to L.A. and the reality is that I live in NY.  It is a very hard business and when you are starting, you have unstable income. I can’t allow this because I have my responsibility as a parent. When I was 21, I was acting and I didn’t move to L.A. even if I had the right agents. In retrospect, it means that maybe I didn’t want this bad enough.  However, it is still in me and I would be interested in accepting projects in the future when my child will be older. For now, my focus is my daughter.  She started to do modelling jobs and I am training her to be an actress. My daughter will do anything she wants, become a physician, etc. The world is open to her. For me, maybe in two years I will get back into acting.

    To get back to your question, my experience with The Scornedwas great. I played against Jonny Fairplay who played my boyfriend. I had to go into my character, to different places within myself.  Acting is about pretending, becoming someone else and being able to bring out the character. That was a challenge and a great experience. I had fun on the set. It was a reality show and a reality movie.  We all lived together. Sometimes it was crazy because there was some fighting inside the house.  It was like being in The Apprentice again [Laughs]. To sum up, it was a nice experience and I would like one day to do more acting.

    About your last sub-question, my ideal role in a movie would be to play a James Bond girl in the future. That would be great. They have the best roles with one of the hottest men [Laughs]. It would be also interesting to play a super heroine in a movie like Angelina Jolie did.  If I were approached for roles like that I would be definitely up for it.

    P.T.  You have been modelling since you were a kid.  Do you have any advice for girls who want to become successful fashion models?  Also, how can they avoid the traps in this realm?

    S.U. It is possible to pay people which will help them build careers as future models (such as agents and so on).  To be more precise, I am referring to fashion consultants.  They have to be experienced, and it is important to do your research to learn which models were launched by them.  Every parent thinks that their child should be a model which is not very realistic.  So, it is important to get an opinion from top fashion consultants.  There are so many people who want to become models and some have to be honest with themselves.  In addition, there are all kinds of models.  So, you have to think if you want to be a catalogue model, a high fashion model and so on.  Rule number 1:  you have to be at least 5’9, under 120 pounds to make it big.  You need to have a look.

    People also have to be careful with hidden costs before signing a contract.  It is always good to verify everything with an attorney.  You have to do your research and seek well-known agencies (with excellent reputation) that proved themselves in the past by promoting the careers of others.  In other words, look for an agency with an impressive body of work. The criteria to consider are:  how long they have been established, who are the models they launched, etc.  You have to choose an agency that works best for you.

    A good agency supports the girls, especially the youngest ones.  I have been involved with Ford and Elite agencies for over 10 years in NY, Miami, Chicago, L.A.  Every week, those agencies have open calls.  You can walk in, show your portfolio.  They will tell you if you have what it takes.  If so, they will pay for additional pictures.  You don’t have to pay a photographer or join a class to get pictures.  A lot of companies will charge 2000$ and more to train you to become a model.  At the end of the day, they take your money and won’t place you with any agency.  You have to be very careful with this.  Getting an agent is the first step, so going to open calls is important.  You can also find a mentor, someone who has experience in this realm.  It can be someone like me for instance or somebody else with whom you feel comfortable to guide your career.  Watch out also for specific events.  For instance, annually in Florida there is a model season from January to April where every model in the world is in South Beach, Miami.  You can look in your own town where there are opportunities for modelling.

    The parents have to be involved with under-aged girls to support them in every step.  There is a lot of competition and a cadre is required.  I would like to add that it is important not to limit yourself to one country.  It is a necessity to make French, English, Italian magazines and so on if you want an international career.  Serious agencies such as Ford send models to Europe where they can do fashion shows and work for magazines. The fashion companies pay the staying of the models abroad for a certain period.  It is a must to go in other countries to obtain longevity in this realm.  So, this criterion is imperative when choosing the agency that you want to work for.

    P.T.  Do you believe in the maxim:  “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness?”

    S.U. Yes, definitely.  You have to be prepared when opportunities arise.  Luck is an interesting word.  I was prepared when I had the opportunity to be involved in The Apprentice.  I went to top universities, I had my business since I was a teenager.  For a long period of time, I was involved in commerce.  When I applied, I knew how to audition.  In the past, I had many years of auditioning so, I was definitely prepared.  In this respect, when the opportunity presents itself you know how to deal with it.  People say well, Stacie you were lucky to be on the show.  I don’t agree with this statement.

    P.T.  You made your luck.

    S.U.Exactly.  I was there at the right time and I was prepared.  So, I believe that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.  It is an interesting interpretation.  Most of the time, opportunities favour the bold, the active and the prepared.  I believe that you make your luck with hard work.  You cannot rest on your laurels.  When life gives you opportunities you have to give it your all.

    I like also this adage from Albert Camus:  “An achievement is a bondage.  It obliges one to a higher achievement.”  In addition, Victor Hugo said “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.”  I strongly believe in this maxim.

    P.T.  You said in the past to the media that you consider that you have a social responsibility toward the African-American community.  Can you elaborate on that?

    S.U. Sure.  First of all, I am an African-American female who has been catapulted in the media through shows such as The Apprentice.  In this respect, I became visible.  I am no longer just Stacie Jones Upchurch.  I became someone that people can look up to.  Being the second black female who ended up in The Apprentice, I feel a responsibility toward the black youth and also to other young minorities.  I value the need to get an education, to have integrity, to go after your dreams and your passions, to become entrepreneurs as a way to build wealth in our community.  I feel a social responsibility and I want to use my status to help African-Americans to achieve their goals.

    I am doing my part by employing young African-American kids (from 16 to 19) for my business.  It gives them experience and focus to go forward in life.  I also encourage them to pursue their education and always look for opportunities which can lead them to a higher level.

    P.T.  The African-American community has over 913 billion dollars purchasing power per year, according to Humphreys[1] but only circa 3% of it stays annually in the Black community.  As an expert who holds an M.B.A., what are the necessary measures which can correct this situation?

    S.U.Wow, this is a deep question. I am going to try to give a synthesised answer.African-American people really need to start to own businesses and buy the products within their community.  They can learn a lot from the Asian community.  Asians come to America, they live in the same homes.  They work in Subways for instance and put all their money together.  They will buy from their community and live within their community.

    P.T.  I think your example about the Asian community is very interesting.  The Asians are self-sufficient.  Right now, in the U.S. among everybody they are the only group that has an unemployment rate of circa 7% which is below the national unemployment rate.

    S.U. Definitely.  It is sad to say that unemployment for African-Americans has surpassed 16 percent.  Blacks in America need to learn how to trust more one another and to have a more collective awareness which can build wealth in the community.  We have to heal from our heavy history.  We need to trust one another more.  There are popular beliefs which have been instilled historically in the African-American community which do not serve us and we have to find a way to get rid of that.  I believe Atlanta is a great example that we should follow.  It is there that I learned how to be an entrepreneur.  I went to Emory University which is not an historically black university but outside of this institution I saw a lot of African-American people.  Circa 67% of Atlanta’s population are African-American.  We find many black-owned businesses and opportunities for Blacks in this city.  We see huge houses owned by the African-American community.  For me, it is concrete proof that we can develop our entrepreneurial abilities and that we are able to support our businesses.  So, the Black community can learn a lot from Atlanta.

    According to a study conducted for the Magazine Publishers of America[2], African- Americans are avid consumers.  African-American teens spend more on average than WASP teens on many products, including clothes, video-game hardware, computer software, etc.  Those teens are particularly loyal to their favourite brands.  They also have a lot of influence, purchasing items from cereal to cell phones.  So, we have to look deeper into this and see how our money can stay more in our community and benefit us as a whole.  Another thing which can create a richer black community is to buy less on credit and save more for the future, find other ways to economise, such as not spending money on material possessions which have no long-term value.  About clothes for instance, there are ways to look stunning without spending a lot of money.  Our people need to know that there is good debt (such as student loans, business loans, mortgages) and there is bad debt (for instance, credit cards with often high interest rates which can take years to pay off).  To conclude, I would say that the government can set up enterprise zones with tax breaks to favour the creation of small businesses.

    P.T.  I would like to say that for a long time, I have been fascinated by the story of Madam C.J. Walker who became the first self-made female millionaire in America.  So, this is concrete proof that there is a way for African-Americans to build a stronger economy.  They have their resources.

    P.T.   My next question is where would you like to be on a personal and professional level ten years from now?

    S.U.When you have a daughter, things change.  So, ten years from now I would like to see her in a great private school, excelling, doing well.  When I was younger, I was talented in different areas and I wish that the same things will happen to my daughter.  I want to help her discover herself and see what she’s really good at (math, tennis, acting, modelling…) and encourage her.  I want my daughter to be happy and choose her own path.  My focus is not on me anymore.  But, if I have to find a goal for myself the main thing for me is to be more stable and strengthen my entrepreneurial career.  I have a life insurance company (which offers mortgage protection) since 2007.  I would like to become a multimillionaire.  This would allow me to give everything that my daughter will need (go to the best universities…) and it would offer me protection if in the future I have health problems which would prevent me from working, for instance.  It gives more freedom when you don’t have to think about essential expenses.  About myself, right now I am single but I hope that I will be eventually married.  I would like to have more stability in my personal life.

    P.T.  To finish, do you have a message for our readers?

    S.U. Without risks there are no rewards in my book.  Go for what you are passionate about and do not settle.  Do not let anyone stop you and don’t take no for an answer.  Also, hard work is the key to success.  Always try to surpass yourself and attain high goals.

    P.T.  Thanks for this great interview, Mrs.  Upchurch.  It was a real pleasure to speak to you!

    [1] Source:  Jeffrey M.  Humphreys, The Multicultural Economy 2008(Athens, GA:  Selig Center for Economic Growth, University of Georgia, 2008), 14; See Table 1

    [2] Source:  Magazine Publishers of America, “African-American/Black Market Profile” New York, 2008

  • Exclusive interview with Chris Jasper, former member of the Isley Brothers

    Chris Jasper (born Christopher H. Jasper, Cincinnati, Ohio) has been involved in music since his childhood.  At age seven his mother noticed that he was a gifted musician and could play Motown’s songs by ear on his piano;  she encouraged him to take piano lessons.  The Isley Brothers[1] and Chris Jasper grew up on the same block in their native Cincinnati.  In 1959, the group scored their first big hit, ''Shout,''[2] (a soul single that reflected the call-and-response style of gospel music and the vocal style of the group) and their second big hit “Twist and Shout” later covered by the Beatles in 1962[3].  More hits followed such as ''This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)'' with Motown Records in 1966, produced by the Dozier&Holland team.

    In 1969, the Isleys got a manufacturing and distribution (custom label) deal with Buddah Records and later with CBS Records in 1973.  That same year, Jasper became an integral member of both The Isley Brothers and later Isley-Jasper-Isley. Jasper''s first appearance on an Isley Brothers album was 1969''s It''s your Thing.  This funk-flavored single became a major success in the summer of 1969.  Between 1969 and 1971 other great funk successes were released with Jasper’s contribution, such as “Work to do” and “Get into Something”.  His keyboard and Moog synthesizer work became a primary ingredient of The Isley Brothers sound of the 1970s and 1980s.  This period was the gold and platinum years of the group from the “3+3”[4] (1973) to “Go All The Way” (1980) albums.  These CDs mixed soul with elements of folk rock and funk rock.  On the “3+3” album, Chris Jasper co-wrote with Ernie Isley “That Lady” which became a hit reaching number six on the Hot 100 and number fourteen in the UK.  Their follow-up song, “What It Comes Down To” was a top five R&B hit.    “Live It up”[5] (1974) and “The heat is on” (1975) delivered social messages regarding problems that African-American were encountering.  During this time, Jasper had an opportunity to work with synthesizer pioneer Malcolm Cecil, who was a key influence for Stevie Wonder on his album, ''Music of My Mind''.  It is important to add that these were the years when The Isley Brothers were a self-produced and self-contained major recording act.  Chris Jasper contributed to the writing and production of the group’s music during this period, including great love songs such as “For The Love of You Pts.  1&2” and  “Between the Sheets”. The group later released other hits like “Harvest for the World” and “Fight the Power Pts.  1&2” (the latter was co-written by Chris Jasper and Ernie Isley, also produced by Chris Jasper).  Fourteen years later, this song became another success when a more militant rap version was recorded by the group Public Enemy.  “Between the sheets” a classic funk song released in 1983 was later sampled by Notorious B.I.G. with “Big Poppa”.

    In this respect, the classically-trained background (from the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City) of Jasper with an expertise on the keyboards with Moog synthesizers are the foundations of the legendary “Isley Brothers Sound”.  Thus, Jasper is a classically trained musician and composer.   In addition to his education at Juilliard, he received a degree in music composition from C.W. Post, Long Island University, New York, where he studied with the jazz pianist and composer, Billy Taylor.  Jasper also earned a J.D. at Concord University (School of Law).

    In 1984, Jasper and the younger Isleys (Marvin[6] and Ernie Isley) left The Isley Brothers to form the splinter group Isley-Jasper-Isley. Their first release was ''Broadway''s closer to Sunset Boulevard'' (including the popular track on U.K. soul radio ''Can''t Get Over Losing You'').  Chris Jasper brought his special sound and musical talents to the new group.  Jasper sang lead vocals on the group''s biggest hit, "Caravan of Love” (1985) which was covered later by English recording group, the Housemartins, an international number 1 pop hit.  “Caravan” was also used in commercials as part of a Dodge Caravan advertising campaign.  The final Isley / Jasper / Isley album was ‘Different Drummer’. Jasper received the CEBA Award for Excellence for a Miller Brewing Company commercial that featured “Brother to Brother” from the final Isley/Jasper/Isley album ‘Different Drummer’.    The group separated in 1987.  Jasper and Ernie Isley went on to solo careers.  Jasper''s solo career spawned the #3 R&B hit, "Super Bad", in 1988.  This single topped the urban charts. Chris Jasper pursued his songwriting and produced his own R&B/Gospel music, as well as other artists, for his independent record label (that he founded) Gold City Records (www.goldcitymusic.com).

    Thus, Jasper is a successful solo artist and album producer, recording a number of his own solo CDs, and producing artists, for his New York based record label, Gold City Records, distributed by CBS Records.  Moreover, Jasper has produced, performed and written music for other artists, including Liz Hogue''s debut album “Vicious & Fresh” and "Make It Last" for Chaka Khan''s C.K. album. Many recording artists covered and sampled Chris Jasper’s music:  Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Fantasia, Will Smith, Aaliyah, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Notorious B.I.G, Tupac, Natalie Cole, just to name a few.  Jasper is an eclectic artist who has contributed to many genres such as R&B, Jazz and Soul.  After becoming a born-again Christian, Chris Jasper released a succession of gospel albums. 1995''s ''Deep Inside'' marked Chris Jasper''s return to R&B/pop music, with a good cover of Marvin Gaye''s ''What''s Going On''.

    In January 1992, Jasper was inducted (by Little Richard), along with the rest of The Isley Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The work of The Isley Brothers has spanned over six decades and has significantly influenced popular music.  It is important to note that The Isley Brothers is the only group in history to chart in six decades.  Their music is timeless.  The group received two Grammy Awards respectively in 1970 and 1999.  Their music has been part of ten movie soundtracks such as Friday, Wedding Crashers and Boys Don’t Cry.

    Jasper’s latest CD “Everything I Do” was released on June 2010 and is dedicated to his wife Margie Jasper.  Chris Jasper sounds like Marvin Gaye in the song “Don’t Take Your Love Away” from his latest CD.  The entire album has a nice funky beat as listeners will discover.

    In conclusion, throughout the years, many of the compositions for The Isley Brothers, which involved Chris'' songwriting input, have been sampled / covered by a wide range of artists from Ice Cube to Aaliyah. The series of U.S. hits (of the Isley Brothers) from the ‘50s to the ‘90s and their musical diversity (gospel, doo-wop, R&B, soul, funk, rock and roll and disco) have been a major influence on the music industry.  Chris Jasper placed himself at the avant-garde (with his independent thinking) by using the keyboard before it became a trend.  Jasper has made a significant contribution on the music scene with the synthesizer which defined in a major way the sound of the 80s.  He looked after the music and the lyrics of most of The Isley Brothers’ recordings while he was a member of the group.  On a personal level, Jasper resides in New York with his wife of 28 years, Margie Jasper, an attorney and writer, and their three sons, Michael, Nick and Christopher.  Interview conducted by the columnist of Afro Toronto Patricia Turnier and the Editress-in-Chief of Mega Diversities in January 2011.

    Patricia Turnier talks to Chris Jasper:

    P.T.  Which artists did you admire during your childhood and did you have a mentor?

    C.J.I had a few artists that I admired growing up…Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye. I liked their styles of singing and their phrasing.  I guess that’s a big influence on the way I sing today.  I didn’t have a mentor for popular music but for classical music, that would have been Professor Gibbs of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I started studying piano with Professor Gibbs at the age of 7 and continued until I was about 14. He was a classically trained pianist and introduced me to many composers: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Debussy.  I was most influenced by Debussy. I was intrigued by the chord structures that he used and his melodies.  I used those elements in the music I wrote when I was with The Isley Brothers which I think gave their music a different sound from everyone else. I still use those elements in the music I continue to write, in particular the ballads.

    P.T.  What did you learn from your experience at the prestigious Juilliard school?

    C.J.One thing that stands out is that I learned how to compose different types of music which included atonal music; before this genre was completely foreign to me. It required some getting used to, but since I was a composition major, it was something I did and found out the different uses for it. It wouldn’t be useful in popular music; however, in motion picture scores, atonal music had already been employed. In that sense, it broadened my musical horizons.

    P.T.  Should young people have a classical background to obtain longevity and success as artists?

    C.J.I think classical training is important because it broadens a musician’s knowledge of musical structure, musical history, music theory and analysis, which is important because the more you know about music, the more you can produce. As far as longevity is concerned, that

    depends upon the success of the projects, the artist’s talent level and their determination to succeed.

    P.T.  When you joined The Isley Brothers in the ‘60s, you were a pioneer as a synthesizer musician.  How did you know at the time that this instrument would have such an impact on the music scene, especially Funk which evolved from Soul music and incorporated psychedelic elements?

    C.J.The first time I was introduced to the synthesizer was at Juilliard. The professor I had at the time was not using it to compose popular music.  However, as I heard some of the songs that the synthesizer could create, I realized that the instrument had a vast capability of producing sounds that would be accepted in the popular genre.

    Also, at about the same time, I was introduced to the synthesizer, another pioneer by the name of Stevie Wonder, had recorded an album entitled “Music of My Mind” which validated my idea that synthesizers could be used in popular music very effectively. After that, I began to use synthesizers in many of my compositions such as “Highways of My Life”, “Lover’s Eve”, “For the Love of You”, “Fight the Power”, “Live it Up”, “The Heat is On”, “Caravan of Love”, and the list goes on and on.

    P.T.  It is rare in popular music to see females playing an instrument in groups or solo.  In the ‘80s, we started to see more of them like The Go-Go’s, Klymaxx, Sheila E., The Bangles, etc.  How do you explain the lack of female musicians in popular songs?

    C.J.When I was coming up, there weren’t that many women playing instruments, especially those instruments that comprised the rhythm section such as drums, bass, and guitar. It may be just a personal choice because those instruments are physically demanding. 

    P.T.  About your latest album “Everything I do”, what message do you want people to take away from it?

    C.J.I guess the main message I would want people to take from it is the message in the title song…that is, the relationship between a husband and wife is very important. Like the Bible says, “husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it”, which the lyrics of the song try to convey…”Everything I do, revolves around you.” Also, my last album, “With Love”, was all love songs, so, I wanted to put out an album that showed my other musical side which is the funk side.

    P.T.  It is seldom that artists sing about the importance of education.  Can you talk about your song Superbad which covers this theme on your latest album?

    C.J.“Superbad” was written to encourage young people to focus on education rather than what they may see and hear out on the street. It is even truer today than when I wrote the song in 1987. It seems that education is more accessible now but for some reason many young people are not choosing to take advantage of it.  I don’t believe, just like the song says, that you can be “cool” without being educated. And the line in the song says “Education really makes me cool, the word’s out, that I’m number one in school” and I hope that young people will embrace more this message.

    P.T.  You have been involved in the music business for decades.  In the past, very few African-American artists owned and controlled the production of their music.  What is your assessment as an artist and jurist on this issue for today?  Do you think that some riders and solutions are required?

    C.J.I believe it is important for an artist to control the production of their music; if they are capable as a producer. It is important for an artist to be as versatile as possible, to be an artist, to be a songwriter, and to be a producer. If they can do those things, they will be able to control the total production of their music and also have ownership of their copyrights.  Ownership is important because the owner of the copyrights is the person who controls the exploitation of the music and also controls the income streams. If it is not possible for one person to do all of those things, they should strive to do the most that they can. However, this goes back to what I was saying before about learning as much as possible and not just entering the business to be a performer. Many artists today do not grasp the importance of training and education.  This situation puts them at a disadvantage.

    P.T.  Do you think that music has been integrated longer than people?

    C.J.In America, the arts sort of reflected what was going on in society.  However, in some of the big bands of the 20s, 30s and 40s, you had integrated bands and even later.  For instance, America had the interracial group Sly & Family Stone (of the late 1960s) which had a similar soul funk sound like The Isley Brothers.  This is an example of integration in music which started decades ago.  It included Blacks, Whites and women as well as men who had national visibility in the 60s and 70s.

    The music industry, however, was segregated in the past.  So, I guess you can say on one hand, musicians played together, but the music was marketed to different audiences (Black America/White America).  Even during the 50s, 60s and 70s, there were pop stations that played primarily white artists, and the R&B stations played primarily black artists.  The charts reflected that and it was more difficult to cross over. This situation has changed a lot now and it is more about the music than the artist’s race or nationality. So, within the world of musicians, there was some integration before it was made known to the public.

    P.T.  You wrote in the past for high caliber artists such as Chaka Khan.  Are you planning in the future to pen for others?

    C.J.If the right opportunity presents itself, that is something I would consider. We have also developed a pretty substantial catalogue of music for our publishing company and I would like to place some of that music with the right artist. However, right now I am focusing on the projects  I have released on my Gold City label, including my son Michael’s CD, “Addictive,” a dance, pop, techno CD which we co-produced.

    P.T.  Throughout your career, what was your favorite CD to make and why?

    C.J.I think my favorite CD was “Caravan of Love” with Marvin and Ernie Isley when we formed “Isley-Jasper-Isley.” It was a kind of turning point in my life.  This song has such a universal and timeless message.  It is the first song which I sang lead and it went number 1.  It also became an international hit, especially after the English group, the Housemartins covered it.

    P.T.  How did you feel in 1992 when you were inducted along with the rest of The Isley Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

    C.J.To be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a great honor. It  was recognition by the industry of all of the things that were accomplished by the group. 

    P.T.  Can the fans expect a comeback in the future with the entire living former Isley Brothers?

    C.J.As you know, there are some members that are no longer with us.  O’Kelley Isley passed away in 1986 and Marvin recently left us last June.  Right now, there is no longer a group performing as The Isley Brothers.  Ronald and Ernie are solo artists and Rudolph has retired.  In this respect, it would not be easy to have everybody for a reunion.

    P.T.  Few people in the music business are able to maintain a marriage for 28 years.  What is your secret?

    C.J.Number one is that I have a wonderful wife. It is not often that you find a perfect match. I have been fortunate enough and blessed to find that perfect match. If there is a secret, it is that we have a relationship where it just feels natural to be together all the time…friends, lovers and business partners. 

    P.T.  Do you have some advice to give to people who want to be in the music business and who wish to find balance in their personal lives?

    C.J.I tell aspiring artists that, first of all, your personal life is more important. Who you are as a person, your values, your integrity as a person…it’s more important than anything else and that should carry over into your career. 

    P.T.  Do you have a message for young people who want to be in the music industry?

    C.J.You have to be wise, educated and of course talented.  It is important also to be honest with yourself about your talent. If you maintain your integrity and good judgment, you are less likely to get caught up in the hype and traps that some aspiring artists fall into.  To finish, a classical training helps because it makes you less vulnerable to just become the new flavor of the month.

    P.T.  Thanks for this great interview, it was an honor to interview you Mr.  Jasper!



    Superbad (Gold City 1987)

    Time bomb (Gold City 1989)

    Praise the Eternal (Gold City 1992)

    Deep Inside (Gold City 1995)

    Faithful And True (Gold City 2001)

    With Love (Gold City 2003)

    Amazing Love (Gold City 2005)

    Invincible (Gold City 2007)

    Everything I Do (Gold City 2010)

    Official Web site of Gold City Records, Inc.:  www.goldcitymusic.com

    [1] The group’s members:  O’Kelly Isley (who died in 1986) was a member from 1954 to 1986, Rudolph Isley from 1954 to 1989, Ronald Isley, alias Mr.  Biggs (a member since 1954 who is now a solo artist), Vernon Isley (who died in 1955) from 1954 to 1955, Chris Jasper from 1969 to 1984, Ernie Isley 1969-1984 and during the 90s (now he has a solo career), Marvin Isley (who died in 2010) from 1969 to 1984 and from 1991 to 1997.

    [2] This song was covered by The Beatles during their developing careers

    [3] The Isley Brothers under pressure from Wand Records released vapid rewrites of “Twist and Shout” (like “Surf and Shout”) until they founded their own label, T-Neck in 1964.  This record company captured the early guitar innovations of Jimi Hendrix, then named Jimmy James (he was homeless at the time and was discovered by O’Kelly Isley) who collaborated with The Isley Brothers during the mid-1960s.  The Isley Brothers made history by becoming the firstgroup to form their own label.  At the time, the few black recording artists who followed this path were Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and later Curtis Mayfield.

    [4] This CD sold over one million copies

    [5] This CD also sold over one million copies

    [6] Above-mentioned, Marvin Isley died on June 6th 2010 at Seasons Hospice of Weiss Memorial Hospital (Illinois) following complications with diabetes.

  • ... the Right Thing to Do

    The Canadian Film Centre kicked off  their  Black History Month celebrations with an enriching evening with award-winning Writer/Director, Spike Lee. Spike is currently on a book promo tour for his latest endeavour, Spike Lee: Do The Right Thing.  The book celebrates the 20th anniversary of Do the Right thing''s film debut and provides an insiders view to the making of the seminal movie.

    Throughout the evening Spike's unapologetic banter reminded us why he's one of Hollywood's vanguards. Fearlessness and passion have always been hallmarks of his work but throughout this discussion it became apparent that what makes his films legendary are the poignancy and timelessness of  the themes encapsulated in each.  Do the right thing,is arguably his most celebrated film, one which solidified his career not only as a filmmaker but as a gifted story-teller. Its mark on filmmaking is undeniable. America's views on race and youth culture were all showcased in a manner deceptively simple and devastatingly honest. So, it was only fitting that on a night chosen to celebrate this breakthrough film, Spike felt inclined to speak candidly on the role of music in his films, the role his family has played in his projects and Hollywood''s double standards.

    The event's format served as a retrospective on his work, with Canadian Director, Clement Virgo moderating. Using clips from some of Spike's most famous films as a jumping off point to discuss his methodologies as a filmmaker, Virgo started the evening with a scene from Do the right thing.

    Spike readily admitted that he chose music not as a background motif but to serve as a character that we the audience could identify with. Who among us hasn't heard Chuck D's  distinctive hook in Fight the Power, and not instantly thought of Do the right thing?

    Spike also revealed that the use of the “floating effect”in Do the right thing and Malcolm X was a deliberate  effort to animate a character's thought process. But, the most  revealing discussion surrounded the film Crooklyn. Though his father jazz musician, Bill Lee, had worked on the musical score for a number of his films, Crooklyna story about an african-american family set in the 60s and 70s, was a Lee family collaboration in full. The screenplay was written by his sister, Joie Lee and brother Cinque Lee, and according to Spike was semi-autobiographical. The four kids are coming of age in an urban city and dealing with the vulnerability that comes with the loss of a parent, a theme that hit  close to home in Spike's case.

    The idea of vulnerability was also brought up in discussion on Hollywood's double standards when it comes to artistic expression. Not reticence in sharing his opinion, Spike candidly recalled how he was offered the directorial job on Michael Jackson''s “They don''t care about us” video and the painful backlash Michael faced because of the History album''s controversial themes. In his response to questions on Michael''s artistry, Spike argued that artistic license in the film industry and the music industry has not been evenly judged, consequently leaving artist like Michael heavily penalized for their creativity, while white counterparts rarely are given such reprimands for pushing boundaries. It was an interesting point of discussion, one which further highlighted Spike's willingness to go where many others fear to tread because, in his world, it’s the right thing to do. Do the right thingis loved universally for the raw honesty in Spike's storytelling and in an ever changing world and film industry it’s refreshing to see that he hasn't.

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