Saturday, 20 December 2014

MEN OF DISTINCTION: Luis G. Moreno is the new US Ambassador to Jamaica + William Mahfood elected PSOJ President

NATIONAL AGENDA: Succeeding Chris Zacca, who did not seek re-election after a stellar five-year term, Chairman of the Wisynco Group, William Mahfood, was on Thursday elected the 17th president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), during a council meeting held at the PSOJ's offices on Hope Road in St. Andrew. Joining Mahfood on the PSOJ's new leadership team are VPs Christopher Barnes (Managing Director of the Gleaner Company); Dennis Cohen (Deputy Group Managing Director of the National Commercial Bank); and Gary 'Butch Hendrickson, Managing Director of Continental Baking Company Limited. "I would like to focus on how do we create an environment for doing business in Jamaica, that is open, that is inviting to investors, that is more efficient," Mahfood noted in a post-election Gleaner interview. "If you look at the current environment for just doing business generally, I think it's not an efficient one, and I think that's one of the areas I would like to focus on. And there are so many different things within that framework that need to be looked at." The PSOJ is governed by a 50-member council which is elected by the general membership to serve for a two-year period.

DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS: By the end of the Christmas holidays, the new US Ambassador to Jamaica (and members of his family) should be en route to the island to commence his tenure. On Thursday, Luis G. Moreno, hailed as a "career problem-solver in the US State Department" was officially sworn in as Washington's next man in Kingston during a ceremony officiated by Undersecretary for Homeland Security, Rand Beers, and Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson who are both longtime colleagues of Ambassador Moreno. On the occasion of his new appointment, Ambassador Moreno pledged to work closely with Dr. Stephen Vasciannie, Jamaica's current Ambassador to the United States, who attended the swearing-in. Also in attendance were Moreno's wife, Gloria, their two daughters and the ambassador's brother.




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SOUND BYTES OF THE WEEK: Ron Muschette goes 'Mello' + Ed Bartlett welcomes US-Cuba truce + Simpson-Miller delivers land titles, and more

"Parting doesn't mean we don't love each other any more, but you've got to go. It's time to grow and I have to move on. Let's look to the future with optimism... I asked my agent to check out the markets and we went searching and found what we think is the best deal... I've signed a new deal with Mello FM... I'm going back home to Montego Bay, where it all began. It's gonna be a lot of fun, a new beginning." — Ace radio host Deron 'Ron' Muschette on transitioning from IRIE FM to Mello FM, where he'll host The Perfect Mix with Ron, starting January 5. 
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"There is still a lot more that needs to be done and it's not just regulations, it is not just tax policies; there is a lot of different things. So I think that is going to be the area of focus, at least in the short term, and to continue the advocacy work that has been developed under the previous administration." — Newly elected PSOJ boss, William Mahfood, outlining the priority items in his approach to the presidency 
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"Land titles provide people with security of tenure. When you feel secure you can better plan your life. Your family situation is more stable. People who own the land on which they live have a greater stake in their communities. Ownership is vital for building wholesome communities and for giving Jamaicans a feeling of responsibility for their communities. Those of you who have not been paying your property taxes, please do so. You officially own a piece of The Rock and have to help to maintain it."  PM Portia Simpson-Miller addressing a ceremony at the Havannah Heights Community Centre in May Pen, where she handed over 40 land titles to residents from several Clarendon communities 
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"We are aware that the Government, along with the NHT, has a lot of work to do in reigning in the confidence of the people because there was a need for better communication. Going forward, the people of Jamaica will be priority, and we will be working hard to engage the public more." Information Minister Sandrea Falconer announcing that a new board for the National Housing Trust will appointed come April 2015, in the wake of controversy surrounding the purchase of the Trelawny-based Outameni attraction 
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"Given that the USA is our largest trade partner and Cuba is our closest neighbouring state, there will clearly be new opportunities for discussions on trade and also deeper economic collaboration between Jamaica, Cuba and the USA. We look forward to discussions on this cooperation, particularly in the areas of tourism and the development of our logistics hub capabilities, and we encourage continued steps towards the full removal of the trade embargo, which will certainly unlock the gates to free trade among the Americas." Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, Ed Bartlet, responding to the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States




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Friday, 19 December 2014

WHAT A GIRL WANTS: Annie remake is a lively, amusing update for a new generation

STREET SMART: Foxx and Wallis (both centre) lead the cast in this scene from the rebooted musical.

With this month's Annie comes the vivid reminder that retooling a classic a beloved musical at that can mean a daunting challenge for even the most stridently committed filmmaker eager to do justice to the legacy of the original. Working a fine group of actors, director Will Gluck proves he's game for anything. While it's no Chicago (the film occasionally shows its stitching) This Annie is a hip, hugely entertaining version for the Instagram generation. Thankfully, it retains much of the exuberance of the original.

And it all rests on the (capable) ten-year-old shoulders of Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), ideally cast as the precocious foster kid who, while sharing a home with about five other tween girls, years to reunite with the biological parents who abandoned her as a babe, leaving behind a note and a promise that they'll return for her.

Always ready with a song whose lyrics transport us ever deeper into her fragile world, the smart curly-haired, wide-eyed girl finds instead a dream home and a brand-new lease on life when she has a chance encounter in the street with a high-powered mobile-phone tycoon (Jamie Foxx as billionaire and mayoral candidate William Stacks).

Wallis and Foxx (reconnecting with his comedy roots) share a spark-filled rapport that draws you into the intricate web being woven as they gradually transform each other's lives with invalubale lessons. As for the movie itself, it's utterly moving in its dramatic moments and unendingly fun in its more comedic ones. Annie is a popular children's musical, boasting successful TV and stage adaptations, and its catchy, tuneful numbers like "It's A Hard Knock Life" and "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" get appealing new interprettaions fuelled by the irrepressible zest of the young performers, in particular.

Gluck wins strong performances from all the actors - even Cameron Diaz who is woefully miscast as Annie's monstrous foster mother Coleen Hannigan, a flirtatious has-been who still has stars in her eyes. Playing Stacks' campaign team leaders, Rose Byrne (TV's Damages) and Broadway vet Bobby Cannavale, known for intensely captivating roles, show that even they, too, are not averse to tackling the lighthearted stuff every once in a while - and having a jolly swell time. Tyrone's Verdict:




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Thursday, 18 December 2014

OSCAR WATCH: Can Birdman go all the way in the run-up to Hollywood's biggest night?

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Birdman's Keaton (left) and Norton are courting Oscar buzz for their slyly comic performances.

The critics have spoken. The announcement this past weekend of the 2015 contenders for the 2015 Critic's Choice Movie Awards confirmed what we've been led to suspect: the black comedy Birdman, a look at survival in the cutthroat world of showbiz, has a very strong chance of walking away with the grand prix, Best Picture of the Year, at the upcoming Oscars.

After topping countless Movies-of-the-Year countdowns and racking up heaps of awards nods, the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed film snagged a whopping 13 nominations to best all comers for recognition by the Broadcast Film Critics, one of the most influential groups in the pre-Oscar galaxy. Awards will be handed out Jan. 15.

Birdman's noms of course, include bids for Best Actor, supporting actress and actors, director and Best Picture. It's followed closely by the coming-of-age tale Boyhood from Richard Linklater, which netted 11, as did the Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle The Imitation Game. (You can see the complete list of nominees at criticschoice.org). 

Then there's the bigger picture to consider. Now that the Screen Actors' Guild, the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Independent Spirit have all unveiled their crop of nominees, attention now turns to the all-important Academy Awards nominations and the filmmakers, performances and pictures that are poised for consideration. For anyone keeping up with this year's race to Hollywood's biggest night (Feb. 22), there are no clear favourites in the key categories but the strongest candidates are steadily rising to the top. Here's how we size up the competition as it stands: 

BEST ACTOR: Michael Keaton (Birdman) vs. Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) vs. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game). These male leads have all been garnering front-runner plaudits, but Keaton seems to have the edge at this point. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Edward Norton (Birdman) vs. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher). Playing against type, career comic Carell wowed critics with his fiercely dark turn in the sports drama, a role that pits his squarely against Norton for Oscar gold. 

BEST ACTRESS: It's Julianne Moore's awards to lose, some say, but the versatile leading lady (star of Still Alice) faces a stiff run for her money from the likes of Felicity Jones in Theory, Reese Witherspoon in Wild and Rosamund Pike, whose incredible transformation in Gone Girl had no peer. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Rising Hollywood power player Emma Stone (Birdman) and perennial contender Meryl Streep, who plays The Witch in Rob Marshall's Into The Wild (opening in wide release on Christmas Day) have emerged as the surefire picks to bet on. But we're secretly rooting for darkhorse Laura Dern, who plays Reese's mom in Wild, to pull off a come-from-behind coup. 

> For fresh updates on the road to Oscar night (Feb. 22), watch this space.




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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

COFFEE TALK: What's new, what's next, what's trending on the news and culture radar

WHO GETS YOUR VOTE? Apart from the blue-riband prizes of Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year, the People's Choice award at the RJR Sports Foundation Awards seems to generate the most near-deafening buzz each year. We expect much of the same this time around, given the calibre of the nominees vying for the award on the merit of a singularly outstanding performance in 2014. They include record-breaking swimmer Alia Atkinson (above), Reggae Boyz standout Kemar Lawrence, hurdling sensation Jaheel Hyde, ace runner Andrew Gutzmore, star cricketer Andre Russell and boxing champ Nicholas 'Axeman' Walters. So who gets your vote? The winner will be announced on January 16 when the awards ceremony takes place in Kingston at the Jamaica Pegasus. 

WAR AND PEACE: Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller recently paid a visit to our Caribbean neighbours Cuba, where she was among the speakers at a ceremony in Havana to mark the 118th anniversary of the death of freedom-fighter Lt. Gen. Antonio Maceo, who at one point lived in Jamaica. Simpson-Miller's message, unsurprisingly, touched on ideas of perseverance and rising above insurmountable odds. "Today it is not on the field of battle but on the plains of dialogue and respectful, constructive engagement that we must forge new understanding," said the prime minister, pictured above greeting Cuban President Raul Castro. "It is not through war but rather through love that we advance the progress of the people of Cuba and the Caribbean." 

ON THE MOVE: What's next for Ron Muschette? That's what countless Jamaicans have been left to ponder, in the wake of front-page news that IRIE FM's king of morning radio suddenly quit his job last week. Doubtless one of the most distinctive voices and recognizable household names to rule the airwaves, Muschette's sizeable boots won't be easy to fill. The obvious passion he brought to his work aside, the long-serving media man stood apart from everyone else simply because he never shies from going his own way. We very much look forward to his next act. 

PLAY ON: Rest assured, theatre's rich bounty of new plays debuting over the holiday season are laden with crowd-pleasing brio and fantastic talents. While Keith 'Shebada' Ramsey and the gang will premiere the avidly awaited Bashment Granny 3 this coming weekend at Green Gables, the Pantomime Company's Princess Boonoonoonoos and Jambiz's Saving Alligator High commence performances on Boxing Day, December 26 at the Little Theatre and Centrestage respectively. A day later, as is customary, Basil Dawkins' offering (this year brings the marital saga Divorce Papers) opens at the Little Little Theatre. And word is Aston Cooke's Country Duppy is finding new life. A fresh mounting of the award-winning comedy will keep Nadean Rawlins and the Fairfield poss in MoBay busy for the next couple of months. Come January, Dahlia Harris will debut her latest work, Ole Firestick, costarring Volier Johnson (above) and Deon Silvera




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FIRST LOOK: The Mystic Revealers reprise their roles as global reggae ambassadors

MAKING A SPLASH: The bandmates are set to release their first album in over a decade.

Roots-reggae band Mystic Revealers are the living proof that it's never too late for a return to the big dance. For more than 20 years, prior to their self-imposed hiatus from recording and performance, the iconic groupwho built the house that Raging Fyah and Mystikal Revolution live in specialized in conscious grooves that provoke thought and stir the soul. 

Fans will get to relive classic moments from the band's heyday when they release Crucial Cuts (VP Records), their first album in fifteen years a compilation that gathers key tracks from the group's decades-old catalogue, dating as far back as the 1980s. Seminal truth-to-power cuts like "Young Revolutionaries" and "Rasta Man" should reawaken blast-from-the-past memories for oldies aficionados while introducing today's hip hop-loving generation to an artistry and musicality whose hallmarks are timeless sound and substance. 

The band's "reunion" also includes an upcoming tour and the release of newly recorded music that reflects the modern-day status quo and speak to issues that resonate across the board. It should come as no surprise that new-school whiz kid Chronixx has been tapped to appear on the lead-off single, due out Feb. 3. 

Making a comeback, it seems was always in the cards for the bandmates whose love of nature, the sea in particular, is artfully celebrated on the vibrant Crucial Cuts album cover (above), depicting the musicians on surfboards and jet skis. 

But for lead singer Billy Wilmot, vocalist Steve Davis, bassist Leroy Edwards, and drummer Nicky Henry, making powerful statements through song is the essence of their mission as artists. "We are like postmen sending a letter," lead singer Wilmot quips, putting their role and contribution in perspective. "We might not be the ones who wrote the letter, even though the songs are ours. The messages being transmitted are from the Almighty messages of love, truth, justice and unity." 

> LISTEN UP: Stream tracks from Crucial Cuts before it goes on sale next month




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Monday, 15 December 2014

ART AND LIFE: Gospel star Jermaine Edwards on his roots, his new record, and widening his reach

BLAZING A TRAIL: "I am looked up to as a leader," reflects the singer-songwriter, whose new album is on sale now.

What do Papa San, Kevin Downswell and Ryan Mark all have in common? For one thing, they're dynamic reggae-gospel hitmakers with vibrant ministries and mainstream appeal. Add to that impressive lineup Jermaine Edwards, the increasingly popular crowd-pleaser whose stirring tunes, wholesome image and affiliation with mega-brands like Digicel have positioned him to reap significant achievements. Releasing a brand-new album, Don't Count Me Out, and taking his ministry to the four corners of the Earth seems the most appropriate way to get the engine warmed up. TALLAWAH dialled up the 34-year-old musician, father of two (his daughters are 13 and 10) and husband of 15 years to hear about where's he's been, what he's up to now, and where he's heading next.

TALLAWAH: You grew up as the son of a preacher man. What was that like?
Jermaine Edwards: It is not something I would have asked God for, but it helped me to be level and grounded and in being a humble person. People are always looking at you and how you behave. And as a gospel artiste now, it helps me in terms of how I conduct myself; that sense of accountability. 

TALLAWAH: A few weeks ago you introduced gospel lovers to a new album, Don't Count Me Out. We haven't heard it yet. What vibe were you aiming for when putting together the record? 
J.E.: I wanted a wider feel compared to my previous albums. Sometimes I'm in a reggae mood, other times I'm feeling the EDM style and the sounds that the young people are into right now. So I did some experimenting, and the album is like a fusion of those different sounds.

TALLAWAH: How have your supporters been responding to the finished product?
J.E.: It's the first time I've done an album with the level of anticipation that [preceded] this album. We've done a few launches across the island already, and people say they are impressed with the standard that's been set. So I'm pleased with the response to the extent that we're going to do some more launches and take the music to some of the other parishes in January. We're also going to Cayman and Canada. People have been calling us and requesting the music, so it's more like a tour we have planned for next year. The ministry is growing.

TALLAWAH: In retrospect, what has been the most personally fulfilling aspect of your Christian ministry?
J.E.: It gives people a different perspective of you; people get to see you in a different way. I have had people from the secular world and random people on the street coming up to me and saying how inspired they are by the music and the message. It's a great feeling. I am looked up to as a leader, and I like that I can help others see that there's more to the industry than just music.

TALLAWAH: You previewed the terrific track "Beautiful Day" at Mandela Park in November. What inspired that particular song?
J.E.: It's about ignoring the negatives and focussing instead on the positives. The song is basically saying 'Stop stressing about the things that are not important.' In all things give thanks. There is no situation in my life that I can say I regret.

TALLAWAH: At present, you're one of mobile company Digicel's nimble "agents." For you, what's the high point of such an experience?
J.E.: It helps with branding. In Jamaica they are the biggest thing in terms of branding because they spend a lot of money on that. Being signed to them is great for me financially and in terms of building my own brand.

TALLAWAH: Career-wise, what's the priority for 2015?
J.E.: Music is my main goal and reaching a wider market. The US is the biggest place in the word for marketing, so that's where my focus is.




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