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The Polar Express
One of the greatest “WOW” experience for us in this world of films

By Ahmed Ashiful Haque

“The Polar Express" pulls into movie theatres just in time for the festive holiday season… and for a lift to the human spirit. The film is a complete treat; with stunning animation that flawlessly echoes gorgeous drawings, five distinct performances from Academy Award-winning Tom Hanks, and imaginative direction by Robert Zemeckis, the experience is not only topical in multiple ways (some of them buried deep within its theming)… it's also an absolute delight.

The Polar Express, an inspiring adventure based on the beloved children's book by When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

Based on Chris Van Allsburg's best-selling 29-page novel about a boy's waning faith in Santa Claus and his inspirational journey to the North Pole, "Polar Express" is the first computer-generated film based on the performances of humans. But the film is not sheer wizardry; it also has heart. The story a popular one of a Hero Boy, who is roused one Christmas Eve to board a train that will take him to the North Pole on a journey of self-discovery. While seeing is believing, Hero Boy learns that the things that are most real in the world are those we cannot see.

In most cases, there is nothing at all magical about the process of filmmaking. But there is certain magic in "The Polar Express." It was rendered by computers that emulated human performances through a unique process wherein Hanks and other cast members were "captured" as they enacted the story in studio…but it may be the first film where organic creativity was largely unhampered by the limitations of the technology. The animation is almost spooky in its realism; at times you will completely forget the movie is imagined, not filmed.

The train contains a diverse mix of traveling kids. Most enchanting are the confident and tender Hero Girl and the Know-It-All Boy, that thick-headed brain we all remember from our school days. One-man acting band Hanks is wonderfully skillful as both the doubting Hero Boy as well as a comic hoot as the punctilious train conductor. Hanks also does solid turns as the Boy's Father, the Hobo and Santa. "Polar Express" is a runaway thrill when the train cascades, roller coaster-like through cavernous peaks and whips the line across icy lakes.

Beloved by children, The Polar Express holds a special appeal for adults as well, who see themselves in the character of the young boy and remember their own childhood excitement and anticipation on that one most important night of the year. Perhaps they also remember the moment when the first shadowy doubts crept into their own young hearts and they realized that growing up might mean losing something precious and intangible forever, something they couldn't quite define but they could certainly feel.

Deep in the story of "The Polar Express", beneath the adventures in the ice and snow, you'll find adventures of the heart. They're the adventures of snowmen turned to flesh and reindeer disliked because their noses glow. And before you refer their tales to a forgotten time or to a person you were long ago you might want to give yourself one more ride on the train.

Medal of Honour: Pacific Assult

As the title suggests you're now in the Pacific Theatre, fighting the formidable Japanese. If only they hadn't attacked Pearl Harbour now you have to go with your fellow Marines on a long and tiresome session. The path isn't easy and only the strong-willed will survive the perilous journey that spans across several large-scale Pacific Island environments including Midway.

The action is a bit more intense than previous instalments of the franchise. The overall feeling is a bit different as the surrounding environments are typically composed of lush jungle-like landscapes that can both make enemies harder to spot and allow you to hide almost as easily.

The game moves in a very linear fashion with regards to the way the levels are unveiled, leaving no real player decisions that fully affect varying outcomes. This is typical of MOH games by now and not really a bad thing, but I was hoping to have a greater "out-of-the-box" feeling within the game. Advancing is rather linear as well for example, if you leave your squad you'll die very quickly so, in a way, the game forces the player to stick with their squad.

Even though there are some squad commands you can toggle, the overall feeling of fighting alone is rather persistent as I found the AI while not entirely scripted to be pretty easy to take down. Many times throughout the game I found myself just running right up to the bad-guys and doing melee attacks as I grew tired of waiting on the rest of the squad to take the initiative.

On more difficult modes, the game is definitely harder but we still didn't witness the strong AI we were hoping for. We never saw them really tag-team the squad there were scripted flanks from time to time but the overall feeling was that the enemy had primarily predictable responses.

Primary missions are tied together through cut-scenes which are largely comprised of old WWII video footage with nice voice-overs. Level design is rather solid and helps to add to the "you are there" feeling we experience throughout much of the game. Our chief complaint with it, however, is that it doesn't vary enough as most of the time you'll find yourself just running with the squad. Where it does mix things up a bit is when you get the chance to fly a plane, shoot tanks with a huge canon and mount some of the high-powered guns on the boats.

The entire Medal of Honour franchise has built a reputation for having theatrical emotion to them, and the music in this game underscores that emotion. In fact, we haven't heard more moving music in a game before. EA hired a real orchestra to play the songs and the results are very well done and help fit the sombre mood most of the missions you go on.

Enemy AI was actually fairly good. They're good at finding cover, taking advantage of the terrain to flank you, and generally making your life a misery. Once they've come to the end of their tolerance of you, they'll actually throw a little kamikaze run at you. In some cases though the AI is too good. They have the uncanny knack to shoot you through thick brush when there's no way you can see them, leading you to believe that they can't see you. It's aggravating. I found myself wondering where I was getting shot from on more than one occasion. Your squad mates will shout out hugely helpful remarks like "He's up there!" and "They're above us!" and "Muzzle fire!" while you sit there sweating and cursing in your head wondering where they're talking about and what muzzle fire they're looking at. Most of the time, I only see the bullets after they're lodged in my pulpy body.

The jungle-covered islands of the South Pacific, where much of the game takes place, are depicted reasonably well. These sequences have a closed-in feel -- you're usually constrained to a narrow path with a little jungle on each side, then an impenetrable wall. The game is linear enough without restricting movement too tightly, contributing to the "on-rails" feel.

That's not to say that it's all jungle fighting -- Pacific Assault's best moments are on the move. Whether it's shooting from the back of a speeding jeep or taking out Zeroes with a Bofors gun at a friendly airfield, the game is filled with memorable set pieces.

Pacific Assault's half-documentary, half-entertainment approach is solid, and the game's a thrilling, if slightly by-the-numbers WW2 shooter. Thanks to its great set-pieces, robust presentation, and historical interest, Pacific Assault will make another fine addition to any action-oriented wargamer's collection.

Team America
World Police

Seems moviemakers are going to try everything. There are the movies with animation, those that are completely animated and then there are those that have entire scenes rendered around actual people. Somewhere down the line there was a series called the Thunderbirds that was done entirely with marionettes or puppets. They were showing it on Star World a few months back in the morning hours. "Team America: World Police" is exactly like that. The whole movie is made with puppets with uncannily human facial expressions.

Puppet shows are generally not considered very cool but has its highlights. Everything here is one-third actual size with very cool looking props and special effects. Team America: World Police Parker is an action spoof that doesn't have a plan for who they want to offend, only an intention to be as offensive as possible.

The plot: Team America has all the hero type arsenal of rockets, jets and helicopters inside Mount Rushmore, which is hollow. They set off to fight terrorism wherever it is suspected (proof isn't necessary). In the beginning of the movie, we see turban-wearing terrorists trying to sell a blinking briefcase in Paris. These terrorists are principally Arab and speak gibberish.

The clueless crime-fighting Team America comes in to stop the sale of this weapon of mass destruction (the briefcase). In the process, they shoot at a lot of villainous villains but mostly miss and destroy important landmarks. When a terrorist thinks the Louver is a sacred place to hide, he, the Mona Lisa and the museum are blown to smithereens. One agent misses another shot and hits the Eiffel Tower sending it crashing onto the Arc de Triomphe. Does he feel bad about what happened? Sure he does. He laments that he missed the terrorist.

When the bewildered French people chatter bewilderedly in the midst of the rubble of their city, they are told, "Everything is bon, we stopped the terrorists!"

The next they find out that terrorists are known to be planning to meet at "a bar in Cairo." For the purpose the teams leader Spottswoode recruits a Broadway actor named Gary to go undercover for them. The other four soldiers -- a pair of cute women and two men, have mixed feelings about Gary.

The plan is that The Team America helicopter will land in Cairo and four uniformed team members will escort Gary to the bar where he will go inside and ask "whazzup!" This leads to a lot of action and miscalculated shots leaving Pyramids and the Sphinx in rubbles. Of course they learn following al the mayhem that the real threat comes from North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il who plans to unleash "9/11 times 2,356." Hans Blix, the actual U.N. chief weapons inspector, also turns up in puppet form to check for weapons of mass destruction. He talks with the Korean dictator and as we all know about WMDs these cannot be found.

Opposing Team America is the Film Actors' Guild with puppets representing Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. They are there just to be ridiculed.

Verdict: The concept of a movie with puppets may sound odd but watch it to believe. It is quite neat and funny in its own right. It fires off ridicule to equally to those who wage it and those who oppose it. At times, it is just plain silliness.

I Love the guys at Google. They are ultra cool. They got an awesome mission "to make ALL the information in the world searchable". That's a HUGE task (all info includes printed pages, books, audio, video and whatever we through in front of them). And, "all the information" in the world includes stuff in your PC. So that's what their latest innovation is about: making it easier than ever to find stuff in your harddisks.

Firstly, Google's Desktop Search, searches all your drives for any text, MS word, Excel or PowerPoint document. It also searches all the html pages and all outlook emails. It even searches the content inside those documents and files and results are given out instantly. It only works in Windows 2000/XP. desktop.google.com

Secondly, Picasa, also from the great Google. This cool piece of software makes ALL the pictures in your computer searchable. That's very useful if you have gigabytes after gigabytes of pictures and wallpapers. It can also be used to edit the pictures and view slideshows. But mostly, it's a great searching tool for pictures. www.picasa.com

James Bond's Gadgets...
The gadgets have been an integral part of every James Bond film, amazing the audience with technology beyond its time. Find pictures and information on your favourite gadgets in this site. The man behind it all - Quartermaster, or better known as 'Q', head of Q Branch has provided James Bond with gadgets and jokes in every almost James Bond film. One of the most loved characters throughout the James Bond series, Q will never be forgotten!

Average IQ of each state and who they voted for...
Very revealing and very intriguing. It shows that states with peoples with higher IQ levels voted for Kerry. A hoax? I have no idea. But they say the IQ levels were calculated via the results of different national exams. And the IQ levels were once featured in the Economist.

Ancient Observatories: Chaco Canyon
Not far from Arizona's Kitt Peak Observatory, on a remote high plateau in northwestern New Mexico, the desert wind whistles through the shallow 10-mile canyon that was once home to a mysterious people. From approximately 850 to 1150 A.D., the Chacoans built a vast and well-organized stone city, where they studied the movements of sun and stars. And then they disappeared. Chaco Culture National Historical Park preserves the heritage of this vanished desert community and the lonesome, glowing spirit of place that remains. Listen to G. B. Cornucopia, a veteran park interpreter, talk about history and astronomy at Chaco; listen to Andrew Garcia talk about dancing in the footsteps of his Pueblo ancestors. Discover and explore petroglyphs, kivas, great houses, solar maps, and more.

This is the official site of one of my favourite comics, Bizzaro. There's lots to do in this site. Check out the latest comics, do the puzzles or just find out more about the famous comics and its creator.

Kite Aerial Photography
Scott Haefner has created a mind-blowing photography portfolio by hanging a few thousand dollars' worth of camera equipment from a kite line. This is a serious operation -- a remote-controlled camera housing lets Haefner pan, zoom, and do everything put peer through the viewfinder. The shots speak for themselves -- taken several hundred feet off the ground, they fit somewhere between aerial and landscape photography. Don't miss the 360 degree panoramas, which are positively vertigo-inducing. Your talented host is also happy to share various tricks of the trade, just in case your photographic muse urges you to defy gravity.

By Niloy

That's all for this week. If you need to contact me for anything, mail me to niloy.me@gmail.com


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