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By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Boys, girls and moshers, put your heads together! Introducing Firebrand, starring Niloy on vocals, Shahir on drums, Yameen and Nabil on guitars and Zubaidar on bass. The boys are out with debut release, a self-titled album that promises to steer up the volume of your speakers and give you an ear-splitting in-house underground experience.

Initially, the band was formed as a bunch of eight graders who wanted to play for the sake of having fun. The lineup consisted of Shahir, Yameen and Nabil. After much fiddling around with instruments, they started getting serious around 2003. Zubaidur was soon introduced and a few months before, they performed at their first gig on February 2004. The band suffered from lack of a 'compatible' vocalist. Niloy was a good friend and had played alongside, both on and off stage, always shared a good chemistry with the rest of the band. Soon after his fallout with Bivishika, both parties had decided it would be best to have him on board, and Firebrand was finally complete.

Naming the band was a huge hassle. The band went through several other names, until Sakib (another friend) suggested it. The boys grabbed it, loved it and felt nothing could describe them better.

Firebrand had performed in several shows before settling down to work on the album. Scooping up decent crowd response, the band hopes the listeners would love their debut compilation. With tapping drums, smooth guitar work and edgy bass, the combination completes with exciting lyrics and Niloy's vocals. I, personally enjoyed the intro of Bewarish Mon, Jhor and the more-melo-ish Chhaya Shongi. Influenced by Dream Theatre, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, The Beatles, Goo Goo Dolls, Metallica, Megadeth, Whitesnake, Tool, U2, The Strokes, RHCP, Dave Matthews Band and more; Firebrand believes their compositions will be able to set a signature for themselves and prove them as an underground entity.

The album has been brilliantly mixed and mastered by Raef Al Hasan (Rafa) and produced by G-Series. It's out in local stores, so grab your copy now!

Review by Gokhra

Two supernatural films. Both starring women as the main characters. Both deal with cynics turned believers.

The Reaping: This is a thriller about an oh-so-hot professor Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) who doesn't believe in miracles--she believes in facts. She lost her young daughter and husband while doing missionary work in Sudan and consequently lost all faith in faith. To here, answers now come in the form of scientific investigation and not prayer.

As a university professor, she has become the foremost debunker of supposed miracles. She turns up at sites all over the world to investigate the likes of weeping statues. She has a god fearing partner with tattoos all over the guy. Together they turn up at demonized little town brilliantly called Haven. Seriously

The verdict: This is a freakishly scary movie but it's a force fed diet of fear. Director Stephen Hopkins scares you enough to make you drop things. So don't be drinking and beverages while watching this movie. He sues the usual tricks such as long, eerie silences interrupted by sudden crashes or attacks followed by loud music. Also watch the volume settings. Its a lot of quiet followed by ear wax melting music. The scenes are definitely scary and effective but also cheap tricks just to make the audience wet their pants. Part of could have been better if downplayed a bit. Subtle fear like in the old Hitchcock movies is a great tip.

The villains and the symbolic evil is also very clichéd. You spot everything from a mile away. But al this griping does not mean it's a bad movie. Its just not a very good one. If you like getting scared out of your wits then this is the right flick. The end will leave you with a bit of an 'oh, ok' feeling. Storywise, the plot is actually quite good considering movies like this are supposed to have huge holes.

Katherine and her partner Ben learn that miracles are not always a good thing. In Haven, a child dies and the river turns to blood, which is only the beginning of what appears to be the Biblical ten plagues set upon the town. Katherine is at a loss for the explanation. The townspeople believe a child named Loren McConnell has brought God's wrath to sleepy little Haven. Where they se the child as evil, Katherine sees as a lost child needing her help. And then she finds she is apart of a big conspiracy. It makes for a proper scary movie.

Premonition: The other supernatural flick is Sandra Bullock's new movie "Premonition". Bullock's character Linda is a busy housewife and mother whose life is turned upside down one fine day when a cop comes knocking at her door. Turns out her husband Jim has been killed in car accident. Things are bad, real bad for her and her two young daughters. Friends and family are busy consoling and prepare the funeral arrangements. Crying her eyes out, Linda finally goes to bed. That's' where the first part of the movie quickly ends.

The next day, when she wakes up and goes downstairs, she finds Jim in the kitchen, having a cup of coffee. She writes this of as a very bad dream. Unfortunately the next day, she wakes up to find everyone gathered in her living room, dressed in black, ready to go to the memorial service. And thus Linda pops in and out of two realities not really knowing which one is the real one. Or is this a really long dream?

The verdict: The movie has a lot of twists and turns and explanations of what she is doing. At one point of time she learns that her husband may be having an affair. This turns up in the world where he is actually dead. She is hurt and wonders if she lets him die, is that the same thing as killing him? But then again, she tries to save him.
Confused? Watch the movie.

So we see her doing all these interesting things that she uses later in the other reality. What we don't find out is why all this is happening other than the priests lame excuse that Linda does not have enough faith.

"Premonition" is a fun supernatural thriller with a bit of time traveling thrown in for good measure. Bullock offers a very good performance projecting her mounting fear and confusion to the audience quite convincingly. In fact, it's her performance alone that makes it worthwhile. Most other actresses would have made it into a comedy and that is very easy to do considering that some of the segments of the movie are quite funny and not in a good way. There is a problem of the movie not always hanging together.

Plot holes were large with an ending that not everyone will be appreciative of. But despite that, it is still a mostly enjoyable movie that makes you wonder throughout if anything is real.

"Here I am: I'm a work in progress... and always will be. " -Hilary Swank

While so many other young women in Hollywood are typecast based on physical appearance, Swank has earned the right to control her own destiny based on her powerful performances in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby.

Why is she famous?
Her turn as Teena Brandon in the 1999 independent film Boys Don't Cry, shot on a shoestring budget, won universal acclaim as well as the statuette for Best Actress at the 2000 Academy Awards. In 2005, she proved that she wasn't a one-trick pony when she won the Best Actress Oscar, SAG and Golden Globe for her performance in Million Dollar Baby.

At the age of 30, Hilary Swank is one of the most respected actresses working in Hollywood today. Her powerful position was first acquired on the basis of her performance in the acclaimed drama Boys Don't Cry, released in 1999, for which Swank garnered rave reviews and a handful of awards, including the Oscar for Best Actress.

Hilary Ann Swank was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on July 30, 1974. She grew up in Bellingham, Washington and as a child, devoted much of her time to athletic pursuits. Swank swam in the Junior Olympics and state championships, and ranked fifth in her state for gymnastics. At the age of 16, Swank moved to Los Angeles to realize her dream of becoming an actress.

She is now one of the most respected actresses working in Hollywood. Although our cynical side was at first wary of the overnight sensation hex, we now know that Swank will be a force to contend with for years.

Audiences familiar with Swank for her stint on Beverly Hills, 90210 were astounded by her dramatic turn as the doomed cross-dresser. During the shooting of Boys Don't Cry, she received the miserable sum of $75 a day. But after her Oscar win for Boys Don't Cry and her Oscar win for playing a champion boxer in Million Dollar Baby, Swank can now set her own price and choose projects at her leisure. She has cemented her status as one of the most respected screen performers in the business. A far cry from The Next Karate Kid!

When one of the most memorable performances of her career mandated that she conceal her feminine identity, and the other required her to put on 20 pounds of muscle to portray a boxer, it is difficult to judge Hilary Swank's sex appeal.

A natural beauty
Swank has a wonderful, engaging smile that is in full evidence at every awards show she attends. It is impossible to ignore her passion, sincerity and devotion to all her projects.

Her acceptance speeches at the Academy and Golden Globe Awards won her a slew of fans that found her unpretentious style attractive. There is no doubt that Swank is cute -- she was even named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 2000.

Excerpts of interviews following her recent release “The Reaping”

Do you have any brushes with the supernatural yourself then?
A: No. But when I went down to Louisiana you hear all these folklore kind of stories about what happens down there. And it's like the definition of Southern hospitality. I moved into this farmhouse and you couldn't really even see my neighbours, yet they found their way over to my front yard, knocking on my door, and said: “Hi, welcome to town. I made you this pecan pie. I hope you really like it. Now watch out for the ghosts.”

I'd ask: “What? What are talking about?” And they have all these stories which they they really believe. Here I am, by myself in this farmhouse when they leave, thinking: “Oh my gosh, what's going to happen? I'm thankful I have my dogs here.”

And right about two miles away was this haunted house that's one of the most famous haunted houses in the world. I think Oprah had done a piece on it years earlier. When she went there to stay the night she couldn't even stay. She left at two in the morning, saying: “I'm out of here, this is too freaky.” So, I didn't ever experience a ghost. I was sleeping once and I woke up and a light was on in my kitchen. But I don't know if left it on and forgot or if it found its way on. That's never to be discovered.

Hilary Swank on Researching Her Role: “I did a lot of reading. Stephen [Hopkins, the director] gave me a lot of books and a lot of literature. I think the most interesting thing was the publication Skeptical Enquirer and meeting him. He was fascinating and so smart and really believed what he writes about and thinks. There's a lot of different ways in life. There's a lot of different ways to live life, there's a lot of different ways to go about life and I think allowing people the freedom to have their own beliefs, as long as they don't hurt anybody, I think that's an important part of living. And I think celebrating people and our differences is really important.”

This is another first-person game that features a silent and mysterious protagonist, much like Half-Life's Gordon Freeman. You play as the Marked One, a heavily armed scavenger suffering from amnesia and stuck inside the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine. Yes, the same nuclear plant that exploded in 1986 and, in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s fiction, again in 1989, creating a radioactive hotspot brimming with mutants, heavily armed rival factions, and all sorts of weird, paranormal activity. Your task: Figure out who you are and what's going on at the core of the zone.

At its heart, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a first-person survival game that blends action with role-playing. This isn't a linear game, like Half-Life or Call of Duty, where you basically are restricted to a straight path and are taken for a tightly controlled and scripted ride. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s huge environments and open-ended gameplay make it more like a role-playing game.

The game's artificial intelligence is impressive, both in and out of combat. In combat, enemies are cunning when given enough room to move around. Human enemies hunt you intelligently, using cover and the terrain to their advantage. Meanwhile, creatures such as packs of mutant dogs behave like you'd expect wild animals to. They attack when they feel they have the advantage but flee if given a painful lesson. It's this kind of behavior that makes the zone feel alive. The AI does take a hit when placed in tight interiors, though, as the lack of maneuvering options makes it turn a bit predictable, but you'll likely appreciate this fact early in the game, as hiding inside a building and picking off the grunts as they come through the doorway is the only way that you'll survive some of the early battles.

There are all sorts of human characters in the game, from lone stalkers out on their own to various factions that you can ally with or battle.

Much of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s story is a bit hard to figure out, thanks to the fact that it's delivered mainly through short journal entries, cryptic cinematic cutscenes, and hard-to-understand Ukrainian and Russian accents. There are also multiple endings, with some that end in failure depending on the choices that you make in the game, so there's plenty of replayability here.

What the game lacks in modern-day graphical pizzazz, it makes up for with intricate detail and immersive atmosphere. Each locale has its own particular feel to it, so you never feel like the world was made with cookie-cutter building templates.

The lighting and particle effects are particularly well done. For instance, battles can occur in raging storms, with flashes of lightning briefly illuminating the battlefield. The game's flashlight system also deserves a heaping of praise. The flashlight in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. cuts through the darkness with a realism that's beautiful to behold. It's your most important friend in the dark, but at the same time, it also betrays you.

In spite of its small quirks and bugs, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is definitely a game that deserves to be played. For first-person shooter fans looking for the next big thing in the genre, it's difficult not to be impressed by the game's unique and evolving world. Meanwhile, fans of role-playing games will appreciate the open-ended nature of the gameplay and being able to explore different paths through the zone. This is a bleak game, but in a good way, as it captures its postapocalyptic setting perfectly. It's also an excellent combination of combat, horror, and exploration.


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