Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, January 24 , 2008




By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Ah Dhaka, hideous Dhaka! After spending a stress-relieving,warm weekend at Rajshahi, the first thing on my recently-peace-restored neurons is buses honking and drivers yelling on the ever-so-friendly traffic jam in Uttara. The miseries of coming back to where you belong! Nonetheless, Rajshahi is green, clean and a great getaway from Dhaka.

Being on the northwestern part of the country, Rajshahi is approximately a 5-hours bus ride from Dhaka. Although the journey unfolds our very deshi lush green countryside and a wonderful view over Jamuna Bridge; Rajshahi City itself is more of a suburb with small houses and peaceful community. You could stay at a local rest house or motel for two-three days and travel around on rickshaws (if you don't have a transport of your own).

The roads are smooth with low traffic, hence presenting themselves as a haven for long, relaxing drives. The only things that you need to watch out for are goats. These creatures are harmlessly uncaring of your presence or the fact that your vehicle might give them a brain hemorrhage; so they only choose to move out of your way with a blatant “baah!” when your ride is two inches away from them. However, these fascinating goats are only found on the outskirts of Rajshahi, leaving the city as a great place to drive.

With large windows overlooking architectural structures from the British regime, Rajshahi is a steaming cup of coffee for a photographer, artist or a soul-searching traveller. Approximately an hour's drive from the city lies the historical Sona Masjid. The walls are a state-of-art exhibit of flawless carving to a detailed pattern. The courtyard hosts the grave of martyrs from the Liberation War, including Biir Shrestho Nur Mohammad. In another 20 minutes drive from Sona Masjid, the red-walled structures and ruins of Shahjahan's son's Tohakhana are to be found. It is said that a portion of this palace was used to hang people. If hanging people is your arena, don't forget to go around the palace to take a closer look at the well in which the dead bodies were dropped. Unlike most other historical sites, Tohakhana is not swarmed with couples, so you can actually enjoy the architectural view. Our group of wandering cousins climbed up the stairway to the rooftop to pay a tribute to the captivating view of the different shades of green reflecting on the crystal-water lake next to the palace.

Coming back to the city, a walk around the campus of University of Rajshahi will bring you closer to more old-fashioned buildings. In-campus monuments like Shabash Bangladesh and Shahid Smriti are decent places for family souvenir photographs. Being a fan of Igloo ice-cream and street delicacies, we tried out a certain breach of kulfi known as Shandesh Bar found near Shahid Smriti. Missing out on the ecstatic taste of shandesh-like ice-cream melting inside your mouth while touring around the campus is something I can guarantee you'll regret later.

On the other hand, Rajshahi Museum (portions of which were under construction when we went) hosts some of the finest statues and artifacts from the Mughal reign. We bumped into a local art student inside the museum, carefully imprinting one of the statues on canvas using charcoal. The green gardens in the courtyard of the museum has stone sculptures surrounding a white-something with birds chirping, making it quite an interesting place to visit.

We spent our evenings taking leisurely strolls on the streets and next to Padma River. Although walking next to the river will present the devastating scenes of the water drying up, the soft warm breeze will definitely soothe your soul. Another street delicacy, where the seller slits a boiled egg and puts in spices (making it an egg sandwich) was our personal favourite during those long walks.

Rajshahi isn't the typical top-notch tourist spot, but it is a great getaway from Dhaka. It's a place where you can snap some brilliant shots and travel around. It also brings home the best mangoes in the country; so in the heat of this summer, the ripe taste of mangoes will be quite delightful. If you want to take a relaxing drive, passing green forests or simply unwind on your vacation; and if you're tired of murky waters at Ashulia, Rajshahi is definitely everyone's next tourist destination.

This time around you have weather effects affecting your driving and riding. Yes, there's motorcycles as well. Dense fog, ice and snow and lots of rain each affect your vehicle in a different way.

The cars
PGR 4's car handling while sim-like it still treads the fine line between arcade and simulation depth. You can hop into a car right away in the game and begin turning laps without fear of spinning out or locking your brakes in a tight turn. It also helps that the car list is more varied than the "all exotics, all the time" roster of PGR 3. This time around, the list has opened up a bit more to include everything from the pokey Mini Cooper S to F1 replicas, and even a pickup truck.

Then there are the motorcycles, which make their series debut here. As with the car list, the two-wheeled choices include everything from the relatively modest Buell RR 1200 to the frighteningly powerful MV Augusta F4 Senna. When it comes to handling, the motorcycles in PGR 4 have their ups and downs. Bikes are extremely easy to drive--there's no split between front and rear brakes to worry about--and it's tougher than you might think to get yourself thrown from the saddle. Toss in the fact that bikes are extremely quick off the starting line (due to their power/weight ratio) and that kudos--the in-game currency you earn as a result of stylish driving in the PGR series--are typically easier to rack up on a bike than in a car.

But for the most part bikes aren't much of a challenge and, as a result, aren't really as fun as we were hoping.

The looks
Visually, it's stunning; rain droplets bounce off the hood of your car, or your windshield when driving in first person view, and they'll collect into pools of standing water that become a hydroplaning nightmare for your car or motorbike. You will slip and slide and lose control. Find a way to brake early, or deal with the consequences of slamming your car into a wall after surfing across the water. As in the past, the game doesn't feature vehicular damage beyond the merely cosmetic.

Tracks are all from real life locales such as Tokyo, Shanghai, and New York City. Blast your way down a neon-soaked night track in Shanghai with the Oriental Pearl Tower looming in the background, and you'll be hard-pressed to think of a game that has done as much with urban landscapes as Project Gotham Racing 4. That level of visual quality doesn't come at the expense of performance, either; again, for the most part, the game runs at a rock-steady frame rate. Certainly, it's one of the most impressive-looking games of the year on the Xbox 360.

The game
In Gotham career, the goal here is to become the number one driver in the world by progressing through championships and invitational events strewn throughout the PGR world. The events are based around a calendar, so you'll have access to only a handful of races at any given time.

These races comprise of a variety of the challenges--including hot lap, cone challenges, eliminator, gate challenges, kudos vs. time, and standard street races. Kudos determine your overall position within a particular challenge; in addition to earning a bonus for finishing well within a race, any additional kudos you earn are added to your overall score. At the end of a championship series, you're awarded championship points based on your result and move up the ladder accordingly. In addition, you can buy items such as new tracks and cars, and even a custom Xbox Live gamer picture, with the kudos you've earned in races.

While zipping your way through career mode won't take that long, where the game really shine sis online play. You can race in single and team events through a variety of race types such as elimination, street race, cat and mouse, and the new bulldog mode.

Project Gotham Racing is back and it's bigger, more impressive with newer twists and good enough to take on Forza and Gran Turismo.

"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" is not a particularly great movie. It is not a particularly great story. Yet it compels you to keep watching. And considering it's a sequel that is not such a bad thing.

The plot:
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) is on a brand new hunt around the monuments of Western Civilisation. At stake is more than just Cibola, the conquistadors' Lost City of Gold, but the Gates family name. A villainous interloper named Wilkinson (Ed Harris) has come forth with evidence that Ben's great-grandfather led the plot to assassinate Lincoln. Base calumny!

How a chase after treasure will prove the ancestor's innocence is never entirely clear, and anyway the movie's too busy straining to reconvene the troops from the first one: Ben's estranged historian girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger), his comic-relief tech specialist Riley (Justin Bartha), professor father Patrick (Jon Voight). The "National Treasure" movies give you two hams for the price of one, and for gravy here's Harvey Keitel replaying his FBI agent with bizarre facial hair and Helen Mirren - the Queen herself - having a high old time as Emily, Ben's mother and Patrick's very divorced ex-wife.

It's the kind of movie where mom's a specialist in ancient Olmec because that's what the plot requires just then. After shopping for clues at the Statue of Liberty in Paris (that's right) and a high-spirited plundering of Buckingham Palace, Ben and company come up with an ancient Native American treasure map, not to mention the novel (and wholly false) tidbit that Queen Victoria sent aid to the Civil War Confederacy.

As in all sequels, the formula has hardened. Ben acts crazy and cross-references historical trivia until he deciphers a clue, the team advances to the next step of the hunt, then there's a rip-snorting action sequence. Rinse, repeat.

The only time this varies is during the above-mentioned kidnapping of the president so Ben can get at a clue in the President's Book, a legendary tome containing all the nation's paranoid secrets.

The verdict:
The movie's perfectly good popcorn. There's plenty of plot holes for you to discover and some so glaring you can't help but wonder who edited it. But despite it all the movie races along.

Wile Nicolas Cage gets a lot of criticism for taking these second-rate action movie roles, you can't help but realize that his star power and charisma is what keeps this movie franchise from becoming a resounding flop.

There is one implausible situation after another so those who are sticklers for realistic detail, skip this movie. Others will surely enjoy it.


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