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Hollywood's fastest Rising Stars: Hilary Duff

With a hit television series, four upcoming feature films and a new album, Hilary Duff ("The Lizzie McGuire Movie") is becoming one of Hollywood's fastest rising stars.

The dynamic young actress has garnered world-wide recognition as the star of Disney Channel's international hit series "Lizzie McGuire," in which she portrays a teen navigating the turbulence of middle school cliques, trendy styles and rites of passage while her animated, brassy alter ego gives running commentary. "Lizzie McGuire" premiered in January 2001 and is now seen every day at 7:30 p.m. on Disney Channel and Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. on the ABC Television Network.

Duff can currently be seen co-starring with Frankie Muniz in the MGM film "Agent Cody Banks." She plays prep school student Natalie Connors, who is unknowingly caught between a new love, who is actually a secret teen agent, and her father, a scientist who unknowingly develops a fleet of deadly nanobots.

This continues to be a very busy year for the in-demand actress. This April, she begins filming 20th Century Fox's "Cheaper By The Dozen," with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. In July, Hilary goes into production with a starring role in the Warner Bros. picture "Cinderella Story," a comedy about a Southern California high school student who is transformed from an awkward teen into the most popular girl in school.

In 2002, Duff starred in the blockbuster "Cadet Kelly," which ranks as Disney Channel's highest rated original movie ever, the top-rated movie on both broadcast and cable television for its premiere week and cable television's highest rated movie to date in 2002.

Last August, the multi-talented Duff crossed over to other platforms, making her singing debut with the single "I Can't Wait" on the "Lizzie McGuire" soundtrack from Walt Disney Records. The song quickly catapulted up the charts on Radio Disney and the album was certified Gold by the R.I.A.A. this December. She followed her successful debut with the release of her own Christmas-themed album, "Santa Claus Lane," by Walt Disney Records. On the album, Hilary duets with R&B/pop recording artist Christina Milian and with hip-hop artist Lil' Romeo. In addition, she was chosen to perform "The Tiki Tiki Room" on the upcoming Disneymania album. She is currently recording a new album, which will be released in the fall of 2003.

Duff's enormous popularity was further proven with a nomination for Favorite Television Actress for Nickelodeon's "15th Annual Kids' Choice Awards," and she accepted the award for "Lizzie McGuire," which was voted Favorite Television Series.

Duff made her stage debut at age six with BalletMet Columbus and its touring company of "The Nutcracker." Her subsequent role in a television commercial spurred her longing to act and she soon amassed several television and film credits.

On television, she was featured in the miniseries "True Women" with Dana Delaney and Rachel Leigh Cook, in "Soul Collector" which earned her a "Young Artist Award" for Best Supporting Actress, and in a guest-starring role on "Chicago Hope." She had theatrical roles in "Playing by Heart" with Sean Connery, Dennis Quaid and Gena Rowlands; as the friendly ghost's best friend, Wendy, in the successful video release "Casper Meets Wendy;" and in the Cannes Film Festival favorite "Human Nature" with Tim Robbins.

Born September 28, 1987, Duff splits her time between homes in Houston and Los Angeles with her parents, sister and two dogs. She enjoys swimming, tumbling and rollerblading. Duff has served on the Advisory Board of the Audrey Hepburn Child Benefit Fund and the Celebrity Council of Kids with a Cause.

Review by Gokhra

JACKIE Chan's last movie, The Tuxedo, was rather lacklustre. His forte of wacky stunts was way below his usual standard. Everything was a "seen before" stunt in a loosely plotted movie. Okay so the plot is really not his fault so he comes back with a bang to wow his fans with with Shanghai Knights.

Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson(was his nose always so broken?) return in this sequel to Shanghai Noon released in 2000. Buddy movies especially where the couple is completely ill-matched seem to do well in bringing in the money. The first movie had the duo pair up in the Wild West. This time they move to Victorian London.

It's been a couple of years since Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) is an incompetent outlaw who has difficulty holding onto his gun once drawn from the holster. The Shanghai Kid (Chan), or Chon Wang as he's better known, is sort of a jack of all trades with a specialty in getting out of weird situations. In the sequel it has been a couple of yaers since their foray in te west. Chon Wang has brought justice to Nevada and with the money they made Roy went off to New York to 'invest' their cash. Yes, the apostrophies mean that Roy is upto no good as usual.

Chon has stayed behind ad has become Sheriff of a small frontier town. Of course, nothing stays calm longer than two seconds in the filmworld. Chon receives news that his father has been murdered and the priceless Imperial Seal stolen from the Forbidden City in China. Like I said he's a jack of all trades because he manages to track the killer cum thief to London. Roy and the Shanghai Kid start off to recover the Seal and avenge a death. Sounds like a good storyline for a game.

What's a Jackie Chan movie withput crazy stunts and corny jokes? You get more then your 15 takas worth of laughs ( yes, yes its all about the pirated CD and blah blah). The stunts and fights are amazing especially a revolving door sequence.

Wilson with his surprised expression and nasal voice does his best to meet Chans level of comic genius. And he's pretty damn good at it. Aiden Gillen plays the steretypicallly villainous Lord Rathbone with the strong Bristish accent. New characters include Fann Wong as Chan's little sister who kicks and punches as wildly as her bro. Other stereotypes inlcude runins with Arthur Conan Doyle, the typical streetkids decribed by Dickens and also Jack The Ripper.

The movie offer s a ton of laughs and is well worth the time spent.

Vertical Horizon

IT all started at a Georgetown undergrad party in 1991. Keith Kane was strumming an acoustic guitar and asked fellow student and guitar player, Matt Scannell, to join him. The chemistry between Matt and Keith was evident and soon after, Keith invited Matt to perform with him at his weekly gig at a local pub. Taking their name from two words that Kane thought reflected the music of an acoustic duo, Vertical Horizon was born.

Kane and Scannell graduated from Georgetown in 1992 and decided that they would try their hands at a career in music. At the end of a summer spent gigging on Cape Cod, they went into a recording studio at Matt's old high school and recorded the songs that would become their debut album.

"There and Back Again" (1992) saw the duo performing their original songs on acoustic guitars with tight vocal harmonies, a testament to their live performances. After completing the record, Kane and Scannell returned to the DC area where they had already built a devoted following. There, they hooked up with Jackopierce, a duo from Texas performing similar music, and were invited to join them on the road. Thus began the band's touring career with performances along the East coast. In between trips, the duo spent time in the recording studio and out of those sessions their second album was born.

"Running On Ice" (1995) showed an expanded sound with the addition of a rhythm section on many of the tracks. The album was produced by John Alagia Doug Derryberry and Carter Beauford from Dave Matthews Band lent his hand on percussion. The band continued touring and expanded their fan base by playing with such acts as Shawn Colvin and the Allman Brothers.

While the band was touring for "ROI," Ed Toth was working for Borders in Chestnut Hill, MA. Matt's mom was in the store one day looking for a Vertical Horizon CD and Ed's boss assisted her. As repayment, the band invited him to its show in Boston that night. Ed went along and was very impressed with the band's performance. After the show, he learned that they were looking for a new drummer. That week, he sent in a tape and secured an audition. The word is, he blew them away!

In September of 1996, the group performed two shows at Ziggy's in Winston Salem, North Carolina. These shows, which the band recorded, became the group's next release. "Live Stages" (1997) captured the band's energetic performance and introduced their hard rocking electric guitar style. While touring in support of "Live Stages", the band found itself in need of a new bass player. Sean Hurley was the first to audition. He clicked with the band both musically and personally, and before long, was the newest member of Vertical Horizon.

In late 1997 Vertical Horizon signed a deal with RCA. They went into the studio in 1998 and began working on their major label debut. "Everything You Want" (1999) continued the edgier, electric sound the band had begun exploring in their live shows and featured some of their best songs to date. The certified double platinum album yielded four singles, "We Are," " Everything You Want," "You're a God," and "Best I Ever Had." The song " Everything You Want" was the most played song on Top 40 radio in the US for the year 2000 and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In addition, it remained at the #1 position on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart for 16 weeks.

It won two Radio Music Awards and three Billboard Music Awards. The band also won a Billboard Music Video Award for Best New Artist Modern Rock Video for "You're a God."

The band toured in support of "EYW" for two years playing with the likes of Third Eye Blind, Dave Matthews Band and Barenaked Ladies. They also had their first European tour, performing in England, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland. After taking a break at the end of 2001, the band returned to the studio and completed its second album. "Go" is their latest release and possibly the best so far.

Game Review

X2: The Threat

Requirements: 128 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 32 MB VRAM, 800 MB disk spaceX2

Space simulations have done so poorly commercially over the past five years that the genre has almost completely vanished. The trend began when large publishers EA and LucasArts abandoned their respective Wing Commander and Star Wars space sim franchises, and it accelerated when even acclaimed titles, like FreeSpace 2, were unable to attract a significant commercial market. During the past year, Microsoft released Freelancer, which a hybrid action space sim with a storied and protracted development. Aside from this offering, the genre has essentially been handed over to small, mostly European, developers. X2: The Threat is the latest space sim to be developed by a small European developer, and like its recent peers, it's an extremely ambitious but not very accessible game. It starts very slowly and has a steep learning curve, but if you're patient enough to stick with it, you'll probably find that X2 is a diamond in the rough.

The scope of X2 is quite immense. Like Privateer or Elite, it's an open-ended space simulation that gives you the freedom to trade goods, hunt pirates, loot transports, mine asteroids, escort dignitaries, or just freely explore an expansive gaming universe. X2 is even more ambitious than any of those games, since it's also a respectable strategy offering that allows you to build factories, control capital ships, and ultimately assemble a fleet to dominate territory and influence economic markets. It's also set in a relatively dynamic universe that is controlled by six different races who are all threatened by an ominous newcomer. As you develop your own economic empire and military force, you have to learn how to effectively manage and defend your dispersed assets. Even more impressively, just about everything works as intended, so, as a result, X2 is one of the most involved space simulations ever.

The spaceflight engine is also a bit clunky. Unlike the Independence War games, the physics system doesn't meaningfully incorporate inertia, so you don't get much sense of motion. Even worse, the controls are finicky, thus making it difficult to aim precisely. That's less of an encumbrance than you'd expect, since success in combat is far less dependent upon twitch skills than it is upon having the right shields and weaponry. Combat AI is rudimentary, as computer-controlled ships seem to almost turn randomly in search of opponents, and collisions are extremely frequent. The engine feels unrefined, and the battles are simplistic, especially when compared to mission-based space sims like Freespace 2. So, to enjoy X2 you have to truly appreciate its economic and strategic aspects

There are also rewarding role-playing elements in X2. You can personalize your empire by importing your own picture or logo to use for your pilot's photo or to paste on your vessels. As you successfully deliver goods and fight off enemies, you'll frequently be awarded gratifying titles and standing with various factions. Increasing your reputation will earn you access to additional missions, and it will also increase the likelihood that you'll become a target of fortune hunters or vengeance seekers. There are also dozens of ship upgrades to acquire, ranging from more powerful weapons and engine upgrades to equipment that will give you the ability to mine or collect organic samples. Since you can also buy or steal new ships, you're constantly improving or upgrading your fleet--or trying to accumulate the resources to do so. Additionally, since you're consistently getting accolades or tangible benefits for achievements, gameplay is addictive.

The graphics are colorful and detailed and represent a huge improvement over those in the original X: Beyond the Frontier. In keeping with the "throw in the kitchen sink" design of the rest of X2, there's support for shadows, bump mapping, and antialiasing, though you'll need a high-powered system with a top-of-the-line graphics card to run the game with all the graphical bells and whistles at full blast.

As you'd expect with a game as complex as X2, there's a steep learning curve to overcome in order to appreciate all of the game's features. There really are an incredible number of things to do aside from just exploring and taking in the sights. There are simple missions that you can pick up at bases, but the game really comes into its own as a free-form simulation. You can hire ships, set up supply routes between factories for a fleet of transports, maintain spy satellites, blockade enemy installations to manipulate the dynamic economy, space walk to assume control of a different vessel, or just carve a swath of destruction. The interface is, unfortunately, correspondingly complex, with lots of hotkeys and menus to navigate. Each ship has a system of monitors that you can activate to maintain situational awareness from different perspectives. You're not limited to controlling your own ship, since you can give orders to ships and installations in other locations remotely, and you can use the monitors to assume direct control of supporting ships. There's usually more than one way to take an action, and often, the easiest way isn't the most apparent. Unfortunately, the truly awful system of tutorials isn't much assistance since it doesn't actually identify the requisite key commands. Collectively, the poor tutorials and complexity of the game require you to invest a couple of hours before you'll feel comfortable with the interface. Once you've mastered it, however, it works quite well.

While there are a few shortcuts you can take, it will generally take many hours before you can start building an economic empire or take the helm of the more formidable vessels. Unfortunately, it's easy to be turned off by X2 because of the initial time commitment required to become adept with its controls and because of the unrefined engine and unsophisticated combat. However, X2 does offer some highly satisfying gameplay--if you're willing to stick with it. It's not a game that has any reasonable prospect of revitalizing the space sim genre, since it's from a small developer and isn't particularly accessible, but it's a game that highlights why the genre was once much more popular.


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