X-Men: First Class – Movie Review

Ever since the first X-Men movie was released more than a decade ago, I was fascinated by the saga and the upcoming sequels did not deter me from still liking it.

X-Men: First Class is both literally and figuratively a return to basics. It is both the prologue to all X-Men movies that were released before it and it is also a return to form of a series that kinda lost its way with trying to build too much history and subplot.

Erik Lehnsherr is a teenage boy, imprisoned in German Nazi concentration camps. When Dr. Schmidt sees him move a metal gate as his parents are taken away from him, he summons Erik and asks him to move a metal coin. Erik fails, with devastating consequences that lead to great anger, launching Erik’s powers of controlling metal and killing two guards on the spot.

Fast forward twenty years and Erik (Michael Fassbender) is on a mission to find Dr. Schmidt and kill him in revenge. On the other hand, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is seeking a PhD in Genetics with his research about the upcoming mutations in the human species. Charles, along with shape-shifter Raven (later known as Mystique and played by the awesome Jennifer Lawrence *insert fanboy hearts*) are trying to find other people of their kind and help them accept their condition. That’s when they are recruited by the CIA in order to prevent a nuclear war between the US and Russia, a war that is spearheaded by the present form of Dr. Schmidt, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant whose power is deadly and his group of mutants who will do their best to bring destruction.

James McAvoy, as young Dr. Charles Xavier, is in a role he was born to play. I couldn’t imagine a better actor in this role simply because McAvoy embodies the serenity that Xavier has in the previous movies, set in the future compared to this one, perfectly. He is wise, calm and intelligent, exactly as the future Dr. X is.

On the other hand, Fassbender is as great in portraying Erik, later known as Magneto. He sets the tone for the character we all know later on amazingly well: the many layers that shape this man and his beliefs. And he does so perfectly.

Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a younger Mystique, is absolutely stunning both literally and figuratively in that portrayal. Mystique (or as she is known in this movie: Raven) controls her powers really well. But her weakness is acceptance. She hates her blue-scaled look and seeks out a much more “acceptable” form as a human. Her path in the movie is first and foremost one towards self-acceptance, with which she will also help Henry McCoy (later known as Beast) to accept his mutation as well.

X-Men: First Class is fueled by the directing chops of Matthew Vaughn, whose latest offering was Kick Ass, a very interesting movie if you haven’t seen it. And you need to give lots of props to this director for taking what was, according to many (I still enjoyed the movies), a sagging franchise and breathed new life into it by reinvigorating its past and reminding everyone how it all started.

Why is it that Dr. Xavier is paralyzed? How did Magneto get that weird helmet he wears to prevent Dr. X from accessing his mind? How did the term X-Men originate? How did both sides of the battle (call them good and evil) originate? X-Men: First Class answers all these questions and more. It is a movie that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. X-Men has always been a saga about the fine line between good and evil and how that line gets blurred often. This one is no different. You feel that both sides of the equation have things going for them. It doesn’t show one side in a good light and the other in a bad light. Both have strong and true convictions. You get to choose the side you want to be on.

2011 is shaping up to be a great movie for superhero movies. After the highly entertaining Thor (my review), X-Men: First Class steps it up. And with more superhero movies to come, it will take a mighty effort for them to overtake the caliber that this movie presents. Go watch it now. You will be absorbed for over two hours. Your move, Captain America.

This Is What A Trillion Dollars Looks Like

During our scholastic years, we were taught that a zero is a bad grade to get, right? And we’ve all panicked nights and days over exams that we hadn’t studied well for (and yet, we all leave ourselves till the last possible  minute in order to study, every single time).

However, with age (some age, others mature, right?), you get to know that the more zeros you have, the better. Especially when it comes to dollar bills.

For those who don’t know, a trillion has twelve zeros. A billion has nine. So a friend sent me these pictures online to come to grasp with the US national debt. I decided to incorporate the Lebanese national debt in this as well.

Let’s start with $100, the largest US denomination in circulation. We’ve all seen it, not many of us have owned it.

A packet of 100 $100 bills is about 1.5 cm thick and makes up $10000.

Now the “little” pile of money next to the man is, believe it or not, $1,000,000. That’s more money than most of us will ever make in our lifetime.

A $100,000,000 pile, however, looks more impressive, right? Yeah, keep dreaming (or drooling). But we’re not done yet.

Now add together ten of those precious previous piles, and you get $1 billion. Now imagine the below picture multiplied by 50 and you have the Lebanese national debt.

But even after the 50x multiplication, you’re not even close to $1 trillion. Why’s that? because you are literally rendered insignificant compared to it. This is what $1 trillion looks like.

The US national debt is $14 trillion. Enough said, right?

Lebanon To Get LTE Along With 3G?

We all know that we have the worst internet in the world in Lebanon. Our politicians are mostly always full of promises and little action when it comes to almost every regard of our lives so treat this as yet another one of those “talks” that get you excited, but hopefully this time something will actually happen.

So 3G is coming to Lebanon come September, apparently. We will finally have decent internet to use, albeit it will only be on our mobile phones. But it’s a start. Many people, however, were critical of the imminent implementation of 3G saying that the world is already moving to 4G or LTE technologies, which offer much higher speeds. Lebanon implementing third-generation technologies while the rest of the world is moving on to fourth (or even fifth) generation stuff isn’t really stepping up your game in a competitive market.

However, it looks like Lebanon will be receiving LTE upgrades in some areas, while 3G is more spread out over the country as a whole – which is very, very good news. After all, even more advanced countries such as the US have not implemented LTE in all of the country, only in major cities so far. So what do you expect from a country with much more limited resources?

According to this article, MTC Touch (one of the two mobile operators in the country) has built over 850 3.5G stations in Lebanon, of which 200 will offer 3.9G services (giving you double the speed that 3.5G can offer, about 40 Mb/s) and 50 of which will be LTE stations, allowing download speeds of around 173 Mb/s.

And if this wasn’t good enough, the prices that are being thought of (and I’m sure this will apply to Alfa as well since this is a monopoly) are not bad at all. In fact, they look to be very promising. Prices could start from a mere $10 (and go to over $100 depending on the download speed of choice) allowing data quotas of about 2GB for smartphones (both upload and download) and over 15GB or even 20GB for laptops.

Alfa will issue a formal statement about the 3G services it will offer on Thursday, May 12.

U.S. iPhone Is Now Factory-Unlockable?

It seems that U.S. iPhone users can start getting excited about their legitimate unlocking prospects: i.e. without the use of third-party software or hacking mechanisms to ensure they can use their carrier of choice.

A bunch of websites, such as Negri Electronics, have started selling a “permanent” unlock for iPhones were you pay in the order of around $175, email them your IMEI and you get an email in the next two days or less telling you your iPhone is now unlocked. The companies doing these unlocks are getting so many requests that they’re being forced to discontinue selling this until they take care of the orders they already have.

This might look like a scam at first but many are reporting it to work. And the amount of unlock requests companies are getting only shows that U.S. customers need this, as the United States is the only country remaining where the iPhone is still locked to a specific carrier, with no means of having it unlocked except buying one from other countries, such as Canada, France, etc…

This unlock currently works only on GSM iPhones (i.e.: the iPhone that work on AT&T), not Verizon’s CDMA iPhone.

Pictures showing the legitimacy of the process:

Internet Speed At Google

Just to make things worse for us Lebanese who want to get our average speeds up from the ridiculous 256Kbps at which they are today, Google’s internet speed has been revealed.

To put things into perspective, these are 1000 times faster than the 512Kbps speed some of us in Lebanon brag about. And another thing hampering our Lebanese internet connection is an unbelievably slow ping time (depending on ISP, the fastest you can get is 100 ms). With Google, it’s 3 ms.

And since Lebanon is not the benchmark when it comes to internet speeds, the average internet speed in Europe is around 12 Mb/s and that in the US is around 10 Mb/s.

Finally, just to show you how strong a connection this is, look at a download of a 8GB game:

And I was happy about the 1 hour it takes for my 350MB episodes to finish. Let the mourning over our pathetic situation start.


Sophie’s Choice – Movie Review

I have been intrigued by this movie ever since I read a newspaper article about how great Meryl Streep was in it. The fact that it was also referenced many times on The Big Bang Theory doesn’t hurt either and I recently got the opportunity to watch it.

Sophie’s Choice tells the story of Sophie (Meryl Streep), a Polish Catholic and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. As part of her new life in the United States, Sophie falls in love with Nathan (Kevin Kline), an American Jew. The relationship is abusive at times and great at other times, but through the good and the bad, Sophie sees Nathan as her reason to live. The movie is told via a narrative by the older self of the character Stingo, a writer who decides to take up residence in the same house where Sophie and Nathan live. Soon enough, Stingo befriends the couple and starts to fall for Sophie as she starts telling him her life in flashbacks.

Sophie’s flashbacks are the most interesting part of the movie. They reveal the intricate details that have made Sophie who she is in the movie’s present time. They reveal her darkest secrets, the truths she chose to keep hidden, and most importantly, the gut-wrenching choice she was forced to make, one that will shake you to your core.

To say Meryl Streep was great in it would be an understatement. Meryl Streep is an acting Goddess. There isn’t any role that she doesn’t nail to a point where further nailing cannot take place anymore. She works with the Polish accent perfectly and even throws in some German dialogue there for good measure. When Sophie gazes into the distance, looking at her past, the gaze goes right through your soul.

The movie, however, I felt was overstretched. It runs for over 150 minutes and sometimes drags on. I thought the focus on the relationship with Nathan became borderline obsessive sometimes. The flashbacks, which are the best part in my opinion, are interspersed throughout the movie and sometimes feel underdeveloped. I definitely wanted to see more of them. Moreover, you could easily consider the movie as a vehicle for Meryl Streep to shine. The other actors in it are simply accessories for her character’s weaknesses and strengths to get across.

Overall, Sophie’s Choice is a movie that solidifies what most of us already have in our head, that Meryl Streep is, simply, the best.

The Libyan Situation: Morally Baffling…

It is without understatement that I can say Colonel Gaddafi is a monster. That is as clear and true as the sun shining every morning in countries where the climate allows that.

He is a man who has been ruling his country with an iron fist for over forty years and he doesn’t look satisfied yet. He has done almost every single thing imaginable to stay in office, except eradicating the whole population of his country. Don’t worry, he is hell-bent on doing so as well. Just today, more than forty people were killed in a Libyan city, including children, while trying to stand in the way of armed forces opening fire on innocent people.

Even more so, Colonel Gaddafi set fire to the Libyan oil fields. If he can’t have them, why should anyone else, right?

Apparently no one.

After weeks of him murdering his people, it looks like NATO forces and Western countries “finally” took notice. I mean, they kept turning their blind eye on the dictatorships in the region. Why so? well, those dictatorships were providing them with oil and they were keeping their parts of a burning region at “peace”. What more could those countries ask?

But now Gaddafi was burning those oil fields. And oil prices had begun skyrocketing again. What were the NATO forces and armies of other Western countries (notably the US) supposed to do?

Oh yes, they intervene militarily. What’s the premise of this intervention? “humanitarian” reasons.

And here goes our moral dilemma… Gaddafi or NATO forces intervening in his country?

Sure Gaddafi does not have an reason to burn the oil fields. They are not his. They are his country’s riches. He also does not have any right to even order any of his armed forces to lay a hand on any of his people. But to say Gaddafi is sane is as credible as saying the Earth is the center of the universe. The man is a mad case. But that also does not even remotely justify what he’s been doing, which can be categorized as a genocide.

On the other hand, what gives foreign forces the right to barge into Libya and start bombarding the country left and right? They’re only there to secure their economical advantages with the oil, so to say they are there for “humanitarian” reasons is a big lie to anyone with common sense.

And there is it… our moral puzzle. Who is at more fault? the man single-handedly destroying his country? or the foreign armed forces trying to take the country by force?