Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Favorite Movies of 2014

With the continuing rise of cinematic universes and excess of sequels in Hollywood, it may seem difficult to find films these days that really stick out. Just when we thought Michael Bay had provided moviegoers with enough headache inducing explosions, he just had to go and make another "Transformers" movie. We also got another "Godzilla" remake, a lousy Spider-Man sequel, and adaptations of "The Hunger Games" and "The Hobbit" which were unneccesarily split into multiple parts. Yet amidst the remakes and money hogging franchises, 2014 has offered us more than one original and enticing cinematic experience. Here are my favorites.

5) "Gone Girl"; Dir. David Fincher: "Gone Girl" is a hard hitting and captivating thriller about a writer named Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing. When evidence points to him as her murderer, a whirlwind of events follows which will shock even the most observant and intuitive audience members. This is Fincher's best thriller since "Zodiac", combining a Hitchcockian style with a knockout script by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the novel which the movie is based on. Affleck gives a strong performance, but it's Pike who really stands out here. This is particularly refreshing given that some of her most recent roles are in the abysmal "Clash of the Titans" and its equally atrocious sequel. All in all, "Gone Girl" will leave you mesmerized with its stellar execution, making it one of the better thrillers of the last few years.

4) "Snowpiercer"; Dir. Joon-ho Bong: "Snowpiercer" takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the Earth has frozen over and the last survivors of humanity live on a continuously moving train. With a class system forcing the poorest occupants to live in terrible conditions in the very back of the train, a man named Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a resistance where members fight their way to the front. There have been several noteworthy science fiction movies this year, but it's this indie which I put at the top of my list. This film provides sociopolitical commentary, strong human drama and heart pounding action sequences. Bong's exquisite style creates a video game feel, which is appropriate given that the film is based on a graphic novel. Curtis and his comrades encounter multiple villains as they continue to advance before facing the charismatic final boss, played by Ed Harris. The ending seems to not sit well with a number of viewers, but all in all I found "Snowpiercer" thoroughly enjoyable and original. If you're interested in giving it a watch, it is on Netflix.

3) "The Grand Budapest Hotel"; Dir. Wes Anderson: The best movies take you out of the real world and suck you into an entirely different one. Wes Anderson does this in a phenomenal manner with "The Grand Budapest Hotel", a film about a corky concierge named M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori). The story tells of their antics and adventures, all told by an older version of Zero as he talks with a fascinated writer. This is one of Anderson's most delightful, satirical, humorous and beautifully choreographed films to date, right up there with "The Royal Tenenbaums." As soon as I left the theater, I knew it would be one I'd see multiple times. Fiennes gives an Oscar worthy performance and has great chemistry with Revolori. The film also features Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton (who also does terrific work in "Snowpiercer") and Anderson veterans like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Edward Norton. This is a must see for any film guru and especially for Anderson fans.

2) "Boyhood"; Dir. Richard Linklater: It's difficult to put "Boyhood" into words as it's just one of those movies you have to experience for yourself. Made over the course of 12 years and featuring the same cast members, the film is about a boy's childhood and transition into early adulthood. His parents, who divorce while he's still a child, are played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both longtime collaborators of Linklater. Ellar Coltrane makes his debut performance as the film's lead Mason, while Linklater's daughter Lorelei plays his sister Samantha. The film explores both a child's innocence and the struggles that come with adolescence. It boldly and captivatingly provides an untarnished portrayal of humanity. Rather than depict these characters in a flashy and untruthful way, Linklater shows us their faults as much as he does their more admirable traits. Both his script and direction display the mastery of a true auteur. Linklater knows his craft, and it is ten times as evident here as it is in his first film "Slacker", a cult classic. This film is a piece of art.

1) "Birdman"; Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu: My favorite film of 2014 is one I saw this afternoon. As I'm writing this, I'm still in the midst of absorbing the experience of watching it. The film tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who used to play an iconic superhero in a popular franchise. Now divorced and having an estranged relationship with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan attempts to make his comeback on Broadway. The film is particularly fascinating for being a commentary on the widespread popularity of superhero blockbusters. Are real actors extinct? Is the only way to earn a living in this field to play one of the Avengers? These are the kinds of questions explored in this film. Keaton, Stone, Edward Norton, and even Zach Galifianakis all give outstanding performances. The script is superb, and a special shoutout goes to "Gravity" cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for his work here. Viewers experience the movie as if it were a single shot which seamlessly transitions from one scene to the next. This is is an undeniable cinematic achievement, putting "Birdman" at the top of my list.

Honorable Mentions:

-"Interstellar": Christopher Nolan pays tribute to "2001: A Space Odyssey" with his deeply philosophical and highly entertaining science fiction blockbuster. While not as great as "Inception" and "The Prestige" in my eyes, it's still a reminder of why Nolan remains one of my favorite directors.

-"Edge of Tomorrow": While I thought this was just going to be another Tom Cruise action movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be my favorite film of his since "Minority Report." Director Doug Liman combines Halo and "Groundhog Day", making for a wildly entertaining science fiction thriller.

-"Captain America: The Winter Soldier": While I had tons of fun with "Guardians of the Galaxy", I must say that Cap stars in the best superhero movie of the year. The Russo brothers prove that franchise flicks can be good. The movie delivers both a sharply written script and fantastic directing.

Those are my favorites. Now let's hope for a great year of movies in 2015!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's New in Kev's World

If you're reading this, you either know me or you like reading about some dude who blows most of his money on movies and comic books. Whatever the reason I'll try not to bore you. Since we live in an age where people's thoughts all wind up on the Internet, I thought I'd take some time to ramble.

I just completed my fifth semester at NC State. That said, the next 3 1/2 weeks will consist of hibernating in my man cave, Christmas festivities, visits to bookstores and movie theaters, and an unspecified number of drinks on New Year's Eve (I did turn 21 in October). I'm also finishing up a script which I wrote a rough draft of this past summer. Right now it's a teleplay, but I'm considering turning it into a self-published webcomic, as long as I find an artist. Given that it's a comedy about a group of Cosplayers who become amateur superheroes, it could certainly work as a comic book series. 

I also made a movie this semester which you can view here:

Like last year, I made this short for CampusMovieFest. Only this time I wrote and directed my own film, which was a great experience. My good friend Lucas did the cinematography and editing, and I got a bunch of friends from work to be in it. 

Some people feel that 5-10 minute shorts are too restricting because of the time limit, but I myself find them much more liberating than writing feature lengths. Having taken a screenwriting course and read several books on the subject, I can tell you that feature length scripts are hard to put together and they require you to adhere to a beat by beat formula. Unless you're the next Edgar Wright or Quentin Tarantino, it's unlikely you'll be able to reject this formula and make a good living. I'm still very much an amateur, but having been a college journalist for several years now and being in and around film culture, the best advice I can give to beginners is to lower your expectations and write. There are so many resources available for writers and filmmakers today that there's just no excuse to not do it. If you're an aspiring screenwriter, download Celtx or some other software and get started now. Try adapting a piece of fiction you've written. Write shorts before you tackle a feature length. Start a blog or look for something in film journalism (writing reviews has helped me tremendously as a storyteller). If you want to make films but have limited resources, you can shoot and edit a movie on your iPhone. Look at the world around you and just tell stories that speak to you. Forget about big budgets and making a profit, and just enjoy the freedom found in indie filmmaking. 

Well, I didn't expect to give an advice rant. Then again I just logged in and started rambling. So aside from CMF, I also went to NC Comic Con, celebrated my 21st, continued working for the paper and doing campus ministry, plus that whole going to class thing. Needless to say I definitely needed a break and am enjoying it so far. I will be posting more on here in the next few weeks than I do during the semester, so keep an eye out for my reviews on various comics, shows and movies. Until then, stay nerdy my friends.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Dir. James Gunn

I remember when I was 10 years old and went to see the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man 2. To say that my imagination was captured would be an understatement. I felt the same giddiness that every child feels when watching their favorite superhero take to the big screen. Now, it's rare that I feel that same sense of awe and wonder when going to the movies. Simply put, they don't make Blockbusters like they used to. The last multimillion dollar budget flicks that have achieved this and have come out in the last 5 years are Avatar and Hugo. Now however, I am ecstatic to add Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy to my list.

The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is already garnering Star Wars comparisons, and rightfully so. Whether it's the epic space fantasy storyline, the ragtag team of heroes, or the nostalgic emphasis on 70s/80s culture, this is certainly a film worthy of George Lucas' applause.

Guardians of the Galaxy centers around lead protagonist Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a.k.a. Star-Lord, a space pirate who was abducted by aliens when he was a boy after his mother died (on Earth). Raised by the infamous Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his gang of thieves, the intergalactic outlaw spends most of his time raiding planets and stealing precious artifacts.

Yet this all changes when he uncovers an ancient orb of unlimited power which everyone in the galaxy is after. While evading the forces of the Kree terrorist Ronan the Accusor (Lee Pace), Quill is nonetheless apprehended by the Nova government, a more peacekeeping alliance uniting the galaxy's central planets (basically the equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D. or The Federation). It is here when his story becomes intertwined with those of fellow bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), as well as vengeance-seeking extraterrestrials Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). With Gamora and Drax both having vendettas toward Ronan, this team of unlikely heroes must come together to keep the orb's infinity stone from falling into the villain's hands.

One thing about this film which might get overlooked but deserves recognition is that it is successful in showing and not telling. What I mean here is that the screenwriters don't waste time bombarding audiences with massive amounts of expository information. Rather than open with a cliché voice-over by Star-Lord explaining who he is and the state of the various intergalactic conflicts, director James Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman actually realize that audiences are smart enough to figure these plot elements out on their own as the movie progresses. By applying this tactic, the film flows significantly better than most blockbusters today.

Yet what really makes this movie so fresh and entertaining are its characters. A favorite among Parks and Recreation fans, Chris Pratt combines the goofiness of Andy Dwyer with the cockiness and heroics of Han Solo into his portrayal of Quill. Even when he's in prison, he refuses to let the guards mess with his Blue Swede album. Another scene shows him telling Gamora about the Earthling legend Kevin Bacon in Footloose. There's hardly a dull moment when he's on screen.

Similarly, Cooper and Diesel rival Pratt's performance by bringing to life two of the most bizarre characters in comic book movie history. Both actors deserve genuine recognition for their voice work here, especially with the amount of energy Diesel brings to a character who's only line is "I am Groot" (said multiple times). Cooper's delivery of Rocket's quick-witted dialogue is spot on, and this is made all the better by the great CGI that went in to bringing this dynamic duo to the big screen.

Bautista definitely looks the part of Drax and gives a solid enough performance. While he has no real prior acting experience, he comes across as slightly less remarkable than the likes of Pratt and Cooper; but he is definitely the right choice for the role. Saldana's character is pretty similar to the one she plays in Avatar, but that didn't bother me. She's a more than formidable actress, and the ensemble work here could not have been better.

With his roots in indie filmmaking, James Gunn is no doubt a lover of bizarre storytelling. Other works of his such as Slither and Super demonstrate original takes on popular genres; which in the case of these two films are horror and superhero movies. Yet while those films are grounded in black comedy and are definitely not suited for everyone (though definitely for me, I adored Super), I was curious to see how Gunn would work with more lighthearted material. The only other family-friendly project he's done in the past was when he wrote the Scooby-Doo remake. Fortunately, his first mainstream movie highlights every one of his strengths as a director. Through solid pacing and eye-popping visuals (I'm not big on 3-D, but this is one movie that actually makes use of it), Gunn delivers a true display of cinematic wonder which viewers of all ages can enjoy.

The only real flaw in the film, and it is a common one among Marvel movies, is the presence of a stereotypical villain. I like movies which give you a reason to empathize with the antagonist. What makes Spider-Man 2 so great is that it draws multiple parallels between Doc Ock and Peter Parker. Audiences realize that Octavius is very much guided by motivations that would drive any other human; and they see that he is ultimately trying to do what's right. Here, Ronan is no different from the guy in Thor: The Dark World or any other warlord bent on total domination. Still, the central characters in this film are so unforgettable that this aspect is easy to overlook.

Before Guardians of the Galaxy, it had been a while since a big-budget superhero movie really left an impact on me. When I entered the theater last night, I was a nerdy college student with a solid knowledge of film and comics. From the time the movie started to the time the credits rolled, I was a kid again reliving the awe and wonder of going to the movies. So do yourself a favor and go see it already.

Friday, July 25, 2014

If you claim to be a writer, then WRITE!

This post might sound hypocritical given that the last thing I posted here was over 6 months ago, but I assure you that I've written more in the past year than in any previous year of my life. I've now had over 60 Technician articles published since I started working there in February 2013 (Technician is NCSU's student newspaper), plus countless others which I've contributed to as an editor. On top of that I've written short scripts, essays, and a decent amount of fiction. It goes without saying that a significant amount of it has been crap, but you can't develop as a writer without failing first. My screenwriting professor this past semester continually told us that "Writing is about messing up" (though he said it a little more colorfully).

Nevertheless, I can introduce myself to people as a writer because of the intensive amount of work I've put into developing my craft over the last few years. Whether people like my work or not, I consider myself much less amateur than I was in high school because I'm more disciplined now. When I think about my sophomore year in high school taking film and creative writing electives, I was an undisciplined reader and writer guided by my own naïveté. Like most immature fanboys, I had fantasies of publishing a novel by the time I graduated. I figured it would be a big hit, get a movie adaptation almost instantly, and I'd be rich and famous by the time I was in my mid-20s. Haha. While I did get about 40 pages or so into that story, plus various outlines and character sketches, the final product was ultimately a disaster which showcased my ignorance of how the world worked. When I realized that embarking on a project that was on such a massive scale was the worst mistake an amateur could make, I started to lower my expectations and set more realistic goals for myself. Through a combination of this mentality and by applying my work ethic to my writing, I am now the Technician Features Editor. And through Technician, I've been able to connect with a number of writers and filmmakers in the Raleigh area who are way more skilled and experienced than I am. I keep in touch with a lot of them on a regular basis, and I enjoy getting feedback from them on my work.

I'm still lightyears away from where I want to be, but no one can say that I'm not putting the work in. My only regret is that I wish I had been more disciplined when I was younger. All too often, I see people who call themselves writers never produce anything and spend all their free time on Facebook and Twitter. The worst is when they post status updates where they brag about all the cool ideas they have. FYI, every writer gets ideas which never make it to the page. To me, there's no reason to gloat until a work is complete. I wrote a 20 page screenplay for a short film in the span of 4 days last month and didn't post one status about it. Once I finished I sent it to people for feedback, but only when the first draft was complete. There's nothing wrong with showing excerpts to people, but boasting about a project before one word is written is pointless. You have nothing to celebrate until the work is either in progress or complete.

But back to my main point: if you call yourself a writer, then WRITE! It's that simple. Stop making it a hobby which you casually do, and instead make it a craft which you practice on a DAILY basis.

Last summer, I discovered that taking summer classes was an effective way of sucking the life out of me. It didn't help that I was getting my math credits out of the way. I decided that taking an extra year of college was more beneficial for me than enduring another session of summer school. I realized that I need summers to work on projects which I don't have time for during the school year, as well as read what I want to instead of what I'm assigned in lit courses. That said, I don't really mind that I'll be graduating in 2017 instead of 2016. For some reason though a lot of people think I'm older and were asking me if I was a Senior this year. My guess is it's the beard.

This summer however, I attended ConCarolinas in Charlotte back in May. There I attended panels, got my copy of A Game of Thrones autographed by George R.R. Martin himself, and talked with comic book legend Tommy Lee Edwards. It was fanboy paradise. Not only that, but I was inspired to really embrace my creativity and pursue the stories which I was passionate about.

That said, I've accomplished a lot over the last few months by actually utilizing the time on my hands. While I've spent a lot of time writing and editing for Technician and am in the office two nights a week (we run a weekly issue during the summer), I use the day to work on scripts and study  comics and films. I also have to keep up with emails and other administrative duties as editing is a management position.

Another factor which has helped my writing lately is being on a consistent schedule. I used to take every chance I could get to sleep in till noon. This habit led to me being mostly unproductive during the summer. Now however, I'm up at 8:00 AM everyday during the week. Since my caregivers leave at 10 and it takes me 2 hours to get ready, I can't sleep past 8. Once I'm up and ready and have eaten breakfast, I then walk my dog, read the paper, spend time in the Word and pray, and then write until lunch. If I'm working on a screenplay, I shoot for 5 pages a day. And since I'm concentrating on shorts at the moment, it's definitely feasible to knock out a script in a week. I even wrote a short comic script in a day earlier this summer. It started just as an exercise I was working on at Barnes & Noble; and by the end of the day I had a concise short. Setting a schedule for myself has helped me conquer writer's block. FYI writer's block is just a term we as humans have invented to excuse ourselves from getting work done. Discipline yourself to the point where you are on a steady writing schedule, and I promise you it will make it much easier to get into "the zone".

You might think that this kind of lifestyle keeps me from having a life. If you assume this, you're wrong. While I do put heavy emphasis on my work, I still make time for friends, family, church, getting out, and of course binge-watching Parks and Rec on Netflix. Yes I'm a nerd, and you might say I spend too much time watching movies and reading comics. Being a true writer requires long hours of intense work in order to develop one's skills. There are no shortcuts. Applying oneself is the only way to become a good writer. If your sole motivation is money, you're qualified to write a screenplay for a Michael Bay or Brett Ratner movie; but I hope you have higher aspirations than that.

Ok, I think I've rambled enough for today. If I can do this, so can you. So stop waiting around for an idea or story to pop into your head. Get your lazy butt off the couch and write!

P.S. here's a list of what I've been watching and reading lately:

MOVIES: anything by Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, James Gunn, Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater, I also saw Snowpiercer which I would highly recommend

TV SHOWS: The Strain, Arrow (took me some time to get into but it definitely improved over time), Parks and Recreation, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, finished Breaking Bad, looking to start True Detective soon

BOOKS/COMICS: "Different Seasons" by Stephen King, Scott Snyder's Batman, Mark Waid's Daredevil, anything by Mark Millar, Dan Slott's Spider-Man, and Brian Michael Bendis' Guardians of the Galaxy

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blackout (Short Story)

Written by Kevin W. Schaefer 

     Wisps of morning air pierced John's face as he trod down the steps of the subway station. Still groggy after having been rudely awaken in the middle of the night by a ferocious thunderstorm, it was as though the last two months of vacation had been nothing more than a long weekend. Nevertheless, John did long for a taste of Jersulan autumn, and to see the silver sparks emanating from the planet's crescent moons once more. After three years in the program, Earth became increasingly alien to him; while the world he would soon return to was the one he called home. 

     It had been three years since his old life had vanished in the blink of an eye. John could still remember the tears on Anne's frazzled face on that dismal day as he said goodbye to her. She couldn't fathom why he called off the engagement, as he had already been in the Marines for over two years at the time. She knew the risks. He had been overseas and she knew very well he'd be gone for long periods of time. 
John don't do this to me! I know the sacrifices you'll be making. I know the risks and I wanna take them with you. Please don't leave me! 

     But she didn't know what she was talking about. Nor was there a way John could tell her. He was forbidden to. The minute he had enlisted in the Alliance he had sworn to never tell anyone back home what he was doing. The world simply wasn't ready to know that there was life out there. Sector 91 had been government classified since its formation, and would remain that way unless Earth was threatened. 

     John was assigned to defend an extraterrestrial civilization, as a means for the humans to build relations with various species. They had already acquired numerous allies and were continuing to gain support across the galaxy. And they couldn't have done it without John. 

     Before Sector 91, the idea of a superhuman wasn't thought possible. Yet all that was needed for it to become a reality were the proper resources and exactly the right DNA structure. Once the technology was developed, the government had been searching relentlessly for the one person who could handle the transfusion. Thousands of chemicals entering a person's cellular system, transforming every layer of their biogenetic structure. 

    John remembered the overwhelmingness and the surge of energy flowing through his veins the first time he flew. Gushes of wind brushed past his face as he soared across the ferocious skies. The spirit of a lion's roar echoed inside of him when he first exercised his super strength. His soul ran free as his childhood fantasies were at last realized. All those summer nights he'd spent stargazing, longing for a glimpse of the world above, his was now greater than anything he had ever imagined. 

     The memory of his first time stepping foot on Jersula's surface was as vivid and crisp as the day it happened. He could feel the briskness of the wind upon his body as he gazed upon the vast expanse of landscapes and starlit palaces. It was as though the planet was an unending display of magnificence and beauty, that resonated with John in an almost spiritual manner. Jaded by his humanity and sheer ignorance of otherworldly affairs, John Mathis was once a foreigner to the Jersulan people. Only now did he at last feel a sense of belonging among them. 

     As the herds of bustling citizens brushed past one another, frantically trying to get to their jobs or wherever it was that they were compelled to go, John could not help but wish that they knew what was out there. It was not that they were limited by their humanity, but rather that many of them had forgotten or simply didn't know how to truly live. 

     John pitied this swarm of middle-class citizens and street wanderers deeply, for he could still remember when he was once one of them; bound to endure the same realm of mediocrity as those who had come before him. It was only until Jersula when a breath of intoxicating fragrance renewed his inner senses, transforming the washed up soldier into a warrior for the very first time. 

     And though he enjoyed reuniting with his elderly mother and younger brother these past few months, experiencing feelings of nostalgia and comfort along the way, he could not deny that Earth simply didn't compare with the sense of awe he felt on Jersula. He had missed the sight of a thousand sunsets glistening in the sky, juxtaposed with the array of colors from the surrounding systems. He had missed that inexplicable jolt of energy as he entered the deepest layers of space, naming the countless stars as he made his way across. Now as he passed a flustered businessman in his mid-forties who was too busy to look up from his smartphone, John found himself quite ready for another adventure. But most of all, he missed Dea. 

     Three months without seeing her had felt like an eternity, each day longer than the one before. Dea's beauty was as pure and angelic as it had always been, evoking the essence of Aphrodite in all the goddess' glory. John could almost feel her gentle touch enrapturing his senses as he felt the warmth of her sweet embrace. He remembered the inexplicable joy he felt as he gazed into her bluish eyes and stroked her long hair, which rested at the edges of her shoulders. Though as he continued to reminisce, he was once again reminded of why they couldn't be together. The painful truth stared him in the face, despite his best efforts to deny it. Not only did Inara hail from the planet Tybylon as a representative to the Federation, but she was like John bound to her duties. While relations were not forbidden among its members, they were highly dis-encouraged; particularly inter-species ones. Nevertheless, John had thought about her much these past few months, and was eager to break past these barriers. As he envisioned her greenish skin glowing in the midst of a cluster of otherworldly beings, John had at last resolved to tell her how he felt upon his return. 

     John took advantage of the morning rush as the distracted citizens made it easier for him to teleport unnoticed. 

     The only difficulty with the Jersulan method of teleportation was that it couldn't be done from any location. Specified coordinates in secluded areas nonetheless made it harder for enemies to obtain and use the technology. In this case, a vacant section of a subway was the perfect setting in which to execute this form of transportation. 

     As he entered the dusty and confined space, John could smell puffs of smoke fuming out of an old bum's cigar from just a few yards away. The subway reeked of beer cans, cigarettes and half empty pizza boxes. And to think, John's time on Earth was intended to be a vacation. The filthy sights and smells that were currently enrapturing his senses made him all the more anxious to leave the planet at once. 

     Connecting his wristband to a wired circuit at the edge of a slightly concealed outlet, John whispered a password into the wristband's implanted receiver. 


     Instantly, a bluish light emanated from John's exterior as waves of electromagnetic energy pulsated through every layer of his body. Feeling the surgical force coursing through his veins, John simply watched as his arms vanished from sight until his entire self had disappeared. The other passengers barely looked up from their newspapers and cellular devices to witness the marvel that had just occurred. 

     It was only a matter of seconds before John found himself standing on the edge of Jersula's capital city, eager to absorb the radiance of its crystal palace. How he had longed these past two months to abide in this realm of angelic magnitude once more, and to be merely touched by the shimmers of light emanating from the central moon. 

     Yet as a gust of wind pinched the edges of his raggedy beard, John could not help but notice an eery mist entering the atmosphere. This was not the world he remembered. Surely there was a malfunction with his teleportation device. 

     Opening his eyes, he saw shades of gray eroding from the depths of a murky surface. Screams echoed in the distance as swarms of shadowy figures lurked beneath the edge of an elaborate precipice. Gazing into the exterior of Jersula's central palace from afar, shivers of fear rolled down the man's spine as he could not fathom what lay before his eyes. 

     Instead of a fine display of Jersulan architecture gleaming in the midst of the twilit landscape, the palace was now a militaristic fortitude, enhanced by its blackened walls and the multitude of stormtroopers filing in and out. Illuminated by the darkened skies and encircled by a vast display of towering skyscrapers, it was as though a series of clandestine events had taken place during the superhuman's absence. 

     Yet what was even more strange were the numerous signs John saw dispersed throughout the city. Each bore the face of what appeared to be some sort of militaristic leader, marked by an exceedingly stern expression and a brutal scar which extended from just above his right eye down to the tip of his lower lip. Although he had ascertained that the figure was not of Jersulan descent, John could not quite identify his exact species. He knew of the Tybylonian system which neighbored this planet, though it inhabited a multitude of extraterrestrial races. Yet as he gazed into the fiery eyes of this figure's monstrous face, and examined its ogre-like features protruding its skin, horrific thoughts entered John's mind as he considered where this being may have hailed from. 

     As he recalled memories of the extensive training he underwent several years before, one regarding the fearsome Zinevite Empire came to mind. Stories had been told to him of the Federation's war with this savage civilization long ago, and how all relations between them had been diminished for decades. Yet as John considered the transformed city before his eyes and the vicious face which was displayed at every turn, a terrible revelation came to him swiftly and without warning. Unable to admit it, the thought merely lingered for a moment as a question in his mind. 

     Was it really possible the planet had suffered an invasion in just a few months time? 
John was aware of the time bridge between Earth and Jersula; two months on Earth was the equivalent of six on this world. And there had already been a series of attacks by unknown forces prior to his departure. 

     Maybe I shouldn't have gone after all. 

     But he was compelled to. The government had to ensure that John's loved ones thought he was still a Marine. As such he could only be deployed at one time for so long. 
Before he could contemplate this any longer or dwell upon the guilt he was feeling, a hushed voice called to him from a few yards away, trying not to attract any unwanted attention. 

     "John Mathis! This way!" 

     Unsure of whether or not to trust this stranger, he quickly deduced that there were few other options at his dispense. He decided that were it an enemy, they'd have attacked without hesitation. Resolving to move towards the shadowy figure, he removed his plasma blaster from its holster and kept it at the ready. 

     As he reached the street corner where this voice had called from, John stood before a shroud of a figure, hunchbacked and with elaborate horns emanating from each side of its furry head. Although possessing a pair of beastly eyes and wearing a fine display of war-torn armor, the creature nonetheless struck John as a gentle being at first glance, even before he uttered another word from his enchantingly soft voice. 

     "John Mathis of Earth, I am Igor, a refuge of the planet Zineveh, sent to protect you from Imperial forces. Come with me and we shall talk more." 

     With nowhere else to turn, John instinctively followed Igor through a series of bleak alleys and abandoned streets, until at last they reached the edge of a sewage system at the end of an elongated pathway. 

     Prior to descending a ladder as part of an elaborate network of tunnels and sewers, and venturing into the depths of an underground base, Igor had confirmed John's suspicions of an invasion at the hands of the Zinevite Empire. Though they had not yet occupied the entire planet, they had acquired control of its capital city, causing the Federation great distress. And once they had done this, they had access to the Jersulan council's communication system. By the time this had happened, it was too late for the Federation to contact Earth and summon John.

     "Emperor Manasseh is perhaps the most vicious of the planet's leaders, and you are currently his greatest threat." 

     Igor's words pierced John in a manner unlike he had ever felt before. Though he had been assigned to protect an extraterrestrial civilization three years ago, it wasn't until now that he felt the tremendous burden of that responsibility crashing down upon him. Even with a resistance forming here, John knew that the magnitude of this conflict would continue to escalate long before they could put a dent in the imperial conquest. 

     As they pushed through swarms of cobwebs and a series of crevices speckled with blood, John and Igor then entered a narrow corridor. At the edge of it lay a series of dusty chambers, each intertwined by one another. 

     Pivoting himself against one of the middle chambers, Igor announced their arrival as he opened its wooden door. 

     "I have brought with me the human John Mathis." 

     His voice echoed across the corridor as they entered into a confined and dimly lit space where a crowd of refugees gathered. Peering into the eyes of the Jersulans who were huddled together here in a state of pure desperation, John saw everything from broken families and orphaned children, to widowed mothers and warriors with shattered souls. These images penetrated him even further. 

     Yet amidst the herds of broken spirits who were now looking to John for a mere shred of hope, the weary warrior was at last uplifted at the sight of his two dearest companions. 
"Dea! Charles!" 

     John shouted their names in ecstasy as they ran toward one another. 

     As their eyes met, John could sense an abundance of emotion swelling within Dea's heart. No words were said between them as they embraced.

     "Your presence is most welcome sir." 

     Though robotic in its delivery, Charles' voice possessed a certain essence of humanity that made the creature all the more intriguing. Bearing a military like stature which dictated the principles of his functioning, the android was without a doubt John's most trusted and faithful servant. Having aided him in dozens of assignments and supplied him with a wealth of intelligence, Charles had the privilege of not being subjugated to the complexities of human emotion. Though overtly logical, the manner in which he was programmed was exactly what John needed. 

     "I am delighted to see you as well my friend, though I do wish it were under better circumstances." 

     At this, Igor was quick to assume the crowd's attention. 

     "As do all of us here John. Though now is not the time for dwelling upon our current circumstances. Now we must act swiftly if we are to repel this invasion." 

     Meeting the eyes of the distressed victims within this cavernous hideout, John was forced to accept the truth of what had transpired. The lights had gone out and the spirit of liberty had vanquished, overshadowed by an eery mist steadily creeping upon those who opposed its power. And for John there was no turning back. Ensnared within the ghostly realm laid down by this villain, his only means of return was to fight for these people. Eroded by the flames of war, Jersula's fate now hinged upon the bewildered spirit of this one guardian from afar. 

     "We break at Dawn. If we are to repel this invasion we must assault the capital as soon as possible. General Abachadnezzar is already preparing a fleet to strike from the North. John and I will lead our squadrons to the gate. We can reduce Manasseh's forces if we keep them contained inside the city." 

     Igor's determination and ability to lead were essential to their victory. John was grateful to have the Minotaur-like beast at his side. 

     As night fell, John stationed himself in a secluded corner of the base, anxiously preparing for battle. Smells emanating from a nearby campfire enraptured his senses, enabling him to preserve the fragmented portions of energy remaining within him. As fumes of smoke rose, protruding his bloodshot eyes, John realized he had been up for close to eighteen hours. It would've been well past midnight on Earth. Though he had arisen just after Dawn, the day's events were no more than a blur jumbling through the layers of his subconscious. 

     Dea approached the weary warrior from behind, her footsteps quieter than the softest whisper; though her cunningness was no match for John's training and expertise. He could've heard her coming from a mile behind. 

     "I know why you're here. You know me well enough to know what I'm thinking." 
"I know your thoughts because my race has telepathic abilities. I just don't use them often." 

     "I'd prefer you didn't at all." 

     "John let's be real. I know how you've felt about me for a long time. And you've known my answer for just as long." 

     Now the two were facing one another. John gazed into Inara's eyes as waves of emotion overtook him, ready to be unleashed. The alien had come to acquire an understanding of human nature, as she could sense his yearning for her to understand and his resentment toward her for putting him in this situation. 

     "You don't know what could happen! Dea just give me a chance!" 

     "John you and I both know how it would end for us. What future could we possibly have together?" 

     "We could be together Dea! That's the point! I won't be a soldier forever. We could go away together, one day." 

     "One day John, you won't be here any longer. And I will." 

     Her words punctured his heart in a manner that was as sharp and brutal as they were delivered. What made it even harder to bear was the fact that they were true. John would be long gone before Dea reached the early stages of her youth. She had a lifespan in the thousands, one that was hardly befitting for a mere mortal such as John. 

     There wasn't much left to say after that. Though Dea did her best to conceal the tears streaming down her cheeks, neither her nor John could bear the heartbreak each were experiencing. 

     The alien lowered her head in deep remorse as she walked away from the shattered spirit of her would be lover. Though she could not feel the same way he did, she sensed the same emptiness within her soul as the distance between them remained heavy upon her heart. 

     John thought to call after her; but to what avail? Though she stood only a few yards away, they were worlds apart. A love between them was as much a fantasy as John acquiring eternal youth. If their lifespans didn't keep them apart, their duties would. There would always be another mission, another planet to save, another warlord to vanquish; while the only unresolved conflict that would remain was John's lonely soul. 

     Eclipsed by Dea's in fathomable otherworldliness, John was merely a speck in this jungle of a universe.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What I've Been Up To Lately

Hello friends. If you're reading this, I want to first apologize for my lack of posts these past few months. It's been a rather tiresome semester, and I am beyond relieved to have a few weeks off over Christmas break. Though I haven't had much time for blogging, I have done plenty of writing nonetheless. Between film essays, screenwriting, prose fiction, and the weekly Technician articles, I feel like I could fill a short book with everything I've written this semester. You can find all my latest movie reviews and other articles here: I've done a lot of writing about pop culture lately, now that I'm on the Features staff.

In addition to my writing and school, I am also heavily involved with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at NC State and Meredith. I'm co-leading a men's Bible study with my friend Ben, who was my leader last year. I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these guys, and I look forward to another semester with them. Anytime you see God work in the lives of others, it's always something indescribable. And He's done quite a lot in me recently. A few months ago I had a bad fall while I was getting ready to take a shower. I was bleeding heavily, and my Dad had to wait with me until the paramedics came. Fortunately everything worked out, and I recovered within a few weeks. While times like that are never fun, they do make you realize how much all of us need God in our lives. I know I forget it all too often, and it occasionally takes a wake-up call such as this for me to remember.

Back in October I had the pleasure of co-writing and producing a short film with some friends for NC State's Campus Movie Fest. This is an annual competition in which student teams are tasked with making a movie of 5 minutes or less in a week. It was a great experience, and our film made the top 16! Having it shown on the big screen was pretty sweet, and I look forward to participating in CMF in the years to come. Here's the link to our film: When my friend James (who directed the film) came to me with the idea about an old guy hanging out with college students, I knew that I wanted in. With a great cast and crew, we were able to make something which I'm rather proud of. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a long career in film.

In fiction writing this semester, I wrote a sci-fi story about a superhuman agent who returns from vacation to find that the alien world he's assigned to protect has been overrun by an intergalactic warlord in his absence. It is also a love story, and I definitely intend to continue with this project in the future. Whether I tell it through comics or screenplays (or both), I'm eager to see where this story will go and how the character will evolve.

When I'm not writing, I usually hang out with friends on the weekends and chill on campus. Over break I'm looking forward to reading whatever I feel like and not something assigned to me. I'll probably have time to do more blogging as well.

Well, now that I've done my fair share of internet rambling, I guess it's time to go back to my comic book collection and enjoy what time I have off. Farewell friends and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wolverine

Dir. James Mangold

After a mediocre summer of flashy blockbusters and over bloated action movies, The Wolverine is a refreshingly compelling comic book film and a nice addition to the X-Men franchise. Being more of a character study than an explosive epic between heroes and villains, James Magold's adaptation of the comic book miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller delivers quality entertainment for fans and casual moviegoers alike.

Opening in WW2 Japan as the nuclear bombs are being dropped on Nagasaki, the first heroic feat we see Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) perform is saving a young soldier named Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) from being annihilated. As his instant healing abilities enable him to be unharmed by the massive blast, the image we see of him here is both gloriously mythological and dynamic in its execution. This intro provides a solid gateway into the film's overarching plot.

The story then shifts to years later as our hero has been hiding in the wilderness for some time (this takes place after the events of X-Men:The Last Stand). Struggling to cope with the death of his former lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Logan's nostalgia and internal struggles are portrayed here through a film noir style which Mangold executes brilliantly. As his animalistic instincts guide him, Logan is torn between his destiny and his longing for a normal life. We then meet a warrior named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who informs Logan that Yashida is on his deathbed and wishes to say goodbye to him and thank him once more. Grudgingly, the washed-up mutant soldier accompanies her to Tokyo.

From there, the film is centered around the struggles and civil disputes within Yashida's corporate empire. As Logan finds himself in the middle of this conflict, he is determined to protect Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamato) from the capitalistic monsters seeking to kill her; while confronting his own demons in the process.

Unlike the failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this film is a much more thoughtful examination of the character. The main question posed to Logan is would he be better off a mortal. Having lived for over a hundred years and watched all his loved ones perish, death appeals more and more to him every day. While this flick contains plenty of action, the heart of the conflict is more internal and symbolic.

James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) demonstrates his understanding of both comic books and film noir. Whether it's his utilization of the cinematography by Ross Emery or the juxtaposition of Wolverine's nightmares with his not so different reality, this is quality storytelling.

Furthermore, the screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank correlates well with Mangold's vision. With solid pacing and well crafted dialogue, one of its highlights is the romance that ensues between Logan and Mariko. Rejecting the love at first sight cliché, this is instead a nicely developed relationship which provides a good subplot. Even with an excess of supporting characters and a ridiculous conclusion, the story provides the basis for the film's entertainment and intrigue.

Needless to say, Hugh Jackman's fifth time portraying this pop-culture icon (not counting his cameo in First Class) is as stellar as ever. His embodiment of the character is especially great here as the film centers around his internal conflicts. Okamato, Fukushima, and a list of other Japanese actors and actresses also deliver compelling performances in their respective roles. While a couple of the villains were slightly less developed than others (a seductive assassin named Viper is pretty much the Marvel version of Poison Ivy), the cast is very effective nonetheless.

While the X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs, The Wolverine has a lot to offer and definitely ranks among the better films in this series. Although I still like First Class and X2 better, this one's worth seeing. Also be advised to stay for a post-credits scene which you don't wanna miss.