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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Rim

Not del Toro's best, but a very enjoyable flick nonetheless.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man of Steel

Proof that an awesome trailer does not guarantee an awesome movie. Read my review here on Technician's website:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

My review for this film has been published in Technician. Follow this link to read it on our website:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3


Dir. Shane Black

This third installment in the popular franchise is a satisfactory, decent kickoff to this year's string of summer blockbusters. While no match for the cleverness and fluidity of the first film in 2008, Shane Black makes a valiant effort to give the Marvel character a darker and more compelling edge.

Opening with a voice over by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the superhero/cocky philanthropist remains altogether traumatized by the events which took place in The Avengers. With his opening line being "We create our own demons", the head of Stark Enterprises recounts his first encounter with a rival by the name of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in the late 90s. Also revisited is a brief love affair with botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), which comes back to bite him in this story.

Now posing a threat for Iron Man and the rest of the country is a Bin Ladin like terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Plagued by threats of national security as well as his own internal conflicts, this iconic hero is driven most by the love of his life Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow). In a battle of epic proportions, the stakes are the highest we've seen yet for Iron Man (at least on the big screen).

Following the forgettable sequel of 2010, it was certainly refreshing to see Black bring a new and gritty vision towards this film. With the director of the first two (Jon Favreau) serving as Executive Producer of this one, a definite correlation between his style and Black's proves to be effective. Nevertheless, trying to bridge the gap between gritty and comical does present some noticeable problems. For instance, the fight sequences are mixed with nicely composed shoot outs (evidence of Black's work with Lethal Weapon), followed by pretty corny images of Mandarin's henchmen breathing fire. Some will think that cool, I found it a bit too much.

Another evident drawback of the film is the editing. It unfortunately feels very Michael Bayish at points through rapid pacing and some pretty sloppy shots. This inevitably creates a distraction at points that are intended to be really engaging.

While Black and Drew Pearce's script is not without its flaws, it nonetheless ties the loose ends of the previous installments in a very coherent manner. Through emphasis on Stark's shattered psychological state of mind, it is a unique script for a comic book movie in that it makes effective use of subplots. Further developing the relationship between Tony and Pepper opens doors for some well crafted dialogue. The story also continues to utilize the military ties of Tony's right hand man Col. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), even though his suit is way cooler in the last one.

Parts where the script could've improved on, in my opinion, would be with the introduction and background of Killian's character. One of the highlights of the first film is how effectively Favreau and the screenwriters depict Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) as the antagonist. For once, there's a comic book bad guy that doesn't come out at the beginning and say "hey I'm the villain". I feel like Black and Pearce tried so hard to match that when they were writing the scenes with Killian. Attempting to live up to the original is always a problem with sequels.

Fortunately, despite the more gritty tone of the film, the Tony Stark we all know and love remains as cocky and careless as ever. This of course leaves room for Downey Jr. to deliver a string of unforgettable one liners in the same manner as he's done before. Having embraced the character so dynamically, the chemistry between him, Paltrow and Cheadle is all the more vibrant. Needless to say, Pearce and Kingsley also give effective performances, stepping into the villain's shoes without fear and possessing a wealth of imagination.

Overall, Iron Man 3 is an enjoyable, nicely crafted sequel that effectively pays tribute to the original. While disappointing at times, it nevertheless makes for a solid Friday night flick.