Saturday, August 22, 2009

District 9 Review and Commentary on Racial Representation

It's 3 am, I'm in New York visiting for the weekend, it's hot as hell, and I can't sleep. I saw District 9 a week ago and have been meaning to write a review, so I figure now is as good a time as any.

It is refreshing to go to the movies and see something that is new and unexpected in both form, story, and message. I was completely dazzled (I must be, right? It's a week later and I'm thinking about the movie at 3 o'clock in the morning!). It was one of those things where I went in expected to be surprised. Kind of like Seven Pounds, where the advertising campaign is run on the secrecy technique and everybody says they can't tell you about the movie because it'd spoil the whole thing. That is how I felt going in to this. So, in that sense, I wasn't surprised, because I was expecting the unexpected. But I can say that I was expecting something original, and original is what I got.

Without giving away too much of the movie, I'd say the movie shines in its character development. The main character makes a complete 360 (in more ways than one) and it is interesting and extremely compelling to watch the process. In addition, the alien creatures are made so that we relate to and feel for them moreso than in any other alien movie I've seen (I guess besides ET). This is probably because in a lot of other movies, the aliens are the bad guys. In this one they're...well, they're almost human. The fact that by the end of the film you feel more connected to something completely computer generated and that doesn't speak a language that could ever be muttered by human tongue is a great achievement.

From a writer's standpoint, I truly appreciate the creativity in the little things. I remember when, during my screenwriting class this past Spring, my teacher (Adam Tobin) critiqued the first act of a horror screenplay I was working on. The scene was one where the main character's ex-husband went crazy in the middle of their divorce settlement meeting. I had him do some regular, run-of-the-mill craziness like shoving a pencil through someone's eye or bashing his own head in with his fist. Adam suggested that I go for original: we've already seen that in movies, especially the horror genre. He said, for example, maybe character could start to chew his own fingers off or something. That creepy little piece of advice stuck with me. And it rang in my head again and again when watching District 9. There were so many things that could have been made into your everyday action flick occurrence, but there were noticeable points where I know the writers were having fun with it. Think laser-room scene from Resident Evil, but less in-your-face and riddled throughout. Maybe it's just the writer in me, but I suspect not. I think a lot of people will remember a lot of parts from this movie.

There is one issue I should address and it was sparked by a discussion on a list from my alma mata, Stanford: racial representation. I walked away thinking that, besides being a kickass bout in originality, a solid social commentary on apartheid. Others focused more on the representation of Africans (Nigerians, specifically) in the movie. They are depicted as savages, more or less, and do things like practice voodoo, inter-species prostitution, and barter illegally with the aliens. I can understand how people could cringe at the portrayals (honestly, while watching it, I lightheartedly thought myself 'well, this just set Nigerians back a hundred years), but I saw it as being creative. The director is from South Africa and that's where the setting was: Africa (and where the setting needed to be to bring light to the real analogous issue: apartheid). Fact is, wherever you go, human nature is corruption. If the movie took place in America, there would be the same negative connotations with Americans, but the director wanted to reflect a real problem in a fashion that would make it to the general public, and hence the setting. And instead of walking on eggshells because he was working with blacks, he kept it real.

I think that white people were actually portrayed worse in this movie. Like a lot of movies, they are the ones pushing for domination over 'lesser races' and their lust for power makes them do despicable things. This is actually seen in a LOT of movies, but I think people overlook that. In this movie, our image of the average white American male is the REAL antagonist. I think that this movie was just real with itself and its audience about what COULD happen and I'm glad for that. I do realize, however, that, combined with ignorance, some people could step away with just one more stereotype about what they think the black race is all about. But that's all around us already and hopefully people will take away the brighter message.

Well, guys, I think (hope, pray) maybe I can sleep now. It's been fun and, if you haven't yet (hell, even if you have), go see District 9!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Death Valley, Part 2 (Halo Fan-Fiction written in 2004)

A cluster of about three Elites began pointing to the hills and yelling out in their alien language. My cover is blown, thought Weathers. The Elites signaled to another group of aliens on the opposite end of the valley, and they began to approach his hiding spot from both angles. Realizing their comrade was in danger, the Marines refocused their gunfire on them, but they only took out one in six, and he had already been wounded and weak. His lifeless body was quickly forgotten as his brothers pursued Weathers. Weathers figured he could take out about two or three of them before having to resort to close combat tactics. As plasma fire whizzed all around him, Weathers aimed and squeezed the trigger twice. Two Elites fell. He rotated his gun and sent the head of another Elite flying. They were close now, three of them, and a sniper rifle was not sufficient for close combat. Weathers abandoned his rifle, pulling out twin .50 caliber Desert Eagles from their holsters. Weathers loved these guns, not because the bullet packed enough punch to easily penetrate any alien shield created to date, but because they made a tiny explosion once lodged into the victim's body. Two well placed shots and one of the Elites tumbled head over heels, the exploding bullets making huge voids in his abdomen and right arm. He lay at the Marine's feet, a bloody blue mess, and Weather's could see the slushy terrain through his body. Two left. Weathers ducked and dodged, barely avoiding an array of plasma fire, and unloaded his clip on the closest Elite. The Elite stumbled, but continued toward him, his left shoulder popping from the small explosion and leaving his arm, still twitching, on the ground below. Weathers stood his ground. At the last second, the Elite let out a roar of defeat and his body fell at the Marine's feet, spraying blue blood over his shoes.

Weathers expertly released the empty clips from the two handguns and they fell to the ground. The next Elite was closing in on him and he had also run out of ammo, but was wielding the alien blade in its place. Weathers unclipped a fragmentation grenade from his belt and plucked off the pin with his thumb. Wait for it, wait for it, he thought as the Elite ran him down, a look of pure evil in his alien eyes. Weathers could see the creature's mandibles quivering and he watched as his armored claw, clenching the blade, rose up into the air, ready to strike. The Elite jutted his head forward right before contact and opened his mouth in a roar. Weathers had expected this, as it was a common act of their kind in battle. Displaying lightning quick speed and agility, he sidestepped the charging Elite and shoved the fragmentation grenade down his throat, muffling his war cry. The Elite stumbled and fell, his blade coming down on air as Weathers jumped to the side and rolled behind the rock that had provided him cover earlier. A deafening explosion could be heard as the grenade detonated. Weathers covered his head as dirt, blue blood, and pieces of Elite flesh rained down on him. He spotted the Elite's dagger lying before him and pocketed it, figuring it would come in good use. He looked up and diverted his gaze to the valley below. There was still a fight to be won.

The Marines had fought hard, but they were simply outnumbered and the Covenant were of a more powerful race. Two Marines were left, fighting for their lives among the dead. There were seven Elites still alive and they were fighting relentlessly, as if they were going against a group of one hundred. They had no mercy for the humans and would surely take the opportunity to kick them while they were down. It seemed hopeless to Weathers, but wait....

Weathers broke out into a run, descending down the hill, dodging plasma fire from the Elites who had spotted him. Weathers did not stop until he reached the downed drop ship, whose blazing flames had diminished since the beginning of the battle. He waved through the thick smoke and eyed the side door of the craft that was labeled "Equipment." If his memory served him well, what he sought should be here. This part of the ship had not been damaged and Weathers opened the compartment with ease. He shifted through the supplies that lay inside and came upon what he was looking for. The ML24 Heavy Duty Rocket Launcher, already loaded with two rockets. He quickly shouldered the newly acquired weapon and slowly approached the edge of the ship.

Crouching on one knee, Weathers rounded the corner of the aircraft and aimed into the cluster of Elites. While he had been fetching the rocket launcher, one of the two had been terminated, as Weathers could now see. There was no time to think about that and, once Weathers was sure of his shot, he fired the rocket and dove for cover. The rocket hit the middle Elite square in the chest, puncturing halfway through his body before detonating. The explosion was big, releasing a huge ball of fire and a blast that sent five Elites flying in all directions. One screaming body was propelled directly toward Weathers and he ducked just in time and heard a sickening crunch as the hull of the ship suddenly stopped the lifeless form. Bodies of Elites fell all around him and he could hear bones and cartilage breaking from the impact. One Elite landed right in front of him, his body burned to a crisp, his flesh still sizzling.

The remaining Marine, who had been smart enough to find cover during the blast, yelled out in joy and began to run toward Weathers, a look of relief on his face. "Watch out, Marine!" Weathers heard his own voice yell as a surviving Elite, enraged by the recent events, shot plasma fire furiously in their direction. Three plasma bullets hit and a look of pain, fear, and finally realization appeared on the Marine's face as he fell to the ground, blood bubbling up and out of his mouth. The Elite continued to fire and Weathers was struck in his side and he could feel and smell his skin and flesh burn. He swallowed his pain and focused on survival.

Weathers rolled out of the way of further plasma fire and grabbed the rocket launcher, aimed it, and fired. Before the Elite could even react, the rocket made contact with his head and blew him into a million pieces. An airborne piece of Elite flesh slapped against Weathers' cheek and he wiped it away in disgust, his hand now covered in blue alien blood.

Weathers stood up slowly, his side aching. He looked over the plasma wound briefly. Although it hurt more than anything he had ever experienced before, it didn't seem to be life threatening. Using his radio, he contacted the drop ship that hand flown him in. "Come in DarkStar 618. This is Sergeant Weathers. Prepare for pick up. The enemy threat has been eliminated and the area is clear. I....I'm the only one that made it."

"Roger, that," came the muffled reply through the headset. "Approaching your position. Sarge, we found something. Something unbelievable. If it gets in to the Elites hand, they could eliminate the human race. I'll brief you after pick-up."

Looking around, Weathers saw that the battle was over. But the war had just begun.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review: The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub

I first started this book when I was around 10 years old and didn't get far in it at all. I don't know the reason (actually, there were a few Stephen King books I started back then but never got around to finishing....maybe my brain just wasn't ready yet), but I picked it up again a few weeks ago and the ride has been awe-inspiring and a real testament of the imagination.

Meet Jack Sawyer, a 12-year-old boy who's tall for his age. At the age of 6 he had to deal with his father's death and now cancer is eating away at his once-Hollywood-star mother. In a hotel in New England he knows that his mother is waiting to die, and it seems like there is nothing in the whole damn world that he can do about it. Until he discovers that there is this other world waiting for him. This world where his mother is someone important and her death would be mean destruction and chaos. A world where Jack is the only one with the power to be the hero.

The Talisman is one boy's quest to find, well, a magical talisman to save his mother's life. He must do this by traveling from coast to coast while discovering horrors both in the world and the next--the Territories. The novel really shines in its imagination. Nothing is spared here--King and Straub bring out all the sparks. Every environment Jack encounters (and there are a lot) is rich in originality and just as scary in it grimy detail. And, surprisingly, some of the scariest things are found in this world rather than the next. And that is where the writing really hits home, when it's not some dark wizard, demented ghoul, or led astray werewolf that is terrorizes the town, but rather the good 'ole, reliable stench of human nature. The characters that Jack meet are all colorful and wholly distinguishable. From the bordlerline cowardly cousin who just can't for the life of him accept magic and parallel universes and all of the crazy stuff happening in front of his eyes, to the werewolf we come to have more of an emotional connection to than most humans we meet in novels, to the main villain, whose evil persona has no redeeming qualities: anything that was ever good in him died a long time ago. Even characters that are just passing by have memorable qualities and little unique quirks that show both the horror and glory of the human spirit.

This brings me to a point about characterization that I notice in a lot of King's works. His world is bad. And what I mean by this is humanity's ugliness exists in a lot of King's characters, and this book is no different. While in other novels/movies it seems that the majority of people a main character meets has more good than bad, it is backwards with King. Along the way, Jack comes across child molesters, crooked cops, men who beat their wives, their children, drug addicts, religious zealots that kill in the name of the lord, etc, etc, etc. Even other kids around Jack's age seem to have deep-rooted inherent evil. A typical character in this world is rough around the edges, has seen some pretty f'ed up things in their lives, and most likely looking out for themselves. This makes it so that the main villains have to REALLY do some crazy stuff to stick out in the reader's mind and anyone that is a genuinely good person/being also has a last effect. It comes to a point where the child molesters and wife-beaters almost become forgettable because they are the status-quo. It makes for an interesting read, but it makes me wonder about the King's background. I don't know how much this is attributed to Straub, but it's something I notice in a lot of King's works.

Or maybe the world isn't as sugar coated as I see it.

The writing is fantastic, as always. King has a way of going deep into his characters, sometimes veering off right at a heart-wrenching part to relate to some part of the character's past, often shedding a brand new light on what is happening in the present. Also, even though the book follows Jack Sawyer, it has little interludes where it switches to the perspective of other characters, sometimes the main villain himself.

One thing that I didn't care for so much was the use of time. King/Straub would often start a new chapter 3 or 4 days from where the last chapter (just a turn of a page) left off, with the main character in a completely different mindset because of the harrowing and yet-to-be-known events of the last few days. This makes for some heightened interest from the reader, but I often found myself confused and having to backtrack as the authors would almost go backward to catch the reader up. A lot of times during these points in the story I didn't know exactly at what point in the time lines the things that I was reading had happened. Fortunately, though, telling events in this fashioned wasn't used too much and were more so in the middle of the novel. Now that I think about it, it was almost like an experiment that the authors decided wouldn't be good for the whole book but decided to leave remnants of anyway.

All in all, without spoiling too much, The Talisman is a great read. The things that you will see in this book (and trust me, you WILL see them) will stretch and fold your imagination, sometimes making you cringe, sometimes making you laugh, and sometimes making you just have to take a break from reading for a moment, not because it's bad, but because your brain may need to recover from the overload. I'm glad I was able to finally finish the journey that I started some 10 years ago and my only regret is that it's over.

Introduction: Book and Movie Reviews

As an aspiring novelist and screenwriter, I need to read a lot of novels and screenplays and watch a lot of movies. That part is easy: I've been doing it all my life. The hard part is striking a good balance between making these experiences both enjoyable and productive. When i read a book or watch a movie, it is still from my pure, innate love for these creative devices. The immersion between the covers of a book (or beneath the screen of a Kindle...yes, I have gone over to the dark side and it is GLORIOUS). The excitement, thrill, or heartache when watching a movie. That's all still there for me, but I also need to be looking for how these pieces of art were birthed, formed, crafted. What makes them successful? For those that, well, suck (and I have vowed not to NOT finish a book, even if it sucks...because each is a learning experience), what about it didn't work for me? All of these factors add to my own growth as a writer/creative spirit.

Since I am totally new to this review process, my first ones will most likely be shaky. So I'm not going to apply 'scores' just yet, just express my feelings about each. I'll see how they come out and then I can make the decision on if I want to read around and through a lot of 'professional' reviews to adapt some sort of formal structure, or if I like my free thought just how it is.

Lastly, I will be reviewing things I have most recently watched/read. So that might be District 9 or Harry Potter 1 (if I decide to read through again). The goal right now isn't to make this into a place where you can find the latest and greatest book/movie reviews because, no matter how old, everything has something to offer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blubber Love Academy

When in Australia, we had the task of doing 'species cards' where we would put down information for five different species, of our choosing, and one of which we would do a 3-5 minute presentation on. And we could be creative. Well, I chose the polar bear and cooked up this lil performance same day. I had a powerpoint/slideshow, the pictures from which will be dispersed accordingly throughout the piece. I also had planted questions throughout the audience. The words I performed fast-paced because I wanted to stay within the timeframe, but it made for a spoken-word type thing. The crowd response (47 of my peers + about 10 faculty) was AMAZING. It made me start thinking about getting into entertainment/writing for entertainment. There's a video somewhere, I know, I just wonder if I'll ever see it....

(PS: Imagine Question #2 in a Middle Eastern was the guy's doing, not mine. But hilarious nonetheless).
(PPS: The picture at the end was one of our professors, Ove).
(PPPS: Best if you read the words fast in your head and apply Drill Sergeant voice).

Welcome to the Blubber-Love Academy, also known as the Navy Seals Academy. You are the newest recruits, the cream of the crop, the future of the seal race. And I...I am going to be your teacher, your instructor, your friend, your enemy, your lover and your mom until you are ready to go out in to the world.

But first...there is a monster out there, pups and puppettes. A ruthless one. A killer like the world has never seen before. And it likes blubber. It likes seals. It likes you.

Do not be fooled by this cuddly little fur ball. It is not a teddy bear. It does not follow santa around in his sleigh and drink bottle Co-Co Cola, ladies and gentleman, this is a vessle of war, a machine of teeth that will not hesitate to rip you from flipper to flipper.

Evolution has bit us all in the fin cus these monsters live where we live and move when we move. They only live on the perimeter of this ice pack we call home, cus we live here. And when the weather changes and we are forced to move they are right behind us. And they are the largest predator that lives on the land. And the male can be twice the size of a female. Scared? You should be. Nature has blessed us with the mother of them all.

The fact is that there is a 99.999...999...nineninenine % chance that you will die of polar bear attack. My job is to equip you with the knowledge to help you survive. (point to paws). See these here paws? Short and stocky, great for gripping heavy ice and prey, like you. They have 42 teeth –one-two-three-four, skip a few, 42 and each and every one wants to kill you. These creatures are the love child of Satan and Voldemort and can use their magic evil hocusy pocusy to smell you up to one mile away, even if you are snug in your ice home (that just happens to be 3 feet deep).

And why don’t we just go underwater to hide, you ask?

Because of this.

They can swim! It can swim at about 6 miles per hour and cannot move much faster because it overheats easily. That may not sound like much but it is when you are dead.

Question #1: Don’t they hibernate, tho? Like Winnie the Poooooh?

NO! Nature has budgie-smuggled us once again. Polar bears are active year-round. Some people say that they go on a diet for several months when the ice is lower but don’t let that calm you. In the winter they will just be hungry and waiting and you will look like a ham hock to a starved dog, tanned from the summer sun.

Now, the polar bear's most common hunting method is called still-hunting which I just called fucked up. I had a student named Buttbreath once that didn’t listen during this lecture and the next day he went swimming, right close to here and came out for some air. The polar bear with its ungodly sense of smell, crouching near the surface, waiting like a problem child fetus waiting for birth, got a whiff of his breath and snatched the little pup. Buttbreath, always the joker, you have to be funny if your breath smells like ass, tried to worm his way out. He put on his best Little Red Riding Hood voice and said “My, how great big teeth-“ That’s as far as he got. The beast bit ButtBreath’s head straight through, crunching it like dead leaves under Rosie Odonnell’s feet.


They also will stalk you. And, listen carefully: You will not see it. It will kill you. It will be on you before you know it, before you can breath, before you can think. How do you think I lost my eye? You’d think they wouldn’t be able to sneak up on a seasoned Navy Seal like meself, and you’re right to think that, but they have the power of invisibility!

(raises hand)

Yes, you there.

Question #2: My father told me that the reason you can’t see them is because they’re so stealthy and their transparent fur causes them to look white and to blend into the ice, so they appear invisible. But they’re not really invisible.

You can believe whatever fantasy mumbo jumbo you want but while you are here under my care, they’re invisible! You go by that and you can’t go wrong. And for all you studs out there looking to mate, the polar bears have been known to seek out AND raid female nests. But that’s their problem

Now, there have been some budget cuts from our main funder, March of the Penguins – they’re sympathetic with our cause – but I was able to get footage of a polar bear eating its prey. Beware, it is graphic.

Question #3: Do polar bears live at the South Pole, too?

Answer: No, they don’t

Same Questioner: Then why don’t we all just move there?

Ok, how about a question from someone who is using more than two brain cells. Yes, you there.

Question #4: So what do we do? What do we doooo?

I’m glad you asked that! Humans! I’ve been hearing from a very reliable source that Voldemort and Sauron’s army have been battling with Gandalf and Dumbledore and all their magical wastes are heating up the earth!!! As the ice melts the polar bears will have no where to live.

(raise hand)

Question #5: Won’t that be bad for us too?

I’m a fighter, not a fortune teller! Now where was I? Ah…yes! Soon the humans will come to the North Pole to try to fix their mess. My plan is for us to stay hidden as long as we can and then the polar bears will get hungry and hunt the humans.

And then seals will inherit the earth.

Any other questions? No. Good.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Video Games and Creativity

I was having a conversation with a friend last night about violence, video games (other platforms, too, but mostly video games), and raising children. The topic arose when I remembered a short story that I had written about 5 years ago, based in the Halo universe. I explained to her that Halo was a shooting game that I fell in love with in 2001, when I was only 14. She expressed her strong feelings that there would be no playing of violent video games in her household. I dissented heavily and, thus, a debate! And who doesn't love a good debate? All we needed was a judge to determine the winner, but since there wasn't one I will use my completely biased opinion and say that I ended up with the upperhand.

Her reasoning, like many others, was that violence in video games is glorifying and can 'nurture' young minds to think of such acts as fun, thrilling, and without consequence, therefore making them more likely to do such crimes in the future--in real life. She used examples like Columbine, where the killers were hardcore fans of the famously violent shooter--Doom. I even have my own example: the DC-Snipers used Halo--the very same that I love--to practice their sniping skills before their spree. In my rebuttal, I think that taking away video games is treating the symptom and not the core problem. If the Columbine killers didn't have Doom to play all the time (or were even devoid of violence in entertainment at all), they would still be able to hate due to the ridicule and teasing they endured at school. My argument is that it takes special minds to latch on to violence and not only love it, but transform it into something they want for the real world. Even if they didn't see violence on television, play violence in video games, or drool over those big budget shootouts in movies, their personalities would still latch on to any negativity around them. If they were walking down the street on a perfectly sunny day with bird-song and sweet air, they would only really feel joy when they'd see that poor squirrel get caught up in car-tires in the middle of the road.

Also, growing up in DC, I've more-so seen the people who have grown up around REAL violence and REAL consequences turn toward that kind of lifestyles themselves, so I'm not sure how much I agree with the notion that that no-consequence nature of video games has any negative effects. Again, it all comes down to some other, larger factor that will affect how these experiences are interpreted, digested, transmogrified.

I could go on about this, but I guess you get my point, whether you agree with it or not. In my opinion, the best strategy is moderation. This is because I believe that video games, television, movies, etc, etc, etc, add to the developing mind in some way, especially the creative mind. The first real short story I'd written was the Halo one, and you can find Part I right below this post. Halo didn't teach me how to write, but it did contribute to my pool of experiences. I don't want to offend anyone that has been in real combat, real battle, and I'm not trying to say in any way that playing such games gives me the perspective needed to imagine what the fear/exhilaration/heartache of war is really like, but I see it the same way that someone who writes science fiction probably read a lot of it in their youth. None of us have ever experienced what it's like to fight aliens, but we can experience what it's like to fight aliens in the imaginative worlds of others and, thus, add to our own creativity.

In the end, I'm not praising violence in videogames. I don't think that a game where you just pop people in the head to see how far the blood can shoot has any value. That's just violence to be violent. But a unique experience with a compelling story may have violence because that is a characteristic of that universe, just like a character in a book might curse profusely because, hey, people like that exist.

So, would I let my 14 year old play violent videogames? I'd let him play Halo. And if I see that he's reveling in the violence even after the console goes off, I'd think of it as a sort of blessing that I was able to detect that he has some much more innate problem that needs working on before it can develop further. It's moderation and monitoring. But hopefully that deeper issue won't exist and he'd get something out of it that could one day be valuable and, if not, at least fun. Besides, with the way video games are going with technology, in another 20 years the things our children will be playing will be so unique, immersive, etc, etc, etc, I wouldn't want to deny a blooming mind of such experiences.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Death Valley (Halo Fan-Fiction written in 2004)

Sparks of colorful light could be seen from miles away, with nothing but the stars to share witness of the mayhem that took place below. As the drop ship flew off into the night sky, the fading roar of its engines was replaced by the sound of battle, the sound of war. The night air was damp and humid, the rain pouring down in waves, making visibility poor, something that had not been considered beforehand. As the team drew closer to the battleground, cries of war and agony could be heard, the last screams of the slaughtered chilling the soul of all who listened. The soldiers, although equipped with the latest battle gear and the best technology that the United States Marine Corps had to offer, knew that their chances of survival were minimal. Some of them that had survived previous battles knew that much of it was based on luck and that this day their luck could surely run out. The ones who were about to engage in their first battle knew that their training could not possibly prepare them enough for what they were about to experience. They glanced at each other, some with fear in their eyes and others with bloodlust, and then looked ahead. The battle was just over this hill.

Approaching a jagged boulder jutting up from the soft earth, Sergeant Michael Weathers shouldered his PSG-1 sniper rifle and took cover at the very top of the hill. He hesitated for a moment as he looked on in awe at the scene in the valley below him. The awful sounds that he had heard were now supplemented with visuals, visuals that burn themselves into one's brain and stay as an inexorable memory for a lifetime. Thick, black smoke billowed from the small, raging fire that engulfed the downed UNSC ship, which lay wrecked in the middle of the ongoing battle. Scanning the area, Weathers saw that there were about six Marines that were still alive and fighting. They were using the smoldering ship as cover and dodging plasma fire from enemy weaponry. The Elites outnumbered them by a factor of three. They were smart creatures and seemed to be looking for a way to lure the surviving Marines from their cover. They were quick and agile, instantly shooting with dead-on accuracy at any soldier who could be seen through the cover. Bodies, of both Marines and Elites alike, lay scattered all over, red and blue blood covering the terrain below. Weathers could make out three small craters, one of which was still glowing green from the blast that created it. He figured that these were caused by fragmentation grenades, the last one a result of the alien explosive devices that were often utilized by the enemy Elites. Weather's deduction was proven correct as he noticed the several detached body parts littering the battleground. When he came into eye contact with a decapitated head of a fellow Marine, which stared at him, unblinking, unmoving, only dust and echoes reflected in its gaze, he came back to his senses and realized he was wasting time. He directed his attention to the six remaining Marines. Although battered and bruised, most of them seemed to be in fighting condition as best as Weathers could tell. One Marine's uniform and gear was soaked in blood, both blue and red, and his left arm abruptly ended in tattered and torn flesh, hanging loosely and dripping, only a few inches from the shoulder. The one-armed Marine still had life in him, however, as he would come out from his cover every so often, taking bold shots at the Elites, yelling out expletives all the while.

Weathers observed all of this in a matter of seconds and then concerned himself with the task at hand. His job was to carefully snipe out opposition while the rest of the reinforcements went, guns blazing, into battle. He could hear the commanding chief barking orders to his squad. Weathers checked that the safety was off, loaded a fresh clip, and looked through the 4x magnification scope. Everything glowed green as he viewed the battle in night vision. He could hear the war cry of his fellow Marines as they charged down the hill, their assault rifles blazing, stray bullets ricocheting off the impenetrable metal of the downed ship. The Elites, at first surprised to see the new arrivals, quickly regrouped and began to retaliate. One of the commanding Elites lifted his armored fists in defiance and then began to aim his plasma gun when his head exploded.

Weathers, who was known for his sniping abilities, grinned at the headshot and quickly began to focus on other targets. When the original surviving Marines saw that help had come and realized that a sniper also looked over them in the hills, they gained new hope and emerged from their cover and engaged in full fledged battle. They spread out over the terrain, exchanging gunfire with the Elites. The shields of the Elites shimmered in the night as the bullets of the several assault rifles made contact. Their shields could keep them from harm, but not for very long. The Marines were relentless with their gunfire and the shields of the enemies began to flicker and die out. With this, cries of pain ripped through the air as three of the Elites in the front line were torn apart.

All the while, the Elites returned fire with their plasma guns, which propelled small balls of melting hot plasma that liquefied whatever it came in contact with. "My ear!" screamed a Marine as enemy fire grazed his head, turning his ear into a sizzling, smoking goo. He bent over in pain, reaching to his newly acquired wound and going into a hysterical fit when his hand was badly burned from touching the scorching hot mess. A bolt of blue-green light soared through the air and suddenly ended the Marine's cries as a hole the size of a softball was burned into his chest cavity. He was dead before he hit the ground.

The opposing Elite's victory was short-lived as Weathers promptly sent a bullet into his right ear, blowing the left side of his brains out. Weathers rotated his gun and viewed a side fight between a lone Marine and two Elites. The Marine was dancing around a boulder that rose just above his head, ducking behind it as plasma fire sizzled past him and left big black smoking marks in the tall rock. Weathers quickly took out the stronger looking of the Elites, and the Marine down below used this opportunity to take advantage of the surprised alien. He tucked and rolled, coming up in a kneeling position and fired his assault rifle full blast, aiming at the head of the Elite. Pushed back by the onslaught of bullets, the Elite stumbled and was unable to steady his gun for defense. When his shields were exhausted, the Elite was struck in the eye, the bullet passing in and out through the back of his spiked head easily, leaving a lifeless lump on the ground with blood oozing from the orifice.

Private Charles, who had come straight from boot camp, was running out of ammo and to reload in the open was almost certain death. He began to back up, seeing his fellow Marines being turned into burning corpses all around him. Right as his last bullet left its chamber, Charles dove behind the still smoldering ship, a plasma bullet just missing his head. A Elite had spotted him taking cover and pulled off a green object that was attached to his armor. As the grenade left the Elite's hand a shot rang out through the air and the Elite fell, dead, but Weathers had been too late. The incendiary grenade flew with unbelievable accuracy and landed right beside Charles, who had just finished reloading and was about to rejoin the battle. He didn't even have time to react. His eyes widened and his mouth opened to scream and then an explosion shook the night. After the smoke cleared, all that was left was a green glow and a flaming skeleton, lying motionless under the stars.

Weathers cursed under his breath and steadied his rifle for another kill. He spotted Mendoza, the one-armed Marine, crazily shooting into the crowd of Elites. "Yeah, you like that? You want some more?" he yelled. "This one's for my arm, you bastards!" His shots lacked aim, but somehow found some of their targets and three Elites fell. One of them, however, managed to dodge his fire and jumped into a roll, firing his plasma gun and obliterating Mendoza's right leg. Mendoza let out a scream and fell to a bended knee, still firing wildly. The Elite let out a roar as he realized he was out of ammo and quickly unveiled an alien blade that seemed to be molded into his armor. He began to run toward Mendoza at full speed, bullets ricocheting off his still intact shield. The ground around him erupted into small puffs of dirt as Weathers and nearby comrades desperately tried to take down the mobile Elite, but he was too fast. Mendoza did not falter in his shooting, and his last words echoed in Weathers' mind: "I'll die like a man, you cowardly beast!" His death was quick, the Elite decapitating the injured soldier with expertise, the speed at which the blade sliced through his throat making it painless and without flaw. The Elite stopped to claim victory over the dead one and the right side of his head suddenly shattered under the force of the bullet that ended his triumph. Weathers was having a bad day, and it was just about to get worse.

My Pen Sings A Song

Light Movement of fingers
Summon to life an unknown story
Adventure’s song playing upon
A canvas of white:

He isn’t real. Neither is she. Or it.
But they are real to the soul of my
Flowing out of the dark subconscious of mind
And into crafted fantasy life.
Like a child escaping from a pushing wound.

They lived a short time
Crumples of torn and ravaged white paper
Haunt the wastebasket
Ghosts of millions of stories
Never brought forth to light
Maddened, but never truly gone

I ignite heroes
Bring forth dragons for adventure,
Exterminate the fruits of a heart made evil
Evil I conjured
Vindicate the poor
Poverty I gave

If only the world
Was as attentive as all strokes
Of a black pen across endless white
Then life would be just like a snowbird
Free in the purity of the arctic tundra.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Persona Poetry/Juggernaut!

I am not a 'poet,' persay, although I dabble in the art from time to time. What I like about poetry is also the most intimidating: its lack of rules. Also, it is hard for me to determine just what 'good poetry' is. I've taken my fair share of poetry courses while at Stanford and, whether workshop or lecture, people could agree that one poem is brilliant while the next is trash...and they'll look the same to me! Sometimes I'd wonder if 'good poetry' (kind of like writing sometimes) was more defined by the authors than by the actual writing. I truly thought that if you would take a 'shitty' poem and slap Robert Frost's name on it, people would call it a masterpiece. They'd take the elements that make it so shitty and analyze it, saying that the author deliberately wrote it in a way that seemed to lack quality as a sort of commentary, therefore making the piece and his writing ability even more amazing! But I guess, as I've said, that this can be applied to other types of writing, but with the lack of rules in poetry, it just seems like anything goes.

When it all comes down to it, the question, I think, should be about what kind of emotions and reactions are pulled from the reader by the poetry and then you can measure its personal value then. I say personal because if I cannot understand a Robert Frost poem or extract from it all the imagery and metaphors that others can then the poem is dead to me. Whereas, on the flip side, I might be able to connect on some unthoughtof level with the simplest of poems.

I just wanted to background a little bit some of the things I feel about poetry. I think I just wrote some mumbo-jumbo that poured from my mind, but isn't that a kind of poetry in itself?

To get to the topic of this blog post, in one of my poetry classes the assignment was to write a poem from the perspective of someone else (a persona poem). I decided to write about my roommate and fraternity brother. Because of the judgment that may seem to shine forth from this piece, he shall remain nameless. But I thought it was an interesting exercise (if not a little entertaining, especially when I showed it to my roommate) that made poetry writing, for me, just a little bit easier. Sometimes it may be hard to write true to yourself, as we all have hesitance of self-criticism, or, more accurately, making our self-criticism accessible by others. But by pretending to be someone else as you write (I'm just now realizing that the personal posts in my blog have reached some type of theme: becoming someone else when you write....sounds like it would make for a great novel, huh? Too bad Stephen King already did it) you can open your imagination up to a new sect of experiences but also apply criticism (or praises) more readily to those thoughts, mannerisms, moralities, etc, etc.

So, and without further ado, here is my persona poem. My roommate's nickname was, at his peak, the Juggernaut! That and this internet phenomenon inspired this piece.


Author: Justin Key

I am the Juggernaut


Women flock to me

My fanclub of willingness

All at my disposal.

I am unstoppable.

If sex were a war

Then my army would be undefeated

300 Spartans of Love-



Before I forget

Please don’t leave your panties

On my floor


Don’t cry

There is hardly any time for tears

And the sooner you smile

The sooner we can do it all


The Juggernaut forgets what love is

Only lust

No pain (except for that good pain)

Only pleasure

I am the Juggernaut


It’s not really that hard to understand

Now come, sit next to me

Its OK

You’re in good hands

Just please


Be out by morning

PS: I'm afraid if I continue giving in to my urge to post from my archive of work so quickly, I will soon run out! But, new material everyday, but I guess I also don't want to put it all up for grabs, eh?

The Morning Came

“Life ain’t no crystal stair”

That’s what she told me

Told millions

They all listened

It sounds nice

Poetic diction but not useless fiction

A crystal is bright and pure

Clear cut and serene

Life ain’t that

Vague years ending as death nears

Unheard, blocked by the sound

Can you hear it?

The pain of a billion cries

(Yes I said a billion)

Yet we all have the want to live

A will to live only for what?

The knowledge that the end will still find you

Another day when judgment will ring true

But ‘joy commeth in the morning’

That’s what the good book says

Its morning now

I watched the stars melt away into a blue abyss

Reflecting the world’s tears in their sparkle

Saw the sun rise into the sky

Its massive weight not even able to

Lift my spirits

Felt its warm breeze on cursed skin

And heard the birds sing

Yet my heart sings a different song

One of nighttime sorrows

And apocalyptic mornings

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Move to LA: Driving

School's over. Summer's coming to a lament-filled close. I feel like I just got home, fresh diploma in hand, ready to catch up on 1001 hours of sleep debts, and now it is August. And, technically, the second week of August, at that. I have caught up on sleep (more or less), visited family, friends, sparked new relationships, and now I have about a month until I setting out on the road for California. When will I return? Who knows.

Typical post-grad story, huh? Well, not quite. There's a lot of 'growing' that
needs to be done in the next month, so to speak. I don't necessarily mean maturity-wise, but rather there are certain things that I lack that most 22 year olds have. Like a license. And a car. I would say and a job, but I don't think I am much behind on that one.

I grew up in DC where pretty much everything is accessible by subway train and/or metro bus. On top of that, my mother hasn't driven since her 20's. I remember, like most teenagers, being eager to attain my license when I turned 16. Had my mom print out the information so that I could study for the test and everything. I forget exactly why, but procrastination crept up on me. And then, before I knew it, it was time to go to college. While at college, I considered my inability to drive on of my best-kept secrets (or maybe it wasn' tell me, guys). I definitely had the desire, but not the time. The years rolled past.

So the summer after my senior year found me carless, licenseless, and, ultimately, LA-bound. Bus and metro (does LA even have those?) just wouldn't do. I had three months to catch up. I visited my cousin, Neil (who lives down in Martinsville, VA, where my mom grew up) with the goal of learning how to drive in a week. The first day we went around and around and then in and out of a parking lot for a couple of hours, learning the basics, and then the next day my cousin decided it was a good idea to just put me on the open road at night. All in all, I'm still alive, Neil's truck is in the same condition as before, and Neil was usually more nervous than I was. Oh, and I learned how to drive (minus parallel parking).

Now all I need to do is make it official. Because of my ripe old age of 22 it seems that I could very well go in this Monday to get my permit and then come back Tuesday to take the road test. To be honest, it took me a while to find this reality actually written out, whereas before I had just seen webpage after webpage talk about the requirements for 'under 21' that I assumed these didn't apply for someone my age. I also guessed that the absence of specific instructions for me age group was due to the assumption that no one would ever need to look for that info. The plan now is to go in and take written test this Thursday the 6th (and with questions like "when is the road most slippery: 2 hours after it rained, right after it has rained, 5 days after it rained, or 1 week after?" I think it's safe to say I'll pass), practice driving a little bit more with my permit and learn how to parallel park, and then go in for road test on Monday the 17th. Kinda scary that someone can actually go from never touching a steering wheel to a licensed driver in less than 2 months, huh? Believe it.

Then that very weekend I'm making a trip up to New York and will probably get a rental car. What better way to try my new driving then on the streets of The Big Apple? I predict that it will be like my cousin Neil, whereas someone else will be a lot more nervous than I will be. Just look at that picture: isn't it just beautiful?

And then there's the part of getting a car. I've been looking with a price range of about $3-5k. I've already found some interesting things and have already almost been the victim of internet scamming. This whole car search doesn't seem to be that difficult, though, and I honestly think I'll have one in my possession right around the same time as that license. But then there's car insurance, tags, gas, blah, blah, blah. What a joy.

By now, after reading all of this, you may have forgotten the scariest part: the cross-country trip. Yep, the plan is to drive 2855.76 miles from Washington, DC to Stanford (spending a couple weeks at my alma mater before heading down to LA) during Labor Day Weekend. Don't worry, though, I'm not taking the trip alone. And I figure it's a great way to purge myself into a driver's realm: everything else about this transition has been on the fast track, anyway.

All in all, I'm excited about this. And this is just Part I of my Move to LA post. The next will be about the job search. I think I'll post it under 'Horror.'