Thursday, May 10, 2018

Avengers Infinity War: SPOILER REVIEW!!

I’m on Navy Reserve duty in Norfolk, so I decided to kill an afternoon secured early by seeing AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR for the second time.




I freaking love this film.


I saw it the first time at CINEBISTRO at Stony Point on the opening Sunday after one of the busiest weekends of my life, and, while I enjoyed it, I was 1.) really tired and 2.) eager for certain things to be included which I didn’t get in the film (I’ll get to those) but this second viewing just filled me with so much more awe and appreciation for what the Russos, Kevin Feige, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and Marvel have done with this incredible universe of characters.


DISCLAIMER: 
If you are not a Marvel enthusiast or an emotional devotee of the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) you will probably not enjoy and or ‘feel’ the story as much as someone who is. Therefore, the payoff(s) within this film will feel a bit hollow and insubstantial. That’s something to put right up-front. My wife is in this camp. To her and to many folks who just don’t love it, the superhero film genre (and MCU films in particular) feature stories which often seem interchangeable.


The formulas are often very basic and predictable:


Heroes/Villians/Crises/Fights/Jokes/HugeCGI finale/Rinse/Lather/Repeat.


I get it, I totally do. These movies ain’t for everybody. God bless my wonderful wife. I drag her to them at least four times a year. That’s why we often go to CINEBISTRO because these ‘Event’ movies are enjoyable for us both when we can have dinner and enjoy a great ambiance free from texters, talkers, kids and screaming babies.


However, if, like me, you have a lifelong attachment to these characters based on the source material, you will find yourself swept up in the adventure, tone, scope and the sheer joy of seeing them rendered faithfully on film.


That’s what the MCU ultimately gets 100% right: They simply nail these characters. They have so much fun bouncing them off of one another that it becomes a joyful exercise in inspired storytelling wherein the characters drive the story in a genuine way.


Let’s get reviewin.’ As advertised, SPOILERS.


THE PLOT: 
Thanos, a mad warrior dictator from the planet Titan, succeeds in his quest to bring together all six powerful infinity stones in an effort to “re-balance”’ the Universe by wiping out half of all life with a snap of his fingers. The deaths, random and impersonal, affect life everywhere-- especially the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.


THE GREAT:
-Josh Brolin as THANOS. It is tricky playing a CGI villain who speaks only in declarations and strides through a three-hour film with unflagging, genocidal purpose, but Brolin and the Russos have created a magnetic, multi-layered antagonist from whose POV the entire story is told.


The filmmakers and Brolin imbue Thanos with true human emotion while setting him up as the ultimate foe. Thanos is both physically and intellectually a cut above the usual bombastic blowhards of the superhero genre. He dispatches the Hulk in the first five minutes of the film, hitting him with a throat punch which stuns and confuses the big green guy. This tells us that Thanos is next-level bad. We feel for the Hulk as if he were a wounded animal. Then... Thanos snaps the neck of fan-favorite anti-hero Loki and says “No resurrections this time.” The tone is set.


Brolin’s performance is pitch-perfect. He makes unusual, quiet acting choices which give Thanos a rich complexity and a dangerous, compelling unpredictability. Thanos finds other characters and their struggles really interesting. He empathizes. He finds honor in others as they struggle valiantly against his plan. He kills some, spares others, loves, hates, loses… and, ultimately WINS.


In performance, Brolin actively listens and we can see the wheels turning in his mind. Flashes of loneliness, humor, despair, pride, and rage jump out beyond the purple CGI shell. Another actor might not be able to bring such rough gravitas and quiet nuance to the role, so thank Odin for Brolin.


Perhaps the most chilling back-and-forth Thanos has is with his daughter, Gamora, where he looks heavenward in weary exasperation before declaring with a steely resolve that he is the only one who can see the logic of his quest to re-balance reality and therefore the only one who can do something about it. It is at this moment we see his casual, terrifying certainty locked firmly in place. It’s like a holiday dinner conversation with that nut-job relative who has it all figured out-- “If only ‘they’ were gotten rid of, everything would be just fine…” Yikes.


-Chris Hemsworth as THOR. Wounded, weary, beaten and battered, the God of Thunder will never ever give up. His quest -- create a weapon (Stormbreaker) to replace the shattered Mjolnir, with which he can kill Thanos-- is the central ‘hero’s journey’ in the film, while Thanos’ quest is the perverse inversion of it. 

Hemsworth as Thor is just great. He has such charisma and real star quality. His interplay with the Guardians is hilarious and inspired. Drax sums it up when he tells Chris Pratt’s STAR-LORD “This is not a dude. You are a dude. This is a MAN.” Word.


Thor sees his half-brother Loki and his pal Heimdahl killed along with half of what’s left of the Asgardian refugees from THOR: RAGNAROK, and it all hits him-- hard. His quiet monologue with Rocket Raccoon is poignant, touching, and slightly meta, but he grounds Thor’s quest in something real. Kudos to the Russos for giving us the moment of reflection. It all pays off.


And trust me, Thor’s third-act entrance as a literal Deus-Ex-Machina is a genuine cheer-out-loud-in-the-theatre moment.


-RDJ and Cumberbatch as STARK and STRANGE. 
RDJ is the original MCU hero and he doesn’t disappoint in INFINITY WAR. Only now, he has a new and just-as-charismatic foil in Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange. Their chemistry is incredible. Their witty banter and snarky one-upsmanship lift the early scenes to the joyous anything-can-happen heights of a great summer film.


Both actors know who they are and each simply stands his ground against the other to the sheer delight of the audience. What I really love about the pairing is that one is a tech genius grounded in science and the other is a master of the mystic arts. They both have so many wonderful surprises hidden up their sleeves-- Strange with his array of spells and portals, and Stark with his new-and-improved bleeding edge nanotech armor, which he uses in a jaw-dropping, pulse-pounding late-inning do-or-die one-on-one battle with Thanos himself.


RDJ gives everything he has in this film-- you can feel his desperation to save the day in every frame, and his paternal relationship to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker leads to an absolute heartbreaker. The Russos give RDJ his props in this film. Even Cap (My favorite character) articulates the fact that Iron Man is the earth’s strongest protector and man, is he right.


If y'all don't know, RDJ as Stark is the OG badass who started the MCU, and he ain’t done yet.


-The Comedy. The tone is heavy at times, but it is punctuated perfectly by moments of levity and fun which provide great beats of laughter in an otherwise bleak tragedy. The directors let these actors do what they do best and the atmosphere is really loose and relaxed and fun. We want to be in the movie. We want to have cool powers and hang out and banter and solve problems with the characters. We always feel like we’re in on the joke, and it is so much fun.


THE NOT-SO-GREAT:
-Peter Dinklage. Not a huge fan of his on GAME OF THRONES, but I think that’s mainly due to the fact that I can’t get past his English accent. It. Is. Not. Good. He just sounds like a guy at a local renaissance fair who really really thinks he’s nailing it while he takes a long time to sell you an oversized turkey leg, and you’re forced to kind of… deal with it and pretend along with him until you get your food.


I just-- I can’t do it-- especially here, in a bajillion dollar film when, as in GoT, he is paired up with actors who have actual, commanding, legit classical sounding British-affected lilts to their voices. Listening to him do dialogue opposite Hemsworth is like "Story, plot, character, nuance, humor, charm" and now BAD ACCENT GUY SAYS HIS LINES. He’s a great actor otherwise, and his film the STATION AGENT is wonderful-- It just takes me out of the film each time I hear him not-quite-get there. Gah.


-YOU CAN’T GET TO EVERYONE. You just can’t touch on every single character the way you’d like to when you have a roster of 30-something heroes to focus on. I was disappointed initially because I wanted more Cap/Bucky/Widow/Sam narrative. These characters understandably get short-shrift narratively speaking, but all do a great job with what they are given.


I have to stop and give props to Chris Evans for a moment. In a film where so many other characters shine by displaying huge moments of charisma and humor, Evans plays Cap with a stoic resolve and literally takes it the other way as a sustained acting choice. This Cap is quietly burning up with anger, self-recrimination, and he’s just focused on doing his job. In performance, though, there are some really great nuanced moments, like when Vision thanks Cap for saving him-- we can see on Cap's face the lingering feeling of betrayal from CIVIL WAR. 

No doubt Cap will have more to do in AVENGERS 4, but I just want to say I see you, Chris Evans, and I love what you’re doing, man… 

OH YEAH ONE MORE THING: HASHTAG TEAM CAP.


FAVORITE MOMENTS:
PETE JUMPS INTO THE FRAY. Spider-Man jumping out of the bus and swinging across the East River makes my spirit leap out through my chest. It is so wonderfully Huck-Finn-Tom-Sawyer awesome I literally get a lump in my throat thinking about how great it is to be young and excited and want to leap into the fray to help. It has nothing to do with fighting and everything to do with helping people. Pure adventure. Look out, here comes your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

YIBAMBE: It means "Hold Fast" in Xhosa. I got goosebumps in that standoff and ensuing battle as T'Challa's forces combined to face the outriders-- and I spent the next week with it echoing in my head. Good mantra for anything, especially facing alien attacks.


THE BLEEDING EDGE ARMOR REVEAL. Slow-motion, Tony Stark Swagger.


TONY ANOINTING SPIDEY AS AN AVENGER. The music swells for just a second as Pete allows himself a brief moment of joy before refocusing on earning it. Tom Holland IS Spider-Man and his eager earnestness is so refreshing.


CAP’S ENTRANCE. Steve steps out of the shadows as the original Alan Silvestri AVENGERS theme blares. Cap may not have a huge featured role in this, but Team Cap out there knows what I’m talking about. 

I can do this all day.

OKOYE THROWS SHADE AT BANNER AND WANDA. The badass General and protector of Wakanda has some great moments of fighting and reacting to the strange Avengers she has never met. Danai Gurira is awesome as Okoye and she was my favorite character in BLACK PANTHER. Her reactions to the intergalactic threat raise the stakes and really make us feel how daunting a foe the outriders are. She’s fantastic and I hope she plays a larger role in the MCU going forward.


THE TITAN FIGHT. The Russos have put together a great sequence where Spidey, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and members of the GoTG take on Thanos as he attempts to add the time stone to his Infinity Gauntlet. The way in which each character’s abilities are showcased in service to that goal is just wonderfully inspired and makes perfect sense. The Russos and the writers (Markus and McFeely) do a great job of explaining why Thanos doesn’t just wipe them all out by preventing him from making a fist to activate the stone’s energies. The heroes almost had Thanos disarmed, too, until Star Lord’s emotional outburst ruined it all NOT COOL JACKASS NOT COOL AT ALL


WRAPPING UP/ PREDICTIONS
Doctor Strange looked into 14,000,605 possible outcomes of the conflict with Thanos and saw that the Avengers only win one. I want to see this movie that many times, too. I liked it that much.

Doc determined that giving the time stone to Thanos in exchange for Tony Stark’s life was a part of that one winning timeline, but at a horrible cost, as Thanos subsequently used the time stone to 1.) reverse time and 2.) pull the mind stone out of Vision’s head before 3.) casting his broken android body unceremoniously aside.


Not even having his chest ripped open by Thor’s badass new axe Stormbreaker could prevent Thanos from precipitating the ‘Snapture,’ (Thank you, Glen Weldon from NPR’s ‘Pop Culture Happy Hour’ for that beautiful name) so pretty much everybody dies at the end, yes. The list is long and you can probably google it because it is getting late here and this review is now longer than the film.


So now we have 1.) Stark and Nebula shell-shocked on Titan, with Stark badly wounded and his armor malfunctioning 2.) The surviving heroes in Wakanda in stunned silence as their friends turn to ash and 3.) Pandemonium all over the universe as life forms disappear at random. In his last valiant act before crumbling away to nothing, Nick Fury sends out a 1990s-style space pager message to Captain Marvel, who is most likely embroiled in the Kree-Skrull conflict on the other side of the universe.


They dropped several hints in the film about how “We don’t trade lives.” Cap says this to Vision in a scene early on. I think that where we have these characters positioned now, it is perfectly poised for them to make the "trade" when the time comes. Stark may sacrifice himself to bring back Peter. Steve might sacrifice his life to bring back Bucky. Possibly Okoye will sacrifice her life to bring back T’Challa. The themes of trading and sacrificing and parenting are all over this film. 

Everyone loses someone or something they love. Everyone.

Basically, the film is like issue #6 of a 12-issue limited series. You have to be in it for the long haul. Marvel is and the Russos are, and Feige certainly is. Luckily they know the fans are, too, and they are willing to go where the story goes.


I have to imagine that in Avengers 4, we will see Ant-Man and Hawkeye added to the fray. Possibly Hawkeye will lose his family to the snapture and will go all Ronin on the bad guys (Whoever and wherever they are) and Ant-Man will find his way through the quantum realm as a shortcut to possible permutations of reality which can unlock and undo some (not all) of the damage Thanos has wrought.


There’s also another Infinity Gauntlet on Nidavellir, the place where Stormbreaker was forged. It would take one heck of a powerful being to use it to fix reality -- someone as powerful as Adam Warlock in the comics, or like Captain Marvel perhaps? Or maybe Stark? One thing is for sure, this film establishes that there comes a true cost to wielding the power of the Infinity Stones, and despite the shock value of the cost of this film, Avengers 4 is going to be the one where the full bill really comes due.

Make Mine Marvel. Excelsior.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

THE LAST JEDI. My spoiler-filled observations.



Here are some great lines from our favourite heroes in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK:

"That's right, and my friend's out in it..."


"We have to go back, I know where Luke is..."


"I can't get the vision out of my head, they're my friends, I've gotta help them." 


The biggest-I’ll repeat-- the biggest blunder this new trilogy makes is starting from the premise that Luke and Han, best friends and decorated heroes of the rebellion, each of whom never had a real family but always stayed loyal and steadfast to their friends and their cause even to the point of death and destruction, freezing, annihilation and the end of all hope-- those guys, the guys we dressed up like and pretended to be because they were brave and selflessness and freed the galaxy from catastrophe-- those guys-- both of them-- Han Solo and Luke Skywalker completely quit when it got too hard.


They quit on marriage, parenthood, mentorship, responsibility, duty, guardianship-- hell, one even contemplated murdering his nephew in his sleep. Han gave all the above up to chase Rathtars. Luke set off for a peaceful daily life of drinking alien milk.


Rian Johnson turned Luke Skywalker into a broken, guilt-crippled, cynical intergalactic Big Lebowski who leaves his sister to fight a war by herself. Han Solo? A debt-ridden absent father and husband who leaves his wife to-- you guessed it-- fight a war by herself. Our favourite characters no longer have a moral centre or any feeling of responsibility to one another. That entire idea is sooooo passe. We no longer know who in the hell these characters are. In fact, they are completely unrecognizable from who we knew them to be based on how they previously faced challenges together in service to one another. 


Why should I have ever expected anything different? We now live in the era of the whiny, moody, sullen, hopeless Superman. Of course, we got the cowardly, absent Han Solo, now along comes the morally crippled Luke Skywalker.


This is the foundational weakness of the whole new saga. I feel cheated and pissed and depressed and disappointed and angry. I guess I really should have seen this coming. Every time they would ask Mark Hamill about it in interviews, there was a hesitation and a brow-furrowing as if he's going "how exactly do I say this without pissing off the execs…??” But he’s Mark Hamill, dammit. So he said it:


“I at one point had to say to Rian, ‘I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.’ ” 


Some vision. Hamill was right. Johnson scripted the dumbest, most insulting, most illogical use of the single most iconic Star Wars character in the saga. They had one shot to do it right and they whiffed big time.


So let me get this straight- just so I got this: LUKE SKYWALKER, A JEDI MASTER who believed in the tiny sliver of goodness within his genocidal war criminal space wizard father and redeemed him through sheer faith and devotion and love and selflessness and proved that love can destroy an empire, grew powerful enough to train a new generation, but suddenly WANTED TO KILL HIS OWN TEENAGE NEPHEW IN HIS SLEEP.


But then he somehow wasn't powerful enough to defend himself from the creepy sleepy emo nephew's force attack. Yet the mysterious Rey --WITH NO TRAINING AND NO TIES TO THE SKYWALKER FAMILY AND NO ANYTHING-- beats Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel in The Force Awakens and then beats Luke's ass on the island... with a stick.


This film was written by a committee of latte-sipping global marketing execs--and Abrams and Kasdan--aided and abetted by Johnson, who-- in his defence-- had to reverse-engineer a justification for Luke to be out of the fight for so long. He chose... guilt. 


So, Johnson wrote Luke a galaxy-altering moment of uncharacteristic... what? Weakness? Fury? Fear? Aggression? That sets off something horrible-- you know what? Fine. But here’s the thing: Heroes face that shit. They confront growing evil. They don't stand creepily over sleeping kids. They face adversity, they personally question, challenge and get everything out in the open and stand up for what's right in the light of day.


Like an educator saying "I thought this kid was capable of precipitating a violent incident, so I stood over his sleeping body with a 9mm handgun-- but you know, just for a second-- and when I came to my senses he woke up and attacked me." WHAT THE FUUUU


But I could have dealt with all of it if they had just made Luke actually risk something by going to Crait and physically standing in the way of the First Order. To protect the sister he risked everything for waaaaay back when he was a young farm boy and she was a complete stranger to him. To stand up for justice and get back in the fight.


He could have whipped up a giant salt-storm, caused a force-induced earthquake, made lightning rain down, fought and died at the hands of Kylo and a barrage of AT-At fire... and I would have felt like he worked through something, atoned for a sin he would never have committed in the first place. (Know how I know he wouldn’t have? Because he turned his lightsaber off when faced with a much tougher and more critical choice over 35 years ago. It’s called internal logic.)


But... no. Alas. We don’t even get that. Because he's a hologram. A force projection. How is the audience supposed to recognize that and suddenly justify his death? I was shocked and confused by it all. I was like...."You're kidding me right now... we are doing this now? He's dying from this?” I could almost see the crisp, white Starbucks coffee cups and the yellow legal pads of the Disney execs as they took it all in in the meeting:


 “He dies? Luke dies? LOVE that. LOVE it. Hamill is a pain in the ass anyway. So the middle-aged fans in the 35-65 bracket will have a quick cathartic moment and we can do the twin sunset thing too because symmetry. Rian, you’re brilliant. Can we also have Rey say something about Luke dying with ‘peace and purpose?’ You know, have her say it right to the audience in just those exact words? I’d really like to add that, you know our mantra, ‘tell, don’t show.’ Ok now that we’ve checked that box, we can move on to some real storytelling in episode-- what is it now, nine? I can’t remember, they’re all alike. (Laughter from the group) Can we see those new plush Porg toy prototypes now? Greaaaaaaat.”


Johnson cut every single set-up spike Abrams left him. Snoke? NOPE. Rey’s parentage? NAH BRO JUNKERS. Luke gives up the force and the Jedi order? Oh, ok. THEN WHY IS HE WEARING JEDI ROBES WHEN WE SEE HIM FIRST? WHY DOES HE CHANGE INTO A DIFFERENT OUTFIT RIGHT AWAY? WHY DOES HE LOOK AT REY AS IF HE KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED TO HAN AT THE END OF TFA?


And don't get me started on the incompetent, ridiculous resistance and their illogical internal politics/strategy and the Battlestar-Galactica-ripoff-fuel-cris-slow-motion chase and the joke’s-on-General-Hux-he’s-soooo-goofy routine.


Seriously, though. If you want to move in a new direction, tie up the fates of our beloved characters with resonant, emotional payoffs. Make them care enough to actually do something. Then let them go and introduce new characters. But I don't give a shit about anyone new because they are market research cutouts and I don't feel a thing for them.


The whole plot of the movie from both the first order and the resistance POV:


a.) KILL THE PAST 


and


b.) BUY MORE TIME FOR SOMEONE TO HAVE A FREAKING IDEA. 


That's a window into the decision-making process that went on in this film. ...and it shows.



RANDOM BLASTS: 


-Poe Dameron would be shot for mutiny, but Leia's like "he's so cute, isn't he?"


-Admiral Jurassic Park could have told Poe 'CHILL, WE HAVE A PLAN' at ANY TIME IN THE 3 HOURS


-Admiral Ackbar is dead. Ok. thanks…??


-If you can get off the ship to go to Vegas or Atlantic city to find a 'codebreaker' WHY CAN'T EVERYONE GO TO VEGAS, JUST PUT EVERYONE ON THAT SHIP WHAT THE FUCK


-If you can use ships as hyperspace missiles and cripple First Order Dreadnoughts WHY NOT SET THE SHIP'S AUTOPILOT TO DO SO WHILE YOU GUYS ESCAPE


-With TFA I knew Harrison Ford wanted out, but I thought they'd make Kylo conflicted-- so they get to a moment where he won't kill Leia… and he decides not to-- but thennnn… NAHHH KILL EVERYBODY TAKE NO PRISONERS


-NOT ONE SCENE between Kylo and his mom. For all the familial ties in the saga, these guys sure pass up opportunities for dramatic conflict


-YODA? WHYYYYYY


-ROSE- Cool character, good performance. But I desperately want to see a deeply resonant plotline about the relationship between siblings and their names are LUKE AND LEIA


-LUKE was the maguffin, initially-- it was like WE HAVE TO FIND LUKE and the first order was like NO WE HAVE TO FIND SKYWALKER FIRST-- IT IS PARAMOUNT!!! in this one, the First Order is like "Ummm... Wait until they run out of gas or something..."


 -NO FINN DON'T SACRIFICE YOURSELF BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE BAD MEANWHILE THE SUPERCANNON IS GONNA KILL EVERYONE WHATEVER, KISS ME


-GENERAL LEIA, NOBODY IS ANSWERING THE CALL TO RALLY AROUND THE RESISTANCE SORRY

NO WAIT YOUR BROTHER IS SKYPING US
HE LEFT YOU THESE DICE WHICH WILL SHOW UP IN THE HAN SOLO PREQUEL MOVIE (GET YOUR TICKETS NOW EVERYONE)
BUT THEY AREN'T REAL DICE AND THEY MEAN NOTHING WHICH IS WHY YOU LEAVE THEM BEHIND FOR YOUR MURDEROUS SON TO FIND
AND THEY WILL DISAPPEAR BECAUSE IT IS ALL MEANINGLESS GET IT??
GET ITTTTT???
LET THE PAST DIE FOLKS
BUY PORGS FOR THE KIDS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

I never ever in a million years thought I would find myself writing this about a Star Wars film, but "Where do they go from here"is met with a resounding WHOOOOO CARES.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

THE ROAD AHEAD.

I'm currently writing this blog entry from my Mom's house in Leland, NC. It strikes me as I write this that it has been over two years since my last blog entry, written just before my entrance into the United States Navy.

It would be a tremendous understatement for me to say that my life has 'changed a bit' since that last entry. This past year in particular has been filled with more plot twists than a Russian novel. Some of these changes have been difficult, but they revealed to me that a.) I am never alone b.) I deserve to be happy and c.) I am stronger & more resilient than I could have ever realized. Rather than 'making me who I am today', I see now that the difficult changes in my life served only to reveal to me who I always have been all along. I can say without a hint of bravado that I like who I am; I love being this guy; I love what I am capable of, I love what I have to give, and I am extremely excited by all of the possibilities within me.

I will simply say that right now I am the happiest that I have ever been in my entire life. I am blessed with the best family and friends a fellow could ask for.

For me, the holiday season has always beem a time for reflection and reassessment, and even more so this year. The year 2011 provided me with many opportunities, accolades and deeply rewarding relationships, both personal and professional. I have been the recipient of more love and support than I could ever ask for. As I step into 2012, I will be embarking on a new course in my life, one filled with many challenges-- all of which I am ready to meet head-on.

The chief challenge ahead of me comes in early January 2012, when I will be mobilizing for my first Navy Individual Augmentee Deployment to Afghanistan.

Now, many of my friends who know I'm in the Navy seem very surprised when they hear that I'll be headed to Afghanistan. They almost always ask: "Will you be on a ship?"

The simple answer is 'No.'

Individual Augmentee, or 'IA' as it is more commonly known, is a specialized mission wherein a Navy Sailor fills an operational support billet commonly associated with another branch of service. IA Billets can be anything from Detainee Operations to Customs enforcement to Defense Reutilization. This type of Deployment can be very stressful, although deeply rewarding, and the function IAs serve to the overall effort overseas is a highly valuable one.

The challenges of an IA deployment are unique: First, rather than deploying overseas as part of a larger Unit, Navy IAs usually deploy overseas alone. On the personal level, there isn't the same communal sense that comes with a large Unit mobilization; I won't be part of a a huge mass troop movement; I won't be able to look over and see twenty-five sailors sharing the same exact experience, at least not during the pre-mobilization phase. While I have gotten top-notch support from my NOSC (Naval Operational Support Center), a lot of my pre-mobilization preparation has been completed as 'The Lone Sailor.' This has been at times frustrating, exhausting, and isolating, since very few of my friends are going through the same challenges, changes, and emotions.

A second challenge IAs face: The exhaustive pre-Mobilization process. For Navy IAs, this includes countless medical/dental screenings, a lenghty pre-Deployment checklist of financial, legal & familial 'to-do' items, and completion of about 42 comprehensive online courses covering everything from 'IED Countermeasures' to 'first aid' to the 'Dari Afghan language.' Also factored into this are the personal logistical challenges: In the months leading up to deployment, I have found myself having to move everything I own, secure my pets and property, establish a will and specific powers of attorney & inform my family where they can find support services and deployment information, all while trying to stay physically fit, and find the time to simply breathe.

It has been a rather stressful time for me lately, and I wish I could give full attention to each and every one of my dear friends who have expressed support and encouragement to me over the last few weeks and months. I have been essentially 'Homeless' for the last few weeks, and I have found myself expending quite a bit of mental and emotional energy obsessing over lists of things to be completed. I had a Navy Shipmate in my Unit tell me that the Pre-Deployment phase is the most stressful time; That once all of the 'i's are dotted and 't's crossed, and the Deployment is underway, I will feel more like I'm 'in a groove' and less like I'm trying to herd a bunch of cats.

Another thing people ask me is if I'm scared to go overseas; They ask if I have any misgivings about heading to Afghanistan, where things are most definitely not tranquil and calm; I can say, without equivocation, that I am 100% convinced that the task I am performing is essential, vital and necessary to protect the lives of my brothers and sisters in arms, and I will do the very best job I am capable of performing while thus engaged. I know that I will be working with some of the finest and most qualified professionals the military has to offer; Furthermore, this is essentially what I joined the Navy to do-- Namely, play my part in my country's effort overseas. Call it hokey, call it Jingoistic, call it whatever you'd like, but I have ALWAYS felt deep down that I owe my nation a very real debt of gratitude for all it has blessed me with, and the very least I can do is lend a hand to ensure the safety of my fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines... And I mean to do it right away.

; And, as I go forward, I will strive to continue to become the best 'me' I can possibly be.

Thank you again to everyone who has offered support and encouragement to me for all these years. I have the strength and confidence to face the future and the challenges of the road ahead because of the belief entrusted to me by my family and friends.

Thanks again, and may the road rise to meet you...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Honor, Courage, and Commitment.



I have always considered myself very lucky to have been born and raised in the United States of America. I have been thinking a lot lately about the things I take for granted. For instance, I have never, ever gone hungry. I have always had a roof over my head, and growing up, I had access to a top-flight education.

I can say and write what I feel inside without fear of reprisals. I can worship in my own way. I am protected by the rule of law and under the provisions set forth in the United States Constitution. I can cast a ballot for the leadership I believe in. I can follow my career path and make myself into what I have always wanted to be-- an Actor, a Writer, a Director; I fashion myself into what I wish to be: Someone who tells stories for a living, giving people the opportunity to escape, reflect, and see themselves from a different perspective. I can own my own property, and no one can take it away from me.

Most importantly, I am free to be myself.

My shelves are full of books. My refrigerator is stocked with food. My mind and soul are comforted by the knowledge that I have a strong, diverse network of close friends and an incredibly large, wonderfully supportive family. I am part of a wonderful community.

I am the luckiest man I know.

I have always felt that I owe something to this country for the blessings it has bestowed on me. Now I am going to attempt to repay that debt in a very small way. That is why on September 1st, 2009, I will travel to Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois, to begin training to become a Sailor in The United States Navy Reserve.

I wanted to join the Navy when I was in College, but didn't. After my junior year, I was ready to go. A friend of mine talked to me about the importance of "finishing what you start", and so I finished college and immediately started working in the entertainment business. Somewhere along the line, the Navy got lost in the vast network of roads not taken. Now, some fourteen years later, I am giving myself the opportunity to finally do it, forging a new path in service to my friends, family and community.

I have already told several people about this decision, and--while the news has usually been met with stunned disbelief--the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

When do you leave and how long will you be gone?

I leave September 1st for eight weeks of recruit training in Great Lakes Illinois. After that, I will spend eight More weeks at Class 'A' Technical School in Meridian, Mississippi. I will learn what I need to know to become a Logistics Specialist in the US Navy. My primary duties will involve supply movements. My Rating (Job Title) will be StoreKeeper, or 'SK.'

What is your commitment? For how long?

My commitment is for Eight years-- Six active in the Reserve, drilling one weekend a month and two weeks per year, then two years on 'Individual Ready reserve' status, or 'Standby' mode, whereupon I may be called to serve at any time.

Will you be deployed overseas? For how long?

The short answer is, yes, at some point, although I'm not sure. I am actually thinking of volunteering to go IA, which stands for 'Individual Augmentee', where Navy Personnel fill needs of various branches, regardless of Rating. One may find oneself driving trucks or filling in as undesignated manpower for the Army, Air Force, or Marines.

What does this mean for your Acting career?

We shall see. The drilling schedule is printed a year in advance, and if Local Theatres are willing to work with me and give me an understudy, things should run very smoothly. If anything, my participation in Navy Operations and the need for an understudy may be a way to 'Create Jobs' in the Theatre!! In the meantime, I am thinking very hard about creating my own material-- autobiographical stuff-- which I can do anytime, anywhere, 'a la Slash Coleman.'

You have your college degree-- why didn't you go in as an Officer?

It isn't that simple, actually. While I do have a 4-year degree, it isn't a very competitive degree for OCS (Officer candidate school) selection... especially not in the Reserves. There are no 'Theatre Officers.' However, I am thinking long-term, and the surest way to attempt to become a Navy Public Affairs Officer is to first be able to present a solid Navy record. In other words, can leadership look at me and say "This guy went in enlisted at thirty-five; he has a college degree and look at his performance record, etc." Am I reliable? Responsible? Do I have leadership qualities? Is my OCS package competitive? Basically, I want to do the best job possible in my current rating. Then worry about what comes next.

Did your participation in SEAL Team drive you to enlist?

I'd be lying if I said no. Through SEAL Team, I have been fortunate to meet some of the best, brightest, most inspiring folks around. People like John McGuire and his brother, Rusty, both of whom have served their country with distinction. Several others in SEAL Team have served, or serve currently, including several young men-- Like the 18-Year Old 'Human Dynamo' Hardy Reichel-- who ae on their way to places like West Point and beyond. Being around that kind of dedication day in & day out definitely rubs off on you. And while SEAL Team has provided me with inspiration, it is also preparing me both physically and mentally to meet the challenges of recruit training. When i told John McGuire that I leave for RTC in September, he smiled and said "Oh, man, you're gonna CRUSH it." I am seriously going to run those 18-year old kids into the ground.

What else inspired you to enlist?

My family. because I love them very much. I'm doing this for my Mother & Father, Bebop & Nanny, Jimmy & Judy, Charles & Margaret, Jan & Stu, Uncle Michael, Uncle Larry, all of my Cousins and their children and the vast network of family members on both sides. Hell, I'm even doing it for my biological father, Ralph Jackson, because, although he may not realize it, I love him, too. I'm also doing this for my Grandparents, to honor the sacrifices they made, and for my cousin Shaun, who floors me each day with his amazing strength and courage.

The Navy's Core values are HONOR, COURAGE, and COMMITMENT. I seek to uphold and embody those values from this day forward, each and every day of my life, secure in the knowledge that I am not alone and never will be.

In closing, this will be a new adventure, one that I am looking forward to with great anticipation. I hope to do well, and represent my community favorably at recruit training command and beyond. I have roughly six months to prepare for boot camp, and I am currently part of the US Navy DEP (Delayed Entry Program) I'll post a little more about my experiences as a 'Depper' and the preparation process as I get closer to my step-off date. Thanks for reading this blog, and for all of the ways in which each and every one of you has inspired me to do my best. I'm looking forward to being a part of the World's Finest Navy!!

Here is a short Navy Tribute Video, which shows the proud tradition of the Greatest team on the Planet. Enjoy it, and thanks again.

Best Wishes,

Scott Wichmann

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Twenty Snapshots of 'This Wonderful Year!!'

2008 was a fantastic year for me, filled with new friendships, new challenges and goals, and magical experiences. 2008 paved the way for a fast and furious 2009. I am looking forward to radically expanding my horizons in the coming year-- by doing some things I have always wanted to do-- and crossing some things off of my own private 'bucket list.'

Here are twenty truly memorable things that I had the pleasure to experience this year:



20.) 'THIS WONDERFUL LIFE':
Performing this show for folks is a spiritual experience. It is a conversation with the audience, a dialogue, and a celebration of one of the most beloved movies of all time. Every day I hear some positive word of encouragement from someone who shared in the joy of this heartwarming holiday story. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be given this opportunity. Everything that I am-- as an actor and a human being-- is summoned each night and poured into this amazing narrative. I'd also like to say that being given the enormous responsibility of bringing Jimmy Stewart's 'George Bailey' back to life is one that I wholeheartedly embrace. More than just a beloved actor, Mr. Stewart is an icon and an American Hero, and letting him speak through me each night is quite a humbling thing. Thanks to all the crew and creative staff of Barksdale Theatre for helping to make this such a special event. THIS WONDERFUL LIFE runs through January 11th. Please don't miss it. For ticket information, go HERE.

19.) MANNY: I bid farewell to one of my favorite Red Sox players this year... Manny Ramirez. The Sox brass saw fit to unload him and his zany, unpredictable ways, shipping him to the Dodgers in a three-team trade which netted them Jason Bay and a bucket of batting practice balls. Manny was a lovable knucklehead in left field, a guy who played the outfield like a pudgy, uncoordinated little leauger-- but who hit the ball a country mile and had a tireless (pregame) work ethic. I will always remember Manny warming up while listening to his ipod; or stepping into the batter's box carrying water bottles in his back pockets; or disappearing into the left-field wall scoreboard to make a cell phone call between innings; Or flipping his helmet off theatrically as he rounded third, revealing that gnarled mane of dreadlocks. My last fond memory of Manny is his spectacular home-run robbing catch in left field at Camden Yards and subsequent high-five of a Sox fan-- before doubling off the runner at first base. Highlight-reel stuff. Farewell, Manny, and thanks for 2004, 2007 and all of the great memories. See you in pinstripes... Just kidding... Here is his acceptance speech in 2004 after being named World Series MVP, complete with the phrase "You make your own destination..." (He means to say 'Destiny', but hey, it works...)




18.) MY FIRST MARATHON: On March 16th, 2008 I completed my first full Marathon, The Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach-- running 26.2 Miles in 4 Hours, 20 Minutes and 42 Seconds. I trained long and hard, fought through a psoas muscle strain in early January, and learned that I could indeed tackle that grueling distance. My immediate goal in the aftermath of the race was to begin to shave off some serious time in an effort to get close to the Boston Marathon Qualifying time of 3 Hours, 15 Minutes. I would have some serious work to do, but luckily, I found a springboard to a higher level of training later on in the year...

17.) 'INTERSECTIONS': The opportunity opened up for me to work with talented film-maker Lucas Krost a few weeks back, and I jumped at the opportunity. The short film was the brainchild of Pulitzer-prize nominated author and playwright Clay McLeod Chapman and featured Beau Marie as a coked-out rover whose life intersects with a serial killer, played by yours truly. The five-minute short film looks absolutely phenomenal, and it won rave reviews from viewers in the YouTube Sundance 'Project Direct' Film Festival. I look forward to working with Lucas, Beau, Clay and the gang at the Branching Films again. Great guys, true professionals. Special props go out actress Heather Bailey, who endured hours of laying on the wet, cold ground in a wedding dress during a torrential rainstorm at 3am in December. That young lady has heart!! Here is the entire 5-minute film:




16.)THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Love them or hate them, you have to admire their tenacity and teamwork. After narrowly missing the opportunity to close out the 2007 season at 19-0 in Superbowl XLII in February (Causing a month-long spiral of depression for me) the Pats opened their 2008 Campaign by promptly losing All-World QB Tom Brady to a season-ending knee injury. They soon lost All-Pro Safety Rodney Harrison, Veteran Linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Defensive End Adalius Tomas, to name just a few. Many pundits proclaimed the season a lost cause. Boy, were they WRONG. Led by Matt Cassel, a doe-eyed career 'clipboard holder' who hadn't started a game at QB since High School, the Pats found their mojo again, and as of this writing, they stand on the precipice of an 11-5 season and a possible division crown. A few things have to happen for the Pats to make the playoffs, but no matter what, this season has been a testament to the vision and coaching ability of Bill Belichick. The Pats just plow forward, relentlessly, week after week. Every man does his job in concert with the man next to him. The team is more important than any individual. Success depends on everyone doing their part to the absolute best of his ability. Sounds like a pretty cool philosophy. Hm...Where did Coach 'Hoodie' learn all that stuff?? Easy. His Father, Steve Belichick, was the head coach at the US Naval Academy. 'Nuff said.


15.) THE SCOOTER: I get around town by dropping exactly $1.39 cents into my gas tank. Rain or shine, my little Blue Roughhouse 50cc Scooter gets me there. This little guy is so much fun to ride-- Chelsea & Matt at Scoot Richmond helped me make an informed choice that really helped ease the pain at the pump during an insane summer when gas was upwards of four bucks. I'm looking forward to the summer and a possible upgrade to a 110cc bike, but for now, my little blue 'Scooty' is the way to go. Best purchase I ever made!!


14.) MOM'S BIRTHDAY SURPRISE: On October 24th, I drove down to my Mom's house in Wilmington, NC and surprised my Mom at 2am on her birthday. She totally freaked out and we had the best weekend ever. My Aunt Sandy was there, and the three of us had a great weekend tooling around downtown Wilmington and soaking up the sun. I can still see the two sisters strolling along the beach in their bare feet under a sky you'd have to see to believe. One of my favorite memories ever. Mom said it was the best Birthday she's ever had. That makes me happy.


13.) THE BPFL GOES PRIME-TIME: Our quaint little weekly touch-football club got some major pub this year as STYLE WEEKLY Correspondent Mary Burress came out and did an inside-the-huddle feature on the Byrd Park Football league. This is perhaps one of the best-attended seasons we have had lately, and new faces like 'Rookie-of-the-year' Candidate Elliot Lau have made the league fun, competitive and challenging. You can read The STYLE Feature HERE.

12.) 'THE AIR WE SHARE'& 'THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF': Writing a script for Theatre IV is a challenging experience, and it presents numerous opportunities for creative expression. I was fortunate to be given two opportunities this yer to write scripts that toured to Virginia Schools. THE AIR WE SHARE was produced in conjunction with GRTC & I was featured in it as Donald Driver, the goofy-as-all-heck father whose resistance to conservation practices provides many hilarious moments. Then, in late September I watched gleefully as Director Robyn Arthur brought my script for 'THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF' to vibrant life before my very eyes. The show features great music by Julie Fulcher and a lot of laughs. Both shows featured enormously talented casts, and I am proud of the work they all did. I look forward to the next opportunity to write for Theatre IV!!


11.) FACEBOOK: I joined at the vehement insistence of my friend Mary Page, and I cannot imagine my life without it. I have been re-connected to so many important people from my past, it is unbelievable. I have found folks from elementary school, middle school & college. What a great way to see what your friends are up to-- and incredibly addictive, to boot. I was barely able to tear myself away from it to write this blog post...


10.) WALK-ON WEEK: Mark Persinger and I threw out the idea of doing a one-hour 'Walk-on-Week' Sports Talk radio hour for charity on WRNL Sports Radio 910. The proceeds went to support juvenile diabetes research. We had a great time shooting the breeze on the air about everything from Brett Favre to the Red Sox. A month later, we found ourselves hosting a four-hour drive-time show as pinch hitters for regular drive-time host Wes McElroy. I even got to interview Olympic Tennis phenom James Blake!! We had several amazing calls from family members and friends alike, as well as supportive text messages and e-mails. Thanks to everyone who voted for us, or called in! The wave of support was phenomenal. With a little luck, the 'Bleacher Creature' show will be back in 2009. I'm confident that one of these days, we'll have our own show!!!


9.)THE RED SOX COME BACK: Down 7-0 in the 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALCS, the Sox did what all Boston teams do so well-- they came roaring back from the dead. As JD Drew singled over the head of right fielder Gabe Gross to drive in Kevin Youkilis with the winning run, I was jumping up and down in my living room after midnight, still wearing the BoSox jacket I had on after walking in the door an hour earlier, fresh from an exhausting performance of RICHARD III. They may not have gone to the World Series this year, but just like the Pats, this Red Sox team had heart, guts, and grit-- and I would put them up there with my favorite all-time Boston teams, like the 1987 Celtics, who didn't win it all, but fought through injuries and showed just what they were made of. God, I love sports...

8.) THE CAST & CREW OF 'GUYS AND DOLLS': What a special group of people, and what a fun summer. Every now and then, you get a cast that just 'clicks' all the way through the lineup. That's what we had with 'GUYS AND DOLLS.' We had a few folks in from NYC (Jimmy Glidden, Rita Markova, Rachel Abrams, Chris Stewart) one from LA (Jody Ashworth) and lots of locals and a few newcomers-- and we did everything together. Softball, Karaoke, late-night dinners, Jazz clubs, you name it, we were there. Every now and then, you get a cast that feels like one big happy family. This was it for me, and they gave me the best summer I've had since I was seventeen years old. I wish them all well, wherever they are-- every brilliant, talented generous soul that graced that stage...


7.) MY FIRST COMIC BOOK: On the heels of THE AIR WE SHARE, GRTC gave me the opportunity to pen my first comic book, based on the TEAM RIDEFINDERS characters, which GRTC introduced to get kids thinking about conservation. I wrote the comic, and 'OddGodd Press' artist (and Velocity Comics owner) Pat Godfrey did the amazing artwork. TEAM RIDEFINDERS:CLEAN AIR HEROES was quite a collaboration, and if our schedules work out, Pat and I will be collaborating again soon!!

6.) THE BEASTIE BOYS SHOW: Stunning show, amazing energy, great cause. The B-Boys stunned the crowd as part of their 'GET OUT THE VOTE' tour, and they rocked the house. Adam Horovitz (King Adrock) Left a ticket for me at will call, and I still have it. Here is the opening of the show, with a kick-ass scratch routine by Mix-Master Mike, and a blistering rendition of 'Sure Shot':



5.) THE CELTICS WIN BANNER #17!!!: What can I say that hasn't already been said? To see my beloved Celtics jump from worst-to-first in one year was a stunning turn of events. The 24-point comeback in game four of the NBA Finals paved the way for a 39-point beatdown of the Lakers in Game Six to clinch the banner that we had been waiting 22 years for. Thanks to the tenacious, infectious energy of Kevin Garnett, the Celtics became more than just 'Relevant' again-- they showed the league that a commitment to defense is where championship teams are born. They show no sign of taking their foot off the gas, either. As of this writing, they sit at 27-4, and are primed to defend their championship with pride and passion. As a diehard Celtics fan, what more could I ask for??



4.) THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND MY COUSIN SHAUN: The events of the 2008 election are well-documented. The historic election of Senator Barack Obama is significant on many levels for The United States. Agree with his politics or not, there is a very intelligent, passionate man standing in the on-deck circle, ready to take the ultimate Leadership position as President, and he will need the help of every American to guide us through the treacherous waters of two wars, an economic crisis, environmental challenges, the terrorist threat, and many other obstacles. That part you know.

But, what you may NOT know is that my cousin Shaun graduated at the top of his class at the US Secret Service Academy in July of this past year. Shaun is a former Air Force EOD instructor, and just about the most committed and hard working young man you are likely to meet anywhere. He has our President's back. He is there at the shoulder of the Commander-in-Chief, and he is ready to do his part to ensure the safety and security of President Obama and his family. I could not be more proud of my cousin-- he has inspired me to think long and hard about the true meaning of service and sacrifice. Shaun is an American hero, whether he knows it or not, and I hope he knows just how proud we all are of him. We love him very, very much.


3.) RICHARD III: Every now and then a role comes along that you feel you just HAVE to play. RICHARD III was that role for me. Inspired by the amazing vision of Director James Ricks, and featuring a top-flight cast, RICHARD III was a journey inside the mind of a mad tyrant, and it gave me a chance to flex my muscles and really get down and dirty. I loved every second of it and I hope to get the chance to do it again someday. I know I will. Thanks again to Henley Street Theatre and every single one of my cast mates. It was an experience I'll never forget.

2.) THE RICHMOND MARATHON: I ran my second Marathon on November 15th, and I blew my own expectations away. Back in March of 2008, I ran my first Marathon in 4 Hours, 20 Minutes and 42 Seconds. This time around, however, I ran the same distance in 3 Hours, 20 Minutes and 44, meaning I cut almost ONE HOUR off of my Marathon time. Unbelievable stuff. I had one of the best days of my life, and I sprinted the last 100 yards across the finish line to a raucous ovation from the thousands of people lining the streets. It was an absolute 'Goosebump' Moment, and I got within 5 Minutes of the Qualifying time for Boston. Running Richmond was an expression of love for this city-- I am absolutely in love with Richmond, and I thank her for adopting me. Thanks to this Marathon, I have renewed confidence, and I hope to make my next Marathon even better. This year I hope to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC (In tribute to my Grandfather and My Uncle Mike, both Marines), and the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton Pa (As a gift to my Dad, who worked at Steamtown).

People ask me "How in the heck did you cut ONE HOUR off your Marathon time??" The answer?? I ran faster. But seriously, that question bring us to the number one thing that happened to me this year...


1.) SEAL TEAM PHYSICAL TRAINING: I wish I would have found this group five or ten years ago. I look forward to each workout with child-like anticipation. The instructors are incredible, the membership wide, diverse, supportive and caring, and the founder and CEO, former Navy SEAL John McGuire, is a hero to me and a dear, dear friend.

If you've been looking for a way to get back in shape, look no further. SEAL Team PT is the best fitness option you will ever find. STPT Helped me cut an hour off of my Marathon time, and it can help you reach whatever fitness goals you want to achieve. Come to a 'bring-a-friend day,' ask me when the next one is, and I'll hook you up. for more info, go their website, which is located HERE.

SEAL Team PT has helped me in countless ways. I'm more confident, stronger, faster, and have more endurance than I did was I was eighteen. I'm in the best shape of my life, and I'm facing 2009 with head up, eyes forward, showing confidence and optimism.

...2008 Taught me that, as Kevin Garnett said, "Anything is Possible!!" It also taught me about the transformative power of friendship, and the importance of teamwork and setting goals. I had a blast in 2008, and I look forward to living 2009 to the fullest. I hope to squeeze every moment out of this life with joy and gratitude.

Thank you for reading my blog, for being my friend, for supporting me. I sincerely feel like the 'Richest man in town.'

Blessing for a Happy New Year,

Scott Wichmann