The Thing I Like About …

Monster Squad: the part where the old man reveals his tattoo.

In Monster Squad, a group of kids realize that there are monsters – the vampire/werewolf variety – roaming around their neighbourhood. They initially suspect The Old Man, because he is very old, and very quiet, and very irritated-looking. He speaks with a German accent, in a harsh way, and he always glares out his window at the boisterous children when they go by his house.

But somehow the kids are obliged to hide in the house of The Old Man … and they realize that he is just an old man, with a German accent and a lot of wrinkles, and that he likes kids fine, and is happy to serve them tea and whatnot. In fact, he believes them about the monsters, and helps them as best he can.

And when the kids leave, they say how surprised they are that The Old Man is actually okay, and that he believed them about monsters.

He looks down for a moment, and we see the tattoo the Nazis had put on his arm – he had been in one of the death-camps, and survived. And suddenly we realize that he knows all about monsters.

The kids live in a world where “monsters” are supernatural … but in reality, the human race is capable of enormous monstrousness. It feels sometimes like you can’t swing a stick without hitting a monster – and all of them are actually just human beings, regular people who might live right next door. We’re each of us only a few poor decisions away from becoming what’s wrong with the world, and unfortunately all the silver bullets and garlic in the world can’t change that.

But it also turns out that even suspicious-looking characters like The Old Man are probably not monsters. The people we fear, the people we assume are some sort of negative presence, are more likely to be just human beings, regular people who wouldn’t hurt anyone. In fact, you can’t swing a stick without hitting someone who looks dour, or wrinkly, or strange, but who has actually done extraordinary things, and faced the worst of monsters armed with nothing but the determination to escape.

It turns out that monsters and heroes are everywhere. Some of the heroes are kids who aren’t believed or old men whom no one notices anymore. Some of the monsters are werewolves, and some of the monsters are Nazis. And the only way to figure out which is which is to look with our hearts instead of our eyes.

Coming Soon

I am pleased and proud to announce that my first children’s book, Beneficent Boy, will be available in hard copy and (hopefully) Kindle on Friday, August 7th.

Beneficent Boy, a superhero whose greatest heroics happen after he’s defeated, learns that he can still save the city … at least one more time.

The link to Beneficent Boy will be here Friday; in the meantime, you can click the YouTube link to see Lego video of the superhero in action.

The Thing I Like About …

Insidious (I, II, and III): Elise.

She starts out as a psychic and family friend who helps the main characters handle a demonic incursion. She ends up as a psychic who helps the main characters handle a demonic incursion. In between, we find out how hard it’s been for her to have her gifts, yet still be unable to counter fate or death or time – her husband has died, her gifts seem often like a curse, and a woman who follows her from the afterworld threatens daily to kill her.

She knows this woman will kill her one day. She sees the chair where she will die, and feels the hands around her throat. Understandably, she doesn’t want to die, and so she abandons her psychic practice and hides in her house … for a time.

But ultimately she is strong and compassionate, and she doesn’t really know how to ignore people who come to her for help. She decides that she’s one of the few people to whom others can turn when they experience things that are out of the ordinary. She decides that she needs to deal with her husband’s death, with the ranting threats of the demon-woman, with the fear of horrible things that interact with our world from the other side … she decides that everybody dies of something, so she might as well do her job.

She’s nice. She’s smart. She’s getting older. But she’s not getting older the way Hollywood usually allows women to get older – with heavy make-up, plastic surgery, and trick lighting. She’s just a regular woman in regular clothes, having regular feelings – of fear and bravery, of indecision and fortitude, of weakness and strength. She doesn’t pretend she’s twenty. She doesn’t mention that she’s not twenty anymore. She never says, “I’m too old for this.” She just asks herself if the next thing coming is a thing she wants in her life; she just decides one choice at a time whether or not she’s up for another challenge.

And in the end, she saves every client who comes to her.

She’s capable, but not fancy or dramatic or posturing. She’s smart but not condescending or domineering. She’s pleasant but not a pushover. She can be hurt – she can be killed – but she doesn’t let her fears control her for long, and she doesn’t let others face evil alone.

Everybody dies of something … but before that we get to pick what we do, how we feel, and who we are. We get to decide how to treat people, how to help them, how to help ourselves, and what callings we attend to. It’s all well and good to think, “I could be a superhero, and do great things, and be awesome!” But it’s even nicer to think that we could just be regular people in regular clothes, with our ordinary gifts and talents and lives, getting older and wiser, and doing great things and being awesome.

If we’re brave enough to be regular folk, and to be ourselves for better or worse, we can end up doing extraordinary things. If we can know what we’re worth even when we’re not superheroes, we can end up being real heroes who help real people in the real world … right to the very end.

The Thing I Like About …

Speed: the part where she turns the corner.

Speed is an action movie; it doesn’t have a whole lot of character development – which is fine, really, since I always feel that allows us just to see the characters as a more generalized “humanity”, and to bond with those characters for humanity’s sake. It also helps the viewer put him/herself into the movie – it’s a lot easier to imagine myself as the hero or heroine if there’s more of a blank template there.

And once you’ve imagined yourself as the hero or heroine, why, suddenly everything that happens in the movie enters the realm of your own possibilities (however remote). Suddenly I could save a dozen people from an elevator-bomb; suddenly I could come up with the bold and daring solutions to life-threatening (and horribly unlikely) problems; suddenly I’m Keanu Reeves’ girlfriend … but I digress.

Annie – the heroine – is faced with driving a bus, which she has never done, and doing so under very stressful conditions. All the passengers on the bus – people she has known for a while – are depending on her ability to keep her cool and to keep the bus on the road. And then … the road meets a T-intersection, and she’s going to have to drive a city bus at a minimum of 50 miles per hour around this really sharp corner. Everyone moves to one side of the bus, but as she moves into the turn, the bus comes up on two wheels and almost tips over. Everyone’s terrified for a really long minute … and then the bus is through the turn, and back on four wheels, and it’s all okay.

Sure, the situation becomes even more harrowing later, more than once. The bus is required to go through some fairly impossible scenarios that are entertaining to watch, and the typical action-movie fan would probably be satisfied. But the sharp turn is something that’s actually possible; it’s accessible to the viewer because the viewer could actually do that, and actually save those people.

All the passengers do their part by keeping calm and doing what they need to do. Annie stays calm and does what she needs to do. The bus follows the normal laws of physics. Basically, the scene feels like real people in a real bus doing real stuff that solves an actual problem. And when they’re done, they’re happy in a very normal, visible way, and they’re grateful, and they’ve bonded.

And all the viewers who want to imagine themselves as the hero can feel like this is something they could actually do, that they – with the skills they already possess, in the world they already live in – could do awesome things that save people. They can imagine that, even if they’re just passengers on a bus, they can be what they need to be and do what they need to do to save the day.

And that, I think, is all any of us really wants.

The Thing I Like About …

Megaquake: Hour That Shook Japan: the air traffic controller.

Megaquake is a documentary about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan. It has exciting footage of Mother Nature doing all sorts of extraordinary things and reminding us that humans aren’t really particularly in charge. It has heart-rending tales of people struggling for their lives, for their loved ones; videos of homes and businesses being torn apart and washed away. Every tale of heroism sends chills up your spine. Every tale of loss and uncertainty makes you want to cry. Every image of warehouses being swept out to sea makes you shake your head in awe and wonder.

It’s just so … huge … that it doesn’t even seem like it could be real.

So you wonder how you would deal with something like that, if it happened to you. And you hope and imagine that you would deal with it like a ninja or a superhero or something really accolade-worthy. But deep down you figure something as massive as that is just too big even to contemplate, and you don’t quite know how anybody keeps their heads in such a situation.

And then, in the middle of the documentary, they introduce this regular-looking young man, dressed the way “the young people” dress, with red streaks highlighting his long hair. He’s speaking in Japanese, and, while the audience waits for the English translator to tell us what he’s saying, we watch him lounging in a very casual – though thoughtful – way, in front of the building where he works.

He works at an airport. He’s an air traffic controller. And when the quake hit, and the tsunami warnings started coming in, he had no idea exactly what was happening or where, and no idea in the world how bad it could get or how long it would last. But it certainly seemed that the airport and the runways would be affected, so he just started moving planes.

He had to keep dozens of planes in the air, for an unspecified length of time. Some of them were at the end of their fuel. All of them were close to one another. He had to keep them in the air, dancing around one another, for as long as it took to find out what to do next. His job on an ordinary day is one of high maintenance and strict attention to detail; it can be stressful at the best of times. But on the day of the mega-quake, he had to perform under extreme circumstances, not knowing what would happen to the airport, not knowing what might be happening to his loved ones, not knowing anything really … he just threw all the balls into the air and never let them touch the ground.

He saved countless people that day.

It’s the kind of story that makes me abashed to complain about little things. It’s the kind of story that reminds me not every hero wears a cape. It’s the kind of story that calls to mind that line in Wanted: “What have you done lately?”