Movie Review

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)

I’m going to do something a little different.  I’m going to quickly review “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” and then I’m going to speak of an aspect of it some of you might not want to dive into.  You’ll be warned.




First, “Into the Spider-verse” is a revolutionary piece of  cinema.  The tale of an alternate Earth Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is told in CGI animation that ranges from realistic to Loony Tunes 2-D, depending on the mood and tempo of the scene. And what at first is jarring becomes, as we realize we are watching a comic book brought to life as we’ve never seen it before, something that reminded me not just of previous live action and animate versions of the character, but of the astonishing visuals of “Yellow Submarine” and even “2001: A space Odyssey.”  Because the story deals with a master criminal (The Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schrieber)   who creates a rip in reality to bring back his dead family, in the process unleashing Spider-heroes from multiple time lines.  Against this bizarre backdrop is the origin story of a kid named Miles Morales, bitten by a radioactive or genetically altered spider and gaining powers he doesn’t know how to control.  Really…that’s all you need to know, other than IT WORKS.  It all works. Improbably, even the most bizarre variations on the character (Kimiko Glenn as Japanese “Peni Parker” in a giant Tamagachi?  Nicolas Cage as “Spider Man Noir” a black and white version who talks like a Micky Spillane character?    John Mulaney as “Spider Ham”, such a Bugs Bunny variant that they have to discuss whether they are violating Warner Brothers  copyright?) work. Each has their own tone, own look, own feel. And It isn’t just a gimmick: it all comes together thematically, amid visuals so psychedelic that you’d expect them to sell hash brownies at the concession stand.


Wow.  Just…wow.   Really amazing, Spider Man.   Well done.   Instantly in the upper echelon of superhero films, and if you have any childhood left in your heart, one of the best movies of the year.




And now…let’s dive deeper.    Trigger Warning for anti-BLM types.   You probably won’t enjoy this much.


Last Night, I watched the light go back on in my son Jason’s eyes.    Allow me to explain.




Just yesterday, I watched the teaser trailer for “Avengers 4.  `Infinity War: Endgame’.  It looked intense and spectacular, but I felt no thrill at all.  I haven’t felt a thrill for a Marvel trailer since the end of the first Infinity War, where I saw the light go out in my son’s eyes.


Jason has ADHD, and a bit of trouble identifying with characters in movies.    I never had that problem, even when I noticed that characters who looked like me tended to die.  I still remember, clearly, the day I put a label on that observation. It was the movie DAMNATION ALLEY, where George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Paul Winfield were traveling across a nuclear wasteland in an atomic powered Winnebago.  I was watching it with a white friend of mine,   up in Hollywood. So there’s a scene where they come to the ruins of (I think it was) Las Vegas. And out of the ashes walks the (apparently) Last Woman In The World.  And…she’s white.


I had an intuitive flash.  Turning to my friend,  I whispered “oh my God. They’re going to kill Paul Winfield.”


“Why would you say that?” he whispered back.

“Well, they’re not going to pretend he’s not interested in her. And they’re not going to let him compete for her. The only option they have is to kill him.”


“Jesus,” he said, disbelieving.    “Do you have to be so cynical about race all the time?”


And…five minutes later Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches.  Dan was kinda quiet after that, but  insisted that was a lucky guess on my part.




What did I learn from that moment?

  1. That filmmakers will kill off the only black character(s) in a film quite blithely. There is NO American film in which all white characters die, if any POC survive at all. But I’ve listed over sixty movies where all black characters, or all black male adult characters, die.  Often to protect white people.  Often to inspire them to become heroes.  Sob sob.  (And yes, chances are that I’ve seen whatever movie you think breaks that rule.    A “character” is someone with a line of dialogue.  You’ve almost certainly forgotten that in whatever movie you THINK all the white characters die, there was indeed another character.  Maybe he wasn’t white enough for you, but he was there IMO.)
  2. That sexual competition is a trigger.  This makes sense, as the only human drive as strong as individual survival is species or genetic survival.  What you see onscreen is the externalization of a fantasy, the natural human urge to believe that you, and by extension your tribe,
  3. That white moviegoers generally won’t notice it has happened.   They “don’t notice” when all the black characters die, or die to protect them, or to motivate them to mighty actions.  And watching them reel off movie after movie where they THOUGHT the opposite happened just to watch me shoot them down has been an amusement, but in the era of BLM it is just sad.   Yes, it happens. No, it isn’t just “Hollywood.”  If the audiences didn’t weep and feel ennobled or invigorated by “The Green Mile” or “The Unforgiven” or “Spartacus” or “Terminator 2” the trope wouldn’t exist.


Black audiences notice, though.  I remember being about Jason age, about 14, just forming my self image, and going to see such movies.  Maybe it was “The Dirty Dozen.”    When I got back home, raving about it, the other black kids in my neighborhood asked me a terrible question:  “how did they kill the brother this time?”


Oh, yes. They’d noticed.  And I didn’t have an answer for them. Didn’t even formulate my thoughts on the subject until “Damnation Alley.”    It was real. It was a fantasy of extinction and primacy.   I’ve seen a couple of movies in which all the white characters die: they were Asian films.   “Chinese Connection” is a good example, and the death of “Russian” karate expert Robert Baker at Bruce Lee’s hands was clearly an expression of hostility, resentment for China’s occupation by foreign powers.  “We are not sick men!” Bruce snarled, and Hong Kong audiences went berserk–remember, they were still a British Colony at the time.  That inferiority complex vented itself in an image of throat-chopping death.


One is tempted to wonder what fear, what guilt, what pale inner need drives the need for American audiences to see such things. Or believe that black people love to die protecting them, or to ennoble them.   A desperate need, one suspects.  But…that’s another subject.




Jason had noticed this. About the time he watched his fifth “X-Men” movie, he noticed that ALL the black men die. Not one has survived in the entire series.  Frankly, “Logan” was their last chance with me, and in that one they killed the entire family.  “Why do they always kill the black people?” he asked me.  And that led to a rather painful conversation.   “The Talk” applied to cinematic experience.


I remember loving “Spider-Man” comics as a kid.  The most famous sequence in the entire canon might just be the one where Spider-Man, Peter Parker, is trying to rescue his dying Aunt May by recovering stolen isotopes that might save her from a transfusion of HIS radioactive blood. The isotopes were stolen by eight-armed Doctor Octopus, in a 007-style underwater lair.   Doc Ock has Peter dead to rights, but the enraged Spider-Man just tears through him and his henchmen as if they are made of butterfly wings.  Wow, it was amazing to see. But the fight damages the internal supports of the lair, and Spider-Man is trapped under a huge piece of machinery as the dome cracks and spills water, the precious isotope cannister just out of reach.


He tries to life the machinery…and cannot. The water grows deeper. And…the issue ended.   Cliff hanger!  For a month, I wondered how he would get out of it. What brilliant strategem would he use, what clever solution would he find. I remember biking to the drug store on the fateful day to buy my comics and find out what the hell Peter Parker would do.


And…I’ll never forget what happened.  He tried, and failed. And was faced with the fact that his Aunt would die…because of him.  As his uncle Ben died…because of him.


With great power comes great responsibility. And what did Peter do? Something clever? No.  He simply decided that this was the test of his life. This was the moment he had lived for. That if he couldn’t’ do this, for the family he loved, he was unworthy of the gift.  And he went deep, DEEP into himself:  “within my body is the strength of many men!” he said, and somehow, against all odds, he hoists that Hulk-busting weight of machine onto his shoulders, and…stands up.  It was amazing.  It was a full-page image of Spider Man, his every muscle rippling and straining, lifting an impossible weight…because he had to.


Because there was no one else.


For love.


I was stunned. That lesson, that if you had enough WHY’S the HOW’S became possible…that lesson has never left me.


It didn’t matter to me that Peter Parker was white.  EVERYONE in the comics was white.  I just accepted it.   It wasn’t until later, when I started pitching in Hollywood, when I started writing professionally and was told in no uncertain terms that white audiences would reject black faces, that I realized that that love and respect were not reciprocated.   That there was something so obvious that I hadn’t let myself see it: the more you identify with a character as being ‘like you’ the easier it is to empathize with their struggles, and feel their victory as your own.


These were images of power, beauty, heroism, intelligence and moral clarity that cultures all over the world understand their children NEED.  And give to them in stories, comics, movies, songs, plays, and every other form.  24/7.   365.   Turn on any television and flip the channels a bit and you’ll see such images.  When I was a kid there were NONE that looked like me.   It is better now, much better.


But Jason had still noticed. And it made him blasé about movies.   Why identify with a black character if that character had increased risk of death?  And how do you identify with a white character if you suspect, on some level, that that character wouldn’t identify with you?


There is a scene in TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN where Laurence Fishburne asks:  “what do I feel about my country? And how does my country feel about me?”


I’d hoped that if I could work hard enough, strong enough, long enough, I could change the world enough that my son wouldn’t go through the existential pain I had suffered, realizing that the filmmakers and audience apparently ENJOYED fantasizing about his death.




There were plenty of black characters in early Marvel movies: Fury, Falcon, War Machine, and so on.   They were fun.  REALLY enjoyed seeing them.   But the first time Black Panther appeared in “Civil War” something electric happened in the air.  This was different. He wasn’t in a chain of command, controlled by white people.  He hadn’t had his ancestral name stripped away. He knew his history, his spirituality. T’Challa didn’t follow some white guy’s orders, HE WAS A KING. And when he kissed his father’s ring there was a level of love between two black men I’d not seen in a film before. Contrast with the mess Tony Stark was about HIS father. With half a BILLION dollars in therapy and the remove of decades, he was still more shattered than T’Challa was mere days after cradling his father’s corpse in his arms.   And it didn’t end there. When Florence Kasimba faced down Black Widow saying “Move.  Or be moved” black women in the audience, even if they weren’t comic book fans, screamed “YES!!”


Remember the “No Man’s Land” sequence in “Wonder Woman”?  Over and over I heard women say: “I didn’t even know I needed to see that.” And I heard a LOT of guys saying “what’s the big deal?”  They didn’t get it.  Why should they?  They’d seen COUNTLESS images like that to nurture their own inner hero. Yawn. It was just one more.


To understand the impact of “Black Panther” you would have to imagine an entire movie composed of “No Man’s Land” sequences. There had never been anything like this before. It was something every other group of human beings on the planet have…except black Americans: a creation myth that connects them directly to the divine.  It was MYTHIC.   Bless Disney for giving Ryan Coogler the room and resources to do something no one had ever done. And as DJANGO UNCHAINED producer Reggie Hudlin put it: BP made “all the money.”


Yes it did.  Bless its pointy little ears.




Jason saw Black Panther, and I saw the light go on in his eyes. The same light I had felt watching Spider-Man lift that piece of machinery, half a century ago.    He was EXCITED.  And then we went to see INFINITY WAR.


And Heimdall was the first person to die. And they killed Falcon, and T’Challa after disgracing the kingdom of Wakanda with the weakest and most unfocused defense I’d ever seen.   Only the disabled War Machine survived, a man who is totally owned by a white guy, who didn’t create his own technology, and frankly would not be considered sexual competition, spinal damage being what it is.    And then the crowing insult…after a multiple movie absence, they brought back Nick Fury in the “stinger”…ONLY TO KILL HIM.


I was stunned.  Don’t tell me this was random distribution.  ALL the original (and white) Avengers survived. Every one.  Do I have to wonder if all the decision makers, all the core producers, writers, directors were pale? That it never occurred to them how it would feel to a boy with few superhero role models to watch that massacre?


Of course I know most of them are coming back. Don’t insult my intelligence.  A number of readers pointed that out to me, and I wonder if they really didn’t think I knew that.  Predictably, most of those are people who have expressed antipathy toward BLM and “taking a knee”.


Jason, born into a world of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, watched those Infinity War images.  I watched his face. Saw the light, kindled by Black Panther, go out in his eyes.


In the real world AND the “reel”world, his life was not as precious.  He was surrounded by people who could judge, jail, fire, exclude, or even kill him in real life or fantasy.  And worse, if he said something about it, his white friends would in essence tell him “why are you so racially paranoid?”


I can see how much the world has changed.   Jason has not. And in sitting down and explaining that no, it isn’t worse than ever. No, things really have improved.  No, white people aren’t evil. They are just…human I realized how very much I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to have that conversation with him. You know, like the one to move slowly and keep your hands in plain sight and NEVER argue if you are pulled over by a cop.


It was heart-breaking. And it broke the “magic” I felt with Marvel films.  It was a sense that I couldn’t trust them. That I KNEW, and no one could tell me different, that if the filmmakers had been diverse that they wouldn’t have kept either T’Challa or Fury alive, and had a better defense of Wakanda.   Hell, Captain America threw together a better defense of New York in about thirty seconds, and Wakanda had had YEARS to prepare.  It was a disgrace.  It was contempt: the filmmakers didn’t’ really believe in these people, these characters.   Wakanda was just a neat place to stage a massacre.




Which brings me, at last, to “Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse.”   Jason broke his ankle nine days ago, and he’s been laid up, only leaving the house to go to the hospital.  He didn’t want to leave yesterday. But…we bribed and cajoled him, renting a wheelchair so that he wouldn’t need crutches, and drove him 27 miles to Burbank for the sneak preview.


And…the instant he saw Miles Morales, a kid as dark as him, with hair like him, with similar hopes and dreams and humor…I watched Jason, who had been in terrible pain for a week, SURRENDER TO THE FANTASY.


And when Miles began to discover his powers…Jason was smiling. Leaning forward.  And when the “other” Spider men appeared, he laughed and cheered.  And when Miles suffered loss, there was a tear in Jason’s eye. And when Miles finally tapped into his full powers, unleashing Spider-Hell on the omnipotent Kingpin, Jason was grinning from ear to ear. THE LIGHT WENT BACK ON IN HIS EYES.


For a little while, he wasn’t a kid with a broken leg.  He was SPIDER MAN.  Swinging from the rooftops, a hero, a kid like him.  For just a moment, he had no limitations, and the weight of his pain was off his shoulders.  For a moment…the world was right, and beautiful.


That moment lasted all the drive home.   Until bedtime. The happy smiles.  The tiny crack in the armor around his heart.


And the final message of the movie was incredibly subversive in the world that fed Paul Winfield to the roaches, that executed an innocent black man in  The Green Mile so that Tom Hanks could have a better erection.  It was: we are all heroes.  We all can wear the mask.  It is what is in our hearts, not on our skin or between our legs.   It is what we feel, and do, not how others see us.


I’m not sure I can tell you how much I would have given to see BLACK PANTHER when I was fourteen. How much it would have changed my life.   But INTO THE SPIDER VERSE is another example of what my wife and I call “movies from the other world.”  A world in which people don’t have to pretend not to mind when they die for the entertainment of people who do not cherish their lives.


It is a movie from the future. No…it is a movie of NOW.  We are still haunted by the ghosts of what has been.  But increasingly, and blessedly, the cycles are moving faster now, such that an INFINITY WAR is followed by a crowd-pleasing juggernaut of a film, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes as of yesterday, one that ALL audiences can cheer…that just happens to have a 14 year old Afro-Latino  kid named Miles Morales at the center.


I’ll take my victories where I can find them.  And today, I feel like a hero.  And more importantly…so does my son.


Thank you Sony. Thank you Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. There is a reason I’ve loved Marvel all my life: there is something at the core of that primal dream that has led to things like Black Panther…and Miles Morales…and even little Spider-Ham.


I’ve gone on long enough.   Go see it.   And as Spider-Ham would say…that’s all folks.





Walt Whitman, Will Hunting, and James Bond

One of the most powerful scenes in “Good Will Hunting” is the moment when the psychiatrist (RobinWilliams) corners Will (Matt Damon) saying the simple phrase: “It’s not your fault.”  Again and again, until Damon breaks down sobbing.  Ias first it is as if those words are blows, lashes, and Damon recoils, responds with anger,and then fear, begging him to stop.  Williams comes closer and closer, ultimately wrapping his arms around Damon.  “It’s not your fault,” he says, again, and we see all of the blocked emotions come boiling up out of Damon, anger giving way to fear, then fear to hope, and then the tears, and on the other side of them…a glimpse of heaven.


It is the film’s emotional climax, and if you surrender to it, it is as powerful as a sledge-hammer to the heart.




It’s not your fault.



A reader recently said that the lack of a “villain” was one of “Good Will Hunting”s strengths.  Agreed–there were forces of opposition, but no real “bad guys” on screen.


And yet…opposition is every scene. It is the warp and woof (whatever the heck that means) of drama, and without it, your scene lies dead on the page or the stage.  And we can actually examine this scene from the perspective of a villain by using a simplistic story pattern, say the one taught by Dwight Swain in “Techniques of the Selling Writer.”


Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster.


Here’s that pattern with a black-and-white “villain”, let’s say in the 1964 movie “Goldfinger”:


Situation: when large amounts of gold are being smuggled across Europe

Character: Secret Agent 007 James Bond

Objective: Is assigned to stop the leakage.  But little does he know that his suspect

Opponent: Super-industrialist Auric Goldfinger

Disaster: Is really only smuggling gold to finance his real operation, the destruction of Fort Knox with an atom bomb.



Lining up your “elements” like this simplifies things drastically, and suggests scenes and plot-twists galore.


But what happens with a movie with real living breathing characters (or at least better simulations thereof?)  In real life, we rarely get preening, taunting, “monologuing” villains. We have human beings, doing the best they can with the resources they have, and sometimes making terrible mistakes.  Look around…most people hurt themselves far more than they ever hurt others.   While it is comforting to place the locus of evil outside ourselves, it is also a cop-out.


Will Hunting’s greatest “villain” was himself, his own emotions.  His own actions created his adult pain.


But…the roots of adulthood are found in childhood. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” Walt Whitman wrote, in a poem which touches on the fact that our earliest experiences are always with us.  Will Hunting’s early life was rejection and abuse.  He was shuttled from home to home.  His friendship with his blue-collar friends was the very first real family he’d ever known, the place he feels safe. But that castle has become a prison, and a man of his intellect will chaff and rot under the stricture.  His early life, the fear and terror of having no agency, no control, and being abused by the very people who should have provided protection, were a snarl he could not unwind alone.


“The instructions on how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.”




So, with that perspective, let’s try to apply that simple plot structure to a complex film:


Situation: When faced with the task to “adult” (connect with a good woman who is his natural mate)

Character: neurotic genius Will Hunting

Objective: Has to find a way to finish maturing, enter the adult world of responsibility and contribution and self-discovery.  But standing in his way is the internalized false image created by

Opponent:  Everyone who ever hurt, abandoned, painfully programmed him as a child

Disaster: Creating a false self image so smart, so strong, that it will take an entire tribe of loving support to dismantle it.


Seen this way, we can easily see the scenes that have to be written:

  1. Introduction of his basic day-to-day world
  2. Introduction of his eventual allies
  3. Establish both his brilliance and self-destructive tendencies
  4. CHANGE HIS WORLD: introduce something new, namely the woman he will love enough to risk “dying” (killing the false self image) for.


We know that there will be a series of scenes in which the stakes will grow higher and higher, rejection of chances for growth, a delicate dance of fear and love, and a SERIES of confrontations what will answer “who am I?” and “what is true?” at deeper and deeper levels until the past is thrown away, and a man capable of love, independence, and accepting his own value are revealed.


NOTE: there would be other versions of this film.  Depressing versions. Where for some reason he is unable to take “the leap of faith” and devolves back to his old life–diminished.  Why? BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE GLIMPSED SALVATION.


If you cannot see the light, no one can blame you for not swimming to shore. You can blame the darkness as you drown. But if you SEE the light, and refuse to swim toward it?  You have made a decision, and on some level…you know it.


The first is death

The second, damnation.


THIS is why it is so hard to get people to open their eyes and see inconvenient truths.  Because if you SEE it, you have to act.  And…most will.


But you have to move past the anger, past the fear which supports it, and touch the love within. The hope, and possibility.  Great sex with someone who loves you can do that, bet your bottom dollar.


Napoleon Hill in “Think And Grow Rich” speaks of the power “Love X Faith X Sex.”  Wow.  KILLER combination. It blows your mind, and points the way toward a new set of possibilities, not a mere “improvement” over what has gone before but something NEW.


The first time you experience that, the pattern of life gets clearer, and suddenly you understand the world differently.  Not just “better” but actually DIFFERENTLY.  THAT is what Minnie Driver did to him in that movie.


She said: I am a potential future. I would be your mate. Strive with you.  Bear your children. Watch your back. Give you EVERYTHING a woman can.


But you must throw off your delusions. Be the Lion you can be, to match my Lioness.  Protect and serve the family.  Watch my back. Give me EVERYTHING you have.


No games. Playtime is over.


Can you step up?


If he does, he gets much more than a wife and partner.  HE GETS HIMSELF. His true self.  Further, he gets to “defeat” the “villains” who programmed him with pain and fear.


With a two-dimensional story, the best line is likely to be something said by a hero strapped to a laser table: “do you expect me to talk?”  “No, Mr. Bond…I expect you to die!”


With a deeper story, that line is also about death, but it is: “It’s not your fault.”    Damon is afraid, angry, in tears, because his entire personae has been built around the belief that it IS his fault. That he IS guilty, and unworthy of love and happiness.  To accept the new live, he must kill his old self.


“Its not your fault” said to the new self is “come to life!”

But to the old self it is, really, “I expect you to die.”


Only the promise of love, and hope, and self-discovery…and the support of friends and mentors and lovers ALL COMBINED were enough to shatter those chains for Will Hunting.


But the path he followed is available to anyone willing to kill their self-image to gain their actual life.  Or…to love more than they fear.




“Becoming Bond” (2017)




I just finished watching “Becoming Bond”, an original Hulu documentary about the amazing life of George Lazenby, the swinging 60’s bachelor who played 007 just one time, in the terrific “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”  From one perspective, he was an absolute idiot who squandered the chance of a lifetime. But we aren’t limited to one perspective, and it is possible to extract a totally different meaning from his story.


The 60’s were a time of social reinvention of sex roles, power, and society.  Questions of identity and reality, fueled by fear of an apparently unwinnable overseas war, the civil rights movement in America, and the blossoming of psychedelic culture.  Due to a set of bizarrely unlikely circumstances, this auto mechanic from Australia became a male model in London and Europe, and then when Sean Connery quit the Bond movies, won a freak opportunity to screen test for 007.


His natural arrogance and a certain level of naivete led him to con producers Saltzman and Broccolli into thinking he was an experienced actor.  And based on that lie, the gates of heaven opened to him, and he was the man with the license to kill.

The problem is that there is always a dual challenge to life: the OUTER game of “success” and the INNER game of being an authentic, adult human being.


If an experienced actor like Christopher Lee was “spun” by making “Man With The Golden Gun”, found it  disorientingly huge, imagine what it was like for Lazenby: all of the sex, and power, and fame. All the voices whispering in his hear that he was the greatest thing in the world.  In a way, he didn’t have the emotional skill to keep the worlds separate.   So he “methoded” his way into the role.


Unable to ACT Bond, to the limit of his ability he BECAME Bond: doing his own stunts (when possible), refusing to cooperate with the director, screwing every woman in sight, arrogantly demanding every perk Connery had had.  His entire plan had been “fake it til you make it”


And it seems he was quite isolated from anyone who could have grounded him, no family, no real friends, just people who saw him as a commodity.   Mistakes, as they say, were made. Wow, were they.


And eventually the movie was finished, and the producers must have been happy, because they offered him a six-picture contract and that aforementioned under-the-table cash.


And this is where you can ask what decision would have been best for him…and we’ll never know, precisely.  It is easy to say he made a mistake, as he certainly became a punch-line and laughing stock.  But just for the sake of fun, let’s look at it another way:

He did not have the resources or experience, the wisdom or talent to BOTH be true to himself AND carry a world-wide franchise.  People die on that mountain.   The process of life crushes ego and false identity, and having that happen in the glare of the spotlight can prove fatal.


What we know is that he turned it all down, and as a result of his behavior and choices, he is blacklisted.  The horror of his situation had to have peaked about the time he lied his way into a movie deal with Bruce Lee, who died just before their movie was about to begin!


But…life went on.  He married, was successful in real estate, and lived an adventurous, athletic life on his own terms. Does he wish he’d done things differently?  He said he would have made one more Bond movie, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.  But his attitudes is that he might not be an actor…but he is an original.


He’s Lazenby.   George Lazenby.



Steven Barnes

“Creed 2” and the power of Finding Yourself

I’ve been a fan of the “Rocky” saga since 1976, when the Italian Stallion realized that the fight with Apollo Creed had to be about HIM, and not what Apollo did, or what the judges said.   And because he changed the definition of “winning” (to simply being on his feet after 15 rounds) he became an absolutely uncrushable beast, and set up a series of films that have thrilled audiences for over FORTY YEARS.   That…is amazing. Especially since we all know how they will end. No surprises, other than the grace notes in the journey itself, and a nugget of real emotional truth.   Given that truth, we are watching Sylvester Stallone’s journey of life.  And when Ryan Coogler revitalized the series with “Creed” he tapped into that same vein: a familiar story, well told, old wine in new bottles, touching some truth of the human experience that provides the emotional “spark” to send the battered fighter back to the center of the ring to thrill us one more time.


And “Creed 2” was no exception.  If you liked the others…you’ll like this one.  I loved it.  And if it isn’t the same revelation as either the original “Rocky” or “Creed”, in NO way is it less than the other “Rocky” sequels.  And as with the others, there is a moment that spoke to me, that put the heart in the movie and kept it from being a simple exercise in waiting for the training montage and the Bill Conte horns.


So let’s look at that moment.     Adonis Creed is the son of the former heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed.   Born out of wedlock and in poverty, he is struggling to find his own identity, as a fighter and as a man.  Although he has won the championship, he is still hit with a common conundrum: “I don’t FEEL like the champion.”  His challenge is to own, to inhabit his life.    Because his expectations (how he thought he was supposed to feel) were not met, he   feels like an impostor.    This creates an emotional weakness where a promoter can challenge him to fight the son of the man who killed his father, and Adonis CANNOT react to this logically or rationally or strategically.  He reacts emotionally because of that wound.   His challenge is to live as himself, not in reaction to the world, or the past.


You can probably predict the story beats that follow, and I won’t spoil them.   But let’s just say that he cannot make that emotional connection to himself FOR himself.  This is the point at which an adult either wakes up, grows up, or falls back into old patterns which will eventually grow self-destructive.


Here’s the truth: he DID feel like a champion. 


He just didn’t realize how champions actually feel.


“I earned a million dollars.  Why don’t I feel like it?”


” I’m an adult now.  Why don’t I feel like it?”


“I’m a published writer.  Why don’t I feel secure?”


“I’m a black belt. How come I’m not confident?”


People DIE if they can’t resolve those issues.    External accomplishments can not and do not fill that hole in your heart.  Recently, I spoke to a woman with high educational accomplishment (Call her Dr. Jane), who talked about a man she loved, who could not be with her because she earned more money than he did.


This is a real-world issue.  Both men AND women have reinforced the notion that males should be great hunters and gatherers, so this isn’t just a “male weakness”.   It is a human issue we are dealing with as we evolve our society.    What Dr. Jane  said is that no matter how much she loved him, his insecurity was too strong.


To be with her, he would have to shut his heart against what the world thinks, and have faith that she would not, in time, grow more attracted to a man of higher power (a very real phenomenon) and leave him. More importantly…he would have to love himself enough to have faith that he would be fine no matter what. To have the clarity to trust his perceptions of her.


In “Creed 2″, Adonis has to separate himself from the roar of the crowd, from the belts, and accept that his mother, his lovely partner Bianca, and his ‘Unk” Rocky Balboa love him for who he IS rather than what he DOES.  To do that, HE has to accept himself the same way.    And…he cannot. For all of his accomplishment he feels empty, spent, lost.  I’ve had that feeling, haven’t you?  Where the roar of the crowd, the love of our friends, the money in the bank mean NOTHING.


On Prince’s “Gold” album there is a terrific song that says he went to the mountaintop in his career…and there was nothing there.  If you don’t understand that, like so many “winners” that came before you, you will reach that point and ask:   “Is that all there is?”


What, then, is the way out?




“Creed 2” has a lovely scene where he, and Bianca, and their child are laying on the floor, and Adonis realizes that they are a family of fighters.


Lion.  Lioness.  Cub.


That’s who and what he is, with all it implies about the ups and downs of life.  Not every hunt, every fight will be successful.   And eventually time takes us all (“It’s undefeated” Rocky said in the first Creed)


These two (Bianca and his child) will be there, and love him, after the crowd is gone.  His mother tells him: “don’t tell me that this fight is about your father.” It is not.  It is not revenge, it is about answering the question “Who am I?  Am I my father’s son? And what does that mean?” He MUST answer that question before he can face his challenge with real personal force, actually balanced with feet set firmly on his own soul. From there we can love. Fight.  Lose, without losing ourselves.  Or win, without thinking that the trophy, or title, or money makes us a winner.


NO ONE CAN GIVE THIS TO YOU.  You have to find it within yourself, or spend your entire life seeking it from others. And when you get that award, that honor, that contract, that relationship?  You will wonder why you still feel empty.


HEAL YOURSELF FIRST.   Bianca was a lioness. She needs a lion.  It is as brutally simple as that.   Ask yourself what your perfect partner would be.  Make that choice not merely based on the possibility of finding them, but WHO YOU MUST BECOME to be worthy of that relationship. Is that a better, stronger, more honorable and joyful version of yourself?  Is that in alignment with your goals and values?  Then walk that path, NOT for the other person, but for the sake of your own soul.   Whether they ever show up has to be almost irrelevant.   You DON’T do it for “them.”  You do it for YOU.  You love yourself enough to be absolutely 100% certain that you will live your life with integrity to your spirit, your heart, your values, your sense of what you want to contribute to the world.


And when you are on the road to becoming that better person…THAT is when you  will find another person who is on THEIR journey, moving in the same direction, at the same speed, with their “green light” on, saying that they too are ready for love.  It is magic.

It is life.


Love yourself…and share the love!

Steven Barnes

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (2018) and the moment of falling in love

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) is a collection of six stories set in the Old West, by the incomparable Joel and Ethan Cohen.  If you have followed them enough to know if you’re on their wavelength (it is as singular as Tarantino or Spike Lee), you’ll know whether this means you should check it out.


Personally, I couldn’t wait to show it to my wife Tananarive, and we had a heck of a rollicking good time.  The very definition of “elevated genre,” they specialize in the “you have NO idea where this is going to go” as they deal with gunfighters, bank robbers, pioneers, gold prospectors and travelin’ shows in a way you just ain’t seen afore, pardner.


Wonderful, violent, heartbreaking, funny, and BEAUTIFULLY shot, if you have Netflix you could do one heck of a lot worse with ninety minutes.




(slight spoilers ahead)


One of the stories is applicable to our investigation of love and loneliness, the path of the Soulmate.  IN the segment ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled”, Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is a woman traveling in a wagon train a new life in Oregon .   Things go badly, and she bears up under tragedy with great spirit and a broken heart. But in the deepest moment of despair…she is asked for her hand in marriage by a kind, handsome  guide, Billy Knapp (Bill Heck).


And…we believe in their connection.   She is unmarried and lonely (I won’t say more than that) and needs protection and support.  He is a cowboy who sees his boss grown old and alone on the trail, and doesn’t want that for himself.  They are two people with need, their strengths and weaknesses in balance.  And…they reach out to each other and there is that moment, that magical moment when you can see the light go on in each of their eyes.


You are attractive. You find ME attractive?  We are both available?


Something magical happens in these moments.     It is not merely “love” it is the possibility of a future together.  Life.  Love. Passion. Hope.  Faith.  A home, built together over the years. Sharing. Companionship. Watching Kazan and Knapp play their parts, beautifully, you see all the   yearning and astonishment play out in their faces.


I still remember the moment I realized that there has to be a balance between two people, or there cannot be a relationship.  A lioness needs a lion.  They can be equal, or complementary, but both have to see the connection, feel that balance.


The moment I realized that my wife and I felt that…it was astonishing.  A “sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you” moment.  A blessing to both of us.


This moment of magic can be found best by mature, autonomous adults who are already complete in their needs…but want more, want that magic SOMEONE to pass through life with.    Friend. Lover.  Helpmate.  This is so precious.  And the first step is to heal the wounds that stop you from being a friend to yourself. From loving yourself. From connecting with your strength and drive.


If that has been the missing element for you, the good news is that you can make that connection now, today.  By visualizing and connecting with your own heart and “root” survival instincts, we can clear out the negative familial or social programming, the negative experiences, that stop us from being simple instinctual creatures with intellect and spiritual potential.


And I give Thanks every day for the fact that we always have this wisdom within us, and by triggering it, and loving ourselves, we open the doors to finding that special partner.


Happy Thanksgiving


A Soulmate Is Born

Maybe its time to let the old ways die.”— Jackson Main

There is a moment in “A Star Is Born” that is almost too painful to watch. In it, deteriorating Country Western singer Jackson Main is watching his wife Ally receive a “Best New Artist” Grammy. Inebriated, he wanders up on stage to join her. Right there on national television, he loses control of his bladder and wets himself, visibly. Imagine the humiliation and pain, the self-loathing not just triggered by something like that, but triggering the action itself. Can you imagine what it would require to screw up that badly? How much rage and fear at Ally’s success that would produce a passive-aggressive nightmare like that? The mixture of love and hate? And what of the aftermath, after you “sober up” and apologize, apologize, apologize. There’s only one problem with apologizing for an alcoholic outburst: it works once. Maybe twice. After that, if you drink you KNOW you are going to screw up again, and you cannot blame the alcohol. You chose diminished capacity. Perhaps it’s a medical problem, but you cannot deny that a problem it is.

Moments like that change everything. And the saddest part? In the midst of her humiliation, what Ally did was try to protect him by covering the wet spot. Love. Pain. Fear. Anger. Success. And…the most horrific public failure, all mingled.

THAT was a moment none of us would want to live through. And one hypnotic to watch.


Let’s overview the film.

Jackson Main is a hard-drinking C&W singer, raised by an abusive, alcoholic father. He wants love, like the rest of us. There is a serious problem: He does not love himself, and all of the adoration of his audience means nothing with the empty space within him. He sees Ally and is blown away by her art, her purity, her goodness. He decides that he will give her the chance of a life-time and lift her up. And we sense that he is hoping that just perhaps, if he can give her the gift she wants — success — she will reciprocate by rescuing his broken heart.

The problem is that the gaping wound in his heart is too large. As her star rises, eclipsing his, her total adoration of him isn’t enough and he begins a self-destructive spiral. Without faith and self-love, he cannot accept the chance that he might damage her career — which is clearly more important to him than their love, as his career was more important than his life. He was a scrambled man, turned inside out, the external world full and the internal world empty.

And this conflict destroys him. Ally, more genuinely tough and integrated (the love of her father is obvious and deep, giving her a foundation) his sacrifice allows her to integrate stardom and artistic integrity. She was a healthy human being. He was not, and the light of her love withered instead of nurtured.

A Soulmate has been defined in many ways, but for the sake of this discussion let’s say this: a soulmate is a person who, when you meet them and are with them, you feel the doorway to your future opening before you. There are so many values, intentions, energetic “frequencies”, mutual attractions and other things contained in this notion. The most important part is that everything is matching up: sexual attraction, emotional connection, values and life direction, mental “vibing” and even a spiritual union.

We all crave this kind of connection, even if some of us don’t believe it is possible, or that we can find it. Some make the mistake of thinking a Soulmate relationship should be some level of perfection where there are never arguments or disagreements, and the Soulmate “knows everything you need before you say it.” That is a grotesquely immature notion, a holdover from pre-verbal infancy, when mommy and daddy knew you needed changing, or a bottle, or a hug, even though you had no words.

Finding a Soulmate is one of the most precious experiences in life, and the first step we can take, even before we meet them, IS TO BECOME HEALTHY HUMAN BEINGS. That’s it. Not complicated at all. Brutally simple. If we don’t…if we aren’t…how can we attract and hold a healthy person? Its hard for a relationship to be healthier than the people within it.

Remember Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me for a member” line?

If we don’t respect and love ourselves, won’t we have to see anyone who loves us as flawed? And if they AREN’T flawed…won’t we fear losing them? It’s an emotional nightmare.

And indeed, Jackson DOES try to tear Ally down at one point, criticizing her looks. She is too strong, retreating from him rather than letting him damage her, and he must apologize. When his life falls apart, had he loved himself, had some sense of faith in his ability to heal, or at least know that Ally was strong enough to make her own decision to love him, and that destroying himself was the LAST thing she would have wanted….he could have healed and grown.

What was the origin of his emptiness? An adored father who treated him as a drinking buddy rather than a son. Damaging his emotions and possibly even his brain chemistry.

Love was right there. Healing was right there. Human connection, in a world where loneliness is said to be a greater killer than obesity or smoking, was RIGHT THERE in his hands, and he couldn’t grasp it, and that is why “A Star Is Born” is a genuinely tragic love story.

It speaks to every wounded heart that wants joy, that calls out for love, and somehow manages to throw it all away. If he had STARTED by loving himself, healing his heart, then when he met Ally, the two of them might have had a chance. But even if they hadn’t…he would have been happy…would have had the chance to meet someone else and the two of them could have been happy together.

The first step is yours: healing your heart. Learning to love yourself. Then, when you don’t NEED the love of another person, you are free to want it, find it, nurture it.

When the lover is ready, the beloved will appear.

If only Jackson had been able to let his “Old Ways” die, indeed.

This holiday season…give yourself life’s greatest gift: the gift of love.

Begin by loving yourself.


Halloween (2018) and “Toxic Humanity”

There is a terrific scene in the new “Halloween” film where three generations of Strode women: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak) face off against “The Shape” Michael Meyers.




The set-up is devastatingly simple: traumatized by the events in the original film, Laurie Strode (Curtis) has become a neurotic, agoraphobic recluse, convinced that Meyers will return to kill her one day, and sacrificing the love and warmth of her family to attempt to protect them and prepare them for the danger to come.  She has become a “gun nut”, obsessed with barriers and traps and the nearness of death.


Her daughter Karen (Greer) wants nothing to do with her, and her grand-daughter Aliyison (Matichak) would like to be the bridge between mother and grandmother.    When Meyers escapes custody and comes after them, the reality that Mom was right the whole time hits   like a ton of bricks. When   Karen and   Aliyson are trapped in the basement, Michael battering his way in, Karen grabs a rifle in a desperate attempt to protect her daughter and her own life…and the pressure breaks her.


It is an awful scene. This is her dying place, these cold walls and dark shadows her tomb.  She has let down her daughter, who will die under Michael’s knife.   She has heard of the horror, of this implacable hellish, soul-less creature her entire life and mocked the concept…and now it is here.


Death itself, is here.   She looks into what Dr. Loomis called “The Devil’s Eyes” and sees no mercy, no hope, nothing but her own ending, and the abyss sucks her in.


Even with a rifle in her hands, she screams that she can’t do it. She calls for her Mommy, paralyzed with terror.


Michael, the predator that he is, knows she is helpless, comes for her and…


She shoots him BOOM.  She was faking!   And what follows is one of the most satisfying sequences in horror film, as three generations of Strodes stand up to this terror, (at least temporarily) destroying it, and in the process healing their shattered family.  Wow.



The audience I saw it with went NUTS at the basement scene!  THAT was one of the great moments of horror cinema.   She was luring him in with the illusion of weakness, where in reality the training, her fear for her life, and her commitment to saving her daughter has actually moved her totally OUT  of illusion, and into a savage reality:


Women can and have protected themselves throughout all history. And throughout the animal kingdom.


Female “weakness” is an illusion, a game, an agreement between male and female that works great for producing more grandchildren, but is not based in biological or psychological reality.   Are males stronger, larger, more explosively powerful? Yes.  Does that mean females cannot defend themselves?




There is an expression: “it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”  And a woman fighting not just for her own life but the life of her child is about as dangerous, pound for pound, as a human being can be AS LONG AS SHE STAYS OUT OF THE SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED ILLUSION.  Get out of her head. Get into her heart, and her body instincts.


If you step back and look at the game of male and female, it is arguable  that deep in prehistory the human race decided to play a game: females would pretend to be weaker more timid than they were, males would pretend to be stronger and braver than THEY really were.  The goal?  Produce maximum grandchildren via specialization.


And it had advantages and disadvantages for both sides.  The thought that “women’s ambitions and men’s lives were disposable” comes to mind.    Arguably, the human race, post-industrialization, birth control, the invention of firearms and overpopulation, has entered a new era, one in which we can question those gender roles and actually shift them if we choose.  This is new. And…the good news is that this change is actually good for both sides.


All that is required for this change is to awaken from the illusion.   To do this, start with the assumption of equality (with some inevitable reproductive complementarity).  It can be difficult because of all the politics, but just as with racial issues, if you START with an assumption of equality between groups, understanding that societies exaggerate the differences for its own purposes (mainly genetic or tribal survival), then “waking up” frees us.    If you stop needing to project guilt, blame and shame and instead ask: “how did we get here, if we are basically equal across gender and racial lines?” all of the answers will come, and WITHOUT demonizing either side.  Stop the war.   We have done the best we could as a species, and now we have the chance to do better. A chance to step into a new future that is rooted in our distant past, but builds upon it to create new options.


I ask you seriously, guys: when you saw Karen blow Michael Meyers away (well…or at least wound him. You know how these immortal monsters are!) didn’t that turn you on, just a little?  I can’t imagine a healthy male who would want a weak woman.  Could such a woman protect his children?  Protect HIM if he was sick or wounded?  Don’t you want the strongest life partner you can possibly find?


And I ask you, ladies: when you saw that, didn’t you cheer?  Didn’t you feel that that was YOU , given the right situation, the right motivations?  And what would you think of a man who looked at that and cheered? And was turned on by the notion that you could stand at his side, utterly female but utterly capable of defending your children, no matter what it took?


This isn’t a salvo in the gun control debate.  Stop the politics, just for a moment. We’re talking about primal survival, the creation of young, one of the primary drivers of human sexuality.  And ALL animals have the means of self-protection and the internal permission to fight for their lives.   WEAKNESS IS AN ILLUSION.    POWER IS SEXY.   That power can manifest as various forms of intelligence, drive, self-confidence, skill, talent, calm, balance and so forth, but except for BADLY wounded people and predators, weakness is NOT attractive.


I recently met with one of the producers of “Halloween,”  who  chuckled when I mentioned that Michael Meyers could be seen as an avatar of Toxic Masculinity.  Unstoppable, violent, dominating.   But that would only be half the puzzle, because the other half would be Toxic Femininity: pretending to be weak, begging for help she didn’t need,  thrusting the protective energy (Curtis) out to the hinterlands to harden the heart and then blame it for the very sacrifices that keep the home safe.


The path forward is for BOTH sides to awaken.  To end a “war” that has lasted tens of thousands of years.  Which once served a very real purpose which it may well have outlived   It will not be easy, because partisans on both sides are convinced the illusion is real. But there are massive rewards for those who can shake off that fantasy and embrace a new and better world.


And one of those rewards is the ability to love BOTH the male and female aspects of ourselves.  And therefore…each other. And the path is to connect to the child self, to commit to the protection of hat helpless one at any cost. From there, we can see we must harness everything within us, every drop of compassion and love, which then spins into a total commitment to protect and smashes the illusions.


We can be more. We can be free. We can love ourselves, and understand our world, and embrace each other as we walk this journey called life.


The answer, as always, is love.



Be kind to yourself…and love each other


“As Good As It Gets” (1997): Equality or Complementarity?

In the 1997 Romantic comedy written by James L. Brooks, Helen Hunt plays a waitress, CAROL CONNOLY, a single mother with a chronically ill son.

There is a terrific scene where Carol brings a boyfriend home for (hopefully) some awkward sex on the couch of her shabby apartment. She wants him, he wants her…she hopes for a night of passion, something to make her remember she is a woman, filled with hope and life and love and possibility, and not just a mother or a worker drone. Hope. Hope is the only cure for desperation.

But even though both are willing, everything goes wrong, because her sick child needs her, and as every good parent knows, a child’s needs trump EVERYTHING else. After a humiliating (and painfully funny and real) effort to balance a sex life with Mommy instincts the potential boyfriend gives up and leaves, and she is left alone.

Meanwhile, one of her steady customers at the diner, MELVIN UDALL, is a miserable excuse for a human being, a misanthropic homophobe with obsessive-compulsive disorder…but a wealthy, successful writer. She somehow sees his humanity, and is one of the only people in the world who seems to actually connect with him, mostly over his phobia about germs.

Their tenuous connection creates the entire film (which is terrific, funny, and heartfelt) as these two terribly wounded and imbalanced people carefully circle each other. The expression “how do porcupines mate? Very carefully” comes to mind.

And by the end of the film, Carol and Melvin have the potential to create a healthy relationship. Two imbalanced people in a balanced relationship? Sure. They aren’t equal — but they ARE complementary. They have a chance. If they give honestly and fully of what they have,

On the surface, they seem so totally incompatible that the situation is absurd. But audiences and critics loved it, and I suggest that they loved it because there is an essential truth lurking under the surface.

And it is this: for two people to have a relationship they must be in balance. Note that I didn’t say “equal” — that may well be where we’re heading as a culture, but much of the world isn’t there yet. But if you were to divide people up into say 10 different arenas of life: income, intelligence, emotional stability, fitness, attractiveness, energy, judgement self-love, capacity to love others, joy, spirituality…whatever basic qualities you see in the world, and give them 1–10 points per category, what you’d see is that if you add up the points, you’ll never see a vast mismatch. An APPARENT mismatch, where one person is terrific and the other is miserable S.O.B. would lower points in the “judgement” category, wouldn’t it? The “Self Respect” category? Maybe raise points in the S.O.B.’s “charisma” category?

The future might well be “my level of beauty and power in exchange for yours” but the past, and perhaps the present is usually “His power for Her beauty”. Anyone watching supermodels dating old millionaires has seen this at work clearly, and it is up to your politics and view of humanity to decide who is exploiting whom.

I say let’s give them BOTH credit, shall we? Each has traded what they have for the very best they could get. What is that exchange? If it is not an even-steven equality exchange, is it security for fertility? Luxury and social mobility for Sex? Intelligence for Emotional balance? Whatever you want, but find that balance point, and you’ll understand people more deeply. And the beautiful thing is that unlike “Incel Insanity”, saying this HAS (often) been our past DOES NOT mean it is our future. We can change this. But we have to look at it without guilt, blame, or shame. And ask ourselves how we want relationships to work in the future.

But one thing is certain: there is no cheating. We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we ARE. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have the power to improve yourself, and it begins with the honesty to admit we need to do it.

Helen Hunt has sanity, nurturance, beauty, emotional stability. Melvin has the financial stability, generated by writing romance novels filled with yearning. Note that he didn’t make his money selling manhole covers or something emotionally neutral: HE UNDERSTANDS THE YEARNING. He is just too damaged to connect with it in his own life.

Can you see the balance? If she had been more financially stable, do you think she’d have been as likely to bond with him? Hardly. And if he had been more emotionally stable, do you think it likely that he’d have found a woman with her positive characteristics, but less need and chaos? Likely, isn’t it?

There is nothing negative about this, unless you choose to see it that way. Each can heal and help the other. And that yearning, that need, that sense of two human beings seeking to “fit” each other’s lives like a pair of jigsaw puzzle pieces, once it “clicks”, IF it “clicks”…is “As Good As It Gets.”

Brilliant title, wasn’t it?

In a very real sense, that’s all there is to love. Equality or complementarity. Two lonely souls who fit. Feeling that together, you are more than you were alone.

Here is how you can test this notion: create a list of the basic human characteristics. Look for people who have been happily married for more than 20 years. And look at that list, giving them each rough scores in the categories. If you do this often enough, tweaking as you go, you’ll start seeing the pattern: stable couples are roughly equivalent, even if their scores in different categories vary wildly (as with Carol and Melvin). You’ll start to glimpse a truth, as well as start understanding your own values and potential and areas you might want to work on.

Its kind of like a see-saw, where the two people have to be roughly equivalent in order to balance. Society can shift the fulcrum, but if it shifts too much, if there is too much of a power imbalance, I suggest the society itself stops functioning, and they’ll be out-competed by a healthier culture. Men and women HAVE to treat each other with a certain irreducible amount of respect and care, or the whole thing falls apart.

See that, and you begin to end the war between loving human beings, and see that we’ve been doing the best we can do with the resources we have. We have new resources now, meaning new opportunities…but we have to understand how we got here to open the door to the future.

Love yourselves, and be kind to each other…


“Get Away From Her, You B@#$!”

Remember “Aliens”? Sure you do.  Ripley (the great Sigourney Weaver) survived the alien attack on her space tugboat Nostromo, awakening decades later in a new world.   When she is asked to lead a group of tough space marines back to the planet where her ship originally made contact, she hates the notion…but must, both to save hapless colonists and stop her own nightmares.  The space marines are tough and willing, but overmatched by the ferocious aliens that have overrun the planet, underlead by an inexperienced officer.  Ripley, there only as an observer, must take control of the situation to save the lives of the savaged marines, escaping an ambush just in time to see their escape ship blown to pieces.


“Game Over Man!  Game Over!”


Trapped in the station waiting for a nuclear reactor to overload and betting all their hopes on the slender chance of getting a second rescue ship from orbit, Ripley leads the survivors in barricading the station, bonding to the single survivor of the initial alien assault: a little girl called Newt who managed to survive by crawling in the air spaces.  When the aliens overrun them, and Newt is taken alive, Ripley is pushed beyond terror to descend into the bowels of the station to save the child.   She does, but the alien queen follows them into their escape ship as the station blows up behind them.


All seems lost, but at this point Ripley, protecting her comrades and particularly the child she has sworn to save, goes beyond all fear, beyond any ordinary human consideration, becoming the Primal Mother, stepping into the strongest position any human being can come from: “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.”   Does anyone doubt that Ripley would have gladly perished, gone out that airlock with the alien queen, if that was what it took to save that little girl?  When she said those six words:  “Get away from her you BITCH!” the audience cheered as I’ve never seen.  She was beaten.  Wiped out. Finished. Out of options. All of the “space marines” were defeated or dead, her android torn in half, with no weapons, nothing but her mother’s heart and a ferocious will NOT to survived, but to die dealing death.  Few forces can stand up to such courage and power.


She won.  Not just her own life, not just defeating the alien queen, but winning the most precious things in the world: the love of a little girl (‘Mommy!”) and the knowledge that, yes…it was safe to dream again.


THAT is a movie.  And it works because it connects with a core truth.   It isn’t what you fight with, its what you fight for.   And she was able to rise to the occasion because she had pure motivation.


She did what I think ALL of us would do, if we understood what was at stake.





I remember talking to a student about a toxic relationship.  The guy she was with was just a nightmare of anger and depression, negative habits and needy accusations, flirting with violence.  She’d actually had kids with him, and the children were being negatively affected years after the separation. “Why did you marry him?”  She fumbled the answer a bit, but finally came back with “he needed love.,” she said.  Sure, he had problems, but “troubled people need love too.”


Yes, I said. But they don’t need it from YOU.


I asked a question that has been very valuable over the years: “would you have wanted your DAUGHTER  to marry him?”  And the vague, unfocused, defensive lok in her eyes disappeared and she came back sharply with “hell no.”


Predictable.  Why are we willing to accept for ourselves what we would not want for our children?  Because our children hold our hope for the future, our own dreams, rooted in our childhoods, reaching beyond our own lifetimes.    We love them with all our hearts.


Would that we loved ourselves the same way.  Our bodies and psyches hold a lifetime of scars, are “black bags” of unprocessed emotions, tangled values, confused beliefs and distorted memories.   Our CHILDREN are worth the moon…but OUR value is questionable.


But wait…if we make bad relationship choices, don’t those affect our future and present children.   Damaging them to continue this cycle on and on? Isn’t this a paradox? We’ll do it for our kids, but can’t do it for ourselves. And in not doing it for ourselves, we lay the burden on our children, creating nightmares for generations to come….



It can stop now.  Understanding the pattern gives us a new opportunity to come from love rather than chasing after it.   We KNOW how to stop the cycle.  All it takes is connecting to the “child” self within us, committing to protect our own hearts, and healing and improving ourselves until we are on the same frequency as the HEALTHY people who are looking for love.


It really is that simple. And if you don’t find them?  You are still happy and healthy. It is the ONLY approach that cannot lose, since the end point is and always has been finding joy in this world.




Spend a few minutes daily sitting quietly and visualizing the child you were, making them so young that whatever damage you’ve suffered has yet to hit.   See her vulnerability and promise, and commit to protecting her at ALL costs, making her life as wonderful and beautiful as possible. And never letting ANYONE play with her unless they pass your stringent standards.  And….disciplining her with love, as well, making sure she takes care of herself: discipline is love. SOMEONE has to be the parent, and she can’t do it.  You have to.


Do that…and you become the hero in your own story, capable of slaying dragons….or riding them, if you would.   Do this…and you earn your way into the company of other dragon-slayers, dragon-riders.  And if you think you could find a worthy partner in such company…


The door is open before you.




Tom Cruise weirds me out a bit…

Leaving Malibu today to drive down to San Diego, where we’ll connect with Nicki.  Probably see “Mission Impossible” tonight.


Of course, one motivation is to watch Tom Cruise’s insanity manifesting onscreen. Since Douglas Fairbanks (at least) we’ve been fascinated by stars who “do all their own stunts” and yes, it DOES add to the enjoyment of the film itself. Hard to say “that’s impossible!” when you know a stuntman actually did it, that it isn’t green-screen.


And it is hard to say: “no one person could do all those things” when you know that, yes, one human being really did do all (or MOST…even Jackie “all his own stunts!” Chan used stuntmen for certain stunts, at least as far back as “Rumble In The Bronx.”)


When you have a star vehicle like “MI”, clearly tailored to one actor’s personality…well, that’s when you start seeing the difference between a “star” and an “actor”.  A “star” is someone whose personal charisma  brings people to the theater.  They may or may not be fine actors, and fine actors are rarely stars. When you get both in the same human being (say, Meryl Streep), you have something special.


Cruise’s personal picadillos never bothered me much. Really.  So I could just watch his movies and enjoy his performances without worrying about Xenu or whatever. He DID weird me out in MI-2, however.   In that movie, he suddenly began doing acrobatic martial arts moves.  He was about 40 at the time, and NO ONE starts doing moves like that at 40. They just…don’t.  Either you have been doing them prior to that time, or you just don’t learn them. That is a rule that is easy to support.


But he did.

I remember thinking that if other Scientologists demonstrated similar capacities, I’d have signed up for an e-meter session the next day.  (Well…ANOTHER e-meter session.   I’ve had one, of course, and found the experience like working with a low-level therapist who has you wired to a galvanic skin response monitor while asking you personal questions.  Not a bad set up at all, but nothing I cared to go more deeply into).


Since that time, he has demonstrated other high-level body-mind skills that suggest some things to me about him.


  1. He has VERY high integration with his fear response.  Especially around heights.
  2. Very high pain tolerance. No way to learn all those things, or push himself that way, without de-inhibiting the emergency brakes that reserve our life-and-death energies for…well, for emergencies.
  3. Very “clear” motivations, leading to bizarrely high discipline.  And here Dianetics might come into it–if he removes the distractions and complications, so that he can just “be”. But he is also, by all accounts, insanely driven, and an adrenaline junkie.   Makes for a hyper-active, hyper competent solo human being. Not much of a marriage partner or parent, however.


What we’re looking at is a human being who has near total permission to go all-out every day.  I’d bet he gets about 4 hours sleep a night, has a satyr’s sex drive, and a phenomenal memory.   In other words, he is fully actualized in a narrow and probably imbalanced range of being.


Remember that thing about relationships.  The truth is that most human beings have about the same amount of “stuff”.  Human clay.  There are certainly people who seem to just have “more” to begin with. But most of the real excellence you see is people who form and shape their basic clay into attractive forms.  Most of the REALLY excellent people are excellent in one arena, average or less than average in others.  They have pushed all their “stuff” into one corner, and stand atop that heap. Its like those houses at Universal City…look great from one direction, but have no back walls, and are empty.  It may be a house, but it ain’t no home.


Easy to have the best body in the gym if you sleep in your van, and do nothing but train, sleep, and eat tuna fish.  That’s not a life.

Not saying that about Tom.   I hope he’s having a great life, with stupendous fun, and is being who he wants and needs to be in life. But…if he was my Dad, I’d wish he was more…present.


Cruise really does fascinate me, and I’d love to have an hour of his time one day. But then, so would millions of others.  I doubt they’d ask the questions that puzzle ME, however.  Oh, well…I guess I’ll just sit back and watch the fun.  Damn, I love movies.





(P.S.–just for fun, here’s an article about his workout routine.