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About "Dan Brown"

I do a bit of everything for The Free Press. I edit copy, write columns, report, and blog on I've been with the paper — which I delivered as a kid growing up in Poplar Hill — since 2005. My main passions are pop culture and local personalities, and I also do a weekly column about graphic novels. Like what you read? Got a beef? Send me an e-mail at or tweet me at @DanatLFPress. I look forward to hearing from you!

When life’s a grind

- August 20th, 2014

I’m far from a sports fan, yet I love sports analogies.

One of the terms I like to use is “grinder,” which comes from Canada’s great game and passion, hockey.

The NHL fans reading this already know what a grinder is. When discussing their favourite players, they will often say things like “He doesn’t score many goals, but boy can he grind.”

I offer this non-fan’s definition: A grinder is a player characterized by his determination, not his talent.

Grinders can’t be counted on to score a lot. They don’t put the puck in the net every night, but they do put in a lot of ice time because they are the most eager to compete of anyone on the team.

Or, to borrow some more sports cliches: Grinders show up. They come to play.

Oh, and even though I’m using the masculine in this piece, everything I say here applies to female grinders, too.

Grinders are not finesse players. They prove Charles Bukowski’s maxim that endurance is more important than truth as day in, day out, game by game, all season long, they grind the other teams down with their relentless effort.

In other words, grinders are tough SOBs. They are the gutsy heart and soul of many a winning team.

Wayne Gretzky? Not a grinder. Gretzky was a one in a billion player, a freak of nature put on this planet to score goals.

Yet Gretzky couldn’t have had such a successful career without all the faceless, nameless footsoldiers who surrounded him and whom sports history has forgotten. Grinders don’t get the glory.

Now comes the moral of the analogy.

Just as being a grinder in hockey counts for a lot, being a grinder in life means something, too.

You and I are everyday people. We aren’t superstars, or even stars, like Gretzky. But we show up every day to do our jobs and face the obstacles life has put in our path. We gut it out. We grind.

It was director Woody Allen who famously said that 80% of success in life is just showing up. Allen knows nothing about sports, but what the neurotic filmmaker was talking about – in his own weird way — is being a grinder.

Just showing up to face the day, every day, is an accomplishment. When things get tough, getting out of bed every morning can be a kind of victory.

The sun doesn’t shine every day. But don’t you want to be around when one of life’s sweet moments arrives? I know it’s tough to wait for the rough patches to pass — believe me, I know from first-hand experience.

Some days, I would rather just curl up on the couch under a blanket and watch bad television. I get it.

Grinders are known for their inner strength (the source of that inner strength is a column for another time). I don’t know a thing about you, but I know you are tougher than you think.

Only a select few NHLers ever win a Stanley Cup. The trophy has only a few thousand names on it – a handful, compared to all the players who have toiled in the NHL over the decades.

Whatever league you play in, whatever game you play, whatever life throws at you, it’s not going to be an easy ride all the time.

So consider the virtues of being a grinder.

I believe, when you get to the other side of your troubles, you will be glad that you did.

The shape of things to come

- August 14th, 2014

Memo to Hollywood: Enough already with the dystopian sci-fi flicks.

There have been so many of these depressing stories lately, moviegoers can’t be blamed for mistakenly believing there is no other kind of science fiction.

These days, “science fiction” and “dystopia” are almost synonyms.

The biggest and most influential sci-fi property of them all, Star Trek, doesn’t fall into that category. But even that is changing.

Wth such releases this year as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Divergent, movie fans have borne witness to one nightmare future after another.


Nor is the trend going away anytime soon. Coming months will see the release of many more such films, with Mad Max: Fury Road among them.

Perhaps these motion pictures would be more tolerable if they didn’t all seem the same: A small group of survivors ekes out an existence in a post-apocalyptic landscape populated by monsters.

The original heyday of the dystopian picture was the 1970s. Back then, during an energy crisis that gripped the world in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation, it was easy to imagine the future wasn’t going to be rosy. Pessimism reigned.

People looked at the lousy state of the world and projected forward several decades. The results had titles like Omega Man, Silent Running and Logan’s Run. These pictures were so common back then, even Woody Allen got in on the trend: His Sleeper envisioned a society ruled over by a tyrannical nose with an iron fist.

Nowadays, dystopian flicks are a dime a dozen. You’ve got your District 9, your Watchmen, your Resident Evil series, your Hunger Games.

Even franchises that have traditionally been uplifting or positive have been given a grim spin by today’s filmmakers.

Man of Steel isn’t set in the future per se, but it borrows the trappings of science fiction and it was depressing as hell. Who ever thought Superman would be as dark a hero as Batman?

Which brings us to Star Trek. If you want to stand out in today’s movie marketplace, offer viewers something they aren’t getting anywhere else; in other words, offer them a Utopian vision.

This has always been they key to Star Trek’s success. Gene Roddenberry predicted a Utopia in which people got along and technology wasn’t the enemy. He offered a future that worked. In short, he offered hope.

Yet in the hands of J.J. Abrams, Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan has been destroyed. Captain Pike suffered cruel torture in the first movie, then was offed in the next during an assassination attempt. And Scotty can’t get a decent meal.

Where does this leave the industry, and fandom? In bad need of a fresh take on the future.

However, it doesn’t look like one will be arriving in theatres anytime soon.

Perhaps that’s why television’s Dr. Who has risen to prominence, since it shows us a universe with a moral economy, in which good is rewarded and evil is punished, or at least foiled.

In forty years, will anyone remember Guardians of the Galaxy?

- August 4th, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very good movie.

It may even achieve greatness, on its own terms.

That said, it is not this generation’s Star Wars — as some reviewers are arguing.

It’s hard to overemphasize the effect Star Wars had when it was released (by Star Wars I mean the motion picture released in 1977, not its two sequels nor the dreadful prequel trilogy).

Star Wars was one of those rare films that arrived at the exact right moment. It enchanted an entire generation, causing the members of that generation to fall in love with movies.

It was the gateway drug for tens of millions.

As I have written before, Star Wars was so far ahead of its time, the vocabulary to properly critique it did not exist in 1977

If you look at the reviews published back then, many of them borrowed terms from fantasy fiction to describe how the film works.

Obi-Wan Kenobi was a “wizard.” Lightsabres were “laser swords.” Luke’s mission to destroy the Death Star was his “quest.”

What Star Wars did instead was to create an entirely new vocabulary.

When you describe your boss as Darth Vader, we all know that’s a synonym for the purest, darkest evil.

When you tell a friend you sense a disturbance in the Force, that’s another way of saying your intuition is causing you to feel uneasy. The Death Star itself has become shorthand for technology run amok.

Thirty or forty years from now, will people still be raving about Rocket Raccoon’s performance? Will the name of Ronan the Accuser mean anything?

Will the term “infinity gem” have crossed over into the vernacular and be understood as an alternative way of saying planet-shattering power?

I doubt it.

For all of its fine qualities, and there are many, Guardians of the Galaxy is not going to create a new kind of pop culture, a new prism through which to view the world.

In fact, bringing Star Wars into any conversation about Guardians of the Galaxy is unfair.

Maybe it’s this generation’s Matrix.

Perhaps it’s the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings of its time.

It could even be the Dark Knight of this generation.

Personally, I believe the one-two combo of Guardians of the Galaxy and 2012′s Avengers will be looked back on as an important watershed in the history of filmmaking.

They will be viewed as influential motion pictures.

I’m already prepared to say Guardians sports the most sophisticated computer-generated imagery thus far in Hollywood history, but let’s face it – that’s a backhanded compliment because the bar is pretty low.

The special effects in Star Wars still have a certain low-budget charm. However, the truth is that if the effects are remembered now, they are remembered because their purpose was to move the story forward, not just look cool.

So what is the Star Wars of this generation?

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to think the Star Wars of this generation is still . . . Star Wars.

But you tell me: Which DVDs in your collection do your kids love to watch the most?

And now for the good news about the news biz

- July 29th, 2014

As an industry, journalism is in a sorry state.

I’m not the first to say it.

Print publications such as The London Free Press are slowly dying. No one knows how to make online media work as a business. Reporters and editors today have no ethics.

Sound familiar? I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already heard.

And now for the good news about the news biz.

As a group, the young journalists I know are the most promising crop of media professionals I have ever come across.

The rookie journalists I work with here at The Free Press, the ones I teach in my classes at Western University, may have more raw talent, purer ambition, higher standards, than any previous generation.

Since I graduated from Ryerson University in 1996, I’ve worked in five different newsrooms across this country. I’ve worked with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different people of all age groups.

I realize there are burnouts. I know there is deadwood. We are no different than any other industry.

But when I look at the up-and-comers, I am heartened. I believe the profession is in good hands.

It may take time, but I’m confident the good ones among them will find steady employment. The better ones will create their own jobs. And the best ones will unlock the puzzle that is online journalism which, in its own way, is as revolutionary an opportunity as cable television, gonzo journalism and the printing press.

I’ve seen them at work. I’ve edited their copy. I’ve bounced story ideas off them. I’ve bought them coffees and even stronger drinks.

As individuals and as a group, I have a bedrock faith in today’s aspiring journalists.

My conclusion: THEY inspire ME. There’s no reason to fret..

No, it’s myself that I’m worried about.

Am I doing my part? Am I fulfilling my obligations to them? Am I doing enough to show them the way?

I hope so.

After 22 years as a journalist, I feel as though part of my mission on this planet should be to help light the path ahead. As a practising reporter/editor/columnist/blogger and journalism educator, I feel the weight of high expectations on my shoulders.

Maybe this all sounds needlessly high-minded. However, I try to take my role seriously. I do believe one individual can make a difference.

If I have had a successful career, it’s because many individuals took the time to help me along the way. I am, for lack of a better term, a believer in karma. It has worked to my advantage many times over the decades.

So it’s my responsibility to leave journalism in better shape than I found it.

I hope, rather than believe, that I am allowing the next generation to inherit a healthy industry. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. I have done my damn best and now time will tell.

They are the future. And from where I’m sitting, the future looks bright.

Thor’s gender switch simply a cash grab

- July 27th, 2014

You can read my latest graphic-novel column by clicking here.

I don’t mind Marvel making the character into a woman. But do I think an opportunity has been lost to do so in a creative way.

Let me know what you think!