Adjust Your Twig and Giggleberries

Adjustment Day

I need to disclose something before we begin. Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author. As far as I’m concerned the man could make a grocery list compelling and engaging. And since this was his first novel in 4 fucking years (1460 days, 35,040 hours, 2,102,400 seconds) I could not wait to devour it. Which I did. In one sitting. And I’m still sucking the juices off my fingers.

But more importantly than reviewing the book, this post provides me a great opportunity to tell the story about the time that I shared a stage with who my friend Bryce and I now call “Our good friend Chuck.”

A few years back he came to Kansas City promoting his short story collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread and Fight Club 2, a 10 issue limited comic book series (I have signed copies of both). My friend and I not only jumped at the chance to see the awesomeness live, but were also first in line for our first come, first serve seats.

As we came bounding down to the front row, beers and signed first editions in hand, the man himself was checking out the theater before going back stage. I would love to tell you that we had a wonderful and engaging conversation about fiction and literature and the arts, and that I impressed him with my eloquence and knowledge and wit and we are now writing partners.

Fuck, I’d settle for being able to tell you I got through the words “It’s an honor to meet you” without stuttering and fighting the urge to pass out.

He chuckled and took my awkwardness in stride, and said that he was gonna count on us to help him out later. We thought it was a throwaway line, but in that moment it was our throwaway line.

The event was glorious in all the ways you would expect. He has a rabid following and we all drank in his readings from the story collection, the answers he gave to audience questions. Broken up by playing “balls,” a game of batting balls filled with glow sticks around the dark theater. We cultists like exercise with our culture.

Then, at the end, as Chuck’s new trusty friends we were summoned, no beckoned, to join him on stage to help distribute the parting gifts to the masses.

You have not lived until you’ve been on stage with your favorite author, throwing boxes and boxes of severed hands into a hungry, ravenous audience.

To this day I go out of my way to find excuses to tell this story.

“Oh, you got a new car (or kid, or wife, or dog, basically insert object here)? That’s great! Have I ever told you about the time I was on stage with Chuck Palahniuk?”

“I heard you’re dog (or dad, or wife, or kid, or car, basically insert object here) died. I’m so sorry. You know what might cheer you up? Have I ever told you the story about throwing severed hands off a stage with my friend Chuck?”

Yes, I’m an asshole. I absolutely own that shit.

But enough about that, let’s talk about Adjustment Day. The key to good satire, especially dark satire, is to give people a safe place to laugh at the darkest corners of their nature. The key to great satire is to force them to address those dark corners without them knowing they’re doing it.

Jumping into issues of racism, misogyny and bigotry both headlong and feet first takes quite a bit of contortionist maneuvering. And balls. Big, brass, hairy, sweaty balls.

And this book has all of that. And fuck if it isn’t timely in the era of MAGA Trumptards sending their kids to Hitler Youth summer camp.

As with all of Palahniuk’s books, it takes the reader a while to piece together what is actually going on. His non-linear story telling and a fast paced diction propel the reader through the pages at a dizzying pace. If you want to understand what’s going on and keep up, you have to earn it. But rest assured you’ll be glad you did as you follow a variety of POV characters through the challenges of the Brave New World left by what became known as Adjustment Day.

There is a passage early in the book that sets the tone for the novel:

For generations pop culture has been promoting the idea that all men will eventually attain high-status positions in society. Globally, today’s young males have been raised to feel entitled to power an admiration as a birthright. Men in general need to accept their diminished status in the world.

And a little further in we get another nugget of wisdom:

A hard dick was never scared. Porn did to him what spinach did to Popeye or rage to the Incredible Hulk. Putting him in a state where he could Where’s Waldo the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and never find God because the butts of all the angels are so infinitely fuckable.

Porn made Walter a ruthless wolf pack of one.

Speaking as a male, we will never stop mistaking virility with vitality. And it will always keep us in a state of fear masquerading as strength.

For me, this is a direct call back to several lines from Fight Club:

You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.

In fact, the whole tone of the book seems to be a throw back to Fight Club. When Palahniuk collapsed the protagonist, antagonist and narrator into one character, he drew stark, searing attention to man’s individual battle for his own soul. The book is the ultimate man vs. himself story, with a message that still slithers through my spirit today.

Adjustment Day draws that same searing attention to mankind’s soul, at least in our nation. The novel essentially says: “Okay bunglecunts, you think races and orientations shouldn’t intermingle? Go suck on this for a while.”

The creation of a website that contains a list of people to be executed Purge style on adjustment day speaks to a level of violent angst that many are feeling about the direction of the country right now. Complete with an all but realized threat to re-institute the draft so that world leaders can blow their load watching the porn of a World War III is terrifying. It causes us to realize how close we are to living that as a reality.

Dark satire hurts the most when it’s closest to the light of truth.

And the whole idea of cutting off the ears of those on “The List” is steeped in some pretty delicious symbolism. From a callback to Native Americans scalping their prey to the idea of taking the ears of politicians and educators because they never listened, with Palahniuk there is always beauty and purpose in violence.

Splitting the United States into three new nations of Caucasia, Blacktopia and Gaysia was also a stroke of genius, showing how each nation-state would choke on its own xenophobic bullshit and hypocrisy no matter how much it tried to play up its strengths and kill its weaknesses. The POV of the chieftains in Caucasia and Blacktopia and of a straight woman trying to make in Gaysia drew both striking contrasts and parallels.

But back to the twig and giggleberries for a minute. From Walter’s obsession with an erection being a source of power to Charlie’s manliness being reduced to goo by some well-placed spider bites and a sprinkle of patience shows how dangerous and misguided my gender’s obsession with our junk really is.

A truly great metaphor for how becoming obsessed with power can cost us control.

Most fiction provides a brief escape from reality in addition to insights and lessons into self and soul. I’m afraid that this one also provided a glimpse into what America’s could become.

There were many things to love about this book. But the thing I love the most is that my “Good Friend Chuck” is back.

Creative Favoritism

Creative Differences

I’m sitting here re-watching the show 24. The post I want to write about going back to old favorites doesn’t seem to want to come crawling out of my head. Nor do the thoughts about a post about how creative people experience the world differently. Instead they just want to play peek-a-boo.

Then I realized that I’m an idiot. These posts don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Not entirely. The way I see the world as a creative is one of the reasons I always have an old favorite on in the background when I work.

I am a writer. I am a creator. I see beauty, inspiration and story everywhere I look.

I’m not a big fan of silence. Unless I’m meditating, reading, editing or taking in the gorgeous views of nature I really don’t have much use for it. Even when I write I have something on in the background. It helps me focus. I’m weird. And I accept that.

Hell, I don’t even sleep in silence. I sleep with either the TV, Stitcher, Overdrive or Audible telling me a story. Yes, I am 39 years old and still fall asleep being read bedtime stories. You should try it sometime, you might like it.

Then again I am also a notorious insomniac and maybe the voices just keep me company.

But the fact is, there’s so much content across all these different mediums that it would be impossible to consume it all and have any kind of actual life. So why waste time going back to old favorites, or things you have seen before?

To be fair I’m not sure that I would if we didn’t live in a world where access to these things came with my streaming services. I would not actually pay real cash money to watch something that I have already seen. I spend enough as it is.

I have a few different reasons for doing this.

One, as I said, I am not a big fan of silence. I feel more comfortable having something on in the background. I have lived alone for years, and absolutely love it, but the silence can get claustrophobic. In this way, I’m similar to people who like having the radio on in the background at work, or while they are tooling away in their garage. I just do it with TV I have seen before.

I also go back to these old favorites because seeing them before means they won’t distract me from what I am doing. It’s one thing to listen to something new while driving or cooking or cleaning, etc. But when I am in the middle of trying to write a post, or a podcast script, or a story or a novel outline, I need to be hanging on my own words, not theirs.

The two shows that I most frequently go back to are West Wing and LOST, which also happen to be my two favorite shows (I’m in the minority I actually liked the ending of LOST). At this point, I could probably recite each episode line by line.

Since I spent years both as a political consultant, and stuck on a remote island, it makes sense that these shows would speak to me. Okay, so only one of those things is true.

But there are only so many times you can re-watch a show. You need some other pieces to throw on this fire. My most recent three have been X-Files, House and currently 24 (which all originally aired on FOX now that I think of it).

If watching Star Trek and Lost in Space re-runs with my mom created my love of Sci Fi when I was a kid, X-Files solidified and turbo-charged it. For a bit, I actually wanted to be an FBI profiler so I could be just like Fox Mulder.

House is the only medical drama that ever actually gripped me (no, I wasn’t an ER fan, judge me if you want). It was based on the character Sherlock Holmes, also not one of my favorites. The fact that two things I didn’t really care for could be blended to create a show that unique and delicious is what creating is all about.

And 24 brought a truly game changing format to the TV medium. Never before had a television show spent an entire season covering one day, hour by hour. Events occuring in real time. Even in the always fast-paced spy game genre, there was a danger of things moving at a snail’s pace without ingenious writing.

Those are the most recent three. The examples go on and on.

None of these shows have much in common other than their quality. And even though I just have them on in the background, I still see something new each time I watch.

The concept of learning something new everytime you go back to an old favorite, or a classic, was a favorite mantra of one of my lit instructors in college. I was so inindated with new material to read and analyze, the concept went right over my head at the time.

I get it now.

Plus there is just something comfortable about having them on in the background. And I swear to God it helps me be a better creative. It keeps me motivated. And makes me hungry.

I see the awesomeness of these shows that I love and get inspired. It creates a feeling of being nurtured and pulled in the right direction all at the same time. It feels like home.

Creatives see the world differently. We find inspiration everywhere, even from the ghosts of content past while we write in the present, to make it our future.

The Banshee’s Wail: Your July Horror-Scope

Banshee

Welcome to the first installment of a new feature here on Typos of Life: your monthly horror-scope, where predictions about your demonic treachery await.

July Overview: The summer heat is prime time for the Devil’s demons to run. Led by the vocal banshee before shifting on the 22nd to the manipulative fae can leave all creatures with a sense of whiplash, and a good reason to grow eyes in the back of your head.

Aquarius (Jan 20th – Feb 18): The summer heat combines with the violent vocals of the banshee, wreaking havoc on your shy and quiet tendencies. This allows the aggressive aspects from your ruling planet Uranus to come out and play. The vampire inside you seeks shelter from the sun. But you’ll spend the precious hours from dusk to dawn exsanguinating the bodies of all who cross your path.

Pisces (Feb 19 – Mar 20): The abilities of your shapeshifting nature are stifled by the July heat, leaving you feeling like a fish out of water. As you give in to your desire to escape reality, the nefarious fae gaslights your consciousness, making you believe that you are helping those you care for. Until you wake up in a pool of their blood, no memories of your actions against the corpses splayed before you.

Aries (Mar 21 – April 19): The heat of the month is maddening, heightening your inclination to take action without thinking it through. Longer days leave your werewolf caged for far too long. So you take matters into your own hands during the day, your violent temper ripping the limbs from those that seek to contain you, gnawing on the tantalizing flesh once night falls.

Taurus (Apr 20 – May 20): July’s temperament is the perfect environment for your inner hellhound to run wild and inflict carnage on your enemies. Normally practical and reserved, the cries of the banshee put you in a feral state of unquenchable bloodlust, no matter how many times the spoils of your claws refill your dish.

Gemini (May 21-Jun 20): It’s your deepest hope that your doppelgänger will keep you safe from the beasts that run this time of turmoil. But you cannot fight the angst and anxiety of being heat’s captive, the rising temperatures melting your once gentle nature. Your victims this month will include those close to you, manipulatively sucked in by your two-faced demeanor.

Cancer (Jun 21 – Jul 22): Your banshee runs the show for the lions share of this month, making the entire world yours to do with as you choose. Issues with controlling emotion and seeing clearly nearly allow your victims to turn the tables. But you regain control when your ruling body, the moon, lays its steady hand  on you. Your violent cries ultimately controlling the beasts around you through fear and searing sonic pain.

Leo (July 23 – Aug 22): As your ruling body is the sun, you find yourself with enhanced energy during the summer. And your ruling creature fae takes over later in the month, increasing your power. Although your lion’s roar can keep pace with the banshee’s cry, your arrogance could be your downfall, and you could find yourself left swinging from the end of a rope created by your own manipulations.

Virgo (Aug 23 – Sep 22): The demons ruling the roost this month conflict with your normally angelic sensibilities, but Lucifer was once an angel too. Your more nefarious side burns inside you as your worry for society turns inward and becomes paranoia. It will take months to find the bodies of those that go missing for trespassing on your house.

Libra (Sep 23 – Oct 22): Your normal love for the outdoors is suffocating in this heat, leaving you feeling trapped. This feeling will leave your nymph energies turned in an odd direction. Sex is your ultimate weapon as sexual pleasures manifest themselves as violent acts against your suitors. Each violent orgasm leaving you hungry for more.

Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 21): Your siren song could meld in unison with your sister banshee this month, but it could just as easily lead to a street fight of shattered windows and souls. Your jealous nature could rear its ugly head as your distrust and violence toward others leaves its mark on those that make the mistake of answering your call.

Sagittarius (Nov 22 – Dec 21): As your ghosts can only come out at night, you find the long days and searing sun to be confining, leaving your rage to backbuild as the darker hours grow near. You spend your nights continuing the terrors caused by other demons during the heat of the day, ensuring that the weary and exhausted souls around you know no rest.

Capricorn (Dec 22 – Jan 19): The mermaid inside you wants nothing more than the tranquil coolness of water this month. However, water can’t save you from the banshee’s cry becoming a catalyst as you begin expecting the worst. Your more aggressive nature is unlocked, leaving your blood to boil as self-preservation causes you to you poison all of those that dare try to join you for a swim.

Optimus Prime

That's Just Prime

Today I want to talk about a first world problem that has been plaguing my life lately. Forget world hunger, or the fact that the only thing keeping us from WWIII is Trump’s angst filled bromance with Kim Jong-un. My first world problem is as serious as it gets. I am woefully behind on movies, and I don’t like any of my options for catching up. I am a victim of streaming services and their arbitrary licensing deals.

This is serious shit, and the streaming universe needs to fix this so they can get more money from me.

Like millions of Americans, I came to my senses and dropped my Netflix disc plan several months back. I was getting emotionally manipulated in the relationship. I would get a disc in, and then not be in the mood to watch it. So it would sit on top of my Blu-ray player. First for days. Then for weeks. Then for a fucking month. Essentially I was paying to have this disc sent to my house, eat all of my food and stare at me with its judgy little disc eyes while I watched other shows.

And I didn’t want to send it back for something else because that would be a waste of money. That would be admitting defeat. The defeat that comes from being in a different mood when the disc gets in than I was when I delicately placed it at the top of the queue. Or when Netflix flexes its bi-polar power and took a movie from Very Long Wait to It’s in the Fucking Mail. It just isn’t fair to toy with my emotions like that. So I ended the relationship.

And don’t talk to me about Redbox, if I wanted to drive to rent a movie I would just go to Blockbuster. Oh, wait……

I have Hulu Live, Amazon Prime and Netflix. What more could a man possibly want? Movies. A man could want movies. New releases if he so desires. Or old favorites. Or the bin of “holy fuck how did I miss that” movies. A man could want access to this at the touch of a button.

But  I would prefer to have these things without being treated like the streaming world’s prison bitch.

Six fucking dollars to watch a movie? That’s more than half of a monthly Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription. For one God damn movie. And nearly as much as going to the movie theater. At that point I should just buy the fucking movie at $15. But that’s like committing to watch it three times to get value, and commitment like that really isn’t my thing.

At those prices, Amazon, who I love and use daily, is never, ever gonna get my money. As much as I want to catch up on movies. There are endless possibilities on the services I have now. And since I have the HBO add-on with my Hulu Live, most movies will eventually find me.

But I have a better solution. One that would benefit not only myself, but allow a streaming service (most likely Amazon) to make some coin from me and other like-minded people who have no intention of paying $6 per movie but would be willing to fork something over.

I think Amazon should start a bonus streaming service concept to fill the void being left by people walking away from discs. And I really think they should call it Optimus Prime, because I am a dork and apologize for nothing.

Netflix offers a tiered system, you’re allowed to have one, two or three discs at a time based on your subscription. Amazon could now do the same thing, only by streaming movies rather than waiting for discs in the mail. A subscriber would be given a certain number of credits per month that they could spend however, and whenever, they chose, but after the credits are used up they would have to wait for the next billing cycle in order for them to reset, or start forking over $6 per movie. They could even make the offer exclusive to Prime members, much like they do their Amazon Pantry service. As a Prime member, I’m good with that.

Need God in your life and want to rent Dogma? One credit.

Ashamed of yourself for not seeing Shape of Water yet? One credit.

Want to stare at Jennifer Connelly for two hours? Career Opportunities. One credit.

I was on the single disc plan when I cancelled, which means if I really hustled and watched the movies the same day I got them I could watch maybe ten movies in a month. This almost never happened. That plan cost me $11. I think eight movies at that price, that I could stream whenever it was convenient for me, would be a fair. And Amazon could offer higher options for people who wanted to consume more.

As a corporate citizen this is the right thing for Amazon to do for America.

Crisis averted. First world problem solved.

I Have Spirit Yes I Do

SOTP Podcast image

Over the weekend I launched my podcast, Spirits on the Plains, releasing it into the world. It’s about the ghosts, spirits and demons from the most haunted region west of the Mississippi. It’s available on all the major podcast directories as well as at www.spiritsontheplains.com. But this post isn’t about promoting the podcast and telling you to go listen to it. Although it’s awesome and you should. This is about the road to getting it made. This is about the pride that comes from seeing sweat equity turn into something tangible.

This is about me being proud of myself for this and sharing that experience.

I had zero fucking clue what I was doing when I started this project. Well, I knew how to listen to podcasts, if that counts. All I really knew is that I loved Kansas City history, and I loved ghost stories, and I wanted to share that love with my community.

Thank God Dr. Internet was there to guide me.

At the start of any new project in life, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s always a humbling experience, but it turns into something rewarding along the way when you do. I started by reading every article I could find about how to start a podcast, particularly the step by step guides written for people like me who knew next to nothing. I didn’t know what media hosting was, or that I would need it. And I truly knew nothing about recording software or equipment. There were times, particularly at the beginning, where I thought for sure that I had bitten off more than I could possibly chew.

At those times the only thing that really kept me going was that I had shot my mouth off and said I was starting one.

So I started with the tasks that played best to my strengths. I researched and compiled a list of haunted areas around the Kansas City area. I pulled articles about the places I wanted to highlight for the first set of episodes and began to identify people I would eventually want to talk to get more information. Then I started to write, and edit, and edit. And edit some more. Writing when you know it’s going to be converted to the spoken word is a whole different style. Especially when you’re gonna be the one doing the speaking. Also especially when you hate the sound of your own voice.

The most daunting obstacles were on the technical side. As a writer, I didn’t know anything about recording software or equipment, building a website that could handle media files, how to get the podcast distributed on iTunes and Stitcher and had never even heard of media hosting. Quite frankly, once I got to this stage of development, I started to worry about cost. I had no problem putting in the sweat equity to get this project off the ground, but I am not a man of means at the moment, so there was a limit to the amount of cash I was willing or able to sink in.

The fact that I was worried about it truly proved that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

It turns out there is a free recording software called Audacity that a lot of beginning podcasters use. I really, really like free. It also turns out that for $7 a month I could get set up on Libsyn, a media hosting site that not only houses the website, but also pushes the podcast out to all the podcasting directories (after submitting the podcast to them and getting approval). And their walk-throughs regarding all the technical tasks (except recording) were game changers. It took a series of tasks I had no idea needed to be accomplished and helped me tackle them in a single night.

For $15 I own the domain spiritsontheplains.com helping people find my podcast with ease. And I bought the lifetime rights to the song I am using for theme music for $10. And the basic mic I needed ran me $30 on Amazon.

A sunk cost of $55 and $84 in yearly costs to get a creative project off the ground. My hobbies of reading, running and golf each cost more than that. Hell, my internet and streaming cost more than that per month. This is a steal at twice the price.

Then I moved on to actually recording the first episode and playing with the software. Wanna talk about getting lost in the fucking weeds? I seriously hate the sound of my own voice, so pushing past that alone took some effort. I also learned that I breathe, like a lot. Quite possibly more than I should. And it’s loud. So it would be fair to say there was a learning curve with all that. And that there were moments I was very thankful that I live alone.

It got exciting when I started to learn some tricks that made me feel cool. I learned how to fade audio in, fade audio out, run it in the background while I spoke. I learned how to edit out the worst of the errors. And I grinned like a fucking idiot the entire time.

I also learned that it is in fact possible to grow tired of the sound of your own voice. And that I have a lot to learn about getting comfortable talking into a mic, which is ironic given the fact I’ve spent time as a speech writer.

This experience has been rewarding in ways I can’t even articulate. It’s been beyond surreal to see my podcast, something I created, available on platforms like iTunes and Stitcher. Seriously, I can’t stop opening the apps and looking at it.

I also spent more time than I care to admit dancing around my apartment this weekend. I am unapologetic about my state of childlike joy. And again, because of the terrible dancing, I am glad I live alone.

There is zero chance this would have happened without the support, wisdom and advice of my friends. Some of them simply cheered me on. Others were experts in areas where I needed, well an expert, and were generous, giving and patient with their advice. All of them were supportive every step of the way.

I am constantly amazed at how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life.

It’s terrifying and exhilarating to put something like that out into the world. I’m excited to grow as this project continues to move forward.

Now go download it and give me a five-star review.

The Devil Hides Behind the Cross

Devil Cross

Smoke began filling the air as soon as The Cameron Gang exited the bank. Gunshots, splintering wood and shattering glass surrounded them as they dove behind the troughs for cover. The terror filled cries of horses pierced the chaos. The air was acrid, gunpowder gelling with humidity, creating a stench that reminded Johnny of brimstone.

“Guess they knew we were coming,” Ed shouted, snapping Johnny out of his trance.

“They just wanted to give us a proper sendoff,” Johnny shouted back. His cocksure grin grew wider in defiance of a town trying to uphold its law. To protect its money. To protect its own.

He took the saddlebag from his shoulder and tossed it to the shortest member of their group. “Billy, you and Jim get the horses behind the bank while Ed, Bobby and I draw their fire. We’ll meet you back there.”

Billy and Jim scrambled off without a word, crab walking to avoid the bullets. They obeyed his orders without question. Appointing him leader wasn’t something they decided. No one had questioned him going all the way back to the war. No one knew exactly why, or when. One day they were just following him.

Johnny drew a Colt with his left hand to match the one already in his right. The twin six guns were responsible for countless deaths, saving his life with each one. He learned to kill during the war, and lost his humanity. He parted with it willingly. The war brought him out of a lazy stupor that had dominated his life. It didn’t create his instinct to kill, merely nurtured it. Less of a birth mother and more of a wet nurse. It kept him full. But each time at the tit left him wanting more.

His experience as a soldier and an outlaw guided his hands as he fired in the direction with the most guns pointed at him. He managed to kill seven before diving into the protection of the bank, narrowly avoiding another onslaught of bullets.

He lived for these days and one day it would kill him. But today wasn’t that day and he knew it. Without hesitation he shot the banker, the only soul left in the building, as a precaution.

The others had pinned most of the vigilante townsfolk into a stale standoff. Timidity now weighed down the sporadic bullets.

“What now?” Billy said, crouching under one of the shattered windows. The banker’s head wound oozing blood into a puddle surrounding his boots.

“Go out the back. I’ll meet you there, there’s something I have to do first,” Johnny spoke, his mind already off in the distance. His eyes drawn to a building across the street.

As soon as the gang made a break for it, the vigilantes found their courage. The bullets of novice marksmanship serving as the final death rattle in a battle already lost. A battle that was proof that good doesn’t always triumph over evil.

Just as he had predicted, for a moment the amateur lawmen forgot all about him, providing him with the opening he needed. He slithered along the ground outside until he was clear of the bank.

Johnny sauntered into the church, gun smoke wafting off his duster. Sunlight from the open door melded with the smoke and cast his shadow in front of him. He made his way up the pews with an intense casualness ignorant of the chaos outside. He gazed up, contemplating the Christ child splayed out on the cross above him, his cocksure grin once again dancing across his teeth.

He tossed a coin purse onto the pulpit with a devil may care flick of his wrist, his eyes still engaged in a staring contest. His icy gaze turned to the priest crouched in front of the sanctuary’s two shaking parishioners, a man and a woman humbled by their fear.

“God always gets his cut.”

Silence hung heavy in the air as he turned and sauntered back into the gunfight.

Fahrenheit 451 Blows Smoke

Fahrenheit 451 Movie

“It was a pleasure to burn,” is one of the greatest opening lines in all of fiction.

I felt like an idiot for not keeping my expectations managed. HBO seduced me into a false sense of security, banking on its reputation of creating engaging and gritty content. And to be honest, all the promotions  led me to believe this was going to be a series, not a movie. A show set in a dystopic future world that was originally created by literary great Ray Bradbury equaled Fuck Yes in my book. And the source material has as much relevance today as it did when it was written, as most of the greats do.

Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 during the height of the McCarthy Era, when the ideas of burning books and limiting free thinking were very real threats. Bradbury also stated that the book was a commentary on how mass media had reduced interest in reading literature. In the novel, books have been banned and fireman now burn any they find, turning their typical role of putting out fires on its head. The main character, Guy Montag, finds himself questioning his work, and its impact on society.

The book is one of the most well-known novels in literature and gets bonus points for writing about burning books, which provides a degree of delightful angst for readers and aspiring writers alike. Taking on a classic is risky, trendy and ambitious. And with few exceptions the results are mixed at best.

Although disappointing overall, it wasn’t all bad. I only feel like half my time was wasted.

Let’s start with the intro. HBO is known for creating visually striking cinema for the small screen and they designed an intro that drew the viewer right in. The close shots of famous titles being burned interlaced with footage of the Nazi book burnings created a narrative without using words. It drove home how relevant the themes from this book are in this fucked up Fox News era we live in.

Also, having television projected onto skyscrapers with the fireman looming larger than life, looming over society, while the social media emojis and likes streamed upward was essentially an indictment of our infatuation with the 24 hour news cycle and our obsession with social media. This is actually given voice in the film when Clarisse says “We did this to ourselves, we asked for this.” New forms of the same thing Bradbury was railing against in 1953, advancing my theory that writers of dystopic fiction are just prophets in disguise.

The old woman who burns herself alive with her books after being caught was incredibly striking and served as a terrific turning point in the narrative. That being shown on those larger than life screens reminded me, in many ways of the news footage of huge protests for Black Lives Matter and March For Our Lives, the counter-culture to talking heads and status quo.

And the Alexa-esque AI essentially serving as big brother (and stand in for Montag’s wife) coupled with the shot of an old videotape with the Blockbuster logo and “Be Kind Rewind” written on it highlight the dangers of moving completely away from an analog world and into something completely digital (as I type this on my laptop, with my TV on in the background, a show streaming from my Amazon Fire Stick, my smart phone and Kindle closer to me than my bookshelf).

Lastly, Michael Shannon does creepy very, very well. Whatever he channeled into his role as conflicted and creepy prohibition officer Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire he brought with him as conflicted and creepy Captain Beatty. Playing creepy takes talent. Playing creepy and conflicted takes superior talent. This talent made the line “I’ve been burned so many times I don’t know where the scars end and my body begins,” one of the most memorable of the movie. His stoic expression only slightly betrayed by his tone. That takes nuance, something that stands out in a movie with such spectacularly brazen themes and actions.

After getting all of these elements to stoke the flame, they went ahead and poured water on the whole fucking thing and pissed on the ashes.

The most polite way to describe Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Guy Montag would be to call it wooden. The only time he seemed alive is when he was playing for a crowd and burning. He never sold me on his internal conflict, and his character’s chemistry with Clarisse McClellen was as disjointed and awkward as two preteens during their first slow dance. And when he meets the members of the resistance, he doesn’t steal scenes as much as he chokes the life out of them. I guess that second part would be the less polite way to describe him.

I also never bought the plot point of the group memorizing books so that the knowledge doesn’t die in the ashes. I know it’s in line with what happens in the novel, but it has a shitty transition to screen. I’m a big proponent of preserving the integrity of the source material, and often rail against shows and movies that take too many liberties. But some liberties are okay, even necessary. The director had already replaced Montag’s wife with Alexa and turned Clarisse into an informant rather than a neighbor to help fit the medium, there was probably a way to change this plot point to something that worked better visually while preserving the integrity of the work. A scanner with an air gapped computer. A microfilm machine. Something. Anything would have been more engaging.

And the ending, with Montag and Beatty and all the burning was phoned in on a rotary phone rendered obsolete in a digital age. Not even Michael Shannon’s skill could save such a poorly designed scene. Even with the filming going on and Jordan’s opportunity to play to a crowd, it was less electric and more power outage.

HBO wrote half a movie and Bradbury’s warning to us all deserved better.