Episode 288: Will Dowd!

Episode 288 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

This is a special episode, for Will Dowd, checks in to talk about how he turned his Drunken Odyssey blog, Areas of Fog, into a book! We try to get to the bottom of our editorial relationship, the trick of bypassing or appeasing the gatekeepers among the editors of the literary world, and how the weather affects every aspect of life in New England.

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

FOG COVER

NOTES

If you are at Miami Book Fair this weekend, stop by the Burrow Press booth!


Episode 288 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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The Curator of Schlock #203: The Island

The Curator of Schlock #203 by Jeff Shuster

The Island

Michael Caine versus David Warner: Need I say more?

Michael Caine. I know I should have something profound to say, but such profundity is escaping me. I mean, he’s a legend in own time. Heck, he’s a legend in our own time  thanks to Christopher Nolan sticking him in just about every movie he makes. And let’s not forget about Now You See Me, that one about those outlaw stage magicians that fight for truth and justice. Caine was in that too. He’s still relevant. He was also in On Deadly Ground, but we won’t talk about that today.

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This week’s movie is 1980’s The Island from director Michael Ritchie. It stars Michael Caine as a fearless reporter. It also stars David Warner (of Time Bandits and Tron fame) as a fearless pirate. It’s based on a novel from Peter Benchley, the man who brought us Jaws.

Does lightning strike twice?

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No.

Is it terrible? I suppose not so much. I don’t know. I was expecting more out of movie featuring the descendants of the pirates of old, still scourging the Caribbean for loot and booty.

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I’ll say this, these pirates don’t mess around. The movie starts out with some upper crust types drinking martinis on a fancy yacht when a bunch of pirates pull up in the middle of the night and start hacking them to bits. Seriously, they drive a hatchet into the forehead of one rich guy and slice open the belly of another.  The pirates then steal what they want, burn the yacht, and go on their merry way. Apparently, this has been going on for a while. 600 ships have disappeared in the span of a year, arousing the suspicion of Blair Maynard (Michael Caine), a British-born American journalist. Funny, I don’t think he was British born in the novel. I guess they changed that for the movie. Why does no one have any confidence in Caine’s American accent? He had me fooled in The Cider House Rules. He sounded just like a regular New Englander. “Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” Brings a tear to my eye each time.

Maynard heads down to southeast Florida to investigate, drags his son with him with promises of a trip to Disney World, buys him a Colt 45 instead, and charters an airplane out to the Caribbean.  The plane crashes on the runway due to the wheels being jammed. Maynard and his son escape unharmed, but they get kidnapped by pirates the next day while fishing for barracudas.

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The pirate leader is named Nau (David Warner) and we learn that these pirates are the descendants of pirates from the 1600s. They’re not as swift, though, due to inbreeding. They kidnap children to indoctrinate into the ways of piracy and have their eyes on Maynard’s son.

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The pirates also keep Maynard around to breed with the one woman on the island.

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This is a weird movie, but if you ever wanted to see Michael Cain go all Wild Bunch massacring a bunch of pirates with a .50 caliber machine gun–and I know you do–this is the movie for you.

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We also get a bit of kung fu action in this flick.

There’s kind of something here for everybody.


 

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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

The Rogues Guide to Shakespeare on Film #63: Edward II

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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

63. Derek Jarman’s Edward II (1991)

Edward II is a little-known tragedy by Shakespeare, obscure probably because Christopher Marlowe wrote it, if you want to be technical.

Derek Jarman’s film of Edward II is dazzlingly stylish, refreshingly direct, and deliciously playful.

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This visionary film is set as a postmodern anachronism. Nearly all of England is imagined as a mostly whitewashed dungeon, making the activities of state seem ancient and secretive, if a bit classically untouched. The clothing—especially Sandy Powell’s costume designs for Tilda Swinton as Queen Isabella—is poshly mid-twentieth century, though the fashion sense is enduring. There will be a few dips into more contemporary politics. And Annie Lennox sings Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye”!

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Jarman’s treatment of gay culture in this adaptation is remarkably direct.

The play is a bit like Richard II, in that the English monarch comes into conflict with his nobles due to his disrespectful conduct towards the nobility of his upper class subjects. Edward II causes a mutiny in the royal court when he (1) brings his male lover Gaveston back after his father had exiled him, (2) bestowing a title upon Gaveston, (3) insisting that the other nobles respect Gaveston according to that title, and (4) scorning his queen, Isabella, both privately, and publically.

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Shakespeare would toy with same-sex dalliances in some of his comedies like Twelfth Night, or deal explicitly and quite satirically with it in Troilus and Cressida. (The sonnets are, obviously, a much different story.) Marlowe’s treatment of queer desire is much more nuanced, allowing the authenticity of the desire to find a real place in the drama.  Edward II was first performed in 1592. Three hundred ninety-nine years later, Derek Jarman would make us not just see gay desire as genuinely human, but also make us see it.

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At the beginning of the film, Gaveston delivers exposition about Edward calling him back to England to a companion while two other men are engrossed in amorous activities in the same bed. For Marlowe’s text and Elizabethan audience, the reveal that Gaveston is gay will arrive later; for Jarman, the context is clear from the outset. Keep in mind, I am not being a liberal cheerleader here–what I am cheering is a presentation of same sex desire in a way that is not elliptical in order to align with straight mores, which fucking bore me, gentle readers.

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When England breaks out in civil war over the king’s defiance of the demands of the court, Jarman will make Edward out to be making the issue one of civil rights in a move that is brazenly appropriate, even if Edward does happen to be tragically narcissistic.

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Edward is played by Steven Waddington with a muscular vulnerability. This was his first film role (and his next was as Major Duncan Heyward in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans). Andrew Tiernan manages to make Gaveston seem both unbearably conniving and winningly coy. As Edward’s lover, I love him. As a ne’er-do-well, I despise him. For example, he feels compelled not only to privately replace Edward’s wife, the queen Isabella, but to taunt her by teasing with her unmet desires.

 

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One can easily imagine his desire to be revenged for being scorned and exiled, but his hubris and cruelty are deeper flaws than Edward’s.

Tilda Swinton, as Isabella, is incredibly reserved, like a model,  like someone who is tamping down her soul at almost all times.

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Marlowe did not have Shakespeare’s great poetic gifts, but with Edward II he does demonstrate a masterful sense of dramaturgy. Edward II is more likable than Richard II or Macbeth. His legendary manner of execution is inordinate to any offense he may have given. I wonder if Jarman pulled his punches in depicting it out of sensitivity for his viewers, or if it is meant to leave Edward some dignity.

As for the playfulness of Edward II, the acting, costume design, and presentation of prince Edward makes this dark narrative hopeful and wild and fun.

The great Nigel Terry plays Mortimer, which has some fun moments, too.

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Track down this film and watch it.


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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 287: A Craft Discussion of Ann Hood’s Morningstar with Vanessa Blakeslee!

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Episode 287 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about Ann Hood’s MorningStar: Growing Up With Books.

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NOTES

Check out my interview with Ann Hood back on episode 242.

If you haven’t yet done so, get ahold of Vanessa’s books!

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Episode 287 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #202: Robocop 2

The Curator of Schlock #202 by Jeff Shuster

Robocop 2

Sequelitis isn’t such a bad thing.

I don’t know what to say. I’m a bit tuckered out this week. Was tuckered out last week too. It’s been a long year, but it’s coming to an end. I still have yet to review a movie starring Michael Caine or a movie directed by Lucio Fulci. Unfortunately, a movie directed by Lucio Fulci and starring Michael Caine does not exist. But that’s okay, because I live in a world where Blade Runner 2049 does exist.

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I’ve seen Blade Runner 2049 twice. I’m still processing it, still trying to figure out what level of great it is, but make no mistake that it is great. Greatest movie of the decade? Yes. I mean the decade isn’t over yet and we’ve seen fantastic films such Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Sicario, and The Wind Rises, but I don’t think anything will soar above Blade Runner 2049. Greatest sequel ever made? I don’t know that I’ve seen every sequel ever made, but of the ones I have seen, yes, Blade Runner 2049 is the greatest. It is the rare sequel that is better than the original.

I grew up in the age of the sequel. If a movie were popular, it would likely get a sequel. And then would come the avalanche of criticism about how the sequel wasn’t as good as the original. In fact, some sequels are downright hated. Growing up, I could remember one sequel so viscously maligned for reasons I couldn’t understand. That movie was 1990’s Robocop 2 from director Irvin Kershner. Kershner’s biggest claim to fame was directing The Empire Strikes Back, so everyone figured he could do no wrong in directing the follow-up to Paul Verhoven’s Robocop.

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Kershner never directed another movie again.

The critics savaged it and fans of the original Robocop followed suit. Rotten Tomatoes currently has it at a percentage of 31% fresh for critics and 36% percent for audiences. I was unaware of just how much contempt critics and audiences had for this film back when I saw it in theaters at the age of 12, the same age as the character Hob, one of the henchmen of the megalomaniacal drug lord/cult leader named Cain (Tom Noonan).

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The critics hated Hob, Roger Ebert in particular:

“Cain’s sidekicks include a violent, foul-mouthed young boy (Gabriel Damon), who looks to be about 12 years old but kills people without remorse, swears like Eddie Murphy, and eventually takes over the drug business. I hesitate to suggest the vicious little tyke has been shoehorned into this R-rated movie so that the kiddies will have someone to identify with when they see it on video, but stranger things have happened.”

As I said, I was a 12-year-old kid at the time. I didn’t identify with Hob, but I knew there were bullies and delinquents my age capable of turning into Hob. And Hob’s “All-American Boy” appearance only added to the idea that monsters can come in many forms.

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But let’s not forget that everything in Robocop 2 is over the top, no doubt aided by the fact that Frank Miller wrote the screenplay. My favorite character in the film is Mayor Kuzak (Willard Pugh), who throws a raging, f-bomb infused tantrum when he realizes the evil corporation OCP will take over Detroit because of a bad loan agreement he signed. The movie is filled with these moments, like when OCP has a focus group decide what Robocop’s new directives should be, such as collecting for the Red Cross and roasting marshmallows with some Cub Scouts.

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Time went by and I forgot about Robocop 2. I even started to believe the critics, chalking up my love for the film as my childhood self not having refined enough taste.

Then I watched it again this year, rediscovered my love for it. Past all the over the top violence and cynical humor is a true good-versus-evil story with villains rotten to the core and a hero able to hold onto his humanity no matter how much bad programming gets inserted into him.


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Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 286: Bruce Janz!

Episode 286 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

This is a bonus episode, on the 1 year-anniversary of our national tragedy, the election day of 2016. I talk to the philosopher Bruce Janz about how to stay sane and process the current state of American democracy, and how our reading habits can console us.

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Photo by Lisa Roney.

NOTES


Episode 286 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #62: Hamlet (2009)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

62. Gregory Doran’s Hamlet (2009)

Gregory Doran’s 2009 film version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2008 run of Hamlet boasts a tremendous cast, with David Tennant as the Danish prince, Patrick Stewart as both his uncle and his father’s ghost, and Penny Downie as Gertrude. This is a re-staging of that production on film soundstages rather than a film of the theatrical performance, which is a shame, as the first impression one gets is that this talent is going to be wasted.

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At least a third of the time, the cinematography is stultifying, often keeping us far away from the actors who are in large dark sets whose acoustics make the quality of the actor’s voices reverberate in a way that would make me keep my fucking mouth shut. Peter Margrave, in charge of sound maintenance, was perhaps doing the best he could with such sets, furnished in nearly all black with hints of gilt and shabby chic velvet. I suppose the idea is to make the Danish court seem unpleasant, but this goes too far. It is difficult to say whether Chris Seager’s cinematography or Tony Cranstoun’s editing or a low filming budget is responsible for not being able to see reaction shots from more than one actor at a time, but it takes a while for whatever is great about this film to reveal itself.

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When one is bored by Patrick Stewart, someone fucked up, gentle readers.

Once the nobility has left the chamber and Tennant begins the first soliloquy, however, one gets an indication that this Hamlet might be pretty great after all. That face is such a canvas for intelligent thought, and his voice is astonishing, yet clear. The camera gets close up, and often Tennant will seem to be soliloquizing directly to us.

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Initially, Mariah Gale seems like a drab Ophelia, a blasé ornament for Polonius’s family, which is, of course, part of the point of the actual text, like the dull court scene earlier, but the viewer must be given some reason for watching.

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Oliver Ford Davies is compelling as Polonius throughout, which is a good sign, but then again too good of a Polonius makes me nervous.

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From the outset, grainy greyscale security camera footage is sometimes used for moments at a time, indicating that perhaps the state is not an innocent witness to the happenings at court.

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This technique is not committed, too, though, de-emphasizing this interesting choice.

Once the players arrive, however, this Hamlet quite elevates itself, and never quite comes back down again. John Woodvine as the Chief Player is enchanting, and the nerdgasm that Tennant’s Hamlet has with these actors feels like something more than the set-piece that it is. The play-within-a-play begins with an unforgettably raunchy dumb-show.

The story of Hamlet is of course that the court has a false reality whose narrative everyone is trying to live by, and the more dangerous, haunting truth that the prince must live with. The Murder of Gonzago sequence is when Hamlet becomes more than a nuisance to the court—his story is threatening the state’s version of events.

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Tennant will pick up a Super 8 camera and film the play, keen to capture the king’s reaction in grainy, Zapruderesque fashion while Ophelia (Mariah Gale) has her arms wrapped intimately around his neck, as she is both a prop for Hamlet’s misogyny that he feels compelled to cruelly test, unable to quite let go of her.

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A cracked mirror will almost dominate the remainder of the film, as characters gaze into it and see their fractured selves, with an acute cinematic effect that does not feel psychedelic at all.

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Mariah Gale performs Ophelia as a cipher who, when tragedy overwhelms her, bursts vibrantly and violently into self-expression. Every performance of Hamlet can be made or broken by its Ophelia, and this version’s Ophelia turns out to be exquisitely wrought.

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Penny Downie deftly avoids the trap of portraying Gertrude like a self-entitled shrew by conveying a sense of emotional vulnerability that shows her affections for her son are more than a courtly convention. Her narrative changes to Hamlet’s.

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Mark Hadfield, as the gravedigger, is perfectly charming. As Ophelia is being lowered into the ground, he checks his watch. The tragedies of court are not his narrative.

This RSC Hamlet conveys a lot of surprising interpretations of the text, and I am loath to reveal any more of them here.

Despite a turgid opening marred by sluggish cinematography and sound, Gregory Doran’s Hamlet turns out to be remarkable after all.


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Photo by Shawn McKee.

John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 285: Litlando 2017: YA Fiction Panel!

Episode 285 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, Sara Nicolas,

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Christina Farley,

Christina Farley

and Ella Martin

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discuss the world of young adult fiction at Litlando, from February 25th, 2017.

 

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Keeping Her Secret CoverGildedBrazenSilvernTHE PRINCESS AND THE PAGEI LOVE HIM I LOVE HIM NOT ELLA MARTINWill the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up


Episode 285 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Episode 284: Horror Movie Poetry Night IV

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Episode 284 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Horror Movie Poetry Night 4

This week is a live show: Horror Movie Poetry Night IV. We enter the dark rubicons of Saw, Annabel, Child’s Play, SawIIThe Lady in White, Phantasm, Return of the Living DeadHalloween III: Season of the WitchThe Omen, Saw II, The Descent, The Bat, Dead Waves, Lair of the White Worm, and Terminator.

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The TDO All Stars included Joshua Begley,

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Elise McKenna,

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Jeff Shuster,

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Shawn McKee,

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Jax Shelton,

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and Amy Watkins.

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NOTE

Special thanks to Wilson Santos and Vinyl Arts Bar!


Episode 284 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #201: The Wicker Man

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The Curator of Schlock #201 by Jeff Shuster

The Wicker Man

(I thought Christopher Lee was in this one.)

Blog 201. Only 99 more to go before I get to 300. Only 700 more after that until I get to 1,000. I will be the world authority on schlock if I have to lie, cheat, and steal to get there. This week we’re taking a break from the schlock and wrapping up October with a super scary tale of terror known as “the Citizen Kane of movies.” That’s right. We’re venturing neck deep into 2006’s The Wicker Man from director Neil LaBute. This movie also stars Nicolas Cage. Funny how I’ve covered 200 movies so far and not one of them starred Nicolas Cage.

The Wicker Man

Nicolas Cage stars as Edward Malus, a California police officer who spends most of his days pulling over speeders and giving them tickets. One day, he pulls over a mother and her little blonde girl after the blonde girl tosses her toy doll out the passenger window. Malus gives the doll back, issues a warning, the mother apologizes, and a big mac truck hits the car.

Yeah, it came out of the blue for me, too.

The car catches fire. Malus tries to rescue them, but is knocked unconscious after the car explodes. The police can find no records of the car or the mother and daughter. There is nothing to identify them with, almost as if they didn’t exist.

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That’s the genius of The Wicker Man. Most movies would tie that scene into the thread of the plot, but it really does nothing to further the plot. It’s just kind of there like hangnail you can’t rip off. Anyway, Malus gets a letter from his ex-fiancée, telling him that her daughter has gone missing on some island off the coast of Washington, an island made up of an Amish-style community, if the Amish were a coven of witches!

Of course, Malus is too stupid to know what he’s getting himself into. He pays off a deliveryman to fly him over to the island where he’ll start his search for the little girl. The locals aren’t too friendly, saying they don’t recognize the girl while heaving huge burlap sacks that drip blood. It’s interesting how Malus doesn’t seem concerned enough about this to investigate. I guess the missing girl takes priority, especially when his ex-fiancée reveals that the missing girl is his daughter.

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Did I mention that there are bees in this movie? Yeah, it seems that the island’s main crop is honey, but the honey crop wasn’t so bountiful last year. I guess the bees just weren’t feeling it. Still, that doesn’t stop them from nearly stinging Malus to death. He’s allergic you know.

THE WICKER MAN, Nicolas Cage, 2006, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

As the movie goes on, Malus becomes suspicious that the townsfolk are going to sacrifice his little girl to some earth goddess so their honey crop will become bountiful again. All is not as it appears, but you will have to check out this seminal thriller for yourself. Don’t be surprised if you see a cameo by a Mr. James Franco. That’s all I’m going to say.

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Oh, and the townsfolk break Nicolas Cage’s legs and pour a bunch of bees onto face as he yells, “Oh, no. Not the bees! Not the bees! Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” To be fair, I’d probably feel the same way if some witches shoved a hive full of bees in my face.


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Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.