The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #72: Richard III (2016)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

72. Dominic Cooke’s Richard III (2016)

This rogue who reviews Shakespeare films for you, dear readers, gets jaded sometimes. I expect these films to be good. Not just un-terrible, but quite seriously good.

Henry VI Parts 1-3 were so good on The Hollow Crown that I approached its Richard III with some sense of crankiness. Olivier and McKellan have given me high standards for this Machiavellian hero, plus I adore Benedict Cumberbatch, but I refuse to feel any personal emotion akin to hype.

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I am happy to report that Richard III is somehow better than those with Olivier and McKellan.

The opening soliloquy is given an exquisite gravity by Cumberbatch delivering it shirtless.


Before he begins, the camera dollies around him, revealing the distorted range of his hunched back, his torso straining for breath. This would be in unforgivable taste if the effects were not credible, but these effects work, which makes his speech to us—letting us know of his motivations and his plot to manipulate the court into giving him the throne—more intimate and urgent.

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Richard is driven to this because in peacetime, he is a freak who his royal family is ashamed of and distrusts despite his loyal service to them. Now as a self-professed villain, Richard takes great joy in testing Machiavelli’s theories, lavishing in his amoral victories. In most performances, there is bravado with a tinge of pathos, since he is using the court’s moral and intellectual flaws against it, and if the court had valued him in the first place, he would not have undertaken these plots. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider can sympathize with Richard’s rage, and can identify with his sense of self-worth despite the world’s contempt.

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But Cumberbatch’s performance seems to add more than a tinge of pathos. Richard acts as if he is the most morally upright member of the court, and this could indicate that he is simply an adept liar who can believe his own lies when he is lying. Or, and I find this possibility intriguing, Cumberbatch’s Richard might be testing the court, and giving it an opportunity to prove him wrong. Perhaps the king will not be petty and superstitious.

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Perhaps Lady Anne will not be flattered into giving over her grief and loving her enemy. Perhaps Richard’s mother will not treat him with condescension and mistrust.

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One of my favorite lines from Richard III is “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” The logic of this is that Richard would trade the kingdom he is king of in order to have a horse he could mount in order to try to win the country he is king of.

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Richard doesn’t have any use for peacetime, and having won the crown has not solved any of those emotional wounds he expressed in the opening soliloquy.

The acting in this film is top notch. Phoebe Fox is a memorable Lady Anne, and Judy Dench manages to convey a dignified wariness as Cecily, the mother of Edward and Richard, that makes it difficult to tell if she has disliked her deformed son for his deformity, or for his aggressive tendencies. Sophie Okenedo returns as Margaret, mad and prone to cursing the royal family, and the older, haggard version of this de-throned queen is somehow more impressive than the mincing, self-entitled sociopath of Henry VI.

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There is a manic quality to Cumberbatch’s performance after Richard becomes king. The effect is almost like a Modernist play at times. This is a dervish compared to the simpering complaints of Richard II. Richard III is a perfect conclusion to a play sequence that questions the divine right of kings, and the unbearable likelihood that shifts in power seldom happen because of actual moral right. Power is such a volatile thing, and humans are all too flawed. These plays give those flaws and that volatility a brilliant clarity.

Oh, and it’s damned entertaining to have Richard offer meta-commentaries to us about his crimes.

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 305: Jim Shepard & Jennifer Egan!


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Episode 305 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, I share interviews I did with the short story writer Jim Shepard

Jim Shepard

and one of my favorite novelists, Jennifer Egan.


Jennifer Egan © Pieter M. van Hattem.


The World to ComeManhattan Beach


Please leave a review of the show on iTunes.

Episode 305 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 #218: Leprechaun: Origins


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The Curator of Schlock #218 by Jeff Shuster

Leprechaun: Origins

Don’t get your hopes up. It’s not an actual origin story.

The Suspiria Blu-ray came out this week. Synapse spent three years painstaking restoring the original film to full 4K glory under the supervision of the movie’s original director of photography, Luciano Tovoli.  I could be covering that classic this week, but I chose to cover movies from this current decade for the rest of the year. Oh well. I can always check out the Suspiria remake due out later this year, the one starring Dakota Johnson, star of 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker, and 50 Shades Freed. Yup. Looking forward to it. Can’t wait.


By the way, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! We’ve got another serving from WWE Studios this week in the form of Leprechaun: Origins.


Don’t be expecting Warwick Davis spouting limericks or whatever he did in those movies I’m trying desperately to forget. I think he made a pot of gold materialize inside some poor sap’s stomach. Not cool. Anyway, the leprechaun in this week’s feature is more beastly, more like a beast than a jolly gnomish creature. Huh? Gnomish is an actually word and I think I used it in the proper context.

The movie starts out with some Irish teenagers being chased by a monster because they stole some gold coins. They get killed and eaten by whatever is chasing them. Next up, we see some young American tourists backpacking through Ireland. I’ll never understand the protagonists in these modern horror movies. They’re all good-looking young Americans from wealthy families. They always end up traveling to Eastern Europe or South America and end up being getting their organs stolen or tortured to death.

No one likes you! Stay in Beverly Hills or you’re going to die!

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So we have a group of four vacationers. There’s Sophie (Stephanie Bennett), a history major who will end up being the final girl. There’s Ben (Andrew Dunbar), a Harvard man, and that makes him better than all of us. Then there’s Jeni (Melissa Roxburgh), a girl with lots of gold piercings. Those gold piercings may come into play later in the movie. Jeni has a drunk punk boyfriend named David (Brendan Fletcher). Brendan Fletcher also played the Parasite on Smallville. I’m just saying.

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One of the local Irishmen overhear that Sophie is a history major. He tells her about some cave nearby that has historic relevance. He buys them all dinner and offers them a cabin on his property so they can stay the night. They gladly accept, only to find themselves locked in the cabin in the middle of the night with a rampaging leprechaun that wants to eat their flesh.

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Look, there’s polite and then there’s too polite. Too polite is offering you dinner and a free room for the night. If it sounds too good to be true, it means you’ll be eaten alive by an angry leprechaun. As I said before, stay in Beverly Hills.

Jeffrey Shuster 3

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

Episode 304: Book Fight! vs. The Drunken Odyssey (AWP Edition)


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Episode 304 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 special AWP program, Vanessa Blakeslee and I face off against Book Fight’s Tom McAllister and Barrelhouse’s Poetry Editor, Dan Brady.

Bookight vs. TDO 1

Photo by Katherine J. Parker.

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Photo by Katherine J. Parker.

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Photo by Katherine J. Parker.

Bookight vs. TDO 2

Photo by Katherine J. Parker.


Young Widowers Handbook



Train Shots

Strange Children

Episode 304 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 #217: Vendetta


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The Curator of Schlock #217 by Jeff Shuster


Big Show vs. Superman

Did you know that World Wrestling Entertainment has a movie division? Well, now you do.


I used to watch wrestling back in the 90s. I remember one time Doink the Clown wrestled Bob Backlund. Doink won the match through some chicanery, but Mr. Backlund was a good sport about it, even offered to shake that clown’s hand. And then Doink sprayed poor Bob in the face with some mace. Bob was blinded and was flailing his fists all about as Doink made his getaway. Good times.

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This week’s movie is a WWE production, 2015’s Vendetta from directors, The Soska Sisters. They also directed 2009’s Dead Hooker in a Trunk, but that’s neither here nor there.


Vendetta stars Dean Cain and The Big Show. We all know Dean Cain from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman where he played the Man of Steel. He also guest- starred on Smallville as a villain who was supposed to be Vandal Savage, but I know the execs over at Warner Bros. never gave the okay. We all know The Big Show from his wrestling career, but he’s acted too, but never guest starred on Smallville as far as I know. Too bad. They could have stuck him in a Gorilla suit and he could have been Gorilla Grodd or Gorilla Boss or Monsieur Mallah.

I wish I could be a gorilla super villain.

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Anyway, Vendetta is a fairly dark and gritty motion picture, which surprises me seeing as how it comes from the directors of Dead Hooker in a Trunk. Dean Cain plays Mason Danvers, a determined police detective in hot pursuit of Victor Abbot (Big Show), a really evil criminal who runs guns or sells drugs or something like that. Mason has a shootout with Victor, manages to wound him and bring him in to face the justice system. Only problem is the prosecution’s star witness has disappeared and they have to let Victor off. Mason calls home to warn his pregnant wife to leave the house, but Victor answers the phone, saying something about how “Payback’s a bitch!” or something like that. Victor then proceeds to beat Mason’s wife, Jocelyn (Kyra Zagorsky) to death.

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Victor Abbot goes straight to jail for the murder of Jocelyn Danvers, leaving a grieving Mason to grieve for dead wife. Well, it’s not long before Mason decides that he has a vendetta against Victor and goes on a shooting rampage, the targets being Victor’s brother, another drug runner/gun dealer. Off to jail he goes. No one is above the law, Mason. Now, it’s about this time I’m figuring Dean Cain wants to get sent to the big house so he can get his hands on The Big Show for some sweet revenge. Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Well he mustn’t have had Mason Danvers in mind because we’re going to need a lot more than two ready graves by the time he’s done.

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Turns out this prison is run by a corrupt warden played by Michael Eklund. Abbot works for the warden and runs a criminal enterprise inside the prison. Mason eliminates Abbot’s crew one by one in increasingly gruesome ways. He ties one of Victor’s minions to a chair, slits his wrists, and we watch as the guy bleeds out. This movie is dark. Not Kidnap Syndicate dark, but still pretty dark. I don’t know why the Soska Sisters couldn’t have directed a more positive movie, something more akin to Disney’s Frozen, a film about the power the power of sisterly love. That’s just my opinion in these United States.

Until next time.

Jeffrey Shuster 3

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

Buzzed Books #59: A Pioneer Son at Sea: Fishing Tales of Old Florida


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Buzzed Books #59 by Henry Hughes

A Pioneer Son at Sea: Fishing Tales of Old Florida

Gilbert Voss was born into a Florida pioneer family in 1918, back when panthers still roamed swampy jungles. He had a colorful career in commercial and charter fishing, and in the US Coast Guard, eventually becoming an eminent marine scientist who led major deep sea expeditions. In 1960, he also helped secure the nation’s first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, on Key Largo.

But he wanted to be a writer.

He son, Robert Voss, tells us that after World War II and a failed get-rich quick mullet fishing scheme, Gil explored a number of options, including bouncing at a Hypoluxo casino, “exposing him to colorful personalities at night and freeing his afternoons for creative composition—but accumulating rejection notices from magazines were not encouraging.”

A Pioneer Son at Sea

Gilbert Voss’ struggles as a creative writer may, in part, be vindicated by this posthumous collection of lively nonfiction. The voice is that of a very likeable, sharp-eyed, but nonjudgmental young man plying the waters of southeast Florida in the 1930s and 40s. Voss recalls outlaw adventures of rum-running and poaching, evading prohibition officers and Isaak Walton League fish wardens who “were scorned by nearly everyone.”

Although Voss and his brothers engaged in some illegal and conservationally questionable activities, he eventually became one of the more progressive charter boat captains of his time, encouraging catch-and-release angling for sailfish as early as the 1930s.  In the chapter “Tight Lines,” Voss describes a winter fishing trip in 1940 where 18 sailfish were landed and released, and he praised anglers who were “sportsmen, not killers, and needed no pictures of dead fish hung on the fish racks at the dock.”  After the war, Voss would lead a successful sailfish tagging-research program for the University of Miami’s Marine Laboratory.

For readers interested in the natural history of subtropical Florida, these vignettes teem with sharks, bluefish, pompano, mackerel and mullets by the millions. Oysters, turtles and birds abound in nature and on dinner plates—consider the prospect of sinfully delicious turtle egg pancakes and scrawk perloo made with fledgling herons shaken from their nests. One appreciates the honesty of Voss’ accounts, and he adds that “two [scrawk] would make a good mess, and that was all we ever took at a time.” In contrast, he recalls a game warden’s report about tourists from Miami who were “running around the islands shooting birds as they rise” only to “leave the place a bloody mess.”

Voss’ measured disregard for authority and formality made him an unusual and effective Coast Guard commander patrolling Florida’s waterways during World War II. The handsome 25-year-old Voss boarded Cuban fishing vessels “barefoot, wearing faded dungarees, a white skivvy shirt, and a straw hat,” always happy to share a cup or three of rum with the captain. These sketches of ethnic fishermen—Cubans working the viveros, live-well grouper and snapper smacks;  Conchs or Bahamians docked at Riviera Beach; and Greek sponge divers out of Tarpon Springs—are free from the prejudice, stereotyping and patronizing we find so often in those times and places.

Down in the cabin of a Greek sponge vessel, Voss is surprised to see a man having his erect penis carefully measured by the ship’s engineer.

“’What in hell is going on?’ I asked. There was a round of laughter.” The engineer-artisan was commissioned to carve exact replicas of the men’s phalluses, scrotum and all. One sponge diver explains, “We’re gone to sea for five months. I give it to my wife who misses me, and she thinks only of me every time she looks at it. Good idea, ne?”

Although the style is not dazzling, Voss’s writing is pleasurable to read and totally believable.  In a genre full of twisted fish yarns, we trust Voss’ clear accounts and can appreciate the scientist who would become the first to describe several new species of octopi and squid, write the popular Seashore Life of Florida and the Caribbean, and even have a swimming crab named after him before his death in 1989. A Pioneer Son at Sea offers uniquely memorable stories about fishing and Old Florida, and a fine addition to the library of any literary angler.

Henry Hughes

Henry Hughes (Episode 217272) grew up on Long Island, New York, and now lives in Oregon.   He is the author of four collections of poetry and the memoir, Back Seat with Fish: A Man’s Adventures in Angling and Romance.  An active angler, naturalist, and literary critic, he edited two Everyman’s Library anthologies on fishing, and his reviews appear regularly in Harvard Review. He teaches at Western Oregon University.

Episode 303: Drinking at Disney, with Drunky & Rhiannon!


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Episode 303 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 program, I drive West of Orlando to meet up with two adventurers named Drunky & Rhiannon who’ve just happened to write the best guide to Walt Disney World as far is this show is concerned. We geek out about boozing like pros at WDW!

We drank outside at Hurricane Hannah’s,

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and then we walked over to inside the Ale and Compass over at the Yacht Club,

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and then enjoyed some beverages at The Belle Vue Lounge in the Boardwalk Inn.

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The actual bar of The Bellevue Lounge.


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The Belle Vue Lounge is where I, sober, interviewed Ridley Pearson all the way back on #199.

This show did the Monorail pub crawl back on #77.

Episode 303 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Lists #35: The Top 10 Films of 2017

The Lists #35 by Brett Pribble

The Top 10 Films of 2017

Lists that rank the best films of the year are inherently subjective and often lead to argument. But hearing other people’s opinions can also lead us to check out things we might not have or think about a film in a way we previously didn’t. That being said, here is my list of the ten best films of 2017. If you’re interested in reading my list of the top films from 2015, click here.

10. Get Out

L35 Get Out 

This movie would be at the top of its class if it was nothing more than a horror movie. It’s well-acted, well-directed, and well-written. It doesn’t stick to predictable genre formulas, and director Jordan Peele creates a creepy as hell atmosphere. What really elevates it, though, is its take on race. Normally, you’d have to see a conventional drama for insights on racism, but Peele manages to do both in a very bold movie. It’s a must-see for horror movie fans, and it’s worth watching even if horror movies aren’t you’re thing.

9. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

L35 I Don't Feel at Home 

 All Ruth wants is for people to not be assholes. After her dead granny’s silverware is stolen from her apartment, she goes on a quest for justice… or just for people to be nicer. She’s lost faith in humanity, as many of us have with each news cycle bringing a worse story than the last. Focusing on our indifference to the horrible ways we treat one another, this black comedy is reminiscent of a ‘90s Coen Brothers film. If Ruth weren’t so sweet and headstrong, I may even call her nihilistic (in a good way). After she enlists the help of her nunchuck-wielding neighbor (Elijah Wood), the adventure gets more and more gruesome while still hitting the right dark comedic notes. Also, I should mention this is a Netflix original film that’s currently streaming.

 8. The Shape of Water 

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When watching Free Willy, did you ever wonder, how much better would this movie be if it opened with a woman masturbating in a bathtub? And then later, what if she fucked Willy? Well, now we know the answer. And the answer is a lot, like a thousand times better. The Shape of Water contains more raw creativity than anything else you’ll see in 2017. Aquatic blue cinematography illuminates the struggle between the kindest of protagonists, a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) tap dancing to romance and cinema, and Michael Shannon burning out his most deliciously sinister performance since the first season of Board Walk Empire. This movie has it all and is a can’t miss for cinephiles. 

7. The Beguiled

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No filmmaker captures the intimacy of female characters in isolated places like Sophia Coppola. Whether it’s the walled off home of the girls in The Virgin Suicides, the lonely isolation of Lost in Translation, or the lush social circles of Versailles in Marie Antoinette. In The Beguiled, Coppola brings us into the hidden world of a southern girls’ boarding school during the Civil War. After one of the girls discovers a wounded union soldier, the women must decide whether to turn him in to the confederate army or tend to his wounds. It’s based on the 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan, which was first adapted to the screen as a Clint Eastwood film in 1971. Unlike the Eastwood picture, this film is told from perspective of the women, and the war is in background. Rather than being stereotypes, the lives of these women are nuanced, and the surrounding landscape and candle light conversations are—like everything in Coppola’s films—sumptuous. 

6. The Big Sick 

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 The Bick Sick is a romantic dramedy based heavily on the real life love story of writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Kumail plays himself and actress Zoe Kazan does a terrific job portraying Emily. For a movie that keeps the laughs coming, it delves into some heavy territory: interracial dating, culture clashes, the importance of family, and finding strength during a medical emergency. The film even manages to provide a hysterical joke while touching on racism against easterners after 9/11. It’s one of those films you’ll find yourself watching again and again because it’s lighthearted enough to make you forget your problems and deep enough to leave you with a sense of fulfillment.

5. Logan

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If only all comic book movies could be half this good. Logan is more of a western than a comic book movie, and it’s a damn good western at that. Hugh Jackman gives the performance of his career as Logan/Wolverine, and Daphne Keen dazzles as a mysterious young mutant named Laura. In the final incarnation of Jackman’s portrayal of the character, we find Logan as a shell of his former self existing in a post-superhero world. His life now consists of caring for his former mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and driving around drunken assholes in a limousine. He’s forced to choose between taking care of Charles, who is stricken with Alzheimer’s, and rescuing Laura from a nefarious task force hunting her down for reasons unknown to him. As you watch Logan make difficult choices along the way, prepare for the heartbreak that comes with them.

4. Call Me By Your Name 

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 Ever wish you grew up in the Italian countryside? Well, you will after you watch this gorgeous movie, which probably couldn’t have been made by an American director. The film begins at the home of a young boy named Elio (Timothée Chalamet), and the arrival of an Adonis-like man named Oliver (Armie Hammer), who arrived for an apprenticeship with Elio’s father. The relationship between the two evolves throughout the movie in a truly genuine and touching fashion. The film culminates in a scene with Elio and his father, reflecting on everything we just watched transpire, perhaps challenging our perceptions of love. 

3. The Florida Project

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 If this list was simply the saddest ten movies of the year, The Florida Project would be number one. This hard-hitting film takes place in a part of Orlando that Disney would prefer you not know about. It follows a single mother (Bria Vinaite) raising her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in destitution, alongside tourist traps and cheap motels, struggling to make the weekly rent. They live in a hotel called The Magic Palace, run by manager with heart (William Dafoe giving an understated performance that rings true). While her mother suffers to pay the bills, Moonee plays with children of other parents living the surrounding motels. Moonee’s adventures capture the awe and wonderment of childhood, as she isn’t fully aware of her situation. The Florida Project punches you in the stomach and kicks while you’re down without ever being didactic or preachy. It just immerses you in the lives of its characters and lets the reality that so many in poverty are forgotten send tears spilling down your face.

2. Lady Macbeth

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 In a year celebrating female protagonists, the film with the most complex of these was missed by the awards watchers. Katherine (Florence Pugh) brings the sky crashing down on the heads of her oppressors in a reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic. The story takes liberties in details and timeline of the original but brilliantly captures the cunning resourcefulness of the character, while providing her room for sympathy. It’s rare that multiple masterpieces come out in a single year, but 2017 had two of them, and Lady Macbeth is a masterpiece.

1. Phantom Thread

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Paul Thomas Anderson may be the greatest filmmaker of his generation, and Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest living actor on the planet. We last saw their talents combined in 2007’s There Will Be Blood, and Phantom Thread proves their compatibility was no fluke. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a renowned fashion designer in 1950s London. Mr. Woodcock has many eccentric qualities, not the least of which is his impression that he is meant to be a life-long bachelor. The man who specializes in making alterations in fashion takes no pleasure in alterations to his routine-driven life. All of his perceptions are challenged by a new romance with young woman named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who delivers a brilliant performance in her own right. Their puzzling interactions illustrate the strangeness of attraction and deconstruct our preconceived notions of compatibility.

Brett PribbleBrett Pribble (Episode 122) is the editor-in-chief of Ghost Parachute and is on the board of directors of the Kerouac Project writer in residence program. His work has appeared in such places as Stirring: A Literary Collection, Saw Palm, The Molotov Cocktail, Crack the Spine, and The Airgonaut. Follow him on Twitter @brettpribble.

Buzzed Books #58: Square Inch Hours



Buzzed Books #58 by Amy Watkins

Review of Sherod Santos’s Square Inch Hours


I read Sherod Santos’ collection of prose poems, Square Inch Hours (Norton, 2017) during a rainy cold snap—what amounts to bleak midwinter for a Floridian—and the poems were perfect for the weather. Not perfect like a warm cup of cocoa to comfort me through the cold, but perfect like standing on the corner in the rain with no coat, letting the chill soak into my bones. Square Inch Hours chronicles an emotional breakdown and recovery. It’s hard to imagine a collection more detached yet emotionally impactful.

The poems are mostly devoid of emotional language. Instead, the physical details build to psychological meaning, which is, itself, mostly unspoken.

Across a lightless landscape, a passenger train travels past, its eight airless, earth-colored cars trailing a loosening plume of smoke that thins into vapor behind them. Idling at the crossroads, I can see the blank faces staring out at the winter fields…

This is not the loneliness of human connection stretched too thin, but the loneliness of being utterly disconnected. Santos’s speaker is detached even from himself. In a later poem, he says the word “childhood” has lost its meaning except as a series of images attached to “him.” Even his younger self seems like a stranger he watches voyeuristically, without engaging.

The sense of the speaker watching himself is repeated throughout the book. Many of the poems use cinematic language that contributes to a sense of emotional distance. In fact, the feeling that his life is “like some Hollywood film” is an acknowledged symptom of his breakdown. He writes, “I began to doubt the truth of my perceptions.”

At the same time, the physical details included in the poems and the sharp turns from observation to memory hint at powerful feelings just under the surface, suppressed but ready to bubble up at any moment. That poem about the train suddenly veers into the memory of a news story about a young girl’s murder. A poem about gardening turns out to be about avoiding his mother’s funeral. In context, a section of travel poems reads like a dangerous manic phase before Section 4, in which Santos writes about other artists’ and writers’ hallucinations, strange intellectual exercises, and troubling emotional detachment, before switching back to first person point of view for a handful of poems about the speaker’s own hospitalization.

Those poems about other writers raise an interest question: whether or not art is a comfort in this narrative or even if it should be. So much of what artists and writers do looks “crazy” to an outsider, and the idea of the unstable genius is deeply ingrained in our culture. Ironically, writing–so often the art of engaging with powerful memory and translating it into words and imagery–can be another way of separating oneself from emotion. I’m speaking here from my own experience as a person who writes poems instead of going to therapy. Poetry has often been my way of compartmentalizing emotions that are too big or dangerous or crazy-making for daily life. A poem gives shape and order to even the most painful or confusing experience, but making art out of painful experience takes a lot of energy. In the extremes of anxiety or depression it is impossible to simultaneously engage the emotion and distance yourself from it.

Santos acknowledges this difficulty by including a final section that is a long series of fragments, single sentences, and incomplete poems. After all the carefully crafted pieces that have come before, these fragments feel authentic, vulnerable, and strange. I can imagine this section as a notebook full of false starts collected during a psychological low, and I can imagine the writer saying, “I can’t write this yet. I’m too close to it.” It’s as if the preceding poems are the ideas and experiences Santos’ speaker has been able to process and these fragments are the raw materials.

Square Inch Hours is an extremely compelling collection, not for its grand gestures but for its restraint. A sensitive reader is likely to find its emotional distance heartbreaking.

Amy Watkins

Amy Watkins (Episodes 124161164192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #71: Henry VI Parts 2 & 3 (2016)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

71. Dominic Cooke’s Henry VI Parts 2 & 3 (2016)

Season 2, episode 1 of “The Hollow Crown” ends somewhere in the middle of Henry VI, Part 2. Our callow King Henry VI was expecting to oversee the trial of Humphrey, Lord Protector of England, only to learn that Humphrey was—ummm—assassinated in the Tower. In his displeasure, the king banishes Somerset, whom he suspects for the murder, until Queen Margaret pleads Somerset’s case so shrilly that the king relents, which is the last straw for Richard Plantagenet. Seeing that the king refuses to be anything other than a pawn for the grubby politics of Margaret and Somerset, even at the cost of forgiving the murder of loyal, noble subjects, Plantagenet asserts his own heredity claim to the crown, and departs. Upon his arrival at his own keep, he calls for his children in succession, lastly coming to Richard.

Season 2, episode 2 will get us through the rest of the way through Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3.

After some battling, York (Plantagenet) marches to the throne, where he and the king engage in a struggle of wills.


I am thy sovereign.


I am thine.

Henry VI asserts that he is the rightful king because of the succession of Henry V and Henry IV, the latter of whom won the crown in battle. York reminds Henry VI that his grandfather won the crown from Richard II in open rebellion of his king. Henry reminds him that Richard gave the throne to Henry IV, but York reminds the king that Richard was forced to abdicate. A Mexican stand-off occurs. The divine right of kings was supposed to ensure shit like this didn’t happen. This is really what these history plays have been arriving at.

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The king, taking a hint from the Duke of Exeter, offers a compromise: if York will support the king for the rest of his reign, then the crown will revert to the house of York upon his death. York, loving his country much more than his own ambition, agrees.

That was a mistake.

The king’s forces feel dishonored, and rush off to tell the queen that her children are now dis-inherited.

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Later that night, Margaret’s forces ambush York at his keep, burn it to the ground, and gloats in her victory. She dabs a handkerchief in the blood of his dead son and shoves the cloth into his mouth. She shoves a crown of thorns onto York’s head. Her forces take turns stabbing him before they behead him as his son Richard watches helplessly from the shadows.

York does utter a wonderfully articulate curse.

And three of his sons survive.

A civil war ensues. Certain nobles change sides. Fighting for York’s children isn’t the same as fighting for York. The queen retreats back to France.

The king, such as he is, goes mad.

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Oh, yes, the youngest son, Richard, is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is perfect.

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Of course, season 2 of The Hollow Crown is making its way to Richard III, which is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. Richard is a better villain than Henry V was a good hero. But what happens to Richard in this context (Henry VI, Part 3, mostly) leading into his titular play is a son who is quite vulnerable, the youngest child, with some deformity, but who is transformed by war into a fierce person. As Fate would seem to madly jig about the what will happen to England, the tension of Richard’s character and his family’s fate keep this film quite engaging.

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There is a lot of action in this play—oodles of battles, including one from the end of H6 Part 2—and this story is not necessarily great drama compared to Shakespeare’s tragedies. A lot of clanging swords. The characters, when given a chance to reveal themselves, do not give us a lot to think about or even recognize. These are vicious people whose sense of honor cannot remember the faults of their immediate predecessors, much less history.

When Richard’s brother Edward IV emerges victorious, we realize that this is not a clearly superior monarch to Henry VI. Richard’s family begins to disintegrate even though England is theirs. Clarence earns his share of shame.

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Laurence Olivier’s and Richard Lonraine’s films of Richard III both seem to regard Richard’s devious successes as miraculously guaranteed. What we see in Cumberbatch’s performance of Richard in this play before Richard III, though, is someone who would sacrifice anything for his family’s honor and survival, someone who dearly loved his father, someone who must eventually confront the realization that what is left of his family is not worth saving.


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.