The Curator of Schlock #156: The Glass Wall


The Curator of Schlock #156 by Jeff Shuster

The Glass Wall

Don’t go to America!


So The Glass Wall starts out with a boatload of refugees sailing into Ellis Island, fleeing the war-torn wasteland of World War II for a new life in the United States of America. Unfortunately, not every passenger on board is on the up and up. There’s this Hungarian guy by the name of Peter Kuban (Vittorio Gassman) who stowed away aboard the carrier. Peter Kuban wants to leave the ship and come to America, but the immigration authorities say no dice, he has to go back home.


Peter says that he has no home to go back to, gives some sob story about how he was interned in Auschwitz and how his entire family died in the gas chambers…Actually that is very sad. The authorities say that doesn’t matter. Peter goes on to say that they have to let him in because he helped with the war effort during World War II, by saving the life of a wounded American paratrooper, keeping him hidden from the Nazis. Oh, come on! Let this man in already!

The inspector says they might be able to help Peter out if he can verify his story. They ask for the Paratrooper’s name. Peter tells them the paratrooper’s name is Tom … just Tom. They ask him Tom’s address. Peter says Tom lives in New York City. They tell him that New York City is pretty big place and there are many Toms that live in it. Peter tells them that Tom also plays the clarinet, and if they could just let him search around the jazz clubs of Manhattan, Peter would be sure to find Tom. They say no can do, and refuse to let him leave the ship

Later that evening, a guard gives Peter a copy of The New York Post with his mug splashed across the front page. There’s a human-interest story about him and the fact that he has to be shipped back to Hungary. Peter punches out the guard and escapes from the boat. He’s on the lamb! I guess Peter figures if he can find Tom, the clarinet player somewhere in New York City, his story will get verified and he can finally find peace living in America. Still, he broke a couple of ribs in his fall off the boat and isn’t in the best of shape. Dammit, it’s just not fair!


Peter runs around to a few jazz clubs, but no Tom, the clarinet player. He stops in Tom’s Steakhouse for a bite to eat, but sadly, Tom, the clarinet player, does not work there. An unemployed, ex-shoelace factory worker named Maggie Summers (Gloria Grahame) is also enjoying a bite to eat in the restaurant until she decides to steal a coat. The owner of the coat cries “Thief!” and Maggie is on the run! Peter catches up with her in Central Park, tells her to crawl on her belly to evade the police. He makes her take him back to her apartment.


Meanwhile, Tom, the clarinet player (Jerry Paris) is playing cards at a club somewhere in Manhattan. His girlfriend tells him that she got him an audition with Big T’s band, but he has to play with them that very night. While freshening up in the bathroom, he notices the newspaper in the trash. Tom wants to go to the authorities and help the guy who saved his life from the Nazis, but his girlfriend convinces him that the gig is more important. Meanwhile, Peter is held up at Maggie’s apartment, getting beaten up by the stinking drunk son of the landlady. I don’t think any of this is going to end well for poor Peter. Dammit, it’s just not fair!

Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

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


The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #40: Cymbeline (2014)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

40. Michael Almereyda’s Cymbeline (2014)

With his Hamlet, Michael Almereyda demonstrated some interesting interpretive choices marred by casting a mawkish, mumbling Ethan Hawke as Hamlet, and Ethan Hawke Ethan Hawked the shit out of that shitty film.


With his Cymbeline, Michael Almereyda demonstrated some astoundingly feeble tawdry interpretive choices marred even further by casting a mawkish, mumbling Ethan Hawke as the scheming Iachimo, and Ethan Hawke, yes, Ethan Hawked the shit out of this even shittier film.


Cymbeline happens to be among Shakespeare’s oddest plays. It is a comedy straining pretty deeply into tragedy, and involves fairy tale elements, like a magical evil stepmother, and Greek gods, too.


Cymbeline, the king of ancient Britain, is angered when he finds that his daughter, Imogen, has married some poor fool named Posthumous, and so bans Posthumous, who retreats to Rome. The Queen, meanwhile, is trying to secure her bloodline by getting Imogen, who is her stepdaughter, to marry her biological son with the tragic name of Cloten. The Queen is evil, incidentally. (Shakespeare didn’t draw her out as well as Iago or Richard III, that’s for sure.)

The love plot involves a wager made between the exiled Posthumous and a conniving misogynist named Iachimo, who promises to bring back to Rome proof of Imogen’s infidelity.

Between the strangely developed love plot and the convoluted political plots, a deus ex machina, in this case the god Jupiter, must straighten things out enough for the play to come to a finish. While many of Shakespeare’s stories merely requires competent acting for a thoroughly good experience, Cymbeline requires finesse and insight.


Unfortunately, Michael Almereyda was directing, and what he was directing was Ethan Hawke’s facial hair, and Ethan Hawke.

This Cymbeline is so bad that it almost makes Almereyda’s Hamlet look good.

Ed Harris was cast as Cymbeline, and in that part, this fine actor is out to lunch. He utters his lines as if pained, as if the words fit tighter into his mouth than his lame leather jacket clung to his aging torso. Milla Jovovich plays the Queen, and her performance teeters between fair and actually good, except that her costuming is silly, as is the conceit of the whole movie.

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The kingdom of Britain is re-imagined as a motorcycle gang dealing meth because that Breaking Bad show was pretty good, right? Let’s just go with that.


In her pre-Fifty Shades of Gray glory, Dakota Johnson plays Imogen, and gives off the impression of being a rather clean mop that has forgotten where it has left its keys.

Michael Almereyda seems to have fallen in love with shoegazing in the early 1990s, and thought, one could film Shakespeare in that spirit, no?

Had the camera never left Milla Jovovich’s shoes, the film would have been much, much better.

Don’t watch this movie unless you lost a bet. That’s what the rogue says.


Note: At least one line of this review originated from my first discussion of this film in Shakespearing 35.1.



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 225: Bob Kealing!

Episode 225 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 to the journalist and historian, Bob Kealing,


plus Heather Whited reads her essay about eating and drinking in Japan, “Onigiri, Shirasagi, and Me.”

Heather Whited 2




The Daytona News-JournalThe Daytona News-Journal documented Edward Albee’s involvement with the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

On September 30th, Richard Blanco is coming to Valencia College for the Winter Park Writers’ Festival. Richard Blanco’s reading is FREE, but you MUST reserve a seat via the Festival’s Eventbrite page.


  • Location: Winter Park Campus, Valencia College, 850 W Morse Blvd, Winter Park, FL 32789, Rooms 237/2424
  • 4 PM: Community Writing Class with Richard Blanco
  • 5:30 PM: Open Mic Reading (Emceed by John King)
  • 7:00 PM: Richard Blanco Reading

You can find my interview with Richard Blanco back on episode 76.

The deadline for submissions for Condoms and Hot Tubs Don’t Mix is fast approaching.

Episode 225 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.


21st Century Brontë #26: Grace Paley, Writing, and Romance


21st Century Brontë #26 by Brontë Bettencourt

Grace Paley, Writing, and Romance


In April I drove to Georgia with my friends, Sammie, Leah, and Sally. During the eight-hour drive riddled with traffic jams and sidelined accidents, the topic of weddings came up in conversation. I learned that three out of four of us had numerous, detail-oriented fantasies of the ceremony, including cake designs, dress style, and attendee roster. It became clear that I was the outlier when Sammie asked for my preferences.

I thought getting married would be nice, but never did I plan on details such as cake toppers. Instead, I wanted to be a wildly successful author, like J. K. Rowling or Anne Rice. I daydreamed about creating works that were equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining. A significant other was always inconsequential to my ultimate goal, a side plot to my main story arc.

The first boyfriend I had lasted for three weeks. We were in middle school, and his only concern was quenching his hormonal thirst. He was disappointed to find that my idea of out loud roleplaying was story creation. So he broke it off, leaving me with my first heartbreak.

Because of him, I was inspired to create one of my now favorite characters. But ever since that relationship failed, my writing life and romantic endeavors remained separate.

There have been relationships that I have broken off because the guy got between me and my work. The boyfriend would become the center of my universe, and because his universe did not revolve around writing, I would neglect my craft for months. And when I did get a creative spark, the boyfriend’s clinginess kept me from immersing myself.

Then I had one boyfriend who refused to go to sleep until I finished writing for the night. I told him not to wait up because I would be a while, to which he responded with, “That’s alright, I like watching you while you work.”

I did not write for long that night. Getting into a creative rhythm already proves difficult without a pair of eyes boring into my back.

I’m also a very private person. Unless I believe the individual is interested in my art or writing, I refrain from gushing about my work. But even when I was younger I covered my notes the moment Mom entered the room. I guess I can’t blame her for demanding to see my things because my behavior wasn’t exactly normal: “No Mom, I’m not watching porn. I’m writing a book.”

This trait of mine may bite me in the ass later when in need to self-promote.

There is a quote by Grace Paley that I could not understand at first:

“The only thing you should have to do is find work you love to do. And I can’t imagine living without having loved a person. A man, in my case. It could be a woman, but whatever. I think, what I always tell kids when they get out of class and ask, ‘What should I do now?’ I always say, ‘Keep a low overhead. You’re not going to make a lot of money.’ And the next thing I say: ‘Don’t live with a person who doesn’t respect your work.’ That’s the most important thing—that’s more important than the money thing. I think those two things are very valuable pieces of information.”

I thought the advice was gibberish, taking concepts of love and work and crudely meshing them together in a single paragraph. But love and work aren’t separate; it isn’t farfetched to ask for both.

My current relationship taught me that.


One of the first interactions I had with Alex involved UCF’s Murder Mystery Night, a production that I was in charge of. The script was riddled with formatting errors and hasty descriptions, which would’ve been fixed in another week. Instead, he noted all of the mistakes and forwarded the document to me, eager to help me with the corrections.

At the time I was annoyed by this guy I barely knew, sending me the corrections to a work that myself and others invested in via months of planning. But once I got to know him, I realized that he wasn’t being arrogant, or trying to show me up. Without being prompted, he was helping me with my writing.

Alex allows me to work in the bedroom while he takes care of his projects in the living room. He falls asleep much earlier than I, giving me time to develop my own thoughts. Often, he goes to his parents house on the weekends, freeing up my schedule to be creative on the days outside of the work week.

Although he’s not a writer, he asks me specific questions about my writing. He’ll inquire about the characters and their relationships, or the story mechanics, or the sequence of events. Alex’s active role in my writing life creates a safe space for me to work, giving me both a physical space, as well as someone to confide in.


Alex also encouraged me to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in 2015, and traveled with me to LA for the same conference this year. If not for these conferences, I wouldn’t have a list of MFA programs that I’m now applying for.

Grace Paley’s quotation makes sense to me because Alex not only respects my craft: he encourages it. And him taking an active role in my work adds a layer of intimacy. For me, writing has always been private because it’s a personal process. Even if he doesn’t understand why I’m scribbling on my arm or editing hours after I should’ve eaten, he doesn’t question it. He helps me find value in my own words, and he even makes sure I eat when I can’t be bothered to look away from my work.

This week I asked him to review my writing sample for my graduate school applications. He is terrified that I’ll revoke our relationship status when he hands over all of his edits. But I love that I can ask him for these edits, even if my already fragile ego might be wounded.


21st Cen Bronté

Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.

McMillan’s Codex #55: Modded


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McMillan’s Codex #55 by C.T. McMillan


As a console gamer, sometimes I envy PC abilities. Computer gamers can change out graphics cards for upgrades, use mouse and keyboard, and have easier access to online features.  And there are mods.


Mods are additions or alterations to videogames.  This can include texture/model/audio swaps, cheats for gameplay, or a completely different game built from the ground up.  Mods can even improve games, like the PC releases of Dark Souls.  The possibilities are endless , and the fact modding is impossible on consoles is depressing.

Bethesda fully embraces the creativity of the mod community.  The company encouraged mods to their games by releasing Creation Kits for their Fallout and Elder Scrolls games.  As a result, new weapons, armor, characters, and gameplay elements have been created by fans and are available open-source online.  There is a mod to display the full dialog options for Fallout 4, another that changes the dragons in Skyrim into The Macho Man Randy Savage, and a mod that creates a whole other scenario in New Vegas.

With Fallout 4 and the upcoming re-master of Skyrim, Bethesda wanted to bring mods to consoles.  Using their free online service, you can download mods directly to the game.  While there is a limit to how much memory you can use, this is one step closer to having full mod support.  However, when the June launch date came and went, only the Xbox-One was given mod support, and PS4 owners like myself were left out.  For months I wondered what happened before word came down from Bethesda earlier in the month:

After months of discussion with Sony, we regret to say that while we have long been ready to offer mod support on PlayStation 4, Sony has informed us they will not approve user mods the way they should work: where users can do anything they want for either Fallout 4 or Skyrim Special Edition.

Like you, we are disappointed by Sony’s decision given the considerable time and effort we have put into this project, and the amount of time our fans have     waited for mod support to arrive. We consider this an important initiative and we hope to find other ways user mods can be available for our  PlayStation audience. However, until Sony will allow us to offer proper mod   support for PS4, that content for Fallout 4 and Skyrim on PlayStation 4 will not be available.

We will provide an update if and when this situation changes.


I am frustrated, but not surprised.  I expect nothing less from the company that lost custody of Spider-Man, allowed the creation of Pixels, and thought remaking Ghostbusters was a good idea.  For a long time I thought Sony’s gaming department was better than the company as a whole.  The way they handled their systems, the games, and their developers in the past was the pinnacle of management.  After this story, however, I worry what may come in the future.  The real question is why would Sony deny mods?  Why would they stifle creativity when their competition seems to be getting along just fine?

One likely answer is in-game achievements.  Mods are essentially cheat codes where you can do whatever you want, including avoiding the element of challenge.  From what I gather, Sony takes achievements very seriously, and they want to make sure player get them honestly.  Why any human being would care about rewards in a game baffles me.  If they were monetary incentives, then I would understand.

Another answer is the risk of performance issues.  I found out that Sony wanted all of the mods tested on PS4 before they were made available.  Bethesda just wanted to put them out regardless of impact because they know their fans are creative people.  I totally understand because mods tend to affect performance and Sony would like their console to function at peak efficiency.  Bethesda is also notorious for letting bugs and glitches ship with their games.  You could argue that Sony is just looking out for themselves, but Bethesda also knows their fans are talented enough to fix their games, and share those fixes with the rest of the community.


To be honest, I do not know the real reason, nor does anyone else.  But what I do know is that as a player, having creative control over my games is a great opportunity.  If I remain confined to a closed system, I have no choice by to break free.  Bethesda is the best user-friendly developer that understands their fans.  Perhaps the time has come that I learn how to build a proper computer and abandon consoles.


CT McMillan 1

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

Buzzed Books #46: Solmaz Sharif’s Look

Buzzed Books #46 by Amy Watkins

Solmaz Sharif’s Look


In a September 2014 feature for the Kenyon Review Online, “A Poetry of Proximity,” Solmaz Sharif calls poets “the caretakers of language.” She writes:

The State exerts (or at least attempts) authority over us in many ways, including its use of language: passive construction, missing subjects, riotous chiasmus, etc. A combination of rhetorical flourish, euphemism, and passivity provide the State with the means to justify, formally, warfare. Today, the President of the Free World can have a kill list, can proclaim he is really good at killing, and there is hardly a shudder here. This is because our here is so small, because we are not hearing what is below the dead language. In a poem, our relationship to these languages change.

To resuscitate the dead language, to bring readers closer to the meaning those State-sanctioned euphemisms hide is the goal of Sharif’s first poetry collection, Look (Graywolf, 2016). To say that goal is significant seems like a grotesque understatement, particularly as I’m writing this on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Fifteen years later, Sharif demands our attention to the abuse, injustice, and inhumanity that are still part of the fallout of those attacks and the United States’ response to them.

Sharif uses terms from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, reappropriating the words, altering our “proximity” to them. In the title poem, the first in the collection, those terms form a humanizing argument that hinges on the word “look” (in military terms, “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of an influence”):

Whereas I thought, if he would LOOK at my exquisite face

or my father’s, he would reconsider; […]

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is

                        your life? It is even a THERMAL SHADOW, it appears

so little, and then vanishes from the screen; […]

Let it matter what we call a thing.

The various meanings of the word “look” must be pondered: seeing, noticing, paying attention, but also–in the context of that military definition–being receptive to change, being open to another’s experience. The best poems in the book make us look. They remind me uncomfortably of the human beings on the far side of the dehumanizing language of the past decade and a half of war.

As in most collections, there are many very strong poems and a few that are less successful. In a few instances, the use of military terms feels forced, at least to my ear. Sustaining that premise in poems about family, personal relationships, and even politics is a challenge, which is better met in some poems than others.

At the end of the second and longest section in the book, Sharif includes a sequence of linked poems called “Reaching Guantánamo.” Each poem takes the form of a redacted letter, with blank spaces left where words have been erased. In some cases, the reader can fill in the blanks, but in others the missing words are mysterious–meaning and emotions, places and people lost to the State’s control of language. These are some of the strongest poems in the collection, and drive home the distance war has placed between the imagined letter writer and reader, the writer and censor, the words and their meanings.

Overall, Sharif’s Look is ambitious, intelligent, moving, important, and a little dangerous. After all, we let the state sanitize the language of war for a reason. It is poetry’s responsibility to return integrity to discourse for writers, readers, and citizens.

Pair this collection with a glass of Amaro Meletti, a bitter liqueur.


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 #39: The Taming of the Shrew (1967)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 239. Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

All right, readers, let’s get to it. The Taming of the Shrew is one of those infernal puzzles Shakespeare has bequeathed to us.

We don’t use the word shrew these days to describe women, so if you want to imagine a current translation, the play might be called The Taming of the Raging Bitch. It’s the most amazing romantic comedy ever. I mean that sincerely.


In this film, Elizabeth Taylor plays the raging—um—shrew.

The chief plot is that Katherina is the oldest daughter of Signior Baptista. She cannot help railing violently against her younger sister who has acquired two suitors, and railing against her hapless father as well.


Signior Baptista is adamant, bless him, that Bianca will not be wed before her older sister is married, since that would disgrace Katherina. And why is Katherina a shrew? Perhaps she resents being little more to her family than an impediment to her sister’s happiness. Perhaps Katherina views the prospect of getting married herself just to make her sister happy as utterly dehumanizing. Perhaps she regards the very role of being a woman—a wife, mother, daughter, gaze object for men, an accessory to her dowry—inherently belittling.

Soliloquies are for tragedies, not comedies.

Katherine is too often lashing out to reveal her own emotions so directly.

shrew-6What is interesting about this film’s casting is that Katherina is played by Elizabeth Taylor who is stunning, even when she is snarling, whereas Natasha Pyne’s Bianca is a blandly beautiful blonde.


The implication is that Katherina’s temper makes the men of The Taming of the Shrew unable to see her physical beauty. Her rage defines her as other than female to them.

What makes this film perfect is that the male lead, Katherina’s suitor, is a bold alcoholic named Petruchio, played by Richard Burton. Can I get a Hell, yes?

In the first half of the film, this performance is giddy, silly slapstick, and Petruchio’s courtship of Katherina comes off like the deranged efforts of a cartoony character, like Pepe LePew who seems oblivious to the horror he is causing.


Katherina is unaccustomed to a man courting her like she is actually desirable, and is equally unaccustomed to a man who will accept and match her aggressions. The way the courtship plays out so physically in this medieval Italian set is both quaint, earthy, and delightful, like collapsing onto piles of cotton.

And yet the drama of this comedy modulates, as these two people, lawfully married, learn to acknowledge accept one another as human beings, even as the psychological terms of their marriage are being negotiated. Tenderness creeps in at moments, despite the fraught nature of their relationship.

Petruchio may be a drunkard capable of violence and gross egotism, but he is also unwilling to advance upon her sexually without her consent.

For all of Shrew’s  outrageousness of plot and gender politics, those conflicts are the point. The ironies of the play, that Katherina accepts and simultaneously ironically transforms her new role as wife, need to be there in the acting, for the ironies on the page are subtle, so much so that many people today find the play too patriarchal for current audiences.

What’s interesting about this Zeffirelli film is that the subplots don’t seem to drag or do much more than credibly make us feel the chief plot more intensely. Gremio, an eldery suitor of Bianca’s, and Hortensio, an ineffectually foppish suitor to Bianca as well, come off as comic villains.


Lucentio’s courtship of Bianca, done under the guise of being her tutor, seems to happen in the background, visible without slowing down the primary plot, and Michael York (who played Tybalt in Zeffirelli’s Rome and Juliet) makes Lucentio seem suitably romantic and somehow not creepy.

shrew-9The costumes and the sets are charming, making the middle ages seem colorful and fun, somehow even making codpieces look good. But if you look closely, there are also less happy details, too, that point out the stakes at play in this dangerous comedy.

shrew-10You might quite easily try to dismiss the sketchy politics of this comedy, born of a more restrictive, thoroughly patriarchal time, but if you watch with an open mind, you’ll see that the world of The Taming of the Shrew is still recognizable today, and that we still must strive to treat each other with dignity, even if that requires approaching the world with a profound degree of irony, to know the difference between who we are, and who we are told we are.



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 224: A Craft Discussion About Virginia Woolf’s “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” with Vanessa Blakeslee!


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Episode 224 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 Virginia Woolf’s “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,”


plus Mingzhao Xu writes about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlanders series changed her life.





Suki Kim’s nuanced take on what happened in Brisbane can be read at The New Republic.

Lionel Shriver’s keynote speech from The Brisbane Writers Festival, “Identity Politics and Fiction,” can be read at The Guardian.

On September 30th, Richard Blanco is coming to Valencia College for the Winter Park Writers’ Festival. Richard Blanco’s reading is FREE, but you MUST reserve a seat via the Festival’s Eventbrite page.


  • Location: Winter Park Campus, Valencia College, 850 W Morse Blvd, Winter Park, FL 32789, Rooms 237/2424
  • 4 PM: Community Writing Class with Richard Blanco
  • 5:30 PM: Open Mic Reading (Emceed by John King)
  • 7:00 PM: Richard Blanco Reading

Episode 224 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 #155: Two of a Kind

The Curator of Schlock #155 by Jeff Shuster

Two of a Kind

(It’s kind of noirish.)

Another week, another movie to cover over here at The Museum of Schlock. Tonight, we’re covering a 1951 film noir entitled Two of a Kind from director Henry Levin. It stars Edmond O’Brian and Lisabeth Scott. I’ll give the movie credit for being more entertaining and more cohesive than last week’s mess of a PSA about small pox vaccinations. This one is about a gaggle of schemers, and we like gaggles of schemers her at The Museum of Schlock.


So there’s this woman named Brandy whose investigating this guy named Michael “Lefty” Farrell. She visits the orphanage where he grew up and the priest says he was a “difficult boy.” Lefty had run away from the orphanage to join Coney’s Colossal Carnival. Then he had moved on to dice and card hustling before joining the Navy where he was suspected of crooked gambling.


Brandy catches up with Lefty at a Bingo casino. Wait a minute? This was a thing back in the day?

Lefty sneaks Brandy a winning card, punches out the date she’s with before getting arrested by the cops.


Brandy pays his fine and the two of them drive away to a secluded spot to talk. She offers him a wad of hundreds that’s a mere fraction of what he’ll get if he does what she says. Hmmmmmm…Sounds good to me. Except for the fact he has to get the tip of his pinky removed from his left hand by smashing it in a car door. Ewwwwwww! She drops him off at an emergency room before speeding away.

You know, if I was making this movie, I’d never have Lefty meet Brandy again. The wad of bills would have been funny money. Lefty would never be able to hold down a job because of his severed pinky. Children would run away from him screaming, all because of his severed pinky tip. Lefty would end up bitter and alone, never knowing why some femme fatale persuaded him to sever his pinky tip.


Of course, that doesn’t happen. Brandy shows up again and tells him he has to stay three months at her beach house so the pinky can heal and look old. What’s the scheme? Brandy and her boss, Vincent Mailer (Alexander Knox) want Lefty to pose as the long lost son of a wealthy couple, the McIntyres. Vincent is the attorney for the McIntyres and was charged with searching every orphanage in the country for their missing son to no avail. Oh, and the long lost son was three when he went missing.  The only distinguishing characteristic was his missing pinky tip.

Vincent and Brandy have the idea that Lefty should try seducing the McIntyre’s niece, Kathy McIntyre (Terry Moore). Lefty breaks into the McIntyre’s to see Kathy. He trips the alarm, the police show up, but Kathy covers for him, sending the police away because she wants to reform Lefty. I guess she has a thing for bad boys. When Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre’s see him with Kathy, they start to suspect that he could be their long lost son. Will the scheme pay off for Lefty and his cohorts? Nah. Crime does not pay, people.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

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

21st Century Brontë #25: Breathtaking Characters


21st Century Brontë #25 by Brontë Bettencourt

Breathtaking Characters

Last Saturday, I went to see Kubo and the Two Strings.


The movie begins on a small boat at night, during a storm in the middle of an ocean.  A lone, distraught woman is about to be swallowed by a massive tidal wave when she parts the water, by striking a single note from a shamisen.  Just witnessing a single individual overcome the vast, tumultuous nature of the sea set the grand scale that this film was operating on.


Set in ancient Japan, the film follows Kubo, a young boy with the ability to manipulate paper by playing music from a shamisen.  By day, he entertains the nearby village by animating origami to tell stories. At night, Kubo must remain indoors or else The Moon King will find him and steal his remaining eye.

We wouldn’t have an awesome story if Kubo did not break this rule. With the help of Monkey and Beetle (a monkey, and an ex-warrior with a beetle-like exterior, respectively), Kubo must uncover his father’s magic-imbued armor if he hopes to defeat The Moon King.

What I loved most about this movie was how both the mature tones and wondrous moments did not obscure one another.  There is a scene where Kubo and his companions must cross the Long Lake in order to obtain the next piece of his father’s armor.  Kubo has run out of paper, and Monkey and Beetle don’t pay him any mind as they argue between themselves.  The camera focuses on the argument as fallen tree leaves begin to drift past them, increasing in quantity with every line.  The music gradually swells as the duo finally turn to see that Kubo built an entire ship from autumn leaves.

The amount of creativity and grandeur from Kubo’s imagination left me giddy in the theater.  Magic and uniqueness are simply accepted by the world’s inhabitance.  When Kubo enters the village in order to tell stories with music and origami, I automatically prepared for the second-hand embarrassment that accompanies this cliché. Would the standard schoolyard bullies make an appearance? Would the townspeople pick on him for his magic, or his missing eye? Would Kubo have to prove his worth to those who misunderstand his otherness?

But all of the villagers knew and accepted Kubo.  They were invested in his stories, begging Kubo to finish the story he had been telling for hours.  I feel like this acceptance allowed me to watch the feats and twists without the anxiety of Kubo failing at his task. With all of the characters on the same page, I could follow along without injecting reason into the magic, allowing me to engage in childlike awe.


But Kubo and the Two Strings is more than just an adventure story. A direct contrast to the magic were the Sisters, villainesses who search for Kubo on the Moon King’s behalf. The Sisters also use magic but without the colors and sound that accompany Kubo’s gift. They hover in silence, utilizing noxious smoke and blades.  The Sisters destroy the village during its festival, an abrupt reminder that this is not an escapist’s children’s movie.

The Sisters also wore masks, preventing the audience from relating to them. Besides the shift in their voices, their stilted movements and masks distinguished them from mortals.  Clearly their masks are not used to hide their identities, since we’re told who they are in the first scene they appear in.  Instead the masks convey a coldness and distance, the distinction between them as immortals and the humans they look down on.

Early on in the movie the audience learns that Kubo’s mother used to be like The Sisters. She forsakes that part of her family in order to keep Kubo safe. We never see her wear a mask, allowing us to connect with her through her expressions and warmth. Although magic is abundant in this world, the characters are still susceptible to death.


After Kubo is assaulted by The Sisters in the dead of night (and if you do not want spoilers, please skip this paragraph), his mother sacrifices herself in order for him to escape.  The audience learns that she is Monkey, her magic enabling her to possess Kubo’s monkey charm. Although the mother’s magic prolonged her death, she eventually passes away. She is not brought back at the end of the movie. Her resurrection would’ve cheapened the movie and its message of accepting death as not the end, but the beginning of another story.

I didn’t have any words when the credits rolled.  My friends gushed about how amazing the movie was, but I couldn’t capture what I witnessed into meaningful words.  I felt like my words would have cheapened the experience .  The longer I remained quiet, the longer I stayed with the story.  I didn’t bring the story up until a few minutes after Alex and I started driving.

Alex also remained silent, too enraptured with emotion to put his thoughts into words.

One of the first lines of Kubo and the Two Strings is to “pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem.” Despite how unusual this story was at times, my friends and I were captivated. The film could present the shocking depth of a monkey and a beetle-man because we were invested in these characters. If a story is told to the truest of the storyteller’s ability, the audience will follow along.


21st Cen Bronté

Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.