Twin Peaks: the Return ~ A Capsule Review

Twin Peaks: the Return ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp

Twin Peaks, the too-offbeat-for-mainstream TV series, appeared on commercial TV in 1990 and 1991. It didn’t last any longer than it did, we will assume, because it wasn’t the usual ho-hum TV fare (it was challenging to watch). Now, all these years later, we have Twin Peaks: the Return on the Showtime network, with, it must be assumed, less network censorship and more leeway on the part of the show’s creators to bring us disturbing images and situations, not to mention R-rated language. “Visionary” director David Lynch is back as one of the show’s two writers, its director and one of its principal actors. He’s still using some of the same directorial techniques he used forty years ago on Eraserhead.

If you can remember back all the way to 1990, you will remember the show’s premise: a high school beauty queen named Laura Palmer from the small town of Twin Peaks in the state of Washington is mysteriously murdered and “wrapped in plastic.” Handsome FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) is summoned to Twin Peaks to try to figure out who (it might have been anybody in the town) murdered Laura Palmer. (If I remember correctly, it was her own crazy father who killed her.)

Anyway, the early-thirties Dale Cooper of 1990 is now in his late fifties, although he still looks essentially the same. He has been missing since the end of the first series twenty-six years ago. He is still wearing the same darkly conservative suit and has been in a sort of nether world, where the floor is a red-and-white zigzag pattern, heavy red curtains hang all around, and the people (including the dead but now middle-aged Laura Palmer) speak as if they just landed here from another planet. (You’d have to hear it to know what I’m talking about.)

Dale Cooper has two (that we know of) “doppelgangers,” or doubles. One of the doppelgangers is (or has been until recently) in prison, has long hair and is terrible-looking. The other doppelganger is named Dougie Jones. Through a series of mishaps, Agent Dale Cooper is now living the life of Dougie Jones in the state of Nevada. He looks so much like Dougie Jones that nobody, including the real Dougie’s wife and son, knows it isn’t him. He goes to work every day at the Lucky 7 insurance company in Las Vegas and the people who work with him believe he’s Dougie Jones and don’t know that he’s not. Dale Cooper doesn’t know who he is, so he can’t tell them he’s not who they think he is.

If you have been watching the seven episodes that have so far aired, I defy you to explain the “plot” of Twin Peaks: the Return. There are so many characters and so many different things happening that one wonders if all the (seemingly unconnected) pieces will ever come together into a cohesive whole. Maybe the show’s writers don’t even know where it’s all headed.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Penny Dreadful, Season 3 ~ A Capsule Review

Penny Dreadful poster

Penny Dreadful, Season 3 ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp

Showtime’s gothic horror series set in Victorian London, Penny Dreadful, draws its inspiration from classic dark literature and horror films: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Wolf Man. If you think those themes have been done to death, well, Penny Dreadful puts a new spin on all of them.

Season three has shown the advent of a few new characters, namely Dracula, in the guise of a natural historian named Dr. Alexander Sweet; Dr. Henry Jekyll, a “wog” (half-caste Indian) who was Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s only friend going back to medical school; an “alienist” named Dr. Seward (played by Patti Lupone, forbidding but oddly comforting) who undertakes the job of “analyzing” and counseling Vanessa Ives with her many supernatural problems; a “girl of the streets” named Justine, taken up by Lily and Dorian as their new protégé in evil; and Mr. Renfield, a mousey young man who works as secretary for Dr. Seward and who is in thrall to Dracula. Mr. Renfield finds out all he can about Vanessa and reports back to Dracula. (Vanessa, if you will remember going back to the previous season, is much desired by the forces of darkness.) But, wait a minute, isn’t there something familiar about Dr. Seward? Didn’t Vanessa meet her in another place and another time and in a different persona? Vanessa is sure of it, no matter how much Dr. Seward denies it.

When season three begins, soulful, cleft-chinned Dr. Victor Frankenstein is still pining over Lily, who was Brona before she died of consumption and he “reanimated” her. When his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll arrives on the scene again, Victor is in a bad way with his obsession over Lily and his addiction to morphine, which he injects into his arm. Dr. Jekyll works with dangerous mental patients in Bedlam hospital. After Victor tells him the story of Lily, he says he can help make Lily what Victor wants her to be, by using the treatment he uses on out-of-control insane people at Bedlam. They can help each other. Victor knows how to resurrect people from the dead and Henry can make them docile and amenable.

Ethan Chandler, the wolf man, has been extradited back to America by a one-armed Scotland Yard man named Bartholomew Rusk. (Ethan, you will remember, butchered several people in England, but didn’t they, as the saying goes, have it coming?) In the wild New Mexico Territory, on a train enroute to the place where justice will be administered, the party is waylaid by a band of men who kidnap Ethan because Ethan’s father sent them. Have they saved him or is there something more sinister afoot? But—wait one damn minute!—besides the party who kidnapped Ethan, two other men are on his trail: a mysterious Indian named Kaetenay and our old friend Sir Malcolm Murray who has been recruited by Kaetenay to, as he says, “save our son.” What does he mean by this?

And then there is our friend, “the creature,” whom we met almost all the way back at the beginning of the series. Dr. Frankenstein “created” him, unhappily it seems, and he has been constantly dogging Dr. Frankenstein to do something to help him. His original intention of wanting a mate seems to have been superseded by other, more pressing, desires. He loves poetry and he seems to only want to be loved, but he will rip your head off if you give him any reason to do so. In season three, we are finding out more about his origins and how he came to be changed from a “normal” man into a monster. There is some connection between him and poor, tormented Vanessa Ives. As season three progresses, we will learn more about this.

A recurring theme in Penny Dreadful is the duality in human nature: every good that exists is counterbalanced by an equal or greater amount of bad; in every angel there’s a demon waiting to get out and in every demon an angel. It’s fantasy TV, not for everybody, of course, but for the thinking person who is fed up with raunchy sit-coms and mind-numbing commercials and drivel that TV serves up every minute of every day. It could have been schlock but it’s not. It’s intelligent and engaging, always a little surprising. (Some of the dialogue is brilliant, as in the exchanges between Dr. Seward and Vanessa.) Every episode is beautiful to look at, whether it’s the deserts of the American Southwest or the dreary, crowded streets of Victorian London. The acting is sincere; the actors never seem to think themselves superior to the material, even if it’s campy or overly familiar. I’m a big fan of Penny Dreadful and I have been since the very beginning. You can have Veep, Girls, and Game of Thrones. I’ll take Penny Dreadful.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Penny Dreadful, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review

Penny Dreadful- Victor Frankenstein

Penny Dreadful, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

My favorite character on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He’s nothing like Colin Clive or Basil Rathbone. He’s slender, young and handsome with a dimple in his chin. He doesn’t look like a mad scientist or somebody who enjoys reanimating dead tissue. He’s brilliant in his work but uncomfortable, since he is a Victorian gentleman, when it comes to things like picking out a lady’s undergarments. In season one he created a sweet doe-eyed monster out of parts from cadavers, only to have an earlier creation—one who didn’t turn out so well—return, kill the sweet monster and start making demands. This earlier monster, who calls himself John Clare, is lonely—if Dr. Frankenstein will create a mate for him, he promises he will go away and not cause any more trouble. Dr. Frankenstein tells him to be patient and he will go to work on the problem. While John Clare is waiting, he goes out into the cruel real world and finds a job. First he works at a Grand Guignol theatre, where bloodletting is the order of the day. That ends in tragedy, so, in season two, he secures employment at a wax works. The kindly owner of the wax works has a blind daughter to whom John Clare is drawn. She feels perfectly comfortable with him because she cannot see how strange he looks.

In season one of the show, the only American character in the cast, Ethan Chandler (in London with a Wild West show), had a girlfriend from the lower English classes named Broma Croft. He was in love with her but, alas, she had consumption and soon died. Dr. Frankenstein secures her body with the intention of turning her into the mate for his monster. He puts her in a pickling solution and waits for the terrific thunderstorm that will reanimate her. When the storm occurs and he is able to bring her back to life, she is disoriented and remembers nothing of her former life. He names her Lily (the flower of rebirth and resurrection) and tells her she is his cousin and that they grew up together. He has to teach her everything about the world, as she is like a newborn baby. He dyes her hair blond to give her a different identify from the one she had when she was Broma Croft and enlists the aid of Vanessa Ives to buy her some clothes to wear.

Of course, other things are going on simultaneously. Vanessa Ives, who was revealed at the end of season one to be Sir Malcolm Mallory’s out-of-wedlock daughter, is now living in his house with him and his African man-servant Sembene. She is, and always has been, much tormented, subject to visitations by the darkest of forces. (Is she a witch or what?) We have recently learned that Satan desires her above all others. (What he will do with her when he gets her we can only imagine.) Satan has sent his consort (one of them?) to earth in the guise of one Mrs. Poole. She has a collection of naughty “daughters” who are also minions of Satan who will do her (and his) bidding. Their one goal is to get Vanessa Ives for Satan. (Why he can’t get her himself has not been revealed.) Sir Malcolm has begun a flirtation with Mrs. Poole (not as innocent as he thinks), not knowing who, or what, she really is.

Then there’s youthful Dorian Gray. He has a new love interest, named Angelique, who, on first acquaintance, appears to be a woman but—wait a minute—“she” is really a “he.” (Dorian knew right away it was a man; men are what he is most interested in.) When Angelique inquires about Dorian’s age, he tells her he is older than he looks. (We already know how he keeps his youthful appearance.) There’s a scene where Dorian and Angelique are playing a game called gossamer tennis (ping-pong to us), a game newly brought over from India by returning soldiers.  Angelique bests Dorian in every game, even though the place where they are playing is lit by electric light, not very flattering to a “girl’s” complexion, as Angelique says.

Penny Dreadful is set in Victorian London, but it’s not the London of Charles Dickens. It’s a mélange of horror movie themes, dark and forbidding, with dark forces everywhere afoot. It’s classy, well-made, intellectually stimulating and a feast for the eyes. How do they do those fabulous sets that are only seen for a second or two? If it’s all computer-generated graphics, it’s still impressive because it looks so real. Seeing it is to step out of the mundane world we live in into another time and place that is fun to visit, even though you probably wouldn’t want to live there if it meant you had to do without the Internet.

Penny Dreadful, Season Two

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Penny Dreadful ~ A Capsule Review

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

Three episodes have aired so far of the new Showtime series, Penny Dreadful. It’s set in London in the 1890s and has a gallery of interesting characters. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) plays a wealthy explorer whose daughter, Mina, is missing. She seems to have fallen into the clutches of a fiend or a really bad person along the lines of Count Dracula. In an ongoing effort to rescue his daughter, Sir Malcolm has joined forces with a woman known as Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who, we are told, “is affected by forces outside our world.” Sir Malcolm and Vanessa have engaged the services of one Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), an American sharpshooter traveling in England with a Wild West show; his unerring deadly aim might come in handy. For any medical services, Sir Malcolm enlists the aid of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway).

Victor Frankenstein is my favorite character. He has a sort of soulful intensity and the dimple in his chin doesn’t hurt either. He lives in a dark hovel and experiments with creating “men” from parts culled from cadavers. When the series begins, we find that the “creature” he has created is doe-eyed, sweet and gentle, not at all a “monster.” Victor names him “Proteus” from Shakespeare. (My favorite scene is when Victor realizes during a thunderstorm that Proteus is up and walking around, meaning that he is “alive.” Victor is so astounded he is breathless.) Just when Victor and Proteus are getting on so well, Victor’s first “creature” (that we didn’t know about until that moment) returns and kills Proteus. He is much scarier than Proteus and knows how to spread mayhem to get what he wants. He is befriended by an actor drawn to freakish people who gives him a job as a sort of stage hand in the Grand Guignol theatre, which specializes in theatrical bloodletting and gory stagecraft. The actor gives him the name “Caliban,” also from Shakespeare.

Penny Dreadful is a horror story with elements of other famous horror stories interwoven—Dracula and Frankenstein to name two—with a subplot involving an Egyptologist, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, an ancient curse from a couple of Egyptian deities who are upset about something, and a cadaver with Egyptian hieroglyphics written on it (or in it). Also thrown in (to what purpose we don’t know this early in the story) is Dorian Gray, the principal character from Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, a man who, while steeped in venality and vice, maintains his youthful appearance while his portrait displays the ravages of corruption.

Even if Penny Dreadful isn’t groundbreaking in its originality, it is still beautifully appointed in every detail, beautifully written and acted, and fun to watch. Quality TV for the viewer with discriminating tastes. My only complaint is that some of the night scenes (and it’s mostly all night scenes) are so dark that you sometimes don’t know what’s going on. It’s the darkness that’s the mood and theme of the show.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp 

Ja’mie: Private School Girl ~ A Capsule Review

Jamie Private School Girl image

Ja’mie: Private School Girl ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

Ja’mie: Private School Girl is an unusual comedy series from Australia, on American TV via HBO. Ja’mie (pronounced Jah-MAY) lives with her well-to-do family in a spacious house in Sydney, Australia, but the series revolves around her life at her exclusive girls’ school, called Hillford. (The school for boys, Kelton, is nearby.) Ja’mie is the most popular girl at Hillford and a student leader. She surrounds herself with a veritable Greek chorus of squealing sycophants, enablers, and hangers-on. (Whenever any of Ja’mie’s group must part, they declare their undying love for each other.) Ja’mie’s best friend is a gay boy named Cody who attends Kelton. Since Cody does not have access to a dance class at Kelton, he is allowed to take dance with the girls at Hillford.

Ja’mie has her sights set on the “Hillford medal,” an honor to be given to one girl in the graduating class who “demonstrates Christian values.” She brings a Ugandan boy named Kwami into her home to live with her and her family to show what a caring, compassionate person she is. We (the audience) know what her underlying motive is, if nobody else does.

As accomplished, ambitious, and talented as Ja’mie is (she dances, writes music, and sings), she has another side to her. She is cruel to her mousey mother and her younger sister and to anybody else she doesn’t like. She calls her chief rival for the Hillford medal a “fat, dumb, lesbian bitch.” When she believes that one of her “besties,” a girl named Madison, has stolen her supposed boyfriend, Mitchell, she is more than willing to resort to flying fists. Madison is ostracized from the “in” crowd until she comes to her senses and realizes that stealing Mitchell from Ja’mie is just not worth all the trouble.

In addition to her other traits, Ja’mie is supremely confident and believes she is the most attractive girl in school, but the truth is that she is sort of funny-looking. When one of her enemies calls her “horse face,” we have to agree. She is angular in her school uniform, her legs are bony, and she has small breasts, which, she says, are a result of an eating disorder. She has long, dark hair that she constantly flips or pushes out of her face. If you haven’t guessed by now, Ja’mie is played by a man, Chris Lilley, who created and wrote the series. A narcissistic teenage girl being played so well by a man is the irony of the show and what makes it so much fun to watch. Would I want to watch it if Ja’mie was played by a seventeen-year-old of the female gender? I wouldn’t waste my time.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

Boardwalk Empire, Season Four ~ A Capsule Review

Richard Harrow image 5

Boardwalk Empire, Season Four ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

Boardwalk Empire on HBO is the best show on television. Of course, I might be a little prejudiced in that opinion because it’s the only show I watch. It just completed its fourth season, I’ve seen every episode, and I think it’s better than ever. It’s involving, beautifully written and beautifully played. The characters are well-rounded and believable. For the most part they are not “good” people, but human. We understand their jealousy, greed, hatred, desire, revenge, love, or whatever it is that motivates them. We don’t want to be like them (could any of us get away with it?), but we love watching them, including their killing without remorse. How bad can a person be? Apparently there’s no limit.

And then there’s the “look” of the show. Obviously a lot of research has gone into getting each detail historically accurate for the period. Each scene is beautifully appointed and you wonder how they can create those fabulous sets, some of which are just seen for a few seconds. (Is it all computer-generated illusion?) The music is all from the period and there’s lots of it and it always fits the scene. So, even if you don’t like the story, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears, especially if you, like me, find the 1920s fascinating.

There were some interesting developments in season four. Gillian Darmody, that youthful grandmother, is addicted to heroin. The new man in her life, Roy Phillips (who isn’t what he appears to be), helps her kick the habit. While she is fighting for custody of her grandson, Tommy, a very bad thing that she has done in one of the earlier seasons catches up with her. Nucky Thompson runs a nightclub, The Onyx Club, with his business partner Chalky White (whites only, black performers). Daughter Maitland, a singer at the club, is a protégé of the mysterious Dr. Narcisse, another man who isn’t what he appears to be. Dr. Narcisse and Chalky White are rivals (they both want the same things). When Chalky begins an adulterous affair with Daughter Maitland, it intensifies the dislike between the two men. Nucky has a new love interest, Sally Wheet, whom he meets in Florida when he is there on “business.” His wife, Margaret, has receded into the background with her two children and just plays a minimal part in season four. Nucky’s nephew, Will, accidentally kills a fellow student in college when a prank goes too far. When Will is caught, Nucky uses his considerable influence to get him off. Will doesn’t want to go to school but wants to be a gangster like his father and his uncle.

Among those who meet their ends in season four are Mr. Purnsley, Maybelle White, Agent Knox, Dean O’Banion, Frank Capone, and a host of minor characters. Eddie Kessler, Nucky’s faithful valet, commits suicide when he is bullied by two federal agents into giving an insignificant confession against Nucky. So long, Eddie!

And then there’s Richard Harrow. From the first time he appears in season one in what was supposed to be a minor role, he dominates every scene he’s in with his quiet dignity. After we see him a couple of times, we see beneath the tin mask he wears that hides his horribly disfigured face. He has lived through the horrors of war and returns to a world in which he has no place. For a while he is a hired killer but that isn’t really who he is. He wants nothing more than to have a family and to be normal. When he dies at the end of season four, it’s for love. Not for romantic love—that would be too silly—but for a more profound kind of love. As he’s dying, he sees himself with his handsome face intact, returning “home” to those who love him. A tragic hero in the end. Does TV get any better than this?

Copyright 2013 by Allen Kopp

The Borgias, Season 3 ~ A Capsule Review

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The Borgias, Season 3 ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

The Borgias is now in its third season on Showtime. I’ve seen every episode, and what I like most about it is the way it looks. It is, of course, set in Italy during the Renaissance (late 1400s). The sets and costumes are lavish and authentic-looking in every detail. The Vatican looks the way you imagine it must have looked over 500 years ago. How do they do it? Doesn’t it take tons of money just to achieve that “look”? It is photographed in a way to make it look like paintings of the period, with lots of soft reds and yellows. Every scene is like a painting in motion. Even the outdoor scenes are stunningly beautiful. If you don’t like the story or get tired of too many sex scenes and too much intrigue, just turn down the sound and enjoy the way it looks.

At the end of season 2, Pope Alexander Sixtus, the “Borgia Pope” (played by Jeremy Irons) was poisoned by his archenemy, Cardinal Della Rovere, with a poison called cantarella. We had to wait until season 3 to see if he survived the poisoning, but I had a feeling he would. He did survive, thanks to some quick thinking on the part of his daughter, Lucrezia, who administered charcoal as an antidote.

Cardinal Della Rovere was captured and imprisoned for his part in the attempted assassination of the pope, but he was released from prison by a “friend” and escaped. When the pope discovers that some of his cardinals (members of the “consistory”) were involved in the plot to kill him, he strips them of their offices and considerable wealth and prestige. Even with the cardinals gone who want to murder him, the pope still has lots of enemies.

While Cardinal Della Rovere was Pope Alexander’s archenemy in seasons 1 and 2, he has now receded into the background since the assassination attempt failed. The pope’s new archenemy is one Catherina Sforza, a powerful and power-hungry dame who lives in a castle at Forli and who will do anything to bring down the Borgias. The pope calls her “the Great Arachne.” She is constantly trying to bring influential “friends” into her alliance against the pope and his family, using whatever means they have at their disposal. She would rather slit a Borgia’s throat than to look at him.

Pope Alexander is the father of a brood of “bastard” children, meaning he was never married to their mother, although the mother remains a part of the “family.” (She must endure the pope’s string of “mistresses.”) Principal among the Borgia children are Cesare Borgia, a one-time cardinal who is his father’s most loyal ally, and Lucrezia Borgia, who gave birth to an illegitimate son fathered by a sweet stable boy, whom her brother, Juan, had murdered. Cesare and Lucrezia are both young and stunning-looking. They continue to have an unwholesome interest in each other, even though Lucrezia has just taken her second husband and Cesare has a new wife from France. (The evil and dangerous Juan Borgia was murdered in season 2 by his brother, Cesare. The pope doesn’t know yet who murdered Juan, his favorite son, even though Cesare has dropped a few hints.)

While the Borgias are motivated by ambition, they also seem, in large part, to be motivated by their love for each other. This keeps them, I suppose, from being all bad. If they are to survive in a swamp full of poisonous snakes, they must be snake-like themselves. Life can’t be simple for a family that holds immense power and has no intention of giving it up.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway ~ A Capsule Book Review

  

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

Ernest Hemingway is probably the best known and most identifiable American writer of the twentieth century. He is known almost as much for his adventurous life and for his travels as for his writing. He wrote about the manly pursuits of big-game hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, and boxing wherever it happened to be. He was a newspaper reporter for the Kansas City Star, drove an ambulance as a young man on the Italian front in World War I (which formed the basis for his novel A Farewell to Arms), was among the “Lost Generation” of artists, writers and painters who expatriated to Paris between the World Wars, went to Spain to fight with the anti-fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War (leading to his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls), and served as a war correspondent on the European front in World War II.

Throughout most of his life, Hemingway suffered from the mental condition known as manic depression, which is now called bipolar disorder. He underwent electroshock therapy, which affected his memory and his ability to write. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot would in July 1961, a few days before his sixty-second birthday. He left behind a body of work that has stood the test of time. In addition to his dozens of short stories and nonfiction work, he wrote at least three novels (The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls) that are considered among the best of the best of twentieth century American writing. His style of writing (terse, clean, straightforward, simple without being spare) has often been imitated but never equaled.

This summer I undertook the monumental task of reading all 650 pages of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. The book is divided into three sections. The first section is “The First Forty-Nine” stories that Hemingway wrote as a young man. It contains the most famous and well known of his stories and was published as a collection in 1938. The second section contains the stories that Hemingway published after 1938, and the third section is stories that, according to the preface, had never been published before.

The section of previously unpublished work contains some fragments of unpublished novels that (sort of) stand alone as short stories. The last selection in the collection is a forty-five page novel “fragment” called “The Strange Country” that later became Islands in the Stream, a novel that was published in the 1980s, long after Hemingway’s death. If it was anybody other than Hemingway, this meandering, rather pointless fragment probably would never have seen the light of day. It’s about a middle-aged man with several failed marriages to his credit on a road trip through Florida with a much-younger woman. They drive, they drink liquor, they talk a lot, they eat, they sleep, they have sex. Was Hemingway writing about himself? It seems a little self-indulgent.

The stories are apparently just in random order, rather than in the order in which Hemingway wrote them. The African stories (“The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “An African Story,” etc.) are interspersed with the bullfighting stories (“The Capital of the World,” “The Undefeated”) and the stories of the Spanish Civil War (“The Denunciation,” “The Butterfly and the Tank,” “Night Before Battle,” “Under the Ridge”). The two “Henry Morgan” stories later became incorporated into the novel To Have and Have Not. The “Nick Adams” stories, which Hemingway wrote early in his career, were inspired by summers he spent with his family in Michigan as a boy. The longest of the Nick Adams stories, at forty pages, is “The Last Good Country,” which, for some reason, was never completed. Of the “groups” of stories in the collection, I like the Nick Adams stories the best.

Some of the stories in The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway I had read, but most of them I was reading for the first time. I liked most of the stories and found them engaging and worth my time, although some of them are not really to my taste. I’m not a fan of either bullfighting or big-game hunting and cringe at some of the long passages about killing animals, but it is, after all, Hemingway, so he must be indulged in his passions. Nobody else demonstrates such a breadth of subject matter in a body of short stories. He is a master of the form. For a great reading experience, though, read either of the novels A Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls. Both of them are love stories in a war setting and are superb.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp

True Blood, Season 5 ~ A Capsule Review

True Blood, Season 5 ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

HBO’s Southern gothic vampire series, True Blood, is in its fifth season. Sookie Stackhouse, the Louisiana waitress, is still deeply involved with vampires, good and bad. The good vampires want to “mainstream” with humans, while the bad vampires want to enslave humans and use them as a source of food, by way of their blood. These two factions of vampires are frequently at odds with each other. The bad vampires—that is, members of the “Sanguinista” movement—are personified by one Russell Edgington, a vengeful, gay vampire thousands of years old. In the previous season, he made an impromptu appearance on a TV newscast, in which he ripped out the spine of the newscaster and vowed to “eat the children” of humans, after which he would eat everybody else. “And now time for the weather. Tiffany?” Good stuff.

Anybody familiar with the character of Sookie Stackhouse knows that she is no ordinary waitress. She is a “telepath” (she can read the thoughts of others) and a kind of fairy. It seems that vampires have long had an affinity with fairies and believed fairies to be extinct. Fairies taste and smell especially sweet to vampires and can, at times, enhance their power.

Since the beginning of the series, Sookie has had an on-again, off-again “relationship” with one Bill Compton, one of the good vampires, who has only been a vampire since the Civil War, a relatively short time. Vampire Bill is a soft-spoken Southern gentleman whose vampire nature is frequently at odds with his human nature and his desire to “mainstream” with humans. I can’t tell you how many times Sookie has been in deadly peril and Vampire Bill has come to her rescue. Any other vampire might have just killed her right off and been done with her, but not Vampire Bill.

Sookie has a handsome, dimwitted brother named Jason. He has a good heart but seems to lack judgment and, at times, good sense. He knows his own faults better than anybody and wants to live a better life but doesn’t seem to know how. He is waiting for somebody to show him the way. His libido seems to always lead him down the path of danger.

Sookie’s lifelong best friend is Tara Thornton, a black girl with an unhappy history and her own share of woes. Her latest travail is that she was shot in the head while trying to protect Sookie (it’s a long story) and, to keep her from dying, Sookie and Lafayette (Tara’s gay, restaurant cook cousin) enlist the aid of the sardonic girl vampire, Pam, to turn her into a vampire. It was either that or death. Tara is not happy about having been “turned” and will never forgive Sookie and Lafayette. She has always hated vampires and has had more than her share of scary experiences from her association with them. She’d rather be anything than a vampire.

There are other interesting characters, not the least of whom is Eric Northman, a perfectly formed Nordic type who was a “Viking” at the time he was turned into a vampire a thousand years ago. His “maker” was Godric, a good vampire, who immolated himself in sunlight on the roof of a hotel during one of the earlier seasons. He was over two thousand years old. Then there’s Jessica, the teen girl that Vampire Bill “turned” by orders from the vampire “magister.” Vampire Bill had to “turn” Jessica as a kind of penalty for one of the times he saved Sookie’s life. Jessica was a hellion of a girl vampire at first but seems to have calmed down a lot, thanks to the influence of her “maker,” Vampire Bill, and is mainstreaming with humans. She had a human boyfriend named Hoyt Fortenberry (who can’t seem to get out from under his mother’s influence), but they broke up. Sam Merlotte is the owner of the honky-tonk (roadhouse and bar) where Sookie works as a waitress. Sam is an all-around good guy and can usually be counted on to help out when trouble is brewing, but he is a “shape shifter” and has his own share of troubles, including a werewolf girlfriend and a trashy family. Arlene is a ditzy waitress at Merlotte’s with beet-red hair and an odd husband, Terry Bellefleur, who can’t seem to shake his wartime experiences. Andy Bellefleur is the sheriff and cousin of Terry Bellefleur. He is a recovering addict and a not-very-effective law enforcement officer, frequently bewildered by all the supernatural goings-on in the town.

True Blood is based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris. While it is sometimes silly (as in the case of Sookie being more in love with Vampire Bill or with Eric Northman), it’s never boring. There are at least two dozen characters and most of them are interesting in their own way. The plot line is constantly shifting. If something is going on that you find not all that interesting, wait about two minutes and the story will shift to something else. With lots of sex scenes and lots of swearing and gore, it’s definitely not for everybody and not for the younger set. What it is, though, is inventive, surprising, suspenseful, well written and well acted. Those Southern accents are impeccable.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp  

The Borgias, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review

The Borgias, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp  

The Borgias, on Showtime, is nearing the end of its second season. Anybody who has seen any part of The Borgias knows it is a lavish and beautifully photographed series about the Borgia family during the time of the Italian Renaissance. The Borgia family is not billed as “the original crime family” for nothing; it seems there is nothing they won’t do to get what they want or to hold onto their considerable power.

Pope Alexander VI (played by Jeremy Irons), whose name is Rodrigo Borgia before he becomes pope, is the patriarch of the Borgia family. To achieve his ends and to maintain his position on the papal throne, he is aided by his loyal son, Cesare, who becomes a cardinal when his father becomes pope. Like his father, Cesare will stop at nothing to achieve his ends (or his family’s). Also like his father, he seems driven by the belief that he is always right and always justified in his actions, no matter how brutal or ruthless they might seem. More often than not, he is aided in his dirty work by his faithful friend, Micheletto, who was bred on the streets of Rome and who has some secrets of his own.

Pope Alexander’s beautiful daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, started out as a young innocent but was soon disillusioned when she was married off to a boorish nobleman in an alliance that was supposed to help her family (it didn’t). She has a dalliance with a handsome, illiterate stable boy, Paolo, that results in a son. Paolo meets a violent end at the hand of Lucrezia’s brother, Juan.

Juan Borgia, Cesare’s younger brother, is an oversexed hellion who is, more often than not, an embarrassment to his family. He is cruel, arrogant and foolish, frequently caught up short by his rash actions. When he is sent away to Spain for a while to get him out of the way, he returns with a wife and a case of syphilis, for which there is no cure.

Pope Alexander was never married to the mother of his children (played by Joanne Whalley), so, to avoid the appearance of impropriety when he becomes pope, he sends her to live elsewhere. She remains a player in the family, however, even though Pope Alexander has taken up with the beautiful Julia Farnese, whom he quickly installs in the papal palace as his mistress.

Pope Alexander has an arch-enemy, one Cardinal Della Rovere (played by Colm Feore), who seems motivated entirely by his hatred of the Borgia family and by his desire to see Pope Alexander removed from the papal throne. He will rally the pope’s enemies against him if he can, or he will see the pope poisoned (or otherwise murdered) if there is no other way.

Another enemy of the Borgias is the religious zealot Savonarola. He despises Pope Alexander (and what he sees as his excesses and extravagance) as much as Cardinal Della Rovere does. He travels around the country preaching fiery, anti-Borgia sermons to anybody who will listen. He and Pope Alexander are destined to clash in one way or another. Pope Alexander will burn him at the stake as a heretic if he has his way.

There’s no shortage of sex and violence in The Borgias, sometimes in the same scene. (In one telling scene, Lucrezia Borgia tries to murder her brother Juan by letting a chandelier tall on him while he is engaged in a sex act with a prostitute). There is also spurting blood, severed heads and limbs, stuffed cadavers, torture and ceaseless warfare. It’s TV for grown-ups. It’s also fascinating to watch, intelligently acted and written, and beautiful to look at. The sets and costumes are lavishly detailed and amazing to see. The photography, especially in the outdoor scenes, is gorgeously reminiscent of Italian Renaissance painting. The Borgias is a feast for the eyes.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp