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Brooklyn ~ A Capsule Movie Review


Brooklyn ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Brooklyn is a small movie, an “art film,” set in, you guessed it, Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1950s. Saoirse Ronan (who was in Atonement, The Lovely Bones and Grand Budapest Hotel) plays Eilis (pronounced AY-lish), a sweet, decent Irish girl who leaves her devoted sister, Rose, and her widowed mother and goes to America in search of a better life. She is seasick on the boat going over because nobody bothered to tell her she shouldn’t eat on the first day and, once she gets to America, she finds it a disappointment. She lives in a rooming house with several other girls and a bossy landlady named Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) who takes it upon herself to provide moral instruction for the girls. The landlady likes Eilis, though, and after a while she gives her the best room with its own entrance.

Eilis experiences acute homesickness in her strange new world and is unhappy. She gets tearful letters from her sister, Rose, but they don’t help much. She works as a saleslady in a department store and has a hard time making the customers feel important so they’ll keep coming back. She doesn’t want to spend her life behind a sales counter so she goes to night school a couple nights a week with the thought of someday becoming an accountant. Soon she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a sweet, decent Brooklyn boy who is a plumber. Eilis and Tony fall in love and this is when her unhappy life begins to take on a different hue. Things go along smoothly for her until she gets word that her sister, Rose, has died back in Ireland of an undisclosed ailment. Eilis is heartbroken because she can’t be there for the funeral. She decides to go soon after Rose’s death and see her bereft mother, who isn’t very cheerful to be around. Before she leaves Brooklyn, though, her boyfriend Tony insists that she marry him so she’ll be sure and come back.

When Eilis goes back to Ireland for what is supposed to be a brief visit, she doesn’t tell anybody she married Tony back in America. Her mother and her old friends begin to expect that she’s back to stay and won’t want to return, since her mother now has no one left but her. A boy in Ireland named Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleason, who was in Anna Karenina and Unbroken) becomes interested in her. She likes him but doesn’t want to encourage him too much because she’s secretly married. Then an accounting job opens up for her that she can have on a permanent basis if she’s willing to stay. Ireland suddenly seems so much more appealing than it did before and she is faced with a dilemma: will she stay in Ireland where things are finally working out for her, or will she return to her husband in Brooklyn?

Brooklyn is about the immigrant experience and about finding oneself. It is like the period in which in is set, the 1950s: sweet and innocent and so much different from what life is like now. Like all art movies, it is for a “niche” audience, so it’s not for everybody. If you’re looking for laughs or thrills, you won’t find them here, unless it’s the thrill of solid storytelling.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Looks Like Wally Fay

Looks Like Wally Fay image 2

Looks Like Wally Fay ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“Did you get a good look at the man?” Officer Miggles asked.

“Oh, yes,” Miss Dragonette said.

“Can you describe him for me?”

“Well, he was kind of heavy-set without being what I would call fat, if you know what I mean.”

“So he was moderately overweight?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Did you notice anything else about him? The color of his hair?”

“He was wearing a hat so I couldn’t see his hair. I would imagine it would be dark, though. Underneath the hat.”

“How tall was he?”

“Rather on the tall side. About six feet and one inch, I’d say.”

“What was he wearing?”

“A long brown topcoat that came down to his ankles. Cashmere, I think.”


“Yes, that’s right.”

“Can you tell me anything else about him?”

“He was wearing a brown tie with little yellow birds on it, like parrots.”

“All right. How old would you say he was?”

“If I had to guess, I’d guess late thirties. Thirty-eight or thirty-nine.”

“How would you describe his face?”

“Well, let me think, now. He needed a shave. I did notice that right off.”

“So he had stubble on his face.”

“Yes, dark stubble. The color of the stubble on his face was what made me think he would have dark hair, even though I couldn’t see his hair because of the hat he was wearing.”

“Can you tell me anything else about his face?”

“He looked like that actor in that movie about the woman with a spoiled daughter who shoots the woman’s husband.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, ma’am.”

“I know! It was Joan Crawford!”

“So, the man looked like Joan Crawford?”

“No! It was a Joan Crawford movie. The man looked like one of the actors in the movie.”

“Do you know the actor’s name?”

“No, I can’t think of it offhand. It wasn’t the playboy who was Joan Crawford’s second husband and it wasn’t the first husband, either. It was the other man. The one in business with Joan Crawford’s first husband.”

“Okay, ma’am. I don’t think we’re making much progress here.”

“I remember now! His name was Wally Fay.”

“Whose name?”

“The man in the movie with Joan Crawford. The name of the character he played was Wally Fay. I can’t think of his real name, though. It’ll come to me later, I’m sure.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t much help.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Can you tell me anything else about him at all?”

“He was in another movie where he played Paul Newman’s brother.”

“No! Can you tell me anything else about the man who fired the gun?”

“Paul Newman was married to Elizabeth Taylor and he had this brother they called Gooper. I suppose that was a nickname, though.”

“I don’t need to hear about a movie.”

“Gooper was married to a coarse fat woman named May. She and Gooper had a lot of little kids, and Paul Newman’s wife, the character played by Elizabeth Taylor, didn’t much care for them because they made so much noise.”

“That won’t help us to catch the man we’re looking for, ma’am.”

“Well, I’m trying to remember! I’m cooperating with you. It seems the least you can do is be patient and polite.”

“I’m sorry if I seem impatient but I don’t need to hear about any movie.”

“Where was I? Oh, yes. Paul Newman and his brother Gooper had a rich old father who didn’t like anybody in his family. Well, the entire family was gathered because the father had just found out he had a fatal disease and the two sons—especially Gooper—were worried about who was going to inherit the estate. It was in the South, somewhere. Mississippi, I think.”

“Okay, that’s enough about movies. Can you describe for me what you saw the man do?”

“Well, I was just walking along the sidewalk, minding my own business, on my way to buy a new pair of shoes. I heard a commotion in the street and I stopped to see what it was. I saw a bunch of police cars with flashing lights. It seemed to be something terribly important, but I didn’t know what it was.”

“Then what happened?”

“A bunch of people had gathered along the sidewalk to watch, but I stayed back. That’s when I noticed the man in the cashmere coat come out of an alleyway.”

“What made you notice him?”

“He just stood there, looking very dignified. He wasn’t trying to elbow in to get a closer look, the way the other people were. He just looked straight ahead as though in a trance or something.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well, after all the police cars had passed with their lights going, I saw the big black car of the governor. I could see him in the car smiling and waving—I recognized him from his pictures—and I knew then what all the commotion was about. All the people were trying to get in to get a closer look at him.”

“So you didn’t know until that moment that the governor was going to be visiting here that day?”

“No. Why should I?”

“Don’t you read the newspapers? Don’t you watch the news on television?”


“Go on.”

“When the car carrying the governor came about even with where I was standing on the sidewalk, the man in the cashmere coat took a few steps forward.”

“Toward the car?”

“That’s right.”

“Then what did he do?”

“I looked away for a moment and that’s when I heard the gunshots.”

“How many gunshots?”

“Three, I think.”

“Some of the people screamed or ducked down as if they thought they were going to be shot, but I wasn’t afraid because I saw where the bullets came from and I knew they weren’t directed at me.”

“All right. Then what?”

“After the man fired the shots, he just simply disappeared.”

“People don’t disappear.”

“I know they don’t, but that’s the way it seemed to me. He was there and then he wasn’t.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“The governor’s car stopped and all the police cars stopped and everybody was running around trying to find out where the bullets came from. There were more people than ever now crowding around to get a better view. You know what people are like.”

“I suppose I do.”

“Well, the police spotted me standing on the sidewalk and, well, I guess it seemed to them that the bullets had come from about where I was standing, so they asked me if I had seen anything and I said I had and that’s when all these questions started. Can I go now? I’m feeling a little shaky after all the excitement.”

“It seems you were the only one who saw the man in the cashmere coat.”

“Yes, that’s because I was the only one standing back where he was standing. Everybody else was crowding toward the front.”

“As the only witness, you’ll need to make yourself available for further questioning.”

“Please, I’d rather you kept me out of this, if you don’t mind.”

After Office Miggles took her name and address, Miss Dragonette continued two blocks up the street and stepped off the curb between two parked cars. Looking around to make sure she wasn’t being observed, she took the gun out of her purse and threw it down a storm drain from which could be heard the sound of rushing water.

Satisfied that she wasn’t seen, she snapped her purse shut smartly and crossed the sidewalk to a store window where two high-fashion female mannequins in fur coats stood side by side. She looked into the face of the mannequin on the right and returned the artificial smile. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to make your acquaintance,” she said before continuing on her way.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp  

Bridge of Spies ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the United States and the Soviet Union are at war. It isn’t the kind of war that’s waged on a battlefield, but a war of intelligence. Both sides are desperately trying to get military and strategic superiority through secret information that has to be stolen or gained surreptitiously by spies. It is a game of one-upmanship: If you can steal our secrets, we can steal yours.

In 1957 American agents capture a Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) in Brooklyn. He isn’t what you would expect a spy to be. He is in his mid-fifties, soft-spoken, self-effacing and an artist who paints pictures. When a Brooklyn lawyer named Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) takes on the unpopular job of defending Rudolf Abel (on the theory that everybody, no matter what they’ve done, is entitled to due process and a fair trial), the two men become unlikely friends. When Abel is tried and found guilty, the popular sentiment is to send him to the electric chair, but Jim Donovan argues, successfully, that Abel might be used as a bargaining tool in the event that the Soviets capture an American spy.

American pilots are at this time flying spy missions over the Soviet Union in U2s. The U2 flies at 70,000 feet and is supposed to be undetectable, but one of them is shot down and the pilot, Gary Francis Powers, is taken prisoner. The Soviets hope to get all the valuable information they can from him before they let him go. The American side proposes a spy swap: we’ll give you Rudolf Abel if you give us Gary Francis Powers.

Bridge of Spies is about the negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to swap one spy for another, which turns out to be a delicate balancing act and one that might never come off, even when it seems it will. The Soviets, after all, are as tricky as they are allowed to be and don’t always play by American rules. Jim Donovan, the lawyer who defended Rudolf Abel, is the unofficial negotiator for the American government without being employed by the government in any capacity.

The spy swap is further complicated by the capture of an American college student in East Berlin named Frederic Pryor, just when the wall is being built. He’s in a very bad place at a bad time; the Soviets believe he is a spy and are in no hurry to release him. The American negotiator in the Abel-Powers spy swap makes the release of Frederic Pryor a condition of the trade. Will the Soviets comply, or will they engage in some of their nasty Cold War games?

Bridge of Spies is a weighty movie (as opposed to fluffy or brainless) on a weighty subject, so, if you’re looking for laughs, this is probably not what you’re looking for. It’s a “prestige” picture, directed by Steven Spielberg, the most famous of all current movie directors. (It’s interesting that Joel and Ethan Coen wrote the screen play.) It’s a thoroughly satisfying movie, beautifully made in every detail, for the serious-minded among us. Talky at times but talking the talk that is worth hearing. You’re looking at a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

City Dump

City Dump image 1

City Dump ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

When I was in the eighth grade, the Dutchman decided our old house needed a new roof. Instead of consulting the Yellow Pages to find a reputable roofer, he decided to save a few greenbacks by—no, not by doing the job himself—but by having a “friend” do it at a cut-rate price.

The price at which the friend agreed to replace the roof didn’t, oddly enough, include any clean-up. That means that pieces of the old roof dating from the time the house was built—boards, shingles, chunks of asbestos, nails, what-have-you—were scattered in the yard on all four sides of the house, looking like the scene of an unspeakable natural disaster. How many houses, I ask you, have a new roof while the old roof adorns the yard in the ugliest way imaginable?

The Dutchman’s solution to the clean-up was simple. He had a thirteen-year-old son: me. I weighed ninety-two pounds but was more than capable of picking chunks of debris out of the shrubs and off the lawn and placing them in a washtub. How many washtubs full does it take to hold the thousands of splintered pieces of an old roof? More than you can imagine.

He didn’t own a pickup truck so he borrowed one from another “friend.” (Where do all these friends come from?) It was an old dark blue truck that had seen better days. It was only a one-day loan, so that meant we only had one day to get rid of all the crap that surrounded the house. I was wishing I would lose consciousness and not regain it until well into the next week. I would rather have thirty hours of gym class than a day of enforced yard clean-up with the Dutchman.

After I got the washtub loaded up with stuff, it was too heavy to lift on my own. “Candy ass,” the Dutchman said. “You’re not worth the powder to blow you to hell.”

“I know,” I said. And I did know, as this phrase had been repeated to me in some form or another almost every day of my life.

The Dutchman saw that I could manage the loaded washtub only if he took the other handle. It occurred to him then for the first time that I didn’t have the strength of a grown man. Who knew?

With about eight tubs full of stuff, we had enough in the back of the truck to make a full load. I had to take a rake and distribute the stuff so we could get more in. Then, when the Dutchman was convinced the truck would hold no more, we headed for the city dump, about two miles outside of town. It felt good to sit down, even if the inside of the truck smelled like an old woman who never takes a bath.

At the city dump, the Dutchman carefully backed the truck as close to the edge of the embankment as he could get without going over the side, and we got out and started unloading. I stood up in the bed of the truck and tossed the stuff over the side but, of course, I wasn’t doing it fast enough to suit the Dutchman.

“Do you want to still be working at this at midnight?” he asked.

“I’m starting to feel sick,” I said.

By the time we got back to the house to begin work on the second load, it had started to rain the kind of rain you get in November: slow, cold and steady. The Dutchman made me put on a hat—not to protect my health but because he was thinking about how much money it might cost him if I got sick and had to see a doctor.

The second truckload to the city dump didn’t go any faster than the first one and, after two loads, we had made very little progress. This was taking a lot longer than the Dutchman thought it would. There weren’t going to be enough hours in the day. I was happy, maybe for the first time in my life, at the prospect of going to school the next day.

It was when we were working on the third load that an old man from the neighborhood stepped into the yard and motioned to us. The Dutchman stopped what he was doing and went over to him. I was near enough that I could hear.

“I know somebody that will take all that stuff away for you for a good price,” the old man said.

The Dutchman thought about it for a minute and shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said. “I can do it myself.”

“Looks like that boy there’s about worn out,” the old man said. He meant me, of course.

The Dutchman looked at me as though noticing me for the first time. “He’s stronger than he looks,” he said with a little laugh.

My mother came out of the house then in her plastic rain bonnet. “You know somebody that’ll do this hard work?” she asked.

“My nephew and his friend,” the old man said. “They’ve got themselves an old truck and will do little jobs here and there to earn enough money to fill it up with gas.”

“Does your nephew have a phone number?” she asked.

The old man gave the number and my mother said she would remember it without writing it down. She thanked the old man and he left.

“You come into the house,” she said to me, “and get cleaned up before supper.”

“He’s not going in,” the Dutchman said, “until the work is finished.”

“Says you,” she said.

She put her hand on my shoulder and drew me along with her into the house. It was one of the few times I ever saw her stand up to the Dutchman.

I took a bath as hot as I could stand it to get the roof grit off and put on my pajamas. I had the sniffles afterwards and there were some bleeding cuts on my hands, but I was happy and was sure I would be all right.

The next day when I came home from school, all the roof junk in the yard had been taken away. Mother told me she paid for it out of her own money and that it had been a real bargain. I was beaming with satisfaction at the dinner table that evening while the Dutchman looked unhappy and defeated, too dispirited even to complain that the mashed potatoes weren’t the way he liked them.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

After Alice ~ A Capsule Book Review

After Alice

After Alice ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Gregory Maguire is famous for his “Oz Series” of four books, the best of which is the first, Wicked. His latest novel is After Alice, a clever take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. On the summer day that little Alice Clowd disappears from her home in Oxford, England, in the 1860s, one Ada Boyce, her unhappy friend, goes looking for her and finds herself disappearing down a hole by the riverbank and ending up in Wonderland, where the two girls have separate but simultaneous adventures.

The whole time Ada is in Wonderland, she is looking for Alice but she doesn’t have much luck in finding her for the longest kind of time. In the meantime, we get a glimpse of Ada’s life and the life of her family. Her father is a vicar, her mother a disconnected “dipsomaniac” and her little brother a tiny infant who screams all the time, little Boyd Boyce. He seems to get all the attention in the family, leaving none for Ada. She has some kind of physical deformity involving her spine that forces her to wear a kind of corset under her clothes. The corset is worth mentioning because it plays an important part in how the story is resolved. Ada also has a governess, the formidable Miss Armstrong, who seems to turn up when she is least wanted and seems to know everybody’s business. Miss Armstrong is secretly in love with Ada’s father, the vicar, and doesn’t always do a very good job of concealing it.

Then there is Lydia, Alice’s older sister, age fifteen. She isn’t very interested in where Alice is and is quietly contemptible of Miss Armstrong when she comes along looking for Ada and Alice. On that same summer afternoon, Lydia also meets a handsome young American named Mr. Winter. He is traveling with and assisting the famous Dr. Charles Darwin, who is paying a call on Alice and Lydia’s father. Mr. Winter has a small black child with him named Siam, who is a runaway American slave. Soon Siam disappears, as Alice and Ada did before him, and he also—what a coincidence!—ends up in Wonderland.

After Alice is a breezy 273 pages. It’s a fantasy, skewed toward adults. That doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for children; it means that children would probably be bored by it. The pleasure of reading After Alice is in the subtlety of the language.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Martian ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The Martian

The Martian ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Liberal gasbag Matt Damon is my least favorite actor in the universe. He plays fictional astronaut Mark Watney in director Ridley Scott’s fictional sci-fi fantasy, The Martian. I stress the word “fictional” because I heard that a lot of people believe it’s a true story. Just when did they think we put people on Mars? Don’t they think they would have heard about such an important event?

Anyway, Matt Damon is one of six American astronauts (three boys and three girls and, no, they’re not there to reproduce) living in what they call the “hab” on Mars, earth’s nearest planetary neighbor in the cosmos, but still fifty million miles away. When all six astronauts are outside the “hab,” a sudden violent storm blows up and a large piece of debris hits Mark Watney in the abdomen and sends him flying (very little gravity on Mars). It’s time for the astronauts to get the hell out and go back to earth, so the five remaining astronauts head on out, certain that Mark Watney is dead. The thing is, though, he’s not dead—only knocked unconscious. When he regains consciousness a day or so later, he discovers he’s stranded there on Mars alone with very little food, water and air, and the next scheduled manned flight back to the Angry Red Planet from earth is not for four years. Mark Watney will either die within a few days or weeks or figure out a way to go on living until the time he can meet up with some other earthlings to take him back home.

Remember the movie Gravity from a couple years ago? The Martian is a lot like that, only much longer, with more characters, and has a man instead of a woman in an I’m-probably-going-to-die-unless-I-can-figure-out-a-way-to-save-myself situation in space. Yes, there are overwhelming odds to overcome and, yes, he does overcome them, and, yes, we knew all along he could do it. Besides Gravity, there are elements of other movies in The Martian, including Robinson Crusoe on Mars from the 1960s, the “mission control” nonsense of Apollo 13 (cheering people doing the Rocky victory arm pump), and Airport, a 1970 movie with Burt Lancaster. I was especially reminded of Airport by the cardboard cutout characters at NASA. What is Kristen Wiig doing here?

I see on IMDb that The Martian was filmed in the Jordanian desert, which is, presumably, an appropriate stand-in for the Martian terrain. We see some beautifully photographed (simulated) Martian landscapes, and I like the idea of being the only man on an entire planet. What solitude! I also like the idea of being able to float weightlessly wherever you want to go, as we see in the scenes of space travel. Think how much easier that would be than walking.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The 33 ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The 33

The 33 ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

In August 2010, a cave-in at a Chilean gold mine trapped 33 miners 2300 feet underground (it took a hundred years for the mine to get that deep). The 33 is the story of the unfortunate miners and the heroic efforts to get them out of the mine, a weeks-long endeavor that wavered from hope to despair and back to hope again. Antonio Banderas plays Mario Sepulveda, the leader of the miners who maintains a semblance of order among the desperate men (rationing what little food and water they have) and who refuses to believe they are all doomed to die.

It’s many days after the mine cave-in before the people on the surface know that the miners are still alive. Meanwhile, the families of the miners build a kind of tent city on the site, unwilling to go home and wait to hear if their loved ones will, by some miracle, be brought out alive, or if the mine will be sealed forever with the bodies of the dead. The minister of mines, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), representing the Chilean government, assures the families that every effort will be expended to bring the miners to the surface, but even he knows there is little chance of success. The president of Chile seems mostly concerned with the political ramifications for him if the miners die.

Discovering that the miners are alive after 16 days gives new hope to the families and to those involved in the rescue effort. Drilling begins with three drills running 24 hours a day. It takes days for the drills to get that far down and when they do, they miss the open space where the miners are located. Just when they are about to give up, they decide to use the deviation to their advantage and try again. Finally they drill a shaft right over where the men are. They can get food and water to them through the shaft, but the problem still remains of how to get them out. It’s a race against time because an enormous rock with twice the mass of the Empire State Building, the rock that caused the initial cave-in, is pressing down on the mountain and threatens to slide down even farther to where the men are.

We already knew the miners were brought to the surface alive after 69 days, but The 33 shows how it was done and at what cost. The success of the undertaking could be largely attributed to two men: Mario Sepulveda, the leader of the miners below, and Laurence Golborne, the Chilean Minister of Mines, both of whom refused to give up in the face of overwhelming evidence that the cause had been lost.

There are a few familiar faces in The 33, but most of the actors who play the parts are unknown and speak in heavily accented (though mostly understandable) English. Juliette Binoche, barely recognizable, plays the sister of one of the young miners. Lou Diamond Phillips, surprisingly effective, plays the mining safety engineer trapped with the men, who must deal with his guilt because he knew the aging mine wasn’t safe. Irish actor Gabriel Byrne seems an odd choice to play the Chilean mining engineer in charge of the rescue effort.

The 33 is not flashy or over-produced but is just a straightforward telling of a true-life story that captured the attention of a large part of the world back in 2010. I found it much more engrossing and involving than the mountain-rescue movie, Everest. And the underlying theme is simple: don’t give up, even when nothing is going the way you think it should; or, to put it another way, God helps those who help themselves.

Copyright 2015 by Allen Kopp


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