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Black Mass ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Black Mass

Black Mass ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

For decades James “Whitey” Bulger was an organized crime boss in Boston, head of the Boston Irish mob known as the Winter Hill Gang. He demanded absolute loyalty from his associates and, if he didn’t get it, he was prepared to kill without compunction. In the 1970s he made a deal with shady FBI agent John Connolly to become an informer with the purpose of bringing down a rival mob run by Italians. He hated informers, he said, but he became one to do to his rivals what they deserved. If you rat on somebody who deserves it (so his reasoning went), it isn’t so bad.

In Black Mass Johnny Depp plays Whitey Bulger with receding hairline and crazed, blue-eyed intensity. (How do they get his eyes to look that way? At times he looks like an evil doll.) And, as psychotic as he is, he has his sweet side. He has a young son whom he loves, he allows his elderly mother to cheat him at gin rummy and he’s kind to the old ladies in the neighborhood. For those who knew him, though (even for their whole lives), he was to be feared. You never knew what he was thinking or what he might do. He was inclined never to forget even the smallest slight or insult.

Joel Edgerton, who last year played Pharaoh Ramses II in Exodus: Gods and Kings (with plenty of eye makeup), looks bloated as FBI guy John Connolly. (At times his Boston accent seems over the top.) Of course, associating himself with Whitey Bulger isn’t a good career move for him. While he is ostensibly on the side of “good,” things don’t work out well for him.

There’s a great cast of supporting players in Black Mass, including Rory Cochrane (who conveys a lot of feeling without words) as Steve Flemmi and Jesse Plemons as dough-faced Kevin Weeks (not very bright but a game player). Benedict Cumberbatch, last seen as gay Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, plays Whitey Bulger’s straight-shooting (or is he?) politician brother, Billy Bulger. Juno Temple, always a standout, plays a hooker/drug addict who meets a not-very-pleasant end at the hands of Whitey Bulger, just when she was beginning to think he was on her side.

Adding to the irony of this story is that Whitey Bulger, regardless of the number of souls he dispatched to the next world, still lives in this one. After sixteen years as a fugitive, he was captured in California, living under an assumed name in 2011. He was put on trial and today serves as an inmate in a federal prison in Florida. He is 86 years old.

What makes Black Mass so interesting (if maybe a little reminiscent of other crime movies, including The Departed) is that it’s a true story rather than a fictional one. After a summer of youth-oriented fluff in movie theatres, isn’t it refreshing to see a movie that is actually about something?

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

A Good Meal and Cheap

A Good Meal and Cheap

A Good Meal and Cheap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Her name in the real world was Margaret Jessel but, to separate “this” life from “that” one, she now went by the name of Toots. She sat on a bench in the park in the sun, her arms folded across her chest. When she heard someone coming, their feet crunching the leaves, she opened her eyes and squinted into the face of her friend, a girl she had come to know as Vicki-Vicki.

“How are you feeling, old girl?” she asked as Vicki-Vicki sat down beside her.

“I feel like I’m about a hundred years old,” Vicki-Vicki said.

Toots laughed. “That’s what happens when you’re living in a graveyard.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m living there.”

“Well, it seems to me you’ve learned the first lesson of living without four walls.”

“What lesson is that?”

“How to stay alive with winter coming on.”

Vicki-Vicki gazed out at the duck pond and sighed. “I think I’ll freeze to death this winter,” she said. “Not long ago that thought would have scared me, but now it gives me comfort.”

“You’re too young to look for comfort in death,” Toots said. “Just look at me. I’m fifty-six years old, I look twenty years older, and I just keep right on a-goin’.”

“Do you think there’s a God?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to think there is. If there isn’t, that means there’s no meaning to anything and if there’s no meaning to anything, that means all the crap we go through is for nothing.”

“I’ve been thinking about going back home.”

“Maybe you should.”

“I’m worried about my brother and sister. I wish I could know how they’re faring without me there to look after them.”

“If I gave you the money for a bus ticket, would you use it to go home?” Toots asked.

“And then what do I do after I get there? I wouldn’t be any better off there than I am here.”

“There’s the conundrum of life,” Toots said.

“I see ghosts in the cemetery,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“If there’s a God, then there’s probably ghosts, too.”

“They seem to be trying to tell me something.”

“Get off the streets and go home while you still have the chance. That’s what they’re trying to tell you.”

“I like living on the streets.”

“No, you don’t. Nobody likes it. The only way to stand it is to numb yourself to it.”

“I don’t think I can ever do that.”

“Give it a few more years.”

“I don’t have that long.”

“Well, cheer up, old girl,” Toots said. “I know something you don’t know.”

“You have a place to flop tonight.”

“Better than that,” Toots said with a grin. She opened her coat and showed a lady’s patent leather pocket book.

“You sly dog!” Vicki-Vicki said. “Where did you get that?”

“I found it!”

“Stole it is more like it.”

“Well, I come about it when I was in the bus station. If it wasn’t in an entirely honest way, it ain’t altogether my fault.”

“Somebody looked the other way and you picked it up and ran.”

“No! I’m more subtle than that! I was in the ladies’ room performing my ablutions when some ladies come in with their luggage and bundles. They were talking and laughing and having a good time. They didn’t even notice I was there. They laid all their stuff against the wall and then one went into one stall and locked the door and another into another stall. I eyed the pocket book from across the room in the mirror. I hurried up and dried my hands and before you could say Benjamin Franklin, I made for the door, bent down and picked up the pocket book in one graceful motion on my way out, and from there on, it was easy. I hung the pocket book from my arm as if it belonged to me, made my way through the crowds to the street unnoticed and when I got to the street, I went into the alley, put the pocket book under my coat, and here I am!”

“That was sure lucky for you and unlucky for the lady who owned the pocket book.”

“Yeah, but what are you going to do? She’s probably got dozens in her closet at home. She was just that type. She was all snooty and everything.”

“Well, did you look inside?”

“Did I? There’s over two hundred dollars!”

“I don’t believe you,” Vicki-Vicki said. “Nobody has that much money.”

“Oh, yes they do. Lots of people do. Two hundred dollars is nothing to people like that.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“I used to be one of them.”

“Well, what are you going to do with all that money?”

“I’m going to get myself a room tonight—a real room in a hotel—and get myself all cleaned up.”

“That sounds wonderful!”

“It would be more wonderful if I had someone to enjoy it with me.”

“You mean me?”

“Do you see anybody else sitting here?”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” Vicki-Vicki said. “It’s your money. It’s for you to enjoy.”

“I’m inviting you, though, you see.”

“No, you spend your money on yourself.”

“I can get a room for two for the same price I can get a room for one. And they’ve got plenty of hot water that don’t cost extra. Wouldn’t you like to take a hot bath?”

“Of course I would!”

“Well, come on then! What are we waiting for?”

“I’m supposed to have a date tonight.”

“Who with?”

“I don’t know his name.”

“So it’s that kind of a deal, is it?”

“I promised.”

“Wouldn’t you rather sleep in a real bed and have a nice hot bath than to have a date with some stranger?”

“Yes, I guess I would.”

“So what’s stopping you?”

“A promise is only as good as the person who makes it,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Yeah, that’s a hot one, kid! Let’s go!”

They made their way up the hill to where Toots had parked her old car, a seventeen-year-old heap of indeterminate make and model.

“You’re the only bum I know who has her own car,” Vicki-Vicki said, laying her hand on the dash as if petting it.

“Here today, gone tomorrow,” Toots said.

“What do you mean?”

“Today this car is in my possession, but that’s only until somebody steals it from me.”

“You stole it from somebody else, didn’t you?”

“I don’t even remember. All I know is I hope nobody stops me and asks to see my registration or license because I ain’t got either one.”

“They might put you in jail.”

“No, they won’t. Not for not havin’ no license. If I get stopped, I’ll just pretend I’m crazy. That usually works. They don’t want to get involved.”

“I’ll remember that,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“It probably wouldn’t work with somebody as young and pretty as you are,” Toots said.

“I’m not pretty. I used to be but I’m not anymore.”

“Maybe not exactly pretty but you’ve got a cute way about you.”

“How far does cute get you in the world?”

“I see the men looking at you.”

“They’re mostly old and ugly,” Vicki-Vicki said. “They make me wish I was dead.”

“Just don’t give ‘em no encouragement.”

“I don’t.”

“I’ve seen your type before,” Toots said. “A man will be your downfall. I just know it.”

“Could we please change the subject?”

With a wrenching sideways motion and without slowing down much, Toots pulled into a gas station and hailed the attendant like a woman of substance and asked him for two dollars’ worth of gas.

“Why not get a full tank?” Vicki-Vicki asked. “You’ve got all that money.”

“And have somebody steal it from me?”

“You stole from somebody and somebody else will steal from you, and a person we never saw before will steal from that person and on and on. Isn’t it funny the way the world works?”

“It’s just side-splitting comedy all the time,” Toots said.

It was about dinner time, so after leaving the gas station Toots drove to a nice quiet place where they could get a good meal and cheap. It was a cafeteria kind of place where you go in and pick up your tray and silverware and get in line and pick up the food you want from the tables in front of you and when you get to the end of the line you pay the cashier and after you’ve paid your money and been handed your change, you sit down and eat.

“Get anything you want,” Toots said. “The sky’s the limit.”

She kept the patent leather pocket book dangling from her arm in plain view so nobody would look askance at them and think they weren’t able to pay. After they loaded up on fried chicken and other unaccustomed delicacies, Toots paid with a flourish and they sat next to a window and enjoyed the best meal either of them had had for a long time and watched the daylight outside as it faded into night.

After they left the cafeteria, Toots stopped at Millie’s Package Store to pick up a bottle of Old Crow bourbon and then it was on to the hotel.

The Edison was a six-story brick structure dating from the 1920s. It was on the edge of the less savory section of the city but still maintained an aura of respectability. Toots parked the car in the “customer parking only” space behind the hotel and she and Vicki-Vicki walked around to the front and went inside.

“I want a room for tonight, my good man,” Toots said to the desk clerk.

“Pay in advance.”

“Since when?”

“Since I said so.”

While Toots was fumbling with the money to pay for the room and signing the register, Vicki-Vicki looked around and saw someone she knew in the hotel lobby, a man she had met when she first came to the city. She couldn’t remember his name at first but then remembered it was Sid Gooch.

“Vicki-Vicki!” he said, stepping forward and giving her a hug.

“Hello,” she said. “How are you?”

“Do you remember me?” he asked.

“Sid Gooch.”

“What a memory she has!”

Toots turned around and looked at him. “Who is this?” she said.

“He’s an old acquaintance of mine,” Vicki-Vicki said. “His name is Sid Gooch.”

“How are you?” Sid asked, stepping forward and taking Toots by the hand. To Vicki-Vicki he said, “Is she your grandma?”

“No, just a friend,” Vicki-Vicki said. “We’re on vacation.”

“Well, well, well!” Sid said. “It certainly is nice to see you!”

The clerk gave Toots the key to room four-two-eight and she took hold of Vicki-Vicki’s arm and pulled her toward the elevator.

“I’ll be around if you get lonesome later!” Sid Gooch called.

“He looks like the unsavory type,” Toots said after the elevator door closed.

“I’m the unsavory type, too,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“What’s going on between the two of you?”

“Nothing at all.”

“I heard that crack he made about me being your grandma.”

The room was clean and tidy. With so little furniture in it, it seemed unusually large. Vicki-Vicki crossed the room to the window and opened it.

“Thinking of jumping?” Toots asked.

“Not just yet.”

“If you change your mind, let me know.”

Toots took the bottle of Old Crow out of the patent leather pocket book and kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed and began drinking. Vicki-Vicki went into the bathroom, locked the door and turned on the hot and cold spigots on the bathtub. She took off all her clothes, piled them in a heap on the floor and got into the tub, slowly at first because the water was so hot. She soaped herself all over, including her hair, and then rinsed and did it all over again.

When she was finished with her bath, she wrapped herself in a big white towel and, since she didn’t have any clean clothes to put on, she rinsed her underclothes out in the sink and draped them over the edge of the tub to dry. She would sleep in the raw if she had to but she didn’t feel comfortable doing that with Toots in the room. While she was doing these things, she thought ahead to tomorrow and what the day would likely bring. She would keep company with Toots for a while and see how she planned on spending the rest of the two hundred dollars.

Toots was asleep on the bed, breathing heavily through her nose. She had drunk about half the bottle of Old Crow and was in danger of spilling the rest, so Vicki-Vicki, still wrapped in a towel, took the bottle from her hand and set it on the bedside table beside the patent leather pocket book.

The room was quiet and she didn’t want to make any noise to wake Toots. With nobody to talk to, she might as well get into bed and try to go to sleep herself. Oddly enough, she didn’t feel tired or the least bit sleepy.

She sat at the foot of the bed and leaned back against the metal frame and begin picking at her fingernails with a bobby pin when there came a soft tapping at the door. She stood up and opened the door an inch or two to see who it was. She was not very surprised to see Sid Gooch peering in at her.

“Is grandma here?” he asked.

“She’s asleep,” Vicki-Vicki said. “And she’s not my grandma.”

“Could you use a little company?”

She opened the door a little farther and said, “As you can see, I’m not dressed.”

“That’s the way I like you best!”

“Not here, Sid!”

“Let’s go someplace else, then.”

“I don’t know. I’m supposed to be keeping Toots company.”

“She won’t even know you’re gone,” he said. He leaned in and took her by the upper arm and whispered in her ear, ”I saw her bankroll.”

“What of it?” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Looked like she had quite a lot of money there in that pocket book of hers. Bet she stole it.”

“It doesn’t matter if she stole it or not. It’s hers. ”

“Some of it might be yours. Or mine. You never know.”

“I’m not going to touch her money. She just bought my dinner.”

“I don’t think she’d mind if you took at least part of it. What are grandmas for?”

“No, Sid!”

“We could have a really nice time. The night is young.”

“Doing what?”

He whispered in her ear again. She was shocked and also stimulated by the words and by his hot breath on her skin.

“You’ll have to give me a few minutes to get dressed,” she said. “My clothes are still wet.”

“I’ll wait right here for you.”

She found those six words more comforting than anything she had heard in a long time. She went back into the bathroom and struggled into her clothes, afraid that Toots would wake up and ask her what she was doing.

But Toots didn’t wake up and Vicki-Vicki slipped into her shoes and grabbed the patent leather pocket book with nearly all of the two hundred dollars inside and went out the door as quietly as she could. Sid was waiting for her, as he said he would, leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. Instead of waiting for the elevator, they ran down the stairs, trying to be quiet but hardly able to keep from laughing. 

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

View of Delft ~ A Painting by Johannes Vermeer

Vermeer, View of Delft 1

View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer

Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is known mostly for his interior scenes of domestic life (genre paintings). At the time he painted View of Delft around 1660, cityscapes were uncommon.

The Canterbury Tales ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales (A Prose Version in Modern English) ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) lived during the Middle Ages, almost two hundred years before Shakespeare. The English spoken at the time he lived is called Middle English, to distinguish it from Old English and Early Modern English (the language that Shakespeare spoke and wrote in). Chaucer’s most famous work is The Canterbury Tales, a collection of about twenty stories (some in prose but most in verse) with a simple premise: A group of diverse “pilgrims” (a nun, a knight, a miller, a priest, a doctor, a pardoner, a “wife,” etc.) on their way to Canterbury to pay homage to Thomas Becket (who “helped them when they were sick”) tell stories to pass the time and relieve the tedium of the road. Each pilgrim is required to tell a story, whether they want to or not. The stories range from bawdy, low humor to tragedy and give us a picture of what life was like in England at the end of the fourteenth century.

No matter how you’ve been spending your time lately, you probably haven’t been reading The Canterbury Tales in its original Middle English, unless, of course, you’re a graduate student preparing a thesis on the subject. If you’ve ever heard Middle English spoken, it’s beautiful to hear but not that easy to understand for modern speakers of English. A lot of the words are the same and are easily recognizable, but a lot of the words no longer exist in the language. (If you’d like to hear an example of spoken Middle English, here is an easy link to “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales on YouTube:

Since Middle English is beyond the ken of most people (including me), there’s this “Prose Version in Modern English” by David Wright. A lot of the “feel” of The Canterbury Tales, I’m sure, is lost is this translation (sort of like the “modern American translation” of the King James’ version of the Bible), but if you need to read The Canterbury Tales and you want to be able to understand it, this is the best, most accessible way. Of course, you have to be a dedicated reader if, like me, you’re reading it only for enjoyment and out of curiosity and not because you have to. After all these years since high school English class, I finally know what the Wife of Bath is all about.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Don’t Leave Anybody Out

Don't Leave Anybody Out

Don’t Leave Anybody Out ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The place is full of happy people. The orchestra has just warmed up and is playing a lively dance tune. Glasses clink, laughter comes from a certain quarter and seems infectious. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1942. For one evening at least, we can forget we’re a country at war. The sky has been overcast all day, with periods of light snow and frigid, blustery winds, but the weather doesn’t dampen the spirits of the holiday crowd. If you can’t be happy tonight, you’re not capable of being happy.

Her name is Lena Rift. She is just twenty-two years old and not long out of school. She has dreams of being a professional photographer, a regular artiste, but she’s not sure if she can ever make the grade. For the time being, at least, she believes she has made an excellent start. She is a freelance portrait photographer. She wears a striking green evening gown of modest design—her mother would approve—and walks among the crowd smiling as if she is enjoying herself. Her camera alone tells people who she is and what she is there for. More often than not, especially on a busy night such as this one, she can’t go more than a few feet without somebody stopping her and wanting a photograph.

Among the photographic subjects that evening are two business men who have just pulled off a deal that will make them rich. They are both slightly drunk and pose with their cocktail glasses raised toward the camera. Then there’s the cowboy movie star sitting in his booth flanked by excited female fans who can hardly sit still long enough to have their picture taken. Then it’s on to the older man and his much-younger female companion in a low-cut red gown. As he puts his arm around her for the picture, she winces but tries to smile. Over there is a rowdy table with ten people sitting around it. Be sure and get all of us in, one of the men says drunkenly, and don’t leave anybody out.

Lena can’t help noticing a young couple sitting against the wall by themselves. The man has his arm around the girl and she leans into him as if she can barely sit upright. They listen dreamily to the music and look at each other. Lena approaches them with a smile.

“Just married?”

“Does it show?” the man says.

“Four hours ago,” the girl says.

“Would you like a picture?”

They look at each other and laugh and the girl nods her head. “I just said I wished we had a picture of this evening,” she says.

“This is your lucky day,” Lena says, standing back and snapping the picture.

“How can we get a copy?” the man asks.

“I’ll have them developed in about a half-hour,” Lena says. “Will you still be here then?”

“Sure,” the man says.

As Lena starts to walk away, the girl says, “Don’t we need to give you our names?”

“You can if you want.”

“My name is Carmen and he’s Luther.”

“All right,” Lena says. “I’ll remember that.”

“Albrecht,” the man says. “Mr. and Mrs. Luther Albrecht, married on this day in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-two.”

“Got it.”

“Would you like to have a glass of champagne with us?” the girl asks.

“Can’t,” Lena says. “I’m working. Some other time.”

She gets her coat, slings her camera case over her shoulder and sets out for her darkroom in her little apartment three blocks away. She walks as fast as she can, not only because of the cold, but because she wants to have the picture for the newlyweds in half an hour as she promised.

It’s when she’s holed up in her darkroom that she first hears the commotion outside: sirens and racing engines and loud male voices. Must have been a holdup or something somewhere, she thinks. She finishes as fast as she can and puts the prints in her camera case.

As soon as she steps outside again, she knows that something is terribly wrong. There’s an unusual smell in the air like singed wool and a muffled roar coming from a certain quarter. Whatever it is she will soon know because it’s in the direction she’s going.

Halfway to the club she hears the more distinct sound of breaking glass and the roar of fire engines and underneath those sounds screaming almost like people on a roller coaster when it gets to its highest pinnacle and plunges downward. She begins running but she has to be careful because of frozen patches on the sidewalk that she can’t see very well in the dark.

She rounds the corner and what she sees is a vision of hell. The club is engulfed in flame. How could it have happened so fast? It must have been a bomb or an explosion, she thinks. There is, after all, a war going on.

Thick smoke pours up into the air from the roof. People are everywhere, rushing back and forth, trying to get away or move in closer to help. Firefighters with their axes and hoses attempt to move on the building but are pushed back by billowing smoke and heat, roars and concussions from within. Part of the roof collapses as the fire builds in intensity, and the worst part is to think that hundreds of people are trapped inside.

A cordon of police holds spectators back. Lena can never get close enough to offer assistance to anybody who might need it, but what she sees is the worst thing she ever saw. Dead bodies laid out in a row on the street. Ambulances trying to move in to take away the injured. People running and wailing, some tearing at their hair or clothing. All is chaos and despair.

Newspapers the next day reveal the details. Hundreds dead and many more injured. Many victims overwhelmed by noxious fumes, super-heated air; never touched by flames. The fire started on a lower level and spread faster than anybody could imagine. Curtains, fake trees and other décor highly flammable; some exit doors covered up or locked. Club owners cited for safety violations.

Among the many dead are Carmen and Luther Albrecht. Lena recognizes a few of the other names, people she knew in passing from the club. Her father hears the news and calls to make sure she is all right. He offers to come and get her after her awful experience, but she tells him she’s fine.

“Why do you think I was spared?” she asks him.

“If I had an answer to that,” he says, “I wouldn’t be driving a cab.”

She keeps the picture of Carmen and Luther on her bureau. Wherever they are, she tells herself, they will always be together. Always smiling. Always young and happy as they were on that day.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Undertow ~ A Painting by Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910), Undertow, 1886. Oil on canvas, 29 13/16 x 47 5/8 in. (75.7 x 121 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.4

Undertow by Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (1836-1910), known mostly for his paintings of the sea and marine subjects, was one of the most important American artists of the 19th century.

His 1886 painting, Undertow, is based on an incident he witnessed in 1883 off the coast of Atlantic City. Rescuers are pulling two women ashore who are in danger of being pulled under. The rescuers, modeled on ancient Greek marble statues, appear as three-dimensional. In spite of their apparent strength and muscularity, their struggle suggests they are no match for the power of the sea.

The Faces of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Posted on

by Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then—in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Poe 5a

Edgar Allan Poe image 5

Edgar Allan Poe image 1

Edgar Allan Poe image 11

Edgar Allan Poe image 8

Edgar Allan Poe image 4


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