Saturday, April 23, 2016

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin (2009)


I've never read anything by Colm Toibin before.  I'd imagine for many people that Brooklyn will be their first introduction.  This is also something of a first for Flying Houses: the first time a book has been reviewed where the critic has seen the film adaptation first.

Is the book better than the movie?  Yes.  Is the movie vastly inferior?  No.  In fact, the adaptation is remarkably well done.  There are still a few tiny details that bother me, things that got left out of the movie to keep the story smaller, but generally I wanted to cry throughout almost the entire running time (though it may have been partially due to my mood that day).  The book is not really that much better until the end.

I might have mentioned something about the movie getting a good review from a very tough critic for the Redeye to my friend Juan, and he suddenly recalled that he had read it after he left Brooklyn in 2013, shortly before writing his review of Anna Karenina.  We went to see the film.  Then, shortly after the experience previously reported, of picking out the latest Murakami from the Humboldt Park CPL, he returned the next day with War and Peace, Brooklyn and Howl's Moving Castle.  He said I should read Brooklyn so I did that.

The plot is fairly simple, and depends on how much one intends to spoil.  I believe the trailer for the film gave away a significant portion of the plot, and all I will say is that it is an account of an Irish girl's immigration to the U.S.  It is is not giving away too much to say she enters into a romantic relationship with a young man named Tony, but anything beyond that, I will refrain from mentioning--which is a shame because much of the most beautiful writing comes at the end (including the near-perfect, final, bittersweet sentence).  Maybe after some asterisks, I'll discuss the ending.

Basically, this is a very good book, but I felt sort of disinterested by it up until the end.  That's not totally accurate, but I just mean sometimes I will have it with me at my office desk and I'll eat lunch and have it open in front of me and I'll glance off and read something on the internet instead.  Maybe in a way the opening is kind of boring and slow, but by the third act a plot has certainly developed.

It is perhaps worth noting that my former roommate Gavin was also Irish and went to see the film and remarked that the practices of changing into one's swimwear at the beach, rather than wearing it under their clothes, was a quirky and accurate Irish thing.

The girl's name is Eilis and she lives with her mother and older sister Rose, who is about 30 and a great golfer and popular person about town.  As the novel opens Eilis gets a job with Ms. Kelly, who runs an expensive and popular grocery store in town.  Soon after, a priest from their neighborhood returns to visit from the U.S. and tells their family about all of the Irish transplants in Brooklyn and what opportunities might be available for Eilis there.  It becomes a given that she'll go, and she does, and she works at a women's department store.

The book is broken up into four parts.  Part One depicts her life in Ireland and her voyage across the Atlantic.  Part Two depicts her life in Brooklyn before meeting Tony.  Part Three depicts her life in Brooklyn after meeting Tony.  Part Four depicts her return visit to Ireland.

I will say that the depictions of Eilis's homesickness are the first really sad scenes in the book, with several more to come.  One element left out of the movie was Eilis's three older brothers, who had moved to England, and Jack in particular, who is the closest to her in age, and visits with her in Liverpool before her ship leaves for New York.  He tells her that homesickness is to be expected:

"He had said that he found being away hard at first, but he did not elaborate and she did not think of asking him what it really had been like.  His manner was so mild and good-humored, just as her father's had been, that he would not in any case want to complain.  She considered writing to him asking him if he too had felt like this, as though he had been shut away somewhere and was trapped in a place where there was nothing.  It was like hell, she thought, because she could see no end to it, and to the feeling that came with it, but the torment was strange, it was all in her mind, it was like the arrival of night if you knew that would never see anything in daylight again.  She did not know what she was going to do.  But she knew that Jack was too far away to be able to help her." (73)

There is effusive praise, nearly six pages worth, of blurbs at the beginning of this paperback edition I read.  Make no mistake that this is a very good book, but a couple of those blurbs got me thinking.  One of them mentioned how there were no real antagonists in this novel, and to an extent I agree, though some of the other girls in the boarding house in Brooklyn are not necessarily helpful.  I was surprised by a couple things in this novel--one of which I will put below the asterisks.  The first is the depiction of Dolores, a girl who moves in after another girl exits, when Eilis is given the immensely better basement bedroom with a private entrance.  Dolores is a cleaning lady, and she cleans the boarding house for reduced rent.  She wants to go to the dances with the girls, but they are all mean to her, and so is Eilis.  Or, while not exactly mean, she is certainly curt.  She is not a perfect character.  And this novel truly is more of a character study than a plot driven vehicle, except for Part Four.

So yes, I think if you saw the movie, you should check this out.  I will definitely watch the movie again to compare it to the novel, though I'm not sure I'll review it.

***Spoilersbelow***

I write separately to address the ending.  The second thing that really surprised me was when she went back to Ireland and casually just sort of started making out with Jim Farrell at the dance after their day together with the Nancy and George.  It seemed out of character.  And then I was genuinely shocked when it was made pretty explicitly clear that she regretted what happened in Brooklyn, and she is only going back out of a sense of obligation, and is sort of disappointed.  This is such a beautifully bittersweet thing to convey, and that is why I think the ending is the best part.  Consider this separate part an anti-The Art of Fielding.  The ending makes this book great, instead of the one thing that keeps it from being great:

"The idea that she would leave all of this--the rooms of the house once more familiar and warm and comforting--and go back to Brooklyn and not return for a long time again frightened her now.  She knew as she sat on the edge of the bed and took her shoes off and then lay back with her arms behind her head that she had spent every day putting off all thought of her departure and what she would meet on her arrival.
Sometimes it came as a sharp reminder, but much of the time it did not come at all.  She had to make an effort now to remember that she really was married to Tony, that she would face into the sweltering heat of Brooklyn and the daily boredom of the shop floor at Bartocci's and her room at Mrs, Kehoe's.  She would face into a life that seemed now an ordeal, with strange people, strange accents, strange streets.  She tried to think of Tony now as a loving and comforting presence, but she saw instead someone she was allied with whether she liked it or not, someone who was, she thought, unlikely to allow her to forget the nature of the alliance and his need for her to return."  (241)

All I have to say is that this was not properly brought out in the film.  Or maybe it was, but I didn't sense that Eilis wanted to stay.  I mean, maybe a little bit, but I didn't get the sense of dread of returning.  Saoirse Ronan deserved to be nominated for Best Actress, but she did not deserve to win if she meant to convey the sentiments expressed in the above passage.  It felt like the film clipped out certain things, while still not being "Hollywood" about it.

I don't really know what else to say about this novel so...yeah.  For some reason, it makes me incredibly nostalgic and sad, in a painful way.  There are a lot of things going on in my life that make me identify with Eilis, even though I am not an Irish immigrant girl in the 1950's.  I guess because I lived on Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights (where Eilis stays with Mrs. Kehoe) and because I was torn between a new life in Brooklyn or my "old life" in Chicago (still, no ocean separates the two, but I like being a 45 minute drive away from my parents) and because I've gotten involved in relationships of which my parents don't approve--though Eilis's mother beautifully handles her confession at the very end of the novel.  That's another ridiculously sad part, where her mother can't even bring herself to say goodbye to her the morning of her departure.  I guess there are just a lot of themes in this novel that touch me and make me feel uneasy about the choices I've made in my life and how I really feel like I'm finally "growing up" as I approach my mid-30's (I am still in my early thirties, comfortably, for 11 more months!).  I tend to wonder if other people feel the same way.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami (2014) (Trans. Philip Gabriel) (JK)


Oeuvre rule: as previously mentioned in my review of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR), Murakami is the author of the only book I have read in the past 8 years that did not result in a review on Flying Houses.  Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is an interesting book and I would recommend it, but among the three Murakami books I have read, it would be on the bottom.  WITAWITAR would be at the top and this would be in the middle.

The incomparable Dr. Emily Dufton has graciously reviewed both IQ84 and this book for Flying Houses and now I will offer my first fiction review of this redoubtable literary giant.  Most of my comments will be repetitive of Emily's, and she has certainly read much more of his oeuvre than I have, so her review is more authoritative as a seasoned reader of his.  I hope that my review will be useful for relative Murakami newbies.

The first thing that struck me about Tsukuru is its relative lack of fantasy sequences.  Maybe Hard-Boiled Wonderland was a bad example, but I feel like most of his other works are similarly fantasy-driven.  This is actually a very realistic novel.  The main character is 36, and it takes place in present day, and I feel that its reflective of our times and remarkably perceptive about all the different forms of passive aggression.

The main thrust of the story is that Tsukuru has been abandoned by his four closest friends at age 20, and 16 years later, he goes back to investigate why they suddenly decided to cease contact.  It ends up being a relatively simple explanation--and while I am not going to spoil it here (unlike The Art of Fielding - let spoilers be reserved for disappointing endings)--the explanation does sort of reference the only quasi-fantasy sequences in this book, which are erotic dreams.  I do want to say that I think that element is beautifully evoked in Tsukuru.

I was with a friend at the library and he wanted to pick something out to read on his spring break, and they didn't have the Tolstoy he wanted.  I perused the aisles with him and thought to see if they had any Murakami.  I found this available and told him to take it out.  He read it in like a day or two.  It's 380 pages or so but the pages are small.  He said I should read it, so after finishing M Train I picked this up.  It was good for us to read the same thing and to be able to talk about it.  For example, I asked him, "Does Haida come back?"  He said, "Do you want me to spoil it for you?" I said, "No."  And now I know what happens and I have to say that matters being left sort of unresolved at the ending (I don't think it's spoiling anything to reveal that) made the book feel less satisfying to me.  Murakami did not want to write a standard happy ending.  This is a really quirky little book, and kind of delightful at times for its simplicity and directness.  It is a pleasure to read the language, which is to the credit of Philip Gabriel.

I could quote any number of passages, but inevitably I must include something from the sequence with Haida...But first I came across one hilarious aspect of the sequence with Ao:

"As Tsukuru was wondering how to respond, 'Viva Las Vegas!' blared out on Ao's cell phone again.  He checked the caller's name and stuffed the phone back in his pocket.
'I'm sorry, but I really need to get back to the office, back to hustling cars.  Would you mind walking with me to the dealership?
They walked down the street, side by side, not speaking for a while.  Tsukuru was the first to break the silence, 'Tell me, why "Viva Las Vegas!" as your ringtone?'
Ao chuckled.  'Have you seen that movie?'
'A long time ago, on late-night TV.  I didn't watch the whole thing.'
'Kind of a silly movie, wasn't it?'
Tsukuru gave a neutral smile.
'Three years ago I was invited, as the top salesmen in Japan, to attend a conference in Las Vegas for U.S. Lexus dealers.  More of a reward for my performance than a real conference.  After meetings in the morning, it was gambling and drinking the rest of the day.  '"Viva Las Vegas!" was like the city's theme song--you heard it everywhere you went.  When I hit it big at roulette, too, it was playing in the background.  Since then that song's been my lucky charm." (182)

Murakami translated Raymond Carver into Japanese, and spent time with him in the late 80's.  At times I feel as if he is mimicking Carver in the starkness of the language and the generally sad story.  This is not an unwelcome development.  Anyways, in the Haida sequence, I thought things were just going to be so innocent, so when it became the raunchiest part of the book, I was sort of relieved:

"Now, though, he wasn't coming inside Shiro, but in Haida.  The girls had suddenly disappeared, and Haida had taken their place.  Just as Tsukuru came, Haida had quickly bent over, taken Tsukuru's penis in his mouth, and--careful not to get the sheets dirty--taken all the gushing semen inside his mouth.  Tsukuru came violently, the semen copious.  Haida patiently accepted all of it, and when Tsukuru had finished, Haida licked his penis clean with his tongue.  He seemed used to it.  At least it felt that way.  Haida quietly rose from the bed and went to the bathroom.  Tsukuru heard water running from the faucet.  Haida was probably rinsing his mouth." (127)

Okay, I'm sorry, that was probably the dirtiest thing I have ever posted on this blog, so I'm sorry if it offended you.  It's just that something about this book just seems a little prudish, and then it kind of breaks into this hugely graphic scene.  It's a nice contrast.

I really don't know what else to say about this book.  Dr. Dufton noted that Murakami seems to be getting repetitive with age, but this was still a very good book.  And I agree, while professing ignorance on the former topic.  I do want to say that I think there are a few loose ends that remain untied.  Of course, there is the obvious big uncertainty at the end with Sara, but on the whole I think the whole ending sequence is very beautiful, if a bit strange with all the phones ringing and not getting picked up.  There's a definite atmosphere to the ending, as well as with Tsukuru's lonely pastime of watching from a bench as the trains arrive and depart at stations in Helsinki and Tokyo.  I don't understand what Haida's story about his father (or is it made up?) means, or the significance of Haida as a character in relation to Shiro.  There is this great passage though, involving Tsukuru's first girlfriend at age 21, shortly after Haida leaves their college:

"She wasn't good at cooking, but enjoyed cleaning, and before long she had his apartment sparkling clean.  She replaced his curtains, sheets, pillowcases, towels, and bath mats with brand-new ones.  She brought color and vitality into Tsukuru's post-Haida life.  But he didn't choose to sleep with her out of passion, or because he was fond of her, or even to lessen his loneliness.  Though he probably would never have admitted it, he was hoping to prove to himself that he wasn't gay, that he was capable of having sex with a real woman, not just in his dreams.  This was his main objective." (142-143)

It's a good story, and though it seems a few things remain unsettled, it seems like this narrative gets wrapped up a bit more tidily than most of Murakami's other novels.  Dr. Dufton could correct me if I am wrong.  Like her, I am glad I read it.  Unlike her, I look forward to experiencing the rest of Murakami's oeuvre for the first time.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Shellac - 3/30/16 @ Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL

I had been meaning to see Shellac for more than a year and a half.  They had last played Chicago in July of 2014, and had fallen off my radar, so I missed them.  They play randomly, it's not like they're announcing their tours on Pitchfork.  When I first heard about this show, it was already sold out.  Luckily I was able to get a ticket from a girl on craigslist.

Actually, it was two tickets, and I paid $45 for them.  I ended up wasting one of the tickets, and I could get into the whole situation about how I tried to give them to certain other people (it's really interesting stuff, trust me) and write myself into oblivion, but I'll just admit that I wasted one ticket.  Still, I had been toying with the idea of going to Barcelona in May to go to the Primavera Festival just to get to see them.  This was a bargain.

However, I showed up at 8:00 and had to wait 15 minutes to get inside, the line out the door.  It was raining outside.  As we got inside, I could hear the distinct sound of Shellac playing "Dude Incredible" and "You Came in Me."  At first I presumed they were just playing the latest album to psyche people up or something in the restaurant/bar area of Bottom Lounge, but when I got into the view of the doors people were entering through, into the venue space, I noticed the sound got louder, and that was actually Shellac playing.  Fuck.  They were the opening band for MONO.  When I had checked the website earlier, MONO had a huge write-up, and at the bottom of the page was a line or two about Shellac.  I thought this was their idea of a joke.  Like, yeah you don't need to know much about them.  It's fucking Shellac.  But I don't know, maybe they just wanted to get to bed early?  I certainly was worrying about being up too late, so I appreciate the sentiment if that was actually the reason they opened.  Regardless, immediately I rushed inside excitedly, and got a beer quickly at the bar ($6, not too bad, not gouging you--this is one important reason why I think Bottom Lounge is a good venue).  I moved up as far as I could--maybe I could have moved up closer but I would have needed to pretend I was getting to a friend near the front.  The picture above is a fair representation of my vantage point.I heard them play the following songs.  (I may be off on the order):

Compliant
A Minute
Squirrel Song
Surveyor (which was meant to be "All the Surveyors")
Steady as She Goes
Riding Bikes
Killers/Wingwalker
End of Radio

Just getting to see that?  Worth $45.  Especially since I feel bad about not buying Dude Incredible.  Afterwards, I hung around.  I texted a friend.  I waited for MONO to go on, because I had to watch at least one of their songs before I left.  Then out of nowhere, I saw Steve Albini walk right in front of me.  I was like holy shit, if I want to talk to him, I totally have a chance.  I saw a couple people take selfies with him.  I didn't want to annoy him.

I don't know what I would have said.  In any case, it made me think about it, and a minute later I realized there was a merchandise table, and Bob Weston was sitting there.  So I bought a t-shirt off him and remarked that I was surprised it was only $15, I'd seen a lot of bands selling t-shirts for $30.  And he was like, "Well, you're getting ripped off."  I just thanked him profusely and mentioned that I missed the last show, and he was like, "Was it that long ago?"  I asked him to please play again soon because I missed the first 15 minutes because I didn't realize they were opening.  I explained about the website and how it made me suspicious, and he seemed to laugh at that.  If I am ever able to make the musician/idol I encounter laugh, then it is a gratifying experience.

It was worth the $45, but I still wish they played more songs.  I would have liked to have heard "Watch Song," "All the Surveyors," "This is a Picture," "My Black Ass," "Dude Incredible," "Prayer to God," "Billiard Player Song," and who knows what else.   I would watch them play for 2 hours.

Most evident in their performance is Albini's increasing ability to improvise.  Clearly, the best moment of the concert was the opening of "Killers."  It seems like they will always play this combo at most shows and everyone seems to know that it is the highlight.  In short I got super excited and it was an incredible performance of "Wingwalker," though not as loud or as brutal as I was hoping.  Albini's monologue was one of the better ones I've heard, with him proclaiming that we were all brothers and sisters descended from the same great grandmother and that he loved each and everyone one us but if he was up in the sky in the plane, and he had been trained to experience pleasure when he pushed the button, and he could so easily turn us all into dust, which is the problem with the fucking plane.

For the last song, everyone seemed to get excited, but I don't really like "The End of Radio" that much.  It's super boring, in the same way as "Didn't We Deserve a Look at You...," but I would rather hear that Terraform cut early on in a concert than "End of Radio" closing it out.  Clearly, "Watch Song," is the superior closing song.  Albini was quite clever in his improvisation for this one as well, but it didn't detract from the vague boredom I felt.  You can't dance to this song.  It's basically performance art.  And there was a cheer when Albini said something about apologizing to alien civilizations in 10,000 years for the shit that got played on the radio, which was nice, but yeah, I prefer their sinewy locked-in instrumentation, mixed in with Albini improv.

During the Q&A, they were asked, "What is Shellac's least favorite Shellac song?"  They could not give any by name, but Albini remarked that a whole bunch of them were batting .180 and were about to get cut.  I hope he didn't consider "This is a Picture" in that category.  If there's one critique I can make of Shellac it's that their setlist is fairly predictable.  Don't get me wrong, I am glad that "Killers/Wingwalker" always gets played, but I would like to hear some stuff off Terraform too.

Here is the T-shirt I bought.  Can anyone tell me what it means?

I'm not sure what that logo represents.

In any case, I went home and spent $17 on a cab.  What a waste.  A very memorable evening though and I am glad to memorialize it here, since my review of Dude Incredible is turning out to be surprisingly popular.  Maybe I should just write more about music to get more activity on this site.

I think that's pretty much everything I have to say about that.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Happy 8th Birthday


It's not like I have a ton of responsibilities.  I should be able to produce more than 21 posts a year, particularly when 3 of them are written by others.

Yes, you read that right, there were exactly as many posts written between April 1, 2015 - April 1, 2016 as there were from April 1, 2014 - April 1, 2015.  Flying Houses is not even a bi-monthly newsletter.

It's pathetic is what it is!  You know I've spent a lot of time over the past 8 years building this database, but does anybody really care about it?  We've had a few "celebrity visitors" in our time, but overall, this blog is not going viral anytime soon.

We now currently sit at 93,445 page views.  So we should hit 100,000 this year.  I should say that my page views are roughly current with the miles on my '05 Civic, but that car is 3 years older than this blog.  I hope to use that car for another 10 years (at least) and I hope to keep this blog another 30 years (or until I write my special comment on "facing the void").  Is it fatalistic to expect to die at 62?  I think if I got married I could go into my 80's, but if life continues its present course, I will remain single and yes, die prematurely.

Our growth slowed slightly, but again I haven't made many efforts to make many new friends or publicize the blog.   The current balance on my Google AdSense earnings is now $30.95, which means I "made" $1.74 on ad revenue over the past year (I have never been paid, as has been previously explained). (Note: I am testing out a new ad layout in an attempt to get paid more quickly.  If you find it particularly obnoxious--I am concerned it draws attention away from the links on the upper right, as well as the archived posts--please let me know in a comment.)

Perhaps our MD&A over here at FH harps on the same points every April Fool's Day, the primary point being "WTF."
WTF, why can't I get paid to write?
WTF, why doesn't anyone offer me a book deal?
WTF, can't you see I'm trying very hard here, on top of being a full-time attorney?
WTF, don't you think if I devoted myself full-time to writing that I could turn out a better product?
WTF, don't you think the product is pretty damn good as it stands?
WTF, who else is putting out content as relentlessly independent as FH?  
WTF, do you like me or should I just STFU?

These April Fool's Day MD&As do not consist of falsehoods, but operate as sarcastic truths.
You can't get paid to write because you are, in fact, a bad writer (at least one person has assured me).
You can't get a book deal because your blog is not a cultural phenomenon, and does not suggest that you will develop a bankable audience.
You may be trying hard, but it's getting to the point where you need to prioritize.  Everybody can't just be Scott Turow if they want to be.
You will never know because the only time when you would be able to devote yourself full-time to writing is when you might be otherwise unemployed, and at such times you are hounded by doubts that you are spending your time as productively as possible (i.e. writing instead of job searching).
Your product is pretty damn good, I agree, but sometimes you also get lazy and write tons of shit that would never be considered publishable by a reputable source of book reviews like the NYT or Bookslut.
Everyone else whose head isn't on straight and still thinks they've been misunderstood and discounted for the past 32 years.
Me personally, I like you, but sometimes I really don't, and I think you should STFU on your insecurities and focus on the more palatable truths on which you'll have greater agreement from the masses.

Nobody ever got a book deal by whining and saying, I really am good--look at all I've done!  So without further ado, here are the top 5 posts of the past year.

Wait, before I get there, here are the top 5 most popular posts of the past year (the number is total page views--yes my numbers really are that sad):
(1) NIED #26: 185 (because I'll always be most famous for my comments on legal education)
(2) Happy 7th Birthday: 150 (because people love reading lists and MD&As)
(3) The Pale King: 95 (because DFW is gone but not forgotten)
(4) WITAWITAR: 84 (because Murakami is so in right now)
(5) Why We Write About Ourselves: 82 (tie with Please Kill Me) (because it got retweeted by the author)

#5: S/M: Experience #4
This is the final chapter in my second novel which has managed to avoid serialization on a blog to this point.  It may not survive 2016 in its hidden form because it is quickly becoming obsolete.  Whatever I wrote about in 2007-2008 has already changed.  Regardless, it was posted on 9/11/15 because this chapter depicts that very as-yet-unknown date in the future.  I had predicted that 9/11 would be made a national holiday.  While that was wrong, it remains a "holiday week" at the Daley Center, and all attorneys must pass through security in remembrance of how dangerous we all might be.

#4: Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life
This is just an extremely long review of a very long book that is also very good (one of the "Best Books of Flying Houses").  Carver is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and I hope to review each of his collections before the end comes.

#3: Modern Romance
This is just a controversial choice that I'm surprised did not get more views.  I thought it was more titillating than any of the other reviews (except perhaps NIED #26).

#2: Chicago Cubs 2015 Report Card
A yearly Chicago Cubs report card has become as great a tradition on FH as has this MD&A.  Truly, this was the most sublime yet, though my younger brother suggested that there were many things he disagreed with (Jason Hammel and Tommy LaStella in particular).  I was worried about tweeting it @ Jon Lester when I suggested that he must have a complex over the fact that he was getting paid 40 times more than Kyle Hendricks and yet barely pitched any better than him (Michael also suggested that I oversold Hendricks, but I do not think that is the case as he has retained the #5 spot in the rotation, at this juncture, at least).

#1: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Really I think any of the above are better than this, but I felt this was one of the few instances where I offered a "critique."  It's possible I'm susceptible to the accusation that I'm not a real "critic" because I don't say enough books are bad.  Certainly, this is not a bad book, but I didn't consider it the greatest of the 21st century.

Finally, thank you all for reading.  I never really address you often enough, but if you are paying attention, know that I appreciate it.  All too often I feel as if I am speaking into a void, though even if I am, I am glad to lay down a body of work which at least includes an ur-text on The Beautiful and Damned (821 views on April 1, 2012; 5,597 views on April 1, 2016).   

Thursday, March 31, 2016

M Train - Patti Smith (2015)


M Train is Patti Smith's follow-up to Just Kids and I misunderstood it to be a kind of sequel or continuation of that critically-acclaimed volume.  I understood M Train to be about Patti Smith's life in the late 70's through the mid 90's, or at least focusing on that period.  I do not know why I labored under this delusion, and it had to be from some kind of misinformation in a review I read about a year ago or whenever it was released (not quite--October of 2015, ironically close to the release of our previous review).  Certainly one wouldn't get that impression from reading the inside jacket.

So it goes without saying that this is not the book I expected it to be, but I would have read it regardless.  And while I personally cannot rate it as highly as Just Kids, it is very close.  It's a loose, experimental book, and it mostly works.  Some moments are as brilliant and heartbreaking as anything that came before, and at other moments, there's just a lot of coffee.

M Train is about many things, but there are several major themes, and chief amongst them has to be coffee.  The #1 topic of this book is coffee.  All Patti Smith does is drink coffee. She is like Balzac, though I believe her reflection on that literary subject and his caffeine addiction is in Just Kids.  Much of the book consists of Smith waking up and crossing the street to Cafe Ino which is somewhere near 6th Ave and Bedford Ave. in the Village.  (Note: Smith also recalls getting falafel at Mamoun's the night before Hurricane Sandy struck.)  She sits at the same corner table and orders brown toast and olive oil and drinks coffee and writes in her notepad, or on napkins.  She develops a possessiveness about the table that is humorous.  One scene where she confronts another woman trying to take it from her is pretty hilarious:

"The cafe was empty, but the cook was unscrewing the outlet plate above my seat.  I took my book into the bathroom and read while he finished.  When I emerged, the cook was gone and a woman was ready to sit in my seat.
-Excuse me, this is my table.
-Did you reserve it?
-Well, no, but it's my table.
-Did you actually sit here?  There's nothing on the table and you have your coat on.
I stood there mutely.  If this were an episode of Midsomer Murders she would surely be found strangled in a wild ravine behind an abandoned vicarage.  I shrugged and sat at another table, hoping to wait her out.  She spoke loudly, asking for eggs Benedict and iced coffee with skim milk, neither offered on the menu.
She'll leave, I thought.  But she didn't.  She plopped her oversized red lizard bag on my table and made numerous calls on her cell phone.  There was no way to escape her odious conversation, fixed on a tracking number for some missing FedEx package.  I sat and stared at the heavy white coffee mug.  If this were an episode of Luther, she would be found faceup in the snow with objects from her purse arranged about her: a bodily corona like Our Lady of Guadalupe." (74-75)

For a second I thought Smith was being a little too crazy, but then I realized that she must have a different sort of life.  I'm not saying she deserves to be entitled, but she deserves to feel entitled with everything she has done over the past forty years.  If you don't know who she is, and you don't give her the deference she should command, you kind of deserve it.

The book is not a memoir of 1978 - 2015, but more like a series of snapshots in a life, roughly centered around the 2012-2013 year in Greenwich Village and Far Rockaway.

There are several dream sequences in this book--a certain "cowpoke" bedevils Smith throughout the book--and some of them are heartbreaking and beautiful:

[Smith describes dreaming of a winding path up a mountain with a guide who then abandons her in a very steep open area and then is suddenly safe on the ground approached by a youth and told that they called to Fred, then seeing two men who give her tea and feed her cake and tell her they intervened and called to Fred and he carried her there, but there was the matter of a fee, one hundred thousand dirhams]
"I reached into my pocket and it was filled with money, exactly what he asked for, but the scene had shifted.  I was alone on a stony path surrounded by chalky hills.  I paused to reflect on what had happened.  Fred had rescued me in a dream.  And then suddenly I was back on the highway and I saw him in the distance trailing after the wheel with the face of a clock with no hands.
-Get it, Fred! I cried.
And the wheel collided with a massive cornucopia of lost things.  It fell on its side, and Fred knelt and placed his hand on it.  He flashed a huge smile, one of absolute joy, from a place with no beginning or end." (244-245)

Fred of course is her late husband and the book opens up with a description of their trip to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, "a border town in northwest French Guiana, on the North Atlantic coast of South America," the site of a former French penal colony, where hardcore criminals would be kept before going onto Devil's Island.  Jean Genet had supposedly wanted to go there (to ascend the ladder of criminality), and he was about 70 at the time, and Patti wanted to bring back some stones from the jail to give him, with William S. Burroughs promising to help deliver the stones to him.  This is easily one of the best parts of the book.  It reads like an adventure thriller.  A movie could probably be made about it.

The ending finds Smith at Genet's grave in a town outside Tangier in the late 90's, on assignment interviewing Paul Bowles, taking a side trip to deliver the stones she never got to him in person.  It's a beautiful opening and closing motif.

From here the book goes to Cafe Ino, already described above, and she fantasizes for a moment about opening up a cafe in New York, even going so far as to procure a space with a down payment, before Fred "Sonic" Smith asks her to marry him and move to Detroit with him.  She laid out her inspiration, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an establishment just a few blocks from my present abode:

"An unwinding spool of obscure angles, a glass of tea, an opened journal, and a round metal table balanced with an empty matchbook.  Cafes.  Le Rouquet in Paris, Cafe Josephinum in Vienna, Bluebird Coffeeshop in Amsterdam, Ice Cafe in Sydney, Cafe Aqui in Tucson, Wow Cafe at Point Loma, Caffe Trieste in North Beach, Caffe del Professore in Naples, Cafe Uroxen in Uppsala, Lula Cafe in Logan Square, Lion Cafe in Shibuya, and Cafe Zoo in the Berlin train station.

So Patti must have come back fairly recently to her place of birth.  Actually, she was here just a few days ago, hosting an event at the Old Town School of Folk Music with her family.  It was $25 and I thought it was too much, but really I should have looked more closely into it because I thought it was just a speaking gig.

From there she remarks upon Zak, the owner of Cafe Ino, telling her to visit him at the new coffee shop he's opening near Rockaway Beach, which opens up the whole narrative about her finding a little bungalow that she falls in love with there and ends up buying after touring and making a bunch of money over the summer of 2012.  Then, Hurricane Sandy hits.  This is another great part of the book, because its a narrative of one of the quintessential New York disasters of late.  Like the way City on Fire depicts the blackout in 1977, Smith depicts Hurricane Sandy memorably and accurately.

Smith also writes about her membership in the CDC--the Continental Drift Club, which celebrates the life of Alfred Wegener, who pioneered the idea.  I would imagine that most people would think this is another hilarious facet to her.  But she meets Bobby Fischer on a trip to Iceland with the CDC, and that is another classic scene.

She also writes about a trip to Mexico to see the coffee capital Vereacruz, followed by an engagement to photograph Frida Kahlo's home and belongings in Casa Azul.  This was the only part of the narrative that baffled me--did Smith really fly home in between the two trips?  Because it seems like she was pretty much in the same area.  She flies into Mexico City, buys a round trip train ticket to Veracruz, checks into Casa Azul, finds it closed, goes to Veracruz, has adventures there.  Then, it cuts to her packing in New York and flying out to Mexico again.  Maybe she has to go to Casa Azul twice?  I digress...

One of her favorite authors over the course of the book is Haruki Murakami.  She writes of first discovering him in St. Mark's Bookshop and reading a few books but then getting bowled over by The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  And she becomes obsessed with this image of a well on an abandoned property in Japan.

Smith later does go to Japan, and visit several graves of artists she admires,  I think I've done a pretty good job of spoiling almost every little thing this book is about, but it won't matter (oh right--also detective shows, especially The Killing) because the pleasure of it lies in Smith's voice on the page and the poetic flourishes she sometimes employs.

While there is so much to admire in this book, its reach is more limited than her previous volume (she would not sell a Showtime series based upon it).  It is much more of a "journal" type book.  It's labeled as a biography, which just seems blatantly wrong.  It actually says "biography" on the back near the bar code.  In any case it's beautiful writing, but it sometimes dissolves into basically what amounts to a diary.  I never wrote this well in a diary or journal so there's a difference.

Some sequences in the book are better than others, and it tends to ebb and flow with momentum.  I'm not sure what Smith expects us to think about her life, but basically, she is human.  Her talk of detective shows makes her seem like less of an otherworldly artist who would shun television.  She even writes what amounts to fan fiction at one point.

Fans of Smith will love this, and those still unacquainted probably will too.  And others may not get it, or find parts boring, but on the whole this will likely be a pleasurable and educational experience for most.  It seems like a good book to read while you're traveling to an exotic city.  Or holed up in a storm.      
   

Sunday, March 20, 2016

City on Fire - Garth Risk Hallberg (2015)



I first heard about City on Fire on NPR.  Usually I listen to NPR when I drive out to courthouses in collar counties, so this must have been in August or later of last year.  (Update: I believe that day was October 20, 2015, a.k.a. the Day Before Back to the Future Day, or the Day Before the Cubs Would Not Win the World Series Day, due to this.) It had just come out, with a huge buzz attached.  I had no immediate interest to read it, because in fact I had just re-read Please Kill Me and the idea of reading about a fictional group in the same milieu struck me as dull: what fun is it when it's populated by characters we don't recognize?  Ragtime and Underworld successfully blended recognizable personas into their narratives--and yeah, even though Hallberg doesn't reference DeLillo in his acknowledgements at the end, this is basically an alternate version of that heavy tome about New York in the 70's (mostly).  Some remark that it owes a debt to The Bonfire of Vanities and other works by Tom Wolfe, an author I have never read but have always been mildly curious about (in fact my sister recommended that very volume to me recently).

Then, the Christmas season rolled around and my parents asked me to send a letter to Santa to them.  I had been requested in the comments to the review of Modern Romance to consider City on Fire or Book of Numbers and I gave Santa the choice.  On Christmas morning I felt a hardcover heavy gift and unwrapped it to find this.  

I started reading it January 9, 2016, and took brief breaks to read and review Why We Write about Ourselves and Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.  This book lurked in the background.  And I was writing the review of Just Kids as I began City on Fire, and will now be reading M Train as I write the review of City on Fire.  For some reason, this feels a little too close for comfort:

"Two days before the shooting, Samantha dreamed of Patti Smith.  She herself was in a pitch-black room somewhere.  She could not see the walls or reach them--she was unable to move--but the room felt small.  And there was a window nearby, she sensed, a vista of mountains and seas and tiny humans paddling around in canoes and just generally going about their business, if only she could see it.  And then Patti appeared above her in a caul of low blue wattage and informed her that a time was coming when she would have to choose." (739)

So it took me about two months, and I really don't read all that often--just mainly at lunch and on the train ride home and sometimes before bed.  If I'm taking more time out to read something than that, it usually means I really like it.  In this case, I liked it, but I also was pressed to finish it because I don't think I'll be able to renew M Train and need to finish and review that in the next three weeks.  So I was trying to make progress.  

Recently a friend of mine posted on Facebook to ask if he should read Infinite Jest and another friend proposed a 100 page test to determine if a book was worth reading.  It made me think of this.  I couldn't finish IJ and tried twice.  City on Fire is significantly easier reading.  It has relatively broad appeal, but it might fail the 100 page test.  This is mainly because it operates with a cast of characters that doesn't fully coalesce for several hundred more pages.  Still, the writing is engaging, and once one finishes it, somewhat awe-inspiring.  Don't misunderstand--this will not be named to the Best Books of Flying Houses--but it's certainly in the "also ran" category with that Brownstein memoir read concurrently.  Then again, this book is much more entertaining than the Raymond Carver biography.  Basically, Hallberg establishes himself right out of the gate as an Ambitious Writer.  I actually think this would be a much better book if it were about 300 pages shorter, but in spite of some annoying qualities, one must respect the sheer gesture.  This is much much more than a rehash of Please Kill Me.

***

What is the plot of this book?  Well, it opens on William and Mercer, a gay couple, white 33-year-old and black 24-year-old, moving a Christmas tree down a block in a shopping cart.  William is a former heroin addict and Mercer is a high school English teacher at an all-girl's school.  It then shifts to Regan, (William's sister) and her husband Keith, and their two kids, Will and Cate.  Regan and Keith are separated as the novel opens, around Christmas--and here I should mention a unique feature of this book: it shifts around in time a lot.  As in, each new section seems to begin at some point further back in the past.  Or rather, the chapters alternate in time.  Effectively, there is a "present" part of the book, a "past" part, and a "future" part (which really could be one of the best parts about the entire book, but feels oddly underdeveloped, or tacked on).  The "present" encompasses December 1976 through July 1977 (New Year's Eve and the night of the NYC Blackout serve as bookends).  The "past" primarily concerns 1959 - 1976, and the "future" concerns 1980 - 2004.

William and Regan are the children of a corporate scion, heirs to a fortune.  William used to be in a punk band called Ex Post Facto, which was "taken over" by an imitator known as Nicky Chaos.  At certain points, there is reference to a t-shirt that reads "Please Kill Me," but this band does not sound at all like Richard Hell and the Voidoids.  A number of young people have gotten into the punk scene, and one of them is Samantha, who lives on Long Island.  She is the daughter of a "fireworker," which supplies one of the novels primary motifs.  She is also friends with Charlie, who is adopted but raised Jewish by his parents, and later reads the Bible and establishes himself as a "prophet."  Charlie is in love with Samantha, but in practice they are "best friends."  They go to a show on New Year's Eve and meet other band members/groupies D.T. (Delirium Tremens), Solomon Grungy and Sewer Girl.  In a way, these other band members feel oddly cliched or underdeveloped--but I really shouldn't complain about underdeveloped characters in a 900+ page book.

But then, Samantha has to go, and Charlie later plans to meet her at 72nd St just before midnight.  Meanwhile, nearby on the upper west side, Regan is at her family's lavish annual ball, feeling awkward, and runs into Mercer, who is also feeling awkward and crashing the ball as a way of finding William, who has walked out and disappeared after a small fight.  It occurs to me that Mercer spends way too much of this novel trying to find William.

William and Regan's father, also named William, is being held over in Chicago because of "bad weather," so he cannot attend the party.  His first wife passed away, and he remarried Felicia.  Her brother, Amory, is soon invited into William's family business.  Amory is sort of a sinister character and feels more cartoonish than the rest.  Note: I have never seen a character named Amory anywhere else except here, and I'd prefer that future authors do not use the name for villains.

Now something happens this evening in Central Park--there is a shooting.  One of the characters (it's really not a spoiler to say who, but I will keep mum) ends up spending the majority of this novel on life support in Beth Israel Hospital, and one of the most unsatisfying elements of the ending is the ambiguity of their fate.  Perhaps another reader could elucidate the intended effect, or probable truth.

This shooting is so compelling that a journalist begins investigating all of the involved characters.  This journalist later meets up with his neighbor, a Vietnamese-American girl named Jenny, and share nightly whiskey nightcaps.  Jenny works for Bruno, an art gallery owner and dealer, who has been something of a mentor and protector of William.

I think I've covered most of the characters.  At this point I must comment, as I often do, that this also reminded me of my first novel, Daylight Savings Time.  There is a cast of characters with interlocking narratives and coincidences.  It concerns a relatively specific time and place.  One of the characters is heir to a mini-fortune and has no anxieties or insecurities about his lack of a professional life.  There are drug sequences.  And both include a fantasy about being interviewed by The Paris Review.  All comparisons aside, City on Fire is more ambitious and much better.

***

I forgot one more character: the polio-stricken NYPD detective that is friends with the journalist.  It's fair to say that some characters come across more strongly than others, and Pulaski initially interviews Mercer after he discovers the shooting victim.  Then he kind of fades out of the narrative for a while and later gets introduced as one of the characters that get "first personish-third person" treatment.  The novel only breaks into first person when Will narrates.  That feels like a bit of a spoiler, so I'm sorry, but part of the fun of this novel is trying to figure out how everything is going to end, or who that person was in the opening pages talking about their cell phone vibrating.

One reviewer commented that most readers will identify with one character most strongly, if not all of them.  For him, it was Charlie.  And I've got to admit, I found Charlie's chapters oddly tedious at first.  To me, they were the most cliche.  However, as it went on, I grew to like them, and maybe that is just because Charlie is one of the few characters that undergoes something of a transformation in the novel.  Many of the characters change, but he is the only one that transforms.  And I did find one passage from one of his chapters notably beautiful, the kind of writing that I've sometimes endeavored to produce.

But I've just re-read that segment (from pages 576-579), which is basically when he kisses Sam for the first time, under kind of gross circumstances, and none of the passages are especially beautiful.  I guess what I meant was, the whole atmosphere of the scene, as it takes place on July 4, 1976, the bi-centennial, and the setting is just sort of perfect.

Also, I've re-read the last chapter discussing the shooting victim, and it appears that there is something of a definitive resolution.  I'm surprised I missed it the first time, but Hallberg does have his way of obfuscating that can sometimes seem like he is just showing off his vocabulary.  Again the book could be a lot shorter with a fair amount of fluffy stuff taken out, but it doesn't feel that bloated due to its large cast of characters.  Many of the same events get repeated over and over again, and retold from different perspectives.  To some this may seem tedious, and it can be, but on balance remains entertaining.

***

Another one of my friends posted a link to the "50 Most Unacceptable Sentences in City on Fire" and I glanced at it when I was still in the first couple hundred pages.  A couple other links showed up on Facebook beneath it, like one from the NY Post that rips this novel to shreds.  The negative reviews have a point, but the NY Post gets it wrong.  They make fun of Hallberg for listening to Billy Joel instead of the Ramones or Television, but there's nothing wrong with Billy Joel!  "Captain Jack" was pretty much my soundtrack to NYC in late 2001.

Clearly there are flaws in the novel, and there are some really pretentious sentences.  But on the whole, the book is pretty down-to-earth.  It's readable.  It's not a challenge like IJ.  A couple critics have made comparisons to Jonathan Franzen and something about the tone did remind me a lot of The Corrections (read almost a year ago, sad!).  I think the film rights have already been sold and an HBO Series may or may not be in the cards, and another review focused on how Hallberg's writing was "televisual" and influenced by The Wire and seemingly made to be adapted.  I would watch the show, and I think the show would be one of those that has the potential to eclipse its written precursor.

Final point: I think this book grows on you.  It can be a little awkward at the beginning, but by the end, you will probably be invested in the characters and know them better than most people you know in real life.  And if you have lived in NYC, it will probably feature a scene close to your past neighborhood(s).  "You can usually find a cab up on Clinton," (116) rang true to me, at least in 2011.

And with several of the characters as artists, Hallberg uses the novel as something of a mirror to the work created by his characters:

"It was as if William Hamilton-Sweeney, despite to her knowledge never having sold so much as a painting, had been trying to re-create the face of the entire city, right here in this attic.  She couldn't tell if it was good, exactly, but no one could say it wasn't ambitious." (667)

Hallberg is only a few years older than me, so he couldn't have firsthand knowledge of the way the city felt in 1977, but it feels pretty real.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview (JM)

Today I received this out of the blue from my friend and collaborator Jay Maronde.  Let me just say I disagree with him about Best Actor, as well as a few other choices, but I'm not going to put up my own picks.  I am not a member of the Academy either, and I don't receive copies of all of these movies in the mail and watch them as my job.  Jay and I used to write for our school newspaper, and get to go to screenings for free, but that ride ended.  As such, I cannot pick which is the "best" because I usually just pick the one I saw, so I can convince myself that I have very good taste.  However I wouldn't predict that Brooklyn or Bridge of Spies will win Best Picture.  Every year my dad holds an Oscar contest and always ends up winning because he just copies what everyone else is saying, making some kind of scientific deduction based on crowd-sourced predictions.  Frankly I don't think anyone has any business making predictions unless they've seen all of the movies in the category, and I cannot say that is the case for me in a single category.  There are many movies that came out this year that I still want to see, and eventually I'll get around to them.  I saw what I wanted to see in the theater, for the most part.  Still I appreciate Jay's thoughts, so here they are. -JK 

2016 Oscar Preview

This Sunday is Hollywood’s biggest night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards Night, or as most call it, the Oscars. These beloved awards are the biggest prize of the awards season and as such, I’m hereby making my predictions for the winners. For the record, I’m not a member of the Academy (although as a lifelong lover of movies, I would love to be) so I have no knowledge of what the actual winners will be, you’ll just have to watch this Sunday to find out.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)::   Star Wars: The Force Awakens   --- Without a doubt John Williams wins again. The man is good, very good, maybe the best ever, and he’s got a wall of Oscars to prove it. I’ll be completely stunned if Star Wars wins anything besides this, or if John Williams doesn’t win.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG) :: “Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre  -- The only Oscar that this year’s James Bond film is nominated for is an esay win. TO be honest, I didn’t like the song that much, but the song got a lot of buzz and I don’t think that any of the songs that it's against have any chance.

PRODUCTION DESIGN:: Mad Max: Fury Road  -- While I expect stiff competition from The Martian  and The Revenant, Mad Max still comes out on top. The movie imagined a whole other world unlike anything Hollywood has ever seen and the outrageous cars iced the cake.

VISUAL EFFECTS: The Revenant – very very tough competition in the category. I personally believe that Ex Machina deserves the Oscar, but I’m pretty sure that the academy voters will be so impressed by Leo being mauled by a bear that this film walks away with the prize.

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY) :: Brooklyn --- Again a tough category but this this film received great reviews and wide acclaim despite not being tremendously successful at the box office. The Academy voters will want to recognize it somehow, even though it has no chance at winning the big awards.

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)  :: Straight Outta Compton ---  Let me be clear. I think Ex Machina should win this prize; again the story is engaging and compelling. However, the controversy surrounding these Oscars leads me to believe that this film will win. For what it’s worth, the writers should turn their statue over to Ice Cube and thank him for making the history engaged by this film and for having in advance written/ lived  all the best lines in the film.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:  Mad Max : Fury Road  -- again a tough pick, but I think that Mad Max edges out The Revenant in the voting.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  Son of Saul --- there has been a great deal of buzz about this film.

SOUND EDITING: The Revenant.

SOUND MIXING::  The Revenant – As with the sound editing award I think that MAD MAX or Star Wars might have a chance, but in the end The Revenant  takes them both.

FILM EDITING: The Revenant. --  Again, bear rape is just too much for the voters to ignore.

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE) :: Cartel Land – Don’t hold me to this pick, as the Nina Simone bio-pic What Happened, Miss Simone?  could easily take the prize, but my money is on Cartel Land

COSTUME DESIGN: Cinderella --- all the way. Mad Max  and The Revenant are both very strong contenders for this prize, but I think that the beautiful classic takes the award in what amounts to a huge upset.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mad Max: Fury Road --- While I would give the award to The Hateful 8, and many in the Academy would vote for The Revenant, I suspect that those two films split the vote and leave the groundbreaking  Mad Max the winner again.

+++++++ THE BIG PRIZES++++++++

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:  Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight.  The grit. The blood. The attitude. The brutal vulgarity. I wouldn’t necessarily call her performance ground breaking, but not since Mike Tyson needed a sparring partner has anyone taken such a beating.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Christian Bale, The Big Short  -- The Academy Loves Bale, and so do I. I’d give Tom Hardy a 1 out of 10 chance, but don’t think he can muster the support to beat an old favorite.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE::::  Jennifer Lawrence, Joy   -- I want so badly for Charlize Theron to win for her role in MAD MAX. The vision of a female fantasy movie hero has inspired so many young women. However, she’s not nominated, and everyone loves J.LAW. I will note that I wouldn’t be completely surprised if Saoirse Ronan, from Brooklyn, pulls off the miracle and goes home with the statue.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:: Matt Damon, The Martian.  Again, let me be clear: 1st, I didn’t like The Martian  that much, it was long and dragged, and it was basically Matt Damon’s sci fi version of CASTAWAY.  2nd I really, really, really, want Leo to win, The bear rape was intense and he’s certainly deserving. BUT all politics aside, the Academy loves to vote for someone who suffered a physical change for their art and Damon’s weight loss is terrifyingly impressive. There was a lot of acclaim for Bryan Cranston’s work on Trumbo, but even riding the Breaking Bad wave I don’t think he has any chance against the emaciated Damon.

DIRECTING:: The Revenant -- Alejandro González Iñárritu – This category, besides being notoriously tough to predict, features a slew of great directors; My vote goes to Iñárritu, he’s extremely popular and the film was very good.

BEST PICTURE: The Revenant – This was probably the hardest choice amongst the whole article. All of this year’s nominees were great in their own way but again I feel Iñárritu comes out with the biggest win, in admittedly a very close race. I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Mad Max or The Martian pull off the night's biggest upset.