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Mike Leigh films.  

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Recently, I watched British director Mike Leigh’s two most recent films, Happy-Go-Lucky and Vera Drake.  I was impressed by both.  While they are intensely different (the first is a modern quasi-comedy, the second a period drama), they also share some shocking similarities.  Both portray very giving, optimistic, and overall cheerful women who are faced with people and situations that – at least temporarily – destroy their happiness.  For Poppy, the Happy-Go-Lucky school teacher, it comes in the form of a cranky, pessimistic driving instructor, a man who is her polar opposite.  For Vera Drake, her happy family life comes crashing down when a terrible secret of hers gets out.  Both films are more character-driven than plot-heavy, and Leigh really proves that he “gets” female characters.  They also focus more on lower-class England, and its inhabitants.  This is particularly striking, as many modern-day comedies portray people who live an inexplicably comfortable life (i.e. rom-coms that always give their heroine a wonderful New York apartment regardless of the fact that she’s an entry-level assistant or some rot).  Many period dramas focus on the petty struggles and hedonistic relationships of the upper class.  The wonderful thing about these two films is that they refuse to stick to these norms, and thereby become something that a viewer, whether they be British or not, can relate to.

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Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

96bc6422-a950-4480-9125-7f49f4a15febimg100I feel a bit fake putting this in here, as I’ve only read past the hundredth page, but I’m already captivated by it.  It uses the story of two brothers, both Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (the cultish, splinter groups that advocate polygamy), who commit a violent and senseless murder of their sister-in-law and niece, as framework for a larger story.  In trying to detail the murder and their reasoning behind it, Krakauer explores the history of Mormonism, details life in a Fundamentalist compound, and populates his tales with intriguing characters, many of whom have escaped the compounds and left the “faith.”  While he makes his standpoint on Fundamentalists and their practice of marrying off young teenage girls to very old men very clear, he remains non-judgmental on Mormonism as a faith, allowing the reader to form their own opinions on the matter.  It doesn’t read like textbook nonfiction, but it is extremely informative and, dare I say, a page-turner.

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How to Win! – Maria Bamford

51x8hyl3ivl_sl500_aa280_Maria Bamford is quickly becoming one of my favorite stand-up comedians.  She’s a female comedian who openly mocks the routines of your “typical female comedians.”  She’s at her finest when she’s doing her many voices – her father, her mother, Alicia Keys, an overly confident date – and she definitely has a new and humorous viewpoint on the world.  It’s a quick and exhilarating, hysterical listen.  If you can’t afford the album, I’d just recommend her comedy in general.  She’s got some great videos up on YouTube.  Here’s a great one where she impersonates and talks in detail about her aging pug, Blossom.

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