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The Farewell Party

High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.

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Sunshine Superman

I found Jean Boenish’s philosophical musings less than persuasive. And I don’t think my fear of heights was the reason for my bias.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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The delightful Mr. Pepys

Realizing I would never read his great book, I got the audiobook and entered the world of the charming Mr. Pepys. Ambitious, lustful, a gossip, well-connected, he witnessed the Great London Fire, the Black Plague and Shakespeare's plays at court, buried gold in his back yard, became Secretary of the Admiralty, seduced servant girls.

Branagh's reading is conversational, confiding and funny. The prose can appear daunting on the page, but he makes it conversational. Pepys' voice comes through, as if he's confiding the low-down on things.

This is good for listening to in the car, because each daily entry is brief, so you don't get stranded in the middle of a long chapter when you have to park. The "home page" of Pepys' Diary. Tweets rhymes with Pepys. Samuel Pepys on Twitter.

Drawing by Richard Levine from the New York Review of Books.

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