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Greta Gerwig’s charming solo directorial debut

“ANYBODY who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” The quote from Joan Didion (a writer who, like Greta Gerwig, was born in California’s capital) rather sets the tone of “Lady Bird”. It is a coming-of-age story, following Christine (Saoirse Ronan), a teenager longing to get …

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A surreal take on the war in Syria

LIWA YAZJI, the writer of a new play at the Royal Court, must have known she was inviting accusations of gimmickry when she included a real flock of live goats in her script. Critics would surely complain that the caprine members of the cast of “Goats” were a mere contrivance, …

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Sexual politics on stage

AFTER a night of drunken flirting, Amber and Tom, two college freshmen at Princeton, end up in bed together. Sex was something they both seemed to want. When Tom had resisted playing a game at a keg party earlier in the evening, Amber suggested he should relent “if you wanna …

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OMG, the internet is ruining language, amirite? Wrong

OMG, the kids and the internet are ruining the English language, amirite? The sentiment is so common that it hardly bears a reply, except maybe “meh”. There is certainly plenty of terrible writing on the internet, plagued by indifferent spelling, punctuation and grammar and a lack of any attention to …

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A songwriter’s new perspective after 8,980 miles on the train

He’s come to look for America PLANES are practical, buses are cheap and cars grant freedom. But trains are for romance. A century after America’s railway heyday, the country’s ageing trains still enjoy an anachronistic glamour. Few people are immune to the charms of a sluggish, traffic-free chug across states, …

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Women and Boko Haram

Some of the luckier ones got away Women and the War on Boko Haram: Wives, Weapons, Witnesses. By Hilary Matfess. Zed Books; 288 pages; $24.95 and £14.99. ON APRIL 14th 2014, militants from Boko Haram, a group of Islamic extremists, snatched 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in north-east Nigeria. The …

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Nadia Murad’s tale of captivity with Islamic State

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight against the Islamic State. By Nadia Murad and Jenna Krajeski. Tim Duggan Books; 306 pages; $27. Virago; £18.99. THIS is a disturbing book. Many readers will find parts of it hard to stomach. But anyone who wants to understand the …

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How America’s economy is rigged by special interests

The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality. By Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles. Oxford University Press; 232 pages; $24.95. To be published in Britain in December; £16.99. PITY the Washington wonk at this moment. America’s political dysfunction looks forbiddingly irreparable, its government implacably …

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Michael Haneke assesses his oeuvre

“HAPPY END”, Michael Haneke’s new film, features murder, suicidal depression and myriad forms of torture—none of which will surprise anyone who has seen the Austrian writer-director’s previous work. Mr Haneke may be acclaimed as one of European cinema’s most intelligent and formally inventive auteurs: his previous two films, “Amour” and …

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Italians are still haunted by the Years of Lead

ON a bitter day in December 1969, a bomb exploded at a bank in Piazza Fontana, near Milan’s cathedral. Seventeen died. The young anarchist arrested in connection with the atrocity mysteriously died in custody. Three years later, the policeman accused of his murder was executed on the street. Things dragged …