New voices.

These three ‘Escapes and Pleasures,’ mini-reviewed below, are all ‘firsts.’  Helen Simonson, J.C. Chandor, and Alrick Brown, all in their mid to late 30s, have each produced a winner in debut works.  Good new voices, new talent.

First, the book.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

This first novel has been around for a year or more, and a number of MillersTime readers recommended it last year. I just got to it and now understand why so many folks enjoyed it.

Actually, I started it while on a car trip and then finished the 11 CDs at home and can recommend others consider listening to it too. The British accent of the reader, Peter Altschuler, adds much to what is simply a good story with at least two characters you will remember years from now.

It’s the story of a widowed, quite proper Englishman, Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) who lives in a small village in the English countryside. But he is anything but stuffy.

Enter Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper, who is very much as endearing, opinionated, and unconventional as is Pettigrew. And you’re off on a wonderful story and rooting for both of them and their challenges to the status quo.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound like something you must read (or listen to), but trust me on this one.

If you’re looking for a good story with wonderful (and not so wonderful) characters and some wisdom, wit, and whimsy, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is worth your time.

And now the two films.

Margin Call ****1/2

There have been several good Wall Street films out in the past year or so, and I think Margin Call is one of the best.

Basically it’s the ‘story’ of 24 hours in the life of a 100+ year old financial company/investment firm that suddenly finds itself on the brink of total disaster (somewhat based on Lehman Bros debacle?).

The film grabs you from the opening scene where a large number of middle level employees are in the process of being let go, and from that point on, the film does not let you go, even after it ends.

This is the first film by someone named J.C. Chandor. His writing and direction are simply terrific. And there’s good acting by Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacy, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Paul Bettany.

If Margin Call isn’t exactly what it’s like on Wall Street, I bet it’s about as close as we’re going to get in a major film. And that’s pretty good.

(Update: 12/15/11 – Just saw this morning where Margin Call was rated the number one political film of the year here – The 13 Best Political Films of 2011)

Kinyarwanda ***1/2

If much of what you know about the genocide in Rwanda comes from the film Hotel Rwanda, there’s a new, small film out that is deserving of your consideration. This one won a major audience drama award at the 2011 Sundance film festival, but you’ll have to hunt around to find it (in DC it’s at the West End Cinemas).

What’s different here is that first time writer and director Alrick Brown doesn’t simply show the horrors of what happened in the worst of the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda. He builds a story from testimony of a number of survivors and also focuses on the issue of reconciliation.

The film was made in 16 days, with Rwandans who are not actors but are quite credible. It jumps back and forth and is sometimes a bit hard to follow, but if the issue of how does a society seek to recover from such horrors as the 1994 massacres is of interest to you, Kiryarwanda is a good place to start.