“Meeks” by Julia Holmes

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Meeks is sleeping in the park again, under the cruel statue that he was named for. Ben barely sleeps at all, with the looming threat of Autumn. (If he doesn’t become a Husband—he can’t even afford a Bachelor’s suit!) One Brother of Mercy wakes with a fistful of dynamite and a plan.

Julia Holmes’ Meeks is a book that will affect your sleep. The strange society she fabricates, dominated by the shadowy monolith of Captain Meeks—who was he? what did he do for us? what did he do to the Enemy?—is frighteningly simple to understand, but it will keep you up thinking.

The War is definitely over, and the government has turned its attacks in on its own population, but no one seems to have noticed. The young men still go off to War, where they patrol endlessly, without ever encountering the Enemy, and when they return they become Bachelors—seeking a fiancée during the Summer, so that they can marry in the Autumn and begin producing bouncing baby citizens in the spring. If they fail to mate, they’re relegated to the factories, where the lucky ones die of exhaustion instead of being crushed in a grinding of gears.

Like the entire situation, Holmes’ humor is absurd. It’s also vaguely Russian. Meeks reads like lighter Dostoevsky. Ben’s been compared by other critics to the Underground Man, but Holmes is taking a look at a character whose isolation is the result social constructs, not some intellectual quagmire. How should Ben communicate when his language is atrophied by dogma? (“The Captain said it, and so it would be!”) If he stammers and stops, perhaps it’s because he’s the only person really trying to say anything.

Meeks builds to a powerful climax on Independence Day—marking the beginning of Autumn and the end of a way of life. If Holmes falters anywhere in the book, it’s on the last two pages: there’s an ambiguous quality to the ending that seems unintentional. Regardless, Meeks finishes strong, with an ending that’s less inevitable than it may seem.

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The Mad Room

If you think your family is dysfunctional, let Ellen Hardy offer some perspective: Did your brother and sister kill your parents? Were they sent to a mental institution over 10 years ago and recently released into your care? Have they started killing again?

The Mad Room, a 1969 remake of Ladies in Retirement, stars Stella Stevens as Ellen Hardy, fiancée to the wealthy Sam Adler and live-in secretary to Sam’s widowed step-mother, Mrs. Armstrong (played by Shelley Winters). Mrs. Armstrong, convinced that Ellen is out for Sam’s money, searches for any reason why the pair should not wed; two pretty-darn-good reasons appear in the form of Mandy and George, Ellen’s younger, murderous siblings.

Of course, Ellen makes no mention of their murderous past, instead telling Mrs. Armstrong that they lived with their uncle, now deceased. But her lie can only last so long, and shatters completely when Mandy requests a “mad room.”

What exactly is a mad room? It’s a place where George and Mandy can let off steam, a place where they can feel safe, calm, and confident… So what’s the mutilated body doing there?

Certainly, some belief needs to be suspended when watching The Mad Room – seriously, why did Ellen let her siblings move in with her??? – but if you can do that, you’re in for a treat. The movie was quirky, full of talented stars playing some surprisingly creepy characters. Not to mention the twist ending, the romantic side plots, and the dark humor that pervades every scene.

Is the twist expected? Yes, very. But does that take away from the viewing experience? Not at all! The Mad Room is twisted enough even without the ending, and you’d be mad not to give it a shot.

Sexy Evil Genius

It may seem like this review is horrifically late, but in reality it’s right on time for you to notice it. It was creatively timed, rather.

All right, I’ll say it—I’m sorry.

Recently, Eleanor and I had the opportunity to do some visiting in sunny South Florida, and on a time-honored jaunt to Target—because everything you will ever need can be found at Target—we took a peek at some bargain-priced DVDs and were surprised to find an absolute gem.

I’m talking, of course, about Sexy Evil Genius, and no, it’s not a slutty Halloween costume. For everyone who’s spent hours reminiscing about how great 90s TV was, the inclusion of Michelle Trachtenberg and Seth Green is a real treat.

For anyone who doesn’t, well, they’re a treat anyway. Shut up and let me fangirl.

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Sexy Evil Genius

Genre: Black Comedy, Mystery

Main Cast: Seth Green, Michelle Trachtenberg, Harold Perrinau, Katee Sackhoff, William Baldwin

Trailer:

Rating: 4/5

Don’t let the trailer fool you. The film plays out much more like a black comedy than a thriller or action flick, and therein lies its strength and ultimate value.

The cast works very well together, and the chemistry and hurt feelings are all very apparent from go. Past relationships are explored with all of the sensitivity and wry humor that we ourselves employ looking back upon our misspent youth.

Each failed relationship is brought to light, expounding on our expectations of Nikki—a manic pixie dream girl gone horribly realistic. And more than a little in love with My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.

(No, seriously. The songs are a major plot device.)

There’s very little I can tell you without spoiling at least some of this film, but I’d definitely urge you to at least give it a shot. Nikki is every bit as clever and manipulative as her former lovers give her credit for, and even if you don’t come out on the other side just the tiniest bit in love with her, you’ll have to respect her.

That’s just the kind of woman Nikki is.

When I wasn’t busy laughing, I was muttering disbelieving expletives and shivering at the careful weaving done in an immersive and subtly impactful screenplay. It’s a great ensemble. It’s a great movie. Easily one of my favorites in recent memory.

There’s not a lot of action, and really, there doesn’t need to be.

The film plays with stereotypes—Green’s stifled workaholic, Trachtenberg’s bisexual goth, Perrinau’s hep jazz cat—but the focus is on the tiresome world behind each one. Their backgrounds are clearly all tired and gray, tainted with sorrows and failures. Their lives just aren’t as interesting as they seemed when Nikki was involved.

But when Nikki finally makes the scene, we discover, she may not have suffered quite so well in her madcap world. There’s always been something off about her, and it’s cutting and a girl can’t live forever by making scrapbooks out of other people’s lives.

The humor is real and easy to come to grips with, because while Nikki’s life seems to have done a spectacular series of tailspins into the foothills of one seriously grand kerfuffle, the heartache and the nostalgia dripping from every word and gesture is almost tangible.

I will definitely be watching this again.