Miss Meadows, the charming, well-liked, and eligible bachelorette of a quiet suburban community, teaches her loving students by the day and tends to her garden before sleep. Little does her town know that behind the façade of the perfect next doors lies the heart of a vigilante who wants to kill ever last malcontent who crosses her path. Is she a savior of the town using unsavory means, or do her actions inspire the behavior she is trying to rid the world of? Screenwriter and director Karen Leigh Hopkins tries to answer that question with Miss Meadows, starring Katie Holmes.
Miss Meadows is a collection of satirical bits that are left floating in the air of uncertainty between sad psychological drama and dark comedic embrace of lower upper-class narcissism. Trying to engage with the movie is a bit of a tricky philosophical question à la the chicken and the egg. Does Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) pull the trigger to kill the criminals which were going to harm someone regardless of her vigilante nature? Or is Miss Meadows willingly enticing these confrontations to fulfill some deep need which was internalized at the moment of violence early in her life?
What's frustrating about Miss Meadows is the evidence available exonerates or condemns her depending on the tonal whims of the scene. Since even the basic satirical tone of the opening minutes gets changed for romance, comedy, bedroom drama, and then horror it's difficult to get an exact hold on who Miss Meadows is and what presumed good she does for the community. Then, just when it seems a plot threat will open up to answer the problem of Miss Meadows' murders, it's closed with a violent moral shifting to her side of the story and never looks back.
Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues. You can watch From: First Hymn to the Night - Novalis here.
I love when Stan Brakhage uses his craft to create a film that puts his work in direct conversation with another piece of literature. In this cast the title of From: First Hymn to the Night - Novalis, is almost the same title of the poem upon which the film is based. The poem is a gorgeous piece of writing, and considering the great results Brakhage had with The Dante Quartet, I had high hopes for First Hymn to the Night.
Those hopes quickly transformed into peace and contentment as First Hymn to the Night is a rare Brakhage film in this second volume that relies primarily on his paints. Unlike The Dante Quartet, First Hymn to the Night is less a film that is in conversation with the source material and more a poetic reflection of it. The overall means of doing so is admittedly a bit disappointing as Brakhage selects different parts of the text and then paints a reflection of the words. But the results is not unlike prayer, and one that embraces the deep wonder of death and the night.
Years ago, mysterious creatures known as boxtrolls snatched a baby from his crib after murdering the infant's parents. But as the years go on the creatures prove to be little more than nuisances while they're exterminated for the crime. Little does the populace realize that this baby has been living safely with the boxtrolls for years, and events in the human world force him to come back to the life he never knew. Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi direct The Boxtrolls from a screenplay by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava.
I had an “ah-hah!” moment watching The Boxtrolls that helped make sense of how adults instill complex philosophical issues in children’s films. They do it by being as blunt as possible. Writers as early as those for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons were commenting on entertainment and illusion, the ‘90s cartoon The Tick had the titular character engaging in a debate on existentialism with a projection of himself, and now with The Boxtrolls we’ve got two well-meaning heavies of the bad guy who banter around with dialogue like “You think these boxtrolls really understand the duality of good and evil?”
In one mindset, this could come across as the musings of a bored creative team (see Happy Feet Two for a fitting example). But the dialogue in The Boxtrolls underscores a point which runs through the entire film about the way different systems of morality come into conflict with one another. Some characters think they are good but are doing evil, some embrace their evil and push it further with propaganda, some are decent but perpetuate evil through inaction, and the most innocent are content to live their weird lives with their more driving desire is just to do so in peace.
Unlike previous entries, today's Stan Brakhage film is not readily available online but can be watched as part of The Criterion Collection's second "by Brakhage" volume.
I’m going to keep this brief today because there’s not much about today’s Stan Brakhage film, The Mammals of Victoria, that I haven’t said in previous installments. Mammals is an almost perfect collusion of the environment musing of Visions in Meditation and the cross-species extrasensory experience of The Domain of the Moment. Brakhage is contemplative, but restlessly so, with Mammals, presenting a vision of the world from a creature who is constantly shifting from one idea of reality to the next.
As much as the school officials would like to say otherwise, racism still exists on any college campus. Sam, with her show Dear White People, does what she can to fight white hegemony on what little space she's been allowed. When the racist upstarts on campus think it's cute to have an east coast versus west coast party, Sam starts thinking of how she can shed a spotlight on this vile corner of school. Justin Simien writes and directs Dear White People with stars Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Brandon Bell, Dennis Haysbert, and Kyle Gallner.
Throughout the first couple of acts of Dear White People, I had this gnawing sensation that writer / director Justin Simien's movie was going to be hitting a lot of low-hanging fruit. One showdown between heroine Sam (Tessa Thompson) and Kurt (Kyle Gallner) was particularly rough. Sam is an amazing character, caught between different cultural worlds where she is expected to adjust her behavior in each register accordingly, but really just wants to screw the system up. Kurt is less stellar as he is a trust fund, blind to his own privilege white male whose father keeps Kurt in good standing no matter what happens at the school. When they fight it's because Kurt is taking the easiest positions to knock down, how racism has to be over because the President is black, and that the hardest thing in America right now is to be an educated white guy.
About halfway through, something started to bother me. I wasn't sure of what, exactly, but the gnawing sensation I had that Simien's film was just setting up easy targets started to get turned around in my mind and heart. Was Kurt really such an obvious target? I'm used to reading and watching white people speak those ridiculous viewpoints, but despite my thinking that it was an too-easy cinematic target I couldn't think of many other films that presented people in that way. So I went back further, thinking about the way Spike Lee's School Daze or John Singleton's Higher Learning looked at black life on a college campus and suddenly realized I had not been feeling the breeze shooting over my head as I was badly missing the point.