The monster in Kubo and the Two Strings is a toxic family. It feels like a very personal story wrapped in a beautiful allegory, a tool to deal with some harsh realities many people struggle with as they make their way into the world.
In the early hours of November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. methodically shot six members of his family, including four of his younger siblings, while they were sleeping in their home on in the Amityville, NY. The family had moved into the sprawling Dutch colonial on 112 Ocean Avenue a few years ago, and though their home life was rife with abuse and drama, the house had been a symbol for a fresh start. The dad, Ron Sr., even named the house High Hopes, a chillingly ironic moniker for an estate that would be rife with such pain, horror, and a haunted legacy.
What does it mean to own land? That’s one of the questions at the heart of the gorgeous western Hell or High Water. In the film two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) scour the dry and lonesome West Texas landscape robbing multiple branches of the bank that’s threatening to foreclose on the family ranch after their mother died. On the surface, their cause seems righteous: familial morality in the face of heartless corporate greed, but as the story lingers on the moral lines smudge into the gray confines of the human condition. Complete moral dualism is an illusion, and every fight to secure something for your own family, your own tribe, can lead to unintended consequences for everyone.
Krystian Bala was the author of an obscure book just a few years ago but now his novel, Amok, is pretty widely known for aiding in his murder conviction.
Humans want to know answers and we yearn for comfort in an uncomfortable world. Answers to any question are fairly scarce and only point toward more questions. That’s why cults are so attractive. They give us clear answers and then cut us off from the well of more questions with the force of Authority. The faucet is blocked, the flicker of curiosity sated by clean lines of certainty’s illusion.
The Neon Demon is a gorgeous film. The bold, color-saturated photography of Natasha Braier paired with Cliff Martinez’s haunting score makes the entire event a devilish sensuous treat. It’s a horror flick set in the L. A. fashion scene, a notorious breeding ground for real monsters. When everyone is beautiful, the currency of pretty depreciates quickly, so some other savage quality may be required to thrive. The Neon Demon jumps, with impish glee, straight into the sparkle-lined abyss that idea conjures, like Alice spiraling into the underworld.
Piper, the Alan Barillaro directed short animated film that opens Pixar’s Finding Dory, is a true work of brilliance. Not only does the film utilize ground-breaking technology to make animated sand, water, sea foam, bubbles, and feathers seem almost more real than real life, but it tells a profound story about the difficulties of growing up and the tough choices parents have to make to teach children to take care of themselves. By the end of this six-minute hair-raising pleasure you can’t help but feel a real kinship to Piper and his survival struggle.
In the world of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster you’re turned into an animal of your choice if you don’t find a mate. Most people choose dogs or at least mammals, but David’s (Colin Farrell) choice is more coldblooded and alien to humans: a lobster. His reasons are fairly logical from an organism’s point of view. The lobster has exceptional reproductive and longevity traits, but the blue-blooded part is a symbolic nod to human social status.
Steven Okazaki’s Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street was a gripping 1999 HBO documentary that peered into the lives of young heroin addicts on the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district in the years 1995-98. Every story followed was heartbreaking and arresting, but Tracey Helton definitely stood out brutally candid honesty.
1991’s Thelma and Louise is a exhilarating thriller about the trouble women can get themselves in just for existing. Just being a woman can feel like a sin sometimes. The expectations put on women are often simple and stifling: look pretty, say little, be pleasing. We get a lot of direct and indirect messages that our sexuality is not our own. Of course, this is a simplification, a generalization, but it is a brutal truth about many moments of a female life. This is what Thelma & Louise addresses with a biting sass.