Film and TV Analysis

Analysis and reviews of film and television by Mary Kay McBrayer

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After the pandemic years, nearly all of us know that while virtual events allow us to attend and experience so much of what was once off limits, they lack a certain spontaneous serendipity out of necessity. That element of serendipity part of what makes film festivals so fun: which films are your friends excited for? Will you tag along on their top-ranked features and find a new love? Meet a new director whose vision inspires you? Hear the funniest, most insightful interview of your life on accident? It’s all possible.

It's harder to do that remotely, though. That’s why I want to share with you the nine films of Fantastic Fest that I’m most excited about. Hopefully you find a new love that you might not have stumbled into without my peer pressure.

The Pierces are a family of journalists who are allegedly apolitical in their reportage. Siobhan (Sarah Snook), the lone liberal of the Roy clan, dissociates from the Pierces herself, allowing that, “(Pierce) just follow(s) the truth, wherever it leads, right?”

The answer is no. Like Roman intuits immediately, the Pierces don’t follow the truth. They want everyone to believe their truest pride is in integrity and virtuosity (as would anyone whose livelihood was reporting), but what they really tout the most is their ability to quote literature and especially poetry without its context, thereby using part of a truth to support whatever they want to say.

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I’m not the first to notice that Ti West’s new film PEARL is an homage to 1939’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. The real question, I think, is “Why, tho?” Sure, vibrant colors are interesting and fun in a horror setting, and rural landscapes lend themselves beautifully to the trapped-at-home horror film trope. But why bother retreading such trodden ground? To me, PEARL seems less like an OZ homage and more of a dystopic answer to the question: What would have happened to Dorothy if she never got out of Kansas?

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By eradicating the pain and infection as possible results of surgery, Cronenberg also removes a lot of its sting. What we have left is mostly gore, or the violation of the body envelope. Many horror fans will tell you that's more interesting than scary. 

As any student of history knows: our past is horrifying. Viking mythology is no exception. It is, perhaps, the rule. Anya Taylor-Joy (Olga) and Aleksander Skarsgård (Amleth) have said in interviews, historical accuracy is clutch to director and writer, Robert Eggers: "You know when you're doing a Robert Eggers movie that if it says 'they walk across you know, volcanoes and glaciers and whatever', we will be walking across volcanoes and glaciers. You'll just be straight in it."

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One character stands apart as the poster child of How to Behave in a Horror Movie, and that character is Paul (Dayo Okeniyi). He does everything right and makes every effort to help without putting himself at risk or – as we see all too often with traditionally masculine characters – trying to be a hero for the sake of being a hero.

That never-ending desire to be a hero is as old as Beowulf: when there’s no way for a “hero” to re-enter society, he goes into a battle that he knows he will lose, just so he can be absolutely positive to have a hero’s death. Apollo even admits this outright, when Rocky suggests they’re turning into “regular people”: “Without a war to fight, the warrior might as well be dead.” Even in non-contact sports, marathon runners go into heart failure at the finish line because they’re coached into pushing past the reflex to stop. And that mentality is so, so, so, stupid selfish.

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Look, whether or not you consider DIE HARD a Christmas movie—it is, by the way—a terrorist takeover to put our own trivia in perspective is what SO MANY OF US need during the Christmas season.

Even those of us who work as bureaucrats hate the concept of bureaucracy. Sure, it works in theory, when all the cogs are operating as needed, but we cogs almost never work as needed because a machine like bureaucracy doesn’t allow for the human condition. On the Dungeons & Dragons alignment scale, bureaucrats should be lawful neutral. The problem is, in a country like America that touts itself as a meritocracy, individuals are almost never lawful neutral. It’s not in our nature. We’re taught that ambition is a virtue, and that disinclines to be neutral on anything at all.

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Mr. Browning is 91 and he’s lived a life full of adventures that would have killed me, but when I recently met him in person he was so vivacious, I couldn’t quite grasp the fact that he was sick, let alone that he is mortal.


"Timur Bekmambetov’s PROFILE Draws A Hard Line Between Arab And Terrorist" in FANGORIA

As a Lebanese Christian who grew up in the American South, let me warn you: I am very fussy about anti-Arab and Islamophobic representations on screen. I understand that art imitates life, truly… but there comes a point when life imitates art, too, and I just can’t let that shit stand.

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We horror lovers have been tired of the rape-revenge fantasy trope for a long time, and most rape-revenge fantasy horror films fail because they try to fight violence with violence, which is not really the appropriate reaction.

Often, when it comes to horror movies, someone asks, “What would YOU do in that situation?” Women horror aficionados that I know across the board have widely reacted with, “Die, probably.” But when asked, “What would you do if someone you love was in that situation?” everything changes. 

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In The Mothman Prophecies, accepting your fate, if it can even be called that, is just as fruitless. This fruitless fight against what’s coming inverts the Christmas narrative into a haunting horror film.

There’s certainly room for good-faith analysis of how portrayals of women in this genre have evolved, hopefully for the better, which can involve comparing characters like this, but there’s still a tendency to lean into picking one over the other in a way that just reinforces sexist ideas about the right way to be a woman.

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Get Out is a zombie movie. But no one noticed. 

There are a few kinds of zombie from Haitian folklore and vodou (more commonly known as voodoo culture), and they are almost exclusively different from what we see on television as zombies.

Marlowe is to private investigation what Indiana Jones is to archaeology… he basically comes in, makes a mess, and then struts out the door.

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When I rewatched Tales from the Hood, I totally expected a campy, fun horror comedy film like the show on which its title is based, Tales from the Crypt. But no, Tales from the Hood, that shit is still scary. In commemoration of the 25-year anniversary this bomb anthology film written by Cundieff and Darin Scott, here are the top 8 aspects of its horror that really hold up.

Every Quentin Tarantino movie has some “non-PC” or even outright insulting elements, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not exempt, but let’s not overlook the win of the romantic relationship between Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Yes, I have heard that they are just close friends—that they are like brothers. I don’t buy it. Would it have been better if they had acknowledged their relationship to the audience?

… Did they not? 

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I have been a dancer for all of my life—one of my earliest memories is being in a pink leotard at three years old and hearing my instructor say, “If you ever lose your place, just listen to the music. It will tell you where you are.” She meant that we should listen to the counts to situate ourselves in the choreography, but I didn’t take it that way, not even then. There’s something really special about being able to lose yourself in a piece of music, especially when the music is live. It shuts off the rest of your brain and makes you live in your body, and you kind of forget everything that is happening if it isn’t the dance.

I remember the moment I realized that dance and horror were linked. I showed my Jiddo (grandfather) a video of my favorite belly dancer. The music accompanying her was gooey and ethereal, a Middle Eastern electronica folk fusion, her makeup shimmered, her muscles undulated under her tattoos. My Jiddo watched, enthralled, and at the end, he said, “That right there is how John the Baptist lost his head.”

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We see the explosion at Chernobyl from the perspective of Lyudmilla Ignatenko (Jessie Buckley) as she finishes vomiting in the middle of the night. We are meant to deduce immediately that she is pregnant. I felt my heart do its first elevator drop at that realization, and I flashed back to ninth grade, sitting in my world history class, staring at the single paragraph on the event, dolly-zooming in on the phrase “birth defects.” I could not think about anything else, and it was VERY hard for me to actually wait to see what happened.

Josh (William Jackson Harper) is the character who has done all the research, who networked into the friendship with Pelle to observe the Midsommar ritual (I’m oversimplifying, but no one else masterminded this trip). Josh’s dissertation is about traditional European midsummer rituals and celebrations, and he is the reason why his friends agree to go. This quest is Josh’s quest. Everyone else is riding his coattails.

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