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4 Stars

The Fabelmans (2022)

Years ago, I remember going on the epic, arduous, and downright absurd task of ranking my 20 favorite directors of all time (looking back, at least I was not foolish enough to say they were the concrete “best” of all time). The list was obviously personal, but I don’t regret saying that Steven Spielberg came in at number 2…just behind Hitchcock.

With the possible exception of Scoresese, no other director is more familiar with the public in the last half century than Spielberg. I can’t think of another director in my lifetime who has played the nostalgia card to perfection, and nostalgia is indeed one of the key forces that drives his semi-autobiographical tale, The Fabelmans.

I have read up a bit on Spielberg’s life over the years, so I can say a good amount of what is shown is indeed based on his experiences. The avatar for young Spielberg is young Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord), who we are introduced to right away outside the movie theater as he is about to see his first movie, Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Even though the film nowadays is considered by many (including me) as one of the worst Oscar winners for Best Picture, it still has a profound impact on Sammy (as it did Spielberg), mainly the famous train wreck scene. With the blessing of his mother (Michelle Williams), Sammy uses his father’s camera to record a train wreck scene of his own with his model trains, sparking his love for making home movies even more. 

Sammy’s love for making movies continues even into his young teen years (played by Gabriel Labelle, who does look somewhat like Spielberg), making his own westerns and (especially) war pictures. He is fortunate to still get the support (or at least enough support) from his mother and father (Paul Dano), as well as his father’s best friend, “Uncle” Bennie (a cleanly shaven Seth Rogen). Some of the best advice comes from a great uncle (Judd Hirsch, still thriving and thrilling to watch at 87 years old) in one remarkable, memorable scene. The support of his younger sisters varies throughout Sammy’s childhood (one of the sisters played by the mega talented young Julia Butters, the stand out child actor from Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood).

From my vantage point, perhaps the most intriguing thing about Spielberg as a filmmaker is his ability to balance all aspects of a film. Sure, he knows the importance of camera movement perhaps better than any living director, but he does not put all his chips in that basket. 

He values the script (which he co-wrote with Tony Kushner) as much as he does the lighting (which is marvelous thanks in part to his frequently used cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) or the film’s editing (another frequent Spielberg collaborator, Michael Kahn). 

Each performance is as valued as another, from Michelle William’s almost certain next Oscar nomination to the scene stealing Chloe East as Sammy’s love interest. 

He even values the little details such as how the family cleans the dinner table (was that something that happened back then, or was it just a thing the Spielberg household did?) as much as he does the musical score (which says something when he is using his lifelong friend/music legend John Williams). 

Parents, the movie is PG-13, mainly for the content and some swearing (I don’t recall any F bombs). There is some kissing, but no sexual content. I would think mature middle schoolers and above would be fine.

Toward the end of the film (which is admittedly rather long), we see the story of Spielberg’s youth I was hoping we would see, his encounter with one of his filmmaking idols. I won’t say who it is, only that is indeed one of the most influential filmmakers of all time (and, looking back at my previously mentioned list of directors, was ranked number three behind Spielberg). 

By the end, we realize, somewhat by indirection, what makes Spielberg such a masterful cinematic storyteller: his movies (even the mediocre ones) are the cinematic dreams we truly never forget.

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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4 Stars

She Said (2022)

Are there any movies about journalism that are considered bad?

Of course, I have some I have not seen, but of the ones that I have (especially those based on true stories), they are downright solid pieces of film.

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4 Stars

Armageddon Time (2022)

Anyone who has ever taken any form of creative writing class surely knows one of the first rules: write what you know.

Filmmakers  have been making films loosely based on their own childhoods for sometime now, going as far back as Truffaut’s 1959 masterpiece The 400 Blows. Yet ever since 2018’s Roma (based off of past experiences by it’s director,  Alfonso Cuarón), there has seem to be a slight uptick in these types of films: Lee Issac Chung’s Minari (2020), Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast (2021), and Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans, which is soon to be released in a few weeks. Now the spotlight is on the childhood of director James Gray, with Armageddon Time.

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4 Stars Movies

Nope (2022)

Perhaps baseball is not the best of comparisons, but if director Jordan Peele were to have his next seven films be duds, he would still be batting .300. Of course, that would also mean that Shyamalan would have a decent batting record also, so…oh nevermind (well, maybe lower if we count just how horrible The Last Airbender was.

Anyhow, after his 2017 breakthrough Get Out (which I did not like at first and admit my mistake) and 2019’s breathtaking Us, Jordan Peele’s Nope is yet another piece of proof that the man has come much further than one would have thought of the old Comedy Central veteran. 

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4 Stars

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

The original Top Gun from 1986 is one of those films that can represent multiple forms of nostalgia.

For years, it was a Christmas tradition for my cousins and I when we reunited every Christmas Eve. On another occasion, it was the film of choice at a YMCA camp I attended as a teenager, while and my fellow campers spent a good amount of time yelling “PDA!” (Public Display of Affection) during “Take my Breath Away”. I venture to guess there are more than enough scenarios for others out there (first dates, special birthday parties, etc) with their connection to the original (I read that the actual Top Gun school fines its students for quoting the film). In short, a sequel has indeed been anticipated by many more than one might think.

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4 Stars

Turning Red (2022)

What was particularly curious to me about Turning Red was not the subject matter of the film so much as when the film takes place.

Halfway thru, I finally discovered that the film’s director, Domee Shi (her full length feature debut), was born around the same time as the film’s protagonist. This makes the intimacy of Turning Red only more personal and profound.

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4 Stars

The Batman (2022)

We are coming up on nearly a full eight decades since the caped crusader first appeared on big screens (thanks in part to serials of the 1940s).

Since then, we have had a ton of contributions to the character over the years. From grappling hooks to gravely voices to batarangs to shark repellant to bat nipples, Batman is a character that is as full of depth as any fictional being out there. Adding the grammatical article making the newest installment The Batman just scratches the surface of what the new installment adds to the lore.

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4 Stars

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Unless I had some sort of personal connection associated with a certain game, my interest in football has mostly been minimal at best. That said, Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday has still held a unique place in my heart as a movie of certain first’s.

I remember seeing it in the theater at the ripe age of 12 with my dad, older brother, and grandpa. It was the first movie I would see for many of the actors (most notably Al Pacino), the first Oliver Stone movie, and (most of all), my first R rated movie in the theater. Looking back at the experience, what I remember most (aside from my dad essentially pay money for me to see a grown up movie which included swearing and sexuality) was the mood of down right intensity.

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4 Stars

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Part of me wants to go the coward’s way, and not even review Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Easily the most anticipated movie since Avengers: Endgame, I will do all I can to be sure not to spoil anything for anyone, provided they have at least seen the two trailers for the film (and while this may be too little too late, stay away from the movies IMDB page).

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4 Stars

Encanto (2021)

I am a sucker for many things in the movies, and one most definitely is when a film (animated or otherwise) has to do with a big family.

(Not to get too personal, but I have 6-8 siblings.)