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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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3 1/2 Stars

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

It is feasible to believe that no other MCU film to date has had a bigger emotional mountain to climb than Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The first film was such a mammoth success (financially, critically, and even Oscar wise) that a sequel was inevitable from the get go. Then, of course, tragedy struck when the world lost Chadwick Boseman in August of 2020, leaving the sequel in serious jeopardy. Also add in the fact that this would be the final film in Phase 4 of the MCU, and you can see why this film had a lot to accomplish. 

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2 1/2 Stars

Black Adam (2022)

There was this one moment in The Office when Dwight mentions the online game called “Second Life.” In it, he does everything he would do in his everyday life, except now he can fly.

As the titular character of Black Adam, one could say something along the same lines for Dwayne Johnson (and before you say “Wait, he doesn’t have electrical powers!”, keep in mind I grew up knowing him as the most “electrifying man in sports entertainment”.)

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3 1/2 Stars

The Woman King (2022)

57.

That is the number you should know going into seeing The Woman King, for that is the age of it’s star Viola Davis.

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3 Stars Movies

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

The key ingredient that made 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok one of the MCU’s most entertaining entries was it’s director Taika Waititi. The first two Thor films (mainly the second one) should almost be embarrassed when compared to the third, because the character was given a big injection of the unique semi-quirky humor that Waititi is known for.

 Five years (and one Infinity War) later, the director has returned with Thor: Love and Thunder. It has the director’s touch, but it is lacking some of his magic.

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3 Stars

Elvis (2022)

Weirdly, I can’t remember the first time I heard of Elvis, but I do remember the first time I recognized him. It was when a young Forrest Gump recognized him on TV after meeting “the King” earlier on in life. Needless to say, of course I have always been a fan of him.

This just goes to show that Elvis, one of the top five or so most popular entertainers in American history, is almost as embedded into that history as Washington or Lincoln. A truly larger than life stage presence indeed would deserve a biographical film of that caliber. Enter director Baz Luhrmann, and you get Elvis.

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1 1/2 Stars

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Had I been born approximately two or so years earlier, I would have fond memories of the original Jurassic Park in the theaters during its original release. Alas, I was six, so I had to wait until home video. After the promise of a series revival of sorts with 2015’s highly entertaining Jurassic World, the series was on its last little Dino legs when the highly disappointing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in 2018. I hoped life may find a way to bring the series home to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 

In the third and final installment of the Jurassic World trilogy (and possibly last in the Jurassic saga), Jurassic World: Dominion indeed brings the series home…to extinction.

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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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3 1/2 Stars

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Like many a millennial, I grew associating filmmaker Sam Raimi with the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man Trilogy. While known to be a potent force in the arena of cinematic horror, I sadly have only seen one Sam Raimi horror film as of this writing, The Evil Dead (although one could make the argument Spider-Man 3 was actually a horror in other ways).

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3 Stars

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

Admittedly, I most likely was too kind to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald when I gave it just two and a half out of five.

I realized this when, about ten minutes into Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, I struggled immensely to remember what actually happened in the previous film (apparently Zoè Kravitz was in the film). Thankfully, I remembered just enough to understand what was happening on screen.