The Fabelmans

Arguably, the most important film director of the last fifty years, Steven Spielberg has created on origin story for himself. This autobiographical, but supposedly fictional story, shows us the inspirations and the learning curve that Spielberg encountered on his journey to fame and cinema excellence. The frequent theme in his movies of an absent father or parents divided, shows up in his own narrative, and at times it is inspiring while being simultaneously frustrating. Oh yeah, you get to enjoy the hypnotic effect that movies can have on you both by watching the Spielberg stand in, but also by simply being in a theater to experience this. 

Let’s begin by complimenting the performers in this film. The main young actor playing the Spielberg based Sam Fabelman, is Gabriel LaBelle, and he sure looks like a doppelganger for a young Steven. Every time he has the camera in front of his face, making one of those childhood created movies, you can see the future creator of “Jaws”, “Saving Private Ryan” and Jurassic Park” at work. Casting is everything for a part like this and whoever found this young man deserves a bonus. We may not have the same secure visual references for his parents, but Paul Dano as the father and Michelle Williams as the mother, are completely believable. Williams has the meatier role and she runs with it. There has been talk that she would walk away with the Academy Award if she was being promoted as a supporting actress, but that would be such a misclassification of her contribution to the film, that it would be the equivalent of saying Brando was a supporting actor in “The Godfather”. Regardless of screen time, this is the central character in the film. Even the Spielberg character plays second fiddle to the mother in most of the story. Judd Hirsh arrives for one extended sequence and walks off with the picture in five minutes of screen time. Seth Rogan plays it straight as a dramatic actor, although the character has light moments, and he also is quite good. In the final moments of the film, we get one more great performance from an actor in a single scene, but I won’t spoil it for you. When the identity of the actor dawns on you, you will laugh and be amazed.

For most film buffs, the key parts of the story will center around young Sammy’s movies. The montage of his sisters and friend, role playing in his pre-teen and teen productions is almost enough to satisfy, but then we get extended moments in the making of his war epic, the filming of a family picnic and his film project presented at the prom, that also add to the juice that we movie fans crave. The editing, special effects and camera tricks show us that he is a great story teller, but as we see him making his film about his Mom, we get to see how he learns to put heart into his stories. Sammy (Spielberg) learns that it is not just technique that makes a movie work. The audience needs an emotional investment, and we actually see him learning that as the movie unwinds.

Things in the film get a little tricky when confronting the Jewish heritage of our hero. No doubt there were times in his life when bigots swarmed but given the experiences of his earlier schools, boy scouts and neighbors, these Aryan idiots in Northern California seem like bad guys issued by Central Casting. The fact that a cute Christian girl takes a distinct interest in him also belies the notion that anti-Semitism ruled the school.  That one of his antagonists has a moment of moral crisis after being presented as the equivalent of a Greek God at their High School in Sammy’s film, is confusing. The closest explanation I could come up with in my own head was that this High School Star is being confronted by his apex moment, and it simply underlines that it is all downhill from here on. I sort of like the idea that the film of student activities will alter people’s perspectives, but it was a little fuzzy how this ended up benefitting Sammy. It does end up with a pretty funny punchline however, which works because we are watching this movie when it gets delivered.

Not to give anything away, but the film ends on a promising note and a terrific scene. The brusque advice Sammy gets from a legendary film director, is quickly applied in a manner that allows the audience to laugh and see a technique at work. Director Spielberg playfully lets us in on the fact that he is still influenced by the films he saw in his youth and the lessons he was taught as a teen. The last sequence is where we get that surprise I mentioned earlier and it is a great five minutes of film. Maybe this will not rank with his great adventure films, but when the list of dramas made by Spielberg is presented, “The Fabelmans” will probably be somewhere near the top.

Long Shot

One way that you can tell that Charlize Theron is a great actress is that you can believe she has fallen for Seth Rogan in this movie. Of course it plays to some of the worst traditional chauvinist fantasies that a beautiful woman can be in love with a shlub like this, but you know what, it works because the actress sells the idea and plays it in a low key manner with just the right amount of trepidation to start with and then a full blown commitment.

This is a romantic comedy filtered through the irreverent humor that typifies movies with Seth Rogan. The premise seems like it is something that should not work in the real world but we do have the American Political situation as it is, so it seems plausible. The President has decided not to seek a second term and is willing to endorse his Secretary of State to replace him. She would be the first female President and her background will be a point of contention in the election. Masters of Analytics have assessed her on her qualities and they need to punch up her humor numbers. Theron is the Secretary of State and Rogan is a long ago neighbor who happens to be an acerbic writer with some wit. After they connect by accident she chooses him to help craft her voice and make more of her points in an amusing way.

This is sort of the flip side of “The American President” with a little bit of “The Contender” thrown in. Layer on a big helping of “There’s Something About Mary” and you will understand what you are getting into. It is formulaic, but there are tweaks to the formula that are outrageous and make the movie funny in a way that we probably should not be laughing about. Rogan is presented as a clown at first, bumbling his way into the scene by making stupid mistakes. Theron is overworked, idealistic and ambitious, all things that typify a woman in the world of politics. Still, there are bits that are amusing before the two start to fall for each other. I loved the micro naps that Theron’s character indulges in, and Rogan’s mode of dress is infantile to begin with. Once they are thrown together and the sexual part of the relationship begins, the humor becomes more coarse. Frankly, the ultimate threat the couple faces from hacked footage on his computer is something that goes over the top, but “There’s Something About Mary” is over twenty years old now, so it will probably be old hat for audiences weaned on that sort of humor.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Rogan’s best friend and he gets to have a moment that I never thought I would see in a Hollywood film. The two of them discuss politics at one point and Jackson’s character reveals something about himself and cogently explains his position and it is a moment of sanity about how the world ought to be. The willingness to look at other points of view is what allows us to function as a society, and this film acknowledges, even if it is for humorous purposes, that this is not the way politics currently functions. I don’t want to suggest that this is a serious political film but it does have some interesting themes and that is one of them.

In the end, your enjoyment of the movie will depend on your tolerance for the romantic comedy beats that make up the genre, and your willingness to care for the characters. I was won over despite feeling that both characters were a bit self centered to begin with. I liked the way their past is woven into the story to make them a bit more real, and the awkwardness of their attraction is not ignored by either of the characters. A real romantic partnership exists when the two people complement one another in the ways that their partners need them to. It may be a cliche when Jerry Maguire says in the romantic climax of that film, “You complete me,” but it is true of real love and that felt like it worked here.

The Interview


The most controversial movie of the year. Yep, I said it and as hard as it is to believe it is true. This stupid, vulgar, lazy excuse for killing two hours and a tub of popcorn became the focus of international tension, craven corporate decision making, and judgement by movie fans around the world. All of you who read anything on line already know what the battle lines are. Now it is to to discover what we are fighting over.

“The Interview” is basically a comedy in the vein of “Spies Like Us”. It pairs two well known comic figures in an outrageous espionage story that no one would mistake as a James Bond movie, much less a piece of political propaganda. The Soviets were not as thin skinned as the North Koreans, or perhaps they were more worried about their citizens living conditions and so ignored drivel that is not a real affront to any state or sovereign. This movie is arrested development, adolescent, shart humor, financed by money grubbing studios and narcissistic performers.  I don’t think it is anyone’s patriotic duty to see it simply because you support free speech, but it is a good example of why we have  protection from the government for free expression, so that the stupidest ideas in the world can be expressed.

If you have seen any of the comedies from Seth Rogan in the past, you know that the humor relies on stoner jokes and vulgar language. The frequency with which the f-word is bandied about in this film could be dangerous to the comics themselves. If people really used the term as frequently and with such reckless abandon as the characters in these films, it would lose any taboo status and stop being funny when inserted into conventional conversation.

So far, I have probably given you the impression that I did not like the movie. far from it, I laughed hard at a number of things. The movie has random violence done for comic effect, I like that. It is full of stupid people being judged by others and by themselves in pretty harsh terms, that is funny also. It lampoons the most xenophobic and dangerous nation on the planet, and guess what, it’s not the U.S., I like that too.  Are the characters engaged in racist and sexist stereotyping, uh duh. As is usual with these kinds of movies, we are supposed to see that they are morons and laugh at them for their stupidity, it is called satire, a concept that the politically correct in this world seem to be unable to comprehend.

When Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” becomes an anthem for revolution, it is not hard to guess that sarcasm is part of the mix. Not everything works in the movie, but there are enough but jokes and penis references to make the average college fraternity laugh a dozen times in the movie. One brief shot of nudity is included to be titillating, unless you are thinking of the longer shots of Seth Rogan’s naked character or Kim Jung Un’s backside.

Finterviewor me the real political controversy is over the use of streaming services to deliver movies. On a Sunday night, my network slowed down enough to stop the film three or four times. Until the delivery is seamless, theaters should not be too worried about day and date VOD releases. Plus, this way, all the pot smokers will be at home watching instead of on the road driving to the movie in a highly lit condition. This movie is exactly what you think it is, and if that appeals to you, as it did to me, you will enjoy it well enough.