Movie Review: The Fabelmans

It is a rare experience when I realize that the best part of any movie is at the very end. A young Steven Speilberg – known in this story as Sammy Fabelman, played by Gabriel LaBelle is in the office of the famous actor John Ford before his iconic directing career even started. Predictably John Ford is very rude to the 20-year-old Sammy within a scene that we all know did happen in real life. Ford had Sammy look at 2 pictures in his office. Ford rudely asked Sammy – “so where is the horizon in that picture?”. When Sammy went on to analyze the picture Ford rudely yelled, “No, No! Where is the horizon?” Sammy said, it’s at the top of the picture. In the second picture, Sammy recognized that the horizon was at the bottom. Ford then screamed at Sammy – “When the horizon is at the top or the bottom – that is interesting – in the middle – that is very BORING!” It is this simplicity and abrupt rudeness over two pictures hanging on a wall in the office of John Ford, arguably one of the greatest movie directors of all time, that for me was the very best part of this film.

The movie “The Fabelmans” is entirely about the early childhood years of Steven Speilberg and how he had no choice in life but to become one of the greatest movie directors of all time. For Sammy Fabelman, there was never any plan B. Once he was fascinated at an early age when his parents took him to see his first movie – Sammy was hooked for life. There was nothing else Sammy ever wanted to do. It started with making small movies where he would crash his train set into cars. Then he would make small horror and war movies with his friends. The most famous story I have ever heard is that Steven Speilberg broke into an abandoned Paramount Studios office and acted like he was an employed director and, was never arrested or prosecuted.

One flaw in this story is that too much time is spent on the affair that his mother Mitzi Fabelman, played very well by Michelle Willams with her husband’s best friend Bennie Loewy, played by Seth Rogan – and not enough time on Steven Speilberg’s early growth as a genius movie director. This is the main reason for the second flaw in this movie – because it is once again, too long. The Fabelmans clocked in at 2 hours and 31 minutes for a story that could have been told in 2 hours. Removing unnecessary details about Speilberg’s mother’s affair would have resulted in a better movie that was long enough and not too long. The majority of fans of Steven Speilberg will obviously go to this film to learn more about how he became a great director, not about his mother’s affair with her husband’s best friend.

The Fabelman family, included along with Sammy, 3 younger sisters who moved from New Jersey to Phoenix Arizona, eventually winding up in Los Angeles. Sammy Fabelman’s father, Burt Fabelman, played well by Paul Dano, is promoted and moves to company locations required by GE and eventually IBM, understandably causing stress on the family. This constant moving had a profound effect on Sammy’s childhood, especially when the family moved to Los Angeles where he would encounter extreme bullying and antisemitism. When it was time for Sammy to attend college, amazingly it was his extreme dislike of school that led Sammy to his huge success as a movie director, because he realized he had no other choice but to succeed in the movie industry. So often talent or ability is not enough, for something like breaking into the movie business, requires insane levels of perseverance.

Once again, I was very impressed with actress Michelle Williams who is outstanding with her portrayal of Steven Speilberg’s late mother Mitzi. Her acting in this movie just might give her another best actress nomination. Paul Dano is also very good as Speilberg’s father and Seth Rogan has one of his best acting roles playing Speilberg’s father’s best friend, Bennie Loewy. Judd Hirsh also has a small but very effective role, playing the brother of Mitzi’s mother in a performance that probably ranks as strong as his role in “Ordinary People”, 1980, and “Running on Empty”, released in 1988.

In his entire career, Steven Speilberg has made only one bad movie – 1941, released in 1979. The Fabelmans is up to the expected levels of a well-made Speilberg movie, despite the “too long” issue and too much focus on Mitzi’s affair. I mostly agree with the very high 93% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with my rating a solid 90% and a very strong recommendation.

Movie Review: Devotion

What is most impressive about the new movie “Devotion” is that it will remind all who see it about the underlying logistics of war movies. This film has many vintage war planes used during the Korean War in the 1950s. This means that these planes have been stored in a warehouse somewhere in the world and have to still be maintained and mechanically sound – and then flown by stuntmen during the making of this movie. Flying very old planes the way they are flown during this movie had to be very dangerous – because given the machinery is so old, anything might go wrong. One amazing side story involved the use of the world’s oldest helicopter where a part had to be taken from the Smithsonian to get it to fly Many of the combat scenes have reminded me of recent war movies about World War 2, including “Midway”, reviewed in this blog.

What is most amazing about aerial combat scenes is when these incredibly brave pilots dive down into enemy fire straight into the ground with gunfire all around them, facing certain death. Given all the gunfire they faced as they flew straight down, it seemed impossible that any plane could have survived. It is also hard to believe given the technology of the 1940s and 50s that airplanes like these could accomplish such impossible aerial feats. The courage of these pilots through all of these world-changing wars was always unbelievable and this movie did a good job, mostly at the end of this story, showing the danger these pilots faced.

The problem with this movie is that there are too many times within this story when what is going on is slow and too boring to maintain the continuity and viewer interest in the story. There is too little action, and too much peripheral filler that looked like it was designed to make the film a full two hours, rather than enhance the story. All of these filler scenes we have all seen before in war movies, there is nothing new here.

The positive side of this true story is about the friendship between Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner well played by Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell. Jessie Brown is the only black man within his unit of aviators and like all black men in the arm forces during this time, faced prejudice and bigotry. Inside the group of aviators, Jessie is treated with respect, but outside his unit, he faces bigotry that understandably results in violence. There are highs and lows within the friendship between Brown and Hudner that are all about the issues involving racial injustice and the chain of command. All of these scenes are very well acted.

This movie could have been much better had there been more war action scenes, but this issue was most likely caused by budget constraints. There are too many “we have seen this before generic war side stories” that in too many cases make the film drag on too long. I agree with the middle-of-the-road Rotten Tomatoes rating of 74% for this movie and give this film a moderate recommendation.