The Fabelmans – Film Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner

Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Judd Hirsch

Rating: ★★★★

Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Fabelmans, is the most personal film he’s ever made. The story, written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner (They had previously worked together on Munich, Lincoln, and West Side Story), is based upon Spielberg’s own childhood and family. The Fabelmans is a love-letter not only to cinema, but also to Spielberg’s parents, and it’s been a long time coming. Spielberg first mentioned making a film about his family over twenty years ago, and it’s definitely been worth the wait

The film opens in 1952 with Sam Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord, and then Gabriel LaBelle when he’s older) going to see The Greatest Show on Earth, which will be his first film in the cinema with his parents, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano). Sam is the stand-in for Spielberg in the story, and he’s completely awestruck by the story being shown on the big screen. As a big train crash happens, he’s completely stunned by it, playing it over in his mind again and again and again. To try and deal with his fear, he asks for a train set for Hanukkah, and repeatedly crashes it. His mother suggests he films it, to avoid breaking the expensive toy, and his life as a filmmaker begins.

From the first moment of the film, it’s absolutely great, and it’s so easy to fall in love with the story being told. The performances are brilliant, and the characters are lovingly written. Everyone is on top form both in front of and behind the camera. The Fabelman family dynamic absolutely shines and there’s so much warmth in every scene the family shares. Throughout the story it deals with a lot of drama, funny moments, and some heart wrenching moments. It’s also a story about storytelling, and the origins of one of the greatest directors of film history.   

One of the best scenes of the film is when Sam’s granduncle, Boris (Judd Hirsch) comes for a visit shortly after Sam’s grandmother dies. He’s worked in the film world, as well as a circus, and Sammy is instantly engaged with his stories. He also comes with a warning, about how Sam is going to be torn between his artistic dreams and family and there will always be a clash between them. Judd Hirsch is phenomenal in the scene, which echoes throughout the rest of the film, as Sam struggles with wanting to make his films, while his family want him to have other priorities. For example, his dad constantly refers to his passion as a hobby, and asks him to put aside his war film to make a family film of a recent camping trip. It causes a lot of tension in his life. When the family gets devastating news, he immediately goes back to editing and his sister can’t understand how he does it.

Some of the other highlights are the scenes that show Sam and his friends making their short films are pure brilliance. Even though the final product is a lot more glamourous than Spielberg’s teenage films probably were, the little details of how they create the effects or achieve certain shots are really fun to watch. There’s a nostalgic charm to every one of them, and the passion for filmmaking oozes out of the screen.

This quite a long film and the only time you really start to feel the film’s length is during a prom sequence. Showing Sam at prom, where he’s made a film about his class during a day out to the beach and made one of his bullies come across as a hero. It gives the bully a moment of redemption, but he doesn’t deserve it and the whole scene seems out of place. Sam can’t even explain why he turns his bully into a school hero, it’s just an odd moment all round.

Once that’s over though the final scenes show some really touching moments between Sam and his father, and then David Lynch appearing as director John Ford. The film is brilliant anyway, but David Lynch appearing in anything is always going to add something special to it. Spielberg has told the story in interviews about meeting Ford, so it’s definitely a true moment and a good way to end the film, knowing everything Sam/Steven is going to achieve in the following decades.  

Spielberg is an excellent storyteller who is always on top form and The Fabelmans is absolutely no exception to that. It’s moving, inspiring, and completely captivating. There’s been a recent trend of films celebrating cinema, like the recent Babylon and Empire of Light, and this is the best of the bunch. It’s not just about the artform, it’s also a deeply personal story of a family.  

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You People – Film Review

Director: Kenya Barris

Writers: Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill

Starring: Jonah Hill, Lauren London, David Duchovny, Nia Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy

I was quite looking forward to You People, the new Netflix rom com starring Jonah Hill (who also co-wrote the script with director Kenya Barris) and Lauren London. Now that it’s out, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. A formulaic rom com, that’s still good. Joining the main couple is David Duchovny and Julia Louis-Dreyfus who play Jonah Hill’s parents, as well as Eddie Murphy and Nia Long playing Lauren London’s parents. It’s simply a brilliant cast.

Simply put the story is one that’s been told many times before. Ezra (Hill) and Amira (London) have an awkward cute meet, where Ezra mistakes Amira for his Uber driver, while she’s lost. He ends up giving her directions and asks her out. We then get to see a montage of their first few dates, before the film skips six months into the future and Amira meets Ezra’s parents for the first time. And that’s where things really get going. Ezra’s mother, Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is so hard to watch. She’s so tone-deaf and just says whatever comes to her mind. Things get even worse when Ezra meets Amira’s parents to ask for their blessing to marry her.

The film is about two different families clashing as the central couple come religious families and different cultures. Most of the comedy comes from the encounters between the couple and their parents. While it does have some social commentary, it’s still a traditional rom com and doesn’t do anything too original. It’s essentially Meet the Parents combined with a few other films. If you like rom coms, then you’ll probably enjoy this one.

When I first saw that this was a two-hour film, I was a little put off. Does a rom com really need to be so long? Thankfully, it didn’t feel too long at all. The time seemed to fly by and when it was clearly beginning to wrap up I was a little sad that we weren’t going to spend more time with the characters. Once Ezra and Amira first meet it works. It’s nothing too original, but it’s funny

After the excellent Dolomite is my Name and the decent Coming 2 America, and now this, it’s safe to say that Eddie Murphy is back. He’s one of the best things about this film. There’s also a fourth Beverly Hills Cop starring Murphy out this year, and hopefully that will be just as good. It’s also good to see David Duchovny, although he’s not really in it that much and most of his appearance is him just talking about Xzibit, which is just as awkward as it sounds. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also brilliant, her character always means well but is so uncomfortable to watch. If you like cringe-comedy where you can barely watch, then this is a good one.

I enjoyed You People quite a bit. It’s not the most original film by any stretch, but it has a great cast, likeable characters and more than enough good jokes to keep me entertained. It’s probably not something I’m going to come back to, but I enjoyed it while it was on.

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Magic in London: Whistling – Part Six

Catch up on Magic in London here:

Chuck carried Toby out into the grounds and placed him on the floor beneath a tree at the end of the clearing opposite the building. His arms ached as he carried the boy, who was heavier than Chuck had originally thought. After placing him on the floor, he paced up and down, occasionally glancing at the building, as if that would reveal something. There wasn’t a sound, beyond him walking and breathing. The house looked as still as it had done when they first approached in, and he wanted to know what was going on. Was Fiona okay? What would he do if she wasn’t? He didn’t want to think about the idea that she could be hurt, or worse, but as the seconds turned to minutes his mind started wandering.

He noticed that the air around him wasn’t cold, and that was strange. Back in London it was December, the cold winter chill hanging in the air, but there was none of that in the pocket world. It was a comfortable temperature, a nice spring day, even though it was the dead of night. He looked down at the boy, and realised that if he hadn’t stopped to see if the boy was okay, then he wouldn’t be in the mess he’d found himself in. None of this was real to him only an hour earlier, and everything had happened so fast. He’d definitely missed the coach home, though, that was certain.

The boy started to stir, and Chuck stopped pacing to look at him as Toby sat up and put one hand to his head.

“Are you okay?” he asked the boy.

Toby looked up at him, his eyes bulging and shaking, tears forming in the corners. He looked at Chuck with complete fear.

“Don’t be scared, it’s okay. I’m a friend of Fiona’s,” he said.

Toby was frozen in his spot, staring up at the strange man who he kind of remembered from London, but wasn’t completely sure on. He looked just as scared as Toby felt. They eyed each other up for a long time.

“Fiona is inside,” Chuck said. “She told me to wait out here with you.”

The boy looked around, noticing where he was fully for the first time since he awoke. There was a pain echoing in his head that he couldn’t quite understand, like he’d been hit over the head with something. His brain was still foggy, he just knew there was enough reason to be scared.

“What’s happening?” Toby said, his voice crackling with each word.

“I don’t really know, to be honest. Fiona brought us back here, and then we went inside and something didn’t seem right, so she told me to stay out here while she checked it out.”

“No,” Toby said, his eyes fixed on the house. “I want to go home.”

“We are home.”

“No. Home. I want my home. I want mummy. I don’t want to be here. I don’t like it here. Where’s mummy.”

Toby’s face was pleading at him, and Chuck was sure the boy was going to start crying again. He didn’t.

“I don’t really know what’s going on, but I think it’s best that we wait for Fiona to come back.”

“There’s a monster in there,” he said pointing to the building. “That’s why I left. We shouldn’t stay here.”

“What monster?” Chuck said. “One of those spider things?”

“What? It’s a shadow person.”

“Umm, what?”

“A shadow person, it’s what they kept in the basement. George broke it out and I ran away from it, and then I ended up in the outside.”

“So you weren’t running away from the school?”

“No, I like it here. I was running away from the shadow person. They’re deadly.”

“And now it’s loose out in the academy. I have to warn Fiona about that. She might not realise what’s happened.”

“Okay. I’m going to come with you. Fiona isn’t safe in there alone.”

“No, you should stay out here.”

“I’m not stupid. I can look after myself.”

William thought back to when he first met Toby, standing out in the middle of the street crying his eyes out and holding his teddy bear. The bear that he hadn’t seen since Fiona had carried the child through the underground. He silently wished to himself that he hadn’t dropped it anywhere. Then he realised that Toby at least had some magical ability, so was probably better off going in that he was.”

“That thing you created. The spider thing. What was that?”

“The Creature. That’s what I call him. He’s my friend and I brought him with me to the outside to keep me safe once I got lost.”

“Okay, that explains somethings. Okay. You can come with me, but we have to be quick. Do you have one of those knives?”

“No, I don’t have a wand yet. I’m not old enough. You get them when you turn fifteen. I’m still five years away.”

“Great, we’ll just go inside and find Fiona and she’ll know what to do. Are you sure you’re okay. I mean you did try to run away earlier.”

Toby nodded. With more hesitation than he cared to admit, Chuck walked towards the building, and Toby followed close behind. The entranceway was empty, just Chuck knew it would be and there was a cold silence hanging in the air. The candles had been extinguished, leaving the moonlight from outside the only thing lighting up the place, with plenty of shadows hiding under the stairs and in the corners of the room.

“You know you said there was a shadow person? Will I be able to see them?”

“Yes. They live in the shadows, but you can see them. They just look like a shadow without a person.”

“Okay, right. That sounds kind of terrifying.”

They moved around the room, their steps echoing around them.

“The basement is over there,” Toby said. “I think that’s where it will be.”

“Okay, stay close behind me. I’m guessing you can’t magic up a fireball to light the way?”

Toby shook his head and Chuck carried on walking, trying to remember what happened to the torch that Fiona had given to him in the tunnels. Had he dropped that along with the bear? They made their way through the room and to the stairs that led to the basement. Chuck could only see the first few steps before darkness covered everything. He took a deep breath, and with shaking feet and a speeding heart he took the first step into the basement.  

To be continued…

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Junji Ito Maniac – Episode Four: Four X Four Walls and The Sandman’s Lair

The fourth episode of Junji Ito Maniac adapts two of Ito’s horror stories. The first story, Four X Four Walls, is a strange one to say the least. Koichi is trying to study in his room, but his brother, Soichi, is always bothering him. He bangs around in the attic and tries to prank his brother to make him believe that there’s a poltergeist in the house. To counter this, the family decide to hire a carpenter to soundproof Koichi’s room, except Soichi helps out. While the story hints at something supernatural, it’s essentially just about an annoying brother and there’s nothing supernatural about it. The idea is pretty great, and there are some good moments, especially as everything ramps up once the carpenter finishes his job. Sadly, the ending is really rushed, and it ends very abruptly without the story really being wrapped up. It just kind of finishes.

And then we move onto The Sandman’s Lair, which is an even stranger and bizarre story about Yuji, a novelist who hasn’t slept in three days. He tells his friend, Mari about his trouble sleeping and his belief that his alter-ego will try to get out while he’s asleep. She agrees to look over him while he sleeps and finds out that he’s telling the truth. This story is so much stronger than the first one, it’s really dark and twisted and takes a really weird and unexpected turn half way through. It’s quite short, under ten minutes, but that’s exactly how long it needs to be. The ending is brilliantly unhinged. The only let down for this one is some of the dialogue, especially the last line from Mari, is unintentionally funny.

Like in the second episode, the two stories presented here have next to nothing in common and they don’t really mesh together. It’s an odd pairing, and they stand up a lot better individually. It’s still a decent episode, although the first story is a bit of a let down. It feels like there’s a lot more to the story than what’s shown. I haven’t the manga version, so maybe that’s better. I’ll definitely be checking it out soon. The Sandman’s Lair is good and twisted, and that’s exactly what you’d expect from the series.

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Unwelcome – Film Review

Director: Jon Wright

Writer: Mark Stay

Starring: Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Colm Meaney, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Kristian Nairn, Niamh Cusack, Chris Walley

Rating: ★★½

Unwelcome is a folklore horror film from director Jon Wright and writer Mark Stay. It follows a young couple, Jamie (Douglas Booth) and Maya (Hannah John-Kaman) as they move from London to Ireland after Jamie inherits a house from his great-aunt. Once they arrive they find that the locals are all very welcoming, but the house is in a state of disrepair.

Within the first few minutes of Unwelcome there’s a really bad scene between Maya and Jamie as they learn that they’re going to have a baby. The acting is awful, the dialogue is worse. It’s so bad that it’s hard to continue watching. Then violence starts and it’s just dumb. Jamie attracts the attention of some local thugs by mouthing off at them. The thugs then follow him home, break in and attack both him and Maya. It’s like watching a poor imitation of Eden Lake, but don’t give up hope there.

Once they arrive in picturesque Ireland, they meet one of Jamie’s great-aunt’s friends, Maeve, who introduces them to the house and village. She also warns them of a local superstition, and asks that they leave some food out in the back garden every day for the Red Caps, little people who live in the woods. The couple dismiss this, but after seeing how seriously Maeve takes her belief, Maya promises to always leave some food out.

Thankfully, Unwelcome is one of those rare films that goes from being bad, to so bad it’s good, and then completes the circle by becoming genuinely brilliant in the final act. By the time the Redcaps actually appear fully, the shocking opening doesn’t matter, because everything has gone completely crazy. That finale is so goofy, funny, and cartoonishly violent that it makes up for everything beforehand. Even when you think everything’s over it double-down on the wackiness and it just works.  

Jon Wright has spoken in interviews that he pitched Unwelcome as ‘Gremlins meets Straw Dogs’, which is pretty much what it is. What starts out as an underwhelming folklore horror film ends up being a really fun time with a seriously crazy ending. This is without a doubt going to become a cult classic in future years.

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