Spielberg's 'The Fabelmans' is more reality than fable

For those of us who are Jewish, the holidays can be a good time to ... go to the movies.

Which is one reason why I went to see Stephen Spielberg’s latest film, "The Fabelmans," released last September but still out now, which is a coming of age story about a young Jewish man who seeks to become a filmmaker. It's loosely based on Spielberg's own biography.
According to IMDB:
Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.
The movie was an intimate peek into young Sammy Fabelman’s climb to the cameraman’s directorship, starting as a kid with his first primitive camera, and a thunderstruck outing to see the Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which later won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
It also explores anti-Semitism, which is never far from the world Jewish kids grow up in, even in North America. Growing up Jewish, even to well-heeled parents in ‘nice’ neighborhoods, has always been fraught. The life of William Shatner is one example. Back in 1931, in bilingual Montreal, Shatner grew up as Jewish kid from a Conservative Jewish home, attended Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah, and pretty much lived the middle-class existence of his peers, but also got beat up, harassed, and made miserable by anti-Semites in Canada’s sun-averse precincts. He didn't let that break him, and after that he boldly went where no Shatner had gone before, attaining iconic status as a beloved movie and television presence loved by millions. It was much like Steven Spielberg’s ancillary origin story, too.
With Sammy's engineer father, here played by the dulcet Paul Dano, and his musician mother, played by a luminous and authentic Michelle Williams, supporting his interest, Sammy learned to use his camera as recording point-of-view. Sammy captured many a morsel of revenge for the abuse he endured for being Jewish, using his camera as recording point-of-view in some instances.  

The rise of contemporary anti-Semitism — even if the media fails to note its prevalence — is fuel for this ramp-up of ire over the violence visited on Jews across this troubled topography called the U.S. 

Sammy [ably played by a captivating newcomer, Canadian Gabriel LaBelle] made his way through a handful of new venues [much like many youths with fathers whose job skills were ‘mobile’ and whose talents were in demand], not courting the hazings he received at the hand of “all these Sequoias” of Gentile kids towering over him.  

His adroitness with cameras, and successive generations of ever fancier cameras, proved a blessing and a curse in that he captured footage of family secrets he’d rather not have seen, which skewed his adoration of his loving mother.

His father’s best friend, ‘Uncle’ Bennie, is played by a toned-down Seth Rogan, doing what appears to be his first role not dependent on controlled substances. Bennie played a pivotal role in the fabric of his family’s fortunes and evolution. 

The movie is a refreshing divergence -- it tells a story, it never flags for the viewer. It was well lit, and the film itself cost (according to industry sources), only $40 million, which is a remarkable pittance in filmmaking nowadays.  

It was refreshing that Spielberg played it straight. He did not stoop to the ugly caricatures of Judiasm seen in SNL-style mockery. Judaism was shown respectfully for a change. 

Audiences were glued to the plot developments, unlike, say, watching the kinetic but endless CGI wowie-grind of "Avatar," or the gloom of "Whale," (though Brendan Fraser disported his role admirably, and courted sympathy for all so-rotund overlarge folk). 

Another good movie to see is the new, highly lauded film being screened in only two New York City venues, "Living," starring the lovable and ever-watchable Bill Nighy, which opens on December 23 at New Plaza Cinema [Macauley Honors College, 35 West 67th Street, second floor). Industry buzz is that this film will soon be an Oscar nom, so don’t miss this revisit of a Kurasawa opus, the spooling of a life unwinding, making maximum lemonade from the lemons.... it's another worthy holiday entertainment.

Image: Wikipedia // fair use

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