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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – A look at the man behind the lens with The Fabelmans

The nominations for the Oscars have been revealed this week, and the countdown to the biggest night in the Hollywood calendar has begun.

Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman in Steven Spielberg's semi-autobiographical tale about an aspiring young filmmaker, The Fabelmans
Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman in Steven Spielberg's semi-autobiographical tale about an aspiring young filmmaker, The Fabelmans

It’s always the most exciting time of year in the movie world – where the talent, creativity and cinematic magic of the previous year is honoured by the taste-makers of the film community.

The noms for this year’s gongs are dominated by two particular gems from last year – the indubitably bonkers Everything Everywhere All at Once, and demure dark-comedy diamond, The Banshees of Inisherin. With the latter giving Colin Farrell his first shot at Best Actor, and the incredible Kerry Condon a very well-deserved nod in the Best Supporting Actress category, it’s a flick that certainly deserves the recognition already heaped on it by the nominations it has garnered, and my prediction and hope is that it’ll clean up nicely.

Disappointing not to see more than two Brits in the acting categories, but with Andrea Riseborough and the immortal Bill Nighy flying the flag, we’ve got the quality representing us, if not the quantity. Though speaking of quality, one man from across the pond who is no stranger to those fabled statuettes has secured a very personal entry in the Best Picture category – and it goes on general release today.

Starring Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, The Fabelmans gives us an incredible semi-autobiographical window into director Steven Spielberg’s formative years.

But does the creator of Jurassic Park, E.T and Saving Private Ryan’s own story set the screen alight like so many tales he has brought to film before? Let’s take a closer look...

THE FABELMANS (12A, 151 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

In his most unabashedly personal film, Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg continues to venerate the power of the family unit to overcome adversity while reflecting on his wonder years in 1950s New Jersey and Arizona.

The first flushes of his love affair with cinema are traced back to January 10, 1952, when Spielberg’s six-year-old alter ego, Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord), stands nervously in front of his first cinema marquee – Cecil B DeMille’s The Greatest Show On Earth – with parents Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams).

The bespectacled, electrical engineer father unintentionally deepens young Sammy’s trepidation and fear by spouting technical jargon about persistence of vision, the trick of the mind that creates the illusion of moving pictures when 24 photographs are projected on to a screen every second.

His concert pianist mother, an undimmable force of nature, salvages the defining moment.

“Movies are dreams that you never forget,” she coos soothingly.

Spielberg never forgets his dreams in The Fabelmans, weaving narrative threads between personal recollections and his subsequent works of big screen fiction including Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Saving Private Ryan.

He works closely with regular collaborators including Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editors Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar, composer John Williams and Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner, who polishes the script’s dramatic licence to a beguiling lustre.

Inspired by the train crash sequence in The Greatest Show On Earth, teenage Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) answers his creative calling with a film camera gifted by his parents and words of wisdom from his granduncle Boris (Judd Hirsch).

“We are junkies and art is our drug,” he enthusiastically counsels the boy.

Sammy’s home movie of a family vacation with his parents, three sisters Reggie (Julia Butters), Natalie (Keeley Karsten) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera) and surrogate uncle Bennie (Seth Rogen) exposes deep fissures in grown-up relationships.

The fallout serves as a painful first lesson about the enduring power of cinema.

When Sammy tries to apologise, insisting that he never intended to hurt anyone, Mitzi again delivers perfect words of comfort: “Guilt is a wasted emotion.”

The teenager applies that learning to woo his classmate Monica (Chloe East) and cleverly undermine the fraternal bond between antisemitic high school bullies Logan (Sam Rechner) and Chad (Oakes Fegley).

The Fabelmans is a bittersweet portrait of a post-war family in crisis, anchored by a mesmerising performance from Williams as an emotionally brittle free spirit who won’t allow her children to relinquish their dreams.

Key motifs from Spielberg’s impressive back catalogue proliferate, often laced with gentle humour like when young Sammy gets a crash course in camera placement from director John Ford (David Lynch). Persistence of vision isn’t required to see the sincerity that twinkles in every lovingly crafted frame.

PLANE (15, 107 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

Gerard Butler as Brodie Torrance and Mike Colter as Louis Gaspare in Plane

You won’t need to fasten seatbelts during director Jean-Francois Richet’s lacklustre action thriller, which pits the crew and passengers of a downed commercial flight against a sadistic militia leader on an island in the Sulu Sea.

Dramatic turbulence fails to materialise when Gerard Butler proudly retains his Scottish burr as the grizzled pilot, who risks life and limb to protect his passenger manifest of two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs including an obnoxious businessman and giggling gal pals.

The in-flight entertainment of a mid-air lightning strike quickens the pulse more than myriad gunfights or hand-to-hand fisticuffs in the jungle including a slickly choreographed one-on-one brawl between Butler and a nameless thug shot in sweat-drenched close-up.

Please turn off all personal electronic devices, including mobile phones, and switch your brain to flight mode.

UNWELCOME (15, 104 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

Unwelcome: Douglas Booth as Jamie and Hannah John-Kamen as Maya.

An escape to the country transplants creeping dread from concrete tower blocks to a tumbledown house in an otherworldly thriller written by Mark Stay and directed by Jon Wright.

Steeped in Anglo-Scottish folklore, Unwelcome teases murderous, pointy-teethed goblins at large in an ancient wood, which surrounds a close-knit Irish community that upholds tradition to placate “the little people”.

Two English interlopers to this bucolic idyll dismiss fanciful talk of leprechauns and magical creatures until the one-hour mark when make-up effects artist Shaune Harrison, creature designer Paul Catling and visual effects supervisor Paddy Eason collectively realise diminutive denizens of the dark.

Screenwriter Stay glosses over the most interesting facet of lead characters’ narrative arcs – the post-traumatic stress of a home invasion – to crudely shepherd most of the cast into one location for a bloodthirsty night-time showdown with the grotesque beasties.

Telegraphed scares are far milder than the film’s 15 certificate promises.


Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Director Laura Poitras’ picture shines a light on the unwavering activism of celebrated New York-based artist Nan Goldin.

All The Beauty And The Bloodshed is a mosaic of archive material, interviews, photographs and rare footage, which relives Goldin’s hard-fought battle against the Sackler family, who she held partially responsible for the global opioid crisis.

The Sackler dynasty contributed handsomely to some of the museums and institutions that exhibited Goldin’s work, creating a thorny moral dilemma for an artist who was reliant on spaces to showcase her output. This internal struggle is neatly woven into a history of Goldin’s life from her formative years in the emotionally repressed 1950s.


Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Released in 2019, director Frant Gwo’s Mandarin-language sci-fi spectacular The Wandering Earth captured the imagination of Chinese audiences, becoming one of the country’s highest grossing pictures of all time.

Gwo returns to the director’s chair for a lavish prequel based on the popular novella by science fiction author Liu Cixin.

Nations unite to spearhead an ambitious plan to install powerful engines on the surface of the Earth and propel the third rock from the sun away from its principal heat source before the only star in the solar system swallows our tiny planet. Protesters plan to sabotage the Wandering Earth Project by mounting an assault on the Ark Space Station.

The fate of humankind hangs in the balance.


Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

For one night only, cinema audiences are invited to a previously unseen extended cut of director Sam Wrench’s concert film, which was originally livestreamed as part of the Apple Music Live series.

Wrench’s picture crams 27 songs into less than 100 minutes in cinematic 4K with Dolby Atmos sound.

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