THE FABELMANSAm I failing as a movie reviewer if I really don’t know what to say about a film?

Let’s talk about THE FABELMANS, Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical movie about his family and how he was inspired to become one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors.

I saw this movie in a theater back in November (maybe it was October?). I walked out thinking, man I really enjoyed that movie. It could have gone so wrong (hello Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light), but in the sure hands of Spielberg and co-screenwriter Tony Kushner it didn’t. It’s a pretty entertaining 2 hours and 30 minutes. So why am I having such a tough time writing about it. Why has it taken me months to formulate an opinion I feel comfortable putting on “paper”?

I really don’t know. It’s a genius explaining how he became a genius. So maybe I found that a bit off-putting. The only character that I would consider likeable is Spielberg’s analog, Sammy Fabelman (competently played by Gabriel LaBelle). Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Actress for playing Sammy’s mom Mitzi and while she’s decent, it’s not close to her best work. Paul Dano is also decent as his dad, Burt Fabelman. But he’s kind of one note until near the end. Judd Hirsch swoops in for a completely bananas 5 minutes or so, then he’s gone and some of the energy of the film goes with him. There are some other fine performances, including Seth Rogen as close family friend Uncle Bennie (who it turns out Mitzi is in love with). But nothing that blew me away. Really the only performance that stuck with me comes at the very end when David Lynch shows up.

And maybe that’s my problem. Maybe Spielberg is too close to the story to make it really interesting or daring. Or at least interesting to me. I know many critics have adored THE FABELMANS, putting it on their Best of 2022 lists. The Academy obviously liked it, gracing it with a Best Picture nomination and Spielberg with a Best Director nod.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. It is very captivating in the theater. I was glued to the screen while watching it. But these many months later, it’s a cypher to me. It was fun, and I’d watch it if it comes up on HBO on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s not something I’ve spent any time thinking about since I saw it. Contrast that with TÁR, BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, EVERTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE or TOP GUN: MAVERICK. I have thought of or re-watched those films a lot in the past year. I’ve sought them out, I even purchased the TÁR Blu Ray. I have even sought out ARMAGEDDON TIME, a film with a very similar theme. James Gray got it right and hooked me. But THE FABELMANS? Not so much.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with any of that. Sometimes a film hits you in the feels or the head and you cannot get past it or forget it. THE FABELMANS didn’t work for me on that level. And I’m sure Spielberg will live just fine without my adoration.


triangle of sadnessWhen thinking about movies in which the theme is “eat the rich”, there are a couple that jump to mind immediately. “PARASITE” may be the best and most honored example having won the Oscar for Best Picture. There have been kind of a lot in recent years. THE MENU, KNIVES OUT, HUSTLERS and weirdly, THE JOKER all have the underdog or less fortunate getting one (or several) over on the wealthy. Wealth used to be something to aspire to. Now it is something to be derided and the target for comeuppance. The latest is TRIANGLE OF SADNESS from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund.

TRIANGLE won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 2022. And now it has been nominated for three high profile Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. But there is also a snub conversation to be had (more on that later). The question I’ve heard many people ask, is any of that deserved? Well, tastes are unique to each person.

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS starts off with two models who are a couple (Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson) who get to go on a luxury cruise. She is far more successful than he, her position as an Instagram influencer is a large reason they get to go on the cruise. They argue about money and it sort of falls along gender lines. He feels like she should not be the provider whereas she doesn’t seem to mind.

Once on the cruise their squabbles seem quaint. There is a Russian oligarch, a British couple whose family business is anti-personnel mines and other assorted terrible people. The model couple also seem to the youngest on the cruise. They have attitudes unique to the wealthy and have little concern for the crew of the ship. I’m skipping through a lot in the interest of brevity and in the interest of motivating you to check out this completely bananas movie. But it all sort of comes to a head at the Captain’s DInner. There is questionable food, rough seas that would have sunk even the most modern of cruise ships, and a lot of, uh, bodily fluids exploding all over the place. There is also the captain, in a genius role for Woody Harrelson. He is constantly put out and put upon in his job. He seems to hate it. That comes to a head in a drunken standoff with the oligarch (a genius performance from Zlatko Buric) where the two use the ship’s intercom to debate Communism versus Capitalism with Harrelson advocating for the former and Buric for the latter. As if that isn’t enough, something happens that forces passengers and crew to abandon ship. Only a few make it to what appears to be a remote island. The young couple are among them. So are a widower, a woman who is an invalid from a stroke, the oligarch, the ship’s sort of cruise director and a member of the crew whose job is to clean toilets.

On the island is where the movie really takes off. Dolly de Leon is the crew member, and her skills and abilities make her the defacto leader of this group. She rules with something of an iron fist and trades sex for favors and position. It’s a genius turning of the tables that Östlund has presented us. From shit cleaner to shit enforcer. De Leon is brilliant and probably should have received a supporting actress nomination, but I cannot for the life of me decide who to kick out. Maybe Stephanie Hsu from EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, but it may be a snub debate worth having.

Östlund has a unique vision and really knows how to get his point across and keep us entertained. TRIANGLE is funny, poignant and entertaining. The Captain’s Dinner scene and its aftermath go on a bit long for me and my distaste for puking in movies, but I cannot deny that I laughed out loud several times. The movie is a commentary on how wealth and power turn even those who have been oppressed into the oppressor. The screenplay absolutely deserved the nomination. I suppose the movie deserved its Best Picture nomination, thought one could argue (as I have in another review that DECISION TO LEAVE is the snubbiest film of this year’s Oscars). You may not care for Östlund’s style but there is no denying his talent and getting noticed for Best Director is a nod to encourage others with that type of unique vision to go for it.

The movie is kind of long and does feel like it drags in parts. But it is a great comedy and satire about the evils of wealth and power. It may be the most effective in that genre since PARASITE.