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The Cutting Room Floor



THE FABELMANS. The elevator pitch would have us believe this is a movie about the magic of (watching and making) movies, a life dedicated to a calling and the simple conflict in a house divided by art versus pragmatism. It can be so defined, of course; Steven Spielberg does not generally go in for unkind bait and switch. But The Fabelmans remains something more (and more significant) than marketing or reductive summary allows. Although Spielberg is not and has never been mean-spirited (at least in his public work), he has maybe more tricks at his disposal than just about anybody. And foremost among them is the unique ability to synthesize a lifetime of emotion, study and technique into entertainment that holds up both to the most superficial of glances and the acutest academic scrutiny. His is a uniquely American perspective, forged in the dust and blood of 1950s movie palaces and honed to surgical sharpness. Even at his thorniest — the opening of Saving Private Ryan (1998) or Munich (2005) — where his technical acumen astounds and he dares to subvert easy sentimentality, he approaches his subject from an uncynical, if not always hopeful perspective. (Maybe I should say his perspective is uniquely 20th century American).

When Quentin Tarantino blew my prepubescent little mind, I went through a protracted, now undeniably stupid period of Spielberg contrarianism. Ever the reactionary, even then a wannabe realist with a manufactured little chip on my shoulder, I leaned into one half of the deceptive ease with which Spielberg worked. In my ignorance, I equated cynicism with authenticity, irony with truth. We were living then, of course, in an era that tended to reward those attributes with attention and cred and cool, but that's really no excuse. Maybe an excuse isn't necessary: It may have been part of the natural process of separating oneself from one's childhood self, of cultivating some semblance of adult persona. Regardless, I misunderstood the consummate mastery of our most influential living director because I thought edginess was impressive.

Despite all signs to the contrary, I've managed to mature and, to some extent, reform my adolescent extremism. While I still tend toward allergic reactions in the presence of sentimentalism or maudlin pandering, I've come to better appreciate the channeling of sincerity (and thus vulnerability) into art. While still drawn inextricably to the coarse, the dark and the violent, lived experience has made room in my sensibility for gentler, subtler stuff. Some of what I used to see as childish or easy now strikes me as more mature and perhaps more difficult than cartoonishly "adult" subject matter I once so elevated.

The Fabelmans, from the perspective of young Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle), gives the lie to my earlier (and abiding) religion of roughness by simultaneously introducing the notions of innocence rediscovered through art and the transition into adulthood as a crucible of hard truths and disappointment. Perhaps more than ever before, Spielberg brings us into the world as he sees and has seen it, where magic is real but exists in equal measure with banal cruelty, ambition and limited vision.

The movie is, purportedly, the man's most autobiographical to date; I can't speak to that with any authority. With what he (and co-writer Tony Kushner) have put on screen as evidence, though, I tend to believe it. We follow Sammy's family as, driven by father Burt's (Paul Dano) ascendance in the nascent field of business and personal computing, they move from New Jersey to Phoenix to the Bay Area. Mom Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a frustrated pianist and definitive free spirit, cultivates her young son's dreams of making art for a lifetime even as her own creativity is dimmed by the vagaries of domestic life. Sammy, a product of his time and place and parents, doesn't know what to do. Nobody does.

Spielberg summons all his talent, innate and studied, in service of a story that, while caught in a specific moment in time, becomes all the more immediate, accessible and undeniable for its specificity. And in so doing, he channels the contradictions of growing up that, while we're doing it, we assume will dissipate in adulthood. And maybe his neatest trick is in showing (not telling) us that those difficulties, though constant, are surmountable or can at least be mitigated by self-knowledge and the pursuit of one's passions. Without simplifying or varnishing the process, he's showing us that, although the only way over is through, it isn't all hopelessness and drudgery.

This may seem like an obvious button on Spielberg's career but I see instead it as its greatest contextualization. The Fablemans demonstrates the uneasy process of holding fast to a dream, including the occasional erasure of that dream and the near-constant uncertainty attending it. PG13. 151M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Catching up with the blue cat aliens 10 years later in James Cameron's sequel starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Kate Winslet. PG13. 192M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D), MINOR.

BABYLON. A messy tale of Hollywood excess and ambition in the 1920s, starring Margot Robbie, lately sketchy Brad Pitt and Diego Calva. R. 189M. BROADWAY.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER. RIP, Chadwick Boseman. The Marvel comic franchise continues with Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke and Tenoch Huerta Mejía as an amphibian king. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

M3GAN. Yes, she's a child's baby-influencer, uncanny-valley robot who turns on her family but she looks amazing and who among us? PG13. 102M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE OLD WAY. Nicholas Cage stars with a mustache as a former gunslinger in one last showdown, his daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) in tow. R. 95M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH. Sequel spinoff starring the swashbuckling cat voiced by Antonio Banderas. With Salma Hayek. PG. 100M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

VIOLENT NIGHT. David Harbour stars as BAMF Santa, who stumbles onto a Christmas heist and goes Die Hard on John Leguizamo's elite team of bad guys. R. 101M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY. Naomi Ackie stars as the iconic diva in a biopic about her rise to fame. PG13. 146M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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