THE FABELMANS: Spielberg relates the birth of a filmmaker


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Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans is irresistible from its opening frames as midcentury computer scientist Burt (Paul Dano) and pianist Mitzi (Michelle Williams) take their firstborn, six-year-old Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) to his very first big-screen movie, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 circus spectacular The Greatest Show on Earth. Sammy is dubious and uncomprehending as his father explains to him the concept of persistence of vision. It is a short, funny scene that expresses Spielberg’s lifelong (not to mention, extremely lucrative) love affair with flickering images and the stories they tell.

Billed as Spielberg’s most personal movie to date, well, of course, it is. The fictional family may be named Fabelman but this is the story of the Spielbergs, however much it may fudge the facts. Written by the director with his West Side Story collaborator, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, it is both a kind of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as it portrays Sammy’s passion for making movies and also a portrait of an American family that buries emotional landmines under the veneer of fixed smiles. It is both Spielberg’s origin story and his coming to terms with his past.

As dramas go, The Fabelmans is overlong. There is fat to be cut, which one imagines teenage Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) – shown often hunched at his desking, editing his movies – thoughtfully removing from the work. But Spielberg isn’t 16 anymore, he is 60 years older and it is clear that every frame is important to him emotionally, occasionally to the film’s detriment. In particular, a scene with Judd Hirsch as Sammy’s lion-tamer great uncle who understands his great nephew’s artistic impulses, telling him, “You’re going to join the circus,” is lovely – and wholly unnecessary.

And once the family moves to Northern California when Sammy is in high school, bringing the problems in the Burt and Mitzi’s marriage into sharp focus and introducing Sammy to antisemitism and first love, the wheels kind of fall off the movie before righting itself again in The Fabelmans’ closing scenes. It’s more a matter of rhythm than anything else. Scenes play out too long and some become repetitive. Again, it is hard to fault Spielberg. This is his story, and he has to tell it the way he needs to tell it even if his younger self – the guy who made Duel and Jaws and the wunderkind who was 22 when he directed screen legend Joan Crawford in the pilot episode of Night Gallery – probably would have sent him back to the cutting room to more sharply hone his creation.

LaBelle is terrific as Sammy, perfectly expressing hurt, anger, and confusion at his family’s situation and in his complicated relationship with his mother. But he is even better in the scenes in which Sammy starts on the path that will define his life. The moviemaking scenes, whether on location explaining to his cast how he wants a scene played or alone in his room cutting away, are fabulous, expressing youthful passion and wonder at the act of creation.

Even better are the products of those creations. The movies within the movie are enchanting. Recreating his own early experiments in filmmaking, the past six decades fall away. Spielberg finds his young self in these scenes and they are simply magical. As one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, he has become an auteur of blockbuster filmmaking but this time he scores with a story that is much more intimate.

It is a little disconcerting seeing Paul Dano suddenly grown middle-aged – has it really been that long since Little Miss Sunshine? – but he is wonderful as Sammy’s genius and too good-natured for his own good dad. Williams as highly strung Mitzi once more makes a case for GOAT of her generation. Director David Lynch is hilarious in a small cameo playing one of Sammy’s (and Spielberg’s) directing idols. On the technical side of things, Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) delivers luminous images in which every moment seems to be magic time and 90-year-old John Williams contributes one of his most elegant scores.

The Fabelmans is not Spielberg’s final film. Just this past week, he announced a new collaboration with Bradley Cooper that will resurrect Steve McQueen’s Bullitt character. Nevertheless, the drama has the feeling of a summing up, a story he needed to tell before time runs out. Luckily, for all the rest of us, who get to watch the tale unfold. – Pam Grady

A bloody good time: Partying with BODIES BODIES BODIES


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In a remote mansion, while torrential wind and rain rage outside, the power goes out and so does the life of one person after another in this wicked horror black comedy that has the ancient bones of an Agatha Christie mystery but a style that is every inch Gen Z. Amandla Stenberg and Pete Davidson head up an ensemble cast in a film that might be summarized as love hurts while blood spurts.

Stenberg is Sophie, a recovering addict, who shows up at the party at her lifelong BFF David’s (Pete Davidson) parents’ estate unexpectedly, new working-class, immigrant girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) in tow. Sophie wasn’t expected, not even David is happy to see her, hissing, “What’s she doing her?” to his actor girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), hinting at the bridges Sophie’s burned. She and Bee aren’t the only interlopers: oblivious podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) has brought her new, middle-aged Tinder boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace), a genial hippie nearly old enough to be her dad the others believe to be an Afghanistan war veteran.

Completing the group and the only partygoer without a partner is Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), an ex of Sophie’s who also feels a bit out of place in the company of rich kids. She is, as Alice points out, upper-middle-class, but she doesn’t feel that way since her parents are but professors – at a state college. Her unease and apparent unresolved issues with Sophie add to the uneasy dynamics in a house in which none of the couples quite fit and the snobbery is as rampant as the drug and alcohol abuse. Add to that the titular party game, in which one person is the designated murderer, another becomes the victim, and then rather than solve the mystery, everyone fights. It’s a tense atmosphere long before the first real body drops.

Sophie and Bee are the most fully realized characters and Davidson’s David is the most head-scratching, not quite believable as a scion of enormous wealth. But Davidson wasn’t cast for that but because he’s a gifted physical comic who can deliver a funny line. And while there are nods to the class struggle in the way Bee and Greg are treated by the group, the film is not social satire. It’s a broad comedy with a body count.

In an era of inflated running times, Dutch director Halina Reijn (Instinct) wisely keeps hers down to 95 minutes, keeping the suspense running high and the laughs coming. Shooting in near darkness in many scenes where the only light appears to come from flashlights, cell phones, and glow stick jewelry, cinematographer Jasper Wolf creates an atmosphere of menace. Adding to that ambience is Disasterpeace’s strident score.

Bodies Bodies Bodies’ greatest strength is its screenplay by Sarah DeLappe, adapting Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker story, which offers a memorable portrait of a certain segment of a generation while building up to one blisteringly hilarious denouement. There is nothing new under the sun when murder is afoot in a big house in the middle of nowhere but DeLappe transforms a story that could easily have been hackneyed into something fresh and hilarious. This is a film modest in its ambitions that delivers a big payoff. –Pam Grady

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS trailers drops, plus a word about THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN


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Force Majeure and The Square filmmaker Ruben Östlund satirizes the super-rich with Triangle of Sadness, starring Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, and Woody Harrelson, coming to theaters October 7.

Watching the trailer, I couldn’t help but think of another ill-fated cruise with the affluent on board. No, I don’t mean Gilligan’s Island and the Howells, but good guess. No, The Magic Christian, starring Peter Sellers as Guy Grand, the world’s richest man, and Ringo Starr, as his freshly adopted son, Young Man, also involves a ship full of the uber-wealthy. The title of this whacked adaptation of Terry Southern’s novel (with a screenplay by Southern and director Joseph McGrath with assists from Sellers and Monty Python’s John Cleese and Graham Chapman) is the name of the vessel, part of a subplot in a wild lampoon in which Grand pulls prank after prank as he sets out to prove everybody has a price.

Triangle of Sadness won’t be here for another two months. The Magic Christian is readily available on YouTube. Check it out. – Pam Grady

IN BRUGES stars Gleeson and Farrell reunite in new McDonagh dark comedy


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Martin McDonagh reunites his In Bruges cast, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, and also adds to the Aran Islands mythology of his plays The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in his new black comedy. Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon costar. Eagerly anticipated and arriving in US theaters on Oct. 21.

Diving into a rescue operation with THIRTEEN LIVES


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(L to R) Colin Farrell as John Volanthen, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris and Viggo Mortensen as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES, directed by Ron Howard, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ron Howard bounces back from the disaster of Hillbilly Elegywith this tense, involving drama that re-enacts the 2018 rescue of a dozen youths and their coach from a flooded Thai cave. With the focus on some of those most involved in the effort to save the stranded thirteen before a monsoon would certainly drown them as well as the challenges the cave presented, Howard provides an entertaining drama that illuminates the event and acts as kind of a companion piece to Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s award-winning documentary, The Rescue.

Howard quickly sketches the start of the disaster. On June 23,2018, the boys, aged 11-16, members of the Wild Boars youth football team, and a 25-year-old assistant coach entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, 6.2 miles long and full of tunnels and narrow passages. With monsoon season still a few weeks off, it should have been an uneventful adventure but the rains came, trapping them.

As the story spirals into a global news event, would-be rescuers spring into action. There are practical matters: No one knows where the group is within the labyrinth of tunnels. Water has to be diverted from the mountain to keep from further flooding the cavern. There are also political considerations: The region’s governor (Sahajak Boonthanakit) notes that his stay in office has been extended – in the event lives are lost and there is a need to place blame. The film also capture the circus-like atmosphere that such a story engenders: news crews and reporters jostling one another for stories and space, that families in a fish bowl as they await the fates of their loved ones, the crowds of curious onlookers.

Teeradon ‘James’ Supapunpinyo as Coach Ek in THIRTEEN LIVES, directed by Ron Howard, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Though the trapped youths attracted would-be rescuers from around the world, including Elon Musk, whose idea of conducting an operation using a miniature submarine was deemed unworkable, Thirteen Lives settles on mainly two groups: Thai Navy SEALS, who are challenged by murky waters that made visibility near zero, and a group of cave divers, led by two Brits, a retired fireman, Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), and an IT specialist who is the father of a young son, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell). Three others join them, Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson), Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), and an Australian doctor, Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton). Stanton, the cynic, is not even sure rescue is possible – but like everyone else, he is not willing to surrender to the seeming inevitable.

What Howard does exceptionally well, aided by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and production designer Molly Hughes and her team, who designed the facsimile of the real cave, is show us the conditions facing the rescuers: the lack of visibility, the narrowness of some of the passages, and the way the cave system snakes off in different directions. On the screen, Howard marks off distances in meters, another indication of the challenge in getting any of those trapped out alive.

This is one of those historical dramas where unless you have lived your life under a rock or off the grid, you know how the story ends. The pleasure in the film is watching, step by step, how the tale reached its famous conclusion. Acting by the international catch is top-notch, double Oscar nominee William Nicholson’s (Shadlowlands, Gladiator) script finds the intensity in even tiny details, and what the film lacks in suspense from the foregone conclusion it makes up for in tension by its immersion in the divers’ experiences and decisions. Thirteen Livesis old-fashioned, grand entertainment, and that is Howard’s strength as a filmmaker. –Pam Grady

Cronenberg returns and evolution suffers a psychotic break in CRIMES OF THE FUTURE


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David Cronenberg, the master of body horror is back for his first foray into the genre since 1999’s eXistenZ and his first feature since 2014’s Map to the Stars. Crimes of the Future is a bloody good time, as body horror morphs into body black comedy in a tale of human evolution run amok, a source of concern for some and entertainment for others.

Cronenberg’s History of Violence/Eastern Promises star Viggo Mortensen is performance artist Saul Tenser. Though the dusty city (Athens, Greece, in reality) Tenser inhabits seems so old that it would be unsurprising if Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre returned from the dead to walk its mean streets, it is, in fact, a technologically advanced world where one machine cradles Saul in its bony arms to aid his sleep and another to help him eat. He needs the intervention: The thing that has made him a performance art star, his body’s constant invention of new organs, also makes daily living uncomfortable. The most horrifying element of Crimes of the Future isn’t body horror but the sounds that emanate from Saul, throat clicks and clearings that speak to his physical discomfort and a body at war with itself.

With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), a former trauma surgeon, and a repurposed autopsy table, Saul transforms his maladies into art. He is not the only one, as scarification and surgeries are popular fodder for public consumption.

As one character puts it, “Everyone wants to be a performance artist these days. It’s all the rage.”

What’s happening to Saul and others is evolution gone wrong, according to Wippet (Don McKellar), at the National Organ Registry, a shadowy organization tracking the changing human body. He and associate Timlin (Kristen Stewart) are particularly taken with Saul. They are not the only ones. Lurking around the edges of his and Caprice’s life are Router (Nadia Litz) and Berst (Tanaya Beatty), the technicians who maintain Saul’s machines; Cope (Welket Bungué), a vice detective with a shadowy agenda; and Lang (Scott Speedman), ever chomping on what looks like purple candy bars, and the apparent head of a mysterious cabal.

In The Graduate, a well-meaning adult utters the word “Plastics” to Benjamin Braddock as a suggestion for the new college graduate’s career prospects. Crimes of the Future examines where such a livelihood might have led, to a miserable tomorrow as the body attempts to come to terms with all that plastic waste. At least, that is a working theory.

While Saul cuts a tragic figure – he just never looks or sounds well – and there are several disturbing moments in the film, the overall vibe of Crimes of the Future is comic. It is partially because the performance art – not just Saul and Caprice’s but also their contemporaries’ work – coupled with the hipster audiences watching it plays as social satire. But it is also because much of the dialogue is frequently hilarious. And while Mortensen, Seydoux, and Stewart may be the stars of the film, its true shining light is McKellar. True, he gets the best lines as the timid bureaucrat whose job collecting data on people like Saul gives him a leg up on formulating theories about what’s gone wrong with human anatomy. But it is not just the words he says but how he says them that amps up the dark humor.

It’s been a crime that Cronenberg has been off the big screen for almost a decade. It’s wonderful to have him back and in such fine, outré form. –Pam Grady


Not a review. Let those invested in the MCU write those. This is for those who will go to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, because, by now, Marvel movies have become habit. Sometimes there is a big payoff as there was most recently with Spider-Man: No Way Home. Other times, not so much.

So, what do you do when you’re squirming in your seat, realizing this Marvel isn’t so marvelous? If you’re me, you imagine drinking games. If you’re you, maybe you play them. And if getting tipsy isn’t your jam, play them without alcohol (or turn them into eating games with some fine chocolate truffles or charcuterie).

Let the games begin:

Take a drink anytime someone says “multiverse.” (Caution if using alcohol, maybe change the rule to every third time someone says it – they beat that dead horse a lot.)

Take a drink anytime some superhero or other who isn’t Doctor Strange or The Scarlet Witch appears on screen.

Take a drink every time Wanda/The Scarlet Witch expresses the desire to reunite with the children that Doctor Strange keeps helpfully pointing out don’t exist.

Take a drink every time those cardboard sitcom children appear on screen.

Take a drink every time the movie pays homage to its director, Sam Raimi, by slipping in a nod to Evil Dead. (This is, by far, the best game.)

Take a drink every time a portal opens to a new universe.

Finally, take a drink, and there will only be one for this game, when you realize that the multiverse means no Marvel character can ever really die, so good luck remaining emotionally invested in any of them. But, oh, such a glorious way to milk that cash cow for the studio.



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With his second feature and first documentary, filmmaker Rob Christopher delivers pure delight with a film that weaves together aspects of writer Barry Gifford’s biography alongside the fiction of his autobiographical “Roy” stories. Set within the postwar Chicago of Gifford’s youth (with forays to Havana and Florida), the film is an irresistible portrait of an era and a place, set to Jason Adasiewicz’s evocative jazz score.

Gifford, who is probably best known for his Sailor and Lula series of novels, the first of which, Wild at Heart became his first collaboration with David Lynch. He would later contribute to Lynch’s 1993 miniseries Hotel Room and co-write the director’s surreal 1997 drama Lost Highway. Gifford is a prolific writer of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, plays, nonfiction, and screenplays (which in addition to his partnership with Lynch, include co-writing 2002’s City of Ghosts with Matt Dillon and collaborating on Robinson Devor’s upcoming You Can’t Win).

What Christopher has created is a kind of origin story. Gifford’s own story even before he fictionalizes it in the Roy stories is the stuff legends are made from, growing up in a rough, rowdy Chicago. He was the product of a pharmacist whose drugstore delivered far more than prescriptions, and his beautiful, much younger wife. Gifford has always admitted that the Roy stories, which cover five years in the eponymous boy’s life, are autobiographical but he maintains they are wholly fictional.

Four narrators spin the tale: Gifford, on hand to relate some of the facts of his life and his approach to fiction, and actors Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, and Wild at Heart star Willem Dafoe, reading from the Roy stories. There are two outstanding animated sequences and some personal Gifford family photos but the majority of imagery is archival, capturing the Windy City more than seven decades ago, so tactile at times that it’s possible to feel a frigid winter’s day or the wind coming off Lake Michigan.

Christopher brings not only Gifford’s fiction to life but also Chicago of that era in all its urban beauty, squalor, and corruption. Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago is a grand achievement, a clear-eyed snapshot of a writer’s work and his life at a moment in time. – Pam Grady

Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago screens at the Roxie Theater, San Francisco, 3:45 p.m., Saturday, May 7 with Barry Gifford and director Rob Christopher on hand for a Q&A. For further information on screenings, visit

The Devil Made Grohl Do It: Foo Fighters in STUDIO 666


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Dave Grohl stars as himself in director BJ McDonnell’s STUDIO 666, an Open Road Films release. Credit : Courtesy of Andrew Stuart / Open Road Films

A famed rock band retreats to a new studio to record their latest album, banking on artistic revitalization from an alien environment. A new song shows great promise – if only they can get it right. But while they keep coming close, the song remains a challenge, the end not quite coming into focus. No, this isn’t a scene from Peter Jackson’s Get Back, although there are some weird parallels. The band is Foo Fighters, not The Beatles. And instead of Yoko Ono hanging out while the band records in the Encino mansion they are also living in, it is demon in possession of front man Dave Grohl.

The film is Studio 666, based on an idea of Grohl’s. And instead of dealing with London bobbies trying to shut down their rooftop concert, the Foos grapple with trying to live long enough to finish their record and figure out exactly what Dave means when he says the new song is in “L sharp.”

It is as absurd as it sounds and delivers a lot of what Alex in A Clockwork Orange would have described as “the old ultraviolence.” Do not come to the movie expecting great art, or even necessarily a good movie, but met on its own silly terms, this dance with the devil of a horror comedy is entertaining.

(L to R) Nate Mendel, Rami Jaffee, Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, and Dave Grohl star as themselves in director BJ McDonnell’s STUDIO 666, an Open Road Films release. Credit : Courtesy of Open Road Films

There is a little bit of verisimilitude in Studio 666. The band really did record their 2021 album Medicine at Midnight at that Southern California mansion, but similarities to real life end there. Instead, nearly 30 years into their existence, Foo Fighters expand past the realm of charming music videos, and take a swing at being movie stars (not actors). There are shades of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, goofiness reminiscent of The Monkees (particularly in the performances of keyboard player Rami Jaffee. who also has all the animation of a human Muppet, and guitarist Pat Smear, the sweet, Peter Tork-like one made to make do with sleeping on kitchen counters in absence of a bedroom),  and Alice Cooper in the made-for-TV movie The Nightmare.

The house, it seems, has secrets as the audience already knows thanks to a grisly prologue that quickly spins the tale of the last unfortunate band that recorded in the house. Grohl wanders into the basement where a recording set up and a dead raccoon should tip him off to run back upstairs, grab the guys, and flee screaming into the night. But, nah, he stays long enough to become the latest vessel of stone cold evil – albeit a presence with big plans for one particular song.

The possession leads to perfectionism that puts Grohl at odds with his oblivious bandmates who only gradually realize just how much – and how lethally – their friend has changed. Phantom of the Paradise, Equinox, Evil Dead (and Evil Dead 2), and a whole host of grislier horror movies clearly served as inspirations for Studio 666 and maybe even a little Fargo (yes, there is a wood chipper on the premises). But while there is some horrific, black comic violence, there are no real scares here, no matter how many Foo Fighter lives are threatened. Playing themselves is not much of a stretch, playing themselves in peril (or embodying evil, in the case of Grohl) is and it is a stretch a little too far.

Not that it matters. Studio 666 is, as they say, what it is. No suspension of belief is required once you strip away the horror trappings. What’s left is a bunch of pals getting together to make a movie, one that is gruesome and goofy in equal measure. –Pam Grady




More than 50 years ago, an American singer, Jeannie C. Riley, rode the country and pop charts with “Harper Valley PTA,” a sprightly tune about a woman confronting the hypocrisy of the local parents’ group after she’s chastised for wearing a miniskirt. Seems so quaint in the era of cell phone cameras and amateur porn, the two things that jam up a teacher in Romanian director Radu Jude’s latest Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.

The sex is explicit between Emi (Katia Pascariu) and her husband Eugen (Stefan Steel) on the phone video that finds its way to the internet where one of her middle-school-aged students finds it and shares with his classmates. A showdown looms between her and angry parents that will determine whether she gets to keep her job.

Not that any of this is that straightforward. After opening with the sex tape, so that what all the fuss is about is made – ahem – nakedly clear, the film breaks off into three distinct sections. The first part sets up the situation through Emi’s visit to the chaotic home of her school’s headmistress and subsequent phone calls with Eugen, the camera following her as she roams the streets of pandemic-era Bucharest. Masks are everywhere but social distancing not so much as the camera picks up random conversations as Emi continues her city-wide trek.

The second section manages to be both witty and pedantic as a history of obscenity unfolds in collage-like fashion that also pulls in history lessons that perfectly set up the third section: Emi’s confrontation with her accusers. Social distancing is observed and masks are worn but while facial expressions are hidden there is no mistaking the bile with which they greet the teacher whom they so very recently held in high esteem.

But now’s she a “whore” who is corrupting their kids – that the children willfully shared the amateur porn clip amongst themselves does not faze them in the least. After demanding that the salacious tape – that they have all already seen – be played to further humiliate the teacher, the meeting steadily devolves, the parents’ sexism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Roma sentiments exposed. And much like the woman in that long ago country song, Emi – who knows that these people each have their own secrets to go with their evident prejudices – finds herself confronting the hypocrisy of the sanctimonious mob.

The people ganging up on her view Emi as immoral but, in fact, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn‘s moral center is the beleaguered teacher. She made a sex tape among consenting adults. The arguments she makes in favor of keeping her job are rigorous. But she is trying to make headway with people married to their prejudices, filled with hate, and immune to logic: Their minds are made up. And while Jude has made a film specific to Romania, the mindlessness and bile characterizing the horde that surrounds Emi can be found everywhere in the world. It is all awfully familiar. – Pam Grady