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'The Fabelmans' Reminds us that Movies Really Do Matter

"You'll tell your story. You'll make your movie. And you'll remember how much it hurts."

The Fabelmans is not only Steven Spielberg's story, it's also the story of movies as we know them and why they truly are important.

Ostensibly, this is Spielberg's life. And it's real. People on set were surprised to find out just how much of this movie really happened, down to lovely recreations of the little films he made as a kid on his 8mm reels.

But Spielberg isn't just a good camera man; he drove filmmaking to new heights, pushing technology and creativity to their limits, time and time again. Jurassic Park still has the best effects. Everyone wants to be Indiana Jones. No one swims without wondering about sharks. Spielberg spent his career changing how films are made while also changing our lives.

The Fabelmans is a nice return to smaller stories. Don't get me wrong; I love a big-budget movie. I hug the popcorn bucket and disappear into every Marvel movie, just like the ten year-old kid in the next seat, but there's a need for smaller stories, which seem to have disappeared from movies and television.

Spielberg, the master of bigger and better, shows us that an intimate story can be just as engaging (if not more so) as long as the director follows the Golden Rule of Movie Making: let the camera tell the story.

Sure, dialog is fine. Those pretty actors need something to do. I guess. But the most poignant parts of The Fabelmans are the silent 8mm films the main character puts together for his family. We watch in hallowed silence as the camera guides us into troubling, inescapable truths. There is no sound other than the shutter's determined click-click-click. We lean forward in our theater seats, holding our breath, eyes widening at every wordless revelation.

Our main character, Sam, has discovered the power of the motion picture. With it, he entertains his friends, giving them once in a lifetime experiences at his local movie debuts. But he shatters the lives of his family when his lens focuses on a troubling secret. Thankfully, Sam also learns that his camera can rebuild lives, especially his own.

Art is not just a hobby, as his father seems to think, not when it can change someone's heart.

Here. I'll let Martin Landau explain it. I love the movies, and this clip from The Majestic, where he tries to convince Jim Carey to help him restore an old theater, captures that feeling better than anything I could write:

Over the years, Spielberg has been criticized for his happy endings. I never understood that. Life is hard enough. At a young age, Steven Spielberg learned the value of giving people joy and hope by pointing his camera in the right direction, and I'm here for it.

My only criticism is that so much of the movie lands in the high school portion of his life. I hated high school. And I've always hated watching other people go to high school. But the rest of the audience loved that part, so maybe I should get over it.

Since this movie is smaller and better, rather than bigger and better, the movie ramps up to some simple conversations and personal achievements, but it's captivating to the last. The ending is one of the most unforgettable scenes I'll ever watch, even though it's just Sam meeting legendary director John Ford for about two minutes. John Ford, if you haven't heard, is played brilliantly by... wait for it... David Lynch. And it's perfect.

Speaking of perfect, Judd Hirsch shows up and reminds us that he's one of the finest actors in the history of the trade. Every word he says lands exactly where it should. (Now that I think of it, maybe it's okay for some actors to have lines.)

The final shot of the movie is... well, I won't spoil it. But I'll tell you that after all these years, Spielberg has found one more creative use of the camera. It's a simple trick, but something I've never seen before. For the first time, Spielberg steps out of the film, just a bit, and winks at the audience in a way that's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Final Analysis: Hard-hitting and well-made. Just too much high school drama for my taste. Four out of four camera adjustments.
Adam D. Jones is a writer, musician, medievalist and cat dad.

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