Film View – January 23

Damon Smith, PA Film Critic

Damon Smith reviews the latest new releases to watch in cinemas. This week: director Steven Spielberg relives the first flushes of his love affair with cinema in semi-autobiographical drama THE FABELMANS… the pilot of a downed commercial aircraft (Gerard Butler) prepares to rescue kidnapped passengers in the action thriller PLANE… and heed the advice of superstitious locals in the British horror UNWELCOME.


THE FABELMANS (12A, 151 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Julia Butters, Keeley Karsten, Sophia Kopera, Judd Hirsch, Sam Rechner, Oakes Fegley, Chloe East, Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord, David Lynch. Director: Steven Spielberg.

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.


also released

PLANE (15, 107 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

Gerard Butler takes to the skies in an action-packed thriller directed by Jean-Francois Richet, who helmed the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13.

On New Year's Eve, Trailblazer Air pilot Captain Brodie Torrance (Butler) prepares for a routine flight that will allow him to usher in the new year in Hawaii with his daughter Daniela (Haleigh Hekking).

Those plans are derailed when FBI agent Knight (Otis Winston) escorts handcuffed prisoner Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) on to the flight to face murder charges.

A severe weather front including a direct lightning strike forces Torrance and co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) to take evasive action.

They crash-land on a remote island under the control of militia leader Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor).

Gun-toting goons take most of the prisoners hostage and Torrance reluctantly joins forces with Gaspare to stage a daring rescue in unfamiliar territory.

Meanwhile, Trailblazer Air CEO Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) sets in motion the company's heavy-handed response in the form of mercenary-for-hire Shellback (Remi Adeleke).

UNWELCOME (15, 104 mins)

Released: January 27 (UK & Ireland)

A young couple relocate from London to rural Ireland to begin their lives in an unsettling thriller written by Mark Stay and directed by Jon Wright.

Expectant mother Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and partner Jamie (Douglas Booth) are bequeathed a tumbledown cottage by his late aunt Maeve and embrace the prospect of a tranquil life in the country.

Local handymen led by Daddy Whelan (Colm Meaney) oversee repairs to the property while the local publican (Niamh Cusack) educates the couple about deep-rooted traditions such as leaving a blood sacrifice on a stone altar every evening before sunset.

The token offering of raw liver supposedly placates murderous goblins known as redcaps.

When Maya neglects to heed sage words, something dark and destructive emerges from the forest and blood flows freely.


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

Shortlisted for the Documentary Feature Film category at the 95th Academy Awards in March, 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.

Captured live using 20 full-sensor cameras during the Happier Than Ever, The World Tour at The O2 in London, Wrench's picture crams 27 songs into less than 100 minutes in cinematic 4K with Dolby Atmos sound (where available).

Intimate exchanges between Eilish and the audience punctuate a set list that includes Bury A Friend, NDA, When The Party's Over, Bellyache, Ocean Eyes and Bad Guy.


M Night Shyamalan puts a gay couple and their daughter through the emotional wringer in the horror thriller KNOCK AT THE CABIN… Shrek's sword-wielding feline (voiced by Antonio Banderas) scratches a new fairy tale chapter in the computer-animated adventure PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH… and Brendan Fraser bids for an Oscar as a dangerously obese man determined to make amends in Darren Aronofsky's stage-to-screen drama THE WHALE.


1. Avatar: The Way Of Water

2. M3GAN

3. Babylon

4. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody

5. Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical

6. A Man Called Otto

7. Varisu

8. Thunivu

9. Empire Of Light

10. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)