Dan in Real Life

Plan to be surprised.

Steve Carell became famous for comedies where he painfully embarrasses himself, but this gentle mix of comedy and drama offers up one of his most-effective roles.

Playing a widowed father of three girls, he stumbles through life, dispensing advice in a newspaper column, while needing his own dose of wisdom.

A meet-cute with Juliette Binoche during a family reunion sets things up, but the film, to its credit, is more about the small moments than delivering any big, shocking plot developments.

It’s a gentle tale of second chances for all involved, and very winning.

 

Poolhall Junkies

Are you predator or prey?

Writer/director Mars Callahan plunges us into the world of dank ‘n dark poolhalls, where careers (and lives) can be snuffed out with one well-timed shot.

The lanky filmmaker, who also plays the lead character, seemed primed for a big Hollywood breakout here, but serious medical issues have largely sidelined him the past two decades.

If he never makes it back, he’ll always have this gem, sort of the younger brother to Paul Newman’s The Hustler.

His best move? Letting Christopher Walken saunter into the joint and unleash a verbal tsunami of smack talk.

 

The Contender

Ahead of its time.

Here in 2021 we have a female U.S. Vice President, but back in 2000, when Prez Jeff Bridges nominates Joan Allen to replace his VP, who just died in office, it creates huge tremors.

Washington, D.C. powerbrokers quickly swing into action on both sides, with the mud-throwing and partisan bickering feeling very familiar in any year.

Shady Senator Gary Oldman threatens to derail Allen’s confirmation, dredging up nasty secrets from the past and setting up a tense showdown.

A solid lil’ thriller and actor’s showcase, anchored by an especially-strong cast, this is political theater with some real zing.

Everything Must Go

Everything is not yet lost.

While Will Ferrell is one of the kings of “go-big-and-get-loud” comedy, he also has some nice dramatic chops, which he shows off in this bittersweet tale of a man plateauing.

An alcoholic on the fast track to divorce and unemployment, he finds a new lease on life while camping in his front yard, half-heartedly selling all of his possessions in a haphazard garage sale.

Hanging out with him is a young neighbor boy and a woman with her own marital issues, and the three make for a terrific low-key trio.

Melancholy and sometimes magical.

 

Broadcast News

Holly Hunter is a dynamo.

The Oscar-winning actress, one of the best of my lifetime, crackles with energy in every role she plays, snapping her dialogue with a twang.

One of her best is this very funny, but also pretty scathing indictment of network TV news.

Hunter is in the middle of a triangle between upright but uptight Albert Brooks and slick but facile William Hurt, but she’s not defined by merely being a love interest.

She makes one man, and breaks another, finds peace with both decisions, while emerging, once again, as the smartest person in the room.