American Graffiti

One night, endless memories.

Summer vacation, and easy-going life, are sliding to an end, with all sorts of new responsibilities looming on the other side of a Cali sunrise.

One pack of teens aim to put it off for as long as possible.

Cruising up and down the strip, the rumbling voice of Wolfman Jack echoes out of their car radios as they hold off the daylight.

Director George Lucas hit a homerun with a cast for the ages, including Harrison Ford in one of his earliest roles, and the film remains as vibrant in 2021 as it was in 1973.

 

The Irishman

Take a second look.

When this tale of gangsters first hit Netflix, there was considerable back-and-forth over the “de-aging” of its stars, the epic running time, and whether Martin Scorsese was just coasting by going back to Gangsterville.

A year-plus later, the dust has settled, and the film can be appreciated for what it is — not a rehash, but a farewell.

Like Clint Eastwood with Unforgiven, Scorsese offers a violent, melancholy coda on the genre films which made his rep.

The glitz and glamour of mob life fade, and all that’s left in the end is beautifully-rendered bitterness and regret.

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.