The Prom

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

This is far from a perfect film, but the parts which work, do so really, really well.

And most of those parts are the ones featuring young actress Jo Ellen Pellman, who rocks in her debut movie, outshining all-timers like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.

As a young lesbian who wants to take her girlfriend to their Indiana high school prom, only to find a great deal of (temporary) resistance, Pellman glows with a rare light every time she’s in front of the camera.

A star is born, with a song on her lips.

 

Angels in America

Morning in America dawns, and it’s a bloodbath.

Twelve years after Tony Kushner’s play won a Pulitzer, director Mike Nichols brings together a cast for the ages to tell the story of AIDS unleashing Hell on Americans, famous and anonymous.

With the blessing of HBO, it ran for six hours.

That gives the film time to build shattering power and stand alongside Lonesome Dove as a landmark of the miniseries genre.

Al Pacino has the highest-profile gig as closeted lawyer Roy Cohn, onetime power broker dying alone, haunted by those whose lives he ruined, but everyone here brings their A-game.

Mamma Mia!

Open your heart.

Approach this jukebox musical, or ABBA, with the slightest bit of cynicism, and you’re in for a slog.

Thankfully, a lot of folks seem to get the appeal of the Swedish super group, which makes my own love easier to admit.

Here, their music fuels the (admittedly paper-thin) tale of a young woman — Amanda Seyfried at her most winsome — trying to track the identity of her father.

Mamma Mia redefines light ‘n frothy, but that’s not a bad thing.

It has a good beat, and you can dance to it, and sometimes that’s more than enough.

 

The Deer Hunter

After the blood, the anger, the horror, hope.

Forever scarred by war — one can’t return, another has lost his legs — a group of steelworkers and family and friends reunite for a meal at the end of this Oscar champ.

It starts with a half-stifled sob, as George Dzundza stumbles through preparing food, but then the catch in his voice is replaced with a song.

Lyrics which capture the pride of those gathered, and provide some solace as they struggle to move ahead.

It pierces, it comforts, and, for a moment, all of them, living and dead, are back together.

 

The River Wild

Meryl Streep, action star.

Better believe it, as the mistress of 10,000 accents gets down ‘n dirty, battling sleazy criminal Kevin Bacon in the great outdoors.

Taking her family on a whitewater rafting trip meant to mend her marriage, Streep instead crashes into a pack of robbers on the run, including a fairly young John C. Reilly.

The leader of the bad boys is Bacon, oozing charm just long enough to get close, before he reveals his true, darker intentions.

One of the first films to hit big in my video store days, it’s a great blast from the past.