US, 1992, 105 min, Dir. Norman René
Prelude to a Kiss is a ridiculous romantic fantasy film that stuffs some good old-fashioned body-switching, a quick wedding engagement, and a weird kiss into its hour and forty-eight minutes. Director-screenwriter team Norman René and Craig Lucas adapt the film from a Broadway play—the duo also created the unstreamable films Longtime Companion and Reckless. It features Baldwin, who plays Peter, a square who falls in love with Rita (Meg Ryan), a pessimistic bartender he meets at a party. Rita is free-spirited and not quite ready for marriage but decides to go through with it anyway after Peter pops the question. But just after exchanging vows, Rita kisses a random older gentleman named Julius (Sydney Walker), who drools over the couple's future. This smooch magically puts Rita and Julius into each others’ bodies—though it takes Peter quite a while to figure it out.
At the time of its release, the film received extremely mixed reviews (hilariously, Peter Travers called it a “toad of a movie"), for good reason. Prelude to a Kiss has a hard time finding its footing, trying to balance an earnest reflection on the meaning of life with The Meg Ryan attempting (and mostly failing) to embody the mannerisms of a 71-year-old man. It’s all a bit cheesy and awkward, and we don't even get to see Baldwin and Walker make out. What gives?! JASMYNE KEIMIG
US, 1932, 78 min, Dir. Dorothy Arzner
It's always a good time to revisit Dorothy Arzner, the first female director to break into the Hollywood system. But now is a great time because the famous director (and lesbian!) is getting another day in the sun, as Criterion dropped a new reissue of Arzner's pre-Code film Merrily We Go To Hell last week.
I want to highlight what Judith Mayne notes in her essay for the Criterion release, which is that Arzner had a gift for making female actors stars, helping to launch the reputations of Katharine Hepburn, Clara Bow, and others. Here, Arzner works with actress Sylvia Sidney, whose clever and soulful performance is a lifetime away from the performance contemporary audiences may know Sidney from (her role as the chain-smoking caseworker for the dead in Beetlejuice).
The basic set-up is that an heiress named Joan (Sidney) falls in love with a drunk reporter named Jerry (Fredric March). And while Merrily is a remarkable time capsule of the upper-class, prohibition-era drunkenness of the early '30s, its most revelatory strokes are in its portrayal of adultery. When Joan discovers Jerry's infidelity, she decides to commit some infidelity of her own, openly going on dates with another stud (Cary Grant) in front of Jerry. Big cuck vibes, and the Sidney and Arzner partnership is a force. CHASE BURNS
US, 1994, 102 min, Dir. Gregg Champion
In the film, Harrelson plays Pepper Lewis, a charismatic rodeo star from New Mexico with a taste for hot peppers and hotter women. Along with his childhood friend and fellow cowboy Sonny (Kiefer Sutherland), they find themselves in the middle of a complex immigration scheme after their friend Nacho goes missing trying to bring his daughter over from Cuba. The duo hoof it to the Big Apple, bringing their cowboy sensibility to the city as they fight their way to get justice for their disappeared friend. Shootouts, dine-and-dashing, sweet bro moments, and an underwear catwalk ensues.
Released the same year as the actor's peerless Natural Born Killers, the film revels in sentimental and formulaic plotlines—a decent, somewhat family-friendly Sunday afternoon matinee. Harrelson’s over-the-top antics seem unhinged next to Sutherland's decidedly stoic portrayal of his cowboy character. And they don't even make out at the end. Seriously, what gives?!??!? I thought that was the cowboy way!!! JASMYNE KEIMIG
Japan, 1998, 118 min, Dir. Takashi Miike
Two main things drew me to this one.
First, it's often referred to as one of the oddest movies to come from director Takashi Miike, which, considering Miike's famously wide range, says something. He's known for covering everything from bloody yakuzas (Ichi the Killer) to live action animes ( JoJo's Bizarre Adventure), so it's hard to say he has a singular style. But The Bird People in China takes a uniquely sentimental route for Miike, following a Japanese salaryman who searches for rare jade stones in the rural mountains in China's Yunnan province. A yakuza (who's owed money) follows the salaryman. Long story short, the two Japanese men love the Chinese countryside and become enchanted by villagers who say they can fly (these are the bird people).
Second, it stars one of my favorite Japanese actors, Masahiro Motoki, an '80s boy band star-cum-actor with a knack for hiding a depthy emotional interior behind a solid poker face. That combo (feeling lots of things while revealing very little things) is film acting's magic sauce. Motoki is a regular in director Masayuki Suo's movies—my favorite being Sumo Do, Sumo Don't—and the lead in Departures, which became the first Japanese film to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, in 2009. CHASE BURNS
*Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.