Prelude To A Kiss

Between late June 1992 and early March 1993, I screened and critiqued 152 movies for an unpublished book of reviews entitled The Movie Critic: Book One.  Instead of preparing for the difficult job of Student Council President (previously detailed in my eight-part series, Memories Of A Really Bad Student Council President), I began this project in order to become a better critic and writer.  Unfortunately, for the most part, we’re talking about first drafts that are raw, overly focused on meaningless scene details and more plot summary than personal opinion.  Since 2007, I’ve been sifting through these old reviews in an attempt to "rescue", if you will, these old thoughts and feelings, and transform them into something more polished and professional without losing the original intent.  Thus far, eight of them have survived this process.  (Look for my takes on Batman Returns, Housesitter, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Under Siege, Scent Of A Woman, The Crying Game and The Silence Of The Lambs in the Movie Reviews section.)
 
Prelude To A Kiss is number nine.  I screened it at The Centre Mall Cinemas on July 15, 1992 and it was the seventeenth review in the original manuscript.  As you’ll learn from this revised assessment, I didn’t expect to like it. 
 
A few years after the film’s unsuccessful commercial run, Alec Baldwin stopped caring about looking good and became an acclaimed character actor.  (His recent visit to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where he repeatedly offered his impression of 30 Rock co-star Tracy Morgan, is the funniest interview he’s ever given.)  Meg Ryan was steadily employed in mostly romantic films for the rest of the 1990s and despite a three-year absence this decade, she continues to work in high-profile Hollywood films.  (Too bad about her lips.)  Sydney Walker, who plays an important role in Prelude To A Kiss, died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 73.   Norman Rene, who directed the movie, died of AIDS just four years after its release.  He was only 45.
 
For the most part, this review retains a fair number of the original lines from that messy first draft.  Oh sure.  Certain sentences are tweaked here and there, and new lines have been written in to flesh out the original opinion, but this is essentially how I felt about the movie after the only time I screened it.  Enjoy.
 
 
 PRELUDE TO A KISS
 Parental Guidance
97 minutes, 1992
Starring:
Alec Baldwin–Peter Hoskins
Meg Ryan–Rita Boyle
Sydney Walker–Irwin
Kathy Bates–Leah Blier
Ned Beatty–Marshall Boyle
Patty Duke–Mrs. Boyle
Produced by Michael Gruskoff and Michael I. Levy
Screenplay by Craig Lucas
Music by Howard Shore
Directed by Norman Rene
 
This movie surprised me.  The trailer promised an unfunny love story with many predictable sequences.  I thought I was about to see another stinker.  But I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  Prelude To A Kiss is surprisingly enchanting and original. 
 
Here’s the set-up:  Peter Hoskins (Alec Baldwin) attends a late night party thrown by his friend Taylor (Stanley Tucci).  He introduces Peter to a lovely young woman named Rita Boyle (Meg Ryan).  She’s a bartender who loves to drink and dance wildly, and has been suffering from insomnia since she was 14.  You can tell she’s into him because she wastes no time in attempting to get his shirt off.  The attraction is mutual as they continue to dance and talk.
 
During the conversation, we learn that Rita could become a graphic designer but without the time and money to get the proper education, it remains a distant dream.  Based on what has happened so far, we get the feeling Peter is smitten enough to want to see her again.  He decides to check out the bar she works at and once again, they have an interesting chat.
 
As he is about to get into his personal history, Rita responds by saying, "Take your time.  We can go to my place when you’re done."  It turns out that Peter had a pretty traumatic childhood.  He was raised by a set of grandparents at a young age because his own parents were too young to handle such an important responsibility.  By the age of 12 his elderly guardians became deathly ill and were soon relocated to a nursing home.  Seven years later, he decided to get away from it all and moved to Europe where he spent the next 10 years of his life.  Amazingly, he contacted his birth parents by phone to let them know he was alright.
 
Now 30, he’s a solitary man looking for companionship in America.  A fascinated Rita keeps her word as they walk and talk back to her place where they consummate the burgeoning relationship to some soft music.  Later on, during a candlelit dinner, with The Cowboy Junkies’ version of Sweet Jane heard in the background, Peter pops the question.  Rita accepts.
 
Then, the film takes an unusual turn.  Rita, a natural pessimist, is worried about bad luck.  Peter sees her before the outdoor ceremony which makes her very insecure.  But in the next scene, they get married.  Only one problem:  Irwin (Sydney Walker).
 
He’s a nice old man who lives with his daughter (Kathy Bates) and her husband (Richard Riehle).  For some unknown reason, while wishing the couple a good life he expresses a desire "to kiss the bride".  Rita obliges.  The result of that fateful kiss dramatically changes the dynamic of this new marriage.
 
Prelude To A Kiss features some terrific lead performances.  Alec Baldwin is likeable as Peter.  Meg Ryan is funny, kooky and intelligent as Rita.  And Sydney Walker’s portrayal of the mysterious old man is touching.  The supporting cast is also good.  Kathy Bates is fine as Irwin’s daughter, and Ned Beatty and Patty Duke are perfectly cast as Rita’s even kookier parents.
 
Craig Lucas adapted the script from his Tony Award-nominated play.  (Baldwin and Walker originated these characters on stage.)  As well written as it is, it could’ve been funnier.  It’s not a big-laugh kind of comedy but there are some witty one-liners, nonetheless.  The real draw of the film is the wonderful, surprising romance between Ryan and Baldwin.  (This is a love story, ultimately.)  They look good together and I liked their chemistry.  And even when Irwin enters the picture and turns the entire relationship upside down, the quality of the film doesn’t dip.  Baldwin’s loyalty to his new wife is truly tested here.
 
With an ending only Hollywood could dream up, Prelude To A Kiss is an original worth seeing.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 30, 2009
12:28 a.m.
 
CORRECTION:  Originally, I noted that seven reviews from The Movie Critic: Book One had been "rescued" for this website.  I had forgotten about my review of The Crying Game which also came from that unpublished manuscript.  As a result, Prelude To A Kiss is the ninth review revised and restored, not the eighth as originally noted.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, August 13, 2009
2:09 a.m.
Advertisements
Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 12:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday The 13th (2009)

It is the franchise that will not die.  Nearly 30 years after the theatrical release of the original Friday The 13th, here comes yet another follow-up.  (Movie number 12 in the series, if you’re keeping track.)  God knows why anyone thought it needed to be made.  What’s peculiar about this Friday The 13th (yep, it has the same title as the first one) is that it’s not quite a remake nor does it behave like a traditional sequel.  (It doesn’t reference any other films beyond the first three.)  Nevertheless, I’ve had bowel movements that were scarier.
 
If you’re a curious newbie, it’s thankfully not necessary to screen the eleven previous chapters in order to understand the basic storyline.  However, the characters in the movie probably could’ve benefitted from an all-night marathon.
 
The finale of the 1980 film is reworked as the black and white opening of the 2009 update.  Jason Voorhees’ mother is after the last surviving camp counsellor during a dark and stormy night.  (We know she’s a camp counsellor because a brief flash of lightning reveals the word "counsellor" on the back of her T-shirt.  Thanks, lightning.)  As you may recall, Mommy is greatly perturbed at camp counsellors in general because two of them supposedly preferred getting busy to looking after her deformed freak of a son when he was a little kid.  (He drowned when they weren’t looking.)  Just like in the original, the old bag gets decapitated.  But guess what?  Jason didn’t drown.  In fact, he witnessed her murder.
 
Cut to the present day.  A small group of friends are on the hunt for some marijuana plants that just happen to be in the same area as Camp Crystal Lake.  As per usual, this is a horny bunch with very little charm or personality.  When one of these assclowns accidentally stumbles upon the mother lode, Jason is there to give him a typically warm greeting.  You know, slashing one of his ears off, stabbing him against a tree.  Good times.  Later that night, there’s more mayhem.
 
Six weeks later, Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki) is desperate to find his sister, Whitney (the lovely Amanda Righetti).  She was dragged out by her dopey boyfriend to join those pot hunters on that ill-fated camping excursion.  (He figured she needed a reprieve from looking after her cancer-stricken mother for so long.)  Clay and Whitney are not as close as they used to be but when she failed to show up for their mother’s funeral, he became gravely concerned.  He’s been showing her picture to the local townsfolk ever since.  The police have long given up on finding her.  Common sense says they barely made an effort.
 
Meanwhile, another group of horndogs have arrived in the area.  Led by douchy rich kid Trent (an obnoxious Travis Van Winkle), this diverse group of college kids are spending the weekend at his father’s cabin.  During a pit stop at a gas station, they encounter Clay who can’t convince the clerk to showcase his Missing Sister poster.  (His reasoning inspires an unexpectedly funny moment.)  Greatly annoyed that he can’t pay and leave quickly enough, Trent acts like a total jerk to Clay since he’s ahead of him in line.  Trent’s cute girlfriend, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), is a lot more understanding.  Clay could care less and clearly feels threatened by the man.  It is not their only encounter.
 
In the meantime, Clay continues his increasingly futile search for his sister.  He encounters a bitter old lady with a nasty dog.  When asked about Whitney, "She ain’t missing.  She’s dead," is her blunt reply.  She goes on to complain about the lack of peace in the area and how Jason (whom she never names) ought to be left alone, like he’s the victim.  Then Clay startles a creepy-looking dude who is more interested in selling him pot (yep, the same stash the first group of kids were seeking) than giving him a good lead.  Just before Jason puts him out of his misery in a later scene, we learn that this solitary man really, really, really needs a girlfriend.  On one hand, it’s hilarious how he expresses his appreciation for a magazine photograph of a naked woman.  On the other, it’s sad how he considers nailing a mannequin his "first time".
 
All the while, Jason pops up again and again to knock off these underwritten characters one at a time.  He hasn’t lost his depraved touch.  It remains an uncomfortable experience to watch him obliterate one human life after another with no emotion whatsoever.  He’s been killing brainlessly for so long you’d think he’d be bored by now.  I wonder if he’s heard of cable.  He might like it.  (Oh, right.  There’s a hole in his TV.  My bad.)
 
Believe it or not, Michael Bay attached his name to this monstrosity.  (Besides producer Sean S. Cunningham, it’s the only one I recognized in the opening credits.)  One wonders why.  This is unsurprising, unscary, unimaginative, putrid drivel.  Many of the sequences are so dark you can barely follow what’s happening.  The recycling of the mama plot from the first film and Jason’s bloody trail of vengeance from the second remain as illogical and perplexing as they ever were.  The fact that Jason lives permanently at Camp Crystal Lake and hides all the bodies in his cellar makes him a fairly easy suspect for police to nab and yet, we’re asked to believe they’ve done all they can to solve all these murders.
 
When we find out that one character is kept hostage down there (guess which one), it also makes no sense.  If this person resembles a certain someone, why would you bound this unfortunate soul in chains?  If you’re worried about a possible betrayal, you do have a machete, remember.
 
All that being said, it is something of an advancement that the film has ended one nasty franchise tradition.  The women in the picture are never once referred to as "cunts", "sluts", or "whores".  (A nude centerfold is referred to as a "hot bitch" but that’s rather complimentary.)  One character (played by the absolutely stunning Julianna Guill) has a body and an outfit that are so spectacular that they inspire three very funny lines from two smitten dudes.  You wish the repressed Jason was one of them.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
2:44 a.m. 
Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 2:44 am  Comments (1)  

Overreactor

Invisibly stewing at a distance
Prematurely aged by anger
Seething under the bland surface
A cauldron of venom brewing
Catastrophic thinking taking over
 
Body aching to act
Frozen by a tiny shred of conscience
Quiet rage endlessly percolating
Spreading its irresistible propaganda
Until there is unity
 
Misunderstanding fuelling outrage
An unshakeable addiction
Running interference with reality
Passing the buck to a convenient boogeyman
So many to choose from
 
Immune to reason
Opposed to rationality
Stubbornness a clingy virtue
Interfering with the feelings
That need to be acted on
 
Repelled by touch
Annoyed by lecture
Aggravated with inaction
Isolated into a hollow existence
Horrific visions unrealized
 
The last remnant of positivity
The last obstacle to immortality
Not easily disposed
Self-contained nightmare
Impatiently waiting 
 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 24, 2009
10:51 p.m.
Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 10:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Frustration

Strangled by a growing malaise
Infuriated with the wasted days
Progress marred by shadowy plays
How to improve my failing ways?
 
Too early, too late, the pay is too low
Too skilled, unskilled, the response time is slow
No openings, no interviews, no passion to show
Wanting a "yes" but stuck with a stubborn "no"
 
Facing rejection at every turn
Hopeful endeavours hard to discern
Boiling temperament cause for concern
So many lessons I need to learn
 
Too old for the young, too young for the older
Too bold for the normal, too scared of the bolder
Too smart for the dumb, too warm for the colder
Too plain for the hot, too safe to smoulder
 
Stuck in the seductive rhythm of post-adolescence
Headed down the lonely road of obsolescence
An ongoing need for convalescence
Long overdue for efflorescence
 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 24, 2009
10:27 p.m. 
Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Aquarium

An aquarium full of sadness
Harbouring all my tears
Payback for all my badness
And the elevation of your fears 
 
The level keeps rising
The depression never leaves
There’s nothing less surprising
Than a broken man who grieves
 
An atmosphere of terror
Once haunted this place
It was a monumental error
To ever treat you with disgrace
 
You grow accustomed to the silence
The monotonous hum
It’s louder than the violence
That transformed this palace into a slum 
 
The infrastructure’s decaying
Time is running out
This damaged fool is praying
For an emotional drought
 
But the flood persists
It will not cease
Kindness resists
My desperate hope for release
 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 19, 2009
3:04 p.m. 
Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Year One

The gag reel.  It’s become a fairly standard bonus feature on DVDs in recent years.  Originally assembled to entertain casts and crews during wrap parties (those lighthearted farewell gatherings that follow the completion of a production), these bloopers can now be enjoyed by anyone who cares to see them.  At any time you choose, you can press play on your remote or click the left button of your mouse and see your favourite stars flub their lines and giggle incessantly.
 
I have this theory about movie bloopers, specifically the ones that happen unexpectedly during comedy shoots:  the funnier the finished film turns out to be, the weaker the outtakes.  But if the movie is a comic stiff, there’s more than a good chance that the outtakes will feature some very funny unscripted moments of their own.  Let me offer an example of each.  The Beverly Hillbillies is terribly unfunny but the gag reel that pops up during the closing credits inspires more laughs than the actual film.  The first two American Pies are hilarious but the bloopers for both titles, included on their respective DVDs, are less than stellar.
 
The biblical comedy Year One showcases a gag reel during its end titles, as well.  Jack Black cuts one in the middle of an unused take with costar Michael Cera.  Saturday Night Live player Bill Hader, incognito in his shaman get-up, offers three quick celebrity impressions.  The stunning Olivia Wilde makes a humourous ad-lib in place of the actual line she’s supposed to say.   Paul Rudd gets a laugh through an unanticipated gesture.  Even Director Harold Ramis gets into the act by allowing an enormous yellow snake to wrap itself around him.  Some of these bits are really funny, even though they’re just end-of-movie throwaways, and they’re preferable to the mostly disgusting gags that make up the majority of the picture, one of the worst of 2009.
 
Black and Cera play best friends who are the least respected members of their tribe and with good reason.  In the opening scene set in The Garden of Eden (which is never mentioned by name), a number of hunters from the group are after a wild boar.  Just when a couple of the men have the beast cornered, disaster strikes.  Demonstrating remarkably bad aim, Black hurls his spear at one of his own in a foolhardy attempt to prove his worth to the tribe.  Cera, a gatherer (we first meet him picking strawberries off the ground), fares no better a little later on when he showcases his awkward and unamusing "fertility dance" in front of Black’s sister (Juno Temple), a cute blond girl who wants nothing to do with him, during an evening of leisure.  Even though she humours him by reluctantly joining in, he ruins the moment by wacking her over the head with a big club.  (What’s with the meanspirited caveman schtick?) 
 
Black can’t find a mate, either, unless you count his mother (I’ve said too much).  His love interest, Maya (June Diane Raphael), is an attractive brunette far more taken with Marlak (a fiercesome Matthew Willig), the tribe’s leader.  After he returns from the boar hunt, there’s a quick moment where Maya inspects what he’s packing under his loincloth.  Judging by her reaction, Black can’t compete.  That being said, no one should be surprised how these transparently obvious storylines are inevitably resolved.
 
At one point, Black takes a bite of a glowing piece of fruit from The Tree of Knowledge, a forbidden gesture that ultimately becomes the last straw for his tribemates.  Just before he exits, he makes an unsubtle plea for Cera to join him which he eventually does (what other options does he have?), but not before he unintentionally starts a fire that destroys their huts. 
 
On the move and desperate for food, they encounter an argument between Cain (an obnoxious David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd).  It leads to several acts of violence that are not the least bit funny.  In fact, they’re quite painful to watch.  (Gives new meaning to the term "stoner comedy".)  Fearing the consequences of his actions, Cain scares our heroes into staying silent.  Then, he screws them over by selling them into slavery where they just happen to be reunited with their tribe, none of whom are happy to see them.  But then, they get separated again after an ambush by Roman soldiers, led by the very English Vinnie Jones who would’ve been right at home in Pulp Fiction’s dungeon scene.
 
Cera and Black soon find themselves in another uncomfortable situation.  The Middle East is suffering from a seemingly endless drought and the best idea anyone has to bring on the rain is to sacrifice virgins, usually females.  In other words, they’re screwed.  Absurdly claiming that it’s all God’s idea, Abraham (Hank Azaria) informs his son, Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse AKA McLovin from Superbad), that he’s gotta take one for the team.  Black stops him in the nick of time.  Later on, in one of the few genuinely funny moments in the picture, Azaria tries to dissuade Black and Cera from ever entering Sodom by emphasizing all the reasons they would want to go.  Once the scene shifts there we meet the rebellious Princess Inanna (the absolutely beautiful Olivia Wilde).  Unlike her ruling parents (who are known simply as King and Queen), she empathizes with the starving townspeople but feels powerless to do anything other than not eat.  Meanwhile, Black and Cera reconnect with the dastardly Cain (who, it should be noted, lacks any kind of wit whatsoever).  Through his help, they become Roman soldiers and once again, reunite with the members of their tribe.
 
Year One was co-written and directed by Harold Ramis, the SCTV alumnus who made the rather inspired Groundhog Day.  Here, you wonder what he and his fellow screenwriters were smoking the entire time they were putting the script together.  Despite some effective moments (including those gag reel bits), it’s just one bad gross-out gag after another.  One character is obsessed with cutting foreskins.  Another, hanging upside down in a dungeon, pees on himself when he can’t hold it in any longer.  A eunich throws his severed testicles during a public stoning.  When he’s not examining animal organs for the purpose of soothsaying, the overly flamboyant High Priest character (Oliver Platt who deserves better) gets super aroused when oil is rubbed all over his ridiculously hairy chest.  He also never stops hitting on Michael Cera.  Then, there’s the guy who bangs farm animals and is in love with his own flatulence.  You get the idea.
 
If only the movie was more interested in satirizing the conventional wisdom of this period.  God knows there’s plenty of material to make fun of.  Unfortunately, Year One wants to be the biblical American Pie but without the sweetness and the hilarity.  However, it does have some redeeming qualities.
 
This is the first time I’ve seen Olivia Wilde in a film and she’s does a nice job playing Princess Inanna.  She’s the only character who maintains a presence of grace and dignity throughout.  We like her every time she’s on screen.  Even though we know where her loyalties lie, she’s an intriguing mystery.  There’s a scene where she passes through town and everyone is supposed to bow down to the ground and avoid eye contact.  Jack Black doesn’t and that doesn’t go unnoticed.  Later on, she summons him to a private meeting and the movie briefly shows signs of life.  The screenwriters made a major miscalculation in avoiding a potential romance between them.  There’s an immediate chemistry.  It doesn’t make any sense that Black would choose anyone over her.
 
The cinematography, the costumes and the sets are also first rate.  Unfortunately, because the characters in Year One never stop talking and a good number of the jokes are so disturbing, the technical strengths of the picture are not enough to shift your interest from the weak comedy to the great visuals.
 
It’s sad to see Jack Black, one of the funniest, most inherently lovable actors in the movies, reduced to playing such a dimwitted boob.  He has his moments but his character is so delusional and careless, it’s hard to warrant much support for him.  Michael Cera, so natural and funny in Superbad, looks like he’s just going through the motions here.  He, too, has a couple of funny lines but it’s hard to care for his character, as well.
 
Past the midway point of the screening I attended with an old friend, there was this rather distinctive noise coming from someone in the audience.  For a good 10 or 20 minutes, you could hear him snoring while the rest of us were trying to focus on the movie.  I envied him.
 
(Special thanks to Dave Scacchi.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 12, 2009
3:00 p.m. 
Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Nobody Cares

She lingers like an unpleasant smell
Emotional fascist in the body of a bombshell
Don’t be deceived by her kindly manner
She’ll inject her disease until it spreads like cancer
Salivating at the prospect of your demise
She lures you in with the sexiest of lies
Warning other targets of her scandalous affairs
Is met with an indifferent, "Nobody cares."
 
The demon’s well hidden in her ample frame
A friendly beauty on top of her game
It’s far too easy how she suckers them in
A bedazzled victim always brings out her grin
She initiates by teasing and gentle touch
Their permanent arousal an emotional crutch
All that remains are the scarring and tears
When you’re abandoned like refuse, nobody cares
 
Brain of a tyrant, heart like a cactus
She wasn’t born evil, it came with practice
As she narrows the distance between pleasure and pain
The screams of the innocent an enjoyable refrain
Scraping their skin with her nails of steel
Oozing fluid her nourishing meal
Sounding the alarm about her shady wares
Is countered with a disbelieving, "Nobody cares."
 
Traversing the world in search of the new
But the numbers are dwindling to a stubborn few
The less she feeds, the more she rapidly ages
Her epic story is running out of pages
Bereft of feeling and almost spent
Hard to believe she once passed for "heaven sent"
Reduced to offering unappetizing shares
Such a shame that nobody cares
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 3, 2009
6:41 p.m.
Published in: on July 3, 2009 at 6:40 pm  Comments (1)