Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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When this was first released I saw it with a friend who promptly re-christened it Mouth Wide Open because I nodded off pretty quickly and woke suddenly during the orgy and announced, Clearly nobody here has ever been to one. And a shocking 18 years later it is still sad to see that Kubrick’s last film doesn’t have the intended shock value, the performances are variable and it’s very difficult to understand how it could have taken 400 days to shoot what are primarily lengthy talking scenes albeit the famously nitpicking Kubrick reconstructed Greenwich Village in London because of his fear of flying. Frederic Raphael updated Schnitzler’s early 20th century Vienna-set Traumnovelle to late 1990s New York City where Alice (Nicole Kidman) confesses to wealthy doctor husband Bill (Tom Cruise) that she fantasised sexually about a Naval officer she saw one day at a hotel where they were staying. Bill then descends into a long night of soul-searching and sex as he imagines what his wife might have done had she made the choice to cheat. He helps a wealthy patron Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) save a whore who’s OD’d during sex, attends a masked orgy on Long Island (a kind of warped tribute to North by Northwest) where his former med school chum is providing musical accompaniment in a blindfold and back in the city realises he’s being followed but it’s more than an existential threat. When Ziegler tells Bill that he’s fortunate not to know the names of the very powerful people in disguise at the sex party you don’t know if it’s raising questions about the Bilderberg group or another political conspiracy at large but it seems pretty daft. Whether you view this as an ineffectual satire of marriage or a cautionary commentary about sexually transmitted disease (there’s a telling scene featuring a prostitute and HIV) or perhaps a plain silly excursion into unerotic escapades, the press at the time made hay of the fact that the married couple at its centre saw their relationship disintegrate in real life and were divorced not long afterwards. The soundtrack which is principally two ominous notes would disgrace a five year old after their first piano lesson. Inexplicable in oh so many ways and yet fascinating and strangely memorable in visual loops precisely because it’s Kubrick. And the last word uttered (by Kidman) is … not expected in such a conservative outing and thereby enhances the legend.

The Beguiled (1971)

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What an extraordinary generic blend this is:  part Western, part Gothic or Grand Guignol, and an emblematic role for Clint Eastwood who would turn aspects  of its perverse sexuality into a motif in Play Misty for Me and Tightrope.  He’s a Union soldier badly wounded in the Civil War, found by Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) a little girl who attends a seminary nearby in very Southern Louisiana. Deciding eventually not to report him to the Confederate soldiers, headmistress Geraldine Page sets her sights on him – but so does teacher Elizabeth Hartman. And student Jo Ann Harris … Adapted from Thomas Cullinan’s novel A Painted Devil, this plumbs areas of psyched out femininity that no other films truly reach.  It becomes clear that Page indulged in an incestuous relationship with her late brother;  Hartman is a virgin;  and Harris is a fox – whom Eastwood naturally beds, to the others’ uncontrollable fury. The Gothic trope of the staircase looms and Hartman pushes him to the bottom of it – giving Page an excuse to lop off one of his legs and trap him there forever. When he accidentally kills Amy’s turtle everything comes to a head and any plans he might have are as dust. There’s nothing like women scorned, is there? Bruce Surtees’ dreamlike cinematography lends this twisted narrative an art house feel that is entirely different to any of Eastwood’s output to that time – and the studio had no idea how to market it. Blacklisted writer Albert Maltz did the original adaptation but he gave it a happy ending – so another draft was done by Irene Kamp. Both of them were credited pseudonymously. And the real rewrite by associate producer Claude Traverse went uncredited. Director Don Siegel worked with Eastwood to create a different phase of his iconicity following the spaghetti westerns that brought the actor global fame  – and this was the real start of crafting something mysterious and ineffable and even masochistic in his screen persona, alongside the action roles that kept the studios happy. No wonder Sofia Coppola wanted to remake it. I can’t wait to see what she does with it. This is great anyhow you choose. (And an opportunity to see the tragic Hartman). When this came out my aunt’s mate at boarding school snuck out to see it and she was caught by the nuns climbing back in a window very late at night. When she explained her uncontrollable weakness for Mr Eastwood they said they understood completely and she wasn’t punished. Now that’s some cool nuns. And how very fitting!

Blood Orange (2016)

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Iggy Pop’s acting debut is the main draw for this elliptical riff on a subject more or less tackled in last year’s A Bigger Splash with a touch of film noir and perhaps a nod to Sexy Beast. Pop is the dying rock star, married to a much younger woman (Kacey Clarke) and they have a very open attitude to sex – he encourages her to screw the pool man. Then her ex (Ben Lamb) shows up looking for his share of her money – she was married to his father and got everything when the old guy died. The plot screws then start turning and wifey turns out to be a very fatale femme. This is mostly a taut thriller making great use of its setting – a luxurious house in Ibiza but debut director, adman Toby Tobias, makes the rookie mistake of hiring bad actors to speak ill-conceived over-obvious dialogue. With a good rewrite and decent delivery this might have been something, other than what it is, an attractive and rather predictable but sometimes entertaining amuse-bouche. Pop doesn’t need to do much, just capitalise on his growly voice and Jurassic body and he does it very well.

Cruel Intentions (1999)

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Back in the day this contemporary uptown teen reworking of Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses (of course made into the great Dangerous Liaisons after Christopher Hampton’s acclaimed English-language stage adaptation) seemed pretty rad. Turning Sarah Michelle Gellar into a high school version of Madame Merteuil in a quasi-incestuous relationship with stepbrother Ryan Phillippe as Sebastian Valmont was, uh, even creepy. What happened to us? bleats the coke-addled one when she sees he’s fallen for the virtuous Annette (Reese Witherspoon) and their bet has gone hopelessly wrong. A Lesbo kiss between Gellar and the horny Cecile (Selma Blair), interracial sex they both have with Sean Patrick Thomas, and a great backup adult cast of Swoosie Kurtz, Christine Baranski and Louise Fletcher, with some more gay antics between Joshua Jackson and Eric Mabius, make this a viciously corrupt and sexy walk on the wild side of Central Park West, paving the way for the much-missed Gossip Girl. XOXO! Written and directed by Roger Kumble.

Dressed to Kill (1980)

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A film that practically embodies the term Psychosexual. Brian de Palma’s outrageous, explicit Hitchcockian homage (some might say rip off, Hitch called it fromage) still has the power to shock, with its jawdropping opening sequence – married Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) masturbating in a shower while her lover shaves in a mirror. She fesses up to her psychoanalyst Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) that she’s faking it because her lover’s not really up to it then asks him if he’s attracted to her. She does the  Vertigo shtick at the Metropolitan in Kim Novak’s off-white coat and when she drops a glove (fetish alert!) she attracts a man in shades (another warning).  He gets her off in a taxi (yes, this has to be seen to be believed) then wakes up to find a medical notice in his apartment …. and enters an elevator to leave the building when she suddenly remembers her wedding ring and presses the button to return to the scene of the extra-marital crime … You had me at hello!!! Call girl Liz (Nancy Allen) is the only witness to the murder – while the killer is a mysterious tall blonde in shades. Dickinson’s teenage inventor son Keith Gordon plays private dick, Allen becomes the woman in peril stalked by the tall blonde in shades, the shrink gets taunting messages from Bobbi, a transgender patient, and it all ends just the way you want:  blonde on blonde. Crazy, classic warning cinema – beware of shrinks and nooners! The soundtrack by Pino Donaggio is brilliant. Wild!

Piccadilly (1929)

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Has there ever been a better-looking London film? Not in black and white. From the titles on the sides of buses and on advertising hoarding and in neon lighting, to the exotic costumes enhancing the performances by kitchen maid turned star Shosho (Anna May Wong) in the titular nightclub, this tale of infidelity, deception, jealousy, murder, sex, race and class remains a thrilling parade. Wong is stunning. Directed by German great EA Dupont from a screenplay by Arnold Bennett, I’ve written about it here:  www.offscreen.com/view/peccadillo-piccadilly.

Match Point (2005)

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Who knew Woody Allen had it in him to make a tough sexy thriller? And here it is, a film that was transposed for financial reasons from NYC to London, featuring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris Wilton, an Irish tennis pro on the make who weasels his way into British society and his plans are almost derailed by the vengeful wheedling American actress (Scarlett Johansson) with whom he has an affair. To a degree, we’ve been here before with Crimes and Misdemeanours (and Love and Death!) and the references to Dostoyevsky are writ large not least because Chris is reading Crime and Punishment and his preference for tragic operas and a belief in luck dictate his life. The Brit crits weren’t in love with this as they believed Allen’s use of London locations – opera, tennis clubs, posh bars and restaurants, theatres, and country houses – were classist. Did they seriously believe the Upper East Side to be representative of working class NYC?! When Johansson threatens Chris with revealing her pregnancy to his wife Emily Mortimer, whose brother broke off their engagement, there’s only one thing to do … The tension is stomach-churning, Rhys Meyers is superb in a very demanding dramatic role, a contemporary arriviste Raskolnikov, with ScarJo providing the eroticism in a field of wheat in the rain. All in all it’s a great exercise in life, sex – and luck. And just listen to Caruso …

By the Sea (2015)

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I have major typewriter envy. Why do I say this? A few weeks ago I missed out on a vintage red Italian one in an online auction, much  to my dismay. It’s very like one that Brad Pitt has in this film, a work of fetish objects, looking, voyeurism, sex and surfaces. We could be crass and strike through the star texts and just say, Brangelina made a Seventies French art house porno:  go figure.  But no matter how meta you want to make it, as a confrontational post-honeymoon disaster flick, it’s not Boom! A more elegant discussion hinges on the individual sequences: the first seventy minutes when their marriage is dissected in fragments:  the arrival at the seaside hotel of this couple married for 14 years;  Roland’s a writer,  Vanessa used to be a dancer; her reliance on pills and the hole in the wall through which she observes a newly married couple having sex in the room next door;  his daily trips to the bar and his conversations with widowed proprietor Nils Arestrup (in French), looking for a subject, drowning his sorrows while he remains blocked – in all senses. It’s opaque and inexact and a gloss on a marriage gone stale enduring its own particular troubles which are only suggested by Vanessa’s refusal to have sex with him. Then she appears to be pushing him to have sex with the newlywed woman next door. Then the twenty-minute sequence when he joins in with her voyeurism and they get the young couple, Melvil Poupaud and Melanie Laurent, liquored up and he concludes they’re miserable too as they observe them together again, through that hole in the wall. Now it’s more than sexual stimulation: Roland is trying to control the images too, in an effort to redirect his marital narrative. It’s very well directed and much better written than anything else Jolie has made so far:   every shot is framed with great care and her own skeletal shape frequently dictates how we look at the story, ironically it’s her own performance that’s perhaps not as impressive as you might expect. Then, the last twenty minutes. What happens when Vanessa enters the drama being staged next door and Roland finds himself looking at her, being disrobed, is what triggers revelations and a change in storytelling. Roland was looking for a subject, Vanessa couldn’t endure seeing a successful young marriage. We learn what happened three years ago. Roland writes again. The cinematography by Christian Berger is beautiful, bathing each image in gorgeous natural light. The soundtrack is to die for, with Jane Birkin crooning Jane B in a broad song selection dominated by her own other half, Serge Gainsbourg, that agent provocateur par excellence, with other choice Seventies chansons dimpling the pictures at opportune moments. What am I going to do now? Watch it all over again. It’s that fascinating. Then I’ve got to find my Lina Wertmuller collection. And a new-old typewriter.

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

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Yes, I’m going there. It’s Friday after all. This was the secret shame of myself and several of my college mates courtesy of a guy who had it on VHS back in the day. We watched it regularly in a darkened room, as you do. Lunchtimes have never been the same since. I think this is how cults begin, isn’t it?! It was a notorious bomb on release and it’s not difficult to see why – how to explain an S&M memoir on date night?! 960 people stormed out of the preview audience of 1,000! One can only hazard a guess at what the remainers were doing. Really, it’s a home movie in every sense!  Ingeborg Day nee Seiler (daughter of an Austrian SS officer) wrote for feminist mag Ms. as Ingeborg Bachmann in the Seventies and documented this stage of her life pseudonymously in 1978 as ‘Elizabeth McNeill’. She had a breakdown afterwards. Gallerist Elizabeth embarks on an intense affair with Wall Street broker John who takes her places she’s never been … in her own body. The fact that she is played by the stunning Kim Basinger and he is the then-beautiful Mickey Rourke just makes it all the more, uh, pleasurable. In fact it’s their characterisation that makes this erotica work. Screenwriters Zalman King and Patricia Louisanna Knop (and Sarah Kernochan) turned soft porn into their avocation, while underrated director Adrian Lyne just makes everything appear lovely and astonishing as you’d expect from someone who helped change the look of cinema:  you’ll never look at the contents of your refrigerator the same way again. Seriously sexy and the soundtrack is great!

Summer Lovers (1982)

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“They spent a Summer of Love – to the sounds of Chicago.” I was way too young to see this when it first came out but all those music videos gave me pause for thought – what about a threesome on a Greek island?! Such is the power of pop. College grad Daryl Hannah is the beautiful photographer holidaying in Santorini (and Crete, Delos and Mykonos) with long-term boyfriend Peter Gallagher and it doesn’t take long for them to be seduced by the nude bathing when he spots cute French archaeologist Valerie Quennessen on a dig and pairs up with her and utters the deathless line, It’s not you it’s me… then the ladies decide they would like to expand the arrangement. The settings are astonishing and if it’s a bit rich to describe this louche fantasy as an exploration of sexual politics, well, that’s precisely what it is, with lashings of free love to beat the band when the ladies take charge. It all goes kinda meta when Daryl says, I used to dream I was a mermaid … that would take a couple of years. She and Peter and Valerie (a princess in Conan the Barbarian) spend most of the movie partially nude if not fully nekkid so it’s not so hard to put together why they’re all in it:  what a holiday they are having. Until Barbara Rush turns up during an olive oil party to see daughter Daryl before matters domestic are fully sorted out. Just the thing to unleash your inner twentysomething libertine on a snowy winter’s day! Written and directed by Randal Kleiser, that clever fellow. He had previously auditioned Hannah for the role that Brooke Shields played in Blue Lagoon, his other isle of dreams.  If you’re in Santorini you can visit the villa they shot in which is christened for the film – it’s been a gift shop since 1987. Quennessen worked under the supervision of archaeological experts and uncovered artifacts c3,500 years old. She died distressingly young in a car crash.