Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The story: Cruise and Kidman mope through Kubrick’s flaccid finale.
Does it make me wanna incorporate anything into my sex life? I guess you’re asking if I fancy an orgy, right? Well, I wouldn’t mind dipping a toe (fnar! fnar!) There is something appealing about turning up at an isolated country mansion dressed in a glittery mask and flowing cape, partly because I’m susceptible to the idea that toffs are degenerates and perverts at heart. Eyes Wide Shut presents an orgy in which it appears you have the choice to participate or watch so I guess you could go a couple of times to get your courage up and then plunge in. Then again, I worry about performance when there’s only one other person present so the thought of providing forty-two seconds of entertainment for a bunch of horny onlookers is a tad intimidating. Whatever the case, an orgy would definitely be an experience, although I can’t see how a fish-and-chips scoffing layabout like me is ever going to snag such an exclusive invite. Even the Cruiser had to cheat his way in and he’s a card-carrying doctor. Anyhow, I think I prefer these kinds of shindigs to feature a white-clad, screaming virgin getting her throat cut for Satan’s benefit. Much more fun and no one gets to laugh at my little dick.
What did I learn about the ladies? They think a good time to make an impassioned pass at a married doctor is while their father is lying dead in the same room.
Most unbelievable bit: After a pot-smoking Happy Tom outlines his theory that men don’t care where they put their dicks because that’s how men are whereas women are a bit more faithful and security-conscious, Shrill Nicole hits the roof. She then reveals (surprise, surprise) that women are also sexually impulsive creatures by telling a story about a naval officer she really wanted to fuck a year earlier. “At no time was he ever out of my mind… And I thought if he wanted me, only if it was for one night, I was ready to give up everything… My whole fucking future.” Shrill Nicole obviously thinks she’s divulging a profound experience but it comes across as a run of the mill fantasy. Don’t all couples, married or otherwise, happy or not, think about getting jiggy with other people and/or throwing responsibility away to start again? Such flights of fancy are normal yet the whole goddamn movie hinges on this moment.
Glum Tom, apparently rocked to his core by this confession of pseudo-adultery, can’t help tormenting himself by picturing his wife with this seaman he’s never even met. Two minutes later he’s off on an erotic odyssey. Firstly, he bumps into a well-dressed, coy, polite, softly-spoken and sensitive street hooker, the likes of which exist only in movies put together by old, out-of-touch filmmakers. It’s a hideously phony sequence. From there on it gets dafter and more pompous. I think part of the problem is that Kubrick adapted a novella set in the early twentieth century. Perhaps such a ‘revelation’ of impure thoughts a hundred years ago would have had more believable consequences, but to set Eyes Wide Shut at the end of the century is a fatal mistake both in theory and execution.
How bad is it? “Is there something I’m missing here?” Glum Tom asks at one point. Well, that’s how I feel about Kubrick’s highest-grossing film. It’s beautifully shot and lit, but the subject matter is banal and it all seems so slight compared to the great man’s other accomplishments. It doesn’t help that Kidman is awful, fumbling pretty much every scene right through to her smirk-inducing last line. Kubrick also released Eyes at the start of the internet revolution, somewhat diluting its naughtiness. Now we can watch orgies all day long if we want to. Bukkake before brekky? Fine. However, I did quite enjoy Glum Tom’s erotic odyssey resulting in him failing to get laid. Poor man didn’t even get a blowey. He would’ve had better luck with me down The Dog and Duck during Grab A Granny night. Unfortunately, Eyes is a sedate, ponderous and thoroughly underwhelming flick. I kept wishing for Sergeant Gunnery Hartman to pop up and start yelling incandescent abuse at all those solemn, mask-wearing twits.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
The story: What story? It’s just a bunch of fucking.
Does it make me wanna incorporate anything into my sex life? No, this notorious, widely banned Japanese effort instead made me wanna become a monk and live a cloistered life somewhere in the mountains. The thought of ever hooking up with such a mad sex monster as Sada (Eiko Matsuda) is scary. When not loitering with a pair of scissors next to your genitals, this nympho ex-hooker is happy to pull out some of your pubes and eat them. She can’t even let go of your cock when walking down the street. Or as her lover good-naturedly complains: “The only time my dick can rest is when I take a pee.”
What did I learn about the ladies? Nothing that I can reveal the next time my maiden aunt comes round for tea. This lot has a yen for public sex with or without a wooden dildo. A chubby, middle-aged one doesn’t appear to mind being raped doggy-style. Our heroine Sada wants you to pee inside her. She likes to sing and play guitar while camped on cock. The age of a male makes no difference. She’ll fuck her elderly school principal or yank on a young boy’s winkie. Her behavior does not improve at the dinner table in that she’ll shove a chopsticks-held slice of mushroom up her twat and insist you eat it, explaining: “They say true love means eating food dipped in your lover’s juices.” Yes, my dear, I’m sure Shakespeare came to the same conclusion during one of his sonnets.
However, the main thing I learned is that if a woman ever says your cock belongs to her, run for the hills.
Most unbelievable bit: That this flick is well-regarded.
How bad is it? Back in the day I was no different to any other young bloke in that I loved to watch the sexy stuff late at night on Channel 4, squirrel home a red hot vid from that slightly seedy Pakistani bloke who ran the corner store or rush to the cinema to see Sharon Stone uncross her shapely pins. My virginal self wasn’t just after theoretical knowledge and practical demonstrations but a frisson, something that would make my eyes widen and jaw drop. Of course, those days pass and all you can do is snigger at your younger self’s hot ignorance and silly impatience. Bit by bit you stop seeking glimpses of celluloid pussy and instead start guffawing at a femme fatale’s breathy-voiced writhing, groaning at the overripe dialogue or realizing how undignified the average sexual position is. Most of all, you come to appreciate that movies which focus on sex tend to be crap. Many explore obsession, fetishes or extreme behavior which makes it nearly impossible to connect with the characters or walk in their shoes unless you’re already into that sort of thing. Case in point: In the Realm of the Senses. Fucking hell, give me Body Heat any day.
The story: ‘Light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul, Lolita…’
Does it make me wanna incorporate anything into my sex life? Flippin’ heck, that’s a low question to ask. Lolita is an uncomfortable watch for many reasons, the main one being that I believe most men are attracted to adolescent girls. The crucial thing, of course, is to not act on such urges. But to furiously refute them as if you float above such grubby matters? To insist you only become aware of a female’s charms when she’s of age? To pretend your fantasies are the wholesome kind? Nah, you’re not fooling me, mate. I think such ephebophile denials are much more to do with the hysterical fear of being labeled a pedo. Hence, when it comes to the troubling issue of ‘nymphettes’, it’s dangerous to tell the truth. After all, such an action might get you torn apart by an enraged, pitchfork-wielding mob (that, of course, shares the same desires as you).
And if you do happen to object to my take on things, I suggest you go and watch the underage (allegedly 14) Nastassja Kinski in 1976’s piss-poor horror outing To the Devil a Daughter. You can tell me you’re immune to her climactic nudity if you want, but I probably won’t believe you. Perhaps it’s best to take comfort in the knowledge that being a good man isn’t just about doing good things; it’s also about resisting the desire to corrupt and harm.
What did I learn about the ladies? That I don’t really enjoy any of Melanie Griffith’s performances.
Most unbelievable bit: “But that’s ridiculous…” Hmm, yes, it most definitely is. And what is Professor Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) talking about? The fact that as soon as his potent sexual interest in his landlady’s fourteen-year-old daughter is discovered via a diary, she runs outside to post a whole load of incriminating letters and gets killed by a car. This is not an invention of the screenplay or director Adrian Lyne as it’s right there in Nabokov’s original text. Good grief, what appallingly weak writing. I’ve read a few novels in my time and it’s hard to think of a more glaring example of a convenient exit (although Begbie’s demise in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel Porno comes awfully close).
How bad is it? Well, I prefer it to Kubrick’s (understandably) tame 1962 effort. Mind you, its professionalism and bouts of black comedy don’t manage to disguise its repetitiveness and over length. There’s not enough story here to sustain 135 minutes while the Clare Quilty subplot is as far-fetched as the novel. However, the two leads are very good, and it doesn’t shy away from portraying Lolita as the sexual aggressor. As played by the fifteen-year-old Dominique Swain, she might be a bubblegum-blowing brat with braces on her teeth, but that doesn’t stop her from being moody, manipulative, worldly and conniving. Irons gives us a portrait of a compulsion, a man falling off a cliff inch by inch. However, Lyne ensures we get an explanation for his deviancy during an excellent prologue in which we learn of the teenage Humbert’s tragic summer romance with a similarly aged girl. “The shock of her death froze something in me,” he recalls. “The child I loved was gone, but I kept looking for her long after I left my own childhood behind. The poison was in the wound, you see, and the wound wouldn’t heal.” It’s true that Humbert subsequently turns into a ‘despicable, criminal monster’ but he’s also a long way from a drooling degenerate. Instead, he skulks through the flick, furtive, pathetic and ashamed of his overwhelming passion.
Best of all is Lyne’s decision to quote Nabokov’s glorious prose verbatim as Humbert ruminates on his obsessive behavior. I mean, listen to this: “A normal man, given a group photograph of schoolgirls and asked to point out the loveliest one, will not necessarily choose the nymphette among them. You have to be an artist, a madman, full of shame and melancholia and despair in order to recognise the little deadly demon among the others.” And after he’s done the deed? “I felt more and more uncomfortable, a hideous, oppressive constraint, as if I were sitting with the small ghost of someone I’d just killed.”
And, bloody hell, that scene in a baking hot hotel room where Lolita is sitting on his lap in a rocking chair reading a comic, grinning and laughing until she’s forced to throw back her head and start moaning at her growing sexual ecstasy, is pretty damn brave for a mainstream flick.
The story: Irons is back! This time he’s a rising British MP that can’t keep his manicured hands off his son’s fiance (Juliette Binoche).
Does it make me wanna incorporate anything into my sex life? ‘Fraid not. Then again, I’ve always suspected that shagging one of your imminent in-laws is never gonna take you anywhere good. In theory, though, I quite like the idea of giving your son’s missus a superior rogering. That’s gotta make you feel that there’s life in the old dog yet.
What did I learn about the ladies? Just like some blokes don’t mind a bit of double sister action or being sandwiched between a mother and daughter, a lady will go for a father-son combo. It’s also OK to repeatedly bang their head against the floor in the throes of passion.
Most unbelievable bit: Irons and Binoche’s first meeting in which a brief, banal conversation results in them staring at each other, as if both have neon signs above their heads flashing: Woo! Woo! We’re gonna fuck! On the second equally dull meeting, it’s the same vibe, except a bit of spooky music is added. It’s like we’re being told their affair is predestined, that there are sexy forces at work which can’t be resisted. When they arrange a liaison a mere ten minutes into the flick, it’s another prolonged bout of staring. They fuck fully clothed and then stare again.
I dunno, I didn’t buy into this one. For a start, the fresh-faced but curiously blank-looking Binoche with her boyish haircut and body doesn’t strike me as the sort of woman you’d risk throwing everything away for. She’s presented as some sort of French mermaid, an embodiment of temptation that Irons in his well-appointed ship can’t help but crash onto her rocks. It’s the flimsiest of set-ups and smacks of weak writing.
How bad is it? It’s better than Last Tango and In the Realm of the Senses, but that’s not saying much. Director Louis Malle doesn’t manage to come up with anything as erotic as a topless Susan Sarandon being spied upon while washing her breasts in freshly squeezed lemon juice during 1980’s Atlantic City. In fact, it’s a pretty dry watch. For the most part we’re in superior TV movie country stuck with a predictable, uneventful, overlong screenplay about infidelity and its repercussions. Irons is well-cast, an outwardly respectable and successful man who still projects a whiff of weakness and corruption, but Binoche is a real stumbling block. “I can’t see past you,” he tells her after pursuing her to a different country and fishing her out of his son’s hotel bed for the briefest of doorway shags. Gawd, when I watch these cinematic depictions of mad love I don’t half feel like a passionless fish.
The story: A talented dancer tries to make it big in a topless Vegas show. She’s the John Travolta of high-class sleaze minus the flared trousers and glitter balls.
Does it make me wanna incorporate anything into my sex life? Barely anyone (consensually) fucks in this super-charged tosh. It’s all grinding, come ons, sex talk, bitchiness, booty shaking and bi-sexual teases. Still, at least it’s helped me rule out ever wanting to lick a pole dancer’s pole or give Kyle MacLachlan a frenzied nude lap dance.
What did I learn about the ladies? They’re mostly fucking annoying and have a feeble sense of humour. Oh, and just like in Striptease, strippers have a misguided sense of integrity and don’t like being called strippers. They’re dancers, people.
Most unbelievable bit: Given Showgirls is an uninterrupted procession of ludicrous encounters, all of it. If a girl kneed you in the nuts on the dance floor and got you fired, would you remain interested, let alone shell out for her bail after she’s been arrested? Here we get an upside-down universe where the humor falls flat while the drama and sexy stuff are shake-your-head funny. I guess it doesn’t help that I loathe the theater, that pretentious place where self-obsessed show-offs prance and warble nonsense.
How bad is it? The fish-lipped Elizabeth Berkley, who ‘looks better than a ten-inch dick’, gives one of the worst performances in the history of cinema, snatching at every emotion and occasionally stabbing to death any she happens to seize. It’s one long bout of flouncing, sulking, huffing, shrieking, pouting, grabbing, gyrating and thrashing with twenty tantrums thrown on top. About the only thing she doesn’t do is self-combust. Then again, why single her out? Director Paul Verhoeven, perhaps mesmerized by the plethora of titties on view, doesn’t rein in anyone.
Joe Eszterhas’ witless script also deserves mention, especially its poetic dialogue e.g. “I have a problem with pussy”, “Dancing ain’t fucking”, “It must be weird not having anyone cum on ya”, and “Show me your tits.” Plus, there’s the wonderfully miscast, champagne-quaffing Kyle MacLachlan trying to be sexy and cool with a Hitler hairdo. The sheer absence of erotic charge between Berkley and him during their swimming pool coitus, in which Berkley appears to be alternating between having an epileptic fit and doing an impression of a dolphin walking on its tail at Sea World, is enough to make you forget about sex altogether and try a more dignified pastime, like knitting.
Dave Franklin’s movie book Go Fuck an Iceberg! is available from Amazon and other outlets.