Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Netflix recommends... Erotica

I watched 365 Dni recently. It wasn't great but as I said in my review, I do want to see more of this sort of thing. So what other erotic, kinky delights does Netflix have on its virtual video store shelves for the girl who's already seen the infamous Polish bonkbuster and all the Fifty Shades films?

There's no actual 'Recommend' feature as such on Netflix. You can't count the little cluster of programmes that pop up when you've finished watching something, which are always whatever new thing Netflix is trying to promote. Those are often amusing in their incongruousness. My favourite 'thing to watch next' was Sex Education after gentle theological drama The Two Popes.

However, if you use the search function, Netflix finds the film you've searched and also includes a bunch of other films that it considers to be the same genre.

I searched for 'Fifty Shades of Grey', and watched the four films that Netflix also included on the list. Which is why I have been watching arty modern-day polyamourous romance Newness, lesbian love story Below her Mouth, sex addiction drama Addicted and, most incongruously of all, Stephen King's psychological horror Gerald's Game.

Here's what I thought of them.

Newness (2017)

Dir: Drake Doremus

Nicholas Hoult has come a long way since he appeared as gawky twelve-year-old Marcus alongside Hugh Grant in About a Boy. If Newness is anything to go by, he's a lot more American now, for one thing. Also, a lot more naked.

Hoult plays Martin who meets Gabi (Laia Costa) through a Tinder-like hookup app. They're a pair of concupiscent young things who fully embrace the easy come, easy go, casual shagging of strangers off the internet. In fact Gabi meets Martin almost immediately after having an unsatisfying shag with another chap. There's an instant chemistry between the pair though and in no time at all they are all love's young dream, enjoying happy romantic montages, deleting the dating apps off their phones and moving in with one another.

But then the joys of mutual monogamy start to pale and infidelity happens. In fact, in a massive stroke of luck, Martin and Gabi cheat on one another on exactly the same night. What are the chance of that? It makes the fall-out easier to deal with, I guess. After a bit of couples counselling, Martin and Gabi decide that the best way to deal with it is to open their relationship right up and embrace a polyamorous way of life.

Which all works fine for a while. They try threesomes. They shag other people. They tell one another about shagging other people. And then they shag one another. Happy days.

But this is a Hollywood movie and polyamory is never going to be anyone's happily ever after. Even for people who aren't doing it for voyeuristic reasons.

Everything inevitably goes horrible. Feelings get involved. Martin feels betrayed and tells Gabi that he was never up for the whole swinging lifestyle in the first place which is very unfair of him because he totally was. And, predictably in the end, true (exclusive monogamous) love wins the day.

Have there ever been any films where polyamorousness has been portrayed as a positive lifestyle choice rather than a dangerous disaster-ridden deviation from the right-and-proper monogamous norm? I honestly can't think of one.

Below Her Mouth (2016)

Dir: April Mullen

Below her Mouth is the most porn-like of Netflix's recommended movies. And I don't mean that in a disparaging way. I was looking for sex and there is a lot of lesbian sex in this film. It looks very real. I'm not sure if the actresses are doing the things to one another that their characters are explicitly indulging in. The actual practicalities of realistic-looking sex in non-porn art-house films are a mystery to me. Although I do know in the other popular mainstream lesbian romance Blue is the Warmest Colour, the actress wore 'prosthetic genitalia' for the sex scenes. So that was a distracting thought.

The film, set in Toronto, is beautifully shot and exquisite to look at. Its two leads, Dallas (Erika Linder) and Jasmine (Natalie Krill) are wonderful as the awkward realistic protagonists of their own tiny love story. Especially Linder whose breath-taking androgynous beauty and piercing blue eyes are hypnotic to look at. You can see why Dallas would have no trouble getting absolutely any woman she wants into bed with her, without the need for clever chat-up lines or indeed demonstrating any kind of emotion whatsoever. Which is good because Dallas really doesn't do either of those things.

There isn't much plot here to speak of. Jasmine is passing as straight and has a cosy life with her male fiance. She meets Dallas at a lesbian bar. The spark is there from the start, Dallas pursues her and given that the pair of them fancy the pants off one another, they manoeuvre themselves into a pants-free situation as quickly as possible. Set over only a few days while Jasmine's fiance is away on business, the film fizzes with lustful encounters and a very realistic portrayal of two fairly awkward people getting to know one another.

There is rather more smooshing together of vulvas than I would have expected in a lesbian sex scene. I mean there's fingering, oral and strap-ons to be enjoyed as well but the characters do seem to spend a lot of time just pressing their pelvises up against one another and banging in what looks like a simulation of heterosexual sex. Is that a thing? Given that both the writer and director of this film are gay women then I guess, yes, vulva-smooshing is totally a thing.

Erika Linder had no acting experience before Below Her Mouth and well, you can kind of tell. There's no great dialogue in the film and the actor's delivery is often stilted and awkward. I rather like that though. It adds to the realism. This isn't a slick Hollywood romance. This feels like two real people falling in love and dealing with the messiness that that can cause.

Addicted (2014)

Dir: Bille Woodruff

Zoe Reynard (Sharon Leal) is a wife, mother and successful businesswoman. She is also a sex addict. Her therapist seems very quick to diagnose sex addiction given that at that point in the film, she just seems to be having a common-or-garden extra-marital affair.

She cheats on her husband with an artist, Quinton Canosa (William Levy) who tries every seducer's trick in the book up to and including a tragic family backstory. Zoe is already a big fan of his work so that makes his job easier. That and having a chest that looks like is was sculpted from marble by a sculptor who was really, really into abs.

(Oh, and Quinton? That chat-up line you've got where you tell a woman that you want to paint her so you can hang her picture above your bed and wank to it every night? Pure class, mate.)

Having a nice-and-sexy husband (Boris Kodjoe) and a creepy-yet-sexy lover isn't enough for our Zoe though. And soon she's frequenting dodgy bars, banging strangers in the toilets and going to BDSM sex clubs.

This is the only film in the list which has even the tiniest glimpse of spanking. In the sex club scene, there's a quick glimpse of a flogger being wielded in the background. This is in no way a positive endorsement of BDSM, obviously. It's included to demonstrate the seedy, depraved depths to which Zoe has sunk.

As a member of the original and oldest twelve step programme, I really shouldn't be dismissive of the idea of sex addiction as an illness but I am a bit, sorry. It does come across as a very convenient excuse for being caught with your pants down. The film does seem to take the addiction part of the narrative seriously. Zoe's mum who spends most of the film looking pursed-lipped and disapproving, is very supportive of her daughter's addiction and recovery by the end of the film.

Mirroring alcohol and drug addiction, Zoe loses almost everything to her addiction including her job, her family and her sanity. But unlike a film about alcoholism, all of Zoe's sexploits are depicted in the most raunchy and titillating way possible. It helps that every single person in this film is almost impossibly beautiful.

It makes for a bit of a confusing message. Sex addiction is bad, folks. But meanwhile, looks at all these tits and bums!

Gerald's Game (2017)

Dir: Mike Flanagan

This creepy psychological horror story based on a Stephen King book doesn't really belong on the list. However, it does start with a premise which must be a recognisable fear for most BDSM enthusiasts.

What would happen if you were handcuffed to a bed and something unexpected happened and there was no-one there to release you?

The bondage scene in Gerald's Game doesn't get off to a good start given that married couple Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are first-timers who haven't really planned the whole thing properly. They haven't established a safe word, let alone discussed how they want the scene to go.

If Gerald had properly explained to Jessie beforehand that he was planning a creepy, uncomfortable rape fantasy, then she probably would have taken a swerve on the whole endeavour. Communication really is key here, would-be kinksters.

Not that it really matters, as it turns out, given that Gerald dies of a heart attack early on in the proceedings, leaving his wife handcuffed to the bed, on her own, in a lake house, miles away from anyone. In Fairhope, Alabama, no-one can hear you scream.

This all happens in the first fifteen minutes or so. For the rest of the film, poor bed-(literally)-bound Jessie's only companions are the visions she sees in her increasingly weakened state. There's imaginary Gerald, her own imaginary self, Scary Demon Guy and Dead-husband-eating Dog.

What with that and the child-abuse flashbacks, this film really inst a fun-filled kinky sex romp by any stretch of the imagination. Which is fine. It's a great film and not every story which involves someone tied to a bed needs to be a turn-on. (I bet hardly anyone cracked on out to James Caan being tied to the bed in Misery either.)

But given that Netflix suggested this as a Fifty Shades of Grey alternative, they might want to do a bit of work on their algorithms.

So overall, over the last couple of days I've learnt that polyamory is a bad idea, lesbianism leads to infidelity, BDSM clubs are only attended by people with psychological illnesses and if you indulge in bondage, you'll probably end up with a dog eating your face.

I'm either going to have to rethink my lifestyle choices or possibly look further than Netflix if I want to find some kink-positive cinematic sexiness.

Or maybe I should just stick to books for this sort of thing.

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