Netflix

Best Of Netflix: Ill-Advised Affairs

The film that saved a lot of marriages (and raised the ire of more than one feminist group), Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction stars Michael Douglas as Dan Gallagher, a successful and happily married Manhattan attorney who indulges in a fling with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), an editor for a publishing company whom he meets through business. After a weekend of caressing each other with water from the kitchen sink, hoofin’ it at a dance club like they were 20 and getting a hummer in a freight elevator, Dan calls it off when his wife and daughter return from out of town — but Alex “will not be ignored” as she proceeds to stalk her former lover, pour acid on his car and boil his daughter’s pet rabbit on the stove. Fatal Attraction is B-movie extreme cinema all the way, though one passes for pop art thanks to the excellent performances of the two leads (as well as Anne Archer as the wronged wife) and Lyne’s gleefully mischievous direction. The film turns into a full-blown slasher flick by the third act, prompting many to frown at the depiction of a successful career woman who’s also a complete psychopath (and others to criticize the fact that, ultimately, Dan doesn’t really have to pay too high a price for his infidelities); whatever might be “wrong” with the film, it’s now fully embedded in our pop culture consciousness (“bunny boiler” is now a common term to describe a jealous mistress) and earned over $156 million at the U.S. box office (which is, like, a billion dollars in 1987 terms).


More infidelity fun with Adrian Lyne! More of a somber, old-fashioned Machiavellian morality play than the full-throttle horror film that was Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal (can you just see that title on the cover of a ten-cent romance novel?) stars Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson as Diana and David, married high school sweethearts who blow their life savings in Vegas in a failed attempt to raise money for David’s dream real estate project. Luckily, mysterious (and, somewhat thankfully, handsome) billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) is around, hot for Diana and willing to pay a million bucks in exchange for a night of passion; after mulling it over, the couple agrees to the transaction, which prompts a downward spiral of jealousy, guilt and regret. Demi’s mad hot in this (and the gents aren’t too shabby themselves), but Lyne’s cooled-off direction never manages to make it seem like anything’s truly at stake; the script’s refusal to turn Gage into an easy villain, while in a different story would be an interesting, nuanced bit of characterization, is actually problematic here as you never quite know who you’re supposed to be rooting for in this mess. A guilty pleasure, to be sure, but a middling one.


Imagine the most godawful ripoff of Basic Instinct that your mind can possibly conjure and you’ve still come nowhere close to hitting the depths of this utterly embarrassing yet strangely irresistible Z-level melodrama. Madonna plays a seductive cuckoo bird on trial for literally fu**ing a man to death; Willem Dafoe is her idiot lawyer who can’t help but get mixed up in her weirdo sex life of candle wax, public intercourse, simulated rape and other activities designed to titillate the audience and yet end up inspiring more laughs than most comedies. Madonna looks amazing but she often comes across as a complete fool, though even the most talented thespian would be bested by Brad Mirman’s ridiculous (and often completely illogical) screenplay; the success of Basic Instinct — and the hope of repeating it — managed to attract a top-notch supporting cast doing some of their worst-ever work, including Frank Langella, Joe Mantegna, Jurgen Prochnow, Fatal Attraction‘s Anne Archer and Julianne Moore as Dafoe’s poor wife (who gets one of her own humiliating over-the-top sex scenes). Like most cinematic train wrecks, you can’t look away, and you’ll hate yourself in the morning for it. Nominated for six Golden Raspberries, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Dafoe), Worst Director, Worst Supporting Actress (Archer) and Worst Screenplay, with Madonna winning Worst Actress.


Harrison Ford got a buzzcut for his role as Rozat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, the right-hand man of Prosecuting Attorney Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) who finds himself the chief suspect in a murder trial after his colleague, Carolyn Pohemus (Greta Scacchi), is found dead in her apartment. The investigation is a complicated one, as Rusty’s initial attempts to cover up his previous affair with Carolyn end up backfiring on him, turning the trial into a hotbed of political conspiracy, cover-ups and double-crosses — and painting the victim as quite the Jezebel temptress with the power to make men do very stupid things. Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of Scott Turow’s bestselling novel is needlessly convoluted, leading up to a dissatisfying (and rather preposterous) conclusion; however, the joy here is in the performances, as Ford does well in playing vulnerable and the late, great Raul Julia all but steals the show as Rusty’s crafty defense lawyer, Alejandro ‘Sandy’ Stern. Best of all, though, is Scacchi, impossibly sexy as the ambitious career woman willing to sleep her way to the top; she turns what could’ve been a run-of-the-mill courtroom drama into an erotic, tantalizingly sleazy mystery.


Somehow, Liam Neeson gets through this entire movie without punching one person, firing one gun or swinging one sword; if his character, Peter, had exhibited some of that trademark Neeson passion, maybe his wife Lisa (Laura Linney) wouldn’t have strayed and sought passion in the arms of Ralph (pronounced “Rafe,” and played by Antonio Banderas). Peter is a software developer completely dedicated to his work, now struggling with grief over Lisa’s untimely death; in going through her belongings, he discovers a note in one of her shoes that uncovers her secret adulterous life. Peter tracks down this “other man” and even strikes up something of a friendship with him, biding his time as he formulates the cuckold’s dream of vengeance. Director Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s short story is perhaps more theatrical than cinematic as it tends to indulge in too-obvious symbolism (Peter and Ralph’s relationship is developed over a series of chess games played at a cafe), but the film remains interesting (and is occasionally rather intense) thanks to the passionate yet nicely underplayed performances by the two leading men; meanwhile, Linney creates a sense of mystery (and, later, tragedy) with her limited screen time as a complex woman totally worth fighting over. Ultimately, The Other Man is a strange and sometimes compelling tale of secrets and lies that you’d do well to investigate.


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