The Sessions


The Sessions

Just a little pillow talk.

(2012) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Adam Arkin, Rhea Perlman, W. Earl Brown, Robin Weigart, Blake Lindsley, Rusty Schwimmer, Ming Lo, Jennifer Kumiyama. Directed by Ben Lewin

 

We take things for granted. Walking, seeing, hearing, touching…our senses are a gift that not all of us get to utilize. So too is sex. We tend to take it for granted, especially those of us who have partners who are pretty much willing whenever and wherever, that not everyone gets to have sex. For some it’s lack of that willing partner. For others, there are physical impediments.

Mark O’Brien (Hawkes) is a journalist and poet living in Berkeley. It is 1988 and he is 36 years old. Having dismissed one attendant (Schwimmer) for another named Amanda (Marks) whom he has fallen deeply in love with, he has been afflicted with polio since he was six and must confine himself in an iron lung in order to breathe. He is able to exit his confinement for three hours or so at a time but no more. For that reason, having sex has been problematic. When he confesses his love to Amanda, she bolts; he is sure it’s because he’s a virgin.

He is not strictly paralyzed; he has feeling throughout his body and while he is able to move his limbs somewhat he doesn’t have much control; only his head seems to work properly. His night attendant Rod (Brown) and his new day attendant Vera (Bloodgood) are sometimes confronted with Mark’s sexuality; while being bathed he often gets an erection and occasionally ejaculates, much to his consternation.

After writing an article for a local magazine on the subject of sex and the disabled, Mark begins to feel like he was an amateur writing on a subject he didn’t know anything about. Consulting with his parish priest, Father Brendan (Macy) – Mark was raised and continues to be a devout Catholic, attending confession regularly and Mass whenever he can – Mark decides that he needs to experience sex. For one thing, he knows his time on this Earth is limited and he doesn’t want to die a virgin.

Father Brendan refers him to a therapist (Lindsley) who in turn refers him to a sex surrogate – Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Hunt). Mark is given six sessions with which to achieve the intimacy he’s longing to achieve.

Mark is quite nervous at first and confuses Cheryl a little bit with a prostitute (with which she takes great pains to explain the difference). He also requires a great deal of patience as he is prone to…ummm, arrive early. Despite admonitions to the contrary, he begins to develop an emotional bond with his surrogate. And Cheryl, against all odds, begins to feel something for him.

This is based on a true story, chronicled by the real Mark O’Brien in an essay entitled “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” which was published in a magazine called The Sun. O’Brien, who would pass away in 1999, was a talented writer who was also the subject of a 1996 documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien which would win an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.

There might be some Oscar consideration for this one as well. Hawkes gives a remarkable performance as O’Brien, capturing the wheezing vocal quality of someone who has respiratory issues as well as the twisted posture that O’Brien possessed. He also captures all of O’Brien’s doubts, his whimsical sense of humor, his sweetness, his passion and his gift for gab. It’s a complex and layered performance and given Hawkes’ recent string of sensational performances, helps establish him as one of the best actors in the world, bar none.

But as brave as Hawkes’ performance is, Hunt’s is braver. She spends a good deal of the movie fully naked. She makes little or no attempt to hide her 49 years; she is comfortable in her own skin and to show her body this way is probably more than most Oscar winners would agree to (and she is a member of that prestigious club). Cheryl is on one hand the competent professional, on the other a woman whose marriage isn’t what she thought it would be and whose own spirituality is very much in flux; she is converting to Judaism on the request of her husband but like Mark was raised Catholic in Massachusetts.

Macy’s Father Brendan reminds me of some of the Jesuit priests I knew at Loyola; certainly well aware of their duties to the Church but equally aware of the needs of men (and women) and who owed more allegiance to common sense than to dogma. He’s the kind of priest you would feel comfortable opening up to in the confessional and out, one whose advice you would consider seriously and one who you wouldn’t mind grabbing a beer with after the game. Like I said, a Jesuit in spirit if not in reality.

This is a movie that might sound on the surface that it is about sex (and yes there is some graphic nudity although nothing that I would consider pornographic) but it really isn’t. It’s about kindness. It’s about triumphing over adversity. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. And it’s about spirituality. Sex is just a component of this multi-layered film. Sure there are some who might be offended by the rather frank discussions of sex, arousal and intercourse. In some ways this is a 95 minute sex education film but it isn’t a how-to. What it really is about is how beautiful life is and that anything is possible. This is a movie that genuinely uplifts without having to resort to emotional manipulation and if you aren’t moved by it, you may need to check your pulse.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing performances from Hawkes and Hunt. Deeply affecting.

REASONS TO STAY: Very matter-of-fact and somewhat clinical at times about sex; those who are offended about such things might be troubled by the movie.

FAMILY VALUES:  The movie contains a lot of frank representations of sex, both verbally and physically. There is a good deal of nudity as well as some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hawkes used a foam ball laid on his spine to get the curvature of his body correct. The process was painful but Hawkes said in an interview that compared to what similarly disabled people go through it was bearable and worth enduring to get the part right.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100. The reviews are extremely positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Say Anything

IRON LUNG LOVERS: The production designers were loaned an old iron lung for the filming. The device was era specific.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: I Am Legend

New Releases for the Week of November 16, 2012


THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2

(Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Elizabeth Reaser, Maggie Grace, Dakota Fanning.  Directed by Bill Condon

This is it – the final battle between the Cullens and the Morituri with Edward, Bella and their daughter caught squarely in the crosshairs. Who will survive? Well, many of those who will be going to see this right away will know from having read the books but that’s of course only if the filmmakers stick to the script. This one brings the series to a close, although considering the billions of dollars it has generated to this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see further trips back to this world.

See the trailer, featurettes, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity)

Jab Tak Hai Jaan

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma, Rishi Kapoor. A veteran of the army, living in London, chooses to lead a double life. It all comes crashing down around him however when he is forced to choose between his wife and his muse.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Lincoln

(DreamWorks) Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Hal Holbrook. The 16th President of the United States must cope with a bloody civil war, the prejudices of his political opponents and his own conscience in order to see America through. That he did so marks him as perhaps the greatest president our country has ever had and a hero for the ages.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language)

The Sessions

(Fox Searchlight) John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood. A polio victim confined to an iron lung determines to lose his virginity at age 38. With the help of his therapists and a somewhat unorthodox priest, he sets out to make his dream come true. Based on a true story.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue)

Smashed

(Sony Classics) Aaron Paul, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer. A couple who love to party begin to find that the alcohol, drugs and sex are beginning to impact their careers and their lives. When the wife begins to spiral out of control, her very relationship with her husband comes into question as to whether or not he is a good thing for her.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use)

Son of Sardaar

(Viacom18) Ajay Devgn, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Juhi Chawla. A man who returns home to the village where he grew up becomes a pawn in a long-standing family feud.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Faster


Faster

Dwayne Johnson realizes that sometimes, the People's Elbow just isn't enough.

(2010) Action (CBS) Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace, Moon Bloodgood, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Tom Berenger, Courtney Gains, Mike Epps, Xander Berkeley, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jennifer Carpenter. Directed by George Tillman Jr.

The American action picture is somewhat of an archetype. It borrows heavily from the Western and often employs taciturn loners as heroes. It takes place on windswept plains and empty towns, and sometimes in big cities which convey a different type of loneliness. In this world, a man is measured by the size of his gun and his willingness to use it.

Driver (Johnson) is being released from prison after doing a ten-year stretch. Although the warden (Berenger) chides him to seek help if he finds himself going down the wrong path, Driver already has a direction in mind.

After picking up a 72 Chevy muscle car in a scrap yard, Driver has some business to take care of. You see, the gang that pulled off the bank heist that got him sent to the pen was ambushed by a rival gang who killed them all off and left Driver for dead having taken a bullet to the back of the skull. Surgeons affixed a metal plate to keep his brains from leaking out and now he walks around with a bit of a bad attitude.

Normally Driver could let something like that go but one of the dead was his half-brother and Driver doesn’t cotton much to that. He’s out to kill every mutha on the list of those who were responsible, from the low-lifes who were there to the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes. The latter would rather he didn’t come too close so they send out a hit man (Jackson-Cohen) with a strange British accent and impulse control problems. Killer, as he’s called is more of a dilettante than a professional, but he does have a girl (Grace) of his own and by gum he’s gonna marry that girl if it’s the last thing he does.

Also on Driver’s tale is a Cop (Thornton) who has even more problems than Driver or Killer. Ten days from retirement, he is a heroin user whose estranged wife harangues him for being late picking up his son for a baseball game and he’s more or less a joke to his peers. He has one last chance at redemption, not that Detective Cicero (Gugino), his partner, is interested; she just wants to catch this killer and she doesn’t want a sad sack junkie partner slowing her down.

This sounds more like an action movie of the ‘70s and in some ways it is. There is also a bit of the dark soul of film noir from the ‘40s and in some ways, it is. What it REALLY is, believe it or not, is an old-fashioned morality play. This story is not so much about revenge as it is redemption; it’s not so much about car chases as it is about forgiveness. While the trappings of an action movie are there, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Part of why the movie succeeds is because of Johnson. The Rock, the Brahma Bull, the People’s Champ. That guy. This is by far his best performance to date. His Driver starts out a killing machine, fueled by rage. As the body count gets higher, so does his sense of remorse, and a feeling that maybe revenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. By the time he reaches the final name on his list, a man who has reformed and become a Pentecostal preacher (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) the doubts have really set in. Things are no longer so black and white; it’s easy to walk up to a bad guy and blow the back of his head off if there is no doubt he is bad.

Thornton excels at playing folks who are a little bit flawed; he’s even better at playing folks who are a LOT flawed. That’s just what Cop is – a lot flawed (he actually has a name that appears briefly on a document near the end of the movie, but I didn’t catch it). Thornton gives him the hangdog look of a man who has made more mistakes than he can count and is desperate to try and redeem himself.  There’s that whole redemption thing again.

Gugino, who I still continue to maintain is one of the most criminally underutilized actresses in Hollywood gets wasted again in a role that she could easily have phoned in but chose not to. Her character is suspicious and somewhat hostile at first but ultimately makes some choices that show her to have a soft heart as well…oh yeah, I guess that you could call that…the “R”  word.

This is not a typical action movie and I don’t believe it ever was intended to be. In some ways it’s grim and brutal and the story line is a bit predictable (Da Queen figured out who was behind all the messed-up events long before the Big Reveal in the final reel, which puts her one up on me) and at times it feels like the characters are going through the motions as they drive through the deserts of Bakersfield and Inyo County. It isn’t the kind of entertainment that is mindless and easy (not that there is anything wrong with entertainment that is both of those things). I found myself reacting to the movie with a curious intellectual fascination which is not something you get from an action movie normally. For that reason alone I can recommend this.

REASONS TO GO: While ostensibly an action movie, this is also a morality play on steroids. Johnson makes a welcome return to a genre he is very well suited to.

REASONS TO STAY: The ending is a bit predictable and the movie has a curious lack of energy for a movie of this type.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a surprising amount of drug use in the movie, quite a bit of violence and a fair amount of foul language. There is also some brief sexuality that ought to bother nobody.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first strictly action film that Johnson has done since Doom (2005).

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the car chase sequences look good on the big screen but a lot of the rest of the movie is fairly intimate. Too close to call for me, so I’ll let you make it.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li


Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

What martial arts videogame adaptation would be complete without its zen moment?

(20th Century Fox) Kristin Kreuk, Michael Clarke Duncan, Neal McDonough, Robin Shou, Chris Klein, Taboo, Moon Bloodgood, Edmund Chen, Chung Pei Pei. Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise is one of the most beloved and popular videogames in history. A live-action version starring Jean-Claude van Damme was made in 1994. How would this stack up?

Chun Li (Kreuk) is a concert pianist who has been through a great deal in her young life. Trained in the martial arts as a child by her father (Chen), she watches in horror as he is kidnapped by the villainous industrialist Bison (McDonough) and his gigantic flunky Balrog (Duncan).

After her mom passes away, Chun Li receives a mysterious scroll that may hold the key to finding her father and restoring justice. It directs her to seek out Gen (Shou), a mysterious martial arts master who alone can complete her training and prepare her for the most important mission of her life.

Also on Bison’s trail is are a pair of Interpol agents; Nash (Klein), a brash American and Maya (Bloodgood), a hottie of indeterminate nationality. As the paths of those who pursue Bison converge, it is discovered that he is buying up large parcels of land in Bangkok with the intent of introducing an upsurge in crime to drive the property values down in order for him to get the largest amount of profit when he erects condos and high rises in the bustling harborside neighborhood.

Bison has an army of private henchmen at his disposal and he’s ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants. Chun Li must go beyond her own capabilities if she is to survive and rescue her father.

The plot summary is somewhat sparse, but really, what can you expect from a videogame adaptation? The point of the movie is to generate action sequences and eye candy set to a throbbing rock score that will give the target audience of pimply-faced gamers a chubby just thinking about it. I don’t know that the movie succeeds on that level.

For one thing, I don’t understand why you would make a movie adaptation of a videogame and then make subtle and unnecessary changes in the game’s mythos that is sure to alienate your target audience. I don’t mind artistic license and when adapting something out of any medium you have to expect changes to be made, but those should be changes that enhance the storytelling process or reflect the technology available to recreate the action, not changes that are seemingly out of the writer’s ego to place their own stamp on a franchise that was doing just fine before they decided to make a movie based on it.

The fight sequences, to be fair, are pretty well done at least to my admittedly untrained eye. I’m sure martial arts purists were shuddering at some of the moves executed by the actors; at times even I could tell that the actors weren’t hitting the moves correctly. That’s a definite problem for a movie so rooted in martial arts. Also to the good, Bartkowiak has created a look as far as the Bangkok backstreets are concerned that is stylish and fun. The visual aspect of the film is solid.

Duncan is having a marvelous time as Balrog. When he grins, you get the impression that he’s thinking “I’m getting paid for this?” His work makes the movie watchable. Sadly, some of the other actors don’t fair as well. Klein, whose previous career highlight was the American Pie films, is probably not the right guy for the role of Nash which might have benefitted from someone along the lines of a Taylor Kitsch or a Chris Hemsworth. Also McDonough’s accent slips from a standard American to a pseudo-Irish oddly; it winds up being a distraction.

There are also some strange plot devices; for example, when Chun Li announces that she needs to do further research into Bison’s criminal enterprise, the first place she goes is Google. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Gambino family had a website?

This is meant to be disposable, easily digestible action fare and to a large extent it is. The movie is seriously flawed, however, which may give those looking for superior action films pause. There is enough to like here that I can give it a slight recommendation, but be aware that even those who love the videogame may have some problems with the movie version.

WHY RENT THIS: Bartkowiak has a distinctive visual style and most of the fight scenes are impressive to the layman. Duncan seems to be having a great time and attacks his role with gusto.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Standard videogame adaptation fare with not a whole lot of plot to speak of.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of martial arts violence, but nothing that would bother the average teen. If you think it’s okay for your child to play the videogame, chances are the movie will be fine too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robin Shou has also appeared in the Mortal Kombat movies, making him the only cast member to date to have appeared in other movies based on videogames.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray and Special Edition DVD include an animated comic book called Street Fighter: Round One – Fight! which should appeal to fans of the videogame series, as well as some features on the training the actors went through to become onscreen martial arts masters. The Blu-Ray contains a trivia track (a favorite feature of Da Queen).

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: From Paris With Love