The Sessions Revew
By Tory Smith
The Sessions directed by Ben Lewin, and starring the world class talent of John Hawkes, a near forgotten treasure, Helen Hunt, and the searingly gifted William H. Macy. This film is based on real life journalist and poet Mark O’Brien and his spectacular article On Seeing a Sex Surrogate. The Sessions tells the story of how O’Brien, a childhood polio survivor who spent nearly his entire life in an iron lung and severely paralyzed, lost his virginity by seeking a sex surrogate to release him of his curiosity and emotional self-worth. Hawkes portrays O’Brien and Hunt portrays sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene, a real life therapist of the form.
I remember hearing of this film distinctly in the early part of this year. I was intrigued once I heard of the subject matter. Sex has been such a huge taboo in this country for many years and for many reasons. For that fact alone, sex in this particular nation has caused great grief, debate, unnecessary attention, and confusion. The history of sex in the U.S.A. has been a hushed act of embarrassment. People do it, but don’t want to really talk about it. But due to slow progression and the previous century it has come to the for front of reveling itself. Some revelations are greatly positive, while others have surfaced to be misguided and demented.
This film brought out many thoughts on the formulaic rules of sex that has plagued our society. Having sex becomes a rite of passage for young straight males to ensure their manhood. Not having sex before marriage enhances a woman’s worth of becoming a worthy wife and mother. Obsession over and about sex makes you a well versed and experienced homosexual. Having numerous sex partners improves your “pimp” status to your boys in the hood. As straight men and women, homosexual men and women, and ethnic men and women, we are overwhelmed with rules and what is appropriate or not in the private quarters of our bedrooms.
The Sessions dares to question those attributions we have contributed to our sex history. Without giving too much away, O’Brien took his perspective of what sex was for him to new heights. His is a tale of achieving a special detail of sex that seems to be lost in popular culture: connection. He desperately wanted to connect to another human being beyond his poetic words or his inquiries of religious rhetoric. He didn’t want to experience sex for the only mere fact that he hasn’t tried it before, but for the sole purpose of knowing what magic can be shared between two people in passion. There was a moment in the film where O’Brien asked Greene about her personal life. He wanted to know a sense of who she was. He asked her out for coffee. He made her laugh. He made her think. He shared his body, but most importantly he shared his spirit with her. Personally, I have experience various forms of sex with various types of people. Some have been boring experiences. Some have been exciting and something I think about as a great memory. I have come to the conclusion that I no longer want to experience sex with just anyone. I want to know who the person is. I want them to know me. And regardless of us being in love or not, when we choose to have sex, it needs to be an event. I want to remember you and our experience fondly for however long it will last. Many times, the intercourse is not the most alluring and tantalizing aspect. It can be a gently touch, a look of intensity, a kiss of epic proportions.
Behind every great story is a love story. The Sessions is no different in that way. And the love is not just romantic. It’s a priest (Father Brendan portrayed by William H. Macy) befriending a person in need. It’s the people who are dedicated to taking care of O’Brien.
John Hawkes is on quite a roll. I have seen him in recent projects and he never fails to impress and inspire. His O’Brien is quite a remarkable challenge for any actor portraying him physically. Hawkes achieved this task to an amazing effect. What makes his performance so seamless is the fact that you don’t even question or really realize that the actor playing the character is acting. He approached O’Brien with a readiness that was effortless, self-less, and infectious. The humor of his character kept a smile on my face the entire film. He brought the man back to life, with a want to know him more. I wanted to befriend him. Hawkes was simply great in every way of the world that lived in that movie
Helen Hunt has returned to form. Her Cheryl Greene was fraught with obligation and emotion. Her perspective gave the film its raw intensity without reaching dramatics. Much of her nudity in this movie is taking precedence. I’ve been watching interviews where that is the bulk of interest, and honestly it shouldn’t be, and that is the power of Hunt’s performance. Her nakedness is not uncomfortable, but beautiful. You didn’t see a spec of self-doubt in her performance. She literally broke my heart. I thought she was simply fantastic.
William H. Macy has a featured role, but his presence is the work of what great character actors do. They support the players, and add another layer of human honestly. Macy playing the priest offered a perspective of a completely different spirit. This part could have been forgotten or underplayed where it could have been removed. Macy brought simplicity to the role that allowed for the other love story to flourish: unbridled and true friendship. I adored him in this picture.
All in all I felt this film spoke to me, and those who view it will hopefully be open and understanding of one’s limitations, sexual practices, and grateful for what they can share with their loved ones, whether that is romantic or not.
The film was nicely paced, and was about people. And I love a good people story. The only flaw for me was the ending. It’s hard to end a story like this without going to the brink of complete sappiness, but I felt the director could have found a substantial ending that the story deserved.
Go and see this film today. My good friend Matt Figueira described it as being “quite wonderful.” It is. It will touch your heart and warm your soul. It’s so good!
Grade: A- ( that minus is for the ending)
By Tory Smith
Money is such an issue in all of our lives. It’s difficult when you find yourself in a predicament like mine where you live pay check to pay check, and have no real way of supporting miscellaneous activities outside of bills (It feels useless to continue to pay off my loans when my Bachelor’s Degree can’t even produce a server position at various locations in the Los Angeles Food & Beverage industry!)
This is the time of the year for me to attend cinemas. Some of the most anticipated and critically acclaimed films of the year are approaching, and approaching fast! Since these films are all vying for Oscar consideration for various reasons, they all come out at the same time. Tickets are at a standard price of $12.50 for the films I want to see, meaning I have to choose wisely what films I am able to spend that quality money on presently.
However, television is presently, in my opinion and many others, the better medium. The depth television offers are some of the most exciting and exhilarating showcases of talent and poignant storytelling. Its significance rivals that of current films and film-making. Television simply offers more opportunities and imaginative stories that are able to be produced than the film industry allows (unless the film is an Independent one, where not enough attention is given to that small film outside of critics and cinephiles).
With all that said, I want to share my thoughts on a couple of T.V. movies that caught my great interest and intrigue, a motion picture that I have yet to still conclude my personal feelings for, and the other that left me educated but a bit disappointed.
Steel Magnolias~ Lifetime
Currently running on Lifetime, Steel Magnolias is a made for T.V. movie based on Robert Harling’s play of the same name. This material was made famous by the 1989 film version directed by Herbert Ross and starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine among others. The story revolves around a group of southern Louisiana women who gossip, and experience various hardships of life filled with humor and irony. This remake is poignant because it stars an all-Black cast, featuring some of the most important African-American actresses of the modern era as well as up and comers in the acting industry. Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Adepero Oduye, and Condola Rashad play the principle characters.
I found the remake to be quite good! Remakes are terribly hard to do, but if the minds behind the piece find ways to bring a new life into the original work than the job is accomplished. Beginning with making it an all-Black cast made it already something interesting and different. It is also set in today’s time, with a few alterations to the script to make it as such. Steel Magnolias is an iconic film for many reasons. As a gay man, it’s a very popular film within gay pop culture. I had my doubts about this film that I felt to be such a new classic into something entirely modern. I knew every original scene by heart, where they placed certain scenes, how it played out- all in the back of my mind when I began watching this film. The great aspect about his remake was I forgot at times of the original. The movie drove my attention back to the story and its players. Being the type of audience member I am (Gay, Black, theatrically trained and film knowledgeable) that is difficult to do. I also loved the way that the culture of Black Americans empowered the movie. The details of the music, clothing, and atmosphere felt authentic, and for a predominately White network to showcase a respect for Black culture without going too far to the extreme of stereotyping made me quite pleased. It felt and looked like a T.V. movie (it’s Lifetime after all), but the flow of film was nicely paced, and didn’t try to exaggerate anything out of the ordinary.
I felt the actresses where spot on. They were natural and pleasant. The sweet and sassy powers of Scott, the legendary Rashad, and the consummate Woodard were all such a great core for the group. Their characters were portrayed with sincerity and great humor. I found Oduye’s role played down a bit, but rightfully so because her character is a bit of a downer.
I found Latifah the weakest link. Latifah is one of the most successful Black Actresses of all time. She’s a huge name, and one of the few legendary rap artists in American Rock & Roll history. With that said, I never found her to be that special of an actress. Obviously comedy is her strong point. Her voice is fantastic (with an Oscar-nominated performance in Chicago to boot!); however, her dramatic efforts fall short because she’s hiding “something.” We all know what that is, and until she becomes true to herself, she will never reach the full dramatic potential she is capable of performing (the scenes with her husband felt unnatural, and Latifah was a bit too young to play this part). This is why I feel her best acting work has been 1996’s Set It Off.
The bright star in this film for me was Phylicia’s daughter, Condola Rashad as Shelby. I LOVED the attitude, sassiness, and internal make-up she gave to Shelby. She gave the audience an entirely new Shelby. She didn’t give us this overly sweet and charming Shelby Julia Roberts portrayed. Condola gave us a bratty, undeniably sweet, yet feisty Shelby. Her Shelby felt more grown up, unlike Roberts’ stunted little girl version. I hope more parts come Condola’s way.
All in all I would give this film a B+ for bringing new life into a popular classic that felt natural and needed.
The Girl~ HBO
The Girl premiered on HBO starring the understated Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock and the beautiful & talented Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, as well as Imelda Staunton and Penelope Wilton (of Downton Abbey fame). The story follows the journey of Hedren and Hitchcock’s relationship while making the classic films The Birds and Marnie. There is renewed fever with Hitchcock in the film industry with this film and the highly anticipated Hitchcock motion picture coming to theatres in November 2012. When I saw the trailer I instantly become intrigued. I began to do my internet research, and read articles on the two Hitchcock films and interviews that Tippi had on their particular relationship. When I found out that Tippi’s experiences were confounded with salacious tales of inappropriate behavior she encountered with the famous director, I was set on seeing this movie (and Tippi herself had a hand in bringing the film to life).
The film begins quite quickly into the plot. We get to Hitchcock and Hedren meeting and her life changing when offered the role of a lifetime. Though we get to this relationship rather soon, the pace of the film drags. The conflict finally comes to the surface when we see Hedren fight off a surprised kiss attack from Hitchcock in the back of a car after he presents her with a very gross joke. Outside of this sadistic relationship that feels like a lawsuit waiting to happen, we are back to the draggy pace, and lack luster dialogue. The film seemed to be on a budget as well. Visually we do not travel too far in the film besides the mock set of The Birds and Hedren’s home. I will say one of the scenes are quite pivotal when Hedren is asked to do the infamous attic scene where she is told mechanical birds are unable to be used, and that she will have to physically fight off “trained” birds. On top of that she had to endure the scene for a week! I kept saying out loud “UNION!!!” I shuttered at that particular moment. The physical pain this actress had to endure brought out my sympathies, and made me thankful for rules of today’s movie making.
After viewing the film, I’m not sure who’s interest was it best suited for, or how it made this famous collaboration look. Who’s to blame? It’s unclear to me, because I could make cases for both parties involved. I’ve been watching interviews of Hedren’s present interviews. I find that I don’t believe her for some reason. She comes off bitter and a bit of a helpless victim. She blames Hitchcock for ending her career. However, Hedren was just a model with no formal training as an actress. Hitchcock took this unknown, obscure, and talent-less woman and brought her into film history. It comes down to talent when it comes to this industry. You might be out one day, but if you are persistent, smart, ambitious, and naturally talented, one can and will succeed somehow. Sorry Hedren, but outside of his films, you simply didn’t have that much to offer to the world of cinema. Then there’s Hitchcock, who’s portrayed, by this film’s opinion, as a sexually repressed man, who wanted to be beautiful (a perspective you don’t really see in American films about men). However, that does not excuse the behavior he showed to this newbie. It’s demented and plain disgusting. However is it truth, or Hedren’s opinion manifested out of bitterness for her unsuccessful longevity in the film industry?
The performances saved this film from being forgettable. Jones is quite the silent player. Every role is spot on as in his version of Hitchcock. He’s a small man, but his presence is big. The script didn’t really allow him to delve deeper into the psyche of Hitchcock, but he made the most of what he was given.
Miller is a misunderstood actress. Regardless of her unfair tabloid fair, she is so damn talented. I still feel her performance in Factory Girl should have got her an Oscar nomination. Here, she does the same as Jones. However, we are able to see more of an insight with her character because it’s written with more interest. She is poised, beautiful, and solid. She brings that hushed struggle and great confusion as a woman taken advantage of in the film business.
Everyone else is underused which is a shame, because Imelda Staunton is such a great actress, and I wanted to see SO much more of her Alma.
I would rate this film a C+, it looked beautiful, but it was empty at parts when it should have been filled.
Cloud Atlas~ Warner Brothers
Cloud Atlas a film directed by a trio of talents: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Washowski adapted from David Mitchell’s novel of the same name. It stars several Hollywood heavy weights including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. I’m still contemplating this film because I just viewed it recently. It’s having the same affect that The Dark Knight Rises had on me: Was it a mess or was it brilliant (the Dark Knight I’ve concluded was a convoluted mess)? Regardless of the often confusing story-telling, it had the premise of such films as Babel and Crash, where each story within the whole piece has a relationship with the other. However, in Cloud Atlas we are dealing with different times from the past, present, future, and beyond. Regardless, that type of premise always feels like a complete gimmick, but I will have to say it did make an entertaining experience. It was often fantastical, a bit kitschy, funny, odd, and unnecessary.
Story lines were overused and underused, and at times my perspective changed on what was interesting or felt like fluff. I cared about one story more than I cared for others.
The story line that always brought me back to what the purpose of this film’s vocation was that of Sonmi-451 set in the future year of 2144. The story involved a manufactured server of the future, who is chosen to set a revolution of change from the inhumane process of the working industry. It was the clearest story line for me to fully understand and feel something for.
This film had the essence of those I wrote about before, with The NeverEnding Story, Minority Report, The Matrix trilogies, and Amistad mixed in.
What I did enjoy that this film did do was the entire film is rippled from the effect of a Gay love affair between two men. That is where the symbolism surprised and enticed me. I found that to be quite beautiful and thought-provoking (however, what seems typical is that both men die, but that’s not really because of the powers at the studios, but what was probably contained in the book).
Visually the film is striking and uber exciting. Now the makeup is inspiring, however there lies the controversy with this film. You have all the principle actors playing various roles of various ages, and various races. Some come off quite well, while others come off laughable and cartoonish. I can’t get over the fact that every actor who had to portray elderly people looked as if they were burned in a terrible house fire. The idea of it is really quite adventurous, but the execution was met with many problems
In terms of acting, I mean it’s hard to really criticize because every person dealt with a different director on various days of shooting, much of it is green screen, and the make-up produced problems for the actor to physically emote correctly. However, it is difficult to put big names in movies like this because one cannot separate their real life presence with the character they are trying to portray. Hanks and Berry had the biggest problems for me. However, I will say the bright star in this ensemble was that of Doona Bae. This Korean actress is obviously unknown to many in the states, but her characters were filled with exciting nuances because she is unknown and of a different race than most of American actors in big budgeted films.
Oh! And Jim Brodbent is a HOOT!!!!! He was very funny in this collage of storytelling.
I’d give the film a C+ based on what it was trying to accomplish, and not failing in all areas. Still thinking it over (which is probably the sign of a good movie)
Argo~ produced by George Clooney & Grant Heslov
Argo is the historical tale of the 1980 CIA-Canadian operation to free hostages from Iran. Everyone I know has seen the film. I decided to see this film with my free movie ticket! I’ve heard such great things about the film, and I am more and more becoming a die-hard fan of Ben Affleck whose past efforts, The Town in particular, has had an effect on me.
It’s history. Got it! Now for the movie: entertaining? Yes. Should it be as held to such high esteem as it’s getting? No. My problems lie with the concentration of the film. The first half suffered from the “been there, seen that” syndrome. And moving the plot along to get to the more interesting portion of the film, where Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) infiltrates Iran to free the Americans. I feel the story moves a bit too quick in the beginning, which for me, was the most confusing to grapple. The suspense of the second half kept me interested. And not familiar with the history of this situation, I was very caught up in the drama of the film. And what Affleck directed brought various thoughts of how Americans are quite obnoxious when it comes to defending and standing up for the country, the fact that I NEVER want to travel to the Middle East, and how unsung heroes really save the spirit of humanity and justice. The crutch however is the fact that it is based on a true story. And sometimes the truth is boring to retell. Could there have been a more interesting beginning to meet the second half with true facts involved? Probably.
As for the acting I do have to say that it was done well. However, my biggest pet peeve is that of Ben Affleck’s role. Affleck is portraying CIA legend Tony Mendez. Um… “Mendez” is a Latin name, and the man he is portraying is Latin. So the many number of Latin actors in the industry weren’t even called in for this film? That really just gets me. I understand that to probably get this film as lauded or supported, you need big names, and why not Affleck? But it’s incredibly inaccurate and feels unnecessary to make that type of choice to get your movie produced or sold. Also, Mendez is the only character that we delve into the personal life of. With Affleck at the helm of directing this piece, I felt as if his concentration shouldn’t have been both director and lead actor. His concentration should have solely been directing because Mendez’s character lacked nuances and realizations, and therefore was not fully realized as a human being. He was rather an emotionless catalyst to drive the story along. As for Goodman and Arkin, they played their parts well, but didn’t really have a chance to make them whole. They offered the film with humor and irony, and they did that well. Cranston was great, but as he always is. I really hope Hollywood gives him the lead he deserves one day.
As the movie as a whole, I would give it a solid B. The efforts were made well, but I expected a bit more.