The Sessions

29 Mar

Director: Ben Lewin (2012)

The_Sessions_posterBased on the true story of Mark O’Brien, a poet trapped in an iron lung after polio left him paralyzed from the neck down, and his decision to lose his virginity, The Sessions is an undeniably affecting film.

At the age of 38, Mark has never felt the hands of a woman, other than those of his caretakers during a less than erotic sponge bath, and has never been naked in a room at the same time as someone else. Things that a lot of us will take for granted every day but for Mark, after his kindness is rejected once again, he has reached his limit and decides it is time to force himself into a sexual awakening – now or never.

But when your movement is almost entirely dependent on someone else, or a stick in your mouth, and you are confined to either an iron box or a gurney on wheels, seduction is going to have its limits. Thankfully, Mark is introduced to a ‘sex surrogate’, a trained sex therapist available to initiate people into the sexual world, whatever their ability, or in Mark’s case – disability.

Cheryl Cohen-Greene is one of the few registered sex surrogates in the States, a caring and open woman, whose compassion but gentle forcefulness allows her and Mark to create a tender relationship, and eventually, intimate partnership. Limited to only six ‘sessions’ Mark and Cheryl work together to allow Mark to become aware of his body, a body that has betrayed him since he was a child. But it is not just Mark who receives the awakening.

Raised a Catholic, Mark seeks solace in religion – as he says himself, he needs someone to blame for the way he is! – developing a friendship with Father Brendan (William H Macy). At the top of the aisle, Jesus statue watching from above, Mark lies in his gurney, confessing his sins to his Father. Initially taken aback that Mark is asking permission to fornicate outside the marital bed, Father Brendan soon realises that God would probably grant him a free pass on this one, giving him approval as a friend and a Father. These lightly comedic interludes as Mark keeps Father Brendan up to date with his progress piece together the experiences we see in the bedroom and the restorative affect this journey is having on Mark.

Physically transformed, John Hawkes delivers an astounding performance as Mark, contorting his body to that of a polio sufferer while simultaneously capturing the infectious wit and hopefulness that made him so desirable to the many beautiful women in his life – difficult as actualising these feelings may be. Helen Hunt embraces the ethos of Cheryl, full frontal in her approach to both the nudity and the struggles maintaining the delicate balance between close and too close with her patients.

Just as it is in their bedroom, The Sessions belongs to Hunt and Hawkes, producing overwhelmingly powerful and mature portrayals of what is essentially a relationship none of us will ever be able to even begin to understand. Inspiring and empathetic throughout, The Sessions captures the strength and resilience of one man and his desire to succeed, reminding us that love can come in many forms.

Side Effects

20 Mar

Director: Stephen Soderbergh (2013)

SideEffects2013PosterThere is nothing more terrifying than reading the side effects on new medication. Written on the thinnest paper, intricately folded into the tiny box with origamic precision to ensure they can include all the reported side effects. Hair loss, hair gain, decreased sex drive, weight loss, weight gain, depression… It’s better to avoid them at all costs. But in a country where health care comes at a cost, the pharmaceutical industry becomes a dangerous beast when, just like our medication, doctors can also be bought.

Allegedly Soderbergh’s last film, Side Effects delivers a terrifying insight into the American disease of big pharma in the mould of a post-Hitchcockian psychological thriller. But unlike the legally required notes in your medicine, to reveal the plots and surprises of the film would be a sincerely unwanted side effect of this review.

Emily (Rooney Mara) eagerly awaits the return of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) as he is finally released from prison following a four year stint for insider trading. But after a surprise run-in with a wall in her car, Emily is soon diagnosed with depression and agrees to start seeing a psychiatrist, Jonathan Bands (Jude Law). When other drugs fail to work, Jonathan contacts Emily’s old psychiatrist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta Jones) who suggests a new drug, Ablixa that might help Emily regain control of her spiralling life and help her enjoy life with her newly returned husband.

Bringing up often overlooked themes of mental illness and violence alongside notions of guilt and who should hold the blame when pharma goes wrong, Side Effects is an eye opener into the corruption and dangers of a society obsessed with pharmaceutical fixes. Last seen in Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, Channing Tatum functions as a (shirtless) catalyst to jumpstart the film, illuminating the struggles of Emily to feel excitement that her husband is finally returned. And shirtless. Yet she feels nothing. Rooney Mara is a quiet terror as the troubled Emily while Jude Law’s unwinding Jonathon drives the film as the plot twists and strangles around him.

Like a trip you can’t – and don’t want to – escape, Side Effects is an unrelenting thriller double, possibly triple, bluffing its way into the mind and definitions of ‘madness’ and beyond. If this really is Soderbergh’s last film, to continue the drug metaphors, we are truly going out on a high.


15 Mar

Director: Neil Burger (2011)

Limitless_PosterLike so many of us, I often find that there are just not enough hours in the day. Or rather, my brain cannot keep up with the amount of things I want to do with every day. The result, I live my life as an erratic, perpetually unkempt woman responding to the question of “How’s things?” with an all too perfected automaton answer of “So great! Busy, busy, but you know how it is”. Ensure agreeable laughter, and off we go back to our all too busy lives.

If only there was a way we could adapt our bodies to cope with the stresses of life and work to milk those extra hours. Limitless suggests a possible solution. Pills. While there are those of us who already choose to self medicate with pharmaceuticals to recreationally or at the advice of medical professionals, none seem to offer quite the same benefits. But the cost of a prescription is never as high as price on these bad boys.

Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) is a writer on the edge. Meeting him for the first time standing precariously on the ledge of a skyscraper, it is clear this is a man looking for an out. Jumping back three months earlier, a slightly more bedraggled Eddie is getting dumped by his beautiful girlfriend, Lindy (Abby Cornish) and on his last legs with his editor as his book deadline looms. But, after a chance encounter with his drug dealing ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny ‘Empire Records’ Whitworth) things start to look up. Unveiling a mysterious pill, the catchily named NZT-48, allegedly fresh from the FDA approval list, Vernon introduces Eddie a pill that will change his life, allowing him to use the full 100% of his brain, not the meagre 20% on which the rest of us manage to function.
Obviously he takes it.

In a whirlwind of productivity resulting in the completion of his novel, expertly mastering the stock-market and the seduction of many a woman, Eddie’s eyes and synapses are opened. But, like every fable where man messes with nature, things soon go sour when the side effects of the pill turn out to be less than desirable…

While Bradley Cooper is his usual charismatic self, along with the welcome yet slightly inexplicable, addition of Robert de Niro, the plot is ultimately tired and predictable. On paper, the idea of a supergenius pill is ripe for the picking to merge science fiction with an almost dystopian context where we’ll do anything to keep up. In reality, there are just too many questions left unanswered; mainly any attempt at explaining how this magic pill works. Instead, we allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief and swallow the proverbial pill as Cooper’s charm entices us back in, but for me, this only went so far. As do superimposed visuals and shiny editing. Combine this with one of the most ridiculous ideas for narcotic ingestion and what we are left with is a film that should have been limited.

No doubt if I had a stash of NZT-48 I would have been able to come up with a better closing pun…