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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Bravery at its most noble, 19 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My first impression of The Sessions: what an incredibly courageous performance by Helen Hunt. How many women would want to be filmed fully naked at age 49? Let alone act convincingly as a sympathetic but professionally detached care-giver who has to be filmed in the act of cunnilingus, lap intercourse, and, ultimately, full-blown orgasm? When an actor (or actress) talks about making sacrifices for his/her art, look no further than this film for a hit-the-nail-on-the-head example.

Next comes John Hawkes's fabulous performance as the lead character, Mark. As someone who cared for severely disabled young adults (cerebral palsy victims) for five years, I know first-hand how infirmities, regardless of their severity, do not usually diminish that person's sex drive. This part of their humanity is a real concern to them, and, sadly, it usually goes unresolved. Hawkes is so convincing in his role as a quadriplegic, I was certain the actor is one in real life. Of course, he isn't, and that's great testimony to Hawkes's acting prowess.

Finally, we come to the third main player in this script, William C. Macy, one of the most under-estimated actors in Hollywood. Given the script he had to work with, he did a superb job, but, as a Catholic, I think he would have really wrestled to a greater degree than the film allowed with giving full sanction to extra-marital sex. A real opportunity was lost by the film not taking any time to show that the priest, bound to celibacy, was in much the same situation as Mark.

Nonetheless, this is a real-life story about a real-life man who did not want pity; he just wanted to find love in all its manifestations — and succeeded. Unfortunately, the film glosses over the fact that, in real life, Mark not only finds a soul mate, but is married for a full five years before he dies.

And therein lies a deep problem with the honesty of the film. It was originally titled "The Surrogate," which logically puts the focus on Cheryl, the Helen Hunt character, not Mark. Granted, Mark's struggles are legion and film-worthy, but, what a more interesting story this would have been if it would have spotlighted Cheryl, who helps this impossibly crippled human being achieve all that life has to offer. It's the difference between "The Miracle Worker" from the perspective of Helen Keller instead of the story of her teacher, Ann Sullivan.

Maybe that's why they didn't do it. Maybe they didn't want a "Miracle Worker" redux. I wish they had but, given an enticing, second-best scenario, I understand why they made the movie they did.

The Help (2011)
Enough to be really good, but not really great, 19 March 2013

There are only three films I saw that ever reached the same level of greatness as did the books they were based on: "To Kill a Mockingbird," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and "The Exorcist." Coming close, but just missing were "Jaws" (no fairy-book ending for Richard Dreyfus's character in the book) — and "The Help."

Yes, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer do a fabulous job. Yes, Emma Stone is vivacious, spirited and fetching. But Bryce Dallas Howard makes a caricature of the sinister, racist-to-the-core Hilly, and the movie never gives enough time to see the poignant turn-around Skeeter's mother accomplishes, nor lay out the real dangers the servants faced by telling tales out of school.

Much of the book's comedic effect is also lost. Some great lines in the book are dropped. ("He was drunker than an Indian on payday".)

Celia's white-trash ferocity as she possibly saves Minny's life was also skipped over, diminishing an already diminished role in the movie.

These are just a few of the several disappointments with the cinematic version, none of them fatal to the experience, but letdowns nonetheless.

Still, this film can't help but satisfy because the book it is based on is so incredibly strong, and the times it depicts are so indelibly emotional. Wisely, the movie takes full advantage of being able to do what a book cannot; the real-life footage of the Medgar Evers murder, TV clips of civil rights marchers being beaten, the rousing news reels of Martin Luther King — all hit on a gut level where a book cannot, especially for those of us who lived through them and saw them first-hand.

My overall advice: See the movie first ... then really treat yourself by reading the book. One is a great appetizer; the other is the full meal.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
An enchanting cup of tea ..., 19 March 2013

... but, obviously, not everyone's.

If you appreciate excellent acting, beautiful cinematography and don't need to be spoon-fed a message or hung up on plot, this may be a film for you.

It is daringly ambitious in that the dialog is almost non-existent, leaving the entire weight of the film in the hands of the actors and the camera and the soundtrack — and, of course, the director. All succeed marvelously as three day-in-a-life stories are laid out, each with nervous overtones and unique tension.

Searching for a unifying theme is a Rorschach test; you will make of it what you will. The inability of people to communicate on a personal level — or any level at all, for that matter — can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences, as you will see. I thought Edie Falco's acting was a bit blunt, but Elias Koteas's performance is marvelous. Embeth Davidtz conveys the most amount of mystery with the fewest amount of words — acting at its finest.

It is a wonderfully modern, realistic film, with the majority of the spoken words coming over a phone and conclusions largely unresolved. Still, I was engaged for every one of its 88 minutes. It's been a long time since a film held me so tightly.