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Movie reviews: The Sessions, Skyfall

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The Sessions
★ ★ ★ ★

The Sessions is an unflinching, moving and often funny story about dignity and sexuality. It follows the fact-based quest of writer Mark O'Brien, a survivor of childhood polio, to lose his virginity. Confined to an iron lung for all but a few hours a day, O’Brien cannot move his body, but he can feel what happens to it. He can also get erections.

Compelled by a feeling that he is “coming close to his 'use by’ date,” he decides to explore the idea of working with a sexual surrogate, seeking the counsel of a Catholic priest. John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) plays O’Brien, Helen Hunt plays Cheryl, the sex surrogate, and William H. Macy plays Father Brendan. Writer/director Ben Lewin’s film is as impressive as its cast.

The sex scenes are startling at first. Helen Hunt gets very naked for extended periods of time (the 49-year-old is in remarkable shape, by the way) and the intimacy of the sexual therapy is periodically disquieting. The segments are fascinating and tender, but I had trouble shaking the feeling that I had no business watching something so personal, proof of the movie’s effectiveness.

I loved, and believed, the performances of Hawkins, Hunt and Moon Bloodgood as Vera, one of O’Brien’s caregivers. William H. Macy’s priest feels more like a script device than a person, but the actor is so likable that it doesn’t matter. The Sessions celebrates a determined man who uses humor to lighten the weight of his burden and a group of people who help him fill in the blanks of his life. Inspiring fare.

Skyfall
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

What a treat. Skyfall manages to present the strikingly choreographed and totally outrageous action scenes you expect from a James Bond film with a story that places the hero squarely into contemporary culture. The movie questions whether Bond and his old school compatriots are necessary in a high tech world. It feels grounded in reality, an amazing achievement given the stunts, the over-the-top behavior of the villain, and a key scene that echoes Home Alone. Thanks, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

To my mind, there are only two Bonds at this point, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. Craig remains in peak form here, as the film references its history without getting too cutesy about it. Judi Dench gets more screentime than usual as the pursed-lipped M. The grand cast also includes Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney and the delightful Naomie Harris.

Then there’s Javier Bardem’s villainous Silva, whose theatrical behavior springs from an understandable angst. Memo to Silva: When your formidable opponent falls through a hole in the ice into the water below, try waiting more than 20 seconds before assuming he is dead and walking away. Kudos to all involved, incidentally, for the scene where Silva touches a bound 007 in a sexually suggestive fashion in an attempt to further mess with his mind. Bond’s comeback line to Silva is priceless.

Bottom line: Skyfall is not simply one of the very best Bond films, it’s one of the year’s best movies, period.


FILM CLIPS

Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival
Two of our very favorite groups are behind this weekend's Indy LGBT Film Fest: Indy Pride Inc., which took the fest under its wings a few years back, and Indiana Youth Group, for which the fest is a fundraiser. Opening night is Nov. 9 at the Toby with Cloudburst, a Canadian production starring a couple Oscar winners — Olympia Dukakis (Stella) and Brenda Fricker (Dot) — as a couple of over 30 years having to deal with a granddaughter determined to put Dot in a home and Stella out on the street. Screenings run through the day on Nov. 10 at both IUPUI and The Toby, including Southern comedy Tennessee Queer, the Provincetown-filmed Bearycity 2: The Proposal, romantic comedy Elliot Loves and erotic male short film omnibus Sexual Tension: Volatile at The Toby. And the Nov. 11 slate at Herron includes an exploration of the fall-out from a Fort Worth gay bar raid. Head to indylgbtfilmfest.com for more info. Tickets run $8 for individual screenings, with full-festival passes available. —Scott Shoger

IU Cinema: Claire Denis
Seven by one of the smartest filmmakers in the world, whose work engages substantially and often brilliantly with post-colonial issues. Nov. 10: Beau Travail (1999), inspired by Billy Budd; Trouble Every Day (2001), her vampire film. Nov. 11: White Material (2009), starring a strong-willed Isabelle Huppert. Denis is scheduled to attend screenings on Nov. 10 and 11. —Scott Shoger

Related Film

Skyfall

Official Site: www.007.com

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: Ian Fleming

Producer: Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Helen McCrory, Ben Whishaw, Santi Scinelli, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney and Ola Rapace

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