Helen Hunt

Aaron Paul and Samanta Morton in Decoding Annie Parker

If you’ve never heard of Dr. Mary-Claire King, it’s good that there’s now a movie about her greatest achievement, which is the discovery of the gene responsible for hereditary cases of breast and ovarian cancers. Before finding the proof for her longtime theory, which came surprisingly only as recent as 1990, most other doctors explained away families with multiple cancer deaths as environmental, coincidental and just plain bad luck. At the end of this movie, which is titled Decoding Annie Parker, we’re told that the discovery is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of all time. Of course, we should have gotten that point in the preceding 90 minutes (not to say we didn’t, but then we don’t need that title). We probably should have also gotten to know this obviously wonderful and important woman of history, but it’s not really a movie about her. It’s not a biopic of a person who clearly deserves one. Instead it’s about a partly fictional woman who doesn’t. There really is an Annie Parker, but the one “decoded” in this movie is a composite and only loosely based on her. Portrayed by Samantha Morton, hers is the life primarily followed over the course of two decades and two diagnoses of different cancers (she’s had a third since), through treatment and a mastectomy and a crumbling marriage to a wannabe rocker (Aaron Paul). Intertwined with her story, though, is a depiction of King in action with her Berkeley-based research team. She’s played by Helen Hunt and presented only in academic setting. We see […]

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oscar13_supportingactress

When it comes to acting categories, especially supporting, predicting who’s going to come away with the Academy Award is always a much easier bet than, say, Best Picture or Director. Looking over the past few years, there haven’t been many upsets when it comes to supporting categories. Based on this year’s list of nominees, expect the same results. All the critically lauded films are represented here. So, before we get into the breakdown of the nominees, here is a shout out to a few actresses who were overlooked during this awards season: Emily Blunt (Looper), Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty), Ann Dowd (Compliance), and Lauren Ambrose (Sleepwalk with Me). Whether it’s because they’re in sci-fi film or a little seen indie, none of them received the recognition they deserved. But these actresses did. Here are the nominees for Best Supporting Actress with my predicted winner in red…

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One of the highlights of any film festival is the panels and discussions that take viewers beyond simply watching the films into understanding the process behind getting them to the screen. In theaters now, The Sessions is a fictional story based on the real-life Mark O’Brien, who became paralyzed from the neck down after contracting polio and decided that, despite his physical limitations, he wanted to lose his virginity. John Hawkes brings Mark’s plight and writer-director Ben Lewin’s words to life through an unforgettable and transformative performance. The two sat down with The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway this afternoon at the Roosevelt Hotel to discuss the film, the challenges they faced in making it, and the impact the film had on each of them.

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Editor’s note: With Sundance winner The Sessions (formerly titled The Surrogate) hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our festival review, originally published on January 25, 2012. Based on the article, Seeing A Sex Surrogate, The Sessions takes you into the life thirty-eight year old Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) who has lived with polio since the age of six. Only able to be out of his iron lung for a few hours a day, Mark is otherwise stuck inside with just his thoughts, poetry, and faith. Most would resent a life like this, but Mark finds the humor in his situation, always putting those around him at ease and never letting the fact that he can barely move his head from side to side limit his ambition. Having graduated from the University of Berkeley, Mark now has even bigger aspirations in his life – he wants to lose his virginity. Mark takes a shine to one of his aids and while it seems she seems to return his affection, when he expresses it, she gets scared and runs away. Mark jokes to his priest (William H. Macy) that he tried to go about his sexual revolution the “proper” way, but now he has another option he is considering – a sex surrogate who specializes in helping the disabled not only have sex, but teach them the tools and skills to have their own sexual relationships.

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American Pie and Fast Times at Ridgemont High would be the best examples of a film like The Sessions, if it were filled with more lust than honest sexual desire (and younger people). What sets it apart from the flurry of raunchy teen sex comedies is that, in those films, we laugh at the characters because we were all once like them, but this film allows us to empathize with the main character for a much different reason. This is not a case of a protagonist being a virgin by choice, but by design, and due to developments in his work life he finds himself poised to be in contact with a sexual therapist named Cheryl (played well by Helen Hunt) who handles disabled clients. It’s a sex comedy for grown-ups. The humor in this movie is sharp, lovely and always great enough that its cute flirting nature is never left looking like cheesiness. The dramatic and romantic moments are heartwarming enough to spread out between every Lifetime film for an entire decade and still not run out. John Hawkes’ – playing the man in an iron lung looking to have sex for the first time – has a great way of making the awkward moments not so awkward and the disparaging ones touching.

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John Hawkes in The Surrogate

When you first hear that John Hawkes’ latest movie sees him playing a character whose spine has been left so curved due to a battle with polio that he’s completely immobile and even physically deformed, it sounds like it’s going to be a depressing affair. Is The Sessions one of those hand-wringing dramas that hammers home just how difficult and painful disability is, for two hours straight, and then ends on some sort of bittersweet but life-affirming moment? Not at all. Actually, from the looks of the first trailer, it seems like it’s a lot of fun:

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column. But would you say that El Column has a plethora of news items? Yes, yes, I know it has a lot of news items. But does it have a plethora? Empire recently brought Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin back together to recreate some of the Three Amigos magic that delivered one of the most underrated comedies of the last 25 years. Even director John Landis was on-hand for the photo shoot, celebrating the quarter decade anniversary of the film. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and part of my “cinematic friend litmus test.” If you don’t like this movie, we simply won’t ever be close friends. Them’s the rules.

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On the surface, the story of Bethany Hamilton is toweringly inspirational. The young surfer on the verge of going pro faced a personal loss so great that it should have destroyed her future career and water-soaked passion in one blow. The fact that she fought back against it, got back on the board, and eventually triumphed is a testament to the human spirit (as well as, according to the film, a testament to faith and the power of a higher being). It’s a compelling story, but as Soul Surfer proves, it’s not the best basis for a full-length feature film. It’s perfectly passable, but director Shawn McNamara has created a version of the story that focuses on filler and ties up all the drama far too easily.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr spends a long day in the multiplex, checking out a variety of films from alcoholic romantic comedies to nature documentaries with elephants and orangutans. He drinks himself silly and hits on Greta Gerwig in Arthur, narrowly escapes being killed by ass-kicking teen assassin Hanna, narrowly escapes getting his arm bitten off by a tiger shark in Soul Surfer and peeps in on Natalie Portman undressing for a swim in Your Highness. Too bad she’s pregnant now, ‘cause Kevin just ain’t into that scene.

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Right now in theaters, there’s a movie focusing on the decade-long struggle for a Canadian kid who met Usher to become a pop superstar. That movie is titled Never Say Never – a rousing call to action for all white bread pubescents out there that dream of having training bras thrown at them on stage. The phrase is also used in the new trailer for Soul Surfer – based on the true story of a young surfer who loses her arm in a shark attack, continues to surf, and inspires a ton of people because of her perseverance through, you know, real adversity. Which one is more appropriate? You be the judge. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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There’s something to be said about movies that adamantly refuse to give you whimsical circumstances or endearing characters. There’s something to admire about a movie that refuses to pander to its audience, instead expecting a certain degree of work and a different kind of investment from them entirely. Such is the situation in the indie-family-drama Every Day, the feature writing/directing debut by Nip/Tuck producer Richard Levine. Ned (Liev Schreiber) is a staff writer on a medical melodrama whose cheap theatrics are reminiscent of Grey’s Anatomy, and is growing increasingly sick of the limitations and deep lack of satisfaction experienced in both his personal and professional lives. His wife Jeannie (Helen Hunt, who really needs to be in more movies) has just moved her sick father Ernie (Brian Dennehy) across the country to take care of him at their home, but quickly realizes she is in over her head with the responsibility and the mess. Their openly gay son Jonah (Ezra Miller) is a high school student ready to start dating, but is suffocated by the overbearing paranoia and implicit homophobia of his father. The younger son Ethan (Skyler Fortgang) is suffering from, well it’s never made quite clear – either a dark chronic pessimism or performance perfectionism as a young violin player.

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Trancers

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; condiments upon request. If you are unfamiliar with JFC, you lucky bastard, this is the weekly column in which I serve up some of the cheesiest, gooiest schlock I can find.

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Resistance is futile, especially when the opportunity to tie movie news in with a Dave Chappelle skit about a great moment in the life of Samuel L. Jackson comes along.

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