The Sessions

discs kid with bike

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. The Kid With a Bike (Criterion) Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a young boy in flux. His mother is long gone, and his father has dropped him at an orphanage ostensibly for a few days while he gets his job and house in order. That lie hides an unforgivable truth that Cyril simply can’t accept, but through his efforts to reunite with his dad he comes under the care of a single hairdresser (Cecile de France) with struggles of her own. This French film is a deceptively simple tale of a lost boy at risk, but it becomes one of the year’s most suspenseful experiences thanks in large part to Doret’s incredible performance. His fragile emotional state teases as much danger as local teen thugs and Cyril’s constant bike-riding do leaving viewers nervously awaiting a seemingly inevitable and terrible turn of events. But even as we worry we can’t help but fall in love with the boy and the woman, their challenging and sweet interactions, and the film’s effortless display of affection and humanity. I rarely buy Criterion titles at retail (because they’re freaking expensive!), but like Broadcast News and The Game I’ll be making an exception here. [Extras: Interviews, featurette, booklet, trailer]

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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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Cloud Atlas releases this month

This September wasn’t a bad way to get out of a summer slump. If any of you were disappointed by this past summer’s films, last month should have picked up your spirits. You were either in awe or disappointment over Paul Thomas Anderon‘s The Master, but whatever camp you fall into, at least you more than likely had thoughts about it. Rian Johnson‘s Looper completely lived up to the hype, wonky time travel logic and all. And we got Dredd 3D and End of Watch, two B-movies which exceeded expectations. Not a bad way to start a new season. There are plenty of offerings for every taste this October including one with a bug-eyed, jacked up, and horrifying Matthew Fox who apparently will be taken down by Tyler Perry. Keep reading for a glimpse at seven other movies you should run and skip to the theaters for.

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Silver Linings Playbook

While most of Austin, Texas is currently busy gearing up for Fantastic Fest (including our own Fantastic Fest Death Squad), we’d be remiss to not mention that another one of ATX’s homegrown film festivals, the concisely-named Austin Film Festival, has just released their lineup. And it’s a real beauty! The festival, kicking off in just under a month, will open with David Chase’s Not Fade Away and will also include screenings of such buzzed-about titles as Flight, Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions, Quartet, and The Sapphires. The festival has yet to announce their Closing Night Film, but with such an already-strong lineup, it should be a doozy. After the break, take a look at the current feature-length lineup for the 2012 Austin Film Festival and Conference, including listings for their comedy and documentary sections.

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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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When we Rejects get let out of the cage (and it’s a literal cage, a big one under Dear Leader Miller’s desk, with a hamster wheel and everything) to journey to festivals far and wide, we tend to turn in some pretty comprehensive coverage. Along the way, we often cover some films that pop up along the festival circuit for months on end, titles that show up at Sundance and then journey west to SXSW, that premiere at Cannes before going American at LAFF, and those that parlay good buzz at one fest into showings across the globe. We’ve already drooled over today’s announcement of the Toronto International Film Festival‘s first wave of programming, but buried within those 62 just-announced films are five we’ve already checked out at other festivals (including Sundance and Cannes). Want to get a taste of what TIFF will offer (hint: tastes like poutine and makes your mouth water just as much)? Hit the break to get reacquainted with 5 TIFF-bound films that we’ve already seen (and, in many cases, already loved).

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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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