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Ben Lewin
John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Adam Arkin, Rhea Perlman
Writing Credits:
Ben Lewin, Mark O'Brien (article)

Paralyzed and confined to an iron lung since childhood, poet-journalist Mark O'Brien (Hawkes) has overcome adversity time and time again. But now, at age 38, he faces his toughest challenge yet: losing his virginity. With the help of a beautiful therapist (Hunt), a sympathetic priest (Macy), and his own unbridled sense of optimism and humor, Mark embarks on an extraordinary personal journey to discover the wondrous pleasures that make life worth living.

Box Office:
$1 million.
Opening Weekend
$113.467 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$5.972 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Brazilian Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Russian DTS 5.1
Czech Dolby Digital 5.1
Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1
Polish Dolby Digital 5.1
Thai Dolby Digital 5.1
Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1
Brazilian Portuguese
Bahasa Indonesian
Supplements Subtitles:
Brazilian Portuguese

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/12/2013

• Two Deleted Scenes
• Five Theatrical Featurettes
• Trailer and Sneak Peeks


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The Sessions [Blu-Ray] (2012)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 28, 2013)

For a love story with an unusual twist, we go to 2012’s The Sessions. Due to polio, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) has been essentially incapacitated from the neck down since childhood and must spend much of his time in an iron lung. Now pushing 40, he feels increasingly alone, as most of his time comes with the people who care for him, and he desires a more traditional romantic connection.

Mark attaches his interpersonal hopes on a variety of assistants, but these don’t pan out for him. As a journalist, he gets an assignment to cover sex among the physically disabled, and this pushes him to finally lose his own virginity. Paired with a sex therapist named Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), we follow Mark’s journey.

Most movies that involve physically disabled characters like Mark take on the “happy martyr” approach. Think of Mask, for instance, a flick that provided a lead who got crapped on daily but came up smiling, all in the interest of heartwarming and inspirational material.

Those flicks usually leave me nauseated, and I worried that Sessions would end up the same way. As such, I felt relieved with the movie’s portrayal of Mark. While he presents as a likable – and indeed inspirational – character, he doesn’t come across as unrealistically chipper and upbeat.

Wracked by Catholic guilt, Mark can be neurotic and vaguely whiny at times, both of which are appropriate characteristics, as they make him seem human. That’s atypical for flicks such as this; they tend to make their physically disabled roles flawless in every other way as some form of compensation. I like that Sessions gives Mark a more three-dimensional feel than what we normally find in the genre.

The story certainly brings us an unusual narrative for a character such as Mark. Usually a flick like this would go for the “overcoming the odds” story in which the lead wins the Nobel Prize or whatever, whereas Sessions goes for more subtle goals. Mark doesn’t achieve greatness or inspire anyone; he just finds a way to live his life more fully.

Sessions doesn’t take itself too seriously. It gives us drama when appropriate, but happily indulges in light comedy at times. The movie achieves a good balance between the two sides; while the drama dominates, it doesn’t turn this into a somber, ponderous affair.

Stellar acting from the leads helps. Hawkes thoroughly transforms himself into Mark and makes himself quite believable as a disabled person, while Hunt manages to give her role professionalism without obvious sentiment. (Oh, and as her ample nude scenes demonstrate, Hunt’s getting it done at 49; she maintains the body of a much younger woman.)

The Sessions doesn’t attempt a story with great significance or importance, but it gives us a nice character piece. With its unusual bent, it occasionally threatens to become too quirky for its own good, but it stays on the right side of that line and delivers an involving, human tale.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus D+

The Sessions appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a very good presentation.

No real issues related to sharpness. A few wide shots seemed just a tad soft, but those popped up infrequently. Instead, the vast majority of the movie looked concise and accurate. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to appear, and edge haloes remained absent. Source flaws also caused no distractions.

Colors were fine. The movie went with a fairly natural palette that favored a mild golden tint. The hues looked full and rich. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows demonstrated good clarity. I expected a positive transfer and that’s what I got.

One shouldn’t expect sonic fireworks from a drama such as The Sessions, and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack remained subdued. The mix featured good stereo music and decent environmental information but little more substantial than that. The surrounds played a minor role at best, so don’t expect much from them.

At least audio quality was good. Speech appeared natural and concise, with no problems on display. Music sounded vivid and full, and effects were perfectly acceptable. As noted, they rarely offered anything to make them stand out from the crowd, but they worked fine. I thought this was a pretty average track without any qualities that allowed it to impress.

We find a handful of bonus features here. Two Deleted Scenes occupy a total of three minutes, 34 seconds and include “Cheryl and Son” (2:17) and “Can Can Fantasy” (1:17). In the first, Cheryl and her teen son talk after an emotional moment, while in the second, we see Mark’s wild fantasy of what life with a sex surrogate will be. Both are mildly interesting but inessential.

Five theatrical featurettes pop up here. We find “Writer/Director Ben Lewin Finds Inspiration” (4:01), “John Hawkes Becomes Mark O’Brien” (4:26), “Helen Hunt as the Sex Surrogate” (4:13), “A Session with the Cast” (3:50), and “The Women Who Loved Mark O’Brien” (4:24). Across these, we heat from writer/director Ben Lewin, associate producer Alexandra Lewin, producers Stephen Nemeth and Judi Levine, cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene, and actors John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, and Annika Marks. We learn about the origins and development of the film, Lewin’s work on the set, cast, characters and performances, real-life inspirations, and the flick’s tone.

These clips offer more information than I’d expect from promotional programs, but they don’t substitute for higher-quality behind the scenes elements. Still, they provide some decent notes in between the fluff.

The disc opens with ads for Stoker and Hitchcock. These also appear under Sneak Peek along with promos for The Oranges and A Late Quartet. The disc tosses in the trailer for Sessions as well.

As it avoids the simplistic “feel good” approach typical of its genre, The Sessions gives us an intimate, involving tale of a severely disabled man who finally develops a romantic life at an advanced age. It works as a well-developed character piece. The Blu-ray offers very good picture quality along with adequate audio and a few minor supplements. I’d like more substantial bonus materials but the movie and the Blu-ray satisfy otherwise.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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