Today's DVDs & Blu-rays: The Sessions, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Kid with the Bike

Categories: Film and TV

Helen Hunt, John Hawkes and William H. Macy star in The Sessions; Ben Lewin writes and directs.

Mark O'Brien was a poet and journalist who died in 1999 at the age of 49. He was also a polio survivor who spent much of his life inside an iron lung. As an adult he weighed 60 pounds and was 4 feet 7 inches tall. The disease robbed him of the ability to move, but not the ability to feel. Determined to live as independent and full a life as possible, O'Brien graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, using an electric gurney to go back and forth between his apartment, where he had an iron lung, and the UC campus. Once he was in his 30s, he also engaged a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. That experience became a magazine article, "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate," which is the basis for The Sessions staring Helen Hunt as Cheryl the surrogate and John Hawkes as O'Brien. William H. Macy appears as the priest who gives O'Brien practical advice.

O'Brien's life story had already been the subject of Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien a 1996 Oscar-winning documentary short directed by Jessica Yu. Sessions may also win an Oscar; Hunt has been nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. And by all accounts she would rightly deserve it. In the hands of a lesser actors, Sessions would have become a story about sex. Hunt and Hawkes make it a story about intimacy. Cheryl's no-nonsense approach (she lists the guidelines of their sessions brightly, as if she were reciting the rules at a gym: "No running. No eating. No loud music." become "I'm not a prostitute. You don't have to pay me up front. There's a limit to the number of sessions we can have ... shall we get undressed?"

Hunt is nude for much of the movie, but it's Hawkes who is vulnerable. During the course of their therapy, he is emotionally naked.

While O'Brien's story might not seem the stuff of a great comedy, there is a lot of humor to Sessions. Most of it comes from O'Brien's character, who has an ironic way of looking at the world. He says, "I believe in a God with a sense of humor. I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone for all this." His caregiver Vera (played pitch perfect by Moon Bloodgood) also provides a few giggles. As O'Brien visits with Cheryl, Vera sits the in building's lobby explaining the situation to a clerk. "Today they're working on simultaneous orgasm," she tells him. "What's that?" he deadpans.

Extras include a featurette with Hawkes and Hunt who discuss their roles, and The Women Who Loved Mark O' Brien. Also, on Blu-ray: deleted scenes, an interview with director Lewin, who himself survived polio.

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Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller star in The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Stephen Chbosky writes and directs.

In an interview last September, writer/director Stephen Chbosky told us he had originally considered Logan Lerman for the role of the openly gay, extroverted high school senior Patrick in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In real life Lerman is strong, confident and self-assured, like Patrick. But Lerman asked to audition for the role of Charlie, a shy, troubled teen who arrives at a new school with no friends and no real emotional anchor. "Within five seconds I knew he was Charlie," Chbosky said.

Wallflower is a wonderful story about three outcasts (Charlie, Patrick, brilliantly played by Ezra Miller, and Patrick's step-sister, Sam played by Emma Watson) who stumble through a year of high school. Based on Chbosky's novel of the same name, Wallflower won legions of fans, young and old. Touching, funny and yet deadly serious, Wallflower is helped by its excellent cast and by Chbosky's ability to control his story from page to screen.

Extras include commentary with Chbosky and the cast, Best Summer Ever featurette, deleted scenes and dailies.

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Thomas Doret and Jeremie Renier star in The Kid with a Bike; Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne direct.

In The Kid with a Bike, released today by the Criterion Collection, Cyril (Thomas Doret) refuses to believe he's been abandoned by his father. Instead the 12-year-old searches for his absent dad. It's only when a stranger (Cécile de France as Samantha) takes the boy in that Cyril begins to understand the heartbreaking truth; he can continue to search for the man who left him behind or he can set about building a new future for himself.

Extras for the French language film include new English subtitle translation, new digital transfer supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, interviews with actors Cécile de France and Thomas Doret, conversation between film critic Kent Jones and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and the featurette Return to Seraing, a half-hour documentary in which the Dardennes revisit five locations from the film.

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