THE SESSIONS

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Helen Hunt goes full frontal as a sex worker in this extremely funny and tender film of sexual healing.

Set in 1988, John Hawkes is terrific as Mark, an habitually lovestruck writer and an iron-lung living polio sufferer, whose life becomes far more interesting when he is commissioned to write a piece about the disabled and their sex lives.

His eye-opening interviews suggest that there may be a sex life available to him, and after some investigating, he hires Hunt’s sex surrogate to give him a few bedroom pointers with the ultimate aim of losing his virginity.

Their training sessions become the gateway to a world of emotions he is even less prepared for and soon Mark, a fervent catholic, is soon rushing to William H. Macy’s priest, to confess his, ahem, mounting sins.

The acting is first rate with intelligent and brave performances bringing out the humour, heartache and honesty in the clever and witty script.

Sex itself is dealt with in a matter of fact manner while those struggling with the complex emotions awakened are treated sympathetically.

Details of each characters sex life are slowly revealed and the climax of this unveiling is one of the most satisfying jokes in the movie.

Only once does the film chase a cheap laugh but as that isn’t directed at the disabled but rather the wilful ignorance of an idiot, it’s easily forgiven.

This is a powerful and touching film that never cheapens itself with false optimism or is careless with people emotions, for which Hunt was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

A HIJACKING

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From the writer of Danish TV series Borgen and last year’s brilliant drama, The Hunt, comes this blood-curdling intense hostage drama.

When a Danish container ship is hijacked in the Indian Ocean by gun-wielding Somali pirates, the Danish CEO of the ship’s company hires a hostage situation expert, only to ignore his advice and preferring to take responsibility for negotiations himself.

When the pirate negotiator demands millions and Peter offers thousands and a lengthy stand-off begins.

In increasingly squalid confines both on board and offshore, psychological damage is inflicted on the captives as they become the frayed rope in an egotistical and financial tug of war.

Sharply written and performed by an increasingly raw cast in an atmosphere which is painfully claustrophobic right up to the gripping finale, it holds your attention like a loaded gun to the forehead.

FLIGHT

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There’s no need to fasten your seat belts for this sluggish exploration of alcoholism which is as dull as listening to the pub bore.

Denzel Washington heads up a strong cast as ‘Whip’ Whitaker, an alcoholic airline pilot who heroically saves the lives of the passengers when his plane crashes.

Taking off with huge energy, there are scenes full of nudity, drugs, booze and a brilliantly staged plane crash that may put you off flying for life.

Who or what can be established as the cause of the crash could mean Whip being charged with manslaughter and possible life imprisonment, not to mention the closing of the airline and loss of jobs.

But what could have been a gripping court procedural film instead descends into a dreary account of Whip’s struggle with the bottle and the eventual courtroom scene is perfunctory at best and a long time coming.

Washington employs his talent and charisma to carry the film and is not afraid to play a character who is an unlikable drunk stumbling to a possible redemption.

John Goodman’s comic performance as drug dealer Mays is like sticking helicopter blades on a 747. It’s ridiculous and spins you off in the wrong direction with a terrible crunching of gears.

Kelly Reilly plays a heroin addict love interest who is ushered in and out of the movie without affecting anyone at all.

There is a dull AA scene and lots of Whip wandering around slurring and occasionally being a bit obnoxious. By the time we get to court we don’t really care what happens to him.

Washington is given some awful lines to do his best with and the final scenes seemed tacked on and are unconvincing.

Far from being a warning of how alcohol ruin’s live, the strongest message here is that apart from making you an ace pilot and so a saver of lives, cocaine is is the ultimate hangover cure.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

THE HUNT

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Fans of Scandinavian drama will enjoy this absorbing and darkly disturbing tale of mass paranoia set in a small Danish village.

It centres on the members of a close knit hunting party when Mads Mikkelsen’s primary school teacher, Lucas, is accused of indecent behaviour towards the child of another.

Investigation is followed by arrest and the loss of his job but as Lucas awaits formal charges, the village turns against him and a campaign of violence begins.

Lucas’s sense of isolation is heightened by the haunting winter landscapes and the semi-rural environment where everyone regularly carries knives and rifles.

Mikkelsen is on award winning form leading a uniformly excellent cast that includes Alexandra Rapaport and Thomas Bo Larsen.

The taut and paranoid atmosphere is punctuated only by the black humour of Lucas’s brother in law, who is not afraid making callous jokes in the face of extreme adversity at Lucas’s expense.

Slow and quietly gripping tension is firmly built and when violence erupts it’s with a powerful and shocking fury.

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE

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Clint Eastwood drags his old bones out of acting retirement for this amiable and undemanding tale of family set in the world of baseball.

As Gus Lobel, Eastwood is a baseball scout who is given one last chance to prove his worth or he’ll be forcibly retired.

He is joined by Amy Adams as his estranged daughter on a scouting trip to North Carolina, where he’s to check out the boy who maybe the next big baseball star.

Eastwood enjoys himself as a beer guzzling, growling, gimlet eyed, grim faced monolith, but it’s the always engaging Adams who grabs centre stage as a corporate lawyer who’s juggling love, life and lawsuits.

John Goodman and Justin Timberlake offering support, but struggle with everyone else with a predictable plot as creaky as Clint’s knees, and dialogue as weak as his eyesight.

Despite the cast valiantly doing their best to raise the script far beyond what it deserves, this will be a poor epitaph to Eastwood’s career if it proves to be his last screen appearance.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

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Here’s a Hollywood movie that celebrates the endearing, warm, funny and romantic side of mental illness.

The Hangover star Bradley Cooper, plays Pat Solitano, a bipolar sufferer released into the bosom of his loving family, headed by the OCD afflicted Pat Snr, Robert De Niro.

While trying to woo back his straying wife, Pat meets Jennifer Lawrence’s beautiful but equally troubled Tiffany, and as the two bond over medication, law breaking and ball-room dancing, a complicated situation soon develops.

This emotionally dishonest disaster wants to be a sympathetic portrayal of the mentally ill while simultaneously using their wacky behaviour as a springboard for humour.

The humour is weak, the violence misplaced,  the romance cliched and the the Dirty Dancing Over the Cuckoo’s Nest finale is such a badly judged mash-up of low comedy and cringing sentimentality that I was generating my own anger issues.

END OF WATCH

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The writer of the Oscar winning smash hit Training Day, returns with another gritty police thriller set in South Central LA, but with a Denzel Washington-shaped hole where the charisma should be.

Writer and director David Ayer, shot entirely on location in fidgety, semi-documentary, police-cam video style, creating a loud and tense gun and drug movie where the highest ambition police officers have is to survive their shift and have their timesheet signed off, End Of Watch.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Mike Zavala Michael Pena are patrol car partners who come across a safe house belonging to a Mexican cartel who immediately put a price on their heads for disrupting their lucrative drugs trade.

The cops aren’t the brightest guns on the street but they are mostly honest and unquestioningly brave. Patrolling is a series of verbal abuse, brutal fist fights and vicious gun battles, and even the music is aggressive.

Off duty, Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez provide strong acting support as their wives, with America Ferrera and Frank Grillo as their fellow officers.

Watching this film is like being trapped for two hours in a small steel cage with a pair of uniformed, squabbling, slurping, chattering caffeinated kids, before being released on a regular basis to be shot at by angry Uzi abusing gangsters.

Ayer doesn’t wholly commit to his handheld format which reduces its authenticity, and the last two scenes are unnecessary and lessen the films impact.

Despite this the two officers hold your sympathy and attention because although they’re not as interesting or entertaining as the film believes they are, even the most basic police work involves being screamed and shot at.

Their wives are the only lightness in their lives and in the movie and are a sweet and sassy counterpoint to the constant aggravation the men experience on duty.

This is a portrait of a city in a state of siege, and the only advice the script can offer is to wear comfortable shoes and a bulletproof vest.