A Bereft Heart
The Catholic Church’s infamously savage treatment of unwed mothers in Ireland has already been examined in harrowing films such as The Magdalene Sisters. Talented English director Stephen Frears (The Queen) once again joins forces with the superb Judi Dench to tackle the same subject with a lighter and more nuanced approach in Philomena. This is the true-life story of a pregnant girl who ended up in the “care” of nuns who used her as slave labour in their laundry for four years and ultimately sold her baby for a handsome profit. That was five decades ago, and Philomena – now a retired nurse – decides that she wants to track down her long-lost son.
Enter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), an ex-journalist looking for a writing project. After initially dismissing her story as mere “human interest” piffle beneath his notice, this altar boy-turned-atheist makes the initially cynical decision that he has a marketable book on his hands and heads off to the nunnery in question to start the search. A cover-up is clearly at work, Sixsmith develops a growing sense of outrage, and the jaundiced journalist and the gentle and still-devout Philomena jet off to America to follow up on the only clue they have.
Despite the sometimes-harsh content of the film, this is an odd-couple comedy as much as anything – a marvelously sly and touching duet between two talented actors (one of whom is pretty much guaranteed to get her seventh Oscar nomination). Coogan is a cult comedian known for his quirky and droll performances. He co-wrote this script in order to get himself a more mainstream role, and he makes the most of his character, a highly intelligent and occasionally snotty man whose spleen seems larger than his heart. Marvelously paired opposite Dench, a simple but wise woman filled with grace rather than anger, they anchor a delightfully bittersweet film that entertains as it educates.
There’s No Place Like Homefront
And here’s a second movie also about feelings, albeit feelings mostly comprising Ouch! and Ow! as fists and boots thud home. Welcome to Homefront, the latest action flick starring Jason Statham, the amiable brute with fists of fury and that sexy English growl.
In this outing Statham stars as Phil Broker, a recent widower and ex-DEA agent who moves to a small town in Louisiana with his 10-year-old daughter, Maddy. Despite sincere efforts to fit in, Broker is backed into a corner and stands up for himself and his daughter. That choice lands him in trouble with the town’s resident drug lord, “Gator” Bodine (James Franco). After a few skirmishes where Gator’s thugs get a thumping, the ante gets upped considerably when some very scary goons from Broker’s DEA past are invited to town to take their revenge on the man who tore apart their drug syndicate a few years earlier. The result is a climactic paroxysm of violence that should entertain fans of Guy Action Cinema hoping to see virtue triumph and the bad guys do down hard.
As genre moviemaking goes, this is mostly routine stuff, albeit done with businesslike efficiency. The plot builds tension in a logical and organic way, the body count isn’t ludicrously excessive, and there is a nice use of backwoods Louisiana as an exotic setting. Statham delivers a satisfactory performance – let’s face it, he can do this stuff in his sleep – but the secondary casting holds a few surprises. The pretty and pert Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) shucks her girl-next-door persona to play a hollow-eyed skank as Gator’s drug-addled sister. And winsome Winona Ryder makes for a scary “meth whore” and sometime partner of Gator. Not a Christmas movie exactly, but at least Broker and Maddy have a loving father-daughter relationship.
(Philomena continues at the Odeon & Landmark Cinema 4; Homefront continues at SilverCity & Westshore)
Trapiche is one of the biggest producers in Argentina, and their portfolio includes some interesting small-lot wines. Case in point is Extravaganza, a red blend of the varietals Malbec, Bonarda, and Syrah. Medium bodied and full in the mouth, this fruit-forward charmer features notes of ripe cherry and red berry lifted with hints of espresso and spice. This is a sophisticated wine, and a great buy at the current sale price of $15.
OUT OF THE FURNACE -(SilverCity) A great cast that includes Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, and Sam Shepard stars in a drama-tinged thriller, set in the hardscrabble world of the America Northeast, about a man who goes looking for his younger brother who has disappeared after falling afoul of some local bad guys. Music composed by Eddie Vedder.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS -(Roxy, Sat.-Sun. only, 2 pm matinee). Jim Carrey gives one of his most annoyingly over-the-top performances in Ron Howard’s overstuffed adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss tale.
★★½ ABOUT TIME -(Caprice) Writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) delivers a rather flabby romantic comedy about a young man who knows how to time travel. When he decides to use this power to do something about his nonexistent love life, things become more complicated than he imagined. With the great Bill Nighy, and Rachel McAdams as the heart throb.
BAD GRANDPA -(Westshore/Roxy, 7pm) Head jackass Johnny Knoxville spins off his “crazy grandpa” character into a full-length comedy about an irascible and incorrigible 86-year-old troublemaker who takes an accident- and crime-ridden journey across America with his 8-year-old grandson. Spike Jonze (!) co-wrote the story.
★★½ THE BOOK THIEF -(Odeon/Landmark Cinema 4) A young girl endures the torments of Germany in the Second World War, and helps her adoptive parents hide a Jewish refugee in their home. Featuring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. Based on a young-adult novel, this is a well-acted drama but its “celebration of the human spirit” tone is earnest and a bit sugary.
★★★★ CAPTAIN PHILLIPS -(SilverCity) Talented director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy) tells the true tale of a ship captain (Tom Hanks) whose boat is captured by Somali pirates. Tense but also thoughtful, this is a thriller with a brain.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 -(Caprice) The wacky animated comedy about an infamous machine that churns out scary food-animal hybrids was popular enough to merit a sequel. Consider yourself warned! With the vocal talents of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Will Forte.
★★★½ DALLAS BUYERS CLUB -(Odeon) Matthew McConaughey has latterly gone from laughing stock to leading actor, and is likely in line for an Oscar nomination for his role in this true-life 1980s-era story of Ron Woodroof, a redneck, homophobic rodeo rider from Texas who finds out he has contracted AIDS from wild living. Given only weeks to live, Woodroof finds out about the experimental drug AZT and comes alive as a drug-smuggling AIDS activist, helping not just himself but many other sufferers.
DELIVERY MAN -(SilverCity/Westshore) Gifted funnyman Vince Vaughn plays an amiable slacker who finds his life changing when, due to a mixup at a fertility clinic where he was a sperm donor 20 years ago, he’s now the proud father of 533 kids. Yikes!
★★½ DESPICABLE ME 2 -(Caprice) The 2010 original, about a loathsome criminal mastermind who was reformed by the love of three young orphan girls, was a goofy delight. The sequel, although still clever, is much more scattershot, with an unimaginative plot and unwelcome dashes of mean spiritedness. Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, and Russell Brand supply the voices.
★★½ ENDER’S GAME -(SilverCity/Caprice) Yet another book series for teens comes to the big screen, this time featuring a young boy with exceptional powers who is cultivated as a military leader destined to save the Earth from a deadly alien attack. With Harrison Ford.
FREE BIRDS -(SilverCity/Caprice) Animation goes to the birds in this comedy about a mismatched pair of turkeys who travel back in time to change the course of history … by getting a certain very tasty fowl off the holiday menu. With the vocal talents of Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.
FROZEN -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Cinema 4/Westshore) As a prelude to winter comes this appealing Disney animated tale about a brave woman who sets out to rescue a kingdom trapped in eternal winter. Some of the other characters include a goofy snowman and his reindeer buddy. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.
★★★½ GRAVITY -(SilverCity/Caprice) Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a harrowing, brilliantly-executed thriller about two astronauts aboard a space station who survive an accident only to find themselves drifting helplessly through space, with little hope of rescue or survival.
★★½ HOMEFRONT -(SilverCity/Westshore) A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet little town, only to find himself in conflict with a local meth drug lord. Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, and Winona Ryder. See review.
★★½ THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Cinema 4/Westshore) In the middle movie of this dystopic future-world trilogy for teens, the oddly-named Katniss Everdeen (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) gets caught up in some deadly schemings after a rebellion outrages Panem’s despotic ruler (Donald Sutherland). This is predictable stuff, but boy is it popular!
★★ LAST VEGAS -(Caprice) Four sixty-something pals head to Las Vegas for a last, very predictable, hurrah. The geriatric laughs are generated by Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.
★★½ LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER -(Caprice) Forest Whitaker heads up an amazing cast in a true story about a black butler at the White House whose long tenure there overlapped with the long struggle of the American civil rights movement. Costarring Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Lenny Kravitz, and Oprah Winfrey. Although a bit ponderous and unimaginative, this is still a fine history lesson.
★★½ OLDBOY -(Odeon) Spike Lee directs a heavy-handed remake of a hyper-violent cult film by Korean director Chan-wook Park. The story features a man seeking vengeance after he was mysteriously kidnapped and kept locked up for 20 years. Starring Josh Brolin, who acts with all the depth of a clenched fist. With Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson.
★★★½ PHILOMENA -(Odeon/Landmark Cinema 4) Oscar-nomination speculation is already swirling around Judi Dench for her performance as a woman who was forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child 50 years ago and is now determined to track him down. This surprisingly funny dramedy co-stars Steve Coogan and is directed by the great Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen). See review.
★★½ THOR: THE DARK WORLD -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) That hunky son of Odin grabs his hammer and does some hurting’ as both the Earth and Asgard are confronted with a terrifying and seemingly unstoppable enemy. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Idris Elba.
FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES -(7 pm, Sun.-Wed.)
★★★ HIDDEN UNIVERSE -(2 pm/5 pm, Fri., Sun.-Wed.; 10 am/2 pm/5 pm, Sat., Mon.-Tues., Thurs.) Travel to the farthest reaches of the visible universe courtesy of the world’s most amazing telescopes.
JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES -(10 am, Fri. Dec. 6 only)
KENYA: ANIMAL KINGDOM -(1 pm)
★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(6 pm, Fri.-Sat.; 10 am, Sun.; 7 pm, Thurs.) Although far from a train wreck, this photo-realist animation extravaganza about a boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus is uneven. Starring various versions of Tom Hanks.
★★★★ ROLLING STONES: AT THE MAX -(Fri.-Sat. 8 pm) The bad boys of rock, literally much larger than life (and only semi-old!).
★★★ SPACE JUNK -(11 am/ 3 pm, Fri.-Sat.; 3 pm/6 pm, Sun.; 11 am/3 pm/ 6 pm, Mon.-Thurs., ) Hundreds of tons of junk are orbiting above the planet, and this fascinating doc tells you why you need to know about it.
TITANS OF THE ICE AGE -(noon, 4 pm, Fri.-Sat. & Thurs. / noon, 4 pm, 8 pm, Sun.-Wed.)
MOVIE MONDAY – screens Hard Light. Documentary film fans can travel, courtesy of the NFB, to outport Newfoundland, as filmmaker Justin Simms provides a thoughtful portrait of Michael Crummey, a maritime author and poet. 6:30 pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.
Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365.
★★★½ ALL IS LOST -(Fri.-Sat., Dec. 6-7: 3:00, 7:00, 9:10) Cinema icon Robert Redford is great in a near-wordless performance as a solo yachtsman whose life is threatened after his sailboat has a devastating collision with a rogue shipping container in the middle of nowhere.
★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(Sat.-Sun., Dec. 7-8: 1 pm) Although far from a train wreck, this photo-realist animation extravaganza about a boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus is uneven. Starring various versions of Tom Hanks.
NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON -(Sun., Dec. 8, 3:00, 7:00, 9:10 & Mon., Dec. 9: 7:00, 9:10) Jeremy Irons stars in a drama by the great Danish director Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror, House of the Spirits) about a Latin teacher who delves into a book by a Portuguese poet and doctor and gets drawn into a epic story that is set against a backdrop of that country’s brutal fascist dictatorship. The great cast includes Christopher Lee, Lena Olin, Charlotte Rampling, and Bruno Ganz.
★★★½ FRANCES HA -(Tues.., Dec. 10: 7:10, 9:00) Greta Gerwig, the new indie It Girl, stars in this droll comedy-drama about a 20-something wannabe dancer in New York who is having trouble putting her life together.
ITALY: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT -(Wed., Dec. 11: 7:15, 9:00) Described as “effervescent” by Variety, this documentary is a funny but penetrating and bittersweet assessment of whether or not modern Italy is still worth living in.
★★★½ BEFORE MIDNIGHT -(Thurs., Dec. 12: 7:00, 9:15) Writer-director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) reunites with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for the third installment of those star-crossed, train-travelling – and very loquacious – would-be lovers (who have by now hooked up and are having a tumultuous vacation in Greece).
THE VIC THEATRE
The Vic Theatre is located at 808 Douglas Street. Info: thevic.ca
THANKS FOR SHARING -(Fri.-Thurs., Dec. 6-12: 7:00) Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Pink star in a controversial, highly praised drama about sex addiction.