Monday Movies: The Magdalene Sisters and Homefront

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench offer off-couple comedic chemistry within bittersweet true story; Jason Statham delivers – as expected

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.

Rating: ★★★1/2

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.

Rating: ★★1/2

(Philomena continues at the Odeon & Landmark Cinema 4; Homefront continues at SilverCity & Westshore)

Perfectly Potable:

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.

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