Archive for the ‘Philomena (2013)’ Category

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Distributor: Starz / Anchor Bay

Release Date: April 15, 2014

Region: Region A

Length: 98 min

Video: MPEG-4 (AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

5.1 French Dolby Digital (448 kbps)

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Notes: An Ultraviolet copy is included with this Blu-ray disc. This title is also available in a DVD only version.

Judi Dench

“Most of the script was built up after I conducted interviews with Martin and Philomena. I wrote down things they said. With Philomena, I asked if she forgave them, and she said, “Yes, I forgive them.” And her daughter said, “No, I don’t forgive them.” I put that in the script. I asked Martin how he felt when he was fired. I asked Martin about some of the things he felt about what he was discovering and what he felt about his own mother and what he felt about Philomena. I interviewed the two of them and wrote the script based on those things.” -Steve Coogan (Nonfics)

Philomena is inspired by Martin Sixsmith’s non-fiction novel, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.” The film as directed by Stephen Frears is enormously entertaining and features a wonderful acting turn by Judi Dench.

The film’s four Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score) probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone considering the film’s critical reception. Bill Zwecker’s review for the Chicago Sun-Times seems to encapsulate the film’s critical reception quite well.

“…Sixsmith and Philomena are the year’s best odd couple. The writing provides delicious moments in the film as the cynical, worldly Sixsmith initially condescends to Dench’s Philomena — whom he first views as a little old Irish lady he is profiling for a ‘human interest’ story in a London tabloid. His disdain for Philomena’s love of romance novels and a popular chain restaurant are made all the more hilarious in the movie, as Philomena is blissfully unaware of Sixsmith’s snobbery. No wait! She gets it! She outsmarts him by disguising it under a cover of what he thinks is lower-middle-class cluelessness.

In the film (and real life), Sixsmith is a highly educated, highly esteemed journalist who has fallen on hard times after an unspecified scandal ended his job as an official British government spokesman. In an intriguing way, Philomena needs Martin and he needs her, and that mutual dependence and all it reveals are central to what makes this movie so appealing…

…The journey Sixsmith and Philomena tackled is very much a matter of public record, but I hope audiences will go see this film without Googling the backstory. The experience of going along with Dench and Coogan as they re-create this true tale will be enhanced if you don’t know how Philomena’s life has ultimately played itself out.

Director Steven Frears deserves special mention. A lesser filmmaker could so easily have turned this project into mushy, sentimental junk. The tear-jerking moments here are heartfelt and real. It’s the kind of filmmaking we see too little of today.” -Bill Zwecker (Chicago Sun-Times, November 26, 2013)

Rex Reed was also generous in his praise of the film.

Philomena is not only my favorite film of 2013, but one of the most eloquent, powerful and perfect movies I have ever seen. A focused and triumphant performance by the miraculous Judi Dench keeps the harrowing aspects of a great story in flawless balance, and every other aspect of this film works like a hypnotic charm. Sensitively and carefully directed by Stephen Frears and brilliantly written by co-star Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that deserves genuflection…

…For anyone who laments the death of compelling stories in the wake of all the gibberish that passes itself off as filmmaking today, Philomena will revive your faith in movies… It’s profoundly moving and thoroughly mind provoking, but despite the poignant subject matter, I promise you will not leave Philomena depressed. I’ve seen it twice and felt exhilarated, informed, enriched, absorbed and optimistic both times. This is filmmaking at its most refined. I will probably forget most of what happened at the movies in 2013, but I will never forget Philomena.” –Rex Reed (New York Observer, November 19, 2013)

Of course, many of the critics were quick to mention Philomena’s controversial subject matter. Mary Corliss’ review for Time magazine is a sterling example.

“Do let your blood boil at this sorry chapter in recent Church history, exceeded in evil and venality only by the abuse of untold numbers of boys by Catholic priests. And then understand that Philomena, for all the righteous anger it displays and incites, is at heart a feel-good movie. It details the crusade of a cheerful woman, Philomena, who 50 years after her Roscrea ordeal, hopes to find her son Anthony. ‘I’d like to know if he thought of me,’ she tells Sixsmith. ‘I’ve thought of him every day.’

Philomena is almost a comedy. Frears, in fine form at 72, has proved himself a modest master at juggling the serious and the silly in such actors’ showcases as The Queen and Tamara Drewe; and the script by Coogan and Jeff Pope, from Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, brims with bright dialogue.” –Mary Corliss (Time, August 31, 2013)

Of course, this subject matter also seems to be responsible for the film’s few negative reviews. Joe Morgenstern wrote such a review for the Wall Street Journal.

“…But the picture, outspoken through Martin’s mouth on the subject of the Church’s sins, neglects to say that abuses of young women weren’t confined at the time to a single convent—the Magdalene Asylums combined reformatories and commercial laundries as late as the 1990s—and that some Protestant-run institutions were guilty of the same appalling practices. With ample blame to go around, a piece of fiction comes up short on facts.” -Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2013)

Morgenstern managed to contain his disapproval within a single paragraph, but Kyle Smith wrote an entire diatribe against the film for the New York Post.

“With Philomena, British producer-writer-star Steve Coogan and director Stephen Frears hit double blackjack, finding a true-life tale that would enable them to simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans.

There’s no other purpose to the movie, so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now.

For the rest of us, the film is a witless bore about a ninny and a jerk having one of those dire, heavily staged, only-in-movies odd-couple road trips…

… The film doesn’t mention that in 1952 Ireland, both mother and child’s life would have been utterly ruined by an out-of-wedlock birth and that the nuns are actually giving both a chance at a fresh start that both indeed, in real life, enjoyed. No, this is a diabolical-Catholics film, straight up.

But with a chaser! Martin and Philomena go on a seemingly pointless road trip to Washington, DC, to discover the fate of poor Anthony, who was adopted by Americans, became a prominent Republican and supposedly became a walking lesson about the horrors of the GOP…

… A film that is half as harsh on Judaism or Islam, of course, wouldn’t be made in the first place but would be universally reviled if it were. Philomena is a sucker punch, or maybe a sugary slice of arsenic cake.” –Kyle Smith (New York Post, November 21, 2013)

Stephen Frears commented on the controversy in many of his recent interviews.

“Listen, the Catholic Church is very, very easy to criticize. What I was more interested in was [Philomena’s] devoutness and faith. What I’ve been told is that there are worse things that happen [in the Catholic Church] than what we show.” -Stephen Frears (Cinesnob)

This reviewer prefers not to comment.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc is held in the standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork. The animated menu features footage from the film and is easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Scenes with the younger Philomena were shot on 16mm film (with home movies shot on Super 8mm), while the majority of the film was shot with digital cameras. The result is quite wonderful, and the AVC transfer accurately represents the source. The image showcases an amazing amount of detail, and immaculate clarity. Colors are beautifully represented in sharp detail and with perfect contrast. The 16mm footage is softer than the rest of the film, but this is appropriate and intentional. Anchor Bay has done a find job here.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 lossless soundtrack represents the film nicely. Music is consistently clear and well pronounced with appropriately prioritized ambiance and sound effects. Dialogue is always clear and appropriately mixed as well. The mix is more dynamic than what one might expect from a dialogue driven film.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary with Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope:

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope offer a conversational commentary that covers a number of subjects. One might prefer more comprehensive and detail oriented information than Coogan and Pope ultimately offer, but the track is enjoyable and will probably please most listeners.

Q&A with Steve Coogan – (SD) – (24:17) –

This ‘Q&A’ with Steve Coogan (from the Writers Guild Screening in Los Angeles in December 2013) is probably the most interesting supplement on the disc. Coogan discusses the origins of the film, changes made from the true story, anecdotes about working with Stephen Frears and Judi Dench, as well as a variety of other topics.

A Conversation with Judi Dench – (SD) – (8:54) –

This featurette is a rather interesting interview with Judi Dench. She discusses her early career, and some of the breaks and disappointments that she has had as a result of this career. Her fans should be thrilled to have this included on the disc.

The Real Philomena Lee – (SD) – (2:47) –

The title of this featurette is rather misleading. It is a promotional piece with very short interview clips from the actors in the film, as well as a slightly longer interview with the real Philomena Lee at AFI Fest.

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Final Words:

Philomena is a fine film and has been given a quality Blu-ray release.

Reviewed by: Devon Powell

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