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Philomena (Blu-ray Review)

philomena-001I am sure The Weinstein company is proud to release Philomena on Blu-ray, now that it has scored tons of acclaim, including 4 Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay).  The film had an unassuming way about it, which is what ultimately won me over, but it was still surprising to see it get that amount of prestige put upon it.  That said, this is a human interest story that is quite interesting to watch, as it features some strong performances in a movie that has dark elements, but still feels like a pleasant watch overall.  With the Blu-ray now available, everyone will be able to see it for themselves and consider how far they are willing to go with Philomena.

Film:

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I can’t believe how under the radar this film was for me, of all people.  Not to go too far in talking up myself, but I tend to be in the know most of the time, but before its theatrical release in late fall of 2013, I knew next to nothing about Philomena, beyond the fact that Judi Dench was supposed to be great in it.  I was not aware it was a Stephen Frears film (a director I love).  I did not know Steve Coogan not only co-stars, but co-wrote the film (aspects I also love).  And I was certainly not aware of what kind of film it was.  I cannot say I was surprised to like it so much upon leaving the theater, but I can say it was very satisfying to discover a film like this and still be pleased by it.

The story is based on a true one involving a Catholic woman, Philomena (Judi Dench) opening up a search for her son, whom she was forced to give up for adoption when she was still in her teens and living and working at a convent.  Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former Labour government adviser and BBC reporter, gets involved by chance, and the two head out on a small adventure to learn more about what became of Philomena’s son.  The results of this search are almost unbelievable, yet based upon factual results.

This is a drama, but having an odd-couple pairing like Dench and Coogan, let alone having Coogan in general can only mean there will be at least a few laughs in this story, which there are.  Still, this is a nicely told story, with a couple heavier moments, that goes into some interesting directions, even if it comes at the cost of the film seemingly having certain opinions about religion that could be construed as an attack by some.  Regardless, there are strong performances here, with the theme of regret certainly coming into play quite often.

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I do like the fact that Coogan was a writer on this film.  Along with his co-screenwriter Jeff Pope, the two adapted the investigative book by the real Martin Sixsmith, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” and received an Oscar nomination for their efforts.  Obviously there was something that Coogan responded to, given his work to get this film made, which made him want to delve further into this tale.  I would like to think that his work with Michael Winterbottom in their various collaborations (24 Hour Part People, Tristam Shandy, etc.) may have rubbed off on him when developing this film.

It makes little difference though, as the film was solid all-around, and while Dench is great in this film, I am happy it became more than just that film that “she was supposed to be great in.”  Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, and Why So Blu favorite Tamara Drewe) has always been great at making films that feature very talented actors providing very strong performances, while adding a no thrills approach to the actual direction of his pictures.  Philomena is another good example of this, as the film is unassuming, yet well-acted, with a nice handle on the chemistry between its leads.  It’s a drama that does not feel like it was meant to be Oscar bait.  The story has truth to it, but it is just fine as a piece of entertainment.

 

Video:

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Encoding:  AVC MPEG-4

Resolution:  1080p

Aspect Ratio:  1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  I have used the term “unassuming” a couple times and while Philomena is not a flashy production, it looks great on Blu-ray.  The road trip aspect to this film lends it the chance to explore different environments, which is nice to see and reflected in the details to be found in the country locations, the Washington D.C. areas, and the interiors to be found and explored.

Depth:  Despite being a character-focused drama, something about the sharpness and definition scene in them characters really makes them standout in a good way.  The film utilizes a lot of closeups, with mainly establishing shots serving as a way to see a wider presentation, but the results make for a good sense of depth in this film, fitting for this Blu-ray transfer.

Black Levels:  This is a fairly warm feature, but some of the flashbacks and moments of darkened environments show off the consistently solid black levels found in this video presentation of the film.

Color Reproduction:  The warmth that I mentioned is reflected well in regards to the colors on display.  While not a film that goes overboard, different locations and clothing provide enough examples of how strong the look of the various colors in this film are.

Flesh Tones:  Everyone looks great in this film.  The textures and detail found in the characters flesh tones is strong and satisfying.

Noise/Artifacts:  Nothing that I could spot.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s):  English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles:  English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  As this is a dialogue-heavy drama, there is not a lot to expect, but this does give me a chance to mention the wonderful (Oscar-nominated) score by Alexandre Desplat.  It is a great listen and is served well on this audio track that does a fine job of presenting all the various forms of audio to be heard throughout.

Low Frequency Extension:  There are some busy areas in this film that are supported by the low-end channel.  Not aggressive enough in the audio department to really make an impact in this section.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Another excuse to mention the score, with the film doing a fine job of keeping us in the story based on listening to these people speak, it does not hurt that the surround aspect does solid work keeping the score balanced with the other sound elements to be found in the film.

Dialogue Reproduction:  It was easy to hear what everyone was saying, which is obviously quite important in a film like this.

 

Extras:

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While it would have been nice to have director Stephen Frears more involved, this was Coogan’s pet project and it makes sense that he dominates the minimal amount of features found on this disc.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Steve Coogan and screenwriter Jeff Pope – This is a fun listen, as Coogan is obviously a humorous person to listen to, which goes well with a film like this.  There are a lot of subjects to cover and it helps that Coogan and Pope obviously get along quite well, as their discussion is an entertaining and informative one to go along with the film.
  • A Conversation with Judi Dench – While only about 9 minutes, it is neat to listen to Judi Dench essentially provide a truncated re-telling of her career history.
  • The Real Philomena Lee – A bit disappointing, as this only lasts just under 3 minutes.  Obviously the real Philomena is not a public speaker that must detail everything about herself, but surely there were meatier interviews featuring her and the other filmmakers at some point.
  • Q&A with Steve Coogan – Fortunately this 25-minute conversation with Coogan is quite entertaining, as he balances the serious subject matter with his wit, making for an entertaining Q&A overall.
  • UltraViolet Copy of the Film

Summary:

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Philomena is a film that works really well at being entertaining and dramatic, without feeling overdone.  I may not find it a strong enough feature to have really needed so much Oscar love come its way, as far as nominations are concerned, but I cannot deny the strength of the actors and the effectiveness of the story that is told.  The Blu-ray presentation is great as far as the audio and video aspects are concerned.  There is just enough in the way of extra features to be satisfying as well.  If you have been curious about what Philomena has to offer, check it out and you may be surprised how strong of a feature it actually is.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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