Ivan's Childhood Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zharikov
  • Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Russian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: January 22, 2013
  • Run Time: 95 minutes


    Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the world’s great film directors, one sure to come up in any good international film class, but this isn’t likely to be the film mentioned with his name, but that just makes it a gem to be discovered on your own. This is his debut film, and an incredible accomplishment both in the stark visions of war and in the visual splendor.  The film begins with a serene scene in which Ivan is walking through the woods with his mother, even seeming to become a butterfly momentarily and fly away, but this peaceful episode is just one of many dreams that Ivan has within the harsh realities of his true war-torn childhood. Having lost his family to violence already Ivan is working as a reconnaissance agent in dangerous areas of war and battle. When Germans are at his meeting point he continues on by himself and barely makes it to the base camp, and upon arriving the commanding officer doesn’t take him seriously at first because of his age, which is ironic considering how young the actor thy cast as the commanding officer is as well.


    When Ivan’s commanding officer tries to send him to military school as a way to get him out of the war he insists that there is still much he can do to help win the war, and refuses to leave his command. As they continue on in the direction Ivan has scouted for them, he continually tries to run away for refusal to leave his job for the safety of military school. He isn’t a patriot as much as he desperately seeks vengeance on the lives of his family members, even planning out his attack and final demise and acting it out as a child would, but with the conviction of a grown adult. Finally they come to realize that Ivan’s chances are far greater than any other considering his small stature and ability to hide easily, and so Ivan once again goes out on a dangerous mission.


    Ivan’s Childhood is a film of poetic sadness and beauty. There are many moments of absolute bliss which are always invaded by reminders of war, whether trenches as a reason for romantic interlude also interrupted by gunshots or one of Ivan’s peaceful dreams always ending with the symbolic or physical death of his family. Even in the significance of this small boy being sent out by men twice his age, able to do what they cannot and still unable to shake the affects the war has had on him. The loss of his family haunts him the entire film, a magnificent tortured child who has experienced far more than many men ever do in their lifetime.


    The Blu-ray release includes and essay in the booklet by film scholar Dina Iordanova as well as translated essays of Tarkovsky about Ivan’s Childhood. The booklet even has a poem written by Tarkovsky’s father. On the disc there is a video appreciation of Tarkovsky and new video interviews with the cinematographer Vadim Yusov and actor Nikolai Burlyaev.


    Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, Bill Thompson
  • Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
  • Writers: Milt Banta, William Cottrell, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner
  • Format: Animated, Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Rated: G (General Audience)
  • Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: February 5, 2013
  • Run Time: 77 minutes




    There are some films from my childhood when watched again in later years seem more than a little disappointing. My newfound notions on the art of film intrude upon my senses whereas my childhood was filled with a less judgmental way of being entertained. Simply put, some films don’t live up to my memory of them. Rarely is a film good enough to inspire us as children and again do the same when we are adults. Peter Pan is a special film, and one which has an additional layer of enjoyment when watched as an adult, because the film is essentially about remembering to take a break from life and return to our inner child. I cherish my second viewing of Peter Pan, perhaps even more than I did as a child.


    Wendy loves telling her brothers stories of Peter Pan and the magical world of Never Land, but it isn’t until Wendy’s last night in the nursery that peter Pan shows up in flesh. Wendy is about to grow up upon the demands of her father, and only Pan can cure this by taking them off to Never Land. With the help of Tinker Bell’s fairy dust the children fly off into the magical world and are greeted by all sorts of adventures as Captain Hook plots against them. I could pass on the trendy new pirate films and watch this classic a dozen times over. Peter and the kids fight swashbuckling pirates, encounter Indians, mermaids and more, all before they realize that they miss their mother and decide to return.


    This being the Diamond Edition there are higher expectations put upon what is included over previous releases, platinum or otherwise. There is a digital restoration with enhanced picture and sound, giving an extra shine on Tinker Bell, but it is never noticeable enough to distract from the much loved hand animation. Also include is a 5.1 enhanced home theater mix on the audio track. As far as the special features are concerned there are some throw away features such from the past DVDs, such as music videos pushing new artists that Disney has an interest in, but there are just as many fantastic new features as well.


                Al-new to the playback experience is Disney’s latest feature, “Disney Intermission.” This is a marvelously creative idea, and one which will keep the kids satisfied if there is a phone call or reason the film needs to be paused. Instead of still and motionless screen, this feature allows for a screen-saver of sorts. The new release also includes some never-before-seen deleted scenes, including an alternate ending. There is also an introduction video by Diane Disney Miller. The 3-Disc combo pack includes a Blu-ray, a DVD and a digital copy.


    Pina 3D Blu-ray review

    Actors: Pina Bausch
    Director: Wim Wenders
    Format: Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
    Language: English, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish
    Subtitles: English
    Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
    Studio: Criterion Collection
    Release Date: January 22, 2013
    Run Time: 103 minutes



                It may seem that an art house film, and a documentary no less, would be among the least likely to utilize the technological advances of 3D to enhance the spectacle of a film. Often spectacle is far from predominant in art house films, though this is hardly the case for Pina. Pina belongs in the category of films that were created due to the spectacle of 3D, which finally allow audiences to experience on film what is better seen live. The same could be said of any Cirque Du Soleil filmed performances, which always seemed to lack the same magic they had live. Now these performances can come alive in a new way onscreen.


                Though the 3D dancing is quite amazing in Pina, it is not what one might conventionally expect from dance performances. This is not to be compared to the type of 3D dancing you might find in a Step Up franchise film. The legendary Pina Bausch created modern dance works of art that are intensely emotional and experimental. The spectacle is marvelous, though often the meaning is complexly hidden within each viewer’s interpretation. These dances must be seen on their own to be fully appreciated, whereas this documentary is more of a love letter for the departed dancer and choreographer for those who are already familiar with her work.


                No one is more familiar with Pina’s work than her longtime friend and fan, filmmaker Wim Wenders. Wenders and Pina had planned a film collaboration for years, though it wasn’t until Wenders watched a 3D concert film of U2 that he realized the potential for the medium. They were in the process of bringing this vision to life when Pina passed away, and the project became something of a memorial for the marvelous German dance pioneer. The film is part performance homage and part bio-documentary, with interviews from loved ones and footage of her performances.


                The 2-Disc Blu-ray release includes a Blu-ray 3D disc, as well as a standard 2D Blu-ray disc, both with a high definition digital master approved by the director, Wenders, who also contributes a commentary track to the feature film and the deleted scenes. Special features also include a making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes footage and a booklet insert with essay, a company list, and a guide to the dances performed in the film.

    Officer Down Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Tommy Flanagan, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Walton Goggins
  • Director: Brian A. Miller
  • Format: Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: January 22, 2013
  • Run Time: 97 minutes



                Officer Down plays like dozens of dirty cop films before it, with a few twists taken from countless heist films. Though I have a predilection for originality in my film-viewing experiences, occasionally a predictable film is constructed in such a way which is alternately satisfying. A captivating actor or compelling cinematography can take a simple film to new depths. Unfortunately, Officer Down doesn’t have much to offer that is memorable, much less mesmerizing.


                Stephen Dorff stars unconvincingly as Detective Callahan, a dirty cop who is saved by a seemingly selfless stranger. We join him when he is already on the straight path as a loving husband and father, not to mention a dedicated cop. There is no explanation for his behavior previous to the revelation, nor do we see the transformation. For this reason, the two versions of our protagonist seem so starkly different that it is hard to accept them as the same.


                When our morally righteous Callahan is approached by a man claiming to be the one who saved his life that night, he feels an obligation to help him. The favor asked has to do with a man attacking women at a local strip club, but as Callahan investigates, he becomes further entangled. All the while, he goes rogue on a secret investigation; Callahan must use some of the dirty tricks he learned to keep his involvement from his co-workers.


                This film drags for far too long before giving the final twisted explanation is divulged. By the time I had reached that point, I hardly cared. The acting isn’t terrible. It just isn’t great. Same can be said for the cinematography and just about every other aspect of this film. The Blu-ray has no special features.

    All Superheroes Must Die Blu-ray review

  • Actors: James Remar, Lucas Till, Jason Trost
  • Director: Jason Trost
  • Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Release Date: January 29, 2013
  • Run Time: 78 minutes



                Credit must be given to filmmaker Jason Trost for his low budget enthusiasm. After creating the absurdly melodramatic futuristic comedy about a Dance Dance Revolution type gang war, The FP, Trost returns with much of the same gang to make this unconventional superhero film. All Superheroes Must Die contains the same melodramatic acting as The FP, although this time it doesn’t appear to be for humor’s sake. This weighs down the film, even when the creativity of the entire endeavor is admirable.


                In many ways this appears to be the type of superhero film that a group of brainstorming writers was able to create on a shoestring budget. Our heroes awake at the beginning of the film in confusion, discovering that all of their superhuman abilities have vanished due to the manipulations of an evil villain. This is a rather convenient and clever way of avoiding special effects. The other wise money-saving decision was to cast a name actor as the villain, and then shoot all of his scenes in one set with hardly any other interaction with the other cast members.


                Unfortunately, creativity alone is not enough to make a good film. There are admirable qualities to All Superheroes Must Die, but the seriousness and overbearing melodrama makes the shining qualities a little duller. Perhaps if Trost spent more time behind the camera instead of in front of it, there may have been more focus in the acting. Instead we have a bunch of unknown actors showcasing their abilities and overshadowing the minimalist elements of the film which work. James Remar is easily the most effective actor I the film, but not because he is able to play a sad scene better. All of the unknown actors seem to be playing for the serious scenes, whereas Remar has a comical time. Despite being the villain, he is able to lighten the film up a bit in a much needed way.

    Tai Chi Zero Blu-ray Review


                I feel that it may have been helpful to have known that this was just the first installment of a continuing story, because I was left slightly unsatisfied with Tai Chi Zero until a trailer for the sequel was played at the close of the film. This is not to say that Tai Chi Zero is a bad film, but simply one which is not fearful of getting sidetracked in the storyline, leaving many issues unresolved even at the film’s conclusion. Fortunately, Tai Chi Zero is so frantically entertaining that it doesn’t matter if the storyline doesn’t quite reach a point of satisfaction. If anything, it just delays an inevitable onslaught in the sequel.
                Our title protagonist is Lu Chan, a man referred to as “the freak” because of his ability to fight with abnormal strength when hit on the birthmark he wears on his head. He travels to the legendary Chen Village to learn how to harness this ability with the Chen Style Tai Chi, but is turned away for being an outsider. After repeat attempts and repeat failures, the outsider’s persistence pays off slightly. He befriends an old man who doesn’t teach him, but instead offers advice on how to win the favor of the town.
                This is where the film shifts focus some, with the introduction of the film’s villain. A former son of the village returns in a steam powered machine and plans to build a railway right through his former home. This is objected to by the village, leading to an all-out fight. Lu Chen sees an opportunity to be useful to the village and does his best to contribute. The film is not action-packed, leaving room for humor and slight romance as well. It is a quirky kung-fu film with much more than just good action, although there certainly is some of that as well.
                The Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes feature, music videos and a trailer gallery, but the highlight of the package is the high definition presentation of this enigmatically visual film.