First-time Judge Jason Panella had no trouble bloodying his hands dissecting this cash grab.
Our reviews of Cop Land (Blu-ray) (published November 1st, 2011), Cop Land: Director's Cut (published June 28th, 2004), Lock Up (published April 20th, 2007), Lock Up (Blu-Ray) (published July 19th, 2010), Rambo Collection (Blu-Ray) (published June 2nd, 2008), Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (published June 6th, 2008), Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (Blu-Ray) (published July 26th, 2010), The Rambo Trilogy: First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III (published June 3rd, 2002), and The Rambo Trilogy: The Ultimate Collection (published January 17th, 2005) are also available.
"This is hell, and I'm going to give you the guided tour."
Just in time to cash in on the theatrical release of The Expendables 2, Lionsgate repackages the Blu-ray releases of Sylvester Stallone's First Blood, Lock Up, and Cop Land as…(Surprise!) Stallone: 3-Film Collector's Set.
First Blood appropriately kicks off the collection. Stallone stars as John Rambo, a veteran reeling from his time as a Green Beret (and prisoner of war) in Vietnam. While harmlessly drifting through the Pacific Northwest, Rambo runs afoul of small town sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy, Tommy Boy). Teasle and his subordinates arrest and then mistreat Rambo until he snaps. Rambo escapes, and the resulting battle escalates and eventually drags in the state police, the National Guard, and Rambo's friend and former commander, Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna, The Real McCoys).
While First Blood is at its core an action movie, it has an element of sadness and complexity the subsequent films in the Rambo franchise lack. The good guy/bad guy divide seems clear initially, but there's some moral murkiness that sinks in as the movie progresses. Stallone and Dennehy add some depth to their roles, but the cast is great overall. Director Ted Kotcheff keeps the film moving at an almost perfect clip too; the movie doesn't waste much time (give or take a minute of rat-throwing, and has aged much better than other action movies of the same era…including the series increasingly outlandish sequels.
Cop Land, often considered one of the high points of Stallone's career, is an understated and down-beat crime drama. The James Mangold-helmed picture frequently approaches greatness, and has some fantastic acting from its ensemble cast. The film is basically a Golden Age western in a brooding crime-drama package.
Stallone plays Freddy Heflin, the sheriff of Garrison, a small New Jersey town just outside of New York City. Reserved, partially deaf, and out of shape, Heflin idolizes the small army of NYC cops who live in Garrison—despite their constant misdemeanors and patronizing attitude toward the local constabulary. Freddy lets his cop heroes (played by Harvey Keitel, Robert Patrick, and Ray Liotta) push him around, and he ignores the increasing bad stuff they're getting into. But Heflin can only take so much corruption before doing something about it, and an Internal Affairs investigator (Robert De Niro, Goodfellas) shows the sheriff where to draw the line.
Cop Land is quite dense in spots, the script feeling like it's trying to smash three hours worth of story into a two-hour film. But it works, and usually works well. The cast is fantastic; Liotta and De Niro chew up every scene they're in, and the supporting ensemble features a number wonderful character actors.
Most of the buzz around the movie was centered on Stallone, though, and rightfully so. He gained considerable weight for Cop Land, his Heflin coming across as a quiet fragile man, a far cry from the perpetual killing machines he played in Cobra and Rambo III. This sort of reinvention was needed for Stallone, because by 1997 his career had started to sputter out.
Last, but not…well, yeah, last and least is Lock Up, a plot-by-numbers prison thriller directed by John Flynn. Frank Leone (Stallone) is just a normal blue-collar guy in jail for a minor crime. With his sentence almost up, Leone is forcibly transferred to Gateway Prison, a maximum security nightmare run by Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games). The warden has a grudge against Leone and wants the inmate to suffer. Leone befriends a bunch of prison movie archetypes, makes some enemies, and tries to keep a low profile as Drumgoole does his best to ruin Leone's day.
Lock Up isn't a good movie, by any means, but it's also not a bad movie. It's mildly entertaining, but so frustratingly mediocre it doesn't do anything to distinguish itself. Almost all of Lock Up's major plot points are telegraphed way ahead of time, and the bulk of the movie's dialogue feels like it was stitched together from the rough drafts of other, better films. If anything rises above, it's Stallone acting—he pulls off the world-weary thing here, and is an easy protagonist to cheer on. Even the supporting cast—many of whom are the bright spots in bad movies (John Amos, I'm looking at you)—come across as bored.
So lets talk HD presentation.
The 2.35:1/1080p HD transfer on First Blood gets blurry in spots (notably some early scenes in the forest), but the detail is wonderfully sharp for a 30-year-old movie. Scenes with dark/light contrast also stand out. The audio tracks—DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio and Dolby 5.1 EX—are serviceable, but nothing spectacular: dialogue is usually clear and nothing too muddy. For extras, we get commentaries from First Blood novelist David Morrell and Stallone (both good), the making-of documentary "Drawing First Blood," and a pretty interesting pop-up trivia track.
The visual presentation on Cop Land is easily the best in this set. The 1080p/1.85:1 transfer is consistently good, with rich blacks and earthy tones throughout. The night scenes in particular (which are many) look gorgeous. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite good, never sounding tinny or garbly, and picking up subtle stuff (jukeboxes, bar chatter) without ever pushing it too far to the front. The extras round everything out with a commentary from Stallone, Mangold, Patrick, and the film's producer; storyboard comparisons; some deleted scenes; and a nice little documentary short called "Cop Land: The Making of an Urban Western."
Finally, the HD treatment on Lock Up (1080p/1.85:1 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) boosts the quality a bit, but the movie still has a late '80s sheen that won't go away. About half of the movie is a dark visual mess to begin with, which means the high definition only clarifies so much. Same with the sound—it's better than the VHS version my dad taped from network TV, but not significantly so. Some scenes sound like they were recorded in a coffee can, while others are very clear. There are a few inconsequential extras, including some overly serious actor interviews and a "Making of Lock Up."
So why are these three movies bundled together? Good question. Most of the people who would want any of these Blu-rays probably have at least one of them already. Plus, there's nothing new here to entice people that already have the individual releases—these are just three existing titles re-bundled. Besides, these sorts of actor-based collector's sets can often be a mixed bag, especially when the titles seem like they were selected by playing the claw crane game. Cop Land and First Blood are good enough movies to want to own, but I don't see Lock Up's inclusion making this a must-have for a collector. You'd just be better going the a la carte route, unless you can get this for a steal.
We find the defendant Not Guilty on two of three counts.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
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