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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Spy > Comedy > Telefilm > Mystery > Thriller > Filmmaking > Crime > Urban > Gangster > Drama > Thriller > Burn Notice: The Fall Of Sam Axe (2011/Fox)/Monty Hellman’s Road To Nowhere (2010/Monterey)/Set Up (2011/Lionsgate)/Straw Dogs (1971/ABC Pictures/Cinerama/MGM/Blu-rays)

Burn Notice: The Fall Of Sam Axe (2011/Fox)/Monty Hellman’s Road To Nowhere (2010/Monterey)/Set Up (2011/Lionsgate)/Straw Dogs (1971/ABC Pictures/Cinerama/MGM/Blu-rays)

 

Picture: B-/B-/C+/B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C/C/D/C     Films: C/C/D/B-

 

 

Another look at the action genre and how its acceleration in the 1980s has had some unfortunate effects on the genre…

 

 

The telefilm Burn Notice: The Fall Of Sam Axe (2011/the extended cut is here) seemingly wraps up the adventures of the title character played by Bruce Campbell after five seasons in his biggest franchise success since the Evil Dead films.  We see the latest romp in flashback as Axe describes it at a secret security meeting and trail, for him.  It can be amusing, but is far from how energetic and witty the show was in its first few seasons and they need to quit while they are ahead, bored at times in how little left there is for any of them to do.  Extras include Deleted Scenes, a feature length audio commentary track by Campbell, creator Matt Nix and co-star Jeffrey Donovan and featurette The Fall Of Jeffrey Donovan.

 

 

Monty Hellman’s Road To Nowhere (2010) is the once great director’s attempt to make a comeback.  The skillful mind that once helmed Two Lane Blacktop (1971) wants to do a twisted mystery with filmmaking in mind, but transport it to the digital era as we start by watching a movie off of a DVD on a laptop, then move into the real world and how much the “based on a true story” story is true, how much is not and is there something else going on here.  Ambitious and trying to show a love of films, he just cannot juggle all of this to make it work as effectively as he should despite his talents and ambitions.  The cast is not bad, but when all is said and done, this comes across as a David Lynch imitator that pales by comparison to the real thing.  It is still interesting at times and that cast includes Cliff De Young, Waylon Payne, Tygh Runyan, Shannyn Sossamon and Dominique Swain.  Extras include a Sossamon interview, Q&A from The Nashville Film Festival and Behind The Scenes featurette.

 

 

The big wacky did here is the latest Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson straight-to-video release, Set Up (2011) which is so bad, he has now replaced Cuba Gooding Jr. as the worst straight-to-video lead in the history of the entire industry!  With that said, this mind-boggling disaster follows the “50 formula” of women being raped and killed, men being killed, everyone turning on everyone else and a gangster (or is that gangsta?) world that is colder than cold… and as boring as every script he picks up.

 

Remarkably, Bruce Willis is somehow here as the head gangster of Detroit (we figured as a kid, he made his fortune stealing and selling Die Hard Batteries) sleepwalking thought this goofiness and Ryan Phillippe wasted as a criminal friend of our lead who cannot act.  His next project should be called “Get a good script for a change or die trying!”

 

Extras (try not to laugh to hard) include trailers, an interviews segment, two making of featurettes and feature length audio commentary by Co-Writer/Director Mike Gunther (now you know who to blame) and Stunt Coordinator Kyle Woods, who sounds like he would make a much better director.  Anyone who thinks they will see something good or entertaining by buying or renting this is truly being “set up”!

 

 

That brings us to a film that is actually rougher without trying and remains one of the most controversial films ever made, Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 shocker Straw Dogs with an amazing performance by Dustin Hoffman (as married mathematician David Sumner) among a mostly British cast.   Previously issued as a single DVD from MGM as well as a Criterion DVD with a bunch of extras (long out of print and highly collectible), we covered the basic MGM DVD at this link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/2088/Straw+Dogs+(MGM)

 

 

Now the film is on Blu-ray from MGM and has hardly any extras, though they have included a theatrical trailer and 3 TV spots.  Especially with the odd-looking remake coming out, why there are not any new extras is odd.  This is a very personal film by Peckinpah who uses very violent situations to reflect his ideas about human nature manhood and in this film, the Vietnam fiasco which is all over the place.  It is about complacency and how even when the violence and pillaging is in your face, you can still be in denial of it if you are helping it to happen in the first place.

 

As bold, strong and daring as the film is, it is also fair to say the film got away from Peckinpah but still became a minor classic of the action/thriller genre though its sexual politics and politics remain as shocking as A Clockwork Orange (released the same year) and is at least fully realized as a mature, adult work unlike most of any kinds of films made in or out of any genre today.  Hoffman was one of the biggest stars in the world when he made this and he manages to carry the film, but the other actors (including Susan George as the wife who does not tell him everything about her past, Peter Vaughn, T.P. McKenna and David Wayne among them) make this a seamless film whose realism has hardly dimmed overall.

 

Brace yourself before viewing.

 

 

The 1080p digital High Definition image transfers on all four releases offer various surprises.  The 2.35 X 1 HD image on Set Up is the worst of the four with awful shooting, editing, sloppiness, shaky camera work, motion blur and other flaws that show how bad it is.  The 1.78 X 1 AVC @ 19 MBPS HD image on Sam Axe is comparatively more professional and it was made for TV!  The 1.78 X 1 HD image on Nowhere also had its share of softness (some of it intentionally due to the digital video used in the narrative) and looks good along with the style picked, but is not great either, but better than it would be on DVD.  That leaves the 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 38 MBPS HD image on Straw Dogs holding its own against three works 40 years younger!

 

The print is in good but not great shape and with the possibility that a better print was not available yet (not found, not restored), that might explain why this is not a Criterion Blu-ray.  However, MGM is actually licensing this from Disney, who owns the ABC Network and its theatrical film holdings that includes ABC Films and Cinerama Releasing, the two entities who handled this film at the time.  This is still the best the film has looked on any home video format with some great footage and shots, but enough soft shots and lesser film quality in spots holds this transfer back.

 

 

All four also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless sound mixes that are about the same quality wise, but have different issues and flaws.  Sam Axe has some good sound for a TV production, but it is towards the front channels, yet it is professionally recorded, while the same can be said for Road To Nowhere except that this has many silent moments and the surrounds are not always engaged.  It is also a dialogue-based film.  Set Up is almost the worst here again with its sound mix harsher than a new sound mix should be and less active with a less than consistent soundfield despite its use of loud music and sound effects.  Location audio recording is also hit and miss, so this is problematic throughout.

 

That leaves Straw Dogs upgraded a few years ago from its optical theatrical mono sound to a 5.1 mix including Jerry Fielding’s remarkable music score, featured prominently here.  Except for some slightly harsh edges, this is a good upgrade and though this was never going to be a true surround sound film, the remix choices are good enough.  However, if Criterion issues this in a few years, they should redo the sound again to refine it further via the latest audio advances.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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