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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Murder > Mystery > Germany > Exploitation > Serial Killer > Spaghetti Western > Thriller > Silent > Agony (2016/indiepix DVD)/The Cleaning Lady (2018/RLJ DVD)/Grand Duel (1972/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/The Last Warning (1929/Universal/Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)/Rondo (2018/Artsploitation DVD)

Agony (2016/indiepix DVD)/The Cleaning Lady (2018/RLJ DVD)/Grand Duel (1972/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/The Last Warning (1929/Universal/Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)/Rondo (2018/Artsploitation DVD)

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

Here's a wide sampling of genre films over the last 90 years to consider and some to avoid...

We start with David Clay Diaz's Agony (2016) from Germany, with a tale of a woman being murdered and dismembered. We are asked to figure out which of two young men did it in what is touted as a 'character study' but instead is just a very bad mystery film, plus its trivialization of the young lady is a big problem in itself. So is it the punk-like guy who hates authority or the more passive guy who seems to be integrated into society a bit more?

After 93 minutes, you'll care less as this thing drones on and on with some fancy shots and not much else. The makers are a little too easily impressed with themselves and this is quickly forgotten, though I wonder if they did a character study of how a gal lands up this way if they would have had a good movie then.

Trailers are the only extras.

Jon Knautz's The Cleaning Lady (2018) is even worse because everyone here is unlikable and not even in a Noir-like way, but no one has any common sense, so when an employer tells all her problems to the title character and said 'Lady' goes on a serial killer killing spree, are we supposed to be shocked? Instead we get a Single White Female for morons and the thing is not even smart enough to be funny about it. How about ''she doesn't do windows, but she throws people to their death thorough them!'' or ''she'll clean up your life until there are no lives left'' or the like. Nope. 90 minutes of boredom and some blood.

Trailers are the only extra here too.

Lee Van Cleef stars in the early spaghetti western The Grand Duel (1972) which is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino as he even used a song from the film's soundtrack in the first Kill Bill film. This is sharp shooting fun that's relentless and at times very entertaining with great stunt work and tight cinematography and editing that still holds up to this day.

The film also stars Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, and Horst Frank to name a few. A mysterious gunfighter (Lee Van Cleef) protects a man accused of killing an Arizona big shot at any costs unnecessary!

Special Features include...

New audio commentary by film critic, historian and theorist Stephen Prince

An Unconventional Western, a newly filmed interview with director Giancarlo Santi

The Last of the Great Westerns, a newly filmed interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi

Cowboy by Chance, an interview with the actor Alberto Dentice AKA Peter O'Brien

Out of the Box, a newly filmed interview with producer Ettore Rosboch

The Day of the Big Showdown, a newly filmed interview with assistant director Harald Buggenig

Saxon City Showdown, a newly filmed video appreciation by the academic Austin Fisher

Original Italian and international theatrical trailers

Extensive image gallery featuring stills, posters, lobby cards and home video sleeves, drawn from the Mike Siegel Archive and other collections

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin

and FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kevin Grant and original reviews.

Paul Leni's The Last Warning (1929) was the famous director's last film for Universal Pictures, at the end of its silent era, about a theater under attack from someone threatening to kill people if they keep performing there and the dead body then disappears. The theater closes for a while, then reopens under uncomfortable circumstances. Might sound a bit like Phantom Of The Opera (1925, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and it uses the same sets as the silent classic, but this is a straight forward, outright mystery film based on a separate book.

I like some of the shots in the film, the darkness and even some of the editing, so it has its moments, but it is too haunted by Phantom for its own good and that sometimes gets in the way. Laura La Plante is the lead, a big star for Universal at the time and you can see why, so she is a plus, then the rest of the cast is not bad and make the film fun. Glad surviving prints were found so we could see the film again, but expect a mixed film, ambitious as it can be.

Extras include a reversible sleeve for the disc case, an excellent booklet inside the discs case with plenty of tech info., essays (including one by John Soister) and pictures that are something to see, while the discs add John Soister's fine visual essay Paul Leni & The Last Warning (about 10 minutes long), Rare Image Gallery with some great stills and poster art and Notes On A New Score by Composer Arthur Barrow, who made brand new music for the film.

Last and least is Drew Barnhardt's Rondo (2018) throwing out anything bloody and violent it can think of and expecting us to laugh to be shocked or take it seriously, but all we really get is a mess about a house of hookers where customers get killed and other goofy, unsustainable events occur. Why? How? I never bought any of the situations, performances or anything resembling logic as I hoped this might pick up, but I was just kidding myself.

To say I did not care for the 'film' or its characters is an understatement and only a few glimmers of professionalism stopped this from being a total, absolute disaster and bomb, but it sure came close to that. Also, seems too many involved here are too impressed with that they've done here and they can forget it. I did.

Extras are too much (no humor intended) including an audio commentary that tries to explain this mess, Deleted Scenes that look as bad as everything that is the final product, select music commentaries for music that was bad and artwork/lobby cards set to music in a montage that shows the promotion was as lame as the final cut.

Now for playback quality. Presented in 1080p high definition with a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and an uncompressed Mono 1.0 LPCM audio, the presentation is pretty sharp. A 2K restoration from the original camera negative, The Grand Duel here features original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits and newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack. It is the best performer on the list.

Remarkably, the 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on The Last Warning Blu-ray can show the age of the materials used, but the transfer looks good often and has its share of atmosphere and true darkness in its great monochrome cinematography by Director of Photography Hal Mohr, A.S.C., in keeping with the look the studio was delivering in the genre at the time. They would only grow this look from here. The PCM 2.0 Stereo version of the score on the blu-ray is fine, but I was not big on it. The DVD version is just fine, but not as rich, dark or detailed as the Blu-ray and the score is weaker on the DVD in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.

That leaves the rest of the DVDs, all new HD shoots that have about equal playback quality, though the anamorphically enhanced 2.00 X 1 image on Agony fares best because it was shot much better than the other two films: the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Cleaning Lady and the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Rondo look like bad cable TV movies, alone and by comparison.

The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Agony and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on Lady and Rondo are nothing spectacular and even dull, all equal and flat at best, though Agony at least has a few sonic moments where they are trying.

- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Grand Duel)



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