John Wick: Chapter 2 2017 ****

As with the Terminator films, the sequel to John Wick faced a specific challenge; how to expand the universe of the first film while staying true to the stripped down ethos; John Wick barely lasts eighty minutes, and that brevity and focus is part of the appeal. Taking place a mere four days after the first film, John Wick 2 takes the franchise in a different direction, taking Wick (Keanu Reeves) over to Italy and then back to NYC with a price on his head. Wick’s gradual distancing from Winston (Ian McShane) and the establishment at the Continental Hotel provides a wider frame than the revenge theme of the original, and it’s fun to see Franco Nero as Julius, the manager of the Hotel Continental in Rome. Chad Stahelski’s film also takes time to investigate elements of the Wick mystique, including a graphic illustration of Wick’s ability to wield a pencil. The action, including a terrific car-wrecking sequence as an opener and a delirious art-gallery shoot-em-up, delivers in spades, and if the element of surprise has gone, there’s plenty for genre fans to soak up here, not least Reeves’ impeccable, graceful presence as the world’s best assassin.

The Fifth Cord 1971 ***

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The title doesn’t make any sense, even if it sounds better than Evil Fingers and Silent Killer, the other two titles given to Luigi Bazzoni’s giallo thriller from 1971. Based on a book by DM Devine. Franco Nero dons his trademark shades and raincoat as alcoholic journalist Andrea Bild, who finds himself the police’s main suspect during a series of slayings. His troubled personal life under the microscope, he sets about working out who the killer really is, with a set of tense but not particularly violent set pieces to counterpoint his investigation. The Fifth Cord looks fantastic due to rather grand locations and great photography by Vittorio Storaro; if you’re not a giallo fan, The Fifth Cord is an ideal taster for the genre. Beware,  the you tube version is missing the last ten minutes.

Street Law 1974 ***

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A good example of an exploitation movie with ideas above its station, Enzo G Castellari’s 1974 film features Franco Nero as scientist Carlo who gets caught up in a bank-robbery and taken hostage. When the police fail to deal with matters to his satisfaction, he embarks on a complex revenge plot. Rather than just hunt his captors down, he engages in a cat-and-mouse game, setting them up and planting evidence; it’s a demonstration of the film-makers skill that Nero’s character doesn’t actually kill anyone until the extended shoot-out in the final scene. The point is that ordinary citizens are ill-equipped to take on criminals; Nero gives a huge performance as he switches from mild-mannered man to crazed killer, and Barbara Bach provides surprisingly demure support as his domestic goddess. The inspiration of William Lustig’s Vigilante, Street Law is a tough thriller with patience and righteous anger.

The Visitor 1979 ***

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As crazy as a film can get, this 1979 films mashes up Carrie, The Omen, Close Encounters and giallo horror to create a fruity punch, leavened by a truly bizarre roster of guest starts. John Huston plays an ‘intergalactic warrior’ who arrives on earth to foil the plans of a demonic 8 year old girl and her pet hawk, building to a climactic intervention from Christ, played by Franco Nero.  Old Hollywood stars Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford and Mel Ferrer all appeared baffled by the randomness of the shenanigans, while an early role for Lance Hendriksen and a strange cameo from director Sam Peckinpah are the icing on the cake. The scene where the little girl is given a gun for her birthday is truly on of horror’s most unexpectedly weird scenes, and while sense is not on the menu, The Visitor is a must see film for fans of the absurd. Also known as Stridulum, a title that makes as little sense as anything else on show here.