My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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It happened once, it happened twice. Cancel the dance, or it’ll happen thrice. Ten years ago, an inexperienced coal miner named Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) caused an accident that killed five men and put a sixth, Harry Warden (Peter Cowper), into a coma. A year later, on Valentine’s Day, Harry woke up and murdered 22 people with a pickaxe before dying. Now Tom has returned home, still haunted by the past. And something else is back in Harmony: a pickaxe-wielding killer in a miner’s mask, who may be the ghost of Harry, come to claim Tom and his friends.  The accident long forgotten, the dance resumes. Many of the town’s younger residents are excited about it: Gretchen (Gina Dick), Dave (Carl Marotte), Hollis (Keith Knight), Patty (Cynthia Dale), Sylvia (Helene Udy), Howard (Alf Humphreys), Mike (Thomas Kovacs), John (Rob Stein), Tommy (Jim Murchison), and Harriet (Terry Waterland). Of this group, Sarah (Lori Hallier), Axel (Neil Affleck), and the mayor’s returning son T.J. (Paul Kelman) are involved in a tense love triangle. … This Canadian exploitationer is notorious for its gore and violence which led to it being heavily cut but it has become something of a cult item due to its status in the vanguard of the slasher genre. What’s striking about it at this distance is how it treats its subject – seriously! You may think twice about using a nail gun after this. Written by John Beaird with a story by Stephen Miller, this is directed by George Mihalka.  And this holiday serial killer flick gave a certain great band their name. For that at least we are grateful.

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The Spoilers (1942)

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A woman doesn’t run out on the man she loves, she sticks with him through thick and thin. It’s 1900 and Flapjack (Russell Simpson) and Banty (George Cleveland) arrive in Nome, Alaska to check up on their claim to a gold mine. Saloon owner Charry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich) knows that Bennett (Forrest Taylor) and Clark (Ray Bennett) are plotting to steal their claim. The new gold commissioner Alexander McNamara (Randolph Scott) is part of the corrupt scheme as is the territory’s judge Horace Stillman (Samuel S. Hinds) whose niece Helen (Margaret Lindsay) has a thing for Cherry’s old flame Roy Glennister (John Wayne), fresh from a trip to Europe. Roy makes the mistake of siding with McNamara which damages his relationship with longtime partner Al Dextry (Harry Carey).  Roy realizes he’s been deceived as McNamara and Stillman prepare to steal at least $250,000 while the mine’s case awaits appeal. Helen is now in love with Roy, who begs Dextry’s forgiveness and persuades him to rob a bank to take back the wealth stolen from them. Both Glennister and Dextry don black faces to disguise themselves during the heist. The Bronco Kid (Richard Barthelmess) kills the sheriff but Roy gets the blame. He is arrested and a plot forms to kill him – permitting him to escape then murdering him on the street – but Cherry comes to his rescue, breaking Roy out of jail. A spectacular train derailment occurs during his fight for freedom. Then a fierce fistfight with McNamara results in Roy getting back his mine and his girl. A great starry cast play brilliantly off one another in this spirited adaptation of the novel by Rex Beach, adapted by Lawrence Hazard and Tom Reed. The tone is set from the start with a shootout in this muddy town and Dietrich beats a path to the dock to greet old love Wayne. She doesn’t sing but wears several sparkly numbers in this monochrome delight. Her byplay with romantic rival Lindsay is a wonderful contrast in performing styles and her scenes with Wayne positively crackle The frequent references to Robert Service’s works are done with a nod and a wink to his own appearance as The Poet. Directed by Ray Enright who brings everything to a rousing conclusion with one of the longest fistfights ever filmed – and it’s all over the saloon! Wonderful fun.

Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

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I’ve never made any secret of the fact that basically I’m on my way to Australia. Calendar Colorado is a lawless town rich on the proceeds of a gold find during a funeral and it needs someone to pull it into shape. A sharpshooting chancer Jason McCullough (James Garner) claiming to be on his way to Oz takes a well-paid job to clean up as sheriff, hired by mayor Olly Perkins (Harry Morgan). That involves putting the Danby family in line so he imprisons idiot son Joe (Bruce Dern) in a jail without bars by dint of a chalk line and some red paint … This sendup of western tropes gets by on its good nature and pure charm with Garner backed up by a hilarious Joan Hackett as the accident-prone Prudy Perkins whose attractions are still visible even when she sets her own bustle alight. Jack Elam parodies his earlier roles as the tough guy seconded as deputy while Walter Brennan leads the dastardly Danbys, hellbent on making money from the guys mining the gold before it can be shipped out. Written and produced by William Bowers and directed by Burt Kennedy, that expert at a comic take on the genre whose serious side he had exploited in collaboration with Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott the previous decade. Bright and funny entertainment from Garner’s own production company, Cherokee.

The 33 (2015)

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The story of the Chilean miners at the Copiapo mine who spent 69 days underground in 2010 following a workplace accident always puzzled me because it had so much traction:  where were all the international journalists when hundreds of thousands of Chileans – no more than the Argentinians – were ‘disappeared’ over a few decades???? Torture under military juntas/fascist regimes unwittingly/silently supported by the Liberal West isn’t sexy, I suppose. I digress. So there was a wall collapse and a bunch of men paid the price for the owners’ shortcuts in maintenance – plus ca change in the world of work. And Antonio Banderas spends, oh, two hours, giving rousing speeches, because that’s what you do when you’re shut in with your lovely colleagues. Admittedly I am both claustrophobic and agoraphobic and the idea that I’d even have to have lunch with colleagues makes me gag. I’m probably allergic to this as well. Written by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas, and directed by Patricia Riggen. With Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Gabriel Byrne and Lou Diamond Phillips. Watch Missing instead.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

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What a difficult thing it is to be the first. And the best. This was the first Nam movie. Michael Cimino was directing for just the second time after earning his stripes with Clint Eastwood on Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. He co-wrote the original story – he had been writing for years of course – with Deric Washburn, who got the screenplay credit. Louis Garfinkle and Quinn Redeker had written an unproduced script about Russian roulette and Vegas so they share story credit.  Cimino recced locations all over the US for verisimilitude and many of the extras are the real-life inhabitants of those places masquerading as western Pennsylvania circa 1967. The vets in the rehab facility are the real thing. The setpieces establishing the men’s friendship (drinking, hunting, the wedding party) are leisurely and help us empathise with them when with an extraordinary jump cut they and we are transported to the killing fields. We love these guys by now. One of them (John Savage) is weaker than the others and it’s De Niro who leads the charge against the vicious Vietnamese: their contempt for life is all over the movie (and no surprise to those of us related to POWs held by the Japanese.) And yet the film could be about any war, anywhere: the cast said Vietnam was never even mentioned and it was shot in Thailand. This is a film about people under pressure and how they react to that pressure. Nicky (Christopher Walken) stays behind and it is of course his scene with De Niro for which the film is notorious. It never fails to shock. The overwhelming emotion in the scene strangely is that it is about love – and that of course is what certain people hated. The final gathering, in which the original team of Russian American steel workers are reunited at his funeral and Meryl Streep leads them in God Bless America really pissed off a lot of liberals. Warren Beatty allegedly orchestrated a campaign against the film during awards season (Heaven Can Wait was in competition!) Cimino came from making Heaven’s Gate to the Academy Awards where it took 5 including Best Director and Best Picture (De Niro lost out to Jon Voight but Walken took Best Supporting Actor). Afterwards Cimino found himself sharing an elevator with Jane Fonda and wanted to congratulate her for winning Best Actress for Coming Home: she refused to acknowledge him (she hadn’t seen the film. Her own rehab flick was up against it for Picture). The music, adapting Stanley Myers’ theme, is exquisite, as is the sound design. The acting is extraordinary and probably unsurpassed by those performers in a flawless cast (professional and amateur alike). Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is perfection.If you’re not crying by the end of this, the greatest Seventies movie of them all, then you’re probably  …no, I won’t go there. Cimino was responsible for some of cinema’s finest hours and they’re right here. RIP.