This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paths of Glory (1957)


-Col. Dax

This film, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on a novel by Humphrey Cobb, takes place during WWI and concerns Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas), who attempts to defend the French troops under his command when they are accused of cowardice after they refuse to continue a suicidal attack.

The trench warfare scenes, a battle environment which WWI itself is known for (heck, Charles Schulz had Snoopy's brother, Spike, in the trenches while Snoopy was in the air searching for the Red Baron), are jolting, all the more so when you consider that this film was made years before America's military involvement in Vietnam began. The influence of these scenes can be seen in later war films such as Platoon (1986), Glory (1989), Saving Private Ryan (1998), as well as Kubrick's more famous war film Full Metal Jacket (1987).

Just as memorable though as the courtroom scenes in which Dax attempts to convince Gen. Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) that courtmartialing 100 troops simply because a planned attack by Broulard and his subordinate Gen. Mireau (George Macready) failed is wrong.

Although the film barely got any attention upon its release, it is revered today, so much so that a 1991 episode of Tales From the Crypt, entitled "Yellow," which guest-starred Douglas, was a takeoff of it.

More importantly, though, it earned Kubrick significant clout. This clout would come in handy when Douglas was working on his next film, Spartacus (1960). Anthony Mann was originally hired as the director until he left the production due to differences with Douglas, who was also the executive producer of the film. This led to Douglas hiring Kubrick as director. Spartacus became a huge hit and, although he disliked the mandates Douglas and the studio put on him during its production, Kubrick used that success to move to England, where he would be based for the rest of his career. This allowed him to make any subsequent films far from the interference of Hollywood. Hence, all of Kubrick's subsequent films, from Lolita (1962) to Eyes Wide Shut (1999), would carry his unique imprint on them.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

"How does it feel to be on the other end of a microscope?"

-Dr. Robert "Rack" Hansen.

For all intents and purposes, the first great 'creature feature' (which didn't involve the creature in question being played by an actor) was King Kong (1933). That film is deservedly part of cinematic lore with FX that are more endearing than Peter Jackson's lame 2005 remake of it. Godzilla (1954) followed and became influential itself thanks to that story's use of atomic power to introduce its monster. Nuclear radiation became a staple of horror throughout the 1950s, such as in the Universal film Monster on the Campus (1958); films which blamed atomic power for nature's creatures running amok on humanity.

Alfred Hitchcock chimed in with his great film The Birds (1963), and Steven Spielberg shot to the top of the A-list with his classic entry in this genre, Jaws (1975). It was the latter which led to a rebirth of nature gone amok films in the 1970s. Like The Birds, many of these films didn't blame nuclear energy for animals declaring war on humanity, the animal antagonists simply decide to do so one day. Grizzly (1976) quickly followed, as did Alligator (1980). One film which offered a scientific explanation was Piranha (1978), in which the vicious fish are explained as being genetically engineered. Stephen King's contribution came with the 1981 publication of his great novel Cujo, which, in turn, became an equally great movie in 1983.

Some of these films blame humanity's actions for nature to turn on them. One such example is Kingdom of the Spiders, which, as the title suggests is about spiders(tarantuals, specifically, but I guess producers thought Kingdom of the Tarantulas wouldn't have been as cool a title) attacking human beings. The reason for this attack, though, is explained as being the use of pesticides which have resulted in the arachnids' natural sources of food dying out, hence, our eight-legged friends have to resort to humanity and livestock for food.

Robert "Rack" Hansen (William Shatner) is a veterinarian in a small Arizona town who begins to suspect trouble after a calf belonging to his friend Walter Colby (Woody Strode) mysteriously dies. Not long after taking his findings to a lab, an arachnologist named Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) contacts Rack and informs him that the calf dies from spider venom. Rack is skeptical at first but welcomes her input, especially after Colby's dog and bull die from similar circumstances. Colby also discovers a massive spider hill in the back of his barn and, with Rack and Ashley's help, burns it down.

However, some of the tarantulas manage to escape and, over the next few days, begin to attack and kill human beings, including Colby. Rack and Ashley attempt to get the mayor (Roy Engel) to stop this manifestation by using rats and birds (the natural enemies of tarantulas) rather than the usual pesticides. However, like the mayor in Jaws, this mayor says that having the town covered in pests won't do because of an impending town festival which is meant to keep the town going throughout the year. Unlike Jaws, though, the mayor here gets what's coming to him during the film's climax.

Eventually, like The Birds, the film ends up with our two leads and a few others barricading themselves inside a building to protect themselves from the onslaught. Another similarity with the Hitchcock film is the ambiguous ending.

One of the biggest reasons this picture has a special place in some hearts is because of Shatner, who does his best to avoid being typecast as Kirk, despite the fact that Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was just two years away. The music by Dorsey Burnett is another plus, weaving (no pun intended) tension throughout the movie, so much so that we can ignore the fact that real-life tarantulas don't do much web-weaving.

Another interesting note is that several of the tarantulas used actually died during production of this film. This makes it doubtful that a potential remake of the film (and I won't be surprised if we see one down the line) could be made with the real things today, as the inferior Arachnophobia (1990) proved.