Friday, April 20, 2007


Are you a zombie fan?

Have you spent your life wondering, "why have all the great zombie films taken place in Pittsburgh, and the mid-west"? (To which I would normally answer, "have you been there?" But I'm going someplace with this).

Have you wondered why it seems no one has shot a zombie film in the shadow of our nation's capitol? Why it hasn't been done in the shadow of the part-time homes of our nation's most powerful politicians (make your own connections)?

Well wonder no more. Head up to Hagerstown and catch Deadlands: The Rising this weekend at the Hagerstown 10. The locally shot Deadlands was made by Gaithersburg based Gary Ugarek for $11,000.00. According to the movie's Web site -
The first showing begins at 6:00pm Friday April 20th 2007, and shows continue at 8:30pm and 11:00pm as well.

Gary will be at the theater for the 8:30 and 11:00 shows to introduce the film and explain how this zombie splatter fest was made ona meager $11,000.00 US Dollars.
Sounds like a helluva a time for the low-budget horror fan.

Remember this Sunday is Earth Day, so keep an eye out for your local festivals, and a couple of soon to happen items coming in May - The Frederick Marathon, The Shepherdstown Film Festival, the 2007 Maryland Brewer's Festival (at Harry Grove Stadium).

This weekend our hometown Keys are just down the road playing the Potomac Nationals in Northern Virginia and begin a seven game homestand on Monday that starts with the Red Sox affiliate Wilmington Blue Rocks for four games followed by three against the Nationals.

Up in Hagerstown the Mets affiliate Suns wrap up a home series tonight against the Cleveland Indian affiliate Lake County Captains starting at 6:35 tonight.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Welcome to my nightmare....

Grindhouse effective homage appeals to limited tastes

I am, admittedly, a big fan of horror films. I have a thing for zombie and vampire films in particular, but have never been a big fan of the films like Saw, The Last House on the Left, and Hostel. I understand the point of the whole man-doing-horrible-things-to-man horror thing, but never saw the need for's why I have the world news. That's not to say I won't watch them, I just don't see them as being on par with the greats of the genre - The Shining, Alien, The Exorcist, Psycho...(yes, I am a film snob).

I like the films that build up tension to a proper scare, prefer them to the ones that rely on the shock value of blood and guts to evoke a feeling of horror and revulsion - it strikes me as a lazy way of crafting a horror film. In recent years I have been impressed by the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and films like The Ring, and 28 Days Later.

This was something different though from all of the above (though it certainly had elements of much of the above), and it piqued my curiosity.

The joint production of Grindhouse, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature that pays homage to the low-budget B-horror films of the 1970's was a mixed bag. Tarantino and Rodriguez were hell-bent on re-creating the 1970's drive-in experience by emulating the low-budget horror films, complete with trailers of non-existent films (although Rodriguez has decided to create one of the films), that populated those road-side theaters.

The films are what they are - Rodriguez has created a pseudo-zombie film which goes a bit more over the top at times than it needed to, but overall Planet Terror is an entertaining piece of film-making. Tarantino, on the other hand, has given us a snoozefest in Death Proof where the most likable character is Kurt Russell's homicidal maniac.

Like the same films of the 70's, little is truly scary. Planet Terror does provide some tension as well as a few laughs, as do the previews for Machete, and Werewolf Women of the SS. Death Proof offers a lot of dialog that is intended to allow the viewer to bond with the film's victims but only succeeds in making the viewer wonder how long it's going to take for the women to die.

Death Proof regularly improves when Kurt Russell is on the screen (when's the last time you heard that about a Kurt Russell movie?), and devolves into a borefest when he's off of it.

While they did an effective job of creating the experience, complete with "lost reels," footage that "melts in the heat of the projector," and scratches on the film, they have also created films that have an inherent flaw.

With a large cast that includes Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Rose MaGowan, and Rosario Dawson, Grindhouse lists a $50 million production budget (not including marketing). This is fairly steep for a sub-genre where a movie that does well makes between $20 million and $40 million. In spite of a history of that, producer Harvey Weinstein still expected (on the basis of the names involved, I assume) to see a first weekend return in the mid 20's rather than the $12 million Easter weekend opening realized by the movie.

Yes, I did enjoy the first of the two films - but I think the appeal here is limited and I'm surprised that a movie exec like Weinstein hasn't figured that out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

C'mon, Baby don't you wanna go...

Sorry, last week was a busy week in the Smith household. Easter weekend was spent at the parents house in Williamsburg, VA - typically an increasingly more difficult weekend trip as traffic woes worsen between Washington and Richmond (yet for some reason traffic was reasonably light - especially considering it was a holiday weekend). The last half of the week was spent on a business trip to Chicago (for you blues fans out there, yes the title of this entry is a reference to the old Robert Johnson song "Sweet Home Chicago" covered so well by the Blues Brothers).

Chicago was rainy, snowy and cold for two of the three days we (my wife and I) were there and we were largely chained to the neighborhood in which the convention which took place in a neighborhood I believe is called the Near North. We made it into The Loop a couple of times, but never got to see the neighborhoods that make Chicago...well...Chicago.

The area in which we were stuck, a stretch called The Magnificent Mile, was reminiscent of mid-town Manhattan along 5th Avenue. While it was nice to get into a big city again, and to go someplace I hadn't been, I really prefer to go to someplace that's unfamiliar - and this neighborhood felt all too familiar to me (although I would recommend that anyone going to Chicago venture to the Nordstrom's on the Magnificent mile for a visit to Vosges Haut Chocolates - some of the best chocolate I have ever had).

We did see the IAC, an excellent art museum which most people my age might have initially been exposed to in the movie Ferris Beuller's Day Off, and got some good wandering in on the one sunny day which happened to be the day we departed. On that final day we had lunch at Harry Caray's, right next to the Chicago House of Blues. It was one of the two truly excellent meals that we had - if you're heading that way, I recommend the house specialty; Chicken Vesuvio (warning, it is cooked in peanut oil for those of you with severe allergies). The chicken Marsala is also excellent.

The other place we ate that was good...the only chain, though we weren't previously familiar with it, was an Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo. The food was very good (and I hold a pretty high standard on my Italian food - my mother's family is Italian...grandfather came through Ellis Island) and served family style. The platters seem expensive until you realize that the $17.00 dish you're ordering is intended to feed two. I recommend the gnocchi (small potato dumplings/pasta).

Overall I was disappointed, however, I do realize I was there on limited time and covered only a very limited area. I failed to make it to Wrigley Field as I had hoped, and didn't make it to any of the Blues bars/clubs. I do plan to go back, possibly next year for the annual Chicago Blues Festival and get more into the neighborhoods that give Chicago its sense of self.

The photos you see here were taken by my wife, Kelly.

Coming soon, my review of Grindhouse...