Sunday, February 22, 2015

Retro Movie: A "Race" Against Evil

There’s nothing like a good drive-in movie to cure the winter doldrums. We’ve been getting pounded with cold weather & snow here in the Northeast, but maybe we all just need to put some snacks together, grab a cold one, and huddle under the blankets to watch: Race With The Devil! This 1975 release is part action movie & part horror film. It features Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) & Warren Oates (Stripes), who portray two friends who own a motorcycle shop in Texas. They decide to head to Colorado with their wives in an RV and take a vacation. Along the way, they stop to race their bikes & later rest for the night. After their wives go to bed, the guys witness a girl being used as a human sacrifice by a satanic cult. The rest of the movie is a chase thriller, as our heroes try to escape the cult, who has marked them for death because they've witnessed the ritual killing.

The couples try to convince various people of what they saw, but no one believes them. Or do they? A sheriff who they relate their story to initially dismisses it, but he acts suspiciously. Everyone they run into as their journey goes on seems to act a little…odd. Strange things begin to happen; a cryptic rune is pinned to the door of the RV, rattlesnakes are released into the camper, and a dog owned by one of the couples is killed. There are car chases, close escapes & eerie occurrences. Will our heroes escape the clutches of this evil cult, who seem to have members & eyes everywhere? Is there any end to this terror in sight!?

Fonda & Oates are very good as the friends who are thrust into a fight for their lives, and Lara Parker (Dark Shadows) & Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H) offer solid support as their spouses. Well known character actor R.G. Armstrong co-stars as the sheriff. Jack Starrett, who acted in & directed a few biker & action films in the 70s, helmed the film; he also has a cameo as a gas station attendant. The screenplay is by Wes Bishop & Lee Frost. Race With The Devil is a fast-paced movie that has an enjoyable combination of action & occult elements. It’s the kind of flick that played endlessly on the late show in the 70s & 80s. If you’re a fan of this type of genre movie, or enjoy any of the actors who star in the film, it’s worth watching.

Since I'm posting this on the day of this year's Oscar telecast, let's be clear that this movie certainly wasn't nominated for any awards. But it's a lot of fun, and a perfect example of solid B movie filmmaking. Race With The Devil is available on DVD & Blu-ray and has most recently been released as a double feature disc with another car chase film, 1974’s Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, which also features Peter Fonda. It’s a car chase/heist thriller, which co-stars Vic Morrow, Susan George &...Roddy McDowall!? Watch both films for a night of 70s drive-in style entertainment. Here’s a link to the trailer for Race With The Devil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqv6PIH_ymY. And remember, "When you race with the devil, you'd better be faster than hell!"


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Masters of the Telecaster: Superb Rock, Blues, Country & Soul at The Kate

Masters of the Telecaster: photo by John V
True musical artistry is a rare thing in these days of reality TV pop stars & manufactured music. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a show like “Masters of the Telecaster,” featuring G.E. Smith, Danny Kortchmar & Jim Weider. On Friday, February 13, at The Kate in Old Saybrook, this trio of guitar virtuosos, along with drummer Randy Ciarlante & bassist Byron Isaacs, treated us to an electrifying night of music. The concert was excellent from start to finish, with a fantastic mix of rock, blues, folk & country performed with passion & energy by a group of supremely talented musicians. The diverse set list ranged from rock & roll classics like “Suzie Q” to country standards such as “Sweet Dreams” and a touch of blues: Son House’s “Empire State Express,” with fantastic lead vocals & guitar from Smith, was one of the high points of the night for me.

The night was filled with wonderful music: “Mercury Blues,” an often covered track probably best remembered for David Lindley’s version, sounded superb, as did a percolated rave up on Little Richard’s “Lucille.” The band members traded off doing leads on the songs, and you could genuinely feel their joy at performing together. One look at Smith’s ecstatic face during the show spoke a thousand words. He burned up the stage with his enthusiasm and smokin’ licks; Kortchmar rocked & jammed like nobody’s business, and Weider was tight and fluid, especially during his stunning take on Roy Buchanan’s “The Messiah Will Come Again.” Ciarlante & Isaacs also contributed heavily to the show’s success, providing excellent vocals and solid playing throughout the night. Other high-water marks: Smith’s emotional reading of “Arrowhead,” Richard Schindell’s folk tune set during the Civil War, and Kortchmar's scorching interpretation of Al Green's "I'm A Ram."

If you’re a dyed in the wool music fan, this terrific trio needs no introduction, but here’s a brief look at their resumes: Smith was Saturday Night Live’s bandleader/musical director for 10 years, and has played with Bob Dylan, Hall & Oates and many others. Wieder was a member of The Band (replacing Robbie Robertson) from 1985-2000, and has also performed with many other artists, including Dr. John & Keith Richards. Kortchmar was part of the legendary group of session musicians known as The Section, and worked with James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Carole King. He also collaborated with Don Henley on the albums Building The Perfect Beast & The End of The Innocence. In fact, another cool moment during the evening was the band rocking out on “All She Wants To Do Is Dance,” which was written by Kortchmar.

For real music aficionados, this show is as close to nirvana as it gets. A band of brothers jamming on classic rock, blues, country & soul the way it was meant to be played; with passion, joy & energy. Two amazing sets of music, concluding with a rousing encore performance of The Bottle Rockets’ “Thousand Dollar Car,” led by Smith, that left us wanting two more sets by this extraordinary group. If you get a chance to see them live, don’t hesitate. It’s a powerful night of music you won’t soon forget. The “Masters of the Telecaster,” will be performing tonight, February 14, at Infinity Hall in Hartford. If you can get a ticket, I highly recommend attending the show. For more info on the band and upcoming concerts, you can visit G.E. Smith’s website at https://gesmithmusic.wordpress.com. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cary Elwes' Princess Bride Diaries

The Princess Bride has become a classic film, beloved by several generations of fans. But when it was first released in 1987, it was only moderately successful, despite positive reviews. The home video market helped make the film a success, and its great cast, quotable dialogue & effective mix of adventure, comedy & romance continue to delight viewers. Cary Elwes, one of the film’s stars, has penned a memoir about the making of the movie. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is the story of the film from Elwes’ perspective, and it’s an enjoyable book. Elwes, who played Westley/The Man in Black, charts the production from director Rob Reiner’s struggle to get the movie made, through the casting, production & release of the film.

The book, co-written with Joe Layden, has an easygoing, relaxed style. It’s kind of like sitting down for a couple of pints with Elwes & chatting with him. You get an insider’s look at the day-to-day process of making a movie, and while it’s not overly technical, there’s a lot of great detail about the production. Some of the best stories involve Elwes & co-star Mandy Patinkin’s arduous training with swords, so they can perform the famous swordfight featured in the film. There are some wonderful stories about the cast & crew. Some of the most touching anecdotes involve Andre The Giant, who played the gentle giant, Fezzik, and Robin Wright, who portrayed Elwes’ love interest, the beautiful Buttercup, in the film. The book also features sidebars written by some of the cast & crew, including Rob Reiner, Wallace Shawn & Chris Sarandon.

If you’re a fan of the movie, this is a light, engaging read. Elwes also touches on the film’s journey from mild success to cult classic, and talks about the cast’s reunion for the film’s 25th anniversary. While many actors talk about how wonderful it was to make a certain project, and how everyone really got along, in this case you truly believe it. The cast & crew of The Princess Bride really felt they were working on something special, and Elwes & his co-stars still regard the experience as one of the best they’ve ever had. Take some time to journey back to the world of The Princess Bride, and join Cary Elwes & the gang for a delightful look at the filming of the movie version of William Goldman’s classic novel. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride is now available in stores & online.