Wednesday, May 27, 2020


 Long time no speak huh?  How you guys doing? The last time we were together I was preparing for my upcoming book tour in support of ny book Blacktop Wasteland, and choosing what kind of luggage I was going to buy. 

As my grandmother would say , life is filled with swift transitions. The world has ground to a halt and in that halting is forever changed. One might ask in this new world what is the use of books, of stories, of movies about the worst of human behavior and how that can cause both despair but also be the catalyst for a kind of rough revelation. 
    I think now more than ever stories are necessary. They are vital. Not only as a distraction but as road map on our way back to normality. Books can be a kind of time machine. They can take us back to the before times or they can take us foreword through the darkness and into the bright new day of the aftermath. 
   'For my part I'm still writing , still reading and still watching all kinds of books and movies. I've discovered some new favorites like Autumn Christian and Bracken Macleod , not crime writers per se but great authors nonetheless , I've become reacquainted with old friends  like Ross Macdonald , Donald Goines and Barbara Neely. I've struggled through my technophobic tendencies and participated Zoom based Noir at the Bar events where I've heard some of the best crime writers in the world perform their work with an extra edge, an extra bit of urgency because they understand just like I do and I suspect you do too ...
We need stories. Like we need oxygen. 

     And with that I'd like to take a few minutes to tell you about a movie that you may or may not remember but I love unabashedly even though I know its got it's problems. But it also has Nic Cage in prime Nic Cage mode . A weird over the top bag of tics and twitches that only uses plastic spoons. 

    I'm talking about 1995's KISS OF DEATH. 

   In 1995 David Caruso thought he was pretty hot shit. I mean why wouldn't he? He had just starred in the hottest show on TV in at least a decade. He was the breakout start and so of course he left after the first year. A lot of pop culture critics like to use Shelly Long as short hand for acting hubris. Her name became synonymous with a performer who overestimated their appeal. 
David Caruso snatched that crown from her like a thief in the night. 
   In hindsight Caruso made a serious miscalculation. He not only left a highly respected show he talked piles and piles of that  hot fecal matter about the show and television in general. He didn't come off as an actor trying to find a new medium to express himself. He came off like an ungrateful jerk. 
   Its unfortunate that he worked so tirelessly to ruin his own career because he starred in two very interesting movies in 1995. Jade, a sad and obvious rip off of Basic Instinct( I know that sounds harsh but trust me it is accurate) and a moody dark but also hyper kinetic crime drama called Kiss of Death. 
       The plot of 1995 Kiss of Death is only tangetially similar to the orginal Kiss of Death with a giggling Richard Widmark playing sociopath Tommy Udo. In Caruso's movie he plays Jimmy Kilmartin a former car thief trying to go straight. Michael Rappaport plays his cousin Ronnie a character so sleazy and grimey he leaves skid marks on your tv screen. Ronnie is in deep with Big Junior Brown and his son Little Junior Brown played by Nicholas Cage. 
    Big Junior is a standard variety crime boss. But Little Junior , oh my, Little Junior is Nic Cage at his most weird unhinged but oddly charasmatic. Its like Sailor from Wild At Heart had a love child with Castor Troy that was raised by the couple from Raising Arizona. Little Junior is a walking talking asthamatic definition of toxic masculinty clad in all white like a fallen muscle bound angel. 
     Jimmy helps Ronnie move some stolen cars for Little Junior and of course they get pulled over by the cops. During the exchange one of Little Junior's henchmen tries to shoot Samule L. Jackson's Det. Hart. Jimmy puts his hand in front of the gun slowing the bullet. Hart is shot just below his eye. For the rest of the movie he has to continually dab at it with a white handkerchief  like some cursed monk in a gothic romance. These three characters along with a coke addled gangster played by Ving Rhames and an overzealous federal prosecuter played by Stanley Tucci circle the drain of bad decisions and machismo like toy boats in a toilet bowl.  
    No one can stand toe to toe with Nic Cage's performacne but Caruso gives Jimmy a quiet intensity and an everyman feel. It helps that Caruso is a native New Yorker with just enough big city toughness to play a gangster but also some suburban tenderness to soften his sharp edges. 
    Kiss of Death currently holds a 68 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Its not a classic but I'm here to tell you it's not nearly as bad as you think it was. Yes Caruso was nominated for a Razzie for his role but I think that was more about behind the scenes politics than his actual skill. If Kiss of Death came out today it would be a smoldering hit on Netflix. As it stands it's a claustrophobic crime thriller that exists in that rareified space between bad timing and bad assumptions. 
 This is the hill upon which I stand.....
You guys seek it out and if you don't like I'll.......probably disagree with you. 

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