Cashing My Reality Check

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There comes a time in every artist’s life where he must ask himself: is it all worth it?

If the answer is yes, then there is no such thing as too much suffering, too much sacrifice, and too many dreams.

If the answer is no, then the artist must regroup, reassess, and revamp.

All I’ve ever wanted is to be an artist. I wasn’t sure what form that would take, and frankly, I’m still not, but the dreams of stardom, wealth, and deification took precedence over everything else. My choice of whatever colleges, coupled with the fact that I was incredibly sloppy and devil-may-care about the financial repercussions a college education would bring, are indicative of the fact that I thought I would be famous by now. Like Madonna famous. Of course I can afford to take out 100 K in private loans. By the time I have to pay them off, I will be halfway through my EGOT!

Well, clearly, I have not taken the world by storm. Part laziness, part amorous distraction, part I must-work-every-minute-of-the-day-to-survive, call it what you want, but the time has come for me to face the music and dance. As 30 rapidly approaches, I have done some serious reprioritizing: I am officially cashing my reality check.

I work with a lot of failed/struggling artists. They are bitter, they are cynical, and they are desperate. They are a mirror of what I do not want to be. I can’t imagine being 60 – hell, 40! – and standing at a buffet with a walkie talkie, talking about my latest audition. It’s great to have a dream, a passion, a “calling,” but there must be a time when you realize, “Hey, this is not happening for me right now – and maybe it never will. What is my contingency plan?”

Yes, I am young, yes Phylis Diller didn’t even start doing comedy until she was in her 40s, yes, dreams take time, but you know what? I’m tired. Tired of working doubles and still not having money. Tired of relying on other people for things I should be taking care of myself. Tired of feeling inadequate, behind, and a failure. Yes, I am young, but feel like the oldest adolescent on the playground.

The final straw for me was doing Hello, Dolly! in Riverside. Despite it being a paying gig, the money was nowhere near close to what I needed to make to take the amount of time off work that I did. This is not an isolated incident. Over the past year, I have booked four paying theatre gigs. And had to turn down every single one of them because they didn’t pay enough money. (The irony is most definitely not lost on me that taking out the loans to pay for college so I could get theatrical training is the one thing that most prohibits me from actually working as an actor). Oh, sure. If I had no lease, no college loans, and was single, perhaps I could live off $200/wk. But what coupled 29 year old with enormous debt and unstable income do you know could/would/should even remotely entertain these notions without expecting their partner to throw passive-aggressive shade? Zero. When you join a family, you must do what is best for your family. Or leave it.

Honestly, I have thought more than once of going back to New York and trying again, alone; I really fucked up the first go around. But when I evaluate the definite loss for the possible success – and the fact that my loans won’t just evaporate; therefore, making my situation the same, single or coupled – I awaken to my folly and return to the arms in which I belong.

This is not to say one must choose love or dreams; they should co-exist. And actually do if you actually communicate. But before you can deal with the future, you must deal with the present. And for me, the present revolves around money.

I know I am not special. We are the Debt Generation. We are the first generation who are not expected to do better than our parents. The first generation who are moving back home – even with our own kids! The first generation who will spend over half their adult lives paying off college. I don’t need to convince anyone that this an epidemic  (Paging Suze Orman and Elizabeth Warren!).

But I’m at the point where despair meets hope, the crossroads of paralysis and OCD; something must happen and must happen now. I try and keep positive, which if you know me you know this is a near impossible feat. Cynicism and negativity are not only an inherent part of being a Phase 2 Homosexual Male, but two things that have run deeply through my development as a human and as a character, this caricature of my personality you are reading. How can I be the “authentic” Jonathon without being a smug son-of-a-bitch? I have gotten to a point where I barely process emotion at all. Unless it is something on television. I will allow myself to feel if it is happening to someone else. But something bad happening to anyone Jonathon Saia knows? Fuck no. Shut that shit down. Robot Saia is on the scene.

The wall must crumble forever and always. Part of the reality of being an adult, I suppose. Somedays are easier than others, but the bricks are slowly sinking back into the mud.

I feel like Judy Garland when she sang that song, “I’m Just an In-Between.” Granted, she was about 13 when she sang, “I’m too old for toys and I’m too young for boys,” but the sentiment is the same. I feel like I am in the middle of a clusterfuck. And all I want to do is read a book. A book I have never seen before. This book has medical benefits. And job security. And the built in promise of being able to save. And take vacations without worrying how to pay for them.

The great thing is that I actually don’t hate – or I have just gotten used to – the work that I do. I have fought for years when people ask me what I do for a living. Well, I’m a writer, but right now I’m waiting tables, chasing the dream! Bullshit. I am a server. Who writes. I need to embrace this and make it work to my advantage.

One day about two months ago, I went to my captain at Wolfgang and told her, “I want to learn expo.” And now I am an expo assistant. Soon, I will be doing expo on my own. Which is an extra five bucks an hour.

I have wanted to quit Sodexo for a hot second; two years is a long time to be anywhere that isn’t on a stage or in a writer’s room. But in the “real world,” two years is peanuts. So instead of quitting one place to find another, I decided to step up my game and apply for management. And now I am waiting to hear if I get my final interview. For a salaried job.

Julian and I talk about, yes our artistic dreams, but also the restaurant we will inevitably run called BFD while watching marathons of Kitchen Nightmares. 

I wish I were more sad about closing the artistic book on my life. But I know I will never be a professional dancer; I have not been in a dance class for about a decade and while it was fun playing Bobby, I am leaving him on the line. I know I will never be a professional actor on purpose. I love performing, but lack the drive to actually find an agent, audition, get headshots, and continue to starve.

Someday I will hunker down and write Jonestown. Someday Trevor and I will record Erotica Redux . Someday I will be the disciple of Larry Kramer and John Waters and Joan Rivers I dream of. But for now this book is going back on the shelf and I’m heading for the kitchen.

And I’m cool with that.

Bad Cinema: The Killer Inside Me (Dir: Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

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The Killer Inside Me suffers from the Potentially Good Film Ruined by a Terrible Script and Poor Casting Effect. (Mother’s Boys, Showgirls, Hollywood Ending, etc.) The premise – a seemingly unassuming man is more sinister than he seems – is not a new one (see Perfume, Psycho, or Fracture for superior examples). Neither is The Killer Inside Me. Numerous screenplays kicked around Hollywood since the 1952 crime novel hit the scene, attaching such luminaries ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Marlon Brando. When the film was finally made in 1976, it starred Stacy Keach, who now cashes his paychecks by narrating American Greed on MSNBC. This should have been a sign that the material was cursed.

It is almost unthinkable to imagine the ’76 film is worse than its remake, but it’s happened before – King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005). Why the filmmakers thought this was a good idea is ridiculous, yet not all the way inconceivable. If written as a surreal, humorous character study in the vein of Blue Velvet (1986) or a schlocky, Wes Craven camp B movie, it may have worked. Instead, it ended up being a film reaching for depth, failing miserably, giving I Know Who Killed Me (2007) a run for its money as the worst film of the decade.

"OMG. I have completely lost all of my talent. I need a drink..."

“OMG. I have completely lost all of my talent. I need a drink…”

Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is called to a meeting with his superior, Sheriff Maples (Tom Bower) to discuss the fate of the local prostitute, Joyce (Jessica Alba).  Maples tells Lou to pay her a visit, not to run her out of town, but to do whatever he thinks is appropriate – one of the film’s many vagaries. He goes to her house. She says something snarky. He hits her. She likes it and they become fast lovers.  With barely enough time to finish rolling one’s eyes to figure out what the hell is going on, the plot unfolds.

Murders ensue, convoluted backstory is pseudo-explained, and “telling” flashbacks of Lou’s childhood are intercut with superfluous sex scenes (void of nudity and eroticism) designed to fill pages void of meaning. To make matters worse, our anti-hero is played by Casey Affleck.

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Starting his career in quirky comedies like 200 Cigarettes (2000), Drowning Mona (2000), and films with his brother – Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting (both 1997) – The Younger Affleck got his break into the big time after his Oscar nomination as the latter titular character in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). The Killer Inside Me gives him his first lead role and it shows.

Given the blatant declaration of the title – and the obvious trailer – it is safe to say I am not ruining any big reveals when I tell you Affleck’s character is the one off balance. Lou is touted as that seemingly innocent nice guy, yet through heavy handed dramatic irony, we know better. A lesser actor than Affleck would have played up the creepy factor by doing his best Nicholson from The Shining (1980). A better actor would have actually given us levels, beat changes, and a personality. Affleck decides to split the difference and do nothing, never passing as believable within an unbelievable character – something Christian Bale achieves to perfection in American Psycho (2000). Acting, particularly screen acting, happens first with the eyes, followed by the body, and then the voice. Affleck’s eyes lack any amount of emotion or non-emotion necessary. Coupled with his inexpressive body, he appears to simply drift through the film as if in a constant cannabis high, but even this may give him too much credit; at least when one smokes weed, he has the opportunity to be interesting. And the voice! What is this grovely I-just-woke up/think-I-am-being-like Brando-because-I-mumble foolishness? This “choice” is about as painful as Bale’s Batman grumble.

The harsh reality lies in the knowledge that previous versions of this film – while rightfully dwelling in Development Hell through the ‘80s and ‘90s – would have starred Tom Cruise and later Leonardo DiCaprio. Could either of them have saved the assumed horribleness of their respective scripts? No. But could they have made it their W (2008)? Absolutely. (It’s another horrible Stone polemic, but Josh Brolin is immaculate as Bush…)

Continuing the onslaught of offenses is Jessica Alba. While never known for her dramatic chops over her bikini bod, Alba theoretically signed on for this film to join the ranks of innumerable actresses who have played prostitutes to appear edgy and/or to Academy gold. Instead, she serves as nothing more than a community theatre version of a von Trier heroine, playing the punching bag for Affleck’s sadomasochistic thrashings and a body to be writhed.

"Please don't shoot! I promise never to try and act again!"

“Please don’t shoot! I promise never to try and act again!”

The sad thing is Joyce has layers. True, they are not physically present in the script, but any actress of passable merit could have done it had they asked themselves the following questions: How does she feel about being a hooker? Does she feel guilty for two-timing her boyfriend? Why does she allow Lou to beat her? Why does she enjoy it? Why doesn’t she scream out when he tries to kill her? Why does she return to him? But Alba “plays” Joyce with emotion over action – when she’s not posing for a Maxim ad, that is – leaving us thoroughly disconnected from her. The whole time I was watching the movie I imagined Lindsay Lohan in the part. Like DiCaprio, LiLo would have brought an intelligence and a humanity to the role (well, maybe. Gurl, get it together!); plus, her bad girl image would have played to her advantage a la Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996).

Rounding out the cast are Kate Hudson and Ned Beatty. Hudson, like her mother, has floundered for years since her Oscar nomination in projects inferior to her comedic capabilities. When she enters The Killer Inside Me, we see a potential savior for a hitherto terrible movie. She slinks on the stairs in a blue dress, smoking a cigarette with the mystery of Gene Tierney. A passion burns in her eyes and a genuine emotion somehow floats across the room to Affleck’s simp. She sashays to his lap for an uncomfortable make-out session where we quickly learn the writer’s plans for her: she will serve as Cum Dumpster #2 for Affleck’s would-be Frank Booth Light, adding to Hudson’s lists of films beneath her.

"Wanna play with my Golden Globes?"

“Wanna play with my Golden Globes?”

The greatest personal offense is the presence of Ned Beatty. Of course he commands a presence and makes nothing into something; he’s Ned Beatty: Oscar nominee, respected character actor of stage and screen for 40 years, and, my personal favorite, Ed Connor on Roseanne. How, Mr. Beatty, did you get to be here? Someone please send this man a script worthy of his immeasurable talents. Maybe something where Kate Hudson can play his granddaughter (and her mother as her mother. Come back to the Cineplex Goldie Hawn, Goldie Hawn!).

"I was in DELIVERANCE. What the hell am I doing?"

“I was in DELIVERANCE. What the hell am I doing?”

And then out of nowhere comes Bill Pullman, an actor I feel has never gotten a fair shot – where is your The Squid and the Whale (2005), Bill? I couldn’t tell you why he was in the movie – the last five at that; his purpose escaped me as quickly as the credits rolled. Take this as a metaphor for the entire film.

Is The Killer Inside Me a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***COLONOSCOPY***

What are your thoughts on The Killer Inside Me?

Bad Cinema: Airport ’75 (Dir: Jack Smight, 1974)

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Imagine the call sheet:

– Academy Award winner Charlton Heston (Best Actor, Ben-Hur)
– Academy Award winner George Kennedy (Best S. Actor, Cool Hand Luke)
– Academy Award nominee Karen Black (Best S. Actress, Five Easy Pieces)
– Academy Award nominee Linda Blair (Best S. Actress, The Exorcist)
– Academy Award nominee Nancy Olson (Best. S. Actress, Sunset Blvd.)
– Academy Award nominee Martha Scott (Best Actress, Our Town)
– Academy Award nominee Gloria Swanson (Best Actress, Sunset Blvd.)
– Legends Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Sid Caeser, and the costume designer for Hitchcock, Edith Head

The question is not why B-director Jack Smight would want to work with A-talent. The question is why A-talent would want to waste their time in a C action film.

But why not? The original Airport (1970), netted 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and even a win for acting legend Helen Hayes.

But surely the cast read the script and saw how terrible it was? Or saw the original and knew, despite the acclaim, how terrible it was? Maybe they didn’t care. Or maybe…they didn’t know. I’m not sure which would be worse.

Wow. So Airport, Airport ’75, and presumably the other two sequels (I feel compelled to see them for the crazy factor, but don’t know if I can endure) have similar premises: a cast of Hollywood stars and character actors all converge at…well, an airport…to overcome a catastrophe.

Due to the commercial and critical success of Airport, disaster films with all star casts and obvious titles were the in-thing during the early ’70s: The Towering Inferno. The Poseidon Adventure. The Hindenberg. Meteor. Avalanche. Hurricane. Earthquake. 

"That's cool. Forty years as the best dancer in the movies and all I had to do to get an Oscar nomination was not to dance. Thanks for nothing, AMPAS."

“That’s cool. Forty years as the best dancer in the movies and all I had to do to get an Oscar nomination was not to dance. Thanks for nothing, AMPAS.”

Ostensibly, they are all about the American spirit: normal, everyday people coming together to overcome adversity and be heroes. But in reality, they are about jamming as much star power from as many genres they can into a 2.5 hour span to get as many butts in the seats as possible. Which has become common Hollywood practice, but at least when Steven Soderbergh does it, it doesn’t make you want to put a pillow over your face.

"Yes, I know I give good head. But I want you to love me in the morning!"

“Yes, I know I give good head. But I want you to love me in the morning!”

Heston and Black are lovers with their relationship on the skids; she wants commitment, he wants nookie. They promise to talk it over that night when he returns from business. She glares at him with her Peter Falk eyes and storms off to catch her flight. She is a stewardess and must see to the comfort of her passengers: Blair and Olson are mother and daughter, hanging in the back of the enormous airplane. Blair must lie still so as not to disrupt her damaged kidneys. They are on their way to receive a transplant.

"Play 'My Favorite Things'!"

“Play ‘My Favorite Things’!”

Helen Reddy (Pete’s “Candle in the Water”) and Martha Scott (Moses’ mom) are nuns respectively fascinated and disgusted by Swanson’s diva ways. She and her assistant are working on her memoirs. (Swanson plays herself; her actual memoirs came out in 1980). Eventual TV stars Jerry Stiller (Mr. Costanza), Norman Fell (Mr. Roper), and Conrad Janis (Mr. McConnell) try their best to stay drunk. Hollywood legend Myrna Loy succeeds at staying drunk, while TV legend Sid Caesar tries to get her to watch the inflight movie, one in which he has a bit part.

The film attempts to get us interested in the lives of these people – all of which, besides Blair, have no stakes; therefore, no drama – before the 40 minute mark occurs and Dana Andrews has a heart attack, crashing his private plane into the cockpit of the 747; the most durable plane in the game, we are told repeatedly. The pilot is blinded, the engineer is killed, and the co-pilot is sucked out of the plane to his death. Well, actually a very obvious blow up doll is sucked out of the plane. (Airplane, a parody of the series, spoofs this brilliantly, having the co-pilot actually be a blow up doll from the get).

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“I can’t die like this! I’m a Scientologist!”

Black, the most senior member on the remaining team, must take to the controls, Sandra Bullock style. But of course, she is not alone. On the ground, Heston is coaching her, which supposedly adds an extra weight to their relationship. This will bond them. Or something.

"Please. I led the Jews out of Israel. I got this."

“Please. I led the Jews out of Israel. I got this.”

But, Black, silly woman, can’t figure out how to land the thing so Heston is helicoptered in to shimmy his way through the giant hole in the side of the plane. They embrace and all is well. Even though the 747 is leaking gas. This is supposed to be another element to raise the stakes, but the actors do not treat this with the appropriate level of alarm. What is most shocking is that the music – the most ill-used element of filmmaking – is not blaring at us like John Williams, telling us to have a panic attack because this ship is going down! The score, like every thing else in the film, is simply marking time.

What makes Airplane ’75 fail most is the aforementioned lack of stakes. Action films in particular are all about stakes…

– The Terminator: if Arnold is not stopped, the world will end.
– Independence Day: if Will doesn’t stop the aliens, the world will end.
– Die Hard: if Bruce doesn’t stop the Commies, the hostages will die.
– Aliens: if Sigourney doesn’t stop the aliens, the soldiers will die. And the world will end.

What are the stakes in Airport ’75? Being a sequel – and knowing there are two more sequels to come – we never for a moment think the plane is going to crash; American cinema demands a happy ending. So what’s left? Linda Blair doesn’t get to her kidney on time? She barely seems sick! Besides, God is protecting her; a perk of hanging out with singing nuns. Sid Caesar doesn’t convince Myrna Loy he is a good actor? Please. We know he is one of the greatest comedians who ever lived. Gloria Swanson doesn’t get her memoir published? The most laughable moment in the film is when she takes all of her diamonds out of her lock box and replaces them with the tapes to her manuscript. “To hell with the jewelry, let’s put my book in here!…I never wanted to have the damn thing published while I was alive anyway!” Because the world would not be complete without knowing how she saved Paramount Pictures, her passion for a macrobiotic diet, and the time Wallace Beery tricked her into getting an abortion.

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“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small. I am big. It’s the pictures that got small. I am big. It’s….”

Is Airport ’75 a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
***COLONOSCOPY***

What are your thoughts on Airport ’75?

*Available on Netflix Instant

 

And It’s Jason Collins with the Alley-oop

Having lived in two of the world’s most gay friendly cities for the past decade, I sometimes forget that there are people struggling with aversion to their sexuality. Of course, I am aware of the antics of Shirley Phelps, Rick Santorum, and those crazy moms at JCPenny’s, but those LGBT folk at the other end of their tyranny are theoretical. Nameless. Anonymous.

Having been raised in the MidWest, not one of the most accepting places to be gay, I am well versed in the standard – and even some of the archaic – reasons that people may dislike homosexuality.  But when your 90 year old, die hard Catholic grandmother is not only aware, but supportive of her grandson’s life with another man, it skews your perception of what can be expected. Plus, growing up gay and out, you make friends who are the same. And when you have friends who are not only gay, but get married in front of their entire family AND have a baby together, anything is possible.

And when once a year a new state legalizes marriage for all, network TV shows star gay couples, and the most respected journalist AND a black male athlete come out with support from all corners, it is a new day.

Which is why I was so disappointed when someone I have known for a very long time told me that his boyfriend’s parents did not approve of their union. And not only didn’t approve, but threatened their son with the refusal to ever see his nieces and nephews if he didn’t give up his iniquitous ways because, as the BSA clearly knows, gay people just can’t control themselves around the intoxicating flesh of children.

And not only did his boyfriend’s parents shun their relationship, but my friend has still not told his own father because he knows that he will not accept his “lifestyle”.

Our families have known one another for as far back as I can recall and I know that his father knows about me. I knew he probably wasn’t thrilled, but until the other day I hadn’t known the extent of his disgust at not only my “choices,” but my parents’ unyielding support. I’m not really surprised nor am I really affected, but it definitely paints the way my friend thinks about proceeding on his own journey of truth.

One of the hurdles he fears most is the perceived shock of an instant, new label. You see, my friend – like many LGBT people – was married to a member of the opposite sex. But this was not a “cover” as many may perceive, and as, yes, many may do. Their divorce was a case of Kinsey fluidity, the Clive Davis slide. And his wife was a horrible person.

So now he is dating a man, hopelessly, clumsily, crazily in love. I try and tell him to hold on no matter what the adversity because it is his life and it will never get better if we continue to hide. I try and tell him not to think about his father’s money, the money from which he fears he will be disowned if his father knew. I try and tell him that my family would completely support him if he opened up to them, hopefully making his father look like a damn fool in the process.

But truthfully, I wish I could say these things directly to his father. I wish I could call him on the carpet for keeping his head in his ass and telling the world it smells like freshly baked cookies. I wish I could show him the pain and suffering it has caused his only son. I wish I could get him to drop the walls that have always guarded his heart and see my family as the wonderful people they are.

I wish my friend and his boyfriend would move away and be able to lose themselves in the arms of love. I wish they didn’t need to move to feel this is plausible.

I wish I understood what more needs to happen in this world to get people on board with equality. I wish the naysayers – even the well intentioned naysayers – could see that how other people love and with whom they do it has literally NOTHING to do with them. I wish we could understand that sex and its many expressions are not a threat, but a blessing; a part of what makes us human; a part of what connects us to the rest of the animal kingdom. I wish we could all be free of The Velvet Rage. I wish religion would relinquish its poisonous talons once and for all and leave us in peace.

So to my friend and those like him, please. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t turn your back on love. I know it may feel impossible or painful or embarrassing. But think of the long line of people who have come before us to lead the way: Oscar Wilde. Tennessee Williams. Barney Frank. Harvey Milk. RuPaul. Christine Jorgenson. Ellen Degeneres. Larry Kramer. John Waters. Jodie Foster. Anderson Cooper. The thousands of everyday people, living their authentic lives, without the benefit of media congratulations. And now Jason Collins. We are amazing. YOU are amazing. And though you may be standing on the three point line, surrounded by the opposing teams’ scowls and stares, you must take your shot. Don’t forget: you have a lot of people on your team ready to retrieve the ball and pass it back your way.

Werk.

Werk.