Reviews

Snippets: Masks by Beth Yankuner

For those of you who haven't experienced a Block Party show at DCH: you're missing out. For one glorious hour each month, the DCH stage becomes an anything-goes arena for experimental comedy. What I love most about Block Party is never really knowing what to expect. With a diverse line-up featuring everything from traditional comedy to the wonderfully weird and wacky, this show is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your padded black theater chair. Want to see a new troupe's debut, or perhaps a live demolition of a cardboard house? Block Party can give you both of those things -- probably in the same show!

"Review: 'Sanctuary in Endless Poetry'" by Jamé McCraw

Alejandro Jodoworsky’s Endless Poetry is the second installment of the Chilean director’s autobiographical trilogy. It continues where The Dance of Reality (2013) leaves off, in Santiago, Chile, exploring the artist’s years as a young adult. Although Endless Poetry is the first film I have seen by this well-known filmmaker, I found it to be an incredibly accessible introduction to a body of work that began nearly five decades ago.
 
In act of open rebellion, the crestfallen and irate young Alejandro Jodorowsky fells a family tree after being ridiculed for his dreams of being a poet by his father and comically cruel and deceitful extended family. His cousin, who is never shown without his beloved dog in his arms, is his only ally after the event. He leads Alejandro to his new home and family where he lives in the company of artists and dancers, including a ballerina who is in perched in toe shoes for the duration of the film.
 
His mother, portrayed by Pamela Flores, is also at odds with the extended family. She aims to please to no avail. Every line she speaks is sung in a billowy soprano but this characterization, unique only to her, seems to tie the young poet to his mother under the umbrella of art. She is suppressed and constrained in her life, figuratively and literally, by the tight corset she wears. Her young son does not wish to live such a suppressed life.
 
To portray the push-and-pull dichotomy the filmmaker had with his father, Jodorowsky symbolically cast his own sons in the roles. His oldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky, plays his father, and his youngest son, Adan, plays himself. The director bends the scope of time by inserting himself, an older man at this point, into scenes throughout the movie. He offers advice to the ghost of himself, as if to offer peace and consolation, influencing the course of events to a different outcome.
 
While under the care and guidance of his new family of misfit artists, young Alejandro flourishes. He improvises poetic verse on the spot to a captive audience. He is directed to a nearby bar to find a muse to further influence his pursuit of beauty, poetry, and life. He meets the voluptuous and bold Stella Diaz with shocking long vibrant red hair and her body painted. Her mannerisms are comically bold. She pounds booze, brawls with brutish strength, and laughs loudly with disdain. Pamela Flores, the same actress who plays Alejandro’s demure songbird mother plays Stella. She is hardly recognizable. In a moment of emasculating chaos, Alejandro distances himself from this overwhelming influence of Stella.
 
He eventually finds a faithful friend and accomplice in performance and poetic pursuits in Enrique Lihn (played by Leandro Taub). In one memorable scene, the two attempt to prove they need not break stride for obstacles and continue walking a straight path through town by bounding over a produce truck and politely passing through the home of a stranger.
 
Endless Poetry features many comical moments of rebellion. It is endearing to see the cast of characters “yes-and” one another’s impulses in organic moments, be they energetic bursts or more organized settings.

Even when there is discord or pain, a celebration can be found in the act of reconciliation or while processing grief. There was much care put into this film, and the tenderness is evident in each beautiful moment. Jodorowsky celebrating his life in this way is very touching and an inspirational reminder to any artist with a dream. And whether or not you have found your tribe of misfits, rest assured you will feel welcome into the loving group of friends portrayed in this movie.

*Endless Poetry will be playing at Texas Theatre with multiple showings Friday, July 21 - Friday, July 28.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

"Ferns and Murder: A Love Story" by Jamé McCraw

Legendary improviser Elaine May is probably best known for her work with Mike Nichols. The duo were members of The Compass Players, active until 1958, alongside Del Close, who went on to perform and direct at The Second City in 1960. May and Nichols were both adept at character development and had an unmistakably sophisticated style and remarkable chemistry, achieving a great deal of acclaim in their years performing together. In many cases, the two would hone improvised scenes into outlines or routines that could be performed for live audiences more than once. They released three comedy albums on Mercury Records between 1959 and 1961. Nichols went on to direct Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. Few people are as aware of May’s contribution to film after the two went their separate ways.

Elaine May wrote, directed, and starred in A New Leaf, an adaptation of a short story by Jack Ritchie called "The Green Heart." Walter Matthau co-stars in the 1970 madcap black comedy, which May intended to be much darker than the final cut with a subplot where he is a murderer.

Matthau plays spoiled playboy Henry Graham whose lavish lifestyle has exhausted his inheritance leaving him penniless. He is defensive upon learning the news, but once he accepts it, he is left in a delirious stupor. A haunting piano number plays overlaid by the sound of birds chirping and whistling. The sound of the birds is very cartoonish and similar to what an animated character might hear in the aftermath of a blunt blow to the head. Henry drives through wealthy neighborhoods stumbling in and out of his regular haunts whispering “Goodbye” to luxury.

You get the impression he might be on the verge of ending his life until his personal valet suggests he makes an effort to marry for money if he wishes to carry on. Henry makes a time sensitive arrangement with his uncle to find a wife in exchange for a loan. He begins his search, horrified time and time again, hoping to find a partner of extreme wealth and no ties to the world. You see, it is his intention to knock-off his bride.

When he meets the incredibly wealthy and adorably clumsy botanist Henrietta (played by May) he makes every effort to win her over, and just in the nick of time of his uncle’s deadline. He considers his crumb-dusted bride-to-be barbaric to his gentlemen’s sensibilities. Yet, for someone we have only seen engage in dialogue during transactions and dull repetitive smalltalk about carbon on the valves of his Ferrari, Henry appears at ease during conversations with Henrietta that contain a little more depth.

It is difficult not to be menaced by the thought of his nefarious plan to murder her when she confesses that she wishes to achieve a sort of immortality by discovering a new species of fern. Every move she makes is so endearing, how could Henry possibly resist this woman?

May employs improvisation in scenes throughout the film, most notably during the honeymoon of Henry and Henrietta. Without Matthau’s knowledge, his director and co-star managed to sew herself into a nightgown to provoke an authentic reaction as he helps to situate her garment so that her arm is not stuck. May is relentlessly charming in this scene. The visual gag is hilarious, and his willingness to help her is one of the first moments we see a change in heart. Although it is still possible he will kill her. After all, he is reading and taking notes about household poisons.

A second moment or redemption for Henry is when he insists on taking over affairs of the estate once he discovers household employees who have been taking advantage of Henrietta’s financial ineptitude and trusting nature. Henry transitions from the caricature of a selfish person to someone with a spark of humanity. But is he capable of being a decent human being?

A New Leaf is well-written and well-acted. I will say that sound editing is a bit peculiar throughout, which heightens the chaos of many moments. I am so curious about what May’s true intentions were for this wonderful story, yet I am more than pleased with the film that was released.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

"Book Review: 'Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story' by Alan Zweibel" by Jamé McCraw

Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story written and illustrated by Alan Zweibel is a tender and very personal glimpse into the relationship between a writer and performer who meet in summer 1976 during the freshman year of Saturday Night Live. Zweibel is responsible for penning scripts to the sketches featuring outrageous and memorable original characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella for Radner.

A series of dialogues and simple line drawings tell the story of the duo’s delicate friendship. A friendship cut tragically short after 14 years when Radner passed away from complications with ovarian cancer on May 20, 1989.

Sparse vignettes recreate moments of tension, fear, and confrontation but do not feel overly voyeuristic. Zweibel lovingly paints himself as the “asshole” during times of conflict. Gilda is his champion and closest ally. The pair have a profound love for one another that endures during times of uncertainty.

When she is instructed by Zweibel to hold onto casino winnings he could use to pay credit card debt, Radner has hotel security escort him away from her hotel room door when he comes begging out of the arrangement. There is a playfulness to this gesture and her apology the day after the incident comes in the form of a letter, which is hidden in the lavatory of his aircraft during his flight home.

This secret is revealed to Zweibel by a stewardess who tells him: “I was so touched by how warm and funny and loving this person was that I felt like I knew her my whole life and would’ve done anything for her.”

Fame is inevitable for the beloved performer who is approached by strangers so fond of her that they feel she is a familiar friend and call her by name. It is at this point that she asks Alan to call her Gilbert.

A romantic affair between the two of them nearly causes a rift as things fizzle out and they begin to explore the possibility of other partners. The picture Zweibel paints during these passages are stark. Small-talk on elevators and in hallways is painful to witness after knowing how well they are able to communicate with one another. This period of estrangement is resolved when Gilbert tells him, “I need you in my life because I trust you more than anyone and I don’t want to lose that.”

When Radner discovers Zweibel is in the grips of cocaine addiction, she confronts him directly. She tells him what he is doing is not only dangerous, but especially unwise for someone as “naturally insecure and paranoid” as he is. She encourages sobriety. At this time, she encourages him to clean up his act if he is serious about pursuing a relationship with a woman named Robin Blankman. The advice from his champion, Gilbert, is taken to heart. Zweibel and Blankman were married in 1979.

Over the next 10 years, Zweibel and Radner’s conversations appear to be spaced further and further apart as their lives take new paths. They did, however, manage to fulfill the role of a touchstone for one another in instances ranging from hilariously mundane to life-altering.

I am thankful to be privy to moments from such a special friendship. I have read Bunny, Bunny at least a dozen times over the past 13 years. Every month, I think of Radner telling her dear friend Zweibel that saying “Bunny, Bunny” as soon as you wake up on the first day of the month would bring good fortune. It is a sweet fairy tale that I have incorporated into my life. That being said, June 1 is just a week away.

Bunny, Bunny.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

(Image: LIFE)

"The Wit of Serafinowicz" by Jamé McCraw

English actor and writer Peter Serafinowicz might be most recognized from films and guest appearances on British TV for almost 20 years. An emphasis is nearly always placed on his character’s height, physical features, and vocal traits. He is an irritable roommate in Sean of the Dead and Tim’s ex-girlfriend’s new beau, who the protagonist just can’t quite measure up to, in Spaced.

In 2002, he and his writing partner, Robert Popper, created the satire series Look Around You, which was lovingly styled as an homage to schoolroom educational videos of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A seven-episode sketch series called The Peter Serafinowicz Show aired in 2007 showcasing the actor’s adept impersonations and absurdist characters in a carefully curated realm of commercially recognizable parodies. He was recently cast in a reboot of Ben Edlund’s series, The Tick.

Sassy Trump videos, a pet project of Serafinowicz, have been trending since last summer. The president’s exact words are repeated verbatim in an effeminate snarl that is dubbed over originally televised footage. He has been making and editing short video projects for years.

What follows is a list of my favorite bits of comedy, but I recommend further exploration.

Brian Butterfield Karaoke Bar Brian Butterfield is a portly, bumbling man who always manages to promote one failure or another. I like this for the sheer joy of seeing this character harmonize with himself while singing ABBA and Queen.

Basil Fawlty Impersonator Chat A late-nite chat service where you can be berated by a wound-up misanthrope without reservations.

Who Would Like To Win £100 This black-and-white WWII-era game show parody is slowly paced. Perry Rogers croons about suicide while the contestant “telegrams a friend” for help. The show is cut short by an air-raid.

Buy It Channel A QVC parody where the hosts (Serafinowicz and Catherine Sheppard) face unusual difficulties and are brutally honest about the quality of their products. In one instance, they go so far as to suggest the Sapharina ring, which costs much less to produce than they are selling it for, and resembles “a discarded boiled sweet in a nest of broken glass.”

Paul McCartney "I’ll Kill" Peter Serafinowicz has several sketches where he takes on the role of each of The Beatles and does song parodies, as well. In this morbid re-imagining of "I Will" Paul offers to murder for his new love admitting to her, “Although I’ll be in prison, I’ll be thinking of your kissing.”

Acting Masterclass with Michael Caine Did you know that sausages look like cigars on camera and vice versa? The Acting Masterclass series of videos feature lessons from Kevin Spacey, Ralph Fiennes, and Al Pacino, as well.

Markets of Britain A marketplace where you can buy discarded weapons from an old murderer and giant pencils.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

"Freek Appeal" by Jamé McCraw

I was nearing my ninth birthday and preparing for the fourth grade during summer 1994. My best friend was away for the summer leaving me on my own to search for new ideas and sources of inspiration. I was overflowing with boundless energy fueled by Fruit-by-the-Foot, Gushers fruit snacks, and Welch’s fruit-flavored soda but never any actual fruit. My greatest joy came from staying up odd hours of the night alone and watching videotapes rented from Cox Video.

One night, while looking at the new release wall, something caught my eye. A slender VHS case with a canary yellow spine with the word “FREAKED” in funky, bright-pink letters. The cover was sky blue, featuring unusual characters along the border including a sock-puppet man, a cow man, Mr. T, and Michael Stoyanov who I recognized from his role as the brother in Blossom who doesn’t utter a dumb catchphrase. Freaked stars Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure alum Alex Winter. Winter co-wrote and co-directed this feature alongside Tim Burns and Tom Stern. Hideous Mutant Freekz, at its inception, was meant to be an offensive, crude, and violent horror film. After Fox provided the creators with a budget of $12 million, the film was toned down considerably, placing it in the comedy genre with a PG-13 rating and the title was altered to Freaked. It tested poorly and was not widely distributed. Luckily, it wound up on video shelves for unsuspecting weirdos like me to discover.

There are no trailers before Freaked, which opens to flashing strobing images and the most aggressive music my 8-year-old ears had ever heard. Henry Rollins’ guttural screams, fast drums, and jarring guitar riffs blast bombastically alongside an incredibly psychedelic and brightly patterned title sequence by artist David Daniels. Claymation depictions of freaky characters are smeared transitioning into new images. It’s harsh and unsettling, but I absolutely love it.

The story begins with an unusual news bulletin about a “flying gimp” that has been destroyed. It is now safe for people to return to their homes. This is never explained. Why did they have to leave their homes? Your home is supposed to be the safest place you can be. Yet, there is this threat that is exceptional - it can fly but also is hindered -it is a gimp. Crisis averted, so don’t worry about that. The scheduled program resumes, which is a talk show called "The Skye Daley Show." Brooke Shields as Skye Daley appears bubbly and bright in contrast to her guest Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter) sitting in shadows of a heinous silhouette.

Ricky is a has-been child star who becomes the spokesman for a company called E.E.S. (Everything Except Shoes) and is accompanied by his friend Ernie (Michael Stoyanov) to promote a hazardous chemical called Zygrot-24. The pair flies to Santa Flan, an island named after the patron saint of creamy desserts. They trick an eco-activist named Julie (Megan Ward from Encino Man) into traveling with them and fall prey to Freak Show proprietor Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid). This sun-scorched redneck transfigures the Gen X trio into hideous mutant freaks. The supporting cast features Mr. T as the bearded lady and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a hand-puppet freak called Sockhead. Keanu Reeves is uncredited as Ortiz the Dog Boy. He is covered in fur and sounds like Antonio Banderas. They are forced to perform hokey vaudeville acts for crowds, and chaos ensues. The freaks band together to emancipate themselves from the clutches of Skuggs. In one memorable scene, two walking, giant Rastafarian eyeballs attempt to thwart an escape effort with the entire gang disguised as old-fashioned milkmen. It is amazing.

Freaked
Freaked

Freaked triumphs in its enduring audacity. There are so many tropes and gags jammed into this story, but it never feels overwrought. The pacing is nimble, and the saga is truly unique. The production design, sets, and makeup are unlike anything. While it certainly has a late-1980s/early-1990s aesthetic, repeat viewings are never cloyingly reminiscent of that era. It feels timelessly original. In the midst of a cavalcade of grotesque visuals, there is an endearing sweetness to this passion project.

I have never seen a widescreen version of this movie and was delighted to find that the film is available in its entirety on YouTube with extra scenes. When Cox Video ultimately closed down five years after I first saw Freaked, I purchased the exact VHS copy of the film I had rented countless times. It remains one of my most valuable possessions.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.