Monthly Archives: June 2017

Book Review: Deep Cuts, Volume 1: (Some of) All of the best of Jesse Jones on STAB!

Jesse Jones collects his verbal comedy best in the print edition of Deep Cuts
© 2017 Jesse Jones

Condensed Wit For Erudite Sickos On The Go!

It should comes as no surprise that for its first review of the printed word, Fields Point Review should cast about for high-minded material, offering tasteful and lasting enrichment to readers old and young. In like fashion, it figures that this frustrated search might later veer headlong into a bewildering anthology of willful provocation, acidic satire, and decidedly child-unsafe comedy that one critic (possibly this critic) once described as “so grim it makes your hair fall out.” Without further fanfare (well, not much further), may we present Deep Cuts, Volume 1: (Some of) All of the best of Jesse Jones on STAB!

If the book’s title throws you off, you may be missing vital context. Sacramento-area comedian Jesse Jones is co-creator of, and a permanent panelist on, the live comedy show STAB!, which reaches the world beyond Northern California in the form of a podcast also cleverly entitled STAB! A group of comically minded folks, fed writing prompts on short notice by show host John Ross, recite their most outrageous freeform humor before an audience of their peers.

[For more about the STAB! program, including our interview with John Ross, look here!]

What Jones has done with Deep Cuts is compile one hundred assorted segments he has performed over the show’s run, illustrating the madcap, patternless and altogether unpredictable landscape of STAB! It pays to warn non-initiates that STAB! is built for and around extremely dark comic sensibilities. Jones himself warns in the foreword that “taken out of context, some of the things you’re about to read COULD be horrifying.” True enough, but what makes his work more than merely off-color is the ability to give a clever and original slant to the material. Tackling taboos calls for skill. Some will inevitably be put off no matter what, but fearless reader/listeners will find that STAB! comes at even the most loaded topics with due irony and forward-thinking candor. “These are jokes,” Jones also thinks to mention, and seldom if ever does a bit come across as tasteless for its own sake. There are thoughts here, ripe for the provokin’.

The themes in STAB! have names evoking party games, which they more or less are. In “Reorganization,” well-known acronyms receive new meanings. Jones interprets the computer protocol HTTP as “Heterosexual Threesomes Take Precision,” a treatise on tackling gay panic in male-heavy encounters.

If at any time you come into contact with the genitalia of the other gentleman involved, it is proper and indeed encouraged to simply shout “Sports!” at which point the incursion will be forgiven as an accident and the threesome may continue without incident.

“Topical Haiku Challenge” calls for a formally correct poetic meditation on the latest national news fiasco. Writing of the Washington Redskins, Jones targets an unguarded flank of the controversy, observing

Of all tragedies
heaped upon native people
this year’s team is worst.

Not all items are quite so edgy. Some are surreal, some merely silly, and yet some go much darker. There are dating profiles, marital vows, tourist brochures, and festive celebrations planned for scores of whimsically inappropriate subjects. A manifesto written in dual commemoration of the Unabomber’s birth and Pac-Man’s arcade debut opines

They feed us pills, telling us that they’re our real power, but they don’t make the ghosts go away! The pills make the ghosts fear US, but only for a fleeting moment, only to return once the high has subsided.”

Assuming you are fundamentally on board for the style of humor, the chief negative of this book is not actually hearing Jones, a master presenter of his own material, shouting it at your head. The best and highest function of Deep Cuts is as a companion piece to the voluble library of STAB! episodes, available wherever listeners choose to acquire their podcasts. In addition, hearing the other show panelists (not pictured here) riff on each topic before Ross bellows at Jones to “BRING IT HOME!” is well worth the time it takes to listen. But to date, none of these other folks has put together a best-of reel that sits on a nightstand or e-reader, poised to assault the eyes with strange and delightful remembrances previously reserved for your ears. Whether as a collectible supplement to the audio adventures of STAB! company, or as a free-standing comedy panoply in the tradition of Bob Odenkirk’s A Load of Hooey, Jesse Jones’s Deep Cuts Vol. 1 is handy provender for the misfit sense of humor.

Pick up a copy of Deep Cuts, Volume 1 in your preferred format here!

Follow Jesse Jones and the STAB! comedy podcast for high-venom comedy dosage.

Movie Review: The Eyes Of My Mother

Nicolas Pesce makes a brutal horror debut with The Eyes of My Mother
© 2016 Borderline Presents/Tandem Pictures

Teach Your Children Well

Francisca (Olivia Bond), a young girl, lives with her parents on an isolated farm. Her mother (Diana Agostini), once a practicing surgeon in her native Portugal, instructs the girl in both the spiritual and scientific marvels of nature, encapsulated by the devoted veneration of her namesake Saint Francis. Francisca’s taciturn father (Paul Nazak), while not outwardly cruel, appears to suffer from an excess of rural repression. Horrible tragedy befalls the family one day, at the hands of a leering drifter named Charlie (Will Brill). Nicolas Pesce’s debut film The Eyes Of My Mother moves this far down a predictable genre path, and no farther.

Following the emotional example of her family unit, Francisca confronts her trauma with unnerving dispassion, and even a certain scholarly interest. Rather than cope with her grief, she embarks on a study of its causes. Faced with the human capacity for senseless brutality, she notes both its devastating effect and its prurient allure. She accepts both in the spirit of education, an ironic perversion of the intellectual curiosity her mother imparted with the best of intentions. Gradually, in subtle glimpses of her life, the film reveals Francisca as a perfect storm of love, fear, clinical stoicism and spiritual hunger. Each of these qualities, we learn, is marked by the ugliness life has dealt her. Privately she burns with humanity, but within her may also lurk sufficient inhumanity to cancel it out.

Outwardly, Francisca grows into a lovely young woman (Kika Magalhães). She carries herself in a near-constant attitude of birdlike observation. Only in utter solitude and darkness does her demeanor slip to show the true ruin that loneliness and horror have made of her. From minute to minute the film invites its audience to ache with sympathy, tremble with revulsion, and sometimes do both at once.

The Eyes Of My Mother is a short and, at least in its formal construction, a simple film. Discussing individual scenes out of context might do them disservice. A somber black-and-white palette, an understated narrative pace, and frequent ellipses in action mask intermittent moments of pure, soul-scorching horror. As the story progresses, less is implied and more is shown of Francisca’s dreadful secrets. Her sporadic interactions with the world outside are sincere efforts to know love and fulfillment in the eyes of others. Even so, each desperate act yields more hideous results than the last, tightening the confinement of her arguably doomed existence.

Francisca is, without doubt, a monster. It is fair to say that she was made into one, but at such a crucial stage of her formation that it may be inseparable from her nature. Psychological points of escape, moments where she might turn aside and spare herself a monster’s fate, are never certain until they have passed. The film’s chief dramatic question seems to be whether Francisca will be able to touch another life without turning it monstrous as well.

Be aware. This is a horror film, and a savage one. It is often beautiful, occasionally even tender, but no less harrowing for that. Personal sensitivity to depictions of physical and emotional suffering may face a strenuous test or two. The rewards of such an ordeal are the promise of explosive catharsis and the pleasure of sharp, economical drama presented for its own sake.