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The Top 5 Things to Do in Houston this Weekend: Ralphie May, the SWEAT Tour, Salma and More

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Comedian Ralphie May, in town for a weekend stint at Houston Improv and our first pick for Friday, is a veteran of 19 USO tours. Not only does May support the military men and women serving active duty, but he also has several strategic suggestions for them. "Send gang-bangers to Afghanistan. Give them some guns, leave them over there; in six months, everybody wearing a turban and some flip-flops will be dead," he promises. While that might not be true, we believe May when he says the need for psychological aftercare for returning soldiers would decrease since gang members-turned-soldiers would suffer less from post-traumatic stress disorder. "You can't have flashbacks if you like killing."

May also supports gays in the military. He often asks audiences if they would have less respect for the Navy SEALS who captured Osama bin Laden if they were gay. "Hell, no! We'd all be like, 'Hey, homo, you're a hero! Give that boy some ribbons; them gay people love ribbons.'"

May builds much of his stand-up act around race relations, pointing out the illogical aspects of racism. On Arizona's longtime rejection of Martin Luther King Jr. Day: "Arizona would rather hate on people than take a holiday." May, who grew up in Arkansas, says it's actually class rather than race that divides us. "'What's your color?' 'Ah, poor.' Hating people because they're the wrong color or wrong religion, that's just dumb. Get to know them as an individual. Then you can hate them for some shit they really did do."

See Ralphie May at 8 and 10:30 p.m. on Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Improv Comedy Showcase, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713‑333-8800 or visit the showcase's website. $25 to $35.

Don't expect to find any easy answers to current housing problems at the 3rd Annual Architecture Center Houston Film Festival: Landscapes of Excess and Crisis, which kicks off on Friday. Ned Dodington, design director of the visual communications team at local architecture firm PDR and part of the festival's curatorial team, says it's questions and conversations the organizers are after, not pat answers. "We want to start a discussion, to say, 'These things are happening, and this is how they're happening,' instead of trying to say, 'This is how we can fix it.' This year's theme is 'Boom and Bust,' and the films look at excess and catastrophe."

Lauren Greenfield's 2012 documentary Queen of Versailles goes in the "excess" column. Greenfield won the U.S. Directing Award for Documentary Film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for Versailles, which follows a billionaire family as they cope with the economic downturn. "Queen of Versailles is like a McMansion on steroids gone completely crazy," says Dodington. "It's like reality-TV-meets-urban--planning."

In the "catastrophe" column is Detropia, a 2012 film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady that captures the effects of Detroit's financial troubles (rows of empty and abandoned buildings, devastated neighborhoods). "We're also showing a film about the world's largest mall. It's in China, and it's vacant. It's something like four times the size of the Mall of America, and it's completely empty."

The festival kicks off with a 7 p.m. screening of Dark City at Market Square Park, 300 Travis, on August 9. Free. Screenings continue through August 17. For a full schedule, call 713-520-0155 or visit the festival's website. Free to $20.

Young-adult authors are like rock stars to their young fans. Put four such writers together at one location, and it's a mega-concert. Blue Willow Bookshop hosts the SWEAT (SoCal Writers' Excellent Adventure in Texas!) tour with Debra Driza, Shannon Messenger, Amy Tintera and Kasie West on Saturday. The group of novelists has taken their show on the road to connect with their clamoring fans (and to sell and sign a few books along the way). "We are seeing more of this collaboration between authors," says Valerie Koehler, self-described "Girl Boss" at Blue Willow Bookshop, the local stop on the tour. "They love the interaction and the new audiences.

"Harry Potter got everyone reading children's novels," Koehler tells us. "Twilight got the teen girls excited, and The Hunger Games hit it out of the park. There is a huge fan base...around the world." Hosting multi-author signing events is fun, Koehler adds. "The authors always play off each other; it's usually fast and fun with lots of laughing. There are lots of questions from their fans, and always lots of pictures!"

Catch up with the SWEAT tour writers at 3 p.m. on Saturday. 14532 Memorial. For information, call 281-497-8675 or visit the bookstore's website. Free.

Black Radical Imagination: An Afrofuturist Short Film Showcase, screening on Friday and Saturday at Art League Houston, offers "black people in science-fiction roles as well as in artistic and avant-garde depictions -- a refreshing divergence from Hollywood and media stereotypes," says Marc Newsome, co-executive director of Our Image Film & Arts, which is partnering with the Art League for this presentation. "In light of so much recent talk about ethnic identity and the Trayvon Martin case, OIFA and ALH felt this was the perfect opportunity for art to do what it naturally does: open dialogues and get people thinking and rethinking."

Chicago's Amir George and Los Angeles's Erin Christovale are curators of the program, which includes works from seven internationally emerging black artists, all members of the cooperative. On the schedule are Cristina De Middel's unexpected Afronauts (above) and Adebukola Bodunrin and Ezra Clayton Daniels's animated Golden Chain.

Afrofuturist film screenings are at 7 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. Panel discussions accompany each screening. 1953 Montrose. For information, call 713‑523‑9530 or visit the Art League of Houston's website. Free.

Salma, the documentary by filmmaker Kim Longinotto screening on Sunday at 14 Pews, tells the incredible story of famed poet Salma. At age 13, Salma, then a young Muslim girl living in a village in south India, was locked in a small room with one tiny window and not allowed to leave. Several years later, her parents married her off, and she moved to live with her husband's family. They locked her up as well. Her crime? Being an intelligent woman. She was thought too ambitious, too rebellious to stay in her home willingly. During her 25 years of captivity, Salma wrote bits of poetry on scraps of paper, smuggling them out to a sympathetic reader and eventually to a publisher.

"Her purpose was to have a son, that's it; that's all she was supposed to do," Cressandra Thibodeaux, executive director of 14 Pews, where the film is screening, tells us. Instead, Salma eventually became a celebrated Tamil poet known worldwide. Longinotto follows Salma as she returns to her village, to her home, in an effort to save other young girls from the same fate she suffered. "The fact that she's so unemotional about it, that she just says, 'Yes, this was the window I looked out of,' and 'Yes, this is the room I lived in.' That makes it all the more powerful," says Thibodeaux.

Members of Shunya Theatre, a Houston-based Indian theater troupe, will read Salma's poetry after the screening. 6:30 p.m. 800 Aurora. For information, call 281-888-9677 or visit the 14 Pews website. Free to $10.

Nancy Ford contributed to this post.

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