Press Picks

february 16
Islam in Asia More tricky, sticky multicultural issues. The Asia Society has brought John L. Esposito down to talk about the effect of Islamic movements in Southeast Asia. Esposito himself is neither in Islamic territory nor Southeast Asia; his natural habitat is Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he's a professor of religion and international affairs and director of the Center for Muslim-Christian understanding. The Asia Society was not the first to take advantage of Esposito's expertise; in the past he's served as president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and been a consultant to the Department of State. Esposito will attend a 6:30 p.m. reception before the program itself begins at 7:15 p.m. Innova Design Center, 20 Greenway Plaza. For reservations, call 439-0051. Free.

The Mystical Arts of Tibet Saffron robes, death's-head masks and horns the size of telephone poles -- all that and more represent the mystical arts of Tibet. The Yoga Center of Houston has brought in genuine monks, from Drefung Joseling Monastery, for a complete program of stress-relieving, tantric and enlightening entertainment. Today's feature is sacred music and dance.(Saturday at noon, the monks will indulge us with zok ke, or awesome voice, chanting in Curtains Theater.) 7:309:30 p.m. Emerson Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive, 782-8250; or, call the Yoga Center for details, 524-5472. $10 donations expected.

february 17
A Tribute to El Vaquero and El Ranchero Hey kids, more than a century before those prissy Pilgrims set out for the new world, ranchers were working in our neighborhood -- we had printing presses and vineyards, too. Sadly, the photo exhibit opening today doesn't have any images from those earliest days. No, the heart of this exhibition is shots from the King Ranch taken between 1939 and 1944. Those pictures are from Toni Frissel's series, along with work by other professionals. To maintain their standing as a folk art gallery, Casa Ramirez will also exhibit artifacts from the 1880s and thereabouts and recent, rodeo-themed artwork by local schoolchildren. AViva! el vaquero! (Or, why do you think they call it rodeo?) Images and objects on display through March 9. Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery, 239 West 19th Street, 880-2420.

Mr. Payback What's more expensive and annoying to parents than a Sega addiction? Interactive movies, that's what! Mr. Payback was written and directed by Bob Gale, who made a packet of dough as the creator of Back to the Future. Back to the Future star and all-around mutant Christopher Lloyd is featured in Mr. Payback, along with Billy Warlock of Baywatch and Leslie Easterbrook from Police Academy. Mr. Payback is an "Interfilm" technology experience, which means it contains segments of film interspersed with video game elements. (A three-button pistol grip, something like the Love Connection technology, allows the audience to vote on what the next plot turn will be, and the film then goes with the democratic flow.) The whole thing is all multimedia and wave of the future -- and lasts only 20 minutes. Something had to give to bring technology to the people, and apparently time was it. Mr. Payback begins today at Sony Memorial City and at nine other locations across the country, 467-5639. $5.

Spider Baby Way poppin' black-and-white animated critters and kids frolic during the opening credits of this 1964 film while a cheery Lon Chaney Jr. sings about "boys and ghouls having a ball." At dinner, it seems, because "Frankenstein, Dracula and the mummy are sure to end up in somebody's tummy .... Mix in seven legs from an eight-legged beast, and you're all set for a cannibal feast!" It gets better! First a very blond, very bad actor offers incredibly stupid medical babble by way of exposition, ending his spiel with an eerie warning: "Some people say the Merrye Syndrome doesn't exit! But I know it did ... although it all ended on that fateful day ten years ago." Then, Rochester shows up on a motorcycle delivery cart and a nut-case nymphet with Bardot-tousled hair snuffs him. Later, they eat bugs and house pets. Well, maybe it's not Rochester, but does that really matter? Lon Chaney Jr. plays the loyal chauffeur, and a nominally normal woman claims to revere the mummy. "I love how his feet go: step scrape, step scrape," she says. And she thinks all men should be like the wolfman, "real beasts." Spider Baby is a wonder to behold. Part of a double feature with Switchblade Sisters (1976), both of them mutant films by auteur Jack Hill, who's alive, well and enjoying the attention his movies are getting. Okay, his exact words at a recent L.A. screening were, "I don't know what all this interest is about. If someone can figure it out, please let me know." The double feature starts at 7:30 p.m., tonight and tomorrow. Rice Media Center, Rice University (entrance no. 8 off University), 527-4853. $5 and no, they don't sell popcorn and the odds for successfully smuggling in beer are slim to none. Rice has a lot of money -- why don't the regents build a drive-in screen for occasions like this?

The Human Language What is good for? Why do we bother? After all, most of what most people have to say most of the time could easily be expressed by throwing a rock and then running away. Perhaps we have language so that we can talk about why we have language. Or so we can make things up -- and by make things up I don't mean fiction. I mean plain untruths such as, "This is the only attempt ever made to 'explain language' in a way that all intelligent people will enjoy and truly understand." The brochure for this three-part series contains that line, and one would guess that whoever wrote it would know that scholars and writers have always labored to "explain language." Still, judging from the quotes in the press kit, this is a zippy show. People from all over the world and Sid Caesar will talk about talking. We'll learn that the Siberian Yupik Eskimos have a single word that means "without us being sprayed upon, by water, when we're traveling by boat." We'll learn the secret signals of the Atlanta Braves third-base coach. We'll learn why chimps can't talk and we can, and if they're bright enough to understand when we slander them. Tonight's episode is "Acquiring the Human Language: Playing the Language Game," and how children come to have and use language is the focus. The entire series has the Noam Chomsky seal of approval. 8 p.m. KUHT/Channel 8.

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