You might call Mark Plotkin the floral Indiana Jones. The American medicine man/ethnobotanist was schooled at Harvard and Yale, works for the Smithsonian Institution and writes best-selling books such as Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice when he's not rooting around in exotic locales in search of green gold: plants with the power to heal. IMAX staple director Kieth Merrill (Yellowstone, The Great American Cowboy) followed Plotkin and a native shaman, Julio Mamani of Bolivia's Callawaya tribe, on a journey down the world's greatest river in the Oscar-nominated Amazon. The movie's both an adventure tale and a filmic call for rain-forest preservation. Says Plotkin, "[Amazon] has the potential to be the most important tool ever created to communicate to people the magic, the science, the adventure, the poetry and the medicinal potential that is the Amazon rain forest." The movie opens today and continues through January 31, 1999. The Houston Museum of Natural Science, 1 Hermann Circle Drive in Hermann Park, 639-IMAX. $6; $3.50 for kids under 12 and seniors.
Houston-based Ntozake Shange is better known for writing than performing, but she conceived and stars in Ellington Is Not a Street, a Duke Ellington tribute that also features percussionist Kahil El-Zabar. Don't expect "Satin Doll"; in her singular voice, Shange describes the piece as an "exploration of the unconscious, lyrical and violent experiences of multiple voices in the new world, with sound/fresh languages, movement and music creating critical unseen, existential ellipses of art history." Eh? Ellington's the final entry in the Houston Fringe Theater Festival. 8 tonight and Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday. Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo, 868-7516. $20.
George Holz's "Original Sin" is a photo exhibit underwritten by a Mexican liquor: Tres Generaciones Tequila Sauza. Holz made his mark shooting fashion plates and celebrity portraits for Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair, and "Original Sin" is not unlike one of those mags' slick perfume ads. It's a carnal, steamy, occasionally breathtaking collection of platinum prints that reworks the Adam and Eve myth -- and relocates it to Tequila, Mexico. Two nude models (they're actually brother and sister) romp around the Sierra Madre foothills (a.k.a. the Garden of Eden) and frolic on enormous mounds of agave husks (the plant's the central ingredient in tequila manufacturing). Catchy, but is it art? Well, the works are quite fine -- and they'd look superb above a sectional sofa. "Art's art," muses Houston's John Cleary, whose gallery is hosting the touring show. "And this is the kind of contemporary art that young professionals want in their living rooms: cutting-edge themes, glamour." And booze and sex. There'll be plenty of the former at this evening's opening reception; the "superpremium" Mexican tequila will be flowing like wine. Holz and the "Original Sin" models are scheduled to attend the reception, scheduled for 6 to 8 and held in conjunction with the Houston Art Dealers Association's "Introductions '98" mass opening (see page 54). "Sin" continues through August 4; regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. John Cleary Gallery, 2635 Colquitt, 524-5070. Free.
"Merchant Ivory" is neither a designer bath soap nor a guy who makes period films. Rather, it's two guys who make period films: India native Ismail Merchant (who usually produces) and Oregon-born James Ivory (who typically directs). Merchant and Ivory have collaborated on more than 40 films in 35 years; while the movies have differed in the details, all bear the unmistakable M/I signature: a mingling of lush style, literary substance and noisily clashing cultures. The touring series "Views of Merchant Ivory: Across Three Continents" offers a broad overview of the M/I oeuvre. It opens with twin double features: Shakespeare Wallah (1965) and The Householder (1963) at 7:30 tonight and In Custody (1993) and Heat and Dust (1983) at 5 p.m. Sunday. The series continues through July 26. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet. Info: 639-7515. $6; $5 for one film only.
The world's original art cars are displayed in Lowrider Magazine's '98 Caliente Tour, a how-low-can-you-go show of autos and trucks that's supplemented by a bikini contest, a male hard-body competition and live entertainment in the key of hip-hop. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The AstroArena, 8400 Kirby, 799-9500. $18.
Led by last year's league MVP Cynthia Cooper, the Houston Comets continue their pursuit of a second consecutive WNBA crown with a game against the Washington Mystics at 7:30 p.m. (for info about other Comets games this week, see page 29). Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza. Info: 627-WNBA. $8 to $38 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Though frequently ridiculed and wickedly parodied, the late Carl Sagan was a deeply thoughtful man with an infectious love of science -- and one of the discipline's great popularizers. Author Timothy Ferris has followed Sagan's lead, making the mind-boggling mysteries of the universe accessible to all via the superrational poetry of his books Coming of Age in the Milky Way and The Mind's Eye. Ferris's latest, The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report, tackles perennial puzzles like relativity and quantum physics, plus emerging head-scratchers like the multiple-universe theory. Ferris discusses and signs copies of the work from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Barnes & Noble, 1029 West Bay Area Boulevard, Webster, (281) 554-8224.
When pop/country/gospel musician Larry Gatlin's not polishing his golf game, the University of Houston alum has taken to penning musicals for himself. The first was 1994's Alive and Well; the latest is Texas Flyer, about a former rodeo cowboy (Gatlin) who runs a sad cafe in a tumbleweedy town. The production's co-stars are Richard White (who's scheduled to play the title character in Theatre Under the Stars' August production of Zorro: The Musical) and Susan Powell (Miss America 1981). A preview is scheduled at 8:30 tonight; the run continues through July 25. The Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park, 284-8350. Free.