Overblown and Underrated

So you know Houston's goats, heroes and high points? Think again.

Most Underrated: Otilia's

There are people who can get into lengthy arguments about Mexican food versus Tex-Mex, but whatever they choose, they'll find a place in Houston to fit their tastes.

There are famous Mexican restaurants, there are très expensive Mexican restaurants, and there are hundreds of local mom-and-pop joints that people drive by every day. One of those ignored places, Cook says, serves some of the best Mexican food in the city.

It's Otilia's, which occupies a former fast-food restaurant at 7710 Long Point, a definitely ungentrified section of the northwest part of town.

"The Mexican food here takes my breath away," Cook says. "Every time I go, I wonder why I don't go more often -- or why the place isn't jammed. I think the problem is the esoteric Long Point location, the shabby neighborhood, the ex-Whataburger building."

Those who find their way there will discover it's worth the effort, she says. "The enchiladas, the posole, the chiles en nogada, the tampiqueña-style steak, the chilaquiles, could hold their own anywhere in the country," Cook says.

Movie

Houston has such an Anywhere, USA, feel to it that a lot of movies are filmed here even though they're set somewhere else. (Perhaps the only entertaining thing about the supposed thriller Arlington Road was watching Jeff Bridges race to get to the FBI building in downtown Washington, D.C., by way of Memorial Drive.)

But there have been more than a few films where the Houston area plays as big a role as the lead characters -- most famously, Urban Cowboy; most tepidly, Blake Edwards's remake of The Man Who Loved Women.

Joe Leydon has seen 'em all -- from his stint as film critic for The Houston Post to his current gig as regional correspondent and critic for the showbiz bible Variety.

Most Overrated: Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me

Perhaps it's hard to think of a film as overrated when chances are you've never heard of it; Leydon notes, however, that this documentary by Tessa Blake did receive some good notices.

The New York Times called it "oddly charming"; the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said it was "an often funny inside look at Texans who played by the old rules"; and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named it one of the Outstanding Documentaries of 1999.

Blake returned to Houston to film a documentary about her relationship with her father, a curmudgeonly womanizer who made millions back in the days when Houston was booming and newly minted millionaires did whatever the hell they wanted.

Some critics thought the film succeeded in presenting the nuances of a complicated relationship (Blake was born when her father was 60 years old and married to wife no. 4), but Leydon says it was awful.

"It might be a little bit unfair to name it, because it's not a big-budget movie, but it's one that is just incredibly self-indulgent," he says. "It gives a whole new meaning to the term 'vanity movie.' It's revealing in ways that I don't think the filmmaker intended -- you would think she would be embarrassed about some of the stuff in there, but I don't think she has any sense of shame, so she can't be embarrassed."

Five Wives has been airing lately on cable's Sundance Channel, if you want to take a look.

Underrated: Sidekicks

A movie that stars Chuck Norris and Joe Piscopo? One that was produced by Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale and directed by Norris's brother? Could such a thing be underrated?

Absolutely, says Leydon.

"It's a charming combination of The Karate Kid and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," he says. "And there's a good use of Houston as a location, which a lot of movies don't do. For instance, there's a good use of the Water Wall at [the former] Transco Tower."

Sidekicks centers on a bullied, asthmatic kid who idolizes action star Norris. (Leydon says Norris "does a gentle spoof of himself.")

The kid, played by Jonathan Brandis, takes up karate in hopes of meeting his idol. The climax involves a big tournament where the kid finally summons the courage to battle his demons, only to get absolutely crushed like a grape by the bully and then go on to become a sociopathic loner.

Well, maybe not. We're betting the ending is somewhat more predictable, but Leydon isn't backing down.

"Sidekicks is really a charmer," he says.

Music or Musician

Anyone living in Houston for any length of time will hear people bemoaning the local music scene. The word "sucks" frequently comes up, and this in a city that has produced the likes of Kenny Rogers.

But Houston's contributions to the music world are not limited to the Gambler, or even Destiny's Child. There have been times when Houston's music scene has garnered intense interest among the cognoscenti, for better or worse.

Rick Mitchell has written often about Houston music, most recently as a critic for the Houston Chronicle. He's now the artistic director for music for the Houston International Festival, which this year celebrates Ireland.

Most Overrated: The Urban Cowboy craze

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