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A Texas filmmaker looks at small-town life through a windshield

If water-cooler confabs about the weekend's box-office numbers send you running for the serenity of your cubicle, don't despair. The Aurora Picture Show is offering up Truck Stop Still Lifes: Films by Bill Brown as the thinking person's antidote to those ubiquitous $100 million blockbusters. Texas-born filmmaker Bill Brown hit the road with his camera to capture a street-level perspective of life in modern-day small towns, producing a series of three short films in the process. "With these films, Bill examines the effect of globalization on small towns," says Aurora Picture Show director Andrea Grover. "He's looking at the effect of the world economy on real people. The films are intelligently constructed portraits of these towns that have often been left behind and forgotten in the new world order."

Brown cuts a wide swath across North America with his films, most recently taking a look at the United States' westward expansion by filming historical roadside markers in West Virginia (Mountain State, 2003). Also included are a portrait of the present-day prairies of South Dakota (Buffalo Common, 2001) and a travel diary from Canada, where residents from the country's mixed bag of cultures argue over what it means to be Canadian (Confederation Park, 1999). Brown will attend the screenings to discuss on-the-road filmmaking.

Entertainment Tonight won't be covering these films. And that's reason enough to take notice. 8 p.m. Saturday, January 3; 3 p.m. Sunday, January 4. Aurora Picture Show, 800 Aurora. For information, call 713-868-2101 or visit www.aurorapictureshow.org. $5. -- Sarah Heenan

Bill Brown
The MFA's golden gator
Courtesy of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts
The MFA's golden gator
Susan Powter
Susan Powter
The landmark JPMorgan Chase Building
Courtesy of Houston Endowment Inc
The landmark JPMorgan Chase Building

All That Glitters

Although it may be all about platinum these days, back in the old old country (Africa, that is), gold was the only metal that meant anything. In West Africa (formerly called the Gold Coast), where the yellow stuff literally could be found lying in the fields and clogging up riverbeds, the art of goldsmithing has thrived for centuries. You can see the work of those expert crafters on permanent display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 7 p.m. Sundays. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit www.mfah.org. $7; free Thursdays. -- Lisa Simon

Free Beer!

Screw Miller Brewing Company and its Milwaukee-based, carpetbagging advertising campaign focused on making Miller Lite the beer of Texas. The folks up the road in Shiner have been making quality Texas brew for almost a century at the oldest independently owned brewery in the state, the Spoetzl Brewery. At weekday tours, you can witness the Shiner brewing process, as water and grains are transformed into -- at the end of the mechanized assembly line -- something that will get you wasted. As you knock back the free samples at the end of the tour, feel free to ponder the significance of the hot wort tank and wonder how something so tasty can come from such an ill-named device. 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. 603 East Brewery Street in Shiner. For information, call 800-5-SHINER or visit www.shiner.com. Free. -- Keith Plocek

The Powter of Positive Thinking

Feminist, fitness guru and riot grrl Susan Powter became a household name with her early-'90s infomercial plea to "Stop the insanity!" It's been many years since Powter awakened from her own "fat coma" to find herself a divorced, depressed and drinking Garland, Texas, housewife who tipped the scales at 260 pounds. Now she's back with her self- published new book, The Politics of Stupid, which takes aim at more modern weight-related developments: protein diets, gastric bypass surgery, Fen-Phen -- all of which she says suck. The tattooed and pierced 45-year-old -- looking better today than you ever did -- stresses lifestyle and mental changes as much as caloric intake as a way to good health. Plus, she could kick Dr. Phil's ass. Readings and signings: 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 6, at Barnes & Noble, 7626 Westheimer, 713-783-6016; 7 p.m. Thursday, January 8, at Barnes & Noble, 5303 FM 1960 West, 281-631-0681. Free. -- Bob Ruggiero

Jonesin' for Houston

Jesse H. Jones has his name on more buildings in this town than any graffiti writer could ever dream of tagging. One of his most important commissions was the Gulf Building on Main (now the JPMorgan Chase Building), a 36-story landmark that helped elevate Houston from a swampy backwater to an urban experience. In honor of the 75th anniversary of this historic edifice, the folks at JPMorgan Chase have put together a collection of photographs and documents about Jones and his urban vision titled "Essentially Modern." The man who came to be called Mr. Houston deserves some props. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, January 5 through January 30. JPMorgan Chase Building, 707 Travis. For information, call 713-216-5009. Free. -- Keith Plocek

 
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