Move over, Reefer Madness. The Fellowship of the Ring of Free Trade is a big-time contender for the Coolest Propaganda Film of All Time. This short film takes clips from the first installment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and adds subversive subtitles to them, creating a Middle Earth of contemporary politics. The film's opening is familiar to all Tolkien fans: "In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the dark lord Sauron forged in secret a master ring to control all others." But the subtitles read: "In Board rooms and State houses around the globe, corporations were conspiring to create a master plan to control all others." The master plan is NAFTA, the slopes of Mount Doom are the streets of Seattle, Gandalf is Noam Chomsky, Saruman is big oil, the head Orc is George W. Bush...you get the idea.
We seriously doubt the creators of The Fellowship of the Ring of Free Trade got permission from Peter Jackson and company to use clips from the original film (and we dare not print an image of it here), so you'd better check it out while you can at Microcinema International's "Rooftop Shots," a series of films originally screened on a rooftop in Brooklyn.
Many of the films have dark political overtones and are sure to piss off any right-wingers in the audience, but several animated flicks save the screening from the doldrums, including The Freak (a delightful spin on the beauty and danger of nonconformity) and Heavy (about a caveman who crawls out from under a rock only to end up under a mammoth's ass). 8 p.m. Friday, February 6. The Axiom, 2524 McKinney. For information, call 713-522-8443 or visit www.infernalbridegroom.com. $5. -- Keith Plocek
I and I
Photographs record visual truths. But digital imaging software turns a photographic truth into nothing more than a starting point -- especially in the hands of a wizard like artist Kelli Connell, whose exhibit of 11 works, "Double Life," opens this week. She manipulates multiple images of the same model so that they either face each other or look away, giving viewers a graphic look at scenes of self-confrontation -- or self-avoidance -- that are usually played out internally. The technical perfection of these impossible occurrences can fool you into believing they're real. In any case, they're no less real than the latest glossy cover photo of Meg Ryan. Opening reception 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, February 6. Through March 27. Mezzanine Gallery, Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main. For information, call 713-528-5858 or visit www.lawndaleartcenter.org. Free. -- Lisa Simon
Betsy Ross Redux
Needlecraft has got a new attitude. Say buh-bye to demure sewing circles, and hidy-ho to Stitch 'n' Bitch. The hip and nimble-fingered can get a weekly crafts fix hanging with members of Houston Stitch 'n' Bitch, founded by Lolita Contreras last November. Contreras started the group after her boyfriend's mother taught her how to knit. "I went to www.stitchandbitch.org and there wasn't one listed for Houston," Contreras says. So she launched a Yahoo! community and watched it grow to around 70 members. And though their weekly meetings at Starbucks initially drew a young crowd, now there are attendees of all ages. Beginners are welcome to stop by and learn, but if caffeine makes your stitching hand shake, you might want to skip that second latte. 7 p.m. Thursdays. 2050 West Gray. For information, call 832-607-7805 or visit groups. yahoo.com/group/stitchnbitch-houston. Free. -- Carly Kocurek
Comedian brings her rawest material to the Improv
Margaret Cho grew up in San Francisco, looked after by gay sitters and tranny-nannies. Her parents ran a bookstore with a porn section in the back. Needless to say, she grew up fast, with a place in her heart for the gay community and a way with coarse material. But Cho doesn't limit herself to dirty jokes. She's developing a topical set for her upcoming tour, and she'll test it out on relatively intimate Houston audiences this weekend. Expect subjects like the presidential campaign, Britney Spears's wedding and the war in the Middle East. The club setting will allow Cho to relax -- a bit. "It can be off and weird," she says. "Not that the pressure's off, 'cause you always have to deliver." 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, February 6; 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, February 7. Marq*E Center, 7620 Katy Freeway, 713-333-8800, www.improvhouston.com. $27. -- Eric A.T. Dieckman
Spirit in the Sky
Just as the best funerals celebrate a life, the best memorials attempt to heal a loss. Painting an Empty Sky, on display at the Glassell Junior School, remembers the astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia last February, combining portraits, writings and a colorful, expansive sky. Children of the astronauts joined with Clear Creek Independent School District art students to create the mural, which will be permanently installed in the Freeman Memorial Library near NASA in May. Exhibit opens 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, February 9. Reception: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, February 12. Through March 12. Norma R. Ory Gallery, 5100 Montrose. For information, call 713-639-7700. Free. -- Lisa Simon