Gabriel Over the White House

D: Gregory La Cava; with Walter Huston, Karen Morley, Franchot Tone, C. Henry Gordon.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

Not getting your recommended daily allowance of drama from the presidential race? Want a B-12 injection of White House intrigue from a political roman á clef by an anonymous author? No, the film of Primary Colors isn't out yet. But 60 years before Joe Klein did his incognito number on the Clintons, another Anonymous penned a novel mixing thinly-disguised celebs and the presidency. Gabriel Over the White House (1933) concerns a William Randolph Hearst-like figure who snags the Oval Office in 1932 and is about to slather it in sleaze -- getting in bed with all his bidness buds and a mistress -- when a near-fatal car accident (which he causes himself) brings about a conversion. El Prez awakes from a coma obsessed with Reform and uses his executive powers in ways FDR never dreamed to defuse the Depression (!) and blackmail other nations into world peace (!!). It's a wildly offbeat story, made downright eerie by the half-century of history since and the supernatural intensity of Walter Huston, who seems like some weird amalgam of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. Stale and predictable it ain't. -- Robert Faires

Paris Is Burning

D: Jennie Livingston
VHS Home Video

In her seminal 1964 essay "Notes on `Camp,'" Susan Sontag expresses how embarrassing it is to write solemnly about the appreciation of mannered style. Though not a treatise on the subtly humorous concept, Jennie Livingston's documentary about black and Hispanic drag queens in Harlem is an equally complex, engaging work. Paris Is Burning is so fierce and yet has such great insight into the complex interweavings of its subjects' lives and dreams that to do it justice by trying to explain each performer's persona is nearly impossible. From wizened commentator Dorian Corey to the legendary housemother Miss Pepper LaBeija, the film's subjects tell their own story, inherently aware of the power of their self-created images. Full of pathos yet hilarious, Paris Is Burning is that rare documentary that unearths a subculture and subtly comments on the culture at large. -- Clay Smith

Gene Wars

Bullfrog/Electronic Arts

Bullfrog is renowned for its quirky titles like Populous and Magic Carpet, and this most recent offering can also be described with similar comments. A mystical race of super-beings has forbidden man (and the three other alien races) from using violence to resolve their disputes. Instead, each species must prove that its own genetic science is the best way to populate the galaxy. You land on a planet and terraform it with animals and plants, each mission more complex and challenging than the previous. The game is interesting, but lacking in depth and polish. Some features don't appear to work properly and once you set up your production site on the planet there isn't really very much to do while your equipment, flora, and fauna hum along automatically. -- Kurt Dillard

Aquanaut's Holiday

Sony Computer Entertainment
Sony PlayStation

Aquanaut's Holiday is like no other game currently available. There are no urgent goals, nothing to kill, in fact, no opposing force of any kind to conquer. The player simply cruises beneath the waves, exploring the ocean and communicating with its inhabitants. A variety of underwater curiosities, such as pyramids, gravity-defying rock formations, and strange pylons dot the vast seascape. The hundred-plus varieties of fish and other sea creatures, many of which are beautifully rendered, respond to the player's audio signals. The graphics in Aquanaut's Holiday are otherwise rather standard, and the sub-sea sounds are limited. Still, PlayStation owners tired of manic button-mashing might want to check out this offbeat title. -- Bud Simons

War of the Buttons

D: John Roberts; with Liam Cunningham, Gregg Fitzgerald, Colm Meany, Eveanna Ryan, John Coffey, Paul Batt, Anthony Cunningham, Daragh Naughton, Thomas Kavanagh, Gerard Kearney.
VHS Home Video
I Luv Video, 4631 Airport Blvd.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names mean war! After Gorilla (Batt), who comes from the wealthier side of the tidal water, calls Little Con (A. Cunningham), who comes from the Ballydowse village, a "tosspot" (while hanging him upside down over the bridge), opposing child gang leaders Fergus (Fitzgerald) and Geronimo (Coffey) plot a rivalrous clash that takes place throughout the emerald meadows, abandoned Gothic castles, ancient ruins, and stark oceanside cliffs of Southwest Ireland. Roberts' feature-length directorial debut offers a refreshingly realistic peek through the window of childhood. Creativity, ingenuity, respect, and compassion circulate through the battles whose tactics escalate beyond pine cones and slingshots but never become streetwise or deadly. Without smacking of either the harsh realities of modern Irish terrorism or of sweetened idealism, the film touches reverently on the integrity and growth that can evolve from actual conflict -- ultimately costing only a few buttons of humiliation.

-- Stephany Baskin

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle