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The Black Keys in concert

The Black Keys in concert

Courtesy of Austin City Limits

The Black Keys comes to Austin in support of their new album, Dropout Boogie.

Photo courtesy of Reza Aslan

BookPeople presents Reza Aslan: An American Martyr in Persia

BookPeople welcomes author Reza Aslan, who will be in conversation with Lawrence Wright to celebrate the release of An American Martyr in Persia.

Photo courtesy of House of Torment

House of Torment

House of Torment

House of Torment features three haunt attractions - The Abominations, Tormented, and Return to Illusion Manor. House of Torment also features axe throwing, mini escape games, and the Torment Tavern for those 21 and over.

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Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Austin leaders and Sims Foundation band together for 'Safer Together' benefit show

Perform and prepare

Austin is certainly proud of its music scene, but the music industry requires more care than it gets in many areas. One public health issue it disproportionately faces, both in the Live Music Capital and anywhere else, is one of the hardest to address: overdose deaths.

Due to stigma and underestimating the danger of seemingly known substances, it can be difficult to get through to individuals at risk for a preventable drug death, especially from a place of authority like the Travis County District Attorney. The Sims Foundation, Austin’s leading group for protecting mental health within the music industry, is leveraging its reach to rejoin D.A. José Garza’s office in producing the second annual “Safer Together: Overdose Prevention & Harm Reduction Saves Lives,” a free benefit concert raising both awareness and funds for the foundation.

“Safer Together,” also in collaboration with the Red River Cultural District (RRCD), is returning on Thursday, December 1 at Mohawk, where six local acts join the cause on one bill. (In 2021, the concerts were spread between Mohawk, the Green Jay, and Empire Control Room.) Night Drive, Trouble in the Streets, and Holy Wire will play outside, while The Pinky Rings, Hotmom, and Sad Cell play inside. Garza will also be at the venue to give opening remarks.

“Together as leaders, community-based health experts, musicians, venue owners, and small businesses who have been touched by this crisis we hope events like ‘Safer Together’ open conversations and action towards removing the stigmas and creating a pathway for change,” said RRCD’s interim executive director Nicole Klepadlo. “We're proud to work alongside our partners, appreciate our musicians and venue hosts, and encourage our community to donate to this important cause.”

In 2021, Travis County dealt with more than 300 overdose deaths, up more than 25% from two years before. It looks like 2022 is following the same trajectory, or perhaps a worse one. The county “saw overdose deaths double in the first six months of 2022 alone compared with 2021,” according to a release.

“We must continue to treat substance abuse disorder as the public health issue it is in order to prevent overdose-related deaths and keep our community safe,” said Garza in a release. “This includes community-based strategies and campaigns that increase public awareness and connect our most vulnerable communities with life-saving resources. We look forward to partnering with local leaders and non-profits to save lives in our community.”

In addition to its broader efforts in mental health, the Sims Foundation offers solutions in both addiction treatment and overdose prevention. These span counseling, vigorous medical treatment like detoxes and outpatient programs, and venue training including instruction on using naloxone to temporarily reverse an overdose. The latter training is offered with guidance from Communities for Recovery, and the Sims Foundation’s goal for funds raised is to provide more of these in the near future.

Donations will be accepted at the door (8 pm), and 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Sims Foundation. Fans at home can text SIMS to 44321 or visit simsfoundation.org to make a donation before the show.

Renovated UT Austin museum set to reopen in 2023 with exciting new exhibits

Texas Memorial Museum

One of Austin's oldest museums is getting a major facelift. Built on campus at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s, the Texas Memorial Museum has offered the Austin community (and beyond) unique opportunities to explore and learn about the natural world, including scientific discoveries made right here in Texas.

According to a release, UT and its College of Natural Sciences will renovate and upgrade the beloved museum in order to serve future generations. Earlier this year, President Jay Hartzell and Dean Vanden Bout appointed a volunteer advisory committee to help create short- and long-term recommendations for the museum’s reopening and greater outlook for the future. Fundraising efforts are ongoing to support future stages of the museum’s reopening, as well as new installations planned for its fourth floor.

Thanks to that committee, this new investment will be the museum's most extensive renovation in decades, including building upgrades such as roof repairs, revitalization of foundational exhibits, installation of new exhibits and features, and improvements to allow hosted events.

“Texas Memorial Museum is the only museum on the UT campus, and in the greater Austin area, that will include both science and natural history exhibits, from prehistoric life to advanced research and technology,” said managing director Carolyn Connerat in the release. “We are grateful to the university and excited about reopening this cherished institution, which will be even better than before.”

The museum temporarily closed earlier this year and is set to reopen in stages beginning in fall 2023. Starting in September 2023, visitors will have opportunities to revisit cherished exhibits, such as the famous Quetzalcoatlus (a type of pterosaur), and experience new engaging exhibits and educational programming for all ages.

“Showcasing science and offering the community opportunities to learn about new research is something this museum is uniquely positioned to help us do,” said David Vanden Bout, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, in the release. “These renovations are part of a larger effort to bridge between past discoveries and future innovations. Having a museum of science and natural history allows our campus to offer Texans a valuable portal into what’s wondrous about our natural world.”