Photo courtesy of Neon

A lot of issue movies sanitize or soften their messages through a broader story or by using movie stars. The new film How to Blow Up a Pipeline doesn’t have time for that. It gets right to the point with a brazen title and story that never strays from its central thesis.

From minute one, the film’s characters — a group of eight environmental activists — are shown engaging in acts of sabotage to try to get the world to understand the harm fossil fuels are doing to the planet. The film quickly shows them gathering together at a dilapidated house in West Texas to plan and execute the title mission, filling in various characters’ backstories as it goes along.

Each has their individual reason for going to this extreme. Xochi (Ariela Barer) and Theo (Sasha Lane) live in Long Beach, California, with both Xochi’s mom and Theo herself experiencing negative health consequences from a nearby oil refinery. Michael (Forrest Goodluck) in Parshall, North Dakota is angry at a pipeline that's been built on indigenous land. Dwayne (Jake Weary) lives near Odessa, Texas, and is trying to prevent a pipeline being built on his property.

Directed by Daniel Goldhaber and written by Goldhaber, Barer, and Jordan Sjol, the film is based on a book of the same name by Swedish author and professor Andreas Malm, who has also covered the subject for publications such as The Nation and The Guardian. The filmmakers don't hide their agenda, but they also don't bog the story down with the intricacies of the climate debate. For the purposes of this movie, it's sufficient to know that each person has reached the point where he or she believes that blowing up a pipeline is the logical next step for them.

If the story wasn't about a real-world issue, you could view it as a fun, Ocean's Eleven-style crime film. Every person in the group has their specialty, including an explosives expert, planners, getaway driver, and more. And like any group of disparate people with a common core belief, some are more dedicated to the cause than others, including a possible rat in their midst.

Flashbacks in the story not only serve to give crucial background information on the characters, but also show that the impact of oil pipelines, refineries, and drilling is not confined to just certain parts of the country. The movie is a far cry from subtle overall, but the filmmakers let the visuals do the work in many instances.

Each of the stars was born in 1990 or later, so the millennial urgency of the story feels earned. They have all gained some acclaim, either in films or TV, with Lane arguably the most well-known of the group. Like any good group film, every actor gets a chance to shine; it will be interesting to see if any use this as a stepping-stone to bigger movies.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an urgent call to pay attention and do something about climate change. If the fact that it’s also a highly watchable movie with bright young stars makes it an easier pill to swallow, so much the better.


How to Blow Up a Pipeline is now screening in select theaters.

Ariela Barer in How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Photo courtesy of Neon

Ariela Barer in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

Photo by Michele K. Short / Universal Pictures

No-bite vampire movie Renfield unleashes great rivers of blood — but not much else

Movie Review

For the majority of vampire movies, there are two ways to go: scary or funny. Having a blood-sucking monster as the villain makes "scary" the natural option, but plenty of filmmakers have had fun with the subgenre, including Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn), Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows), and more.

The new film Renfield leans hard into the latter path, but the filmmakers don’t stick with comedy all the way through. The film also has a misplaced confidence that doesn’t always serve it well.

Renfield is named not after a vampire, but a man (Nicholas Hoult) who has been a longtime grudging assistant to Dracula (Nicolas Cage). But procuring victims for the Prince of Darkness is not exactly a fulfilling job, and Renfield turns to support groups for help.

Run-ins with police officer Rebecca (Awkwafina) and Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz), son of mob boss Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), offer a chance at separation, but not without pushback from Dracula. Through a series of orgies of bloodshed, Renfield and Rebecca take on all-comers, with Dracula waiting in a final showdown.

Directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley based on an original idea from The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, the film is similar to the recent Cocaine Bear in that it derives a lot of its laughs from its graphic violence. There is no pretense to any of the carnage; almost every kill is accompanied by an explosion of blood, as if human skin was merely a thin balloon that gushes forth a flood of gore when opened in the right (vicious) way.

The effect of that style works well when it’s used, although the lack of variety makes for diminishing returns. It’s when the filmmakers are dealing with any other part of the story that they fumble the ball. Much is made of the mob side of the story with little effort put forth to actually make those characters interesting. And the juxtaposition of comedy and over-the-top action scenes makes for a somewhat jarring experience.

Cage is great casting as Dracula, and when he’s allowed to let loose, it’s entertaining, but they don’t go to him as often as you might think. Hoult puts on a similar demeanor as he did as a zombie in Warm Bodies, and he’s very enjoyable when he’s not involved in fight scenes. Awkwafina, Schwartz, and Aghdashloo all seem a little miscast in their respective roles.

Nicholas Hoult in Renfield

Photo by Michele K. Short / Universal Pictures

Nicholas Hoult in Renfield

Renfield is one of those films where the wild moments overshadow the fact that it doesn’t really have much else going for it. The rivers of blood that are unleashed are great for shock value, but the film as a whole is as empty as the bodies left behind.


Renfield opens in theaters on April 14.

Photo courtesy of UFODrive

This Tesla rental service got me from Austin to Houston, despite my best efforts

the future of rentals

Reader, my car was stolen. I know that’s not a cool note to start on, but it’s the truth. A few months ago, my white Hyundai Elantra was recovered on Ben White Boulevard with an egregiously ugly, half-finished paint job and a deathly rattle in the engine. This put me in a vulnerable position, not just for getting around (thanks, CapMetro), but for falling in love with cars way outside my price range.

UFODrive (stylized UFODRIVE), a self-service car rental company with an all-electric fleet, must have sensed my predicament, because a publicist probed my inbox with an offer to borrow a sleek Tesla X or Y for a weekend trip. The timing couldn't have been better, and not just for my Austin transport needs, but because the CultureMap Austin team had a Houston meeting to attend — an excellent excuse to hop in a new ride and try out the service.

This rental company has seven locations in the United States, but only one in Texas so far, meaning round trips would be necessary to return the car. (The website does not allow a multi-city return, even if you’re up for a very long drive.) Previously exclusive to Europe, the company's United States leg is catching up. Their website boasts 20 million “clean miles” driven by renters, and more than 2 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions saved.

Ideals aside, the most obvious draw to this kind of service — the self-service exchange — held up, although it does present its own challenges. Everything happens through the UFODrive app. Pickup and drop-off were easy with no lines, no salespeople, and most importantly, 24/7 service. The downside, for a chaotic traveler, is everything takes some time to figure out if you don’t read everything very carefully (a simple solution, really, but easier said than done.)

Nothing was confusing for more than a few minutes. The phone app locks, unlocks, and starts the car. It only took a few tries to realize the vehicle turns itself off automatically when in park with no one inside. Everything from the online booking to reporting pre-existing damage was an easy step-by-step form. (The car was immaculate, anyway.)

My biggest problem was learning how to operate a Tesla Y on intuition alone — I wouldn’t have needed rental agency staff to teach me about just about any gas-powered vehicle, but I would have liked to get a quick rundown for my first time operating this sleek spacecraft. Maybe a more tech-inclined driver wouldn’t have taken a full minute to figure out how to put the thing in drive. I wouldn’t know; there wasn't one available.

Thankfully, these machines are intuitive once a driver starts trusting the "push buttons and find out" technique, although we never did find cruise control. The only time we almost faced a consequence for this improvisational approach was when I looked at the battery upon entering Houston and saw we were at 1 percent — an awful, single digit number I did not think we’d creep up on for another hundred miles. The low-battery notification had gone to my email, unnoticed during the drive.

The UFODrive app first took me to a charger that was out of service, and I’m glad I thought to check the vehicle’s dashboard screen for my second try. The car displayed not just charging stations, but their status, including how many bays were left and whether or not they were in service. After an incoming call from a well-meaning UFODrive employee who saw my low battery but could not possibly know where every charger in Houston was, I ended up backing into a charging station at 1 percent battery.

Charging — the act, itself — was very easy. UFODrive handles the whole thing and covers the fee, so it’s as simple as plugging in, waiting, and driving away. Having seen the detail on the dashboard screen about chargers (as well as a notification when we were about to leave range), I would feel confident booking a longer trip through the service.

And for my fellow roadtrippers, I'd just encourage a thorough read of the emailed materials — or at least this laundry list of minor snags. Fill out the forms early, check emails often, and put in just a few minutes of planning to keep charging smooth and convenient. An organized traveler may make it to Houston with a shining track record of no awkward moments at all.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is one blunder after another

Movie Review

Of all the various comic book characters to get their own showcase during the superhero era, Venom has to be one of most unlikely.

The character first popped up as a villain in 2007’s Spider-Man 3 with Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom but made little impact because of the quality of the film and Grace’s performance. Tom Hardy took over the role in 2018’s Venom, a poorly reviewed but hugely successful film that took in $856 million worldwide.

That box office — and an end credits teaser featuring Woody Harrelson — ensured there would be a sequel, which now arrives with the somewhat clunky title Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

After unsuccessfully trying to purge the symbiote Venom from his system in the first film, Eddie Brock spends his days mostly trying to satisfy the never-ending hunger of Venom. He halfheartedly accepts an assignment to interview Cletus Cassidy (Harrelson), a murderer who’s set to be executed.

That visit proves disastrous, however, as an altercation allows Cletus to get a bit of Eddie’s blood, transforming him into Carnage. Cletus/Carnage proceeds to escape and go on a destruction spree, all while searching for his long-lost love, Frances/Shriek (Naomie Harris), who spent time with him in an institution. Naturally, only Eddie/Venom will be able to protect the city and those he loves, including former fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams), from the vicious pair.

Directed by Andy Serkis and written by Kelly Marcel, the film is an incoherent mess from beginning to end. It’s clear that Venom is supposed to be a funny character, with his insatiable appetite and inappropriate comments, but the way he’s presented is far from entertaining.

Much of this has to do with the god-awful CGI; perhaps having a being that’s constantly coming out of and surrounding the lead character was always going to be tough to present, but it’s still shocking just how bad it is.

Even worse than the imagery is the complete lack of an interesting story. Hardy has a story credit and serves as one of the producers for this film, so he was clearly invested in trying to make it good. But he, Marcel, and Serkis failed miserably, serving up a bland, confusing storyline and allowing Harrelson and Harris to overact shamelessly. Save for a couple of mildly humorous one-liners, the script does nothing to liven things up either.

It’s strange that Hardy was chosen to play this role, as he doesn’t seem to have the energy that Eddie is supposed to have. Hardy has mostly been known for his intensity in films like Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Mad Max: Fury Road. Watching him try to be reserved, twitchy, and a little goofy is painful, as his natural demeanor is not a good fit for those traits.

As previously mentioned, Harrelson and Harris go way over the top in their respective roles, and even though they’re the villains of the film, their lack of restraint is galling. Williams — who, it should be noted, is a four-time Oscar nominee — is once again wildly out of place, and even she can’t save her nothing of a role.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is even worse than the dog of a film that was the original. I’d love to say that this is the last we’ll see of the character, but an end-credits teaser strongly hints at a return very soon. Maybe that appearance will make him enjoyable, but I doubt it.


Venom: Let There Be Carnage is running in theaters now.

Tom Hardy in Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Tom Hardy in Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
Tom Hardy in Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment

The Big Scary “S” Word aims for enlightenment about socialism

Movie Review

For those on the right side of the political spectrum, there has been one word used to demonize people on the left in recent years: socialist.

Politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York are the two most prominent members of the Democratic Socialists of America, a group which, among other things, is working to push the Democratic Party further to the left to secure things like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and more.

The new documentary The Big Scary “S” Word, directed by Yael Bridge, attempts to explain and defuse socialism by demonstrating that it has long had a home in the United States. Capitalism, as the film shows, has been held up as the ideal for the economic and political well-being for American citizens since the country’s founding. But instead of being a system that allows everyone to flourish, it is one in which the money continually flows to the top, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and greed.

Socialism, its proponents and the film argue, can break that cycle, giving power to all of the people instead of just those at the very top.

To illustrate that point and the history of socialism, Bridge includes interviews with a litany of economic and political science professors from different universities. Each of them dutifully explain the benefits of socialism and provide plenty of examples of socialists throughout America’s history, including Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King Jr. The interviews with the professors are, to put it mildly, very dry, giving the feel of a college lecture.

Bridge tries to put a personal face on the issue by following a few people, including Oklahoma teacher Stephanie Price, who warms to the idea of socialism thanks to a teacher strike in the state in 2018; and Virginia state delegate Lee Carter, who became the lone Democratic Socialist in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2018. While they provide a bit of balance to the droning of the professors, neither of their stories is overly compelling, at least in the context of promoting socialism.

Two people who aren’t interviewed are the ones viewers probably want to hear from most, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Both of them appear in the film, but only in news footage or in a speech Sanders gives in support of Carter’s reelection bid. If Bridge had been able to actually sit down with Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez, it would have livened up the film appreciably.

A film like The Big Scary “S” Word needs to be one that not only fires up people who are already inclined to believe its message, but one that’s convincing enough to persuade those who aren’t. Unfortunately, the film fails on both ends, winding up in a place where the only ones who will likely care about it are those who were personally involved in its making.


The Big Scary “S” Word is available via video on demand platforms.

Photo courtesy of Visit Houston

Major Texas airport flies high as best and cleanest in the U.S.

Soaring to new heights

Travel can be tenuous of late, and choosing a good airport for a layover or plane change can be more important than ever. Both airports in one major Texas city have just landed high honors on a prestigious global ranking.

Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport is the No.1 airport in the U.S., according to the Skytrax 2021 World Airport Awards, specifically in the World’s Top 100 Airports category.

Bush also ranks as the cleanest airport in the nation. Bush scored second-best airport in North America, achieving both honors for the second consecutive year. Soaring six spots this year, Bush now ranks No. 25 among the top 100 world airports on this list.

IAH also finished fourth in the rankings for Best U.S. Airport Staff, according to a press release.

Houston's Hobby Airport received several accolades as well, including the most improved airport in the U.S. The bustling Southwest Airlines hub also ranked third in the Best Regional Airports in North America category.

Hobby ranked 49th in the Top 100 Best World Airports category — up from 67th in 2020, per a release. Additionally, Hobby ranked 10th in the Cleanest Airports - North America category.

Notably, Houston is the only U.S. city to have two airports in the Best Airports in North America and Cleanest Airports categories.

To generate the annual rankings, the Skytrax World Airport Awards rankings analyze the annual airport customer survey for the Passenger’s Choice Awards, conducted from August 2020 until July 2021. Many travelers voted for their favorite and/or best airport based on pre-pandemic travel experiences, while other customers voted after their COVID-19 airport experience during the past 12 months, a release notes.

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Check out these 6 Austin hotels for a swanky summer staycation

Stay, Don't Go Away

Summer is in full swing, and you know what that means – time to staycation!

We've already rounded up some of the best Austin hotel pools for a summer day pass, but when you're needing max relaxation, here are some of the best Austin hotels for a more extended stay.

For the traveler who just wants peace, quiet and good food.
If you're eager to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Austin, head over to the Omni Barton Creek for authentic rest, relaxation, and a good meal or two at the Blind Salamander. When we say it's quiet out at the Omni Barton Creek, we're not kidding. With an incredible full-service spa, a gym that makes Lifetime look flimsy, multiple pools and restaurants, and a golf course, the Omni Barton Creek is the ideal getaway for solo travelers seeking solitude, couples wanting privacy, or foodies wanting to take a culinary tour of the hotel's seven, yes, seven, in-house restaurants.

For the traveler who wants a side of history with their hotel booking.
Did you even visit Austin if you didn't take a photo on the iconic Driskill Hotel staircase? Originally established by a rich cattle baron back in the 1800s (yes, his name was Colonel Driskill), the Driskill Hotel has become the historic hotel to stay at in downtown Austin. In addition to the decadent interior design. and iconic restaurants, the Driskill has also played host to a vast array of festivals like the Austin Film Festival and the ATX TV Festival. Do yourself a favor and order a Batini from the Driskill Bar when a festival is going on at the hotel — you might just spot a celebrity or two.

For the traveler seeking a bonafide Instagram-worthy experience without leaving their hotel.
Lavaca St is home to the Hotel ZaZa, a boutique hotel that has a variety of themed suites (from a log cabin room to a suite that looks like a rockstar designed it), the Za Spa, and in-house dining experiences like Group Therapy and the picturesque cabana bar. So put on your best Austin outfit, order yourself an Audrey Hepburn Timeless Rita from Group Therapy, and live your best Instagram-worthy life at the Hotel ZaZa.

For the traveler that wants to be close to all the action and have access to one of the best rooftop bars in town.
The Thompson Hotel Austin is centrally located in downtown Austin on San Jacinto Blvd, with all the luxury amenities that the Thompson brand is known for, in addition to the gem that is their rooftop bar — Wax Myrtle's. The view of the Austin skyline at Wax Myrtle's can be paired perfectly with one of the bar's many signature cocktails. Don't forget to bring your bathing suit because there will more than likely be a rooftop pool party happening at Wax's during your stay!

For the traveler wanting the best views (and also peace and quiet).
Rounding out our list is the Hotel Loren, an elegant getaway with stunning views of Lady Bird Lake and Nido, a rooftop restaurant that has gone viral on social media. The Hotel Loren definitely has some of the best views in town, and while it's a bit further away from downtown Austin than the Thompson or the ZaZa, it's still relatively close by. The Hotel Loren also has the Milk + Honey spa, a pool and fitness center, and of course, a coffee shop.

For the traveler wanting to feel like a local celeb
The Fairmount Austin literally has a Gold experience for this very reason! Get the full VIP treatment at the Fairmount without having a single movie credit to your name. This hotel is a Forbes Travel Guide four-star property, with a heated swimming pool, seven bars and restaurants (Garrison for example, is a quintessential dining experience), and a spa.

5 Austin shops to keep you looking cool this summer


Who doesn't love a bit of retail therapy? Especially now that it's finally time to break out the breezy tops, the fun sun hats, and a well-fitting pair of sunglasses.

If you need help deciding where to find a summer gift, outfit, or skincare item, we've gathered a few Austin shops that will have you looking too cool to let the summer heat get to you.

Chicago-based convenience store Foxtrot opened its new Austin flagship location at the corner of South 1st and West Annie Streets on June 6. Think of it as a combination between a bodega and your neighborhood café, wine bar, and gift shop. And we can't forget about its spacious indoor-outdoor covered patio. The South 1st location is the second of four planned stores throughout Austin; their Burnet Road store opened in February 2023.

If you need a new pair of glasses or sunnies to go with your summer 'fits, Warby Parker's refreshed Summer 2023 Collection debuted June 6 to bring you new designs and color palettes. Whether you try online or visit one of their three Austin locations, eye-catching frames such as Lottie in green tea crystal or sophisticated Keiko in polished gold are sure to bring on the compliments with any outstanding outfit you put together.

Speaking of summer releases, Austin's favorite vodka Tito's has launched their Tito's X Summer accessory line just in time for your next trip to Town Lake or your favorite pool. Their Floating Cabana Bar in collaboration with luxury pool float makers Funboy is sure to catch the attention of fellow day-drinkers and fun lovers at any function. You can shop online or in person at their storefront on Lavaca.

A local, BIPOC, women-owned "anti-beauty" beauty brand is working to keep your skin healthy in the Austin summer sun.Daybird's 4-in-1 Tinted Skincare combines a sheer foundation with a serum, moisturizer, and mineral SPF 50. It's also vegan, Leaping Bunny certified cruelty-free, and the product container is fully recyclable. The Tinted Skincare, which is currently their only available item from their line, can be found on their website, Urban Outfitters, and Poosh.

Contemporary womenswear boutique Estilo's first Estilo Kids (stylized estilo KIDS) store opened in Tarrytown at the beginning of May. Owner Stephanie Coultress O'Neill has had her clothing boutique for 18 years, and expanded her brand to include menswear in 2020. Now, the new children's boutique will offer gifts and clothing for children aged three through 14. Estilo is located at 2727 Exposition Boulevard in Tarrytown's Casis Village.

Plan a summer play-cation in Frisco for golf, pools, music, and more

The City That Plays

Looking to take a play-cation this summer? Obviously Frisco, The City That Plays, is the perfect fit. It offers so many activities to fit every interest, from sporting events and unique golf activities to kid-friendly attractions and pools.

Summer sports
Watch a Frisco RoughRiders baseball game like never before from the in-stadium lazy river, or tour The Star, the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters, to take in some NFL history and see where the pros call home.

While you are visiting The Star, you’ll find shopping and dining, with everything from sushi at Sushi Marquee to sweets at Cow Tipping Creamery.

Pro tip: if you love America’s team, plan your trip in August to get a pre-season glimpse of the Dallas Cowboys at training camp, open to the public at Ford Center.

PGA Frisco awaits with its two championship courses, a short course and putting green that’s lit at night, an entertainment district full of shops and dining options for the whole family, and the newly opened Omni PGA Frisco Resort, where it’s easy to cool off in one of the four pools.

Frisco offers golfers a range of play options, including The Fazio Course at The Westin Stonebriar Golf Resort & Spa, Frisco Lakes Golf Club, Plantation Golf Club, The Trails of Frisco, and the unique indoor option of the Swing Suite Lounge by Topgolf.

Cool tunes
Now that Frisco is officially designated a Music Friendly Texas Community, there’s plenty of live music to enjoy over the summer.

Friday nights in June are for listening to live music at Frisco Square during the free outdoor Summer Concert Series on the lawn in front of City Hall.

Visitors can get into the groove anytime at one of Frisco’s many venues that host live music and entertainment throughout the summer.

Happy 4th
Frisco celebrates the Fourth of July big, too. Mark your calendar for two major events with food, music, games, and fireworks: Frisco Freedom Fest and The Independence Day Celebration at Omni PGA Frisco Resort.

Kiddo time
Escape the Texas heat with a visit to Frisco’s unbelievable new library. The bright, open design has spaces to inspire, create, innovate, and collaborate, plus you can say hi to Rexy, the 20-foot-tall T-Rex dinosaur skeleton.

Check out the high-tech Makerspace and active learning spaces like Tiny Town, for kids up to age 5, and Kid’s Club, for kinder through 5th graders.

Take a dip
Cool down poolside in Frisco. With rooftop views, cabanas, adults-only, splash pools, and the Frisco Water Park, families, couples, and friends can all find the right place to cool down during your visit.

Whatever your summer style is, rest your head at one of Frisco’s 26 hotels while experiencing a weekend play-cation with things to do for visitors of all ages.

Soak up all Frisco has to offer this summer — visit the website for more vacation ideas.

Lazy River at Riders Field in Frisco

Photo courtesy of Visit Frisco

See a baseball game from the water at Riders Field.