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Photo by Marco Torres

With Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) now underway, a convenient new calendar courtesy of a local nonprofit dials Houstonians into a host of Latino arts and culture events to celebrate the occasion.

The calendar (find it here) is created and curated by Advocates of a Latino Museum of Cultural and Visual Arts & Archive Complex in Houston, Harris County (ALMAAHH) and is meant to showcase the myriad cultural offerings of the the largest population in Harris County.

Special attention is paid to under-the-radar Latino creators and creations, according to the organization’s board chair, Geraldina Wise. “We want to use this online tool as an opportunity to showcase events with artists you might not otherwise meet,” said Wise.

Users can navigate the calendar via several options, including by type of artistic endeavor, region, date, and more. Those interested can submit requests to include events or activities here.

While the one-stop guide was created specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month, Wise notes that users can visit the guide going forward to support the community.

“We have started with events happening during Hispanic Heritage Month to kick off the calendar,” she said. “But we will continue to add new events and to turn this into the most comprehensive online Latino arts and culture resource for the Greater Houston area.”

Photo via Houston Methodist

Innovative Medical Center artist care program scores 2023 Texas Medal of Arts honor

Texas Medal of Awesome

After releasing initial details for next year’s Texas Medal of the Arts Awards (TMAA), the Texas Cultural Trust (TXCT) has revealed the full lineup of 2023 honorees — and Houstonians, especially artists or those in the Medical Center, will no doubt recognize one name.

Taking place in venues across Austin, the two-day biannual event recognizes the creative contributions of Texans across multiple disciplines, from music to architecture, film, design, and beyond. Next year's honorees also span multiple geographical regions, with recipients representing Houston, El Paso, and everywhere in between.

“We are beyond thrilled to resume the TMAA celebration, after having to postpone and cancel in 2021 due to the pandemic, with an extraordinary lineup of talented Texans who have each inspired and captivated their communities, our state, and beyond,” says Texas Cultural Trust CEO Heidi Marquez Smith. “Our organization strives to spotlight the vital role the arts play in our state and our everyday lives. Texas has such a rich cultural heritage that deserves to be recognized, invested in, and celebrated.”

Without further ado, the 2023 Texas Medal of Arts Honorees are:

  • Arts/Health: Center for Performing Arts Medicine, Houston (part of Houston Methodist Hospital)
  • Lifetime Achievement/Musical Theatre: Carole Cook, Abilene
  • Music: Christopher Cross, San Antonio
  • Music/Songwriter: Miranda Lambert, Lindale
  • Architecture: Miró Rivera Architects, Austin
  • Visual Arts: Deborah Roberts, Austin
  • Design: Lela Rose, Dallas
  • Literary Arts: Benjamin Alire Saenz, El Paso
  • Film/Producer: Taylor Sheridan, Weatherford
  • Dance: Septime Webre, Brownsville
  • Film/Actor: Luke Wilson, Dallas

The innovative Center for Performing Arts Medicine is the only operation of its kind in the U.S. Here, more than 100 physicians work collaboratively to address the specific demands placed on artists; Houston Methodist estimates that many of the more than 2,000 professional and amateur artists who live in and around Houston are treated there.

Elite artists and performers from the Houston Symphony, Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, and other performing visiting artists receive personalized care and treatments, specific to their discipline and case. Hallmarks of the center, per Houston Methodist, are:

  • Specialized health care and wellness education of performing artists.
  • Effective and meaningful integration of the performing and visual arts into the hospital environment.
  • Therapy that utilizes the arts in clinical patient care.
  • Research that seeks to harness the broadest potential of the arts in therapy, rehabilitation and human performance.

As for the awards: The TXCT's signature two-day event will begin on February 21, 2023, with the Arts Alive! Reception at Commodore Perry Estate, culminating with an Awards Show and Gala Dinner at the Long Center for Performing Arts on February 22, 2023. This year's events are co-chaired by Linda LaMantia, civic leader and artist dedicated to supporting and promoting the arts and education; Judy Robison, philanthropic advocate for prioritizing equity in access to the arts for all children; and world-renowned fashion designer and 2019 TMAA Honoree Brandon Maxwell.

Besides Maxwell, previous honorees have included Matthew McConaughey, Jamie Foxx, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Dan Rather, Neiman Marcus, H-E-B, Robert Rodriguez, Walter Cronkite, Lawrence Wright, Sandra Cisneros, Lyle Lovett, Texas Monthly, and many more. In total, the TMAA have celebrated 118 Texas leaders and luminaries since its inception in 2001.

Photo courtesy of the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York.

10 vivid and eye-catching September art events no Houstonian should miss

best september art

September brings a festival of art — a Fotofest that is — as the biannual celebration of the art of photography spreads across the city. Even galleries and museums not specifically a part of Fotofest have their art eye on photography.

Beyond all the photo festivities, the month brings in a change of color as fall shows open across the city.

“Urban Impressions: Experiencing the Global Contemporary Metropolis” at Moody Center for the Arts (September 16-December 17)
Celebrate Houston as an international art city and city life across the world as its own kind of art form in this radical, sprawling new exhibition. Look for international and national artists such Rana Begum, Kahlil Irving, Julie Mehretu, Sohei Nishino, Emeka Ogboh, Robin Rhode, Seher Shah, Liu Wei, and Michael Wolf, as well as Houston-based artists, such as Charis Ammon, Tiffany Chung, Mary Flanagan, and Rick Lowe.

This exhibition ponders the shape and future of cities and the lives they shelter. The works on view take into consideration not only visual components but also sensory perceptions and collective memories of urban life that impact our minds and bodies and structure our lives in unexpected ways.

“Bitter Waters Sweet” at Art League Houston (September 16-December 3)
This exhibition of new work by Fort Worth artist and 2022 Texas Artist of the Year. Letitia Huckaby, explores the legacy of Africatown, the historic community near Mobile, Alabama, founded by a group of West African people who were trafficked to the U.S. as slaves shortly before Emancipation, and long after the Atlantic slave trade was banned.

Huckaby’s photographs, printed on cotton fabric, bring together the legacy of Africatown, its founders, and their descendants, with the history of the ship Clotilda and its persistent physical proximity to the community. Through her imagery and materials, her work ties the past to the present as she examines history and its contemporary connection to the black experience.

“Drawn to Communities” at Art League Houston (September 16-December 3)
Art League turns the lens on the photography of Houston Earlie Hudnall, Jr. in this show focusing on his images of daily life in Houston’s Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wards. Art League notes that his images of families and daily life in some of the city’s most neglected neighborhoods remain as a record of these historic communities that persevere with strength, love, and dignity.

“I chose the camera as a tool to document different aspects of life: who we are, what we do, how we live, what our communities look like,” states Hudnall of his work.

“Lo que me queda de tu amor (What’s Left of Your Love for Me)” at Lawndale (September 17-December 10)
Curated by Francis Almendárez and Mary Montenegro and featuring work by 18 artists who use archives and traditions as part of their creative practice. Through movement, text, sound, performance and improvisation, these artists conjure intergenerational and cultural histories.

In doing so, these images reflect how their respective cultures and histories have been maintained and their communities have thrived, despite the odds against them. Collectively, these works question the accessibility of archives, since those who have historically shared them are rarely from the communities that produced them.

“Love is a House that Even Death Can’t Knock Down” at Lawndale (September 17-December 10)
This photo-based group show featuring the works of mk, Irene Antonia Diane Reece, and Jamie Robertson, also focuses on archives, especially in the celebrates the sacredness of Black family life.

Working with their own family photographic chronicles, the artists address themes of life, death, and memory in relation to a Southern Black experience. The Gulf Coast landscape connects the creative practices of these three families and, while each uses photographic imagery, the exhibition is a multi-sensory experience including smell, sound, and installation elements.

Sites of Memory” from DiverseWorks at MATCH (September 23-November 5)
San Antonio-based artist Jenelle Esparza and Houston-based artist Verónica Gaona, come together, for this exhibition, to explore the impermanent nature of land and its residual energy through the use of objects, land-based materials, and living and historical research.

The exhibition explores the relationship between the body, history, and land and builds on conversations between Esparza and Gaona as they work to further explore the impacts of migration, familial legacy, transnationality, migratory labor, and ideas related to rest.

“Monira Al Qadiri: Refined Vision” at Blaffer Art Museum (September 23-January 8)
In this first U.S. museum solo exhibition for the Senegal born, Berlin-based, Kuwaiti visual artist, Al Qadiri examines petroleum-centric cultures, or “petro-cultures,” where life and society are informed by the practices and discourses involving the consumption of, and subsequent dependence on, oil and gas.

With artwork that span video, glass, kinetic sculpture, and interactive installations, the exhibition ranges from surreal to melancholic, reflecting the intense and often astonishing scenes that make up the artist’s real (and imagined) memories of her formative years in the Middle East. Yet, some of the art was also originally inspired by parallels of wealth and infrastructure between the Texas Gulf Coast and the Persian Gulf region.

“Troy Montes Michie: Rock of Eye” at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (September 23-January 29)
To tailor a garment by “rock of eye” is to rely on the drape in the fitting process—that is, to rely on experience over mathematical measurement, notes the CAMH when describing this first museum solo exhibition for the acclaimed Texas artist.

Subverting dominant narratives by placing past and present in confrontation, Montes Michie brings together collages, drawings, sculptures, and installations that draw the contours of body and place. The art is heavily informed by his experience growing up in El Paso.

The exhibition combines Montes Michie’s previous collages and assemblages that center magazine images of the Black male body with sculptural works that trace the social history of the zoot suit, a garment at the center of the 1943 attacks primarily on Mexican American, African American, and Filipino American youth in Los Angeles known as the Zoot Suit Riots.

“African Cosmologies: Redux” part of Fotofest Biennial 2022 at galleries throughout the city (September 24-November 6)
Curated by Mark Sealy, the director of London-based photographic art institution Autograph ABP, “African Cosmologies” might be the most expansive exhibition of the year, as it encompasses four distinct shows at Spring Street Studios, The Alta Arts, Houston Museum of African American Culture, and the Menil Collection.

All together the exhibition examines the complex relationships between contemporary life in Africa, the African diaspora, and global histories of colonialism, photography, and rights and representation. The exhibition considers the history of photography as one closely tied to a colonial project and Western image production, highlighting artists who confront and challenge this shortsighted, albeit canonized lineage.

“If I Had a Hammer” at Silver Street Studios and Winter Street Studios (September 24-November 6)
One of the major Fotofest Biennial 2022 exhibitions, “Hammer” considers the ways artists utilize images to unpack the ideological underpinnings that inspire collective cultural movements around the globe.

The 23 artists exhibiting in this expansive show propose alternative techniques of seeing and engaging with the world, working with both conventional and new media to shed light on the systems that encourage social theories and political imaginaries to become dogma at the click of a shutter or tap of a button.

The Moody Art Center celebrates the art of cities with the exhbition "Urban Impressions: Experiencing the Global Contemporary Metropolis."

Photo courtesy of the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York.
The Moody Art Center celebrates the art of cities with the exhbition "Urban Impressions: Experiencing the Global Contemporary Metropolis."
Photo by Adam Graser

Legendary Houston-area historic battleship casts off for much-needed repair

Anchors Aweigh!

The most iconic water-borne symbol of World War I and World War II in Texas is set to cast off from its home San Jacinto Battleground Site for much-needed restoration.

Battleship Texas will depart its current home on Wednesday, August 31 and head to Galveston’s Gulf Copper & Manufacturing Corporation facilities for repairs to its hull. Fans and history buffs can assemble as early as 5:30 am that day to watch the ship disconnect, swing, and attach to its tug craft.

Those interested can track hourly status and updates here. Anticipating national curiosity, the Battleship Texas Foundation has also set up livestreaming via the official Facebook page or YouTube channel.

For years, the legendary dreadnought, which was built in 1910, has been carefully addressed. Tackling the massive amount of water leaking into the ship, companies BTF, Resolve, and Valkor worked for six months to drastically reduce the leak rate from 2,000 gallons per minute to under 20 gallons per minute, making the ship significantly safer to tow.

Notably, the Battleship Texas Foundation hand-picked the Gulf Copper shipyard in Galveston specifically due to the company’s recent acquisition of a floating drydock that is capable of lifting the juggernaut battleship out of the water, according to foundation press materials.

Currently, the oldest battleship in existence that witnessed both WWI and WWII is owned by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In 2019, the state legislature appropriated $35 million to fund the ship’s hull repair.

A symbol of America's military might, Battleship Texas was commissioned in 1914 and at the time, was (somewhat fittingly, given the name) considered the most powerful weapon in the world. The warship is credited with introducing and innovating gunnery, aviation, and radar.

In 1948, Battleship Texas was decommissioned and made a permanent museum, appropriately on April 21, Texas Independence Day.

Photo courtesy of Waco CVB

What to eat, drink, see, and do while in Waco for a weekend

On the Road

When you think of Waco, two things might come to mind: Baylor and Magnolia. But in addition to these name-drop-worthy attractions, there are plenty of other reasons to put Waco on your list.

Here are 18 things to do when you’re in town:

Check out what Magnolia Market at the Silos is all about
Fixer Upper fans from near and far have been making the pilgrimage to the heart of Texas to see the Instagrammable empire built by Chip and Joanna Gaines.

And whether you’re a super-fan or not, it’s still worth the trip. Plus there's more than just the market — there’s a Magnolia Home outpost along with other Shops at the Silos. Grab a seasonal strawberry lemonade cupcake (or any number of other sweet treats) at Silos Baking Co. and caffeinate at Magnolia Press.

For brunch, Magnolia Table is just an eight-minute drive from the Silos.

Special events are also held regularly at the Silos’ big green lawn that’s equipped with lawn games, food trucks, and an outdoor stage. The upcoming Silobration from October 27-29, 2022, will feature daytime music, a roller rink, concerts under the stars, and more.

Browse the Waco Downtown Farmers Market
With the best local agricultural producers and artisan vendors within 150 miles of Waco, the market is a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Summer hours through August are 9 am-noon. There’s also a market hosted at the Silos on the first Wednesday of each month.

Walk on the wild side at Cameron Park Zoo
This award-winning natural-habitat zoo gets wild with its free-form surroundings and progressive attitude. The lush grounds, waterfalls, and natural shelters for the animals create a homey feel for species from around the globe.

See tortoises from the Galapagos Islands, birds from Africa, lions, Sumatran tigers, orangutans, Komodo dragons, and so much more.

Experience the natural treasure that is Cameron Park
Clocking in at 416 acres, this is one of the largest municipal parks in Texas. You’ll find towering live oaks, stunning bluffs overlooking the Brazos and Bosque Rivers, and a National Recreation Trail system. Mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians share the park with disc golfers, picnickers, and bird watchers.

Hang ten at Waco Surf
As one of the largest inland surfing and water sports facilities in the country, this state-of-the-art surf and wakeboard water park features a two-acre lake that implements the PerfectSwell Infinite Ocean-designed, surf-generating technology.

There are also cabins onsite as well as Wedge Slides and the world’s longest lazy river.

Scope out the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum
Founded in 1968, this place is the official hall of fame, museum, and archives for the Texas Rangers, the oldest state law enforcement agency in the United States and a symbol of the American West.

Chill out at the Dr Pepper Museum
Learn all about the history of your favorite soft drink — and grab a Dr Pepper Float in a classic 1950s-style soda fountain — at this museum that includes the original 1906 bottling plant and the Kellum-Rotan building from the 1880s, one of the oldest buildings in downtown Waco.

Get a history lesson at the Mayborn Museum
Located on the Baylor University campus, this museum features both natural science and cultural history exhibits that focus on Central Texas with walk-in dioramas — including one on the Waco Mammoth Site — and exploration stations for geology, paleontology, archaeology, and natural history.

There are also 17 themed discovery rooms and a historic village that gives a glimpse into life in an 1890s community.

Channel your inner poet at Armstrong Browning Library and Museum
Also on the Baylor campus, this library and museum is dedicated to the study of the lives and works of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and houses the world’s largest collection of Browning material and other fine collections of rare 19th-century books, manuscripts, and works of art.

Explore the Waco Mammoth National Monument
It’s the nation’s first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths. The monument also includes a scenic trailway along with a breathtaking dig shelter that creates an atmosphere of an art gallery.

Natural light floods into the shelter from all directions and a suspended walkway provides a stunning overhead view of the mammoths.

Grab a drink at Balcones Distillery
With more than 40 internationally recognized awards, Balcones boasts world-renowned flavors that you can sample in the tasting room. Or take a tour of the distillery for fascinating insights into the whiskey-making process, from the grain silos to the copper pot stills from Scotland.

Splash around at Hawaiian Falls Waco
Open through Labor Day, this destination water park is 10 acres of fun with a wave pool, 800-foot-long lazy river, splash zones, and lots of slides including the six-story white-knuckler, Tempest Tower.

Ride off into the sunset at Brazos Bluffs Ranch
Saddle up for an unforgettable horseback ride or outdoor adventure at this ranch located at the point where the Balcones Fault, the longest fault line in Texas, and the Brazos River, the longest river in Texas, meet. With major ecosystems converging on the land, the flora and fauna is diverse and prolific.

Shop around at Spice Village
With more than 60 boutiques under one roof across 30,000 square feet in the iconic 1908 McLendon Hardware Co. building, Spice Village is a dream shopping experience with apparel, accessories, home decor, gifts, and more.

Get artsy at Art Center Waco
With rotating exhibits, classes, and events, the Art Center serves as a creative force in the community for teaching, displaying, promoting, and preserving vital, diverse visual arts that inspire the community and beyond.

Get social at Cultivate 7Twelve — and its speakeasy
The main gallery at this venue features monthly exhibits that showcase and sell the work of Waco’s many talented artists. Cultivate 7Twelve also hosts weekly figure drawing and workshops — and is home to the one and only Undercroft Social Club.

The BYOB members-only speakeasy is in the basement of the gallery, and day passes are available for non-members. Interestingly, the basement was once home to Ms. Keaton’s Bakery, which operated from 1917 to 1972 and was famous for its maple-caramel cream puffs.

Get concert tix at the Waco Hippodrome
Since 1914, the Hippodrome has been hosting a wide variety of Broadway-style plays and shows. Now, as a live music venue, you can listen in on any manner of artists playing rock, country, blues, soul, punk, roots, and more.

See why the Texas Sports Hall of Fame scores big
With more than 6,000 pieces, the TSHOF Museum is the first hall of fame in the nation with sports memorabilia from each inductee, dating back to the first class of 1951. Additional highlights include a Southwest Conference Gallery, Texas Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in addition to the Tom Landry Theater.

Discover more things to do in Waco here.

Fixer Upper fans make a pilgrimage to Magnolia Market.

Photo courtesy of Waco CVB
Fixer Upper fans make a pilgrimage to Magnolia Market.
Photo courtesy of Crosbyton Chamber of Commerce

Stop along the Texas Plains Trail Region for stunning vistas and fascinating history

On the Road

Covering nearly 50,000 square miles, the 52-county region of the Texas Plains Trail features acres of prairie mixed with the spectacular canyon vistas of the Panhandle.

The rugged beauty and shimmering sunsets of the area make it prime road-trip territory, with plenty of scenic spots to stop for a picnic and a bit of local history, as documented by the Texas Historical Commission.

Hamblen Drive Roadside Park Picnic Area
This scenic park in Claude — about 30 miles east of Amarillo — boasts incredible, 360-degree views of Palo Duro Canyon.

The park gets its name from Will H. Hamblen, who pioneered a crude road into the canyon along old Native American trails in the 1890s. It shortened settlers’ trips by 120 miles but was steep and dangerous. In 1928, a graded road was built.

While you’re in Claude, swing by the Armstrong County Museum, which has an impressive collection of artistic, cultural, and historical objects that recount the arrival of cowboys and trains, along with the establishment of the legendary JA Ranch. The items also document the time of the native people who once lived and hunted on the land.

Part of the museum includes the 1915 Gem Theatre, where you can see movie memorabilia as well as live performances by local and touring drama and musical troupes.

Silver Falls Park
With status as the largest roadside park in Texas, this Crosbyton destination features a backdrop of mesas and mesquites — and its namesake falls — that make it a great spot for hiking, backpacking, and picnicking.

Located 30 minutes east of Lubbock, the park been a stopping point for travelers since the 1800s. In 1935, the National Youth Association, which was part of President Roosevelt’s Work Project Administration, built the park’s stone facilities, the remains of which you can still see today.

Also in Crosbyton, history comes alive at the Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum, which includes an expansive collection of 45,000 artifacts including 23,000 pieces from Native Americans, a Plains Indian teepee, a dugout recreation, and a furnished replica of an 1877 rock house of the county’s first permanent settlers.

Dickens County Springs Park
Off the beaten path is this little oasis of a park, located at the head of a ravine near the edge of the Llano Estacado.

About two hours shy of Palo Duro Canyon, it's a great place to take a break on your way to the canyon and beyond. There's also plenty to explore across its 72 acres of diverse terrain, with a few dedicated picnic zones enclosed by a teepee and the shell of a chuckwagon replica, too.

The ancient cold-water springs have been a favored place since the earliest human occupation in the region, with many nomadic tribes having used the site and leaving an abundance of archeological evidence in their wake.

Dickens is also home to one of the 22-foot-tall steel arrows by artist Charles A. Smith that form the Quanah Parker Trail. This network of more than 70 arrows commemorate the sites where the Comanches, and their last chief Quanah Parker, hunted, traded, lived, traveled, and fought.

Discover more picnic-ready and history-laden spots in the fascinating Texas Plains Trail region here.

Silver Falls Park in Crosbyton is the largest roadside park in Texas — and a great spot for hiking, backpacking, and picnicking.

Photo courtesy of Crosbyton Chamber of Commerce
Silver Falls Park in Crosbyton is the largest roadside park in Texas — and a great spot for hiking, backpacking, and picnicking.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

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.

---

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

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.