Photo courtesy of Spyglass Media Group

Horror franchises, even more than ones featuring superheroes, action stars, or animated characters, have proved themselves to be eternal. No matter how many times a villain or monster is bested by the hero of the film, filmmakers find a way to bring them back to try to wring more scares out of their presence.

The original Hellraiser came out in 1987 and was followed by nine sequels, including one as recent as 2018. But everything old is new again, and so now we get the reboot. An opening sequence reintroduces the series’ central device, a puzzle box that stabs unwitting users, thereby summoning horrific figures known as Cenobites to inflict torturous pain on those who’ve been stabbed.

Cut to a few years later and a group of young people are ensnared by the puzzle box’s allure, including the central figure Riley (Odessa A’zion), an addict who lives with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) and roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). Riley’s boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) convinces her to help him steal things from a warehouse, inadvertently bringing the puzzle into their lives. When Riley tries solve the puzzle, all hell is unleashed on the group.

Directed by David Bruckner and written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the film is a stylish yet mostly empty demonstration of gruesomeness. The Cenobites – who go by names like The Priest (aka Pinhead), The Chatterer, and The Weeper – are freaky-looking creatures with all manner of flayed flesh and painful piercings. Their mere presence and supernatural ability to grab victims by chains and hooks is scary, but an actual reason for why they keep procuring more targets is lacking.

The story is hit-and-miss, with the main group alternating between heroic, stupid, or heroically stupid decision-making. Riley seems to be a person who’s unreliable at best, yet person after person tries to intervene on her behalf, a loyalty that is left unexplored in the film. While the way Riley and the others eventually fight back against the Cenobites makes sense, the scenes featuring those fights are uninspiring.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the one that is explored the least. A mysterious man named Voight (Goran Visnjic) is introduced in the opening sequence, reappearing in the film’s final act. He has a particular connection to the puzzle box and Cenobites that makes him half villain/half victim, one which could have been fleshed out a bit more to make him less one-dimensional.

A’zion, who kind of looks like Alia Shawkat, makes for an unusual protagonist. She’s not that expressive, so the audience really has to dig deep to empathize with her character. The other members of the group are also generic, never bringing anything that makes you want to care about them more. The actors playing the Cenobites are good, although the makeup does half the job for them.

This reboot of Hellraiser is the classic example of style over substance. Much effort was made into making the film look as good as possible, but the story fails on multiple levels, making all of those visuals in service of very little.

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Hellraiser debuts exclusively on Hulu on October 7.

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Zac Efron finds out war is hell in The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Movie review

Longtime comedy writer/director Peter Farrelly duped a lot of people – though not this critic – with his first attempt at drama, 2018’s Green Book, for which he won Oscars for both Best Original Screenplay and, astoundingly, Best Picture. His follow-up film, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, is another film based on little-known history, with much stronger results.

Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron) is kind of a ne’er-do-well in a 1967 Manhattan neighborhood, living at home and going down to his local bar on a daily basis to drink with his friends. There, he, his friends, and bar owner Doc Fiddler (Bill Murray) commiserate over the fate of the local men who are getting injured or dying in the Vietnam War. Though they hate what the men face, they mostly agree that the soldiers are doing their patriotic duty.

On a drunken whim, Chickie – who has job as a merchant mariner – says he’s going to pay tribute to their friends by bringing them beer from back home. By hook or by crook, he actually manages to get over to Vietnam on a supply ship. But what starts out as a fun lark for the genial Chickie turns into an education about what war is actually like, how his friends are handling their deployments, and that governments may not be always telling the truth.

Co-written with Farrelly by Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones, the film is a tale of two halves. The first 45 minutes or so is pretty goofy, as it sets up the story by showing the growing divide about the war, a serious topic that’s undercut by almost every character utilizing an over-the-top New York accent. Chickie’s apparent lack of concern about heading into a war zone also rubs the wrong way.

But the film’s shift in tone once he gets to Vietnam is a welcome one, and helps to make sense of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish in the beginning of the movie. As Chickie tries to track down the various guys from his neighborhood, his eyes are opened about the experience on the ground in a war. Chickie traveling in plain clothes gets him mistaken for a CIA agent, a falsehood he willingly goes along with until an encounter with a real CIA agent pulls the wool off his eyes once and for all.

Farrelly appears to have matured as a filmmaker in the past four years. While he went for overly simplistic conflict and just as facile resolution in Green Book, he gets down and dirty in this film. He and his co-writers don’t pay lip service to the bad parts of war; they put Chickie right there in the middle of it all, witnessing atrocities firsthand. He’s not a soldier, so they don’t try to overplay their hand, but they give the film just enough intensity that the changes he experiences don’t feel tossed off.

Of course, the film is “based on a true story,” so you know liberties were taken – would the number of beers he brought really last? – but they do an effective job of making eye-rolling moments relatively believable. Chickie’s interactions with his soldier friends have a good arc to them, as do his run-ins with in-country reporters like Coates (Russell Crowe). A late film sequence that finds the two of them running around Saigon while the city is under siege is one of the best the film has to offer.

Efron, save perhaps for his turn as Ted Bundy in a Netflix film, has never been known for his dramatic chops. This role gives him the best of both worlds, allowing him to let loose and dig deep in equal measures, and he makes the most of it. Relative unknowns play his various friends, with the ones playing soldiers coming off the best. Murray and Crowe provide contrasting color to the film, and each is effective in their small amount of screentime.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a nice step up for Farrelly and proof that there are still interesting ways to demonstrate that war is hell. The funny premise behind the film belies the seriousness with which it treats the larger issue at hand, a bait-and-switch that gives the story a gravitas you might not expect.

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The Greatest Beer Run Ever is now playing in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Zac Efron in The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Photo by Nicole Revelli/Universal Pictures

Groundbreaking gay rom com Bros puts successful new spin on classic genre

movie review

Romantic comedies are a genre that don’t get a lot of play in the movie industry these days. Yes, they occasionally still get made, but they mostly exist in the slapdash world of straight-to-streaming movies, with the quality of the films varying wildly. So if a romantic comedy were to succeed as an in-theater experience in modern times, it only makes sense that it offers something completely new.

Bros definitely fits that bill as the first mainstream rom-com released in theaters to feature two gay men as its leads. Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner) is a perpetually single New Yorker who fills his days as a podcaster and heading up the effort to open the first national LGBTQ+ history museum. His “romantic” life mostly consists of the occasional unsatisfying hook-up via the app Grindr.

Bobby is actually okay with his lack of a dating life until he meets Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane) at a club. The two kinda-sorta hit it off, but Bobby’s standoffishness, Aaron’s social shyness, and their joint commitment problems keep them from going full-bore. Slowly but surely, they break down each other’s boundaries, although they still have to contend with a culture that seems to view monogamy as something to be avoided at all costs.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Eichner and Stoller, the film is packed full of jokes from the gay perspective, something that has been all-but-absent in mainstream movie history. Unless you happen to be homophobic, the jokes are fantastic from beginning to end, offering up ideas that wouldn’t work coming from a straight character, but are extremely hilarious coming from gay characters.

Billy Eichner in Bros Billy Eichner in Bros Photo by Nicole Revelli/Universal Pictures

The slyness of much of the humor is what makes it truly stand out. The norm of straight people playing gay people in movies is brought up on multiple occasions, and there’s a great joke in the final minutes of the film that addresses it head on. Movies made by the “Hallheart” channel are a running joke in the film, something that is extra funny since Macfarlane has starred in multiple Hallmark romances as a straight character, including another one coming out this holiday season.

It’s clear that Eichner, the driving force behind the film, has a lot of love for the classic New York rom-coms, as there are multiple references to movies like When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, and others. Music and iconic locations from those films are featured throughout, although in ways that gently send them up or give a twist unique to this story.

The most revolutionary aspect of the R-rated film is how unafraid the filmmakers are of showing intimacy and sex between men. Most previous films with gay characters would only allow them a chaste kiss or intimation of sex. Bros treats gay sex as the normal thing it is, with the scenes between Bobby and Aaron (and, yes, sometimes other men) as hot and heavy as any heterosexual coupling you’ve seen before.

Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in Bros Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in Bros Photo by Nicole Revelli/Universal Pictures

Eichner, as anyone who’s watched his Billy on the Street YouTube videos can tell, is a force to be reckoned with comedically. He’s not your typical leading man (something he brings up multiple times in the film), but that’s a big part of what makes him so funny. It’s no accident they cast Macfarlane as Bobby’s romantic interest, as he checks all the boxes in the looks department. His acting skills aren’t always on the level of Eichner, but they don’t hurt the film in any measurable way.

Bros is one of the best romantic comedies – and comedies, period – to come out in a long time. It’s taken much too long for a film like this to be presented to the general public, and now that it’s happened, many more are sure to follow.

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Bros opens in theaters on September 30.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Onscreen intrigue in Don't Worry Darling blunts off-screen drama

Movie Review

Opportunities for female directors have only been growing in recent years, a development that’s taken too long to happen. One of the beneficiaries of this sea change is Olivia Wilde, who made her directorial debut with 2019’s well-received Booksmart. Now she’s back with her highly-anticipated (for an assortment of reasons) sophomore film, Don’t Worry Darling.

The film stars Florence Pugh as Alice Chambers, who lives in a utopian small desert town with her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), who works for a company called Victory. The town has all the trappings of an idyllic version of the 1950s, from the style of the houses to the cars to the way the wives dote on their husbands. But right away it’s clear there’s something off about the town, especially since everyone seems to hold up the company’s leader, Frank (Chris Pine), as some kind of infallible person.

Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll in Don't Worry Darling Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll in Don't Worry Darling Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Alice starts to sense the cracks in town’s veneer, and gradually tests the boundaries that everyone else adheres to faithfully. Her suspicions only deepen when another wife disappears, and anyone with whom she chooses to confide gaslights her into thinking that she’s losing her mind. Trying to figure out what’s real or not drives her to do many things that threaten the whole town’s way of life.

Collaborating once again with Booksmart writer Katie Silberman, Wilde creates a mysterious and tension-filled film that is about as far away from the revelry of her previous film as you could get. There are times when the story starts to become too enigmatic for its own good, but Wilde seems to know exactly when to add on a new layer to keep viewers interested in where the story will take them next.

Wilde and Silberman also continue to explore gender politics through this well-told allegory. The actions of Alice and the other women (which include Wilde, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Kate Berlant, and others) come off as Stepford Wives-ish, but they also act in ways inconsistent with people who have been brainwashed. When secrets finally start to be revealed, the story takes on a deeper meaning of male insecurity and female empowerment.

Chris Pine in Don't Worry Darling Chris Pine in Don't Worry Darling Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The behind-the-scenes technical team greatly aids in the mood of the film. The production design by Katie Byron is impeccable, and it and the desert landscape are shot extremely well by cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Especially standing out is the score by John Powell, who utilizes unconventional sounds and voices to create music that elevates every scene to which it’s attached.

Pugh has already been a star for several years, and she shows yet again why she’s held in such high esteem. She brings just the right level of angst, confusion, and anger to the evolution of her character, making her compelling throughout. Styles acquits himself well in his biggest role to date, never coming off as just a singer pretending to be an actor. Pine is also great as the creepy-but-charismatic Frank, demonstrating skills that every good cult leader needs.

Don’t Worry Darling holds a lot more than what it shows on the surface, making it a great second film for the talented Wilde. With a proven ability to jump between genres effortlessly, she should be given many more opportunities to tell stories on the big screen.

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Don't Worry Darling opens in theaters on September 23.

Don't Worry Darling | Official Trailer www.youtube.com

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Blonde chronicles the mostly miserable life of Marilyn Monroe

Movie Review

American celebrities are simultaneously some of the most admired people in the world and the most scrutinized, both simply because they are in the public eye a lot. Some people seek that attention and some people thrive in it once they get it, but there are others for whom fame is toxic, something that makes their life immeasurably worse.

The new epic-length Netflix film Blonde is far from the first time that it’s been said that Marilyn Monroe was exploited in her relatively short life and career, but it does seem to revel in that misery more than most. Close to a cradle-to-grave story, the film follows Norma Jeane Baker (Ana de Armas) from her traumatic childhood with a mentally unstable mother (Julianne Nicholson), to burgeoning stardom full of lascivious studio heads and producers, to icon status as Marilyn Monroe, featuring marriages to Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), as well as one very high-profile affair.

Bobby Cannavale and Ana de Armas in Blonde Bobby Cannavale and Ana de Armas in Blonde Photo courtesy of Netflix

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the film is among the most depressing movies about a celebrity one could imagine. Dominik, adapting his story from the 2000 fiction novel by Joyce Carol Oates, seems to posit that Norma Jeane/Marilyn’s life had close to zero happiness in it, and even when she did experience fleeting moments of joy, they were tinged by other people taking advantage of her or expecting something more from her than she could give.

More than anything else, it depicts Marilyn as someone forever scarred by her childhood and unable to adequately function on her own as an adult. Every man who comes into her life is looked at by her as some sort of replacement for her absent father, especially DiMaggio and Miller, both of whom she literally calls “Daddy.” If there’s a moment where she felt some sort of power or control over her own life, it’s not depicted in the film.

The film is striking visually because Dominik constantly shifts between video aspect ratios and going back-and-forth from color to black-and-white. The visual choices are likely not as haphazard as they can seem, but there are only a few instances where an aspect ratio or color choice makes an impact on the actual story.

Also notable is the fact that it's rated NC-17, a rarity for any film released in the U.S. There is a good amount of nudity, but the rating likely stems from one highly suggestive sex scene that seems to explicitly depict an act that it doesn’t actually show. It’s difficult to reconcile the way Norma Jeane/Marilyn is treated by the other characters in the film and how the film seems to linger on her nakedness and vulnerability; the exploitation can often seem equal.

Adrien Brody and Ana de Armas in Blonde Adrien Brody and Ana de Armas in Blonde Photo courtesy of Netflix

For all of the discomfort the film causes, de Armas’ performance is fantastic. She embodies Marilyn in many ways, but it’s the eyes – the way she makes them big and darts them back and forth, as if unsure of herself – where she fully becomes her. At no point does the fact that de Armas is of Cuban/Spanish heritage detract from her depiction, helped by her portrayal and the cinematography.

Blonde can often be difficult to watch, both for the material it contains and because it has a nearly three-hour running time. It may or may not add to the mythos of Marilyn Monroe, but it has found an actor in de Armas who knows exactly how to bring her life one more time.

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Blonde opens at Santikos Palladium on September 23. It debuts on Netflix on September 28.

Photo courtesy of the Moody College of Communication

Matthew McConaughey film about Texas girls soccer team abruptly sidelined

Movie news

A new film starring Matthew McConaughey as the coach of an inspirational girls soccer team from Texas has been sidelined just six weeks before production.

According to Deadline, Skydance Productions canceled Dallas Sting due to "an impropriety that Skydance and producers were aware of."

The Hollywood Reporter specifies that "Skydance and the producers received disturbing allegations surrounding aspects of the true story on which the drama was based."

McConaughey is also out, according to both news outlets.

He was set to star as Bill Kinder, the coach of a team of Dallas-area high school students who, in 1984, traveled to China and beat teams from China, Italy, and Australia. Kinder had no prior coaching experience at the time. The team made history in the 1980s as the first American soccer team to win a major international tournament, and the film reportedly was to be set against the historical backdrop of the United States' foreign relations efforts with China.

Actress Kaitlyn Dever had signed on to play McConaughey's daughter.

Production was set to begin in October in New Orleans.

As Deadline writer Mike Fleming, Jr. writes,

This had the making of a truly inspiring sports film, and I understand that the Skydance production chiefs and the producers are heartbroken to let this one go. But the tight timeline and the allegations left them little choice. Kari Skogland was set to direct the film developed by Skydance and Berlanti Schechter Productions. Skydance was financing. Apple, which has an overall deal with Skydance, had a first look at the film, but it is unclear if any commitment was made by the streamer.

Full details of the allegations that Skydance found had not been revealed as of September 15, but, Deadline says, they were serious enough to get them to pull out of the movie.

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11 must-see artists at ACL Fest 2022 — from Texas and beyond

Music Notes

It’s game time for two weekends of good times by way of Austin City Limits Music Festival. Since you certainly already have a must-see list comprised of the bigger artists on the lineup, here’s some choice acts — from Austin and beyond.

Must-see acts from Austin

Spoon
No one really needs to be told to see one of Austin's best bands of all-time. However, just in case you were thinking about skipping them, be sure to note that their 2022 release, Lucifer on the Sofa, plays great in a live setting. You can see them both weekends of the fest on Saturday at 4pm on the Honda stage.

Adrian Quesada’s Boleros Psicodélicos
Adrian Quesada (of Black Pumas) recently put out a solo album, Boleros Psicodélicos, and you’ll be able to check out all of its Latin America-inspired psych ballads during weekend one of ACL. Catch his set on Saturday, October 8, at 2:15 pm on the Honda stage.

Darkbird
Vet rockers Darkbird were supposed to play ACL in 2021, but a weather delay nixed their set. Expect the band, which is fronted by the always-spirted Kelly Barnes, to take full advantage of the do-over. Their only appearance at the fest will be Sunday, October 9 at 1:15 pm on the BMI stage.

Eric Tessmer
After a couple decades of dutiful shredding around Austin, guitar great Eric Tessmer has finally found his way onto an ACL lineup. His sure-to-be explosive turn at the fest is a weekend one only experience – see it on Sunday, October 9, at 5 pm on the BMI stage.

Good Looks
Indie rock act Good Looks are responsible for Bummer Year, one of the better albums to come out of Austin in 2022, so of course you should have them on your ACL radar. Catch this weekend two-only band on Saturday, October 15, at 1pm on the Tito’s stage.

Urban Heat
Get your new wave/post punk fix via Urban Heat during weekend two of ACL. The buzzy act, who recently put out an EP titled Wellness, will perform on Sunday, October 16 at 3 pm on the BMI stage.

Other must-see acts

Muna
LA’s own Muna, who are signed to Phoebe Bridgers' Saddest Factory imprint, head into ACL on a wave of acclaim for their 2022 self-titled album. The pop act has just a weekend one set on Sunday, October 9, at 3 pm on the Barton Springs stage.

Dehd
Dehd’s Blue Skies is loaded with some of the catchiest indie rock tracks you’ll find on any album in 2022, and that’s reason enough to catch them at ACL. The Chicagoans play both weekends – look for them each Sunday at 1:15 pm on the T-Mobile stage.

Magdalena Bay
Synthpop act Magdalena Bay recently dropped a deluxe edition of their hit 2021 album, Mercurial World, and now they’ll put it on display at ACL. Catch the LA-based act both weekends of the fest on Sunday at 4 pm on the Tito’s stage.

Wet Leg
Wet Leg had quite a bit of buzz heading into this year’s SXSW and the fervor surrounding the British indie rockers has only increased with the release of their self-titled debut album, which includes the infectious single “Chaise Longue.” The band is a weekend two-only play, and their set is Friday, October 14 at 2:30 pm on the Honda stage.

Faye Webster
The dreamy, gentle sounds of singer/songwriter Faye Webster will be a treat in the middle of the afternoon at Zilker Park. Be sure to catch the Atlanta-based artist during her weekend two-only appearance on Sunday, October 16 at 3 pm on the Barton Springs stage. By the way, don’t be surprised if Webster and her bandmates engage in some sweet yo-yo action.

Here are the top 5 things to do in San Antonio this weekend

Weekend Event Planner

Spooky sights and outdoor nights await in the days to come. Feel the thrill at the return of Fright Fest at Six Flags Fiesta Texas or celebrate all things fluttery at the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival. Check out the top five things to do in San Antonio this weekend. For a full listing of events, go to our calendar.

Thursday, October 6

Gruene Music & Wine Festival
Get outside of town and enjoy a culmination of music, food, drinks, and more at Gruene Hall. Gruene Music & Wine Festival attendees can enjoy four separate events over the course of four days, each uniquely tailored to Texas-inspired interests. Highlights include a curated tasting of Texas wine and beer and a private performance with Pat Green. Visit the festival website for a full schedule of events and to get ticketing information. Programming is scheduled through October 9.

Friday, October 7

Six Flags Fiesta Texas presents Fright Fest
Fright Fest is back at Six Flags Fiesta Texas with spooky, family-friendly daytime activities and chilling attractions when the sun goes down. Freaky festivities include haunted houses, scare zones, live shows, and seasonal updates to some of the park’s most popular rides. Fright Fest is open through October 31.

Bonnie Raitt in concert
Blues-singing songstress Bonnie Raitt comes to San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre for one night only. The “Love Letter” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” star is returning to the tour circuit in support of her new album, Just Like That... Raitt will be joined by special guest Marc Cohn. Get ticketing information here.

Saturday, October 8

Texas Butterfly Ranch presents 7th Annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival
Celebrate one of nature’s most graceful and captivating creations at Brackenridge Park Pavilion. This year’s Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival is a month-long series of events including monarch tagging demos, waggle dancing, the forever journey altar, educational booths, and the traditional People for Pollinators Procession. Admission to the festival is free and open to the public. For a full schedule of events, go the festival website.

Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias: Back On Tour
Actor and comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias brings fresh material and guaranteed laughs to the AT&T Center. Iglesias is one of the most-watched comedians on YouTube and has had roles in films like Magic Mike, Magic Mike XXL, and A Haunted House 2. Visit the ticketing website for show information and to reserve your seats.

Monarch Butterfly Festival flies into San Antonio's Brackenridge Park this weekend

One of San Antonio's favorite parks is teaming up with the Texas Butterfly Ranch to host a colorful celebration of native Texas butterflies this weekend. Taking place between 10 am and 2 pm in the Pecan Grove at Brackenridge Park on Saturday, October 8, the 2022 Monarch Butterfly & Pollinator Festival is a free, family-friendly event worth putting on your calendar.

The event is part of a month-long celebration of the beautiful pollinators, and the day's activities will include a People for Pollinators Parade, a monarch butterfly migration obstacle course for kids, butterfly tagging, live bee hive demonstrations, and more.

Hosted as a partnership between the Brackenridge Park Conservancy and the Texas Butterfly Ranch, the event brings together more than 20 community partners to educate the community on the importance of the monarch butterfly and other pollinators.

Activities will start at 10 am with the caterpillar train. Launching from the train depot in the park, the beloved San Antonio Zoo train has been transformed to resemble a monarch butterfly caterpillar with the assistance of local landscape architecture firm MP Studios. The five-car train — costumed in distinctive black, yellow ,and white stripes with a set of antennae-like protuberances on either end — will be available for rides during the festival, as well as the month of October.

According to a release, additional activations will include:

  • Monarch butterfly tagging with trained docents.
  • Forever Journey, a program that tags butterflies in honor of deceased loved ones.
  • Monarch migration obstacle course organized by Blooming with Birdie.
  • Butterfly bike rides with the Austin Bike Zoo.
  • A birding tour of the park.
  • Adoption events for hundreds of trees provided by the San Antonio Parks Department and pollinator-friendly native plants made available by SAWS.

To learn more about festival day offerings, check the Texas Butterfly Ranch webpage.