Photo by Dario on Unsplash

Visitors to San Antonio now have an easy and environmentally friendly way to get around. UFO Drive, a rental company with an all-electric fleet, has "landed" in Alamo City, according to a release, and is ready to beam renters up — as long as they give 48-hour notice.

Cars can be picked up from the San Antonio International Airport "or anywhere within the TX Loop 410," made easy by a remote process that walks users through the pickup process on their phones. The service is completely contactless, which comes in handy for travelers who don't want to wait in lines, hear long spiels, or visit during office hours.

The down side, as detailed in this overall favorable review of an Austin-to-Houston trip, is really up to the user: Can you pay attention to the how-to emails, or do you need someone there to show you the ropes?

The following has been reproduced from CultureMap Austin, as published on February 1, 2023.

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

Yelp supports local LGBTQ-owned businesses with new search tool


Happy Pride Month, San Antonio! If you’re in search of a way to get in the spirit by supporting local LGBTQ+-owned businesses, Yelp is eager to help.

The crowd-sourced review site recently unveiled its newest attribute, which highlights local LGBTQ+-owned businesses. Additionally, restaurants and nightlife establishments that identify as LGBTQ+-owned or have an Open to All designation will be noted on Yelp with rainbow-colored map pins throughout the month of June.

In the San Antonio area, Yelp points to No. 9, a florist and chocolate shop, and Cereal Killer Sweets, which had already indicated in their Yelp profiles that they are LGBTQ-owned.

The Pride addition was brought about after Yelp noticed a significant increase in consumers searching for LGBTQ+ businesses in their local communities, noting that the site experienced a 150 percent increase in such searches in April 2021 compared with the same time last year.

“That’s why we’re excited to make it easier than ever for people to discover and support LGBTQ+ business owners, as well as allies to the LGBTQ+ community,” says a Yelp blog post announcing the new attribute.

Consumers can check out the LGBTQ-owned attribute in the Yelp mobile app under a business’ “more info” section, as well as on Yelp’s website in the “amenities and more” section of a business page.

The new Yelp map pins can be found by directly searching for LGBTQ-owned and Open to All businesses or restaurants, and through the home page on the Yelp mobile app, as well as online by clicking the banner on the Yelp search page.

The new attribute, which is free for businesses to add, is opt-in only, giving local businesses the ability to self-identify LGBTQ-owned. And in a supportive move of its own, Yelp says it will proactively monitor pages for hate speech and remove any hateful, racist, or harmful content that violates its content guidelines.

Additionally, the Open to All program, an initiative of the Movement Advancement Project that launched in 2018, partnered with Yelp to help get the word out about area businesses that have pledged to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Currently, there are more than 581,000 businesses that have indicated on Yelp that they are Open to All.

The Pride additions augment Yelp’s long-held dedication to lift up underrepresented communities. In 2017, the company launched its Gender-neutral Restroom business attribute, with more than 426,000 businesses currently indicating they offer gender-neutral restrooms. And in 2019, Yelp joined the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act and this year signed HRC’s Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation.

“To continue our support of the LGTBQ+ community, we are thrilled to launch a new attribute for LGBTQ-owned businesses, as well as a new map experience exclusively for the month of June. We hope this new attribute makes it easier to find and spend money with LGBTQ-owned businesses,” says Miriam Warren, chief diversity officer at Yelp. “For the first time, we’re also introducing rainbow map pins to our platform. Our intention is to help users discover inclusive and welcoming businesses to celebrate during Pride.”

Photo courtesy of Neon

Timely documentary Totally Under Control indicts U.S. response to COVID-19

Movie Review

Most documentaries take years to make, as filmmakers follow their subjects trying to piece together a specific story or, as is often the case, find the story as filming goes along. Totally Under Control is a wholly different experience, as it’s an of-the-moment retelling of how the Trump administration handled the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, something that is evolving even as we speak.

Directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side); Ophelia Harutyunyan; and Suzanne Hillinger, the film uses contemporary reporting on the pandemic along with a series of carefully orchestrated, socially-distant interviews with experts and Trump administration insiders. Among them are Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services under Barack Obama; Taison Bell, a frontline doctor; Dr. Rick Bright, a vaccine expert under Trump who became a whistleblower; and Max Kennedy, who volunteered to try to secure needed personal protective equipment under the leadership of presidential advisor Jared Kushner.

The thesis of the film — that President Trump and his administration have bungled nearly every opportunity to minimize the impact of the pandemic on the United States — should be clear to anyone who’s paid attention to the news in 2020. But even those who think they know the depth of the administration’s mistakes will still feel the impact of all of them laid bare in the no-nonsense manner demonstrated in the film.

The above interviewees have some of the most damning testimony, especially since two of them — Bright and Kennedy — were in the position to help directly, and wound up shocked and dismayed at the ineptitude of those supposedly in charge. Each bore witness to moments where their supervisors and others made decisions that either did little to help the American public, or worse, actively put them at risk merely because doing the right thing would be admitting they did something wrong.

The filmmakers also go to great pains to compare the U.S. response to that of South Korea, as both countries recorded their first COVID-19 cases on the same day. While the U.S. took its time ramping up testing and employing any other widespread preventative measures, the South Koreans moved quickly to identify cases, trace the contacts of those infected, and isolate people accordingly. After an early spike, South Korea has rarely exceeded more than 100 confirmed cases per day, whereas the U.S. hasn’t gone below 25,000 cases per day since mid-June.

The speed in which the film was made does have its limitations, though. Although it includes some recent revelations, including Trump’s interview with Bob Woodward in which he admits he knew more than he revealed to the public, the bulk of the film details moments in the first four months of the year. This obviously leaves out any number of things that transpired in the past five months, something which future films will be able to use to their advantage.

The stream of talking heads also makes for somewhat dull viewing. Although they each have some interesting tidbits to add, none of what they reveal is in any way shocking because the news of the pandemic has been the focus of all of 2020. What they have to say just reinforces everything we’ve learned this year, and none of it is good.

Totally Under Control is yet another indictment of the Trump administration in a year that has been full of them. Only time will tell if it’s a film that helped shed light on all that has gone wrong, or if it will be swept to the side in our never-ending chaotic news cycle.


Totally Under Control is now available via VOD options like Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, VUDU, GooglePlay, and FandangoNow. It will premiere on Hulu on October 20.

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Sweet Los Angeles salad chain plants first San Antonio store


One of America's buzziest fast-casual brands has found its way to San Antonio. Sweetgreen, a Los Angeles-based chain known for locally sourced bowls and a contemporary brand identity, debuts at Quarry Village on June 6.

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 2006, the chain has become one of the U.S.'s fastest-growing concepts by reimagining fast food. Its menu focuses on gourmet grain bowls and salads augmented with healthier drinks and desserts.

Highlights include a spring asparagus salad overflowing with green vegetables and za'atar breadcrumbs, the warm Shroomami bowl with roasted sesame tofu and portobello, and a protein-packed green goddess salad with black lentils and chickpeas.

With a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2027, Sweetgreen commits itself to sustainable construction, a plant-heavy menu, and local sourcing when possible. The San Antonio newcomer works with local farms when possible, like Rio Fresh Farm, Fredericksburg Peach Co., Kitchen Pride, Village Farms, Bowers Shrimp Farm, and Banyan Foods.

That community commitment extends to working with locally serving nonprofits. For every meal sold on opening day, the restaurant will donate a meal to Brighter Bites, a national organization delivering fresh produce to underserved elementary school families.

Sweetgreen will also be bringing some opening day fun. The first 50 guests will receive a mystery box from Austin-based brand Kendra Scott, and the first 100 guests will receive a free print from local artist Maya Sokovic. Diners will also enjoy gelato and coffee from Paciugo and a live set from San Antonio deejay Alyson Alonzo.

San Antonio is a city with so much history, with a vibrant food and dining scene to match, and we couldn't be more excited to be joining the community," said Sweetgreen cofounder and CEO Jonathan Neman via a release. "We look forward to continuing our commitment of connecting residents in Texas to real, healthy, convenient food."

Once opened at 340 East Basse Rd. #101, Sweetgreen will have daily hours of 10:30 am- 9 pm.

Sweetgreen San Antonio

Photo courtesy of Sweetgreen.

Sweetgreen greets visitos with a fresh, clean aesthetic.

Controversial comedian Dave Chappelle plots out 4 Texas arena shows, including San Antonio

Chappelle's Show(s)

Comedian/actor Dave Chappelle will soon bring his "Dave Chappelle Live" stand-up comedy show to arenas in four cities in Texas, including the AT&T Center in San Antonio on July 12

Other dates include the American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 29, the Toyota Center in Houston on July 1, and the Moody Center in Austin on July 14.

Chappelle is a complicated figure who's been celebrated for his trailblazing comedy and vilified for his controversial stances. Chappelle's Show, which ran from 2003 to 2006 on Comedy Central, was widely praised, and Chappelle remained extremely popular despite the abrupt end of the show and him choosing to recede from the spotlight in the following decade.

His re-emergence in the late 2010s brought success in the form of three straight Grammy wins for Best Comedy Album, but also continued jokes aimed at transgender people. He has been the subject of multiple protests over that material, and has even had a show canceled by a venue in Minneapolis after receiving criticism for hosting him.

As if to underscore the contentious nature of his comedy, no cellphones, cameras, or recording devices will be allowed at any of the four shows. All phones and smart watches will be secured in special pouches that can be unlocked at the end of the show. Anyone caught with a cellphone in the venue will be immediately ejected.

Tickets for the four shows will go on sale at 5 pm on June 5 at ticketmaster.com.

Endless creativity of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse keeps superhero story in overdrive

Movie Review

The blast of pure fun that was 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse accomplished several goals, but none more important than reclaiming the character from being part of just the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By not participating in the never-ending connecting stories of the MCU, the filmmakers could do whatever they wanted, first and foremost using Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) instead of Peter Parker as its main character.

It was also at the forefront of multiversal storytelling that has become the rage in the MCU and elsewhere. Given the multitude of Spider characters that have existed in the comics over the years, it was uniquely suited to telling a story with people from multiple universes. That concept is taken to the nth degree with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, a film that has seemingly limitless levels of creativity.

Miles, having separated from Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), and other Spider-people at the end of the first film, is doing well as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, casually protecting people from threats big and small. But when a highly unusual villain named The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) proves especially tricky, a series of events has Miles follow Gwen into a portal where he encounters every other Spider character in existence.

Lest you think that’s hyperbole, among the people he meets are Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), Hobie Brown/Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider (Andy Samberg), and Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Revelations made while meeting all of them lead Miles to a whole new understanding of himself and the multiverse in general, with far-reaching consequences.

The filmmakers, once again led by writers/producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, fill the screen with so many visual elements that at times it can be overwhelming, but in the best possible way. Unlike most animated films, there are multiple different styles employed throughout, and never knowing what to expect gives the film a kineticism that borders on manic, although it always stops short of being incomprehensible.

The storytelling is much more complex this time around, no surprise since it involves so many more characters. But the personal stories of each of the Spider characters, especially Miles and Gwen, maintain a grounded nature that keeps the plot anchored even while delving into increasingly fantastical territory.

Although this film deals with some darker themes, there is still plenty of humor to be had. The intersection of so many Spider characters highlights their differences, and the way they interact can’t help but be entertaining. Miles is still a 15-year-old kid, and the way he navigates the world(s) has a lightness to it that is a sharp contrast to the various adults in his life.

Moore, who’s not as well-known as some of his co-stars, has proven to be the perfect voice for Miles, making him relatable and powerful at the same time. Everyone else gives similarly great performances, although the fact that many of them are famous for their non-voicework doesn’t really play a factor in how well they come across here.

A third film, Beyond the Spider-Verse, is teased with a cliffhanger, and unlike other franchises where multiple films are unnecessary, there are no such reservations here. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse equals the success of the first film, and there is no doubt that the filmmakers will bring the same level of attention to detail to the end of the trilogy.


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now running in theaters.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.