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Blade Runner 2049
2017 . Science Fiction, Drama

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A gorgeously bleak environment that takes you through lonely apocalyptia and the a dredge of futurism. So, yea, not exactly a joyride. For many, this will be a slog. But I just can’t get enough of the visuals. It sets a mood and pulls you slowly through it, hitting bumps of “wait, what” plot points and “oh, snap” revelations. It does justice to the original Blade Runner, and preserves that same feel. Not a sequal, but it incorporates its predecessor extremely well. The most similar experience I can remember was Interstellar - a blend of captivating visuals, stunning environments, and a plot that bounces through unpredictable twists and encounters that take some thought. But it requires patience and focus to get there, and “there” is a wonderfully woeful space.
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Another Round
2020 . Comedy, Drama

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The premise is, well, silly, and the plot isn’t as linear as some traditional films are. But where it thrives is through punch drunk characters struggling with ennui, a lack of purpose, and reconciling the gaps between their modern accountabilities and their fading sense of youthful excitement. Worth the accolades, and worth taking a few minutes to think about as the credits roll.
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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
2021 . Action, Adventure, Fantasy

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A solid Marvel origin story with more cultural depth than most. Has all the ostentatious fight scenes and cheeseball one-liners you would expect, but dips it’s toes into interpersonal family dynamics and the struggle of identity from the land you left behind. The Kung fu, dragons, and mysticisms are either wonderful cultural acknowledgments or lazy tropes, depending on your perspective. But definitely nice to see a big-budget action movie push representation forward, and it doesn’t feel forced at all. To the extent there are criticisms, the plot is a little spotty at times, and the ending is choked up in a whole lot of CGI. But, overall, a great one that fits nicely as a standalone movie while putting forward an interesting angle in the Marvel universe.
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Sweet Tooth

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A pandemic-fueled apocalypse sets the background for, uh, hipster twee music and a lovable kid on an adventure quest, running through plains and hills with Mumford and Sons in the background. A lot to like here, but it does make you play the waiting game a bit too long. It’s based on a comic, so some of the characters are a bit over the top. At its best moments, it’s sappy, suspenseful, and unique. At its worst, it’s meandering and corny, and struggles to bring together three story arcs. Won’t be for everyone (I mean, the kid has antlers, so take that as a point of reference). But it is ambitious, heartwarming, and beautifully shot, even if it is imperfect at pulling it all together.
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The Committed
2021 . Viet Thanh Nguyen

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A true sequal to The Sympathizer, which won Nguyen a Pulitzer Prize in 2015, The Committed extends a storyline that blends issues of meta-identity, colonization, and adaptation into Paris. The actual plot of the novel is driven forward by a suspenseful (if not parodic) story of drug dealing rivals, sexual misfires, and a protagonist still struggling with what his allegiances are to his family, friends, ethnicity, and the west. It has its dark moments and doesn’t shy from torture or sex. Not quite a page-turner, but more than a few chapters will keep you guessing. Still, the plot doesn’t take the lead here. Most of the novel is spent with internal self discussion of the “two minds” the protagonist experiences, one a communist loyalist spy from Vietnam another that has been separated from it by trauma and dislocation. Nguyen goes heavy into philosophy, and the name-dropping and quotes get tired fast. On top of that, the book is saturated with a naval-gazing author, who is often more inert than in motion. Ultimately, it’s like reading a journal (referred to as a “confession”), so don’t expect this to be as much of a story as it is a wandering narrative of self-loss and self-exploration. Requires some patience and some thought, but a compelling read that does The Sympathizer justice.
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Amy's Ice Creams
Austin . Ice Cream

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Skip Jeni’s or the other non-Austin ice cream joints and get the one that is born and bred Austin. Laid back, with creative flavors, great ingredients, and good vibes. Can’t go wrong with the classics, but feel free to get a little bold (Shiner Bock beer flavor, anyone?).
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Luca
2021 . Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy

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One of the more “meh” Pixar offerings, while still charming and watchable, not particularly memorable.
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Gadabout
Chicago

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Good Morning, Vietnam
1987 . Comedy, Drama, War

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Basically two hours of a Robin Williams comedy act, but set in a radio booth in Vietnam. Some real memorable one-liners and Williams is on full display. It tries to have some overarching depth on the cost and complexities of war, but doesn’t quite get there, and seems sort of lost between whether it’s trying to be a comedy or trying to be a war drama.
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Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
2021 . Documentary, Music

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For anyone that survived the dark era of TRL Live, rap-rock, track pants, and frosted-tip boy bands, this is as much a retrospective of the era as it is a revisiting to Woodstock. Captivating snapshot of a music festival that became synonymous with the worst cultural elements of the “break stuff” nu-metal music scene. The documentary puts on full display misguided youth aggression being rallied to a breaking point. At times, there’s a little too much armchair psychology about what generational moments led to Woodstock 99, and they try to fit in a few too many nods to social commentary (not sure if boomer-blaming and comments on white privilege really fit in too well). Still, the footage is amazing and the personal anecdotes are gripping if not harrowing.
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Left Coast - River North
Chicago . Fast Food, Salad

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This place may have closed? If not, it should be.
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OneTaco Taquería @ Frost Tower
Austin

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Nothing really special here. Average-but-dense tacos at average prices. It’s more of a grab-and-go spot, although they do have a couple of outside tables. Leans more towards authenticity than kitsch “hip” places like Torchy’s, but you can still expect some out-of-the-box offerings (a pancake taco, anyone?). The salsas aren’t particularly memorable and there’s something sort of bland about the eggs, but it still works in a pinch.
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