Is your ice cream faking it?

imagesJuly 30, 2014 – While grocery shopping recently, I overheard one shopper say to another, “The words ice cream aren’t even on the label.”

I turned to see a man holding a container of Breyers Butter Almond examining the packaging.

A look inside the freezer not only told me he was right, but many flavors across all brands had been labeled as frozen dairy desserts, as well. It was difficult to find actual ice cream.

When did this happen? Sure, I know McDonald’s menus referenced “shakes” and not “milk shakes” because they are made with a shake mix. I also know a lactose intolerant friend not bothered by Dairy Queen products because that isn’t real ice cream, either.

However, I expected more from Breyers, the brand I grew up with that advertised all natural ingredients you could actually pronounce, and who shamed other ice cream companies for using artificial ingredients.  I didn’t realize that in 2006, they became part of exactly what they had advertised against as part of a cost-saving measure. Breyers reformulated many of its flavors with artificial ingredients, and now they no longer contain enough milk and cream to be legally labelled as ice cream. Shame on Breyers for deceptive practices, and shame on me for not being a better consumer.

A bit of research on the topic turned up a recent article that had one mom asking why the Walmart Great Value ice cream sandwich that her son left outside one hot afternoon did not melt. Her question urged the media to conduct a test on Great Value ice cream sandwiches, Klondike Bars, and Haagen Daz ice cream. Can you guess what happened? Only the Haagen Daz, made with natural ingredients, melted. Perhaps we can take little comfort in the fact that the ice cream sandwiches and Klondike bars contain enough milk and cream to be labeled ice cream, but the fact that they don’t melt is unsettling. If unnatural added ingredients prevent those products from melting — and not on purpose — what are they doing to our bodies?

On this next to the last day of July, a month known as National Ice Cream month in the U.S., and not National Frozen Dairy Dessert month, can we make it a point to buy actual ice cream and pass on the artificial stuff? That would send a loud message to the companies trying to trick us into buying their fake products.

Besides, I scream, you scream, we all scream for frozen dairy dessert just doesn’t have the same ring.

Movie reivew: Boyhood

imagesJuly 28, 2014 — It’s unusual to come up with an original idea, especially in the movie industry.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” manages it beautifully, more so than any movie I have seen in years, and experiencing it was a pleasure.

Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, “Boyhood” focuses on a child named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who grows from age six through 18 before the audience’s eyes. It was a unique project for Coltrane and the rest of the talented cast that includes Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater (the director/writer’s daughter), who round off Mason’s family.

Mason’s childhood is difficult, yet compelling, funny, and dramatic, like anyone’s life. He has loving parents, yet they are divorced, and his father is absent for most of Mason’s early years. What is most interesting about Mason, and Coltrane playing the character for his entire boyhood, was the audience got to experience the actor’s personality as well as the characters. It didn’t seem forced like it often does when other actors take over characters as they age.

To watch him and the cast age naturally as they made the film made it more believable. Not too many directors or actors would have patience for such a project. Linklater and crew deserve applause for that, although I did read that Linklater’s daughter grew tired of the project, and suggested that her father kill off her character.

There is no doubt that Coltrane is the star of this vehicle, and he is superb. To watch him in a role that begins as a young boy, journeys through adolescence, and finally becomes a man, has to be the best performance by any child actor that I can remember. Granted, he’s the only actor I know of that handles a role this way. Devoting years to the project, Linklater took a chance with Coltrane, and the others in the cast. His formula: shooting for a few days every year beginning in July 2002, and concluding last fall.

“In America in particular, we tend to ‘go big’ as storytellers,” Linklater says. “In describing it to people, it sounded so inconsequential in the specifics. Sometimes I worried that maybe it wasn’t enough. But I had to stick with that original kind of tone. I bet everything that these intimate moments over a life of 12 years would really add up to something.”

Ethan Hawke, a Linklater regular in the “Before Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight” series, is the perfect choice for the “Dad”. The character seems familiar, because he is realistic. He wants to be a part of his children’s lives, but in the early years, he searches for his own success instead. Patricia Arquette’s “Mom” is also familiar, as we watch her sift through many relationships and struggles as a single mom. She is searching for success, as well, but she also has her children to consider. That is true life. Every broken family may not follow this formula, but many do.

The storyline for “Boyhood” is good on its own merits, but because of its unique premise, it is a must-see film for any cinema lover.

Are Americans conspiracy theorists?

imagesJuly 25, 2014 – A juicy conspiracy theory is intriguing, so it is easy to understand why people can be caught up in them so easily.

We live in a world where our leaders are caught in scandals and lies, and we are fed both good and bad news 24/7. Therefore, if we engage in a good conspiracy theory now and then, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re cynical or crazy. We’re just trying to keep up.

According to the “New York Times”, conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness. That might be true, but it’s more pleasant to believe they feed the side of us that enjoys solving riddles and reading mystery novels. In addition, if the theory is credible, it makes us think from a different perspective. If it is far-fetched, at least it entertains us.

The Rasmussen Report recently conducted a national telephone survey to learn more about how American adults feel about conspiracy theories. Here is what they found:

  • It appears that conspiracy does continue to surround JFK’s assassination. Forty-five percent of American adults reject the theory President Kennedy was assassinated by more than one shooter, but 32% believe that more than one shooter was involved, and the remaining 23% are undecided.
  • Another popular conspiracy theory focuses on 9/11. One-in-four Americans or 25 percent believe the government knew in advance about the terrorist attacks and did nothing to stop them, and only 19% remain unsure. That means the majority of Americans, or 56% believe the 9/11 theory is a lot of hooey.
  • Other findings conclude that 40 percent remain unsure about President Obama’s citizenship, 70 percent believe we landed on the moon, 53 percent believe a UFO may have crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, and 67 percent reject the idea that Princess Diana was killed by the Royal Family.
  • Sadly, only 29 percent think America’s best days still lie ahead, and only 58 percent believe American society is fair and decent. I am not sure that these two polls could qualify as conspiracy theories, but they may prove Americans are skeptics, a trait most conspiracy theorists share.
  • The survey also found that men are more likely to believe conspiracy theories over women, and adults over 40 are more likely to believe theories over younger adults. Surprising? I think so. I expected the opposite on both counts.

Overall, the results prove the majority of Americans are not conspiracy theorists, after all, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a good debate on the issue. One thing is certain. If the world’s events keep up at this pace, conspiracy theories aren’t likely to disappear any time soon.

Movie review: A Long Way Down

a_long_way_downJuly 23, 2014 – I never met a Nick Hornby novel turned film that I did not like.

From “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch”, the two Americanized adaptations of his work with John Cusack and Jimmy Fallon respectively, to “About a Boy”, with Hugh Grant, and “An Education” with Carey Mulligan, both of which stayed true to their British roots, I have enjoyed them all.

“A Long Way Down,” is the latest Hornby novel adapted to film, which also remains true to its British origin. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogene Poots, and Aaron Paul as four lost souls who accidentally meet on New Year’s Eve atop of a high-rise building in London to attempt suicide. Instead of making good on their goal — they want privacy for the big leap — they make a pact to meet again on Valentine’s Day at the same spot to give it another go. It’s only another six weeks, after all, and during that time they form sort of a surrogate family, and the story unfolds.

Suicide is a difficult subject matter for a comedy, no matter how dark you label it. Screenwriter Jack Thorne pulls it off with a good scene now and then, but more often the story falls flat and is predictable.

Even the characters seem cliché, which is a rarity for Hornby. Brosnan plays a former TV journalist who was imprisoned because of a sexual encounter with an underage girl (he believed she was 25). Collette’s character, a single mother of a handicapped son, wants to escape her lonely and routine life, and Poots’ character wants to make the jump because her boyfriend just dumped her. Rounding off the four, Paul, who plays an American musician, wants to escape his brain cancer diagnosis. As the story goes on, we learn that these problems only scratch the surface of each of their situations.

I did not hate the film – there were some nice moments especially between the characters played by Poots and Paul – but I did not like it as much as I expected. It is easily falls last on my list of adaptations from the Hornby collection. I thought perhaps that the story played out better in novel form, as so many do, but while the film has its share of critics who panned it, so does the novel.

Another theory for my dislike may be that I was affected by other film reviews. Dan the Man’s review may have affected me the most since his first line grabbed me and remained in my brain while I watched. He wrote, “If I ever have to be stuck in the same room as these people, remind me to just kill myself right then and there.”

While I liked the film a little more than Dan, due to the talented cast and a few scenes that saved it for me, I generally agree with his assessment.

The cast, believable in their roles, breathed all they could into them, yet they could not save the film completely. Brosnan, as the disgraced journalist, delivered his performance with the right amount of sarcasm, Poots was the ideal depressed young girl who self medicates with alcohol, pills, and her sharp tongue, and Paul, of “Breaking Bad” fame could not have played the role better. It was Collette’s role as the single mom that left me scratching my head. She gave a quality performance as usual, but as a mom, I did not understand how she could consider killing herself, knowing it would leave her dependent son with no one to care for him. Thankfully, they addressed that issue towards the end of the film and I stopped screaming in my head.

I recommend you take a chance on this one, when it is available on Netflix or cable and you don’t have to pay extra for it. You may find some redeeming qualities. Still, the movie to beat this summer clearly remains “A Hard Day’s Night”, which definitely gives you more laughs and entertainment for your buck.

Hornby’s next novel to make it to the big screen is “Wild”, which stars Reese Witherspoon, and is scheduled for release early next year. Let’s hope for redemption.

Movie review: A Hard Day’s Night

AHardDaysNightJuly 21, 2104 – I enjoy old movies, especially in black and white. They are usually filled with intrigue and romance, and I get swept up in the story as if I arrived by a time machine.

Yet when I went to see The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night” over the weekend, I did not leave the theater feeling I experienced an old movie.

It certainly fits the criteria; it is filmed in black and white, and it was released 50 years ago nearly to the day. Yet, many movies filmed in the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s seem more dated than The Beatles first film. Perhaps it doesn’t feel old because it contains dialogue that’s both witty and humorous, and every time I watch it still seems fresh to me.

Filming in black and white was an interesting choice for “A Hard Day’s Night”, considering that by 1964, most films were shot in color. Supposedly, United Artists did not want to spend the extra money, or take the chance on an English quartet that could be just a flash in the pan. They were wrong, of course, and I’m glad they were. There is something special about seeing The Beatles in Black and White, and though there are colorized versions of the film available, I like it as is. United Artists really missed the mark on their forecasting for “A Hard Day’s Night”, as the screenplay went on to be nominated for an Oscar that year. It lost to “Father Goose”, a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Leslie Caron, shot in color, of course, but as any writer would probably admit, a nomination is almost as good as a win.

Black and white or color, “A Hard Day’s Night” stands the test of time, and the one line zingers come so fast and quick, especially during the scenes that show the media interviewing The Beatles, you really have to pay attention to catch them all.

The four boys from Liverpool turned in good performances considering none of them had acting experience. Of course, they played comic versions of themselves, but that is not an easy task to pull off (think Elvis and his hammy performances in movies). The storyline is also believable. It focuses on the four young lads, and their first television appearance in England. Along the way they are asked to stay put in a hotel room and answer fan mail, and then in a studio while they wait to go on. Of course, they don’t listen. They just want to go out to and have fun. Who doesn’t want to do that in their early 20s?

If you have not seen this film, run to the nearest theater. If it’s not playing near you, a special 50th Anniversary version is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. Even if you have seen it one, twice, or a dozens of times like me, it is worth another look. It’s by far the best film of the summer.

Fictional Intruder: How I’d like to spend my summer vacation

imagesJuly 18, 2014 – It’s the height of vacation season, and perhaps the best time to entertain the WordPress Daily Prompt that asks bloggers this question: If you could choose three fictional events or adventures to experience yourself, what would they be?

I enjoy reading fiction, but gravitate to mainstream, and not action, adventure, or fantasy, so this question used a few brain cells. Coming up with great novels is easy. Three of my favorites include “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb, “White Oleander” by Janet Fitch, and “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” by Rebecca Wells. However, I may not be strong enough to be a character in any of these stories, and endure what they did to entertain me, so I came up with a few lighter choices:

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
This Dickens’ novel is one of those perfect stories because it’s full holiday spirit, forgiveness, and second chances. The characters are richly developed, and although I can’t actually relate to any one in particular, I’d like to be a fly on the wall who tags along with Scrooge as he embarks on his Christmas Eve journey. I’d be  a better lurker than participant in 19th century London, anyway.

Still Life with Woodpecker – Tom Robbins
As the description on the book jacket states, “This is sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes.” In reality, the story ponders the big question: “How do you make love stay?” I would love to be a character in the wacky world of any Robbins novel, but this one has my heart because it is how I discovered him, and because of characters like heroine Leigh-Cheri (her idol is Ralph Nader), and hero Bernard Mickey Wrangle (who isn’t a criminal, but rather an outlaw). What an entertaining way to spend a summer vacation.

Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
The Anne Shirley series of stories by L.M. Montgomery is one of my favorites, and I have always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island in Canada, so the combination of the two would be perfect. Anne could show me around Avonlea and the rest of the Island, introduce me to her adoptive family, and allow me to take in what life was like at the turn of the 20th century on their quaint island town. I’d bet the weather would be perfect.

The Beatles: A list of lists

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July 16, 2014 — As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ movie, “A Hard Day’s Night” (a true comic gem), here is a list of five interesting lists put together about the Fab Four:

5.  10 unpleasant facts about John Lennon
Much has been written about Lennon through the years, since he’s no stranger to controversy. Are these facts true? I don’t want to believe any of them, but completely disagree with #5, which is NOT a fact.

4.  10 reasons to admire John Lennon
In Asian philosophy, yin and yang are concepts that describe how opposite or contrary forces complement each other. The same is true for this list, which contradicts some of the unpleasant facts above.

3.  5 Beatle songs that mean something different than we first thought
I put this list together after discovering the real story behind these five Beatles’ songs.

2.  100 greatest Beatles’ songs
Rolling Stone gathered this massive list, selecting the 100 of the greatest songs from The Beatles’ huge library. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task. The boys recorded 213 songs on 19 albums in seven years. That’s a lot of music in a short period of time.

1.  The 10 worst Beatles’ songs
If there is a best of collection, the yin/yang theory indicates there has to be a worst. Here’s a list of 10 songs that fall into that category. However, I have to remember that what is worst for the Beatles can be far superior than what is the worst for other bands.