Monthly Archives: August 2013

Honest Tea Founders Tell Their Story Of Not-Too-Sweet Success


If you want to know what prompted Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff to cofound Honest Tea, here’s the simple answer they give on their website: They were thirsty. Goldman had taken Nalebuff’s class at the Yale School of Management, and they were both tired of the super sweet iced teas available in stores. So in the late 1990s, they started their own company based on the hunch that other people out there felt the same way.

“What we realized is that there was a whole group of people like Seth and myself who were being left out of the market,” Barry Nalebuff tells NPR’s David Greene. “Nobody had paid attention to us. They didn’t get it. We’re adults. We had more sophisticated, grown-up tastes. We had no longer the same sweet tooth that we might have had as teens, and people weren’t making what I would call normal beverages for adults.”

They chronicle their adventures and misadventures in a new graphic novel, called Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently—and Succeeding.

Interview Highlights

On how before you win over consumers, you have to win over distributors.

Goldman: “These distributors were used to sweet drinks. This is what was in the warehouse so it’s what they drank. And they would taste our product and say, ‘This isn’t sweet. Where’s the sugar in this? It needs more.’ We weren’t going to persuade them on the merits of taste. We had to persuade them on the merits of the business opportunity. We could say, ‘Look, it sells to a consumer who’s not buying your products.’… We’ve just been very fortunate, we’ve had consumers who get passionate about our product, who kind of harass the grocery manager if [the] product’s not on the shelf, or who will go to another store to buy the product if it’s not there.”

On getting down on one knee and literally begging New York beverage distributor Irving Hershkowitz to pick up their product

Nalebuff: “He ran the best and the biggest distributor in Manhattan and if we couldn’t get in that, we were really going to be kept out of New York City. So this was a make-or-break opportunity for us and this was important that he give us a chance.” (Click here to read an excerpt from Mission in a Bottle describing their visit with Hershkowitz.)

Mission in a Bottle

On how you have to be very careful about tweaking your product, because every change has unintended consequences

Nalebuff: “This is a case where the complementarity between Seth and myself really came into play. Because, as an innovator, as someone who likes to do things differently, I was always trying to fiddle. And Seth helped put on the breaks sometimes; to realize nope, this is good enough.”

Goldman: “One time, we actually developed a tea bag line. And we kept identifying ways to improve it.”

Nalebuff: “Each change led to another problem. … We tried to make the box bigger, but then they ended up being not quite so stable; it didn’t fit on the shelves. And so you try and make one little tweak, but it ripples down and there’s always unintended consequences.”

On balancing innovation and stability

Goldman: “We’ve always recognized it’s about continuous improvement. Our first production run was pretty ugly. We called it Honest Tea because we wanted to brew it with real tea leaves … but we hadn’t perfected the method of how to use real tea leaves. In the beginning our first production runs had about an inch and a half of tea sediment at the bottom. So we always wanted to innovate and iterate as we did it, but that tinkering can just get very challenging because you’re mid-stream — we’re also still selling this product in the marketplace.”

On landing a deal with Coke, and the perception that they ‘sold out’

Goldman: “We knew to make this a national brand, a powerful brand, an enduring brand, we needed to get distribution beyond where we were. We were doing well in natural food stores, we were doing well on the coasts, but we weren’t able to give coverage to really most of the country. Initially when Coke invested we were in 15,000 stores. Today Honest Tea is in over 100,000 stores. And we’re starting to have conversations with national chains we never had access to before so the doors that are open now — they open much more easily.

” … I certainly understand why some consumers had perceptions that we had ‘sold out’ but I look at what we’re selling: We’re selling a product that’s organic: It was organic before, it’s organic now. We’re reaching millions more people than we were before. So I don’t feel a downside.”

Nalebuff: “When the social responsibility is literally steeped in the product, if you can go from selling 100 million bottles to a billion bottles, you’re really doing a much better job of achieving your mission. Even a small change in Coca-Cola – a 1 percent change in them – is going to be a whole lot more than what we could do on our own. The fact is, this is where consumers are going.”

On Nalebuff’s latest venture

“I’ve started another beverage business. It’s called KomBrewCha. It sells mildly alcoholic Kombucha. Our motto is: ‘Get tickled. Not pickled.'”

Dumplings Taste Better When Filled With Memories


Just about every culture has a dumpling. For many immigrants and first-generation Americans, dumplings serve as a delicious taste of home and heritage. Pierogis are the Polish take on the form.


Allison Aubrey/NPR

Just about every culture has a dumpling. For many immigrants and first-generation Americans, dumplings serve as a delicious taste of home and heritage. Pierogis are the Polish take on the form.

Just about every culture has a dumpling. For many immigrants and first-generation Americans, dumplings serve as a delicious taste of home and heritage. Pierogis are the Polish take on the form.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

Most kids leave Santa cookies. My brother and I would try to bribe him with an extra treat: a couple leftover pierogi from our Christmas Eve dinner.

Instead of sugar plums, pierogi danced in my head. And while I never admitted it in my letter to Santa, I was an accomplished pierogi thief. While they were kept warm on the stove ahead of our guests’ arrival, I could lift the cover to the pan that cradled them without making a sound, liberating one to scarf down before my Polish mother walked back into the kitchen. My lips gleamed with a mix of butter and Bonnie Bell lip gloss.

I don’t pilfer pierogi ahead of dinner anymore. I recognize now that everyone should get an equal taste of this dumpling joy. And I now savor each bite, especially the bites where the edges have become perfectly crisp.

Like chef Marta Mirecki in Allison Aubrey’s Morning Edition story (you can hear the story by clicking on the audio above), I am a first-generation Polish American. While I have adored pierogi since I can remember, my heightened appreciation didn’t happen until I actually started to help my mom make them. My arms were sore for days after the first time.

It turns out a rolling pin and pierogi dough can rival any upper-arm workout. The dough needs to be rolled thin so it doesn’t overpower the precious filling inside. There’s nothing fast about the pierogi process. Once the dough is perfectly rolled out, it’s time to grab a drinking glass, flip it over and use the rim to cut out circles. Those circles come to embrace the perfect kiss of filling — the possibilities are endless.

Sweetened farmer’s cheese? Yes.

Mashed potatoes and cheese? Of course.

The author, Renita Jablonski, during her first solo attempt at making pierogi in 2007.

The author, Renita Jablonski, during her first solo attempt at making pierogi in 2007.


Courtesy Renita Jablonski

Sauerkraut and mushrooms? You had me at sauer …

The trick is to plop down just the right amount of filling so that the circle folds into a half-moon with enough room to pull, pinch, and seal the edges together into a lovely ruffle. And then one by one, they are lowered into boiling water. I always loved that the pierogi let you know when they’re ready by floating to the top.

The perfect pierogi finish usually means frying them up in a little butter (or a lot). Sautéed onions or bacon can be a nice touch. A sweet filling of fruit can be heightened with a sprinkle of sugar.

I wish I could offer a recipe at this point, but it really resides in my mom’s head. When I make pierogi on my own, I end up calling my mom at least five times. My questions to her are posed half in Polish, half in English. By the third call my sleeves are covered in flour.

Luckily, Marta Mirecki has a wonderfully detailed recipe for her babcia’s (grandma’s) pierogi, which you can find below.

My own daughter is due to arrive any day now, and I realize it’s time to have my family’s recipes better preserved. Like Mirecki, I spent my childhood deeply immersed in Polish culture. From age 5 to 17, I attended Polish School every Saturday morning and performed in a Polish folk dance group. I marched proudly in various Cleveland parades wearing colorful traditional costumes, my head adorned with floral wreaths. I was lucky to spend a couple of childhood summers in Poland with my mother’s family.

When she is old enough, I will share photos of this past with my daughter. I can’t wait to take her to visit my Ohio hometown, where she can hear me speaking my first language with my parents. But she will be removed by generations and geography from that rich Polish culture I grew up with.

And so pierogi have become so much more than one of my favorite foods. As with so many Americans with ties to other countries, for me, a simple dumpling is a connection to the past, and one of the only tangible (and oh so tasty) things left to pass along to future generations.

Smacznego! (That’s Polish for bon appetit.)

Babcia Mirecka’s Pierogi Dough

Ingredients:

2 cups sifted flour, plus extra for dusting and kneading

1 egg

1/2 to 2/3 cup lukewarm water

1 tsp. salt

Step One: Mix the Dough

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl.

Beat egg lightly and mix into flour with a spatula. Add water, starting with 1/2 cup.

Once the dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a few turns. Add flour as needed.

Step Two: Knead the Dough

To knead the dough by hand: Form the dough into a ball. Smush the ball down with your palm pushing away from you, then reform the ball and continue smushing down on it. Add flour a little at a time as needed, and use your dough scraper to loosen the dough from the work surface if it starts to stick. If at any time the dough gets too springy, then cover it with a cloth and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Continue kneading until the dough is even and smooth.

To knead the dough with a pasta machine: Flatten the dough and sprinkle with flour. Set the machine’s rollers to the widest setting (0 or 1) and pass the dough through. Fold the dough in three like a letter going into an envelope, turn ninety degrees, and pass the dough through again at the same wide setting. Repeat until the dough is even and smooth, dusting with flour as needed. You will dust with flour for the first several passes, but after a while the dough should even out and you will not need as much flour.

Step Three: Roll and Cut the Dough

To roll the dough by hand: Roll the dough as thinly as you would like with a rolling pin. Flour the rolling pin, dough, and work surface just enough to keep everything from sticking. Cut the dough into rounds using a round cutter or drinking glass. Gather up the dough scraps and roll and cut rounds a second time. Don’t roll out the same piece of dough more than twice, though.

To roll the dough with a pasta machine: Cut the dough in half or thirds and cover the portion you’re not working with. Set the rollers one setting smaller and pass the dough through. Continue rolling the dough thinner, one setting at a time. Do not fold the dough, and do not pass more than once per setting. Roll the dough as thin as you would like. A middle roller setting is good, such as setting 5 on a machine that goes to 9. Cut the dough into rounds using a round cutter or drinking glass. Gather up the dough scraps and roll and cut rounds a second time. Don’t roll out the same piece of dough more than twice, though.

Step Four: Fill the Pierogi

Keep a small cup of water, a small pile of flour (a teaspoon or two), and a small towel handy. Using a small spoon, pile about a teaspoon of filling slightly off-center. Wet your finger with water and run it along the edge of the round. Fold the dough over the filling and press it shut with your fingers. If you just wetted the edge of the dough and it will not seal, then dry your finger, dip in a little flour, and run that along the edge. Wipe your fingers clean of flour and filling as you go. Any filling that you get on the outside of the dough will not come off when you boil the pierogi.

When sealing the pierogi, be mindful of a few things:

  • Do not pile too much filling inside
  • When folding the dough over, do not trap too much air around the filling
  • When folding the dough over, do not trap any filling in the seal

Any of these can cause your pierogi to break open when cooking.

Once the pierogi are filled and sealed, dust with a tiny amount of flour and brush off as much as you can. Lay on a parchment lined sheet while you finish a few more.

Step Five: Boil the Pierogi

Gently lower the pierogi into a pot of boiling water with about a tablespoon of oil. Don’t crowd the pot and don’t boil the pierogi hard; they should simmer gently. Boil them for a few minutes—the exact time will depend on how thick you rolled your dough, so test one by itself first to get the timing right. Once the pierogi float they are almost ready.

Remove the boiled pierogi with a slotted spoon and drain for minute or so in a colander. If serving right away, turn them with a little oil or melted butter before piling in a bowl or on a serving plate.

If freezing, place on a tray in a single layer until cool. Freeze in a single layer for an hour or two until the outside layer of dough is frozen, then layer in a Ziploc bag or on a small tray. Wrap well.

Tip and Tricks

Make your pierogi filling ahead of time and refrigerate. The filling will be easier to handle if it’s cold. Also you will go crazy if you try to make the filling and fill pierogi on the same day. Babcia may have done it that way, but she had years of practice.

Enlist a cooking buddy! Making pierogi is so much easier and more enjoyable when it’s a team effort.

Pierogi puff up a little when cooked, so keep that in mind when choosing what size to make them.

While there’s nothing wrong with using a drinking glass to cut your pierogi, consider buying a set of round cutters. The variety of sizes will be very handy when you are deciding what size to make your pierogi.

Make one or two pierogi completely from start to finish. Check for your filling’s seasoning, the thickness of the dough, and the pierogi’s overall size after they are cooked.

If your enthusiasm flags and you still have dough left, you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days. Bring the dough to room temperature before rolling it out.

Avoid the following rookie mistakes:

  • Making too much filling. A little filling goes a very, very long way. Start with one recipe’s worth.
  • Breaking pierogi before they are cooked. Once the pierogi are filled, treat them very, very gently. Cook them as soon as you can, even if it’s just for a few minutes to cook the very outside layer of dough. Do not let them warm up too much before cooking them, and do not wrap them in foil uncooked—they will stick together.
  • Overfilling. Start with a little less filling than you think you need.

Pierogi Toppings

  • melted butter
  • browned butter
  • browned buttered bread crumbs
  • sour cream
  • browned onions
  • crumbled bacon
  • sugar
  • heavy cream, plain or sweetened

Blueberry Pierogi Filling

Ingredients:

Frozen wild blueberries

A few tsp. flour

Procedure:

  • Toss blueberries with just enough flour to coat the blueberries lightly.


Lentil Pierogi Filling

Ingredients:

2 cups dried lentils

bay leaf

1 oz. dried mushrooms

1 onion, finely diced

egg (optional)

Procedure:

  • Cook lentils with bay leaf in plenty of water until tender but not disintegrated. Cooking time run between 20 and 40 minutes, so check often.
  • Soak dried mushrooms in warm water for one hour, then cook in same water until tender. Remove mushrooms from water, saving liquid. Chop the mushroom very fine. Strain the mushrooms’ water and return to pot. Return mushrooms to pot and reduce until little liquid remains.
  • Lightly brown chopped onion in butter, add the mushrooms, and simmer until liquid evaporates.
  • Combine lentils and mushroom-onion mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. You may add an egg if you would like to help bind the filling.

Potato and Cheese (Ruskie) Pierogi Filling

Ingredients:

1lb. boiling potatoes

1/4 to 1/2 lb. farmer’s cheese, or cheese of choice

1 onion, finely diced

butter

Procedure:

  • Cook potatoes in skins until tender, then peel.
  • Put potatoes through ricer or mash well.
  • Combine potatoes with cheese.
  • Brown onion in butter until soft.
  • Combine potato mixture and onions and season to taste.

Meat Pierogi Filling

Ingredients:

1 lb. boiled beef, roast beef, or leftovers

onion, finely diced

butter

one stale roll or several pieces of stale bread

1/2 cup milk

Procedure:

  • Grind fully cooked meat.
  • Saute onions in butter until soft.
  • Soak roll in milk and grind together with onion.
  • Combine meat and onion mixture and season to taste.

References:

Strybel, Robert and Maria. Polish Heritage Cookery. Hippocrene Books, New York; 1993.

With De Palma, Too Much ‘Passion’ Is Precisely Enough


Rachel McAdams stars as an icy ad-agency professional in Brian De Palma's Passion, a gorgeous — if predictable — thriller from one of cinema's most exacting stylists.

Rachel McAdams stars as an icy ad-agency professional in Brian De Palma’s Passion, a gorgeous — if predictable — thriller from one of cinema’s most exacting stylists.


Entertainment One

Passion

  • Director: Brian De Palma
  • Genre: Crime, Drama
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Rated R for sexual content, language and some violence

With: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth

A pivotal moment in Passion, Brian De Palma’s resplendent erotic thriller, centers on a splash of red.

An obvious color, maybe, but one that matters because the scene leading up to it — a tour de force of suspenseful montage that cuts between one character watching a ballet and another preparing for bed — is defined visually by the dark-blue canvases of the dance piece’s set, and by the way they blend into the increasingly conspicuous blue filters used to film the rest of the scene.

So while many elements contribute to the tension leading up to the scene’s conclusion, ultimately that sudden red is as shocking and brilliant as the actual event it represents in the plot. And the finesse of such an exacting use of color is just one element pointing to the presence of a master director behind the camera.

Is that Noomi Rapace's Isabelle behind the mask (and the knife)? Could be. Probably is. Passion is nothing if not a genre flick — though genre films do come with their twists.

Is that Noomi Rapace’s Isabelle behind the mask (and the knife)? Could be. Probably is. Passion is nothing if not a genre flick — though genre films do come with their twists.


Entertainment One

De Palma is such a dazzling stylist that for most of Passion, you’ll find it perfectly acceptable to let the visuals wash over you, paying only passing attention to the plot, which follows the conniving, backstabbing relationship between ad-agency colleagues Christine (Rachel McAdams) and Isabelle (Noomi Rapace).

A betrayal early on in the film — Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s successful commercial idea — sets off a series of increasingly dramatic paybacks, which unravel in the style of Basic Instinct. (Or, more recently, Side Effects.)

If that amounts to a dearth of innovation, De Palma has no intentions of apologizing for it. Passion is replete with homage, and in love with its own overblown drama. Its score by turns harks back to the rich orchestrations of Hitchcock films and the smooth saxes of ’80s thrillers; its performances are utterly unnatural, but of course so are the characters. McAdams in particular does a fine job as the cold Christine, relishing the cutthroat viciousness of her lines.

In its first half, the film is also a study in fine-tuned pacing, never rushing through the setup and meticulously building suspense off of McAdams and Rapace’s chemistry. If the second half proves unsurprising about its “shocking” revelations, that’s hardly worth complaining about here: It’s all genre, after all. What drags the movie down, rather, is that, unlike Steven Soderbergh’s tightly wound Side Effects, De Palma lets some slack loosen up the line of his plot as he goes through the motions of his third act.

Most of these criticisms bounce straight off the film, however, since it’s fairly clear that Passion‘s script — adapted by De Palma from the French thriller Crime d’amour — is largely a vehicle for beautiful design and visual flair. De Palma’s shots are an utter delight for their precision; Christine’s fuchsia dresses punch against the primary colors of the ultramodern office in which she works. Even the characters’ hair colors are planned for maximum visual appeal: Christine, Isabelle and Isabelle’s inquisitive assistant form a complementary trio of blonde, brunette and redhead.

As the film goes on, De Palma’s cinematography becomes increasingly audacious, his framing tilted on odd angles, his camera swooping into tight close-ups or smoothly slithering after the characters. That this all gives the film a significant artificiality has its opposite positive: Passion is also emphatically cool.

In all these respects, De Palma resembles Pedro Almodovar, another director working in or paying homage to time-tested genres, and one who can be counted on to pull you in through his mastery of style even when his films get too outlandish.

Passion has its excesses, but it revels in them — and you know there’s not a drop more or less excess than De Palma wanted. Amid all the beauty, it’s this rigor and control that ultimately prove such a pleasure.

With De Palma, Too Much ‘Passion’ Is Precisely Enough


Rachel McAdams stars as an icy ad-agency professional in Brian De Palma's Passion, a gorgeous — if predictable — thriller from one of cinema's most exacting stylists.

Rachel McAdams stars as an icy ad-agency professional in Brian De Palma’s Passion, a gorgeous — if predictable — thriller from one of cinema’s most exacting stylists.


Entertainment One

Passion

  • Director: Brian De Palma
  • Genre: Crime, Drama
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Rated R for sexual content, language and some violence

With: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth

A pivotal moment in Passion, Brian De Palma’s resplendent erotic thriller, centers on a splash of red.

An obvious color, maybe, but one that matters because the scene leading up to it — a tour de force of suspenseful montage that cuts between one character watching a ballet and another preparing for bed — is defined visually by the dark-blue canvases of the dance piece’s set, and by the way they blend into the increasingly conspicuous blue filters used to film the rest of the scene.

So while many elements contribute to the tension leading up to the scene’s conclusion, ultimately that sudden red is as shocking and brilliant as the actual event it represents in the plot. And the finesse of such an exacting use of color is just one element pointing to the presence of a master director behind the camera.

Is that Noomi Rapace's Isabelle behind the mask (and the knife)? Could be. Probably is. Passion is nothing if not a genre flick — though genre films do come with their twists.

Is that Noomi Rapace’s Isabelle behind the mask (and the knife)? Could be. Probably is. Passion is nothing if not a genre flick — though genre films do come with their twists.


Entertainment One

De Palma is such a dazzling stylist that for most of Passion, you’ll find it perfectly acceptable to let the visuals wash over you, paying only passing attention to the plot, which follows the conniving, backstabbing relationship between ad-agency colleagues Christine (Rachel McAdams) and Isabelle (Noomi Rapace).

A betrayal early on in the film — Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s successful commercial idea — sets off a series of increasingly dramatic paybacks, which unravel in the style of Basic Instinct. (Or, more recently, Side Effects.)

If that amounts to a dearth of innovation, De Palma has no intentions of apologizing for it. Passion is replete with homage, and in love with its own overblown drama. Its score by turns harks back to the rich orchestrations of Hitchcock films and the smooth saxes of ’80s thrillers; its performances are utterly unnatural, but of course so are the characters. McAdams in particular does a fine job as the cold Christine, relishing the cutthroat viciousness of her lines.

In its first half, the film is also a study in fine-tuned pacing, never rushing through the setup and meticulously building suspense off of McAdams and Rapace’s chemistry. If the second half proves unsurprising about its “shocking” revelations, that’s hardly worth complaining about here: It’s all genre, after all. What drags the movie down, rather, is that, unlike Steven Soderbergh’s tightly wound Side Effects, De Palma lets some slack loosen up the line of his plot as he goes through the motions of his third act.

Most of these criticisms bounce straight off the film, however, since it’s fairly clear that Passion‘s script — adapted by De Palma from the French thriller Crime d’amour — is largely a vehicle for beautiful design and visual flair. De Palma’s shots are an utter delight for their precision; Christine’s fuchsia dresses punch against the primary colors of the ultramodern office in which she works. Even the characters’ hair colors are planned for maximum visual appeal: Christine, Isabelle and Isabelle’s inquisitive assistant form a complementary trio of blonde, brunette and redhead.

As the film goes on, De Palma’s cinematography becomes increasingly audacious, his framing tilted on odd angles, his camera swooping into tight close-ups or smoothly slithering after the characters. That this all gives the film a significant artificiality has its opposite positive: Passion is also emphatically cool.

In all these respects, De Palma resembles Pedro Almodovar, another director working in or paying homage to time-tested genres, and one who can be counted on to pull you in through his mastery of style even when his films get too outlandish.

Passion has its excesses, but it revels in them — and you know there’s not a drop more or less excess than De Palma wanted. Amid all the beauty, it’s this rigor and control that ultimately prove such a pleasure.

‘Getaway.’ No, Really. Get Away From Here. Off My Lawn!


Getaway tracks a former race-car driver whose wife has been kidnapped and … Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is about a fast car.


Warner Bros. Pictures

Getaway tracks a former race-car driver whose wife has been kidnapped and ... Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is about a fast car.

Getaway tracks a former race-car driver whose wife has been kidnapped and … Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is about a fast car.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Getaway

  • Director: Courtney Solomon
  • Genre: Action, Crime
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense action, violence and mayhem throughout, some rude gestures, and language

With: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Paul Freeman

Some movies can be ruined by thinking about them too much. Then there are the movies you ruin by thinking about them at all. The former can be fun exercises in effortless diversion. But when concerted effort is required not to ask any story-deflating questions about what’s up on the screen, it kind of flattens the fun.

In Courtney Solomon’s Getaway, a project less effective as a feature film than as a promotional reel for the Shelby Super Snake — basically an insanely tricked-out Ford Mustang — the nonsense piles up nearly as fast as the smashed, flipped, T-boned and otherwise trashed cop cars chasing after Ethan Hawke’s laughably named Brent Magna and his sidekick, “The Kid.”

(No, really. “The Kid.”) (She is a teen hacker. Played by Selena Gomez. May we remind you that it’s August?)

This is a movie for those who watched Liam Neeson in Taken and thought, “Hey, this is fun, but can we do it without having to wait 15 minutes for the action to start?” Solomon has 90 minutes at his disposal, and doesn’t want to waste time with setup.

So he crosscuts flashback shots of Magna discovering his apartment ransacked and his wife gone with practically eroticized shots of the car he’ll spend most of the next hour and a half in. (It’s frankly shocking that Shelby doesn’t already have the film’s showroom shot of the car’s fierce grill ornament running on a loop on their website.)

That engine starts revving and tires start burning within the first two minutes of the film, and they barely stop for the rest of it, as Magna is directed around the streets of Sofia (we are, for complicated reasons, in Bulgaria) by the German-accented voice of the man who has kidnapped his wife, and will kill her unless he helps … do something. What, exactly, remains vague.

A movie like Getaway really only has one deceptively simple job: to punch the viewer repeatedly in the adrenal gland for a little while and leave them feeling like they’ve been in the chase themselves. It’s obvious Solomon knows his reference points: the Christmas setting, the German villain with motives obscured by a little bait and switch, the spouse in peril, they all scream Die Hard, while the near-constant fast-car action, the odd-couple bickering between male and female leads, the villain giving instructions from afar come from Speed. (Which itself was, of course, billed as Die Hard on a Bus.)

What Solomon fails to recognize in those films is their essential simplicity, and he unnecessarily complicates his film with too many ill-considered twists surrounding the shadowy motivations of that Teutonic voice.

Ethan Hawke headlines the picture, along with Selena Gomez, but it’s still pretty much a movie about a car. Which for some reason is largely bulletproof.


Simon Versano/Warner Bros. Pictures

Ethan Hawke headlines the picture, along with Selena Gomez, but it's still pretty much a movie about a car. Which for some reason is largely bulletproof.

Ethan Hawke headlines the picture, along with Selena Gomez, but it’s still pretty much a movie about a car. Which for some reason is largely bulletproof.

Simon Versano/Warner Bros. Pictures

He also complicates things with the ridiculously implausible character he gives Gomez to play, a plot-hole panacea meant to lead the script out of whatever corner it has gotten itself into at any given time. She’s a spoiled rich kid, a muscle-car gearhead, a super-genius hacker who can tap into any network in 30 seconds on an iPad and a brilliant tactician to boot.

Turns out that car — which Magna is ordered to steal at the very start of the movie, the better to carry out The Voice’s plan — belongs to her as well. Why a 20-year-old trust-fund brat needs not just a fast car, but an armored, virtually indestructible fast car, is a mystery solved only when you consider that it’s required by the plot. That’s just one of the questions you can’t help but ask while watching the film, unless you can reduce your neurological functioning to brain stem-only.

All that aside, Getaway might still eke out a pass if the car chases could earn one on their own. But the best hot-pursuit flicks thrive by speeding just on the edge of plausibility. The chases in The French Connection and Bullitt, say, work because the directors of those films thought about just how much disbelief we in the audience might be willing to suspend.

Solomon demonstrates no such consideration here; the chase sequences, despite the immediacy created by the onboard POV cameras used to film them, start with cartoonish as their baseline and grow more outlandish from there. At one point, after the success of a particularly ridiculous tactic, Hawke utters the movie’s definitive line: “I can’t believe that worked.”

Yeah, us either.

Antibiotic Use On The Farm: Are We Flying Blind?


Piglets in a pen on a hog farm in Frankenstein, Mo.


Jeff Roberson/AP

Piglets in a pen on a hog farm in Frankenstein, Mo.

Piglets in a pen on a hog farm in Frankenstein, Mo.

Jeff Roberson/AP

There’s a heated debate over the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Critics say farmers overuse these drugs; farmers say they don’t.

It’s hard to resolve the argument, in part because no one knows exactly how farmers use antibiotics. There’s no reliable data on how much antibiotic use is intended to make animals grow faster, for instance, compared to treating disease. Many public health experts say the government should collect and publish that information because antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasingly urgent problem. But many farm groups are opposed.

James Johnson, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Minnesota, is among those pushing for better data. He faces the problem of drug-resistant bacteria firsthand. When he prescribes antibiotics to patients, he increasingly has to ask himself, “Will this drug even work?”

“Resistance is turning up everywhere, and increasingly involves our first-line, favorite drugs,” he says. “Everyone knows that we’re in a real crisis situation.”

There’s no easy way out of the crisis because antibiotics are so valuable. Everybody wants to use them. Yet the more they’re used, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to them.

Johnson preaches restraint, using the drugs only when they’re clearly necessary. He also says that we need to know much more about how antibiotics are currently being used. “Otherwise, we’re sort of flying blind,” he says.

“Are we flying blind right now? Or do we have the information we need?” I ask.

“Not at all. I think we’re mostly flying blind, at least in the U.S.,” Johnson says.

There’s no comprehensive source of data on how doctors prescribe antibiotics to people, and there’s even less information about drugs that are given to chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle.

That’s a big blind spot because antibiotics are commonly used on the farm to treat disease, to prevent disease and to help animals grow faster.

This stream of antibiotics does create drug-resistant bacteria. And people can be exposed to those bacteria through a variety of pathways.

It’s set off a fierce debate over how much this contributes to the overall problem of drug-resistant infections. Morgan Scott, a researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, is trying to arrive at an answer. “As a researcher, it’s a very intriguing area,” he says. “But it’s also frustrating because the data are really not there.”

The only solid numbers on antibiotic use on the farm come from the Food and Drug Administration. Every year, the FDA lists the total quantity of antibiotics sold for use in farm animals, divided up by major drug class.

But Scott says those overall totals don’t tell him what he’d like to know. “At the moment, we really can’t identify whether certain uses of antibiotics are more or less risky than others,” he says.

He’d love to know the patterns of antibiotic use — which drugs are used on each kind of animal, for what purpose, nationwide. If scientists tracked this over many years, they might be able to see which patterns of use create more drug-resistant bacteria.

There is a country that does collect this information. Denmark has led the world in efforts to control antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. Every year it publishes a big volume of numbers — and Scott can’t get enough of them. “Diving into these data, and visiting Denmark, is kind of like Disneyland for those of us who like big data,” he says.

There are lots of people who want something similar for farms in the United States. They include public health experts, but also activist groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists. Congress is considering a bill that would force the FDA to collect this data and publish it.

But pharmaceutical companies and agricultural groups don’t like that idea. They don’t believe antibiotic use in animals is causing much of a problem for human health. They also don’t think that detailed national statistics would even be useful.

“The amount of antibiotic used does not correlate to the potential public health threat,” says Ron Phillips, a spokesman for the Animal Health Institute, which represents companies that sell veterinary drugs.

According to Phillips, if you really want to figure out which agricultural practices produce drug-resistant bacteria, you should study them up-close. Look at a few individual farms, examining what drugs are used and how bacteria adapt.

But don’t create a national data collection system, he says. It would be a waste of money, and the numbers would just be misused by advocacy groups that are campaigning to restrict the use of antibiotics by farmers. “The widespread quotes that you see about how much is used in animal medicine, as opposed to human medicine — those are meant to scare people, not to inform people,” he says.

One the other hand, Scott thinks better numbers could actually mean less suspicion and fear. Many people want to know exactly what meat producers are doing, he says. When they can’t find the information they want, they’re inclined to assume the worst.

‘Getaway.’ No, Really. Get Away From Here. Off My Lawn!


Getaway tracks a former race-car driver whose wife has been kidnapped and … Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is about a fast car.


Warner Bros. Pictures

Getaway tracks a former race-car driver whose wife has been kidnapped and ... Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is about a fast car.

Getaway tracks a former race-car driver whose wife has been kidnapped and … Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is about a fast car.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Getaway

  • Director: Courtney Solomon
  • Genre: Action, Crime
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense action, violence and mayhem throughout, some rude gestures, and language

With: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Paul Freeman

Some movies can be ruined by thinking about them too much. Then there are the movies you ruin by thinking about them at all. The former can be fun exercises in effortless diversion. But when concerted effort is required not to ask any story-deflating questions about what’s up on the screen, it kind of flattens the fun.

In Courtney Solomon’s Getaway, a project less effective as a feature film than as a promotional reel for the Shelby Super Snake — basically an insanely tricked-out Ford Mustang — the nonsense piles up nearly as fast as the smashed, flipped, T-boned and otherwise trashed cop cars chasing after Ethan Hawke’s laughably named Brent Magna and his sidekick, “The Kid.”

(No, really. “The Kid.”) (She is a teen hacker. Played by Selena Gomez. May we remind you that it’s August?)

This is a movie for those who watched Liam Neeson in Taken and thought, “Hey, this is fun, but can we do it without having to wait 15 minutes for the action to start?” Solomon has 90 minutes at his disposal, and doesn’t want to waste time with setup.

So he crosscuts flashback shots of Magna discovering his apartment ransacked and his wife gone with practically eroticized shots of the car he’ll spend most of the next hour and a half in. (It’s frankly shocking that Shelby doesn’t already have the film’s showroom shot of the car’s fierce grill ornament running on a loop on their website.)

That engine starts revving and tires start burning within the first two minutes of the film, and they barely stop for the rest of it, as Magna is directed around the streets of Sofia (we are, for complicated reasons, in Bulgaria) by the German-accented voice of the man who has kidnapped his wife, and will kill her unless he helps … do something. What, exactly, remains vague.

A movie like Getaway really only has one deceptively simple job: to punch the viewer repeatedly in the adrenal gland for a little while and leave them feeling like they’ve been in the chase themselves. It’s obvious Solomon knows his reference points: the Christmas setting, the German villain with motives obscured by a little bait and switch, the spouse in peril, they all scream Die Hard, while the near-constant fast-car action, the odd-couple bickering between male and female leads, the villain giving instructions from afar come from Speed. (Which itself was, of course, billed as Die Hard on a Bus.)

What Solomon fails to recognize in those films is their essential simplicity, and he unnecessarily complicates his film with too many ill-considered twists surrounding the shadowy motivations of that Teutonic voice.

Ethan Hawke headlines the picture, along with Selena Gomez, but it’s still pretty much a movie about a car. Which for some reason is largely bulletproof.


Simon Versano/Warner Bros. Pictures

Ethan Hawke headlines the picture, along with Selena Gomez, but it's still pretty much a movie about a car. Which for some reason is largely bulletproof.

Ethan Hawke headlines the picture, along with Selena Gomez, but it’s still pretty much a movie about a car. Which for some reason is largely bulletproof.

Simon Versano/Warner Bros. Pictures

He also complicates things with the ridiculously implausible character he gives Gomez to play, a plot-hole panacea meant to lead the script out of whatever corner it has gotten itself into at any given time. She’s a spoiled rich kid, a muscle-car gearhead, a super-genius hacker who can tap into any network in 30 seconds on an iPad and a brilliant tactician to boot.

Turns out that car — which Magna is ordered to steal at the very start of the movie, the better to carry out The Voice’s plan — belongs to her as well. Why a 20-year-old trust-fund brat needs not just a fast car, but an armored, virtually indestructible fast car, is a mystery solved only when you consider that it’s required by the plot. That’s just one of the questions you can’t help but ask while watching the film, unless you can reduce your neurological functioning to brain stem-only.

All that aside, Getaway might still eke out a pass if the car chases could earn one on their own. But the best hot-pursuit flicks thrive by speeding just on the edge of plausibility. The chases in The French Connection and Bullitt, say, work because the directors of those films thought about just how much disbelief we in the audience might be willing to suspend.

Solomon demonstrates no such consideration here; the chase sequences, despite the immediacy created by the onboard POV cameras used to film them, start with cartoonish as their baseline and grow more outlandish from there. At one point, after the success of a particularly ridiculous tactic, Hawke utters the movie’s definitive line: “I can’t believe that worked.”

Yeah, us either.

Rebecca Hall, Finding New Thrills In The Family Business


Chaos, panic and disorder: Rebecca Hall stars as a barrister whose assignment leads to all kinds of bad things in the security-state thriller Closed Circuit.

Chaos, panic and disorder: Rebecca Hall stars as a barrister whose assignment leads to all kinds of bad things in the security-state thriller Closed Circuit.


Jay Maidment/Focus Features

Rebecca Hall, a veteran of films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Town, is the star of the new surveillance-state thriller Closed Circuit, playing an English barrister charged with monitoring top-secret, closed-to-the-public evidence hearings involving a terrorist bombing.

One wrinkle – aside from the complete perfidy of nearly all institutions concerned, and the fact that this film’s barristers and reporters are equally at risk of not reaching the end of the story alive – is that another barrister on the case, appointed to represent the defendant in his public trial, is her former lover. And they’re barred by arcane British terrorism-trial procedure from communicating with each other – rules that might have been written by Shakespeare himself to set up more complicated possibilities.

“I think you’ll find that these procedures have only come into play in light of recent events,” Hall says slyly, when NPR’s Robert Siegel jokingly poses the question. “Since they generally pertain to trials relating to national security, it’s only a recent occurrence. Otherwise I think we’d all have been up in arms a little bit earlier.”

Hall joins NPR on today’s All Things Considered to talk about researching her character, working with her father – a noted Shakespearean director – and learning from her mother, an equally celebrated opera singer.

On barristers as analytical, hyperverbal communicators

“Not wanting to make vast, sweeping generalizations, but I think on the whole they tend to be people who exist in their heads, and are very analytical. I didn’t meet a single barrister or lawyer while I was researching the film that didn’t speak in complete, full, very well thought-out, precise sentences. And I thought that was fascinating, being generally a sort of bumbling, inarticulate mess myself.

“[It’s] definitely interesting dramatically – when you’re playing a character who has all of that facility in their professional life, and has no capacity to express their own emotions. So there’s an irony there.”

On her mother, the Michigan-born opera singer Maria Ewing

“She truly has always been and always will be an inspiration to me. Part of her skill as an artist is that not only did she – does she – have an extraordinary singing voice that sort of came from nowhere, with very little training, but she also was a very great actress. And I grew up watching her; I think she was performing one of her most well-known productions, Salome – which my father directed, actually – from when I was about 5 until I was about 14.”

On seeing that famously controversial interpretation of Salome

“I don’t think I was nearly sophisticated enough to realize it was unusual. I think you just sort of accept things when you’re that age, don’t you? I think I realized in hindsight that it was rather brave and brilliant of her – and as she argued at the time, far less vulgar – to wear nothing than to wear a little something.”

On leaving Cambridge to work with her father, director Peter Hall

“Of, of course it was tough. That was sort of the point of doing it. It was one of those moments that I thought would define how I behaved for the rest of my life – if I could sort of buck a trajectory, and not be the sort of person who had this very linear journey of good grades at school, and then a degree from Cambridge to tell everyone that I was smart. There was some sort of rebellious instinct in me, to not have that, and to make a bold decision, so that I knew I could make bold decisions for the rest of my life. Not to have anything to fall back on, I think, was the logic.”

On being dubbed an “indie girl” by the UK’s Independent newspaper, and going mainstream

“It’s conscious, and it’s not conscious. There were opportunities for me to do more mainstream things earlier on, and I chose not to, ’cause they weren’t things that I wanted to do. And then I suppose I got to the point of thinking, ‘Well, you know, I would like to have as diverse and varied a career as I’m allowed to have. You always have to bear in mind that it’s not like I have my pick of every role out there; you are picking from what other people want you to do.”

On working in a genre defined by fear and paranoia, and steering clear of over-the-top

“I think it’s a sort of necessary hypothetical extreme, so that we can negotiate what the possibilities are – in their worst form – and have that discussion. You need [the willing suspension of disbelief]; that’s part of any healthy art form that raises questions. And I think you have to go the extra mile to get that kind of reaction.”

On whether there’s risk, in the era of Snowden and Manning, in suggesting that Closed Circuit’s fictions closely resemble fact

“I wouldn’t entirely agree with you there. I think it’s any responsible art-form’s duty to help us think about how we live. And if we were to not tackle these issues in narratives, in stories, we wouldn’t necessarily see the dangers and the problems, and be able to think about them.”