Saturday, January 23, 2010


Cabin fever got a hold of me yesterday something fierce. I'd been cooped up all week long. My phone rang round noontime. It was my friend, Mike, calling in a celebratory mood (I can't say why yet) and wanting to see a movie and maybe have some dinner. "Sign me up," I said. I haven't been to a movie in ages. I'm like some old fart who finds it easier to Netflix hit the On Demand red button on my TV remote. We had no trouble agreeing on seeing George Clooney in UP IN THE AIR. We also decided to check out Foster Burger, the fairly recent culinary brainchild of Portland's popular Pok Pok owner and the chef of the high end Sel Gris.

I hated JUNO. I thought Jason Reitman had delivered a movie that screamed INDIE. Overly cute, this is dark comedy with its head up its ass. When Juno comes home and announces to her parents that she's pregnant, their response was insane. Can you really believe your parents would have reacted to the new by saying, "Oh thank god, we thought it was drugs!" And would you really give away a child to a woman as clueless as Jennifer Garner's character was in this movie? All she is thinking of is having a baby. She never notices her husband isn't on board with this at all--she's just in la-la land about motherhood. Totally unbelievable movie, despite the charm of Ellen Page's Juno.

The ending of UP IN THE AIR leaves a slight sense of dissatisfaction. But then again, I have a need for tidy endings, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair. No matter. UP IN THE AIR is about as wonderful a movie as I've seen in ages. George Clooney delivers a performance to set beside THREE KINGS and OUT OF SIGHT. He's just perfect as Ryan Bingham, the guy hired to fire people in America's rapidly crumbling corporate world. I wonder why so many of us think of Clooney as our contemporary Cary Grant. Yes he is impossibly handsome, with his salt and pepper gray hair, soulful eyes and easy, likable screen presence. And there's that seductive bass voice of his. But Grant's reputation rests mostly on a gallery of effortless comedies, some good and some terrible. Grant rarely showed how good his acting chops were and he endured for decades and decades. Early in his film career, it looked like Clooney would have gone the way of Grant--and sometimes I have wondered why he hasn't taken on more romantic comedies, which could certainly use his effortless charm. Oddly enough, he's tanked in romantic comedies genre in duds opposite Michele Pfeiffer and Catherine Zeta-Jones. He has, however, scored very big in the dumb Oceans franchise playing suave to a T. But Clooney has increasingly asked us to take him seriously in a clutch of astutely picked films, and it has paid off some handsome dividends with SYRIANA and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK. I've never seen him more in command of the material he's given here and it makes him even more likable, more handsome more watchable. Does that mean it's George Clooney the actor or the movie star? I'm not sure. On more than one occasion Clooney has reminded me of James Garner, woefully underused in the movies, but a guy who artfully uses his handsome presence on screen in romantic, or tough, or comedic roles who can fly from silly to grave as the situation warrants. You're always aware it's Clooney (or Garner), but they are always a pleasure to watch and that's not easy.

The whole cast of UP IN THE AIR is spectacular. I loved Vera Farmiga's Alex and Anna Kendrick's smugly young Natalie grabs you the minute she enters and doesn't let go. This diminutive dynamo should be given every opportunity. A big young talent.

Jason Reitman gave a terrible suck-up speech at the Golden Globes this year, and it may be a key to some lapses in his movies. UP IN THE AIR is miles better than JUNOT, but for me the end is a bit of a letdown. I'm not going to spoil it here. And I don't at all mean to suggest you shouldn't see it. Obviously Reitman can handle actors (both Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons from JUNOT have roles here), and his screenplay is sharp and dazzling. The sexy zingers going back and forth between Clooney and Farmiga left the audience laughing and panting at the same time--who writes clever dialogue like this anymore?

Afterwards, we went to Foster Burger, a fairly new joint out in the no-man's land of SE Foster and 52nd Avenue. I say no man's land because across the street is an adult movie store and a seedy massage parlor--a strange place for a burger with the kind of pedigree that shouts the Pearl District. Foster Burger is co-owned by Chef Daniel Mondok (Sel Gris) and restaurateur Andy Ricker (Pok Pok), two of the biggest culinary stars in Portland. It's got a divey vibe. We got there around 9:15 last night and the place was just winding down (they close at 10, and apparently are packed at 8:00).

There is a fair selection of beer to choose from but only a syrah and a chardonnay for wine. The menu is short and mostly smart. What you want here is the burger (there is a lamb, fish and mushroom burgers for the finicky) and fries. You can order it for extra $ with chick cu bacon or sharp cheddar cheese (our choices), bleu cheese, a fried egg or caramelized onions. And there is a daily soup choice and salads (does a dive really need a chopped salad that includes such pretentious additions as chicken confit, radicchio and pork belly lardons?).

The burger is spectacular. Beefy and augmented with back fat, this char grilled patty is perfect. The bacon and sharp cheddar are in ideal balance. For once a so-called fancy burger isn't an overstuffed mess that falls apart in your hands (though you do need more than one napkin to contain all the good juices running down your fingers and arms) The sesame seed roll is delicious--soft but with body enough to hold hold everything including lettuce, house-made pickles, onion and Foster's secret sauce. The accompanying fries were also first rate--crunchy, slightly salty, with soft potatoey interiors. I don't eat burgers very often, but this is an exceptional burger.

Our waitress didn't tell us there were specials, which I noticed on a board over the kitchen near the bar. There was a hot dog that included a chorizo sausage, and fried pig's ears, a bit strange to me. They also have truffled fries, which seems like gilding the lily to me.

Foster Burger's makes one helluva great burger. It perfectly capped of a perfect Friday movie night which even Portland's famed rain couldn't put a dent in.

I called a friend this morning who travels all over the world in search of birds. The reason I called is that the last four days, hundreds of robins have been invading my backyard holly bush, eating all the red berries, and acting strangely. I had never seen this before. Tom, my birding friend said it is very common. The robins wait, somehow knowing that the berries have reached a kind of fermentation stage and attack the holly bushes, gobbling up the berries, which make them drunk. It's a riot to see them besotted on fermented berries, attempting to fly. Lots of loop-de-loops, near mid-air crashes, ruffled, unsmoothed feathers, and bird brawls ensue. Every time I reach for my camera, they scatter.

My friend Michael Smith, who is a talented photograph took this shot of me at my laptop in my dining room during a visit to visit his step-son and family in Eugene. I like Michael's compositional eye and his fidelity to black and white photos with crisp white borders. It's so retro it looks entirely new!

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