review

Film Fanatic: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Review

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‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

 

Expectations for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were perhaps the highest for any movie in history. It had been more than a decade since we traveled to a galaxy far, far away and more than 30 since we cared too.

For the most part, director JJ Abrams succeeded with Force Awakens. It’s a crowd-pleasing spectacle with fun new characters, great action sequences and nice callbacks to the original trilogy that never feel distracting. It’s the embodiment of nostalgia. It’s also very safe and feels like a greatest hits album.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on the other hand has the feel of a great debut album from an emerging band. You could make an argument that director Gareth Edwards had even more pressure than Abrams because he was making a standalone prequel to the film that started it all. Plus, putting the word “prequel” and Star Wars in the same sentence is always a cause for concern.

Yeah, this shot isn’t even in the movie. | (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Fortunately, Edwards has crafted a movie worthy of being in the Star Wars canon and one that is perhaps the best blockbuster of 2016. Although that’s not saying much.

Rogue One exists because of 12 words featured in the opening crawl to A New Hope.

“Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon.”

When the film was announced, I was thinking heist film. But Edwards decided to go bigger by making Rogue One a legitimate war film (I mean it’s right there in the title).

The story follows Jyn Erso, a lost soul thanks to a forced separation from her parents at a very young age (We’ve certainly seen that storyline before). But when she is recruited to serve as a gateway between the Rebellion and non-allied forces to track down her father, the architect behind the Death Star, suddenly she has purpose.

But the Rebellion has different plans for her father. What starts as an assassination mission turns into something far more important when it is revealed that while designing the Death Star, Galen Erso implemented a flaw in the planet killer that would allow it to be destroyed. Now Erso must team with the Rebellion to obtain the plans to the Death Star which are located in the heart of enemy territory.

It takes a little while for Rogue One to get going. The first act is basically all setup with many expository scenes. But you have to lay the groundwork at some point so why not do it in the beginning.

Once Jyn teams up with a group of fighters including Rebellion loyalist Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), soldiers looking to fight in Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and a reluctant pilot named Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Rogue One becomes far more engaging. It also helps that they have a robot named K-2SO (Voiced by Alan Tudyk) who is the comic relief of the film.

Much like The Force Awakens, Rogue One was made with an emphasis on practical effects. The spaceships are rusted, the stormtroopers actually have dirt on them and it looks like they actually built At-At walkers (They didn’t). This feels like a lived-in world and that makes the battle sequences feel that much more real.

Is this a galaxy far far away or the Middle East? | (Disney/Lucasfilm)

And realism is what you need in a war film. While there are plenty of tremendous aerial battles involving the Rogue Squadron and Imperial Star Destroyers, much of the fight happens on the ground with the soldiers in a beach setting that is both visually unique and relevant in our history of war.

The third act is essentially one long action sequence and while that is the norm in just about every blockbuster these days, this one is particularly thrilling and kinetic because Edwards masterfully jumps from the ground to the air to Jyn and Andor searching for the plans. Save for the light-saber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren at the end of Force Awakens, the third act battle is much more coherent and exciting in Rogue One.

The characters however are less memorable than in Force Awakens. As familiar as that film felt; Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron were charming, funny and interesting new characters you wanted to get to know.

Aside from Jyn and Andor, everyone else in Rogue One is a cog in a fast-moving machine and while they all do an admirable and efficient job, a little more character development would have been nice. Especially since this film is a one-off.

As for the main characters, Felicity Jones is fine as Jyn. Daisy Ridley had the benefit of being a complete unknown in Force Awakens and that helped in her performance. You could actually see a movie star in the making.

Jones on the other hand is an Oscar nominee who plays Jyn kind of cold. But her character is an orphan forced to lead a dangerous life so you kind of see where she’s coming from. Luna as Andor might be my favorite character. He’s a leader in the Rebellion and yet such a title has come at a costly price. He certainly has his flaws and wants to find some redemption in his actions by the end.

Ben Mendelsohn once again plays a villain and his performance is pretty standard. He’s a great actor, but the way the character is written makes him feel like an insecure minion who was never given his moment to shine.

Speaking of villains, Darth Vader makes an appearance and unfortunately, he’s not in the film nearly enough. That being said, he does get a spectacular scene at the very end that might be worth the price of admission alone.

Aside from a shaky first act and thinly-drawn characters, Rogue One demands to be seen on the big screen. I am by no means a die hard Star Wars fan so the level of time and passion put into this franchise by fans is foreign to me. But I can respect the film for delivering its promise of being both an entertaining ride and a through-line into the original trilogy.

The final shot could have come off as nothing more than fan service and instead felt like both a perfect setup to A New Hope and a tribute to that film.

Is Rogue One better than Force Awakens? It’s too early to say. But Lucasfilm and Disney are definitely 2 for 2 in this Star Wars revitalization.

Film Fanatic: ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ Movie Review

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‘The Edge of Seventeen’

 

Do you remember when you were 17? It’s different for boys and girls, but in general, it’s that period where childhood is saying goodbye and adulthood is asking, are you ready?

Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is not. In fact, she’s never really felt ready about anything. In her mind, there’s two kinds of people, those who naturally excel in life, and those who hope those people die in a huge explosion.

Just about the only thing holding her together is her best friend Krista. But when she finds Krista in bed with her brother (Blake Jenner), Nadine sees that as an act of betrayal and suddenly the only person left for her to confide in is her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who would rather sit quietly at lunch and eat his store-bought burritos.

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The banter between Steinfeld and Harrelson is worth the price of admission alone. | (STX Entertainment)

Now I know what you’re thinking? Nadine sounds like just another millennial who thinks only about herself and wants everything handed to her without putting in any work. You might be half-right, but there’s a reason for her general unhappiness. A personal tragedy occurred some years back and that, mixed with general teenage hormones, isn’t the right combination.

The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t sound like a particularly uplifting film and yet, writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig has crafted a fresh, funny and entertaining teen movie. The dialogue is excellent and somehow manages to feel clever and unpretentious. I felt like I was watching an Amy Heckerling or Diablo Cody film at times.

It’s also rated R which is an important distinction. High schoolers curse and the film accurately depicts that without feeling it necessary to throw in raunchy scenes just to earn that R rating.

Of course you can’t have great dialogue without actors who can deliver it and Steinfeld in particular is outstanding. This is easily her best performance since her breakout role in The Coen Brothers’ True Grit. Her timing, facial expressions and mannerisms reminded me of a veteran actress taking a role and making it her own. I’m not sure how much of it was on the page and how much of it was from Steinfeld, but she was confident in playing an unconfident person. If that makes any sense.

The supporting cast is also stellar. Harrelson is excellent as always. He might be the most effortless actor working today. I don’t know if it’s the pot smoke billowing from his trailer between takes, but he has this irrational confidence about him from role to role. Whether he’s playing a complete psycho in Out of the Furnace and Rampart or a lovable buffoon in the upcoming Wilson, he just doesn’t give two f**ks. Again, if that makes any sense.

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If ‘True Grit’ was her breakout role, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ might be Hailee Steinfeld’s star-making performance. | (STX Entertainment)

Haley Lu Richardson as Krista and Jenner as the brother are also actual characters. They could have easily been one-note obstacles in Nadine’s way, but they’re given depth and personality. The same can also be said for Erwin (Hayden Szeto) who plays a potential love interest for Nadine. He comes and goes but he shines in every scene he’s in.

Kudos to the filmmakers for leaving out an over-bearing hipster soundtrack as well. We don’t need a pop song to articulate how these characters are feeling. The script does the job.

As for faults, The Edge of Seventeen does seem to lose a bit of momentum after a blistering start, but it’s a necessary turn once the plot becomes more serious. However, the third act is very predictable and the story wraps up a little too neatly. Nadine is also borderline unlikeable, but when you know the root of her unhappiness, you feel sorry for her rather than annoyance.

But it’s the characters and the dialogue that make The Edge of Seventeen rise above your standard teen comedy. Not only is this one of the funniest movies of 2016, it’s also one of the best films period. Somewhere out there, John Hughes is smiling.

Film Fanatic: ‘Arrival’ Movie Review

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Some of the great science fiction stories, whether told in print or on the big screen, have had an ability to not only entertain, but ask thoughtful questions about what it means to be alive. Whether it’s Fahrenheit 451, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 2001: A Space Odyssey or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, great sci-fi is steeped in subtext about the present despite usually taking place in the future.

Arrival, the new film from Denis Villeneuve, is set in the modern day, and yet the value of past, present and future plays a major role in where the film goes. It’s thought-provoking, engrossing and somewhat confusing all at once and I really haven’t stopped thinking about it since leaving the theater.

Amy Adams stars as Louise Banks, a linguist who is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications after twelve mysterious-looking spacecrafts arrive in various parts of the world. Are they here to harm or help? This is the fundamental question with any alien-invasion movie.

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Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star in ‘Arrival.’ | (Paramount Pictures)

But don’t go into Arrival expecting Independence Day or War of the Worlds. The fear doesn’t come from set pieces and explosions, but rather the unknown which can be a far more effective storytelling tool.

The first act of Arrival is soaked in tension and suspense. Told from Banks’ perspective, Villeneuve provides a great mix of shock and awe. The first real sight of the spacecraft is done in a glorious wide shot from the air. The fog clears, Johann Johannsson’s haunting score kicks in and suddenly you experience both curiosity and fear as a hovering object looms over a Montana field.

After that initial tension, the film settles into a cerebral slow-burn in the vein of Contact and Signs. The arrival of these spaceships has resulted in mass panic across the globe as different countries prepare for the worst.

But Banks, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and their team must learn to communicate with the aliens in order to understand their intentions and prevent a global disaster that will no doubt result in different nations destroying each other rather than the aliens themselves.

The scenes involving Banks and Donnelly using the symbols the aliens give them to create a language are fascinating. One of the themes of the film is communication and how a lack of it can lead to chaos. But with the proper tools, we can learn to work together to solve problems and come up with resolutions. Dr. Banks is the driving force behind this.

The intentions of the aliens are not known until the third act when a major plot twist occurs. When this happens, you have to recalibrate everything you think you know about what’s going on. It’s one of the better twists I’ve seen and it makes you want to watch the film all over again.

Adams is terrific in the lead role. One of the great things about Adams’ work is that she can be commanding and vulnerable at the same time. As the plot is revealed, these strengths are on full display. I would not be surprised if she receives her sixth Oscar-nomination for this performance.

Sadly, I cant’ say the same for the other characters. Renner is fine as Donnelly, but he is literally a background character supporting Banks when he needs to. This ends up being a crux because while his character is seemingly inconsequential, he becomes far more important in the third act and by then, we don’t really know him or care about him.

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A lack of communication can lead us down a dangerous path. | (Paramount Pictures)

Whitaker does a good enough job as the Colonel, but his competence could be called into question when two of his soldiers do something utterly baffling that felt like a plot device rather than organically moving the story forward. In the end, nearly everyone is nothing more than an obstacle in Banks’ way.

But Arrival is truly unique. It’s a necessary film in a time when seemingly so much civil unrest exists. You could argue the aliens act as a resolution to a problem we as a country have yet to solve.

Villeneuve’s direction is restrained and yet also confident. The script does have a little too much exposition in the third act following the twist. But for the most part, it’s intelligent and avoids holding the audience’s hand.

The ending is both beautiful and profound and it makes you consider what you would do if faced with the same circumstances. The best films are ones that stay with you long after you see them. A film like Arrival could be put in that group. It’s a film I’m eager to see again and it’s one you should check out.

Viewpoint: Go Set A Watchman

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Go Set A Watchman
Go Set A Watchman US Book cover.

On July 14, 2015, one of the most anticipated fiction novels was released both in the United States and the United Kingdom. Go Set A Watchman, the second book by author Harper Lee made it’s debut almost fifty five years to the day after the first release of To Kill A Mockingbird. The storyline of Watchman centers on Jean Louise Finch, “Scout” returning home to Maycomb County to discover, everything has changed since she and her brother Jem were the object of attention from neighbor Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch

In the weeks leading up to the release, reviews began to emerge that the father of Jean Louise, Attica Finch, had become a racist. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus defends a man falsely accused of rape, and later during the film of the same name, Gregory Peck delivers one of the revered performances ever, which won him an Academy Award.

Writers and the blogosphere cried out in dismay at the fall from grace.

“Say it isn’t so?”

“Falls from grace – first Cliff Huxtable, now Atticus Finch.”

With a simultaneous release in both the United Kingdom and the United States, fellow writers “across the pond” got their hands on the book and were putting their thoughts into newspapers, before I even woke up. After reading their reviews, I wondered if it was worth preordering and prepaying for my copy on the first day release.

On the third day, and after avoiding the “mass hysteria” about Mister Finch’s tainted view, I picked up my copy and isolated myself for the read. Cover to cover, one sitting. As I read the book, I could not help but be drawn back to the circumstances that brought Lee’s first book to me.

Growing up in Australia, there was not a lot of detail paid to the civil issues of the South. The book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is required reading in junior High School English, along with Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. My first viewing of the film was in 1982 – not a lot of television in Australia. However, as my daughters grew up, they too also experienced Mockingbird as required reading in both Australia and the USA. Like myself, they also were not exposed to the civil issues of the south before the book, but had more exposure to Hollywood’s interpretation of the issues.

Go Set A Watchman draws on the premise that every person has a Watchman, a conscience. Jean Louise, on a humid Sunday afternoon finds herself sitting in the same balcony of the courthouse where she watched her father so many years ago. This time, Atticus is leading a Citizen’s Council. Jean Louise is horrified and then goes on tirade against almost everyone. Almost.

The book has flashback scenes interspersed explaining where her childhood friends ended up.  Dill lives in Italy and her older brother, Jem, passed away with a heart attack. About the only person in Maycomb that hasn’t changed is Calpurnia, who is still the housekeeper for Mister Finch.

Go Set A Watchman reads like a “first draft”, including a reference to Atticus defending Tom Robinson, and having him acquitted of rape twenty years earlier – the storyline that would eventually became Mockingbird. Watchman does not have the same hold as Mockingbird, and it’s hard to imagine that Lee would “allow” this to be released, after a lifetime of rejecting pleas for a sequel. Lee, aged 89 and still living in Alabama, had her manuscript of Watchman “found” during an audit of assets by her lawyer.

Widower Atticus Finch
Widower Atticus Finch

The commotion about Atticus appears to be, unjustified. After getting into a heated discussion with Jean Louise, Mister Finch delivers the same lines from Mockingbird that his daughter has always heard from him. As her father, Atticus has never “forced” her daughter to do anything, and this time is no exception. The hysteria about Atticus being a racist old Southern lawyer, is unfounded. The town of Maycomb may have had a change of viewpoint towards civil rights, but Atticus, is still the same reserved man fighting the same internal demons that he did in Mockingbird.

I wouldn’t expect anything else from a single father bringing up his children in a evolving world.

Music: Red Hot Chili Peppers ignite Rose Garden in Portland Wednesday

It’s hard to believe that a couple of punks from the streets of Los Angeles appearing on stage with nothing but tube socks placed over their privates have reached a major milestone: turning 50.

For 29 years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have gone through just about everything that would normally kill off any other rock band — personal turmoil, drugs, alcohol, death of former band members and the pressure to keep up with the changing times.

The trio of Anthony Kiedis, Michael “Flea” Balzary and Chad Smith — all in their 50s — have been able to work past it all. They have continued to write and record even when they had to go through a difficult process of changing guitarists when longtime member John Frusciante left the band in 2009. The band quickly rebounded with protégé Josh Klinghoffer, 33, on their newest record released last summer.

In support of “I’m With You,” their 10th studio album, the Chili Peppers made a stop to the Rose Garden on Nov. 14, since last appearing in Portland in the summer of 2006. Fans were a fine mix of both young and old, those who have grown up with the band since they first formed in 1983 to those who are brand new.

Kicking off an hour and 45-minute set with “Monarchy of Roses,” there was the usual blend of in-your-face, high energy performance that fans love to see, with a spectacular light show to match. Bassist Flea would bounce around from all corners of the stage while Kiedis spun in circles with his shirt off, sipping on tea and cough drops in-between songs. Not bad-looking for someone who just turned 50.

The Chili Peppers satisfied with classics “Scar Tissue,” “Can’t Stop,” “Californication” and “Under the Bridge,” and the entire crowd sang along word for word. They dug into new Klinghoffer-material with “Rain Dance Maggie,” “Ethiopia” and “Look Around” and surprised with “Soul to Squeeze,” “Suck My Kiss” and “Universally Speaking.”

After blazing through an explosive version of “Give It Away” to close the encore and 18-song set list, the Chili Peppers left the crowd drenched in sweat and begging for more.

“We want to thank you Portland from the bottom of our hearts,” Flea said. “This has truly been an amazing night.” Fans dangled from above the rafters screaming his name as he grinned his famous tooth gap before disappearing for the night.

 

Set List:

“Monarchy of Roses”

“Around the World”

“Snow (Hey Oh)”

“Scar Tissue”

“Can’t Stop”

“Ethiopia”

“Throw Away Your Television”

“She’s Only 18″

“Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”

“Right On Time”

“Universally Speaking”

“Under the Bridge”

“Look Around”

“Californication”

“By The Way”

 

Encore:

“Suck My Kiss”

“Soul to Squeeze”

“Give It Away”

‘Sleepwalk with Me’ Movie Review

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In the opening shot of Sleepwalk with Me, Matt Birbiglia, playing Matt Pandamiglio, looks right at the camera and says he’s going to tell us a story that he insists is true. Then he prefaces those words with a joke about people walking up to him and asking, “Was that true?” in the most obnoxious way. This opening monologue sets the tone for a film that could be described as an autobiographically inspired, fictional feature debut. Is it true? Who cares. Sleepwalk with Me is a film that works well in the comedic moments, even if it falls a little short in the overall story.

A comedy about self-doubt, telling jokes and sleepwalking.

Matt is dealing with some issues. He has a girlfriend of eight years recording marriage and baby shows. He’s slinging drinks at a comedy club instead of standing up on stage telling jokes and if that weren’t enough, he’s developed a sleepwalking problem.

It’s never really said why he’s suddenly walking around his apartment imagining laundry hampers as jackals and neck pillows as pizza neck pillows, but it’s pretty easy to understand Matt’s reached a phase in his life where an expected future isn’t what he wants. Another visit to his parent’s house, as well as his younger sister getting married, reinforce the notion of settling down, accepting life for what it is and being content.

“You say you’re going to go see the doctor, you don’t. You say you want to be a comedian, you’re a bartender. I mean pick a damn plan and stick with it,” says his father sternly. So Matt decides to give comedy more of an effort.

It’s not that he’s afraid of getting up in front of a crowd, he’s just eager for some material (Cookie Monster jokes eventually lose their appeal). But when a fellow comedian suggests he use real-life situations for inspiration, Matt finally hears laughs in the audience and moderate success quickly follows.

He finally begins to lead the life of a comic: Lonely car rides, smelly hotel rooms and fast-food every night. But more than just living his dream as a comedian, Matt is running away from a possible future with Abby.

Abby seems like a crucial character in the film as Matt’s girlfriend, but for the most part she exists only to periodically add drama to his life. The parents too seem like versions of characters: the conservatively-square father, the always-a-little-drunk mother acting as the counterpart.

These one-note characters as well as a third act that loses some steam when Matt reaches a crucial turning point in his life highlight a flawed but good film. The ending proves to be unexpected, but still a little underwhelming as laughter is replaced with a sudden desire to wrap up subplots quickly. At barely 80 minutes long, it’s as if the comedian was worried about running a set too long and felt the need to wrap it up.

But this is Birbiglia’s movie. As a comedian, he specializes in finely-timed jokes and it’s at these moments where the film shines. The self-deprecating humor, awkward interactions and impressive physical comedy during the sleepwalking scenes highlight Birbiglia as a comedian who can play both understated and showy.

Lauren Ambrose and Mike Birbiglia.

Carrying a heavy load as director/writer/producer and star, Birbiglia showcases a real talent for storytelling as well. Mixing third-person scenes, creative dream sequences and fine camera work, Birbiglia’s  feature-film debut has a lot of heart and creativity. In particular, a long tracking shot of him walking through a hotel while talking on the phone perfectly conveys his frustration with his life back home and his desire to run away from it permanently.

At its core Sleepwalk With Me is about accepting life’s failures and deciding whether to move on, or continue pursuing a dream and still be okay if things don’t work out. It’s refreshing to see a film where the star is someone you’ve never seen before. That sense of discovery endears us to this character. Sleepwalk with Me is a funny and charming comedy that’s appealing not only as an indie comedy, but as a showcase for a comedian you might not have seen before.

Sleepwalk with Me is currently playing at the Bijou and can be seen until Thursday, Oct. 4.

The Book Monster: Vol. 1

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If you like novels, biographies, short-stories, old musty books, zines, online journals, architectural journals, picture books, homemade books, how-to books, history books, travel books, bargain books, black books, white books, literary journals, books that are falling apart, books with missing pages, joke books, or the one your working on, this is the column for you. Welcome to my bi-weekly  book column. I hope The Book Monster develops a great following. My goal is to develop a not-too-serious book column of outstanding quality that is interactive with its readers. This month I’d like to know who your favorite author is. You can let me know by commenting via Facebook near the bottom of the page. 

Book Reviews:

“Hot Pink” by Adam Levin, McSweeney’s: While dealing primarily with teens and early adults, this collection of short-stories is filled with gas-huffers, a parapalegic, inventors, tough-guys, tough girls and many other characters. What I really liked about this book is that it reminded me of all the odd-ball situations I found myself in as a teenager. If you’re in the mood for some non-serious reading, and lots of laughter interlaced with a few deep moments I’ll recommend this book to you. If you like judging books by their covers you can judge this one three times; it comes in three different different colors: grey, pink, and blue.

“Undaunted Courage” By Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster: I’m currently listening to this audiobook in my car, and it never stops amazing me. Although the narrator sounds like a robot, the quality of writing and subject material are more than enough to compensate for the robot voice. But if you read the paper format you won’t have worry to about it. This book chronicles the journey of Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery’s journey to find the northwest passage from 1804-1806. A few of my favorite parts of the book thus far include: accounts of the first American (non-native) encounters with grizzly bears, a glimpse into Post-revolutionary America, and the geographical theories that were once had about the western United states. If you like history, action, adventure, camping, or traveling this book is for you. Stephen E. Ambrose who also authored the Band of Brothers is a Grade A historian who has the ability to make history exciting. I’ll have more on this book when I finish it.

“The Literary Cat”, Berkeley Windover Books: I recently found this oddity on an end table at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon. This oversized hardcover book is filled with quips, poems, and stories about cats written by a plethora of famous authors. J.R.R. Tolkien’s cat poem was fun to read because I have never read any of his work that wasn’t related to the “Lord of the Rings”. I also really enjoyed the short excerpt of the Cheschire Cat and Alice’s dialogue from “Alice in Wonderland.” The book is also filled with contemporary-cat art (if you can still call 1977, the year it was published, contemporary). If you love cats and famous authors like Shakespeare and Hemingway you might want to curl up on the sofa with a cat on your lap and read this book.

Finding the Burger Joint – Fin’s Drive-In

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— Scott Zeppa, EDN

Greetings, Eugene! I’m the Fast Food Junkie, and I’m not sorry! So last week I began my quest to find the great American burger joint, and got off to a great start at Giant Burger.  I have a high degree of confidence that I will be having many savory experiences with tasty ground beef while on this quest. The only thing that might make it better is if The Daily had the budget to expense my lunches. This week I’m headed back to Springfield to experience Fin’s Drive-In.

Fin’s Drive-In, located at 4090 Main St., is just up the road from Giant Burger. The exterior screams Americana right from the approach, as one is met by the back end of a Cadillac on the exterior wall. The bold, finned sign on the roof speaks to the spirit of this place, exactly the kind I set out in search of. I was excited and hopeful as I went in the door.

That red, white and blue spirit is also manifested in the interior: a great semi-circular counter plus ample booths regaled with classic American flair. But this place has earned it, starting out as an A&W counter in the ’50s, with the pictures and certificates on the wall to prove it.  Unfortunately, no one in the establishment at the time knew any of the details regarding the historical wall hangings. But this place is clearly a genuine classic. It is a true drive-in, with car hop service all year round. There’s even an old-school jukebox in the corner, but unfortunately no platters inside as the working guts are now digital. The lighting was warm, but not overly bright, and the place was well kept and clean.

Upon my entry, I was immediately greeted by my excellent (and lone) server, Shelly, and I seated myself at an open counter stool. There were four other parties totaling 11 patrons when I arrived. The mix was essentially a senior crowd and a family of six. However, while I was there, a party of three of Springfield’s pierced, tatted and dreadlocked hipsters came in and enjoyed a nice lunch as well. I arrived a little later in the lunch rush, about 1:45 pm, and I strongly recommend this strategy when one wants a sit down lunch while also desiring to expedite time. Almost coincidentally with my presence on the stool, Shelly provided me with a glass of water and acknowledgement. Always friendly and courteous, she was prompt in returning to ask if I was ready to order, and informing me of the special.

Perfectly enough, Tuesday’s special is the Fin’s Classic Burger Combo for $7.00. The combo is a 1/4 lb. burger, fries and a 16 oz. drink. Standard toppings are lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and special sauce. Mustard and ketchup are brought to the table in old-school squeeze bottles, which I prefer. The special sauce is Thousand Island dressing or something close to it. There are the typical four cheese options: american, cheddar, pepperjack and swiss. I added cheddar for 35 cents, dropped the tomato and filled it all out with a Dr. Pepper. Solid!

Fin’s offers seven specialty burgers and a wide variety of other fare. They have a selection of seven soups, seven sandwiches, a soup of the day and homemade chili. They also offer other classic American fare like hot dogs, grilled cheese and chicken strips. They provide a full breakfast menu until 11:30 am, a full dinner menu from 4 – 9 pm, both with kids meal selections. There’s even a soda fountain serving old fashioned floats and milkshakes in 20 flavors, not to mention sundaes, soft serve ice cream, home made cookies, brownies and pies. Those with a sweet tooth will be tempted. Me? I was there for the burger, baby!

I had my beverage within seconds of my order, and food in seven minutes. Excellent! It was a classic basket. The burger was fantastic, 1/4 lb. patty, big bun style. It was thoroughly cooked but still juicy, and had a great flavor. The toppings were balanced well in quantity and worked well together. I was worried about the special sauce because this application can often be overdone. Some places think their sauce is a little too special, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). But Fin’s got it right, beautifully balanced. The bun was soft, yet held up until the last, lovely bite. The fries were crinkle cut style, and had good potato flavor. They were light and crispy, yet still starchy enough on the inside. No grease to speak of, either.  You like the O-rings instead of fries? No problem, but it is a little extra.

Great ambiance, service and food, all coming in at under $7.50 (before tip). That’s a great value in my book, and I look forward to enjoying Fin’s Drive-In again. I’m really fascinated to learn more about the history of the place, as well as throw down another Fin’s Classic. By the way, if you’re reading this Shelly, I wasn’t trying to give you a history quiz I promise lol!

And don’t you worry, Eugene!  I’m coming to check out one of your joints next, and see if it lives up to the hype. Until then, in the immortal words of a dear friend of mine, “Eat is good!”

 

Finding the burger joint, part 1: Giant Burger

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Greetings Eugene Daily Newsers!  I am the Fast Food Junkie, and I’m not sorry.  I am here to represent my local culture – a land of the big chains, but also diners, delis, carts, cafes, shacks, huts, and holes in the wall.  I have nothing against the wine and cheese set; I just have different tastes and a more blue collar style.

Giant Burger is a must for the Fast Food Junkie!

Every so often, it just pays to go off in search of the perfect burger.  But this time around I want something more.  I don’t just want to find the burger, I want to find the burger joint!  The burger joint:  a classic, local, family place, no alcohol, just good food and friendly atmosphere.  Mostly regulars eat there, but stop-ins are just as welcome.  Maybe you know the place!  My first stop on this quest was Giant Burger, located on the corner of 38th and Main St. in Springfield.

The place looks very family oriented and nostalgic from the outside, and has looked that way at least since I first arrived to this area some 15 years ago.  As I pulled up to lock my bike, however, I realized there was more to Giant Burger than meets the eye.  There is a small lottery set up in the back and they do serve beer.  Though not technically fitting the description of the burger joint I was looking for, I decided to press on because the gambling section (other than Keno) was well separated from the main room and they served no other type of alcohol than beer.  And yes, I was wanting lunch.

The interior makes you feel right at home

The interior is a sweet little setup with tables, booths and a small counter.  When I arrived at 1 pm there were already about 12 people in the place enjoying lunch and there was traffic in and out during the whole lunch hour.  The place is seat-yourself and the menus are waiting for you at the table.  Despite only one server working the counter, and what was apparently the end of a lunch rush, my order was taken within 5 minutes and I had my beverage within two minutes of the order.

The menu is immense for such a small place.  Giant Burger offers burgers from 1/6 pound to a full pound.  Basic toppings include mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato and red onion.  All the extras are there: cheeses, bacon, guacamole, etc.  They offer over 20 types of specialty burgers, and a garden burger for your vegetarian friends.  Order a basket and select from five types of fried potatoes: thick natural cut, curly fries, wedges, jojos, or skins.  Coleslaw, salad and onion rings are optional substitutes for fries.

The home cut fries are to die for!

There is also a variety of other American fare, over 15 kinds of sandwiches, and a good selection of soups, salads and low carb alternatives.  Giant Burger sports the normal complement of beverages, plus old fashioned shakes, sundaes and desserts – all very impressive, but for me it was all about burgers.  I kept it basic and got a 1/4 lb. burger basket, thick cut fries option, add cheese and 16 oz. Dr. Pepper.

The service, provided by the intrepid Judy, was courteous but brief – not surprising given she was holding down the lunch rush solo.

As I waited, I surveyed the patrons, an interesting mix of mostly older folks and some college aged youth.  There were only two cars parked outside when I arrived, plus a few drive up working lunch to-gos while there, so it’s my impression that it’s definitely a neighborhood place, particularly for those who like a little Keno with lunch.  The smell coming from the kitchen was making my mouth water, even moreso because the customer to server ratio led to the somewhat delayed arrival of my burger basket.  So be aware there could be delays when enough customers are there.  They pride themselves on making everything fresh at Giant Burger.

You can enter into the Giant Burger 5 lb. Challenge ... if you dare!

When my food did arrive, I was more than satisfied.  The burger was cooked thoroughly, yet still juicy and firm, and the toppings were ample, but not overdone.  The flavor was excellent.  I actually ate too much of it before I realized I hadn’t taken a photo!  The thick cut fries were thick, but not too dense, and the flavor was excellent.  They take longer to cook, so watch out – they are hot when they get to your table!  Giant Burger has received prior kudos from local media and it’s completely justified.  I enjoyed the meal thoroughly, and there were a couple fries left over.  My excellent lunch selection ran $8.00, not including tip – a little rich for starving students every day, but still a good value for us working stiffs who like a little more atmosphere than golden arches.

Overall, I was well pleased with my lunch experience at Giant Burger, and I am certain to go back.  This place is definitely a burger joint!

Oh, and did I mention the $40.00 “5 lb. Challenge?”  If you’re curious, or just hungry, head down to Giant Burger.  They will be happy to tell you all about it!  And they also deliver via Pony Express.

 

‘Communicating Doors’ offers a little time travel and a lot of humor

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Ryan Beltram, EDN

Who knew a story about time travel, murder and a dominatrix could be so funny and entertaining?

“Communicating Doors,” is the latest production at The Very Little Theatre. Originally written in 1993 by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, “Doors” features six characters, three timelines and one London hotel room. Each time period features different characters who may or may not be able to meet each other, depending on how events that occurred in the past played out.

The title refers to a door in the hotel room that allows a person to travel forward or backward in time.

Like any story involving time travel, the idea of going back to change something, or prevent something bad from happening, is the central issue. While both thrilling and serious, the amount of humor in it is what you’ll remember most about this story.
It begins in 2014 with Poopay, a prostitute (or special sexual consultant as she puts it) who specializes in the more aggressive aspects of sex. She arrives to service a man named Reece.

But Reece is in no condition for any physical activity, let alone sex.

The dying and desperate old man has invited Poopay to his hotel room as a witness to his confessions of having both of his wives murdered by his assistant, Julian. With Poopay’s signature on the written confession, Reece can finally clear his guilty conscience before time runs out. Poopay signs and attempts to leave with the confession, but Julian figures out what’s going on and tries to kill her. Unable to grab the confession, she escapes through a communicating door.

Poopay steps back into the room and soon discovers it’s 1994.

She startles Ruella, the second wife of Reece who soon will be murdered. Poopay attempts to convince her of the foreboding events that will soon take place. Ruella of course has a hard time believing there’s a time-traveling door in her room and that she might be murdered, but she’s always suspected Julian of being evil. She believes he murdered his own mother.

Ruella only begins to believe Poopay when she reveals how Reece’s first wife, Jessica, died in 1981. Ruella decides she will go through the communicating door, back to 1974, in an attempt to warn Jessica of her impending death.

Of course, going back in time to change the course of events that have already occurred will change everything that happens later, but in doing so, the three women can prevent the deaths of both wives, and perhaps also take care of Julian.

Sometimes confusing, the writer and actors are well aware of this illogical environment in which they’re performing, and they use the time they have (pun intended) to play many scenes for laughs. A story like this could have been told as a straightforward thriller, but the use of humor prevents the story from ever being dull.

Each time someone goes through the magical door, what’s to come is completely unpredictable, an ingenious move on the writer’s part. When characters from the past meet characters from the present, a hilarious host of changes ensues.

Besides the outrageous plot, the cast brings an exuberant amount of energy to the story.

Leslie Murray portrays Poopay, a spunky character that’s easily likable. Kathy James LaMontagne as Ruella is the oldest and wisest of the three women, and the driving force for the whole story. Naomi Ruiz-Todd as the youngest character, Jessica, isn’t really allowed to be anything other than an innocent 1970s baby doll, but she gives the character as much boisterous enthusiasm as possible.

For the male roles, Michael Watkins stands out in his role as Julien. The character requires a perfect balance of suave manipulativeness and wicked evil, and Watkins achieves both.

Achilles Massahos plays Harold, the bumbling hotel detective who tries to keep things in order but often fails. As the authority figure in the play, Massahos is hilarious. He even gets the best physical transformation of all the characters when time shifts back to 1974. Despite being the character that sets everything in motion, Reece, played by Michael Walker, is the least featured player, but plays his role convincingly portrays as a 30-year-old and a 70-year-old.

The set features a cut-away bathroom, a rotating door and creepy music to invoke illusions of time travel. A balcony sits at the back of the set and features the funniest scene in the play.

There isn’t a lot of character development, but there doesn’t need to be.”Communicating Doors” is a great thriller filled with excitement, tension and humor that strike at just the right moments. The result is positive and touching and may make the opening irrelevant, but the story is about suspending our disbelief and enjoying the ride.

The final three shows of “Communicating Doors” will be Oct. 27-29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors. The Thursday showing is $10 for all ages.

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