Running Up That Griffith Park Hill For Pablove

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I made it back to Los Angeles the day before, but I still had to make some money as bills will never pay themselves like they should, so I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have for this Saturday’s run. Nevertheless, I managed to wake up before 6 a.m. before the alarm on my cellphone went off. However, I did get a bit distracted by the late Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob” which was playing on television, and it remains one of my favorite movies of his. Michelle Pfeiffer was sheer perfection, Dean Stockwell played one of the few likable mob bosses in cinematic history, and Mercedes Ruehl stole every scene she was in.

Anyway, I arrived at Griffith Park in Burbank just as my fellow Pablove runners were beginning their warm-up exercises. These exercises seem simple in design, but they usually serve as a reminder of how my core muscles need to be strengthened more than I bother to realize. It’s all about the cores people, trust me.

This run had us full marathoners going 8 miles, and it took us up and down the backside of Griffith Park. This of course meant we had to run up that never ending hill which never ceases to punish those who ascend it. It doesn’t matter how good of a runner you are. Going up the backside always sucks the wind out of you. We were encouraged to shuffle up it, but even shuffling had me winded to where my walk breaks lasted longer than my time running.

When I came up to the one-mile sign, I wanted to curse it. This sign never comes soon enough on a run, and when I finally reach it, it looks like it is there just to laugh and sneer at me. There are runs where I feel like I have just completed 3 miles, and the one-mile sign shows up as if to say, “psych!” Damn you, one-mile sign! DAMN YOU!!!

Pablove 2019 Week Five

But then, upon closer observation, I realized the sign didn’t have the number one on it, but instead an up arrow. The arrow served as a reminder of the direction we needed to run in, as if it were not already obvious. Naturally, I felt like a schmuck for not noticing this at first glance. We all make mistakes and we are never perfect, and it could have been worse; I could have gone in the wrong direction. All the same, DAMN YOU ONE-MILE SIGN!!!

After finally reaching the top, I kept my speed in check as I descended down the other side. For a moment, I wondered if I was running in the wrong direction as Griffith Park became a little too silent for my taste. The drums of Robin Russell really would have been welcome at this point, but I guess he had a gig elsewhere.

Thankfully, Coach Lourdes was there to assure me I was going the right way. And yes, I did pass my fellow runners as they made their way back to where we started. As I made my way back, Lourdes became a bit concerned as I was coughing quite a bit. She asked if I was sick, and I replied I was not but that my allergies were having their way with me to where I wonder why I keep forgetting to invest in the Kleenex company. Maybe the air was dry or dusty. Lord knows the air quality in Los Angeles is never great, and those devastating wildfires have certainly made it even worse.

I have been thinking a lot about getting one of those Navage nose irrigation devices as I feel it will flush out all of my allergies to where my trash cans won’t be filled to the brim with used facial tissues. The only problem is the device costs $90 dollars, and this is a tiny bit more than I want to spend. Any suggestions? Would this be worth increasing my credit card debt for?

Navage Nasal Care

I made it back to where we started in one piece, and I was thrilled to see some of my fellow runners were still hanging around when I arrived. Typically, they are pretty quick to get in their cars and speed off, but I guess including the Hall & Oates song “Wait for Me” in one of my previous articles was enough to guilt trip a few Pablove runners into seeing me cross the finish line.

Regardless of my occasional cough, I came out of this run feeling good to where I felt the need to reward myself with a Sausage McMuffin with Egg sandwich at McDonald’s. As much as I should be avoiding fast food restaurants at my age, the breakfast meals at McDonald’s remain infinitely delicious after all these years. Even my dad loves their breakfast sandwiches, and he hates McDonald’s.

BREAKFAST

To be honest, this training season for the LA Marathon is going better than I expected. Hopefully I am not getting overconfident here, but I came into this season thinking I was not entirely ready to start training. I was hoping to start training more extensively before the Pablove runners met up for their first run, but balancing out running with making a living is always challenging as the latter wins out more often than not. But this time I want to burn the fat off my belly more than ever before. Here’s hoping I will once again look as svelte as I did back in high school. Anything is possible. Anything.

Once again, I implore you to make a tax-deductible donation to The Pablove Foundation which I am running this LA Marathon in support of. They are dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer, and while millions of dollars are spent by our government each year on cancer research, only a tiny portion of it goes towards pediatric cancer research. This disease will not cure itself, so please lend a helping hand.

Click here to find out how you can make a donation.

 

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‘Unfaithful’ is More Than Just a Gender Reversal on ‘Fatal Attraction’

Unfaithful movie poster

Unfaithful” could easily be seen as a gender reversal on “Fatal Attraction” as this time the wife cheats on her husband. Plus, both movies were directed by Adrian Lynne, and “Fatal Attraction” inadvertently created a formula of psychotic attraction which lasted for many years to where we got “Unlawful Entry,” “Single White Female” and “Swimfan” among other movies. “Unfaithful,” however, is not held captive to this formula, and it becomes not so much a thriller as it is a drama with profound conflict. It doesn’t end with an audience pleasing conclusion as it does with ambiguity over how to resolve a situation bound by inescapable moral complications.

The movie stars Diane Lane as Connie Summer, a happily married wife to Edward Summer (Richard Gere) and mother to Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan). On one massively windy day in downtown New York, she accidentally runs into French bookseller Paul Martel (Oliver Martinez) who invites her to his apartment to take care of her painfully scraped knees. This ends up with her meeting Paul again several times before they embark on a passionately sexual relationship which contrasts with the loving but average marriage she has with Edward. But it all ends up becoming an addiction she can’t quite tear herself away from, and the destruction of her marriage becomes more and more imminent as a result.

Unlike the average formulaic thriller which clearly delineates good and bad to where the wicked get the punishment they deserve, “Unfaithful” never lets the viewer off easy. It poses questions to the audience which they might not want to answer, and they linger long after the movie is over. The film was adapted from Claude Chabrol’s 1968 French film “The Unfaithful Wife,” and it doesn’t feel like much was changed in the translation. Connie’s affair ends up creating a ripple effect which severely affects those people she loves the most in life.

Edward is no idiot as he suspects something is up, and the stress and confusion we see on his face gets worse and worse. What he discovers leads him to commit an act of which he never felt capable, and we are left to wonder if he should be punished or forgiven. Lynne never leaves us with any easy answers in “Unfaithful,” and this makes this film all the more compelling.

Lane already had a long and successful acting career before this movie came along, but this is the role which brought her the audience she long deserved, and there is no forgetting her after this. The role of Connie Summer is a great one for any actress, and Lane more than rises to the challenge. While she is cheating on her beloved husband, she still makes her character very sympathetic and brilliantly portrays her conflicting emotions. The scene where she is heading home on the subway after her first sexual tryst with Paul is a marvel of film acting as her face is a stunning portrait of regret and excitement. Seeing Lane experiencing various emotions makes for an unforgettable acting moment which deserves much study for future generations of actors.

Gere, considered by People Magazine to be one of the sexiest men alive, is every bit her equal as Edward. It’s almost weird to see him in this kind of role because we have previously seen him play characters who either cheat on their spouse or run off with someone else’s wife. Here, he plays a loving husband who hasn’t done anything wrong, so this situation provides much confusion for him as well as a pain he hoped never to experience.

As for Oliver Martinez, it’s easy to see why anyone could easily fall for him. He exudes sexiness both in appearance and the way he speaks. But more importantly, he never makes Paul Martel a character with overtly evil intentions. This is not a man who can be easily described as a villain, but one who follows through on his passions regardless of the consequences they may bring about. When he comes face to face with those he has hurt, Paul never flaunts his ego or berates them. The way he sees it, he has done nothing wrong and never intended to wound anyone so deeply.

If “Unfaithful” were directed by anyone else, it would have made the wife more sympathetic and the husband a one-dimensional bastard to where you’d want the wife to cheat on him. But Lynne is far more interested in providing a fascinating portrait of a relationship which is not bad off, but instead one which turns out to be more susceptible to temptation than at first glance. The good guys and bad guys are never easily told apart in this story. There is a darkness in all the characters here, and it’s a darkness they don’t see until it’s much too late.

There was much talk after “Fatal Attraction” of how the original ending was changed to something more audience pleasing, but turning Glenn Close’s character from a wronged person into a psychotic menace who met a deadly end never sat well with many people. It’s as if Lynne has been paying a price for this ending ever since, and “Unfaithful” almost serves as a make up for him taking the easy way out back in 1987. Whatever the case, “Unfaithful” is a compelling drama which allows its actors to shine in ways we have not seen previously. Lane is a revelation here, and her performance, like this movie, is hard to shake.

Of course, “Unfaithful” still leaves the audience with one other burning question much like the one posed in “Fatal Attraction:” Why cheat on your spouse when they are played by Anne Archer or Richard Gere? Well, we may never know.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘No Country for Old Men’ was the Best Movie of 2007

No Country for Old Men poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2007.

Now this is a great movie!

No Country for Old Man” stands alongside some of Joel and Ethan Coen’s best movies including “Fargo” and “Barton Fink.” Some say it is a return to form for the brothers after their last two movies, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers,” but they can’t be as bad as people say they are. Even the worst Coen brothers’ movies are far more interesting than most American movies made today. The one thing “No Country for Old Men” proves is they never lost their touch to begin with, and who are we to think that they ever did? I mean really!

This movie is based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy, and he has written a lot of great novels over the years like “All the Pretty Horses.” I have not had the opportunity to read any of his books, but my understanding is they deal with a world where the goodness of human nature is a rarity as the atmosphere is overwhelmed by cruelty. His books have also been described as “unfilmable” by many, but I guess no one told the Coen brothers this (would it have made a difference?).

It all starts off with hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who stumbles upon a Mexican standoff gone bad where rotting corpses of drug runners and dogs are impossible to ignore (think of the ending of “Reservoir Dogs”). There are also a bunch of trucks laying around, and in them Llewelyn finds the only survivor who begs him for some water. But Llewelyn ends up passively avoiding his pleas as he has no water to give. Instead, he finds among the carnage a big stockpile of heroin and $2 million dollars in cash. He doesn’t bother with the drugs, but he takes the cash and stashes it back at his trailer home where he lives with his wife Carla (Kelly MacDonald).

His conscience, however, keeps him from getting any sleep, so he ends up doing what even he openly says may be “the biggest mistake” he could possibly make. He fills up a bottle of water and heads back to the site to give to that Mexican. Instead, he gets ambushed by a faceless gang who take their shots at him as he escapes away. From then on, the movie is a chase to the finish. But this isn’t simply a chase movie, but a movie where the souls of the characters threaten to be every bit as barren as the desert lands in Texas.

“No Country for Old Men” is one of those movies where everything you hear about it is absolutely true. It has great acting, directing, cinematography and a superb screenplay. There isn’t a single wasted moment in it, and it is certainly one of the most quietly intense movies I have seen in some time. I think it is safe to say the Coen brothers have faithfully adapted Cormac McCarthy’s work while adding their own flavor and dark humor to it, and they drive away at one of his main themes in the book; society getting crueler, and of the end of the world as we know it.

In a sea of great performances, the one man who steals the show here is Javier Bardem who portrays Anton Chigurh, a man who is deeply psychotic but not without principles. From start to finish, Bardem gives us one of the scariest villains in cinematic history whose mere presence forces the characters to immediately fear for their safety. Those other characters who fail to do so are either totally naïve or have no idea who they are talking to.

Josh Brolin is having one heck of a great year right now in the movies. He started 2007 off early on as Dr. Block in “Grindhouse,” then we saw him play a very corrupt cop who runs afoul of Denzel Washington in “American Gangster,” and he is probably in another movie right now which I have yet to see. Safe to say, this is the best performance he has given this year as he is perfectly cast as Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who gets in way over his head.

The other performance worth singling out is Tommy Lee Jones’, and he gives one of his very best ever as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. His character is really the observer of human nature and the decline of it in this story. Jones was pretty much born to play just about any part of a movie adapted from one of McCarthy’s novels. Like the novelist, he clearly understands the worldly feel of Texas and human nature, and this is echoed in the voiceover he gives at movie’s start.

I am not quite sure what to make of the ending. And what is meant by the title “No Country for Old Men” anyway? Is it a metaphor for how the old way of doing things has long since passed the Sheriff Bell by? That the lessons our elders taught us will soon become insignificant? Or is the painful truth that society has no use for men once they qualify for senior citizen discounts? The Coen brothers are not quick to give us answers, but they do give us much to think about as this is a motion picture which will linger with you long after the end credits have concluded.

“No Country for Old Men” is the best movie I have seen in 2007. As I said, there is not a single wasted moment in it.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘The House That Jack Built: Director’s Cut’ is More Subversive Than Shocking

The House That Jack Built poster

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.”

-John Doe from “Seven”

Lars Von Trier loves getting our strict attention too, and he does this yet again with “The House That Jack Built” which stars Matt Dillon as a serial killer. On November 28, 2018, IFC Films presented his director’s cut for one night only, and the advertisements boasted of how over 100 people walked out of it at Cannes, and that those who stayed gave it a 10-minute standing ovation. Give IFC some credit as they have seized upon the film’s controversy to great effect. they are showing Von Trier’s cut before releasing an R-rated version in December, and the advertisements make it clear how this version may not be your cup of tea. As for us proud Von Trier veterans, we know exactly what we are in for. Or do we?

What surprised me most about this cut of “The House That Jack Built,” is that it is nowhere as shocking as I was led to believe. In fact, I found the violence at times rather tame especially compared to the scenes of mutilation in “Antichrist.” This is in many ways the result of many people writing about the movie’s most graphic scenes in scorching detail from one article to the next, but we are also living through a tumultuous time where few things can shock us the way they used to. Or perhaps the images our minds generate will always come across as more shocking than what any filmmaker can put on the silver screen.

The violence shown is extremely brutal and very bloody, and what Jack does with the bodies is just as disturbing. But Von Trier keeps us at a distance from the action to where we are fully in Jack’s mindset, treating his soon to be murdered victims as parts of major work of art. Many may cringe at the images Von Trier thrusts upon us with a twisted glee, but in the end, this is only a movie, not real life.

The movie is constructed of five episodes, each of which shows Jack murdering one or more people and it takes place over 12 years in Washington State. Each murder serves to illustrate Jack’s development as a serial killer, one with a serious case of OCD. And throughout we hear him having a conversation with a man named Verge (played by Bruno Ganz) about the murders he has gotten away with, and their talks take many twist and turns as it leads to a grand finale in one of the darkest places on earth.

The first chapter entitled “1st Incident” has Jack picking up a stranded motorist (played by Uma Thurman) who proceeds to taunt him by saying he might be a serial killer, and it serves to set up an ironic tone which will dominate much of the movie. It’s almost impossible to take things seriously as Von Trier is practically begging us to root for Jack to kill her as she cannot shut her mouth and even goes as far to say where he can bury her body.

Another surprising thing about Von Trier’s serial killer film is that it’s actually quite funny. This is clearly the case in the “2nd Incident” in which Jack attempts to con his way into the home of another woman (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, whose expressions are priceless) in a pathetic fashion. He first tries to pass himself off as a policeman, but his explanations for why he doesn’t have a badge on him are just hopeless, and yet he does not give up easily. And thanks to his OCD, he is convinced he has left evidence of her murder to where he keeps going in and out of the house several times.

The violence does become even more brutal and nihilistic as “The House That Jack Built” goes on, and men, women, children and animals are never spared from this wrath. I’m not going to bother going into specific descriptions as, again, the gory details have already been written about in various articles, but I will say this movie is not shock for shock’s sake. If you want that, check out the god-awful “Human Centipede 3.”

Von Trier has said in interviews how he was inspired by “the idea that life is evil and soulless” as well as the rise of Donald Trump. Indeed, many live in anxious uncertainty as the former reality television show host never ceases to give us one headache after another, and seeing him and his cronies (several of whom have since been indicted) threatens to make us apathetic to his inescapable crimes. Jack exists in a world too apathetic to realize the horrible things he is doing to others, and he keeps getting away with murder as a result.

A key scene for me was when Jack corners his girlfriend (played by Riley Keough) who slowly realizes who he really is. She screams for help, and Jack does the same in a mocking fashion. When he opens a window and cries to anyone who can hear how “nobody wants to help,” this helps illustrate just how apathetic the world is to the cries of someone in danger. If there are people willing to help someone, none of them are in a close enough vicinity to do so. If they are, they must have their own problems to deal with.

Another key subject involves art and what constitutes the greatest works of it. Neither Jack or Verge can come to a consensus of what makes great art as Verge believes you cannot have any without love as love, like intimacy, is an art unto itself. Jack, however, sees violence as playing a huge part in art and, he sees the murders he has committed as being more creatively stimulating for him than building a house.

David Bowie’s song “Fame” is played many times throughout, and I kept wondering why. Well, let’s look at the first set of lyrics:

“Fame makes a man take things over

Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow

Fame puts you there where things are hollow (fame)

Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame

That burns your change to keep you insane (fame).”

Is Von Trier attempting to say something about fame? Perhaps. Jack looks to gain infamy by sending photographs of his corpses to the local newspaper under the name of “Mr. Sophistication,” and they do not go unrecognized by the general public. But whether Jack is a serial killer or a singing star, his life is so cut off from others, and his existence will always be a hollow one. Regardless of how things end up for Jack, any fame he could hope to have will not succeed in making his life different.

There is also a moment where Von Trier features clips of his past movies like “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark,” “Antichrist” and “Melancholia” among others as Jack says the following:

“Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires which we cannot commit in our controlled civilization, so they’re expressed instead through our art. I don’t agree. I believe Heaven and Hell are one and the same. The soul belongs to Heaven and the body to Hell.”

Is Von Trier explaining how he works or apologizing for the crazy things he has brought to the silver screen? Indeed, the realm of art and fiction are places where we can exorcise our darkest thoughts and angriest emotions, and I for one will always be thankful for this. For the Danish filmmaker, it’s a must as he continues to deal with endless phobias and clinical depression, and he always looks to be exorcising some malady he could do without. But with Jack, he is dealing with a character who is a soulless vessel who can no longer see the line between right and wrong or fact and fiction, so maybe the filmmaker is wondering if he truly has gone too far.

How long have we been watching Matt Dillon onscreen? Have we seen him play a role like this before? If so, none quickly comes to mind. He is in just about every frame of this 155-minute movie, and he gives a frighteningly authentic portrayal of a serial killer at their most banal. Dillon makes Jack into the same kind of killer John Doe described himself as in “Seven” in that he is not special and has never been extraordinary, and it’s fascinating to see the actor refusing any opportunity to chew the scenery as many others would. He mines the role for all its pathos and morbid black humor, and it’s one of the best performances I have seen in a movie this year. Having said that, it is highly unlikely will receive an Oscar nomination. Need I say why?

“The House That Jack Built” will not go down as one of my most favorite Von Trier movies as it does drag on for far too long, but it is as fascinating as any he has previously made. There is much more to this cinematic experience than you will see at its gory surface, and you will ponder the many things Von Trier has dared you to explore on a deeper level.

I am glad Von Trier is still making movies as we need filmmakers willing to push the envelope and unsettle us in an effort to get us to see a bigger truth we too often turn away from. Say what you will of him as a person, but I always look forward to what his movies. As much as he may shock you, he also gets you to think. Right now, there are only so many filmmakers who can do that.

Still, I have a feeling the upcoming R-rated version will be far more shocking. The MPAA will most likely censor the movie’s most graphic moments to where our imaginations may have to spell out what we think we saw. In the process of trying to protect American audiences, this archaic body usually, and thoughtlessly, makes a movie more traumatic than anyone intended it to be. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Shoplifters’ is an Emotional Rollercoaster and One of the Best Movies of 2018

Shoplifters movie poster

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” is one of the most emotionally resonant movies I have seen in 2018, and it is a real gem in a cinematic year dominated by, big surprise, superhero blockbusters and endless sequels. The hope and warm emotions which emanate from it feel like the kind I have not been witness to on the silver screen in ages, and the movie dares you to ponder what the word family really means. While many see families being bound by blood, “Shoplifters” suggests there is more to it than that.

Things start off with Osamu Shibata (Lilly Franky) arriving at a supermarket in Tokyo, Japan, and we will eventually see how this movie got its name. With him is the young Shota (Jyo Kairi), and they use hand signals with each other to indicate when the coast is clear to take what they want and need. Put aside the fact no parent or adult figure should ever be teaching a child to steal; these two have an effective system which leads to them obtaining the goods they need without going through the checkout line or setting off an array of alarms. More importantly, it shows the strong connection between these two, and it is not one which is easily formed.

Upon arriving home, we see they with several other people in a cramped apartment which was made for two people at best. Among them are Osamu’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), who works an unforgiving and low-paying job at a local laundromat, their daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) who performs sex shows for anonymous customers, and grandmother Hatsue Shibata (the late Kirin Kiki who steals every scene she is in) whose residence they all reside in. Everyone here is suffering through an unsteady economy dominated by recession, so these characters are forced to steal items such as food and clothes in order to get by. Yes, Hatsue does have her late husband’s pension to fall back on, but it is never enough to fulfill their needs.

Then on one cold evening as Osamu and Shota are returning after another successful day of shoplifting, they come across Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a 5-year-old homeless girl sitting all alone by herself. As the temperature decreases rapidly, and you could do a drinking game for every time a character says “it’s cold,” they decide to take her home for the night. With their apartment overcrowded, Nobuyo suggests they return Yuri home, but a visit to her residence reveals her parents are abusive to one another and to Yuri as well. As a result, Osamu and Nobuyo find themselves informally adopting her.

What struck me most about “Shoplifters” is how genuine its emotions feel. From a distance, the description of the plot might make it seem something along the lines of “Three Men and a Baby” or maybe even “Raising Arizona,” both of which featured characters who become parents in unorthodox ways. But Kore-eda is not out to manipulate our emotions for a single second as he lets life unfold before us in a way which feels real and unpredictable. No one appears to be acting here, and every single actor inhabits their roles to where you are seduced into the movie’s wonderful atmosphere with what seems like relative ease.

The affection everyone in the small apartment has for Yuri feels wonderful and hopeful to take in, and her presence has a profound effect on them all. The scene where Nobuyo and Yuri burn the 5-year-old’s clothes in an effort to start fresh in life speaks volumes. The two share scars of past abuse, and Nobuyo cuddles her and says how people show their love for one another through hugs, not violence. If there has been a more genuinely sweet scene in a 2018 movie, I missed it.

As for the others, Osamu and Nobuyo find an intimacy in their relationship which has eluded them for far too long, and Aki yearns to get closer to one of her customers as she can no longer keep him at a distance. Shota slowly begins to bond with Yuri to where he feels comfortable calling her sister, but this later leads him on a journey to find himself in a way which will have inevitable consequences for everyone that we don’t really see coming.

Revealing more of what happens in “Shoplifters” would be criminal, but I can tell you the last half is truly devastating as everything we thought we knew about these characters is turned upside down. One of Kore-eda’s masterstrokes as a writer and director is he never judges the characters, and as a result, neither did I. Even as the local news reports of Yuri’s disappearance, Osamu and Nobuyo justify their actions by saying they did not kidnap her since they never asked for a ransom. It’s a weak defense to be sure, but seeing the connection these characters have with one another deeply moved me to where I actually found myself giving them a pass which I never would have in real life.

With “Shoplifters,” Kore-eda aims to look at what makes a family. While we collectively believe it is blood which makes a family, he wonders if there is more to a family than that. At a key moment, one of the characters says if having a baby automatically makes you a parent. Well that goes without saying, but considering the love and affection these characters grace Yuri with, I had a hard time finding enough of a reason to separate her from them.

Kore-eda was also influenced by the Japanese recession, and he uses this to deal with the declining social statuses many are forced to deal with in the country. Then again, “Shoplifters” could be about any country where greed continues to wreak havoc due to corporations valuing the size of their profits over the rights of the workers who helped get them those profits. We Osamu trying to get whatever work he can, and the work he gets never pays enough. Nobuyo’s job offers her a pathetically low wage, and then later we get a scene where her boss forces her and her co-worker to decide amongst themselves who should get fired when it is determined there is only enough money to keep one of them on the payroll.

“Shoplifters” is a movie which will stay with you long after you have watched it. I was deeply moved by it from start to finish as its humanity really made me appreciate the value of family in a way no other movie has in a long time. We are at a point where there are far too many movies to keep up with, but this is one I highly recommend you check out above others. This one took me for quite the emotional ride and left me fully wringed out by its end, and the experience was one of the most rewarding.

* * * * out of * * * *

Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Track 29’ is Bizarre and Compelling From Start to Finish

Track 29 movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written around the time this movie was to be released on DVD by Image Entertainment back in 2012.

Track 29” is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, but that’s probably because I am not very familiar with the work of director Nicolas Roeg. This is only the second movie of his I have seen, the last being “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and it helps to understand his filmmaking method before watching his work. Roeg’s movies are known for their kaleidoscope of images which are typically presented out of chronological order, and it’s left up to the viewer to make sense out of all the craziness they have just witnessed. Learning this helped me understand “Track 29” better as it is one of those WTF movies which willfully defy easy categorization.

This movie came out in 1988, and its DVD release coincides with Gary Oldman’s first ever Oscar nomination for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Oldman stars as a British orphan named Martin who has arrived in America to look for his mother. Upon meeting bored housewife Linda Henry (Theresa Russell), Martin is convinced she is his mom and tries to form the bond he has forever longed to have with her. But as the story continues, we wonder if Martin is real or if he’s just a figment of Linda’s imagination as his arrival coincides with her remembering the child she gave up for adoption years before.

The real pleasure of watching “Track 29” today is to witness Oldman at his manic best as he is a firecracker always on the verge of going off. The actor did this movie not long after he received critical raves for “Sid & Nancy” and “Prick Up Your Ears,” and watching all three movies together makes one wonder where he gets all his crazy energy from. Putting this in comparison to the more subdued work he does today as George Smiley or Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies makes one realize how amazingly far his range as an actor goes, and it makes me appreciate his work more than ever before.

Theresa Russell, who remains one of cinema’s most underrated actresses, is equally good as Linda even as she appears to be going over the top from one scene to the next. Throughout “Track 29,” Russell gives her role a strong conviction as she comes to grips with a traumatic moment in her life and a passionless marriage which has gotten to where she knows exactly what will come out of her husband’s mouth before he says it. Actors can look utterly ridiculous when they fall into the trap of playing the clichéd drunk or just running the gamut of emotions, but Russell holds your focus from beginning to end. She has always been one to take risks with each role she takes on, and this one is no exception.

Among the other actors to be found here is Christopher Lloyd who plays a role I never thought I’d see him in: the boring husband. From his roles in “Back to The Future” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” I’ve come to see Lloyd as anything but boring. But here he is amazingly bland as he takes more interest in his toy train set, which collectors of such things will be slobbering over once they see what he’s put together, than he does in his wife’s problems. Whether his character of Dr. Henry Henry (a rather unfortunate name) is having an affair with Nurse Stein (Sandra Bernhard) or making a passionate speech to the obsessive train car collectors of North Carolina, Lloyd inhabits this character fully and reminds you of what a great actor he can be.

Other excellent performances to be found in “Track 29” come from Colleen Camp as Linda’s friend Arlanda who reacts to her problems with utter bafflement, Sandra Bernhard who gets to indulge gleefully in her character’s brand of S&M, and the great Seymour Cassel as Henry’s boss Dr. Bernard Fairmont who reacts to his colleague’s bizarre behaviors with disdain and utter hilarity.

Roeg gives this movie many unforgettable images which come to illustrate the missing passion and meaning in these characters’ lives as well as the sheer violence hiding just below the surface. Watching it reminded me of “Revolutionary Road” and how Kate Winslet’s character was ever so desperate to escape the suffocating atmosphere of suburbia, but this story is given a more surrealistic quality as Oldman’s character descends into the mindset of a child who, when let loose, destroys things without a care in the world. Everything seems to act as an allusion to Linda’s unconscious desire to destroy the world she inhabits as it becomes her only way to escape it.

Image Entertainment released the DVD version of “Track 29” recently, and this is the best it has probably ever looked. As for extras and special features, this disc is frustratingly scant in those departments. It would have been nice to have a commentary track or at least some interviews with the director and cast to see how they went about making this bizarre motion picture and what their reactions were to it. The only real extras to speak of are a couple of trailers which precede the movie, and they are for the cult classic “Withnail & I,” Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa,” and “The Long Good Friday” starring Bob Hoskins. Coincidentally, these are three movies I still need to see.

Despite the lack of special features, “Track 29” is definitely worth a rental for fans of Oldman and to see him at his most emotionally unhinged in a motion picture. It may not reach the critical heights of Roeg’s other works like “Walkabout,” but it’s definitely for those who love films which defy conventional film narration. Lord knows we need movies like these every once in a while as things can’t stay the same forever.

* * * out of * * * *

Eradicating Thanksgiving Calories on a Landice Treadmill

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It’s another year, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, but those damn calories are still incredibly difficult to burn off. Among the many things I am thankful for this holiday, other than the Democrats taking back the House of Representatives, is being able to train for the 2019 LA Marathon for the ninth year in a row, and this gives even more reason to exercise my buns off to maximum effect. Yes, it is a nice ass, but it could be a bit smaller.

As always, I am up here with my family in Sea Ranch for our yearly Thanksgiving feast. I did get a couple of maintenance runs in which had me going through several of the various trails this place by the ocean has to offer. However, I had forgotten how much energy can be expended running on dirt, grass and sand as opposed to running on asphalt. It’s like a weird sort of taxman is following me around and saying “nope, you haven’t paid nearly enough!”

My runs were cut short by the heavy rainstorms which seemed more relentless than usual, and I am happy to say I got back in time before I could have relived the 2011 LA Marathon (a.k.a. the monsoon marathon). Still, these rains were a blessing for California as it helped to put out those raging wildfires which many brave souls fought against endlessly to where they never get much sleep, if any.

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With this Saturday’s run, I had a choice of going through the streets of Sea Ranch or going to the Physical Gym in Gualala where I could run seven miles on a treadmill. Granted, running on a treadmill is not really recommended by our coaches as running on asphalt tends to better prepare us for the big day, but I prefer it to nothing. And considering how I woke up a little later than usual and wanted to spend more time with my sister-in-law and niece before they drove home, it became apparent my best option would be to go to the gym. Plus, I was looking for an excuse to get a bite to eat at Trinks Café or see what I could buy at the Four-Eyed Frog Bookstore which was next door.

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Upon arriving at the Physical Gym in Gualala, I met with an old friend of mine, the Landice treadmill. This same treadmill features a number of graphics designed to make running in one place seem a lot more interesting than it typically is, and we all know how interesting running on a treadmill can be. They always feature a digital man or woman who looks very svelte and in far better shape than I ever do, and this ends up leaving me bitter and resentful. Of course, if said digital man looked like me, I would be quick to get depressed.

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Aside from bringing myself to the gym, I also brought along my trusty running partner, Mark Antony Eeyore. He keeps me on the straight and narrow, makes sure I don’t give up unless money is involved, and he proved to be a big hit when I took on the trails with me. Women remarked how cute this Eeyore is to where it was like they wanted to hug him, and I still wonder why women don’t treat me the same way (damn you Eeyore!). There was also a man who saw the two of us and remarked, “There’s the guy who steals stuffed animals!”

Eeyore sat atop the treadmill and stared intently at me as if to say, “Don’t half-ass it!” Of course, he had a bit of trouble holding on and ending up falling down to where I had to jump over him to avoid tripping. After a bit, I decided he better sit on the treadmill next to me.

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For this seven-mile run, I decided to go at a 3:1 pace as I thought it would allow me to finish sooner rather than later. I also increased the grade on the treadmill to 3% as running on a flat surface was not going to be enough. But as soon as I began running, I felt an intense burning in my legs which I haven’t felt since I was a Cross Country back at Monte Vista High School. Back then, we had to run up that torturous hill in Oak Hill Park, and it never ceased to punish us with an intense burn which no amount of Icy Hot could tame. And just when you thought you made it to the top, you discovered you didn’t.

Throughout this run, I changed the grade from 3% to 0% every so often, but I ran most of the miles at 3%. I also adjusted my pace from 3:1 to 2:2 as it eventually became very apparent I needed more recovery time. My pace per mile went from 14:38 to 15:00, and this was when I was running. All this time, I was reminded of the sign in front of me which points on the same thing at every gym:

“Please allow yourself to use the cardio equipment for only 30 minutes unless no one else is waiting.”

There are now three treadmills in the Physical Gym, so I assumed nobody would be quick to bother me. But as the day went on, they became increasingly occupied to where I wondered if it would have been better to run through Sea Ranch instead. Miraculously, I managed to get through my run without anyone coming up to me and saying, “GET OFF! CAN’T YOU SEE OTHER PEOPLE ARE WAITING YOU SELFISH ASSHOLE?!”

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When I wasn’t staring at the digital display on the treadmill, I looked up at the television to watch a game of girls’ volleyball which had Marquette facing off against Creighton. I remember playing volleyball at school and finding I was better at it than most other sports. My serve always fooled the other team to where they thought I screwed up and put too much power into the ball. As they laughed at me and assumed it was going to fall out of bounds, it ended up landing inbounds and scored my team an easy point. Ha, ha, ha!

In the end, I only ran six miles instead of seven as the gym closed at 5 p.m. I kept wondering if the employees were wrapping things up, and I finally got a big hint when they turned the radio off and some of the lights. Seriously, I wouldn’t have minded if she had told me flat out the club was closing. I was not about to overextend my stay at anyone’s expense. Still, after spending over two hours on the treadmill, I think I can safely mission accomplished better than George W. Bush ever could.

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I went by the bookstore briefly but did not buy anything. As for Trinks, it was closed for the day so I went to the local supermarket, bought some chocolate milk and some salty snacks and headed back to the house. Still, I am reminded of the spare tire I continue to carry. In short, one day of exercise will never be enough to dispose of it.

WRITER’S NOTE: I am running the 2019 LA Marathon in support of The Pablove Foundation which is working to find a cure for pediatric cancer. My goal is to raise $1,500, and any amount you can donate to this cause is greatly appreciated. With Giving Tuesday almost upon us, I sincerely hope you will consider donating to this wonderful non-profit group. Please click here to find out how you can help.

The Pablove Runners Return to Griffith Park

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The air has cleared up to a certain extent, in Southern California anyway, so we Pablove runners were reunited on a misty Saturday morning for our latest run. Full marathoners were tasked with running six miles while those running a half-marathon only had to pound the pavement for three. After a week which saw Californians all over battling out of control fires which laid waste to far too many homes, doing any kind of exercise was a great way to deal with the anxiety brought on by catastrophes of all kinds which have become far too common in the United States of America.

It’s only marathon training which cab get me up out of bed so ridiculously early on a Saturday morning. Usually it takes me forever to haul my ass out of bed, but I woke up a good half hour before my six o’clock alarm was set to go off. I had a cookies and cream Promax bar which tasted a little weird when compared to the usual chocolate chip cookie dough bar I buy from the supermarket. I covered the important parts of my body with petroleum jelly as I had run out of anti-chafe cream, and I sprayed more Neutrogena sunblock over my body than I needed to as the sun was obscured by fog among other things.

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As I drove to Griffith Park, I played the new 40th anniversary edition of The Beatles’ “White Album” which features a new sound mix by Giles Martin, son of the late George Martin. Playing this new mix on my car stereo is aural perfection as Giles makes it sound like I am right in the middle of the studio with John, Paul, George and Ringo as they play their hearts out from one song to the next. I put on the second disc which features one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, “Birthday.” I first heard this song when it was performed by The Rock-a-Fire-Explosion Band back at Showbiz Pizza Place in Marietta, Georgia years ago, and it took a long time for me to realize it was originally a Beatles song.

In retrospect, I should have played the first disc of the “White Album” as songs like “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” would have pumped me up a bit more. Actually, I should have played John Carpenter’s score to “The Fog.” Every time I see fog or heavy mist surrounding the towns I happen to be in, the main theme from that movie immediately starts playing in my head.

Coach Joaquin’s main message to us this morning was to remain consistent in our training. Each week, we need to run a number of miles to increase our endurance for the big day. It gets to where two maintenance runs of 30 to 45 minutes each may not be enough, and Joaquin encouraged us to keep in shape and workout in any way we can. One of my fellow runners admitted she was unable to get any maintenance runs in this past week as she was tremendously busy with work. That’s the problem, life keeps getting in the way of everything we want and need to do.

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This run was confined to Griffith Park, and I decided to run at a 2:2 pace as I had the previous Saturday. My goal was to keep my fellow runners in my sights, and I actually managed to do this for a time. The start of this run had us running up the backside of Griffith Park, and this hill is one which constantly knocks the wind out of even the most experienced of runners. Coach Joaquin encouraged us to shuffle up the hill as running up it would be counterproductive among other things. As I attempted to ascend this hill, I kept thinking of the song “Harlem Shuffle” which was used to great effect in Edgar Wright’s movie “Baby Driver,” and it kept me from over exerting myself.

When I reached the one-mile sign, I could not help but feel astonished. I had only run just one? It felt like I just ran two, and now I had to turn around and run several more. Regardless, I watched my speed as I ran downhill. If I were on a bike, I would revel in my ability to decrease the altitude I was at, but as a runner I have long since known that increasing my velocity would also increase the odds of me injuring myself. Yes, there is a brain in this very large head of mine.

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As the Pablove runners began heading in the other direction, the two in front of me decided to cut their run short, and once again I was all by myself. I managed to keep up with the 2:2 pace for the most part, determined not to keep my coaches waiting too long for me to return. As I approached the turn around point, I met up with the other Pablove runners who kept encouraging me to keep it up, and I was convinced I would switch directions in no time.

Now this is an especially tricky situation in regards to running, the thought it will soon be over. When this happens, time suddenly becomes much slower to where you wonder if someone moved the turn around sign or if your friends will prank you by moving the finish line away as you rapidly approach it. A certain panic runs over me as I begin to think I have run too far, and situations like these have me almost flagellating myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Fortunately, I did run into Coach Joaquin at one point who ran with me to the turn around point which was marked by an old Team to End AIDS sign. We ran together for a bit, and then he went on ahead to pick up any signs left over. Once again, I was the last runner to finish, but hopefully I can speed things up before the big day in March.

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Why do I keep coming back to train for this marathon? Well, I guess there’s always the chance of improving my performance, the need to lose this spare tire I keep carrying around on my stomach, and when those endorphins kick in, I feel a lot better about myself than I usually do. Still, life gets in the way and there’s only so much exercise I can get in during the week. This time, I need to exercise more regularly. I have long missed the days when I was a svelte individual. Here’s hoping I can experience them again very soon.

WRITER’S NOTE: I m running this marathon in support of The Pablove Foundation which continues to fight for a cure to pediatric cancer. I am determined to raise $1,500, and any support you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Please click here to make a donation (tax-deductible of course).

 

‘Widows’ is a Fiery Thriller and Not Just Another Heist Movie

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It’s always cool when a filmmaker sneaks something up on you when you least expect it. On the surface, “Widows” looks like an average heist movie to where I went in thinking it would be another “Ocean’s Eleven,” but I can assure you this is not the case (and we did already have “Ocean’s 8” earlier this year). While this film provides audiences with the requisite action and violence, it cannot be boiled down into one sentence as it deals with themes of class divisions, political corruption and of the lengths many will go to just to make ends meet. What results is a hell of a thriller, and it’s a timely one as the struggles these characters face is all too real in this day and age.

“Widows” starts off with an introduction to the wives before they lose their spouses. Veronica (Viola Davis) shares an especially passionate kiss with her husband Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) haggles with Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) over money she needs for her clothing store, Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) cannot hide the black eye her abusive husband Florek (Jon Bernthal) gave her, and Amanda Nunn (Carrie Coon) is busy with her newborn baby as her significant other Jimmy (Coburn Goss) darts out the door. These scenes are interspersed with these men pulling off a robbery which goes horribly awry and results in their fiery deaths. The editing by Joe Walker is one of the best I have seen in any 2018 movie as he interweaves the different vignettes in a way which feels especially powerful.

From there, the four women attempt to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives as reality comes down hard on them in ways they are not prepared for. Things are especially precarious for Veronica when she is visited by crime boss and aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) who informs her Harry robbed $2 million dollars from him, and this money was lost in the fire. Jamal demands Veronica pay back this debt sooner rather than later, and the way he holds her dog during this scene will have pet owners gripping their armrests. Following this, Veronica gets together with the other widows to carry out a robbery which will net them the money they need to pay off said debt, and we watch as they take matters into their own hands in a way they never have previously.

I have a confession to make; this is the first movie by filmmaker Steve McQueen I have watched. McQueen has previously given us “Hunger,” “Shame” and “12 Years a Slave” which won the Oscar for Best Picture a couple of years ago. I certainly need to catch up on his work as his flair for filmmaking is clearly on display in “Widows.” Some of the long shots he pulls off here are amazing as the actors are forced to maintain an intensity which is not always easy to do in front of a camera, and it results in highly suspenseful and shocking moments which had the audience I saw it with gasping audibly.

At the center of “Widows” is Viola Davis who has long since proven to be a force of nature. Ever since I first saw her in “Doubt,” she has proven to be a no-nonsense actress and her performances are never less than stunning. As Veronica, she provides the story’s center of gravity as she forces the other women to join with her in a mission no one can easily prepare for, and she does this even as her heart is shattered by a grief she cannot keep inside forever. Even in moments where she doesn’t say a word, Davis makes us see what is going on in her mind without having to spell it out for us. Watching her here, I was reminded of the lethal presence she gave off in the disastrous “Suicide Squad” and of how she would have made a better Joker than Jared Leto.

One actress who really needs to be singled out, however, is Elizabeth Debicki. As Alice, she takes her character from being an abusive pawn for her husband and her equally nasty mother Agnieska (a wickedly good Jacki Weaver) to becoming a person who finds the strength and self-confidence which has eluded her for far too long. She makes Alice’s transition both natural and subtle to where she inhabits the character to where you can never take your eyes off of her.

McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame adapted this movie from the British miniseries of the same name, one which I’m fairly certain my parents have seen. In this movie’s 129-minute running time, they manage to fit in so many different layers to where “Widows” feels much longer than it already is, but I never lost interest in what unfolded. We get a strong sense of the desperate lives each character leads as they live in a world where no superhero can save them. The two have also moved the story from England to Chicago and, as David Mamet once said, “In Chicago, we love our crooks!”

An interesting subplot which emerges in “Widows” involves a political campaign between Jamal Manning and Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), for alderman of a South Side precinct. We already got a glimpse of Jamal’s criminal activities, but Jack is not free of corruption himself. Even worse, his father Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall, great as always) does nothing to hide his racist attitudes and believes this office is theirs by blood regardless of what the voters end up saying. Farrell is terrific as Jack in showing the shadowy corners he is forced to navigate through in politics. It’s a position he doesn’t want to be in, but he is stuck in the shadow of his incumbent father who is not about to see his son lose the election, and he proves to be as morally compromised, if not more so, as his political adversary.

This also leads to a brilliant scene as McQueen follows Jack as he gets into a car with his associate, and the camera stays outside as we watch them travel from the poor neighborhood he is campaigning in over to the affluent neighborhood where he lives. Is there another scene in a 2018 movie which shows the disparity between the haves and have nots without the use of words? If there is, I haven’t seen it.

Michelle Rodriguez remains as badass as ever, and its great fun watching her hold her own opposite Davis. Cynthia Erivo, who showed us what a great voice she has in “Bad Times as the El Royale,” is furiously good as Belle, a babysitter and beautician constantly running off to the next paying gig as her desperation to keep her head above water keeps her apart from her daughter. And Daniel Kaluuya, who had scored one hell of a breakthrough with “Get Out,” is a devilish delight as Jatemme Manning, a cold as ice psychopath who doesn’t think twice about ending someone’s life, and his presence is enough to frighten the most jaded of filmgoers.

Does “Widows” have plot holes? Perhaps, but I was too caught in the story and performances to really give them any notice. Any questions this movie proved to be refrigerator questions. As for the meaning of that, look to Alfred Hitchcock. This is a thriller which digs deep into the lives of those undone by history and inequity, and it’s hard not to root for them as they take matters into their own hands in a desperate attempt to reach for the life they dreamed of but which is cruelly denied to them. It is full of surprises, many of which I did not seem coming, and McQueen holds us in his cinematic grip from start to finish.

Another thing to take into account about “Widows” is how it deals with the five stages of grief. Getting through them is never easy, but you knew this already. Seeing these characters struggle with their individual grief is not something which draws attention to itself right away, but the ending, which features a character breaking out into a smile she worked hard to get to, shows how one can get to the other side and move on. You could say this only happens in the movies, but this one does not take place in the land of superheroes and comic books. Reality can be harsh, and “Widows” never lets you forget that.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

A Pablove Run in the Midst of Devastating California Wildfires

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It has been a terrible week for Southern California. Last Wednesday, a lone gunman carried out a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, a city I lived in for five years, which left 12 people dead. But as the city mourns a terrible tragedy, it is now being endangered along with a number of surrounding areas by a horrific wildfire which has now left acres upon acres in ashes. The fire has hit close to us as well as Griffith Park is being threatened by the same wildfires to where parts of it have been down, and animals from the LA Zoo had to be evacuated. As a result, us Pablove runners saw our Saturday run cancelled, but we were encouraged to do the run on our own.

This week’s run was five miles for full-marathoners, and two miles for those doing a half marathon. I am still committed to running the full marathon, so five miles it was. After sleeping in for a change, I did my run in my neighborhood which is in the mid-Wilshire area right near Museum Row. I usually do my maintenance runs on 6th Street all the way to San Vicente Boulevard and then turn back, but with this run I decided to take things in a different direction.

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As I stepped outside my apartment, I found it was a warm sunny day in November. Just when I thought the warm weather would finally depart Southern California, I was reminded of how climate change is not a hoax. The sun was bearing down on me as if I were an extra in “Lawrence of Arabia,” and this combined with the inevitability of me running on concrete instead of asphalt made it clear this run would be tougher on my joints than usual. I had my interval timer watch on my wrist, and I was all set to go and determined to be a self-starter. Nothing would stop me… except for the fact I forgot to put on my water belt. I should have known better. There is no excuse for me to go out for a run without bottles filled with grape-flavored generic Pedialyte and water containing electrolytes. Why I initially left my apartment without these necessary tools is something scientists are currently looking into.

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I decided to head down Cochran Avenue towards Washington Boulevard as it would provide me with an uneven course which had hills to run up and down. That’s right, I gave myself hills to run over! In past training seasons, none of my fellow runners ever looked forward to running up any hill put in their path, but hills are part of the Los Angeles Marathon, so we have no business avoiding them.

One thing I was reminded of as I ran the streets of Los Angeles was how we are often greeted with inescapable distractions while running through Griffith Park, Burbank, Glendale and other parts of North Hollywood. There are all those fast food restaurants like Carl’s Jr. which had posters on its windows of the most luscious double cheeseburgers, and they made their fast food meals something you couldn’t wait to sink your teeth into. Of course, once we enter any fast food establishment, we are greeted with a reality we did no ask for as the meals are never as appealing as we imagined. We end up feeling like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” when he gets his burger and says, “Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture?”

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Instead, I was greeted with such distractions like yard sales where I could buy things for an unbelievably low price, or by signs for “A Bronx Tale” musical which was based on the play by Chaz Palminteri which was in turn adapted into the fabulous motion picture directed by Robert De Niro. None of these things made me hungry, but they informed me of opportunities I just might be missing out on.

Last week, I ran at a pace of 3:1, but this time I ran at a pace of 2:2 after having done so in a maintenance run during the week. Since I came out of that run in one piece, I was confident I would do the same here despite the hot and dry weather. Surprisingly, I did quite well. I owe some thanks to the female voice on the Runkeeper app. When I did my maintenance run, the word she said which stood out most was “steady.” She never said “run,” “light speed” or even “ludicrous speed,” just “steady.” By staying “steady,” I got through this run without ever feeling winded. This training season is clearly getting off to a good start.

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One thing I was reminded of from previous training seasons is how excited dogs would get whenever we ran pass them in residential neighborhoods. It’s as if they were saying, “Hey! Wait up! We wanna run too!” In the neighborhood I live in, there are also plenty of dogs being walked around town or staring at passing humans behind gates or fences, but these ones are a little more territorial. Some were interested in running, but others were far more intent on protecting their owners’ homes. One big dog growled at me to where the “Beware of Dog” sign really wasn’t necessary. Another one came out of nowhere, and I jumped as it barked loudly at me as if to say, “GET OUT OF HERE! THIS IS MY OWNER’S HOUSE! YOU DON’T PAY RENT HERE!” I started to feel like Chevy Chase in “Fletch” when he was chased by that Doberman Pincher, but I did stay steady and didn’t go into warp speed.

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When I got to Washington Boulevard, the sun was bearing down hard but I was determined not to be turned into a human shish kabob. I even dared myself to run on the side of the street which had no shade. When I turned around and ran on the other side, I asked myself why I didn’t appreciate shade enough to run in it. What was I thinking?

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There wasn’t an alert on my phone to tell me I had reached the halfway point, so it occurred to me to take a look at it as I got closer and closer to Fairfax Avenue. When I did, it showed I had already run 2.55 miles. It would have been nice to be informed of this sooner, but anyway. I ran back the same way I came, and this time I kept my distance from the dogs. Regardless, they remembered exactly who I was and didn’t hesitate to bark at me from a distance. Excuse me for existing!

And then there were those yard sales which I did slow down by, thinking there might be a CD or a DVD worth purchasing. But knowing the weather was going to get hotter and the air quality wasn’t getting any better, I just went on by. When I arrived back at my apartment, Runkeeper made it official that I had ran 5.07 miles, and I did it all by my lonesome… Well, last season I did most of the runs by my lonesome, so this isn’t anything new.

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After all these years of marathon training, the one rule I have never forgotten is, when running, to land on the balls of my feet. You never land on the heel as the odds of getting injured will be far greater. This is one of the many reasons why I still get to train for the Los Angeles Marathon, and for the ninth year in a row.

Ben after a run

FUNDRAISING ALERT: Now this may not be the best time to ask for donations as we are all eager to help those suffering from the wildfires wreaking havoc all over California, but if you have any extra change, please consider making a donation to The Pablove Foundation. While millions of dollars are given to cancer research every year, only a very tiny portion goes towards a cure for pediatric cancer. Please click here to learn how you can help.