‘Hamlet 2,’ A Most Unusual and Unexpected Sequel

WRITER’S NOTE: Eddie Pence selected this as his Video Vault pick on the August 15, 2020 episode of “The Ralph Report.” But while the host of the podcast, Ralph Garman, was not particularly crazy about it, I think it is better than Garman gives it credit.

“Hamlet 2” starts off with an invisible voice telling us that to be an actor, you have to live in a dream. But dreams do die however, and the question posed here is this: Where dreams go when they die? Well, if you are Dana Marschz (played by Steve Coogan), then you go to Tucson, Arizona to spend the rest of your life teaching high school drama. Being an actor myself, there is something quite scary about the fate of this particular actor who is best known for his herpes medication commercials. Here in Arizona, he hopes to pass on his love of acting to high school students, and this is the thrust of the plot which powers up a motion picture dealing with one of the most unlikely sequels ever to be created.

“Hamlet 2” was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival, and while it didn’t quite live up to the hype in my eyes, it was still a very clever movie which kept me entertained from beginning to end. It is a hilarious look at how art can never truly be suppressed, and this includes art which was never all that good to begin with.

We meet up with Dana Marschz sometime into his career as a high school teacher, and he only has two students, Rand Posin (Skylar Astin) and Epiphany Sellers (Phoebe Strole), who really seem to care about drama and acting. His latest class, he discovers, is largely populated by Latino students who are in attendance because their other electives have been cut, and drama is the only one left. It reminds me of all those high school kids with who were in drama class because was the only one they could get an easy A in other than physical education. Dana, however, is convinced this is being presented to him as a challenge he must face with no fear. While these students may seem unenthusiastic about drama, he is determined to change their minds.

Dana’s existence is a recovering alcoholic with a wife named Brie (played by the great Catherine Keener) who drinks a margarita from a gigantic martini glass. They also have a boarder, Gary, (David Arquette) who is sleeping with Brie while Dana rollerblades to school because he cannot afford a car. His gift to the high school is plays he wrote which are direct adaptations of the movies “Erin Brockovich” and “Dead Poets Society.” Still, they get ripped to pieces by a young critic who shows no mercy for Dana’s passion. Dana’s basic cry for all the negative criticism is, “He fisted us!”

Dana ends up conversing with this unsympathetic teenage critic to seek inspiration, and he suggests to Dana that he write something original and put everything into it. Thus, he comes up with what in many ways is a completely unnecessary sequel to one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, “Hamlet.” There is a rather large problem though as just about every character dies at the play’s end. But Dana, still up for an artistic challenge, remains undeterred by this, and he comes up with a device to solve this problem in the form of a time machine. Upon discovering the rather racy nature of the play, the most suburban students do everything they can to keep it from being performed, but Dana ends up proving to everyone that you cannot stop art.

It’s a little hard for me to critique “Hamlet 2” objectively because Dana’s fate is one I hope to avoid. It is made clear from the outset that he is not particularly talented, and we get a montage of scenes featuring him as an actor. The funniest one is a commercial he did for Herpes medication as he tells us, “Right now, I am having a herpes outbreak. But you wouldn’t know it!”

In the process of writing and directing his sequel play, it gets banned from being performed at the high school, and Dana ends up inspiring the Latino kids to put it on at another location. He even gets help from the ACLU to keep his play from being censored. Talk about free publicity!

“Hamlet 2” is a terrific star vehicle for Coogan, and he is never afraid to make himself look completely silly. He shows no fear in portraying Dana as a complete failure both as an actor and a drama teacher. That he somehow inspired these students who have grown up in a far different environment than his is pretty amazing. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if Dana is really bad or good because he gets the play up to the excitement and infuriation of everyone in Tucson, Arizona, the city where dreams come to die. Coogan proves to be a brilliant comic actor here, and he still is all these years later.

The director and co-writer of “Hamlet 2” is Andrew Fleming, and he does a good job of not taking things too seriously. Fleming started off his career as the writer and director of the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” wannabe, “Bad Dreams” (this title tells you all you need to know). From there, he went on to direct “Threesome,” “The Craft,” “Dick,” and “Nancy Drew.” Suffice to say, he has been around for a while, and this film proved to be one of his stronger efforts.

“Hamlet 2” also features a terrific performance from Elisabeth Shue who plays herself here. In this movie, she has given up on acting and appears to be much happier working as a nurse in a sperm bank. Dana goes gaga over Shue and invites her to speak with his class, but they have no idea who she is. We all remember her from “The Karate Kid,” and she earned a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her unforgettable performance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” but over the years her star has not ascended in the way we thought it would. Still, she works constantly and is always on the verge of giving us her next memorable performance. And, as “Hamlet 2” shows, she has a great sense of humor about herself.

Anybody who has ever been involved with community theater or in high school plays will get a kick out of this film. In retrospect, the high school students were the ones who manage to get the show up and running, and this is shown here. That Dana manages to inspire these kids through his embarrassing ways is astonishing. When you are already deep into the production of a show and your director flakes out or becomes useless, you can’t just give up. As Dana’s personal life hits rock bottom, it’s those kids who pull him up from the abyss.

I also like how “Hamlet 2” got into the conflicts Dana has with the school and parents because everyone in these situations always acts in an overly conservative way. As time goes on, I get more interested in what does not offend people because it seems like we are always looking to get mad about something. Granted, you can see why people might object to Jesus Christ kissing Satan or with a song entitled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” a song which was criminally robbed of an Oscar nomination. But everyone in the end is saved due to the protected freedom of the 1st amendment of the Constitution. That pisses a lot of people off, but that’s their problem.

The ACLU eventually gets involved when the show is threatened to be shut down, and a lawyer comes to visit Mr. Marschz to lend her help. She is played in a kick ass scene stealing performance by Amy Poehler. Her character of Cricket Feldstein is a ball buster about protecting the production, and she makes sure everyone involved gets to put it up. Her disinterest in whether or not the play is any good (“It’s irrelevant,” she says) is hilarious, and Poehler continues to show why she is one of the funniest actresses ever.

“Hamlet 2” is a lot of fun to watch, and the play which comes out of it is a hoot as it is a quasi-musical in which Hamlet and Jesus team up to change the past. Granted, they take all the drama and tragedy out of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” but it is a little hard at times to argue with Dana who calls the play “a real downer.” In addition to “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” there is another song called “Raped in The Face” which is Dana’s stab at the critics who keep taking apart his plays based on movies. The song title alone demands your complete attention.

All the same, I wished the filmmakers had pushed the envelope a bit more. Seriously, you have to expect some envelope pushing when one of the writers, Pam Brady, is from “South Park.” I’m not saying “Hamlet 2” had to be insidiously evil, I just wished the satire in parts was a little sharper. Or perhaps I got a little depressed with Dana’s station in life because it is one I hope to avoid in my own life, and this made it hard for me to be more objective about what I saw. Still, this comedic film has stayed with me since I first saw it, and at some point, I need to watch it again.

Shakespeare once wrote about how all the world is a stage, and he was absolutely right. We are all merely players in this crazy thing called life, and “Hamlet 2” plays with this to such an enthusiastic extent to where I wonder if another “Hamlet” sequel is in our future. Or better yet, maybe we can get a “Romeo & Juliet” sequel as young love does not have to be so infinitely depressing. Seriously, everyone deserves a second chance.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Love, Gilda’ Shows How the Late ‘SNL’ Comedienne Never Really Left Us

Love Gilda poster

You cannot help but fall in love with Gilda Radner. Even in death, her spirit radiates with a power nothing can destroy. Her smile stretched for miles whenever she appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” and it never faded from our sight even as she fought a tough battle against ovarian cancer. When she passed away on May 20, 1989 at the age of 42, it really felt like a national tragedy, and I remember Steven Martin paying tribute to her on the “SNL” stage while on the verge of tears. After showing a video of him dancing with Gilda, he said the following:

“You know when I look at that tape I can’t help but think how great she was and how young I looked. Gilda, we miss you.”

It’s now been almost 30 years since Gilda died, and she is still missed. But with the documentary “Love, Gilda,” she is brought back to life for a time, and we get to see sides of her many have not seen previously. Granted, her life has been documented endlessly on various shows and in numerous books, but we get to see home movies of her youth and journal entries, most of which were previously unseen. Whether or not you think this documentary touches on anything new, just the chance to spend time in her company makes it a must see.

Among the most memorable images we get of Gilda are in home movies made when she was a child. Even back then she had a big smile on her face and a zest for life which never faded. We also see how she was overweight as a child to where she talked of how kids at school teased her viciously. One family member told her to make a joke about her weight if they made fun of her again, and this proved successful. From there, I think it’s safe to say comedy was Gilda’s weapon of choice for all the obstacles life would throw at her.

It’s a treat to watch “SNL” regulars like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Cecily Strong among others reading from Gilda’s journals as it is clear on their faces the love they had for her work, and of the effect she had on theirs. Poehler even admits many of the characters she created on “SNL” were essentially B-versions of Gilda’s characters, but her work still stands on its own regardless. I envied these celebrated performers as they got a glimpse of Gilda’s actual handwriting which gives a glimpse into her wonderful mind.

As “Love, Gilda” moves on, we see her reflecting on the fame she achieved through “SNL” and the overall effect it had on her. I believe her when she reveals how she was unaware of how famous she had become until the cast visited New Orleans. We also come to see how fame at times served to keep her chained to a certain place in life, and of the pressures it brought on which made her eating disorder even worse. Once again, comedy becomes her weapon as she finds ways to make fun of being famous as her spirit remains strong. While she came to fame in a time before the advent of social media and cell phones, being in the public’s eye probably wasn’t much easier.

This world can really beat you down to where we become overcome with disappointments and bitterness, and many often feel like happiness is a commodity far out of their reach. So, it’s always great to know that one person who maintains a strong spirit and a wonderful view of life in the face of personal tragedies. Even as we watch Gilda Radner in her most harrowing moments, going through chemotherapy and losing the ability to bear children, she still has a big smile on her face and an infinitely strong spirit which never faltered even in her dying moments. She also had the love of her life, the late Gene Wilder, at her side through it all. I can only hope to be as lucky.

Could director Lisa D’Apolito, who had the privilege of appearing in my all-time favorite movie, Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” have dug deeper into Gilda’s life? Perhaps. Some parts are given short shrift like her brief marriage to guitarist G.E. Smith and her movie career which ended after the critical and commercial failure of “Haunted Honeymoon.” D’Apolito also uses audio of Radner reading from her autobiography “It’s Always Something,” which remains one of my favorite books ever. Anyone who has read it can testify just how revealing Radner is about her struggles, and it threatens to make this documentary pale in comparison.

Regardless, D’Apolito does excellent work in making us see what a strong human being Gilda Radner was, and of how her spirit and influence remain incredibly strong even years after her death. The “SNL” cast member was made to endure terrible things in her life and left us at far too young an age, and yet she came out fighting and left us laughing hysterically. She even found humor in her cancer battle and demonstrated this when she guest starred on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” and her entrance was one full of victory. Nobody dared to make jokes about cancer back then, but she showed no fear in making fun of the most hideous of diseases. Even if it feels like there could have been more to this documentary than what we are shown, D’Apolito makes us see how Radner lives on in many ways.

Wilder founded “Gilda’s Club,” an organization where people with cancer can meet to build emotional and social support, after her death, and there are now over a dozen of them throughout America. Her book “It’s Always Something” is still in print, and I cannot recommend it more highly. And, of course, you can always catch her in “SNL” reruns which continue to entertain audiences of many generations. She may be gone, but “Love, Gilda” shows she never really left us. With a spirit as strong as hers, she never will.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Inside Out’ is One of Pixar’s Best Films

Inside Out

Inside Out” is far and away one of the very best movies Pixar has ever made. A story of a girl experiencing conflicting emotions and an ever-growing shyness after she moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco, it is bound to have you experiencing a wealth of emotions such as happiness and sadness. Honestly, these animated characters feel more human and real than others you find in the typical Hollywood blockbuster. If you say you came out of this movie unmoved, you are nothing but a flat-out liar. Yes, “Inside Out” is that good.

We are introduced to Riley right out of the womb as she is born to very loving parents. At the same time, we are also introduced to the emotions which occupy her mind: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). All of them take their turns at the controls of Riley’s mind, but Joy has the most influence as she is determined to keep Riley as happy no matter what. In the end, who wants to be unhappy, you know?

But then things change dramatically for Riley when her family moves from one side of America to the other and to a place which ruins pizza (watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean). While she tries to put on a brave face as the new girl in town, she finds her heart quickly breaking as she misses her old life and friends. This leads to her having an embarrassing moment in class and a hard time making friends and, as a result, Joy feels increasingly threatened as the more negative emotions begin to have increased influence over this pre-teen girl who has yet to discover the horrors of turning 13. Yes, this movie takes place before she hits puberty. Imagine what the sequel will be like!

“Inside Out” affected me deeply as I completed related to what Riley went through. When I was her age, my family moved me and from a town I felt very settled in to one which made me feel like an alien from another world. Being the new kid was no fun at all, and Riley’s emotional state should be completely understandable to those who have been through the exact same situation. In some ways she is lucky because she lives in the age of social media where she can talk with her friends via computer or Skype. I would have loved to have had this when I was her age.

This movie was directed by Pete Docter who helmed two of my favorite Pixar movies, “Monsters Inc.” and “Up,” and it was influenced by two things in his life; when his family moved to Denmark where he had trouble adapting to his new surroundings, and of the shyness his daughter began experiencing as she got older. For an animated movie, the characters like Riley and her parents feel wonderfully complex in a way you don’t necessarily expect. This isn’t the first Pixar movie to give us characters like these, but it is worth noting here.

I also liked how Riley is not portrayed as your stereotypical pre-teen girl. She is big into hockey in a way girls are more than we ever bother to realize, and she doesn’t obsess over the usual things we have been conditioned to believe girls obsess over like dresses and potential boyfriends. Docter has us see her as being like any other individual to where her gender is more or less beside the point. The feelings Riley experiences are universal, and they will quickly remind audience members of the ones they experienced when they were her tender age.

Now while I may be making “Inside Out” sound like an animated remake of “Pump up the Volume,” I assure you it is also very, very funny. This is in large part thanks to the cast which was perfectly chosen. Amy Poehler has always been one of my favorite “Saturday Night Live” stars, and it’s hard to think of another actress who could have voiced Joy better than she does. Her gleeful and spirited banter infects the character fully, and she also humanizes Joy to where she realizes why Riley can’t be happy all the time.

Phyllis Smith turns Sadness into a wonderfully funny character regardless of her infinitely depressed disposition. Bill Hader is absolutely priceless as Fear, Mindy Kaling makes Disgust more fun than she has any right to be, and who else could have done a better voicing Anger than the combustible comedian who is Lewis Black? Black steals every scene he has here as Anger, understandably, has difficulty keeping his cool. And let’s not forget Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane who voice Riley’s father and mother and make them into the most loving parents Riley could ever hope to have.

As “Inside Out” probes the memory banks and emotional centers of young Riley’s mind, it proves to be absolutely boundless in its imagination and visual effects. I keep waiting to see what surprises Docter had in store for us as we keep getting introduced to new characters like Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind is fabulous) and other memory centers which are presented to us as if they were giant theme parks.

The filmmakers clearly did a lot of research on the human mind. This leads to many unforgettable moments like when certain parts of Riley’s mind such as Imagination Land crumbles and falls into the Memory Dump where memories are forever forgotten. On one hand it is an amazing piece of animation, but on the other it is a reminder of the things we lose in our lives as we get older. We may want to get some of these things back, but a lot of times we cannot.

But perhaps the most important thing we can get out of watching “Inside Out” is not the fact we can’t be happy all the time, but that Joy and Sadness need to coexist with one another. You can’t have pleasure without having pain, and this is made abundantly clear in one of the movie’s closing scenes which is beautiful and will have at least one tear trickling down your cheek.

Many have said Pixar has lost its footing in the past few years with an overreliance on sequels, but I have yet to see a movie of theirs which I have not liked. “Inside Out,” however, reminds you of how amazing they can be when they focus on giving you a great story more than anything else. It’s a movie for anybody and everybody, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

* * * * out of * * * *

Conquering the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon

LA Marathon 2018 Pablove team photo

It was almost hard to believe, but the time had finally come to run 26.2 miles through the vast city of Los Angeles. The day of the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon had finally arrived. Was I prepared? I couldn’t say for sure. This is the eighth year in a row I have ran this event, a brutal test of endurance, and while I am a true marathon veteran, I still approached this particular one with much nervousness. Was I really ready? Had I done all the training I needed to do? The only way I would know for sure is when I crossed the finish line, and I was determined to cross it regardless of any concerns I had.

LA Marathon 2018

We had a wonderful and delicious celebration dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy Restaurant located in The Grove the Friday night before the big day, and from there we were encouraged to get as much rest as possible. Since there was a full bar nearby, Coach Kerry said we could have all the alcohol we wanted, but he made it clear we were not to touch a drop of it on Saturday. As for myself, I abstained from drinking any alcohol throughout the week as running this event completely dehydrated was not much of an option.

I did have to work for a few hours Saturday night, and getting to sleep was challenging as always. While I had a very restful sleep Friday thanks to Temazepam, I found myself understandably restless as I knew what I would experience following the marathon, soreness which would feel never ending. Plus, a new episode of “Saturday Night Live” was on, and it was being hosted by Bill Hader with musical guest Arcade Fire, an unbeatable combination. Somehow, I managed to turn my television off before I could see him reprise his endlessly hilarious character, Stefon, on Weekend Update. Still, my mind would not rest until I made a payment of any kind on my past due credit card bill. Afterwards, I read several chapters of Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please,” before I found myself sliding into the realm of sleep. Considering I couldn’t get myself to put the book down for a long time, this was surprising.

The alarm on my Android phone and my interval timing watch went off simultaneously at 3:15 a.m., and for once it didn’t take long for me to haul my ass out of bed like it does any other day of the week. I had set up everything the night before, so I was all set to go. I even took out the trash as walking anywhere following the marathon was out of the question. My running shoes, which I bought only a couple of weeks ago from A Runner’s Circle (I was in and out of there in less than 5 minutes), were right next to the gym bag I packed with a change of clothes, deodorant, another pair of shoes and whatever else I needed following this amazing event which inspires in even those who do not run it. Unlike the night before when I was panicking about all the things I was afraid I would forget, I was quick and efficient in getting out the door at a reasonable time.

One thing I was especially thankful for this time around was how much cooler the weather was. The last few years have seen the Los Angeles Marathon deluged by high temperatures which meant we had a better chance at getting sunburned than in setting a new personal record. So, considering how the forecast was predicting this Sunday to be an especially cold one made me very happy as, for the first time in years, we would not be feeling like shish kabobs on the grill as we passed through Century City on our way to Santa Monica.

The line to get on a bus which would take us from Santa Monica to Dodger Stadium moved a lot faster than in previous years, and I arrived at Dodger Stadium in what felt like record time. However, I do have to say the bus I was on bounced around a lot to where I wondered if the shock absorbers on it needed to be replaced a long time ago.

Unlike previous years when I ran with Team to End AIDS where we had a suite inside Dodger Stadium, us Pablove Foundation runners had to wait outside in the freezing cold right next to the UPS vans which served as the gear check stations. The fact I was able to find any fellow Pablove runners in the midst of the thousands of others was amazing as I expected to see them. But sure enough, I ran into a couple of them as they tried to figure out where the hell everyone else was. Eventually, those Pablove runners who were not stuck in traffic met up with one another in front of the Los Angeles Road Runners gear check van. It says a lot about that this group got their own UPS van unlike all the others.

While I was glad the weather cooled down a lot this marathon year (as much as it can in the realm of global warming anyway), it proved to be a very chilly morning in Santa Monica to where my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I had a couple of non-cotton shirts on as wearing the Pablove singlet by itself was a little too horrifying as it is already clear to the world I have yet to reach my ideal weight. I also was wearing a UCLA cotton jacket which I picked up from the local Goodwill Store the day before, but even then, I was moving my legs around in an effort to keep warm.

LA Marathon 2018 Pablove socks

All the Pablove runners had the foundation’s logo proudly displayed on their outfits whether it was on their singlets or their socks. The socks were pink by the way, a color which doesn’t always look great on me, but on this day, it didn’t matter. They were given to me a while back, and they have proven to be a great and much-needed pair when it seemed like all my other pairs have gone past their prime.

Coach Kerry was supposed to meet up with us before the marathon began, but he ended up getting stuck in traffic as there was an accident on the freeway. Still, it was all good because the support system was definitely in place as we always look out for one another.

At around a quarter till 7 a.m., we went to our individual corrals which were designated by the pace we were running per mile. I had been running a 15-minute mile pace this season, but I ended up waiting in the 13-minute corral instead as Walter, a fellow marathon veteran, was there and it felt good to start off with a fellow T2EA/Pablove runner before we lost sight of one another.

The Elite Runners were the first to start, and when Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” began playing on the speakers, we knew it was our time to start. However, just as it felt like we were proceeding to the starting line, everyone was starting and stopping at a rather alarming pace to where it felt like we were on the 405 freeway during rush hour. Seriously, if you ever want to know what the life of a snail is like, drive on the 405 when the work day is over. It doesn’t take long for it to resemble a used car lot. At one point, I yelled out Al Pacino’s famous line from “Carlito’s Way” of “here come the pain!” Walter laughed and replied, “Well, not yet!”

By the way, I always wonder why the organizers of the L.A. Marathon never bother to play “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons as we head to the starting line. Even they must be getting sick of “I Love L.A.” by now.

Anyway, I managed to get across the starting line while stepping over all the sweaters, jackets and mylar blankets which other runners tossed away once they began running. We do what we can to keep ourselves warm, but when we start running, people don’t hesitate to shed the extra layers of clothing they don’t need. The trick is not to trip over anything as there is always something on the road for us to trip over or slip on to where the marathon can end as quickly as it began.

LA Marathon 2018 the start

As I made my way out of Dodger Stadium, my teeth were still chattering as the temperature was still at around 50 degrees, and I soon became impatient for the weather to warm up, if only a little. Obviously, I didn’t want to experience another hot summer day while running this event, but I also don’t want frost forming on my clothes like it did several years ago. Believe me, there was a time when it did snow in Burbank.

While there is always some joker at the start of the race holding up a sign which says “the end is near,” I found it both very reassuring how one guy proudly held up a sign which said, “The End is Very Far.” For once, someone spoke the truth at Dodger Stadium.

And as you can expect, the Bible thumpers were all over the place, holding up signs which said “Jesus Saves” among other things or trying to get our attention through the use of megaphones and yelling out, “Give your life to Jesus!” Now I don’t know any of these people personally, but they strike me as a group who has taken the word of the Bible ever so literally to where they won’t allow themselves, or anyone else, to question it. Most of the runners I saw were annoyed by their presence, and one put his hand behind his head to make it look like he had horns. The Bible thumper with the megaphone saw him said, “Yeah, I see you. This guy likes to worship Satan.” Everyone in the vicinity laughed out loud in response.

As we made our way from Silverlake into Chinatown, I once again was in awe at the sight of thousands of runners making their way through the city. It remains quite the image every time I run this marathon as it feels like the whole city has joined in to either run it, volunteer for it, or to simply be a spectator. I wanted to take a picture of this, but my damn Android phone kept shutting down on me even though it had 90% power. Seriously, when did this device turn into an iPhone?

From there, we made our way into the unmistakably urban streets of Downtown Los Angeles, and it was at this point the temperature rose into the high 60’s. Once I took my UCLA jacket off (I went to UCI by the way), I wrapped it around my waist as I figured it would still be needed with the weather being so cold. When I ran this marathon for the second time, I held onto the second-hand jacket I bought for the whole thing as the winds kept howling like crazy to where I kept waiting for all the palm trees in Santa Monica to get blown over. But it soon became clear that, while there was still a nice breeze in effect, the temperature was not about to drop down to where it once was, so I ended up ditching the jacket at around Hope Street. It either fell into the hands of a second-hand shop employee and may end up being sold yet again at the Goodwill store I bought it from, or it made some homeless person very happy.

Incidentally, this country really needs to get back to fighting wars on poverty and not poor people.

In Downtown LA, I went up the first of several hills this marathon had to offer, and it never fails to test my limits as I force myself to run up the street where all the courthouses are at. One thing which really helps on this hill is the presence of all those Taiko Drummers who gleefully pound away at a furious pace to where I think they are playing the “Tsunami” theme which was featured in “Rising Sun.” I have the soundtrack, and as a teenager I often found myself boogying out to this music as it forced you to shed your inhibitions in a way other music could not.

LA Marathon 2018 Jasmine in hazmat suit

At around mile five, I heard someone from behind me calling my name. It turned out to be Jasmine, one of my fellow Pablove runners who was quickly catching up with me. At the Pablove celebration dinner, Jasmine told me she had been really sick this past week to where she wasn’t sure she would be able to run the marathon. But she did indeed show up and in a hazmat suit as well. When I first saw her in the suit, I couldn’t help but tell her, “I loved you on ‘Breaking Bad!’”

Jasmine was still under the weather as she caught up with me, but I wouldn’t have known how sick she was if she hadn’t told me. I really admired her for persevering despite dealing with the flu, and she called me a lifesaver as I continued at 3:1 pace. While part of me wanted to see if I could set a new personal record and finish in less than six hours, it felt more appropriate to stick with Jasmine as she confessed to me that I was saving her life. You know what? Jasmine explained it best in her Facebook post several hours later:

“Now that the dust has settled at bit, I wanted to say a few things. As many of you know, I had a pretty nasty flu a week up to the marathon. It settled into my chest and by marathon morning I was still sick, hadn’t eaten much for the week prior and I was coughing up a lung. So, when I started, it sucked and kept sucking.

At mile five, I ran into Ben Kenber. Ben stayed with me for the next 14 miles, talking to me, encouraging me and basically keeping me in the game. When it became obvious to me that I couldn’t keep up with him anymore, Ben still didn’t want to leave me. What a guy!

Ben finally went on, at much insistence, to run his race but, I just want to thank you Ben, I don’t think I would have finished without you.”

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry and Jasmine and Ben and Kat

Indeed, we kept with one another for over a dozen miles, and Jasmine remarked how this was one of the best-catered marathons she had ever ran. In addition to all those volunteers who were handing out paper cups of water and lemon-flavored Gatorade, others were handing out orange slices, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas (which contain potassium that feels so heavenly on any long run), Red Vines, Jolly Ranchers, and fun size Snickers. While I may have been hesitant to consume these things in the past, it suddenly became in my best interest to do so as I take whatever runner’s fuel which presented itself to me. After lagging behind all the other Pablove runners this past training season to where I was astonished Coaches Kerry and James were still waiting for me in Griffith Park at the finish line. I kept imagining they were rolling their eyes as they were eager to get home and enjoy the rest of their weekend, but they were still there to cheer me on as when I made it to the end.

Jasmine’s flu made her belch quite a bit, something I used to think only men could do, but I have long since been corrected to where I am annoyed when other men consider themselves superior to women. Let’s face it men, we never were in the place. Every time Jasmine burped, I made sure to tell her “bless you.” I know you only say this to someone when they sneeze, but it felt appropriate considering the distance we were trying to travel. She kept up with my pace of 3:1, but every time I heard her watch beep, I thought it was mine. It became a routine for Jasmine to tell me it was her watch going off. Still, it was a force of habit to check my watch whenever any beep went off.

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry and Kat

At mile 11, we finally ran into Coach Kerry who was waiting for us right near where The Pablove Foundation office was. He was there with Kat and several others who were cheering us on, and he gave Jasmine a big hug as he was worried about her. As to why he didn’t give me a hug, well, scientists are still looking into that.

When it came to mile 19, Jasmine decided she wanted to walk the rest of the way. As she indicated in her Facebook post, she encouraged me to go on, but I wanted to make absolutely certain she was okay with that. She made it clear I should go on, and I congratulated her for making it this far despite having to deal with a disease which cruelly greeted her a week before she was set to run this marathon. Please believe me when I say I was not quick to leave her behind as I very much admire her for getting as far as she did. It’s been a long time since I had the flu, but I remember just how debilitating it was to have it. The flu robs you of your ability to do much of anything, but it didn’t rob Jasmine of her ability to run the LA Marathon. Furthermore, I got to meet her mother and some friends of her who were kind and patient enough to wait for her on Hollywood Boulevard.

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry Jasmine and Ben

One of the more unfriendly parts of this marathon is running through Century City as the roads lacked of shade from the occasionally brutal sunlight. Then again, I did get to pass by Robin Russell whose energetic drumming always lifts me up whenever I find myself slowing down more than I would like. I remember first seeing him pounding away at his drum set during the 2009 LA Marathon and totally digging the rhythm he was drumming. It’s always great to see him out there, supporting us runners with his playing.

When I started my way downhill through San Vincente Boulevard, a street which always feels never ending, it was then that the soreness began overtaking me. I was actually feeling really good for most of the marathon, and I even took an Extra Strength Tylenol capsule to ease whatever pain my body was experiencing. However, my legs were starting to feel the pain. I wasn’t in agony, but it was an especially irritating pain which just annoyed the hell out of me. I have never broken any bones in my body before and I am in no hurry to experience that level of pain and torture, but this kind of pain really irked me. It was like I was telling my legs to give me a break as there were only a few more miles to go, but just like Edward Norton in “Fight Club,” my legs were calling out to me in vengeance, “I am Ben’s inflamed legs!”

As I continued down San Vicente, I did run into Coach James who was all smiles once he saw me. As always, he was enthusiastic and proud of us runners as it was clear even to us just how much our training had paid off these past few months. James had a whole bag of treats for us, and he kindly gave me a bottle of Cool Blue flavored Gatorade. Along with the ice-cold bottle of water some from UCLA gave me, this proved to be a most welcome gift. James, if you are reading this, thanks for everything.

I did bring my soundtrack iPod with me and put on some tunes to take my mind off the soreness. “Sliver” may have been a terrible movie, but the soundtrack which came out of it was awesome, and songs like “Slid” by Absurd, “The Most Wonderful Girl” by Lords of Acid and “Unfinished Symphony” by Massive Attack helped to move my spirits when they appeared down for the count. Also, Aftershock’s “Slave to the Vibe” remains one of the lost hits of the 1990’s.

Following this, I listened to the “Tangiers” track from John Powell’s score to “The Bourne Ultimatum.” It is one of my all-time favorite pieces of film music as we watch Jason Bourne race over rooftops in an effort to save his friend from an assassin. Listening to it makes me feel like I am running to either stop something bad happen, or instead running from an adversary who looks to seal my doom.

When I finally turned on Ocean Avenue and headed towards the finish line, I was determined to listen to Peter Gabriel’s “The Heat” from his soundtrack to “Birdy.” This track really got me to run fast when I needed a boost, and it certainly came in handy as my body was starting to give up on me. The soreness continued to escalate to where I was acting like some spoiled rotten cheerleader who kept complaining about how there was a run in her nylons. I was basically telling my legs, “Ow! Stop it!” as I could finally see the end just ahead of me. My soundtrack iPod only had a little bit of power left, so I prayed I could listen to “The Heat” as the finish line got closer and closer. Keep in mind, this music by Gabriel has been used on numerous movie trailers, and it never fails in getting my adrenaline running.

I held eight fingers up in the air as I crossed the finish line, signaling to everyone this was the eighth year in a row I ran and completed this marathon. From there, I kept walking as to stop moving at all was not a good idea. We still needed to cool down from what we had just endured, and to suddenly come to a full stop is not at all healthy. I got my medal from one of the marathon volunteers, had a cinnamon raisin bagel and just kept walking. The volunteers were still on hand to give us food and drinks (of the non-alcoholic kind of course) as we now had to put a lot of calories back into our bodies.

On my way past the Santa Monica Pier, I came across another one of those Bible thumpers who was also equipped with a megaphone and saying, “If you are an adulterer, you are a sinner! If envy another person, you are a sinner! If you are a thief, you are a sinner!” This became very monotonous to where I began to wonder, who isn’t a sinner? Heck, I wanted to go up to the guy and ask him this. Of course, he would have responded by saying he was not, so what would be the point? Surely everyone has sinned at one time or another, but does this really mean we will never make it to heaven?

In the past, Team to End AIDS had a booth set up for runners to stop by and sit for a bit as we reveled in what we had accomplished and indulge in some much-needed refreshments. The Pablove Foundation, however, did not have anything set up as we were, once again, a small group, so I just kept walking and walking until I got back to my car and drove home. I avoided the 10 freeway which I knew was going to be backed up and I drove through the back way of Santa Monica and thru Marina Del Rey and headed straight down Washington Boulevard. Geez, I sound like an episode of “The Californians.”

Before I made it back, I did drop by my local Ralphs Supermarket to pick up a few things, among which was a 10-pound bag of ice. For once, I was going to subject myself to an ice bath, something I actually hadn’t done in quite some time. But considering how infinitely sore I was, an ice bath felt absolutely necessary as it always succeeds in reducing the swelling in the legs. I still had my marathon medal on and going through the supermarket was a lot like running those 26.2 miles as complete strangers saw it and congratulated me on my grand accomplishment. One supermarket employee asked to hold it, and she was stunned at how heavy it was.

These congratulations continued as I made my way back to my apartment. One guy even passed by me and said, “And you’re still standing!” I was also ever so thankful to find a parking spot on the side of the street which would not be subjected to street cleaning on a Monday, and this meant I could sleep in.

Having an ice bath was a different story, however, as the water in my bath tub kept draining almost as quickly as the water went into it. I should have known something was up when a dozen minutes had passed and the tub wasn’t even half full. Keeping the faucet on also made it impossible for me to listen to the Fresh Air interview Terry Gross did with Danny Trejo about going from being a San Quentin inmate to becoming an in-demand actor. I did finally put the ice in once the water got to a certain level, but this ice bath was unfortunately not as effective as it could have been. Following this, I crashed in bed and had a nice, long nap. Again, I didn’t get much sleep the night before, so you can sure bet I caught up on it.

Now it’s a few days later, and my legs are still recovering from the soreness. Walking normally has gotten easier, but I still find myself wanting to cry whenever I see a flight of stairs in front of me. Even though I know I will fully recover, looking at stairs after running a marathon always makes me wonder if I will ever go up them again with the same enthusiastic energy I once had. The answer, of course, is yes, but it always feels like I never will. I also find myself in a constant state of tiredness, but this may have to do more with depression than running the marathon.

JC Fernandez at the Boliver tree

Recently, JC Fernandez, one of my former coaches from T2EA, posted the following on my Facebook page:

“Hey Ben! At the start of the year, I mentioned how I felt Coach Scott’s presence in your weekly Ultimate Rabbit posts. Your determination and will to push through your struggles is the embodiment of his mantra ‘keep going.” Reading Jasmine’s account of the race this weekend and how you stuck by to support and encourage her, sacrificing your race for her well-being… and I feel him again.

Thank you for carrying on his spirit. And congrats on another 26.2!!”

Indeed, Scott Boliver’s spirit has never left us as he always told us to just keep going, and it felt great to hear I embodied this spirit from JC. For us T2EA and Pablove runners, it isn’t always about setting a new personal record or winning the whole thing. It’s all about crossing the finish line. If you set a new personal record for yourself that’s great, but what really matters is finishing the whole thing come rain or shine. Even when we have hit the runner’s wall where are brain is telling us to just give up already, we keep going. Maybe we will run a bit slower or just walk the rest of the way, but we keep on going even when everything tells us to call it quits. In the end, that’s all we can do, just keep going.

Scott Boliver photo

In life I try to be humble about a lot of things as having an oversized ego has led me into painfully embarrassing situations more often than not, but few things in life have earned me more bragging rights than running a marathon. While I may be shy about some things, there is no reason for me to be shy about the medal I earned.

My thanks to Coaches James and Kerry and to everyone at The Pablove Foundation for helping me get through this season. I also want to send out congratulations to my fellow Pablove runners for participating and completing the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon. Special congratulations to Jasmine who ran despite being sick and finished about 20 minutes behind me.

Will I be back next year? I’m not sure. The last few years have had me wondering if it is time to take a break from all this running, but when the start of the training season is near, the excitement overcomes all the rational thoughts I have, and I find myself happily back at Griffith Park on Saturday mornings. But with my advancing age, something I prefer not draw too much attention to, maybe I owe it to myself to give my body an extended rest. Then again, Harrison Ford said it best in “Raiders of the Lost Ark:”

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

The 2018 Los Angeles Marathon was truly one of the best years for this event. The weather was perfect, the nutrition was endless, and the support from complete strangers is always welcome. And, as one spectator pointed out on a sign he held up, we were running much better than the U.S. Government.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I have now raised $1,389 for The Pablove Foundation. As a group, us Pablove runners succeeded in raising around $60,000 in the fight against pediatric cancer. It is important to note that while the U.S. Government does give a lot of money to cancer research, only 4% of it goes towards childhood cancer. My personal page is still open, so if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please do not let me stop you (as if I would ever want to).

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

See also:

What’s Pablove Got to Do with It?

No Pablove Runner Walks in L.A!

Running in the Aftermath of Thanksgiving for Pablove

A Tough Pablove Run for Me

One Last Pablove Run for 2017

A Pablove Run in Memory of Scott Boliver

A Longer Than Expected Pablove Run

An Especially Frigid 18 Mile Pablove Run

There’s Nothing Like a Hot Summer Day in February

23 Miles in the Frigid Los Angeles Wilderness

One Last Pablove Run, and One Last Hill

LA Marathon 2018 the runners

Scott Boliver tree 2014

Adam McKay on the American Economy, Ayn Rand, and ‘The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas’

adam-mckay-we-the-economy

“The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is one of 20 short films which make up “We the Economy,” a series that uses innovative story techniques to give us a better understanding of the U.S. economy. This particular short film was directed by Adam McKay, best known for directing the “Anchorman” movies, “The Big Short” and for co-founding the comedy website “Funny or Die,” and it’s an animated short film and a thinly veiled parody of all those “My Little Pony” cartoons children are still crazy about watching. It takes place in a magical land filled with long-lashed, multi-colored Alpacas who love lollipops, rainbows, and friendship, and they have just graduated from school and are looking to get well-paying jobs in the business world. But once they are made aware of the sharp divide in wealth distribution which mirrors America’s, the growing evidence of inequality gap makes them turn against one another with hilarious results.

A press day for “We the Economy” was held at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, and McKay was one of the directors who attended it. “The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is not only the funniest short film in this series but also one the most informative. McKay said the inspiration for it came in part from his kids watching “My Little Pony” cartoons all the time, but another one came from an unexpected source.

“There was actually a documentary about the richest building in New York City on Park Avenue, and it was made by Alex Gibney and it was called ‘Park Avenue (Money, Power and the American Dream),’” McKay said. “He describes how the children of the super billionaires would always come through the lobby and be so friendly with the doorman, and the doorman would go, ‘How was your soccer game?’ And then the doorman described how one day when they were like 11 or 12, the light just went off. It was like someone had told them you were different and they no longer connected with the doorman. The guy was talking how sad that is, and so I think just vaguely that was in my mind that when you’re a kid, these differences don’t mean anything. And then when they become real, all of a sudden you’ll notice all the alpacas start fighting with each other and they’re no longer friends. So yeah, I think we’ll give Alex Gibney credit for that.”

Making this short film also proved to be very educational for McKay as it made him fully aware of just how bad income equality is in the United States.

“I was shocked,” McKay said. “I came in knowing that the U.S. had a problem with income inequality, but I didn’t know just how bad it was and that our upward mobility was so stagnant and that it’s actually not that great in the U.S. I was shocked about the numbers about the middle class. Our middle class has almost completely evaporated. I knew we were bad, but then when I worked with Adam Davidson and looked at the actual numbers… Damon actually contacted us and was like, ‘I think there was a mistake made when you said 50% of the wealth went to the top .1%.’ We’re like, ‘No, that’s not a mistake.’ And I had the same reaction he did which was like, that’s gotta be a typo.”

“I didn’t know that we are by every definition of the word in the U.S. an oligarchy. I had no idea that that was the case,” McKay continued. “A strict definition of oligarchy, that is the U.S. more so than Russia or China than any country you can think of. It’s a little depressing but at the same time a good opportunity to let people know about these numbers.”

we-the-economy-ceo-with-ayn-rand-book

One of the images which really stood out in my mind was when the Alpacas are shown a portrait of a company CEO who is shown holding a copy of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” For the record, I have not read any of Rand’s books, but her name has been coming up a lot even though she died back in 1982. There were three movies based on her book “Atlas Shrugged,” the first which was a critical and commercial flop, and yet the filmmakers still made a pair of sequels to it. John Oliver even did a segment about her on “Last Week Tonight” as he wondered why she was still considered relevant. I had to ask McKay why this book was so prominently featured in the portrait, and he helped school me in what Rand was really about.

“She was a refugee of Communist Russia, so she had been given the hard boots,” McKay said. “I think she was a fun partier supposedly so she hung out with the billionaires and was like fuck everyone else, let’s have a good time. She had seen the overreaction of the Communist Revolution so she was an extremist in the other way, and then you have these guys with dynastic wealth who have inherited millions of dollars who kind of feel shitty about it. And then here’s a woman telling you, let’s go have a big sex party and you shouldn’t feel shitty about having your money. She’s perfect for the Koch Brothers and it’s like she’s their bible because, otherwise, they’re going to have to give away a lot of their money, and they don’t want to do that.”

“Ever since I’ve been in college, I’ve always been having arguments with the Ayn Rand devotees,” McKay continued. “My point on Ayn Rand is she’s always been a bad writer. John Milius is a big right-winger, but the guy can write (remember Robert Shaw’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech from “Jaws?”). You can be a right winger or whatever you want to be, just don’t be a shitty writer.”

“It’s funny because she becomes more important the more you get income inequality in our country, and the more billionaires you get the more her name comes back into the public,” McKay said. “In the 50’s and 60’s, she was fringe. The interview with Mike Wallace with her was like she was a cuckoo bird, and it is only now that our country’s kind of a little bit broken that suddenly she’s back in the mainstream.”

“We the Economy” is now up and running, and it has proven to be a clever and innovative way to teach us more about the U.S. economy. Be sure to check the website, and you can view “The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” below.

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