What I Remember About September 11, 2001

We are now at the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, the date of the worst terrorist attack in American history. As I ask of any anniversary, whether mournful or celebratory, where did all the time go? Looking back, it seemed like time just stopped even as the clock kept ticking. As with the current COVID-19 pandemic, our way of life has forever changed and will never be the same. While so much has happened between 2001 and now, it still feels like yesterday when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.

I still remember this morning vividly. I was living in an apartment near the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood. At the time, I was working at Disneyland and enduring a ridiculous 35-mile commute to the park as I was determined not to let anything stand in my way, including common sense and high gas prices.

That morning, I got a call from a Disneyland scheduler. They usually call me to see if I want to start working earlier in the day or pick up an extra shift, and I usually jump at the chance to do so as I was never got enough hours when I started. Instead, the call went as follows:

“Hi, can I speak to Ben please?”

“This is Ben.”

“Hi Ben. Don’t come to the park today. The park is closed and your shift has been cancelled.”

“What?”

“The park is closed today.”

This truly stunned me as anyone familiar with Disneyland knows the park never closes and is even open on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The only time it ever shuts down is if there is some catastrophic electrical failure or, as we have seen recently, due to a global pandemic. After a brief pause, the scheduler told me:

“You still get paid though.”

“Oh really?”

This made my ears prick up. Not having to go to work and still get paid has to be an American dream of sorts. It also put a smile on my face as there were things I had to take care of, and now I had the time to do so. Of course, I had to ask why Disneyland was closed today as I figured part of the park was flooded or something. To this, the scheduler simply said:

“Turn on the news.”

Well, after jumping up and down on my bed, reveling in the fact I was getting a day’s pay without working for it, I turned on my 27-inch JVC television. As I watched, I wondered why Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” was playing on NBC, and I was stunned to see all the thick fog in downtown Manhattan. Does it ever get this foggy in New York like it does in San Francisco?

Quickly, it dawned on me what was going on. The twin towers known as the World Trade Center in New York City had been attacked. Planes had flown into them, and by the time I had turned on the news, one of the towers had completely collapsed. No doubt about it, this was all really happening, and yet it felt so unreal. I could not fully register all of what was going on, and my neighbors, who also just got the news, looked like they couldn’t either.

The whole world shut down on this day, and I remained glued to my television set for most of it, slowly adjusting to the new reality we all had been thrust into. All of what had happened still left me completely numb, but I eventually turned off the television after I saw a man falling from one of the towers to the ground. This particular visual was just too much for me, and I needed a break from reality, however short.

I ended up taking my car, I had a red 1992 Acura Integra at the time, to a nearby 76 gas station on Sunset Boulevard to get a smog check as it was part of my registration renewal with the DMV. The attendant there greeted me, looked over my paperwork and then said, “Hell of a day, huh?” Yes, it was. Even as everyone went about their business, our hearts were heavy. Since the smog check was going to take a bit to complete, I decided to go for a walk up and down Sunset Boulevard.

I came across The Laugh Factory, and its marquee said, “No Laughing Tonight.” Got that right. The House of Blues, long before it was torn down, was closed, and The Comedy Store was understandably vacant. I picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times which had just put out their latest issue that included everything about the attacks. It’s newspapers like these you want to hang onto as this is a moment which will forever be burned into our memories. Plus, this newspaper might be worth money someday.

The rest of the week had me overcoming my state of shock. On September 12th, I went back to Disneyland where I was an interactive host in the Tomorrowland attraction of Innoventions, and me and my fellow cast members were subjected to getting our ID cards checked over and over again before we even got off the bus. Seriously, it was a real nuisance. A couple of days later, I was standing outside the Hollywood Improv where I was taking classes at Second City, singing songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and of course the national anthem along with my fellow classmates. These are songs I hadn’t sang in years, and some of them had me trying to remember the lyrics.

What I want people to remember most about September 11, 2001 is how it brought us all together. Divisions between political parties ceased to exist, and as Americans we were one with each other. We shared deeply in the sorrow, and we thanked all the first responders who spent day and night searching through the smoky rubble for survivors.

Perhaps this is why I am publishing this more towards September 12th more than September 11th. We have to remember how this tragic day brought everyone together and created a unity which, in retrospect, seems short-lived. In 2021, we live in a time where America has never been more divided, and I would like us all to remember how unified this terrorist attack made us. It would be nice if we were this unified today.

Michael Pena on Getting Real in David Ayer’s ‘End of Watch’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

Actor Michael Peña has already played a few cops in his career, but in David Ayer’s “End of Watch” he gets to play his most realistic one yet. It also marks the biggest role Peña has had so far in a career which has seen him give excellent performances in “Crash,” “World Trade Center” and “Observe and Report.” Taking on the role of LAPD officer Mike Zavala reminded Peña of his days growing up in Chicago, and his preparation proved to be far more intense than he ever expected it to be.

Peña grew up in a particularly rough area of Chicago where the lure of gang life was always strong. The actor, however, said he “never wanted to be in a gang” and that he “didn’t want to follow anybody’s orders” as he always thought of himself as an individual even when he was really little. Still, playing Mike Zavala brought up a lot of memories of those days:

“I grew up in the ghetto, and the thing is when there were problems, I knew when to get away. But police go to the problems,” said Peña. “I didn’t do that growing up. Seeing it through Jake (Gyllenhaal’s) eyes, it re-ignited what I always knew, but I guess I had buried it. I’ve been living in Hollywood for the past 15 years. And reality just smacks you in the face – that feeling of potential danger everywhere.”

Like his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, Peña spent five months training with the Los Angeles Police Department which included ride-alongs which lasted 12 hours a day. There was also a good dose of weapons training, martial arts, boxing workouts, and lugging around chest cameras which were also called body cams.

“We did so many damn ride-alongs, dude,” said Peña. “At first it’s brand new, it’s awesome, and it’s amazing. You almost glamorize it in a way. Then you do ten more, and you start getting a little bored. Then ten more after that, you really get into the spirit of it. It was almost like a sport. We really wanted to get into the mindset of what it’s like to be a police officer.”

As for the body cams, Peña remembered them being “so heavy” and “gnarly.” It turned out though that some of the hardest things he had to do in “End of Watch” were not actually physical.

“I was driving a whole bunch,” Peña said. “Then you have the director (David Ayer) in back, which can be pretty nerve-wracking. Sometimes I didn’t know where life began and where the acting started.”

Pena and Gyllenhaal had never worked together before making “End of Watch,” and it apparently took some time to get the sense of brotherhood two cops can have.

“It took three months to click,” said Peña. “There’s a lot of pressure to play like brothers. We had to spend a lot of time together to opening up to each other as well as tactical training, rehearsing. Three months later we had a good rapport and we put that in the movie.”

It was also all the hard-hitting dialogue which Ayer came up with that made the working relationship between Peña’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters feels like a real brotherhood. Peña also admitted he and Gyllenhaal did very little in the way of improvisation on the set as neither of them wanted to mess with the director’s script.

“Nine times out of 10, you aren’t going to come up with something better,” Peña said.

Peña has certainly earned his moment in the spotlight, having given one memorable performance after another. His terrific work in “End of Watch” is not only a major step forward for him, but it also allows him to break through certain barriers which have been placed upon actors throughout the years:

“The script was written for actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and me – a Latin dude. It had to be a Latin dude, there is so much Latin (material) in it. Ten years ago, I don’t know if that would have been the case. I don’t know if it would have been so easy to do.”

SOURCES:

Brian Brooks, “‘End of Watch’ Star Michael Peña Sees Racial Barriers Coming Down in Hollywood,” Movieline.com, September 19, 2012.

Chris Vognar, “Michael Peña on ‘End of Watch:’ ‘We did so many damn ride-alongs,’” The Dallas Morning News, September 21, 2012.

Madeleine Marr, “Talking to ‘End of Watch’ star Michael Peña,” The Miami Herald, September 20, 2012.

Jake Gyllenhaal on His Intense Police Training for ‘End of Watch’

As Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Brian Taylor, actor Jake Gyllenhaal finally gets to play a cop for the first time in “End of Watch.” Written and directed by former South Central Los Angeles resident David Ayers, the movie follows two young police officers played by Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena who are marked for death by a notorious cartel after they confiscate money and firearms from them. Although it was shot in 22 days on a budget of just $7 million, Gyllenhaal did not skimp on the details and went through a seriously intense preparation which extended far beyond him simply getting a buzz cut.

Gyllenhaal underwent five months of serious training with the LAPD, and this included going on 12-hour ride-alongs through various crime-ridden neighborhoods. These ride-alongs had a schedule which started at 4:00 p.m. and went through to 4 a.m., and he went on them as much as three times a week.

“On my first ride-along in Inglewood, someone was murdered. We were the second car on the scene,” Gyllenhaal said of his experience. “That was definitely a wakeup call. We were involved in stolen vehicle chases. You see domestic violence, disputes that turn violent. You really see your city differently after that.”

Gyllenhaal admitted to getting a little nervous at times as he and the police rode up on crimes involving domestic disputes, attempted murders and stolen cars. The actor pointed out, however, that he was with some pretty amazing officers who made him feel very protected in such a dangerous environment. In addition, he went to a dojo in the mornings for fight training and also got a lot of exposure to weapons and tactical training as well.

“We did training with live ammunition and training with the SWAT Team a few times a week for six-hour sessions,” Gyllenhaal said. “We had to learn tactic exercises and moving exercises with live ammo and then we did fight training in Echo Park. David Ayer, our director, his best friend has a dojo, so we trained there in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting too. Eventually, after getting the crap beaten out of you and being on the street, you start to actually come into the role and feeling like you really can play the part.”

But one of the most interesting stories regarding his preparation to play Officer Brian Taylor involved him getting shot by a taser.

“I did get tased. We were at the police academy, and they asked us if we wanted to try it out and me being me said, ‘Yeah, of course, yeah!’ Actually, they gave us a choice between pepper spray and being tased,” Gyllenhaal recollected.

When it came to choosing getting tased or pepper sprayed, Gyllenhaal’s decision proved to be a well-informed one:

“Pepper spray is long and painful, it lasts for like 45 minutes and the taser just lasts for five second,” Gyllenhaal said. “But afterwards it’s actually kind of relaxing. After you’ve had thousands and thousands of volts of electricity going through your body.”

It looks like Gyllenhaal’s preparation for “End of Watch” has really paid off as he is getting some of the best reviews of his career. It is clear playing a police officer has had a tremendous impact on him as he talked of the stigma cops constantly deal with when they are out on the street in uniform. He has also gone on to say how the experience of making this movie has completely transformed not just his idea of law enforcement but of Los Angeles as well. When all is said and done, watching this film will do the same for the audience.

SOURCES:

Colin Covert, “Jake Gyllenhaal’s education on the mean streets,” Star Tribune, September 22, 2012.

Zac Shull, “Q&A: Jake Gyllenhaal Talks ‘End of Watch,’ Training with Police & If He Gets Pass for Speeding,” Baller Status, September 21, 2012.

Justin Harp, “Jake Gyllenhaal: ‘I was tased while preparing for End of Watch,'” Digital Spy, September 18, 2012.

A Sad Farewell to Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard

Yes, this day was coming, but I did not think it would come this soon. Back in 2015, Amoeba Music sold its Hollywood location on the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga to developer GPI Companies for a reported $34 million, and it is set to be turned into yet another high-rise building in Los Angeles. I read the store would be open through the end of 2020. But then we were all hit by the global pandemic known as Coronavirus/COVID-19, and “non-essential” businesses like Amoeba were forced to close the doors temporarily. There was hope Amoeba’s Hollywood location would re-open again soon, but then co-owner Jim Henderson made the following statement:

“The massive impact from the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of our iconic Hollywood location at 6400 Sunset Blvd. With no reasonably foreseeable opportunity to re-open in our current location, we are instead focusing on hopefully opening in the fall in our previously announced new home at 6200 Hollywood Blvd. This situation has been forced on all of us, and we feel this decision is the most responsible and practical one.

“This is heartbreaking for us. We never envisioned not being able to give the store the send-off it deserves, to give you all a chance to say goodbye. We had so many events planned to celebrate our history at 6400 Sunset, but we are facing too many mitigating circumstances that simply won’t allow for it.”

Having read this, I understand and respect Amoeba’s decision not to re-open its Hollywood location. All the same, this is a real heart breaker for me as I looked forward to visiting this store again at least a few times before it closed, but now this will not happen. Like the Second City theatre, Amoeba Music was like a second home to me in Los Angeles which I visited frequently. Walking out of there empty-handed could feel criminal, but I could always find a certain CD, DVD, Blu-ray, cassette tape or vinyl record worth adding to my terrifyingly enormous collection (my dad says I have more CDs and DVDs than God).  

Having grown up in in Northern California, I often visited the Amoeba stores in Berkeley and San Francisco quite often, and this was back in a time where downloading music digitally was far from ever becoming a reality. Upon learning they were going to being opening a store in Hollywood, I became infinitely excited at what it would have to offer. Anyone familiar with the average Amoeba Music store knows they are far bigger than the normal record store. In fact, they are like warehouses which look to contain anything and everything you could ever hope to find. I was lucky enough to attend this store’s opening night back in November of 2001 and was in awe of just how big it was. If you were unable to find what you were looking for there, you had to wonder what was wrong with the world.

One of my biggest thrills in recent years was introducing my parents to this particular Amoeba Music store when they visited me in Los Angeles. They were flabbergasted at just how big this particular store was, and they were quick to grab their hands-on stuff like a Monterey Blues Festival t-shirt. This was also around the time of my birthday, and they got me Shout Factory’s special edition of “Creepshow” on Blu-ray, and that’s even though my dad was horrified at the price on it, and the soundtrack to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” While I was unable to introduce my parents to New Beverly Cinema during their recent trip, I am ever so glad they got to check out this particular Amoeba store while it was still operating.

The following are some of my most memorable purchases I made at this particular Amoeba Music store.

Killing Zoe

I was lucky enough to visit this store on the day it opened back in 2001, and the DVD to “Killing Zoe” was the first thing I ever purchased there. Written and directed by Roger Avary, it stars Eric Stoltz as a safecracker named Zed who joins up with his longtime friend Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) in Paris to rob a bank on Bastille Day. I had just discovered this movie on IFC and was absolutely enthralled by it. The acting all around was terrific, and Anglade in particular was phenomenal as a man fully determined to go out with a bang. I also really dug the film score composed and performed by Tomandandy which proved to be as hypnotic as it was propulsive, and I have since become a big fan of their work.

But yes, “Killing Zoe” is especially worth watching for the gorgeous and beguiling Julie Delpy who wows us fright rom her first appearance as Zoe. Whether she is in bed with Stoltz or wielding a heavy-duty machine gun, you cannot take your eyes off of her for a second.

Because this was the first thing I ever bought at this particular store, I assure you I will never get rid of it.

The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees

One time while I shopped here, this compilation album was playing on the store’s speaker system. I was already aware of Siouxsie and the Banshees thanks to their wonderfully bizarre song “Peek-a-Boo” which has an equally bizarre music video, and also “Face to Face” which proved to be a fantastic addition to the “Batman Returns” soundtrack. As this album played, I started to wonder why I didn’t give this British rock band more of my attention years ago as I suddenly became entranced by their songs “Cities in Dust,” “Dizzy” and “Kiss Them for Me.” to where I soon went over to the front counter to see what specific album was being played. I walked out with several items that day, but “The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees” is the one I find myself still playing quite often.

“We Are Night Sky” by Deadboy & the Elephantmen

As with any other Amoeba Music store, the Sunset Boulevard location played host to many singers and bands who performed there in support of their latest releases. I was fortunate enough to be at the store when Deadboy & the Elephantmen performed in support of their second album, “We Are Night Sky.” Led by singer and guitarist Dax Riggs who was accompanied on bass and drums by Tess Brunet, the band was often compared to The White Stripes, but they really stood out on their own. As they played songs like “Stop, I’m Already Dead” and “Blood Music” with sheer abandon, I quickly became a fan and bought the CD. Other great tracks on this album are “How Long the Night Was” and “Misadventures of Dope.”

What a shame it was that this band came to a permanent end just one year later.

“Send Your Love to Me” – a P.J. Harvey live bootleg CD

The lady at the register warned me the sound quality on this disc was not great and that it sounded like someone recorded this show from the audience. I appreciated the warning as it prepared me for a recording which was clearly not done on a professional level. Still, I found it interesting to hear Harvey’s music from this vantage point, and at one point you can even hear one audience member tell another how she is going to be playing herself in the next “Batman” movie (I’m guessing he meant “Batman Forever”). Having seen Harvey perform live years ago at The Wiltern, listening to this bootleg made me feel like I was right back there again as songs like “Meet Ze Monsta” and “Down by the Water” are so invigorating to take in with an audience of fellow fans.

“Sorcerer” soundtrack by Tangerine Dream

At my previous day job, a friend of mine named Richard shared my love of film scores and movie soundtracks. One his big favorites was Tangerine Dream’s score to William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer,” and he complained about how he could never find it at any record store in Los Angeles or any other city. Sure enough, I did find a copy of it at Amoeba on Sunset. Surprisingly, it was not in the soundtrack section, but instead in the New Age section where all the other Tangerine Dream CDs could be found. You should have seen Richard’s face when I showed him the CD. Seriously, he looked like Donald Sutherland at the end of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as he was completely stunned to be holding any copy of this particular soundtrack. I also agree with him about how this is one of the most unique film scores ever composed, and it opened up doors for Tangerine Dream in Hollywood as they went on to create more unforgettable scores for films like “Risky Business,” “Firestarter,” “Near Dark” and “Thief.”

“Heartland” by Client

While searching in the electronic music section for the latest CD by Hybrid or Juno Reactor, I came across a sign which said, “If you like Goldfrapp, then check this band out!” The band this sign was referring to was called Client, an English electronic music group from London which had just released its latest CD, “Heartland.” Would I have bought this CD in any other store? Well, it seems a bit unlikely as other places may not have been as quick to promote a band or artist Americans were not the least bit familiar with. Thanks to this sign, I got to check out this album which contains such terrific songs like “Lights Go Out,” “Zerox Machine” and “Someone to Hurt,” and these are songs I still never get sick of listening to.

“Adventures in Babysitting” t-shirt

As soon as I saw this t-shirt which featured Elisabeth Shue’s famous line of dialogue from the 1987 teen comedy film, I knew I had to have it. However, there was one slight problem: where could I possibly where it? Any shirt which says “don’t fuck with the babysitter” is not exactly the kind you can wear it if you live near an elementary school. But with all the social distancing currently going on, perhaps I can get away with wearing it as it can be hard to make out certain words when others are six feet away from you. At the very least, it will give some a reason to laugh during a time where it feels like the world is bordering on Armageddon.

Goodbye Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard. While I look forward to the opening of its newest location, to see this one shut down sooner rather than later really breaks my heart. So much of my money was spent here, and I have long since lost track of all the CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays I managed to trade in there for store credit.

Hopefully the new store will have a bigger parking lot.

The founders of Amoeba Music, Dave Prinz and Marc Weinstein, have since created a fundraising page on Go Fund Me to help offset the costs associated with the COVID-19 shutdown. With all Amoeba’s locations currently closed, they are struggling to survive and are doing what they can to pay their bills and take care of their employees’ health insurance. Their fundraising goal is $400,000, and to date they have raised over $230,000.

Click here to learn how you can make a donation.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead on Playing a Recovering Alcoholic in ‘Smashed’

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2012.

She charmed us in “Death Proof,” “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” but now Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets the most complex role of her character to date in “Smashed.” In the movie she plays Kate Hannah, an elementary school teacher who is also a raging alcoholic. After one night where she even goes as far as to smoke crack, Kate finds she needs to turn her life around really quick. Her path to sobriety is not an easy one as it makes her question the relationships in her life, especially the one she has with her husband Charlie (“Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul) which appears to revolve around their mutual love of getting drunk.

Winstead did a lot to prepare for this role as she visited many Alcoholic Anonymous group meetings and talked to the people there. She was also aided by one of the movie’s writers and a co-producer who were in recovery themselves, and they made her feel like she was not coming into this project dishonestly. Hearing Winstead talk about her research ends up illustrating the diversity of one particular city in California.

“L.A. is a great place to do it, because it’s such a big city, and every neighborhood is very specific as far as the different types of people who live there,” Winstead said. “So, every meeting I went to was completely different. I went to one that was like six people, and they were all men in their 60’s, totally working class, totally not L.A. Then I went to one in West Hollywood that was a lot of industry people, and I went to a huge women’s meeting where everyone was hugging and laughing. And it was great just seeing people share and talk about themselves and talking about their darkest moments in front of bunch of people and having it be totally accepted. It was an honor for me to be a part of that and to see that and it was a big first step for me into realizing how much I related to their struggle, and how much of a universal struggle it is.”

Among the most challenging scenes for Winstead comes when her character is drunk. Now playing drunk may look easy for an actor to do, but it is actually quite the opposite. The trick is to make the act of drunkenness believable to the audience you are presenting it to, but it can be easily overdone to where you can look utterly foolish. Winstead admitted she had never played drunk onscreen before, and she was terrified that she would look terrible doing it. She and James Ponsoldt (the director of “Smashed”) ended up consulting an acting coach in order to get it down right.

“Together we found this coach named Ivana Chubbuck who has this book called ‘The Power of the Actor’ and she has a chapter specifically dedicated to playing drunk,” Winstead said. “We sat in a couple of classes, and we did one of the scenes in her class as well, so we used her method a lot for that. And that was really helpful because we just didn’t want it to feel like acting. How do you not act drunk, but not really be drunk? That’s a difficult thing to pull off.”

One thing which makes “Smashed” really unique in the annals of addiction movies is how Kate is not the usual face of onscreen addiction. Winstead described Kate as being a full character and one she could really relate to despite her ongoing problems.

“What was great about it was that this was one of the only roles that I have ever read in a script where the female lead character is such a full person. You get to see so many sides of her personality,” Winstead said. “For me, I can be all of those types of people. I have a lot of different traits to my personality, depending on who I’m around, and what the dynamic in the situation is. So, to get to play a character where you get to see every single shade of who she is, is very rare. That was really exciting to me. So, I always felt as though I was her, just different sides of her.”

What also aided Winstead in this role was how Ponsoldt made the actors feel very free on set to where it almost seems like they are not even working with a script. Winstead made clear how much of what we see in “Smashed” is in fact scripted, but there were some unscripted moments which did make it into the final cut.

“I think part of the reason it feels so real is that it felt like the camera was always rolling,” Winstead said. “We were always in character and we were always going off script and back on and off and back on. So, it never felt like: ‘Cut! We’re ourselves now.’ It didn’t have that break: ‘We’re going to go back to our trailer, see you later.’ It was never like that. We were always on set, we were always in character, and we were always working toward making it authentic.”

Mary Elizabeth Winstead admits she has struggled long and hard to find roles which are as good as the one she plays in “Smashed.” Coming out of it, she wonders if she will ever find a role like this ever again, and this is very understandable considering what a highly competitive arena show business is. Her performance as Kate Hannah, however, earned her serious Oscar buzz ever since the movie was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and it is highly unlikely people will forget Winstead’s revelatory turn once they have left the theater.

SOURCES:

Kevin Jagernauth, “‘Smashed’ Star Mary Elizabeth Winstead On How She Learned To Play Drunk, The Emotional Rollercoaster Of The Role & More,” Indiewire, October 11, 2012.

Karen Benardello, “Interview with Mary Elizabeth Winstead on ‘Smashed,’” We Got This Covered, October 9, 2012.

Christopher Rosen, “Mary Elizabeth Winstead, ‘Smashed’ Star, On The Lack Of Female Roles In Hollywood & ‘Die Hard 5,’” Huffington Post, October 10, 2012.

Finishing the 2019 Los Angeles Marathon in One Piece

2019 LA Marathon half runners

So, the time had come again. The day of the Los Angeles Marathon had arrived, an event which brings the city of angels together in a way which is beautiful. Strangers cheer you on no matter who you are, and volunteers of all kinds are on hand to give you all the water, Gatorade, oranges, bananas and, yes, beer you could ever possibly want as you pound the pavement for 26.2 miles. We’ve trained for this endurance event for months, and now all we can do is hope it pays off as we pound the pavement for what those who do not run openly think is an insane distance to travel on foot. Of course, many of those same people keep telling me they cannot even run a mile, so their bewilderment at such an event is understandable.

This is the ninth year in a row I have participated in the LA Marathon, but things were different this time around. After running the full 26.2 miles for the past eight years, I decided the time had come to run the half marathon instead as it was harder to find time to train, and I was unable to complete certain runs either because my knees were hurting more than usual, or because I stupidly lost my cell phone and had to go searching for it. Seriously, hell hath no fury like a human being who has lost their cell phone.

2019 LA Marathon Ben running gear

In a time where I find myself oversleeping for far too often, I actually woke up about a half hour or so before the alarm on my cell phone was set to go off (4:45 a.m. to be exact). Since I was running the half marathon, I didn’t need to be in Santa Monica until about 6:00 a.m., so I took it easy as I got my running gear on and made sure to apply generous amounts of Body Glide and suntan lotion to my far too pale body. As I drove out to Santa Monica, I played music from the “American Flyers” soundtrack to pump myself up. I usually go with that or Queen’s extended version of “One Vision” as the key is to get myself all psyched up for a day in which I travel all parts of Los Angeles while saving gas money in the process. And, as I always like to tell people, I have to get back to my car somehow, and taking an Uber or a Lyft is out of the question. It’s not like any of the drivers can deal with all those road closures in a sane fashion anyway.

I drove over expecting traffic to be backed up to a crawl but I was astonished to see things weren’t that bad as getting into Santa Monica proved to be a piece of cake. Since the full marathoners had long since arrived, parked and made their way via bus to Dodger Stadium, the half marathoners were the only ones left. I parked in a lot off of Ocean Avenue, the cheap seats of LA Marathon parking, and made my way over to where the buses were waiting. Of course, unlike when parking at the Civic Center off of Main Street, the path to the buses was not a straight line like it once was. I realized this when I found myself approaching the Santa Monica Pier and began wondering where the hell I was.

As I made my way up, people were already gathering around as the last touches were being put on the finish line, and I was already getting congratulations from strangers for participating. I was in a hurry so I didn’t have time to tell anyone I had not actually started the marathon yet. Still, no one questioned why a guy like me who is carrying a little more luggage on his belly than he cared to admit could have finished running the LA Marathon so quickly. As much as I would like to believe I am faster than speeding bullet, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest otherwise.

My biggest fear was of getting on the wrong bus and ending up at Dodger Stadium. I was told there would be buses which would take us to Beverly Hills where the half-marathon starting point was, and that they would be leaving between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. I had to double check with the traffic cop on duty to make sure I wasn’t about to make the dumbest mistake possible. It would have been catastrophic had I gone on one heading to Dodger Stadium as I could easily see myself going into full on self-flagellation mode. Heaven forbid I take it easy on myself, huh?

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Anyway, I did get on the right bus which led me to the corner of Fairfax and Orange Grove. As I arrived, I had the good fortune to run into several of my fellow Pablove runners who were all set to run 13.1 miles from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica. To my surprise, there were more Pablove runners taking on the half-marathon than I originally realized. Like me, they decided to do the half as they were unable to devote the time they needed to training. But on the upside, we got to avoid running up those steep hills in Downtown Los Angeles as well as having to endure all those religious people who keep yelling into their bullhorns about how we have to give ourselves to Jesus. Methinks those people take the word of the Bible far too literally.

The day turned out to be warmer than I expected. This was a surprise after experiencing the coldest winter Southern California has had in lord only knows how long. For a while, I figured we might be greeted by cold weather this marathon hasn’t seen since 2012. But no, it was warmer than many would have preferred. Still, it wasn’t a scorcher like it was a few years ago.

At Dodger Stadium, the runners have to count the number of times Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” is played before they cross the starting line. From where we were, we were not subjected to that undying anthem. Instead, we got a school band performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for us which we proudly stood for. But yeah, in retrospect I should have kneeled.

We had to wait a bit to start as the elite marathon runners, those who are Kenyan or anyone else determined to finish it in 2 or 3 hours, passed by. Once they came and went, we were led out in waves onto Sunset Boulevard. I decided to run this marathon at a 2:2 pace which means I ran for two minutes and then walked for another two. It didn’t take long for me to lose my fellow Pablove runners as they took off with no signs of stopping for any walk break, and once again I was “all by myself.” But was I? After all, thousands upon thousands of people were participating in this event, so I had little reason to ever feel lonely.

It is an exhilarating thing to run this particular marathon as it brings the citizens of Los Angeles together in a way I want them to be brought together on a daily basis. I don’t know the religions of everyone who volunteered, but they were definitely on display whether or not it called for its most loyal followers to wear a turban . I have to tell you, the endless supply of bananas came in handy as they gave me the extra burst of energy I desperately needed. In retrospect, however, I should have taken more of those orange slices as the juice was much needed on a day where Southern California returned to its unseasonably warm temperatures after going through one of its coldest winters ever.

Another joy I have in running this particular marathon is in seeing the signs spectators feel free to put on display. Among them was one which stated how we run better than the government, but then again, who doesn’t these days. One of my favorites came from someone eager to address the current controversy involving celebrities helping their kids cheat their way into top-rated universities.

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Not once did I ever feel the need to take one or two extra strength Tylenol caplets. If I ran 26.2 miles, I would have taken at least one by the time I reached mile 13. My feet can only get abused so much before they start to complain as if to say, “why have you forsaken us?” Trust me, I have run this marathon before without taking any pain relievers, and I came out of it wondering why I could be so cruel to myself.

The sun did shine a lot brighter than I thought it would, but there was a cool breeze blowing in our direction as we approached Ocean Avenue. Of course, we had to suffer through San Vicente Boulevard before we got there, and this street feels never ending. It’s like a dolly zoom in a movie in that you are making progress, but the visual ahead suddenly looks a lot further away than you thought. Remember the moment in “Jaws” where Chief Brody slowly realizes that kid on the yellow raft is being attacked by a shark? That’s what I’m talking about.

I came into this year’s LA Marathon a bit depressed as I fell backwards in terms of training and ended up realizing I would be better off running the half. I had to accept the fact that my body is not the well-oiled machine it once was, and this involved acknowledging to myself of how I am not as young as I look. Regardless, this day was still a triumphant one, and I felt a sense of pride as I crossed the finish line while holding nine fingers up in the air to indicate how many times I have participated in this particular endurance event.

We still had to keep walking upon crossing the finish line as to suddenly stop would not be in our best interest. We were greeted with medals, and the LA Marathon always has the best ones, as well as servings of bananas, bagels (no cream cheese, damn it), water and Muscle Milk (which was not cold enough). Coach Kerry, who ran the half marathon with us, said he tried to wait for us, but security kept moving the runners along so they could make room for all the runners who had yet to finish.

So I walked slowly back to my car, put on deodorant, changed my shirt, got in and drove home. Although I only ran 13.1 miles, I was still wiped out and discovered a significant of sunburn on my back. I did put suntan lotion on, but my arms can only reach so far to cover everything.

As I walked home after parking my car, strangers noticed what was around my neck and were quick to say congratulations. Like I said, this event is the kind of thing which brings the citizens of this crazy city together in a beautiful way.

There are certain visuals from this marathon I will keep with me always. Among them is watching a physically disabled man slowly making his way to the finish line with a walker while still being in a lot of time. I also saw a young female runner being loaded onto a medical vehicle even as she screamed over the pain from her leg. I hope she’s doing better now.

I want to thank Coaches Kerry, Joaquin and Lourdes for all their help this past season and to congratulate my fellow Pablove runners for crossing the finish line. It has been an honor running in support of The Pablove Foundation which continues its fight against childhood cancer. These group of runners succeeded in raising over $50,000 for the organization, $1,000 of which was raised by me. Last I checked, my fundraising page is still up and running, so please feel free to make a tax-deductible donation to a great non-profit.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

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Confessions From a Veteran Marathon Runner

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So, it has been a few weeks since I last wrote about my training for the 2019 Los Angeles Marathon. The last time I did, it was in regards to my 20-mile run which had me suffering an emotional breakdown. In addition, my knees have been hurting more than ever before. I am not in excruciating pain mind you, it’s just that after running the LA Marathon eight years in a row, my body is really feeling the mileage.

After giving much thought to it, I have decided to run the half marathon on March 24, 2019 instead of the full. After suffering several setbacks, it seemed like the smart thing to do. Still, I feel a bit depressed about making this change as it marks the first time in years I will not be running the full LA Marathon. As a result, my enthusiasm for this yearly event, the kind which brings Los Angeles together in a beautiful way, has been dimmed significantly.

But maybe the diming of my enthusiasm is the result of realizing where I am in life. In short, I’m not a young guy anymore. As much as I try to convince myself I am still demographically desirable, I have to face some inescapable facts: I am not as fast as I used to be, my body is failing me more than I care to admit, I am trailing behind everyone to where I cannot catch up with even their vapor trails, and those pounds I aim to shed off my body refuse to be shed. As much as I refuse to act my age (and who does anyway?), my body is changing, or devolving to put it midly.

I remember watching “City Slickers” on the silver screen back in 1991, and this piece of dialogue from Billy Crystal has always stayed with me:

“Have you ever had that feeling that this is the best I’m ever gonna do, this is the best I’m ever gonna feel… and it ain’t that great?”

I was still a teenager when “City Slickers” was released, and I kept thinking to myself, thank god I won’t have to worry about that for a long time. Well, a couple of decades have passed by, and there are things I need to accept as reality: lines are slowly showing up on my face, I’m getting hair where there shouldn’t be hair, and my knees are started to feel like they will collapse without much notice. I was told when I turned 18 how it was all downhill from there, but now I feel like I am going downhill faster than before, and the brakes to slow me down are a lot wobblier than they should be.

For the record, I am still keeping up with marathon training and have been attending each Saturday run the Pablove runners are expected to be at. It has been the rainiest and coldest winter Southern California in years, but neither rain nor the treacherous road that is Forest Lawn Drive can keep us from getting ready for the big day. We even broke our routine up one week and trained at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and running a couple of loops outside of it was refreshing.

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The major upside of the last few runs was, for once, I got to run with others instead of just by myself. It’s nice to have the company as it sure helps motivate me in a way I cannot do on my own. I particularly want to thank Esther and Glendale, both whom are also running the half-marathon, for allowing me to keep up with them. And yes, it allowed me and Glendale to have a discussion about “I Spit on Your Grave” and its upcoming sequel, “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu.” The two of us are tickled to death over a direct sequel being made to this controversial cult classic all these years later, especially when you consider just how awful the first film was. Esther hasn’t seen or even heard of it, and she should consider herself lucky.

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Running with these two reminded me of what kept bringing me back to LA Marathon training for several years now: the people. It’s fun running with people and talking about what the past week was like. Usually I end up running by myself to where my motivation to run more than walk is not as strong as it should be. It’s like I am Charlie Brown and lost in my own thoughts to where I inadvertently trick myself into believing I am going to win the decathlon, and we all remember how “You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown” ended.

And again, there’s the issue with my knees. How much cartilage do they have left to work with? They ache more than usual, and I am not sure what to do about that. I keep thinking they will buckle on me when I least expect it, and I am trying to remain conscious of my running form from start to finish. George Harrison once sang about his guitar gently weeping, but my knees are not exactly weeping gently.

Also, I have been getting fatigued a lot. I spend a lot of mornings sleeping in even when I know I need to work. Maybe I was a bear in a previous life. A least they have an excuse to sleep for a long time; they hibernate. It makes me long for all the testosterone which starting leaving my body at 40. Testosterone, testosterone, my kingdom for some testosterone! Maybe I should get a bottle of Nugenix and see if it makes a difference. Frank Thomas did say “she’ll like the difference too,” so shouldn’t that be considered a solid endorsement?

Despite the setbacks, I still soldier on. Why? Well, these Saturday morning runs help give me a schedule which self-employment does not always invite (but probably should). It’s a great way for me to keep in shape even as the boundless energy I once had as a youth continues to disappear. And yes, I am doing this for a noble non-profit, The Pablove Foundation, which continues its fight against the insidious disease called pediatric cancer. No one should ever die young. No one.

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We need to put more of a face on this disease. The Pablove Foundation has certainly done this, but we as runners don’t always know who we are doing this for on a personal level. Well, at least I don’t. It would serve as a strong reminder of the importance of what we do.

I hope my former marathon coach, JC Fernandez, doesn’t mind, but I wanted to share something he sent me recently:

“I neglected another important thing that I hope you have already taken to heart: YOU ARE A HERO. It can be difficult to consider when you’re focused solely on surviving the next mile of a course, but you have inspired people. People saw you run and thought, ‘Maybe I can do that.’ Furthermore, the people you’ve supported all these years are not grateful to you because of your pace. I’ve said often enough through the years that what we do is not abstract. And somewhere there is a person who at the very least struggles a bit less because of you but at the most remains alive because of you. Do not ever forget that, even if you decide to hang your cape up forever.”

JC certainly has a great point, and he and I learned from the best: Scott Boliver.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: To date, I have raised $1,062 for The Pablove Foundation. I want to thank all of you who have supported me so far on this voyage to another LA Marathon. My fundraising goal is still $1,500, and there is still plenty of time to make a donation.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION (PLEASE?)

Tears Shed During The 20-Mile Pablove Training Run

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So, the last few weeks of Los Angeles Marathon training have proven to be frustrating for me. During our 18-mile run, I lost my cell phone which I mistakenly believed was safe and secure in my arm band, and I was forced to retrace my steps to where I had to abandon the run to find it. Thankfully, the police found my phone and took it to their station in Downtown Los Angeles where I recovered it. As for our 8-mile recovery run which took place the following week, those of us who bothered to show up (three or four people aside from the coaches) decided to cancel it as the rain and cold wind proved to be an unwelcome combination. Those of us who ran, or rather swam, the 2011 LA Marathon can attest to how rain and wind serves to make running a miserable experience as hypothermia becomes more of a problem than heat stroke.

The weather proved to be just as unforgiving this past weekend as rain blanketed much of Los Angeles on the morning of our longest run yet, 20 miles. As much as we would have liked to postpone it due to bad weather, we all knew we had to grin and bear it and go with the US Postal Service motto of how “neither rain nor snow” could keep us from doing our duty.

When my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., it sounded so peaceful outside my window as I dragged myself out of bed and got my running gear on. But as I began applying anti-chafe cream over my body, I started to hear what sounded like water going through a pipe in my building which I assumed was the result of someone taking a shower next door. But no, the rain was coming down again, and it was coming down hard. I sighed as I put on an extra layer of clothing to combat the cold weather I knew I would be dealing with, and I showed no hesitation in putting on a poncho as well. Lord knows I was going to need it.

Once again, I was the first person to show up at the Pablove meeting site in Griffith Park, but I stayed in my car as the rain was still pouring down hard. The coaches and other runners showed up soon after, but even they were not in a hurry to exit their vehicles. Once Coach Joaquin got out of his, the rest of us followed suit, but I brought my umbrella with me to keep from getting doused before I started pounding the pavement. One of the runners asked if I was planning on taking my umbrella with me on this run, and I replied no. Granted, I think he meant what he said as a joke.

Just as we were about to start, I went back to my car and put my umbrella away. Once I did so, I noticed all the other Pablove runners had taken off without me. I was hoping they would wait, but considering we were starting this run an hour early due to its double-digit length, time was not about to wait for any Pablove runner. As I got underway, another runner arrived at Griffith Park a bit late and ran alongside me. However, it didn’t take long for him to leave me in the dust to where I started singing Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” to myself.

Our route took us to the treacherous street known as Forest Lawn Drive which has a number of blind spots where cars race by at 45 miles an hour, and it also goes right by a cemetery which always feels like a bad omen.  While we always run against traffic, it was decided we should run with it as the other side of the street was flooded to where we would be doused by cars looking to splash unsuspecting pedestrians even as they ran the risk of hydroplaning.

But the beauty of it all was that, as we made our way to Forest Lawn Drive, the rain suddenly stopped. Not only that, the sun began to break through the clouds. I would like to think the weather gods saw us running, recognized me and said, “Hey, you ran the 2011 LA Marathon. Okay, I’ll go easy on you. This weather must bring back bad memories.” As much as we need the rain in California, it was nice to have a break.

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Once I made it to Barham Boulevard, I ran up a hill which, like any other, wiped me out very quickly to where my walk breaks lasted longer than they should have. From there, I made a left on Lake Hollywood and ran up to the reservoir, a place I have not run through or around before during marathon training. I was excited at the opportunity to run an unfamiliar place. My enthusiasm, however, was tempered a bit by a sign at the fence in front of me.

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The “Keep Me Wild” sign piqued my interest, especially with the mountain lion pictured on it. I know I am not as fast as I used to be, so the chances of escaping an animal who sees me as little more than lunch are not very good to say the least. I kept thinking of the scene from “The Edge,” a terrific character drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, in which a character talks about how to avoid being attacked by a bear: put your hands up in the air, look it right in the eye and back away slowly. Of course, it was a bear he was talking about. I’m not sure the same applies to a mountain lion.

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I decided to run at a pace of 3:1 as my plan was to finish this run without feeling completely fatigued. Aside from the coaches, there weren’t many familiar faces to pass by on this route. I thought about bringing one of my iPods with me so I could listen to music, but since this day started off with a lot of rain, I figured it was best to leave it behind.

Upon arriving back at Griffith Park, I ran into Coach Kerry who informed me I was running at a pace slower than 15 minutes a mile to where everyone else was now two miles ahead of me. As a result, he advised me to turn around as soon as I reached the other runners or at least when I passed the LA Zoo. I wanted to complete all 20 miles, but Coach Kerry said he didn’t have the resources to ensure my safety at this point, so I obliged him and promised to turn around sooner rather than later.

It was at this point my mood descended to a place of utter frustration. This was also complicated by me dwelling on traumatic events from the past which were suddenly reawakened in my conscious mind. I’m not going into the exact details, but they were driving me insane even as I went about the days acting like nothing was wrong. Furthermore, my knees were hurting more than usual. Granted, I should have expected many parts of my body to get sore on a long run like this, but it worsened my already pathetic mood. Once I passed the LA Zoo, I just gave up and started dragging myself back to the starting spot.

I couldn’t even get myself to run anymore as I wondered if I was really taking marathon training seriously anymore. Just because I am a veteran, does this mean I can wing it as if my body will always remember what is involved in this endurance event? How could I have fallen so far behind everyone else? This is not supposed to be a lonely time for me, is it? Soon after, I found myself crying. I was miserable and felt like I was letting everyone down.

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Eventually, Coach Joaquin caught up to me, and as much as I tried to put on a happy face, I just couldn’t do it. I broke down in tears in front of him, and he encouraged me to let it all out. He also told me to “be a man,” but he didn’t mean that in the way most men do. It wasn’t about putting on a strong face and not crying. It was about acknowledging how I felt to where I could deal with my depressed feelings. Clearly I was having a bad day, let alone a bad week, and pretending like nothing was wrong would have been harmful more than anything else. Joaquin told me tomorrow was another day which I come into with a better mood, and that things will be better before I knew it.

Still, as I stood by my lonesome at Griffith Park, I couldn’t hide my sadness as it felt like my body was failing me in a way which was irreversible. Coach Kerry also took notice of my mood and reminded me of all the hard work I have done over these past nine years, and he even said he just started running again for the first time in two years and ended up injuring himself in the process. Also, he said I could always do the half-marathon instead of the full LA Marathon this March as he has yet to register everyone and encouraged me to take the day to think about it. He reminded me of how people have good and bad marathon seasons, and that there was no shame if I decided to do the half instead. I could still run on marathon day.

While I rewarded myself with Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal at my local McDonald’s, my mood had only brightened so much as I still felt kind of separate from the rest of the Pablove runners. It even made me wonder if all the marathons I had done previously meant much in the eyes of my fellow teammates and coaches. I know it helps to be humble, but I want my accomplishments to have more meaning than they already do.

Coach Kerry told me to take a day and think about if I wanted to run the half marathon instead of the full LA Marathon this March. As I tried to have a debate with myself on this, I realized I had already made up my mind. I got in touch with Kerry and told him I will be running the half marathon instead since I was falling behind constantly, and also because me knees were feeling the strain more than ever before (I spent most of Saturday with ice packs on them).

So, this will be the first time in years I won’t be running the full Los Angeles Marathon. While this feels a bit frustrating and disappointing, it is all for the best. I will still be there on March 24th pounding the pavement, and I will still be raising money for The Pablove Foundation as their fight against pediatric cancer rages on. To date, I have raised $652 dollars towards my fundraising goal of $1,500. Please only donate what you can.

And yes, there is no shame in a man crying. Trust me, I have been proving this to be the case for decades.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW YOU CAN MAKE A TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

‘Nightcrawler’ is a Brilliantly and Insanely Twisted Motion Picture

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WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2014.

Just when I thought I wouldn’t see a 2014 movie as twisted as “Gone Girl,” along comes “Nightcrawler.” Delving into the underground world of Los Angeles freelance crime journalism, this is a thriller which feels like a cross between “Taxi Driver” and “Network” as it follows characters who do not hesitate to cross over any and all ethical or moral considerations in order to survive another day in an infinitely cruel and competitive world. You will find yourself laughing at things you would normally never laugh at, but that’s because it serves as a way to deal with the increasingly insane scenarios which will leave you staring at the screen with your mouth open.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, an alienated young man struggling to find work anywhere and everywhere. The movie starts off with him stealing materials from a construction site which he then attempts to sell at a scrap yard with little success. His attempts to find a job or even an unpaid internship prove to be utterly fruitless despite his best efforts and conniving ways, and he is a symbol of how many Americans who are having the toughest time finding work. Then one night while he’s driving on the freeway, he comes across a nasty car accident and, like many, he is tempted to take a closer look. This is when a camera crew led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) drops by to film whatever footage he can get to sell to the local news station. Instantly intrigued, Louis goes out and buys a cheap video camera and starts filming crime scenes and human carnage which eventually catches the eye of veteran news producer, Nina (Rene Russo).

“Nightcrawler” marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy whose writing credits include “Freejack,” “Two for the Money” and “The Bourne Legacy.” With a limited budget, he succeeds in creating a crazy version of the American success story, proving it can be achieved but at a soul sucking price. Gyllenhaal, with a stare which cuts through the audience like a laser beam, gives us a character beyond determined to rise to the top of the TV news food chain. In many ways Louis is enigmatic as we don’t get to know too much about him, but no one can deny he is a full blown sociopath who has finally found something he can make a career at.

Gyllenhaal does some of his best work yet in “Nightcrawler,” and I’m not just saying this because he lost 20 to 30 pounds to play Louis. His focus as an actor is never in doubt as he makes Louis as compelling a human being as he is an insane one. Even as Louis throws all reason out the window, we cannot help but be mesmerized as Gyllenhaal makes him a highly unlikely antihero.

It’s also great to see Russo here as well as she brings Nina to a life in a way which showcases how vulnerable her character can be despite how hardened life has made her. This is a character clinging on to her job for dear life in a business prepared to chew her up and spit her out without a second thought. It should not be a surprise she crosses countless journalistic guidelines to get the bloody violent footage her audience is craving for. Whether or not she believes it is the right thing to do is beside the point because her survival in an unforgiving economy is foremost on her mind. You can chastise Nina and Louis all you want for the choices they make in life, but like anyone else, they are driven to survive by any means necessary.

I loved the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo as they constantly size each other up to where they firmly believe they have the other person figured out. As Louis gets more and more successful at capturing footage others could only dream of getting, and this eventually leads to him getting better equipment and a super cool car which goes super-fast, their relationship gets increasingly tense as he makes it clear to Nina who’s in charge. Nina observes Louis with both utter fascination and disgust as he stares right through her to where she can’t help but be taken in by him.

As “Nightcrawler” hurtles towards its wonderfully insane conclusion, Louis becomes a magician of sorts as he manipulates events to where he creates news he greatly profits from. We should despise him for what he does, but Gilroy has the audience firmly in his grip to where we can’t help but admire him for the devious things he has accomplished, and that’s regardless of what happens to others in his path.

Gyllenhaal was born to play Louis just as Russo was born to portray Nina, and both actors are well served by a supporting cast which matches them from scene for scene. The always reliable Bill Paxton plays Louis’ chief competitor, Joe Loder, and he is a hoot to watch as he tries to gain the upper hand only to see things blow up in his face. Also terrific is Riz Ahmed who plays Louis’ partner in crime footage coverage, Rick, a nice guy who hasn’t lost his moral bearings but is constantly forced to go against his better judgment in order to keep his job. Ahmed does great work as he makes us sympathize with Rick even as he gets into situations he can’t quite pull himself out of.

With “Nightcrawler,” Gilroy has given us a wonderfully twisted tale which shows how the American success story can become a reality if you’re willing to lose yourself in the process. What’s brilliant about the movie is it’s filled with characters molded by the world they live in. We can berate them all we want, but their actions speak more about what society has turned them into. In a time where employment opportunities are not as plentiful as they should be, it’s a little hard to blame these characters for what they do. But when we are forced to do the same, hopefully we can do it in a way that is nowhere as life threatening. Of course, that might just be wishful thinking.

I have to end this review with this piece of dialogue Louis Bloom has as it sums up the state of the world today perfectly:

“I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those that work their asses off, and that good people such as yourself, who reach the top of the mountain, didn’t just fall there. My motto is: if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.”

* * * * out of * * * *

Please check out the interview I did with Gyllenhaal and Russo on “Nightcrawler” which I conducted on behalf of We Got This Covered down below.

Running Eight Miles in Weather Which Has Me Singing ‘Here Comes the Sun’

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After a week where rainstorms pounded Los Angeles to where new potholes formed next to the ones which still need to be filled, the sun finally came out again to our collective delight. Yes, sunny weather is the usual norm in Southern California, but we have not seen the sun for the last few days, and a few days here can feel like a whole month. What a pleasure it was to play “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles when it thankfully broke through the clouds after a long hiatus.

Following last week’s 16-mile run, the Pablove group was set to do a recovery run of eight miles. I kept myself from doing any maintenance runs during the week as my right foot was still hurting a bit, and after finding myself limping into a nearby McDonald’s for that favorite breakfast of mine, I put ice on it at any given opportunity. Instead of running, I did a couple of rounds of boxing on Wii Sports. Laugh all you want, but I always get one hell of a cardio workout from it.

I arrived at Griffith Park ten minutes before 7:00 a.m., and I would like to add how I was the first Pablove runner to show up there. And yes, I was also the last Pablove runner to finish their run, something which I have no doubt comes as no surprise.

This eight-mile run took us outside of Griffith Park and into Burbank where we ran up and down the familiar streets which surround the local parks and Disney Studios. For once, I found myself really keeping up with my fellow runners to where I was convinced I would be finishing alongside them for a change. Woo-hoo! Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

For most of this training season, I have not bothered running at any specific pace. Everyone else seems determined to run for several minutes straight and walk for what I am guessing is thirty seconds. As a result, I felt obligated to keep up with them as best as I could. But as the run went on, the runners ahead of me became less and less visible, and I was once again all by myself. Glendale (the man, not the city), was behind me, but I believe he is doing the half-marathon this year as he typically cuts his runs short.

My right foot no longer hurts I am happy to report. As much as I would have liked to have done my maintenance runs, it was in my best interest to stay off my feet throughout the week. It was also in my best interest to be conscious of how I was standing throughout the day. This nasty habit of standing on the side of my right foot did me no favors, and this is a habit which needs to die hard.

When I reached the turn around point, Coach Joaquin told me to run the next block or two at 80%, and then to walk the block after that. With us getting closer and closer to the day of the LA Marathon, we needed to step up our game. It was nice to know I could still run very fast even after pounding the pavement or asphalt for four miles.

Still, I found myself taking more walk breaks than I thought I would. I got off to a really good start on this run, and I found myself getting a bit winded a mile five. It was worth walking to enjoy the beautiful and sunny morning as, again, we have seen one like this in the last few days. Eventually, I had to remind myself of how the finish line wasn’t as close as I thought it was.

When I crossed the finish line a number of minutes later, I was pleased to see some of my fellow runners such as Jasmine waiting for me. The coaches were also pleased to see me and applauded as I wrapped up my eight miles, and not just because it meant they could finally get in their cars and drive home.

I felt like I really earned the Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal I got at McDonald’s afterwards. On any other day, I would have gone to the nearest Denny’s to indulge in the forbidden meal which is the Moons Over My Hammy sandwich, but I didn’t feel like going to an establishment where I had to wait an extended period of time to eat.

Next week we run 18 miles, and I will be ready for it. Those maintenance runs will be taken care of, and cardio exercises will be made a priority. We’re moving on up to the west side, and it is not meant to be an easy conquest.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE; I have now raised $557 towards my fundraising goal of $1,500 for The Pablove Foundation, and I hope those of you reading this will consider contributing to the fight against pediatric cancer. Please click here to find out how you can help.