‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ – The Beginning of the McConaughey Renaissance

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2011, back when the McConaughey renaissance was just beginning. This almost marks the 1,000th post on The Ultimate Rabbit website!

Okay, now how many dramas and thrillers featuring a lawyer as the main character have we had these past few years? Heck, how many novels featuring lawyers have been thrust at us? After everything written by John Grisham and Scott Turow, you’d think the world would have had enough of legal thrillers whether or not they made it to the silver screen. It all reminds me of that joke we’ve all heard:

“What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start!”

As a result, I was in no immediate hurry to check out the latest legal thriller adapted into a movie, “The Lincoln Lawyer.” This particular one is about a defense lawyer who has no scruples about what he does, but he ends up getting involved in a case which haunts his conscience like no other. Looking this plot line over, it sounds like “Primal Fear” all over again. How many times have we been down this road? Yes, I agree, far too many.

But alas, while “The Lincoln Lawyer” breaks no new ground in the legal thriller genre, it does contain many clever twists up its sleeve which distinguishes it from others of its ilk. It is based on the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly who is best known for writing detective novels and crime fiction. One of his previous books, “Blood Work,” was turned into a movie by Clint Eastwood, and it is one of the very few Eastwood directed movies which really sucked. It turns out, however, that “The Lincoln Lawyer” was actually Connelly’s first legal novel, and it introduced the world to one of his most popular literary creations, Mickey Haller.

Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney who spends his time defending the kind of people we would all rather see behind bars. Instead of a regular office, he works out of his Lincoln Town Car which he gets driven around in by Earl (Laurence Mason), a former client of his who is working off legal fees he owes. He has an ex-wife, Margaret McPherson (Marisa Tomei), whom he is still on good terms with even though she works on the opposite side of the court as a prosecutor, and they have a daughter whom they both dote on, and you at times wonder why these two ever bothered to divorce. If James Carville and Mary Matlin can maintain a marriage, why can’t these two?

Anyway, Mickey ends up defending Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills realtor who is accused of viciously assaulting a prostitute. The case, after some research, looks to be an open and shut deal for this ever so confident lawyer. However, more problems arise to where things are not what they appear to be.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. To say anymore would be to give away a good deal of what happens. What I will say is that it makes for a good story in how someone has to find a way to find justice without being forever disbarred from practicing law.

Much of the success of “The Lincoln Lawyer” belongs to the actor chosen to play Mickey, Matthew McConaughey. After seeing him in so many useless romantic comedies, he gets one of his best roles to date here. Believe me when I say he is perfectly cast in this role, and he nails Mickey’s sly confidence and cocky demeanor as he works his way through the courtroom to get what he wants and needs. Mickey is to an extent an amoral character, one who appears to care less about whether or not those he represents will commit crimes again after he gets them off. But McConaughey is so cool here that we find it impossible to hate Mickey, and we love his (if you’ll forgive the expression) “Rico Suave” ways which he utilizes around everyone he meets. Whether or not you agree with what he does, we all would love to have his coolness and persuasiveness when it comes to talking with and influencing others.

It also helps that McConaughey is surrounded by a great cast of actors who give him plenty to work with. Tomei remains as terrific and super sexy as ever in her portrayal of Margaret, and she shares strong chemistry with McConaughey throughout. We also get an entertaining turn from the always dependable William H. Macy as investigator Frank Levin, Haller’s right-hand man who succeeds in getting the facts whether he does it legally or illegally. We also get strong turns from John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, and Frances Fisher who all bring their best selves to this material.

But one performance I want to single out here is Ryan Phillippe’s. As a Beverly Hills playboy who has had everything handed to him on a silver platter throughout his life, Phillippe excels in convincing everyone around and the audience of Louis’ intentions. Still, there is that glimmer in Louis’ eyes which suggests not everything he says or implies is on the level. Phillippe has been better known these past few years as Mr. Reese Witherspoon, but however things went down in that relationship, he deserves to be noted for his acting here and in other movies he has been in. Watching him onscreen here is riveting because he always leaves you guessing as to what will happen next.

Directing “The Lincoln Lawyer” is Brad Furman, and the only movie he previously directed is “The Take.” I really liked how vividly he captured the urban environment of Los Angeles, and it never felt like he was filming on some ordinary Hollywood set. With a story like this, Furman could have easily gone in that direction, but he gives each scene a solid reality which doesn’t feel all that far from the one we inhabit. He also keeps the suspense up throughout and gives us some tension filled scenes which keep us at full attention as if someone is about to come from behind us and bash our brains in.

Like I said, “The Lincoln Lawyer” does not reinvent the legal thriller genre, but it reinvigorates the genre with a strong and enigmatic main character and a story with twists we haven’t seen in some time. In a way, this movie brings McConaughey around full circle as he made his big breakthrough in the film adaptation of John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill.” Soon or later, this man who keeps telling us to just “keep on livin’” had to play another lawyer. I hope for his sake he gets to do a follow up to this one as he has this character down flat. Maybe others could have done it better, but who comes to mind as quickly as McConaughey?

* * * out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Hardcore’ (1979)

Paul Schrader’s 1979 film “Hardcore” is one I have been meaning to watch for years. Many of my film friends have sung its praises, and I have been a big fan of Schrader’s work both as a screenwriter (“Taxi Driver”) and as a director (“First Reformed” and “Patty Hearst” among others). Regardless, this quickly became one of the many films I kept promising myself I would watch but never got around to it. But then one evening, I saw it was playing at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, and I realized the time had come to finally give it a look. Besides, this might be my only chance to see it on the silver screen.

“Hardcore” opens up on Christmas in Grand Rapids, Michigan to the tune of Susan Raye’s “Precious Memories.” Schrader quickly settles us into the peaceful and family-oriented environment which looks to be filled with church-going people who love and fear God in equal measure. You just might mistake it for the average Norman Rockwell painting which often gave us images that were all too wholesome to be believed. Everything looks to be together on the same page while singing faith-based songs and sharing in traditional ceremonies without question. Of course, it’s scenes like these that make me wonder when the cracks in this atmosphere will begin to show.

The main character of this piece is Jake Van Dorn (played by George C. Scott), a well-to-do businessman with strong religious beliefs. Originally, this part almost went to Warren Beatty, but as great an actor as Beatty, he would have been wrong. Scott is perfectly cast as he has the face of someone with deeply held beliefs to where questioning them could be hazardous to your health. Eventually, you know these beliefs will be tested in the extreme as the title “Hardcore” refers to more than the sexuality on display here.

Jake’s peaceful existence becomes undone when his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) goes missing while on a church-sponsored trip in California. He enlists the help of the police, but after seeing all the photos on the wall of missing children, some of who still haven’t been found in years, he decides to hire a private investigator named Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) to dig a little deeper. But what Andy finds is something Jake never could have expected nor be the least prepared to deal with.

Watching Jake view a porno film in which his daughter Kristen is having sex with two men is an unnerving scene as Scott portrays a deep shock and grief which illustrates the living nightmare any parent would be thrilled to avoid. While it threatens to contain, as Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith would call it, “exquisite acting,” and the scene has become an infamous meme for many, I am curious as to what depths Scott dug to capture such an unforgettable moment of devastation. Such a scene is impossible to erase from the memory once it is viewed, and it comes to inform the relentlessness and anger he will come to experience up to the movie’s end.

From there, Jake ventures into the seedy underworld of Los Angeles, or the one which existed back in the 1970s. Like “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle, he is “God’s Lonely Man” as he ventures into a place he does not belong. His brother-in-law tells him early on that God is testing him, and it is clearly the case as ventures deeper and deeper into the city’s sleazy subculture where there are an endless number of sex shopkeepers, adult theaters, and massage parlors that do more for their clients than a simple rub down. At one point, he even disguises himself as a pornography producer in an increasingly desperate effort to find his daughter, and I kept wondering if and when he might give in to temptation.

“Hardcore” was Schrader’s second film as a director, following his brilliant debut with “Blue Collar.” As with “Blue Collar,” he had quite the time wrangling his cast. Scott was said to have not gotten along with Schrader, and at one point promised the director he would finish the film only if he vowed never to direct another motion picture ever again. Well, we know Schrader promised Scott just that to get him back on set, but thank God the filmmaker never followed through on his word. This is just as well as we still had other films like “American Gigolo,” “Cat People,” “Light Sleeper” and “Affliction” to look forward to.

Indeed, this is a film that could have been upstaged by its behind-the-scenes drama which, in addition to Scott’s behavior, included an ending forced on Schrader by the studio. Indeed, the ending is “Hardcore’s” biggest flaw as it doesn’t jibe well with all which came before it, and it feels lazily staged with a shootout that feels tacked on above all else. It is thanks to Scott’s performance in the final moments that I am willing to forgive the conclusion as he keeps it from ringing completely hollow.

Still, I think “Hardcore” is a triumph for Schrader as it allows him to dig deep into themes he has explored in his many works such as the conflict between man and immorality. Moreover, there is authenticity on display here which would be hard to find today as Schrader managed to gain access to real-life sex houses and adult theaters to where there is no doubt we are dealing with the real thing and not just some cheap set. Certain sticky stains on the windows make this abundantly clear by the way.

Looking at the credits, Schrader had quite the crew to work with. The film was executive produced by John Milius who remains one of the best screenwriters ever, the score was by Jack Nitzsche who helps add even more of a lurid feeling to the sights Jake is forced to take in, and the cinematography was by Michael Chapman who performed visual wonders on both “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” Seriously, the color palette Chapman uses here aids the story considerably, and I cannot help but believe it greatly influenced the later works of Gaspar Noe and Benoit Debie.

I enjoyed Peter Boyle’s performance as private detective Andy Mast as he makes this character look all too comfortable in a city that thrives on decadence than what might appear on the surface. Even as Andy gives in to his baser needs and desires, he knows how the story is going to end and makes very few apologies for who he is. While the ending feels a bit too similar to the one from “Chinatown,” Boyle makes it work as his dialogue rings very true in a cynical and sad way.

But another performance worth singling out here is Season Hubley’s as Niki, a prostitute and part-time adult actress who aids Jake in his search. The scenes she has with Scott represent the best “Hardcore” has to offer as their dialogue regarding both sex and religion illustrates their differences and similarities in ways only Schrader could have pulled off. She fully inhabits this character to where I never doubted how much of a survivor Niki was and will continue to long after the end credits have finished.

Like William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” “Hardcore” is a journey into a subculture that no longer exists in today’s world. These days, it is much easier to gain access to pornography through the internet, and it makes me wonder how Jake would deal with a similar situation in today’s world. Things would be a bit easier to trace, and that’s even though some lost children might forever stay lost (please feel free to prove me wrong on this). As devoutly religious as Jake is, I imagine in a time where the world wide web and cell phones control our lives more than ever, he would most likely be more isolated and closed off from those around him than ever before.

“Hardcore” is indeed classic Paul Schrader even with its inescapable flaws, and I have no doubt “8MM,” the 1999 film directed by the late Joel Schumacher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker, would not have existed without it. “8MM” also pales in comparison to it by the way. I look at movies like these and wonder why studios won’t leave the filmmakers alone in making them. You know how dark the material was when you started funding the project, right? So why insult everyone’s intelligence by trying to make things a little less dark?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Ambulance’ – Michael Bay’s Best Film in an Eternity

Those of you who have read my review of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” know just how much of a simmering hatred I have for filmmaker Michael Bay. I walked out of that sequel so furious and angry to where I could never let myself sit through any of his films all the way through for over a decade. But with his latest action-packed spectacle, “Ambulance,” I could not help but be intrigued. Seeing two bank robbers desperately try to escape the police quickly brings to mind all of the Los Angeles car chases we keep seeing on the news with helicopters flying over a speeding vehicle being followed by several LAPD vehicles while news anchors comment on what we are seeing. Deep down, part of me roots for the pursued to escape as I honestly wonder if escape is even remotely possible for those hoping to evade the police when they have so much technology at their disposable to keep you in their sights.

Does “Ambulance” provide audiences with an accurate view of such a police chase? Well, no, but it does prove to be the best action film Bay has made in ages. Sure, many of the director’s flourishes are here such as quick editing, shots which swoop all over the place and characters yelling at each other while in close proximity to one another, but I could bear all of these things this time around with little in the way of argument. Sure, not everything we see go on here makes logical sense, but even I knew to leave my brain turned off when I entered the theater.

The movie opens up on war veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) as he tries to get his insurance to cover his wife Amy’s (Moses Ingram) much-needed surgery. But since this surgery is seen as “experimental,” the country he served to protect against all enemies foreign and domestic is not about to give him the $231,000 he needs for medical necessities. This should serve as a reminder of how politicians tend to stop saying “support the troops” when the war comes to an end. Lord knows our support for them should never stop there.

Desperate for help, Will turns to his adoptive brother, Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal), for a loan. The only thing is, Will is meeting up with Danny on the day he and his grungy cohorts are going to rob a bank of $32 million dollars, an amount Jeff Bezos would refer to as pocket change. Against his better judgment, Will goes along with Danny, perhaps out of a need to protect his brother among other things. But like all bank heists which are planned down to include every exact detail such as knowing when the police will arrive, acquiring the biggest and nastiest assault weapons, being aware of security cameras, observing the habits of the bank’s loyal employees and knowing where all the best escape routes are, it all goes horribly wrong. Then again, if everything went right, there would be no movie.

Will and Danny end up hijacking an ambulance, toss out its driver, and make their way out of downtown Los Angeles in the hopes of getting away with something God would not approve of in the slightest. However, they have a couple of guests in their midst which include emergency medical technician (EMT) Cam Thompson (Eiza González), and she is furiously trying to save the life of LAPD Officer Zach (Jackson White) who has just suffered a serious gunshot wound to his leg. Who shot him? Just watch the movie.

From there, “Ambulance” becomes one long chase as Will and Danny race through the streets of Los Angeles with sirens blaring as they seek to escape the cops and FBI agents who are right on their tail. As I watched Bay’s camera swoop all over the place, I wondered when rush hour traffic was going to start settling in. Certain characters like Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) keep saying the city is about to hit rush hour, but it never does. Also, I kept waiting for the scene where Will and Danny realize their gas tank is almost empty, but it never came up. Do ambulances really get great gas mileage? Inquiring minds want to know.

But regardless of these questions, nothing could take away from my enjoyment of “Ambulance” which is the kind of action movie I feel I have not seen in some time: an exhausting action spectacle that piles one conflict on top of another and leaves you completely wrung out by the time the end credits start rolling. For Bay, this puts him right back in “The Rock” territory as the loud gunfights and explosions never overwhelm the actors and the characters they play, and it is their predicament that keeps us emotionally tuned into the action.

It’s a gas watching Gyllenhaal here as he looks to be channeling his inner Nicolas Cage. Seeing him go all bug-eyed while wearing a mask was almost worth the price of admission as I was laughing my ass off. Whether you find his performance among his best or worst ever, there’s no dying he’s as entertaining to watch here as Cage was in “The Rock,” and it is abundantly clear to me he gave at least 115% of his energy to this role.

Abdul-Manteen has proven to be a solid actor with his work in “Us,” “Aquaman” and “The Matrix Resurrections,” and he gives “Ambulance” the emotional center it needs. While his character of Will makes one questionable choice after another, the actor inhabits the role with passion and intense energy as he shows how Will is so in over his head here and trying to make things as right as he can.

As for Eiza González, she gives Cam a great introduction as she works to save a young girl who has been impaled by a metal object, and then makes it clear to her ever so naïve partner how important it is to keep an emotional distance from the patient in order to be an efficient EMT. Still, we know her work ethic will eventually be tested in an extreme way as she is forced to do the seemingly impossible to keep her patient, the wounded cop, alive. Watching her here reminds me of Jack Bauer’s last scene in season three of “24” as even he could not hold back the emotion which was overwhelming him.

And yes, Bay still has yet to meet a tripod he could truly fall in love with, but in spite of the cameras flying all over the place, I never got the slightest amount of motion sickness while watching “Ambulance.” Furthermore, I must add I had a full dinner of flank steak and a Roma tomato before driving out to the theater, and this is not the kind of motion picture you want to watch on a full stomach. But I did, and I am still in one piece.

Am I being a bot over effusive in my praise of “Ambulance?” Perhaps, but this is the first Michael Bay film I watched in years which I found myself applauding once the end credits began. The last one I did that for was “Armageddon,” and I don’t care what you say because it is part of the Criterion Collection for a reason. This film brings the filmmaker back to form after he got suckered into making one “Transformer” sequel too many (even he admits that), and I had no problem telling the good guys from the bad ones this time around. Here’s hoping his next films will be as good.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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?

2019 LA Marathon full runners

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.

Pablove March 9 run

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.

2019 pablove week eight 1

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.

Pablove Foundation logo

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?)