Monday, October 26, 2015

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Kenber

For once it was a cool October morning as I made my way to Griffith Park for another Team to End AIDS run, getting my boogie on to Charles Bernstein’s unforgettable score to “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (I just got the box set from VareseSarabande). But as soon as I arrived, Coach Jennifer informed us that it was not going to stay that way. Even as autumn continues to show its true colors, summer keeps butting its head in any chance it gets. What is this, Hawaii?

Coach JC started off with his usual list of important things to remember, and then hegot a buttercream pie made out of pickle juice and relish smashed in his face. This was part of his challenge to get those runners who haven’t started fundraising yet to get their first donation by the end of the week. Those runners did come through for APLA and Coach JC, so he took one for the team. This is very significant as Coach JC loves pickles as much as I loved “TheHuman Centipede 3,” which is to say not at all. We’ve seen him struggle to eat one of those peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers in the past and it didn’t work out the way we hoped, so it was understandable that he came to this challenge with a lot of hesitation and anxiety. But never let it be said that he doesn’t give everything he has to support APLA. He hates pickles and yet he faces them head on.

Our 10 mile run took us out of Griffith Park and onto the streets of Burbank; the same streets I have run up and down several times before. As usual, I found myself trailing my fellow pace group runners despite my best efforts to keep up with them. Once they faded from my sight, the movie “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” started playing in my head. It’s a movie from 1962 which starred Tom Courtenay of “Billy Liar” fame as Colin Smith, a rebellious youth who is sent to a reformatory school after robbing a bakery. While there, he manages to gain a lot of positive attention thanks to his prowess as a long distance runner. The school’s Governor comes to believe that Colin’s running could be his salvation to a better life, and he begins to cultivate the young man’s talent so that he can compete in the school’s inaugural track meet against a rival school. The Governor wants to prove to everyone that he can turn these boys’ lives around to where they can be functioning members of society, but Colin eventually uses his love of running to show what he considers his ultimate act of freedom.

My dad gave me a VHS copy of this movie years ago, and it took me way too long to appreciate its ending (which I won’t reveal here) and what it really meant. As a result, I’ve been meaning to revisit it for a long time. While running up and down the streets of Burbank, I was reminded of Courtenay’s opening voiceover in which discusses how running is his family’s way of dealing with the world’s troubles as well as escaping from the police. But he also adds that the runner is always alone and cut off from spectators, left to deal with life on his own. I can certainly relate to that as running continually leaves me to deal with the craziness that goes on in my head as I am forced to deal with emotional scars from the past that I continue to relive and beat down on a regular basis. As much as I want to connect with others while running, there’s always something keeping me separate from the world around me.

Anyway, I didn’t have a map of the course on me so I just kept following the signs the Team to End AIDS coaches left out for us and made a left turn at a park we typically pass by. As I continued down the street, I started to wonder why I didn’t see my fellow pace group runners coming in the opposite direction. Surely they reached the turnaround point by now, I thought. Fortunately I had my Runkeeper app running on my phone, so once it read 5 miles I turned around and went back the way I came.

Now usually when something like this happens, I go into a fury over how big an idiot I am and start doing something along the lines of self-flagellation. But even though I went left when I should have gone straight, I knew that I was still going to get my full 10 miles in, so this run was in no way an unmitigated failure. It was salvageable, and realizing that made me feel good and not like some IQ challenged dummy.

Of course, once I got back to the T2EA stationed rest stops, everybody wondered where I had gone. Coach JC was on the verge of putting together a search team to keep me from running all the way to Van Nuys. Basically I told everyone that I had decided to take the scenic route. That seemed to be a reasonable excuse.

I had a whole pack of black cherry energy blocks which served to power me up when I needed a boost. Usually I take one every 45 minutes, but I found that was never enough. When I had two instead of one, I suddenly felt like Popeye after he ate a can of spinach. Yeah, I could take on Bluto… in a cartoon that is.

As expected, the temperature did rise to the 80’s but that did not take away from my determination to finish this run. A special thanks goes out to all the volunteers and the Boliver family not just for providing us with all the water and Gatorade and all the other treats a runner needs, but for keeping the water and Gatorade so wonderfully cold. The cooler the liquids are, the more refreshing they are. Having a cold drink while dealing with such unseasonably warm weather feels like a salvation of some kind, and it makes you feel grateful to be alive. Okay I might be pushing it a bit there, but you get what I mean.

While taking a shortcut on my way back to Griffith Park, I noticed a sign attached to a tree which said that the West Nile virus has been confirmed in this area. According to the CDC, this virus can cause febrile illness, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). It is spread by infected mosquitoes, so you can sure as hell bet that I will be investing in a lot of insect repellent for future runs. There’s no excuse for not being properly prepared. No mosquito is gonna take me down!

I did manage to cross the finish line and met with Coach JC who wanted to know how many miles I inadvertently added to my 10 mile run. According to my Runkeeper app, I ran almost 10.5 miles so I didn’t go too far off the reservation and still managed to go the distance even while getting lost.
For the most part I felt really good about this run, and I don’t just chalk that up to the energy blocks. I’m really starting to hit my stride and can feel all this training paying off in a lot of different ways. I just need to keep up with the maintenance runs during the week. I started to treat a number of activities like maintenance runs such as when I had to move my car which was parked several blocks away from my apartment or when I took a package to the post office to be mailed. Everything is a workout these days it seems.

Next week is Halloween which means we will be having a costume run. Hopefully I will find an affordable costume worth wearing. If not, I can always dress up in my Jason Voorhees costume or just tell everyone that I’m a homicidal maniac; they look like everybody else.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ben Kenber interviews J. Davis and Linas Phillips about 'Manson Family V...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All She Wants To Do Is Beat The Heat!

We’ve been running 5 miles these past few weeks, but this week we Team to End AIDS runners headed into new territory – we ran 6 miles. That extra mile is not a huge jump, but it’s worth noting because we are still dealing with the scorching summer weather which wreaked havoc on us Los Angelinos far more than usual. Yes, fall has arrived, but you wouldn’t know it from this weather. Summer always extends its stay in Southern California, sometimes all the way into November, and many of us have had more than enough of the heat (not that Mother Nature gives a shit).

I didn’t get much sleep the night before as I went to The Forum in Inglewood to see Don Henley in concert. A K-Earth 101 employee was kind enough to give me a couple of complimentary tickets to the concert, and I went with the hope that he would perform “Dirty Laundry” live as it is one of the most timeless songs ever composed, and he did. He also dedicated a song to Donald Trump entitled “Too Much Pride” and then followed it up with what he called the sequel to that song, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I was about to exit the concert early as I wanted to escape The Forum parking lot in less than an hour, but I couldn’t resist Henley performing one of my favorite songs of his, “All She Wants to Do is Dance.” That’s a seriously bitchin’ song even after all these years.

Despite me not getting a full eight hours of sleep, assuming such a thing is possible in this day and age, I managed to drag myself to Griffith Park in time for Coach JC’s opening lecture. This also marked the first time in this year’s training where we did warm up stretches. There’s always this ongoing debate about whether or not we should do stretches before a run. One school of thought is that stretching before a run may result in us pulling a muscle or two which would be quite painful to put it mildly, and the other school says that it is imperative that we do stretch before a run because our bodies will hates us later in life if we don’t. Whatever school of thought you belong to, the one thing we all agree on is that we do need to stretch after our run. To not do so would be, as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, a “big mistake.”

I got off to a good start, but I once again found myself trailing the rest of my pace group which frustrated me. I kept saying to myself that I’m faster than this. Perhaps this is my legs way of saying that they refuse to go any wider for me. My knees have all but given up trying to reason with me, so now both my legs as a whole have essentially told me to go fuck myself. They want me to jog more than run, and I’m hoping I can convince them to do the opposite in the future.

Well, despite the ridiculous heat that still follows us into the holiday season, I did make it across the finish line even though I lagged behind my fellow runners by quite a distance. For the record, I did do my maintenance runs during the week, but now I feel like I need to do more cardio exercises in addition to those runs. I want to come out of these T2EA runs feeling like a god… Okay, that’s obviously exaggerating a little. I just want to come out of them feeling like I accomplished something truly fulfilling. This is not to say that I didn’t this particular morning, but I came out of it feeling like I could have done better. Then again, I have a reputation for being too hard on myself.

Next week we will be running 8 miles, so I better be sure to bring my A game to it. Regardless of my misgivings over this run, I still believe that I have nowhere to go from here but up.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

'The Walk' movie review

Watching Tom Cruise climb the Burj Khalifa tower in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” especially in IMAX, gave me a terrifying fear of heights I’m not sure I will ever overcome. Granted, I’m pretty cool with flying in a commercial airplane at 35,000 feet, but when you’re hanging from outside a building and can still see the ground beneath you, you cannot help but feel infinitely screwed and on the verge of death.

That fear was re-awakened with Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” which recreates Philippe Petit’s walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center back on August 7, 1974. It is based on Petit’s book “To Reach the Clouds” which in turn was the inspiration for one of the best documentaries from a few years ago, “Man onWire.” But this time Zemeckis dares to literally put us in Petit’s shoes as he makes that perilous walk from one tower to the other, and the result is one of the most intense movie going experiences I have ever had the fortune of being a part of.

When it comes to Zemeckis, he has overdosed on CGI effects for years now. However, along with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, he takes all his technical wizardry to recreate the twin towers to brilliant effect. As with “Man on Wire,” it was great to see those towers standing tall once again, and “The Walk” makes us feel like they never really left us.

But more importantly, Zemeckis feels like we are on top of those towers with the characters, and it creates a dizzying effect from the first moment Petit sets foot on the roof and stands perilously close the edge. But that’s just the appetizer for what is to come next.

When it comes to the actual walk sequence, it starts with Petit having one foot on the wire and another on the building, and the anticipation of him taking that foot off the building is almost unbearable. Zemeckis puts us way up in the air with Petit as he begins his insane high wire act miles above the sidewalks of New York City. We feel the lack of a safety harness, we feel the wind which threatens to get stronger without much warning, we feel the infinite tension and utter excitement of his friends as they watch from the opposite tower or from the ground below and, like the New York cops who finally arrive, we just want him to get off the wire and back down to the ground safely. And let’s not forget the sound of the wire itself and of the pieces of metal which somehow hold it together.

I always look forward to movies that you experience more than you watch, and “The Walk” had me experiencing emotions and feelings that I thought had long since left me. When Petit takes a break on the wire and lays down on it as if at complete peace with himself, part of me wanted to shout out, “GET UP! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YOU MADE YOUR POINT!” But at the same time, you do feel his utter sense of triumph at completing this impossible act as we all know we won’t ever see something quite like this ever again.

So it’s a bit of a shame that the rest of the movie doesn’t measure up on a dramatic level. “The Walk” ends up going through the usual biopic conventions where the main character struggles with whether or not to pull off this walk, and the other characters who helped Petit pull this coup off don’t register as strongly as they should. Among the standouts are Charlotte Le Bon who plays Petit’s musical muse, Annie Allix, and Sir Ben Kingsley who excels as he usually does as Petit’s mentor, Papa Rudy. Both inhabit their characters and make them rise above the clich├ęs they normally render characters in a biopic like this needless and extraneous to the plot.

Playing Petit is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he captures Petit’s unbridled enthusiasm for life in a way that’s completely infectious. Levitt is a bit hamstrung by an accent which makes him sound more like a French cartoon, but that becomes a moot point after a while. He’s also a joy to watch in the movie’s opening sequences where we learn how he survived on the streets of Paris as a performer and of when he first learned of the twin towers. Zemeckis, however, has Levitt doing a voiceover narration throughout the movie which soon becomes an unnecessary nuisance which just takes away from many scenes instead of adding to them. Seriously, the narration is as necessary to “The Walk” as the scenes with an elderly Tonto and that little kid at the fair in the abysmal “Lone Ranger.”

But despite its flaws, “The Walk” is a movie you must see, especially in a theater with the biggest screen available. To fully experience the awesomeness Zemeckis and company accomplished on a visual level, you must check it out in IMAX. Oh yeah, and the 3D is a nice addition to it as well. While it may not chronicle Petit’s mission to infiltrate the towers and pull off this crazy stunt as well as “Man on Wire” did, it is still a visual and emotional marvel that cannot be ignored. It doesn’t matter if you know how this story begins and ends; “The Walk” will have you hanging onto your seat or your loved one for dear life. It’s not every day that we hang out on the roofs of the world’s tallest buildings.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An Improvement, A Palpable Improvement

For this past week, Coach JC gave us a homework assignment which had us taking pictures (aka selfies) of ourselves after we had completed our two weekly maintenance runs. This way, we could let him and the rest of the world know that we are taking our marathon training seriously. I did do my two maintenance runs, but I was unable to do any cardio workouts outside of that. Still, I felt like I was more prepared for this week’s Team to End AIDS run than I was the week before.

By the way, I want to thank my water boy Bubba Eeyore. He was a big help to me throughout the week.

I actually got up a lot earlier in the morning than I expected, something that usually pisses me off on any other day, so I even had time to take a shower before jumping into my car. Granted, taking a shower before a run in the blistering Los Angeles heat of October is somewhat pointless as I will come out of sweaty and smelling like a skunk on a day pass that does him no good, but I guess I wanted to look and smell cleaner than usual. Of course, this run would necessitate me having yet another shower afterwards which seems criminal as California is in the midst of an abysmal drought, but in my defense I did have to interview a couple of people like Keanu Reeves and Eli Roth right afterwards. You may have heard of them.

My radio was tuned into 100.3 The Sound while I was on my way to Griffith Park. It was a better to listen in to some classic rock instead of the “Mombasa” track from Hans Zimmer’s “Inception” soundtrack. Listening to that piece of film score had made me running a lot faster last week than I had any right to.

So at this point it looks like I am better off in the 13 minute pace group, and I went back to the 3:1 pace as it made more sense to me to run for three minutes instead of four. But as with the previous year, the 13 minute pace group still draws the biggest crowd. That’s right; it’s still the hip group to be in when you’re running with Team to End AIDS, and who doesn’t want to run with the cool kids?

This run was confined to the inside of Griffith Park as we ran past the Gene Autry Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo before turning around and heading back. But at the turn around point, we did need to keep going up the street a bit as the Bolivers were on hand to give us all the treats we needed. Those peanut butter and pickled covered Ritz crackers are still irresistible, and I don’t care what Coach JC says about pickles in general.

I felt a lot better this week even though I still trailed everyone by quite a bit. Could it be that I am carrying an extra load? By that, I mean could I stand to lose a few pounds? Wait, that’s a stupid question. Besides, I can’t make everyone buy into the bullshit that I’m pregnant. Of course, many buy into a lot of crazy ideas these days.

Because of work which involved me attending press screenings and junkets, I was unable to fit in any other cardio workouts. I’m always hoping to go to 24 Hour Fitness to swim a few laps in the pool, but making time to do that is a constant challenge, darn it. Perhaps I could get in a few rounds of Wii Sports boxing instead.

But overall I came out of this week’s T2EA run feeling a lot better than I did last week, and I’m positive it’s not just the endorphins talking. I feel like I’m hitting my stride now and that things can only get better from here. It’s nice to feel healthier than you usually do, and it’s a feeling I’m always desperate to hang onto. Some people say that it is better to look good than to feel good, but that makes as much sense as someone saying that behind every great man there must be a great behind… Wait a minute… that last one does make sense.

Coincidentally, I did neglect to mention something from last week’s run. As I was running through Burbank, I came to see that the Not a Burger Stand restaurant has now been shut down. I was shocked to see this as it was always a welcome on the T2EA runs as they always had these great signs outside which encouraged you to talk like a famous actor in order to get a discount.

A reporter friend of mine also said that their burgers were to die for, but I never got to eat one. It’s always a tragedy when we miss out on the taste of a good burger, so I do feel a real loss there even though my heart is thankful that I’m not overdoing it on the bad cholesterol front. Still, there’s always Five Guys, In-N-Out Burger, Fatburger, Fuddruckers and, if I’m desperate, Burger King. Then again, McDonald’s recently announced that they are going to start serving breakfast all day long, so that may very well be the death of me.

RIP Not a Burger Stand.