Hood release lever stops coming out when release pulled from within driver compartment. This requires using needle-nose pliers or a screwdriver to pull the lever out from between the grill panel.
The hood release mechanism and cable need to be kept oiled/greased or they dry up and seize. In my case I was able to spray with WD-40 real good - both the mechanism and the cable anywhere that I could find it exposed. After working the lever in the car a bit it freed up. I then wiped the excess WD-40 from the hood latch mechanism and coated with some white lithium grease.
Seems to work fine now.