Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hi Mom

So I told my mom about my blog because I wanted her to see my Herbie picture, and then she saw the Jury Duty posts, and read them, and realized there was a place where she could regularly read my writing and stay caught up on my life, which is a dream come true for anyone, but especially for her. So supposedly she checks this blog all the time now, which shouldn't really affect what I write, but it does have a subtle psychological effect that makes me second-guess everything.

Fuck.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Herbie Stage Show

I didn't say much about the El Capitan Herbie stage show because there isn't much to say. The video linked to from the message board pretty much does do it justice. Herbie's appearance onstage is the highlight, but it only happens at the end. What you're watching there is the grand finale. Before Herbie comes out, it's just a bunch of dancers (but somehow not enough) dancing with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy to tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, representing the decades of Herbie's movies.

As the fellow with the pictures notes, it's all very cheesy, and the DJ is constantly exhorting the audience to get to our feet or clap in rhythm, and as much as I wanted to be in the spirit of the thing, I couldn't make myself stand up. I did clap, but I've always been bad at clapping in rhythm. I always find the off-beat somehow. The good part was that a bunch of Herbie clips from the old movies played on the circular screen where you see the 53 (the number is projected on, so it disappears when the clips play). With Herbie up on that screen, it was impossible for me to pay much attention to the dancing, no matter how I tried.

Overall, though, the El Capitan and the stage show were worth it. The show itself was forgettable except for Herbie's appearance, but the important thing was seeing Herbie: Fully Loaded with the right amount of fanfare. A celebratory stage show set the appropriate mood for the momentous occasion.

Oooms

This is also from a BoingBoing post, but in case you didn't follow the links all the way to this site, you must. Some fascinating and clever designs. And don't miss the occasional videos of products in action.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Herbie Day

Herbie was today. I saw it at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. This guy sums it up with more pictures than I could.

So, how was it? Well, rationally or not, this was probably the most eagerly anticipated movie of my entire life. Since getting my virtual hands on a pdf of the first draft of the script over a year ago, I’ve spent a significant portion of time tracking the progress of the film on the Herbie fans message board. Constantly absorbing information about the appearance of the cars, watching any available clips and promotional footage and speculating on how the film would turn out. Every time I’ve seen a movie in a theater for the past six months, I’ve spent at least a few moments imagining how, one day soon, I would be watching Herbie on such a screen. For many years, I have literally had recurring dreams about discovering long-lost Herbie movies in obscure video stores, each time waking up before I get a chance to watch them.

So you could say this was kind of a big deal for me.

Did it live up to the expectations?

Well, in spite of everything, I was trying to keep my expectations in check. Other fans who have seen the movie have raved about it. The critical reviews have ranged from harsh to forgiving. Kenneth Turan of the LA Times sums up the positive reaction well. Essentially, it’s good-natured and innocent and Herbie is so likable you go with it in spite of yourself. Harsher critics with hearts of stone find various stupid reasons to dismiss it, but even the classic original Love Bug was bashed by critics (ironically, the New York Times review of Fully Loaded is much more positive than their review of the original).

How is it? About as good as I expected. It neither exceeded nor fell short of what I had prepared for. I did enjoy it a lot, though I think hearing the other fans rave about it first, as well as knowing as much about the movie as I did, prevented me from having as strong an emotional reaction as I would have. Also, there are a couple of things wrong with it. Not disastrous, but a bit off.

The feel is not quite the feel of the old movies, but that’s to be expected. It's a modern movie, after all, but there is a sincere effort to come as close as possible to the old feel and it mostly succeeds. It is miles better than the first draft of the script that I read a year ago. The biggest problem is Herbie’s excessive expressiveness. The animatronic eyelids and bumper smiles are regrettable but tolerable. More obnoxious are the CGI-enhanced expressions, as though the filmmakers got in the editing room and found themselves inexplicably thinking, “Herbie doesn’t blink enough.”

The travesty that was the extreme “scary face” from the trailer is no more. Instead, it’s been replaced by another CGI freak-out even more bizarre, unreal, and horrifying. I can’t even describe it. Suffice to say it doesn’t fit in this movie, nor any movie, and sticks out as a prominent sore spot in an otherwise very enjoyable movie, like a gorgeous girl with a hideous scar. Or, for those of you who value “personality,” let’s say a nice girl with a deeply buried psychotic streak. Sure, you could ignore it, but should you?

On the upside, this new freak-out is very brief. In fact, it is so brief, and yet so insanely nonsensical and wrong, that it is actually impossible for your brain to fully process it in the time it’s onscreen. I barely remember what it looked like. It’s a jarring flicker, like a nightmare flashback in a movie. I just know that it was bad. The fact that you are unable to process it allows you to banish it from the continuity of the movie. Maybe it was a projection error, a stray obscene frame spliced in by Tyler Durden. Yet, like the children exposed to Tyler’s mischief in Fight Club, we are scarred, knowing we’ve seen something very wrong, even if we’re not sure what. Where was I? Yes, we can repress it. It’s only a moment.

Also on the upside, unlike the other “scary face,” this one happens when Matt Dillon’s back is turned, which means his character doesn’t see it, which means we, and the movie, can go on like it never happened. If Matt Dillon’s character, Trip Murphy, saw this thing happen he would immediately question the nature of reality, check into a mental hospital, and soon kill himself. But he does not, and the story can continue relatively undisturbed.

We can rationalize it. Perhaps this shot was not meant to be taken literally, as an empirical view of physical reality. Perhaps it’s meant to represent Trip’s feelings, or paranoia, or an expression of Herbie’s feelings or desires in appropriate 1960s fashion, which is to say, using the visual language of a bad LSD trip.

Aside from that, my only other major problem was the SPROINGG!! sound effect accompanying Herbie’s wagging, erect antenna whenever he cast his lustful gaze upon the nubile yellow New Beetle. Not once, but twice. Does this mean we officially have a dick joke in a Herbie movie? Because I really could have lived without that. Especially the second time. The kids in the theater loved it, though. I guess that springy noise is pretty funny.

After the movie I got Stephanie a Herbie T-shirt and a hat, and a T-shirt and another, bigger Herbie RC car for me.

Oh, and you better believe I’m going to see it again. Cynthia?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Back to "The Future"

The Onion goes oddly high-concept this week. Anyone still read it? They're doing a "future version" where this week's issue is from the future, and all the jokes are on how things are in the future or how The Onion will be in the future. Not a bad conceit, but certainly a well-worn one. But it's especially surprising because, Our Dumb Century aside, jokey/gimmicky conceits like this are not what The Onion is known for. Could this be a sign, even an admission, that they realize their format is stale?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Jury Duty, Part IV

In my last Jury Duty post, I ended with "Come back Monday." I actually meant that to represent the gist of what the judge told us; a weekend elapsed between Day Two and Day Three. Apparently that was misread, and due to my own sloppy writing, I accidentally promised you the next segment by Monday. I had actually intended to write it on Saturday, but once you expected it on Monday, who was I to disappoint you?

This post is going up a bit late because my wireless Internet isn't working right now. Actually, mine hasn't worked in ages because our router sucks. I've been jacking my neighbor's signal for longer than I can remember. But my neighbor's isn't working tonight either, so I'm posting from Stephanie's computer. I only include this information so Ryan's comment will still make sense. Now, on with the show.

Day Three
So, the way jury selection goes is this: First, the judge asks a bunch of general questions about your ability to serve on a jury. They’re pretty much formalities, and no one is expected to answer no to them. Then there are the general questions to everyone regarding whether they’ve been involved with a violent crime (this is probably case-specific). Then everyone goes individually and answer’s questions about their occupation and whether they’ve been the victim of any other (nonviolent) crimes. Each time a new round of jurors comes up to fill the empty seats, the judge says, “You’ve heard the questions we’ve asked before. Would any of your answers be demonstratively different from what people have answered before?” He’s referring here not to the personal questions, which we’ll all be asked again, but the very first general questions. By now we don’t even remember what those questions were, but we’re all pretty sure we wouldn’t have a problem with them.

Except the woman next to me, a little middle-aged-going-on-old woman, thinks that this means it’s time to unload her story about her son who got assaulted or something in Guam, and then had to settle things via a lawsuit. The judge goes along with it without correcting her, because he’d might as well get through her story seeing as she’s already started talking. The follow-up questions have to do with whether you felt treated fairly by law enforcement and the justice system. The woman has nothing but praise for the Guam police, who were very helpful once the lawsuit got going. She’s so enthusiastic, she keeps talking about the Guam police and the Guam lawsuit long after she’s communicated the relevant information.

“You realize this case has nothing to do with the Guam police,” the judge says, cracking a smile. He points to the defendant, who is chuckling again, along with the rest of the courtroom. “He’s not the one who assaulted your son in Guam.” Yes, she understands that.

She suddenly volunteers that she has served on a jury before. “How long ago was that?” asks the judge.

“Yes, we had a verdict,” she replies nonsensically. More laughing. She doesn’t seem to realize why she’s a source of laughter, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. The judge eventually coaxes out the right answer, and is about to move on when—

Guam Lady has another question. “Will this be done by July twentieth?” she asks of the case, which, three days ago, we were told was likely to take six days. You see, on July 20th, she’s already scheduled a trip to Guam—

Yes, yes. Don’t worry, the judge assures her. We will definitely be done by July 20th. In fact, we ought to be done by June 20th. You won’t have any trouble with your trip to Guam.

They move on to questioning the rest of the jurors. I reveal that I am a writer. What kind? Yes, a screenwriter and freelance comedy writer. Any police procedurals, crime dramas. No. Well, I do have police characters, anyway. Is this trial going to make it into my next script? Well, I don’t plan to base a script on it. Naturally, I may draw on the general experience at some point, but I don’t intend to write specifically about this case. I don’t mention my intent to write up a detailed account of my jury service for my blog. For the question of whether I have any friends or relatives in law enforcement, I mention that my uncle (on my mother's side, specifically, and dead, though I don't say so) used to work for the ____ [government entity deleted for reasons of national security]. I could also mention that I barely spoke to him, and he certainly never discussed his work, but I don’t.

The defense questions me on the ____ point. “You said your father worked for the ____.” My uncle. “Right. Did you see that movie, Meet the Fockers?" No, but I saw the first one. “Is your father anything like that?” Uncle, corrects one of the other jurors, under his breath.

“No,” I reply. “Nor is my uncle.”

The defense attorney nods. Right, right, your uncle. “Now, given that your father worked in law enforcement, do you think you will be able to put that aside and judge this case fairly?” Yeesh. Uncle! How many times do I have to—but never mind.

“Yes,” I reply, trying to look him in the eye. My contact lenses are dry and I’m looking up at him and the fluorescent lights behind him cast a strong glare. Trying to make eye contact, I’m suddenly having trouble keeping my eyes open. They’re getting a little teary. I hope he doesn’t read this as a sign I’m lying.

He’s done with me and moves on to other jurors. I start thinking about my answers. Actually, maybe my uncle was kind of like Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents. If anything, he was probably more intense. I should have said so. Ultimately De Niro is just a big gruff teddy bear in that movie.

As the questioning order arrives back at Guam Lady, the judge tries to segue past her with a “And we’ve already heard from you—“ but she doesn’t quite hear him and pipes up again asking what he said, and he repeats that they’ve heard from her already, and she replies, agreeing that indeed they have, and there is laughter again at this woman who can’t stop talking.

We take a recess, because someone in the next courtroom is crying and wailing so loudly that it’s become a distraction.

Out in the hall, I talk to another juror. It’s a woman who had sat next to me on Day Two and expressed curiosity in my book, Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. During a sidebar I had let her read the book jacket flap and selected a representative excerpt, which she enjoyed. She discusses how she beat a hidden-camera traffic ticket with the help of an attorney who had helped banish all traffic cameras from San Diego County.

I talk about how I could have gotten dismissed if I brought up my (and Stephanie’s) long battle against the unfair parking ticket, and how the parking enforcement cop flat-out lied to cover his ass at our hearing, and how that might prejudice me against police testimony. But they never specifically asked about that anyway, and it would still come down to the same question: “Do you think you can put that aside and judge fairly?” And my answer would still honestly be, “Yes.” So there was no point in going out of my way to bring it up, especially since I’m not seeking to get purposely dismissed. If they choose me, so be it. Sure, I’ve got things to do, but my schedule is about as clear as it’s ever likely to be, and the case is at least interesting and important.

Back in court, the prosecutor calls on me. “Juror number eight, the writer,” he says, for by now I am sitting in that seat, “Who do you think would play me?” Good grief, did he forget he used that one already? Now that we know he says this to every writer, the joke is not only not funny, it’s not spontaneous either. Negative charisma points for that one.

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I answer. And he moves on. That was his only question. He called on me just to re-use that joke? Surely I must be missing something.

Now it’s time for the next round of dismissals. The prosecutor starts. “The people ask that the court thank and dismiss Juror number eight.”

Whaa?? I’m dismissed? Not only dismissed, but the first one? What did I do? Other jurors have family and friends who have been shot or assaulted. The Guam Lady can’t even answer a question. One guy dated a cop and still goes out to drinks with cops. And I’m first? I try to calm myself. Remember, the video said not to take it personally.

It can’t be my ____ connection because that ought to bother the defense, not the prosecution. What gives? I make a what-the-hell face at my ticket-fighting friend on my way out.

The Cop Dater is next out and he’s excited to be free. He speculates that they just don’t like writers. Could be. I assumed the other writer was dismissed for being a prick, but perhaps it was his vocation, after all.

Or maybe I wasn’t dismissed for anything that I said. Maybe the prosecutor noticed how I was constantly writing in my notepad. Maybe they don't like people to take notes.

On the drive home, there’s an ad on the radio for some kind of auto-related product. A “lawyer” character is talking to his client, a car engine, promising the case is as good as won. “You get me one engine on that jury…” Here he pauses to buzz his receptionist: “Do engines serve jury duty?”

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hardcore Geek-Out


So today I went out to Hollywood to check out the Herbie premiere. A bunch of people from the Love Bug message boards were supposed to be there putting their replicas (and some restored movie cars) out on the red carpet. I got there in late afternoon, for what turned out to be the after-party.

A whole block was fenced off at Hollywood and Highland and they were having a big Herbie party that I could only watch from the sidelines. Eventually I spotted some people from the message boards (I know, this story gets geekier by the second), whom I recognized from the pictures they'd posted of themselves with their cars. I called out to them and made contact. Still didn't get into the party, but arranged to meet them afterwards and check out their cars.

What I wanted most out of the experience was a picture with Herbie. I got a few nice ones of me with this NASCAR Herbie replica, built with the same parts used to make the movie car, courtesy of a guy who worked on the movie. This car has also been signed, either on the decklid or on the glove box, by the whole cast of the new movie, along with the writers and director. It sounds like it's got a big engine, too.

The photo was taken by a guy named Tory, who personally restored the Herbie from Herbie Goes Bananas that was seen floating in the Panama Canal. He also appears prominently as an extra in the new movie. Also there was Hugh Chitwood, the prominently featured Herbie fan from the Love Bug DVD, with his prize car, a former Disney parade Herbie previously owned by Dean Jones (not pictured). There's a good chance that was the same Herbie I saw at Disneyland at as a child.  Posted by Hello

Many of the Herbies had gone by the time I met up with these guys after the after-party, but here are a bunch of the remaining Herbies. Posted by Hello

The star, on display for photo ops. Posted by Hello

Lindsay Lohan herself, with Matt Dillon. People were waving at her, hoping she'd wave back so they could go home and tell people, "Lindsay Lohan waved at me! She's in my consciousness all the time, but for one brief moment she was conscious of me!" She didn't wave back or even notice. I just took a picture. Posted by Hello

Matt Dillon, talking to a man who may be Jon Voight. Posted by Hello

Costar Justin Long, with facial hair, talking to someone. Posted by Hello

The bandstand. I'm not sure if the redheads and blondes are supposed represent the different appearances of Lindsay Lohan. Posted by Hello

I now own radio control versions of both of my favorite movie cars from my top two favorite movies. The Delorean is from Kiddy Land in Tokyo, the Herbie is from RadioShack across the street. I haven't opened either one yet, but playing with them is almost beside the point. Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Orange You Glad


My family is big in Japan. Posted by Hello

What to Wear?


Best credit card ever. Posted by Hello

Jury Duty, Part III

And… Still Day One
The defense continues questioning the jury. One woman is a teacher in the Inglewood School District. She currently teaches kindergarten but is about to switch to sixth grade at a private school. Doesn’t the Inglewood School District have a zero tolerance policy toward fighting? Yes, she confirms, it does. And does she agree with that policy? Yes. Even though it means that anyone fighting gets suspended or expelled, regardless of whether they started the fight or were defending themselves. Yes, she still agrees. Does anyone else agree with this policy? No.

A couple of other jurors, when pressed, say that punishment for fighting should be decided on a case-by-case basis. The “defending himself” thing sounds pretty good, except that in real life it’s impossible to figure anything out based on what kids tell you, and who’s to say the kid “defending himself” didn’t purposely goad the other kid into striking first, precisely because he could blame that kid later? So, as long as expulsion is reserved for extreme circumstances, there is some merit to punishing everyone involved to discourage people from putting themselves in fighting situations. That’s my thought, anyway, but no one being questioned says it.

Another juror is a lit/comp teacher. The defense says, “I wish you could meet my son.” Joke! What a likeable guy.

The defense asks if anyone is vehemently anti-gun. Would anyone hold it against the client that there was a firearm involved in the incident in question?

One woman, with stringy blond hair, a thrown-together wardrobe and Ugg boots, says she doesn’t think anyone should have guns, not even police. Would he hold this against the defendant? “No,” she says, “If anything I’m predisposed to support him.” She also warns the prosecutor that she only trusts physical evidence, such as DNA evidence and the like. What she means is, “like on CSI,” but she doesn’t say so. The prosecutor explains the difference between circumstantial evidence and the other kind, and the kind she thinks she dislikes turns out to be the kind she likes; the names are misleading. Even physical evidence requires an oral explanation from a witness. But she’s unlikely to believe any testimony from a police officer. She doesn’t believe police officers. Could she judge for herself whether a police officer seemed trustworthy? No, she would have a hard time listening to any of them. Why? Well, she’s currently working on a documentary on corrupt cops.

Aren’t there any good cops? She believes the business of policing hardens people. So, no, not really.

Obviously, she is as good as gone. And the lawyers and judge all agree to dismiss her first. The prick writer is also out. As he leaves the jury boxy, he jokes, “You ruined my next script.” Shut up, prick. Good riddance. I think he acted like that on purpose to make them get rid of him.

After the first round of eliminations, in which seven people total are dropped, we recess for the day.

Day Two
Day Two is a half-day. They end at 12:30.

More jury selection. One highlight: Juror number one, Fat White Guy, falls asleep during the questioning of the new jurors. “Juror One, are you with us?” asks the judge, provoking much laughter from everyone, including the defendant. Juror One sits up in his chair as the judge warns him not to get too comfortable. Later, during a recess, I overhear him downplay the incident to a fellow juror. “I’m not doing anything. It’s not like the trial started.” Juror One is dismissed in the next round of eliminations. It’s like a reality show. I think people would like jury duty better if they thought of it like playing Survivor.

Lewd Conduct in Hollywood also gets dismissed. Interestingly, hardly any of the new jurors who sounded questionable get eliminated. Most of them are holdovers who survived the first round of cuts.

It’s frustrating when people’s stories are too embarrassing and private, so they ask to tell the judge and counsel in sidebar. That sucks. That means those are the juicy stories. We want to hear them. What else do we have to do? The reporter listens in on a headset.

Yes, there is way too much sidebar. This sidebar thing started out fun. Sounded very “courtroom.” But now it’s totally jumped the shark. Enough with the sidebar, your Honor.

Today there are fewer jurors and the family members of the defendant, or whoever they are, sit in the middle. One woman is very fat and barely fits in the chair. But she has tiny feet. To make matters worse, she wears heels. How does she support so much weight with so little surface area touching the ground? It must take a tremendous sense of balance.

One juror’s run-in with the law occurred in the ‘60s when he volunteered with CORE as part of the Civil Rights Movement. Sounds noble, but the defense has a problem. MLK, Jr. advocated nonviolence, so would the juror take issue with violence in self-defense? I start to suspect the defense’s case is going to be claiming self-defense.

I notice the prosecutor keeps track of the jurors, his notes on them, and their seating with Post-Its he shuffles around on a paper, where he has drawn the layout of the jury box. Good method.

The prosecutor questions a teacher. “If I slip up and use some improper English, you won’t hold it against me?” Is this another feeble joke to earn goodwill, or is he trying to coax out some secret reaction that means something?

More people get eliminated. Another round of people is called up before breaking for the day. Finally, I get called up. I take the first seat in the front row, where the alternates will sit. I’m on deck. When we return, I’ll be the second new juror to answer questions. It’s a cliffhanger. We break for the day. Come back Monday.

NEXT: At long last, Day Three! The lady from Guam who makes no sense! And Kenny gets interviewed! Will he be selected?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman Begins

Wow. This movie is amazing. Everything I could have hoped for, the Batman movie I always wanted. It's faithful in all the important ways, it's smart and takes the character seriously, and includes many nods to lesser-known characters, like Falcone and Zsasz. Also, Jim Gordon finally, finally gets a chance to shine instead of bumbling around in the background like the embarrassing, barely noticeable version played by Pat Hingle in the previous four movies.

The Scarecrow, one of the best Bat-villains, and one I couldn't believe they passed over for so long, finally appears, never in all-out comic book form, but in a way that fits the realistic tone and gels perfectly with the themes of fear that run throughout the movie. Can you believe they resorted to Poison Ivy and D-lister Mr. Freeze before the Scarecrow? What were they thinking? Well, it turned out for the best, since now Scarecrow gets the good movie.

Some critics seem to think it's too serious to attract a mass audience, which is sad. I hope the public will prove them wrong. This movie deserves to outgross every previous Batman movie. I hope it will, and I hope Christopher Nolan decides to go forward with the sequels himself. It would be a real shame if they finally nailed the franchise only to lose it again next time out. This is far and away the best Batman movie, better than Tim Burton's Batman, better even than the animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Burton's Batman has lost some luster for me over the years, but to its credit, that's the movie that piqued my interest in the Batman comics and that is worth something. Even so, this is better. It's a heightened reality--verging on surreal yet grounded in a totally plausible world that looks like an actual place, not an overdesigned sound stage.

The only real weakness is the Hollywood ageist casting of young faces where they don't really belong. Katie Holmes as an assistant D.A.? She's how old, 25? Didn't she just play a college freshman in First Daughter? Law school, maybe, lawyer, a stretch, but assistant D.A.? She couldn't just be a clerk in the D.A.'s office? Similarly, fresh-faced young Dr. Jonathan Crane also looks more like a graduate student than the city's busiest psychologist, passing judgment on insanity pleas and running Arkham Asylum. But if you can suspend your disbelief on these counts, the rewards are well worth it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jury Duty, Part II

Jury service at the Inglewood Courthouse continues.

Still Day One
We eventually file over to the courtroom for jury selection. Though the courtroom is only one floor away, it’s a slow journey. The elevators are not prompt, and the stairwells are locked from the inside so defendants can’t make a break for it. Come to think of it, this may be the reason for the sad elevators, too. We wait outside the courtroom for a while. One of the seventy jurors is called away before we enter. Everyone wants to know why, and how they can make it happen for themselves.

The courtroom is about what you would expect. There is wood paneling, but not the nice kind you see on TV. It looks pretty cheap, possibly fake. Behind the judge the seal of California hangs on the wall. The seal sits in the bottom of a bigger circle, where the room apparently had a bigger seal that stained the wall with its outline before the smaller one replaced it. The seating in the audience area are lecture-hall seats, bolted to the floor in rows with seats that fold down.

So we all sit down, taking up almost two thirds of the audience seating. On the left there are some somber-faced black people, probably family of the defendant. Eighteen jurors are called up to the jury box.

The judge reiterates the unlikeliness of getting excused from the trial for work reasons, etc. If you’ve tried before but you’re here anyway, it’s because you do not qualify for financial hardship. To qualify for financial hardship, you pretty much have to be in a place where if you serve a day of jury duty, your kids will starve to death by tomorrow. A few minutes after the judge tells us all this for at least the third time of the day, a sour-faced Asian woman pipes up and asks to be excused. She’s a court reporter herself, and she’s been missing work and losing money each day she has to call in, since assignments are distributed each evening before the jury summons are announced. But will anyone starve to death if she’s here? No. Denied. Wasn’t she listening? As a court reporter, doesn’t she hear this spiel, you know, every day? Thank you for wasting everyone’s time.

After an hour and a half for lunch, the fun begins. The questioning of jurors. Have you or your family or friends ever been charged with a crime? Have you/family/friends been the victim of a crime? The stories that come out! “I was the victim of assault.” “Someone hit me with a brick.” “My friend was murdered.” “I was molested during a massage.” “I was arrested for lewd conduct in Hollywood.” This is not only good for jury selection, but would also, I think, be a great icebreaker at parties.

One of the prospective jurors is a writer. A young guy with hipster-geek glasses. What does he write? “Movies.” I immediately dislike him. What kind of movies does he write? Any police procedurals, crime dramas? Comedies. But he has written a Mafia comedy. What a hack, thinks the writer working on an assassin comedy (me). Is this trial going to be in your next script, ha-ha? “Maybe. You can never rule anything out.” This guy is enjoying the attention too much. I decide he’s a prick.

Now a twenty-minute recess. They take too many breaks around here. Don’t they realize we want to get through this as quickly as possible? We can sit around in a courtroom as well as we can sit around in the hallway. And enough already with all the explanations of how important a jury is. We get it. We’re here anyway. It doesn’t matter.

When we return, the defense and the prosecution get to question the jurors on matters they feel might bias them about the case at hand. It’s interesting how much laughter there is in a courtroom. It’s not so much about jokes, but the tone of voice the lawyers and judge will use with each other, as the judge says something as simple as how much time the defense has left. The little awkward moments, they get a chuckle out of not only the jurors, but the judge, the lawyers, even the defendant on trial for murder. Hey, it’s funny. This is something you don’t see in TV and movie courtrooms, where the solemnity of the courtroom can never be broken. The attorneys will crack little jokes on purpose to endear themselves to the jury. I start to imagine what Matt will be like in the courtroom.

The defendant is black. The defense asks the jury if anyone believes the case is gang-related. No one raises his or her hand. Then, tentatively, the writer’s hand goes up. “You don’t know any of the facts of this case. Why do you believe it’s gang-related?” asks the defense. The correct answer is, because you just planted that idea with your question. But the writer says, “Writer’s instinct, I guess. I think past things. I’m always imagining the possibilities, what people are like.” What a prick. The prosecutor questions him too: “Who do you think would play me?” Ha ha ha. And, “Do you think you could turn off your writer’s instinct and decide this case fairly, based on the evidence?” The writer says yeah, he thinks he could, but in a tone of voice meant to imply, I’ll try, but I am awfully fucking creative, so I can’t promise anything.

NEXT: Jury selection continues!

Worthless

To take a break from the Jury Duty saga--

Holy crap, is TV news ever intolerable. Every now and then, I turn it on just for the novelty of getting news from the least efficient, least informative news format available. They spend hours on horribly boring stories, from Michael Jackson to the girl in Aruba. You can’t switch stories to something interesting or relevant, you’re stuck watching it for the long haul as you suffer through anchors recycling repetitive information and fumbling through slow, pointless interviews with people who don’t know anything and are making up everything they say.

Media commentators refer to young people getting their news from the Daily Show as if that’s a bad thing, but have you ever compared the importance of the stories and the relevance of the news commentary on the Daily Show with an actual news program? John Stewart’s show is far and away the more substantial. People may watch it because it’s entertaining, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re are also watching it because they are thirsty for real news. You can watch CNN or Fox News for twenty-four hours straight and you’ll probably hear them cover a maximum of two or three trivial stories, at excruciating length. And they wonder why no one watches TV news. The question isn’t why aren’t people watching. It’s, why would anyone want to?

TV news is good for only one thing: breaking news. And even then, it’s only good briefly before it’s nauseating again. If a space shuttle has just blown up or something, you can turn on the TV and find out everything anyone knows in a few minutes, along with the latest footage. If you watch any longer, you’ll see the footage and the information repeated ad nauseum.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jury Duty, Part I

I’ve been summoned to jury duty many times, but in the past I always got out of it, usually because I was a student at Berkeley and couldn’t serve in Pleasanton. The one time I did call in all week, they never actually called me to the courthouse. Last week I had to report for service for the first time.

Day One
I arrive at the courthouse and wait outside the jury room. Among the other people waiting is a girl listening to a CD Walkman—a CD player, how quaint—who looks like she’s about to cry. There is also an old man with Velcro shoes and one of those newsboy caps that only old men and girl pop singers wear. Everybody gets called into a room, and I start to follow, and then I realize it’s a courtroom. I’m in the wrong place. I check the jury room sign again and realize I’m supposed to enter. The people waiting outside had thrown me off. The old man looks confused too. We both enter the jury room.

The jury room is hot and stuffy. George Lopez is on Good Morning America promoting The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D. The jury room clerk explains that we will have to bear with her, since she is the sole person running what used to be a two-person office. To dissuade people from trying to argue their way out of jury duty, she explains that everyone has to do jury duty, even judges.

A little later, a judge comes by to reinforce this point. Seriously, folks, stop complaining. We're not going to let you go. This is because jury service now is "one day," which means, assuming you don't get picked for a trial, you only have to come hang around the courthouse for one day. As opposed to in the past, when you had to hang around for ten days, and before that, thirty days (insanity!). On the downside, now you get called more often and being a doctor or teacher or student won't get you off. Seems fair.

We watch an intro video in which former jurors wax poetic about their jury service. The video also explains the principles of a trial by jury, in case we’re completely unfamiliar with the concept. The video plays as though it were made for very slow children. It opens with a narrator proclaiming California, unequivocally, “the greatest state in the Union.” In your face, New York and Texas! The narrator explains that the rich tapestry of California is normally a thing of beauty—“harmony, even.” That is, except when something goes wrong, and the justice system springs into action.

One former juror, a young Asian-American woman, explains her initial trepidation, having perhaps confused jury duty with, I don’t know, skydiving or lion taming: “I was afraid. I didn’t know what I was getting into.” But she soon sets our mind at ease, confiding, “I brought a book. It wasn’t bad at all,” in an oddly somber, contrite tone of voice, akin to an abused housewife guiltily blaming herself for her black eye.

The fake trial in the video dismisses juror number six after the juror admits to working in the pharmaceutical industry. The video warns us not to take our sweet release from forced service personally—it simply means you weren’t right for that particular trial. An audible chuckle from the crowd.

Did you know you don’t need any special training to serve on a jury? I do now. You’re also not allowed to go to the scene of the crime or perform independent investigations. A video juror tells us that the deliberation was his “favorite part.” It was a touching experience, and many jurors choose to keep in touch after the trial. The deliberation-loving juror says the experience made him feel good about himself. He felt he had done his part and put some common sense in the jury’s mind. I start hoping to be selected—perhaps I, too, will have a chance to make a difference by setting the other eleven idiots straight.

The video ends with that line about justice of the people, by the people, and for the people, and a shot of the blindfolded Justice statue.

There are two trials coming up—a civil case and a criminal case. As we wait to hear more, George Lopez promotes Sharkboy and Lavagirl again, this time on The View. I imagine him running from studio to studio in the time we've been sitting in the jury room.

The civil case settles, but the criminal case, a murder trial, needs a big jury pool to choose from. They call seventy people, almost everyone in the room. I am among them.

NEXT: Jury selection!

Monday, June 13, 2005


This way, with cuteness. Posted by Hello

Do not enter please! ^ ) ^ Posted by Hello

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bloggerversary

Oh, and today would be the one-year mark for my blog, which goes to show how valiantly I resisted the call after Cynthia got the ball rolling.

Herbie Clips

More and more Herbie clips are popping up online. Yahoo! Movies has a great clip of the demolition derby scene, along with a Matt Dillon scene, both of which are introduced by Lindsay Lohan v4.0 (blonde, scary version). The clip of the demolition derby feels shortened, as it skips around too much to be the exact scene from the movie. But it still brought a tear to my eye watching Herbie in action.

Moviefone has some excellent clips as well. There's a four-minute featurette that offers a good overview of the story, along with plenty of new footage, that you can view in Quicktime or the AOL/Moviefone format, which will probably force you to download a plugin of some kind. If you are willing to download whatever secret AOL software plugin I just foolishly allowed onto my computer, you can also watch another clip from the movie, or Lindsay Lohan 4.0's Britney Spears impression in her Herbie tie-in music video, "First."

Name-A-Rama-Thon Part Three

By the way, Stephanie's sister's baby got born while we were in Japan. The name controversy has settled, I guess, and the girl's name is Phoebe.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Hour is Nigh...

Herbie: Fully Loaded opens in less than two weeks, on June 22. At Disney's El Capitan theater in Hollywood, they do live stage shows before their movies, and for this one they've worked up some show that includes Herbie. So naturally, that's where I'll have to see it first. I would have bought my advance tickets already, except that the El Capitan website is acting up and won't complete the transaction.

I'll be going to the 10:00 AM show on June 22, the opening day. (If anyone else wants to jump on board, there are still a little over 60 general admission tickets left for that show.) Not only does this ensure that I'll see it at the earliest showing possible, it's actually necessary in order for Stephanie to see the movie with me. Her new copy-editing job at the Daily Breeze runs an afternoon/evening shift, so we have to hit a morning show or else wait for her next off day, which isn't until the following Monday. No way I could wait that long. I'd have to see the movie in an ordinary theater without her, and then go the El Capitan with her for a repeat viewing, which would be less fun and I wouldn't be able to share my excitement with her.

If you want to see Herbie with me (and why wouldn't you?) but you can't make it in the middle of the day, I expect to go see this more than once unless it is really unbearably abysmal, so let me know and maybe we can go together for my second or third time. Not at the El Capitan, though.

What The Crap?

At Target today I saw The Sandlot 2 on DVD. What stupid travesty is this? Apparently it's the same plot, except ten years later. It's the original dog's puppy that's rumored to be evil, it's Smalls' younger brother, and there are girls playing baseball thanks to women's lib. And it's a rocket that goes over the fence, not a baseball. And the fence is higher.

The original director made it, because his career apparently peaked with the theatrical release of the first Sandlot movie. Sad.

Stunt City

This video linked from National Lampoon is pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

P-Town Pride

I usually don't blog stuff from Boing Boing. But this is about a couple of girls from Livermore and the "experment" they did in Pleasanton, and so it resonates with me.

So these two preppy girls, one of them dresses up all goth, and they try to get job applications at Abercrombie & Fitch and Hot Topic. In Pleasanton, which means Stoneridge Mall. The verdict: Abercrombie spurns the goth and drools over the prep. Hot Topic is polite but indifferent to the prep. Presumably they are nicer to the fake goth.

Also, people in general are meaner to the fake goth, pulling their baby carriages away and suchlike. Such prejudice convinces the experimenter not to pretend to be a goth in the future. Too bad. If you check out the pictures, she's much better looking as a goth. Even the poll sidebar supports the fact that Goth Shannon is superior. Besides, she already bought all those clothes for the experiment. I wonder if the people at Hot Topic recognized her wearing the entire outfit she'd bought a few days before?

The moral of the story is that it's important what you look like, especially when it comes to job searching and baby-petting. These girls have a bright future as scientists who do those expensive studies to prove that common-sense things are true.

Monday, June 06, 2005


A brutally cute restaurant sign. I guess they do some kind of kebabs? Posted by Hello

Throwing out your trash at McDonald's can be very complicated. Posted by Hello

In Japan, Dr. Pepper has futuristic robot babes. Posted by Hello

Doraemon is very serious about some vaccination program. Posted by Hello

Harajuku girls and their wicked style. Posted by Hello

The tray at Japan's gourmet burger chain, Mos Burger. Maybe you can't see this, but it says "PET RECYCLE." Wait, what? Posted by Hello

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Little Bit More Than The Law Will Allow

The almost-universal response to the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie has been one of disgust and dismay. I don’t understand why. If Hollywood is set on remaking old properties, I can’t think of a better show to make the jump to the big screen than The Dukes of Hazzard. First of all, there’s no way they can ruin it. Is there a less sacred show you can imagine than the original Dukes? I loved it growing up, precisely because it was an excuse for frequent, lengthy car chases and little else. This is the show that replaced its lead actors two years in, and nobody cared! The General Lee was all that mattered. The movie Duke boys, Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott, are a perfect fit for this brand of brainless entertainment, with the added bonus that you can remember their faces five seconds after you stop looking at them. The new director, Broken Lizard’s Jay Chandrasekhar, of the cult favorite Super Troopers and the utterly ignored Club Dread, has professed his love of good old-fashioned smash-up car chase movies and his intent to do just that with Dukes of Hazzard. So his intentions are admirable.

On the other hand, there is the trailer, and it looks awful. Obviously, the big source of worry is Jessica Simpson. I remember Daisy having a pretty limited role in the show and I was hoping for the same from the movie, that casting Simpson would be a stunt for a very minor, unimportant role. Now, granted, I never paid attention to the TV show whenever the General Lee was offscreen, so I don’t really remember the characters or the stories or anything like that. But it seems to me that Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke has more screen time in the trailer than I remember Daisy Duke having in the entire run of the TV show. At the time, I was too young to appreciate her short shorts, and if weren’t for a set of Dukes of Hazzard toy cars that mysteriously included Uncle Jesse’s Jeep, which in turn made me notice Jesse and Daisy driving the Jeep in the show, I probably wouldn’t remember Jesse and Daisy at all. But surely Daisy didn’t whore it up as much as Jessica Simpson does here, with the stripping down to a bikini and sub-Charlie’s-Angels lines like “I think something bounced up into my undercarriage.”

Speaking of whoring it up, what’s with all the T&A? On the show, I barely remember the Duke boys ever making it into town, let alone into a girls’ dorm filled with towel-clad hotties. Broad comedies always have scenes with hot girls prancing around and being sexy and titillating. Has anyone noticed that these scenes are never actually funny? No one, besides maybe Matt Loker, can relate to situations like this in real life. Take the locker room scene in Starsky & Hutch when the cheerleader casually takes off her top, and Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson lose track of their questions. Even if these scenes are marginally funny, we’re too distracted by the sexy girls to actually pay attention, and our forced laughter is just a cover so we can convince the people around us that we’re really not enjoying this on the level of soft-core porn. Are these scenes even meant to make us laugh, or are they just supposed to give us uncomfortable, guilty erections?

Still, even considering all of these problems and breaks in tone—who cares? It’s the Dukes of Hazzard!! Did you see how much air that car gets? It’s insane! Preposterously exaggerated even compared to the jumps on the show! No car could land from that height and keep driving! In short, I still want to see it.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Played-Out Topic

So I finally saw Episode III. It’s okay. Better than the first two, in most ways, but then almost anything would be. Considering the low bar set by the other prequels, one might even say it’s good enough. The dialogue is slightly less painful than Episode II, and the story is filled with events that actually matter. The opening sequence (saving the Chancellor from Dooku) features cross-cutting to generate “suspense,” along with obstacles, conflict, and complications to create “drama,” which suggests a genuine effort to, you know, tell a story well. The final scenes, which complete the bridge to Episode IV, leave viewers with a warm, familiar feeling. (Though as my friend Dave points out, if you were watching these movies in order for the first time, you would wonder why the hell the movie wasn’t over yet and what the hell was going on. Ordinarily, splitting up the babies and starting the Death Star and all that would probably happen between movies, except that this one was supposed to have that sense of closure.)

Ultimately, the movie fails. It fails because Anakin turns to the Dark Side for the wrong reasons and his transformation is unconvincing. We understand, intellectually, that Anakin turns because he wants to save Padme. It’s impossible not to get that, since it’s clearly spelled out for us. But Anakin’s scene of transition is muddled. On an impulse, he helps Palpatine kill Mace Windu, then shows brief regret—what have I done?—then the regret is gone and he immediately pledges his allegiance to the Chancellor. Why? He was still conflicted enough to tell the Jedi that Palpatine was a Sith Lord. What happened since then to convince him to totally switch allegiances? Because after betraying Windu, he knows he’s blown it with the Jedi anyway?

The next thing you know, Anakin’s killing children. I don’t know about you guys, but as much as I’d want to save my wife, if someone told me, kill a bunch of children and we’ll see about saving your wife, I’d probably have to take my chances with the wife dying in childbirth. Maybe focus on finding a good doctor or something. To run out and start slaughtering younglings is an awfully quick switch. And at this point, he’s supposedly only doing the Chancellor’s bidding because he wants the secret. There’s no evidence that he’s been totally convinced of the Chancellor’s “Jedi are evil” worldview, at least not until later when somehow he is totally convinced, but we never saw why or how. And to kill a bunch of children, you’ve got be totally convinced that what you’re doing is right and justified.

Granted, Anakin has killed children before: Sand people children in Episode II, when he was in a blind rage after losing his mother. Overwhelmed with anger and loss and lashing out at those he blames. For all of Episode II’s weaknesses, Anakin’s killing spree is more believably motivated. Perhaps if, in Episode III, Padme died sooner, in circumstances where for some reason, Anakin were led to believe the Jedi were to blame, then Anakin could turn on the Jedi, and filled with rage and vengeance and hate, and most importantly, complete confidence and belief in his new point of view, he could kill Jedi “younglings” and we would believe it. But as it is, that switch is way too fast.

As Matt and other reviewers have pointed out, Anakin is not seduced by the Dark Side. He’s not seduced by power. Lucas manages to plant Anakin’s lust for power, then ignores it when it counts. He never uses it. Instead, Anakin is tricked by a Sith Lord whose trickery is honestly not all that crafty. It’s a cop-out. Perhaps Lucas worried that to do this believably might cause us to lose sympathy for Anakin, but the way it’s done breaks the movie. It’s a huge glaring flaw right in the middle that you have to force yourself to ignore.

There are other problems, too. Like why doesn’t Obi-Wan put Anakin, for whom he still cares, out of his misery instead of watching him suffer, limbless and burning alive? Or the fact that as great as the computerized backdrops and effects look, they’re still suffocatingly artificial and devoid of visceral excitement. But who cares? The biggest problem is that Anakin’s motive for going bad is wrong. It’s not believable. Maybe it could have worked if Anakin were otherwise fully convinced that the Dark Side was the path for him, but he’s not. While Episode III is far more watchable than Episode II, this miscalculation of the central turning point of the entire series means that Episode III essentially breaks the whole Star Wars story. By destroying all six movies at once, Episode III might just be the worst Star Wars movie of all.

And I say that as someone who doesn’t care that much about Star Wars.

People Who Agree With Me

I read a couple of things online recently by people who echo a couple of my problems with video games.

First this Penny Arcade bit mirroring the reasons I gave up the hassles of PC gaming:

For my part, seeing what wonders PC developers have in store, I think I've bought my last video card. I didn't even get top of the line this time, I squeaked in under four hundred dollars, but I've had it up to fucking here subsidizing the next generation of consoles with my early adopter money. Before Doom 3, I was satisfied with a hitch or two here and there when I was really putting a machine to work - but seeing the way it is supposed to look, on hardware with the strength to manipulate those realms effortlessly made it clear. They've priced me, as a financially stable adult, straight out of entertainment software on the personal computer. I crave the esoteric strategy titles and wild experiments found on PCs, but it no longer makes a lick of sense to maintain this rig in the face of four hundred dollar, triple core consoles. The WOPR taught us as much in WarGames: the only way to win that game is not to play it.


And next, this bit about the videogame experience vs. watching a movie, from a slightly dated article predicting another video game industry crash:

Ah, Rogue Squadron. How pretty are your graphics, how immersive the feeling of fantastic space battles. And how infuriatingly repetitive the experience. "It's just like living a movie! A plotless ten-hour movie edited by Michael Bay's retarded brother and running on a skipping DVD player!"

Video games are not the new Hollywood. Hollywood is the new Hollywood. Films (well, good films) present their tales with masterful pacing and suspense and actors we love. Films are relying on an art form (drama) with a thousand years of popularity under its belt.

Games try to trump that with interactivity, letting you control the outcome. But the more control the gamer has, the more the pacing is ruined by brainless repetition (leaving the task to the gamer presents the possibility the gamer will fail 30 times in a row).

This is especially true if you suck at games, like me. Interactivity is an attractive feature, and this doesn't really apply to games that are more about the fun of playing. But if it's storytelling you're after, well, games are a frustrating and time-consuming way to tell a story whose outcome is likely to be less dramatically satisfying.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Samurai Store


You may remember the Shibuya store I mentioned with samurai-inspired fashions. The centerpiece of the store was this hot samurai-armor-slash-miniskirt ensemble. Unfortunately not for sale, but enough to plant samurai thoughts in your head. They also sold postcards with this artwork, which were cool, but not for $10 worth of yen. Maybe if they were posters. The coolest garments there were jackets with strips of fabric layed down the sleeve in a manner suggesting armor. But considering they were simple polyester-type jackets, very expensive. So Stephanie passed it up and got a cool, but less samurai-ish vest instead. Later, after we'd moved on from Tokyo, Stephanie got to thinking that she hadn't yet made any particularly major Japanese purchases, and perhaps the uniqueness and the source justified the price. So we resolved to return to the store on our last day, when we would be back in town.

So on that day, we went back to the Shibuya 109, found the floor, and--the shop was gone. Like something out of the Twilight Zone. A mere week later, the samurai store and several of the adjacent stores were gone, all covered with a curtain, behind which you could see piles of cardboard boxes, nothing more. So Stephanie never got a second chance at the samurai jacket. Fortunately the Hello Kitty apple head we found later that day cheered her up.

Investigating the Shibuya 109 store guide, we later realized the store's location was part of a row of shops collectively referred to as the 109 Selection, so it's possible that was a series of stores that change periodically. But there was no way we could have known that before. Posted by Hello

Hakone


Stephanie, in our traditional-style room in Hakone. They served a big meal in our room, course after course of weird dishes on tiny plates. The sushi was great, of course, but there are also lots of Japanese dishes that are based in bean paste or very sticky dough that's hard to chew, or otherwise strange, unrecognizable things. I am normally not a risky eater, but I grant Japanese food the benefit of the doubt in a way I don't for, say, Chinese food. If Chinese food is gross, I'll proclaim it gross. If Japanese food is gross, well, that's Japanese food--try it anyway. I felt further obligated to try everything because the hostess would come back to the room to set up the next dishes, and if I hadn't been eating I felt I would disappoint her. Posted by Hello

Me, wandering the garden at the hot spring hotel we went to in Hakone. Posted by Hello

The place was very traditional and very service-oriented. The moment you walk in they have slippers waiting for you (with pink or blue trim according to gender), and when you walk outside, you're supposed to go in your yukata and they give you wooden sandals. One size fits all, as seen here with provided socks. Posted by Hello

Funiculi Funicular


In the rope car in Hakone (view from outside, holding the camera out the window, resulting in an angle that's not as impressive as I'd hoped considering the effort and the risk to the camera). I wish Disneyland still had these. Does anyone know why they took out the skyway? Posted by Hello

This is the view from the rope car over the sulfur eruptions. Is that the same as the funicular over the phosphorus fields? If so, then I did that. The rope car also went over areas that were very pretty, in addition to areas that were spectacularly ugly. Posted by Hello

Not About Japan

What an idiotic waste of money this is.

Los Angeles is installing a network of surveillance cameras intended to catch street hawkers selling counterfeit goods, especially pirated copies of Hollywood movies on DVD.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents major movie studios in government matters, contributed $186,000 to help pay for the system, which was unveiled Tuesday by Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.


Do they also have a time machine so they can go back and install these cameras in an era where they'll have a hint of relevance? Who buys bootleg DVDs in the street anymore? That is the least of the studios' troubles. If all they had to worry about were people paying cash for counterfeit copies, like they've been doing for years in small numbers with little effect, they would be sitting pretty. The problem, of course, is the people paying nothing and downloading movies for free, which surely happens in far greater numbers, in far more discreet (and discrete) locations than downtown street corners. Illegal downloading, of course, also poses more of a threat in terms of growth potential. Why install these cameras now? Street corner bootleggers are on their way out. They're bigger dinosaurs than the studios. Who needs a camcorder in a theater to make tinny, poorly framed copies when irresponsible studio insiders leak out a pristine digital cut? Who pays for such an inferior illegal product when a better one can be had for free? This is bizarre foolishness and a ridiculous waste of tax dollars and police resources, not to mention MPAA dollars.