The Perfect, Shattering, Bittersweet Ending Of AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Years ago I interviewed Steven Spielberg and I told him that even well after the release of AI: Artificial Intelligence people on the message board of the site I wrote for, CHUD, were arguing about the ending. 

“Oh I know,” he told me. “I love reading all the arguments. And I love that they’re still arguing.”

Nineteen years after the release of AI it seems to me the arguments should be over but when I tweeted about watching the film this week I was immediately – within seconds! – hit with responses that said the movie should have ended with David trapped under water, spending all of eternity gazing upon the Blue Fairy. 

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We Are Not A Virus

It is a beautiful day in Los Angeles. Walking my dog this morning I was struck by the incredible clarity of the air, the deep blueness of the smogless sky, the smell of the trees and the singing of the birds. It was 9AM and there was no traffic, just the occasional jogger coming down the sidewalk, respectfully veering into the street to give me and my little buddy, Oliver Reed, the required six feet of social distancing. The mountains, so often occluded by haze, are clear in the distance, and I can see white snow dusting the peaks. 

Gone are the pollution and the rumble of cars, the airborne streams of cigarette and weed smoke, the booming sound systems passing by and giving today’s pop hits a disconcerting Doppler effect. The manic state of the world is not reflected in the streets. 

This isn’t a new observation. Almost immediately after over a billion of Earth’s inhabitants went into shelter in place mode people began noting that the air was clearing, that noise pollution was diminishing. Seismologists have noted that the background rumble of daily life picked up on their seismometers has died down, and most of what they hear is the noise of the planet itself.

With this observation has come a little meme, based on a bit from The Matrix. Agent Smith, disgusted by his time in the Matrix, has captured Morpheus and gives him a villain speech about how fundamentally worthless humanity is.

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I Finally Understand LEAVE IT TO BEAVER

Growing up we watched Leave It To Beaver reruns. You have to understand, we didn’t have many options. There were, in the New York City area, six channels to watch. You had your three networks – ABC, NBC and CBS, and you had PBS and then you had local indie channels WPIX and WNET. Those last two ran all kinds of reruns, and we grew up soaked in the pop culture of older eras.

Leave It To Beaver was like a transmission from an alternate universe to a kid growing up in 1980s New York City. Its blandly pleasant suburbia and the characters’ edgeless lives were hypnotically boring. Their troubles were hysterically minor, their behavior ludicrously flat and dull. This was the 1950s to us – a decade of stultifying conformity, repressed years of bloodless conservatism. It always seemed fitting to me that Leave It To Beaver left the airwaves five months before JFK was shot. 

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Staying Sober At WORLD’S END

I got shit faced at the premiere party for The World’s End. A couple of them, really – I went to the London and the LA premieres. The London premiere was funny because they didn’t have beer on tap, and this was a movie about a pub crawl, so a few of us ran out of the premiere party to hit a local pub just to scratch that itch. The LA premiere was particularly exciting; at the afterparty I did shots with Chris Evans (you know the “S! H! O! T! S!” thing in the movie? Edgar Wright got that from Evans) and at the after-afterparty I saw a famous person vomit in the bushes next to the Roosevelt Hotel pool. 

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The Needs Of The Many In The Age Of Coronavirus

Spock: “It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…” 

Kirk: “The needs of the few…” 

Spock: “Or the one.” 

That’s the reasoning that Captain Spock has as he leaves the bridge of the Enterprise during the Battle of the Mutara Nebula, as the crippled ship struggles to escape before the Genesis Device, activated by Khan, threatens to wipe them all out. He heads down to engineering and enters a compartment flooded with deadly radiation in order to manually make the repairs necessary so the ship can warp away with death nipping at its nacelles. 

I was eight years old when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out in June of 1982. I saw it in theaters and I wept when Spock died. I cried the whole way home in the car. I had been a Star Trek fan since before I could talk, zooming around the living room in my little wheeled scooter when the opening credits played on WPIX Channel 11. I have no memory of a time before me knowing about Star Trek, about Captain Kirk, Mister Spock. 

Spock’s reasoning has deeply impacted me. I’ve not led a blameless life, and I’ve failed at keeping my own ideals, but again and again my moral compass has eventually found its way to this true north – that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Even as Western culture, especially American culture, has taught me to look out for myself, even when I’ve fallen into that trap and thought “Fuck that guy, I gotta get mine,” I always come back – eventually, painfully – to this belief. 

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PICARD Reminds Me Of That Time My Mom Made Me Get An Earring

When I was entering high school my mother took me to a mall on Long Island and got my ear pierced. It wasn’t really something I wanted – I’m a huge baby about needles, so the idea of having one shoved through my lobe was terrifying. Also, it seemed weird to me. It was 1987, and earrings on men were pretty edgy. I was 13. I was very concerned, as a fat little 13 year old nerd who once had Nair poured down his crotch by bullies, about the messages an earring would send about my masculinity. At the time we believed that the ear you got pierced had deep meaning, a modern day Hankie Code, and that if I got the wrong lobe pierced I would be loudly announcing that I was a homosexual. In 1987 this was very frightening to me as a kid who had been immersed in low-grade homophobia from birth.

Eventually I got more piercings; I had about six when it was all said and done. The first one I got I used to very weird effect – I ordered a severed finger earring out of the pages of an old Fangoria and wore that around, looking like the world’s dipshittiest try-hard. I had a lot of fuzz on my face at this age, and a lot of acne, and I was a rotund little thing, with a permanent scowl on my unibrow and a severed thumb hanging from my ear. Eventually I toned down the earring – I wore a lot of studs, a bunch of little hoops – but I was very susceptible to infections, I didn’t keep the holes clean and I always had some smelly crud accumulating behind my ears. Over time I just gave up on them; I suppose the holes are technically still there, but nothing has been inside of them since Layne Stanley was alive. 

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STAR WARS: Justice For L3-37

Now that the Skywalker Saga is over, what is the future of Star Wars? Where does the story and the universe go from here? There’s one avenue I’d love to see explored, and it’s one that The Rise of Skywalker totally whiffed: L3-37.

You may very well be asking yourself that eternal question, “What the fuck is L3-37?” Yes, it’s a way that teenaged hackers used to say ‘elite’ on the internet. But it’s also the name of a character from Solo: A Star Wars Story, a character who has incredible and disturbing implications for the entirety of the Star Wars universe.

In that film L3-37 was Young Lando Calrissian’s droid buddy. Voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, L3-37 was a saucy droid who, seemingly, really wanted to bone down with Lando. But more than that, she really wanted droid liberation – for the first time in any of the Star Wars films we got a sense of a droid that understood the political meaning of its servitude. C3P0 had an existential understanding – “We were made to suffer,” he once whined – but he never addressed the immediate inequality that defines human/droid relations. Droids in the Star Wars universe are slaves.

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Thoughts On Learning Rush Limbaugh Has Cancer

“I hope it fucking hurts as he dies.”

That response to the news that Rush Limbaugh has ‘advanced lung cancer’ isn’t all that crazy. Rush has been instrumental in creating a horrifying and fascist atmosphere in the United States of America. Whether he led the charge or was just an opportunist who figured out how to make money stoking the flames doesn’t matter – you can draw a straight line from Limbaugh’s show to the increasingly dictatorial toddler in the White House. It’s foolish to blame individuals for the sweep of history but… we can kinda lay some of the blame for our current situation at Limbaugh’s feet. 

It’s human to have a reaction like that. We have enemies, rivals, adversaries, and we want them destroyed. It’s the animal in us, the pack beast that jockeyed for position. You think cancel culture is bad, you should see what chimps do to each other when one of them falls from grace. But the point of being human, I believe, is to transcend whenever possible those most animal urges, the things that evolution left sitting in our brains like time-delayed dirty bombs. The things that make us selfish and cruel, because being selfish and cruel might have at one time been useful in order to pass our genes on to the next generation. 

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THE GOOD PLACE Invents Buddhism

This contains spoilers for the latest episodes of The Good Place.

Everybody on The Good Place is dead. This is not the spoiler promised above – rather it’s the very premise of the show. Four people wake up in a waiting room where they are informed they’re dead and they’ve made it to The Good Place. But very quickly it becomes clear that none of them actually belong there, and over the course of the first season they try to avoid being found out and sent to The Bad Place. Then came the first season twist: they were already in The Bad Place. This had all been a part of their eternal punishment, a new spin on damnation.

The next season was an endless series of reboots, with The Bad Place trying to make them forget they were in The Bad Place, and after that they tried to escape. In the process they discovered that the afterlife works on a point system, but that the system is impossibly flawed. The complexity of moral life in the modern world – when you buy a turnip you’re possibly enriching a truly evil corporation that is ruining the lives of millions – has rendered the system moot. Nobody goes to the real Good Place anymore. Nobody at all. 

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The Grotesque Miracle Of CATS

That Sharknado is a hit and Cats is a flop is a true indicator of how misaligned our cultural priorities are. The fake bad movie is big business, while the real bad movie – the earnestly bad movie – has become a punchline. Cats deserves more.

(Before we go any farther, yes, I am aware success is measured quite differently for a SyFy Original versus big budget Oscar bait. I really just need you guys to roll with my rhetoric a little bit this year.)

The legend of Cats preceded it, and all of my friends saw the movie and returned almost hyperventilating with laughter. Ironic Cats stuff started with the release of the first trailer but exploded after the first screening. More people seem to be tweeting and memeing about Cats than are seeing it, though, and so Cats has become something that people want to talk about and laugh about but not necessarily see. 

I have seen it and I will tell you this: I am glad I did. And while it is a terrible, awful, miserable movie it is, in many ways, preferable to some of the perfectly fine big budget movies I saw this year. I will take the sheer insanity of Cats over the inanity of a Hobbs and Shaw, for instance. Hell, I’m more likely to see Cats in theaters again before I see Rise of Skywalker in theaters again. 

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