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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I Get So Fucking Angry Every Day

I don’t wake up mad. That’s something. That’s a blessing. 

But I start to get mad soon after I awake. I check the news, and I begin getting angry. It’s manageable, though. I mean, as manageable as anything is these days – my head hurts a lot and my neck has been killing me. That neck pain, that’s the thing that lets me know how mad I was the night before. 

As the day goes on I find that anger laps at me like waves on a beach. Sometimes the anger will reach up, right up to my head and my face will get flush and I’ll mutter something like, “This motherfucker” or “Jesus fucking Christ.” But usually that anger breaks, again like a wave, and I’ll laugh at myself. 

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Faith In Quarantine

(Above: Pope Francis prays in an empty St Peter’s Square during lockdown)

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting us in the middle of one of the most important stretches of the calendar for religion. Today is Palm Sunday for Christians, coming up is Passover for Jews and then back to the Christians for Easter. Ramadan is on the horizon for Muslims (a month long observance possibly aided by life in quarantine). It is, of course, the Christians who are causing a ruckus in this country – an evangelical priest was arrested for continuing to hold megachurch services in the face of lockdown orders, Donald Trump has become fixated with getting people into church on Easter, and on Twitter I’ve seen more than one right wing extremist bemoan the fact that churches will be empty on Palm Sunday (ie one of the holidays when lax ass Christians who act holier than thou online actually make it to worship). 

There have been other stories, deeply disturbing ones, from across the globe. Russian congregants saying they cannot get sick in church. A woman interviewed saying the blood of Christ makes her immune to the virus. Video of televangelists SPITTING on the coronavirus and demanding its submission to the will of the Lord. In 14 US states religious services are exempted from lockdown restrictions. This, we are told, both by the faithful and those who mock them, is what faith looks like. But to me it looks nothing like faith. It looks like a middle finger directly aimed at God.

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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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Surrendering To Baking

I’ve been doing some baking here, in the middle of the disaster. 

The baking comes on the heels of me beginning to learn how to cook. My childhood was not a food-friendly one; my mother ate a lot of junk food (and was thin as a rail), didn’t cook very much, and what she did cook was low effort stuff. She was a single mom, so that was part of it, but I also think she wasn’t a good eater – she’d hole up in her bedroom with a two liter of Pepsi, packs of Viceroys and a bag of pretzels and that would do it for her. She probably never learned to eat properly either. 

On my Italian side there was a lot of food, all of it rich and starchy, and lots of sweets. None of it healthy, nothing green. My grandmother would make enough food to feed an army, and serve enough pastries and cookies to also give them diabetes. 

For most of my life I didn’t cook. I could boil water, and every now and again I made stabs at learning to cook, but it never stuck. Cooking is more than the act of cooking – it’s the process of buying food, having food, preparing food, cleaning up. I’m lazy, and I want it quickly. Give me delivery, or give me something I can throw in the microwave. There’s a new generation of Lean Cuisine frozen meals where you don’t even have to take the plastic wrapping off – this is the dream. Star Trek’s food replicators have always been the technology I want the most. 

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The Value of Doing Small Things

“I’m not sick,” the old woman who had waved my car down said. 

This morning I got up early to take Brittany, my girlfriend, to City of Hope National Medical Center, not because of COVID-19 but because she had a regularly scheduled doctor visit for her cancer care. The facility was a ghost town, and the day before she had gotten an email saying she couldn’t bring a visitor with her. She would need to get screened for COVID-19 symptoms and I would have to wait outside. I was a little bummed, not only because I like being there with her but because I really wanted to get one of those infrared thermometer checks I’ve seen people get in TV news footage from Asia. 

We had been isolating for the past week and a half (it’s only been a week and a half?); her treatments suppress her immune system and my day job is at a coffee shop, which brings me into contact with hundreds of people. My coffee shop serves a kind of tea that people seem to believe has medicinal properties (it doesn’t. It has a lot of sugar in a hot liquid, that’s what’s making you feel better for 20 minutes), and so we were getting a lot of unwell customers through. I walked away from my shifts because I needed to be available for Brittany and I couldn’t risk getting infected by some rando looking for a Cold Buster.

The isolation hasn’t been hard for me – I’m an indoor kid – but what has been hard has been seeing this crisis happen and feeling sidelined. I don’t know how to be of service right now; I know that staying home is being of service, that giving up paychecks to remove myself from the chain of transmission is being of service, but it doesn’t feel like really being of service. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything when I fuck around in my house in sweats all day. 

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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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Review: THE HUNT Is A Gory Satire Of Our Polarized World

This movie ain’t subtle. But for all its lack of subtlety, The Hunt actually takes a little time to reveal its true intention, and a huge part of what makes the movie so fun is its almost constant misdirection. Which makes it, frankly, incredibly hard to talk about.

So what can I say about The Hunt that might preserve for you the sense of consistent surprise and delight I experienced in the film’s first half? I can say that this is a lean, propulsive movie; The Hunt begins deep in the good stuff, with a private plane full of liberal elites transporting a bunch of unconscious ‘deplorables’ to an unknown location to hunt them for sport. When one of the deplorables wakes up too early, while the plane is still high in the sky, the ensuing fight – which is ugly, funny and profoundly violent (the deplorable takes a stiletto to his eye; when the stiletto is pulled out his eye and the cord attached to it comes slithering out of his face hole) – sums up what you’re about to get for the next 90 minutes.

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